How We Build The Byway

An exploration by Ghost Paper Archives appears in Peculiar Mormyrid 10

It gives us tremendous satisfaction, bordering on mania, to point you in the direction of Peculiar Mormyrid, Issue 10: The Reinvention of Travel, where among numerous seductively glistening treasure-eggs you will find our our own contribution, How We Build The Byway, a “reenactment of sorts, of our interpersonal infrastructure project.”

Peculiar Mormyrid is an anthology and hub of the International Surrealist Movement and a hot fudge layer cake for your imagination. View Issue 10 online, as a .pdf, or send away for a black & white or color edition on the Peculiar Mormyrid website.

Beauchamp the Beauty

A flash of red flame appeared in the beautiful field and with a flourish of its tail darted for cover.

What is your name?

Shhh! Quiet! You will frighten it away!

Well, that is certainly an unorthodox response. Do you wish to remain anonymous? Or perhaps you’re referring to yourself in the third person for some esoteric reason?

Hush! No silliness just now. It is right here in front of my nose, I saw it just a moment ago. Hold very still. It will appear again when the light strikes it just so, and then I shall catch it. Yes, this time I shall catch it! My name is Beauchamp! Shh!

Okay then, Beauchamp, so how am I to interview you if you keep shushing me? And what is it? No silliness on my part…just trying to make headway on getting to know your most unconventional personage.

And I want you to know me, love, I do. But we must speak softly. Our whispers must nestle like two nude hatchlings in a feather nest. Now that’s a delicate image, don’t you think?

It—it has no name, my dear. That is a great part of its charm. Call it a glint, a particle of dazzle or resplendence or . . . call it je ne sais quoi if you must be French about it. It is made of flash and laughter and for as long as I can remember it lived in my right eye. And then something happened, something unspeakable, love, and it left me. I have been chasing it ever since and now it has brought me to this place, this . . . archive is it? I don’t know why it should be drawn here, but perhaps when I snatch it out of the air—any second now, my pet!—we shall find out! Shhhh!

Beauchamp, I must say we’ve certainly had a number of strange individuals appear around here, but you…you are splashing around quite a bit over the existing high water mark for weirdness in our humble archive. So, just to reiterate—you’ve alluded to something having happened that cost you the ‘it’ that lived in your right eye. Are you able to discuss what happened, if it’s not too traumatic for you? Please consider this a safe space in which to unburden yourself.

Oh it is a very sad tale. How to relate it without spooking my quarry? And should it flee I could only go chasing after it and be away before any of our whispers have nuzzled to our satisfaction.

But . . . perhaps there is a way. You, dear, seem the bookish type. An allusion or two would probably not slip by you too easily.

What if I were to tell you that, once, in a beautiful field there lived a vixen, and the beautiful field so loved its vixen that it grew lush and tall with foxgloves? What might you make of that, love?

I might make that you are straying off topic, Beauchamp. You appear to be one of those interviewees who is unable to be straight with answers. But that’s okay; we’ve run across those types before. Foxgloves, huh? I know fairies like ‘em. Beyond that…maybe I am dense but I’m not able to follow you into that field at the moment, B. Perhaps you could lay down a few more breadcrumbs…

I do not mean to be coy, my pet. Understand, I have for years sought the glint that escaped my girlish eye. It is so close now, right here in front of my face somewhere. To speak of the events that made it flee in the first place is a grave risk to my ever recovering it. Yet here I am, telling all. You see what tricky stones pave the path before us?

So let me try again, love. Nothing could be more on topic than this beautiful field. You might say, in French if you must, that the beautiful field is the subject itself! Shhh.

And this beautiful field discovered within itself a vixen, which is to say, a female fox, wild and full of dash and flair, and so the beautiful field grew tall with foxglove, yes, you understand me now, a glove in which to conceal a fox. And to keep this vixen, this part of itself hidden was wisdom itself, as you shall see.

So resplendent had the field made itself that a manor house grew up beside it, so as to always admire it. From the manor house there issued, what else? Sons. Because what else is a manor house for but the production of sons?

These sons—boys of an awkward age—would sometimes draw near the beautiful field. Yes, they seemed quite innocent and sad and looking for something. The beautiful field, not knowing what sons are capable of, saw no harm in giving them the smallest glimpse of what was possible in life. A flash of red flame appeared in the beautiful field and with a flourish of its tail darted for cover. The sons had seen it. Their eyes shone bright.

After this the manor house seemed never to sleep. Fires roared inside all night. Desire flickered in all its windows.

Ah, Beauchamp, now I’ve gone and fallen into your bewitching prose and lost myself…where was I again? Oh right, attempting and largely failing to interview you. Perhaps I’ve been going about this the wrong way, though. It’s clear you have a story to tell, so please do go on…

No, no, you’re doing a marvelous job, sweet. Just marvelous. It makes me all the more sad to grieve you with the turn this tale must now take.

When at last the manor house doors opened again, out came the sons, grown tall and brash. There was nothing of that sad inquisitiveness the beautiful field first liked about them. They arrayed themselves in red, in the likeness of a fox, only in a more bloody-minded hue. And they hopped onto the backs of steeds, to gallop in the manner of a fox, and alongside them romped a pack of dogs, much like a fox only clumsier and more eager to please. Raising a cry, the sons proceeded to hunt the vixen. One could say they tried to be the vixen, to beat her at her own game. And did they ever find her? No, they did not. But did this stop them from completely trampling the beautiful field in the process? No, it did not. They chewed it to pieces. I tell you, there was nothing left. And by the time they finished, the vixen had gone.

And now perhaps I’ve made myself clear? And if I have, have we frightened it away, love? It. That glint of flash and laughter that once made a home of my right eye? Perhaps we haven’t been talking as softly as we might have. Here, join me a moment. Hands up now. On the ready to snatch it. And stare without blinking right here, somewhere between our two faces.

Shhhh. Tell me what you see.

Oh Beauchamp, you’re making me get all teary-eyed now. Perhaps your glint has blown into my own eye and caused it to water. What a sad story. Like you, I also fear it has been frightened away. By us, all of us, embodied in those blood-suited sons and their mindless violence. All I can see is that lovely field—now stripped of its former glory and laid to waste. I’m aching all through my insides…

You do seem very sad and innocent and looking for something. You begin to remind me of—wait! Shh! Hold very still and tilt your head just so . . . yes, like that, and now open your right eye, dear, very wide and look at the sky. . . . There. You have it! Sweet Hera, you’ve gone and caught it! Though . . . it appears somewhat different in your eye than it did in mine. Hm.

Now close your left eye and look around. At your archive. At me. What has changed? Anything?

I’m not sure if anything has actually changed or if it’s just the way I’m looking at things that has changed. Like you, for instance. You look different than when I first saw you, before I had ever heard you talk or asked you any questions. You look less sad and frightening, and maybe…maybe more friendly.

Yes, love, and you are also more familiar. You remind me of someone. Someone I used to be, long ago. And you won’t mind, will you? if I sit quietly here and look you in the eyes for a while. And now our getting to know each other has really begun . . .

SS, NG

After People, a Sleek One Passes On

A sleek, mysterious silence has overtaken the landscape.

THE NOTHINGWOOD INTERFACE—And now, in the dishwater gray of early morning, a shape is found. A curvaceous gap has opened in the sprawling ground cover. The Sleek Ones approach and discover one of their own has fallen dead in the night.

The Sleek Ones take no special notice. They go about their silent, sinuous business until a new Sleek One arrives, one we haven’t seen before. It’s of a different coloration than the others: a highly blemished green, its head a burnished royal blue. Perhaps it has developed this special coloration as part of a life phase we haven’t yet seen, as some birds will change their plumage before mating.

As the sun rises and the others slip away into the forest, the green Sleek One remains behind with the body. Soon it has erected a ladder (to where?) and, on a nearby altar (to Whom?) it has assembled what appears to be the beginnings of another timepiece, though this one is made of stone instead of wood. The green Sleek One appears to serve a role unique to this moment, the performance of last offices.

Alone it nudges the body a few inches from where it was discovered and turns it in the opposite direction, so that the body lies obverse from its original position. A crude yinyang shape is composed between the body and the depression the body has left in the vegetation, between the body and the absence of a body.

A sleek, mysterious silence has overtaken the landscape. The silence is familiar—the Sleek Ones seem to have invented it, or to have been invented by it. But as the sun bends its path overhead and shines without sentimentality on the shape the green Sleek One has created, silence gives way to a kind of knowing. The landscape quivers to life. The trees and the ground cover begin to whisper like an audience shuffling in their seats.

This ‘knowing’ travels. Through sunken ravines and over the slopes of dry, defoliated thickets, it swirls and chatters in the duff, taps patterns in the naked branches. This knowing has gathered around a premonition that is primarily a direction. It picks up speed and focus. It has the determination of certain fish who, at life’s end, become overwhelmed with a sense of returning.

A sense of returning.

Unlike the fish that battles its way upstream against all odds as river divides into ever-narrower channels and rivulets, or the stream itself which gathers force and is joined by sibling flows as it tumbles back down to the sea—unlike these familiar systems, the flood of knowing, even as it accelerates, defies such logic. What raced down one shady bowl lined in swamp sumac does not pool in the bottom, but leaps a ridgeline and spirals precipitously upwards, arcing along cliff faces and rocky shelves. The flow divides, but one branch winds ever upwards to surge over a stony summit lost in fog, while the other presses into a cleft in the rock, seeking cracks and crevices, prising into the heart of mountain itself. A third line of knowing, turning from the cliff face entirely, projects itself into open air and beyond, lancing out to points unknown. And each of these paths bifurcates again, then once more, now by unseen ways above, below, and beyond the pitted skin of the Earth. The spread of knowing forms an inextricably intricate rhizome, its tiny fingers penetrate everywhere, unstoppable.

Though it has been said that the forked path of knowing is itself unknowable, we can imagine a representative strand based on the observation of a few examples, reconstruct the general from the partial and specific. Somewhere beneath the ground, a string of knowing winds between rocks, continuing to fission into smaller and smaller paths, until it is but a mesh, a fabric, a network of capillaries, linking individual grains of sand, then splitting even those into constitutive elements, salt and silica, threading the eye of the atom, negotiating the vast but minuscule non-spaces of the quantum world.

Here, we can follow no further. Observation eludes us at the edges of science. What is clear, though, is that the knowing energy of the Sleek Ones, in its racing course, permeates down to the base levels of reality.

There, perhaps, something happens. Because equal to this inward travel is another, quickening outward, leaping the hurdles of incommunicable scale and back to the macro of the visible world, where it alights, at last, on another rocky slope, not so far from our origin, overlooking the sea.

The knowing opposite the unknown.

At the rough edge of terra and sea, an opaque pool slow-quivers in the gloaming. It is here where—having completed its transformative journey through the very elemental structure of the earth—the purified knowing energy of the Sleek Ones has resurfaced. It is a humble location: the half-moon of silty fluid sits atop a simple platform wreathed by bare soil. Directly behind the platform lies a square concrete aperture, resembling a chimney or a narrow mine shaft. It is likely that this opening is where the knowing energy exited in its gathered form, thus to spill itself upon the waiting soil.

Facing out into the unknown of the open sea, the Sleek Ones’ energy hovers in its earthen substrate, cognizant of the dichotomy its current position embodies: the knowing opposite the unknown—each force confident in its own nature yet inextricably joined in symbiosis, each unable to exist without the presence of the other.

Below the pulsing energy a craggy peninsula juts out into the sea. Mounted upon this rock is an altar about to host a rare event. It is here where the Sleek Ones’ knowing will charge itself through contact with the void of the unknown. The frame of the altar encloses an interface in which knowing and unknown will mingle—bonding and separating at millions of individual contact points within mere nanoseconds before each force retreats once again.

The interface.

Meteorological conditions have now aligned and the event is imminent. With only a brief shimmer of light the nexus is made manifest—ending almost as soon as it begins. And as the altar resumes its benign stature, somewhere in a clearing not far away a stone timepiece creaks into motion.

NG, ND, SS

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After People, a Sleek One Tends the Garden

Setting darker thoughts aside, let us take this rare opportunity to observe the wondrous, secretive being as it hovers in the treetops.

THE SLEEPING FLOWER BEDS—Look there, up in that tree…a Sleek One furtively (as much as it can) feeds on the vegetative matter that we now know forms the core of its diet. It is so rare to see one of these crepuscular creatures in the daylight hours that the mind immediately dwells on the portentous nature of its shocking diurnal appearance. Never mind that it is also feeding at least 15 feet off the ground, seemingly with no support, a fact that also deeply unsettles us. Setting darker thoughts aside with much effort, though, let us take this rare opportunity to observe without judgment the wondrous, secretive being as it hovers in the treetops. Watch how it undulates to and fro among the leafy branches, so graceful in its purposive motion.

Meanwhile, down below on the surface not far from where the Sleek One calmly grazes we can observe a small garden of sorts. And in that garden stands a pair of humanoid sentinels, perhaps meant to serve as pest repellents. What is their connection to the Sleek One? They appear to be praying. Perhaps they have summoned the Sleek One from its daytime slumber for some esoteric purpose. Or maybe we have this all wrong. This Sleek One could be a youngling, just recently fledged—left by its parents to fend for itself and now feeding within close proximity of potential predators (or, indeed, acolytes). The mind reels at the prospect of such a relationship, however tenuous, between these genuflecting garden-guardians and the rare one they may seek, floating—known or unknown—above their bowed heads.

Echo One & Echo Two, in their small garden of sorts.

Time passes and nothing happens. For a puzzling amount of time, just nothing at all. The mind is numbed by the excruciating lack of progress. But this hasn’t hindered the fledgling Sleek One who hovers buoyant, even ebullient, amid the crowns of the trees, nibbling imperceptibly here and there. The rate at which it consumes the foliage is the exact rate at which the foliage grows back—this has been measured. How to explain this? Is the Sleek One somehow in league with the stasis that has overtaken the garden? The mind reaches but fails to grasp.

But one thing is clear: the two cut-out sentinels—we’ve begun calling them Echo One and Echo Two—are failing at their pest control duties. The Sleek One, our illustrious leaf-chewer, is not the least bit scared. Echo One and Echo Two are little more than interestingly shaped sundials. Hey, wait. We know from a past report that Sleek Ones have a complicated relationship with time. Perhaps it’s not impossible that the fledgling would mistake Echo One and Echo Two for timepieces. Perhaps it has suffered a misfiring of natural instinct, the way a baby bird might mistake a water faucet for its mother. The possible connections between this mistake and the crepuscular creature’s appearance in full daylight boggle the mind.

And the mind, which has become evermore a character in this unresolved scene, can only tolerate so much. So much waiting and weightlessness, so much peopleless indifference and lack of gravity, i.e., so much sleekness. The mind convulses, thinking as hard as it can in the opposite direction. The mind conceives a creature, not sleek, but highly articulated; not folivore, but a flesh-eater—a lion. And because this creature must not be light and ethereal in any way, but heavy, earthbound, the mind has glued it to a brick and thrown it through the window of the story. And so, to the music of shattered glass, something new has entered the garden: a predator.

A predator appears.

After such an extended period of waiting, during which it seemed that nothing might ever disturb the placid patterns of activity and inactivity in this eternal garden, the appearance of the lion has released, all at once, the latent energies held in the interstices of this scene and the mind’s apprehension thereof. As the stone lion clatters onto the brick pathway, the Sleek One wheels to regard it, arched in midair now at a slightly higher hover, now tracing a broad figure eight, leaf-brushed. Below, our sundials swivel. Echoes One and Two, it seems, are not static but possess a pivot. With a single motion they creak into alignment with the interloper, as if in accusation, each with one arm raised, a gesture revealed to be not prayer but preparation to strike. A defense system, perhaps, but designed for other interlopers than the sleek one.

Unfixed by surprise, time evolves by leaps.

The glue that had held the predator’s feet in place is already dissolving beneath its fervor to strike. It is a creature shaped by and for the urge to devour. No mere sundial, whatever the arrangement of its limbs, even in multiplicity (or duplicity, should these twinned Echoes possess the capacity for deception) could hope to stave it off. The Sleek One having ceased to consume the foliage, though, in this scene freshly unfixed from the rigid logic of time, the trees surge with a growth that overwhelms the mind’s frame. In the blink of a (mental) eye, the garden becomes a forest. The predator, mid-leap, driven to consume, is swallowed by new leaves. Arcing outside of chronology amidst the failure of its now clearly appointed task to prune such a voraciously verdant arbor, the Sleek One whips down upon the confused predator with a device specifically designed to constrain small carnivores, weaving between new branches even as they shoot out around it. Tangled in saplings, leaves twining its stony mane, the predator is no match for such sleek alacrity. The metal door snaps shut like the jaws it has failed to deploy and a slender shape shoots away. Time has found a new equilibrium, the wood is calm but for the low growl that emerges from a kennel cab.

A mind guilty of a great disruption but in denial of its own responsibility, bored now by the outcome of its unconsidered meddling, wanders away in search of other scenes. But the Sleek One has not in fact departed entirely. Does it still watch? Will it allow such an observer to blithely traipse into the next scene unfettered? If it can trap one predator with such ease, perhaps the consuming consciousness will pose just as little trouble. Oh mind that reads and reviles sleekness, we offer only this warning.

A warning.

SS, NG, ND

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The Four Jesters of the Apocalypse

The forces of elemental destruction are, how do you say … just getting warmed up?

Well, hello. You’re a rough-looking crew. What are your names?

We have no use for individual appellations like the puny humans use. You may refer to us collectively as 4J.

4J—we have no idea what to make of that name, or, for that matter, of you. When we look at you we feel afraid and then we want to laugh. You keep us caught always uncomfortably between the two. How might you describe your disposition towards human-kind? Towards archivist-kind?

Color us largely ambivalent toward your ridiculous species, though we do enjoy donning these outlandish costumes from time to time and walking among you. If anything it distracts us from contemplating the coming Apocalypse. While we do see some meaning behind the work of your so-called archivists, it won’t matter much once everything is vaporized.

The irony of you in your absurd costumes calling us ridiculous is . . . notable. What’s the meaning of these costumes you wear? Do they serve a purpose? Also in terms of the phrase ‘the coming Apocalypse,’ please expand on the word ‘coming.’

We apologize if our garments offend you. In researching your species we came across the celebration known as All Hallows’ Eve and thought we would try to blend in, so to speak. However, that attempt appears to have fallen flat, given the number of highly distressed individuals we have encountered as we walk among you.

Given recent events on your failing planet you may think that you are living in the early stages of the Apocalypse. We assure you, though, that you have not seen anything yet. The forces of elemental destruction are, how do you say…just getting warmed up?

And how should we react to inescapable doom? We’ve often wondered this, what the right attitude is with so much destruction directly ahead. Should we be afraid or laugh? You’re ideal representatives of the coming Apocalypse, we’ll give you that. But perhaps we would know better what attitude to take if we glimpsed your true form. C’mon, give us just a peek under those costumes of yours.

Our advice is to act like it’s not coming. Live your lives as they unfold before you, regardless of the impending doom. There is no point in getting worked up over the inevitable.

Were we to remove our garments the sight of the gaping void beneath them would burn out your retinas. Is that what you want? We think you have enough on your plates as it is without also losing your vision. Therefore we thought we’d spare you this unpleasantness. It is our gift to you—the ability to see the coming horrors as they approach from afar.

Okay, okay, phew. You guys are intense. Not that we’re complaining. We appreciate the visit. So, what brings you down here (up here?) to our earthly plane of existence? I mean, besides distracting yourself from the coming Apocalypse? What diversions have you discovered?

We were just cruising around in the aether and happened to peer down at your planet whereupon we noticed how much havoc your species has wreaked upon it. So we thought we’d pay you a visit and offer our advice. Of course, while here we have taken the time to indulge in a few of your customs. In particular we’ve become fixated on corn mazes and bungee jumping, preferably when combined together. As for the sustenance you require to maintain your flimsy flesh husks, though, we find it largely bland and unappetizing with the exception of pickled ginger, which frankly we can’t get enough of.

Oh, interesting. The bungee jumping seems so obvious we won’t ask you about it, but what specifically do you enjoy about corn mazes? Is there one in particular you would recommend?

The precepts of our anthropological research dictate that we must partake in the most illogical activities known to be regular practices of the species we encounter. We are intrigued by the concept of an intentional effort to disorient oneself by entering a network of pathways on a grid designated for sustenance production. And all for the purpose of entertainment! What strange creatures you humans are. 

As separate activities we have enjoyed the corn mazes more than the bungee jumping. But for reasons we have not been able to determine, when we bungee jump into a corn maze we experience an unprecedented level of euphoria. We like to make a game of plucking the ears of corn once we’ve reached the end of our bungee cords and then consuming them as we ricochet back up into space.

We do not know the names of your corn mazes so cannot recommend any specific examples, but we have noticed the geographic area known on your planet as Iowa is particularly replete with them.

We are intrigued by this image of you hurtling towards and away from the earth while stuffing your faces with uncooked corn on the cob. How is the eating done if beneath your costumes there are no teeth, per se, but only blinding nothingness?

We simply stuff the ears into the mouth-shaped holes in our costume heads and they disappear. We do not ‘taste’ food as you do, but for some reason following our consumption of your sustenance known as corn there is a feeling of well-being generated in our consciousness.

OK well before you go zipping off, please accept this gift from the Ghost Paper Archives.

. . . Now, as you gain altitude, can we ask a favor? Will you describe us as you are flung away into the sky? Can you let us know how we look from way up there?

[removes garments]

SS, NG

After People: Rules & Regulations

You’ve been warned.

Per Park Code 2.01, please be advised that at this moment there is no excessive noise in the park. Some tree boughs are sighing in a halfhearted breeze. A few puzzled birds are warbling to themselves. If you listen closely you can even hear the earth starting to have its opinion about the ongoing peoplelessness. Deep underground a rodent is gnawing a tunnel to escape her boredom. A storm drain swallows dryly for want of conversation. But the question is, have all these sounds reached the point of excess? Has the absence of people yet grown into a silent cacophony? No. Just read the sign. How could we have been clearer?

Per Park Code 3.02, the presence of any canine entities within the boundaries of the depicted region of rolling grassy hills (designated in no uncertain terms as an ‘athletic field’) shall not be tolerated. As can be determined by closely observing the image, which affords a panoramic view of a significant section of the region in question, no canine entities are indeed present, which is as it should be. Were there any canines present, in flagrant violation of the dictate (i.e., Park Code 3.02) stated on the sign, one of our technicians would move in from behind their well-camouflaged surveillance blind to initiate apprehension and subsequent detainment. (Note: in the absence of people, said apprehension and detainment will be postponed until suitable repopulation allows for hiring of replacement enforcement technicians. Thank you for doing your part to keep our ‘athletic fields’ clean and canine-free.)

Per Regulations Pertaining to the Right-of-Way in the Nobody Zone, cameras are in place to witness the law not being broken. They are doing this all the time, without a break, forever. They are really quite amazing, these cameras. Which law is not being broken has not been specified. We can think of many. The law of gravity has not been broken. The fact that this photograph—which is far too casual to be staged—was taken at an upward angle i.e. from the ground, is pretty convincing. The law of entropy has not been broken. That window in the background cracked months ago. Half of it just fell out onto the pavement and shattered, moving from order to disorder in a most lawful fashion. It’s still broken. So we’re all good in terms of entropy. Newton’s Third Law about interacting bodies has definitely not been broken because, uh, there’s nobody to interact! Which begs the question, if there’s nobody to interact then why do we need a law? How many other laws are currently on the books where those with the capacity to break them simply don’t exist? There is so much more that doesn’t exist than does! (Especially now, after people.) The cameras are starting to have no idea what to even watch for and it’s stressing them out. Their camera eyes are twitching, watering. They are trying not to blink, which would violate the Regulations Pertaining to the Right-of-Way in the Nobody Zone. Uh oh.

Per recently updated Parking Regulations in the Nobody Zone, it is deemed illegal to park in front of this fence. Yes, we concede that an overzealous sign-hanging technician has perhaps belabored the point, but in the case of parking regulations we have found it is always better to err on the side of over-signage than to risk leaving an opening of ambiguity arguable by a ticketed petitioner in a court of law. A more apt point to consider, though, is who in this now person-free zone would even find reason to park here? Does the answer lie beyond the fence? We are not at liberty to disclose. However, should you dare to find out please note that—per City Code 5.59—a hard hat, safety glasses, and flame-resistant clothing are required. Remember: even though nobody appears to be around, the cameras are always running and they would like nothing more than to catch you in flagrante delicto.

Please be advised, per Motor Vehicle Statutes in the Nobody Zone, there is currently no heaven. Whether there was at one time a heaven or will be a heaven in the future we cannot say. Perhaps people took heaven with them when they vanished—assuming there was one to begin with. We’re not qualified to weigh in on that. In any case, all drivers currently driving in the Nobody Zone, though they be zero in number, must exercise the utmost care in handling their vehicles. You will not get the chance to make that lefthand turn again, not in some other life, not anywhere. This would appear to fall under the heading of CRUELTY. Though, honestly, it’s a lot to expect, that you’d get a do-over accompanied by harp music. Should this notice be concerning to you, may we suggest a refresher course, offered by the Department of Motor Vehicles in the Nobody Zone on how to go nowhere at all in the safest possible manner.

NG, SS

Learn about After People »

After People, An Infestation of Spectral Rabbits

G. Hogg is not happy about it.

OUT THERE—G. Hogg peers out from below the stairs—surprisingly alert for having just woken moments ago from her usual six-month nap. Her sharp eyes scan the people-less landscape before her. Directly across from her under-stair lair sits a dwelling, presumably occupied by humans, for it is drab and square like humans typically are. This building irks her. Its ostentatious black shutters feature rabbit-shaped decorative cut-outs. Hogg considers this stylistic choice. Her feelings on rabbits are largely ambivalent. Encounters with them are limited to the occasional turf war over neighborhood gardens, that sort of thing. Nervous critters, they are. Probably could stand to cool their hoppity heels a bit. But on the whole, no, she doesn’t think much of rabbits. And so—having now extracted herself from beneath the stairs—she turns with a rankled shrug from the sight of those leporine silhouettes and undulates off into the shrubbery.

Rabbits, ready to multiply.

Dashing through the undergrowth, G. Hogg picks up speed. She whips recklessly through vegetation that has thickened and sprawled. Her eyes are still ticklish to light after her long nap and she blinks and shakes her head.

What is it she sees when she blinks? It’s those blasted rabbits. Blotchy black rabbits on a white field.

Thus distracted, G. Hogg careens head-on towards a tree. At the last instant a large foot materializes and provides an impediment—WHUMP!—though striking the large, heavy foot was no more pleasant than striking the tree would’ve been.

Attached to the foot is a tall personage of regal bearing, who makes a shallow, creaking bow. It’s the tree’s guardian spirit, Mother Wood.

Mother Wood (tree guardian incarnation)

MOTHER WOOD: Hello, G. Hogg!

G. HOGG (shaking it off): Hello, Mother Wood. Thanks!

MOTHER WOOD (bows again): Any time.

G. HOGG: Hey, where did everybody go?

MOTHER WOOD: You mean the people.

G. HOGG: I woke up and they’re all gone!

MOTHER WOOD: Yes, it’s a fairly recent development. You’ve just come from the Nobody Zone, I take it. Tell me, what did you see there?

G. HOGG: You haven’t been?

MOTHER WOOD: Not since it first came into existence, no.

G. HOGG: Well, there’s not much to see. Lots of boring boxes.

MOTHER WOOD: Buildings, I believe they were called.

G. HOGG: Right. All empty. No people anywhere. Zippo.

MOTHER WOOD: I see. And what about other entities?

G. HOGG: Other whatities?

MOTHER WOOD: Have you seen any beings who . . . aren’t people?

G. HOGG (exploring the bump on her forehead with her paws): I’m not sure. What would the non-people persons be doing?

MOTHER WOOD: That is the question.

As the smarting pain on her forehead recedes into a tender ache, G. Hogg is again irritated by the blotches in her vision, which even a kick to the head have failed to dislodge.

G. Hogg blinks her eyes. . . Rabbits . . . Mother Wood . . . Rabbits . . . Mother Wood . . . 

MOTHER WOOD: Are you okay? You seem twitchier than normal.

G. HOGG: There’s something wrong with my eyes!

MOTHER WOOD: Here, let me have a look. Lean back. . . . Hm. . . . Yes, I see! You have ghost rabbits in your eyes. What an interesting development!

G. HOGG (drops her head): I should’ve guessed it’d be something like that. Is it fatal?

MOTHER WOOD: Not usually.

This fails to cheer up G. Hogg.

G. HOGG: I’m not a big fan of rabbits. What should I do?

Mother Wood is silent for a moment. Then she grins and bends down with a great squawk of her wooden spine and creak of her limbs and whispers into G. Hogg’s ear.

As Mother Wood’s whisper rustles on, G. Hogg’s ears slowly flatten until they lie like strips of velvet upon her head. When Mother Wood ceases to speak, the ears prick back up.

G. HOGG: Flags, you say? Hmm. And they’re attracted to the colors? How strange. What do I do once the little buggers have amassed in the clearing?

Again Mother Wood leans down—bark snapping and peeling off her sides—and murmurs into the little animal’s ear.

G. HOGG: Ah, I see. Right, then! I better get started if I’m going to finish setting this up before nightfall.

She lopes off, Mother Wood smiling after her with the closest her wretched countenance comes to resembling benevolence.

The warren—with trap set.

G. Hogg arrives breathless in the rabbits’ favorite clearing. She suspects their warren lies below it, though the long-legged fiends are so clandestine in their movements that she has never once caught them in the act of ducking below ground. Mind you, not that she’s been particularly interested enough to spend much time studying their cryptic behavior. She has far more crucial demands requiring her attention than the observation of a band of meddlesome cabbageheads.

In the day’s fading light she rushes around stabbing into the ground the flag markers she procured from the shed above her burrow, following Mother Wood’s precise instructions. Her preparations now complete, she surveys the scene with a contented shiver before creeping behind a large rock to await the arrival of her nemeses.

As night deepens, G. Hogg becomes sleepy. This is odd after having so recently taken a long nap.

In the evening blue half-light, the clearing grows bleary. Red flags become radishes that weigh down their vines in thick ruby clusters. Orange flags become carrots that grow in bunches among dried carrot-flower bracts and petals. Yellow flags become summer squash that have plumped up from the earth amid a tangle of rhizomal filaments. Is G. Hogg dreaming? This is not how food works.

But the rabbits in G. Hogg’s eyes have become restless. They flicker and stir in her field of vision, superimposed over this spontaneous night garden of culinary delights. Dozens of them leap like sparks among the vegetation, munching and devouring. At the moment there are more rabbits in G. Hogg’s eyes than there have ever been. But as the vegetation is eaten down, closer and closer to the ground, the rabbit shapes follow. They follow the vegetation down into the earth and keep devouring until they have disappeared, seeped down into their secret warren. G. Hogg hears the faint rumble of them gnawing deep underground.

Well, that was a lot for one day. G. Hogg decides another nap is in order.

In the morning she wakes, feeling fresh and bright eyed. The clearing is empty. No flags, no strangely configured food, and no rabbits. Thank you, Mother Wood!

Not far from the clearing is an ancient site—G. Hogg scampers through it without noticing and is happily on to other excavations—which has aged as only things in an After-People world can age. Here lie the remains of a rabbit, bones changed by time into petrified wood. Long rabbit legs extended. From the hardened stump of a skull its rabbit ears are still erect and alert.

Study of the site suggests it was a domesticated rabbit. A pet. Its name was Bun-Bun and it lived its life in a hutch, fed by the hand of its owner. It didn’t know where its food came from or how it grew. It had never seen food growing. Then its owner disappeared.

And so Bun-Bun began to disappear, too, withering away to bones, growing very still, and ever dreaming of what lay beyond its drab, gray box.

Here lies Bun-Bun.

SS, NG

Learn about After People »

After People, the Sleek Ones Quietly Arrive

Their minds, like their bodies, are impossibly sleek and do not catch upon whatever questions are left in this After-People world.

THE NOTHINGWOOD INTERFACE—The purposes for which they had been created were unclear. Smooth, sinuous, silent, they moved along the fringes of what had been and gathered amidst tumbled breezeblocks. It was thought that their advent had been a late flowering of some expiring sect, but if so, they were the only of its works to survive it. And if so, what did they seek when they slid out from the forest edge at dusk to wait amidst the broken things? It was impossible to judge how much they might remember. Or to guess at their thoughts if the sparks that yet animated them could be considered thoughts in any accepted sense. Did they seek their own origins? Stoic, soundless, they would wait on smashed patios tangled with branches until the last light left the sky, then melt away into the screen of brush and to whatever hidden dens they passed the rest of their hours. 

The mystery of what the creatures think, if they think anything at all, haunts the liminal forest. Amid the clenched vegetation and grappling limbs, the sleek ones slip by without complication. Their smooth form allows them to move through the rough as easily and habitually as a rivulet along its least resistant track. Evidence is beginning to mount that no, they do not think, that their minds, like their bodies, are impossibly sleek and do not catch upon whatever questions are left in this After-People world.

But in the heart of the woods where even the most smashed-up patio would be impossible, we find, beyond all expectation, a small outpost of the Nobody Zone. Here the creatures have lingered, doted. With their mute muzzles they have nudged together a small domestic scene: an infant’s bedroom. Furniture like wooden play blocks. Little pink baby. It has all the tactile reverence of a shrine.

The larval nursery

Where would the creatures have witnessed such a scene? Do they even have young of their own? What could the creatures possibly share with the parents who watched over this scene with such mixed reassurance and anxiety? Perhaps they have picked up a residual signal, the eerie emanation of closed-circuit baby monitors that once broadcast all through the night.

But not far from here stands another structure that denotes a larger preoccupation. The first thought is . . . a castle? Yes, perhaps the baby monitor signal has driven the sleek ones, as it drove the parents before them, to build for Baby. A place for Baby to play. A place Baby to rule. A fortress to safeguard the primacy of Baby. This is the industry of a species that believes in its own future.

A timepiece

A closer inspection, however, suggests other (related?) possibilities. The cross sections of tree rings that have been stacked one on another are a document of years, which ascend in enigmatic increments. It is possible to interpret the structure as a time keeping device: a calendar, or perhaps a clock. Though, if this is so, it’s clear the sleek ones understand time in a very alien way, and so good luck trying to read it.

Imagine then—if you can—two radically different outcomes…

In the first, the tiny pink offspring of these crepuscular beings sits exposed on this rustic playground, as the ghosts of their caretakers, weakened by the now full daylight, nose around nervously on the periphery. The pink plasticity stands out as an affront to the rudimentary wooden construction that appears literally carved out from its forested backdrop. The child’s rigid limbs jut out with audacity from its tiny plasticine torso. What an abomination against nature. How could such elegant beings have birthed such an ugly, helpless infant? Surely it will not survive in this world of constant predation.

Unless, of course, we are looking at this all wrong. And so, let us consider a second scenario that twines the various possibilities together…

The hard pink lump is merely a larva, made to be inserted into the machinery of the sleek ones’ wooden timepiece. After penetrating the cambium of the structure with the sharpened ends of its proto-limbs, the larva worms its way into the heartwood, where it will feed for months upon the pulpy goodness of the central pith. Once encysted, the larva activates its homing beacon to alert the sleek ones, who materialize once again in the gloaming. With their conical proboscides they push the entire timepiece to the ‘nursery’, where they dig a pit and insert the structure upside down in the protective soil, alongside those already in place. Having now established a symbiotic link with the larva, the womb structure will simultaneously provide nourishment and maintain precise timekeeping to ensure metamorphosis is successful.

Will the resulting juvenile undulate forth to the surface boasting yet another shade of purple? Of what size and shape will this being take in its initial form? Will it immediately discern its purpose, of which we are still yet to perceive?

Though much remains uncertain, one occurrence is likely: as on each day twilight approaches, house dwellers everywhere will continue to stand silent behind their curtains, peering out anxiously at their cracked patios, wondering if this will be an evening when the sleek ones choose to visit.

The nest

ND, NG, SS

Learn about After People »

I Attempt to Dematerialize

Against our better judgement, one of our archivists attempts Fustus’ dematerialization procedure.

A report from NG

Think of the smallest possible particle you can imagine. Concentrate all of your energy and attention on this image of infinitesimal proportions. Do this five times each day in five-minute sessions for five days in a row. On the sixth day at the sixth hour, do it for six minutes. After the six minutes are up, don’t open your eyes. Stand up and spin around rapidly until you can’t stand up straight any longer. When you eventually fall over you will wake to find yourself a speck in the vast expanse of space.
~Fustus

Whew! Here at Ghost Paper Archives we’re still celebrating the appearance of Fustus. Direct contact with an inter-dimensional being is more than we would’ve ever hoped for after only a few months’ work. It’s tremendously validating.

There’s been some debate among the Archive as to how seriously to apply ourselves to the dematerialization technique revealed by Fustus. We know he’s a meddlesome entity and belongs to a clique of transcendental bad apples. The opinion of the Archive has largely been: “You go ahead and try it; I’ll watch from a safe distance over here.”

Well one of us had to try it, and I’ve got nothing else going on. So here’s my report.

Imagine a particle. A provocative directive! Lately all I think about are particles. My imagination is full of monsters measured in parts per million.

The real challenge has been to imagine this particle for only five minutes five times a day, as directed, instead of thinking about it constantly and factoring it into everything I do.

I imagine a virus, a single tiny virion carried on a breath like a beachball on the sea. It’s waiting to drift onto the shore of a new island where it can establish itself and choke out all other life.

A whole island of beachballs. The particle likes this idea. It’s really the only idea it has.

Or, I can imagine an even smaller particle. A chemical component of some polymeric resin that until recently had glued together a house. The house was a home, full of family memory, but now it’s floating in the atmosphere along with the rest of California’s forests. This tiny particle, which the house spat out as it collapsed in flames—I can only imagine it as a point of absolute blackness. Toxic, cancerous, vengeful.

I imagine them all, all the tiny monsters. They’ve already gotten into my little apartment. They’re hanging here, poised in the air. To bring them into full resolution I have to become their size. I’m the tiniest flake of scurf. A flake of a flake: that’s me.

For five days in succession I imagine monsters, as directed. In this apartment there’s little else to do. I imagine monsters until I’m surrounded by them, under siege. I don’t so much envision or meditate or ponder. I fret. I brood. Anxiety hijacks the imagination, fills it with conspiracy and ill portent. Times are hard for daydreamers.

There are so many things I can’t control. The trajectory of politics and discourse in my country, the convulsions of a planet in extremis, and just . . . entropy. I am small, so small and afloat, pushed helplessly by whatever current comes along. It’s only by chance I haven’t yet run into a narcissistic beach ball or a point of toxic darkness. Perhaps I’ll never dematerialize, but my existence has certainly begun to feel immaterial.

My only defense is to imagine myself smaller and smaller, to increase the distance between myself and everything else.

On the sixth day at 6:00 AM I think: I’m really getting the hang of this! I am an atom. I am blind and spinning, doing my atom dance. I’m enveloped in the distant electron cloud of myself. I can shrink away from all that, too.

As I become evermore subatomic—neutrino, quark, preon—I’m not sure how much longer I can stay in place. There’s not much of me to stay in place with

And here it comes. The sixth and final minute. The sixtieth and final second. An eternity in a blink of an eye. Do you see me?

Fustus

Think of this as a mere public relations call….. I am here to inform you of our…er, my existence.

Wow! What a dramatic entrance! What should we call you?

I am Fustus. That is all you need to know regarding my nomenclature at this juncture.

Greetings, Fustus. And thank you for appearing on Ghost Paper Archives. Our archivists have already begun to argue about what they’re calling—for lack of a better term—your “state.” Some think you’re an elaborate but basically persistent form, like a lily. Others think you are just a moment in time, like a splash or a flourish. They’re split fifty-fifty and honestly it’s getting a little tense. Would you care to clear the matter up for us?

I appreciate your interest in my form. Your archivists are not far off in their positing. My existence (as you are able to perceive it) actually lies somewhere in between those two theories. I am a florescence. At least that is what I am in your dimension of time. I appear in various places at various times of the year—when and where it suits me. When I appear it is instantaneous and in full form, and my departure—when it occurs—is equally sudden and complete.

Well, that brings up all kinds of interesting questions. Can you give us an example of a time and place you have appeared? (Perhaps the right word is “occurred”?)

On June 6, 2006, I materialized in the midst of a gathering of doomsday cult followers in the American state of Idaho. I intoned the word ‘Oops’ and quickly disappeared.

We never would’ve expected you to be funny, too. We assume you were mistaken for the Antichrist? Any word on what became of these devout Idahoans afterward? Are cases of mistaken identity something you commonly struggle with? (That was kind of a barrage of questions. Sorry. We’re very eager.)

Honestly, I don’t know what happened after I left. I possess a form of limited omniscience that grants me awareness of most earthbound activity, but after I interfere with the humans I am disallowed from observing the results of my endeavours.

My intention with the cultists was merely to sow doubt and discord among them. I can be quite meddlesome, even borderline malevolent, in that respect. I figured uttering the word ‘Oops’ would lead them to argue over the intent behind my exclamation. Maybe their interpretation was that I felt I was there by mistake: wrong date, wrong cult…who knows. I feel kind of high just thinking about it now, though.

To answer your last question: I rarely linger anywhere among the humans long enough to be mistaken for anything other than a white blur. At least that’s my guess—an educated one informed by experiences shared with me by the others.

Others! What others?

Oops. I’m not sure I’m at liberty to speak of them. Let’s just say for now it was agreed that I would be the one to speak to your group, or whatever you call yourselves, because I’m considered the most innocuous among us.

Fustus, given your history with the word, we’ll ask you to refrain from saying “Oops.” Well . . . now you have us worried, worried you’ve come, or worse, been sent by creatures more malevolent than yourself, to somehow meddle with the Archive. Do you deny this? If not, what do you hope to accomplish by occurring to us now?

Think of this as a mere public relations call—nothing more, nothing less. I am here to inform you of our…er, my existence, should you need something to distract you from the other seemingly terrible goings-on in your plane of existence at the moment. I can say that your Archive need not fear the possibility of meddling in its affairs—at least not from me. Generally speaking, I don’t like to make myself known to those whom I plan to meddle with prior to my initiation of the meddlesome act. It takes most of the fun out of it. Of course it’s possible your archivists might interpret this entire charade of an interview as a meddlesome act, but that is of no concern to me.

On whether you are in fact meddling by pretending not to meddle, we’re again split fifty-fifty. (We really need to settle on an odd number of archivists so as to have a tie-breaker in these situations.) Assuming what you say is true, that you’re here on a public relations call, please, by all means, deliver your press release, give us the news. We’ll publish it without editorializing, we swear.

Perhaps I have been unclear. I have no actual news to impart. My appearance alone is the news. Now that you know of my existence you’ll likely forget about it. And then once all trace of your awareness of me has dissipated I may appear again. Won’t that be fun?

You’ve turned the basic act of trying to know you into a Sisyphean act, which, no, doesn’t sound fun at all. It is an intriguing project, we’ll give you that, but isn’t it sort of sad for you to have no real . . . what do they call it? Object permanence. What meaning do you take from such an existence, Fustus? Can you share a moment that you’ve come to treasure?

For you to comprehend the full nature of my existence you would need to dematerialize. If you are ever able to accomplish that feat I will be only too pleased to get further acquainted. When I appear among the humans it is only as a brief physical apparition that enables them to acknowledge my presence. But my usual existence is formless and it is the most meaningful existence I can imagine. Every moment is a treasure, but I do particularly enjoy when the sun crests the edge of the Earth and I feel the force of its energy pass through me.

That does sound pleasant. Can you give us some insight on how to dematerialize? Just a few tips to get us started?

Certainly. Think of the smallest possible particle you can imagine. Concentrate all of your energy and attention on this image of infinitesimal proportions. Do this five times each day in five-minute sessions for five days in a row. On the sixth day at the sixth hour, do it for six minutes. After the six minutes are up, don’t open your eyes. Stand up and spin around rapidly until you can’t stand up straight any longer. When you eventually fall over you will wake to find yourself a speck in the vast expanse of space. If this doesn’t work then I know some people in Idaho who might be willing to take you in.