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How the Mud-Rabbit was Cured of Nostalgia

Mud-Rabbit is feeling nostalgic today and has floated away on a golden memory. But then he frowns. What’s up, Mud-Rabbit? Something gnawing at you?

Ick! A stowaway! Seems this nostalgia is plagued with Doubt. How is Mud-Rabbit going to enjoy himself now with Doubt scampering in every dark corner and nibbling at his provisions? Better do something quick, Mud-Rabbit, before this small Doubt becomes an infestation!

Actually, scratch that last thought. A pirate ship called the Hard Truth has just appeared in the offing and is heading toward Mud-Rabbit full sail. When it catches up, it won’t much matter. Hey, at least that infestation problem will be solved!

NG & SS

This is the second installment of our new collaborative series called “Trinkets” in which very small things have very small adventures. See how we’ve been making ourselves small-minded.

How the Cat Escaped into the Big Confusing World

My cat, my cat, my dear tiny cat—she has escaped! I keep her in this red box so I’ll always know where she is. Now she is gone! But…to be truthful…I don’t think she was happy. Often at night I would wake to the sound of her claws scraping the underside of the box lid. At first it frightened me! But I grew used to it and found it lulled me back to sleep. Now how will I ever sleep again? Oh, she’s such a stupid cat…she can’t have gotten far missing one leg (or possibly two).

I’m a cat, I’m a cat, I’m a CAT…and—I’m free! Free of my abysmal life inside the red box owned by that horrid lady with the weird giant collar she was always threatening to strangle me with. Well, I’ll show her, the old bag. She always said I’d be nothing without her, how only having two, maybe three legs at best put me at a disadvantage in the world and I’d never make it out there on my own. But the joke’s on her because I know how to get a leg (or two) up…

Hmm…apparently getting a leg up doesn’t mean what I thought it did, although I still could use one. But wait…what does it say at the end there…one’s last legs…means ‘at the end of…’ The end of what? Am I on my last legs?! Oh gosh, why did I ever leave, it’s so confusing out here…I wish I were back in the safety of that tin box, sharpening my claws on the lid so as to slit the old crone’s throat right through her enormous collar! Miao! Hsss!

SS & NG

This is the first installment of our new collaborative series called “Trinkets” in which very small things have very small adventures. See how we’ve been making ourselves small-minded.

Fenella Fatale

It’s fun to hang around such nefarious characters! After all, what else am I going to do all day?

Fenella! We’ve never interviewed an actual, bonafide celebutante! To what do we owe the pleasure of your appearance?

Well, I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d pick flowers to dress up the salon. The literary salon, that is, where we will be hosting a reading later today. Naturally I had to pin some to the front of my dress—do you like them?

Yes, we never would’ve thought to pin an entire nosegay of flowers to the front of ourselves; we see you’ve brought your famous (or should we say infamous) fancy for innovation with you today. But what’s this reading that’s happening this evening? And did we miss your invitation in the mail somehow?

Oh no! You didn’t receive it? But I had my coachman hand-deliver it! Sigh…I will have to have him flogged. The reading is a gathering of some of my best literary soulmates. We are going to read a manuscript of our new collaborative novel in the round! And since you mentioned it, yes, it is quite innovative—I have no doubt everyone will be astounded upon its publication! 

(But you must come tonight! I will let my butler know that even though you don’t have an invitation in hand you may still enter the premises.) 

(I just love my nosegay! It’s perfectly positioned so that I can surreptitiously duck my nose down to my bosom and inhale its delicate floral aroma.)

We accept your invitation and we can’t wait! You know, Fenella, we’re very much into collaboration ourselves here at the Ghost Paper Archives. We’re dying to hear about your process. What will you divulge about it? (That nosegay is indeed fragrant; we’re feeling rejuvenated by it all the way over here.)

I don’t want to give it all away, but since you asked so politely I can say that we each wrote a part of it. I may even have inserted myself as a character, but whether or not that’s indeed true will be for the reader to decide!

I’m so thrilled that you plan to attend! I should let you know that formal evening attire is required. Do you know what that means? It’s hard for me to tell how cultured you are…

Please—we feel outmatched culture-wise—tell us what to wear! We’re also very curious, if it isn’t too saucy to ask, what it was like to offer yourself up as a character to your friends? Did they take any, um, liberties?

Oh, you dirty bird…now I’m feeling quite flustered. Yes, if you must know, some of my more ribald writer-friends did take advantage of my character’s irresistible joie de vivre. I initially felt put out by this affront to decency, but after a few glasses of port I came around and fell in with the spirit of the thing. If it’s for art, I’m willing to endure the potential sacrifice to my reputation. Anything for art, is what I always say.

You should wear an evening suit or a dress or whatever you feel shows off your best self! Just don’t come dressed in rags. I’m hosting a salon, not running a rooming house, my dear!

OK we’ll see if we have anything that isn’t rags. Honestly, though, it’s all rags compared to your lustrous gown and cleverly placed nosegay.  Who’s on the program to read tonight, and what will they be reading? Give us a teaser at least!

Supposedly Mr. Doyle is coming (he did contribute, after all) but he can be flaky. Too many demands on that one’s time for little old me. Who knew those detective stories he writes would be so popular! And Bram will be there, of course (that’s Mr. Stoker to you!). He’s working on a top-secret new novel. I really shouldn’t say anything about it, but a little birdy told me it’s about a blood-sucking fiend! (Don’t tell anyone I mentioned it!). Maybe if we’re lucky he’ll read us a little something from the manuscript tonight. The other attendees are mostly members of my little book club, so you probably haven’t heard of them. But I assure you each of them is a first-rate writer in their own right.

Fantastic. Fenella, you’re so charming and audacious, to offer yourself up as a character to mix with opium-eating sleuths and blood-sucking fiends. What’s that like, to be such a character?

Oh, I simply love it. It’s fun to hang around such nefarious characters! After all, what else am I going to do all day? Sit around and remonstrate the butler for his oafish tendencies as my nosegay slowly wilts in the afternoon sun? I mean, really…

No, that would be a squandering of your charm, for sure. Now . . . one last question. Suppose during this reading, which we are definitely coming to, we were to meet you there. Not near the canapés or the punch bowl, but in the actual story as it is being passed around from author to author. How will we know which Fenella is the real Fenella?

Ah, what a splendid question! You are certainly a clever one, aren’t you? But the answer is really quite simple, you see. I will be the only one wearing gloves!

(See you soon, I hope!)

NG, SS

Smallness

Why is smallness appealing? Does it inspire other feelings, as well?

With our enhanced self-interrogation techniques we devise questions and answer them separately to discover what we know about a given topic. What notions do we hold in common? Are there any points of difference that offer themselves up for poking and prodding?

Why is smallness appealing? Does it inspire other feelings, as well?

NG: The world is big and makes us feel small, which is not appealing. We feel constantly threatened, like something big could come along and eat or squash us and what could we do about it? But a small object makes us feel big. Instead of casting paranoid glances in all directions, we can narrow our gaze upon one small thing. A small thing is, naturally, an object of contemplation; its smallness makes the bigness around us disappear. Or put another way, we become the bigness, which is very appealing.

SS: I’m not sure. Size is a tricky concept. The appeal of smallness varies; some things are more appealing in a larger format, whereas other things we might prefer to be more compact. This could be said for either objects or living things. With objects, it’s often a question of form versus function, and on which side we’re willing to compromise. For example, we might prefer a small, low-profile bag for the sake of convenience and easy handling, but in choosing that smaller bag we sacrifice the space necessary to transport a greater number of objects that a larger, more unwieldy bag would accommodate.

I think smallness also inspires tenderness and a caring attitude. We may feel protective toward small beings and want to welcome them into our nest. Likewise with plants—we know that young, small plants are not necessarily strong enough to survive on their own and so need extra attention. Larger living things may suggest a more certain degree of self-sufficiency, though that is not always the case in actuality.

How can examining smallness lead to a wider and deeper understanding of the world?

SS: Big things are made up of smaller things. Animals (including humans) are composed of the smallest building blocks of energy and matter. The most complex scientific theories and systems of philosophy begin with single letters joined into words. It is at the level of the small where we all must begin our journey with any enterprise.

NG: One crazy idea is that the world is a fractal. The large things of the world, the really big weighty questions, are too big and abstract to know. But because the world is a fractal, these big weighty questions are contained wholly in smaller things, if only one has the eyes to see them. The brutality of existence is spelled out in the sun-bleached mandible of an animal. Love reveals itself in a laugh.

Smallness can suggest vulnerability, but size is not always analogous to strength. What are some small things or beings that project strength, either explicitly or implicitly?

SS: Cyanide pills, plutonium atoms, fire ants, action figures, poetry books.

NG: Poison seems to have outsized power. A tiny spider in the attic or a scorpion hiding under a rock could spell disaster for the person who discovers it. I suppose magical items work on the same principle of disproportion—the ‘one ring’ that fits a halfling’s finger and decides the fate of the realm. Geesh, even an atom, when tickled in the right way, will blow up the world. I suppose we should be grateful small things so rarely follow through on big ideas.

Late in his writing life Robert Walser began to write his small fictions in an indecipherably small pencil script on scraps of paper. Why was this the obvious thing to do?

NG: The great artist, to imitate true perspective, rushes to meet the vanishing point within the furthest depths of the portrait. He or she doesn’t wait for it to come. Walser had discovered that to approach the vanishing point he had to make himself increasingly small, so that when he and the vanishing point finally met, they would already know each other.

SS: I think that by this point he’d given up on being published again and was strictly writing for himself, while also living in conditions where he likely did not have ready access to writing paper. So it seems logical that he would turn to whatever scraps of paper he could find and by necessity also reduce the size of his script in order to maximize his available writing space. I think there is also something addictive about writing small fictions, whereby one can feel drawn to scale down as much as possible while still retaining meaning. I don’t know if Walser felt this or not, but it could also have been a factor.

Why is a small book a more seductive object than a large book?

SS: Personally I find small books more seductive because they are easier to transport in a clandestine manner and I like the idea of a book I can read in many different spaces. I also like books I can complete in a reasonably short period of time, so small ones entice me more than large ones. When I see a small book, in the back of my mind I’m always thinking ‘I could possibly read that in a single afternoon!’ and that is a powerful seduction.

NG: A large book wants to tell you everything. A small book is a secret. This is supported by the numerous tv shows and movies where a character is protected from a bullet by a small, personally meaningful book hidden in the coat pocket, guarding the heart. A large book, on the other hand, will only ever tumble from an upper shelf and smash you in the head.

In the realm of the small, who (or what) rules?

NG: Economy, I think. Like in chess, where a game can only contain a (relatively) small number of moves, the most powerful move is the one that serves multiple purposes, like advancing a pawn while simultaneously freeing up the movement of the queen behind it. Similarly, a powerful poem or sentence exploits the multiple connotations of words, the simulative effects of syntax. I imagine the Queen of Small’s crown stacked precariously on her head, not a bejeweled diadem but a melding of all the other hats of the realm: the fireman’s helmet, the nurse’s cap, the policeman’s visor, the foreman’s hardhat, the doctor’s mirrored disc, the teacher’s mortarboard, the dancing girl’s feather, the judge’s wig, the jester’s bells, etc.

SS: The smallest of the small rules the realm of the small.

NG, SS

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

Learn about After People »

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

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