B.I.T. (Beta Test) Part 1: Memory

This is an excerpt from an attempt to expand an idea I started with this short story.  I’d love as much feedback as possible.  Enjoy!

I think I was part of the last generation that didn’t grow up with BIT. I mean it was around, but nobody really understood how to use it. It wasn’t everywhere like it is now. I’ve seen kids with chips that couldn’t have been older than 10. That’s just crazy. You don’t even know how to use your brain yet. But I guess it’s just progress. I mean I’m glad I have my chip. I think that BIT is probably mankind’s greatest achievement, but I’m glad I had my brain to myself for as long as I did.  Take nostalgia for example.  With post-chip memory it’ll be a thing of the past.  All those little annoyances of an experience that fade away as you get older, they’ll be there in vivid detail, so no nostalgia bias.

See, one of the first mainstream chip features was memory upgrades.  Problem was everyone did them differently.  The first ones all tried basic SDB, sensory data backup, which is basically just recording the standard sense-data to the cloud.  But then to recall the memory, you had to redirect the neural pathway from the hippocampal formation to the memory database in the cloud, which everyone soon found out was a bad idea.  With kids it was ok, their brains are still pretty plastic and open to rewiring.  But in adults, this is one of the strongest neural pathways in the brain.  So strong it would actually override the chip’s rewiring, which consumers saw as paying for shit that didn’t work.  So then they tried storing the sense-data in the hippocampus, but that got tricky too, because the brain already stores the memories itself, so they had to find a way to attach the sense-data to the memory the brain created.  Problem is, the way memory works, the brain only really stores the information from the memory that it feels is important.  Over time, the more you recall the event, the information you use from it once you recall it, that’s what the brain reinforces.  So if you don’t use all the sense-data stored for the memory – and who does? – the brain naturally dismisses it.  Which, again, just comes off as faulty programming.  So then someone said, ‘Well why are we trying to store information where the brain stores memories? Why don’t we just store it where the brain naturally stores information?’  Which, yeah, it’s obvious once you know it, but just no one had thought of it yet. So what we did was send the sense data to the parahippocampal cortices, which is where the brain stores semantic memory (facts, information, data), then all it took was strengthening the neural connection between the parahippocampal cortices and the hippocampus itself, where information is stored and where the memory is stored, which already existed. Just fire a few hundred neurons through it at the startup and the brain automatically reinforces it. Then it stays strong from there because it’s actually useful information to have when recalling memories.

So what resulted was two different sets of memories, pre-chip and post-chip, though technically it should be pre- and post-SDB, but no one says that.  The pre-chip memories are still vague and fuzzy like natural, but the post-chip ones are fully-detailed, vivid.  You can almost relive the moment in a weird way.  What’s really weird is when you recall your pre-chip memories, the recollection gets stored by the SDB processors, so you have a post-chip memory of recalling a pre-chip memory. This really made people realize how faulty pre-chip memory was, because they could look at every time they recalled the memory and see that it changed each time.  And the post-chip hippocampus tries to assimilate all of these different details into one memory, but it can’t.  They’re too different, and they contradict each other.

Anyway, the younger you get the chip, the less of those memories you have.  And kids are getting the chip younger and younger.  Pretty soon they’ll just be putting it in babies and no one will even remember what natural memories were like.  I’m just glad I was born when I was.  I like my pre-chip memories.  Somehow they feel more real, even though they’re actually less accurate.  I think there’s something kind of special about that process.  Maybe it’s just the thought of it being extinct that makes it feel that way, but I don’t know.  Maybe we’re supposed to forget certain things.  Maybe the past is supposed to look different every time you remember it.  I mean, our brains could have adapted to keep memories exactly as they happened, but it didn’t.  I’m not saying there’s a reason, like intelligent design or anything like that, I’m just saying the brain saw some reason to do it this way.  But I guess we know better than our brains now, don’t we?

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More Modern Myths

In my latest post about History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, and the ancient alien theory in general, I posited that the correlation between aliens and gods presented in the show is only proof that the two myths serve the same mythological function in two vastly separate time periods.  As a follow up, I wanted to present a few more modernizations of mythological figures that I’ve noticed.  Some are specific characters/figures, while some are broader archetypes that have changed throughout history.  I’ll start off with some fun easy ones, then get into the deeper stuff, so enjoy!

G-men as Angels/Demons

 

I briefly mentioned this mythological figure in the previous post, but I thought it warranted some elaboration.  The G-Man is interesting because these people actually exist, as we all know they do, yet they are shrouded in mystery.  And for the most part, we allow them to be.  This may be in part because we know they are working for our own security, or maybe we simply accept that there isn’t much we can do about it.  Nonetheless, the figure has taken on a mythic function in fiction and society.  The ‘Men In Black,’ (not the movie, as they are the protagonists and thus serve a entirely different function) represent agents of a higher power whose influence is as expansive as its purpose is mysterious.  They have no will or identity of their own.  Much like the the demons or angels of ancient tales, they are seen as extensions of the agency they represent, be it Heaven or Hell, good or evil, or just order and chaos.  They appear on the scene, serve their function, and disappear just as quickly.  Now certain angels and demons have, throughout their literary history, taken on other identities, personalities, and other functions of their own.  There is certainly a difference between the representation of a demon in possession or exorcism stories and the function of the G-men, though you could correlate ‘hypnotized’ or ‘brainwashed’ victims of these agencies to the possessed, but that correlation is a bit murkier.  For our purposes, we are focusing on the initial role of these figures in early myths.

The Spaceship as The Ark

     

This is a pretty obvious one.  If you’ve seen movies like Wall-E or Titan A.E., you’ve probably made the connection yourself, and the producers make no attempt to hide the correlation.  It is interesting, however, due to the universality of the deluge myth, both in ancient times and today.  Of course, today, you’d have a hard time selling that the entire earth would flood, and that we could survive and continue our race on a giant boat.  But change boat to spaceship and  flood to meteor or some other global disaster, and voila! another retelling of probably one of the most widely-told stories in history.  The most important aspect of the myth, though, is the one that has not changed.  The idea that after a global disaster, mankind must have a way to continue itself.  Another interesting aspect of this morphing myth is the span of time between the two tellings.  The deluge myths from ancient times were mostly said to have happened in ancient times to the audience then, meaning the story would be doubly ancient to us.  Antiquity’s antiquity.  And these new retellings of the myth take place in a future vastly beyond our own.  Much like the ancient alien theory, this is evidence of our strange self-reflexive time in history, where our most ancient stories are morphing into our most futuristic ones.

A.I. as the Golem (or Frankenstein)

  

The golem is a far lesser known figure than the others mentioned here, but you may recognize his successor, Frankenstein’s monster.  I chose the golem over Frankenstein because of his folktale roots, though he is also much more recent than the other figures in this article as well.  If you haven’t heard of the golem, he is a creature from Jewish folklore who is created by someone close to God (traditionally a rabbi), and in their pursuit to be like God, attempts to mimic His creation of man with the creation of a golem.  Because man does not have the same powers as God, the golem comes out a little less human than we’d prefer.  He has no soul, no free will, and no sense of morality.  In the most famous story of the golem, from Medieval Prague, the rabbi creates the golem to protect the city, but the golem, basically blazing the trail for Frankenstein’s monster, instead goes on a murderous rampage and has to be destroyed.  It’s a simple cautionary tale about the dangers of man’s reach exceeding his grasp, a theme that you could link back to the much older biblical story of the Tower of Babel, though it was God who destroyed the tower, so it doesn’t have that self-destructive element that we all love.

If you haven’t made the connection by now, let me spell it out for you.  The most recent incarnation of the golem story, which most people only go so far back as Frankenstein for its roots, is the figure of the A.I. computer or robot.  Whether it’s the HAL 9000 computer from Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the machines from the popular Terminator or The Matrix franchises, these self-aware or simply malfunctioning gizmos have become a staple of sci-fi plots.  And while they may seem new to the scene, and one might assume that they are unique to our time period because of the advent of computers, the basic idea behind them goes back to the golem: creating an intelligent being that ends up destroying us.

So now we’re getting into the deeper stuff.  Not only because of the subject matter of these new ‘mythological figures,’ but because of the broader and more abstract archetypes that they now fill.  Keep in mind here that I am referring to how these characters fit into our mythos.  I do not intend to make any political or sociological comments on these acts or their perpetrators, so I hope that no one takes them that way.

Serial Killer as Chthonic Beast

    

If you don’t know the term ‘chthonic,’ or can’t pronounce it, it refers to something tied to the earth, usually in a negative way.  The connotation in mythology and psychology refers to the chaotic primal nature of people or creatures.  The term ‘chthonic beast’ in mythology refers to any of a multitude of creatures from ancient stories who are usually defeated by a culture hero, signifying man’s conquering of nature to give way to civilization.  This concept has seen somewhat of a reversal in recent history, reflected in the transcendental and existential movements, which propose a return to the values of nature to correct the injustices of modern society.  What these thinkers overlook is that this peaceful, tranquil return to nature is only possible because of our past conquering of it, but that’s another topic for another time.  Some chthonic beasts include the Sphinx conquered by Oedipus, the Minotaur conquered by Theseus, and Leviathan conquered by God, as mentioned in the Old Testament.  While these figures still appear as beasts today, as can be seen with movies like Jaws or Jurassic Park (Spielberg was into chthonics apparently) and still serve the same function, I believe a new chthonic beast has appeared on the scene and is unique to our time.

Serial killers have fascinated the populace for a couple centuries now.  Not that there weren’t serial killers before, it’s just they were usually called Kings or Emperors.  But ever since Jack the Ripper, we’ve been at once terrified and excited by serial killers.  It’s impossible for us sane and decent human beings to imagine the mind of a person who could commit these acts, so we label them psychopaths, humans born without the capacity for empathy or moral decency.  And it is the chthonic nature of a psychopath to kill.  This is what terrifies us about them.  The chthonic beast is meant to remind us that our idea of civilization is an illusion that we all buy into.  That at any time that illusion can be shattered by the will of one person, and the serial killer is that person.  Their depiction in film is a testament to this.  The ‘slasher’ film always seems to start with a tranquil neighborhood, or a peaceful weekend getaway, or some other representation of the safety of modern society.  Yet as soon as the killer arrives on the scene, the society turns into a chaotic playground where it’s every man or screaming teenage girl for him-or-her-self.  In this new world, the chthonic beast is king.

Terrorist as Trickster

   

The trickster is another mythological archetype that spans all cultures and civilizations.  From the Norse god Loki to the Native American raven, the trickster is a character who doesn’t play by the rules.  He sets his own moral compass, or simply lacks one, and tends to give the finger to anyone making any laws or setting themselves on a pedestal.  The trickster is usually morally ambiguous, not an agent for good, but not wholly evil.  If he doesn’t have his own interests in mind, he does what he does simply to piss people off.  Yet the trickster is not just good for fucking shit up.  In most stories of fire being given to man, a symbol of the advent of technology, it is the trickster who steals it from the gods or just somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.  He didn’t do what he did for the betterment of man, but man benefitted from his act nonetheless.  He is an indifferent mover and shaker with his middle finger in the air smoking a cigarette as he blazes through your town in his Camaro with the muffler removed.  But he takes another form in our modern society: that of the terrorist.

Terrorism is a serious issue for most of the world right now, so it’s not unusual that terrorists would take a place in our mythos.  You might think that the terrorist would hold a similar place as the serial killer, being a force of chaos that disrupts our idea of civilization, but the terrorist is more like the trickster in that he usually has a motive behind his acts, even if it is just to cause a fuss.  For the purposes of this post, I am not simply talking about senseless acts of violence, but the broader spectrum of terrorism, especially including cyber-terrorism.  The way in which the terrorist reflects the trickster is that mankind can sometimes benefit from terrorism as well.  The ‘cyber-terrorist’ group known as ‘anonymous’ has made this connection themselves, choosing the character ‘V’ from V for Vendetta as the face of their anonymity.  By doing so, they are associating themselves with terrorism for the benefit of mankind, just as V executed in his graphic novels and film.  Cyber-terrorist Julian Assange is another example of this, and even Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, believed he was committing his acts for the betterment of man as well.

*Special Case: The Joker*

  

In the most recent Batman franchise, the character of the Joker made a glorious comeback into the modern mythos.  Heath Ledger’s legendary performance inspired a new vision of the Joker that is possibly more terrifying than the last.  In the movie, in true Jonathan Nolan style, the character explains his entire purpose within the context of the story.  He states that he is an ‘agent of chaos’ whose only motivation is to upset the established order.  With his speech, he teeters on the fine line between the chthonic beast and the trickster character, but seems to weigh heavy on the chthonic side.  This revamp of the character inspired many critics to equate him to the shark in Jaws and other monstrous villains, since he lacks a back-story necessary of a human character.  However, it seems obvious that the original intention of the Joker was meant to be a modern version of the trickster character.  The name ‘The Joker’ even seems to be a play on the term ‘The Trickster.’  The original version of the character had a back-story, and often set innocent victims up to play cruel and maniacal games for their lives or the lives of others.  Though it would be tough to argue that anything the character does benefits mankind, it is easily seen that he does have a motive, and therefore is better equated to the trickster.

So there you have it!  Granted there are probably many more modernizations of ancient myths and mythological figures, but I don’t have the time or attention span to get into all of them.  If you can think of any, please feel free to share them below!

Planet Eden

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The old legends say we came from a planet.  I’m serious.  That somehow one planet produced us on its own, totally randomly. Seems pretty ridiculous to me. The most complex thing I’ve ever seen a planet produce is a chemical storm. But that’s what they say. Supposedly this magical planet somehow had more than just a handful of elements, it had hundreds. And all those random chemicals magically came together to create a perfect biome just for us.  It’s absurd. This planet somehow produced its own reaction turbines that took in our carbon dioxide and converted it to oxygen. And they were supposedly all over the place. I mean, this stuff is laughable. On top of that, it could magically produce nutrients out of its crust. And there were little beings like us, only not as smart, whose bodies were made of nutrients and we would kill them and eat them.  For real, this is in the archives. This magical planet produced everything we needed, we didn’t have to go from planet to planet gathering resources to convert to nutrients.  Everything was laid right at our feet. Seriously, people actually believe this shit. I guess I get it. It’s nice to imagine a place like that. Makes you feel special.

It’s bullshit though.  I mean, just look at the evidence.  We’re an extremely complex organization of about 100 elements, put together in just the right way, and programmed to reproduce.  We were obviously made on purpose by someone or something.  And they probably didn’t get it right, so they just jettisoned us out.  An experiment gone wrong.  How else do you explain it?  We bicker and argue and believe stupid stories.  We have to scrounge around space for the elements we need to keep us alive.  We can’t self-sustain, so they just discarded us.  At least that makes the most sense to me.  Seems way more probable than a magical planet out in some distant galaxy.  But they’re right, I don’t know for sure.  I just go where the evidence leads instead of blindly believing some old superstition.

But we got too greedy, the legends say. We used up all the resources there, so we had to leave. But someday it’ll revive itself, this magical planet out there, and we can return and live with everything at our feet again. It’s just false hope is what it is. People want to believe in some utopia, past or present or both. It’s bullshit. People need to wake up.  Whatever. I guess it doesn’t hurt anybody if they want to believe it.  They just want to feel like there’s some purpose behind all of this.  Otherwise they’d just jettison themselves, which I wouldn’t mind to be honest.  That’s mean to say.  They’re not hurting anyone, they’re just annoying.  It’s a nice thought though.  I guess I can’t blame them.  It’d be great if I was wrong, if one day we found it.  I’d be the first to apologize.  I hope I am wrong.  I hope one day we can just stay on one planet that provides everything for us.  Planet Eden.  Sounds like a nice place.

My Best Friend Is Dead

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My best friend killed himself seven years ago. I asked him about it last week. He said he couldn’t even remember doing it anymore. I think his mind is starting to go. He said he can hardly even remember being alive. He can’t remember what it was like, who he was. “It’s like it was a dream,” he says, “an illusion of identity,” whatever the fuck that means. He doesn’t make much sense when he talks now.

He doesn’t talk much though. He likes listening to me talk. I don’t know why. It can’t be that interesting, me just telling him about my life. I mean, he ended his for a reason, so how could he be interested in mine? It makes me feel better though. He never seems to mind. It’s hard to tell. He always just sort of stares off, a million miles away. Not that he wasn’t like that before he died. He was always off somewhere in his own mind. It sort of makes sense what he did.

It took me forever to even convince him to get a chip installed. He said he didn’t like the idea of something tapping into his brain. He always had these moral objections to shit, like an old man. He would say the world was moving forward too fast, and that he wished he could just go the other direction. He came around to everything eventually though. Once he found out he could write his own programs, he was hooked.

The field was the first program we wrote together. It was just sort of to get our feet wet, get used to the programming. It was nothing but a big open field with a huge oak tree in the middle. There were trees lining the outside of the field, but you could never reach them, no matter how much you walked. We set it up on a private server online, so we could go there to hang out without actually going anywhere. It was just a space to practice in, but he really loved it there. He said it was peaceful, unspoiled. When I moved on to writing games and simulations, he kept working on the field. Adding little details like the bark on the tree and the texture of the grass. I didn’t understand the obsession then, but I think he was preparing it. Making it a space he could spend forever in.

“Forever’s not as long as you think it is,” he said last week. I was trying to ask him if it was his plan all along. To spend forever in this field. I can never get a straight answer out of him. “It’s sort of like one moment just got stretched out. That’s all forever is.” I said I didn’t get it. He said, “The past and the future are just delusions. The past only exists because you remember it, and the future only exists because you can imagine it. They’re only in your mind. Without them, all there is is right now.”

“Maybe in here,” I said. “In the real world, the past and the future are very real.” The words sounded mean coming out. I looked to see if he had taken it that way, but he was just stoic, like always, which just made me more frustrated. I wish he would have been offended. At least that would mean there’s some human part of him left. But he just shrugged, said ‘Maybe,’ and kept staring off at the unreachable trees in the distance.

The first time I saw him after he did it, I didn’t even know he was dead. He wasn’t answering his phone, so I just plugged into the field program, hoping I would find him there. I saw him walking around, blank-faced, staring at the artificial sky. He was surprised to see me, but he didn’t mention why. I asked if he wanted to do anything but he said, “I think I’ll just stay here. You should go do something though.” I thought he was just in a weird mood, so I left him alone.

As soon as I came out my mom told me what had happened. They found him locked in the garage with the car running. I didn’t believe her at first, so I went to his house. They were bringing his covered body out on a gurney. His parents were hysterical. I stole up to his room and shook the mouse attached to his computer. The screen blinked on and I saw the sync window was open. He had had it on a timer, giving himself enough time to prepare.

I went back in and found him. I think he knew as soon as he saw my face. I asked him if he was dead. He said he wasn’t sure. He didn’t feel dead. He made me promise not to tell anyone. He said he wanted to be dead, he didn’t want his family trying to come visit him or anything. He said he didn’t think I would show up, but I’m not sure I believe him. Part of me thinks he did it on purpose, like he wanted me to stick around. I didn’t ask him why he did it. I feel like I should have, but I don’t know, it just didn’t seem relevant at the time.

For the first few years afterwards he was the same. I would get home from school and plug in and spend hours talking to him. About my life, asking him what it was like being dead. He had a lot to say at first. He said it didn’t really feel that different, except that he felt more free every day. “Like a huge weight was on my shoulders when I was alive and it gets lighter and lighter every day that I’m not.” He used the word ‘enlightened’ a lot. I didn’t really understand, but he seemed happy, so I didn’t ask questions.

I kept working on the program, improving it. I would ask him if he wanted anything in particular. He would decline for the most part. He would say, “I’m dead. Dead people don’t get indulgences.” Sometimes I would convince him to let me try to make him pot or alcohol. He said it sort of worked. I kept improving it. I think I learned most of what I know about programming from trying to make shit for him. Eventually I tried to make him a girl. The first few were a little scary, just big tits and blank faces. I finally made one that was attractive and functional, and we had some fun with her. But he said it drove him crazy having her around all the time. She was empty. Not a real person. Eventually he stopped letting me make things. He would say “This wasn’t the point. I’m supposed to be dead.” I never knew what to say when he said shit like that. I stopped trying to understand why he did it. Maybe cause I was afraid it would make sense.

He said he doesn’t remember why he did it. He said he hardly remembers being alive. He dug his fingers into the grass and said, “I feel like I’ve always been here. Like I was here for a long time before I was born, and now I’m back. And my life was just a bad dream.”

I tried to ignore the fact that he thought it was a ‘bad’ dream. “But that’s not true,” I told him. “We built this place while you were alive. You couldn’t have been here before.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t build it. Maybe it was always here, and we just discovered it. Or it revealed itself to us.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.  We wrote the code.  Without the code, there’s no field.”

“The code’s just a combination of a fixed number of letters and symbols. There’s only so many possible combinations you can make, so the possibility always existed. It was just waiting for someone to find it.”

I didn’t want to argue with him anymore. It was pointless. I’m supposed to feel better when I come and talk to him, but I just felt more confused than before. And his stupid fucking blank stare just made it worse. Just an off day, I thought. Try again tomorrow.

He asked me about college when I was there. I’d tell him about the parties, the drugs, the sex. I could detect a little bit of jealousy in him the first couple years. I almost thought I had him regretting his decision. But by the time I was getting ready to graduate… I don’t know. It’s not like he lost interest. He would still ask me about it, but it was sort of like he was just doing what he thought he should. He would sit and listen, always with that far off stare. It got harder and harder to understand him. He spoke in generalities, like some Buddhist monk. I’m not sure I understood it all, but it made me feel better. He helped me through a lot. I guess it sort of became routine, like a meditation or yoga or something. I ended up needing him, when I thought it was the other way around.

I graduated and got a job writing virtual reality games. The industry was just taking off at the time, and I had more skill than most. People were doing a lot of innovative stuff. Virtual physics simulations and genetic programming. He liked hearing about that. He was always better than me at programming. He had a passion for it that I could never understand. He could have been great. Eventually someone asked the question. I don’t know when I first heard it. Maybe the news or something. But pretty soon everyone was talking about it. What would happen if your body died while you were plugged in? No one’s had the balls to try it and find out. Except him.

I’ve kept my promise though. I’ve kept my mouth shut. I don’t know what I would tell them if I could. Is he real? He seemed real at first, but now I don’t know. He’s not really himself anymore. He says he realizes that he was never himself, but that he was all selves, tricked into thinking he was one self. He says that’s what all people are. “One soul trapped in a billion bodies.” That’s what he said the last time I talked to him. He said, “Never forget that. It’s the most important thing you can know.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. Maybe someday I will.

The next day, when I went in, I couldn’t find him. I stayed in for about three hours, waiting for him to show up, but he never did. I can’t imagine where he went. Logically, it doesn’t make any fucking sense. Maybe he’s still in there somewhere, wandering around in those trees I can never reach. It’s been a week now, and still no sign of him. I’ve been going in every day, just in case. I’m starting to think he was never there at all, that maybe I was just imagining him all these years. I guess I’ll never really know.

I hope he comes back one day. I hope someday I can understand all those things he said to me. Maybe I’ll see him when I die. I’m not really sure how all that works. Is he in heaven now? Did he finally actually die? I hope so. Either way, it’s going to be hard living without him. I’ve gotten so used to it. Maybe I should still go in, just sit in there and talk. Maybe he can still hear me. Probably not, though. But it would make me feel better, which is all he ever wanted anyway.

He Said, She Said

My Flash Fiction Piece “He Said, She Said” which was WritersType.com’s Monthly Winner for April 2012, and was published in the third issue of Corvus Magazine.

He Said, She Said

By Logan Rees

 

            “What did you say?” she said.

He said, “I said nothing.”

I said nothing.

She said, “I said, ‘what did you say?’”

“I said, ‘I said nothing,’” he said.

I said nothing.

“I heard what you said,” she said.

“You heard me say I said nothing?” he said. “Or you heard what I said before you asked me what I said?”

I tried to say something. “What’s with all the ‘he said, she said?’”  I shouldn’t have said that.

“Fuck you!” they said, pretty much in unison.

He, she, and I all said nothing for a while.  The guy on the T.V. was saying that someone was saying that someone famous was saying something about someone else, who is also famous, I think.  I wasn’t really paying attention to the T.V.

This was all happening at my apartment, unfortunately.  If it were happening anywhere besides my apartment I would have left wherever it was happening and gone somewhere else, like my apartment.  This happens everywhere though.  If they’re together anywhere, they’ll find something to argue about.

“I’m sorry,” he said

She said, “For what?

“For what I said,” he said.

She said it was okay, in so many words.  I think she apologized too, but I can never tell what she means when she talks.  There’s always, what do you call it, subtext.

Obviously I said nothing.  But I was thinking something.  Something I can’t even remember right now, but I remember thinking at the time that it was something really significant.  It probably wasn’t, but whatever.  I felt like you should know I had a thought.  Christ, what was I thinking?

“You know, I was thinking,” he said.  “I was thinking we could…” He stopped. “Nevermind,” he started, then mumbled something under his breath.

“What did you say?” she said.

He said, “I said nothing.”

I said nothing, and then it started all over again.  I don’t know if the conversation went exactly the same, I stopped listening, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

“Why are you doing this with him here?”

He looked at me.

“I can go,” I said.

They said nothing.

I walked into my bedroom and closed the door.  All I could hear of their conversation through the walls was muffled shouts.  I grabbed my iPod and shoved the headphones in my ear.  In half a second their shouts were drowned out by melodies and harmonies.  The singer was shouting something at me, but I wasn’t listening.  It wasn’t important anyway.  The only thing that made any sense to me right then was the pounding of the music in my ear.  I closed my eyes and let my mind wander.  The music filled my head with images.  Images of joy and peace.  Images without words to soil them.  Just fuzzy memories of feelings or thoughts.

Then the images stopped.  The music had cut out.  I looked at my iPod.  The numbers were still running, but no noise was coming out.  Piece of shit broke again.  I pulled the headphones out and threw it on the bed.  It landed silently on the soft sheets.  Then I realized the shouts from the other room had stopped.

I went to the door, grabbed the doorknob, and stopped dead.  I think that’s when I first noticed it.  I let go of the doorknob and grabbed it again, harder.  Same thing.  It didn’t make a sound.  I started breathing heavy, but couldn’t hear the air enter or leave my lungs.  I cocked my hand behind my head and slammed it flat against the door as hard as I could.  Nothing.

I flung the door open to find her with both hands on her throat and her mouth wide open, feeling for vibrations as she shouted silent words.  He was in the kitchen banging pots and pans together in futile attempts to make sound.  The guy on the T.V. was fumbling nervously with his earpiece and lapel microphone.

Her eyes, filled with tears, met mine, and she mouthed what could have been, “What’s going on?”

He emerged from the kitchen with one of my green ceramic bowls in his hand.  He opened his mouth in what probably would have been a maniacal scream, raised the bowl over his head, and marched toward the window.  She and I both yelled for him to stop, but to no avail.  The bowl went flying through the window, breaking the glass without a sound.  He buckled to his knees and grabbed two handfuls of his own hair.

Out the window, people in cars pressed their hands against their steering wheels but no car horns sounded.  T.V.s and computer monitors fell from windows above mine and smashed silently on the ground.  A man broke the noiseless glass of a store window, and a muted gunshot put him on his back.

I looked back in my apartment to find his head arched back, his mouth flailing, shouting words he knew no one could hear.  Words he wanted no one to hear.  Words just to bring his mind peace.  Words to let his anger out.  To regain his sanity.

And then, out of nowhere, he said, “…and I fuck other women!”

Car horns and gunshots and indistinguishable screams poured in from out the window.

“What did you say?” she said.

The guy on the T.V. was saying something about not panicking and finding an explanation.

He said, “I said nothing.”

The sound of an explosion came from out the window.

I said nothing.