Friday, March 14, 2014

Mason's house

The night before my grandfather dies, my parents send me to stay with the family of a friend. I am seven.

I eat dinner with my friend that night. His name is Mason, and his father drives him around on a motorcycle that makes me jealous and causes my parents to give him disapproving frowns.

At this point I usually go home, to my family, my stuffed bear, my little blue blanket, my nightlight, my 10-watt bulb. Instead, Mason and I return to his room, where we play more. I'm tired and confused.

Mason's mother explains to me that I have to stay overnight. She has long, blonde, soft hair. My mother's hair is coarse and frayed. I nod at her words.

It's early summer. The sun sets through a purple and orange sky. An hour later we are put to bed.

The room is dark. Mason asks me if this is my first sleep-over. I lie and say it isn't. He asks how many I've been to. Lots, I say. How many, he presses. I dunno, I search for a number, maybe five?

Later, Mason breathes softly in the bed next to mine. I can't sleep. In the rush to come over earlier, I forgot my bear, my blanket, and my pajamas. I borrow a pair of Mason's. They're too tight and red, the wrong color. I like blue.

I wake. I must have been asleep. I cry for my mom, but she's not there. No one comes. I'm scared. Strange shadows creep across the wall toward me. I pull the blanket up above my chin.

There's a purple streetlight outside Mason's window. It flickers on and off every thirty seconds. I practice counting. Sometimes it's shorter, sometimes longer. Always around 30 seconds.

My legs hurt and I want water and I want to use the potty. I get out of bed and put my feet on the floor. Mason turns over and I hold my breath. Another three flickers pass. I keep moving.

The hall is completely dark, the kind of place where monsters wait. I'm here because, without warning, my parents shoved me into a car and drove me here to visit my grandfather in the hospital. I asked if I could could come. They said no.

I find the bathroom and run the faucet, turning my head sideways and leaning in to drink. Then I hear a bang and I shriek and stumble backwards. I fall into the tub and hit my head. I cry out and wail.

A flashlight beam blinds me. It's Mason's mom. She lifts me out of the tub and asks what I was doing. I sniffle and say I needed to use the potty. She laughs and says don't worry, it was just a transformer blowing. Her hair smells like sweet flowers, and I let my tears run into her shirt.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I've always loved you from the moment I saw you sit at the desk next to mine in second year composition, I tell her, although as the words come out of my lips they don't sound entirely like I was the one saying them. It's an answering machine, I think, a distant, tinny memory, played over an over until you accept that you must be the one speaking because there's no one else it could be, while at the same time harboring doubt at this alternative voice that speaks dark fears and intimate desires.

She laughs and I hear music. Her voice swims and I float alongside. She appreciates me, I know and she says. An awkward pause ensues and she squints her eyes and realizes my intentions. Adjust the lens and take another look; flush cheeks are either good or bad, I'm not sure.

Oh, she says, a word escaping her locked lips before she can wrangle it back. Insight dawns; she winces gently, an act I notice. I feel like a kid at the top of the roller coaster. A hand, her hand, touches my shoulder. My emotions are drawn there like one of those touch electric glass ball lamps that arcs energy at any fingers that touch it. My heart beats too fast and it's all I can hear and feel.

More words are said but I can't make them out. Sweat beads on my neck and behind my ears. I shouldn't have, I mumble, and force my way passed her and out of the room. Then she is gone and the sun beats down as the wind blows across my face, scattering freshly-fallen leaves.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Four lines and five colors, a three-by-five portrait drying next to my furnace where it will collect dust until the light shines again and I remember my hands gripping a brush in an attempt to define vibrancy on a rainy Saturday afternoon while my wife sleeps on the upstairs sofa and the caffeine and beer in my stomach fight to a stalemate. A window one foot above and to my left frames the downpour; the sidewalk floods and the white noise furnace fire offsets the sound of water slapping concrete and hard-pack dirt. Somewhere nearby, a car backfires.

The colors I choose are red, blue, orange and green. Gluey paint gobs on heavy bristles until I swipe them across empty canvas. I divide the work into four sections, one for each color, and divide them with heavy black lines; I draw these with a separate brush so as to not pollute the other colors, but the efforts are in vain as streaks of black follow rogue strands, polluting my work. I shrug and switch to bourbon, pouring a healthy three fingers into a highball glass.

Paint fumes give me a stretching headache that claws its way up from my nostrils across my scalp. I set the brush down and leave the canvas to dry out of sight, behind the accordion door and into a closet next to our furnace. My Old Crow tastes like paint; I drink the glass down in one gulp and pour a second.

My wife awakes and shouts down from the kitchen what I want for dinner. I yell if she's cooking tonight for a change. She replies no, but she's hungry so I'd better figure out what I want and then cook it so she can have some too. My hands leave paint fingerprints on my glass. I tell her I'm cleaning up and will get to it as soon as I'm done.

We occupy a sterile town home. I paint in the basement, alongside the furnace, what I'm told is called a "half bath," and an empty concrete floor we intended to turn into a den. The kitchen is above me, and the bedroom is above the kitchen. I wash my hands and mixed paint runs black, red, and brown down the drain. Most of the color comes off, but some remains

I finish my bourbon, pour myself a third, and go upstairs. In the fridge I find a loaf of bread, half a jar of peanut butter, and an equivalent amount of grape jam. I scrape together two sandwiches and yell to my wife that food is ready. I head downstairs before she enters the kitchen.

I sit cross-legged next to the furnace and watch my painting. It isn't particularly good, but I feel accomplishment nonetheless; the lines are strong, and the color are deep. My wife yells down something, but I can't make out any of her words over the furnace and the rain. I finish my bourbon, set the glass on the stone floor, and grip the sandwich between both paint-stained hands as I eat.

The accordion door slams open and my wife gives me a perplexed look. What the hell are you doing, she asks. Eating, I say. She sighs and leaves the door half-open as she goes back upstairs. From my position I can see the falling water through the window above me. The only thing I can think of is how the lines of the painting would bleed if I took it out into the rain.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The last time

Jake Ocumanos towers over me. If you stand us against each other, face-to-face, my nose slides in just below his chin while his either pokes me in an eye or stands in the half-forest mess of a space between my two eyebrows. Up close, his face is a mixed-density minefield, a mess of stubble and pockmarks between scars set over sallow skin and brown-yellow teeth from a lifetime of coffee and cigarettes. Unpleasant, to say the least.

We've only been in this situation three times: Once, on an elevator in Los Angeles when he started dating my aunt and was helping us move out of her apartment and into his Chevy Astro and we pressed up against each other between suitcases and boxes of old Harlequin novels destined for the dumpster; then again in the woods outside of Alturas, California, after a night of sleepless drinking on his part, where he charged into my tent, pulled me out, stood me up, and told me I was a miserable failure while the sun rose behind us; and a final time right before I grabbed hold of a desk lamp and broke it against his head, causing opaque glass to embed in his cheeks.

The last time is the most important. When the lamp crushes his face there's a hollow crack followed by the sprinkling of the glass that doesn't stick in his face dropping onto the laminate floor. I step back and drop the lamp. Jake topples onto my particleboard desk, and it breaks down the middle, splinters and dust billowing into the air, as he collapses with it to the ground.

When Jake meets me for the first time at my aunt's home in Los Angeles he is pleasant. He smiles broadly and musses my hair. I smell his aftershave and it tastes like metal in my my mouth. My aunt tells me this is Jake and he's a good man and strong and he's going to take care of us because she knows how I've lacked for a strong male presence in my life since my father died in the car wreck with fire and smoke and the bright, spinning lights from every direction. I smile and so does my aunt because I believe she's genuinely happy. This is fifteen years ago.

I stand over Jake. Each day I more closely resemble the picture of my father that I keep in my wallet, bulbous nose to bushy eyebrows down to the broad shoulders and pooch of a stomach that slumps over any belt I wear. Although and distended by age, signs of the chiseled, ex-Army man remain. He's entirely square, forehead, jaw, chest, body. I kick him. Don't you dare, I scream, because you've never been my father.

My aunt laments our arguments. Disagreements, she calls them. Jake strikes my face and I feel the heat of his hand and collapse to the ground. She clucks between parsed lips and sips her coffee and orders me to get up already because I'm embarrassing myself. Jake recoils like an undercard boxer having downed his over-matched opponent, retreating to his corner, seeing if I'll answer the count. Inevitably I get up and slide away, and he watches contentedly as I go.


There's only so far to go when you run. Physically I can go anywhere, up to the sky to hurl thousands of miles in a handful of hours until the world melts and people I don't recognize drone in odd tongues and scrutinize my passport in lazy attempts to determine whether I am the man with long hair and sallow skin under poor light on the picture. Mentally it's the same, between diving into a book or my mind while eavesdropping on nearby conversations about vacation plans and retreating through wet glass windows as I stare into darkness and only the flashing light on the tip of the plane's wing is visible against the unlit night.

The Airbus rocks as we hurl through the air. Flying terrifies me, and I feel like a bullet loaded in a gun pointed into the air by someone with a sick smile and dubious intentions. I half expect the cabin to depressurize the second we achieve cruising altitude, just as the speakers chime to life and the Captain begins announcing in a tired voice thick with forced attentiveness that we've reached some absurd height and it's now okay to rattle about in our hurtling tube if you need to stretch or use the bathroom or ask for peanuts because you haven't eaten in days and you can't wait for the in-flight service and the carts whose wheels squeak, pop, and lock as attendants in pastel suits push them forward like miniature battering rams.

I order double bourbon and water. I use the water to down a single Vicodin and then sip my drink. The man next to me wears a wrinkled black suit with a blue cream tie. He connected in Los Angeles, he explains, through Boston from Bangor, Maine and he's really tired, but he also notes that he can't sleep on planes and then apologizes for prattling on while he drinks generous gulps of Coca Cola. He's awash in caffeine, a string-less marionette. I lean forward in my seat and press my cheek against the cool window glass and bourbon split drips down my chin.

If the plane depressurizes the emergency oxygen masks will drop; they remind us at the outset you're supposed to assist those around you who need help before you tend to yourself. I imagine a scenario more vivid, with the emergency door many rows ahead blowing off into the sky for no logical reason whatsoever. The smell is vivid and welcome, fresh and wet, but everything else is disaster. Several rows of passengers and chairs and Skymall magazines fire out like the opening's the mouth of a blunderbuss. The suction pulls my hair but little else since I'm advisably strapped into my seat. My neighbor, Coca Cola and all, joins the exodus, and as he exits the plane the soda leaves his hands and he's left alone to have his eyes adjust to the screaming darkness as he becomes gyroscopic through the clouds before colliding with the ocean that hits like concrete. I decide to not help him first if the oxygen masks deploy at some point during our journey, and instead spend the next thirty minutes imagining how fast the plane could drop in the event of a disaster like fire or terror or the finger of god flicking us from the sky while I wring a Skymall into a tube and tense at each patch of turbulence.

My Vicodin hits as the cart passes by again and I feel suddenly lighter, like my head is a balloon and it doesn't matter if the plane splits in half because as the world falls away I'd keep on floating over the Pacific and land at Tokyo Narita without difficulty, only a little wet from the rain. I select vegetarian lasagne because I mistrust mass-produced and packaged meat served at 36,000 feet. I finish my bourbon and I'm rolling. After what might be several minutes but is more likely only a few seconds, I realize the flight attendant has asked me a question and awaits my reply. She smiles with broad, polished teeth. I smile back too-wide and emit a sound that's more a gurgle than a laugh.

Soon the cabin lights dim and people begin to sleep. My neighbor and I remain awake and we get to talking about more than whether either of us can float home in the event of sudden splitting or a water landing. His name is Allen something and he sells refrigerators in Bangor, Maine, where he lives with his wife of fifteen years, Janet, and their three children, Smith, Elizabeth Anne, and Donald. He got into refrigerators because his father got into refrigerators and it seemed like a reasonable solution to life after returning from serving in the First Gulf War. Refrigerators, he sighs, what a life. He laments his lost youth, lost physique, a lost girlfriend, lost time, lost dreams, and a lost edge in his mind which feels duller by the day no matter how much caffeine he pumps in.

I don't know if his name is Allen. He spoke, but I didn't listen. Between the pills and the booze my mind drifted away between lucidity and a blurry, drool-covered haze. The rest of the details are suspicions I fill in between a few choice words I do hear, including "refrigerator" and "First Gulf War." For all I know he's not served a day in his life. Between the stocky frame and extra chin and thinning hair pasted into a weak comb-over, "Refrigerator Salesman from Maine" does feel correct. Smiles and nods, and he's content to carry my end of the conversation as long as I feign attentiveness and grunt in the correct tones in appropriate places. He never does explain why he's going to Japan, I think.

Allen flags a stewardess and upgrades from Coca Cola to bourbon, like me. We clink glasses and toast how remarkable it is to be blasting along somewhere north of 500 miles per hour. He points to my glass but shake my head. The last thing this airline needs is someone losing consciousness somewhere between Alaska and Hawaii above empty Ocean and having to divert the plane to Juneau or Honolulu or wherever's closest because they don't want the bad press that comes with someone like me dying mid-flight. Instead I shake my head, close my eyes, and feign sleep until he shuts up and becomes engrossed in Skymall, no doubt planning how his family would find a ceramic garden gargoyle adorable, or a pet or more likely himself could use a silicone mat to more easily collect clippings during his misadventures in grooming. After an indeterminate length of time I hear his gently breathing coalesce into soft snores, and I look over and his chin is folded down onto his tie knot. The plane rocks and his can falls over, spilling the last drops of his soda next to his chicken with rice.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Down the stairs

There's only so much to it, stars in her eyes, and then gone, on an afternoon train from Shinjuku. I'm drunk. So is she. We hold each other for a length of time between awkward and desperate, and then she pushes me away and the doors close and the wind whips my hair into my eyes as the train fires out of the station like a bullet from a gun straight into my chest. I reel, slugged, against a tile wall. No one else in the station, not the hurrying businessmen, not the frazzled mother with three loud children, not the tourists lost in a map they turn every which way in attempted comprehension, notices the exchange or the heartbreak that blows past my lips, my living death rattle.

I flee the station depth and emerge into unwanted sunshine that fries my eyes. Despondent, I stumble toward a cigarette vending machine, where I purchase a pack of Mild Sevens and immediately smoke three, bang, bang, bang. My head swims in confusion and nicotine and beer. I decide to roll through it and fall into a bar whose name eludes me. When I say fall I do mean fall; I miss the fourth stair and tumble down five more, collapsing in a heap at the bottom.

The bartender rushes to my aid. He is impossibly tall, or I hit my head and my mind is hopelessly muddled, or some likely combination of the two. He pulls me into a sitting position and says several sentences that don't process correctly. I believe him to be asking me about the Hanshin Tigers, and I answer that I'm not from Osaka but would take a beer if he has the game on. He gets me to my feet and asks me, perhaps not for the first time, how does my head feel. I nod. It hurts. I lie and say everything's fine.

I ask for a beer and he helps me to the bar. Shouldn't we get you to a doctor, he asks. Nonsense, I say, never felt better in my life. I need a beer more than I need idle hands prodding idle body parts and asking if this hurts or if that hurts or how many fingers am I holding up or please turn your head and cough. He places a large, black Asahi and a small glass before me. Both hands reach for the beer and bring it to my lips and I drink and the cold liquid flows into my stomach and pieces my head back together.

The bartender says his name is Daisuke. He is only a little less tall than I first thought, with arms and legs disproportionately larger than his surprisingly-compact frame. Despite the features that would have made him an awkward teenager, he moves smoothly, cleaning glasses, replacing them on the shelf behind him, and a handful of other motions that pass in a blur. Kunichi, I say back. He pushes an ashtray on the bar and lights a Lark cigarette. I start to reach for my Mild Sevens but stop halfway and ask him for one of his Larks instead. He hands me one and holds out a lighter, flame already springing from the tip. I take pleasant ash and heat into my lungs.

I finish the first beer and he hands me another. I drop a mess of coins on the counter and he scoops up enough to cover the drinks, leaving several behind. He asks why I'm drinking so hard so early. Is it early? I slam a balled fist onto the counter, making the coins rattle. Because I damn well need to. He doesn't press the matter further.

The bar is small and the walls are covered with framed portraits of American actors and actresses, past and present. What's with the pictures, I ask. The bartender smiles and swings a broad hand in a quasi-theatrical gesture. You're in Bar Hollywood, he says, fitting for your grand entrance, don't you think? I sip my beer. Most of the pictures are old, with stars from before either of us was born. The frames are all wood and several shades of brown. Half the pictures are monochrome, and most of the rest are faded. Where did you get all these, I ask. We finish our cigarettes around the same time and we each light another. Lots of places over lots of time, he says, never stop looking for another right shot for my little bar.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


We search the forest until the shadows stretched longer and Ueda insisted darkness was imminent. I follow Ueda closely and, after a final hour of stumbling across low roots and uneven terrain, we emerge into the parking lot where we began our adventure nearly eleven hours before. Ueda pats me on the back and we drive off in his navy blue Toyota Camry.

That night Ueda takes me into the heart of Fujikawaguchiko, to a bar called Lionheart's. It's called that, Ueda noted, because of the prominent mural of a pride of lions above the bar. When I go inside, it's impossible to miss; under-lit by warm orange-yellow light, the mural catches eyes and draws people deep into the room until they're faced by a mountain of a man, Kunichi Oe, who offers you beer and sake and something to nibble on. How can we refuse?

Oe laughs as his friend arrives and flies out from behind the bar to consume Ueda in a bear hug of an embrace. They could not be more opposite. Ueda is a thin, bony man with a dour expression who, in the wrong light, looks like he might be another Jukai specimen. Oe is jovial, everyone's favorite uncle, with round everything culminating in a blushing face specked with drops of sweat.

Ueda gestures with a grin to me. It's the first time I've seen him smile all day. Fresh meat, he says. Oe nods solemnly and puts a hand on my shoulder. Did you see any, he asks. Yes, I say.

A bottle of Suntory appears and Oe fills a lowball glass halfway with the pale amber liquid. I light a Lark and inhale a third of the cigarette as Oe fills two more and then hands Ueda and me glasses while keeping one for himself. To those of us left behind, he says. I close my eyes and force down a mouthful of whiskey.

Everyone has a first time, Ueda says, and it's always different and special and difficult. His was before I was born, he says with a sigh, in 1981. He sips his whiskey. Back then he worked as a salaryman in Tokyo, grinding out a long existence for a communications company as a strategist and copyeditor. Days and nights were long, but he relished the pace and the thrill that came with honoring the company and his family with each success. He rose quickly and his work compiled. He tips in a larger mouthful of whiskey as his eyes glass over. It was glorious, he says.

One of his co-workers at the time was a man called Kentaro Awaji, a heavyset man with a stutter but an impeccable sense for written words. Awaji was diligent but not cut out for the hectic life. Each late evening in Shinjuku bouncing between bars with his co-workers wore on him. Ueda didn't notice it at the time. I regret it every day of my life, he sighs.

Awaji killed himself after a client presentation went wrong, causing their company to lose face and a valuable account. What exactly happened remains a haze, Ueda says. Regardless, the company was furious and a despondent Awaji retreated to Jukai and took his life. I found the note, Ueda says, on Awaji's desk.

Ueda finishes his whiskey and motions for me to give him one of my Larks. He stuffs it between his lips and I light it up. I finish mine and fire up another. Oe watches us silently between sips of whiskey, which flush his cheeks and nose to even deeper shades of red.

Jukai is a vacuum, Oe pipes up, just like the Sahara Desert or deep space. Some enter and escape just fine, the prepared. Oe's throat rattled as he downs half his whiskey in a single, impressive gulp. Others, he says, enter knowing they're about to be swallowed up, and that's exactly what happens. You never see them again except traces of what might have been, a backpack, a water bottle, a small note.

I ask Ueda if they ever found Awaji. He shakes his head. They never found his body, he says, which surprised him consider that Awaji wasn't a small man. But, he says as he rotates the cigarette in his lips, smart and determined people can make it so they're never found.

More whiskey appears and we drink. Then Oe opens a bottle of sake and pours three glasses. I worry he neglects his bar, but an associate has taken over behind the counter, allowing us to retreat to a quiet corner. Ueda smokes more of my Larks and Oe lights up from a pack of Seven Stars. We sit in silence and drink. It gets easier, Oe says. I don't respond, as my mind retreats to the man in the maggot-lined suit who is still out there, forever absorbed by the Jukai.


There isn't anything I can do except stare through the trees and attempt to turn right-angled shadows into memories of faces gone by, picked clean by both nature and time. Trees encircle me and roots grab at my feet, threatening to drag me down to join them in pockets underground where the earth is wet and dark and the air tastes sour. Ahead, Ueda urges me to keep my feet and keep my pace; he jokes that the last person dropped off the back of one of their groups ended up lost in the forest overnight. He laughs as he says this.

Under the watchful eye of Mt. Fuji, trees and vines spring from ash-rich soil and water trickles through porous, black rock. Jukai is a forest of memory, Ueda says. As we scramble over root and rock he points aside on the trail, to a small plastic pile. Within he digs out two water bottles and a thin, mold-eaten paper booklet. The cover's mostly gone, but Ueda holds it up to a streak of light and examines its sides and flips through its pages. A suicide manual, he says, grunting with satisfaction. They find these scattered across the wood, a trail of expectations and truths. Not everyone goes through with it, Ueda says as he drops it and presses on.

Kintaro Ueda is a nervy man, long and twitchy. He moves slowly, deliberately through the forest, with an easy caution that speaks to his expectations and familiarity with these woods. Each step resets the mop of hair atop his head, and he often must brush aside the strands that run down his forehead. He carries a black military-style pack filled with water, dehydrated food, a flashlight, and an emergency health kit in case he or others become lost or are stranded overnight. Never seen use, he proudly states. Ueda is here because he lost his son to suicide in 1994, and each year since he comes out twice per month to assist with weekend anti-suicide patrols.

The forest is a lattice of wood and shadow that trap and hold back heat like a mesh net. I cannot see the sun and become disoriented easily. Compasses spin endlessly due to the metals in the earth. That's what Ueda claims, anyway. He bounds with confidence that increases with each step, almost gliding, with a happy grimace on his face formed through clenched teeth.

My job is to hold the camera, an old Samsung model chipped at the edges from several drops, but still reliable. Walking behind Ueda, I snap still shots of our progress and each discovery he makes. He picks up a severed section of rope formed into a small noose and holds it away from his body for me to shoot. I ask why is it left behind if they find a body. They job's not to collect trash, he says, setting it back on a bed of leaves at the base of a bushy, tall Japanese cypress.

Around mid-day on my watch we eat lunch in a small grove. We sit on broad roots under wide hemlock fir that grow close together and are lined with fuzzy, green moss. I eat four granola bars and a handful of mixed nuts. Ueda munches leisurely on a ham and cheese sandwich and stares absently through the trees. I ask him what he's thinking about. Past trips into the forest, he says in a soft voice. The forest is quiet, without the sounds of the usual animals that scurry underbrush or other signs of humanity. I ask if the Jukai is truly haunted, but don't get an answer.

Several hours later we find the corpse of a man. He's been dead a month or less, Ueda guesses. His exposed skin is leather, stained brown and pocked with white maggots that writhe in an excited feeding frenzy. The smell is astounding and drives me to tears. What remains of a threadbare, black polyester suit has become tatters, strips of fabric that dangle from bloated flesh. Souvenirs are scattered around the remains. A half-open purple backpack contains two empty soda cans and a worn paper map of the region. There is neither a wallet nor other identifying documents for this nameless man.

Ueda clamps a handkerchief to his nose and mouth and points at the body. Shoot, he says.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Leaves in his eyes

Sleep was impossible. I turned off the lights, put my head on the pillow, and burrowed under my blankets. The images found me all the same, ripping back each layer until we were alone in the darkness and everything was naked.

First it was his hair, black with touches of grey at the temples and in streaks like veins of silver. Despite the darkness I saw it perfectly. From there his eyes lit up, brown dots in the void, followed soon by the rest of his face, which appeared thinner and more worn than I remembered.

I was trapped. Opening my own eyes was useless and I realized that, in the night, this room was unsafe. His gaze locked on and each direction I looked, there he was, waiting. There wasn't sadness in his face; it was more apprehension, like he was concerned more for my well-being. The idea turned my stomach, that, even in death, my brother was protecting me.

The longer I watched his face the thinner it grew until his eyes receded into his skull and his jaw hung slack. It tipped forward slightly, revealing the rest of his body, a scarecrow patchwork of leathery skin and bleached bones under a loose, threadbare black suit. I recoiled in bed, bunching myself into a fetal ball, shouting at the image to go, but it only grew worse as the broken lips like dried pieces of wood began to move. No sound came except for a weak clicking like two stones knocking together.

A wind blew and I heard the rustling movement of leaves as they appeared before my eyes, rolling in like a fog under his feet until it appeared that his body stood on a cloud. The pile was stained orange and blood red, dry and bundled densely. It was still for a moment, and then it began to flow upwards, climbing his legs, consuming him bit-by-bit until, devouring suit, hips, stomach, arms, elbows, chest, and neck, until only his head remained.

His mouth opened again and leaves poured out, running wet and sticky down his chin, joining the rest of the flow as it rose up his face, past his eye sockets and hair, until he was gone, nothing but another part of the pile. Then the leaves surged again, this time forward, somehow through space, toward me. I screamed but no words came and I looked down and realized my body was already covered in leaves that were slowly crawling up my legs. They were heavy and cold and made my skin tingle and burn.

I awoke in the start. My waking nightmare had folded into dreams. The sun rose red, like it was covered in bright fall leaves.