Castor's Walk

Swiftly Polydeuces the son of Tyndareus went back to his mighty brother, and found him not yet dead, but shuddering with gasps of breath.
— Pindar
Nemean 10

SOMETHING IS FILLING THE CONCRETE with ghosts. Take its wet form in your hands. It's a ray of black light in constant flux across a forest of reeds, where land is scarce and beautiful and desolate. Clench your jaw. Everywhere dogs, imperceptible but for their howling, the emptying of their lungs into the night air, their hot breath against your face. You, a courier taking the long way home, passing through lonely courtyards and peering into lightless, vacant homes. Hide at the sign of any movement. Hide when you see the sun. Walk the asphalt road, and let it whet your bones to razors—your bones, too, filled with ghosts—and there is no wind, and there is no sound. Wipe your eyes. Where people once stood, there are only stains.

Wake up and it's dark outside. Wander the empty halls of your apartment complex in threadbare garments. Nobody else has lived in this building for a long time. You think people might still live in other buildings, but you don't know. Go down to the park. Don't bother getting dressed. Walk through a field of wet black grass. Listen for dogs. Look for a star in the sky, and sometimes find one. When you last saw the moon, you were just a boy.

See a silhouette backlit by crimson streetlights on the crescent of the hill. Feel your blood run cold. Pray you haven't been spotted. Pray to nothing in particular when you do. Push past small trees, into the sparse forest. There's people in the dirt. Don't linger; you can't help them. The woods are cold and damp, and you'll find something here but it won't be what you're looking for.

I'm doing alright. I miss you.

Hide for as long as it takes to feel safe again, then emerge from the brush. Relive the past. Remember everything that no longer matters, and everything that still hurts. Run the entire way home. You'll need to be faster if you want to make it to next year. Don't eat anything once you're back in your concrete box. You'll need to be smaller. You'll need to be a shadow.

Find a tiny blue mitten on the ground and take it home because it makes you sad.

Lock the door behind you, then check the locks every forty-five minutes. Keep the lights off. Boot up your computer and wince as the screen fills your beyond-dilapidated room with interrogatory blue. It doesn't work how computers are supposed to, but its circuits still hold power. Check outside the window, reboot the computer three times, then check outside the window again. Hear a sound somewhere and inspect every measly inch of your apartment to make sure you're still alone. Go back to the computer and send the same message you always do, a question, just a few words: ARE YOU STILL THERE? Wait for a response that never comes until the sun begins to crawl through the shuttered windows, then push the broken refrigerator against the door and sleep like a dead man.

Are you taking care of yourself?

Is there anything you forgot to tell me?

Wake up again at nightfall, and you're shivering. Someone's left a package at your door. It's not yours, but it's for you. Feel better when you look at it. Feel purposeful. It's small and heavy and feels good in your hand. This one is headed east, through the business district, bound for the scattered residential lots on the outskirts where the ocean ate the city. Stretch. Your muscles ache, and you're not done running. Wear black, cut your hair short, and put the tiny blue mitten in your pack as a talisman.

Go now. Plan your route. Conserve your energy at first, and choose narrow streets. The roads widen to sand-speckled asphalt plains near the city's end and you will need to move faster there. First, though, stay close to the walls when there are walls to stay close to, and avoid ruins. Historical violence is apt to repeat itself. Be superstitious. Collect bits of bone, little half-vertebrae and teeth, from the dried corpses of small animals. Scatter your dusty handful on the concrete and try to read the shapes. Discern mainly just the grinning lower jawbone of a long-faced critter and a rodent scapula, and countless other meaningless pale bits scattered about them. Cut through the alleyway here, where dry ivy swallows the buildings whole, and through a rusted slit in a chain-link fence. Move carelessly and draw blood on your left arm. Hope nobody will smell you.

Faster now. Avoid walking on ersatz shadows—dark stains with bloated, vaguely manlike contours blooming across the pavement like old tattoos—and perform small rituals when you can. Unbutton your coat and button it up again. Sometimes, take one step back every ten steps forward. Pray in dark shapes of thoughts and count every lit streetlight. Keep a separate count of the broken ones, too. Pass through what used to be an outdoor dining venue and note a fresh graffito reading SOOTH SAYER in black scrawl. Remember just in case everything means something.

Do you ever get lonely?

Summit the ridge here, where the road curves downhill in tight, crumbling switchbacks. Push up against the guardrail and bask in the salty air for a moment. Gaze out at the moonless night and listen for the wet, distant thunder of the ocean, from up here just a pitchdark sheet extending impossibly past the invisible horizon, into the sky. One star shines wearily in the southeast, twinkling in the black space between air and water. Only look for a few seconds then keep moving. Hop over the rails and climb down the eroded cliffside when it's convenient. Descend carefully. Try not to lose your footing.

Walk all the way to the edge of the freshly-collapsed seaward road and see the great asphalt slabs far below, sticking out of the chasm at jagged angles, some still bearing faded yellow signage forever to go unread. Bent shreds of metal, all so still. Kick some rubble into the pit and wonder when this happened. Look to your left, down the steep, rocky cliff, and know immediately that you'll never make it to the bottom that way. Feel some dread creep into your gut. You'll have to reroute slightly north, taking a nearby road buried in the decaying earth, encased by a tunnel one and a half dark, menacing miles long. You avoid it when possible. You can't avoid it tonight.

Try not to turn around when you see the mouth of the thing. Turn around anyways and breathe deep and try to slow your heart rate. You find support where you can. You look up at the only star in the sky.

You don't know that I'm looking back, and it breaks my heart.

Detach yourself from your body and force every step. Reach inside your bag and pull out the little mitten and clutch it in your white-knuckled fist. Keep your other hand on the wall, and stay very close to it; it's wide enough in here to get turned around and end up wandering in the black. The other side is invisible and, once you've ventured far enough, so is the entrance. Try to scan for obstacles even though you can't see anything at all. Keep moving. Repeat words and phrases in your head. Soothsayer. Convince yourself that you can see light at the end of the tunnel. See it, see it. Just keep moving. Strength in numbers. Gemini. Soothsayer.

Feel faint when the silence breaks. A jumbled echo emanating from behind you, around you, rising in volume. Run. Run as fast as you can. Keep your eyes on the exit, where you see the exit, where you think you see the exit. Keep running. Pray incoherently. Feel your boots pounding the road with each vaulting step, feel your blood pulsing hard in your temples, feel something like fingertips grazing the back of your neck and push everything in you to run faster.

Then, run full-force into the rusted husk of an automobile. You hit it so hard you don't even know what happened. You see blinding arcs of light and feel annihilatory pain in your skull, and horrible despair grips you, and you feel like the world is ending and then feel like that's absurd because it already has. Get up even though you hurt so bad. Come on, get up. See the vaguest shape in the black from your horizontal, spinning view. See it getting closer. Please, for the love of god, get up. Try so hard but feel very far away from your body. See your hand and try to make it move. Try to make it your hand again. Try to move your legs but feel so weak, feel them giving way beneath your weight. Stumble.

I love you so much but there's nothing I can do.

It's coming over you now and the sound it makes is deafening, and you crawl on your knees, reaching out for the car's rusted steel edges, clawing yourself forward. You feel it touching you and it's all of the worst things you've ever felt. You try to stand again and this time it forces you down. Brace yourself against the ground with your wrist and feel fabric. The blue mitten is still in your hand and you squeeze it and I know why, and we both feel the same hurt at the same time, and for a moment I feel close to you again. Then you're pushed down further and the gritty pavement digs into your cheek. Even in the dark I see the red shine of your blood on the rocks. I can't look but I do, for you.

I'm begging you. Drag yourself. Scrape your entire body against the ground. Wriggle even beneath the fist of something unconquerable. Claw your way out. I know you can. Run. Keep running. Keep running even when you can't see what's ahead of you. Keep running once you've cleared the tunnel. Keep running once you've reached the ocean. Make yourself a stronghold. Never go home again. Never take the same road twice. Hold on to everything and never let it go. Your eyes are my eyes. Burn everything into them and live forever. Look up at the night sky and look at me and see me with you and run and run and run.

I am still here, brother. I know you wonder.

I haven't seen you in a while but I'll keep looking.

We'll be together again. I promise.


House Memory
Castor's Walk