Nowhere Express
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Photo by Stygian Blue

Welcome to Nowhere: The land of the unseen, the unheard, the unmourned, and the land of the in-between. Welcome.

You worked for a company named Nowhere Express, a no-name trucking company that employed people like you to make ends meet, and you had once found yourself in the desert. Cacti, tall and green and plump with stale rainfall, whipped by your window and your lungs filled with hot sweet desert air, dusty and dry as it forced its way into the cab.

You were beautifully, dreadfully alone. You, your truck, and your package.

    • _

    Your thoughts slowly turned over themselves, and in the corner of your eye you glimpsed the pages of the Nowhere Express brochure, trapped halfway out from the glove compartment and edges flapping in the wind like moth wings. It is no surprise, then, that your thoughts — idle and gelatinous as they were — turned to the company.

    Nowhere Express wasn’t particularly well-known in many circles – any circles, really – but names get around. When you want something strange delivered somewhere stranger, Nowhere Express was the company to turn to. Or so said the brochure – Nyx knows you read that over a thousand times. The papers sat just out of arm’s reach, edges flapping, trapped halfway out from the glove compartment. The loose, torn edges were visibly damp in the lukewarm breeze of your truck’s AC unit.

    You didn’t look at the pages for long. The expanse of sand and rock that made your road, lit to silvery white in the searing shine of the sun, was far more interesting than the brochure. For you, what is was always infinitely less interesting than what ought to be.

So tired.

You stretched out in your chair in a long, well-felt movement – extending every finger, cracking each joint and knuckle, scratching idly where skin met feather — just at the nape of your neck and back of your shoulders — and extending your toes, just a little too long and fingerlike, out into the little cabinet of space above the gas pedal. You did this luxuriously, slowly, over several minutes while driving, eyes squeezed down to slits against the desert sun.

Then your eyes opened, muscles relaxed, and it was like you had never moved. You yawned, settled back in your seat, and shuffled various limbs around until you were comfortable. You nudged the steering wheel to the left, correcting the drift from the road from when you hadn’t been looking.

You had hit nothing, when you weren’t looking. Driven nowhere else. The land was the same at every span of the horizon, not even cloud-shadows marring the waste of sun-bleached rock. You turned your faded yellow eyes to the horizon: an empty, dusty, unpaved stretch of denim blue morning sky.

The sun connected seamlessly to the edges of the dunes and the mountains. No clouds, no jagged peaks, no snow. Just you and a pure, empty abyss of Nowhere.

Your truck bounced over rocks and the shock absorbers rolled under your seat like ocean waves at war against the columns of a pier. The road was slow, flat, empty, unpaved, save for the few stray rocks every couple of miles. A nice straight line. Just you, the rocks, and the sagebrush. The road left afterimages in your eyes, a burnt line drifting off every which way into the red horizon of your slow blinks. The sun was behind you, warming the dimming metal of the cabin. Not too bright and not too dark.

It wasn’t too hard to nod off.

Once, you took a delivery to Seattle, Washington. Your handler grimaced at the name like a spoonful of piping hot soup taken too early. ”Seattle, Washington,” she said, tasting the name, all the flavors: basil, butter, heavy cream, lost against singed buds. “Probably the least Nowhere of all your deliveries. Have fun with this one, Jackal.”

You winced, too, at the name. But she didn’t notice. Never did.

She handed you a large yellow manilla envelope. It was thick, heavy in your calloused, sunburnt hands, and a little too large, like it had expanded in the wash — but paper wasn’t washed these days, you knew. Emblazoned on its front, in big print the size and scale of a Confidential, was that name again. Seattle.

Seattle. The name settled heavy in your head like a dream. It was a name that sounded like rain, or like the dust that gets thrown up into the air when those raindrops hit a parched stretch of ground. It was a name that smelled like puddles of urine cooking on parched pavement. It was a name that tasted like the collective disease of tide pools and ocean spray and wild beach roses on the coast, a contagion of wanderlust that ate away at the occupants of the city they bordered. It smelled of eels and starfish mingling in tidepools, of small sharp-finned things hunting for mussels, of bullkelp used like whips. And most of all, it smelled like huckleberries cooked hot over coals, the dryness of the fire preserved from the downpour by the boughs of a stubby waxy-leafed redwood.

You had never known these things before, but to you, that is what Seattle sounded like.

Your supervisor was staring at you. You hadn’t talked for several minutes. You pulled away from yourself, out of the recesses of your mind, faintly embarrassed. Too used to the road. Too unused to people.

“Thank you,” you said. “I will look into the route.” What else was there to say? You had no idea what she had said. Thanking someone was a safe bet, as far as conversational tidbits went. But then, you supposed, your supervisor was used to your silences. “It sounds like an interesting place. I’ve never been.”

Your supervisor frowned. “You wouldn’t have.”

And then she changed the topic. “You’re five years in, right?” she asked. It wasn’t a question. “Let me tell you something about Seattle.”

The world flashed red, just for a moment. You stumbled, dizzy. Your supervisor was speaking still, but her voice slipped your mind like warm water through a sieve.

    • _

    Your supervisor stared at you, and you stared back. The room was not red. The conversation changed.

    “You never did tell me,” she said. “Why do you want to be a god? That’s what we do here – you signed up for it – but every time we send out the progress forms, yours comes back empty.” Her eyes narrowed. “Do you still have the will to be a deity, or are you just drifting?”

    You had had this conversation before. You felt it in your bones, in the curve of your cochleae. The clock was ticking. Just don't tell her anything. Don't tell her anything, and once she realized you wouldn't talk then she would let you go.

      • _

      Solidify your mind, came a thought unbidden. It was your own. Your supervisor murmured on in the background, unaware or uncaring of your disposition, and you took a second – a second, that’s all it took – to still yourself.

      You thought of your time in Seven Sisters, those great floating rocks in the middle of Nevada. Nobody went there anymore. Once a tourist attraction, the waning tourist board let it fall into disrepair after the funds ran out, the rocks never to be brought back to life because the generators keeping the stones in place were too expensive, and the people running the place had been warned off of using the old magic rituals they originally used to power the thing. The stones, giant glistening obsidian spires in the ground like arrowheads snapped off in a wound, were forgotten, belonging to Nowhere now. They stood like great black pillars in the desert, beautiful and otherworldly, like the ground had grown teeth. Between deliveries, you liked to visit them, just to think or to admire their beauty.

      They had so much beauty.

      You kept the Seven Sisters in mind, anchoring yourself, attuning their strength and stability as best you could. You had never been good at applied magics, but you did your best, and a faint hum washed over your skin as you wove invisible threads over yourself. Over your mind. Your skin. Your heart.

      Your supervisor licked her lips, glowering at you for your inattention, and despite yourself, you suddenly felt very, very small.

      But you also felt safe.

    The prickling sensation faded. She spoke. “You did not need to join us. Everyone else here? They want to be gods, just like you. They pay for this in blood. Worship for small gods doesn’t come as easily as it once did – these days, people are far more willing to devote their beliefs to something which their family and friends care about too.

    “Those who want to become gods these days, we give them a start with American worship of trucks, engines, delivery fees. Denominations don’t matter anymore. Not in this economy. Not in this world. Peterbilts, Internationals, Fords, Volvos…it all flits back to one. Every shipping charge, every hope that a package will be delivered early or on-time, every dollop of excitement from seeing a box on the doorstep? That’s belief. Faith. That’s how we make new gods.”

    She licked her lips, a thin snakelike tongue wetting her thin scaleless lips. “I only tell you this to keep you from asking questions. You should know it, but you won’t.”

    You wouldn’t, would you? The room pulsed gently crimson. How had you forgotten?

    “The others need the worship,” she continued. “It’s the only kind they can get.” She leaned in. “You were a god, Jackal. Why did you stop?” Her voice had been rote, repetitive, monotonous before – but now it changed. She was breaking her script, you realized. These were new questions.

    “Something changed with you. Why did you become mortal? And why join us, after your absence? You have worship — had it, when you were out there. You took the blood back. You bled for your signature, when you signed up with us. Now you’re here, and you’re asking to be a god again. What I want to know is why.

    You didn’t remember ever telling her that you took the blood back. Why would you? It was private. Intimate. What made you tell her?

    She was peering down at you, standing now. The thick serpentine coils of her lower body glistened dully under the LEDs, smooth and mesmerizing, artificial lights playing into a streaming iridescent rainbow on her glossy scales. “What are you running from?” she asked quietly.

    It was a familiar argument once again, one rehearsed endlessly, or so it sounded. It played off her tongue like she was born repeating it. You could imagine her before a mirror, talking to herself, arguing her own questions in her mind, playing staged responses of what she imagined you would say. It saddened you, just a little, but didn’t everything strike sorrow in your heart these days?

    All the rehearsal meant was that this had happened before.

    She laced her fingers together, expectant. Your hands were folded before you, your shoulders squared, wings smooth and with feathers laid low. Your business suit, two sizes too small and stolen from a thrift store, pressed creases into your skin. You didn’t let her know it, but your muscles were stiff from standing.

    And despite your discomfort, you did not move. Did not speak. There was no reason to. From your estimation, you had had this conversation more than once before – more than twice, more than thrice. A repeated interrogation. Off-book. Which meant, since she wasn’t writing anything down, that this was done to sate her own curiosity. Which meant she had no backup power source, no extra thaumaturgy, to continue the memory-stopping, time-halting effect she had made. This meant that she was uttering old grievances, nothing more. Seeking information for herself. A few more minutes to drain her power, then you could leave.

    “I guess I just want to know why,” she said quietly. Her eyes were hollow, vacant. Her voice was not hard, nor angry, nor frustrated, nor curious. Just exhausted.

    She was flat, beaten, the very shape of the old, exhausted repetitions and motions undergone years ago. “Please. I just want to know.”

    Your mouth was dry. Your muscles were painful. Who could have guessed that you would grow used to sitting? You had hated the old leather chair of your truck when you first got it, but now it seemed heaven compared to this, standing without certainty as to what you were supposed to be doing, long past your expiration date in this visit to your supervisor.

    The naga waited, still standing, levelling you with that frail, tired gaze. You were supposed to speak now.

    “I’m sorry,” you said at last. Damn your mouth, you didn’t have to speak. Maybe you felt sorry for her. “I’ve told you before: I was just looking for something new.” Your voice was a thick rasp, airy and painful in the dry air conditioning of the office. “I wasn’t happy before.” You had more to say, always had more to say, damn your thoughts, but you held your tongue.

    An unspoken message climbed through the air like an inchworm, and all at once the arguments and questions from your supervisor faded like mist before the glory of the sun. You would have to have this conversation again, next time you reported to her for an assignment, and you’d have the conversation again and again and again, until you were bled dry of secrets, became a shell of yourself; all truths and no padding, sharp edges lining your insides like the crystals of a soft, fleshy geode. Maybe you would tell her, eventually, why you really became a god, and why you took up the blood again. Why you were looking to drain it once more.

    You had already told her, really. You weren’t yourself, when you were first made. It wasn’t your choice. You wanted to correct that.

    Your thoughts coalesced, and the air seemed to thicken. The air shimmered like a dazzling silk curtain sweeping across a stage, so strange and omnipresent that whatever laid behind it was immediately forgotten to make way for new glory.

    The room flashed red.

It faded. Your supervisor stared at you. You stared back. The carpet was thin and hard, leaving impressions on your cheek, and you slowly rose, dusting yourself off with the professional embarrassment of a white-collar worker. What had happened?

There was something missing in your head.

No matter. Your heart trembled in your chest, the taste of bile rose in your mouth. You did not let these wrest control from you, because one question still lingered in your mind.

“Why Seattle?” you asked.

Your supervisor shrugged. She sat slowly back down in her chair, looping the thick, ropy coils of her serpentine body around herself. When had she gotten up? She must have, but she had been sitting down since you entered the room. Skin prickling, eyes smarting despite the lack of sun, you let it slide. Just another mystery.

She hadn’t answered you, but that was alright. There was nothing more to do. You took the manilla envelope, just a little too large, under your arm. You bowed, turned heel, and walked out. The door closed gently behind you.

You left for Seattle.

Your truck rumbled a guttural growl, biodiesel and solar electric panels pumping a heartbeat beneath your feet. Cacti blurred into a green haze on the edge of the road, heavy with morning dew, their sides rough, dry, and striated – variegated – like the walls of a great green canyon a few feet tall and a hundred miles long. They were close, just inches from grazing your mirrors. If you reached out even a little bit from the window, you could touch them.

You already knew how they would feel. You had slid your hands across one of their veiny, oddly warm surfaces a few dozen miles back, back when you had found a pull-off at the edge of the not-a-highway that ran like a river through the middle of Nowhere. The skin of the cactus had been pulpy, soft, like the fresh cocoon of a caterpillar but blown up to the size of a person. You had tugged at the pulp, pinched the flesh in your curiosity, rolled the oddly fatty, doughy surface between your fingers, and got the distinct impression that with just the slightest bit of pressure, you could pop that cactus, rupture the skin, spill those green slimy juices that made its lifeblood to the parched white sand that burned your tyres and feet.

With that thought, the cactus bucked beneath your hand, like it had heard your mind. A thousand little needles dislodged into your exposed palms. I want to live, the cactus seemed to say.

You withdrew quickly. The movement of the cactus had probably been the wind. Probably. But you weren’t willing to test it again.

This is all to say that you did not, in the end, rupture the cactus. Your hands smarted, and it was not worth it in the end. Once you pulled enough of the needles out that you could open the door of your truck without screaming, you went back to the road, slumped back in your old leather seat. And then, without looking back, you were off, speeding down an endless expanse of arid oranges, beiges, and browns dotted with green where the sun hadn’t yet burned away the world. You had never thought about those cacti again, until today.

In the present, with cacti so similar but not quite the same running in a blur, tinting your vision a soothing shade of toothpaste green, you drove toward the sunset.

Here is how you came to Somewhere. You rolled off I-5 at midnight, following close in the perceptual shadow of something the size and shape of a large semi. You rolled along with it onto a street, then an avenue, then a corner, all the way down until you and whoever you were following passed by an old gas station, unlit and in a state of decaying disrepair. It was full, empty, its presence there in a way that nothing else was. The store of the gas station was fuzzy, like a lone cashier was dreaming of his job instead of doing it, but other than that, the place was empty. Solid. Peaceful.

It scared you, somehow, despite your months of solitude. Somehow, here, in an abandoned gas station at midnight, solitude was terrifying. Gas stations are meant to have people. Like malls, supermarkets, highways. Like cities. It was a fundamental part of being human, and you had always had trouble shaking off humanity from your godhood. Some experiences of mortality are just too strong.

You stayed there, in the gas station, for a while. The yellow manilla envelope, slightly too large and heavy, sat in the passenger seat. It was stuffed to the brim with packets of information your supervisors surely knew they would be lucky if you skimmed, and you did not give your supervisors the pleasure. You did not look at the envelope. You had read the address on it – you were meant to travel to the top of the Space Needle, a once impressively tall building now overshadowed by new skyscrapers. Here in the space between Nowhere and Somewhere, filtered through the sleeping cashier’s presence in Somewhere, you could see it.

The Space Needle was a building that looked exactly like how it sounded. Even hazy from the dream-light, it felt real, standing tall and proud, alien in its architecture and appearing almost like a saucer stuck on the Eiffel Tower, or maybe a very strange syringe. A thin red light blinked on and off from the needle-tip, something that looked impossibly long and thin at the distance you were at but which you knew would be wider than your hands should you fly to it, and, squinting, you could faintly see elevators as they rose like plasmids up and down the core.

You sat lax in your chair, engine off, headlights out, staring through your dusty, grimy windshield at that alien monument in the distance for a long, long time. There was something strange going on in Seattle. You could feel it in the air when you arrived, but that was not important to you. Not yet. For now, you were content to watch the faded city stars, so diminished from their silver-dust-on-tar desert counterparts, and rest.

You had scarcely closed your eyes, however, when the sun peeked over the horizon. And when the sun rose, you rose with it.

You waited. And waited. Patiently leaning back in the seat of your cab.

Eventually, you got what you wanted. The dreamer’s presence vanished, and a wave of Something washed over you. And this time, instead of being at the edge of it or in a perceptual shadow, you were right in the middle. The cashier’s blooming consciousness washed over you like a tidal wave, bringing the whole of the gas station and all its parts to Somewhere, and you washed with it like seaweed coming in with the tide. With a sharp tugging sensation and a whirl of vertigo, you felt yourself wrenched into Somewhere.

The city smelled just as you remembered.

You breathed in the salty, fishy air of the sea. An East wind, this morning. You checked yourself over, found no damage. You sat up in your seat, windows down, and filled your lungs with the sweet, sweet smell of the sea, tasting the rotting fish and drying kelp and all the strange Pacific Northwest purple starfish on your tongue in one breath. You had missed this.

You peered out the window. There was no haze of dreams now. In your heart was the gentle tug of Nowhere, but it was weak, weaker than you had ever felt it, and you could see so clearly here.

It felt strange to be Perceived. In Nowhere, places of perception were black holes: flashes of textures and patterns, kaleidoscopic and immaterial, black holes through the world. If you tried to enter them, you popped out the other side in a nearly straight line from where you had entered.

Not here. Security cameras swiveled to meet your yellow gaze, early risers walking and driving to work turned their heads to look at the truck that had not been there last night, and seagulls — seagulls! — looked at you with bestial gaze.

Your skin prickled with something far more than sunlight. In the distance the city hummed, headlights shooting fast around sweeping canals, golden and scarlet light burning bright against the main city buildings like stalagmites and jutting up against the low, stooping gables of the surrounding suburbs, buzzing in the back of your mind in shades of burgundy and indigo. The industrial district, too, with its giant red-orange cranes glowed bright as daylight, lit to noon at all hours by its ever-burning floodlights. The entire place smelled of sea, copper, fish, and the soft, dewy aroma of flowers in night air.

You fixed your gaze on the Space Needle, nestled like a beacon in the heart of the city.

Nestled in Somewhere.

Nestled in where you were now.

And under your idle fingers, your engine came alive with a cough and a rattle. Cylinders sounded off in uneasy salvos.

Before you took, off, though, you had relented – or your fingers and eyes had, anyway, rebelling against your mind in an uncommon fit of common sense – and before you hit the road you skimmed through an old, dusty guidebook of traffic laws twenty years out of date which you had found in the top bank of the manilla envelope. It surprised you to know that pedestrian crossings actually meant something, it had been so long – which, at that moment, made you grateful that you had brushed up on traffic laws as you peeled off against the sticky asphalt.

Eyes on the Space Needle and humid, salty air blowing through your cabin and wetting your hair and feathers, you drove into the city.

You drove through the waste. The sand was pale, the sunset settling heavy like a great egg yolk on the peaks of the grey-black mountain peaks, soft and wet with yellow fluids, plump to bursting in the membranous sac that would have fed the chick with blood and oxygen.

These legs would make a good meal, you thought idly. Your head as well, maybe. Your wings, too. You could make a lot of money if you sold yourself, like you used to when the Nile ran red with blood. When you were a kid, still mortal but destined for godhood, you swam in the burnt red waters, laughing as the cattails and sharp finned fish cut bloody grooves in your skin, slicing canyons in your skin that blended seamlessly with the musky amber of the water. Your feathers – glossy orange, glowing like brass in the sun, groomed to a shine — would grow wet and heavy in the mud, smelling so strange and sweet that the bright blue butterflies holding court above the banks would flutter down to land on your skin, where they sipped at the sweat and the blood that pooled there like nectar.

When you finished with the river, you would not dry off. You wandered the town with red-dripping feathers and hair like beaten copper, red like you had just climbed out of the womb and eyes that spoke of delirious madness. It was then that the more superstitious townsfolk would pay to stroke your wings, to see you fly, to pluck a feather and keep it as a treasure. And that is why, when you were a child, you could be seen walking around like a half-plucked chicken after red-wash.

When you grew older, you continued your little tradition, and you would fly miles out to distant villages, caked in red-tinted water teeming with bacteria and letting people stroke your wings for money. But you couldn’t let them take your feathers, when you were older, because then you wouldn’t have enough to pull the air beneath you and fly home. Your mother found this lack of plucking to be a good development, and finally — finally — when you stopped plucking and started eating well and went through a proper molt, just when you were feeling normal, your mother started fussing. She knew that you would be going soon. You didn’t believe her then, though, and took the time you had left for granted.

It was only a few years later when you left. You went to a place far, far away. You were taken to a temple in a great humid jungle to be bled under an eclipse, to run the stone-set ritual channels red with your own blood, and to lay your wings outspread and fully feathered, gleaming like beaten brass, beneath the ancient heat of the sun-rimmed moon. That night, you would feel immortality surge in your dead, bloodless body. That night, you would rise anew.

The bleeding hurt, that night, but not for long. It was all necessary, and that made it worth it.

Gods don’t bleed, after all.

You didn’t end up going to the Space Needle. You had wanted to, but when you arrived and checked the manilla envelope again, the rules had changed. You now had to go to the beach.

There is something strange about America, you thought as you drove. You barely managed to light your turn signal in time before you merged lanes, used as you were to the open expanse of Nowhere. In Nowhere, there were no rules, no signs, no people. Just the flat expanse of too much road and shrubs, pocketholed by shadows of Somewhere like black puddles leaking out from the Abyss. Other than those and the occasional animal, America in Nowhere was limitless. Lawless.

Something about the lawlessness of Nowhere carried over to Somewhere. You swerved around a reckless person in a fancy convertible, cursing their lack of self-preservation, and turned to another street.

In Somewhere, people drove without caution. Not dangerously, though there was plenty of danger in their actions, but heedlessly, like they were the only ones on the road. You had an excuse, at least, for your behavior – you’d been living with the rules of the road moldering like a banner in a wet basement for something like ten years now. Or was it fifteen? It was hard to remember.

Whatever the case, you did have an excuse for your lack of awareness, your pushiness on the shoulders and curbs. Others – the denizens of Somewhere – didn’t. Something about their way of driving reminded you of yourself. People seemed so unaware of the lives of others, like they pictured a great big gap between themselves and everywhere else as though they were the sole being in the center of the universe. Something that had existed for you for far too long now.

You felt the tug of Nowhere deep in your chest like a plucked heartstring. Maybe the people around you belonged in Nowhere, too.

    • _

    You had seen ice, once, covered in blood. Its subliminal cracks and seams inked pink, suckling in the red to suffuse invisible fractures until the whole frigid lake was stained fuchsia and the body of the man in the snow was bloodless white. You took his saber, that long blade tapered to a crusted point, into your bone-white hand and hacked at his neck until his head popped off, a rough, choppy series of once-familiar actions made shaky by adrenaline and the deafening thundering of your heart. Your blood – the plasma that remained, for you had nothing left – pounded so thick and hot it felt like molten iron pulsing through your veins.

    When you were done, the lake was sticky. So, so sticky. It tugged at the soles of your shoes as you stumbled away and seemed to cling to the crunching of the snow, your broken, distant sobbing, but it did not stop the sounds from echoing off the canyon walls and returning to you tenfold. Your own cries seemed to mock you, pierce you. The words, at that moment, were masses of mortal men and their bayonets, a tide of flesh and blood ramming not into the bodies of enemies but at a figure standing before an altar embedded in a sandstone bulwark, carved with beautifully scripted glyphs that stood as sentinels for millennia. You could almost read the sigils now, in your mind’s eye. Shame, shame, they seemed to say. What have you done? Subconscious influences, you knew, but they felt as real as the snow. You were desperate that night. You couldn’t let that man become like you. Become a god.

    You were successful, and that was the last mountain you saw for a while.

    You hit the desert next.

You drove.

Out here, the mountains were close, curtaining the horizon and their slopes with blackness, and Joshua trees grew in their shade, high and proud like a forest of hypodermic syringes scattered across the plains in a great grey-green sea. It was almost peaceful, the green, reminding you of your home by the Nile where the banks filled each year with sweet, soft mud that attracted little blue butterflies that sunned themselves like spilled chips of lapis. The blue in the desert was like that, but was not found in the soil. It was, for you, in the air – in the sky, on the rims of dunes, in the heat mirages that pooled reflective pieces of water onto the road and in the dips of the sand, tantalizing and always just barely out of reach.

It reminded you all too faintly of home.

You relaxed back in your seat, eyes lidded and slowly scanning the road, skin prickling where it touched the sun. The light flooded the cab of your truck from all sides, through every window and cranny and ventilating crack where various blisters, rivets, and metal sutures had come undone. After this delivery, before you took your truck to the distribution center for another assignment, before you loaded up your truck with a load that would restrict your routes from “highways, main roads, and reinforced bridges” to “nowhere,” you would take your truck to the workshop and make her good again. The engineers were always nice there, letting you do your own repairs, even though you never showed them any certification.

Some things, you could still do. You could sew. You could hammer. You could learn, too. On long trips, you’d set yourself up with a book and a welding kit and figure out which parts went where while you steered your truck with your feet (one on the steering wheel and the other on the gas pedal). Other times, like with the rivets, you performed minor miracles with whatever magic you could make that day. Your rivets always held, never popped like others did. You were pretty sure that alone was what kept the engineers in the workshop from asking too many questions – you performed favors for them, with tight rivets and splinter-free cuts, and they didn’t charge you for the use of their shop.

Small favors in a small world.

Your engine rumbled and you rumbled back, a deep basso in your chest resonating in the cab. You scratched your forearm and flakes of skin peeled away under your nails.

A hawk wheeled overhead. An aplomado, maybe? You weren’t sure; were you in Mexico? Last you had checked you had been in Arizona. Nowhere was funny that way: you can be somewhere, then elsewhere, then wherever, in the blink of an eye. That’s if you weren’t careful, though. You had heard stories of the most experienced Nowhere Express drivers learning the commutes of Somewhere truckers and following just behind them, skipping over the backwash of their perception of the world like a smooth stone over water to get to a destination predictably, smoothly, on-time. Other, even more experienced drivers knew the locations of the map where residents of Somewhere would reliably be awake and perceiving and could skip over those perceptual holes like stitching together two sides of a torn fabric, hopping over cities and highways like lightning, making odd detours and turn-abouts to jump through the country. You had never learned the trick to doing that properly; when you tried, you too often ended up miles away from where you had meant to go, or got stuck in a non-perceptual island in the middle of a city.

You were still new, after all. That’s why you stuck to the off-roads. You got out eventually, you always did – you skipped forward, across the void, found yourself in a forest, backed up, turned, went forward again and again until you got to some unoccupied stretch of road and sped down the asphalt until you could figure out where you were. But it was discouraging, and it was damnable.

You didn’t let it happen again.

Nowhere.

Nowhere is all the spaces between places, those zones where people tune out of reality and forget where they are; all the areas where nobody is paying any attention at all. It’s every farmer’s morning commute; every small town at night when nobody – not even the children – is awake to watch the streets; every open expanse of desert and mountain in the off-season where no hiker or camper is there to sweep their seasoned eyes over the trees.

Animals don’t count. You never knew why. Some intelligent ones – dolphins, whales, trained falcons, elephants, large murders of crows – seemed to distort time and space like people did, but never to the reality-falling-away level of humanity. Humans made voids, complete and absolute, taking great big bites taken out of Nowhere with their collective force of life and perception. Single people didn’t always, but you could count on cities and towns to be veritable void.

The only time you ever came across anyone else – anyone not employed by Nowhere Express, that is – was when someone dreamt of the landscape, or of a location, in the location of their sleeping self. You could see those dreamers, half-real and distorted. Time always seemed to pass oddly there, like it did with waking animals, and when it happened, you’d find yourself hurrying to pass through, not wanting to get pulled into Somewhere with the dreamer when they woke up.

But dreamers like that were rare, and you had no worries of it happening now, out here in the desert forgotten by everyone.

And so, through Nowhere, you drove.

The magic was here. Here. You stopped your truck, parked it slowly, carefully, covering four parking spots in the gravel lot. Getting out, you could see the Space Needle across the water, dazzling and hurting your eyes with its whitish-grey casements, but the hurt was nothing compared to the sunlight blazing off fresh snow in the mountains of Nowhere.

Children’s voices called over the wind, high and laughing. Sand castles littered the beach, but litter itself was wonderfully absent. People cared about this place.

You dusted yourself off. You didn’t reek of sweat, and your clothes didn’t hold stains of meals or spilled drinks – one of the many small perks of former godhood.

A buzzing tingle on the nape of your neck, and flashes of purple like ultraviolet torch beams. You crossed from your truck to the beach, barefoot and light-clothed, and something changed. Just something.

Something?

The children’s voices faded from the wind like the aftermath of a cold snap in summer. The wind at once stilled and roiled on the water; the waves, lapping softly, churned hot and frothy, glowed with blackbody radiation all at once, like they were of molten iron, then cooled back down in an instant. A great roar issued down from the sky — had those clouds been there before? and burgeoning black swaths heavy with rain swept across the heavens.

In the aftermath, rain began to fall.

You watched this all happen from the edge of the water. You held a small twig in your hands, carving meaningless sigils that once meant something to you with idle fingers. Your beaten-brass feathers were coated in sand.

You held your eyes on the sky.

The clouds formed beams, crisscrossed latticework. Lightning, bright and thunderless – no, dripping plasma, pure and white, bubbled down from the lattice in the form of blue-white vines. The wind sharpened, ionized. It made your skin crawl, like a tickle with knives. But not the kind of tickle that makes you hurt – more like the kind of tickle when a good friend comes home, or when a musician plays with Apollo at his side – just two more things you never forgot of mortalhood, you mused.

You were not afraid. You watched the lightning drip as vines to the sea, heavy and strangely wet, and blossom and break into globulous thundering fruit whose shockwaves smashed the waves to stillness and ruffled your hair. The city of Seattle hung miniscule in the background, resplendent and unwary, a city above the steaming waves, and you realized that for you, a dreamlike haze covered the city once again. You were back in Nowhere, or at least on the verge of it.

It hurt you, somehow. You should have felt at home, but now you were more trapped than ever.

You looked up at the sky. Lightning dribbled to the sea like mucus and booms of thunder washed over you in a splitting roar, one after another after another as the sequential lightning — not a flash but an everlasting hit — left purplish stains in your vision. You were confined to the beach – could not leave.

And then, through all the majesty and terror before you, there was a presence.
Hello, Horus. When did you get so small?
Heart pounding, you felt your way back to the truck, then shambled back, dragging the parcel, the package, to the beach. You didn’t remember taking it out from the back, but you had it now. You placed it on the beach and turned away, and something white like sunlight blossomed behind you and backlit the dark sky in a wet electric rush.

That moment became a crystal in your memory. The electricity burning in your chest, a searing ionization in the muscles of your wings, and a tingling sense at the back of your mind that told you the package was accepted – whatever god or Library you had just delivered to, the patron had accepted the delivery — and you were allowed to leave.

Sodden, shivering, ionized air too light and void of oxygen in your lungs, you walked back to your truck. The lightning drooling from the heavens stopped as you got in, and as the clouds swept away the remnant strands of goopy plasma fell like a thousand vines clipped with pruning shears. They were let fall to the sea, where they collapsed into columns of steam visible from shore.

And then you were back in Nowhere entirely, when the god’s attention had fully departed. And because you were in Nowhere, the city, the beach, and the ocean were nowhere to be found. You were in the desert, in your truck, wet, cold, eyes dilated and blinded by the rush of heat and searing sunlight. The smell of baking sand and endless heat washed the remnant aroma of salt and damp from your lungs in an instant.

Goodbye, ocean. But that wasn’t a goodbye, really. You would find them again. You always did.

You took a minute to steady yourself, smooth your feathers, strip yourself of wet clothing (you didn’t care if your tattoos showed, at this point), and then you drove.

You ended up going back to Seven Sisters Roadside Attraction. You always did, on days stuffed full of old memories. The conversation with your supervisor played back in your head, and the half-felt touch of the consciousness of a deity still haunted you.

Do you really want to be a god again?

It was a good question. You loved to travel, which, you supposed, you could do. There wasn’t a limit on how many deities could occupy a position. The real question for you was what you would do, once you became a deity. Would you travel? Or stay in one place? Would you inhabit the bodies of uncertain dancers on their first night out, helping them to twirl and shake and give them endurance they had never before dreamed, thus becoming their heartbeat, their adrenaline, their sharp ragged breaths of joy each night? What did you really want to be?

That’s the real reason why you were heading to Seven Sisters. You couldn’t decide.

You wanted to be a dreamer. A farmer. A patron of hunting falcons and their keepers (never, never the other way around). You wanted to be a god of nightmares, of rock-climbing slips, of car engines on the road. What would you do with the power you were given once you acquired it? Would you have to be one person, or could you be many? Would you be locked into a singular state of being like so many others, slowly corrupted by your power and despised by your followers as you committed atrocities that you never would have considered on your first day of your job as a deity but now on day five million ended up doing because everything else was just dull?

Did you really want to be immortal?

That is why you were going to Seven Sisters. There, you could find answers. There, you could choose.

And there, perhaps, you could say goodbye.

You drove, and for the first time in a while, you turned on the radio. You didn’t do it often, mostly because Nowhere didn’t receive the signals of popular stations too well. Drivers in Nowhere were limited to the stations nobody listened to.

You also just enjoyed the quiet and the solitude of the desert. The radio was not conducive to that. But today, you wanted some semblance of company. Today, your thoughts were too loud for yourself. In your memory flared the event from two days past: lightning dripping from the sky like vines, smoldering with superheated rain that smelled like fresh-cut grass, coming down off a latticework of thick grey-black clouds that made the corneas in your eyes burn with pent-up electricity like quicklime flashes in your skull. And above it all, a power of awesome size, and a deep sense of longing to drown yourself in the sea before that power.

It terrified you.

You felt the need to move, to do something. Maybe even to go back. But you couldn’t, and so you turned on the radio.

They were talking about plants. Plants get diseases too, they said. It sounded interesting, and you listened.

Most of us don’t think plants can get diseases, but they do. Most of us forget that plants get infections, can have allergies, acquire immunodeficiencies, are affected by lead or pesticides in the soil, but they are. We forget that plants are susceptible to antibiotics, and that so too are their infections. We forget that we can make machines to pump a plant’s blood for it, supply it with medications and life support, that we could, in theory, keep every plant in history alive with the power of medicine. We forget that there is a whole field of medicine and agriculture out there about plant pathology, and that if we really wanted to we could make plant ERs and, if needed, give a plant a diagnosis of a disorder so we can know how better to care for it.

There’s a whole field of medicine and advancement of science out there, and we ignore it. And because we ignore its basic existence, we can’t understand it when a plant doesn’t like light — even though the rest of a species does — or how fluid dynamics work within a plant’s vascular system. We don’t know because we don’t care, and so we all collectively pretend that it just isn’t happening.

The speaker gave a pause, and then, solemnly:

What does that say about humanity?

You turned the radio off. The Seven Sisters loomed on the horizon.

You pulled up. Got out of your truck. You stretched, cracked your back and joints. And with one hand shading your pale yellow eyes, you stared.

The Seven Sisters stood tall, black monolithic stone shards embedded into the ground like they had been punched out from the sky by the fist of a giant, splitting away from some larger, unified mass before hurtling down to Earth. The sky above them was not blue, but black, fragmented and crisscrossed with vibrant grey clouds that roiled with budding lightning. The vines of the lightning dripped like water, like vines should behave, and where they touched ground, the air roared with thunder that lasted minutes. The whole works.

This. This. This was what you had missed.

Tiny pink buds of flowers opened in the cracks of the ground by your feet as you walked. Big, fat raindrops splashed by your feet, dampening the soil-strewn sand and sending up dust to your eyes and your lungs.

Child. Why are you here.

The voice was thunder, absolute and enormous and unstoppable. It was gravity and it was time, it was space and it was the clarity of vision and hearing and touch opposing the world. It was the sensation of warmth when close to a fire and it was the pain of cold when sucking an ice cube. It was absolute, and it was inevitable.

You looked up. The latticework was open, a gaping hole in the sky above the Seven Sisters like the black obsidian shards had once been part of the hole and had simply peeled away, like a ceiling tile, from the heavens like so many fairytales describe the sky to be capable of.

For the first time in years, you flapped. Hard. With your wings. Your feathers were brassy, disused, and with them you pummeled the air until you were airborne, circled hard on the raging wind a second before a globule of lightning splashed down where you had been standing, obliterating the tiny flowers on the ground in an instant.

You soared, circled the Seven Sisters once, twice on the wind, exalting in flight, before landing. You landed at the top of the tallest Sister, the Seventh herself. Her top was sheared flat, completely even and level with the horizon, and when you gained a firm footing on the rain-slick surface you sat and stared, legs crossed, up at the crisscross black-blue heavens with a garden of lightning dripping down.

You sat there for a long, long time. Maybe seconds. Maybe minutes. The sky and her god waited for you. And then you took a great, deep breath.

“Should I be a god?” you asked. Your voice carried through the rain-soaked air, pelted through the sheets of silver and muddy grey like a storm. Your voice was a jaguar’s roar, something that had torn its way, ripping the meek chords out from your lungs. Your voice was a force of its own, and when it punched the cloud layer you saw, between the droplets of lightning and the responding bellows of thunder, a flash of sunlight.

Then your voice faded, and it was the chill and the pouring rush of silence again. The rain soaked your clothes. Your skin buzzed. Your hair prickled with energy. Your chest was tight and hot like a blazing furnace, heart sending spurts of adrenaline surging through your veins. Your veins felt as though they were wire, your teeth of duralumin and your eyes fool’s gold.

You were alive.

Awake.

Electric like the storm above you, and though it hurt right now to live, you did not stop your heart from beating.

Not even for an instant.

You turned your face to meet the sky eye-to-eye, and leaden raindrops poured down to greet your open eyes and mouth and throat and lungs like a river from the gale. The sky did not respond. And still you spoke.

“Should I become as you and lose myself in stability?” you said through the water in your lungs. “Or should I keep as I am and remain unknowing, forever uncompromised but malleable?”

And then, as tears streamed from your eyes identical to the pouring rain that blurred your vision and sent the lightning-vines to look like squiggles of white in a sea of fog, you asked in that same roar above the roar of the desert thunder: “Why must I become anything but myself?”

The clouds rumbled. And then: ”To be a god is to be who you ought to be. A dancer does not consider themselves in a dance; they think of how the role they play ought to behave in the space they fill. To be a god is to see the whole of who you are and accept yourself. It is to accept change, accept criticism, and acknowledge that you are not infallible in your existence.

“I am the storm. I am lightning. I am thunder. I am the shadows that seem light when I am gone, and I am the sun that turns night to day. I am the thousand crystalline structures that stick together to become alpine snow, and I am all the poor people and animals who thought they could survive the storm and were proven how wrong — no, how flawed they truly were, in their initial ways of thinking.

“I am everything of the storm. I am my faults, my joys, my prides, my sorrows. I am the anguish of the falconer who flew her beloved bird under my gale and saw the majestic creature turn to a wet red rain. I am the elation of the city trees when my electric kisses to the Earth crack the sidewalk, giving their cramped roots the space they need to thrive. I am the world turned asunder; the sky turned brilliant with condensed sunlight.

“You are Horus, the god turned trucker who forgot his name. Who are you to come calling again at the door of deitificity?”

The clouds murmured these words in a deafening roll of thunder that wilted the pink and scarlet rain-flowers and burst succulents too greedy to water. The Seven Sisters were an oasis for the storm: the rain did not hit anywhere else. The rainclouds held themselves just here, sitting golden on the edge like molten apians cooling on the edge of a furnace, bordering this old forgotten place where the sun never could rise. You had not known that you would find the god from Seattle here. But then again, you were but a drifter. You went where the wind blew, where the tides took you, and nowhere else. Being a god scared you for precisely that. How could you choose what you were going to be?

The last time you had been a god, you had had no say in your fate at all. Somehow, this was worse.

The rain had lessened. Time was drawing short. In a few minutes, you would climb down, wings heavy and too sodden to support you in flight, hanging like a deadweight as you abseiled the Seven Sisters. You would go back to your truck. You would drive away. Take another delivery Somewhere or Nowhere. Talk with your supervisor and develop holes in your memory. The whole works. The god of storms was right, in that way. Her words pierced your heart like the shock of an AED. You had left godhood. You had wanted to be your own person, to forget your mistakes. Who were you to come crawling back, now that you knew how painful it was to hide from yourself?

Or no, not painful. Just numb.

You will regret it if you do not ask. It was a thought that came unbidden, like most of your thoughts these days. You breathed a soft, wet sigh and stood. And as the sky gleamed with plasma overhead, the obsidian beneath your cold, white, waxy feet gleamed scarlet, your translucent skin illuminated from below where the lightning shone up through the tall, clear obsidian of the Seventh.

You were so small. So finite. Even before the lightning.

“I do not wish to be alone,” you called into the wind. “That is why I left. I want to come back.” You took a breath, shaky and wet with rain in your lungs.

“Can I join you?” you asked the storm. “You travel – I saw you in Seattle and here, and you showed me Shelves from a place beyond. You are knowledgeable, and so am I. I am young and full to bursting with power, and I need help. I wish for knowledge and to be free like the wind, not constrained by the heat of the sun nor the cool of the sea, nor locked by the curves of the mountains or the playings of the spin of the Earth, nor confounded by the haltings of reality or the shuddering steps toward the quietude of that heatless grave that all universes plod towards. It is my time to become a god again, yet I find that I am not ready. I do not want to choose who I am. I do not want to be everything that I am now. What should I do?”

The ground smelled like soil after rain, and the beauty of the sky made your eyes water. Little flashes of neon electricity ran old patterns over your skin.

The storm rumbled. And, in a voice like lightning when caught in the sand: ”I will take you in. Companion gods are not common, but tradition is confinement imposed by those long since rotted.

“I will show you eternity.”

It was an agreement. Your heart pounded and your tears of joy did not show in the rain and lighting, and when you were taken up to the stratosphere and finally let fly free — not on your wings but with the whole of your mind unconstrained, after your heart no longer beat because it no longer existed — you were finally happy.

You were home at last.

Storms come in pairs now. Go look outside and you will see. That is us. If you wave, we will wave back. Or maybe we will just smile – though it is hard to do so, when sailing ‘round the earth in a gale, or playing as starlings and swifts in fountains, or sailing as flurries of snow that stick to the goggles of snowboarders exulting in a fleeting feeling revered by those without wings.

We are all so much more than we think we are. Out of all the choices you had made in your life – and all the more that you had refused to make, and so many more that you had let pass you by, letting the choices make themselves – being alone was not one of them.

Choices are best made with purpose, not fallen into with a groan.

The next time you are hit by lightning, look up.

”Jar Jar Binkie? More like Urn Urn Pacifier!” — Bingus 2022
“This is an invasive comma. If it had a friend, it would not be invasive, but right now it is a divorced parasite.” — Stygian Blue 2022
Afternoon Backstrokes at the Eaglewood Communtity Pool, 2003 a flash poem by lzhoudidion—I try to keep a stiff lip—as my breath condenses—across the rippling sheets—the bowing needles—of pine trees—shielding electrified stalagmites—jutting reflections contained—within the confines of a tiled chocolate box—shimmering blue—beyond French doors—a inverted world”— lzhoudidion 2022

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