Collected shortworks of all types.

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As a child, they told me I could do anything. I could be anything. I could go anywhere. If I "put my mind to it". If I "wanted it bad enough". Whatever it is. Whoever they are.

Not long into life's journey, however, I think we all pause to take a look around and assess the situation. We all realize the truth. Nobody goes anywhere they're not born to go.

Sure, the fat kid with thick glasses and a hairy mole on his face might want to be a movie star, but everybody knows he will never be anything but a fat man with thick glasses and a hairy mole on his face. He could have the glasses replaced with contact lenses, I suppose. He could surgically remove the mole. He could start exercising and eating a proper diet. He could do a lot of things to become what he wants to be, but we know he will never do anything of the kind.

Like the rest of us, he'll come to realize the truth, instead. He'll watch the movies and he'll dream, but a day will come sooner in his life rather than later wherein he must confide his dreams to another to hear their laughter, grinning stupidly to bear their jokes. He'll turn bright red with shame and anger, and he'll run away, perhaps, if he's the running kind. Or he'll snap and start breaking bones, if he's the violent kind.

That day, however it transpires, must then become the high water mark of his hopes, dreams and aspirations. That day, when it comes, must mark the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.

It's the end of being born. It's the beginning of death.

It's the first step into the grave, and the last parting clutch of mother's warm, comforting womb. So that day is the last day and the first day, too.

Nobody can know, truly know, what motivates a smile or a frown. Nobody can know how thoughts conspire within that mysterious void in the darkness, when sleep looms or eludes and the deceived tremble before the promise of dreams or the threats of nightmares.

As I walk among the millions, I watch the faces of those that pass anonymously beside me. They are all different. They are all the same. The minute details of their desires differ and the measured degrees of their success in obtaining those desires fluctuate, but the essential nature of those desires remains invariant and the struggle to obtain them is never complete.

I know this, because they have obviously forsaken the darkened room in their minds to venture outside, once more. Some venture out to continue pursuit of the dream. They have not suffered the final realization. Most venture out to complete it, whether in success or failure. Only when fate inflicts the final, sad truth upon them, the truth that nothing is attainable or worthy of desire, will they finally fall to rest, and then within a darkened room, their hands lain alongside the revolver, or the rope, or the bottle, make the final journey awaiting us all.

From one perspective, this certainty comforts me. In this world, I am never alone, since we are all bound together by the umbilical and the grave. We all come from nothing and we are all bound to nowhere. From mystery to mystery, we are borne upon the winds of time, bits of dander stirring within a vast, empty chamber, sometimes flaring brilliant within a sunbeam, most often invisible and nameless in the shade. Thus, I am never an absolute failure; having been successfully born I must successfully die one day, and I must drift from there to here to there again, powerless as I am to be other than I am.

Once, I feared the unknowable specter of death, since it is the last mystery. Yet, with the realization of it, I also understood how it relates to birth, how the two can never be separated from one another. In fact, existence bifurcates the same mystery.

From whence have I come? To where will I go? Why make the journey, at all?

I might sit on the bench of a commuter train and ask the same question of every man, woman and child in my company. Where have you been? Where are you going? Why do you go there?

Undoubtedly, they could answer me easily. I come from home. I am going to work. I go there to pay my way in life. For every answer, however, I could ask the same endless question. Why? Why? Why?

Had they the patience and I the inclination, we could dissect our presence on the train to its last finest degree. Still, we must then struggle with the same, damnable question. Why?

We start off that way here, I suppose, asking why for every fact. Perhaps somebody is there to hear and answer for a time, providing new facts that we subject to new questions. If we like, we may make it a perpetual game, much like Tick-Tack-Toe, which is endless in its futility. Paired with an adequate opposite, an X for our every O, we find we can never win. We find the answer to the last question is a final surrender. We stop asking, and that puts a terrible end to the answers and the questions, both. Yet, it is the proper response to such a game, surrender.

Only a child continues such a futile exercise endlessly, foolishly hoping for something never to be. Even then, nobody can play forever, though they might play to the brink of death. Inevitably, fate takes the paper and pen away with a rude yank. Then what?

What follows? What precedes? Where am I now?

I ask those around me, and I find they can name a street. They can name a city, a state, and a nation. They can name a planet. They can explain the solar system and the Milky Way, and they can tell me tales of the cosmos. They try to answer, but nobody knows, really knows, where I am.

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Wee, Wicked Whispers; Collected Short Stories: 2007-2008