Shakespeare in Space: Futurama’s Connection to the Bard

In the 1999 cartoon situational comedy Futurama, there is a character named Bender Bending
Rodriguez. He is a robot, designed specially for bending girders. Bender shares a number of characteristics in common with another famous character: Hamlet. Through Futurama’s seven season run, Bender behaves in the same passionate, morose, and obsessive manner as Hamlet time and time again.

In season 1 episode 1 of Futurama, our first introduction to Bender is in line for a suicide booth,
he having lost the will to live. Bender’s obsession with death continues throughout the series, similarly to Hamlet. In act 1 scene 2 of Hamlet, Hamlet laments the death of his father:

Oh, that this too, too sallied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His cannon ‘gainst the self-slaughter. O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

His words smack of thoughts of suicide, showing his mental anguish, just as Bender shows in his own lament after discovering his work as a bender was used in creating suicide booths. His existence is inseparable death, linked to his work and his actions.

There are also links in the capriciousness of both characters. Where Hamlet desires action with
his exclamation of “Oh, from this time forth / My thoughts be bloody or nothing worth!” in act 4 scene
1, Bender dreams of a world where humans are no longer ruling over machines, and exclaims in his
sleep, “kill all humans!” While perhaps these two sentiments are not perfectly aligned, the similarity of a
desire to act for their own self interest is apparent. Both characters want to see their own will enacted on their worlds, as a means to grant freedom from their own personal suffering at the hands of others who claim rule over them.

The references to Shakespeare’s works in the Futurama do not end with Bender. In nearly every
season and film of the series you will find at least one reference to the Bard. With season 1 episode 4 being titled “Love’s Labor Lost in Space,” a reference to Love’s Labor Lost, and season 3 episode 4 being titled “Roswell that Ends Well,” referencing All’s Well that Ends Well, it becomes a clear pattern showing a link to Shakespeare’s works, bringing it to the forefront of this piece of popular culture.

Bender, however, remains a titular reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet with surprising frequency. Bender dies in the series dozens of times, either in alternate realities, or to be resurrected later, yet each time he meets his demise, invariably his best friend Phillip J. Fry, or others, will close his eyes, and say, “goodnight, sweet prince.” This is perhaps one of the most famous lines of Hamlet,
spoken by Horatio at the death of Hamlet by the poisoned blade which strikes him during his duel with

In a show where references to other popular media is a frequent gag meant to bring about a good laugh, it is not a surprise to find references to English’s most accomplished and famous writer, William Shakespeare. It is clear, though, that the Bard and the Bender have a link between them to the play of Hamlet. So whether you are a prince or not, if you are wanting a good piece of popular culture to view rich with references to Shakespeare, Futurama is not one to sleep on.


Gender Fluidity in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, an interesting story unfolds of gender identity, love, and sexuality. In the nation of Illyria, after a storm sinks their ship, young Viola and Sebastian find themselves marooned and separated. Viola chances upon a rescue by a ship captain, who tells her about the land where she finds herself lost. He tells her about Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, and his unrequited love for the beautiful Lady Olivia.

Immediately, Viola hatches a plan to hide her identity, assuming the persona of Cesario, and becoming a servant of the duke Orsino in his court. While this may seem an unusual choice to some readers in our modern time, the act of assuming a male persona for women in Shakespeare’s time was not unheard of for many reasons—from feeling safer in traveling alone, to being afforded opportunities for work or leisure that were otherwise reserved only for men, hiding one’s gender through a change of clothing, appearance, and masking of the voice was not unheard of. However, I believe this choice on Viola’s part was more complex than a simple ruse to allow them to live unencumbered in Illyria. Viola’s new persona of Cesario is an exploration of their transgendered nature, and the play itself is a microcosm of sexual diversity for many of the characters.

First, let us look at Viola’s decision to take on a male persona. While it is true that Viola is in a foreign land, and by extension, a place that is potentially hostile to her both as an outsider and as a woman, we see early on that Viola has access to a considerable amount of resources. She is able to give a sum of gold to the captain without a second thought, and also is able to express herself and her desires to the captain and the sailors without any issue. Where the cultural elements of the time may have indicated that a woman would be at the mercy of the men around her by their patriarchal authority, Viola does not appear to be under such constraints, even castaway as she is from her home and her own ship. Viola says “I’ll pay thee bounteously,” (1.2.55) as they explain their plans to infiltrate the duke Orsino’s house under the guise of Cesario, another indicator of their wealth and status. How is it that Viola is so wealthy, so influential, that they are able to pull off this ruse? It is possible that Viola had always intended to embark on a journey the likes of which this play goes through. If Viola had always intended to throw off their female persona, and become a man, it would follow that they had made personal preparations, accumulating wealth which they kept on their person, even when traveling long distances via ship. What’s more, Viola, even before becoming Cesario on stage, behaves and presents themselves with a more traditionally masculine set of mannerisms, conversing freely with the ship captain with an air of authority all their own, even convincing that captain to go along with their plan. The captain says to Viola after they explain the proposed plan to become a servant to duke Orsino, “You be his eunuch, and your mute I’ll be,” (1.2.65). Eunuchs are servants of sultans in the middle east, who protect the harems of the kings, and the mute was a servant assigned to the duty of protecting the eunuchs. If a mute betrayed the sultan or the eunuchs whom they served, they would be blinded according to the laws of the time. (Mowat, Barbara 2019).

Since the captain makes this comparison, it becomes apparent that they are already fully on board with the plan, so much so as to stake their own reputation on it. Would a reputable person with a successful career as a ship captain put their own life and job at risk if they were not convinced the plan would work? Unlikely. This level of devotion shows either a confidence that Viola could pull off the ruse with ease, or that Viola was already so good at presenting in a masculine manner that the captain did not even consider failure as a possibility. Either way, this creates a pattern that can allow a reader to infer the possibility that Viola intended to transition into male whether they had been marooned in Illyria or had made it successfully to their intended destination.

As Cesario spends time with the duke Orsino, they grow closer and closer, both as friends and confidants, as well as in a deeper and personal way. Cesario begins to express attraction to Orsino, as the two discuss what sort of women they are attracted to. As the duke Orsino and Cesario discuss love, the duke observes an understanding of love and attraction in Cesario’s countenance:

ORSINO                                          Thou dost speak masterly.

My life upon ‘t, young though thou art, thine eye

Hath stayed upon some favor that it loves.

Hath it not boy?

VIOLA              A little, by your favor.


What kind of woman is ‘t?

VIOLA                                          Of your complexion.


She is not worth thee, then, What years, i’ faith?

VIOLA            About your years my lord. (2.4.25-34)


In these lines we can infer quite clearly that Cesario is feeling attraction for Orsino. As yet, however, it appears Orsino is oblivious to his attraction to Cesario, or at least sees it only as a strong fraternal bond of friendship. However, as James Stone points out in Crossing Gender in Shakespeare, “… The fluidity and ambivalence of sexual identity in Shakespeare’s transvestite comedies describes a paradigm that calls univocal sexual truth into question, and finds pleasure in dwelling upon the questionable margins of truth.” As Cesario and Orsino do eventually fall in love, and choose a path of marriage, this does raise some interesting questions about Orsino’s understanding of love and his own sexuality.

Orsino spends no time in the play getting to know Cesario as the woman Viola; he knows Cesario only as his close, male friend, whom he confides his deepest feelings in. It is therefore not unreasonable to see that Orsino gains his affections for Cesario as a man, not for the Viola persona whom he has not met nor interacted with. His choice to marry Viola is more a choice to marry Cesario, and is even evident in Orsino’s final words of the play: “Cesario, come, / For so you shall be while you are a man. / But when in other habits you are seen, / Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen,” (5.1.407-411, emphasis added). Orsino speaks of the male Cesario in the present tense, even after learning of Viola, the female alter ego. His words also indicate a possibility that Cesario as a person will continue to exist, even though others of their world may meet the “mistress, and… fancy’s queen,” after they are wed. For the era in which this piece takes place, a relationship between two men, married, as Cesario and Orsino, would not likely be accepted by the people of their society. However, it would not be too much of a stretch, from the language employed by Orsino in his final lines of the play, that while the outward appearance of their marriage would be one between Viola and himself, in their own private company he would continue his relationship with Cesario, whom he truly loves, whom he has come to love throughout the events of the play. By this reading, it could then be inferred that the duke Orsino is pan sexual, attracted to the transgendered male Cesario, whom he seeks to marry.

Shakespeare explored the binaries of gender through the clothing of his characters, as well as their behaviors, and the reactions of those around them in the plays (Garber, Marjorie 1992). In many of his plays, from As You Like it, Merchant of Venice, and Cymbeline, Shakespeare has characters who are female don the garb of men to either blend in, pass as men, or achieve action that otherwise was reserved for men in their day. Yet where Twelfth Night differs in this regards is that the majority of the play is spent with Cesario, not Viola, as the character whom we get to know, to understand their motives, and to grow to love ourselves.

Even in the end of the play, after it is revealed that Cesario is Viola, and in many productions a change of dress returns Cesario to the raiment of Viola, yet we are not given any more time in the text to explore Viola as a character. What we know of Viola is given to us through Cesario, not the other way around. It could be said, then, that from what we are given in the play, Cesario is the real character, and Viola is whoever is needed to fill the stage when Cesario cannot be present. No matter the sex Cesario was assigned at birth, the one embodied, chosen, and enacted is that of a male. Cesario is bold, action oriented, and seen as handsome by the women of the play, including the lady Olivia, who eventually decides she wants to marry Cesario, who embodies everything she desires in a man, also calling into question her own sexuality.

The sensibilities of Shakespeare’s time, which were tending toward the puritan ideal, are a major foil to the sexuality of Twelfth Night. These puritan ideals, embodied in Malvolio, are at odds with the freedom of sexual expression and self expression of many of the characters in the play, including Cesario, whom he describes as a man of “very ill manner,” (1.5.152). Malvolio, who’s name even begins with the prefix “Mal,” meaning bad or evil, despises all pleasures, and has an apparent obsession with doing all things with manners and honesty. He is regarded by all in the play as an unpleasant presence, with one character saying of him, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” (2.3.114-115). From these lines we can draw a reasonable metaphor that since Cesario represents an alternative lifestyle, Malvolio represents the status quo, upholding what is considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ by the conventions of their time. These conventions would smother Cesario if given the chance, staunching out his existence altogether, allowing only Viola to exist; yet the personality of Viola is throughout the play wholly Cesario. Denying Cesario the right to exist would be no different than killing both Cesario and Viola.

The characters of the play foment a scheme to trick Malvolio, tempting him with the prospects of hetero love in an effort to make him appear crazy, so they can have him locked away until the end of the play. This could be seen as a metaphor for taking the existing conventions of gender out of the mix, to allow for Cesario and Orsino to eventually marry by play’s end. Where Malvolio represents the status quo, his removal represents a freeing of the characters in the play from the restrictive conventions of their time, allowing them to express themselves in a more open sexuality, allowing for their trans and alternative sexualities to thrive, to be explored, and to flourish.

Shakespeare’s work is still so relevant today because of the possibilities it offers for interpretations of sex, sexuality, and the gender binary. Of all his plays, Twelfth Night provides the most unique and clear opportunity to explore LGBTQ+ lifestyles, showing a positive and inspiring transition for Viola into Cesario, and the acceptance and love of Orsino toward him. Even with the conventions of Shakespeare’s time, his work shows a depth of human understanding that continues to evoke the personal experiences of day to day life, from sexuality, and beyond.



Shakespeare, William (Edited by Mowat, Barbara A., Werstine, Paul). Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Folger Shakespeare Library, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2019.

Garber, Marjorie B. Vested Interests : Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety. 1st HarperPerennial ed. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993. Print.

Stone, James W. Crossing Gender in Shakespeare : Feminist Psychoanalysis and the Difference Within. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

The Guild of The Hunter God, Revised

Revisionary work is a great process for improving your work, as well as discovering your voice and your strengths. Both through reading the works of other students and through submitting my own for review, I gained a greater understanding of how storytelling in fiction can be done in a way that entertains, tantalizes the mind, and enriches the readers experience. One struggle I have had with my own writing is moralizing on my stories. From pointers given by my fellow writers, Professor and author Erin Saldin, and through my own retrospective after having experimented with this piece, I believe I have found a better balance in open endedness in my stories, as well as a good amount of weaving in meaning and moral to my work. It is my belief that this revision of “The Guild of the Hunter God” shows that application, and does it well.

Summers were always so hot in Lestmarsh. The air hung thick and wet, dotted with clouds of mosquitos and pollen wafting from the wetlands through the cypress woods. Jesri swatted at them absentmindedly as he leaned against a ruined marker off the side of the ancient road. The wood of the post had rotted from centuries of exposure to the harsh rains of the southernmost province of Silg, yet the years had also tempered it, hardened it, petrified it into a marker which would outlast kingdoms. He’d taken this road many times, on the huntsman’s trail between the neighboring province of Menganny and the fur trapper’s bazaar in the port town of The Thumb. The road was once a great thoroughfare of silks and spices from the far eastern reaches of Udai, but those days were long before his time, before his father Betor’s time even.

Jesri looked to the sun and the shadows; it was about three hours past noon now, and he was told to meet the officiator at one hour past. With a deep sigh he allowed his thoughts to drift backward in time, to before Betor’s death, to the first hunts they shared beneath the sickle moon. Betor came from a long line of hunters, stretching back before king Silgis united the lands under his name. Jesri had always been a part of his father’s work as a hunter, plucking feathers and scrubbing hides. No hunter ever hunts alone, Betor would often say to him, although Jesri was ten before his father fitted with his first bow and a pair of huntsman’s breeches. Their first game was small, pheasant and plain’s hare, yet to Jesri it the most supernal experience of his life. Betor was so proud; his boy had heard the call of the hunt.

It was only a year later they left their meager home to join a field party in pursuit of mastodon, a six month journey with fourteen other hunters. The flesh and bones of mastodons constituted a major part of the Silgen diet and manufacturing, every part of the creatures having great value from leather to meat to ivory. Betor and Jesri lived in isolation in the Menganny wilds, and aside from the infrequent trips his father made to the nearby villages to sell his fur trappings Jesri had spent almost no time with any other human soul. The hunting party accepted them quickly as they made their preparations for the long journey, following the migratory path of the great beasts through Lestmarsh, where they would drop their calves.

In the humid lowlands they stalked the creatures as one great whole, everyone in their party following the guidance of their head huntsman Antha. She was weathered in years from the harsh wilds of Silg, with a shock of straw white hair tightly braided upon her head. Jesri never knew his mother, she had died in labor. Antha was not a person who one might view as motherly, yet to Jesri, she was the closest he ever came. She knew the passage of the mastodons better than any other hunter, and their behavior. They followed the herd at a great distance, watching from afar, as Antha determined which beasts they would capture, and when, and where. She indicated a middling aged male, with a streak of gray fur along the trunk as their first mark and recorded her other plans in her leather bound journal.

It was at the edge of the wetland, where the mountain’s foot peaked from the soft peat dotted with evergreen furs, that the hunting party sprang their first attack. The gray trunked mastodon was quickly separated from his herd as the hunters erupted from their blinds with torches and spears, driving him into the low hill crevices of the mountain’s foot. Once there cornered, the arduous and long process of bringing him down began. Jesri and two other young hunters were sent to the cliff edge to rain down arrows with a simple yet potent toxin lacing their heads. The others carefully and methodically pierced the beast with their spears along the throat and forelegs, where its arteries were most exposed. After an hour, the beast finally succumbed, and knelt on the thick, blood wet grass as if to sleep, a final shuddering breath escaping its mighty lungs as the crimson sunset reflected across the mackerel sky.
In pursuit of those great, wild beasts, Betor showed him the way of the spear and taught him to skin and cure hides, no small feat when dealing with the bodies of the ruddy-haired, tusked behemoths. They would cut the skin into great squares, about the length and width of a man before using the scrambled brain to wash the wet undersides and then bind them into stacks of thirty, tied with sinew. Antha led the way in curing the meat, smoked over flames of alder wood. Once finished, it was then similarly bound, wrapped in maple bark and slathered in lard, stacked onto the wagon. The bones, too, were polished and carefully stored, ready to sell when the hunt season was concluded. Then, the smatterings of meat and tender organs were ground with sage and bitter chicory and stuffed into the intestines, braided and smoked into a kind of sausage called svetch which constituted the majority of their meals throughout the long hunting season.

After the hard labor of harvesting that first mastodon was done, Antha called all the hunters together on the blood-soaked soil, and from her satchel she retrieved a small ivory carving, made in the image of great fanged reptile, with a bow clutched in it’s claws.

“We thank you for this success,” Antha said, and kissed the icon, concluding her simple prayer, “The blood is yours, always.”

Where Betor taught Jesri the practical elements of the hunt, it was Antha’s example that taught Jesri of the philosophy. That season they brought down seven mastodons, and at each sight of the kill, Antha uttered the same prayer, the ivory icon in hand, a tear glistening in the corner of her eye.

“What is it that Antha holds after a kill?” Jesri asked his father at the end of the season.

“It’s Grukscava,” Betor said as he sharpened his bronze spearhead on his whetstone. “He’s an old god, from a bygone era.”

“Does he like the hunt?” Jesri asked.

“Some say he is the hunt,” his father replied, sitting his spear down to look Jesri in the eyes. He rubbed his hands together and pursed his lips. “I don’t much believe in gods. I believe in a good spear, a well strung bow, and the hunters by my side.”

“Why does Antha believe?” Jesri asked.

“You’d have to ask her. For me, I believe in the hunt. Always have. Whether there’s a god involved or not, I have to hope the hunt is enough, because for me, it is.”

Betor ruffled Jesri’s hair and smiled.

“And so are you,” he said, “little cub.”

Betor and Jesri spent the next five years joining Antha’s field parties in the mastodon hunts. Every season Jesri would learn of Grukscava from her, of his great feats, his apotheosis, and his teachings. He was once a hunter not unlike Betor, devoted to his family, focused on the living moment. When Grukscava achieved godhood, he had two children: the groks, which bore his appearance, and the serpents of air—dragons, who were the eventual creators of the race of man. Jesri loved Antha’s stories, as did many of the other hunters, who all sat close to her at the evening fires, joyous to hear her. Jesri wanted to know more about the groks. When Jesri would ask Antha about these mysterious hunters, she’d idly stroke the green-scaled pouch on her belt. They were apparently a people of hunters, much like themselves, but they lived deep in the marshes, their homes dug into the berms around the great lakes. Antha was not keen on telling more about these people, however. She said they were great hunters, great bipedal crocodiles as dexterous and clever as any man, and that they were dangerous. She described them as the ultimate hunt, a reasoning being, capable of hunting in return those who would attempt to take them on for their prized skin.

It was in the fifth year of Betor and Jesri’s journeying with Antha’s field party that Jesri met a grok for the first time. As the group followed the migrating mastodon, Antha gestured for the party to stop. Jesri looked to see what was the matter, and noticed Antha’s eyes scanning the mud; there were footprints there, with a strange swish following along behind—the swish of a long, scaled tail. Before anyone could act it was too late. Out of the marsh sprang a pack of grok hunters, their eyes yellow and black, their scaled skin caked in peat. The grok hunters struck with precision, but it was not mastodon that they sought. Within seconds, four of Antha’s party were taken, Betor among them. Their bodies were found later, or rather, what was left of them.
Antha raised Jesri as her own after he’d lost his father.

Jesri stretched his back, leaning away from the ancient marker. Through the gathering evening haze, he saw an approaching figure. They walked with a halting stride, a long robe hanging down to their weathered boots.

“Jesri?” the man shouted.

“I am,” Jesri replied, standing tall.

“Are you the officiator?”

“I am,” the old fellow said. His face was deeply wrinkled, like a carven marble statue weathered through heavy winters and ice. He was blind in one eye, a broad scar running down his face on the left side. The milky iris unsettled Jesri as it starred at him, unblinking.

“My name is Tolm,” the old man continued. “I’ve been an officiator for the guild for oh, thirty years now.”

Jesri shifted his weight from foot to foot.

“As you know the guild is an ancient society. No one joins it lightly. The initiation will be difficult. It could kill you. Or leave you terribly wounded.”

Jesri found himself staring at the scar on Tolm’s face.

“You come highly recommended,” Tolm continued. “I knew Antha, back in our youth. She was a fine hunter.”

“I believe I met you at her funeral,” Jesri said. “Last year.”

“Yes,” Tolm continued. “I believe so. A rare gift, for a hunter like her to pass peacefully in their sleep. She fought well, and Grukscava is with her, I am sure. But tell me, Jesri. Why do you seek to join the guild?”

Jesri breathed deep. When Antha took him in, he spent half the year with her in the mastodon hunts, and the other half on the coast, near the guild hall where she was a resident and a member. He gained his formal education in the youth house of the guild, learning to read and write, as well as learning all the rites of the guild, and the stories of their god. He had wanted to join then, but his feelings turned when we saw a grok hunting party join them at the festival of Sun Return. Antha tried to explain that the groks were also a part of their hunter’s lineage, but he could not hear it then. It was not until she passed last year that he finally felt the call to join her society, to be more near to her and his father in his loneliness.

“When I lost my father,” Jesri began, “The guild became my refuge. It has been my home for so long now. I am, and always shall be, a hunter.”

Tolm’s face looked rigid as the crimson sun headed toward the horizon.

“Do you know whom it is you serve?” Tolm asked. Jesri’s brow furrowed.

“Our guild serves Grukscava,” Jesri said, resolute.

“The guild?” Tolm asked, “Or you?”
Jesri didn’t respond.

“I know the story of your father,” Tolm said, turning to leave. “And your thoughts are clear. Perhaps you are not ready.”

“No!” Jesri blurted. Tolm stopped. “No. I am ready. I desire to formally join the guild. I serve the hunt.”

“Then you serve the god,” Tolm said heavily. “For the two are one and the same. This is no small matter. Grukscava is father to the hunt, the grok, and the dragons, and dragons are father to man. We are all brothers in the hunt. The hunt is more than the kill. It is the true way of life. To seek out and claim your own part of this world, on your skill and hunger, just as Grukscava did in the age of gods.”

“But,” Jesri said, stopping short.

“Yes?” Tolm asked.

“Do we not also hunt the groks?” Jesri said.

“Yes,” replied Tolm, “They are a mighty prize in the hunt. Our guild seeks the hunt wherever it takes us. The groks are our skin-brethren. To hunt a grok is to hunt a hunter, but this is not driven by anger or revenge. From ourselves, or from them.”

Jesri was quiet for some time, the sound of crickets beginning to grow from the wooded wetland.

“I am a hunter,” Jesri said. Tolm nodded slowly. “I am ready to become one with our people.”

“And so you shall,” Tolm said. “We shall begin your trial now, then. And not a moment too soon; the moon is rising.”

Tolm removed a satchel from his belt. The old leather bag was as ancient in appearance as his face, wrinkled and thin like a paper bag. He held it out to Jesri.

“Within you will find what you need for the hunt,” Tolm said.

Jesri opened the pouch. Inside was a cap of fungus, violet and black, streaked with red spores. It had an acrid smell, like vinegar.

“This is the bait?” Jesri asked.

“No, Tolm replied, “This is for you. You must eat it.”

Jesri chuckled. Tolm did not.

“You’re serious?” Jesri said.

Tolm nodded.

“I was raised in the guild,” Jesri said in frustration, “By Antha. I know the rites. This is not one of them.”

“It is for you,” Tolm replied, unwavering. “Antha specifically requested it for you, should you ever choose to join. It is a more ancient rite, not generally in practice in our time. You will be in no more danger than any other initiate, I assure you.”

“I am not afraid,” Jesri said.

“Perhaps you should be,” Tolm said gravely. “The beast you hunt seeks out those who have eaten this toadstool.”

“What will I be hunting?” Jesri asked.

“You will know when it comes to you.”

Jesri frowned.

“Very well,” he said, and took the cap into his sweaty hand. Without hesitation he placed it into his mouth, and chewed. The cap was rubbery, like a piece of raw fish, yet tough and sour. He nearly choked, the earthy spores flooding his sinuses as he swallowed. Immediately he felt a flush in his cheeks, the mushroom taking quick effect. Tolm nodded solemnly.

“Good,” Tolm said. “Now go. And remember, you are not the only one on the hunt.”

Jesri’s mouth felt like sand as he walked into the darkening cypress forest of Lestmarsh. He could feel his blood pounding in his ears as he went, and even in the encroaching cool of the coming night he sweat freely. His breath came and went in ragged spurts, even though he walked slowly and without any great exertion. Above him, the clouds gave way to a bright moon and the stars, yet something about them seemed off; the constellations were out of order, and he even thought for a moment that the sky was streaked with the colors of a shimmering aurora, like those told of in stories of the spirit world. A biting pain erupted in his gut, and though it subsided quickly, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Jesri stopped and sat on a large, flat stone covered in fine moss. He didn’t know where he was going, nor what he was hunting, yet his hunter’s instincts held strong—he would do what he could, so he examined his hunter’s gear and calmed his boiling blood with a drink of cool water from his mastodon skin flask.

He carried with him his two hunter’s weapons: the bow and the spear. He knew the beast would come for him, and would likely see him first; the bow would prove ineffective, so he readied his spear. The bronze head glimmered in the bright full moon as he looked to his buck knife, and finally, his last weapon. It was not a hunter’s weapon. It was an heirloom. His father’s sword. It was short, with a double-edged blade that was shaped like a long tear, made of fine steel. When his father was taken all those years ago, his body was found with the blade still clutched in his hand. He drew the blade from its sheath, examining the care both he and his father had taken in keeping it sharp, and oiled. Its surface shined like a mirror, and in the reflection Jesri noticed something: footprints. Wideset, and a long, strange swish between them. They were fresh.

Jesri’s senses heightened with recognition as he heard a faint crunching of dry grass just off to his left. He stood quickly, brandishing the sword, and there, in the woods, he saw the form of a tall, scaled being, staring at him with pale, yellow eyes.

“No harm,” it said in a deep, rumbling voice. “Lower weapon.”

Jesri did not move. The pain in his stomach returned, but he resisted the urge to wince, to show his weakness, not in the face of this grok.

“You are on the guild rite,” the grok said. “and so am I. Not enemies.”

Jesri regarded the grok carefully, and seeing that they had no weapon drawn themselves, slowly lowered his own.

“You are joining the guild?” Jesri asked.

“Always,” the grok replied.

“You met with Tolm, then?”

“A unique rite tonight,” the grok said, “the fungus can cause much pain. It helps to eat. Svetch?”

The grok reached into a tan pouch on their hip, and withdrew a strip of smoked, spiced sausage. The grok tossed the svetch to Jesri, who caught it with apprehension.

The grok took out another strip, and began to eat.

Jesri sheathed his sword and ate. The grok was right, as the svetch entered his stomach, the biting pain subsided.

“Some call me Grrk,” the grok said. “You are?”


“Do you know what we hunt tonight?” Grrk asked.

“No,” Jesri said.

Whatever he was going to face, Jesri knew it wouldn’t be small. The Guild of the Hunter-God was known throughout all Silg, even the whole world, for their daring and skill in hunting the most dangerous creatures.

“Our journey will be perilous,” Grrk said. “Many beasts have I slain in my time.”

“As have I,” Jesri replied. As he sat, his belly calmed with the bitter svetch, he began to feel a new sensation. Lights and spots materialized in his vision as he closed his eyes. His energy was fast waning, but he knew he mustn’t sleep. He rubbed his face, and stood once more, finding it harder than he’d anticipated, and turned to head deeper into the wooded marsh.

“I must go,” Jesri said. “I… I thank you, for the svetch.”

“The beast we hunt,” Grrk said, “It may be beyond your ability alone. We should work together.”

Jesri felt a knot in his stomach, but it had nothing to do with any poison other than hate.

“No,” he said. “We shall part here.” He turned to look on Grrk once more, but the grok was gone, as if he had never been there at all. Jesri took a long, ragged breath, and set forth.

There were many things he could face in the dark woods of Lestmarsh. A bulkan, with its razor horns and brute power. Or an arachnin, quiet and skittering, its faint whispering language on the still cold air as the pungent smell of its venom wafted on the night breeze. He shuddered at the thought. His fingers tightened on the shaft of his hunters spear, hoping beyond hope that he would see the beast before it saw him.

He came through a stony clearing, dotted with great boulders left long ago, when glaciers had covered the land. The soil was loose and muddy as he trudged through. His head was swimming once more, the dancing lights behind his eyes almost blinding him, when he noticed a form in the shadows before him. At first he thought it was an illusion—a faint smudge of black on the night air, a shadow, formless and undulating, perhaps light playing through the leaves of a nearby tree. But it moved toward him, unlike any shadow should have. It was a creature, alive. He could not seem to focus on its appearance, a mass of crooked spikes, like a boar covered in black quavering fire. It had no eyes, no mouth.

Jesri shouted at the beast, brandishing his spear. It didn’t move from where it was near the rocks, and yet its form seemed to change, spreading out wider, with a dozen legs or appendages, each shuddering and dripping with stygian horror. Jesri drew a deep, labored breath. He lunged with his spear, the bronze blade glowing like fire in the moonlight. He aimed his blow between the forelimbs, where the spiked plates of its body seemed to join, but the blade shattered like glass on contact. The spear splintered as if driven into the living rock of a mighty mountain, the force resonating through his body, rattling his bones. He staggered back, and the beast came forward. The creature’s limbs drew together, extending and gaining height until it stood as tall as a horse. Where the shadowy mass would have had a head it grew a long, ragged seam, which split open into a maw full of needle sharp teeth. Jesri fell backwards, rolling away through the muddy soil as the beast bucked and roared past him.

Jesri rose again, uneven yet undaunted. He drew his bow and quickly nocked an arrow. The beast turned, as if to make another charge, but it paused. He let fly the arrow, but it too shattered like the spear as it met the hide of the shadowy beast. The creature then charged once more—Jesri unleashed three more arrows, all to no effect. His eyes widened as the creature picked up speed. He leapt aside once more, but too late, the head of the beast now a mass of brutal tusks, which gored his right leg as it passed, tossing him in the process. The fresh wound seeped as Jesri turned over in the loose mud. The beast reared again on its hind legs, pawing at the air toward him as a horrid hiss escaped its body. Jesri looked about himself; his spear broken, his bow missing, his sword still hanging from his hip. He drew the blade with shaky hands and winced as he pulled himself to his knees. But the beast was already upon him again, its forelimbs like those of a bear now, pressing into his chest and pushing him deep in the mud with its colossal weight. The soft peat squelched under the pressure as he struggled against the immovable creature. It raised a forepaw, the spiked claws glistening with Jesri’s lifeblood. In a panic, Jesri held the sword between him and the beast, the mirror steel seeming so feeble against the bladed shadow which held him down.

The beast swatted its mighty paw toward him, but as it contacted the sword’s edge, the digits were cut through like cheese. Black blood oozed from the open knuckles as the creatures paw, a wild, hot hiss roiling from its form. It writhed and withdrew, the enormous weight no longer crushing Jesri’s breath from his body. He inhaled with a hungry gulp, rolling onto his side.

Jesri tried to stand, but the pain in his leg kept him in the mud. As the creature turned about for another attack, suddenly Grrk leapt between them, no weapon other than their own claws and teeth. Grrk gave a barking shout, standing their ground, and the creature turned, fleeing deeper into the marsh. Grrk turned quickly to Jesri, and helped him to his feet. Together they hobbled to a nearby stump, where Grrk bandaged Jesri’s leg with staunching moss and velvet leaves.

“Lucky to be alive,” Grrk said.

“I know,” Jesri replied. “You saved me.”

“No hunter hunts alone,” Grrk said. Jesri looked into the grok’s eyes. They were placid, like a reflection of the noonday sun in a well of deep water.
Jesri stood, and went to the site of his tussle with the beast. Grrk followed.

The creatures claws still lay in the mixed blood and mud, splayed out like silverware at a macabre dinner table. Jesri picked up one of the claws; it was deceptively lightweight.

“You cut it,” Grrk said. “How?”

“I don’t know,” Jesri replied. “My spear and arrows had no effect on it. It was like striking a cliff face.”

Jesri took out his hunter’s knife and scrapped it against the claw. The blade chipped. Jesri’s brow furrowed. Grrk knelt down in a hunter’s squat, swirling their finger in the small pool of black blood.

Jesri paused for a moment, looking between the blade and the claw. Carefully, he lowered the claw onto the blade as he held it still. As the claw grazed the blade, it was cut as easy as paper. Jesri looked on in wonder. Grrk gave a satisfied chirp as they watched.

Jesri placed his knife between his feet, the edge facing up toward him, and dropped the claw onto the blade. The claw was split in two as if it were made of soap.

“I know this beast,” Grrk said.

“Yes,” Jesri said also. “A volraith. But I thought they were a myth.”

“All myth has place in reality,” Grrk said, stroking their chin.

“I had heard they were extinct,” Jesri said, “If they had ever existed at all.”

“Yet here it is,” Grrk said.

“According to legend,” Jesri said, “it could only be harmed by its own force.” Grrk nodded as they looked at the split claw beside Jesri’s feet.

“Then we know its weakness,” Grrk said. They stood, and approached Jesri, their hand extended. “Come, together we can take it.”

Jesri hesitated.

“No hunter hunts alone,” Jesri said, and took Grrk’s hand.

Quickly Jesri collected his sword and knife, as well as the shards of the beasts claws. The hunters assessed their surroundings; the high boulders provided cover, and nearby a tall tree offered strong branches. Jesri went through his remaining tools. His sword could prove useful, but one wrong move could leave the blade shattered and broken, like his spear. No, he couldn’t risk the blade moving at all if he wanted to strike true through the volraith’s skin. A trap was in order.

With Grrk’s help, Jesri selected a good spot for their trap: a space between two great boulders, with soft soil that was shallow and dry enough for a good footing.

“This plan will require a fast runner,” Grrk said as they quickly gathered thick tree branches.

“My leg is fine,” Jesri said. Grrk scowled.

“I will run,” Grrk said.

“This is my plan,” Jesri said, heated.

“So then you should spring the trap,” Grrk replied. “I will be runner. I will be bait.”

Jesri gritted his teeth as he carved and sharpened the tree branches, weaving them into a lattice of sharp points. No more than twenty minutes had passed since the creature attacked. It couldn’t be far off. Grrk looked at Jesri, and Jesri looked at Grrk.

“Alight,” Jesri said. “I’ll mind the trap. Come, let’s see where this volraith has gone.”

They returned to the sight of the attack and searched for tracks. But the only ones there were Grrk’s and Jesri’s, as if the creature had left no mark on the world. There was one thing it couldn’t hide though: blood. Ribbons of oily splatter trailed off to the east. Grrk and Jesri exchanged a glance before the grok lowered themselves to all fours, and followed the trail into the dark.

Jesri positioned himself near the trap, hidden in a blind of moss and branches, the trap trigger in hand. As he waited, his stomach churned. His leg throbbed as his eyes flashed again with the otherworldly light, the toxins of the fungus still with him, confusing him. He began to sweat heavily, his heart pounding in his chest like a drum at the festival of Sun Return. He listened carefully to the night, for any sign of Grrk’s return, or the beast. All he could hear was his own blood thumping in his ears.

Then, suddenly, he saw Grrk hurtling toward him. And behind Grrk, the shapeless form of the volraith, a spiny blot, like a deadfall with legs, gaining on Grrk quickly as its body glinted black and blue in the light of the moon. Jesri’s fingers tense around his trap trigger as Grrk and the volraith approached. Time seemed to slow down as a thought struck him, only for a moment: if he pulled the trigger before Grrk passed the threshold, he could kill them both.

He thought of his father Betor, his body bloody and laying dead at the hands of grok hunters. His eyes streamed as he clutched the trap trigger. He knew what he must do. He would honor his father, he would honor Antha. His anger cooled into resolution as the grok and the beast came closer, Grrk ran faster, the volraith sprouted new legs and gained as well.

Grrk’s yellow eyes showed no fear as he passed through the trapped ground, the volraith just a foot behind him. Jesri pulled the trap trigger, and from the soft soil sprouted a dozen sharpened branches, their points jutting toward the racing beast. Too late to stop or turn, the volraith collided with the spikes of the trap, a loud, wet crack splitting the air as the beast writhed, the wooden spikes piercing its body like hot skewers through wax. The creature shuddered, its form drawing together like a deflated balloon, and then with final, long hiss, it melted into a pool of black blood and blue spikes of ethereal ivory.

Jesri emerged from his hunters blind, Grrk heaving breath beside him in the still night air.

“Well done,” Grrk said as the two approached the bloody stain of the volraith’s demise.

“And you also,” Jesri said.
“Take the spines,” Grrk said, gesturing to the remains of the beast.

“We’ll split them,” Jesri replied. “This is our prize. Together.”

“I will take what is mine,” Grrk said, leaning down to the blood wet earth.
Jesri watched as Grrk placed their hand into the blood, and observed in quiet awe as it was slowly drawn into their skin.

Grrk stood, their head framed in the halo of the moon, and on their right and left hand stood Antha and Betor. Jesri fell to his knees. He was the hunt. And the hunt was him. The heavens above them burst with the aurora of the spirit world as Jesri looked on, his head swimming.

“I thank you for this success,” Jesri said as Grrk rose into the moon, “the blood is yours, always.”

Jesri awoke in a soft bed, laid beneath a sheepskin cover. The room was unfamiliar to him until he noticed the insignia embossed on the curtains of the window at his bedside. He was in a Hall of the Hunter-God. He lay for some time, unable to reconcile the experiences of the days before.
He found his leg bound with a fine bandage, with careful stitching of his skin evident beneath the linen wrap. There was no sign of infection, and minimal bruising. As he examined his wound, he noticed a pitcher beside his bed on the nightstand, full of cool, clean water. He drank deeply from it, his dry throat joyous at the refreshing touch of it. As he drank, the door to his room opened. Tolm stepped in.

“You’ve awakened,” Tolm said evenly.

Jesri looked at him, his own expression stoic, calm.

“I have been on a journey,” Jesri said. “I have seen The Hunter.”

The Games I Love

I love video games. When I was eight years old, my family got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. It was a cold morning in North Carolina in our military base housing complex as my siblings and I ran down the stairs to the living room. We opened a number of gifts, until my brother Vincent found in his stocking a stuffed Mario plush. A knowing look appeared in his eye as we exchanged glances. Then, our mother pointed to the entertainment stand, where a ribbon held the doors of it closed.

“Open it!” She said with glee, as Steven, Vincent, and myself gathered around what we knew was within. The doors flew open, and there it sat: a shiny new Nintendo 64. It was the first game console we ever owned, but not the first we’d played. We’d known other kids who had Super Nintendo’s, or the NES. We’d played with the neighbor’s Sega Game Gear at the park behind our house, and watched Ren & Stimpy galivant across bizarre worlds on the Sega Genesis. But this wasn’t some other kid’s console. This was ours.

Our parents got it in a sweepstakes, and under the tree were two rented games from our military base movie store. We had them for seven days; they couldn’t afford to purchase the games for us. Vincent and I beat STAR WARS: Shadows of the Empire in a single night. Steven blew through the worlds of Mario 64 one after the other, with the grace of an Olympic athlete. It was the beginning of a life long love affair with gaming. After our seven days of bliss with our two games, they were returned to the video store, leaving us once more without the pleasures of 3D rendered environments on our old family television.

We went to visit our uncle David and aunt Peggy in the following weeks. As we drove to Arkansas, I sat in the back of our family van, recording notes of the level’s I’d already completed in Mario 64, so that when the time came I could pick up where I’d left off. I drew maps to stars in Bob-omb Battlefield. I wrote down the sequence for opening the chests in Jolly Roger Bay. Thinking about gaming was almost as fun as the gaming itself. And while I loved my aunt and uncle dearly, and cherished the times we got to spend together near the holidays, I couldn’t quite drag myself away from the thoughts of that smooth controller and its colorful buttons, waiting for me back home. My brother’s and I talked about our new obsession so much, our uncle decided to purchase us a copy of Mario 64 as a gift. I was overjoyed as he took us to the game counter at a local store and pointed out the cardboard cover art of Mario wearing a wing cap, flying over a green meadow.

It wasn’t long after that first gifted game that our collection grew. Games were all I asked for. Birthdays, holidays, any special occasion. If my parents were offering to get a gift, I wanted a new game. We frequently purchased used rentals from Blockbuster. Star Fox, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Banjo-Kazooie, all were added to the horde as used copies. And I devoured each and every one of them. Star Fox offered a unique challenge in that it had a leader board which tracked your score each play through. My brothers quickly occupied every place on that board, yet try as I might I could never even get on at last place. That gnawed at me, an itch I couldn’t scratch, a yearning for gaming excellence that kept me going back to the title week after week, month after month.

My brothers took to the skill of gaming faster than I did. They were older by two and four years, and fine motor skills came to me haltingly as my hands and eyes battled one another for the mastery of it. Fighting titles like Super Smash Bros. taught me quick reflexes. Puzzle platformers taught me critical thinking. Every lesson was a pleasure, as I grew in years beside the stack of game cartridges.

It was around that same time when I was introduced to the internet. A friend of my father had access, and told us it could basically get you encyclopedic information on anything. So I asked for a guide to Star Fox. A week later, the man returned with not only a guide Star Fox, but a whole host of other Nintendo trivia and lore, including the now infamous rumor that you could unlock Luigi as a playable character in Super Mario 64. My brothers and I became caught in the frenzy of possibility; Luigi waiting for us to find him, to be the first people ever to unlock him in the world. We drifted back from our love of Star Fox to Super Mario 64, working every secret, every exploit we could. We scoured every world in the game, unlocking all 120 stars, searching even beyond the borders of levels through glitches and wall jumps. But to no avail. It was at least a year of fevered effort before we all silently agreed to call of the search for Luigi.

We moved west, and settled in Utah at Hill Air Force Base outside of Layton. All our other possessions were packed away for the trip, safely stored in giant shipping boxes by the professional movers the military always sent. Everything except for our Nintendo 64. That was carefully returned to its original box, and with two games tucked inside (Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Star Fox) which we played at every hotel and family members house along the journey from North Carolina to the Uinta Mountains. My devotion to gaming grew to fanatical levels in those days.

When we got to Utah, I made sure the Nintendo 64 was setup right away in the living room, ready to provide my escape from real life into the colorful worlds of video games. I threw myself again and again into the Lylat System of Star Fox, perfecting my skills in hopes of claiming a space on the leader board. There was one section of the game, a planet called Zoness, which was the final holdout for my brothers and myself which we had not yet fully completed. In the game, each world or zone had a certain point score which, when achieved, would award the player a medal. And there was a rumor passed through internet forums of the game that if a player was able to achieve all the medals, it would unlock a secret multiplayer mode. While my brothers had given up on the supposed secrets hidden in our games promised by strangers on the internet, I had a need; not only was Zoness the last world none of us had managed to gain the medal on, if I could complete that level with the winning point value, I’d finally be able to claim a spot on the leader board.

And then I did it; the perfect play through. I crushed every level, and I claimed the impossible medal of Zoness. I defeated Andros on the final planet of Venom. My heart swelled with my victory as the leader board came up, offering me a chance to place my initials among the others. But there was a complication. I had never input anything on that board. I didn’t know how to do it; in my ignorance of what to do, I pressed the A button on the controller, which ended the input process, solidifying the previously existing initials to that hallowed place on the board. I felt as if I’d plunged in icy water, the breath sucked out of my body, my skin reddening under the streaks of my tears as I shuddered in anger and deep sadness that my victory was lost, that no one would ever believe me that I’d done well enough to be on the board. My mother found me in a pool of tears on the living room floor; she couldn’t understand why it hurt so much. Neither could I.

As it turns out, the rumor of a secret multiplayer level in Star Fox was true. At first my brothers didn’t believe me, even refused to look as I pulled up the multiplayer maps, but after a period of insistence, they acquiesced. They had to scoop their jaws off the floor when they saw it: I had unlocked a new mode which allowed you to verse each other as members of team Star Fox, their tiny polygonal bodies running around with huge blasters, facing off against the Arwings and the Landmaster tank.

As the millennium rolled around, so did the advancement of gaming consoles. We got a Gamecube in 2002 near my birthday. There was a special offer for it; it came with two games: Metroid Prime and Legend of Zelda: Windwaker. It did not, however, come with a memory card. Which meant that every time we turned off the console, the progress we had made in the game was gone. Metroid Prime had such a hold on me that for several days I left the Gamecube running, completing levels in a single, drawn out go. The console practically glowed red under the heat of continued power by the time my parents buckled down and bought us a memory card. I remember plugging it in, and saving the game for the first time. When I turned it off that day, it was as if the console let out a sigh of relief, nestled on the threadbare heirloom Persian rug before the old oak armoire where the television lived. And then, come Christmas that same year, our parents chanced upon another giveaway which blessed us with an Xbox. This new generation of gaming introduced me to another of my now long time loves: FPS games, also known as the first person shooter.

Metroid Prime acted as my introduction to the world of FPS, though there were others that came later. The medium leaned heavily on hand eye coordination, instinct, depth perception, physics, you name it. The more you understood the rules of the environments, the better you could handle the challenges within them. As the legendary bounty hunter Samus Aran I stalked the corridors of abandoned facilities, uncovered hidden secrets, unlocked an arsenal of fantastic weaponry, and defeated hordes of otherworldly creatures. Next we got Time Splitters 3, a bizarre and wacky adventure across time and space with a surprising amount of tight combat and humorous storytelling. My brothers and I spent so much time in that particular game, enjoying the cooperative experience. That was something really special about FPS games: they often had cooperative modes where you could play together through the story, split screen and glorious as you sat with your comrade, waging war, slinging lead, leaving heaps of alien and zombie bodies in your wake.

When we got Halo: Combat Evolved it became my new obsession. Where Mario started my journey in video games, it appeared Master Chief would finish it for a time. I spent as often as I could fighting the alien zealots of the Covenant, the parasitic Flood, exploring every nook and cranny of the installation 04 Halo ring world. And when Halo 2 came out, I was ready for the challenge.

I remember when I took on the hardest difficulty in Halo 2, Legendary mode, that I started at about 11 am on a Saturday morning. We were living in Missouri at the time, my father having recently retired. It was summer, so I moved the Xbox to the basement where it would be cooler; but also, I wanted to have the system to myself if any family wanted to watch television. It was dim and damp, the only light coming in through the half windows and glass doors leading out into the covered parking area as I started the campaign. The first level was absolute chaos. My skills were at their peak. Yet it still took me over twelve hours of continuous play and repeat attempts to clear that first level. The enemies seemed to remember my moves better than I did, which forced me to have to vary my strategies from each attempt. ammunition was limited, and I was always vastly outnumbered. But when that final encounter was complete, with me standing over a pile of corpses, I had never felt more alive. From that point on, nothing else could compete with that feeling. I threw myself into the Halo 2 campaign on a daily basis. My acuity grew like a weed; I got to where I could hit a target with a grenade no matter where it was, even from kilometers away. Headshots were my only shots. But what gave me the greatest sense of true gaming prowess was when Steven admitted he was impressed with my aim. I had arrived.

Most of my friends all through high school were my friends because we’d game together. We didn’t talk about sports, or girls, or anything except gaming. It was life. And it wasn’t always video games, but card games and table top role playing games too; I first played Dungeons and Dragons with that group of friends, huddled around a small table in Charlie’s semi-finished basement, the sounds of Wii Sports in the background as we made characters for edition 3.5. Playing table top games like D&D introduced me to the more nuanced enjoyments a game could provide. I loved the endless possibilities of it. You could do anything, have your character do anything, and the game would continue. D&D allows for the imagination to fully engage with the game, and I loved that. It intrigued me to no end. I had always loved telling stories growing up, and while video games gave a place where I could experience great stories, D&D became a place where I could tell them myself, using the tools provided by the books and miniatures. It was video gaming in analogue. It was self expression in a pure, fantastical setting. It was, and is still, thrilling.

With the introduction of table top gaming I started a new chapter of my obsession. I spent an entire summer reading the manuals, learning to lead sessions myself as a dungeon master. I developed my own worlds, my own home brew campaigns for my friends to play through, with original stories spanning across continents, fighting zombie apocalypses, facing eldritch horrors. It was around this time that I decided to save up and purchase my own gaming handheld: a Nintendo DS. I saved up quarters and dimes, until I had the two hundred and twenty dollars to get the device. It was sleek and black, and it was all mine. My brothers had graduated by this point, and were moving on with their lives, leaving me behind at home. I took solace in handheld gaming as I went into my junior year of high school, able to play it anytime, anywhere, even when my parents were wanting to watch a movie or a television show. I started asking for DS games for birthdays and holidays, collecting unique titles like Hotel Dusk, and the ever popular cottage core game Animal Crossing. I loved Animal Crossing more than I had expected to. I had been playing action packed adventure titles for so long, going to a game about making friends and drawing constellations in the night sky seemed on the surface like a bore, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I spent the rest of my high school years playing that game, relaxing on the beach, collecting washed up coconuts and planting them along the shore. I still played other games, like Halo and Smash Brothers, but Animal Crossing became my capstone title for the years of my youth.

After I graduated, I decided to take on a volunteer job in Las Vegas, which would take me away from home for 2 years. I was excited to do it, but I couldn’t take any of my games with me. As I packed my games up in my room, I took Animal Crossing one last time and wrote myself a letter that would deliver to my mailbox in 2 years time. When I got to Vegas, I through myself into the work there, sweating in the Mojave heat seven days a week. I met a lot of great people, and found a new love in gaming: board games. I don’t know why, but my family never really played board games. We didn’t even own common games like Monopoly or Risk. When I wasn’t working, I was playing a plethora of the board games I’d missed out on as a kid. We even made our own board games; I made a Super Mario themed Risk expansion, complete with hand drawn worlds from all the classic Mario titles- Dry Dry Desert, Gusty Gulch, Bob-omb Battle Field. I wrote letters to my friends back home, and sent them a new board game/card game I discovered in Vegas called Munchkin. It was like Dungeons and Dragons, but sillier and simpler.

Those two years of volunteer work went by in a slow grind, until I finally returned home, suntanned and a hundred pounds leaner. I was happy to see my family, and my friends, but most of all, I was excited to read the letter I’d sent myself. After 2 years of work, I couldn’t remember the contents of the letter; but I knew it was something I’d given myself to boost my morale after that hard labor, to get me ready to move on with my life and take charge, like my brothers before me. I looked for my DS, but couldn’t find it. My mother had sold it, along with all the games; she thought I wouldn’t mind. I never found out what that letter said. It’s strange, to remember sending the letter but not what it said, and stranger still to know I’ll never know what was in it.

After that I searched the house for all the games we’d gotten growing up. The Nintendo 64 collection was still mostly intact, so I secretly collected it and took it with me to college. I wanted to preserve those memories, to ensure they didn’t get hocked at a garage sale. They may just seem like hunks of plastic and circuits to some, but to me, they are treasure.

I’ve continued my relationship with gaming as the years have gone by. I’ve spent thousands of hours in virtual worlds, with over five hundred hours in Skyrim and Breath of the Wild alone. It’s not that I prefer the virtual world, it’s that when I’m there I can do anything, be anyone, escape the mundanity of the everyday for a small moment.

Gaming gave me a window into other lives. I didn’t always fit in with people, and found making friends rather difficult. But gaming? That was always there fore me. I recall one day at school a girl I had a crush on came and talked to me for a little bit at the end of the school day, the day of the science fair. She invited me to hang out with her before the fair, which would begin in a few hours. I was nervous, but excited. I said I’d be there. I went home to drop off my books, and found that my older brother Steven was there already with a bunch of his friends, who had brought their Xbox’s, and televisions. They were setting up for a LAN (Local Area Network) party. And they invited me to play. I joined them, without a second thought. Sometimes I feel bad about standing her up, but I chose the thing I loved the most in the world that day, and I don’t regret it.

Sonnet 6: The Light Painter

A light is cast about thy sunny face.

My heart erupts at what thy sight imbues.

Thy mind abounds! It sees a blighted space

And transforms it into unending hues.

The theatre is blest by thine auspice.

A cyclorama shaped to shine so bright.

Thy shades of blue reflect upon the ice

Of God’s fair world. How pure this glorious sight.

Though light alone nil keeps thy full beauty. 

Bright sun, be extinguished. All darkened, rays,

Until our earths forgotten memory

Erases all of man’s performed plays.

You shall be always marked upon my heart.

For I have gazed upon thy wondrous art.

Sonnet 5: The Orange

On the path where I walk there is an orange
Which lay, five long days now, moldered, more fringe
Of peel and rind than fruit; acrid, citrus
Stink filled air, with I it’s only witness.

Surprised was I no creature dined the snack
Before rot took it, yet as I looked back
At the human intervention I knew
No thing could pass through there that crawled or flew;

Isolation is the function of man-
Made spaces. And the bleached effect of tan
Soil showed, the land was no longer fit
For anything more than man within it.

I walk and see: Earth’s peel and rind molders
A weight far too great for all our shoulders.

What is Human?

Many of the things which we may think are activities only humans participate in are not ours alone. War, animal husbandry, and agriculture are all activities that many species of ants have as staples of their societies. No, the things that are most uniquely human are not strictly for survival in the ways that food production and defense of the colony are. There are many traits our species have that only we do, and they are largely a result of our ability to think differently than other creatures. 

Our brains are designed to solve puzzles, connect patterns, and manage incredible details that for many organisms would seem completely without value. But that is not so. It is in using these unique abilities that we have become the species we are today. We have overcome trials that have left other apex species in the fossil record, and with luck and tenacity, we will continue to do so. 

The first uniquely human behavior I want to address is the use of plants. That may seem a strange thing to bring up first. But this is more than simple agricultural usage. I’m talking about discovering the properties of plants and using them to our benefit. While ants have been seen growing fungi to provide crops to their colonies, and many species of mammals have been recorded consuming medicinal plants to deal with different ailments, only humans have discovered the means to identify those effects, and to harvest the ingredients needed to create more powerful tonics. 

Our endeavor to understand plants has yielded the medical technology that we use today. Using this science has eradicated many harmful diseases, and others are now so uncommon that few people alive today have ever known anyone to be afflicted with them. 

Plant usage extends beyond the medical and the food crop variety in human history. Poisons have been derived to aid in hunting and pest control. Plants have also been used to create a variety of tools used by both modern and ancient peoples. Ropes woven from plant fibers, resins harvested from conifer trees. 

Even fire, considered mankind’s most important discovery, is bolstered by our usage of plants. Our kindling is properly dried grasses, and wood is the fuel. Certain woods such as hickory release flavorful smoke, that can be used to cure meat, increasing its self life significantly. And through the combination of fire and plants, humanity learned to extract plant oils, and create tinctures to cure ailments or reduce pain. This deep understanding, and resource management of plants is a uniquely human behavior. 

For an action to be uniquely human, in my opinion, it must fit a level of scrutiny. Birds and many mammal species construct homes of wood or grass. Many creatures show signs of familial attachments, even social structures not too unlike our own. To be uniquely human, it must be more. 

Language doesn’t even qualify. Whales show signs of using unique sounds and calls to signify names, places, even times. Chickens and geese will make noises to alert each other of approaching danger, predators, or food. Bees use a form of sign language via dance to indicate distance, position, and type of flowers to harvest for their pollen. There is one aspect of language that is uniquely human however: Writing. 

The written word is among humanities greatest achievements. By recording knowledge, we are able to pass on what we have learned to future generations. This transmission of knowledge allows our species to continue in progress that would otherwise be impossible. Sometimes it can be generations before what was recorded before becomes usable, but by keeping these forms of records, our species can overcome the entropy of time that keeps many other creatures firmly held in their stasis of habitual living. 

The first instances of recorded language date back to approximately five thousand years ago. This is not to say we as a species didn’t have great achievements before this advent. Human history begins long before that, with the first indications of civilization beginning roughly twelve thousand years ago. Even more than this, there is anthropological evidence to show that humans have advanced language and social structures as far back as sixty thousand years ago. Advancement in our species is multiplicative. Each one we make builds on the next ones, increasing the rate of development at every step. 

Written language has shown significant improvement over time. Earliest records are difficult to understand, perhaps because we do not understand the context, perhaps because they were so rudimentary that they no longer show much relevance to us. Whatever the case, we have continued to improve our use of the written word as time has progressed. Interestingly, while written language is largely attributed to being first developed by the Sumerians, it appears to have developed independently among many different people around similar time frames in human history. It’s no wonder why the use of written language took such hold on our early species. It enabled people to learn new things without having to experience them first hand. It allows for greater specialization for our species. Writing may seem commonplace to us. We used it every day. But it is this commonality of the written word that solidifies it as one of the most uniquely human things you can do. 

Along with this desire to record our experiences is the record keeping of our history. Where other creatures may find the bones of their forbears a warning to stay away, humans actively search these ruins for clues of where we came from. This curiosity is a unique feature of the human race. Now, do not confuse my words. This is not to say curiosity itself is unique to our species. Many creatures show curiosity. But the curiosity toward where we came from, what was once normal for our ever changing species, that curiosity is very human. It is hard to say whether this would occur in other species if they left behind the sorts of remains that we do; cities, monoliths, foundations. But so far, where other mammals have left foot paths through generations of use, there has been no sign of the deer or elk who walk them showing any more interest in them than simply to use them. 

Even our own fellows may show such behavior. How often do we consider how the computer came to be? Yet many of us use them daily. So perhaps curiosity is more of a behavior engaged in infrequently, whenever the moment is right. Either way, it is because of the written word that whenever a human decides to chronical how something came to be, any of us can go to it and read it, discovering more about our heritage and place in this world. 

Not everything that is unique to the human race is a positive. Alteration of our natural environments may be the first thing that comes to mind with this statement. However, this is not a uniquely human behavior. Granted, no species has had the same effect that humanity has had, with our production of plastics, abundant waste, and other ecological terrors, but it is the habit of almost all organic life to fill its niche as much as possible with its own, and to alter the environment to suit its needs along the way. Viruses and bacteria will do this so effectively that it kills their hosts with their waste products and chemical alterations. Some species will even fill their environment so much that they cause famine, leaving them with massive die offs and even extinction events. This is the balance of nature in action. No, what I am speaking of is cruelty. 

Cruelty is callous indifference to or enjoyment of causing pain and suffering. You may think that other creatures also engage in this behavior; cats will play with mice before they eat them. But this is not the same. Applying the label of here simply anthropomorphizes the creatures. Humans have shown through their history that they will do much worse, for much less. 

A perfect example is found in 19th century France, where a young woman, Blanche Monnier went missing for 25 years. After an anonymous letter came to local authorities, they searched the house of Monnier’s mother, to find that Blanche had been held captive there for that entire time. Her mother had imprisoned her over an argument they had had regarding Blanche’s desire to marry. Blanche was severely malnourished, and had not seen another person other than her abusers for 25 years. Blanche lived another twelve years after gaining her freedom, but the depravity of her mother remains a stark reminder that human beings, regardless of expectations or familial bonds, cruelty can come from any person, anywhere. 

There are countless tales of killings, brutality, and horrifying acts by our species. However, another behavior quite unique to our own species is kindness. Again, this isn’t to say animals cannot show kindness. Whether they can or not is a subject for another debate. What I am referring to is how humanity has shown an incredible capacity to do good for their own species. There are anthropological records of human bones that have been broken, then reset, and allowed to heal fully. This is not an easy process. For most creatures, a broken bone is a death sentence. Whether their fellow creatures want to save them or not makes no difference, they lack the resources of intellect, dexterity, or understanding to help their fellows survive without putting themselves at risk. Wherever their is human cruelty, there is also human kindness that rises up to stop it. Our moral sense of duty, of right and wrong, and our capacity for empathy, allow us to see where there is hurt, and desire to correct it. To end suffering and bring safety and peace to our family, children, friends, and neighbors. 

Overcoming hate allows us to achieve greater good for our entire species. There is nothing that humans cannot do so long as we work together. We’ve achieved space flight. We’ve cured previously incurable diseases. Extended the lifetime of our race by decades. Reduced child mortality the world over. But there is still so much to do. I encourage you to take time to find how you can help contribute to the end of cruelty. There is much every person can do in this effort to make a better future for our species. 

The Erasure of Women

Earlier, I saw a Twitter post in response to The New York Times attributing the creation of Science Fiction as a genre to the author H.G. Wells. Not to diminish his success in the genre, but that attribution is utterly false, as most would agree, since the preeminent Science Fiction origin novel is Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.

Along with this erasure comes the exclusion among many of the literati of the incredible impact of authors who are female. Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Margaret Atwood all invested their extraordinary skill in the genre, showing visions of the future as poignant and vital as any other work. Where Fahrenheit 451 showed the dangers of myopic thinking and unchecked authorities, The Parable of the Sower did much the same, even getting closer to the dangers of such life by showing it from the perspective of people already at the mercy of great hardship rather than from the affluent perspective of a well-to-do person already high on the social ladder. Science Fiction has long been the means we as a society have used to explore the potential horrors of the future if left unchecked in the hands of those who view the humanity of others as less than themselves. These concerns and warnings are at the heartbeat of The Lathe of Heaven, The Handmaiden’s Tale, The Power, and The Hunger Games, all written by women authors, or as I like to say, authors. Yet our societies at large continue to hide these works away, calling them of less value than literary fiction for reasons never of any deeper explanation than a handwave.

Along with the erasure of women in literature, we are now also experiencing an erasure of women’s rights in the United States of America. The decision by the Supreme Court removed a long standing precedent of protections for women’s reproductive health. Some may think this does not affect them. Some may say these changes are a benefit, protecting the life of the unborn. However, the simple truth is that roughly one out of every four pregnancies’ ends in a misarrange, and of those , roughly one third will become septic and lead to the death of the carrying woman without the medical removal of the fetus. Access to safe, legal abortion protects women from the dangers of pregnancy, all pregnancy. It is not simply a medical procedure for destroying a fetus; it is one for securing the life of the mother. And the choice to obtain one should be the mothers own decision, as it involves their own mortality.

The disparity of equal treatment for women has been and remains a long battle, one we must all become advocates for. Every single person is affected by this battle, and we cannot stand idly by as the humanity of women and girls are stripped away by the powerful, disconnected few who claim authority. The freedom of our human species is common heritage. If allowed, the defunct, patriarchal, dogmatic insanity of the few will lead all of us toward an ever darker future, the very futures warned against in the novels of countless science fiction authors, both male and female; a future where the power of the elite is absolute.

We must stand together. We must rise together. We must all fight for the freedoms of every person. We have lived under this acceptance of treating any other human being as less for too long. Allowed concessions because we ignored the plight of people who present different than ourselves. This must end, or the warnings of our authors of Science Fiction, many of whom are and were women, will continue to come true.

If you want to take action, consider learning more here, and signing the petition. Improvement begins with you.

40 Winks

The sudden jolt of atmospheric entry jarred Adam to consciousness. He’d experienced it a number of times in his life as a xenominer, but from what he could tell no one ever got used to it.  That life was long gone though. Adam looked at his hands; once the hands of an honest miner, now the hands of a murderer. It was an accident, he reasoned with himself, not murder. If I just went to work sober that day, I never would have… I would do anything to fix my mistake. Anything.  Adam looked around to the other pods; beside him, in front of him, all around him, filled with people. They too were coming to their senses, some of them violently thrashing about from the “forty winks”, an illness caused from extended periods in stasis. Adam felt fortunate to have never come down with it. 

The large prison vessel slammed vehemently into the surface of New Mumbai, sending up great plumes of the thin, dusty earth that barely supported the stringy grass fronds that dotted its surface. Its doors opened quickly, like the jaws of a great fish bellowing steam. Adam and the other convicts walked out, stretching their legs and straining to see in the low light of the daytime here on New Mumbai.  The compound to be their home during their stay here was just to the north of them. Thin smoke trails ebbed out of it, curling across the sky and dissipating in the wind. Adam thought it looked like the pictures he’d seen of nineteenth century London during his studies of human history before his mining career. It even fit the greyscale of the old black and white photos.

“Quite lackluster,” Adam said aloud as he walked with the others, brushing his thin blond hair from his eyes. “If I say so myself.” 

“You do,” Said the man just to his left, “I used to be a guard here about ten years ago. I kinda like it.  Well, I did, anyways—guess I get to see what it’s like on the other end of the spectrum now eh? Hehe!” Adam looked at the man blankly. He thought about politely recalling his statement, but felt it better to say nothing instead. He couldn’t change how he felt; this place to him was very ugly in comparison to the many other worlds he’d been to; and knowing how all those places looked when the mining crews left, Adam thought the strip mining might actually do this place a favor. As they came closer to the colony, Adam saw the high walls and the heavily armed guards at the gates. He found it odd that a prison world would need walls or guns. The man to his left grinned at Adam’s expression of wonder. 

“You’ve got a lot to learn about New Mumbai, friend,” said the man. “A lot.”

 The group of convicts was brought into the city by the guardsmen, herding them like cattle. A small man, balding and old came out of a building across from where the convicts stood as they shuffled their light packs which they’d brought with them from the ship. This little man came toward them in a slow and halting saunter. Adam stared at this man with mixed feelings.  Pity, for the man was maimed, but also fear, for the man’s face held some kind of anger which Adam had never seen. A murderous rage, so it looked. The man came to a stop just before the convicts and cleared his throat. Adam could tell now from his clothing, that this little man was some kind of warden for this prison. Adam looked at all the guards around him, noticing they had on strange black goggles and a tube coming from their noses going to a box on their belts. He deduced the tube and box must have been a respirator from the fact that he himself was having trouble breathing the thin air around him.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the little man before them said in a very clear and ringing voice, “I am Colonel Towers. Welcome to New Mumbai. You all know why you’re here. You’re here so that the rest of humanity doesn’t have to worry about scum like you.” Adam felt the words sink into his heart. Silently he agreed to those words. He recalled the face of the man he killed; just another miner, like him. He wondered if the man had a family. Forgive me, Adam thought, or can I even forgive myself? He then realized that Colonel Towers was still speaking.

“… As such you will be issued the equipment you need to survive in this environment,” Towers said. “You only get one set, so take care of your equipment. I’m sure you’ve noticed the walls as well. This is not to keep you in. It is to keep them out.” Adam’s mind raced at the words. Them, thought he, who is them? “On this world is a very dangerous creature. Far worse than any of you, I guarantee it.  Folks around here have grown to call them Fiends, because of their bad temper and disfigurement. They can appear and disappear out of thin air. They will kill anyone and anything outside of these walls at sun down. They’re not an animal either. Not by a longshot. These things are very advanced and will hunt you down like a cat with a mouse. Keep that in mind. This is my prison, you are my prisoners. That is all.” Towers wiped the back of his hand under his nose, knocking the tube loose on accident, but quickly replacing it. The other guards forced the convicts on again, feeding them into steel chutes which lead deeper into the facility which was to be their home. 

Adam, like the rest, was given a respirator and a pair of goggles. 

“What are the glasses for?” Adam asked the guard which gave him his pair.

“It pays to listen to what the warden says, puke,” The guard responded. “They help you see in the lowlight here, and they help you see the Fiends when they’re on the prowl out there in the wastes.”

Adam swallowed hard. He quickly put the goggles on and attached the respirator to himself. Rich air filled his lungs and bright light flooded his eyes. He squinted for a moment, and heard the guard laughing loudly at him. The guard hit him in the back with his baton.

“Move it,” The guard said coldly, hitting Adam again. Adam cringed away and continued down the hall before him. The cells they were assigned were small and cold, one man to each cell. Adam sat quietly in his own cell on the second level, watching as the other inmates were brought in to their own rooms. When the last man was placed, the bars slammed shut in perfect unison. Adam could hear Colonel Towers’ voice again ringing from the floor below. He went to the bars and looked down at the little man. 

“Listen up!” Towers yelled, his voice echoing off of the walls of the prison. “We run a very tight ship here on New Mumbai. That being said, you can see we’ve only got a handful of guards on duty. None of us will be here during the night. You’re all on your own until sunrise. Don’t try to get out of your cells though, because we’ll be releasing the Ghoul in here when we leave as well.” Two guards walked in as Towers spoke dragging a creature on a rope. It was as tall as two men, with its hands dragging the ground. It bucked and reeled, trying to free itself from its captors. Adam had heard of Ghouls, but had never seen one. It frightened him, with its pale skin and hairless head.  Adam had heard that Ghouls were failed clones of human beings, but that they were disposed of in humane ways. Seeing one like this made all that was good inside him cry out for justice.  How could the very system which condemned me rightfully allow such a wrong as this to be done to an innocent life? Adam asked himself as he watched the tormented Ghoul howl and wale below him. Before the guards released the creature from the rope, the beat it with their batons; the warden, Towers, stood and watched with an air of satisfaction as his men brutalized the creature.

When the guards left, the lights went out in the prison also. The quiet crying of the wounded creature below resounded through the halls like wind through the forest in fall.  Eventually it ceased. Adam lay awake for many hours in his bed, thinking of his life. Suddenly he had the feeling he was being watched. He sat up in his bed, and there at the bars stood the Ghoul, looking in at him. Its eyes starred cold and black at him, its mouth slung open in a long frown. Adam was frozen with fear.

“You asleep like the others not,” it said. Its voice reminded Adam of a miner who had inhaled dust for a number of years; that hoarse, graveled sound of lung damage. Maybe it was the calmness of its voice, or the sadness thereof, but somehow when it spoke it made him feel at ease.

“No,” Adam replied quietly. The creature began to shed tears, or so it seemed. Perhaps that was only because it had no eyelids.

“You afraid of me anymore not?” It queried.

“I’m not sure,” Adam said in reply. They looked at each other without a word for what felt like an eternity until the Ghoul spoke again.

“You a not murder maker.” the creature said. “It an accident was.” Adam was taken aback by its statement.

“It was an accident,” Adam said in almost a whisper, “a stupid accident… How did you know?”

“I could feel you thinking when I walked,” It replied. For some reason which Adam never could explain, the creature’s statement didn’t frighten him at all. If anything it made him feel as though it was a friend to him. 

“Do you have a name?” Adam asked the Ghoul. 

“Me Meat, so called I am.” Adam spoke with Meat for many hours after that, and learned much from it. It had been here for many years, and the guards—Colonel Towers especially—beat it often, and withheld food from it. Adam felt compassion for the Ghoul. 

Adam awoke the following morning to the harsh buzz of the alarm as the doors opened to the cells of the prison. He rolled out of bed and approached his door, as he was instructed to do the day before. He heard Meat screaming, and looked down to see it being dragged out by a rope of the lower room. Towers then barked orders for every convict to make their way to the mess hall. Adam overheard many of the other prisoners speaking while there, and saw some of them pointing at him. They were talking of how the Ghoul stopped outside of his cell last night. 

“Why is that odd?” Adam finally interjected. The more senior convicts looked at him with mocking eyes. They waited a moment longer to respond, enjoying the suspense their hesitation created. 

“Because the Ghoul eats convicts, knuckle brains,” one finally said to him, “And it always picks a new meal from the new bunch.” Adam was surprised at that response.

Adam spoke with many of the other convicts during the meal. He learned that most of them hadn’t done anything at all; some of them were just too poor to pay taxes, so their governments sent them here instead. Others had gone to sleep in stasis on their way to vacation, and awoke here. Adam found that troubling.  After their meal time the convicts were released out into the dusty plains of New Mumbai. Guards went out with them, each with large rifles. The day went on slowly for Adam. The inmates were given very hard tasks to complete, and it drove many to madness. Adam was used to hard labor from his former employ.  At the end of the day, however, he could never recall what it was he and the others had been doing. He knew it was extraneous, but all detail had slipped from him. It was like they were being drugged to keep them in the dark, but he had no way to prove it.  

Games and sports were prohibited, and the guards had no qualms with beating anyone who violated the rules. In fact, they had no qualms with beating anyone for any reason; or even no reason at all. Adam was no exception. On the first day he was assaulted by what seemed to be every guard at one time or another. Some of the other convicts told him it was a sort of initiation. As the sun was starting to go down on that first day, a squealing alarm sounded from within the walls of the prison. All the senior convicts ran violently towards the doors of the prison, pressing against them trying to get in as fast as possible. Adam followed suit, and listened to the intercom announce that the Fiends which Towers had spoken of were coming. Adam looked back as he entered the prison, and saw creatures, like men, but squatty, loathsome animals, approaching quickly towards the doors. He knew right then that he never wanted to be outside when the sun went down. 

Days passed, then weeks. Adam began to think this place was more an internment camp than a prison. Occasionally Adam would hear the wales of the Ghoul as it was being beaten by the warden or whoever it was doing it. He wanted to help it, but what could he do? Every night, Adam and the Ghoul would talk for a few hours, and every night Adam would see new bruises on its gaunt frame.  Adam thought a lot about what the other convicts had said, but didn’t want to believe it. Finally one night as they spoke he worked up the nerve to ask Meat. 

“Meat?” Adam timidly asked.

“What is, Adam?” Meat replied.

“Do you… Do you eat convicts?” Adam felt ashamed, and thought it impossible that such an innocent creature could do anything so awful. The reply however filled Adam with dread.

“Who told you?” Meat said, its voice quivering as if it were ashamed of the fact. Adam felt the blood drain out of his face.  “I’m… I’m proud of it not. The guards feed so little, and I so hungry that I feel like I to die! I just so hungry. So hungry…” Meat looked down, away from Adam. Then it looked back at him again. Adam was speechless. 

“I know what you thinking,” It said to him, pawing at the door to his cell. “I always know what everyone thinking.”  Meat walked away, whimpering quietly as it did. Adam was afraid, but felt bad for it. This time he rose and watched as Meat left; he wanted to see where he was going. Meat went down the stairs to the left, to the first level, and stopped at another cell door. It didn’t move at all, it just stood there, looking into the cell below. Adam watched for a while, and then went back to bed.  

In the morning, when the buzz sounded and Adam went to his door, he looked down in horror to see bright red blood pooled around the door where Meat had stood. The warden, Towers, approached the door and said loudly, “looks like old Meat got another one boys!” Adam stared at the blood in the cell below, entirely beside himself.  Days passed still, but Meat didn’t come to Adams door anymore.

Everything seemed to be getting worse and worse here on New Mumbai. Fiends without the walls, the Ghoul within; and it had taken a liking to him. It sure is hungry, Adam thought to himself, his heart sinking in his chest all the way down to his feet.  He didn’t want to die. Coupled with the needle marks he often found on his arms, and have no recollection of where they came from, made him feel he may as well be dead. His head felt clouded, like murky water filled with secrets just below the shimmering surface. Adam found it hard to sleep at night for fear of the Ghoul. He lay in bed, his eyes flashing down to the cell door, always on guard, until he would fall asleep.  Every evening Adam would flee before the Fiends, as would all the convicts, and every night he would wait for Meat.

Adam awoke to a rattling at his door. His eye’s quickly opened, and he could tell it was still very late. He looked down, and there stood Meat, peering in at him. Adam rose and cringed into the corner of his room, hugging his thin sheet to his chest in futile defense. Meat whimpered at him.

“I so hungry,” It said to him sadly. “I know you good man, inside, but so hungry.” Meat reached its long arm between the bars of the door, groping for Adam. Adam darted across to the other side of the room, but Meat’s reach was still enough. It ensnared him and began to drag him by his foot towards the door.

“Please,” Adam said, “Please don’t do this! There must be some way I can help you, just please, don’t kill me… Please.” Adam began to cry great tears of sorrow. Meat stopped pulling him across the floor, but let him go instead. It too cried for a short while.

“No,” Meat said, “I eat you not. You heart, you spirit, good man. I hungry, yes, but you help me and I help you.” Adam looked at Meat for a moment longer, then stood and approached it. 

“What do you want?” Adam said. 

“I see what you never see. I see with my eyes. When sun rise, and go you out to wastes, you see with you eyes too. And when you see, don’t run away. And when you helped, you come back for me?” Adam didn’t quite understand what Meat meant, but he nodded. Meat then smiled, the first time he’d ever seen it smile, and then it left.

When the sun rose that day, Adam still didn’t know what Meat wanted him to do. He wandered around thinking about it over and over, trying to grasp the meaning of its words. The day past quickly to Adam’s dismay, and the alarm sounded of the approaching Fiends. Instinctively, Adam ran with the others, looking back and catching glimpses of the terrifying apparitions behind him. Suddenly it struck him to remove the goggles he’d been given by the guards when he’d first arrived. He’d been wearing them night and day since then. He pulled the goggles off, and looked back again. He stood still, the goggles dropping from his hand as he stared at what was before him; ordinary people, running and yelling for the convicts to follow them. Adam continued to stand for a moment, and then ran towards the multitude of Fiends. One of the guards from the prison shouted and shot at Adam, barely missing him with each shot. The group waved him in, wheeling their arms; they cheered and encircled him as they turned about, running away into the gathering dark of New Mumbai.

Adam awoke in a small room, very much like his cell. At first he thought it all had been a dream. He heard whispering nearby, and sat up to look. There in the room with him were a number of people in white clothing, looking at him with passionate gazes.  A taller man came forward and kneeled by the bed where Adam sat.

“My name is Walton,” the man said. “And you are?” Adam told the man his name, and who he was: a convict. Walton looked at Adam for what felt like an hour, but what was only two minutes, at most.

“Who are you people?” Adam asked. 

“We’re relief workers,” Walton replied. Adam was perplexed. “That place isn’t a normal prison. It’s… A place where people of demented tastes go, to hurt others. Everything you experienced there was a lie, twisted by the lenses they made you wear. Do you remember anything unusual? Losing whole days, or waking up not knowing what happened to you?

“I do,” Adam said, rubbing his arms.

“We’ve been trying to get people out of there for years,” Walton continued. “Most of the ‘convicts’ in there aren’t even criminals, just people who were unfortunate enough to end up there. It’s an evil place. We’re glad we got you out. We’ll get a shuttle here to take you away from here.”

Walton motioned a nurse to come closer, but Adam protested.

“I have to go back,” Adam replied. Walton looked at him with bewilderment.

“Maybe you haven’t understood what I’m trying to tell you,” Walton said.

“No,” Adam repied, “I’ve understood you perfectly.”

“They’d kill you on the spot!” Walton blurted, “You cannot go back there. You’re the first person we’ve ever managed to rescue from that place; you represent the evidence we need to shut it down, for good. You have to understand.”

Adam burst into tears; for his freedom and his folly.

“There is a friend in there that I must keep a promise to,” Adam replied as he stood up from the bed, headed to the door.