Game Review: Counting Zzzzs

CountingZzzzsby Michail Velichansky

 

Ever have one of those dreams that starts out perfect? You’re on a beach, lying under a palm tree—and there’s a hot lifeguard there, too! Only, the lifeguard’s wearing a pink tutu, and you’re running from something. Turn around—the lifeguard’s turned into a giant cat. You’re bleeding. You’re in a hospital. A spy turns up, face all scarred up, and takes you underwater. When you wake up, you know you shouldn’t have had that chili, and it’s all you can do to catch forty winks before the alarm goes off.

Trying to get a good night’s sleep is the premise of the original and entertaining Counting Zzzzs, a new card game from Blood & Cardstock Games. But to get any rest you need REM sleep—and that means dreams. Two to four players take turns placing “dream elements” down in front of them: people, places, things, and verbs. Two of the same kind of elements can’t be placed side-by-side, but must share a theme, such as nightmare or fantasy. Then, because a collective subconscious is at work, they play elements into another player’s dream, or play actions that affect the game by forcing themes, waking people up, and generally bending rules.

Some elements have positive values on them—dreaming of chocolate makes your sleep much better. Others, like Hell, have a negative value on them. Once enough dream elements are introduced the player wakes up and values are added up. At forty points the game is over. Otherwise, there are still a few hours before morning (signaled by the deck running out)—go back to sleep.

The cards are well designed; it’s easy to see what dreams another person has out across the table, what their nature is, etc. The elements themselves range from the common to the bizarre. The art is quite good, and bring the elements to life—particularly good are “contextual” cards which can be good or bad depending on the rest of the dream. The pictures always have a top and a bottom, like mirror images, to match the positive and negative values, and meet in the center. The concepts, too, are often clever—I personally like “White Horse/Pale Horse,” with a knight on a white steed on one side, and death on his pale horse on the other.

While the elements themselves can amuse, the real joy of the game is in their interaction. Because themes must match while element types don’t, there is often a (dream-like) narrative to the row of element cards. The best games are ones in which everyone tries to describe the progression of their dream. (The rules even say you’re expected to narrate the dream.) If people aren’t willing to get into the spirit of the game, Counting Zzzzs isn’t nearly as much fun. When they are, though, it can be a riot.

It helps that Counting Zzzzs is incredibly accessible. There are few games that I can have just as much fun playing with my mom as with my fellow geeks. It’s easy to teach, easy to play, and some obvious effort went into simplifying and focusing the experience.

As such, I only have a few minor qualms with the game. The first is the instructions manual. In a few places, the text is not quite as clear as it might have been—for example, it says you cannot start a dream for another player. It doesn’t take too much thought to realize this means you can only put a dream element into another player’s dream if they already have elements in front of them, but it would have been easier to just say so.

The same goes for action cards that force a theme—the rules say you can’t start an opponent’s dream for them, since you can’t make them fall asleep. Does that mean I can’t play “Shouldn’t Have Had That Chili,” which forces the next dream to be surreal, on an opponent without dream elements? No, I can’t, but the rules should say so clearly. Luckily there are only one or two such issues, and they are small ones. Overall, learning the game from the rules is very simple—just be sure to read them carefully.

Also, for some odd reason, the box calls the game Counting Zzzzs, and has an example card back with that name; meanwhile, the cards themselves say Counting Sheep. However, this in no way affects the gameplay, and I mention it only because it seems a strange slip in a game where so much effort has been put into the details.

Counting Zzzzs is an enjoyable, original card game. Anyone can play it, even friends who you wouldn’t normally think of as gamers of any kind. All it takes is some imagination and some humor to make Counting Zzzzs one of the most enjoyable hours you can have—while sleeping, of course.

 

The Touch of Hands Beyond the Maze

by Michail Velichansky

 

The furless rat stood at the entrance to the maze, wrapped in old rags, staring out at its pristine white walls. Pristine white, but to him, bloodied. They rose from the ground, and they went down deep—roots in some molten core, the bones of the world.

A mist hung above and thin tendrils floated down, caressing the ground so that the dust became damp and caked. From the distance came a sound like the dong of a bell suspended in time. The machines were calling. Everyone would be here soon.

“Called by God,” the furless rat hissed. He glanced around, nervous and agitated.

There was silence, and then the bell-thing sounded again, the machines from their caves calling, calling. The furless rat turned around and ran back. He moved as quickly as he could while old joints fought, and muscles complained. The limp was bad today: his rear right leg dragged as he moved and left eddies in the dust behind him.

He had traveled the same path before, many times; the first time, carrying the limp with pride, leaving behind the first bit of fur, tiny clumps to be covered with dust and hidden in fog.

* * * * *

In the distance, the crowd squeaked and chittered while the machines bellowed their final calls.

“They’re waiting for me,” said the young rat. He was thin and small; next to the furless rat, he still looked like a nothing, a child, a pup. His nose and whiskers twitched in agitation, his tail jerked back and forth.

Another cry from the machines beyond the maze, echoing through the plastic tunnels carved into the rock, bouncing from wall to wall into every nest till all the world heard. Then, a silence bloated with expectation.

“That was the last call,” the young rat pleaded. “I have to go.” He tried to get past the furless one, but his path was blocked.

“You don’t have to go,” the furless rat said. His heart beat quickly, and so he spoke louder to drown it out. “Don’t you understand that you could die in there?”

The young rat scuttled back and forth in front of his elder. “I have to go… If I don’t run the maze, I’ll always be a nothing-pup to them. And… and I might make it.”

“No! You could die like so many others have died. That place, it’s bloody. The walls are covered. It reeks of death.”

“That won’t be me,” the young rat said. “I’ll get through it.”

“And if you do?” The older rat clicked his teeth at the younger rat. His game leg twitched. “What then? Only the machines and their small deaths sheathed in silver. What’s the point? Why do that to yourself?”

“Because it is life!” the young rat said, too quickly. “The machines are the Hands of God! To be touched by them…” He inhaled suddenly, a reverse hiss through his teeth.

“The hands of god? What god?!” the furless rat yelled, trying to stifle the desperation he felt behind his throat, trying to ignore the pains in his chest. “There are only machines! Cave after cave of machines! I’ve seen no God!”

“Then you must be blind!” The young rat was shaking. “You see the hand but cannot see the body, so you assume that no body exists—now let me through!” He rushed forward, charging the furless rat, and they fought, hissing and scratching, until the younger rat twisted and rolled back, one of his ears torn and a thin gash across his side. He lay on his stomach, panting.

Slowly, the furless rat crawled up to him. “Please,” the old rat said. “Please, I… I can hide you. We can hide together. The others won’t know.”

“Why should I exile myself?” the young rat asked, staring at the walls. “They’re my people too.”

“They’ve practically exiled you already. You’re as alone as I am.”

“I can prove them wrong. I’ll run the maze, then they’ll accept me! They’ll have to. I’ll be a true rat then, not a pup.” And he added in a whisper-like sigh, “Blessed by God.”

“Blessed! You call it a blessing? I am lame. My fur, once thick and full, gone…”

“Once you wore your naked skin with pride.”

They became silent, and the silence filled the tunnel—but around it flittered the ghosts of muttered speech from outside, from those waiting before the entrance to the maze.

“Don’t go,” the furless rat said finally. “Please don’t go. You’re all I have, my adopted son. Don’t go. Stay with me.”

“I can’t.”

“Then… then you’ll die.” The furless rat turned away from the young rat, staring at nothing, whiskers twitching.

“Why? Why will I die?” A fire flared in the young rat’s eyes, and teeth flashed into view as he spoke. “Because I’m too weak? Too small? Or am I unworthy to be like you? To receive the blessing into myself, to allow God to leave his mark… No. No, you will not hold me back.”

He tore forward again, faster than before, regardless of wounds. They fought, and fought, and finally the furless rat was too old. The young rat ran down the tunnel, panting.

“Please!” the furless rat screamed, his voice cut bitter, a tearing squeal. “Please!”

And he lay, shaking, as the echo raced down the tunnel after the small rat, destined to finish without purpose.

The tunnel said to the furless rat, “’ease-ease-ease…”

He forced himself up. There was blood on the ground, and he didn’t know if it was the young one’s or his own.

Lagging far behind both pup and echo, the furless rat ran.

* * * * *

They were gathered in two columns before the gate leading into the maze, lifted up, open; the furless rat heard the ragged end of a cheer as he ran out of the tunnel.

“Where is he?” the furless rat yelled out, his head jerking left and right. “Where is he?!”

“No worries, Holy One.” A large brown rat with a tattered ear and an extra leg growing from his back. “He’s gone into the maze.”

The furless rat sank down, the air leaving his lungs to become, “God…”

“I didn’t think he’d do it, you know. But he did, the little runt. So maybe he’s not such a pup—I told him that before he left. Of course, he still has to get back out.”

The furless rat could only stare at the maze, barely hearing the words. His chest was tight, so tight, and he was trembling.

“God… Let him come out of there… Let him live. He’s all I have, God, God damn it, there’s so little left now…” He mumbled the prayer, choking on the words. They came anyway.

“Hope he gets out of there soon,” said the brown rat. “I’m itching to go.”

Still the brown rat sat and waited, as they all waited, as the furless one waited. The mist hung over the maze moving back and forth, seeming to be the sleep-motions of something alive, wrapping its wispy hands around paw or tail, stroking the rats just as it stroked the maze.

“He’s been a while,” someone said.

“Too small for it,” said another.

“How soon do you think?” asked the brown rat.

The furless rat could only stare into the maze. The mist felt cold on his skin, and his leg pained him more than ever before. He felt none of it.

And then suddenly everything rose—the rats stood up on their back legs and stretched their heads high to stare into the mist as it flashed green and black, as lightning crackled. The machines screamed.

Of unworthiness.

Of failure.

The tones were chaos, rough pain. The cessation of order. Death.

So the rats took up the sounds, and they sang, forming smaller patterns around the sounds of the machines. Of mourning. Of loss. Until they stopped, quite soon, and only the furless rat made any sound at all as he choked.

“So pointless… So pointless… So much pain, so much pain to us who have your blessing… Help me get through. Help me understand.”

Slowly, the stillness broke, and from each of the columns rats began to flow toward the gate.

“He was an innocent…”

Again the machines called, static bell even-toned.

“Stop it…” the furless rat prayed.

“Stop,” he pleaded.

“Stop!” he screamed.

“Holy One?”

Eyes stared at him, small and worrying, no—piercing, ready to puncture his flesh, to quick-flash the pain into his leg as the machine continued to click-click-click, impossibly fast crackle-crackle-crackle, gauges spiking behind glass, thin red needles. The rats staring at him, moving a little closer, nervous.

“Holy One?”

Give me strength… “We must stop running the maze. We must stop! So many of us have died already… Too many. Too many have died!”

They stared at him, and he felt his own nakedness beneath the rags.

“Too many…” Breath came hard to him. The pain was a physical thing, spreading like a gnarled root from his leg. “Why? Why are we doing this, killing ourselves, killing our children? There is nothing there—you have seen. There is nothing… Nothing but the machines, calling us, screaming when we die and calling again… Bloody hands! Bloody hands cut off at the wrist!”

The eyes flashed as heads turned left and right; they stepped back.

Desperation tasted like something fermenting in his throat.

“Please! Listen to me! We can stop. We can all stop, right now, they… they can’t make us go. We can stay—for ourselves, for our children, we can stay, close the maze, tear it down. It has no control over us… It doesn’t… Doesn’t have to…”

“Holy One?”

“He’s mad!”

“His runt died…”

“It is blasphemy. It is dangerous!”

And finally a calm, sad voice said, “Leave him here. If he has turned away from the gods, we must turn away from him. Goodbye, Holy One.

“Goodbye.”

So they turned their eyes from him, some right away, some after looking at him for a while; and he could no longer see what the eyes of his people told him. And one by one, without looking back at him, they entered the maze, and the furless rat was left alone.

* * * * *

He stood at the entrance to the maze.

“All of it… All of it, God…” He could feel his muscles spasm, tics playing inside him. “There is so much I do not understand. Am I wrong? Are you really listening? Did you really touch me with your machines?”

The walls rose from the ground. Pristine pure and bloody from sacrifice. Roots watered with so much blood.

“Is this what you want from me?” the rat called to the walls. “Is this why we are here?”

The machines called again, and the maze said nothing.

“Tell me,” the rat said. “Please tell me.”

Adrenaline flowed from blasting heart. Yet moving slow, the furless rat rolled over, contorted himself and wiggled out of his rags. He was naked. The mist was cold and clammy on his skin, and he was caked with wet dust.

“Help me,” he prayed.

Through the pain and aged muscle, through the pounding in his head, the furless rat ran into the maze.

* * * * *

The maze never changed. And yet as he ran through it, the world twisted, like jerks in perspective. There were mirages, and he closed his eyes. He could smell… so much death, could smell how hopeless it all was, all of it, and he made himself stop knowing, moved himself to a place without smell. His nose had become null.

The furless rat ran.

There were sounds moving in on him, illusion-sounds, changing like liquid from order to chaos, breaking mind, breaking concentration—in the sounds he could lose himself. And so to another place in his mind he went, deeper down, to a place of silence.

The furless rat ran through the maze.

He tasted the mist, and it was bitter and poisonous, and then that too was gone. He felt the world move under him, felt the walls closing in on him, felt himself. Felt the maze around him, impossible to pass through. Felt himself lost. Then he felt nothing.

The world as it was now: empty, old, thoughts rebounding and echoing in the sudden silence, full of dark screens. There, before him, was the knowledge of the presence of a rat. The body of a young pup, lying without senses. Dead thing. Still-warm thing.

The machines called to him, a knowing that echoed and drowned out his own voice.

The furless rat was still. In the empty place inside himself—he thought. And then the furless rat walked out the other side of the maze.

Behind him, the maze was itself again, bones of the world, like the outside of a mouth. In front of him were the machines, so many of them, enough for them all and more. In each of the glass-and-crystal rooms, machines; in each room, a rat. The machines reached down, and they did things to the rats, they opened them and filled them, they damaged and healed, they flashed colors, shot tastes, filled noses with smells. Wires ran from bodies and heads, muscles twitched and voices screamed. In those voices there was pain, and there was ecstasy.

All the while, the gauges jerked, and the displays played their wonderland colors of numbers and formulae.

Nearby, a room was empty, and the machine waited for him. Even from here he could hear it, could hear its crackle… crackle… Could feel the metal point with his leg just as he could see it with his eyes.

It called to him.

“I can’t,” the furless rat whispered. “I can’t… Not anymore. I won’t anymore, I…”

He stared at the room, at the machines, and he said, softly, “You can’t hear me,” and the desperation in his throat exploded and bloomed.

“You’re nothing! You cannot hear me!” the furless rat yelled. And he whimpered, “Bloody hands…”

He turned and ran back into the maze.

* * * * *

A prayer:

“Not anymore! You are nothing, nothing! There is naught but walls, a maze of walls, beyond which are naught but machines!

“I will not run it again, even if I die now!

“If you cannot hear me—” and he shouted each word: “There is no purpose!”

Until his body gave way and he fell down into the dust so that it filled his nose and mouth, rough and metallic. He rolled over onto his back, and stared up, the walls towering over him on either side.

He was alone.

“I could still do it,” he said, his laugh causing blood to seep into his mouth. “Even now, I can still run it. I am still holy. But I won’t—not anymore… Because there’s nothing to be holy to.”

Nothing at all…

In the distance, the machines sang, perfectly ordered tones flowing around each other. The others would be returning soon, running back through the maze, stilled now, wearing their marks, the blessings of god within them. Thoughts poured into the furless rat’s head, but he stayed silent. Again the machines sang, the edge of the tones chaotic, fractal. There was passion and violence there. There were other things.

And—he felt something around him, felt… felt the hands touch him, cold, so cold he hissed, eyes wide, and the hands wrapped about him, lifted him.

From the tone it came, a natural extension—a light in the sky, growing brighter and brighter. The furless rat gasped; and he felt himself rising, saw the walls fall beneath him. The light was too bright; trembling, the furless rat turned away. He was rising still, above the maze, and he could see it all now, could see how it came together, how it was whole.

The others were returning now, through the maze like a flowing river. Some moved faster than others.

“Thank you,” the furless rat gasped. “Thank you…”

He could feel the hands on him. They turned him toward the light, and it was brilliant. His eyes burned. Working slowly and mechanically, the hands brought the metal, and they opened him. The furless rat cried out.

There was pain in his voice, and there was ecstasy.

“Thank you…”

As they stripped off each layer of him, skin and muscle and bone, as they opened his head to touch his brain, his thoughts, his soul.

As they lifted him up.

“Thank you…”

Blind, he looked up at the City of God.

Rat

 

Greek Garden

by Michail Velichansky

 

At some point, my husband turned into a statue. One of those white stone ones, like they have in the museums. Except, well… all the men there look better. Strong and muscled and handsome, even if they did have little things. They didn’t have beer bellies, and I think they had hair, though it was stone. And you know, the thing is, I never remembered looking at his hair when it was, well, hair—but when it became stone… It just wasn’t very good looking.

I don’t know exactly when it happened. I know that he wasn’t always like that, not when I first married him—who’d want to marry a statue? Back then, he was the sweetest man. I remember back when we were dating, he used to sing to me, and he had the most horrid voice. Usually it was steady and deep, but when he sang it would squeak and crack… I teased him about it, but really I liked it. I mean, it’s one thing for some great singer to get up there and sing, but the kind of courage it takes to try and do something like that with no talent… He was the sweetest man, my Roger was; never had any real talent for anything except fixing things, but he tried so hard. I really miss him trying to squeak his way through “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”

But he didn’t just turn into a statue overnight, all of a sudden. I would’ve noticed that. No, it was gradual. He became a little more like stone over the years, and I just didn’t notice. It wasn’t even bit by bit at first, but kind of a whole change. He started to move less and less; he became whiter and paler. And he became harder, I think. Because I remember when we were going out we used to touch a lot, hugging and stuff. He was a big man, but so soft… Later, though, I don’t think we hugged so much.

After a while, we didn’t even kiss before going off to work.

Then, one day, I came home and he was sitting in front of the TV, beer in hands. He didn’t move when I went in, but I didn’t really see anything strange in this—it had been a long time since he’d jumped up every time I walked through the door. I put my purse down on a chair and hung up my coat, and… I just watched him for a while. He was sitting there, the TV lighting up his face, the beer in his hands slowly going flat… I don’t know. He just looked kind of lonely. I went around behind the couch, and put my hands on his shoulder to give him a massage—and I jumped back, because he wasn’t flesh and blood anymore, but cold, cold stone.

I went into the bedroom and locked myself in—I couldn’t stand to look at him. I felt empty. Maybe I cried a little, though I can’t remember. Later, I thought I heard someone banging on the door.

“Leave me alone,” I said to whoever it was.

Roger was still on the couch the next morning, except now he was laying on it, reclining, his head back.

I don’t why, but I said, “Good morning.” Of course there was no response. And when I kissed him on the cheek before going to work—it had been a long time, like I said—he was rough, and cold, and I just felt empty again.

From then on, things got worse and worse. I came home, and he was in front of the TV. Change into sweat pants and he was bent in front of the open fridge. Put dinner in the microwave, and when I turn around it’s gone. There he was, the dinner on his lap, a potato speared on a fork in his stone hands, halfway up to his mouth. We never ate together anymore.

He stopped asking me how my day went. Not even the day I got mugged on my way home. He never asked what happened… No, he never asked where I’d been. I remember now. I didn’t go home right away after it happened. I think I went to see a friend.

But he never asked. Anything.

There used to be nights, when we’d stay up till dawn talking. Talking about anything. We’d laugh, and hold each other, and he’d say something sweet. I’d feel as though I could tell him anything. Or sometimes we’d talk without saying anything. We’d just sit, and I could look into those eyes… I usually don’t like looking people in the eyes so much, but with Roger, it was like someone putting a warm blanket around me on a cold night.

Not like those stone things he had now. They were the worst, I think, those smooth marble eyes. They didn’t even see me, they—

They were horrible.

Later, we stopped touching in bed. I’d get ready, put my nightclothes on, brush my teeth, and when I walked out of the bathroom the statue would be in the bed. I’d curl up, as far away from its rough stone as possible, on my side—away from it.

Though, I think it was better this way. Not like it was before that, before I noticed anything, when he’d just be on top of me with those eyes, and I’d look up at the ceiling, try to count the tiles and wait for it to be over. At least… at least that was better. It really was.

Still, sometimes I’d say something like, “How was your day?” Or I’d say, “What are you thinking about?” It was stupid. Stone doesn’t think anything. It just poses. But… but I still kept thinking that he must be moving. Kept trying to see him move out of the corner of my eyes. It’s kind of funny, because for a while I kept bumping into furniture I was trying so hard.

I was kidding myself, though. It never moved. Just posed.

That’s how I remember the last few years: like one of those garden mazes from the movies, with all the statues standing around, or sitting, or… Just. Not moving. You know?

I tried to speak to him about it once. I don’t know why—maybe I thought I could bring him back to life, like some kind of fairy tale.

“I can’t live like this anymore,” I told him. “You… you don’t talk. We don’t talk. Remember what it used to be like? It can be like that again, Roger. It really can. If you just come back to me. Can you just move a little? Just say something to me? Anything?

“I can’t even feel your breath anymore…

“Damn. Damn damn DAMN! It’s not fair!” I banged both my fists on him, but I just hurt myself.

I kissed him again that night, for the last time.

Nothing. Nothing at all. Just cold stone, and it scratched my lips a little. But when I turned around, he was lying on his back with his eyes closed and his thing was big. And hard, of course. I looked at his face, and I just knew he wasn’t thinking about me. Just the thought of it, hard and rough and cold: it made me sick.

I just ran out of the room.

That was the last time I spoke to the statue that used to be my husband. I went to my mother’s and spent two days there. But eventually I had to leave:

“Is there something wrong at home?

“What is it? What’s he done?

“I told you that he was no good. Didn’t I tell you he was no good?”

I started talking to this guy at work named Matt. He’d been working there for a few years, but I’d never really talked to him. He didn’t really talk all that much, except with some of the other guys now and then. Mostly about work. He’d go out for a drink with them sometimes. He told me that. We talked about work too, really; but still, it was nice, in a way. At least he saw me. Though, usually he didn’t look me in the eyes. I didn’t mind so much. At least he saw me.

After a while, after flashing him little smiles, after feeling him look at me as I passed, we got lunch together. And then dinner after work.

“Do you want to go back to your place?” I asked finally. We’d gotten to now each other a little now; it was probably time. And I was lonely.

He looked up, kind of scared and confused, and mumbled, “No. no, not my place we—” I could see him rubbing the ring finger on his hand nervously. “Maybe we shouldn’t?” Then he went quiet, and turned away, staring off into space. We didn’t talk when we left the diner, just turned and walked our separate ways.

The next day though, he was all flushed. Came and talked to me in my office. “Look, I’m real sorry about that last night. Maybe we can go somewhere for lunch? Your place?” There was a… a hunger in his eyes, when he looked at me.

“All right,” I said. Even though I knew, somewhere, how stupid it was.

We went to my place. It was all right. It was nice to touch someone. Afterwards, I could at least lay in his arms and close my eyes and pretend. Just pretend. Because his body was soft, and it was warm.

It was on the third time that we went to my place. Matt wasn’t done yet, when suddenly he made a kind of croaking sound, and rolled off me. I looked over, and the statue was standing in the doorway. Just standing there, hands hanging by its side. It’s face—it was as though someone hadn’t finished carving it. Just two holes and a slash. No look at all.

I can’t really blame Matt for leaving. And I don’t. He squeezed passed the statue and ran out in his undies, pants tucked under his arm. Before he left, he glanced back: his face was red, and he quickly looked away.

The statue just stood there. Looking at me. After a while I couldn’t take that broken gaze anymore, and looked away. When I looked back, it was inside the room, closer, its hands clenched. Looking at it then, I realized I hated it. I hated it so much, I didn’t want to look at it anymore, so I walked out of the room. There I paced around for a little while, feeling embarrassed and hurt and lonely. When I walked back into the room, the statue was still there, just standing, its eyebrows low, a terrible blank look on its face. It frightened me.

“I can’t live like this anymore,” I said to myself. “I’m leaving.”

It didn’t do anything. It stood, and stared, and stared, and stared, and it didn’t do anything. Just stared through me. I wasn’t even there. It was like a mountain, couldn’t care less about all the little people running over it, trying to change it. What was I?

Just another scurrying thing? Another nothing that it didn’t even feel?

I screamed at it. I spit on it. I hit it. I broke all my nails, and my palms were bleeding—and I wasn’t even really there to it.

I ran from it, and locked myself in the small bathroom, the one that wasn’t in the bedroom. I cried. No, it wasn’t really crying, it was… I was choking, sobbing. I couldn’t breath, I kept gasping, and then I couldn’t unclench my fist, not even when I broke the mirror. At least… at least the pain… I knew I was real. Was. Am.

For a minute, I was sick into the toilet, and then I felt like I could breath again. Had to bandage my hand first, and then as soon as I was done, I ran out and grabbed my keys. The tires screeched in the driveway. Usually, I’m such a careful driver.

I went down to the local hardware store, and I bought what I wanted, just threw some money on the counter and walked out. There was a blur of moving and driving—and then I was home, with the statue of my husband, on the couch, in front of the TV, beer in hands.

I hefted the small sledgehammer with both hands, looking for the best grip. I was very careful, because my hand was hurt and I didn’t want to make it any worse. I walked behind the couch…

Pulled back.

Swung.

And with a great crunch, his head shattered, splitting into large chunks and pebbles and dust.

I got to work on the rest of him. Swung again and again. Each time, it jolted my arm; each time it hurt worse. I was sweaty and dirty, and I could feel the dust sticking to my face where I’d been crying. Who knew there was so much inside? It took me so long—until finally there was nothing left but powder and gravel.

I washed the powder from my face and hair, and I just kept scrubbing and scrubbing even though it was gone, until I was red all over. I put my face under the water so that I couldn’t feel myself cry.

When I got out, I felt a little better. And as I vacuumed up, there was only a little bit of emptiness inside. Or did I have it backward? Like a photo before you get it developed, where what’s something looks like nothing, and nothing… Nothing looks like something.

As I threw out bag after bag of dust and stone, I just couldn’t tell anymore.