• – – – –
an excerpt from
Nowhere Where the Honeybees Live
There are vultures on the ceiling, swirling. I watch them looming over cracks in the paint in the dull hum of summer, when the night is full of things that don’t sleep. Things like me. It’s always vultures, dark blocky masses that eat up the light. Never bunnies or dogs or camels. Vultures are all I can make with my hands. Vultures are the only shadow-puppets I know.
The walls of my bedroom are white, like blank paper, powdery and matte. They’re lackluster even when the night is clear and shiny like tonight. My sheets are white too, the curtains and the lampshades, all of it white. I chose it all, to turn my room and furniture into origami shapes, light and delicate. I chose it because that’s the only way the room will be quiet.
I store all sorts of things in my mattress since I don’t use it for sleep. Books. Pencils. Change. My pillowcase is where my flashlight lives. It’s the chunky, battery-powered kind you see in old horror movies and then don’t see in old horror movies when the protagonist inevitably loses it. The movies I watch with him, on days he thinks he won’t flinch this time, but always does. The flashlight flickers when the switch is in that sweet spot between on and off, light flashing over all this white. On-off-on-off. ..
I as in ice. I as in island. I as in insomnia.
My thumb spells out the rest of the letters from muscle memory. -. … INS. I Need Snacks. It’s the signal for our pilgrimages to the all-night convenience store down the road. I crank my neck up with a pop to see if he’s still awake, sinking into the mattress. His window is yellow and bright, stinging my bloodshot eyes. I don’t care. I stare anyway.
Fynn is spinning in his desk chair. His lanky figure swims in his great uncle’s Hot Space t-shirt, graphic portraits plastered across his chest. There’s a screwdriver in his hand and something he salvaged from his garage in the other. He’s not an insomniac too. Fynn’s just bad with time. He never knows the sun has set until the Five-AM Birds start chirping, their voices restless as a violence of color breaks the horizon. He marks down something in his journal. The freckles on his face scrunch into constellations. He doesn’t see me or the signal in the dark. He’s somewhere else, in between the wires and screws and coils. Fynn can get lost in little things like that. He can make more than vultures on the ceiling.
I get the idea to repeat the signal. INS. But then I get an imaginary taste in the back of my mouth. Sweet and full. The idea is killed by the craving. I try not to let it spiral like snail shells, but I think about it more by not trying to think about it. My toes fidget and I forget INS. The white cotton sheets peel off my body, the hardwood cold on my bare feet. The yellow light of Fynn’s window washes off my skin. I stop for nothing. Once the craving crosses my mind it stays there until it’s satisfied, like an awful itch on the dead center of my back. I creep down the hallway, over distorted shadows on the floor. I crave and crave until there it is, visible in the cracked door at the end of the hall.
I lurk in front of Elliot’s bedroom, watching him snore. His neck is curled, hands balled over his chest — a human question mark. I stare at that look on his face, that look of emptiness and oblivion people have when they sleep. That’s what I crave. Muscles that look as soft as clay. Eyes that flutter at pictures long forgotten by morning. I used to get dreams like that when I was little, so clear that I used to confuse them with long-term memories. But now they’re gone. Now I make vultures on the ceiling. I stare at my brother until I feel the jealousy begin to burn, deciding I have to feel it or else I’ll implode. Elliot told me once I can’t sleep because I have “Major Weirdo Trust Issues.” I think it’s because I have an overactive head. Both, I guess, can’t be far from the truth.
Elliot twitches. He wipes something imaginary off of his cheek then rolls onto his stomach so he can burrow into his pillow. The oblivion is hidden away but I linger anyway. I hear something familiar in the sound of his breath. Something familiar but not because it belongs to him. My finger taps a secret message into my leg. …. Honey…
I’m going to be sick.
Downstairs, the house is filled with the imprints of the trees outside, bending and staggering back and forth across the empty walls. They make shadow puppets of themselves in the kitchen, over oak cabinets and ugly vinyl countertops. I feel in the dark for an empty glass and down some tap water. Cold. As cold as it can get. I swallow the entire glass all at once, relief washing over my stinging throat. I freeze my brain, eyes squinting from the numbness and the pain. Anything to stop the thoughts. I look out the back porch until the feeling passes, at the dense black of the treeline faraway. Anything to stop those images of her.
My focus snaps down to the tile floor, to something neutral and empty. I’m a ghost, passing through objects in the night. A non-material thing with non-material memories, reminding myself the night is predictable. It will play out the way it always does, with shadow-puppets and Dad’s desk chair and watching my brother sleep.
My body moves so my mind won’t. Around the corner of the dining room, past the small library full of dusty bookcases, my feet take me to the two office doors tucked away in the corner of the house. It’s not a choice. I open the right door because the left one leads to a room that belonged to her. A room we pretend that doesn’t share the same walls of our big, creaky, middle-of-nowhere house. The room that doesn’t exist.
Dad’s office is gray with lowlight. I check the colossal desk in the far corner to see if Dad fell asleep there again. I find him there sometimes, his gray and walnut-colored hair sprawled out across his desk, overtaken by sleep mid-book or during a restoration of one of his first-editions. I like finding him here. I like seeing his stubble-filled cheek against the paper in the moonlight, wondering when he’ll eventually sink into the page and be stuck in literature forever. But tonight isn’t one of those nights. Tonight, it’s only his glasses and a cold mug of black coffee.
I don’t resist the opportunity to twirl around in his leather desk chair, listening to the sound of hissing July cicadas coming in through the window. They’re loudest in this part of the house, right beside the old oak tree. They drive Dad absolutely insane during the summer, but there’s something comforting about the white noise whirling around my head as I spin and the world melts into a blurry mess. I decide I’ll spin the night away, just spin and spin and spin until…
Red. It seeps out in the crack beneath the door to the room that doesn’t exist, red light flashing through the crack. It blinks as if it’s talking, as if it knows that morse code is my first language. On-on-off-on-on. -.-. C. It’s only a coincidence. -.-. I watch the light instead of breathing, a strobe light of Red. It’s a party. -.-. C. C as in Charlie, my name.
This doesn’t usually happen.
I stop the chair so fast that the room keeps spinning without me. I stumble up from the desk, suddenly discovered. Red has said my name. Red is in the room that doesn’t exist and it said my name. The letter pulses on the backs of my eyelids when I shut them. -.-. I could go into her room. I could poke my nose in the last place it belongs. My head won’t stop. Why is her room awake? Spirals like snail shells. I could.
But should I? Could is a million worlds away from should. Could is Mercury, reddish and hot and tempting. Should is Pluto, small and gray and easy to forget. The air is stale in my lungs as my mind races. The next breath is long and slow. It makes that awful screeching sound like someone tuning a violin.
I don’t. I can’t. The left door doesn’t exist, just like her.
I float back upstairs. I remember I’m a ghost, with no name to be spelled by weird lights in nonexistent rooms. Elliot is still snoring. I lock my bedroom door once I’m inside. Major Weirdo Trust Issues. A pull of the lamp cord floods the room with light, revealing all the paper things I’ve taped to the walls. Pinwheels and airplanes and birds. There’s a fraction of myself visible in the mirror on my dresser. Long murky blond hair, like sand. The gray in my eyes is overtaken by the purple beneath them. Insomniac Eyes. Permanently tired and wanting to flutter at forgettable pictures. What would my face look like with oblivion strung across it?
“You missed the signal, Sneakers.”
I flinch at the sudden voice, then I open the window wider to let more of it inside. Fynn is changed into plaid pajama bottoms. He’s framed by his window, a portrait that’s come alive.
“You missed the signal.” He repeats it with his own flashlight. INS. His evergreen eyes narrow in on mine. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I lie. “Do I look not-okay?”
“A little bit.” Something in his stare softens. “Is everything alright?”
“I’m fine,” I say. “You just surprised me.” He looks at me for a couple seconds, still unconvinced, but drops his suspicions anyway.
“Can’t sleep again?” I don’t know why he asked.
“Maybe you’re a secret Amarok,” Fynn suggests.
“A secret what-now?”
“Amarok. It’s a giant wolf that hunts alone and eats people at night. They have myths about it in Greenland.”
“A giant…okay, you’re a nerd,” I remark, smiling a bit, “but it is a possibility.”
“You draw anything lately?” he asks. I scour through the scraps on my desk, sending something over through the tin-can pulley system connecting our windows.
“Best cactus doodle in all of Banks, Oregon,” I state. He grins at the pathetic little thing then tries to send it back to me. “Keep it,” I tell him.
“Thanks, Sneakers.” He collects it in the box on his shelf with all the others. “Elliot’s not awake?”
“Out cold.” The fluttery eyes and jealousy burn.
“Figured. That guy sleeps like a rock.”
“Don’t remind me.” My fingers rediscover the cord to my lamp. They find the cord so they don’t start tapping secret messages again, so I can forget the oblivion in my brother’s face. The lamp flickers. INS. Anything to stop those images of her. INS.
Fynn laughs and shrugs on a sweatshirt, “Alright then. Let’s go.”
The lights go out. We find each other in the dark.
There’s a gravel trail that begins near the edge of my backyard, threads through a thin area of forest, and spills out into the main road into town. It’s the only road that connects our small grouping of houses to a slightly-less-smaller town named Banks. We used to live in Portland, back when Portland was Portland and not a giant crater in the earth. Banks is a microscopic amoeba town, which is only slightly better than a giant crater in the earth. And for the sake of scale, if this is an amoeba town, then I’m an invisible speck.
Our shoes crunch on the pale stones of the trail. They’re rejected moons. Moons that shriveled up and fell from the sky. A few of them stow away into my beat-up pair of sneakers. They’re the only shoes I wear, why Fynn ingeniously calls me Sneakers. They look tired. Maybe that’s why I like them so much. They follow the light glaring from the flashlight in Fynn’s hand. He makes a rabbit run across my feet.
“Sometimes I’m glad you’re an Amarok.” He leaps over the branches scattered across his path. “I have someone to talk to when I accidentally stay up too late.” I thank the dark for hiding the color in my cheeks.
“What were you working on?” I ask.
“Something my dad used to listen to music with as a kid. It’s called an iPod.”
“What does it look like?”
“It’s a bulky thing, still has wires and everything. It’s not even bluetooth. Only sixteen gigabytes of data but I kinda like that. Means you gotta save the space for the best of the best.”
“And what’s the best of the best?” I tug on the sleeve of his t-shirt, “Queen’s entire discography?” He laughs as I help him over a fallen tree.
“Queen. U2. The Police.” They’re names from the stacks of his great uncle’s cassettes in his bedroom. He runs a couple of fingers through his red curls. “But the iPod’s not for me. It’s an early birthday present for Elliot.”
My brother’s eighteenth birthday is in ten days. We don’t celebrate it. Elliot decided to wipe the day from existence eight years ago when the police report about her was filed, so now August first doesn’t exist. Instead the month begins with a black hole and a box of matches I leave on his pillow as a silent present. Other than that, Fynn is the only one that acknowledges it. He doesn’t know about August first. He doesn’t know about the police report. My fingers compulsively tap. …. Honey…
Fynn thinks she died from cancer.
I think about my name in red light, Mercury hot and tempting. “Random question,” I state, my hands swallowed by my sweater sleeves.
“If you could bring somebody back from the dead, would you?”
He gives me a puzzled look, “What, like a zombie?”
“No. Really back from the dead. Completely normal and everything.”
“Do I know them?”
“Kind of? C’mon, give me more context.” He bribes me with the smile in the corner of his mouth.
“Okay. Um, yeah. You know the person. But you don’t like them all that much.”
“Were they a tool or something?” I flicker my flashlight. Yes. “How much of a tool? Like someone who talks on speaker-phone in public or like a racist old guy?”
“Maybe somewhere in between.”
“So someone who’s a medium-tool died, and I have the option to bring them back to life?”
“More or less.” I wrap a strand of my hair around my index finger until it feels like it’s suffocating. The tip turns white. “Would you do it? Bring them back from the dead?”
He answers without hesitation, “Of course.”
My insides twist into a big knot. “Really?”
“Yeah. Wouldn’t you?” I should have known he would say yes. He wouldn’t be Fynn if he didn’t say yes.
“I’m not sure,” is all I can say. I kick one of the rejected moons faraway.
He stops. I stop. He looks at me and I shine my flashlight onto his face to see him. I’m bombarded with freckles and red curls and evergreen. “Are you really okay? You seem…I don’t know. Are you alright?” His eyes are soft again and searching for something, sweet and shining. …. Honey…
I look off at the lines of the trees, parallel and overlaid and going back so deep. “I’m just tired. You know me,” I say. He keeps tracing over my Insomniac Eyes. I mumble, “I’m good, Foxtrot.” Something in my face must beg to change the topic. He forces a choppy laugh and keeps walking.
“Guess we need to get some licorice in you.” He still glances at me when he thinks I don’t notice. I summon a grin and shove him a bit as reassurance.
The gravel trail meets the asphalt road. We step out of the forest, swinging a left and following the dead powerlines draped above us. I try not to say anything else. The more sleep-deprived hours I have tucked under my belt, the harder it is to filter the things that come out of my mouth. It’s a wonder why Fynn has withstood me this long, especially in these odd, strung out hours before dawn. But then again, it is Fynn. He could probably befriend a line-up of Revivalist warplane pilots without even batting an eye.
We talk about nothing. Significantly insignificant things. Old music. Elliot-induced anecdotes. More Greenland mythology. We grab the usual from the convenience store: a bag of gummy worms for him and a pack of red licorice for me. Both are gone by the time we journey back. Fynn doesn’t say much after. He doesn’t have to. The silence isn’t awkward. It’s full and warm and wrapped around my shoulders as we go home.
Then a stupider question slips out.
“What’s your mom like?” I sigh. I don’t know what I’m trying to say. “I mean, I know her. But as a mom, what’s she like?” He doesn’t call my question stupid. He doesn’t call any of my questions stupid, for whatever reason.
There’s a beat for thought, and then he answers with a smile, “Annoying and wonderful. Like in the day-to-day, sometimes you forget to appreciate her. But then you get these moments where you remember she’s one of the most amazing people in the world.” I don’t know what to say afterward. I only watch his cheeks fade a soft pink in the summer breeze, in the weak light of the early morning. The Five-AM Birds are chirping. We could walk down this road together for eternity and I would be fully content.
“Do you remember anything about your mom?” He whispers it so low that I don’t know if he really meant to say it. I told him she’s dead because she stopped existing like Portland and my brother’s birthday and August first and the door to the untouchable room. The sugar has soured in my mouth.
I remember sandy blond hair. Distant grey eyes. Lavender.
My thumb finds the sweet spot on my flashlight.
Want to read the full novel? Nowhere Where the Honeybees Live will be available for pre-order on APRIL 22, 2022 in print and ebook format. The official release is MAY 25, 2022.