Some time in late 2014, I watched the news become an assembly line of horrific events, of children murdered, of elderly men choked to death, of bodies lying in the street. None of this was new, but something in the collective psyche changed, and suddenly, people knew that in some cases, their only hope for salvation was the camera in their pockets.
I was disgusted then, and I'm disgusted now, and I did just about the only thing I know to do. I wrote.
The novel that spawned from that anger and resentment, titled WEEP, was undoubtedly the ugliest thing I've ever written. How could it not be, inspired by a system where hope is a concept so abstract that it becomes something resembling fantasy? It hasn't been published yet, and honestly, it might never be. I realize I might not be the person to write it, but I wanted an outlet for that anger, to direct that sense of futility. Unfortunately, it's as relevant now as it was several years ago.
Below, for any who care to read it, is an excerpt from the book that captures that futility, the feeling of punching the wind or emptying the sea with a teacup. As long as the system is against you, you know you'll never win. The details don't matter, but this passage tells the story of a black man attempting to save the woman he loves after she has been shot.
From WEEP, chapter titled "At First Sight"
She groaned, half in and out of consciousness, and tears rolled down both sides of Carl’s face. They were helpless tears, a child’s tears, the sort of thing that doesn’t happen very often in the grownup world. Here was a man, hard-working, self-sufficient, and now, completely lost at sea. He remembered what she had said no more than an hour before, about how close they were to town from the cabin. At night, they would climb the hill and they could see the lights, the street lights, the beacons of civilization. No more than a few miles as the crow flies. Before him, just on the opposite side of the road, was a treeline, but beyond that, he couldn’t quite be sure, especially with the fire raging behind him.
“Go,” he told himself. “Go you son of a bitch. If she lives or dies, it will be because of you, so GO!”
He leapt over the narrow ditch before him and stepped through the barricade of trees which broke quickly, revealing open fields as far as the eye could see. Out of the firelight, he could see for the first time, and there it was. A glow on the horizon. Town. No more than a few miles away, just as she had said it was.
“Hang on baby,” he told her. “We’re getting out of this.”
The field of tall grass whipped against his jeans, a steady, thwip, thwip, thwip that blended with the crickets, the whippoorwills, the quiet breeze. She wasn’t heavy, maybe one hundred and twenty pounds, but his back began to ache before he had crossed the first acre. Behind him, the red glow peeked over the tree tops, splashing orange and gold on the otherwise black field.
Past a pond, a chorus of frogs, leaping in unison at the perceived danger that barreled towards them. His breath beat out in clouds before him, the growing night bringing a coolness he wouldn’t have thought possible just hours before. Past the pond, past a few lonely trees, past a barbed wire fence that leaned ludicrously close to the ground. A barn came into view, black and monolithic, and he made his way for it, certain that it must be close to a farmhouse. It looked so very close, near enough to touch, but his steady footfalls seemed impossibly tedious, so slow that he couldn’t look at the growing barn without going mad. He cast his eyes to his feet, to the whipping grass and thistles, to his aching feet. He would stop. There was no question about it. He didn’t have a choice. Behind him, a roar as the roof of the cabin caved in, a vibrant, jolting sound that pushed him on farther, and when he looked up, the barn was there, right there, and he saw it for what it was, a husk, empty and dead without a farmhouse for miles in sight.
His body burned, every inch of it, every muscle begging him for mercy. Never before had his heart and his brain been more at odds, the two of them locked in coiling, miserable combat. Seconds stretched, grew, lived their own lives, and died at his feet. Each step a moment in time, left behind, nothing more than awful, tiny nightmares. The sky, a black pall, suddenly opened, and starlight spilled down on the field. More trees were rising to meet him, obstacles vomited up by the very earth, put in place with the singular purpose of making him stop. He couldn’t look at them. It hurt to look at them, so he gazed skyward, hoping that the pain hadn’t found its way up there. Had he ever seen such stars before? He couldn’t remember a single moment in his life where they had looked so very real, a sewn together blanket of them, something that beckoned him, invited him, whispered in his ear like a lover. Stop. Such a simple request, what a wonderful sensation that would be. Once more, Abby moaned, her life running out of her and onto his legs like warm maple syrup.
He crossed miles and hours, passing into something else entirely, an end to life as he knew it. Across a gulf of time and pain, a place where the physical self no longer exists, something outside himself, a driven, relentless essence that refused to stop. He couldn’t feel the pain, not anymore, but he could sense it, a tangible thing with form that he could reach out and touch if he chose to. The agony seemed to speak to him, to promise him amazing and wonderful things that would be his if only he would stop. That’s all he had to do. Just drop her right there. No reason to flail about, delaying the inevitable. She wanted to be free, just like everyone in the world, and that’s what he would be giving her, a gift unlike any other, more precious than that silly ring in his pocket.
Just a thought and there it was, the box just a bit too big for his pocket, pressing into his skin, digging, biting him, mocking the very idea that he, a nigger, could be happy. Were there tears on his face now, or just sweat, a second skin as cold as a snake’s. Who could say?
Still, he ran.
The twinkling sky folded downward under his feet, and he passed through it, a part of the cosmos, returning to the very furnace that had birthed this place. All of it came from there, he could see that now, from the white men in suits, to the black men that shined their shoes, a billion people bent on hurting each other, never stopping to marvel at the plain fact that they were all nothing more than stars, and nothing less as well. His eyes were skyward, the lights of forever reflected off his glistening lens like mirrors. And the sky folded back, and the trees shot up from the ground all around him, enveloping him and the dying woman in his arms, and for the first time in what felt like a lifetime, he looked down. A circle of dark trunks opened into a clear, empty field, and a monolith stood steadfast in the center. A tree then. A monster of a tree. It opened its arms to them, welcoming them as the scent of death and buzz of flies swirled around them.
He ran no more.