Short Fiction: You Can Do Better Than That

I’d been driving south for three hours—from San Francisco toward L.A. via Hwy 99. I wanted to stay off the expressway for a while after a night of hard drinking, so I took an alternative route. Around Fresno, the sun made its final descent into the West. The endless valley, lorded over by the silhouetted, twin sentinels of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the left and the Coastal Ranges to the right, suddenly and completely disappeared into the larger darkness of night. Only man-made lights remained as a break from the expansive pitch beyond. I was tired: visiting Kyle was exhausting

We’re both transplants to California from the Midwest. He came out here to take a job in the tech industry and I came because Illinois was too cold, and I have an uncle in Los Angeles who owns a house he never stays in. We had drinks at his place in the city first and then visited a friend he’d made at a bar somewhere up the hill from a sushi place. I drank too much before we’d left and lost my bearings almost immediately after we arrived at the bar. Sometime shortly after meeting his friend (a guy whose name I can’t recall), I transitioned from pushing away from the shores of sobriety to being drug headlong into drunkenness. I blacked out early, sometime around 10:00 P.M. Budweiser had just begun its “Whatever Happens Next” campaign, and the last thing I remember was taking several plastic cups of beer off a tray from a woman (more than my share, no doubt) and attempting to sign up for something on her iPad.

I woke up on his couch, still drunk about twelve hours later. I recalled impressions and images as through thick amber lenses: a series of jaundiced and distorted tableau vivants: a girl near a streetlight wearing little more than a bikini with a shamrock painted above her navel, struggling to maintain her balance by holding onto a tree as her heel was caught in grating in the sidewalk; men in suits standing under a light in an alley, occasionally glancing at crowds passing by the entrance; a homeless man howling out a word that sounded like “pang,” in Doppler fashion—increasing in amplitude and frequency as we approached from who-knows-where and decreasing in the same as we passed his pain-stricken, sun-fried, dirty face. The pervasive smell of a street carnival was inescapable like the olfactory version of a soundtrack.

I hadn’t blacked out in a long time, but as soon as I woke up, I was as anxious as I’d ever been after losing time. I occasionally suffer from anxiety under normal conditions, but just then I felt like a thousand eyes were watching me from my past, present, and the future—a mélange of accusations without tangible sources, feelings without root actions. Under these conditions, I felt the weight or responsibility for broken promises, poor decision making, and myriad ghosts of hangover future.

Kyle had managed to get us back to his apartment, or I had made my way back on my own. At that point, there was no way to tell. I didn’t look in his bedroom for him at first, but simply lay there, still drunk and awaiting the haymaker of a hangover that came an hour later. The obscene wealth and hedonism of the partygoers (or at least the families from which they were spawned) as they rolled past the destitute on the San Francisco streets reminded me of the way I’d imagined Elizabethan England—poor people living in the shit spewn from the asses of aristocrat’s horses. I bothered myself wondering where I fit into that scene, having just drunk myself into a stupor and letting my body and Id go on a wobbling rampage while the rest of my mind took a shortcut to tomorrow. I remembered a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading “Howl,” and cataloged each memory under the subheading “Moloch.” I mouthed the word without speaking as memories churned and dissipated into froth. After an hour, I decided to see if he was awake in his bedroom.

Really, I wanted to sleep the rest of the day. Skip it like a secondary blackout. Wake up the next day as though the last evening and the encroaching hangover hadn’t happened at all. Kyle is a friend I’d been drunk—even that drunk—around before. He’d spin it, surely, he always had. What I considered as potentially sinister, he reconfigured as absurd. I’m careful about drinking too much these days, but I guess nostalgia was the cocktail I’d imbibed before we took our first shots in his kitchen, and in short order I was, as Kyle once said, “cop sluggin’ drunk.”

I had to steady myself at the kitchen counter before I went to his bedroom door. I was hoping he’d pull out some more verbal magic and assuage my fears about what I’d done or said the night before. He wasn’t there. I was suddenly aware of being alone—in an old friend’s apartment, in ann unfamiliar city.

Maybe he’d brought me here and then continued on his own the previous night, but I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t remember much of anything. I wanted to claim that I’d been drugged, and imagined myself holding a press conference, using a political speech to spin my story. “Last’s evening’s events were regrettable,” I’d say, “but we should learn from our mistakes and move on.” And that would be that. The country would just have to forget it as some new calamity pushed the front train car down a memory hole. I felt guilty, and I needed to talk to Kyle. I was supposed to leave by 11:30 A.M., and I was still drunk at 10:45. My phone was on the kitchen counter, next to Kyle’s keys. I scrolled through last night’s texts. I remember sending the last one:

“Should I park on the street or in the back?”

It was from 6:30 P.M., the day before. I hadn’t sent a single text since, nor had I received one. Nothing. No clues. No leads. No Kyle.

I went to the sink and grabbed a glass, filled it with water, and drank it all in one breath. I instantly broke into a sweat, and felt memory-drunk. That is, I suddenly felt the same kind of drunk I was the night before, and a new memory of yelling Kyle’s name from across the bar and raising shots to one another blipped into my mind, surrounded entirely by the pitch of amnesia, and then sank again. It was no use trying to hold it and parse it out. My head was a water balloon on a rubber neck. I threw up in the sink. Liquid. I threw up again. Bile. I dry heaved until blood trickled down my tongue and I spit it into the basin. The hangover had come to collect what I owed. The water saw to that.

I sent a text to my uncle, telling him I might stay another day in San Francisco. I had a job interview on Tuesday, but nothing pressing until then. I lay back down on the couch, covered my eyes with my forearm and fell back to sleep. It was 2:00 P.M. when I woke up. Still no memories and my anxiety stuck to me like electrodes firing across my chest. I looked at my phone and it blinked green for text message. There were two. My uncle simply replied, “K,” and the other was from Kyle.

“Not going to make it back today before you go. Lock the door when you leave.”

It sounded distant, dismissive. My body had felt covered in an anxious hot cloud with occasional bursts of cold sweat, but I now suddenly felt the splash of stomach ice delivered by a guilty verdict. He was pissed. I’d done something horrible, and his message confirmed it. Though whatever it was, I had no way of knowing. I’d known Kyle since we were kids, for years. What was already a lonely pilgrimage from the frigid steppes of the Midwest suddenly became a slowly unfolding, tragic calamity. I feared that I’d lost a friend. The silence in the apartment contrasted the cars honking, braking, and accelerating outside in the street below. I imagined Kyle slipping from agitation at my no doubt stupid behavior the night before into anger. And then I imagined him slipping further, into the region of indifferent irritation and finally derision he’d share with his new friends. I had become a source of embarrassment—an interloper in the alternate timeline a friend had taken where I was no longer welcome, a benchmark to illustrate how far he’d moved away from his former life: friendship in an era when the past clings to us through the social media he’d used to invite me to visit. I texted back:

“I’m sorry about last night.”

I waited half an hour for a response before I left empty handed. I made it to Fresno before fatigue forced me to find a hotel. After checking my phone for a response from Kyle every five minutes as I made my way out of the city, I finally set it face up on the console so I could see any alerts as they came in. Four hours and no word. I found a hotel with Wi-Fi and settled onto the bed to check Facebook on my computer. He hadn’t posted anything since before I’d arrived, and I don’t know what I expected. I felt like I just got dumped. A friend break-up and I was the toxic half from which he needed to liberate himself.

When I woke up around 2:45 A.M., my mind was awake and alert, even though my body felt brittle. What was formerly an impenetrable, vulnerable guilt had sunk a layer beneath aggravation. I can’t imagine I did anything so bad as to warrant this complete shunning and what was starting to look like a kind of cruel joke. What could I have done really? Puked on someone? Said something weird or stupid? I didn’t get arrested. I had no blood on me or any noticeable bruising, so I doubt I got into a fight. The very least he could have done, if he had decided to real-life unfriend me, was call me an asshole. Tell me to fuck off. Button the friendship up, for chrissakes. Now I was in a position to get angry, imagining him laughing at me with his new friends in his dumpy, obscenely over-priced apartment. We were friends long enough to warrant a proper final fight and salutary send-off.

I sat up and turned the light on and scrolled through my text messages again. The same. Then I opened the media folder to see if the photo I’d taken of the Golden Gate Bridge looked any good. All the images in the folder were organized into images resembling piles with the last image taken sitting on top. Downloads in this one, photos in that one. The video folder showed a thumbnail image of the last video taken—a strange red door surrounded by darkness that looked like something out of a movie clip. I decided to go through them from the earliest one from last night to that red door. I could tell where the cut off was because the last one before my trip was from Southern California—a video of the Mojave in the daytime. They weren’t night videos like the five I’d no memory of taking the night before.

 

The first one I took was in the bar we visited. It was of Kyle talking to a woman I didn’t recognize. Mounting anxiety again. I was talking in the video—drunk and talking. I hate the sound of my own voice on video enough, but slurring about “how much I love this guy,” while my friend is trying to have a conversation sounded nauseating. I suddenly felt guilty for being mad at him only minutes earlier. He was right to have shunned me, I thought. I stopped filming after about fifteen seconds. It felt like a mercy gesture to my present self from the animal that took the video. I turned on the light next to my hotel bed before opening any more. It somehow made me feel more distant from the images on the screen.

The next video was different from the start. The cacophony of the bar was gone, and the lighting was exterior night. The movement was steadier, and in it, I was moving down an alleyway somewhere. I turned the volume up and could hear the street somewhere behind the camera as it faced a dumpster and stopped. There were other feet scraping along the pavement nearby. After about ten more seconds, the video ended on a steady shot of the dumpster. I was hoping that the videos would give me some understanding of my whereabouts and solutions to my questions about what I did that was so bad that I lost a friend over the experience, but this just made me more confused. Clearly, I must have left the bar shortly after taking footage of Kyle and that woman, so I couldn’t have done anything that bad. It also struck me how steady my hand had gotten between videos. It seemed like they were taken on different nights.

I opened the next file. It was of me, close up so that only my face showed on the screen, sleeping upright and snoring. It lingered there for a few seconds and, in that same, steady hand, zoomed out to reveal that I was sitting in a lime-green, ragged chair. It was dark in the scene, but there was some light bearing down on me from behind the camera. I heard the scuffling of footsteps again, and this time a heavy sigh from the camera operator. Where was I? Was Kyle playing tricks on me? Was this the smartphone version of drawing a dick on my forehead in sharpie? The setting didn’t appear to be exactly inside a space, nor did it seem to take place outside either. It was quiet, aside from the breathing near the microphone and my snoring several feet away. The timer showed seventeen seconds when it ended.

The preview image for the fourth video was black, but when I opened it, it immediately began like what I’d imagined a snuff film to look like. A woman, with tear-smeared makeup, gagged and staring up at the camera, slumped on her knees. Her face was lit by what appeared to be a flashlight beaming from behind the camera operator. Her arms were held by a stick running across her back and under her elbows and her hands were tied by a rope that ran over her stomach in front of her. She was wearing a black cocktail dress, and was breathing heavily in spite of the resignation in her face and posture. One matching high heel lay on its side next to her bare knees. The camera panned left across a darkly lit space, similar to the surrounding darkness where I had been sleeping in the chair. The shadows were everywhere, and the phone’s camera inadequately strained to illuminate anything in that darkness. Suddenly another flashlight and the camera was facing a man, stripped down to his underwear about ten feet away. His hands were bound the same as the woman’s, but he was tied to a pole which held him on his feet. He was screaming through his gag, and writhing in his restraints. The camera operator, who’d been quiet, made a noise that was so much louder than everything else that it startled me. It was a kind of humming, sing-songey, moan, as though he was getting some sexual gratification at the sight of the man. This made the captive, whose face was only intermittently shown in the light, strain harder against his restraints and scream through his gags. The camera turned again to the darkness, and soon rolled across another form, lit again by the flashlight as its beam came to rest.

It was me on the same chair as before, snoring in a drunken stupor while whatever horror had been staged in my sleep played out around me. The man began to scream again through gags “off stage,” somewhere behind the camera, followed by what I assumed to be the woman now reciprocating frantically at some unseen, encroaching danger. There I slept while the camera panned back to the darkness as the operator began walking. The video paused briefly, and stopped recording on the black captured in the preview pane.

I thought to call the police at that point, but what would I tell them? Which police would I call? I’d have to go online and look up the number to the police department in San Francisco. I didn’t want to watch any of the videos again, and there was another one, waiting to be opened. Its preview image, the last in the video, was clearly a red door surrounded by darkness. This still didn’t explain Kyle, or who took the video. I began to rationalize—what was illegal in that video, really? It looked staged. But why was I there and who were those people? Why was I with them? I strained to remember anything from the night before, but it was useless. There was nothing. I opened the last one.

It was immediately clear that this had been set up differently. The camera was perfectly still, as though set on a tripod pointing at a dimly backlit, sea green stage curtain. A woman screamed, but it subsided quickly. Its tone wasn’t exactly agonized, but rather a mixture of effort and bloodlust.  She screamed again and it subsided once more. This went on four times in total until the camera slowly panned across that dim, green background until it revealed the silhouette of a woman sitting on a stool in the middle of some kind of set.

A camera bulb flashed nearby. Someone was taking pictures of her. The image revealed in that startling white explosion stayed in my mind as though my brain had taken the photo, and I could tell there was blood everywhere. In the absence of the other camera flash, her body was a black, womanly shape against that sea green drapery. Her shadowy form was motionless at first, but soon her arm raised above her head, holding something small before it violently thrust downward, accompanied by that determined scream. The flash again, revealing in an instant of light the woman’s bloodied face and arms, driving a blade of some kind—it looked like a folding straight razor—into her thighs, which were pouring blood into thick pools on the floor at her feet. The flashing intensified, revealing more snapshots that burned into my mind. Her eyes, trancelike, fixed on her legs as she raised her arm and brought it down again and again, exposing fatty tissue and loosing rivulets of blood.

A man to the right of the phone began encouraging her like a photographer in a fashion shoot. “That’s right, baby! Make it deep.” His voice was somewhat effeminate, encouraging, but dropped into lower, terrifyingly animalistic registers at the word “deep.” The camera slowly panned in a circle toward him, leaving the woman and her guillotine-arm to attack herself off screen to the left. Screams and what I now perceived as wet thumps, accompanied by the clicking of the shutter sunk under the sound of the man taking the photos as he entered the scene from the right. “Oh come on, baby!” He encouraged. “You can do better than that.” Effeminate to animalistic as before. Just like the woman in the photo shoot, I could only see the photographer in flashes. He wore a tight black t-shirt and black pants, and in the light of each flash he was in a different position. This time he held the camera horizontal. The next time he was on bended knee, holding the camera vertical, tilting up from below her. I tried to see his face, but he was clearly wearing a rubber mask illustrating a distorted old man with a deep frown and absurdly large facial creases. The phone’s camera continued panning to the right, past the photographer, who seemed to not mind or notice that he was being filmed. Like the woman, he slowly disappeared to the left of the screen as the screams began to soften and decrease in frequency.

A warm yellow light gradually rose near the top of the phone’s screen, breaking the temporary darkness. Behind the masked photographer, about twenty feet, I lay there on a small sofa, sleeping, lit from above by a yellow stage light so that it made a perfect circle on the floor around the scene. I wasn’t making any noise or moving. Drunk. Vulnerable. Unaware. I was terrified for the me in the video even though the me watching obviously lived to see it a night later and hundreds of miles away. I could hear dogs from somewhere behind the phone’s position, and the photographer from before saying, “Oh yes! Oh yeah,” in his awful tonal mishmash. I felt sick watching it. If I had been able to eat anything that day, I would have vomited it off the side of the hotel bed. But there was nothing, and I continued to watch the video, which had begun to pan to the right again, leaving me on the couch to slide left off screen.

Another backlit sheet, fire engine red, crept across the phone’s screen from right to left. The audio was noticeably quiet as the dogs had moved away from the microphone. The photographer and the self-harming “model” were silent now. On the screen was the silhouette of a man standing there, like a shadowy representation of the statues they hand out at the Oscars. A yellow stage light, not unlike the one that had illuminated my slumber, slowly lit the figure from above. As I was trying to focus on his details, less intense lights rose to illuminate the space to the sides and front of the man, revealing a small crowd of spectators, watching the man like in a play. If I’d been less revolted by the videos, or my fear response wasn’t telling me to simply flee the room, I’d have remarked on the care and intricacy someone took to stage this macabre horror.

Each of the spectators, all dressed in the same tone of black as the photographer from before, wore rubber masks illustrating an obscene pantomime of expression. Here a frowning young woman, there an angry old man. A few resembled gaudily makeup-laden little girls. The women wore elegant, tight dresses, and the men were in either short sleeves, like the photographer, or wore tuxedoes. The masks seemed to be accentuating expressions of wonder, awe, and excitement at the sight of the standing man in the middle of the shot. He was the same man as the earlier video, I soon recognized, and what I had envisioned as the Oscar trophy holding its hands in front of him was the same man bound by the stick and ligatures. I was unsettled, to be sure, but I hadn’t seen the man’s face in the other video. This one was lit differently, and seemed to linger in one position on the man who presently stood there motionless. I leaned my face toward the phone’s screen to get a clearer look, and to my shock, recognized the face of my friend, Kyle.

He was no longer fighting mad, as he was in the earlier video, but stood there motionless and staring at a spot just above the camera. Kyle, my friend. I was terrified for him, thinking of the woman I’d just watch butcher herself in that grim fashion shoot. The crowd was pantomiming as before, looking back and forth at one another, nodding egregiously or leaning in grotesque interest at Kyle. One woman in a mask that looked like a little girl with blonde pig tails traced her hand, palm up, across her lap and away from her, reached out in a large arc, and brought her hand to her mouth in a gesture of surprise. The camera zoomed to get a better look at my friend and she disappeared into the bottom right of the screen.

He wasn’t bleeding or bruised as far as I could tell, but he looked like he was in a trance. I thought he had been tied to a pole as he had been in the earlier video, but now I could tell he was just standing there with his knees slightly bent. The camera zoomed slightly and focused on the space between his legs. There I could see that there was, in fact, a post of some kind that rose up out of the floor. My initial thought was that he could simply walk away if he wanted to, but as the camera zoomed in further on his crotch and upper legs, as though to make sure the viewer understood what the scene meant, I could see that his underwear were pulled tight to a point between his legs. There was a small amount of what appeared to be blood running down the inside of his thighs, and I finally realized that he must be sitting on a peg. His legs were trembling and flexed, keeping himself from impalement. As though on cue, like the camera operator would know that the viewer would make the deduction just then, the image zoomed back to show the whole scene again. A man in the crowd hunched forward in his chair and pointed to Kyle’s crotch then turned to the woman next to him on seat toward the camera, showing his obscenely gleeful, chubby-faced boy mask, and put his palms to his temples in a pantomime of tense anticipation.

Kyle slid, or rather sat, down a fraction of an inch. It was barely perceptible, but he had moved. I may not have noticed it if the crowd hadn’t suddenly gasped and stood to applause. I strained to watch Kyle’s face for a sign that he might flee. Break out and run. Leave me on the couch, I thought. But the camera slowly began to pan back to the left, leaving Kyle and that crowd to disappear to the right. They quieted into silence as soon as the image was gone from the screen, replaced by the darkness and finally, from the left, the lit space wherein I slept in yellow on that sofa.

It remained fixed there for several seconds until a man abruptly entered the scene and called out, “Hey buddy! It’s time to leave, show’s over. You need to go home.” He grabbed me by the arm, but I was incoherent and never made it to my feet unaided. The man, who wore a mask that had protruding, angry eyebrows, held a set of keys in one hand that jingled through the microphone even at this distance. He pulled one of my arms over his shoulder and dragged me toward the darkness. A red door, another twenty feet back suddenly appeared, lit again from above as on a stage set. The man appeared again from the shadow, effortlessly dragging me along like a limp doll, and the door opened from the other side to darkness beyond. Just before he drug my limp body through the door, he turned and paused. The camera operator, right next to the microphone said, half-whimpering, “The show never ends, it just changes mediums.” The man drug me through the door and it closed behind him. It took me a moment to realize that the recording had stopped and returned to the preview frame I recognized from before.

I set the phone down and then picked it back up again, not sure what to do with my hands. I went to the last text sent from Kyle’s phone (as I no longer assumed Kyle sent anything after last night), and called him directly. It went straight to voicemail. I opened the computer to look up the number to the police department in San Francisco, and my Facebook page was open. I scanned the first post before opening a Google search, and there it was. A new update from Kyle. It was a photograph of him and the woman in the videos sitting at a restaurant having lunch. She was in the same dress she had worn in the video, and he was wearing the same collared shirt he had on the night before. I called Kyle’s number again. Straight to voicemail.

Nothing made sense. I texted him, “What is going on?!?!?” and received a text a few minutes later that read, “Wish you could’ve stayed longer.” I looked back at my Facebook feed. His timeline photo was set at 3:45 P.M. that day. I hovered somewhere between calling the police and driving back to San Francisco. I sent him a message on Facebook, “What are the videos on my phone?! Are you okay?”

A minute later, he responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. All’s well, bro. See you soon.”

I went back to the timeline to look at his photo, but he had updated again. This time the scene was at a baseball game and the accompanying caption seemed designed to indicate, to me, that he was there that afternoon. He’d told me before that he had tickets to go to the game that day, and I was supposed to go with him. But the same girl from before, from the videos and the earlier update, was standing next to him in the bleachers. How were they at the game and not the hospital or the morgue? I commented on the photo.

“Sorry I missed the game, man. Wish I could have been there!”

I quickly deleted it, as his army of Facebook friends would no doubt see the photo of him and his date, see my comment, and wonder why I was trying to horn in on that experience. I thought it was a ruse—that he’d been kidnapped and murdered, and someone was doctoring photos of him, but I could see, right in the bottom of the frame, that the date on the scoreboard matched that day’s date and the caption he’d written. I opened my phone again to make sure I hadn’t hallucinated watching the videos. They were there. I skipped to the images of Kyle on stage. It was him. I called his phone again and it rang.

“Hello?” It was Kyle’s voice.

“Hey man, what the hell are those videos on my phone?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, bro. You were pretty drunk last night,” he said.

“No shit. But those videos. They’re,” and I paused, unsure of what to say. I finally settled on, “insane and disgusting. What did you get yourself into?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, man. Listen, I gotta call you back,” and then he abruptly hung up.

That was the last time I talked to him directly. I tried to call a few more times over the next week, and again a few weeks later. Every time it went straight to voicemail. There were a few text messages back and forth, but they were mainly terse exchanges. I asked a few weeks later if he wanted to come down to visit, but he declined. I checked up on him often and watched as his Facebook feed announced that he was “in a relationship,” following his timeline as it followed a series of what seemed to be an idealized order of events—new promotion, a vacation, company provided tickets to this and that event. I didn’t look at the videos again until a few months later, but I kept them even when I bought a new phone. Once, when talking to a mutual friend from back home, I asked if he’d heard from Kyle at all. He said he’d gone out to meet up with him a few weeks prior to our conversation in Utah (a vacation that Kyle’s company paid for). He told me that Kyle was doing well, and his girlfriend was cool. He’d moved into a much nicer apartment and got a “crazy” promotion at work. He was “making bank,” our mutual friend informed me. He told me Kyle had mentioned that I’d visited and that I’d gotten “super drunk” and spouted a bunch of really crazy talk—like, disturbing talk about the devil. Our mutual friend asked if everything was okay, the way you ask someone struggling mentally. I said I was fine and hung up.

And I was, for the most part, okay. I stopped drinking entirely and have avoided it since that night. I got a job working on a road crew and I work outside in the sun all day. It’s grueling and not the glamourous gig in Hollywood I casually kept in the back of my mind when I first moved out to California, but it pays better than anything I’d ever done before. I got hurt the other day at work, and had to take two weeks off: collect some workman’s comp. But I got to thinking about that night because before I’d gotten hurt, I was overexerting myself to remove a chunk of concrete we’d broken out of the road. My foreman, a new guy from Northern California who knew the superintendent (the other guys were pissed he was brought in from the outside rather than one of us moving up from within), was yelling at us to move faster. It was what he’d said right before I got hurt that reminded me of Kyle, of the videos.

“Oh come on ya’ baby. You can do better than that.” The tone of the word “that” was guttural, aggressive, and disgusted as though my job performance was appalling. To show him I had the stamina to complete the labor and to stave off embarrassment in front of my fellows, I tried to lift the chunk of concrete alone, straining a muscle in my back. I watched the videos again this morning to remind myself that they were actually real. They are still there on my old phone which I now keep in a safe. I have no explanation for them, and at this point, Kyle and the woman (now his girlfriend) are alive and apparently flourishing. I only had the stomach to watch it one more time, but it was in the way that the photographer challenged her in the photo shoot to cut herself deeper that reminded me of my foreman. Those final words of the last video, “It only changes mediums,”—I have no idea what that means. If I ever see Kyle in person again, I’m going to have to show him and press him to explain it. Until then, it’ll have to remain just a story roiling around in the ether, hidden to all but me, as real as an update on social media, and as ephemeral as a memory.

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