PROLOGUE

1

It starts with a crack. Everything else rises up from that like steam: a trembling thread that cuts through space in jagged lines, splintering the void into razor-sharp shards of putrefying leptons and quarks popping apart like raw eggs in a microwave. It’s coming undone at a subatomic level, from the bottom up, from the inside out. From the top down it looks like the eye of a storm—a black hole so supermassive that it spans the width of eternity. It turns infinity into something as thin and fragile as cellophane; shreds it of its dimensions, a piece of paper pinched together at either end, a hole poked through it.

At the center of that hole the edges can be heard fraying. Pandemonium, as continuity buckles in the middle and the two ends come smashing together. Around the hole, ghosts scream. They claw at the dying borders of their dreams with fingernail-chipping desperation. They whip together like the wind, trailing the mutilated streaks of their hypothetical futures with them. It’s a multifractal neon cyclone of primordial conclusion. A churning blender of hyperfinal, catastrophically terminal, overwhelmingly permanent double-death. The screaming distorts and plunges low as it gets closer to the cavity.

At the center, that distortion turns into an eerie music. That’s where the cacophony ends—the shattering, the screaming, the squelching, the sounds of elemental particles being torn apart like string cheese shoved through a meat grinder, then dumped down a strangely melodious garbage disposal. It all returns to the same tonic dominant, matching pitch and tone, ironing out the rebellious flats and sharps until the discordance becomes exquisite. A subharmonic symphony that can only be heard in the bones. At the dead center of the event, it is extremely quiet. A silence made of all the suffering that limitless sempiternity can hold, bleeding together until the prism turns to obsidian. It’s too vast to comprehend, too black to behold without closing your eyes. Retreating to the back of your own eyelids is to seek the comfort of a familiar darkness. It is to reject an absolute tenebrosity so perfectly alien, it threatens to rip the humanity right through your eye sockets.

This is the end of everything. This is the end of Paradox Space. You...

> Wake up.

Your name is John Egbert, and you have just had a terrible, deeply pretentious nightmare. You snap out of bed, soaked in sweat, your heart hammering like a fire alarm. It is just as you feared.

You’ve been dreaming in anime again. And you have no idea what it could mean.

> Look outside just to make absolutely sure the world is not ending.

The sun is coming in through your window in bars of soft yellow. The only sound you can hear for miles is the wind skimming the hollows of your neighbors’ pipe homes. It’s a normal day in the salamander village, which you refer to as Salamander Village because the damned salamanders never bothered to give this village a name, you guess. Absolutely nothing of note has ever happened here in the entire history of the planet, which you would know, because you created it.

Beside your pillow, your phone is vibrating. Rose is calling. The screen of your phone reads 9:30 a.m. April 13, and also the number forty-six, which is how many text messages your friend left you while you were sleeping. A bit excessive, even for her.

> Answer the phone.

ROSE: Since when are you known to operate your telephone?

JOHN: since... i don’t know. has it really been that long since i called?

ROSE: I can’t remember the last time.

JOHN: neither can i. anyway, what’s up?

ROSE: First of all, happy birthday.

JOHN: oh, yeah. thanks.

JOHN: fuck, i forgot.

ROSE: Am I correct in presuming this April Thirteenth will be as uneventful as the last?

JOHN: yeah, i don’t want to do anything this year. i hope that’s ok.

ROSE: Of course it’s ok. It’s your birthday after all.

JOHN: rose...

ROSE: Yes?

You wander to the window and watch the salamanders go about their day. All over the neighborhood, the little dad-salamanders are putting on their little rumpled hats and picking up their little suitcases and kissing their little families goodbye for the day. You’ve always been confused about what, exactly, they contribute to the global economy. But it’s pretty cute how much they love playing at being suburban businessmen.

The silence over the phone is growing awkward. You’ve stalled long enough. You decide to just come out and say it.

JOHN: i’ve been dreaming in anime again lately.

JOHN: i have no idea what it could mean.

ROSE: I see.

JOHN: it’s horrible, every time.

JOHN: and i don’t mean because anime is bad or anything. it’s not that.

JOHN: whenever i have these dreams, everything’s breaking apart.

JOHN: millions of people are screaming and dying.

JOHN: i mean, dying permanently. not the kind of bullshit dying that we’ve been doing a lot over the years.

A couple yards over, a salamander blows an astounding spit bubble. Truly one for the books. Your eyes trace its meandering journey into the sky as you gather your thoughts.

JOHN: what do you think it all means?

ROSE: What do I think ‘what’ means?

JOHN: what do you think it means that i’ve been dreaming in anime?

ROSE: I don’t have the slightest idea what it means that you’ve been dreaming in anime, John.

ROSE: To be honest, I...

You wait for Rose to finish her thought. She doesn’t, which is troubling because you have never known Rose to leave a thought unfinished in over ten years of acquaintance. You suppose it’s possible it may have happened one of the times she died. You wouldn’t bet on it though.

JOHN: rose... are you ok?

ROSE: Not exactly.

JOHN: what’s wrong?

ROSE: I think my condition’s been getting worse lately.

JOHN: condition?

ROSE: It’s why my message probably sounded urgent.

JOHN: you left 46 messages.

ROSE: Yes. They were all urgent.

JOHN: oh.

ROSE: I don’t think I can wait much longer before telling you.

ROSE: I held out for as long as I could. I figured your birthday was as good a time as any to let you know.

JOHN: let me know what?

ROSE: It’s crept up on me, these last couple of years.

ROSE: Gradually enough to ignore as it was happening, but I can’t anymore.

ROSE: Lately the visions have been overwhelming.

JOHN: visions??

ROSE: John, I have terrible headaches these days. Talking on the phone doesn’t help at all.

ROSE: Would you mind flying to my apartment, so we can continue this in person?

JOHN: oh, yeah. you mean...

JOHN: now?

ROSE: Yes, now is the time.

ROSE: I’ve put it off long enough.

You move the phone away from your ear and assume an expression you haven’t practiced in years. It is the look of a man who actually has something to do. Holding the phone directly in front of your face, you speak into the receiver.

JOHN: ok, i’m on my way. bye, rose.

As you hang up the phone, a familiar feeling settles over you. A feeling of...standing? Standing, and being alone. In your bedroom. As a young man. On your birthday. You swear you’ve felt this feeling before. It’s almost like...

A young man stands alone in his bedroom. It just so happens that today, the 13th of April, is this young man’s birthday. Though it was twenty-three years ago when he was given life, and ten years ago when he was given a name, it feels like it is only today that he will begin to understand what all that means.

That young man is YOU, John Egbert.

What will you do?

> ==>
Advertisement