the day we ran out of time, we threw every single one of our books from their dusty places to the floor, poured all of our extra rations of tears upon them like gasoline, and set fire to them. we stood in a circle and held hands, reciting the words recorded inside them all over the sounds of burning, watching as the words bounced around our empty walls. we painted over the graphite lines on the doorway marking years of growth and ran, out the door, down the hot black street and away from the driveways where we used to sit about and drink cheap powdered drinks, lukewarm and full of ants, disgusting and thoroughly addicting, gallons and gallons of sticky pink sweetness. looking back, i saw our memories rising up to fill the street until the gutters couldn’t hold it in, and everyone left behind wordlessly drowned as the houses flooded with lemonade and blood.
when we crossed the boundary lines between worlds, we sat in the piles of tumbleweed and rocks laid out along the sides of the winding dirt road, and let our veins cry one last time, blue droplets running down our skin, flowing from final scrapes and gaping wounds. we bled until it struck everyone as hysterical, and laughed the last of the pain away. then we kicked off our shoes and stood up, stomping our feet and clapping as we began to run, each of my feet trying to race the other. as usual, the way out was over the mountain, so we flew over cacti and lizards and the bones of other animals who got caught in between, and went up up up and over the horizon.
did you know that up there, the higher you get, the less you have to breathe and the less your heart has to beat?
that was the best part, the not breathing.
we met her once we got up a ways, and even though i’d never seen her before, i know she’d never looked better. i always thought i would cry at that moment, but once you’re up that high your eyes don’t want to do that anymore. instead we did the next best thing and made up one last crazy story, each of us shouting out a different word at the same time until we ended up with a song we’d all tried to sing before but could never quite get right. at the very top of the mountain, she began to lead us straight outward instead of down, and we looked down one last time on the piles and piles of decay. i slung my guitar over one shoulder with one hand and grabbed on to the nearest lovely stranger with the other, and we both smiled as we started the victory march out.
if you ever went back to the street we left, you would find only sticky puddles swarming with insects and vermin, cockroaches nestled peacefully against doorways. if you opened the fourth door, you would find an empty house filled with the scent of rotting fruit and bones, and a window looking out onto a backyard full of the skeletons of birds perched on the empty feeder.
if you make your way upstairs to the third bedroom and open the door, there is a smell of something else, a smell of paint that was once fresh, and burning pine trees seemingly out of place in a house in a desert. if you listen closely, you can still hear the sound of all the words they fed us echoing in circles.
if you listen closely, you can hear all that is left of the lives we used to live. you can hear an echo of the promises you used to laugh at us for believing. you can hear the only words that came true, words you had nothing to do with. your eyes may fill with tears or anger or pain. but it is too late.
if you ever come back, there will only be ashes and echoes and blood.