Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Debbie Urbanski’s first novel, What Comes after the End, will be published in 2022. Lately she has been spending a lot of time identifying the flora and fauna of her backyard in Syracuse, New York.
I would like to give you a metaphor that describes what it’s like to potentially pass on to one’s children a pathogenic variant that will possibly go on to kill them, but everything I am coming up with is histrionic.
Everyone believes the world’s governments worked together to release the sterilization virus called only Z. Isn’t it likely the government sterilized the seeds as well? Who wants this disaster to drag out for decades?
“What are you going to do with it?” Nan whispers. “Do with what?” asks the boy who stole the vial. “I saw you,” Nan says. “I’m going to swallow it,” he says. His eyes are wide and a little disturbing. “Why?” Nan asks. “I want a horse inside of me,” he says.
Early on I thought about wiping your memory. I might as well admit this to you now. I thought maybe if you stopped believing you were something else on the inside, then you wouldn’t be sad anymore. And you wouldn’t change. This was before your body really began to transform.
The first portal that appeared in town belonged to Mr. Hogan. It showed up in one of his bathrooms above the sink, blocking a good deal of his vanity mirror and causing several shaving accidents. I don’t know why the portal appeared to him. It’s not like he was the type to attract otherworldly things.
My mother is a wood thrush, and my father is a great snipe. They aren’t my parents in this utopia. They’re birds who met once, then drifted apart, as birds do, so they could lead their own lives and become who they were meant to be. They have no children, bird or otherwise, tugging them in a different, boring direction.
The quad of Abbot Academy overlooked a scenic pond, surrounded by red oaks and white pines, where one might imagine the boys pensively rowing at dawn across the misty waters. On the other side were a dozen charming, weathered buildings — the classrooms and dorms, which were more like houses. No one even called them dorms. They used the word home, as in “Do you want to go home after lunch?” A portion of a barn could be seen in the near distance, as well as a corral for the horses, since the type of preadolescent boys who attended Abbot were thought to thrive if given the opportunity to care for large mammals.
We went to sleep, and in the morning they were here. We saw them on our screens as they emerged from a grove of trees a hundred miles west of us. Their ship had crashed. It was made of a rose-gold metal and looked like a claw with a broken tip. Within hours the government had moved these beings — the “blues,” we eventually came to call them — to a holding station outside the nearest city. There we could watch them whenever we wanted, because of the cameras in each room.
The second portal to Mere had been two feet high and three feet across. Amber knew this because later she returned to that exact spot beside the woods and measured where the portal had been using her wooden school ruler. She did not know the size of the first portal because she had been much younger then — just six; she was seventeen now — and so she had overlooked many important details.
Please don’t interpret this record as an indication that I lack modesty. Rather I wish to provide documentation that my life was holy, that I deserve to be canonized, and that my grave must become a shrine where the devout will gather with wheelchairs and crutches to hold candlelight vigils, chant in fourteen different languages, and pray for a disembodied me, in full glory and shining robes, to come and heal their hearts. Because after abandoning my body, this earthly inconvenience, I will grow in reputation as the patron saint of heartache.