September 2nd 1868 Arrived in Cheyenne in the new Wyoming Territory early this morning on the new Union Pacific line. Has been three years since I rode the locomotive. Did not realize it would remind me so strongly of Atlanta. Spent the last day of the journey with the phantom smell of blood and iron in my nostrils, and the bile rising at the back of my throat, but it is over. God willing, I will never have to ride the train again. Cheyenne is new born and mewling like a babe. Immigrants from the east and across the seas teem here, filling the streets with a babel of tongues and the raucous laughter of drunken listless youths. The hound I purchased before leaving tugs at his leash with delight at the sights and sound. The plot of land is still two days ride across the border and to the Southwest, but true to his word, the man from the bank has hired a guide to take me there. Sent a last letter to my wife and boys with instructions to meet me here in the spring, and have purchased a wagon and the supplies for construction. The guide, a half Indian fellow, I'd wager by appearance, but civilized in tongue, has helped me hire two young men: a Irishman with a sullen chinless face, and a German, watery eyed and stinking of bourbon. Both despicable wretches, but they have agreed to work for a pittance, and both claim to have experience in homesteading. They may intend to kill me, seeing an easy mark in a naive settler, but I do not fear these drunken children. I've seen a generation of these boys spilled open, and I know what they are made of. September 8th 1868 Have crossed into the Free Territory of Colorado, after a day of the level prairie of warm wind of Wyoming, into the Front Range. This land is wild, in some... strange way, and like nothing I've ever seen. We are following a river through the shadow of two jagged peaks, and camp tonight just a few miles from the parcel of land. I requested remote, and by God, the bank man did not fail me. The Kraut and the Irishman grow demure and quiet without spirits, and I see no possibility of violence in them now, lest they suspect me of hoarding whisky. They will do fine quick labor, and return to Cheyenne to drink and fuck the profits. These are men of dust, and serve only this purpose. To think, good men like me fought and died to protect these jackals from the reach of Lincoln’s tyranny, God grind his bones. I will be free of that monster soon, and if it should spread it’s federal borders this far, then I will burn my new home to the ground and move west yet again. Sons of bitches will have to push me into the sea before I swear fealty. Found a skull just off the deer trail, when I went to make water; it was bleached white and divorced from jawbone and neck. I try not view this a portent. Tomorrow, we should reach the plot, and begin. September 9th 1868 The bank man has lied to me, the foul stuffed pig. The plot of land, clearly identified by compass and map, is not the idyllic grove his words painted, but a swamp. A sodden hollow filled with mud and grass, ringed with broken and dying pines. I would flay my guide alive if I thought his wretch of a employer might feel a sting. Am determined to homestead here, however. This may not be the land I desired, but it is mine, by God. The Irishman and the German fell trees for me, and I have found the highest place, where the earth is damp the least. I will tame this land. The hound does not like it here. He growls at the horizon and pads in small tight circles, looking always behind him. September 10th 1868 Guide has vanished in the night. He was to spend the next few days properly mapping the borders of my land, but he has fled. Worse still the Irishman and the Kraut have grown skittish at his departure, the German tells a tale of hearing screaming in the woods last night. But in morning light, the guide’s tent and belongings were packed away and gone. It shames me to admit, but my first night was filled with unease. There is something about this land, unlike any in the East. It seems to breathe and pulse around me, like it watches me with a cold intelligence. The trees sing softly in the breeze and in the smallest hours, when sleep had fled into the dark, I fancied I heard whispering voices in the breeze. I will share none of this with the laborers; they are weak and callow enough as it is. If superstition infects them, I will be left alone here while they flee.

When Conner arrived at the gas station, he exited the car with a speed that surprised even him. He took a few quick steps, almost at a run, before turning back towards the car. Under the garish sodium lights of the service station, the little blue sedan looked a sickly greenish gray. It looked squat and malign in its stillness. The little throbbing headache at the base of his skull seemed to diminish with every step and he began to catch his breath. He took the phone from his pocket and raised it high into the night sky, waving it from side to side like a signal flag. Nothing. The signal meter defied him by remaining empty. Not even a flashing roaming message. Conner scowled at the little phone and thrust it back into his pocket. He glanced around at the station, two solitary pumps and a closed convenience market. An isolated island of pale yellow light in the dark of the North Carolina forest, the silhouettes of the trees bit sharply into the starry night sky, surrounding him like a ring of teeth. The grating hum of electricity mingled with the crackling of insects from the woods beyond, drifting in the warm summer night air. Jutting from the side of the shuttered market was a scraped and listing pay phone, its metal stalk visibly bent from some long ago impact. Conner approached it, digging a quarter from his pocket, and gripping the scarred plastic handset. For a moment, nothing happened, and the sense of isolation deepened, like the ground being pulled out from under him, and the panic returned. A series of quick clicks bit into his ear and the dial tone chimed. His fingers felt numb as he dialed. Even at a few hours past midnight, Reynolds answered on the first ring. “Yes?” Reynolds' rolling baritone was silky, and unmarred by the late hour. “Who is this?” “S’me. Conner.” He was unable to keep the quaver out of his voice, and he had a sudden urge to look back towards the car, suddenly afraid that it might have moved, or left him there all together. “This isn’t the phone I gave you.” Reynolds liquid voice darkened, almost imperceptibly. “It’s a payphone. Ain’t got signal out here. Middle of fucking nowhere. Listen Ren, I-” “Is something the matter, Conner?” Conner bristled at the mild, calculated condescension in the older man’s tone, and inhaled slowly, measuring his next words with caution. “Well... Shit. I don’t rightly know, Ren, but I got a real bad feeling about this.” “Where are you?” “Service station. Just got off the freeway. Bout to head south through Natahala.” “And what is the matter, Conner?” “Like I said, there’s something fucked up about this one. Didn’t like the guy I picked the car up from, don’t like whatever it is that’s in the fucking trunk. I know this sounds fucking stupid, but it’s giving me a headache. I feel like I can smell it, but I know I can’t. Something just feels rotten about it. I mean rotten, rotten.” There was a long silence on the other end, and Conner knew that Reynolds was unmoved. Even as Conner said the words, he knew how stupid it sounded. “Conner,” the old man said at last, “We’ve worked together for a long time. I like you. But you’ve never given a shit about what you deliver. What’s the strangest thing I’ve had you carry?” “The heart.” Conner answers without hesitation, seeing the white styrofoam cooler steaming with ice, strapped in the front seat like a babies car seat. “Yes. You also once delivered several pounds of heroin. Did you know that at the time?” “Not ‘till after the fact.” “Because it’s better that way, isn’t it, Conner.” Reynolds paused, the smooth rhythms of his voice already calming the younger man. “It’s better if you don’t know. The man you picked the car up, in his own way, is as trustworthy and reliable as you are. I understand why you might bristle at him, given his unfortunate looking visage, but he is like you. A trusted contractor, and discrete. I employ you both, for your discretion. Do you understand Conner?” “Yessir.” “Good. I think you understand why I’m offering so much more for this delivery, and why it has to be late at night, and on the backroads. Our client this time has specific instructions, and we’re not getting paid to wonder why. We’re not getting paid to pry.” “I understand.” It galled Conner, how stupid he’d sounded, how stupid he’d been, panicking, and calling Reynolds late in the night. “I know you do. And I know this one is odd, son. I do. I hope you believe me when I say that it makes me as uncomfortable as it makes you. I’d do it myself, but no one is as good as you. I’m smart enough to know when to trust the best.” “Thank you, Ren.” “No, Conner, thank you. Now, get back on the road. When you drop off the car, the client will have his own men to take care of the package. And then you can sleep, and you won’t have to work for a year. All for one nights drive.” “Okay. I gotcha.” “Conner. I trust you wouldn’t, and forgive me if this is insulting, but, don’t open the trunk okay? It wouldn’t help, the package is locked up anyway. And it needs to stay locked because the client wants it locked.” “Of course, Ren. Look I’m awful sorry for calling, I guess I just got spooked something fierce.” “Not at all. That’s what I’m here for. Now, get on the road Conner. And call me when it’s done.” Reynolds hung up before Conner could reply, and he returned the handset to the cradle. Keys in hand, Conner returned to the car, driving himself forward even as his newfound confidence waned as he approached. The phantom odor, more like a memory of a scent than an actual smell returned, something sweet and corrupt. As he turned the key to start the engine, the gentle pain in the back of his head returned, rising slowly. He gritted his teeth, and pulled out of the service station. The Natahala national forest closed around the two lane road, and the darkness swallowed the service station behind him. Conner tried to focus on the destination, the route laid out, the starry sky outside. Anything but the trunk. It worked, for a few minutes.

I know this road better than I know myself. I know each of Interstate 85’s 250 odd miles; I know that it takes me an average of 3 hours and 26 minutes to drive west, from Charlotte to Atlanta, and an average of 3 hours and 29 minutes to make the same trip going eastward. I know the price of gas at a dozen stands, and the closing hours of each fast food shack and greasy diner. I know the curves of each low hill and I know each stand of pine and oak trees. I know the stretching dark of the long winter nights and the wet heat of the summer breeze. I know these things well because they are the totality of my existence now. I know the names of each exit, westward and east. Batesville, Poplar Springs, Spartanburg. They tick through my head as I pass, but the Silver Creek Road exit is never among them. In three years of this endless loop, it has never appeared again. If I ever begin to doubt that it will, then I have nothing left. The Silver Creek Road exit doesn’t exist on any map, or at least, it no longer does. It may have once, but like the road itself, it has been razed from the earth and from all memory and record. At the beginning, I spent long anxious days poring over old surveying maps and neighborhood planning documents, searching in vain for any sign of the road, or the exit I know I had taken. When there was nothing left in the libraries and city halls to comb through, no meek county official left to interrogate, wide-eyed and frothing, then I began the drive. I’ve been through two cars, and have burned through my savings and now survive off a stack of rapidly vanishing credit cards. I have no address to receive bills, and no intention of paying, and have been filling my trunk with small plastic gallon jugs of gas, while the cards are still accepted. When this filthy and battered Oldsmobile gives up the ghost at last, I suppose I will have to learn to hitchhike. I first took the Silver Creek Road exit three summers ago, on that last night that I was with Bobbie. I have in my head just a few frozen frames of that ride left, her black curls bouncing like springs in the evening breeze, her gapped toothed and freckled smile, and the slow summer crossing into night. We’d made that drive together a dozen times, between our apartment in Atlanta and her brother in Charlotte. There was nothing remarkable that night. We simply ran low on gas and took the first exit we came across. I remember vividly passing beneath the green and sparkling white letters of the exit sign, and onto the sharp curve of the road. The street turned perpendicular from the light and noise of the highway into inky darkness of the pine trees. Nothing remarkable to separate it from a hundred other country roads, but as the lights of the car penetrated the darkness, a vague and trembling unease passed through me. The tall rustling pines seemed black even under the blue white of the headlamps, and the road began to rapidly degrade, becoming pocked and uneven just a few dozen yards in. All the roar and glare from the highway seemed swallowed up behind us, and there were no lights ahead of us for as far as we could see. My insides felt tight and knotted, and I turned to Bobbie. She had her skinny legs tucked to her chest and looked at me, quizzically, one eyebrow raised, with a small crooked smile. Her small bravery seemed to dissipate the chill that had been steadily rising in me. I looked forward to the road, I felt a sudden sharp pressure on my chest. Stretching out in front of the wan light of the headlamps, the road ended. There was a small field of shattered asphalt slabs, and then the forest swallowed up every trace under a blanket of rotting pine needles. Something twinkled brightly between the trees, and I strained to pick it out of the darkness. It was the smooth chrome of a bumper, attached to a pitted and rusting car, completely enclosed by the towering pines. A wave of panic and disorientation crawled down my scalp and my knuckles went white on the wheel. Bobbie placed her hand on my shoulder and gently squeezed once. “Cal,” she said, firm and evenly, “we need to turn around now, honey.”

Istanbul, Turkey August 09:12:09 AM I am at a small outdoor cafe just a few hundred yards from the teeming throng of a morning market, just in sight of the Bosporus. I love this city, and all its thick and violent contradictions. The rising heat of the day is already causing the linen of my suit to cling to my legs. I awoke last night with a change of heart; you are owed an explanation, and even a warning. If I do as I have planned, I and my actions will be vilified, and misunderstood. Please believe me, I am doing this for all the right reasons. You may not see it now, but in ten or twenty years, you will see a new world born. That is worth any sacrifice. I have done my work here in Turkey, the first of many great cities to see, and I board a plane tomorrow. Don’t bother looking for me here. Samarkand, Uzbekistan September 05:04:20 AM I am in one of the oldest settlements of mankind, and her majesty overwhelms me, just as her descent saddens me. Once the jewel of Alexander’s conquest, and the capital of Tamarlane’s empire, she has fallen into disrepair and goes fallow with neglect. I must confess knowing this already, but forgive my sense of romanticism; I did want to see this place, once. I have no work to do here; once the junction of trade lanes between East and West, Samarkand has become isolated and useless to me. But the ghosts of her history and past bring me strength and resolve. The case that I carry with me is heavy in my hand, it is my burden, but with each stop, that burden lessens. I have allowed myself this one folly, leaving the web for a moment, but I will not linger long. Munich, Germany September 08:05:18 AM The city still sleeps late into the morning on Saturday, and in many places the streets are still empty. There is a grand majesty of Munich’s remaining prewar buildings, and I remarked on its beauty to my local driver. “It was a lot nicer before the British bombed us,” he said without a hint of irony. He was at least two generations removed from the war, and did not seem, or want, to understand when I told him that London had the same problem. Most of humanity is horrified by the specter of the war, of what happened here. They wonder how man could be so inhumane. These people know nothing of the world, or of nature, red in tooth and claw. These are the people that artificially elevate humanity above the animal kingdom, people that maintain an ephemeral barrier between our particular primate sub-grouping, and the rest of life on Earth. I never understood these people. I deposited one more device downtown, in a massive state-of-the-art theater complex. I hid it carefully, and set the little slaved atomic clock to my own. My flight departs in a few hours, and if you are following me, you will have no luck in Germany. London, England October 05:09:19 AM London shows her war wounds with flat gray office towers, and plain, blocky apartments, yet her age and history bleed through the scars as I stroll down the Thames, scarcely aware of the brackish odor of the oily waters. The trash and detritus in the river don’t sadden me, the way I imagine it would for you. You draw some artificial line between a hamburger wrapper and the fallen leaves of a tree that I will never understand. You distinguish between nature and humanity in a way that puzzles me. We are nature, our cities, our roads, and our orbital satellites are no different than a termite colony, or a birds nest, except perhaps in scale. There is nothing unique about humanity. I know that I am all but alone in this conceit, but history and nature herself will prove me right. The devices I planted here are in the Underground; silently waiting for the day to come when I will activate them, and they will open their ceramic filters and gently release their payload into the air. I burned the last decade of my life like a candle to forge the perfect weapon, hardened against the air, hearty and undeniably alive, burning with the will to survive. I have chosen the stations because the first letters of each station spell my name. Consider it an artist’s signature. I wouldn’t tell you this if I wasn’t sure this would be useless information, and I doubt you have even uncovered who I am. As always, I will be gone before you arrive.

Sometime during the third consecutive night spent huddled over the toilet, insides heaving and shuddering as I vomit forth seemingly everything I’d ever eaten, I realize what’s happening: He’s trying to poison me. It’s all so elegant, so perfect, and so clear, that I almost laugh, but another barrage of retching forces me into silence The next morning I throw everything in the kitchen away, wrapping it three times in black plastic and burying it deep in the apartments communal trash cans, to prevent an unfortunate transient from crossfire of His wrath. I am out the door of the complex and halfway to the corner store when I realize: He knows, must know, where I would shop. I pick a direction and walk, enjoying the chill winter air that soothes the ragged shreds of my inside. I turn at random intervals, following an improbable path out of my familiar neighborhood, until I find a small shop with an unfamiliar name. Once inside, I hurriedly fill a small plastic basket; brands that I never have eaten, strange tins of ethnic ingredients I can’t recognize, foods that I’d never thought of buying. Soy milk. Tofu. I can feel my stomach reborn in anticipation of an untainted meal. I prepare the meal in a fog of nervous anticipation, trying to focus on savoring the aromas and the grease spitting sounds of the frying pan. It tastes clean, but then, so has every other meal before this. I try to tell myself that the mounting pain inside me is simple fear and anxiety, but before the stroke of midnight, I am again crouched in the dingy bathroom, surrendering the days work into the porcelain mouth of the sewer. The next day, I pack up the remaining food and dispose of it with the same care. I eat out that day, layering debt onto the last of my credit cards at restaurants on the opposite side of town. He is more clever than I could ever imagined, and I am awash in despair as I spend another sleepless night gagging and sobbing on the tile floor. I imagine the Algorithm, the perfect predictive models at His disposal, brilliantly charting my every move across the city; every time I thought I’d outwitted Him, I was willingly walking into his web.

If you are reading this, then I am dead, and you are standing aboard a derelict Cyclone class patrol ship, the USS Mistral, with her engines dead and her electrical systems nonfunctional. I am, was, the XO of this vessel, Lieutenant Commander Ryan Simmons. Please read this carefully. If you are an officer or enlisted man in the United States Navy, this is an order: Scuttle this vessel, immediately. Do not finish this letter. Get off the Mistral at once, and send her down. Consider this a quarantine scenario; all hands are likely dead. God help you if they are not. We are eight days out of Kirkwall, tracking an intermittent and scrambled distress call from what appeared to be a Icelandic fishing vessel, the Magnusdottir, deep in the no-fishing zone of the North Sea. We found the vessel, or rather, we found a mile wide streak of oil and fragments, the largest of them still burning. The night before, the enlisted man on watch had reported seeing a flash of light on the horizon. The Magnusdottir’s crew was no where to be found, except for one lone fisherman, unburned and floating at the far end of the debris field. He had been shot in the forehead with a small caliber revolver. When we fished his pale blue corpse from the frigid water, he was still clutching a fishing knife in one clamped hand. What we were able to piece together from the fragmented and confounding evidence was that for reasons unknown, the crew had been in conflict, resulting in the murder of the of at least one sailor, and the eventual sabotage and destruction of the ship. Visibility was only a few hundred feet as we spent the next day drifting silently among the debris, in hopes of finding a survivor. The crew was already visibly shaken by the discovery; the grim dread of the fog, and lone smoldering pieces of the Magnusdottir that collided with our hull unsettled even the most seasoned of us. We had expected an easy cruise, and the simple retrieval of a dozen thankful Icelandic fisherman. What we got, at first, was a silent and oil-slick coated sea, a single corpse, and more than a few nagging questions. The Mistral had just been serviced, after an extended tour with the Atlantic Fleet in Bahrain before her transfer to the North Sea. She was in good running order, so I can only assume that the initial mechanical failure was an act of sabotage, or of some external force. It happened the first night, when our final sweep had been completed, and we returned to the site of the Magnusdottir’s first transmission.

The last storm was already on the horizon when I woke that Sunday morning. It hung in the south, a solid black wall of dust, churning and seemingly motionless. I’d every intention of sleeping late into the morning, as had been my Sunday custom since Adele and the girls had left, but the distant rumbling and crackle of lightning drug me from the bed just after sunrise. I shuffled drowsily around the farm in the early morning, lashing the doors of the barn, rounding up the two stubborn hogs, and shuttering the windows; but soon I found myself rooted in place, captivated by the writhing shape in the sky. It stretched impossibly wide across the open sky, rolling across the border from Nebraska. The air had a dry, electric chill, and already the sickly yellow wheat swayed in anticipation. I was in a trance, eyes locked on the distance when I saw a small light dust plume to the west, picked out in stark contrast with black beyond. The horse and rider at the base of the little dust devil approached the farm at a sharp trot, and my dust bleary eyes registered the silhouette. Carl Jordan had owned the farm next to mine for as along my family has been in the Dakotas, I grew up with his great booming laughter warming our home nearly every night. His usual broad, yellowing smile was absent beneath recently trimmed mustache and broad rimmed black hat; his dark suit was blotted with fine layer of grit that he brushed absently at. “Eddie.” His voice was tired and small as he looked down at me. “No church today?” I hadn’t been in months and he’d once admitted to envying me. I just didn’t see the need any longer, and I’ve relished the extra hours. I ignored the question. “What’s troubling you, Carl? Mattie all right?” I asked. He turned towards the south, to the storm and sucked loudly on his lower lip. After a few moments of thought he sighed deeply, with a phlegmy rumble. “The Hattersons are dead. All of them, ‘cept Saul.” He said evenly, not returning his gaze to mine. I drank this in for a moment, feeling the insides my sinuses beginning to burn in the cold and arid breeze. I briefly dwelt upon the image of the youngest Hatterson, a tow headed toddler with the dim looking smile I’d seen at the general store with Saul and Molly a few days prior.

I awake, as always, to the click and whir of a thousand hidden cameras, and the rising glow of the ambient lights. Over the next 30 minutes, the curtains on my bedroom will slowly part, gliding on mechanized tracks, and the yellow sunlight of dawn will stream into the wide circular room. Like all mornings, I entertain for the briefest moments the thought of hurling myself at the windows and plunging the half mile to the ground. I hold on to the little fantasy of wind and sky and falling for as long as it will remain, dreaming of those magnificent moments of freedom and choice. Even if I were not a coward, there are a thousand unseen barriers and safe guards. I can not see them, but several parents are doubtlessly just outside the door, and would be between me and the window before I could leave the bed. I allow the dream of freedom to evaporate for another morning. The woman next to me, I can not recall her name, shifts and rolls to embrace me. I wrap my arms around her and return the affection, but there is no love in it. She is young and soft, skin still stretched taut over her athletic and perfect frame. I know that in my youth I would have been buzzing with anticipation and lust simply seeing her, but now I can only take solace in the momentary ghost of affection and emotion. Her skin is warm, and her fine and downy body hair is smoother than the silk of the sheets. I draw an abstract of pleasure from this closeness, feeling something akin to happiness when our bellies synchronize in breathing, pressed close as they rise and fall in an alternating rhythm. Her breath is hot and damp on my chin and neck. It only takes me a few moments to tire of her, and I swung my legs to the edge of the bed. The black marble of the walls and floor of my bedroom are heated to my exact preference, so I walk, naked, into the large bathroom. Like every morning, I try not to focus on the near-silent buzzing of small servos and motors as each of the cameras pivots to keep me in view at all time. They must be completely autonomous, but it amuses me to think of a thousand uniformed parents tediously tracking my every move, 16 hours a day. They would be madder than I by now.

I never saw the ocean till I was nineteen, and if I ever see it again it will be too goddamn soon. I was a child, coming out of the train, fresh from Amarillo, into San Diego and all her glory. The sight of it, all that water and the blind crushing power of the surf, filled me with dread. I'd seen water before, lakes, plenty big, but that was nothing like this. I don't think I can describe what it was like that first time, and further more, I'm not sure I care too. You can imagine the state I was in when a few weeks later they gave me a rifle and put me on a boat. When I stopped vomiting up everything that I ate, I decided that I might not kill myself after all. Not being able to see the land, and that ceaseless chaotic, rocking of the waves; I remember thinking that the war had to be a step up from this. Kids can be so fucking stupid. I had such a giddy sense of glee when I saw the island, and it's solid banks. They transferred us to a smaller boat in the middle of the night, just our undersized company with our rucksacks and rifles and not a word. We just took a ride right into it, just because they asked us to. The lieutenants herded us into our platoons on the decks and briefed us: the island had been lost. That was exactly how he put it. Somehow in the grand plan for the Pacific, this one tiny speck of earth, only recently discovered and unmapped, had gotten lost in the shuffle; a singularly perfect clerical error was all it took. It was extremely unlikely, he stressed, that the Japanese had gotten a hold of it, being so far east and south of their current borders, but a recent fly over reported what looked like an airfield in the central plateau. We hit the beach in the middle of the night. I'd heard talk of landings before, and I'm not ashamed to tell, I was scared shitless. I don't know quite what I expected, but it wasn't we got, that thick, heavy silence. Behind the lapping of the waves and the wind in the trees, there was... nothing, no birds, no insects. Just deathly stillness.

There was a time when I believed running might help; if I could pack up my few belongings and burn the rest under cover of darkness and flee, I could start over somewhere new. But in this bleak frostbitten place, I admit to myself, truly, that I cannot outrun him, that I can never escape him. And should I slip into the warm embrace of doubt after an unnaturally long stretch of peaceful, empty days, he will be only too happy to remind me of this. There's almost nothing left he can take from me. The days before him are fading like an aged photograph now, a hazy yellow dream of stability and happiness with a long future of happy possibilities stretched ahead. Today, I am huddled in the eaves of a collapsing barn in the Yukon Territory, desperately trying to start a fire with sodden and rotting hay. The more I burn now, the less I have to use as a blanket. It is a delicate balance that I have not quite mastered. I hitchhiked across the border two months ago, and have been making my way north steadily. Going any other direction than north is no longer an option. I do not know what I will do when I reach the Artic Ocean. Perhaps continue across the sea ice, if it has not thinned to the point of breaking. What I cannot do, ever, is return to my life, to Seattle. I can never see my son again.

It seems absurd to think that just less than a year ago, my life was unfractured, whole. The pieces of my life were trite and predictable. I was an insomniac, and used to lie awake staring at the ceiling, chewing over my doubts and secret fears: that I may not be able to keep up house payments, that I may not love my wife any longer, that I would repeat my father's failures with my son. These phantoms of doubt and fear filled my bleeding stomach with ragged holes that I recall now with almost fond nostalgia. How easy it all was, then.