A short excerpt from the novel I’ve written, The Burning Garden. Let me know what you think.
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There was a long line at the bodega’s checkout counter. Outside, it began to drizzle. The rain arrived sooner than I expected.
The woman two spots ahead struggled at the register with her card. I think it was declined. I wasn’t upset. I was sleepy, a small bit drowsy. My eyes were fixated on the television behind the Yemeni clerk’s head. A newsreel about the airstrike on Syria showed infrared footage of a few bombs dropped on tiny rectangles. They were airplane hangars, if we’re to trust the talking heads and unnamed analysts telling us so.
The clips of bombs, troops marching, and vehicle convoys played one after another. The collage became the visual spirit of war itself. I found myself entranced by the violence.
Any five-second footage recorded in the Middle East within the last fifteen years resembles the perpetual strife plaguing the region where tears and rivers alike have dried away, leaving behind a jagged foundation of rubble where only predation itself can survive in the mad dance. The actors have different names: Al Baghdadi. Morsi. Bin Laden. Yet the performance remains the same, the lines and roles unchanged, the score played by the same tired strings-and-woodwind section that calls the orchestral pit home.
Barbarism at last. All of history has but one page. Our grandparents’ Europe has seen the tracers of Hell streaking across an ancient sky while the fires scorched her soil and the smoke disemboweled the spirit of her children. Mao’s China ate its own. The Bear was Red with the blood and innards of anyone trampled underneath his claws. Is the world dying? Perhaps it is, in the same way an infant crawls towards inevitable death upon departing from the womb. In life, death approaches, but there was once a time when we were careful not to drink from the mythical river Lethe, a stagnant stream which induces forgetfulness and delirium. Long, almost boastful sips of the water we now take, confident that the plastic wealth which fortifies our free-range prisons will impart on us eternal life. Spirit is left to languish as immortality is pursued through the hoarding of trinkets and distractions; we inadvertently furnish our own tombs with earthly goods decades before our passing. Are we already dead? If the question must be asked, the unheard answer is a resounding ‘yes’. What is dead was once alive. The question, then, becomes not an inquiry if the world is dying, but how — why — it’s passing echoes through our time.
Yes — what is alive will one day die. Shrapnel doesn’t tear through the guts of pedestrians pacing the avenues. The roar of gunshots rips not through their eardrums. One day, war may very well swallow this city, but as I look up and down the ever-busy Manhattan streets, I don’t see faces twisted in pain or fear. In fact, I don’t see much of anything at all. Tabulae rasa, blank slates onto which their podcasts and professors and crap-artists will hungrily write what once was written on them, with maybe a phrase or two changed for the appearance of originality, not for the exploration of real substance begging to be discovered. This isn’t life. This is wanton God-playing, invoking social mutations “just to see what happens” and letting the product march in victory down Times Square in the name of celebrating the resulting incongruities of spirit and cohesion as “diversity.”
Once upon a time, our world wasn’t an experiment. Life ceases in experimentation.
Our world is dead, for once upon a time, it was alive.
The trance was broken. The two people ahead of me had already left the store, and the cashier stood there with impatient confusion. I paid for my lunch and walked back to the apartment.