Re:Lacks

Hey, what do you think free will is? People these days all have come to believe that it is real, but rarely can they explain why. As materialistic as people might have become, they still believe in something as metaphysical as a soul, and for whatever reason, this undefinable entity is what houses the engine of free will, the mechanics left unexplored. My cursory glances at brain science seems to suggest that our decision making is dictated by multitudinous processes too complex for ourselves to understand, and thus we have packaged it all into a black box we call free will.

Do you think that when we die, we just disappear? Like sleep without dreaming forever?

Why are we conscious? Is consciousness just an unintended side-effect of the most advanced data processing algorithms that chemistry and biology could offer?

I wonder about these kinds of things all the time, and I wonder whether there’s anything that can answer these questions, because no matter who I ask, no matter how many, everyone has a different answer.

How can this be? Some other questions I think about. How can so many thinking brains experiencing so many different kinds of lifestyles disagree on these horribly fundamental questions? Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a little different from everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of myself as some kind of stand-out super star of anything. I’m average to an exceptional degree, but no one else seemed to think so. A lot of the children around me at school somehow heard a rumor from somewhere that I did not have a father. Not just within at home, but biologically, because I am a perfect genetic clone of my mother.

The adults treated me with care like a porcelain doll, while the other children treated me with child-like fascination, which if you know anything about children, involved a lot of poking and provoking. Ever see a little boy before an ant hill? Wanton, curious destruction is always involved.

Some of them genuinely believed I had super powers, which I played up so that they might leave me alone. I warned them that if they messed with me, I would use my psychic powers to turn them inside out. This seemed to dissuade the more imaginative ones, but the disbelievers would call my bluff, eventually breaking down the lie. So many afternoons spent crying home to my mother, who would stroke my head and offer honey tea to calm me down.

Despite the campaign of terror inflicted on me, I found that the psychology of a human being is resilient. I kept living life, growing numb and accepting that this is simply who I was. Over time, the kids grew bored of teasing me as well, eventually moving on to target others, almost at random. Honestly, I could see no pattern in it.

There was one little girl in elementary school, when I was already an adult, whom I witnessed being pushed around. For reasons beyond my understanding at the time, I stood up for her against these tiny schoolyard bullies. “I heard of her! She’s the clone!” they shouted when they saw me, referencing some obscure sci-fi movie right afterwards with their poses. “Yeah, leave her alone, or my clone army will come for you.” That gave them a good laugh, and they turned to leave, uncommitted to harassing an adult it seemed. It didn’t take much at all. I asked her what her name was and why they were bullying her. Insensitive, maybe, but I didn’t think about it at the time. She quietly replied that her name was Vanesa, and that she wasn’t a real person.

I pressed, asking why she was saying that, and she said that she was made-up. Artificial. That she didn’t have a mommy or a daddy. It turned out that she was indeed an orphan, taken in by foster parents. A designer baby that did not turn out how her parents wanted, and thus, abandoned. My heart broke for her, and I swore to come back to her home with a gift when I visit.

That night, when I told my mother about the bizarre occurrence, she smirked and smugly added that I was most certainly her daughter for being bold enough to stand up to a bunch of children. Well, that was a given since we look almost identical, anyway, but I asked her what she meant. I never appreciated her brand of sarcasm.

“I never told you, did I? Maybe it’s about time.”

“You can’t just start a conversation like that, momma.”

“You’re right, let me ask you something else then. Do you know where you come from?”

“From you. I’m an exact replica of you, but different. Like an identical twin.” I gave her the side-eye. Usually she found it funny.

“Exactly, and do you know where I come from?”

“From… Roanoke?”

She laughed, “Yeah, originally, we are all from Virginia. I’m a clone of my mother, too, except I never got to meet her.”

I blinked in confusion, “What?” It was all I could muster.

“Yes, she had passed away in 1951, but some big-head scientist decided to bring her back to life in the form of me, and in the form of you from me.”

“I thought it was illegal to clone someone dead.”

“Oh, it most certainly was, and I was national news for a long time. Your momma was famous, you know. You’re not the only one. Except, in some ways, it’s more fair to say that I’m your older sister.”

“What are you saying?”

“Well, it’s been on my mind lately, and you’re already in college so it’s about time you know the truth. I’m getting on in years so I want you to hear it from me before anything happens.”

“Momma! You’re only fourty!” It was true though. She was aging pretty rapidly, which is a side effect of some of the older clones.

“Thank you, darling. I shielded you from the truth for as long as I could. I really wanted you to have a normal upbringing, the kind I couldn’t ever have. Sometimes I was even jealous of how blissfully ignorant you were.”

“That isn’t why you hit me, right?”

“No, that was discipline. That’s because I love you. And I’m saying this because I love you. The truth is that we were human experiments. The government granted me and you human rights only after the UN became involved, but now all of that might be changing again. Originally, we were cloned to produce certain cells, but the process resulted in viable fetuses. When that happened and the lead scientists reported it, the details were leaked to the press, which then exploded into another huge scandal.” She took a sip of her honey tea. Her favorite and my favorite drink in the whole wide world. She seemed as serene as someone recalling a nostalgic picnic.

But I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. Not a single snarky remark came to mind.

My mother continued, “I’ll cut to the chase. Darling, I have cancer. It’s only a matter of time before they come to take me back. They want to examine me.”

I sighed, “Oh, good. No one dies of cancer nowadays, momma. I’m sure they’ll want to take care of you. You’re a celebrity, right?”

“No, no. I said they want to examine me, not treat me. They want the cancer to go as far as it will go before it kills me, and then they’ll extract it and study it. Isn’t it gruesome?” she added with a snarl.

“That’s… that’s illeg-“ I barely stuttered the words before she interrupted.

“They write the laws, darling. The people in charge are different from the ones that liberated you and me twenty years ago. Hey, at least they had the good will to warn me that they’ll be coming for me once I’m ready. That’s more than I expected.”

“I’ll go to the media! I’ll go to social media! I’ll find a lawyer! What kind of… why would they? That makes zero sense!” I was panicking so rapidly I was surprising even myself. I could sense the clamminess of sweat on my palms, now gripped into fists.

“They said they would give you everything you need once I’m gone. They don’t need you if they have me, you know? You and I are the same, so you’re at risk of having cancer, too, but you never have to go through that pain if I do. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“I… I don’t…” Tears welled up in my eyes because I knew exactly what she was saying. I was too young and apathetic to realize my mother’s horror during election night seven years ago. I always thought things like that were a world divorced from my own. It’s all I could think about in that moment. The ghostly expression of death itself worn on my mother’s face that night in contrast to the angelic visage of peace worn on my mother’s face now.

“You’ll be alright, darling. And so will I. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“They can pick someone else, can’t they?”

“It would have to be you.”

“I’ll do it then!”

“Oh, darling…”

“How come I don’t get a choice in all of this, huh?! You decided this all on your own!”

She then said the words I might never forget. “Can’t you let your mother be selfish for once in her life?”

They shut me up real quick, and I cried and I cried into her arms as she stroked my head, whispering that it would all be okay. Whenever she spoke, it almost sounded like I was talking to myself, which made that moment feel all the more surreal. It would all be okay, I tried to convince myself.

My mother passed away in a government black site facility. I do not know the details of her death. I do not know where she died. I have tried to find out more but have been met with no leads or clues, and I was forced to give up by court order.

Would I have done the same thing in her shoes? Despite it all, yeah, I would have. It makes me wonder how much of my own thoughts and desires are determined by “free will” and how much of it is determined by my genetics. Will I see her in heaven? Will we be the same person? Or different, but pretty darn similar? So many questions still run through my head after all this time.

I was given life in order for others to benefit from my sacrifice. Unlike most, there actually was a reason why I was born, but I have absolutely no desire to fulfill it. What then do I choose to dedicate my life to? Is it justice for my mother? That was a choice she made, too. This might be a twisted conclusion, but I can’t take that away from her. Maybe it’s to live a life that our original could not live, with opportunities she never had?

So many questions, and none of them can be answered scientifically. As badly as I want to know the answers, I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble sometimes, you know?

Snow Numb

There are echoes of snow-crunching boots

On these tracks I have tread in the past,

With a new slice of ice underneath

That has deepened a fear of my mass.

 

As my tremorous knees seek relief,

Through the fog I perceive solid ground,

But the crackings strike chills in my ears

As the stinging of frost bite my crown.

 

Yet the sight of the driftings above

Which are pregnant with blanketing snow

Are the markers of time marching on

Never pausing or ceasing to flow.

 

‘Though my feet, which are frozen in fear,

Are unwilling to move like the skies,

I shall do as the heavenlies do

And awaken this sleeper of mine.

 

 

Coil

“So it’s something like a soul?” the boy in uniform swung his legs in the air as he sat perched atop a staircase hand-railing. The breeze from the passing cars did nothing to sway his center of balance.

“Yeah, I guess. You can’t see it with your eyes. Other people can’t interact with it. But when it moves, it can do some crazy things. I’m holding it in my palm right now, but you probably just see nothing. ” The girl in uniform spoke with a calm that seemed unsuited for the topic of conversation. She swung her legs too, rocking back and forth on the opposite railing.

“It all sounds like you’re trying to prank me again, to be honest.”

“It does, doesn’t it? Even if I show you how it works, you wouldn’t believe me, huh?”

“Don’t know. You’ll have to show me first.”

“‘Kay!” She hopped off and landed with a stomp. The sun’s slanted rays colored her white shoes a tint of orange. “I’m still learning so don’t be rude.”

The girl in uniform closed her eyes and expanded her lungs with the city air, tasting the ambient smoke. As if whispering, her lips shifted slightly. The boy in uniform did his best to observe carefully, his vigilant eyes considered the best of his classmates, but could see nothing. Then he felt a tingle.

He started to sense shivers running up and down his spine and the hairs on his arms raising. Even his vision began to see strange spots. Shaking his head or rubbing his eyes did nothing to make them disappear. 

“What’s happening?” he found himself saying before he knew it.

She did not respond, breathing out in an exaggerated fashion, lowering her arms in the process. As she opened her eyes, the girl sighed, “Believe me now?”

“Kind of, but what were you doing?”

“So what I did…” she started as she hopped back onto the metal railing, “Ow! I just zapped my butt. Anyway, I visualized the soul thing to turn into a spring and just spun it really fast. The faster I spun it, the more it starts to do strange things.”

“It’s not strange things. It’s an electric field,” he said, a dawning realization widening his eyes. “Like a coil of wire in a magnetic field…”

“A what field?” she said quizzically, “You’re confusing me.”

“Can you imagine spinning it even faster? And add more loops of coil to it.”

“Sure, I can try.”

She jumped back off, taking in an enormous volume of air. The boy now realized that when she was visualizing all of this, she didn’t stop to breathe. Perhaps it impeded her concentration to do so. In any case, he focused all of his attention on her and his surroundings, glued to the railing.

As time passed, his hair began to rise again. The sensations were becoming more intense as his vision began to grow spotty. Suddenly, a sharp pain cascaded down his legs and up his arms. The boy fell from the railing. As his hands met the surface of the cement, his body weight fell to the side, and his legs slipped down a few steps of the stairs. He looked up at her, every hair on her body standing on end. Her head seemed to be wreathed in curly, writhing tendrils.

“Oh! Woah! That was weird!” she gasped, panting and sweating, “Are you okay?” Everything stopped at once. The kaleidoscopic colors ceased instantly.

He grunted, “Yeah, I’m fine. I think I scraped my knee, but it’s nothing compared to what I just saw.”

“What did you see?” she asked hesitantly. “You didn’t peek up my skirt, right?”

“Even better, I think you might a superpower or something. Like you can make electricity out of nothing. We need to test this out! See if you can electrocute things from a distance… or… or if you can power a fan!” His excitement made him scuttle back to his feet instantly. “If you get strong enough, you could become a superhero.”

“Nope! Not interested in all of that!” she smiled, “I knew you would say all that junk, too, but I showed you for a very specific reason.”

“What’s that?”

“I showed you because I think you can do it, too. You may not believe me, but I can actually see your soul with my eyes, too. It’s different from mine, and I can’t see anyone else’s, but I can see yours.”

“Now you’re pranking me.”

“I’m not. You don’t have to believe me. Go try and do what I did by yourself in your room if you don’t want to embarrass yourself or something, but I think you can do it, too. Or not! I don’t know! Just a hunch.”

“How come you can see it though?” he said, furrowing his brow, “And… what even is it?”

“I wish I could tell you,” she shrugged flippantly, jumping off the railing to leave. “But you said that I’m making electricity? That’s kinda funny. I’m like a little battery then. I wonder if you’ll be able to do the same thing.” 

“So I have to see it first, right? It starts with visualizing?”

“Something like that? I don’t know! Everyone’s is probably different, too,” she casually suggested as she turned around.

“Wait! You have to tell me more!”

Meditation on Breathing

Inhale.

Hold it in your lungs,

The air so weightless

That we soon forget

That it’s even there;

 

Exhale.

Whose absence is felt,

Whose presence is life,

Leaving us breathless

Thinking of it all.

 

Inhale,

But the paradox

Is when that air leaves,

It’s the heaviest

Thing imaginable.

 

Air might be weightless

But breath weighs so much.

Exhale.

 

The Woman Shrouded in Mist

The thin, delicate hands she held out to collect the rain had started to leak under the weight of the puddle she had amassed in them. She let out a happy sigh. The sensation of water against her skin was the only thing that made her feel as if she existed, and whenever the heavens opened and poured out its contents, there was no greater feeling. There was a time when she could enjoy herself bathing in the lakes of the woods, but those had long since vanished, paved over by settlements of cement and steel.

None could spy her form. None knew even her name. And in the mind, without a name, there can be no existence. Beings like her were permitted to exist only where no man can prove. Mystery was the only lake in which she lived now. She was like a dot of light in the eye, disappearing as soon as one focuses on it, a passing moment lost in a blink. The animals did not seek to comprehend, and they did not try to make sense of her, but the humans always did. They had invented stories of her, conflating legends into her, shaping her into something she was not until she herself could not recognize herself anymore.

In the earliest ages she was but a singular spirit of a lake, a manifestation of the lake itself, communicable and visible, elevated in time to deity. A manifestation not of one lake, but of all water. The storms and seas, too, were her domain, but her sisters of the lakes disappeared. The many spirits inhabiting the forests left without resistance. The animals once filled with vivacity and chatter became dulled and silent. She asked the birds of the air and the fish of the lake why they no longer responded to her, but as she feared, it was a futile question asked without merit.

But mankind continued to worship her, sacrificed to her, experimenting with the mechanisms and rituals by which to earn her favor, and she obliged in kind, becoming desperately lonely, but as man moved and interacted with the ages, others appeared. Unfamiliar spirits hailing from far away, garbed in armors or robes of foreign tribes. They, too, had been mere spirits confined in place to one location, but now they could travel with the people, and these interactions assuaged her loneliness.

A pantheon arose from the collisions of these tribes. It had become difficult to tell whether she was absorbing or being absorbed into these unknown goddesses, but it hardly began to matter. Her memory grew foggy at this point, lost in the countless legends and mythologies that arose as her influence spread and became disjointed. What was true and what was false did not matter. All that mattered was the mystery. The space between reality and fantasy was mystery, and these humans captured her within this gap like a fish clasped between two hands. It was the only place she could exist anymore as their observations covered every dark inch of the world. Even as cults of supremacy grew declaring themselves a tier of spirit above herself, she hardly cared. Promoted or demoted into deity or demon hardly mattered either. The slow death of mystery is what concerned her most.

Their eyes scoured her. Each mind that wondered for a moment whether she could be explained pricked her like a thorn. And yet they built statues to her… temples to her… her name changed again and again as her existence became a fractal… a kaleidoscope of countless reflections. Goddess of the seas… goddess of rain… goddess of love… mother goddess of monsters… Goddess only over the things they did not understand the movements of — the unpredictable. As soon as they did, it was “natural.”

Yet somehow… they had divorced her from nature. This cataclysm is what drove her into a horrifying despair, and her domain shrinked all the more as their understanding deepened. She could see the others like herself, once spirits of earth and heaven, now the personifications therein of all Earth and all Heaven, slowly losing ground as mystery faded. All save for one.

In time, those who worshiped her stopped for all manners of reasons, whether it was conversion or death. Her name disappeared from the minds and lips of men. She was the patchwork goddess, sewn together from so many different, almost contradictory concepts that she could scarcely remember her true origin, if she ever had one. Perhaps the continuation of her identity from the time of lakes was an illusion. Perhaps she was a Ship of Theseus, repaired and rebuilt from end to end until she was no longer who she was when this journey began. She did not know even her first name, if ever she had one.

What she knew was that she loved the sensation of rain. Standing atop the rooftop of skyscraping structures erected higher than the tallest trees of the forests, she felt a tingle along her skin. She sighed impatiently as a buzzing, automated surveillance drone peered around the corner, its strange wings moving so rapidly so as to be invisible. Dropping the water pooling in her hands, she vanished in a flash of nothing, wondering if she might reappear later when it rains again.

Esphragismeuos

This thing I have is happiness.

It’s not a feeling or a phase.

It’s more like everlasting bliss,

Which leaves me all the more amazed.

 

They ask how much it costs to buy,

But what I got was heaven’s gift.

So then they ask if they could try

To make themselves a duplicate.

 

The joy that’s found in me was free

Yet came at cost too great to bear.

Why did my savior ransom me

And heed this sinner’s empty prayer?

 

And that is why my happiness

Is not a feeling or a phase.

The gift of mercy, love, and grace

Can never be taken away.