They guard the gateways of sanity.

1. Garden

The world was tired.

Sometime in winter.
The Calfera Gardens stood still.

Bone cold air, dry dusk. A barely visible kind of thin soot
covered the ice and snow. Unfaded blue Synthas and other
white flowers swayed in perfect nano-governed symmetry
against a blank white plate of post-suburban landscape.
Calfera Drive gripped the residential lines of sparse, high
gaunt trees scraping light from a canopy of dark clouds vaulted
above. Bare limbs of tall white oaks meandered in the air slowly
breathing threads of wind like flies swatted by a newspaper.
Pockets of scorched black ground seeped through holes in the
melting snow. As one approached the house.
The house.
Dr. Damiand’s front door cried a defiant red.
Enormous bay windows came jutting over an excess part of
the driveway like a steamship’s bow hanging over a dock.
A shiny navy colored D-Mailbox, untouched by the
elements, read in machine carved font:
“UnaDriven Fairview DIPLOMAT District Seg. 255.”

Inside the house someone weeping could be heard. Lightly gasping for air. Of the entire neighborhood only the Damiands had managed
to remain animated.

He spoke to her distinctly, as if a premeditated verse.
“Are you still there Johanna?”
No one said anything. Her mouth motioned itself open.
“Johanna,” he said again, more firmly than before.
She put a hand on his after a long attempt.
A pause.
Then, “I love you Johanna,” Mr. Damiand told her in a soft,
distant, murmuring voice.
“I will always love you.”

This time he could feel the muscles within him stretching
against bone. It was slowing down, he knew it.
Breathing heavy. Looking down at her.
“If you make it out of here Johanna, tell them we had no
idea. Tell them Helen had no idea.”
She wouldn’t make it. He knew he wouldn’t either.

She turned to face him with an endearing smile full of tears,
pain and adoration.
Surrender. She tightened her grip around his palm one last
time. Before she froze completely.

Rocking back and forth very slightly, he let out a bothered
little moan.
“Push it down, down!” Kneading his thighs.
“Oh God in Heaven, Johanna!”
Tears joined his chin before he could realize he’d begun
crying. His face remained still, stricken with a grief so intense it
had long exceeded any expression.
And then she was gone.

Johanna, his wife, was dead. What that meant, how cheated
one could still feel despite a lifetime knowing it would happen...
That it would all end...someday. She just wasn’t moving. Maybe.
It looked as though she could.
She doesn’t really even look dead!

The lines between his personal feelings were no longer
distinct, only the imprint of where emotions had been. So very
human, the impulse to touch a loved one in the moment of their
death, his hand passed a light kiss from his lips to her cheek.
He crouched down again and nuzzled the bones of her
knuckles with his nose and lips. The remaining wisps of his hair
fell in his face, his jaw sunk open. Squeezed his eyes as he
clenched the arms of her wheelchair falling back in quiet
sobbing. As if a spaceship door were breached, the suction of
anti-gravitation, pulling him away.

“We tried Johanna, we tried.”
An Una-Print Medallion was hanging on a silver chain
around her neck. Emerald-blue and crystal.

He looked at the necklace, and into the Crystal. Was she in
there somewhere still listening to him? Is there something,
anything he could say that would make her come back?
“Una where are you!” he screamed into the empty kitchen
and dining room, a flat echo ricochetting back within an instant
to punch him in the ear.
He gripped the Medallion so hard, his hand looked
as if to crush it. Continuing to clench it, his intensity was
slipping, a remaining grip, firm, now merely to emphasize... He
shuddered to a gradual halt still clasping the UnaCrystal. It
matched the grey-bluish pre-decay of her abandoned skin.
Of all ridiculous things that came and went over the years...All the
times she got away with so many risky procedures... Hell, of all the
insanity in the universe, couldn’t it have been different, just this once?
She could move...with a jolt, one jolt on the rack maybe...
Johanna, her stiff weight caused her to fall back in her chair,
she faced slightly more upright now from her former wheelchair
posture. She gazed, still as a mannequin with washed out
glassiness toward the ceiling. Her white and blue trim robe had a
small cartoon-scene of a reindeer, a cactus and a butterfly, red,
blue and green. In that order, a bit faded on her upper left breast
near her shoulder.

Damiand rose to his feet.
Blood from out of nowhere had granted him an abrupt,
unexpected jolt of flexibility. Could it be that he was getting
No, there’s no way I’d be the only one.

Time had left with parts of his mind, somewhere
between his moments of sitting next to her.
Then the fact returned to him that she was dead and his heart
sunk again. He thought of all the things he could do...might do.
Falling back into a dark feeling again. A panic attack, it must be a
panic attack. My mind won’t be able to handle it.
He couldn’t help it, he was losing some of his grasp over
context. Became jittery and mad, began dancing a slow waltz,
and identified it as the memory of their first date. Actually,
they’d never shared a waltz. It could have happened. Maybe. If
he’d been there more...
He remembered instead the first time they met and batted the
other vision out like a monumental Nat to be swiped from his
face. Only to return.
Yet this was the first time that it didn’t matter. Annoyance felt
compounded into a caustic urgency.
Like it shouldn’t be there! By god how could it all be this harsh? To
what end?!
Memories that comprised him, the fabric of who he was began
to show at the seams.
He unravelled to become a frenetic march across the kitchen
floor like a marionette with arms and legs flailing all over the
place. It was as if every part of him were trying to detach from
his own body, desperate to separate in every direction, not
knowing where to go.
Then in an instant, anger brought it all back together as a
single entity. A fist pounded the table. Absurdly, he started to
clean the house and do the dishes. Maybe if he vacuumed the
entire house this time, she would notice. It was hours, or a half
an hour or less maybe...before her death even approached
skipping his mind. He was on the last dish when his OCD nature
would no longer be there to distract him. Nothing would.
Nothing could. Not now, not ever again.
He had absolutely no knowledge of how to feel.

He opened the front door.
The mailman was standing there frozen with a strange little
grin. He’d been coming up toward their mailbox with a small
Damiand stumbled toward him and pried the package from his
cold hands and was even a little surprised to see that even his
flesh, now a veiny, dull blue-grey, could not move in any
capacity and seemed hard and brittle at the same time.

He tried to crush the package with his hands, but ended up
throwing it on the ground, stumbling over himself to tear it open.
A couple of photos fell out of a card from atop a pack of meats,
cheeses and other holiday goodies. He picked it up, noticing how
warm the paper was. The rest of the raped, bleeding package
oozed a few assorted mints and tiny stocking gifts onto the
slushy blackened ground.

“--I hope you guys have a Merry Christmas this year too! We
are here in our new house in Cali, so not very much snow ;) We
hope you all are doing well, and staying warm over there this
Love, David and Helen. And The Jenster! :) —”

He observed how the package felt somehow different in his
hands. How it seemed less like a Christmas package and more
just a bundle of raw materials. No more neighbors, no more
passions or greed. No more.
They weren't photos but paper and gloss.
They never had been anything else. The meats and cheeses were
no longer objects he’d ever seen and they hit the ground with a
crack he’d not once in his life ever heard.

Looking up, abandoning the holiday package, he turned to face
the monstrousness.

The town, the park, the streets. Nothing.
Cars had still been making their way home. And then...halted.
People sat in them either staring at the road or out of the side
windows. It was as if they were looking for something that hit
them without warning, many of their expressions, parked,
deadpan, placid. But pensive. Not many were smiling, it seemed.
The entire neighborhood stood like the silent pieces of a
chessboard; toy soldiers, literally poised to move. Mothers,
fathers, carpenters, teachers, children. All were frozen at that
certain point in time before the world they knew had been

But wait.
He could hear something. A long continuous shrieking, as from
a banshee, stretched like a contrail across the sky.
Somewhere someone was screaming. Or was it in his head?

Feet plodded, one in front of another as Mr. Damiand
motioned to seek it out. But the shrieking sound was getting
fainter, and the slowness recaptured his body with a heavier grip
now, like a terrible weight against every limb. He knew it
couldn’t be long.
Somehow, he found his body lunging into the landscape as
through a blizzard, he made his way to the old Ice Arena past the
Mall. The air remained near completely still.

And there she was.
He had found the banshee. She was nothing but a large banner
advertisement featuring a pretty young lady in a red cap and coat
smiling down at him. “COMEL ADDS TO YOU.” it read.

He looked up. The stars were slightly visible through the
clouds. The land moving, slipping right out from under the
horizon. So fast.
The doors to the Arena were open with a family who’d been
running out of the entrance, frozen in mid-motion.

He passed their crisp, glossy faces and went inside.
The large warehouse was filled with still people. It was curious
to him still how they actually looked as if ready to move. He
could have been looking into one of those glass orbs with
miniature statuettes performing some holiday activity. What are
they called?
He couldn’t scratch up the thought in time before he got tired

How couldn’t they have known?
Nothing mattered.
This is what it feels like when everybody is gone.
Neither introspection, nor any internalization held the faintest
remnant of comfort. Only a blanket of vacancy.
Should he go back and sit with his wife to die? Did it matter?

He sat on a bench just outside the Arena. A grey sign that
read, “No Standing Please Sit,” in red letters stood before the
bench area, right in front of the parking lot.
A sort of music played in his head as flakes gently began to fall.

Icey and too cold, freezing ashen hands. Were shaking again.
The invisible soot was all over his wrists and fingers. Then he
became acutely aware of the wood of the bench against his
palms. Sooty palms.
My palms.

Eventually the sensation felt more like the music--a coarse,
cold and distant occurrence, galaxies away.
And then he noticed something peculiar, right there in the
middle of winter. A group of vibrant little green plants and blue
flowers were there at his feet, climbing on top of one another up
the pole of the grey ‘No Standing’ sign. They weren’t Synthas,
but real actual flowers. Their leaves were turned in a particular

They’re waiting for the sun. Where the sun will be in the morning.

Something felt better.
Yes, I generally feel...better...

Then, other movements, such as that of the functioning of his
internal organs began to rise to the forefront of his perception
like never before; a horrible annoyance, coming to haunt his last

He heard it. There. Finally. Finally fucking here, you--
He could no longer speak to himself. Instants in time were no
longer digits. Reality is not made of segments...
A crackling from inside his right thigh.
He could no longer move it.

Comprehension of the event was fighting its way to the surface
of consciousness, but never made it. His last thoughts were
recorded forever on the scrolls of his mind.