I got here no thanks to my map, which is outdated and so dense with data that I could barely read it: a warren lines, numbers, words, or I think they’re words, in a language I don’t know, can’t read. What was once promised to be as solid land or something like it is all pools and shoals, cold—but certainly not frozen. The air shimmers; there’s the distinct smell of bleach.
This place is haunted with a misplaced sense of familiarity. Perhaps it’s the cage, terrible as it might be. I welcome the order of its grid, which made it easier to know I had reached my intended destination. It looks more like my map.
This, I was told, is the last oasis.
There are people here, just as real as the places shown on my map: bare images. I crumple the thin paper of my useless guide and toss it into the water. It’s been so long since I’ve spoken with anyone and these flat figures promise no better conversation than the ones I’ve been having with myself.
Each picture always precisely what it isn’t, a ghostly voice tells me, they show only the gap between what they are and what they remember. The map floats, a sodden ball bobbing in the crystalline sea. I consider fishing it out but the threat of witnessing my reflection is too unnerving. I ask the ghost to show itself, and it just asks me what it looks like. “This is why nobody likes a ghost!” I feel like screaming, though I’d rather not alienate my lone companion here so soon.
I’ve forgotten the reason I came to this place. Something about beginnings. Perhaps these people are my parents. With no photographs of them, their appearance remains irretrievable to my travel-weary mind.
The ghost returns. All pictures gave birth to you, it incants. Each picture is your parent. I’m unconvinced.
My journey’s been wandering and uncertain—and I am hungry. The water is clear. A rarity now, but bad news, because I was hoping for a fish or two. Even some seaweed might do, though plants have been scarce underwater for many years in these acidified climes.
I shuffle around in search of sustenance and on a table I see what may be a plate prepared for me. Pictures remain their own truth, the ghost lies again as I dig my grubby fingers into flat surface and come up unsatisfied, unfed.
I need to rest. I find a spot of earth that looks soft and tug my threadbare jacket down, stretching it beneath me as much as I can in order to form a kind of half-seat to protect me from the ground’s bitter winter bite. The horizon plays expansively as I watch its generous endlessness. Colors enliven it, but none which I know the names for. I can’t tell if this makes them more real or less. Images dance and sounds swell. It’s like I’m witnessing somebody else’s memories, forever on a loop. No tide comes in, no tide goes out.
The ghost tells me that my seeing has rendered all things gone, doomed to recede unceasingly into the trap of representation. This seems true, but I’m so tired, so starving, so willing to believe anything. The horizon tells its story again, again, again, again. I see hands, legs, distorted glimpses of faces; hear voices laugh and murmur. Maybe these people were me or my lovers or my family or my friends. I am thankful that cameras were forgotten long ago, and my memories with them. I am thankful to be a ghost now, too.”
— Drew Zeiba