“This’ll be good for you, I promise.”

I shift uncomfortably on an overheated bench at the side of a long, winding road. It’s lined with marshes and overgrown reeds.

“No, it won’t. If you just have a little patience, an opportunity will eventually come up.”

The humidity grabs at and clings to me like an over-attached child or a lover in denial. High above, the blue vastness of the sky is interrupted by the sun, an infernal disc blasting us with light from hell or heaven or somewhere in between, slowly cooking us before we’re swallowed up by our graves.

“You can’t keep sitting around and waiting like that, bro. Now, I’ve packed your resume, a week’s-worth of clothing and some money in your bag. Plus your sketchbook. If you need anything, don’t call. Have fun!”

His car had dissipated into a haze right at the horizon, leaving nothing but the chirping of insects and a rusty bus-stop sign to keep me company. Every now and then, a breeze will sway the reeds and I’ll pretend it cools me off, but my lips are as cracked as the hot, concrete road and my hands as sweaty as a sundew covered in nectar, awaiting its meal.

“What are you waiting for?”

The voice startles me and I jump off of the bench, knocking over my bag. They’re perched on the other side of the bench like a goddess of the hunt, caked in moss and mud and lichens, barely standing out against the surrounding vegetation. Half-drenched, they drip swamp water onto the chipped wood of the bench, the crazed expression of the dead on their pale face. Something familiar glints in their acidic eyes, like an unreadable tarot card. A spark.

“What are you waiting for?”
“The bus.”
“Why?”

The high-pitched whining of a mosquito circles my head as if drawing a halo in the heat.

“Let me see your sketchbook.”
“It’s empty.”

A low rumble becomes audible in the background, possibly that of a bus.  

“What are you doing?”

My back is turned to the road as the sound grows louder.

“Waiting.”

I feel the ground vibrate under me -it must be big.

“For the bus?”

I almost jump at the mosquito’s gentle touch as it lands on my neck. The very road now seems to be screaming; the wind is howling, and the reeds are shaking with the force of the oncoming vehicle.

“For the bus.”

I turn my head to see a gargantuan truck, painted blue, barrelling towards us at full-speed, and feel a wet hand grab me by the shoulder and shove me onto the road:
a shout;
a rush of air;
and stars.

The bog is dark and silent. Moist shadows creep slowly under the moonlight like salty tears across skin. My senses spill over like uneaten moss and the whispers of forgotten dreams lurk beneath quivering black waters. Somewhere far above all of this, the moon hangs full and plump, like a fig about to fall off its branch.

There’s something serene but sinister in the air, like a disease lingering in warm blood, symptoms silently waiting to strike. The pungent spiciness of blossoming poisons stands out against the mild scent of midnight dew, and I recall the isolated atmosphere of a stuffy bedroom. Every inhale is sour; the walls are sweaty; light bulbs burn away the hours of the night and the day like they are one and the same. Here, a mint-fresh sketchbook sits on the desk, open to its first page: blank and collecting dust. There, an older sketchbook lies on the floor, open to its last: strewn with dried tears and collecting dust. Nothing breaks the quiet besides the occasional frustrated grunt or the muffled music of a nearby party.  

The only thing that breaks the quiet here is the occasional passing of a car or a truck.

My memory forms distended islands like algae on a pond; I grasp at them like Tantalus and fall back into the water with empty hands. There is nothing here but the swampy silence of mud and the seductive smiles of Venus flytraps. Wade as I may through the marshes of this foggy dream, I find nothing around me but the evaporating wisps of a life wasted. Somewhere beneath me, methane bubbles in the dull, breathless ooze, and I wish for a spark, and wish, and wish, and wish -and wait, and wait, and wait.

I wait for myself to rot, but I am secretly embalmed in hope. Looking up, I see the murky reflection of a blue truck on the water’s surface. Nothing about it stands out from the red ones or the green ones that passed by earlier, and yet I compel myself to chase after it. Something in me breaks, much like the sediment that had been forming over me when I sit up.

I swim out of my watery tomb, activating sinews that had been stiff for millennia as I kick away the kelp chaining me down. The sun stings my amphibian flesh as I emerge, but I see him: sitting at the bench, unused sketchbook in his lap. He is bewildered by me. “This’ll be good for you, I promise.”

A laugh;
the blaring of a horn;
and sparks.

The bus has arrived.

Original drawing by artist Jad Dahshan.


Jad Dahshan
Jad Dahshan

Born and raised in Amman, I am a rising second-year at the University of Chicago. Although still academically undecided, I am interested in visual art practice, theory, and history, and chemistry. During the scholastic year, I write for the student-run newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, and perform with the student-organized circus as an aerialist. I am also currently illustrating a sci-fi horror comic with a group of students.

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