“We are like a species haunted by itself…it’s not as simple as it seems.”

– Benjamin Labatut (Spiracle Podcast)

The Invocation of the Hiss (audio here)

Dear little thing,

When I see you for the very last time…

I’ll show you sweet frozen fruit, sculpted and rendered in cream and the sickness of sugar.

You’ll show me a true, blue, dollar bill.

And I’ll walk up the stairs, out into the fire of the afternoon…

And you’ll owe me, big time.

Part I

In a good month I try to get myself killed at least six times. The most times I’ve ever been paid to die in one month is twenty two, and by the end of that one month, I was so spent I blew the cash on a spa vacation. They definitely don’t pay you to sit around. The more I die, the more money I earn, and down here in Hell, money makes the world go around. Cash turns the coals over, although heat is rarely ever something lacking, and along with heat, comes great thirst. I’m a stuntman by trade—an expert in death, destruction, redemption, retribution, revenge, reincarnation, immolation, defenestration, amputation, and, with the recent popularity of medieval-style debauchery, invagination. Hell, by the way, is just my little word for the industry city: the place where you see how the sausage is made. On most days, I’m the sausage, and I’m getting shoved into a collagen casing.

In Hell, I’ve been whacked every which way. You dream it up, and guaranteed, that’s how somebody has snuffed me out. For instance, I can tell you that fire deaths are kind of old hat by now. Too much prep for the attention economy--you have to hold your breath for a while, and you’re constantly buying new underwear. That fire retardant goo they slather you in like a birthday cake? Works better than Ritalin, but you start to smell off. That’s the only way to describe it: a sticky combination of liquid concrete and printer’s ink. People have a hard time believing in fire, too, for some reason. It’s ethereal stuff, like stardust, or Jesus Chris come back from the dead. Melting used to be big, too. You got a lot of melting back in the 80s. It was a practical effect. Lots of time sitting in a chair while a nice lady named Deborah added additional layers of fat onto you, designed to slide off and drip like pink latex paint when the protagonist doused you in acid, or the alien occupying your body burst forth and ruptured your belly like a rotten tomato, the whole while Deborah is talking to you about how the Hell county school system is making her pick up her kid at 2:30, and she needs to be across town at Studio B at 2:45, and how’s that s’posed to work anyhow? And where’s the kid’s deadbeat father well probably off selling substance to surfers and paint sniffers and rouge buckers and hosiery hound dogs and a bunch of other colloquialisms I hardly have the dictionary for. These days, dismemberment is pretty common. It’s practical: you rarely run the risk of ruining a costume. They’ll come up with all sorts of ways to cut you into pieces. Motorcycle through a clothesline. Helicopter blades. The girls got teeth in her you-know-what. The guys you-know-what is a shank. A particularly skilled assassin knows his way around a sharp piece of paper. A superhero throws you through chicken-wire and turns you into kebab chunks. Fall on a flagpole—human kebab. You get the idea. I’m personally a little skeptical of this trend. A lot of studios switch out the extra for a dummy. That’s the irony of dismemberment, my only competition is an actual stiff.

I’m not from the Industry City, but I’ve made Hell my home: I traveled here with dreams I can’t quite remember—it’s like once you pass over the border, you’re a different version of yourself. You’re shallow—the sun sucks you dry, and you spend all your time indoors, trying to subsist off of cheap catering and coffee. Did I mention it’s hot? Oh, it’s hot, and the palm trees provide little shade; the hills exhale black, acrid fumes from the fires that rage, and the water off the coast boils with effervescent microplastics and slick residue of sludge left behind by the machines that trawl the ocean with metal nets. In the industry city, where death is as casual as a handshake, a lot of prep work goes into dying. It’s an art form. I think Sylvia Plath said that once. Had she lived out here in Hell, instead of Massachusetts, I would think she made have revised her wording. I used to believe what I did was an art form. Now it’s drudgery.

You got to come up with ways of rewarding yourself. If someone blows me off the grid twice in one day, that’s a special day—and not just for the pay—it’s really an impressive function of modern planning and consolidated business operations within the studio film ecosystem, which is in some ways like the real world, in others ways it’s like an abandoned amusement park in the dead of night—eerie, disproportioned, formed out of putty materials that seem to trap a flat heat--gave you hives and made you manic. Twice in one day, a double-ender, as I like to call it, and I’ll buy myself a gelato. I’ve become something of a connoisseur when it comes to gelato. See, a lot of people conflate gelato and ice cream, or they think one is fruit, and the other is like, chocolate cookie dough, and it’s like ice cream, but gelato is denser. It’s filled with less air. You get more bang for your buck. If ice cream was the popcorn of dairy treats, gelato is like grits. It’s thick, and mealy, and less sweet, but way more satisfying. I’m a fan of the stone fruits and the drupes. Cherries, plums, apricots,

Last time I was so fortunate was in the spring of this year. The first snuff of the day was pretty straightforward. I’m standing on a train platform, and I get shoved in front of a train. We ran through it twice—the first time I blinked, according to the DP. No problem. Done and dusted by noon. I noshed on a donut and breezed across the street for my 1:30. The worst thing that can possibly happen on a double-ender day is the first shoot goes long, and you have to cancel the 2nd. Big hit to your reputation. The trick is to make sure the early booking requires little to no makeup, pyrotechnics…the sort of thing that can eat up a lot of time. So far though, this day was going swimmingly.

Now I make a point not to read too many scripts. It’ll only make you jaded, knowing what sort of convoluted crap the director is trying to force feed the public. It’s better just to let the experience wash over you, and not ask too many questions. I never turn down an opportunity to die—I’ve watched the price per square foot of my bungalow quadruple over the past decade—but I take my work seriously, and snuff number two was a little overwrought. I arrived at 1:20. Some dumb TV show about a cop who is a psychic. Well, I say, “why doesn’t he just solve the case by reading everyone’s mind?” “It doesn’t work like that,” they say. “Plus, if that were the case, we wouldn’t need you.” Touche, mon freire. Hey, I’m just there to get chewed to death by catfish in the opening scene. What do I know. I played the mayor, which was pretty cool. I guess the gist of it was the mayor goes to the Catfish Carnival, which is an event they have in the fictional town of the TV show, and he gets talked into doing the dunk tank by the bad guy, who is disguised as a dunk tank employee, and the dunk tank is filled with catfish. Well, the bad guy is also a psychic, and he convinces the catfish to go into a frenzy, and they gum me to pieces, cat fish teeth pulling off my skin and fingers, yanking the hair out of my head, lacerating my cheeks with their thrashing, fleshy tails. They pull me out of the tank and I’m red and raw, strips of masticated polyester power suit hanging off me, one eyeball swinging from its optic nerve, keeping tempo. The director had some qualms. It wasn’t realistic enough (no kidding), so we went at it a few more times. Finally they decided that when I come out of the tank, there should be a couple cat fish hanging off of me, and my wife tries to pry them off, taking chunks of my torso and hamstrings in the process. I joked that my dying words should be “vote”, but they said that would be unrealistic, given I had my throat torn out by a cat fish.

I keep a diary of every time I’ve been offed. Here’s the entry from that day, six months ago:

“Got struck by a train at 10, mauled by mud sharks at 1:30. Lost an eye, two fingers, and collapsed a lung. Felt a little fruity. Went to Luigi’s and tried pistachio-blackberry. Too much nut, not enough funk. They were really pushing the limited,seasonal offering—blue cheese and chardonnay. I waved it off, but upon reflection, maybe I should be more adventurous.”

Technically speaking, every time I die it takes a couple tries. Every meat sack that’s excelled at his or her trade has made it a point to develop a low average splatter rate—the fewer takes required to get the Director to yell “cut”, the better. I’m pretty proud of my average. I’m especially good at flailing my limbs. The artistry of an acrobatic blood-letting is lost on today’s audience, who are obsessed with realism, or whatever their notion of realism may be, given that very few moviegoers have even seen someone expire in real life. Real life is where all of this stuff takes place, by the way. It wasn’t so long ago that I struggled for a while to adapt to the grueling schedule. I look back now and it’s funny how serious I took everything. Here’s a diary entry from back when I was just beginning to be a regular on the scene:

“Day 3 wearing the Bog Monster suit. Mask weighs as much as a watermelon, can’t see out of it. Hot and stuffy, like lugging a rug across your back—it’s all thick, padded foam. They insisted on filming on location so I have to stand in a bog for hours at a time. Think I got trench foot. Some sort of flesh-eating bacteria. There are leaches too, but we all get those. Self-expression limited. Since I’m an apprentice, they won’t let me do the final fight scene. They got a pretty gnarly old guy for that. I asked him for advice and he said: “become an accountant.” Didn’t get home until 3AM. 

Every year brings new challenges and new epiphanies. If there were ever a time where I was adrift in the monotony of everyday life, then the Hiss was the catalyst that brought me definitively back down to Hell. The nature of my work became much clearer when the Hiss came into my life.


I was lying on the couch in my living room, after taking a particularly nasty fall off the edge of a cliff. The protagonist on this occasion was a hiker, an environmentalist with an ironclad moral compass, though he apparently lacked a compass of the geographical sort. He’s at the base of this particular cliff when he witnesses a climber slip and fall before he’s able to anchor his lead rope into the top of a 300-foot crag. The force of his unexpected fall unmoors the penultimate cam he had set in the crack below, and he falls a further 30 feet before the rope holds taught, slamming him into the side of the cliff face and leaving him unconscious, dangling, with the suggestion that his rope may come loose at any moment. The unfortunate amateur climber is of course played by myself, and the protagonist, a real man of action, endeavors to rescue me before it’s “too late.” This is all in the script. Things went differently for me, however. Turns out it’s difficult to precisely set the exact number of break points into loose rock on an open face. Instead of falling 30 feet before being whiplashed by my harness, I tore every single cam out of the cliff face and tumble straight down into the brush below, smashing through the tree canopy before landing in bramble bushes. My face was torn to shreds and sticks pierced through my arms and legs sharpened to arrowheads, pieces of skin strewn off me in exaggerated hangnails like tassels of human spaghetti. The crew got it all on camera and decided to keep the shot, since it looked “pretty gnarly”, or so I was told. They bandaged me up on site and gave me a generous bonus in exchange for me not filing a complaint with the union.

So I was lying on the couch, trying not to think of cliffs, or rocks, or open air, and I was slowly being lulled to sleep by the drone of the cars, discordant in the most horrific way--like the screams of souls in the underworld--the cars of Hell honked and backfired and farted black death and grime and bashed their undercarriages against the asphalt and each other as they crossed the speed bump outside my house, which was about as far away from the street as I could afford. In my mind, the cars were like decomposing ghouls dancing in a grand hall, shedding hunks of their external form as they spun and ground against one another, becoming clattering skeletons that fell to the ground in a messy, stinking heap, ruining the hall irreparably. Out of this din slowly emerged a softer, muted tone, like the continuous drum of rain drops in a vast arena, so tall and wide that the echoes of the rain blended together into a symphonic, diaphanous purr that was total—it seemed to cradle me until my limbs no longer ached. It purred like heroin. Above and around me I could feel it tender, harmonic resolve shaking the roads loose from the Earth and casting them aside, so that a car would never again disturb my peace. My muscles relaxed and my face felt chubby and full, as if it had never been touched by the severity of a shaving razor. I close my eyes for a short while, a long moment during which I decided to seek out the source of the sound.

The Hiss beckoned me into the basement, where I found it, much to my dismay, lying in a foot of black water. Groggy and dumb, I could smell the room now, and the stale air mixed with vinegar and sewage tainted the sweet note of the Hiss. It was the sweetness of a venomous flower, a hideous, iridescent beauty.

I looked around and took everything in. Water spilled out of a ruptured pipe onto the floor. What is this? I said.

This is your doing, said the Hiss.

I just had this stuff refitted last winter, I said.

But you knew they did a bad job, said the Hiss. This is your fault. You lack commitment. You would rather buy beer. And cigarettes.

I don’t smoke anymore, I said.

Ha! It sputtered. So the Hiss had a contemptuous side. I began to get a bit uneasy. You’re a liar, it said.

So what? I said. A flooded basement? Like that’s my fault. It’s an act of God. I’m being punished. I kicked at the water. When I placed my foot back on the step, the sock compressed, and the wetness seemed to congeal like a sponge filled with gristle.

You’re avoiding responsibility, you know that, said the Hiss.

I’m plenty responsible. I fell off a cliff today. It was a gnarly shot.

How can anyone else be at fault but you? Said the Hiss, sneering through a cold sluice. I’m here now, what are you going to do about it?

Now you’re taunting me. Why don’t you leave?

Why don’t I leave? Said the Hiss. The water sputtered. It laughed at me. You live in a world of hypotheticals and fantasies. Your entire existence is like a mirror reflection of a meaningful life. And every day you die.

What’s wrong with that? It’s an honest living.

So go on living honestly, then. Be my guest, said the Hiss, slurring its words. But don’t ignore me. I’m real. I’m from the world of the concrete, the consequential. I’m more real than you are.

I had a 7:30 call time the next day. “Trampled by zebras, survives, later: hippopotamus” was what the text read. Much like the Hiss, even my employers spoke in riddles. It was hard to deny the fact that I was rarely offered the luxury of choice, in any aspect of my life. It was easy to accept working conditions: I put on a face, and at the end of the day, I took it off and kicked up my feet. It was less easy to accept that the foundation of my home was crumbling beneath my feet—that mold was wafting up through the vents, invading my nostrils, planting a flag in my body like a colonial species.

I have to wake up early for work, I said. I can’t wait around for someone to fix this.

So let’s put our heads together, said the Hiss. Or, at least, this is what I was afraid the Hiss would say. Perhaps I imagined the conversation going in its favor. Wherever the inflection point occurred, it was hopeless: once I submerged myself into the Hiss’ world, I had no say in when I could leave.

I suppose you have a brilliant suggestion, I said.

It’s not like I want to be here with you, said the Hiss. All I’m saying is, we can share the burden of this unfortunate arrangement. 

That would be nice.

So let me take your 7:30 call time. I could use a bit of time out in the open air. It gets stuffy down here.

You think you can do my job?

Okay, let’s not get carried away. Everybody knows how to die.

Hey, I trained for a long time to get to this point. It’s a trade. I’m a journeyman.

Like that means anything today, said the Hiss. Let go of your pride for a moment and see this for what it is. Your situation is far more precarious than you think. Tomorrow you might be up to your neck in water, and then you’ll want my help.

Are you threatening me?

Please, said the Hiss. I’m a realist.

So first you take over my basement, and then you take my job. That’s the plan?

Relax. Look. I’ll take the diary with me. That way you’ll be able to keep up with how I’m doing, see, make sure my performance is up to par. Look, all I’m saying is we collaborate a little. You stay here and keep an eye on things, and when I come back, we switch off. We’ll be able to accomplish twice the amount of work. Think of it like a partnership.

And what do you get out of this partnership? I asked.

Like I said, I didn’t ask to be here. I’m just as inconvenienced as you are.

So the money we make together will go towards paying to clean this up?

Sure, said the Hiss. Whatever you say. 

I watched the Hiss ascend the steps. I neglected to ask how it knew about my call time. There were a lot of things I neglected to ask, looking back. But all was well. I waited in the basement, listening to the sound of the water slapping against the concrete. There was no traffic noise down there. No people, no animals, no wind, no sun. Just a void one could get lost in. By the time I saw the light come on underneath the door, upstairs in the kitchen, signaling that the Hiss had come home, I had completely lost track of time.

Part II

The public desires an eternal struggle between protagonist and antagonist. Every hero and villain is a facsimile of the heroes and villains that came before them back to the days when storytelling mostly consisted of a king getting drunk with his friends and then going into a cave to fight a monster and rescue a maiden and stave off the inevitably disintegration of his kingdom. In the grand scheme of all this, I’m a catalyst. I die so that others may live.

As I may have mentioned, now and then I struggle reconciling my work with my sense of self. It’s easy to lose track of one’s identity when you’re engulfed in the day-to-day. There are plenty of distractions in Hell. I’ve often caught myself thinking I’m morally or at least custodially more virtuous than those who slip into a passive, easy life of indulgence and nonparticipation. But then, by working all the time, am I in turn distracting myself from what is truly important? I don’t have companions. No dog, no partner. There’s family, of course, but my relationship to them is strained. The reason for that is embarrassing and obvious: I spend all day on set pretending to be somebody else, and not even anybody in particular at that—just Person A, or Man #1, or Guy Who Steps Over an Open Manhole Cover, or, most recently, Victim of an Avalanche of Molten Molasses (that one was for a historical documentary). And then of course there are financial concerns. As much as I enjoyed the constant hustle in the beginning—I thrived because I was more resilient, and dexterous than others; in need a meat shield for a head-on collision with an angry bison that can also ride a motorcycle with a rocket launcher balanced on his shoulder? I was your guy; how about someone who could sit comfortably in a full split, holding a 120lb woman aloft, while a 220lb running back in full pads adorned with spikes trucks you over? When I was younger and had hips made of human bone, acrobatics was my specialty (that stunt was from Homecoming in Hell 3: The Harder They Fall—again, no relation to Hell County USA)—I was and still am a student of the grindset mentality to this day, so I guess all I’m saying is I reached a point where my judgment was clouded, and that’s where the Hiss came in, and added some much needed clarity to my life.

The first month of our arrangement went surprisingly well. We split shifts. I would take most of the calls with studios I knew well, where I was recognized and had a reputation to keep up, and the Hiss would take on the less glamorous, piecemeal gigs—you know, stuff like where 1,000 extras are standing on a street corner and a building collapses on top of them, or there’s a riot and a wayward police officer snaps and just goes off on the protestors with a flamethrower, or a species of hyper-intelligent raptor comes to Earth and starts harvesting people like poultry, pushing them single file into a cramped enclosed space before turning out the lights and engaging a human-threshing mechanism of rotating blades and a patented crushing-slash-chopping-slash-mulching action to form us into easily digestible human nuggets of questionable nutritional value—and at the end of each day, we passed the baton. The Hiss, true to its word, was a quick study, and became proficient at methods of death that took me years to master. His diary entries were more poetic than my own:

Master of largesse,

The insurmountable pressure of mountainous resolve,

Begins at my feet and ends at beyond my neck,

And maybe travels beyond even me, to crush every atom in the world—

I may never know.

A steamroller driven by a drunken man

His senses severed from my own

By the inhumanity of machines,

Their efficiency—I have no choice but to yield.

I feel my nerves flatten to bliss, my knees explode, popping joints and crunching bone,

I do not cry, I cannot move,

And yet, the bliss of my eyes bursting like ripe fruit, feasted upon by flocks of birds,

It is a feeling I crave.

You’re some kind of uh, glutton for punishment, I said.

I’m passionate, said the Hiss.

Oh yeah? You should be passionate about being timely, too. Last time you were like six hours late. You left me hanging in the basement. It felt like I was dead! Not like, work dead, but really dead. It smells like the crypt of a cathedral down there.

Typical of you to have so much hubris as to complain, especially when I’m helping you out. You know I’ve been in there my entire life, and it’s only through my own ingenuity that either of us have been able to achieve the level of renown that is befitting of our respective names.

Whatever—you remember who got you all these gigs? Me. And you’re pretending to be me, too! Don’t start confusing money with prestige. This is honest work. If you let your ego get in the way

I have no ego, I have no body, I have no spirit, or soul, or heart. You give me all of those things. And I’m so thankful for that. In return, I give you the drive to persevere, and the knowledge that at the bottom of the deepest abyssal trench, there is always something deeper, something darker and colder, and that is where I arrived from, and perhaps someday shall return. Or maybe I’ll stay here with you. I haven’t decided.

That was the first time the Hiss had suggested a change to the arrangement. I wasn’t prepared for the comment, and in my negligence, I let it slide. Instead, I said: what were you doing up there anyway?

Oh, you know, nothing significant. Networking.


The next day was rough. A film about cannibals. In order to avoid any prejudiced caricatures of existing indigenous groups, the cannibals had four arms, and were eight feet tall, and they lived deep within caves, albeit caves that were still located in a sort of ambiguous, jungle-type biome. I whizzed through the set on a golf cart, with the photographer’s assistant in the driver’s seat, giving me a rundown of what they had done so far, in addition to many of the challenges the crew had faced over the course of the shoot. He was practically screaming at me over the din of the various species of insects and live tropical birds they had acquired from who-knows-where.

“We wanted to go for realism, you know? This is being backed by big money, streaming money, the sort of money that could convince somebody to strip naked in the middle of an intersection and mail the footage to their own grandmother, excuse the metaphor…but of course we had trouble getting visas for some of the cast. So we built a jungle in this backlot and brought in a lot of animals, local plants, bugs—the bugs have been the worst by the way, I don’t know if I texted you about it or not but you should have definitely had your malaria shots, your dengue shot, they got some species of horse fly in here that are the size of your thumbnail and bright blue—anyway, the jungle set is eleven acres, so don’t get lost. Honestly I have no idea what’s out there, but I’ve been carrying a shotgun ever since something big and hairy tore through the catering table and ate all of our lunch. Your lunch too, sorry about that. We’ve had some film melt and some of the remaining rolls are questionable, so there’s the possibility of reshoots, but don’t worry, we’ll get you paid for everything. Aside from the setbacks, it’s all pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. So to summarize where we are today, the subterranean cannibals have captured the group of scientists, and they’re going to barbecue them over a bed of coals, on this large iron grate. That’s you, by the way, you’re going to be grilled. But they’re going to torture you first. Fortunately there’s not much makeup involved, you just need to get dressed and then they’re going to hose you down so it looks like you’ve been sweating in the same clothes for days. Sound good?”

I lay on the massive grill that had been coated in latex, oil, chunks of charred wood, and other detritus in order to make it appear weathered, as if the phony griddle had existed for hundreds of years, a necessary component of this ersatz civilizations method of punishment and containment of their victims, suspended over a bed of rocks with a roaring fire beneath. The director would yell cut, the crew would reset, the song would reprise from the beginning, and I would stay elevated and stripped of my clothes, red and raw, delirious from the heat and brains liquifying into vegetable pulp, sapped of moisture and substance, the sum total of all of my accomplishments on display as the fake blond mustache and wig I wore to emulate my character became wet and haggard across my brow. After what felt like hours, I could smell myself, and I could see my smell, my soul, evaporating off of my body and floating up into the tree canopy, where monkeys and macaws hollered, and the choir of the cannibals beating drums made of human skin, with the loose heads still attached so that they swung to the rhythm as if nodding in time to the beat, they empty eye sockets blinking, mouths loose and jovial, the cannibals with their prosthetic second pair of arms erect and useless, muscles beaded with sweat, enacting a raucous infernal crescendo, eyes and mouths aloft, shouting an incantation as the flesh on my back began to sizzle, the impression of the rough lattice of the grill impressing a crosshatch of burning fat into my body, my eyes streaming with tears and lungs filling with fluid, choking on my own stench, the smell of flaming garbage and peat, rubber and browning leaves, an acrid smell that filled the studio and gave the multiple cameras bearing down on me the impression of eyeless wraiths in black hoods. I felt my hide become placid and liquid, drip off of my back and fall into the fire below, spark and sizzle, and the smoke licked the hairs on my arms and legs until they singed and curled, emitting a foul odor, and lips were as hard as tire treads that cracked and leaked blood into my open mouth. I smelled the barbecue for weeks afterwards—it lingered in my hair the way a lover leaves a scent on a pillow. And honestly, I longed for it. The feeling of exhaustion, pain of immolation. It was the saddest thing that I felt so alive in that moment and didn’t realize it until afterwards.

“A long road behind me, a long road ahead. Bound and roasted. A hog with an apple in my mouth. Do I keep a diary to remind myself? Or to forget. Boredom sets in. I feel like sleeping for a week.”

A few months into our collaborative exploration of the art of dying, and I was beginning to have serious reservations about our agreement. What had I gotten myself into? Then something unexpected happened. The Hiss returned in the morning, practically flinging open the basement door. I was dazed. It chastised me—I had to take the 9AM call time, and I only had 30 minutes to get there. I dressed hastily and made my way to the studio on autopilot. The shoot was grueling. It felt more and more like I was getting stuck with the long, monotonous, painful jobs. I hung on a wire. I was picked apart by birds.

Why don’t we go for ice cream? It said.

I hate ice cream.

You love ice cream. It’s practically your personality.

I love gelato. It has texture. Curiosity. It’s like an escape from the grayness of our paltry human existence.

Ehg, you need to get out more, said the Hiss.

No kidding.

So we should go out for gelato.

You leave me in the basement to suffer. You come home late. You want to reward me with gelato. This is a toxic relationship.

Two gigs in one day, said the Hiss, smiling with vehemence.

We went to Luigis. The interior of the place is pleasant. Red and white checkers across the floor and the tablecloth. A kid wearing a paper crown and a starched, white apron. No music. A clock that ticks audibly. I ordered the sea buckthorn, a seasonal offering. The Hiss ordered Earl Gray and Smoked Honey.

How is it? I asked.

I’m impartial, said the Hiss.

Oh come on.

What do you want me to say?

It’s a delicacy.

It clearly requires a lot of effort and skill to produce such a delicate balance of flavors.


I gave you the response you wanted.

You’re sulking.

Since when do you care?

What is this? A breakup? You’re breaking up with me? You take me out for gelato to let me down easy or something? This is so ridiculous. What about my basement? It’s freakin’ flooded with water. There’s brand new species of bacteria evolving down there that scientists will be studying for centuries to come. What about the money we made?

Even after all I’ve done for you, you’re so impatient.

You’re god-damn right I’m impatient. I’ve been busting my ass my entire life to get to a place where I can be comfortable, and then you come along, and you start to occupy every waking moment of my life, my job, even the little things I do to get some enjoyment out of this world before it rolls me over into the ground and I taste dirt for the rest of eternity. What do you even do? What is even your purpose? You’re a hissing, open maw that consumes the light of all that is good. You’re a black hole that renders the void.

The Hiss ate its ice cream. The other patrons of Luigi’s were looking our way.

I could snap my fingers and all this could go away, it said.

But where does that leave me, I asked?

The Hiss sighed. It scraped the paper cup with the little wooden spoon, and then stood to toss it into the trash. The sun shone through the window. Outside, a child and a woman in a long, floral dress held hands and danced to a song we couldn’t here. The Hiss opened the door. It was “Close to Me”, by the Cure.

I already told you, it said. I’m more real than you are. If I leave, I leave you here.

So leave, I said. I dare you.

The next day I had a fairly ordinary gig. The sun was hot. The clouds shimmered as if pain. I fell from the railing of a cruise ship into the sea. I screamed for help. The sharks came with their distinctive fins elevated over the surface of the water, silently rupturing the surface with their harbingers of bloodlust and hunger. The director, the crew, all were congratulatory. My efforts rewarded, I stared into the black dot upon the horizon and I smiled because I knew that death could never conquer my spirit. That night, I wrote in my diary:

My body craves the depths,

If I cannot be a part of Earth, then I must be a part of the abyss.

If I cannot sing, then I must wail.

Only my scream reverberates in my chest in a way that comforts my soul.

My memory escapes through gasping breath,

I inhale the salt water.

I die, I die again, I experience the beauty of pure experience.

I lash myself to the mast and hold on tight.


The last entry the Hiss left in my diary, before disappearing into the expanse of Hell, which, although I never got the chance to explore its farthest reaches, I am sure is an infinite plane, and a place of boundless possibility, doubtlessly a more pleasant place to be than down in my basement, where the water came up to my neck, and the smell of decaying wood becomes indistinguishable from the lice-bitten fetor of my soggy body, the last entry I was able to read with the sodden paper held up over my head, angled so that the pathetic pinch of narrow gray light that reflected from underneath the door onto the surface of the water left behind by the Hiss—I think was intended to be an apology of sorts, an admission of guilt, perhaps, though I never knew the Hiss to acknowledge any sort of joint-culpability in this situation that I’ve now come to understand was never within my ability to escape, that it was inevitable the water would continue to rise around me and that the only impression of my person on the Earth would be the halo of exasperated breath exhumed by the Hiss as it fled, and maybe this is all just projection, and the Hiss was right all along, about my world being one of my own invention, my problems being merely a matter of concrete reality that I could either continue to avoid or address head on, about my desire to bargain and coax humanity from forces and substances that are inhuman in their core—the final entry flooded my vision with color, before extinguishing everything else:

It’s such a beautiful thing, this taste

Of grapes,

Crushed and pummeled, rosy and blackened red—the seeds are like bones

Cast aside.

I think you were right about one thing.

Gelato is not ice cream,

And it is delicious.

It tastes of pain. It tastes eternal.

I long for a world that melts like milk and spent fruit, revealing sweetness and stinging cold, that attracts flies, that stains and ferments.

So much effort, a person expends.

Trying to convince us there is divinity.

Trying to convince us there is ice cream.

But the larvae of flies bathe and thrive in the carcasses of fruit.

And you, you can barely live on Earth,

With all your decadence.

Do you know why? Why you can’t live like flies? Do you?