by sfh | Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Thursday, April 16th, 2020
So, there’s this apartment building, out there in the world somewhere (everywhere). You see it and you don’t see it—its brick skin aged with dust and dirt, its windows and their polaroid lives. It all seems very familiar.
It should not.
Point: your cousin texts, she wants to know where you are so you look at the buildings you’re passing, hunting for an address to appease her. Like, this apartment building. What number is it? You go all the way up to the door because the wall is dirty; because there’s an ill-placed shrub; because the numbers have fallen off and only their indecipherable dust remains. When you put a hand on the brick, it’s warm. The palm of your hand feels raw, windburnt. The grit of sand between your teeth.
This apartment building, you think, is very self-assured. You think, although you can’t put words to the feeling, that there is open space around this building. That the buildings next to it, the street it sits on, the shadow it casts, none of those things exist. This building sits apart from it all. A desert sun bakes its many faces as it dreams an urban dream and you get a text from a cousin who won’t be born for another year.
Once upon a time there is—sorry, was—a team of scientists who traveled great distances to study a building. This building. Before they left their homes, laden with many things they wouldn’t end up needing and missing the one thing they would, they had meetings. Workshops on what to expect. Detailed run-downs of worst case scenarios (which always seemed to end in either RUN or PLAY DEAD. Or, memorably, that one time the instructor stopped lecturing and just showed a twenty minute video of the Mariana Trench. The unfathomable ocean depth, not the band.) Drills of emergency procedures—what to do if someone stops breathing (CPR), chokes (the Heimlich), gets lost (return to the predetermined HQ), runs into themselves in a previous timeline (gestate a butterfly), eats something from the faerie realm (say goodbye), or is untethered from the shuttle and released to float with only half a tank of O2 (send out the AI with another tank. But only if she hasn’t met her event horizon yet). For example.
They went to so many meetings, these scientists, that some of them started playing hooky. Which, of course, proved idiotic when they fell into that black hole. Or, better yet, when they finally made it to the building. But you try to tell preeminent experts in their field to shut up and listen, and just see how that goes.
Once upon a time, there was—sorry, is—a group of scientists who struggles for years and over very harsh terrain to make it to a building. This building. To study it. But here they are! Finally, face to facade. It’s all very dramatic. As it should be. The scientists tell each other the rules as they set up camp a safe league away from the building and its shadow.
1. Don’t look directly at the windows. Like with crows: show deference.
To see what happens when the building senses excessive hubris, go to page _____.
2. Always use the buddy system when researching the fourth or thirteenth floors.
For the urban legend about scientist 24602, the “Lone 13th,” go to page _____.
3. Remember your gas masks, oxygen tanks, defibrillators and snacks.
To read the Tale of the Empty Belly, go to page _____.
4. Don’t go on the roof.
For the time that someone did, go to page _____. If you dare.
Warning: not for people with nut allergies or pregnancy.
5. DO NOT GO ON THE ROOF.
6. If you start to dream within ten feet of the building, you have thirty seconds to wake yourself up.
There isn’t a story about what happens to a dreamer who keeps sleeping. There is just the vague unease of a gathering storm
affecting all of us.
Can you feel it?
WAKE UP. ■
sfh is a writer, theatre artist and dancer. She created these stories on the stolen land of the Musqueam, Stó:lō, Stz’uminus, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (in English, Vancouver & Burnaby, BC). She has lived in cities, and had plays produced in festivals, across Canada—and for her day job, she works at a circus.