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Even math has to figure out a way to be believable

Friday 11/10/23

Nice line. It's from "Devil You Do." Excerpt.


“I’m not scared if you’re not scared,” Mary Ann said to her friend Jessica as they came to the edge of the forest.

She was lying and hoping in equal measure, but hoping it wasn’t actually lying because if Jessica was unafraid then maybe Mary Ann could find a way to be, too.

There were always forests to get through now that hell was a part of earth. No one had ever known if hell ran out of room and needed to expand or whether becoming a part of the world was simply the next logical step in hell’s development and what most people merely call progress.

Hell definitely wasn’t quite like what you would have expected, with fury and explosions and embers raining down. Unanswered screams for help. But sort of, though. It was more like people didn’t believe you and weren’t interested in listening to you anyway and it felt almost impossible to get anything across that would resonate with someone.

You believed you were all alone, except worse—like no one had ever gone through what you’d gone through, which was actually true.

It didn’t help that the whole of your existence seemed to be made up of all of these coincidences. One issue was related to another, and thinking of a third caused a similar telltale sign from the past to reappear and point to a fifth in the present, and so forth.

Moments after you had thought of someone who hurt you, you saw a photo of someone else without even meaning to who had nearly the same name, or was wearing a shirt from the place where that other person was from.

You were plunged in a complex pattern of interlocking setbacks so unlikely in their very interconnectedness that there wasn’t anyone you could talk to about what you experienced who would think that everything you told them had actually happened. Chances were too low. Even math has to figure out a way to be believable.

The darkened woods were everywhere, and they could fit in the smallest spaces—between a couple of thoughts, even. Just to get to school you’d have to go through three or four of them. They didn’t have birds or squirrels. No acorns or pine cones underfoot, like the trees standing in place were meant to be there forever and never have to grow new trees that you could look over the tops of until they got bigger.

People did a lot that was bad for them but they didn’t tell anyone about any of it and they got really good at hiding everything. People who get to be good at hiding what they do get to be good at hiding who they are, and then no one really knows anyone and everyone is out there on their own.

Mary Ann and Jessica used to be sisters and were especially close, but they weren’t either anymore. They were just friends. Pretty good friends but not the best.

Eventually, with how these things usually went, they’d be barely friends at all, followed by acquaintances, then a couple of people who nodded hello when they saw each other in passing.

In time, Mary Ann wouldn’t much care if Jessica was dead and Jessica wouldn’t much care if Mary Ann was dead but neither would likely do anything to make the other one dead, nor would they wish it.

But if it happened, that wouldn’t be so awful. Or it wouldn’t really change what the day was like for either of them. The to-do list would remain intact.

That was hell. Seasons cycled through. The sun got no hotter. You could still go on vacation, but with this desperate yearning that you never had to return to what your life was like, and that made it a supreme challenge to enjoy vacations.

Maybe there was even some miracle that would allow Mary Ann and Jessica to go back in the other direction and become closer than they ever had been. They didn’t think about what they could do, because that wasn’t how anything generally worked, but if a miracle happens, you’ll take it, even if today’s miracle had once been yesterday’s well-intentioned effort.


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