Flaming Gerriot

76 min readFeb 16, 2021

“I just don’t feel anything anymore, that’s what scares me. I haven’t felt happy in years, but I can’t even feel sad anymore. For the last months I can’t even cry. At least there was some texture to my life when I went between sad and neutral, but now even that’s gone.”


“Last night I started planning my suicide again. Decided who I’d give my shit to. I have a friend who’ll want my books. A Goodwill for my clothes. Some sentimental items for my brother. Honestly I felt progress in that, or a lack of burden. Like there was some momentum or change in that. It gave me the best feeling I’d had in years, like suddenly I wasn’t drowning. I was at least distracted from the feeling because I was doing something about it. And that realization gave me fear. First feeling, first strong honest feeling I’ve had in months. I need help.”

“I’m here to help you. You’re not alone. How much have you planned?”

“Just little things. I’ve chosen the spot I want to die, worked out in my head what kind of gun I want to use.”

“Do you own a gun now?”


“Good. Do you feel like hurting yourself or someone else right now?”

“No, no. I just needed to say this shit out loud, u’know? It spins in my head and I feel like I can’t tell anyone because they’ll freak out and try to commit me and I’m not there yet. I don’t need that yet. I probably need a therapist but my insurance is garbage and my last three therapists were all useless in different ways. The therapists I saw after taking pills for over a decade prescribed by criminals which almost killed me several times long before I’d thought of killing myself. And then I’d my first suicidal thoughts on the pills they’d given me to address the anxiety from the pills they gave me to fix the attention deficit problem, so I was on 3 or 4 prescription meds to ‘fix’ my brain which were just fucking me up in novel ways. But even when I got sober and exercised like a loon, hiked, meditated, I still never felt happy. I just had to quit my job, which became too difficult and anxiety-ridden to cope with unmedicated. Which means the meds were helping in some way, unlike the therapists, all who nod and ask me to try things I’ve already tried, and want me to rationalize my utterly lost state of being as somehow okay or acceptable. Like there’s a way out and they know about it. I mean, maybe some people are just born broken, like a part is missing.”


“Yeah there’s this concept in biology used to describe mutants who arrive stillborn because their genetics are so fucked up. They say the creature was ‘incompatible with life’. Well I survived birth but that’s about all I seem to’ve managed. Like, some people devote their lives to grand mystical tyrades trying to force the universe into some recognizable shape and justifying their place in it, but I don’t have the energy for that. I just got tired, or worn out, like a string of fuses blew in me and an emotion went with each one. Because I’m incompatible with life. I’m a fucked-up design.”

“Alright Eric, I want you to pause a moment.”


“I want you to take three deep breaths, in through your nose out through your mouth, and focus on the feeling, okay?”

There was a pause here. Eric inhaled and exhaled loudly into the mouthpiece.

“Okay. I mean, what now.”

“Reflect on everything you just said. What made you feel good?”

“…planning my suicide?”

“Why was that?”

“Well it felt like progress, like I was working on the problem. And I guess the problem, the obstacle is my life and the total monotony. How fucking bland and meaningless everything is. You know in other times people had the benefit of appealing to divine wisdom or some kind of pre-facto that gave existence some kind of legitimacy. Men woke up and thought ‘ah! An infinitely wise and powerful entity created everything so I have to have some kind of purpose!’ But what do we do now? I guess some people still have god or gods or trivial bullshit they devote their lives to. But hell, I’m an atheist. What do I do?”

“Well we’ve established that moving with purpose gives you a sense of relief and feeling again right?”

“Yeah. I guess. I mean, I guess I’m not totally broken yet. Like, all those feelings exist around me planning to kill myself. I mean, I liked the idea of giving my shit to my friends and family, I knew it could make them happy. Like, spending the last month or so of my life just buying my friends things. Like, I felt a freedom coming from within me, like there was an end point on the horizon and I could finally do a couple things I wanted to do because nothing mattered. And maybe that’s a problem of perspective, like I could’ve done these things all along, and if I want to fucking die maybe I can let go of all this shit in my life without killing myself and do something else. But it’s extremely difficult. I just feel beaten through, like all I feel is stress and nothing and I’m tired of eating and breathing like it’s a chore. Like just eating, just sustaining my dumb ass is almost too much a chore to handle. But I feel a little better now. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I can try applying that feeling to other things, plan something, anything. An escape of some kind.”

“I’m glad you feel somewhat better.”

“Yeah, you know sometimes I just feel like I need to talk and I can’t and just writing doesn’t help. I need a human to hear me. I just feel lost. Completely alone. Thank you for being here. I think I’m gonna go now, I think I’m gonna get a burrito. Thank you.”

“Absolutely, Eric. You know we’re always here if you need us, twenty-four hours a day, every day.”

“Yeah alright. Thanks, Gerry.”

The line went dead. Gerry stared straight ahead at a meme picture of a dog getting hit in the face with a frisbee he’d printed out and thought not at all for a solid five minutes. He didn’t even know they’d passed, he simply left his head. It was as though, for those moments, there was no Gerry. When he regained his senses he was disappointed. He stood, stretched his back, then went to the break room to get coffee, which was lukewarm. He usually drank it as hot as he could stand. The competition between the edge of pain searing his mouth and esophagus and the dismal void aching in his core did him good sometimes. For the same reason, he would eat his food with as much capsaicin content as he could tolerate. It made him shit liquid fire, which he appreciated. Briefly, every morning, he felt cleaned out internally, and when his asshole stopped burning the relief from the pain was sublime.

Gerry checked his Apple Watch. His shift was already over. He sighed, logged out of his computer, then left the office. The sky was grey, but bright enough to make him squint. The air tasted like water but it wasn’t raining. It was warm. Gerry began to sweat immediately, and dropped his keys as he fumbled to enter his bright yellow 2005 Honda Civic. His car started after 3 tries and Gerry pulled into the dense traffic with NPR asking loud questions it would answer shortly after the news. But Gerry didn’t hear the voices on the radio. He really wasn’t thinking at all for the whole drive home. He stared blankly ahead and left the world behind him. For the twenty-five minutes of his commute, Gerry did not exist. When he arrived at his apartment he turned off his car and sat in the driver’s seat and half-listened to the story on the radio, idly rubbing his leg for another three minutes.

Instead of going directly into his apartment, Gerry decided to buy beer. He walked across the street to a convenience store and pushed past the glass door to the back where he bought 6 Tecate tallboys and a pack of American Spirits, then walked back out. Drizzle had just started, and the sky was getting dark. A homeless man alongside the gas station looked at his bag of beer, forlorn. Gerry walked back to his apartment complex. He climbed the stairs, ignoring his descending neighbors, entered his apartment, and sat on his sofa. The cat ran toward him, rubbing against his legs. Gerry sat for two minutes, mindless, before taking off his shoes. The double knots troubled him, he’d tied his shoes too tight, but after struggling for another two minutes, he got them off and flung them across the room. Gerry then removed his pants, threw them across the room onto a pile of clothing, and sat in his shirt, underwear, and long socks, opening a beer and drinking it in silence. After guzzling the first beer, Gerry sparked a cigarette, inhaled deeply, then walked to his dresser, withdrawing a Glock 32 from his underwear drawer, then walked back to his sofa. He dropped the cigarette butt into his empty beer can, opened another beer, and sparked another cigarette. He checked the chamber: the Glock was loaded, of course. Always.

He finished the beer and stroked his cat. The television was on, he’d left it on when he went to work, but he didn’t really hear it. He dropped the second butt into that beercan, cracked a third, and put the Glock into his mouth. He didn’t feel anything about it. Figured he wouldn’t waste the beer he’d just opened and put the gun down again for a moment. Gerry sipped his beer, then had a thought and laughed. He dialed 1–800–273–8255 and listened for the recording to end and kick him over to a human.

The first line, eternally familiar: “Crisis hotline, this is Jeff. How can I help you?”

Gerry asked, “Hey, Jeff. Have you ever heard someone blow their brains out before?”

Silence. Three seconds. Four seconds. Then “Are you planning to…”

Gerry braced the gun with his teeth and fired directly upward into the roof of his mouth, and for a time he did not exist.

Gerry awoke to a headache. He’d been dreaming of a pool he could not escape. Every time he tried to grab hold of the ledge his hand slipped on marble and he ended up back in the pool. He’d been doing this for days in the dream. Over the course of the final hours spent in the pool, there was a dull and rising heat that became intolerable. Gerry understood he was dreaming and woke with a gasp, escaping from the pool into a bed.

Gerry sat up, panting. He rubbed his chin. The roof of his mouth felt swollen, but he wasn’t in much pain. As he blinked the scene resolved around him. Monitors. Beeps. An inclined bed. An open window. Clean floor. Hospital bed. He was in a hospital.

Gerry wondered idly why he sat in a hospital bed. He tongued the roof of his mouth then ran his hand along the back of his head, now shaven, and felt a bandage there. He pressed a little and noticed it covered something like a hole. Then he remembered. He had shot himself.

But that Gerry now felt like a different person. Gerry now could not understand how or why he put a bullet in his own head. He felt great. He was higher than the moon off a morphine drip, but that wasn’t the source of this profound new disposition. He didn’t know how to explain it. Something had changed. Like something in him had disappeared, some chain broken. When he breathed, breaths were fuller. When he moved, limbs were lighter.

Gerry grinned. He swung his legs over the side of his bed, pulled tubes and wires from his body, stood, lost his balance, toppled back onto the bed, laughed, then stood again. Grinning still, Gerry left the room in his gown, found scrubs in a bin in the hall, then found a bathroom. He pulled off the gown and stared in a mirror at his gooseflesh, shriveled pecker, and bruised face. The bandaging on his head was extensive. Gerry contorted a rictus and angled his face to get a look at the roof of his mouth. The entry wound was small, and the bandage inside his mouth secure. He grabbed a paper towel, blew his nose, and briefly went blind. When he recovered sight a bloody, lumpy mess saturated the towel and his hands. He laughed. He laughed so hard he cried. The tears were mixed with a bit of blood.

Gerry slipped on his pilfered scrubs, then wandered out of the hospital without attracting too much curiosity: who cares about a man leaving the hospital with a bandaged head? His gait was a touch loopy, the right foot took a little longer getting to the ground than his left as muscles spasmed with each step, but it was easy to ignore. Gerry was excited. He walked at a rapid pace. He walked straight home, it took about an hour and a half. His apartment door was unlocked but when he entered nothing was missing or askew. There were footprints, bloody and dusty, all over his entryway, and there was a deep stain of dried blood all over his sofa, and he smelled something like a dead animal coming from one of the bedrooms, but everything else was as he’d left it. Even the gun remained untouched on the floor where he’d dropped it after pulling the trigger. Gerry looked up and saw a hole in the ceiling surrounded by a halo of blood. Beautiful.

Gerry picked up his gun, ejected the magazine, emptied the chamber, and returned everything to his underwear drawer. He went to the bathroom and withdrew his stock of surplus pharmaceuticals. Enough pain pills and antibiotics to last a month. Gerry popped 2 Vicodin and a Cefazolin then relaxed on his sofa, on the other side of the bloodstain. He flipped on the TV, turned Netflix on shuffle, then napped sitting upright for three days, watching narratives slide in and out of focus. They mixed with dreams, and Gerry noticed he was pleased to be dreaming, pleased that his brain was working, even while he slept. He dreamed many things. He dreamed he was kissing his ex, who looked like his mother, who left him again but smiling this time, pointing to a horizon that neared every time he looked at it. Gerry dreamed a burning child spoke calmly to him, and when Gerry went to hug the child he caught fire but could not feel anything but joy. He dreamed a screaming infant sucked on his breast and grew into a man who bowed and began to provide fellatio. He dreamed a glowing tree burst from the hole in his head and bore fruits that a thousand men came to eat and were filled by, until they knew no other way of life and came to worship him. He dreamed his cat forgave him by kissing him on the mouth. His cat.

Gerry woke and found his cat’s corpse, thin and rotting, under his bed. He apologized to his cat, thanked her, then threw her in the trash can. He then decided to take the trash out. As he walked down the apartment stairs in the noonlight he noticed Janet’s car in the parking lot. She was exiting her car. How peculiar. Gerry paused. Janet pulled her pants up over her fat behind, covering a peeking crack, adjusted her cardigan, then looked up, spotting Gerry with a start.

“Oh!” She cried.

“Hi, Janet.” Gerry cried out, waving with the bag containing his dead cat.

“I- so you haven’t been picking up your phone…”

Gerry grinned and pointed to his head: “Haha, yeah. I’ve been busy.”

He ambled down the stairs apologizing loudly for his clumsiness, explaining how much

Vicodin he’d taken, dragging the stench of death with him. Janet’s ample cheeks flushed with anxiety. She asked “Are you… okay?”

Gerry paused about 7 feet away from her and looked her up and down. He responded “Janet, I’ve never been better. Frankly this head injury has done me some good. I’d wish it on anyone!” and winked, passing her on the way to the dumpster.

Flustered, Janet followed. “So, Gerry. Erm, do you think you’ll be coming back to work anytime soon? We were getting worried.”

The dumpster was extremely full, so he swung the bag like a sling, round and round, and let the momentum carry it overhead onto the top of the pile of refuse, sighed, then turned to his coworker.

“Of course, Janet. I’ll be in tomorrow. I’m sorry for all the confusion I’ve caused, but you see this injury made me a little soft in the head.“ He poked at the hole in the left side of his skull, pressing down on the bandage and past the bone a couple of times, giggling. Janet gagged, swayed, then caught herself.

“I-if you don’t mind my asking, what, uh, happened to you?”

Gerry smiled at her and began walking back to his apartment. “My brain tried to escape from my skull, but a nice doctor caught it for me and recaged it. These things happen, like car accidents, or thunderbolts. By the way, Janet, do we have dental?”

Janet nodded, faint. “It’s opt-in. So, um, if you opted in.”

Gerry turned for a final look at his coworker. Her ankles spilled over her flats, looking weak as her quivering chin. He laughed, walked up to her, and hugged her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Janet.”

“…okay.” She gagged. “Please shower before returning to work tomorrow.”

Janet was right, Gerry could smell his balls with his pants on. He walked upstairs, downed a couple more pain pills, sipped a chocolate Soylent and stepped into the shower. The warmth of the water joined rolling waves of opiatic ecstasy. Gerry undid the bandages on his head, let the water roll over the closing wound in his scalp. Grime and blood ran down the drain. He soaped himself gently, running fingers through the regrowth on his head and face. He felt like a tree in spring. His branches swayed beneath rain, the warm waves radiating a solar glow. He closed his eyes. Everything was brilliant white.

The bandage on the roof of Gerry’s mouth fell off in his sleep that night so when he got to work the next morning many words involving the letter “s” came out as more a nasal exhalation than a normal sound, and while he was able to pronounce Susan correctly when he waved to her, Sharon was greeted as Schearn, a fact forgiven due to the apparently severe headwound the man had sustained. Gerry wore a knit skicap covering the slow-healing hole in his head, but still had significant facial bruising, and his left eye bugged out a little more than his right, and his gait was still loping. No one questioned it to his face though.

No one spoke to Gerry much before his accident. No one really wanted to pry now. Seemed like a great deal of stress for no reward. So Gerry sat and called his dentischt first, for an appointment to get a prosthetic for his perforated palate, ignoring a couple incoming calls as they came. On the third call he picked up.

“Cristhisth preventhion hotline, thisht isth Gerry. How can I help you?” “Hey, uh. Yeah I’m Alice.”

“Nicth to meet you, Alicth.”

“Yeah. Are you okay?”

“You know Alitch, I’ve never been bether. You’re atchking about my thpeeth impediment,


“I… I think so?”

“I blew a hole in my thkull about ten dayth ago.”

“Oh. Uh.”

“I feel mutch better though. Why are you calling today?”

“…you blew a hole in your head?”


“…should you be talking to me right now?”

“We thould thay focuthed on you.”

“Okay. Well I feel really lonely right now.”


“Like my stepmom stole my dad away from me. And I’m not a kid anymore, I’m 26 so it

shouldn’t be a problem. But I still live at home because I’m poor. And I’m getting a degree that I don’t even want anymore because it feels like the only way I can justify my existence, but there’s no job or life I can envision on the other side.”


“I don’t even want a job. I don’t want anything. I just stay in my room lately. I just drink. I’m tired of waking up. I run out of booze because I live off a stipend I got for really good grades, so I steal it from my stepmom, who has two stashes: the main one in a central location, and then a hidden bottle which keeps moving around. But I know all her stash spots. I think she knows I know, but she won’t confront me over it because she doesn’t want to have the conversation where I accuse her of being an alcoholic. So instead she tells my dad I’m a piece of shit. Over and over and over again. I hear her talking about me to him on the phone or whenever she wants to pretend I’m out of earshot. She used to try to hide it behind closed doors, but now she does it pretty much out in the open. And I fucking hate her for it.”



“Go on.”

“Well I know I cause my dad nothing but trouble, and my stepmom hates me. And my mom is dead. And I don’t have any friends. I told them all to fuck off. And the ones that didn’t I fucking vomited on or screamed at or blacked out at until they all disappeared and I don’t even know why or when, but I’m all alone. Everything feels black. Like it’s all just surface level and there’s sucking darkness beneath it. Like there’s no hope, nothing to look forward to. I keep getting bruises, I don’t know what they’re from. Last night I went to a bar just to get someone to fuck me, but I was too sloppy when I showed up. I woke up in my bed and have no idea how I got there, just 5 blurry pics of my own face and vomit on my fucking sweater. I feel like I’m losing my god damn mind. I think about dying every day. Every single day.”


“It’s like every time I move out I end up falling the fuck apart and moving back in with my dad. And every time I end up back with my dad I try to get my shit back together but it always falls the fuck apart. And every time I fall apart it costs my dad money, and he looks so sad to see me do this to myself. Every single day I just hurt, I feel swollen like my guts are rejecting the shit I put them through. I stay in bed longer every day so I can bear to get up and function again, but it’s extremely halfass. I just wake up at the last possible second, go to class, read, get drunk, pass out. And there’s not any way out. It doesn’t get better than this. People just get jobs and go to work and get drunk and die. Alcohol is anesthesia. It just numbs pain. It’s why people take painkillers or disassociatives, they just want to fucking escape from the pain and pressure of waking up and dealing with being alive. And I get it. And I feel like the only way out is dying. Every day I think about it. I have a bottle full of sleeping pills and a pint of fucking booze. Why not.”

“Well, you’re right.”


“Yeah, the only way out is dying. People try to reach death conthtantly. You know orgathm ith

known ath ‘the little death’ in France. People act out uthing chemicalth attempting to approximate death without actually dying. People are averth to dethithonth they can’t reverth. But ith really the only tholution.”

“Why would you say that to me.”

“In Buttitht thought the only thing worth than living ith that you’ll never die: you’ll live over and over and over again in pain and ignoranth until you accumulate the karma and practith to reath enlightenment. Then you’ll truly ethcape life. Itth bullthit though. When you die, you’re gone. Ith an end to it.”

“How the fuck would you know.”

“I thpent a little time dead, rethently. The only one who cared ith my dead cat, and thath in the patht, the cath dead.”

“What so the solution is to kill myself?”

“Ith a tholution, but probably not the betht one.”

“Why not?”

“Well for one ith fucking methy. You thould thee my thofa!” Gerry laughed hard enough for blood to start leaking from his nose again. “But theriouthly dying would’ve been juth fine. And ith not a bad tholution. But feelingth like that pasth. Thith ith why ith important to have overarching live goalth. Which you don’t theem to.”

“No. That’s the fucking problem.” “Well, I have an idea.” “…okay….”

“Have you ever planted a tree?” “No.”

“I want you to go out and plant a tree. Anywhere.”

“This is fucking stupid. You’re fucking nuts.”

Gerry snorted into the phone. “It feelth that way, huh? What if I gave you my number? I don’t need to get yourth. But what if you planted that tree for me and called me.”


There was silence on the line for ten seconds.

“Fuck it I was going to kill myself anyway. What kind of tree?”

“What kind of tree do you like most?”

“I don’t know. I like magnolia trees.”

“Go plant a magnolia. Ith thomthing you can look at in the landthape thath not all yourth. Ith thomething to give to otherth, and ith a living thing too. In a way it doethnt belong to anyone. It won’t give your whole life meaning, but it’ll give the day meaning. And it might give you a thenth of agenthy over the world around you. It feelth like you’ve been lacking that.”

“…yeah. Maybe. Do you… actually want to give me your number?” “Thure, if you’re comfortable with it.”


“Theven-five-three, eight-thix-thix-“

“Was that a six?”

“Yeth, eight-thix-thix.”



“Oh. Ohkay, I think I have it. Hey. Thanks. I uh, no one’s given a fuck about what I do with my time for years.”

“I think people jutht need to be aware thereth alwayth thomeone to lithen and give an anthwer. There are tholutionth to every problem, you know? More than one.”

“Sure. If I don’t kill myself I’ll call you back. Thanks.”

Gerry smiled. The line went dead. He popped a Vicodin and a Cefazolin and experienced a vision of a fresh branch twisting out of a trunk of brilliant white. It grew and grew, stretched toward the heavens and forked into two, which each forked and forked again, until the universe was a perfect lattice of branchwork, blooming and leafing and impossibly white. In the wind each leaf spoke, sharing fear, anger, insecurity, hatred, and the leaves fell to the foot of the trunk, mulched, and the tree grew taller. The flowers changed into fruits and fell among the screaming leaves, then erupted into white white trunks that screamed into the stars an-

The phone rang.

“Crithith preventhion hotline, thith ith Gerry. How can I help you?” “What’s wrong with you.”

“I’ve a thpeech impediment. But I’m thill here to lithen.”

After a productive round of calls, Gerry spoke to Janet, head of the Crisis Hotline’s human resources department, looking to acquire recordings of the day’s conversations. Gerry explained he was feeling self-conscious about his day’s interactions and wanted to review his work to get his head back on straight. Janet needed little convincing: she was excited to get the leaky-headed manic out of her office. She pulled up recordings of each call he had taken and placed them in a Dropbox for Gerry’s edification. Gerry thanked her profusely and left for home.

Driving home, Gerry spun the radio dial compulsively. He paused on any station playing advertisements, skipping forward when music started. Enthusiastic voices poured over him in litanies. A thousand promises, answers to fresh questions, questions the listener never asked. But they each followed a formula.

“Hey, Tim!”

“Hey, Bob!”

“Boy I sure love grilling.”

“Yeah me too. Did you know Kroger is offering 50% of all wieners for the next month? Bob? Uh, Bob? You okay?”

“Haha yeah, Tim. I was just thinking of all the wieners I can afford now. Why even call it Summer? It’s Sausage Season.”

“Yeah, Bob. And I bet you’re thirsty after horking all these wieners. If you buy five kilos of kielbasa this month only you qualify for a keg of Coors at half-price!”


“That’s right. The fellas over at Coors want Americans to celebrate their country as enthusiastically as this country celebrates them.”

“Cheers to that!”

*Beer cans pop open*

“Cheers to America!”

“Come on by Kroger, your headquarters for a Real American Celebration.”

Characters introduced. Who were they? It didn’t matter! What mattered was the problem of expensive wieners! Gerry didn’t realize wieners were so expensive before the ad played, but now realized there was a perfect answer to a question he’d previously never asked. “Where are the cheapest wieners?” Fantastic. Further, he learned that America was properly celebrated with many wieners and much beer. He hadn’t considered his celebrations of America might have been insufficient before consulting this advertisement.

Music started, and Gerry skipped to the next station, where the advertisement claimed the only proper way to celebrate the 4th of July was a rack of ribs and a fifth of Jack Daniel’s. Gerry had never realized how confusing this deluge of advertisement was before. In fact, prior to this moment, Gerry could not remember ever having properly listened to an advertisement. Now he’d listened to many, he found the contradictions between them both dazzling and inconvenient. How was a Proper American supposed to celebrate the 4th of July, after all, if there were so may prescribed mandates? Ribs here, wieners there. Fireworks seemed to be common between them all, and no one contradicted that grilling or alcohol were necessary, but if this American Feast was to be celebrated as every advert recommended the food costs would be enormous! Days of effort would be required simply to purchase everything necessary. Anyway, how was he supposed to attend the Six Flags celebration and see the fireworks over the Trinity River?

Further, while it was acceptable that Gerry was an ignorant ape, half the people in the advertisements themselves seemed completely ignorant of the proper procedures to engage in a fulfilling, correctly-lived life. While these were obviously constructed conversations, it occurred to Gerry that most people did not know how to ask these questions for themselves and so relied on advertisement to ask questions for them. Then people became prey to the many opinions available without any true recourse to a broader sense of what is right.

This was no way to live.

When Gerry arrived at his apartment he sat in a parking spot finishing a commercial about a treatment which addresses moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis which might result in side effects including, in rare cases, kidney failure and colorectal cancer. Gerry turned off his Civic, grunted out of the car, clicked the lock 7 times, then walked upstairs. He checked the roof of his mouth in the bathroom mirror, packed his hole with gauze, then taped it up to stop the annoying whistling that accompanied every exhale. He then stripped with gusto, tossing each article of clothing to the floor, and donning a linen robe that bore his hairy chest and exposed his genitals as he sat splay-legged on his sofa, under the corona of gore. There, he popped a trio of pills and cracked open his laptop.

Gerry listened to the calls he’d taken that day. He transcribed every word. His job at the Crisis Hotline was largely to let people arrive at their own answers after talking through their problems, to let people feel they had someone to listen to them. But most of their problems seemed to arise because they did not have a specific set of answers to consult when need arose. Their lives, consequently often lacked purpose. There was too much conflict, too much contradiction in the world around them.

He finished transcribing and paused and his eyes drooped half-closed as he envisioned a thousand sprouts bursting from the soil and reaching toward one fantastic trunk, twisting around it into a single pillar of light and noticed he had a slight erection when he was interrupted by his phone ringing. The number was unfamiliar.

“This is Gerry.”

“H-hey. You sound different.”

“Is this Alice?”


“I plugged up the hole in my palate with gauze and tape because I was tired of whistling air through the hole in my head, HA!”


“What’s on your mind, Alice?”

“Well, took out my dad’s truck and I bought the magnolia tree and a spade from a little local

place. And I was gonna plant it in my dad’s yard but he didn’t want me digging up his lawn and I thought ‘why the fuck would I want to place any other living thing in the same ground that fucked me up so badly’. So I’m driving it to a park I walk past every day to put it in the earth so I can see it and watch it grow.”

“That sounds nice.”

“Yeah it feels good. It just feels good to have something I want to do for myself. Like even if you told me to do it, I’m doing this for me. I can end it at any moment and I don’t because I can do something about this feeling with my fucking hands.”


“I’m pulling up to the park right now. The sun is setting, it’s fucking beautiful. Mind if I put you on speakerphone?”


Gerry listened. A car door opened and closed. Some dragging and huffing sounds, a slam, some swearing. Then, digging.

“So, Gerry. Not that I need to know but why did you blast a hole in your head?”

“I don’t remember really.”

“Wh- hoo. Hah. What do you mean you don’t remember?”

“I mean, it was a feeling I can’t feel anymore. I put a gun in my mouth and fired upward, and I literally can’t remember why I shot myself in the head. I can’t even conceive of how odd I must have felt.”

More panting from Alice followed, after which a clang sounded, a few grunts, and then a loud thud.

“That’s kind of convenient though, right? Like, blowing a hole in my head seems like a surefire guarantee to never feel like this again. Only problem is I’d probably blow everything else out with it. You’re a lucky bastard. Maybe I should try it, you know? Work out the angle you fired at.”

Sounds of dirt being shoveled and slapped by a spade filled the speaker.

“No, you’d probably kill yourself, Alice. I think what you and most other people need are goals. I think that goals come from answers. And I think I have all the answers most people will ever need.”

“Wh- whew. What the fuck do you, ungh, MEAN that you have, hah, all the answers people will ever need?”

“Well, everyone seems to have questions. Right?”


“Most people find answers to their questions in passing. From advertisements, their parents, teachers. Most questions they have the willpower to find are advertisements too, or some kind of trapwork. People don’t think too hard about the answers they’re given, and if they do they’ll ask more questions. These questions are often answered by many people or organizations in competition. There is no consistency. This causes distress. Hell, many people can’t even think of questions to ask, so other people put questions in their heads and have easy answers prewritten for when those simple questions come rolling off of their tongues.”

“I mean, sure. But why do you think that means YOU have any answers?”

“I think the trick is to have good intentions toward people, and have an answer for every question. I think I can help a lot of people by giving them a reason to wake up, prescribing activities for their feelings, and by simply having all the answers they ever need, indexed precisely and accessibly.”

“Ah, and uh, whew, how the hell are you gonna do that?”

“Well, I’m not sure.”

Silence fell between the two as Gerry listened to Alice pant and dig and pound earth. Then all

sound stopped.

Alice spoke: “Finished. It actually looks pretty good. I mean it’s still small, but I expect it’ll grow as long as some fucking asshole kids don’t pull on it and kick it.”

More silence. Then, “Well what do I do now then, Gerry?”

Gerry snapped to attention, wiping a bit of drool from the corner of his mouth. “Do you still feel like killing yourself?”

Alice thought a moment, then responded, “Not now.”


“I guess I want to wake up and see what happens to the tree.”

The sound of Alice cracking a beer popped through Gerry’s speaker. A sip. A sigh.

“You should help me improve the lives of other people.”

“Hah, okay. Wow. This is moving a little fast. Like, what do you want me to do?”

“I’ll get back to you. I have your number now.”

“Yeah, I guess you do.”

“Don’t hesitate to call me again if you need me, Alice.”

“I won’t. You fucking weirdo. And hey, Gerry.”



The next day Gerry attended an emergency dental appointment. To be fitted for a prosthetic palate the swelling in Gerry’s mouth needed to recede. His dentist estimated this would take 6–8 weeks, after which he would need to go see a prosthodontist. For the meantime he provided Gerry with gauze and adhesive bandages designed for the mouth to minimize any wound- induced speech abnormalities and leakage.

On his way home Gerry skipped around the radio again, listening to various ads until a sermon caught his attention. Between blasts of static a preacher spoke so urgently that Gerry, having initially skipped the station, doubled back and paused, hand poised on the dial in case urgent boredom seized him. But the more he heard the more secure Gerry became in his newfound convictions.

“GOD,” enthused the preacher, “had a purpose for Job. There is a message here. Where it seems like there is no meaning, no reason behind his suffering, Job persevered because of his faith. There is a secular tendency in the mainstream to read this book, these Words from God, as some kind of postmodern nightmare. God was induced by Satan into the infliction of meaningless suffering on one of his faithful for the arbitrary end of proving a boast. But there was nothing arbitrary about this. God dominates Satan, whose tests gauge the divine work, are part of the perfect mechanism of Creation. Job asks many questions and receives answers from friends and callers throughout the book, but dismisses each in turn, lamenting his lot and questioning only God. He never renounces or damns God, only questions Him.

“And what happens? God actually comes down from the heavens in a whirlwind and addresses Job directly. It’d be nice if we could all get such direct answers, huh? But in a way, God is addressing all of us who question Him over personal misfortune. God does not even answer Job’s questions on why bad things happen to good people, what Job did to deserve punishment, or anything. No. God asks Job ‘Who are you to question me, the creator of all things? You can’t even begin to understand your own life, so don’t you question ME about Creation!’ Job is set straight, apologizes, and gets his blessed lifestyle back.

“Though man questions, it is not his place to question! The answers are provided us, right here, in this book! Life is hard, but the wages of sin are much harder to reap than the patient endurance of the tasks set before us. FAITH! Faith is the answer. Whatever questions are not directly addressed are answered by the patterns of life itself. Death and salvation through faith in the Lord and Christ are the only reward we need seek, not material or fleshy pleasure. GOD is great, incomprehensible, and loves us such that he presses trials into our path to strengthen our commitment to our own salvation.

“Now, the act of saving souls is not easy. It requires plenty of money, time, and effort. Haha, tonight we’re emphasizing the money part of this little equation, the result of which is SALVATION. Remember Proverbs 3:9–10, ‘Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.’ Now, barring such cases as Job’s, God rewards those who give to His shepherds much more than he asks in sacrifice, and this week we are raising funds for a Gulfstream Jet to bring the bright, pure Word of God from here in blessed America to everywhere still dark and yet unlightened by heaven. You can always mail in a check but we are now accepting Venmo payments, @GODSPORTION777, for your convenience. There is no better time to give, and no excuse not to. Remember 2 Corinthians 9:10 ‘He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.’ Whatever you give will be returned to you many times! Thank you. And now, let the Herald of Redemption Choir raise its voices in praise of the Light and the Way while you make out those checks, haha.”

As the choral music swelled, Gerry pulled into his parking spot and killed his engine. The Civic shuddered and died. Gerry laughed, quieted, then laughed again, hard. He entered his home, sat on his sofa and stared up at the spatter of blood over his head for a while, then popped pain pills and grabbed his computer. He was about to flip over to sluttony.com when his ringtone shattered the lazy eros.



“Are you on your computer?”

“…are you watching me?”

“No, dummy. Get on Twitch.”

“What is Twitch.”

“Oh my god how old are you.”


“Ugh, okay. Just go to Twitch.tv right now.”

“Okay. Now what.”

“Search for ‘GlobKnows’ all one word.”

“Okay. Wait. What is this?”

“Look, it’s some random guy just answering peoples’ questions about anything. Just watch for a bit.” Gerry inserted an earbud and settled in to watch. “Glob”, the channel host, was dressed as a giant cocoon

in sunglasses and facepaint. A stick of incense sat to his left and an old-style phone sat to his right. He was taking calls, and his phone number was displayed prominently at the top right corner of the screen. He was on the phone right now with a sad-sounding man moaning about “… put my dog down and I wasn’t even there, man.”


“I couldn’t even hold her in her final moments. What kind of a shit family member to that dog I was. They called me, my parents, and I just broke down. I just cried. I mean, I was states away, I couldn’t’ve made it, and they had to put her down, you know. I couldn’t ask them to wait or anything, it’d be selfish of me. My poor dog was suffering. But it just feels so shitty. It reminds me of every failure in my life to this point, every shitty thing I pulled on my parents or exes.”

“Sure, but you said it yourself. You could not have been there.”


“And your parents would understand. They had you, and when they brought you into the world they committed to dealing with everything you were bringing into the world with you. Being born isn’t your fault.”

“Yeah, but my dog couldn’t understand. She was probably just wondering ‘where’s Michael?’ in her last minutes. ‘Where’s Michael?’ you know? Scared.”

“It’s rough, but it sounds like you’re still grieving. It sounds like you know you don’t need to blame yourself for this but you’re still having all the feelings you need to have, and that’s normal.”

“I think you’re right.”

Gerry muted the program and flicked through the thousands of channels on Twitch. Then he asked: “Alice, why are you showing this to me?”

“Dude, you asked if I could help you help people.”



“Look, you wanted to help people find answers, right? You already work at a call center. You should take calls and give people answers. People like Glob are amateurs with simple ambitions. We should make you a Twitch streamer.”

“Wait, no.”

“Hey, you said it yourself. You want to be accessible, right?”

“Yes, but-“

“You need to get your face out there, answering questions. There are a million blogs and stupid posters on Reddit and Twitter or wherever, but if you were giving people who called in strong, specific answers, I think that would vibe. I think people online would get it.”



“I don’t know. Can I call you back?”


“Okay, give me a bit.”

Gerry hung up and flicked Glob’s volume back up, piping the stream through his home speakers and entering his shower. When he closed his eyes to rinse his hair a flower blossomed where a sapling merged with the tree sprouting from the hole in his head and he opened his eyes, getting a little soap into them and screaming for half a minute before cutting off the shower and rushing naked and wet to his phone. He called Alice.

“That was fast.”

“Alice, I want to do this.”

“O-oh? That was really fast. What changed your mind?”

“Nothing, I just thought about what you said. I need your help though.”

“Okay, what do you need?”

“Do you have a webcam?”

After three more days of work, where Gerry gave his number out to 4 more suicidal individuals, only one of whom called, Alice showed up at his apartment door with her webcam and laptop. Gerry opened at her third knock and ushered Alice in. She kicked off a pair of Ice Creams at his front door. He noticed Alice was a very small person, half-lost in oversized clothes and long dark hair. She looked at him with a wry “What?” expression then walked into the apartment, stopping fast to stare at the darkened jet of dry crimson on the wall and ceiling behind and over his sofa.

“You haven’t cleaned it up yet?”

“I cleaned everything else up. I don’t want to repaint the walls yet. I like to look at it.”

She grimaced. “At least… it looks like you shampooed your couch?”



Alice pulled up a chair next to the sofa and wrenched open her laptop. “What’s your wifi?”

“Ger1, password is 12345.”

“Jesus Christ, get a new password.”

“You can change it if you want. Just tell me what you change it to.”

“Uh, no.”

“Want a drink?”

“Have beer?”

Gerry pulled a Tecate from his fridge and tossed it to Alice who looked at Gerry hard for the first time. “You look like shit.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think foundation would hide that my whole face is one bruise so I skipped makeup today. It’s kind of a natural eye shadow anyway.”

“I don’t know, man, a little green and red could liven your palate right up.”

“I’ll consider it. What are you doing?”

Alice cracked her beer and responded “I’m creating a streaming channel for you. What do you want your name to be?”

“Do I have to choose right now?”


“How about ‘Gerry’?”

Alice frowned at Gerry. “No.”


After twenty minutes of spitballing they generated the name “Gerriot”. They then spent the next 30 minutes dressing Gerry and positioning Alice’s webcam properly for a good effect. Alice noticed the blood splatter on the wall created a halo effect around Gerry’s head, so she tried to angle the camera for a sacred look that ended up morbid. After dragging every lamp in the house around Gerry’s head, the duo managed acceptable lighting.

“Alright, wave to the camera.”

“Are we on?


“Ah, uh, hello! My name is Gerry an-“

“You don’t have anyone in your channel yet.”

“How do I get people in my channel.”

“You have to advertise.”

“Thith is an involved process.”


The two created a Twitter account, then Alice advertised Gerriot with her own account but, this only netted them a maximum audience of ten members on the first night. Gerry had to come up with a plan. And he did. He had a great idea that night.

Gerry printed a ream of flyers with a simple statement on them: “Questions? All answers at (phone number). Streaming at (twitch handle)”. He stapled and taped them all over his town, the library, the park. He shared his information with every suicidal individual he had the information of. He posted relentlessly on Twitter, as Alice posted there and on 4chan. Then, every moment he was off work, he was online. Waiting.

This eventually paid off.

“Nothing improves. I quit drinking and nothing gets better. I keep drinking and nothing gets better. Marijuana stupefies me, man. I can’t even talk straight when I smoke. But when I drink I can’t remember what I read, so I get frustrated and don’t read at all. I can’t bring myself to do what I love, and I don’t remember if I love it anymore. I haven’t been sober long enough to know if I even like what I thought I used to in a long time, you know? It’s like I forget who I am.”

“Well it seems to me like that’s the problem.”


“You have no idea who you are.”

“Yeah, I- yes.”

“It also sounds to me like you never had a strong sense of self.”

“I guess. I always knew what I didn’t like. I never had that strong ‘this is who I am and what I like’ though. None of my friends did either, really. Just drifting between hobbies. And like some of them got unhappy from time to time, but they never seemed to dwell on it like I do. They just move on. They get jobs, they learn. I get stuck. I just ask ‘why’ over and over and over. And it drives me insane. It’s like people know they want money, or they want to make art or have a family. Like they know they want something. And I just can’t find that in me.”

“That’s not uncommon.”

“So why does it feel so uncommon? And what the fuck is a person supposed to do with your little revelation? I mean, there are a million lost people shuffling around looking at their feet or grabbing whoever wanders into their field of vision to fuck and they seem sad or something but maybe they’re unaware or frustrated or unwilling to share the anger. Like, people die mad all the time, man. They die full of anger and fucking regret and just say ‘It happens’ and I can’t do that. Why put myself through all the suffering if everyone dies unfulfilled.”

“Does everyone die unfulfilled?”

“Okay like some people say they have answers. They found them or they were given answers, or some people shit just seems to work out so they never have to ask questions without answers. But that’s a crock of shit, right? People made up those answers. I’m not falling for that shit.”

“What about that is a crock of shit? People found answers that give them meaning.”

“Nah man it’s all about the illusion of control. They didn’t find any answers, they made up a reason to be happy and then settled into it.”

“And that makes them dupes?”

“Hell yeah man.”

“And you, the unhappy man without any answers, are enlightened?”

“Well, no. I mean, I don’t believe in enlightenment or god or anything like that.”

“Then what, practically, makes your viewpoint any better than theirs?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s nothing about practicality. I mean here I am thinking about killing

myself again.”

“Why did you call me today instead of the Crisis Hotline?”

“I don’t know, I don’t feel like I actively want to kill myself yet, so I felt like it’d be selfish or

something. But I can’t afford therapy so I can’t pay to assault a therapist’s ears. I don’t trust therapists anyways, I feel like they’d have me committed. Here I’m anonymous, and you want to be here. I’m not stealing anyone’s time. I don’t know, you seem like you have ideas, too. Like, I’ve called the crisis hotline before and they don’t have any ideas, you know? They just talk you through it but when you’re on the other end you’ve just made it through the feelings, man. You still have to work shit out on your own, and I’ve never managed to do that. I’m always left right where I started. Just dumbfounded and numb. Just angry and waiting. You know?”



“I want you to do something for me.”

“O-okay. Maybe.”

“I want you to go out and plant a tree for me, then call me back sometime.”


“Yeah. You can call me on this phone even when I’m off-air.”

“I can’t fit a tree in my fucking car, man.”

“A bush or any plant is fine. But it has to be big enough that you can see it at a distance and now you’ve altered the landscape for the better.”

“…I have like 2 days off and I’m already drunk. I can go to Walmart and pick up a tree, fuck it.” “Thanks, Steven. There are answers to every question, and activities that can make every single moment meaningful. You opened the door to a set of answers today, if you’re willing to work for them. We can find the path out of your fog.”

“I’m not fucking sold on this. Not a bit. But I like the tree idea. It’s better than whatever else I was doing with my Saturday. Masturbating or something. I’ll call back IF I decide to plant it.”

“Alright. I look forward to your call.”


Gerry cleared his throat, Alice shot him a thumbs-up from the corner of the room.

“That’s the last call of the night. Even I have a job and require sleep. I’ll be back tomorrow,

though, at the same time in the same room to field all your calls and answer all your questions. See you soon.”

The camera’s light winked off and Alice grinned, “That’s 400 followers, 15 subscribers. Good fuckin’ numbers for your first month of streaming.”

Gerry sighed, rose from his seat, displacing himself from the halo framing then slouching next to Alice against the wall. She passed him her beer, which he sipped. His head fell against her shoulder. “I need more streamers.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t do it all. I want people answering questions 24 hours a day. I never want a question or problem to go unanswered.”

“You can encourage people to ask you via email or text or something. You can formulate answers off air and read them off at the beginning of the stream. But I don’t see how anyone else can give other people answers if you’re the one who’s supposed to have them all.”

Gerry lifted his head from Alice’s shoulder and gave her a wry look.

“What the fuck are you looking at me like that for?”

He stood up, loped to the sofa, grabbed his laptop, and put it on Alice’s lap. After poking at it for a couple seconds an Excel index of every question he had been asked paired with every answer he had given popped up. Some individual questions had their own subindexes, indicating layers of subtle distinction, giving exact prescriptions for different circumstances. Alice snorted.

“What, so every time someone has a question they can find their own exact answer as your pile of answered questions grows?”


“Well, why can’t you just set up a website so people can search their own questions. You could email answers and then add them to your index.”

“I plan on it but I don’t know how yet. Also, I feel like people want to talk. They don’t want to just be told what to do by a search engine all the time. They need to be listened to, then prescribed a course of action.”

“Well, who’s gonna talk to them?”

“… maybe you?”

Alice let out a HA, shot Gerry an annoyed look.

“I don’t listen to half the shit you say.”

“You don’t have to listen, you just have to say it.”

Alice pushed off the wall and put Gerry’s computer down. She grabbed the beer back from Gerry and half-yelled “Why does this sound like a good idea to you? I was going to kill myself A MONTH AGO. I don’t have any ideas, I just listen to you because, SOMEHOW when we’re together I don’t feel so bad. I don’t want to get mixed up in some proto-cult bullshit, this is just fun for me, okay?” She drank angrily then kicked up her feet on Gerry’s table, reclining into his spot on the sofa. The nascent prophet swore he saw petals around her head between the lighting and the corona of blood. He blushed and closed his laptop, popped a pill, then slid down the wall again, looking at Alice’s profile as she sipped aggressively at her beer.

“It sounds like a good idea,” Gerry regained his composure, “because no one else knows what I’m trying to get at better, and because I trust you. I’ll add more people to the channel as I trust more people. But I think you’re special.”

Alice froze, and put down the beer, staring at the man.

“What is this, some kind of sex thing?”

He cringed. “No, I mean you’re attractive, but sometimes I just look at you and it’s almost like there’s a tree blooming out of your head. You’re full of energy. You’ve given me so much. I don’t know how much of this I could have done without you. Like you’re meant to be here.”

“Bullshit.” Alice grabbed her bag, jammed her computer into it, and started putting on her shoes. “You’re just trying to use me like I’m some kind of fucking dupe. You’re not gonna use me like these other idiots. That’s not what I’m here for.”

“No, I-I know, I’m not trying to. I just don’t know where to go from here, you’re the only person on the planet I’d trust with this kind of thing right now an-“

“Find someone else to use for your weird fucking schemes, Gerry.”

She was out the door before he could say another word.

For the next week, Gerry went to work regularly, then streamed from the moment he got home to the hour before he went to bed. He compiled answers to questions as he went, and found commonly, the more answers he gave people, the more they required of him. This required more work than usual from him without help from Alice.

But he managed. By the end of the week he had 800 followers and 23 subscribers. He’d managed to set up a subreddit, /r/gerriot. He was receiving 5–10 emails a day, each requiring detailed thought.

Q1: “My girlfriend hates my cat, but she says she loves me and I think I love her. I can envision having children with this woman, but she refuses to move in with me until I get rid of my cat. She said it was her or the cat. I really don’t know what to do.”

A1: “You should ask yourself why she wants you to get rid of the cat. Does she have allergies, is your cat mean, is she trying to control you? Once you receive an answer to these questions, decide what is worth more to you. If she is trying to control you, you must leave her. If the cat is mean, you should get rid of the cat. If she has allergies, that’s your own call to make.”

Q2: “I love eating spicy food but I have diarrhea when I eat it. Should I stop doing what I love because it makes me poop bad?”

A2: “You should find the amount of spicy that causes diarrhea and abstain from eating more than that.”

Q3: “Is there a God?”

A3: “No. There are many systems flowing around us at all times, and each seems a type of intelligence. You can tap into them, in many ways converse with them, but this requires either intuition or engineering. People with strong intuitions can translate the motions of the universe and give specific pronouncements or prescriptions as to what actions are good or bad. If one has a strong enough understanding, they can give universal answers. I look to prescribe the best life for people in lieu of the older prophets, who were often right, but acted in the name of a God rather than their own intuition.”

Q4: “I hate my little sister. Sometimes I want to kill her. I’m 24 and she’s 17. We live in the same house and she won’t stop bringing her friends over. They make fun of me, I can hear them behind the door. I blast music to drown them out but it makes my parents mad. They tell me to turn down the music and then I hear them all laugh harder. My sister says she hates me. I don’t feel like I’m a part of my family anymore. What should I do?”

A4: “Move out of your parents’ house.”

Q5: “my bf fingered me and I came am I pregant”

A5: “Not from that.”

Q6: “I get sad at night when I think about all the people I disappointed in my life. Sometimes I want to kill myself, but that would just be another disappointment to the people who still care if I live or die. My parents, my friends. They’re the only reason I keep living, but I don’t know if their seeing me this way causes more net sadness than if I just jumped off a bridge somewhere and disappeared. They’d be very sad for a little while, but it’d fade. You know? Am I being selfish by continuing to live?”

A6: “It’s never selfish to continue to live. Or, to be more accurate, to live the inherent drive of the body, every cell within it, and the organism can never be faulted for wanting to continue. I think the more important qualifier here is ‘is it good of me to continue to live?’, and that question is always up to you. It sounds like you put tremendous emphasis on others’ views of how you live your life rather than your own. You should do something for yourself, give yourself direction. If you cannot, others always have ideas of how to engage your time meaningfully, the most fruitful of which is creating and improving the lives of others. If you need any help figuring out what to do, I can always give you specific thoughts and prescriptions. I’ve helped plenty of people over the years, but I only help those who ask for it.”

Q7: “r u gey”

A7: “No.”

Q8: “whats the best tree 2 plant in Connecticut”

A8: “There’s no one best tree to plant in any state! I’d recommend cherry trees, because their blossoms are the most beautiful. Consult a local guide to see which variety is best suited to wherever you specifically live in the state.”

Q9: “is ur penis big?”

A9: “Yes.”

Q10: “Is it okay to ever eat fast food?”

A10: “It is morally permissible to eat fast food, but it is a crime against yourself to sacrifice the quality of your diet for convenience or flavor. You should work as hard as possible to avoid harm to yourself.”

Answering questions was puzzling and fulfilling. It demanded his full attention, and Gerry embraced the work. But at a point during his second week streaming solo he fell behind in getting answers out. His sleep became poor, and complaints began to arise.

This ate into his work quality.

One day Janet approached Gerry with a crimson face, shaking. Curious as to what could cause such a shade in his pasty coworker, Gerry smiled and asked if anything was the matter.

Janet responded in a shrieking whisper, neck quivering. “Did YOU TELL a CALLER that SUICIDE is OKAY SOMETIMES?!”

Gerry frowned and scratched at the ski cap on his head. “Now that doesn’t sound like something I would say, but-“


“You were talking to a girl who is now dead, Gerry. A dead girl.”

“That’s unfortunate.”

“Do you know how she died, Gerry?”

“If I were to guess, by some kind of suicidal act.”


Janet stood over Gerry, glowering for a time.

Gerry asked “well, perhaps now isn’t the best time, but would you mind providing me the time

and date of that file so I can li-“

“Gerry. Get out of your chair right now. Leave this office right this instant, right now.”

“It’s unfortunate that you’re taking my actions so negatively, I’m certain your assertion is out of

context, but out of respect for yo-“


Suddenly Gerry had plenty of time on his hands.

He could stream all day.

His audience grew. He now billed himself as an ex-suicide hotline operator. That he had answers and time to give that the crisis hotline or therapy didn’t. That he absolutely did not judge people with questions, that he only provided correct answers, that he could keep conversations as anonymous or personal as others wanted them to be. This attracted followers. Over the course of his second month he tripled his follower count and gained 100 paid subscribers.

But Gerry seldom ventured outdoors. All his conversations took place digitally. His face grew gaunt. The skin under his eyes yellowed and blued, even as his facial bruises and swelling faded altogether. The dip in his skull sagged, the lines in his face deepened. Each time Gerry thought of delegating tasks to his followers, he found himself uncertain. The uncertainty was unfamiliar. When answering questions from followers, the right path was always apparent. The words flowed immediately, as a snaking vine of light through a briar, penetrating all convolutions, blasting knots away into sun.

So Gerry remained online, where he was certain, where he had others’ problems to deal with. He streamed. And he streamed. And he streamed.

But it wasn’t enough.

People would only remain on hold for so long. Gerry could only speak to so many individuals a day, answer so many questions a day. By the end of his third month Gerry had 1,000 subscribers and felt a constant pressure between his eyes boring a second hole into his skull. When he spoke to callers he felt moments of dissociation, as though his words were coming from another’s mouth. His body worked without his conscious direction. Answers came and went through Gerry while he surveyed himself from a dark corner across the room.

Who was this man?

Gerry watched his body work. He looked convincing. He looked framed. An island of light contained him. Wrapped in a glowing egg. When his arms waved, emphatic, he’d lose a hand to the darkness surrounding. His hair was long. He had a beard now, short but growing.

Gerry looked like shit.

He surveyed his apartment. Beer cans and pill bottles scattered around. Clothes on the floor. Boxes from takeout food piled in a corner.

The only clean portion of the entire apartment was the space directly surrounding his body, whatever was within the frame of his webcam. Everything else was trashed.

His apartment looked like shit.

And there he was, telling Hazel that it is “okay to poison ants how you described but it can kill or harm the surrounding ecology by poisoning animals that eat the ants, or by leaching into the soil. I recommend a solution of borax, water, and syrup. The syrup will attract the ants, who will carry the Borax back to their colony, where the queen and other ants will feed on it. This will destroy their digestive tract, and eventually the whole colony in an eco-friendly way. But, most importantly, Hazel, you need to keep your space clean. Pests will not show up if you do not present them opportunities to prey on your space.”

“Yeah. I feel like that means a lot. Like, I didn’t know what to expect when actually calling in but I’ve heard good things about you and you really seem to have an answer for everything. That means a lot to me, what you said. But yeah, thanks for the Borax tip. Ha, my mom always had a box but I never knew what it is.”

“Of course. Thank you for calling.”

“Yeah, thanks, bye.”

“Of course. Alright, the next call is from… Alice. Gerriot Helpdesk here, what’s going on?”

“… hey.”

“Hey, Alice.”

“You look like shit.”

Gerry winced, then chuckled. “I can’t see you, but I assume you look gorgeous.”

“Cute. Hey, Gerry. I’ve been thinking pretty hard about dying the last couple of days.”

“What’s causing these thoughts?”

“Well, it’s not like the old suicidal thoughts like I used to have. Not that bad at least, which is improvement. And I think about dying most days, so it’s not crazy out of the blue. But I thought about just ceasing to be. I just stopped eating. I haven’t really eaten in two days. I’m just kind of drinking beer in the dark here. And I’ll come out of this funk, you know? I always do. But I thought I might come out of it faster if I shared it with someone who cared.”

“I think you’re right.”

“Gerry, no one’s even checked on me. It’s been two days. I haven’t left my room.”


“No one. They don’t even care. My car’s here. They just don’t even care.”

“Had you suspected that?”

“Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe? I mean. I don’t know. I thought my dad would knock or something at least. I thought my stepmom might be curious to see if I’m alive, even if it’s just to see if I’m dead and out of her hair yet.”

“Alice, you should get out of that house.”

“… I should get out of this house.”


“Hey, I’ll see you in a bit.”


“Your apartment looks like shit, Gerry.”

“I, uh. I tried to clean up a little bit before-”

“Let’s go on a walk. But get me a beer first.”

Gerry tossed her a beer from the fridge, grabbed himself one, and followed Alice outside. They walked for half a mile in silence, about 5 feet apart, Alice in front. He watched her legs move, wondered how exactly they connected to an ass completely hidden by the charcoal sweater draping her torso, then drew his eyes up along her flowing, dark hair. It swayed with each step and blew in the wind, which he noticed carried leaves.

It was autumn. Mid-autumn. Gerry scratched his head, finger catching on the dip in his skull, causing a spasm. He’d known that, theoretically, months had passed, but he had not experienced the change in seasons himself. He had not been outside since early September.

He wondered that he had not needed to step outdoors.

Well, he had needed to step out, to take out his trash, to exercise. He simply hadn’t. He’d forgotten. He hadn’t been capable of thinking about himself.

He wondered if he’d blown that out of his head with the depression.

Gerry looked at his stomach, pulled up his sweater and ran a hand over his ribs, which were beginning to show.

“What are you doing?”

Alice gazed back at him over her shoulder at him, brow furrowed. Gerry pulled his sweater down and smoothed it over.

“Checking to see if I still have all my ribs.”

Alice slowed to match Gerry’s speed, then probed up and down his torso with her fingers. “Yeah, it seems like you do. I can feel every single one, pretty easily. You haven’t been eating either, huh?”

“I didn’t really notice.”

“Maybe we should get some fucking food.”


Alice looped her arm through Gerry’s, and they walked that way until arriving at a QuikTrip, where Gerry bought two hot dogs smothered with chili and cheese, and Alice picked up two forties and a slice of pizza. She handed Gerry one of the forties, and they walked five blocks further until Alice chose a tree to sit underneath. There, they ate.

Alice downed her pizza in seconds. She cast furtive glances at Gerry’s second hot dog as he finished his first, and he pushed the dog over to her, grinning. The two were on a hill overlooking a landscape drowned in suburbs rolling outward to infinity. The sun set over them, brilliant pink on a clear night. Alice choked. She started to cry.

“I didn’t know that leaving you alone would fuck you up so bad, man.”

Gerry didn’t know how to handle the situation.

“You, um. It didn’t? I’m pretty alright. I’m fine, Alice.”

She looked at him and cried harder. She ran her fingers through his beard, through the hair on his head, felt the dip in his skull and recoiled as Gerry gave a strong reflexive jerk. She barked a laugh through the tears, and Gerry grinned, embarrassed.

“It uh, if you poke it sometimes I uh, twitch.”

Alice leaned back and blew her nose on a napkin, pocketing it. She sipped her forty and smiled at him, eyes puffy, lashes clumping.

“I was mad at you but I don’t know why. You didn’t do anything to me. You were trying to involve me in your life. I don’t know why I ran out on you like that.”

“I was asking a lot of you.”

“Yeah, but none of it’s evil. You’re helping people. You helped me. And then you asked me for a little help. And I fucking ran out on you. I left you and I didn’t call back. I left you in silence. Just like my parents. Just like my horrible fucking parents.”

Gerry wrapped his arm around Alice and pulled her into his side so her head rested against his shoulder, and the two stared at the horizon sipping their beers. After a minute he grinned, put his cheek against her head, and remarked “You came back, though.”

Alice pushed off Gerry’s shoulder and looked him hard in the eyes. She pushed her lips into his. They were cool, wet with beer. Gerry pulled back, staring at Alice. She blushed.

“I- this is the tree I planted.” They looked at each other. Alice leaned in again.

The sun fell through 100 hues. The horizon deepened blue to black. Stars emerged then disappeared as park lights flickered on. Neither noticed.

It took two days for Alice to move entirely out of her dad’s house into Gerry’s apartment. It took four days of cleaning before Alice felt comfortable. During this one week Gerry saw more of the outdoors than he had for the entirety of the 4 months prior. He remembered to eat because Alice needed to. He remembered to clean because Alice complained. He sat up straighter and the bags under his eyes disappeared.

When Alice arrived with the first load of her possessions Gerry offered her his spare bedroom. Alice responded with a face so vicious that he refrained from making further offers. She moved directly into the master bedroom and colonized Gerry’s closet.

Sleeping with Alice was easy enough, Gerry had lived with women before, but Alice was reacquainted with the fact that Gerry had shot a hole through his nasal cavities by his incredible snoring, which intensified as the waterproofed bandages fell loose from his palate in the night. Incapable of abiding this assault, Alice spent her first nights at Gerry’s on his sofa staring at the gore splatter on his ceiling, questioning her sanity. After three days Alice forced Gerry off his computer mid-stream to set up an appointment with the prosthodontist and within a week he had a serviceable palate that didn’t fall out when Alice slipped him some tongue.

Gerry always fell asleep before Alice. The first night she could bear to stay in bed with him she listened to his breathing slow, then rolled over and watched him by the glow of her phone. As he slept he smiled. Alice smiled too.

When she woke she was alone in bed. She pulled a sweater over herself and padded into the living area, where Gerry was already streaming, coffee in-hand, framed by light and coronal ejection. He was explaining the “power of tending a garden” as it pertained to creating the will to live a good life when the sight of Alice gave him pause, causing a stutter as his eyes swept Alice’s legs. He completed the thought as Alice grabbed a beer. She took a seat across the room form Gerry and watched him work. And watched him work. And watched him work.

4 beers into this she grabbed her laptop and began sorting through Gerry’s emails. He had asked Alice’s help in responding to people whose questions he had already answered, and prioritizing the most interesting or pressing questions for addressal. Easy enough, but as she listened to Gerry she heard him answer redundant questions as often as new ones.

After five hours of broadcast, Gerry took a break. Alice scraped pate across a slice of toast and pushed a piece into his mouth when he tried speaking. She spoke first.

“It’s obvious you need more help than I can give.”

Gerry nodded, mumbling incomprehensibly through the food he was chewing.

“What I’m not going to do is show my face on camera and answer questions for you.”

Gerry frowned but nodded again, and when he opened his mouth to reply Alice pushed more toast into his mouth.

“I’m not comfortable telling people what to think, even if I’d be telling them your words. What I will do’s choose people who’d be good at doing what you wanted me to do from your list of donors and subscribers.”

Gerry chewed pensively, swallowed, and watched Alice spread pate on a second slice of toast for three wary seconds before opening his mouth again.

“That,” he paused, eyeing her, “makes sense. I’ve no desire to push you into something you’d resent, and I spent time over the last three months considering who I wanted to fill the role of Gudge. Every time I was about to reach out and contact people I froze up, though. It felt like no one would quite get it right. It’s the most uncertainty I’ve felt since I can remember. I didn’t know what to do about it. I buried myself in the normal labor and kept falling behind but everything was growing so it still felt like I was doing things right enough but all the while I knew I needed tompff-”

The fresh toast ended up in Gerry’s mouth.

“Look, I know. I mean, look, I see you. I’ve been over your emails, and I helped you make your show or cult or whatever this is turning into in the first place. And I know who the fuck you are as a person so just relax. I’m not going to put anyone on the job who you hate. We’ll go over the choices I make before they go live, alright? You don’t have to do everything alone anymore.”

The couple drafted a list of twenty top Gerriot donors and social media hyperactives in strategic timezones around the planet to ask for volunteer hours. Everyone asked accepted, and a second channel, Gudges, was created. They worked out a schedule such that at least one Gudge, volunteer stream operator, was online every hour of every day every week of the year. The Gudges’ role was to take calls and screen them. If the question had previously been answered, approximately or in full, the Gudge had full authority to cite Gerry’s scriptural index and close the caller’s question on their own. Any Gudge could review any other’s decision. Any question yet unaddressed would be elevated to the Gerriot channel and answered either immediately, or put on queue for when Gerry returned to his stream, which remained a daily 8–10 hour, 7 day a week marathon, until Alice forced him to take at least one day off weekly for her own sake as much as his.

Gerry was reluctant to take any time away from his growing ministry, but found it important. He woke up late. He exercised when Alice prompted him to. He ate well. He managed to go outside, sometimes for the first time in a week. The couple humped and fondled their way into emotional wellness and worked all the harder the next days for it.

A Sabbath was passed into the Gerritic index, and one day a week each Gerroid was mandated rest. What that meant was subject to debate, but exact meaning would come with the years, defined through a thousand thousand questions he would greet confident with answers.

Because he had all the answers. Not all at once, but as the questions revealed themselves to him, he found them. They came to him, out his mouth of their own volition. And whenever he hadn’t an answer, it was for a reason. It was to provide him more time at his ministry by ending his employment, to bring Alice to him when he was otherwise lost.

In bed with Alice one Sabbath, watching her naked chest rise and fall and shake with breath and heartbeat, he leaned over her and kissed her forehead and as she smiled he watched something brilliant grow from the center of her skull, growing to encompass her body. The room faded away and a deep ecstasy beyond orgasm seized his limbs. He reached a shuddering hand out to Alice’s stomach and watched her belly button puff out and a sprout pop through, offering its first leaves to a light he shed. He buried his face in her neck and fell asleep holding her belly, swearing a slight change in her scent.

A bit over month later Alice threw up her breakfast, which seemed to confirm what her missed period suggested. Three positive pregnancy tests later, Alice had a panic attack. She had never planned on having a baby.

“I never fucking planned for this, Gerry!”

Gerry smiled at her, assuring her that “None of this was planned, and everything has worked out. It’ll keep working out. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Alice punched Gerry in the face. Crimson spurted from his nose.

“I’m fucking sorry, I’m so fucking sorry, I didn’t mean to do that I’m panicking, Gerry, I’m sorry.”

Alice started weeping, and Gerry, tears and blood streaming down his face, hugged her against his body.

“I mean, I drank for the first three weeks after you told me. I thought you were fucking hallucinating, on your mad shit, you know? Oh, god, what if it’s retarded? I don’t know, I don’t know if I can love a retarded baby.”

“It doesn’t matter. Whatever happens was meant to happen. I’ll be here for you.”

Then Gerry smiled again.

“Sounds like you plan on keeping her?”

Alice blinked and looked Gerry in the eyes.

“Yeah, she’s made of us. I can’t kill it. I already love it, you asshole.” Another blink, then, “Wait, her?”

“Yeah. Her.”

“Oh my god. Oh my god. I love her. I love her already.”

A month after that one of the more devoted local Gerroids moved into the recently-vacated apartment next door with his fiancée and her partner, and a local ministry began out of the complex. Every time someone moved, a new Gerroid would move in.

Gerry took more time away from his stream as the ministry expanded, moving to 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, taking more answers offline, and receiving more donations through sources other than Twitch for his efforts. He spent his time eating well, cooking for Alice, exercising, and preparing for the birth of his daughter. He spent his time compiling the Gerritic Index, improving its coding, and working on a book of the core Tenets of Gerriot. “The Index is the complete and living document,” he reasoned, “but people need a distillation, core principles, and frankly they respect ideas more if they come out of a nice, hard, leather-bound book, you know?”

“Gerry, I can’t fucking deal with this right now. I put my phone in the fridge while looking for a towel. Talk to one of your friends next door, I’m too hormonal, and too stupid today.”

“But you’re the only one who disagrees with me anymore. That’s why I need to talk to you.”

“Okay the book is a good idea. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“Not really.”

“Well I don’t care today, and I don’t have to. God, I wish we had a garden or somewhere I could just sit outside in the sun and just not think.”

“A garden, huh?”

“Yeah, Gerry. A garden. You know, it’s funny, we bring in a stupid amount of money, and I know it happened fast, but we’re pouring all of it into a bank account and living in this apartment. We’re getting everyone to live in this apartment complex, we’re tripling down on this ugly hive of a building. We could have a garden, Ger. We could have a nice big house somewhere rural. I mean, we’re not rich yet or anything, but I’m dreaming about it.”

Gerry stared at her.


He opened his mouth, then closed it, repeated the sequence, then looked away with a loud HMMMM.


“We should have a garden.”

“Yes, but… okay, where is this going?”

Gerry stood and was out the door in what seemed a single motion. Alice groaned and took to rubbing her own feet.

Over the next seven months Gerriot became a 501(c)(3) and acquired 3.7 acres of overgrown land two blocks down the road from Gerry and Alice’s apartment. Gerriot’s local membership, 13 men and women with occasional bolstering from friends, family, and the curious, converged to tame the land, digging it up, diverting and expanding a creekbed, installing paths throughout it, and replanting it lushly with trees, pecans and magnolias, bushes, wildflowers, succulents. Anything that tolerated heat and suited the whims of the gardeners. A set of buildings were constructed as well: a library, a small dormitory and groundskeeper’s quarters, a kitchen, and a meeting space. Overwhelmingly though, lush green dominated the property.

A week before the birth of their child, Gerry and Alice officially opened the gardens as a new Answerium. A week after her birth, Alice nursed Ada under a magnolia tree in full bloom, marinating in the garden’s heavily perfumed air. A year later, Gerry’s Key for the Perplexed had sold over a million copies. Answeriums bloomed in a hundred cities across the globe as Gudges networked their local Gerroids and constructed spaces in which they could meet and organize.

Gerroids continued to flood the Hive complex, and Gerriot eventually bought it from the landlord. Slowly, the whole neighborhood turned visibly Gerroid. People wore the recommended robes, painted their doorframes red, rode bikes and Onewheels as often as cars. Verdant spaces sprouted between buildings. No stores sold beef or pork. Trees lined every road, their roots eventually swelling, cracking the sidewalks. Streets became shaded and people spent most of their time outdoors.

Gerry continued to broadcast, but spent less of his time obsessed with it. New questions became fewer, further between. Every Gerroid neighborhood acquired a Gudge or two of its own, and if they failed to address a question, Gudges always waited online, in hundreds of channels, in circuits that kicked questions to higher and higher authorities until, if necessary, Gerry himself settled a question. In this way, help was always available, for everyone.

Gerriot and the Index were ascendent. Material life improved constantly. Most important to Alice, her family was healthy and beautiful. She’d completed 4 further pregnancies, and birthed 4 healthy children in succession. Each day she looked at them, learning, playing, and found reason to be. She’d made something greater than herself, something she could stand apart from, look at and marvel. Like the tree she’d planted, and the faith she’d co-authored, her children existed for their own sake. She had only permitted their being. For her love, they allowed her into their lives, wanted her near them, to show her what they could do, to give her the affection they were shown. For now, she had enough. She was happy.

Gerry spent more time with the family and less time writing books and broadcasting. He gained weight from Alice’s persistence. His skin browned from labor in the gardens. He smiled often and took to singing or talking to himself, belting absurd lyrics in deep tones, reciting poems Alice had never heard. Sometimes she would record these outbursts, as Gerry never did. She never shared them, but would occasionally sit down and laugh or puzzle over the logorrhea.

Her pen and paper recorded:

Why do I get up?
I’m bored of lying down!
And why, you ask me, do I laugh?
It’s funny when you frown!

Kiss a man in underwear
then run and tell your mum
you stole a kiss and got a show
you watched her beat his bum

He blushed and so did she
he got a second kiss
he pitched a tent, then she got hit
the rod she spared, what bliss!

Your dad grew red when you told him
he grabbed a baseball bat
beat your mother to a mash
then strangled your dear cat

While walking home he’s found
by excited coppers
who shot him dead and you now
are an orphaned pauper

Kissing strangers is risky
if your mother’s a slut
so kiss your daddy briskly
and keep your windows shut


Holey head planter
sun peeks in
seeds all asprouting
rooty root in sin
muddy muddy matter
bake grey batter
into munchy mulch
mouthies water grin


Holy and terrified
a child’s undignified
entrance into the world
covered in excrement

Smeared, desperate wailing
screaming and flailing
peace in ten minutes more
sleep and then out the door

Each moment’s exiting
portals we mindlessly
drifting along with them
I never see them and

I can’t comport myself
the terrors
Once I had left behind
are growing and I can’t find

The key that will let me lay
eyes on my enemies
the chest opening contains
love hate and whimpering

Oh where
oh where
am I
oh where
am I
can’t hide
Oh nooo
ohh noooo
oh god
oh noooo


Bugger the maid for a prize
dirtier the deed the harder she tries
at wiping away
the filth, how she prays
“Oh, God! We must down these flies!”

Once Alice thought to ask Gerry where the outbursts and songs came from, if he was writing something, or if he was trying to tell her something. He gave her a funny look.

“What songs?”

She took to recording him singing and showed him the tapes.He’d laugh. “I don’t remember. Is that really me?”

Which was strange, but it didn’t really matter. She was happy. Gerry was happy. The planet grew happy.

On the night of Ada’s 13th birthday, Gerry dreamed of a tree the size of the planet, sucking at the core of the Earth, folded toward the Sun, shooting tendrils toward the star. Leaves would catch fire as they approached, branches would explode and break, but thicker branches came after, in greater numbers. They sharpened like spears and hurtled forward, toward the heart of their star, getting closer, closer. Alice rolled over in bed and saw Gerry grinning. She smiled.

Part 2: Virginia

From the moment Virginia saw his midriff bared, stretched to prune high branches she knew she was going to marry Jonathan. The dip between hip and pelvic muscle in hot relief under midday sun drew her as a moth to light, and she introduced herself as “admirer and single lady, pleasured to make your acquaintance” which inspired her mother to eyeroll so powerfully it triggered a headache.

At sixteen years, however, she was too young to marry. While Jonathan’s plainfaced acceptance of Virginia’s advances seemed to indicate tolerance of her presence, if not overt understanding of her intentions, no serious claims could be laid until she came of age. So she schemed.

Working in the garden one bright day Virginia swooned under the terrible heat. Who was around to help? Why, that day only poor Jonathan, alone at work, persistent as ever, strong back set to tearing earth, naked in the summer heat, corded muscles thrusting a spade into earth, trunklike legs kicking it deep, levering, pulling the dirt up and flipping it over, and over and over, sweat dripping from his chiseled brow. As Virginia swooned she sighed “ahhh” falling, how fortunately, onto a bed of wildflowers, drawing that sweaty man over to her so he could pick her up, carry her into the shade, provide her water.

Satisfied she wasn’t going to die, Jonathan told her “I’m going to get more help.”

To which she responded, “oh, I don’t need it. Can’t you just sit with me a minute.”

With her head in his lap, his smell mixed with the perfume of the garden, intoxicating. She looked into Jonathan’s eyes, and he noticed Virginia was wearing an awful lot of makeup which was odd for someone to do on their gardening shift, but ostensibly one of the many mysteries of the female species and something he was unwilling to question aloud but easier still to see as her face approached his and her lips met his and he smelled flowers and tasted fig.

Their faces separated and Virginia grinned. “You’re mine.” She said and went in for seconds, which Jonathan physically could not refuse as a mix of shock and curiosity rooted him to the moment.

After several minutes of awkward kissing, during which Jonathan’s neck started to hurt as Virginia sneaked eager handfuls of arms and back, Jonathan pulled away and mumbled something about water before laying her head mechanically on the bed of ruined flowers and powerwalking toward the kitchen. She had him. She knew it.

A devious smile split her lips.

After a month, Virginia had extracted a confession of bewilderment serving as proposal, and she approached Ada as the Geriff organized volumes in the answerium’s libgrerry.

“Geriff Ada?”


That was what they called her, Gin.

“I need to get married.”

Ada smiled. “So soon? Don’t you want to shop around a little?”

“No, I know what I want, and I know he wants me. I just need to work this out.”

“Alright, well are you an adult yet?”

“I feel like an adult. I know better what I want out of life than most adults.”

Ada scrutinized the girl, looked her up and down. Blonde and earnest, pale face screwed around blue eyes into a portrait of vexation. She sighed.

“You’re not one yet, though, are you?”

“Look, I’m seventeen in three months. Let’s just cut through the weird rules, okay?”

“Even if you were seventeen, you, dear, aren’t permitted to marry.”

Virginia grimaced.

“Anything you can do to stand in my way, hmm? What’s a determined woman to do?”

“Ask your question, Virginia.”


A gentle look.

“I assure you, Ginny, they haven’t.”

Ada bore five seconds of withering gaze before Virginia softened, reconsidering her course of action.



“Ada, can you help me come up with a question?”

“Ginny, I would love to help you come up with a question.”

Virginia frowned but pulled up a chair next to Ada, who noticed the teenager smelled like essential oils and sun.

“Virginia… who are you going to marry?”

Smugly, “Jonathan Sante.”


“What do you mean, ‘huh’, Ay-duh?”

“He’s cute.”

“Well you’re a little old to be looking at him like that so…”

“Okay, ouch.”

Ada pulled up a tablet and an overhead projector cast her screen against the wall across the room. The Gerritic Index search screen popped up, friendly but imposing. Virginia sighed.

“Do I haave to?”

“Yeah, Gin. You know we can’t even validate your adulthood unless your name is in the Index next to an original, previously unanswered question.”

“Okay well I don’t know what to ask.”

“Anything at all, what’s on your mind?”

“… anything?”

“Yeah, anything.”

“… do men actually like blowjobs?”

Ada cringed, but the answer appeared on-screen immediately, read aloud in Gerry’s voice: “Each individual’s sexual preferences differ from others’, and you should ask your partner what they appreciate directly rather than consulting the Index on this matter.” Followed by a list of supplemental questions: “Would you like a list of techniques? A history of fellatio? An etymology of the term ‘blowjob’? A look at-” Ada coughed “Enough, Gerry.”

The screen blanked and a fresh prompt appeared. Virginia smirked.

“Gin, let’s assume almost every sexual question that can be asked has been asked. You can do that research on your own time.”

“Do you have a list of unasked questions anywhere?”

“No. If a question is found to be unasked, it’s fed into our queue automatically.”

“Well then how am I supposed to know what questions you want me to ask?”

Ada sighed, “Look, Gin, fighting me on this isn’t going to get you to your goal. You want to marry a Gerroid, you want to live as a Gerroid, you have to become an adult woman Gerroid.”

“Ughh, I don’t care. I don’t care!!!

“You don’t have to get this done today. You can take time, you have three months before you’re seventeen anyway. Just get to it. Sit down in the library and work on your question.”

A moment of silence, a pout.


For the next few months Jonathan experienced a mix of relief and loneliness while at work or study. Virginia spent most of her time sequestered, asking questions of the Index and finding them already answered. Abstruse points of historic or scientific fact might take too long to answer, some people spent their whole lives pursuing questions they had asked by appointment, but all the easy ones had been taken.

The glow of her skin dimmed. Her hair frizzed. She became frustrated. Between this and her homework she was only capable of spending 2–5 hours a week with Jonathan. Her consolation was that she might spend the rest of her years with the beautiful man she’d marked. She could view this time as an investment of sorts.

But it was a steep investment.

One night Jonathan came by to visit Virginia while she sat in the library, listlessly spamming easy questions at the Index.

“What is the best dog?”

“That depends on the individual and their needs. Would you like to know more about different breeds? The domestic-”



“What country eats the most rice?”

“India overtook China to be the world’s largest consumer of rice in the yea-”

“SHUT UP. Do humans have souls?”

“The definition of the soul is a contentious issue, but according to a Gerridic understanding of the universe the human soul is known to-”


Jonathan approached her hunched silhouette from behind, placing a hand on her shoulder and she jumped “WHO’S THAT?”

Gerry’s synthesized voice answered “Jonathan Sante, 17 years, Gerroid, Adult.”


Jonathan laughed and pulled out his thermos and a cup.

“I brought you some tea. How are you holding up, Gin?”

She scowled at him, but immediately softened and pressed her head against his stomach.

“I’m sooo tired.”

Jonathan ran his hand down the back of her head, over her ponytail, still unsure of what to do with his fingers when her hair was up.

“I can, er, tell. This didn’t take me nearly as long as it’s taking you.”

Virginia looked up at his face, glowing blue in the dark room.

“What question did you get cleared with?”

“I asked why Gerry always wears a hat.”

“Pffft, that worked?”

“Yeah, why?”

“That’s ridiculous. Index, why does Gerry always wear a hat?”

Gerry’s voice responded: “Four years after Gerry shot himself in the head, he had a metal plate screwed to his skull to cover a hole in the bone, which left an odd bump under his skin. When Gerry balded, this became a point of vanity, and Gerry took to wearing hats.”


“Would you like me to repeat the ans-”

“No. Gerry shot himself?”

“According to prior Gudgments, the answer to your question is assumed ‘Yes’ with a 100% degree of certainty.”

She looked to Jonathan.

“Did you know Gerry shot himself?”

“N-not until I asked the question.”

“That’s weird. You’d think they’d share that information with us. I mean why?”

She turned to the Index.

“Why did Gerry shoot himself?”

Silence. The quiet grew deeper as seconds passed. Virginia’s heart began throbbing in her chest. Her palms began to sweat, her breaths came rapidly. Then:

“Answer not found. I’m placing your question on queue for address by the first circuit of Gudges. You will be contacted when your answer is found. Is there any other question I can help you with?”


“What question ca-“




“Y-yeah! Good job, Gin.”

Virginia pressed to her feet so quickly her chair fell back behind her with a thud. She pulled Jonathan’s face to hers and kissed him hard on the mouth, which he noticed tasted stale, but he kissed her through it because that’s what boyfriends do.

A few minutes later they were drinking tea and talking about the question when Virginia asked, “Hey, how long did it take for you to get your answer?”

“About… five months.”

“Oh my god whyyy…”

“Well, the question had to go through several Gudgment circuits. Gerry ended up answering the question himself.”

Virginia put her head in her hands.

“I think I just fucked us, Jon.”

“Ginny, c’mon. Language.”

She scowled.

“You’re lucky you’re hot.”

One late winter morning Gerry received the day’s list of questions with his first cup of coffee. He scanned the list, much of the usual, “Who should get the biggest piece of cake if the slices are cut unequally?”, “Why was the Mormon Church wrong about black people until 1978?”, “Is Hawaiian pizza acceptable to feed to the homeless?”, “Why did Gerry shoot himself in the head?”, “Which is more important, solving world hunger or solving cancer?”, &c.

A sip, a sigh.

He started on the list.

A1: “The biggest piece of cake belongs to the person the cake was sliced in honor of. If that person passes on his slice, it is his responsibility to give it to someone else directly. If the cake carries mutual claim between all parties involved, a circuit of rock-paper-scissors must be established.”

A2: “The dicta of the Mormon Church, as with those of all faiths, are based on the opinions of its leaders, who largely did not like black people until 1978, when their fear of losing tax-exemption status overrode the Church’s fear of what they viewed as the word of god.”

A3: “Hawaiian pizza is absolutely acceptable to feed to the homeless. It will be added to the list of acceptable foods to feed those in need.”

A4: “I…

He paused.

He should know that answer immediately. After thinking for a minute, though, he couldn’t remember.

Why had he shot himself in the head?

“H… Hey, Alice?”

Alice emerged from the kitchen, brushing long black and grey hair out of her eyes, sipping a coffee/bourbon. She looked at her husband.

“Gerry, it’s Sunday, do you have to do this?”

“Ah, I hardly do anything anymore.”

“You’re fucking breaking Index. You’re gonna go to Hell.” Sip.

“Only figuratively. Alice, do you… remember why I shot myself in the head?”

She paused and rubbed her face with her free hand.

“You know, it’s weird. It’s been 30-something years and I don’t think I ever asked.”

“Yeah. I don’t remember either.”


“Well, someone asked.”

“Huh. Let’s retrace. The day you shot yourself, what were you feeling?”

“I mean, clearly bad.”


“But I don’t remember what that felt like. Or why I felt that way.”


“No, I mean, there was no particular reason. Life was fine, I just… felt bad, I guess, I don’t know. It’s all a guess, It’s like there’s a hole in my understanding, ahaha.”

“Yeah very fucking funny.”

“Well I don’t know how I’m going to answer this question.”

“We have an engineering department, Gerry. You have whole squads of researchers.”

“Yeah, well what’ll they do, restore my brain?”

“I don’t know. You know, now that I think about it maybe you shouldn’t…”

“Ehh, I’m gonna ask them. I want to see what they come up with.”

In late March a miserable Virginia received an email from gerry@gerriot.ge under the subject line “re: did you get it?”. Virginia’s cohort was months away from graduation, and she was the only person in her graduating class to retain her status as a minor. Her pupils dilated, and she tapped on the email in a rush.

She read:

“Virginia Kern,

I wanted to let you know that I have received your inquiry, and as of the present I am working on acquiring the answer as quickly as possible. Regarding your concerns about timeliness, I want you to know that I only promise answers. It is quite impossible to predict exactly when the answers will arrive. I remain confident, though, that you will receive your answer before your graduation, and you will soon be free to pursue your life as an ordained adult under Gerroit!

As an aside, I am certain, given the extraordinary attraction you describe Jonathan as possessing for you, he will wait well past graduation for your hand in marriage.

Further, I am excited to hear you plan on raising no less than five little Gerroids! One should hope all marriages are so fecund.



Virginia began to cry. First sniffling, then a choke, then long ugly sobs. Her mother attempted consolations, but nothing worked. The whole universe stood in the way of her love. Jonathan wouldn’t even slip a hand under her shirt until she was an adult. Every other girl had a leg up on her, and some had two legs up on their own men.

She wandered gardens abloom between housing complexes under the full moon. Naked trees swayed, catching wind under a cool breeze. It never got properly cold in Texas, but she was in a sweater and shorts: a chill seized her spine. The stone pathways radiated silver light, and Virginia found herself walking unconsciously along a familiar path, toward the libgrerry. Most of the flowers had long since died with cold’s arrival, but the air smelled fresh. She could taste spring.

The libgrerry was unlocked, and she slipped in.

To her surprise, the main projector was on, and Virginia approached the viewing area silently. Ada was outlined in the light of the projector, holding a mug, watching old footage of her father giving Gudgments. He was young in the video, probably 38. Virginia smelled alcohol.

She spoke: “Hey, A.”

Ada started briefly, then laughed.

“Hey. You’re here late.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep.”

Ada eyed the girl, saw her puffy face pulled into deep frown, and seated her in a chair. Ada walked across the room and grabbed a clean mug from her desk, produced a flask, poured a couple fingers of whiskey into the fresh mug, then returned to Virginia, pushing it in front of her. Virginia eyed it, took a sip, swallowed, then winced and coughed.

“Ugh, you drink it like this?”

Ada laughed.

“Yeah, V. It helps me sleep sometimes.”

A wry look.

“I can drink this? Even though I’m not an adult?”

“Please, Gin. I know you’ve been stealing sips since you were 13.”

Virginia snorted, then took another sip. She felt warmer.

“What are you watching?”

“Oh, old clips of dad. I’m trying to remember what it was like to be his daughter before I got bound up in Gerriot, but it’s not working. The old footage… he’s kind of the same across decades when he gets online. Ah, well. Why can’t you sleep? Boy trouble?

Virginia took a thoughtful sip, then asked, “Uh, Ada? Do you know why Gerry shot himself?”

Ada frowned. “You know, it’s not something we ever talked about.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s no trouble. I’m not upset by your question. It’s just something no one ever really talked about. I don’t know if there was a reason for it. It never came up. Why? How’d you learn about that?”

“It’s…. Jonathan asked about the hats he wears, and it turns out the answer involved a hole in Gerry’s head from a suicide attempt. When I asked the Index about that, it registered the question as new. I got an email from your dad tonight. The answer’s taking forever. He says he doesn’t know but he’s ‘working on acquiring the answer as quickly as possible’ and it’s just… like it’s not a question I even needed an answer to. You know? I just want to get with Jonathan already.”


The two fell quiet and watched Gerry answer question after question, archaic Twitch stream sounds ringing and splaying over the dialogues. Virginia felt better, her body relaxed.

“Why’d you become Gerriff, A? You could’ve done anything.”

“Could I have? I don’t know.” She thought a minute. “I loved where I grew up, and I wanted to recreate that environment for a new batch of kids. I moved out and got hold of my own answerium. I don’t know that I really ever wanted more.”

She thought another minute, sipped.

“And you know what? I love my dad. But I had to get away from him. Like, he’s right about everything. He’s not trying, he just is. He always knows what’s right. Which is great. But sometimes, you know, I wanted to be wrong.” She laughed. “And after I was away for a while, I realized I didn’t have any real core for my life. I ran away as a rejection, not out of any conviction. I was just kind of treading water, flailing, you know? I got tired of it, and I figured I’d give answering others’ questions a shot. And you know what? It was easier than answering my own.”

She eyed Virginia.

“You know, it’s cool that you see exactly what you want, V. I don’t think many people have that. Just make sure you don’t get stuck if you think something’s not working out. Frankly, I hope Jonathan is good enough for you.”

Virginia laughed this time.

“Of course he is. Life isn’t so complicated as people make it out to be. I feel like if I need any answers, I’ll find them myself.”

“You’re a little heathen, aren’t you.”

“You helped.”

They clinked their glasses. The sun found them asleep on a sofa, Virginia’s head in Ada’s lap, both snoring as Gerry explained the finer points of how to properly wipe one’s self.

By late May, Gerry received a congratulations from his Corps of Engerrneers. They had created a machine which would reverse engineer the development of Gerry’s consciousness in full by tracing how his neurons fired at the present, then working backward from that measured period through the exact neural impulses which lead to its development. In doing so, they would be able to hypothesize the geometry and behavior of the grey matter Gerry had blasted out of his head, and simulate his exact state of mind in the instants before his suicide attempt.

Gerry was enthusiastic, and fired off a missive to update the increasingly frantic Virginia Kern. He then instructed his Engerrneers to bring the device to his apartment so he could make use of it, as quickly as possible.

Days passed.

Alice remained skeptical.



“They’re going to be fucking around in your brain.”


“After two weeks of testing.”

“Yes, at my direction.”

“Because of a sixteen year old-“

“She’s seventeen now.”

“-a seventeen year old’s question.”

“All questions are equally important. You know this. If one remains unanswered then all do. The whole edifice falls apart.”

“Does it?”

“Yes, Alice. Don’t worry, I’ve administered brain surgery to myself before, only good things came of it.”

“Maybe there are some questions that don’t need answering?”

“That sounds like heresy.”


Alice walked over to her husband, who sat on the sofa as ever, beneath the spray of gore that had darkened but never faded with age. She put her hand on his bald head, ran it over the steel plate’s bulge, and pleaded.

“Gerry, what if your mind doesn’t come back? What will I do?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“But what if you are? You have kids, idiot. You have a few million people who need you, too.”

“And I’m doing this for all of them.”

Alice stood and looked at her stubborn ass of a husband, fuming.

A brisk knock. Three men allowed themselves into the apartment, wheeling a complex of wires, screens, and knobs into the space, and Gerry waved them over to stand by the sofa. Gerry reclined. The men moved his coffee table away then applied glue in spots across his head, avoiding the metal plate, planting a forest of electrodes and wrapping a layer of foil over the whole assembly for insulation. Alice stood nearby, gripping her forearms and rocking on her heels.

“Relax,” Gerry cooed, “it’ll be over in ten minutes.”

“Fuck you, Gerry.” She replied.

Gerry smiled.

“I love you, Gerry.”

“I know.”

The technicians slipped blackout goggles over his eyes, and flipped several switches. The screens flicked from opaque blue to a dazzling myriad of datastreams. Gerry’s body went limp, and the process began.

For ten minutes the room was silent but for the sound of whirring computer fans, the murmur of Engerrneers communicating technical jargon, and Alice’s heel hitting the ground repeatedly as she sat, jittering, sipping whiskey, alert. Alice began to dissociate. She no longer felt her body, her mind went blank. She still saw, but did not process the data her conscious mind was presented with. “I know, I know, I know, I know, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you” reverberated in her head, a distant replay of that tiny interaction, of their argument.



A sound like a kitchen timer kicked, and the Engerrneers crowded around Gerry. One removed his goggles and shone a flashlight in his eyes to test their response.

“Gerry? Gerry? How are you feeling, Gerry?”

Gerry sat upright and beckoned everyone back, repeating, “I’m fine, I’m fucking fine, I’m FINE” as he pulled foil and wires from his head in chunks. He sat and blinked for a few seconds, then asked the Engerrneers if anyone had a cigarette. One pulled out a pack of Camel Wides and lit it for Gerry, who stood hunched, small-looking, then walked over to his refrigerator and withdrew a can of Tecate.


Alice called from where she was seated at the table. She stood, followed him, and repeated, “Gerry?”

He cracked the beer, took a long draw, and responded, “Hey, Al.”

“Did… did it work?”

He fixed her with a strange look, then smiled. “Yeah, it worked.”

“So you know why… you wanted, you know, to-“

“Yeah, Alice, I do.”

Gerry inhaled deeply from the cigarette, downed the beer in a single swig, dropped the butt in the empty can, then retrieved and cracked a second beer.

Everyone in the room stared at Gerry, who stared back, impassive.

“Get out, guys.”

The Engerrneers began reluctantly to pack up, unsure of what to do.

“Go on.”

Alice eyed him nervously.

“Well, Ger? What’s going on?”

He didn’t respond, but took the beer into his bedroom and locked himself inside. Alice started knocking at the door, quietly at first, with increasing intensity as she heard him rummaging around.

“Gerry, please.”


He was smiling again. Gerry opened his underwear drawer, and rummaged around until he laid hands on the old Glock 32. He sat down on the bed and checked the chamber. It was still loaded. He laughed and drained his beer.


Gerry put the Glock into his mouth, but didn’t feel anything about it. He took it out again for a moment and had a thought. He laughed, then opened the Gerritic Index app, marked Virginia’s question as “answered”, then braced the gun with his teeth and fired directly upward into the roof of his mouth.

Alice screamed.

On the evening of May 21st Virginia received two messages on her phone in quick succession. The first was the automated congratulations she had been waiting for, a notification that she had achieved official adulthood under Gerritic Law, and was thereby entitled to the full rights and privileges of any other man or woman of any age, including to those of marriage.

At this she shrieked. Virginia jumped three times, spun in a circle, and fell backward onto her bed where she kicked her legs in a ten second frenzy.

When she regained composure and returned to reread her emails, the second struck her as odd. It had the automatic “Answer!” header, and was from Gerry’s personal email address, but when she opened the email it was entirely blank. After trying to reload it three or four times, she decided she didn’t really care, then bolted out of her room into the twilight.

Fresh buds impregnated the air with heady scent. Spring had started early that year, and the gardeners had just finished their day’s work. She knew where to find Jonathan.

Virginia was finally going to get laid.




Extremities of experience define the scope of thought. I enjoy media examining that edge. I read, write, watch, & search.