It’s ragged, frayed about the edges. Its eyes are watery and often stare into the distance, focusing on nothing, focusing on everything. It lives in an old shack, immersed in the dark. Somewhere in that gloom, the smell of age and death permeates. Rats crawl unseen below the floorboards. Birds clatter about on the roof shingles. They seem distant and sound like people I used to know. They don’t stay long, taking to wing in the night.

There’s a dead chicken in the back somewhere. Its skeleton is familiar. I’d forgotten what it was for a long while.  Then, as I lean over the burning oil drum of past ideas and hopes, I remember: it was once a friend. There have been several of these chickens.

There have been many fires.

Yet it gets colder. It becomes difficult to write when the chill seeps into the fingers. I dare not speak aloud to narrate the words, because I don’t recognise the voice that speaks anymore. I don’t know who it belongs to, what it wants, or why it says the things it says. It’s getting old, ragged, frayed about the edges. I wonder why I’m doing this. Why I’m still in the shack.

I’ve resigned to never leaving. I’ll die here.

Somedays, I hear the sound of others sloshing through the snow outside, on their way somewhere. I don’t know how to talk to them. Or even if I should. They wouldn’t want to come into the shack with all the cold dead things, and the rats, and the frayed, ragged shape that hunches over the fire, trying to discern meaning in the patterns of the flames. They go on, their trail soon covered by fresh snowfall, the way obscured. Their silhouettes absorb into the fog, becoming one, becoming ghosts.

Were they even there? Did I imagine them? What even were they?

The fire has been extinguished a few times.

I don’t know why it comes back. Some days I wish it remained dead. At least then, the light it cast wouldn’t show all the grotesques lurking in the shadows, their black eyes watching me from within their blank, inscrutable faces. When I attempt to look at them, they turn their faces. What do they want?

Several of the chickens have died over the years. I’ve given up giving them names. I don’t want the attachment. According to Buddhists, attachment isn’t good for one’s rising dukkha. I sometimes fashion the bones into simulacra. It’s not the same. But they serve a purpose.

It’s been a few years now since I sent out any words beyond the shack. The birds return less frequently, their stale bread crumbs less numerous. Hunger is now a permanent state of being, something that has become so normal it’s impossible to observe it as a separate thing. I’ve resigned myself to never being free of it.

I’ll die here.

The fire dims at night, shrouding the grotesques with blankets of shadow. I scratch some words into the rotten floorboards with the beak of a chicken skull, hoping to make sense of them. Some days I understand what they’re saying. Other days, it’s as though the language has morphed, and I no longer recognise the odd shapes and symbols I scrawl. I know I must try to make sense of them. There’s little other choice.

I’ll die here.

My body will burn in the fire, leaving no trace. The shack will rot and crumble. The chicken bones will turn to dust. The rats will join them in the ground.

And the words will be lost.

Only the grotesques will remain.

I wish I knew what they wanted.

Perhaps if I could give it to them, the birds would return.