ONE DAY, REN HANG DECIDED TO BECOME A PLANETOID.
It was reported that the photographer and poet ended his life at the age of twenty-nine, but what they did not know is that he never hit the ground after jumping to his death. Instead the sky fell, and as it went down he went up.
It was all because he did not want to take the elevator. The opening door seemed like a guillotine, the stairs a precipice, every step a sheer cliff. In a fit of inexplicable anger, he became inexplicably frustrated and then inexplicably happy. Here he accompanied this world with a smile and, half-crying to himself, said: “I am a bird. I don’t have a bird’s head. I don’t have the wings of a bird, the feet of a bird, and yet….”
In his mania, he took off his clothes, gathered them into a wadded bundle in his hands, and walked off the 28th floor of a building in Beijing. Then a sense of flying came to him, as he rose along the neighbourhood district and passed its gates, his body suspended, feeling as if his tongue has been flushed with helium. Every part of him growing light and tender and swollen. The inside of his chest felt stuffed full of cotton, slowly expanding and infecting every inch of his body till finally he was a huge wad of fluffy and nearly weightless material, floating off into the air.
In his possession, Ren had only a point-and-shoot camera slung loosely around his neck, a diary to record his experience, and medication to change his experience. There were two kinds of medicine for everything that could go wrong: one was a red pill, the other a white pill. When you are on the top, said the doctor, take the red capsule, and when you are on the bottom, take the white capsule. His tiny possessions were not heavy objects at first, but as he continued to record the fear, anxiety and internal conflict he experienced as a newborn planet, their softness and lightness and smoothness became hardness and heaviness and coarseness.
The diary Ren carried was full of his scars and, much like the effect the pills had, as the writing took concrete form, he became less frightened. The diary was more than his story — it was black and blue with comfortable bruises, it was a oblivion-seeker that wanted to return to its alien space. So it convinced Ren to take it there, and that it was a story, so that it could invade his brain. The oblivion-seeker’s poetry began to lead a further existence in his mind, more than any superficial translatable meaning in prose could explain.
As he approached the edge of the troposphere, he was as weightless as earth departure required. No drink no thirst, no food no hunger. He had eaten very little that day, but still had the feeling that pork meat was in his teeth. And as he ascended, he dropped articles of clothing down onto the intercourse of Beijing: a shoe in Beihai Park, a shirt on Tiananmen Square, pants over Shichahai….
“The natural conditions of the planetoid,” declared Ren, “will be such that creatures born with clothes on will revolute against the less natural condition — which will be to take them off!” Living his first constitution, he let out a humored caw, like that of a bird.
Ren wanted to be a beautiful planetoid, where anything was worthy of being shot with his point-and-shoot camera, where bad things could feel good without consequence. The atmosphere would be fetishized, a landscape of living bodies, grouped and stacked on each other, naked with the secret blackness of milky white limbs arranged in contortions of highly performative positions. Mountains would take shape out of a series of backsides, ribs would valley and hill and footland and prairie. The Chinese officials would not be able to arrest him for constituting his planetoid just so; it far exceeded their jurisdiction. A planetoid couldn’t have erotic undertones or gender identity disorder. He was already too big for all of that.
As he blew up to impossible heights, circling higher and higher, he dropped his photographs overtop of those monstrous skyscrapers that had taken doggone years to build: Chinese genitals, pussies and penises, tinkling out at the speed and in the colour of cherry blossom petals, emitting their faint music over the city; nude photographs of his friends sitting out of high rise windows, wedging themselves between the upward thrust of towering trunks, touching the sky in twos, or hanging on sparse branches fingering the mist, in the parks, or wading in the pond with spatulate lily pads or in frothy bath tubs, their faces as calm as white streamworn stones facing upward, their kisses and embraces like blind poison and prison cells.
Before his journey to planethood, strangers had made him nervous. Although he wanted to talk to everyone, he wanted to talk to himself first and then his friends and then the waitresses and the street people of the district. Down there, it was like everyone had spied on him. Everyone had known him, everyone had talked about him. He spit on soccer players with the same indifference as he would have had they been playing on the screen of his television set. Turning his back away from all of this, he grew and flew, all of it so fast and all of it so new.
The blue arc of the earth rushed dazzling downwards, eventually shrinking to a white sphere. When Ren reached the top hemisphere of the moon, he took the red pill. Things had been several times enlarged, including himself. So the moon was now a refuge, a place to squat down and cry and laugh in shame, as if he had snuck away to a toilet in a cubicle at a club, and was not actually on the darkside of the lunar mass, eavesdropping on the earth through the molten ore that burned deep in the moon’s core.
“The depression is gone, but no matter how far away it is, it’s going to come back. After I cry I will not be better. My red heart has a hole and must be put inside body armor. If I am to become a planetoid, I mustn’t have holes like the cratored ears of this moon,” Ren said, and felt the real warmness leave him, and the coldness through the medium of the alien space receive him. It was the space that the diary-creature wanted Ren to believe his story would take him, was assumed to be real, but was but oblivion-seeking-oblivion.
“Should his planet support life or not?” he wondered, for he believed life was indeed a precious gift, even though it was often times sent to the wrong person….
The red pill was supposed to be taken before meals. He still had a strawberry clenched between his butt cheeks and a cherry enveloped in his scrotum — props from his last shoot. He ate these as he contemplated where to push off to next. “It must be between Earth and Mars; any farther won’t support life, and life is supposed to be the best thing, so I will have it.” He said the words with a keen sense of space, and then flung himself into the dark.
The other spinning islands of space were like wheels turning, their pain as their axel, carried farther and farther away. Ren tried to speak to them but their names were too heavy, his thoughts seemed less there, remembering less information, unfocused and absent minded with fear and tension.
Occupying the place between the china blue and the martian red planets, the content of his negotiation became concerned with whether or not he was standing up or sitting down. His movements looked like he had fallen down, but in this bottomless pit of space, falling was a form of flying, too.
“Can’t say if I’m happy — or not — sad — or not,” Ren said, feeling hoary and weak. “How real it all feels.”
With no instruments or tools to record time, he is like a stone hurled into daily darkness, the concept of time gone. A planetoid without geological feature without texture, soon had geological feature with texture: His face as flat as the surface of a lake, and as a breeze blows, the wrinkles spread like ripples over his face. He can no longer stretch his hand to touch the gully on his face, but he can feel the outflow, drop by drop, of water from his body, and even his bones begin to soften into a malleable mass. If you saw him, you’d no longer be able to use “a being”, “a person” as descriptive nouns; you’d only be able to use “a shore”, “a minor planet.”
Becoming less than nothing, then becoming better than nothing.
It is all his own skin. The ceiling becomes higher. The ground that couches him becomes thick and wide. The world is zooming in, he is closing in. He felt like he was below the surface of his skin, when really he was above the surface. It becomes so that things on the outside cannot go in and he cannot go out. An impermeable membrane.
“I feel like a kite fluttering,” he says, as the ground for him becomes the sky.
Every day he struggles in the alien space between forgetting and inventing, oblivion and creation. When it’s bad he feels like someone on earth is following his head around with a telescope. That place he escaped always appeared to be full of weapons. Leaves on the trees look like razors; forks look like darts. A bottle of Coke is a hand grenade. On the streets of his planetoid, Ren decided, all pedestrians will be vases, of all shapes and sizes. There, you could buy a bouquet of flowers and stick a stalk into each of the open mouths gaping from their heads. Killing someone would be as easy as smashing a vase in with a hammer, would be as easy as being murdered by the mundanity of life back on earth.
All over the floor of space, the stars look like shards of false teeth, twinkling their crisscross spots of light in the dark. Wave upon wave of nausea rolls inside of him as he hallucinates his rebirth. Seasickness. In these perspiring waves of oceans forming he is still cold, though his body is fevered with bubbling volcanic eruptions. The conditions of space make him feel as if he is bleeding, like every joint is as tender and pulpy as a freshly-made cut, his whole body a giant wound.
“I should like to bandage myself up,” he says. “I should like to eat a pill the size and color of the moon.” But he can no longer reach for the encapsulated white pill that has sunk into his abyss, to the center of the planetoid, along with everything he brought with him — the remaining parts of his body, the diary, and the camera. He can’t rescue those things, he can’t rescue himself.
He grows as taut as a rope, constantly being stretched through high levels of atmosphere, temperature, surface topography and ecology. Thousands of elemental forces ride on his body. They do not fight but play wonderful instruments of creation till he is made quiet for a while, but then they begin to make the same mistake, what was not yet the right notes. They come from a low place, but they won’t let him go to hell.
All his fingers can do is tease up a spiral of ripples in a pond that reflects the stars. Loneliness cannot be caressed.
“Up there, the night is preternaturally silent; down here, it is clamorously loud. Up there, you feel like you are the only person alive in this world; down here, you feel like you are the only person dead to the world.” Wading into the darkness, the lamps that are stars around him turn bright, but once he crosses into the light, the surrounding sky darkens into an insomniatic night, an excitement.
Space is always dressed for mourning, dressed for his funeral, grandiose and somber.
Ren no longer sleeps, though he can still open his swollen eyes. The bit of ceiling above his head becomes his sky. A white sky. A sky that never changes with the weather, be it fair or inclement. It comforts him.
The earth he sees from his planetoid at times hardly seems like the earth but still it insists, still it dissuades. Raising his head and lowering it, he sees that the light is slowly fading. He can see it return in pulsing streaks, like bolts from heaven, a meteor flying towards him, faster and faster, closer and closer, eyes blinded and stabbed by light, cutting him as it touches him. It immediately hits his head, and in an instant, it turns to ashes.
Sometimes he feels like he lies on top of the mattress of the planet’s surface, sometimes he feels like he lies under the mattress of the planet, other times he feels like he lies inside the mattress of the planet. “Maybe there will never be a way out,” Ren says, as his human self is unborn and, living less in the present than a moment ago, like a dead person who still has warmth in his body, his ambitions to anchor then harbour a biologically diverse habitat seems to be for nigh. Nothing but jadescent outgassing and torn atoms at the frayed edge of himself were in the sky.
“Life will never be how you want it to be. Life is such — boredom and pain. Happiness and luck. Mania and fatigue. Comfort and dread. Fatalism.”
The more convivial the atmosphere, the more distant he grows inside, like all the lights continue to light up but can’t reach him, can’t shine on him. He stands alone in an upright coffin — in solitude, in silence, in secret — imploding into the depression diary at the core. There he lies down, settling into quiescence. The end is cold.
In the same words that told the story of the diary-creature, who was an oblivion-seeker trapped in the hole of his heart, he tells himself, “This is the darkest moment. There will be no darker than now. And after this moment they are all going to be bright.”
Like what you’re reading? OddMadland is a reader-supported publication, so consider donating to support more of this kind of creative writing in Canada and internationally. It only takes a second to donate!
HE DID NOT WAKE FOR SOME TIME.
When he woke, more than a millenium had passed. His skin was no longer his own, and like a lizard or some kind of amphibian, it peeled off. What it peeled off into were the folds of hillsides that extended indefinitely into the overgrowth of vines and other fertile things, surging from the springy growth of the landscape that surrounded him, and out into the flatlands. Disquieting creatures roamed the vast cream-coloured sand, the shining of an unyielding desert.
“Am I a camel or a cactus? A camel with no humps, or a cactus with no thorns?” Ren said. Flowers blew in the wind like embroidery on a skirt, and they were no different than the feeling he had, the feeling he had never had or had not had for a long time.
Every life was gay, every life pure, everything superior. His hands had made his life miserable, but many other things are now made less miserable by them. A type of pleasure was floating in the air. “The best outcome from a bad choice,” Ren thought. Like light making love with the shadows, he was summoned from the realm of spirits and death, now part of what was alight.
“We and the world were sick,” Ren said, crooning softer still. “Each can help a being in pain, each with a different degree of sickness, though there is nothing to solve.”
He watched what his planetoid became in the passage of time as would a rock, an electric eel, or a blade of grass. The eye of him was a substance that covered a thousand things, cocoons that hatched everywhere with even more saved to sight, even more saved to touch. Thinner in some places, harder in other places, all with a film like the lens of his point-and-shoot camera, through which he gazed without seeing.
Hungry when eating, thirsty when drinking, sleepy when sleeping, but he wasn’t hungry, wasn’t thirsty, wasn’t sleepy. His breakdown was the most proficient and practical means for these things, if they were to survive on his planetoid.
“This body…is in the end something I can control,” Ren said.
The only human thing left of Ren, this excess of emotion, moved through mossy creature’s bodies and the weird sun, through the weird sky that sagged low and lacked stars. The sky that was a sea-greenish brin that floated on the surface of his oceans, like a single-cell had absorbed it all into one globular eye, with many glassy eyes: bubbling glossier eyes, still; eye over eye, eye in eye, eye for eye….
The object that he was, the planetoid, was no longer an object perceived by him, but an instrument with which he perceived.
His external sensitivity to internal perception expanded into a porousness, able to absorb external stimuli. Reality was incomparably absurd when no longer compressed by a human brain, into something hard and rigid. A shifting mass of tints and tones. Inarticulate smears of sensation.
It was so wonderful that the creatures couldn’t tolerate their own wonderful voices, and would rather become a knife of claws or a shotgun of fangs or enormous scissors for tusks, to stab or shot or cut, but they felt empty because they were a knife or a shotgun or enormous scissors. These were oblivion-seeking creatures. He knew these creatures came from the diary-creature, that had sprouted out of the hole in his heart, along with everything else. As the camera lens had become thousands of eyes, the diary had become the inspiration, and the dreams of chlorophyll and photosynthesis were awash in its poetry. Being written meant so many things.
The only person he remembered now was his mother, the first person he had shot with his camera. He couldn’t even remember her right. Her head was a pig’s head with its tongue hanging stupidly out of the side of its mouth. At night he could no longer see the earth — it was gone.
He had the key, the inner formula of a mango, a willow tree, or a flat smooth stone, but it was not in his immediate grasp; the real thing was before, and after his sensations were finalized by these objects, not making it into his perception, there was a hole in his consciousness like there was a hole in his heart. Only the diary could explore it, could lead to the real color and shape through those exceedingly slick transitional appearances. His thoughts no longer had any obedience, but the objects of the planetoid commanded him to approach depths endlessly and summon, summon, summon. The whole environment was saturated with imperatives, with directives of its own.
And through that rhythm, he made up his own language, an unconscious counting. A communication with the world more ancient than thought. His mind was a quivering tentacle, translating volcanos and everything else in this big-ass world of his: The weakness of the bird, the fragility of the flower, vertical aspirations of the sunflower; the upright aspirations in these vertebrate organisms awaken. His tenderness to comfort or destroy these creatures divided his external horizon from his internal horizon; certain ways the outside had invaded him and certain ways he had of meeting that invasion.
No more was he too fragile to drift through outer space as a planetoid — condemned by his own restricted range to explore the vastness of the universe, the limits to choose from a restricted range of possibilities.
Their bodies were the ultimate form of sincerity. Nothing mocked its own arm, or sneered at its own heartbeat — though his body was full of alien cultures, his head full of abandoned ideas — this planetoid was more than a place for his human emotions to reside, a place where surprises will always occur.
It was the thickness of his body, the sole means to go unto the heart of things. By making himself a world and by making them flesh.
Enjoying OddMadland? If you’d like to keep up-to-date on OddMadland publications, you can donate on the Support Us page (We promise to never spam you). And, of course, you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.