FICTION | WINTER ’22
AStRA, ACT III
Transcribed Memory Archive I Ârchiteta: Mowgli Olóyè
III. Òdo: Sísíkiri
WORDS by ANTHONY WASH ROSADO
ILLUSTRATIONS by DEXX RUSHIN
❝The first movement is death.❞
-An Ankoku Butoh principle, realized by Hijikata Tatsumi
I buoy. I don’t have the words to render where or what I just was. I clasp my eyelids as I embrace my ghostly body in fetal position, clutching each scapula. Home, for me, used to be my mom’s aged three-story building in South Philly. Now, home might as well be concrete on a sidewalk. I crave anything mundane.
I focus on my memory of the cherrywood-stained banister leading to the second floor, where my mom—stunning in her yellow slip and pink bonnet; her baby hairs undulating in the morning light—is fixing the radiator in my room. My house smells of Pine-Sol, bacon, and eggs. I am twelve years young, full from breakfast and gliding my fingertips along the rail, climbing the steps. Not a single grain of dust. I laugh. Leave it to my mom to manage nurses all day while battling cystic fibrosis, being a full-time mother, and keeping everything/one intact. I miss her weekly declaration, “You get that beautiful nose from me.”
But I am not home. My solace is demolished by an impending panic. I have no reference for time. I miss the cosmos. I hover in a foreign part of outer space. Here, there are no stars or planets. The chartreuse void I traverse is a vacuum trapping me and these silver, misshapen pool-portals. They orbit nothing. As do I.
Fear chokes me as I picture myself in bed. Haunting myself as I sleep. I imagine flailing at myself in desperation. I ward off images of me decaying into a skeleton covered in grey moss. I need to get back. A pool-portal inches toward me. Unable to avoid its approach, all I can do is await the…
“Now things are ‘bout to get interesting,” a voice whispers.
I peep between a curtain of fingers. Fully visible flesh-fingers? Elated, I sit upright and—
“Oop!” the voice interjects.
I bang my head on a surface. Delicious. The pain in my crown and base of my skull is thunderous and delectable. For it is a semblance of home to me, which is a tangible body consisting of what my sensations are confirming to be—Yes! A head, torso, two legs, and arms. Best of all, no fur. No fin. Skin made of vulnerable, stretchy flesh. Whether this body is mine is of no concern. It is a sweating, throbbing body. Its head is bald and its hands look just like mine.
A crouched woman dressed in oversized Gainsboro overalls spilling onto itself, and a dingy white long sleeve collared shirt moves a rolling chair to expose my hiding place.
She asks, “Cramped enough for you under there?”
Her tranquil voice submerges from, then is again drowned by boisterous discordant typing that acts as her basso continuo. I look past her and realize I am in a cubicle, under a desk. By the sounds of the keyboards, there must be hundreds of people here. One is in the seat before me. She slides onto the floor and sits on her calves to meet me face to face. Her eyes are a glade of amber juxtaposing the deep Davy’s gray of her skin, which matches everything in sight. Here, either black, like her cornrows, or some hue of slate-gray comprises a five-point color palette.
She smiles with eyebrows conspiring in portentous curiosity, “Can think of no rhyme to reason you. How, here? And now?” Her thick, button nose resembles my mom’s.
She extends an open hand blotted with ink, “Peripeteia.”
Her fingers wiggle impatiently. She speaks with the wisdom of an elder but appears to be no older than twenty-four or twenty-five.
Peripeteia elaborates, “Whether you hibernate for three sleep cycles or millennia, I am as screwed as you.”
I ease and reply, “Mowgli.” Her recognizing eyes deepen into purple.
I offer my hand, disdaining my comfortability. She firms the hold, nods with conviction, and releases. When was the last time I shook a hand? I breathe deeply through my nostrils and out of my mouth, trusting her unconditionally in a cubicle too small for two. Sweat beads on my forehead and the nape of my neck. The humid air is dry and infested with tobacco ashes.
“Mow-guh-lee,” she remembers my name with her lips, jaw, throat, then tongue.
I relax into the frayed carpet, unbothered by the nauseating fetor buried under a dollar-store-brand citrus absorbent powder. Perfumed excrement cannot disturb me. Not now. Though her table, chair, and metal filing cabinet cramp Peripeteia and me only two feet apart, I caress thighs and calves foreign to my true body and am calmed by their alien familiarity.
She sits across from me, leaning on the cabinet. She crosses her arms and presses her chin into her fist. She stares into and past me. Her eyes flash from purple to hazel.
Peripeteia queries, “It is not Imaga, or else the memory keeper would fear my presence. Unless…the Imaga have transmitted information between dreamscapes, warning one another of the AStRA’s Collected Consciousness Center initiative to extract data from dreamers for political and commercial interests on Earth. No. It has no idea what I’m talking about.
It is definitely not a Reflectitype. Otherwise, it would not acknowledge my presence. They do not see officers of the AStRA Protection Unit. It’s only function is to embody the rules and enforce the reality of a dream.”
My face twists, perplexed by her inference. She picks at a tear in the carpet.
“If it were a Dyspnea, it would not be cowering under a desk. It would be pursuing the control center of the dreamer it possesses. And Dyspnea can’t take human form in dreamscapes.”
Her eyes dim to grayscale, then dart to meet mine. The typing chorus swells and pummels into my skull. Goosebumps bristle in succession from my head to my feet.
I shimmy closer to her. She peers upward with me. Miles above, smattered with bare fluorescent lights, the ceiling goes on for an immeasurable distance. I study her in my periphery. Is she observing this place with a new lens? I climb onto the desk. She follows suit. Her early-1990s desktop with an external, chunky keyboard sits between us. I look over the divider and descry enough cubicles to congest a canyon. Each is quarantined by flimsy-looking ten-foot-tall walls. Some administrators beat their keyboards. The person next door grunts and sucks his teeth at the computer screen. Invariable keyboard clicks and the buzzing whir of that lazy overhead together chime a John Cage-esque ballad. Peripeteia and her neighbor have shadows under them, but under me is no evidence that light is blocked from the floor.
I catch Peripeteia, mouth slightly ajar in awe, fixed on me. Her eyes are now crimson. She notices and evades my stare, her eyes returning to grey.
We return to the floor. I beg, “How do I get home?”
Her eyes glow hazel, “Leave? Will do.”
We sit, anticipating the other’s response.
I urge, “So?”
Her eyes fade to opaque. She cocks her head.
I rephrase, “How do I get out of here?” She checks the cubicle opening. Not a stir. She sits on the ground mirroring me and aligns her posture. I do the same.
She breathes, “Not certain how long here will last.” She firmly grips the matted ground. “Inconclusive whether a Dyspnea is present—” Her eyes brighten into orange. “Irrelevant. Unauthorized AStRA do not belong in the dream realm.”
Is that where I am? I cower back under the desk. So it’s true. I am no longer in outer space. I drifted so far that I ended up in a green void housing silver dream portals. Trembling and without words, I plead for Peripeteia to help me. My tears blend with budding sweat droplets.
Peripeteia reaches for me then stops herself, returning her hands to her lap. With amber eyes she says, “Worry naught. Astral protectors existed long before the AStRA. They didn’t wipe all of our ancestors out, as they claim. My hands will not shame you.” Her eyes turn to the yellow of a ripe mango. I exhale and tension along my spine withers.
She slowly stands and instructs me, “Be brave. Stay close. And be bored.”
Her pupils kindle into amber. I rise. With a playful sneer, I insist, “You first.”
She goes to and flips through a cabinet near the cubicle opening, then withdraws two stacks of manila folders. Each is neatly bound by a thick rubber band. Unrecognizable symbols in handwritten graphite decorate the labeling. Outside the cubicle opening is a carpeted wall with humming, weak construction bulbs. Their shine fights to light Perepeteia’s dim cubicle. Nobody has passed it so I am certain no one else has seen me yet. This comforts me. But I don’t cling to the idea of safety. It has been fleeting thus far.
Behind dreary, grey eyes she directs, “Grab these.”
I retrieve the pile and hold it to my chest, securing it steadily against my shaking palms. They’re heavier than they look. Nonetheless, I am euphoric. Walking out of the cubicle with them is the most human act I’ve engaged in since the day I astrally projected from Earth. Hopefully, Peripeteia can get me back to my solar system. Or, at least, my galaxy.
We exit the cubicle together. The carpeted walls are dingy. Peripeteia leads me through a myriad of hunched, groaning typers packed into an atrium with a tarp-covered ceiling. The folders slide out of place now and then. I re-stack them continuously, grateful that they are slowing me down. Musky lime stings my nostrils. We walk along the perimeter to two swinging doors and enter a decaying banquet hall. Hunching our shoulders, Peripeteia and I trudge with concealed exigency through a disorganized grid of metal desks and a sea of wrinkled paper. She nudges me and points to her face. I imitate her grimace. We drag our heels past a wide hall of disinterested people looming over or leaning on oversized printers. Some slap and jam paper into the printers. Others cuss and bark, flailing wads of paper about.
Peripeteia’s pace deteriorates and she turns left. I mimic her lackadaisical stride with precision. Weary light somehow cascades the strands of hair that escape Peripeteia’s braids. Incognito, we enter a narrow hallway that is five feet wide. We shamble through, anxious and expressionless. There is a grimy bay window at the corridor’s end. Our steps squish loudly on the gushy, dirty floor. It is made of sponge-like cardboard tiles attempting to resemble wood and festering with warped growths. Some blocks are missing, mainly along the center of the walkable aisle. The level below is an abyss. The ceiling above is indefinite.
As we near the end of the hallway, the back of a tall, leather chair obfuscates someone sitting behind a wide wooden table. They face the corridor’s dead end, clacking away. Light struggles to perforate through layers of dusty sap on the window.
She stops, fists locking with her wrists in a criss-cross on the base of her spine. I halt.
She requests, “Present: ÂPU’Peripeteia Upsilon Atabex Behique dash Twenty Two. Appeal: Permission to auto-adjudicate.”
The person sitting in the scraped and torn chair motions a closed peace sign. The chair’s back and the person’s pale hand are all I can make out over Peripeteia’s shoulder. The hand retreats, re-commencing their calculations.
She begins, “Requisition: Permission to be reassigned.”
The clicks stop. This interim abides by her superior, the computer, who gently places the device behind their seat and onto the desk. It appears to be an electronic breed between a TI-83 calculator and a mercury thermometer. My knees buckle. The folders’ bludgeoning weight rattles my biceps. Sweat drips burn my eyes. I will my strength to continue; to exist, for this act of carrying assuages the pain blooming in my lumbar. I lift the folders to wipe my eyes on my shoulders. Squinting, I see Peripeteia facing me, ushering me closer. I bring her the folders.
She explains, “Deposition: All assignments executed and archived.” She effortlessly collects the folders. My body sings the release of pressure. After effervescently setting them on the table, she retires to her previous place and stance. “Reflectitypes examined witnessed naught abnormal activity within Ârchiteta Omari Noteast’s dreams. Sleep paralysis has yet to be proven as a result of a demonic parasite’s possession of this mission’s dreaming Ârchiteta.” The chair creaks. She interjects, “Interviewed Imaga corroborate the Reflectitype’s testimonies. They encountered naught symptoms that would indicate the presence of a Dyspnea possessing the Ârchiteta. The Imagas’ collected consciousness is clean of haunting. Ârchiteta Noteast’s dreamscape is protected by sufficient De-Dyspnea Enforcement League officers.”
Her manager retrieves a folder and flips through pages. My throat itches and I swallow chalky air, breathing sparingly to keep from coughing.
Peripeteia divulges, “Intent: To endeavor new missions that grace the Founding Sons via my allegiance to the AStRA.” “Allegiance-egaince-egaince” ricochets upward against the cramped walls. The hand re-motions the closed peace sign. Peripeteia turns her torso quickly, winks at me—revealing crimson eyes—and unwinds to face her boss’s back. She ends the impromptu meeting, “Approval of permission to be reassigned, confirmed.”
Peripeteia turns and shoos me out of the corridor. Shoulder to shoulder, we retrace our steps to the cubicle meadow where we met. Typers track us quizzically. Peripeteia swivels beside me as we pass the printers, blocking my path with a gently extended arm to end our journey. Hers are periwinkle. She cradles my jaw in her palms and nods to a sealed exit a couple of yards from her cubicle. The ravaging keyboards end adroitly. Everything stops. Peripeteia’s eyes flicker colors, most of which I am unable to comprehend. She steadies her breath.
Crashing printers startle me. Peripeteia is unphased. “Only room for one,” she says and lets go of my face. She nods, concurrently scooping me off the ground, sweeping me over her head, then hurling my body across seven cubicles toward the exit.
As I fly, empty suits rush in and convolve her to the ground. I hit the wall, hanging from my overalls. I unpeel like velcro. Workers dressed in my same rumpy overalls are trampled by office supplies and scurry directionless, screaming mad and dodging one another.
I land head first, easing like sludge to the ground. I permit muck to soak my jumper as I slide up the wall to stand. The blood rushing from my head to my legs reminds me of cooling after a twenty-mile summer hike. The exit is to my left but Peripeteia–
Beams of cherry blossom and turquoise tints thrust from the suit pile crowding the doorway. It dithers, reshaping the towering suit hill into a heap of daffodils. Peripeteia’s skin is an illustrious spectrum of all and no color, seemingly two-dimensional within the petal shower. Her cornrows are woven topaz, amethyst, and hematite. Her titanium-white eyes beam from inside, behind, and in front of her sockets. With flared nostrils, her scowling gaze scans the room until she finds me.
When she does, her face softens then re-hardens. She orders, “Mowgli! Run!”
More hollow suits swarm in. Peripeteia roars and smashes her fists into the ground. The bodiless suits transform into a wave of chrysanthemum, cacti, dandelion, and hibiscus that flood the field of cubicles. She soars above the floral meadow and smiles from the corner of her mouth. Her tears glitter her cheekbones. I hesitate, pivot, and sprint to the door.
ANTHONYWASH.ROSADO is a memory worker, storyteller, artist, and curator. He/they/she writes science fiction that reimagines legacy, colonialism, and queer love. His writing is rooted in personal experience, learned history, and imagination. They produce interactive exhibitions and literary publications that influence audiences to invest in preserving their family’s cultural history. Her multimedia productions provide attendants exposure to the anthropology of African diasporic American communities via writing, painting, choreography, and creative education. His art addresses origins, home, hope and historicity. From published words to curated experiences, their purpose remains to invigorate autonomous storytelling.
Illustrations by DEXX RUSHIN.