I went to Ocean Beach and it was gone. In twenty years i had never seen this: the surf line crashed directly against the base of the great dunes that buffer the shore, behind which the Great Highway runs. The shoreline road was empty for as far as i could see, preternaturally so at midday, until i realized that it might have been closed because of flood risk from the king tide, or blowing sand from the wild winds.
I stood atop the dunes, where one or two other solitary persons pensively regarded a deep, multilayered line of storm clouds roiling landward, a study in pattern formation. The wind exhilarated me; it was full of high portent. This is only the beginning, it said. Go and hide inside a world of pixilated screens for as long as you think you can: put on those chintzy goggles, strap computers to your wrists, stuff headphones in your ears, or infuse the physical world before you with algorithmic animation projected onto a piece of expensive eyewear – but I will be howling outside through every crack in your shoddy sand castle walls, and you haven’t yet seen the least of what I can do.
It wasn’t speaking to me personally of course. (That’s madness.) It was speaking to the ages to come; I’d be long gone before the prophecy it whispered was fulfilled:
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
How well everything works now! I thought as I rode back on the streetcar docile and omnipotent. The massive cranes moving up and down atop the new high-rises. The lights come on, go off, in sequence, as other machines tell them to. My credit card! Food, medicine, plants for my garden – i got all these with a promise made upon a small piece of plastic-covered circuitry. All these people i’ve never met from all over the globe are providing me with everything i need for a comfortable life, instead of storming the gates of their rulers’ palaces, to get back some of the wealth they are hoarding, most of which exists only as two digits, zero and one, in a dimensionless realm of similarly insubstantial promises. The Emperor’s New Stock Options…
The faces along the bar
Cling to their average day
The lights must never go out
The music must always play –
Lest we should see where we are
Lost in a haunted wood
Children afraid of the dark
Who have never been happy or good.
But i was happy walking home in the soft rain. It felt like a blessing – rather this gentle, dark rain is what priestly blessings were invented to imitate and supersede. Then across the street and a little way behind me i heard a shriek – an unearthly sound. I glanced back and a man stood there with something strange in his stance. I couldn’t see him well, half hidden behind a parked car. But as i looked he turned his face towards me and it was young and impish, filled with a hideous, staring grin, the eyes wide and white as boiled eggs on a brown plate. He seemed possessed of a dreadful joy. He shrieked again, an indescribable sound. And then he began to cross the street toward me, in the midst of the roaring traffic. He loped as if his uncontainable joy were forcing him to dance. Cars swerved to avoid him.
There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy…
I turned and walked on as fast as i could, breathing in panicked gasps. I heard his shrieks intermittently behind me; no matter how quickly i moved, I couldn’t get them to sound any farther away. I was almost running, scrambling up the steep hill. I didn’t dare to look back.
I was nearly home before i couldn’t hear the shrieks anymore. I kept thinking i would turn around and see him loping after me, desperate to give me the message with which his madness filled him. Here, this is for you.
The next day a mild sun shone; i went out to take a walk. I walked down the hill, stopped at the store, came out and there he was at the bus stop. He beamed with joy, and shrieked.
Only the beginning.