You wake up in a cold sweat. You’ve been having strange, vivid dreams for weeks now, always in some kind of forest, always involving a frightening person and always ending in terror. You can’t quite remember what you saw this time, something about cars and a town and a girl. Maybe you should see a psychologist.

You end up sitting next to a girl at work. You didn’t want to sit by her, but you’d been looking for a seat for twenty minutes. You find yourself glad it happened, though; she’s very pretty and isn’t as overweight as most. You make yourself as compact as possible to avoid intruding on her space and steal furtive glances at her every few minutes. You have a hard time doing your work; your mind keeps wandering back to her. You think about what it would be like for her to look at you, smile at you even. What it would be like to hold her hand or touch her face. You imagine her being kind, gentle, wanting to do everything with you, and you imagine yourself loving her, willing to do anything for her. Like in shows.

At lunchtime, she gets up, and a subtle look of disgust crosses her face as she notices you. Then she disappears into the crowd of employees heading to the food court.


You’re drinking Soylent and browsing Reddit in your bed after work. You see a lot of posts about Republicans today; apparently they’re threatening our Democracy again. Republicans drive pickup trucks around and bully women and minorities with them. You shake your head in disgust. They should hold another Vote soon so you can beat them again. Another post catches your eye: “Town of El-Fayoum Torched.” A picture of apartment buildings just like yours, aflame from top to bottom. You click on it, but it 404s. You smirk. Probably another conspiracy theory. You appreciate Reddit’s commitment to preserving free speech by protecting the community from conspiracy theories and other hate speech. You go to sleep, content in the knowledge that you are firmly on the right side of history. Or rather, the left side! You chuckle softly at your pun as you fade into unconsciousness. You’ll have to try that one out on Reddit.


You are awoken by shouting and the sound of large vehicles outside your window. Groggy, you slowly blink your eyes open and reach for your phone to check the time. You hear a strange whoosh sound, and then—the roar of an explosion, and it sounds close. You are suddenly awake. You’re more alert than you’ve ever been. You scramble from your bed to the window just in time to see some kind of tank roll into view, followed by about a dozen men in camouflage carrying military-style assault rifles. You start to calm down. If the army is here, it must be safe. You have mixed feelings about the army; on one hand, it is necessary for dealing with violent threats to our Democracy, such as Republicans. On the other hand, the army is a holdover from a white supremacist morality which perpetuates violence against diverse cultures and bodies. You believe that once Republicans finally die out, the army should be disbanded and replaced with more education and assistance for the underprivileged, which would solve the problems of crime and violence. You think you remember writing several times about this on Twitter, or maybe you read it. Then you blink as the tank in front of your window erupts into orange flame, and the soldiers scatter before a pair of pickup trucks. Engines roaring, they speed by, combing the street with huge, loud machine guns mounted in the beds. Jamal, spewing expletives, is already out the door. The other programmers in your apartment are just waking up. Something in your brain snaps. You start throwing on clothes and fill your Amazon Basics backpack with items you think are important: underwear, socks, and a handful of Skittles packets and popcorn bags you keep for Huluflix premiers. The other guys, looking out the window and seeing the carnage, tell you to stay put, as advised by the emergency preparedness PSAs you’ve been seeing frequently during commercial breaks and showers, but you ignore them. You don’t know why. You can’t remember another time when you’ve felt this urge to act, but despite the panic in your stomach, it feels good somehow. You take off down the stairs. Something tells you not to take the elevator. You’ve never taken the stairs before, and it’s hard work. Your thigh fat is rubbing together, your chest fat is bobbing up and down with each step, you’re sweating all over. By the time you reach the bottom, you’re winded and your legs ache. Normally, you’d stop now, but somehow you keep going, out the back emergency exit.

You stumble into the street, panting. The next few seconds seem to drag on for hours as you take in a scene of completely incomprehensible carnage. Dead bodies lay everywhere, mostly green-clad soldiers but also civilians and a handful of big, bulky men with rifles in their still-warm hands. Everywhere gunshots, engines rumbling, screaming of women and men, cries of the dying, and above it all, the glee of laughter and youthful shouts. There is a burning tank across the street, a large white pickup truck by your building, engine revving, with a giant machine gun mounted on the back. You can see the entrance of your own apartment block; a team of young, handsome men with rifles are breaking down the door. By the truck, another has a girl by the hair, is dragging her, shrieking, towards the backseat. You look closer; it’s the girl you sat next to at lunch yesterday. Across the street young boys, no older than 15, are carrying armfuls of clothing and blankets and bundles of wires out of another building, and you can see flames in the windows of the top floor.

Then a young man steps down from the cab of the pickup and scans the scene. You can’t move; you’re frozen in place as your world burns around you. The man sees you. A terrifying grin crosses his face: genuine happiness mixed with anger. It’s so radiant and joyful you almost want to smile back, but at the same time fear stabs the base of your spine. He shouts something to his friend, the one holding your crush by the hair, in an accent you can’t understand, and he also laughs. Then the young man, tall, blue-eyed and brown-haired, unslings a rifle from his back, raises it at you, and fires.

Now you’re on your back; you can’t breathe because there’s a crushing weight on your chest. You lift your head, look around; blood is pooling around you. The edges of your vision are turning black.

And suddenly, you’re lucid. You are aware of yourself. Monstrous, luminescent figures of men and women are standing all around, intent on the action taking place at their feet, one man-shape looks at you, locks your eyes with his, frowns with pity and revilement, like you’re a cockroach stuck on its back with spiny legs kicking helplessly. These seconds drag out into eternity. You’re reliving every minute of your memory, and many things you don’t remember. Except everything is different: your happiness is misery, and your misery the only happiness, and not just happiness but true joy. But there’s so little of it. The great achievements and pleasures of your life flash by in muddled pain, while your pains are little shining gems in the mud-heap of your memory. Some moments flash into existence, painfully vivid, but they are nothing, just ordinary experiences at work, on the street, in your apartment; you’re always looking at the ground or laboring over code or masturbating or laughing at a show. Then these moments branch out and you watch from afar as you look up from your distractions, and new lives play out like movies, and this crushes your soul the most of all as you see unfathomable joy rejected while you trudged along in a haze of pleasure and contentment. You want to scream, but the blood is already choking you. You see a girl, green-eyed, red-haired, meeting your gaze, but you cannot hold it and look down. Then you are watching yourself hold her in your arms, caressing her beautiful face, and then she is standing before you, holding two babies—twins!—and then years of hard living, a tiny hut in a deep green forest, red meat in your hands, and your hands are different, and you are different, big and muscular and confident and full of life and a deep and holy love with this woman, and then you see your children even greater than yourself, a son tall and handsome and a daughter beautiful beyond compare, committing great feats and raising a nation free and proud from the decaying corpse of civilization, and tears and blood stream from your eyes in your misery, and you hate yourself and curse everything that you once loved for robbing from you this blessed future.

Then you can’t see anything anymore except that holy figure’s sad eyes and the all-encompassing pain of regret becomes your entire being for an eon of your mind, and then the darkness closes in, and you are no more.


For all installments of “Progress,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2