This was in the city buried a billion miles underground. At that depth, things did not melt, they froze: the world subterranean cold, roads heaving with ice, frost sighing off the sides of housing projects. I myself was feigning emptiness, sleeping in closet-sized bedrooms and hoping to die from the drop of a six-foot icicle on the way to work.

I manned the cash register at a corner store. I woke, too often alone and drenched in a metallic-smelling sweat that soon froze. I lacked lovers, and my one solace was the local saloon where jobless cowboys gathered to shoot perfect and precise holes in each other.

I’d come from a place of ponies and sunlight. I could not return. All the bars there had cast me out, and although the light was golden and danced with dust motes, old friends gave me sullen looks, plotting my ruin behind my back.

Down here, the only light came from failing bulbs on street corners, and you walked through town in a perpetual deep-sea murk. Rumors abounded: you had to be careful coming home from work. Anything could happen after nine. Your long-lost stepbrother could emerge from an alleyway and ask you for a loan. So could your landlord.

Occasionally, the mayor would appear on TV to make statements. “This city is a dead fish in need of gutting,” he’d say. “Before the rot spreads beyond repair.” He’d shuffle his script, frown a little. “We need to carve out the bad parts. We need to consider this systemically. See, the term ‘cyborg’ is redundant. All organisms are inherently cybernetic, part of a closed, cooperating system that loops together, feeds back into itself…” His forehead glimmered with sweat, and he’d have to dab at it. “This is complicated. Frankly, I don’t quite understand it myself. The lights cost too much. In this economy? They have to be turned down.”

So each day grew a little darker. I was relieved to discover I could no longer recognize the people walking past me on the dimmed street.

Still, there was some public unrest. The trains stopped arriving; a neglected turnpike tunnel collapsed. This was the beginning of the end of the world, a few people whispered. I informed my boss, but he refused to let me take off that week I wanted in September.

It got colder. Spiders hid in the fabric of my bathroom towels to keep warm. I went to work in slow, fumbling increments, crawling on all fours, trying to feel my way along the black-frost streets with numb hands. Once, a cowboy shot me by mistake; I bled a little, the wound froze, and a few days later, I was fine.

“We have to be understanding,” the mayor would say, a fuzzy phantom in the television. “We have to batten down the hatches, tighten our belts. We’re all in this together.”

It got darker. Night pressed against your eyes like palms. You couldn’t tell where your life ended and someone else’s began. I developed a hunch, stooping ever deeper into myself, and still I collided with strangers, walked into another person’s job, never knowing whose heart it was that I felt throbbing, if it was the saloon I’d stumbled into or an office career. The whole city had become one single, shared bruise.

“Love is only plausible beneath an artificial sky,” the mayor would say. His words came now from speakers, free from any screen, a disembodied voice that could’ve been anyone else’s or my own. “A baboon reaches for the moon but only manages to grasp its reflection in a pond.”

My gums hurt and so did everyone’s. An icicle crashed through my head and I kept walking. Somewhere someone ordered a cheeseburger.

“Is there a hole in me, or am I the hole?” the mayor said. “We have got to tackle the hard questions. This is not a time for complacency. We have got to start asking.”

And this went on for a while, a year or several hundred. There were harried talks and city council meetings about the impending heat-death of the universe, the arrival of an all-encompassing night. I went to the bar to drink more beer with the cowboys. I could only tell what I still was by all the things that I still lacked.