Nobody connects her to the murder of Teacher. Turns out, teaching new reapers has many occupational hazards. She finishes training and goes straight to reaping.

She reaps old people, babies, teenagers, etc. She fails to note names and faces after awhile—they’re forgotten after she files her reports and gets the new soul where it needs to go. Reaping is something she does, a reaper is what she is. It is beguilingly uncomplicated.

It is a simple job, that is, until she finds Ashley standing in the dark on a bridge overlooking Urban America. Ashley is a teenager like Skyler was once. Ashley has just broken up with her partner after revealing she also wasn’t sexually attracted to them—just like Skyler did once. The partner has not been reaped and that’s something, but Skyler realizes that this spirit, Ashley’s spirit is hurting. Skyler has an idea.

“Jump.” she tells the teenager. “There’s a better place for you. I can build it. All Ace people all the time.”

“I can’t.”

“Of course you can. Save yourself the trouble. Come with me.” There is a more popular line from an old rock song, but Skyler can’t quite bring herself to use it she is behaving in a way that is irregular , but she is not a cornball..

“I can’t,” Ashley protests. “I’ll go to Hell.”

Skyler has failed to consider this point. She also knows that Ashley’s fears are not groundless.

“Just tell me this. If there was a place, if you didn’t have to get there this way, would you go?”

Ashley nods.

Skyler pushes.

The result is not the glowing ball of light that is typical. Instead, Skyler holds a tiny glass dragon. It’s dismaying at first, then Skyler realizes this is a good thing. She has no idea where to take Ashley. She decides she will learn how to build a special place for her and those like her.

There are others. Taylor, Joshua, Andy, Foster, Drew and so on.

I’m a sandman! Skyler thinks. Maybe a sandwpman… Nah, that doesn’t have quite the same ring. Also, I’m a floating ball of consciousness with extra abilities, so does gender even matter? I guess not. I am a sandman. A sandman for Asexual people. I help them find a good dream—the best dream.

She has the worlds’ biggest dragon collection by the time her transgressions are discovered.

She’s alone. All of her training, the training she needs to be a reaper is complete. All, that is, but one thing.

“Your job,” Teacher says, “is to help people transition from living, having a physical body to dead, being not but a floating ball of consciousness. How can you do that effectively if you can’t even work through your own shit?”

So Skyler looks. She can remember him, but not his name. It is the spring of her second year in high school and this is what she sees:

  • Him in a hospital bed. The doctors say too many things are broken in too many places and it’s just a matter of time.
  • Him saying, “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing what you’re reading. I love Stephen King.”
  • Them, two as one, laughing at each other’s jokes, finishing each other’s sentences, One helping the other with math homework while the other offers suggestions on how to make a history paper that earns a B into one that earns an A.
  • Her phone ringing in the middle of the night. His mom saying, “I’m sorry. There’s been a terrible accident.”
  • Her being asked, “So… Are you two going out or what?” and she shrugs her shoulders because yes, she does care for him. Yes, she feels she understands him better than she has anyone else. From a mathematical perspective, everything’s there. 2+2=4… Except 2+2=x.
  • A funeral procession, her on the outer most edges because his family can’t—won’t understand they were that close.
  • Her saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t think of you that way. I don’t think of anyone that way.”
  • Him incredulous, angry, sad, angry, storming out and driving away in his mom’s car.
  • Her phone ringing in the middle of the night. There’s been a terrible accident.
  • A police interview where she is uncompromisingly honest. It’s hard and she does it anyway.
  • His mom calling her many names, all of them meant to devalue women. She’s a woman, how can she be like this?
  • Social media posts–He will be missed, RIP, etc.
  • Her being allowed to go to the funeral at the very last minute. His family is as cold as it is possible to be without actually being rude.

When Teacher opens the door she cries, “You son of a bitch!” And tackles them. Teacher is her first kill. It will not be the last.

Surrounded by space pirates. There are those who, after being informed of her life so far, would argue that next to disappearing from a ball pit somewhere in Suburbia and waking up on a starship and needing to deal with those circumstances, space pirates shouldn’t be a big deal.

First, she would tell those people if she wasn’t immobilized, I don’t remember much about the ball pit. Second, not being able to move AT ALL while space pirates decide what to do with you is plenty scary. She couldn’t even have a proper panic because she couldn’t move. The space cows were on the other side of the deck, and they seemed calm enough that Paige guessed they’d been here awhile.

One of her humanoid kidnappers steps close to her. They snap their fingers and her mouth can move.

“Here’s the deal,” the space pirate says. “We want the lost dragon. We saw you with a dragon. Where is it?”


Space pirate narrows their eyes. Paige’s whole body is in agony. She wants to scream, but she can’t move her mouth again. She can, apparently, cry tears. She does. A lot.

Later, Space Pirate says, “Both you and the cows know where the dragon is. The first one to give us that information lives.”

Everybody leaves the deck. It’s just her and the cows. She doesn’t have the information she needs to survive.

Well, she thinks, I ended up here last time I died. I suppose I’ll just have to try again.

It never occurs to her to wonder what might happen if nobody has the answer the pirates want.

She is Skyler because she no longer remembers her real name, but she can if she wants to. What she remembers is that she always managed to be different. These are her favorite memories.

  • One of the volunteers at her daycare hand-made and gave the children stuffed bunnies one Easter. She shunned it for a stuffed Frankenstein’s monster doll she had adopted from the toy box when the other children were too scared of it to play with it. Wouldn’t even give it up when the teacher made her sit in time out while the other students had circle time.
  • She wrote an essay in 4th grade about living in a spooky castle when she grew up. Her and all her monster friends. (She always sides with the monsters when she watches horror movies). Her teacher sent a note to her parents expressing concern over such inappropriate ambitions. Her parents, believing she would grow out of it, didn’t punish her. Teacher made her sit out at recess until she wrote an essay about getting married and having a family.
  • In 6th grade, she realizes she is normal and her friends are the aliens. The boys are foolish, overly aggressive, or some combination of the two. The girls are giggly, fascinated with the boys and just impossible. She makes friends with the works of H.P. Lovecraft and other books that are considered an unhealthy fascination at best.
  • She enters high school as a loner. She exists that way until the spring of 10th grade when—no. She can’t look at that.

After… After that, she stands alone in the dark, surrounded by a world she neither understands nor wants to live in. She stays in the dark for awhile. When she comes out of the dark, she understands that, while she doesn’t understand them and maybe never will, she wants to help people. Because she only just found her way out of the dark and certain things in the dark can make one have a truly unique way of looking at things, she decides she wants to be a reaper when she dies. She is recruited a decade later.

Skyler watches the space pirates drag Paige from the ship. That’s all right, she thinks, it’s not the best way, but she has a chance at making her own way.

She finds Alex, immobile on the ship’s deck. He’s one of the ones she collects. She snaps her fingers and he goes Nowhere.

She finds Genie cowering in their chamber. Of course they are. She takes a second, and she looks like The Sandman, more mythological being than popular comic.

“You were most unwise, former friend.” She says. “Bullshitting your way into winning a hand of poker is one thing. But you knew. You knew he was mine and you got him to wish for a little rocket.

“And then, then you found another one of… My folk, and you took him, too.

“Look at me.

“Look. At. Me.”

Genie does, and Skyler makes sure they’re looking into her eyes. Their eyes come up double blanks eventually, but Genie asks a question before that happens. They ask how she can do what she does. Why is she of all people got to choose how it came out in the end.

It’s a good question, but Genie will never know the answer. There’s enough of them left to pilot the ship. It travels for a long, long time, Skyler right beside them. She should see this kind of thing through to the end, after all.

The ship crash-lands on a rock somewhere in the fictional space through which it traveled. Nobody should survive. Genie does. They spend a long, long time living alone, thinking they got the better end of the deal.

After some time, people begin to populate the planet. After awhile, they’ve done enough of what people do for Genie to realize they haven’t won. Instead, they get to go through the whole ordeal again. After more time, they realize they have a chance if they just play their cards even better the next time around.

She is gone. Skyler is gone. She is gone and I am in her apartment quite literally in the middle of Nowhere.

I’m stuck in the middle of Nowhere. Skyler is gone. I’m stuck in the middle of Nowhere, Skyler is gone and I know The Truth.

I’m stuck in the middle of Nowhere. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with The Truth. Nowhere with no Skyler.

No Skyler, no Paige, no Alex, no Genie. The middle of Nowhere with The Truth and nobody to live/work through it with me.

There’s a sound in the other room. A sound in the other room of the apartment where I am alone. A cat’s face appears from around the corner. Alex.

If Alex is here, where’s everyone else? Where’s the ship?

The good news is I’m no longer stuck in the form of a little pink dragon.

The bad news is it doesn’t matter.

The good news is nothing matters…

Once upon a time, the people of Nowhere lived in a town that physically existed. They had jobs, spouses, friends, favorite foods and TV shows, lives. When their town went Nowhere, the people had no sense anything was wrong.

When they woke up on their first morning in Nowhere, they believed they’d always lived there. If someone looked more like something out of a creature feature than a person, or if someone suddenly had the ability to move things with their mind, that kind of thing was always happening. They took their fictional history and made it into a tourist attraction, run by a Frankenstein’s Monster who just answered to FM.

They live this way now. To them, their town is the only town. They never ask what’s outside because it never occurs to them. News stories, weather reports, sports scores? No such animals in this forest. For these people living off the map, Nowhere is forever. They are forever. Every day is just like the one before it… Until it’s not.

It’s A Great Tool if You’re Already Healthy


I became an early adopter of Apple Watch when it was a 1.0 product. Like anyone who doesn’t have an active lifestyle and suddenly finds themself with access to how many calories they’ve burned in a day, I quickly became fascinated with the job of finding out exactly the best way to close my activity rings. When I mastered it, Apple Watch raised the bar. This is every user’s experience, as I understand it.

Another part of the user experience is the potential to top out, meaning the bar has been raised so high that it’s impossible to progress without making lifestyle changes. When that happened, I, probably like some users, focused on being consistent about closing the rings. All I needed to do was ignore the notification at the beginning of each week that prompted me to agree to raising the bar. The model of watch I had was no longer supported, and I decided that $400+ for a replacement was $400 I could put to use elsewhere. The way I saw it, I didn’t need exact numbers as long as I felt that all-important rush of endorphins when the last song on my workout playlist ended and I started cooling down. I looked at it this way until 2020.


I began experiencing chronic fatigue and pain in the summer of 2018. I put off going to the doctor until the beginning of 2019, and that visit led to another doctor that led to another doctor and I ended up in physical therapy when I expressed concern that my legs were not as coordinated as I felt they should be and I was worried about falling. By March of 2020, I had realized that PT wasn’t doing shit for me and my therapist was spending my time and money to keep her hope for me alive. When the pandemic arrived and locked everything down, I took the opportunity to ghost my therapist.

I realized two things in the absence of PT. First, I really really really enjoy endorphin rushes and being stuck in my apartment was depriving me of even the normal levels I’d get from walking to the bus stop or my office. Second and more importantly, falling was still a possibility for me and I couldn’t count on anyone stopping by if I didn’t show up at my office because nobody was showing up at our office by that time. I bought a new Apple Watch for the fall detection and started closing my activity rings to get the endorphin rush.


I knew but still needed to learn that chronic pain is a great unmotivater. Apple Watch hadn’t changed the way it sets goals, so the bar kept getting higher and higher until I topped out. This time, though, it took me three years to do that because I was inconsistent about closing all the rings. I was observing the rule that says don’t do what hurts.

My move goal was increased to 1260 calories last week. I set it, then scaled it back later that afternoon. A flare up was playing keep away with my fitness goals. Furthermore, I realized when I turned a critical eye to my situation, my days had become exercise marathons of 90+ minutes to even get within haling distance of the prescribed goal. Further furthermore, chronic fatigue is still a problem and most of my energy was going into meeting these goals and I was missing out on activities that make me happy. I had perfectly valid reasons for lowering my goals… And yet…

And yet I was annoyed with myself for not following through on that particular commitment. I eventually figured out that was not entirely my fault.

The problem

Apple Watch is a health tool that promotes the health of those who are already healthy. You enter your bio info and it spits out a predetermined goal for exercise, movement and standing based, I believe, on the body mass index (BMI) and other health guidelines. In other words, the goal of Apple Watch seems to be maintaining your already healthy self and building on it. That’s fine if if your only physical problem is that you aren’t active enough. That isn’t my situation.

I’m in a situation where burning 1000 calories is no problem one day, but 500 calories is a point on the distant horizon another day. Since Apple Watch only explicitly presents users with the opportunity to adjust your goals at the beginning of the week (and it’s only the move goal), I don’t expect that many users know it is possible to adjust all of the goals in the fitness app. Even so, there’s no easy way to adjust the goals based on my level of pain that day. Computers are only sensitive and flexible to variations in data when they’ve been programmed that way. Apple has not done that to the best of my knowledge, but this situation is not entirely Apple’s fault.

I mentioned earlier that Apple Watch prescribes goals for users based on pre-established health guidelines. Whether or not Apple realizes it, the watch also sets goals based on the social paradigm that says being disabled is the worst thing that can happen to someone, even, according to who you ask, worse than death—evidence available upon request. The result is there is plenty of focus on meeting and then maintaining certain standards for those who want their body to look a certain way or have had a sobering doctor visit that boiled down to make these lifestyle changes or you’ll turn into a disabled person. There’s a lot of preventative good that comes from this approach, but it has significant failures.

The other result is there is no focus at all in mainstream technology like this on managing an invisible physical disability and maintaining an attainable level of activity. I found out from online conversations I am not the only one in this situation, but the current standards tell me I am. For all of the focus on well-being the makers of fitness trackers seem to miss the boat for mental health almost entirely. Unless the people one befriends on fitness apps are also in a situation like this, it doesn’t take very long for a person disabled in this way to first have trouble competing, then get left behind altogether. Since people with disabilities are already prone to isolation, this is an unfortunate consequence if your approach to physical well being is motivated by the good of all.


The simplest solution, then, seems to be some changes to Apple’s approach to fitness. I would suggest leaving everything the way it is because this is the most common social approach to fitness, but add the option to have daily flexible goals the users can adjust based on how they feel that day. If Apple makes that setting easy to find, that might be all it takes to begin the conversation about what I tend to think of as FitFlex, meaning flexibility in the definition of fitness. I have had some experience with Fitbit, and it also seems to approach fitness in the way western society does.

This is not a call to dump on Apple, nor is this piece a dump on Apple. Similarly, it is not a call for people to start railing against their fitness conscious neighbors. What this is is a call to reexamine how we view and approach fitness and what it means to have a productive day in that regard. I suppose it could also be considered a call to start being critical about recommendations made by computers, but that is frankly a much bigger problem than I am prepared to express at this point.

Genie sat, wondering for the millionth time how it had gone so wrong so fast. Keep Changeling from waking up—so simple. They and Paige had taken turns challenging him, making him bend his reality more and more.
Paige sang the same song over and over until Changeling stuck her lips together just by thinking about it.
Genie locked him in one of the bathrooms. Changeling walked through the door, leaving little bits of himself (nothing too significant) behind him.
Finally it went too far. Working together, Genie and Paige had made it so that to Changeling, everything looked three times bigger than it was. Changeling flew up to his captain’s chair, then went to land in it.
As he fell to the chair, said chair actually the same distance from the ground as it had been, Changeling almost woke up. Genie felt everything around them waver, deciding whether it would be allowed to continue to exist or if it and everyone on it would go poof.
Everything held.
Only just.
To keep anything like that from happening again, they knocked Changeling out. They kept him that way. They each took turns watching over him.
And then he changed.
Genie saw the pink dragon in Changeling’s bed.
Genie wondered how they were going to tell Paige and Alex that their starship, the sanctuary in the middle of what was essentially the big empty, was being influenced by someone who, as Genie knew from experience, was a bad loser. Especially when it came to poker.

Nothing. I can’t define it, but I know it when I experience it. As soon as I talk about it, nothing becomes something. Pressure on my back, my neck ,my legs.

The pressure under my neck and legs is tighter somehow, more firm. I also hear soft humming. I open my eyes.

I’m being held in the arms of what feels like the biggest, warmest person there is. She’s a woman.

“You’re awake.”

I try to ask where I am, who she is. No words come.

“Awe. That’s part of the camouflage. Just think it at me.

“Yes. Just like that. You’re in a safe place. A secret place.

“I have used many names. Right now, I am partial to Skyler.

“Why can’t you talk?”

She holds up a mirror. I see her. I see the hand she’s using to hold the mirror, the arm attached to that hand. The other arm is holding…

“Why a pink dragon? Dragons are very special here. There are a lot of them, but there’s only really one that matters. It’s lost as it happens.

“How’d you find your way here when you erased the coordinates of this place from your ship’s memory? I have my ways. Basically, I figure you’re better off here with me than out there. Your starship isn’t long for this world, I’m afraid.”

I just stared at this woman.

“Don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to pass the time. Tonight’s game night. I’ll bring you with me—Ashley, my new pet dragon. Named after the Dragon Ashley, who looks after those who are… Just a little different.

“What games will we play? It’s my turn to pick the games, and we’ll play any game we want… Except poker. I hate poker.”