"Men in the cave" reference to Plato's Allegory of the Cave the physical world is only a "shadow" of the real one

-"All the world's a stage... etc." - quote by Shakespeare, slightly altered

- "I think therefore I am" - Rene Descartes




The Story Game

"Real." Her voice curls like the edge of a leaf, withered in Autumn: hands tightened, lips taught. The world's a picture, dripping in rain, trees carving and feathering lonely trails. Tears.

"As real a story."


But his fingers play about her waist, lips against her ears, humming: a light lullaby, rocking back and forth, like angels, or automated figurines. (It's the rain; everything marble, tainted but unreal.)

"Curtains," she tightens. "October haze, obscures the eyes. How do stories know if they're real?"

(Does machinery have a soul…? Do you, my metal love?)

"They need not know," he hushes, "Because all the world's a stage, and the men and women merely actors."

"Then tell me about Once Upon a Time." She whispers, digging fingers deeper into the machine, because she can't bear to let go, to plunge away.

"…Where dreams came from."

(Yes, tell me: Castles pungent, a place that existed before tears of Fall. Before rain bled into planets and eyes dark as space.)

"Once upon a time, there was a girl, as real as the sky."


Already, his marble hands are forming into stories: romance on the right, lies on the left. Winged doves. Yet his eyes are dark as ever. "And the moon was like cheese, as poignant and sweet as her early morning charms."

She breathes. "Then there was a boy…"

"A real boy."

"Real to her."

He touches her wet lips. Silver crowns the loose strands of hair, eyes, nose. "And ever real to him."

How can she not understand? That voice crafted in whimsy, yet sublimely sonorous, a cello, or an ocean, or like his eyes – only like him. The voice that captivated and spiraled her into madness; a circle of trees caught in endless woodland.

Her voice wavers. "If they were real – the first time he met her…"


The first time he saw her he saw her straight to the scar. It trickled across her heck and twined between her breasts. A blotch, a living parasitic genetic mutation. As she stood, naked as a statue in the bathroom, she scrubbed her nails across the snaking thing. Wondered: how real am I?

Flesh and blood, maybe. But the Carthesian Eyes, the Afghan Nose, the smatter of freckles across her mask. These were no genes inherited from loving biological parents. Instead, she was a hybrid, a storybook of cross-breeds and selection, a patchwork of test-tubes carefully cleaned and filled with fetuses.

(She loathed the scar.) It bothered her like sickly oil, a badge of failure. Every week she took a paint stripper worked it on the badge till it wavered and ripped away, oozing. When she released her fingers from their grip on the sink, they were bruised with blood.

That's when she turned around and saw him. He could have been watching the sun, or contemplating a fly. His eyes burned like onyx set in ice and held a thousand tragedies. (Perhaps they were pieced together, like Life, into different shades and unrealities.) A faint ironic glimmer cursed through her lips.


"The first time he met her… she showed him how to hold flowers." She strokes the petals of cold white and strokes them against his cheek, "She said to him, 'there's a life in here, do you know it will open?'"

He slides his cool fingers down her throat. "-And he said?-"

"'The men in the cave.'"

(Galaxies. Once upon a time, men stayed in a cave where they saw nothing but shadows.)

She glides her lips over those fingers. "One of them escaped…"

"What would he have seen?"

"For the first time, objects instead of shadows."

He sighs, lips parted, contemplating reality, lapsing back into melody.

"Do you understand how real that must have been?" she pleads. "To see the Truth so suddenly?"

"Frightening, indeed."


"But the Truth."


No; that was not true.

The first time he met her he kissed away her tears. He could have been watching the sun or contemplating a fly; but as he smoothed over the serrated scar and suffered the geography of pain, she was wrenched by fascination. Does a machine understand? Does he comprehend the tenacious bond between Nature and Artifice? Too late, almost, as his kiss burned into her lips, did she regret her spasmodic decision. She pulled away for a second; he clung for an eternity.

So she said, "I am dying."

He said, "I love you."


"Then one day, she was afraid," she whispered now, tears scintillating. "Too perfect. He was too perfect." Now she cupped her fingers around his chin, shaking, and slid them to base of his neck. Human to the touch, yet the machinery underneath was – "Too real, she would rather live in shadows instead of the garish sun."

(She wasn't made for love.)

The fingers glide to his lips. He kisses them, honeydrops, and they tingle with the whimsy of morning dew. Yet chills – "But he is real – to her, isn't he real?" Eyes cloud in aching innocence.

"Yes. He is." She slides her hands past his shoulders and to the arms, then folds him against her, because she can't bear to –

"Then why can't he love her?!"

(Heartbeats. Real, aren't they? Simulated by Mother Artifice, made for wings and reality.) "Because," she wrings her story-shed hands, "Because you are a-"

She does not finish the word. It breaks from her lips in a shallow sigh and she tightens her grip, searches his eyes for help, love, anything.

"Human," he says firmly. "Have you forgotten-?"


Indeed, Mother Artifice was cruel and very wise; she'd fashioned her models of perfection after the flaws of mankind. She saw Man's incompetence: his bargained loves, sporadic spurns, his ability to fail on every level. His hatred of remaining unspecified.

So she created her own nature: one of robots, selective breeding, and false oaths. And then, in a final jest, created her perfect one: a Frankenstein for love. A faultless being, blessed in all knowledge, feeling, and intensity. Handsome, charming, artistic, a man who could love unconditionally and irrevocably.

Yet one of them was different, a diamond or thorn among machines. He wasn't like the others, programmed into artists or pilots or sexual slaves. He had a soul – how couldn't he? Too faultless, too fragile. And he had suffering eyes.

Not even humans understood the colours behind a scar.

So throughout her life, a little girl was plagued by wonder and paradoxical hate. "You're such a lucky dear," they'd say, "Selective Breeding has done wonders!" "Look at that hair!" "So lovely!" And mommy would smile because she had done a good job, fashioning her own baby into a perfectly unreal idea. But once they saw the scar (though rarely ever did), they'd frown, shy away. Point fingers. Remain unreal.

When the little girl grew up she fell in love with the robot who could speak five languages and tell frightening tales.


"He was real."

"No, he was not," she chokes. The rain is sopping; will it take him away, too? (Droplets, sinewy arms, pulling at a heart that must break.) "They made him – he was made for love."

His grasp is iron. (In the past, we fished in pools of mercury.) "Angels-"


"Then why humans?!" A drop glints at the edge of his brow. He brushes it off, mingles it with the slits of silver falling overhead.

The world begins to snap.

"Because-" (I wanted to split into a thousand atoms, but you pressed them back together.)

"Why you, why an angel?"


(And glass, toppling over, a toy empire crushing into a million pieces. Deadly lullabies. When you sing to me by the full moon, fingers raking into jaded skin…)

"LOVE!" (Scar gleams, an angry red whisper.)

They stare at each other: for the first time a hot bubble of fury swells and twists his haunted mask. Shaking, lips parted, he drops his fingers and they weave away, stories too unreal for the telling.


(Trees, paths. Dew on the lips, eyes, silver, falling and surfacing in castles of rainbow leaves. Laughter, and a full sun – never, only now mirrored in the moon. Do you see the mirrors?)

"I am real," the boy in the story said. The sun was shining, sinewy, "I can speak five languages."

The girl trailed her fingers along the lake.

"I can say, je t'aime."

"Which means-"

(The sun echoes off your smile, in a hundred blazing rays of light.) "I can't tell you, ever."

"What about-"

"Yo te quiero." (I want to fill your stars). "AllesGutezumGeburtstag!"

"Happy birthday?-" – (I write on your mirrors.)

Dandelions whispered down his cheek as he laughed and tossed them down her hair.

"That's only four languages."

"The fifth, dear, is-"

"Allow me to guess. Something cheesy, like love?"

"No. Cogito, ergo sum." Scintillating; for the first time his eyes were happy. "Means-"

"I think!" (A story game.)

"-Therefore I am."


"Human." She surfaces. "The girl was human; how much could he love her?"


"He would love her-– and she could spend the rest of eternity unable to love in return. Do you understand… the guilt?"

He shakes his head, no, tears crown the edge of his eyes like remnants of broken glass.

"There could be new models, or she could tire of him. And if she abandoned him – he would die, and she would die – from shame."

Dying was like falling from a cliff, a frozen heart, body paralyzed in eternal half-sleep. Surely he could realize such intricacy. (This is why, in the rain, everything is so much more plaintive and elysian.)

"So in the end," His voice is quiet, low and melodically eerie, "There will be no more stories."

(Yes.) Somewhere, a leaf gasps its last breath and howls, drips to the ground, another October gone.

"That night-"

"There was no night," she clips. "Only a moon now, and you must run." But he doesn't let go. His eyes are steel sapphires.

"Please?" She whispers into the curve of his marbled shoulders. "If the Haters find you, they will cut you to pieces. What do you think I would do with the pieces?"


The story Game, continued:

Once upon a time, a girl who was real rushed into a room full of sharp slices. Blindly, flailing for a sign. But there was none. She saw an arm and a joint, and thousands of shattered glass. She felt her heart heave. She heard her own voice swell from deep within, aching and unreal, out to world's end.

She felt her arms shake. And shake they did, as she picked the pieces and, once again, scraped out her scar. Metal love melted on her skin, pooled on the ground in tears of blood.

Once upon a time, you were more real than I ever was.