Neil Barrett


Satan felt different when he wasn’t human.

            Thinking hadn’t left him yet, but Being started to drag behind him as Satan barreled through matter.  Seeking materiality but being unable to give up on humanity, Satan had settled in a stately, desert tree, where there was enough wind and wet tissue for him to talk with Maud.  If the tree was a painting, imagine molecules standing up and arguing beneath the reds and blues, the surface area beneath the surface.

            “You’ve come to stop me,” Maud heard him say. 

            “I’m here to talk.” said Maud. 

            Satan flared lightly at the tree’s flowered edges.  He could wrap up into such dense stuff as space was made of, yet the need to bloom still overwhelmed him.  Satan was the universe’ most reckless thought and he had barely rested until now.  Was Maud really hoping for a conversation as he caught his breath? 

            “Were trees more lovely before humans? Before humanity soldered names to feel their branches by, roots, lignin, the dendronization of names polluting perfectly good wood?”

            Maud said, “The daughters monitor souls, not humans.  Our names for things are far more complicated than their dictionaries will ever invent.”

            “Such pride they take, in language of all things.  It is admirable. 

            Satan looked at Maud’s monitor, hanging at her side like a broken bough. 

            “Are you still looking for just the right souls to track in your legends?  Facts and figures.  I’m tired of it all.  These oil paints relate themselves as beads of sweat to my dendrite nervous system.  Water and electrons.  Even conversation is drying up.  Breath, Maud.  Relax.  Taste the air and blossom without all that extra opinion.  Let breeze pollinate within reach.  Let thought put seeds only as far out as we can see.  Notice, the view gets brighter the smaller you get.  The red giants in human skies are surrounded by dark.  What’s wrong with a little less on those tablets of yours?”

            “What you’re doing is dangerous.” 

            Satan paused.  Maud scratched at her coffee stain.       

            “Don’t you also risk your own dismemberment?”
            “Dismemberment,” scoffed the devil.  “So … corporeal.  I prefer ‘fragmentation.’ Or ‘dissemination’, maybe.”
            Delusional, thought Maud.   She quit fidgeting with her sleeve.  How am I supposed to argue with these crazy, fucking thoughts?

            “I intend to pull myself from this sinuous entanglement, sap what’s left of my physics, drain the rest and let the nearest star dry every cartilage down into one final spit of sand.  Nothing you say will stop me.  This is the end, Maud.  The hard and total reset.

Maud’s Last Word

         Belief in singularities assumed many versions, read ironically in straight lines of symbolic text.  Maud weighed the blank tablet in her hands.  This conversation may have interested any countless scholars, epistemologists, cosmographers, metaphysicians, and poets, but Maud had little interest.  She did, just barely, recall a lecture from her angelic training.  A power point on the circumference of Phaestis’ eyes, the absolute and unmoving circles Aristotle first studied as an infant in his mother’s arms.  Maud also thought that they were stunning, but she could never stand to read The Art of Rhetoric.

            Eyes made no room for irony.

            During Maud’s Academy Days, Fortune kept her schedule on a tight wheel.  She still ate lunch at an allotted space in the breakroom, and she occasionally found some nostalgia at the breakroom microwave, missing simpler time.  A small, commercialized act of ritualistic sacrifice, the Microwave spins its alter in the light of heaven for thirty, astrologically profound seconds in this space-black frame.

            Maud let the light go out and grabbed her lunch. 

            Betty walked in, surveyed the cabinets for a coffee filter, and proceeded to make a fresh pot.  Grace redefined itself against Betty’s careful walk.  Maud barely admitted to herself the glances that she stole of Betty at the office.  If Betty noticed, she didn’t act like she cared.  Her demeanor stepped lightly on the minds of those around her.  She rarely settled long enough to grow offense at how others behaved.  This moment had been different.  Betty turned around, percolation steaming behind her, and caught Maud’s gaze.  Maud wanted to fill the silence with some type of talk but didn’t. 

            Neither did Betty.  Their eyes, so used to monitors and screens and lightning souls, rested for a while in each other.  When the coffee maker finally sputtered and quit, Betty filled a mug and gently walked past Maud, leaning over just long enough to kiss her, over the shoulder and on the cheek.

            “Memories,” Satan said.  “They flash before you at the end.”

            Memory was fluid, though intangible.  Strong souls have been known to remember past lives as newborns, before language begins its little acts of erasure.  Education actively forgets the pasts of individual selves. 

            “Do you have a plan, Maud?”

            Maud choked.

            Satan laughed as a breeze. 
            “That tinge of disappointment, it’s the realization, isn’t it?  That Albion isn’t coming back?  Now you’ve arrived at the end, Maud.  You can have the last word if you want it, but you’ll have to decide whether you will face or turn your back to the coming dissolution of being.”

            Maud could feel it.  Working for Albion made time feel meaningless.  Suddenly, she was dizzy.  Her mind turned inward. 

            “Finally,” mused Satan.

Maud considered the last soul she greeted and welcomed into existence.  The beauty of thought.  Faith in thinking.  Curiosity and wonder. 

            “I think,” Maud said, “that trees are lonelier in paintings.”

Satan puzzled.

            “I think that memories stack like ceramic plates on timeless angels.

The edges of leaves wrinkled up into ash, warming their lines of sight.

            Satan dried up and lost the last few leaves, which swirled into watercolor focus where the face of an angel revealed itself.  The eyes were dark and sad.  The lips full.  Satan’s expression begged Maud to share this final choice with them.  Join me, he invited her as she stood between him and the end of everything.  The end doesn’t need to be lonely.

            Rather, Maud turned and stared down emptiness. 

            Maud’s singular thought revolved around a coffee scented kiss.  The heat of her breath modulated to a gracious whisper. The web of thought around her, every spinning mode within this great lung of time, black in spastic bursts.  The microwave closed.  At her smallest, brightest size, the sight of Betty’s neckline was clearest.  Once time flattened out completely, Maud scanned this moment like a water bug in some forest puddle.  The part where Betty’s lips touch her skin gave Maud goosebumps even here.  The buildup, correlating this experience to human terms, would sound like she was spending 2,000 years in the breath cut short by Betty’s forward glance.  The kiss itself was a flash, but Maud spent a millennium or two in revery of the aftermath. There was nothing else.  Only this one thing. 

            Left alone, Satan understood what Maud created.  She had catalyzed cosmic residue by focusing her energies on a singularity of her own.  Time was gone.  The highs of life were registered, those moments when humans admitted that their life could resonate in eternity set watermarks for love’s reoccurrence.  Maud made sure that, in whatever breath followed this break, that every little girl would always know a friend who made her heart feel proud and full. 

Neil Barrett

Neil Barrett’s work has appeared with Leon Literary Review, Celestite, Alien Buddha Press, and a reality tv anthology by Daily Drunk titled Next Week On…. His academic work entitled “Reading Monsters; How Mary Shelley Teaches Incels to Read Paradise Lost” was included in the anthology Metaphor of the Monster: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Understanding the Monstrous Other in Literature, published by Bloomsbury Academic (2020). He currently teaches English in Alabama, where he also raises two boys with the love of his life. Follow his sporadic tweeting habits on Twitter @whotwotewho.