Zachary Davis is a writer living and working in West Virginia. His work has appeared in print and online in The Fertile Source, Bartleby Snopes, Forty Ounce Bachelors, the Anthology of Appalachian Writers. He is a three time finalist for the WV Fiction Award, the second place winner for the 2013 WV Fiction Award, and is currently the Fiction Editor of Fluent Magazine
Editor’s Note: This story was originally scheduled to appear in our winter 2012 issue. However, in light of the story’s themes and events hewing so closely to the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut that December, we felt it best to delay publication until the following year. We thank Zachary for his patience.
When I was a boy, firmly enveloped in those delightful pubescent years of changing voice and sprouting of new hair in strange places, I found myself dealing with a strange affliction: one morning I was possessed by the need to assure myself that I would not sell my soul to Satan. I’m not sure why. I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than these words, which became both mantra and prayer for a period of six months or so: “I will not sell my soul to the devil,” or alternatively, “I do not sell my soul.” I developed a fear of sleeping and would stay up all night lest I should unconsciously deliver my soul to the Morning Star. In the manic repetition in my mind—I only said the words out loud when I was alone—I once forgot the “not” in either a moment of weakness or a subconscious desire to see what would happen; there are, after all, so many things a boy with awakening sexual interest can bargain his immortal soul for. Whether or not this constituted an actual sale on my part has yet to be determined—I would say not, since I believe that if I had, there would be something demonstrably different in my life, but as lives tend to do from the moment they begin, mine has drifted more or less along the path it was always so clearly meant to go.
No mysterious fortunes became mine; no strange, exotic, and pliable women acquiesced to my every erotic whim. God, I sound as if I were a little twelve-year-old Caligula—I would not have even known what to do with an exotic and pliable beauty if given one to do with as I pleased. I was fairly sure that sex involved rolling around on soft sheets while kissing passionately, and the woman’s breasts would be visible—although probably as no more than a perfunctory decoration, having no real purpose in the frenzied rolling and kissing. There also was nothing really for me to do with mountains of money as I was a middle-class suburban white boy and had all of the creature comforts enjoyed by my standing, such as Playstation games at Christmas and new and exciting collections of stupid things you grow out of in a year’s time, like the monster head maker or that little green and orange Easy-Bake Oven for boys that transformed brightly colored goop into spiders, scorpions, and flies with the magic of a 40-watt bulb.
Later on in life, after withdrawing from humanity the way all good American teenagers do and wrapping myself in the midst of a great personal fog, I would sometimes be struck by the overwhelming presence of reality: it did not seem possible that I was really in control of what was happening in front of me. Everything was automatic, and I never had to really think about anything in class, anyway (thank you, American public schools), so it came as quite a shock to suddenly realize that I was not just watching events but was actually actively participating in them. When this happened, I would almost always raise one of my hands and move the fingers, spreading them outward and watching them move gently in front of my face, like floating weeds. At points like these, I found myself having to think about moving my fingers, when in the comfort and safety of the fog this was all done on its own. The fog was comfortable because it made no demands of me, and so I was content to resign myself to its shelter, I suppose. At the time there was nothing so conscious about it. I just did it—it’s only after reflection that I can see that I did.
One morning, I took a handful of Zoloft (I did not mention it before, but you can see that it makes sense that I was on prescription medication, right?) and swallowed them dry. They stuck in my throat, several of them going sideways and working my gag reflex. I spit them out into the kitchen sink, then picked them back up wet and slimy and swallowed them again. The pills left chalky blue streaks on my fingertips from where they had begun to dissolve in my saliva. Even when, after an hour or so later, at school, I began to sweat and my heart started beating in wildly syncopated rhythms because it could not get on the beat to save its life and it seemed probable that I would die, nothing felt real. I watched my hands shake as they mopped my sweaty forehead, breaking open the fresh crop of zits that appeared overnight and saw that no one else—not a single person around me—seemed to have much interest in what was going on; everyone else was too busy ignoring the Spanish teacher as she railed against Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pronunciation of “hasta la vista, baby” (because in Spanish Vs are pronounced as Bs: bay devaca and bay deburro), so there didn’t seem to be much reason for me to get very excited about my forthcoming heart attack, either.
It occurred to me that I should probably pray to God and ask Him to help me get through this, to help me live, but I didn’t. I couldn’t think of a good reason for asking to live—continued existence did not seem either particularly important or desirable to me then. Life, however, like the interminable Spanish lecture, just went on, without any interference from me. I find it odd, looking back now on those halcyon days of low-grade marijuana and late-night soft core pornography on Skinemax, that I did not wonder at that moment about where my soul would go if I were to die. Bound for Heaven for leading a good, virtuous life? I was never actively evil, just indulging in the sort of peripheral cruelties and petty sins you rack up as a teenager, particularly if you’re male. Or spiraling down to Hell for eternity for accidentally selling my soul years ago? I didn’t know, but it never occurred to me to wonder, either. I suppose I knew then that whatever would happen, wherever I was destined to go, knowing about it wasn’t going to change how I lived my life.
I found out later that my madness mantra—one of the last prayers I offered up to God—was actually a symptom of something called diabolic obsession, which is a form of satanic influence. According to Catholic exorcism rites, sudden attacks of irrationally obsessive thoughts, usually culminating in suicidal ideation, can be a symptom of demonic possession. According to many psychologists, however, these are also signs of being totally fucking crazy. Either way, I got better. I found this out in college, actually, and in the very same class, in fact, where James Boyett brought his vendetta against humanity, settling his scores with all of God’s children with a 9mm and a thirty-round extended clip loaded with hollow points.
It seems like the common response to what happened has been to try to puzzle out why James did what he did instead of looking at what made him do it. I’ll grant you that on the surface it looks as if those two are really one and the same thing, but I promise you they’re not; they couldn’t be more different, in fact. The why refers to factors that pushed him over the edge—being bullied, being rejected by the woman he loved, violent video games, excessive masturbation, what have you—while the what made him takes the factors of why and shows that he believed he had no choice but to do what he did. The why implies a choice and by proxy some seminal point at which the ultimate decision to kill forty people so far, with more likely to come as dozens more lie dying in the hospital, could perhaps have been avoided. The people that look for why are the same who think that if Hitler had been accepted into art school, he never would have become synonymous with genocide, nor would he be the man most directly responsible for turning the word “holocaust” into a proper noun. If only Charles Manson had been given more hugs and encouragement as a child and less beatings and forcible viewings of his mother’s prostitution. If only Jeffrey Dahmer had just managed to find that one special guy—or girl, if you want to condemn homosexuality as a whole—he could settle down with. If only David Berkowitz had found a dog that didn’t talk to him with the devil’s voice and encourage him to seek out couples to kill. If only John Hinckley could have just met Jodie Foster before taking potshots at Reagan, collapsing his lung and nearly killing him. If only, if only, if only.
I think I know now why I never bothered to wonder if my soul was bound for paradise or punishment when I sat in that Spanish class so long ago: I knew, in some part of myself that would not assert its dominance over my psyche until much later, that “if” is a useless concept because there is no way to measure it save in dreams, which are functionally worthless. “If” cannot stand up to the crushing reality of “is.” It really was after that day I swallowed all those pills in a particularly ham-fisted, not-terribly-enthusiastic attempt at suicide that the fog began to lift and I realized that this, the now and present moment, was true. Reality was what lay in front of me and there was no room for what may be or what could be, if only. The what made him is reality without the taint of “if.” It simply is. There was never anything else for Hinckley, for Berkowitz, for Dahmer, for Manson, for Hitler, for James Boyett. There are no outs—once you’re set along the path, you do not walk outside the lines. Everyone is bullied. It happens. Not all of us become murderers.
For instance, the first time I can recall wanting to kill someone was in the fifth grade. I thought about how I could get dad’s shotgun and somehow saw the barrel so it would fit in my backpack. When the teacher got up in front of the class and started talking about how Home Improvement used to be her favorite show until they started to inject so many unwholesome adult themes into it, I would go to the coatroom and reach in my bag and come out with the shotgun and shoot. What came after that I was never sure on. I had no idea what it would look like. I knew the human head was full of squishy things that would probably splatter everywhere, but I could not picture it—the aftermath, that is. I think my inability to see the outcome beforehand kept me from ever really making any sort of plans. That happened to me a lot. I would be filled with white-hot rage and my mind would naturally drift toward murder, as it does for everybody. I would hitchhike after it was done, to ride someplace where no one knew me and where I was just another kid, preferably one of the wholesome kind that don’t look like murderers. I even knew where I would get rid of the bodies: in the crawlspace, of course, if they were family. But I could never imagine the actual act. I would get to the approach with the weapon, and then…nothing. The aftermath had no detail and therefore seemed false. Murder fantasies were as useless as dreams. I was not meant to kill, so I did not kill. Not even in the sixth grade when, on the last day of school, this stupid bitch of a girl and young whore in training asked me, “Don’t you know everyone makes fun of you?” No, no I didn’t know that. Then this other kid, whom I had never met and whose name I didn’t even know proceeded to tell me about my “damn green teeth” and told me to “dip my boogers in the ketchup on my head.” I never was able to figure out what the hell any of that meant. Probably the kid was, like I was thought of for the longest time, totally fucking crazy, or maybe diabolically obsessed and was lashing out. To indulge briefly in an “if”: if at any point in my life the why could have led me to a point where I would choose to kill, it would have been that moment, right after I was told everyone makes fun of me and the freckle-faced little bastard who saw ketchup on my head and a mouthful of green teeth opened his mouth. If I had had a choice to kill, I would have done it then. I would have grabbed the two of them and strangled the life out of them like baby Heracles and the snakes in his crib, or smashed their godless skulls together, beating them madly against each other until the pulp of their heads ran down my arms. I was not meant to kill, though, so I didn’t.
The problem with both the why and the what made him is that knowing these things does absolutely nothing. It’s useless knowledge. Nothing is gained from it. It doesn’t make him any less of a murderer or his victims any less dead. The dead are beyond our sympathy, and the killer is undeserving of it.
Funnily enough, since it seems as if the particular details are going to be continually insisted upon, the class where James began picking us off one by one was Abnormal Psychology. It was here I learned that one man’s demonic possession is another’s schizophrenia. I figured out on my own, though, that either was valid and neither made much of a difference, anyway. He entered gently, by the way, like he was late for class and didn’t want to interrupt. He had a belt tightened just above his stomach for some reason, and his shirt was bloody. He even closed the door quietly behind him and then stood there, watching Professor Thomas as he talked about what he called the Schizophrenic Perspective. You see, when a person hears a schizophrenic describe his condition, they say, “Oh, well, obviously he’s hallucinating,” but that’s not right. It’s not a hallucination. It’s all happening, man—it’s real. Actual. There’s a very good friend of mine that teaches Spanish here—well, he was a professor at one time, but we became friends—and he once said to me, “La cordura—sanity—has a lot to do with consensus. Think about it this way, Phil: if I have a basket of apples and I offer everyone an apple and they all take one, we can agree that those apples are there, yes? They exist. Suppose now that when I offer you one, you don’t see any apples. You don’t even see a basket. What then? Aren’t you the one who is insane, then?”
I told him that, yes, in all likelihood I would be the insane person in that case. What I did not say to him, and what I wish I could say now, was this: what if I didn’t see the apples, but I took one anyway? How would you ever know I was crazy when I acted just like everybody else?
I had met James Boyett before, at a party in sophomore year at the house of a person whom I thought at the time was a friend but ended up being, well, that’s not necessarily important, but he definitely was not a friend. He was quiet—James Boyett, that is—but seemed nice enough. What’s that word you always see in newspaper articles, usually describing a victim? Unassuming—that’s what he was. I didn’t see that blank void behind the eyes or the darkness brewing there. In fact, his eyes were bright, reflecting the overhead lights, and shiny, glazed over with alcohol. James was just a normal guy, drinking a beer and watching Trisha dance.
Everybody watched Trisha dance, and not because she was any good at it. In fact, she was a terrible dancer, but she was so—what?—enthusiastic with her movements that no one could take their eyes off her. She threw herself into every off-the-beat gesture. She, like my heart, could not keep time worth a damn. Her passionate incompetence made the swinging of her hips all the sweeter, the badness of the steps all the more endearing. We all loved to watch her work—wearing black-as-night cowboy boots and short, tight jean skirts no matter what time of year—and we couldn’t get enough of it. You know, you never hear about a black girl who can’t dance, but Trisha was exactly that. That’s not racist, either, so don’t get all uppity with me, please. It’s an observation. Anyway, she could get all the way down to the ground—I mean, really low—and then just pop her hips, front and back, side to side, and your pulse quickened because you thought you were about to see some panties, and your mind scrambled to try to predict what kind they’d be, but you never saw anything! You wanted to—dear God in Heaven and damned devil down below did you ever want to—but those skirts had a way of just barely keeping her covered. You got so close that you could feel it in the marrow of your bones, but it never happened. None of us ever got to see what she wore under those skirts of hers; whether boy shorts or bikini briefs or a thong in leopard print or straight black or purest white or some frilly, lacy thing that would feel good against the back of your hand when she spread her legs for you, as she always did eventually in your fantasies, and breathed the words “Touch me” in your ear. Unfortunately, she was one of those sexy girls in a committed relationship, or she had been, for a long time. She should have been sharing what she had—well, she should have been sharing it with me, anyway—but she didn’t. Maybe she would have. I don’t know; I never talked to her. It’s unfair that someone that hot would only want to share it with one guy, the type of girl that, when you hear later on, years down the line, that she got married, you think, “Goddamn, what a waste.”
That night I had a beer in hand that I was draining steadily—my third, which made it a slow night—and half a hard-on in my pants that was rapidly thickening, but I knew I wasn’t going to get any of Trisha, so there was nothing further to be gained by watching her. I swallowed the rest of the beer in one long gulp and walked on unsteady feet over to the cooler. I have this compulsion, you see, whenever I have something to eat or drink, I have to be done with it as quickly as possible. If I get a drink, I need it to be gone. If I let something sit too long, the taste changes and becomes faint, like the ghost of what it used to be. For that reason, I tend to get drunk soon after starting, but I soldier on like a good, dedicated drinker. Usually, the moment I start downing straight liquor like it’s water and am not at all bothered by the taste is the breaking-off point of my memory of the evening. The next day, in fact, I woke up on the couch at my girlfriend’s apartment. Her pillow and the right side of my face were both soaked in drool. I opened my eyes and she was staring at me.
“Did I hurt you?” she said.
“When I slapped you. Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m fine. No big deal.”
“I’ve never slapped anyone before. I didn’t mean to hit you that hard. It’s supposed to sober you up, though. It didn’t work, obviously. I can’t believe you just laughed at me.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was definitely not the first time I had been slapped, or that I couldn’t remember her hitting me at all. It would’ve been wrong of me to tell her, you understand? It was her moment, one unique event set apart from the monotonous drudgery of her everyday life, something to remember for as long as she lived. I had no right to taint it by telling the truth.
Later that morning when I had progressed from feeling near death to just feeling lousy, I looked in the bathroom mirror and saw the large purple bruise on my cheek from where my girlfriend’s bony little hand had cracked across my cheekbone. I thought the word “bitch” but didn’t say it; after all, there was a chance I had deserved it.
But before I got too drunk to remember getting into the wrong car or being—and forgetting being—slapped, I met James Boyett. He was standing near the cooler as I made my way over to get cerveza número cuatro, as our neighbors to the south or my good friend the Spanish professor might say. You know, regarding me getting in the wrong car: from what I’ve been told, it sure as hell looked like mine, and who leaves their doors unlocked in this day and age, anyway? We don’t live in Mayberry, which should be abundantly clear to all of us now that we’re ticking off names of victims as they lie dying in the hospital. Anyway, it was not at all my intention to bump into James, but what you intend to do, locomotorally speaking, when you’re steadily moving up to piss drunk and what you actually end up doing are two different things entirely, separated by an insurmountable distance. I just wanted to grab another beer and wrap my shirt around my hand to twist off the cap so I didn’t cut my palm. I intended to grab the beer. What actually happened was that I got close to the table and then started walking diagonally and ran right into James Boyett. I apologized—more than I planned on, actually, because another thing that happens to me when I’m drunk is that I can’t stop myself from talking.
“Shit, man, I’m sorry, man,” I said, demonstrating that, even drunk, I am an expert conversationalist. I said I was sorry because I genuinely felt bad. If I had known at the time that I had just caused evil incarnate to spill his Yeungling, I probably would have reconsidered my apology. But then again, maybe I wouldn’t have. I might have apologized even more. I might have said I was sorry for all the rotten, lousy, miserable things that I had done in my life, and I might have said I was sorry for all the bad, mean shit the guy now dancing with Trisha had done, too, and I might have gone right on apologizing for everyone at the party, for the entire world, even. It wouldn’t have made any difference to James Boyett, who by that time was merely following the initial twinge of a biological imperative for violence that he had no control over. It would have made me feel better, though, I think.
“It’s okay,” he said. He talked low and slow, like John Wayne but without the character. His voice was a rumble, like thunder heard from a distance. I awkwardly tried to wrap my hand around the neck of another beer; he saw me struggling and held his own out to me.
“You can have this one, if you want. I haven’t had much of it.”
“No fucking thanks, man. I’ll get my own,” I said. I’m not sure if it was what I said or the creeped out look in my eyes that made James drop his gaze downward, but it was probably a little bit of both. I finally was able to snatch up a bottle, and I was so excited by this accomplishment that I twisted the cap off right away, not bothering to wrap my hand in my shirt before. The skin on my hand tore open as the jagged ends of the cap bit into me.
“You okay?” James asked.
“What do you mean? In general? Well, no, I guess not. That really hurt.”
“I always hold the cap up to a flat surface, then I smack the bottle. It rips the cap right off. I used to do it like you just did, when I was a kid.”
“You drink a lot of beer as a kid, man?”
“No! I didn’t drink any beer at all. Not ever! I liked Orange Crush from the bottle—that’s all I would ever drink. Not beer.”
“It’s all right, man.”
“I don’t want you to think I was a little alcoholic kid or something like that.”
“I was just joking. I didn’t think you were a kiddie drunk. Just trying to, you know…whatever, man.”
“My name is James.”
I had never in my life heard someone just up and state their name like that—he was so formal about it, too. He bowed his head a little bit, you know? Then he looked me in the eyes again. I thought he was wasted, but as you’ve already heard on the news, James Boyett was just like that. He was a weird guy, and he knew it, too, but there was nothing he could do about it. His nature had already been set out at birth, and he was just along for the ride the same as anyone else. There was nothing he could do to not be weird, you know what I mean? This is what I was talking about before—whatever is in people like that that makes them go out and do crazy ass things like he did was already in there, and it was fully dominant. That’s why I don’t blame him, not really, anyway. When you think about it, he’s as much a victim as anyone else. He started crying after the first one, did you hear about that? No reason why you would—most people that saw it are dead or in the hospital. I saw it, though. When that first shot rang out and the first guy’s chest blew open, James Boyett started to cry. I saw the tears. They didn’t affect his aim, and you know why? It wasn’t him doing it. It was his nature—he was always meant to kill, but he didn’t want to. His tears came because he wanted to stop himself, but he couldn’t. None of us can. How do you fight what you’ve been born—essentially what you’ve been made, for God’s sake—to do?
“Hey man,” I said. “I’m Philip.” But that wasn’t true; I hadn’t been Philip since I was a little boy. For most of my life I was Phil, and I in fact hated to be called Philip. Something about the way James Boyett offered up his own name with such naked vulnerability made me feel that the name I had been using for so many years was inadequate in way of a response. How could I be Phil to this person, who was practically begging with his eyes for friendship? I had nothing more substantial to offer him than my name, however. His face—boyish, slightly doughy with sprigs of fine blond hairs so light they were nearly transparent—his eyes, his ultra low voice, all of it combined to make James an altogether pathetic specimen, one that it would be unthinkable to be cruel to, but to whom you cannot help but be mercilessly vicious. He didn’t deserve to be made fun of the way he was, but he had it coming, do you understand what I mean when I say that? It’s like he spent his time wandering around a shooting range dressed as a target and wondered why everyone kept taking shots at him. Maybe that’s not the best analogy to use, but it certainly feels right.
“I’m James,” he said, and the very unnecessariness of the repetition made me laugh out loud.
“What’s funny?” he asked. “Why are you laughing at me?”
“Shit, man. I’m not laughing at you. I’m just drunk. You ever get that way after you’ve had too many, where everything’s funny?”
“That never happens to me. I don’t think everything’s funny.”
“Yeah, okay. Not really what I was saying, but I can understand that. So, what’re you after tonight, James?”
“What’s your goal for the evening, man? You come for the fellowship, to hang out with the people? You wanna take someone home with you?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Hey man, if you need me to explain that to you, then you’ve got….”
I intended to finish that sentence; I really did, but nausea overwhelmed me in that moment, and I staggered to the bathroom with lurching, drunken steps, my hand over my mouth to try to hold the vomit back, as if the threat of being greeted by my clammy, limp hand would frighten my dinner into remaining in its rightful place. I didn’t puke, though. I was able to control myself, and when I went back to the party I had forgotten about James Boyett entirely. Trisha was still doing her thing, and it pissed me off that she would not be going home with me. Half hard and angry, I started dancing with the first girl I saw, although “dance” is not the most accurate word. I staggered around in a small circle, my arms outstretched and my hands madly grasping, seeking out either her tits or her ass, but she avoided my touch. When I finally got tired of being denied the body that so rightly belonged to me and tried to kiss her, she hit me in the balls—really hard—and then I did vomit. It was awful, and my girlfriend finally approached me and helped me get to my feet. She had, I assume, seen me trying to grope a stranger, but God love her, she didn’t say anything about it, and instead she helped me over to where they were passing out the hard liquor, which is where I spent the remainder of the evening, or the part of it that I can remember, anyway.
That night faded and has since blurred together with so many other practically identical ones that I’m not even sure that everything I’ve told you happened on the same night. It’s not like you guys even really care about all that, anyway. You’re not here to talk to me—you’re here because you want to know what it was like during Abnormal Psychology. You want to know about the smell of the gunpowder and the sound of the gunshots in a confined space. You want to know what it looks like when someone gets hit in the head with a 9mm hollow point, and all that other awful, horrible shit. You do remember what I said earlier, don’t you? Knowing doesn’t help. Gunpowder stinks, gunshots are loud, and hollow points to the brain make a fucking mess. Beyond that, though, I can’t tell you what it was like in there, man. The only way to know is to have been there for yourself, and you should be thankful every day of your life that you don’t know what it was like, that you’ll never know what it was like.
Maybe you want to know why I didn’t get shot. I don’t know; I really have no clue. James recognized me. I haven’t told anyone about that yet. How could I? After he dropped the first eight or so of us, he looked up at me, his eyes narrowing. I hadn’t moved. Everyone else had hit the floors and were covering their heads, hoping like hell that James would leave or run out of bullets before he turned his aim on them. Some people had tried to run out the fire exit in back, but they didn’t know that James had blocked it off before he came in, so they beat on the doors, thrashing them with wildly flailing arms as if that would, by some miracle, make them open. One guy had run at James. I don’t know if he planned on being the hero or if he was maybe just trying to help Professor Thomas; if the former was his goal, it was a fool’s errand, as James had more than enough time to aim and fire straight into the guy’s throat, and it was likewise with the latter, seeing as how this guy, unless he knew some advanced surgical technique unknown to modern science, had no hope of saving Professor Thomas, who had struck the floor with a dull thud followed a half second later by chunks of his brain, which hit the linoleum with a sickeningly audible splat.
Me, though? I didn’t move. When I first saw the gun, some switch in me that had been unused for years was flipped, and I was back in the relative comfort of the fog. It was all just make-believe, a waking daydream. I smiled a bit, I think, and that was when James Boyett locked eyes with me. I saw it then, you know, how he wasn’t in control of anything. He looked at me, but he was still shooting. He was hitting people left and right, his arms and hands moving independently of his eyes, as if they did not need their input at all. His eyes stayed right with me. He stopped firing eventually, and his hands sprang into action, reloading the gun so fast that his movements were a blur, but when he had reloaded, he didn’t fire.
I don’t know why he didn’t shoot me. Maybe it was because I apologized. Maybe it was because I had sold my soul years ago and hadn’t finished paying off what I owed. Anyway, I’ll never know, and it doesn’t really matter.
“Hello, Philip,” James Boyett said, and then his hands raised the gun and fired at the person in front of me, who had been yelling steadily as if he thought his screams would make him bulletproof. They did not. After he shot and killed the guy, James nodded slightly at me, as if to say, “Hi there, it’s been a long time, old friend,” and then he walked out of the classroom.
I didn’t move or speak or look at anyone until the SWAT team arrived. I sat there, staring at my upraised hand, watching the fingers move gently back and forth, like floating weeds.