-The Unbound Realm: Vol.1, Chapter 2








Mom hails from Korean immigrants.  Dad comes from generic Anglo.  They finalized their divorce a week after my eighth birthday.  Two years later, Mom re-married to a coder named Gary.  Gary, like my biological dad, is generic Anglo.

If I sound kinda blah, I apologize.  I’m kinda blah about everything, I guess.  Life was supposed to be an adventure, filled with meaning and thrilling possibility.  But instead of adventure, I got a confusing slog where you “win” by piecing together an eventual retirement.  Eventual time freedom after seventy-odd years of toil and sacrifice?  No thanks.

Am I lucky I think like this?  I’m not sure—a lot of my peers seem genuinely psyched about getting a degree and a job with benefits.

I couldn’t care less.

Still, I suppose I should be grateful for my parents’ help.  They pay for tuition, my one-bed apartment, and food for my dog:  Gribbles.  Mom’s Americanized, but some old-school Korean came to the fore when I told her I wanted an elderly rescue.  She wanted a doodle or Frenchie—something fashionable.  At the time, I couldn’t have explained why I insisted on Gribbles, but now, I recognize it as the same urge that made me sign that damned contract.


Gribbles isn’t fashionable, not by any stretch.  His right eye is blind and milky, his left ear is ragged and torn.  If I had to guess, I’d say he’s a ridgeback-daschund mix.  He’s got a ridgeback’s back-ridge, but none of the athleticism.  His body is wide and squat—not as waddly as a pure-bred daschund’s, but not as graceful as a true ridgeback’s.  He’s way too old to run or sprint.  He likes to snooze on my lap (sometimes my nose or my mouth), and he’s hopelessly addicted to food and toys (big surprise, I know).  When he scarfs down kibble, it sounds like he’s saying gribble gribble gribble, hence his name.

Speak of the devil.  As I open the door, Gribbles waddles up, tail wagging.

“Hey buddy.”  I hunker down and scratch his sides.  “Miss me?”

His wagging intensifies—his back paws lift off the floor, thumping the ground in alternating time.

“Yeah.”  I scratch his ears, smiling at his enthusiasm.  “Yeah, you did.”

Gribbles is the best thing that ever happened to me.  Sure, I have family and friends, but my dog loves me unconditionally.  And to experience unconditional love in a conditional world…well, it gives me hope for something greater.  Something greater than money and likes and Twitter verification badges.

“Want a treat?”  As I walk to the kitchen, he circles in place with manic excitement.  “Easy, nerd.  Same menu, different day.”

I open a jar and grab some Nommie McGobberYoms, which are cookies made by my neighborhood pet store:  ZigZag Zoomies.  (if you’re unfamiliar with all things Dog, “zoomies” is slang for Frenetic Random Activity Periods, which is when a dog sprints back and forth for no apparent reason).  ZigZag’s products rock every label in the history of food:  free trade, organic, wild caught…I’m a true San Franciscan, and it shows in my groceries.

None of that matters—not to me, anyway.  Back in high school, I experienced a brief stretch of righteous indignation where I raved and ranted about names and titles.  But as the world turned and the years passed, I cared increasingly less about specific labels, and even less for the tribes they spawned.  Tribes seem to make everything worse—join up with one so you can fight with another.

During the virus, I fostered the brief hope that people would stop bickering and come together (they did, for a little bit) but people are people—soon enough, we grew back into our collective indifference.

I guess I’m a symptom of it.  I am in no way interested in stupid square hats and fancy diplomas.  I don’t get excited about paid time off or a sweet corner office.  It all feels like a cheap facade—an excuse to rejoice in empty status symbols.

Gribbles is the only one I know who seems truly happy; he honestly enjoys his fur-bound life.  Sometimes I wonder—is he wise or ignorant?  If I could limit my perception to his little doggy brain, would I choose to do so, if it meant being happy?

I sit on the couch and watch him eat.  Once he’s done, he runs back over and paws my knee, brimming with please-gimme-eatos urgency (eatos is dog-speak for food, in my mind).

Back to the kitchen.  This time, I pull out a rawhide.  He whines loudly in anticipation.

“Tell me how you really feel,” I reply.

I hand it over and he heads for the balcony, poking through the pet-gate attachment I fitted to rails of the sliding glass door.  (That’s how I know he really likes his treat—if he goes outside to eat it by himself.)  But just as he slips through the square plastic drape, I freeze in place.

The open pet-gate, instead of displaying foggy San Francisco, flashes with a man’s blindfolded face—thin, tight-lipped, and grim.  Glowing runes shine from his blindfold.  As the view pans down.  I glimpse a back-curving knife in his black-gloved hand.  It slips out of view, giving way to a yawning backdrop:  a dark fortress atop a craggy mesa, surrounded by chasms and storm-torn skies.

And then it’s gone.


I run to the pet-gate, my face slack with disbelief.  This little plastic square is a magic portal into another world.  I can’t believe that—

Wait.  I close my eyes, hands out as if to say hold on, calm down. 

It wasn’t real. 

Then:  You’re not well.  Go see a doctor.

I’m struck by dread as I consider my fate.  Pitying looks.  Prescription meds.  Endless tests.


No.  I clench my jaw.  I’m not crazy. 

I push the sliding glass door a few inches left, poking my head through to the outside balcony.  Gribbles—splayed on his belly, chewing his rawhide with singular tenacity—meets my gaze and warns me off with a trailing growl:  Leeme ’lone.  Dis bone is MINE.

Relief surges through me.  No chasms, knives, or blindfolded Night Elves.  The world is normal and sane, as it should be.  Gribbles on the balcony, eating his treat.  People down below, doing whatever.

The world is normal and sane.

As it should be.