Marianne Villanueva

First Causes


Class begins.

Fire Lizard tells us to turn on our cornea slips. “Today’s topic,” Fire Lizard says, “is First Causes.”

We nod. The slips engage. Mine are still a bit fuzzy. Tears can do that to you.

Fire Lizard says, “Ku-Ling went so and so and did so and so and so and so happened. Clear?”

“Alpha to Omega, clear as clear,” Big says.


I keep thinking about Her. What happened to Her yesterday. Oh, calamity. Oh, waste. (Discussion of the First Corollary: What is average is perfect. Thoughts dark as dark. Big arguing with Her. But but but. Her winking at me behind his back. Me thinking: Sunlight and glass. All muddiness now.)

If Her were in class, she would laugh and say something like Kiloppety Kiloppety you oh Dragonheady. Something to make me smile and ease my breath out.



Her used to tell me: Somebody always wins. Somebody always loses.     Yesterday, Her lost. Everything.

We shared memories, Her and I. Now those are gone. Like Her. Poof!

Again, the waste. The pointlessness.



New student. In Her’s seat. I can’t look. She says call her Knot.

Drinker says, “And what of the etc.?”

Fire Lizard curses softly: “Jee-zus. You thick.”

“Glittering generality,” I mumble.

Big says, turning to face me, “—the fuck you going on about now?”

“Unacceptable, what transpired here yesterday,” I say.

Suddenly Fire Lizard yells, from the front of the room, “Explain. Corroborate. Do not postulate.”

Behind me, Knot makes an ominous, hissing noise. I don’t turn my head.

“Dragon’s gone Foggy Brain,” Drinker says with a smirk. “All over a girl. Over Her.”

“Quiet!” Fire Lizard screams. His scrawny neck is stretched to the utmost. “Quiet, or bend!”

Big and Drinker giggle.

“They’re loafing,” I tell Fire Lizard.

“And you,” Fire Lizard sputters, “are a japing fool.”

Drinker guffaws.

“I agree,” I say. “I am a japing fool.”

“Shall I fiddle for you?” Fire Lizard resumes, in his normal tone of voice. “Dance? Tra-la Tra-la Tra-la?“

“Dragon’s milky brained cause of Her,” Big tells Fire Lizard. “He craves Her. Like poison.”

“Fallacy,” I say.

“Change is difficult,” Fire Lizard says, for the first time looking at me with something like sympathy. “Disruptive. Care for a memory wipe? Or a yellow pill?”

“Show of hands,” Big says. “To expel or not.”

“We shall continue on the subject,” Fire Lizard says. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

I know one thing, sure as sun will rise tomorrow: Her isn’t coming back. That’s my issue.



Fire Lizard asks: “Hydraulics and pulleys and suns. What happens?”

Knot clears her throat. “Trick question.”

“Yes?” Fire Lizard says. “Is there more?”

“Drop all the way,” Knot says.

“To where,” Fire Lizard says. “And mind, next time, speak in complete sentences.”

“Drop into the sea.”

“Intelligence is a wonderful thing,” Fire Lizard says, with a smirk. “Only one sea, is there? Next!”



They keep telling us, the expedition. You’re here for the expedition. Three others and me. We each of us, mongrels. That’s how I see it. That’s how Her saw it.

Yesterday we four but Big vanished Her. So now there’s Knot, and me, and Drinker, and Big. We four again. No need to say more. Past endurance.



A while later.

We’re talking about walls. I think.

“How thick?” Fire Lizard asks.

“Three times twelve,” Drinker says, and snickers.

“How thick?” Fire Lizard screams.

“A meter!” I scream back.

“And how high?” Fire Lizard’s still screaming. Everyone in the room goes silent.

Finally, Knot speaks: “Thirty meters? At least?”

Fire Lizard’s shoulders slump.



There’s a bluish-greenish shadow on Big’s back, right between his shoulder blades. I see it when he disrobes for inspection.

What is the cause, I think. Is it Tumor? Is it Plague? Is it Virus?

Big looks quickly behind and I turn my head away, but not quick enough.

“You!” Big says. “Foggy Brain. Come here!”

I tremble, rooted.

“Say,” Big says. “Say ‘I drink piss.’”

“Not I.”

The connection is immediate. There’s ringing in my ears for days.



In class we learn how all things green burnt up. Green grass burnt up. Trees burnt up.

We learn how mountains were cast into the sea. And why the sea became blood.

And why Creatures died.

And then the First Man, Ku-Ling, fell from Above. And he brought with him seeds (Where? In his pockets? No, can’t be). Life. First Life.



New orders from the Head: Everyone has to work double shifts. More air, more oxygen, more effort.

I’m assigned to X, the south terminal. Big works there, too. Rather, Big pretends to work.

Early morning, we’re just loading, he’s already glaring at me.

“— you on about now?” he growls.

“Smell. I smell some’at. Don’t you?”

“Oh?” A crafty look in Big’s eyes.

“Burning. Something burning. Anomaly.”

I’m peering, best I can. Hard when the lout is right there. Which he always is. Chewing his fingernails. Don’t be stupid, Dragon. Her saying, in my head: Patience, yeah?

I lean my head against the wall. Tired.

“Quit skittering around,” Big says. “Begone, else.”



I nod. My cornea slip engages: “Engineer Dragon. Reporting Anomaly. X Level 5. Anomaly X Level 5.”

Already I can see it: a spreading watery fire. Smoke begins to rise.

Big stands, fear swimming in his eyes. He shouts, “Oh you fucker! You fucker!”

I’m shaking. Big’s round, stupid face glowers. He nods and screams, “Over-ride! Repeat, over-ride! False report. There is no anomaly.”

“Don’t!” I cry. “Or we all crash.”

“Now see here, Mumble-Face, we’re already crashing. All of us.”

I speak frantically: “Anomaly Level 5. Request assistance.” After a beat, I add: “Urgent.”

The only response I get is the crackle of static. White noise. It fills my ears, drowning me.

Big starts walking towards me. His voice drops. “Now, now, now, now. Is this payback? For what I did to Her? Her was a stray. Made me look like a clump. You another. Know what I do to strays? You stupid, fucking Fog Brain! I’ll rip you in half!”

Wake up, Dragon! Wake up!

I swallow. It’s Her!

Finish the game. So near the end now. Fucking lip-splitter’s dying. He is. Finish him! No more fear. I’m here.


Marianne Villanueva was born and raised in the Philippines and now lives in San Francisco. She received a creative writing fellowship from Stanford University and has been shortlisted for the O. Henry Literature Prize. A novella, Jenalyn, was a 2014 finalist for the UK’s Saboteur Awards. Her recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in the Crab Orchard Review, Witness, Potomac Review, Monkeybicycle, Juked, and Bluestem. She teaches creative writing on-line for UCLA Extension’s Writers Program.