Whosoever beholds the aloe will be pushed into the Shadowlands...
An embittered dog walker obsessed with a social media influencer inadvertently puts a curse on a young man—and must adventure into a mysterious dimension in order to save him—in Joss Lake’s debut novel Future Feeling, available from Soft Skull Press. We’re thrilled to share an excerpt below!
The year is 20__, and Penfield R. Henderson is in a rut. When he’s not walking dogs for cash or responding to booty calls from his B-list celebrity hookup, he’s holed up in his dingy Bushwick apartment obsessing over holograms of Aiden Chase, a fellow trans man and influencer documenting his much smoother transition into picture-perfect masculinity on the Gram. After an IRL encounter with Aiden leaves Pen feeling especially resentful, Pen enlists his roommates, the Witch and the Stoner-Hacker, to put their respective talents to use in hexing Aiden. Together, they gain access to Aiden’s social media account and post a picture of Pen’s aloe plant, Alice, tied to a curse:
Whosoever beholds the aloe will be pushed into the Shadowlands.
When the hex accidentally bypasses Aiden, sending another young trans man named Blithe to the Shadowlands (the dreaded emotional landscape through which every trans person must journey to achieve true self-actualization), the Rhiz (the quasi-benevolent big brother agency overseeing all trans matters) orders Pen and Aiden to team up and retrieve him. The two trace Blithe to a dilapidated motel in California and bring him back to New York, where they try to coax Blithe to stop speaking only in code and awkwardly try to pass on what little trans wisdom they possess. As the trio makes its way in a world that includes pitless avocados and subway cars that change color based on occupants’ collective moods but still casts judgment on anyone not perfectly straight, Pen starts to learn that sometimes a family isn’t just the people who birthed you.
Magnificently imagined, linguistically dazzling, and riotously fun, Future Feeling presents an alternate future in which advanced technology still can’t replace human connection but may give the trans community new ways to care for its own.
In order to explain how I was called to the Rhiz-Port the day after the wedding of Aiden Chase and Rachel Remedios, we have to start back in my less-enlightened days on the other, more miserable coast.
A few years ago, I became a man in the city while work.ing as a dog walker, creeping into other peoples’ houses to retrieve their pets, obsessing over their interiors, their quilts, and their adv-tech aromatherapy spritzers. I’d been a hopeful child—even after my parents were killed—but as I transitioned, injecting myself with shaky hands every week, I crossed into the Shadowlands, where inconvenient oozes get dumped and scorpions scuttle.
In the mornings I’d wake up in my shitty apartment, open my phone, and go to the Gram, where Aiden, also a trans guy, spent his days lounging in pools of California sunlight, drinking maple water beneath a palm tree, wear.ing not-yet-released SpaceShoes, musing about how to be your “true self.” I admit, if I hadn’t been incredibly insecure back then, none of this would have mattered to me. If I’d possessed a solid sense of self, he could have molded each pube-like hair of his beard into a style that was milder than full-on gay bear and more kempt than the average cis, and it would not have destroyed my entire day.
I would have accepted my own patchy mess of facial hair—and dark urges—with a wry and full heart.
I didn’t know it at first, but I needed to track down Aiden’s shadow as much as I needed to generate my own light.
Every damn weekday, Aiden unveiled a new portrait and the world (his 99,000 followers) watched his creepy mustache change from fuzz to a blond block, his biceps grow into pastel muscle tees, his lips receive anointments of juice and juniper water, his facial structure harden out of abject female fleshiness, and his limbs extend on all manner of mid-century modern furniture inside his minimalist, plant-filled enclave, and each morning, I thought about killing him in a metaphorical way, the trans-father whose shadow I wanted to step out of, even tho dude was younger than I was.
His first post. Picture it.
Him, reading, shirtless, on a wicker sofa out on his patio, framed by hanging candle sconces. He stared languidly at the camera, as if the mirror had always been his bruh. He held a book tilted toward himself at stomach level so you couldn’t see the cover, only his directive, Be True, tattooed above the fading surgery scars. Out in the darkness beyond, his partner was surely waiting to be fucked, if only Aiden would stop fucking himself over and over again with his phone.
It would be a minute.
The only caption was a repetition of his tattoo, Be True, and when I saw it, I thought, Ugh, here’s this beautiful trans guy in his lush backyard and I can’t even video-beam with my former guardian without wanting to apologize for transitioning and bringing drama into what could be her staid retirement!
Doubtless you are wondering, What kind of fool would take a Gram seriously, anyway?
Yes, that is where Aiden and I both erred. In our defense, Grams are one of the few places to see trans folks; blame it on the peculiar manifestations of late capitalism—Saintly Secretions of Non-Solace!—but only newer media contain any evidence at all that trans people are doing more than being murdered and getting kicked out of the familial abode. One could say my Aiden-rage reached hurricane-level swells be.cause here was a trans dude—on the public internet, with hologram status—and all he could offer my impoverished imagination was a life as sleek and empty as all architecture since 1991.
Back then, I was casually hooking up with a celebrity, and on an intellectual level, I knew how much production went into façades: the makeup, the lighting, the PA who handled credit card statements and seltzer runs. And yet, with Aiden’s Gram, I still got seduced into believing his perfection was real, and then I was left gutted, like a teen who has binged a TV series on a long weekend and was disappointed at reentering a world that is never cut into episodic bites.
I sometimes fancied myself an evolved person, but would an evolved person spend at least fifteen minutes every morning comparing my long scroll of curlicued flaws to this per.son, as flat as a screen?
The list included flabby abs, trauma responses to loss and sudden noises, a tendency toward fantasies of spanking someone in a field full of gently swaying flowers, midwestern sensibilities including “niceness,” a future that appeared clouded in smog.
Each morning, I awoke, went to the backyard, and immediately scanned Aiden’s bod on the Gram, asking, Why can’t I attain such delicious perfection? A holey apple staring at a waxed, genetically modified one. I had no other trans role models, so who could really blame me for moving toward this trans-parent like a toddler swimming to open, tanned, and muscular arms?
We all need parents, and mine had been dead since the avalanche.
Disgust and love are self-perpetuating states. With Aiden, I swung back and forth between loathing and longing, and the universe always offered evidence for either pole.
My friend Sid generally tried not to inflame my Aiden.obsession, but one day he couldn’t resist and told me about Aiden’s pet goose.
Sid, my first friend in the city. We’d met in a bodega. I must have been looking particularly forlorn, staring at a row of flavored water, trying to decide whether I wanted the up.scale cloudberry in a glass bottle or the everyperson’s lemon in a plastic, Earth-killing one. He walked straight up to me and asked if I wanted to dog-walk with him.
He read me.
I had my carabiner attached to my shorts, and at the time I was walking dogs in the fancier neighborhoods where you were required to fill out the following after each fifteen-minute stroll:
Mood (100 words):
Negatively influencing experiences (100 words, if
Activity for intellectual stimulation:
Doggie friends or enemies made (100 words):
Size, color, shape, and approx. weight of feces:
Duration and quality of urine:
I immediately agreed. Sid had known I was trans from my height, my beautiful face, and my irregular beard. I knew he was trans because he properly identified me. Even though he got on my case for not taking the job seriously enough, we were each happy to have a trans buddy in the dog-care world.
We spent a blissful year together, and then Sid asked his business partners to buy him out and he moved to L.A., like every trans person who found themselves wanting resurrection in a less gritty place. Who doesn’t dream of waking up from gender-affirming surgery to palm trees?
Still, there weren’t any good top or bottom surgeons in L.A., and the fantasy, like all fantasies, remained even more potent in its insubstantiality.
After he’d settled into a studio apartment with pea-soup.and-bacon-shaded carpeting, Sid texted me: I was at a party at Aiden’s place and the putz (he liked to interject a little Yiddish now and again) has a goose named Agatha.
That was all I needed to know to make a complete character assessment of Aiden Chase.
The laws of common internet decency rest on the understanding that if you have a goose named Agatha, you are obligated to overrepresent her. The fact that he chose to micro-document the reddish hair growing at the tip of his chin when he had Agatha running around, eating bananas, told me that his value system was all askew, and yet there he was, instructing an entire generation of young white queers on how to cock your snapback just enough to denote rakish young non-str8 without crossing into either “urban” or skater poseur territory.
Now that you know how disgustingly seductive Aiden was, I can proceed to the day when the balance shifted and the gawking voyeur and the flat subject were thrown into an industrial blender and wholly reconstituted, like that new meal-replacement line, Whizzerd.
Let me set the stage. The Black Rains had not yet begun, tho forest fires, flooding, and next-level storms had been re.shaping the terrain for many years. I was still a lowly dog walker, creeping in and out of other folks’ homes. In my own apartment, I’d become a worn-down receptacle of my roomies’ substances. Walls did very little to stop the pas.sage of the Witch’s beetle-shell extracts, asparagus decoctions, burning angelica leaves, moss, and myrrh, and the Stoner-Hacker’s weed, Mexican food, laughter at his video games, angst at his video games, and loud thumps every time he picked up Infinite Jest and then threw it back down on the floor.
I was no longer in the deepest part of the Shadowlands, nor was I in the light; I had found a ledge between the ooze below and the crisp air above.
Excerpted from Future Feeling, copyright © 2021 by Joss Lake.