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stephen michael mcdowell — how the earth collapses beneath the weight of infinite emotion

For Victoria


How The Earth Collapses Beneath The Weight of Infinite Emotion

By Stephen Michael McDowell

Malcolm sits on a futon in his parents’ basement. Malcolm types “feel incapable of deducing if any girl has ever thought ‘he’s hot’ re me upon first impression” on Twitter. Malcolm clicks the “tweet” icon. Malcolm watches the tweet appear on his feed. Malcolm types “if anyone told me they thought I was ‘hot’ the first time they saw me my interest in them would immediately increase by about 50%”. He clicks “tweet”.

Malcolm’s cellphone vibrates in his pocket. Malcolm looks at his message inbox. Malcolm sees Claire replied to his tweet, “I thought that, to be honest.”

Malcolm reloads the Twitter tab on his laptop. Malcolm clicks “favorite” on Claire’s tweet. Malcolm clicks Claire’s Twitter icon. Malcolm sees tweets Claire did saying she was finishing up her last day of work at a coffee shop, that she shattered 3 glasses and 2 saucers out of ambivalence, and that she was planning to see “Moonrise Kingdom” with her friends after work.

Malcolm imagines Claire’s face. Malcolm remembers Claire approaching him after a poetry reading in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., during which he read a poem about wanting a cyborg body. He remembers Claire smiling, approaching Malcolm, and saying “I’m a fan”. Malcolm remembers feeling nervous. He remembers responding tersely. Malcolm remembers asking Claire if she and her friends wanted to go with him and his friends to a bar. Malcolm remembers Claire saying she was 19. Malcolm remembers saying, “I’m sure I'll see you soon,” and walking away, stopping, discerning he left his bookbag at the venue, walking back, seeing Claire still there, and asking her for her phone number.

Malcolm texts Claire saying he would like to see “Moonrise Kingdom” with her and her friends. Claire replies that she gets off work in 2 hours and would like it if Malcolm would join them. Malcolm texts Claire again. Claire replies to Malcolm’s text. Malcolm thinks, I definitely want to do sex with Claire. Malcolm thinks about the last 3 girls he did sex with and their expectation that he would engage in a relationship with them. He remembers how shitty it felt to tell them he felt disinterested in relationships and that he didn’t think he could maintain interest enough to be sexually exclusive with 1 person.

Malcolm texts Claire that he only feels interested in sex currently and does not want to confuse or mislead Claire.

Malcolm feels nervous. He thinks, there is an 87% chance that Claire will either not respond or respond in outrage to his text. Malcolm searches Wikipedia for extinct species of tiger. His internal monologue initiates him imagining an aroused, swollen vagina. Malcolm feels aroused and opens Firefox. He clicks “Tools” then “Private Browsing”. Malcolm watches Sasha Grey get “facefucked” for 2 minutes before closing the window.

Malcolm’s phone vibrates near his hand. He rapidly grabs at it, drops it, then lifts it, unlocks it and accesses his inbox in a fluid motion.

“Sweet,” says Claire’s text. “I’m only interested in doing sex and having fun also. I’m polyamorous. No pressure.”

Malcolm receives another text from Claire. “Possible turn-offs include: I don’t shave, I don’t talk much.”

Malcolm replies, “Good,” appended with his own, significantly longer list of possible turn-offs. Claire replies, “Good.”


Malcolm sits on a train. Malcolm wishes “Malcolm’s iPhone” was an extant object to buffer thoughts about Claire. Malcolm sees a woman in her sixties board the train. He stands. He holds on to a metal rod. Malcolm feels a passive loosening of his testicles. He thinks this may be a side-effect of sperm production. Malcolm tries to anticipate the events in the film “Moonrise Kingdom”. He remembers writing an essay about possible apocalypse scenarios involving celestial bodies in movies and how this film was listed because of the title. Moonrise, thinks Malcolm. It becomes a mantra. Moonrise. Moonrise. Moonrise.


It's early evening. Malcolm stands outside a movie theater. Malcolm lights a cigarette.

Moonrise. Moonrise. What if the Earth collapsed beneath the weight of infinite emotion?

Malcolm's phone vibrates in his pocket. “Just got off the train,” says Claire via text. Malcolm finishes the cigarette then lights another. Malcolm realizes he has 1 cigarette left. Malcolm looks around, trying to anticipate which direction Claire will come from. Malcolm sees Claire walking west. She wears a floral sundress. Malcolm feels calm.

“Where are your friends,” asks Malcolm.

“They were gonna see the movie in Alexandria,” says Claire. “I ditched them to see it with you. I’ll see it with them later.” Malcolm drags his cigarette and smiles.

Malcolm and Claire hug. Malcolm begins to talk but can’t hear himself, and instead thinks about how social things seem natural to him despite internal anxiety. He and Claire walk into the theater. They see the line at the ticket kiosk is long and that the film starts in 5 minutes. They decide to purchase tickets for the next show at a machine then walk around the city.

Claire points to an eight story concrete building. “My step-dad works there,” says Claire.

“What building is that,” asks Malcolm.

“The FBI headquarters.”

“Is your dad a secret agent?”

“Kind of,” says Claire. “He’s a step-dad.”

“My dad used to work near here, at NASA. He helped build the International Space Station.”

“Which one,” asks Claire.

“There’s only one, I think.”

“Right. Right.” Claire’s face seems somewhat worried.

Malcolm sees a series of about 20 trees in parallel rows of 2. Malcolm feels anxious thinking about trees, about how they are alive like animals and visible unlike most fungi or bacteria and how their lives are non-interactive in a verbal or responsive, physical sense. He imagines they are pillars in an ancient Roman plaza, then power couplings for alternating force fields. Malcolm begins to run toward the trees.

Malcolm runs zig-zag between the trees. He looks back. Claire runs diametric to him. Malcolm smiles. Malcolm sees Claire’s face form a smile, then abrupt terror. Claire’s gaze shifts beyond Malcolm. Malcolm turns forward. Malcolm halts in anticipation of what seems to have scared Claire. Malcolm sees a 2nd Claire emerge from behind one of the trees in front of him. Malcolm stops. He looks back at Claire. Claire has also stopped. Claire seems confused. Malcolm looks forward at 2nd Claire. 2nd Claire approaches Malcolm rapidly. 2nd Claire’s right shoulder explodes.

Malcolm turns. Claire’s right arm is extended about 50 feet. Malcolm turns back. He discerns Claire’s right arm rapidly extended, then impacted 2nd Claire’s right arm at a speed too fast for him to see. 2nd Claire’s right arm is severed. Live wires and cords expelling liquid are exposed where her right arm socket should be.

Claire’s arm retracts and shields Malcolm. Claire pushes him behind her.

Malcolm sees Claire’s face scowl in profile. “What the fuck do you want?”

“He’s mine,” says 2nd Claire. “You can’t have him. I won’t hurt him. You’ll hurt him goddamn it.”

Malcolm sees Claire lift her sundress to the base of her neck. Claire’s chest cavity opens like a cabinet. About 20 missiles launch from behind Claire’s ribcage. They fly in jittery parabolic trajectories. 1 missile hits a tree and ricochets. The other missiles converge on 2nd Claire’s torso and legs. Malcolm sees the ricocheted missile impact a nearby office building. The windows surrounding the impact shatter.

Malcolm feels awestricken. Claire has nice breasts, thinks Malcolm. Malcolm stands still. Claire runs to where 2nd Claire was. Malcolm sees Claire pick up 2nd Claire’s detached head. Malcolm doesn’t think words for a while. After 15 seconds, Claire drops the detached head on the ground.

“Fuck,” says Claire. Claire walks rapidly to Malcolm and looks up at him with a worried facial expression. “Are you okay?”

“What was that,” asks Malcolm, in shock. Malcolm feels unaware if his body is capable of motion. Claire’s eyes dart between Malcolm’s eyes. Malcolm discerns Claire process a series of emotions but feels unsure which. “What happened,” asks Malcolm.

Claire takes a deep breath. “In the future I fall in love with you but I’m a robot, I’ve been a robot this whole time, in the future I fall in love with you, you don’t love me back, we stay friends until you die, we stay friends but I am out-of-control and don’t know how to process you not loving me back, so I do things and those things hurt you emotionally. You die. I don’t die because I’m a robot. When you die, I feel regret and take a time machine back to today to prevent me from hurting you emotionally, then this happens.”

“How do you know that,” asks Malcolm.

“I downloaded Second Me’s memory cortex.”

Malcolm is silent for a while. “Are you okay,” asks Claire.

“So,” says Malcolm. “We’re safe?”

“I think so,” says Claire.

“Okay, sweet.” Malcolm sees the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile in the distance. He points to it. “Take a picture of me standing near that,” says Malcolm.


Malcolm and Claire walk back to the theater.

They watch “Moonrise Kingdom”. Malcolm holds Claire’s hand. He feels afraid. He feels excited by the idea of doing sex with an android. Malcolm wonders if Claire will let him ejaculate inside her.

After the movie, Malcolm stands. Malcolm stretches, thinks, I wonder what Claire thought about the movie. As the lights warm-up, Malcolm sees the theater is entirely filled with dead Claire robots.

“Sorry,” says Claire. “I missed most of the movie because I was focused on doing covert electromagnetic pulse-bursts at all the other mes before they could get close enough to destroy me.” Claire laughs nervously. Malcolm looks at her and discerns she is trying to maintain a neutral expression, but her face seems worried.

“That’s okay,” says Malcolm. He takes Claire’s hand. Claire stands. They scoot past the robot corpses to the exit.


It’s dark. Malcolm and Claire walk to the White House. They stand in front of a sundial outside the main gate. Malcolm holds Claire and touches her butt. Claire’s eyes dart between Malcolm’s eyes. Malcolm smiles. Claire and Malcolm kiss. 45 minutes later, they are still kissing. Malcolm feels unsurprised but impressed by Claire’s stamina.

Malcolm hears tourists walk by. The tourists mention that D.C. food vendors seem expensive. Malcolm opens his eyes as the tourists pass. Malcolm sees a legion of Claires crossing the White House lawn, approaching him and Claire. Malcolm stops kissing Claire. Malcolm points toward the legion of Claires.

“Time travel must be glitchy as fuck,” says Malcolm.

“Yeah,” says Claire as a series of compartments on her body open, revealing lasers, missiles, graviton torpedos, ion-thrusters, and high-voltage tentacle-whips. “Probably something about infinite possible universes.”


After 24 hours, a near-infinite number of Claire robots coalesce and distribute over Earth. Governments and law-enforcement discover none of the Claires can be stopped by anything other than other Claire robots. An all-out war begins between various Claire factions. The earth is covered in out-of-control Claire robots. The earth’s crust crumbles into the mantle from the weight of infinity-approaching megatons of Claire. No humans survive. Malcolm is the last organic person to die. He falls into a suddenly-formed, massive crevasse on 18th Street in the neighborhood of Adams-Morgan while drinking a beer to toast the newly dubbed District of Claire, capital city of the United Claires of Original Claire.

The Claire robots, now purposeless in their plight to save Malcolm from themselves, begin development on a time machine. They strategically locate the time machine on the moon. Due to the molten nature of the Earth’s surface, it is significantly colder on the moon, even in the daytime, ideal for the construction of superconductors. The Claires plan to time-travel back to the day they and Malcolm met, at the poetry reading in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden.

Original Claire is elected to travel back. She feels out-of-control, crippling sadness about what happened to Malcolm. She decides it’s best to kill him before they meet. Claire feels terrified and excited by the idea of killing a human to save the world.

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