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Butterfly Machine

by stefen 5 months ago in advice
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The bug in the system

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

Apophenia is the tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things. The term was coined by psychiatrist Klaus Conrad in his 1958 publication on the beginning stages of schizophrenia.

Two winters ago me and my sister came up with the phrase ‘you are here’ moments for those times when you feel so present in your body it’s like watching your life from the outside in.

Chapter one

How to Kill Santa

The problems started when I decided to learn how to fly.

See, I’m a logical person. And it made logical sense, at the time. I figured, hey. Reality is a game and I’m in it to win it and there have to be alternate universes. So it was an experiment in probability. A coin toss.

Heads, I win.

Tails, I lose.

So I flipped a coin and got heads sixteen times in a row which I figured was the universal equivalent of god telling me it was a really good idea to jump off the rooftop.

See, the problem was that it did not last very long. Turns out flying feels the exact same as falling. And god does not like how that feels. So I landed in the bushes and broke my arm and boy fucking howdy was mom pissed off about that one.

That was when I was sixteen. I’m nineteen now. Still just as obsessed with probability. And dreams. Don’t get me started on dreams. I’m able to get my dad to visit my mom in her dreams, so maybe that was the silver lining of getting my ass sent to the hospital the time I learned to fly, and the time I got sent to the psychiatric ward when I learned how to read minds.

I was eighteen for that one.

It’s like lockpicking. Decryption. Hacking. Monopoly. Uno. Go Fish.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, because it’s all part of the same game. The game of figuring out what the fucking hell happens after you die.

See, I watched my dad die when I was fourteen. In the kitchen, on the floor. And hacking into the human brain is easy as shit because everyone secretly wants to watch someone die.

Until you do.

and it fucking sucks.

It’s a supervillain origin story, quite frankly. The only reason I’m not some full fledged evil genius is that my mom says it’s “bad” to “wish death upon people.” So I got all interested in computers, and hacking, cause I’m dead fucking certain I can transfer human consciousness into a computer. The ghost of the butterfly in the machine.

You know the word ‘bug in the system’ was about a butterfly in the first computer? And ghost in the machine has to do with the unexplained. The preternatural. Life by Unnatural Causes.

About how life is more fun when you assume you’re the keystone of human society.

Life, however, gets a lot more complicated when you realize what it means to be the keystone. The eye of the hurricane.

Cause it means you have full access to every secret anyone has ever kept from you.

See, me and Leo and Eli decided to prove some point about how trans kids are seen as unprofessional by society. So we figured the most effective way to disprove this was to hack into the government supercomputer so we could get a turn playing with the weather.

Cause that’s the other thing. I got to thinking last month that I’m the one who controls the seasons, but that’s how crazy people think. So I decided it was just a suggestion for the future.

Leo and Eli are my best friends. We’re all three of us trans guys, adhd, “crazy”, “unholy,” freaks, losers, whatever the hell anyone feels like calling us, really. And we wanted it to snow so we could go sledding.

And that was the beginning of the end, really.


We built a computer and named it Kilgarrah. That’s the dragon from Arthurian legend, because we need a program to guard our database, which we named Alexandria. Alexandria is fun because it’s a record of the Wikipedia history of every computer we manage to hack.

And hacking is easier than anyone realizes.

See, I always wanted to be a spy. I wanted to work for the behavioral analysis unit for the government and use my forensic psychology ghost powers to solve mysteries and catch serial killers. But school is lame and full of morons, and I hate grades, I hate doctors and lawyers, shit, I hate adulthood as a concept. I hate wasting time, and most of all I hate playing my games by someone else’s rules.

I’ve always been the type of motherfucker to make the rules up as I go along, which is called ‘cheating’ by most circles.

So I got thinking in the psych ward after they took my phone away and told me I wasn’t allowed to do any fun drugs and only the ones they prescribe. I figured hey, fuck the system, I’ll cheat my way right to the top of it, then. Like a video game.

But I’m not an asshole who exploits human labor. I exploit human behavior patterns. Which is sometimes called ‘being a sociopath’. But the thing is, when you’re a kid and everyone tells you you’re too smart for your own good, you learn how to be smart enough for the greater good. And I can protect people.

So I decided in the psych ward that I want to be a billionaire. I want to be hot and rich and famous. I want to be a punk rock pretty boy movie star. I want boats. I want planes. I want the girls. The guns. I’m the American dreamboy. I want the parties. I want to play eight games of chess with the president and lose on purpose. Which makes me a ‘psychic negative energy sucking vampire’ in the words of Michael, a schizophrenic conspiracy theorist, convinced he was possessed by the devil. A friend. A man from the hospital who’s convinced that the government plans to nuke Antarctica, to start the flood from the bible. A man with an equal conviction in his idea that somehow, a headstrong, heartstrong nineteen year old Jewish trans boy would be able to prevent this. That would be me. So my naive ass somehow got tricked into promising world peace in two years, just because I can see the future sometimes.

Now, in my defense, I’m pretty sure I only got tricked by the devil because he reminded me so much of my friends from back home. I’m not sure what that says about the sociopathic tendencies of all my best friends, but hopefully it means we’re a pretty damn powerful group of people.

I think it means we’re the future.

Chapter two

Fever Dreamboy

My mom had a dream about me last night. which means I’m getting better at astral projecting. My life feels like one big lucid fever dream, and I’m the only one who knows the rules.

Here’s rule one: when you fall asleep in someone else’s dream, it means you completely trust them to keep you safe from the dreamcreatures. And everyone trusts me and my mom and my sister, because they trusted my father, and I think he’s in charge of the Dreamverse.

Rule two is that the birds can hear you. I’ve always liked birds. People used to call me Crow, when i was seventeen, and used to sneak out and stay out all night, roaming the city and talking to anyone I found interesting. A collector, of rings and necklaces and knives. Shiny things. Souvenirs. Trinkets. Anyways, the birds have meaning. Crows mean I’m there. Doves and pigeons are the same, but doves carry messages to dead people, pigeons carry them to alive people. New York City’s messengers from wonderland. Crows think for themselves, and collect secrets to carry back for me.

Rule three is to only get on the train if its empty. You gotta trust your instincts with these rules, though, if something feels like it’ll be interesting, go for it. Curiosity killed the cat, and the boys I used to go rock climbing with would call each other kitten. Pj, Trevor, Matt: boys who always land on their feet.

You get nine chances at escape. So just keep track of who you talk to. Because at ten, you get


Anyway, here was my conversation with my mom from this morning.

Me: Any weird dreams last night?


So for some reason, first of all you were wearing your glasses, you know the ones I mean. You had your glasses on and you were like sort of just very erratic and not behaving, and I’ve not yelled at you but I had to yell at you “Stefen! Stop and listen to me!” And you went into the office and put up a note that said “People who behave erratically are given access to the 529 account” Which is you know, the college account. It was so random.


I had a dream where Tijuana and me got in a fight and I was on top of the tower of the old ropes course from when I was a kid. I jumped off it and it felt like real life.

Its all about the money, is what it comes down to. Tijuana was another friend from the hospital. The hospital was one big weird dream, honestly. It also means that my moms dreamstate is connected to my old roommate, jack irish, because he had a couple of psychic dreams about me wearing my glasses. He is definitely a wizard. Me and him agreed we should run for president and Vice President when we’re 35, cause he’s also an outsider who’s too smart for his own good. It also means I can see people’s bank account passwords in my mind soon once I get a little better at this.


I forgot to mention what happened when we hacked into the government supercomputer. We found logs of an alternate reality. Explicit proof that somewhere, a virus was engineered to attack sense of smell and taste, which is what triggers associations to memories in long term memory storage. By manipulating smell and taste, you can manipulate human behavior patterns, the same way I do but on a much larger scale. Proof of wolves in sheeps clothing. It’s all stuff everyone already knows. There were logs keeping track of the United Coalition for a better tomorrow, and logs of the Mysterious Society for a different Yesterday, and basically just pages and pages of proof of time travel and mind control.

There was one page that said January 8, 2022, was the ten year anniversary of my death.

Which was weird.

But I digress.

I also found the controls for the weather. So I’ve decided the only logical thing to do with this newfound superpower is to kill Santa, control the snow, save Christmas and hope I get to unlock telekinesis as soon as I finish everyone’s unfinished business for them. In the psych ward, I told them “hey, I think I have dissociative identity disorder!” And they said “hey, no you don’t, shut up and take your meds!” So I did what they said. But here’s what I think. Ghosts are real and they like smoking weed and they fucking hate dr slimmer. This is called a scapegoat. So I’m finishing the unfinished business of everyone I can think of, and starting with my dad and grandpa. Two of the best men I ever knew. Two men with some of the most substantial lives of anyone I know. And the one thing neither of them got to finish was their story.

Chapter three

There Are People In The Walls

My roommate Andee used to always joke about the people in the walls. It’s all just code for the voices in your head. Where do they come from?

Who knows.

Anyways, today an old war veteran came up to me and my sister and started yelling at us asking why the sun burned in space without oxygen. We figured if we said anything even close to the words nuclear fusion he might lose it, so we said it was another of life’s mysteries. Now he’s singing war songs on the m14A bus. Another living legend. He said he asked another subject, who called his wife, which probably means he’s been asking people on the street until he gets his answer.

He’s asking more subjects, so I guess he’s an unofficial member of the Mysterious Society for a Different Yesterday. That’s what I call the people on the street that come up to you in your face asking you questions about the universe like you might just happen to know what they’re talking about.

They always seem to pop up around me and my sister, just dreamcreatures of boundless energy. I figure this is because of our proximity to Dreamworld.

Today I’m seeing my friend Frankie. He’s gonna be the CIA director when I’m president. He always says “Stefen, you’re a card” and other things that I’m never sure whether to take as a compliment or not. But anyways, I’m late. So I’ll write more later. I’ll tell you the dream about the rabbi. My mom says I gotta use code names to keep people's identities safe.

Chapter four

The dream about the Rabbi

The Rabbi and his family were visiting. The Snake was playing with The Child. The Whale existed, but not in this particular story.

The Child was in a Mini Sized Car and the Snake was helping him to drive it. There was a soft inflatable tunnel that he would drive into, which was Safe and Protective if he fell out or couldn’t stop. The Rabbi fell asleep on the floor. I asked if he needed more pillows. It was dark and when I stood up I couldn’t balance and I thought I was going to fall over. I was holding onto the wall. I was dizzy.


The Rabbis wife came in and woke him up and gave him a big hug. There were a gazillion used contact lenses lying around from the Prince of Snakes and the Princess of the Mushroom Circle. Loads.

Chapter 5

Here Are all my Personal Issues with Santa

Santa is a bitch, I have decided. Here is why.

Do fairies want to make gifts for children? Absolutely not, I think. Children suck. Their parents should make them presents, not use cheap labor from the fae. Cause boy, do the fae hate being used as a labor force.

When I kill Santa I will let the fae creatures go back to boppin around or doing whatever they do.

Anyways, today I went to visit Frankie. I was still thinking about the Rabbi, and about my dad's last words, which were that he felt lightheaded.

I think about those ones a lot.

I think about those ones so goddamn much that I was able to hack the world of lost consciousness from my place in the world of the living.

It’s a fucking trip, if I’m being honest. Here’s what I think: all you need is words, because when you have words, the numbers follow.

So anyways, Santa is dead now, because I say so. I do not like him one bit. He’s the president of the coalition.

Maybe this story is propaganda against Santa. But again with the code names.

You gotta ask yourself, who’s this kid actually mad at?

Anyways. Freedom for the fairies and the mysterious society of dreamthinkers for a different tomorrow! A coalition of kids of appetite and hopeless hopers.

I don’t have a villain in this story. But I have a captive audience.

This is now a hostage situation.

Chapter six


A boy is sitting on the train thinking about running from the cops. He is part of the Time Travel Original Coalition, a group of immensely powerful 19 and 20 year olds. He is thinking about pretty girls and conversations and flowers and meanings that connect to eachother, like strings behind the scenes, or wires on a circuit bored. He is thinking about aprophenia: a condition in which one finds meaningful connections in unconnected things. He is thinking of computers and firewalls and schizophrenia and soccer. About how soccer is like chess, it’s all game theory, it’s all about seeing the board and seeing the pieces as equals. It’s about seeing the butterfly in the machine and the dragonfly outrunning time.

He is thinking of monsters and blood, but that is the old story, in a ninth floor hallway, or maybe somewhere else. It is the story that has been told and told again like clockwork. The trees skim past his eyes through the train window and he is thinking about machinery in motion and cherry gum, and the fact that he’s suspended from college.


He’s thinking of how to make money fast, he’s always loved get-rich-quick schemes, always had a million plans for a million dollars. Of course, it’s not about the money. It’s about making a change. It’s about screaming in peoples face that you were there first. It’s about credit where it’s due.

He’s thinking of dreamworld and how to make a jukebox for the underground world.

Maybe that’s how he’ll get rich.

It’s all about connecting the stars to the clouds to the dirt beneath his scuffed up shoes. It’s about remembering the past as fiercely as one can possibly hold onto something, letting the glass shards of a broken memory dig into his thoughts until he knows he will never be able to forget if he tries.

He is using these glass shards to plan for the future.

This is called “plotting and scheming for an upwards trajectory.”

This is called “following his dreams before he even knows what his dreams are trying to tell him.”

This is called “giving the cops a really fucking good wild goose chase.”

The boy is thinking of geese flying south for the winter. The time he made pancakes with a friend. Silly and stupid things.

The boy is thinking of chaos theory and string theory and music theory and he is deciding they are all the same.

The boy knows that together they are the theory of everything.

So he is thinking of bitten down nails and what it feels like to have the universe at his fingertips.

Chapter 7

rhetorical questions and rhetorical answers

This story has lost a sense of chronological order. Here is the order:

Stefen watches Pavel die.

Pavel learns to speak to the living.

Stefen learns to speak to the dead.

Stefen tells storytruth about everything that happens in between.

Ghosts can play chess with human memories, you know.

This is called “mnemonic devices.”

This is called “teamwork.”

Chapter 8

Schrodingers cat

Once, at one point in time, three boys went to the bakery and met Halo. Halo is a kid, but he thinks like an adult. We bought the star cookies, and later that night, we sat at the gas station at 4 am in the hazelight of the streetlamp changing colors in the fog. Three boys at a picnic table, breath turning into clouds, dissipating under quiet words.

A boy tells us of the time he saw a car crash, and I am now sitting quietly on the train, thinking of dragonflies and the girl from the psych ward. She wrote in hieroglyphics, convinced aliens would come to save her. I think people turn to aliens when they don’t understand the depth of human connections.

I’m pretty convinced of those depths.


The boy in the hoodie speaks: Once there was a man who gave a silver ring to a crow. The crow would fly away, but would come back, too curious to stay away long. It was friends with a cat, and when the adult man would give the boy weed and drugs and jewelry, he would always share with his friends.

A voice laughs: if you have two apples….

The first voice catches on a grin. Shut up he says. What he means is

Yes, I bit the apple and

Yes, it was poison


Look at this cool ring he gave me, it has a snake on it.

The second boy shrugs. He steals girls hearts and gives them back unharmed, or at least, he tries his hardest not to break them.

It begs the question: how much of yourself can you give away before you are no longer yourself?

Once upon a time there was a ceramic cabinet filled with plates. You spoke to the girl you loved about the dangers of opening it, but she did so

anyways. And so the plates fell, and broke, because of course they did. But this is important, maybe, this is called “opening up” and “moving on”.

Two faces are creating the shape of a vase. What is it they say about broken vases?

They are the spaces between stars, and they make up the constellations.

Chapter 9

A hannukah miracle

Me and Eli are sitting on the stairs and a Penn station man is singing to us about Christmas and making the sun fall from the sky.

He winks at us and tells us his name is Jesse and he’s in charge of light and dark. Another member of the mysterious society. He tells us to have a happy Christmas Eve.

What did he tell us to do again, I’m asking Eli,

I don’t remember, blow up the sun? He says. i am thinking about the men from the preternatural city making an appearance between the mundane and the magical.

I think Jesse would be friends with the man from Vietnam from yesterday in chapter 3. They see the same world, and they sing songs about it.

He points upwards and grins at me like we both know who is controlling the direction of the cosmos.

(it is the cepheid stars).


Newark penn station this is Newark penn station! A voice blares over the intercom. Yo Eli says, coming to sit next to me. Yo. I say back. We make it almost out of the station when I get a text from my friend that she has a cold. We don’t want to get anyone sick so we head back home. I get thinking about poincare maps and recurrence plots: they’re like slices of time. Slices of life, I guess. And it just depends what your variables are. I think everyone is a differential equation waiting to reach their limit. I think I no longer have a limit for change. I think maybe I’ll never stay the same, or bother trying. I’ll change whenever I feel like it and watch the market change behind me.

Eli says I feel like a kindred spirit. I think its the transguy effect.


My dad was named after a poem called “I never saw another butterfly”. It was a poem written by some kid in the Holocaust. I think about it a lot, about the butterfly effect, and how something so small can cause such world shattering changes. I think about how I’ve always been interested in alchemy. Turning lead to gold. I think it’s all about immortality. I think it’s about tracing steps backwards and then tracing them forwards. I am logging into Kilgarrah and the computer speaks to me of the 319 day event space of the plague before it reached the President. The computer speaks to me of Pepperdine university and corporations bought out by other corporations until you trace it to HSBC, an international bank with the worlds most suspicious life insurance policy. The computer speaks of statistics and probability and strange attractors which is when something evolves towards one of two states.

Like “life” or “death.”

Michaell from the hospital told me god was a computer. Maybe he was right.

I wonder what happens when one is forced to keep evolving towards life.

The computer speaks to me of those who have drank from the unholy grail.

Anyways, it’s all just mathematical nonsense to me. I’m just some dumb kid who likes playing pretend. I hate math and writing and school. I think I’m gonna drop out of college soon. I’m just some screwball kid with too many ideas and nowhere to put them. I just wanted to go sledding and kill Santa and now I’m in over my stupid head.

I wonder what happens next?

Chapter 10

Hallways and the last life

My mother once said “become so soft that nothing can break you.”

I have relinquished my sharp edges, my knifeblade heart, my electricity. I have become

The ship of Theseus, made up of broken pieces, molded together,

holding Schrödinger’s cat,

I have become a boy half alive and half dead

In the frequency of my adaptation to change.

I think this is just what it means to be


in a world that always seems to be about to end.

So maybe I am immortal.

But I think I would rather just be happy.

Chapter 11


It’s Christmas and we’ve opened the presents. I miss my dad and I miss my grandpa. Holy fuck do I wish they were alive. But in the meantime, I can tell their stories. I can be patient. And so the snow is falling and I am watching through the window and thinking how lucky I am. How lucky it is, to be loved, and know it. Here is what happens after you die: you follow soundwaves. And when you hit the sound of a heartbeat, you can hop on like it’s public transportation, and hop off later.

I have too many ghosts in my head and in my heart. Too many constellations.

Here’s the thing about happy endings. The epilogue is always bittersweet. I think it is nicer to have a sharp ending and a chance at a happy epilogue. Cause that’s what I’m shooting for, here.

I’m shooting for the moon until the stars fall from the sky.


You’ve now reached the story of August 17th. the night Pavel Lempert died. This is not an ending or a beginning or happy or sad. IT’s a quantum time loop. It’s a commentary on the meaning of death in a world of late stage capitalism about to burn down It’s


But the spaces between stars have enough room for anyone who ever felt alone.

And they’ll have room for you too, one day.

There is always more space for more butterflies in the machine

And my father will always take care of them.




About the author


almost 19. poetry boy. stories and other lies

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