I’m aware that there is an extra set of stairs in the basement that doesn’t usually exist. Behind the big silver ventilation pipes, past the row of tenants’ bikes parked down here until springtime: a long, dark hole framed by rusted banisters, stone steps leading thereinto. And I think I might be the only one who can see the new stairs. You’re dicking around on your phone while the washer thumps and rocks in the corner, trying not to think about all the spider webs down here, trying not to think about how Shelly refused to come down here because of them. You lean against the crumbling brick wall and scroll past twenty Facebook statuses without looking at any of them, drowning your senses in insignificant light and color and movement.
Maybe I’m the same as the stairs. Maybe the metaphysical state of being when you shouldn’t be is its own sort of secondary reality. Maybe there’s a whole bunch of shit that shouldn’t be but is out there.
It’s weird, being the ghost of the boy you never were. Being only because enough other people assumed I was that I had to be. Becoming only because you tried so hard to be me for so long that I became. This is what undead really means, what it has to mean. Having life without ever having lived. Haunting without ever having died.
Wait, though. Now you’ve slipped your phone into your jacket pocket, and you’re squinting past the ventilation pipes, past the bikes. For the first time since Shelly left, you look awake.
On the night she left you, I watched you chain-smoke on the couch, lifting cigarette after cigarette from the pack on the coffee table with shaking hands, placing them between your lips, lighting them, inhaling without enjoyment or relief, exhaling without losing any of the tension in your shoulders. Your lipstick stained the filters the color of a bad bruise. I didn’t exactly remember, but I could feel you remembering how earlier in your transition, seeing lipstick on the filter of a cigarette—your cigarette—was a source of joy, a moment of recognition and reassurance.
You kept replaying your last conversation with her in your head. Trying to find moments you could reshape or rewrite, trying to figure out if it was a game you lost through inattention and incompetence, or if you were doomed from the beginning. You kept thinking that maybe when she’d said, “I can’t…” and then allowed her sentence to trail off into cruel, heavy silence, maybe you should have said, “I know it’s hard. I know you feel like this happening really fast. But I’m the same person you fell in love with, okay? I’m more that person now than I was when you met me, really! I promise!”
I wish I could talk to you about all of this. To apologize, maybe. But I only sort of exist. And while I know you feel me in here with you, I don’t think you can hear me. It’s just, I know you think Shelly left you for me, but that’s not right. I can’t have her either. And while it’s nice to see you appear to give a shit about anything, I hope you won’t investigate the suddenly-there stairs. With you looking at them, the stairs feel cruel and hungry, and where before I thought they might be comprised of the same un-stuff as me, now, I intuit them as a different sort of wrongness. So, look, I know you usually can’t hear me, but don’t go near the stairs, okay?
You tuck your hair behind your left ear, bite your lip. You step away from the wall. The washing machine rumbles behind you, and although I don’t actually have any organs, my heart contracts and spasms in time with the machine. I watch you press your body against the wall and squeeze past the bicycles. I watch you touch the banister. I watch you lean in. If I had breath, I’d hold it, and if I could resist the pull of your movement, I’d stay up here. But I can’t do either of those things. So down we go.
I don’t sleep. Some nights, if I am very lucky, I just sort of skip eight hours and start existing again when you wake up. Other nights, when we’re both unlucky, you dream you are me, and I find myself inside your dreams with you, feeling the way you hate having my body, feeling your contorted revulsion at being stuck inside me, my beard, my voice, my flat, fuzzy torso. Tonight, and nights like it, are a weird sort of middle ground. When your sleep is uneasy but unmolested by dysphoria, I sit up in your room and wait for you to wake up again. I spend a lot of time looking at you and wondering how you could have ever thought you were me. Tonight, I’m mostly using that as an excuse to not think about what happened in the basement.
I don’t even recognize you anymore, even after you’ve washed your face and gone to sleep. There’s no more of me on your skin. Even the tattoos we share look like they belong to you. The hormones are changing your body in subtle little ways, making your skin smoother than it was when you were playing me, awarding you, finally, the breasts you should have received decades ago. You’re you now. I mean, you were always you, but when your brain and the world conspired to give birth to me, to assign me to you as an identity you had to wear, it was harder to see you.
You turn over in your sleep, and your face betrays how bad your dreams are right now. I wonder if you’re dreaming of the basement beneath the basement. I’m glad not to be in your dreams with you tonight. I followed you after you crawled down. Watched you pull your phone out and turn on its flashlight. We saw it at the same time. The yawning forever of the basement under the basement. A blank stone space, impossibly huge, held within the eight measly feet between ceiling and floor but stretching in every direction until it fell over the other end of an underground horizon. The only interruption, the stairs and the railing behind us.
I desperately wanted to go back upstairs, but you weren’t moving. You were just standing there, breathing, and everything was so quiet that your breath echoed back to us in waves. I was too busy trying and failing to take it all in to check to see if you were doing the same, but I know the face you were making. Eyes large and bright. Lips parted. Your tongue pushed forward and pressed to one sharp canine. You made that face when Shelly said she needed to talk. It’s the face we wear when the enormity of a stimulus won’t fit inside our minds all at once. If I had real eyes, real lips, a real tongue, and not just ideas of imitations of yours, I’d have made the same face. Breathing into the distance, hearing your breath respond to itself.
Finally, you said, “Jesus… Christ…”
Long J, breathy E, the SUS like an afterthought, and the CHRIST a percussive punctuation. Your curse travelled into the void and transformed, like your breath, its echo a failed, mutant imitation. We stood there and listened to it grow louder and meaner, each few seconds expecting that it would reach its peak and retreat and each few seconds realizing that it had failed to do so. God, that noise. Your voice, but ruined, coming at us like microphone feedback from every direction. I wanted you to run, but you stood there, jerking around to aim your phone in every direction, revealing nothing. I began to get the sense—and I think you did too—that the echo had developed physical form, that its new heft and weight were barreling down the underground plain at us, that the concussion of your tongue on your teeth at the end of CHRIST had become sharp and venomous in the chasm and that if we stood here much longer, it would run you through, and me with you. You turned. You ran.
And now you sleep.
I watch the corners of your mouth twitch. You say something, but
I can’t figure out what it is. Just your brain misfiring, nonsense tumbling out. It’s weird to feel like I know so little about you.
I wondered if this would happen. Shelly’s sweet. And she cares about you, even if you aren’t the you she thought you were. It was probably just a matter of time before she called you, right? To check up? You’re on the phone, pacing around the living room, one arm wrapped around your waist like you’re worried your guts will spill out of some invisible hole, and I don’t trust you not to fuck this up. You’re raw right now, and shit’s so weird. You spent the whole morning on your phone Googling things like “ghost basement” and “house has new room suddenly” and “cave under building” and “hallucinations on hrt?” I just… like… don’t take this the wrong way, but if there was ever a time when you probably shouldn’t be talking to Shelly, it’s now.
You say, “Yeah, good. I’m good. I’m fine. I mean, I’ll be fine, you know.” And, “How about you? You’re okay? Work’s okay?” And, “No, hey, we don’t have to like… I get it, you know? I’m not mad. It’s okay.”
And then, “Hey, do you—no, go ahead. I mean, I was just going to say, like… do you want to come over? You left a bunch of your stuff, and I’m going to be around today, so like…”
You’re silent for a second. And then your eyes are full of tears. And then, trembling, “Mmm. Yeah, I can do that. To your mom’s, or…? Okay. Okay, yeah. Hey, I should… Yeah.” There’s a space I can tell you want to fill with an I-love-you. “Bye.”
You stand in front of the record player for a second staring into space. It’s like the long nothings in the room beneath the building are superimposed over the walls of your little efficiency, and instead of your vision being interrupted by plaster, you’re seeing forever. And then you drop your phone on the floor, and lean over one of the record crates, start flipping through it, and I know what you’re looking for before you find them. Because I remember that date too, even though it’s not mine to remember. She’d hauled selections from her collection to your place, and the two of you spent the whole night taking turns holding up sleeves and saying, “Have you heard this one?” “Oh, you’ve got to hear this one.” “This is legit, like, my favorite record.” And halfway through Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, she’d said, “Dude, this is break-up music. Terrible date soundtrack,” and she’d put on Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard instead.
You stand with both records, one in each hand, your eyes wide and wet, and for a second, I’m not sure what you’re doing. I don’t think you are, either. And then you scream, throw both records onto the floor, and start stomping on the sleeves. You pick up Unknown Pleasures, bend the sleeve until you can hear the record snap inside. Toss it like a Frisbee at the wall. You fall to your knees, grab Desolation Boulevard by the corners, lift it over your head, and bring it down on the corner of the coffee table. Again and again. With each impact, “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” your voice somewhere between a growl and a wet whimper.
Your upstairs neighbors thump on their floor to shut you up, but I don’t think you hear them.
I can’t stop you. I can’t help you. I’ve always been useless to you. I watch until you’ve tired yourself out. But then you stare over your shoulder, right at the space I only sort of occupy, and it feels like your eyes are locked to where mine would be if I had any, and your lips are curled away from your teeth. And I know that if I’d ever actually been alive, in this moment, you’d kill me gladly and without regret.
The Meijer receipt you toss into the passenger-side footwell of your car itemizes the following purchases: one mop, one can of white paint, one head-mounted flashlight with adjustable nylon strap, and a Diet Coke. The lady who rang you out called you sir, and we both stink-eyed her for a few seconds before you handed her your credit card.
You smoke incessantly on the drive back home. It’s only a fifteen-minute drive, but you go through, like, five of the things. I’m trying to be supportive here. I really am. It’s just… okay, if Shelly hadn’t called, would you be doing any of this? Wouldn’t you have just built a mental wall around our experience in the basement beneath the basement and walked away? This feels like… it feels like you’re only doing this because it’s something to do, something to inject into the space in your day you’d otherwise spend hurting and remembering and listening to sad music. And I’d support that, usually, but the basement under the basement isn’t just some jejune distraction, okay? It’s not like it just exists despite the fact that it shouldn’t. I… since we crawled down those stairs, I’ve become increasingly possessed by the notion that it exists exactly because it shouldn’t. And I can’t shake the notion that we are both better off forgetting about it. So why is this so important to you all the sudden? Why this?
I wonder if, before she hung up, Shelly called you the wrong name. Called you my name. Did she?
“Shut up,” you say, tossing your spent cigarette out the window. “You’re not real. You’re not here.”
I try to shut up for the rest of the drive home, but I’m not sure how this works. The line between thought and speech is blurred for me, and I have no idea what you can and can’t hear or sense or whatever. It seems like you’ve only just become aware of me. There are lots of new rules to learn. But now the possibility occurs to me that you’ve known about me all along, that I’ve been carrying on for as long as you’ve known you weren’t me, observing, commenting, and that you’ve just blocked me out. Christ, how horrible for both of us. Is that it? Have I been driving you insane, clinging to you, a constant reminder of what you escaped?
You park in front of the apartment building and press your face into your hands. “Ugh,” you say. “Enough. Enough self-pity, already. Enough solipsism. Let’s go.” But I can’t be sure if you’re talking to me or to yourself.
So this is it. Expedition day. I’d sort of hoped that after you slept on it, you’d forget about exploring the basement. But first thing this morning, you grabbed the paint bucket and the mop and the headlamp and we headed down. You’ve been so quiet today. I’m usually very good at reading you, but today, you’re a wall to me, a stranger behind an opaque mask. I’m nervous. If I tell you that, if I explain to you how I feel, will you tell me how you feel? Will you break, even just a little? I’m nervous that you think there are answers down here, explanations for why you feel so angry and so sad, or maybe explanations for why the ghost of a boy that never existed is following you around, and what if there aren’t? What if there’s just impossibility, spitefully extant? What if something happens to you down here? What if something happens to me?
You’re not listening, or pretending not to. You’re just walking forward, dragging the mop behind you, leaving a white line you can follow back. Every once in a while, you’ll stop, glance behind you to make sure the line is straight, set the paint can on the ground, and dip the tip of the mop head into the paint. Then you’re moving again.
We’ve been walking for a while now. Twenty minutes? Thirty? What if this is all there is?
“It’s not,” you whisper. Your voice echoes, but eventually retreats.
Now I can see the fog filling up the place, dancing in front of the beam of your headlamp like cigarette smoke. Thick, and weirdly colored. Vaguely pink, the sort of light, chalky pink of the little compact Shelly’s birth control comes in. A disconcertingly medicinal shade of pink, and I wonder if it’s toxic. What would happen to me if you died? I’m not your ghost. You were never me, not really. Would I just hang around? Would I persist even after you ceased? Or would I snap out of semi-existence?
“Goddamn it, just…” you hiss. It sounds like you’re about to scream, but you catch yourself. Hold yourself. I’m glad. I didn’t realize how scared I am of the way sound behaves in this place until now. How terrified I am that another noise will escape your lips and metastasize into something hostile and hungry. I’m sorry if my questions annoy you.
“Asshole,” you whisper.
A, somehow consonantal, snapping like a snare drum under a brush, the sudden sibilance of the twin S’s quick and then gone, the HOLE noncommittal, a footnote.
There. There’s something. Oh god, there is something ahead of us.
I was starting to think we’d never see anything, that the pink fog would just grow thicker and thicker until it ate up the light from your headlamp, that after some period of wandering aimlessly in pinkness, we’d just sort of forget ourselves, and having been forgotten, functionally cease. But no, look at that. There’s something right there, maybe about a quarter mile ahead of us, a sort of shimmering luminescence reflected on the floor and ceiling, like how an outdoor fountain plays tricks on the sunlight, gives it form and movement. You see it, right? I’m not going crazy?
Now you’ve picked up the pace. Your strides are long and your shoulders are set, and your chin is tucked. This is happening.
Will you please just talk to me? Can we please take a moment to talk about this before we plunge toward whatever we’re plunging toward? It’s not really fair, don’t you think? I mean, I know you never asked to look like me, to be assigned me, and I don’t want to impugn your experience or whatever, but I never asked to be dreamt up either. I never asked to be attached to you. But here we are. And I hate to pull this card on you, but your actions affect me. Can we please just talk about this?
Nothing, huh? No response. Fine.
Well, here it is. Here’s what you’ve been looking for, I guess. A pond in the basement beneath the basement. The floor ends sharply, a circular pit filled with gently rippling water, and lit from below, as though someone installed waterproof floodlights at the bottom. This is the source of the fog, too. It roils out of the pool, rises in tendrils that twine through and between one another, like time-lapse photography of vines growing.
You drop the paint can and the mop, strip your headlamp from your forehead, take a knee beside the pond, glare into its depths. I feel like I’m about to watch one of the tendrils of fog suddenly solidify and wrap itself around your neck, pull you down into water, and me with you.
That doesn’t happen, of course. You steady yourself, slide your feet out behind you until you’re on your belly at the rim of the pond. I float down beside you, stare in with you, not because I want to, but because I am tied to you. I don’t want to. I don’t want to do any of this.
There are… I want to call them fish, but that’s not what they are at all. They wriggle like fish, and since they apparently live in water, we both register them at first as fish purely out of idiot association, but they look nothing like fish, really. They look a little like human hands, their fingers blooming outward and then suddenly pinching together, propelling them through the water the way squids move with their arms. Their skin is the same medicinal pink as the fog, the same sort of slimy, patterned texture as banana slugs. They each have one enormous, lidless eye protruding from the space where their wrists would be if they were actually hands, and those eyes roll and dart with manic intensity, and I don’t like this. I don’t like them. I don’t like you right now. I want to go home. I want to follow the paint trail back to the stairs, and up them, and into your apartment. I want everything to go back to normal.
And then—their voices pitched low and cracking, their words enormous and clear but, somehow, unaffected by the acoustic horrors this place commits on your voice—the fucking things start talking.
Oh, they say. Oh, we are made less alone now. This is good. We decide this is good.
For fuck’s sake, let’s get out of here. You’re scared too, I can see it. I can see it in your eyes, almost as wide and as wild as the eyes on the wrists of the hand-fish-things in the glowing pool. You scuttle backward, push yourself off your belly and onto your ass, curl your knees up to your chest. If only you’d stand. If only you’d run.
Don’t speak, say the things in the pool. Your noise behaves strangely. We will speak, and if you wish to speak, we will know what you wish to say. We will consider whether we wish to respond, and if we determine a desire to respond exists, we will take action based upon this hypothetical desire.
You swallow. The noise of your throat constricting turns into an echo, a wet glottal implosion, throbs once, then dies.
You are obscured by a false thing, say the hand-fish-things. That is bad. We have determined that it is bad because, while we are false, yet are, and he is false, yet is, he did not seek us out. You did. We wish to see you clearly.
You look at me. And I know you can see me now. Maybe all along. Maybe since forever. All that time feeling isolated, feeling rejected by reality itself, and we could have leaned on each other. You could have shown me kindness. We could have been friends. The living girl who was never born and the ghost boy who never died. We have so much in common, don’t we? Don’t we?
The pool has started bubbling, the subtle ripple at the surface becoming chaotic, uneasy, as though suddenly the floodlights at the bottom have heated the water to boiling. One of your hands leaps to your chest, claws at your solar plexus, and you moan through your teeth. I feel it too. An arthritic ache cross-bred with an electric, tattoo-needle gash. Your moan echoes, eats itself and grows, becomes hungrier than it was before, turns into a heartbeat (NG, NG, NG, NG, NG), swells to meet the boundaries of the world, and Jesus Christ, something is tearing, something is growing, something is happening and it hurts, and I fucking warned you, didn’t I, and now we’re both going to die, not understanding, not knowing anything new, there was nothing new to learn, just confusion and obscenity in a basement that shouldn’t exist and which we shouldn’t and can’t exist within, Jesus fucking Christ, it hurts.
And then there is silence. You gulp breath on the floor, your eyes closed, your knees held to your chest. You rock back and forth. And I am separate from you. Given form. Given meat. I look down at myself, at my body. My physical, actual body. I am hideous.
There, say the things in the pool. Now we can speak together.
My body collapses. I am exhausted. And all I can do is remember.
The first time you saw me—the first time we realized we weren’t the other—you were thirteen. Do you remember? Sitting on your bed with the TV on, watching some music video, seeing the woman on screen with her guitar, with her bright red lipstick, with her black hair messy and falling in front of her smoky eyes, you thought: She’s so perfect. I don’t even remember what band she was in, do you? Anyway, your computer dinged at us. Instant message from some shitty middle-school friend of yours watching the same channel at his house: ‘you seeing this?’ Of course we were. ‘god,’ said your shitty friend. ‘what would it be like to fuck her?’
But you didn’t want to know what it would be like to fuck her. Or maybe you did, but not just that. You wanted to know what it would be like to feel the spirit of your hands in her hands, to use her fingers to brush the hair out of her eyes. To look in the mirror and recognize yourself as her. You’d never really noticed before, not in so concrete a way that you’d be able to express it in words, but looking in the mirror had always been a nightmare for you. I lived in the mirror. I, with my jutting larynx and broadening shoulders, I with my barely-there mustache and—god, what a horrible betrayal—my cock.
That wasn’t you, and suddenly you knew it. You got up, rushed to the bathroom, allowing yourself to be seduced by the barely formed hope that maybe, this time, now that you’d acknowledged it, now that you’d given yourself permission to hope for anything, that when you looked, you’d see the corners of me, would know how to peel me off of you and toss me away, but when we got to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, all you saw was me. And looking back, I felt myself as discrete and unreal, a parasite gestating inside of you. I saw myself on your face, but I knew I was a mask someone else had fastened to your skull as a punishment for something you hadn’t yet done.
I can’t hear your thoughts anymore. I can’t feel your feelings. I don’t know what you’re asking these things, or why they’re telling you their story. I know you can hear me. I know you can see me. And now, I know you are ignoring me.
We are not ancient, they say. Isn’t that funny? Abominable gods, we understand, are meant to be ancient. We are gods newly born. Perhaps more obscene for our youth than we would be if we were very old. There’s something beautiful about obscenity, don’t you think? About violating the rules of an orderly universe.
Explain me to me. Explain to me why you envisioned me as such a horror. This body is repulsive, a grotesque cartoon of malehood. My limbs are long and gangly covered with thick, horrible, spider-leg hairs, scarred with vague, faded caricatures of your tattoos. My belly protrudes, my flat chest caves in, my cock looks like a monstrous cancer growing between my legs.
The space we occupy, and the bodies we possess, we are not sure how they came to exist. There may have been an external cause. Perhaps one with some intentionality. Or perhaps there was only an exceedingly rare cosmic glitch, and therefore, we.
I crawl toward the pool. The surface has stilled since these fucking things ripped me out of you, gave me form. I stare at my reflection. My eyes are little black scribbles, a child’s drawing of eyes. My beard a wiry thicket of rough, sharp quills, shining with repulsive grease. My hairline recedes pathetically. Why would you do this to me?
We are interested in deconstructing Supposed-To. We are interested in violating rubrics. We want to see more beautiful things that shouldn’t be.
You’re staring at the things in the pool and listening to them describe me—I am a beautiful thing that should not be, I am a magnificent accident. You’ve had a friend your entire life who fits their exact description, and you’ve ignored me. You’re leaning close to their glowing pool, tucking your hair behind your ear, staring at their horrible little fingers swimming through the water like you’re looking at something precious, something wonderful.
We enjoy visitors. This is good. We enjoy being surrounded by others who transgress. Whose nature is transgressive. It would be nice to have more. To form a strange family. A church. We will grant you favor. That is what gods do, isn’t it? Grant favor to their church?
Finally, you look at me. And I watch the wonder drain from your face, see it replaced with loathing, with resentment. What right do you have to resent me? I march toward you, around the rim of the glowing pond in the sudden basement under the building where Shelly left you. Left you because you weren’t me. Because you failed to be me. You stand to meet me.
Don’t mind him, say the things in the pool. You’re right. He’s not even false in an interesting way. We have an idea. It might be nice if, together, we remade the world to be more interesting.
Speak to me. I don’t need these things telling me what you think. I lived on your skin for twenty-nine years. Don’t try to stare me down. Don’t try to affect an expression that communicates defiance. That expression is my expression. Those eyes are my eyes. And if these ugly little monsters knew anything about existing outside of the parameters of existence, they’d see which of us really understands it. Which of us has really lived it. I deserve to be recognized for all the years I spent making room for you. I deserve to be called beautiful. I deserve to be seen. You think you’ve suffered like I’ve suffered? You think I’ve ruined your life? You are ungrateful.
But I have fingers now. Horrible, ugly, hairy fingers you designed for me, and they are mine, and I will wrap them around your fucking throat. I will choke you until the body that should have been mine, the body you ruined turning into yours, is limp and empty, and I will leave this fucking basement, and I will make this world tell me I’m beautiful. I will wrap my fingers around a thousand throats until they all tell me, in unison, that they see me. I will—
“For fuck’s sake!” you scream, and bat my hands away. You’re so strong. Jesus, you’re strong. “You self-absorbed, self-pitying child!”
You press your hands against my chest, push. I fall, scuttle backward on the cold stone ground.
“You took my entire life from me!”
You’re so loud, and your voice is turning into something. I crawl away from you, but you keep advancing. I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I’m so sorry.
“You sucked my blood for thirty years, and then told me it was my fault when you were still hungry!”
Can’t you hear it? Can’t you hear the way the echoes are growing armor, growing teeth, venom sacs, and stingers? Can’t you feel the way this whole place shakes? I was wrong. Please. Just stop. Tell your gods to make it stop.
“After I started peeling you off, when you finished telling me I was crazy, you acted like you deserved a fucking medal for acknowledging my autonomy! And then you sulked, and cried, and told yourself a story where you were the one who was inconvenienced by me!”
It’s here. Born from your words, gestated in the horizontal void of this place. I can feel it all around me. Inside of me. The pink fog is growing thicker, turning solid, and I’ve already inhaled so much of it. But so have you. So just stop. We both need to stop.
“Fuck you! I hope you fucking rot!”
I am being torn apart from the inside. The echo, the fog, the little gods in the glowing pool, they’re all the same, and they’re all inside of my horrible, misshapen body, expanding. I feel the slick, sweaty skin of my chest stretch, tear. I don’t bleed. You didn’t imagine any blood for me. But whatever I am made of, it’s dividing, each molecule drifting away from itself, and it hurts, and if you don’t shut up, these echoes, this fog, these gods, they’re going to do this to you, too.
But you. The fog wraps around you, snakes under your hair, lifts you up. Your eyes are bright. Your lips are open. You’ve got your tongue pressed to one canine. You are held together. This place makes space for you.
“You’re not some magnificent accident,” you say, and your voice is low now. Almost a whisper. “You’re just the detritus of one.”
Your words rip me apart. And after so many years of being a ghost, I know what it’s like to die.
My afterlife is strange. I don’t exist much anymore. Sometimes, for just a second, I’ll find my way out of a pink fog and into your mirror. I’ll watch you do your makeup with your hair clipped to the top of your head. Sometimes I’ll hear other people in the apartment with you, other magnificent accidents recruited into the cult of the infant gods in the basement. All natural transgressives whose very existence violates cosmic law. Existing not in spite of the fact that they shouldn’t, but because of it. They seem very nice.
I don’t feel too deeply. Everything is very far away.
Tonight, you’re dressed in the attire of a priestess of your order. A sexy dress. A chaotic tangle of necklaces. Your hair freshly dyed. I watch you apply lipstick and notice a tattoo, an analogue of which I never possessed. A large, rolling eyeball where your hand tapers down to your wrist. You smile at yourself in the mirror. Not at me. You don’t see me. I can tell because you smile without proviso. You look happy in a way I never knew you to be.
Your doorbell rings, and you glance away from the mirror. Whoever’s here, you’re expecting them. You look excited. “Coming!” you say—long, musical O, warbling ING—and your voice is bright and joyful and playful and yours. You glance at the mirror one last time, then disappear into the apartment. And I disappear too.
Dee Warrick’s fiction has appeared in Tor.com, Apex Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and a variety of other venues. She lives in Amsterdam, where she spends most of her time complaining about the behavior of tourists despite being an American expatriate herself. She is large and contains multitudes.
published January 2018, Shimmer #41, 5800 words