I think of you sometimes,
running through my brain like a knife through fresh skin-
just where are you right now?
I don’t know why you come to me
in thoughts, dreams, panics;
worried wonderings of if you’re doing okay, is she doing okay?
Sometimes hurt is too much to handle
and when it overspills like it did with you-
the saturated source of suffering,
a personification of a glorification of Harm-
you don’t know what to do. We didn’t know what to do.
We turned to you but you cast aside our outstretched arms
and ran instead to the cold turned backs of others.
So we turned away too, refusing to listen, to indulge your fantasies,
bringing you back to Earth with harsh words, cutting the marionette strings like
Did it work? It never seemed to.
You believed you kept yourself to yourself but really, it was too easy to see.
You spilled your secrets to anyone with half an ear to listen,
anyone with half a mind to care.
We think of you, you ought to know that.
I think of you.
For moments I remember the self-denial I strived to achieve to give you all of me.
To give you anything, everything you need.
It wasn’t enough. I gave nothing.
I walk along the bridge, slowly, steadily, running a hand along the upturned edge.
Have you stood here? Looked into the water and
wondered if you would feel at home in its welcoming waves?
Do your arms ache with the pleas for attention, the crises you carved into your own skin?
Are you happy?
Did someone make you happy?
I think of you sometimes. You run through my mind
like you’re running from something. I’m never that sure what.
When I try to find you, to follow you, I feel the barrier
I chose not to follow. I chose not to help. I went my own way and you went yours.
Are you doing okay, is she doing okay?
Take a look around if you want- I hope you like what you see!
I think of you sometimes,
I know you think that I am crazy.
The scrawlings, etchings, lists of failings
Mental bile marks twisting, staining
Numbers stacked on bleached white paper
Crumpled up, examined later,
Lists of evils, lists of sins,
Lists of losses, lists of wins,
Demented carvings onto sheets that seem to tell a story still,
Touch them lightly, rip them screaming, testaments to loss of will.
I know you see the pen marked arms that tell you where I pulled the reins,
I feel you can see my consumption rattling round my shrunken veins.
I know you watch me bloat and shrink, the way I watch it every day
I’d carve my eyes out in a second just to make us look away.
I know you see the way I hunch, the way I try to disappear
I know you think you understand, but darling, I was never here.
The girl did not know why it was her, only that it had to be. It wasn’t an honour, it wasn’t a tragedy, it was simply a necessity. She didn’t claim to understand the rituals carried out behind locked doors- the charred bones she found in dishes, the torn leaves drifting from windows, the low hum of chanting in the early hours of the morning. She didn’t know how they had chosen her, but they had, and that was all that mattered. It had been written.
1. Every year, a gift must be chosen.
“Don’t be afraid,” her mother told her as she plaited the bells into her hair. The dress they helped her pull on was heavy, weighed down by hundreds more of the small, silver bells. She had seen one of the dresses being sewn once, on a trip with her class.
“It’s beautiful,” she had whispered, running her hand over the pale, silken fabric. One of the women had smiled at her with the haunted eyes that the sewing women always seemed to have, and touched her face gently with a long-fingered and bony hand. The girl had wondered if the woman had given one of her own daughters- for it was always a daughter, never a son- but she hadn’t had the courage to ask.
2. The gift may not be male, or have experienced their first blood. The gift must be healthy and able-bodied.
“I’m not afraid,” she said now, sitting poised on the hard-backed chair. This was a lie. Her mother looked at her in the mirror, but she didn’t comment.
“We don’t have long,” one of the women helping them to prepare warned them. Her mother nodded, and held out her hand. The girl took it, and stood up. The bells jangled as she moved, and the women exchanged anxious glances.
3. The shadows cannot see, but they can hear.
“She’s quite old, isn’t she?” another woman said to her mother. “The gift last year was only five.”
“I had thought her beyond choosing,” her mother agreed.
“I remember one year where a girl of twelve was given,” the first woman said. “Very strange.”
“The shadows want what they want,” the girl said simply. Everybody in the room visibly tensed, but she didn’t care. Today, she was beyond reproach. Today, they wanted her.
The women walked with her out past her house, and she took a moment to lay a hand on the doorframe of the cottage that had been her home for the nine years of her life.
“Don’t,” one of the women said sharply. “There’s no point.” The girl nodded and let her hand slip away, let herself be led down the long path to the woods. I will not be afraid.
“When we’re there, just walk forwards, child,” somebody said- as though she didn’t know, as though she hadn’t seen it time and time before. “Just walk forwards. Don’t remove the blindfold.”
“I won’t,” she answered. There was no more speaking after that.
As the forest deepened, she became aware of the others walking alongside them. There was nothing written that insisted the villagers attend the giving, but people came all the same. The sticks crunched under her thin white slippers as she walked. I will not be afraid.
After an hour or so of travelling, they arrived. The people of the village formed a wide circle in the clearing, and she stood at the edge. Somebody came forwards, the blindfold cradled in their hands, and her mother knotted it around her eyes. It was too tight, digging into her skin, but she didn’t comment.
4. The gift must not see, but she may hear.
There was a gentle push on her back, and then all touch left her. She took one footstep towards the centre, and then another. The bells chimed with every movement, filling the air with the discord of a hundred bells, a thousand, clanking together and making a noise that always seemed to be carried on the air afterwards, that could still be heard weeks after the gift had been given if you listened hard enough.
Another footstep. Another. She felt the hard lump of a bell underneath her foot, torn from a dress a year or ten years or a hundred years ago. Nobody knew how long it had been since the first gift- nobody had been alive in a time when there were none given. Nobody knew where the writings had come from, just that they were there, and they were to be followed.
5. If these conditions are upheld, then the people of the village shall remain safe.
Another footstep. Another. Wind began to rustle the edge of her dress, the bells chiming even when she was still. There was no wind anywhere in the village; she had never known the sensation. The strangeness of the air moving towards her stilled her for a second, before she took another step. More air now, whistling faster and faster. Another footstep. Nine. Ten.
She stopped and tilted her head back, hands open by her sides, breathing quick and shallow and terrified. I will not be afraid.
She waited. She had seen it before, nine times now. First the wind came and then the shadows descended, wrapping around the gift until they shrouded her from view completely. She refused to think about what came afterwards.
Something icy brushed against her cheek, and she flinched. Sharpness bit into the bare skin at the back of her calf, and she felt her own hot blood trickle down her leg. She remembered how it felt to stand in the circle and hear the tortured screams, and she bit back a cry. I will not be afraid.
But there was no more pain. She waited, but there was no more pain. The wind stopped.
Open your eyes.
The thought was in her head, but it was not hers.
Open your eyes.
I can’t, she thought. They told me not to.
We tell you to. Open your eyes.
She opened them, but saw nothing but the blackness of her blindfold.
You are still blinded. Open your eyes.
Slowly, uncertainly, she raised a hand to the tied bow at the back of her head. Usually the screaming had started by now. Closing her eyes again, she pulled, and the blindfold fell from her face.
Good. Open your eyes.
Why? she thought desperately.
So that we will see. Open your eyes.
But it is written-
Youngling, who do you think made the writings? Open your eyes.
If you made them, then why do they say that I must not? she pleaded. To go against the writings was not thinkable.
Because only a certain person may, and we had to search. Your rituals are only the first step. We have been searching for so, so long.
She didn’t have to see to know that the people in the circle were stirring uncomfortably. The shadows were presumably still cloaking her, hiding her from view, but she was silent. Nobody ever managed to stay silent.
Others were not worthy of us. We searched inside them and we did not find and so we burst the cells in their body, clawed the marrow from their bones, melted their eyes from their heads. They were not worthy. Open your eyes.
Are you afraid?
I am not. This was the truth.
Then show us.
She opened her eyes.
For a moment, she saw nothing. Before she could move, before her heart could beat, the blackness flew towards her. The shadows drove their way in, thrashing as they slid through the cracks around her eyes, and when she tried to close the lids it was like pushing them against blades. The girl dropped to her knees, clutching at the pain and pressure building in her head, but still the darkness twisted its way into the sockets and her body and her mind, entwining with her nerves, her muscles, shadows dissolving into blood and water.
When her head finally rose, the gloom that had shielded her from sight had cleared. She could see the people staring in disbelief, in confusion, in fear. They all remained silent, ever so silent, but she didn’t need to listen now. Now, she could see.
The wind played lightly with the girl’s hair, teasing it. Somebody tried to run. She raised a hand and it began. It went on and on and all throughout, the bells chimed, their harmonies accenting every snap of twig and crack of bone long after she stopped being able to tell the difference.
Prologue to something I’m working on. It’s a pretty rough draft, but here it is:
All he knows about the drug is its name, and even that’s uncertain. His dealer called it Angel, but it seems like everybody’s got a different word for it; he’s heard everything from Wings through to Curse. The entire thing is rumour, a shimmering ball of ‘they say’ and ‘my friend’ and ‘I heard’ that somehow coalesces into what can be considered fact. Matt’s here to inject it into his veins and see where it takes him.
The staircase is narrow and twisting, carpet scuffed underfoot with stains he prefers not to think too much about. It’s cold outside, but even colder in. The stairs take him up to a corridor and he counts four closed doors on his right, four closed doors on his left. The walls are bare and one of the lights is flickering, a constant irritation that he can’t stop noticing. Matt looks back at the stairs and thinks about leaving.
“Shit!” Matt jolts. “Didn’t see you there,” he says, shame-faced, as he turns around.
The woman smiles at him. “No, you wouldn’t have. Follow me.” She turns and walks, opening the third door on her right. Matt hesitates for a second before he follows.
“Wait here. I’ll be in soon.” The woman shuts the door and leaves Matt to take in his surroundings.
There are no windows, and the only door is the one he entered through. The space is small, but every single inch of floor, wall and ceiling is covered in red and black. Most of it’s random scribbles and splodges, but mixed in are drawings that range from scribbled stickmen through to scenes so stunning he has to check they aren’t separate pictures hung on the wall. There’s writing, in English he understands and in languages he doesn’t, and every now and again there are strings of symbols that don’t even look like a language.
Across the ceiling, somebody has painted an angel. It’s the kind of thing that belongs in a chapel, a tranquil woman with flowing robes and huge, intricately detailed wings. Across it, somebody has scrawled ‘ANGEL IS A STATE OF MIND’. Matt finds himself reading the words over and over again without really knowing why.
“Okay,” the woman says. Matt didn’t hear the door open and he didn’t hear it shut, but there she stands, the door closed behind her. “It’s your first time.”
“Yes,” he says, before realising it hadn’t really been a question. The woman is idly twirling a syringe between her fingers, long red nails stroking the glass.
There’s a chair in front of him. It’s a pretty basic affair, like it’s holding together through force of habit more than anything else, but it’s still a chair. There was no furniture when he entered the room. Matt’s suddenly not so sure he wants to go through with this.
“Sit,” the woman says again. Matt finds himself sitting before he can think about the action. Her smile returns, bright white teeth bared.
“Good,” she says. “Take off your jacket.”
He shrugs it off and lets it fall to the floor. Matt’s done his fair share of drugs before, and he’s getting pissed off at himself for freaking out. Strange things are happening, sure, but isn’t that what he wanted? If anything, he should be excited.
It’s even colder in this room. Matt wants his jacket back.
His veins are already showing when the woman ties a dirty white string around his bicep. Matt watches her do it, thinkinghow out of place she looks- all expensive clothes and immaculate makeup, a businesswoman standing in a slum. She taps at one of Matt’s veins until it’s nearly bursting through his skin.
“The door is locked,” she informs him as she lines the needle up. “I’ll return in four hours to let you out. That should be enough time.”
Enough time for what? Before Matt can ask, she presses down the plunger in one smooth movement and the needle empties itself into him. Matt doesn’t see what she does with the syringe, but it’s not in her hand when he looks up.
“Stand up,” she says. Shakily, he does.
“How long until it kicks in?” he asks. Matt’s mind is playing tricks on him; he keeps imagining he can feel the drug moving inside of him. It feels hot.
“Soon,” the woman tells him. “I’ll see you later.”
“Wait,” he says suddenly. He’s damn sure he canfeel the drug now, the heat of it spreading to tickle his fingers and flood his chest.
“What if I want to leave earlier?” Matt says, and it comes out as a gasp.
“Yes,” she smiles, “you probably will.”
Matt closes his eyes and when he opens them, the chair is gone. The woman is gone. His blood is boiling, so hot he wants to plunge himself into a bath of ice, so painful he wants to tear his skin off and drain himself dry. Matt starts to scream but the sound cuts to choking noises in his throat. He’s on the floor without remembering falling, on his back without remembering twisting over. He writhes in agony, still trying his hardest to scream as he stares up at the ceiling. The angel’s serene face splits into two, four, eight as he looks up at it and it looks down at him, and he thinks that it might be laughing.