By Kristian H.
I didn’t ask to be reincarnated here. Did you?
The line stands to attention, military in perfection.
I didn’t ask to be formed this way. Did you?
I didn’t ask for any of this.
Ice-cold clicking and the shuffling of lifted shoulders.
The sun above us blackens.
. . I’m n o t . . –
I know when things aren’t okay from the tone. The tense shoulders. The angle of his chin.
I think of countless other times when his demeanor shaped itself differently.
We used to meet under wispy clouds in smoke-bled twilights, the pollution of the street lamps warring against the whispering stars.
The tiniest moments can last forever.
Puff, pass, walk. Vans scratching on the sidewalk, cracked and tread for years by warlocks who made a brotherhood pact so many years ago. A pact to spread the visions of space, of otherworlds, of darkness. A pact to always stand at each others’ backs.
So many days, back when we’d sealed our pact, All I could see was blackness. Endless, blinding oblivion with nothing to form a shape.
The only shapes I saw in my head were fortress ruins and dark pools of blood. Red here, and black out there. Red and black, no friends but—
“Ah, he’s cute!” I looked at the photo of the black and white dog, imagining his white patches stained with delicious blood as I looked into the happy darkness of his eyes.
Funny how so little—yet so much—can come through a piece of photo paper or a message on a screen.
Eventually we closed the photo album, setting it beside the Icons on the desk. Mary with the bleeding cut on her cheek that no one could explain. The Good Shepherd.
Jack was a good dog. He’d have helped the shepherd.
“Wanna put a record on before we start the dye?” I asked while Morgan stirred five different shades of orange, red, and purple.
“No one ever defended me,” he said.
So you learned how to defend yourself, I finished silently, already knowing.
“I don’t need anyone to. I’m used to it,” his words confirmed.
But I knew the angle of that chin. That low tone. Those tired shoulders.
Endless separation that I feared would never end.
Opposition. Secrecy. A sepulchral world all our own that no one else dared to touch—but maybe we could give the world just a taste of it.
“Why don’t we just do it? Just . . . start our own magazine? Something for people like us where we can just publish things we like?”
A splinter of the world we experienced inside ourselves, tenuously bridging the chasm between our nature and the world around us . . . My vans scuffed the warm pavement while we walked. The breeze, cooler than I’d once been used to, stirred and whispered around the sweat at the back of my neck.
“You know, fuck it. Why not?”
Fake names. Fake identities. Fake conversations, forced, forced, forced . . . until the divorce. I was there to stand by him if necessary, in a side room with the door closed while he finally saw it through to the end. My best friend in the world felt like a dark god, a draconic version of the boy I’d grown to love.
He finished his work, and I finished mine. I’d left rape and death threats in my past, the feeling of hands lingering around my throat and the sound of the drill above my eye still whirring the language of PTSD. He left things I will not name.
We left everything behind as best we could, even though it clawed and tore at us both. Every memory clung to my organs and my limbs even as I mingled my belongings with his, the pitch-black echoes of our pasts dragging us both.
The same voice that has been present in me since childhood still kept talking. Telling me that the blackness’ welcoming coolness would be a reprieve, even while the logical part of my mind recognized the chemicals in action.
The meds weren’t enough.
Nothing that used to be strong enough to help, was anymore.
Nothing that changed went in the direction we expected.
Every day, a new black dawn.
Every week, a new set of overwhelming tasks barely done in time.
Every month, a new set of demands and chains yanking at our rack-stretched hours and sanity.
Every moment, the voice still slithering its messages to me with its broken, twisted tongue.
I shook my head.
“What do you . . . think of this one for the next issue?”
“I don’t know. I think it’s good. I can’t read it again.”
His relatives were from there.
Almost every holiday, we have something from the big cookbook. Some of his Baba’s recipes are in there. I wish I could have met her and Dido.
I wish we hadn’t had to stand there crying with his mother while we took turns saying our goodbyes to his grandma in the casket.
I wish we hadn’t had to stay awake at night in fear of a vengeful break-in.
I wish we hadn’t had to exchange sunset-facing stories about the family dog after his dad had had to bury him facing the sunrise that morning on his birthday.
I wish his dad hadn’t gotten sick.
I wish we could have had peace after finally having solitude together. I want things to get better.
“I’m so sick of this hanging over my head. I mean, this was supposed to be something to help people, but . . . I just feel like it’s a failure.”
I scuffed anxiously at the rug, unable to keep my leg still. The pit in my stomach screamed once again. It takes so much energy to just keep soldiering on ourselves these days—little is left for altruistic feelings.
“Yeah . . . Well, at least the longer we take, the longer those links will be up on the front page. So hopefully, the more people will donate to help in the Ukraine.”
I know that twitch in his chin. That rigidness in his shoulders.
“I guess. Maybe.”
Looking at the thing we’d created together now felt like a weight, a blackness dragging me backwards with that moaning siren’s call. The lights flickered.
I wanted things to get better.
“We’re gonna make things better. I finally got that flash stuff done.”
“Good. We will get this thing out there, damn it.”
I scraped and dragged my hands across the keyboard, struggling to complete edits that would once have been invigorating. No—something about it was invigorating—something about finally working once again on a project that was ours.
It was ours. Mine and my partner’s. Something we created together.
The excitement I could still remember feeling when I first created our logo and imported it to the website had become a hollow, aching pang now. It was an act of desperation to seek out a moment, some afternoon, when I could work on edits or check the inbox.
Everything else from one day to the next was an eternal loop of last-ditch efforts to climb back up the primordial sinkhole of losses and aftermaths, coping mechanisms and spirals, and the glitchbeat ticking of a broken brain.
The voices still hadn’t shut up. The blackness had never stopped wailing its song . . . no matter how many pills I took . . . and no matter how well I’d stitched the gash in my leg with a sewing needle and a promise, making sutures so clean that the doctor called student nurses in to look at them as an example.
But still, I edited.
I’ve gotten used to never having silence.
Meanwhile, bombs. Automatic gunfire. Sirens. Splattered across the face of this prison planet, the war machine keeps turning—manufacturing problems so much bigger than my own.
I never forgot about them. I never forgot what we set out to do. I never forgot that, if nothing else, we still had our project together. I never stopped clinging to it, painting it in my mind as a symbol of the hope that we’d claw together the energy to work as a team and create things again.
We held each other.
“You’re all I have.”
“You’re all I have.”
We got stronger lightbulbs, less prone to flickering. So now the turntable and computers glitch instead when our darkness comes rolling in swells like a frigid, cosmic sea.
I used to be an artist, but now I am a monster.
At least I have my Morgan, even when we’re too exhausted to create. Selfish of me, perhaps, but I am grateful for what I have even while I still suffer, and others suffer a thousandfold more.
Do you have nightmares too?
Do you know what it’s like?
How it feels to take your last bit of energy and put it into something special, something you created with your twin flame to stand by others in strife, only to have it ripped to shreds over nothing?
It’s gotten bad. The voice screeches like the throes of a dying star when it comes, screaming that my life is over.
I know it isn’t, but the sick, celestial wails do not come crashing down on deaf ears.
The fucking voices from the living internet don’t need to be there, too . . . but they have been.
They’re so loud.
Meds are now a battle that leaves me with starvation and tremors.
“I wish I could fix it, Morgan.”
His eyes were wide as he shook his head.
“You can’t. It’s . . . you just can’t.”
I picked at my food under the red booth overheads.
Our lives were supposed to be easier this year. Our next issue was supposed to be better than the last. It hasn’t been yet.
And why hasn’t it? First, from the steady hammer blows of our lives—those simply were what they were.
But after finally dragging our own corpses back up, forcing together the motivation to write and edit again, the blows that came should have been avoidable.
A witch hunt, a witch hunt!
Everyone loves a witch hunt!
Inboxes of hate flooded and spilled over.
No one should attack unprovoked without knowing what their target is going through.
I used to live on the fourth floor in Amsterdam. Did you?
No one should shit on someone coming out of the closet.
No one should try to run someone out of a digital town when they wanted to create a platform for victims of a war machine.
We used to live in the space port of Amsterdam. You didn’t.
No one should tell my partner and I to kill ourselves.
No one should lie about us.
Anyone who does shall choke on their lies.
Anyone who does shall never see the sun again.
And I will never touch you.
The moon above us dims as the starlike lights brighten in the hollow sky.
Sometimes witch-hunters find a brotherhood of warlocks who know how to fight.
About this piece:
While I think this story should speak for itself, I want to add one last bit of commentary.
Never attack someone without knowing what the fuck is actually going on. In fact, take a step back before you tap your screen and ask yourself what you’re really trying to gain by attacking someone at all.
You probably won’t get it.
And the cost of your impact could be severe if you rip into someone who’s had a wretched year. Imagine everything I wrote here. Imagine that it was you or your partner, your loved one . . . your family.
Since I’ve seen so many fans of the word “disgusting,” I’ll go ahead and get in on the party myself: What disgusts me is the number of people who will go after someone without knowing jack shit about them, and the number of people who will stand silently on the sidelines and watch it happen.
We’ve stood by each other, addressed the problems, and refuted any bullshit claims.
But we’re done now. People tried to tear down a pair of individuals who were trying to do something fruitful, both for themselves and for others.
So we’re going to continue doing that instead of wasting time on tangents of negativity and hate. Say something nasty, and you’ll get blocked. It’s time to move on.
We’re all on the same prison planet. I don’t know about you, but we’re going to continue making our home in Hell by moving on to better things despite those who have tried to drive us down. We will share stories. We will support other authors and artists. We will never stop.
But those driven by mindless hate will.