The first denial the young prince had ever received was, “Don’t open the door to the dungeons”. So unsurprisingly, the first thing the prince did when opportunity presented itself, the universe’s way of saying ‘teehee’, was to insert and turn a key. But to do so, the pampered royal rascal had to elude his caretaker’s ever-watchful gaze, a retired military scout once known as The Cat in part due to her sharp senses, and even now she retains that title, but only because she enjoys taking catnaps in her rocking chair.
Rain pours from clouds like malt whiskey, except it’s water. This is my city. Neo Noir Dark Noir City. It’s always been this way, and it will never stop raining. How did I, DICK HARDBOILED, end up here? That’s the thing: I’ve never left or known anything else. My office is gray and glum and I call it home. I haven’t cleaned this place in 36 years. Hard to believe I’m almost 37. Time goes fast, chain-smoking, crime-fighting, narrating a neo-noir story.
Adien is going to lie here for a while.
“No” says their body, to the choice of movement, as if mind and body had at no point ever been a uniform gestalt but operated as two incompatible partners. One is loud and ostentatious and needs everything to go a certain way, scared of chance, possibility, the unfactored, fate, used to being anchored to the self but never sharing ship with others, the other has been guised in independence through repertoire and repetition, reacting heavily and badly to authority, resistance is the only way for existence, often forgetting a reality outside of hardship. It is hard to remember this in such a deep dark sea, but, really, no core constituents – the building blocks of a life we might refer to them as – consist, federationally, of solely bad blocks, but these ‘good cubes’ might be hard to observe, obscured by that which is loud and ostentatious, and this dingy duo are starring in a comedy heist film together.
An astute reader who refuses to be content with only two similes might ask about the mind’s response, or how the spirit reacts, or how the will feels, but in this case, and the body is a case, as it is a shy prison for these would-be rebels, the body has the upper hand – it has hands! – and so because the body refuses, until recharged by some lovely interaction within life or a fulfilled promise of sleep, there is no intervention adequate enough to move it; the mind stays quiet and genuflects, even though it wants to scream.
Adien’s mind wanders and get lost. When the mind senses that life is ending, some believe the brain is a parasite that needs to preserve its host from danger, information is processed at a rapid pace, as if being more real for just a moment will help deter death. Adien skips this step, however. They have a lot going on right now.
Their phone vibrates, not because of a phonecall, perhaps a text message or mail, because that’s just one ‘bzz’, this was definitely two, so probably a clicker game notifcation. It’s rather disassociative, going into the minutiae of vibration settings of various phone applications to effectively explain away any reason someone might have to contact you (no one needs any reason to do so — actually, that’s phrased wrongly: everyone has no real reason for contacting you, yet do so anyway). They remain motionless, tenser than before, not even bothering to check if their phone is in a pants or a vest pocket, stuck inside of a bed that is by no means comfortable enough to warrant such a long-winded lie-down, a chiropractor might have to be called again once things settle down, when they become managable, become describable, quantifiable, though a magic 8-ball might have to say ‘Outlook not so good’ about the current situation — there is nothing ‘magical’ about this, you coward liar ball. So for now, they’re going to keep lying here for a while.
The giants wading through the sea don’t seem to notice Adien. Adien remembers the fairytales – best stay quiet.
That’s a relief. Hey, we good? That’s Adien to their body. Though their relation has never been amicable or agreeable, really, in fact their body has been historically recalcitrant in that it never is what Adien wants it — themself — to be. But as they both need each other, a makeshift contract of alliance is drafted, no quilled ink on paper but more of a quiet nod in candlelit studies, hopefully more can come out of this.
The giants shuffle in place, waist and torso rising high above sea level and into a mocking formation of clouds. What do they look like? Can they even see me? Do they care? Adien wonders why that is – are they like theatrical spotlights, only taking note of what is important to the stage, what a rude implication!, might it be simple noise that attracts them, or perhaps they are so attuned to the atmosphere that their sensory system, or sense of guardianship, extends to any molecule of air and stirring these tiny twins in unnatural way, for example with a sigh leaving the body after hearing unexpected bad news or a phone going off because a clicker game updated, is what triggers a reaction. Thankfully, Adien’s pants or vest muffled it enough to stay undetected. It’s not any of these things. Adien is just very good at making themself panic.
The bed continues to float through an ocean of endless purpure, a particular tincture of purple found on heraldries, but that bears no relevance to the water’s hue, it’s simply a descriptor, gently lifted from its specific meaning to mean ‘nice shade of purple’. Sorry. Adien has their eyes wide open, their breaths are heavy and long, lungs expanding and deflating like slow bellows against a furnace, forging the steel rings and hooks that keep you tethered and a metal frame that carries you into tomorrows per every daybreak.
The metal raft moves between the legs of a giant, two pillars rising from unseen depths, the foundation to something to be feared by way of its mystery. Humour can be a good way to cope with the surreal and the incomprehensible, but it murks your relationship to these very things, a lake becomes a swamp, you cannot be sincere with yourself anymore, do not confuse comedy with cowardice. Adien wants to joke and say “hi there”, but honestly anything this large, while not inherently violent or predatious, is inherently capable of applying more force (F = ma, after all, and inferring its size it must have got a lot of m). Realising this, they shut up before even saying anything, the quiet is self-preservation, their body silent and their mind sirens, we can feel so loud while staying our bodies perfectly still, together a paradoxical stealth.
The giant moves one of its legs, covered in barnacles and sheets of crackling or overhydrated skin. It’s wearing a loincloth, by the way, to dispel any rude descriptions you were fearing (hoping for?). The leg hits the side of the bed – not rapidly or forcibly, but as slowly and controlled as the waves that had been deciding Adien’s atlantic journey. Still, Adien and their bed-vessel are launched farther across the purple sea, a meaningless description, because without a landmass to decide its boundaries with, they are no relative position closer to salvation or doom than they were before. Adien can see the giant’s reaction and begins to count their blessings. Welp, might as well, they think as they check their phone.
The text, and it was a text, Adien was wrong, you see, but that’s fine, they have a lot going on right now, it says “im sorry”. Ah, at least I have reception out here. The giant bends down. It takes a while for it to complete this motion. Its face is angelic in a luciferian way: marble covered in grime. Adien is sitting upright in a lotus position on their bed, spine cracking in a nasty-sounding liberation. They then have a conversation with the giant, carrying words back and forth.
“Hello.” “Hi.” “We thought you were dead.” “I was pretending to be.” “A very serious matter.” “Will you not kill me?” “What an oddly-phrased question. It is almost like a request.” “Well, it’s complicated.” “What were you checking on that device?” “Someone I considered close sent me a message. They apologise.” “Oh?” “They kicked me out of our home, and now I’m on a bed in a strange ocean.” “Whyever for?” “I wish I knew why. It felt like the end of the world, I was paralysed with the heaviest emotions. But I have to reply to their text; any relationship is worth holding on to, I think.” “No, you simply wish they were. We know it is as important to let go as it is to preserve. Either decision should not be taken lightly.” “I wish I could do that. Stop lying to myself, for myself.”
“I will help you write a response.” “Are you an expert on resolving things over text? A textpert?” “…Yes.” “Cool.” “But I do not believe forgiveness is necessary here.” “Well, having a home is a thing. They’re my roommate and right now I am an atlantic vagrant, as it were.” “Time heals all wounds.” “Sure, but memory is the autopsy report.”
“What the mind remembers mustn’t stagnate the body. With other people, what the mind remembers can be blinded by the bright reflection of a coin that is really a forgery – a past worth going back to. We must be brave to face what is beside us, if only for a moment, clear the clouds, to see there is always a starlit sky beyond current hardships.”
“You are very wise for someone with their head in the clouds.”
Perhaps what follows is scarier than the initial panic Adien invented (but: a mental machination is no less real than the machines outside your body, so don’t blame yourself for faltering, instead give yourself a little pat on the back inbetween these conflictive moments). The giant’s fallen face crumbles into a smile, and they proceed to pick up our waterlorn hero. Adien is lifted upwards, like cherished porcelain, into the clouds, every fluffy drop pressed gently onto their skin, until they emerge beyond. The other giants out in the sea are on their phones, some calling, some listening to music, some tapping away at a clicker game. Adien is placed upon the shoulder of the big friendly one and takes a deep breath.
The text reads, so formal: “I’m sorry, too, for whatever it is I did to you. I’m sure it feels real and feels read bad for you, and your feelings are valid. I admit, I’m not great. Still, sorry isn’t enough for either of us here. We’re not good at being friends. So, yeah, bye. Don’t expect me to answer your calls.” Sent. Read. No reply.
“Hey, so. Um. I’m Adien. Can I stay with you for a while, up here?”
The sounds of birds filled the mountains.
A flock of choughs flew close beneath the lingering pearl clouds. Amidst the blues, greens, and grays of the mountains, their black feathers stood out. Through the intricate workings of colour theory and superstition, they were considered omens to the many tiny towns scattered about the craggy hills. It mattered if they had yellow or red beaks, but which bird-bill belonged to which end of the moral spectrum went back-and-forth between villages like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.
A young boy looked up at the birds, focusing on them with all his might. His face was simultaneously soft and fierce, a testament to how he is and how he has to be. The birds looked just like moving holes, punch card-patterns migrating from fluffy cumulus to the next. They left no tearing, they only moved. It made him smile, the widest he’d ever.
Please, come down here. Help me out.
He followed their trail until the group reached the pantone-blue sky, when they became harder to track. And then the pain became too much to ignore. Colour theory did not do him any favours, the red flowing from where he was struck flattered his olive skin none. Stunned, dazed, and even with twice the usual amount of legs, the boy struggled to regain his balance. Blood oozed from the wound above his eye, blurring his vision
“So, Hyla, had enough yet?”
Kokran’s voice was sharp, precise, surgical, a knife slathered in venomous words. It got under Hyla’s skin – the merest drop filled his heart with panic and resignation. Earthquakes screamed in his chest, his heart the epicentre, the aftershocks fell to his toes, shook the tears out of his eyes. But in an earthquake, he was trapped. He stood his ground, unstable as it may be. He refused Kokran’s question, no less dangerous than a cup of poison. Taking it would not make the pain stop, drinking in the false promise wouldn’t save him. Saying yes wouldn’t amount to anything – time had taught him this again and again. So instead, Hyla kept to silence. He’d lost sight of the birds, but he craned his neck up high.
Take your blade and cut it. You want me dead, well here you go.
Kokran looked back at his friends, insecurity in his steel eyes, his hate wavering for just a moment by this beautiful surrender. The group reminded him how much depended on his bravado, so he pulled at Hyla’s white hairs, forcing him to make eye-contact.
“When I ask you a question, you answer me, monster.”
Hyla could not hold back the tears any longer. His vision was yanked from the sky. Kokran’s stare was angry, cruel, disgusted; an expression burned into Hyla’s memory from merely living in the village. The same superstition that gave meaning to the beaks of birds, turned Hyla into something to be feared, and if possible, destroyed. It horrified him. He tried to wrestle free, but Kokran’s gripped his scalp tightly.
“You can’t leave yet. I’m not done with you.”
Kokran’s words cut through Hyla like a hot knife through butter. The white clouds had turned into gray, and in the length of a single sentence a light drizzle became a downpour.
Even the weather hates me. Hyla. Hyla he can’t hurt you any more than he already has. He’s tried but he can’t. He can’t. He can’t he can’t he can’t he can’t he can’t
A scream filled the air, and to everyone’s surprise it wasn’t Hyla’s. Kokran lay at his feet, convulsing in pain with two clear hoof prints in his back. Hyla raised his head, hopefully, and the widest smile returned to his face.
“You fucking, absolute pieces of goddamn garbage.”
Mom’s voice was as delicate as a detuned piano in a shipwreck, but it was the best music in Hyla’s life. Kokran’s friends were already running away – cowards and bystanders fleeing at the littlest resistance. Kokran himself was crawling on hands and knees to get away already.
“Y…you could’ve killed me!”
Mom shrugged. “And I’m sad I didn’t, you little shit. You bully and abuse someone and you’re surprised you get back what you serve? Hurts, don’t it? Maybe pay some attention in school instead of picking someone who won’t fight back, idiot.”
Kokran locked eyes with Hyla as he made his theatrically comedic escape. His eyes had stopped hiding the fear and ignorance that fuelled his hate.
“You’re a monster! Why don’t you just leave! No one wants you here!”
Hyla took in a breath so big it felt like he sucked in the sky itself. “I’M NOT A MONSTER! YOU ARE!”
The centaur collapsed, his legs folded unnaturally under his body. He began to cry again, his sobs amplified when his mother knelt down to embrace him. She always did this. And she’d always say sorry, because there was an ‘always’ at all. And she’d cry along with him, cursing all the time. He was glad he knew better than to take over her potty mouth.
“Let me look at you. Shit, that cut looks bad. Let’s wash it at home. Oh, your shirt is all dirty and torn. They didn’t do anything to your binder, did they? I’m going to have to fix that shoe. Oh Hylaeus, my sweet Hylaeus, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Hyla wiped away the snot and tears and stood up with wobbly, unsure motions, as if to reassure his mother. “No, I’m fine. I’m fine. It could have been worse.” It was the least reassuring thing he could have said, but it was all he could say.
“Mom, do I deserve love?”
His mother embraced him even harder, the closest she’d ever, so much it became an effort to breathe. “You feeling this, Hylaeus? This is how much I love you.” She failed to control the tremor in her voice. “This is how much the world ought to love you. But the world is full of fucking idiots who are scared and don’t want to learn. I know the pain of feeling like an outcast. That’s why you remember this hug, alright? That’s how much you’re loved. That’s how much I care about you. That’s how much everyone in your life cares about you. Survive the fuckers who don’t care about you. Make them eat shit.”
He’d heard this all before, of course. But in the rain, in the mud, in that hug, it hit home how true it was. He finally saw the depths of her affection for him, learned exactly how people could have the capacity to love him. Here is a woman who’d survived a war as a girl, who took up residence in a village full of old enemies. She’d seen death, she’d grown through pain, she’d fought back against a world that did not understand her, and somehow emerged on the other side. Perhaps she hadn’t emerged victorious, but she emerged stronger, and made those who suffered around her stronger.
“Am I a monster?” Even though he’d just yelled otherwise, Kokran’s poison managed to creep into his heart. It was repeated in his head, repeated in his own voice, repeated as if he were the one saying it. But, he held on to this belief as tightly as his mother held him: these were not his words. It was not his voice. It was Kokran who got under his skin. A hate wanted to destroy him, so the most he wanted to do is live. His mother kissed his white hair and twirled some in her fingers.
“’Course not, don’t be an ass. You’re my son, and I love you. You’re a goddamn person and I love you for that. Anyone who doesn’t is a fool who shits from their mouth instead of their ass.”
Hyla burst out laughing at this. He wanted to make a ‘potty mouth’ joke in response to this, but kept to silence. Grabbing his mother’s hand the tightest he’d ever, he looked up at the sky again – two birds flew side by side. One yellow beak, one red beak.
“Come on. Let’s go home.”
“Ugh, pesky tail. You make putting on bloomers unnecessarily difficult!”
“Any chance you want me helping with that one?”
“Wh…?! I, um, can do this by myself, thank you! What are you doing here!”
“This is the dressing room. Was going to grab my gloves before working on the roof, need to replace rooflights. Then I saw you struggling with your, underpants.”
Candice stays quiet, completely still, her tail awkwardly sticking out. She’s halfway through her maid uniform, still missing her lace headdress and tights. “…Please, look away. This is so embarrassing,” she not so much requests as whimpers. The impossible softness of her raspy voice reminds me of the bigger picture, of the fact I walked in on her changing and offered to… help with that. A great deep red broadcasts on my face and I swivel around like a weather vane at wind force 12. The sounds of fabric and frustration poke my ears from behind and it makes me want to turn around again.
Everything about Candice fascinates me – ever since I’ve started working here, I’ve been trying to sneak as many looks in as I could. Her sand-coloured skin, the pink nail polish on her claws, the way her red scales outline her face… This one time while I was cleaning windows, I saw her cleaning the master’s study, a waltz crooning from an old gramophone, and she kept doing these twirls, ‘pirhouettes’ I think the word is? The frills of her dress extended and her tail waving like a conductor’s baton in perfect sync to the fancy music, tip-toeing on her big scaley feet. She’s so… CUTE! I HATE IT!!!
“You can turn around again.” I do. “Sorry about that…”
“Nah, I should be saying sorry. I kept on staring at you like some fancy painting, after all.”
She covers her mouth with a hand, breaking eye contact. “I don’t mind.”
“WELL,” I pluck at my overalls. “Time for work. Good luck cleaning, I’ll be on the roof if you need me!”
Armand is calling; he always does this when it’s time for a break. Pristine young man he is, barely 18, doesn’t want me working too hard; there’s worse masters to work for. “Time for my break?” “Yes, actually,” his voice cracks and he coughs into his gloved hand real fast to try and cover it up. “But I also wanted to impart some advice.” I let out a heh, I’m one and a half times his age and served almost as many years, so for him to give me advice is cute. I hop off the roof and zip open my overalls – it is hot out. “So?” He hestitantly pats some sawdust off my arm and hands me a towel. “Just that you’ll have to look a lot less slovenly to win her over.” I freeze, zipping my clothes back up. “That obvious, huh? Isn’t against the rules, is it?” “Not really. I met my boyfriend here, too. The butler?” “You and Antoin? Huh. That’s nice, way to go.” He blushes and fidgets with his gloves. “Ahem. This is about you. Just wanted you to know that you should follow your heart but should also take a bath.” “You oughta give me less dirty tasks, then.” “No can do. You’re indispensible,” he brights a full-teethed ivory smile.
“She’s in the study right now. Stop walking around with your heart full of leads and talk to her. Good luck~.”
“Oh hello,” Candice beams with smiles, “are you finished with work already?”
“Nah, I’m here ‘cause Armand sent me on another task.”
“Armand…? Oh, the master of the house. You’re always so congenial with everyone! And… you’re always so nice to me. Even though I don’t fit in well with the other staff.” The motion she makes with her tail and how she clutches her duster is nothing short of a tragedy.
“What makes you say that?”
I know what did – I just wanted to hear her say it. But instead of the expected ‘I’m not human’, she makes an annoyed wave of a gesture – like a tsunami – at the scales on her neck and face.
I close the distance between us with a winter march. “Listen, Candice. I think, that’s really great.” She bats her tall eyelashes at me. “What is?” “I THINK YOUR TAIL AND OTHER STUFF IS CUTE.”
“My… other stuff…?”
I don’t know why I yelled that, I don’t know what to call this silence, I don’t know what to expect. I take a look at myself and Armand’s words ring through my head like nearby artillery, specifically the ‘less slovenly’ part. “I’m sorry. You’re so pretty and beautiful. Then I’m like this and I’m real sorry, Candice.” That’s all I can muster to utter.
I feel leathery hand stroke my cheek. “I would wipe your tears away, but I would poke out your eye.”
“Heh. Hehe. Ehehehe. Okay, that’s funny.”
“I think you’re very cute, too. I love how you look in overalls and that grime on your face is, well, it’s quite like make-up, isn’t it? You’re also very, strong, and, um, muscular. And I wouldn’t mind you helping me with my bloomers……..”
“Are you blushing?”
“A bit…” She shakes her head, retrieving her hand from my face. “It’s just. My skin is mostly scales and feels very leathery. Are you sure about this?” I take off a glove: my turn to stroke her cheek.
“You feel this hand? It’s rough and calloused so I think I can handle you. Besides… touching you is a risk I’d like to take.”
Candice suddenly drops her duster, because of heavily implied reasons.
“So, what do you do for a living?”
Um,” you start. “I work from home.” This is always a really embarrassing question. You don’t do much – enough to get by, but you don’t know how to make that sound interesting. You can talk for hours about what you’re interested in, but making yourself the topic of conversation isn’t one of your strong suits. Plus, your nervosity isn’t conducive to optimal dating parameters. Why did they have to be so hot, why did they have to wear a bartender outfit, yells the panic in your head. You already want out – why’d you choose the seat with the back to the door? Why even date at all, oh god oh god oh god
They raise an eyebrow, genuinely interested. “Really? Like web design or something? Oh, are you an artist? That’s so cool!” They make it obscenely obvious that you’re super bad at this so you throw some scalding hot, subpar-yet-too-expensive coffee down your gullet to ward off the anxiety, at least until after it’s over. “I, um, write user reviews. A lot of them. Fake ones. On websites. Sorry that’s not any of the things you said.” Their expression softens from inquisitiveness into a reassurance that they haven’t given up hope yet. “Someone’s gotta do it, right?” is their response and also a sign the conversation is diving headfirst into becoming unsalvagable. Two seconds… A brief smile. Five seconds… they check their phone real quick. Eight seconds… NO! You sit up straight, force a more enervating voice, and go “Haha yep, I’m the one to blame for all those 5-star ratings on stuff that isn’t 5 stars!” Somehow, they start laughing. Well, a chuckle. Still: nice job. “Oh yeah, you’re a real villain, for sure.”
“So, um, what do you do, then?” They’re stirring some sugar into their macchiato but don’t break eye-contact. “I guess I’m sort of an office clerk, a bureaucrat. Basically every problem ends up with me and I have to deal with it. Day in, day out, naive and starry-eyed folks claiming they could do things better come to my stage and I have to remind them that that isn’t how the world works.” “Oh, that sounds super tiresome. Still, it must be very important work.” They sigh, and you know that sigh: it’s the sigh people give when the validity of their complaint has been shoved aside. The end results can be as triumphant and progressive as can be, a shitty job is still a shitty job. “I guess,” the stirring continues, longer than centrifugal forces need to achieve maximum solution. You take another sad sip and give the café a quick scan: it’s nice and rustic. Looks like a cabin. The floor and tables are made of wood and the wallpaper has this neat, red brocade design. There are a few other patrons, who you hope are having an even less successful date than you are, and in this six-second break you take from making things more awkward for yourself, you overhear someone saying “oh that’s a fantastic hobby!”
HOBBIES. “What are some of your hobbies.” They look at you, finally stopping that awful stirring motion. “What?” “Sorry. I mean, what are some of your hobbies?” At this question, they light up. Oh thank god. “I’m interested in a lot of things, but mainly acting. I’m very interested in theatre and love writing plays and scripts. This is kind of dumb, but I kind of really love doing evil speeches when I’m in the shower. Oh, and I design costumes! I’m not wearing one now, but most of the outfits I own are super colourful and lavish and provocative. I do a lot with all kinds of fabric. I sow and knit, too. It’s something to keep me from going crazy, you know?” You were barely able to nod along to the rapid pace with which that was delivered. “That’s so cool. Are you into cosplay?” “Sometimes, but I like making original designs more than just recreating stuff, you know. Do you have any hobbies?” “I like…cough, anime, video games, and memes.” Did you just say cough out loud? They didn’t catch on, though: “No kidding! I get most of my design inspiration from video games. Suikoden, Final Fantasy, their villains always have such fantastic outfits.” You nod along with a passion.
“Yeah yeah yeah, I love video games. Especially the ones with corny and quasi-deep plots. Evil kingdom invades the world, the church was bad all along, that sort of thing.” They smile, oh my god this is going sort of well isn’t it? “I like it when stuff is a bit more mythical, if that makes sense? Like the world has to go through some kind of trial for salvation and if humanity fails everything is reset.” “That sounds familiar.” “Haha, I’m sure. Eschatology is a common trope,” they shift a bit, lean forward, “and a source of inspiration for me.” A blush takes over your face, why did that sound so cool and attractive? You break eye-contact and notice the other patrons are gone and you can’t see any staff. Weird. The café’s wallpaper also appears to be pulsating but that’s probably just nerves.
“Inspiration? Like, you’re into mythology?” They chuckle again. “What? What’d I say?” “Nothing, it’s just funny. Nah, it’s not mythology, it’s more work-related. Even though it’s fiction, video games help me do my job.” “Huh. How’s that work?” “They chronicle exactly what not to do, is all. The hero always takes down the villain because it’s good versus evil, and good is, well, good, so they win. It’s a bit more complex in real life.” Abort. Abort. They’re a creep. Quickly finishing your coffee because this is not how normal people talk, you glance down to check where your bag is, then you can make a run for it. “Haha, I mean. Sure?” You look back up and he is not wearing the bartender outfit he was before. It’s, sleeves. He’s wearing two black, purple-glowing sleeves and the rest of his chest is bare. “Like the heroes, my clients expect that everything will go their way. I remind them that’s not how the world works.” He stands up, and immediately so do you. You turn around to rush out the door but, the door has gone. In its place there is a fog wall.
“Because to change the world, you have to go through me first!”
You slowly turn back again, scared but filled with determination. You can see a health bar floating above their head. Intense and heroic music begins to play out of nowhere. You’re about to finish this.
‘EMBODIMENT OF ESCHATOLOGY’
YOUR SUPER HOT DATE
Oh, young Narcissus, with a face, a body, an idea, a fantasy, a suggestion, a concept, so beautiful and perfect, there was never any doubt that he wouldn’t be yours.
Had there ever been a boy that fluttered more hearts, turned more onlookers into a swan, abandoned together on a frozen lake with feet unsuited for ice and sorrow? Sighs of the birds pleaded for a smile, a caress, or a kiss, he embodied bliss and Narcissus just stood there. On the shore, on the black sands, being himself, being wanted, he did not want this. He refused to look into the lake, the perfect mirror. Narcissus turned around and the hopeless swans were content with the sight he gave them, the slight parting of his lips, as if that was what kissing him is like, a distant thing, a visuality. His eyes were hidden, his lips were full, his skin was dark, his profile was divine, and the way his shirt hugged his chest was exiled to the screams of heretics and the niches of apocrypha; scholars knew that descriptions would bring only delirium.
“We have to stop Narcissus.” That was the idea of a rather malcontented man whose husband had let his gaze wander down Narcissus. His eyes journeyed across his body for forty years and came back with treasure, knowledge, and a longing for more. “Please love me,” did he beg, gods how he begged for the love he assumed was his, but his spouse thought only of Narcissus, a fantasy he’d never let go, happier than his marriage. “I know of a way,” responded a conniver. His skin was pale, his posture unsure, but his wrath was certain. He, too, had seen Narcissus, and he, too, fell in love. But he fell into jealousy as well. What Narcissus has and rejects with frequency, he had never known. “I’m hot and tired,” he imagined Narcissus had said, and it infuriated him to no end. He would break the ice and ruin him. The spouse-lorn man told him to do what he had in mind but never to mention what that was. They, the lonely and the conniver and the dozen swans, were complicit in deicide, for they would remove the masterpiece that is Narcissus, spilling blood on a god’s canvas.
That’s when you were approached. The pale man knew you were new in town, because you hadn’t spoken of Narcissus even once. He was all everyone would talk about – on the marketplace, in the temples of gods not him, in the workshop where you had to wait an extra hour for the lovestruck smith to finish your sickle. “Meet with Narcissus,” he suggested. It was a good suggestion; maybe then you would have something to talk about and maybe then your life would become less lonely. He offered you something to drink and he toasted to new relationships. Then he gave you a stake.
Narcissus sat by the lakeside, bored and unavailable like always. The swans had managed to waddle their way closer to him but began slowing their step – perhaps the distance was exactly what they needed. His black hair shined brightly even in the dead of this moonless night. The mere outline, the very concept of him was enthralling enough to weaken and waver your suffocating intentions. “Are you Narcissus,” you called out, embarrassed. The swans craned their long necks; disgusted at your boldness, the outsider’s impolitic ignorance.
Your hands are quivering. He stands up, the atmosphere thickens as the heavens move farther away to make room for he. He turns around and time slows down. You rush at him, stake thrusting forward. You don’t close your eyes because you don’t know any better, and he stares into them. Intense, ungodly, red. You trip and fall into him, he accepts you with open arms. The impalement doesn’t seem to bother him too much – you missed his heart. He grabs your chin and makes you look at him more. His breath is a mist, your body is lead, he leans forward. Your lips part for his thumb, your neck cranes for his mouth. It hurts, it feels wonderful. Everything has led to this point.
Oh, young Narcissus, with his fingers in your mouth and his teeth in your neck, there was never any doubt that he wouldn’t be yours. But you are his.
An old lady, tiny and accessorised in beautiful ways, pulls her little cart into town. She visits once every month, selling all sorts of sundries and mysterious miscellany and unidentified uniquities. On it is a variety of products and produce, such as a taxonomy’s worth of medicinal herbs, five pieces of a honeycomb, the claws of a bear who, after a life of predation, consented to the removal of his awful nails, and a single egg. As luck and shoddy infrastructure may have it, the cart hits a bump, and the egg does tumble and begins to roll.
It rolls down the cobbled and hobbled street with speeds too incredible for any oviform that small. People leap out of its way in acrobatic antics, the scene perfectly hospitable inside a circus tent. Perhaps they do to preserve the neatness of their clothes or shoes, but this egg is special, its kinetics not only quantifiable with meters-per-second but emotional with purpose, and we all know fear is the progenitive to self-preservation. In its stampede, it crushes innumerous bacteria and viruses, a brutal end, even for these small things that only bring disease and do nothing but feast on the deceased. After all: their malignance and moral repugnance is not a choice but remains a necessity. For what and why? Why ask at all.
The egg continues, thereby orphaning many ants. Their parents had ventured from the stones they call home to collect fallen leaves or their weight in sugar, a valuable luxury for bugs. The young ones had no way of working through the pain and sorrow, their younger siblings still pupating, so they had no choice but to silently mourn and resign to a slow, sugarless death. The pupas themselves would come into existence in a home without family.
A stalwart beetle answered the panicked pleas of the microscopal and the insectoid alike – she is very strong and possesses a virtuous heart. Bravery courses through her body (as opposed to when bravery is confined to just the veins in those unlucky enough to be anything but an arthropod) and she tackles the barraging egg with her recognisable, battle-scarred horns. She catapults it high! What a hero! The bugs cheered (take my word for it that celebration is a thing bugs do) and she was given an extra sugar ration that day.
But back to the egg, now hanging in mid-air, one could call it gliding, its respectable and aerodynamic shape suggests a certain birdliness to it. But gravity trumps all, it keeps us grounded and it makes us existential. It is familiar in the sense we wouldn’t know WHAT to do would it decide to leave us for a greater pursuit beyond our reckoning. Also, what would happen to the egg if gravity simply decided: ‘no thank you’. I believe that’s when the story would end with the following three words: “So long, egg”. Call it ‘ending A’. Now, we press on to ending B.
The egg crashes against a wall two yards away. ‘Strong’ was not a descriptor chosen lightly – words are blood and blood flows freely through her body, hence this relative, bug-astonishing feat. The wall, lacking locomotion but sharing people’s disdain for being dirty, hesitantly opens his eyes. There is no yolk, white, shards, or other holistic components that make up ‘egg’ staining his skin. Instead of the amorphous, scatter-splatter we’d expect, there is a glowing white hole. White, yes, but not related to the egg white, or perhaps it is, but then a special magical quality specific to this egg. The hole, like any hole, has an entrance/exit and depth. It can contain, therefore it is a hole. The townsfolk who had previously ducked for cover are now gathering around this spacetime anomaly (newtonian and euclidean laws run this town, so this is definitely a weird thing).
The sound of physical struggle can be heard from inside this extradimensionality, oviexistentiality. Not a grunt, a cry, or the strained voice of exertion, but like something is being pushed out of soft, rubbery confines (my guess is that fluctuations like these would feel rubbery). Then, unceremoniously, like everything in life, fiction redirects our attention to the seconds of experience and existence we don’t spend a thought on, to the moments we keep missing,
a larger egg plops out.
The old lady, quite tired from running after the egg, gingerly picks up the new, bigger egg and places it on her cart. She turns to the crowd still processing what just transpired, money on her mind, and says in a sweet voice:
“Who would like to buy a very special egg?”
X turns to Y, asking noncommittantly “What do you think is at the end of this path?” Y responds with ‘thpppppt’. By no means is that an acceptable, and it’s kind of rude when said unprompted like that (uttered? Spit? What is the operative verb even?). Y has trouble with conversations, but tries again: “Does it matter?” That’s a more philosophical retort than predicted, but coming from Y it’s more likely to be blunt and touching on nihilism, which, to be fair, is a school of philosophy, but Y is neither teacher not student in it. So X thinks, tilting head and shoulders. Thinking about something can be shown through an askew posture, X thinks, leaning a bit further still, because it helps Y understand: ‘because an answer isn’t ‘straight’forward!’ X returns to an upright position. “I think it does,” a firm retort. “Well, I hate that.”
During the course of this exchange, a rabbit had hopped in front of them. He wears a bangle on either arm and has got most of its body covered with a little vest, bright white, unlike his fur, a fiery orange but on the comfy side of fiery. Imagine and visualise the one known as ‘X’ walking into a victorian-style study: tyrian purple rugs, three walls alligned with bookcases way taller than the portable ladder next to them, maybe some taxidermy but maybe not depending on your disposition towards trophy animals, and a beautiful, expensive fireplace that glows a friendly sunset orange. That kind of orange.
He poses the journeying two a riddle. It’s a really corny one. Yeah, it’s that one, the one every game designer and their mother uses. Game design mom: “Four, two, then three legs. What? What?”. All the mysterious places such as ‘Temple’ and ‘Magic Palace’ and ‘Dad Basement’ use it as a tiny tastemaker, to invoke a tolerable atmosphere of delicate enigma. ‘Wow, that’s original,’ the one known as Y would say, but not right now.
“I’m sorry?” “What if the path doesn’t end. Then what?” “I guess we’ll never see what’s at the end.” “What is the point, then?” “I guess nothing. But it’s nice to be busy.” “Precisely!”
The rabbit has grown impatient, deeply wrought by the duo’s lack of manners. ‘Never have I, puzzlemaster Royland, been mistreated with such temerity!’, is what it would say, could rabbits talk in a way that makes sense to you and me. It only knew two things, however: how to look snazzy and how to prompt puzzles. It hops off, upset and offended. He’s going to microblog about this. Oh well!
X and Y continue their conversation as they move further down the path, unaffected by their own attention spans and a certain rabbit’s silent judgment. “Is being busy what you want?” Y unleashes a steady stream of questions that seem passive-aggressive and almost insulted but really aren’t. “Yes, actually. I want to know what I’m doing it for. Purpose, results, that kind of thing. What if my effort has been for nothing? That’d be a shame.” “No, you want preoccupation.” “Is there a difference?” “Yes, one asks ‘when will I be done?’ and the other ‘when will it stop?'” ‘What is this drilling’, X thinks, basically posing at this point. “I just want to know where I’m going.” Y has been leading the way, holding X’s hand so softly, so they are headed towards something.
A tortoise blocks the way. She is not very important but let’s take a closer look anyway. She looks great! She’s got a very wise air about her; having lived a hundred years, this cherished shell-pal must certainly know a lot. Ask her anything and she’ll search her memory banks for anything resembling an answer. Like a shoreline where she spends her days off, sand beach or maybe rocks, a salt-scented breeze ventilates and rejuvenates the nostrils and pores.
But neither X nor Y ask her a question, too busy chattering amongst themselves. The tortoise offers the dingy duo some wisdom instead, some useful facts in cups-to-go. “The answer to most riddles is ‘Man’,” says one cup, it tastes like herbal tea with a bit of sugar, and the other, “the sphynx committed suicide after Oedipus solved her riddle. I wish she could have been okay.” She performs a curtsy in a way only an old and wise reptile can and is slowly removed from the path.
“Where are we going, is what I want to know.” Y flutters indolently at this, and says “it still doesn’t matter” before landing on an important-looking statue. It sinks a bit, having apparently activated a switch, and the floor begins to rumble. X stands up and thanks the tortoise as she is taken down a statue-activated elevator. Her wisdoms are absolutely of no use but X will remember them for the out-of-placeness of it all, which is funny to lean into because a riddle-spewing rabbit isn’t unique enough to warrant a memory or two? Y takes the lead again and leads on, thankfully they are holding hands again.
“I hate that. Do you need constant confirmation you are not a ghost?”
“Y, I’m not sure what you mean, and I usually do.” Y humphs and hrms, opting for thought-grumbling instead of body language. “You don’t think about the seconds you spend.” “I just want to know what to expect, what’s what.” “Every second something is happening, but you don’t remember them. You are looking only at where you will go, not at how you are going.” “Which is where, again?” “A path can only be a path if it can end.” “Sure.” “You are preoccupied, aren’t you.” “Yeah, with a journey without a purpose.” “But isn’t that enough.”
Meanwhile, a mouse skitters past the two. He doesn’t believe he can make mistakes as long as he goes. His path is very linear, and in that regard alligns perfectly with Y, in the sense that he, too, believes it’s about the journey moreso than the destination. But he also believes in the importance of a path towards an end of something, which makes him more compatible with X’s way of life, but not a perfect replica, because he lacks direction. He is both X and Y and neither of them, should we decide to reduce the duo to their outlooks on life. Imagine the conversations they’d have could they engage in an interspecial chat. ‘My name is Amir. I am a talking mouse.’ ‘A talking mouse.’ ‘Wow, that’s kooky.’
X’s throat clears. “Why do you worry so much?” “I don’t want you to worry.” “Don’t worry about me, I just want to know.” “Knowing is great.” “I agree, that’s why I want to.” X feels Y slowly letting their hands return to their respective owner, the dangling of arms feels heavy and sad. “But does it have to be practical?” “Excuse me?” “Do you need to be justified?” “For what?” “For being. At all. Can’t you just do things because you want to?” That’s unexpectedly hedonistic of Y, X thinks, almost falling over, wondering if that was just a very teleological mouse that skittered past them. Before X can respond or nervously grab Y’s hand, Y says something: “We’re here.”
Y’s bedroom is gorgeous, very ornate and has all the right furniture. The rest of the house is unique and appropriate but not without its design quirks, such as puzzles, floor switches, and riddling animals. Y turns to X, smiling widely and brightly “Surprise!” X looks around to search the room for actual and tangible surprises, though his boyfriend takes up most of his vision (to absolutely no dismay). “Uh. What is? The surprise, I mean.” “There was a point to this after all!” “I mean, you’re the one who invited me over,” X grin is wry and snarky.
Y puffs his cheeks, “But what did you think about the journey? The mystery, the riddles.” “I’ve been to your house before. Listen, I love your weird riddle pets and how you have spread your wings and fly in order to perch on the statue to send your tortoise down to her terranium. I also know what we do here most of the time.” Y leans into a thought, one wing in his side and the other tickling his chin.”I guess I didn’t think about that.” X laughs, the kind of laugh that is a smiling body. “I can think of another journey we could go on,” he leans forwards, “some seconds to spend.”
X folds his hands into Y’s and pulls the boy in for a deep kiss, there might be tongue involved.