After the bombs went off, spewing gas instead of fire, sickness instead of death, there had been walls around the city. The city had a name, a name used by bureaucrats in official-looking government documents, but nobody used that name anymore. It was just the Waiting Room, now. People(more) called it that between coughs, from mouths covered in red boils, wrote it with thin hands, wheezed it on their death beds.
Broadcasts into the city were limited. Young men cried that there was no cure, that the government was trying to hide that they were all going to die. Old men whispered that the government themselves had sent the bombs, had run a test. Boys said, simply, that there was nothing on TV. Old magazines and newspapers were passed around to bide the time, both out of an ironic humor and a desperate need. All would debate their place in the Queue, giving too-precise numbers, each with their own judgments about why they, above all others, would be cured and leaving shortly. Then, sleep. Always, the fitful, necessary sleep.
Men in white-grey hazmat suits would appear rarely, like forgotten ghosts of the real world, noting symptoms on charts, taking blood work, swabbing inflamed throats. Taking one or another out beyond the walls, never to return. Alive or dead, it was better than the waiting of the undiagnosed. The sick, the ill, spewing their river of phlegm and blood and unsure of when it will stop. There has been talk lately of storming the walls. Of rushing the gates, and bringing the sickness, to make those who are healthy understand what it is to be ill and to not know how ill, or when it will end, or if it even ever will. But until then: there is only the waiting. (less)
Things had been rough for Frankenstein's Monster, ever since his Bride had decided she wasn't really in love with him anymore. Frankenstein had assured him that there was a beating heart in her chest cavity, although apparently anything involving her glands, blood, or brain was entirely up in the(more) air. Victor offered his condolences, but he had never much loved the idea, anyway. Flooding the world with a race of monsters, etc., etc. Said it was "better it didn't work out, honestly." Adam had always wanted kids. But now he would have had to split them down the middle -- which wouldn't have been good for them emotionally or physically.
She had started going by Bri, now (and he by Adam, although it hadn't really stuck the first time), and traveling. Transylvania, the Black Lagoon, even Paris (though mostly just the catacombs). Adam was just trying to get himself back together. He hadn't noticed, but he'd literally been falling apart: a finger or two strewn across forgotten piano keys, a hamstring down in the crypt where he used to work out. An eyeball -- an eyeball! -- in an old manuscript. It felt good, almost. Almost. He wasn't much good with the needle, so his stitches were less than precise. She was always the one patching their clothes. Their blankets. Their gangrenous limbs.
She's called him a monster, during their last big fight, and maybe he was. But wasn't everybody, deep down? At least, given enough time? Time, and a sequence of grave robbing, medical experimentation, serums, and lightning strikes? Not to mention heartbreak. Adam used to think passion, (love, that fire!) was something positive, something good. But now he just felt mislead. Years spent in a castle together and nothing to show. Fire? Fire bad.(less)
Toothache pain sings and rings in the ears and puts you on a different frequency than everyone else in the room. Toothache pain is instructive pain. You change your behavior according to its demands. You talk less or don't eat certain foods, or at all. The toothache takes charge.(more)
The sensation can be subtle, or a second later, sharp as an icepick. In its infirmity, an afflicted tooth seems alive in a way healthy teeth aren't. The bad tooth gains a voice. It redirects all thoughts away from the concerns of the world. It proclaims itself, vital as a beating heart.
A toothache reduces everything to its level. How many invasions have been thwarted, how many schemes foiled, how many fateful rendezvous never taken place because of a pebble-sized spoiler stopping everything in its tracks?
The toothache takes on the character of a watch or metronome. Your thoughts can never wander too far before the ticking agony of a bad tooth calls them home.
People who are depressed sometimes cut themselves. They say it helps focus their attention away from the deeper hurt. A toothache is like this. A chronic worrier can lay his or her troubles entirely on the white spiral of pain in their mouth as if it were a hole absorbing everything around it. From its pain comes a useful diversion.
But toothaches untreated only get worse. The waves of agony become debilitating. In this grevious pain, a person considers suicide. Once, a mother with an incurable toothache jumped from a parking deck. Another man flung himself from he Golden Gate Bridge leaving a note blaming it all on a cavity.
I asked my dentist why teeth have nerves at all. She smiled and shrugged at the question people have asked since questions and toothaches began.(less)
three hours of belt whipping and bruise-ups and there i would be, knobby knees pushed rough into the earth beneath the stalks of green corn and my mottled, faith-beaten skin shining red and purple under the light of the moon. (more)i used to cry-- before, when i was a kid --but now nothing would come, just a little crippled whimper as i stretched out the rippled surface of my back to lie prostrate under the corn.
"jesus," i whispered into the softness of the dirt. "jesus make me disappear."
bang. screen door slamming shut, and i shrieked at the sudden clench of fear in my shoulders, pain licking clean and hot up my spine. i expected the rough clutch of my father's hand at the scruff of my neck, but instead, my brother, lean and gentle against the slope of my shoulder and his mouth, warm and seeking the bruised point of my cheekbone.
"come inside, he's gone quiet."
i was shivering. clenching another breath between my teeth, i curled in tighter, focusing on the bloodless ease of my numbing fingers and toes.
"come inside," he kissed the corner of my eye. "he's gone now."
Aware. That's the only thing she can make out right now. Awareness... There isn't a form to recognize, an edge to see or anything that lends itself to some sort of orientation. There is just awareness.
It's hard for her to tell how long she's been in this(more) state, all she knows is she's _here_ and she isn't bored. From time to time she can feel reverberations - but can't quite make out what they are. There are times when she's sure one rumbling felt different than the last - but the moment after that thought crests her consciousness, the second-guessing starts and she can't be sure of anything.
Time isn't something she's aware of, but there is an accumulation of thoughts and moments that serves as its proxy. The layers of cognition have been gobbed on, over and over again - but what are they sticking to? There is no framework, no form, no mold no _air_. Nothing is actually changing but everything feels different than it did just a moment ago.
THERE. This one. This one is different. She's never felt this kind of rumbling before. She can feel the intentionality and it's building. The pace doesn't quicken, but each new sensation is deeper than the last. There is no denying it, no confliction of consciousness, no other point of view to take and no arguing with what she and her consciousness is experiencing. Something _different_ is happening to her. It's fear without being afraid. It's something without being anything. It's her life changing without any happening.
There were so many different rhythms, pulses, angles, weights, sensations, ripples and drips - then it all just stopped. She can feel a tightening sensation at first, but fades as rapidly as it began.
"I hope you look at us differently, Jaehee," MC said, looking away as the wind whipped her hair into her face. "It's not blind love-well, it's not really love yet, either. But it's definitely not naive." She shrugged. "It's just us."
Jaehee didn't move from her spot by the(more) sidewalk. "And...it hurts my feelings when you say things like that."
Jaehee swallowed nervously. "I don't mean it offensively. It's just that-"
"Zen worries about his popularity," MC cut off. "But he worries more about not being true to himself. And if he has to hide a part of himself from his fans, how do you think he feels?"
Jaehee didn't speak. After a minute MC turned, trying the door and letting her shoulders slump in relief when it opened. "Uhm-MC, he'll drop you off-"
"I know where I'll be taken. Thank you for telling me."
Jaehee was left standing awkwardly on the sidewalk, watching as the car drove away. A few minutes later, she pulled out her phone and dialed the number of a certain actor.
"MC!" Zen raced towards her without pause, stopping only when he reached her to scoop her up into his arms and squeeze her tightly. "I've got really good news," he said, grinning down at her.
"Jaehee gave us her blessing!"
"She called yesterday and said that if it truly mattered to me-to us, I think-that I should chase this opportunity."
MC smiled up at him, though she hesitated.
"Are you sure Jaehee is okay? Was she...what was she like?"
"Um...well, when she called I thought she was just tired. Why?"
MC was silent, looking down at their hands. "It's nothing for now. I'll have to call back myself."
Though slightly confused, Zen nodded and squeezed her hand. "Okay."
My reason for fighting evaporated in the predawn air on the final moon-day of the full harvest, along with the mist.
Magnhild was too proud to be left back in the village with the other shield wives. And she proved the mettle of that pride time and tim(more)e again on the battlefield. She was primal, fierce, her endurance unnatural and unyielding. And it only seemed to grow over time. Months into the campaign, with the men's strength running dry, she only seemed to bloom, growing more and more beautiful with the glow of war in her heart.
When I found her on Reaping Day, fallen like any other, I couldn't comprehend it. We knew our enemy was formidable, but I'd seen uncountable waves of men fall before her. A crown of ocher leaves wreathed her face, lines of dry blue paint cracking like lightning across her cheeks. Through a life of violence, it seemed she had found peace.
My village-mother once told me that death is a gift that our ancestors asked of the gods. We possessed immortality once, much like they do. It was a boon we unwished from ourselves when we donned flesh. To be borne and to come undone, and to be vulnerable all the time in-between, allows us to fight battles that the immortals cannot.
She also once said that the unproven things we tell ourselves in order to pass bravely through the vale of life are just as true as truth itself, if they make us better people.
When we find ourselves incapable, death is a kindness to look forward to. It's nice to think that, someday, I might forget what pain I have known here, and come back as something strong enough to protect the things I love.
I am twisted beyond recognition, hissing and snarling, a creature unused to human contact. You approach and I claw at you, draw blood and you jerk back as if burned. But you hold no trace of fire.
You're bloody and broken in a way I almost recognize, the core(more) of you matching the core of me though you stand tall with bared teeth and I crouch under tables and yowl. You reach your hand out again. This time I don't snatch at the blood under your skin.
You offer a throaty noise that would be a warning if you didn't catch it between your teeth, press your lips together and kiss it into a hum. I respond high pitched and wild. A caged animal.
You wait. You lure me out with stillness, with your scent unlaced with threat or even misconstrued kindness. You show me no mercy, no gentle coaxing. And so I emerge from under my cover, from the corner I pressed myself into to keep safe from the world. It is still mine, my last defense, but now I know when I run to it you will wait. You will sit and speak without moving, you will reach not with your hands but your voice to calm me. You will, eventually, draw me out again.
And I press my head into your hand when I am able, when I feel safe, and you smile and play with my hair and loosen me enough to fall asleep with your touch. With one hand you hold me against your slow-thudding heartbeat and it matches mine. We two tight-wound springs coil into eachother. We are wild, you and I. We are not meant for this world. But here we stay regardless, together. And on the other hand, you wear my scar. (less)
What are the facets of a moment--
How can you decipher a journey,
What lies in unknowing?
(more) when we allow
the pros & cons to
fade and blur--
How many sides
could every story have?(less)
The triplets were gathered around him, he of a tall enough frame that they could sit comfortably on his lap, though they pushed at each other to stake the largest claim of his body heat. Quan'na took one of his large hands and kneaded(more) his palm with tiny squeezes.
His eyes followed her movements, as he had trained himself to do whenever anything came in close proximity to his body. He counted ten squeezes... twenty... thirty--
"Grandfather?" Valentine and Ezekiel looked up. Ah, he waited too long. "Should I not ask?"
"...I don't want you to worry," he said simply. The other two simultaneously hugged his other arm.
"Does it hurt, Grandpa?" Valentine, shoving at Ezekiel's squirming hand.
"No it doesn't hurt, dumb-dumb, Grandpa doesn't get hurt at all." Ezekiel, pinching Valentine's wrist when he wouldn't move.
"I'm not a dumb-dumb, you're dumb."
"Quiet down." The warning tone silenced the squabble if nothing else. "It feels unpleasant. Like a connection that has been completely blocked." Made worse since his touch receptors were originally fully functional. He did not elaborate that, less he make the triplets contemplative on matters they need not think on.
"......Do you like it when we say what thing feel like?"
"Like when we went to the fields and there were the fat turkeys, and they were feathery--"
"And the lake, and all the seaweed on the bottom was swishy--"
"And the crabs on the beach!"
"They were pinchy..."
"Shhh..." The finger to his lips quelled their volume once more. "Yes. I enjoy that very much."
"Okay." Ironically, it was rare for them to smile all together. "We'll keep doing it!" Ezekiel.
"We'll do it always." Quan'na.
"Hmmm..." He, too, gave a rare smile. "So be it."(less)
"What?" Kyouhei took one look at the suitcase Yagi was holding before he reached over and pulled it into the room, ushering Yagi in with it. "What happened, Yagi?"
"I told Hideki I couldn't do it. That-I didn't want to be just a side job anymore-"(more) He broke off, voice cracking, and Kyouhei motioned to the living room without asking him to continue. Yagi sat on the couch, reaching blindly for his box of cigarettes, but Kyouhei took it from his hands before he could pull out a single one.
"Not in here-"
"I won't light it. I'll just-just need something to distract myself. My hands-"
Kyouhei handed the box back somewhat reluctantly, but Yagi took a cigarette out and began twirling it between his fingers. Once he was sure that he wouldn't choke up the next time he started to talk, he set it in his mouth and took a deep breath.
"There's no return for me, Kyouhei."
"That's not true-"
"I can't go back there." He paused. "I don't /want/ to go back there."
Kyouhei sat beside him, hesitantly reaching over to grip his hand in both of his own tightly.
"Then you don't have to. You can..." Kyouhei looked away. "You can stay here."
"I can't-Kyouhei, I can't do that to you-"
"I want you to stay here," Kyouhei said abruptly, squeezing even tighter. "You don't have to go back to that jerk anyways. All you have to do is stay here."
Yagi tried to keep his face leveled, but one glance at Kyouhei made him close his eyes and take a deep breath.
"You want me to...stay here? You mean it, I mean? With Tsumugi and you?"
Yagi looked down at their joined hands, face flushing.
"Please...take care of me."
"You remember how to make donuts, Tsumugi?"
The small blonde grinned cheekily at her father, nodding. "Find the center!"
He nodded, watching as she pressed her thumb into the center of the dough and poked through to form a hole.
"Another small one, huh?" Yagi asked, jerking his chin(more) at the donut in her hand. "Mm!" Tsumugi agreed, holding it out to him. "Will you help Daddy fry them?"
"Yeah, probably. We don't want him getting hurt."
Kyouhei sighed, glancing at Yagi from above his glasses as he rolled the dough out. "I won't get hurt."
"Doesn't hurt to be careful."
Kyouhei smiled over at him, nodding. "Yeah."
As Kyouhei prepared to drop the dough into the hot oil, Yagi grabbed him by his wrist to stop him. "Not from so high," he murmured, lowering his wrist until it was only a few inches away from the oil. "Lower it gently."
Kyouhei nodded, slowly dipping the donut into the oil before he finally let go. "And again."
Yagi moved his hand to the plate of uncooked donuts, letting Kyouhei pick one up with his fingers before moving his wrist back to the pot. Yagi slowly leaned over him until he could rest his head on Kyouhei's shoulder, monitoring how carefully he put the donuts in until he finally released his wrist but stayed leaning against him.
"What're you doing?"
Kyouhei nodded almost understandingly, but when Yagi glanced up to his face he could spot a teasing smile on the teacher's face. "I need to pull them out soon," Kyouhei said. "Can you get up for a little?"
Yagi turned, picking Tsumugi up and letting her wrap her small arms around her neck to watch her father.
And if Yagi kept watching too, so what. (less)
she clenches her fist and then spreads her fingers wide. her hand feels ghost-like, as if it might simply fade away.
one. two. three.
(more) she looks out from the apartment windows before her, the wide frames reaching both the ceiling and the floor. the tall buildings in the city's skyline shine across the glass as an invitation to a world she has never had a taste of.
a gray haze folds into the world. the buildings begin to shift and blur into one another, but she closes her eyes before they form a new shape.
after one breath in and one breath out, she opens her eyes again to find the buildings have regained their edges.
her ears catch the sound of soft footsteps behind her and she turns to face her partner. she would have rather come with anyone else, even over-talkative mira, but of course sebastian was the only person capable of keeping up with valysa in this place.
"you ready?" he asks, pulling uncomfortably at his red -- no blue tie.
"as soon as you pick a color," she replies. they can't leave any room for mistakes in here. they have to blend in -- they have to belong.
"i'm just trying to match you."
looking down at her own apparel with furrowed brows, valysa frowns at her subconsciousness's apparent indecision before settling on a deep purple that slowly coats her gown.
"sorry," she says quickly, quietly, and then regains some semblance of composure. she refuses, if it comes down to it, to be the reason they fail. she knows better.
dreams can be so much harsher than the real world.
holding out his hand, sebastian asks, "shall we?"
valysa nods and together they step out into the dream.(less)