She can't remember her face. Not anymore. The world is photo-bright and faded all at once, voices coming through the air thick and muddled. Distorted and slow. She can't make out the words. The girl is smiling, she knows -- the girl is smiling and laughing and happy -- but she doesn't know exactly who it's for. Or when or how or why, really, because it can't be her. The dead don't do that. The dead don't leave their sisters to cry over pill-ridden bodies or shirts that smelled like her; the dead don't come back just to forgive past grievances or settle stupid arguments. The dead certainly don't reappear night after night, dream after dream -- just to have her finally chase and catch her in the endless field. Dead is dead. So she watches, feet rooted, as the girl constantly plays just out of arm's reach. Laughs at jokes just out of earshot, smiles in that distant way. There's no point to this. The girl isn't real because she killed her, essentially, and so she won't bother humoring the idea.
This is a dream. Dreams end.
It's always the same. The girl realizes she can't bribe her with a voice that sounds like her sister's, or with a body that looks like hers. Realizes she can't make her give chase the way she wants her to. Makes it seizures and breathing tubes and the ICU suddenly, instead of the beautiful field, and paints the walls and linoleum as stark of a white as possible. Plasters third grade essays and sheet music over every inch of the floors, walls, and ceiling; plays chord progressions over the intercom over and over again to a maddening tune.
Look at what you've done to me, her not-sister will seethe, leveling her from across the room. The shaking setting in, fingers curling into the gown. Look at what you've done to us. How could you abandon me like that? How could you leave me to die? How does it feel, knowing you've killed me?
And then she does die. The not-sister dies over and over again, lips blue, while the guilty one stares ahead. It -- she knows this thing is not a person -- glares back with enough anger to distort the room. Asks, over and over again, what it must be like to be her. What it must be like to be a serial killer, what it must be like to have her own sister's blood on her hands. How she could've stopped fighting the battle alongside her, how she could've left her sister in the darkest state she'd ever seen by herself. And her not-sister's face is imperceptible, as always. Even in death the dream does not grant the guilty one a chance to remember.
The morning will come, eventually. And so she sits, stares, and waits.
Crushed bones taste like sugar, sometimes. Taste like guilt, like happiness, like the feeling of letting go -- but just a bit better. It tastes like success and control, and as you stir yourself into the glass, you can feel yourself getting just a bit lighter. Just that bit more perfect. The lemon beside you slices easily into quarters; you take care to squeeze out each and every drop, licking the taste from your fingers. The ice cubes release themselves from the tray with a distinct crack; you drop them one by one into the concoction, forcing the liquid to the brim as high as possible. Make the illusion of being full. And it's your lips against the edge then, savoring the false sweetness with your tongue -- and you're chugging down the liquid, throat swallowing, some of it managing to spill and trickle down your neck.
You're crumbling. You're crumbling and you know this. So fully aware with the hunger and cravings; so undeniably awake with the stomach pain. But there are twenty more glasses to go. Zero calories in each, a number to check, and vitamins to keep yourself going. You destroy more of yourself when you're up and moving, after all. There's no time for this. A sigh, the rush of the faucet, and another lemon in your hands, soft and ripened for the task.
This is lemonade. You are very good at pretending.
at the end of the bar
mon 7:18 a.m.
The morning rush of the cafe is just beginning. Bakers and baristas mill anxiously about; groggy-eyed patrons wander in slowly, surely, in a steady stream that seems to intensify the anxious milling. It's barely dawn, of course -- autumn has long since ended -- but there's just enough room for you against a table, shoulder rubbing an older woman wearing too much perfume. And too many layers, for that matter. The room is stuffy enough as it is. Orders of lattes and mochas ring out alongside the hum of the machines; sleep-tinged conversation fills the room as much as the aroma of fresh brew. Customers shuffle forward at a snail's pace, coats and bags rustling as they do so, and you regret not waking up earlier. Would skipping the cold shower have made a difference? Rinsing the alcoholic taste out of your mouth -- was that really necessary? Whoever you had brought home with you left before you awoke, leaving their side of the bed tucked. Cologne suspended in air, your own clothes neatly folded. No number. And here you are now: groggy-eyed as the rest of them, only with a pounding headache to match.
By god do you wish this line would go faster.
Fifteen minutes to reach the front of the line, you estimate. One to order the macchiato you craved, and another five for them to fill a cup with hot, sweetened coffee. Foaming liquid threatening to spill, the stressed barista all but throwing it onto the counter. You can sympathize. Ten for you to safely navigate out of the shop -- tentative sips in between each step -- and a final twenty for you to rush to class. You'd be late, you know. That much is already a given. But you'd be late with a coffee in hand and a slightly lesser hangover than the one right now, and that's all that matters. You settle a little more comfortably against the table at the thought, leaning into it for support. Fifteen minutes, then. You could wait fifteen minutes for coffee.
sun 10:55 p.m.
"He's staring at you, you know."
Your head shoots up at the sudden voice, searching for the source. You've been nursing your drink for far too long, enough to make you consider ordering another one, but the same could be said about you being here. You don't belong here. You don't belong anywhere near this place, or the place where you've been living for the past few months, or the place where you've been working for the past four weeks -- but shit happens. You've been ready for death for as long as you've lived here: this dead-end, druggie, violence-oriented sort of place. Tried once or twice and backed off because you were afraid of the pain. A coward to the last. So, most options exhausted, you lose yourself here: drink until you're shitfaced enough to barely make it home, sleep away the weekend, pull yourself through another week. Repeat. Pretend to try new things, find yourself too tired to do any of them, drag yourself back here. Repeat. Go through job after job, day after day, hour after hour -- until the only things you know are sleep, alcohol, and the occasional fuck. Repeat.
You want to disappear. You want to go back into an earlier version of yourself, a better version, when your degree didn't go to waste and you weren't stuck bussing tables under shitty bosses. When you were actually happy and did stupid things, like spend four dollars on coffee and show up to class late. Know coffee as a routine instead of a luxury; spend days studying instead of crying in bathrooms; stop having to let some hairy, cigar-stained man shove his hands down your skirt just for a raise. That's what you needed. Disappear and become this girl you had been again, if only to replace the useless one now in her place.
The glass sets itself down in front of you with distinct clink, disgruntled bartender nodding someplace down the bar. Someone. You follow the the gesture to a sharply dressed man too clean to be in this kind of place, too immaculate -- and much, much too friendly, judging by the smile plastered on his features. Probably an idiot. But you take a sip from the glass anyway, eyeing him warily as he approaches in long, eager strides. Refusing to speak until he does, the stool beside you creaking as he settles into it. A serpentine pendant hangs from his neck; his cologne is welcoming but not overpowering. A contrast from the usual. You can feel yourself gravitate towards him already, the need for a less lonely night already making itself known.
"Hello, love," the man says warmly. "Would you mind giving me the pleasure of knowing your name?"
mon 1:09 a.m.
You're not sure what's happening, but you're staining his sleeve with more tears and snot than you'd thought you were capable of producing. It's a very red sleeve, and it's a very nice shirt. He's a very nice man. You're on your seventh drink now -- or your eighth or your ninth -- and the alcohol isn't so much a flavor as it is a necessity. A cure, of sorts. You like to think of it that way. And this drink in particular is sweet and bitter and sickening all at once, enough for you to want to stop, but it keeps pushing itself into your hands. Keeps sliding down your throat all sticky. Tells you to have more, have more, have more. Or maybe that's him whispering that into your ear. His hands, gentle and comforting, press you in a way that makes you only cry more, collapsing into his chest. His words, velvet and smooth, slip beneath his breath and into yours. But the consolation is not within the words themselves. Instead, they are simply thoughts: his thoughts and his sounds composing into a quiet hum, making you want to give yourself over. And over and over if you could do that, just to please him. You want to please him. You need to. The bar is much quieter and darker than you remember it, the chaos of the world around you blurring into oblivion, but you don't care. What matters is this very nice man, with this very nice shirt, with these very, very nice words.
He asks you what you want.
You sniffle a bit as you look up at him, startled by the question. Who cares what you want? Why would anyone care what you want, when you were so willing to do anything for this perfect creature right here? You came to this seedy bar for one thing and one thing only: to disappear. Or, more specifically, the courage to disappear. Hadn't been quite a sober thought, you knew, but with a dead-end job and your life in shambles, there isn't much choice. So you compose yourself for a moment; stare into those dark, dark eyes and say something that might please him. Might make him happy.
"I -- I don't know," you murmur, words catching in your throat. Snot and tear-stained cheeks still blotchy with distress. "I really don't --"
But the man cuts you off with a half-grin and a cheery tone, fingers suddenly grasping your chin. A little more forcefully than he had intended, of course. "Surely there must be something you want," he quips brightly. He's searching for something in your gaze, his own remaining sharp and acute, but you're not sure what to give. "Or something you need, perhaps. Don't believe that virtuous nonsense everyone seems to have got nowadays -- we all want something. We all need something. We all have desires, much as we might deny them, buried deep within our hearts and brains. Cesspools for some, trivial little wishes for others. And I make them come true, see. I force them into being, any desire, no matter how big or small. No matter the consequence you might bring upon yourself or others -- because, really, who cares when you've only got a century to live?" He chuckles at this, tipping your chin just a bit higher with the pad of his thumb. Lips so close to yours you can almost touch them, the breath of his whispers slipping deeper and deeper into your throat. A haze. "I make no exceptions. Young or old, rich or poor, good or evil. And I promise you that I will grant any wish at any time, even if that wish might be a bit painful. Even from the darkest or purest of hearts, even from the greediest and most altruistic of humans."
He leans a little closer, then. Makes the world stop, makes the people silent, makes time so still you can't even hear the ticking of the clock across the room. But you don't care. His cologne is so wonderfully, wonderfully intoxicating; his voice is so very, very lovely. The words are so inaudible that you can't help but wonder if he'd really said them, if they'd really been uttered -- but they're there. He's grinning like a kid in candy shop, and you can't breathe.
"Even from you, love."
mon 4:32 a.m.
The man seems ... cheery. Jolly, you'd venture, if jolly were the kind of word college students used and not one that just popped into your head. Jolly, lively, merry. Playful, impish, ludic. These are the kinds of words that he uses, the ones slipping out of his mouth like velvet, like cream -- and you hate it. These are not your words; these are not your thoughts. You left your mind and common sense in the back of the bar some hours ago, for the most part, when he approached you with that one-liner. When he left you unguarded with a joke and a laugh that told you to have just one more, drink up, don't think about the bitterness catching in your throat. Don't look at that not-smile, that barely human expression cracking his features like porcelain. You left your judgment scattered on the wood as you stumbled, dropping your keys. His lips suddenly on yours, and yours moving against his with more focus than you really should've had. You knew the vulnerability and shame of it -- you were aware of that much -- and you knew what was to be expected next. So you gave in. You dragged him to your tiny, shabby apartment, shoved him lip-locked through the threshold, and peeled off the rest of your dignity.
You assumed his excitement was for reasons such as yours. Reasons that did not involve muffling panicked screams into the duvet, and reasons that did not involve a good amount of your blood staining the mattress. What's left of your right leg throbs painlessly now, strangely; the toes of the other still resonate with pain as he closes lips and teeth over them, tearing away. Lapping up blood like an after-dinner treat. You can't find it in yourself to scream.
He catches your gaze suddenly, making you flinch. "What's wrong, love?" he asks, pausing between bites of sinew and bone. Flesh falling off your foot in lengths. "Does it hurt? It really shouldn't if I made sure to --"
Bile threatens to rise from your throat for the third time as you flail against the restraints, efforts going unproductive but not unnoticed. Numbed fingers claw uselessly against the air; your mouth opens and closes wordlessly, incoherently, letting out pathetic little gasps into the silence of the room. You need to yell for help. You don't have a choice. If you're going to live through some madman literally eating you, you're going to have to bring some sort of attention to yourself. Your cellphone sits like a beacon some inches away on the bed; the drywall wavers just out of reach. The man -- you didn't even know his god damned name -- watches with some amusement, still between your legs. Leg. Waiting for the unnecessary struggle to end. But then you've actually tapped the drywall, the softest of knocks making itself known in the emptiness -- and for the first time, you find him frowning.
"Now, love, that wasn't necessary."
It's infuriating, that chiding tone. As if he were speaking to some insolent child. There's a little more anger in the fear now, as much as you've forced to be there, but it's enough. You do your best to narrow your eyes at him through the haze, stir the rage in your lungs. "What -- what the hell did you to me?" you croak, voice catching at the fire shooting up your leg. "Why would you do this? Why would you want to do this? You're a sick fuck, you know that?" Pause to cough violently, and a second to force down the urge to vomit. "My neighbors, they -- they'll call the cops. They know something's wrong. And when they do, you're spending the rest of your life in prison. Hear that? When I make it out of here, I'll be making sure your ass gets in jail. Put on death row, maybe, if you think I'm lying. I'm giving you a chance to save yourself."
The man pauses for a moment. Chews thoughtfully, swallows, and sets his features into something so indiscernible that you think your bluff might have actually worked. You're terrified out of your mind, of course. Your perpetually stoned neighbors, present or not, would never be of any use; police never come to this part of town. The closest you'd be to being saved would be a local drug dealer noticing someone new in town -- and even then they wouldn't care what this potential customer did. New face, new profit. And with this much blood loss, you're well aware you'd never make it to a recreation-free hospital. Not alive, anyway. But then again, you suppose that this is partially your fault. The people had been precisely why you'd chosen to live here. To disappear. To fade away without actually dying because you were too scared -- you'd tried before and you knew -- and too desperate to turn to anything else. Too much of a coward to lose yourself in blood, too much of a realist to lose yourself in drugs. To run, to vanish, to --
Listen to this fucker laugh his head off.
"Save myself? Save myself?" The bloody grin cracks his features mirthlessly, revealing inches of needle-like teeth by the second. He barely suppresses howls of laughter. "Oh, love," he croons. "Oh, love, sweetheart, baby doll, sweet apple of my eye -- don't you remember? You begged me for this. You begged me to make you disappear, to make you less lonely. To make you feel something for once in your pathetic, short little life. Even sealed the agreement with a kiss." He reaches up to tap your nose, in a way you might consider endearing. The man hovers for a moment, testing your gaze -- you almost think he's going to kiss you -- until he smears blood beneath your nostrils, smiling. Leaving the scent fresh and searing at the back of your throat. And then he's giggling at your expression, features contorting in that indecipherable way, and the sedative is the only thing keeping you from tearing into his throat.
"Fuck you," you spit, narrowing your gaze. "I'll fucking kill you. I swear I'll fucking kill you."
But he's nibbling at your remains of your foot again, expression as childish and volatile as you'd ever seen it. You can't feel your left leg either anymore.
Lilting: "Will you, now?"
mon 6:40 a.m.
The alarm doesn't stir you. It drags you right out of sleep -- haze-minded and bleary-eyed -- into the world, the sudden force of your hangover hitting you like a brick. Body shivering from some hidden draft; bare skin forming goose pimples in the frigid air. Legs and lips throbbing from some apparently vigorous activity some hours ago; your toes still remembering the sensation. So you'd brought someone home. You'd gotten drunk, of all things, on the night before a morning class, and you decided to bring someone home. Odd. Whoever they had been hadn't bothered to leave a note or number, instead opting to leave your sheets smelling sweet and cologne-washed. Tucked, folded, and fragrant. Your own clothes in a neat pile among the open textbooks and scattered pens. Whoever they had been had left your legs jelly-like, your thoughts muddled, and your throat sticky. Iron and alcohol in your saliva, you register.
You're going to be late.
Your mental checklist ticks off various items while you flit around the room, clothes and supplies flying onto your person as you do so. Textbook, phone, laptop. Charger, notebook, pen pouch. Clean shirt and underwear. Very important: pants. Can't forget those. The mouthwash still sloshes in your mouth when you feel like you're forgetting something, a little suggestion tugging at the back of your mind -- but you shake off the feeling. You'd remember if it were really that significant. Trademark of a good student. And your hair is still wet from the shower when you remember it, the thought appearing so clearly and readily in your head that you can't believe you'd almost forgotten.
Coffee. That's what you needed.
The only place I can see you is here now, in this world overwrought with things that had been you. Piano keys littering the soil like leaves, sheet music composing trees and trunks instead of melodies. Tabs of benadryl leading the path. You want me to follow, I know -- so I pretend the pills are breadcrumbs, step carefully over them, and make sure to face forward. Don't look back. The forest reeks of antiseptic; it breathes the chemicals, pausing only to produce more beneath the surface. But I tread on. Chaotic, off-tune notes of some melody play softly in the distance, and I know there is little time to reach it.
A clearing. A fractured piano. You: tired and unfamiliar in a hospital gown I don't recognize. The forest has grown its roots in my feet. Curled around my throat.
This isn't your fault, you say, smiling.
“so shut up and stay here until i get back.”
The bird lays motionless in her paws, small rib cage racking with every breath. Heartbeat quickening too much and then not; pulse becoming more and more sporadic by the minute. There isn't much time, she knows. There can't be that much luck left. While fleeing into the warehouse -- little-brother-turned-bird in tow, injured paw screaming with each step -- had seemed like a good idea at the moment, her plan had ended exactly then. Run from pursuers here, deposit brother there until she could find the old woman again. She'd never actually anticipated him getting trampled by equipment, or her paw being crushed under a wheel. She'd never thought she'd be a second too late. But here she is, glass-eyed from both the shock and the pain. Trying to pretend this wouldn't be her brother's deathbed.
She speaks first, in the quiet of the air. Her throat purrs uneasily. "I-I'm so --"
"I'm okay," he breathes. "We're okay. I should've listened to you in the first place. Those carts -- those things really pack a punch, don't they? Never thought they were that heavy when we were human." His gaze is more focused than she'd expected when he fixes her with it, clacking his beak, and it takes control not to drop him. He doesn't seem to notice. He lets out a laugh that sounds more like a wheeze. Continues: "At least I reminded that old woman of her grandson, right? That probably kept her from turning us into snails or something."
Damn that old woman. Damn her and her games, her questions, this stupid curse she'd placed on the both of them. Who are they to pay off their parents' debt? Who are they to suffer for some obscure exchange someone else had made in the past? Her feline pupils trail the injured, feathered body of her brother, still holding on. A broken wing, a useless leg, and a fractured rib cage. Probably. This is -- no, she couldn't think like that -- this may seem like his deathbed for now, but he still has time to live. Three days, at most. But they'd already gotten this far. Three days might be just enough.
And she sure as hell isn't about to spend the rest of her life as a cat.
He's opening his beak to speak again; she cuts him off. "I'm going to find her," she growls. "I'm going to find her, and when I do, she's changing everything back to the way it was before this mess. We're going to return home to Auntie safe and sound, we're going to be human again, and I'm getting you that book you wanted."
"So shut up and stay here until I get back."
Eighteen birthdays are eighteen cakes are eighteen times you've scrubbed myself off the bathroom floor. Or maybe just six. No one is born this way, after all. The monster -- not-monster, pretty little thing she is -- sets into your bones at the budding age of eight. Settles into the marrow, gnaws at the edges until you can't take the pain. You had read about of her, of course. Leafed through page after page of almost-comely names like bulimia, anorexia, binge; ignored the rest of the teacher's lesson about her, instead staring at the lovely bones of this small, small girl.
Food journals aren't literature, but neither are diary entries. Everyone reads those. You liken yours to the ones lining libraries at times -- except with daydreams about empty and hollow instead of history, numbers counting calories instead of dates. Paragraph after paragraph of all ways you could shrink and lie and hide. And then, slowly, paragraph after paragraph of all the things you could be, all the things could happen. Daydreaming about other people in other worlds this time -- instead of going on about the colorless one that was your own.
And that was salvation, you suppose.
incident at san andres station, 10:59 a.m.
I like to imagine that something more pleasant happened. Some do-gooder hauling me back by my collar, maybe, or the offset of my bag stopping me an inch shy of the edge. Instead, I was launched forward by the crowd, loose bags of groceries flying through the air. Felt the rush – a summery breeze, grinding steel, and coffee – just before the impact.
I wish, at that moment, that someone yelled my name. Wouldn't have made a difference. Two inches away from steel going ninety miles an hour – who was anyone to save me? It was a dying wish: notice me, notice me, notice me, not the girl with the groceries about to be decimated by a train or the tragedy of a crowded station, but me, Pia –
But the moment ended, and I was gone.
Hello! You look new here. Mind giving me your name?
Blaise really isn't a name for a street rat like her, but it's hers and she loves it. It rolls off the tongue smooth-like, makes getting her attention a hell of a lot easier. Lets people think, sometimes, that she isn't some scrawny, scruffy girl with sunburnt cheeks -- and that's the way she likes it. Let them talk. The last thing she needs is a horde of charlatans coming after her, especially when she's got enough on her hands as it is. There's a woman she needs to find: one with long fingers, lustrous teeth, and dark, dark eyes. The one who plucked her breath from her throat the moment her master was slaughtered, the one who cursed her for trying to intervene. She wasn't strong enough then -- her form gasping and collapsing next to her beloved master -- but she will be soon. And when she is, she'll take back the breath that is rightfully hers, slay the woman-beast, and take up her master's name.
Or so she hopes. For now, all she's got is her master's cloak, a voice that refuses to be heard, and, strangely enough, a bear willing to act as an interpreter. Luck, too, she supposes. And with hunters and minions alike on her trail, she'll need all the luck she can get.
At the very least, she's got a bear(?) on her side.
carton of milk: two percent
I can't remember the last time I burned the coffee. Unless that time would be now, in which case I would be fully realizing the moment: coughed up stains on my pajamas, blistered fingers, and that bitter, bitter aftertaste. That unpleasant feeling of being suddenly aware, too, like I hadn't dragged myself out of bed an hour ago. But of course being awake and being aware are two separate things. I'd told myself two weeks ago I'd replace the damn thing, reminded myself yesterday not to use it. The coffee maker we'd bought should've broken down months ago -- and here it is, quietly humming on the counter. Here I am, still holding onto things. I'd always had a knack for remembering things I didn't need to and forgetting things I did. The spilled liquid stares back sullenly from the table; I avoid its gaze and reach for the dish towel. I can't remember the last time I burned the coffee, no, but I do remember where you kept the towels in case I did. So there was that.
How can you just drink it like that? you're asking. Scrutinizing gaze across the table, question laid flat. Fingers tapping impatiently. And I'm pulling out the milk and sugar for you when you say it again, only reworded. Personally, if I were you -- voice muffled by spoon, carton dangerously close to tipping -- I'd just get used to the sweetness. You know that 'no sugar' stuff is all bullshit anyway.
The rag soaks up the sugary, bitter liquid as easily as it had spilled, tainting the white in a matter of seconds. I hadn't spilled the whole cup, thankfully: there's just enough cloth to wipe the linoleum clean. Leave the tiles as stark and spotless as possible. I'd changed the flooring after you, of course. Couldn't bear to scrub the oxidized red off the hardwood. Then I'm pushing myself up and off the floor, tossing the rag aside, and pouring the rest of the coffee down the sink. I can feel you hopping onto the counter beside me, that uneven quirk pulling at your lips. Half-disappointment, you like to call it.
Tut-tutting. What a waste, you mutter, watching the liquid trickle down the drain. Then the soap suds, then the water, then the empty reflection as I move to turn off the faucet. The red dishtowel glides over the ceramic surface quickly; I set the mug beside the sink, far from the edge of the counter. Can't have it falling. But the image catches me anyway, the thought of it -- and I'm turning to you as I reach for the hand soap, waiting and not waiting for the blood on the floor. Barrel against your temple. No note. My mind can't help but race at those last seconds, at what might have happened if I'd walked in moments earlier. What I would have done if I knew what you were going to do that day. The water in the sink is barely warm. And the dispenser, it almost sounds like --
I'm pulling the window curtains open before I know it. Breathing. The morning light fills in the places where you should be, even with my eyes darting to find your outline. Even with your place at the table set just the way you like it, the memory forcing me through the routine. There's no one. I rest my head in my hands. Let out a sigh as I push away from a counter I didn't know I'd been leaning on.
I'd always wondered why you asked me to buy milk so early that day.