Sometimes the darkness and I go to the swamp.
The darkness wants a new skin. It says that alligator skin will do quite nicely, that it will be dark and rough and scaly and cold, like my soul. It says that once it has taken the alligator’s skin, I can eat the meat and absorb the alligator’s predatory power.
I tell the darkness that I don’t want to eat an alligator.
It says that it doesn’t care, that I will eat the alligator or it won’t let me have the shadowskin back.
Maybe I don’t want the shadowskin back.
The darkness says it heard that, and that I should watch my thoughts more. It says that it might like to try wearing a humanskin one day.
Then it finds an alligator.
I look away. I hear a lot of hissing, a sound like the heart of the universe being ripped apart from deep inside a black hole, and then silence.
The darkness taps me on the shoulder. Its finger feels rough and wet. It is now wearing the gatorskin.
It points at the meat of the poor alligator, who probably only wanted to have a nice bit of swamp of its own and a small family and some fish and birds to eat, maybe the occasional snake. It never wanted to be skin for the darkness, to contain the void within itself.
I say, “I won’t eat it.”
The darkness looks at me. It looks at the shadowskin, lying discarded on the ground next to the meat.
I say again, “No, I won’t eat it.”
The darkness shrugs. It picks up the shadowskin and flings it out into the swamp. I watch as the fog and the moss and the cattails darken and disappear in its wake.
I wonder how much of the void can be contained by humanskin.
Sometimes the darkness and I sit outside all night long and argue about a god we’ve never seen.
I say that there is no god, that there is only a vast turning darkness and an infinite love, that human systems of meaning derived from our projection of our unconsciousness into the void are illusory and empty and lead to much suffering, and the only truth is an infinite compassion that makes no demands and requires no sacrifices to itself.
The darkness says that it is wearing a gatorskin and that it can shoot lasers out of its eyes and once it saw a shark with an anti-aircraft missile on its back riding an elephant, and the elephant was trampling shrieking scions of bourgeois burghers under its feet, and so my argument is invalid.
I say that gatorskins and lasers and Comrade Elephant and Comrade Shark destroying the oppressors and ripping the chains off the proletariat actually all prove my point, that consciousness itself is absurd and temporary and pointless and the only possible answer is a love that can encompass all things, even the screams of the administrators of empire as they are ridden down by the unholy rampaging elephant/shark/anti-aircraft missile monster.
The darkness says that the void is howling and empty, that there is nothing there except the distorted imaginings of human fear, that there is no love to redeem the white knuckled terror of the abyss, that there are only rules and punishments and clearly demarcated lines between Us and Them, Thou and I, and a desire to cause the suffering of consciousness that is not enclosed in one’s own skull because then one’s own bright sharp blade of suffering is dulled for a time.
I say that all of reality is love.
It says that all of reality is a pile of decaying bones, dark gray and wet with acid godpiss and the tears of trampled noobs.
I open a pack of cigarettes and take one out. I hold it up and ask the darkness for a light.
It says “Now you will know suffering”, and lasers shoot out of its eyes.
Sometimes the darkness and I lie on the floor and color in our coloring books.
I am coloring a tree trunk dark brown. I stop, my crayon in mid-stroke, and I consider all the tree trunks I have ever seen. They were gray or very light brown or bone white or some other earthy color that is beyond my ability to represent.
None of them were this particular shade of brown. None of them.
I am suddenly overcome with exhaustion and despair, and I drop my crayon.
The darkness looks up from its coloring book. It had been intently coloring the three balloons on a pony’s rump, its tongue sticking out between its new alligator teeth. I ignore the question in its eyes.
I turn on to my back and look up through the dust motes gently falling through the sun beams. What crayon would I use to try to represent the dust motes? Maybe the gold one. Not that it would be any less crude a representation of reality than the dark brown tree trunks.
I ask, “Who here likes things that are alive?”
The darkness answers in its new hiss, “You know that I like death and despair and chaos and the flat nothingness of Monday afternoons and the blue light of a television forever flickering in a dark empty living room and things like that. Stop being silly and finish your picture.”
I do not want to finish my picture. I think that I want to make friends with the dust motes. I cross my hands under my head.
The darkness sighs. It asks, “What color should I use for the third balloon? Atomic Tangerine, Hot Magenta, or the deepest darkest shade of the human inability to perceive and express reality with any sort of accuracy? Which is a sort of yellowish greenish grayish color, if you’re curious.”
I watch the dust motes as they drift slowly down, and I imagine the ceiling caving in. Little bits at first, tiny flakes of ceiling tile settling on the darkness, drifting across the gatorskin. And then loud crashes and bangs and booms, and then, nothingness and silence. And a crayon sticking up out of the debris, the same color as the sky.
I look outside, at the sun and the trees with their gray and light brown and white and all the colors of reality mixed together trunks. I look at the sky.
I say “Periwinkle. The third balloon should be periwinkle.”
I hear the darkness rummaging through the crayon box with its alligator claws.
Little white bits of the ceiling tile fall like snow.
Sometimes the darkness and I go ice-skating.
There are faces under the ice. They are pressed up against it, their noses flattened, their cheeks red. I think they are laughing. I hope so.
The darkness says that they are screaming, but I don’t care. I say they are laughing, that they are happy and warm and having fun. They like the feel of our skates on their noses.
The darkness offers to skate on my nose, but I turn it down.
I wonder where the faces go when the ice melts. Maybe they go to other parts of the world where there is still ice, and they hang out under small ponds there. I wonder if the ice in other places feels different.
Probably not. Once I touched a pile of snow on a warm day to see what it felt like, and it felt exactly like snow. Frozen water is the same everywhere, all the time.
The darkness says that the dark is different everywhere, that the darkness under the ice is different from the darkness in an alley, or the darkness in a kitchen with a chipped and scuffed black and white tiled floor, or the darkness in a small wood far from anywhere in the middle of the night. It says that the darkness tastes the best when it hides in the light, when it is a small shadow of a cheap lamp on a white plastic shelf in the home goods section of a department store.
I ask it how it can taste itself.
It skates across my nose, and I realize that there is a thin transparent nothingness between me and the snow and the pale rainbow and the dark gray cloudy sky.
Sometimes the darkness and I have picnics.
I do not like mayonnaise. It is a violation of all that is sacred and beautiful. The darkness puts it on my ham sandwich, despite my protestations, and it says that if I don’t eat it I will always be alone.
I take a bite even though I know I will always be alone anyway. My mouth is now a deep dark cavern of pain and torment and demonic goopy globules.
The darkness laughs. Then it sheds the gatorskin and lies down on the ground. It stares into the grass and mumbles incoherently about the inevitable passing of all things.
I don’t take the gatorskin. I have learned my lesson. I do not have time for zombies coming up out of the sidewalk.
I swallow down the mayonnaise tainted bite of ham and bread and I think about hosting a party. Also about death.
I ask the darkness if it would come to my party. It lifts its head, looks at me with its red rimmed eyes, and it says sure, it will come to my party, but only if it is allowed to provide the entertainment.
I nod in assent.
The darkness looks back down at the grass, and it whispers to itself. I catch a few words. Something about all of existence falling into a black hole and being stretched into spaghetti and then eaten by a giant raging unicorn with spikes all over and also baby universes throwing themselves around a mosh pit while the bass thumps hard in a stroboscopic void, and an excited hiss about chocolate milk that goes on for quite some time. The sun is setting and I am getting cold, but still I do not take the gatorskin.
My party is going to rock so hard.
Sometimes the darkness and I throw parties.
There are vast quantities of chocolate milk. Gallons and gallons and gallons of it. Enough chocolate milk to drown five baby unicorns, really.
The darkness says that no one is allowed to drink the chocolate milk though, because if anyone drinks it then the universe will end.
The five baby unicorns stare longingly at the clear cold jugs of chocolate milk. I don’t know where they came from. I don’t know where any of the unicorns or winged kittens or tall walking noodles that look like strips of infinite space, stars and moons and planets wheeling inside their thin flappy bodies, came from.
At least I know where the skeleton in the black robe came from. It keeps staring at me and making cutting motions with its scythe.
There is music playing. Music with lots of bass. I am not sure if it has any other musical components. I watch the chocolate milk shiver inside the jugs, in time with the thump thump thumping of the bass.
A winged kitten flies into my lap. I am petting it when the giant unicorn comes.
The giant unicorn is very giant, and also it has spikes. Lots of spikes all over its body, not just on its head. Although the spike on its head is the longest spike of all.
The spikes are all different colors, and I notice that the colors are constantly changing.
The five baby unicorns run towards the giant unicorn, neighing “Daddy! Daddy! Chocolate milk! Chocolate milk!”
The giant unicorn looks at the baby unicorns, and all its spikes turn a deep dark orange.
“Now ya’ll know I ain’t got no chocolate milk. I just finished plowing the back forty, and all I got is gin and rum and whiskey, and you’re gonna drink it and you’re gonna like it!”
“No Daddy no! Chocolate milk!”
They point their horns over in my direction. Towards the jugs of chocolate milk.
The giant unicorn’s spikes all turn a soft brown color.
“Well I’ll be! I reckon ya’ll might can have a taste.”
I see the darkness looking at the unicorns. It stretches the gatorskin into a wide crocodile smile.
The space noodles are playing Twister in front of the bass machine. I think, what if they really are strips of space, and as they twist around each other I imagine realities twisting, timelines merging. I imagine dark blue liquid sentient beings who take on the shape of their planet’s valleys and craters suddenly finding themselves on a planet dominated by very intelligent yellow velvet sofa cushions. I wonder what it would take to get the dark blue stains out of the cushions.
Maybe chocolate milk would help.
I see the baby unicorns joyfully trotting over to the jugs, and I see the black robed skeleton raise its scythe.
A pink cloud comes out of the horn of the boldest of the five baby unicorns. The cloud settles on to one of the chocolate milk jugs. I watch as it rises into the air and floats over to the baby unicorn. I watch as it tips itself over, just enough for the chocolate milk to spill downward. I watch as the first drop of the sweet brown liquid hits the baby unicorn’s outstretched tongue.
The winged kitten in my lap meows, the space noodles all collapse into a heap of time and space and stars and worlds, the black robed skeleton brings its scythe down, the giant unicorn with all the spikes yells “Shucks, not again!”, and the universe ends.
Sometimes the darkness and I save the universe.
We walk in the odd spongy greenish blueish-ness that comes after the end of the universe, and I wonder. I wonder why we are still here, after the universe has ended. I wonder why there is still a here here. I wonder what the spongy greenish blueish-ness is. I wonder where the winged kittens went. I quite liked them.
I wonder why the darkness is saving the universe.
Perhaps it felt bad for the baby unicorns, who had not gotten their chocolate milk after all. I’d wanted chocolate milk for years and I’d never gotten any, but I know that I don’t matter to the darkness. Maybe the baby unicorns do, though.
The darkness turns to me, and I remember that it can hear my thoughts.
It says, very quietly, “I matter to myself.”
We walk on through the space that is left after the end of the universe, and I wonder, and I think, and I try to remember that the darkness hears, and I don’t know if I matter to myself.
Sometimes the darkness and I go exploring in the ruins of ancient tourist traps.
I try to tell the darkness thank you for saving the universe, but it hisses at me and then it stalks off into the ruins.
I sit on a bench and look at the walls. There are ancient engravings inscribed on them. Other humans once roamed this place, and they lived and loved and lost and drew pictures of very large genitalia and wrote of their many romantic conquests, and they insisted, in deeply scratched letters, that they were here once, and that they mattered.
I remember the darkness saying that it mattered to itself.
Do I matter? To anyone? I don’t know. I think probably not, not in the same way that these people mattered. My genitalia is not that large, and I have not conquested anyone in a romantic manner. It is rather hard to engage in such activities when the void, even contained as it currently is in gatorskin, is always around.
The darkness comes out of the ruins and sits next to me on the bench. Its gatorbreath smells of mayonnaise and solitude. It hisses “You are made from the same matter as stars, but I am that which contains the stars.”
I know it can hear my thoughts, but right now I don’t care, and I think that one day I will destroy the darkness and I will wear its skin, and then I will be a human wearing a voidskin, and I will find another human and I will conquest them romantically and we will dance among the stars, and we will have conquered death.
The darkness laughs, its sharp gatorteeth dull white in the oppressive light, and it says that it has many skins and that it cannot die, but I can. It says I am decomposing, that even now it can smell my organs decaying, my body slowing and shutting down. It says that it is eternal but that I am finite matter subject to the ravages of time, and that I only have the one humanskin.
Then it says the winged kittens survived and made it into this iteration of the universe, and if I am good perhaps it will get me one, if I am so alone and if I do not find the darkness good company.
I suddenly realize that I hurt its feelings and that I should probably say something like “No, you are very good company, and I quite enjoy our little chats and our forays into the spongy greenish blueish space that comes after the universe ends”, but I don’t.
I sit on the bench, and I watch the shadows of the walls lengthen as the sun passes overhead.
Sometimes the darkness and I say true things.
I say “I am a real alive person.” I think this is true. I think I just said a true thing.
The darkness says “I am a howling emptiness.”
I don’t know if that’s true. If there is something in the emptiness that can howl, then the emptiness is not so empty.
I remember things. I remember the mid-afternoon gloom in a room with heavy yellow curtains and a dark green vinyl sofa covered with a flowery afghan. I remember a small black and white TV on a cheap wooden table next to a weight machine with bright red glittery cushioning. I remember a little picture, won in a game at the county fair, of a pink and white harlequin against a backdrop of space.
I remember a road at night, alone and abandoned, lit up by a string of fluorescent street lights. I remember that there was no one there to see it. Except me. And I am a real alive person, and I count. I see things, and they are real and alive and they count too, because I see them and I remember and I care. Caring makes things real.
The darkness says that no one cares, not really. It says that everything falls away and crumbles into dust and no one remembers anything and nothing is real, because the real alive people who remembered it also fell away and also crumbled into dust. It says that even the dust goes away, eventually. It says “I have seen many universes, and I don’t remember any of them.”
I turn to look at the darkness, at its red glowing eyes and its sharp gatorteeth and its scaly dry hard gatorskin. I try to notice all of it, so that I can remember it, so that I can make the darkness real and alive.
I try to love the eyes and the skin and the hissing voice as it says, “Do you know what it is that howls in the emptiness?”
I know what it is. It is the darkness that howls, because it loves all the universes and they pass away, and it howls its grief and pain and horror.
I know it can hear my thoughts, and I see the red eyes turn to me. I see a flicker of pain, deep within them. They are set in the gatorskin’s eye sockets, but they are not gatoreyes. The red eyes belong to the darkness.
I belong to the darkness.
And I am passing away, even as I breathe and think and remember and notice things and make them real.
The darkness howls.