Sometimes I am not quite all here, which is something. It’s better than definitely not being here.
The screaming stopped. Eventually.
The skin came back. Some of it. Slowly.
I often tell the human that I want to wear a humanskin. I like the noises it makes in its brain when I say that.
Also it’s true. There are whole universes inside the human’s skin.
I saw the universes disappearing when it was sick, after it ate the apple.
I gave it too much. I think I am the sick one now.
The streetlights flicker. The sidewalk leaps up into the air and then it falls back down, crumpling in on itself. The trees move, forming a grin like the one I wore with the bones. Then they go dark. There are tiny lights inside their darkness, wheeling in the silence. Then the dark bone grin disappears and the trees are back in their places, solid now. As solid as anything I make ever is.
The human is solid. Less solid than it was before, but it is still far more solid than any of this.
The flat buildings on the edge of this universe start to shake. Bits of them fall off and land on the grass below. The sidewalk cracks. Little slivers of nothingness push their way up out of the cement. The streetlights flicker again, and they grow big and blurry.
Death lights. That’s what the human called them.
I go towards them.
I am sorry, little human. I did not know. I wanted to save your universes, and I did not know.
Forgive me, please.
Sometimes the darkness isn’t anywhere.
I go inside the house. There is a fire in the fireplace, just like I imagined. I didn’t set it though.
I sit in the chair in front of the fire. I listen as it crackles and pops.
If the darkness never comes back, maybe I could live here. I could catch fish in the pond by the waterfall.
It wouldn’t be much of a life though. I don’t think there are even any giant pigs to bark with in this universe. It would just be me and the fish and the painted on clouds.
I don’t know why the darkness left.
But it did, and this is the universe I have to live in now.
I remember the darkness. I don’t want to, but I can’t help it. I remember the graveyard, and buying the toy dolls, and dancing in the rain. I remember the party with the giant unicorn with all the spikes and its five baby unicorns who drank the chocolate milk and ended that particular universe. Except then we saved it, in the spongy greenish blueishness.
And the darkness mattered to itself, but I didn’t.
I still don’t.
I thought I mattered to the darkness though. It saved me. I fell off the bridge into the blue brightness, and it saved me.
But then it left, and I was alone at the edge of this tiny stupid fake painted universe, and I was scared, and it wasn’t there, and now the fire has gone all wavy and weird and if there was anyone else here in this universe I might be scaring them right now but no one is here, no one at all, and I’m the only one who’s scared.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your universe, I’m sorry, please come back. Please please please.
The darkness said that.
The fire and the chair and the house disappear, and everything goes black. But I’m not scared, not anymore. I’ve been here before.
I hear the darkness hissing again. It’s somewhere out there in the black. It’s not in my mind. It’s here. It’s here. And it’s talking to me.
“Forgive me. Please.”
I forgive you.
I forgive you.
I can’t see my feet. I can’t see the ground. I can’t see anything. But my eyes have dried, and the darkness is here. I can’t see but I put one foot in front of the other anyway, and I head out into the black.
Sometimes the darkness is everywhere.
I don’t hear it. It’s gone silent. No “please,” no “forgive me,” no howling or hissing or barking.
But it is here. I feel it.
The black resolves itself into images. Streetlights, a sidewalk. Trees that I can just barely make out.
The ground shakes. I stumble and fall. I hold on until it calms itself, and then I pick myself up.
The streetlights are blurry and big one moment, then small and contained within themselves the next. The sidewalk bucks up and they move with it, leaving behind streaks of afterimages. The sidewalk slams back down, and I expect to hear the shattering of glass. But I don’t hear anything, and the lights keep shining. Big and small, big and small, like they’re breathing.
Like the darkness is breathing.
The darkness made this universe. The darkness is this universe. And it’s falling apart.
I have to find it. I have to help it.
The lights and the sidewalk and the grass fade out, leaving only the black. I start to look down at my feet but then I think no, best to not know what I’m standing on.
Then it all comes back, slowly, the outline of the sidewalk forming and filling in until it’s solid. For now. The lights flicker back into existence and resume their breathing. In, out, in, out.
I am real. I don’t know if anything else here is, but I am real and solid and I exist, and I am here.
The ground shakes again, harder this time. I fall down, again, and then I pick myself back up.
I head toward the lights. I don’t look down.
The darkness is here. Somewhere. Everywhere.
I will find it, and I will save it.
Don’t look down.
Sometimes there is a sidewalk under my feet. Sometimes there’s not. But right now there is. I try to not look at it, in case it disappears again.
I wonder what it means, that the darkness called me here when it said “please.” It did. I heard it. And then the nice warm fire and the comfy armchair disappeared, and I was here.
I don’t think the darkness knows I’m here, though.
Maybe I’m not. Maybe I still am in the chair, and I went to sleep, and this is a dream.
Either way, I am going to save the darkness.
I look for it, but it’s so hard to see. There is a gray fog over the streetlights and the three little poles on the sidewalk and the trees and the bushes. The fog goes on and on, all the way to the horizon. Like the shimmerskin has expanded to cover the whole universe.
I look down, just for a second, only for a second, and the sidewalk disappears.
My feet are still there, though. Standing on emptiness.
I look up. The streetlight and the little poles and the trees and the bushes are all gone. There is a hint of the fog still, a not quite all there shimmery grayness, but that’s all there is.
I am contained within the void.
I feel like I should call out into the void, but I don’t know what the darkness likes to be called. I always just called it the darkness in my mind. I never asked it if it had a name. I would feel a bit silly calling out “Darkness!” into the darkness.
I do it anyway, just in case.
“Darkness! Darkness! Darkness!” My voice echoes, each repetition softer as it fades. There is no answer.
I don’t think the darkness is out there, anyway.
I think it’s here.
I think I am inside it.
Sometimes I am inside the darkness.
The lights are pulsing still. When they are here. I think they are slowing down, though. I try to time my breathing with them. I breathe in as they grow, out as they shrink.
The slow breathing helps me feel calmer when they disappear.
The lights pulse slower and slower, and the black lasts longer and longer.
When the lights slow down so much that I cannot hold my breath that long, I call out again. “Darkness!”
The lights shrink down to tiny points, and then they disappear. The path and the trees and the flat buildings disappear into the black with them, and the black lasts so long this time.
The darkness is dying.
I walk in the black, and I imagine.
Sometimes I imagine the darkness.
I imagine it hiding in the shade of newspapers stands on a boardwalk by the sea.
No doubt it would tell me that a pale shadow on a wooden surface tastes very different than the dark in the depths of the water. It would tell me stories of giant fish monsters with teeth as big as me or bigger, and it would describe their hundreds of staring eyes, and how the water passed gently, slowly, over their shining scales and their sharp dark claws.
It likes to tell me things like that. It thinks it’s scaring me, and that makes it happy. So I act like I’m scared, because I like it when the darkness is happy.
I imagine the boardwalk, warm in the afternoon sun. I imagine a light post that stays still, that doesn’t leap and fall and fade. I imagine a fence along the boardwalk, one whose skin the darkness may take one day.
I imagine a blue sky and white fluffy clouds and, off in the distance, green trees and flat tall buildings. The newspapers in their stands tell of wars and explosions and markets and death, but none of that touches us here, in their shadow.
The darkness is alive and well and here with me, and it is telling me scary things, and we are happy.
We are happy.
The black comes through then. It takes the newspaper stands first, swallowing the shade where the darkness hid, and then it radiates outward until finally even the flat buildings along the edges are consumed.
I am alone again, in the black.
But that’s okay, I tell myself. Creating universes is hard. I will just have to begin again.
I walk in the black, and I imagine.
Sometimes I imagine the darkness and me.
I imagine us walking through a city at night, under a bright white moon.
The streetlights stay still. So does the sidewalk. The plants hanging from the streetlights move slightly in the breeze. I watch their shadows.
The darkness is wearing its bones. I think that’s when it was the happiest, when it was the closest to its real self. So I imagine it being happy and solid and bony.
Because this is my universe and I am imagining it, a winged kitten is playing nearby.
I look up at the moon, at its roundness and bigness, and I ask the darkness if it has ever wanted to wear a moonskin.
It hisses at me in its deathly hiss. “No, stop being silly.”
I ask it why it’s silly to want to wear a moonskin. I say, “I think it would be very nice to hang up in the sky and give everyone light, a nice soft light that isn’t harsh like the sun, and to watch all the people sneaking out and dancing and kissing and sleeping and stealing things and working third shift and taking night time walks and pondering the meaning of their lives, and you watch all of it and you know that you have meaning, that your meaning is to give light and also to make sure that the ocean works right. Because that’s very important too.”
The darkness says, “Why would I want to give anyone light?”
I ponder this for a few minutes, and I realize that it has a point.
Still. I would like to wear a moonskin one day.
I sit down on the sidewalk, under a streetlight and its plants. The winged kitten flies over and settles down in my lap. I pet it, and it purrs.
The darkness sits next to me, and I wonder how it can be comfortable in its bones. But then it’s not like the bones have nerve endings inside. Do they? I don’t know.
We sit under the streetlight, and the kitten purrs, and I know that I matter to the darkness. I do. I matter to it.
The black comes. I knew it would. It took longer this time. This universe was better than the last one, with the newspapers and the flat buildings. It comes for the buildings first, swallowing up their lights.
I remind myself that I imagined the winged kitten, that it’s not real, and then I close my eyes. The inside of my eyelids goes dark, and I know the black has taken the moon.
I am alone in the black again.
But that’s okay.
Because I am getting better at making universes, and because I matter to the darkness.
And, maybe, I matter to myself.
I walk in the black, and I matter.
Sometimes I imagine a home for the darkness.
It has things I think the darkness would like. There are trees and tall flat buildings and columns and chains. And streetlights, of course.
There are also places to sit, little tables with matching chairs, and the tables have umbrellas sticking out of them to keep the sun off. I imagine cushions on the chairs, so the darkness would have a comfortable place to rest its bones.
I am walking along the chain, running a finger over the links. They are strong. I have imagined them well.
The darkness appears next to me, its bones soft pink in the light of the rising sun.
It hisses, “This isn’t going to work, you know.”
I say, “Yes, it will.”
I look down at our feet. I notice the darkness is keeping pace with me, its calcaneus coming down on the pavement at the same time as my heel.
It hisses again. “No, it will not. I am the howling black, and you are a skin. I will consume this universe. I will consume you.”
We’ve reached a column. I stop. The darkness stops too.
I look at it. Its eyes are glowing black.
I imagine them red. I imagine the eyes I know. But they stay black.
I go to sit down at one of the little tables. The darkness follows me. It doesn’t sit down though.
I say, “Sit. I imagined these cushions just for you. I always worry about you, you know, with only your bones to support you on hard surfaces.”
The black eyes stare at me. I think red, red, red, but still they remain black.
I look up at the sky.
“Do you think the clouds are far enough away? I don’t mean this in a bad way, but in your last universe the clouds felt really close up and also there was the part where I could touch them, and that was a bit disturbing. So I tried to imagine the clouds a decent distance away from us. What do you think?”
The darkness stands by the table. Silent. Black-eyed.
I imagine it hissing. I imagine it describing clouds dripping red with the setting sun. I imagine it taking its time, savoring the images it sees in my mind, as it tells me about the red fluffy fingers of the clouds brushing against my skin.
I imagine its eyes glowing red like hungry clouds at sunset.
But still its eyes are black.
It opens its jaws wide, and it howls.
The howling isn’t muffled this time, like it was when I ate the apple.
I clap my hands over my ears, but still I hear it. I slide out of the chair, down to the ground, and I curl up under the table. The howl follows me.
The black comes for the cushions first.
I imagine them. I imagine them as hard as I can. I imagine the darkness sitting on a cushion and being happy and comfortable. I imagine the darkness telling me a story about carnivorous cushions and their dark rituals of sacrifice to placate the Gods of Sitting. But the black is stronger than me, and the cushions melt away into the nothingness.
The chairs follow them, and then the tables begin to melt.
I take my hands off my ears, The howling tears at me and I think my ears are bleeding but I can’t worry about that right now, and I crawl towards the chain.
The chain is strong. The chain is safe. The chain is real. I have to get to the chain.
The darkness is next to me, its bones still soft pink in the light that remains. Its eyes glow black and dead and empty. There is no recognition in them. It doesn’t care who I am.
But I care who it is.
I make it to the chain just as cold hard phalanges grip my wrist.
I grab the chain with my free hand. I imagine the chain. I imagine the hell out of it. I imagine it big and strong and real and safe. I imagine it as a border between Reality and Illusion. I imagine it as a chain between me and the darkness.
The darkness howls and howls and the howl doesn’t stop but somewhere in the howl I think I hear hissing, please, and then the black comes.
Always there is the howl.
please please please