Sometimes there is no meaning.
Other times there is.
Sometimes I eat the apple. Sometimes I don’t.
Sometimes the darkness never came, not through the mail or the toilet or the window or anything.
Sometimes I bleed to death, down in the blue brightness. Other times I fade into the black, and that’s just it. That’s all there is.
I am inside the black.
The universes blink on and off.
I am in some of them. I try to yell at myself, but the other me never responds.
The other me…sometimes the other me eats and sleeps and goes to work and learns skills, and then it fades into the black. Sometimes the other me never notices the shadowskin following it. Sometimes the other me goes over the bridge and down into the deep, and then the dark robed figure with the scythe comes. A tall gray stone appears on the ground, and then that universe goes black.
Sometimes the other me has friends. Sometimes the other me gets married. In one universe the other me has children. Those are the universes where the darkness never comes.
I see the giant blue pig in one universe. It stands there, silent and alone, and then that universe blinks off. No one ever barked at it.
Sometimes the universes are strange and new, with places I’d never seen before. I walk into one of them. It has a fake plastic tree and plastic chairs and a tile floor made up of the colors of Monday afternoon, and I know that this is one of the times when there is no meaning.
I sit down in one of the plastic chairs, and I wait.
Sometimes I sit in a plastic chair and I wait for this universe to blink off. Or for the darkness to come. Or for things to mean. Any of those would be okay, I think.
The refrigerator near the chair buzzes. Its door is transparent and I see drinks inside. I don’t get up to get one. I don’t know what will happen, and there’s no one here to pick me up this time.
I wonder what it was like inside all those other versions of me. I wonder what they felt before they went into the black. I hope they weren’t scared. I hope it didn’t hurt.
I rap my knuckles on the table. It makes a sound that isn’t the buzzing.
The darkness said that it had seen many universes. Now I have too. I remember all the ones I saw, though.
Not that it matters. I saw them and I cared and I remember, but they weren’t real. None of them were. Not even the one I lived in when I met the darkness, the one I thought of as home.
I look down at my hand. I watch the muscles move as my knuckles hit the table.
I think I am real.
I don’t know.
The refrigerator buzzes and buzzes.
I try imagining again. I imagine the chain. I imagine holding on to it. I imagine the darkness holding on to me. I imagine the moment before the black came, when the darkness was with me, and I hold on.
I imagine the words I heard in the howling.
I hear another sound, one that’s not the buzzing or my knuckles hitting the table.
Bones clack on the tile floor. I look up, into red red eyes.
The darkness says, “Forgive me.”
The darkness says, “Please.”
The universe blinks off.
Sometimes the human calls for me.
I am busy keeping trees and clouds and buildings and also a water tower and also myself together, so I cannot answer.
The black licks at the edges. It wants.
The human calls out again. It is here now, in the crumbling space out beyond the trees.
I don’t know how it got here. It shouldn’t be here. It’s going to get hurt.
It won’t die. But it can still get hurt.
The human distracts me. I cannot keep myself together, and this space crumbles too. The trees melt. The buildings fall down. The water tower tips over and the water spills out, but it’s not water, it’s the black. It pours into all the spaces where I am, and then there are only the spaces where I am not.
For a long while there is the only the howling and the emptiness.
But then the howl stops, and I have form and function again.
I am looking at the human.
I am wearing the bones. The jaws move, but I am not controlling them.
The black wants and wants.
I look at the human, at its skin and bones and muscles and nerves. I cannot smell its body decaying anymore. I stopped that. But the human is still so weak and fragile and the black is here and it wants, it wants the human and it wants me and it wants all the skins that I borrowed back.
I try to warn the human but the jaws won’t move the way I want them to. They’re moving the way the human wants them to. This is the human’s universe, its first universe, and the edges are crackling and giving way.
I listen as the jaws tell the human about giant fish monsters in the sea.
There is a monster out there, but it does not have claws or scales.
The jaws stop moving. The sea turns black, and the monster that does not have claws or scales or any skin at all rises out of the depths.
The bones dissolve into the howling emptiness.
Then the howling stops and the bones form, again. I see the human. We are in a different universe, one with a high white moon and streetlights that shine softly on the sidewalk. Chains swing between columns set in the middle of the street.
The human made this universe too.
I notice a winged kitten. If I could control the jaws I would grin.
The human is speaking about the moon. I listen to it while I watch the kitten stretch and settle down in the human’s lap. I cannot control the bones, but still the human is here with its winged kitten and its voice and its noticing of all the skins, and for a moment there is peace. For a moment.
This universe is stronger than the last, but still the black curls around the edges.
I look at the human and I notice it and I try to make its universe real. I try to make it all mean, the moon and the winged kitten and the shadows of the streetlights and the chains clinking in the slight breeze and the feeling of peace, but it is not enough.
It is not enough.
The black pours over the moon, down the streetlamps, across the chains, and into the bones.
I am skinless and screaming.
Sometimes I wander through the endless howling black that comes when you see Reality.
A universe blinks on, and I step into it. I jump down into a concrete valley and walk along a tiny river.
I think about imagining the chain again, but I don’t know. I don’t know if I can handle seeing the darkness again if it won’t stay.
It doesn’t stay because I don’t matter. I thought maybe I did, but I was wrong. I don’t matter. Not to the darkness, not to myself, not to the winged kitten, and not to the giant blue pig. I don’t matter to anyone.
I don’t even matter to this tiny river.
But then maybe the tiny river doesn’t matter either. It blinked on, and eventually it will blink off, and then there will just be the black here.
And me. I will still be here.
The darkness said that if the Lovesys No Colors ate me I wouldn’t die.
The only sound in this universe is the slap of my shoes coming down on the floor of the concrete valley. The tiny river is moving, but it’s slow and silent and it’s not real.
Nothing is real.
I stop walking, so that now there is only the silence. I sit down on the concrete. It’s warm from the sun, even though the sky is dingy and empty.
I pull up my knees and wrap my arms around them. I stare into the tiny river, at the black that swirls through the water, and I don’t imagine the chain.
Sometimes the bones are empty.
The human made a new universe. This one has tall flat buildings and streetlamps and cushioned chairs and chains that swing between brick columns.
I want to sit on the cushions. But I am not in the bones.
I watch the bones walk next to the human, along the chains. Emptiness stares out from the eye sockets.
The jaws move. They speak words that worry the human. It walks away from the bones. It sits down in one of the cushioned chairs.
I want to sit down too. But the bones remain standing.
The human talks to the bones. It doesn’t know that they are empty.
I don’t know why the bones don’t sit. The cushions look very comfortable.
The human looks up at the clouds. They are nice clouds. The human did a good job on this universe. It talks to the bones again, about the clouds.
Then it goes quiet. I think it’s scared. I wonder if it has seen the emptiness.
I watch the bones.
The jaws open. The emptiness pours out. It blots out the cushions first.
The human hides under the table, but then the table is blotted out too. It crawls towards the chain.
I am not in the bones.
I am in the chain.
From inside the chain the emptiness is not black. It’s white.
The bones move. They are coming for the human. The white swallows the spaces that the bones leave behind.
The human grabs on to me. The bones grab the human.
I notice the human’s hand on the chainskin. I notice it and I care and I try, and I feel the human trying too, but the bones are too strong.
The white swallows the space where we are. The human’s hand falls away from the chainskin. I think please, please come back. Please.
But it doesn’t come back.
Sometimes I am alone and silent and unheard.
Which makes sense, really. If I don’t say anything then there’s nothing for others to hear. But then there isn’t anyone around to hear what I say anyway.
I left the tiny river alone so it could not matter to itself in peace. Now I walk along wide empty streets. The traffic lights blink red, and they never change to amber or green, and I wish I could not matter to myself in peace.
Is this what the darkness felt like? Is this why it said such awful things? Because it knew that time went on forever and that it was alone and that no one would hear it and that everything went into the black?
Is this why it asked for forgiveness?
I don’t feel very forgiving.
I think about home. About Midnight Hollow. I miss the red unblinking eyes of the trees. I miss the crumbling monuments in the old graveyard. I miss downtown, with its high dark buildings that were all smooshed together and the benches that were always cool in their shadows and the fountains that tinkled like bones.
I think about going back out into the black and looking through the universes until I find it, but I know really that it’s gone. The black swallowed it whole, and it’s not going to unswallow it.
I think about the chain, but then I stop.
The darkness did this. It took me from Midnight Hollow. It made me into whatever I am now. It took away everything I knew and everything I loved and it forced me into Reality and then it left me alone.
It left me alone.
I watch the black swirl through the blinking red lights.
It’s not going to unswallow me, either.
Always there is the buzzing white.
The space where I am not resolves into the space where the human is. A universe of plastic and tile and buzzing fluorescent lights.
The human did not make this universe.
It found this universe.
It has seen Reality. It has walked the black. And it is still alive.
I look at it. I look at its warm skin and its legs and arms and its face, and I am glad that it is alive. But I can see the black twisting inside it.
I know that is not an easy thing.
I walk towards it. It looks up. I see the expression in its eyes.
I say “Forgive me.”
I say “Please.”
The sclera in its eyes grow until there is only the white looking at me. The buzzing of the fluorescent lights grows louder and louder.
The tiled floor and the plastic chairs and the buzzing lights and the human melt into nothingness.
I am the white and I am the chain and I am the bones and I am the darkness, and I am alone.
And I will never be forgiven.