Sometimes I am sitting on a bench, and the darkness sits next to me. It is wearing a skin of ash and embers.
The darkness says, “I am sorry.”
The darkness says, “I did not want to lose your universes.”
I think about asking the darkness what it’s sorry for. But I don’t.
I think I already know, anyway.
Sometimes the darkness and I wander through green and ashy hedges together.
The darkness has not spoken since it said it was sorry. Its eyes are gray again. Not white. Not black. But in between.
My wrist is blistered where it picked me up, on the bench. The black pulses from the ring of raised skin. But that’s okay.
I am glad that the darkness is here.
Its ash and embers skin is cooling. The breeze picks up some of its ashes and blows them into the mouths of the hedges.
I don’t hear anything but the breeze blowing through the leaves and the crackling of the hedges that are still burning behind us, but I think the hedgemouths are saying a word.
I think they are saying “Home.”
Sometimes I sit down on the ground, my back against a very tall tree, and the darkness sits next to me.
I want to ask the darkness where it’s been. I want to ask why it disappeared. But I know it wouldn’t be able to answer me. Not right now, anyway.
The darkness reaches out with its hand of ash and dying embers, and it pats my hand. Which I guess is still a human hand, even with the black rolling through it.
I pat its hand. Its skin is just kind of pleasantly warm now. Like holding your hand over a candle flame. A few bits of ash flake off and fall to the grass.
I was always me enough, really.
Sometimes the darkness and I sit on the grass and gaze at the stars.
I think the black was me.
I look down at my wrist, where the darkness burnt the skin.
The black is me.
The darkness makes a sound that is almost like its old hiss but not quite. It’s more of a crackle now, maybe. There are no words in it.
I look at it. It gestures towards my wrist.
I say, “It’s fine. It doesn’t hurt. Thank you.”
The darkness nods. Flakes of ash fall from its skin.
I look up at the stars again. I hold my right arm up against the sky. The black under my skin is darker than the space between the stars.
I stand up. The darkness crackles again. I say, “Come on. Let’s take a walk.”
The darkness stands up too. I worry a bit about the ashes that fall as it moves, but only a bit. I know there are always other skins.
We walk through the hedges that are sometimes burning and sometimes not, and their mouths tell us that we are home, over and over, as we walk towards whatever star comes next.
Sometimes the darkness and I go for a walk.
It is very pleasant, this walk.
There are small lights to show us the way. There are flowers that smell nice and there are buzzing bees and there are little plaques that tell us about this place with the hedges and the flowers and the bees, how it is an old estate where tragic things happened and people died.
I won’t die. Probably not, anyway. Even if I get eaten by Lovesys No Color aliens. Or by the hedgemouths. Or by the ghosts of the people who died here. I wonder if ghosts eat people? They need to get their calories from somewhere.
I know that sometimes plain bridges eat people.
Oh well. If the ghosts do eat me, I won’t die. The darkness will pick me up.
Sometimes the darkness and I look out over a garden of many things.
I wish the darkness would talk. Sometimes it makes that crackle noise, but that’s not the same.
It makes the crackle noise. I remember that it can hear my thoughts.
I think, “I am very glad that I imagined the chain.”
I think, “Thank you for not disappearing this time.”
The darkness makes the crackle noise again. It is enough, really.
I sit down on the concrete. It sits next to me. I look at it.
All its embers have burnt out, leaving only ashes. Its eyes are gray still, but they are shining. The dull gray ashes and the shining gray eyes are beautiful, I think.
I look down at my skin, at the wide bands of black rolling through it. I am beautiful too, perhaps.
A voice below says, “Yes, yes you are.”
I look down through the balustrade.
There, pink and hazy and waving up at me, is a ghost.
Sometimes the darkness and I worry that we may be eaten by a ghost.
The ghost says, “No, I won’t eat you,” but I don’t trust it. I watch it through the balustrade.
It says, “I haven’t eaten anything for centuries. I am a pink haze. I don’t even know if I still have a stomach.”
I still don’t trust it.
I can see the garden through it, all the flowers and hedges and little lights behind it tinted pink. I wonder what it’d be like to be a pink haze and to wander around a garden for centuries. I bet it’d make you pretty hungry.
It sighs again.
It says, “If I promise to not eat you, will you come down here? I mean, look, if it helps, I don’t think you’d be very tasty. I can see the void that you’ve got under your skin. That stuff tastes like death. And I should know.”
The darkness touches my knee. I look at it. It nods.
I look back down at the ghost. It’s tapping a hazy pink foot.
I say, “How do we know you won’t eat us?”
The ghost growls. It expands, rising up and out, until the whole garden is covered in a pink haze.
The pink stops at the edge of the balustrade.
The ghost says, “You don’t. But come down anyway.”
Sometimes the darkness and I are wary of consciousnesses not our own.
We walk down into the garden. The pink haze recedes.
The ghost says, “See, I’m not eating you.”
It draws the haze into itself until the garden is clear.
It says, “You burnt my hedges. I arranged them very carefully, you know, and I have spent my unlife caring for them. Talking to them. Making friends with them. Feeding them unaware passersby. And then you burnt them.”
It says, “I would like to know why.”
I want to answer it, but I don’t know why. They were burnt when I got here.
I could maybe tell the ghost that I imagined the chain and then I was here with the darkness and it burnt me. But that would make it obvious that the darkness burnt the hedges, wouldn’t it? And I don’t want the ghost to eat the darkness, or to feed it to the hedgemouths.
The ghost looks at me. It says, “I am NOT going to EAT anyone! Can you just accept that? Please?”
Then it looks at the darkness. It says, “So. Why did you burn them?”
The darkness crackles.
Sometimes the darkness and I consider the meaning of existence inside a ghost’s stomach.
We’re not actually inside a ghost’s stomach. Not yet. But it’s important to be prepared.
I think that there would still be some sort of meaning, because there would still be beauty to perceive. The ghost is translucent, so if you were inside its stomach you could probably still see the surrounding environment. It would have a pink hazy film in front of it, though. But there’s a chance that maybe reality would look even more beautiful through a pink filter.
I see the ghost looking at me. It’s hard to tell, but I think it may be rolling its eyes.
It says, “Your companion here seems to only be able to make crackling noises. Can you translate?”
The darkness crackles. I listen carefully.
I tell the ghost, “The darkness says that your lights burn it.”
I don’t tell the ghost that its pink haze would probably make a good skin for the darkness.
The ghost considers this information.
It says, “I sincerely apologize.” There is a small ripple in the ghost’s haze, and then all the lights in the garden go out.
The darkness crackles again. I tell the ghost, “It says thank you.”
The ghost says, “You’re welcome,” and I try to remember what the plaque said about how the ghost died.
I know it was very tragic and sad. I think there was something about star-crossed lovers and angry families and streets that ran red with blood, and also there was barbecue made from a giant blue pig, and then there was a curse and a stomach that could never be filled.
A stomach that could never be filled.
The ghost’s haze gleams pink in the dark.
It whispers, “I have experienced many impossible hungers.”
I reach out for the darkness. I take its hand of ashes in mine.
The ghost whispers again. “But none of them were like this.”