Sometimes the human and I grow bored of mushrooms and bright blue liquid.
We are looking at what appears to be a portal. Three glowing green lines run along the inside. The green glow pulses.
The human says, “What do you think it is?”
I say, “I’m not sure. It could be a door or a streetlight or a structure that the former inhabitants of this universe used as decoration. Or it could be where they ritually sacrificed their children to their dark and hungry gods, so that the mushrooms would grow for another year. Also so that their gods would hopefully not rip them open, chew up their innermost secrets and desires, and then spit out the bright blue liquid of their remains.”
The human looks at the bright blue pond behind the structure. It says, “Huh.” It also says, “I thought I created this universe.”
I say, “The green glow is probably the blood of the sacrifices.”
Whiteness blooms in the center of the portal. It spreads until it fills the space inside the center green line. Words appear in the white, written with the bright blue liquid.
The human says, “Is that more pen pal stuff? I was wondering what happened there, since we never heard back.”
I say, “Yes, it is more pen pal stuff. It’s written in the same language. It says ‘Pen Pal Profiles’.”
The letters writhe around each other and reform into more words, more and more until the white space is completely filled, and then the white space shifts and the letters appear again.
I say, “I think it wants us to choose a pen pal.”
Sometimes the human and I step through a pen pal profile and find ourselves in a new universe.
Hello, Thanatos Dustpine.
Your profile flashed on a gate that ran green with the glowing blood of sacrifices made to the god of mushrooms. I read your words to the human, and it said, “That one! I don’t think that one will eat us!” It ran up to the gate and it touched your profile, and its hand went all the way through.
I followed it, and now we are here in a universe with water falling out of a hole in a mountain. Also I believe there is a small gravestone on the island near the waterfall.
Was the human right about you? I hope that it was, for your sake. I must warn you that if I think you mean to eat the human, I will kill you.
Sometimes the human and I wonder whose bones are beneath our feet.
The human says, “I can’t read the stone. It’s all worn. It must be very old.”
I think you would know whose bones are in this little island, Thanatos. Is that what you like to be called? Or do you prefer Tad?
I do not know how you will receive this letter. Perhaps you will see my words hanging in black glowing letters against the sky of your universe.
At least I think my words would be black. Do let me know. Perhaps they will surprise me and be rainbow-colored, or maybe a murky orange or a hot gray.
There is a tree next to the old stone. The human sits on the ground and leans against the tree. It announces, “There’s a face on the big rock over there. It’s looking at the stone.”
I sit on the ground too, trailing my handtubes against the grass. The grass locks on to my connectors, and it tells me about the sun and the water and the sky and the tree and the old old stone, and the bones.
The human is thinking about the face in the rock. It is imagining a very tragic romantic story of the sort humans like, with star-crossed lovers and lovely young humans coughing up blood and dashing humans with strong jaws howling in anguish and imprinting their souls upon rocks, so that they may always watch over the bones of their beloved.
Tell me about your bones, Tad.
Sometimes the human and I gaze upon a stone head as it floats in the water.
The human says, “Maybe that’s whose bones are here.”
I do not think the head is the original possessor of the bones. The grass tells me that the bones deep in its roots are made of collagen and calcium, not stone.
I used to wear bones. They were not comfortable at all. This fungiskin is much better. It is soft and springy and very comfortable to recline in.
I look at the floating head. I consider its skin. I have never worn stone.
What sort of skin do you wear? Do you change skins often? I wore the bones for a long time.
Do you know when you became an I? I have been thinking about that lately. I am not sure exactly when I first had an I.
The human has always had an I since it first existed.
It says, “How are we going to write our new pen pal friend?”
I answer, “I am writing them now.”
The human says, “Tell them I said hi. Also I want to know what their universe is like. Do they have winged kittens, or chocolate milk, or maybe superintelligent sofa cushions?”
Well, Tad, do you have any of those things?
The human splashes in the water around the little island. I think it is looking for more stone heads.
I ask the grass what this universe is like. It answers with dark red gushes.
This universe has blood.
Sometimes the human and I encounter strange altars to vicious gods.
We have wandered away from the small pond with its waterfall and its bones and faces in stone, and we have found more stone. And possibly more bones.
The human says that this stone is “cool” and “awesome” and “wicked”.
It says, “I wonder who made it. Do you think that whoever made it still lives here? Can we meet them? I bet they dress all in black, with spikes on their clothes and safety pins and little yellow buttons with smiley faces on them and big tall black boots, and they smoke cigarettes, and they don’t even care about anything! Well, maybe they care about their stone sculptures being really good. What do you think?”
I think that the human is very innocent, even after walking the black.
I would ask if you have walked the black, but I am fairly sure that it would be a silly question. Thanatos. Of course you have.
The human is sitting in front of the stone altar. It is remembering a human holiday. Spooky Day. A day for humans to dress as fear and play at death.
I sink my handtubes into the ground. The grass whispers of bones and candlelight and blood and howling and flying bats. It is very much like the human’s Spooky Day. I do not think it is play, though. I think that in this universe, the blood and the bones and the fear are real.
I tell the human, “We should not be here when the sun goes down.”
Sometimes the human and I do not make the best decisions.
There is an arch near the altar. Someone has carved a face into its center.
The human looks up at the face. It says, “Do you think that’s what the people here look like, with the long curving horns and the empty eye sockets that squint down at you all maliciously and the frowny mouth? And the other stone thing we saw, maybe those are their pets? But the head in the little pond was like a normal head. I don’t know.”
I do not know either. Do you know, Tad? Have you been here? How many universes have you been to, and what were they like? I would think that you have been to every universe, but I don’t want to presume.
The human says, “There’s a streetlight up there! You like streetlights, don’t you? The face is kind of scary but look, the streetlight is all yellow and glowy and nice and there’s little insects flying around it, and it’s like home. Let’s go look at it and see where this path goes. Maybe we’ll meet one of the people who live here. I hope they have normal heads. Or if they have the horns and things, I hope they’re nice. Nicer than me. I’m assuming things about them based on their looks. That’s not nice.”
The human walks under the arch. I follow it.
The empty eye sockets in the stone face stare down at me as I pass.
Sometimes the human and I walk on a path lined by yellow glowing streetlights. There are bats flying overhead, and off in the distance I hear the howling of a wolf. The human is unconcerned about these things.
If you have not always been an I, Tad, how do you feel about being an I now? I am still not sure how I feel.
The human is wishing that it had a small plastic orange container in which to put sugared things. I will have to locate a source of sustenance for it soon. Humans require so much maintenance.
It stops ahead of me on the path. It is remembering other evenings with a chill in the air and the crackle of dead leaves underfoot. In its mind I see other humans wearing sheets and fake teeth and garish makeup.
It turns back to look at me. It is thinking that my eyes look like dying embers in the dim light. It says, “Trick or treat!”
This was a ritual in its old home, a place it calls Midnight Hollow. It is remembering groups of small humans, all holding plastic orange containers. They go to the doors of strange houses. Bigger humans open the doors, and the small humans intone the ancient ritual greeting, giving the bigger humans a choice of being tricked or giving them a treat. The bigger humans always answer with “Treat!” and then they put sugared things in the orange containers.
I do not like ancient rituals, and I have no need of sugared things.
I answer, “Trick!” and the human disappears.
Sometimes the human disappears, and I revisit old traumas.
Does this ever happen to you, Tad? Perhaps not. Perhaps, with your job, you are always experiencing other people’s traumas, and so you never have time for your own.
The human and I were separated once. It was bad. I did not like it.
The edges of this universe begin to curl in on themselves, revealing the black behind the flat mountains and the purple sky.
It is hard sometimes, this being an I. Do you find it hard, being stuck inside a skin?
I can change my skin whenever I want. I’ve worn shadows and bones and a mist of multitudinous legs and an alligator hide and now a fungus, but I am always me inside them. I always feel their edges.
I trail the edges of this skin along the grass. The grass says that the human is still here in this universe. The black at the edges of the sky recedes a bit.
I hear the human’s voice, entreating me to smell its feet. Two feet appear on the path in front of me. They are followed shortly by the rest of the human.
It says, “Neat trick, huh? I learned it in the blue mushroom universe.”
Then it says, “I need something good to eat.”
The universe uncurls. I watch the purple sky smooth itself out, up above the flat mountains. The black disappears behind it.
The human and I continue on the well-lit path. We round a curve and start up a hill.
I tell the human, “Don’t do that again.”
I tell the human, “The edges here are hungry, like you.”
I tell the human, “Let’s find you something to eat.”
Sometimes the human and I search for something good to eat.
I suggest the bats over our heads, or maybe the wolves whose howls are growing longer and louder.
The human says, “No, that would be wrong. Bats are like little puppies except in the sky, and wolves are very wise and full of good things and also they form tight social bonds, and the other wolves would be sad if we ate their friend. They might even curse us, and then we’d be like the pink ghost, and we’d never be able to eat anything ever again.”
We walk in silence for a bit.
Tad, how do you know what is wrong? I try to not do things that make the human upset. Once I learn what makes it upset, that is. I don’t know, until I make it upset, and then it feels bad, and that makes me not want to make it upset again.
The human says, “I wish there were plantcakes here, like in the garden. I really wanted to eat one of those.”
I remember that the human ate fish, in the desert universe. Perhaps it does not think of fish as little puppies except in the water. I don’t see any water sources around the path we’re on, but maybe the path will lead us to one. Beings who make paths and light them with streetlights usually need water, and they build their structures near it.
I tell the human to stop. I drop the handtubes into the grass by the side of the path. The edges of the tubes wind their way into the edges of the grass. I ask the grass where we can find water.
In reply, the grass screams.