Sometimes the human and I receive letters in the usual way, with the words twisting in the sky above us.
Hello, Tad. You might be interested to know that your letters were a soft yellow, which the human found hard to read against the light pink and purple of the setting sun. Not that it can read the language of eldritch beings who were mostly a conglomeration of tubes with eyes attached at the ends anyway, but, you know. Humans and wanting to see things clearly.
For now I will accept your protestation that you do not wish to eat the human. For now.
What do sunflowers look like? The human says that they are very pretty plants and that they follow the sun through the sky. If they float through the sky, chasing after the sun, how do they get water and phosphorus and nitrogen and the other things that the grass tells me plants need to live?
I am not at all surprised that my words were black and angular and neat. Pity. I was rather hoping they would be rainbow colored.
We are still on the same path that we were walking when I wrote you before. I fear we are lost.
Sometimes the human and I pass by streetlights that glow yellow warm, as the human would say. I recognize their glow. We have been this way before.
I do not know what the project is. I can cross many borders and boundaries myself. But I’ve never sent messages to other consciousnesses demanding that they answer very personal questions, and then matched them up with other consciousnesses and made them write letters to each other. That seems like an odd hobby to take up.
Perhaps one of the eldritch beings who were mostly a conglomeration of tubes with eyes attached at the ends survived, and this is their project. It must be very lonely to be the only one left. It makes sense that in that situation they would eventually develop strange ideas.
I am not the only one left. The human is here with me. It says, “We’ve been this way before, haven’t we? Also I don’t think the sun is moving. It’s been sunset forever. What’s going on?”
I ask the grass for its input. It’s not screaming now. It is mumbling “Beware! Beware!” to itself. I give it some nitrogen, just in case.
I tell the human that I am not sure what is going on, and that we should be careful.
Since you are Death, do you ever have to be wary of anything?
I do. I think I have protected the human from you, but still it is fragile, and I do not want it to be hurt. So I walk beside it on the path, and I am wary.
Sometimes the human and I walk along paths we have trod before, under a sun that never quite sets.
How do you think I am like you?
Once I told the human that when you came to collect it, you would put its soul on a flimsy wooden boat, do an intricately choreographed demonic dance that would open a blue and red void of despair, and shove the boat off into the gaping maw. Then you would wave madly as the human’s soul was consumed by the corrupted spirits of everything it ever loved. I liked the pictures it made in its mind in response.
From your words, it would appear that I was wrong. I do not think that is the sort of activity you would engage in. Was the human right, about you being a warm bony hand that would gently guide it into the afterlife?
Either way, you cannot have this one. It’s mine.
As for names, the human always calls me the darkness. I did not have a name before.
I ask it what nicknames are. It says, “Oh, that’s when someone calls you a made up name that’s not your real name but it still stands for you, and it can be like a shortened version of your name or a joke, like if I called you Lightness or Fleshy or Sameskin or Not Scary At All or something like that. But I like calling you the darkness.”
I am the darkness.
Sometimes the human hurts, and I don’t like it when the human hurts. I think that’s what it means when it imagines the “friend” word, someone who doesn’t like it when you hurt. So I think I am its friend.
I was wearing the shadows when I first heard its thoughts. Its I.
I didn’t have an I then. I was only skins. But somewhere inside the shadowskin, something that would become my I saw the human imagining, and followed it home.
You have more than one human friend? I’ve never seen any other humans. My human sometimes imagines other humans, but we’ve never met another one.
My human imagines many universes. It makes pictures of them in its mind, and the pictures are all sorts of things. Sometimes the pictures are lonely, sometimes the pictures are funny, sometimes the pictures are scary. They are always beautiful.
I learned all those words by watching the human’s pictures and listening to its thoughts. How did you learn words?
The human is looking at a streetlight. It likes streetlights. It finds them comforting and glowy and they make it feel warm and safe inside. It doesn’t like the dead tree behind this streetlight though.
It says, “Maybe we should find a place to stop and get some rest. We can watch the sun and see if it moves, and you can listen to the grass, and we can figure out what to do.”
I haven’t told the human this yet, but I think there are other humans in this universe. Or things that used to be human, anyway.
I tell it, “All right, but only if you eat this rainbow pellet first.”
I hand it the rainbow pellet I just made out of the black. The pictures it is making in its mind are very amusing.
I hope your human friends amuse you.
Sometimes the human and I see things that we have not seen before, and the human ponders the endless loop ending capabilities of rainbow pellets.
The rainbow pellet was just something that I thought the human might like, and I hoped that consuming a small colorful bit of the black would help it relax and not be so anxious. The loop ended because whoever was keeping us in the loop wanted it to end. The rainbow pellet had nothing to do with it.
I’ve noticed that the human does this a lot. It will search for causal strings that are not there, it will assign all sorts of meanings to events that do not have meaning, and also it insists that time is linear. Do your humans do that? I find it adorable.
What do you mean by your Purpose? Is it the same thing as what you told the pen pal profile when it asked about your occupation? The bright blue words in the sky said that my occupation is keeping my human safe.
If the things that used to be humans and that I suspect were keeping us in the pathloop come to eat the human, I will kill them and I will take their skins.
Would it be your Purpose to come collect what is left of them after I do that? If so, could you wave at us? When the human imagines other humans, sometimes it imagines them waving their hands in a movement that is meant to be a ritual of friendly greeting, as opposed to the mad waving in a ritual of chaos and despair that I told the human about. I think I would like to engage in a friendly greeting ritual.
The human says, “Look, there is a bench to sit on! What happened to this streetlight, though? It fell down and its glow is all gone. I think it’s sad.”
Do your humans often do things like pet streetlights in an attempt to comfort them? Mine does.
My human makes me, and everything else, Real.
Sometimes I am everywhere at once, when I do not have an I. It hurts. I prefer having an I and a skin and a mouth to say things to the human with.
I sit on the stone bench, and I use my mouth to say to the human, “Come sit. Petting the streetlight won’t help it now.”
This makes the human upset, but it comes and sits. It is quiet, thinking about the streetlight and the dead trees and the pathloop.
The human’s reflection of me is the only one I have ever seen. It has not made me bitter. I think. What is being bitter?
Things I have experienced while being an I:
It hurts when I do not have an I, now. It did not hurt before, when there were no words and there was only everywhere. But it does hurt now.
I do not want the human to die.
I am most an I when the human looks at me and declares me Real.
It is good to have a skin.
The human uses its mouth to say, “Can you ask the grass how to help the streetlight?”
Sometimes the human and I sit on stone benches at the end of pathloops, and we ponder the brief glowy life of streetlights.
I do not think I am sneaky. The human imagines a soft covering for its feet when it thinks the word sneak. I have never worn a footcoverskin. I think it would be very distressing, being split into two separate parts and having to smell the human’s feet all day and then also to always be touching the ground, over and over. And I would not be able to go where I wanted. I would have to go where the human wanted to go.
Although really I think that rule already applies, no matter what skin I am wearing.
The human says, “Are you writing our penpal? Would they know how to help the streetlight?”
I tell it, “Yes, I am writing Tad. No, I do not think Tad can help the streetlight now. But you may imagine Tad comforting the streetlight after it fell and then helping it pass on to the next form that existence takes for broken streetlights if you wish.”
The human imagines this. It creates a post-broken streetlight universe in its mind.
Is there a Death in every universe that the human imagines? Can you feel all of them?
The human imagines a warm and glowing universe with dancing streetlights surrounded by clouds of buzzing insects. A bright yellow moon shines down on their revels. There are cracked sidewalks and tall trees that move in a slight breeze. There is the noise of bending metal and below that, the soft hum of lightbulbs that will burn forever. There are shadows everywhere. I try to see and hear and feel what the skins in the human’s universe experience, and I only experience myself.
I am the only me.
Sometimes the human and I worry about the grass.
I had to ask the grass about the streetlight. The human wouldn’t leave me alone about it. It was making the most pitiful pictures in its mind.
The grass did not respond.
It is not dead. I can feel water and nutrients moving through it. But it is silent.
I try to distract the human. I tell it about your planet full of winged kittens and your somewhat clever lawn chairs. It does not help. The human is still worried.
I know from the human that black holes are things that eat stars, and that the sound of their star-eating is similar to the sound the human hears when I take a new skin. What is dark matter? I am dark, and the human thinks that I matter.
You know of the human’s Spooky Day? Do you wear sheets and fake teeth and garish makeup for it, like the humans do? What does it feel like?
What does love mean? I ask the grass, just in case. Perhaps it will speak up in its voice of wet slow sun and tell me what love is.
The grass does not answer.
I prefer knowing to wondering. The human likes to wonder. But I need to know, so that I can protect the human and its wondering.
I do not think that this universe is peaceful. I think that this universe screams and bleeds and goes silent because it is terrified of what walks across it.
The grass is silent and the streetlight is dead and the sun is moving below the horizon and you say that the bones under the island are old, and I know now where we need to go.
There are many old bones here, and some of them still walk.
Sometimes the human and I consider making our own bones.
The human says, “I came with mine. They’ve just always kind of been there. They grew over time, but I didn’t have to do anything. Well, I think drinking milk maybe helped? I don’t know.”
I have never consumed milk. But then I only have bones sometimes.
You should be proud of the bone marrow that you made. Does it take a lot of work? My bones appear when I take my other skins off. I don’t think I made them myself.
What do you use the bird bones for when they break? The human once used parts of my bones to make a hook for fishing.
My skins are not images. My skins are real. I take them from other things and then I put them on over the bones.
I ask the human what skin it would give me if it could imagine one. It says, “Hmmm” and it begins to imagine.
I see many things in its mind. A big fluffy unicorn, a white picket fence, a tiny dragon with iridescent wings, a castle that is falling down, a yellow sun, and finally a set of bones shaped like the human.
The human says, “I liked it when you wore the bones because that’s when you seemed most like yourself and like you were happy, although I did worry about the bones hurting when you sat down. You seem to like the fungiskin okay though, and it’s soft so I don’t worry so much, so it’s okay for now.”
The human sees me as I am.
When you are wearing the tree with the roots that reach every part of the earth, can you move? I am able to make the fungiskin move, but the human imagines me wearing a structure that stands still so often that I want to try it out. I am worried about the lack of movement, though.
The sun in this universe is sinking behind the mountains on the horizon, and we have a bridge to cross.
Sometimes the human and I remember our old traumas.
The human is not sure about crossing the bridge. It remembers the deathbridge and the swallowingbridge. There was a greenbridge too, but it wasn’t traumatic. It was only pleasantly damp.
I tell the human, “This bridge is just a woodbridge. It’s not going to swallow you.”
It asks, “What if I fall off?”
I tell it, “I will catch you.”
What does it mean to have worth, and to be worthy or not worthy of talking about the pain that you have stolen?
I steal skins. I am not sure if I steal pain.
The human has taken two steps on to the bridge. It is worried, but it is brave. I ask it if I steal pain.
It stops. Inside its mind it is remembering its own pain. It feels like your rocks. Dark and deep and old.
The human says, “No, I don’t think you steal pain. I think pain is just there, and you flow around it. And in it, maybe. But I don’t think it touches you, and you don’t touch it. Do you know what I mean?”
I do not know what the human means.
I have touched darkdeepold things. When the human isn’t here. When I lose the bones and I am the black. When the human is close to you.
The human takes another step, even though it is scared. It asks, “Are you writing to our pen pal about pain?”
I answer, “Yes.”
The human says, “Tell them that pain is okay and that it happens and that I hope they get around and through their pain all right.”
So, Tad, are you getting around and through your pain?
The human takes another step, and another. It is remembering the bad bridges, the ones that hurt, but still it takes another step.
I watch it carefully as it walks. There is a fog hanging over the bridge. It is watching too.
Sometimes the human and I walk through a fog that is watching us.
There are places in your universe where life is orderly and safe? I don’t think the human and I have experienced that.
Maybe in the blue mushroom universe? Nothing tried to eat us there. But then that was a universe that the human made, all by itself, so it was just us there. And the mushrooms. Which did not want to eat us.
The fog wants to eat us.
In your universe, with its many humans, maybe you need contracts and agreements to keep all the consciousnesses from eating each other. Does it work? Hunger is not an easily tamable thing, and in my experience it does not respond to anything but fear of being eaten itself.
The fog was sent by the bones that walk. I smell them in it. They smell like dirt and worms and old black blood. In turn, the fog is smelling the human and me. I wonder what I smell like?
I ask the human. It says, “You smell like unicorns and friendship and recently consumed stars.”
The human smells like a warm glowing alive streetlight shining on a concrete sidewalk at night. It is a nice smell.
What do you smell like?
Sometimes the human and I smell many bones.
We made it across the bridge without being eaten. The fog wanted to eat us, but the bones that walk did not let it. The bones are stronger, and their hunger is bigger and more vicious.
I have to cause suffering to other consciousnesses to keep the human safe. I do not think that is wrong.
I listen to the human and I try to make it happy. It does not always work. But as you say, perhaps it is impossible to always make the human happy. I will still try, though.
I do not know how I would stop being the darkness. If I could not protect the human and it disappeared and there was no one to make me Real, there would only be everywhere again, and it would not hurt.
I prefer the hurt.
The bones that walk are near. I smell them. They are sleeping in a nearby structure.
I sink my handtubes into the grass. It is silent and afraid and desperate for the sun, but the sun is sinking. I give it some phosphorus.
The bones will stir soon, when the sun is completely gone. They are hungry.
They will find that my hunger is the biggest and most vicious of all.