CHAPTER 44
WE GROW ACCUSTOMED TO THE DARK

My awakening was slow and paced with my shiver which rattled me against the hardwood floor of my bedroom. Night was everywhere as I lay contorted wearing only my undergarments all knees jaw and elbows. The saltiness on my throbbing lip I took for blood. I lifted myself to my hands and knees and misery knotted up my spine. I caught the slightest of glimpses of myself in the mirror, and though the darkness shielded my view, my familiarity with my current state shone brightly, and I coughed and spat like the bony dog that I was, bruised and decaying and brittle like diseased wood. Ever so slowly I stood on the balls of my feet, my spine unraveling in audible mutations like it would never be straight again. The mirror told the story of a skeletal figurine, hunched in a neverending twitch, straw-like hair barely covering eyes bloodshot with tears. Every inch of me felt raw, unready for the elements, gangly and bent. My only movement seemed involuntary, like I was a puppet, not like before. At once a discarded toy, I staggered a jerky maladroit to the edge of my bed, where I leant, without will, and was rendered concave. No expanse of crowns laid before me could appease my ever rotting doom.


In my head I heard a cackling, like you would hear from a temptress. I knew this voice. It had nothing to do with my self/other, but instead was fresher to me, a far more recent acquaintance. It flickered about the room from corner to corner, till it settled right in front of me, and I could feel its pale breath upon my brow. “I am your power,” it said to me, “and you have used me well. If you have propensity to forsake me, don’t. We have so much left to share.” What an odd bird, this imp. I could think of nothing more I had to do with incantations, unholy relics, oils and the ancients, and spite made of ethers. Yet there she danced before me, hunted and huntress all in one. I squeezed my eyes so tightly as to force blood from my extremities into whatever wellspring remained of me, then I rose, dizzy, and looked about my room for a clue to what to do, and I found it, folded, on a chair. It was my school uniform, just a blouse and skirt. I don’t know how it got there. I walked to it and put it on. I didn’t bother with the finer points of it. The hems would fall where they may.


I thought I would try something in that moment, something which would always feel forced, but seemed an intriguing prospect nonetheless. I smiled. Not just an ordinary smile, mind you, but a big, goofy, ear-to-ear, toothy, magical sunbeams and unicorn smile that still retained a semblance of authenticity, and didn’t go fully psychotic. I plastered it on my face and it made me sore. I didn’t dare look back at the mirror. I just held it there, for several minutes at least, until it hurt so much I couldn’t bear, and tears started coating the ridges of my cheeks till one fell to the top of my bare foot and startled me, like a bug. My breath panted and my chest heaved at the labor of it all. I took one small step, then another. Though it felt as if my feet were shackled to anvils, I deemed myself ready. I was ready to go to school.


Oh shit, I remember thinking to myself at the speed of light, I’m not clean, I smell and they’ll just send me home for being so stinky. I must have a shower. But maybe my uniform is dirty too? I hadn’t worn it for awhile, at least it felt like awhile. I sniffed at it, and sure enough, it stank, too. I was double-stinky. I didn’t have many options to remedy this situation. I could strip myself of all my clothes, but what if I wanted to keep going and take off all my skin? Could I wash my skin in the washing machine? I don’t think they have a setting for skin, it would probably just gunk everything up. No, the only viable solution was to hit the showers, and hit ‘em hard. I decided to furrow my brow to show how determined I was. Then I took stomping steps, the kind where you dig your heels into the ground and keep your toes in the air. I made my way out into the hallway then into that dark bathroom, and I didn’t dare waste time with illumination, I knew that every crevice and cloth on me needed water, that stuff of life, cool, clarifying, edifying water to flow over me and take the sin of stink down that drain where the demons go, so I stood under that shower head, and made the water come, and made sure it soaked both me and my clothes, and once that was done, in perfect timing, not too soon nor too late, I stepped from the shower, not daring to dry, not worried about the drip, just bathed and praying that water could follow me, before succumbing to the airs, those cursed airs. How fast could I run outside, I asked myself, but before I could answer, I had flown down the stairs and was standing satisfyingly wet in my very own nighttime front yard. Grass stabbed my toes and my running hadn’t dried me yet, so I tried running more to see how long the water would last. My gait never varied from the stiff but I attained enough pace to turn the autumn cold. A car drove by and I veered from the path to continue my way on in-between lawns. There was no thought in my navigation, just feel. I wasn’t being summoned, I wasn’t drawn to flame. I cared not about distances, though I tired well enough. No matter. My heart wouldn’t burst, my lungs wouldn’t pop, my muscles would never refresh long enough to be well. What was this messy baggage anyways. It only ever delivered death upon death. I collapsed and ran and collapsed and ran, and made my wrists and knees green. I itched at them to bring forth some blood. Once I crawled through some dirt. Once I saw a squirrel. Journeys are boring, I lay in wait for the resolute.


The hum came first, before I saw the parking lot aurora, before any guttural yelpings from a throng, before even a sense of looming as if the behemoth were around the corner. It was a simple, effervescent hum, like what you might expect from deep space, if no vacuum had preceded it. It beckoned and foreboded, it was barely audible yet there, unmistakably, the same frequency as the boiling in my veins, attuned as it was to a personal note. It slowed my stride to a stagger and tilt, and carried with it gravity heretofore absent in my night. It introduced doubt, and with it, thought, and in an instant I spiraled into the pit of my belly, though my legs carried me forward, as I was far removed from will. Instinctively I sought a barrier between it and myself — the odd tree, a wall real or imagined — but this was a temporary foil to which I could never succumb. The leviathan pulled me in, like it pulls in all of my age and disposition, and its first lights were soon upon me, its grunting and wheezing in some distant bass echo as well, and I imagined it turning on its side, and reaching out its concrete fist to me, though it nary had to do so, for I never paused my procession toward its barren, horrid heart. High School, I am yours.


Not for the first time, I had to reduce my thoughts to a quiet, for my common good. It was an intentional dumbing-down which required some concentration, such were the associations of the place. As its stone walls crept before me, I kept a reasonable perimeter, and tiptoed around a circumference to its side, to remain unseen, barefoot uniformed naif that I was. I suppose I knew where to go, but even if I hadn’t, I probably would have found my entrance regardless, like a pigeon seeking its coop. It was simply a matter of eluding any potential witnesses, a feat accomplished easily, aided by night, and care. There was a janitorial entrance to the school gymnasium, it lay in a gulley below the level of the service road which was gated and locked to casual traffic. Taken at the proper angle, the approach to this entrance offered plenty of cover. I traversed it, and the few headlight beams that arced my way could not penetrate the night to my position. At the door then, the thumpity-thump-thump of the music inside was quick to become vibration. I tested the lock, and sure enough it was secure, but this was not my design. Ten feet further down the narrow ravine was a window. It was locked too, but this would not daunt. I smashed my bare fist through the pane, shattering it with one blow, but slashing my wrist deeply upon withdrawing my arm to my side. Thankfully, the wound was severe in appearance only, missing critical arteries entirely, yet it still stung sharply, though not from physicality, but of the seismic wave it sent through my marrow, a remembrance of time just past. Perhaps this was because I expected the laceration to reverberate, to reach another person, a particular person, and bounce back to me. There was no such echo.


As I stood before the opening, I knew my sister was gone from me forever.

She was fully independent and new, for my powers as a bokor over her had ceased. Her actions in the full were the result of her own autonomous thoughts, and I’m sure she couldn’t feel me, as my self/other, my twin. My pain held nothing to her now, not a twinge, not a pang, no whimper, all for naught.


I cleared the glass shards before climbing through that window. I cut myself on my hands, arms and legs. I cherished the effect of the claret running over me. Standing in the dark empty room, the loud dance music that had previously given me cover stopped, bringing a momentary silence. Then a loud amplified voice started speaking. I couldn’t make sense of the words precisely, but I recognized the voice. It was Nodder, his nasal whine careening off the hard gymnasium walls. I walked toward it.