This is part of the unfinished project, NIGH. Set in a dystopian future where the Catholic Church has regained a level of power not seen since medieval times, a young man named Luci must kill both fellow cultist and bishop alike to see the Church’s reign of terror end.
I ask Constance “why” and “how” sometimes. Not often, although the words roll around my head like old gumballs I’m afraid I might slip on if I don’t figure them out sometime soon.
If the Vatican hates cultists so much…why did they bring me back from the dead?
How did they bring me back?
Again and again, like Constance and I are locked in an eternal subway car far below the earth together in darkness and the only bursts of color are those two gumballs. Rolling out from the shadows of a seat as the car jogs around a bend in the tracks and then back under another seat, lost under all my other thoughts.
Constance hasn’t given a straight answer and I don’t really want one. I’m afraid an answer would include his hands around my throat and that wild thing tucked so carefully behind his cassock grinning from behind his face. I’m not ready to meet that part of him yet. One day in the future, when I am sure I can hold my own against him and gut him, yes. Until then, I will be as meek as a church rat.
It is bothersome, though. My own memory of Before is not clear.
If I could read a page of my thoughts about Before, it would be a page broken up with lots of little hyphens like: —————————
It is one thing to wake up and be disappointed that you can’t revisit the memory of the dream you were having. Dreams are false things and usually fun. Even the nightmares because they can’t really hurt you.
But the dashes that make up the static of Before bother me.
I know they are probably left over from my brain grabbing at anything it could find: oxygen, its own wisdom, my memory— gobbling them up if it meant staying alive.
In the end it didn’t matter what parts my body chewed up and destroyed of me. If Constance is to be believed, I died. And then those Vatican men brought me back with their Holy magic and now I am alive again.
The reason I really want to know the truth is because, beyond those two questions— beyond “why” and “how” is my reflection in the subway car’s darkened glass. And I haven’t looked at it head-on, but I don’t feel like it’s me, but another me. A copy of me. Like those carbon copy papers where the text is half smudged and the page is a different color altogether.
I don’t think Constance notices his shadow, but I feel aware of mine. All the time.
I don’t like looking in mirrors because then I’ll have to see if I’m right.
But I feel like there’s another me. A carbon copy cult boy just lagging behind. Like they didn’t quite get my soul inside my body. Like something sloppily stitched together. Like something I could cut away but there would still be another half of it inside me.
It’s lights out in the hotel room and Constance is asleep. He lays silent for an hour at least, staring into the darkness as if communing with the great beast in his own head. But now his breathing is deep and rhythmic.
I stir inside my closet, sitting up as if it will help me be more aware and listen.
For what, I don’t know.
Taking a deep breath, I lean over the floor of the closet and place my hands palm-down on the floor, spreading my fingers.
Exhaling, soft, I close my eyes. I listen.
My shadow waits with me, and slowly I can feel it taking up air and space, crowding me like something is sitting beside me, watching me.
It is not so different as my time Before. I remember the blackness of the dark room I lived in, apart from the others. I remember my father, my Father, and sometimes the tingling of communion between my thighs, the joy busting like sorrow inside me. Sweet and sharp and lost. All of it lost like those hyphens in my memory of before.
I know my father is dead, my Father is lost, and that communion with another will mean their end and my revenge.
But here in the dark of the closet, it is not Father who is with me.
It’s the reflection of the boy I was Before. He is black as the room was and as sharp and wet as death was.
hello, I venture, what are you?
It comes suddenly: a laugh, soft and warm in the way that honey looks, reminding you of a pollen-filled spring day deep in the woods. I smile, despite myself, and the sound of my own laugh bubbles up within me.
are you me? I make sure I am quiet. I do not want to wake Constance and have him wonder aloud just what else could be wrong with the cult boy he’s been given.
something like that.
My breath quickens and I giggle and press a hand over my mouth. I can feel my eyes are wide in the dark, open, and I am smiling. I haven’t felt fellowship like this since Before. Since Father loved me.
tell me more about yourself. everything.
everything? that’s a tall order.
I pull my knees up to my chest and wrap my arms around them, getting cozy in the corner of the closet, feeling the way a cat does when it purrs and purrs.
as long as i live, we have time.
oh, darling, we have much longer than that.
I wake in the closet where it is gray shadows. It must be morning. I am alone and yet not alone. I feel a warmth in my chest like I’ve woken from a very good dream but all I remember are hands in mine from behind, the embrace of something honey warm, smiling in my ear. I’m still smiling, feeling so full of life for the first time since Before. Since they took me from Him.
In the room beyond the closet, I can hear Constance stirring: listening to the news, making his coffee, putting on his clothes.
Soon I will have to stand and stretch and shake off the magic of the night before. My own, non-Vatican magic.
But I know now that I will be taking that magic with me. Inside me like a seed.
My shadow is only a carbon copy because it thought it was best to be that. It is not myself from Before. It is something the Vatican men stitched to me to bring me back. To lift my soul from beyond. It carried my soul up and stayed inside me. And until last night we hadn’t spoken a word to one another.
I hug myself. I hug it.
And for the first time since coming back, I don’t feel so alone.