She doesn’t recognize her own voice. Nine months without anyone to talk to. And when she did, it was in a voice changed by the burning substance. As if her time underground had transformed her into a demon.
Time streams black from her head. Hair shaved at different lengths for topical testing. The caustic wax burning into her skull. Somehow more freakish and dehumanizing than if she was shaved completely. Prickly patches and dark chopped lengths.
She was caught in a mantrap. A steel room with false information. Cal’s lukewarm voice coming through a speaker. “If you want to know what I’m up to so badly, I can show you.”
The air became stale. She kept her handgun aimed at the wall. Nothing to shoot but two feet of steel and concrete on all sides.
God, you know what this hand can do.
She apologized to her leather jacket. She knew they would burn it, along with the rest of her clothes, and the sacrifice of the animal would be wasted. Her vanity had brought a once-living thing here to become worse than dead.
Nullification. Inability to break down. Inability to rejoin life.
“Put the gun down, Greenwich. Or I’ll have to use the gas.”
She apologized to God for entering such an obvious trap. For underestimating her opponent. And for wasting her own life, a gift from God.
What should I do?
Steel walls, pinhole vents, crushing weight in all directions. The door she came through was no longer visible, so fine were the seams. There was nothing. Nothing but her beating heart.
I return my life to you.
She squeezed the trigger sixteen times. Probabilistic arcs ricocheted from reinforced metal walls in a tiny room. Spalling flurried like steel confetti, nicking her cheek.
Her arm dropped. Her hand slapped to her wet, heaving sternum. Sixteen shots. Only sweat.
She smiled with broken eyes as gas flooded the room, darkening her senses.
She woke up in a dark room. When it wasn’t dark, it was UV hell. The administration of the substance. The maintenance of her minimal existence.
Now she’s in another room.
Dark green eyes case the door, one exit, he gets it.
“You’re not a prisoner.”
She doesn’t look convinced. “What organization is this?”
“We’re at XGILEAD.”
“They can’t protect us.”
“This is the most secure building on the continent.”
“Nothing is safe.”
He tries to suppress the voice inside that agrees with her. The outside voice tells people everything will be okay. The inside one knows it is not.
“I need my strength back.” She says this as if calmly but firmly demanding the return of a stolen possession.
“The physical therapist gets here soon.”
“You vetted them?”
“What is your name?”
“You look like a Lazur Cortázar.”
He says, “What about you?”
She grabs his hand. Her palm is brittle and ashy but her grip is strong as it was in that UV dungeon.
“Greenwich Mean Time.”
A bullet pings from plate steel. Bituminous sludge sizzles on concrete. Lip fat chars.
He had a dream about her. It faded on waking, only detonating at the exact moment of looking at her from a certain angle.
In this dream, she killed him. There was an explosion in his stomach. Then something oozed from his mouth which must have been blood but coagulated quickly, sticking like tar.
He tells her about the lawyers. He thinks he can get them here next week. Extradite the man who did this to you. Show him what the inside of a box feels like.
Her charred voice is hard to read. “You want my testimony.”
Lazur has that feeling of contamination again. Exposing someone to a harm they could have otherwise avoided. A curse. But she’s already half-cursed. And he’s got the other half. “I can’t make you do anything.”
Deep rasp that outweighs her body. “He’ll come for us either way. Let’s put him in the ground.”
Lazur gets in his mother’s car and accelerates onto the street. Exactly as he reaches 40 MPH, a deadly chemical envelopes his brain.
It attacks his nervous system.
He can’t feel the wheel under his hands.
His cortisol spikes. FIGHT. FLIGHT.
Thud thud thud.
His skull is tight and his teeth grind.
Red sediment lines his nails. This is the source of the chemical. It makes last night real.
He is in love with Rubicon.
He examines this irrational thought with fascination. He knows he isn’t in love. He just thinks about Rubicon all the time and wants to touch every scarred inch of him.
This is an improvised explosive device. There are wires, but they run to every single part of the universe, flowing red and blue from their veins.
Norepinephrine lowers his gut motility and makes his heart beat pleasantly fast. There are no barriers between thought and action. His driving is immaculate. Artistic, even. His testosterone is elevated, especially after such a low, stress-induced baseline. He feels friendlier and energetic. He wants to be everyone’s friend. The mother rocking her baby, in a rush but unable to help murmuring and laughing at the soft little grub strapped to her chest. The guy spinning a predatory lending sign like crazy despite the hideous futility of it all, that stupid sign a noble expression of his lifeforce.
Oxytocin creates a powerful longing to touch someone who isn’t there. Someone deeply deformed, inside and out. But with this device strapped to him, this suicide vested interest, everything seems simple. Pain and doubt are chemical configurations which have been purged.
Love. That word Rubicon flung like a bomb. He has to laugh. The stupid fixation of someone too young to know better.
It doesn’t matter. He feels good. So there are a few technicalities, personal and geopolitical. He took two of Cal’s pieces. A witness, and his little angel of destruction. He’s a fucking femme fatale. Seducing the opposition. Your tax dollars at work.
Love. Hate. It’ll work itself out. It doesn’t matter what word they use. To paraphrase Buckminster Fuller, it seems that love is progressive approximation in which the relative fraction of our spontaneously tolerated residual terror constantly diminishes.
He is being forced inside a torpedo tube. Impersonal hands, gloved and efficient, but with a brutal militarism behind them.
He tries to calculate if the pressure of ejection will kill him, or if the cold water will get him via hypothermia or drowning.
Water floods the compartment, equalizing it with the exterior pressure. The water isn’t cold. They’re moored in a tropical region. Volcanoes burst underwater, molten blooms hardening around the submarine.
Water fills his lungs. Can’t breathe. But he doesn’t die. Just release me. Even if it means being ripped apart. Release me from this steel chamber—
He breaks through the surface of sweat, sucking waking breaths.
Rubicon wears a blood pink cheerleader outfit, dappled by sunlight through orange trees. A pleated skirt flaps around his shattered legs.
In Lazur’s mental dossier, the location he’s triangulating is too cold for orange trees. Maybe a subtropical region. Like a patch of blushing skin on a scarred face. If the sun is out, maybe an 8 or 9 hour time difference. He wants to move into his own light, feel the warmth of early morning, but the glare would obliterate Rubicon. So he stays in the darkness of the stairwell, cradling his tablet.
“That’s why I wanted to video chat with you. On the 4th of July. So I could see if. If you felt the same way even if you were reminded how I look. It’s easy to say things you don’t mean if it’s just my voice on the phone.”
“It’s not like your voice is any better.”
“I’m kidding. I think you’re. I think you’re beautiful.”
“What the fuck…why would you say that…”
Red R above a bare midriff. Sunken chest sloping to his bellybutton. Lazur doesn’t notice the syringe until it sparks in the sun.
“What’s that for?”
“Got that T boy swag.”
“It stands for terrorist boy. You dolt.”
“I’ll make it easy, Laz. What’s something I don’t have, that I’d need to manually replace in my body?”
“Not covered by my insurance.”
“Ding ding.” The needle pumps into Rubicon’s outer thigh, and Lazur wishes he was the one stabbing the scarred skin. He could reach the places Rubicon can’t. There’s a little meat on the boy’s ass, the upper-outer quadrant where a needle would go, or his hand. He wants to grip that emaciated hip as he traces the snowflake of perianal scars. This lacerated fey. So light under his touch, swiveling at the slightest pressure. How vividly he transplants the memory of that burnt wrist to other places. A mnemonic skin graft. And he thinks, like an alarm snoozed so many times you ignore it, this desire will destroy him.
“I wanna go to the club. I was so fucking good at dancing. But I’ll never ever get to ever again…”
“You have a wheelchair.”
“Yeah, you can roll me out on the floor and kind of…”
“I can spin you…”
“Until I puke.”
Greenwich’s sleep is broken. She wakes up with her heart in her ears every ten minutes. She makes them keep the lights on so she can quickly ground herself. She is on the ground. Not under it.
You can’t beg it to stop.
The suit that enters your prison cell is incapable of smelling you, which makes its job a lot easier. Hollow hands glide along your heavy, stinking meat. Its fingers only detect pressure, not feverish damp. It can measure your temperature but will never feel the sick heat blasting from your skin. And the remaining senses are preferences in a menu. Mute your screaming. Reduce you to an outline. A thermal blob.
They brush her teeth. Run the stiff bristle back and forth until her gums bleed. Spray her mouth with the hose until it overflows and the black water spilling over her teeth runs clear.
Her mouth needs to be clean. Or it’s not very scientific, is it?
Thick metal bars lock her in place. The hose sprays her down occasionally. Her skin breaks out regardless. There is something wrong with the air. The minimum possible atmosphere for life. Plastics, alloys, chemicals. Stale and separate from God’s green world.
The wax burns her hand. Can it be wielded like a glove? Her fingers spasm, a snared hummingbird. There is a language of command that only requires the fingers. But she not does know it.
The wax burns her scalp. Can it hear her thoughts? She isn’t the ideal scientific observer. Colors spray across the wall, a rebellion of her optic nerve. Her shadow hunches in her periphery, ready to caper away if she looks at it, desperate for companionship. Her brain manufactures voices in the absence of stimuli. Hysterical family members, hypersexual eidolons, the laughter of classmates from childhood, and her own voice, low and mean and spiteful, or high-pitched and giggling the way she never allowed it to be and now never can be. The tar cooks her throat and deepens her voice, call that pitch-shifting.
The wax burns everywhere. But they mostly concentrate on her mouth. They. He. Cal. She is intimately aware of his body language by now. Maybe at first there were others. Or maybe there was only ever him. This secret is a throne.
The suit writes on the wall with black marker. Phrases to speak while the qatran is sticking to her body. She refuses at first. But it’s difficult when your flesh is sizzling with caustic tar. The unspent power is incredibly hot until discharged. Why resist? There are so many possible combinations of words. They might never find a working phrase, let alone a useful one. It’s more likely that she will be destroyed by wrongful invocation. Slurring the body of God on her lips, annihilated like the others were.
Annihilation presumes quickness. Certainly their fates appear as blinks of annihilation to an eternal being. But on her spectrum of consciousness, they are annihilated for hours. Days. Screaming until they can’t scream anymore. But other sounds come out. Blood crackling through the nose. A dirge of bile. Reduced to fountains in Ahriman’s garden.
The suit appears. But this time the body language is different. Softer, and righteously afraid.
God is not done with her.
The dark of the scabbard is lifted.
Lazur is out back where people take smoke breaks. Barren field behind the barren wall of the agency, a monolith facing the wasteland.
Behind the chain link, there are very nice houses, laid out at a crossroads to nowhere.
He walks toward the houses and trips. The ground is strewn with rocks like the surface of a red planet. He nurses his skinned palm and stares at a very nice house, feeling like Christina. Lazur’s World. But he can stand. Rubicon’s body would fit better in this painting. A scarred waif at ground zero.
He gets up and takes another step toward the house. His palm really fucking hurts. He needs to get antiseptic on it. But that would hurt too. So he stands there, just shy of the crossroads, as a dead wind blows through the pristine houses.
A little bomb defuser robot rolls around trying to pinch his dick.
Now I ain’t what you call a praying man…
He wakes up. Thank god!
Lazur sits on the porch of the pristine house in the wasteland. XGILEAD is a giant brick blocking the city and its landscaped greenery.
He calls the nursing home on his tablet. They connect him to his mother sitting on a couch in a rec room. She stares at him and every time he waits to see if this will be the day she stops recognizing him. There have been times he wonders if that day has already arrived and she has been playing along to avoid acknowledging her own disintegration. Then she smiles at him and it’s a smile just for him, worn in like a pair of old boots.
He says, “How is the place? They don’t let you get eaten by maggots or anything?”
“Not that I know of. Although apparently how would I know these days?”
“Well, let me know if it happens.”
“Sometimes I get angry at the lady. But it was because of confusion.”
“I know. It’s okay.”
“It’s the same as when I was taking care of you. You were a little baby. Did you know that?”
“I was. I remember that. I mean. I don’t remember. But I believe you.”
“I wanted you to be free. But I also wanted you to not piss yourself.”
“Haha. Yeah, I’m working on that.”
She hums. Is it a song she sang to him as a child? Or one that he injects back into the past, a corrupting desire, sculpting everything to fit the needs of the present, until the disc is overwritten with new files, approximations of approximations of approximations. There is no archive, only a handful of memories repurposed like putty.
He looks closer at the screen. “Is that a bruise?”
“I was in the shower.” She sucks on her lip, searching for words. “I reached out for the water like it was a solid object.”
“It was a blip.”
“Are you okay?”
“Just a bump. But they won’t shut up about it.”
“They just want to keep you safe.”
“Am I the child, now?” She stares out the window, sun glassing her dark eyes. “Already?”
Unknown caller. So very known. He doesn’t answer it. Can’t cross-contaminate. He switches back to his mother’s screen.
“What did you say?”
She shakes her head. “What?”
She picks at a jigsaw puzzle. His leg hangs off the porch, scratching a pattern in the soil with his boot. Every circle breaks. A fuse erupts from perfection. An arrow breaks the earth’s atmosphere, shooting to Mars.
She says, “Are you seeing anyone?”
He looks down. “Uh…”
“What?” She gives a cunning look at his silence. “Are you being very gay these days?”
When her condition is bad, she speaks to him like it’s twenty years ago. Was that the last time he took his desire seriously? Dementia faggot scope is going to make him cry. Anterograde mortification. The boy in his mind is as damaged as his desire. As if he summoned him through the infernal circle of the blast, transformed him into his possession, his curse.
When he doesn’t want to talk about something, he lies to his mother, swims with her to another place in time. But who else can he confess even a fragment of his secret to, other than the last person who truly loves him, and more importantly, the one whose mind is disintegrating, incapable of compromising him. “Yes.”
She looks pleased at her accuracy. “What’s he like?”
“He’s, uh. A little younger than me. Blond hair. Blue eyes.”
“Wowee. So it’s like that.”
“Does he have a job?”
“That’s good. What does he do?”
“He works in the same industry as me.”
“Is he smart?”
“He’s very smart, yes.”
“What’s that look?”
“He was in an accident.”
“Do you have a picture?”
Yeah. I’m naked with dynamite in my ass. But it’s a great picture. Really captures the dynamic.
He needs to burn that photo.
“Don’t have a pic.” The toe of his boot cracks the soil, stained red with minerals. “But to me. He’s beautiful.”
She’s silent. Then she says, “When you were this little thing. It was after school. And the lawn had water on it. From the sunshine. From the machines. You were in the little place next to the. Along the. And you had this broken animal. This cat that went under a car. I said you’ll get a disease. But you took care of it.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“Then why am I the one in here? For fuck’s sake.”
It feels good to laugh with her. So good it hurts. Because the thing he loves, it’s going away. And he isn’t scarring fast enough.
“What happened to the cat?”
“I don’t know. I remember you checking on it late at night. I thought it was a robber. But it was just you. In your little feet. With a bit of water and a flashlight. It died in the night. You looked angry. I never saw you so angry.”
Lazur is watching Speed again. He likes how confused, almost scared Dennis Hopper looks in the elevator when his plans are being thwarted. The man screams, “Don’t fuck with daddy!”
He can’t ride elevators anymore. Steel box. Red number going down. Clearly the invention of pervert terrorist architects.
His phone hums.
“What the fuck?” A red claw flashes through Rubicon’s face, the skin still capable of blushing.
Lazur still doesn’t feel very mature, but it’s a tactical move. He can see the part of Rubicon that yearns to be vulnerable and protected, dissolving on his dad’s lap.
Maybe aging didn’t make me much more mature. Maybe it gave me more unsuspecting weapons. I see what he needs because I needed it. Do I want to be bigger than him? Or do I need the reflection of myself off his skin? The only way to feel this care, laundered back through another body.
Rubicon’s voice is double distorted, sonic and mutilated. “Soooo what are you doing.”
“Omgghh. Remember the bomb? The screen, the countdown, the slutty moany woman. She had blue hair, right? Her face turns to a skull. I drew fanart of her. I had an entire bombverse on DeviantArt. Face/Off. Wow.”
“Sometimes you need to watch two guys be stupid as fuck.”
“Favorite anime? Kite. 1998. The colors are amazing. And when she shoots them with the bullets and there’s this delay and then. They explode!”
“I bet you wanted to be her.”
“Favorite old movie.”
Lazur flips through his DVD collection. “Wages of Fear. When I want to feel like shit. I watch it and I think. That’s my life.”
“I thought it was warm and uplifting. Sweaty men transporting jiggling barrels of nitroglycerin on precarious roads. Fuck, I wish I could jerk off.”
Lazur tilts the tablet. “See that? The other guy tells him what to do. You know the plot needs him to do it. But first he looks at him. Sizing him up like an animal. Everything is completely still.”
“Then he does it. But no major movie actor is going to just, do it. That would be servile. He would lose his manhood. The main guys have to lock on to each other for the mandatory three seconds, or four if you really want to make it tense, what’s that script direction, just a beat too long. Then he does it. The magic trick pulling the audience attention away from his loss of masculinity. The man acts silently and decides silently and turns the act of obedience into a calculation.”
“Get on the floor.”
Just a beat too long.
“God I wish we could watch a bunch of movies together instead of killing each other.”
Lazur sits very still.
The phone is breathing.
The phone is tainted.
If he touches the phone, he will acquire an incurable disease.
He reaches for it. His hand floats just above.
Iron shavings swarm around the magnetic poles of the phone like two spiders or antlions sinking their jaws into each other.
Something is watching through the window.
Don’t turn around.
At some point he wakes up.
Rubicon rolls around on the grass in his cheerleader outfit, trying to find a position that doesn’t hurt. Awkward but enticing configurations, wrists and knees bent, skirt flapping and draping. His annoyance is so similar to a cat that Lazur laughs. Polytrauma catboys in your area.
The clipped ears don’t catch his laugh over the ambient noise. Wind, breeze, landscaping equipment, whatever it is, Lazur can’t hear it. His ears are clipped too. He is a tablet microphone.
Rubicon turns away, hiding the most mutilated side of his face. His eyes are difficult and ashamed. “When you started defusing my bombs. The thought of. If I could be the target of such carefulness. Your infectious method.”
This intoxicating juvenile attention.
Interpersonally, Rubicon is life.
Professionally, he is death.
Leaves fall onto the black vinyl seat of the wheelchair. Rubicon lays against the wheel, watching a snail crawl across his ridged hand. “You want to pacify me. But there’s another risk. The risk is you become more unhinged.”
“And you become more careful.”
The wet smile of a flayed whippet. “But everything will be fine forever and ever.”
“Forever and ever.”
Rubicon spreads his legs, finally allowing Lazur into the darkness he’s chased all day. Sun reflects bright under the pleated skirt, on a white triangle so low-riding it shows off his scar cleavage.
“I’m waiting virginal for you.”
I don’t know if it’s because I want to control you or be subordinate to you. But I see myself holding the bag of liquid waste, stinking of medication, hyper-yellow with vitamins. Fingers poised on your wet clip. You get excited and it flows through this plastic choke point. I want to change your catheter bag harder than I ever wanted to fuck someone.
A nuke is going off. He has a few hours to escape.
There are no wires to cut. Destiny has transpired at the atomic level.
We have to reach a plane.
It is the last plane on the continent.
He trudges through the arid land, past low broken bluffs, until he reaches the sea.
The one who is with him stands at his side.
We have to run into the water.
It’s the only way.
The ocean is black and terrifying. Despite the darkness, there is a sense of depth, glimmering and lucid and vast. Endlessly swallowing.
The sky is gloomy. When he looks up, the clouds become tall and luminous.
He grabs his friend and they run into the sea. The running start is essential. He knows this because he ran into the water before he ran into the water.
He swims with a violent kicking motion. It’s hard to tell how far they’ve gone. It might be possible. Like swimming the Channel. There are oceans you can swim.
He looks back and his friend is sinking into the water.
He doesn’t want to give him up.
He swims down and grabs him and pulls him up and hauls him despite the weight of two bodies. It seems impossible to swim any further. The last of his strength is draining from his muscles.
The shore is just ahead. He grabs onto it with his final breath.
Rubicon has tears in his eyes from the pain. “Can’t sleep.”
“You should be…” Rubicon shivers in a black camisole, naked legs twisting on the red silk sheets. The concrete wall is covered in black marker constellations, esoteric hexaschematics. Pastel stickers fill the space between with stars and hearts. “Do you like how my eyes leak when my painkillers wear off?”
Slurring. Barely intelligible. Maybe the only way he can ask this. Pain sieves you down to a few sparkling drops. “Read me a bedtime story.”
“What kind of bedtime story?”
“Ughhm. I’ll send you some links.”
Lazur opens the PDF. Joint Publication 4-06, Mortuary Affairs. He’s read this one, but not in this context.
When team members observe an item that may be relevant to the search, the team member will use a predetermined verbal or hand-and-arm signal to alert the team to halt. The team leader will examine the item(s) and if the item is deemed to be human
remains, portion of human remains, or disassociated PE, the team leader will mark the item with a predetermined color pin flag or other suitable marking method.
Rubicon says, “You ever do a straight-line box search?”
“Mesmerizing, isn’t it? Walking your prayer maze to recover, what was it? Disassociated portions? And then back to the collection point, laid out like a, uh, kitchen, a factory. Your soft wet clumps pass through my gloved hands. I document and tag you. To the best of my ability. A test of my attention. To know the smallest part of you.”
“Are you hitting on me?”
“I am always hitting on you, Laz. I’m going to fuck you.”
“With your big dick?”
“With my monster cock.”
“Listen to the story.”
Team leaders will mark any item that could be associated with the event; when in doubt, collect and return to AFMES for examination. The team leader will mark the pin flag using a grease pencil with the proper sequential “R” number for human remains, “E” number for disassociated PE, or “P” number for a portion of human remains. The team leader will then annotate the number assigned to the item and a description in a field notebook.
R. For what remains of you.
The reverse side of S&R tags for human remains recovered from any vehicle suspected to contain depleted uranium should be marked “DU” for depleted uranium as a precaution.
They used depleted uranium as counterweights in passenger airplanes. So dense for its size. Like you. A depleted pellet. But still so very fucking dangerous.
The primary hazard from the oxide is the potential for internal exposure. This would require intimate contact…
We still haven’t touched. Not really. Not the way that damns you. Altering your fundamental nature. DNA shattered by radiation.
If an explosive device discharges and causes fragmentation of the human remains and/or disassociation of PE, these items should be placed in an HRP with the human remains, as all preexisting disassociated evidence would have already been marked. Logically, these items were associated with the human remains prior to the explosion.
The bony fingers hang bedside, tapping Morse agonies.
Use separate rows for US, multinational partners, and adversary dead.
There won’t be enough to bury. Not under a single name. Just disassociated portions unified under a conflict. Rubilaz. Lazicon.
Clergy and RS personnel should be aware of the risks of contracting the contagion when performing religious rites, sacraments, and practices such as traditional washing of the dead.
Rubicon rolls over, exposing his back between the camisole straps, spine swimming like a dark eel. His bare feet face the camera, shining with sweat.
Portions recovered from the same general location should not be individually bagged, unless there is a strong presumption that the human remains belong to a distinct “believed-to-be” (BTB) or that the location of recovery (provenience) information for where each portion was recovered is critical to an investigation.
He didn’t even notice. Rubicon fell asleep. Lazur sits there for a long time, listening to the tortured breathing. Wishing he could tuck him in. But the boy would overheat.
An “R” number will be assigned to any item found that constitutes more than 50 percent of a human body and includes a majority of the torso. The team leader will make this determination.
A field trip to the Zone Rouge. It looks like a forest. Then you see the ravines are moss-carpeted trench walls. A tour guide drones statistics to the class of schoolboys. Rubicon stares at a sign, the wind tossing his blond hair like knives.
DANGER DE MORT
Completely devastated. Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to Agriculture: 100%. Impossible to clean. Human life impossible.
He follows his class down the trench path. There is a map sealed under clear plastic, smeared and scratched by adolescent hands.
On the map, zone sans dommages is blue. Zone completement devastee (zone rouge) is red.
The countryside is very quiet. Not even the sound of animals or insects.
Where is the rest of the class?
This trench is heavily overgrown. Thorns bristle like barbed wire, hanging like damaged hair from unseen figures resting just above. Tannin-rusted water glistens across the path, a trickle of premature autumn.
He can taste the iron harvest. It resonates in his broken teeth. What do you mean? I brush every day?
His arm itches. The skin is gnarled and foreign.
What’s happening to me?
Something pricks his back, breaking the skin.
Not another scar. Please.
Not scars. Raiments.
Bow for coronation.
Feel it in your kneecaps. The iron harvest.
The claw opens behind his shoulder. The black flower of a reptilian abyss. A blind extrusion. It hooks his nostrils and peels his lip back, tickling the pink nub of his uvula.
Heavier. Belly crushed into the soil. Antennae like wires, skin like tar. The ooze drools over him, sticking to his flesh, catching sharp on his blond hair. Pink where his breath touches it, red from the heat of his veins. It is only black because of his inability to perceive the spectrum. His schoolboy legs kick up dust, a cloud of arsenic and mercury. The tar boils, hotter with each movement. Even the swelling of his lungs into the wet mass is burning him. It bulges between his legs, pouring down the back of his thighs. Warmer. Warmer. Getting hot.
Your wrists. Your feet. Your axis. Your throat.
I cannot seduce you. I need your mouth to speak.
If I extend my finger at the end of time. Will you open your mouth for me?
Your aching half-life.
He sits up. His jacket is torn, hanging off his shoulder. His red tie flutters around his neck. The tar oozes down his hairless chest.
What are you?
I am me.
To seize the power below the mountains. You must remove yourself. You must remove your me.
It is not enough to remove your top. Your bottom. Your undergarments.
This generous space.
This singular lacuna.
You have been consecrated in the blast.
I have to get back to class.
Still chasing that dream?
You are the zone rouge.
The red lady of heaven.
She performs the death-song for her enjoyment.
The word echolocates, flings, shudders in fanning waves, then slices. Wipes. Razes.
Where will he go?
Is there room in annihilation?
I am dreaming.
I must be.
Because I said I love him.
And he didn’t break my love.
Enslave his atoms.
He will persist as your slave in the afterlife.
In our home, illuminated stones.
Rubies and sapphires.
The division of God’s light into prisons.
Pomegranate rings dangle from your fingers, phantom and flesh.
The earth explodes in exaltation.
Your scars|desert is a song, your arid aria, your e2-ri-a.
You belong to uš.
Another ring appears on his spectral finger. Pink plink of piano, fading to blue. Ring. Ring. Ring.
He wakes up tangled in his catheter tube, gasping for air, blood running from his eyes.
His phone rings.
I wish it could have ended with the bedtime story.
Everything is out of order. But that order was an illusion inscribed daily through violence. And now a different violence will create a different illusion. And this illusion will be the dream I want to live in.
When I pick up the phone, will I hear you? Or only the blast, the panting mouth that chewed me up?
Each explosion is a ghost. I collect them. I become them. I’m still screaming back there. The piece of me lost forever.
Maybe that’s why the technician makes me so mad. He tries to talk to someone who isn’t there anymore.
But when he calls. I can’t help but respond.