There’s a city under Haven. Steel skeletons of buildings soar there in jagged spikes: the ruins of a magnificent underground metropolis, lit up by millions of tiny blue lights like bioluminescent plankton.
The same blue bioluminescence spirals up in small galaxies over the wall that surrounds it. The ground glows, expansive and bright from shining blue dots strewn like flower petals over sludge-coated concrete.
It’s a high-rise splendor in the smut of the earth.
It’s where secret things happen. Where he kissed me the first time – before the wristband punishment shocked us apart.
Now I crave stupid things. I want to kiss his palm, then tuck my cheek into that make-believe caress.
I could satisfy myself with his pretend affection.
Pathetic, I know.
I walk away from him instead, slip out from where he still pins me to the wall, and I fill my lungs with the spores of decay and mud and ancient, hidden air.
He falls into measured step behind me, and I wonder whether he knows what his pitiless mouth on mine did to me, how he curved me around his passion as easily as a pressure of lips, or if my passionless demeanor smothers every hint.
My wings expand, and my toes barely skim the ground because they want to soar, and I want to fight. Fight until blood clots under my fingernails and my teeth grit against the strain of drain and exhaustion.
I want anything but to obey… but I always obey.
So I leave my wings unfulfilled, and leave the rest of me unfulfilled, and roll around the bitter taste of thwarted want on my tongue while I stride over a long-shriveled lawn set aglow under glittering luminescence.
Lunar shifts too close as we walk, hands dug into his pockets, his appearance all black leather and probing look and mystical silver wings. His gaze seeks too much. I feel him too close to my skin.
Just get to the fountain.
I stare into the skeletal wreck of a car we’re passing. A motley crew of vehicles have bottlenecked on this street, blue-dotted radiance making the forlorn tragedy beautiful. Making Lunar beautiful, too, his scarred eye hidden by black hair swimming in the illumination.
We hit the open square surrounded by spears of ruined steel buildings. Under our feet, our boots snip out the starry lights as if we’re gods walking over an entire galaxy… and destroying it.
I stop by the fountain and its contorted figures. “Now scream.”
The first time you spent the night with me, I could hardly sleep.
We’d only known each other a few weeks, but seven years old or not, already I knew the world wouldn’t get you, not with me here to fend it off.
Father approved of you, too. I’d caught his smugly satisfied look when I’d brought you home. How he’d used that whiskey-smooth tone to express warmth and sly looks to express approval, showing me I’d done well in choosing you as my new friend.
Maybe he thought I needed a cause, or that I needed a girl around me with no darkness swarming under her surface like it flowed under mine.
Not that we spent much time with Father. Once he let me, I whisked you far away from that danger.
I locked us in my room where we gobbled up candies and chocolate while you took pen and paper and drew things on my command.
A castle on a cliff, a sailing ship on an ocean. Your mother with her crazy-curly hair, your stepfather Ted with his burly shoulders and grin.
Then I asked you to draw Lunar.
You drew a boy’s face with messy black hair covering half of it and stars spilling from the scar by his eye.
“That’s what you see,” you said. “And this is what I see.” You added fangs protruding from his mouth.
You grinned. “He’s a turd that bites.”
When we finally curled up in my bed, I was too keyed up to even think of sleep.
I wanted to know everything.
“What’s it like having a mother?” I asked.
“Like having someone do this all the time.” You licked your thumb and smeared it over my cheek.
“Ew!” I batted you away.
“See, you’re not missing anything but mother spit.”
“You dork. What’s it like having a stepfather?”
“Like having someone do this.” You fisted your hand and rubbed your knuckles hard over my scalp.
“Ow!” I smacked your hand away again. “That hurt!”
“Yup. Because stepfathers are pains. Now ask me what it’s like having a friend.”
I eyed you warily. “I’m afraid to.”
You smothered your giggles in your palm. “Come on, goon-head. Ask.”
“Okay, okay. What’s it like having a friend?” I leaned back in the bed and held out my hands to keep you from abusing me anymore.
You grabbed one of them and flattened it on the mattress palm-up, then took the pen you’d been drawing with and sketched a girl’s face on my palm with stars floating around her wavy hair.
“Having a friend is like having someone who sees you like this all the time,” you whispered. “Starry and amazing even though you’re not.”
You looked up. “Ask me now what it’s like having a best friend.”
“What’s it like?”
You scooted close and hugged me, cheek to cheek, child’s heartbeat to heartbeat, curly hair to copper.
“It’s like this,” you whispered. “Better than a mother. Better than a father. It’s the best thing in the world.”
“What?” Lunar gapes.
“Scream.” I tip my head back and spread my arms defiantly, facing the building-lined expanse above and ignoring the cars and rot below. “As loud and as hard and as long as you can. You need it.” Or I do.
I cut him off with my own scream.
Fists clenched, my body hunched, I scream from the depths of my lungs.
I scream from the depths of my soul.
I take my breath and strength and shove them from my core: screw this rancid mess of infected crap, these seeping pustules that burst and ooze, these battles I will always lose; all of it I mash, infuse, and hurl it down the streets of the abandoned city until it ricochets into the empty space and rings in my ears. It’s so powerful it vibrates in my body, my teeth, my ears, off the buildings and vacant husks of cars.
I scream for all that happened: for the six-year-old innocent I never was, for the torture, the fights, the near-rapes and self-inflicted harm, the murders and the gunshots, the gush of blood on tiled floors, the terrified pleas of trembling men, my dagger at vulnerable throats, my hand sliding down my stomach on a sweaty bed, me with my head bowed at the front of a classroom with Lunar’s scarred gaze on me and my academic recitations, everything perfect, just so—and the creatures crawling through me and inside me on never-ending shrieks, and now this: mutant wings and scarlet fire and blazing men in ceaseless anguish. Anza in danger and Lunar everything I want but cannot have, and that cut-off kiss—
That cut-off kiss that inked dreams on my soul but left the picture incomplete. Incomplete because of the electric shocks that grind my teeth and keep me controlled: my leash, my chain.
My endless pain.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to anyone out there reading and enjoying my blog and the stories I post. This is from my book Incandesce. I still intend to help save the world someday if my books ever take off selling 🙂
For another excerpt from Incandesce [beginning “Let me tell you part of my story: He’s walking beside me through a fiberglass forest of snowy grass…”] click here.
For a fuller description of the book, check here.
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