I’m going to fuck a god. I heard if you’re good they grant wishes. I heard they make you holy. I heard they change you if you ask, bittersweet, in the afterglow.
There’s no trail in this part of the woods. The trees swallow me up and the greens go from dappled jade to murky olive. Trunks are eaten up by vines and moss. I tear through brambles and branches with my acidic eagerness. Scratches lace my face and arms when I reach the clearing. It’s fine, I tell myself, as I suck my cut lip―I needed to bleed.
I’m not the only one. My mother’s locket beats, cold against my neck as I approach the center. My thumbnail scrapes over the ruined engraving before I dig into the clasp to click it open, the copper edges encrusted with bloody rust. Inside there are a few liquid droplets left, red as the wound in my friend’s palm when I left her. With a shake, they spatter onto the circle of white pebbles in the center of the expanse. There’s so little―it’s anticlimactic. My blood follows, dribbling down from scratches between my clenched fingers. It disappears in the flattened grass, but it’s enough. Iron and wood rot itches up my nose.
I try to ignore the stinging. The scratches remind me of the mortal I’ll leave behind ― all memories carried in bone marrow that cannot cross the barrier to the divine:
The look on my mother’s face when she says she loves me.
“You don’t love me.” I’m right when I say this, but she recoils like I’ve kicked her dog―no, like I’ve cannibalized some other precious child that she loves. She reminds me―again―how she gave her mother’s locket to that child. From Daughter to Daughter to Daughter, she says, with deadly enunciation. She doesn’t even know my name. “You mourn me.”
How I bit myself on the shoulder, on the arm, and the tender skin of my calf before prom. The red crescents left by my teeth, hidden underneath faux silk, and the split seams from contorting myself into a biteable shape. I am a thing that bites. Funny how the marks made me feel like less of a monster, trussed up in that gown I had spent so much on and didn’t even want to wear once.
The give of her flesh, when I sliced my best friend’s hand on purpose.
I said it was an accident, slinging my butterfly knife ‘round my fingers while walking out to join her for our premature break, leaving our tables of diners abandoned. The knife was a gift from her. “Stay safe,” she’d said, pressing it into my palm. She hadn’t wrapped it. Maybe she knew what I’d use it for. Maybe her mouth twisted (like it does when she has to toss leftovers), thinking of me laying myself bare at the feet of our local deities when she’d picked it out. Maybe her lips would twist every time she looked at her hand now. While I bandaged her palm in soft loops, she looked at me. I remember the warp of her furrowed brows (concern, pity, disgust?)―her every word and expression distorted by this fisheye lens forged from the cruel hunger I felt in me. This is what she will remember: shoddy first-aid and the hunched shoulders of a stranger by the dumpster, discreetly wiping a bloody knife into a locket to the chirrupy bass of the diner radio. I leave and I leave behind. I can’t help it.
I throw the knife with a viciousness that has grown with me since I was born. The handle shudders as the blade pierces the earth.
When I look back up the divine is before me.
Glass skin, four arms, I can see the undulating innards all in the wrong places; intestines in the forearm, a lung in the left foot, blood pooling, bubbling, and obscuring. Maybe those are the right places, maybe it’s how I’m meant to be built. On its face is a moth that reveals nothing, sapphire pseudo-eyes blinking with the beat of the furred wings. A crescendo of flutters and most of its body is hidden by a swarm of smaller moths.
“How can I be like you?” the words swoop from my chest. Seconds later I think I should have made a greeting first―my small talk has always left a lot to be desired (and, oh, do I desire).
Stand on the shores of existence as the surf slithers in. Let it surround you, but never touching, never pulling you back into the depth with it. Be eaten by none but yourself, your tail flooding down your throat with every breath. Wash over your fate, again and again. That’s what I am. What are you? Its voice is nothing. Not a sound, not a thought, not a knowing. Only the suggestion of meaning.
“I have an evil little heart, I know it. I break thorns from roses and eat them. I’ll hope something pretty blooms in my gut as I hand you the thorns. Will you know me?” I didn’t need to practice this little speech, it’s stitched into my skin. I am made of lies.
A clear hand cups my cheek, thumb brushing a bloody scratch. It’s not cool or hard like I expected. It’s warm and gelatinous. It sucks onto my skin. I am drawn closer. My lips part and a fuzzy wing tip brushes them.
What do you hate more? Being someone or being no one? Is your desire born of substance or oblivion? A second hand takes me by the nape of my neck, softer than silk and bandages.
“Will you hold me?” Breathless. My fingertips tingle, they’re going numb. I’m not sure if my feet are touching the ground. I reach for it, and the moths part so I can press my palm against its chest. I think I feel it heave a sigh. The trees creak above us.
Neither then. You seek that which holds but does not restrain. A cocoon.
“Yes,” the answer pushes itself from the bottom of my lungs. A crucible hotter than I could create for myself, smaller, tighter than the mortal world could make for me. Crush me into dust. Take me apart. Lay all of my bones side by side, gnawed clean. I can’t say all of it―the air is too light, or too heavy, to carry any more words―but I need this.
A third hand passes through my own chest until it palms my heart, the way someone picks a ripe orange. Tremors pass through me, sweet and frightening. There’s more in me than there ever has been before. I am not seen, but I am felt. My heart is so much heavier than I thought. Its fingertips press into the flesh and despite beating faster, my heart responds like clay, at first, forming divots at the pressure points, then it begins to melt, seeping between its fingers. A cry is wrung out of me, and I cling and claw at its chest. I cannot feel the disgust that always buzzes around my ears. I cannot feel the bubbles of joy I imagined while lying on the floor of my kitchen. I am in the throes of furious hope―I spasm with it―and with its help, I strive to be sculpted into something I can bear to meet the world with.
I push my hand further and further into its chest sinking it up to my wrist. It shudders, moth wings blinkering even as praise tumbles from my throat. It hums the song I sing in the shower to ignore my body. It recites the words I repeat to everyone who fails to name me. It imprints on itself the unwritten reply to every misaddressed email and love note.
“I am not what I am.”
I look into the sapphire, insectile eyes and let go of everything that ties me together. As we fall apart I whisper. Then I am sure that my feet are still on the ground because the earth presses up and squirms against the soles of my shoes. Little striped caterpillars writhe out of the dirt. Hundreds of them. They wriggle up blades of grass and my shoelaces to reach me. They eat. In mouthfuls of visceral tickling, I am devoured, divided, digested amongst them. The god watches me, fingers brushing hair from my eyes when I buckle to the ground. I sink into the arms that cradle me, my skull halfway to where its humerus should be. I can’t hear my laughter, but I am wracked with it until the end―until the beginning.
It hovers in the clearing. A butterfly knife rests, red, against its glassy fingers. Later the knife will be found on the doorstep of a diner waitress, a friend, with a bandaged palm. For now, whispering as another moth beats over, its wings still wet―holy and known. Though it shouldn’t be able, it crafts a tiny cocoon on the underside of the blade, a locket melting inside it. Above, moss-covered branches sigh and groan. A song transposed for a tiny mouth, thoroughly fucked.
Hale (they/he) is a queer creator of poetry, short fiction, illustrations, and interactive fiction, based in Michigan. Their work explores the monstrous, intimate, divine, transformative, and fae under a queer lens. You can find more of his work in Angel Rust, Lammergeier, and on their Itch page @skiddyhale. His Twitter is @haleandwellmet.