Skyglass: Chapter 10
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Heart and Hew
I hadn’t seen Phoenix in days. I hadn’t eaten in days. I wanted Marko to fuck me.
A series of vicious fires had broken out across Raith in my housemate’s absence. It was still winter, but the air was ashy and damp. I had no idea how she’d lit up a city as wet and green as mine with fire so noxious and relentless, but I had guessed immediately that Phoenix was responsible. Yet even though I was probably one of three people who knew she was at fault, I did nothing to stop her. I didn’t even go out looking for her.
The first two days I spent sleeping in my bedroom, drinking water, and ignoring Marko’s calls–and then his texts, when he finally realized I wasn’t going to talk to him. On the third night, he knocked on the door.
I was in the kitchen drinking more water, agonizing over a crusty slice of toast Phoenix had left on the kitchen counter. I could tell it was Marko from the quiet, hesitant double-knock. I ignored it and went back to staring at the slice of bread. My stomach was painfully empty. The water didn’t lessen the pain, just suspended me somewhere between bloated and hollow. But I was done with losing control. I’d done too much damage.
For the past three days, I’d made myself stand on the scale and in front of the reflective living room soul-paint multiple times a day, to face what I’d done to myself. To face how badly I’d messed up. Every time I turned sideways and looked at my reflection, I wanted to punch myself in the stomach.
But worst of all was Marko. Not just what I’d done to him, but what I wanted to do with him. I’d realized something, that night in the tavern: I didn’t want him, I wanted him. The difference was obscene and cold. Want was something only Marko could have given me, because I trusted him and depended on his warmth and steadiness–which made everything so much worse. If I gave in, if I crawled into bed with him some night, we would inevitably wake up the next morning with everything broken around us.
What I’d done–getting drunk with him, kissing him, kissing him–was bad enough. True, he had liked it, but I couldn’t keep doing this to him. I’d seen the looks he gave me when he thought I wasn’t watching: serious, brooding. Sad. I couldn’t remember much from the first couple of months of our friendship (or whatever it was we had), because that had been right after my parents’ deaths and that time was foggy at best. But I knew he’d been wilder. More effusive, sometimes overenthusiastic. He’d bordered on blissfully feral. But now he just seemed forlorn and lonely; I hated seeing his inward collapse. I hated that I was at fault.
Marko knocked on the door again and called my name. I crushed the toast in my hand and threw it away. I was not going to lose control again. I wasn’t going to eat. I wasn’t going to get close.
I strode to the door. “Go away, Marko.” I refrained from telling the soul-paint to show me an image of the hallway.
“Moss? Thank the gods.” His voice sounded a little rough. “No one’s heard from you in three days. Is Phoenix in there with you, at least? No one’s heard from her, either.”
“She’s…not here,” I said carefully.
“Oh.” It was hard to tell whether that relieved or worried him. “Are you okay? What’s going on? Have you been eating?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “I’ve been eating. Nothing’s going on.”
Silence dragged on after I spoke. I almost turned from the door.
“Moss?” Marko’s voice was quieter. “Is this…my fault? Did I do something? I don’t remember much from when we went out–I remember you, at the tavern. I remember you standing and…and other things? Then it gets blurry. And then you left and I remember drinking more.” He laughed, and when he spoke next, his words were a little fractured with hysterics. “I got really, really drunk, Moss. It was bad. I mean, I know I drink too much, but this was more than too much, so I must’ve done something. I couldn’t stand. And the next morning I woke up under the fucking table.” Another laugh. “My head still hurts.”
I clenched the sleeves of my shirt. I wasn’t sure if I was glad he didn’t remember, or if I thought he was lying about not remembering, or if I was just sad. It changed nothing, though.
“Nothing’s your fault.”
“Then what’s wrong? Please, just…tell me so I can fix it.”
I kicked the sofa. The rotting bastard sounded so lost. “Nothing’s wrong. I want to be alone. I’m tired. Just go, Marko.”
“I…I can’t, actually. Devin’s coming over–he said he’s staging an intervention? I dunno. But I’m not just gonna leave you to that. I know how he can be, so. I’ll wait.”
An intervention? I cursed and kicked the wall this time. Marko would wait outside the door for a month and only enter if he had permission; Devin, on the other hand, would break the door down by any means necessary. I had to get out. Somehow.
I turned back to the door. “How long ’til he’s here?”
“Uh, fifteen, twenty minutes?”
Enough time, then. “Okay,” I said. “You know, you don’t have to stay. I appreciate the thought, but I think I’ll survive Devin. Don’t waste your time here.”
“It’s not a waste. I don’t mind.”
“Your choice,” I said. “I’m gonna go change.”
“Sure.” His voice sounded better now–less torqued.
I headed for my bedroom, grabbing my jacket but ignoring the pile of new clothes Phoenix was growing for me; she fed it on a weekly basis. I headed for my window. With gentle motions, I lifted aside the vines I had growing in front of the bioplast, then climbed onto the wide sill. I turned on my old exear to overwhelm the window’s squeal with music as I pushed the pane open. Sooty rain blew in through the gap.
The drop below was thrilling, but too far to jump. There was a walkway running along the side of the building, however. I didn’t know where it led, but I stepped onto it, regardless. Before heading out, I hesitated, then dug in my pocket for my p-com and left it inside on the windowsill; I didn’t want Zinn to be able to trace me. Anyway, having my com on me would be too much of a temptation–I wanted to be strong without a crutch, but the risk of money (money I could use to buy food) was too much. I’d do anything to keep myself from eating.
The walkway stretched out past the edge of the apartments, toward a network of rusty x-crossed planks, snapped power lines, and human-sized nests of refuse that hung low over the ground. I could hear snores coming from one of them as I ghosted overhead, past twitchy neons and into shadow. Good. The walkway was leading toward the Gut, and right then, there was nowhere I wanted to be more than surrounded by trees and temporarily confined in my broken coffin.
I slogged on, on through the forest, until the tree I needed resolved from the dark. I halted, blinking, because yeah, it was dark–but I still should have been able to see the astro-coffin.
I stumbled closer, squinting and staring, but the astro-coffin wasn’t there. Of course it’s rotting gone. I lurched to my knees, exhausted from the walk and wheezing laughter at the absurd cruelty of it all. I had nowhere to hide. The rectangular depression the coffin had left in the mossy forest floor was filling with rain.
I struggled to my feet, determination already stiffening my jaw. I’m in control. I am. I was making things too easy for myself. Maybe that was why the coffin was gone–if I was superstitious, I would’ve called it a sign. So I headed for the one place I had never planned on returning to: a small, two-story cabin with a goat pasture and a garden to the east, and a blood-stained bed inside.
I headed home.
Proceed to Chapter 10, page 2–>