Skyglass: Chapter 2
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Silence and Singe
I woke to a mouthful of dirty carpet. My head felt like it was stuck in a frictionless salad spinner; I sat up gingerly to ease my nausea and checked my com for the time. An hour late for work. Great. Not that I was surprised–I was wretched at existing, but tardiness was a talent of mine.
None of that, however, explained why I was on the floor. The sound of shifting blankets rustled from my bedroom. Something landed lightly on the carpet and crept from the darkness, a tiny form so menacing I shoved myself against the wall and held my breath. Then the form moved out of the shadows–a cat.
But only for a moment: its bones bent, hazy ash lifted from its body, and a woman appeared.
Her eyes were living organisms of magenta and gold. Her hair was short, a ghost-blue at the scalp that shifted into yellow, then blazing orange. She was naked, her skin black, her legs long, her hips wide. I looked up past her waist, then sharply away from her breasts. She had blue nipples, and I wasn’t sure I could handle anymore–she was only the second naked woman I’d seen in my life. I was in shock, and I didn’t feel like prolonging the experience.
But at least I remembered why I was on the floor. To my misfortune. Recall bludgeoned me; I sagged sideways into the bathroom, stomach heaving up the food I’d eaten at my parent’s grave.
When I’d finished vomiting, I sagged, head in my hands, fingers tangled in my hair. I felt like throwing up again, but my belly was empty. My skull echoed and I wondered if my brain had disappeared along with the food. I felt numb. Number than usual.
Life. I hated it.
“Would you like a hug?”
The woman. She was talking. I ignored her.
“Or a kiss? Or a good fuck?”
She was close now, too close.
“I’m all for the fucking, personally,” she went on. “You’d be much happier with a little sex in your life; even the most suicidal of days can get sweeter if you slather a bit of cum on top! A wormy cake dunked in frosting is better than no cake at all, I always say–”
“Go away.” There was nothing left in me, but if she kept talking, I’d probably vomit up my stomach. I stood, shivered, and looked down at myself. Nothing on but boxers.
“Rot,” I cursed, and trudged to my room, giving the woman a wide berth. I refused to look at her. I refused to think of her. If I pretended she didn’t exist, then she didn’t. She’d go away.
Clean clothes, I thought, staring into my closet. I had none. All my clothing was currently in a dirty heap at the base of my bed. Whatever. I’d wear dirty jeans; those didn’t stink. But a shirt, rot it–I had to have a clean shirt. There were few things fouler than a smelly shirt. I buttoned my pants and turned back to the closet, jaw tight.
I had one clean T-shirt, folded and placed in the farthest, darkest corner. It was white. It glared from the shadows like a terrible beacon. I hadn’t seen it in ages, but I knew what it looked like: a pallid, holey piece of clothing with a thorny, headless rose printed on its chest, the word fallin written in small text beneath the stem. It had been one of my favorite shirts–back when I’d still allowed the occasional non-black item of clothing near my skin. It reminded me of better times, emotional times; I hadn’t exactly been happy back then (I’ve never been a happy person), but at least I’d let myself feel.
Anyway, the shirt was clean. And no one would see it with my jacket zipped and my hood up.
I sat on the floor of my dark room and laced my boots. A paper bag crinkled in the kitchen; the eater-heater beeped. I fit my headphones around my ears and blasted them with the gloomiest, nastiest sound I could think of: a band called Cormac’s Baby Orchard. The song: “Fruit on the Ground.” The guy’s voice was so guttural it sounded like his throat was coming apart.
I walked past the kitchen, where there wasn’t a woman warming up the greasy sack of FastEats’ nibblets I’d brought home last night for my cat. I walked out the door, dully hoping my life would return to its usual grim stasis by the time I returned.
On the vus to work, I checked my messages. The first was from Marko, via aud. My headphone volume dropped for a moment so I could hear his soft, deep voice: “You coming in?”
I sent him back a single-letter text: Y. Obviously I was. Myriad was one of three places in this rotting world where I felt comfortable, and, as of this morning, two of them had been compromised. Which reminded me: I’d have to get my drums out of the practice space–somehow. I didn’t have a car.
After Marko’s aud came a text from Sable, Skyglass’s guitarist, telling me that if I didn’t come back she was gonna gut me with her sharpest blade. Which was legitimately nerve-racking–she kept a set of terrifying knives on her person at all times (and liked to poke things with them)–but I still didn’t reply. Her girlfriend would restrain her. Probably.
The inevitable aud from Devin blared into my headphones next: “How could you do this to me? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS? We’ve been in this together for so long we’re practically married. You can’t just quit. Divorce requires PAPERS, Moss. I’m going on a Peeps-fast until you return, so you’d better come back soon. You know how I am without Peeps. Give me a day and I’ll raze this whole piss-guzzling city to the ground. Believe it, rotsucker.”
I sighed. Overdramatic as usual, but it made me nervous–more so than Sable’s promise to knife me. Devin was prone to streaks of melancholy and self-harm; his threat was the real thing.
The earliest, and last, message was a text from my ex-bassist, Zinn: You’ll be back. Cryptic.
I turned Cormac’s Baby Orchard back up and dozed the rest of the way to the Abyss. One floor below ground, I got off the vus and climbed down to Myriad’s perch, circling the wraparound deck so I could go in through the back. I hated the front entrance. An obnoxious bell rang every time it opened.
Marko popped up from a pile of boxes as I came in. His red eyes glinted creepily. The mane that tangled halfway down his back was its usual explosion of weak orange. A grin split his face, shit-eating and far too happy for me to handle–so I ignored it, went through yet another door, and sat at the counter.
Marko had this bad habit of abandoning the front end when he knew I was about to come in. He was easily distracted, and–to my exasperation–always thrilled to see me, even on the days I was late. I’d been told this was because he wanted to sleep with me. I doubted it, and seriously hoped not.
A line of two waited at the counter, albums in hand. Myriad was the only shop of its kind on Earth, which was probably the only reason we (barely) survived. People traveled cross-planet just to come here. To physically buy their physical music–a mad idea, like the shop’s mad owner. Like the shop’s one other employee, who was probably also crazy.
I liked being here, though, probably ’cause it was as dim and confined as a cave. I felt safe and hidden. Anyway, I had to make money–my dead parents hadn’t left me much, and I’d used most of it to pay for dad’s suicide fine. The remaining paltry sum had gone toward a gigantic floor tom to help diminish my misery, and it had worked. Sort of.
I wandered through the shop’s murky clusterfuck of shelves, while Marko continued to distract himself with his mountain of unpacked boxes. I returned to the register and began notifying customers of incoming orders–yet another task he habitually forgot to undertake, although I suspect he “forgot” on purpose, to give me the opportunity to be social (or something equally distasteful). Thirty minutes before my break, Marko waltzed to the front of the counter and leaned over it to stare at me.
“Good to see you today,” he said.
I’d been at work for five hours.
I glanced at him and lowered the volume of my headphones, but didn’t take them off. I appreciated the greeting, but waiting hours to say it was absurd. Pissed me off a little–it was Mark’s idea of a joke, I think. Poking fun at my introversion. I wasn’t that withdrawn.
“Hm,” I said. I dropped my gaze to the counter.
“Want a long break today?” he asked. “You can leave now, if you want.”
“Why are you always so rotting nice to me?” The question was out of my mouth before I could stop it. Usually, I wouldn’t have said anything, just gotten up and headed out.
Marko opened his mouth, but visibly struggled to find an answer. Finally, he just hung his head a little and avoided my stare.
“I dunno,” he said. “I just want to be.” After a long moment, those eerie ruby eyes dragged up again.
“I heard you quit,” he murmured.
I was sorely tempted to turn up my music, but resisted. I forced myself to keep it on low, and didn’t reply.
“It’s fine, though,” he went on. “I guess I understand. I think?” He smiled weakly, and leaned closer. “Why’d you do it, Moss?”
His voice was gentle, his expression concerned. It made me uncomfortable, even though he probably couldn’t see my face in the shadow of my hood. I got up and left the counter, forging deep into the stacks of discs. Marko followed me; impossibly, stupidly quiet in his giant leather boots.
“Moss,” he said, softly and too close behind me. My mouth twisted.
“Leave me alone!” I burst out, turning to face him.
He jolted back a step, eyes wide.
I wasn’t surprised. He’d never heard me yell. I’d never heard me yell–not in a long time, anyway. My sudden rage had come so quick and unexpected it was making me nauseous. Something about it felt good, though. Cathartic.
“Can’t someone leave me alone? I wish you’d all just rot!” I snarled. “I hate all the questions. I don’t want to talk. Why do you always need answers? Why does it matter? Why do I matter? Just let me rot!”
Marko opened his mouth to reply, but I jacked up the headphone volume so I couldn’t hear him. Before I could move, he reached over and tugged down my hood. He took my phones and lifted them off my head.
I let him. I didn’t care. I just stood there and stared into the darkness of Myriad, focusing as hard as I could on the rumble of music leaking from the hidden speakers of the shop’s exear.
With his free hand, Marko dug in his pocket and brought out his com. He accessed a screen with waveforms trembling across it. Flicked something.
The thunder-music from the exear cut off. Rot it. Rot him.
“Moss,” he said again, even softer now. “Do you need help moving your drums out?”
I focused on him, startled, anger withering. I was glad he’d changed the subject, but a little pissed he knew me well enough to do just that.
“No,” I muttered, though I wanted to say yes. I wasn’t looking forward to lugging them back to my apartment, piece by piece, on the vus.
Marko backed up, giving me a little space. Not much, but I was still grateful. “You’re lying, Moss. I think,” he amended.
I stuck out my hand. “Headphones,” I said. Then added a grudging, “Please.”
“No. Let me help you with your drums, then maybe.”
I dropped my arm. “Whatever. Just give my phones back.”
His mouth quirked in a smile, and he did as he promised.
“I see you’re wearing a white shirt,” he said as I settled my headphones back over my skull. I grimaced and looked down; the collar of my shirt was visible.
I jerked my hood up and turned my back on his laughter.
I told myself I’d only shut my eyes for a few minutes while Marko drove us deeper into the Abyss, to the practice space. But when I opened my eyes, it felt like it had been hours. I shut off the haunting swells of Fallin’s second album and looked out my window–we weren’t in the Abyss.
“You awake?” Marko asked.
I shifted slightly to face him. He was watching me; I looked away. “Where are we?”
Marko had parked the van at the end of a long, empty street, roofed and hemmed in by heavy, elf-fed creepers with leaves bigger than my head.
I stifled a groan. The Trellis was Raith’s agricultural district. Where the city grew food–which was bad enough. Even worse was the fact that it featured some of the city’s finest restaurants. I could guess why Mark had brought me here.
“I’m not hungry,” I said.
“You’ve been sleeping for three hours, you didn’t eat on your break, and knowing you, you skipped breakfast, too.” He stretched and dropped his feet down from where they’d been propped up on the dash. “You’ve gotta be starving, right?”
He sagged in his seat. “I don’t know what to do,” he whispered–to himself, I thought, but he went on. “I just…want to take you somewhere nice. Do something for you. I guess I’m piss at it. Sorry.” He smiled weakly.
I stared out the windshield. I could see a couple of windows set into the building near us, hidden by the plant life, but lit from inside with a nauseating, cheery light.
“Look,” Marko said. “How ’bout we just go in. Just for a bit, then we’ll go and grab your drums. Would that–would that be all right?”
I pushed air out through my nose and said nothing, but opened my door and climbed out.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Marko said as we walked down the empty, wet road toward the building and its happy innards. “I was getting kind of hungry. Anyway, I think you’ll like this place. It’s…quiet. Not many people come here.”
He was talking too much. Marko had good intentions, but I wished he would shut up. It was just…I could only take so much kindness. Subtly, I raised the volume of my headphones until his voice was barely audible. It didn’t really matter whether or not I could make out his words; I’d talked far too much that day, enough that he’d probably be content with shrugs. Those were all he got from me most days.
Inside, we sat in a dark corner. The place looked ancient: no bioplast, all wood. And no one was ordering with their coms–real live human beings took down food requests. The only light came from the candle on our table and the distant ambiance of the main dining room.
I swallowed, a little nervous, because the candle brought back memories–the kind I usually shoved away. But they were hard to ignore when their source was sitting across from me, scratching his unshaven jaw as he pondered over the menu.
“What?” he asked, a grin growing on his face when he caught me staring.
I shook my head and watched the candlelight.
It made me think of being in a bathtub, drunk. A night just after my parents had died, at some party. I’d been reeling from too much alcohol, at a house I barely remembered, and had found a bathroom for sanctuary. Crawled into the bathtub, threw up. One, two, three times. Next, I felt something cold on my forehead. A bottle–more alcohol. Exactly what I hadn’t needed, exactly what I wanted. I took it without looking, kept it pressed to my forehead.
Glanced up and to the side. Some tall guy with wide shoulders and dark skin, pale orange hair snarling from his scalp down to his shoulder blades, had handed it to me. (I learned his name later: Marko.) He sat in the tub with me, maybe even in my vomit, but was careful not to let us touch. He’d lit a candle that was beside the tub, and said, “Please don’t die.” I thought I remembered being glad for the lack of electric lighting.
“What did you want to eat?”
“Huh?” I blinked, remembering where I was. The restaurant. Not a bathtub four years earlier. A waiter stood beside our table.
“Nothing,” I mumbled.
“He’ll have cake,” Marko told our waiter smugly, sitting back, watching me for a reaction that I refused to give. “Coffee, too–and none of that fake nut-roast piss. The real stuff, you know? And I’ll have a goat burger, extra greens, extra cheese. And, uh, a beer. Yeah. Thanks.”
The waiter left.
“You do like cake, right?” Mark asked, worry wrinkling his brow.
“No. Doesn’t matter–I’m not hungry.”
He leaned forward, forearms resting on the table. I refused to look at his face, the play of candlelight against his throat. Too familiar.
“Just a bite?” he asked.
I shook my head.
I nudged the volume up a little more on my phones. When I didn’t answer, Marko sat back.
“You gonna look for another band?”
I shrugged as negatively as I could. Of course I wasn’t. The problem was being in a band, not Skyglass itself–no matter how many times they’d pissed me off.
The food arrived, and in twenty minutes, Marko cleaned his plate. I didn’t touch the cake, but he was all forgiveness and ate it for me, since I’d finished my coffee–black, obviously, and delicious. The taste of excess. I decided not to think about how much my single mug would cost him.
Marko took another mouthful of his second beer–he was on its dregs, and hadn’t ordered another, so he was taking his time with it. A sigh left him after he swallowed. “I was wondering…” he started, then stopped.
“Wondering what?” I asked grudgingly. Not that I cared, but some small, infinitesimal part of me would twinge with guilt if I pretended he hadn’t said anything.
“If you have a new roommate,” he said in a rush, and then gulped down the rest of his beer.
I blinked. Roommate? Why would I ever allow one of those? “No,” I told him. “Never,” I added.
Mark grinned and looked out the window in sheepish relief, and said nothing more about it.
After eating, we returned to the Abyss and loaded my set into his van. The practice space was empty except for instruments, thankfully: I didn’t want to see my ex-bandmates. Not now, and probably not ever, though I knew I wouldn’t be so lucky.
I slumped back in the passenger seat once we’d finished, utterly worn. I felt jittery from the coffee, but still wanted my bed more than anything. Moving my set used to be so easy, but these days… I doubted even the caffeine would keep me from sleep tonight.
“Is it gonna fit?”
“What?” The word ghosted hoarsely from my mouth.
“Is your set gonna fit in your place? Can you even play there?”
I laughed. “No.” But I didn’t exactly have another option, and I couldn’t afford a practice space on my own.
“Keep them at the shop then,” Mark offered. “And, y’know, play after hours. Or, uh, before hours. Whenever works for you, really. Just maybe not on the clock. Unless you really need to.”
“Please. Thanks.” It wasn’t a hard decision, though it should have been. Keeping them at the shop meant social interaction, because Marko was often there after hours–for my drums, though, I was willing to sacrifice a little reticence.
“Okay. Great.” He exhaled sharply, like he’d been holding in his breath, like he was relieved. “Why don’t I just take you home now, and I’ll drop your drums off at the shop.”
I was too tired to even tell him to be gentle with them, or that I was perfectly capable of unloading them myself. I just nodded.
Marko fiddled with his com. The van was still off.
“Hey,” he said at last. The word was abrupt; it startled me half out of my stupor.
Marko was silent for a few moments, then said, “Thanks for drinking the coffee. I…” He fought for his words again. “I’ve got something for you.” He scrambled from his seat, then wormed into the back, crawling carefully around my set. “I’ve been meaning to give it to you for forever, but keep forgetting.”
He returned and dropped something in my lap. I held it up to my face.
It was soft and thick. And green–dark green. I liked the color. “A hat?” I asked.
Marko bit his lip and started the van. “Sorry if you don’t like it; y-you don’t have to wear it. Toss it into the Abyss, if you want. It’s just…you’re always cold, and you’re always wearing your hood. I thought maybe another layer would help. It’s made of wool from Sable and Yunayuna’s goats. I had to learn how to knit and it’s the first thing I made, so, uh, it’s probably kind of lumpy. Sorry. I’m stupid, aren’t I?”
I almost laughed. The idea of Marko knitting was oddly fitting, somehow. But I didn’t laugh, because the idea of Marko knitting for me was uncomfortable. I didn’t want that particular image in my mind.
“You are stupid,” I agreed. But I liked the hat, despite myself. My body didn’t know how to keep itself warm, and winter was nearly here. I buried my hands in it for warmth. “Thanks,” I murmured, hopefully too quiet for him to hear.
Marko wanted to walk me up when we reached my building, but I wanted to be alone, so I just shook my head until he gave up, then turned and climbed the stairs. I didn’t wave or say goodbye. I put on my headphones to keep myself company on the long trip to the top. I flipped through the few thousand bands I kept on my com until I found one suiting my mood–dark, doomy, and miserable. Ah. Roots from the Deep. Yes, they’d be perfect. I hit play and waited.
And waited. A weak hiss whispered into my ears.
I adjusted my headphones, glanced down at my com’s screen. The song was still playing–I could see the seconds ticking by–but there was no music. I almost laughed at the cruelness of it all. My phones were broken, reduced to cadavers of wire and hard plastic.
I jerked them off with a septic stream of expletives, cursing the rotsucking goat-fucker who’d sold them to me and his now-defunct antique mall. He’d told me they’d live longer than I would. Maybe that was because I’d looked particularly ghastly the day I’d acquired them, but none of that mattered–my headphones were dead, and though I was still alive, I felt dangerously close to joining them.
I trudged up the last few steps and scuffed to a stop before my apartment. I was so pissed at my equipment failure that I nearly missed the eviction notice posted on the door.
Proceed to Chapter 2, page 2–>