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Skyglass: Chapter 3

Buy the complete novel: ebook | paperback (coming fall 2016)

Fog and Furl

MOSS

I glowered at the drinkup across the puddle-riddled street. It was so gorged on people that the crowd slopped onto the sidewalk and over the curb. The mass of bodies wrung my anxiety, but I couldn’t risk being found–so I crossed the road and stumbled into the press, forcing my way past the entrance and deep into the venue.

My headphones were screaming Fallin into my ears, but they weren’t enough to mute the roar–and for once, I was glad for the noise. A rage seethed inside, flaring light and juddering music everywhere. Some band I didn’t know or care about was on stage; people tripped around to the semi-groove of elektro-pump, drunk on the liquids swilling in their glasses. Drunk on the music swilling in their ears.

The drinkup looked like an amphitheater of broken tectonic plates, multiple levels skewed one against another all the way down to the stage at the bottom. I edged down the complex of ramps and stairs that connected the levels until I found myself a dark, distant corner, then sat on the floor. I didn’t want to be here–there was a group of guys crammed against the wall across from me trading skullXtracts, and the music was piss–but the rage would keep me hidden for the night. I wanted nothing to do with any of Phoenix’s machinations, most especially her parties.

I pressed my headphones harder against my ears and shut my eyes, just trying to breathe properly. I wanted my bed, as I always did after work, but instead, I was here, hoping desperately that Phoenix’s redecoration spree hadn’t knifed into my room. I liked it the way it was, and if she’d touched my plants, I’d knife her. I pulled out my com and changed songs–sometimes Fallin was too eerie and pure to drown out unwanted aural interference–then sagged deeper into my corner.

Five minutes later, something sharp prodded at my throat. Sable. I knew it was her: the terrifying jags of her blade felt familiar. I didn’t bother protesting; it wasn’t like she could hear me. I fought the urge to spin around and mouth dirty curses at her, since I liked my throat the way it was: un-slit.

The music screaming from my headphones cut out. Sable’s fault, obviously. Rotsucking needle. How dare she hack my phones again. This time I did shout a curse, but even I couldn’t hear it, and no one in the crowd moved to help as her knife guided me from the venue.

“Zinn found you,” she said, once we were in the relative quiet of a nearby alley.

Sure, blame the other needle, I thought, but said nothing. I knew she wasn’t actually evading guilt. Zinn was the better hacker, and he could actually find things–Sable just pissed on them. Like my headphones.

“You’re missing the party,” she went on.

Someone rose from the shadows a ways off and joined us. Marko.

I sighed and didn’t look at him. I hoped my hood stayed where it was, over my head, because I was wearing the hat he’d given me. I’d grown attached to the pissing thing, but I didn’t want him to know that.

“I have Scabs and Leaves’ new album for you,” he said, brandishing a deliciously dark-packaged disc under my nose with one hand. I kept my eyes averted. “And you aren’t getting it unless you come with us. C’mon–it’s just a party, Moss.”

Sable’s knife dropped from my jugular. “Also,” she said, “Devin’s not doing well. Soon as he found out you ran, he assumed it was because you hated him. He broke your skylight and climbed onto the roof in a huff. You need to go home and keep him from depressing himself to death.”

I sighed and sagged against an abandoned mega-composter, tilting my head back in supplication to all the non-existent gods of darkness and rain gutters. Someone save me. When my plea went unanswered, I pushed away from the composter and started for the apartment.

The Scabs and Leaves album was tempting, but hearing about Devin was what got my feet moving. Somewhere deep (very deep) in my withered organ that passed for a heart, I still cared about him.

***

I ignored everything (especially my redecorated apartment) when I got back, except for my ex-friend huddled on the rooftop. I took the stairs up instead of the broken skylight, and pushed through the ferns that grew on the roof, blood and rain dripping from their bright fronds.

I crouched at Devin’s side. Some of the plants were so big they reached over his head–then again, he was short, so that wasn’t much of an accomplishment.

“Dev,” I said, voice soft,

He looked up, startled, then looked away. “You came,” he murmured, petting a finger along the spores clinging to a frond’s underbelly. A few shook off. He leaned forward and touched his nose to a fern. “But is it really him?” he asked it. “Is it really Moss?”

I sat and suppressed a groan as my pants drank up the rooftop puddles. “What the rot did you do to my window?”

“I needed the rain,” he said. He scooted around and lifted his chin to stare at me. A faltering smile quavered on his mouth. The fingers of his clenched hand opened; in one palm lay the sticky yellow pulp of something that might once have been a Peep. He was obsessed with the stupid things and used them as a kind of survival mechanism. Without his marshmallow medication, he got terrifyingly morose. “Look at how squished and soggy my chicken got.”

“Maybe you should eat it?” I offered, not sure what else I was supposed to say.

“No.” He dropped it through the broken skylight. He hesitated a few seconds, then asked hoarsely and hesitantly, “Are you real?”

I offered him my hand. He poked it twice and drew back, still looking skeptical. “How was your grave visit?”

I slumped until our heads were level. “Same as always,” I finally said. I’d made my visit just days ago, but it felt like months had passed since that night.

“You know, I might actually understand what that meant if you ever told me what always was like.”

“Yeah. Well,” I said, but didn’t go on.

“Do you…not like me anymore?” he choked out. “Is that why you won’t tell me things? Or go to shows? Or sleep in my bed with me like you used to, so I don’t get lonely? I’m lonely, you know.” He crushed a fiddlehead into his palm, his eyes far-off, his face difficult to look at.

“I like you fine, Devin,” I said.

“Then why did you leave me?”

I rolled my eyes. “You talk like we were a couple.”

“Well, we could have been. I offered to fuck you the first time I slept over.”

“We were fourteen,” I reminded him dryly. “And you already knew I wasn’t really into sex, so I knew you weren’t serious.”

He pouted grimly. “Fine. I liked you being my friend better, anyway. My friend. Why aren’t we friends anymore?”

“We’re still…friends,” I replied, leaving out the dreaded “best.”

“Not like we were. What happened?”

I shook my head wordlessly. He threw the mashed-up fiddlehead at me and patted me on the head with his sticky hand. I grimaced at his touch, but didn’t tell him to stop.

Proceed to Chapter 3, page 2–>

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