The taste of it on your tongue shocks you, tangy and acid-angry, purple teeth in a black mouth. Everything tastes salty now. What do you do?
Skin wrinkled from the water, you count your steps along the shore until you lose your place, then you recount on the walk back. By the time you reach half-swallowed footprints, you don't know what you were waiting for. Why were you counting?
You always count on everything. Nothing is impossible.
It's sunset and smooth black glass all the way to the horizon. You want to swim until you find him, but you don't know where he is, and you can't swim anyway.
Isn't it just too beautiful to break?
Even when he's gone, you never feel alone. That's because you aren't.
The next time you drag yourself in front of the mirror, you look like them: sharp angles and a smile painted in grey.
And now you're always smiling.
The lights are out when you press your forehead against the window. You want to see stars, but there aren't any for you to see--just black until you forget what color looks like.
You stare into nothing, and nothing stares into you.
You like what you see. You can't remember a time when you didn't.
Sometimes, all the waiting pays off and the glass parts in ripples at the offing. You can't swim, but you lance into the ocean anyway, taking a bellyful of salt water with you.
He feels like rubber and smells like fish. All you can taste is salt. Don't cry, he says, that cavern-deep rumble. Don't I always come back?
“Don't cry,” you say.
She doesn't listen.
Nobody ever tries to stop you, and you know you could never stop yourself.
You keep waiting for him, head pillowed by sand and water nipping your toes.
The night sky is beautiful, and he's right up there with it: three to his head, two to his horns, and a body that unfurls in dots and diamonds.
Sometimes you close your eyes just to see the colors. It works best when your head hums with a low vibrating murmur; the black bursts into candy reds and grass greens, sapphires and sunlight, rich magenta and deep night sea indigo. The colors feel warm. You want to touch them.
And you think it has to be Their work. What else could be so inexplicably perfect?
He chooses you twice.
Once, in the caves, that fuzzy black hole where a memory used to go. All you remember is salt and warmth, muddy water and a low, safe rumble.
Twice, among blue spires and the crackle of electricity, with your whole body buzzing with static.
You say it's a miracle. You call him invincible.
Now you are too, he says.
There's nothing to sleep in, so you take to the ground. That's when the dreams come.
It's a warbeat on a warpath, clubs and jackboots that fill the horizon. It's a black sea that bobs and dips and roils. Part of you wants to watch. Part of you wants to be there.
And all of you knows that you're a part of something.
When you wake up, you feel so, so hungry.
You lick your teeth, rub your tongue numb with salt, and reach a thumb into your mouth.
There should be stars, so you draw them on the window in the patterns you remember. Goat and sheep, messenger, butcher and baker and candlestick maker--
None of it's right. When you squint your eyes, it all still looks like nothing.
Nothing lasts forever. You know because you can see it, stretching and filling your eyes. You stare into it, and it stares into you.
And you remember where the stars should go.
algiedi: the goat.
He pulls you into the water with his teeth on your neck and you're laughing, fists bruised-bloody-raw, skin beneath your nails.
The salt stings on your wounds and you're laughing, even as you choke. You take it in in lungfuls, in great swallows, until all you can taste is the salt.
al shat: the sheep.
He leaves you for so long, and you never know when he's coming back. There's a throbbing in your head and you think you might have a fever and you're hungry and there's nothing--
So you try some.
And it doesn't taste like salt.
And then you can't stop.
nashira: the messenger.
You wipe your cheek, smudge purple down your arm, spit out fat, syrupy gobs of it out onto the metal. Your whole mouth tastes like salt and it's the only thing you want to taste ever again.
The club slips from your fingers, slick with grass-green and night sea indigo (warm as you've ever been since you've gone without, warm as you always hoped they would feel), and you're laughing. All you wanted to do was make them see your point.
And it was a funny joke. You wonder why they didn't laugh too.
al-dhābiḥ: the butcher.
CG: OH GOD
CG: OH MAN
CG: OH GOD