HOW TO LOVE THE TICKING TIME BOMB:
A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE (By Fushiguro Megumi; vol. 1, published nov. 2020)
STEP 1: DON’T.
Your sister thinks you have pretty eyes, and she frequently tells you that she’s a little jealous of you because of them. Because of this, you are compelled to screw your eyes shut, a knee-jerk reaction, something passed down via inherited evolutionary traits. It’s lucky that you do: otherwise, it’s a near certainty that the downpour of shattered glass would have gouged them out, that deluge of sharp objects that rain down on you as he shatters the window. You force yourself, flinchingly, to watch him stare down death, unflinchingly—grateful that your eye isn’t lacerated, isn’t bleeding; thankful that you can bear witness to his fervor with your own naked eyes, uninhibited by a rose-tinted filter, a falsified curtain of red cascading from your hairline, down your forehead, and obstructing your line of vision.
You do not ask him how he manages to stand here, unafraid and invincible, gazing into the oblivion eyes of a monster; he holds in his hand a devil’s severed digit, and his hand does not shake, does not shudder: it is not like the trembling leaves of a tree, unfortunately rooted in the destructive path of the hurricane’s unforgiving eyewall. You ask, instead, if he is afraid: he meets your eyes—those very same eyes that your sister believes to be beautiful; the eyes which you’re lucky you shut when you did, because the hurricane really did a number on that window and glass shards lodged in your eye is the last thing you need heaped upon your plate—and tells you that he is. Who wouldn’t be afraid, in his shoes?
Your stomach swoops with something like apprehension, and you feel sea-sick in a way that’s both foreign and nostalgic—like the déjà vu of a half-remembered daydream; like a lit candle whose melted wax is infused with the nameless, formless scent of your childhood—and perhaps, had you been given an extra split-second before the chaos crescendos; before the incubus’s malicious fingers reach into the room, looming above like the crane of a rigged claw-machine, trying to tear him away from you—perhaps, you could have put a stop to the swell in your chest, to tamp down the sea-sickness clawing its way up your throat. But you don’t have time for that: instead, you shove him out of the way of imminent death; or, at least, you try to.
STEP 2: NO, SERIOUSLY—DON’T. PLEASE REFER BACK TO STEP 1 FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.
You’ve never met a gift horse in your life—truthfully, you don’t even know what a gift horse is, or why someone (other than an equestrian, maybe) would give anyone a horse as a gift—but you’re gifted with common sense, so you do know that you’re never supposed to look them in the mouth. “I don’t want him to die,” you say, like an idiot who desperately wants their teeth kicked in.
“Your personal feelings?” asks Gojo, who already knows the answer but wants to hear you admit it, anyway.
(The horse flicks its tail: a warning. You still have time to abandon the carrot you’ve brought, a sacrificial offering, an indicator of the fact that you come in peace; you still have time to turn tail, haul ass, run for hills, etcetera, etcetera—.)
You bend at the waist and stick your face directly in front of the horse’s because your disdain for the blood spilled by martyrs is a farce, and you’re honestly no better than the rest: “Yes. Please do something about this.”
And because you’re a masochist at heart, because you’re an idiot: you hope that maybe the hoof prints on your forehead are the implicit promise of a kick that is strong enough to give you a concussion, a kick that is sufficient to provide you with the gift of permanent memory loss—but you are, at the very least, an idiot with self-awareness, so you know you’re probably shit out of luck.
STEP 3: YOU’VE MADE YOUR BED; NOW, LIE IN IT.
The horse, you decide, is a back-stabbing traitor—because when you wake up the following morning, there is no amnesia; there is not even a minor concussion—and so you do, unfortunately, remember:
White noise swells in the narrow space between your skull and your brain. Despite the world sounding as if it speaks to you from underwater, you somehow overhear that he gets to live; the part of you that’s seeped in selfishness is elated at the revelation that you get to spend more moments in his immediate proximity, basking in his sunlight; you are elated that you didn’t sign away your heart and soul to nothing more than a fresh corpse, a visceral memory. The selfless part of you—the part of you that’s tethered to this realm of reality; the part of you that sees the world with raw, naked eyes—a witness to the original sin, a testimonial of every evil man has ever produced—and somehow loves it, anyway—is shattered.
(The thing in your chest is more swollen than the bruise on your cheekbone. You wonder what he’d be doing if you hadn’t named yourself Orpheus; hadn’t insisted on him playing Eurydice, circling your fingers around his wrist, dragging him to hell in your wake.)
The gift horse has broken more than just your teeth, you think, as a pile of rocks accumulates inside of your stomach, marking the mass burial site of something massacred. No, you did not feed him the fingers: and yet, the poison in his belly came directly from your hands, an accidental assassination. He saved your life, and in return, you presented him with a death sentence. You are both the snake bite and the antidote: absolution is not achieved through the temporary cure to an affliction you caused with your own two hands. There is no promise of forgiveness written on the voucher you use to buy him extra time—time that he never wanted; time that he never asked for; time that he wouldn’t need if only you hadn’t sunk your fangs into the flesh of his ankle.
Between your ears is a broken record player. A reminder plays on a loop in your head, a mantra which you pretend is a parachute, and you pray to every god whose name you know how to shape around your tongue, that it prevents you from plummeting into the depths of an ocean which you didn’t know you feared: you didn’t feed him the finger . It’s not like you unhinged his jaw with your own two hands; it’s not as if you force-fed him this fate. But the parachute is faulty, or the gods were busy with the other sinners, and the ocean grins like it wants to devour you. You did not feed him the fingers: this knowledge does not stop you from believing that you might as well have.
And when you see him again— him , not the poison in his belly—his smile is laced with something that makes you sea-sick, and you want nothing more than to throw yourself overboard; the ocean wants to devour you, and who are you to deny it?
When you see him again, he is fine, and you are not.
STEP 4: REGRET THAT YOU DID NOT REFER BACK TO STEP 1.
It is the author’s purview that anyone with an ounce of common sense would have followed step one. Nothing good comes from infatuating yourself with the organic, with falling in love with a countdown clock: you should learn that no one straps a ticking time bomb to their chest because they are in love with it—they do not intertwine themselves with a tangle of red and blue wires and pray there is no detonation: they do it hoping for the explosion.
You do not learn this in time: you find yourself in love with a weapon of mass destruction—the type the authorities would drive out into the desert, miles and miles from the nearest small town, before trying to trigger the carnage—and you, stupidly, try to wrap yourself in it; try to shelter it from the things that invite it to bask in annihilation, because you are a fool.
You do not imagine him bleeding out, alone. You do not dare picture the worst; you certainly do not dare to hope for the best. You are in love with carbon monoxide fumes in an enclosed space; you have committed yourself to the gas leak beside an open flame. This was always bound to happen: everyone knew it, even the bomb—why are you so surprised?
The day you met him was also the day you were first in love with him, and the glint in his eyes told you that he is afraid of all of the same things you are. He is afraid of monsters, and the dark, and humankind’s effortless propensity for evil, and death, and dying. You find yourself in love with him not because he saves your life, and not because he willingly almost dies for you: no, you find yourself in love because his hands do not shake when he is confronted with his every nightmare; when he dangles above the gaping maw of mortality; when he is faced with the inevitability of the candle’s light going dark. His hands do not shake, and as you run away from his final stand, you think to yourself that he is made of something incalculable.
The devil that lives on his face grins; his heart bleeds beside him on the grass, and the heart inside your chest still tries, futilely, to synchronize the rhythm of its pulse to his. Your hands tremble; you are in love with a clock that’s struck zero.
Why are you so surprised?
bonus: STEP 4.1: TELL HIS GHOST ABOUT YOUR DREAMS
“Why did you save me?”
Because I love you, you still do not manage to say, because he is a ghost, and because you are a coward.
STEP 5: IN THE EVENT THAT THE COUNTDOWN CLOCK LOVES YOU BACK, DISREGARD STEPS 1-4.
And like muscle memory, like ritualistic habits: your hands tremble once again upon his return: not out of fear, and not out of anger—but restraint. Balled up fists clench and unclench beside your thigh, seeking purchase in something that feels like flesh; your eardrums thunder with desire—you want nothing more than to dig your fingers into the skin of his wrist, feel the cadence of a functional pulse point, make sure the hum-drum of blood rushing is still present. The opportunity does not come immediately, though, so his eyes burning infernos into the back of your neck (and yours burning right back) will have to suffice for the time being.
When the opportunity does arise, it looks like this: you find him in the hallway just before midnight, and he is exiting his room just as you are exiting yours. Under other circumstances, the ensuing silence might be awkward; right now, it is nothing short of reverent. You do not concede to the desire to feign indifference in the face of something suffocating you, something forcing the air from your lungs; he does not collapse under the urge to fill the stillness with a flood of weightless words. You do not notice the way that the moon cuts in through the slanted hallway windows, illuminating him in something pearly and ethereal; if you did, indeed, you’d describe it—but you only notice the softness of his eyes, the presence of something that is both an apology and a forgiveness.
Neither of you answers the need to shatter the reticence as he extends a wrist towards you: it is an offering; it is a demand—you are powerless against it. Your fingers have been humming with the urgent need to confirm that he is here—flesh and bone and eyes and mind and body and soul and spirit—since your eyes first landed upon him. Your fingers do not tremble as they anchor against the greenish-blue veins protruding just below the heel of his hand; your own heart has been unbalanced since it fell out of step with the drumbeat of his: now, as the thing in your chest listens to the cadence of the thing in his, it reclaims its stability.
It is enough for you simply to feel the warmth of his skin against your fingerprints because you learned the hard way that you are not Orpheus, and he is not Eurydice: the journey from hell is not a game, is not a gamble—even if it was, you are unwilling to put him on the line. But when his palm finds the nape of your neck; when his thumb curves against the soft flesh between your ear and your jaw; when he whispers your name—an offering, a demand—you do not deny him. You do not deny yourself.
You’d happily be Eurydice, you think, if it meant he’d turn his gaze towards you just one final time: elated, and jovial, and alive, alive, alive .
STEP 6: IN THE EVENT THAT YOU HAVE FOLLOWED STEP 5: DO NOT TREAT EACH GOODBYE AS THOUGH IT IS THE LAST.
The author of this guidebook initially recommends that the reader STRICTLY adhere to step one, if possible; the reader should utilize the remainder of this guidebook if—and only if—they are faced with no other option. The author of this guidebook still believes that falling for the organic ends in nothing but tragedy—however, the author recognizes that some things are far superior to a life of ambivalence and indifference. With that being said:
You have picked your poison, or perhaps you have sharpened your sword: either way, you have chosen to tether yourself to something with an expiration date. Maybe this is a rational decision: after all, you have an expiration date, as well, don’t you?
The sun filters through your window each morning, and you are already awake; it is hard for you to remove your eyes from his face; it is even harder for you to look away from the rise and fall of his chest. You want to let him sleep for as long as possible—yet, the part of you that simmers in selfishness is impatient about this sort of thing, so you usually end up jostling him awake within moments of the sunrise, anyways. He will laugh at you like he always does—and then, he will bring your knuckles to his lips and kiss them, and kiss them, until you are sure that you two both occupy the same realm of reality, the same plane of existence.
You have strapped the bomb to your chest, and you have no intention of driving into the desert to detonate it in solitude. There is no indication of when it will explode, of when the countdown will reach zero; there is only the knowledge that x amount of fingers are still scattered throughout the world; there is only the fact that, once he consumes all twenty, you will be instructed to drive into the desert, miles and miles from civilization, to blow him up.
There is a bomb strapped to your chest, and you are in love with it. You tell him one morning because you never found the courage to tell his ghost. He laughs, and kisses your knuckles, and says he knows; says he loves you back.
(You wonder if you can eat the 20th finger yourself, in secret; you wonder if you could, perhaps, hide it at the bottom of that massive, terrible ocean. There is a bomb strapped to your chest, and you are stupidly, stupidly in love with it.)