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Optic/Nerve

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Sunlight dapples through the dirt on the window, spills into the room in splashes like blood spatter. It is just as loud, a visual shout, and it wakes him from the mess of arms and limbs and heads and genitals that make up KidandLanyaandDenny. He sits up before he even knows it, or maybe it's been a slow process and he is only just now realizing that it's occurred. It doesn't matter.

For the light does not go away, nor adjust when he blinks his eyes, pushes tangles of dark hair from his face, chews a new hole in the heel of his palm. The redness of blood against brown skin is caught in Technicolor, and his chest clenches at the sight of it, feels the pulse of his heart and (someday I will die) the fluttering of thought in his mind a dove battering against the cage of his skull.

Normal sunshine, not St Elmo's fire, not nova, not seen through mists and cloud. Mrs Richards' sunshine, best suited to mugs of real coffee over the newspaper and scrambled eggs and frying bacon before picking up a suitcase or handbag or backpack, catching the bus.

It is hideous in its banality. It is itself and it is unapologetic.

Kid is torn. He knows not whether it would be best to rouse Denny and Lanya as well, to share in the fear that strikes his gut. He suspects that they would not share his fear, not like the day the sun blotted out the sky; what's so scary about a beautiful day, she would ask, and he would laugh that confused laugh and I would not find the words to tell them. And I call myself a poet.

Comfort. He needs his notebook. He needs a coffee. He needs a shit. He needs a warm mouth or pussy or ass on his cock. He needs a kind voice calling his name.

None of it is to be found, he knows that it would bring no solace, and the emptiness caves inwards within him.

As he's scrambling down the ladder pole, Lanya rolls into Denny, who throws a corner of blanket over them and nuzzles against her hair. Kid shivers as his chains cool in the room, away from their bodies. He pulls on vest and pants and boot, leaves the room before he can change his mind and wait out with them the end that he knows must be coming with the dawn of daylight to the broken city.

He staggers down the hall, gets a cup of coffee that's been sitting far too fucking long on the stove, reels outwards towards the door that he knows must be there.

“What the fuck are you doin up?” Copperhead is still drunk from the night before, reeks of expensive whisky from the liquor store. There are no girls in the front room, and his pants are on, suggesting he'd actually had enough that he couldn't keep it up. It is amazing that the room doesn't reek of puke and piss, Kid notes.

He snorts at him, waves a finger in front of his lips, and is struck by the impulse to share, if only to get the guy off his back. “Look out there, don't you see the light, man?”

“Kid, you a crazy cocksucker,” Copperhead says, pushing his hand into his pants, scratching his balls. “It's fucking six am. Go the fuck to bed.”

“Take your own advice,” Kid replies, and Copperhead retorts, too loud for the morning and likely to get shit thrown at him from the scorpions asleep in the front:

“Motherfucker, where do you think I was going to?”

Before he can get hit by anything that misses its trajectory, Kid presses the half-empty mug into Copperhead's shaking hand, then steps out of the nest, off the porch, into the brightness of day. Day which he has forgotten all about in the process of living Bellona, living in Bellona, living with Bellona. Yes, it scares him far more than George the moon or the bright overwhelming sun (he dare not speak/think her name), sparks the coiling in his gut into shifting.

He realizes he has had good reason to be afraid, for there is no sun to be found in the clear sky. He searches the arc of blue as far as he can, is almost tempted (before sense returns to him) to climb the Second City Bank just to see if he can find where the light comes from. It is another religious mystery, and in the empty streets, it is only now that he wants to solve it, because he is certain he is the only one that sees it.

The impulse is gone as soon as it arrives, but he wanders through the street, up and up and up as if his legs didn't listen to the rest of him. The sunlight—not the sun, there is no sun--glints off his optic chain, throws tiny prisms onto the pavement and the street and the ruined cobbles as he walks, as if it is almost a projector in its own right. Everything is real. It appears in colours he never knew it had, the silver of the orchid he can't recall sticking into his belt, the true black, worn as it is, of his vest, the scuffed shades of his boot.

He knows where the sun should be from his shadow, from the casting of the optics, but he cannot see it from the high hill that rises above the rest of the city. Nor can he see anyone on the streets, save maybe--

A figure, there? Or two? The flashy figures of scorpions? In the plumes of gray and black that rise from the fires, it is hard to tell, and with sunshine splashing in his eyes, harder still. And the colors, the colors so bright and big, demanding his attention: Bellona captured in Kodachrome flashes and single images, stills. It is too much, his heart pounds out a rhythm (someday it will stop it could be now) but he looks and looks and can't get enough. I know this, I can see everything and it is all clear as day, a clean glass just before it shatters.

As Kid returns to the city, he walks past a house entirely alight with blaze. The smoke wraps around him, the sunless light catching and illuminating particular tendrils, the flecks of char reflecting back at his chains. A bit flies up into his nose and he can't help it, he sneezes--

And opens his eyes to the fog. Gray and swirling, it becomes everything for him, consumes it until the only way he knows Bellona is there is through the pavement under his bare foot, the occasional piece of grit or wooden slat or chunk of concrete.

Kid emerges, blinking, reborn, onto the slate coloured street, a few mere blocks from the nest. The world has gone muted once more.

He keeps walking, he cannot stop. And he wonders, was this real? Or was it another piece of lost time, of that alternate city where Lanya dwells and where my self and time only occasionally intersects? A universe driving at normal speed while I pass in and out, phasing? I suppose that if it happened, I'll read about it in the goddamn paper, for that is the place where reality synthesizes.

But this sounds too much like Tak's science fiction, and he dismisses it. To explain Bellona...

“Got your paper, mister,” says the man in the street, who slaps the Times into Kid's hand. Tuesday, December 16, 1975, WE ALL FALL DOWN is the headline, and instinctively he knows there will be nothing there. Nothing there tomorrow, either.

He wanders, instinctive, and ends up at the school. It is nearly noon, and the voices of children, screeching, run out of the building. Tentative, he enters, makes his way through small figures towards the back.

“Hey,” she says. She is cooking pasta, steam plastering her short hair to the sides of her head. “You're just in time to help, if you want.”

“Yeah,” he says, and stares at the bright orange shade of the macaroni and cheese packet Lanya is mixing with long-life milk. Even as she dilutes it, it is as bright as anything he had seen that morning. “You know that time you told me about art, and psychology? Did you ever worry if art, what we construct, if that's the reality and everything else is just...window dressing? And what happens if we hate what we make?”

“I think you worry too much about what is and isn't real, and what is and isn't art,” Lanya says. “Didn't you ever read the Tao? Let reality flow naturally, okay?”

She is looking up at him and her eyes are so green, that for a moment, he can almost believe it, before the conviction disappears and he is left even more confused than before.

There is color in the world, still. Even in the dim gray hum of Bellona, there is color.