CONTENT WARNINGS: The following excerpt depicts characters using a fictional drug and having sex under the influence. It also includes brief descriptions of involuntary medical procedures.
“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
I’m pretty sure they finally killed me, but if this is Heaven, I’m not on board. It’s dark here, and wet. I’m back-first in a frigid puddle, and I’m shivering it’s so damn cold.
I push myself up, the asphalt rough against my palms, and catch a whiff of rot from a nearby dumpster.
Nice. I’m in some gross back alley. It’s probably swimming in cigarette butts and the gunk from the bottoms of people’s shoes.
I launch to my feet and hug myself, grimacing. I’m not dressed for this type of weather. Skin-tight jeans, white sneakers, a leather vest, nothing else. Maybe I’m not really here. Last I remember, I was lying on an operating table, blinking languidly as the anesthesia pulled me under, so this could be a dream. Maybe right now, the surgeons are messing around with the part of my brain to do with fashion because I’d never fucking wear this. I know how to dress for the elements; I know how to prepare for the worst.
If this is a dream, though, I should be able to use my abilities, even if the whole point of the surgery is so I can’t. Right?
I glance around and don’t see anyone. Still, I shuffle into the dumpster’s shadow before I close my eyes. It’s habit. Even though my power presents invisibly most of the time, sometimes it’s the littlest things that tip off those government goons.
I take a deep breath and focus on my neurons. I speak directly to my brain: I’m warm. Stop sending signals to make me shudder. Stop the numbness in my fingers, the goosebumps, the chill at my back. I can taste it, the warmth. I can almost feel the kiss of heat over my skin, like a hug—
“Aaaah!” I double over as a terrible ache throbs through my whole head. My ears, nose, teeth, scalp—they all ache. It’s like countless angry fists slamming into me from all sides, and the pain hits six unbearable times before subsiding. In its wake, it leaves me gasping and dizzy enough to lean against the grimy side of the dumpster.
I’m still freezing, shaking uncontrollably, but the blood trickling out of my nose and tickling my upper lip is warm. I wipe it away. Staring at the dark smear on my white fingers, I realize this could still be a dream. Universe knows I’ve had enough nightmares, waking and sleeping, reliving the needles, monitors, tests, and drugs even as more await me. Reliving the moment the goons finally got me.
But even though I’m no precog, my regular intuition tells me I’m not on Earth anymore. I’m not on that operating table in the cold, white, government building where I spent…I don’t know how long. Years, probably.
I’m here. But where is here?
Am I free? Is this the place Wish said he’d make for us? A dimension for every special where we could be powerful and whole and savoring of life instead of always hiding and afraid?
Standing in this alley just as dark and dank as any I’ve ducked into while outrunning goons, I can’t see how this could be that place. Wish spoke of pink-blossomed trees, blue skies, green grass, clean air. We’d never have to worry about money or food, and whenever we wanted to go somewhere new, he’d simply make it for us.
I remember sitting with him on the roof of some building at night talking about cupcakes. He said he’d like to make us a cupcake shop. And I asked him to make me a single red velvet one, because I knew he had the power to do anything he wanted, and weren’t we alone? Just one little cupcake, cream-filled, please. But he wouldn’t do it. He said I’d just have to wait until we met in Wish City, which was what he called the dimension he promised us as a joke.
My fingers, smarting from the cold, pull me from the memory. I tuck my hands into my armpits and cautiously stumble out of the dumpster’s shadow.
My power is gone. I can feel it now, like a dark spot in my head, or maybe it’s locked up somewhere I can’t reach. Blocked by something they did to me in that operating room. So this can’t be the place Wish was supposed to have waiting for us when we lost the fight. Because in that place, I’d be whole. That’s all I know for sure.
My throat tightens. The government must have finally done what they were trying to do. They broke me. They ruined the best thing about me.
I make my way down the deserted alley. Up ahead, I glimpse the glowing pink outline of a rectangle as a dark door opens then closes, snuffing out the glow. Maybe I’m dead—maybe this is Hell. Still, my instincts tell me to get somewhere warm. That glow… It seemed hot. And none of the shadowy corners around me are jumping out as invitingly.
I reach the door. It’s made of weather-beaten, tarnished metal, with no knob or handle. Gritting my teeth to keep them from chattering, I knock.
No one answers.
I’m about to knock again, but then the door swings open. I squint at the interior’s pink light. As my eyes adjust, I notice the girl. She has neon green hair and red glasses.
“Looking for some Love, sweetheart?” she says.
I can’t keep my teeth from chattering and talk at the same time. “I’m c-cold.”
She laughs, her gaze crawling over me, and something about her smile is off. “That’s ‘cause you’re dressed like a hooker.”
As pitiful as I must look, trembling and dripping, I do my best to give her a confident stare.
After a few more seconds, she steps back and motions me into the light.
The door closes behind us with a thud. The heat licks me like a loving pet, taking some of the tension from my needy body as I take in the small, bright space. Pink neon strips, shapes, and letters cover every surface of the vestibule, with most of the signs spelling “LOVE” in various fonts and sizes. It’s dead quiet in here. But from somewhere else comes moaning and panting layered over the slick sounds of body parts squelching into orifices. I fix my gaze on the doorway ahead. That must be where the sounds are coming from, but I can’t see for sure; the doorway’s covered in glittering, crystal beads.
“Are you a Love whore, sweetheart?” says the girl with the neon hair.
I tear my eyes from the doorway. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I bet there’s somebody here who’ll give you a hit.” A dimple appears in her cheek as she purses her lips to the side. “Otherwise, you’ll have to go back outside. Those are the rules.”
I rub my fingers, which throb as the chill leaves them. I don’t know what kind of hit she means, but I know my power’s gone, and I don’t want to be cold. I don’t want to be anything, actually, don’t want to think about where I am or how I got here or the newly off-limits shadow in my brain. “Okay.”
“I’ll be right back.” She splits open the beads, and I focus on the resulting shadowed triangle, trying to get a glimpse of what’s happening in there. But it’s gone too fast. The girl drops the beads, and they swing and click together.
A few minutes later, she comes back out again. Behind her follows a man. He’s almost naked, his muscled body clothed only in tiny, skin-tight shorts, their holographic surface iridescent in the pink light like a puddle of motor oil.
With an emotionless expression, the man looks me up and down.
This is a little different than when the girl examined me. I’ve always been attracted to masculine people, and this guy has a body like a god. Somehow, despite being so cold a few minutes ago, my cheeks grow hot.
“Yeah, I’ll take him,” the man says. Abruptly, he grabs my arm and yanks me with him through the beads.
Instinctively, I pull back. My stomach turns at the lack of control; this echoes the moment the goons finally captured me, their unfeeling fingers digging into my biceps, and the countless times they snatched me from my cell and forced me into laboratories for more torture.
As I should expect by now, my efforts to get free from the man’s hold are fruitless. He is much stronger than me; my power has never been in my limbs, and I’m not that heavy. I give up pulling but still struggle to get my bearings as he tugs me through the big, dark room full of bodies writhing together like snakes. The scents of sweat and sex assault me. Instead of neon signs like the vestibule, the walls and ceiling are covered in glow-in-the-dark murals depicting giant, fuchsia blossoms. Syringes filled with a similarly colored and phosphorescent liquid dot the room. That liquid must be what I’m about to get a hit of. It’s a drug.
The man stops near the back wall made of painted brick and finally lets me go. The back of my neck prickles uncomfortably as I realize I’m most likely about to end up like the other people in this room: shamelessly fucking and getting fucked. It’s not like I’m some angel—I had sex with a lot of people while I was on the run—but I was always stone cold sober when I asked them to screw me. And there was usually a little more preamble than an intense look and “I’ll take him.”
“What does that stuff do?” I ask, referring to the drug, even though it’s obvious it makes people horny.
The man doesn’t answer. He’s fiddling inside an open duffel bag, and a moment later, he pulls out a glowing syringe. He sits down against the wall and positions his legs in a “V.” Then he stares up at me, eyebrows raised expectantly, like I should know exactly what comes next.
“What?” I ask.
He slaps the floor in front of his metallic crotch. “Sit.”
I fold myself awkwardly down between his legs, my back bumping up against his hard chest. My groin pulses with automatic arousal; my body knows what pretty much always follows being this close to a half-naked guy.
“You’re wet,” the man whispers against my ear, his breath playing along the shell.
I lick my lips. “I woke up in a puddle.”
A few feet to my left, a girl screams as a man’s hips pound her into the concrete floor. My man slides his hand down the outside of my bare arm until he gets to my wrist. He opens up my fingers and sets the syringe in my palm.
“Hold this,” he says.
I close my fingers carefully. They don’t ache anymore.
The man picks through the duffel again and comes out with a rubber tube. I swallow hard. Subconsciously, I knew this was coming, but the sight of that sallow tourniquet really brings it home. It’s not the needle itself that bothers me, but the painfully fresh memories of the callous nurse behind the needles, the cold metal table supporting my forearm, my blood pouring into a tube.
My breath trembles. “Can you speed this up?”
“Relax.” The man ties the rubber tube snugly around my arm. As the familiar pressure of trapped blood sets in, my breathing gets shallower.
“Deep breaths,” says the man. “Make a fist.”
Deep breaths are easier ordered than done, but I clench my fingers tight as the man presses into the crook of my elbow, searching for a vein. No rubber gloves. No cooling swipe of an alcohol swab. But if this is Hell or a dream, I can’t get sick, can I?
Sure I can, says all logic, if I can get a nosebleed and a semi-erection, and if I can shiver and ache from the cold.
The man takes the syringe back. The tip of the needle tickles my skin. I’m on the cusp of resisting, of telling him I’ve changed my mind, when he finally pierces my vein. Then he depresses the plunger, causing me an uncomfortable sting.
The man empties half the syringe. As the drug seeps into me, the injection site warms. My veins actually glow beneath my pale, translucent skin.
“Wow,” I whisper reverently, then a comfortable, heavy sensation washes over me. My eyelids droop, and I lean back against the man. Blood-borne illnesses apparently aren’t a concern for him, because he injects himself next using the same needle, sans tourniquet. It takes him multiple pokes before he finds a vein, but I figure it’s not ‘cause he doesn’t know where to find them—it’s ‘cause they’re shot, probably.
“You ever had Love before?” The man tosses the empty syringe into his duffel bag. He wraps his arms around me and bites my earlobe, roving his hands over my bare chest and torso.
I lean harder into him, my nipples stiffening. “No.”
“You’re gonna get butterflies.” He holds his hands in front of my abs and wiggles his fingers together like hummingbird wings, buzz, buzz. “Bad butterflies.” He kisses my neck, and I shudder. He tweaks my nipples, and I moan. The butterflies hit me as he’s unzipping my jeans, like a torrent of punches to the gut, and oh Universe, he wasn’t lying when he said bad.
This is how I felt when I first saw Wish. I was fourteen, a freshman in high school, and he was a senior on the varsity football team. Out on the field, he took his helmet off, and I lost it. He was gorgeous. With those blond curls, backlit by the sun, and his strong, solid body, he belonged in the Pantheon, fighting tigers, eliciting cheers from a more bloodthirsty crowd.
I lied. These butterflies are worse than that. I’m doubled over with them, riding sick and euphoric waves as my cock punches up against my open fly and sweat breaks out all over me.
Does this hurt, or does it feel good? I can’t decide.
The man’s grabbing at me. I turn around, giving into his hands, and eat his mouth. I would have let him fuck me, drugs or not. But this urge is different, stronger and more twisted. I need him to touch me or I’ll die. I’ll suffocate. I need him inside me, deep under my skin, like a lover I’ve known for years and thought I’d lost or who’s been away too long.
Like he’s Wish.
This man touches me like I always hoped Wish would. He grazes hot palms over me like I’m a delicate treasure, like a million guys haven’t already had me, and he’s being way gentler than I need him to be.
The monstrous butterflies flapping in my gut demand release. They need to be fucked out. They need to leave my body and cut into this man’s. As I try to pull him away from the wall, I wish I had more to grab onto than his bare, slick skin. Talking’s too sophisticated for my animal instincts. I growl my frustration at him. Finally, he pushes me onto my back.
I expect him to come tumbling down with me. I need him! But he’s in that stupid duffel again, rummaging for who-knows-wha—
A blade. No—scissors. They gleam in the glow from the murals as the man pounces on me. For holding something sharp, he’s moving way too carelessly, but Universe help me, I don’t care. Maybe he’ll accidentally stab me in the stomach, and the butterflies will fly out.
He hacks at my jeans. He cuts them deftly, like he’s had practice, and my nerves come alive. I’m free! I’m naked! I knock the scissors from the man’s grip, sending them skidding into the brick wall. They’re gone; they’re out of the way. I yank the man’s head down and kiss him deep.
I put all my ferocious need onto this stranger. He peels those stupid shorts off, and we tangle like the other snakes in the room—panting, moaning, digging, scratching. Time breaks. I am nothing but sweat-slick skin and the pressure in my belly as I slide my most sensitive parts alongside his.
I know why they call this drug Love. This is what love feels like. Pleasure, enlightenment, clarity, and confusion with a heavy side of ache. I’m doing my damnedest to tear this man in my arms to pieces as we rut and rub, but it isn’t enough.
“Fuck me.” I pull on his dick, trying to show him where I’m empty. My voice is raw, words tumbling out that I can’t pretend I don’t understand. “Pound me. Kill me, kill me.”
He backhands me. “Stop it.” His eyes are ruthless coals as he shoves my hands out of the way.
I don’t mind the rough treatment. I need it. The sting blooming over my face is just another way to the temper my fire.
I bend my legs up. The man positions his cock. His tip nudges my hole, and I know this is going to hurt, but I don’t care. He shoves. His cock is too big, and it burns a little. But it’s going in, slowly but surely—that’s all that matters. I need to be filled and fucked. I need him to ruin me.
Time goes nonlinear. I’m here, being fucked with a hot, blunt object as my body drowns in sensations, my stomach rolling—nervous, happy, sick. But I’m also in Wish’s hideout a few years ago, the windows covered with threadbare blankets, my stomach empty. He’s kissing me. His tongue is the softest, gentlest thing that’s touched me since I left home, and he’s so careful with my clothes because he knows I don’t have much that fits anymore. He’s so careful with me.
Tears well in my eyes—not there, here—and one drips down my temple into my ear. The huge pink flower petals on the ceiling imprint themselves on my retinas as the man drives into me over and over with punishing hips. Wish twines our fingers together and worships me with his mouth, kissing down my neck, collar bones, and chest, sucking on my nipples until they’re red and tender. This is all new to me. This is incredible. Everybody says you’re supposed to hate your first time, but mine was better than every time after, and I’m feeling it again, right now, in heart-stoppingly vivid detail.
I thought I’d lost this memory. I used to my power to clear it from my head, to scrape it from my cells so I wouldn’t have it dogging me whenever I saw Wish, making being in the hideout so damn painful I couldn’t stand it. But it was just buried, locked away. I still have it.
When the flying half of me falls hard back into the present, maybe minutes—maybe hours—later, I’m fever-hot, shaking, nauseous, and alone. No. I curl into a fetal position and groan my anguish. I don’t want to be back.
Where’s Wish? I clamp my eyes shut and try to remember his hands on me, try to put myself wherever we were, but I can’t see it. It’s gone.
I scream at my brain: Remember! It only smarts in response—throb, throb, throb, throb—and blood drips out of my nose.
The truth hits me again like I’m ground and it’s a crashing plane: You’re broken. My past with Wish is the least of my troubles as I recall the operating room, the surgeon’s cold eyes above his face mask as I went under anesthesia, and the puddle I woke up in. I remember trying to tell my brain I was warm and ending up slumped against that grimy dumpster, dizzy and still cold.
I hope with every damaged bit of me that I’m really dead. And if I’m dead, I want whatever black hole I fell into when I left Earth to suck me right back up again. I need to be home. I want to be back in the energy that made me, and I don’t want to be reborn. I want to die. For real.
“First comedown’s the hardest.”
The words force me into the concrete world, into my body. Oh Universe, I hurt. All of my muscles ache, and my skin stings where I’ve been clawed—I guess by the man? But my hole is the most sore. I clench it in some misplaced instinct to try and see if I’m torn and end up whining embarrassingly. I try to sit up, but it’s too difficult.
The man is by the wall, preoccupied in his duffel bag again, but I make out a light, the pink glow emanating from between the open zipper and reflecting onto his naked skin.
“More,” I croak. I need water; my mouth is a desert. But I just know if the man shoots me up with more drugs, I won’t need it. I’ll be with Wish again. “Please.” There’s enough liquid left in my body to make tears, at least.
“Shh.” The man shuffles over to me, syringe and tourniquet in hand. “I’m gonna take real good care of you.”
Ah, yes, my favorite night of the week! I make my way into City Hall at a run, the soles of my boots squeaking against the marble floor, and I only slow once I get outside Wish’s room. I stroke the outer space mural painted on the closed door with reverent fingers as I catch my breath.
Wish is in there. My prey. My meal—caught, immobile—in the spider’s web.
I press my thumb to the door’s sensor. “Welcome, Fiend,” says the sensual robot’s voice as the lock disengages.
I fling open the door. “Wish!”
As always, Wish lies on his back in the hospital bed, his perpetually shiny curls fanning out against the pillow beneath his blond head.
I take my seat in the chair at Wish’s bedside and prop my legs up over his shins. Across from the bed, a large window provides a nighttime view of the fountain in the center of City Hall’s little courtyard. If we were in a taller building, it’d be glinting skyscrapers cloaked in fog.
“You’ll be happy to know that Love production is as efficient as ever, Wish. I had to eat the manager of the South plant, but his replacement is just perfect.” I pat Wish’s hand, jostling the plastic pulse oximeter clamped over his index finger. “I have to thank you, you know, every time I see you, for giving us such a wonderful flower.”
Wish can’t tell me “You’re welcome,” of course; he’s in a coma. But the uptick in his heartbeat makes me think he knows I’m here. He hates me, but such is the inevitable relationship of a child (though Wish is a man now) and his monster.
It’s a shame I must keep him like this, but I have to if I want to stay real.
“I ate your friend Thisbe, by the way.” I peer coyly at the heart monitor as Wish’s heartbeat jumps to an unhealthy level. “Now, now, you know I give them all peaceful deaths!” This does nothing to calm my prisoner, so I change the subject. No need to torture him with the details of just how her brain matter felt on my tongue (though I must admit, it’s tempting; she was delicious).
I’m about to launch into an anecdote about my favorite soldier, Neisha, and the stray dog she found in the alley behind her building when my phone jingles. It’s her. “Think of the devil!”
I tap the screen.
URGENT: Possible specimen sighting
Boss, my girlfriend (she works the door at the Love house on 9th) snapped this pic last night of a guy she said seemed lost and disoriented. Is he one of the ones you’re looking for?
I open the picture and squint at it. It’s dark and a little blurry, but the facial features are unmistakable.
I squeal, jump to my feet, and whiz over to Wish’s head. Holding one of his eyes open, I show him the picture. “Look! It’s Seraphim. Isn’t he beautiful? But you know that.” Because Wish knows everything I know, at least if it has to do with before we came here. I try my utmost not to think about that time, however, when I was locked in the cage of Wish’s subconscious, half-forgotten and half-real.
I gaze down at the picture of Seraphim and can’t help myself; I press a kiss to the screen. Then I pet Wish’s curls. In Wish City, he doesn’t have the shaved head or the incision, but I know where the latter used to be. I part Wish’s hair where I felt them slice us. I trace my tongue along the white scalp line. Those doctors, they were so, so cruel, taking Wish’s Earth brain out to play with. Wish probably thinks I’m cruel, but I would never hurt him like that. I’ve only put him to sleep.
“It’s terrible,” I whisper, “how badly I hunger for your beautiful brain. You deserve so much more for how you make me suffer.” I kiss his forehead. I wonder as I wonder endlessly if the brain he has here, in Wish City, is healthy or tainted like Thisbe’s was, the desecration coming through as an unfortunate, coppery aftertaste. I can only assume such damage was due to whatever the doctors did to her in that facility in Chicago. Any experiments they performed on Wish’s brain happened after they extracted it, however. My mouth waters at the thought of finally digesting my due, but it may never happen.
I message Neisha. Where is my specimen?
Still at the Love house. I’ve got eyes on him now. Should I bring him to you?
I chew on a nail and tilt back and forth. What to do, what to do…? No, I’ll come get him. Is he high?
Well peel him off whoever he’s fucking and shoot him up fresh. I’ll be there in a jiffy.
I made them hydrate and transport Thisbe before I made my acquaintance, but like Wish, I am of a certain persuasion, and Seraphim is the first male specimen to cross over into my kingdom (aside from Wish himself, of course). Why not have a little sordid fun with Seraphim before I put his brain on a plate?
“I have to get going,” I tell Wish with genuine regret. “Try not to miss me too much for the next six days.” I, for one, will miss him horribly, but if I allow myself to see him more than once per week, I’ll end up curled up on him like a leech, aching and yearning and crying for his brain, which I can’t eat because of what his mother told us when he was five: “But honey, you made him. If he eats your brain, he’ll die, too. Do you think he wants that?”
Gritting my teeth against the unsavory memory, I whip around and storm from the sickroom, my hands in fists.