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Aniridia

Aniridia is wrestling with the end of the world, who has already used four illegal tactics including her teeth.

“You can’t win,” whispers the end of the world in Aniridia’s sweating ear. “You can’t even see what winning would look like.”

“Yeah,” grits Aniridia, “but it’s the only game in town.” Her teeth are grinding, and so is her shoulder, an inch from the ground.

“This isn’t a fair fight,” says the end of the world. She’s watching from the audience and checking her phone. “It’s not a fight at all.”

But, Aniridia knows–heart muscles trembling–it isn’t over either.

Aldous

She feels the end of the world stroke her throat with fingers like truth and death. She swallows. A tear crawls down her cheek.

Aldous opens her burning eyes. The auditorium is empty. She is, as always, alone.

Backstage there are stacks of dusty pine, newspaper, buckets of nails; the thing about the theater is you’re always building something. It’ll take time to lug it up through her little trapdoor, but time she’s got.

One final thing her father showed her: you can’t just leave the house. You have to give it something. You have to build the last room yourself.

The end of the world

Tearing off branches studded with thorns. Twisting them together, a crude handle and tails. Tying knots. Testing it. A whistle in the air.

He looks down at his notebook, his map of the territory. He stole so much from her house, heedless and headlong: his sin is marked with ink on ink. Only blood will out the stain.

“All humans can draw,” she said once. He’ll draw something, all right, here in this forest at the end of the world.

He raises the whip and lets it fall. One. Two. Three.

By a hundred and one, he’s long since lost count.

The end of the world

He steps outside and realizes he forgot to fold this part.

The sky above him glints like sugar spilled on ink. There are trees here, sharp and twisted things, like nothing on earth. Where is he?

When is he?

How old is he?

How old was she when–

He grabs a branch; his hand comes away bloody, and he smears it across the pages. Names lift from it and float away (Zocco Zion Zinnia Zhenya) but they’re all wrong. What page was it on? Seventeen? Nineteen?

Maybe he shouldn’t ask.

Somewhere a snowskull drifts to earth, ELIOT melting from its brow.

The end of the world

He can place it now, the noise, the low whine rising. Everyone breathing together, said the end of the world. But breathing their first or last?

He flips through his notebook. Even the inside cover is layered in incomprehensibly dense script, black on white on black repeating, but he remembers writing his name first in case he were to lose it. It’s still down there somewhere. Information can be neither created nor destroyed.

What does it take to wash ink from memory? He touches the edge of one page with his still-bleeding finger. The paper sucks hungrily, and then he knows.

Aniridia

“You aren’t supposed to see this,” says the end of the world.

Aniridia looks out at the auditorium and the dead filling its seats, quiet and still.  “I didn’t intend to,” she says.  “I want to go home.”

“Have you walked the maze?” The end of the world straightens from her sutures. “Have you named names and dug at the cracks? There’s no home for you anymore.”

“Dead dear fear feed fled,” Aniridia whispers, then grips the curtain, forcing glossolalia back down her throat.

“Which will you be?” she asks. “The end of the house?  Or the girl in the world?”

The end of the world

His finger aches as he dyes the vellum crimson.

Paper sucks blood away, a capillary hunger he finds it somehow hard to watch, but soon the model is finished. He sets it in place and the light flares green and purple, colors of greed. It’s lapping at him. It is pulling him down.

The auditorium.

He crouches in the aisle, nauseated, feeling like a rough stone in a tumbler from his own graceless travel. But he’s back. He stumbles to his seat to find his notebook, a battered little thing covered in strata of ink.

A sound makes him look up.

The end of the world

If one travels from A to B, there must then exist a route from B to A. He doesn’t care if the world has ended. He doesn’t care if realities overlap. He’s done with this place and he’s going back to where he started: the auditorium, his notes, his work.

She talked about symbols. He tears apart a blank book he found somewhere and folds origami seats, an apron, a proscenium. Purple and green flicker at the edges of his model. The vellum is soft; the velvet curtains, he remembers, were red.

He begins to massage the tip of his finger.

The end of the world

With shaking hands he finds his cheap ballpoint and field-strips it, fumbling the spring from its barrel and prying it straight as pain until he’s got a sharp point to dig with. The splinter comes free, and blood, as always, follows.

He stares at it for a moment, mind as clumsy as his hands, then sucks it from his fingertip.

He will come to regret the waste.

When he reassembles the pen again it doesn’t work anymore. No matter. He drops it and, unnoticed, a slip of paper from his pocket tumbles down after it to nest between the floorboards.

The end of the world

His hand catches in limine, and he hesitates, turning to pull his finger free and examine it. There’s a splinter, long and dark, just under the dim translucence of his outermost skin.

He tries to pry it out and succeeds in snapping off the end. Tension mounts his lower back, draws his shoulders together. He sits down to worry at it; each attempt makes the wound a little more raw.

It’s driving him like a trapped animal. He gnaws at his finger, casts about for a needle, whimpers and curses and kicks the wall and why can’t he remember his name

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