{{{The patio door would've been heavy; you'd have put your entire weight against the handle. The night air would've been cold, sharp and bracing as it poured over your feet. Stepping outside would've been like stepping into a pool.\n\nYou know this from afterwards:}}}\n\nThe sky revolves slowly overhead, the arm of the milky way contorted into a sawtooth spiral. Clouds overlap and intersect, a hazy kind of light pouring through them. {{{They're lit by something elsewhere.}}} The yard, dark and quiet, is full of shadowy figures. Their bodies are lean and attenuated, limbs long and ending in shapes like hands, with too many fingers and too many joints. They're translucent, the dim light playing through them, turning them into a rippling sea of interleaved shadows. They struggle towards you, like they're fighting against a strong wind, their hands grasping for a hold on the patio deck. They say things {{{you've forgotten how to}}} [[understand]].<<set $understand = 0>>\n----\n<<set $place = "gone">><<display "night">>
<<set $place = "eye">>There is an unblinking Eye that revolves through the heavens. Its gaze is a spotlight, burning everything in its path. You... there was a friend you had, or you thought of them as a friend, and he was captured in the gaze of the Eye. He ran into it, knowing what would happen, wanting to save someone. It transformed him, into a new shape. He became a set of tears in the world, howling black fire streaking from his body, curling from him like fire, or sea waves, or lightning. Nothing of the person you knew was left in him.\n\nIt's something of a rite of passage, for some.\n\nMaybe you didn't deserve it, but who can say? You were aching and lonely and miserable, and you let the gaze catch you, and it burnt a book in unknown glyphs into your bones. You were feverish and sick, lost and dying. Something of you died then. {{{Before then}}} you would have mourned its loss and given anything to give it back; {{{after}}} you found yourself glad it was gone. You needed to grow, and to do that you needed to change. Some amount of death was necessary. You're just glad it wasn't all of you.\n----\n<<display "world">>
<<set $back = $back + 1>>You go up the stairs. Ascending is quicker, more familiar. {{{You don't even remember the return: you were just}}} <<if $back == 1>>[[there|back]]<<else>>there<<endif>>{{{--}}}\n\n<<if $back == 2>>Standing in the center of your [[room]], the dread given way to relief.<<endif>>
{{{A memory}}}: you're a child. You're in your room, in the house your parents lived in then, out in the country. You can't capture the feeling, but you were scared, the kind that's a hollow echoing dread. Of the night, of the dark, of the stillness and silence, of the rare flashes of car lights, moving in an angular crawl across the wall and ceiling.\n\n{{{You were scared a lot as a kid.}}} This night it was worse.\n\n----\n\n<<set $place = "bed">><<display "room">>
{{{You were never really sure what your parents were expecting. No, that's a lie. You know}}} //{{{exactly}}}// {{{what they were expecting. They were thinking: the world works in ways that are clear and obvious. Clearly, as I grew up, I would discard my... childish habits. They would allow me this little concession, because they didn't want to alienate me, fragile child that I was, but they did so secure in the knowledge that it was 'a phase', something I'd tire of once I -- through some osmosis -- acknowledged how superior their world, their culture, was.}}}\n\n{{{It still makes me mad, in the light little way a person gets mad at problems that can never be resolved. Part of it is that they'll never}}} //{{{really}}}// {{{know why and how they were wrong: they made a decision, or it was decided for them by their lack of decision. It happened somewhere in their youths, -- youths that I never learned about, -- slowly, quietly, and by the time I challenged it it had ceased to be a decision. It was a tenet, a pillar, something left always implicit, unassailable in their refusal to acknowledge it existed.}}}\n\n{{{To say we had arguments about it would imply we talk about it. Every conversation is made under the shadow of our silence. I know it's pointless to force the issue; I wonder why they stay silent. Both of us are stuck on separate sides of a chasm, in the realm of}}} [[after]]{{{.}}}
<<set $place = "other">>You don't think of it as such, as 'other'. It's half the world; its angles different and its life more byzantine. You can't stay there long, but it's part of you.\n\nPeople like to think of it as cosmetic: just the same as the usual world, just, there's a different sun, and there are monsters, and shadows, and teeming multitudes. It's the same, it just looks different. It's a way to try and accept something alien, and it grates: one can only know a thing by knowing it for itself, not by drawing parallels from other, more familiar things.\n\nYou've spent sleepless nights chased through the wild of brambles, heart pounding in your chest. You've been caught -- it's how you got most of your scars. Every single one was the cause of a war between you and your parents: it was too dangerous, you were killing yourself, why can't you just be normal, can't you see it's better for everyone that way?\n\nIt's a deeply dangerous place: monsters aren't humans in strange skins, they're something else, something strange. They are like humans in that: some of them are murderers, some of them saints. The proportions and the motives are different. But over the years they became your people, or you became something like them, and you wouldn't give that up, even if it means getting killed. It's half the world.\n----\n<<display "world">>
<<set $place = "ghosts">>You gave yourself to the ghosts, drowning in their sea. It seems impolite of you to treat them as a collective entity; their individuality glossed over in your narrative, subsumed into a metaphor. In truth, you're not sure if they're anything but a metaphor. Surely they're not the actual dead. They like stories, like the neat narrative convenience of them, of foreshadowing and rising action and climax, so perhaps your half of the trade was a story of them to tell. Certainly, also, they took your soul: but that was a restless heavy thing, something you wanted gone was soon as you were aware of its tendrils worming inside you, a gross parasite feeding on your life. That was your reward.\n\nThe way you did it was... then, at that point in your life, you wanted something obscene. You wanted something that would mark you. The shadows gave it to you. You sunk deep and rose up smeared with dark fluids, rank effluvium rising from your naked body. You wanted scars that would mean something more. The shadows are in the market for meaning.\n\nYou wonder sometimes what they would have to offer you now -- in the same way you can't remember their appeal as a child, you can't imagine what they would offer you {{{now}}}. You're thankful you sold your soul early, before you could do any real damage with a wish.\n----\n<<display "world">>
<<set $best = true>>{{{It's hard not just to try and think of what's best for another person, but how to engage with them in a way that's helpful to both of them. In your parent's cases, it was "always casually and subtly steer conversation away from topics too uncomfortable to talk easily about; which you were actively complicit in" and "tell you to stop talking or be punished whenever a disagreement went on too long, then frame it as you childishly starting an argument and losing control". Is it childish to still resent that?}}}\n----\n<<display "mom">>
The hallway is dark and vast. {{{The world children experience is gigantic, full of doorknobs and banisters at eye level, the ceiling an angular thing lost in the shadows above.}}} The house is quiet and still.\n# Your bedroom is [[room]].\n# The box room is <<if $place != "box">>[[box]]<<else>>''box''<<endif>>.\n# Your parents' room wasn't of concern.\n# Downstairs is [[stairs]].<<set $place = "out">><<set $stairs = 0>>
<<set $place ="under">><<if $choice == "beneath">>Below the bed is a black void. the carpet and the hazy darkness has been replaced by a complete blankness, as if someone wrapped a black rug around the feet of the bed. From deep inside the darkness, far, far below, comes the sound of claws. There is a light in the darkness: eyes gleaming yellow-green in the glaring daylight.<<else>>It's dark under the bed. The monster is stretched out sleeping along the far wall, a long lean shape, shaggy and spiky. Its ears are flattened against the underside of the bed.<<endif>>\n----\n<<display "room2">>
<<set $place = "apartment">>You got a place. Small, because you couldn't afford anything better, but it became a home. The bed is a futon on the ground, lacking the space for a monster, but every door opens into the other world half the time, and these days you prefer to share the bed. Your partner, these days... she's long-limbed and cunning, because you have a type, and her scales rasp against you in the dark. When she's curled up in bed, she almost looks like someone from a different life: the tangle of sheets hiding her tail, her other arms folded under a spare hoodie, her eyes downcast. She looks like someone your parents might have liked, someone you can talk around outside with without attracting stares.\n\nThen she catches you staring, her eyes black sclera and gleaming blue-green pupil, and you recognize her as herself. You can't say, in all truth, that you met her and grew attached, completely unrestrained by your past: maybe you'll always see part of her as something mystical and alien and seductive, rather than simply as the person she is. But she tries to forgive your trespass and you try to understand the parts of her world you never saw, and... you make it work. For now, and even if it ends... now is good, and you think you're adult enough to live beyond an ending.\n----\n<<display "world">>
The closet is closed, but it has venetian doors. With your eyes adjusted to the dark, you can see its inside: empty and still. There are a few hanging clothes you never wear{{{, winter clothes probably}}}, and the hook the monster hangs from sometimes. It's not there now.\n\nYou slide open the doors and step into the dark of the closet.\n----\n<<set $place = "closet">><<display "room">>
<<set $stairs = $stairs + 1>>You take the stairs one at a time, holding onto the lip of the upper step each time you ease yourself down. You do this over and over, and then you're <<if $stairs == 1>>[[downstairs|stairs]]<<else>>downstairs<<endif>>.\n\n<<if $stairs == 2>><<display "downstairs">><<endif>>
There's nothing under the bed. You used to have boxes stored beneath, near the foot, but the last monster took them. Now {{{-- in the current time, that is --}}} you don't even remember what they were boxes of. {{{You don't remember if you ever really knew, or if your child mind just accepted 'boxes', the same way you never really wondered about why there was a spare bedroom full of boxes. Not that you thought of it that way; it was just 'the box room'.}}}\n\nYou curl up on the carpet under the bed.\n----\n<<set $place = "under">><<display "room">>
Beneath / Inside
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You curl up under the bed covers. The heavy blankets hide the lack of light and muffle the silence. {{{In retrospect, so much of hiding under blankets is about considering the willful choice of limitations better than having those limitations forced on you.}}}\n----\n<<set $place = "bed">><<display "room">>
<<set $place = "monster">>You were recovering, your body lean and new, with new scars. A great shaggy beast came to you, taking you to his den, deep in the wilds. He would have eaten you if you died, and celebrated and mourned for the strange crossing of your lives. He nursed you back to health, and when you came awake you transitioned easily from being tended to on a sickbed to sharing his bed. You were a changeling child, {{{hungry}}} in your own way, and the week of recovery was followed by a week of exploring your new body, scarred in new places, with a different echo in your bones.\n\nYou let him bite you when you left, tear a chunk of muscle from your side, and you shared the blood. You think of him fondly, when you think of him.\n----\n<<display "world">>
The other side is bright. It's not a quality of light, but of clarity. You can see clearly, even in the darkness. The room is constructed strangely. Too many angles, or not enough.\n\nIt's twilight, as usual. The windows are open. It's a crisp fall day, or the equivalent at least. The air is full of the smell of leaves, musty and organic.\n\nThe angles of your bed are strange, but you don't mind. What's more important: There's a monster like an umbrella hanging in the closet, its leathery wings folded up around its bulbous central eye. It wheezes as it snores. A cluster of eyes watch you from beneath the bed, hidden claws clawing through the carpet as it shifts. Small insectile creatures, like beetles, crawl along the walls at irregular intervals. You crawl into your bed, sighing in childish exasperation as what were your stuffed animals roll and stumble to nest around you. You fall asleep easily.\n\nYou're awoken by a [[scream]].
<<set $hurt = true>>{{{Emotionally. A relationship where, once you have enough distance from it, you realize you never want to hear from or think of that person again.}}}\n----\n<<display "mom">>
You're in your room{{{, in your memory}}}. It's midmorning. The room is well-lit. <<if $place == "bed">>You're lying on top of your bed.<<else>><<if $place == "closet">>You're standing in front of your closet door.<<else>><<if $place == "under">>You're crouched on the floor, looking under your bed.<<endif>><<endif>><<endif>> Here are your directions:\n# The closet is <<if $place != "closet">>[[closet|closet2]]<<else>>''closet''<<endif>>.\n# Below the bed is <<if $place != "under">>[[under|under2]]<<else>>''under''<<endif>>.\n# Your mom is [[mom]].<<set $mom = 0>>\n# The bed is ''no longer safe''.\n# The hallway isn't relevant.
<<set $place = "pendant">>You can't remember the moment when you actually realized. The palm of your right hand was inscribed with the lumpy ridges of the pendant, a rough-edged triangle with the eye on the inside. If you got to pick your token, you would have picked differently. But it was a part of you now, its seal turned inside-out to permit you to {{{shift}}} any time you wanted.\n----\n<<display "world">>
<<set $understand = $understand + 1>>{{{So much of your memory is piecemeal. You remember with the ease that you}}} //{{{understood}}}// {{{the shadows' voices. It was only with age and understanding that their message was lost. It's hard to imagine what would have happened had you walked out into their sea, letting them subsume you. It's possible you would be better off; it's possible you wouldn't be. Knowing what you've}}} //{{{done}}}// {{{with them now, it seems obscene to contemplate it; borderline pedophilic. When you think back, you do not perfectly revisit the past, you revisit your current conception of it, of what it meant. You let yourself be claimed by the shadows something like ten years from}}} this memory{{{, and it was a formative sexual experience. It's obscene to think of that happening with your child memory-body, but you can't help but see the shadows as fundamentally}}} //{{{sensual}}}//{{{, although you know perfectly well that's a reflection of your later actions. Then -- you couldn't have even understood those impulses. Even using this language in this context makes you feel guilty, as if admitting to now, currently, having sexual desire is a betrayal of your sexless childhood. Here's what is}}} <<if $understand == 1>>[[true|understand]]<<else>>{{{true}}}<<endif>>{{{:}}}\n\n<<if $understand gte 2>>When you looked at the shadows though the windows, seeing for the first time //all// of them, there was a deep-seated yearning to //go//, to leave this world behind and join the crowd. But you didn't; you stayed in the kitchen{{{: those are the only things you can conclusively say of the past, unmarred by your transformation of this event into a}}} <<if $understand == 2>>[[narrative|understand]]<<else>>{{{narrative}}}<<endif>>{{{.}}}<<endif>>\n\n<<if $understand gte 3>>{{{When it actually happened, you were a teenager, high on hormones and adolescent sexuality, and it was touch and penetration and contact, your naked body buried under shadow limbs until you were shuddering and gasping.}}} //{{{Then}}}// -- in the past -- {{{it was a sexless impulse: the pull towards something beyond you, the want to fly off and stop being yourself. But even that is a narration made after-the-fact. You simply don't remember}}} //{{{why}}}// {{{it was appealing. Since then your reasons have grown and changed into something you can't assign to a child, and only some part of that is sexual. What does a child know of the alien? The entire world is an alien thing, full of capricious}}} <<if $understand == 3>>[[giants|understand]]<<else>>{{{giants}}}<<endif>>{{{.}}}<<endif>>\n\n<<if $understand gte 4>>{{{In}}} truth{{{, you only remember}}} the [[night]] sky, the few trees in the yard erupting from a waving sea of limbs{{{: there's no memory of the door framing it, or of the glass between. That's how it}}} //{{{must}}}// {{{have been, but you don't remember the kitchen at all.}}}<<endif>>
<<set $place ="closet">><<if $choice == "inside">>The inside of the closet, through the slats, is pitch black. You knock on the door and it sounds hollowly, the sound dissipating into a vast space on the other side. Things squirm and rustle from inside it. There is the beat of wings approaching, and then something you can identify as your monster alighting and curling up inside. Its eye gleams through the slats, a phosphorescent blue.<<else>>The closet is flat and boring. Its off-white walls are lit by the daylight. There are a few hanging clothes you never wear{{{, winter clothes probably}}}, and the hook the monster hangs from sometimes. It's sleeping.<<endif>>\n----\n<<display "room2">>
{{{It's still too hard to think directly about it. There were times in your childhood you realized, suddenly, that rather than being parental icons your parents were people with goals and hopes and dreams, and that they -- like everyone -- suffered from certain false enlightenments. You realized, abruptly:}}}\n# {{{My mom wants what's}}} <<if $best != true>>[[best]]<<else>>{{{best}}}<<endif>> {{{for me.}}}\n# {{{She's going to try and do what she thinks is best, and that's going to}}} <<if $hurt != true>>[[hurt]]<<else>>{{{hurt}}}<<endif>> {{{her and me both.}}}\n# {{{She was looking at me, then, in a way that said 'I don't know what to do about this'; something I had done, in an unthinking innocence, had struck her at her core, or at piled on top of concerns I never knew existed, and the result was someone -- an}}} <<if $adult != true>>[[adult]]<<else>>{{{adult}}}<<endif>>{{{, a capable person -- at an edge they had no way of predicting and no method of handling.}}}\n<<if $best == true && $hurt == true && $adult == true>># {{{There's something wrong with the}}} [[world]]{{{.}}}<<endif>><<set $place = "world">>
{{{Things were tense from then on. It seems reductive to turn the rest of your life to a list, but:}}}\n# The <<if $place != "pendant">>[[pendant]]<<else>>''pendant''<<endif>> was in your hand, when you woke up.\n# You slept almost every night in the <<if $place != "other">>[[other world]]<<else>>''other world''<<endif>> from then to adolescence.\n# You slept for a week under the unbearable gaze of the <<if $place != "eye">>[[Eye]]<<else>>''{{{Eye}}}''<<endif>> when you were 16.\n# You had a fling with a shaggy-bodied <<if $place != "monster">>[[monster]]<<else>>''monster''<<endif>> not a week afterward.\n# You dove into {{{the ocean of the formless}}} <<if $place != "ghosts">>[[ghosts]]<<else>>''{{{ghosts}}}''<<endif>> when you were 17.\n# {{{You moved out, and away, and got a tiny one-room}}} <<if $place != "apartment">>[[apartment]]<<else>>''{{{apartment}}}''<<endif>> {{{in the city.}}}\n# {{{You hope to have a lot more to tell in another}}} [[twenty]] {{{years.}}}
{{{You don't remember the downstairs layout that well. There was}}} a kitchen, with a big sliding door out to a flat, edgeless patio. And a mudroom adjacent to that {{{-- the sliding door must have been a later addition; the mudroom the original front door. You remember}}} a cellar, with a rough wooden stairway down; one room finished and the rest just dirt. {{{Maybe your parents' room was down here, instead? You haven't lived there in a long time. There were}}} the stairs up to the second floor{{{, clearly, but you don't remember anything about the internal connections.}}}\n\nThat's not important. What you wanted was in the [[kitchen]], so that's where you went.
You clamber up onto a stool and look over the kitchen island. There's the pendant: black cord, roughly knotted. A green bronze triangle, a sharp oval cut from the center. The cord is threaded through an eyelet at the top, inexpertly welded on. Both the outer and inner edge have a lumpy, uneven rim, like someone piped some molten bronze onto the edge with no real concern for style. {{{Even as a child you were a critic.}}}\n\nThe metal is cold and pointy. You squeeze down hard enough to leave red marks across your palm. The [[night]] stops being quiet and still.<<set $pendant = true>>
You thought of going into the box room. But it was dark and silent too; you could tell that just by the flat darkness around the doorframe. {{{You realize now you never really knew what those boxes were for; they just went away a few years later, when they remodeled the room into a bathroom. Certainly that would have made it into a huge bathroom...?}}}\n----\n<<set $place = "box">><<display "out">>
<<set $extend = 0>>You're in your room{{{, in your memory}}}. It's night. The room is dark. <<if $place == "bed">>You're huddled under the covers in your bed.<<else>><<if $place == "closet">>You're hiding inside your closet.<<else>><<if $place == "under">>You're hiding under your bed.<<endif>><<endif>><<endif>><<if $pendant == true>>{{{You're about to do something that your parents never really forgave you for.}}}<<endif>> Here are your directions:\n# The closet is <<if $pendant == true>>[[inside]]<<else>><<if $place != "closet">>[[closet]]<<else>>''closet''<<endif>><<endif>>.\n# Below the bed is <<if $pendant == true>>[[beneath]]<<else>><<if $place != "under">>[[under]]<<else>>''under''<<endif>><<endif>>.\n<<if $pendant != true>># The bed is <<if $place != "bed">>[[safe]]<<else>>''safe''<<endif>>.\n# The hallway is [[out]].<<endif>>
<<set $choice = "inside">><<set $extend = $extend + 1>>You climb into the closet. The rear wall is sunken and splotched, a dry darkness pouring down. It's pitch back -- dark even to your eyes, dilated wide -- as it puddles around your feet, misting out until the wall falls apart, darkness pouring like a physical force across you. You step forward and walk <<if $extend == 4>>in, in, in\n\nand [[through]]<<else>><<if $extend == 2>>in, <<else>><<if $extend == 3>>in, in, <<endif>><<endif>> [[in|inside]]<<endif>>
You are, after all, still young. You've done things that could've killed you, but so far they haven't. Maybe you won't make it to old age, but, another twenty years: you think you can manage that. Your past has been a mess, but it turned you into the person you are today. Your future... it could be great, it could be awful. You don't think about "the future" much: you think about today, you think about tomorrow. Sometimes it's great and sometimes it's awful. What's important is that you're doing something that's important: to you, and to the people around you. It won't last forever, but what does? Maybe you'll finally get a chance to learn how to be an adult.\n\n''{{{THE END}}}''
<<if $place != "gone">>Outside is the front yard. You have a good view of it from the sliding door in the kitchen. It's full of shadows, twisting and translucent, hands stretching out across the patio, reaching for the door.<<else>>{{{You feign to have stepped outside onto the patio. Shadows surround you. The night is heavy with their low murmur.}}}<<endif>> The sky above is twisted, clouds and stars warped into a spiral, revolving with a kind of eager slowness. It's hungry. {{{At that age the only thing you associated with hunger was}}} //anticipation//{{{, a kind of eagerness for what was about to happen.}}}\n\n# {{{You can easily imagine having}}} <<if $place != "gone">>[[gone]]<<else>>''{{{gone}}}''<<endif>> {{{out onto the patio.}}}\n# You went [[back]] up to your room.<<set $back = 0>>
<<set $choice = "beneath">><<set $extend = $extend + 1>>You crawl under the bed. The carpet gives way, uneven and sinking like the floorboards beneath are rotten. Darkness -- black even to your eyes, dilated wide -- spreads out, tongues and tails of night pouring across the floor. You crawl forward and sink <<if $extend == 4>>down, down, down\n\nand [[through]]<<else>><<if $extend == 2>>down, <<else>><<if $extend == 3>>down, down, <<endif>><<endif>> [[down|beneath]]<<endif>>
It's from the other half of the room. It's still twilight{{{, but the spotlight of the Eye is closer}}}. You sleepily sit up and roll over. Moving through is easier now; the red twilight coils around you and then you're sitting up in your other bed, covers still thrown back from when you got up in the night. There's another scream.\n\n{{{A lot of things happen then.}}}\n\nYou're aware you overslept, and that you missed school. {{{There's a childish obstinance: you were}}} //{{{right there}}}//{{{; your mom wakes you up in the morning all the time, you didn't understand why she didn't today and then acted like it was}}} //{{{your}}}// {{{fault. Saying "you didn't realize what you'd done" implies it like you'd done something bad. Your parents didn't like what you'd done. At the time, you didn't realize you'd done anything.}}}\n----\n<<set $place = "bed">><<display "room2">>
<<set $adult = true>>{{{No one knows how to be an adult -- it's a learned skill, like everything else. Raising kids, you suppose, is likewise a learned skill. In truth you can't bring yourself to blame them, but it's nice to imagine the situation simply being }}}//{{{different}}}//{{{.}}}\n----\n<<display "mom">>