They had been too young then, and arguably they were still too young now.
The years had been somewhat kind, at least.
One had not quite forgotten the other, but their words felt incredibly foreign.
"I'm sorry for your loss." Nothing more.
All at once, they felt like strangers, again.
They shared sad smiles and stories about the corpse. Her gaze snagged his and lingered - she was as beautiful as he remembered.
The service started and they squeezed into a pew, her bare leg snug against his. He thought of fucking her while they started the eulogy.
When they were young and still wet between the bricks they jostled against each other uncomfortably, chafing against the other's proximity. However, the years, as the years often do, mellowed such animosity. Now, in their old age they lean on each other, gazing upon the world in a comfortable silence.
Naturally, they were owned by identical twins. Twins that vehemently despised one another. So much so that whenever Twin A bought anything, Twin B immediately bought the same, not one to be outdone. Their lives were a monumental pissing contest.
A contest that ended when Twin A bought that shotgun.
If it lingered.
If it shot by in a careless fleeting moment.
These gentle, subtle signs gave her a glimpse into the future.
It crept past the clouds, their edges crisp.
She exhaled and prepared for the fire that would soon set ablaze.
Jagged blue light; pointed and sharp. It caught and snagged at her eyes, like brambles on a woollen jumper, unravelling her.
Another world perhaps, another time, but she was close.
She let herself drift, incorporeal.
She wafted between realities towards home, a soft bastion of warmth against the brilliant ice.
The first was interesting, almost fun. I had never felt frost, or such a bitter breeze.
Soon, my bones became brittle, my legs bare and hairless. I was forced to use strangers in a different way than before.
The thrill subsided, as I slowly chipped away at my nine lives.
I need no thanks as hoar frost grips again, for I keep my watch gladly.
When you built your home, I watched.
As your family grew, I watched.
You know my gentle presence, always watching. Forever distant, suddenly near.
Sweet melancholy rises as I regard your pallid features.
Fires take a while to take hold though, he reasoned. No point panicking over nothing.
He re-read the forth draft of his response to Sarah from accounting. Firm, but polite. He added an emoji, but thought it looked patronising so took it out. Send.
He took one last look at his email as he stood up to go, eyes smarting from the thickening smoke. 11 new emails. He had better reply to that one from Marketing, so as not to block them. There's still time.
Flames consumed him as he hunched over his laptop deciding whether to CC John's manager.
I didn't mind the warmth, but I didn't care for the smoke. Smoke inhalation was not how I wanted to go, so I had to close the bedroom window, which was also an inconvenience in the middle of summer.
The phone rang again, and I didn't answer, again - I wasn't going to leave.
Smoke was somehow billowing, which struck me as peculiar as I'd just triple-checked the window.
Walking downstairs I noticed growing embers in the corner of the dining room. It had seeped over.
As I looked around the room I realised I was about to lose absolutely everything.
Mechanically Assisted Stretching he called it, the pinnacle of therapeutic limb elongation.
"Now see here" he said, pointing at a leather buckle that dangled at the end of long chain, "this is where I place my right arm." He attached himself as way of demonstration.
Both his feet were already bound to his contraption and, with some help, he also attached his left arm into the relevant buckle.
"Most powerful stretch known to man" he boasted.
The engines fired up and his limbs became taught.
"Marvelous", he wheezed.
Charles Pembroke was not dealing well with the death of his wife.
It's like they were made of molten plastic, their joints surrounded by a sweet casing of caramel. I couldn't help but stare everytime they slowly lolloped past my periphery.
Filled with envy, I tried to emulate the long, low swing of his arms. My legs were more rigid so I imagined I had removed my knees and flopped forward with every step.
He noticed me, and life from that moment genuinely felt softer. I seemed to be constantly wading through treacle and when we made love it was languid.
He must never know of my deception.
Our children were skeletal.
The second I saw it, I knew that it was different to Box One and Box Two. It looked old.
“You look old.” I said to its worn out face. Of course, it did not reply. It simply sat there, looking old and distrusting. Rusting. It was also rusting.
With some elbow grease, expletives and downright brute force, I was able to enter its chasm.
The first thing I noticed was the sickly green pallor of its skin. I took a mental picture and then I took a knife to its throat. What unborn horrors could lie in Box Four?
They had fallen to my crowbar, but this one, bound in metal, required more subtlety. Silence, shallow breathing, click. The lock turned.
I lifted the hinged lid and propped it with the crowbar, shining a torch inside I illuminated a reassuringly macabre sight. A desiccated body lay within, a skeletal hand clutching a yellowing sheet. The map.
Too far to reach I swung a leg over, then another. Bones cracked as I landed inside.
I grabbed it and unfurled. No map, just words.
"Weep, for you are already dead."
The lid slammed shut and I was consumed by darkness.
People use this flaw of mine against me and constantly speak in a longwinded tongue.
They berate me through complex words such as ‘nihilist’, ‘consternation’, ‘obstinacy’, and ‘insidious’.
I can only reply with ‘okay’, or ‘sure’ when really I am not at all sure. My insides rage with unsureness. I don’t know if that is a word.
One day I started to read the dictionary - I wanted to read it cover to cover - but stumbled on ‘aardvark’ because the letters made no sense.
How can I learn? Where do non-understandable words live?
My life is overshadowed by vocabulary.
New English is full of these inscrutabilis though. New words with lateat meanings.
Every day people forget more of the old language. Words that everyone can understand like "officium" or "fortitudo" or "tumultus". Hard working, honest words.
Your sector is being purged.
What does that even mean? The Order always trying to hide the significatio of their message behind confundens words.
I look at my frater and soror either side of me. We will send them a message that can't be misunderstood.
It's like our forefathers used to say, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
It flowed in tiny streams along the meandering road, delicately skirting by our hiding place. A soft trickling made its way to our ears and my tent mate cautiously took a peek outside, intrigued.
“Do you see that?” He asked.
“Yeah, I see it.” I replied, silently annoyed that he had gotten a glimpse before I could.
“Why is the snow melting?” He asked.
“How would I know?” I replied, less silently annoyed. “I don’t know how the snow got here in the first place.”
Last year, sometime around June, we woke up one morning and the world was covered in exactly seven inches of snow. As the days, then weeks, then months trudged on, the temperature remained steady but the snow didn’t shift. If anything, it seemed to be rising, but we never saw a single snowflake fall.
We wanted to know more. We needed to understand what was happening. We decided to leave the city and witness nature firsthand.
One year later and the snow was suddenly losing its solid form.
“Do you see that?” He asked again.
This time I wasn’t annoyed. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The water was defying gravity, it was moving skyward.
The white frozen lands became green again, rivers began to flow, and Mr Hutchinson's body was finally found.
The constable was brought in. The good one, from the town over the hill. He stood and stared at the body, hooking his thumbs into his belt loops and leaning back on his heels. He felt like he should know what to do, but they didn't have many dead bodies turn up around here.
"Well..." he said, hoping that if he started speaking, some brilliant insight might follow. It didn't, so he sighed instead. "I guess we'll never know what happened to poor Mr Hutchinson here." He nudged the body with his boot to confirm which Mr Hutchinson he was referring to. The body slumped over onto it's back.
"I wonder if that could have something to do with it?" A hesitant voice questioned from the small crowd gathered around the ex-schoolteacher. There was no immediate response from the constable so they clarified. "... the knife" still no response, so they helpfully clarified further "...in his chest."
The constable whistled between his teeth. "Could be, could be. We don't want to jump to any conclusions now though."
It was almost definitely the knife.
It started on the first day when the computers went down. Days two to four were spent booting and rebooting in painful, drawn out attempts to get the machines back online, to little avail. Our collective stress was on the rise and morale was steadily being chipped away at.
By day six we were back to prehistoric telegrams that were being ferried through the tunnels as our only means of communicating with the Outside World.
The final day of the week was the worst. Rolling power outages across the entire complex threw the morning shift workers into disarray and a late delivery of supplies left dozens without breakfast.
“Excuse me, Leader.”
“What is it now?”
“You have a visitor.”
I snatched my head towards the door. I haven’t had a visitor since I started the Nobleman’s Peace Lands.
“It’s good to see you, Victor.”
I froze. That voice. The name they so casually muttered. I hadn’t heard either in almost a decade.
“Why are you here?”
“I figured you’d need some help getting yourselves back on the grid.”
“You did th-“
I could barely finish my line of questioning before I heard the emergency alarms blaring across the entire compound.