I loved you. I don’t quite know why after all you put me through. The ups and the downs were as they happened, and I cannot deny that I lost my temper on some occasions.
I’d always loved you for who you were, not what. I knew you felt the same way about me too. It made me happy to think about that, to know you were mine and I was yours. I did think that way, and I know if I tried I could do so again.
Now I’m beyond trying, and I can’t get back.
They say time stands still along this mountain, a place where only gods may see. That was true, for a time, and you knew this well. In fact, it was you who first told me of that saying. I pretended to understand, and you insisted it was deep and meaningful.
I pretended then. I still pretend sometimes, that you’re with me and everything is how it was. That it was all a silly fever dream, and that I didn’t fail you.
Then I scourge myself, because I did. Or that’s what my mind is telling me, and it is not letting up.
Now I know that your saying was just an explanation for your loneliness, a fool’s reasoning of shutting away those who cared. I know that that saying was a trap, and I fell for it. I fell deep. You needed me more than I realised, and I never really delivered, did i?
You also told me that two days could feel like forever up here. The sun only sometimes rose, you remarked. I had seen the sun refuse to rise before, so I did understand. I did not understand why, nor did you. There are many things we do not understand, many things that we’re not meant to understand. I would think you got too close and paid for it.
I would think that. I don’t.
“Four days would feel like forever-upon-forever, and six even more so!” you would exclaim. “Can you imagine?”
I could not. Maybe you could, but it was an unlikely possibility. Mortals are not meant to know of infinities. One of the things we are not to know, as much as you tried.
You had a problem. One which I tried to solve to the best of my abilities.
When you called out in the middle of the night I ran to you, for the nights were filled with many terrors. You showed me that, and I saw them too after a time. I learned how to fight them and how to cope with them, but you did not take as well as I did.
I could solve myself, but I could never solve you. I could solve your problems for you, but you seemed to lack the ability, or perhaps the motivation.
While you lost your mind and became someone you were not, someone you never were; then I knew I had missed that call for help. Just one night was all it had taken, and the night claimed you. Just one night I thought you would be okay, and the night had enshrouded your heart, so you could never love me the way I did to you. The night won you over, and you drank from its well as you slept. Unaware, yet willing. Mind awake, body quieted.
I loved you, and you should know that in some ways I still do. I love your memory. Though I can’t speak for how much you know of your circumstances, I can relate as much as I know. Little as that may be.
I hope you understand. I don’t.
My eyes snapped open, burning from the residue that had crawled its way inside. I heard your call, your cry for help, as usually happened on Sundays. It echoed down the hallway and into my room. It was impossible to ignore, for multiple reasons.
Every week you would call for me, and every week I would not forget.
The shadows that were not white nor black – but both – had enveloped you once more, and in response I lit candles, warding them back through the window and out the front gate.
You cried and rejoiced for me, as you always did. I hugged you and prayed to the eyed ones that they would watch you when I was unable, as I always did.
I went back to bed and bid goodnight to the spindlers on the window ledge. They used to frighten me, tapping against the glass with razor claws while I struggled to sleep. I learned to ignore them. You did not.
In the morning I peeked into your room to make sure you were still safe, and I felt relieved when it was true.
Breakfast was made, a stew of ground eggshells, beef pickle and shredded chicken liver. My own recipe. I called you downstairs and we sat at opposite ends of the table.
The conversation we had was the same every morning, and you knew it was.
“Good sleep?” I would say.
“Awful,” you’d reply. “Awful. I had a terrible nightmare.”
“I slept fine. You should try meditation.”
“You do have all the luck. Meditation is for monks.”
The conversation lapses for a few seconds while you sample the breakfast.
“Good pickings today, Briar,” you say, with no discernible tone in your voice. You just said it, flatly.
“Thank you. It is my own recipe,” I reply. I am correct in saying this. It is indeed my own recipe. “Have you sampled the rot?”
“Not yet. My throat is parched.”
You never knew why your throat felt full of sand every morning, without fail. On some days, you would wake up and there would be scratches all down the inside, and you would cough blood and bile for the better part of the day.
I could have made a rug fit for the patron royalty with the tissues we used on those days.
You would reach for the orange juice, only to find it spoiled and rotting. I never bought new juice, and I don’t remember obtaining the jug you were reaching for. It had always been in my cupboard and would never let me throw it out.
You still drank the black fluid down; you would throw up later, and the skin on your forearms sloughed off. I didn’t care, because I loved you.
Some days, we would go for a walk in the forest. You called it the Shady. You were always cutesy with nicknames. Briar was one of them, only a distant memory now. I miss those names.
It was a dense pine forest that cascaded down the steep mountains, but over the years we had worn and built a track into the side that we could navigate.
The bees would build their hives high up, the big bees that flew through the windows sometimes and stung me while I slept. The poison made me stronger, I think, even with the eventual rot.
You liked the sweet bloodied honey they made, and how you could lather it on your arms and allow the ants to eat it off. Sometimes the ants would bite too far and into your exposed muscle. You tolerated them burrowing inside but not for long. When you tired of them, you pulled them out by the tail and cut their beaks off. You thought they were delicious too. I did not, but I didn’t stop you, because I knew you liked them, and I loved you in your own cute, quirky way.
One time you had retrieved an entire hive. I don’t know how you managed it. When you came down from the tree you were covered in stings from head to toe, weeping. Your wounds were weeping, also. Thin pus and clear fluid rushed from every single sting, coating you in a sickening, vile glaze.
You broke the hive open and killed all the bees inside with your fists while I stood back and watched. I didn’t have bandages on me, so I would wait until you were done killing them before I would carefully layer pine needles on all the stings, keeping them in place with the honey.
You must remember that. Surely.
Sometimes you would ignore the hives and focus on a wild pig rooting around the brush for something to eat with its scaly nose. I pointed and showed you what it was doing.
“There, see? It’s found truffles,” I said.
Usually you would chase after it, but one day in you only stood and watched it. You did not move until it left. I didn’t make dinner.
That night, I did not hear you scream. Some nights you did not, so I thought nothing of it. How could I have known?
There were no spindlers on my sill that day, and I should have known. I had no bee stings.
Instead of peaceful rest, I heard a soft whimper coming from your room.
I comforted you amongst the torn curtains, the bed ripped clean in half and the dozens of eviscerated pigeons that were strewn on the floor. I noticed your face was different. You always had smooth cheeks, but today they were gaunt and jarring. Your pores were wide and gaping at the cold air.
Inside your eyes there was a deep blight, the name I had given to the colour of the shadow clouds who were not white nor black, but both at the same time. I don’t think you noticed, or much else after that.
I knew then that they had got you, and you did not scream for me. They had reached in with their unformable arms, reached into your soul and taken away what made you… you.
The thing I loved.
You did not scream again. Ever.
You did not come down for breakfast, though I heard you say the same things you would normally say. To me, perhaps, but not to me.
After breakfast I found you in your room, eating the ants that were swarming around the desiccated pigeons, and the rats that had joined them. They scoured the carcasses and hauled bloody chunks of meat away with their steely pincers, watching me with beady eyes.
You were unusual. Your tongue was long and spattered with fleshy hooks. Your hands had ebony claws, drenched in blood of a thousand creatures. In my mind I justified it as a temporary nightmare that had crept into our world. That it would be remedied on day’s end.
I saw you gaze at me with those blighted eyes. You were pleading with me. For what I didn’t know. I had guessed death, at the time.
Not that I could do something like that.
You never went back to how you were before that day. It tears me up inside that I did not save you that night. Every night. The bees do not sting me anymore, and the spindlers have left their roost on my sill.
If they were signs, I am glad they are gone.
By Monday you had grown a thick pelt down your back and shoulders, but I did still love you. It felt like one thousand knives so that I could not touch it, but you could, with no issue. Your hands were calloused, now. The first thing you did was obtain a knife and stab away the pads on your hands, though it was only hours before they had regrown.
I wanted to hold you, to console you of this pain that you must have been feeling among the forms of tens upon tens of small creatures that lay vacantly in your room, silently decaying. I could not, and not entirely for my mental state. Your teeth, or rather fangs, did so get in my way.
Tuesday the pelt had settled in form and softened some, so I could feel it, the warmth radiating from your wretched form. It had grown further along now, over your arms, your legs, your chest. It was thicker around your neck like a scarf, a black, void-filled scarf. Where were your ears? In their place were longer, thinner hairs with flayed ends. They flicked this way and that while I cried for you. Did you hear me? Did you know? Could you understand anything that was happening?
On Wednesday, I looked for you, and you were not there. I sought a knife to kill you with and planned to end myself as well. You were lying in the barn, with none of your clothes on. Perhaps you were too hot?
I’d hoped that was the reason, and I could not bring myself to end you, for my pity was too great.
I buried the dead dogs and sheep; then sat you up at the dinner table. You refused to wear any clothes as much as I urged you to. In my pity I didn’t notice you wouldn’t have needed them, nor could you have stayed in any for very long, regardless. Any skin you had left was covered in the wiry pelt, a deep black with flecks of amber at the end. No poor soul who saw you would find any similarity between ourselves.
Gazing upon your beastlike face I saw nothing I remembered or cherished any more. A black nose like rubber, and scales along your new snout. Your beautiful hazel eyes were swallowed up in the blightness of the shadows. A long, wispy length dragged along behind you. A tail, one could say, as much as it chagrins me to admit the beastliness of that.
I convinced you to walk with me, somehow. You followed me to the forest and I showed you the hives. I showed you the wild pig.
Cleaning the blood and viscera from your fur was the hardest thing I’d had to do yet. We ate well enough though.
I fed you my breakfast, but you found it hard to eat with utensils. Retreating to my room, I cried that you buried your face in it like a dog, like the monster you were becoming. I cried, and I cried, and I cried, for hours upon hours. I wept for your loss, and I wept for my loss. After these years, the thoughts we had shared and the times we had spent, for me to forget you on one day. For you to lose the thing I loved most.
But I did still love you. Really and truly.
I thought that time stood still on this mountain, as you always told me. It should have felt like forever upon forever.
Thursday arrived regardless. I never did bring myself to check in on you that day. If I had known…
Micah Wendelborn is a sci-fi and weird fiction hobbyist writer in New Zealand, with a lingering programming interest. He runs a small worldbuilding community via Discord and oversees the site cthulist.org. “Something Strange” is his first published work. See what he’s working on via his Twitter under the guise of a home-made discord bot, @MicahWendelborn