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You have never been bold. It is a statement, a fact, something all-encompassing and universal. You are bright enough to realize its validity, and to recognize your own inherent lack of drive to confront it. It was true when you were six and will just as true when you’re eighty, and there is little to nothing you can truly do to mend it, if it is a problem at all.

It’s okay, you justify. You’re not bold, unable to say what is in your heart and on your mind, but you are kind, and can make good chocolate chip cookies, and you’re good enough at English that people pay you to help edit their essays – which makes you a little uncomfortable, because that might be illegal, or at least against university policy, but Whole Foods’ bread is expensive and you are weak in the face of good food.

She makes you wish you were bold. She was in your required physics class your last semester of freshman year, and might as well be the only reason you passed. She is studying applied math, and talks about calculus in a way that most people use for poetry, literature, or really good cups of coffee. She seems profoundly aware by the lack of women in her major at your school, and wears her pride at her skills in math with a sort of prickly defensiveness that makes you suspect that someone, somewhere, has tried to make her feel bad for being who she is.

She found you frustrated and terrified after the first physics midterm, faux-leather jacket collar flat against your neck in a feeble attempt to stop rain from dribbling down your already scared-sweat drenched back, talking to your befuddled mother on the phone and trying not to cry. You were going to fail, you were sure. Math and science and anything real had never been your strong point – more of your older brother’s, who got a scholarship to learn how to make rockets. If a psychologist chatted with you, they might say it’s the fear of competing with your sibling that scares you away from the sciences. They might be right.

She was quiet – so silent that you did not notice her at all until you hung up the phone and wiped at your dribbling nose. You almost screamed when she asked if you were feeling all right. No, you said, and she said, I’ll tutor you.

Your hackles had risen, and your pride had surged up, and you opened your mouth to tell her to just go away, you’ll be fine.

Growing up, you hated the “love at first sight” trope. Overdone, overblown, overused, unrealistic – there were many reasons to despise it, you thought. You were rational, logical, too smart for the nonsense of love at first sight. Love was based on personality compatibility and years of affection and knowledge about the other – the idea that it could be instantaneous was almost insulting.

Except then she smiled, and maybe you could understand why people wrote about love at first sight.

Besides not being bold, you are also remarkably easy when people with lovely smiles aim those smiles at you. Hers was particularly nice.
She had freckles, and little wrinkles in the corners of her eyes, and her smile was a tad higher on one side than on the other, and maybe it was because of the rain or the stress of exams or just because her smile was that perfect, but for a moment, you were in love.
She tutored you once a week for free. No matter how often you tried to shove wads of crumpled cash in her backpack, she refused to take it – just dropped the rubber-banded wads in front of you with a raised eyebrow and a hint of that smile. Pass the class, she told you. That would be pay enough.

You feel better on the second midterm. Not perfect, but good enough. She walks back to your dorm with you after the exam lets out, and you stop by the campus store to buy two tubs of ice cream – vanilla for you, some raspberry chocolate mix you think is revolting but is all she likes – and stubbornly refuse to talk about the exam as you sit outside on the soccer field and eat out of the carton with plastic spoons. You talk about TV shows you thought had bad writing and ones that were okay. She pointed at the stars and said her dad bought one for her when she turned sixteen, but she could never remember which one it was.

You pass physics. Part of you thinks you should tell her…something. That you think she is beautiful, that you like her smile, or that you love the way she talks about math – like it is a poem, like it is a song. You want to ask her to go dancing, or go to the movies, or whatever it is when people go on dates because you’ve never actually been on one; you’ve just heard stories from your brother and seen them on TV. She is someone you want to learn how to go out on dates with, and learn to kiss, and embrace, and be with. You want to learn to love her.

But you don’t.

You hug her before you leave to go back home for the summer and spend all of May wondering if that was too forward. She had felt stiff and awkward in your arms, and you had been too panicked at your own sudden surge of courage to even enjoy the sensation of holding her. She must think, you decide, that you are a complete and utter creep. She is not a touchy person, and always seems a little unnerved when someone tries to initiate any sort of physical affection. You know this, and yet you hugged her. Yeah, you are a creep.

Texting her is truly terrible. You feel stilted and awkward. What you mean comes out wrong, or maybe she just doesn’t think you’re being witty. Whatever the reason is, she hardly responds to your texts, and you have the nagging sense that anything you’re texting her about is a distraction, an irritant, a mistake. You stop for three weeks, and try to not be frustrated when she doesn’t ask if you’re okay.

Logging into anything social media and seeing her hurts. She is out to dinner with her family, on a boat with her cousins, hugging a tall guy that is unreasonably attractive, and hugging him in such a familiar way that you cannot help the spike of jealousy that lights up within you.

She seems delighted to see you in August, and helps you carry a sofa into your tiny, cramped apartment that you’re sharing with your roommate from last year and another few kids from your Nordic epics class you took in the spring, and watches two superhero movies with you while eating cheese pizza. You came back with this half-baked idea of falling out of love her – because it might be easy; she snorts when she laughs, she’s got absolutely no sense of how loud she is, and she doesn’t shut up during movies. But she has that smile, and she’s funny, and she’s just so happy with being herself that it makes you happy too, just sitting there with her. You do wish she would learn to close her mouth when eating, and not talk while chewing, but part of loving someone is loving their flaws.

But still. Gross.

You could tell her at Halloween, when she talks you into being the White Rabbit to her Alice in Wonderland, and your tail falls off halfway through the night and the heel of her shoe breaks off and it ends up with both of you trying to get a taxi to take you home but you’re laughing so hard that you can hardly flag one down -  but you don’t.

You could tell her when she stays up all night to help you finish a Spanish paper – even though she can’t speak a word of Spanish; she was just there to smack you awake when you nodded off and hand you energy drinks and make you laugh when you get to the point of stress when the universe feels like it will cave in on top of you, but you don’t.

You could tell her when you help her edit her essay for her required writing course, and it is all about patterns and math in nature, and how beautifully elaborate the universe is, and although the style is simple and her grammar is enough to make you cringe, the core of it is so true and so her that you cannot help but love it anyway. You could tell her, but you don’t.

This is the theme of college:

Going to parties

Regretting going to parties (hangover/late homework is mandatory for this one)

Going to class (hangover optional)

Trying to start homework

Watching dumb videos on the internet

Realizing at nine o’clock that you spent four hours watching videos on the internet and you still have homework to do

Starting at your textbook at unreasonable hours of the morning and wondering if you could be a successful hobo if chemistry decides that it wants remains a mystery

Writing papers (being drunk helps (sometimes))

Editing papers (being drunk is not helpful (ever))

Crying when papers disappear from your hard drive (it’s because you were drunk)

Discovering that your roommate is a computer whisperer and can recover your papers

Eating far too many boiled eggs because the food in the dining hall is alive, you’re sure of it, and it’s murderous (never try to eat in a dining hall while high)

Loving her (it’s like being drunk and high and stupid all at once, like falling out of an airplane and getting launched off a cliff and punted off the moon into the vastness of space)

Not telling her (and watching her with her boyfriend – now, that is like being kicked in the stomach, having your insides ripped out with a dull knife, and a dog’s pissing on your favorite pair of shoes to boot)

Deciding it is okay to not tell her (at least it’s your choice)

The last one is important.

You cannot do that – put your feelings on her, like a wet dog or a soggy blanket or a soaked jacket. They would cling to her, make her uncomfortable, and she would never forgive you for draping her in your soppy feelings. She would feel like she would need to dry them out and make sure you don’t fall ill over it, and why did you compare love to a damp piece of cloth or a canine anyway? Besides, she got a boyfriend in your junior year. You don’t like him, much. He is nice, but a little bland.

She always talks about traveling. She wants to go to Singapore, and likes Korean barbecue, and is frighteningly obsessed with scuba-diving. Boytoy is Midwestern, small-town bland, and eats a terrifying amount of potatoes. He wants to go to Miami, likes hamburgers without pickles or cheese, and is alarmingly interested in baseball. He is nice, but sometimes you’re a little baffled as to why they are together at all. What do they talk about? What kind of potato chips they like?

Whatever they have in common, it’s enough to keep them together to graduation.

You graduate. You don’t remember much of actually graduating. You might have been hungover. Or drunk. Do hangovers depend on going to bed at some point? You didn’t, not before graduating.

She looked lovely – she curled her hair and put on mascara and wore heels and a dress that looked wispy and gauzy and lacey. You would probably rip it the moment you touched it. In your somewhat fogged mind, this translated to not hugging her. She looked a little hurt as you stumbled around, so focused on not touching her that you forgot about the step down of the stadium where graduation took place.

You end graduation with a smear of blood dribbling down your nose.

You go to work for the study abroad office at the same school that tormented you for undergraduate. You thought about grad school, but your grades are nowhere near good enough. You have a BA in international affairs and a minor in Spanish, and now you help fresh-faced kids bogged down with dreams and debt go off to discover themselves (or exotic parasites/STIs) in far-off lands.

She goes to graduate school. She is brilliant enough for it, and you think she should. Bland boytoy goes with her. You are less supportive of this. He’s writing a book, or something. You see his growing beer belly and try to not crow about how you’re still in (relatively) good shape (you were never in shape; there’s no shape to fall out of).

You start seeing one of the women who works in the study abroad office. She has a purple streak in her hair, speaks fluent Russian, and likes superhero movies. She has Opinions and wants the world to know them. She is bold. You’re dazzled. It’s not love in the way you love her, the woman who speaks in math and has a star she can’t find named after her, but it’s close enough.

She gets married to bland boytoy in early October, when the leaves are just starting to shift. Your shoes pinch, and that is the only reason you cry, you swear. The sky is heavy and overcast, and the ground is squishy from a solid week of rain, but she looks beautiful. She looks like math made solid – sine waves and cosine curves in the fall of her dress, and she is wearing the Golden Spiral necklace you got her as a gift for her birthday, a few years back.

He looks bland, you think. Nice, respectable, gentlemanly in his tux, but bland.

She comes to your wedding, when you marry the woman from the office. You get married in May, and your wife has flowers braided into her hair. You’re wearing some odd Renaissance faire garb that she insisted on, and the mountain air is so pure that it makes you sneeze. You’re higher up than you are used to being, and the altitude makes your head spin sickeningly.

Your wife looks beautiful.

Like a traitor, you think she looks lovelier.

You love your wife. You love her spirit, her Opinions, and how she manages to balance work with her rigorous webcomic reading schedule (she follows forty that you know of, and there’s probably more you don’t). You love how messy and absentminded she is in the morning, how she likes her coffee black, how utterly incompetent she is once you try to get her to cook something beyond pasta and burgers and grilled cheese.

But you love the women who speaks math and has a star named for her that she can’t find, and that is never going to change.
You and your wife work in the office. She and bland boytoy go back to her university. You have a son, who insists on gumming everything and who you love irrationally, whole-heartedly, unconditionally, even when he slobbers on student applications. She has twin daughters, who are apparently hellions, and once tore up the nicely edited copy of her thesis before she could make any changes.

You stay in touch in the guilty, half-hearted way many people do. Every email-text-call-visit is plagued by comparison of what-is-now to what-was-once, and to who you-and-she used to be. You have wrinkles and have put on sixteen pounds in the last five years. She looks constantly tired, cut her hair short in an effort to get her daughters to stop pulling on it, and can’t stay up past ten any longer. Look, you wish you could tell yourself. She is so disgustingly human. She eats ice cream out of the carton, never goes to the gym, and looks so goddamn grateful if someone else offers to watch her kids for a bit (her daughters are nefarious, and yet completely adorable, and totally aware of it. This leads to what your mother calls “shenanigans” and she calls “the little shits trying to drive me to an early grave”.).

But love doesn’t work that way. She is still beautiful behind the years and the responsibilities she has. She teaches math at a college, and researches waves in fluid conduits – she has tried to explain it to you before, but it is like listening to Korean or – as it is – advanced mathematics, and none of it makes sense. You still work in the study abroad office. You like it there. The kids are carrying such big dreams out into the world with them. Some of them find what they’re looking for. Some just find places where the drinking age is lower, which might be what they were looking for anyway. It’s not changing the world, but it changes some kids’ lives, which is good enough. They can go on and shape the future – you’ll rest with the knowledge that you shaped them.

You and your wife start fighting. Her tongue has always been sharp, and a part of her has always suspected that you are not entirely in love with her and never will be. Your son learns to be sullen and slip away the moment voices start to rise. She threw a plate once, but looked so shocked afterwards that you suspected it was not intentional.

You stay later at work. She starts sleeping in the guest room. Your son is fifteen when you divorce – old enough to understand it is not his fault, but young enough to still hate you and your ex-wife for doing this to him.

You get half-custody, and every other Christmas. Your ex goes to Aspen, Colorado and moves in with a ski instructor with a nice bum and bleached teeth. Your son says he likes Aspen with the subtle-but-not aggressive irritation that seems to be a teenager’s super power.

She calls to say she is sorry. It’s fine, you tell her. You wonder if, had you married her, would you have ended up like this anyway? Alone, since it’s not a week where you have your son, eating a frozen dinner in front of the TV?

How is she? She says she’s fine, with the sort of contrite terseness that means she does not want to talk about it any more. Her daughters are thirteen. The way she talks makes you suspect she can’t wait for them to turn eighteen and leave her alone.

You date some, but you find it hard to commit to anyone – not with the wound of your ex still raw, and not with her, still out there. You join a bowling league, and last about a month before you realize no, you can’t do this, you think bowling’s stupid. Instead, you learn how to rock climb and take a class on baking. Your son likes to cook, so you enroll him and yourself in a class at a local culinary school and experiment with recipes on the weekend.

The years are drifting by in the confused, aimless manner you associate with kittens coming out of surgery and still high on painkillers. Time bumps into walls, stares aimlessly into space, and then suddenly bolts off at dizzying speeds.

Your son graduates high school, then college, then meets a girl and falls in love. You go to a snow-dusted January wedding in Aspen. Her daughter – the older twin – gets married on a beach. She sobs the whole time, and she still looks as beautiful as she did that first night, when she saved you from failing physics.

You get old in spurts and starts. Your hair is wispy and colorless, more like the color of a prism than anything else. You can’t see without coke-bottle glasses. Prunes and plain fizzy water are suddenly appealing snacks.

She is old now, too. She has a hearing aid, and her hands shake if she has to pick up anything heavier than a pencil. She wears louder and louder prints, and once – when you are visiting for her second daughter’s wedding – you notice she has some lipstick on the edge of her teeth. But her eyes still crinkle, and she still has freckles, and one side of her smile is a little higher than the other, and god, you are so gone. You gave up years ago on ever not loving her.

Except now, you wonder why you never told her. You are siting in the living room of your apartment in your assisted living home, watching reruns of some show you didn’t like, even when you understood enough pop culture to get the jokes. Your son, his wife, and your granddaughter just left. Your life has been long, and maybe not that exciting, but you are still a good person who makes decent cookies and can help edit essays – you help your granddaughter all the time. There were reasons you had, when you were young, as to why you never told the woman who spoke math and had a star that you loved her, but they seem silly now.

You’ll tell her in the morning, you decide. Boytoy is still alive, but his mind is so gone that sometimes it is more like he’s not. It is wearing on her. Her eldest daughter had a miscarriage. Your ex died two weeks ago from throat cancer. Life is meandering on, and it stops for nothing. You do not know why you did not realize this when you were young. The world would have not stopped, if you had told her you love her. You and her are not the centers of the universe, and the cosmos hardly care about the dramas of your lives. You did, though, and did not realize the benefits in risk.

But you were not bold.

Now, you are too old to care.

You’ll tell her in the morning, you say to yourself, as you get ready for bed. You’ll tell her. You brush your teeth, drink a bit of water, shut off the lights, and climb into bed.

You’ll tell her.

You shut your eyes.

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“I’m impressed you’re still breathing, honestly.”

He has the vague impression of someone leaning over him, rank breath spilling across his pain-creased face, curling coyly around his nostrils, seeping into his skin. But his body is refusing to move, his eyes stuck staring at the moonlight slinking through the branches of the night-draped evergreen trees with their smatterings of frost. The stars are laughing at him. What do they know of dying?

“You could just give up,” the voice says conversationally. “Be easier. You’d just slip away. There’d be none of this hanging-on nonsense. It’s so hyped up in the movies, but it’s sort of sad to see in reality.” Fingers snap together, a sharp crack in the still November air. There is the rustle of paper, and the voice coughs dramatically before continuing. “Hm. Daniel ‘Danny’ Devita. Twenty-one years old - today, imagine! Congratulations! They can save on your tombstone - all they need are the years, and there’s a lovely symmetry to it. I believe it’s the Japanese that truly appreciate symmetry, but no one can fail to get a little shiver from this. A Scorpio, but if you buy into all that zodiac crap I’ll think less of you. Not that that probably matters much to you, seeing how you’re dying and I’m not.”

Danny coughs, wetly. His chest aches. It had hurt more, a few minutes ago. Now the pain is fading to a slow, dull burn that pulses in his bones. He is not entirely sure that’s a good sign. His lungs feel deflated, and slightly wet. Like underfilled waterballoons. He’s pretty sure that a rib slashed one of them open when he slammed into the ground. It is a cold night - the coldest one this year so far; he remembers the announcers on the radio talking about that just this morning as he tried to drink black coffee and burned his eggs. Frost glitters on the landscape like fairydust, a smattering of stars sent to earth. His breath had blossomed in front of his face when he clambered up the tree, the air cold enough that the inside of his nose had felt frozen stiff and his throat scraped raw by the chill. Either his lungs or the cold will kill him, he had thought. And then someone had come skipping out of the woods, giggling, and he had let himself believe he might be saved.

Evidently not.

“In college…studying English…why would you do that? You’ll never be employed. Or, you would never be, because we’re never going to find that out, hm? Mild weed habit, drinks too much bad beer - Pabst Blue Ribbon, really? - longest relationship lasting three months…overall, you’re not much of a catch, Daniel ‘Danny’ Devita. Unexceptional in every way. Average grades, average looks, slightly below average comprehension of Upton Sinclar’s The Jungle - which, come on, it’s not that hard of a book. The only thing about you worth noting-“ and here, he hears a book slam shut with all the weighty exasperation paper can manage, “-is your death. Climbing sixty feet up a tree in the middle of November, tipsy as all-get-out, only to miss a branch and fall. You’re right about your lungs, by the way - a rib sliced them open. You’re drowning in your own blood.”

Danny manages to force his head to turn, and yanks his eyelids open. Glossed in silver light, a tall, whip-thin man leans over him, grinning manically. His skin is dark enough to blend into the starry sky, hair a shock of lightning white. The eyes, though, are the attention grabbers. So pale a blue they are almost white, they deepen in color to an almost black indigo around the pupil - which is pinched into a point at both ends, rather like a cat’s.

“Are angel?” Danny croaks.

The man snorts. “Oh lordy me, no. I’m a dream demon, silly goose! How else would I know that you had your first wet dream about your science teacher in seventh grade? A looker, I’ll give you that. I know your nightmares too - your fear of fancy-schmancy dinner parties, your terror at being forever alone, the mere idea of lightning…pity you aren’t scared of heights, or we might not be in this situation. Falling from sixty feet is not really a good idea, if you want to live to see twenty-two. Oh well, can’t undo the past.” He bends down, closer, smile curling up on the edges like a Cheshire cat. “Oh Daniel ‘Danny’ Devita, how exciting this is! Dying!”

“Don’t want to…” Danny breathes, trying to swallow down the bitter, musky taste of his own fear. “Only twenty-one…”

“Oh tish, lots of people die at twenty-one, Daniel ‘Danny’ Devita. Some die even younger. There’s a little girl in a hospital down the road, perishing from whooping cough, and she’s surrounded by all that nasty sterile white that they think you want to see when you’re dying. You’re dying out under the stars, with me for company!” He looks delighted, white-blue cat eyes alight and glowing. “Besides,” he continues, pulling an apple out of his pocket and chomping down with a loud crunch like cracking bones, “It’s not like you had done much anyway. Or would’ve. Trust me, kiddo, you’re someone the universe can afford to lose.”

“I was going to write a book,” Danny whispers, staring at this odd man who is the only person who will ever see him die, who is picking the seeds out of his apple with giddy disinterest, “I was going to travel. Go to Switzerland, next semester, and write about life and the purpose of it.”

“Humans,” the man scoffs, waving long-fingered hands about wildly, in a manner that Danny supposes he meant to be dismissive. “Why does there have to be meaning? Or purpose? Or a creator? That means someone was a big enough dick to plan on having you die out here, all alone in the woods. Why were you climbing up that tree, anyway?”

Danny shuts his eyes, breathes in through his nose. His lungs feel lazily panicked, as if they know there is nothing more they can do.

“Needed…something. Something beautiful. Something magical. I thought if I climbed up high enough, maybe I could see something fantastic.”

Sometimes, he feels trapped, caged in by his life, by his own dull ordinariness. Sometimes, the fact that he was twenty-one and had not even left the state in which he was born was a noose that caught around his neck with the intention to choke him. His last girlfriend, when she dumped him, said he lacked the creativity to follow through on any ideas. Grand plans, but no ideas how to begin them. He had been wondering if that was the way it was always going to be - dreaming large, and never carrying through.

He carried through on climbing the tree, though, so maybe it was not always a good idea to stick with something until the end.

“What…is your name?” he wheezes. If he is going to die with this man watching him, he probably should know who he is. It seems wrong, to have a stranger watch you go.

The man raises an eyebrow. “Raphael,” he says after a moment. “But I think Raph is more me.”

Danny smiles. “An demon…named after an angel. Would be a good…plot…”

He is fading. Blackness prowls maliciously in the corner of his eyes. He cannot feel his legs, or his fingers - they could have been chopped off entirely, for all he knows.

Raph is watching him with a concentration that would be unnerving, if he were lively enough to notice it. The mocking glint is gone. “Say, Daniel ‘Danny’ Devita,” he says abruptly. “I’ll make you a deal.”

“…Hm?” The dark is calling to him. It seems warm, and welcoming, and like it wants him there. People don’t usually want Danny there, or notice him at all.

“I’ll heal you all up, good as new, but - and this is the clincher, mind - you owe me a favor.”

“Thought…I was…unexceptional…”

“True,” Raph acknowledges, and then that curling grin is back, fire glinting in the depths of his white-blue cat eyes. “But you might be what I need anyway. Besides, what have you got to lose here?”

Danny ponders it, with the syrupy-slowness of the fated. He thinks about going to Switzerland, and writing his book. About how there is a little girl, in a hospital, dying - maybe not of whooping cough, because what reasons would Raph have for telling the truth? - but dying of something, anyway, and no one coming along to offer this chance.

It is not really a choice, which might be why Raph is offering it.


Raph straightens up, clapping his hands together gleefully. “Oh, Danny-Danny boy…you’re not going to regret this. Much.”

Clouds gather overhead. Danny stares up at them uncomprehendingly at sharp silver races along the edges. The air is crackling, every hair on end. Somewhere, Raph is cackling.

When the bolt of lightning darts down from the sky to slam into his chest with a howl of fury, he is too awed and terrified to even scream. Electricity pounds through him, and his back arches to the point of bones protesting as it streams out of him and bleeds down into the blood-soaked earth.  Maybe this will be what kills him, but what a way to go.

It takes only a breath of time. When it stops, Danny is lying on the ground, chest heaving, heart pounding, staring up at a achingly clear November sky.

He almost screams when Raph pops into view. He doesn’t quite stop himself from slamming his fist into Raph’s pointed, narrow nose.
“Oh my god,” he says, scrambling to his feet. Raph is sprawled on the ground, pressing a hand to his nose and examining the faint, tar-black sheen of blood there with bemused interest. “I swear I didn’t mean to actually hit you. It was just an automatic reaction.”

“Oh Daniel ‘Danny’ Devita, I think you’re forgetting that I’m a demon,” Raph replies, grinning up at him. “Pain is my bitch.” He snaps his fingers, and his skin is suddenly clean of blood, any signs of possible bruising gone from his face. There is a slight bump to his nose that had not been there before, and Raph smirks. “I think it makes me look rakish and daring,” he says flippantly, before snapping his fingers again and popping out of existence.

“Up here, Bruce Lee!” Danny looks up. Raph is drifting between the branches of the tree that would have been the reason why Danny Devita died, looking ponderous and excitable. “Rather good thing you had me here, or you’d be on your way to the Death-O-Sphere by now. Anyway, don’t forget the favor!”

Danny sighs, stuffs his hands into the ripped pockets of his coat. His scarf looks singed, and there are smoldering holes in the collar by his chin. “I won’t.”

“And remember…“ he feels fingers under his chin, and his head is being tilted back, eyes meeting Raph’s eerie ones. The blue by the pupil is the same color as the hottest parts of the fire, Danny notices. Hot enough to melt the flesh from his bones. “Next time you die, it’s for real. So make damn sure you deserve it.”

With another snap of his fingers, Danny is alone, with only the uncaring moon to watch as he drudges back to his quiet cabin in the valley.
the skies were god's first temples by WildWolfMoon94
the skies were god's first temples
I spent a year living in the Philippines, and this is the best image to capture my time there. Taken near by Lakawan. 
“I hope you’re happy,” Failure mumbles glumly, slumping over the rusted railing. The sea is restless tonight, shifting irritably, prowling along its shores. The faint spray rests lightly on the bridge of Failure’s nose, and he shuts his eyes heavily. Exhaustion pulses in him like a second heartbeat, rattling his bones and pounding at the sides of his skull. He has never felt young, and nights like this only worsen the brittleness in his body, until he feels fragile enough to fall into a million little pieces at the brush of a feather.

“Of course I’m happy,” the universe replies, wringing out a nebula and pinning it up with stars to dry. The air smells vaguely of raspberry rum and burned steak, a acrid combination that makes Failure hunch further so the bar digs into his thin chest. His stomach is rolling like the spasmodic seas. “Have you ever seen me anything but?”

“No, never.” Failure opens his eyes and straightens up. His bones ache, and the damp air is biting at the back of his neck through his ratty scarf, slipping through the holes in his overcoat to caress his frozen flesh with ice-cold claws. The universe is never unhappy. She is giddy and obnoxious and often drunk, sometimes frustrating and sometimes so awesome and terrifying that the only recourse he has available is to sink to his knees and cower, hoping against hope she does not deign to notice to notice him in his squalid blandness. The universe is stunning and straightforwardly blunt and gleefully irritating, but by nature, she is happy, and never anything sad in the least.

“Why did you have to make me like this, though?” he asks her forlornly as she tugs down the Orion nebula and scowls at it, pulling at the sides to stretch out the dense clumps of gas and matter. “Why am I just so terrible? I try and I try, but everyone curses me and avoids me. I can never do anything right. I drive people to death and destruction and despair.”

“Well, for starters, I didn’t make you,” the universe retorts, stuffing the crumpled nebula into her washbin and dumping a liberal amount of starstuff on top. “You’re an inevitability, like taxes and Death.”

“Oh wow, was that suppose to make me feel better?”

She shrugs, flicking a gaseous curl out of her supernova eyes. Most of her locks are pinned back with an asterism that Time had given her a long time ago, their winking sparkle barely visible through the mess piled on top of her head. “It’s a fact, Failure. And if I wanted to talk to a crapehanger, I’d have invited Love or Death here instead of you.”

He slumps back down, slamming his chin down on top of the icy railing. His back screeches unhappily about the angle, and his teeth feel oddly pained - he has the tendency to grind them when worried, which is always. Across the bay, brilliant city lights gleam happily, forcing away the night. His sister is somewhere in that mass of humanity, sprinkling the miracles people pray for: promotions and letters of acceptance, award-winning ideas and worldshakingly powerful midnight revelations. Failure spends a lot of time dwelling morosely on his twin sister, analyzing why she is Success and he is not. It’s an riddle with no answer, but one he searches for endlessly anyway.

“Don’t sulk, Failure,” the universe sighs, draping the freshly-scrubbed nebula over Orion’s belt. “I didn’t make you, but I can say you weren’t meant to be a punishment for anyone.” She wipes her glistening hands off on her endless skirts, and offers him a cheery smile. He ignores it, hunching further over until the railing is pressed up against the ridge of his nose. The far-off city seems shrouded through the curtain of his dark hair, and he wonders what his sister is doing. Charming someone without even trying, perhaps, as effortless in her interactions with those around her as she is with everything else.

His sister is his mirror, his flipped image, but everything about her is perfected, the counterpoint to his faults and flaws. His boniness is awkward, all juts and angles, the type borne by those naturally skinny and enhanced by a forgetful, tense nature that is prone to forgetting sustenance. Hers is willowy and smoothly elegant, without the sudden ends and points that define him - instead, she has sleek lines and gentle curves. Her looks inspire poetry and prose, songs and stories; he’s heard her compared to Aphrodite and angels without irony. His features are hers masculinized enough to be polarizing; no one can agree if he is handsome or hideous. With Success, there is no question. With Failure, there is nothing but doubt.

He feels antsy in his own skin, as if it is two sizes too large, or perhaps one too small. His hands are grotesquely large, the curve of his spine like a snapped question mark. He feels like he wears his body uncomfortably, as if he can never tug it into place. Success, however, wears her oversized hands and abrupt angles with an easy grace that Failure both adores and loathes her for. People typically either ignore him or barely tolerate him - Success, like with everything, is both brilliantly noticeable and frustratingly arrogant, yet no one ever would shove her into the corner.

His existence is to be the background to his sister’s spotlight, cursed and reviled and ignored. No one wants him, everyone craves her. This, more than anything else, is all the proof that Failure needs that the universe doesn’t give a damn about fairness.

“Failure?” the universe asks, her hands absently smoothing out a fold in the outskirts of the Orion nebula.

“I just don’t understand how you can say I’m not a punishment,” he tells the silver-streaked waves prowling the bay. “It sure feels like it sometimes.”

He feels more than hears the universe sigh - a gentle tremor, running through the air, and the night suddenly dims at the edges as if she dropped a curtain on it.

“I am one of only a small number of living universes,” she says, picking at the dusty edge of Sirius with a forced contemplation that feels bitter and brittle. “There are more failures than successes - it is the way things go. Sometimes, it’s just impossible to make it.”

“Yeah, now you’re really not helping.”

“Because I haven’t made my point yet; shut up.” The universe’s glare burns into his neck like a focused ray of sunlight. Failure does not even try to fight the urge to just crumple to his knees and lean his head against the bars of the railing, the sea before him grabbing greedily at the silver-streaked moonlight. It’s inevitable that he would be a coward along with everything else. “Success is what everyone wants, yes, but no one gets there without you, Failure.”

He does not move, just huffs and watches the way the breeze displaces his bangs.

“Success is built on what people learn from you. You’re meant to show them how to get to where they want to go, to humble the arrogant, to season the inexperienced. If there is no threat of failure, there is no reason to strive for success. In fact-“ and here, the universe bends down until she fills up the entire sky, her supernovas all he can see when he peers up through his eyelashes and messy bangs, “-you’re the whole reason humanity exists the way they do at all.”

He tilts his head back, stares up at her. His mouth is open, and he is quite aware that he looks a little moronic with his jaw slack and his eyes bulging. His sister, with the same expression, would appear reverent and inspired. He merely looks like a dumbfounded kindergartner who just saw a larger kid grind a butterfly into the sidewalk - too young to understand death, old enough to know cruelty.

The universe, however, is not even looking at him. Humming off-key, she is pulling at the corners of the Red Square nebula, stretching out its crimson sides until it fills the evening sky. Failure hauls himself to his unsteady feet, the icy bite of the iron railing the only thing keeping him standing.

“You can’t just say that and stop there,” he protests. His voice sounds a little weak, too soft - Failure spends most of his time trying to not catch anyone’s attention. Maybe by nature he was not quiet, but necessity - or his perception of it; what the world needed from him to let him go on surviving.

The universe hears him anyway. She always does.

“I thought I was perfectly clear,” she remarks, raising her eyebrow at him. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if the universe is being serious or just trying to mess with him. Those who think that she follows a set path of reason and logic are fools, Failure decides. The universe has her own logic, but he suspects no one will ever understand it besides her.

“No, you weren’t. That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

She heaves a dramatic sigh and flings the Red Square nebula into the arching black sky. “Oh, fine. I’ll put this in soundbites. Something nice and snappy.” She settles back into the night like a queen, her curls lazily drifting around her round face. “In the beginning, humans were just trying to survive. Failure was about not finding food, or being killed. But as they advanced, so did the stakes. Kingdoms could be toppled, or whole clans wiped out. The lives of many depended on the actions of a few. As the potential for success grew, that ability to be grander than anyone who had come before, so did the chances of failure.”

She smiles at him, and he wonders if perhaps she is drunker than he had originally thought. “You were their motivation, Failure. They learned from you, learned what not to do, and fought to outwit you. Without you, would they have reached the moon, built towers that scrape the clouds from the sky, tried to discover my inner workings? You up the stakes. You add oil to their fires. You are the keystone on which humanity depends - there is no room for change or adventure or dreams without the risk of failure.”

“Are you trying to make me feel better?” he asks suspiciously. Mercy and compassion are not among the virtues the universe can claim to possess. Death is usually told to grin and bear it, Love to stop sulking, Time to not dwell on events that, for everyone else, have not yet come to pass. When it comes to others’ problems, the universe hardly ever bothers with empathy.

“I never try to make anyone feel any better or worse about themselves when they ask for the honest truth,” the universe replies. “I just tell them what I see and how I see it. How they feel about it is their own damn business.”

He slumps back onto the railing, head hanging. “So why do they curse me?” he says quietly, rubbing at burning eyes with freezing hands.

“Some people aren’t ready for you,” the universe tells him, as kindly as she is capable of. “They don’t understand why what you’re offering isn’t the end of the world, or why they shouldn’t fear a failure. They don’t see your presence as room for growth, or as a chance for introspection. You’re a threat to them, to their lives and their perception of themselves, and they curse you because they don’t know how to use the lessons you give them.” He can hear her uncapping the flask of moonshine she carries with her everywhere - he never understood why she drinks as much as she does, but he has never seen the universe in any state but tipsy. “Now, the mature ones know that what you’re bringing to the table is a blessing,” she continues after a long moment. “They know that you’re giving them the chance to analyze who they are and who they want to be, what they want to accomplish and why. You temper them, strengthen them, hand them the tools to meet their goals the next time they set out.”

He looks up, hair tickling the back of his numb neck. The universe fills the sky, gleaming with the pinpricks of light from a thousand suns.

She is smiling at him, and her supernovas look like a promise, not a threat. “You’re the most human out of all of us, Failure,” she says. “You, with your doubts and your blindness to your strengths and hyperawareness of your flaws and desire to be something you’re not without realizing that reality functions better with you being just the way you are. Sometimes, I think you’re better equipped to deal with life than we are.”

Suddenly, she jumps to her feet, hair a swirl around her face. Failure can see the sparkling edge of her flask tucked into her waistband. “Well, I’m afraid I must be off,” she declares, gathering her skirts in one hand. “Time and I are going for a stroll along the arm of the Milky Way. Don’t wait up. And if you see Life, tell him he’s a jackass and I know he took the last of my good concentrated dark matter. Toodle-loo!”

She is gone then, in a swirl of fire and gas, leaving confused comets drifting bewilderedly in her wake. Failure opens his mouth - maybe to call after her, maybe to shriek his frustration at the heavens - but nothing seems to want to come out.

So he closes it, and stares at the city across the bay, with the million dancing lights and the glow of his sister. Without the universe, it feels chillier here than it had moments before, and he draws his coat tighter around his skinny body.

“I’m the force behind this all,” he mumbles to the night. Every breath he surrenders to the ink-black sky hovers in front of his face like an unhappy cloud, hoping it can push its way back into the warmth of his body. Then he sighs. “Yeah right.”

He turns up his frayed collar against winter’s clawed caress and shoves his stiff, bloodless fingers into the depths of his worn pockets. With one final glance at the lights skipping across the agitated sea, Failure turns on his heel and skulks into the night.


Look, it's a stalker site!
United States
Current Residence: Behind your closet door.
Favourite genre of music: Really depends on my mood, but just about everything.
Favourite style of art: Um, let's see here...Japanese otaku...can't possible be...*GASP* it can't be manga!
Favourite cartoon character: ...Far too many to list
Personal Quote: "Bears love humans (they taste like chicken)."
Guys. Guys. I finished the rough draft of my novel. 90,000 words and 295 pages and three months and I'M DONE WITH THE ROUGH DRAFT

and i can't stop shaking god
  • Mood: Euphoric
  • Listening to: Gang of Rhythm

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NIGHTSTORM77 Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2014  Student Writer
GymnastixJenny Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2014
Happy birthday! Your writing is amazing and I'm exceptionally envious. :P ;P
ShadowHunter2002 Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I've read your story,…, and it was one of the most amazing stories I've ever read!
ellymango Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Happy birthday~! :heart:
bugmen0t2013 Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Enjoying your work so far.
a100negros Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
Your work is neat. :)
a100negros Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
Your latest piece was pretty cool. Moar! :)
a100negros Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
a100negros Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
Your latest piece was pretty cool. Moar! :)
OffTempoPianist Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday! C:
ProfessorGrinwood Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2012  Student General Artist
Thank you for favoriting my comic elskan mín!
BlakeGreene Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2012
Hello! How's life going? It's been a while since we last spoke, but talking isn't the main reason i'm here C:

I'm here to tell you that I finished the picture you comissioned me last year, and to tell you that I can't apologize enough for how late it is. I hope you'll accept it?

upsidedowngirl14 Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2012
Hey I'm making a video montage thing on youtube for my gymnastics team, is it ok if I use your poem "Of being A Gymnast" in it? I'd credit you and put a link to the poem if u would like :) lemme know!
WildWolfMoon94 Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2012
Go right ahead :D
upsidedowngirl14 Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2012
thanks :) heres a link if u wanna see it...
KoinuSeev Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2011
Hi, im another random person telling you something that im pretty sure you forgot
Im one of the friends you had in this page like... 2 years ago.
Dont expect you to remember anything, just to make you sure. Take care :D
Badgerkai Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
hihi~~ im just a random person but ive read alot of your literature and its AMAZING!! so i thought that you might like to join my competition? its writing compettion, and its kakuhidan you can go to my journel for moar about it!! :iconhurrhurrplz: but if your too busy thats ok!
littlecloudflower Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2011  Student Writer
Happy birthday! :party: :D
Temarigirl1600 Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:icondrevilplz: Have a wonderfuly evil/awesome birthday~!
WildWolfMoon94 Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
:XD: Thank you, lovely!
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