I don’t sleep anymore. I think I did once. I don’t remember, really. If I slept at all. I don’t know.
I know the Hissing Voice tries not to remind me of anything. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to not remember.
The Hissing Voice echoes in and out. Somewhere, there is a door that only the Hissing Voice can see. It can see what comes in and what goes out. If anything goes out.
I can’t find it. I only know that sometimes it is open, and sometimes it is closed.
It is closed now.
Something is here. It walks. It comes closer to me, and I see it materialize from the endless swirl of fog. It sees me, and it melts into a silent scream.
I stare up at it, the thing.
“What are you?” My voice rasps. I only use it when I talk to the Hissing Voice. The thing blinks, surprised.
“I’m Peter Harper?” it replies.
It says this like a question, then again, more firmly.
“I’m Peter Harper.”
The smog glares.
“What are you?” it asks me.
I don’t know.
“What’s a Peter Harper?”
The Peter Harper is tense. Its figure feels like a faint memory. I step closer, and it coils back in disgust. It is repulsed by me.
I am hurt and turn away, losing myself further into the froth and losing the Peter Harper.
The Peter Harper is fast.
“What is this place?”
The Peter Harper looks around wildly, its EYES wide. EYES. I forgot EYES. I think I had EYES. Or do I have them now? Did I keep my EYES?
“It’s so cold.”
I don’t understand. The Peter Harper moves its… its ARMS. It moves its ARMS up and down itself.
“Cold. What is it?”
The Peter Harper blinks at me again, with its EYES. There is something in them, I think. It was called COLOR, I think. Maybe BLUE? RED? PURPLE?
I look around again. There is no COLOR. Only frothing clouds of nothing and no one else.
Except the Hissing Voice.
And now, Peter Harper.
“How do you survive out here?”
In here, I think.
“What do you eat for food?”
A dull ache begins to fill me. It starts from the side where Peter Harper does not face me. Is it the Hissing Voice?
“Yeah, food. What do you eat if you’re hungry?”
“What’s a HUNGRY?”
The Peter Harper looks at me, the EYES on its FACE getting bigger. It is looking at me.
“You mean you don’t get hungry?”
I don’t know what to do with the Peter Harper. I don’t want it to leave, and RED (or maybe this is PURPLE) swirls in its face.
“Not anymore, I guess,”
“But how is that possible?”
I shrug at the Peter Harper. It turns REDder or PURPLEr.
“You’re changing COLOR,” I whisper this, into myself, almost.
I try again.
“Your FACE. It changes COLOR,”
It is quiet. Not just the Peter Harper, but the yawning Emptiness is resting. Sometimes it howls. Sometimes it scratches at my FACE. Sometimes it whispers and gossips.
That is where the Hissing Voice first emerged, I think. I do not want the Peter Harper to hear the Hissing Voice.
Did the Hissing Voice bring the Peter Harper here?
Sometimes, the Peter Harper looks so tired. It closes his EYES and wraps its ARMS around itself. Sometimes, its EYES drip and its BODY shakes.
Sometimes, it smiles at me. I ask it questions, and it answers me. I am afraid because I do not want it to hear the Hissing Voice.
It breathes softly. I think it is sleeping. I try to sleep, but something burns and keeps me awake. I can’t sleep. The fog laughs. I breathe softly and look at Peter Harper with EYES.
The Peter Harper holds onto me. I don’t want to ask him more questions, but every word is another memory.
“What are those?”
“Those on your HANDS. They come out of them.”
“Oh, those are fingers.”
I think, hard. Fingers. FINGERS FINGERS FINGERS FINGERS FINGERS.
I open and close my HAND. I have them, too. I take Peter Harper’s HANDS and count all of them. There are 10 FINGERS. 10 FINGERS on his HANDS.
I look at my HANDS. I have 10 FINGERS, too.
“Did you bring the Peter Harper here?”
I fill with rage.
“The Peter Harper.”
The Hissing Voice hesitates. I wait.
“No, of course not.”
The rage spreads to my FINGERS and swells in my CHEST.
I am curious.
He raises his wrinkled FACE to meet mine,
“What do I look like?”
He stares at me patiently, and I am embarrassed at my question.
I look down at my HANDS and FINGERS. There are still 10 there. I feel his FINGERS trace my FACE. I can see in his EYES that he is concerned. For me.
“You are magnificent,” he confides.
I love you, Peter Harper.
The words catch in my TEETH before I can spit them out.
It doesn’t matter.
He is gone.
“Did you take Peter Harper away?”
“Who is Peter Harper?”
My HEART is fury, rattling, rattling, rattling.
“You said you would never lie to me.”
“If you ever lie to me, I’m free, right?”
“Did you lie about that too?”
Silence. It is Agitated. The word feels prickly on my tongue.
It whispers, “We only want what’s best for you,” and then, I am alone again.
I am suspended in omniscience, knowing nothing, nothing at all.
These are my HANDS with FINGERS.
These are my FEET with TOES.
This is my FACE with EYES and LIPS and a NOSE. I also have TEETH.
These are my ARMS. These are my LEGS.
They are made of BLOOD and BONES and MIRACLES and SKIN.
These are the things Peter Harper taught me. They are all magnificent.
I waste in the winds. They coil around me. They don’t let go. I can’t sleep I can’t sleep I can’t sleep.
“Would you like to see what you look like?”
The Hissing Voice mocks me, but I do not care. I want to know. I have not known anything at all for such a long time.
Everything shifts. The wind scratches at my FACE in tiny, sharp strokes and confiscates my breath.
I hesitate to look. I turn to the mirror.
I fear what I see.
My EYES are black and wet and round; they swallow up most of my FACE. My SKIN sags to the ground, and the swollen wrinkles in my FACE are ancient in my demonic CHEEKS.
They are not anything like Peter Harper’s.
I am not like Peter Harper. I lost the HANDS and FINGERS after he left. I see my terrible, terrible TEETH. They are jagged, brown, and Angry. My MOUTH is a gaping hole that hangs open. A thick trail of BROWN falls from it.
A watery, stinging Sadness claws at my throat, but so does Anger, RED and burning.
My TEETH rip through my yellowed SKIN. BLOOD rushes out, RED.
Memories flicker like small tongues of flame:
RACE CARS and
LOVE and PETER HARPER and PETER HARPER and PETER HARPER.
The Hissing Voice howls, but I do not know the words it screams. I do not care.
For the first time in a very, very long time, I feel something that must be very close to Happy.
Not completely there, but very close.
Happy was learning I had EYES and HANDS and FINGERS. Happy was a wrinkled FACE.
Happy was Peter Harper telling me I am magnificent.
The Emptiness pulls at me, gnaws at my EYES, boils my SKIN. I am so tired.
I fall asleep.