She slices open a vein, and out pours star-matter. Liquid and glittering, the iridescent mess drips from her arm into my cupped palms. And, for a moment, there is only this: breathing in duet (forte, agitato), her brow a slash of determination worthy of sainthood (she’s my religion, yes), and, too, the dumbass acolyte who made a promise they’re no longer sure they can keep (me).
Quicksilver catches in the open window’s breeze, splattering over my double-breasted suit.
“Oh, for fuck’s—”
“Focus, Caro,” Lyr chides. “I haven’t wasted years of my life traveling strange strands for you to get uptight over an outfit.”
I roll my eyes—affectionate—and retort: “Your brain’s been trapped in a fungal network.”
“Well, babe—” A pause for dramatics “—it’s not ‘traveling’ when your body’s busy fossilizing in a field of violets.”
Splinters of sapphire peak jagged from her face—ramifications of prolonged exposure to the network. She claps a hand over the open wound in her forearm and frowns. “We’re not doing ‘babe.’ It’s tacky. Focus.”
Right, right. I siphon her starry blood into a waiting glass vial, resist the urge to lick my fingers clean. Resist the impulse to rage at the distance between us. Finally reunited after years, and she has yet to even kiss me hello.
“They have quite the voice, you know.” Lyr’s gaze is distant, and I know she’s thinking of them: the fungi and their message. “That’s why this will work. With talent like yours—vocal cords of an angel, trained to sing any role…the perfect vessel…”
I wipe my hand on my trousers in long pearly streaks. Suits already ruined, so why not embrace a chaos aesthetic. I mean, my girlfriend just awoke from her coma possibly more geode than human and with a fungal consciousness transmogrifying her blood. We have bigger problems than dry cleaning bills. And if she’s distant? Well, at least she returned, at least her psyche wasn’t lost forever as I feared: me and my loneliness standing sentinel to a swiftly vanishing love, one requiem duet for an idiot.
“Yup. Not like I’m a human with my own story to tell,” I say, bitter.
My bedroom is still. Inside the vial, silver giggles and swirls. Dust motes brush her cheek. I choke down a scream.
Her voice, suddenly sharp: “You promised you’d do this.”
“Promised is a strong word.”
I lift my hands in surrender.
Time’s bled since the days we plotted in that crappy undergrad apartment perched on infected land; veins wine-bruised, dirt under our fingernails, dazed by the inhuman sentience creeping electric from soil into our synapses. The plan was simple: she’d enter the fungal network until they accepted her as their own and took root, then, upon waking, transfer their consciousness to me. I’d become their voice; proselytize ancient knowledge to save a polluted, dying world.
As if that’d help. The Earth’s a lost cause. But I’d do anything for her. Always.
I swipe my tongue over my gums, push inky curls from my forehead. Pull this off and it’ll be the performance of a lifetime for a singer who’s left music behind, abandoned their vocal cords to rust and rot. Opera rejected me even with my talent: no place for a genderqueer soprano constantly questioning the establishment.
“It’s safe.” Lyr smiles, phosphorescent, conspiratorial. “They won’t hurt you.”
Bold, coming from the human currently geodifying before my very eyes.
I grasp the vial in trembling fingers. Look to Lyr who is illuminated inside-out and reclining weakly on a velvet chaise lounge, staring not at me, but at the ceiling, irises swirling dark and beautiful and lost in other worlds. Two gods, we vowed in that wretched field of flowers, fingers merged with soil, alien choruses a whisper against our own. Impossible to forget.
But what if years have since passed and I now long only for the quiet godliness of my palm pressed to hers, the religion of a good meal shared, the prayer of laughter-filled walks through a park under a sea of galaxies.
“Please—” Her timbre jagged. “My voice isn’t strong enough to hold them much longer. The roots, they’re in me, they’re—” Lyr opens her mouth and howls. Constellations spit from her irises, and I can’t recognize the woman I love. In the back of her throat, blue and blue and blue, vast and terrifying. No longer human, she is a tomb for something much older and impossible.
And I promised she wouldn’t suffer this alone, that I’d share the load.
Panic drives oily claws between my ribs, begs me not to don yet another costume, reminds me how hard I fought to maintain a sense of agency in a world determined to strip it away. But, hey, maybe the hyphae will be merciful and free me from the pain of my existence. Paint over my memory so I can forget the curse of being a singer who can’t compose, perpetually trapped in other people’s designs and left to their whims.
Between us, the glittering liquid in the vial has become a luminous powder. I stand, a person willingly damned, and pull from my bookshelf a score written by some old white asshole; I flip it to Dramatis Personae, set it on my desk, and dump three glittering lines over yellowed paper.
Three inhales and my brain becomes a nebula explosion. Three inhales and I become the mouthpiece for a god. Which is definitely more badass than being a failed opera singer with a drinking problem. So maybe this is a kindness. Lose myself, lose the pain. Serve a higher good. Let my useless voice have purpose again in taking on this role of a lifetime. But—
“What happens to us?” I ask, small. “And our love.”
Lyr coughs up a lungful of electric nerve endings like fireworks. Rasps: “Please. We’re not capable. Never were. Hence…all this. Our salvation.”
“I waited for you. Stood guard. Prayed you’d return.”
“Deflection rejected.” Her mouth twists. “You’re not religious.”
“Maybe I kneel at the altar of your bones.”
“Then obey, saint.”
And I do.
© 2023 Valo Wing