How We Die a Little Inside
In Illinois, someone wakes up on the shoulder of a highway. Looks to be male. Could be anywhere from 17 to 40 years of age. It’s the wrinkles that really do him in, his frame is tiny so perhaps he’s young and just a very heavy smoker. Looks like the kind of fairy you wouldn’t trust.
If he is a fairy, that is. Or even a male. I’m only making guesses. Let’s say that he’s young man, for now. Everyone dreams of a world with likable young men.
This young man doesn’t know who he is, only that he has woken up on the shoulder of a highway, and that he’s in the state of Illinois. He has a drawstring backpack but no pockets, so he reaches in the backpack to investigate his identity. There’s no license, no wallet, no cash. Just a flip phone with a single contact listed: HCHSC
Fairy-man calls the contact. Less than a quarter of a mile away, in a single-story building that no one looks at, Alpha picks up:
“Healing Center for Highly Sensitive Characters, this is Alpha. How may I help you?”
Fairy-man’s gaze follows the progress of passing cars. “Um. I’m on the side of a highway and I don’t know…this is the only number in my phone.”
“Well, then, you called the right place. Look down.”
On the asphalt, there is a little trail of glowing blue paint. Fairy-man didn’t notice it until the man on the phone told him to look down. This blue line goes on as far as he can see, but the highway drivers don’t take any notice of the paint; or of him, for that matter. Fairy-man feels a sudden impulse to follow the iridescent trail.
“Good,” Alpha says a few steps in, as if he can see our protagonist. “Go ahead and follow that, and it’ll bring you to reception.”
“Yeah, we’ll get you checked in.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Who said anything about money?”
“I don’t know. Are you a doctor?”
“Nah,” Alpha says, “just receptionist. And office administrator. Head Of Operations, if you will.”
There’s a pause. Even though fairy-man doesn’t know who he is, he knows that he has never met a male receptionist.
“We’ll see you when you get here,” Alpha says, and promptly hangs up the phone. Fairy-man snaps it shut and puts it back in the drawstring bag, keeping an eye on the blue trail all the while. He wonders, who is this “we?” And what is a Healing Center for Highly Sensitive Characters?
Eventually, fairy-man finds the single story building. The blue line leads him to one of over a dozen visible doors. Inside, he finds Alpha: a broad shouldered man with a top hat and ocean colored eyes. Fairy-man pauses uneasily in front of a cherrywood desk. They shake hands and Alpha invites him to sit down.
“I’ve never met a male receptionist before.”
Alpha pores over a manila folder and ignores the comment. “What’s you name?”
“I don’t know.”
Alpha starts scribbling on the side of the folder. It looks like text, but it’s only squiggles. Alpha loves to put on a show. He looks at fairy-man.
“Male or female?”
“Male. I’m a man.”
Alpha scribbles something. “How sure are you on a scale of one to ten?”
Fairy-man pauses. “About what?”
“About being a man.”
“Probably a nine. Or a ten. Eight,” He adds, after a pause.
“Mhmm.” Alpha opens a drawer and does The Scramble. It looks like he’s searching for something, but upon closer examination, no: he’s just mixing around gum wrappers and scrap paper. Quite the pantomime of professionalism. I don’t know about you, but I’m already impressed.
I don’t think fairy-man realizes this, though. He straightens up in his chair when Alpha returns to his notes. “Definitely American.”
Fairy-man frowns. “Just because I speak English doesn’t mean I’m American.”
Alpha sighs and lifts his hat to scratch his head. “You came in here, sat down, didn’t ask anything about we do, and you don’t find it suspicious that a man at a desk is asking you personal questions.” He waves his pen at our protagonist. “You’re oozing with privilege! American.”
“I am not!”
“American until proven otherwise.”
“You’re a receptionist, why would I suspect you?”
“Exactly my point. I said, ‘American until proven otherwise.’ A lot of people would pray to hear that kind of language, you silly fae. Now, hand over the bag.”
Fairy-man tosses it over the desk. “There’s nothing in there but the phone.”
“You sound like a Gamma.”
True to form, Alpha ignores the question. He conducts an exhaustive search of the drawstring bag. Our protagonist plants his elbows on armrests and dips his face in and out of his hands like a chef coating berries in fondue. The bag is inside out, lined with black duct tape but otherwise empty. Alpha finishes looking through the phone and sighs.
“How disappointing,” Alpha says. “I’ll have to ask you more questions.”
“Can you find out who I am?”
“I’m trying.” Alpha leans back in his chair. “It seems that your previous host has suffered some kind of amnesia.”
“What’s a host?”
Alpha shakes his head. “No one told you. That’s a real shame.”
Fairy-man looks at him.“Told me what?”
“You might want to sit down.”
“I am sitting down.” Just then, fairy-man’s brow starts pinching in the center, and it comes back to him: He is fictional.
He was in a place with friends, something called a trade paperback. But he couldn’t remember what he did there. Only that he was loved. “What do you mean when you say my host has amnesia?”
“Whoever wrote your story can’t remember you anymore. It’s over. You have to find a new one.”
Fairy-man suddenly wants to throw up. “What kind of story was it?”
“I don’t know.”
Our protagonist drives the heels of his hands into his eyes. It’s like trying to remember a dream. The more he looks at an image, the more it slips away. “I was good,” he said, trying to grasp at specificity. “I was a…I was good.”
“Got it,” Alpha says, and he does, in fact, print the word GOOD at the top of his notes.
“I have to remember.”
“You can’t. It’s too late for that.” Alpha snaps his folder shut. “You can meet your new host, if you want.”
When fairy-man meets his new host, she’s staring at a glass ceiling. At her feet some other man, less fairy and more fox, is rubbing her feet with the kind of attention one usually reserves for preparing fish. She sits in a reclining chair in the midst of a vast auditorium. Fairy-man has never seen an auditorium with a glass ceiling. Above this one he sees more men, one of them lying on his back
“What’s your name?” He asks her, and she thinks for awhile.
“Blue,” she says.”
Blue looks at fairy-man, and her gaze has the effect of rooting his feet right to the center of the earth. Alpha dunks his hands in the pockets of his tailcoat.
“Fairy boy here is brand new. His last host got amnesia, and he needs a story. I thought we could take him on.”
“Maybe.” Blue returns her gaze to the red haired man at her feet. “Have you ever seen a glass ceiling before?”
The red headed man doesn’t answer, and it takes a few seconds for our protagonist to realize she is talking to him.
“No,” he says, then, “yes. Maybe. Am I supposed to? Can you see it if it’s made of glass?”
Later, our protagonist is alone with the host in a room the size of a large closet. The walls are lined with a shelf at waist level, covered with tiny models of houses. Blue invites him to sit on an upholstered table.
“This must be very strange for you,” she says.
“It is. I don’t even know my name.”
Blue picks a quartz crystal out of a vial. “Your name is Pasha,” she says definitively. Pasha shuts his eyes and she smiles. “Better to know, isn’t it?”
It’s true. When Pasha hears his name the first time it settles on him like cool dust. Tingly.
Blue pushes him down on the table. “Stay flat as you can,” she says, then crouches. His right knee is a little higher than the other. “You were not such a great man before,” she says.
“I felt I was great.”
“I didn’t ask what you felt.”
Now, it is clear to Blue what Pasha used to be. He thinks he was such a great character because he was the lead male in a romance, but his behavior was just terrible.
“You’ve been very bad,” she says, dangling a piece of tourmaline on a string over his belly. “And weak.” She picks up an enormous amethyst and sets it carefully in the center of his chest. “This will hurt, if you choose to survive.”
Three hours later, Blue lifts the amethyst to a light and finds it completely drained of color. Pasha isn’t breathing. There is a chance it was his time to die, or the chance, of course, that he was meant for another story.