Contest #239 winner 🏆

57 comments

Speculative

“God is dead.” 


“Which one?” 


“I meant it as more of a blanket statement, but if we’re getting into specifics, I guess I mean the one that I killed.” 


[When | the | god | of | cause-and-effect | is | slaughtered | in | cold | blood | everyone | knows | who | to | blame.]


“People aren’t too pleased about that, you know.” 


“I’ve heard.”


[Everyone | has | heard.]


“Why did you do it?” 


[But | nobody | knows | the | motive.]


The moment stutters and skips. A silhouette of a memory scampers down the hallway, rounding the corner in a blur of hyper-lapsed sentiment. Quickly! — watch as it disappears, then forget it was ever there. 


“Well,” you remark with a wistful laugh, “because he asked me to.” 



***



You know that you’re lost, but you can’t remember your life outside the labyrinth. It’s a maze of timelines, a cornucopia of poems that haven’t been written yet. Your shoes meet different textures with every step. Silent strides on the carpeted floor of your childhood room, louder footfalls on the hardwood that was installed when your parents refurbished your home in 2006 right before the housing market crash, irritating squeaks of sneakers on school cafeteria linoleum.


“Lost” implies that there was somewhere you were trying to get to in the first place. You’re lost because you’re supposed to be, because nobody is neither here nor there without any reason. So you continue to wander this haunted house devoid of horrors — hesitating at intersecting passageways, peering into alcoves where you find: 


  •  the fuzzy penguin print sock you misplaced when you were nine
  •  the words to a lullaby you’ve mostly forgotten
  • your second kiss
  • your mother’s mother of pearl jewelry box rattling with all your baby teeth
  • a grape lollipop
  • a book titled Monsters and Myths


And dead end after dead end. There is no way out. It doesn’t occur to you that you have not tried any of the doors. 


The realization dawns on you, of course, after one of them swings open on its own. 


The room is empty, save for a man sitting cross-legged on the floor. He doesn’t look up as you’re revealed. Which is to say, he was already staring straight at you. 


You study his face. It’s familiar in its vagueness: whirlwind of flaxen hair, two infinity pools of liquid jade. Mouth set in something too serrated to be a smile, too benign to be a sneer. Features too angular to be angelic. 


“You’re back.” 


His voice has no particular tone, no specific inflection. A melody with no notes. 


“Have I been here before?”  


“No, I suppose not.”


“Who are you?” 


“A swindler.” 


“What do you swindle?” 


“Memories.” 


He pauses as if for dramatic effect. You allow the effect to take hold. 


“What is this place?” you ask, not really expecting to get an answer. For a place so abstract, you don’t expect there to be an answer. 


“Nothing tangible. Nothing real. Essence, if you will.”


“Essence?” 


“Reality as you know it only exists inside the mind. Perception. Consciousness. Boil away the redundancy of the external world, and what you’re left with is essence — of people, of feelings. In the right pocket of space, it becomes as real as the old reality.” 


His words are a whole bunch of nonsense to your ears, but you listen graciously. 


“Do you know the way out of here?” 


“Of course,” he replies coolly. “For a price.” 


You’re already resolved to pay it. “Which memory do you want?” 


“Nothing you’ll miss,” the man assures. 


“Such as?”  


“Your first love.” 


This gives you a real pause, but not for long. 


“In that case you’d be right, but you’d be getting the short end of the stick," you shrug. "I can’t miss something I’ve never found.” 


“I see,” he says with a dulcet sigh. The sound is performative; the indulgence you’d offer a child lamenting about their woes. “Regardless, I’ll honor the terms. I won’t take anything else from you. Do we have a deal?” 


“Sure,” you agree. “But where do I go from here?”


He laughs in your face. A little mean, but not malicious. He raises his hand, and for a second you half expect him to strike you. But all he does is point back towards the door. 


“It doesn’t matter at all.” 



***



IN THREE DIFFERENT DIMENSIONS, 

A BOY FALLS IN LOVE WITH HIS OWN MYTH. 



***



The first time you ever see me, we’re both standing in the rain. I’m sucking on a grape lollipop, my mouth puckered purple. My mother has just died, but I’ll only tell you about it two years later over a game of checkers — an afterthought. 


I can feel your eyes flickering over me like a neon sign. You want so badly to say something, but you wait for me to acknowledge you first. Always waiting, never seizing. 


I offer you my jacket because you’re shivering, because it’s the right thing to do. You refuse, but appear relieved that I was the one to open the door, to allow an opening for you to wedge yourself into. 


“I’ve seen you somewhere.” Silence. You second guess yourself. “Haven’t I?”


I look at you askance, like you’re a little bit stupid. “No, I can’t say you have.” 


You were being earnest, but I let you play it off as a pick up line. I don’t know much about romance, but I suppose the backdrop is charming enough. We’re standing just beyond the awning of the local delicatessen, absorbing every inch of the sky. You like the feeling of a storm on your shoulders, and I harbor a fear of desiccation. This is the first time we find each other in this place, but it won’t be the last. 


At our next chance encounter, we exchange numbers on scraps of mayonnaise slick wax paper. We talk on the phone that night. You tell me nothing about yourself and I tell you everything, everything that doesn't matter. We keep on meeting at the exact same spot in front of the deli, rain or shine. Eventually, we even make our way through the door. You buy me a tuna melt on rye, and I decide that it’s a date. 


But that comes later. For now we’re strangers, and I remind myself to savor it. 


Someone once told you that a feeling can become tangible if you feel it hard enough. There’s a certain edge to nostalgia that could slit a throat. A tenderness that splices nerves with red string. When you tell me goodbye, I smile at you so gently you think your bones might break. 



***



You don’t like change, so it’s difficult for you to open up. It’s hard to invest pieces of yourself in something that might not stick, like whispering secrets into the wind. So I let you know me instead. 


The first time you come to my house, I show you my favorite book. It’s well loved: cracked spine, dog eared pages, the ink of the printed watercolor illustrations faded to pastels. The title Monsters and Myths is emblazoned across the cover in scarlet calligraphy. 


I read you a tale about a boy who falls in love with the night sky and ends up seducing the god of time. It’s not a happy story, nor is it a tragic one. It concludes, like all the best love stories should, with a murder. 


Ichor is spilled, bruising the sky with jewel tones of jade and amethyst. From somewhere far away comes a little sputter. A spark. The universe is being born. Follow the thread a little further, and you see the impact that created the moon. A small proto-planet strikes the Earth, blasting away its atmosphere and forming that vestigial sphere which now hangs just beyond our reach. 


Why did such a thing occur? There is no longer a linear line of reasoning for any event. Perhaps the moon was formed because about 4.5 billion years later, there is a boy who loves looking at the moon. There’s no particular reason for why he loves looking at it. He just sometimes gets the feeling that it was put there especially for him. A little gift from the heavens, a sign that he is the only real person in the universe. He explains this to his friend/lover/god, who listens on with a smile. And so there is a moon.  


You like that story, even though you don’t really understand it. 


At one point, you ask me about the lollipops. You don’t often see me without that white stick dangling from my lips, a miniature purple planet nested beneath my tongue.


“When I was a kid and my parents would bring me with them to the bank, they’d always have a bowl of these by the door,” I recall. “The flavor isn’t that great, but they taste familiar. They’re my favorite food.” 


I can tell you want to make a remark about how lollipops can’t be a favorite food, but you hold back. Sometimes I wish you wouldn’t. 


We’re lying on my bedroom floor, our backs padded with enamel stained carpet. My mother used to crouch here every other week, scrubbing at her unsatisfactory pedicure with acetone, muttering about wasted money and wasted time. Before the smell had even faded from my room, she'd have already spent another seventy dollars at the salon with identical results. The cycle would repeat. I don’t tell you this story, but I do tell you that I’m thinking about installing hardwood floors, and you flinch. 


At seven o’ clock, right on the second, you sit up and announce that you should be going. 


“Why are you always rushing?” I wonder aloud.


You freeze. “What?” 


“You fly from one place to the next like there’s a predator on your heels. You devour your meals like food is nothing more than survival to you. You sleep late and rise early, because you can’t bear to lie in one place for too long. What do you gain by refusing to lose even a single second?” 


“What would I gain by losing?” you throw back. 


“Come on, don’t be like that,” I grin placatingly. “Won’t you kill time with me?” 


[The | only | way | to | kill | a | god | | is | to | fall | in | love | with | him.]


You’ve seen this smile before. My blood staining your clothes. The hands of every clock in the world weighed down by gravity instead of time, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. The weight of eternity lifted from our shoulders. 


I pull you back down to the ground, press my lollipop between your teeth. You clamp down without thinking, and I hear the loud crack of hard candy splintering into shards. Expectant eyes waver over mine. 


Always rushing. Always waiting for something to happen. 


“The universe is round, right?”  


You frown, pretending to think about it. “I think so.” 


“Then hypothetically, at a speed exponentially faster than light speed, could you travel around the entire universe in a single instant?” 


“I guess so.” A skeptical snort escapes you. “If you used an infinite amount of energy.” 


“Imagine that,” I mutter darkly, my body pinning yours in place. “Moving so quickly you don't go anywhere at all.”



***



Some people are born as vessels. It’s really not their fault. They’re still their own people, still have their own identity and free will. But each of their souls is just a small piece belonging to something greater, something beyond the realm of understanding. 


[Are | you | a | god | or | a | person?]


Before time, nothing began and nothing ended. After time, everything that has ever begun never ends. Cycles repeat. Events are scrambled like the contents of a puzzle box dashed across the floor. The past flows into the future which bleeds into the present which feeds into the past once again. There was once a definitive beginning and end. But now that’s neither here nor there. 



***



The first time we peel off each other’s clothes, the wind is wailing against the windows. I kiss down your stomach and tell you I’ve been thinking a lot about death. How I sometimes wish it’ll never come. How if such a wish were granted, I would probably find forever to be incredibly lonely. 


You tell me it’s a good thing, then, that forever is well beyond our reach. I tell you that’s why I want it anyway. 


“Memories fade with time,” I hum into your throat. “But moments are infinite.” 


You gasp like I’ve just struck you between the eyes. 


“I wish I could meet you for the first time again,” you whisper. “Over and over. That’s the moment I want to live in.”


I cover your mouth with my own. It’s our second kiss, but the first one was unremarkable; an accidental brush of lips, a hastily murmured apology. It’s the second kiss, but it’s really the first of everything. There’s a word for what this is, but you refuse to be the one to acknowledge it. 


You close your eyes as I wind my body around yours, as I play harpsichord over your ribs. Everything feels like it’s moving even though we’re lying perfectly still, and you’re overcome with vertigo as the hallways spiral into increasingly convoluted tangles inside your own head. You become lost, hopelessly lost, even though you never knew where you were going in the first place. 


There are an infinite number of rooms inside the labyrinth. You don’t know what any of them contain, so you’re content with remaining a wanderer. Perhaps you were born to be lost. That’s what you tell yourself. 


But because I feel a feeling that’s strong enough to become real, I have mercy on you. 


I open the door first. 



***



“Will you be with me until the end of time?” 


[Time | is | dead. | Haven’t | you | heard?]


“It’s a deal.” 



***



Your hand is inside my chest; squeezing, condensing, obliterating. My fingers are weaving neurons, playing cat’s cradle within the morass of your hippocampus. The past is dead and gone. Every vow has been kept. 


Deify me. Slaughter me. Vanquish me. Bleed me dry. Lose your faith and find the passage out. Forgive me. Forget me, and we’ll remain here forever: two immortals hurtling through the universe, in search of something that ends. 


“You came back.” 


You look stricken — you’ve seen this smile already, in all of its convincingly human variations. “Have I been here before?” 


“No,” I whisper, the blood draining from my crescent mouth. “I suppose not.” 

March 02, 2024 04:38

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57 comments

Brandon D'Availa
00:30 Mar 09, 2024

Jeez there's so much I want to say, but first congratulations on the well-deserved win! Genuinely such an interesting story that I had to reread a few times, it's so hard to confuse a reader and get them to want to understand as much as I wanted to understand your story. From the perspective you tell the story, to the expression of a timeless world where all moments meld, to making me wonder and question, to the words you use, all of it shows nothing but a genuine passion and ability to writing I haven't seen in awhile. Amazing story.

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Viga Boland
22:22 Mar 08, 2024

Holy smoke! Did you ever deserve to win this week’s contest. What brilliant writing…from the entire concept to the poetry scattered throughout, you have combined several genres and made them blend beautifully. Congratulations. I wish you much writing success in whatever ways you choose to express yourself in the future. 👏

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Night Shade
21:23 Mar 08, 2024

I watched Interstellar for the first time yesterday. This story gave me the same strange feeling of existentialism, and all I could think of was the bookcase and the physical dimension of time. Excellent stringing of many words, friend, excellent writing.

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Gem Cassia
04:51 Mar 09, 2024

Interstellar is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it's an honor to have my work be compared to it in any way! Thank you so much for reading!

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Emma Ponn
00:05 Mar 09, 2024

This is gorgeous. And so, so well-crafted. Each word is almost perfect, phrases tied together in ethereal storytelling. The abstract concepts of space and time, the satisfactory ending circle and wonder the reader is left with evolve into a beautiful story. Congrats on the well-deserved win. This is one of my new favorite Reedsy stories :)

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20:10 Mar 08, 2024

This story is outrageously good. It brought up a lot of emotions for me. Youre very talented. Keep it up!

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Gem Cassia
21:22 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you so much!

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S.d. Schwarz
16:33 Mar 08, 2024

My God, what a mind-bending story. I absolutely loved this and once I started reading, couldn't stop. Everything about this was absolutely incredible. I really hope you publish this. Well-deserved win. I want to add this to my bookshelf lol.

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Gem Cassia
21:26 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you for reading!!

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Yuliya Borodina
16:28 Mar 08, 2024

I had to read it twice -- but it's stunningly surreal. All the small details snap into place to from a story that is both beautiful and unsettling. The second-person perspective is very unique and intimate. Great job! I loved it!

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Gem Cassia
21:24 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you so much for reading!

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Jonathan Page
16:25 Mar 08, 2024

Very creative and whimsical with some deep themes. A part of a whole. Great wordcraft. Congrats on the win!

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Gem Cassia
21:23 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you so much!

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Alexis Araneta
15:57 Mar 08, 2024

Wow ! Well-deserved win. Such a fresh style. Great flow too !

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Gem Cassia
21:23 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you for reading!

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Karen McDermott
21:39 Mar 11, 2024

An utterly perfect fit for the prompt. Well done!

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12:08 Mar 11, 2024

I feel happily confused after reading your story. It's a piece I will reread again after I marinate not only on the words but all of the unique ways and "vessels" you shared the story. I don't usually read speculative fiction, but your story intrigues me about the genre. Well deserved win!

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Anna W
03:18 Mar 09, 2024

Loved this! "It’s the second kiss, but it’s really the first of everything." Your writing is lovely and brings out so many emotions!! Well earned win, Gem!!

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Uncle Spot
22:29 Mar 08, 2024

Congratulations on your win!

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Tara Chatterton
22:03 Mar 08, 2024

I see why you won this prompt. I really love this. Parts of it are confusing to me, but I think it's just because I am such a literal writer, and tend to over explain things, but it is brilliant and speaks to me on many levels.

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Marty B
20:42 Mar 08, 2024

I love this imaginative romance. Congratulations!

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Gem Cassia
21:22 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you!

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Shiloh Avery
18:18 Mar 08, 2024

One of my favorite things is poetry as prose. You pull that off brilliantly here. I'll add to my list of "lines I wish I had written", next to Janet Fitch, Margaret Atwood, and Tom Robbins: "A silhouette of a memory scampers down the hallway..." "I harbor a fear of desiccation" "You close your eyes as I wind my body around yours, as I play harpsichord over your ribs." And this, the imagery of " I’m sucking on a grape lollipop, my mouth puckered purple" Not to mention the weaving of this story outside the limits of time. Brilliant. Well ...

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Gem Cassia
21:24 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate it so much!

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Maggie Randall
22:48 May 15, 2024

God, this story threw me for a loop. it was absolutely surreal- like nothing i've ever read before. it made me feel emotions i didn't know i could feel. you have serious talent!!

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Crystal Wexel
15:46 May 10, 2024

Wow ! It sounds lazy for me to say this is deep , but I can’t explain it any other way . Incredible !

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22:30 Apr 09, 2024

I'm new both to writing and this community and was browsing through the featured stories when I came across yours. I am a huge fan of "mind fuck" stories. The way you were able to put it down on text though was amazing. I always think of a future where I could apply this kind of writing. Well-deserved win for sure. I'd love to get to know more about your thought/writing process when you produced this. It seems like something you would have to write down as soon as you dreamed it. Thank you for the story.

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Fern Everton
02:27 Apr 01, 2024

I’m a little late to the party, but WOW. This is incredible. The opening line immediately grabbed my attention and sent me spiraling down this story. I’ll definitely have to be back here to reread. The way you constructed this is simply beautiful. Congratulations on a VERY deserved win!

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