Things became different after that. We never left the house. We slept in the same bed. We spent all our time physically near to each other in this house that existed outside of time and space. We almost never spoke, and we drug dressers in front of a locked door before we went to sleep each night. Sometimes, we woke up covered in blood that wasn't there. Sometimes, the chandeliers were made of bones. Sometimes, the sun never rose. And in time, we forgot we had ever left. We forgot our names. We forgot ourselves.
I often wondered if those throat-slit nights weren’t tricks of the house - they were the nights we died. Nothing new ever dropped on Netflix, and the news cycle never seemed to update. The tea in the cabinet never ran out, and there was always an extra bag of coffee in the freezer. The closer we got to each other, the colder we felt, and sometimes, when we couldn’t stop shivering, I’d look at him and his eyes would be glazed, directionless. Sometimes, when we couldn’t stop shivering, he’d say the same thing of me.
We have to go.
He’d say it every so often. As if there was somewhere to go. As if the house would allow it. No one came looking for us anymore. We never saw the girl at the piano again, but the piano would play, nevertheless. I never did find the missing spoon. And the small boy who used to sit on the mezzanine and dangle his legs through the railing now silently sat broken at the bottom of the stairs, but only on occasion.
One morning, waking up intertwined in a seldomly-peaceful room, he kissed me forcefully, and he looked into me, deeply, somberly.
I have to go. I can’t stay here anymore. I’ve tried so hard. Please, please come with me.
But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. And he knew that. He hung his head and whispered something about how much he loved me. And then he looked up at me -
We are something more than real. You are something more than real. But I can’t come to your side, and I can’t bring you to mine. And we don’t belong to them anymore, anyway; we need to go. Please.
I didn’t understand. But he was ready to go, and I wasn’t. I also wasn’t ready when he went.
I almost felt as if there were a laughing, the day he vanished for the last time. I saw the bottomless black figure and I felt it find humor in what was happening to me. And as it settled into a chair in the den, I wondered to myself if I were manic - alive and in a catastrophic psychotic break that had lasted months. And that thought made the creature laugh. Loudly.
The laughing snapped me out of my spiral and made me look around the house, which was completely transformed from just moments ago. Flaking ceilings, cracked drywall, rotted floorboards, moth-eaten furniture. I turned back towards the thing, looked into the blackness, and I said -
I heard it laugh again, this time as if a game was finally over - a toy was used up. Then, everything changed. Everything lit up; everything brightened. The energy of the house became indifferent, and the mosaic tile floors in the front room were returned to pristine condition. Sconces were lit and the fireplace in the den warmed the house. I heard the boy running up the stairs, laughing, and the girl sat at the piano playing her favorite song. I ran to the front door and opened it, to a world of grey skies snowing ash onto a dead, rocky, landscape of nothing and no one. And, for some reason, it made sense. It felt better.
I understood finally what he had meant when he said we needed to go. He knew we were dead, and he was just waiting for me to realize it - for the house to finish digesting me. And I knew why he had to go; it had hurt to stay so long - we had lost so much of ourselves. I was the fuzzy edge past ephemeral, and I could already feel it was much harder to stay here than even the first place. So, in this new iteration of the same existence, nearly-gone and nearly-consumed, I went to look for him.
He usually left notes to me at the kitchen table, anchored under a cup, or in the bedroom, on my pillow. I went there first. Just as I’d expected, a piece of folded notebook paper was set carefully at the center of my pillow in the perfectly-made bed.
I don’t know where you are, and I miss you all the time. I will wait as long as I can, but it seems I evaporate a little more every day. I think it’s just the order of things. Every night, I sleep here; I try to exist, hoping that when I wake up in the morning you’ll be here. If you do wake up here and I’m not lying next to you, don’t worry. I am somewhere in the house, and we are gone. We’re whole now, but we’re gone. I don’t want to be gone without you. Please be here.
And something happened where my heart used to be. I knew it was too late already - I was too late. What did he mean? Where was I? Where was he?
I stared at his handwriting, wondering where we went when we died. And with the note still in my hand, I turned and ran down the stairs and into the kitchen, where I found dishcloths piled on stove burners set to high. Looking at the table, I found another note, anchored under a teacup, with a dried tea-stained ring, burnt and curled edges.
I love you. I did everything I could. I will look for you in the next place, in the next life. Look for me, too.
I had passed into this place just hours after him, but this paper was dated nearly twenty years after the note I found on my pillow - nearly 80 years before I thought we were. I knew that we were no longer in time with one another. We were on different planes in different places, outside of when. And because of me, we were alone. He had moved on alone.
The pen he used to write the note was still on the floor next to the table, and as I stood staring at it, I almost felt him. When I first felt the heat from the flames behind me, I thought he might still be nearby. But he was evaporated. The house was crumbling, disappearing, burning. I was the ashes and bones that spilled out of the wall. I was always too late to move on.
I don’t know where he existed; I just know where he lived.