Trigger warning: Mentions of self-harm and abuse
You’ve cried a lot, I bet.
You can deny it if you’d like, but I’m sure you have. You’re human, after all. From big buff men whose job, they think, is to protect everybody, to train-wrecks of little girls who wail when they don’t get what they wanted for Christmas—everyone’s cried.
And I’m no exception. Although I’m not exactly human.
It’s 2142, and people call our planet old-fashioned. They say we’re behind the times, looking back on us the way, a century or so ago, those on Earth looked back on, say, the Impressionist period, going, “Oh, such beautiful art. Yet so primitive. We’re far above that now, of course.”
But are they?
Anyways, I should introduce myself. My name’s Flicker, but my mum calls me Kerrie and my friends call me Flick. I’m seventeen, by the way, and a boy or man or whatever it is that people are at this age so close to adulthood and yet still technically juvenile. I live on the planet Belleza, which you’ve undoubtedly heard of (probably in reference to the “crackheads” that live there) but never visited (probably because of, well, the crackheads.) And everyone who says that—from their point of view, at least—well, they’ve got good reason.
Earth is one to talk, though. It’s a mess. Each corner of the galaxy has its own clique, (including Belleza, which I’ll get to in a minute,) but Earth is a trashfire binbag. Everything’s all over the place, and everyone has different interests; how do they ever get anything done?
Well, they don’t, I suppose. The United States, for one, has had over 60 different presidents, and there’s yet to be an elected woman in office. Racism is mostly dispersed, though, or so they say: No unfair judgements based on race, heritage, or ethnicity to see here, folks.
Colorism is different. At least I think.
I told you we were crackheads here.
So, here’s the thing. On Belleza, art is our clique. Singing, dancing, painting, sketching, drawing, writing, acting, all the ings. We’ve also got a more relaxed government than most—certainly more so than America, which is in the news a lot these days—and drugs of every kind are not only decriminalized but legalized as well. If you think that’s bad for art, though, think again. Have you ever seen the kind of things people draw when they’re high, or heard an idea dreamed up by a thoroughly stoned person? You should taste the kind of pastries someone makes when they’re buzzed—even a little tipsiness can open a whole new segment of one’s brain one never knew one had. Alcohol may be bad for you, so they say, but it sure as heck isn’t bad for your career; pursuing your passion has never been easier.
Our drugs aren’t all that bad here, anyways. They’re more like—what’s the word—diluted versions, right? Yeah, they’re diluted. Not that strong at all, really.
Okay, so, colorism. That may be part of the reason everyone hates us. Because... we’re people of color.
Not like that; not like what you’re thinking. Everyone is born with a skin tone, of course, something rough and dark or fluttery and pale or glowing and tan. Your original color is a combination of your biological parents’ baby tones. Everyone knows that. (My skin color is like a darkish carmel-y brown, in case that’s relevant.)
What you may not know, though, is that we are, quite literally, made of color.
When we cut ourselves, on the edge of a piece of printer paper, out comes red, sometimes, or yellow. Green. The blood flowing through our bodies isn’t paint, as you may be picturing, and it’s not all brown, either, the color that usually comes from mixing them all together. Spit, too, or even semen—it’s always a gamble, sometimes pale pinks and soft blues or sometimes neon purples and bright oranges. Sometimes it is black or brown or white, and sometimes pee really is yellow or blood really is red, but you certainly shouldn’t count on it.
You may be wondering how. Or why. Well, we’re an entire planet full of millions of daydreamers and poets, what else did you expect? That some people are just born without a love for beauty, or that after decades and decades of inhabiting this planet we’d look and act identical to those who came before us?
Where’s the fun in that?
I still haven’t told you the most important part, though.
Of course, peoples’ fluids stain their bodies. The liquid is colored, after all. Just like, whether you live, you may encounter people with scars, so we have marks here, too, only they’re colored. Most people’s fingers and hands are dashed with pigment from times they’ve cut themselves handling scissors or skinned their hands on the pavement while going for a rollerblade. Everyone’s got color splashed between their legs, of course, from peeing or periods or sex. Saliva stains aren’t that common—after all, how often do you see someone just spitting on their chin—but tears are an entirely different matter.
We’re artists. Of course we’re emotional. Like many people who enjoy the pastimes we do, we dress casually, at any given point we’re probably on meth, we’re certainly almost all mentally ill, and at least half of us is closeted LGBTQ+. (The other half is out.) And tears—tears stain our faces like no other fluid does.
It’s beautiful, really. Or maybe, because I’m a musician, I just see it that way.
But the manner of diversity—how could you not see it? Just stop for a moment, look at the beautiful colors tracing patterns over people’s cheeks. See how many clear spots there are, how much grief and woe a particular individual has suffered. Look at the face of a child, and compare it with that of her parents, and see where their sadness has been different and where it has been the same—see the layers of color, streaming over each other, forming a pattern more infinitely unique than a fingerprint.
Everyone does have patches where their original skin shows through. You’ll rarely encounter a face that’s completely painted over or a limb where every spot is covered. Everyone’s tears leave tracks on their face, but at least, somewhere or another, you can see what they looked like before. I’ve never met an outlier.
It was a July evening, and I was drunk again.
I was on the roof of the parking garage near my house, singing lazily and spinning around in circles as I looked up at the dusky pink sky. I didn’t know where Mum was, and she probably didn’t know where I was, either; but we’re cool like that, you know?
I stumbled hazily over to the edge of the concrete and glanced down. Parking garages were just a formality, really; almost everyone rode bikes or skated everywhere, so the roof was completely empty except for me. I leaned over the barrier and stared at the city below.
A slow, screeching sound made me turn around.
Someone was stumbling out of the entrance to the stairwell, the creaky door dragging painfully as it opened. Whoever it was had their hair over their face, and appeared to be even more drunk than I.
I turned my body fully and called across the empty lot: “Hello?”
“Can you help me?” the person whispered after a few seconds, their voice hoarse, like that of someone who’d screamed.
“Um, maybe?” I called, straining my ears in an an effort to hear them. “Are you—are you okay?”
The person was walking slowly toward me now, but they tripped on something and fell defeatedly to the roof. I hurried forward to help them, grasping their hand in mine and pulling them swiftly to their feet.
The person looked up. Their hair fell away from their face. I could see that it was a girl.
And she was stained.
Not an inch of this person’s face wasn’t covered with color. Red and green and blue alike streamed down her cheeks, the tracks of tears retraced hundreds of times. The marks dripped down onto her neck and disappeared into the collar of her shirt, but from the hands that emerged from her jacket to the small strip of ankle visible between her tattered socks and the frayed edge of her jeans—no part of her original skin was visible.
Her eyes were green, though. That, at least, told me something.
My mouth was gaping. The girl whimpered quietly. I shook my head and, still holding her hand, asked her, “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know…” she murmured in that scratchy voice of hers, faltering a little bit. “I think I need—I think I’m going to faint.”
“Oh, God,” I muttered. “I’m too drunk for this.” Still, I slid my left arm around her waist and turned toward the stairwell door. “Do you think you can make it? My apartment’s only, like, a block or so from here.”
Any sane person would have said no to going home at night with a drunk teenager whom they’d never met. But this girl wasn’t acting very sane. She merely gave a weak nod of her head, and I led her towards the stairwell, supporting half of her as well as all of me.
Getting the door open and down the kind of stairs you’d expect to encounter in a parking garage was no easy task, but it was only a couple levels high and we didn’t encounter anyone on the way. We made our way slowly down the sidewalk and to the apartment complex I lived in with minimal effort. The door was open, as it always was, and I walked the girl down the hallway, to the third door on the first floor, where I lived. I didn’t have a keycard, but I tried the knob, and sure enough, it opened.
My mother wasn’t the most careful of people; we’ll just put it that way.
I turned on the light switch in the entryway, eased the door shut with my foot, and walked the girl over to the living room sofa, where she collapsed against the back of the couch.
Vaguely, I remembered something I’d learned in school about not letting brain damaged people fall asleep. “Hey, um--person? Girl? What’s your name? I’m, um, I’m Flicker.”
The girl’s eyelids fluttered liquidly, like someone in between sleep and wake. “I don’t know,” she moaned, and slumped over. “I’m so tired. Just let me…” And before the girl could finish, she’d passed out.
I blinked a couple times, then covered the girl with a stray blanket. I crept into the kitchen, although I was fairly certain I wouldn’t wake her--she was already snoring--and grabbed some orange juice and bread from the fridge. I chewed slowly, watching my unexpected guest as she slept, then realized that was creepy and stared into the glass as I ate.
I checked the oven clock. 8:45 p.m. Mum was probably at her boyfriend's house, I realized, and I could call her, but she’d be home soon, anyways. The problem was what to do with the girl.
The front door creaked open, and I realized that I’d delayed too long.
“Kerrie, what in God’s gracious heck is an unconscious young woman doing on our living room couch?”
I choked on my orange juice and slammed the glass on the counter. Spluttering, I ran out into the front hall.
Mum sighed. “Really, Kerrie, this is going too far. First drinking alone, and now this.
Coughing to clear the unwanted liquid from my throat, I hurriedly told her, “I swear, Mum, I have no idea who this girl is. I was in the parking garage, and she just stumbled up to me and looked about ready to pass out so I brought her here and she just started sleeping but I don’t know if she’s dead or--”
“She’s not dead, Kerrie. She’s probably homeless. You ever consider that?”
“Oh.” My face fell. “But she’s so young.”
“Yeah, well.” Mom hung her purse on a hook by the door and walked swiftly over to the couch. She pushed the girl’s hair away from her face and turned her head.
Of course, Mum gasped.
“Do you see why I had to help her now?” I asked quietly.
Mom nodded, her face paling. “Whoever this young lady is, she’s been through a lot.” She started unzipping the girl’s jacket.
“What are you--”
“Shh.” Gently, she pulled the clothing away from her arms.
Every single inch of them was etched with color, but even through that, it was easy to see the long, thin marks scarring her arms, each of them a tiny, stained line. They were scattered around her wrists like toothpicks in a box.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Mum whispered. She gently flipped the girl over, lifted her T-shirt over her back. That, too, was marred with scars, of a different kind.
A singular tear fell from Mum’s left eye and landed on the girl’s bare skin, adding a tiny circle of pale mauve to the already full canvas of color splattered across her back. Quickly, she pulled the girl’s clothes back on and turned to me. “She’s staying here, of course. Who knows what the authorities would do with her. They’d probably make her think she’s broken. She’s not. She just needs help.” Mum cut her eyes at me. “Well, don’t just stand there. She needs help!”
“So, um, what is it exactly that you want me to do?”
“She needs to be in a proper bed, for one, and when she wakes up she’ll need food and water and a shower.” Mum’s lip curled. “And clean clothes. I can--”
“Don’t you work tomorrow?”
Mum grimaced. “Yeah, I do. Hopefully she’ll wake up before then. For now, she needs to get in bed.” She glanced up at me. “Well, what are you waiting for?”
“Um, whose bed?”
“Yours, Kerrie, don’t be daft. Now come on, we can carry her gently if we do it between the two of us.”
Hesitantly, Mum and I took the girl to my bedroom, where we laid her on my mattress and drew the covers along her marred body. When I turned around, Mum was already crouching over my desk, scribbling instructions on a sticky note. “I have to go in to work early tomorrow, so I’ll be gone by eight. Hopefully she’ll be awake by then, but she probably won’t, so here’s what you need to do.” Mum stopped scrawling for a second and shook out her hand. “When she wakes up, be very gentle and calm with her. She’ll probably be confused, so, go slowly.” Mom sighed. “Take her to the kitchen and offer her food--make sure she eats, Kerrie, and drinks too--and let her know where the bathroom is, if she wants to take a shower. I’ll lay out some clothes. Ask her her name, too, so we can know who she is. And make sure--” Mom rubbed the lines in her forehead--“Keep her away from sharp objects, Kerrie. I’ll try to run home on my lunch break. Make sure she's safe, okay?”
I nodded. “We’ll be fine, Mum, really, we will.” After an uncomfortable pause, I asked, “So, am I sleeping on the couch tonight?”
Mum set down the pen and stuck the note to the wall. “No, you can sleep in my room, and I’ll bunker down on the floor with our visitor here.” When I started to respond, Mom cut in, “I know, son, I didn’t thoroughly think this through. It’ll be all right; we’ll be fine.” She sighed and straightened up from the desk. “Get ready for bed, Kerrie.”
Still woozy from an excess amount of not-exactly-belonging-to-me alcohol, I stumbled into Mum’s bedroom and turned off the lights. I’d like to say that I didn’t sleep at all, but after a few minutes of dazed, vague shifting, I was out cold.
The next morning, Mum was shaking me awake. “Get up, Kerrie,” she whispered. “The girl’s still asleep. I’m leaving now; you’ll need to stay in the room with her. Just don’t be threatening or creepy, okay?”
“Sure,” I mumbled, blinking the sleep from my eyes as Mum half-dragged me out of bed. I stumbled to the door of my room and went in, calling a faint goodbye to Mum before I shut the door.
I yawned and sat down in my desk chair, expecting to be waiting a long time. To my surprise, mere minutes after Mum left, the girl began to stir, her colored face twitching. Eventually she sat up, strands of hair sticking in her mouth. When she caught sight of me, a panicked expression came across her face.
“Hey, don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s okay,” I said in what I hoped was a placating tone. I spoke gently, meeting her eyes. “I promise you’re safe. I’m here to help you. I’ve already introduced myself, but maybe you forgot, so: I’m Flick.”
“Forgot?” the girl whispered, her hoarse voice sounding even drier in the early morning.
“Yeah, you seemed really, kind of, I don’t know--dizzy, or out of it, yesterday. It’s okay now, though. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Forgot?” the girl repeated, her dull green eyes wide with fright. “You think I… forgot?”
I frowned. “Well, didn’t you?”
The girl just shuddered.
“So, um--what’s your name?”
The girl laughed. “You think I know?”
The girl shook her head. “Forgot, you think I forgot…” The phantom of a smile traced her lips. “Well--what is it, Flicker?--you’re right, Flicker, I forgot.” She glanced down at her wrists. “You think I want to remember?”
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This was a beautiful story ❤️. Aboustly wonderful. Very nice work ink!
wow, that means a lot!! thank you so much!