One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Two dead boys faced off. One dead boy stared from where he sat at the end of the bed. His wild mane of blond hair glowed bright against the room’s darkness. The other dead boy squirmed and gasped beneath thin and damp sheets. Throat burning. Stomach cramping. Dying, slowly.
That’s what it felt like, anyway. He didn’t know how long he’d lain here, damp blankets twisting around his legs, night sweats slicking his skin. Time had lost meaning. He floated in a haze of fever and nausea, sweats and chills and spasms. Curled fetal, hands clawed against chest, his world had contracted into a bright pinpoint of agony.
Shadows loomed over him. Murmured. Tried to get him to sip from a straw. Someone occasionally wiped his brow with damp rags. The cool liquid from the straw had made him gag and vomit, because even as it soothed his raw throat, it cramped his guts.
They’d given him nothing for awhile.
Maybe they’d given up.
Given up because he was dying and there wasn’t anything left to do. He didn’t want to blame them, but hated them a little, regardless.
He whimpered. Felt like he’d swallowed broken glass that had dug into his throat and stayed there, tearing flesh with each new swallow.
The dead boy sitting at the bed’s edge spoke his name. He looked away. Didn’t know how long the dead boy had been sitting there or what he wanted, but knew the boy sitting at the end of his bed was dead. Had to be. The shadows that loomed over him and whispered and smoothed back his damp hair...
(mom and dad and the doctor)
...never saw or spoke to the boy sitting at the end of the bed. They must not be able to see him, he must not be there...
(today I went upon the stair and saw a man who wasn’t there)
...and if he wasn’t there that could only mean he’d been dreaming the dead boy or the dead boy had come from far a away place that lingered close now, that the boy had come...
(from the drift, a cold place filled with hungry dead things)
He didn’t like looking at the dead boy, whose wide eyes yawned like twin black holes, empty and bottomless, whose hair shimmered so brightly white.
The dead boy spoke his name again. He refused to look, glanced upwards instead. Scanned the dark ceiling where shadows and light danced, where something flowed in sinuous patterns.
A circus oozed around the upper edges of his bedroom walls. Lank and grotesquely thin clowns with big red mouths and wide eyes bulging from fish-belly white faces capered. Rolled and jigged. Pranced amongst screaming horses flayed alive by the lashing whips of men wearing tall black hats as they pulled misshapen carriages hiding secrets that thrilled and repulsed.
Squat, ape-faced dwarves lurched alongside. Staring blindly nowhere as their knuckles dragged along the ground. Cadaverous sword-eaters paced the screaming horses and prancing clowns, plunging their scimitars down their throats, pulling them out again. The swords gouged out their backs. Misted red over the dwarves and screaming horses. When pulled free from the engorged throats, thick with red ichor, they winked back to a gleaming silver. And were plunged back down again and pulled free, over and over.
The dead boy at the end of the bed spoke louder. Tone sharp and harsh.
He didn’t listen. Only stared at the circus marching around his room. Something inside knew this couldn’t be real. He was sick. Dying. His fever made the circus wallpaper border march around the top of his bedroom. It wasn’t real, it wasn’t...
(something that had slipped free from the drift; a cold and dead hungry thing)
He was sick with a fever. Was dreaming and dying. The circus wasn’t real.
Yet there it was. Dancing and spinning and rolling. Clowns with leering red mouths gobbling up dwarves and chewing them into grisly pulps. Horrible men in tall black hats flaying their screaming horses alive while they pulled behind them pulsing, oozing dead monstrosities on lumpy wheels. Sword-eaters whipping their swords from their throats in gushes of blood, hacking away at the men in the tall black hats, the horses and dwarves and the rolling, gobbling, leering clowns while something else shifted and flowed behind them, something black and slick and viscous, something long and coiled, something...
(dead from the drift)
It twisted amongst the clowns and screaming horses and men and dwarves and sword-eaters, connecting them, dissolving them and consuming them...
Like a filmstrip jumping its track.
The circus started over from the beginning. With rolling clowns leering with big red mouths. Over and over it ran, with him dying and the dead boy talking but he still didn’t listen or look at the dead boy as the wet black thing slithered just behind the circus, pulsing and swelling and coming closer...