To Write At Midnight

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Jairo Alzate

Here we are, at this same desk where I once worked from eight ‘til two (only the bloodstains are new). I’m sobbing, as you’d expect from a person who’s just seen the broken body of their closest friend. There are tears, and yet it’s not sadness I hear; not yet. Would you understand my fear? 

It’s the questions that won’t stop echoing between my ears, behind my eyes, in snaps and pops of the brain. My brain: it’s fried. It must be. 

Has she left? 

Have I killed her? 

Let me start at the beginning, then you must judge me.

This clockwork, slam-on-the-gas-every-hour-till-you-crash way of throttling through as days, weeks, months slip by that I’ve chosen, and now, now I am paying my dues. I love it, and I hate it, and I could not stand to live any other way—

I’ve tried, take my word on it. Every holiday, I give it another go. That vague fantasy gasped for in frazzled minutes barely coherent from the mad rush, sparks seeming to singe my fingertips as I pause for just a moment to try to think, think beyond the problems and fires of the day; in those precious sober seconds I blink and beg for the space of those calm, lazing holidays that stretch from day to day. What it was, to be empty and bored enough to imagine. To create. Those moments, I’ve filed away particularly well while the rest of the memories blur. Some turns of midnight, they’re the only thing I carry from the last day to the next: that surety that I am parched for the spring of blissful emptiness.

And when it comes, I waste away. Really, I do. There’s something to this routine I’ve turned myself an addict to, so much so my sanity crumbles the morning I wake up later than 10 and the sun is beating down on my eyelids, shaming me for the control that sweet sleep has wrest. With time stretching on, unimpeded from deadline to deadline, so do my thoughts that spiral beyond the safe zone, heading straight for torpor and the pain of being, ever so simply, bored again. I crave boredom, every passing day,

yet on the morning of emptiness, I balk at its weight? 

It’s like this: I miss the silence. Once upon a time, workless days meant writerly nights, slamming back long-brewed tea at midnight and tapping away at a five-year-old manuscript. Once upon a time, there was that blissful silence in the darkest hours, so magnificently stretching across the space from the cliffs of dusk and dawn, wrapping coolly into a sacred cocoon with space only for two. What it was to carry another voice in your head–a voice that wasn’t yours. 

It’s all muttering worry now. The characters have been shushed away, stuffed into blocks of half-hours stolen from unstopping days and silenced every other minute. They won’t even bang at the windows of my brain again. Not when I beg. 

What a gift it was to write at midnight. What a treasure to have that elusive flow. Which patron of magic gave me that just-right flow, and why did she take it away? 

Has she left? 

Have I killed her? 

I swear I didn’t mean to. She just wouldn’t work anymore.



Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Edvard Munch

Here is a look into my most recent anxiety attack. A strange, practically manic trance.

Breathe. Breathe. As simple as an inhale and an exhale, yet so perfectly constructed, yes? What fantastic machines we are, fashioned organically by the creator. What there is in a breath. The pull of your diaphragm, the expansion of the chest cavity, pressure in and out. Calm. Calm. Think of breath. Remember? A swallow. Air rushing in, filling your lungs, oxygen squeezing in countless miniscule alveoli within the lining. Shh. Do you remember? The way it works? And then, next, the gaseous exchange. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. Fascinating, like clockwork. Yet adaptive, unlike metal and wheels. Aerobic turns to anaerobic respiration, burning glucose and oxygen to form adenosine triphosphate and setting your muscles, each cell that knits into tissues that pull on joints, bones, movement through this strange, dangerous environment. How well made we are. How I long to praise you, oh God. How I wish I could hear you now. Yet here you are, at the heart of everything, as you must be, just as you were previously, yesterday night when I wondered at the vastness of this existence. What is man that you condescend to him? Who am I that you would hold me up in pain? And yet the greatest One stoops to care over every human, contemptuous as we remain. Remember, remember. He has never, will never, can never leave you. He is here. Even now, he is here. In remembering, do you not feel him? That is how you know, in this time. That is how we all must know him. In words, in memory of all he is. Bits and pieces that come up at just the right time to prompt you every which way. In the storm of screams, here you are also. And you are unafraid. So what should I fear? It is all in your care. All I need do is wait and do the best I am able with the controls I have been given. That is all. How doable.

Frankly, I Love You

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

I want to scream at the world
I want to lose my temper
To destroy, and crush, and draw blood so each surface can weep the tears that will not come
That wound that refuses to dry.

I want to hate you
I want to claw at your face
To run from this problem
To spill this guilt out
To feel as hurt as my pride asserts it has been.
I don’t want to be wise
I don’t want to be controlled
I want to fall
To pieces
To my knees
To be done with this nonsense
To leave you behind.

But I swore and swore, damn you
That however idiotic you were
However hurtful
I would not hold it against you
I would not leave you
I would not lash back.
I promised to be better for your sorry soul
Because I love you
I love you more than either of us know.
I was given this gift
And I won’t burn it away
I swear we’ll work together unless you say
The word I beg for
Just tell me to go
Make this story easier
Bring it to a close

My head begs you
My heart laments these wicked chains
My hands shake with longing to give in
To externalize this rage

Let me leave you
I’m tired, I’m spent
I don’t want to do what’s right
I don’t want to hang over the ravine
Suspended by knots I didn’t tie

Damn it.
I swore
I promised
So let’s just please sort this out
Because there’s really no other good option
Because frankly,
I love you.


Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Leah Prodigalidad

Would it surprise you that most days I now know not what to say? This roving, writhing, writing mind that reaches to engulf every sensation, touch, rush, impulse in words of ringing rightness…is left limp and still at the scrape of your presence. 

You have that strange effect.

And I may regret if I say not what my chest bursts, rattling, ribcage cracking, lungs groan to speak of this falling safety you’ve found for me. For if I hold my breath and let this pass, let it expand and then push out yet again, what if this careful carded castle simply came and went and fell to dust? If it were not immortalised, would I remember the exact shade of your light as it warmed my tingling skin, pricking the hairs of my neck in delicious excitement for something so new and true and altogether quite frightening?

Yet here I am, and as I try, my mind scatters these fragments of memories to reflect in muddled imagery that could never properly capture the calm rock-ing hold of your hand against my leg, my head against your neck, your words in seven languages stumbling to keep this sacred calm in human empirical sense. Indescribable, we decide. Deity must have brought this lovely flame alive. Those words, once twisted on your tongue, now slipping freely into air—

Do I have that strange effect?

Closer now, and still, so foreign to the real form of things. How, how, can I show them what you’ve given me? See, I should not have even tried. But now I have started and so must see it through; you see, don’t you? 

Should I cast these words to rest, then, my heart, my dear shaking heart? These lines, that I ever promised I’d write my first real love poem about, then nearly never saw through for having waited too long. Is this where they deserve to lie? 

Perhaps I will be stingy with this sacred secret of mine. Who above Him could know how long this whim will keep for? So I’ll lock those words away, leaving only the imprint of this wisp I promised to put down someday. 

How fortunate am I, that someone loves me enough to be made light and whole simply by my presence. 

And how I love you, my darling love. And how I wish to rush far ahead past constraints and know the true extent of love. But that is not the will of the wise, and to them, we yet answer; though not the same person, for now of yet the same mind. 

So I will breathe, and I will wait, and stand on the edge all the same, obstinately wordless to my description of you, of I, of us. For that, I must beg your forgiveness, and too, hope that you will never forgive me. This most grievous wrong, that you allow. 

And so do I. I am sorry.


Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Salvator Rosa

A week ago, you bugged me—practically harassed me.
                   you weighed down every thought with a tiny stone, sewn gently, seeds of doubt into the high-strung knit of my heart just where you knew the seams would be. Because you sewed me: from dust to bone to this reckless mind. But just a speck and nothing more, borne by every thought till it coalesced in—
No. Certainly something close, though. The same colour, in a different shade.
Funny, what unseating a mere day’s thoughts will do to you; gentle waves working at hardened silt formations, dissolving rough ridges into something a little softer. You’ll pause, choke; your eyes blinking, search for some way out. 
At least let me understand what this is. Discomfort? Too general.
Guilt? Warmer.
There it was: the thought that had been sinking its sharpened roots in. “This is not right.” There. There it was. Now that it’d been named, I could barely think of anything else without the words taking all the space. It is how some describe love, and yet, infinitely worse. Love is a haze, not a blinding light. Right? 
It was night, and the lamps were dimmed. So with a silent room and locked door, I…knelt. 
I have not done this in a longvery long time. 
Fine. So I did the speaking. The more I spoke, the more the words came, till with the torrent, the pressing weight of shame had lessened somewhat. I could think again. 
How I thought. 
The world’s a rather judgement-based place. Yet when your knees are bruised and your neck a mess from bowing the head; when your lips are cracked from speaking of everything you could possibly think of, it’s hard to get unsettled again. There’s a steadiness to being on your knees—a kind of peace.
A week ago, you bothered me, and it was the best, most uncomfortable bothering. 
Why would you go silent now? 
What have I done to stop it? To block you out? How can I bridge this gap?
Bother me again, will you?
I miss you.
Am I mad? 
Blind me, bind me. 
Without you I’m now left, stranded in the in between, floating between two ends of complete and incomplete. 
Come on, now. How could you do this?
There’s no cleverness to this. No hidden commentary or thought, nothing weaved in the narrative. I am nothing but


Written by Atticus Payne
Art by William Blake

(Ihminen: human)

We humans, all so tastelessly mortal. Dropped onto cliffs hugged by ravines, a cord around the neck our only harness, frantic fingers; opposable, fragile thumbs, gripping, slipping, holding on ‘til we fall.

No landing kills you—just your own porous bones.

One by one, I watch them lose their hold. Fingers with skin worn ‘til only bone shows, others more torn by their eyes and not the stones. One by one, I watch them die, hear them cry, shake most from anger in their last sigh as they try so much to stay alive, while next to them, another ihminen falls.

I’ve seen some try to climb—upwards, in a game of chasing the rain. The air thins that far above; presses down on the chest ‘til ribs crack, ‘til you can’t catch your breath. “Searching,” they say. “For what?” I reply. 


Then, again, I watch them die.

They crumple from the shivers, so easily that for a moment you could forgive yourself the thought that they’d gone and done; that this was their climax. 

It’s just death. Just as futile as the rest.

So I stand and wait and lock my muscles as best I can. It’s useless, I swear. All it does is make you stare at the gasp of the gallows and wonder if you’re next. I stand, and wait, and watch, and pray; for mercy, for control, for anything to end it all. Slowly, I lessen the pleas. Just gouge my eyes out.

Words get swept by the wind.

Ihminen. Human. Frail, and unmade for this plane. 

Unknot the cord, step off the ledge. What end is there if you can’t see it?

Should I die, I will have earned it.

Have flown, for a second, and not cared.

Son of Sirens

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by John William Waterhouse

“I saw him once, the son of sirens. That’s all you ever need to go mad,” the crone said, to no-one in particular.

“He kept to himself, his back turned and unmoving till I approached, tapped a shoulder, and felt skin on skin, a snap like two magnets finding each other at last; skin on something else entirely, something rough, tough like hardened leather. Like the rocks of the sea, shapes beautifully slicked by the potter of the waves, hundreds of years forming textures one of a kind. To know this was my first mistake; to let it draw me in, my second. Though I’m not sure I could’ve resisted either way—one does not hope against the work of a riptide. ‘Tisn’t done. 

“He faced me, and my eyes caught not on the well-worked yet wild features that I can’t ever hope to forget now, but on the resin-glossed piece of art in his hands. Casually held, irreverent to the meticulous carving of ebony, flamed maple and spruce. That was the trigger of that ringing noise I’m always having now. If sounds could burn the ear, this would be a concentrated assault. Does that paint a picture clear enough for you?”

The mist breaks for a moment, and darkness replies. It groups into vague shapes, jagged around the edges and never visible for longer than a second, before the landscape clouds with gray once more. For a moment, this sequence is comprehensible. 

“‘Are you one of ——’s students?’ he asked, and the name left me in half the time it took to say. Two syllables, I think. Can’t recall much since that day. His accent clipped the words gently before they finished, playing to a High rhythm. 

“‘No,’ I replied. ‘I seem to have the wrong person, I was—’ the ringing grew louder, bearing through my skull and into whatever part of your head was used for synthesising words. The echo of his voice, the flamed streaks of the instrument’s back; now not simply magnetic, but familiar. 

The crone gasps. She feels her hands shake, realises she has a body for the first time in…time. How long does a second stretch when there isn’t anyone to measure with breaths? Time has become the enemy, for lack of better company. 

This part. One of a cycle.

One note. A wrong note, and a whole movement turned to a broken, imperfect ruin, and to an ear trained for discrimination, it was not impulse, but self possession. Remember. Remember, remember, ‘you will not be like him’. 

“Do you know me? Do you know who I am?” I grabbed him by the shoulder, curling my hand to focus my nails on the skin instead of my palm. Seaspray and coarse rock threatened to blind me again, but I was careful this time, keeping ahold of that unfinished sentence. ‘I was looking for my brother.’ I was looking, and I had found him. That discordant note, the cough in the pianissimo was the mast I lashed my limbs to, binding tight enough to bite till it bled. 

He growled, widening his eyes to Hold mine. I blinked my gaze away, then back, just for a second, then away. 

“I know you,” I spat. “I know your mother destroyed my life.” 

“I am sorry for your father—” he began, and I used the sound of his voice to locate a spot in his jaw. I punched it. Gods, even his groan was musical.

I know you. I know you. I have been searching for you.

“You didn’t know my father,” I said, grabbing his neck and holding it downwards. “You didn’t know the man you stole from this world before you Thralled him.”


“You raped him, then shattered his mind!” I kicked him to the dirt. No sea would aid him here. Our voices were barely audible to others over the din of the people milling about on the street, crying out about prices and services and other stupid things. I knew the words I said, had rehearsed them for decades on end. “You took my father from me—”

I am not my mother!” he cried out, getting up again. I fell backwards, right ear struck with a ringing so loud it pinged when it began. And again, unending, infernal grate—

My mistake, in kicking him. I’d lost control.

I looked up, my final, damning wrong. Looked upon him, as if I could aim a blade through the cavity of his chest even when I tried. His eyes bore into mine, freezing the rest of the street’s sound away in a muffled gale. Seaspray and wind and waves. 

Adoration above.


Brother. He was coming again. 

That was how it ended. Now, the crone remembered.

His steps sounded, and it began the last movement of the song against the walls of the crone’s space. The final memory the crone ever had, she knew by then, was the sad reflection of her own face, turned High, turned into a boy. 

“Forgive me, sister,” he said, his voice breaking. “Forgive me.”

“Why?” The crone knew, but knowing the end notes of a symphony didn’t make it any less terrible when the silence came again. 

“You saw your father’s end. It’s no life, living without the Thrall’s siren. You don’t want to live that way. I know you don’t.”

“Where am I?” 

“It’s better not to know.”

The crone wept, and wept all the harder as the boy left. His eyes, so beautiful, and so sad, had left her. She hated seeing him leave. She hated the silence. 

The crone couldn’t live without putting a stop to it. 

“I saw him once, the son of sirens. That’s all you ever need to go mad,” the crone said, to no-one in particular.

The Twenty-fifth Hour

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Dom Lay

“With the rough rope against your neck, you’ll feel the floor give way, and you will be hanged.

“Fear it, of course. Fear’s what’ll keep you alive, just barely, as your heart races, as your back breaks. Let it pound through your chest, follow your instincts and fight it. Fight it until you catch your breath. Count on it. 

“Then push your feet into the ground. Suck freezing air into your lungs. Fear’ll only keep you alive as long as you remember to count the minutes. Of all things in your life you forgot—your lady’s birthday, your mother’s errand—don’t forget this. Else you’ll be just like every other idiot hurtling through death. You’ll speed right through.

“Remember to stop at the twenty-fifth hour.”

Falling. The feeling of almost-suspended animation, the kind that happens when you jump and the elevator goes down and you find there is no difference between falling and flying. That, but overblown by about a thousand degrees.

He did not remember. Not quickly enough, anyway. When hours go by in split seconds, one becomes incredibly aware of how, even in experiences of fastest panic, the human’s reflexes crawl. 

His birth. His father, storming out and never coming back. A shivering woman holds him close as he suckles, then teeths, then he’s asking so many questions. Faster and faster, years slip through. Now there’s a large hall. Academy. 

‘You react even slower when you’re trying out something you’ve never considered before,’ a slow voice shoots through his head, in one ear and out the other, scraping some dying brain tissue on the way, remember, remember, the shaking timbre of his master, hells, why hadn’t he listened better? Tried harder? Focused more. 

Focus. There’s the crunch, he realises, barely in tune with the real world. One crack, the second, third, and now he’s halfway there. Three more bones to break before his chance of stopping is up, before the car collides, the blade falls, the rope snaps, and he becomes nothing but a majority, an average, an oh-poor-him, an example for little kids being trained in the ways of life after death to shudder at and shun. God help him. Is there a god? Is anyone watching at all?

The answer is no, and he shakes it away as the fourth bone shatters, and the roughness of corduroy pants disappears; there’s a sudden warmness near his crotch that he notices just before it, too, vanishes. Ah. Paying too much attention in one place, too little in another. Where is it, where? 

Running, the near-dead grass springing up between his toes. Laughing. Stolen rays of moonlight clutched in his hands, the jailers surrounding him and the boy he was with. The greatest treasure in the world, taken simply because he’d felt like it. Yes. Here. The chill of being pushed towards the uniformed men, the sight of the boy walking free. The moment he’d known he was a dead man. That’s when a person really dies. Not at the gallows, but in the betrayal itself. Right?

Fifth bone cracked. No. Not right. Not when you could’ve been stabbed right through, or marked with a traitor’s kiss from him, and felt just the same, so filled with nothing that everything rushed in and out in a mad dash to fill the vacuum. Strange, how that never resolved. Nothing stuck to the walls. Nothing crumbled either. A dead man walking, not yet a corpse.  

Find it. The voice. The last thing that flashed before his eyes, choked by the noose. Last regret. Only regret. 

Running through a field at harvest-time, trampling stalk after stalk to find her. Calling out her name. 

Oh, Claudette. 

He’d felt like it since the day they’d been parted, him to the fields and her to the mines. Romance, he’d had plenty—he wasn’t picky, and none of the boys cared in the fields. It’d all been physical. No scent to inhale before sighing in relief. No fingers to kiss. Nothing gentle, and nothing that brought pain. That was all everyone longed for.

Kiss me and call me teacher. Stab me, but in the chest, so I die quick. Run my hair into tangles with your fingers so I know you forgot the world around us. 

Sensation pooled back into his toes, touching down on cold stone. The mines, the very ones he’d tried everything to visit. He’d almost missed it: the twenty-fifth hour, for him, was to be but ten minutes. And that was enough.

She felt it the moment he’d been dropped at the entrance of her section. Her legs had turned weak, something that hadn’t happened since she was a girl. How old she was, now. Surely she was just dreaming. But if this was a dream, there would be no problem in indulging. Dreams meant nothing.

Tearing down the winding pathways, she found her strength again. Like it had been before—before the mines. She knew, then, that this was not a dream. There was no sleep here, she remembered. There was no change. 

The fool, she muttered to herself. Yet she still dropped to her knees at the sight of him. 

This was the farewell. 

She picked herself up, pulling his form with it. “How?” Because she was dead, she had been dead for ages, and now he’d followed her into it. And for what? He couldn’t stay here. That wasn’t how things worked. 

“You had a life,” she whispered, touching her forehead to his. “You promised not to throw it away.”

“I didn’t,” he begged. “I swear I didn’t. I died there and you know it. Please. I had to live again.”

cooking for two

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by ruoyuart

It’s only a spoilt child that won’t like cooking, that’s what I always say. Oh, it’s not like the other things everyone’s always about doing, scrambling and chasing, trying to make head or tail or wing. No: cooking is simple. It’s the only simple thing in life, I’m afraid.

It’s all about the instructions, you see. That, and your ingredients. If it’s only mediocre, that’s because whoever’s made it hasn’t put in the right effort into finding the right things. That’s all. Now, I didn’t say it’d be quick and easy. It’s work and a precise one, alright. But follow the instructions, put in the time, and, poof! Just like that, you’ve got one perfect pie, or cake, or soup, or any other lovely thing that’ll make everyone happy. It’ll keep them that way, so long as you’ve made enough. There’ll be no shouting, no tussling. No one will be angry if you do it right. Or, or; cooking…cooking…

Cooking is all about your senses. The scents, the methodology—oh, anyone can be good if they just use what they’re given. Nothing hard. And when you’re cooking for someone, ah! I always cook for someone. Every day. 

Or, well, there was yesterday, I suppose. Day before…most every day, then. Um—yes. And today I cook for—who? Who, who, who. Who likes this? Why am I cooking this? Why? If there’s no one coming… . No, that’s not right. I’m cooking for,

Cooking for—who?

The chair’s always a good place for a rest. Especially—especially when you’ve started doing poorly. When you’ve had a fright. A fright, that’s all, nothing more. A fright’ll go away, nothing to worry ya. It’ll be all right in a moment. Just—just sniff and think and breathe in a bit. Cooking is lovely that way.

Ah, yes. There we go. Barely remember the fright now. 

It’s only a spoilt child that won’t like cooking, that’s what I always say. Oh, it’s not like the other things everyone’s always about doing, scrambling and chasing, trying to make head or tail or wing. No: cooking is simple. It’s the only simple thing in life, I’m afraid.

It’s all about the instructions, you see. That, and your ingredients. If it’s only mediocre, that’s because whoever’s made it hasn’t put in the right effort into finding the right things. That’s all… 

I’m afraid.


Written by Atticus Payne

i — Black

Some say I am a demon, spawn of hell, brought to test the caution of their souls. I will tell you this, as I sit covered, draped in a curtain of black, black for a void, black for a shadow, black for hiding every shade underneath, I tell you that I am but a painter that loves these four shades: black, red, white, blue. That is our promise tonight. That we are but painters, and nothing more. Though ‘we’ is hard to place in a room absent of a single face. All colour, blotted out by thick cloth, shielded to keep our every feature, shade, shape, from the threat of a wandering light. We wouldn’t want to cause a bout of chaos. So we cannot see each other, and we cannot mouth to silently speak: this is silence. This is a canvas. Black in broad strokes scattered across a hall where we kneel, back unbowed for hours on the ground like a sort of stubborn grass. Kneel or be knelt. But it is painful when knees are shoved quickly to concrete, so the former is preferred. When I kneel I am black and nothing more, or so I promise tonight.

ii — Red

Some say the sight of red is cowardice or shame or shame in cowardice. Red spills as blood trickles into a soaked cloth, desperately washed as a sister’s last one replaces it. The red of shame. Red pulsing as a sister takes her life, at last breaking to be more than black cloth and shadows. The red of cowardice. Red blooms through thin white cloth worn as if the Lights are innocent; I believe the stains match their skin better. The Lights are the ones that shroud us in shadow. I have said, I am a painter. We think of the colours alone when the knives go in and life goes out. Bullets release and we begin to stand; so now I know whom among us carries death under their cloth. There is so much of it even lengths of metal are not hard to hide. Perhaps not enough to finish with our souls all intact, but that is not the concern. We paint. This is art, and this is anger. 

iii — White

Some say that that which is art must not be wrong. They were born cowards, running from the weight of sin. There is an evil to this art in which my sisters relish. We were born for nothing else but to channel the anger of centuries’ cries. As I pivot, the ground slick for movement with blood still bright and red, I think: wrong or right, fair or impossible, what of those variables? Metal is metal. Sharpened and against the softness of a human body, it will never lose. There is always an excess of metal and bodies, no matter how many are gone through. I leave every blade I sink in the hole it made, and simply take another for the next blood to be shed so the white does not tear away and stick to my hands. Yet still they grab me, so, still, they fall. We begin to sing and scream the grief of our sisters, pouring the blood of the shame and cowardice grown in this hall through the ages. Shame and Cowardice are not the faults of those that bear it. That is our chant, as all the lights’ white turns red. For so little against so many, I think we have done well.

iv — Blue

Some say that the death of one who is not a coward must always end in a scream. Still, I chant as I begin to taste metal. Still I speak the wishes, the prayers, the hymns each sister sung crying out for our help. A hand comes on my throat. Death is not an end, but a simple inevitability, and I begin to count towards ten. Beauty has been made today, and so, my task is finished. No longer am I simply black. I am simply a sister. I am just a dying girl. A face turns blue as it dies, so I feel it calcify as I reach the number ten. 

Then I am back again, and this time I will sing the anger of a different world.