Only Ruin

Written by Gwendolyn Lopez
Art by mododeolhar


The sky’s pretty tonight. I wish you could see it—the way it washes over the city like a tidal wave, the way it leaves nothing untouched. It’s that blue-black, obsidian-deep kind of color, the one you like the most. The same color of that bracelet you gave me back when we were kids. It’s so dark and the city underneath is so bright, and God, I wish you were here.

I’m writing in an old school notebook of mine, with this awful neon pink marker I found in the pocket of some hoodie left on a roof—I know, I know, terrible to steal from other people, but when you’re on the run, there isn’t much of a choice. The pen’s quite nice, actually. Really glittery and smooth. Just glides over these old sixth grade math equations.

Oh my God—this is such a bad idea. I really, really should not be writing any of this down. But my head is so full, and it is so lonely and frightening to live like this, with my heart constantly in my throat and no one to keep me company. Even if it’s fake, I’d like to give myself the pleasure of talking to you one more time. Even if it’s the last thing I do.

I still can’t believe I’m in this situation. I can’t believe that things could go so horribly wrong, and that everyone would turn on me like this. It wasn’t too long ago that the two of us were racing through these very streets I called home. Visiting that old bakery with those tarts you really like, shouting so loudly in the libraries we both got sacked, leaning over the edge of city roofs and staring the fall right in the eye—where did it all go wrong? 

I don’t know, I don’t know. I so desperately wish you could be here to save me, Epione. But unfortunately, it seems as though the wretched are left with no one but themselves.

I need a plan. I can’t just keep on hopping from rooftop to rooftop, barely squeezing past the authorities, relying on stolen scraps. They’ll find me eventually, and anyway, it’s all so awful here without you. I think staying in this place will break me more than what could happen if I’m caught.

So I’m going back to the grove. Back to where it all began.

I’m starting to think this is a bad idea, Epione. Turns out tensions between the city and the grove are higher than they ever were. They’re looking for even more people like me, people who betrayed the trust of the city and have allied themselves with the grove. The mayor has issued orders to execute collaborators on sight. I doubt that he would care about anything I’d have to say—even if it’s the truth. Even if I barely had anything to do with the grove in the first place.

I hardly remember the last time I saw the grove. I know that you’re much more connected to it than I am—down to the very roots. You used to talk to me about it often, how being in the grove felt like walking on clouds, with the wind in your hair and the sun shining dappled everywhere. I don’t think I ever told you this, but you always smiled when you spoke about the grove. It was like the clouds parting on a rainy day, like a rainbow. It was like the pot of gold at the end.

I never knew much about the grove, even if it’s where I came from. I was never really like you in that way. I didn’t crave the plants and spirits like they were air; I didn’t suffocate in city smog. I didn’t clasp my hands together and pray to be free—I already was. Or so I thought, I guess. Everything’s so ironic now, so sour and rotten in my mouth. I wish I could leave it all behind.

But, whatever. My biggest worry right now is actually getting to the grove. Hopefully I’ll be safe there, and the bounty over my head will disappear. Hopefully, once I’m there, I won’t be considered a traitor. 

I’ve managed to meet these other people, and I’m fairly certain our interests are aligned. For all I know, they’re planning to turn on me the second I leave the city. Either way, I’m smuggling with them on some transport that’ll pass by the grove. Maybe I’ll see you there. I don’t know. 

It’s so late. And it’s so dark here, Epione. It’s so dark.

Oh, God. I don’t have much time. But I am so full of guilt and injustice—I just want to be tipped over and spilled onto the ground. Because this is all my fault, and yet it isn’t at all.

This is my confession, my last will and testament, even though I have nothing left to give. Epione, I hope you’re out there somewhere. I hope that you’re okay.

I was never collaborating with the grove. That part’s true, no matter how many accusations were thrown at me, no matter how many fingers were pointed or how many guns were shot. I knew, even from the start—those early days when I would scrounge and cry and scream after being cast out—I knew that I was innocent. But I learned how to slink into the shadows and remain unseen—I learned, and maybe that’s what made me dangerous.

And then I came back here. Back to this wonderful grove, to the place that had birthed me. The same place that I was torn away from before I even had the concept of what loss was, before I could stand, before I could breathe the atmosphere and etch it in my bones. Oh, God, the paper’s getting all wrinkly, and my nose is all snotty and my eyes are watering. I don’t dare to make a sound—I can hear the city authorities skulking about. I don’t want them to find me before I’m done. 

I should’ve known. You should’ve told me, Epione. I can’t describe it—this anger and betrayal, this longing and fear. I want to tear you to pieces, but only if I could see your face one more time. I’m mixed up and tossed around like a pair of dice. My God, Epione, why didn’t you tell me?
Why didn’t you tell me it was you all along? Why didn’t you tell me that you were the collaborator—that you placed the blame on me?

That’s all it was, wasn’t it? A little hoax. You’d race back to that precious little grove of yours, hold it tenderly in your hands, and release it into the skies. Into the city skies. God, that’s all it was, wasn’t it? And here I was, thinking that after all these years, maybe we were friends—maybe we were inseparable. 

I just hate it all so much. I hate living this life of walking on the tightrope, scared that the tiniest misstep will drop me into the abyss. I hate feeling like my entire life has been shredded, burnt to a crisp. I hate that I may be dead soon, and there will be nothing I can do about it.

And I’ll be dead in that precious grove of yours.

I… must admit. It’s true that everything’s different here, in a more magical way. It’s like someone enchanted the ground and weaved it into a palace. All green and bright and welcoming. Maybe I should find it nice, but all I can think is that it will all be ruined soon, that the city will burn it down after they find me, and that there is always nothing I can do. They will come, and there will be ruin, only ruin.

I’m so sorry, Epione. I’m sorry you couldn’t tell me. I’m sorry you had to blame it all on me. I’m sorry that even now, surrounded by the allure of the grove, I want nothing more than to be back on a city rooftop, gazing at the flickering lights below. This is me, and this is the end, and I’m forever the traitor.

  They’re coming closer now. My fingers are smeared with this ugly pink. The bracelet you gave me is still on my wrist. 

I think this is it. But I will write one last thing before I go: when those rotten city guards pick me up by the scruff and snuff out my life, I’ll smile and laugh like there’s no tomorrow. There is no better way to go. 

And Epione, wherever you are, I hope you are smiling too.

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Tea for One

Written by Gwendolyn Lopez
Art by Ylanite Koppens


There’s this friend that visits you, sometimes—when the afternoons hang heavy with loneliness and you can’t shake the feeling of being watched. It’s on days like these, when school’s out and there’s nothing left to do, that you wait. You sit and stare out the window as the clouds mark the approach of a storm and the muted sun paints the hills golden green. You sit, listening to the bubbling of the tea kettle, hoping that this friend of yours likes earl grey.

The kettle whistles, and you take it off the stove, carefully putting it back on the tray with its matching tea cups. You’re quite fond of this particular tea set—the flower pattern is pretty, even if some cups have been broken and mended a few too many times. You heft up the tray and head outside.

The wind is vicious, batting down everything in sight. The daffodil garden you planted three years ago sways and buckles, scattering yellow petals all over the grass. You set down the tea set on the wobbly wooden table beside the garden, and take a seat. Thick steam escapes from the top of the kettle. The sky smells like late autumn. Your feet barely skim the ground.

“Jamie!” you call out into the gray-blue sky. “Come on out, I’ve brought some tea for us!”

Slowly, the wind begins to pick up. You hold down the wobbly table to prevent it from being flung aside. And in a few moments, you find that you are not alone. There’s a boy sitting across from you, with wind-tossed gray hair and a smile as bright as the sky.

“Hi,” says Jamie, except that isn’t his name, and never has been. Children of the sky don’t have real names, after all. Only make-believe ones, given by humans who are a bit too attached to identity. But nonetheless, your face breaks out in a grin at the sight of him—Jamie, the one you’ll share this tea with. Your friend.

“What’s all this?” he says with a laugh, gesturing at the porcelain tea cups and the still-steaming kettle.

“What, they don’t have tea up there in the heavens?” You lift the kettle and pour some tea, careful to not spill any wayward drops.

“Tea?” Jamie frowns.

“You know, it’s… a drink? Water and nice-tasting leaves.” Jamie doesn’t look convinced by your description. You put some sugar and milk in the cup, stir it with a small spoon, and offer it to him. “Come on, give it a taste, yeah? I promise it’s not that bad.”

Jamie stares at the cup. The tea inside is a milky beige. He takes a tentative sip, and you wonder how it tastes for someone like him. You wonder if he can feel the heat through the porcelain of the cup, or if those clouds he’s made up of can’t feel anything at all. 

Jamie takes another sip. “It tastes… new,” he says, fumbling for words.

“Right?” You prepare your own tea, watching the dark liquid lighten as you mix in the milk. “Makes you feel all fancy, doesn’t it? Like a princess! Er—or a prince, I guess.”

“Princess?” 

“Ah, silly me—I keep forgetting you don’t know these things. Princesses are like, fancy people, you get me? They’re rich and pretty and wear big puffy dresses, like this—” you stretch out your arms for emphasis. Jamie’s eyes widen. You sigh, leaning back on your chair. “If I were a princess, I’d eat all the pastries I want, and I’d have tea time five times a day and curtsy and smile and say ‘How do you do, sir?’ Stuff like that.”

“‘How do you do, sir?’” Jamie repeats under his breath. 

“Yeah! Then we take up our cups like this, and… yes, clink them together just like that! And we both sip our tea and pretend to be incredibly civilized.”

You close your eyes and drain half your cup. The tea warms you up—it almost feels like a hug. When you open your eyes, Jamie’s still sitting there with his cup midair, looking quite uncertain indeed.

“What’s wrong?” you ask. “We were both supposed to drink at the same time.”

“I’m sorry,” Jamie says, with an expression that looks like the sky after it’s been split in half by lightning. “This is all very nice, Poppy, but I can’t stay here anymore.”

Your face falls. “What?”

“I can’t,” Jamie repeats firmly. He’s clutching the tea cup so tightly you’re afraid it might shatter. “I have… duties. Up there in the sky. I can’t come down here anymore, it’s… well, it’s dragging me away.”

You’re angry now. Betrayed. What “duties” could possibly be more important than your time here together? Why didn’t Jamie tell you earlier? Why do a few words have the capacity to hurt you so much?

“You can’t!” you cry out. “You promised me. That if I called out your name to the clouds, you’d come out and say hello.”

Jamie looks away. “That was… before.” He looks back at you, and you’re surprised to find that he doesn’t look sad, or mad, or even disappointed. Instead, the expression on his face is one of pure envy—something so intense that you let out a gasp. And then you realize that Jamie, the boy from the clouds, the boy straight out of a fairy tale, wants everything he can never have. 

You wish you could say something to make him feel better. You wish you could convince him to stay. But when you open your mouth, only one little whisper comes out. “I’ll miss you.”

Jamie looks ready to dissolve into rain. “I’ll miss you too, my friend,” he says.

Then he’s gone, turned into an autumn breeze, carried off into the atmosphere.

You’re not sure how long you keep sitting out there. A few hours, maybe? Caught between reality and daydream, you replay that final conversation in your mind. You imagine yourself along with the boy of clouds, racing down a grand palace staircase, trying on royal outfits that are much too extravagant for either of you. You think of what you could have said and you say it out loud, even if it doesn’t matter anymore. You look up at the graying sky and try not to squint, even if it hurts your eyes. The tea goes cold.

Before sunset, your mother goes outside and finds you, still sitting at the table. She looks at the tea set and at the singular cup in front of you, and smiles. “Having tea for one, are you, Poppy dear?”

You look across the table, at the empty space where your friend once sat. “Yes,” you say quietly. “Tea for one.”

8

Written by Gwendolyn Lopez
Art by Ryan Loughlin


cup your hands around your eyes & tell me,
tell me—what is it you see?
through that spyglass of infinity,
the figure 8 of your hands
must make you feel endless.

you begin in all the parts i end.
in those crevices, those
deserted corners that even i
have forgotten to dust. you
spring to life—a sapling, roots
reaching out & bursting through my skin.
you find a way.

the 4-leafed clover, the shooting star,
the lucky, 8th month of august.
i’ve never believed in superstition, not
before you. i never made wishes,
never bit my nails at the sight of black cats
or wore red like it was a fortress.

now i take a pen & draw those figure 8s
on my arm, like they’re magic spells;
prophets of my future.
i cup my hands around my eyes
& wish with all my might that i was endless.

Cosmic

Written by Gwendolyn Lopez
Art by Matheus Bertelli


It began with those shards of glass, that empty space, and the feeling that you could do anything.

That’s what it felt like to you, anyway. But in reality, there were many beginnings—each one overlapping the other, convoluted into a maze with no end. The void, the stardust, the bubblegum going sour in your mouth. To this day, they are all one and the same.

Perhaps, the very beginning—that’s where you should start. When the universe exploded itself into existence in a fraction of a second, when nothingness gained meaning and both hell and heaven burned. A wasteland—that’s what the universe was as it tried to piece itself into something greater. You think that you’re the same, in a way. Blowing up from nothing, expanding infinitely. Never quite being satisfied.

Then, your death. Or at least, one of your deaths—the death that came before your new life. You were a pioneer setting off beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. One of the first to venture into the black, empty claws of space. It was supposed to be successful—you were supposed to come back battered and bruised but alive, glorious. Your name was supposed to be whispered among the upper circles of power; your portrait was supposed to hang on space stations around the galaxy.

Instead, a disaster. You weren’t sure who was to blame. Was it a miscalculated effort? The wrath of some higher power? The cruelty of space? Whatever the case, you and your fellow voyagers died in metal and void. A soundless explosion, then the thievery of air from your lungs, then the freezing heat spreading over your body. You became a corpse, destined to drift with this cosmic wreckage, dead from an explosion that might’ve brought a universe to life in another world. 

It was clear, then—people weren’t meant to be brought into space. But maybe, space could, in some way, be brought to the people.

And by some miracle, you were reborn—brought back by the very thing that had killed you. You were reborn, and your death was reborn in you, even if you didn’t quite know it yet.

You were chewing bubblegum the day it all became clear. It was something you did often. Chewing and chewing until the gum became more rubber than sugar. The sensation of chewing distracted you from other things. School, the dreary walk home, the girl who bullied you relentlessly. They all sound trivial now, with the power of the universe at your fingertips, but back then, nothing was more real.

You were angry. So incredibly angry. It radiated off of you in waves, so hot and intense that you felt like the sun. You were angry at that girl, the one who stepped all over you and laughed about it. You wanted to hurt her—you wanted to hurt someone, something, anything.

They found her the next day, with her entire body frozen to the core and her mouth open in a silent scream. Glass shards were scattered everywhere. But the strangest thing wasn’t the bizarre cause of death, or the mysterious glass, or the frozen corpse in the dead of summer. It was the way the space around the girl curved. It curved in a way that made everything inside empty and kept everything else out. And later, you would learn that you made it curve this way.

And so, as police and paramedics alike screamed and gaped and argued, you fiddled around with this new gift of yours. In future years, they’d come up with all sorts of names to describe you. Crazy, deranged, evil. Unstoppable.

You felt like you could touch the stars.

Song of Salt

Written by Gwendolyn Lopez
Art by cottonbro


The sea liked to wind its way into the hearts of humans. It liked to slip into the cracks it wasn’t supposed to slip into, and eat up anything that might have once been loved.

Aera had seen it happen, far too many times for her own liking. She’d seen the freshwater havens slowly disappear; she’d seen the salt take far too many innocent lives. 

And today, she would most likely be next.

Aera tightened her hands into fists. She stood at the edge of one of the infamous saltwater dens—those deep tunnels that ran under cities in freshwater havens. It was where the saltfolk were sent to die. But these days, it was more like a place where they thrived

Beside her, Kaede knelt and dipped a hand into the water that flowed into the den’s entrance. It was a bright turquoise, shining white in the parts that reflected the sun. Aera found it strange that the dens looked so peaceful, masking the horrors that lay just below the surface.

“Never thought it’d be us going into a den together,” Kaede said, shaking the water off her hand. She turned and grinned. “Especially on a … what is this again? A suicide mission?”Aera glared at her. Kaede gave a sheepish smile. “Too soon?”

Aera sighed. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“Hey, wait—” But Aera was already walking into the depths of the den. She stepped into the shallow river that flowed into the den. Above her, the white marble entrance shone like a mouth full of fangs, and Aera got the unsettling feeling that she was being swallowed.

Loud splashing came from behind her as Kaede caught up. “Aera, I really—I’m sorry—”

“Be a little louder won’t you?” Aera hissed.

“Look, I just…” her voice quieted to a whisper. “If it’s really going to be our last day… I don’t want it to end on a sour note.”

Aera sighed. “It won’t be our last,” she said, after a long pause. Kaede’s eyes widened in the semi-darkness, the whites of them glistening like half-moons. 

Then she nodded, and the two of them descended into the den.

It got darker the deeper they went, but never so much that they couldn’t see. Aera kept a hand on the wall as she continued on. Every single one of her senses seemed to be on high alert. The water here went to her knees and had the sort of chill that felt like claws, and the air was thick, with a strange smell that made breathing difficult. Mushrooms and other fungi were scattered across the dark gray tunnels of the den, giving the entire place a dim blue glow. The whole place was eerily quiet. Aera could almost taste the salt on her lips.

There hadn’t been any saltfolk yet, which was unusual, but not enough to cause suspicion. Aera would have been relieved if the entire purpose of the mission hadn’t been to find them. She could do without seeing those dark, empty eyes and scaly, rotted skin. She could do without hearing their terrible, broken voices as they attempted to drag her into the depths.

Suddenly, a loud shriek split the air. Kaede cursed loudly, then put a hand over her mouth.

Aera whipped around to face her. “Does it sound familiar?” she whispered.

“How am I supposed to know?” Kaede hissed back.

“We’re looking for your brother.”

A look of hurt flashed across her face, but it was gone so fast Aera thought she might have imagined it. 

“We need a closer look,” Kaede said. “Just to make sure.”

Aera beckoned for her to take the lead. 

Minutes passed, achingly slow. Aera was beginning to wonder if this was a trap. Or if maybe, the saltfolk had abandoned this den and deemed it “unlivable,” somehow. Her thoughts began to wander, from the saltfolk to the freshwater humans up on the surface. Aera thought about Kaede and her brother, about how certain she was that there was no chance he could be saved. She thought about those she had lost, those who could never be recovered. She thought about the sea. Why was it so angry, anyway? What did it have left to gain?

What did Aera have left to lose?

She didn’t really know why she’d chosen to accompany Kaede here. Maybe a part of her wanted to believe a saltfolk could actually be saved. Maybe another part wanted to succumb to the salty waves. Maybe—

Wait. Aera turned, unsheathing the knife strapped to her thigh.

They weren’t alone in here.

A saltfolk emerged from the darkness. His hair was streaked with white, like all saltfolk, and the scaly skin of his face was gaunt. And Aera knew, she knew as soon as she heard Kaede’s sharp intake of breath, that this was the one—this was her brother.

She also knew that there was no way they’d leave this place untainted and that the saltfolk—those clever, wicked things—had planned a trap. 

“Jiro,” Kaede whispered. 

Aera could hear the scratchy murmurings of saltfolk from behind. She elbowed Kaede and gestured over, where the dim glow of fungi illuminated several approaching shapes.

Kaede grabbed her brother’s wrist, and he gave a strangled cry out in return.

“We should leave him,” Aera insisted, even as Kaede ran with him in tow. “There’s no way we’re going to make it like this.”

“We’re going to make it.” Kaede smiled, looking decidedly more optimistic. Jiro, on the other hand, looked ready to collapse. Aera had to admit—for a saltfolk, he seemed to be more calm than the others. Could it be that under all those layers, all that poison from the sea, there was still a glimmer of the man he used to be?

For a moment, she almost believed it. They were going to make it. The den was already looking brighter, and the broken “singing” of the saltfolk, albeit persistent, didn’t seem as close as it was before.

And then Jiro let out a wild, guttural sound and sunk his teeth into Kaede’s arm.

Kaede let out a wail, clutching at the wound as blood oozed between her fingers. Aera took the knife in her hands and slashed at Jiro, who was already falling—was that the hint of a smile on his lips? Monsters, all of them, Aera thought fiercely. She wanted to cry, strangely. After all that hope, all that progress… Were some things really just meant to stay impossible?

The saltfolk were faster than they were, and the surface seemed so much farther away than it had a few moments ago. Kaede looked up at Aera, her eyes watery and her arm bloody. 

“It’s okay,” Aera said, even though it wasn’t. There was nothing else she could think of that would reassure her. The very air seemed to be shattered with the constant screaming of the saltfolk—it was deafening. Aera would have liked some quiet. She closed her eyes.

Dimly, she could hear Kaede pleading with her, Kaede tugging at her arm, Kaede telling her to hurry up. But Aera couldn’t move. She couldn’t open her eyes. She couldn’t hear anything except the screams, except now, they were beginning to sound more like a song. Just a little longer, Aera wanted to tell her. She was certain that if she listened for just a little longer, that song would begin to reveal its meaning.

The salt of her blood, her tears, her sweat. It was at that moment that Aera finally understood. She was a child of the sea—they all were. The time had finally come to be reunited with the place she’d come from. The time had finally come.Welcome home, sang the melodious voices of her brothers and sisters.

Post Mortem

Written by Gwendolyn Lopez
Art by Eberhard Grossgasteiger


The world beyond is full of lies. At least that’s what the Centipede always says.

He also says that it’s wonderful, charming, and full of the most delicious strawberries, and even after nearly a month in this place, I still don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. Granted, that month might have only been a week, or a day. Perhaps even mere seconds—who knows? The world beyond has long since shattered my perception of impossibility.

One thing’s for sure:after you die, things quickly start to make less and less sense. 

The world beyond—at least, that’s what the Centipede calls it—never takes a break. It’s constantly shedding its skin—trying out landscapes like coats from a closet, dusting on weather conditions like different colors of eyeshadow. An indecisive, impatient place. And somehow I’m supposed to call it my new home.

The Centipede calls himself a veteran. He’s nice in a way that’s condescending, and proud in a way that makes me self-conscious. The world beyond has shuffled him—he has a hundred faces, but only one leg. But it doesn’t hinder him, not at all. Believe me, I’ve tried to run before, and either the world beyond is slow or the Centipede is lightning, because I never get far without seeing him again.

I watch him now, sitting on the stump of a redwood. Bright pink snow softly falls from above, and as I walk forth to approach him, my surroundings flicker from the quiet forest into a searing desert. I sigh. The world beyond must be in a bad mood.

“Any doors?”

“No.” The Centipede spits out a cherry pit. He seems to be doing that a lot recently, or was it always? I’ll never know. “It’s awful today, though. More so than usual. You might be stuck here even longer.”

“Oh.”

The silence between us stretches. Before it gets too long, I blurt out, “I have a question.”

The Centipede raises one hundred eyebrows. “Yes, Lila?”

“I know you said death doesn’t matter here. And that this world is beyond death, beyond love, beyond life. But, I just, I was wondering…”

Another cherry pit flies from the Centipede’s mouth, landing in the foliage below. The landscape flickers again—this time a bustling metropolis. A car nearly flattens the Centipede before it all switches back.

“What were you wondering?” he asks, unfazed.

“I was just wondering what got you into a place like this.” Half of the Centipede’s faces frown, and I quickly add: “Not just dying, I mean. But before that, before death… what happened? There must have been something else, right? Something… more.”

Our surroundings shift permanently now, and the redwood stump under the Centipede turns into packed ice. A blizzard envelops us, and even though I stopped feeling pain a long time ago, the phantom sensation still crawls up my arms.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” the Centipede says, each word hesitant and slow.

“Please. After this, I won’t mention it again. I promise.”

The Centipede shifts on his seat and sighs a hundred sighs. I stand there and wait, suddenly feeling very small. The world beyond changes two more times before the Centipede opens his mouth and begins to speak.

He tells me a story about a young boy who was a jack of all trades, master of none. He tells me of love and heartbreak, of sorrows and joy, of a life pulled out from its roots. I stand there and I listen. The tale seems far too normal, far too vulnerable to be about the Centipede, who has never thought twice. Perhaps I should have found it familiar, since it came from the same place I did. After all, wasn’t my whole purpose to get out of this forsaken place? Didn’t I want to return to where I had come from? Didn’t I have unfinished business?

Where had I even come from to begin with?

My name is Lila Henkins. I am dead but I don’t have to be, and I need to get out of this place—I need to find a door and go home. I’m a sister and a daughter and the strings of my life are too young to be cut off. I’m supposed to become a doctor—I’m supposed to fall in love and get drunk and watch the sunrise and scream until my throat goes raw. I need to get out of this world beyond, I need to get rid of the Centipede, I need to go back… I need to… I need… 

My mind suddenly feels hazy. The Centipede asks me if something is wrong.

Are these the consequences of death? Is there nothing I can do now besides forget? 

I suddenly wonder if this is exactly what happened to the Centipede. I wonder if he made up a fairy tale—if he always has—just to appease me.

Eventually, I manage to shake my head. And the next few seconds seem to pass like weeks.

I am wood burning on an open fire, I am the cliff eroded from seafoam. I am the drowning bird, the flying fish; I am the sky that opens up to catch you. I am withered and empty, full of contradictions. I’m the woman with a hundred different faces.

The minute passes. A newcomer comes to the world beyond, searching for a door to escape. He calls me the Centipede and I tell him fables of a girl with a forgotten name.

Decide

Written by Gwendolyn Lopez
Art by Schäferle


I stand here, with this lonely blackbird, and say my goodbyes.

Before us stretches my kingdom, now a hollow shell of what it used to be. The soft blue sky has been stained the color of blood, and the forests have withered—bark crystallized into unforgiving prisms, leaves burnt to ash. And below that, craters dig deep into the earth, each one with its own destructive story.

The blackbird ruffles his feathers. He’s been here with me since the very beginning—back when the planet was young and I was powerful. We’ve gone through toil and triumph together. He was there by my side when my most prized creation, humanity, tore itself to pieces. And I was there by his when the planet curled up and died.

It feels so strange that after all those lifetimes together, today is finally the end.

“Are you sure about this?” the blackbird caws, in a voice that sounds like broken glass. I turn to get a better look at him. His feathers, which were once a black so deep you could fall into it, are now singed with silver, and his beady eyes are steely. 

“Yes,” I breathe out. A sigh, a change in the winds, a preparation for the inevitable. “Do you remember what to do?” The blackbird nods, the motion a small bob of his head. “There will be no looking back after this, Arris. This…” I look back at the wasted landscape, and scoff out a bitter laugh. “This is deicide, isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is,” says Arris, the loyal blackbird, the last believer.

“Who would have thought…” I muse. Arris cocks his head at me, a question in his eyes. I’m stalling, but somehow a part of this all feels… unfinished. Like a sentence missing the final period. Or a painting, left incomplete by the artist’s death. 

But even if I searched the ends of this earth, there would be no way to complete this painting, no way to find the missing piece. How, after all, do you say goodbye to a world that has already left? How do you reach ears that don’t listen anymore?

I shake off the thoughts. My deathday is not a day for regrets.

“It’s time.” Arris bows deeply at my words, and I feel a pang of resentment at the gesture. Once upon a time, I never would have felt such foolish, human emotions, but apocalypse has made me soft. Even with the power to change worlds at my fingertips, there is nothing I can do to save this little bird. There’s nothing I can do to soften the blow of his departure.

My only reassurance is that I will join him shortly after.

“It’s been an honor,” Arris says, in that terrible, shattered voice of his. He cowers slightly, perched on one of the hardened tree branches, silhouetted against the crimson sky like a comma. “So, I just… let go? Is that it?”

“Yes.” I stare out at the sky, which now looks like a flickering fire near the horizon. Sunset. Yellows and oranges streak against the harsh red, and the lighting makes Arris’s feathers appear bloodstained. “Our existences are hinged off of belief. Once you let go of that belief… there’ll be nothing left. The same goes for me.”

Arris straightens up, looking at me one last time. For a moment, I almost believe that he’ll hesitate—that he’ll change his mind and the two of us will live many more eternities together on this crumbling planet, both searching for the courage to fall apart. But then he dips his head, and I watch as his eyes close. The silver of his feathers engulfs him, and in a few seconds, my loyal blackbird is reduced to ashes that fly away into the waiting sunset.

It has been done. The blackbird is gone, and with his absence there may as well be a dagger in my chest. All that’s left is to wait for my life to pour out onto the hard ground, leaving nothing but this shell behind.I look toward the sky, indulging in one last beauty before I fall asleep.