Lathan Hill has always considered himself a pragmatic individual, but the linguistic arts always called to him. Grappling with dreams between being a biologist and an astounding author/writer, he draws comfort from the classical romantic, the introspective, and the eldritch to satiate his existential dread. Perhaps this is his start to somewhere greater from his early years in solitude.
Are You Still There
I awaken in my bed—though whose say is it that it’s really mine? I wipe the sand from my eyes to another day—though I can’t tell which day it is anymore. I roll over, arrested by my own fatigue, all whilst groaning for the need to rise. The sun does not penetrate my paned windows; some days I wish it would. I fling the blanket from my torso, finding that I couldn’t find the energy to undress the previous night, and stand to my feet. I look around my small, dark, dreary cabin, with splintered floors and a dripping ceiling, to find nothing has changed, and nothing ever will. I approach the mirror, cracked, missing fractals, and peer at my visage. A blank smile adorns my face, which I would overwhelmingly find putrid, but decide to like it today.
“How are you today?” inquires my reflection.
“Enough about me, how about you?” I reply. I take the time to recite these lines, finding the correct tone, the tone people associate with me. I take no heed in the process of hygiene, not today. I don’t deserve it.
“What will they think of you, seeing you filthy?”
I look at the mirror and scowl; I can’t manage more than a smile most days. I hurry towards my dresser, covered in moss, and throw together a deception, one that fits the image of me.
I lunge to the drafty doorway—some say the door opens too often—but not before looking over my small, dark, dreary cabin once more: splintered floors, a dripping ceiling, a paned window the sun can’t penetrate due to dense trees, and a bed that who’s to say if it is mine, and a dresser covered in moss, and a door that some say opens too often. I hate it, but I can’t have a different one. Perhaps it will burn down one day, maybe by my hand, and I will no longer have to think, or feel, or even breathe; I would no longer suffer. I push open the door and step outside into the dense woodland.
I look to the sun through the canopy and find it is already lingering towards its nest, and I lament my sloth. I check my box sitting neatly in the yard, and am delighted, or maybe terrified, to find that I have received a letter.
“Ah, yes, it’s that day of the week, Saturday. I don’t really want to go, but who would I be if I didn’t?” I rhetorically await a response, receiving none, as expected. “No one, that’s who. I simply would not exist anymore.”
“How are you today?”
I hear the mirror again, though I choose to ignore it. I stare out into the thicket, wond’ring what waits on the other side. I shut my box and walk down the path, though it seems to have grown longer in recent days, towards the normal destination. While walking, I find my foot to be leaving a trail behind me. To my shock, I find a fractal of the mirror lodged inside my foot. I can’t prise it free now, as I am too far to turn back, and so I continue with a hemiplegic gait.
I come upon the clearing and find many whom I hold very dear, though not all can be present, much to my chagrin. A crane, a squirrel, and a badger, and I prepare myself for the hours to be spent.
“How are you today?” The mirror whispers to me, but I stand firm in pretending it is no longer there. I push aside a bush, to which my compatriots take notice, and greet me warmly, at least, I think it’s meant to be warm. I step into the clearing and take a seat closest to the badger, who distinctly wears glasses and woefully shortened his coat.
“How are you doin’?” His voice is easygoing, though I dare not say the truth, and I always feel I could let my inane thoughts run wild from my mouth.
“Enough about me, how about you?” I respond in a way that garners comedic attention, through an unsolicited action, or a repeated phrase. My perceived image remains intact. I try to help the badger some nights, though he laughs it off, insisting that he is fine. He has a right to do as he wishes, though I am eaten by guilt at the inability to assist. Perhaps I am unhelpful.
“How are you today?” The mirror shard digs deeper into my foot, and it’s starting to hurt, though I keep strong. I move towards the squirrel with a scarred ear, bent on the usual insulting back-and-forth.
“Hey, how are you?” Her voice is uncertain, though I dare not say the truth, and I always feel I can express my sibling-like attitudes in a healthy manner.
“Enough about me, how are you?” We jab, the cuts never too deep, but they always meet their mark and always met with profanity. My image remains intact. I try to know the depth some nights, in an effort to bond, as she has said that she trusts me with her life, but she usually laughs it off, insisting she is fine. She has a right to do as she pleases, though I am consumed by the paranoia of not being informed. Perhaps I am not to be trusted. I begin to feel selfish.
“How are you today?” The mirror is getting abrasive, but I can’t respond—it would hurt worse than the pain I feel now, and it pays in kind by digging deeper into my flesh. I saunter towards the crane, tall, with quite the beak, though I have no room to talk.
“What’s up?” His voice is logical, but there is no truth to hide; I always feel safe in trying to express my long lines of reasoning.
“Enough about me, how about you?” Our methods of reasoning always seem to subvert the other, though sometimes we can sniff each other out. My image remains intact. I try to piece together any semblance I can, but he is either a solid case to open, or there truly is nothing there. He is not wrong, or strange, for not having experiences to share, or it is his right to do as he pleases, though I am wounded by the distance at which he keeps himself. Perhaps I am not understanding. Perhaps I am unable to bond with others.
“No, I insist.” I am blown wide open, the crane enjoys information, and my door opens way too often. My image can’t take anymore.
“How are you today?” The moon is high, and I am afraid. I look at my friends, and then at my own hands, and I feel the distance—a distance I can’t seem to feel is being closed. I feel selfish, entitled, as if I am trying to dig too far, trying too hard to help, to know, where it is not needed. I am not helpful, I am not trustworthy, I am not understanding. I must be incapable of connecting with people. The mirror is threatening to shatter me. Thankfully, it is time to leave.
I rush back to the cabin, my cabin, in need of solitude, yet it pays me nothing. Shadows dance along the walls, and the wind whispers an ominous, incoherent phrase. The room is spinning—I hear too much, feel too much, and the mirror keeps staring, waiting for an answer, and all I can do is weep. I weep, and weep, and weep.
“How are you today?”
“I can’t, it’s too much.” I limp over to the dresser, covered in moss, and retrieve from it a promised solace, a final solace, a box of matches. I stare at them, an answer to the pain, to the fear, to the distance, and fumble open the box. One match is all I have; one is all I need. I put the match to the strip. I wait. I can’t do it, I simply can’t. I drop the box on the floor along with the match, and I collapse into bed, unable to utter any sound before I am once more to sleep.
Another day goes by, and nothing changes—maybe it never will.