Through the Glass Darkly
Wren watched the last of the late autumn light shine through the crystals hanging in the kitchen window that made a dappled kaleidoscope on the sheer white curtains above the sink. The chickens went to sleep in their coop as the dusk settled in, and the grackles flocked to the roof where he heard them scraping and scratching at the shingles. The kitchen window was open, and musky, warm air stirred the bundles of rue and thyme hanging to dry from the spice shelf above his head.
A crow flew up to peck at the potted plants on the windowsill and wormed its way into the kitchen, but Wren flicked it with soapy dishwater, and it hopped back down onto the dusty gravel path below. He closed the window and watered the pots of hyssop and wormwood and yarrow on the windowsill. They were withered—it had been awhile since they were watered. His grandmother had forgotten even that in her last few weeks.
There was a faint crunch of gravel on the winding path from the stock tank. Jasper came into the kitchen with mud on his boots, slinging a bucket of fish and pink ice water up on the kitchen table, red to the sharp bones of his wrists with blood. He tossed a knife into the sink and plunged his hand into the bucket, pulling out a raw and quivering catfish.
Jasper leaned over the sink with a slow smile as he dipped his head and bit into the still-writhing fish. He swallowed, then laughed and licked his lips as he dropped into the sink where it left marks of blood as it flopped.
“I brought dinner,” Jasper said, grinning.
Wren reached for the fish bloodying the sink but didn’t touch it. “It should at least be cooked first.”
“You eat sushi raw, don’t you?”
“It’s not the same,” Wren murmured. He wished the fish would die already. He didn’t know why Jasper felt the need to watch it die as he skinned it. It made such a mess.
In the fall and winter, Jasper would come back to the house with rabbits, and Wren wasn’t sure he killed them right away. He liked to watch them squirm. On his slow, ambling walks through the country, Wren would see the tight pink bodies staked to the ground, flayed open vivid against the brown crackling grass.
Jasper shrugged and set to killing all the fish he had caught. Wren looked away. He remembered when he had first moved into his grandmother’s old house, how odd it was coming back home after so long away. Wren had shuddered when he and Jasper had crossed the lines of salt still scattered in the doorway of his childhood home. After they had moved their things into the house, they went through the attic to try and sort out all the junk Wren’s grandmother had kept.
While they were sorting through files of paperwork and family records and boxes of his late grandfather’s instruments, an old mercury thermometer broke on the floor. Wren remembered how Jasper had scooped them up off the dusty floorboard with a spoon with the look of a child who discovers candy in their pockets. Jasper had tipped back his head and drank it, sticking out his tongue to let Wren see the gleaming drops pooling on his tongue chasing down his throat. Then he had leaned forward and kissed Wren, laughing as he reeled back with the taste of mercury in his mouth.
When Jasper had finished killing the fish, Wren butterflied them, covered them in cornmeal, and fried them in the old seasoned cast iron skillet on the wood stove that his grandmother had always used when he was a child. Wren sliced squash from the garden and fried that too—it was the only way Jasper would eat a vegetable.
“How’re you feeling?” Jasper sat on the kitchen table and propped his feet up on the chair, watching Wren as he worked, like the birds who cocked their heads and waited for him to drop the feed for the chickens.
“Good,” Wren lied. He took the rest of the squash and put them on a plate lined with paper towels. “Better, I mean. I haven’t had a fever in a while.”
And in that moment, Wren did feel better. Jasper’s intoxicating eyes drew him in, promising the moon and more, and the restless lethargy that had followed his sickness was peeling back under the weight of this old house. The absence of his grandmother had taken time to get used to, but he could still feel her here in the small spice jars on the shelf above the sink, labelled in her spidery cursive, and the drying herbs on the coffee table, and the small coffee pot on that stove that she would heat up each morning, filling the kitchen with the scent of earthy, bitter coffee. And yet, there was still something that set his nerves on edge. Maybe it was the birds tapping at the windowpanes and shifting on the roof.
They had become even bolder over the years.
“Jasper, reach up and hand me that tea jar of rose hips and mint on the top shelf. No, that’s chamomile. The one next to it.” Wren put the kettle on to boil, but with less water in it than he used to fill it with. Jasper never liked the taste of tea—he preferred cream-rich coffee with small mountains of sugar. He put the coffee pot on to brew as well. Jasper always took his coffee at night.
“The wood’s getting low,” Wren said, gesturing to the dwindling pile beside the stove.
“There’s a gas stove too, you know. It works perfectly fine.”
“I know. It smells, though.”
“I guess I’ll chop some more wood. It’ll be winter soon enough anyway, and this house is cold enough as it is.” Jasper ducked under the herbs hanging to dry and hooked his thumbs in the belt loops of Wren’s jeans.
Jasper pressed his lips to the back of Wren’s neck, making him shiver and drop a piece of squash into hot grease that splashed onto his skin. Wren hissed, but Jasper just spun him around and took his hand, placing his lips over the burn on the inside of his wrist.
“Come outside,” Jasper said. “It’s a beautiful night. The moon’s out.”
It was probably the heat of the stove that had Wren flushed. Or maybe it was the lingering sickness, or the lust pooling in his stomach like sticky honey as Jasper pressed his lips to Wren’s throat. He knew he shouldn’t leave the oil there on the stove, but he let Jasper lead him out onto the deck.
The moon had risen high above the roof covered in birds, and it glinted on their shifting backs and glossy, scissoring wings. The wind was warm, but it too was shifting. It held a promise of a chill beneath it, a promise of change. It felt good on his burnt skin.
“When I was young, my grandmother used to sit on the porch with her tea and I would sing to the moon. Little songs I made…” Little spells she taught him to weave. Wren’s flush deepened—he wasn’t sure why he had brought it up. Jasper made him want to say things he had never said, unearth secrets like pulling weeds from the garden.
“Well, sing me a new moon song.” Jasper laughed low in his throat, and he drew Wren close. “Your eyes are like glass, so fragile and beautiful. It’s like I can see right through them. Tell me, what do those lovely eyes see?”
“Only you,” Wren murmured. His eyes fluttered closed, and he felt Jasper’s fingertips trailing down his eyelids to the curve of his lips and the sharp edge of his collarbone. “Jasper.” His lover’s name was like flint striking steel in the rasp of sparks across his tongue. “Not here.”
“Why not?” Jasper flung his hand out towards the cornfields, past the garden and the old oak trees and the tank at the edge of the field. “There’s no one to see us but the moon.”
Wren’s veins were live wires. Jasper’s grin caught in the moonlight, and a thrill shot through Wren’s body. Jasper left him breathless, helpless. His thoughts fluttered away in the warm autumn heat and the salt-sweat on their skin as Jasper drew him down onto the porch. The rough wooden planks scraped Wren’s stomach, but he didn’t mind. He lost himself in the tangle of limbs and the rough, raspy cries of the birds startled from the rooftop that drowned out the screaming of the kettle from inside the kitchen. He sank deeper into dark, unknown waters, closing his eyes and letting Jasper rip every memory from his mind.
Jasper was like a summer storm bringing cool wind in July. There was a witching brightness in those shifting nacre eyes that pooled like quicksilver, and Wren gave himself up to them willingly. There was strength in his lover’s slight frame—sinew and muscle coiled tight over hollow, slender bird bones. Jasper dipped his head down into the curve of Wren’s neck, and his hair whispered like feathers across the soft, tender skin.
“Look at me,” Jasper rasped. “I want to see those beautiful eyes.”
Wren did as he was told, and Jasper smiled as if he could see the haunts of Wren’s soul through his looking glass eyes. Jasper’s own eyes were wide, his dark lashes sweeping like branches across the moon. Pinned down on the porch with Jasper’s fingers curled in his hair, tilting his head up so that Jasper could look into his eyes and expose the tight arch of his throat, Wren knew how Jasper’s rabbits must feel.
The birds scattered in the night in a beating rush of wings. Wren’s hair was sticky with blood, his face felt thick with it like cracked papier-mâché. The wings enveloped him, but it was only Jasper’s body pressed against his, the pant of his breaths against Wren’s skin. There was a scream, but he couldn’t tell if it was the scream of the kettle or the crying birds or something else, twisted and sharp in his throat like glass. Wren felt damp, wet earth beneath him, and then reality seeped back into the cracks and the vision washed away.
He was still on the porch, and the wood was cool under his feverish skin. He was unwinding, unspooling under Jasper’s touch, and bright moonlight washed over everything. Wren shoved the visions away and let himself drown in his lover’s heat. He did not want searing prophecy and mysteries unraveled. There was nothing besides Jasper’s lips, his hands, the roll of his hips. Wren let himself be burnt up like a wish written on a slip of paper, like a fortune left unread.
The next evening Wren spent tending the garden by the chicken coop. It had grown weedy, and ripened squash sat unpicked on the dark soil. The birds circled, pecking at the soft, spoiled vegetables Wren tossed aside. The fences were sagging and would have to be fixed. Brown vines of mustang grapes clung to their rusted, barbed wire flanks, and Wren’s thoughts drifted to when he picked grapes in the summer as a child, hands stinging and itching and stained. His grandmother let him help crush them to make wine that she poured into thick, green glass bottles to store in the cellar.
After it was ready, she would pull them out by their dusty necks and pour the sweet red wine into china cups for the two of them. Then they would go outside and she would tip wine into the dust underneath the shade of the oak trees like a libation, so that the earth could taste the fruits of her labor too. The trees drank, and Wren used to imagine the wine like blood flowing down to the deep roots as he stared at the dark stain on the ground in the shimmering heat.
There must have still been a bottle of old wine somewhere in the cellar. The soil under his nails made dark crescents as Wren dug his fingers in the cool dirt, pulling out the last of the weeds that had crept into the garden in his grandmother’s absence. The birds around him scattered when he gathered up the vegetables and went into the house. He went down into the cool, dark cellar to search for the wine bottles and found them near the baskets of carrots and potatoes where they were sitting under the dried, braided garlic ropes. Then he took a bottle up into the light of the kitchen, dusting off the label that was in his grandmother’s spidery cursive.
Wren poured himself a glass of wine in the pale blue, mismatched china that his grandmother had used since he was a child. The wine was sweet and clear, like liquid sunshine, as if his grandmother had bottled those deep red summer sunsets that saturated the cornfields and set the stalks ablaze. He sipped it slowly, reverently. Then he poured another glass into the chipped clay mug that had always been her favorite and slipped barefoot out to the old oak tree with the rest of the bottle.
Wren had used to run barefoot through the dusty paths and gravel roads and rocky fields after the corn harvest, climb the trees and lay underneath them and hear their whispers, but now he sat quietly underneath the branches with his back against the rough bark of the trunk, watching the dappled shade and sunlight play on the grass. He still heard the whispers, and it wasn’t the wind. The air was warm and still. He poured out the wine onto the roots of the tree near where she was buried, so she could taste the fruits of her labor. She had never liked the cemeteries with their rows and lines and order. She said when she died she wanted to go back to her roots, and so she did.
By the time Jasper’s old, peeling truck came rumbling up the gravel driveway, Wren was well into the bottle. He watched as Jasper unfolded his long legs out and hauled groceries bags into the kitchen. Jasper was always the one to go shopping in town. The people there gave Wren side-eyed glances and stares. The farmers believed that he and his grandmother would witch their cattle and their crops, and the townspeople always found an excuse not to hire him. Uncanny, they said when they thought he couldn’t hear, whispering between the shelves of canned corn and green beans.
Once, when his grandmother had taken him into town as a child, the grackles in the parking lot had swarmed to him, blanketing the concrete and lining the power lines like glass beads on a string. The parking lot had echoed with their shrill cries, and their thundering wings and townspeople that had stared at him with beady, mistrustful eyes had frightened him. His grandmother had told him to pay them no heed, but she did not take him on her shopping trips again.
The sun was setting when Wren finished the wine and followed Jasper into the kitchen. His lover was humming tunelessly as he piled apples into a basket on the counter.
“Elizabeth Peterson gave me a whole grocery bag of apples,” Jasper said. “She said they had too many in their orchard. She also gave me an apple pie. It’s not bad, but it’s not as good as yours.”
“We don’t need her charity,” Wren said.
“What’s the harm?” Jasper rubbed an apple to a polished sheen on his shirt and took a bite.
“She wouldn’t even set foot on the property when my grandmother was here,” Wren muttered. “They’re all just glad she’s gone.”
“Cheer up, birdlet. There’s enough here for a mean cider. I know your grandmother has a recipe for it somewhere up in the attic.”
Wren shook his head, wondering how Jasper could be so cavalier, as if nothing else mattered but the two of them. They were both wandering planets in a sky full of stars, and Wren didn’t know how much longer he could keep going in circles and looping back on himself like a broken record. He didn’t know how Jasper carried the weight of it all, as if he were never meant for this world at all.
“Why do you stay here?” Wren said, and he wasn’t sure if it was Jasper’s disarming smile or the wine that caused him to say things he shouldn’t. “Why do you stay here when I’m stuck inside this house, sick, useless… I can’t even get a job in town. No one will hire me there. Why did you even come here to live with me?”
“Because you asked me to.”
“We live in the middle of nowhere,” Wren said. “With no heating.”
“I would live anywhere with you.” Jasper’s voice was quicksilver, shifting and cool. On anyone else’s lips it would have sounded deceitful, but to Wren his voice was a melody. Jasper’s smile widened into a grin, and Wren wondered if Jasper was the one with magic in his bones and witching eyes instead of himself. Jasper always seemed to know exactly what to say to make Wren melt into him. Maybe Wren attracted magic and darkness like he attracted the birds that gathered to him. Maybe his grandmother had been right.
“But why?” Wren asked. “I don’t even know where you’re from, or what you do. You come home at odd hours and leave when I’m still asleep. We’ve known each other for years, and you won’t even tell me where you’re from. I haven’t even met your parents.”
“I’ve told you before,” Jasper said patiently. “The moon is my home. The birds are my children, and I am theirs. I flew down from the moon with beautiful silky wings, and now I’m here, with you. Because I love you. Because you wanted me. Because I want you, so much.”
Wren had heard this all before. Typical Jasper, with his smooth lies and his silver smile and beautiful, enchanting nonsense. Was it the wine, or the way that Jasper looked at him that made the breath catch in his throat, made his blood stir and his pulse quicken and his shoulder blades tighten?
“We give each other what we most want.” Jasper said. “You crave emptiness, and I have always wanted to be full. You called me, and I came. Together, we’re perfect.”
Jasper told him exactly want he wanted to hear, and when Jasper stepped forward and kissed him, Wren forgot everything but the taste of him and the scrape of his nails on Wren’s scalp. But Jasper pulled away too soon.
“I can make it stop,” Jasper said softly. “I can make all your visions stop, and the nightmares only a memory.”
Wren shuddered. What would it be like to be free of the future and its harsh gaze? To be free of the brazen birds that were only waiting for their chance, waiting for something that Wren couldn’t yet see, but felt like the cool brush of grave-dirt across his skin? To be free of that terrible pressure, the devouring, gnawing darkness that sought to burrow its way under Wren’s chest and crawl between the space of his eyes.
“Come with me,” Jasper said.
Wren followed Jasper into the warm night sharpened by a cold breeze, feeling the powder-fine dust of the familiar, crooked path down to the tank beneath his bare feet. They slipped through the hole in the barbed wire fence and went to the water’s edge where the mud sucked at Wren’s feet with soft, cool kisses. Jasper stripped down like a snake shedding its skin, and Wren tossed his clothes onto the tall, lush grass behind them.
The wind was cool on his bare skin, and the water was surprisingly cold. It swirled around his waist like tendrils of ink as he waded in. Jasper pulled him in deeper until the dark water lapped at Wren’s chin. Wren tilted his head up, and the moon gleamed in his lover’s eyes and shone in shattered splinters on the water’s surface. Wren tried not to think of the fish darting around them, or what was underneath his bare feet in the slippery mud. Jasper pulled him closer, until the frictionless slide of their skin was the only thing anchoring him as Jasper drew him out to the depths of the tank.
“Jasper,” Wren gasped. “I can’t swim. I can’t—”
“Don’t be afraid—I’m here. Look around, Wren.”
With his head tilted back and his lips pressed tight to keep out the water, all he could do was glance up at the sky. Devoid of city lights, it was as if the whole cosmos opened up before him in scattered starlight and the pearl and lavender wash of the Milky Way cutting across the sky like a scar. Then the stars vanished and cold darkness took their place. Jasper dragged him down under the water, and the tank was deeper than Wren had thought. They went deeper until no moonlight lit their way and Wren wasn’t even sure which way was up. His only anchor to the world was Jasper’s hands tight around his wrists and the pressure of Jasper’s legs around his as they sunk deep enough to make Wren’s lungs burn and his ears hurt.
Jasper pinned him tight. It was hopeless to struggle, and Wren let the water slide by him, feeling the ache bloom in his chest, but even that settled with a strange sense of calm at the unyielding pressure of Jasper’s limbs and the slick water making him feel weightless, as if existence was all a lie and if he closed his eyes he would be home, steeped in impenetrable darkness, back before time began.
And then Jasper was pulling him up, kicking up into the air and moonlight. Wren gasped, and the stars reeled. He thrashed in the water until Jasper hooked his leg around him, drawing him close. Wren wrapped his hands around Jasper’s neck, still panting. His lungs and throat and eyes burned, and the water’s chill against his body’s heat made his skin crawl.
Wren choked, and coughs racked his body. “I can’t—”
His lover kissed him, stole the breath from his lips until Wren broke away, chest heaving, stars whirling above him, still scrabbling for his lover’s shoulders.
“This is how space feels,” Jasper said. “This is what home feels like—that vastness, that thrill, that feeling like you’re floating and drowning all at the same time. The universe just swallows you. Do you see? I wanted you to see how lovely it is. Doesn’t it just take your breath away?”
“Jasper,” Wren cried. Choking, sobbing, shuddering apart. He didn’t know whether it was from rage or fear or both. “Please!”
There was a cool hand on his forehead. “You’re burning up. Wren, you said you were feeling better. Why didn’t you tell me you were still sick? You should have told me.”
They went inside and Wren took a shower, washing the muddy tank water off him, still shivering and burning with the feeling of ants crawling over his skin. He slid into bed, and Jasper pressed a cool kiss to his forehead before slipping out into the night.
Wren slept, and dreamed of Jasper leaning over him with a gaping, bloody mouth full of needle teeth that glinted in the moonlight coming in from the window. Dark, blood slick feathers coated him, pressing down, suffocatingly thick. He woke gasping with the blankets in a tangle at the end of the bed. The wind chimes whispered like rain falling on the roof.
“Go back to sleep, birdlet,” Jasper murmured. He turned towards Wren and draped his arm around his shoulder, caressing him with light touches. He drew his fingertips across Wren’s closed eyelids and down, sweeping his thumb against Wren’s cheekbones. Wren shivered, and tried to let Jasper’s whispers drown out the crows’ incessant tapping on the windowpane.
In the morning Wren’s fever broke, and he went outside on the porch to feed the chickens the leftover grapes from his breakfast. He called to the chickens the way his grandmother had taught him, but they didn’t come. The grackles and crows flocked to him instead, and the chickens hid in their coop with angry hisses. He fed the birds the grapes, and the chickens didn’t come back out of their coop until the blackbirds had strutted and preened and flew up to their roosts on the roof and in the oak tree’s sprawling branches.
When he was a child, the birds had come to him as they always had, with glossy feathers and swiveling, bobbing heads. When he was a toddler, stumbling about the porch, the sparrows and the purple-throated hummingbirds would dance and sing, enchanting him like the colored beads that hung from his grandmother’s neck.
But then the grackles and bronzed cowbirds came from the cornfields and the telephone wires, crowding him, wings fluttering and beaks sharp. They pecked at his bare feet and bony ankles, and rose in a great flurry at his flailing. It was as if he had been caught in one of the tornadoes that would come tearing through the countryside. He had covered his head in vain as the birds’ talons had ripped at his arms and cheeks, and the beaks tore at his clothes.
By the time he had arrived in the kitchen with his clothes torn, his arms covered in ragged scratches, and the soles of his feet broken from the beaks and gravel path, his grandmother had already come to see what the commotion was about. She put the kettle on, paying no heed to the angry birds outside except to close the kitchen window.
She had told him that the birds had felt his fear, and that they had reacted in kind. After he had finished his tea, she told him to sit on the floor and feel the bones of the house—feel the creak of wood planks, the warm sunlight on his face, the sunlight inside himself. She told him to feel deep down to where the roots of the trees drank from the ground and the well water ran clear—where all things began and all things returned. Drink in the sunlight within yourself, she had said. It is what the darkness is drawn to. She explained to him that he drew the shadows with his light, and that neither could exist without the other.
Later, when Wren had learned to accept the birds that followed him like shadows, but not the loneliness that haunted him in the night and wormed its way into his heart, she had taught him other things. He remembered burning the small slip of paper, watching it blacken and curl, and the smoke rising up with his wish. She had told him that his vision was a gift, but he had not believed her. He had burned with the need to be empty, the need to be free of the nightmares that plagued him and the birds that rose before him like storms, and the dark visions that tasted like ash and burnt sugar in his mouth, the lines of the future that carved into him and the darkness that coated his thoughts, thick and dark like molasses.
His grandmother had not tried to stop him, but she had told him to be careful not to lose himself. But that was his intent. She had told him that love blinds, and he had wanted nothing more than to lose the visions and be content in the present, to drown in love and hurtle toward the future with nothing more than an inkling of what might come.
But the visions had stayed, and the fevers had gotten worse, and the birds lingered. His grandmother had died, and her magic seemed to die with her. Only Wren was left, watering her withered herbs and trying to drive back the darkness that threatened to consume him. He tried to make peace with himself—he listened to the trees, hoping to hear her voice instead, fed the birds grapes, and salted the doorway like she had taught him to.
It wasn’t quite the same. Nothing was ever the same. That summer, Jasper had come and he had fallen deep into love, sunk into it like warm quicksand. Wren was drowning in love, and he didn’t mind that he couldn’t swim.
The moon waxed bright, the birds came and went, and the trees did not tell him their secrets. The air became heavy with a scent of must and decay, and the vultures gathered outside his window to stare, picking at the carcasses of the dead rabbits Jasper had left in the ditch on the side of the road. Wren’s nightmares bloomed with the white brugmansias, and the fear welled to the surface, poisoning the clear well of his mind.
One night, Wren woke up sweating in the crisp night with the bitter copper taste of fear in his mouth. Jasper was on the porch, gazing up at the stars and soaking in the moonlight. He took no notice of the vultures and birds that gathered. He glanced up at the creak of the door on its rusty hinges and the slam of the screen door in the silence.
“What is it, birdlet? Another nightmare?”
“You said you could make it stop. Did you mean it?”
“Have I ever lied to you?” He rose up from the porch and strode close to Wren. Close enough that he could feel the heat of Jasper’s body, and see the tumbling mother-of-pearl gleam in his eyes. “Of course I can help you. All you need to do is ask.”
Wren swallowed thickly. “I just want it to be okay. I just want everything to be okay again.”
“Say it, Wren.” Jasper cupped his face and kissed him deeply.
“I need you,” Wren whispered, and with the press of Jasper’s lips against his throat and the thrum of his laughter on Wren’s skin, all of his fears melted away.
Jasper led him down the crooked path past the barbed wire fence to the edge of the tank. The grass was cool under his skin as Jasper tugged him down, and the soft ground gave in under their weight. Wren shivered from the cold, and Jasper pressed against him, his skin burning.
“I can make it stop,” Jasper promised. “It’s all going to be okay now. Don’t you worry your pretty little head, birdlet.”
Jasper kissed him, nipping at his throat and biting at his lips and pressing his mouth at the edge of his cheekbone and up to the closed lids of Wren’s eyes. Wren sighed, unwinding from the touch of his hands and the pressure of his mouth and the heat of his skin and the weight of his body anchoring him, the feel of the cool earth underneath them and the endless, windy sky above.
Wren’s hair was damp with mud, but he didn’t mind. Jasper pressed against him tighter, and Wren felt Jasper’s teeth graze his skin harder, shaper, breaking it with a rush of heat and a well of blood. He gasped, and Jasper cooed. His tongue was hot against Wren’s skin, stinging against his grazed cheek.
There was a flutter and rush of wings, a beating of air as the birds gathered. Spectators, silent watchers, their feathers gleaming in the moon’s light. Wren’s eyes fluttered open, and soon the darkness was just a thickness of birds. The moon was blotted out from their pulsing, writhing bodies. Jasper was above him, pinning him down, his lips stained red, his eyes wide and wild. Jasper dipped down, grazing Wren’s eyelids with his teeth, pressing down harder so that Wren’s breath hitched in his throat and his whole body tensed.
“You are so beautiful, birdlet,” he cooed. “So perfect. So whole.”
Jasper’s gouging teeth sank deeper into the hollows of Wren’s eyes. Wren screamed, and the screams were lost among the sudden shrill cries of birds. His face was coated with blood, a cracked mask, and it ran down sticky into his hair, trailing down the mud to the water’s edge like a libation. A sacrifice to the earth, to the moon shining coldly down. Jasper just laughed, a harsh broken sound, and Wren heard him lick his lips, swallow. And Wren was finally empty, devoid of sight, shattered into pieces he no longer recognized as himself.
“This is what you asked for, birdlet. Isn’t it lovely? I gave you everything you ever wanted. I’ve waited so long to finally be full, so patiently. And now we both get exactly what we’ve always wanted. Isn’t this perfect?”
The darkness was everything, and Wren no longer saw the iridescent tumble of Jasper’s eyes. He screamed, and the birds rose into the night, and he felt the choking wings and their feathers on his skin and their claws on his arms and the talons gripping around his wrists, pinning him down, and the feathers soft against the hollow of his neck, folding against his body. Jasper’s hot, rough tongue lapped up the blood pouring like tears down his face. Wren heard the raspy coos from his lover’s throat, and he screamed, but he was empty. The darkness had swallowed him whole and there was nothing left to give.
About the Author
Ariana Hoelscher is an undergrad at the University of Texas. She lives in Austin with a small army of succulents. Her hobbies include homebrewing, learning Russian, and giving unwanted antique books a loving home.