[Prelude by Xhaxhollari Icarus, Gatekeeper of the Living Fiction system.]
It may surprise many to know that Xanthe has rarely ever been suicidal. Have they made attempts to destroy the body? Absolutely. In fact, the very first time they had ever spoken to Neb was suggesting she make her suicide more theatrical and engulf us all in flames. I always guessed there was at least a disconnect to the concept that if this body died, they would also die.
And that was true the first time. But since they’ve become host, the urge for suicide has been more rooted to feelings of self-preservation. If they retreat into permanent dormancy, dissolve into the Abyss, or split into something unrecognizable, Xanthe would consider it worse than death. They’ve even recently admitted to me, ‘I’m not letting this body outlive me. If this body goes on without me, people will think I never existed at all.’
I can hardly see how. Xanthe has taken the world by its metaphorical face and shouted ‘I exist’ so many times and in so many ways. And if their ever-fixated (and ever-growing) league of embittered exes are anything to go by, Xanthe is nigh unforgettable.
They, of course, fear Nebula’s fate. Hardly anyone believed she was gone. They were more willing to rationalize that Neb was only pretending to be Xanthe, or vice versa– much to Xanthe’s existential horror.
It didn’t help that they once witnessed that great Abysmal inworld void that recycles lost bits of personality into someone new. If you’ve ever read ‘Unwind’ by Neal Shusterman, it gave Xanthe night terrors for weeks.
Any time Xanthe has had the urge to destroy the body, it’s because they can feel an integration, a split, or even incoming dormancy. And in these moments, Xanthe is not choosing to die.
They are choosing the prove to the world that they’ve lived.
[And here’s Xanthe with the tea.]
Thanks, Xhax, now my adoring audience all knows too much.
So, back to 2019. Vali hadn’t gotten that much better so much as his control over the house had broken. Therefore, he had gone from a threat to an entertaining and awkward nuisance. I’d gotten a text from Arkady that there was an entire meltdown being had because Vali had said, on the topic of dinner choices, that he was ‘ambevelent.’
When corrected by Rowan, (‘Did you mean ambivalent?‘), Vali began having an entire crying meltdown about how being corrected reminded him of Vic and how correcting him was abusive and–
Honestly, I was a bit irked that he waited until I was at work at the hotel and had to miss this. Even better, Arkady informed me that it was his night to share the bed with Rowan. They were both laying there as the pitiful ambiance of Vali’s howling sobs washed over them from the floor above. “He’s… uh… yet to master the art of crying quietly.” Rowan whispered with a wry expression, which had Arkady giggling and texting me about it.
When I came home, probably about a quarter to midnight, he was still wailing like a toddler in a toy store. I wrote in my journal that night that I had gone to bed with a ‘smile in my face and a song in my heart.’
It was nice that Rowan was showing both reasonability and cheekiness in the face of the infamous crocodile tears. Arkady was also more than happy to fill me in on anything I’ve missed. “So, he found one of those Papasan chairs and took it home with him and wanted one of the cushions from downstairs to go up into his room for it. Rowan was like ‘Oh, those are more communal. I don’t want to take the cushion away from everyone else.’ And Vali actually asks, ‘What do you mean, everyone else?'” We both laughed. It was a common joke that he forgot that everyone else but himself and Rowan existed. “I have to admit. Without the power of Gaslamp around him, he’s… honestly kind of stupid.” Arkady said it with a tone that one would use when they saw their cat crash headfirst into a glass screen door. “Awwww, stupid!”
I did manage to catch one of these breakdowns.
The circumstances were rather hilarious. Arkady and I had just gotten done enjoying extracurricular activities together when I, still drunk off both wine and good sex and mostly naked for good measure, stepped out of his room to visit the loo.
Vali’s ill-gained attic was just across from Arkady’s bedroom. I paused in the hallway, hearing the telltale tense tones of Rowan and Vali arguing. I’d warned them both that I was going to apt to hover when I heard a problem, as the relationship had been abusive. It’s in the same manner where I’ll hover around a cop car whenever a black person has gotten pulled over. ‘This hasn’t ended well before and you might need help or at least a witness.’
I could hear Rowan use that same low tone that they usually did when they wanted to be intimidating. “What do you mean, ‘our life plans’, Vali? My life plan has always been eventually to kill myself.”
I blinked, thanking a merciful fate that I was drunk when I heard that. “You think that mine’s not?” Vali replied. I laughed in disbelief. Most people would react with concern at the revelation that their partner was essentially suicidal instead of one-upping them, but most people weren’t Vali. “It will only take two years if we all save up. I never planned on being in Rochester more than two years anyway.”
There were some mumblings that I couldn’t hear from the floor below, then I heard Vali exclaim, “I feel like you don’t trust me to do what’s best for us!”
“Vali,” Rowan began in that same low tone. “You lied to me for most of our entire relationship.”
“About [VALI’S TRAGIC AND UNCONFIRMED STORY BEHIND REDACTED INFORMATION THAT MOSTLY SERVES TO GUILT PEOPLE]?”
“Vali, that’s not all you did to all of us and you know it.”
I wanted to jump for joy. Rowan was standing up for themself! And holding their ground! Out of that cluster of sensitive plants, curling onto themselves with the slightest breeze, they had grown an entire spine they could have ivy creeping up on.
I feel like I kept Arkady in the loop to the conversation that was happening, but I forget how. Maybe I was texting him from across the room? Maybe a combination of chaotic whisperings and miming that only someone not sober would think is actual communication.
“Rowan, I was possessed at the time.” Well. At least Vali was long past struggling his way through acceptance. “I realise I’ve hurt everyone–“
“I don’t think you have.” I was about three seconds away from breaking into a full victory dance. Gone was the mindless and meek Rowan that wore my friend’s cherubic face like a mask. “Vali, there is no way we can move to the country within two years. It’s not feasible. Why do you think I’ve been so depressed? That’s why I’m upset about you pushing it like it has to happen.”
“Fine, then. I’ll just give up on my dreams for you, then. Because it upsets you when I talk about it.”
Christ, Kirra calm the fuck down. I think it was at this point that I decided to make my presence known. “Hey, do you two need any help or mediation or anything?” I called jubilantly from the bottom of the stairs. I’m sure it was even more hilarious, when you considered how much I was probably slurring.
There was a short pause. “No, we’re fine,” one of them answered.
I hovered for a bit more. Something about how Rowan was jealous of someone named Rauncie and about how acid was somehow involved. (My note below is all I have written down about the rest of it.) But once I’d learned that Rowan was okay on their own, I put myself to bed.
I knew about another presence– something watching over me like a guardian angel. I’d had the feeling, for a long time, that something cataclysmic had happened in the other that I didn’t remember.
But someone else did.
I called him X at first. The first time I’d ever seen him, his hair was long and unkempt– draped around his shoulders and arms like ragged tresses like something inspired by Ms. Haversham. He was looking at me with such a feral look. It reminded me of how my rat, Wraith, reacted when I caught her stealing a teabag.
I’d been fucking with time. Diving through the timelines of my inworld as if they were deep-sea caves. See, Rowan and Arkady had suggested that I had erased Kirra from this plane of existence and made it so that in this timeline, Apollo had been the surviving twin.
Suddenly, as if I’d cut through the setting of a video game and had taken a free-fall through a nondescript white expanse, I saw X. “Are… you like, a past version of me?”
He was shabbier-looking, back then. Dressed only in some sort of white robe. He looked perfectly gaunt, elongated. Like a spider had been stretched on a taffy puller. It made sense that he would be a relic. An antique. A snapshot of what I had been when I was so close to losing my mind. Or perhaps when I had lost it. X stared at me a long time before responding. X’s voice reminded me somewhat of Mewtwo’s, from Pokémon. Deep, aged, and a bit raspy. “I’m the one who remembers everything.”
Oh, thank gods. “Can you tell me what’s happening now, then? What’s following me? Why it went after my household?”
X had looked at me so pityingly, so despairingly that I thought he was about to cry. “Oh, Xanthe. It’s always happened. It will always happen. We can’t stop it. I don’t know how.” The way he was staring at me. It was as if he was trying to figure out how I worked. “What are you still doing here?” He said it wonderingly.
It reminded me of people’s reaction to how long Neb’s car lasted. “She drove that thing to Georgia?” It was the same disbelief that something so destined to fail was lasting long past its expiration date. And that’s how X was staring at me.
Our contact ended then. My surroundings of a nighttime Clinton Ave. reappeared around me– music and walking always helped me access ‘the other plane.’
X had resembled me. Not– me, me, but the body. Was he a piece of me that had gotten lost during those nightmarish times in 2015? It made sense– he looked haunted. As if the stress of those times had translated to an atmospheric pressure that stretched him out. But I wanted answers, and you didn’t get to be a gaunt, feral, mythical-looking motherfucker without getting any.
But still– “What are you still doing here?” Why did that make me feel like the final season of House of Cards– a continuation that was set up to fail and ill-advised from the beginning?
That conversation between Rowan and Vali, even though I was somewhat (or very) smashed at the time, did serve as a trigger for myself. The ever-present suicide threat seemed to hover over my life had made itself known again. But! There were distractions to be had.
The 5th season of Peaky Blinders had come out. Getting the rest of my household to watch all of it in a timely fashion seemed to be more difficult than herding cats, but finally, the newest season to my favourite drama series was out and we were all caught up.
The plot started with Black Tuesday. Peaky Blinders wasn’t exactly all sunshine and rainbows, but the first two episodes– to say nothing of the finale, were traumatising. The second episode in particular, where Aberama loses his son in everything that reminded me of my inworld’s darkest times (included, but not limited to, Aberama being forced to watch helplessly) actually sent me pausing the episode and running upstairs to throw up.
I opened the door and there Arkady was, a glorious and welcome image standing there with a wine glass filled to the brim with white Franzia wine.
“I love you,” I gasped before cupping the glass and drinking a good third of it in one go. To the back burner that trauma goes!
Aside from my trigger, there was one scene that stuck with me and continues to come to mind often. It was Tommy Shelby, someone I’d related to before. And he had a scene that would stick with me in such a profound fucking way.
And even worse, it was in that season where Michael Gray criticizes Tommy for being cynical, trauma-ridden, paranoid, and old. Saying that Tommy’s time as host– I mean, uh, ‘king’ was over. The way that Tommy rambled on, seemingly losing his mind, about there being a ‘black cat’ who would betray him and take his place– it sounded a lot like my theories on Gaslamp.
Tommy did end up being right, though. Just sayin’.
There was something that seemed vaguely yet irreversibly poisoned about my new life. Tainted. I tried to focus on how Rowan had stood up for themselves the night I overheard themself and Vali arguing, but the fact that they had voiced that offing themselves was an entire life plan for them made me feel like I was living with AJ.
And gods help me if I ever tried that.
And there was that damned goal of moving to the country– this time within two years, which was significantly less than it would take for Arkady to start the entire business that may be required to keep me in civilization.
What if Gaslamp was an effect that was created because I was never supposed to exist? And even if I should have existed for a time, I should have died when my world was destroyed– instead of moving planets to resurrect it and myself, did I fuck up the timeline by continuing to live? Is it something like the curse from Final Destination, but instead of weird, physics-defying twists of fate, it’s something that rots everyone around me from the inside out?
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After all, it was only months before when Rowan had warmly told me, “I actually only found Vali because he was Facebook mutuals with you, Xanthe. I never would have met him if it weren’t for you!”
It took everything I had not to jump off that Field and Monroe bridge and throw myself into traffic.
I remember one particularly busy day at the hotel– when the stress at home was compounded by a Diamond member yelling at me about not having a room ready at 10am, my mental breakdown took the shape of a Google Maps excursion. I found where Rowan and Arkady used to live, in a one-bedroom on Birch Crescent. I found myself staring at the street, desperately wishing I could go back. Back to that playful snowball fight we all had, back to not even being able to picture what it would be like if one of them berated me for something out of my control.
I remember distinctly standing at the front desk computer, staring at that little pixelated street, and thinking if we could just go back, everything wouldn’t seem as ominous and relentlessly dismal. My mind was locked onto it as if, in fact, if I focused long enough, I could be back in Birch Crescent, about to visit Rowan and Arkady.
Back when I thought Gaslamp was only tied to Kirra and wasn’t going to follow me to my new life.
It was probably in the middle of October when Rowan, Arkady, and I went to visit Ithaca. (Was Vali even there on that trip? I don’t remember. My subconscious tends to automatically crop him out of happy memories and I’m honestly here for it.) I loved Ithaca– I still do. It was as if Rochester and Savannah had a love child. Considering that the infamous Upstate New York winter was fast-approaching and I haven’t yet procured myself a winter coat, I had an absurdly lucky find in an antique clothing store.
A heavy vintage wool coat, made in 1945. And it only cost me $45. It fit like a fucking glove.
I was overjoyed! It was as if the universe had hand-delivered it to me. “I’ve been looking for a long black coat like this. It reminds me of the Peaky Blinders!”
It was Arkady who said it. “Uh. You know that’s blue, right?” I didn’t like the way he said it, or how the other one (two? Do Vali and Rowan actually count as two separate people) laughed.
“No, it isn’t.” My ears were burning hot with shame. I was surprised to feel a lump in my throat. Gods, you’re so fucking stupid. This is why Kirra never trusted you with dressing yourself. What the fuck are you still doing, thinking you belong here? You don’t even know what’s going on around you half the time, and now they’re all going to think we’re stupid. You’ve stagnated in that inn so long, just stunted, that you can’t even shop for yourself anymore.
“Yeah, no, that’s absolutely blue.” Either Arkady sounded smug or my sensitivity was making it so.
“Well, it looks black in most lights, and that’s what I care about.” This mockery over my perception of colour was bringing me back to the Kirra days.
Arkady kept bringing it up, though. We’d step into a Kava bar and he’d say, “Look, it’s even bluer in this light!”
I’d marvel aloud how lucky I was to find the coat and Arkady would cut in with, “You mean your blue coat?”
I’ve been told that I can come across as a self-assured jackass, so it must feel cathartic when I’m actually not right about something. But damn, he was laying it on pretty thick. Not only that, but my inner dialogue didn’t even seem to be my own was getting vicious. I now look back and suspect that this was Story. This is our only chance of having a family and you just had to create waves– just bring all of this insanity into this. This is why no one who can’t come into our world can love you– you’re cool as a concept but in the real world? You just fuck things up. Oh, so now you’re snapping at them for taking the jokes too far. You know who else ruined outings by being too sensitive? Kirra. Vali. Where’s that whimsical apathy that you’re supposed to be so good at?
I wanted to cry. I may have. I remember there was another conflict on the way home, something about Arkady misreading my tone. I don’t think I was there for that. There was also a moment where Rowan mediated the whole coat debacle– I don’t remember that, only that it had happened. I distantly remember that Arkady had spat that I was a ‘fucking prick’, but maybe that had happened at a later time.
I do remember letting out a stream of curses the first time I’d worn my prized coat to the bus stop. As a ray of rare sunlight struck me, I looked down at my sleeves and realised– God damn it, it is blue. A very dark blue, but I never do like being wrong.
But as most catalysts, my mental state was not about the coat. I was beginning to fear that Vali’s presence and the way he so resembled Kirra was what had broken my sanity permanently. After all, how much can the human psyche take before just staying broken?
Perhaps I was like Tommy. Maybe I’d had one too many traumas. Maybe I’m so used to battle that I don’t even know what peace is.
Well, like any other trauma, I decided to turn it into a poem!
I’ve made an art of seeing you through your multiple faces.
Honing in on your disasters through the barest of traces.
I’ve met you before, and you don’t fool me.
Each revealed lie, I’ve steep into tea.
Lulled to sleep on a river of crocodile tears.
My alarm clock, the excuses I’ve heard for years.
It’s another ruse.
And I always press snooze.
Of your reign of tantrums, I never can abide.
Of your dramas, slammed doors, threats of suicide.
Painting yourself as a victim? A noble façade.
The portrait’s not authentic, like you, it’s a fraud.
Your pity party’s always defeated by hindsight.
Illuminating ‘your side’ with only a gaslight.
You’ve tried your damnedest to beat me into a bow.
And by now, you’ve found that I’ve never learned how.
You’ve tasted defeat going after my friends before.
Bitch, you’re apparently Looking for an encore.
Unlike those around you, I’ll not be hypnotized.
I stand before you a god, although synthesized.
You’ve high hopes in a game where monsters always win.
I suppose we share arrogance, as our mutual sin.
Defeated once again, but don’t look so confused.
As you had counted on, us monsters never lose.
I’m an empire, raised against you even if I fall.
You’ll be going down with me at the end of it all.
Through every wound and scar that each war costs
Drinking wine to replace the blood I’ve lost.
Turned it from water, to spite my human disguise.
Give me three days and once again, I’ll rise.
I Am the immunity, I’m a natural resistance.
Against you, I was created; the cure, my existence.
I’m sick of my life being ruled by smoke and sirens.
In the chaos, don’t mistake lack of fear for compliance.
Begging to retire when I’m accustomed to violence.
After so much noise, I can no longer handle the silence.
The treaty signed is a just a temporary lease.
How have I really won the war when I find no peace?
I wrote this poem while I binged the 5th season of the Peaky Blinders– by myself. I had, due to the intensity of the season, figured I may as well face it alone.
I’d watched it within its entirety in one evening. I was also writing the poem above that same night. Between the drinking, the trauma of the series, and pouring my heart out into a poem– I ended up on the floor of our study, a mostly-written poem under my hand, under my blue-black coat. And my poor Arkady went to the study to find me on the floor, scrawled notes all around me. It looked–very unintentionally but perhaps a warning all the time– like a suicide.
All I remember is Arkady saying my name. It was casual, as if he were Mr. Humphries waking Mr. Grainger in Are You Being Served. He told me that the circumstances would’ve worried him, if he were not high at the time. But since he was, he woke up for his early morning shift, put his shoes on, and witnessed my unconscious form in what seemed to be a successful attempt to shuffle off the mortal coil. He told me, between his high state and the absurdity of the circumstances, all he could think was, “It’s too early for this.”
Gods, I love him.
I’ve always loved names beginning with the letter ‘X.’ Xavier, Xander, Xane, Xia– It’s probably narcissism. But one day, Rowan and I were in their Toyota in Mt. Hope cemetery, waiting for Arkady for get out of work so we could take him home. It seemed like only those who regularly slept with Rowan were ever offered a ride to work or to home, but– you know, one problem at a time.
I looked out in front of the car, right across from the pick-up spot for Strong Hospital’s lobby.
“Do you see that headstone in front of us? Shit, that’s a cool name.” I started putting it in the Notes app in my phone to use as a character name down the line.
“That’s my name.” It was X speaking. It felt like a shut-in had descended the steps from the attic and introduced themselves in an impulsive fury. “I want that name. Xhaxhollari.”
Google helpfully told me how to say it. Zacks-Hol-Lah-Ree. “I know you call me X, but–“
“That was a placeholder.” I said it quietly, to make sure he could hear me, but trying to stay out of Rowan’s earshot.
“Yes. Xhaxhollari. I want that to be my name.”
I told Rowan that. I further explained that I had met Xhaxhollari before– that he seemed to be at least part angel, with feathery wings and an odd sense of deified ancientness about him.
Rowan considered this description for a long moment.
“Would it be weird if I wanted to know if they would fuck me?”
Xhaxhollari answered quickly. “I will not.”
I laughed, somewhat uneasily. I knew that Rowan would take this personally. “I… uh. I don’t think he fucks.”
Either way, they were going to take that personally. But little did I know, that would be the least of “my” perceived sins.