(Trigger Warnings: Substance abuse, existential issues, amnesia, gaslighting, sexual assault accusations (fake), mental breakdowns, the aftermath of abuse.)
Amnesia is a bizarre experience, especially with DID. I mean, memory loss can occur from all sorts of ailments and injury, but nothing really removes it with surgical precision like systems do. Even more confusing, I was looking back through the journals, and I’m reminded Xanthe can remember remembering, but now they can’t remember what they had once remembered.
“That’s it,” our audience is surely saying. “You alternate between two different plots, half of this cast exists only inside the author’s head, I can barely follow the fantasy inworld plot, and now you’re pulling this bullshit?”
Yep. Welcome to our life, motherfuckers.
Xanthe had, to some extent, remembered when everything turned Lovecraftian and hellish in the inworld. But it was something they seemed not to linger upon. Just a nebulous nightmare that we all had lived through that had seemingly vanished as daylight had broken. Xanthe seemed to believe that if they thought about it too hard, tried to commit details to memory, then it would be real. As if Kaspar was still alive by the same logic that kept Wile E. Coyote hovering in the air before he looked down.
Curiosity killed the cat, and Xanthe is too inherently dissatisfied to be brought back.
Neither of us are sure how they did this, except that they felt like they were diving into timelines like a slightly more flamboyant Dr. Strange. Then they ended up at Kaspar’s mansion in Prague.
The mind can be incredibly cruel.
Horrifyingly, it decided to show Xanthe something that it had feared and suspected. A mansion that had been abandoned for months. I could feel Xanthe in the garden, inspecting the uncharacteristically overgrown orchids. It was a cool day– midday was still tinted silver with whispers of snow. Xanthe let themself in through the greenhouse door. I could tell that they were wanting to call out to Kaspar, but felt hesitant to disturb the silence. Such a silence it was– it seemed a thousand decibels.
Like a ghost through a ruined home, Xanthe drifted through the house, taking in the dust. There was a rhythmic, echoing dripping sound of a leak somewhere. There was a neat stack of post on the counter, as if they’d been left there with the full expectation that the envelopes would be opened soon. But they hadn’t been. Xanthe paused for a long time and stared at the holiday-themed stamps and stickers; the reindeer, the mistletoe.
It was February.
This was Kaspar’s home, its pride and joy. There was no way they would let it suffer through so much neglect.
It’s a dream. I silently willed Xanthe to believe it, for their mind to fold over in revulsion and hide them from the scene. I was working to get them out of there myself, but it’s always so much easier if they believe it’s a flimsy reality. Just a bad dream.
Xanthe touched the marble countertop, as if it were curious how a layer of dust would even feel on it. They stared at their hand. Though they themself were still, I could practically feel a rising scream echoing from their mind.
‘Not here not here not here not anywhere not here anymore gone gone gone gone gone gone–‘
There it was– that spike of denial and disbelief. It allowed me to transport them out as fast as if they had stepped on a waterslide right out of that timeline. I managed to get them back to what Kaspar’s mansion should have been–
Then I was alone in that doomed timeline. In the Abandoned by Disney creepypasta, ‘Room Zero’, the scene of a horrifying tragedy was covered in tons of concrete beneath the surface. And that’s precisely what I did. I buried it in distance and dreams and redirecting and distractions. Then I went to check on Xanthe again.
They were outside of Kaspar’s study, hearing through the cracked door low Czech voices.
“Please?” There was a desperation to their tone. “I’m sorry, I know we–…” Their voice sounded oddly urgent for such a wooden tone. I could practically hear what they weren’t saying. We agreed we wouldn’t inherently depend on each other, but I need to see you and see that you’re real.
“Darling, you know I always adore your brand of chaos, but I am in the middle of a meeting.” There was a slight edge to Kaspar’s voice. It was a mere warning not to further interrupt, but Xanthe froze in place, eyes going unfocused.
I checked on the outerworld, briefly. Xanthe had had a fever and had taken the day off. Their world and to-do list was revolved around video games. Easy enough. I checked in on Xanthe after I heard dialogue around them. “Were you waiting out here the entire duration of my meeting, you silly crow?” Kaspar sounded surprised.
Xanthe seemed rooted to the spot. They were staring at their partner with a mixture of apprehension and desperation. “I’m sorry. I just needed to know– I just needed to see– I think I had… a nightmare, maybe? I’m sorry.” They paused, brow furrowing. “Did you like… close off a portion of downstairs? I thought–”
I wouldn’t be lying to say I felt guilty. I was trying to protect their sanity by making them doubt it. Similarly, I was trying to protect their reality. By making them doubt it.
Kaspar’s face, in a series of blinks, went from quizzical to concerned. “Oh, dear, you’ve fallen down one of your dark chasms again, haven’t you? My sincerest apologies, my Lord Henry, I had no idea.”
“I’m… sorry…” Xanthe’s voice was tightening, barely audible. “I’m– I’m really sorry.”
Kaspar frowned. “Why ever for?”
Xanthe shook their head helplessly. They only knew that they were frightened, and that apologizing usually made the horrors cease. Kaspar led them down the hall as if Xanthe were physically as old as they were spiritually, pausing only to motion something to a young man named Keita. They sat them in the study, lit the fireplace, and put a vinyl record of ‘The Great Gatsby’ audiobook in the gramophone. Keita, one of Kaspar’s live-in partners, appeared a short while later with a glass of champagne. Kaspar knelt down next to the chaise to present it to Xanthe.
Xanthe took a fortifying couple of gulps of the champagne. “I’m sorry. I just– I’m sorry.”
Kasper could only manage to squeeze Xanthe’s shoulder. They’d never been the touchy sort. “I know, dearest, I know. But I haven’t the faintest of why.”
Xanthe did eventually recover themself. By the time Vex and Aberle had arrived to take over, they were pleasantly buzzed and ready to ramble to them both about how they were pretty certain that Nick Carroway was in love with Jay Gatsby. Any questions about what had upset them, they pleasantly steered away from. It was later in the evening, when the two of them were certain Xanthe was asleep, that they discussed what they both remembered and hardly anyone else did.
“I think Xanthe still remembers,” Vex said in a low tone. “I believe they wanted to forget but keep running into memories of it… Probably due to their time-bending abilities.”
Aberle nodded. “Have you ever thought about… just looking them in the eye and finding those memories and just–” He made a futuristic sucking sound and mimed something being vacuumed away.
Vex sighed, glancing over at Xanthe’s top hat that was perching on the couch-side table. Marie or Keita would surely be back before the night’s end and silently place the hat on the hat stand, lest Kaspar have a conniption. “I’ve been considering it. It’s a shame that the situation weren’t reversed. They actually are more adept at memories than I ever was.”
Aberle made a low amused noise in the back of his throat. It’s not that this was incorrect. It was the fact that a ten thousand year old Atlantean princess had to admit that Xanthe, who was a clockwork crow who made tea kettle noises when distressed almost two centuries ago, had surpassed her in skill. “Have them help you, maybe. Just explain what’s going on in vague terms– so they don’t end up braindead.” Aberle had been a victim of forced amnesia himself in the inworld. He wouldn’t have let Xanthe’s memories, no matter how harmful, go down silently.
Vex sighed. “I’ll talk to them.”
The outerworld wasn’t faring much better.
Cotton and I had signed up for a free concierge class to be certified by the Coastal Concierge Association. Actually, it was better than free, since we were actually being paid by our job to get concierge certified.
It was a fun class. I thoroughly enjoyed it– even the ones that were not centered on wine-tasting. They’d even have guest speakers there. One was talking about how to maintain mental health within the workplace and it and showed us a slideshow. Keep in mind, we were a bunch of desk gnomes. Bloody pencil pushers watching slides that said things like “[so-and-so] thought her surfing career was over when she lost a leg to a shark. But she would go on to win bronze in the Olympics!” “[so-and-so] wanted to be a pro skateboarder, but caught a disease. But then he recovered and now he’s in the record books!”
Even better– even better.
They had the slideshow themed to bloody Eye of the Tiger.
Imagine, a conference room full of people whose job it was to tell rich tourists where to spend their drinking money, being motivated by athletes and “DUN! DUN-DUN-DUN! DUN-DUN-DUN! DUN DUN DUUUUUUNNNNN.”
I was losing it. Shaking with laughter, trying to silence my wheezing gasps between peels. As Cotton tells it, I wasn’t particularly successful. “You tried to hide it?” He’d responded in disbelief. “Everyone was staring at you!” But it was a few short months of classes until we took an exam and had graduated. We were certified.
And I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Normally, I knew it and took pride in it. But I was as much invested as my position as a concierge as M. Gustav from The Grand Budapest Hotel. And when we had our graduation party, in the 1790 restaurant, I was all too conscious that I was the only one with blue hair. And my social anxiety was killing me. But the best part about concierge events, there was unlimited free wine. Which I definitely needed, since Cotton was due to join me but was going to be about an hour late.
See, I had at least a bottle of champagne every week. Generally, Stella Rosa. Sometimes Korbel. I liked the whimsical name of it. A bottle generally translated to five glasses, at least as large as my glasses at home told me. A bottle got me pleasantly buzzed, making me believe I could conquer the world. So, I figured, five glasses of white would get me to about the same place.
When Cotton joined me, I was fine. Maybe a bit visibly buzzed, but hell, hospitality has some of the highest rates of substance abuse of any other profession. I was fine. Towards the end of the event, when it was really only a small group of us left, including the event host and the restaurant owner, Cotton suggested that we should leave.
“Maybe– maybe I went overboard.” I admitted, slurring, as he drove me home. We were weaving around the idyllic squares, negotiating the uniform web of one-way streets.
“Yeah, I decided that it may be time for you to go home when you suddenly seemed way too fascinated with the owner’s description of the air duct system,” Cotton told me. “He was telling us how he had to install some new vents and you were like ‘Wow! Are you kidding me?'”
“I don’t even remember anything about the air duct system,” I laughed. “No, I’ve just had a really stressful couple of weeks. See, after Kirra and I broke up, I joined Tinder.”
“Which clearly cannot go wrong.” Cotton had learned to have only cautious, dubious optimism when it came to my dating life. He’s a faster learner than I.
“Oh, hush. So, one of the first dates I had planned was someone named Mars, who I met on Facebook. Cute, non-binary– seemed like a good start, yeah? And we made plans to meet at Foxy Loxy. But then they felt too anxious and stood me up. Which, yeah, okay, I get it. So then I downloaded Tinder and matched with a lovely girl named Kate.”
“We hit it off pretty fast. She kind of looked like a younger Gail Carriger, you know? And she looked me up on Facebook and was like ‘Oh, you have my partner as a mutual, you must be cool.’ And it turns out her partner is Mars, right? And I was like, ‘Oh, hey, what a coincidence.'”
“So, I was talking to Kate a while more and I’ve been adding cool-looking mutuals on Facebook. You know, aesthetic adds. But then, suddenly Mars is flipping out on their Facebook and people are reaching out to me, asking me why I’m stalking them. Apparently, they’d blocked me like a week ago and I didn’t notice. And apparently, the only reason I friended Kate is because I was trying to get to them, yeah? Even though I couldn’t see that we were mutual friends because Mars had blocked me. And it was the same with a few other people that I had added, yes? So, Mars went on this whole rant on Facebook about how I’m a stalker and they’re going to get a restraining order against me.”
Cotton blinked a couple of times, turning the wheel. “That escalated quickly.”
“So, I had a friend of mine ask them what the fuck the deal was, right? Apparently, they said that they heard through QuoLab that I was ‘rapey.'” QuoLab (now BALOUQ) was a local queer ‘safe space.’ Its only purpose was for an enby by the name of Raine Eliza to turn their house into a venue where they could free-bleed and scream into a microphone about it. It was a safe space only for the Raine-approved queers. And as someone whose senior fashion project was to cover fabric in unsightly linen tumours and say it was an allegory for dysphoria, Buchanan was one of said queers.
“You know who else goes to QuoLab? Buchanan. The one I apparently ‘stole’ AJ from bloody years ago. Also Kirra’s BFF. Then another couple of weeks went by, and apparently the story changed from ‘I heard they were rapey’ to ‘they physically sexually assaulted me.’ Cotton, I never fucking met this person. They literally just got possessive over their fucking girlfriend who they’re supposedly in an open relationship with. Like literally, everyone I match with over Tinder in this fucking town is like ‘Oh you’re THAT person’ and it’s all because Kirra is dead set on punishing me for daring to leave her. And I know I never met with them when they said I did– I’ve even activated the location settings in my phone and checked just to make sure. I’ve just been in my usual haunts in Chippewa square.”
Cotton furrowed his brow, slowing down for a horse-drawn carriage in front of him. “Why would you need to track your movements?”
Because sometimes I don’t remember how I got home. Because sometimes, people meet me on the street and fondly recall something I do not. Because sometimes, I feel like I’m falling freely through timelines and can’t keep track of what multiverse versions of me are doing at the moment, and it startles me. I decided to sum that up. “Because sometimes my body goes places without my brain paying attention. Yes, even when I’m sober,” I added, seeing the look on his face.
Cotton was pulling into a parallel parking spot on Chatham square, brow furrowing. “Have you thought any more about going to therapy?”
I’d done more than thought about it. Back in the inworld, I’d tried to confide in Cecil as a therapist. But he had been under Kirra’s control. Anything I said to him was told directly to Kirra. Even my trying to vent to Audric would sometimes be intercepted. It was her way of proving to me that any interaction I were to have, no matter the distance, would either need to be approved by her or paid for. “Drinking’s cheaper,” I finally said, climbing out of the car.
I was surprised to see Asher outside of my door. I looked at my phone, seeing their reply to a text I didn’t remember sending, when I’d apparently invited them over. “Oh. Good. You’ll get to meet my new shiny.”
Asher was definitely my type. I’d met them at Foxy Loxy, and asked them out when I didn’t notice that they were already on a date. In front of their date, as I found out afterwards. They could pass for both masculine and feminine, they were blonde, and they were a Virgo. Gods, I love Virgos.
I’d told AJ about Asher at one point– showed them a picture of Asher and, considering Kaspar as well, laughed that my type was apparently blonde, androgynous Virgos. “You think I look like them?” AJ had said reproachfully.
“No, I meant that you three are people I’m into, you’re all non-binary, have blonde hair, and–“
“You think I look like them, don’t you? Because they don’t look androgynous at all. They look like a girl. You think I look like a girl. Don’t you?” The venom in their petulant tone was enough to make me regret ever me ever comparing anything about my partners. Especially because it would be brought up every couple of months for the next few years.
I didn’t think Asher looked like a girl. I thought they looked beautiful. And when I kissed them, it was as if I were sipping gin. Numbing, intoxicating, fortifying. “Asher, this is Cotton, the Watson to my Holmes. Cotton, this is Asher, my new shiny.” Lathia had always used that word, shiny. It was gender-neutral and it suited me just fine. I swung open the gate to my apartment, then opened my front door just in time to see Mycroft the rat look at me before scurrying down my foyer. “Oh, I must’ve forgotten to put him back.” I said, casually.
“O-Okay!” was Cotton’s voice-cracking reply.
At some point during the evening, I had apparently spied Mycroft’s little black head peeking out from a dresser drawer and snatched him up with such surgical precision that they both gasped in amazement. (Or… general horror, as they worried my drunken state might send the poor thing flying across the room like a Ratatouille made on the fly.)
I think Cotton had a morning shift the next day, because I was alone with Asher when I started throwing up in the lavatory. “I actually don’t even remember calling you here,” I admitted, gasping. It was no dignified form for a dandy to take, but that was life, I suppose. “Maybe I wanted Cotton to see you. To see if he could see you too. Sometimes I don’t know if half my life is real. Like Kaspar.”
“I thought they were in the other plane,” Asher said gently.
“Sometimes, I think that. Sometimes, I think I’m going insane.” I laughed, which wasn’t advisable, for it sent me retching again. “Don’t– don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss my ex in any stretch of the imagination,” I slurred, “but it was nice when someone other than me could see them too.”
“Is Xanthe okay? I heard what happened.” It was Kirra’s account that was messaging Kaspar, but Kaspar had never known exactly who Kirra was. Xanthe had alluded that their abuser was an Aries, but that was the extent. “I heard their story. I feel like I might be polyamorous too.”
I was hoping the switch from Kirra to Apollo would take quicker than four months. It’s how long I’d estimated it’d take, given that it had taken about that long for Xanthe to realise they weren’t Neb. But the fact that Kirra’s account was suggesting to me that the person behind the keyboard thought it was polyamorous? That couldn’t have been Kirra.
I’d told Apollo, just before that other world had split apart, that he’d do well to begin his physical transition as soon as possible. He’d made it clear that occupying his sister’s body was going to be a hardship, but this was the 21st century. There was medicine for that. The less he reminded Xanthe of Kirra, the better.
I was pulling strings again, trying to pull the idea into Kaspar’s mind. The two of them, the second of whom I was certain was Apollo, were chatting about their respective areas of residence. How Prague was a great haven for queerness and polyamory, but how the rest of the Czech Republic was conservative. Apollo was commenting about how Savannah was much the same in context with Georgia. Oh, my partner lives in Georgia! I implored Kaspar to type, seconds before they typed it. “You do mean the United State’s Georgia, yes? You’d be preaching to the choir, if you were to meet. They’ve had a rough time in Savannah’s polyamorous sphere as well.”
That was an understatement, but Kaspar defaulted to minimizing the unpleasant. I was watching the conversation a while more. Apollo mentioned his transition, slipped in that he was aromantic, and that he considered ‘certain family members’ of his to be transphobic.
It was that night that I wrote a letter to Apollo. “I’ve been watching your progress from afar. I propose we meet at Foxy Loxy, on April 8th.” I signed Xanthe’s name, but knew Apollo would know differently. After all, I didn’t have a name yet.
Then, I’d be prepping Asher for the change. “I’m erasing my own memories. As you can see, I haven’t been dealing with it well. And– though I know that this will give Apollo a better life, I’d rather not think of him having Kirra’s body. I honestly… would just rather not know they ever shared the same body. It’s in the best interest of everyone.”
Asher was frowning. “Will it hurt?”
Very likely. “I’ll try and be careful.” I told them with a strained smile. Soon, Vex would be convincing of Xanthe of the same idea, which would allow me to perfect the story. For example, I’d always suspected Xanthe of being mildly color-blind–frequently confusing green eyes and blue. Kirra’s body has blue-green eyes. I’d slip in the fact that Kirra definitely had blue eyes. And Apollo’s? Were green. In fact, Xanthe had always known of Apollo– Kirra’s twin brother. Even met him, once before, the same night Kirra, Xanthe, and AJ had gone to Chive. He had been thinking of joining University as well.
I tucked it away, a story that would unfurl when it needed to.
I also obscured what I needed to. The worst of those nightmarish days when Kirra had unbreakable control over us. What was left behind were shadows, stains like the silhouette of a victim that had spent too long lying on a carpet.
And even better– Kirra had been forced back to Ohio, to live with her father. The danger was out of reach. I mean, I knew that part to be mostly true. If Kirra had gone dormant, as Neb had, then she couldn’t get further away from us. And that’s what I believed. That Kirra had met Neb’s fate like karma clearly intended.
Sweet, sweet Schadenfreude.
Apollo was due to take Kirra’s place in Cotton’s house. I added in the idea that Xanthe and Cotton had already celebrated Kirra flunking out of University. That way, it never needed to be brought up to Cotton again.
And that, ladies, gentlemen, and everything in between, is what a gatekeeper can do.
We do what the system needs. But not necessarily what it wants.