In That Crumbling Home
by Thomas Ha
Love stories are for dumbasses, Daddy likes to say, especially when he’s caught me reading, and he’s about to shred whatever book is in my hands and make me cry over the pieces. He’s known for a while now that I’ve been slipping out when he’s breaking down bodies—past the edge of the swamp and over to the sunken library, where I’ll usually pick up a copy of a teen novel or maybe some classic lit, anything that isn’t too molded or ripped in the important parts. I honestly don’t know what makes him angrier: the idea of his daughter spending her idle time with words, or the fact that, ever since the withering and rot in him started spreading to the hollows of his skull, he can’t focus well enough to read anything for himself.
Still, there are good days when I don’t have to shove my books under the floorboards or scurry around—easy afternoons when the sun’s warming the house over and the big folks are asleep, and I’m supposed to be in the yard tending to the Bloodtree, but instead, I nestle up between the fleshy legroots and read for a good while. Maybe my little brother will come clambering around too, poking and begging for me to read a little something to him, so I’ll do some of the good passages out loud, have a few chuckles over the descriptions and my funny voices, before things are cut short—usually because Daddy is thundering apart glass and wood somewhere in another one of his fits.
The Pilot in our basement is even in on it a little. He’s known about my reading ever since he spotted one of the paperbacks peeking out from my pocket. Sometimes, when he’s resting up after Daddy’s cut off another part of him, and I’m down there bringing him his usual tin of water, he asks me about whatever it is I’ve borrowed lately, like it’s the only thing he really has to look forward to.
And, yeah, I’m not stupid. All the trespassers try something like this eventually. If it’s not begging or bribing, they’ll turn to charming. Probably because I’m the only girl they see, so they figure there’s a chance that I’ll soften with some sweet talk.
But this Pilot seems different somehow.
Sure, it could be that he’s kind of handsome—lean and square-jawed like the men on the book covers, if you can get past the infections and the shivering and passing out from his wounds. But what I like is that he looks me in the eye and just talks whenever I go down there to visit. No questions about where his crew members are, nothing about what’s going to happen to him or why we’re hurting him. This one just makes gentle conversation while drinking what he can, before he eventually loses consciousness.
Once in a while, though, he’ll start talking about other things, like where he came from. And when he does, I have to shoo my brother out and double-check that he isn’t listening through the pipes, because the Pilot says some pretty outlandish things that I don’t think can ever be repeated. He describes these other places outside the settlement, like they’re not on fire or at war with us, the way we were told. And I can’t tell if it’s his injuries overtaking him or if he’s a natural-born liar, but I’ll admit, the cities and colonies he paints with those hazy words of his seem even better than the ones in those tattered books from the library.
And sometimes, I don’t know, maybe I’m a little too interested in what he says. Because he starts to say other things: like how he can sense that I’m unhappy and how he knows maybe I feel trapped—that I’m stronger than I look and could be okay on my own, if I ever decide that that’s what I want. He claims he’s got a shuttle hidden away that still has fuel, and if I find a way to help him, we could both fly away and leave this place behind.
It sounds stupid when I think about it all together like that, but in the moment, when he looks at me and just talks that way, I really start to believe it might be possible, even if I know that it’s nothing more than the stuff of daydreams.
During the cool evenings, when I’m climbing up the skin folds of the Bloodtree, and I’m shambling across one of the bigger shoulders to pluck some of the carcass fruit from the ends of the curling fingers, I find myself toying with the idea of other worlds more than I should. The Bloodtree listens patiently while I mutter to myself, probably because I’m the only person he’ll listen to. And I’ll lie in his bough for a minute, stroking some of his bending forearms and pondering other ways that things could be, before it’s time to start supper.
But then, one night, my little brother says something that makes me realize that I haven’t been doing a good job of keeping him from the Pilot after all.
He says, “Where do all the trespassers keep coming from, though?”
And Daddy stops eating his bowl of roasted carcass fruit and looks dead-eyed like my brother just pulled down his pants and took a shit in the middle of the meal.
I try to squeeze the kid’s hand under the table, but either he doesn’t feel it or he’s angling to make a point, because he just keeps going.
“If it’s all fighting and terror outside the swamps—these guys, why do they keep showing up well-fed, with the tech they have? Shouldn’t they be more … you know, like us?”
Daddy wipes the dribble and blood from his throat and puts the fractured gourd of the carcass fruit down. “Like us, what?”
“Don’t know.” Little brother’s face gets hot and he starts to stutter. “Just … more like us…”
And now there’s some shifting along Daddy’s shoulder blades, beneath his shirt, and that’s always the big sign that things are going the wrong way.
“Come on. He doesn’t mean anything.” I do my best to jump in, but Daddy gives me the look that gets me to shrink in my chair: the better shut your mouth unless you want this to be worse for him look.
“So you think you know then, huh? Figured out what’s beyond the swamps and stars?”
My brother trembles, realizing that Daddy’s taking the questions the worst way he can. But, to his credit, the kid doesn’t look away, just raises that pudgy little face of his, even though now it’s spilling with tears.
“Well, if you’re a big boy who understands how things are, then you must be big enough to handle this too. Don’t you think?”
Daddy pushes his dinner bowl over and pokes my brother in the chest. He knows, of course, that the seeping carcass meat is too rich for someone that young, that the kid should be on canned goods for at least a few more years before trying anything from the Bloodtree, but this is the kind of thing Daddy does when he wants to make it clear who’s boss—his favorite thing to do to me, too, before I got old enough to stomach the iron and bile.
The kid knows as well as I do where this is headed, and that the sooner he goes along, the sooner it’s all going to be over with. So he bites into a wet chunk of red pouch just under the hair, the area that I taught him is a little easier going down. He tries, really tries, to keep from retching as he swallows, but after a minute or so, it all comes up again, over his clothes and across the table like a steaming, crimson stew, and Daddy claps and gets real up in his face.
“Ungrateful little shits,” he cackles. “Now that’s what I fucking thought. I mean, the things we do. God, if you only knew all the things we do for you. Idiots. Spoiled. Just ungrateful little shits.”
“You said that already,” I mutter and expect Daddy to do his usual—throw something in my direction, or at least reach over and smack me for good measure. But he must be getting used to my prickly attitude, because instead of wasting his energy, Daddy just points at the biggest bowl on the table for the feeding.
This here is my version of the carcass fruit punishment, the one he knows will get to me more than anything else. Daddy waits until I take the fruit out of the dining room and make my way down the hall and over to the family room. Once there, I carefully undo each of the weighty bolts and locks. No one so much as breathes, even all the way from the other side of the house, when I enter the darkness.
And I don’t know exactly when I make the decision. Maybe it’s at some point then, when I’m bent with my forehead on the ground, shaking because I can feel Kun-Mother moving toward the bowl, and I’m praying she doesn’t get distracted and start picking at me instead. Or maybe it’s when she’s done sucking and chewing and she’s dragging that dripping body of hers up to the ceiling, and I crawl out and redo the locks and get to the table—where Daddy’s giving me that fucking grin of his before he shoves my brother’s face back into the carcass fruit. Or maybe it’s when I understand that this is just the start of more shit they’re going to give the boy, again and again, until they break him, kill him, or worse, make him the way they are.
But I finally realize that the family won’t go on like this anymore.
Because I won’t fucking let it.
• • •
Now, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought of ways out of this place—that I hadn’t gone at least a half-mile beyond our property line to the old town center, that point where there are things stalking and breeding in the crumbling buildings. Places where I’d sit for a good while and think about heading beyond the Burning Ridge, imagining my little brother alongside me and a whole new way of doing things, just the two of us.
Somehow, no matter how angry I might get at something awful Daddy’s done, or how terrifying it is when Kun-Mother escapes the family room, I always seem to find myself hustling back, because I’m scared to look too long at what else is out there.
But the things you imagine yourself doing can change an awful lot with time, especially when you have someone in your basement who swears he has a working flightcraft and the will to take you with him.
So I do my best to be gentle when I go down there into the dark. And the Pilot, well, he looks up and kind of smiles slowly as I wake him, like he’s happy to see me, which makes me really hope that he hears me apologize before I slide a needle into the soft part of his throat. Based on the screams he lets loose, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I’ll admit that there’s a fifty-fifty chance that I shot him up with the wrong stuff.
I was in a hurry when I grabbed the vial from the old lab, trying to recall whether it was the red or blue serum I needed, all while keeping one ear out for the sound of Daddy grinding up limbs for fertilizer out back. Before Kun-Mother lost her words and Daddy lost his mind, back when they were doctors who tried to help strangers who came our way instead of what they do now, I remember them using these vials to stabilize even the worst off of folks.
Kind of like glue-juice, my father used to say, when he was still playing with me in there during his breaks, talking about introns and exons and therapies the two of them were working on at the time.
Well, I can only hope that I made the right choice with the blue vial as I sit there, stuffing my fist in the Pilot’s mouth to blunt the sound of him crying and flopping around over the next few minutes. After the spit and sweat settles, he looks down at the lump that used to be his forearm and his right foot, parts that had been carved by Daddy down to the bone, and he can already see some rippling under the flesh. He asks what I did, and I just say it’ll help him move without falling apart from the shock.
Then I look him in the eye and ask him if he meant what he said all those times, about that shuttle, and the fuel, and the getting the hell out.
And he nods and looks back at me, touching my hand softly.
“Yes. Absolutely. God. You and me. Yes,” he whispers.
It kind of reminds me of the books the Pilot and I always talk about—the moment when the characters share hushed promises, secret plans to run off from all the bad things keeping them apart. Except there’s a lot more murder likely to happen if we don’t hurry, so I tell him we’ve really got to get moving.
By the time I’ve gotten the Pilot’s chains off and helped him up the steps, we come to my little brother, who’s waving at us from down the hall. The boy’s face is so chalk-white that I think he’s going to say Daddy’s headed our way. Instead, he points to his ear, and the three of us huddle for a bit until I hear it.
There’s a screeching hum, almost like it’s building into a melody, but then it devolves into raspy laughter.
“What … is that?” the Pilot whispers, looking back and forth at the two of us.
My brother and I share a glance while we think this through.
Janice has a tendency to stick her nose in things whenever she’s least wanted, like some goddamn sixth sense for when she’ll fuck things up the most. If she’s not digging up holes in the yard or breaking windows, she’s making so much goddamn noise that no one in the house can sleep. Daddy’s almost killed her a few times in the summers, when she messes around with our garbage, but he always goes easy on her at the last minute.
I figure it’s because while some folks like Daddy and Kun-Mother put their bodies through changes by choice—edited their genes the way they thought they needed to when the Nine Moon War first broke out—there were other folks, like our neighbor Janice, who didn’t have a say in whether they got altered. Gene missiles and viral bombshells don’t exactly ask for permission when they fuck with your blood, I hear.
I almost feel a little bad for her on occasion, until I remember that she can tear my limbs off with barely a tug, and that she’s also, you know, just generally so goddamn annoying.
But Janice or no Janice, we need to get out of here tonight, because I don’t think the Pilot will last with Daddy much longer. So I ask my brother if he brought what I requested, and he opens up his backpack to let me fish the handgun from inside it.
“Where’d you get that?” The Pilot studies the shape of the weapon. “That’s … that’s I.C. issue.”
I suppose if there were more time, I could tell him about the stockpile Daddy keeps out in the greenhouse, the ones he’s harvested from the bodies and vehicles of trespassers over the years. How, early on, he’d break the weapons down and unload the ammunition, but as his hands started to seize up and his patience shriveled, he took to dumping them all in a heap, so that they’d sit and sweat in that muggy box of glass and vines. I could tell him some stories about how it’s gotten so disordered out there that the butterflymen living in the brush beyond our lot occasionally try to swipe something when they think Daddy isn’t around, but usually end up blowing themselves to hell when they grab one that’s leaking or that’s cracked in the barrel. But somehow, even if we had a breather to shoot the shit that way, I don’t think the Pilot would be overjoyed to hear how many of his Intrasystem Consortium people died in the making of that godawful collection to begin with.
My little brother, at least, was careful in picking this handgun, I can see—not too degraded and still fully loaded, which will be useful when we make our move from the house.
I tell him he did well, and he gives me one of those big ear-to-ear grins of his, just briefly. I know the boy’s scared not so deep down, that he’s starting to doubt. But we’ve talked about this—how things just aren’t safe in this house anymore with the way our folks are headed, how if we ever see a chance to go, we have to take it.
“We got this, okay?” I squeeze his small hand.
This isn’t the first time I’ve come up with a fix in the moment and acted like it was part of something prepared. If it’s one thing I’ve learned as an unofficial parent in this shithole, it’s that it can sometimes be the only way to get through things. The particular plan I cobble together for Janice actually comes from Daddy, of all people, or at least a version of him from before.
I think back on a crisp evening when I’d found Daddy in the yard, blood dripping down his cheek. He was wrestling with some arm that he’d torn from the Bloodtree, and its fingers were still grabbing at him when he cracked the bones apart.
You fucking dare? Daddy shouted over and over as he stomped on the arm. This was when Mom was already far gone, with only the thing called Kun-Mother remaining, and before Daddy began having those violent fits of his regularly.
But that evening, when he spun around, his eyes burning on me like he didn’t even know my face, I remember this being one of the first moments I thought he’d actually kill me, even if just by mistake.
But he huffed and wiped his face and looked away.
Fucking Bloodtree doesn’t recognize me. Defective piece of shit, he said. The corners of his mouth spasmed, and I saw the muscles in his shoulders rise, which made me pull away. But it passed, and Daddy took a breath. You’ll be dealing with that fucker from now on. Understand?
He obviously couldn’t have known it then, but making me the Bloodtree’s caretaker all those years ago might have been one of the few good things he did for us.
I tell my little brother and the Pilot that we’re going to move. There’s a lull in Janice’s yowling, and the padding in her footsteps sound like they’re headed toward a different part of the roof.
“Go,” I whisper, and the three of us emerge from the side door—my little brother bouncing ahead, while I half-carry the Pilot as he limps on me.
The Bloodtree swells in the dim starlight as patches of clouds pass over us, and the Pilot tightens up the second he gets a good look at the bulging tangle of limbs and skin and hair.
“Jesus Christ,” he gasps, and I know he must recognize the tree for what it really is, a sentient protein combine-generator—the kind other colonies might use to manufacture vats of synthetic meat for local populations. But this particular generator that our family’s repurposed isn’t anything like the ones he’s ever encountered—not with all of the things we’ve been feeding into it since the war. And I’m not about to try to coddle or reassure him about any part of it, because I know it’s exactly as bad as it probably seems.
“Just stay close and keep on,” I mutter. “The Bloodtree has to believe we’re together for this to work.”
We don’t have long to linger or discuss, because there’s a rasp somewhere that carries across the air. My little brother reaches the trunk first, and the Pilot and I are almost there too when I start to hear the shrieking and thudding start up behind us.
“Come on!” I’m practically hauling the Pilot with me.
The approaching footsteps turn to a gallop, and the gallop grows to a pounding that I can almost feel at our backs. We barely get past the legroots before I risk taking a look, and I glimpse Janice running on all fours, her hairy body, covered in nested tumors, reaching almost halfway across the lawn. I also catch sight of her old face, half-buried under the misshapen snout of hers that does all of the eating, and the human part of her is weeping, it looks like—maybe because of pain, or her inability to control her emotions, I’m not sure—but I don’t let myself feel anything about it in the moment.
I learned, living with Daddy and Kun-Mother, that just because some monsters used to be innocent, doesn’t make them any less dangerous in the here and now.
Luckily, in this particular here and now, the Bloodtree wakes. One of the larger armbranches grips Janice below the neck before she can swipe, and her hands pass through the air right by the Pilot’s head. There’s a spurt of fluid out of her side when the Bloodtree squeezes, along with a few noisy cracks, which I’m pretty sure are her ribs busting. And she shrieks, even louder and more awful than her usual screams, as she gets thrown forcefully away from us, like a pebble skipping across the patches of soil and grass.
We watch, shivering, while that hunched, engorged body of hers tries to drag itself upright on quivering legs, and after a moment, she slinks painfully into the shadows, behind the house.
Then all’s quiet for a minute while we catch our breath.
It’s possible that those wounds will end her, but she’s survived a lot worse. And at this point, it’s not so much Janice that I’m thinking about, as the ones who could’ve heard all her wailing.
My little brother and I are just waiting, looking out at the house.
No lights, no movement.
“Come on,” I hiss and wave toward the gate. We just have to make it to the old truck parked by the biting weeds, the one my brother and I keep fueled and ready for a run like this. But the kid is trailing, still huffing and scrambling over by the tree when I look for him.
And then I see it.
Daddy’s standing still on the porch, looking at us.
It’s hard to believe that there were times when the sight of Daddy out at the front of the house was a good thing. Back when the clouds were roiling fire, and I.C. men and their ships were dropping down from the sky, I’d look up and see Daddy there, and he’d tell me to take my baby brother into the basement and keep him from crying. I vaguely remember him injecting something into his throat, and if Mom were there, she’d maybe get something too. And the last thing I’d see was them holding each other before I’d run into the house, while everything outside those groaning walls rattled and boomed in the distance.
But Daddy doesn’t stand that way anymore, and the vacant expression below his brow and the shifting in his shoulders means that only bad things are going to come.
The Pilot gurgles with panic, and he looks at me quaky and wide-eyed.
“We’ve got to go! The kid’s not going to make it to the truck,” the Pilot cries, and he clutches my neck with his good arm. “You and me. Now or never. It’s time.”
I’m only half-registering what he’s telling me, though, because I’m watching my brother’s pudgy face as he falls over the legroots and rolls over on his back, reaching out to me with those small hands of his while Daddy’s stepping off the porch, that body getting bigger as he paces across the lawn.
Then I take another look at that sweaty, shivering Pilot clinging to me like a sick little animal, and he whispers again, “You and me. We’ll get out of here, just like we talked about. Come on. We’ve got to go.”
“You and me?” I repeat absently.
And it dawns on me, why the Pilot’s saying these odd and desperate things. He has a very different idea of what this is. He thinks he’s got me swept up in a love story, like the ones we talked about all those times in the basement. He believes that he’s the one I care about, and that I’m doing this because he’s the one I want to save from this fucked-up place.
But he’s not, and never has been, the one I want to save.
So it really isn’t much of a choice, when I let the Pilot drop to the ground. And I can tell my brother’s doing that thing of his, where he’s trying not to cry but the tears are spilling, when he sees me running toward him. I scoop up the kid in my arms and squeeze him real tight as Daddy starts coming, and I shut my eyes for what I know is about to happen.
But the only thing I feel, strangely, is air, as Daddy moves beyond us and through the front gate.
There’s a crack-crack-cracking of shots, which gets me to reach for my waistband and realize that the Pilot snatched the I.C. handgun off me at some point. Not that it’ll do him any good.
Daddy’s swollen back muscles are gushing where the skin’s separated. His other legs—the segmented ones that look like the limbs on the cow-spiders out in the fens—are blossoming out of him, just bending and seeping viscous mucus as they drag along the ground.
The Pilot, meanwhile, is yelling and firing from his sprawled position in the dirt, but he’s got to see how useless it all is, the way Daddy’s body just eats the bullets. And I’m really not sure the last thought that goes through that man’s mind as he sees Daddy stand over him—especially since I never had a clear idea what the Pilot was thinking to begin with—but I know he’s crying out for something or someone when Daddy’s other legs sink into his chest and separate him, like a soap bubble, popping and raining liquid onto the ground.
After that, the noise around us softens to nothing but the rustle of wind brushing through the nearby fingerstems.
It’s then that I expect—well, I guess I don’t know what I expect—but I assume Daddy’ll start in on us next.
But for some reason Daddy’s waiting there in one spot, dark and dripping and covered in Pilot, almost like he doesn’t know what’ll happen either, now that we’re all out here, and we all know what it was my brother and I were trying to do.
I get to my feet, push the kid on behind me, and hold up my hand.
“Just … just let us be,” is all I manage to say. I mean for it to be a command, something fierce like I’d yell at a scavenger-hound to get some space, but when the words come, they’re more like a whimper.
And as I move with my brother to the truck in the weeds, we edge past Daddy and see those eyeballs of his, wide as I think they’ll go, while viscera and pulp just slough off his cheeks.
“Fucking morons,” he murmurs.
It figures that the first thing he finally says after all this is something shitty.
“Both of you.” His voice actually isn’t much louder than what I managed. “Really think you understand. Idiots. Stupid pieces of shit. You’ll fucking suffer, you know. Out there, you’ll just suffer.”
He watches as I keep on shuffling with the kid and paw at the truck, which is when we hear it, far off at the house but unmistakable—the splintering of wood and clatter of hinges and locks peeling off the family room door and clanging to the ground. Kun-Mother’s good and riled up from all the gunshots and the screams, just pushing her way out after all that excitement. We can see a flicker of shadows in the windows as her worm flesh shudders, overflowing and rumbling through one of the hallways.
“Could be that out there, we’ll suffer, could be. I don’t know,” I tell our Daddy. “But sooner. Later. In here, we’ll die.”
And somehow, I can just tell from the way he stares, the way he’s stuck, that Daddy can’t actually bring himself to stop us, no matter what he says. And it’s not because he’s good, or because he cares, or because he’s anything close to decent.
It’s because he’s too much of a fucking coward: with Kun-Mother, with himself, and finally, now, with me.
So I forget him, and I push my little brother into the truck’s cab and pile in after, just as we hear Kun-Mother’s body thumping toward the front of the house. That part of her that used to be a face that I can’t even picture anymore, the part that’s just a toothy gash going down an open throat, mashes itself against one of the bigger panes.
But it doesn’t matter, because I turn the engine over, and when the junker sputters to life, I gun it, hard as I fucking can, a hiss of dirt flowing out behind us as we start to take off from everything rattling in the reflection of the side view: the shitty, ramshackle house, cloaked in the moving curtains of our dust trails; the writhing layers of Kun-Mother, bashing against the walls and bellowing out into the darkness; Daddy, not much more than a sagging little shape, getting smaller and smaller.
And the Bloodtree.
That mass of skin and muscle that curves over the yard, the bits and pieces of so many hours I spent there, even though I wanted to be anywhere else—the one sight that gives me a little pang as we turn off from the end of our property and start accelerating past the other abandoned lots, the moment I know that we aren’t ever going back.
My brother turns to me, that pudgy little face awash with disbelief, and I reach over and hug him and kiss the top of his forehead. And the two of us, we just fucking start to laugh. We laugh so hard from our bellies, and then we yell and curse and get so fucking worked up from all the pumping our hearts are doing.
And neither of us stops grinning the whole goddamn night as we head through the old service roads, talking about what we’re planning and how we’ll finally go about things, and I swear I feel like I could keep driving for hours, just on and on, the two of us together, just riding away like that.
• • •
But those kinds of drives have to come to an end, of course, and ours does just as the sun starts to creep up, when we make it to the sundered overpass, the place where the Pilot told me he’d hidden his shuttle during all those basement chats.
The books don’t usually get into this, I realize—how, after the characters make their big move and set off for a new life, there’s still so much work to be done.
For us, there’s a lot of digging around in the mud at the base of the shuttle, looking for the manual override for the cargo door. Once we find it and get inside the craft, there’s a nice minute where we look at it: all of that chilled metal and clean, un-melted plastic, that I know we can secure into a pretty good shelter, make it special and safe, if we do it right.
Operating the ship’s interfaces doesn’t come easily, at first. But my brother, clever little bastard that he is, finds a book in one of the lockers. There are some personal entries and a mission log, but there’s also a slip of paper with passcodes, and that changes everything for us.
The codes get the solar panels running, which give the ship bursts of power when the Burning Ridge isn’t overcast with black fog. They also grant us access to the pantry, which still has a mess of dehydrated food stores, enough to last a full crew for years. And, sure, the packets aren’t the most appetizing at first, but anything’s doable after you’ve been stuck forever with the bloody taste of carcass fruit.
I realize this means we can stay in the ship for days on end, if we like, so that the only time I need to make a run outside is to get something from the sunken library, maybe grab us a couple novels so I can lay out on the deck with the kid, reading in those funny voices to fill some of the silence. But I also start taking other things while I’m out there too, some textbooks on basic piloting, telemetry, and the like. I mean, the shuttle’s systems are so heavily automated, that I think it’s only a matter of time before we figure out how to get off the ground.
It all starts to come together, almost like I imagined.
But, sometimes, when the kid thinks I’m busy with the consoles, or too deep in my reading to pay attention, I catch the little man crying in some other corner of the ship. He looks up at me all tear-spattered and blinky, and he says he’s not sure why he’s so sad about everything we left.
When that happens, I hug him and sing to him, until he’s finally able to let go of the shakiness inside him, but part of me, a tiny part, knows what he means.
Because the strangest thing about holing up in this new place, I’ve found, is that even though I know that the old house was horrible and fucked, there are still bits about it that I miss.
Like, sometimes, when I’m looking out the viewing platform on quieter days, I find myself imagining that I’m resting on folds of skin, arms cradling around me as a breeze passes through hundreds of curling fingers, and I wonder a little if the tree misses me, if what he thinks of me will change when fragments of the Pilot are flowing inside him, as he grows fingernails, hair, and bone for the new season.
And most evenings, when the sun’s lingering over the cragged cityscape and I shut my eyes, I catch myself listening for the groaning of the walls of that old house, or the shifting boards under Daddy’s lumbering feet, or even the clacking of the locks outside the family room.
I keep imagining that I’m all the way back there, somehow, in that crumbling home.
And, against all reason or sense, when I’m not careful—some small and stupid and fucked-up part of me—it almost lets me forget all the terrible things that ever made me want to leave.
Copyright © 2022 by Thomas Ha