Bourbon Penn 30

Strange Eons

by Keira Perkins

The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.

Since their arrival, I have been taking refuge in the cornfields. If I stare at the aliens too long, my head aches and my stomach twists, like I’m crashing from a sugar high. I feel a little better when I sit in the dirt and look up at the stalks above me. Since time died, the leaves and stalks no longer sway because there is no longer wind. It’s okay though. Mostly. I don’t miss the wind that much. I like how the corn reaches towards the sky, toward the gods, like Adam’s outstretched arm in the Sistine chapel. Something about that eternal reach makes this infinite moment and those colossuses in the sky feel smaller in comparison.

“Not smaller,” I say to myself and the corn, “just more manageable. Infinity is an absolute and it can’t be smaller than it is.”

I’ve spent a long while thinking about it. There’s lots of people to talk to; everyone has an opinion on our new reality, after all. But the frenetic and sickening energy from other people is exhausting and I am barely hanging onto my sanity as it is. My thoughts have felt tangled and fuzzy lately, and other people’s thoughts make that tangled feeling worse. It’s another reason that I hide away in the corn. The corn is quiet, and I like to press my knees to my chest and dig my bare toes into the dirt. I am aware that I am literally grounding myself, but I don’t care that it looks stupid. I can’t remember the last time it rained, but deeper down, the soil is still wet. I like the coolness of it against my skin.

It should be an obvious conclusion that the soil is still wet. Evaporation, after all, takes place over time and time is dead. It should be as easy as that to learn the new rules of time’s destruction, but it’s not. Everything is strange and inconsistent in a way that makes normal, everyday things hard to predict and plan. It makes your thoughts tangled and fuzzy. There is no weather, but the worms still dig. There is no rain, but the corn still lives. There is no time, but the Earth still spins.

None of it makes sense, but I think maybe only linear time has stopped following the laws of thermodynamics. My theory is that the elder gods or aliens or whatever, are actually mostly made of dark matter. They’re heavier than they should be, and their resultant dark gravity compresses everything all together, including time. It’s like coal and diamonds. If you squish coal with enough weight, it eventually turns into a diamond, even though it’s still made of the same stuff as coal. So, like, our time would have been squished hard and gotten us stuck here, forever frozen in some cosmic amber. It’s still the same stuff as before, but it looks different. Non-linear time, if that exists, just kind of does whatever it feels like.

As much as I’ve tried to ignore everyone, I know this theory has occurred to other people. The rebuttal is that if dark gravity was that strong, the aliens would be a black hole that swallowed us up before we ever saw them. We would be squished flat and dead and possibly only two-dimensional. Or maybe not, is the rebuttal to that rebuttal. Time and energy and light bend near black holes, which would explain why time is a clusterfuck, but doesn’t explain anything else. Some people think that time is actually dead dead, and we’re in its rotting corpse. I don’t like that theory.

The physicists have been shouting a lot and I’ve seen a few of them in tears on YouTube and TikTok while trying to explain time dilation and quantum mechanics. I feel bad for them because they seem to feel just as sick and tangled up about it as I do. I don’t have room in my head for their bad feelings, too. I deleted all the social media apps off my phone, and I don’t carry it anymore. I don’t want to know what other people are thinking.

There are a few things about this new reality that I think are true. Life itself didn’t stop when time did, even though everything else had. It wasn’t obvious at first. But then children stopped hitting their developmental milestones. People in hospice care, like the ones that were literally taking their last breaths, still lived. Pregnant people stayed pregnant. Hair and nails stopped growing. We all still need to breathe though, and I don’t understand why, if I’m being honest. At first, I would hold my breath for as long as I could to test time. I would count, “one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand …” in my head because no one’s clocks, or watches, or phone timers were working anymore. I made it to two minutes and fifteen seconds, until I started gasping like a dying fish. It’s just as well, I was seeing spots and it was making my head harder to live in.

We can all still eat, too, but no one’s hungry. We can still drink, but no one’s thirsty. I don’t know how bodies can still consume if they aren’t metabolizing, but I don’t think about it too closely because, again, it makes my head hurt. Most of my family members are always drunk now, which shouldn’t be possible if they aren’t metabolizing the alcohol.

I’m careful these days, if it is “these days” and not “this day”, to not get within their arms’ reach. My grandma and my mom are always sloppily grabbing at me and pulling me close into tight hugs that last too long. I think they’re making me claustrophobic. I feel trapped. My grandma hugs me the most, and the smell of the vodka on her breath overwhelms all my senses and pushes me to the verge of panic. It’s the same smell that was often on my mother, even before the aliens had arrived, but at least she wasn’t a hugger. They both thought I couldn’t smell it, but I can. Even when they tried to hide it in their iced tea or their orange juice, I could smell it. Pregnancy had made my nose more sensitive.

“Do you know about MK-Ultra?” my grandmother likes to loudly whisper in my ear while stroking my back, “They’ve done this before. Those dirty sneaks”

“They think we belong to them, to use anyway they want.” says my mother, her eyes flashing, “They always have.”

I’m not sure what my mom’s talking about. She may be right, but I don’t think either of us know who “they” are. Grandma thinks the CIA has dosed the water supply with LSD. I think most theories are just as unlikely as another, but grandma’s feels especially unlikely. Mass hallucinations exist, of course, but the CIA dosing 8 billion people simultaneously feels improbable. If the water in Flint still wasn’t drinkable, how could that same government be able to impact the global supply of water? And not only that, make us believe that there were aliens in the sky that had completely stopped life as we knew it? Unless the government is just really good at gaslighting and poisoning water? I can feel my thoughts start to do that tangly thing again and I take a deep breath. As I exhale, I dig my toes deeper into the soil.

All of that doesn’t answer the “why” of it all though. I think I know. I’m so afraid to say it outside my own head. I think I killed all of us, but the terrible thing is, I would do it again. The elder gods had arrived the evening after the morning I had an abortion. I’ve wondered many times if I had been carrying an antichrist. Not The Antichrist, but maybe a minor one. I don’t think I’m important enough for the main event, you know? The aliens feel evil, or at least they make me feel really sick, which makes me think the embryo was something bad. It makes me feel so guilty. How could I have been growing something so bad in my own body?

I’m so afraid that they want their antichrist and now they’re hunting me so the plan can be corrected. My stomach flips and twists and panicked bile rises in my throat when I imagine being pregnant again. I would do anything to get away. I can’t get away. All I have is the cornfield, and I am so grateful that I’m essentially invisible when I sit at the base of the stalks. Maybe they can’t see me down here. Just in case though, I dig my toes deeper into the soil. I’m hopeful it will anchor me more securely and keep me away from the aliens’ eyes. I’m not sure they have eyes in those swirling, colored tentacles, but it hurts too much to study them too closely.

When the politicians and holy men had preached that natural disasters were brought about by an angry god and human sin, I doubt they had intended these gods. I really doubt that they had imagined me carrying a harbinger of death in my womb. I laughed until I made myself sick when I thought about it too much. I’ve mostly stopped thinking about it.

As I push my toes down, a cicada’s head pushes its way through the soil near my big toe, grasping and pushing its way free. I scowl at it, hoping it takes the hint. It is not the right month for cicadas. It’s not even the right cycle for this species. The ones with red eyes only emerge every seventeen years.

“Hey, little guy,” I say, “This is the wrong time for you. Go back to sleep.”

The cicada nymph does not agree. It continues to thrash, its small arms cutting like flippers through an ocean of dirt. I watch it quietly, fascinated as it fully emerges and begins its climb up my big toe. I don’t like the feel of its feet. They remind me of fishhooks. I watch as the cicada continues its awkward march down my foot and towards my ankle, looking for higher ground for the final stage of its metamorphosis. I shudder, involuntarily, the sensation of its feet against my skin is too much. I usually like cicadas, but I don’t want this one to crawl on me.

“Go molt somewhere else,” I say, “Your feet feel like nails down a chalkboard.”

Very gently, I pluck the cicada from my foot with my thumb and forefinger and place it on the nearest corn stalk. The cicada’s legs swing wildly until they find purchase on the stalk and grasp it tightly. I watch it continue its ascent. I wish it had already discarded its shell; those cicadas will sing if you squeeze them very, very gently. This one can’t sing yet.

“Do you think we’re dead?” I ask the insect, “Maybe this is hell.”

The cicada does not answer. I know I am slowly losing my mind, but at least I am not surprised when it doesn’t reply.

I take my toes out of the dirt and sit cross-legged as I watch the cicada shed. The wings slowly start to emerge, but it takes a long while. I like to watch these moments occurring and progressing even though time itself is broken. Like I said, it doesn’t make sense. Children have stopped growing but an insect can still molt? I’m deep in my own tangled thoughts when I hear something large fighting its way through the corn. It’s silly to fight the field when the corn is this tall; you can never win. It’s much smarter to follow the rows, which let you ride along them like a wave to shore. Besides, there are always small gaps in the stalks you can slip through if you are patient enough to find them. The corn near me begins to sway and then a face is visible through the stalks.

“Hey, Jaxon,” I say.

“Hey!” My boyfriend trips over a root and crashes to the ground, bringing multiple plants down with him. Jaxon is not patient. I’ve told him many times about how to navigate the corn, but he still insists on doing it his way.

“Ow.” Jaxon gingerly pushes himself up and sits back on his heels. He examines his palms carefully, which are scraped and slightly bleeding. His jeans are dirty at the knees, but not torn.

“You okay?” I ask. He seems mostly unhurt, but things are weird, and I don’t want to assume. I flick my eyes to the cicada to make sure it’s still safely anchored on its nearby stalk. I am relieved when I spot it.

Jaxon nods. “Yeah, your mom said I could find you out here. What are you doing out in the corn again?”

I shrug. It feels like a lot to explain.

“Are you bleeding? Oh, my God. Are you hurt?”

I follow Jaxon’s eyesight to my thigh. I’m still sitting cross-legged. I had jumped back slightly when Jax fell, and I see my dress has hiked up high on my leg. It’s smeared dark with brownish blood.

“Oh. That.”

I’m not alarmed. It’s only period blood, and I’ve been bleeding for quite some time, I think. It’s hard to judge how long I’ve bled, but I know it started after I took the pills at the clinic. Sometimes the blood is bright red, sometimes there are dark maroon clots, but most days it’s a sticky reddish-brown. Jaxon did have a point though. I’ve been bleeding steadily since time stopped. Or broke. Died. Whatever. And if reality were still real and time still passed, I should have bled out months ago. Everyone else I knew no longer had a period. No one else I knew was being hunted by the elder gods. None of this was fair at all.

“Why are you bleeding? Jesus!”

“Because I have a uterus, Jaxon. And it’s shedding.” I say this flatly. There is no use in getting upset about facts. Your mind gets all tangly when you don’t accept facts, like how there are Lovecraftian nightmares hanging like a string of Christmas lights above us.

Jaxon is quiet for moment. I assume talking about my uterus shedding has made him think of the abortion. I think I’m right because he asks me suddenly, “Will you let me pray with you?”

“No.” My voice is still flat. We’ve had this conversation before.

“We’re being punished.”

I roll my eyes at him. I’m not trying to be unkind, but he really is exasperating. I feel like I’ve aged a thousand years, and he still gets to be seventeen. Maybe time hasn’t completely stopped for me after all. I’m suddenly exhausted, both with the weight of my age and weight of his immaturity. Lots of people have abortions and God or gods or aliens or whatever don’t kill time because of it.

“We are! Look at the sky! Just look at it! What do you think that is if it’s not God’s punishment?” Jax starts the words at a shout but is whispering them by the end. He’s nearly in tears.

I think it’s a strange directive from him. Jaxon has been looking steadily at anything else but the sky since the aliens arrived. Even now, his eyes are fixed on my blood-smeared thigh as he gestures toward the elder gods. It’s time for that to stop.

I place my hand under Jaxon’s jaw, gently turn his chin upward and lean in, as if for a kiss. Instead, I point to the sky and say “Does that look like Jesus, Jaxon? Does it? Is it the Father, The Son, or The Holy Ghost? Does it look like any angels you’ve ever heard of? That mess of tentacles doesn’t even look like a biblical one.”

Jaxon trembles slightly, but to his credit, he doesn’t look away. Electric purple tentacles are pulsating against a twilight sky. He says, “Maybe they’re demons.”

I snort. “No. They aren’t demons.” I consider some more and add, “I think they might be evil though. But like, an evil that exists, not a paranormal one.”

Jax’s eyebrows furrow. He doesn’t understand my tangled thoughts and I don’t blame him.

“I think they’re demons,” he says again.

“They aren’t demons.” We’ve had this argument before.

Neither of us speaks, until Jaxon blurts into the silence, like he’s vomiting, “I would have loved you both.”

We’ve argued about this too. I cup his face in my hands and say, “If you loved me, you would have protected me. You would have driven me to the clinic in Illinois and held my hand. You would have walked with me past those protesters as they called me a murderer. You would have held my hair back when I vomited. You would have paid for at least part of it, so I wasn’t scrambling for cash. My sister did all of that. And if you loved me, like you say you do, my sister wouldn’t want to kick your ass.”

Jaxon stays silent. I’ve thought about this a lot though, and I’m tired of defending myself. I lightly slap his cheek, then again for emphasis, and his eyes fill with tears again. I’m not angry, and I know he’s not hurt. I’m too tired to be angry and I need him to listen.

“Those aren’t demons,” I continue, “HP Lovecraft was a racist and giant weenie about most things, but he was a little bit right about the elder gods. They’re just aliens or whatever that make you feel bad and crazy.”

Jaxon is still silent. I sigh. It’s going to take more for him to understand me. I feel cruel. I feel like a monster. I wonder if he thinks I am a monster.

“It doesn’t matter that you would have loved us both.” I tell him. “That wouldn’t have paid our rent or bought us groceries. What were you going to do? Go off to college with your baseball scholarship and drink yourself stupid every weekend? Do I stay in this town I hate and work at Dollar General? Should my alcoholic mom and grandma babysit our kid? Would you come home to visit until it was no longer fun, and you found yourself a cool girl to fuck instead?”

Jaxon’s eyes flash with anger and I think idly that he might hit me. That’s fine. I’ve been fantasizing about breaking his nose and making him bleed; I just need an excuse. I don’t know if it’s the aliens’ influence or if I’m a violent monster that was carrying an antichrist, and that’s another thing I don’t like to think about too much. All I know is that it’s a terrible thing to love and hate someone in equal measure.

It’s a long moment stuck in this broken moment, but neither of us hits the other. I point at the nearby cornstalk and say, “Jax. Do you see that cicada?”

He scowls at me. He thinks I’m attempting to change the subject, but he looks anyway. He says, “I hate when they look like that. Those giant wings poking through their shell as they bend backward is so creepy.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say about a baby.”

The scowl deepens into a glare of disgust, still furious but now he’s confused too.

“I was eight weeks pregnant. That person you’re so concerned about was less formed than a cicada nymph. Smaller, too.” I consider it some more and then add, “That cicada can live on its own and it’s not bothering anyone. But if it needed your blood and bones to survive and its song got too loud, you’d kill it in a heartbeat. You wouldn’t even flinch. You want it dead now because it’s creepy”

Jaxon is listening, but his jaw is tight. I tell him, “Staying pregnant would have destroyed my life. So if I have to choose, I’m going to pick me. I’m allowed to pick me. You can grieve all you want, but don’t you dare shame me for saving myself. You say you love me? Don’t you dare act like I’m worthless.”

Jax doesn’t answer me. I know him well enough to know he doesn’t agree. I wonder if he’s thinking of when we snuck off from the bonfire last summer and into the cornfield with a blanket. I wonder if he regrets it. I think that getting pregnant as the broken stalks poked my back, as we fumbled with each other, awkward and inexperienced, had to be the elder gods attempting a cosmic joke. It feels like the evil shit they would do. My boyfriend, who says he loves me, doesn’t understand the existential horror I felt when I was pregnant, and that feels like a joke too.

I breathe deeply, trying to re-ground myself. I am still bleeding. I hate it. I wonder how much of my blood has soaked down into the earth as I live this same time over and over. I wonder if the soil is wet from my blood and not the memory of rain. My head hurts. My head always hurts.

I see a bit of dirt near my foot jump like a stray popcorn kernel. One, then three, then five pops and suddenly the dirt is like a pot of water simmering. The simmering turns to a boil, that ripples and spreads like rings in a pond. Jaxon doesn’t notice yet because he’s staring at the sky, but I see more hard-shelled cicadas starting to poke through the dirt. They should still be sleeping. Why aren’t they sleeping?

How long have we been stuck here in this broken and dead time that the cicadas are now awake? Why are the elder gods hanged and unmoving in the sky? What do they want? Why does everything feel so awful, and stagnant, and sick?

Suddenly, understanding hits me like a thunderclap and I laugh. I can’t stop laughing and then I am howling and crying, and my stomach is cramping, and my nose is running, and I can’t stop. I. Can’t. Stop. My thoughts have become untangled, and this clear understanding is far, far worse. Jaxon has gripped my shoulders tight as he shakes me, and I know I will have finger-shaped bruises, but it doesn’t hurt. He’s shouting, his face contorted with fear, asking me what’s wrong.

I can’t tell him. Not at first. But I finally manage to gasp through my tears and chattering teeth, “That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange eons even death may die.

I hate Lovecraft, so much. He got almost everything wrong. Time is dead and gods are dead but not dead, and cicadas lie dormant for years and years and everything, simply everything is strange and wrong and those aren’t normal cicadas. I point toward the dirt where the earth is rolling now like a wave, like a localized earthquake. A swarm of cicadas, hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands push their way up and out of the earth. Crawling and skittering, they hook their feet into Jaxon’s shoelaces and jeans. They are in my hair and on my face and I can feel their weird fishhook feet on my skin, and I am shuddering like the earth. They crawl up the stalks, higher and higher. Jaxon, the cornstalks, and I are covered in a blanket of insects. I cannot see us. I cannot see the corn. I only see their red eyes.

But then Jax’s face turns toward me, and his beautiful hazel eyes are wide with fear, their light browns and greens screaming in contrast to the cicada’s dark browns and blacks. He is so close to actually screaming, it’s a wonder that he hasn’t yet. I reach out to take his hand and squeeze it; begging him silently not to scream. I don’t think it’s a good idea to scream. I want to speak, but I am afraid of these strange insects crawling into my mouth, grasping my tongue and choking me. Jax seems to understand the look I give him. We sit as still as we can, holding hands and the cicadas molt, quicker than I’ve ever seen. Quicker than I thought they could. Their translucent purple wings emerging, bloodred bodies breaking free, and fluttering, and drying, and suddenly they are all singing, deafening us, and time around us has frozen, somehow, again, a moment trapped in a moment. We have always been in this swarm that blots out the sky, and we will always be. Then an eon later that is just as sudden as the moment before, they take flight and rise high, a cloud that is heavy and fat on my blood. Higher and higher, they fly onwards, singing towards the gods in the sky. They are so high now that I can’t hear them, but my ears still ring from their song. My skin still crawls from the feel of their feet. The elder gods’ tentacles reach down and surround the cicadas like a cage and pull them close. I see other dark clouds on the horizon and more writhing tentacles reaching and scooping.

I feel the dried salt of my tears on my cheeks, as the wind blows across my face. It is finished. And I understand now. This wasn’t a punishment, like Jax thought. They weren’t hunting me to regain an antichrist, like I thought. They simply needed my blood, and I was an opportunity. Evil gods always need blood. Evil gods needed my confusion, and desperation, and my shame and my fear to feed and raise their legion that lay sleeping. They bled me dry of myself because I was nothing but a vessel for them. And now they have their swarm.

I am afraid of how many swarms they’ve raised.

I am afraid of what may come next.

The tentacles are retracting, slowly. I am afraid they will return. But for now, they are pulling away and the sunlight has begun to peek through. My thoughts are tangled again with hope and fear, and I am full of rage and fury. But for now, I am safe. For now, I am free. This moment is evil and blood-soaked, and it is finally time to leave.

Keira Perkins lives in Indiana with her husband, dogs, cats, and whichever stray animal she’s brought home that week. When she’s not writing, she gets paid to be a scientist. Keira can be found on Twitter as @hellaciousK and at