By Joachim Heijndermans
“Can you keep a secret?” I ask the Void above this small island in the middle of the sea of silver and ivory, whilst leaning against the one Bloodgood tree that grows on it.
An answer comes soon enough, shaped like a fiery star streaking through the heavens, leaving a long golden tail in its path. It lands gently in the palm of my hand. “Yes, I can,” it says, crumbling to salt, slipping through my fingers.
“I’m in love,” I whisper into the emptiness, the vast black that leads to nowhere, pulsating small purple and orange vibrations through the air.
An arrow of ebony flies past my ear, blowing strands of my blonde and magenta hair away, missing my skin by a few millimeters. “That’s fantastic,” it whispers. “Say it again.”
“I’m in love,” I say, my head held high and my shoulders straight.
A colossus of stone falls from above, landing on its knees and crumbling before me. Its empty eye sockets shine brightly for the briefest of moments, flashing to a dark red hue, leaving nothing but smoke in their wake. “Louder,” it says. “Scream it out! It is your secret. Forever yours. And I will keep it. Let it burden you no longer. Let it soar from you.”
I take a deep breath, then scream at the top of my lungs, as far as my voice can take me. “I’m in love!” I bellow. And for the first time in weeks, the heavy weight is lifted from my shoulders.
The temperature drops. An icicle forms before me, growing larger and larger as the air around it chills. Then, it falls to the ground, shattering into a million shards. “Who is it that you love?” it asks.
“Can you keep a secret?” I ask in return.
A million rose petals fall from above, wrapping me in a whirlwind of scents and reds. “You know I can,” it says. “What is your secret?”
“I love not one, not two, but three!”
“Really?” croaks the green tree-frog perched on my foot, its large red eyes locked on me. “That’s wonderful.”
“It is wonderful. It’s a pretty big deal. It’s a huge deal. The biggest deal of all. It’s the most massive of deals anyone could ever be involved with,” I say, twirling around like a top, giggling my mad little laugh. Then, the sadness returns, as I turn to face the Void. “And I can only tell you, the infinite of the real.”
A face of steel forms itself from within the Void, gleaming in what little light there is. It is both man, woman, and child combined, speaking through metallic teeth with the teeniest bit of copper plaque sticking between them. “And why only to me? Have you not told them?”
“Don’t you think I want to? They’re all great. I love them so very much. Each one is absolutely dear to my heart. Gareth, with his jokes and funny little goatee and the way he always mispronounces ‘Venezuela’ as ‘Venezualia’. Susan, with her strawberry blonde hair and her great taste in iced creams and the way she really listens—”
“Do I not?” asks the seven-foot mantis, clicking its shears and mandibles at a rapid pace, sounding somewhat hurt.
“You do,” I say. I continue: “And then there’s Terry, who is just the sweetest when she smiles and when she sings. And that way that she can draw people so close to life they look like they’re about to step out of her sketchbook. Oh, I feel like melting just thinking about it.”
“You could if you want to,” says the little red cap mushroom, growing between two stones.
“That’s not what I mean. The point is, I’m afraid to. You see, the thing is—”
“You’re in love with all your roommates,” speaks the Void. No avatars. No false faces. Just the Void, speaking directly into my heart and mind. And as always, it hits me right where it needed to.
“Is…is that bad?” I ask.
“Not per se,” it says. “You could love them and make love to them. But do not forget what you are, and do not forget what they are. You might frighten them when you tell them about your feelings. Their ways are…more calculated. There are more rules when it comes to the brief ones. More procedures and quirks and taboos that they impose on themselves.”
“I know. Terry’s parents still refer to her as ‘he’, even though she clearly doesn’t like it. They think it such a big thing to worry about.”
“Let them see the birth of the seventh star, or the last stand of Raxath, the living city of evil, and they will know what ‘a big thing’ truly is.”
“But that’s what I love about them,” I say, feeling my cheeks turn to a cherry red. “I could show them so much, and help bring out the best in them. It’s like they are marble, and I’m chipping away the excess to reveal who they really are.”
A red falcon lands on my shoulder and nuzzles its beak against my ear. “Yes, but hack too quickly and without caution, and you might shatter them. Remember what I told you when you first left to be with them.”
“They are fragile,” I say, remembering the Void’s words very well.
“Indeed they are,” the falcon says, before collapsing in on itself, leaving a small pile of feathers. The pile turns to glass, from which a single eye looks right up at me. “What will you do?”
“I don’t know. I mean…what can I do but be upfront with them about it? I will bring them all together, and tell them how I feel.”
“If you think that is best,” says the giant hand that wraps itself around the small island upon which I stand, lifting me out of the water and bringing me up close to the star that circles the most distant of galaxies. “And if it doesn’t pan out, you can always disintegrate their world and find new people to fall in love with.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” I say.
For a brief moment, I know that all of existence can feel the Void shrug its shoulders. Its equivalent of shoulders, that is, as I’m never sure what body parts the Void actually has, if any at all.
“Can youkeep a secret?” the Void asks, directly once again.
“Of course,” I say.
“I’m very proud of you. No matter how this turns out, I am proud.”
I bend the knee and place my arms on my chest. “Thank you, father.”
“Now go, Kth of the infinite Void, my daughter,” says the Void, taking all their previous shapes at once. “Go and be mortal. Be happy. Be loved. For this will all pass one day. Enjoy it for what it is.”
“Thank you, Father,” I say again. And with that, I’m back in the apartment. The sound of a key turning the lock comes from the hall. Susan and Terry walk in, carrying brown paper bags with groceries in them. Gareth joins them seconds later, a large pack of bottled water heaved onto his shoulder.
“Hey, Kath,” Susan says. “What’s up?”
“Nothing much. Where did you guys go?”
“Gareth’s mom let us use her Sam’s Club card, so we’ve got food for the next few weeks,” says Terry.
“Are you okay?” asks Gareth. “Your face is all red. Is something up?”
“Nothing…well, no,” I chuckle. “Could you guys sit down for a moment? I need to tell you something.”