Content warnings: mention of mental health issues, eating disorders, anti-semitism
"Howard Was A Dingus" by Kayla Scheiner
They pressed their body against the cracked and dirty plaster of the wall, fighting the nausea and blurring vision that came from looking at the Thing. Their brain still refused to acknowledge the shifting, spectrum-defying colorlessness of what they could only call its skin. It had cracked the world like a rotten eggshell after they'd cut their finger one of the pages of the book in the basement, and a drop of their blood had fallen on the drawing of that diagram.
“Thank you so much for waking me up.” Its voice was without sound, screaming along their neural pathways and twisting in their guts. “For your kindness, you will be the first to receive my gift.”
“Fuck you,” they snarled aloud, deciding that vulgarity was the only logical response to cosmic obscenity.
“You think I'm going to give you death. Oh no, little one. Death is oblivion. No fun at all.” They couldn't close their eyes. They wouldn't. There must be some way to fight this thing, this thing that shouldn't be there, that shouldn't be, breaking reality around it. “You'll live a wonderfully long life. And every moment of every day, your head will be filled with soundless voices. All your own, all screaming the loathing for your paltry mortal form that we, we formless and void, feel for you and–”
“What?” They blinked, then regretted it, as their vision trembled with the effort of processing what was before them.
“What?” The Thing's voiceless voice was the gibbering of children and the frequency of the sky ripping itself to shreds.
“I mean...that's all? Self-loathing?”
“You arrogant mortals, you humans are–”
“Seriously.” They locked their knees and braced the crown of their head against the wall. “I've had depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder for over two-thirds of my life. Do you really think there's a single, solitary thing you can say about me that I haven't said to myself a million times over? A shred of self-loathing I haven't already felt for my body? I've heard it all. Hell, if you could somehow find something new to say, I'd be grateful for the novelty.”
“Your – your arrogance – You believe yourself master of life and death itself –”
They forced down another round of nausea at the impossibility of something without sound stuttering. “What arrogance? Mastery? Are you fuckin' kidding me? I'm 33 years old and I'm on disability! My own government is trying to make sure I can't afford the meds and doctors I need to keep living. 'Medicaid reform' my ass! And there are people who are marching in the fucking streets with goddamn torches, calling for my outright genocide!” Some of their fear ebbed, numbed by the familiar anger and rage. “The whole damn world already wants to kill me! I was a child the first time someone called me a slur. I'm a transgender Jew, for God's sake!”
“God!” it howled, and they fell to the floor, screaming and clutching their head. “Your God does not exist! Your world was not shaped, you are a reflection of nothing, an image of nothing–”
“No! Shit! Sherlock!” They choked each word out between bouts of vomiting, their inner ear having finally lost the fight against the constantly shifting and shattering geometry of the Thing.
“I said–” retch– “No shit, Sherlock. The earth formed out of an accretion disk around the sun. Humans evolved via natural selection, just like every other species on the planet. We're not special.”
“Special!” The shriek vibrated their blood and their vision began graying out. “I'll show you–”
And they were suddenly outside their body, outside the Earth, and beheld themself, a microscopic speck in the unutterable vastness of space and time. Their consciousness screamed with the alien effort, and they spoke, in the same voiceless voice as the Thing itself –
And they were in their body again, meat and bone and skin the boundary, blinking blood out of their eyes.
The Thing's spectral not-colors slowed in their whirling, mindbreaking display of chaos. “What?”
A tiny portion of their mind thought, before the reality-defying impossibility of it wiped the idea away, that it was somehow whispering.
“So? Of course I'm an insignificant speck.” They spat bloody bile onto the ground, then pushed themself back up on the wall, not bothering to stifle a groan at the customary pain in their knees. “I'm a single human life, that's nothing compared to infinity. I mean, I'm a layperson when it comes to quantum physics and shit, but –”
“?” This time it wasn't anything that could be called a voice, just the essential distillation of confusion and disbelief.
They cocked their head. The nausea was lessening, and they could look at the Thing a little more directly. “What gave you the impression that mental illness and basic knowledge of physics and evolutionary biology was this horrific thing for people?”
Again, a distillation, an idea, a concept that their brain immediately grasped as –
“Um.” They coughed as their stomach and throat spasmed again, and wiped their lips. “Um. The last person who read that book was an able-bodied allocishet white Christian dude in the late nineteenth century? Are you serious?” They barked a laugh. “Jesus tapdancing Christ on a cracker, no wonder.” They briefly took off their glasses and wiped the last of the blood from their eyes. Glasses back on, their vision cleared. They looked at the Thing, which some part of their brain registered as smaller, despite its non-Euclidean, non-Einsteinian non-nature. “Yeah, white dudes are assholes who think their world revolves around their dicks. Everyone knows that.” They spat again, trying unsuccessfully to get the taste of vomit and blood out of their mouth. “Your perception is infinite or whatever, right? Can't you tell how badly they've fucked shit up for the rest of us? What the hell else do you think you're gonna do?”
The Thing was silent, the essence of silence, the total absence of anything at all, and there was a sudden explosive LACK –
They gasped as their lungs suddenly found the existence of air again, their eyes opened and remembered how to see and their brain sparked and they came back to themself, leaning against a cracked plaster wall in the basement of a condemned house. The Thing was gone, reality quietly humming along again. They glanced at the table where the book had lain, but it was gone. Even the dust was a smooth, undisturbed layer, no void where the table legs had rested. Erased.
“Seriously, I wouldn't want to deal with white dudes, either.” They lurched forward and trudged toward the stairs. Something buzzed in their pocket, and they yelped and nearly jumped out of their own skin. Only their cell phone, only a new text from Sarai.
Hey! How's your first time geocaching? Fun, right?
“Fuck me,” they muttered, shoving their phone back into their pocket and emerging into the sunlight.
Kayla is a disabled Jewish writer, cosplayer, and general artsy weirdo living in Western Massachusetts with their fiance and cat. Their SFF fandom destiny was sealed the day their parents met at a science fiction convention, and only encouraged by a steady childhood diet of Ursula K. LeGuin, Babylon 5, and Rankin-Bass animation. Themes of identities and how the world shapes, reacts to, and interacts with them run through much of their work, both written and otherwise. They hope that others will find as much meaning and delight in their work as they have in creating it.