Have you come to get me Lyra? I have been stuck in Celebration for the last sixteen years, and I am not asking for anything more than I left with. You can return me to the exact moment from which I departed; it was 2004 and the sky was a rare cerulean. I have no memory of the sun, but there was a warm breeze that wafted up my shorts. I left in the middle of a sneeze, right before I could take the first bite of our summer squash pizza. I got that pizza for us to share, but you didn’t show up. Please, you can drop me back there. I’ll finish the pizza myself.
I say it’s been sixteen years, but that is not entirely accurate. When I first arrived, I did not think to keep track of time. I was confused. The first thing I saw were bushes covered in roses, clearly in the climax of their bloom; their outer petals luxuriated in the sunlight, spreading outward like they were trying to even out their tan lines. The inner petals were tightly closed, almost clenching. I thought I was in some sort of sexual nightmare. I expected to wake up to my real life at any moment.
Not a day went by that I didn’t think of you. Your waif of a body. The angles of your nose. Every morning, I longed to open my eyes to the popcorn ceiling of my dorm room so I could brush my teeth and then walk you to class, but my curtains opened only to alien views of forests and mountains. I was scared at first, but over time I adjusted. People seemed to know who I was. I got to know them too. I always had food to eat and a few gerbils to play with. The only thing missing was you.
Just as I curled into a routine, I got a job. A boy came to my doorstep with the offer and paperwork, and the next day I showed up at my desk. I was an accountant. Never mind that it wasn’t glamorous. I was thrilled to finally have something to think about other than you. It turned out that I had the mind for this type of work: detail-oriented and perseverative. I checked on the accounts constantly, even when there was no need. After work, I explored the town. I grew my radius wider as I gained confidence in my setting. Celebration’s amenities were a mix of contemporary and old-fashioned, like the designer had been a time-traveler. Next to a gastropub was a cobbler, and at the far edge of town was a stall where an old woman sold hens, eggs, and wood ear mushrooms. Further out was a giant warehouse for paper-shredding.
Celebration was whimsical, but the colors, their frequency, were off. The sky retained a residue as if the saran wrap it had come in had never been removed. Like it was still under warranty. The surrounding mountains were steep, and the only way up was over switchbacks on the far side. At the top, I found cascades of infinity pools, teeming with clear water from underground springs. The pools were carved out of the mountainside, each intricately connected to another so that if you climbed to the top of the mountain, you could reward yourself with a raft ride all the way back down. It was fantastical. Then I remembered. You had once told me in a reverie about a landscape you longed to blow into existence on the sun-facing pane of a cliff. I had laughed at the impossibility of it, yet here I was, rafting my way down your aquatic labyrinth.
After this revelation, I couldn’t unsee your influence on the environment. The wallpaper of my bathroom was the same pattern as your grandmother’s favorite scarf. The nearby farms bred little bunnies for no reason other than aesthetics, though we could collect their excrements for candle-making if we wanted. I tried it.The candles smelled like your wrists after laundry. There were constellations of solar panels and windmills like toothpicks across the countryside. The Earth seemed younger here.
Once I realized this world was yours, I understood what had happened. I was far away from you, yet in the heartbeat of your soul. In the middle of your story. I wondered if I would ever come across you. There were beautiful women everywhere, but never you. I recognized many of them from fashion magazines: Heidi, Kate, Naomi, and Cindy. They traveled together in squirrely packs, their long legs moving like a gust. But just like in the outside world, the women here didn’t take notice of me. I was a ghost to them.
For once, though, I found a solution to my problem. I called it Willing. It was not quite a superpower, since anyone aware of the story could have done it, but no one else was. As only possible in stories, I began to edit. I started small. I Willed myself a bagel to eat when I was hungry. It appeared in my hands as if it had always been there. Then I moved on to bigger things, and found it worked the same way. Throughout this process of learning, I practiced restraint. I was worried about setting off a catastrophe, like Willing myself unborn. Yet each thing I Willed appeared as if it had always existed that way. I was the only one with any memory of a time before.
Willing came with boundaries. For one, I could only Will at night while the town was asleep. The darker the night, the sharper my powers. As soon as I was comfortable, I tried to Will you into the story. It didn’t work. It seemed proper nouns could not be Willed into Celebration. I called this the First Law of Willing. The Second Law was that Willing had no future continuous tense. For example, I could Will my teeth to have already been brushed if I found myself tired in bed, but I could not Will my teeth to have been brushed every night to come, like a daily alarm.
As much as I thought of you, I also wondered why you had put me in this story. Why leave me here with a nice home and job, cast in the same wide net as gorgeous women who didn’t want me? Was it to teach me a lesson? I apologized to you for the hole in your wall as soon as I made it. You saw my hand wrapped up in bandages. It hurt me more than it hurt you.
Well, if I couldn’t have you, I figured I should have someone. Don’t worry though, I didn’t force myself on your models. I Willed myself to be the standard of male beauty in Celebration. First the men came knocking on my door, asking for my meal plans and skin care routine. Then came the fashion models, fluttering in with trite little excuses to flirt. Sure they were beautiful, but I thought they would look better with some editing. Not everyone can be as naturally pristine as you, Lyra. I Willed away Cindy’s mole and gave Kate gourds for breasts. Then, we consummated.
Releasing pent up sexual energy helped flatten my anger. It seemed there would be a lot less violence in the world if people could just have what they wanted. So I Willed it. The men could have sex whenever they wanted. There were a lot more smiles in Celebration after that. I understood their pain. I too had been denied by women at every turn. I am not a bad-looking guy. I am dependable and loyal. But I grew up without a strong male figure in my life. My mother used her divorce settlement to found a cosmetics company. She was never around, always flying over some ocean to a meeting instead of caring for me at home.. I tried to fill the void with women, but they kept me in a golden cage of friendship. From behind bars, I watched their boyfriends treat them like cookie crumbs to be nibbled later, if they remembered. Perhaps women did not want a man who peered too closely at them. Perhaps women were addicted to emotionally vacant men. But then you came along Lyra, and you found my sentimentality endearing. We hung out everyday, until it became routine. When you got sick, you leaned on me. I took you to your appointments, and then to ice cream. In all that time, did you not see the way I looked at you? Did you not feel the electricity between us when I brushed your shoulder as I adjusted your backpack for you? So then why did you invite me to your dorm room? Surely you must have known that I craved you. Yet, you pushed me when I tried to kiss you. I’m sorry I retaliated onto your wall, but why did you think I wanted to sit on your bed just to study?
I thought a harem of fashion models would be enough to get my mind off you, but then, Kate died while we were in bed. Not for any reason I could discern. She seemed to have just fallen asleep and never woke up. I was scared of sleeping around after that. What was I doing? All I really wanted was to come back to you.
I thought if I could understand why you had put me in your story, I could find my way out. I needed to learn the true nature of Celebration. What was inside these fictional bodies? Did they feel pain? Where did they go when they died? How did it at all relate back to you? To answer these questions, I needed to explore the edges of death. I thought for a while, until I remembered the FunHome. This was where all the town’s bodies went when they died. So, I left my job in accounting and Willed myself to become the funeral home’s Director of Autopsies.
For the first few months, I simply observed. The bodies that arrived mostly belonged to the elderly. They came fresh, almost warm, smelling like moss after heavy rain. I put thin sheets over them, and probed their bodies one section at a time. I scooped out their eyeballs, and stretched their mouths open until their jaws snapped off. Not even in fiction could they escape the biomechanical wear of old age. Their arthritic wrist bones were covered in plaque and their kneecaps were sanded down from use.
Through the autopsies, I came to understand the sociological landscape of Celebration. I learned some streets had arsenic-laced water, since those residents came in with gangrenous extremities and liquified kidneys. I figured there was a serial killer on the loose when tens of young women, all the same height and hair color, came in with identical stab wounds. I kept these findings to myself, afraid of raising questions about how I knew. The investigations were riveting, but my longing for you never tempered. When I thought of my life, its finititude and absurdity, time seemed only to tick faster. I still tried to Will you into Celebration now and then, but it never worked. The Laws of your story were set like a watch. Once in motion, they pressed forward in perpetuity.
One night I lay in bed, tired but unable to sleep. I was sick of you, the way you relentlessly occupied my mind. I thought, if I could see you just one last time, I could get rid of you. I could tell you how you hurt me, and we could have closure from this purgatory. I had an idea. I sprinted to the FunHome, down to my autopsy chambers. I took inventory of the yet-to-be-buried bodies. There were enough. I smiled at them and then I got to work. I harvested organs and sawed off limbs until morning. When I finished, I nearly cried at the sight. It had taken so many bodies to make one that resembled you.
The next step was to Will this body to life. I was desperate to feel her skin, your skin, with pulsing blood underneath. I knew I would need a lot of power to accomplish this resurrection, so I waited for the darkest night and hung my Will upon the moonless sky. I closed my eyes. I inhaled the inky black air, and exhaled my heart’s desire. When I opened my eyes, I saw your body. You had not moved. Still just a mannequin. I had discovered the Third Law of Willing: the pipeline from life to death flows in only one direction.
After this failure, my flesh went hot with a mix of lust and anger. Even when dead, your body was enchanting. I touched it often, always with reverence. I wanted to love it, but a small nagging prickled down my neck. This Lyra was not exact. Her eyes were not quite the same gold as yours. They lacked the tiny black flecks. After that, all I could see were the discrepancies. Minute but intolerable. This imposter disgusted me. So I threw her into a closet and started over.
This time around, I focused on refinement. I harvested body parts from delicate girls whose bones broke easily. Somehow, the second Lyra I made was even more insulting to your grace. I threw her into the closet with the first. I was determined to replicate you with precision. I needed to believe it was you to confess my feelings, my pain. I developed new techniques. I finessed my art. Before I pulled apart the bodies, I meditated and pictured you. Your brown skin translucent. Your hair cascading over your reedy shoulders. I churned out Lyras, one after another. None of them satisfied me, and one by one they piled up in the closet.
By now I was consumed. Why had you given me enormous powers Lyra, if I could not have the one thing I desired? What was the point of life here without you? My fixation was a slope, and my emotions slid down it. I lashed out at people who came to service their loved ones’ bodies. I grew negligent of funerals. I had no energy to spare. I could not stop until I captured your original perfection.
The day came when I found that there were no more bodies at the FunHome. I had alienated my clientele. People were still dying, but they kept bodies in their houses to avoid me, eventually burying them themselves. At night, I took bodies from their graves, dragging them back to the FunHome to harvest their limbs. These corpses were fetid bags of decomposition. They were bursting with maggots, but I didn’t care. They weren’t real, so how could they disgust me? When all the graves were emptied, I was still not finished. No single Lyra had yet to satisfy me. So I snatched girls off the streets and chopped them up while they were still screaming. What did their pain matter? It was just a story. A forgery of real life. In Celebration, I was the only one truly suffering.
I can admit, Lyra, that I lost control. I am sorry but I only ever wanted to be with you. Is it so wrong that I missed you? You trapped me in this story and left it without air. You owe it to me to get me out.
I don’t know how to get this letter to you, but I write as my last hope. I think your story is ending, and what a strange place. The sun over Celebration will not set. It hangs low on the horizon. The colors, the air, it’s all askance. The sky is so blue it hurts my eyes. There is no more night. There is no more Willing. What happens to the characters on the last page, Lyra? Will they die like Kate, asleep forever? Am I going with them too?
Lyra, please save me. This morning when I arrived at the FunHome, I found the closet door ajar. Inside it was empty. Then I saw the scratches. There were so many it looked like wallpaper. There was blood smeared across the floor. Lyra, my stomach. It’s distended. My heart feels like it’s squeezing out my ears. All I hear is thudding. The sun is so hot.
I really am sorry. I know what I did to them is unforgivable, but I don’t need their mercy. Those Lyras are not real. Fictional things don’t feel pain like you and me. Whatever happened to them doesn’t count. I would never do the same to you. You have a chance to be kind to me. You’ll be the only one who ever was.
Lyra, there are trails of organs everywhere. Why did I have to make so many of them? Please, come get me. I am in a warehouse past the mushroom stall. There is knocking at the door, Lyra. Is it you cracking the windows? Drilling into the wall? My beautiful Lyra, please tell me you are here. I swear on my mother’s grave, if you save me I will never ask you for anything again.