Wingword Poetry Prize 2020 is now open. Submit your poems today!

Erysichthon

Zubiya Athavani

Imaginary Friend: Axel Richards

Child Allotted: Swetha Meshram

[The following record is classified and has been deemed as necessary to be shared with individuals (Humans or Spirit Guides) only after affirming a rigorous endurance of their mind’s capacity to handle macabre content. Any discrepancy in the ownership of the record will result in immediate disbarment of the Spirit Guides to L.I.M.B.O or immediate damnation of Human souls to H.E.L.L. Proceed with caution.]

As a coward, you simply look for a way out of difficult situations. More often than not, your hurry to escape lands you in a trickier place. And when the whole escapism begins again, it’s a spiral you, as a coward, wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

After a seemingly average life on earth, it seemed like death would be an escape to either a void or heaven. Again, I would love to be considered optimistic but it simply remains that I escaped even thinking about the possibility of going to hell. So imagine my surprise when I stood, naked, in front of the Human-Spirit Twilight Centre. My hands immediately crossed over my nether regions. But I recovered from the humanly shame soon enough. Because when I looked around, I beings scary enough to make sure I never blinked again.

As I stood there, taking in the ghastly sights, a being drifted towards me. As I turned to her, a shiver ran down my spine. I am still not sure whether it was from the cold aura she carried or the fact that she had nails driven into her eyes. I had assumed I would vomit when I realized the nails moved with every flick of her eyes but I didn’t feel anything anymore. I can still hear the squelching sound her eyes made right before she introduced herself and led me in.

It was then when I had found out that people who died a normal death were considered to be spirit guides to the human beings. Often confused with intuition, Spirit Guides were merely consciences that whispered into the human mind to maintain the course of the universe.
Rheya finished her part of the orientation and, somehow, smiled.

“You have a choice, Axel. You can either be a Spirit Guide to a woman in Germany on the brink of a divorce or a child in Mumbai going into second grade.”

Given the major changes, dying, transforming into a spirit and not actually having any nether regions, my conscience hadn’t transcended. If I had spent forty years with my husband on earth, it was because divorce was the last thing I wanted to go through. Moreover, I had always been curious about the bond fathers and daughters shared.

“Swetha Meshram is just about to start second grade. Mostly alone, she doesn’t have a lot of friends. We believe a spirit guide in the form of an imaginary friend would count up to something.”

I spoke. But rather than moving my mouth, it just seemed like I made my thoughts extremely loudly. Speaking seemed as involuntary as breathing.

“Do I get any more information on her or…?”

“Come now, Axel! She is a 7 year old. You wanted to be a father to a daughter, didn’t you?”

The last parts of those sentences seemed like they came from the end of a tunnel. As I scrambled to collect the fragments of her sentence, anything that would tell me more about the girl, I found myself scrambling on a hardwood floor.

The room was empty but it was fair on my part to assume that I was to be waiting for Swetha to come back from school. I looked around, taking her room in.

“She is seven. I, maybe, have three years here. Tops” I thought as I looked around. For a seven-year old, her room was sophisticated. Before I knew it, the doorknob turned.

I saw Swetha, standing in the frame. Even though her uniform was ruffled with the careless frolicking one might expect from a girl her age, her face was solemn. She stood there, unmoving as she looked at me. It was quite anti-climactic to see a spirit squirm under the cold stare of a 7 year-old.

“Wendigoooo…” she says beneath a pair of smiling eyes. I knew that children blabbered but realized that she was too old to do that. It took a moment for me gather my senses, which was proving to be harder without the flesh.

“I am…” I seemed to be getting lost in my own voice. It seemed so soothing that I imagined putting my own self to sleep. Wondering why this alteration was kept from me until now, I spoke to her.

“I am Axel.”

Swetha walked towards me, almost struggling to keep her excited stride in check. She shuts the door and looks at me.

“I did not mean who you are. I meant what you are.” She said as she kept her school bag down.
Nervously flitting between her and her school bag, I confessed.

“I am extremely new to this. But it so happens that I am your friend.” I said, smiling, since I didn’t understand the concept of a Spirit Guide well-enough to explain it to her.

She shook her head, her smile widening, as she said “No. You are my Spirit Guide.”

I nodded slowly as I felt my wonderment become almost tangible and bob up and down. After being a spirit for what seemed like a day, I realized that my thoughts were the most tangible part of me.

“Yes. Yes, I am. You must be really bright, aren’t you?” I said.

“I don’t know if I am bright or not. I only know if I am right.”

“That sounds pretty bright to me.”

“I think we will be best of friends.”

Swetha started showing me her art work. As time passed by, I stopped marveling at how much someone her age would know. I stopped audibly marveling when she turned an icy glare towards me.

“You don’t have to sound surprised every time.”

After she was done showing me her art, which leaned heavily towards Greek Mythology, she kept the papers back and looked at me intently. A moment later, she closed her eyes.

As she did, my form started shifting out of my control. A head appeared at the top, forming around my thoughts. It started as a dull grey blob that elongated into an oval with a hood. My trailing form stretched into tendrils, swaying with a supernatural grace. They extended towards the ground and then curved upwards. My eyes spilt into four slits of voids in the oval head.
She opened her eyes, looking at me with a strange satisfaction, as if she had this ghastly image in her eyes forever, an image that had finally taken form.

But it wasn’t just the image that she had lent me. My very being was made of her thoughts. So when I saw my form in the mirror, a deep terror set itself in. But as soon as it appeared, her thoughts made me find comfort in the terror. I looked at her with a new understanding.

The doorbell rang. She turned to go and open it and I followed her. Her father was home. He looked at her menacingly. Instead of being scared, I could feel the anger that was rising in her in my own chest.

“YOU LITTLE RAT SHIT!! How many more times do I have to make rounds to your school because of your crap?!”

Swetha was sprawled on the floor after her face was met with a resounding slap. I felt the slap on my cheek the same way I smelt alcohol on her father.

He grabbed her and hauled her up. As he dragged her to the storage room, I hovered behind them as well, tethered to her.

“You will stay in here till you deserve eating food bought with my money, bitch!”

The slam was followed by three hours of silence. The words were no longer needed. I felt it every time a sob rose in her chest. And I fought with her to keep that sob down.

The hours turned into a day as her worry of missing school turned into resignation. We lay down with a grumbling stomach pressed into the cold floor. Up until now, I had realized that this wasn’t the first time it had happened.

But when the second illumination marked the beginning of a second day, I saw a hunger in Swetha I knew she herself hadn’t seen before.

“He must have forgotten.” She said, barely a whisper.

I lay there as I saw her mother’s kind face in front of her eyes.

After a going through what felt like sleep, she asked,

“What are you made of?”

At that point, it felt like I was never made of anything but my thoughts.

“My thoughts”

“Your thoughts?”

“And yours” I said.

“Cogito Ergo Sum?”

“To an extent, yes.”

She started to get up and meekly held on to shelves in the room for support. She reached up to get a box that she had hidden some time ago.

“I finally get to do it.” She said as she smiled weakly.

“Do what?” I asked.

“I had kept this here after the first time father had locked me in.”

She opens the box and takes out a box cutter. A dread filled me as I realized nothing good ever
came out of this.

Feeling my confusion, she turned to me.

“I know what you are thinking. But it’s not that. Listen to the idea I have.”

I sat there, looking from her to the cutter. I waited for her to go on but felt like I knew what was coming.

“You are because you think, right?”

“Yes…” I said.

“Do you sustain yourself by gathering knowledge or recycling the thoughts that make you?”

“I guess… by recycling the thoughts I had from when I was alive.”

“So, in a way, you’d say you are consuming yourself to sustain?”

The dread that had filled me began pooling at the bottom of me when I realized what she was talking about.

“All you had to do was – get rid of the flesh prison?”

I looked at her, suffocating in spite of everything. My insides screamed at her to not do anything silly but they also understood what she meant.

She slid the cutter open and started working her skin off from her fore arm.

“I have always wanted to know if the diagrams in the 5th grade textbooks were real.” She said in a hushed glee.

The inside of me started squirming as I looked at her, almost as if in her trance.

She picks up the fallen piece of her forearm and gives it a lick. As I felt the blood run down to her stomach, her stomach growled angrily.

She worked the cutter to get another piece of flesh from her fore arm. As she chewed on it, she started working the cutter on her thigh.

As it traveled around her limbs, taking bits off her body, her stomach stopped grumbling.

Once it was calm again, we laid back down. Life oozed out of her body slowly as numbness began to settle. We went to sleep again.

What finally woke me up was the feeling of being severed. I woke up to see her, lying still with the cutter still clutched in her hand. Her eyes stared at the ceiling, lifeless.

Now that she didn’t exist, her thoughts didn’t make my form any more. All I had left were the memories and the terror that came with it. The comfort I found in the darkness left with her soul.

Her still face seemed as if she was an artist, the cutter was her brush, looking at a finished piece of work that was her wrecked corpse.

Looking at her lay there, I died a second death.


Leave a comment