• Ezra Brown

The Thing Here With You

The trek from Lykin’s Oil to the spot is hot on summer nights like these. The air stays thick and humid through late September, so by June you’re already accustomed to the way your shirt sticks to your back. This walk is uncomfortable, the sky darker and the air wetter than the week before. There are no stars in the sky.

You can usually see the stars in Morrow, what with the general lack of both street lights and people. Residents often walk from place to place without encountering either. The cicadas’ hum and the crickets’ chirp are the only sounds keeping people from their thoughts.

The tall grass hits your knees as you and them trudge through the empty lot. The smell of nearby corn crop and cow manure grows stronger the further you move into the field, accompanied by Sal’s cigarette smoke drifting back towards you. You have to keep waving it away from your face and accidentally smack some gnats from the air.

“You know what I want?” Elijah says as he swats at something on his arm. His phone flashlight provides the only light for miles.

“What’s that?” you ask.

“The soft embrace of my lover.” “I didn’t know you had a lover,” you say.

“No, no, I’m riffing off what I said at Lykin’s,” Elijah says.

“About the fridge,” Sal says from ahead of us.

“Yeah.” He shakes his head. “I’d let that fridge fuck me up against a wall right about now.” “Not very romantic,” you reply.

“Our love is one sided and visceral. She hates me but thinks my ass is cute.” “Gross,” Sal says. The lit end of their cig juts out from their silhouette like an extra limb. They flick some ash into the grass. For a moment, you see a vision of the burning cinders hitting the ground in slow motion, catching on a dry clump of plant, and the entire field bursting into flame. Was the ash lit? Did you see it glow orange? Should you stamp it out, even if you could find it?

You hold a quiet breath, waiting for the grass to catch without alerting anyone. You will not freeze if disaster strikes, you swear it.

The flame does not catch. You breathe.

“My ass is gross?” Elijah continues in that tone of voice that begs for an argument.

“Don’t be a bastard,” Sal says.

“My ass is gross and I’m a bastard?”

“Shut up, man.” Sal stops and turns around. You all stop with them. Their gaze is targeted but calm, finely tuned to watch Elijah squirm. Their cigarette bobs up and down on their lips. “I don’t wanna start shit with you tonight.”

There’s a pause. The distant hum of summer fades back into focus and now the air seems jittery, filled with energy, like a lightning bolt struck the earth somewhere you couldn’t see. If the noise were any louder, it would make your teeth clack together.

“Sorry,” Elijah mumbles.

“Thanks,” Sal says. More ash falls from their mouth.

The spot is close to the gas station more by convenience than design. You and Elijah would go to Lykin’s on weekends, buy a few sodas with money tugged out of your parent’s bags then walk far out into the grass, sit down and listen to the crickets chirp. You had some of your best conversations out here, filled with long tangents on sex, crushes, school, punctuated by giddy spurts of laughter that seemed to cloud the air around you.

Now it’s littered with memory and cigarette butts, trampled grass and open wounds. The purity of the spot has been chewed up and spit out at your feet. You and Elijah can’t laugh like you used to. It smells like weed even before Sal lights up their joint.

The beer gets tugged out of their backpack, passed around the circle as everyone settles in. Elijah takes one. Sal offers the joint, knowing no one will take up the offer. It’s more formality than anything.

Sal brushes the loose grass off their log before taking a seat. They shift to one side to prop their chin up on their fist. Elijah queues up a playlist of music only he likes then tosses his phone into the middle of the circle.

“This fucking sucks,” Elijah says.

“What fucking sucks?” Sal asks.

“Leaving all of you.”

“We have a whole month left, dude,” Sal replies.

“Yeah, but like ... I dunno. Feels like the end of an era.”

“Don’t be corny,” Sal says as they take a pick out of their pocket, start running it through their short curls.

“I’m being real.” Elijah looks up from his lap. “We probably aren’t gonna talk much during college. I’m gonna be here, middle of buttfuck nowhere, and y’all are going all over the country, and we’re not gonna have time to just hang out anymore.”

“Way to set the mood, dude,” Sal scoffs.

“Sorry.” Elijah shakes his head. “I just feel like you guys are gonna change on me. Like, I’ll be forgotten or something.”

“College won’t change us that much,” you say. “We’ll still talk.”

“I mean, who knows?” Sal says, leaning forward in their crouched position. “People talk with other people, you get new friends, and those friends end up changing you. Suddenly, you’re a whole new person.”

“Sal,” you say.

“What?” They look to you. “There’s nothing wrong with changing.” They take a puff from their joint then a swig of beer in rapid succession. Your throat aches in sympathy. They offer you a sip, and their face remains unreadable.

At quiet moments like these, you like to contemplate what Sal could be thinking. You peer past their dark freckles, darker eyes and try to see as they do. Do they actually, truly believe what they say? That change is simple and solid and always for the better? Change means stepping out, wrong foot first, falling.

And then the planes of their face give you that familiar sinking feeling. The one where your stomach drops and you feel pin pricks crawling over your scalp. Like vertigo on flat land. Your heart pounds in your chest, hard enough to break your ribs, and you feel a little like the rabbit staring down the wolf, and a little bit something else.

There’s a moment of silence where the music pulls away and the only sounds come from the forest past the field. The insects buzzing and an owl hooting, the thump of a branch hitting the forest floor. Or an axe embedding in someone’s head.

“I guess at least we’ll still be able to change, you know?” Elijah mutters.

“What are you talking about?” Sal asks.

He falters. “You know. ”

Your eyes flick down and try very hard to focus on an ant climbing up a tall blade of grass.

“Elijah,” Sal warns. You hope they’re not looking at you.

“Sorry,” he murmurs.

“No, let’s talk about it,” you say and look up at your friends. Elijah is already staring at you, a guilty expression painting thick worry lines across his skin. Sal’s gaze drags from him towards you.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Sal says.

“Really? Because I’ve been in constant panic mode for a week wondering if someone I know is gonna get abducted in the middle of the day. If I’m gonna get murdered for no fucking reason.”

“Fine. I mean, we can talk about your problems with it if you want,” Sal says.

You flick your eyes down.

“People are disappearing,” they continue. “There are no bodies. That’s it. That’s the situation. You’re gonna have to deal with it or get out.”

“I didn’t mean to—” Elijah starts.

“Whatever, dude,” Sal cuts him off.

You grab for Sal’s beer and they hand it off. You take a sip. It’s the first time you’ve had alcohol outside of church, and the beer tastes like piss. You’re tempted to spit it into the grass. Instead you swallow it down.

Elijah tries to subtly switch playlists to something more calm; less screaming and banjo, more acoustic guitar.

Sal brings the joint up to their lips, takes a deep breath. Their eyes close for a moment, blissful as prayer, before they push the cloud from their lungs and fill the air with smoke. You’ve spent enough time around Sal to know bad weed when you smell it.

They slide down to the grass, lean back against their log, and look up. “I miss the stars,” they say.

You tilt your head backwards and squint towards the sky. The missing stars have plucked gaps into the fabric of the sky, leaving the void before you an inky blue-black, the kind of color you would expect an old god to bleed.

You think back to the weather report your mother flipped on that morning. Clear skies all night, no rain for the coming week. It isn’t out of the ordinary for the weatherman to be wrong, but the sky feels so oppressive you have a hard time imagining someone not acknowledging it, not stating it straight out.

“It’s really dark tonight,” you say.

They both nod.

The next day, you sit in the car graveyard just outside of town proper. You guess it’s common to have places like this in towns like Morrow, places the rest of the country doesn’t think about. Where forgotten vehicles come to rot.

Even though you see it nearly every day, the car lot still carries an eerie weight to it. Not a corporate strangeness, like the next town’s fluorescent-bathed Walmart, but a solemn strangeness. Grass grows out of car bumpers. The sign on the fence out front is so faded you’re not sure anyone knows who owns this place.

Your back hurts from sleeping on Elijah’s floor last night, so you lean against the burning red hood of a rusted car and pray for cloud cover.

Sal and Elijah sweat in the sun, crouched over a game scratched out in an exposed patch of dirt. Sal seems to be winning.

“This is bullshit,” Elijah curses and stands up, knees popping in protest. “You’ve gotta be cheating.”

“How the hell is someone supposed to cheat at tic tac toe?” Sal asks. Their lips are stained red from the lollipop they just finished chewing.

“I dunno but you figured it out!” Elijah wipes the dust off his shorts and says, “I’m gonna go piss,” then walks past the rotted fence, into the line of trees.

It’s normal enough. Elijah’s bladder is the smallest of anyone you’ve ever met and he often disappears for a few minutes into the nearest cluster of forest to take care of his business when you all hang out, so it should feel fine as he hops over that bit of collapsed fence and claps his hands in wide arcs. But something settles deep into your gut, uncomfortable and persistent, like eating a rotten apple in one gulp.

His long blonde hair flashes once in the sun, then disappears behind the trees.

You wait fifteen minutes. You don’t want to seem too overprotective, too worried, especially in front of Sal, so you don’t say anything.

You wait fifteen more and this time the decay in your stomach grows, spreads to your arms, legs, head.

And then you can’t stand it anymore. You stand up so suddenly, dust clouds billow around you. “I’m going to go find him.”

They shake their head. “He’s probably just taking a shit.”

“Then I’ll walk in on him taking a shit.” You walk towards the fence, towards the trees.

After a moment, Sal follows behind you.

Once your shoes press against the soft pine needles on the forest floor, your mind starts scrolling through every worst case scenario you can think of. Todd Fork is nearby; this rocky river that cuts a line through the earth much too deep for its water, creating a drop that local kids tumble into each year. Elijah could’ve gotten swept downstream. Could’ve drowned. Murderers like small Ohio towns with their fumbled police investigations; Elijah would’ve been an easy target. A falling branch, cracked head bleeding on the ground. Coyotes. Disappeared.

“Elijah?” Your voice sounds high and squeaky even to your own ears. You clear your throat and try again. “Elijah!”

“Hey,” Sal says, throwing their gaze back over their shoulder to you. Just the way they say that one word makes your blood freeze in your veins. “Here.”

You don’t try to walk over. You only hear the wet squish of moist ground underfoot as your body carries you.

They shift slightly so you can see.

Elijah sits with his back against a tree, one leg stretched out in front of him and the other collapsed in towards his chest, arms at his sides, wrists bent against the dirt. His clothes are dirtier than when you last saw, mud gathered on the sleeves of his flannel and the hem of his jeans, a stray leaf caught in his hair. His head tilts slightly towards his left shoulder, away from you, so you can’t quite see his face.

“Elijah?” you say and crouch down, touch him on his shoulder.

Like a ragdoll, his head lolls back towards you just as you register just how cold he is. His pale eyes don’t stare at you so much as through you, his pupils small, his expression blank. New wrinkles line his face like well-walked paths through a field, criss crossing his forehead and the space under his eyes. He looks like a child wearing the skin of an eighty year old man. Some of his hair flies from his shoulder, catches against his cracked lips.

You scream, scramble backwards, catch yourself on Sal’s shoulder and try not to throw up.

“H-He he’s he’s—” you try. The words are clogged in your throat, backed up by the rising bile. You swallow all of it down. “Unconscious. He’s unconscious. We have to call an ambulance.” You lose your footing and fall to the side. Your shoulder plants itself on the nearest tree.

“No,” they say. There is no emotion. You’ve never seen Sal scared before, and now you don’t think you ever will. “I think he’s dead.” “No.” “I’m sorry.” “Stop.”

“I’ll call the police.”

“Don’t call the fucking police!”

They grab you by the shoulder then move in front of you so you can see nothing but their eyes. “He’s dead.”

Your knees buckle.

You and Sal both squeeze into your bed that night, tight enough to boil from each other’s body heat, but both too afraid to sleep alone. They take up the most space, long limbs splayed out across the mattress like a bird’s broken wings, so you’re pushed to the edge of the bed. Your arms and legs dangle off the mattress and you catch yourself thinking like a small child, wondering if the monster will grab you by the wrist and wrestle you under the bed, devouring you whole.

You can’t sleep. Images of Elijah keep playing in your mind, both pre- and post- mortem. Visions of both of you playing as children, next door neighbors destined to be best friends. Elijah after that botched haircut, the one that made the top of his head look like a harvested wheat field. Entering high school together, promising to stay best friends. Coming out to him. Growing apart. His crumpled body sat against the trunk of a tree.

You touched your dead friend’s corpse. What did he feel like?

You’re not even sure if you liked him by the end.

You stare up at the ceiling, letting the dark of the room consume you. You’re not going to sleep tonight, so what’s the point in trying?

Could you have done something, anything to prevent it? Would Elijah still be here somehow if you had intervened? Held out your hand in front of his chest and said, “No, don’t leave. I have a bad feeling about this.” Your gut had called wolf too many times. Now you were paying for it.

The unknowns stack on your mind, towering up to the ceiling until you’re sure you can’t move or they’ll all tumble back down. You already feel the cold running down your spine, your nails pressing hard into your palms.

Sometimes right before you have a panic attack, you think of Sal’s face. You think they’re your friend, and yet in these moments of unparalleled, all consuming fear is when you realize that you don’t even know them, and that thought is what often sends you careening off the side of the cliff into the dark water below.

You take a sharp breath and bolt upwards, unsure of what else to do. You pull your legs against your chest and try to take quick and quiet breaths. You heave in and out, in and out, until it feels as though your chest is going to burst and your head is going to melt. Ground yourself. Think of things you know. Think of your house. Lykin’s Oil. Late night movies.

You swallow, try to make your mouth moist again. Then you wait for your body to stop shaking, for your mind to stop threatening to slip again.

“Sal?” you ask into the dark room.

“Hm?” They respond immediately. You woke them up.

“Whatever’s making everyone in Morrow disappear is what killed Elijah, right?”

“Elijah didn’t disappear. We found his body.”

“Yeah. I just ...” You try to gather your thoughts. “It can’t be a coincidence.” “Maybe.” “He felt, like, drained, Sal. He looked so old.”

There’s a pause. Then, “Try to go to bed.”

You stare at the spot in the area you would expect to find their face. “It’s bothering me.” The bed rattles from side to side as they sit up. “Well, we did just see our friend’s dead body in the middle of the woods. That’s pretty fucked up.”

Words clog in your throat. You cough them up. “I didn’t think it affected you.” “Of course it fucking affected me.”

“I can never tell what you’re thinking.”

They lay back down, rake the sheets over their body. “We need to leave.”

“Leave?” “Leave Morrow.”

“Why?” “I don’t know how to explain to you that there’s a goddamn murderer here, dude,” they say. “There’s nothing here for us anyway. It’s the same. Constantly. We would both be better off somewhere else.”

“But I know Morrow. I wouldn’t do well somewhere else.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

You open your mouth to respond. Instead you realize what now occupies the room.

It is a deep, dark feeling in the pit of your stomach. A thunderstorm billowing up from inside of you until your vessel can hold it no longer. It escapes from your mouth and nose into the room. It smells of ozone and the ocean at night, like celestial bodies slamming into each other at speeds you cannot comprehend and at scales you cannot fathom. And yet there is nothing there to view. The only changes your eyes register are the shadows in the bedroom growing longer, swirling out from themselves until they threaten to plunge the room into nothing.

Instincts take over. You fly off the bed and back yourself against a wall, terrified to leave, terrified to stay.

You freeze. You try to scream. Something holds you back. Maybe it’s the monster, maybe it’s your fear breaching its absolute limit, leaving you catatonic. You want to act, you so badly want to move but instead you watch and you feel the thing here with you yanking through you, toward Sal.

It seems to catch there.

“Oh, fuck,” they say. You feel it pulling on their chest like a fisherman towing in their line, its movement sending vibrations through the air. It grows closer and closer to them until it hovers just above their skin, waiting for some cue.

There’s a moment where it feels like the world stops. You don’t breathe. It doesn’t move. For a dreadful moment you wish for it to just get it over with, please, you don’t want to look anymore.

Sal jerks to life, scrambling away from it, and it makes you want to cry. They manage to get their feet on the floor before it descends.

Shadows flood over them, cocooning their body until none of them is left. Somehow you know they are breathing it in, letting it unfold inside their body like a virus.

There is no noise. Your mouth is open, but you can’t cry out.

Oh, Christ. Sal is gone.

You think you want to curl up in a ball. You want it all to stop. You want to breathe. You want to sleep, you want to sleep. For a moment, you start to feel the ice water on your spine, the panic, the shaking in your hands. Instead, you use the momentum to shake your head, slap your hands on your cheeks. The pain digs deep, past your muscles and into your veins. You beg your mind to stop thinking for long enough to save your friend.

Then you’re running, throwing yourself over the bed and trying to tackle the thing you can’t quite see.

When you drop down into it, inky darkness folds around your body. It covers your legs, hands, waist, and creeps towards the crown of your head slow as honey. You close your eyes just before it covers them for you, fills up your ear canals and then you hear nothing but the wet plop of the two black halves meeting each other over your head. You feel warm and held, like you are under your weighted blanket back at home.

You wait for the fear to come. It does not. Somehow you feel you are inside of last night, after Lykin’s Oil, looking up at the stars.

Your thoughts begin to float away from you; they do not affect you, they affect someone else a few lifetimes away. The dark comforts you. It tells you everything is okay. Everything is safe.

No, no, wait, you came here for something.


Your eyes fly open.

All around you are things swathed in darkness, shifting and splintering and joining back together in chaotic rhythms. They are so close to you. Some of them seem to be human for a moment, but some are broken and stretched, eyes seeming too large for their faces so their skin pulls beyond the confines of their skulls to accommodate. They then realize their mistakes, correct themselves with an even more monstrous and horrifying form. They sprout three arms then let them dissolve, crouching down until their bodies solidify into gigantic worms, then stand once again.

They watch you, packed like a crowd just an arm’s length away, just barely out of reach. You find yourself grateful for the space.

“Okay,” you whisper. The sound falls flat just inches from your lips. You take a deep breath and begin to shoulder your way through the swarm, taking care to not look too deeply at any one of the creature’s faces. They make no noise. They simply stare as they part, giving you room as you make your way through them. You feel the crowd congeal behind you, always minding that tiny bit of space.

“Sal?” you call right into one of the creature’s melting faces as it shifts to your right.

There is no response.

“Sal!” you yell again, past another’s shoulder.

You hunch in on yourself, cross your arms over your stomach, and keep walking. Your feet make no noise as they touch the ground, if you’re even standing on ground to begin with, and still your movements feel slow and lethargic.

The crowd parts before you again, though this time they leave more space. And before you is Sal, crouched on the ground with their knees up against their chest, hoodie pulled taut over their poorly dyed red hair, eyes clenched shut. It seems they had a surrounding crowd, too, both of yours now converged to create one audience.

“Sal!” you yell. You rush to their side, crouch down, and rub a hand over their back.

“Get us the hell out of here,” they hiss through clenched teeth.

“I—I dunno how.”

“Try something.

Your first instinct is to look up at the creatures. You’re not sure what you’re thinking, silently asking for advice from the enemy, but as you peer directly into one of their faces, something begins to shift. Their nose juts to the middle of their face with the tell-tale crack of setting bones. A pair of eyes grow from the film that once spanned their face. Their skin solidifies, forms a pair of lips not so different from your own.

“Mom?” you ask.

And the crowd becomes known. The beings transform again, this time into familiar faces. The shopkeep from Rowland’s Grocery down the road from your house. Addie and Rachel, old classmates from middle school. Lykin wearing his uniform. Friends, neighbors from Morrow.

You feel a certain stiffness in your back ease out even as Sal tenses below you. You breathe out a sigh.

The darkness fades. Your bedroom comes back into focus.

You and Sal sit on your bed, Sal’s hands knotted in your shirt, with just the beginning drips of morning light filtering through your curtains and pooling on the hardwood floor.

Sal begins to breathe, fast and panicked but growing slower. You pass a hand up and down their back, over and over until they calm.

You feel content.

You and Sal walk the empty streets in the morning, Sal running on a few hours of sleep, you running on none. The sky is dark and overcast, yet sunlight still streams from some unknown point above, lighting up Morrow as if there were not a cloud in sight.

You two have not spoken since the incident, since you held them and felt them cry into your chest. You had never seen them cry, and you suppose you still haven’t, but now you know that it feels like earthquakes shaking their body apart while they do everything to hold themself together.

Their teeth rake over their dry lips again and again, splitting seams in them. The raw red pops against their dark skin. They look like a poorly lit horror movie.

“Can you stop looking at me like that?” they say. It cuts through the silence.

“What?” you ask, trying to cover up the way you jumped.

“You keep just, watching me. I swear to god, you’re gonna trip over your own feet.”

“I’m trying to figure out what you’re thinking.”


“I dunno.”

A pause. Then you continue, “I want to know you.”

They stop and turn to you. “You can’t know everyone.”

“I want to love you.”

“What the fuck?”

“I can’t. I can’t love you if I don’t know who you are.”

“I’m not here to be examined, you selfish prick,” they spit. “I’m a fucking person with my own fucking life.”

“I know, I—”

“I don’t think you do,” they continue. “I don’t know you and I’m absolutely fine with it. I mean, I know even less than I thought I did! You seemed fucking ecstatic inside that—that monster. That’s not what I would expect from someone like you.”

The words you were going to say dry up in your throat. Instead you ask, “What did you see? Inside of it, I mean.”

They stay silent, holding your gaze like they were staring down their enemy. “Myself. Older. The me that stayed.”

You look away, nod. Then something clicks.

“Where is everyone?”

You see maybe ten people on your walk to Sal’s house. No one mows their lawns, gets gas, plays on the playground. The few people you do see seem just as confused as you are as to where exactly everyone went. For more than a few seconds, you consider what Father Richardson had told you about the Rapture.

When you arrive at Sal’s house, they immediately run inside, leaving you stranded on the doorstep. They’re gone for only two minutes, and when they come back, they look even sicker than before.

“They’re all gone,” is all they say.

They tear open the door to their dad’s old pick up truck. “Wait,” you say and jump to the side even as they start the engine. You let your fingers curl inside the open window.

They look at you, and you still can’t read their expression. “What the fuck are you going to say?”

You swallow. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

You shake your head. “I don’t know.”

They scoff and peel away from the driveway. You let go of the window sill just in time.

You stand in their driveway for half an hour, staring out at the horizon where you watched their truck fade into the distance and realize that you’re too scared to run back to your own house, to check if your mom is still there or gone like the rest of them.

So you sit on what was once Sal’s front doorstep and watch the sun drain out of the sky. Morrow grows dark as night without a hint of starlight in the middle of the afternoon.

How did you escape the monster? One minute you were inside it, completely within its grasp, terrified but powering through it, and then it felt as though the monster simply ... what? Gave up? Let you win?

The creatures changed to people you knew. To the familiar. To comfort you? To lure you in further? But you escaped. Why would it try to lure you in if it had you right there and then let you go?

You think back to your conversation with Sal. Did it want you to love it?

Do you want to love it?

You hear a low rumble echo from somewhere in the distance and turn your head. Past the far away trees a dark cloud swarms in the sky, tendrils of it wisping out across the atmosphere before pulling back on itself. It moves at a crawl, drooping ever closer towards Morrow with its occasional dip and sway, performing an airborne dance. It bellows again, something like thunder.

You stand and head towards it.

Todd’s Fork has kicked up with the impending storm. The water swirls deep and dark below you, frothing up bubbles of polluted river water against the edges of its bed. It’s still cushioned with many feet of water-carved dirt that promise a rough fall should you slip. You make sure to plant your feet hard in the grass.

The dark cloud sits in the dip of river, pushing up wisps of smoke that lick towards your sneakers before slinking back to the water. It seems to have gathered here, Todd’s Fork acting like a dam momentarily keeping the monster at bay.

But Todd’s Fork is shallow in comparison to the towering form of the monster. Why here? Does it simply sit in wait, all its traps already set?

Even without eyes, you feel as though it is staring straight at you.

“Hello,” you say, then instantly feel stupid for speaking so casually to the thing that killed your friend.

There is no response.

You continue. “You’ve got the whole town, right?”

It lets out its low rumble, and Christ, it’s so much louder up close. Like standing right by the marching band and feeling the drum beat shatter against your ribs. Your knees begin to shake.

“Right.” You clear your throat. “Why do you like me? Why ... why did you show me nice things but not my friends?”

More of it crawls out of the river and curls itself around your legs. You can feel the heat of it, the liquid of time inside it.

“Well. Thank you. For sparing me, I guess.” You pause. “But you ate my town. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I—I ... Morrow was the only place I knew, the only place I felt safe? And, uh, I panic a lot. I’ll panic even more somewhere else, and you’re the only one here to talk about it with!”

Stay, you feel it whisper.

It’s moved up your legs to your waist, wrapping around you like a hug.

Your mouth goes dry. “With you?”

And everyone, it replies.

You stare at it. It has no lips to read, no looks to decipher. “Why me?” you ask.

It’s reached your neck, as warm and as soft as kisses. A tendril parts from it and caresses your ear, and you know exactly what it’s thinking. I like comfort, too, it thinks.

Your teeth gnaw at your lower lip as you try to weigh your options. But really, what is there to weigh?

You approach the lip of Todd’s Fork, dangle one foot off the edge, and take one last breath before you sink into waters known.