Hashtag had not said a word while his parents told him his story, peppered with remarks by the Twins. His chin hung to his chest, his misshapen hands clasped over the back of his head, his eye was closed. He was breathing heavily and audibly. For his entire life, he knew he had been different, but always assumed that difference had stopped where his skin met bone. He never wondered why his parents never had another child; he always thought it was because of him, how he looked, because of the hassle that he had created merely by existing.
But now, this. If anyone had called him unnatural before, it was no longer a paltry insult, but the truth of his origin. His head was swimming, struggling to stay afloat.
He cleared his throat without raising his head. His mouth was dry and his lips were chapped. “So,” he hesitated, not sure how to ask, “am I...uh, part...you know, not fully--”
“Oh heavens no!” his mother interrupted him. “It was nothing like that! You were still conceived naturally. It’s just--”
“He’s a part of you.” the nondescript police officer continued.
“He always has been,” said the other Twin. “It was the only way to bring you both into the world.”
“He was just dormant,” the other responded, “only waking for moments here and there. Stretching his wings, you could say.”
“Shit,” Hashtag said aloud. His mind was spinning, flipping through crystalline memories like trying to put together a higher dimension puzzle, not entirely certain you had all of the pieces. “The sleepwalking?” he rose his head and asked, staring at his mother.
She looked away and nodded.
Hashtag spoke a bit louder this time, “When I was ‘mumbling to myself,’ he was...I was talking to…”
“Yes, sweetie, I didn’t know how to tell you,” his mother tried to console.
“Couldn’t tell you,” his father sneered, glaring at the Twins, neither of whom appeared offended by the comment.
Hashtag leaned into the back of his chair, closed his eye, and sighed a deep and heavy sigh. All the looks of revulsion, the recoiling of gazes, the fake pity dripping from polite words. He gritted his teeth. Every time he woke in the middle of the night hearing someone in the hallways while his parents slept in the next room. All of the nightmares, waking in a cold sweat, flashing lights in the dark and strange songs ringing in his head. He opened his eye and surveyed the room. Countless squirrels, rabbits, dogs, birds, and fish, all dead. Ryan, Carlos, Brad, Alexis, Kelsey, all dead. He stood to his feet. No one moved.
His body was electrified, each neuron firing sparks of energy racing up and down his arms and legs. His body temperature plummeted and the air was hot against his skin. Like his ear to a conch, he could hear the distant storm approaching. He could perceive every mote of dust in the room, in the house, in the neighborhood, and he commanded them by thought to congregate and take form.
His father hastily left the room, stumbling over the coffee table. His mother froze, staring wide-eyed. Dr. Walls was furiously writing in a notebook. Squeaky crept out of the bathroom and used the cover of the commotion to tiptoe behind them all and sneak out the door unnoticed. The Twins remained seated, watching with expressionless faces.
Red and blue the orbs popped out above and behind Hashtag’s body, a monstrous swirl of dust towered to the ceiling.
Hashtag rolled his shoulders back and smiled. “Is this what you wanted!?” he shouted at all of them. He didn’t know if he felt betrayed or elated, but the anger that coursed through him made him feel powerful and tall. He looked up and back at the beast, his imaginary friend come to life. A shiver ran through his body as he raised his arms and wished for it to lunge and tear through anyone and anything it could.
The Twins stood and faced Hashtag. They each snapped their fingers. The devil lurched and then froze, and then the dust fell away and outward to wherever it was it came from. Dr. Walls was clapping and grinning like an idiot. His mother was as pale as a ghost. His father was missing.
“And that,” one of the Twins said.
“Is what we came here for,” the other finished.
They lowered their hands and approached Hashtag on either of his sides. “Like we said, Hashtag. We’re here to help, to help you control him.”
His mother was sobbing quietly now and he couldn’t understand why. Isn’t this what she wanted? They were going to help and he needed help. He couldn’t keep leading himself in a circle, a wake of depression and death following him wherever he went. In a way, he knew that it was and was not his fault that they had died, but they had died and if he could find a way to prevent future deaths, he had to take the chance.
The initial confusion and general discomfort he felt when they had told him his origin was slowly dissipating. It was at it’s face, of course, unbelievable, but so was the rest of his life. It was like waking from a nightmare into a lucid dream, one in which he could at least attempt to control the course of the surrealist plot.
He put another shirt into his suitcase. They wouldn’t tell him how long he would be gone, only that it would take some time to hone his abilities. That made sense to Hashtag. It didn’t seem like something you could learn on an overnight trip. His father was down the hallway, drinking bourbon. Hashtag didn’t even know they had bourbon in the house. When Hashtag asked him about it, his father had just mumbled something about it being a special occasion.
“We knew this would happen,” his mother was saying between chokes. “We knew but we were hoping to have you for a bit longer, just a bit longer. We never wanted it to be like this. We didn’t know it would be like this. I wish it didn’t have to be like this.”
Hashtag sauntered up to her and put his hand on her shoulder. He could feel her body trembling. He sat down next to her and looked her in the eyes. She did not recoil or convulse or attempt to avert her gaze, but looked back at him gently, softly. “Oh, Hashtag,” she said, “I’m so sorry.”
He scrunched up his nose. “For what?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Everything I suppose. You haven’t had an easy life, that’s for sure. And that was because of our selfishness, my selfishness. I wanted to have a baby, no matter the cost. And because of that you have to suffer.” She paused and gathered herself. “We didn’t make the deal, Hashtag, we made it on your behalf. It’s you that bears the contract.
Hashtag removed his hand from her shoulder and placed it in his lap.
She sighed and continued, “You know, if I had to do it again, I would. These years that we’ve had with you have been worth every trip to the hospital, every awkward phone call with the school, every middle of the night nightmare encounter when I didn’t know if I was going to find you or the thing sleeping in your bed. Every dead pet, every moment we spent dreading that this moment, now, would happen, I would do it all again.”
He looked up at her. “Thank you,” he said, “for, you know, everything.”
Hashtag never quite realized how little room there was in the back of a police cruiser. The Twins had shoved his suitcase into the otherwise empty trunk and then slid into the front seats, the woman in the police uniform, naturally, driving. His father and mother stood outside the front of the house, waving and crying. Hashtag pressed his face against the glass.
Everything he had known was here and now he was leaving it all behind. He wanted more time. He wanted to say goodbye again. He didn’t even get to say goodbye to Squeaky. They insisted that time was of the essence, that they couldn’t risk another incident. The past few weeks played in his head over and over and over until it became a blur. He focused on the fuzzy image, the totality of everything that had led him here. He held it to his chest close, allowing it to bear down on him with its full weight. His childhood memories, his friends, his family, every happy or sad or angry moment, every time he questioned himself or hated himself, every time he smiled or cried, every meal he savored or despised, the first time he ran in the rain, jumping in every puddle, his first bee sting, his first sunburn, the suffocating feeling of getting the wind knocked out of you, walking through tall grass while his fingers dusted against the blades, the warmth of the sun and the sky. And yet, as he peered outside at his home, at his parents, at his memories, today was more vibrant and bright than it had been for as long as he could remember.
The engine roared. Everything shrunk and Hashtag waved until they were nothing but specks in the distance.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)