Duri didn’t think much about Kiran’s disappearance at first. It was a new semester and they hadn’t discussed their class schedule with one another before Winter break suddenly ended. Duri’s transition back into her grueling routine was not smooth. Days at home stretched out like forever moments of crystallized freedom until the night before classes it all shattered in an unceremonious series of panic attacks. She let the anxiety wash over her and she embedded it within herself and only let it excrete in the form of terse numbered lists and a set of priorities and the occasional total body collapse, her eyes staring blankly at the white washed walls in the dorm. What had Kiran seen within their depths that she now lacked? The room went on forever, specks of light and dust twirling before her listless eyes.
Duri did relish the privacy she acquired away from Kiran but in an odd way missed her presence. Kiran’s recent erratic behavior was no comfort, certainly, but she longed to bounce ideas off someone, have someone to motivate her when her insane credit load became too much to bear, to laugh in moments of stressful horror, to make light of life-destroying decisions. When had she last seen her?
It was entirely possible that their schedules just hadn’t overlapped in a few weeks. Duri hardly slept at night and preferred to take naps polyphasically throughout the day. Between classes, working, volunteering for the Women’s Machinist Organization, she hardly spent time in the dorm at all except to catch sleep between lectures. Kiran had stopped going to classes first semester, yes, but maybe she had come around after storming out. At least none of her professors had reached out to Duri, nor her advisor or any other friends. Did Kiran have friends?
Maybe Kiran was actively avoiding her. Duri realized that their last conversation was less than pleasant.She hadn’t intended it come across as harsh as she realized it must have sounded. She truly cared. They hadn’t known each other long, but Duri felt, hoped, that there was some element of kinship between the two of them. She sometimes daydreamed about the years after college, ones in which they still got together at regular intervals and fell back into their laughter and bickering as though no time had passed. At least until a few months ago, a few weeks after Kiran began to dream of the man in the tree. How had she forgotten about that? It seemed so important for so long until even Kiran failed to mention it anymore.
Duri crawled into bed, the sun still high in the sky. She had attempted to blot out the light by hanging makeshift shades over the windows using Kiran’s blankets. Apparently she no longer slept here. Duri exhaled deeply and the weight of the world tightened its grasp around her heart. She attempted to sync her breath with her pulse of her bloodstream but she wavered, inhaling too quickly, and the piercing light overtook her vision until everything vibrated and she fell away into the darkness.
It was night when she woke. The campus streetlights slipped shadows in between the shades and danced with the beige carpet.
“Kiran, you up?” Duri croaked.
Silence save for the thumps of the bass oozing out of the floors above her.
Duri felt her throat collapse. Her chest tightened and her eyes welled. Kiran was gone, truly. How long had it been? She had no idea. She had blamed Kiran for getting lost in her own thoughts, her own dreams, and yet all the while she herself had let the haze of days in and days out crop over her day to day until everything poured out like a gigantic miasma, obscuring time itself. Panic washed away as depression settled in.
She threw her covers to the wall and stood in the middle of the room. Moonlight hung on her face. She walked to the the door, thinking, just go back to bed Duri it’s dark out what are you doing? She laced up her boots and tossed her jacket around her shoulders, zipping it up to her cheeks. You have class in the morning, she thought as she trudged through the newly fallen snow, sparks of light reflecting off of its pristine surface. And then she was there, the old brick building, tendrils strangling the walls as frost and ice attempted to choke them out. The door hesitated and then creaked open as she shoved her left shoulder into it.
The library smelled of stale dust and old paper. Duri crept forward with trepidation while her mind screamed at her to get the fuck out, now! She found him hunched over a pile of books, beyond the rows upon rows of shelves toppled to the ground, their texts spewed from their bodies onto the cold carpet beneath. She screamed to run! run, now goddamnit but tiptoed into the middle of the room.
He stood and brushed the dark hair from out of his eyes. He was too young to be a professor, his clothes too tattered and worn to be a student. He noticed her gaze.
“What… what are you doing here?” she asked, her voice quavering.
Jack stepped into the moonlight. “I might ask you the same thing. From my approximation, no one’s really been here since it and no one a long time before that.”
Everything in Duri’s body howled at her to leave and yet her feet remained firmly planted. “I’m.. I’m looking for someone,” she sputtered.
What a coincidence, Jack hissed. “I’m looking for something as well.”
“Someone,” Duri corrected. She rubbed her eyes. None of this made sense. His distant look, the impossible wiring careening in and out of his skin, the dark shadows emanating from his body.
Jack approached her. He reached a hand to his face, placing his thumbs at his temples and his index fingers at the bridge of his nose. He chanced a glance upward. “Don’t laugh. It’ll work.” He cocked his head not wholly unlike a puppy and then exclaimed, “Oh my god it was your roommate!”
“She!” Duri exploded. “Stop saying it! I’m looking for a person, goddamnit. Kiran, where the fuck are you?”
Duri’s voice echoed off of the high glass ceiling, the slow pitter patter of rain forming at the edges of the atmosphere. The room seemed to shrink. Everything hung suspended in a timeless frame.
“No, no that’s not right,” Jack clucked. “Kiran is definitely not its name, primordial as that is.”
Duri collapsed into a pile of books, exasperated, tired, exhausted, and fucking sick of this guy’s bullshit. “Listen emo dickhead, I don’t give a fuck what you keep saying but if you know something about Kiran you better speak up before I get mad.”
Jack tried a laugh but it didn’t fit his current face. He dug into his pockets and held out his fists. “You want to know what your friend sees?” he asked.
Duri crossed her arms and scoffed, “Get that shit out of my face.”
Jack flinched. “I’m hurt, Duri,” he said. “Duri is your name, correct?” He floated closer. “I would never give you something to impair your senses. I just thought you might want a retreat into your friend’s mind so that you could understand them even better. That’s what friends do, right?”
Duri clenched her fists. “You’re fucking with me and I do not like to be fucked with.”
Jack abated, briefly. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” He lunged before she could say another word and the machines worked their way downstream until she saw all the wings aflutter, scales creeping, teeth gnashing. They were everywhere. There was no space in which they weren’t. Kiran’s reality sunk into her chest and Duri recoiled at her own cruelty.
Jack leaned in closely. “Where did you say your friend was from?”
Duri flinched. Eyes glared from all corners of the room. “I don’t know she only talked about her family occasionally I thought maybe she had gone home.”
“Her family!” Jack whooped. The spaces between the shadows guffawed. “Oh Duri, I am so sorry you’ve been played so hard.” He crouched down to her eyes level, “That thing has no family. It’s been using you.”
Duri sunk into the floor deeper. The edges of the walls caved inward. “But she was...she was right here.”
Jack hunched down closer. “But she’s not any longer, is she?” He grabbed her jaw and swung her visage into his vision. “Now, Duri, I’ve been nice and I’m only going to ask this once.” He smiled. “Where the fuck is Kiran?”
Duri fell away and forced the anxiety to rise until her brain shook the core of her skin away from her body and she floated endlessly in a stream of death. Teeth nipped at her heels. She drifted upward. Wings lined the hallway. Eyes peered out of every corner. She was being pulled away from Jack, away from the library, away from campus, and away from this world until suddenly, there he was.
His white, feeble hair draped across his face, his body protruding confidently out of a great oak tree at the edge of the room, vaulted ceilings built to accommodate the size of the plumage. He smiled wide. He was older than Kiran had described him. “Welcome,” his voice bellowed. “I’ve been waiting for you. My name is Attila.”
by Dan Diehn