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Strings

Kelly lives and works in Sacramento, over-planning her life in an attempt to maximize her writing time. But you know what they say about best-laid plans. Kelly writes urban fantasy and science fiction, usually with an LGBT flair. Her debut novel, a transgender science fiction called Y Negative, will be released this fall through Riptide Publishing. You can follow her on twitter at @kellylhaworth and read her blog at kellyhaworth.com.
My first kiss was not normal. It wasn't under the bleachers, or in the back of my car, or in the halls at school. It was in a deserted house, with my parents still at work and with tears wetting his iridescent face. His eyes had turned purple and he told me he was going to kill himself. So I kissed him. What else could I have done?
We didn't tell anyone about us. Gossip would spread like oil over water if a human and an Argati even held hands. So we stole kisses in empty bathroom stalls, my fingertips running over new scabs on his wrists. We hung out after school, and shut the door.
He would say things that made no sense, that made me want to know more. "Reality hangs between infinity and nothing. The strings that hold us together form a weave that keeps reality suspended." He tugged on the strings of my soul, tugged me toward him. I stumbled into his arms.
How do you define humanity when an alien race has their own life and morals, their own Argatity, if it will? When red means calm and blue means excited? How do you define attraction when biology dictates one thing and you do another?
My mom would ask why I never had a girlfriend, like all my other friends. I'd recall his quickened breathing and my gaze tracing his vertebrae and my face would flush scarlet. I didn't feel calm at all.
It wasn't long before he told me about the angels and the demons connected to him. His body was a puppet and any of them could be masters. But I always saw one face. I always heard one voice. "I saw you in the ether," he said, his eyes sky blue. "I saw your divinity. It scared me." He told me who I was. I believed him.
In our senior year, his personality splintered. "Oh he's not here today," he informed me, dark green eyes flashing. "But I like you too, so it's okay." Of course it was. Not soon thereafter, he dragged me to my car, his intense demeanor startling. "You treat him quite well," he said. "I want to reward you for that."
It's only so long you can hide something like this from your parents. His demons reared their heads when my dad set a curfew. He taught me how to pop window screens, his speech slipping to a hissing singsong as yellow eyes darted left and right, picking up the light from the moon. His skin shimmered, and old scars stood out as dull lines through the candescence, like patches of black between stars. Down his forearms. Along his shoulder blades. On the inside of his thighs. I showed his demons that I didn't care who he was.
So he showed me his wings.
"Violence is a socially defined construct," he explained. "You humans think anything involving dismemberment is violent. Anything involving blood is violent. Argati don't think that way. Betrayal is violent. Lying is violent. They dismember the soul. The body? Who cares. If I ripped out your eyes and did it with love, you would be grateful and thank me."
Sometimes it felt as though he had. And I was.
In college, I saw the green of fury, the pink of frustration, the orange of despair. In public he stuck with other Argati, not even glancing at me as I walked by. Later in his room he would ramble about the angels and the demons and then beg me to help him save his soul. I'd shove him down until his crying changed pitch and his eyes went gray.
I was quite the savior that year.
If there was anything that the human race could learn, it was that mankind was an idea. The connectivity of consciousness overrode labels. What you were didn't matter. Who you were didn't matter. I could even argue what you did didn't matter either.
One night he called an ambulance because he had swallowed a bottle of pills and then had second thoughts. On my way to the hospital, I told myself over and over again that I would yell his eyes brown. But when I saw him, I resisted the urge to pin him in an embrace.
It was then that I realized what he had done to me.
The more I learned about interspecies relations, the more I was surprised that interspecies schools were allowed at all. They were coexistence experiments at best. Controlled prejudice at worst. He joined the protests our second year of college, fighting a fight he didn't even care about.
"It makes me feel like something matters," he said, burgundy eyes staring past me. "Hearing the yelling and feeling the energy."
"You just like the danger," I told him.
"Who wouldn't?" He cracked a smile, a smile that brought me back to when he let me peel his clothes off for the first time. Alien skin, shallow scales, warm under my palms.
One morning I caught him kneeling in the middle of a clothing-strewn room, flicking a knife open and closed. Open and closed. He twisted the tip in his palm, blue blood tracing the contours of his skin. "I hate this body. This flesh. It's not what I wanted." I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and pulled him toward me. He hissed and after a moment of struggle I had him pinned to the floor, his arms over his head. The knife uselessly scraping the carpet.
"I love you," I whispered.
"No you don't, no you don't..."
Because if it were a lie, he could justify our violence. I kissed his tears, sour, not salty. He grew still and stared beyond me, an empty vessel. Then he inhaled and blinked now-amber eyes. "Hey, what's up?"
I didn't know emotions could give you whiplash.
It's one of the things they don't teach you in school, that even with all that is Argati peculiarity, a neural network is still just that. And it can break down the same way. He crumbled in my grasp, his dust swirling from my moist breath.
"Do you ever think about shoving your arm down a garbage disposal and flipping the switch? It's a perfectly normal thought. The key is to not act."
I shuddered and met his black eyes.
He smiled. "Maybe I can grind up your arm instead."
My gut lurched. "I don't think I'd like that."
"But it doesn't matter. None of it matters."
I realized with the flick of his eyes from black to lavender that we were suddenly talking about something else. "It matters to me."
If the mind can transcend, where does that leave the body? Lost and forgotten. Deserted. His skin had lost its gleam. "You're more interesting up there," he told me, gesturing at nothing. "You can become Argati at will."
I'm not sure what unsettled me more. The strangeness of imagining myself Argati, or the jealousy of my spiritual self. I didn't even ask myself why I believed him.
We graduated into the chaos of adult unknown. Too many employers didn't want to hire Argati, so many lived in communes. My landlord couldn't know that he stayed with me or we both would have been kicked out. He left at odd hours and I didn't ask where he went. He wouldn't have told me anyway.
It took too long for him to admit what was wrong. "It's getting harder to pull myself up the strings. I'm becoming too human." Apparently this was an epidemic. A cultural collapse as it will. Humankind had not planned for them to assimilate, at least, I hadn't. Still, I pushed his knees to his chest and watched him bite his lip. If our actions made him more human, what was the harm? If they made me more Argati... how could I stop?
One evening his eyes were white, gazing up at the ceiling. His lips blue. His skin cold. I sat cross-legged next to him, counting the rows of scales on his stomach, up his chest, around the hilt sticking out above his too-human heart.
I couldn't tell you who he was, or what he had done. It didn't matter. But I could tell you how he made me feel.
He still tugged on the strings that wrapped around my soul.
He always will.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 8th, 2015


The circumstances of the main character's first kiss are more or less the same as my own. The rest of the story tumbled into place rather quickly after that. The depth of the alien culture was a surprising aftereffect that I might try exploring in future work.

- Kelly Haworth

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