EGO DOMINUS TUUS
By Alyssa Aloise
“The devil is not so black as he is painted.”
Your boyhood is defined by New Orleans heat,
fishing lures, and the smell of wet dog fur all over your dingy
shack. You’re not sure if your mother really died or just up and
left, but whatever it was, it aroused something monstrous in your
father that has never gone away. As for your father, he’s a thought
best left to a lonely night with a bitter moon and an empty bottle
of malt by your elbow.
Not even the strays that you sneak inside are
your friends, because you know better; if they weren’t starving
they’d leave, too. Despite your teacher’s half-hearted urgings,
you’re okay speaking only when you have to, burying your nose in
books and fishing and dogs. You don’t like people much anyways;
can’t stand eye contact, can’t stand conversation.
But sometimes—just sometimes—you yearn for
company, a friend, someone to talk to who can reply back. You yearn
like a shipwrecked man yearns for a sip of fresh water, but no one
comes; no one wants to. Your father’s right: no one wants to
associate with something like you.
So, the first time he comes, it’s perfect.
It’s rather late at night for fishing, but you
can handle it. You’re slumped against the side of the boat, shoes
off, sea salt sweat making your hair curl at the ears. The orange
and red hues in the sky slowly give way to stars and darkness, and
you steadily grow more exhausted. Eyelids like lead. Your dog, which
you found emaciated with a frayed collar as if someone left him tied
somewhere for too long, sits at your side, resting against your
knee. Your fingers run through his off-white fur while your other
hand stays near the rod. You haven’t caught anything yet, and you
never leave without some reward.
Chin against the edge of the boat, you gaze down
at the murky water, black and opaque. You can’t see anything besides
your own reflection, certainly not any fish.
You must be very lonely out here.
The voice, having come from the end of the boat,
startles you out of your trance. A man, clad in an elegant trench
coat and fedora worth more than your house, sits, the brim of his
hat covering a shapely face. The dog sleeps on, unaware.
Don’t be alarmed. You’re quite safe, lad.
You find yourself believing him, oddly enough;
the atmosphere relaxes, tranquil, despite the wet heartbeat in your
throat. His voice is like velvet cake.
“Who are you?” you whisper, suddenly conscious of
your thick twang. You’re poor white trash, a hick. Your dad again:
You may call me Nick.
“How did you get on my boat?”
You don’t know better: you’re only thirteen and
you’re lonely. Loneliness attracts the greatest of dangers. If you
had sense, you’d run, scream, maybe even jump in the water, but you
don’t have any of that. You don’t have anything besides a box of
ineffective homemade lures. That, and the wish for a friend.
The more important question is, why you’re out so
late? Your father will be angry at you before returning to his
booze, would he not?”
Before you can ask how he knows this about you,
he cuts you off with a cool finger to your lips and clicks his
tongue against the roof of his mouth.
The question that follows slips off Nick’s lips
Do you trust me?
You nod, because how could you not?
When he lifts his face, you notice his eyes are
onyx, and when he smiles, you feel yourself smile back.
You’re seventeen when your father dies and leaves
you nothing but resentment and the clothes on your back. Distant
cousins and relatives don’t fill up much of the graveyard where his
coffin is put into the ground, his lucky cap from an old Jack
Daniels bottle and a picture of your mother in with him.
You don’t cry at the funeral; you accept the
perfunctory hugs from people who never bothered to help you before
and won’t bother to help you now. In the end, as always, you’re
alone, the resentment a greasy coin on your tongue.
When you do manage to sleep, you dream of
darkness and hands and engulfing flames. Your heart is ripped out of
your chest, burning, being forced down your throat. Before you’re
fed your own heart you usually wake, sticky with sweat and your head
swimming. There’s something familiar about the dream, more than its
mere repetition, but you don’t look into it too much. It’s not worth
I’ve heard your father has passed. I’m very
sorry. A velvety voice, known and warm, like honey. Liver failure,
At the sound, you glance up, a weight
inadvertently lifting off your chest as you set your eyes on that
strange face, its familiar angles. There’s no smile on his handsome
features, no expression besides the exaggerated countenance of
sadness and sorrow for a friend. He steps over to your side, placing
a hand on your shoulder. Your resentment dissipates, a sky clearing
after a storm.
“Was a long time coming,” you reply, trying to
play it off casually, feeling red hot and exposed under his touch.
He withdraws his hand. “But thanks.”
This is your father about whom you’re speaking,
boy. Feigned outrage
“Yeah, I know. And?”
Nick nods at that.
I am curious to know more of you, lad. You have
to tell me about yourself.
The situation doesn’t seem strange at all to you:
that Nick is back, that your dad’s been buried.
“There’s not much to know. I like dogs, fishing,
I am new here, you must know. It wouldn’t be much
a hassle to walk you back home.
You don’t tell him you don’t have a home anymore,
that you never have. You simply swallow it, smile, let him lead you
out of the cemetery. His hand on the small of your back is a
I think we’ll get along quite well, don’t you?
I’d like to make a friend.
A gentle smile tugs at the corners of his lips as
you wait for cars to pass to cross the street.
For the first time, you’re in love.
Her name’s Molly, a few years younger than you, a
guest lecturer at the university whose last offer to you surpassed
six figures. But you don’t like contracts, you avoid commitments.
You reconfigure networks, rewire routers. You work alone. You work
at night. You are free to roam as you please. But you are changing.
You want to change. After a minor issue with her printer—guest
lecturers share office space, hardware, headaches—she surprised you
by suggesting lunch. You surprised yourself by saying yes. You
haven’t looked back since.
Molly is beautiful, intelligent, and accepting.
She tastes like lipstick and salt when you kiss her and she loves
beer and her three-year-old son, Jonathan.
And she loves you.
Nick is the first person you tell, the first to
hear all about her, told in an excited ramble as you share a drink
on his front porch with the sound of waves brushing against the bay
and the moon bright on their faces. Nick is supportive as always;
the perfect friend. Too good to be true.
I’m dying to meet this Molly. She sounds
“I don’t know Nick,” you say, with a smile. “What
if she takes one look at you, falls in love, and ditches me for you?
Then you’d both be gone.”
Nick fakes a chuckle and sips his wine.
Molly moves into your heart and then into your
home. But the dreams get stranger, more bizarre, more vivid. You eat
your whole heart, dream of its taste and desire. There are whispers
in the dreams, urging you, awful ideas that you’d never, ever carry
out in this lifetime. You wake and Molly’s there to hold you and
tell you she loves you, everything’s going to be fine and nothing’s
going to happen, but her consolation’s not enough.
She’s not enough.
The dreams get louder. Lose her, get rid of the
boy. At first, it’s easy to ignore it as just your subconscious,
nothing to be alarmed about, but soon it’s hard to ignore. Soon,
you’re hearing it in your every day thoughts: when you wake up, when
you work, of course when you sleep. You’re no good for them—they’re
no good for you. Your dad’s voice, but different. More familiar
somehow. You stop sleeping, fight it at all hours. You teeter on the
edge, unstable, any minute about to explode. Booze helps. Jack
The night your bed is empty for the first time in
years is the night the dream fully plays out. The hand feeding you
your heart belongs to Nick, with his onyx eyes and gentle smile and
apple-seed heart. You know what you must do, my boy, he whispers,
stepping into you. Suddenly you’re awake. You find yourself at
Molly’s motel, soaked head to toe from the rain, your father’s aged
pocket-knife in hand. You don’t remember anything beyond that from
that night, besides driving away in a black Rolls Royce. Nick’s.
Nick was never a real person. But you knew that.
And you knew better.
You spend your days mostly lying prone on a cot,
sometimes let out for walks, behind a net and bars. You don’t object
and you don’t speak.
It isn’t too long after your sentence that Nick
visits late at night, appearing from nowhere outside your cell. You
don’t have windows but you know it’s late. You almost feel the ivory
moonlight on your features.
Good evening, Nick says, his voice dripping
honey. He smiles as he glides through the glass and comes to your
This time, you see behind the gentleness of the
expression and see the true intentions of that bloodthirsty smile.
This time, you don’t smile back.