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SWC14 - Ego Dominus Tuus

Arisia'14 Student Writing Contest - 2nd Place Winner


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’re nothing.
    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 like honey.

    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.

    Then hush.

    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 it.

    I’ve heard your father has passed. I’m very sorry. A velvety voice, known and warm, like honey. Liver failure, was it?

    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, and math.”

    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 consolation.

    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.

    “Me too.”


    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 delightful.

    “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 Daniels.

    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 side.

    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.