TEENAGE NOUMENAUT by
NATALIE TEREZI REI WATTS
content warning for mild gore, body horror, dissociation.
Every morning Anah splits in two.
This is fortunate, because you can still be a person in halves — half a nose to smell, half an eye to see, half a heart to feel. One half remains down here, where the dirt and stinging sun and skin that cracks in the heat are, while the other half is hooked by an unseen needle and wound around an unfelt spindle until it lands in a pocket. The pockets always vary. They're wide and labyrinthian, what may as well be planets if Anah can trust ker half-senses, and every time the environment twists in a different way: new dirt, new suns, new ways your skin can crack in the heat.
The first time Anah split ke was five and ke was run over by a bulldozer the size of ker house. It had insect legs of stained glass and it stepped through ker ribcage like it was paper. When the missing half came back the left side was crumpled while the right side was spotless, unscathed by what had befell elsewhere.
Ke learned early on that you couldn't die in the pockets (because only a full person can die, and half a person isn't full enough to count as alive). When ke left school one day the pocket self was grabbed by an elephantine soldier and hurled into a shredder, emulsified and extruded into rations for His Royal Troops to dine upon, and in the process only the left side of ker real body sloughed off. Ke didn't react, because none of it hurt, but ker parents did, and in order to eat dinner with decorum a mattress was run across the left side of the dining room to keep the ration slop from tarnishing the floor.
Similarly, Anah learned that you can bring objects back with you. In a trip to a pocket of ash and trees stretching higher than the sun a platoon of twig people handed ker a medallion, an old golden thing frayed at the edges that represented hope. When they died assaulting a Star Kingdom fortress the medallion stayed with ker, embedded through ker throat where the heavenly flak hit hardest. In the next day's pocket ke left the medallion in a makeshift mound of boulder meat and dirt orifices, a displaced memorial for anyone who came to see it.
Usually the half self returns by nightfall, and at that point Anna goes to sleep while the spindle rotates through ker dreams, digging through the clouds while the light of every world reflecting off of it gleams like spotlights. Ke has to take sleeping meds to prevent the shimmer from making ker dreams feel awake.
On days when school isn't a hassle (or when ker parents are feeling particularly antsy) ke gets whisked off to a therapist with unremarkable clothing and an unremarkable face and clipboard where the conversations usually go like this:
"Are you okay?"
"Are you bothered?"
"Do you feel strange?"
"Do you want to be here?"
"Do you need help?"
Anah never knows how to answer these, because what's the reference point for "okay"? Is it not splitting? Is it not turning into extrawordly remnants? Because ke doesn't know how other people experience life without it. Is it saying something more than yes or no? Because those are just answers to the question he gives, he's not asking for anything else. Is it feeling strange? Because ke doesn't know what that'd be relative to. Is it wanting help? Because ke doesn't know what help would be.
By this point the therapist wistfully sighs, staring out the wide blank windows while mulling something over in deep blank thought, and Anah goes back to splitting. There's a field of rockets wreathed in flowers, and as they soar into the deep blue sky they each promise riches to bring back, eyes staring at ker as they turn into wispy contrails between the clouds. When the therapist spins his swivel chair over to resume talking the rockets have returned and amid parades of disembodied trumpets the rockets spill silver petals from their irises, landing at Anah's feet in serpentine spirals of blinding upwards-rushing alluvia. Ke refocuses on the therapist and a petal runoff blossoms into a corolla of quicksilver in ker eye.
At dinner the rockets have since crumbled under the weather of time and the flower rivers have dried until they were rust. The quicksilver has crumbled from the eye and the trumpets are distended into church bells. As ke tries to take bites of ker food the left half stretches as its own aggregation of skeletal rebar, branching through the room as though it were bleached coral subsuming the sea. One of the excrescences budges the ceiling light. Ker dad, sighing (that's always how everyone always reacts), fetches the tableside buzzsaw to shear off the growths. Sparks drift.
At night Anah once again sleeps and watches the worlds and tries to pretend ke remembers what dreams are after they were erased by the spindle at five. Are these landscapes REM fantasy or are they another pocket that has claimed ker fully? Sometimes ke reaches out to grab the spindle and every time it shreds through the flesh and dissolves the muscle into butterflies.
Every morning ke splits in two and the needle whisks one half off as ke gets ready to school. There's red sunburnt cracks scrawling ker arms, but ke hasn't kept track in a long time which sun it was they scorched under.