At the Threshold
What every cosmic horror hero does is look too hard. The threat is always there. It was always going to be there. But the hero looks when others don’t. She could have gone along unaware. But she starts looking at the flaws, picking at the little tears at the edges, peeling back the top layer to see what’s underneath.
And then it’s too late. Then she has to do something. Then she has to act. She has to make the connections that tell where It came from and how to prevent It. She has to tell others about It, who don’t believe her. She becomes obsessed with It. She reads old books about It (sure-fire madness; the words undo you). She starts cutting out newspaper clippings, doing that red string thing. She watches for the signs of It. She compiles a haphazard plan to prevent It.
But It still happens. It comes, no matter what. She uncovers It. She buries herself in It. And then It comes anyway. Her horrors are all completely founded. It sucks the innocent bystanders into Itself, unaware to the end. But she has to live with the dread for months, years. That’s what hurts her the most. The arrival. She shines a light in the darkness.
It’s just beyond the edge. She doesn’t prevent It. She faces It.
In April, a childhood friend of mine hanged himself. He was four years younger than me. It was four weeks into the pandemic. I’d lost touch with him. He was living back in the place we grew up, carrying around a stigma for something he’d done in his early twenties, but which he couldn’t shake. He’d been suffering for a long time. His Twitter habits showed he was plugged into the chaos. He left behind two kids, a big family, and so many friends. But it was the relief at the end of a rope that he needed.
When I found out, I thought about working for his family. It was me, his older brother, a couple of neighbor boys. My dad had got me a job with his dad when I was 11. I think it was his attempt to recreate his farm childhood. Feeding cattle during the winter, moving them to some other field in the summer, fixing fences (I liked putting in new staples and barbed wire), stacking the barn in autumn, branding the calves in the spring.
I kept thinking about the smell of burnt calf hair and skin for a few nights after I found out he was dead. You don’t get that smell out of your nose. The other boys in the yard didn’t mind it much. But I never really got used to it. He was so young when we branded the calves. I was 11, but he was just a boy. I wonder if he ever thought about the smell?
There are armed white men walking through neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The police are letting them. I watched a video of it that trickled to the top of my feed. Guys my age, walking down the streets of Pennsylvania, with clubs and guns. They aren’t worried one bit. The president has “military-style” vehicles lining Pennsylvania Avenue. And he turned off the lights on the White House last night. I guess they also tear-gassed some people out on the mall.
I used to eat my lunch in the park on the north side of the White House. I’d walk over there from McPherson Square to get away from the firm. It was hard to breathe in D.C. in the summer. The humidity and the people made it tough to get air. Sometimes I’d walk up Pennsylvania to GW and look at my law school. I didn’t go in. I’d just walk around the outside. I wasn’t worried one bit.
I wonder how much the virus will spread among the white men. They aren’t wearing masks. And they’re standing very close. I can see them shaking hands in the video. They’re breathing in the open air. They aren’t worried one bit.
My son woke up screaming a minute ago. He couldn’t find his stuffed bear in the crib. He needs it to sleep. He had a long day at daycare. The woman who cares for him in her home is so good at watching kids. He doesn’t ever want to leave. But he’s always tired when he comes back. Sometimes, I bring him home very early so he won’t be exhausted. So I can see him.
She and her husband are from Afghanistan. He teaches Pashto for the language institute in Monterey. She watches kids. They’ve been here long enough to be citizens. They just became citizens in the fall. I’ve never asked what brought them here. They never said. But I know about the wars.
My son will wake up tomorrow and go for half a day. I’ve got some writing to do, and my wife has work. But we’ll make him a good lunch, and play outside. He’ll have a long nap in the afternoon. Then we’ll take a walk down the street. And he’ll go to bed with his bear.
My nephew and I had a long talk the other day. He’s almost two years old, just three months older than my son. It was a great conversation, even if I didn’t understand much of it. My brother in law was filming the whole thing in the background, while my sister laughed nearby at how much my nephew talked. My sister and I are the same. My nephew has the same bear as my son. They got them from our parents. My nephew probably gets scared in the night, too.
But he won’t be able to walk around Pennsylvania with a gun or a club. His skin isn’t the right color for that. He’d cry out for “Mama,” but my sister wouldn’t be nearby laughing, my brother in law wouldn’t be filming. Someone else would be filming. Someone else would be nearby. Not Mama. I’d watch a video of it that would trickle to the top of my feed.
I’m going to see my nephew in a couple of weeks on the 4th of July. We’re going to visit my parents. He’ll come to play with my son. I can’t wait to hear the boys screaming in the yard. My brother in law will be filming the whole thing in the background, while my sister laughs nearby. My sister and I are the same.
Something isn’t right. You’ve felt it for a while. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. The words undo you. Yes, the pieces are all there, it all looks like it fits. The phones work, the lights are on, there’s food in the closet. They’re still waving the flag, there’s still an election, the economy is reopening. Movies and music are still playing. The people are walking down the street, not worried one bit.
Look! Right there. See the little flaws, the little tears at the edges. It smells like burning hair and skin. If we peel back the top layer to see what’s underneath, we’ll start to put the pieces together. It’s going to be bad. I know about the wars. But grab that end and help me lift.
It’s just beyond the edge. We won’t prevent It. We face It.