On the edge of Orlin, there was a rock. To get there you must have crawled through the bleeding tangle that was the Jessen’s soybean field. You then walked through their grove of wheat until you legs shook with exhaustion. When you see it you would know, for it leaned over the rapid water. It was taller than me, at least three times taller. This rock had been here for centuries. It had been ripped away by wind and water, carved into a beautifully complex stone. In some ways, I could see myself in the rock. My experiences rip away at me until I am left bare. The longer the wind shreds me, the more complex, unique and unstable I become. I remember climbing onto the highest peak and letting myself tear in the wind.
Marcel stood on the very edge of the yellow subway platform, staring down the barrel of the nearing subway. She didn’t blink as it blasted forward violently. If there is one thing that fascinates me about humans, it is our recklessness. Though the train couldn’t have hit Marcel from her position, it ripped inches from her face. And she was stone.
Marcel was the woman who we found sleeping in our squat, and she had been with us since. She had wide set shoulders and had been homeless for 15 years. Her hair was greying and receding, but her eyes were large and distracting. She had acne scars ridging her nose and a small brown birthmark in the white of her eye. The first day she joined us she had already insisted on refurnishing. We were on a furniture run, she knew of an abandoned warehouse that still had the equipment. “I’m gonna show you kids how it’s done; by the time I’m finished it’ll look like an expensive uptown apartment.”, she said, stepping onto the train. The four of us followed behind cautiously.
“Right, Marcel… did you ever explain to us how you ended up in our sleeping bags?”, Moriah said, scratching at her eyebrow. Her hands had shrunk dramatically and were nearly the normal size.
Marcel sat down and turned toward her. “Ah right. My old squat recently burned down, which was not great. I burned my arm on the way out so my skin was in a lot of pain.”, she said, pulling up her sleeve. A large red and pink blotch ate away at most of her arm. The rest of us simultaneously sucked through our teeth in sympathy.
“Shit. When I was 10 my hair caught fire and I spent 2 weeks in the ER.”, Moriah said. “But that looks really bad.”
Marcel nodded, pulling her sleeve back down. “So my immediate reaction was to jump straight into the nearby fountain. No one was around, so I swam about until my arm cooled. By the time I got out it felt like it had dropped 20º.”
I held the subway pole with one hand. “I went inside for warmth, and found sleeping bags.”
“Either way, ’tis a pleasure to meet you.” Sir said.
“Soon you will have beds anyway. Maybe a mattress, we’ll have to bring this all by train.” My breath filled the few seconds of silence.
“What school did you guys go to before, you know,” Moriah said.
Eric put a hand on my shoulder. “We both went to West Orlin Institute.”
I nodded “Yeah.”
“Homeschooled,” Moriah said.
“Oof,” I said, leaning back. “What’s that like?”
She scowled. “It would be fine if my parents hadn’t been transphobic. But when I was younger it was great.”
“How adorable.” Sir said.
“Did they give you good grades?”, Eric asked genuinely.
Moriah laughed. “Didn’t get them. They’re my parents I don’t know what you expect.”
He stuck out his tongue.
She snickered. “Okay, I’ve literally never told anyone this before but-”
“Oh my god spill.” Sir said, sitting up straighter.
“Were you part of an illegal drug trade?” Marcel asked sarcastically.
“Okay wow calm down for a second… I was just going to say my mom threw me a fake graduation.” Moriah said.
“Again, how adorable.”
“I know, every time I tell people that’s how they react. I mean, you’d think so. I was out to my parents long before I ran away, but they decided to keep it a secret. They lied to the rest of my family who came to the graduation, and made a banner with my dead name on it.”
“Shit, that’s actually really bad I’m sorry,” I said.
“It’s fine. I left for a reason.”
I thought. “If you don’t mind me asking, what was your dead name?”
“Mahmud.” She said. “I only had one picture of what I use to look like, but when I left I set it on fire.”
“Woah.” Sir said. “Symbolic.”
Marcel pushed to her feet. “This is us.” In under ten minutes, we were inside the warehouse. There were stacks of furniture which scraped the plaster ceiling high above us. The chairs and bookshelves were eating each other alive. We spent the rest of the day dragging mattresses and broken stoves across intersections and cracked sidewalks. We traveled back and forth until my knees hit the pavement outside of our window.
I wheezed angrily. “Nope.” We were making our last trip. All of the furniture we planned on having was in the small overgrown courtyard.
Marcel set down a chipped marble table. Easing onto the surface, she raised her eyebrows. The rest of us set everything down too.
“Do you want a break?” She said. I nodded, my eyes feeling heavy in their sockets. She laughed in my face.
“We need to get this stuff upstairs. And clean upstairs, as a matter of fact.”
I sighed. Okay.
We made our way up the fire escape and into our trainwreck. Orion greeted us excitedly. It took four and a half hours to scrape out the piles of wood that leaked out of the floor, and two more to scrub out any sign of dirt or glass. All the the trash was moved onto the fire escape, into one huge tower. Some of it fell to the ground outside. That pile stayed there for who knows how long. We dug a small path through it so we could get in and out of the house. Soon we realized we could only get some things in through the window. We ended up with the marble table, two small mattresses, a cabinet and a couple other random things. The rest we left outside for good. We cleared the chipped glass from our windowpane and used spare nails and wood from the pile to board up the hole in the ceiling. Soon our little home had everything; curtains in our entrance window, rugs on the floor, mattresses, a table and a now-patched couch. The outside had two cabinets and a broken gas stove. One night we made a fire on the stove and ended up setting one of the cabinets ablaze too. At night four of us shared one of the mattresses, and Marcel took the last to herself.
We woke up in the middle of the night to Moriah screaming.
“Oh my god what is it?” Sir threw off the covers and felt Moriah’s head.
Her eyes flew back and forth as she whispered under her breath. “No no no no no”, She cursed loudly and looked at her hands. They had swollen up and were red around her knuckles.
“Shit I’ll get the pills!” Eric called, already up and out of bed. He scrambled across the room and tossed Sir the plastic bag. They untied the knot desperately and grabbed a handful of pills in their fist. Moriah swallowed two a furrowed her eyebrows painfully. It was still dark outside and I could barely see any of it. She cursed under her breath.
“Do you need anything? Water? A back massage? I don’t know.” I asked frantically.
“Goddammit, you clearly haven’t met anyone else with Gout.” She growled through her teeth.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry”
She examined her swollen knuckles. “Ice? It helps the burning. Does anyone have ice”, She paused, “wait nevermind of course you don’t.”
“Water”, Sir said, “We need water. A lot of it.” Moriah nodded.
“Aaron, come with me” Eric called, grabbing our empty water bottles from off of the table. I raced after him as he slid out the window. I tripped down the fire escape desperately, at least 10 feet behind him. He called me to go faster, but I had already cut my hand on the rusted railing. My foot fell through one missing step and I fell farther behind. We plowed through the courtyard and into the empty street.
“Okay, but where are we going to get water?” I said, fumbling with the two water bottles I had grabbed. He looked around the barren street, suddenly silent.
“Hold this.” He put the rest of the water bottles in my arms, a couple dropping to the sidewalk. He grabbed a glass bottle from the gutter and shattered it against a lopsided fire hydrant. Nothing happened. Cursing, he picked up a broken wrench from the ground and cranked open one outlet. Water shot across the street in the darkness, drenching the few cars that parked nearby. Eric laughed, pushing his hair out of his eyes. He grabbed two bottles from my hand and put them under the jet. I dropped the ones in my arms and began to help.
“I hope she’s okay,” I said, setting down a full bottle.
“Yeah me too. It sounds really painful.” He responded.
“Has she had one before? Like when you were here?”
“I’ve only seen the aftermath of one. I wasn’t expecting the attack itself to be this bad.” We finished filling the bottles and began our way back. I spilled some of it on the ground and cursed. We slid through the trash and into the room. “We have water.”, Eric said. We kneeled by her side, setting down the water. I examined one bottle. It looked murky, but it was all we had. Moriah took one more pill and Sir gave her some water. She gagged.
“That is disgusting.”
Eric sighed. “It’s all we have.” Marcel was petting Orion in her bed, finally awake.
Moriah shifted up, attempting to keep her hands away from anything. “You guys can go back to bed. I’ll be fine.”
Sir looked at her, worried. “Are you sure?”
She smiled. “Yeah. I’ll be fine, get your sleep.”
“I said go to sleep. I’ll be fine.”
So I did as she said. At least I tried. I could barely sleep. Every time I would get close I would hear her suck through her teeth angrily. That would follow with her attempting to drink more toxic water with her forearms. Eventually, I fell asleep and forgot all of my dreams.
That night was especially cold, and the year was drawing up its last punches. I woke up before the sun, and by then Moriah had fallen into a light sleep through the pain. She woke up within ten minutes, but by then I was gone. I slid out of bed and made my way into the other room. The floor in here was getting weaker, I could almost feel it melt under my feet. The couch had sunk partially into the ground. I pulled myself out of the window and scaled the loose bricks. It felt like so long since I had climbed up here. Since I had arrived. I dropped onto the roof and looked over the skyline. The wind fell from the clouds as the sun began to hold up the sky. I stood on the edge of the roof and spread my arms, letting the wind rip away at my eroding soul.