It's a summer day, one of the last of the year. Late. The tall grass of some nameless field lies crushed beneath my back and my hands hover above my face, frozen in midair. I have two gold rings, one on each hand… and I can't remember what the first one means. Eris, my beloved, gave me the second. Not long ago, I think. She stands off to the side of my field of vision, her hands to her face, and I'd turn to look but there isn't time.

There's as much time as you want, but not for looking. Not for her.

There was only a tiny pick at the moment; the blade thrusting against my forehead quivered with its tremendous velocity, its unstoppable force, and the tip was slowly parting my skin and bone. So this is death?

Not quite. Not yet. Let me know when you're ready and it'll come quick enough.

Ready? Not yet, not ever!

You haven't much say left in the matter, I'm afraid. You made your choices long ago.

Not that long ago. A few months, or years maybe. And it's not like I had much choice anyway. How could I resist her? No more than I can resist this steel. This final trust began long ago.

Not that long ago.

I should have known when I first saw her, from the light in her eyes, from the curl of her lips where they met her cheek. The way her hands pushed a strand of hair back behind her ears should have told me all I needed to know.

Should… would… isn't there any more pleasant way you'd like to spend your last moment?

She betrayed me! Can't you see it? Can't you feel it piercing my brain?

This isn't news. I've been there too, right with you. But it's over now.

It's over. She can't hurt me anymore.

Maybe just once more, but it'll be quick. I promise.

If only I could turn my head, to see her face a little better. Is she gasping in surprise? Maybe she didn't know. Maybe it's an accident.

Maybe, but you know it's not. Stop thinking about Eris. What of your family? Your friends? Happy, laughing times?

But why? They're nothing to me now.

Of course not, you left them for her. But you still have their memories, don't you?

Somewhere, hidden away. But is Eris laughing? It can't be. Even in betrayal she couldn't laugh at me, could she? After all I've done for her?

If we must speak of her, can't you at least drop the charade? You aren't even fooling yourself anymore. All you've done for her… please!

But I gave up everything!

To buy her love? Did she notice? Did she care? Love isn't for sale, you fool. You have it, or you don't.

And I never did.

Now you're catching on.

That's impossible. I've seen it in her eyes, and I've felt it in her touch.

And your eyes never lie to you? Do you think hers don't? You see what you want to see. You feel what you want to feel. So you saw and felt… be satisfied, you got what you wanted.

But it wasn't real, was it?

Real or not, what's the difference now? Real is hard and cold and sharp. Real cuts away the flimsy sets and costumes we build our lives with.

Is this real?

As real as it gets. Don't feel bad -- no one really likes this part. Everyone wants to know the truth, and most regret it.

It's hollow.

Life is a vapor that burns away in the sun. Dancing shadows. Nothing more.

But nothing less! If there are shadows, there must be substance somewhere. I think Eris always knew the truth.

Perhaps that's why she is the way she is.

When she gets here, will she remember me? Will she remember this?

I cannot say.

Remind her, I beg you! Just tell her my name. Tell her I love her.

Are you ready to go?

As reality slides home I summon a final burst of strength to turn my head, even a tiny fraction, and I almost make it.



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