The Other Half
Another Time. A Distant Place.
Ste hobbled through the red wastes beneath the colossal moon. He found moving difficult on his mismatched limbs, but lumbered on. Half crawling with his arm, half hopping with his leg. The moon above nearly filled the sky, a glowing sphere of orange, striped with shifting bands of tan and yellow, a gigantic crimson eye peering from its center. Ste crawl-hopped to the edge of the black abyss and scanned it in search of his brother, whom he’d seen fall into it moments ago.
Ste suspected himself and his twin to be the oldest beings of all time, having been alive for well over one minute. Throughout all the seconds of eternity Ste and Ve bore witness to all of creation. They saw the red, dusty, badlands that spread out to the edge of the world. They contemplated the gigantic moon that floated overhead. They presided over the pit of shadows from which all living things had risen. Most of this Ste had to experience it alone as Ve plummeted to his presumed death mere seconds after coming into existence.
Nevertheless, Ste searched for signs of Ve, his sibling, his constant companion, his mirror image. Since the universe began Ve had been there beside Ste. Initially they sat next to one another, born upward out of the massive hollow in the surface of the world, gliding heavenward to the rim of the crater on their sliding seats. The momentum of their motion had carried them some distance along the red powder of the broken landscape.
Shocked to find themselves suddenly existing, Ste and Ve gazed at one another for many seconds there at the dawn of time. Ve looked very much like Ste, as far as Ste could tell. Having never seen his own face, Ste could not be entirely certain, but his brother’s form was nearly identical to his own.
Hunched in his seat, Ve’s hand clutched a thin rope that connected to the front of it. Like all beings, Ve had one arm and one leg. His limbs protruded from the right hand side of his torso, while the left was the typical exposed mass of bones and internal organs. Looking down at his own hand, Ste saw that it held a similar reign attached to the thin seat upon which he’d ridden out of the birthing crater.
The only difference of note between the two was that Ste’s limbs grew out of his left side, and the exposed interior of his body was on the right. His lung attempted to suck in the cold, crisp air, but it did not fill. His half of a heart pumped blood through his veins, though no oxygen occupied his vital fluid. Ve’s pale face turned toward Ste and they examined one another with their singular milky blue eyes, rimmed with red. Ve’s exposed brain throbbed within his skull.
Attempting to stand, Ve rose clumsily. He had nearly made it, perched upon his single foot, but his imbalanced form could not maintain verticality and Ve toppled, rolling toward the edge of the basin, seemingly freezing for an instant as he looked pleadingly at Ste in the moment that he disappeared over the precipice.
Ste sat in horror as the only companion he’d ever known vanished into the crater.
For the rest of time, Ste vowed to locate his brother. It took him nearly seven seconds to make it to the edge of the hole where Ve had fallen. A long time indeed, but nothing to a being who has been alive since the universe began nearly a minute ago.
No light reached the bottom of the pit, but Ste could see a trail where his counterpart had rolled down the slope. It continued more than halfway to the bottom before disappearing into the shadows.
What can I do, thought Ste other than follow him?
The pit itself was huge, easily twenty or thirty Ste’s across. Its bowl-shaped interior ran smooth as far down as Ste could see, but it seemed to be about ten to fifteen Ste’s deep, a perfect semi-spherical hole in the world. Draping his leg over the edge of the pit, Ste pushed off and slid down the decline as cautiously as possible. His acceleration grew rapidly and before Ste could think, he found himself lost in the shadowy darkness. In less than two seconds Ste found himself at the bottom.
For what seemed like an infinity of seconds the starless black of the pit surrounded him. He began to move, his single arm and leg carrying him forward through the abyss. His hand grazed the smooth surface, seeking any irregularity, any hint of his brother's presence. The darkness refused to yield.
As despair threatened to consume him entirely, he felt it—a faint tremor beneath his fingertips. It was subtle, almost imperceptible, but it was there. The thing before him almost seemed to emanate coldness from its form. Fixing his eye on the spot in front of him, Ste could make out a patch in the darkness that was somehow darker still. Blacker than black, a shape stood before him and a strange shape it was. Silhouetted among the shadows of the pit, stood what Ste almost took to be two figures beside one another, but that could not be. This being moved with one mind, one body, and yet it had two arms and two legs. Unbelievable as it seemed, Ste could not ignore his own eye. The being was as two fused together, the seam of them along the sagittal plane, where normally organs should be exposed, this shade had none.
“What are you?” Ste tried to say, but his mouth could only form the wordless utterance, “Wuss.” before the thing reached out and placed an obsidian finger alongside his visible hemisphere of a brain.
Suddenly Ste could see the world around him. The bizarre, two-legged shadow was not alone. Several similar beings dashed and darted around as if at work on some esoteric project.
His counterpart, Ve, sat less than half a Ste away.
Ve's pearly blue eye met Ste's, and a sense of recognition and relief emanated from their shared gaze. They had been apart for what felt like an eternity, and now, against all odds, they had reunited. Ste reached out for his twin, their hands locking as they pulled one another closer.
Several of the shadow beings gathered around on opposite sides of Ste and Ve. they drew closer and entangled the twins, like ropes of black silk. As they tightened, Ste felt his organs press against those of Ve. Another of the shadow beings approached and leaned in to look closely at the twins. Ste tried to speak but still could only murmur “Wuss” as the shadow slipped between him and Ve through the narrow space still left ‘twixt the two. The binding shadows pulled taught as the shadow within stretched its limbs into those of Ste and Ve as if it were putting on a coat. The shadows enveloped the twins until Ste felt his mind bind with that of Ve. In an instant the two became one. Steve.
The shadows binding him released and spread about the pit.
“Who are you?”, asked Steve. “Who am I? What am I?”
With a collective voice the shadows spoke directly into Steve’s brain. We do not use sound to communicate. Therefore we do not have a name. But you have called us a word with your tongue, so if a name is needed, you may call us that.
“What?” gasped the now fully formed Steve. “I didn’t call you anything?”
You called us Wuss. Expressed the shadow beings. So that can be your word for us. Or not. We do not care. Names have no meaning to us.
“What am I? How do I exist? I have...memories...inside me...I had a life. But it isn’t mine.”
You are one of us and you are not one of us. You wear this skin like a vessel. With it you can walk among the beings of flesh. You can be as one of them.
“You made me a person? I mean...I was a person...or at least this brain was a person’s brain. I know everything he knew...which wasn’t much.”
The form you have taken was that of a youth. It did not have much time in the world.
“WHY?” asked Steve, “Why do this to me? There’s one of you...inside me, isn’t there? Don’t I have a say in this?”
No. No one has a say in being born. You are Steve and you are not Steve. You are Wuss and you are not Wuss. The body we took to make you was ill. It had a growth in its corpus callosum. The body and mind would have died soon. We have removed the growth and will put it to good use, just as we have put the body to good use. The...Wuss...within you is only an observer. It cannot control, only sense and suggest. Together you are something new. Through you we will see the world and understand it.
“What if I refuse.” said Steve, “I’m not your servant. You can’t make me do anything.”
No. We cannot and we will not. We will merely watch and we will learn. If you are a success we will create more.
“So you’ll just hijack some other body? Hitch a ride in someone else’s brain? What gives you the right?”
The imperative gives us the right. Every being has the right to continue its existence. We are no different from you in that regard. Our kind is trapped in this realm. We cannot fully enter the world of the flesh as we are. Yet, if we do not, we will perish.
“What do you mean you will perish?”
We were practicing our ways. Exploring the realms of reality. That is what we do. We observe. We report. We gather information. But we have been cut off from our own realm. Here we have little substance and even less dimension. Here we are shadows. With every moment spent here we grow weaker and less substantial. For a very long time we have attempted to communicate with the flesh beings or your realm, but the ways of the flesh are simpler than ours. The flesh beings do not understand us or our needs. We have tried to grow our own flesh bodies through intermediaries, but that has continually failed. The bodies have become corrupt. Our only choice is to bring flesh here and alter it to our needs.
Steve thought for a moment, looking back into the life lived by the body he now inhabited.
“This body. It belonged to a kid. A kid named...Steve. That’s my name now? I’ve basically stolen it. Maybe this Steve was going to die, but how do you expect to do it again?”
We have convened with the painted ones. They are beings of the flesh realm. We have shared some of our knowledge with them. In turn they will bring us the forms we require.
“Painted ones? Who the hell are they?” said Steve, finding his own voice stronger and bolder than he knew it could be. “And who’s bodies do you intend to steal?”
These questions are inconsequential. It is time for you to go to the realm of flesh. We can return your body to the same time and place from which you came. The other beings will not discern that you are not exactly the same as they.
“No. You...you Wusses can’t make me go. I have questions. I want answers!”
The shadowy figures retreated and faded away, leaving Steve alone at the bottom of the perfectly smooth basin. For a long while he stood there lost in the darkness.
Then Steve felt a pulling in his gut and his head began to swim. as the world around him flipped like gravity was reversing. In an instant, instead of the bottom of a black basin, Steve found himself at the top of a white dome.
The crisp and frigid air filled his lungs with the exhilarating chill of winter. The ground beneath his feet was soft and pristine, covered in a thick blanket of pure white snow that sparkled like a million tiny diamonds in the sunlight.
Steve's disorientation was overwhelming as he transitioned from the shadowy pit to the white, snowy environment. The sudden change in surroundings left him dizzy and confused. He staggered on unfamiliar ground, trying to regain his balance and grasp the reality of his situation. He nearly fell over when he saw the figure of a boy lying in the snow in front of him.
Leaning down, Steve saw it to be a child of nine or ten years, thin and white, with light brown hair. The boy was dressed for cold weather and a wooden sled sat beside his unconscious body.
“Get up, wuss!” came a voice from behind him. Whirling around Steve saw two other boys. One was pudgy and wearing cold weather clothing like the boy on the ground. The other was lean and wiry with long red hair and a face full of mischief. His clothes were inappropriate for the climate. He was the one who had spoken.
“Wuss?” said Steve. “You know about them?” but the other boys pushed past him and pounced on the one lying atop the hill.
“He’s dead!” shouted the red-haired boy.
“No. He’s breathing.” said the other one
“How?” said the supine child as he sat up weakly. “How did it happen?”
“You were just laying there on the top of the hill,” said the husky one. “It looks like you passed out.”
The previously unconscious boy looked directly at Steve and said, “What happened to you?”
A flood of memories came to Steve’s mind. The body he inhabited knew these boys. He could envision the other Steve’s life. Every experience was tucked into his mind, right up to the moment when he was sliced in two and removed from this world. Everything that happened with the pit and the shadow creatures had been only an instant from the point of view of these...children of flesh. Steve didn't want to seem out of place, so he responded the way that he suspected the kid whose body he wore would.
“What happened to me?” he said, trying to sound shocked. “What happened to YOU?I went down the hill with you right behind me. When I looked you weren’t there. By the time we all made it up to the top you were knocked out on the ground. It looks like you fainted.”
The other boy, whose name turned out to be Christopher, told his tale of Steve gliding down the hill and being split in twain. The other two laughed and mocked him.
Steve felt a pang of guilt for allowing it, but he needed to fit in at least long enough to figure out his next move.
The boys all claimed that they were done with sledding for the day and decided to go home.
Steve wandered along the snow-covered street, stopping when he saw a house that fit the memories that were not his.
He knocked on the door for a long time until a plump woman with white hair answered.
“What are you doing, Stevie?” she asked him. “The door’s unlocked, c’mon in and get warmed up. Daddy made hot chocolate.”
With nowhere else to go, Steve entered the home.
He didn’t even notice that the woman had two shadows.