all of your friends are one person
Merged
Last year it was Amber. The year before that it was Noah.
And this year it will be you.
It’s April sixteenth. It’s also one in the morning, and I haven’t slept in three days. I want to call you to say goodbye, but you don’t know you are going yet.
I want to text you one last time. I know how it works. I will text you on the seventeenth. Your phone service will call me on the twenty - first.
“That number doesn’t work anymore.”
It’s April sixteenth. It’s also six in the morning, and I haven’t seen the footprints you leave for me in the damp earth as you trudge outside, your bare feet clayed with soil.
I wait for you.
Ten minutes pass. You don’t come.
I walk alone. If you were here, you would have told me how much you love the morning. I would have told you how much I love the night.
It’s April sixteenth. It’s also twelve in the afternoon, and I see you. You’re coming towards me. You’re not smiling, but you’re not dismal.
I wonder if you know.
You share your M&M’s with me as we slump against the school wall, like you always do. I tell you.
You don’t flinch.
I ask you if you think it’s crazy that each year on the sixteenth, one of my best friends disappears, never to return. I ask you if I’m crazy.
I ask you if you’re going to disappear.
You hand me the last of your M&M’s and walk away.
It’s April sixteenth. It’s also three in the afternoon, and it’s raining. I ask you if you can drive me home, but you didn’t arrive in your car.
We walk, side by side. Our shoes drown in puddles.
My face drowns in tears.
I suddenly feel grateful for the rain. You can’t see me cry. You can’t see me be weak.
We reach your house.
You fumble with your keys, but the lock refuses to budge loose. You sigh.
I tug at your sleeve. “It’s okay, Aiden. We can wait. The rain will pass soon.”
It doesn’t pass.
It continues, no longer the soft, sodden, drops of spring, but the intensified sheets that submerge everything in its frost. Your hands shake, the way they do when it’s cold.
Your numb fingers reach for the zipper on your bag. “I’ll try inserting the key again,” you say.
I nod, but we both know it’s hopeless.
A gust of wind spirals into the rain, battering at your unzipped bag. Your belongings skitter across your yard. I head off to collect them before you even realize they’re askew.
Glasses. Your phone. A pack of gum.
Pictures.
My eyes widen. I know these people.
You don’t.
Picture after picture dotted with drops of rain, blurred, but not enough to disguise what’s there.
Noah and I at the school dance. Amber and me trying out her Polaroid for the first time. Amber teaching me how to ice skate. Noah pushing me into the lake. Amber and me, laughing.
On April sixteenth, one year ago, Amber disappeared.
On April sixteenth, two years ago, Noah disappeared.
One best friend. Every year. One disappearance.
This year it will be you.
“Aiden.”
Your name shatters the silence.
“Where did you get these?”
Your alert eyes rest on my hands, where the pictures remain. Your breath quickens.
You’re afraid.
It is a second. Half a second, but it changes everything.
“Rowan,” you say slowly.
I’m afraid.
“Those people - y-your friends. They never existed.”
This is a joke.
This is a joke.
“What? Who were they?
“They were me.”
And in that second, I am drowning. Submerging under, fighting against the black abyss. Fighting against its hold, yet not willing to let go.
The water is building. It is killing.
“I noticed you were lonely. You needed some friends,” you say.
I resist the urge to scoff.
“So I created Amber. Just for you. I thought this would help you make some new friends, but when I merged into Noah, I realized how much you needed someone.”
“Merged?”
“Maybe that’s not the right word. Should I say ‘shapeshift?’”
Why are you so serious?
This is a joke.
This has to be a joke.
“You mean . . . you were Amber and Noah all along? You’re the best friend that disappears each year? You’re the shapeshifter that merges into a new human each year to . . . be my friend?”
You nod.
The water rises.
It’s April sixteenth. It’s also four in the afternoon and all my friends have been one person.
“No,” I say. “No.”
You watch me for a while. Watch as the water clogs my lungs.
The worst thing about being lied to is knowing that I was not worth the truth. I was not worth the respect.
Our trust was a paper. It is crumbled now. It will never be perfect again.
The rain disappears. A thin slice of silver moon sails into a midnight blue night.
I’m not sure who you are anymore, or what you have become.
I glance at my watch.
It’s late.
The water in my lungs is gone.
I turn around. I don’t look back.
If you had told me yesterday, I would have never believed you. But a lot can happen in a day.
One day.
It’s April seventeenth. It’s also one in the morning, and I don’t want to lose you.
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