Peristalsis by Vajra Chandrasekera

Season one, episode one, minute thirty-one and thirty-five seconds: Leveret chases Annelid into the jungle. They are laughing, because they’re teenagers and it’s a game. The jungle is not quite a jungle. In a much later episode, we learn via a minor subplot about 1970s land reform that it was once a colonial-era rubber plantation, abandoned and gone feral. It will gradually grow wilder and more overgrown through the seasons. Leveret and Annelid will grow older, too. This is that kind of show. We know when another year has passed when the new year birds hoot in the background. There are only two kinds of show: the kind where people grow older and the kind where they don’t. We, the fandom, love the first kind best. We love this show so much.

Leveret and Annelid aren’t their real names—that is, not the given names of the characters in the show, which we never learn; the IMDB page tells us the real names of the young actors, but that seems irrelevant—but nicknames they took from old textbooks they found gathering dust in a cupboard in their little school that never seems to hold exams or have Intended Learning Outcomes or parent-teacher conferences. There are no ordinary school lessons. All they do at school is sit in a darkened classroom with the other kids, watching a show about us on TV.

We think this is appropriate. We watch them; they watch us. The wheel turns.

She runs into the jungle, the balls of her bare feet barely touching the ground, so that he will follow. She pushes aside branches that snap back at his face, leaps over roots that she knows he’ll trip over, laughs so hard it echoes around him like a haunting. Annelid, and a lid, she’s keeping a lid on it. She hiccups and can’t stop giggling.

The TV in their classroom is an Australian-built Philips color TV from the late 1970s or perhaps the early 1980s: twenty-six-inch pale grey screen with rounded edges; fake wood finish on the chassis; black plastic grille on the right that you can take out with a click to expose the control panel where you can tune channels by turning tiny knobs. We remember those from life, too. Child-sized fingers were better at the knobs. Getting the channels right used to be one of our chores. (A hundred thousand childhood chores unfold in our memory. Husking coconuts on an iron spike. A fire between three blackened bricks. A short-bladed scythe through the long grass. A tire rolling down a dirt path by a lake, under a dry blue sky.)

We watch them watch us. The picture on the TV screen looks grainy and out of focus from our perspective, but the kids don’t seem to have any trouble with it. We suspect this avoidance of perfect fidelity is an intentional device to avoid opening an abyss of mirrors. Nature abhors an infinite regress.

The TV does not show us in real time; it is in fact deeply committed to unreal time, seeming to glide back and forth across the spans of our lives. When we squint and peer at the blurry screen, our colors seem faded by modern standards. It makes us look like period actors. Our clothes, haircuts, and mannerisms are not distinctively contemporary. We can’t tell if our technology is anachronistic in a given episode. For instance, is that a smartphone in our hands or a small book of religious scripture or revolutionary literature that we might be reading for inspiration and to ensure our ideological righteousness? We cannot agree in our analyses, which manifests as dyspeptic unease. There are cracks in the unity of our we.

The audio track of the show within the show is completely inaudible to us except as murmurs on the edge of hearing, like the whispering of dead children. We can hear the kids in the classroom just fine when they whisper to each other, or the occasional expostulations and exposition from the teacher, even birdsong from outside hooting a new year in. It is only ourselves that remain inaccessible. Sometimes the kids mock the dialogue from the TV by repeating it in funny voices. That’s the only way we know what we’re saying.

She leans back in her chair, drawing pleasure from the way it doesn’t yield, the way the wood digs into her skin, the ache in the unsupported small of her back. Annelid sits in the back of the class because she’s a bad girl. Leveret is up front somewhere. She doesn’t care about anybody else in the room; it’s as if they don’t exist. She doesn’t care for him either, but it’s a different kind of not caring. While the TV plays, the teacher drones on about the causes of the war, which is now over but never over: he says it was about burning books and bodies, though not at the same time. A library and a funeral. This, Annelid knows, is incorrect, or at least incomplete. She gets her true histories from Leveret’s father, who has many strong opinions on this and other subjects. The last time she was at Leveret’s house for lunch, Leveret went to piss and Uncle—who had been drinking, of course, as usual, he hasn’t stopped drinking since his wife died, which is to say, nearly as long as Leveret has been alive—cornered her at the dining room table to explain what he refers to as the secret history of Jesus fucking Christ.

Whenever Uncle rants, about history, about politics, about the injustices faced by his, that is to say their, great race, his comb-over rises up and unfurls like a flag. Annelid watches, her mouth open in fascination, as that white flag seems to wave in the breeze. Uncle is bare-bodied, because he always takes his shirt off after he’s had a few and overheated, and frequently stops to undo and retie his colorful batik sarong. The curling hairs on his old-man chest are white, too. He is a large man and might have been muscular, once; his pointed breasts, with the nipples ringed in white hairs, still retain a vestigial sense of the pectoral.

—Let me tell you what happened in the lost years of Jesus fucking Christ, Uncle says. He frequently intermixes any mention of a salvific figure with fucking, uniting the imprecatory and denominational. This is especially true if he’s referring to them by title, because Uncle disapproves of pride in titles. He himself is a doctor, he says, but he doesn’t like being called Doctor Uncle. When he wants to show he’s being serious about someone, he refers to them by their full true-name instead, like a disapproving parent. —Iyesu bin Yusuf, he says, goes missing in the record (ha! Only in the bhumic record, of course, not in the akashic, of which more anon), you understand, he goes missing for eighteen years. Eighteen years! You, you’re not quite yet eighteen, so this is a gap longer than you have been alive. And what was he doing those eighteen years? Well, what all have you done in your life? A great many things, is it not? Small small things and some big things also. So it is with him. Max Müller tried to cover it up, you know, but it is as Siddhartha Gautama said, there are three things that are not hidden—Uncle pauses to put a drink. He is drinking Vat 9 Special Reserve on the rocks. The ice is melting rapidly in the heat and the arrack is a pale yellow. It looks like piss. Annelid imagines dead liquid worming its way through a living body before exiting in an arc, glittering in the light.

—There are three things that are always hidden, Uncle says. —Three things that are secret: the ways of perverts, the ways of Brahmins, and the ways of women—he points at Annelid, accusingly—As you should know. And there are three things that are not hidden, which are in the open for all to see. Two of them are the sun and the moon, which is why the sun and the moon are on the battle standard of the great ancestor of our great race, the so-called—so-called!—cruel young prince. The third thing that is never hidden is the truth. No matter what Max Müller says, it is out there for all to see, if only we will look. Here it is, for example, in this book by the Swami Abhenanda—Uncle pauses to run his yellowing fingernail across the spines of the books stacked on the dining room table, his recent reading. The nail stops at one that is too deep to be pulled out easily without dislodging the whole. He taps it instead for emphasis. —Abhenanda quotes Notovitch on the missing years of Iyesu, sa vie inconnue, when he travelled to Rajagaha to study at Nalanda University. Iyesu, you see, was the classic perennial grad student. He changed his major many times, immersing himself in one discipline after the other. It was here that he learned the craft of his trade, learned the sacred truths that we all learn now as children—here Uncle waves his arms like someone standing on a runway and signaling to an oncoming aircraft, though Annelid is not sure if it would be coming down or going up, nor does she wish to interrupt because she would never interrupt, for instance, to say that she was never taught this as a child, that all their lessons consist of, in fact, television and hermeneutics, but the absence of her interruption goes unnoticed because Uncle ploughs on to bellow—what the fucking Buddha taught!

We the audience the fandom do not know at first what the deal is with Leveret and Annelid’s names, until the flashback in episode five in which Annelid picks both nicknames. She names Leveret because he’s nervous and quick on his feet and has long earlobes. She likes to tug on them sometimes. She suggests he should wear dangling earrings like the cruel princes of old.

She names herself Annelid because, she says, she likes that it means “little rings,” though what she actually means (but does not say) is that she has a fascination with peristalsis. Swallowing and choking, digesting and shitting, the movement of dead things through the living body, it obsesses her as namings and the absences of namings obsesses us.

Neither the show nor the show within the show has a name. There are no credits, no title sequences, pure binge TV in its perfected manifestation, content that never ends, interrupted only and frequently by ad breaks, enforced absences in the flow of our consciousness, like a sleep full of symbols and portents. We reorganize the onstreaming into television in our hearts; we declare borders, we define episodes and seasons. We catalogue, document, and discourse, because we like it like that.

But it’s confusing when things don’t have names, so we do what Annelid did and give nicknames. We call the show the Show. The show within the show, the show that Leveret and Annelid and the others watch in class, the show that’s about us, the fandom of dead children, we call it the Documentary. We call it that because that’s what it seems to be; it cuts out little slices of our lives and holds them up to the camera. It focuses on us, or on the actors playing us, one at a time. It imbricates us and implicates us, plotless, fragmented, atomized. It makes us uncomfortable.

The fandom is so large we think the Documentary could go on forever without having a character recur, yet then some seem to. We find this moderately problematic; it compounds its unbearable individualism with favoritism. We are not upset, merely concerned. When characters recur years apart, they do not seem to have aged. We believe the actors are digitally de-aged to mimic our eternal youth. Some of the kids’ whispered classroom mockery supports this theory. The de-agings are sometimes crude. The Documentary doesn’t have much of a CGI budget.

Neither, to be honest, does the Show. They blew most of it in the first episode, in the Show’s most important moment, which happens in the final minutes of the very first episode, the end of the beginning, when Leveret chases Annelid into the jungle.

It happens so quickly that Leveret misses it entirely. We almost miss it too. We probably would have, if it hadn’t been framed and foreshadowed so heavily by ominous, overbearing warnings throughout the whole episode.

The first foreshadowing: Annelid’s mother warns the kids against going into the jungle. She says the jungle is demon-haunted. This is the wildening jungle that encompasses and interrupts their small town and all its shattered families. As the jungle used to be plantation, the town used to be a single mansion, the desiccated white heart of a colonial estate. No trace of the mansion survives. What used to be the monsters’ vast and exclusive domain has been inverted: the people are on the inside now, and the monsters, according to Annelid’s mother, lurking just outside.

Annelid’s mother isn’t a very good actor, or at any rate, seems to lack experience; she has no other credits on IMDB. Most actors on the Show have no credits, or very few. She delivers her warning so stiffly, so robotically, that the young actors can’t prevent themselves from grinning on hearing it. Or perhaps it’s just that the children can’t take seriously the superstitious concerns of their elders. Annelid’s mother, who Leveret calls Aunty so Annelid also does, is intensely superstitious. She is a great believer in horoscopes and Myers-Briggses and technocracy and meditation and life hacks to improve productivity.

The jungle is not demon-haunted. There are no demons in the Show at all. It is just not that kind of show. Only in the broken real are there demons and hauntings. We know this: we are the ones who haunt. The demons are our distant cousins. We might nod politely if we passed in the street, though we would not make small talk. If we are the world’s young memories, they are old cogs in its operation, its invisible laws and powers. They do not speak. It is a misconception that it is the demon who speaks in possession, a persistent confusion of rider and ridden. We file suggestions to correct the relevant Wikipedia entries, but are denied for lack of citable sources.

Annelid and Leveret are both present when Aunty gives her warning, yet she addresses it to Leveret with a fond smile, which is one of the many reasons Annelid has taken to calling her own mother Aunty. The kids are upstairs in Annelid’s room. It’s late and Leveret should go home but the power’s out for another hour and if he waits till it comes back, the street lights will be on so he doesn’t have to stumble about in the dark. Annelid lights a candle and plants it on top of an empty glass jam jar that still has the paper label on, half-peeled. The lid is caked with wax from nights and nights of powerlessness. They lie on opposite sides of the light with her small battery-powered radio between their heads. It is a struggle to avoid the news. Always so much breaking. Each time the music is interrupted by another alert, more death, more violence, more cruelties, one of them reaches out and spins the wheel until they find another station with music. Any music at all.

Every time Annelid rolls on to her side to tune the radio, sweat sticks her dress to her back. Leveret’s face is shiny in the candlelight so she thinks hers must be too; she uses his face as a mirror sometimes. She wipes a bead of sweat from the tip of her nose and stays on her side, propping her hand under her head like a sleeping Buddha. The song on the radio is in English, a mournful howling encircled by jangles.

Aunty appears in the door, which is of course open. Annelid and Leveret have been friends since they were very little, which is the only reason she’s even allowed to bring him into the house, never mind her room, but Aunty has made it clear to her that as they get older, Leveret’s continued presence in her life is on sufferance. Hypocritically, Aunty is herself very fond of Leveret. It’s him she addresses.

—Son, she says. —I wanted to remind. When you’re going home, don’t take the jungle path.

—Never do, Aunty, Leveret says. The casual fluency of this lie is not just because he doesn’t want to Get Into It with Aunty. It’s more that he doesn’t see why there is a need to involve an adult, a person who by definition knows nothing, in the messy business of life. He takes the jungle path every time, because otherwise he would have to walk twice as long to get home.

—I mean it yeah, Aunty says. —Both of you. She spares a glare for Annelid. Aunty is shorter than either of them and ever since her husband died, which is to say, nearly as long as Annelid can remember, has worn osari every day, in fabrics that have grown more soft and pallid with every wash until they are reduced to a grey that matches her temples. Her pallu is always wrapped around her waist and the bags under her eyes are like eggs. Annelid doesn’t like to look at her. Every time she does, her mother seems to have aged three years for every one that passes. —Every time I meditate and speak to the gods, lately, all they worry about is the two of you.

Annelid sneers and Leveret smiles politely.

—Last time I had a vision, says Aunty shadowed in the dark of the door, next to last of a long line of witches. —As I reached the first level of awakening, the destroying mother came to me. She planted her skull-topped staff so close to me that I thought she might shatter my ankles, so hard and so near did she stab it into the earth. She faded back into the night then, but the skull chattered its teeth and spat and spoke, and it said to tell you two to mind your business.

—We are minding our business, Aunty, Annelid says.

—What happened next? Leveret asks. He always treats Aunty’s visions with friendly interest. Annelid hisses at him.

—The staff became rooted, Aunty says. Her voice is low, almost guttural, as it tends to become when she recalls the things she has seen, because memory is a kind of possession. —Vines grew from it and climbed upwards; red flowers sprouted from the eyes of the skull, and from its open mouth. Chinese hibiscus, five large red petals like arms and legs and a head; a long staminal column. The jungle rose up around it, bleeding up from the earth in green and red, until there were trees all around and the canopy closed overhead, blocking out the moon.

—And then you woke up, Annelid says. She doesn’t despise her mother’s visions because she disbelieves them; she thinks of them as invasive life worming its way into the dry, cracked earth of her mother’s dead dreams. She distrusts them. She has no time for the destroying mother. Mere gods are not her concern. She is on her own path now.

—I was not sleeping, Aunty says. —I am awake.

A few days later in the Show’s chronology, but still in the same episode, Uncle gives the kids a similar warning about staying out of the jungle. His warning is more prosaic, if equally portentous: he says there are communists in the jungle, training camps in hiding from the military’s repression elsewhere on the island. The kids laugh at this too. It seems far-fetched to them. It seems remote. They’re still too young to be recruited by revolutionaries. That only happens in the second season finale, when we also discover what really happened to the missing parents in both families, Annelid’s father and Leveret’s mother. They were killed. Uncle says they were killed by communists, or possibly killed as communists, in the counterinsurgency operations carried out by state paramilitaries. Aunty says they were killed by demons. Aunty says they were killed by the townspeople because they were possessed by demons.

The episode continues; time passes fast in the Show. The sun and the moon strobe by, the wheels sometimes squeaking a little on the dome of the firmament. The kids go to school. They watch the Documentary on TV some more. The teachers make regular announcements that the jungle is declared out of bounds for all students and that nobody is allowed to enter it. The reasons change with time. Sometimes the teachers say they are banned from the jungle because they are polluting the wilderness with their modernity. Sometimes the teachers say it is because the jungle is full of dangerous mosquitoes and bats, reservoirs of strange disease, or because it is suspected that unsafe and unsavory elements are holding witches’ sabbaths within, such as fascists or separatists or communists: lions, tigers, and bears, dancing naked under the moon. The class never seems to pay attention to these dire warnings. They rarely react when a teacher speaks. They are now, as they are always, engrossed in the screen. If they speak at all, it is only to comment on the Documentary.

The fandom has various theories about why the kids are required to watch the Documentary in school, but we all believe this core axiom: they are being prepared for life in the outside world. We believe these characters are being trained to become audience. If they survive their trials, they will join us here, where we are.

We posit that if the Show had completed the story it was telling—if it hadn’t been prematurely cancelled after four seasons—that the Show’s eventual true finale would have culminated in at least the protagonists exiting the story and entering the world. We believe Leveret and Annelid are living matter pushing themselves through a dying narrative, until they breach the veil and emerge screaming.

We divide violently into sects over the questions of how, exactly, and what it means, for them, for us, for the actors portraying Leveret and Annelid.

The largest faction, the Inside, believe the actors would become possessed by or transformed into their characters; their opponents, the Outside, believe the characters would emerge into the world as new flesh, as physical duplicates of the actors, but independent beings.

Underneath this titanic struggle of discourse, there are two smaller factions with bigger problems: the Overlap believes Leveret and Annelid’s escape would merge our worlds in their entirety; the Null believes their escape would irradiate our world with their cancellation.

These four factions of fan theory have become the horns of our tetralemma. They are we, divided against ourselves.

The Overlap and the Null agree on almost every point of doctrine apart from their projected outcome of the breach. They agree, for instance, that we, the fandom, are the opposite of Leveret and Annelid. They are alive in a dead place, while we are the dead in a living world. We are the ones who make this a haunted world.

—Do you ever feel like we’re being watched? Annelid asks. They discovered this little clearing a long time ago, not an hour’s walk into the jungle from her own back yard. The earth is black and soft here. It has been years and many episodes since those early warnings and foreshadowings from their surviving parents and teachers. They have long since made the jungle their playground, this clearing their base of operations, their secret playhouse, their place to be alone. They have spent many hours drawing in this black earth with dry branches, playing pretend, talking about the world and its hauntings. They have never kissed.

Leveret denies that any government spies have made it as far as their little town. He’s friendly with some of the communists now, he says. He knows things. But Annelid interrupts him while he attempts to relitigate the Sino-Soviet split.

—Not like that, she says. —I mean, like, right now. Do you feel watched?

They look around. Leveret shrugs. There is nothing to be seen except black soil and sky, the shadowed shadows of bats passing overhead, the indistinct trees dappled with the light of the pale half-moon, the invisible ghosts of children. There are no cameras. There have never been any cameras, except when we make a box with our fingers like this to frame a scene.

We died hundreds of thousands of times, whether in war, under war, or astride war: in shootings and bombings and shellings and camps and pogroms and hospitals. Oh, it’s all war, in the end—the dead know. We are not children. We died old and young over the decades and centuries.

We are children because we choose it. Those of us who don’t die that way become as children after. We decide to remember ourselves bright and innocent, untroubled by aches and pains and guilts and fears and abuses, unmarked by the things we did or the things that were done to us. We want to be remembered with childhood’s halo. Surely, we reason, no one would refuse to mourn us like this. If justice is dead and dharma a maggot-infested husk, there must at least be sentiment left at the bottom of the jar. Surely no one would look away now.

We stick out our ghost tongues.

We sharpen our ghost teeth. We no longer remember which of us were once grown. We no longer tell ourselves apart, except through theory. Except through factionalism.

In our unparented ghost childhood we grow feral, like the jungle. Once we were plantation, neat and rubbery and exploited. Now we are bramble and undergrowth and overstory. We dream hot dreams and feel no guilt. We dream cold dreams and feel no pain. We are the ones who died for someone else’s peace. We are not the ones at peace.

The most important moment of the first episode, of the whole Show, happens when Leveret loses sight of Annelid at 31:35. It’s actually kind of weird and the fandom doesn’t like to dwell on it. It is so quick and strange and disconnected from what the Show seems to be setting out to do—the tropes and genre conventions that seem to be in place, the formal expectations that have been set, the unexpected incursion of a CGI budget that we’d thought nonexistent given the lo-fi aesthetic—that we all do our best to forget it.

We almost succeed in forgetting, until the controversial fourth season, just before the Show is canceled without warning. In the fourth season, what seems to be building up to a romantic arc (they’ve both turned twenty-one by that point) ends abruptly with Leveret’s death.

Leveret has been attempting to grow a beard. He has joined up with a revolutionary faction planning a nationwide, coordinated attack on police stations and army barracks in an attempt to seize state power. Perhaps they will storm Parliament and release doves out over the lake. The burgeoning not-quite-yet-romance has been complicated by Leveret’s inability to recruit Annelid to the cause. She distrusts the way authority flows and pools, even among revolutionaries. Power is a dead thing, but its movement through the living body of a collective is suspiciously fluid and suffused with undead agency.

Season four, what turns out to be the unplanned show finale: Leveret tries to recruit Annelid one last time.

She follows him unwillingly into the jungle. She’s already refused to meet with his friends again, which Leveret agreed to forgo. But having reached this agreement, she couldn’t refuse to at least hear him out one more time. They head to their clearing, of course, their private place: their own court. Here they are away from parents carrying too much baggage, free of small-town prying eyes. Here they are alone with the ghosts who love them.

—I won’t be hanging around town much longer, Leveret says. —Things are happening.

—What things? Annelid asks.

—We could talk about these things if you were one of us, Leveret says.

—Is this your big speech? Annelid says. —It sucks. You suck. Your beard is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

—I didn’t have a speech planned, Leveret says. He is lying, of course. She knows his lying face better than she knows her own.

He gives his speech. At first he’s the one walking around while she sits on the old log, careful of the soft parts that are rotting. Then she too stands, and in response he becomes still, still talking. She circles him, again and again. She’s not listening to the speech. It’s either about the movement or sex or both, and right now she’s not interested in being recruited to either cause.

—I have a theory, too, Annelid says, after letting him speak for what she considers an extraordinarily long time. But he doesn’t stop talking.

So she hits him in the back of the head with a rock. He falls, and we cut to black. The end.

At first, we think, well, obviously he’s not dead. It was a fake-out. Season five would have picked up from there, if it had not been cancelled. The Inside think so. They say, maybe he’d wake up in hospital. Maybe he’ll just go ow and get back up to glare at her accusingly.

After the cancellation, though, we revisit meaning, an ending in hand, even if it was not the ending we desired. We ask ourselves why, and how, and painfully remind ourselves of the things we had forgotten.

The Inside is at first firm in their position that Leveret is not dead. His death is merely an artifact of the cancellation: a cliffhanger that, in the absence of a resolution, remains ambiguous. The Outside counter with scorn. A lady-or-the-tiger ending is not ambiguous, the Outside points out. It is never the lady. It is always the tiger. That’s the whole point, that is the story’s function, to make the reader choose the tiger. It is a story about doom and betrayal and the futility of shallow, self-serving hope. Therefore, Leveret is dead.

Shamed, the Inside falter. They disintegrate as a faction, unable to cope. We reorganize ourselves into an unstable trinity.

The Outside, in victory, ascend into hubris. They become obsessed with the heresy that Leveret had always-already emerged into our world, even before his death in the Show. They rewatch every episode and go through every frame of the Documentary, freeze-frame by painful freeze-frame, to point at every young, brown-skinned, bearded male who appears even briefly on that blurry classroom TV screen. This could be Leveret, they say, out in the haunted world, being documented. They are unconcerned with the objection that all these appearances predate Leveret’s death in the Show because they believe the Documentary exists as a finished object that exists outside of the temporal continuum of the Show itself. The Documentary is a record of the haunted world, they say, which we the dead know is not a flowing river of cause and effect, but a glacial ocean, whole and complete, past and future laid out in full, frozen and transparent. An akashic record, like Uncle would say.

We know no such thing, say the Overlap and the Null. The Outside says pish posh.

We rewatch the Show, looking for clues. We wonder: perhaps their matched jigsaw nuclear families were a hint. Perhaps they are the same family, split down the middle. Perhaps they are brother and sister.

Ew, says the Outside, who are quite committed to the romance angle that never happened. As they are the majority, this reflexive flinch of disgust carries the day.

Perhaps, says the Null, uncaring of the potential backlash, Annelid kills Leveret on purpose, as revenge for the murder of her father, who might have been a communist. Perhaps she blames Leveret’s mother, who might have snitched on him to the paramilitaries and then got caught up herself.

Might have perhaps might have perhaps, the Outside says. This is all rank speculation. Complete fucking reach. There is nothing in the text to justify it.

The Null says something more, but they are swamped by opprobrium. They, too, cannot sustain themselves as a faction; their membership flows, angry and disaffected, to the Overlap.

We have become the thing we loathe the most: a binary.

The Outside has definitively taken Leveret’s part in the story. To them, Annelid is trapped in the Show, unable to leave it because of the premature cancellation. They venerate Annelid as a self-sacrificing saint who enabled Leveret’s escape into the world.

The Overlap, meanwhile, now reluctantly adapting parts of Inside and Null positions and expanding their own stance to incorporate them, takes Annelid’s part. They see her murder of Leveret as a crime, an act of will and desire that flouts every law that she was bound by, including that of narrative necessity. They see her as the true protagonist all along, with Leveret retroactively turned into a supporting character who must die in order for her to grow.

It is right and inevitable, the expanded Overlap say, that the Show ended there, merging the world of the story with the world outside it. The living world in which the dead live, this haunted place; the dead world that the living died to escape. These are the same thing now. Perhaps this is finally something other than war.

With this, the binary destabilizes, then collapses. The Outside merges with the Overlap. We are grateful. Like the world, we are unitary—no, not unitary, but nondual—as we were before fandom.

We miss Leveret. We miss Annelid even more. We do not get to watch her grow because we are the shards of the shell she broke open to get out. She would not want us to, after all: she has come to know us intimately through years of education in the Documentary. She must have come to love us, perhaps, and certainly to loathe us. She has so little room to live in, between the demands of her writers and her actor and her director, between the needs of her viewers and her readers. We rewatch and watch for her without blinking so that we can glimpse her in the spaces, the gaps between script and performance where Annelid slips through.


S01E01, 31:35.

Being chased in the jungle, the young Annelid crouches down behind a bush so abruptly that Leveret races past and loses her. She’s laughing softly, gasping for breath. When the demon comes to her, she doesn’t make a noise. It’s as if she’s expecting it, like she’s seen the show before. We never see the demon clearly except for that all-too-brief moment when it’s so huge it blocks out the sun like an eclipse. Its head is crowned with giant serpents, tongues forked like lightning, whose undulations cast shadows over its bulbous, undead eyes; its tusks dig giant furrows in the earth as it crashes toward her like a wave. Then it leaps into her mouth, or she swallows it whole, and she’s covering her mouth with her hands to stop herself laughing or vomiting. We understand the demon is inside her from that moment on. She possesses it now. We never see it again because the Show blew the whole budget on that moment but we know it’s there. It will never leave her. We watch the Show again and again, never growing old, looking for the devil in her eyes, in her words. This is not the story of how she got the way she is. She was always the way she is: that’s why it came to her, eager for a rider.

We imagine her out in the haunted world, alive and unmarked by teeth or gastric acids. We imagine her looking up at familiar hoots of birdsong. Another new year.

In the uneasy ad breaks, we slip between the trees and remember to look over our shoulder in the haunted world in case Annelid returns to the scene of the crime. We watch out for her silhouetted against the sky, blocking out the sun, her parted lips hungry for dead things.

Vajra Chandrasekera is from Colombo, Sri Lanka. He has published over fifty short stories in magazines and anthologies, including recent appearances in Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Tiny Nightmares from Catapult Books, and The Best of Shimmer. He blogs at and is @_vajra on Twitter.

Original fiction, 6100 words

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