The Greatest Mercy, by Micah S. Vernon

content notes

Contains a homophobic slur

(prelude 3.1)

He wasn’t so
cruel
as to name
the dog.

(first day 1.1)

I live in the same house I grew up in. Each day I walk my dog up and down the same streets and through the same parks. I make the same observations about the same landmarks

—the dilapidated fence by the cycling path behind the supermarket

(nostalgic longing)

—those divots and ditches that always fill up when it rains

(a prayer for floods)

—the rosebush where a white cat once sheltered

(a memory we can never forget)

—Witch House

(I can’t recall who named it, but I know Them well)

the same old friends still live in their old houses, too, and we don’t know one another anymore. I see them sometimes on the streets or in the stores and there are no acknowledgments, no subtle nods or knowing eyes, just an indifference befitting strangers. The same old antagonists from the same old high school inhabit the same deep corners of my mind

—Sharni Hellwig

(her boyfriend is breaking his fist against a brick wall)

—Kyle Monahan

(he’s showing off the slab of beer in his locker)

—Raymond Temme

(he has his hand around my throat)
and today, like every other day, I walk these same streets and make the same observations about those same landmarks, those same friends like old scars, those same antagonists like vile buzzards, the same school and all the parks and fields and the rows of mismatched houses, but

—**** *** *** *** **

(there’s one house that always changes)

I stand before it: Witch House. Its locked door an invitation

—**** ** * ********** *****

(how strange that it helps me remember)

not so aberrant or obvious as to shift on the surface, it always looks the same. But Witch House always changes. And when Witch House changes, it is changing me. Each time I stand before it, old neurons and synapses flicker, and I remember all the things We did

—riding Our bikes through the skate park as children

(cracking my skull against smooth, grey concrete)

—walking home from dead parties on late summer nights

(the tingling on Our lips, the comedown)

—sitting on Your nature strip and watching the climbing vines consume Witch House

(as it slowly sank into ruin, and You into it)

and I know that these are not things I did alone, and that they are new things every time. Those climbing vines crawl deep inside me.

(a memory 0.1)

the Shape speaks in withered tongues. the Shape moves in occluded light, like an unfocused object in the periphery. They inhabit a space, still. It is not negative space, just obscured space

—horror movies in October

(the Shape;)

—a window that faced the beach

(we, seeds)

—the rising tide

(go deeper and deeper and deeper)

and one day, perhaps, with nobody to recall such space, it will simply cease to exist. But for now, to me, They are the Shape, so sadly alive in distracted space that humbly wants to pass

—**** ** ***** *** **** **** ***** *** ******** *******

(a siren)

and as the Shape passes now, through these passages of time and momentarily lost and found space, also pass Isaiah, and Sean, and Abbey, and myself, forever lost in these labyrinthine suburban streets, with meaningless conversations crossing our lips, like Isaiah saying

—What are you, a fag?

(and I tell him, Yes, did he not know?)

and We listen to Isaiah backpedal and watch him float back into himself like he had that time he declared his belief that fellow students and friends Varghese Varma and George Satija were brothers, as though they were any closer to kin than he and I

—forever floating

(he remains unsunken)

we stand before it: Witch House. Its locked door an invitation

and it is the first time we all find it together, much unlike the times in which we’ve found it individually, and we all have different names for it

—Isaiah Crandall, according to what he told me on a deep night, many years later, referred to it privately as Hill House. He said he’d pictured himself playing chess within its heavy walls and gaslighting women in its variously colored chambers, taking up each day the study of its behavioral vicissitudes and architectural disquiet, mulling over its supernatural qualities during breakfast and reading dry literature aloud for all to hear

(and we haven’t spoken since)

—Sean Lindsay, his white-blonde hair hanging in thin strips past his shoulders, he hunches forward with his aching frame and loose-fitting clothes, and he calls it Ron’s House, because he believes it belongs to the local milk bar owner, Ron

(Novacek, his languor smolders behind that counter forevermore)

—Abbey Beckett, she tells us that it’s where her grandmother used to live, that it was Nan’s House, that she used to go there all the time as a very small child, back when Nan was alive, and that she cannot understand all the mystique it has developed, that it’s just a lonely old house with battered weatherboards in an out-of-the-way suburb, and that at least symbolically, if not literally, it holds the corpse and the spirit of the dead grande dame she once knew

(and she, the witch, the witch, the witch)

—the Shape calls it ***** *****

(in love with Abbey’s absent-minded memory)

and with different names comes disparity, and with disparity comes coalescence, like Isaiah saying

—That Great Witch!

(She Left a Wicked House!)

and he tells us all he pictures the old woman puttering around, boiling various dried plants in her cauldron over the fire in the heart of the house, and he tells us all he pictures Abbey on the staircase, clutching the banister and shaking in fear that she, too, will be boiled in that bubbling cauldron.

(last day 2.1)

I try to channel my study’s window, but I can’t feel its sinking pull. The dog lies at my feet. She breathes in metered verse, like the voices I try to channel from my study’s window. The heavy tome lies before me, in all its innumerable forms, in all its scattered oneness. I don’t think what I’ve done is a betrayal of how I feel

—to help others forget

(and be forgotten, too)

and from here I cannot see the rising tide

—I don’t know where to look next

(I don’t know where to look next)

and I still live in the same house I grew up in and I still walk my dog up and down the same streets

—these labyrinthine ******** streets

(and ******, forever lost in)

and the longer it takes to find

—a forgetting place

(***** *****)

and the same old friends idle in their places, too, and we do not know one another, and we never did. And when I think of them, there lives in me a great hatred I wish to see forgotten. And when I think of You, there lives in me a longing, life’s long unfurling, to feel as lost to them as You feel to me. The Shape is heavy space within me. I carry this heavy tome with what feels like Your shape and with every whispered secret I add to it some more.

—a guide

(grimoire)

—a gift

(I swear one day I saw a limb rise from the distant water)

Your Shape.

(interlude 3.2)

They stood beside
the saltdrunk shore
and
he hummed for her
a formless song.

(first day 1.2)

I stand before it: Witch House. Its locked door an invitation

and in the garden, under a decaying trellis, over cracked clay, the dog waits outside as I crawl through

—the backyard window frame dressed with broken glass

(there is no peace)

and inside, its heavy walls are unfamiliar. Painted across them are phrases that feel as though they’re directed at me

—WILL YOU DIE FOR ME

(a call to arms;)

—THIS IS A FORGETTING PLACE

(how strange that it helps me)

—WHAT IF THERE ARE GODS THAT GRANT THE GREATEST MERCIES

(forget)

those words like vanished blood, could it be less that I see them and more that they see me? and up the stairs, and up the ladder, and in the attic

—the western window hums a Wicked tune

(but the Wicked are like the troubled sea)

and in my head I hear Them all: cascading voices speak of limpid form, so soft, so quiet

—the Shape

(obfuscated remnants, so tenderly there, so sadly hanging like an abandoned web)

I can see You, and it hurts.

(a memory 0.2)

We stand before it: Witch House. Its locked door an invitation

and in the garden, the Shape moves first, into that tall grass

—could that grass recall the Shape’s worn form?

(the earth’s indifference far greater than my own)

and under a decaying trellis, over cracked clay, the backyard window holds its shape. Isaiah and Sean and Abbey and myself come next, we follow, to that strong and steady window and look around, tall fences like walls in this warren and no sounds but cars on far-flung streets. And I watch as Isaiah’s fingers find a stone and throw it through that back window

—glass shattering

(the size)

the Sighs of that sound like a hole in the heart. Sighs like Isaiah saying, with distant fondness

—Remember when Dale Kelley threw that brick through Mr. Pollard’s windshield?

(his first legacy)

and we nod with quiet contemplation over the fates of those who didn’t make it through the last school year

—Ronnie Birdwood hanged himself

(they say they found him in his father’s suit)

—Charlotte King died in a dirt-biking accident

(if you have nothing nice to say it’s better to say nothing at all)

—Alysha Williams died of cardiorespiratory failure due to muscular dystrophy

(how she had changed from the age of eight to eighteen)

—Lee Ross stabbed an elderly couple to death in their home

(one of three guys who all worked at a local pizza joint)

—Dale Kelley died of something like heatstroke or suffocation exploring small heating vents or maintenance tunnels beneath the school

(his last legacy)

Isaiah knocks out the remaining glass in the window frame with another rock and Sean lays his jacket down over it and gestures for the Shape and Abbey to pass through, saying

&Nbsp; &Nbsp;&, Miss Beckett

(and they say chivalry’s the spawn of a dying kind)

and inside, its heavy walls are cold and bare, and the air in here is like breathing broken glass, and up the stairs, and up the ladder, and in the attic the Shape moves like blurred motion, while the rest of us stay in the wider confines of Witch House, with Isaiah looking at Abbey as he says

—Double, double, toil and trouble

(Abbey, do you know anything about…)

and she says

—Shut up, Isaiah

(so desperate to forget)

the Shape makes no sound above us, as if They’ve just disappeared.

(last day 2.2)

I stand before it: Witch House. Its locked door an invitation

—how much I forget when I’m away

(these landmarks like breadcrumbs)

—how st***** that ** **lp* me rem*****

(like a flood)

and in the garden, under a decaying trellis, over cracked clay, the dog waits outside as I crawl through the backyard window

—**e ai* ** **** ** l*k* *re**hin* **ok** *l*s*

(for the Wicked)

and inside, its heavy walls are familiar, and up the stairs, and up the ladder, and in the attic I try to channel the round western window, feel its sinking pull. I can see the rising tide and so I raise the heavy tome to it, like a magnifying glass or a microphone

—***ca**** voi*** **e** ** **mp** **rm

(we, sons)

and I know where to look next. I miss my beautiful friend.

(postlude 3.3)

With nothing to
remind her,
she cannot
hurt.

Micah S. Vernon (they/them) lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. This story is their first sale.

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