Everyone started doing something to numb themselves when the New-Ones began to pop up.
Deceptive and torturous.
And you never knew who might be one.
It’s enough to put the whole world on edge. On edge, but not on guard. They’re so slow-moving in their merging they might as well be standing still.
“Glaciers still move,” he used to say when the talking heads on the TV would try to debunk the merging. “Tons of ice, and they still movin’.” He’d follow that with a bottle of bourbon.
I hate when he drinks.
He’s different when he does.
Even a little bit—just a half a glass of wine—is enough to make the quirks appear.
The over annunciation. The odd eye contact. The cussing. The loud humming of songs he normally hates. The volatile opinions he voices wherever we are.
And that’s why I asked him to stop drinking.
But you can’t just ask an addict to quit, so we took it step by step. First, twelve hours dry. Then eighteen. Twenty-four. Thirty-six, and on and on and on.
Around the five-day period, I could see the quirks and knew he’d broken again. When he started trying to get sober, when he’d break, the quirks would appear, but so would this hurt. I’d even call it embarrassment. He looked sad that he had a drink, that he’d broken his streak.
It made me mad when he’d relapse, but seeing the pain and sadness in his eyes dulled my anger into something a little more sympathetic. My sister said I was a “heartless douche” when I told her that. But she hasn’t seen what I’ve seen, heard what I’ve heard. She doesn’t know what he can be like.
He’s never hurt me.
He’s never called me names, never broken things, tried to control me, or embarrassed me in public.
And that’s probably why I let him get away with it for so long.
But seeing depressions that set in with every drink, seeing him fall deeper and deeper into self-hate that lasted for months and months, and years and years… I was through with it.
And so was he.
So he quit, or tried to quit for me and for himself.
That’s something one of his therapists told us. “He has to do this for himself, otherwise it’s never going to stick.”
It took a while to stick. But once it did, it really did—stick, that is.
He went a full week, and then another, and then another, making more and more progress, staying sober longer and longer, until a full year had passed. Even with the whole world falling into darkness—a slow, hungry, evil eyed darkness—our life together was looking up.
Then the Crash on 17th happened, and a year’s worth of progress went down the drain.
Even I drank that day, so I didn’t blame him.
The whole country just stopped and watched their TV’s, drinks in hand, crying or staring in disbelief. No one understood how it could happen.
We still don’t.
When he walked through the door, I saw the half empty handle in his hand, and sighed.
“Catch a ride?”
“Hmm? Nah. Nah, I walked.” And he drank some more.
“That’s a long ways to walk with an open container in public.”
“Psh. No one’s payin’ attention to nothin’.” Then he grinned and drank some more. That’s when I noticed it. I watched him for the next hour, looking for anything, anything to tell me I was wrong.
An hour came and went, and nothing had popped up.
So, I walked to our bedroom, while he sat drinking on the couch watching the infinite replays of the Crash, and got my gun.
“They’re not there. They’re not there,” I said over and over, trying to convince myself that maybe I was overlooking something. Maybe I was paranoid. But…
With the Crash. With the silent merging. With the state of the world, I knew.
“He’s not him. He’s a New-One.” I sat in the bedroom with the gun in my lap for a long time, crying and hating what I had to do. “He doesn’t have his quirks,” I reminded myself. “He’s drunk, and he doesn’t have his quirks. He’s not him. And I have to…”
I wiped my eyes, blew my nose on the sleeve of my pajama shirt and walked into the living room to kill the New One who looked like him.
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