The sky is too bright for late November. The glare of the sun is garish, almost enough to sear one’s skin. A dark spot moves along the ground, fast, and slips under the door to an apartment complex.
The shape, once indoors, stretches out and becomes more opaque. It slinks up the stairs and turns right, sliding under the first door into an apartment.
Inside, the shape is largely unnoticed. It leaps onto the couch, settling in a tight circle. The person sitting next to the shape is holding a beer and picking at the label. She looks over at the shape.
“Shadow’s here,” she says, and the people gathered in the kitchen come over to greet the shape.
“He’s sad,” one of them says, lightly stroking the couch where Shadow is laying. Another person comes around and sits on the couch, too, careful to avoid the darkened spot.
“So,” the woman says to the girl with the beer. “How have things been for you?”
“Okay, all things considered,” the girl responds. She takes in the woman’s cowboy hat and boots, her flannel. A stereotypical horse rider’s outfit, ordered piece by piece from a copy of The Horse Diaries. Angelica the Horse Girl. Horse Woman, now, the girl guessed. “You haven’t changed much.”
“Oh, thanks, hun,” Angelica the Horse Woman drawls. The girl scoffs a bit at this. Angelica the Horse Woman was a city girl converted to ranch life. The accent wasn’t natural. It never had been. “You, on the other hand –”
A protective growl comes from Shadow, who’s circle has begun shaking fiercely. The girl is grateful. She’s never quite fit in the way everybody else does.
The man from the kitchen whips into the living room, moving more gracefully than should be possible. Than is possible, technically, except in one’s own mind. He wears a jersey and basketball shorts. His dark, wavy hair, the girl knows, is eternally mussed by effort and sweat.
“I, on the other hand,” the man cuts in, “have obviously changed so much.”
Despite herself, this makes the girl smile. The jersey is the same royal blue he’s worn since childhood, just sized up. Even his number is the same – fifteen, the only even odd number. They’d tried explaining the nature of fifteen to other people, but only the members of their little childhood crew had ever gotten what made it so unique.
“Ha-ha,” Angelica the Horse Woman replies. “You’re the same old Jack we’ve always known.”
The man leans over the couch to kiss Angelica the Horse Woman’s forehead before plopping down in a nearby chair.
“Jack?” he says. “I don’t know any Jack. My name is Jack the Dream Boy.”
Angelica the Horse Woman rolls her eyes, absentmindedly patting Shadow. “Ignore him. He’ll never get over the fact that I refuse to call him by his full name.
The girl puts her beer on the coffee table, its contents warmed by her hand, and gets up to close the blinds.
“Shadow thinks it’s too bright in here,” she says. She’d always known that Angelica the Horse Girl and Jack the Dream Boy would marry each other, grow up to be the Horse Woman and the Dream Man, respectively. She’d been jealous, though, first of Angelica the Horse Woman and then of Jack the Dream Boy.
Things would never have worked out between her and either of them, the girl knew, but it was hard to stop the jealous feelings from creeping back in now. Even with the curtains closed, the room remained bright. The effect of those two’s smiles, the girl thought. Another reason things between her and them would never work, why she’d fallen out of touch with them more than a decade ago. Every time she saw them, they were happy. And, as she became fundamentally sad, they just didn’t work together anymore.
“Where is everyone else?” the girl asks. “When is this party going to start?”
The room looks unfamiliar, the garish orange walls reflecting off the white of the checkerboard tiles on the floor. It feels like a cartoon setting, temporary and unreal.
“On their way, darling,” Angelica the Horse Woman replies, her accent drifting into something different, less concrete. “Everyone who isn’t – everyone who can come, I mean, is on their way.”
The girl nods, getting up to enter the kitchen. There’s a charcuterie board on the counter, and she takes the opportunity to grab another beer.
The girl hears murmuring in the next room, and she cracks open the cold glass bottle in her hand, chugging its entire contents. She knows they’re talking about her. They don’t even know her anymore. No one kept in touch like Shadow has, and even he has been coming around less and less for the past couple years.
Or maybe he’s here a lot, she thinks despite herself, and she just doesn’t notice.
She finishes her beer and grabs another from the fridge.
As she takes the bottle opener and performs that old, satisfying ritual of popping the bottle open, there is a loud banging on the door. The girl immediately hopes it’s not a neighbor complaining that the party’s too loud, even though she doesn’t know these neighbors in this unfamiliar place. Even though they’ve been hardly making any noise at all.
She sips her beer, then forces herself to step back into the living room. Angelica the Horse Woman is up now, opening the door, and instead of a neighbor come to chew them out, it’s Blobby.
Blobby is pretty self-explanatory. He is an amorphous shape, made of goo that can be the texture of slime or hardened caulk or anything in between. His solidity depends on his mood.
Jack the Dream Boy gets up and the girl shoves her beer into his hands, leaving him with a bemused expression on his face. She runs over to Blobby, who has what appear to be arms extended out from his gelatinous body, and buries herself in his embrace. Shadow gets up, finally uncircling and stretching into a lumpy oval, potato-ish shape, mimicking Blobby’s body to come and say hello.
“‘Sup?” Blobby asks, and the girl almost starts crying.
Instead, she gulps, nuzzles into him further, and says, “Longtime, no see.”
Blobby melts a little bit, letting himself turn gooey.
The sun is finally starting to go down, so the girl opens the curtains, against her own wishes, so that Shadow can partake in golden hour’s offerings. Blobby moves to a plastic chair by the window, so he doesn’t get slime stuck in the threads of the couch. The sunlight shines through him, like a living stained glass window, his blue tone mixing with the room’s orange to create a brownish light.
Jack the Dream Boy comes in with a beer and hands it to Blobby, who grabs it like it’s the first thing he’s had to drink in months.
Maybe it is, the girl thinks.
“Blobby, man!” Jack the Dream Boy says. “I haven’t seen you in years.”
Blobby relaxes in his seat, his mass dripping leisurely onto the tile, as he tips back the beer. The girl watches in awe as she sees the liquid spread through him, turning his blue greenish.
“It’s good to see you all again,” Blobby says. He sounds more sincere than anyone the girl knows now. More sincere than she knew a grown up could be.
“Have you heard from anyone else?” the girl asks, Blobby’s presence awakening her desire to reminisce with old friends. Shadow comes over to her, this time perching in her lap, casting an oblong triangle across her.
Angelica the Horse Woman shakes her head. “Honey, they – they’re all gone. Us five, we’re the only ones left.”
“No,” the girl says, “no, that’s not true,”
—and at that moment there is a knock on the door,
—and the next moment a parade of beings bursts through, filling the apartment, and the girl knows she was right. These are the ones who are left. There are so many in such a small space that it is only possible to make out a limb here and there, a bright orange eyestalk, a horse’s hoof, a hand with long, immaculately done red nails. There are so many, so close together, that they almost seem like one being.
Angelica the Horse Woman and Jack the Dream Boy adapt easily, producing a thirty pack of beer as easily as Jesus turned water into wine. They crack the cans open, and whenever they see a mouth they pour some of the liquid in. Someone put on music – probably Blobby – and the apartment fills with the sound of musical screaming.
The girl loses Shadow in the chaos and hopes he isn’t trampled underneath the mass.
Someone breaks a lamp. There is the sound of paper tearing, sheet after sheet after sheet. A manuscript of some sort. The girl goes into the garish orange bathroom but the mass has gotten there, too, and she hears the plop of pills in water as it empties an orange container into the toilet and then throws that in as well. She doesn’t stay to watch the toilet overflow, ruining the shaggy purple rug on the floor.
The girl is glad that this isn’t her house, but she is not exactly ashamed of the mass. The chaos is therapeutic, and she admires them for it.
As she squeezes down the narrow hallway, the girl overhears the word “funeral,” and it echoes in her head, bouncing off the walls of her skull. Is that what they’re there for? Is that why Angelica the Horse Woman called her? A funeral?
After an hour, or maybe two, the mass leaves just as quickly as it came. Angelica the Horse Woman and Jack the Dream Boy throw away the remains of the cardboard the thirty pack came in along with the shredded remains of the manuscript. Shadow appears out of hiding. Blobby turns off the music.
The sudden silence terrifies the girl.
She sits on the couch, and slowly the five of them resume the positions they were in before the mass took over the apartment.
The girl looks at these people. She feels something grating at her, and she knows why she’s always begrudged Angelica the Horse Woman and Jack the Dream Boy, never talking to them after a certain age. They are real, contained. They have edges, hard ones. The girl has never felt like she had edges. She’s felt amorphous, unbound. She could change her shape in an instant just to be what someone else wanted her to be. Even if Angelica the Horse Woman and Jack the Dream Boy were formed out of someone’s brain, like Athena was birthed from Zeus’s head, they were full and complete. They didn’t bend to make anyone more comfortable.
The girl feels more like Shadow, more like Blobby, although the comparison may not be fair to either of them. Ambiguous, just a shape in a room. She is almost convinced that if she looks down at her hands, the edges of her will blur, an indication that she softens herself for the world.
She hears the crack of a bottle opening in the kitchen, and soon there is a cold glass bottle in her hands. She looks up, smiling at Jack the Dream Boy, loving him for a moment the way she used to when they were kids.
She wishes they could go back to that, but she knows they can’t. They are now the kind of friends who only meet at funerals, only talk about what they used to be.
The girl tries to remember what she used to be. Glorious, she thinks, and free.
Soon, they begin to go to bed, because there is a funeral tomorrow. The girl tries to think of who they could be mourning. Tries to remember who had flooded the apartment earlier and who was missing, but she can’t be sure. There were so many of them.
Shadow loops through the girl’s legs before retreating to a dark corner. The way he slinks across the floor is somber, and the girl wants to ask him what’s wrong, but then his form disappears into the shaded spot.
Jack the Dream Boy and Angelica the Horse Woman retreat to a room at the back of the apartment where the girl guesses their own accommodations are. Part of her longs for elementary school, when they all slept in the same room, giggling together and telling stories until they drifted off, their stories becoming dreams.
Blobby gets off of his chair and jiggles over to the girl. “Need the bathroom before I get ready for bed?”
The girl shakes her head. In reality, she should brush her teeth, wash her face, but somehow it all seems pointless. She doesn’t think she packed any toiletries, anyway.
Blobby nods. “Okay. Well, walk down the hall with me anyway, okay? You need some rest. Before tomorrow.”
The girl opens the door to the bedroom and has the strange feeling that she’s been there before – that it’s her bedroom, an amalgamation of her entire life shoved into one tiny space. At the same time, though, she wasn’t sure that any of that crap was hers. It was nobody’s, the kind of thing that people just hung up in AirBNBs with checkerboard tiles and neon orange walls.
Except there is a corkboard with notes hung up, and art she recognizes from a fair she went to once.
She turns to ask Blobby what’s happening, but he just shakes the top of his mass slowly. “Sleep,” he says, “and we’ll talk in the morning.”
Blobby slops off to sleep in the bathtub, where his slime can be easily sprayed off the porcelain.
The sheets are smeared with the paste of pills melted by rain or sweat, chalky, almost powder. The girl’s vision is hazy, the beers finally catching up to her. She falls into the bed without bothering to change the sheets. That’s a problem for tomorrow, like everything else.
The bed is familiar. The girl swears there is another body spooning her, fleshy and cold.
In the morning, the girl wakes up to a body. She jumps out of the bed and screams, then goes silent. Something about the curve of the woman-body’s back is familiar. She has small shoulders, a thicker waist. The word “funeral” ricochets through the girl’s brain again. She reaches out a hand to turn the woman’s face towards her.
Before she can, the door opens.
The girl turns, hoping it’s Blobby, but Angelica the Horse Woman stands there instead. The girl blinks back her tears. Angelica the Horse Woman is the kind of woman the girl is afraid to cry in front of.
“Are you sure you want to do that, darling?” If the girl didn’t know better, she’d swear Angelica the Horse Woman’s accent turns British.
Jack the Dream Boy comes up behind Angelica the Horse Woman in the doorway, a look of concern shrouding his face.
The girl looks at the body, then back up at them. They know about the body. Apparently it was here all day yesterday, and no one thought to tell her about it. Not even Shadow.
“Whose funeral are we here for, anyway?” The girl asks.
Shadow slinks into the room and onto the bed. The girl tries to pet him, but he slinks away.
“Honey,” Angelica the Horse Woman says, and the way she looks at Jack the Dream Boy when she hesitates sends a shock of nerves up the girl’s back. “It’s yours.”
Shadow nudges the body and the head turns towards the girl. The woman in the bed is her, somehow, and her fingers still loosely grip a pill bottle, identical to the orange tubes the mass of partiers had emptied into the toilet bowl the night before.
The girl looks down at her own hands to find they have blurred. She is see-through, only an indication of a person. She looks around, and the realization settles over her. This is her house. How didn’t she realize? How didn’t she recognize it?
“What am I?” the girl asks. “A ghost?”
“A ghost,” Angelica the Horse Woman responds, “or an imaginary friend.”
Slowly, Angelica the Horse Woman and Jack the Dream Boy disappear. The girl runs to the bathroom, where all that’s left of Blobby is a trail of blue slime in the tub. Something brushes at her ankles, and the girl looks down. It’s Shadow.
The girl’s body turns dim, loses shape, until she is indistinguishable from Shadow in everything but size. She looks at him, then looks at this house that never felt like her own. He begins to slink out of the room and down the hall, and the girl follows him, letting her new body roll and stretch itself along the floor. Shadow slides under the door and the girl follows him.
The sky is a late November gray, but the soft sun still casts shadows. Out of an apartment complex come two dark spots, one larger than the other. The small one leads the way as they lope down the sidewalk, gliding across the leaves.