I dare you to close your eyes
and see all the colours in disguise
-Yellow Light, Of Monsters and Men

There is something stuck in her eye. It itches and embeds itself near her tear duct, a mirror shard living in a long-forgotten ballet. She blinks. Blinks again. Closure falls upon her eyes as she wills the particle to dislodge itself and loan her peace.

"Miss?" She blinks again. "Miss, can I help you?" There are blurred shapes behind the blinking. "Miss, whatever is the matter?"

She looks up, eyes watering, hazy. "Oh, nothing. Just something in my eye." Blink.

As lids meet closure, the world takes its time in fading. Surrounding this moment, there are people living their dusty lives, letting the world warp to project their unconsciousness. In this moment, she is a contortionist who prefers to close her eyes. Life is teeming with dust. Her blinking has become old with sleep, and the sleep is passing as she blinks.

Everyone blinks to shut away the pain. Everyone blinks to shut away the particles.

In some minds, particles are a nuisance. Yet the particle within her eye doesn't think of itself as such. It lives in the woman's tear duct with a piano and several Persian rugs, as if its residence is not temporary, and it cries when she blinks. The particle is home, attempting to prevent foreclosure. But she blinks, and in one moment the particle drifts away into a world of particles. Eviction.

We are nothing but particles, wronging other particles, trying to forget we are particles.

And she blinks, and she does not wake up because the only world to wake up to is a nuisance.

"Hey, Poppy!"

She's wearing red, red, red lipstick today, and those red lips turn up at the sight of her best friend. Sarah. It's a Monday, isn't it, with gray skies and the construction workers not quite done and too-heavy backpacks and eyebrow game strong. Fickle. She loves it. She's also very


very tired from staying up so late on a Sunday night, never such a good idea, but television shows conquer beauty rest any day.

"Sarah! You look stunning. I love what you've done with your hair!" (In fact, she doesn't. She hates what Sarah has done with her hair.) It's a friendship web of lies, with little Charlottes distracted by expired cosmetics. She's rich. There is a glint in her eyes, sharp as peppermint, and


...and who is that boy with the silver irises? Tousled hair. Such a pretty distraction. One of those boys who can take a gal along for the ride; who don't mind using, and don't mind being used. "Who's that?" Sarah whispers.

"I haven't the slightest idea, but he's mine." Marking territory. All the girls do it, don't they, with their red


red lips and eyebrow game strong. Never mind the large percentage of the population that doesn't pay an ounce of attention to high-school girls with their heads all up in the clouds. But there is no need for academics when she's falling into bed, exhales riddled with peppermint. She's beautiful, and even more beautiful in sleep. Once, a long time ago, she was enthralled by the boy's silver eyes. Hypnotized. Not anymore, but a gal can forget these things. She feels warm, floating, sleepy. She's exhausted, slumping forward and

she is


into true winter. True winter is loneliness. It is screaming wind, frostbitten cheeks. Footsteps on barren cobblestones. An empty silence. Panting breath freezing to the inner walls of an oxygen mask. The reflection of light against sharp icicles. It is the end of things, a springboard, allowing nothingness.

It is fear.

Warm, cozy light emanates from quaint houses. Although the warmth should be comforting, she knows better, for winter will deceive by dwelling near firelight. Ever since the government released poisonous gas into the vents of every indoor facility, vehicle, and residence, the world has been immersed in quiet. People lie dead on their living room couches. The city smells of rotting flesh.

Somehow, she got out alive, strapping on one of the hospital's oxygen masks and escaping from the mental ward. Now, the sheer fabric of a nightgown fails to protect her from the cold and apprehension. While she runs through the city of ghosts, Christmas lights create eerie, inescapable shadows against the cobblestones. These rows and rows of houses are asymptomatic carriers of death.

Snow floats from the overhanging void. Clings to her hair. The whites of her eyes glint in the lamplight, and she is cold, so very cold. The blood presses up against her veins as if it wants to burst free and run wild through the streets. Maybe, if she decides to stop running, the blood will settle and she'll find warmth huddled up against the wall of a ghost house. She wouldn't dare enter a residence for fear of decaying bodies and their empty eyes.

Nor will she take off the oxygen mask, because maybe the gas has seeped from the cars and houses; maybe it dwells in the air, intent on killing her slowly.

The oxygen is running out.

She calms her breathing, desperately searching for a brick wall that appears at least mildly comfortable. Ducking into a side street, she slides to a sitting position, trying to take in the smallest amount of oxygen possible. Trying to reserve what little she has. The government is coming for her, and if she doesn't keep running, their security cameras will locate her position. She is endangered. Once upon a time, the government used to care for the welfare of its citizens. Ever since the war, fairy tales have ceased to exist.

It's so cold that warmth begins to seep into her bones. Inside the house, an automated fireplace continues to burn, and she can almost feel it transferring heat into her body. The universe has exhausted itself of energy. She should keep running, but there is sluggishness dwelling about her brain. It's very cold… the government is coming… it's very comfortable where she sits curled up into a futile ball.

Shallow breaths. She checks the meter on the oxygen reserve. It is nearing empty. The hospital didn't have professional equipment for situations such as this, nor did it have clothes suited for winter weather. The paleness of the nightgown against even paler legs frightens her; the blueness of her veins is apparent even in the near darkness. If there were a mirror to look into, she'd see her lips and the vivid indigo color that plagues them.

She is frozen. Too tired... too tired to run anymore.

Far off in the distance, footfalls sound, interrupting the silence of a ghost city. The government is coming. Oxygen depletes at a steady pace, and movement comes in shivers as her body fights for nonexistent inner warmth. Hypothermia sets in. Somewhere in the back of her mind, there is an urge to keep running, to escape and preserve the last dregs of her life. However, her limbs cannot function, and the hope for a future begins to die.

Suddenly, there is a boy there, not much older than she. "Poppy," he says. He is the government. She knows she cannot escape anymore, and instead shuts her eyes against the brightness of his wolfish smile.

When she opens them again, there is a moment where the world still resembles a dreamland. But this moment doesn't last; her lungs expand with chilly oxygen as she paws around the bed for the blanket discarded while she slept. Early fall always results in an early cold front. Unfortunately, the heater is still broken, haunting her brain with thoughts of hypothermia.

It's no wonder her dreams have become nightmares.

Although she'd rather curl up under the woolen blanket and fall back into fitful slumber, Poppy must get up and face the oh-so-monotonous day. She is in her twenties now, single, and often preoccupied with reminiscing about the better days. She's heard the stories of those who peak in high school. They aren't pretty. But as much as she tries to find happiness, the golden mean of popularity, success, and satisfaction seems to be restricted to her teenage years. The only love to be found is in television shows and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Throwing on clothes haphazardly without a glance in the mirror, Poppy gradually makes her way to the door. Her daily routine takes much longer than it normally does. Slow. She confuses herself when opening the door, wondering why it is she's exiting the apartment, and then shakes her head. Morning without coffee is never a good idea.

Work lives in an office building four blocks away. Despite a brisk wind, the skies are very blue and the city very loud. Inside the building, Sarah the secretary is snobbish as always, and the normally calm elevator music resembles the honking of many hungry geese. Something always differs between consecutive work days, but in the long run, nothing much changes.

Monotonous. It is a monotonous life.

Poppy tucks a lock of hair behind her ear and heads for her cubicle, which lacks any personal décor. She is a smart, conservative woman who is fond of flowers, coffee, chocolates, and not much else. A lot has changed since high school. What's left of her girlfriends is a group of meandering pigeons who make much ado about her switch in personality. Oh well. Everyone changes after high school. She changed, starting with... starting with...

She can't remember. How odd. Poppy is a woman who prides herself in her past; it's unlike her to forget important details. But she lets it go. Details aren't vital.

Prior to lunchtime, work is average. Sarah meets her at half ten to discuss meeting hours and God-knows-what, since Poppy zones out halfway through the lecture. Work is tedious. The morning's only thrill arrives in the discovery of a bag of chips, hidden in the back of a drawer. Finally, it's almost time for lunch break, and Poppy escapes the confines of her cubicle to fill up a thermos for tea.

She bumps into him then, a man with mercury-silver eyes and a pretty smile. He's standing near the water tap. "They're out of paper cups," he says. "Do you know where the janitor typically stores them?"

Poppy doesn't.

Yet she does know a doll when she sees one, and there's something disorienting about him. Something not quite right. His mercury eyes are dizzying, coercive. They portray an extraterrestrial intelligence. Before she knows it, Poppy is handing over her thermos, and the man gives her a sticky note covered with hastily scribbled numbers. Red ink. "Call me."

When she returns to her office, sans thermos, the sticky note is ripped into several small pieces and discarded in the waste bin. By the time lunch break ends, Poppy has already forgotten about the man's silver eyes and persuasive smile. It's another one of those monotonous, uneventful days.

That is, until she returns home to find tea brewed on the stove top and a sticky note pasted on the refrigerator.

Poppy pauses. Surely she didn't forget to turn off the stove...? No, this morning was a dry morning. She doesn't even like tea. Does she?

The sticky note on the fridge is covered in red ink. Numbers. "Call me," he says from the corner, and Poppy startles. She's afraid, but there's something not quite right. She can't remember why she's experiencing déjà vu. She can't remember why it's so important that he's here. Tea. She loves tea. Did she leave the door unlocked? She can't remember.

It was supposed to be a monotonous day of reminiscing and Poppy can't call the police because there's paper sticky notes shoved into her mouth and they taste faintly of chips, chocolate-covered strawberries, mercury, peppermint. Flowers. Something like... flowers. His eyes are poisonous.

Poppy can't breathe. Poppy

peels open her eyes. Wind rushes. It is warm, like a blanket, roping its way through her extended fingers and toes. In this moment, there is nothing: no fear. An appreciation for life and death, the thought that this moment eclipses (as all moments do), but a sense of calmness. Tranquility.

She's falling, and there's no reason to be afraid. He's there to catch her (maybe).

His eyes are mercury and she hears them yelling below, oh, they hate her for this. They hate her for even thinking of jumping off that building, for ruining their pretty speckled pavement with red bruises and broken-neck vision. Yes, they'll hate her sleeping eyes. And when her eyes open once again, they'll be mercury, and he won't have been there to catch her (ever). He's there to kill her. He's there to kill you, (darling) Poppy (and maybe have a little fun along the way).


"You can't run when you're falling, Sarah."

She wakes up with a start. She hates dreams about falling, maybe worse than she does the ones about disintegrating teeth. Heights have always been nerve-wracking. Of course, Poppy's tolerated them. She used to work in the World Trade Center, back before the terrorists and the collapse and the reconstruction.

Sometimes she considers white sheets as meant to be an oxymoron, but near the ocean, the air feels clean. Salty. The sea suits Poppy better than New York ever did. There's something about humid air and crashing waves that purifies her past and leaves her wrinkles encompassed in newness. Newness... it would be welcome. She doesn't like feeling old, tottering around the house. A widow.

There are flowers in the windowsill. Not poppies, no, she doesn't like them very much. Hydrangeas are prettier: periwinkle-mercury colored, similar to her past husband's eyes. But really, Poppy has moved on. Really. The seaside is timeless.

She opens the curtains, lets the sun in. A knock sounds at the door. She moves to open it (still agile, only seventy). Outside, there are the letters from friends she contacts out of routine, crisp bills with no positive purpose, and... a package. It's been a long time since Poppy has received a package.

No return address. No markings.

Within it is a handheld mirror. She doesn't pay it much mind- probably a faulty shipment. Poppy will return it to the mail tomorrow. As for now, cookies, tea, and gardening are on the agenda- much more important than a reflection of what she once was and what she could have been. Poppy used to have everything, and nowadays she still has something, just not as much. (Humanity wants what it cannot have.)

It's chaotic peace. Uneventful. She passes by the day with knitting and cooking and all other things domestic. Isn't it boring, without an occupation? Isn't life supposed to be worth it? Isn't the mirror supposed to be returned to its owner?

It's in the right hands, don't you give it any mind, Sarah.

On the other hand, Poppy picks it up. Inspects it for any name. Looks into it; looks into it closely until the glass is rippled, and ripples are the glass. Similar to the ocean. Hypnotizing, aren't they, the waves? Begging you to play with them. Poppy looks further. She hates her wrinkles, hates them, misses the good old days when her husband would trace them and say they represented good youth and good life.

The glass contorts her features. Poppy is growing younger, and hydrangeas are tucked under folded locks of hair as the wrinkles fade. There's a smile now. It's joyful! Poppy is happy to be young again. Yet, confusion, and. And... and that isn't her smile. That isn't her smile. That's his smile. That's him. Something is not quite right here.

Poppy leans in, and she is very close to the waves. She comes eye to eye with mercury irises, pretty, belonging to Her Husband. He's smiling murderously, and she misses him.

There he is. Young. Reaching through the glass, reaching through the rippled water. It's a lovely ocean in dreamland, dear, don't be afraid. The hydrangeas are turning into poppies and there are chocolate-covered strawberries being thrown at the walls. Paper cards with red ink and pretty red shoes. "Am I dreaming?" Poppy asks.

"You aren't, Dorothy. Welcome to Oz." The Wicked Witch carries her away on a platter of egotistical submarines.

The government

He's coming, he is the government.

...The mirror, you ask? Oh, don't worry! It's in the right hands, don't you give it any mind, Sarah.

There is a slight beeping sound. Poppy's eyes move behind her eyelids, but skin fails to flutter open. The doctors are thrilled- "She's starting to wake; we're sensing brain movement! The surgeries have been successful!" Poppy can sense hands moving at her blankets, the light streaming through a window, and the silvery eyes of a memory.

In this moment, she does not want to wake up. Poppy wants to lie here for the rest of eternity and let her limbs take heaviness. Poppy wants to float to heaven, where the world consists of the reddened light between her eyelashes.

"She's waking up! The treatment has worked! The cure is successful!"

The cure! The cure is successful!

cure is successful!

cure successful!

cure !

cure is !

cure is not !

cure is not successful ! abort ! abOrT MIsSION! "ABORT MISSION!"

Poppy opens her eyes and they are all running away, exiting through the doors, staring at her wildly from the panels of reinforced glass. She smiles at them, hesitantly. There are tubes running from arms to headboard. The light source comes from an elevated lamp positioned above her eyes, and as she looks closer, she realizes a strip of mirror is attached to the top. If she can... if she positions herself correctly, she can just see...

Oh. Oh, and those are the mercury eyes. Diseased. The government cannot stop plague, no matter how hard they try, no matter how isolated they become. They cannot stop the expansion of knowledge. Really, there is nothing to fear from enlightenment, and no means to prevent unorthodoxy. There isn't a way to cure philosophers.

"Don't be afraid, Sarah. Don't be afraid," she says.

Sarah is hiding behind the glass, but Poppy can see her. A cowardly lion. She takes in the oxygen, breathes on frosted glass, and writes a message to Poppy with backwards words.

You know too much.

...But really, Poppy knows nothing about who she is. Today, her name is new, given by the bedside table-poppies. Her eyes belong to does and they glint, reflecting white walls and fluorescent lights. She hears screaming, but she does not know what screaming is. She sees crooked flamingo lips, but the word for grin is not innate knowledge.

Outside the glass-walled room, Sarah shares another grin. Children sit in rows like sacrificial victims, though she now knows the truth of smiles: there are no liars in the room, no eyes of fire.

But his trousers are aflame as he stands next to her. "Which one's yours?" he says. Sacrificial victims always belong to Animalia. Raised on corn products, coddled, and slaughtered.

"Poppy does not belong to me."

His eyes follow the pointed finger. They're mercury, reflecting the reflection of the glass, reflecting the reflection in Poppy's eyes. He knows more than Poppy ever will, yet the infant has an innate sense of the things that are wrong with the world. Nothing is wrong with this world. Nothing is wrong when you're dreaming, I promise.

Sarah is a friendly soul. "Which one is yours?"

His grin seems more lobster than flamingo. "All of them."

He has control over her mind, a practiced contortionist. And Poppy would love to claim independence, but his training academy strictly promotes the individual as part of a whole. Societal fascism has always been a power play. He lives as the king of checkers.

Her world is highlighted graffiti gray, similar to the sheen of sharp razor blades in her hair. They are a dangerous weapon to the weary. When her opponents cry out, she erases her grin and pretends his thoughts have not bled into hers. These are not games! But he tells her so. Sometimes, she will taste sliced lips and laugh at the power of contortionism. He underestimates her skill in chess, but continues to play checkers, like he knows somehow.

There are beads of perspiration in the heat and she doesn't know how he understands. Perhaps he is familiar with the smell of hydrangeas, perhaps he can taste the things she does not practice. Every day they train with the sun on their backs and weapons dripping with separated sweat. Every day, Poppy thinks of escape.

And one day, she tries. The fence crackles and pops in warning, but somehow- I cannot say- she convinces Sarah to take down the electricity. There are woods all around, and patrols, but she knows how to defy contortionism.

Except Sarah is crowned by the contortionists, and Poppy is a fool. He meets the runaway with weapons sharp as razor blades, an iron fist, a wolfish grin. Pummeled. She can smell the hydrangeas on his breath, as if he can eat her sorrow away.

He is tasting sliced lips when the brain greets unconsciousness.

Poppy wakes up early in the morning to the alarm clock within her neck. Frail hair is tucked underneath a futile shawl, and she ducks her skinny head near his grandfather clock, anticipating secrets never granted throughout the years. She cannot escape the crisp staccato of time. It has been ages of secondhand smoke and callouses- Poppy is sick of it- why she ever married him, she doesn't know.

No, that is a lie: she knows. Her predicament is due to a threadbare cliché that tick-tocks her life away. Attached to her neck is a miniature, spider-legged timekeeper with its digits at 00:00. Poppy's time ran out a long time ago. When she looks at her reflection, hollowed cheeks and frazzled hair, she can trace the numbers and play subtle games of wondering where everything went wrong.

A simple trajectory of destiny does not determine love, just compatibility.

And he is simultaneously fed up, worn out, done. He is tired of all these stories and having to tell them with lip-lined antagonists, for immortality is the world's primary evil. In a life of infinites, the same tales become monotonous, the same people become tedious, and the same love becomes fruitless. "Let's change this up a bit," he says. It's accented with universal boredom.

There is a letter opener on the table by the door, and the device is scented peppermint, with words inscribed crimson on the handle. A mirror placed above the table displays the numbers on his neck and the quicksilver glint in his eye. Changing it up a bit. The letter opener is freshly sharpened and cool-bladed, a superficial tool for a superficial romance in a superficial world.

Poppy cannot see past the grandfather clock, but he's lifting the letter opener and opening up his jugular. There's nothing much to read in the interior, just ichor spilling out and the shattering of 00:00. Behind the clock, Poppy touches digits to digits, silent as she feels something pierce them. Universal boredom is cured with universal pain.

She tries to speak. Cannot utter words without uttering the intensity of agony, and she won't let him have that satisfaction. Shuts her mouth, smears her lip-liner.

He splits the words in half and blurs their lines. Changing it up a bit.

"Sarah, is it possible to wake up from a dream but still be in a dream?"

Sarah has one normal eye, one mercury. "Of course it is, Poppy. We're in one right now."

Her pigtails are humid from a misplaced lollipop and four days without soap. Daddy thinks the gate to happiness lies in consumption rather than outside assumption, although one day a gal will come along and spread rumors like butter on a slab of bread. How unfortunate. Only stubborn minds can outlast poverty.

But she's just a kid; she doesn't need to know that her Daddy bought that lollipop out of discarded parking lot coins. She doesn't need to know that her shampoo was replaced by the pretty woman who braided her hair this morning. She doesn't need to know the woman won't be coming back. (Poppy does know. Poppy catalogues these things.)

The lollipop slumps in the summer heat which creeps in through broken windows. There is dust everywhere, and catalogued memories: pretty women and pretty lollipops of the past. There are thoughts of kept secrets and dirty hands. Poppy is rarely clean. Other parents take sheets of antibacterial chemicals and swipe them across every surface imaginable, but Daddy doesn't understand sickness, doesn't understand that pneumonia can kill-

hence the broken windows, from vengeful bottles-

so Poppy doesn't care, either. And she stands at the orthodox side of a staircase, watching the lollipop drip unceremoniously on the previously-sticky carpet, and she waits.

When he comes home, his hands are coated in grease: no antibacterial wipes. He's similar to mercury in that he lives in a liquid state. Slimy smiles, a mechanic's mind. There is so much room for love that he has no capacity for it, much like the other gods and goddesses of the sloth world. He thinks lollipops make up for nightclub eyes (but they don't).

The father ascends the carpeted stairs and gazes at Poppy with her lollipop mouth. "Trying to be like Sarah, are you?" he says, as if she wants to be red like femininity.

False lipstick is a masquerade. "Yeah, Daddy."

He walks to her, reaches out to snatch the lollipop and poke her pigtails. It's all in good fun, but she doesn't want the grease of disappointing hands to touch her mouth. His are so unlike the pretty woman's fingers in her hair, cruel, they pushed Sarah away and she will never be Sarah. Stop. He doesn't understand. Stop. He won't understand. Stop!

Poppy thrusts her hands from her chest. He's falling and she will never be Sarah. She will never be Sarah... but she is her father. And her father's skull is smashed against a grimy metal railing, and he lies at the floor with his sticky blood all around. It is very humid in the summertime, the way flowers wither and bacteria are cruel creatures. Every human is capable of killing. Everyone is innately radioactive.

The lollipop disintegrates as melted clocks whir. The flies have come and a stray buzzes around her pigtails, always sticky. She is just about to smile when there is movement from the hell-side. He is risen! His head bashed in, his blood turned golden in the rays of light coming through the broken window. His eyes are wolf-silver, a bit like gasoline, a bit like quicksilver. The aura of a smile disappears on Poppy's lips, replaced by the thought of awe.

In the end, he isn't gonna murder her, but he might as well.

There is a child sitting in the sand with ruby feet and rusted spectacles. The child looks up to Poppy, grasping at her skirts, moaning in the desert heat. "Help me," she says. She's licking her lips to give them elusive moisture, and her breeches seem sedimentary. Poppy doesn't much like geology.

"I can't help you," says the woman with red, red, red lips.

The child gasps. "Please, miss. The air is salt and I've been stuck in this nightmare for as long as I can remember."

Poppy purses her lips and gazes into the distance, where heat moves like water, creating ripples and mirages of a forgotten palace. "If you are thirsty, I have no drink. I am exiled here with the destiny of a cannibal."

"Oh, I see. Well… it isn't proper for you to kill me before introductions."

A scowl this time, accentuating sagging skin. "Poppy."

"Poppy," the child says with a familiar wolfish smile. "Nice to meet you, Poppy. My name is Tick. He used to call me Sarah, back when princesses weren't kleptomaniacs, but I was a nuisance. Couldn't wait to get rid of me."

Poppy's skirts balloon in a lobster mirage, a swirl of brown and red not unlike rust, or perhaps chocolate-covered strawberries. The sand represents golden ichor, and somewhere far away, a clock is ticking. Suddenly there are objects appearing in her hand: a letter opener, a sticky note, a lollipop. And Poppy gets her minutes by stealing others' time. Tick-tock.

"I'm thirsty, would you feed me my blood?"

"Not a chance, princess. Mosquitoes are too easy to kill." Poppy must understand that there is no government to come, but without death, nobody will be there to save her. She must pick the lesser of two evils. The world here is so fractured dry that no tears will erupt, and she wants time to cry, lick away Tick's tears.

"I am a mosquito, you know that." Tick-tock. Sarah has unusual crow's feet behind her spectacles. Insect eyes, childlike.

The cowardly lion isn't a coward after all.

Sand is golden ichor and Poppy's lips are stained red, red, red after Sarah is sleeping. But nobody comes. There are scorching sunrises and sinking sunsets, and Sarah begins to rot away, like a nightmare that pretends never to have happened. And there are mirages of him in the distance with his wolf smile and quicksilver eyes. And the blood is cracking around Poppy's mouth, and tick-tock time is running out.

Suddenly her deathbed is perennial-scented, and Poppy closes her eyes to forget.
(Goodnight, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite.)

The day they announce that lack of gender is freedom, Poppy vows to refuse change. "I am a woman of many qualities," she tells Sarah, and Sarah has become (Pa)t(r)ick to counteract her feminine features. Rosy cheeks are neutralized, tight clothes prohibited. Surgeries in line. But (Pa)t(r)ick understands secretive things, and (s)he isn't the government.

The government is coming.

It's supposed to be an equality movement- socialism, maybe, but socialism has acquired a bad reputation over the years. Now, the only wage gap exists between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Identity has become exclusive to the human race, and no person may take pride in their birthright. A last name is the only thing of import. Every baby must wear black.

There are some definitions, still. A person of life must counteract the life they have lived with a name, while people of birth are introduced with gender-neutral titles and given their surgeries immediately. Poppy understands that the government wants everyone to forget. But she will not forget. This is another way of saying- "Hello, comrade, you cannot be yourself."

Wars are fought over this.

And Sar-(Pa)t(r)ick keeps the time as if another false movement is on the way. Poppy despises the thought that she cannot control what Sar-(Pa)t(r)ick holds in high regard. This is a political move, a power play, a friendship web of lies. They're running from the government; the government is coming! (Don't worry, Sarah, Poppy belongs to them.)

S(he) knocks at their door with the thought of secrets. "Hello, comrade."

"You cannot be yourself," Poppy replies (she knows). "You are the government."

A smirk dwells in those quicksilver eyes. "Very good." S(he) opens up her frostbitten lips with the thought of little mercy, and tells her she is not to prefer internal or external organs. Poppy should simply disregard sex and rely on the scientists to produce her children. And she tells the government that she cannot have children anymore, she is sixty-one and why can't a woman of the feminist movement disregard a policy that undermines identity?

(Pa)t(r)ick sits in the corner as the government takes up a scalpel and anesthesia. Gender is a nuisance.

And it's not just about Poppy anymore, is it? She has spent her entire life selfish like the one-eyed man, with steady jobs and steady partners. She has thought about him her entire life. Their fates are intertwined, their destinies a natural disaster: viciously tremendous. But Sarah is another case. For a moment, we must disregard Sherlock's Moriarty and focus upon John.

Sarah: you are meant to save her. (Don't you pay this any mind, Sarah, for you've become our protagonist for the moment.) You are a cowardly lion that understands fate and doesn't mind sacrifice. You live your life a nuisance of a princess with everything focused upon Poppy, but you're approaching an asymptote now and this is as good a time as any to become something. Someone.

Your name isn't Sarah, is it? Not exactly. Every flamingo is born with a name before they become a lobster, but many lobsters realize their name does not suit their person. Perhaps their person does not suit their person. And Sarah is realizing that life is too short to be someone she isn't. Let's change this up a bit.

"We're old, Poppy. We're so dreadfully old but I'd- I'd like you to call me Patrick."

Poppy stares, and she has only one eye. The eye is quicksilver-sharp; a tool of the government. "Tick suits you better," s(he) says.

And now you are a bitter blood-sucker, but you prefer it to Sarah.

They are at the headquarters, Poppy with her head slumped and electrodes dotting her skin with trailing wires. She is surreal; an unconscious, motionless figure, deep within a dusky skyscraper. Motionless, emotionless. A shell of a mind inside a physical body that was never hers in the first place.

He is looking upon Poppy with a thoughtful expression, calculating small details and wondering what he is to do with her. Universal boredom is cured with universal pain. Traces of this pain remain on Tick's face, who stands next to him with a screeching gaze. "What is that?" says the boy with insect eyes.

"This," says the man with quicksilver, "is a contraption that erases all memories from the mind. It takes necessary, innate information and imprints it in the brain, but removes all that might cause original opinion. A brainwasher, to be precise."

Tick is dumbfounded. "But… why?"

The man goes to Poppy, touches his fingertips to her forehead, repositions certain electrodes to prevent her pain. "Why ever not? Without memories, Poppy has full belief in the situations presented to her. It's quite entertaining to watch my subjects flounder through situations and confuse them with reality. Then, if the subjects begin noticing the surreal, I can hook them up to this handy machine and begin from scratch. Ingenious, no?"

"It's… it's immoral. This isn't proper, you can't-"

"Of course I can! That's the beauty of it." The man steeples his fingers, his flamingo grin a lie. "There's nothing to stop me, and nobody to care. The universe has granted me thousands of poppies to play with, and when I get tired of the game I can use this machine and start all over again. Do you know why I'm sharing this with you, Sarah?"

Tick shakes his head, crying tears the color of hydrangeas.

"I'm showing you my contraption because you are another game of mine. You begin the game as a nobody in Poppy's eyes, a lone particle, a nuisance. You become attached to her, your life intertwining with hers. And eventually, you begin to realize that your life does not only revolve around Poppy… it is about becoming who you are. Your name is Sarah, but you call yourself Patrick, and Poppy calls you Tick because she still thinks of you as a nuisance."

"No," Tick whispers.

"Yet you still love Poppy, don't you? You're self-sacrificing. So I bring you to this room, and I show you the way I take away her memories, and you tell me that I can't do this and I can't take away Poppy's identity. But it's a game. I am the king of darkness, and I win every time. I show you this, and then I take away your memories, and you become a particle again. You become Sarah. You will always end up being Sarah." He laughs. "You see? There it is. The moment of truth. I can see it in your eyes, the look of terror as you know.

"And every time I play this game, I play it for your fear. You're so innocent and naïve- it's hysterical! Life isn't a box of chocolates, Sarah, it's a box of razor blades. You're going to feel this pain, again and again and again, and then you'll fall asleep and forget that the pain ever existed."

"You can't do that," Tick breathes. "That's- that's not fair, you're taking our entire lives away!"

His quicksilver eyes are twinkling with mirth. "I believe it's still fair if you never had lives in the first place."

Poppy is thirsty, very thirsty. Too thirsty. Something is not quite right here.

Sarah is apathetic today, sniffing with her nose all up in the air, proud. Pride is the fourth deadly sin, the kind that doesn't need a search warrant. And Poppy doesn't see how Sarah has taken hold of her pride when metal is clanging and there is no water. In fact, Poppy cannot see at all. There is some sort of… blindfold… wrapping around the roots of her hair. It's a rough material. Unpleasant.

Clanging sounds again. From far away, Poppy can hear a man calling for Sarah, the words coarse and demeaning, knocking down the lion's pride. The man's voice is quick and silvery in a way that feels inanimate. But this doesn't matter, because the quicksilver is accompanied by a sloshing sound. Water. Poppy is very, very thirsty. So thirsty that she would trade her sunlight hours for a drink.

Sarah sniffs with pride, refuses to approach the man behind the cage doors. Poppy is delirious with thirst and she tries to yell at her SarahpleaseIneed-pleaseIdontcarejust… but no words emerge. Her tongue is covered by the rough blindfold. Perhaps she is gagged. Perhaps that is why she is so thirsty.

Sarah swallows her pride, and Poppy can hear her snuffling as the man speaks in boisterous words. There is the sound of water being poured into a trough, and the quicksilver man quickly leaves to the next destination. And Poppy is going to die. Poppy is going to die.

The sun goes down across an empty charade of a zoo, but it doesn't matter. Sarah doesn't care (a cowardly lion). The world is sweltering, and photosynthesis aside, the summer poppies are dying.

Morpheus chuckles. He's living in your mind, your twisted little mind with its twisted little realities. He's enjoying every second of this. He sits on the barren ground, eyes closed, and you wouldn't know it was him if not for the poppies growing at his feet. They trail, like seeds in the wind, surrounding the void of a half-razed gravestone.

Poppies grow in fields, you know. They thrive, sweat sleep, have a mind of their own.

Morpheus opens his mercury eyes, stares at the poppies. He's a pallid politician, manipulative, Machiavellian. He has put the other little girl(boy) to sleep, the pretty thing, Sarah(Tick). Something is pretty about palpable things. The petals drenching closed hands, the redness of an unorthodox tongue. These things are much unlike the madness of humanity. Yet conscious and unconscious qualities make us who we are. Almost as if we are paintings: masterpieces you hate to throw away, but far from immortal. Poppies, every one of us stuck in a selfish time loop.

"You're pretty little things, aren't you? Marvelous."

The poppies hear him. They're screaming, inside. Perennial. But they(she) cannot speak, for even though they(she) can hear him, she is only dreaming.

"Wake up, Poppy! Wake up!"

Poppy blinks


she cannot wake up.