Art by Christine Cheng
Issue: Kalopsia (Spring 2017)
a step-by-step guide
Make your way through the Manhattan crowd, carrying two H&M shopping bags. Watch as people pass, chattering and carrying their Starbucks drinks. Look for the ones with dark lashes and delicate hands. They are the best thread workers, the highest-ranking of those that can choose to enlist you. They are the best of the best.
Casually approach them. They will look over, and you will notice how attractive they are. Skin like porcelain, sculpted from divine hands. That is normal. Don’t ask them out though, unless you want a scowl and a slap in the face. (Especially if you run into Captain. Personal experience here.)
Ask them, how goes the spider today? You will feel ridiculous. But it’s absolutely necessary that you say it. It’s almost like a codeword, to let them know that you know.
If they’re anything like Mentor, they’ll say, take a walk with me. Follow them, through the city and to Central Park. They will feel your hands and peer into your eyes. Almost like a fortune teller. But that part is easy. Chances are, if you’ve found this guide, you already have the potential to become one of us.
Then they will ask about your family. Tell them everything. Keep no secrets. They’ll tell you to break these ties, to forget everyone. Loving is a sin to our kind, they’ll say.
Nod. You understand. Just like you understand why the heroes and heroines in movies choose love in the end. You never liked your family anyway.
They’ll ask, are you sure?
I’m sure, you’ll answer.
They’ll tell you to close your eyes. You’ll hear their voice in your head, more musical than you had ever imagined, count to ten. But the numbers will spin in your consciousness, until you’re not sure what they’re saying, not sure of anything. In time, you’ll feel their touch on your wrist, and when you open your eyes, you’ll be in a different world. Our world. Our domain.
You’ll see our palace. It’ll be full of colors, full of comfortable white noise. Children will be running around, bearing rolled-up bunches of threads that shimmer in the light.
Threads. Physical representations of human relationships. These are what we are in charge of, just as the elves rule the forests and the witches are in charge of poisons and prophecies. We make them, break them, and rework them again. In return, we will never have threads of our own.
You will meet Leader. He will break your threads, make your family forget, forget, forget. He is terrifying, indescribable. Be ready and confident.
Go through initiation, pass all the tests. Might as well, because it’s too late to turn back. Work hard, and rise up, broken and battered. Feel proud. You’ve made it this far.
They’ll send you back to the human world. You’ll appear in the exact same spot from which you had disappeared fifty-two days ago at 2:34 pm, ties with your family and friends broken. In your head, repeat the same phrase that’s been pounded in your head again and again.
The world is nothing but a spider’s web.
Everything will look normal at first, until you see a couple milling along a path in the park. Their hands will be entwined, and you’ll see a red thread binding their wrists together. There will be other threads, stemming from their hearts. The threads will be all different colors; colors not in the human world. They’ll seem to spin everywhere in loops and coils, touching but never tangling.
Don’t worry. It’s easier than you think. First frayed thread, a breaking relationship— snip! First gray thread, a friendship full of grief— make it blacker, darker. You’ll feel powerful, and Mentor will watch you, nodding their head in approval.
Then you’ll see him. The sun will play with his threads, begging to be noticed, but they’ll remain the color of demon eyes, strings of death. Mentor will scream, no! but you’ll approach him anyway. You’ll buy him coffee. Make friends. Just this once, you’ll tell Mentor.
But you’ll start missing your family, so you’ll come back to him. He’s the closest thing to a family you’ve got. You ignore thoughts pressing at the edges of your consciousness. No relationships, you remember. Don’t interfere with the threads.
It’s no use. You’ll see him for three months. You’ll be drinking coffee, talking to him about school, and then you’ll begin to notice the soft cadence of his voice. The way he smiles at you. You’ll see it then: the barest beginnings of a red thread, tying you to him at the wrist.
You’ll cry. Scream. Try to sever it with your scissors, but it won’t work. You’ve already fallen in love. Didn’t I warn you?
You stop seeing him, but another thread blooms. It is the color of stars at midnight, the color of longing. The red thread will change, morphing into a violent shade of blood red.
Loving is a sin to us, you hear in your head.
Leader will know. Leader always knows. Leader will summon you back to our place, our world, our domain, back to where children the carried threads around, now so familiar to you. But do you see it now? See the shadows, always lurking at the corner of your vision? See us as if we had mechanical hearts?
You’ll shake your head, ignore these thoughts, and meet Leader in his chamber. He will be as terrifying as ever.
Mentor will be there, too, his disappointment like dead leaves, shriveling away in sunlight. You’ll be ashamed. I’m sorry, you’ll try to say, but nothing will come out.
You couldn’t do it, Leader will say. You couldn’t keep your promise. You’re disgustingly human.
The words will sting.
Then, before you know it, Leader will have raised his hand. He will twitch his fingers ever so slightly, and you’ll feel tendrils of pain snaking through your limbs. It won’t be like anything you’ve felt before. It’ll be painful, but not the type you feel when you break a bone or scrape your knee. It’ll feel slow and steady at first, and then like your skin is flaking off and your body is burning from inside out.
You’ll curse. Clench your fists. Beg Mentor for forgiveness. Nothing will work; trust me.
You’ll hurl into the human world, but Leader’s magic will have altered you. You’ll be a ghost, still seeing the threads, but unable to speak. It’s because you’ve seen too much. Gone too far. You’re not human anymore, but you’re also no longer a thread worker.
You’ll go back to find him—your only family now—in the coffee shop, working on his university papers, his threads the color of love and longing. You’ll call out his name, until you’re screaming, his name torn from your lips and your breaths in ragged gasps.
But it is useless. Futile.
You’ll approach his table one last time. You’ll say, I love you. But he will never see you or hear you or feel your touch again.
You’ll reach for his hand anyway. Save me, you’ll say. But when your hand closes over his, searching for tingles of warmth, you will feel nothing but emptiness.
The best thing you can do now is wander. Forget. Ignore the glances other thread workers throw at you when you pass them. Look around. There’s no way back, so you might as well take your time.
Don’t return to the coffee shop. I know you will, though. You’ll keep returning until he grows up, finds someone else. You’ll be lonely.
And then, maybe you’ll find me. Find me wandering through the crowds of Manhattan, trapped here forever. And then maybe, just maybe, I won’t be alone.