The Secret of Secrets
T. Van Santana
The Black Book of Fear
a book about anxiety, narcissism, and betrayal in the 32nd Century
T. Van Santana
Fear is a part of life. For some, it’s a moment to moment awareness of mortality and all that’s dear hanging in the balance. For others, like me, it’s more of a concept. But it’s a concept that sings through my nerves and makes me into one of the others. One of the fucking animals that’s scared and panicky and stupid.
I stiffened my fingers in my gloves. I wanted some feeling back. It was coming back, slowly. My head’s swimming with fucking chems, my eyes buggy feeling and wide. Tipped my head to hide that. Hair blew across it, a few strands stuck between my dry lips.
I’d noticed them. Saw ‘em coming out from the diner, walking over behind me, sittin’ down. Knew they’d lit up a smoke. I recognized the brand, too. My old brand. You never forget the smell of your old brand.
“Hey,” I said back. I was still inside, though. Looking for a nerve that wouldn’t give out on me, that wouldn’t fail. But everything fails, in the end.
“What do you think happens when we die?”
I turned and looked at them ‘cause I didn’t see that coming.
They’re young. Beautiful. Androgynous, like me. Like me, but younger.
“I dunno,” I said. ‘Cause I don’t.
“Do you think we live on somehow?”
“You mean like in heaven?” I asked.
“Yeah. Sure. Maybe,” I said. “Then again, maybe not.”
They exhaled. The smoke’s sweet to my nose again. Not sure when that happened, when its putrescence had lapsed back to enticement.
“How about you?” I turned around all the way around, faced them.
They nodded. “Yeah. I think so. Maybe not in heaven, though. Maybe just as energy. Maybe as stardust. Something like that.”
I smiled, laughed to myself ‘cause last book. “Yeah. Sure. Maybe.”
“Then there’s the idea,” they said, “that we’ve lived before. You know, in this life. And we’ll live again.” They pointed down with their smoking hand. “In this life.”
My smile went wry. “Yeah. I’ve heard that one, too.”
They took a pull, then asked, “And?”
And I’ve done it? Purposefully? I couldn’t prove that, but I’d come to believe it. And for a girl, too. A girl who didn’t even love me back.
I shrugged. “I dunno. Anything’s possible.”
I looked at my gloved hands. Then felt my nerves come alive again. I hadn’t noticed them ease up and start working right until now, when they’re failing. Funny that. “How can you tell?”
“The one finger there is worn a bit. Where the ring rubs it.”
I leaned in. “You a peacie? ‘Cause I don’t much like cops.”
They smiled. “Cops?”
I shook my head. “It’s a twentieth century thing.”
“Yeah, I know,” they said. “You just don’t meet too many people who know that.”
It’s true. I felt a little line of energy between us intensifying.
But I stuck to business. “So?”
“No. Just happened to be looking at it while you were talking. Swear to God.”
“Yeah, well She doesn’t give a shit whether you’re telling me the truth or not, but I do.”
Their smile faded some but held. “Yeah. I get that. Just saw your glove, there. That’s all. I promise.”
I flipped on my fancy eyes and checked. I saw their brainwaves and breath and movements and gestures and facial expressions, and all of it was interpreted to me in loads of ways, including direct impulse options to my reflex system for threats, suggestions about how to respond in conversation, and revelations about motives.
My eyes gave me what I saw. That was a good thing. Meant they’re being honest with me.
“Okay.” I leaned back. “You’re perceptive, you know.”
They smiled. “I’ve heard that.”
I looked at the diner, then back to them. “Wanna get some coffee?”
They nodded. “That’d be great.”
We stood at the same time.
I waited for them, but my eyes told me they, too, were waiting. A bit nervous.
So I went first. Put my hand out. “Teresa.”
They clasped it. “Riley. It’s nice to meet you, Teresa.”
“Likewise, Riley. Good to know you.”
“I wanna pway.” Mason’s already said it, like, fifty fucking times.
“I understand that, buddy, but we’re not gonna play any games right now. I’m cooking.”
Mason nodded. “You cookin’?”
“What you cookin’?”
“Eggs with some spinach.”
“You cookin’. Then we pway?”
Lila patted my shoulder.
I looked at her.
“He’s three,” she said.
“Yeah, I know.” I looked back to Mason and smiled at him.
He smiled back, turned his head a little.
“I love you, buddy,” I said.
“I wuv you,” he said.
I plated the food, then we sat down to eat, Mason at the end of the table, Lila and I on either side.
“So I met someone kind of interesting today.”
Lila looked quickly from Mason to me.
I shook my head. “No, not like that.”
“Oh,” she said. “What’d you guys talk about?”
“All kinds of shit. I mean, they opened the conversation with afterlife kinds of stuff, then we went inside and talked about books and films and, well, secrets.”
Lila nodded, ate her food.
“I mean, not the actual secrets, obviously, but the secrets trade.”
I chewed my food.
Mason pulled at the cheese in his eggs, pushed away the spinach.
“The thing is,” I said, “they would make a good secretist, I think.”
“Oh, yeah?” Lila asked.
“Yeah. I mean, they’re really perceptive and can hold a lot of complex ideas.”
“You thinking of training them?”
I looked back at the plate. Scrambled eggs.
“No,” I said.
Lila nodded, ate some more eggs. Then said, “You’ve always talked about taking on an apprentice eventually …”
“Yeah, fuck that.”
She lowered her eyes, kept eating.
“Fuck dat,” Mason said.
“You can’t say that at preschool, buddy,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because some people have no sense of humor,” Lila said.
“Why?” he asked again.
“Because they were taught that some words are good and some are bad,” I said.
“Oh,” Mason said. “That’s sad.”
“Yeah. It is,” Lila said.
I finished my eggs, even though each swallow was harder than the last.
“Take your plate?” I asked Lila.
She smiled, finished hers off, and handed it to me.
“I still workin’ on it,” Mason said.
I kissed his head. “It’s okay, buddy. Take your time.”
I rinsed the plates with sand and fed them through the sanitizer.
As the particles danced along the surface, I saw the blade training in moonlight. Felt the cold sweat and burning throats. Knew the pain of a wrong step like it was just happening. The excitement of the prospect of sharing it all. I knew so much. And I needed so very much someone to tell.