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by Ashlie Allen

I like to listen to old CDs when I’m sad. Sometimes my neighbor comes over and sits with me while the music plays. He is depressed too. One night when we were drinking rum, he confessed he wished someone would set him on fire. If I had a match, maybe I’d answer to his suffering. Maybe I would confess I thought he was sensuous in his misery and wanted to touch him.

If it’s just me and the stereo, I rock left to right and giggle at myself. I persuade my heart it can have the thrill of fun and sorrow at the same time. If my grief would end, I tell myself it would terrify me. Then I think I am already afraid so pleasure isn’t important.

My neighbor tapped the door yesterday. When I answered, he shuddered and slapped his mouth.

“I am happy today,” he hissed. “My mother called and said she misses me.”

I motioned for him to enter, but he nodded his head. “Not this evening. I want to celebrate by singing with my creator.”

I wept later that night. I did not realize every night before I had cried too, paralyzed by the thrill of loud music and handsome company. As the stereo pounded in my ribs, I rested across the floor and tried to pull out my teeth. Sure, there was something wrong with me. I was becoming a tube full of eldritch echoes. The CDs weren’t the only sounds I heard.

When I was 11, I smiled at my father and said I felt ordinary. He patted my shoulder, as if to prevent the sensation from escaping my pores. Now when I recall that day it seems as if I am remembering another person’s euphoria. I do not feel excited thinking of easier times. Those feelings of delight died before I could comprehend the romance of anguish.

I broke my CDs today after they started skipping. The disturbing sounds reverberated through my chest, like another heart beat. I did not want to feel the sensation of another life. I cradled the stereo and made hysterical faces, hoping somehow there would be music again. It was quiet for six hours.

That evening there was a large shadow behind me. I winced, put my hands against my cheeks and turned around.

“She was lying,” my neighbor growled as he scraped back his bangs. “All she wanted was to burn me with cigarettes so I wouldn’t look like my father anymore.”

“Don’t you remember what you said? You wished someone would put flames on you?”

He frowned, stared at me with frosty eyes and moaned. It was a sorrowful noise, a noise meant to ruin the spirit and make it feel unbearable pity. He lowered towards the floor and moved his hands through the broken CDs.

“Why did you do that?” he asked. “This was our bond, our serenity.”

“The voices were choking,” I said. “They were tired of hearing themselves.”

We looked at each other in a moment of bitter understanding.

“When will we get weary of listening to ourselves?” my neighbor asked.

“I like your voice. Will you sing to me?”

He snickered as his eyes became demonic with despair.

“I am too shy,” he said.

We lay in the shards, wondering if we could love ourselves or one another.

Ashlie Allen writes fiction and poetry. She is also a photographer. Her work has appeared in Juked, Literary Orphans, Gone Lawn and others. She enjoys talking about the supernatural and being in dim places.