Mei Ming lives in the tunnels, in the shadows. She finds a small pet. It hisses and winks and is very cold.
“I’ll name you Steven, ” she says.
Steven rotates once to the left.
“We’ll get along famously,” she says. “Because you drain away the is, and I’m an isn’t.”
It’s the year 1997, and the tunnels aren’t used much any more, but there’s still some things that live there. Spiders. The subway. Mei Ming.
There’s a knock on the tunnel wall, by the shadows’ edge, and she looks up.
“Hey,” Martin says.
She smiles. She waves. She gestures towards a chair. Martin leans against the wall instead.
Martin is wearing black pants and a seawater shirt. The patterns of it shift in endless tumult, and every now and again, freeze still. There’s a ribbon on his finger and dirt on his nails. “You have a wogly,” he says.
“I’ve named it Steven.”
Martin’s mouth twitches. “Have you.”
“They’re not as dangerous as people think,” Mei Ming says. “It doesn’t even have teeth.”
“I suppose not.”
She pokes at it some. “It keeps trying to eat me,” she says. “It’s like one of those vicious cheerio maulings you hear about. But I’m an isn’t.”
Martin makes a face.
“Why do you call yourself that? You’re a god.”
“You hear these terms,” Mei Ming says. “The shadows whisper them, and the spiders, and the wind, and even the subway. And I liked that one.
The rising heat of Coretta’s fire
isn’t yet, it isn’t yet;
The bone and blue and tearing sound
isn’t yet, that isn’t yet;
The fairies, fiends, and titans they
are isn’ts yet, isn’ts yet;
And the angels, and Mei Ming.
“That’s what it said.”
“A long time ago,” Martin says, “a fairy was on TV, and someone said to her, ‘people die. People die in droves. There’s horror and cruelty and hunger and disease. Little children laying in piles with hands twitching. Dogs locked up in basements until they starve. Well, here you are. You’re a fairy. You’re magic. Why don’t you fix it? Why don’t you do anything? You complain that there’s discrimination against fairies, but as far as I can tell, all you do is fly around glittering. Why should people respect you?’
“And she said, ‘once, there weren’t any fairies at all. One day, there will be. Right now, we’re still a bit much towards the isn’t.'”
Martin shrugs. “It’s a victim’s word. It’s a measure of powerlessness. You don’t need it.”
“Oh.” Mei Ming looks down. “I thought it meant . . . not being here.” She pokes her hand through the wogly, up to the wrist. It doesn’t emerge from the other side, but, after a moment, she pulls her hand back out. “Like that. Existence in the void.”
“You don’t have to live that way,” he says. “You don’t have to stay here.”
“Where would I go?”
“Up,” he says. “Over. Around. Out. Somewhere else.”
“Can’t,” she says.
He makes a face.
She giggles at him. “Poor Martin,” she says. “All these girls who won’t do what you say.”
“I’m a creature of the is,” he says. “You want to be real? You want to laugh at that fairy and anyone else who doubts Mei Ming? I can give you that.”
“I am real,” she says. “Look. I can touch you.”
She pokes at Martin, but he’s sneaky. He’s sliding back along the wall, and pretty soon he’s standing just outside the shadow, and her finger can’t quite touch him.
“You are a snot,” she says.
“It doesn’t prove anything.”
“No,” he admits.
“Listen,” she says, “The monster says I’m the shadow’s child. He pulled me from her. That’s why I don’t have a name or a self or anything like that. I’m just the sum of their lies and contradictions and inconsistencies. But I’ve learned to live there, in the isn’t. To exist in the void. If I tried to live in the world, I’d . . . I’d fall apart. I’d turn to dust.”
She steps out into the light, with only her foot in darkness. He sees that she is wounded, with four great gashes in her forehead, chest, and sides leaking the shadows of blood.
“So leave me here,” she says. “In the quiet, in the dark, still and small and not. If you brought me out of the shadows, I would die.”
He touches each wound, and she winces at the touch, and then he leans back, and she slips into shadow again.
“Later,” he says. It’s a farewell and a promise.
“I’ll be here.”
She threads herself through the wogly and is gone.