It’s Dark Down There by Nazifa Islam.

There’s a tunnel under this state stretching from E. Ann to Lake Michigan and there is a girl who lives

(                  )there feasting her eyes on fireflies and shadow.

She’s planning on walking straight into the depths of Lake Michigan and stopping her soul from burning

(                  )within her. She doesn’t need to make it to the end of this tunnel though and she knows it; it’s

(                  )enough to contain the embers. This isn’t happiness but it isn’t smiling either.

She was told to take two pills twenty minutes before bed every night every night for the rest of her life to

(                  )keep the chanting of I wish I was more from ringing in her ears over and over and louder and

(                  )louder again but instead of swallowing green pill after beige night in and night out she

(                  )clambered down a manhole on E. Ann and found fireflies.

She’d come across glass walls in the floating world in the real world in the world of doors and no

(                  )elevators and after throwing herself through the walls and cutting herself on the shards she was

(                  )told to be better – as though it were a matter of choice – and so she decided a world of concrete

(                  )would be more to her liking.

She couldn’t find it at first though.

She’s grown too thin while discovering she prefers fireflies to shadows and shadows to people but she

(                  )doesn’t mind it – her skeleton creeping out through her skin – she can’t bring herself to care;

(                  )beauty has never done her any good and she long ago stopped worrying about health.

She cares about nothing now but this tunnel full of souls.

She once loved above ground above concrete but below God, and it was wonderful for as long as she was

(                  )stupid enough to believe it would last. But when it didn’t – and it never does – she was

(                  )inconsolable and decided she wanted to stop giving her heart to friends and strangers and lovers

(                  )to have it cut into two with rusty scissors first sanitized with rubbing alcohol.

She ran away from scissors knowing that what she liked were called exacto knives and when her pills

(                  )were doled out she knew it was not a good prescription but no one would believe her or accept

(                  )that she preferred her madness to shaking and drooling and laughing when nothing was funny.

She took to screaming when nothing else would make the twitching in her legs stop and it was when the

(                  )noise and gush of air within her lungs came to touch the outside world that she felt clammy and

(                  )ill and unlike anyone who is called human by those who have voices.

She knew she had to escape and the manhole on E. Ann proved her salvation.

She found kindred spirits there – both the old and the young alike. The tunnel doesn’t care who it claims

(                  )so long as they came willingly.

It takes the souls who grew too tired above ground and turns them into the wraiths they wish they were.

It gives them the quiet they desire.

It hides them from the sun which never stops shining and lets them stare at fireflies – the only

(                  )illumination weak enough for people who wish that mirrors did not exist.

She knows the shadows are wraiths are souls who stopped caring and soon stopped being and this lights

(                  )hope within her that pills were never able to ignite.

She wants never again to answer questions or speak above a hushed murmuring whisper that doubles as

(                  )the wind on November evenings.

She didn’t belong to the world. That was fact enough for her and it was truth and it made her bleed at

(                  )night when she couldn’t keep herself from picking at her skin with fingernails filed so carefully

(                  )into points.

She grew to despise her arms with the long gashes and scars and when her parents took her to see men in

(                  )lab coats she grew desperate that they should understand her but they couldn’t or they wouldn’t

(                  )and she grew sad without being able to shed tears.

She likes fireflies better – they don’t pretend to be listening.

Nazifa Islam is a poet and painter from Novi, Michigan. She has work forthcoming in Flashquake and Anomolous Press as well as other publications, and regularly updates her blog Thoughts Interjected.

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