A sudden blow; a piercing metallic cry. The monster fell, and out of his open chest there soared a beautiful mechanical heart. I watched it spin in the crisp winter air one adamantine afternoon. It had the noble, puffed-chest deportment of a gallant rider in rattling armour. Hammers could rain down on it, I thought, and it would sing. I called it mine. I wasn’t me though, I was some guy, I forget his name, playing Resident Evil 8 and pointing my gun at the torn-wide sky. Bang bang bang. I’m him now. The light keeps changing, getting darker every second, like the face of my friend who has trouble making up her mind and how this hastens, this ruins her days, she says, this brings her nights to a desolate halt and deposits her there, on the brink of extinction, flushed and frightened in her nightgown. We’re hunting monsters in the dark. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, anyway. We have objectives we’re constantly straying from. We have in mind very specific groups of people whom we want to annoy. The monsters run screaming between trees and sometimes we take aim and fire, sometimes we just let them take us down. They have these melted-cheese faces like something my mam would scrape, shaking her head and tutting, from a corrupted frying pan. We have a torch and loads of guns. Already we’ve gunned down dozens of them and they’ve bitten chunks out of us but we seem to be doing okay. We’re doing just fine. They want us back at the castle but we like it better out here, no one can stop us from getting carried away out here. They didn’t much like us anyway, they hated how we whispered, how we giggled from beneath our bedsheets. What are you saying? their gaunt voices called from the stairway, and we went into convulsions, whispering Never, we’ll never tell you. It’s so dark now we have to shine a torch just to see where we’re going. When the light picks out white tufts of grass it makes us frightened, it makes us giddy because we think the grass has just this very moment been hastily placed there by a pair of fussy hands, hands that hover with scorn at the edge of darkness, folded, probably, in mute disappointment, like the hands of some amphibian mama who really wouldn’t mind if her idiot children were eaten by a snake. We are her idiot children, and we did get eaten, but not by a snake. It was something worse. It cried for its mama and it wept as it devoured us. It was horrible, but look, we came back. We’ve died so many times and we keep coming back to play some more. I’m playing now. 

I’m twenty-four. One hot wet night in June it rained so heavily a voice said Go and I went. It was me. Everything went dark and introverted; smashed tulips, roadkill, cardboard gone to pulp. Life ran coursing madly through it all and promised to mix me in with it, make me soluble and synchronous with its most minute and seismic shudder. I saw it from my bedroom window and I thought, Yes, I’d like some of that, right there on my fingertips, splay them, like that, and there on my nose dripping onto my lips, then spreading like a hand from my throat down to my chest and, God, yes, soaking through to my backside looking for all the world like I’ve gone and wet myself. Il pleut! I said when Sicily opened the door, and she smiled. I said it again. I had to see her because she was leaving soon and now that she’s gone I’m so glad I saw her. Sicily smokes slowly, inhales deeply, and lets out long, intoxicated breaths. Sometimes her blonde hair pulses in lamplight and it might well be her heartbeat. Don’t bother trying to hurry her. Friends may call her Kitty. We ordered Chinese and lay on her bed while she read Deleuze to me from her phone. Something about sex and machines. That’s nice, I said quickly, that’s really nice. You talk and talk until you run out of breath and still when you get home there are things you wish you had said. Just once I would like to wake before myself and see what I am with my eyes closed. I’ll never see it. Will I meet it, I wonder, and will I be ready, or will I freeze, like that time I met God on Omegle. His robe fell open, the connection was poor but I’m pretty sure his tattoos shifted around on his body and something dangled, quivering from his nipple. He told me to get down on my hands and knees and stick out my tongue. He hung up when I didn’t. I dreamt I found his TikTok account, but it was just endless tours of his enormous mansion, all marble slabs and Medusa heads, rotting fruit and hairless cats. Mothers wailed for the souls of their lost children in the comments. He replied to them all with the cracked heart emoji, linked them to his PayPal. I wish he hadn’t hung up on me. I wish I had done what he said. I wanted to ask him important questions, like who puts cancer in our dogs, and why can I sometimes not move? I wanted to tell him that there’s so much metal in my heart I’m afraid they’ll think it’s a bomb when they cut me open. Whoever is curious to see I mean. The metal went there when I needed it. I still need it. I wanted to ask him how many bombs we have to set off before the earth gives up its heart and for our sake I hope it already has. Bang bang bang. We just died again.

I’ve been texting Dostoyevsky. I can show you the messages if you want. We don’t waste any time and we don’t do idle chit chat. What I really want to know is what that little boy in The Brothers Karamazov saw under all those train tracks. In disbelief, I watched along with the other silent boys, his friends I think, his followers more likely, all of us standing very still against a metallic winter sky as he stretches out his young body under the ice cold planks, and waits. Did we dare him? I don’t know. I do know that minutes later the train glides smoothly over him, but when he climbs out he won’t say a word, won’t tell us how the train looked from the other side, how the pistons pumped and made him think of carriages, frantic hooves on cobblestones, gaunt catarrhal men lifting and dropping their bones in their sleep, how it scared him then, grew louder and roared into a dragon’s torrential belly, how it flew its flickering length of onyx scales right over his little alert nose, how it possessed him, changed him, then abandoned him, how it deposited a ringing in his heart that only his head could hear. I want to ask if he still hears it. I want to tell him I hear it too. O my brother all I really want to know is when he sat up did he suddenly feel very swallowable by the enormous hungry world? I watch the speech bubble that tells me he’s typing and my heart beats so fast I fall asleep shaking. I fall asleep at the speed of fast cars and I would not recommend this. I recommend running. I wanted so badly to run when a Knight rode into my room as I slept and watched me from his snorting horse. His portrait swirled and burst upon the inside of my eyelids: medieval face, iron helmet, yellow fingernails. The horror of his country was raw in the glare of his flashing eyes. I saw it all. Babies are rare in that drizzly place. Claws drop from the sky and snatch them screaming from their cots. The birds there sing in Helvetica. They call bullets painkillers. Every night his black horse dies of thirst in her dreams, every night. When she wakes she lifts her head, heavy with sorrow, and looks in the dark for her young lost foal, and he is never there. She will see him again, just once, when she needs to, when she simply cannot go another second without seeing him. Her lashes will be wet. He will be standing still and shining. Open the door, said the Knight, and he wasn’t talking about the door thrown open behind him. His red mouth laughed and I woke with a jolt to the sound of a door slamming shut, a thunder of galloping hooves. To this day I’m not sure if I succeeded in expelling him or if he rode on through and rides now still, laughing in me. I don’t know what he’s looking for. Maybe I’ll ask Dostoyevsky. Or maybe I’ll just go back to sleep. 

And wake up alone in Gertrude’s house. In Karl’s house. Connor’s house. Clara’s house. Chris’s house. Rosa’s house. Josh’s house. Cameron’s house. Rachel’s house. Playing hide-and-seek, drunk, in Freddy Krueger’s house. Scratching at the door of Nobody’s House. Crying house. I don’t know, I forget whose house. Not Adam’s house, no. Not ever again. We won’t be doing that again. Now. Listen. This is how it went. My house, mine again, my house, then his, his again, his house, my house, mine. Dying house. Heather’s house. Shit I think I left my phone in Dostoyevsky’s house. Sorry I can’t stay house. Yet another fucking house. Does the spider in my granny’s house have a granny in hers? The walls, she said, are thin in this house. My sister’s house. It flapped into my house and died of fright, she said. I turned into a house, she said. Or was it turned around the house? She was lost, she turned, and there, a house. 

It’s 2 a.m and the sun is shining and I don’t want to ever sleep again. I’m looking at the sun like I’ve never looked at it before because it’s never, I don’t think, ever looked like this before. I wish that I could show you, but I’m not sure that I can. I’ve just been to the castle and it’s a total mess, everybody’s dead and there’s blood all over the place but I swear it wasn’t me, or if it was I don’t remember. I was on my own and then someone cried out. I was on my own. I cried out for someone. The castle boomed, the old witch laughed, and my hands went before me as guns firing in every direction. The monster fell. The credits rolled. Wait. Stop. I’m not finished. I’ve logged so many hours in this place I’ll have to come back someday and live them. Then maybe it won’t be so sad when finally I lose them. I should probably quit, but I don’t want to stop, I want to keep going, I’m afraid to stop. I wonder what machine my heart has fixed itself to now, what perfectly good, well-oiled machine it will stupidly tear itself from soon. That’ll be a gruesome sight I’m sure and I won’t, I never do, I just won’t see it coming. I see it going, though, yes, I do, I see it hurtling, spinning fast in space. I’d take a picture of it if I could and I wouldn’t even think. No, I wouldn’t. I’m afraid it would be quite natural. Without even thinking I would send it straight to you.

John Christopher is a writer from Dublin currently living in London. His story ‘Germ Dance’ was published our 2018-19 Winter issue. He is working on a collection of short stories.

About Respawn: I wrote this in June (hardly a month known or celebrated for its brilliant, prodigious downpours, now that I think of it) shortly after watching a play-through of the latest Resident Evil game. (I myself haven’t played it.) The friend I mention at the beginning but do not name is Natalie. Natalie is a writer. So is Sicily. They’ve never met but I think they’d get along—what’s that phrase? famously. I think they’d get along famously. Karl was my best friend growing up and it broke my heart when I realised that, after one year, then another, spent apart in secondary school, we were not best friends anymore. How could this happen? It just sort of did. And it has happened again. This is a huge and lonely world, and just my portion of it—a job in a city, some friends, a tiny room—at times also feels overwhelmingly huge and lonely. This piece is about relationships of all kinds: real and imagined, failed, still forming. It blends confession with digression and enjoys a mutability I find nearly impossible to practise in life. I’m too invested in the details not to lament them. Karl gave me a nickname that I loved and have not heard since. We used to play Xbox at his house. He had a little dog, a Jack Russell, called Scrappy.