Matt Dovey

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They Say

Content Warning: Gore, bullying

They surround us both in the school car park, enough of them that numbers don't matter, their shadows snatching the hot sun from our faces. Boys stalking like hyenas; a pack mentality of cruelty and fear.

Madeleine hides behind me. I try to stand tall and brave for her sake, to show her the only honest way to justify your existence in this world: pride.

You're not a person, they say, circling. You're one of Them. From the other side.

"I am a person," I say, hurt, and hurting for my little sister too.

No you're not, they say. Your skin is silver.

"But that's just the Faerie glamour," I say. "I'm like you in every other way."

Prove it, they say.

So I take off my skin, slicing swift and clean with a sharp thumbnail, flensing it from muscle to pile at their feet.

"See," I say, ignoring the agony of flesh exposed to air, drawing from the other side to sustain myself. A little pain now is worth it to prove the truth. To heal their prejudice. To protect Madeleine.

That doesn't mean anything, they say, nudging my heaped skin with reluctant toes. You're not the same inside.

So I slice open my belly and pour out my entrails, steaming and slippery, wriggling and wet, red and grey and thick and slick. The same as theirs, hidden away safe and unquestioned beneath their pale skin. I pull out my liver and I pull out my stomach and I pull out my lungs, pink and forlorn before them.

That's not what makes a person, they say. It's the way you think.

So I bore a hole in my temple and pull out my thoughts, thin wisps that gather into a duvet of everything I see—believe—am. I lay it all bare before them, and they pick and pull and tear it apart, letting it drift off in the hot summer wind. Madeleine runs while they're distracted: chasing down my dreams before they vanish like clouds in the stark blue sky.

Just because you've learned to think like one of us, they say, doesn't mean you feel like one of us.

So I crack open my ribs and pull out my heart, slice it thin with my thumbnail so they can hold it to the light and see the truth of what lies there: that I long for the same things as them, for safety and security and happiness and love; and that these things are infinite, and a little for me takes nothing from them.

That we want the same because we are the same, in every way that counts.

None of that matters, they say, scattering like dry grass. You're one of Them, so you can't be the same as us, no matter what you think or feel or hide inside.

I reach for my rage as they turn their backs, but find only gaping ribs, a hollow where I used to be.

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