Read an Excerpt From The Seep, a New Novel From Chana Porter

Trina Goldberg-Oneka is a fifty-year-old trans woman whose life is irreversibly altered in the wake of a gentle—but nonetheless world-changing—invasion by an alien entity called The Seep. Through The Seep, everything is connected. Capitalism falls, hierarchies and barriers are broken down; if something can be imagined, it is possible.

Trina and her wife, Deeba, live blissfully under The Seep’s utopian influence—until Deeba begins to imagine what it might be like to be reborn as a baby, which will give her the chance at an even better life. Using Seeptech to make this dream a reality, Deeba moves on to a new existence, leaving Trina devastated.

Heartbroken and deep into an alcoholic binge, Trina follows a lost boy she encounters, embarking on an unexpected quest. In her attempt to save him from The Seep, she will confront not only one of its most avid devotees, but the terrifying void that Deeba has left behind. A strange new elegy of love and loss, The Seep explores grief, alienation, and the ache of moving on.

A blend of searing social commentary and speculative fiction, Chana Porter’s The Seep is available January 21st from Soho Press. Read an excerpt below!

 

 

Tips for Throwing a Dinner Party at the End of the World

Relax. People may think they want to indulge, get too drunk, incapacitate themselves with weed, but really they just want to appreciate this fragile moment while the outside world falls down. Your party should facilitate this easeful enjoyment, not lead loved ones to panic through overconsumption. Be present. And remember, you don’t know what’s happening in the morning, so while an orgy might very well be the perfect thing, you don’t want to spend your last night on Earth trying to cajole your friends into a particular kind of revelry. Be present. Clean your apartment until it sparkles. Shower, of course, and anoint your body with fragrant oils, but then wear your most beloved sweatpants. Make a wide selection of delicious food, high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Serve wine but also a lovely selection of herbal teas. Juice spritzers, in fancy goblets, will allow your guests to hydrate while feeling opulent. Remember, if someone starts crying, don’t try to shut them down or change the subject. Be present. Eventually, the conversation will flow to other things—typically, to The Past and How Great It Was, Even Though We Didn’t Know It at the Time, and The Future, that shimmering, mercurial beast, constantly breaking our hearts.

 

PART ONE
The Softest Invasion

1

When the aliens first made contact, Trina and her not-yet-wife, Deeba, threw one of their famous dinner parties for a select group of friends. It wasn’t difficult to keep the guest list small. Everyone was too nervous to travel far, the subways and buses deserted but for the most intrepid or desperate travelers. They invited two beloved couples who happened to live close by, and who wondrously had never met. Emma and Mariam came first, with two types of hard cheeses, three types of olives, gluten-free rice crackers, tubs of spicy hummus. Emma was French and Mariam was from Cairo, so they both really knew how to put together a cheese plate. Their little party was completed by Katharine and Laura, the friendly, easygoing lesbians from Tennessee. They came with copious amounts of alcohol (one can always depend on the lapsed Christians to bring the bar): pale ale for the butches, and drinkable red wine. Introductions were made, drinks were poured, cheese and olives exclaimed over. After a half hour of breezy conversation, Deeba brought out a tureen of her famous fish stew, finished with black pepper and a squeeze of lime. Trina passed around homemade loaves of bread, her one party trick. It was so easy to make, and yet everyone thought she was a magician for adding yeast to water to flour and waiting. The women sopped fragrant soup with crusty bread. A generous feeling swirled around them like a melody, like a scent. The essence of a perfect dinner party. How have we never met before? they asked again and again, but what they were really saying was, How have I only just begun to love you?

Throwing a dinner party was all Trina and Deeba could think to do. They had already filled the bathtub with clean water and made sure all of their flashlights had new batteries. They kept checking their most reliable sources on Twitter, as well as Al Jazeera, The New York Times, The Guardian. Every source said to keep calm, try not to panic, and to stop it with these suicide pacts. Unbelievable, the newscasters kept saying, it’s unbelievable. That word had been ringing in Trina’s head all day. But what was believable about this world, about her government, about what they were doing to the planet and each other? Furthermore, what did Trina believe in with total certainty? That the sun rose in the morning? That the sky was blue? These aliens could say that the cosmos was being carried on the back of a great platypus and she’d have to believe them. What was more mutable than her own perceptions? Katharine raised her wineglass. Her toast became the answer to Trina’s unspoken questions. At the time, Trina thought this was a coincidence.

Katharine spoke warmly, as if she were telling a long joke. “Lately,” she said, “I’ve felt as if I’ve been living in the wrong timeline. I’ve become numb, like I’m watching my own life as a movie, that is, when I’m not filled with rage or tremendous grief or crippling depression.”

Deeba hooted and cheered. Emma’s brown eyes twinkled in the candlelight. “Every day, I wake up embarrassed by my country and what we’ve become—”

“Ugh,” groaned Mariam. She took on the tone of a newscaster. “Now, more than ever… In these trying times…” Trina laughed and slapped the table.

“Let her finish!” chided Deeba.

Katharine cleared her throat. “As I was saying! I’m embarrassed by what we’ve become, and by what we always have been and have never addressed.”

“Hear, hear,” said Emma, raising her glass.

“But tonight,” Katharine continued. “Looking at your beautiful faces, I can finally, safely say that I have no idea what’s coming! I don’t know if this is the end of life as we know it, or the beginning of a grand adventure, or perhaps both. All I have is my uncertainty. And really, that’s all I’ve ever had. Everything else was a lie.” She took a long swallow from her glass. “So cheers, babes. To tonight.” The women clapped and toasted, whistling. Katharine took a half bow and sat down. Laura slung an arm around her wife and grinned. Trina looked across the table at Deeba’s round, brown face. Her cheeks were warm with wine, as pink as the inside of a rose. I know that I love you, thought Trina. And that’s enough for me. From across the table, Deeba winked.

After dinner, the women lounged on the floor and got a bit stoned. And then someone decided it would be fun to take a bath. They would soon realize that The Seep had already infiltrated their city’s water supply. They were already compromised, already bodily hosts to their new alien friends. It was through that connection they could hear one another’s thoughts, feel the same emotions, overlaid with the all-consuming adage that Everything Will Be All Right, No Matter What. The softest invasion had begun.

 

2

Eventually, everyone understood that those who had already made contact with the aliens felt fine about the extraterrestrial invasion, while those who had not felt no shortage of panic, despair, rage, and powerlessness. There was talk of launching a war, but on what? Those who had been touched by the alien presence simply felt no fear. When connected with the aliens through water or bodily fluids, it was impossible to feel anything except expansive joy, peace, tenderness, and love. But were humans still human without their worries? Or were the aliens placating them with these good feelings for some other, darker purpose?

The answer was—as these things so often are—all of the above. It’s never how we want it, clear-cut and shining, a perfect moral center leading us all back home. The Seep did love us, and it wanted to help us to create a perfect world. And this destroyed life as we knew it.

At first, Trina cherished the invasion, the casual overthrow of everything that had felt codified but broken for so long. In the past, she had rejected the concept that the world was becoming kinder. There had always been scapegoats and underclasses, no matter if they were locked away in prisons or working in factories in other countries. And on top of that, she was broke! She was in a fair amount of debt and her apartment was near a Superfund site, yet she felt grateful to be close to the subway. Her multiple jobs didn’t pay her enough, she was stressed-out and tired all the time, her artwork was suffering, and the government couldn’t decide if they wanted to take away her healthcare. The aliens changed all of that. You could hold a product in your hand and feel its history, feel people’s attitudes and emotions as they’d processed the materials. Struggles that had felt impossibly uphill were now suddenly so clear, as if everyone had awoken one morning from the same dream. It was insanity to poison your environment to save a dime. It was insanity to build bigger and bigger bombs to keep the peace. Guns were melted down into scrap metal. Police officers put their uniforms away.

Trina’s inner and outer worlds expanded and merged. Her city became a tangled nest of permaculture, no separation between living, growing, making—a forest, a garden, a farm next to a coffee shop, a museum, a hospital, a school. All debts were forgiven. The student-loan people threw away their phones. After years of struggle in the old scarcity paradigm, Trina finally had freedom to think about what she wanted to do with her copious time. That first year, she didn’t do much of anything. She, like most people, was just really high on The Seep, watching her own miraculous hands as they moved, touching her wooden coffee table to connect to the essence of the tree it had once been (pretty boring to watch, but pretty fun to experience). She spent one full summer understanding her body as a convenient container for her immortal essence.

Deeba was first to shake off their hazy elastic stupor. She went back into her film work, finally shooting her first feature. This got Trina out of her daze. She returned to painting. Eventually, her work was shown in galleries and museums around the world. And because art was no longer a commodity (nothing was), some lucky people had Trina’s paintings in their homes. Deeba started making documentaries about The Seep’s new emergent subcultures—the yellow-meeks, the decomposers/living dead, pain cults, pearl houses, that kind of thing. Trina moved into performance, both sound and video, involving her own body in the practice. She got a little bit famous and had some minor love affairs, made Deeba proud of her celebrity wife. Then she got bored of the art world; of its pageantry, its emphasis on personality. Trina went back to school and became a doctor. How proud her mother would have been! (Too bad she killed herself when the aliens came.) Trina and Deeba lived and thrived, grew and changed, amongst their constantly shifting, abundant world, for years and years. Until one day, when Deeba looked at Trina from across the breakfast nook and said she wanted to become a child again.

The night before, they had been at a full-moon party in Bernal Heights. Among the guests were their old friends Emma and Mariam; Peaton and Allie, therapists who were both heavy into Seep meditation practices; and the musician Horizon Line, a rather famous Seep artist with whom Trina used to tour during her brief stint as a rock-and-roller. Emma was showing off her newest Seep modifications, her scratchy cat tongue and retractable claws, licking the neck of anyone who volunteered. Mariam was seriously considering getting hooves, which she explained were excellent for rock climbing, making devilish jokes at sex parties, and, apparently, relieving pressure from your knees. When Deeba said casually that she might want to be parented again, Trina thought she was joking.

“I saw a video of someone turning into a baby,” Deeba said. “It was on someone’s transformations channel on the Electric Spirit. You know, there are people who are busy becoming everything, and recording it all for us to watch.”

Trina shuddered. “To think, we’ve lived long enough to be in a future where everyone is a fucking performance artist.” She drank a little off the top of her punch glass and frowned. The front taste was Cara Cara orange juice, made fizzy with carbonation, cut through with something acidic and bright like lemongrass. But the unmistakable metallic tinge of The Seep was there at the end, an oily sensation that snaked down her throat like blood. “Say what you want about the old days,” she said, pushing the glass away. “The art was better then.”

Allie looked like she was about to cry, as she had lately when anyone said anything remotely controversial. “You can’t be serious, Trina. You’re not actually one of those people who believe you need suffering to make great art!”

Trina shook her head. “I’m not, I swear. But I do think there’s a lack of rigor at the present moment. And these kids, you know, these Children of the Seep—they seem so unmotivated, so disorganized. They hardly get anything done!”

“These kids today!” joked Mariam, wagging her fingers.

Horizon, however, nodded. “Trina, I completely agree. Things were different when we all thought we were going to die, when we had no knowledge of our immortal souls, so focused on these temporary containers.” He sipped deeply from his punch. “But of course the things we made were different when we thought we were mortal. How could they not be?”

“Right, but I don’t think it’s terrible to say that a little bit of hardship, a little tension, makes for more interesting art.” Trina looked around the table. “When was the last time you saw something that really moved you?”

Peaton made a sweeping gesture with his punch glass. “I experience moving works of creation all the time!”

“But are you high on The Seep when you’re experiencing the art?”

Peaton shrugged. “Well, of course.”

Trina leaned back from the table. “My point exactly. We don’t make things that can stand on their own anymore.”

At her side, Deeba giggled. “Hey, Trina, the Compound called. They want you to interrogate your scarcity mentality.”

Trina laughed and gave her wife’s round thigh a squeeze.

“Ouch, Deeba!” said Peaton. “That’s not a very nice thing to say.”

Allie touched Trina’s hand from across the table. “Do you want to pause and process your emotions? We can go into the other room.”

Trina resisted the urge to roll her eyes. When had everyone stopped having a sense of humor? “No, no, it’s a joke—an inside joke. We’ve been saying it for years.” She looked around at her oldest friends. Their faces suddenly seemed horribly alien with all their Seep modifications: Allie’s angel wings, Peaton’s bejeweled forehead, Emma’s cat tongue. Even Horizon, who looked exactly the same as he had when they were on tour together all those years ago, looked eerie because he had not changed at all. Not a single wrinkle around his dark eyes or crease next to his full mouth. His smooth, tan skin was flawless, unmarked by time, the face of an eternally young man. Even his hairstyle was exactly the same, the long, dark hair reaching down to his waist like a curtain.

“Hey, the Compound called,” said Deeba in a silly, high-pitched voice. She sipped more punch. “Which is funny in itself, since no one uses phones anymore!”

“The Compound called,” growled Trina like a monster. Deeba shrieked with laughter. Peaton relaxed, but Allie was still frowning, her eyes big and wet. Trina went on. “They want you to come live with them, Trina, because you’re a buzzkill, an old fuddy-duddy, a has-been. The Compound called, and they think you should just give up!”

Everyone laughed. Even Allie smiled a little. Trina stood up from the table. She went into the kitchen to find some wine. No more weird punch, thank you. She poured a glass at the counter, her bare feet sinking pleasantly into the squishy, moss-covered floor. She found most New Order–style houses a bit tacky, like something from a low-budget B movie about a pleasure planet, but Peaton and Allie had good taste. She watched bright schools of fish swim to and fro in the floor-to-ceiling aquarium wall, sizing up her own reflection in the glass. Old Levi’s, hoodie, ancient leather boots. Hey, the Compound called to say they like your outfit, Deeba liked to say, hooking her finger through a belt loop of Trina’s worn jeans. Nowadays, everyone wore gossamer hoods and collars of lace, feathers and leaves sewn into elaborate dresses. That could never be Trina’s style. What was a diesel butch to do?

She sipped her wine. The Compound called… she thought, and they want their phone back. When The Seep had first come, the idea of joining the Compound had been laughable to Trina. How insulting, how repugnant, that some faction had decided the status quo was worth protecting.

But maybe there was a kernel of truth buried under all of Deeba’s good-natured barbs. The Compound called… Lately, everything Trina could think to say was a complaint. That art wasn’t good anymore, performance or otherwise. That most new music was meant to be listened to on The Seep, which made for an amazing experience, sure, but how could you accurately judge the artistry if you were high? No one Trina asked could answer that question. Like Peaton, they didn’t seem to understand why she would ask it at all. No one read books or watched the great cinema of days gone by. Trina and Deeba had met at a Derek Jarman screening so many moons ago. Jarman would have liked the aliens. But would he have continued making films? Or would he just have enjoyed life, tended to his garden, and lived out his days happy and healthy? And if so, was that so bad? Trina didn’t make art anymore; she was a doctor. It wasn’t a betrayal of her old self to change. And yet these questions kept her up at night in her mostly happy bed with Deeba, little thorns in her side.

Still, for the first many years of living with The Seep, joy was all around her, like a cloud, a mist. From the kitchen, she could hear Mariam telling a long joke in what sounded like Arabic. Everyone laughed. Emma started singing a folk song in French.

Trina poured a little more wine into her glass and stayed, watching the fish swim lazily across the long wall of water. And all the emotional processing! It wasn’t just Allie and Peaton, either. Nowadays everyone expected you to talk about your feelings all day long. Not just lovers or close friends, either. Joe Shmoe on the street wanted to show you his dream journal. Trina had learned long ago (through the patience of a very loving Deeba) to open up about her feelings, her childhood, all that ancient history. But now, it seemed like everyone wanted to share their innermost emotions as casually as if asking for the time. At her last volunteer shift at the food co-op, Trina had spent two hours processing a random woman’s latest past-life regression while shelving cans of chickpeas. It was too much.

Trina readied herself and went back to the dining room. The party had moved to the living room floor. Everyone was trading foot massages, reclined on colorful pillows, the punch bowl in the center of the room.

“We’re doing a toasting ritual, Trina!” called Peaton. “What do you want to toast to?” He poured from the punch bowl and held the glass out to her.

Trina gestured with her wineglass. “I’m good, thank you.”

“It’s better if you drink the same thing as us, Trina,” said Allie earnestly. “Better for the ritual to be a cohesive unit.”

Trina suppressed an eye roll. She accepted the glass but set it down next to her. Sometimes it was better to agree than argue. Deeba wriggled her little brown feet into her lap. Trina smiled and started rubbing her wife’s fat lovely toes.

Mariam raised her glass high. “Let’s toast to Trina, for becoming a doctor!” Everyone raised their glasses of punch. “It’s nice to be useful, isn’t it, old girl?”

Trina grinned. “You know, it really is.”

“To being useful!” shouted Horizon Line. “And, as I have remained a humble artist, to being un-useful! And apparently, not as good as I used to be.” He cackled. Everyone toasted anew. Trina hit Horizon lightly on the thigh. He winked a pretty eye at her.

“I think you mean useless,” said Emma, taking out her claws.

Trina turned to Deeba. “Is this punch Seeped?”

“Darling, it’s a party,” Deeba murmured. “And we’re not working tomorrow. Don’t worry about it.”

“I should know what I’m putting in my body.” Trina raised her voice. “Sorry—Peaton? Allie? Dinner was amazing, by the way. Is this punch Seeped? I have a long day tomorrow at the clinic.” She saw Deeba’s mouth twitch at the lie. Whatever.

Peaton considered. “Very lightly Seeped,” he said slowly. “I don’t even feel it.”

Trina snorted. Peaton communed with The Seep for hours in meditation every day; of course he didn’t feel it. “Well, you know I’m a lightweight.”

“I’ll get you a charcoal water,” said Allie, pushing up to her feet. “I’m sorry, that was thoughtless of us.” She looked like she was about to cry again. “I just wanted all of us to be on the same page, you know?” She frowned at Trina’s wineglass. “Alcohol has a really challenging energy for me right now.”

Trina grimaced. “Uh, sorry?” But Allie had already gone into the kitchen.

“You know,” said Mariam, “I read that charcoal water is a total placebo. It doesn’t actually flush out The Seep from your system.”

Emma tilted her head. “It works for me, I’ve used it lots of times.”

“Well,” said Deeba. “Placebos work, at least some of the time. Belief is important.” Allie came back with the charcoal water and placed it in front of Trina.

Trina opened it and drank. “Thank you.”

“Oh, no, babe,” said Emma. “You broke Trina’s placebo!” She laughed. “Right? If she doesn’t believe in it, it won’t work.”

“I think the real question is, why is Trina so hesitant about joining with The Seep?” asked Peaton. “They are our greatest teachers. We can learn so much from them.” His eyes swirled with the telltale blue-green of alien intervention. “Just think about our poor friends in the Compound, cut off from it all.”

Trina snorted. “You can learn things from books, too. Not like anyone reads anymore.”

“Yes, that’s exactly my point,” said Peaton. “Why would you passively read a book, when you can join with The Seep and experience the world on the most visceral and connected level?”

“What I want to know is how the kids in the Compound feel about all of this,” said Emma. “I mean, their parents choose to live separately from the alien influence, and that’s their prerogative, but do their children have a choice? I know we’re all free to do as we wish, but sometimes being free to do something affects those in your care. It’s not right!”

Deeba’s mouth folded into a little line, which meant she was thinking hard. “I think you have to do what you think is right, no matter what. And of course that affects the people you love, but you still have to do what you know is best.”

“Trina, do you agree?” asked Peaton.

“I do agree, my baby is so smart.” Trina kissed Deeba’s foot. “But I’m trying to get laid tonight, so I have ulterior motives.” Deeba laughed her wonderful, throaty laugh. Peaton and Allie exchanged glances.

“Think of the children!” shouted Mariam. “Won’t someone think of the poor Compound children?” She raised her glass up for another toast. Trina suppressed a yawn. She discreetly glanced at her watch, but Deeba caught the gesture.

“Hey, lover, the Compound called,” she whispered. “They want their watch back.” Trina could see the tinge of The Seep in her wife’s eyes. She was high. They wouldn’t be leaving this party anytime soon. Trina wanted to go home, eat ice cream, have sex, and then watch old episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on the Electric Spirit. It was looking like none of those things would happen now.

“Hey, Trina,” said Horizon, putting down his punch. “Wanna get some air?”

“Oh, no, Horizon,” said Allie, her eyes filling with tears. “Are you still smoking? It’s so bad for you!”

Trina smiled at her old friend. He could read her like a freaking book. “You know, I really do.”

“Maybe for my next performance piece I’ll grow new lungs,” said Horizon, winking at Allie. He and Trina pulled on their shoes and wandered off toward the back garden.

 

3

“That’s better,” said Horizon Line. They stood in the garden and looked up at the sky. Next to the bench was a little stone sculpture of an angel covering her face. The moon was full and bright. “I fear I have lost my taste for crowds.”

“I almost forgot this was a full-moon party,” said Trina. Everything was vaguely Wiccan nowadays, lots of tracking of the moon cycles and nature worship, but without all that deity stuff. Trina liked the emphasis on ritual, and how you could approach spirituality as a choose-your-own-adventure. Religion was low-stress and low-maintenance, just like everything else. She tugged on Horizon’s glossy black hair. “Hey, thanks for saving me back there. Do you think Peaton’s going to push for an orgy?” She thought back to Deeba’s plump little feet in her lap, her smiling round face, drunk on The Seep. It wasn’t as nice as her own bed with ice cream to follow, but Trina could get in the mood to fool around a little in the company of old friends. Especially if it would stop all that circular, boring Seep talk. Conversing with high people was not how she wanted to spend a Saturday night.

Hey, Trina, the Compound called, and they want their paradigm back.

She gazed up at the bright full moon. Suddenly, the old joke stung a bit. Maybe she really was living in the past.

Horizon shook his head. “No orgy tonight, my sweet. Word on the street is that he and Allie have both taken vows of celibacy.”

Trina nearly spit out her charcoal water. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah, but don’t ask them about it or they’ll never shut up. Apparently, they’re directing all of their ‘lower energies’ into their Seep meditations, having orgasms that last three hours, seeing God, that kind of stuff.”

“Huh,” said Trina. About fifteen years ago, Allie had spent a weekend tied to her and Deeba’s four-poster bed. Trina had forgotten how fun that had been. Allie used to be fun too, and sharply weird, a little neurotic in a way that felt totally rational. Now everything made her spacey and weepy. It couldn’t be good for your emotional health to have transcendental experiences every single day. No wonder Allie was coming apart at the seams. “Celibacy, eh?” Trina sighed. “The world will never stop surprising me.” She took a cigarette from Horizon and lit up. She inhaled and choked. “What is this?”

He laughed. “It’s just sage and raspberry leaf. Allie’s right, I can’t do tobacco anymore. When I’m Seeped, I can literally feel my cells dying. It sucks!”

“Well, then don’t Seep so much. Come over to my side.” She deeply wished it was a real cigarette, and that she hadn’t left her wineglass inside.

Horizon looked up at the sky, the angles of his face accented by moonlight. “I do wonder if we’re using The Seep in the best way we can.” He took a long drag. “I mean, we’ve been given this amazing gift, and we’re using it to, what, grow unicorn horns? There has to be more.”

Trina considered this. “I hear you, man, I really do. But the work we do with it at the hospital is beautiful. There’s so much happening—probably a lot of Seep tech we don’t even know about.” Just yesterday Trina had used The Seep to erase a tumor from a woman’s breast. No cutting, no incision, no radiation or chemotherapy, just the power of Seep consciousness speaking into this woman’s cells, telling them how to die gracefully, to let go and become something new. The procedure took twenty minutes, and then the woman went to a hula-hoop meet-up in Golden Gate Park. There were ways to use The Seep that were productive and healthy and didn’t make you high for hours on end. One just had to be a little thoughtful.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Horizon said. “I know The Seep improves our lives in a million big and small ways. What I mean is that we’ve gotten lazy. We’re using the things we used to care about as a rubric for success.”

Trina smiled. “Well, old friend, you could use The Seep for something other than keeping your wrinkles at bay.” She brushed his smooth cheek with her fingertip. “Or shall I call you Dorian?”

He blinked at her. Did she have to explain the reference? “Trina,” said Horizon slowly. “I’ll tell you a secret. This is something that no one else knows. But you’re my oldest and dearest friend, and I want to share this with you.” He took a big breath and smiled. “This isn’t my real face.”

“Excuse me?” Trina had only ever known Horizon looking just this way, for the past twenty years.

“This is the exact replica of my boyfriend, Tomas, who died in 1993. I modified myself to look like him as soon as I realized it was possible.” His voice carried a hint of smugness. “I think I might have been the first person to use The Seep in this way. It was rather rudimentary back then. If I were to do it again now, my merger with The Seep would be far more sophisticated. So now you know the secret. This face will never wrinkle or age, because it can’t. It’s more like a mask than anything else.”

Trina rubbed her arms. She felt suddenly cold in the night air. “You took this man’s identity? Is that what you’re telling me, Horizon?”

He tilted his head. His beautiful face, unmarked by time, now looked ghoulish in the moonlight. “Oh, I’m sure you understand,” he said.

“Understand what?”

“I know you never got any Seep mods, but you must have had something done, back in the day. Taken hormones or gotten surgery?” Trina raised her eyebrows. “Never mind, it’s none of my business.”

“No,” she said. “It’s not. And it’s not the same thing at all.” She shook her head. “Horizon—what did you look like before?”

He shrugged. “Like a million other people. You wouldn’t have noticed me at all.”

Trina’s eyes grew big. “Hold up—were you a white guy? And you took this brown kid’s face?”

Horizon raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

“You didn’t! Horizon!” She looked around, almost expecting there to be hidden cameras in the bushes, as if this were all some retro prank. “You can’t—you can’t take other people’s faces, their races, and wear them like—like a suit!”

“Oh, race is a construction,” he said, waving his hand. “Everyone knows that.”

“That might be, but it’s still meaningful. Constructs mean things.”

Horizon grew impatient. “Trina, everyone who has been joined even once with The Seep knows that we’re all the same. We’re all of the same essences, all layers of identity are just that, layers, and you can play with them just as we play with our appearances—”

“Some things are too far. You can’t—”

He stood up a little taller, flipping his long black hair over his shoulder. “But I can, Trina. I did. With The Seep, anything is possible. Our bodies are just containers for our immortal essences. And that’s my exact point. We’ve become too narrow in our thinking. Remember how intense it used to be, when you first Seeped? Now we drink punch at a party and barely feel anything!”

“I feel things,” she said slowly. “Our bodies may be containers, but they still carry specific histories. And those histories are still meaningful. Of course The Seep doesn’t understand that—they’re amorphous beings with no physical bodies! But I won’t let you stand here, looking like that, and tell me that my history is interchangeable with yours.”

He shrugged again. “Well, you can feel however you want about it, obviously.”

“Horizon, listen to me. You’re being so color-blind it’s racist!”

He looked stung, as if she had struck him. “I can’t believe you would use that word on me. How long have you known me?”

“Clearly, we don’t know each other very well at all. I don’t even know what you really look like!”

Horizon threw his cigarette butt to the ground. The grass swallowed it up instantly, taking it back to the earth. “This is what I look like, Trina, and that’s my point. Our bodies are completely malleable. We haven’t been given this gift to just grow gills, or to sprout angel wings. There has to be something more, something greater to achieve, through The Seep—”

Just then, Deeba’s round, shaved head peered out of the door. “Everything okay out here?” she asked. Then she giggled. “Allie wants to show us pictures of her trip to India. My love, should we call it a night?”

“Yes!” Trina stomped out her cigarette. The ground started sucking up around Trina’s shoes. “Hey, watch it!” She wrenched her feet up from the ground.

Horizon breathed deep. “I forgive you, Trina, for calling me that word. I know you didn’t mean it.”

Trina rubbed her forehead. She was suddenly so tired. “Horizon, I do mean it. If you can’t acknowledge that what you’re doing is fucked-up, I don’t know what to tell you.”

His lovely face was blank with surprise. “I have made my whole career as a memorial to my dead lover. What is more thoughtful than that?”

“Well, he didn’t get a say in it, did he?” Trina took her wife’s hand and turned toward the door.

“You can’t judge things based on the way the world was thirty years ago, T. Everything has changed!”

Trina turned back toward him. “You know, I’m going to tell people about you. That they’re looking into the face of a dead boy who never gave you his consent. That every person you fuck is fucking the mask of a dead person. How can you not see how creepy, how violent that is?”

Horizon looked at her gravely. “I’ll tell people myself, Trina. And when they react with pleasantry, or with boredom, or when they try to show me pictures of their trip to India, you’ll see just how mired in the past you are.”

She laughed, but the sound was hollow, joyless. “If you’re right, I don’t think I want to live here anymore. Good night.” Trina and Deeba left the garden. They made their apologies to their hosts and walked out into the quiet, lush street.

 

Excerpted from The Seep, copyright © 2019 by Chana Porter.

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