To Die of Beauty

The thing is, the Apocalypse kind of went tits up. There was fire and brimstoning, trumpets blaring, people disappearing, and then, Us. The left behinds, the nothings, the unbelievers. Souls too hollow to be worth anything.

Nothing green grows anymore. Nothing living lives. So, we all aimlessly drift, stuck alongside the freaks left behind when heaven and hell closed their gates. We’ve learned nothing from our exile from paradise, so the freaks get locked away in little cages or cramped caravans, and bored, useless nothings like me come to stare at them.

This sideshow is a corny setup. A single chair sits in the middle of a small, high-top tent, red and white pinstripes melting into darkness. There’s a glass case in the middle of the room, lined with enough fake gold filigree to glint even in the low light. A shadow moves within.

A bright white glare washes away my sight. I wince and turn away. When I look back the shadow is illuminated, holding a pull switch, and spreading—

—her downy hawk wings.

Red plump lips, sticky blood vessels, slick candy gloss. I’m thinking, Gabriel Dante Rossetti: white-cheeked, heavy-lidded, corn-silk hair and vacant, vapid O-faces.

My chest burns with blue-hot feathered flames. Licking, eager and wanting. Not for anything as base as sex but … admiration. Inspiration. Maybe even creation. For the first time since the world ended, I compose colors in my head, symphonies of shadow and light, wet pliable globs and streaks of harmonious paint.

Then I think: What’s it matter? The world’s over. There’s no more room for art. There wasn’t room even when the world was alive.

“Why are you here?” I ask, because I haven’t had it in me to feel wonder while sleepwalking through the post-credits. “Why didn’t you go back with the rest?”

The angel’s words are hideous, but her voice is another chorus of glittering hues, purple starblooms and sun-searing yellow. “I ate the souls I was meant to take to God.”

I laugh. A rasping, creaking thing. “You can have mine,” I say. Her dewy, owl-blinking eyes are dark as a panther’s coat. “I’ll let you out and you can have it.”

She cocks her head, an alien, avian movement. “Why?”

I throw out my arms, let her see my color-stained coat, my ink-blotted shirt, the black-charcoal creases of my hands. “Because I want to die of beauty.

“Deal,” she hisses, her feathers flaring in excitement. I break the glass and there is red— glorious, Pompeian red in glitters of rainbow shards, more red as she dives for my mouth and—

—sucks down my sorry soul. Worthless no more.

Ari Iscariot

Ari Iscariot is a queer, neurodivergent, chronically ill author and artist living in Florida. They recently graduated from Florida International University summa cum laude, with a BA in Literature and a minor in International Communications. Among their many hobbies, they DM for an insatiably chaotic DND group, attend weekly meetings with their (somewhat) less chaotic writing group, “Seaquills,” and regularly fall down research rabbit holes from which they’ve always emerged unscathed. (So far.) But mostly, they write. Their writing centers intense queer relationships, indulges in the power of ravenous love, and explores the transgressive nature of gender-variant bodies.

Hailey Renee Brown

Hailey Renee Brown (Ren) is a professional illustrator born and raised in mid Michigan. A former field biologist, they moved across the country from Michigan to Pennsylvania, also moving from science to commercial art. A professionally trained artist, they attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ, where they were selected the recipient of the 2017 Norman Maurer Memorial Award as well as the 2019 Joe Kubert Jumpstart Project. They have since worked for a variety of clients from Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment to the Brink Literacy Project.