#1856

Moth: Darker, Realer, and (Way) Gayer than The Hunger Games


“Five years ago, I wrote a YA novel. Like all my novels, it had a lesbian MC. But this one was different from anything I’d done before. With this novel, I got an agent. It was put out on submission & every editor who read it said it was awesome. But. Well written. But. It was too controversial. Something that they said, and I quote, “American kids wouldn’t believe.” … I wrote it because I was angry. And anger, right now, is SO important. Anger will save us. Anger will give us strength, help keep us brave. I’m releasing the book editors said was too controversial. The book that made them uncomfortable. The book American kids “wouldn’t believe.” I told this story for all of us. For every pain I’ve suffered. For every pain you’ve suffered.  Stay angry. Stay brave. Don’t fall asleep.” – S.E. Diemer

Back when The Hunger Games fandom first exploded, the books were recommended to me by my sister when I told her I was looking for more fiction with “badass women”. I read the books, mildly enjoyed the first two, and rolled my eyes through much of the third. I didn’t hate them, but they didn’t speak to me like they did to so many others. In the end, I think that’s because the world they’re set in, an unspoken but clearly post-apocalyptic-style future North America, didn’t feel realistic. The story was good – dark, but full of hope; real, but just fantastical enough to keep you reading – but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe Panem was once my America, and so the terrible future in the books never felt like a real threat.

Cut to the recent US election. Cut to the quote I shared above. Cut to Moth, a book about a future America where being black, queer, non-Christian, dissenting, outspoken, even just a little too rebellious can get you sent to re-education camps to be burned, electrocuted, and brainwashed (if you’re lucky) – or simply killed. This book, like The Hunger Games, is YA. It’s meant for teenagers, for the exact audience editors apparently didn’t think would buy its setting. Let me tell you – I buy it. Because this isn’t post-apocalypse, this isn’t mutant monsters, this isn’t crazy sci-fi technology and vast conspiracies…

This is North Korea. Now. Everything that happens in this book, everything our heroine experiences, has happened or does currently happen in countries across the world. It’s not impossible to imagine queer kids being forced to undergo traumatizing, sometimes deadly attempts to “fix” them. That happens. It’s not impossible to have a character whose father is killed just because his skin is dark. That happens. It’s not impossible to learn about an underground railroad ferrying kids up to Canada (the border of which is soon to be blocked by a giant “freedom” wall), nor that the European Union has cut off all aide to the country. Those things happen all the time, and have throughout history.

This is an America ruled by a dictator who claims to speak the very will of God. There are no mutants or science experiments here – just fanatical people who think the world should run their way because They Are Right. I don’t know about you, but these days that doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched future.

This book has its little flaws, like all books do, but no major detractors. More importantly, what it has at its core is the anger and fear not of someone looking into a possible sci-fi future hundreds of years from now, but someone living right here with us who sees a path our country could easily take. As much as we’d like to pretend democracy is unassailable, our form of government is as vulnerable to corruption and dissolution as any other. Will we ever become a totalitarian dictatorship in which we gleefully watch children murder each other for food and fame in gigantic stadiums full of technological death traps? Probably not. Will we ever become a theocracy in which dissenters are “re-educated” to fit the Christian model of good citizens? Maybe, yeah.

So read this book. It’s worth it.

(For those who need it, here are the book’s major trigger warnings: Homophobia, racism, physical and mental/emotional abuse, suicide, violence)

#1855

I imagine myself on that night, the longest night, in the place where I am forbidden to go (and yet, where a part of me lives always). I can’t see yet how you will die this time, so for now I only imagine you spread out on the soft carpet, blood on your lips, your chest laboring for each breath. I don’t want him to be angry at either of us (though anger is part and parcel of his love, isn’t it), but I reach for your hand anyway and hold it in both of mine. Your fingers spasm tight and between clenched teeth you utter a choked laugh. “You think you’d get used to the pain,” you say, “but you don’t.” I nod. I can’t share your pain, though I long to sometimes. All I can do is sit here beside you and listen to the liquid filling up your lungs, feel you shuddering with the struggle to hold on just a little longer. “Every time,” you say, “is like the first time. Over and over. Over and over.” Your watery eyes roll my direction, knocking loose the tears gathered on your long lashes. Beneath the blood, your smile is immensely sad. “I’m sorry,” you say. “We’re not good at this. No matter how many times… we don’t learn. It all resets.” Your grip tightens; your words grow desperate. “Do you understand? It all resets. Him. Me. Us. You. That’s why we don’t… why we never… Do you understand?” I don’t, not quite, not yet, but I don’t want to tell you that. Instead I nod, caress your trembling hand. Murmur small comforts. You laugh again, a haunting, haunted sound, and close your eyes.

#1854

In my dream you were the radiant Morning Star, the serpent-tongued Prince of Darkness. The realm you commanded was a thing of beauty, elegance wed with malice, such exquisite torture meted out to the dammed as made even the other fallen shrink in your presence. Yet there was one to whom even you bowed, who made your extinguished heart constrict as nothing else. Who was he, whom you called Lucifer and touched with such love and gentleness? He was hurt, I recall, or sick, somehow grievously injured (from that first and greatest fall, perhaps?), and under your protection. Those who crossed you, who slighted or harmed him in any way, brought punishment down upon the entire host; you spared none when it came to your beloved. And oh, the hunger, the fierce desire between you! All the fires of Hell could have been stoked high and hot from one kiss, one touch. For two thousand years you ruled uncontested in a realm where fallen and dammed alike knelt in your presence. For two thousand years you knelt only to him whom you cherished above all else.

In my dreams of late you’ve wings and a terrible angelic beauty that shines amid ashes. What are you two trying to show me? Who are you? What are you?

#1853

good for you, fang-face
and your happy fucking ending
and your hard-won heartbeat

no, really, I’m happy;
at least as a human you’re not a metaphor
for everything I’ll never be

cause man, how embarrassing it was
to know I feel less in this living body
than you did in your dead one

when do I get my redemption arc?

#1852

I remember it all. Kneeling on the carpet, dragging my fingers through the thick white fibers, I remember the cloying scent of blood, the stains darkening as they dried. Rising to press my palms against the tall windows, I remember the chill wind whistling around spires of broken glass, how the shards glittered on the carpet like snow in moonlight. In the silence I hear the ghost echo of raised voices, cries of pain and ecstasy, shattering glass, gunshots. In the stillness of the empty room I yet recall every moment passed in these halls, and beyond; every word, every detail, every sensation. Rich carpet, cool crystal, sleek marble. Acrid cigarette smoke, hot skin, digging fingers. Promises and lies. Death and death. This place is a tomb. This place is my church.

#1851

There are good moments, I swear, Tanim says, but when he tries to think of specific memories his mind goes blank. It’s not that he’s forgotten the rare smiles or rarer laughter, the precious glimpses of affection and peace; they just feel disconnected from him, like the remains of a story someone else told long ago. Bled of sound and context, blurred and desaturated, what worth is left in them? Oh, so much, truly, for the right person. What the scribe cannot commit to word, she commits to heart. What the scribe cannot tell others, she tells herself in the deep of the night. There are good moments, she can swear it, even if they are only fragments.

#1850

Demons don’t have hearts, technically, but we can still love. I love the taste of fresh blood. I love a long, challenging hunt. I love all the ways humans invent to hurt themselves without our help. But most of all, I love Noah. You might think it’d be forbidden for a demon to fall in love with a human, but it happens all the time; as long as you stick to the rules, no one down below really cares. Himself’s not exactly a stickler about these sorts of things. Free will and all of that.

Here is what I love about Noah. I love how much darkness and rage he contains inside his fragile human form. I love how he takes control when we fuck, which is often and everywhere. I love how when he learned what I am, he bared his teeth in a hungry, feral smile I’ve never seen before and asked me what it’s like to kill. I love his arrogance and his cruelty. I love his intensity and patience. I love his fearlessness in the face of certain death and eternal damnation.

I don’t mind playing the high school bad boy; I’d take just about any form to watch Noah enact his grand plan. The roles suit us, anyway, me the dangerous rake everyone secretly envies and he the silent, brooding loner they all detest. After, the survivors will say they always knew he was strange, creepy, a little off, but right now they suspect nothing. I watch him go about his preparations with ease, no teachers noticing his absence from class, no students or administration catching him in places he shouldn’t be. Humans are so stupid.

I find a good vantage point near the main doors. When the final bell rings at the end of the day, I can hear classroom doors opening all around the building and students streaming into the hallways. That’s when the bombs go off, three simultaneous explosions that rock the very air. Suddenly I’m surrounded by shrieking students running in all directions, their panic causing more chaos than Noah’s detonations. The bombs serve to herd everyone toward the main doors, and as they crush each other in their desperation, the gunshots begin. Taller as I am than any of the kids, I easily spot Noah as he wades effortlessly into the crowd, picking off students one by one like he does this every day. Soon he’s surrounded by a ring of limp bodies, and fuck if he isn’t the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, his face expressionless, his hand steady and swift as he chooses targets.

It must seem like forever to the humans before police arrive, their flashing, wailing vehicles forming a barrier around the entrance. By now everyone has either escaped or fallen to Noah’s bullets, and in the sudden calm he turns and favors me with the smallest of smiles. If I did have a heart, it’d probably burst; instead, I resist the urge to kneel down before him and show him just how proud I am. But there will be time for that later, an eternity of it, and for now I only nod in approval and come to stand at his side. Together we step over the bodies of his victims and walk through the shattered glass doors.

“Drop your weapon!” someone yells through a megaphone, a dozen officers crouched behind SWAT shields with their guns trained on Noah. He offers them a very different smile and lazily raises his gun. I don’t count the shots fired; six pierce my lover, shredding internal organs but nothing so vital that he dies immediately. I catch him as he falls, one hand flung out to freeze time. I will have this final moment with him, before we meet again in that other place.

“So?” Noah coughs, blood bubbling in his mouth, obscuring the subtle smile on his beautiful lips. Cradling him close, I run my fingers through his pale hair and grin, letting my fangs show. “You did wonderfully, my dear. Any demon would be proud to have accomplished such a thing. Himself will be very impressed, I know it. He’ll make you one of us.”

“Good,” Noah’s eyes shine, partly from the praise and partly from the pain. “So…” his breathing has become labored, his body heavier as his muscles give up, “I’ll see you… down there… soon?”

“Yes, love,” I kiss him one last time in this mortal form, savoring the sweetness of his blood, and lay him gently down to rest on the concrete. “I will find you.”