At the intervention to stop the epidemic of obsessing I found our old King of Unrequited Love with his obsession, Samantha. We’d all brought our obsessions if we could and we wanted to know how he’d gotten her to come with him. It had been a long time since the epidemic of unrequited love—when we’d all loved Sam—the epidemic he’d always had and which had seemed to spread from him, but which now seemed to be requited. He told us a long story.
During the epidemic of unrequited love Sam had carved a statue of her animal god, the thing she loved instead of us. Later, during the epidemic of magic, the animal god came alive. It jumped around destroying her apartment; she pleaded for it to stop but she’d made it an erratic and violent god. Our old King of Unrequited Love said it was a squirrel-like god with a tiny tail that never stopped wagging. As it bounded out her door it screamed, “Justice, justice." And soon it began to hunt down people and stomp them to death. (We’d thought this was the start of an epidemic of crushed bodies then.)
Sam didn’t know who to turn to, as she suffered a crisis of faith, until our old King of Unrequited Love stopped by as usual. His magic in the epidemic was full of his love for her: dragonfruit sprouted from his fingers. Maybe he seemed like a god himself. He told us how she was always looking for something to believe in, ever since she burned down her parents’ dragonfruit farm on the east side of the island and they had to abandon the home she loved. He said she’d only ever believed in what she’d believed in then, all of which was now gone.
Though probably he hadn’t seemed like a god.
He chased after the animal god and when the murders stopped he knew where to look. He climbed the hills where the forests was full of animals and found the animal god quietly holding court. The animal god gnawed on a human thigh as the other animals did its bidding, hares hopping with torches between their teeth, reindeer pouring wine from bottles stuck in their antlers. The court was in and around the trees and seemed to have no structure, no bounds, as if the whole forest was one regal plaza.
Our old King of Unrequited Love approached with his hands up in surrender, giving the animal god no reason to crush him. He was welcomed to a seat on the leaves.
“Justice,” the animal god said. “Justice, justice, justice.”
“Is this justice?” our old King asked. “Is it justice that I love someone who does not love me? Is it justice that the magic in my fingers is for her? That even the epidemics, in me, are hers? What is justice?”
The animal god said, “Justice justice justice justice.”
The King of Unrequited Love felt the magic fading as the animal god spoke, as if the island were saying, justice justice, back. His fingers tingled with dragonfruit as a last flame curled from his thumb; then he felt his skin cool. “You should know, you will soon turn back to stone,” he said.
“Justice,” the animal god said. But he seemed calm, as if something in those hills had already quieted his soul. He didn’t seem like he’d ever stomped anyone.
“I have to take you back. She needs to believe in you. I will do that out of love.”
“Justice,” the animal god said again.
Our old King of Unrequited Love rushed toward the animal god and the other animals tried to protect it. “Justice,” it said brokenly as it returned to stone. A deer put its horns into our old King’s side and he felt blood leak out of him. Justice, he thought. The animal god deserved to stay. Yet the animal god was only carved out of stone, carved by the girl, Sam, everyone had once loved.
He dodged a badger's teeth and grabbed the statue, and when the animals saw that it was a statue they started to moan. He swore to us that they moaned words. “What is love?” they moaned.
And when he had the statue in his arms he couldn’t lift it.
He took Sam up to see the statue of her animal god every day, and they were on their way that day when they dropped by the intervention. The truth was they both wished to stop obsessing.
Three days later the epidemic of hirsuteness struck and they disappeared into the hills for a long time.
Matthew Salesses holds an MFA from Emerson College, where he edited Redivider. He is the author of a PG chapbook, We Will Take What We Can Get. The other stories in his island of epidemics series have or will appear in Cavalier Literary Couture, Hobart, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Kitty Snacks, Corium, Necessary Fiction, PANK, Thieves Jargon, and Pindeldyboz.