It flickers through the shadows. Barely there, it has no substance as it crouches, hidden from a casual glance and watching. It is always watching. It notices, it catalogues and analyses. It makes up stories, explanations. Gives reasons and instructions. I only ever notice its eyes, glowing green and vibrant and still from the depths. I hear its voice, a whisper made of others’ voices, and it compels me to act.
Pallid and desperate, she catches my attention. She is disturbing to look at sometimes. Most of the time, she resembles a drowned thing, long dark hair tangled with pondweeds and skin all thin and blue. Her eyes are dark and big, and her fingers are too long. They end in claws. There is no menace from her or malice, and simply giving her attention seems to give her relief. The Watcher whispers to me to move closer and I do. The Watcher needs to speak for her, because her mouth is gone. There is nothing there but smooth skin, slightly damp beneath my fingertips. I can tell she is smiling.
Reaching into an inner pocket of her sodden rags, The Need retrieves a small ball of fur, cream-coloured and repelling the water like oil. It uncoils in her hand and scampers up to her shoulder. It chatters happily and nuzzles The Need’s cheek, and my hand. It feels warm, and soft, moving sleekly. It runs up my arm, small sharp claws prickling my skin, and chirrups to me, nibbling at my nose. The scratch bleeds, but I don’t mind. It was unintentional and affectionate, and the creature drapes itself across my shoulders for a few minutes. It feels like sunlight.
The Need moves closer, already missing the presence of The Love, and I cannot deny it so I return the creature. The Love presses closer, shifting size until it is big enough to coil around us both. It likes to share. The Watcher smiles, and whispers words of encouragement. The Need is glowing beneath the attention.
We go to see The Want. It lies enormous and lazy across gemstones and precious metals, eyes nearly closed. It watches us, great black scales reflecting the glistening light. Powerful limbs could propel it forwards in seconds, a great hunter. Dragon’s wings flex slowly to conceal the hoard, and looking closer I realise the gems are luxuries – flavours, textures, sensations. The eyes of The Want are nearly as big as I am, and it gazes at me with pride for the collection.
I see both of them only when they are within touching distance. Light bends around them, and their outlines ripple, fluid. Twins, I think. They flush with colour, swirling patterns like chameleons. With a motion, they manipulate the world around us. No, not quite. One creates the change while the other guides. The Creative and The Inspiration. I realise, suddenly, that they have shaped the entire world around me, the landscapes and buildings and beings and objects, things I only remember I’ve seen now that I notice The Twins.
They like the others. Care for them. The Twins created these skins for them to give them edges, so The Watcher can see them. So I can see them and understand what they are. How they interact and what they seek. How to satisfy them. I understand.
The Watcher guides me away, back out of The Want’s cave. We leave The Need and The Love behind with the dragon. As we rise up, the world dissolves around us. I open my eyes, and I am lying on my bed. The Watcher whispers to me, and I smile. It watches the rest of me, and keeps me alive when the others take control. The Watcher keeps me safe.