By Dominic Wiharso
Word travels fast. If you don’t want something spreading around, it’s in your best interest to lock that shit down. Not a peep. See, I’m only six degrees of separation away from Kamala Harris—it’s no biggie, or whatever—and apparently my Twitter presence is a serious “liability” to her campaign. That is to say, you better be two steps ahead of the skeletons in your closet. Those secrets might bite you on the ass later on.
Look, I know. Greed got the best of me and I compromised my morals. I can’t believe who I’ve become. No, Dominic, I tell myself. You did the right thing. Anyone in your shoes would have done the same. Ignore me, let’s get back to the scandalous story at hand.
It’s late November and Riverside is a shadow of its summer self. After I finish my nightly ritual of exchanging witty banter with the raccoon colony—and smoking the mysterious weed left on the ADP pool table by some undergraduate “interdisciplinary artist”—I return to the notorious coed frat, descend the rickety basement stairs, and cozy up under my hand-dyed Etsy duvet. Josh, who by this time is usually sound asleep in his Snoopy PJs, is nowhere to be found. I relish the peace and quiet. You know how Josh likes to talk talk talk. Usually, it’s fine, but God, some nights, he won’t quit yapping about whatever the IFC was showing that week. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t care.
I fall face-first onto my bed, inhaling the lingering musk. Mmm … boysmell. Our room, well yeah, it kinda smells like boy. So what? We’re two virile young men, of course our room smells like something. It would be weird if it was sterile. We wear deodorant for God’s sake, just not to bed. Who even does that? It would be a waste and I don’t know about you, but I’m balling on a budget. Wait, what did you ask? Oh right, the secret! I had to go looking for him—I realized, already in my pre-REM-ASMR-rain-sound stupor, that Josh had forgotten to take his cholesterol medication.
Me and his mom have this secret little arrangement. Josh is a busy boy. He has a lot on his mind. Between editing a literary journal and, I don’t even fucking know, raising money to build homes for homeless elephants in Thailand or something, he doesn’t have a lot of free time. He also has pretty bad chronic cholesterol (from his dad’s side, obviously) and has to take his pills before 11:59 p.m. But what makes matters worse is that he hates swallowing pills whole. His mommy used to hide it in his food, but now that he’s moved out, well, it’s up to me. Exactly two weeks and four days before moving in, I got an email with the subject line “URGENT.” Apparently, his mom emails all of his roommates before move-in. In exchange for her peace of mind and the health of Josh’s cardiovascular system, she pays me a royal fuckton. Let’s just say it covers my portion of work-study and then some. Also—and this has to stay between you and me—but she lets me use her timeshare in Turks and Caicos.
There was a lot at stake for me, alright? Don’t give me that damn look! You would have done it too. Anyone would have done it! Have you seen how white and soft that sand is? No one will take that boho-chic seaside villa away from me. Not even a runaway Josh Kazali. So now I was in the business of tracking down a missing person: a 5’10” Wasian with a penchant for meandering. How was I supposed to tamp down the wanderlust of a 20-year-old English major? Put a leash around his neck and walk him to Book Culture?
God, I can’t even believe how I found him. It’s embarrassing really. My olfactory senses, if you couldn’t already tell, are quite strong. I’m like a bloodhound. I follow his scent (the aforementioned boysmell) around campus with a glass of water in my right hand and the Duane Reade pill bottle in my left, hoping to God I don’t lose my only source of income. Strangely enough, the aroma trail loops back to our basement dorm which was sold to us as “Timothée Chalamet’s former dorm … see, here’s a picture of him hosting a party in there … lowkey for the size it’s not a bad double.” At this point in the night, I’m fuming. I slam the door open … lo and behold there he is. Smug and without a care in the world. Time to let the cat out of the bag.
By Josh Kazali
You think I have time for secrets? No, I have no time for such trivial things. Not when I’m on the dawn of my greatest breakthrough.
Oh yes, I know about my little Dom’s charade with the pills. He thinks they’re for cholesterol, the imbecile. No, no, my dear mother had me taking them since I was a child, because the doctors feared for the multitudinous dangers I posed to society. But mommy isn’t here anymore. I switched them out for sugar pills months ago, and now my mind is sharp as a blade. At last, without those damn pills, I’m free from my intellectual shackles. Without that pill dulling my cognitive processes, I can finally stretch my mental limbs. I can actually feel the gray matter of my massive, muscular brain flexing when I think. Its tendons are taut and supple and eager to work—do you know what that feels like? Of course you don’t. While Dom sleeps in his cheap, flea-ridden twin XL, under his shabby, unwashed duvet, I am awake, unraveling the rich mysteries of the natural world. The philosopher’s stone, the secret to eternal life and death itself—all are within my grasp.
Dommy has bought my English major schtick, can you believe that? Those foolish articles for The Blue and White are my playthings, little notes I jot on the toilet between my experiments. I’m almost insulted. He hasn’t seen the plans laid right beneath his nose.
The basement room—you really think I was enticed by that ridiculous story they spun about that little malnourished boy? No, no. The subterranean location, free from greedy little undergraduate eyes, and drowned in the blaring music of ADP jazz night, hides the sound of buzz saws and drills and chemical explosions: It’s the perfect place for my secret lair. Sometimes I can’t help but smile at my own genius, hiding my creation under the smelliest literary fraternity this side of the Hudson. No one has noticed the festering odor rising through the floorboards from my laboratory, deep beneath my room on 114th St.—the byproduct of my experiments. It’s comical, really. He thinks it’s body odor, the poor thing. I almost pity him. Each night, I imagine waking him from his innocent slumber to show him where boysmell really comes from. It would blow his mind.
Yet my neurological capacity is reaching its apex—my synapses can no longer handle the speed at which my thoughts move. I have stopped attending my classes entirely, and hardly sleep or eat. My skin grows cold and pale from the harsh lights under which I pore over microscopes; my eyes are bloodshot. You speak to me of news? I haven’t seen the sunlight for weeks, I haven’t felt the soft touch of the breeze since September. Sometimes, I dream of living a regular life above ground: returning to the ranks of my peers, hearing of the trivial, minute dramas of daily life, eating a slice of pizza in the pouring rain. But the work must be done. Soon I will shuffle off this mortal coil, and my mind will rejoin with the heavens, embracing the atomic assemblage from whence it came—but today is not that day.
No, today is the day of my greatest achievement. I have made a discovery that will make Robert Oppenheimer look like a toddler playing with wooden blocks. Today will be the day that everyone knows the name of Joshua Kazali—a name which henceforth will strike fear into the hearts of mankind. The calculations are final; the cauldron is ready for its marvelous task. It only needs one thing: a human sacrifice. That, of course, is where my old friend Dom comes in.
In many ways, I’m sad to see him go. He was an old friend of mine, from back when my senses were being dulled by the damned pill. We laughed, cried, and shared stories. He was a good roommate. But science isn’t forged on friendship. It’s forged through sweat and blood. This is what I tell myself as I scale the ladder and return from the laboratory, collapsing on my dusty, unused bed. It’s only a matter of time before Dom returns, and we meet our fate.
Oh look, here he comes now. He slams the door. He’s holding the glass of water, and the pill he thinks will stop me. I can’t help it. I feel my face contort into a cruel smile. Whatever little knowledge he holds in his brain—whatever insignificant scrap of information—nothing can save him now.