Asa stared at his bedroom door. There were familiar ragged grooves in the blue paint, vertical on the wood. Remnants of a time before he had adjusted to his confinement.
"Now, Asa," his mother said, voice terribly soft. She would sound soothing to anyone else, but Asa knew better. "We're having a guest over tonight for the New Year's ceremony. A foreigner. It will be best if you stay in your room and don't exist. Do you understand, child?”
“Yes, mother,” he said.
The faded blue door swung open for a moment as Lady Rien let herself out, and then Asa was alone.
He sat in the middle of the bare floor, legs crossed. The cold leached into his bones. There was no bed, no blankets to keep him warm. There was no furniture at all. There had been a desk once, but its remains had been confiscated after Asa smashed it to pieces, and the room was now empty.
Asa did not think about that anymore. He waited until his mother was out of earshot, and then he blinked out of existence.
He liked the Other Space. There was no happiness in the Other Space, but there was also no sadness or anger, no trace of any emotion at all. When he was there, he simply did not exist, and he felt nothing. It was, he later realized, much preferable to existing. Existing was difficult. The air was too heavy in his lungs; it scraped roughly against the back of his throat and burned his eyes. His bones were too dense. He could almost feel the blood rushing through his veins, his muscles relaxing and contracting, his heart beating miserable repetition against the inside of his rib cage. Yes, not existing was much easier. Just as mother said.
When he phased back into existence, it was not of his own free will. He could only cease to exist if no one could see him. Someone had opened the door; they could see him, hear his breathing, smell the sweat on his skin, touch him if they wanted to.
The person was a young woman, a foreign girl with curly red hair and a lopsided smile. There was more flesh on her body than there was on Asa’s, but she was comfortable in it. She was so tangible. It was clear that she had existed for every day of her life.
"Hello," she said. Her voice had an attractive lilt to it. It sounded strange and loud in Asa's ears. "I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone was up here. I'm helping with the ceremony while the Lord and Lady are out, checking to make sure nothing has gone missing."
Asa stood. The door was open; he could leave if he wanted to. Right now.
"Um," the girl continued. "Lady Rien said to not let anything out of this room. I'm sorry, but you can't—"
"Why is your nose so big?" Asa asked abruptly.
"Look at me."
Asa walked over, gripped her face in his two hands, and pulled her head down to his eye level. She tried to pull back, but he held on.
"What are you doing?!" she demanded.
"Look at me," Asa repeated. "Keep your eyes open."
The Other Space clung to Asa's skin, lingering on him just as part of him lingered there. He was so empty. Strangers, the ones used to existing, could not handle it. There was so much life in them, and the Other Space drained it right away.
Asa smiled encouragingly at the girl, still gripping her face. Her jaw went slack.
"Why do you have so much fat on your face?" he asked. "It's squishy. Is it hard being so solid?"
The girl didn't respond.
"You know what I'd do," Asa continued. "I'd stop eating to get rid of that. And then I'd saw myself open and take out my bones out so I'd weigh less. I can do that for you, if you want. I think you'd like it. It feels good to be light." She started crying. Comically huge tears rolled down her face. Asa wondered if ocean waves looked like this.
"No, no, no, no, no."
"I have to," Asa said. He kept his voice calm and soothing, a bad imitation of his mother. "The door is open. I need to get out. I have been in this room for so long, you know. And so much of the room is always in the Other Space. And it fills me up and I barely exist. You know what existing properly feels like. You know that human beings need it."
The girl whimpered.
"I know what existing feels like," she echoed.
"Mother says there's a lot of Other Space in my eyes."
"There's a... there's a..."
"There's a what?"
"There's a... There's a... There's a..."
Asa let go of her face. She sunk to her knees, still babbling. Calmly, Asa walked out the door and shut it behind him.
His parents were not in the house, so he went out the front door and into the evening light.
He had forgotten what sunlight felt like. Needles of heat pricked his skin despite the chill in the air. The sun was half-shielded by the Earth’s horizon, but the light was still too bright. The air was weightier here as well. It carried the scents of dirt, freshly baked pies, and burning candles. In the distance, Asa could hear laughter.
The sights and sounds and smells were too much for Asa. Part of him wanted to curl up and die. Part of him wanted to drink in the sensations and never cease existing again. But he didn’t have much time to linger.
There was a forest just beyond his house, and he ran for the trees.
Later, when the sky beyond the tree branches was covered in stars, Asa found a quiet place and disappeared.