Eliza Mirk is the kind of name you give to the creepy girl who clings to her ex-boyfriend for weeks after he’s dumped her because she refuses to accept that he hates her guts. Eliza Mirk is a low-level villain with a secret hideout in the sewers. Eliza Mirk belongs in a comic book.
But Eliza Mirk is me. I don’t think I’m desperate or deluded enough to hang on to an ex-boyfriend after he’s broken up with me, I wouldn’t go near a sewer with a ten-foot pole, and unfortunately I do not live in a comic book. I do live kind of a comic-book life, though, I guess.
I go to school during the day, and at night I cast off my secret identity to become LadyConstellation, creator of one of the internet’s most popular webcomics, Monstrous Sea, and fearless mother of a fandom. My superpower is the ability to draw for hours without realizing what time it is or that I haven’t eaten in too long. I succeed in disappearing in my disguise, and I excel at standing out in my true form.
Why LadyConstellation? you may ask.
Because, I reply, my favorite culture in Monstrous Sea comes from a people who have stars in their blood. These people— Nocturnians—instinctively chart stars. That is their calling in life. That is what they feel they must do, as I feel I must tell their story.
LadyConstellation is the one charting this story, drawing lines between plots and characters and places like the Nocturnians draw connections between stars. She is fearless, like the Nocturnians; she is mysterious and aloof, like the Nocturnians; and like the Nocturnians, she believes in the mystical, the supernatural, and the unknown.
LadyConstellation is the hero who defeats Eliza Mirk once a week and celebrates with her many admiring fans. She is beloved by all, even the villain, because without her the villain wouldn’t exist.
I am LadyConstellation.
I am also Eliza Mirk.
This is the paradox that can never be solved.
The origin post is open on my computer when I shuffle over to it in the morning. Overnight, another three hundred comments have cropped up. I don’t know what they say anymore—I haven’t checked in months. I know some are from fans. A lot are from trolls. I don’t look at the post for the comments. I look because it is my daily reminder that all of this—all of my life—is a real thing.
My beginning is time-stamped in history.
I smooth down my tangle of hair, yawn, and rub sleep from my eyes. When I blink, the post is still there, sitting happy near the top of the Masterminds subforum for webcomics.You’d think, after two years, it would have fallen. It hasn’t.
I close the browser before I betray my own rules. I do not read comments. Comments are explosives for mental walls, and right now I need those walls up. I open Photoshop to find the file I was working on last night, a half-finished page from Monstrous Sea. All the line work is done. I started on the colors but didn’t finish, and I still need to add the text. Still, I’m ahead of schedule. This will be a whole chapter kind of week. My minimum for each week is one page; usually I average three. I always have something to post.
I skim over the comic page, skipping from panel to panel, double-checking the characters and settings. I lay out the rest of the colors in my head, then the light sources and the shadows. The text. The flow of the action looks okay, but in the bottom panel I drew Amity’s nose too narrow again. It’s always noticeable in close-ups of her face, and it’s always her nose. I’ll have to fix it later. I don’t have time now.
Like it agrees with me, my alarm clock goes off, and I jump. Even when I know it’s coming, even when I’m staring right at the thing. I shuffle back to the other side of the room to hit the button before it wakes up Church and Sully in the next room. Stupid middle schoolers get to sleep in an extra half hour, and they think they’re kings.
Mom already has two hard-boiled eggs and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice ready for me when I get downstairs. I don’t know when she hard-boiled those eggs. She certainly didn’t do it last night, and it’s the crack of dawn now. She sits at the island counter in her running outfit with her bouncy ponytail, reading some health article on her tablet. A few strands of hair are out of place, and water splashes in the shower down the hall. She and Dad are already back from their early morning run. Heinous.
“Morning, hon!” I know in some universe she must be speaking at normal volume, but it is not this universe. “Made you breakfast. Are you feeling okay? You look a little gray.”
I grunt. Morning is the devil’s time. And Mom has told me I “look gray” at least once a week for the past year. I drop onto the island stool in front of the eggs and juice and begin eating. Maybe I should try coffee. Coffee might help. Coffee might also send me into spiraling bouts of depression.
Under Mom’s elbow is today’s issue of the Westcliff Star. I pull it over and turn it around. The front-page headline reads REMINDERS PLACED AT WELLHOUSE TURN. Below that is a picture of the sharp turn in the road past Wellhouse Bridge where wreaths of flowers, ribbons, and toys decorate the ground. That’s local Indiana news for you: they have nothing, so they fill their pages with the reminder that Wellhouse Turn kills more people every year than great white sharks. Also local Indiana news: comparing a turn in the road to a shark.
I finish the first egg. Dad comes out of the back hall smelling like a pack of spearmint gum and wearing slightly different running gear than what he wears when he goes out with Mom, which means these are his work clothes for the day.
“Morning, Eggs!” He stops behind me, puts his hands on my shoulders, and leans down to kiss the top of my head. I grunt at the nickname and stuff egg in my mouth. Hard-boiled heaven. “How’d you sleep?”
I shrug. Is it too much to ask that no one speak to me in the morning? I have just enough energy in my mouth to eat delicious eggs; there’s none left to form words. Not to mention that in twenty minutes I have to get in my car to go to school for seven hours, where I’m sure plenty of talking will happen, whether I like it or not.
Mom distracts Dad with her health article, which is apparently about the benefits of cycling. I tune them out. Read about how the Westcliff High band bus driver fell asleep at the wheel and drove off Wellhouse Turn last summer on their way back from regionals. Chew. Before that it was a guy driving with his son in the winter. Drink juice. And before that, a woman taking her two kids to day care early in the morning. Chew more. A group of drunk teenagers. Finish off the egg. A lone girl who hit the wrong patch of black ice. Finish off the juice. They should put up a barrier to keep people from flying off the turn and down the hill to the river, but no. Without Wellhouse Turn, we have no news.
“Don’t forget, your brothers have their first soccer game this afternoon,” Mom says when I drop off my stool and take my plate and cup to the sink. “They’re really excited, and we all have to be there to support them. Okay?”
I hate it when she says “Okay?” like that. Like she expects me to get angry at her before the words are ever out of her mouth. Always prepared for a fight.
“Yeah,” I say. I can’t muster any more. I return upstairs to my room for my backpack, my sketchbook, and my shoes. I jump up and down a few times in an attempt to get more blood flowing to my brain. Eggs eaten. Energy up. Ready for battle.
I resist the urge to go back to my computer, open up the browser, and check the Monstrous Sea forums. I don’t read comments, and I don’t check the forums before I leave for school. That computer is my rabbit hole; the internet is my wonderland.
I am only allowed to fall into it when it doesn’t matter if I get lost.
Amity had two birth days. The first was the same as anyone’s, and she didn’t remember it. She didn’t spend much time dwelling on the fact that she didn’t remember it, because she had learned years ago that nothing good came of dwelling. The second birth—or the rebirth, depending on what mood she found herself in—she remembered with stunning clarity, and imagined she would for the rest of her life.
Her second birth was the day the Watcher took her as its host.