Nisha Gill

Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute (Kingston, Ontario)

They are the first to arrive, flickering into view, bit by bit, slowly becoming whole. Faith is a small, delicate looking creature, like a ballerina, while Hope is a bit bigger, though still thin and wiry, a fighter. Both carry themselves with grace and confidence - the kind that comes from knowing something that others do not. They share a brief, side glance, eyes meeting for only a fraction of a moment, before moving away to examine the space.

It’s the same as it’s always been - wide open, endless, eternal. Not quite a room or a platform as there are no distinct walls or ceiling or even floor, each bleeding into the other, forming a kind of enormous tunnel. It’s dark and silent, with little lights floating in the air, scattered through the space, bobbing gently and flickering occasionally.

Hope makes to move forward, but Faith puts out an arm, stopping them, wordlessly shaking their head.

Hope tilts their head, gaze sharp and searching before giving in, shoulders sagging, and stepping back to wait.

Neither is sure how long they stand there like that - time was difficult enough as it was, but here it was impossible. Eventually, Faith puts their arm down, instead moving to hold Hope’s hand, but Hope moves away, not far, just enough so that they can no longer touch. Faith doesn’t follow.

Just as Hope starts to fidget, growing restless - impatient - two by two, the others start to appear.

Love and Hate arrive complete and whole, at opposite ends of the space, one small and cherubic, like a child, the other tall and broad, like a giant. Neither hesitates, rushing forward to join Hope and Faith.

Love hugs them all, tight and firm, as if they’re never going to let go. Hate just nods at the others, but accepts - and returns - Love’s hug.

Trust and Doubt appear within seconds of each other, making it nearly impossible to tell who arrived first. Small and sturdy, like a gymnast or maybe a boxer, Trust nods solemnly at the others. Doubt stands a little way apart, a slim wisp of a being, looking as if they were capable of slipping through the smallest of cracks and into the tiniest of crevices. Their eyes sweep over the others, eyeing them warily as if searching for those very cracks and crevices.

Lie and Truth appear so close together that’s it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. Lie, pale and regal, offers the others a cold smile, flickering in and out of view, revealing Truth, poised but silent, hidden away behind them.

The others all move forward at once, crowding around them, trying to get closer to Truth, wordless pleas for answers filling the space, but Lie steps forward, glowering furiously at the others.

Hope nudges the others back gently, tilting their head in apology though whether to Lie or Truth no one could say.

Trust glances around, gesturing at the edges of the space. Doubt sneers, shaking their head.

It’s rare enough that they are all here.

Rare but not unexpected, because after all, misery loves company.

All at once, they turn to the centre, it is darkest. There are no lights at all, everything is pitch black. And sitting there, at the centre of it all, is a lone figure with their arms wrapped around their knees. All sharp angles and rough edges, almost like a skeleton, they’re rocking back and forth, not making a sound.

The others all exchange looks, the kind that worried family and friends might exchange over the head of a loved one when they aren’t sure what to do.

Hope steps forward again, moving purposefully toward the figure at the centre. No one tries to stop them, but no one follows either, all of them opting to just watch instead. After all, no one understands Despair quite so well as Hope does.

Hope kneels, resting a hand on Despair’s bony shoulder. They still, glancing up at Hope, curious and open, guarded and bitter.

Hope moves their arm so it’s wrapped loosely around the other’s shoulders, drawing Despair closer, shifting so that they’re sitting side by side, pressed close together. Despair doesn’t protest or struggle, slumping against Hope’s side, letting their head drop onto the other’s shoulder.

Then suddenly, without warning, Love breaks away from the others, rushing forward and wrapping Despair in a tight hug. The other flails, though more in confusion and fear than actual protest.

Hope shoots Love a look, a mix of warning and appreciation. Love rolls their eyes, but loosens their grip, settling on Despair’s other side.

Hope hums gently, voice echoing, bouncing around in the space. The lights start to glow brighter.

Hope glances back at Faith, questioning. Faith nods, their form of an apology. A longer one will come later, but right now this all they have time for.

Faith and Trust move forward to join them, Doubt on their heels. They sit down next to them; Faith pressed against Hope and Trust next to Love. Doubt sits behind them, pressing their back against Hope’s. Trust rests their hand on Despair’s knee, brushing their thumb gently back and forth. Faith grasps Despair’s hand in an unspoken promise.

Glancing first at each other and then at the others in the centre, Lie and Truth join them too, each sitting on either side of Doubt. Truth takes Despair’s other hand, squeezing it tightly, an acknowledgement. Doubt and Lie exchange quick looks, making silent promises of their own.

The lights grow slowly, getting brighter and brighter.

Hate and Doubt hover at the edges of the space, uncertain, but Love beckons them over and the others all shift a bit to make space for them. They sit facing the others, but they’re still tense, watching the rest of the space warily.

As the lights get brighter, the darkness begins to disappear, slowly bit by bit, receding as the light grows. And as the darkness fades, more and more beings begin to appear, beings of all shapes and sizes and types and more and more of them join, some settling in the centre, wrapped around Despair while others sit a bit further away, at the edge, on guard.

The lights are glowing now, illuminating almost the entirety of the space.

Faith reaches over and grips Hope’s hand with their free one. Hope doesn’t pull away, tightening their grip on their joined hands. They both relax a bit, smiling warmly at each other.