It's 7 SDF — seven years Since Darkness Fell.

It hasn't been dark the whole seven years, of course; there have been patches of brightness, though the brightness inevitably gets so blinding and unrelenting that Stan almost (almost) welcomes each return of the darkness.

At first the darkness seemed to affect people in different ways and didn't even affect some at all, so it was difficult to say with certainty that something was going on, let alone exactly what it was. Pretty much everyone has been affected by now, though, and in pretty much the same way: they've slowed down and emptied out. But they haven't stopped. They keep going, no matter what. Slow and empty, blankly, pointlessly, they just keep going.

The way he feels some days, it's hard for Stan to tell if he's succumbed yet himself. He supposes that if he really were a zombie, he wouldn't be wondering about much of anything any more, definitely not whether he's still human or not. Who ever heard of an existential zombie? It's too contrary; the one negates the other. Still, there's no denying the way the darkness has affected Stan, the way he feels, the way he doesn't feel. Maybe he's a human-zombie hybrid or something.

Yeah, that's a good twist. Maybe the chemical imbalance in his brain has prevented the infection, or whatever the darkness brought, from fully taking hold, so he's caught half-way between being human and not being human. It's as good an explanation as any, and not just for the zombie apocalypse.

Stan knows there's no zombie apocalypse, of course. He's not delusional or anything—he knows he's an actual person, not a character in a post-apocalyptic narrative. It's just that sometimes the only way he can cope, the way he's found to make sense of senseless things, is to look at his life like it's a story.

He doesn't think he's the only kid who puts himself in stories. Like, Butters must do it. One of those stories that looks like it's for kids but then turns dark and twisted, like Pan's Labyrinth or a Grimm's fairytale. Somehow Butters always come through like he thinks he's in a Disney fairytale, though—and maybe he is, in his own version of his story.

Then there's Cartman, who clearly sees himself at the center of a sprawling, epic biopic. A larger than life figure like Orson Welles in Citizen Kane (and Stan is pretty sure he sees himself directing the whole thing, too, just like Welles), only instead of a sled Cartman will probably call for Clyde Frog on his deathbed. Maybe Cartman will just manage to gasp out "Clyde" with his last breath, and there will be a search for the identity of the mysterious Clyde, which will end almost immediately after it begins, when the investigators come across Clyde Donovan in the Park High yearbook for Cartman's graduating class. Poor Clyde. It might not ruin his life, but Stan bets it'll mess things up for him for a while. He bets Cartman is counting on that; like, maybe Cartman actually had enough dying breath for two syllables, but he withheld the "Frog," knowing people would misinterpret it as Donovan, knowing how it would mess things up for Donovan, and he'd use that last, saved breath to laugh. (Stan doesn't like thinking about Cartman so disproportionately, but he has to admit that asshole is pretty entertaining.)

Kenny pretty obviously sees his personal narrative as a superhero comic, though lately Stan has started to think there's more to it. Not that Kenny isn't a superhero, because Stan agrees that he is. He's not alone in that, if all those "Who Is Mysterion?" posters that pop up around town every now and then are anything to go by. But Stan has an idea there's something else at play, too. Something like a supernatural subgenre... Like, besides Stan, Kenny's the only one in the current apocalypse who isn't a zombie yet.

As Stan turns the corner to the bus stop, he sees Kenny is already there. They're the only two who still take the bus. Kenny at least has his license, even though he can't afford a car yet. They could get a ride from Kyle and sometimes they do, but Stan kind of likes taking the bus with Kenny. Or waiting for the bus with him, anyhow, which is usually better than the actual ride.

"Hey, dude," Stan says, unslinging his backpack as he pulls up and dropping it on the ground.

"Hey," Kenny returns, and then they fall into a comfortable silence, which is one of the reasons Stan likes hanging out with Kenny, just Kenny and him: they can be quiet together, no need to fill every space.

They wait in unfilled space for a while, and Stan could almost forget about the post-apocalpyticality of his life when things are like this, not dark but not too oppressively bright, non-intrusive but not alone, not lonely. That's what it's like a lot of the time with Kenny: Stan feels the post-apocalypse fade away as he drifts into Kenny's story. He's good with having a place in Kenny's story. Even in his own story, Stan doesn't think he's necessarily the main character (maybe when he was a kid, BDF — Before Darkness Fell — but not really since) and he definitely doesn't have to be. Kenny would be a great main character, Stan thinks. No, Kenny is a great main character, as Mysterion and equally as Kenneth McCormick.

Kenny's such a great main character, Stan has come up with a new story for him, in which he's not Mysterion but he's not quite Kenny. Or he's not only Kenny. Or he's something else in addition to being Kenny, or something. Anyhow, Stan may not know exactly what the character is but he knows it's a great main character, even though he only came up with the character's name last Friday night. And just as he was once the Toolshed to Kenny's Mysterion and he's still the Stan Marsh to Kenny's Kenny McCormick, Stan has a place in this new narrative, although he didn't have a name for himself until this morning, on his way here. Which means he's got the title now, too: Tales of Shadow Wings & the Existential Zombie.

Yeah, Stan would be okay with being Kenny's sidekick. He's okay when things are like this, just like they are right in this moment at the bus stop. And being okay with things is all he's really wanted ever since Darkness Fell.

An awareness of his own breathing creeps up on him and he holds onto his inhale, doesn't let go because he has a feeling that when he does, he's going to disrupt the delicate balance of okayness.

But maybe things aren't actually okay as they are, not really and truly...

Stan exhales. "So how was your weekend?" he says, hands in his pockets, gaze casually falling into nothing. "Did you do anything Friday?"

Since he's not looking at Kenny when he says it, he doesn't have a chance to read anything Kenny might give away. He listens hard but doesn't hear anything other than the words when Kenny says, "Not much."

"Oh," Stan says. "So you didn't, like, die? In the alleyway behind Skeeter's?" He looks over and, when their eyes meet, the beginning of a smile fades off Kenny's mouth.

Kenny squints as he studies Stan. His gaze is steady but his fingers twitch, like he's fighting himself not to pull his hood up.

They stand there, looking at each other.

Finally Kenny says, "Why would you say that?"

"Because I think that's what happened." Stan hadn't thought so when Kenny first showed up in the bar alleyway. He might not have thought it at all, if he'd only looked at Kenny. But he'd looked at Kenny's shadow, too: "Your shadow had wings." The corners of Kenny's mouth twitch but Stan is looking him in the eyes, right in the eyes, and Kenny is looking back. So Stan sees in Kenny's eyes that he doesn't need to say it for Kenny's sake, but he thinks he might need to for his own: "I know what I saw, dude. You had, like, angel wings."

Kenny sort of laughs and sits down on the ground, and Stan sits next to him. He wants to ask what Kenny is. He knows Kenny isn't like everyone else—zombies don't have wings. He knew Kenny wasn't like everyone else even before he saw those wings, though. He doesn't know how or when he first knew. Maybe he knew when they were kids and then forgot; Stan lost a lot of things when Darkness Fell, and he suspects there are things so lost to him now he doesn't even remember he once had them.

When Kenny puts his head down on his arms, Stan has an urge to pet Kenny like he did last Friday in the alleyway. He rests his hand lightly on Kenny's head, taking reassurance from the physicality of the strands of hair brushing against his palm. Kenny doesn't look up at the touch, just like he didn't then.

Stan can't help glancing at Kenny's shadow: no wings. He's only seen them that one time, and he doesn't know why he was so sure they were real, especially considering how drunk he'd been. Just, he'd felt it deep inside, a thump in his chest as real as a heartbeat when he saw those wings.

He's never found it unusual that Kenny is sometimes so quiet when they're alone together. He always took it for a mutual acceptance that they don't have to talk to enjoy each other's company, or to understand each other when Stan hasn't exactly been in a state for enjoyment. Friday night wasn't the first time Kenny has sat with him when he's been down and drunk. Sometimes they don't talk at all when Stan is like that and they also never really touch, and Stan doesn't know why he did it last Friday, reached for Kenny like that. That's why he saw the wings, though—his gaze had slid away from what his hand was doing at first, and only returning to Kenny after he saw the shadow wings.

The wings could have been a hallucination, but Stan has had visual hallucinations and they didn't feel like that bone-deep thump.

He doesn't look away now. "Have you always had wings?"

Kenny opens his mouth a couple of times, until its been too many times to deny it. Finally he says, "They're strongest right after I come back."

Stan gives the words careful consideration. " didn't die on Friday?"

"Not on Friday, no."

"And that wasn't the first time?" Stan's hand slips down to rest against Kenny's back, between his shoulder blades, and he feels the breath Kenny takes, the sigh he lets out before he shakes his head. "Does it happen a lot?"

Kenny shrugs. "Depends on your definition of 'a lot.'"

"Dude," Stan says, extracting the word from the lump in his throat and dragging it up.

"Yeah," Kenny agrees.

The bus comes. When they make no move to get on, the doors close and the bus goes on its way without them.

After a while, without talking about it, they get to their feet and start walking.

They don't talk about anything until Kenny says, "I wish you didn't drink so much."

Stan knows this. Kenny has never said it before but he's never had to. He still doesn't have to, not for Stan, but maybe he needs to for himself.

Whatever else it might be, it's an honest conversation. So, after a few steps, a few breaths, Stan says, "I think maybe it's only because of the way the alcohol reacts with, like, the chemicals my brain makes, that I know about you now." He glances sidelong at Kenny but looks away before their eyes meet. "And I don't want to give that up. Even if I keep remembering last Friday after I stop drinking, what if you try to convince me that I don't really know what I know?" It's a pretty big fucking secret, after all, and Stan wouldn't blame him for wanting to keep it that way.

"I would never do that," Kenny says, all quiet and calm. Stan feels the glance Kenny gives him, feels it linger, lets himself be tugged into it. "I just want you to be okay, dude."

Stan wants that, too. For himself and for Kenny. He doesn't say anything, though. He takes Kenny's hand, watches Kenny's fingers splay just enough, feels himself fit between them, and on they go, and it's okay, at least right now. Stan's hand curls tighter around Kenny and then relaxes but he doesn't let go, and neither does Kenny. Right now will have to do; yeah, right now is pretty all right.




If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!