another year in stories: six

A week late, but this is the next Guo story. I’ll be posting another one tomorrow so we’re all caught up.

This one is a bit morbid and gruesome, so be warned. It’s an important one, I think, in understanding certain things about the world.

And I suppose a lot of these stories is mostly just fleshing out the world I’ve created. They’re quiet and still stories, but that’s what I like. I think eventually I’ll rewrite many of these stories and stitch them together into a real narrative, but I like how different they are right now.

I hope you dig this one.

We Met at the Cherry Blossom Tree

Leaves crunch beneath her feet and the shadow swings back and forth over the dead grey grass. The suns rest high in the cloudless sky pouring purples, blues, and reds into the atmosphere. The wind came softly, plucking desperate leaves from where they hanged in the tree, past the feet of the man.

He hanged naked upside down and in the hanging he swayed back and forth as the wind gently pushed at his skeletal body. His shadow danced over the ground and in opposite directions as the suns cast in different directions.

She stopped for a moment and stared at his swaying body, the tree, the suns, the yawning sky purpling. His body was still and though he hanged from his left ankle, he kept both legs together as if he stood. His right arm crossed over his left and his left hand before his face, he bit into the flesh of his index finger and tore it away from the bone, then let it hang as blood streamed from it.

The blood fell, pushed carelessly by the wind.

She approached, the leaves that once fell from the tree crunched beneath her feet, and she crouched in front of him but he only stared at his skin hanging, the blood flowing. He unwrapped his arms and used his right hand to pull the skin away from the bones of the left. He pulled until the skin split and tore down to his elbow, then let it hang as the blood drained from him.

His skin paled and he swallowed, his eyes moving rapidly over the bones and muscle beneath the skin as he wriggled his fingers.

She said, They say you’ve been hanging for eight days.

His body stilled as he bit the skin hanging from his elbow and tore it away, then let it fall to the dead grass and leaves below like a bag swollen by tar.

She wiped her face and said, Your mother begged me to come see you. She even paid me. Few people know what I do and fewer are willing to pay for it.

He bit into another finger and began tearing the skin away.

She nodded and swallowed, They think you’re a monster. Your friends and family. They think some god has come and turned you inside out. It can take a lot of time for these kinds of stories to reach me. People in villages like yours blame everything on the gods so it can be hard to take them seriously.

Pulling at the flesh until his entire left hand was skinless, he stared at his body beneath his skin.

I must admit, this is unusual. It’s rare that a human just gain this kind of ability, but it’s not unheard of. Sometimes we mortals stumble into doorways and places we have no business being in. Rarer is that the Deathwalkers avoid you and this place. Their stench should be everywhere here.

She raised her handless arm between them and smiled and closed her eyes, then let it drop.

The gods rarely do more than take and when they give it’s rarely fortunate for those given these gifts. You’re lost though. I can see it and hear it in you. The echoes of gods and powers not meant for us. There’s no reason for you to be able to do this. Probably you got caught in some spillage of some godlike being.

She rolled back and sat as he tore the skin away more, releasing his arm from flesh.

You may not survive, she opened her eyes. Coming back may kill you. Even if I can call you back alive, your brain may be shattered or it may become untethered and drift endlessly beyond you and this reality. You’ll probably always see the world beyond humanity. It will shimmer and expand. It will run through your senses like wildfire. You’ll see blazing lights that no one else will ever see or understand. You’ll hear the echoes of all the many places gods have lived and died. You may even be tempted to find your ancestors or lost loves now dead and gone to the shore of eternity. If you find yourself in the glow of the child goddess, run the other way. She will call you and she will release you from this reality. A cloud of dust.

She watched for a long time. He tore his skin apart and pulled it from his sinew and bone. So much blood fell and pooled and congealed. The scent of ruin and copper. It was as if he climbed out of his own skin and when he was fleshless, she stared up at the darkening sky. The suns now nearing the horizons, clouds wisping over the yawning canopy, she closed her eyes for a moment and sighed.

Skinless, he hanged and blood rained from him. A loose bag of blackness on the grass stained redblack by his blood. His black eyes stared past her through the smearing of his own blood.

I hope you regenerate by morning, she said. If not, I may need to kill you before bringing you back to this side. Your mother said you’ve died many times. It’s a sickness and a common one to those touched by godstuff. Do you know of the Arcanes? Perhaps you’ve never seen one way out here at the edge of the continent. They’re a Soarean tradition that’s spread beyond those legendary borders. They’ve even crossed oceans. They’re the lovers of the gods we call Angels.

It changes them, she said. It makes them see more. It makes them hear and feel more. They see the threads that make up this plane of existence. They tug at those threads and manipulate the world around us. It’s godly work and few can do it. Fewer can do it well. I’m of the opinion that none should do it at all. But that’s their religion. Their belief.

She sighed and turned to where he stared. She stood, still staring into the air where he stared.

Turning back she shook her head, Don’t go to that light. It’s madness. Stay here until dawn. If your skin’s not back by then, I’ll kill you so you can be born again, whole.

He blinked as the wind came stronger. Rising and pushing at the two of them. The wind ripped the leaves from the tree until it stood naked and his body hovered above her head, pushed in the direction he stared. He reached a hand forward and Guo pulled out the boneflute.

She played a melody, low and slow, her fingers moving with precision, her eyes clenched tight. Her legs bent and her feet planted, she braced herself against the wind and the unseen light sucking at reality.

The notes plucked out of the air and thrown down before they reached him hanging, she blew harder. The notes reached for him but were sucked away, battered down, and she blew harder and harder, the ground beneath her feet giving way. The limbs of the tree creaked and cracked as she inhaled deep and blew into the boneflute as hard as she could.

A single piercing note rocketed through the hurricane and his body, causing it to spin. She kept playing, louder and faster, the notes launching through him, spinning him faster and faster. The blood from his body spraying in all directions but sucked up by the tear in reality where a new sun shown.

The limb snapped and she jumped up, grabbing the rope hanging from his ankle, dropping the boneflute now being played by the wind. They fell to the ground, still pulled toward the tear. Planting her feet and elbow, she shouted a single word into the air as loud as she could. It came as a lightning snap and the tear closed as if clamped shut.

Sweating, her breath ragged, and her limbs weak, she pushed herself to her feet and stared down at the skinless man.

Her eyebrows bent upward and her eyes filled with tears, You look like a child.

In one motion she pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the neck. Her blade cracked through his bones and tore through his muscle and tears fell from her face. One foot on his skull, she used the leverage to pull the blade back out of him and walked towards where the tear was and searched the ground.

After a time, she found the boneflute. The darkness of night wrapped round her as a sharp inhale came from the boy’s body followed by coughing and vomiting.

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