Thursday, April 26, 2012

In the Shadow of the Temple

Mother told me not to go there, ever, so how could I resist?

They called the shadow of the temple dangerous. Beneath that great spire next to the sprawling globe of roofing tiles – intricately carved with the graven images of beasts and flowers – the suns could not reach. The soil in the shadow lay untouched, dark, and damp. There were stories of giant worms that reached up and grabbed young souls foolhardy enough to trespass into that forbidden stretch of land. Some said the shadows of the dead roamed there, hungry for flesh. Others said it was something more mundane, a kind of sickness, or possibly a flesh eating bacteria that thrived there thanks to the lack of light. But no matter who told the stories, the outcome was always the same: No one ever came back alive.

The interior of the temple always clamored with life. The monks and abbesses walked from window to window, maroon shadows cloaked in red hoods and turbans darkened by the lack of light.  They sang their harmonious hymns to gods that few of us outside the temple knew or could ever understand. They planted the sun-kissed lands in front of the temple and grew crops. Because they loved us, they kept enough in their storage barns to feed all of us in the village in case there was another drought or another famine.
I hitched up my skirts and walked forward. I paused to examine the land from my vantage upon a hill. From here, it just looked dark. The stretch of land sat still, unmoving, unthreatening.
I thought of Mother, of all the things she told me never to do: never to go out with boys, never to give my heart, never to kiss. When I told her that Kamine had died from an infection from a stubbed toe, she shrugged and told me I was better off. But I wasn’t. I thought of his lips, those lips that never kissed mine. She said boys stole hearts and crushed souls. And I couldn’t argue that my soul felt crushed, but I couldn’t blame Kamine. I would have willingly given him my heart and soul just to hold the memory of one unimagined kiss.
I started walking down the hill. The grass gave way to rocks. The rocks gave way to sand. My feet slipped and I lost a shoe. I reached down to grab it, but it was already gone, sucked down beneath the moving sand of a sand trap. I tread carefully, watching for the other sand traps that littered the waste. They were easy enough to see for the most part, tiny rotating things. I knew some of the sand traps were larger, and harder to see because they moved in larger swirls. Those were the ones that a person really had to watch out for. The large ones are the ones that would suck down more than a shoe. They would suck you down whole, enveloping you too quick to be heard if you screamed.
I looked behind me and saw my sister. She was watching me in silence, crying. I wanted to tell her to go back, to not watch, but I didn’t want any of the adults to see me. I didn’t want to draw their attention. If the adults saw me, they would surely try to stop me.
At the edge of the shadow, the air grew cold. I breathed it in, and it tasted metallic with an underlying stench of sulfur.   
I took my first steps into the shadow and felt it cover me. I looked up, and the suns were gone. For the first time in my life, I was without their light. And, for the first time since leaving home that morning, I felt afraid.
The ground beneath me felt solid enough. I reached down. It was cold to the touch and dry. It was like the sand on the edge, but it felt lighter somehow, less substantial. It drained through my fingers like a cloud of dust.
A monk looked down at me through a window high above. I could not see his face, so I could only imagine his expression. Was the monk worried? Mournful? Angry? I had no way of knowing. I do know he did not yell at me to leave like I expected. There was a quick movement. A nod perhaps? And then the monk was gone, leaving the window empty.
And then the hands reached up. I felt them caress my leg, up my calf, towards my thigh, beyond. I shivered with something that might have been terror, but felt more like something else, something I had never experienced but had imagined on many lonely nights.
And then there was a kiss. There was Kamine, and I let him pull me down towards him. I went willingly. And we made our bed in the dust together. It was bliss, it was death, and my sister watched it all.
And I looked up one last time as Kamine, or what I imagined to be Kamine, caressed me. I saw my sister’s face, and she wasn’t my sister at all. She was my mother, and she cried for me.
I closed my eyes before the dust fell down on me, enveloped me in a cool embrace, but it didn’t matter. The dust penetrated everything, even my closed eyelids. The dust in the darkness was unrelenting and fierce with hunger. I gasped with short quick breaths until there was no air left, no life, and the shadows swallowed me whole.
When I awoke, there was no light, only the songs of the monks and abbesses, and they sang my name. They whispered the story of my marriage with reverence and terrified awe.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

That Grey Unending Dream of Tomorrow

Do you remember when the world stopped making sense? Do you remember what it was like to wake up and face the routine? Do you remember those little hassles that made up the day-to-day? Do you remember shuttling the kids to soccer practice and complaining because it took up so much of your time? Do youremember complaining about so many things?

But not everything was a pain in the ass.

Do you remember sleeping in on Saturdays? Do you remember how I used to roll over and hold you at night while you slept? Do you remember those days before the chill crept in? Do you remember how our children used to laugh and smile and play? Do you remember the days before the fungus grew over our lives?

Now I look at you and you are buried beneath layers of hairy white mold. The twins are there with you. I can see their outlines in the caps of two sickly white mushrooms. They look delicious, but I have resisted. I can feel you down there,Sweetheart, and I know you are watching. That gives me strength. I can feel you pulsing with spores. You are there, and I am here. We’re separated by years of growth and something like death, but still we are connected.

The Remnant, we are, and we are few. We absorb the stinking air. My unused lungs and throat ache, caked in fungus. I don’t even have a voice with which to scream. I don’t know if I even sleep anymore. It is all a dream. A grey dream, unending, yet somehow I endure this nightmare.

It is the little things that keep me sane, I think. The little things keep me who I am. Unlike the others, I remember. At leastI remember some things.

I remember you.

It is the little things that remind me of you. A column of sunlight sometimes breaks the clouds. Spores dance in the dim light, and I remember our honeymoon. I remember watching dust dance in the slanting sunlight pouring through the window of that little cabin while you slept. There was a smile on your face. The sheet hung off of your shoulders, and I could see just a hint of the side of your naked breast. Your body outlined beneath the sheets was young and perfect, and I knew that life was good.

When the others scream, I think of the delivery room. I think of your screams in labor, and Iremember the miracles that followed. Those memories hurt. It kills me to think about the twins and what happened to them, but at least I have those memories.

I can see the growths when I try to close my eyes. There are lichens now in place of my eyelids. I wonder how much longer I have before these growths seep their way into my mind?

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if they’re my memories at all? We the Remnant share everything. We’re tied by networks of roots feeding on rotten soil. We are one in this new world, forged by our maker’s hand. The mighty connectedness peels back our individuality to make way for our collective. I no longer have the ability to walk. My feet are nothing but a stalk, my arms circle to form a cap, and my face looks upwards into the pale grey skies. I pray for sunlight, for blue skies, for an end to the endless dark humidity, but I know my prayers are in vain.

The world has died and now only the fungus remains. We eat the world away. We are the great recyclers breaking down an unused body to make way for a futurewhich holds no use for us.

At least I have the spores to keep me company. The spores always dance. They dance for me, they dance for you, they dance for the Remnant and become part of the Remnant. The spores take root and grow, eating wherever they land -- new life from old.

We feed on each other.

Philosophically, I know this is wrong, but my neighbor is delicious. Besides, Stanlydoesn’t think anymore anyway. There’s no face left. No mouth with which to devour. He doesn’t speak. His roots grew brittle.

Entropy attacked him long ago. His cells faded. So, I decided: Why should what remainsgo to waste?

I ate Mrs. Burgess from down the street last week. At least I think it was last week? Time’s funny here.

Death is funny, too.

I remember Mrs. Burgess’s sixteenth birthday. How weird is that? She was in her seventies when we were in our thirties. Remember, Sweetheart? How can I have her memories? I wasn’t even born yet at the time of her sweet sixteen! She loved a guy named Thomas. He had long curly hair and wore tiny little green-tinted spectacles.

I love him too now.

I feel you pulsing beneath me.

The spores in the sky seem to be thinning as time goes on. The earth seems to be drying beneath us. We have to search further for moisture. We dig down deeper for sustenance.

What used to be our bones are hollow and petrified. The flesh has dried, and I can feel patches of lichen peeling off andfloating away on the dead breeze.

Growth now covers my eyescompletely.

I don’t sense the Remnant anymore. There is only me, but I have so many memories. I don’t know where I end and the others –or what used to be the others –begin.

Sweetheart, I feel you beneath me, pulsing, always pulsing.

One day you will release your spores and they will feed on me.

Feeding you as the world fades away, I will feel complete.

I can’t wait for tomorrow.