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.