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In the Land of Fire and Dreams

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On the boat over, your people wail and moan, but the way they whisper to each other in comfort, cling to each other’s hands in hope help you remember the crackle of the wood as it burned in the fire, the sharp tang of feast wine as the cup passed from hand to hand. Praise the light god with good, curse the dark god with bad. The rain when it hits your face tastes as the wine did, powerful and heady. The thunder makes you smile, knowing that soon the skies will clear, become as blue as your eyes. Things will be better soon here in this new land, America.

*

There is so much joy, you can feel it clinging to your fingertips, pulling tight at your chest and making your face ache with smiles you haven’t made. The voyage is over, the people safe, laughter and song make the very air feel like it is dancing (and with the way the wine is flowing, it probably will be if the others have anything to say about it). Everywhere is life and hope, a sense of possibility here in this new land.

You can hear the children laugh, your people whisper your name with smiles, not tears. A good day.

*

In what feels like no time at all, years have passed. When you can get yourself to sleep, you wake dreaming of blood. The hope has dried up, the laughter is gone. Your people have little food in the fields, even less on the tables. The children cry, their parents grieve. You mourn for them. With them. For yourself? Yes. Hands that seemed strong now can only clench and twist as hunger continues, the days of feast and festival strength further and further in the past.

Where before there was life, not there only seems to be death. Your people cry out in hunger, calling for help. You take to the fields, helping to slaughter the animals before more people starve. The blood on your hands brings you no comfort, no offering energy. All is dead.

It is hard to stay light in so much dark, alive in so much death. You don’t try.
*

The journey west is hard and only holds a faint echo of the hope people had carried on the boat like so much baggage. There are skirmishes and fights as you make your way to the center of the country, and as your people fight and bleed and die in your name (or because of it) you feel strong, mighty. While it doesn’t make the night seem brighter, at least it holds the clouds at bay for a while longer, keeps the shadow and weight from your mind.

Though the wine cups have long ago been sold and traded for coin and food, your people tell stories of you around the fire, and that’s almost enough.

*

The city is springing up like grass after a rain, Chicago rising in boards and beams high up into the sky. It should feel new and hopeful, it doesn’t for you. The stories are fewer as people leave the past behind. With each death of an elder, the stories get lost, fractured, falsified. The children grow up without knowing your name, your history. The sorrow of it is sharp, but it is a passing grief and there is no point to it. No tears will make it better.

*

All around you, the air is warm with the smell and sounds of spring, but you carry the memory of too many cold and long winters, too many days of walking the Shambles with blood-stained boots and foul-smelling hands to really feel warm. You feel there was a time when warmth and love, laughter and smiles were all you knew. Something about a cup, wine flowing with praise. A dream, perhaps.

You wonder if the men around you know what you are, can feel the power that used to rise from you like mist after a rain. But as you walk the dirty floor, raise and lower the meat for packaging, no longer smelling the stink of death (did your victories in battle smell sweeter or is that simply the memory?), it seems that you are all the same, all simply working part of this machine of destruction.

*

Your people used to praise you; later they would curse you. Now, you fear that they have forgotten you. You feel the burn of anger, hot like the flow of blood under your knife. If you don’t think about it, you can pretend that it’s not cows you’re killing, that you’re back on a field in battle, hearing your people call out your name, dedicating lives and deaths to you.

*

There’s an edge to the air, a heat that reminds you of the fires that used to burn in your name. But those that remembered have long since passed; you can feel your own fragility now. If you knew what would come after, you would long for death. If you could name the feeling that rises instead, you would call it fear and curse yourself a coward. But fear has no place in you, no more than peace does any more. The sky burns orange for four straight days. The fire that they will later call great levels miles of Chicago. You know that the devastation and chaos is not for you, but still you smile and sleep easy for the first night in a long time.

*

Others pass through, others like you (and enough not that it makes your skin itch) and the sisters stay, making you feel like it’s home. It’s almost enough to make you remember the feel of sun and light, but not always. Still, you’d forgotten what it was like not to feel alone, be alone. And that is a good thing.

Around you the world changes, shifts. The Shambles is torn down, the meatpacking plants slowly dismantled until only the bare bones of rails and bridges that carried the cattle cars arc like a ghostly skeleton e against the sky as the only reminder. You have long felt forgotten, but it is the first time you feel unnecessary.

*

You wonder what color your eyes are now. You don’t look.