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reeds growing out of my fingertips

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The water flows.

The sisters sing.

The river calls.

 

The song of her sisters is sweet and mellow, a brook flowing over pebbles, made round and soft by water and time. The rising sun reflects on the surface, casting the morning in ever breaking facets of light. It’s a morning to sing and dance and rejoice.

Summer is thrumming in her veins, so Lea dances with the water, dances with the light, dances with her sisters.

There’s a girl sitting on the river bank. She’s a child, still, body young and limber. Flowers braided in her hair, flowers woven through the threads of her white dress. She pulls off her flower crown, lets it float on the surface, lets the current take it away.

Lea looks on. Summer is thrumming in her veins, and the thirst is on her tongue. Her sisters sing excitedly, songs of accepting offers, songs of life, songs of blood.

The girl steps out of her dress, fabric pooling at her bare feet. There’s blood on her thighs. Lea can taste it in the air.

The girl dances naked on the riverside. One foot breaching the water, one foot still on the shore, steps following the rhythm of the sister’s songs. The sisters dance along. Lea sings and dances and thirsts. Slowly the dance takes the girl into the water, midriff deep.

“First blood, healthy life,” the girl says, and falls back into the river.

The sisters take the deal. Lea sips the maiden’s blood and licks her teeth.

 

The blood flows.

The sisters feast.

The river swells.

 

The songs of her sisters are wild and frothy, in memory of summer storms, stirring the water into waves. Fall is in their hearts, bittersweet and damp. They play hide and seek between the debris, branches, leaves, rotting animals caught in the stream.

There’s blood in the water, from upstream, and the sisters celebrate. They dance and swirl and sing, to songs of death and life and water. Lea drinks and drinks and drinks, but fall is in her heart so the hunger sticks to her teeth.

A man stumbles through the reeds, blood dripping on the river bank. The sisters sing, to lure, to tempt, to snare. They dance and storm and swirl, churning the water in their wake. Lea thirsts and hungers and joins the fray.

The man falls into the river, head barely above the surface. The water is on his lips, and the sisters are all over him, touching, toying, tasting.

Lea pulls her hands through his hair, the wet locks pulling him under, caught in the reeds. The man struggles, but the blood takes his strength with it.

“My blood, spilled in battle, for a life, spent at home,” he whispers.

The sisters take the deal. Lea bathes in his blood, hunger nearly quenched.

 

The water slows.

The sisters heal.

The river freezes.

 

The songs of her sisters are cold and quiet. Telling tales of meanders taken, rocks worn down, sisters swept away to sea. Winter has a hold on their roots, and memories are long and lost and lovelorn.

Lea thinks of her sister-wife, how they sang, how they danced, how they loved. Lea thinks of her sister-wife, who dreamt about the stream, who called out to the current, who sang about the sea. Lea thinks of her sister-wife, who left. 

Lea longs to follow, but Winter has a hold on her roots, so she stays.

An old woman steps onto the ice. The sisters whisper wistfully. No taste, no touch, no tale can reach through the thick layer of ice covering the river. They watch and wish and whisper, weaving a quiet song to the rhythm of her steps and the moaning of the ice.

From below the ice, the sisters watch her make her way to the middle of the ice. Even in winter, here the river flows, slow but steady, water moving through Lea’s fingers and hair.

The woman chips in the ice, slow but steady, and the sisters sing to her beat. A song of death and cold and hunger. When she cracks the ice, she cuts her finger on the ice. It burns on Lea’s tongue, she tastes of croaking bones, rotting teeth, and slow, slow decay. She tastes of life.

The woman undresses, gooseflesh adorning her rimpled skin. “My blood, my life, for a bountiful harvest,” she pleads.

The sisters take the deal. Lea cradles the woman in her arms, drifting with the current, blood slowly feeding the frenzy of the sisters.

 

The ice breaks.

The sisters numb the pain.

The river floods.

 

The songs of her sisters are frail and fresh and free. Spring is in their voice, spinning spells of new rains to fall, new paths to dance, new sisters to serenade. The water pebbles, travels flow, and the sisters sing.

Lea wants. Spring is in her voice, thirst is on her tongue, hunger aches her teeth, and longing makes her feet wander, trail new steps into dance. She sings, she calls, she croons, she joins her sisters.

Come to us. Join us. Come, come, come.

A woman comes. She makes her way through the muddy riverbank, tred slow, steps leaving deep trails in the muck. She’s heavy with child, dress tight over her bulging stomach.

The sisters thrill. New life, new blood, new voices for the song.

The woman sits down on the riverbank and slashes her hand.

“My blood for a safe birth, my water for a healthy child,” she offers.

The sisters take the deal.

The sisters catch the woman in their embrace. They sing to the rhythm of her breathing, to the sounds of her moaning, and the echoes of her screams. 

The sisters dive and swim and splash.

Lea wipes the woman’s brow, sings a song of health and pain and life. How the baby will live, and Lea will catch her before she drowns. How the mother will live, and the afterbirth will still their hunger.

 

The water breaks.

The sisters feed.

The river lives.

 

 


 

 

The water flows.

The sisters sing.

The river calls.

 

The sisters sing of summer, thrumming, thrilling, enthralling. Songs of children born, girls of age, warrior lives wasted. The sisters dance by the cadence of the creeks, to the beat of the brooks, on the rhythm of the river.

The village flourishes. The children live playing in the water, scrapes and cuts luring the sisters into their protection. The land is fertile, flooded with every sacrifice. The people are healthy, the river cleaning their wounds, healing their sickness, and taking their lives when offered.

Lea sings, Lea swims, Lea swirls. But the water flows downriver, and the songs don’t reach upstream.

Upstream, the people don’t work the land, don’t farm in fertile soil, don’t bathe in healing waters. Upstream, the people don’t deal with spirits of the water. Upstream, the sisters dwell no more.

Upstream, the people build a dam.

 

The water slows.

The sisters sing.

The river is dammed.

 

The sisters sing of fall; destruction, death, decay. Songs of storms and downpours, hurricanes and floods. They sing, they dance, they call, but the water stays away.

The sisters sing, the sisters call, the sisters lure, but the people stay away. There's no water, there's no blood, so the sisters thirst and hunger.

Lea's songs join her sister's, her feet join their steps. But the dance has no beat and no rhythm. The songs have no harmony, no beauty, no joy.

A warrior stumbles to the river, leaving a trail of blood seeping into the dry, dusty and thirsty dirt. He falls down by the riverside, fingertips barely touching the muddy stream.

“My blood for more water,” he begs. “My blood to win the war to free the river.”

But the drops of blood falling into the water are not enough to feed the sisters. The warrior spilled his blood in the dirt.

The sisters can’t accept the deal.

 

The water turns to mud.

The sisters moan.

The river is damned.

 

The sisters do not sing of winter. There is fury in their veins, anger in their fingers. They yell, they shriek, they curse. There’s rage on their teeth and wrath on their tongues.

The sisters can't dance in the mud, so they root down in the riverbed. Once what's left of the river freezes, there isn't enough water under the frozen mud. They can't shelter, they can't breathe, they can't live. 

Lea can’t hear the voices of her sisters who left any longer. Lea can’t hear the voices of her sisters who faded away. Lea can only hear the voices of the sisters who fight. Fight for water, for space, for each other's blood.

Lea fights. Lea rampages. Lea destroys.

Lea can only hear her own voice now.

She doesn’t sing.

 

The mud is frozen.

The sisters fade.

Lea is alone.

 

Lea dwells where once the river flowed. She murmurs of water blessed, of dances held, of blood devoured, of sisters gone.

There’s no life in this mud, no spring in her steps, no people to bless, no deals to make.

Lea murmurs to herself and stumbles to her own echoes in the wind.

People pass by the dry riverbed, traveling upstream. Lea watches, but none approach. Lea calls but no one hears her voice. Lea sings and dances and wails, but there’s no water to carry her, no blood to feed her frenzy.

Lea only hears Lea, calling, calling, calling.

A young girl comes looking for water, but only finds the muddy pools that are left of Lea. She sighs and curses, but disrobes anyway.

For a moment, Lea thinks the girl will go as so many women went before her, that she'll sacrifice herself to the river. Lea sings in joy. Her calls have been heard.

The girl doesn’t listen, doesn’t hear, doesn’t offer a deal. She sits down on the riverbank and tries to wash out her clothes.

Lea’s people never washed their clothes where the sisters sang. Lea’s people never spoilt the water where the sisters danced. Lea’s people never spoilt the water that fed their land, their crops, their children.

Lea’s people moved on.

The girl washes her muddy shirt in the muddy water. Lea tastes stale sweat, sour milk, and dust that tastes of ash. Nothing that tastes of spring. Nothing to feed her hunger, nothing to feed her anger. Just dirt to kill the river.

The girl washes her muddy pants in the muddy water. Lea tastes stale sweat, rank urine, and dust that tastes of dried blood.

Lea tastes blood.

The girl offers nothing, asks for nothing. No begging, no pleading, no trading. Just specs of the dried blood from between her legs, joining with the mud.

Lea is hunger, Lea is thirst, Lea is dying.

The girl offers no deal. Lea takes the girl.

 

The mud stays.

The sisters are no more.

Lea leaves.

 

 


 

 

The water is scarce.

Lea is silent.

The river calls.

 

The girl that isn’t Lea travels with her family. She has no sisters. The summer sun burns down on their heads, while they follow the empty riverbed. The land is dry, the land is dusty, the land is deserted.

Lea awakes only when the girl that isn’t Lea bleeds. She feasts, she sings, she dances, between the sleeping bodies of not her sisters.

The summer sun burns her down, there’s no water to reflect the light, no water to cool her off. Lea snoozes and hums to the beat of the girl's feet in the dust, following her family, traveling upstream.

They pass deserted villages, destroyed villages, villages verging on the cusp of death. There’s no food to be had, no work to be done, no water to drink.

They travel upstream, looking for the river.

 

The rains start.

Lea sings.

The river swells.

 

The girl is not Lea and Lea is not the girl. But the rains fall and Lea dances. The rains fall and the girl dances. 

The river fills and Lea sings. There are no sisters to join her song, and no sacrifices to feed her, but the river flows once more, so Lea sings. The river fills and the girl sings. The melodies are strange and the language non-sensical to anyone but her, but the river flows once more, so the girl sings. 

The river fills and Lea swims. Her roots aren't here, the reeds are unfamiliar, and the waters are strange, but the water makes her free, so she swims. The river fills and the girl swims. The water is cold, the current strong and her family warns her not to, but the water cools her skin and quells her thirst, so the girl swims.

The people find her strange, but Lea doesn't mind as long as the girl bleeds for her. The girl's family calls her a Changeling, her village calls her a Witch, but Lea makes sure no harm comes to her.

The brother becomes ill and wanes away. An uncle is pulled away by a sudden current and drowns. The mother's food spoils until she starves.

 

The rain falls.

The girl sings.

Lea hears the river call.

 

The girl is not Lea and Lea is not the girl, but they both don't like the city. The rain falls but is drained away into sewers and rigid canals. The frozen puddles on the pavement are a hazard for the girl to walk on. Lea can't put down roots in the concrete, can't smell the river through the city smells. 

The girl makes do, finding her way in the city, like a river crossing the plains. Following the path with least obstructions. She finds a job as a waitress. The diner keeps her warm, keeps her fed, and Lea makes sure no harm comes to her.

The customers think she's weird and awkward, but she always hums while working, and her toothy smile seems genuine. Her co-workers think she's weird and anti-social, but she never refuses to cover for a shift. The boss thinks she's weird and damaged, but she works hard and she never, ever seems to tire.

Lea thinks she can hear her sisters sing, thinks she hears the river call, even though everything is frozen and covered in ice. But winter makes her slow, makes her bunker down. For now, the girl's monthly blood is enough.

It's early on the day when the cook cuts himself while preparing the sides for the day. The cut is deep, the blood wells fast and can't be staunched.

Lea awakes. The smell of blood is in her nose, the taste of blood is on her tongue, the blood pulses through her teeth. She sings, she dances, she drinks.

Lea is euphoric. Her hunger almost stilled, her thirst almost quenched. 

The girl is standing in the kitchen, clothes drenched, dried blood in her hair and on her skin. She cries. Her family was right to think her a changeling, to think her a witch. The girl is a monster and Lea is a demon.

The girl licks her finger. The cook lies on the floor, drained.

 

The girl runs.

The sisters sing.

The river calls.

 

The girl follows the call of the river. Lea follows the songs of the sisters. The songs are wild and unfamiliar, the language strange and incomprehensible. But they follow the beat of the river, the rhythm of her roots. It's not her sisters singing, but Lea wants to make the sisters hers.

The girl follows the call of the river and finds the dam. It's large, towering and powerful. A huge barrier made out of concrete. The girl touches the wall, feels its strength. Lea's roots won't take hold on the concrete, her song doesn't breach the dam.

Lea hears the songs of the sisters but they can't get to them. The dam is a prison, and the sisters are trapped on the other side.

Lea rages, Lea wants, Lea hungers, Lea longs. 

The river calls. 

But the girl can't get over the dam. They're stuck in the City By The Dam, forced to listen to the songs of the sisters, calling, calling, calling them.

The girl finds a job. The girl finds a boy. On their first meeting, he thinks she's weird, on the second, he thinks she's awkward, on the third he asks her out on a date. 

"Take me to the river," the girl demands, and the boy complies. 

Lea can smell the water, can taste the water in the air, can feel the power below the girl's feet. On top of the dam, the world seems tiny. The City below seems tiny, the people insignificant. But the river, the river seems massive. The reservoir is filled and the water stretches out as far as the eye can see. All the power of the water held back.

The sisters call, the sisters sing, the sisters dance below, and Lea wants to join them. Spring is thrumming in her veins, songs of  fresh starts, new loves, growing life, are in her throat. 

The river calls, and Lea heeds the sisters' songs.

The boy kisses the girl and the girl carves out his heart.

She feeds, she drinks, she's caught in a frenzy, heart beating to the songs filling her head.

Below, the sisters become frantic with the scent of blood. They scream, and sing, and cry. They dance, and swirl, and reach out.

Lea sings and the sisters answer. 

"This body filled with blood for the dam," she sings.

Lea and the girl that is not Lea dive from the dam, arms spread out, falling to the river. Going home.

The sisters take the deal.

The river stains with blood as the sisters devour the girl, gorge on the blood of the boy, dance to the rhythm of bones breaking between teeth.

Lea joins the fray.

 

The water froths.

The sisters sing.

The dam breaks.