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Chapter 13: Still Life with Rotting Fruit

The brain has an amazing ability to sequester excruciating pain. It can carve out a trench in the mind and allow that pain to flow down channels, narrowly missing the more important parts of your life. But when the brain doesn’t provide your body with these troughs through which to divert your misery, it has another amazing ability: to let that pain surge from the body like an unquenchable typhoon.

Waves will crash upon you. Water will gorge you, rising to overtake the world that brought you such agony. You will soar and sing with the boom of tidal currents breaking on rock, and it will feel as glorious as if you were moving mountains with your bare hands.

I moved more than just mounds of earth with mine. I moved an untouchable shadow with nothing but my fingers. I made it writhe and shriek and then fall silent because a shadow cannot speak; it’s simply unnatural for it to do so.

The shadow had eyes, but they weren’t black, and a shadow shouldn’t see, so I fixed it. The powerful glut I felt making these irreversible decisions ignited in my belly an appetite that needed gratifying. So I licked and I tasted and I swallowed to curb my hunger.

If I had to guess, I’d think I was sucking on a shiny new penny – two, in fact – one for each meaty hole where that shadow’s eyes had been, but nothing remains in my mouth – just that bitter, coppery tinge.

I gave the shadow a smile, but when it grew tired of laughing, I took it again like magic. The water welled up inside me; I felt it swell behind my heart until I let it flow through my hands so it could wash away my pain. I then sat on the damage that water had caused and recounted teeth, recounted ears, recounted eyes, and fixed this shadow’s face until there was nothing left to count.

I now sit, my knees on either side of its unmoving chest, focused on the brilliance of my handiwork. The shadow is still warm under me, a paradox, as there's no such thing as a warm shadow. I fixed that paradox, so that now it’s unnatural heat can fade, and when the dawn breaks, the shadow will be consumed, gone forever into the mouth of light. I restored a natural law.

Through the dense, dampening fog, I smell dirt. It is the marshy smell of sod that was once alive – decaying earth, like peat. Rotting logs … fungus … the floor of a living, breathing forest carpeted in deep, red soil – that is what I smell and what I taste. This living earth is drinking blood like a fine wine. It lets it pool on its tongue before swallowing it in a gluttonous gulp, allowing its rich, metallic notes to bloom and captivate its senses – a true earthly delight.

When I feel my chest rising and falling, I realize I can breathe again. The air is thick and dense. My throat stopped burning, but my palm still bites like a copperhead. It is a carnal red, my hand – carved like meat and rubbed in dirt. I want to lick it. I want to clean it. I want to taste my own pretty pennies.

My humming ears finally clear, only to be overcome with the symphony of cicadas that surround me. The shrill chirps sing to me through the haze and the murky veil lifts, returning me to the earth and the dark pile of flesh on which I perch.

My belly growls, and I’m suddenly overwrought. But something tells me those bottomless pits locked upon me won’t let me rest my hungry bones just yet.

Just beyond the juicy field of red where the shadow’s face had been, two knees kneel in the ruddy earth. Two hands are folded over thighs. The face is soft, and those fiery pits are studying me like a painting. They flow down me, consuming every inch of me, and I feel nude. He’s watching me – disrobing my red-stained body as I sit poised with a pile of overripe fruits between my knees. Those eyes slowly tip and lean in to absorb the details of my work, and the head shakes in awe at what the human hand is capable of creating.

His lips part to speak, but he stops, unable to bring himself to break my ghastly tableau with his tongue; but I want to hear him speak. I need help. I need a sympathetic friend to help me find my footing in this madness, because I know it’s madness, though I cannot find the strength to run away.

What was barely a nudge to this man was a catastrophic plunge to me, and I can see the pride radiating from his skin like a warm glow. Only God knows what’s happening below his navel now.

“Unpredictable,” he finally mumbles to himself.

I close my eyes when I hear his voice. It’s thick and heavy – a hot blanket spreading across my back. That warmth approaches my chest, and a palm slides along my neck to cup my cheek. His hand reeks of a sweet perfume, sickly and rosy – far from his normal aroma of moss and cigarettes. Fingers lift my chin and he takes my mouth in his, and I pass those pretty pennies to his tongue.

My eyes finally open when his teeth release my lip, and I stare into those gaping wells again. They’re no longer simply damp and muddy at the bottom; they’re brimming with red water now, and I damn near drown where I sit. He salvages what’s left of me before I sink and lays my head on his shoulder so I can rest my broken body and feel his heart beat in unison with my own.

I am free-falling from grace, and there is no ground on which to crack my skull and end it.

I am overflowing with an insatiable appetite, and my belly is begging to be fed.

I am plunging into oblivion, a hot black hole of destruction, and it is terrifying, but at least he is with me in that darkness.

Notes:

Occasionally, I will deconstruct parts of this fic and include links to those notes at the end of a chapter, like this:

My chapter 13 notes.