Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #4.1

4. ‘Dead People Get Buried’

'You keep away from him. You hear me? You don't touch him!'
The man with the lighter hair – Sam, he calls himself – has positioned himself between his brother and the fire, where I crouch. I offer him a glance, but he flinches away from eye contact: 'You don't go near him!'
Brother Marc is still prostrate on the sand. He has done little more than shake for the best part of three worktimes now. The bark sheets that I had carried to this place before the first sleeptime lie scattered around him: his fever jerks his limbs, which shakes the sheets free from his form.
This is not a good place to be damaged – it is too close to the healing pools, and the denizens of those brines do not appreciate the disturbance caused by someone in so much pain: I'm surprised that the crabs and cuttlefish have not dragged him into the foams already.
I have done what I can. I've built them a fire and collected sufficient wood to keep the flames alive while I'm away from the beach. I've given them some of my gourds and filled them with fresh water. I've caught and cooked them food: mudslumberers boiled in a pot with some roots, and scallifish roasted above the fire – though it took a fair amount of persuading to get Brother Sam to eat. I was going to share the turtle fruits with him but, given his attitude, I decided to keep them for myself.
What I haven't shared with the strangers are my words. Those I keep safe to myself.
Sam the beach man has settled into a crouch. Sometimes he copies my movements, as if he is teaching his muscles how to work through imitation. As I sort through the stack of twigs and leaves, so he sorts through a stack of invisible tinder, each movement a scant breath behind mine.
'Why is there no night here, savage?'
I ignore his question as I pile fresh branches in a cone around the low flames. The last of the scallifish are at my feet, already gutted and threaded on long sticks ready to be staked into the sand. I take care to prod the sourscrape roots, each oval tuber wrapped in gallo leaves, deep into the embers; I have to trust that the man remembers how long they need to cook, and how to eat them once they are done.
I cannot waste any more time here.
'Tell me where the sun is. Tell me why there is no night, only day.'
He guards his brother, I assume, because he wants the man to suffer. Maybe they have fought over a woman, or the dark haired one has bullied him to a point where retribution is both justified and honourable. There could be other reasons but, because I will not share my words with him, I'll never recover the details of their story.
I already know how this tale will end for the one called Marc. The Rappoe was not kind to him: by the time I reached him, the fish had buried several spines in his face – one piercing his eye – and the poison was already burning the flesh. And the poison does not relent; where once the man had a cheek, all that remains is a bloody suppuration. The bones around his mouth show where the skin has split, and his eye cries nothing but puss. He is beyond help.
A good brother – a loving brother – would not hesitate to slit the man and let his Vital Breath break away from the flesh, to float back to a healing pool where he can form into a new body. I can recall a number of times when I have been grateful for the swift thrust of a brother's knife across my throat; the flesh may fall away, but the memories stay close – to remember harsh pain while being healed is ... unpleasant.
Sam danced a mania fit to embarrass the skies when I had readied my glassy blade to perform the mercy, during our first encounter. His attack was unskilled, yet total in its force. Rather than risk a fall in that surf, or possibly stepping on the injured Rappoe, I had backed away, leaving the man to drag his brother out of the water. I tried to offer him the knife so that he could do the work himself, but he had thrown it back at me.
That is when I vowed to not share my words with these men. Sam dishonoured his gang brothers through his actions, and he dishonoured me by refusing my gifts.
I had also determined that I would not waste any more worktime on the pair. If I had found another person – even a woman – in these woods, they would never have seen me again. But there are no other people in this place, and it is dangerous for a man to be alone for more than a short while.

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