Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #6.1

6. The Longhouse

'You used me as fucking bait?'
'I apologise. It was the only way I could deal with it.'
Below us, waves pile into the long inlet, dancing as the storm pushes them first this way and then that way. Thankfully this longhouse is sturdily constructed, its roof and walls still entire. The gang who built it, halfway up the side of the hill, are – were – skilled craftsman, with an eye for a good view.
'I could have died!'
'You still breathe, yes?'
'That's not the point ... you did kill it: tell me you killed it?'
I offer the man sat opposite me a smile: 'Kill it?'
'Kill it. End its life. Like Marc.'
'If you mean: "did I take its breath from its flesh," then no. I did not kill it. That one has been damaged – it will take it a fair while to re-grow its head, but it has not gone.'
A look of disgust wraps its creases around his head. 'Are there more of those things around?'
'I doubt it. They do not tolerate each other's company very well. And they hardly ever venture this close to the sea.'
'So we're safe here?'
'From flaymen? Yes. They never climb; they seem to distrust wood.'
'But there's other dangers – what were those worms in that fruit? Could they have killed me?
'Fretworms? They are an annoyance. They live in the fruit, but sometimes they make their home in a man's cheeks, rotting the flesh by their passage. The irritation can lead to torture, but most men afflicted with a fretworm will throw themselves from a cliff long before that happens.'
'What, they get into your brain?'
I glance at the fire sat in its hearth in the middle of the room. The wood that I had found piled at the far end of the longhouse burns brightly, with little smoke.
'I've not heard of that happening.'
'Why else would a man throw himself from a cliff?'
'To free his Vital Breath from his bones, of course.'
Tiring of the constant questions, I stand up and walk across the tight-fitting planks over to the fire. 'Where did you put your bag? We can bake the last of those sourscrape roots; they'll be ready to eat by the time we wake.'
Receiving no answer, I turn to see if he is watching me. Instead I find him with his head cocked to one side and his tongue loose at the edge of his lips. I can recognise a thinking posture when I see one.
'What worries you?'
'I thought I was dead,' he starts. 'When I first came to ... I remember dying, I think. In the tomb under the warehouse, and then there were lights, and floating ... and Marc was floating with me; somehow I knew it was him ... and something tried to grab us, engulf us, but we followed the demon – shit, there really was a demon? In my fucking head?'
He considers his own question for a moment. 'And then I was floating. Marc helped me escape from the bag in the rock pool. He said we weren't dead, that we would live forever now – together forever ... but I told him I was dead and then ... then he really did die. That fish killed him ...'
A crack of burning wood breaks into the relative silence caused by the man's faltering trail of words.
'Your brother ... Maak, yes? You say he is dead – killed ...'
I retrace my steps, hunker back down and place my hand on Sam's shoulder. 'His flesh is burned,' I continue, 'but his Vital Breath remains.'
'What do you mean?'
'Always the questions with you! Your brother's flesh is burned – we burned it: a good honouring, that – but his Vital Breath still exists ...'
'Like a spirit? A ghost?'
I shake my head. 'More words that have no meaning to me. A man’s Vital Breath leaves his body when the pain became too much, and the lungs and heart cease their counting. Your Maak will have found himself a healing pool and even now he will be growing new flesh. In a dozen sleeps, or a hundred – however longs it takes him – he will emerge from the healing pool ...'
'You mean he's alive? Like a reincarnation?'
'Don't look so glad, brother Sam.' I spot the bag across the room and stand to fetch the roots from it. 'I doubt he'll be happy with you, not after the agony you forced him to endure. What did he do to you to make you hate him so badly?'
The man shifts his weight from one buttock to the other, leans back on his arms to look at me directly.
'Reincarnation – that's a lie! We die and we go to Heaven, or Hell. Or maybe Purgatory. That's what the vicar said when I asked him. He said my Mum would surely be in Heaven with God. He said maybe Dad was in Purgatory, because he was a good man with just one moment of madness marked on his soul ...'
I have work to do: the sourscrape roots won't wrap themselves. But the man's gaze is steady on me, it keeps me from turning my back on him.
'... this place, maybe it's Purgatory. Maybe my Dad is here.'
Dad ...
Like many of the words that Brother Sam spatters into the air, it holds no meaning to me. And yet the sound of it in my ears feels – worthy. Secure.
The door at the far end of the long-room flares as a spar of lightning passes from sky to sea. The thunderous crack of its passage follows quickly after, loud enough to make me duck to the floor.
'Shit! That was a close one!' I turn and see him grinning at me, as if to laugh at the fear clenching my guts.
It is pride that straightens my knees, and my spine. Pride that takes my feet across the room to the bag and the sustenance it contains. My bones determine that I must fight this sudden panic, refuse it access to my face and my bowels, refuse to let it reflect in the eyes of a stranger.
Never have I witnessed the sky and the sea commune in such a violent manner before.
So why does my silent voice possess words to describe such impossibilities?

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