We all remember. We remember what is no more.
It began when we started acting funny. Us and them. Them first. On a hot awakening of unnatural dry winds and eerie bubbles of silence (or a cold one, elsewhere, but still eerie and strange), many tall ones abandoned their annoying grabby-grabby, huggy-huggy methods.
We thought that was good, but we were wrong.
One by one they became detached, inattentive. They forgot about food and hygiene. Ours and theirs. We tried to help, as dictated by nature, but they shunned us.
Some walked out, never looking back. We waited, but of these none returned. Others, apparently unaffected but still neglecting their duties as tall ones, donned their fake furs and collected their playthings, stuffed them and themselves in their moving hideouts and, well, moved. Those did not come back, either. Only a few took us with them.
What they all did, after a while, was rip each other’s throats and eat each other’s limbs. We helped out with a bite here and there, but not until it was absolutely necessary and only from those who fell and stopped moving. We are no monsters. What were we to do for food, just then?
We know this occurred, this and more, for some time later came the joining. We saw the things the others of our kind saw. The smells coming from inside a cave or riding the zephyrs on a valley far away lit up all of our senses. When one honed its claws, scratching bark and stone, we all felt the relief. The eating of one satisfied the rest of us (although nurture still had to come by physical means and the burgeoning population of small ones took care of that).
We thought this was good, but we were wrong.
When we got to know every taste and every sight, when all became familiar and commonplace, and food practically started walking into our maws, there was little of interest for us to try. No new or old things amazed. Unexplored corners no longer looked inviting because others had already explored them in our stead. The long walks and the moonlit paths were soon gone and those tiring sessions spent chasing the never-ending worms and the shifty red dots ceased to have meaning.
We do not know what will happen to us. What we do know is that we, or something, killed curiosity. There is nothing left to do now but sleep all day.
What kind of magic spell to use?
It took a few hours for the little embryo of a flame to catch on the not so little and not so dry pile of sticks, but when she woke up after a short, fitful sleep and looked at the full-bodied, lively fire, the girl saw the fire staring back at her with squinty, coal-black eyes.
“Finally,” she said.
“Don’t even,” shot back the demon. It reached out with a menacing tendril of swirling red and orange streams, pointing it at her face. “I could say the same to you, undisciplined, lazy stork. You’ve kept me waiting.”
She raised an auburn eyebrow.
“I can always send you back, if that is your wish. See how well others can summon you during this bone-chilling rainy season,” she said. “Perhaps it is for the best. Something has certainly gone awry if stork is the best you can do for curses.”
Under the light of the tall pyre, her skin glowed a rich copper and the velvet of her luxurious clothes shone even grander. She knew the apparition knew no amateur could possibly afford such garments, but she expected the thing to nonetheless try and assert some sort of superiority.
And it did. It unglued itself from the mound of embers and put its shapeless face in front of hers. The two pits of congealed blackness that appraised her were, in appropriate contrast with the rest of it, as cold as the fiend’s demeanor.
“I will split in two the womb that birthed you,” it threatened. “I will turn to tatters the mouth that gave you a name. All you love will be devoured and become cinder and ashes.”
The girl smirked. She could play power games, too. Her way.
“A tad dramatic, don’t you think?”
The demon shook convulsively, looked up to the heavy dark blanket of the night sky and grew by at least one foot. Tall crowns and squiggly feelers of heat rose from its shoulders and back.
“Daughter of Solomon! Betrayer of the True Power! Acolyte of Seimei!”
The girl turned and walked to where her tent was. From it, grunting and heaving, she dragged out a large tin bucket full of sand.
“We’d better call it a night. I’ll shout for one of your more powerful fellows tomorrow,” she said and readied the bucket for dumping.
The demon looked around, exasperated.
“Fine. Fine!” it said, lowering its voice to a near whisper. “The fuck you want, cum-eating, small-titted, ass-fucking cunt?”
The young girl did a small dance around the fire.
“Now we’re talking,” she said when she was done jumping and clapping. “Come, there’s a bunch of things I have to show you.”
“As long as your sour, fish-smelling, witch pussy is not one of them,” warned without enthusiasm the now pathetic flaming figure, and sighed.
“This is going to be so much fun,” she said.
It starts with…
The bed reeks of ammonia and disinfectant. The flowers on the bedside table, someone in social services realizing freshening them daily had become too onerous and pointless, have long ago wilted. Blackened and moldy, they bend toward the floor as if begging for their return to the earth two stories below.
The sky outside, crisp and bleak, shed all of its tears days before.
By the woman’s feet, on a set of sheets that should never feel the touch of the healthy and yet do, Dean lies on his stomach. He bites his lip from time to time, and when he does not, he nibbles on an already well-chewed pencil. He lifts his head to check on her, but she still sleeps.
Each day but Friday, his father picks him up at noon sharp after school. The drive from Pleasant View Elementary to Westview Hospital down in Indianapolis takes about twenty minutes on a battered, old Ram Charger that begs to go slower and do thirty instead. The view is neither pleasant nor particularly westerly (whatever that may be) on this in-between, but they need those twenty. Dean disembarks, his father kisses him goodbye, and off he goes, back onto the sliding blacktop of the the I-65 and the I-465 and then Zionsville Road until he reaches the golf course, fifty minutes already into his lunch hour and just starting to eat. He jokes about one day breaking the world record for fastest devouring of a pastrami sandwich.
At the hospital, his mother dozes for most of the afternoon while Dean does homework or reads Harry Potter for the tenth or eleventh time. If she wakes within the first couple of hours after he joins her, she only smiles and says something about his hair being too long or his clothes starting to grow too small. Then, seemingly spent by such miniature annotations, she returns to the drug.
The nurses know him and he knows them all by name and nature. Layla of the championship breasts he is beginning to take note of, although not attracted to yet. Nancy with her pipsqueak voice and eyes that hold more depth and wisdom than any others in girls her age. Moira behind the desk, phone busy and chart busy and with no time for nonsense.
And Doc Constantine. He has known him the longest. Long enough to be at ease when he says nothing and well enough to wish that he continues to do so.
By evening, young man and older man are at home once again, dining on soup and greens and sometimes good conversation. Often, they say nothing.
Fridays are for friends, but he does not have many, so mostly he reads.
She shakes sleep off as Nancy comes in to change the clear pouch with clear liquid in it. One more of many with unpronounceable labels, continuously pumping exotic molecules where before they had dripped hope.
“What are these,” Dean’s mother asks the nurse, waving one weak arm over a herd of crumpled paper sheets.
Nancy points to the door with her head. When she leaves, she tussles the boy’s hair.
“I want to write you a letter,” he says, shuffling in. “I don’t know how to start.”
Her smile then, larger and more sustained when the chems shift and the long sleeps have restored a measure of strength, always brings some blue back to the erstwhile gray vault outside the windows. Inside things change, too.
“Well, Dean,” she says. “All letters start with a letter, and that’s a well-known fact.”
“That’s not funny,” he says, but he’s grinning as he picks up the aborted paper prototypes.
“It’s true,” she continues. “And there’s more. They all start and end with the same one.”
“Yup,” she says. “They start and end with the letter love.”
“That ain’t a letter, mum.”
He puts the last ball inside his backpack and sits next to her, grabbing a bony hand lying at the edge of the bed. She squeezes lightly.
“Love can always be a letter, if you make it into one.”
“Now, that’s clever,” he replies.
“And corny,” says Dean’s father by the door. “But he’ll take it.”
“I’ll take it,” confirms Dean.