Skyglass: Chapter 12
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Quell and Quaver
[Trigger Warning for graphic animal death.]
Marko touched foreheads with the bloody-eyed goat, then took the sledgehammer Yunayuna offered to him and pushed the creature gently to the earth.
Yuna sat beside him with her own hammer and goat. The four of them were at ease in the forest’s silence; we’d left the crowd on the other side of the ship. “This isn’t entertainment,” she had told the guests. “Let us kill in peace.” No one had put up a fight–not even the poppers. Yuna had a certain steadiness and gravity to her that just made people listen.
“You don’t have to watch this,” Marko said, running a thumb absently along his goat’s horns.
“I know,” I said. “But I think I should.” I needed to see something die, to embed the loss in me, to make myself really understand the edge I’d been stumbling on for so long. I wanted safety, I wanted life, but I wasn’t going to attain any of that until I got intimate with the other side first.
“Will they die right away?” I asked.
Yuna met my unsteady gaze. “No,” she said. “The hammer will knock them out–then we cut their throats.”
I nodded slowly and took a deep breath. I reached out and scratched the nose of the red-eyed goat, then drew back and sat in the dirt with my arms around my legs.
“On three,” Yunayuna said softly.
Their hammers made dull cracks against the goats’ skulls. I flinched despite myself.
“Do you want to bleed it out?” Yunayuna asked, offering me her knife, bone handle first. I started, the sound of the hammers still knocking in my mind. I stared at the blade in a daze, then gripped it with a steady hand, ignoring Marko’s look of concern.
“Moss,” he said.
“I’m fine,” I replied, but it was a lie.
Yunayuna moved aside so I could sit near her goat. She put her hand against its soft throat, and said, “Go deep–don’t be shy.”
“With me?” Marko asked.
I nodded stiffly, voice stuck somewhere far in my gut.
He held my eyes. “One. Two…three.”
I held the knife hard and drew it in and through and across. The blood didn’t ooze or slip out–it dropped. A downpour, spilling heavily, filling my palms. The knife fell from my grip, but my hands stayed where they were, like I thought I could stop the flow, reverse what I’d done. The dirt between my knees, under the goat’s throat, was going a mucky red.
“Moss. Moss.” A far-off voice–Marko’s? I couldn’t tell; I couldn’t remember what he sounded like.
Shadows were creeping in from the dark tendrils of my eyelashes, weaving me up in premature night; I keeled forward, collapsing against the dead goat, choking on my caving lungs.
Hands on my spine, arms encircling my waist–and then no NO, not there. Not my stomach. Because then they’d see how much hate I’d gathered there, they’d know how sometimes I shoved my fists into my gut, wishing it would just go.
The hands were pulling me away from the red and the sticky, the matted fur, the red-washed nose. I tried to yell at them to stop and let go, but only wordless animal screaming came out. I twisted free, red hands pushing against my face in a helpless attempt to hide. I curled into the wet in my palms, curled myself up as tight as I could into the mud’s heat, shivering, crying, ashamed and breaking open.
The hands returned, hesitant this time–sliding into the dirt beneath me, avoiding my belly, cradling me under legs and shoulders, pulling me to a warm chest. My fingers snagged on a shirt, my head lolled against a tense shoulder.
Then stairs, then doors, then cool bioplast. I slid down and pressed my blood-hot face against it. Running water rumbled in pipes somewhere beneath me, then spattered nearby. I pushed my dripping hands through my hair and into my throbbing eyes. Maybe if I could reach my brain, it would all go away.
“Hey, hey–careful, Moss,” a voice murmured. A hand touched my hands and drew them away.
My eyes opened a little. “Marko…” I rolled half onto my back; my stare slid away from his and settled on the soul-painted ceiling. There was a wind-riled ocean up there. I tried focusing on its froth.
“Come on. Let’s wash off the blood.” Mark’s voice was raw, but steady.
I leaned against him, stumbling to the shower. He followed me in, supporting me beneath the cool water until our clothing got wet and heavy. I coughed out a mouthful of blood and mud and shower water, and sagged against his chest.
“Is this okay?” Marko asked, tightening his hold on me. I nodded, and let him pull us down so we were sitting in the basin–him with his legs safe around mine, his arms looped around me, his large hands caught around my bony, spider-like ones.
Minutes, hours, time passed like that, ’til he reached forward and shut off the water.
“There’re towels on the shelf over there. I’m gonna go so you can get out of your wet clothes.”
Panic threw itself against my chest. “No,” I said hoarsely.
“Do…you want help?”
I nodded a little and he helped me tug off my jacket and the rest, then wrapped me in two giant towels and led me from the bathroom. I gave a ruined sort of laugh when I saw we were in Sable and Yuna’s bedroom. I crawled into the bed anyway. Marko sat beside me and pulled the covers to my waist.
“I’ll take the towel, if you want,” he said. “I’ll just put it over here, in case you need to get up. How about I go find you dry clothes?”
“Yours are wet, too,” I told him, pulling off the towel and dropping it on the floor.
He shrugged. “I’ll be okay.”
“No. Come here.”
He hesitated, but did as I’d asked.
I kept my hands clenched in my lap as I kissed him, eyes open. His mouth gave against mine, but his eyes were open, too–concerned. He pulled away when my thumb found his waistband.
Marko swallowed and moved my hand aside. “No, Moss. Not right now. I… You shouldn’t.”
I shook my head, trying to get rid of the fuzziness catching in my skull. “I want to. I need to. You’re always… I just wanted… Please, Mark. Just let me.”
He frowned as he studied me. What was he thinking? What was he ever thinking? How was I supposed to know what he needed, besides what we both already knew I couldn’t give? What could I say to get him to stop worrying? Nothing, probably.
I put my hand back on his waist. I could feel the stress in his body as he fought himself, as I pushed the heel of my palm into his lower stomach. He wanted to be closer. He was scared of losing control. It wasn’t hard to tell.
“Fuck.” He dropped my gaze, looking to the side as he ran both hands through his hair. “Moss…”
He trailed into silence when I unbuckled the old leather belt he always wore. He didn’t protest this time–he even fell onto his back when I pushed him down, then straightened his legs so I could tug his pants to his knees. He looked conflicted and hurt and confused, but smiled at me nonetheless. I didn’t smile back.
I thought about sucking him off and would have, but I’d never done it before. The experience probably would’ve terrified us both. I took him in hand instead. He sunk into the bed’s wool blankets; his head cracked against the wood paneling behind the bed, but he only pushed up, deeper into my hand.
I hadn’t done it in too long, but jerking off wasn’t something you forgot easily. I slid down into the crook between Marko’s arm and flank, so I could feel the heat of his body through his damp shirt. I slowed, feeding on his warmth. He bit the corner of his bottom lip, holding back a whine or a breath of relief (I couldn’t tell), until a moan escaped. I kissed him, messy and unrestrained, until I felt him strain against the urge to–to what? Roll on top of me? But he’d never do it unless I asked. Bastard.
I drew back. He stared back at me, dazed, breathing through his nose and trying to keep himself quiet, for whatever reason. Probably some stupid, empathetic one.
“What do you like about this?” I muttered. My hand was still moving.
His breath stuttered. “I… You. I like being close to you.”
He looked to the side. “Don’t make me say.” And then, as my hand slowed again, “Don’t stop, please.”
“Tell me.” I knew I shouldn’t be doing this–that it was wrong–but I felt drunk and driven and dizzy.
“But you know,” he said.
I pulled my hand back. I pulled myself back. Marko pushed himself onto an elbow and watched me carefully.
“Please,” I said. “Please. I need to hear, I need to know someone…” I was choking on air, crying hard and sudden. I couldn’t get my lungs to work, I couldn’t talk; sobs strangled my words and sucked the breath out of me.
Marko drew us together, pulling my teary, snotty, sobbing face against his chest. “Hey. Moss. It’s–I know it’s not okay, but…I’m here. I love you. I love you so much it’s stupid. I’m not going anywhere.”
I said nothing, letting the tears fight their way out of me. We still smelled like blood, but it was a washed-out scent. Sweet, but not sick. I cried until the sobs turned into coughs, until those turned into shaky breaths. I sighed; willing myself into what I hoped was a semblance of calm.
And then I laughed, the sound like a rusty gate. “You’re still hard,” I said, because he was. Somehow, despite all my ugly hysterics, despite my generally screwed-up self, he still wanted me.
“Sorry. Sorry,” he said, wriggling back. “It’s just…you’re naked and I just… Sorry.”
“Stop apologizing. I should finish what I started.”
So I did, and when he finally shuddered in release, he looked absurd and alone–and shocked, like he’d just discovered that you die when you orgasm, even though he was spilling over my fist and still breathing. I hid my face in his neck, and suddenly he was holding me–or maybe he was holding onto me. I waited ’til his body stopped vibrating and tried to pull away.
“No,” he said. His grip wasn’t tight enough to stop me, though.
“No,” I echoed. I retrieved one of the towels from the floor so I could I wipe up the mess he’d made.
“You don’t want me to…?” He couldn’t say it, but I knew what he meant.
I smiled weakly. “No. Not now.” I threw the towel on the floor and sat on the very edge of the bed. Marko nudged his hand toward mine.
“C’mere,” he said, mouth tugging upward.
I felt my smile slip, felt the tight line of my lips tremble and fracture as I took in his wild, ginger mane of hair around his gentle face. Right then, I wished I could love him back, give him something more than heartache–but even that wish felt strange and wrong to the core. It wasn’t me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I wiped my nose.
“Don’t be.” He sat up for a moment–to kick off his bunched-up pants, strip off his wet shirt, and pull up his boxers–then sank back, welcoming. I wormed closer, resting against his shoulder and chest.
He dozed off easily, with his nose pressed into my damp hair. I couldn’t find sleep. I lifted my parents’ coms from around my neck, worked them round and round in my hand like a pair of stones. The dread from earlier was gone–I was too drained to feel it.
I turned them both on.
My fingers shook as I searched for a suicide note–something to explain everything. Nothing. Of course not. I’d have to figure it out for myself. So I started with Dad’s vid files, to see if something, an answer, would emerge.
In the first shot, I’m bloody and screaming. Dad won’t touch me, or anything attached to me, so Mom grabs the knife and cuts and ties my umbilical cord herself.
“You’re so weak,” she says, but still beckons him over for a kiss.
Then they look at me, still screaming in Mom’s arms. Dad runs a hand through his hair, which is in sweaty strings, like he was the one who just finished squeezing me out.
“Are you sure you want to stay?” he asks. “With me? I mean, look at the mess I made.” He’s looking at me as he says this, but there’s a grin on his face. “I know you wanted kids, but not with me. We can barely stand each other.”
“Yeah, I’m not exactly thrilled with the situation,” Mom says. “But the hate’s not constant. Anyway, do we really have to talk about this again? The decision’s made–I’m staying. So shut up, just let me sleep. I’m tired and so is Moss.”
Dad glances at me–I’m quiet, but restless now–and looks away just as fast. “Now that he’s out, I thought maybe you might’ve changed your mind.”
Mom snorts. “No, the question is, have you changed yours? I know you,” she says. “You’re not strong. You tire easily. I love you, pisshead, but if you’re staying, then you’re staying ’til the end. No backing out.”
Dad smiles. “Right.”
“’Til the end.” Mom’s words clanked around in my head. Was that why they’d left together–because of some stupid pact they’d made at my birth? I didn’t give myself time to think about it too hard; I just flicked to another file, then another and another. Someday, I’d watch them all chronologically, but I couldn’t handle it right then. I was trembling and stupidly glad for Marko, sleeping beside me, anchoring me.
Most of the files were just stupid little clips–a couple of the cooking Blowups Dad used to make, a couple of sex vids I skipped over at lightspeed, a lot of footage of Mom drumming. Inane, tiny moments, but somehow that made it worse, like the gap between their life and their death was more profound and unbridgeable. I set Dad’s com down for a moment–it was all too much. Or maybe I just expected too much. I wanted a video that started with Dear Son, or a cooking Blowup titled RECIPE FOR RUINING YOUR CHILD’S LIFE.
Either way, I got impatient, and skipped to the most recent file–the very last video he’d recorded. Maybe this would be the suicide note. Or maybe it would be nothing. Whatever it was, I had to watch it.
“Hello,” Dad says, directly facing his p-com. “I haven’t really felt like recording anything recently, but I’m gonna try now.”
He pauses to take a bite out of the pear he’s got in his hand, then says, “This thing’s really damn good, by the way. Perfect time of year for pear eating; I picked them a few weeks ago, let them mature outside in the cold for a couple weeks, then brought them in to ripen.”
At that point, I had to pause the video; I couldn’t quite breathe, because I remembered those pears. I remembered the fridge full of them, so many they broke the shelf and pissed Mom off. She’d told him he was going to have to reweld the thing and he’d refused, because it wasn’t like the fridge was her domain, it wasn’t like she ever helped out in the kitchen. But he’d still taken the shelf out of the fridge, and maybe he’d even planned on fixing it. Only, he never gave himself the chance.
“Delicious,” Dad says, then shakes his head.
“But I guess I’m supposed to be speaking about myself, not pears. How’re these vids supposed to help me, though?” He’s talking to his food now. “This was all her idea, just wants us to be ‘good.’” He makes air quotes with his fingers. “Why isn’t she keeping a diary, too? Shouldn’t we both? Anyway, I’m not sure it’s even possible for us to be happy. I think constantly being at each other’s throats is a state of harmony for us–it’s how we maintain balance, you know?”
He shakes his head and laughs. “Dammit, what am I doing, pouring out my heart to a piece of fruit?” He tosses the core over a shoulder. Sighs. “I guess this feels all right, though, blabbing on and on and on. Sha is always saying I’m too quiet, and maybe I am. We’re always telling each other the truth–the true nature of our horrible selves. It gets old, so sometimes I just stop. Maybe there’s just no way out for us. There’s no end to this.”
He looks exhausted now. “Anyway, I’ve no idea what else to say. Until next time, I guess.” He waves at the screen, then reaches forward to end the vid.
Of course, there was no next time.
I dropped my hand over the side of the bed, dangling the coms ’til they slipped from my grasp. I’d seen enough for the night. Enough for a year, probably. It was too early to tell whether they’d help me–assuming I could be helped. Or maybe I didn’t need help anymore? I’d gotten this far, after all; I’d gotten this strong.
But it still felt like I’d been shot in the spine. So many small things I’d never noticed about my parents. They’d always been so–well, relatively–gentle with each other. Had it been this stupid, covert war of theirs that had brought them down? How had I not known? How could I have known: I knew nothing about love. Or did I? Maybe I knew more than they had, because even though it was a little hard to get air into my lungs, I found that if I matched my breathing up with Marko’s, I could hold on. Just a little longer. I was okay.
Nothing made sense and breathing felt wrong and now I knew the gut-cutting truth that I would never have the answer to the question I’d been asking for four rotting years–but none of it really mattered.
Nothing fit, but I could let go a little, because in the blaring light of what I lacked, I could also see what I had: people who, most of the time, would catch me before I did something stupid and irrevocable.
Proceed to Chapter 12, page 2–>