Skyglass: Chapter 13
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Blossom and Blood
I felt good. The speeding thrill of our voiceless intro, my feet drumming a pace to match Sable’s fingers ripping up and down her frets, my sticks cracking heavy whole-note triplets to the slap of Zinn’s bass–it was like I had traded my blood for elixir, like my veins were green-spitting power lines.
Phoenix’s Blowup coalesced around and before us, at first nothing more than a few blue feathers drifting through the Ventriloquist’s moon-shaped concert hall. I craned my head back and watched Devin in the astro-coffin loom overhead, nearing the skylight above us, eclipsing the stars. As the airlock’s outer panel opened for him, the feathers thickened; I could barely see the crowd. The inner door opened and the Blowup lashed my face with a cold winter wind that carved through the venue, scattering feathers, trailing the scent of frozen sap and crushed spruce tips.
The coffin laid itself face-up on the stage. The feathers began to converge into a larger form. The coffin’s door slid back, and as Devin rose up–red-cheeked from the cold–a giant bird with dusty blue plumage swept over the crowd.
Fog billowed around Devin from the coffin’s belly. He kicked its lid shut and jumped up on top just in time to raise a hand and graze his fingers against the circling bird’s claws. Virtual blood dripped from his shredded hands; he smeared it across his face and through the white of his hair–then finally, finally, he drew his mic close and screamed.
I met his keen with a steady, furious blast beat. As the scent of meat and dirt strengthened, I dropped my gaze to the crowd bellied up against the stage and looked for Marko. I spotted him a moment later, as Pheonix’s Blowup began to wrack the air, like a leviathan approaching with footsteps rattling the atmosphere. Marko was at the base of the stage, at the fore of the crowd crush, his hands gripping one of the monitors tight as can be. His eyes were shut–but he was grinning in a pure, unfettered sort of way. I smiled, I hadn’t seen that look on his face in a long time.
We had both spent the night before dozing fitfully, limbs flung over one another in my bed. Anxiety woke me numerous times throughout the night; the third time, hours after midnight, I sat up and turned on my mom’s com. She didn’t have many vid files: birds at our old bird feeder; a short clip of her and Dad’s room, blinds drawn, bed unmade; and some footage from when I was little, of Dad and me passed out on the couch together, sick with the flu. The other files were lyric scraps, messages from friends, and sound clips. Mostly sound clips.
I didn’t piss around like I had with Dad’s–I went straight to the most recent file, eight days before she’d gone. I stopped breathing when I read its name: formoss.wrls. It was twenty-nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds long. When I played it, it was a sound I’d never heard, yet immediately recognized.
She’d kept a gong hanging on the wall of the living room. She’d never played it and I wasn’t allowed to touch it; as a kid, I’d always gotten in trouble for breathing on it or brushing it with the tips of my fingers. Once, when I was big enough, I’d gotten it down from the wall, but she’d caught me before I could strike it. You’re not ready, she’d said. The gong had disappeared the next day and I’d never seen it again.
The first hit was light, enough to get it humming. Warm. Then the second, thunder. It kept building; there was no decrescendo. I’d heard of gongs like this, hammered legends that grew sound. I’d wanted to believe, but hadn’t.
By 29:36, the gong was roaring. By 29:37, it wasn’t. The file cut off. I was left with the silence of Marko’s breathing, the subsonic thrum of some machine in the walls. You’re not ready. I wanted to laugh or cry or both.
Instead, I turned off Mom’s com and got up to get some water and piss. When I came back from the bathroom, Marko was sitting up with the sheets low around his waist, looking sleep-dazed and rotting beautiful, all narrow-waisted and long-framed as he synced up one of our mutually favorite funeral doom bands to the room’s ex-ear. It was exactly what I needed, big surprise–somehow he always knew.
I crawled back in bed, belly down to hide how I was getting hard. I pushed a hand under my pillow and found a tiny packet–Phoenix’s promised gift. I swallowed. I wanted Marko, I couldn’t deny that, but–not yet. I was too anxious to follow through. But after the show, maybe then. Marko had trailed a finger down my spine as I lay there, rested his hand at the base of my back, kissed me between the shoulder blades, and left it at that.
I looked away from Marko and his shut eyes, his hair set aflame in the stage lights. The air was jarring hard now, perfectly in rhythm with the simple, driving quarters of our fifth song: Carnivorous. I looked out at the crowd–their faces were rigid with dried blood from Phoenix’s Blowup, the flow of their bodies spilling around the mounds of carcasses heaped throughout the venue. Wails surged up from the back of the crowd; a moment later, I caught sight of what had provoked them: a beautiful, crimson-skinned woman twisting free from the largest of the body-heaps, gore snapping from her limbs as she shook herself clean.
The air stilled just as the song swung down into a soul-hushing melody with bright, breaking overtones. Devin leaned out over the crowd, flicking more of his virtual blood across their faces. The huge woman in back began, slowly, to walk toward the stage, her legs making a ghostly passage through our audience. Devin straightened and faced her–he tiny, she impossibly huge, her head nearly brushing the venue’s high-domed ceiling.
The bird swept through the air between them, a miniature moon clenched in its beak. With every beat of its heavy wings, grayscale biomass–petals, fern-spore, wispy mosses, graceful fungi–slid from beneath its feathers and drifted out over the crowd, crumbling when it made skin contact.
The song was building now, growing dense with Devin’s deepest gravelly crooning and hits from my lowest tom. The giant woman opened her mouth; her teeth were snow-capped peaks. On the song’s final, booming note, the bird swept once around her head–and on the final arch of its circumnavigation, she lunged forward and ate it.
Proceed to Chapter 13, page 2–>