Sarcoptes

Sarcoptes is swole to the point of bursting so she lands where’s convenient and digs her way in out of the air. The ground quakes as she digs, and the sun, what she can see of it, goes dark; oh, well.

Later.

Cestoni is born at the end of that tunnel, him and his brothers and sisters. The girls are homebodies, but the boys drive themselves out into the air where they don’t have to be quite so close to each other. The ground quakes where they walk. They build homes for themselves among the roots and stay there until their skin cracks raw.

Later.

Diacinto is pregnant. One of her brothers, probable, or not, it doesn’t matter. She found him, whoever he was, just emerged from his roots, so she pinned him and took what she needed, which wasn’t a name or much talk. She hurries on, one eye cocked to the sky, leery of rain.

The Flat Lands

She wakes weeping in the middle of the day when the lash of the sun touches her. The salt on her face reminds her of home, of cold grey stones by the beach and the smell of kelp soddenly moldering by the waterline. She buries herself further back under the earth and rocks herself to sleep, willing herself to ignore the pain in her back and her hips, the blisters slowly raising on her skin.

Night.

She kills a lizard and sucks its blood, grateful for the water, past grateful for the salt. The meat is almost an afterthought. It has been weeks since she walked past the treeline, past the last scattered grasses, days since she has had anything in her stomach but black bile. She continues eastward, toward the dawn.

Day.

She finds a hill just as the stars begin to fade, throws herself down the slope and digs like a dog. Her nails are stumps at this point, mere memory, and hard as diamonds. She tunnels in, past earth and stones, then breaks through into a cool dark space fragrant with water. The sun grabs for her heel as she pushes inside and she buries it in the cool, welcoming earth to heal.

ONE Two Three FOUR Five Six

This I know:

Best of my children, brave as they all are brave, clever as they all are clever, but loyal as none other is loyal, save to me.

There is a rottenness at the heart of me, some split rock at the foundation, some root gnawed raw. I am set apart from all others, clever Loki, shifting Loki, Loki who is all things and no one thing. The world is twinned and tripled, split again and again, like tree roots, like snake tongues, and at every branching of the way, there is Loki dancing. From such are monsters and magic born.

Father of monsters, but mother of heroes, so you will be accounted the greatest of horses, my son, born of my flesh, faster than the sun, sure-footed as the wind, master of all paths like your mother Loki. The gods themselves will find you worthy, my son, but only to bear burdens, not counsel. Ah, well. Bear glory and the bridle well: it is more than I have given elsewhere.

Palimpsest

A beautiful boy, drowned in a pool.

That’s the story, anyway: mouth green with cress he drowned, a sailor boy dead in fresh water. His great-thewed lover turned the island out for a month of searching, dawn to dusk, and then left; even love only lasts so long.

The island remembers.

Spring is ending and they run the hills, the trails, the dirt paths, crying a dead name in honor of a dead love. Forced, they say; by tradition if nothing else. Oh, well. In the evening they eat cress, drink new wine.

White driftwood on rocky beaches.

A fisher, caught in his nets, frozen in place; helpful hands descending. That’s the story, anyway. Slipped off the docks, a bad fall stopped just short of the water, arms and legs above the tide line, dark with the sun.

Train tracks.

They drink too much, joylessly, stubbornly, in cars parked outside of town. Plausible deniability, a stupid accident walking home, some high school nonsense. Red rocks and iron and parents who are careful to not search their rooms.

Woodsmoke and gulls.

You circle back to these stories, to these moments, like sea birds over a school of fish. Each time, one spiral higher, one circle wider, and then—

Delivery

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

She’s between shifts, tired now, floating weightless at the center of the ship, warming herself around a bulb of throat-shreddingly flavorless ethyl, letting the kinks work themselves loose in the long muscles of her back. Savoring the receding soreness.

“Five hundred days, I said. Do the third row before the second tomorrow, that’s all.” The balear making the pitch isn’t one she knows, but she recognizes the babyface of a habitual sailor, the loose-limbed confidence of a woman who’s spent her life off the islands.

“Why?”

“Doesn’t matter to you. Hell, doesn’t matter to me. Who knows? Somebody wants it in that order, that’s all. Five hundred days. No harm done, hey? What does it matter, an hour or two either way?”

She revolves it this way and that but can’t find the hook. “Deal,” Petra says, and the balear buys them both a drink to seal it. She’s got a good smile, that one, and the long hands of a pianist or rifler. Petra buys the next round, and they take them back to her nest in the rigging to drink them. There’s no privacy, but the baleares are tactful; it’ll do.