My mother stands, and her chair falls away into the black. Her body cracks and pops as she stretches; she must have been sitting for some time in the chair, waiting for me. Then she yawns, but even after that sighing whimper ends she does not open her eyes. She was always tired. Before he claimed any power, Akil only had money when he returned from his trips to lands far and away with treasures and trinkets to sell; he never wanted to teach or make anything off his passion for discovery in science. Further, he saw his trips as his work, and it was only at the plying of my mother that he would depart once again. While he was away, it was up to her to provide for us. She worked at the bases of the trees on general upkeep and pest control with the musclebound men and women--the world-weary. They all sang tunes that travelled up like leaves in a medium wind to pass the time. Their music, though distant, accompanied all aspects of daily life in the grove.
“Music,” my mother often said upon returning home smelling of dirt and sweat every evening, “Not only hastens time.” She would then serenade my brother and I off to sleep with the workers’ clock out hymn. I only remember scattered parts of the lyrics and melody, but my mother presently--the flames of a war I have yet to see dancing at her back--begins to fill in the blanks.
By morning’s light,
you will be whole again.
The day pulls us apart,
piece by piece.
Sleep is the nail,
is the glue,
is the binding
of the spine.
Rest now weary hands,
legs, back, and soul rended.
Let eyelids come together
lash by lash.
Sleep is the nail,
is the glue,
is the binding
of the spine.
I am back in the trees. The song is riding the air beside autumn leaves. Akil is home; he’s just returned, and he’s in his lab. My mother is mending a broken plank on our porch. The elders are high in their tree, dealing with community matters--bake sales, maybe. They don’t care about my existence yet--they don’t want me dead; I’m just another child. Mosi is beside me, begging me to come with him to explore the underground rabbit cities.
“Come on, Kaf” he says, “Dad said we should! It’s where he started exploring!”
“He said we should? Really?” I say, “He actually answered you from behind the lab door?”
“Well, he didn’t say we couldn’t go. And I think if we bring him back a treasure, he’ll be cool with it.”
“Unless we’re locked up and eaten like carrots, Mosi.”
“You think dad doesn’t deal with danger at every turn around the Molten Waterfalls? Or up in the Winter Wonderlands?”
“Of course he does, but--”
“But he survives!” Mosi’s mouth bends like a snake across his face, into an unsettling smirk.
“Let’s just help mom.”
The song ends, and my mother has stepped aside, giving me a full view of what the dark curtain had revealed. Short, Tall, and the more fit soldier are engaged with vampiric enemies in what I determine to be my body. One of those enemies is a winged dinosaur of some kind. It’s not in flight, but instead hulks in the distance hurling boulders at the more fit soldier throwing burning spears right back. Another of the creatures is sitting on one of the bizarre, elastic pillars filled with what I surmise to be my blood, laughing in high-pitched jubilance. Perhaps it is there to make it’s enemies uneasy--mission accomplished, if that’s the case. Then there’s the creature with two eyes--each the size of one grizzled bear--and a body with four legs, crawling on and swinging from pillar to pillar toward Short and Tall. The two soldiers--entwined almost as one, brace for its attack. Tall takes a claw to his chest and topples over; though he’s made of fire, it appears to cut deep. Still, he stands back up and joins Short’s flurry of spear thrusts driving the creature back for the moment.
There’s no sign of the mice or the breadcrumbs in the battle. I wonder if they’re casualties of the war.
“Why did I call Mosi? This is--”
“This is Survival,” she says. “Fire and weapon. Cunning and sustenance. Gods are born from life’s most substantial ideas. When our ancestors unknowingly utilized your father’s rules to burn and craft, Survival was born. When a cataclysm of energy gave breath to our universe, Babarenfeld followed out of the womb alongside our world, kicking and screaming. Every other god was born in much the same way, Kaf.”
Her words are teachings I did not learn from school--from the elders, but I know them to be absolute truth. She anticipates my questions.
“Survival knows this,” she says, “So you do too--somewhere in the wreckage of your mind. I am the bridge--and at once, the barrier--between you both. Scarred by the god, and loved by the son.”
My mother opens her eyelids, to reveal no eyes--only hollowed out holes of scar tissue and burns. I can’t look at her. War is easier to behold.
“Your father,” she says. “He was entranced by your chaotic possession--he stopped his trips altogether. You became his life--a living, breathing phenomenon of science and old-world mysticism. He promised me he was making you better--that the elders would end you should they find out. So I let him do his tests; I let your memories be disassembled and put back together wrong time and time again by a deity and a man I thought I knew with no remorse until I wised to your father’s lies.”
Subira was my mother’s name. Of course it was. This realization becomes the
spark of reassembly. The air changes. Images with unseen edges that belong together
become less clouded and coalesce, while others fade away completely. One not meant
to exist lingers in my mind, however. It’s Mosi--or at least his face--right after tripping
me during some game we never actually played. Tongue out, hair combed to the side and
ending in a curl. He laughs, then--if I remember--helps me up. But the memory--the
fabrication of a life and a brother--is gone a moment later.
“And you alerted the elders,” I say to Subira.
“And Survival took my eyes.”
“And I just watched.” I step into the billowing tear beside us; I step into war as a new combatant.