In the last post, I let you all know that my short story, Ash, was chosen for publication in Weber State University’s literary journal, Metaphor. Thanks to the still-existent, soul-crushing weight of the program book for NCUR, I haven’t had time to prepare a witty, chocolate-induced blog post.
So instead, you get to read my short story! Enjoy! We will be back to our regularly scheduled blog Wednesday.
I don’t remember how I died. You’d think I’d remember something like that.
I can’t find any scars, so it wasn’t by blade or bullet.
Those who suffered the scorn of their lovers say they can taste poison in their mouths forever. I don’t know if that’s true, but I don’t have that sweet-foul flavor.
The blue and bloated victims of stolen breaths make me look pale.
The gnarled old ones make me feel foolish for wasting my young body.
I remember my life, more than they do. I remember sunny days filled with laughter and snowy days curled in front of the fire. I remember looking at the mountains through a screen of tears, searching for an anchor. Gods, my life sounds like a child’s story.
I remember so much noise and feeling like I would never have time to catch my breath. I remember hurrying from one appointment to the next, forgetting minutes, hours, days. They blur together now.
More important, I remember that smile. I remember arms that held me through storms. I remember love. I remember a face long since forgotten to the world.
These hills and plains have been here so long. It’s hard to imagine there’s anything left that’s been here longer than I have. But nothing will exist soon. Fires cover the land. I wish my soul could catch fire, too. I wish for the sensation others whisper about.
My hand sweeps across the land. Scoring it. Burning it. This place is nearly done. It no longer resembles the land it was.
I shove the question away. Of course I do. We all do. I remember someone saying you can’t take it with you, but they were wrong. It always stays with you. Your body reflects every action of life.
Those who sought to escape into peaceful nothingness carry their sins. Blood pours from their wrists and necks. It won’t ever run out, just as they never will.
My hands flutter over my body. I’ve done this a thousand times, and I’ll do it a thousand more until I start counting again. I wish I knew how I died. But nothing changes. My death is a secret.
Maybe I’m not meant to remember my death. I don’t remember my birth, after all, and that held just as much trauma. To go from the soft warmth of a mother’s embrace to sudden noise and brightness and pain. Yet I’ve forgotten that, too. It doesn’t seem so odd that I’ve forgotten my death. It was only going from that world into the quiet and softness again.
But everyone else remembers their deaths. They regale each other with death tales.
The charred land sparks again with a flick of my wrist. Why am I doing this? The Master has decided and so we toil. Purge the world with fire so that it may be reborn from the ashes. I gather a handful of the ash at my feet, letting it sift through my fingers. I can’t see how anything can be reborn from this.
I watch one of the others pass, limping his way towards a stubborn rock that refuses to crumble. They all treat me differently, as if they too sense there is something wrong with me. My partner says that is good; those in charge shouldn’t behave like those they lead. But even he keeps a distance.
Everyone here had something stolen from them, so they walk instead of resting. Their last breath, their life and love, their hope…
Those who find the peace they lost in life get to turn away from this work. I just know that the memory of my death is the key that unlocks that path.
The hair on the back of my neck prickles. Someone is watching me. Others avoid me, so it is new. A hand closes on my shoulder and I look up to see the Master standing next to me. The dust stirs with His sigh. Wind stretches out from us to dance across the barren land.
“My little one, you are letting yourself fall prey to distraction.” I duck my head in embarrassment. He warned me of this before, but I can’t pull my mind from the nagging thoughts. It’s getting worse with time.
“Are you so desperate to know what has passed that you cannot focus on what has been set before you?”
“I am sorry, Master.” I hate the quaver of my voice, but fear keeps it there.
“Dwelling on something you may never know is getting you nowhere. You will only harm yourself if you continue.”
I can’t raise my head to look at my Master. But with the same surety that I know something is wrong with me, I know I cannot avoid the question in his voice as easily as his eyes. “My death, Sir. I just…” My voice drops, hidden by the whisper of the wind He created. “I just know that if I can remember my death, I can move on like so many of the others have.”
I shudder at the loss of contact as His hand slips from my shoulder, and I fear what He will do about my words. I still will not look at Him even as He walks around to face me. His hand forces my chin up. “Are you unhappy with the job I assigned you? Do you wish to leave this place and my presence?”
He must feel my trembling as much as I do. My mouth opens and closes twice. What can I say?
He steps back, His hand falling to His side. His eyes are hard, foreign. “You have asked me about your death before. You have instructions to let the matter rest.”
He sighs again. I cannot stop shaking. “Little one, you are different from the others. You do know that?”
“Yes, Sir. The others avoid me.”
“I shall have to talk to them about that. Do you know how you are different?”
“I cannot remember my death, Sir. Unlike the rest of them, I only have snatches of my life.”
“It is not your life.” I stare. My voice disappears with all thoughts. “You are older than all the others here. You have watched the world go from youth to old age. You have watched lives rise and dim. You have taken some of those memories as your own. Everyone is here because they have had something stolen from them. You understand this, yes?”
“What was stolen from you was never yours. You cannot remember your death because you were never alive.”
A steady headache beats at the back of my mind. It started small. So small, I could barely hear it. But now it beats loud, in time with the Master’s words, nearly drowning out his voice. “But… I remember…” I can’t find my voice for more than a glimmer of a moment.
“You remember the lives of those you have watched.”
“What am I then, Sir?”
The wind howls through the silence. “You are mine.”
That same hard edge is in His eyes, as if He knows what is happening to me. My head feels like it’s splitting open, but I can’t even raise my arms to hold it together. He knows what pain I’m in. His eyes show how sorry He is now. They also tell how much worse it’s going to get.
“You were the first to occupy this land of the between. You were created solely to exist here. You are an extension of myself. You direct souls that exist here until they can find their way.”
Fire flashes behind my eyes. The thundering ache in my head is unbearable. If I could move, I would have curled up on the ground. A whimper escapes through the torturous pain, splitting apart the seams of my being.
“This knowledge is destroying you. It nearly obliterated you the last time you insisted on knowing. A false soul is not something that should exist. You exist through my power, and this knowledge removes you from me.”
My legs tremble. The cold tears on my lashes sizzle on my cheeks.
I am not real.
“You are very much real, little one. You are something different. You are my trusted servant, the only one I will allow to lead the world of lost souls.”
Darkness consumes me, thick and billowing, like the smoke that fills the sky.
“I must take the truth from you. I will restore you to your original state. Do not pursue this again.”
Another whimper echoes. I can’t even find my voice to beg Him.
“It is no use pretending you are anything but a curious creature. But I hope that soon I will have something else to offer you.” Firm hands press against the sides of my head. The flames and smoke evaporate in a blinding white light. A scream wrenches the sky in two. I crumple to the ground. Ash flutters around me like a comforting blanket.
I sit up, blinking into the ruined landscape. This area is complete. I must lead the teams onward. The Master won’t be patient much longer. The world shall be purged to make way for new life.
I stand, watching lost souls scurry around me. They are here because they had something stolen from them. We all had something stolen. We are as lost in this place as the ash that floats through the air. I pull a handful of the soft grayness close while my eyes search.
Footsteps approach before my partner is beside me, looking over the land with the same cold analysis that our Master uses. He was a good choice for the second Lead. He sees things that I do not.
He remembers things I do not.
I don’t remember how I died. You’d think I’d remember something like that.
His quick steps carry him forward, chasing off a wayward soul who was resting before her time.
I follow, the ash sliding through my fingers. I don’t remember how I died.