The Last Of Spring

Today’s bit of writing comes from one of Wendig’s Challenges. Specifically this one.

So here’s the photo, from Andrine Klausen, titled ‘The Last of Spring':

The last of spring

* * *

Once, he had been the most beautiful.

So had she.

-*-*-

She ran, without shoes, as fast as possible, toes pricked by dried twigs, feet bruised by rocks hidden under a thin carpet of last year’s grass and needles. She had started running at the house, and now her lungs burned, tasted like copper, felt on fire, wheezed as she whipped down the path, heedless of the wood anemone, their damp, musky fragrance rising as the summer heat began to corrupt the cool green of the place that had been just hers.

She ran, silent, save for the held-on howl of her breath in her throat.

-*-*-

She remembered that morning more than any others. She remembered the way he said “It’s time,” and did not realize what that meant for him. He got up from the table and flung breakfast off of it, a clear demonstration of his desire and how all would shatter before it.

She remembered the clatter of the dishes on the clean floor, the way the eggs bounced and the potatoes rolled.

He never ate, anyway.

She remembered reaching down to clean up what had been destroyed, but as her hand closed over broken stoneware, his hand closed over her shoulder. “It’s time.”

-*-*-

She ran, sweatslicked and feverdreamed, glancing behind her only long enough to make certain she was not being followed. The forest itself was full of sound: wind in the boughs, birds calling, crying, the creak of limb and trunk, the rustle of last fall meeting this late spring. Far in the distance, thunderheads boiled up off the horizon, their greypurple churn coming up to fill the whitesunspace between the trees, behind the canopy.

-*-*-

She remembered watching the wall to see how the sunlight fell through the kitchen window. She watched the shadow play of the forest itself as she laid on her stomach and felt him inside her.

She closed her eyes and reminded herself of the spin of the earth, the heaviness of sunlight, the gentle rasp of the wind on the pampus grasses outside the door.

She remembered the lack of tea on his tongue, the unrough of his chin against her shoulder.

He had once been the most beautiful.

He still was.

Not to her.

-*-*-

She feared as she ran, not him, not him any more.

She feared it would not be blue if she ever got to the end of the path. The sky would not be blue. The water would not be blue.

The whole world would be the color of her thighs, then, a bruise to remember him by.

She feared escape would change nothing.

-*-*-

“It’s time,” he had said, and she did not fight. She had never fought. Not after the first day. Not after the riverbank. Not until today. Today she held the piece of broken dish in her hand until his heart had skipped beats against her back.

When he pulled back and stood in the sun, let it shine on his face, let it glorify his marble skin, the lightning eyes of his father, she struck. Once, for herself, and once for the others she knew had come before her.

And then she ran, naked, save for his blood on her hands, and the bruise of his hands on her thighs.

-*-*-

When she reached the end of the path, she saw that the sky was a bruise, and the sunset was blood, but the water was as blue as it had ever been. She sank her toes into the mud of the riverbank, and felt at once the cold of the earth dissipate the fire between her legs. She laughed to feel her skin slough to bark, laughed to see him come out of the trees, such loss on his face, and her laugh was the sound of the wind in the boughs as her lips turned to leaves.

She laughed, while he put his hands to her and she could not feel him any longer, safe within the new skin that made her Not His At All.

She laughed, knowing she would be ever green, while for him it was finally the last of spring.

DeathWatch No. 55 – It’s Suicide

This is Issue #55 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

The sky was fierce in its color, furious washes of lightning seeming to curl around the ship; the aetheris crackled and dripped, consuming chain and canvas, board and flesh alike.

The rear quarter of the Maxima’s port side shimmered in a blaze of silver blue; the shockwave of the explosion rocked the TS Jacob enough to throw people to the ground — the glass of the main window throbbed, shivering, but did not break. Nathan stood there, eyes wide, breath panted, fogging the glass. He watched in horror as guy lines snapped left and right; boards and bulk and airmen alike fell out of the sky toward the very ground they’d been annihilating.

The TS Jacob began to turn, to make its escape, and Nathan turned, looking at Sha in betrayal. His eyes were wet, wide; in them was all manner of heartbreak that could not be spoken, dared not have a voice lest it wail loudly enough to make the world bleed.

She returned the look with one of grim apology; bright eyes fierce. “If the ship goes, and we’re still this close, Nate, we’re all dead,” she said. “I can’t–”

Nat’es own gaze turned hard, staring her down. “Get us up,” he growled. “Higher,” he said. “Let me go over–”

Kieron’s eyes widened. To the Maxima? That ship, if it didn’t tear itself to pieces, was bound to fall out of the sky any minute.

Sha’s expression shut down; her shoulder slumped. “Quartermaster,” she said briskly, and he flinched when she didn’t use his name, “I don’t want to have to relieve you of duty for being completely insane, so I need you to–”

“I’d do it for you, too,” Nate said, his voice breaking. “You know I would.”

“And if Jules were the one you were asking, she’d tell you no, too,” Sha answered stiffly, looking hurt.

“Captain,” Nathan said, and Kieron could see his eyes were a strange mix of agony and determination. “Get us up. I’m going over the side. One way or another. Only way to make sure I maybe hit that ship on my way down is to get us above it.”

Kieron watched Nathan’s expression as he spoke; the shine of his eyes, full of tears that dared not to fall. The look on Nathan’s face was much like that of Jet’s when he had stood before Kieron, shouting at him in anger for signing up to join the scouts.

Jet. How long has it been since I thought of you? Is this what is, to mend a broken heart? With a slow and steady series of forgettings? What an odd thought to have, right then. Kieron shoved it away, blinking back his own tears, and cleared his throat.

Sha and Nate were still talking. She still looked unconvinced. “And then wh–”

“Then you get below, and let him jump again,” Kieron blurted. He couldn’t stand that expression, the hurt that lay behind it, the need to do something but feeling thwarted at every turn.

Nathan’s eyes flicked to Kieron, something like gratitude on his face. He nodded to Kieron, then, the muscles in his jaw working — he was itching to get moving; every second he stood there trying to convince Sha was one more second he stood there not knowing if Jules was already gone.

“It’s suicide,” Sha said.

“Then say your goodbyes. I’ll go over the side, first chance I get, if you make me watch this and do nothing, so it’s suicide with a chance of redemption or it’s just my body on the rocks for no reason,” Nathan said darkly. “Sha, this is Abe and Jules. I don’t even care if he’s murdered all of Ilona in their beds. We need to see this done.”

Kieron watched the exchange, once again silent on the sidelines; the memory of Abe and the man called Immanis shouting at one another gnawed behind his eyes — was Abe repentant at all? And how was Juliana involved? Did she order the aetheris through the engine? Did she sign off on the crew turning from scouts to killers?

Sha looked toward the ship and is destruction, and looked back at Nathan, and pinched the bridge of her nose. “This isn’t for fun, O’Malley,” she said lowly. “And it can’t be in desperation. If you’re off, you’ll hit the main envelope and bounce. If you miss the deck, you’ll end up in the farmlands. If you get near the fire–”

“Yeah,” Nathan said, rubbing his face with his hands and raking his hair back out of his eyes. He stared at Sha for a long moment, as though working out what to say. “I’ll take a comms with me,” he said. “If it goes pear-shaped, run. Go back across the Ridge. Tell the Generals to watch out for Ilonan incursion, because after what we’ve seen here… it’s more than likely.”

“I’ll give you all the time I can,” Sha said. “But if we have to run–”

“–then you have to run,” Nate said. He clasped her hand and leaned in to kiss her mouth, turning to whisper something to her that made her laugh aloud.

“Go,” she said, shaking her head, the mirth in her eyes dead before the laughter.

Then Nathan turned to Kieron, swallowing roughly. “Brody — ” he began, but then simply squeezed his shoulder. “Come help me rig up and send me off.”

* * *

As Kieron tightened the buckles on Nathan’s harness, the Quartermaster said, “Brody — listen to Sha. She knows what she’s doing. Best Captain I’ve ever known. Ten times her brother.”

“Don’t say goodbye,” Kieron said, looking up at him. “I expect you and Jules on the deck of the Jacob. You’re not jumping ship just to die. You’re crazy — not stupid.”

Nate laughed, then, and said, “Then I’ll see you soon.”

Kieron nodded, and they waited as the Jacob climbed, soaring to get over the top of the mangled goliath ship.

Once they were circling in position, Nate got a running start, and Kieron watched him as he ran up, boots thumping on the deck, then up, up, up — box, crate, barrel, rail — and flung himself up and over, out into the open air. Kieron felt his heart in his throat as he saw the Quartermaster drop like a stone — and then the gearbox on the harness snapped into action, and the collapsible pistons expanded, and the set of billowing canvas wings arched out from Nate’s backpack. When the wings extended, Nate wheeled up, catching an eddy of wind, gliding high until he oriented himself. He ducked one shoulder and swung around toward the ship, disappearing from Kieron’s view.

As the great sky swallowed him, Kieron closed his eyes and whispered, “Goodbye.”

* * *

NEXT

On The First Night

The rituals of our love
have grown tiresome —
you wake me every day with a kiss,
and put me to bed every night
with the same lullabye.

You bite into my heart every day
as though it will never run out,
and will be able to feed you for millenia,

as though the moon that watched us
on the first night
will return as our escort on the last,
and carry us away to a place
where the same kiss every day
will not dull
but seem ever freshed,
youthful and given to whims,
full of song,
of light,
and us.

Its Broken Tattoo

If I had known
that you would be so cold,
I would not have held the door
for Death.
I would not have invited Him in
and asked you to meet him.

If I had known your radiance would turn
to blue and ash,
I would have been
a far worse host,
and even turned away my guests
at the door.

I loved you first,
and I will love you last;

long after the Sun is gone
to blood and dust,
no matter if I am little more than bones,
this ruined heart of mine
will forever beat
its broken tattoo
in remembrance of your love.

DeathWatch No. 54 – Brother

This is Issue #54 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“No–” Jet’s realization of the situation allowed him to move the fraction of a second sooner that it took to save his brother’s life. He drew his blade and threw himself forward just as Plaga pulled his blade away from own his neck and lunged forward and up. “The aetheris!”

Metal on metal, and the fighters went sprawling, bare skin and sashes and swords tangled on the marble. “Too late,” Plaga snarled, struggling with Jet, reaching to slash at him, taking an elbow to the face. “He has already been poisoned. His commands will not work,” he laughed.

“Betrayer! Treason!” Immanis, who stood near a brazier, flipped it at one of Plaga’s men; they fought — he did not need his gift to be good with the sword.

Neither did Lucy. She was faster, but even with her aetheris-dimmed speed, she dispatched three men in quick succession, before one took the empty aetheris bottle to the back of her head. She staggered and fell, slurring her curses, then went still.

The guards outside began to ram the door, to break down the barrier keeping them from protecting their Prince, shouting to bring even more guards. The massive thing boomed from the sounds of the men battering it.

Immanis took out two of the three that were left, but the third managed to wrestle him to the ground. While Immanis fell as he impaled the man, the fighter used the guard of his own sword to crack his fist against the Prince’s head until Immanis’s eyes glassed over. They both slumped against the floor, one dead as though he was pinned like some insect, and one only dazed.

Jet shoved the other fighter, getting back to his feet, but his opponent was not kept down for long. Steel on steel again as they fought, and Jet was never more grateful for Lucy’s patience in tutoring his sword skills than the moment he fought for his life against Mactabilis Plaga. He was grateful for every little thing she taught him, and used it all to stay alive.

“Fool,” Plaga snarled. “I will dispatch you, and then I will kill Immanis Venator and his sister, and take Ilona as a warrior should. And then we will crest the Luminora, and wipe out every last one of you worm-pale weaklings — they are a plague on this world.”

Panting, sweating, bruised, Jet thought of his fellow students at the Academy, of Hoyt, and the two who had beaten him after ‘Contemplation’, and he gasped, laughing and said, “Do people even talk like that? Or is it just a bad translation into rough tongue? You sound like a child reading stories, Plaga. You sound like a child playing at soldier.”

Furious, Mactabilis drove forward and came at Jet so quickly, the younger man fell back, on the defensive immediately. Jet regretted his mouthy retort as he tripped over a spilled cushion, and fell to the marble floor, smacking his head.

“Fuck,” he hissed, shaking his head, moving to get back up, but he simply wasn’t fast enough.

He only got as far as his hands and knees.

He watched the point of a sword erupt from his chest, hot and cold all at once, and Plaga was at the other end of it, his eyes alight with victory. He leaned in over Jet’s shoulder, hissing, “Who’s playing at soldier now, boy?”

Blood foamed at Jet’s lips; he struggled to speak.

His eyes widened.

Plaga put his foot to Jet’s back and pulled the sword out, kicking the boy to the floor. He spat on his back, staring for a moment to make sure he was no longer moving, and then he went to Immanis, pulling the other fighter off him, moving to slap the Prince’s face, to rouse him, wanting him alert so he knew who was killing him, and why. “Volo tuam me videre, antequam moriaris,” he hissed. I want you to see me, before you die.

Jet lay on the floor, the cool marble against his cheek, blood hot against his back and belly, running from his mouth. He saw Plaga straddle Immanis, watched the limp form of his prince, his brother, supine beneath the assassin, and something within him surged, rushed, flooded him with a black heat so violent, the very wound in his chest seemed to burn shut from the inside out.

Immanis woke to the sight of Plaga over him, about to bring a knife down against his bare throat. He brought his own hands up, trying to roll to the side, when Jet appeared behind Plaga and pressed his cheek to that of the attacker as he took hold of his hands. Plaga struggled as Jet pulled the stroke short, bringing it back, up, and under Plaga’s breastbone. It sank to the hilt with ease, and Immanis could feel the sudden flood of heat wash over his belly as he lay beneath them both.

“Sed,” Plaga choked, his eyes wide, rolling wild as he half turned in Jet’s arms, trying to look at who held him so tightly. “Sed mortuus es,” he wheezed. You’re dead.

Non,” Jet whispered, blood on his lips. He drove the knife in further, twisting it until Plaga went limp in his arms, hissing “Sum Mortem.”  I am Death.

He threw the body to the side, letting the knife go with him, and offered out a bloody hand to Immanis, to pull him up. Once he was sure Immanis was steady, he went to Lucida, and helped her up as well. He got her set in a chair before he walked to the door where the guards were still trying to force their way in, and pulled out the bar holding it shut.

The guards spilled in, and Jet turned to Immanis, his chest heaving with ragged breath. He looked down as he wiped the blood from it to show his flawless skin, bronzed and smooth. His words were quiet, wry, as he turned his eyes back up to Immanis.

“Brother,” he said, looking pained, “I think I found out what your gift did to me.”

* * *

NEXT