smwrites: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Wired)
[personal profile] smwrites
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“Red”
Murlu sat with hands fisted and pressed against her belly. Her mother hummed while braiding the red ribbons into her hair, but she felt pain, not that calm – even joyous – temper.

“What does red mean?” Lennu’s voice is soft, her presence in the corner easy to forget, but for the clicking of her knitting needles.

“It’s the humor of passion and fear. The badge of love,” Murlu replied, “and death in battle.”

“And blood,” her mother said, and tugged a little at her hair when Murlu groaned in recognition and self-pity. Even so, worry tinged her voice as she asked, “Do I need to—?”

“No, mama.” The site where the spearhead had struck and subsequently been removed – and the latter had involved more damage, by her estimation, than the former – ached, stung when she moved wrong, but Lennu had checked it not an hour before, and applied more of the numbing salve. That the woman didn’t speak up was a mercy; if Murlu’s mother knew she was whining over a well-dressed wound, she would look with that particular mixture of shame and remonstration which curdled Murlu’s gut worse than any approaching foe.

Spilling one’s blood for the people sounded so exciting, when one whacked at one’s playmates with wooden swords and – later, when they could aim well enough not to hit vital parts – shot dull-headed arrows. Those caused scrapes and yellow bruises, but it wasn’t the same as facing a Horde. Murlu shivered. The Horde meant fevered nights in a linen bed, and the legless prayer-woman coming to rest her hands on a patient’s head, holding in the spirit. Trying to, anyway. A woman died in the bed next to Murlu’s, one night, with a noise that woke her up. A gurgle, of sorts. The spirit swimming in the too-heavy air, like a human swam in water, to reach the breathable celestial vapors.

Murlu hoped the woman’s spirit didn’t drown before it broke through the surface of the firmament.

Her mother rested her hands briefly on Murlu’s shoulders; there were six fingers on them, in all, though she had the luck to keep both thumbs. The Horde had taken a joint a day, waiting for the people to send ransoming gold. The ransom was iron – and their bloody-handed prisoner killing one after another of them with the shears with which they had mutilated her.

Lennu stood, now, and laid aside the child’s cap she knit – into which she had worked the people’s symbol, the she-wolf with hanging teats and fangs like knives. “No,” she told Murlu as she stood, “don’t try to be stiffly upright.” She winked. “Let them think you survived a nigh-mortal wound, which even in your pride you cannot hide the effects of. —Now, come. Take your sword in your hand that you might look as impressive of a warrior as you are pretty of a maid. It’s time the people saw so.”

The procession honored three of them – one other blooded, though not as badly as Murlu, and one who lost her life. Striding out the door, she felt the weight of the metal in her hand, and the memory of the spear in her gut. She lived with honor, she knew; and, more, she felt the true meaning of this procession, with the living flanking the coffin of the dead, their swords drawn to fend aside the crow-spirits of the Horde.

Fear. Fear of shedding more of what the ribbons represented. The enemies would die unthinking, but the people knew the truth of redness.

“Yellow”
The water of the channel laps against my shoes, with their cork-bark heels and seal-leather tops. I used to wear normal sneakers, but after the barriers began to go up, and I couldn’t jump high enough to clear the new staircases, I gave in the inevitability of swimming. There are buoys up to tell the gondoliers where they can’t go, which makes me glad that I can dive—not everybody can. Sweet old Lucy gets everything delivered to her door now by sprightly young things who can scramble over every obstacle, climb on top of cars, break windows and catch the light of the sun on the curves of their cheeks. Lucky bastards. The best I have for environmental rendering is the night-day cycle, with a little ten-minute fade in-between.

Sometimes I think the world shouldn’t be like this, but I have a spot of triumph in the fact that my clothes dry as abruptly as the day closes.

Down into the water I go, feeling myself waterlogged but free from sinking. I could scrounge the bottom of the canal for saleable items, no embarrassment needed because we’re all thieves and trash-pickers in this city, to the confusion and disgust of the rest of the world—they don’t understand our mechanics. We can’t get them to back our causes and fight our injustices, like they do in other cases of injustice and stratification, because all they know to ask is “Why don’t you walk up the damned stairs? Your legs work fine.” In any case, all I want right now is a salad and a coffee, so I splash my way towards my favorite café.

When I slog in, the waiters side-eye me, and the busboy comes scuttling out as soon as I’m seated to mop up the dirty water trail I left behind.

The proprietor is more understanding; I’ve seen her standing at the stove, moving mechanically, and think she’s not much better off than I. She brings me coffee herself and asks, “More barriers up?”

“There’s police tape from one side of Main to the other, and no crime. Just—”

“Just their games.” She smiles, wry.

I nod, and feel tired at the fuss one of the new waiters is making to one of the old about the puddle I’m leaving, and the moisture on the chair, like it’s been dribbled on. This one doesn’t know that it’ll be gone as soon as I’m out the door, having passed to another area and all my signs erased.

The salad, when it comes, looks precisely as it always does, and tastes the same. There’s something for consistency, and if they wouldn’t change the city, I’d be as equally sure of my own unchanging nature. On old beasts like me there aren’t updates, and the world passes on without us, wanting for new excitement.

“Green”
The world has told me to chase my ever-lengthening tail, adding each time I bite another blistering sore. New experience builds on the old, they tell me, Look at how it grows, and they won’t believe me when I shout: Each new vertebra is the same as the last. Running has got me here, crouched in a pile of rotting dead leaves with blood runneling down my sides, my chest and back. There are spines on the inside of the collar which pierce your neck when it tightens, hurting deeper as you run away from the town. By now they’ve gone deep enough that the piercing-hurt goes to the special throb of pressuring, and that’s their only function; the collar kills by strangling. I’m not far enough away to be dying.

The hell of it is this: I’ll feel guilty when I return. They’ll say, You’re the one who ran. To which I respond, Yes, but you’re the ones who put the collar on.

Get to work.

But—fine. Yes. It’s all due tomorrow, isn’t it?

I’ve been here long enough for a deer, young and stupid, to creep out in pursuit of the last tender eatables of the season. I’m slavering, teeth bathed in drool, the right corner of my mouth growing wetter by the moment. Part of the reason I’m out in the woods is the hunger, the constant pit in the belly that no amount of coffee will fill. That’s not the deer’s fault, though, and anyway all my nails are blunted but the one on my thumb, so it’s probable I couldn’t render the animal down to steaks even if my conscience would let me.

I would like the use of its skin, too. The cold is coming on, and all I’ve got of hair—there’s what you expect, and a strip of fine, pale hairs between my breasts. Not enough to keep warm in the night. I know: I’ll go home to my work. The collar will be my compass, with every step towards town accompanied by the loosening of its breathless grip. For now, I bleed, and watch the doe pick her way delicately across this clearing in the Fall woods.

“Blue”
There’s a noise in my new house. It’s like termites, but the inspector says he can’t find their droppings, and the peep holes into the walls don’t show a thing. For the first month I would spend seconds with my ear pressed to the wall – now it’s up to hours, my knees aching and thighs cramping and I don’t care, because the noise is getting louder.

My dreams are horrid with little legs and gnawing mandibles. Against the inspector’s advice, I have the house tented and sprayed. I’m sane: if I weren’t, the noise would follow me to the hotel, but it doesn’t.

But the noise isn’t termites, unless they’re resistant to whatever is used to fumigate a place. It’s louder. For a few weeks I think about contacting another service, maybe have all the places in town spray down the lawn and rooms and baseboards with poison, but that seems extreme.

I don’t have a sledgehammer, but it’s easy to buy. Less easy to swing. I have to rest between the first three blows, but I can see a glow off the pipes, and that excites me enough that I yank my shoulder going at the wall too enthusiastically. It’s my right one, though, and my left hand is dominant; I abandon the sledgehammer – would have to return the thing – and start in with a hammer.

The glow becomes more prominent, and I begin to think: what is it? Had a worker dropped a flashlight into the wall and not been able to retrieve it, so that they boarded it in? No, couldn’t be – the batteries would have died a long time ago, and I never knew a flashlight to make noise. As the hole gets bigger, it’s easier to see that there’s a blueish tint to the light.

So there’s a television, maybe, or an idling computer. It will probably drive me crazy trying to figure out how it got there, but at least there wouldn’t be the constant hum to remind me of it. Given a few years, I’ll begin to forget.

I stick my head into the wall, don’t care when I scrape a nail across my scalp and draw blood. It’s not clear what’s there, yet, but that blue is bright. I suppose a kind of madness takes hold of me then, because I lose the hammer and begin to punch and kick and claw, anything to knock down the barrier between me and the answer.

At last, there’s enough drywall down that I can stumble back and look on the full of it. Not a computer, unless the screen is as high as the ceiling. Not a computer unless there’s something holy or demonic to it, that my eyes can’t come loose from the look of it. In the same posture as I have listened to its noise all this time, I lower myself to my knees.

There’s nothing but blue. Blue, and the noise of something moving ever closer on little legs, gnawing as it comes.

“Violet”
The temperament of the air is cruel today; we can feel it in the veins of our wings, the way the wind vibrates them with its infinitesimal shifts. Soon it will be storming, and our rider is too sensitive for the hard rains. We stoop, though he tugs at the reins, first calmly, then with increasing energy, until he hauls hard enough to drag our head against our chest. Our landing on a boulder lodged in the flank of the mountains over which we lately skimmed is rough, and our rider cusses – at us, at being thrown against the saddle horn. It would have been smooth if he trusted us and let the reins go slack, so we are not penitent.

We fold back our leathery wings, and gripping with thumb-claw and the hind legs too bent and back-facing for such locomotion to be easy, we carry our rider down the slope until we reach a cave that will protect us. It is a good place; the wind play lightly, softly, like children who have been oft scolded by their mother; and perhaps this is a place of the Mother, of Ge. Our rider kicks free of the saddle, drops down from our shoulder, and goes about checking to see if the girth strap or the chest piece are cutting too tight, his fingers carding pleasantly through our fur.

We bump our head against him to insist that he scratches above our eye, and in the place between back-turned nose and forehead where the skin is too delicate for us to get at. It is clear he is not lastingly angry, for he obliges us, and after a moment mutters about it being time for a rest, anyhow. Though the saddle is a matter of pride to bear upon our backs, and never would we screech as some do, protesting its weight – when he undoes the straps and eases it down the slope of our back, our first deep breath is sweet. The sneeze, less so; our smaller cousins roost further back in the dark.

Our rider opens the lead case of the message orbs and stares at them for some time, the crackle of their energy snapping against the glass that contains them loud in my ears. He sighs; closes them away.

The first crack of thunder jolts him badly enough that he stumble back and trips over our feet, landing in a sprawl against our rump. We chitter, scolding, but he only laughs and gets to his feet, runs his hand along our wing as he walks around it, and at last drops his bedroll beside our shoulder. He sits on this, leans back on us. When the rain starts sudden and violent, his arm goes around the back of our neck, fingers buried in the thick ruff of our fur.

“All right,” he speaks into our ear. “You were right to stop, you old flapping mouse.” He looks out on the stormscape, where the lightning pulses with a light of fastest hue. “We would have reached the city tonight if not for the storm. Then it would be another pack of messages to carry. Bombs, do you think? –No, you’re too slow for that. Thank the gods.”

This mood he has come on is too loud with distress and well suited to the weather – the thunder and its ear-hurting strength will persist, if he stays thus. So we lick his cheek, to his considerable distaste, and his ear, his neck, until at last he is shouting remonstrations and finally – thinking he knows what we want – begins to scratch among the complicated and delicate folds of our face. It’s a fine enough resolution, with him calming from irritation with us to quiet intentness as he pets and checks for parasites.

We settle, and watch the sounds of the rain.

Date: 2013-03-25 12:05 am (UTC)
raze: A man and a rooster. (Default)
From: [personal profile] raze
:)

You've got some mighty purdy words. Nice to see you back to posting.

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smwrites: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Default)
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