— Scratches
My life played out like an old cartoon; it was scratchy and unrecognizable. The film skipped and stopped, and I got confused on what happened when or if it had occurred at all. The only memories I looked back upon in clarity seemed to always hurt me. They were the only moments I could picture perfectly in my head. They were the memories that insist on repeating themselves in the back of mind.
Remind me again of my mistakes, my malefactor.
Fingers conspired with twisted inclinations. I betrayed myself, but it never felt that way. I was the victim as well as the perpetrator. I viciously hated myself for forcing me to hate myself. The reasons were always so vague and hard to draw upon, yet they were there, only a moment ago.
My mind begged for clarity, but was met with an equal darkness. These sleeves were a façade covering a monster, and it fooled everyone. I’m supposed to move on, but the weight of the past had its hooks in me long before I knew them sharpened.
There was love in a razor’s edge that none had managed to equal, and now as all lovers do, she left scars. I was just more honest.
Those moments were the most intimate of my life; my soul gazing into my flesh with an ethereal blade; a twisted butcher carving away what she could not bear to show others. The pain inflicted was for love. I was an artist; I was my own lover. Tenderer in touch than any perished flame. I never knew her before she touched me. So gentle and soft, what started with a whisper flourished into an orchestra of violent passion. The chords were wrapped in razor blades; they bit with every change in her pitch.
It was vile. It was raindrops dribbling down the face of a window in the midst of a light, summer shower, yet it was undeniably beautiful. Passion was invoked in depths so dreary. A testament that even with nothing, we can find solace in burning streaks of steel. The droplets were fragile and looked almost imaginary in their perfect, crimson roundedness. I held my breath so to not disturb my bloody stroke. I would look at its path and estimate the trajectory of its journey until, at the last moment, before it could splatter upon my bed sheets I soaked it in a torn strip of toilet paper.
The scratches sweetly stayed. A reminder of our nightly dances.
“I just want to feel okay with myself.” The notes catching their claws on the back of my throat as they cut their way out.
“You will.” Stella said, “We just need to get through this.”
She took the knife from my shaking hand and sheathed it through the fabric of her dress. She grabbed me and raised me up. The drugs were all but gone. Dissipated as water laid out on a summer’s day.
All that was left was me. My shaking frame. I might have lost all of my friends. I could still lose.
“Stella, I don’t think I can do this.” I admitted shamefully.
“I think we have to try.” She gently replied.
The voices began to sing as my system fought the entanglement of the drug.
“We need to save Sam.”
“Alice has her claws into your friend. He is gone.”
“No, he is not. We grew up together.”
“His body is spoiled.”
“Then we cleanse it, or something.”
“He will kill you, sister.”
“I can’t leave him.”
Stella grabbed my arms, “Keira does not have the power to stop him.”
“She has to know something.” I said bitterly.
“She and Jason were fine. I saw to them before following you.”
“Ok…” I said shakily, “Thank you.”
“We’re family.” She gestured forward to a staircase leading into the darkness.
“What is behind there?” I asked her.
“Kiera had promised something better than Euphoria. She always said the ecstasy was a bandage, and nothing greater.”
“Is Alice okay?”
“I don’t know.” Stella whispered, “I should not have left her. I should not have left you.”
“I’d never ask you to risk yourself for me, and I’m sure Alice believes the same. This was my choice, Stella. I would never hold you accountable for that.” I said, consoling my friend.
“It was Kiera.” I groaned, “I should have guessed. Your apparition called me a ‘Little Bird’.”
Stella giggled as she released her hold on me allowing my body to once again hold itself up.
“She called me her ‘Little Bird’ once too, when I was younger. After I met you.” Stella said, “She isn’t a good person.”
I found no reason to disagree.
Stella’s hand found mine as we ascended a wide, stone staircase, leading to to a small, intimate chamber. A circular, glass-stained window cut through the rock work. It illuminated a dark stone well adorned with pendants, herbs, and other offerings.
Kiera lied still atop the well. A whispery lullaby fluttered from her lips as adolescents tempting their first flight. Her fingers hovered above the soil.
I had not imagined so many plants capable of living beneath the mountain bed, yet I knew whatever helped them laid below the well.
Black puss dripped onto her placid arm, yet she remained unfazed. A purple dress covered her prone figure; it draped as silk and glittered in the faint, blue light of the moon, which streaked through the chamber at odd ends. Vines oozed the same poison from uncared for wounds and buildups of the sludge. Even from this distance the smell singed the bottoms of my nose.
Wild flowers bloomed in bright eccentric colors around the dark veins of the Diretree. The room was alight in luminescent mushrooms, flowers, and bugs fluttering across view.
Kiera hummed a song, though familiar, I could not place my finger on the name. She moved the flower of the drips on the ceiling. Stella and I released our grasped hands.
“Kiera, you need to stop.” Stella pleaded, “How many have you hurt?”
Kiera continued to whisper the same song. Stella and I sucked in our courage and pushed into the clearing. The ground was soft and squishy beneath the cut leather of my boots. The flowers had no leaves; instead, they wove an intricate network of roots that rose above the ground as moss. They shone the same purple as the veins of the Diretree.
…Flowers weather storms
To shine with rising rays.
Brighter days to shake
Timid petals. Loose
Rainwater; Heal wind lashed
Leaves my sapling friend.
Kiera’s hair was wild and dyed in a mirage of bright autumn colors, and like the fabric of her dress, cascaded down the stonework of the well. I feared asking Stella if she saw the same scene as me. My reality was not the most trustworthy, yet I did not wish to give that away.
A crack softly creaked above our heads as droplets of the poison fell on the area behind us. One droplet hit me on the forehead.
“Careful, sister.” The witch sang in the rhythm of her poem.
“We’re here. We did it, Kiera. What is there better than Euphoria? You said if we found a way through…” I trailed off seeing I was getting nowhere with her. I turned to Stella hesitantly, but the witch spoke.
“Would it disappoint you to know I had no plans for you, Little One. Your energy is ill-placed. When I made you that offer, I had not considered it easier to simply move the plans ahead. You three being here was opportune to say the least; however, the fruit of this land isn’t for you, nor you Jake.”
Stella gasped as her faced turned red, “You may have made me this body, but I owe nothing of my mind, nor my soul to a murderer.”
“I killed no one.” Keira stated insolently, “I deterred fools from hinging their last hopes on a rumor.”
“A truth.” Stella said, “One for us. Not for you to take and sell.”
“’Sell’?” The witch repeated, “There are uses for you far beyond your deaths. This ‘poison’ as Alex called it, will not harm you or your ‘siblings’.”
“Sam.” I said, “You poisoned, Sam.”
“And that is the beauty. It is a victory for us all, Little Bird. Blood-thirsty cravens can get a little high off their irrational fears and projections.”
“So, they hurt us. You would cause them to hurt us.”
“I bear as much blame as a whisper in the minds of the blind. They chose to believe my words. They chose to taste my drug. As far as I can tell the only fault I hold is trespassing on state-owned land. A sin we all share.”
“Save him.” I said, “We can talk about this other shit after. How do I get my friend to stop being a psycho?”
“If I freed him today he would kill you tomorrow. He was poisoned long before he met me.” Kiera said, “Your vulnerability will only be met with bitter toleration at best, vehement hatred at worst.”
“Your wrong.” I said, “It’s all just a trick of the lights. Nothing made sense for so long, but it was you. It’s not your fault?” I asked, “I hated myself for something I had no part of. People hate me for something I had no part of. It’s all wrong; It’s all false; It’s this haze. I feel the fringes of insanity tickle my mind. Blurs and scrapes and tangles in between one another.”
“You feel that way because it is true. You are not well in the mind, Alex. Your judgment should not be trusted.”
“Fuck off.” I said stubbornly, “I am sane enough to discern what has been missing from my entire life. I don’t need your lies attempting to talk me out of it.”
“Where is Alice.” Stella spoke up.
“Ensnared within the folds of her own plant. She had left it alone for so long and I just happened to have found the flower blossoms. She abandoned this mountain. I tended to its roots. I kept interlopers and lost fools away. She is almost in bloom, and now you decide to return?” The witch spat vehemently at Stella, “Go dig your lover from the pits, but you will abandon its gift.”
“What gift?” I asked.
“It’s another lie.” Stella said, “Whatever she has done poisoned the bloom. I am sorry, Grace.”
“Your faith is misplaced.” The witch said, “After all I have done I think I have proven myself adequate above mere misbelief.”
“What can you give?” I asked again.
“Beauty of the body, all eternal, as well as a peace of mind from the world and its brutality. I can promise you security, safety, and beauty. There is nothing to find out there better than what I can give. A final cure to the pain you feel throughout your mind, and the separation of your body.”
Dark red fruit were placed on the altar, “So I suppose another choice is to be made.”
Stella grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back, “What is there to gain?” She asked me. Her eyes pleading, I felt the warmth of her hand for the first time. It was nice. “Look around you, Grace. Look at the names.” She said.
I turned my attention from the witch to the arrays of vines carved with names interlacing around the cavern. Woven strings of fabric were tied around the markers on the vines. Flowers were picked and laced with ribbon.
“Who are they?” I asked looking at the smooth etchings of the letters.
“Everyone we lost, and the only thing she promises is for me to add your name to the bloom. Please, I do not want to see another friend hurt.”
“I just want to feel better.” I said.
“There are other ways. They are harder, but this wasn’t much of a hope to begin with. I can settle for a little high.”
“It’s not fair.” I whispered, “Why is it never fair?”
“The cards are always going to be stacked against us. That’s how the world is.” Stella said, “We were born at different heights. Some get to feel the light, others can only imagine the warmth, but who needs a false light from some false god? We don’t need to give in to these fear-mongers, nor submit on a hope of divine intervention. We can be one another’s light. Grace, there is nothing wrong that we can’t buy or steal.” Stella broke a smile that I could not help but return. Her hand grasped mine.
“You’re right, Stella. I couldn’t leave this behind. My beauty would just be another mask. I am who I am.” I said feeling a burden loosen from the back of my neck.
“You could be better.” The witch said.
“For you, Keira.” I said pointing to the sapling beside the well, “Is that Miranda? Did she take your advice?”
“She is happier now than ever.”
“So, you are a maniac.” I pointed at the parcels of luminescent fruit she held, “Just more smoke and mirrors, Stephanie. Its false. I am more than this body. I hated myself for so long, but I can’t do it anymore. It’s exhausting.”
“Hope lives in the doomed.” The witch said bitterly, “Fine. Do what you will; you may take this tomb back, children. I will not fight a pack of freaks.” She spat.
“Where is Alice?” Stella exclaimed.
Kiera pointed a finger to a corner of the room. A swarm of sinking vines was grappling with a mound.
Stella raced over in a fury slashing at the plants until Alice’s head popped out from the green growth, “My hero.” She swooned as Stella reprimanded her for getting caught.
I kept my eyes on the witch. She looked calm and unbothered by our heroic display.
“Why do you hate us?” I asked with more sincerity than I had intended.
This question took Keira back a bit. She chewed on the question for a moment before responding. “I don’t hate you.” She said at last, “Like I said, you were not even a part of my plans. I just wanted to keep you away, but you pressed once too many, Little Bird. For an educated freak, I’m surprised you did not take any basic economics class. Unlike your friend, not all of us act on brash emotional impulse…”
“Okay… Okay… I get it.” I said, “Who is paying you then, bitch?”
She flashed a bitter glare, yet loosened her lips, “The world wouldn’t give me an inch, so why not steal a mile? The ones who hate us will always hate us. The ones who love us will hurt us the most. I will give in to neither of them, and take from both.”
The witch slouched back onto the well as Stella and Alice joined us.
Alice ran over and hugged me, “The seed lies below, sister. Worry not about the poison she has inflicted.” Alice said.
“What are you doing?” Stella asked pointing out a slight movement of Keira’s wrist.
“Stella!” Alice cried grabbing my hand.
A rumble echoed in some dark abyss deep below the mountain like a Mentos splashing in a coke can. The pulsing veins slowed to a stop and then just as water gushing through the funnel of a hose the dark goop came spraying from the cut and withered vines that sprawled through the mines.
A storm of the toxins sprayed through the cuts and scrapes that had no longer healed. I was blinded by the torrent of blackness, relying on Alice’s grip to guide me away.
We ran as Kiera’s laughter was interrupted by a splash.
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