The foul odor of death clings to every surface. Bacteria have run their course, the fleas and maggots are long gone, and at last, the cruel silence of us closers swallows all else.
A mangled corpse is far less intimidating when decayed beyond recognition. Upon first sight, it is barely distinguishable from its surroundings. A double take may uncover a protruding mound or bones attached to rotting flesh--or, perhaps, the agony of dying too early or too late, too quickly or too slowly. Dumb, stunned suspension follows. Dreadful revelation wraps itself around the core of the bereaved, cackling.
Granted, we, too, grieve: bawl into open arms, kick and scream in our uncontainable rage, mourn for countless midnights until finally, we grow tired and refuse to ignore the ravenous hunger within ourselves. We stay in this unseen place, taking our fill with stealth and greed. We hoard condolences, misplace our hostility, and victimize ourselves until the tendons between the active and the passive deteriorate. Before we take note of its departure, the weight of the loss relinquishes to our grasp.
Our only means of moving forward are through growth. So we deceive ourselves into mulling over corrupted pain until nothing pure remains. We shroud new life, engulf oceans, and swaddle everything that came before us. We devour.
The onlooker’s silhouette eclipsed the window behind them as they paused in the doorway. Ceaseless babble pierced their ears.
From inside the room, the crowd rearranged itself effortlessly. Smiling figures contorted to let one another through, polite to no end. Their stiffness betrayed the polished facade. Between sweeping, down-the-nose glances, they had allowed envy to tiptoe into the room, each individual foolishly convinced that their neighbors were oblivious.
On an inhale, the onlooker watched the mass settle into orderly groups. Chipper greetings were exchanged, slight variations on the same stuffy small talk creeping across the room.
Feigned enthusiasm and longing glances and guarded responses--their onlooker caught it all. They recognized solidarity in convenience at once: if given the choice, not a single person in that room would remain loyal to their current circumstances, but they were all too cowardly or too lazy or too prideful for the pursuit of their desires. So still, they sat, gossip, gawking, grudges galore.
Itching to lurch forward, the onlooker twitched. The chatter built into an unintelligible rumble, drowning itself out with each passing moment. It seemed as though they spat out every word, every thought, in a single breath. They were united in neutrality: neither anxious nor collected, neither calculated nor spontaneous, neither alluring nor banal.
The light from the window burned the onlooker’s back. They grew frustrated.
In a peculiar rhythm, they began to pelt one another with trivial inquiries.
The cacophony of the starved soon arose. They shifted under the weight of unspoken sins, baggage harbored for eternities, and the monsoon of bleary rambling: what are we doing why are we still here would it be that hard to get out how do we move on when did we lose ourselves where are we where are we where are we where are we
Quietly, the instinct towards destruction found its footing. They could have turned around. But in truth, there was no escaping themselves.
Blades of grass tickle knobby knees as a child sprawls across the lawn, admiring the blue expanse towering above. Willowy limbs stretch outwards. They can never seem to reach far enough, but today, she doesn’t mind. She is weightless. Her arms and legs jolt together, then apart, open and closed, openandclosedstuckunstucktogetherapartgone until she declares that she is done. There is a moment’s pause. She rolls onto her stomach and pushes her little body upwards.
Mismatched shoes lug around sweaty feet. Hair matted by the day’s affairs, she toddles about, carrying her own grace at an uneven rhythm. With every step, she emanates warmth and purpose, touching every unturned corner and unexplored surface in her line of view. Marveling, she basks in all that she finds. In no time at all, she shoots upwards.
From afar, a tut of distaste reaches her ears.
Always gets her clothes dirty, I swear.
Get OVER here.
The voice does not staunch its stream of remarks. It says that she does not branch out enough or yield enough. It tells her how she should want to behave. It nips at her budding whimsy. It speaks in contradictions, calling her an overgrowth during daylight and complaining of her meekness in the evening. It tramples over her and cuts her down.
But she does not despair. She clings to her roots and holds herself high. She remains, grounded, and turns toward the light.
She sits with bent knees touching, feet stretched towards the blazing horizon behind her. Her head cocks at an odd angle. A hummed melody carries itself just past her cracked lips, punctuated by sharp breaths and tinkling giggles. She begins to sway. Bare shoulders paddle gusts of wind as the sun plunges downwards, setting the world aflame. Blood puddles beneath her.
Dirt-caked fingernails wander, first crossing her torso to claw at bony arms, then clambering up her neck, scratching her face, and running through her scalp before splaying to the sky. To her own gleefully frantic tune, she dances.
Darkness dampens the fire, and the aching simmers into a cyclical buzz. She waits.
Asleep, she dreams of his horror and relief in finding her. He will lift her gingerly, tucking her head against his chest as the grime of her injury spills onto him. The vastness of the night will not faze him; he has been here before. Determined, he will charge through rough, open terrain for hours, playing hero once more.
In her contented torment, she turns.
When her struggling overwhelms him, he’ll break down, nuzzling into her, tears staining broken skin. Harsh winds will draw chills on exposed limbs. Howling, he will cradle her in trembling arms. His whispered promises of healing and unending apologies will restore life in her. Hungry eyes will meet.
The fantasy caves. Silence reigns, but she rises with pointed certainty. Drenched in crimson, a knowing smile flashes across her face. She begins to hum once more.
He will always come crawling back to lick her wounds clean.
-- Hannah Son is an aspiring writer and student. "Eukarya" is her first published work. She lives in Texas with her family and two dogs.