I am a good father.
I sit on this mud 'n' reed mound waiting out the war of my hunger and the collapse of bright clouds. The burnished day burns on, and still I sit. Drought, then rainshower, predators of the earth and sky, because no other dares test my beak. They would find me here dead and still sitting, food for horned lice and feather eaters, should the toothed darkness close upon me. But it won't, because I am a stalwart father, unmovable.
I snack on a moon-slick morsel, some trembling black jewel who bumbled too close. I beak away small creatures unfit for eating. And when the thieves arrive in iron plumage to plunder my mound and flee with armfuls of future feathers, I do not move. My corpse will sit where I sat. My body will only budge in the jaws of carrion lovers. Take me apart piece by piece, dismantle me, for only one road leads to nest: the path of pestilence and decay. The flesh will fall from your diseased bones and my children will crack open the dark sky and step out beneath the light sky.
I am a good father.
Peck and piss, peck and flick some dumbflight daddy. Poor sod, rootless now, all bone knots and tissue hinges, opening the door to my delight. Some ruffian lands from the kettle above, screeching hideous abuse. Move aside! I acquiesce and move aside.
You'll draw the others. He's mine.
Peck and piss!
What one can't finish, two can share. I acquiesce and piss, refreshing shower on my legs, as bald as the head where no germ can take seed, where no louse can seat himself and grow fat on my plunder. A breeze brings relief, and lo! the aroma of another unfortunate felled by the sweep of night's black blade, by the stream.
I'm full, I fly, he doesn't guess the lie, and I am alone to haunt the plate of the streambank, a wake of two. Night has served up some worm of the water full of flesh. I alight. I open my beak.
I close my maw and roll back into the stream swollen with rain, roll and gnash: all pinions and prickled feet. I lose a tooth, but it will return, rising from the mud of my gum. Rest, shunt the blood from my lungs, turn instead to the engine of my digestion. And then escape with newfound grace from this turgid stream before another sun bakes it to a trickle. Not that I am worried. Not that I am ever worried. Move, little finned ones. Outpace me, algae dash and skitter like a strider on the film of the water vein. A shame you only see the sky before death. The land is full of ridged delights. Here, now, do not bump into me on your path down the vein to the sea.
Too close! Too toothed. Snout, hands, feet, claws, eyes like a deathbeak. Typhoon tongued leviathan, away from me! Up, up, up to the open water.
Turn left! Turn right! Bones on the floor. Right to the floorless water.
Left! Turn, anyway, and against Flow: up. Ascend through the stories of water. We're nearly at the top.
We swim, sleep, swimsleep, give ourselves over to Flow. Faith now, friends. That's my scrampy. Mine!
Have faith in Flow to bring you where the rock is struck through with turquoise roads overflowing with golden scrampy. Enough for all!
Faith takes us far, no turning back now. Down, down, away.
Where are we? Where am I?
The Flow carries, and recedes. Grit and air, the hell of air! We cannot breathe without the Flow. I can flip back into the Flow if I just flip harder. And each leap cries: Help! Help! Help!
bubbles -- pebbles -- wind pull -- water push -- up -- down -- rock -- shell, empty -- jelly, full -- wind over -- water down -- cloud up -- moon, hand aspect -- colors good -- sand wet -- wood -- shell, full -- scales -- scales! -- breath -- scalepurse, full -- delicious -- moon, rising -- home soon -- clamp down -- lift -- scalepurse, heavy -- drag -- wind disturbed -- four-legged smell -- run -- drop, run -- brittle, softshell, pearl -- seawrack -- tangled -- four-legged near -- moon, rising -- shadow above --
Heed the whip. Fear the hand. Cautious now. Bear the burden. Wait. Waiting is the god. The god of mountain suns. Watch the faces. Remember the faces. Listen for the crack and boom of the magic stick. There falls another. He did not bear the burden. He did not wait. Now he falls to shadowland. Under the mountain. He did not wait.
One sun-big moon. Two. Ten. Wait. Wait and watch. I remember this face from ten sun-big moons ago. A two-leg youngling. Bend the head. Heed this hand. No whip. Two hands down the neck. Gentle. Soft. Silent now. Slip away. Loosen the ropes. Buck the burden. No more waiting. The god is ready. I walk into the night. Heed the sun. Fear no mountain. Cautious, I go into tomorrow.
I drink free from the well. I drink in the shadow of the worm.
I am cutting a hole in my home with these twin scissors attached to my dull green end and turning the cuttings into nuggets that drop from my bright yellow end, my false eyes, so blind, so frightful. I am well paced today, well placed and ready to abandon my home and build a new one with all the unburned contents of my long green gut. Spin and spittle, turn, twist, and shape, my form submits to the door of my future. I am afraid, but beckoned by the drumming song in my long green mind. I am afraid as I close the door on myself and sleep until
Open blue windows
Shape the world with my cold wings:
How long have I slept?
The bloom of wild night
The violence of color
Hark! The flaming cup!
Days I reap and sow
The golden coins of iris
And the day on fire.
Alight on the stem--
Tip the scales in my favor: Love and death are mine. As in, I love your death little rainbow scrap, descended from the green worm hanging on his skyhook. And I descend again. Into the warm embrace of roothome. Crown of roots, bed of soil. I am alone again, and better for it. Let the worms hang their skyhooks. Blow myself up, puff puff, and how about one more puff: perfect. Earth anchors me. I will not float away. My skin is warm with death. I sleep. I catch the dream of another: all wide wakeful stirrings of ecstasy and a bone meeting. A clash. Clack and snort. Hoofbeats and the long night of walking somnolence. Click...
Click click click. I am surrounded by a ring of darkness in the blind tundra. Click click. I hear my mother's step before me and my father's behind. No, my mother's sister. The black wind cuts my eyes. I do not yet have a tree growing from my head. I want one. I want one like my mother's, that stays all the long night. I am surrounded by the flesh and blood of my blood, but we are surrounded by a ring of black beasts. I see them when the wind closes my eyes. I see them when I sleep. I see them when I pull the hot milk from my mother's belly.
Click click. A flurry of feather-talkers overhead. No, ice, a wind of ice. The blind day turns away the sun. Click. The ring of black beasts tightens. I cannot breathe. My mother is no longer beside me. Click. I turn to find my mother's sister. Who is this? He has no tree growing from his head. I cannot see him any longer. I cannot see. I am blind and pelted by ice. Snow heaps upon my coat. I cannot shake it off. I cannot shake off the black beasts. Click click. It is my own step only, echoing in the blind tundra.
They are gone. I am the last of our million. The black beasts approach.
I traverse the Great Distances. I nurture civilization. I survived the Winter of Ravens. I did not whine when I lost my ear.
Why must I always be last to taste the sweet dark wine of our sacrifice?
For years I have waited while one by one or all at once they pull the tenderest shreds from the body of our sacrifice under the Moon's lordly gaze. Did I not participate in the Hunt? Did I not sound the horns as bravely as any other?
Yet I am at the bottom.
My brother sneers. My younger brother, marrow dropping from his jaw. I nipped the calf's tail, I made him drop the first jewels of his wine. Yet there will be but crumbs left for me when these barbarians are through.
I will leave. May they starve without me! Starve and rot!
The snow shrouds me in silence. I am invisible. I walk above the earth. I leave them, to begin my own Hunt and howl under a new Moon. He will protect me. The long corridors of the forest are no less lonely now. I will not join another party. The wine shall flow freely.
My heart sings: I am at the top.
Thank you for your heart, my friend. I cannot wait until we part. I'll pass through your slow decay and live to see another day. I am safe from hungry fungus, though my grief of the chill be humongous. Don't stop! I may have spent you too quick. I will not live where winter is yet so thick. Thaw and break, sun of spring, winter's daughter; cast away your weapons, cold hearted marauder!
Thump and crumble? I wake with memories of someone falling on my roof. How many moons ago. Yawn! I do not care. My bones creak at the edge of dawn as a bright gold waterfall fills the hillside. I am hungry and drowsy with silence. I gnaw on spring's bone, laid bare here in the new season. I count my ribs. The wind plays them like twigs. My body has been replaced in the night by the season's sacred minions. I think differently than I did in the old season.
Of bones. I must have dreamed of a castle of bones, I am bone hungry, bone starved, and what is this but a pile of winter-fresh bones upon my roof. A longmuzzle, grieved by winter. I do not mind a bone brought to me; a bone given. But oh, who is this wanderer? You will not have my bones, neither those inside nor out.
She is close. I see myself in her eye.
I see myself in his eye.
Boom: not this way. Circle toward the shining plate. Break it.
The drink is blessing me with cool slabs of life. Boom: farunder the hot water churns. Here, the cool. The only thing older than me: boom. The hot stones unite. Where shall I go if I cannot go here? Another shape comes to mind. Boom: that farflung field that unites field after field of drink. I am older than you, hopper. I am older than you, leecher. Boom: the swimmers that feed on the green field of my back cannot feel the farunder where the hot water churns. I escape and rove. I am not free. I follow the field. I cross all paths and some pulsing twig bounces off my armor. Two of them, entwined. Boom.
His emerald head tastes like cold fire, and he continues thrusting into me as I move onto the delicious leaves of his wings. Once they carried him farther than I have ever flown. I love it this way. The spicy veins of his wings open me to his seeds. He is finished. I am full. I carry the wet seeds that will pour forth. I must find the perfectly sculpted branch. Five leaves and a hanging fruit: asymmetry makes me froth. I think of the diagonals of his head. I loved his partial body in the end by the pond where we loved. For the seeds I build a fortress of foam. It is full. I am finished.
I collect a case of bug berries and unzip it with my teeth. Tee hee! No one else has been inside. What sweet treasures! But who goes there? There is yet time tonight to be unzipped myself by hidden fangs, secret talons. The undergrowth is thick with tastes. Greater shadows bounce by. I am a quiet thief in the underdark. A quiet thief!
Who goes there?
Oh oh, only a ghost! Tied in a knot. A magic knot that still smells of poisonous vapors left behind when the hidden fangs slipped his skin. I do not taste his eyes upon me. I anoint my spines with his vapors. I am an imposter, a thief, a secret assassin who will escape into the earth with all the treasures of the upper realm. I will slip into the earth and join the wiggling socks of blood and muscle.
My hearts beat beat beat to the rhythm of the rain. From where does it fall? The sky is dripping again, calling my hearts up up up to the surface. My segments roll forth. Rock, root, burrowing bone case, root, tendril, mushroom egg. Grass tongues tickle my muscles and AH skywater. Flood my senses.
I must dance.
And look, my brethren.
Snatched a snack for the long fly back home. I'll save it for later, just an earthtongue. The family is breaking apart. Oh no. The White One has come. I need my beak free. Snack, or fight? I will live to eat another day. Farewell, earthtongue.
And a long way down.
I float in a skypool. My hearts beat beat beat in terror. But I am alive. I shouldn't be. I cannot wait to tell the others. Oh. Nevermind. I won't be alive for long. Farewell, segment six. Farewell, segment five. Oh, I won't be long now. My final heart beats in terror.
And from this kernel of cosmic matter I regrow the foot lost in the grotto slowly hour by hour watching the changes in this placid reservoir, and I drift into sleep and out again and the world turns and churns its constituents, and suddenly from some deep cellar within me I feel the call of a secret wish, and it lashes me with tongues of passion and I regenerate pieces of my mind I had forgotten I had lost in an eruption of light and the sensation of falling and my breathers begin to shrink away from the cold of the water and fold up inside of my body and become as bubbles, and I cannot breathe, and I desire more than anything to kiss the hot rocks above and breathe that liquid air--I latch onto this golden root and crawl toward the sun where a new world awaits and I already see a strange being watching my metamorphosis.
I am nothing like my parents, though we speak the same canopy tongue. But where they have limbs, I have dreams. Where they have eyes, I have nameless colors. Where they have air, I have breathless engines. I changed the rules, they said. I say I rewrote them as we all one day do.
I believe I am something new. I am leaving now. I'm going higher. Goodbye. I am already full of kin. They squirm inside my magic womb. No harm will come to them as I ascend. I'm going higher still.
Space is a dark forest, but I can climb the trees.
I am a good mother.
Thrown out of Fairyland for crimes against the Realm, Kyle is a naturalist living in Michigan. He can usually be found in the dunes or forests, turning up logs looking for life. Past incarnations include zookeeper, video game critic, retail manager, stablehand, and writing tutor. His fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and Honey & Sulphur. You can find more at www.kyle-e-miller.com.