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EP530: City in the Wound

by Michael Buckley
narrated by Barry Haworth

author Michael Buckley

author Michael Buckley

about the author…

Mike Buckley’s fiction has appeared in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2003The Southern California Review, and numerous times in The Alaska Quarterly Review.  His science fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld (in a story read by Cast of Wonders’ Marguerite Kenner), Pravic, and is forthcoming from Abyss and Apex. He is currently working on a Transhumanist murder mystery novel.  He has been nominated for various awards, and his debut short story collection, Miniature Men,was released in 2011.   He is a practicing Creative Futurist, using science fiction storytelling to improve corporate and government policy.  He is also an instructor with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and regularly teaches workshops on science fiction and short story.

about the narrator…

Barry Haworth is from Australia and he last narrated for Escape Pod in episode 428. This is his third appearance after offering to narrate as a way to contribute to one of his favorite shows.

 

City in the Wound
By Michael Buckley

In the middle of the night Eztli decides to burn The Mothers. He’s a block down and they’re visible through a sliver of space between two corners, drapes of light kelping back and forth slow in the darkness.

Eztli runs, safe for the moment ‘cause it’s his street, Da is watching, but then off his block, out into the middle of the road.

A brick flies past him. He hears shouting in the rooms above The Mothers, but their boys and girls don’t make it out in time. Now it’s just him standing in front of The Mothers. There’s three in a row, their dresses shimmering and lovely, and they stare down at him, so kind and gentle. The one in front is actually crying as Eztli sprays stolen gasoline in a wide arc across them. Eztli hates her for it. He could burn her a thousand times.

The lit match hits the wall and The Mothers go up. The children scream from the second floor. Feet bang on the stairs. Eztli runs, the warmth of the fire behind him, listening to the other screams, the ones coming from beneath the flames.

That night he sleeps next to Da, the composites moving about slowly behind him, lulling. And he doesn’t dream at all.

Da wakes him the next day. The composites reach finger-like to brush his cheek. Feels like lizard skin, or what he’s heard of The Native’s hide.

“Wakee,” Da says. His voice makes Eztli’s lips go cold. “Wakee. Food for the others. At the farthest pit.”

Eztli stands in the morning light. The street is dead quiet and Da behind him moves across the wall, ticking and groaning and hissing.

“You slept close to Da last night for burning The Mothers,” Da says.

Eztli gets it: But today you gotta work.

Da’s glowering. Shifting to form an expansive brow edged in loose razors of hair, he looks at Eztli.

You think he’d be happy, Eztli thinks.

“The farthest pit?”

“There’s still good eggs in it.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

How’d he know that there were still good eggs in the farthest pit? But then, how did Da know anything—or everything? How do The Mothers know which boys and girls will fall in love? ‘Cause that’s what The Mothers’ boys and girls got. A whisper in the ear, a name. The person who was perfect for you. Da never gave that. He’d laugh if you asked.

Da knows, that’s all. They all do.

He feels a tiny itch on his cheek and picks it away. It’s a fleck of composite, small as a grain of sand, except sharp enough to cut skin. These composites were Their bodies, and like Da, let Them climb over the walls of buildings, usually in big, flat, glowing drapes, showing images like the kelping Mothers or the dark brow of Da. But they could leap too, building to building, although Eztli hasn’t seen it but maybe once.

Da hadn’t moved from his wall in years.

Eztli begins walking. Looking back, he can see the edge of The Mothers. Blackened, but there are tiny movements across the surface. Healing. A boy is near the corner, looking back at Eztli with two clean pathways on his face where tears had flowed.

Eztli smiles and motions fuck you and then turns and runs.

Ende Vorr isn’t large, and lies between two ranges of hills. Eztli walks and looks at the closest range. It is bleached white; that part of The Native’s flesh had been burned away by the crash, exposing the huge bones beneath. Ende Vorr, the city, was maybe only fifty blocks long and ten wide. Most of it was a dream to Eztli. He’d never been very far away from Da. The building across the street from Da was where Eztli’s mom had given birth to him, and he was four when he had his first real memory. He was standing in the middle of the street, and there was Da covering the whole side of a building, ticking and swarming and crawling in swarming composite, shiny whorls appearing here and there, a forest of greenery that moved hypnotically back and forth, and then emerging from it that brow, that hard face. Da.

Eztli’s mom had disappeared the next year.

The farthest pit lies beyond the square. At its edge now, he watches people move across it. They all look terrified and deflated. Filthy skeletons with overgrown teeth and eyes bugging out of their heads.

Visible from here also is another one of Them, down a sidestreet, writhing on the wall. Children stand in front of it trying to seem tough. Da would probably want that one burned too, but it would be suicide. Eztli was lucky enough to get The Mothers at a time when all of their children were too slow getting down the stairs.

Eztli dashes across the space and the children on the sidestreet shout at him, but they do not chase. They don’t want to be far away from theirs any more than Eztli wants to be far away from Da. But he feels their eyes on him like concentrated sunlight.

Two men are standing at the entranceway to the farthest pit, a tumbledown plasticomb doorway left over from a vanished building. They watch Eztli as he runs.

“You Da’s boy?” one of them asks as Eztli gets to them, panting.

“Yeah.”

“Da’s boys don’t pay.”

He steps aside and Eztli sees the pit behind him. It is pitch dark and seems to exhale a cold, salty odor.

“Still got eggs, but they’re deep.”

“What we need’s a fresh pit,” the other man says. “Near the hills. The Native keeps her eggs there, close to the bone.”

The first man’s face changes minutely. Eztli catches it; he’s telling the other man to shut up. All of this isn’t Da’s business, fresh pits, where they’ll dig them, affectionately referring to The Native as her.

Eztli pretends like he doesn’t hear them and steps down into the pit. A rope is knotted to a board lodged in the entrance, and Eztli grabs it and begins backing down into the darkness. The rope is wet from resting on the wall of the pit, slippery with the juices of The Native. Footholds are hard to get on the wall of the pit, and Eztli slips until he finds holes bored into the wall, big enough to slip a couple toes into. Descending through the darkness, Eztli feels the wet air in his lungs like damp felt. The two men above move and occlude the thin cascade of light into the pit. Disgusting. Dark. Crawling through The Native’s corpse. Eztli hates it.

But then, the children have to eat. Disgusting, dark, the reek of the corpse, it doesn’t matter. Da wants eggs for the children and he’ll get them.

Voices below. Two men talking.

Eztli calls out so they won’t be surprised by him. They go silent.

He gets to the floor of the pit. There’s an open chamber, as big as a building. It’s festooned with cartilaginous ribbing, already stripped of eggs. A torch farther in gives off flickering light and smoke.

“Da’s boy,” one of the men shouts.

They’re near the end of the chamber, far enough away from the light that they are just shadows moving in other, wetter shadows.

“C’mere Da’s boy,” the same voice says.

Eztli comes. Here is a deposit of eggs, fist-sized and white, packed in fat and jellied blood along some newly-exposed ribbing. The men both have blood around their mouths and they’re unsteady on their feet, dizzy with the rich eggs.

“Da’s boys don’t pay,” one of the men says, but it’s not the same way that the man above said it. This man sounds mad.

Eztli pretends like he doesn’t hear. He slips down into the packed eggs and removes his shirt. Knotted into a damp hammock, it will hold enough eggs to keep Da’s children fed for a week. Eztli begins to work, wrapping his fingers around the eggs and twisting them free. They’re slippery but still almost warm, although The Native is long dead.

The men talk loudly as he works.

“The Native craves the sky. They never touch the ground, The Natives. ‘Cept for when they die.”

“Ssss. Like we’ve seen other natives. Like you even know what you’re talking about.”

“How would we see ‘em, anyway? We’re down here. They’re floating. Right on the edge of space. Same as they were when Ende Vorr hit her and brought her down.”

“Imagine what she was,” the other man says. “Imagine what she knows.”

“She’s dead,” is the bitter response. “She doesn’t know anything.”

Eztli has packed enough eggs now, and lifts the swollen, wet shirt to his shoulder.

“But this little turd burp thinks he can come down here, into The Native’s sacred flesh, and climb all through her ‘cause he’s close to one of Them,” the bitter man continues.

Eztli drags the eggs to the bottom of the rope, past the flickering torch. It’s quiet in the shadows. And then they’re around him, the two large men, their lower faces covered in blood. Their eyes are insane.

“You little dirty starving scrawny shit,” the man with the bitter voice says.

Eztli adjusts his grip on the shirt.

“You want to do something to me?” he asks, completely neutral.

The bitter man leans forward. Bits of egg casing have collected at the edges of his lips like spider webs.

Eztli headbutts him clean. His forehead pops the man’s nose. There’s a slippery mad scramble, the two men and Eztli, hands slipping and trying to grab, breath close in Eztli’s ears. At last the bitter man has been pried off and pinned by the other.

“He belongs to Da,” the man says. “Are you crazy?”

The bitter man, bleeding from his nose so his own blood mixes with that of the eggs, stares as Eztli collects the eggs back into the shirt hammock.

“Da’s boys don’t pay,” he says finally. Maybe it’s an apology.

Eztli lodges his toes in the lowest holes and uses the rope to climb. It’s difficult and exhausting, but finally he is at the top, in the light.

The men there look at him briefly but say nothing.

Eztli moves fast, happy to be out of the pit. He makes it back and before he turns up Da’s block he sees the same child standing on The Mothers’ corner, the same two clean tear-paths on his face. Still staring at Eztli.

Boys stand in front of Da on guard, holding chunks of plasticomb, ready to fight. Eztli walks past them and they eye the swollen shirt he is carrying. He leers at them, tells them to stay focused. The Mothers would be angry for being burned. Da moves in gentle swoops on the wall, his terrible brow appearing for a moment.

Upstairs Cecily welcomes Eztli, taking the eggs from him. The flat is filled with Da’s boys—all boys, but for Cecily. They come alive when they see the eggs but she shushes them and shoves the bigger ones back. When they’re calm she drops the eggs into the dry sink.

“First to the hero,” she says, holding an egg out for Eztli.

She passes the rest out and she and Eztli sit knee to knee. They tap their eggs together and she bites in.

“The farthest pit?” she says. “So fresh.”

“New clutches. Deep.”

“If it wasn’t for Da, maybe you’d be one of those pit diggers.”

“Or maybe worse.”

They eat. Eztli feels the warmth of the egg unfold in his arms and legs. He burps and feels dizzy for a moment.

Cecily seems transfixed. She reaches out and touches Eztli’s forehead.

“The pit diggers,” he says.

“You gonna tell Da?”

Eztli shrugs.

“Na.”

Two small boys bring out a piece of piping, one long piece ended in two shorter ones. They’re using ripped fabric to attach other bits of garbage to it.

“The Mothers have been healing,” Cecily says.

“Have their children tried anything?”

She shakes her head.

Cecily is older than the boys, older than any of Da’s children. Her hair is shorn and her scalp is filthy and she smiles again, that sweet vulnerable smile. Eztli takes her hand gently in his. Beneath her fingernails are mazes of flashing blue tech.

A small child ambles over to Eztli and crashlands in his lap. Eztli tickles him and the child laughs. His breath is rank. Cecily rips tiny pieces of egg away from her own and places them gently in the child’s mouth. He chews.

Shouting fills the room. The children have the pipe structure tied together into the rough shape of a person. It has a filthy drape of dark fabric around it. It even has a head, an empty box with deflated egg casings for eyes. The children are arrayed around it, screaming.

The little boy in Eztli’s lap looks up at him.

“Burn her,” he says.

“Shit. We can’t burn anything inside.”

The boy smiles so sweetly.

“Burn her!”

The children around the figure dance and shout at it. They call it mother and they dance forward and hit it and kick and scream at it. One of them throws a cup of brown water at it and looks over his shoulder at Eztli for approval.

Cecily’s eyes light up.

“Da wants to see you,” she says.

Eztli shifts the boy to her lap. He stands up and goes down the stairs, passing two boys eating eggs.

Outside, Da is twinkling and moving across the wall. He’s active right now, his brow hovering for a moment then disappearing between large, dark walls of kelping green. Two boys are guarding Da and one is at the corner, watching The Mothers a block away. He feels their attention go to him for a second but he ignores it and stands in front of Da.

The composites shift and twinkle and there is Da’s great, terrible face. Eztli steps closer. Before he can react Da cascades out and engulfs him. The motile composites cover Eztli and his mouth is penetrated with something that hurts his throat as it passes inside, lodging between his lungs. His ears are filled too. He feels tiny pinpricks on his arms and legs. The chemicals hit him, and the composites around him constrict, and his bones creak.

Now he’s on a beach. Da isn’t the monstrous face on the wall but just a man, tall and strong.

“My boy,” he says.

Da stares at Eztli, and he feels small and fragile in front of him.

“Where are we?”

“Inside,” Da answers.

Da clasps Eztli’s shoulder.

“I didn’t tell you to burn The Mothers. Why did you?”

“I thought it would make you happy, Da.”

“It does make me happy. But they’ll heal, of course.”

“They already are healing, Da. When I went to the farthest pit I saw it.”

“The Mothers are the most powerful of the crew,” he says. “If we wish to harm The Mothers, we must be subtle. I want you to go to them.”

“What?”

The word had come out before Eztli could stop himself. Now he expects Da to hit him. Da just stares.

“Go to them? They’ll kill me.”

Da shakes his head.

“I know The Mothers. Their children will come for revenge soon. They’ll be looking for you.”

“Yes, Da, to kill me.”

“If you fight them. But you won’t. You’ll let them take you.”

Eztli feels his guts fall.

“Da, I can’t.”

It’s hard to point to the change, but it seems that Da is at once larger and heavier, denser. Angled and dark.

“You will, Eztli.”

Eztli knows that there is no other place for him. What would he be? A pit digger, spending his days digging into The Native’s flesh, hoping to stumble upon a clutch of eggs? And if he wandered the streets he’d be lost forever, gone.

Da is his only protection.

“I will, Da.”

The hand is on his shoulder again.

“I’ll reward you for it, Eztli. You brave, brave boy. My oldest boy. Fourteen now.” Da stares at Eztli for a long moment. It’s like having a wound cleaned—painful attention.

“I love you, Da.”

Da nods.

“I was everywhere, once. Every wall. But the Others were clever. They stole my territory, and now here we are, fighting for a dirty little street. But with boys like you, Eztli, I will be able to…”

Da doesn’t finish the thought. Eztli knows it is because the thought is too big to finish. What mere boy could understand Da’s ambitions?

Two days pass. Eztli spends them on guard duty, walking the block during the day so The Mothers’ children can see him. As he walks he sees The Mothers on the wall throbbing and shifting, healing themselves. Before long they are there, appearing beneath the blackness.

At night, Eztli sleeps at the base of the building opposite Da while another boy keeps guard. He doesn’t sleep well, and he dreams throughout. His own mother. Children tied to her by bleeding ligaments, their faces masked as The Mothers’ children are when they attack.

He wakes. It is dark and there are no guards. Da twinkles, moving, and then Eztli sees a child in front of him. The child is masked. Eztli rolls to his feet and lands a punch square in the mask and the child collapses. His arms are slow and heavy with sleep, though, and other masked children tackle him. They kick him. They drag him to his feet and begin pulling him down the street. He’s hit in the back of the head. Da’s eyes are visible within the darkness, watching, but pretending not to.

Eztli is dragged down the block. Fear grips him and he reminds himself that Da wants this but he can’t help it, and he shouts out in fear. One of the children from behind him garrots a bundle of fabric across his mouth. He’s hit again and an egglike dizziness swallows him.

Now he is in front of The Mothers. The street is quiet. No one is coming for him. The Mothers: three large flowing shapes emerging from the leftover char on the wall. Their faces are kind, as they were when he burned them, and this time it scares Eztli.

The children drop him into a seated position in front of them.

“Closer,” The Mothers say in unison.

The children lift him and strength returns to his limbs. Eztli tries to fight, but the children hold him, and a long, delicate spout reaches gently from The Mothers and hovers just in front of his face. A spray blinds him.

Eztli is underwater. A sea stretches around him, off into the darkness. He is floating, and he panics when he realizes the water is over his face, but he can breathe. The water is sweet.

It’s like Da’s beach, not real, he thinks. Inside.

Shadows race toward him. They are massive, dark shapes, and one moment they are far away, just emerging from the darkness, and the next they are in front of him, and he’s bathed in warmth.

Swollen faces lean in close. Their voices thread through his mind in unison.

“You burned us.”

He’s not supposed to answer. They already know. In a small, hot corner of his mind Eztli is burning them again, and he’s watching from above.

“Shouldn’t we burn you back?”

The voice is so gentle but with it comes certain knowledge that The Mothers could grind him apart. It would hurt so much that he’d pray to burn.

Silence, and just the hot darkness throbbing around him.

“Why would you burn us?”

Da wanted me to, Eztli thinks.

“You given yourself to a monster.”

Thinking again: He’s my Da.

“But beneath that, there’s your heart,” The Mothers say. “You love like any boy does.”

A pause.

“Cecily.”

The name races through his mind like cracks under a hammer strike.

What? he thinks.

The sea is gone. He can feel the space behind The Mothers is empty, and now they are gone too. In front of him is a girl’s shape, arms and legs pulled in all directions, her eyes and nose and mouth full of bundled wires that lead out, dividing until they vanish in the brightness. And it hurts. Eztli screams: no noise at all comes out. He screams until his throat quits.

Shapes move through the light. In the distance are The Mothers. Da is out there too, staring back. And there are more of Them, moving through the light, looking at Eztli in his agony. But this girl before him, stretched as if she were racing in all directions at once, she is what he was meant to see.

Cecily.

The darkness rises up from beneath him. The Mothers.

And then it recedes. Eztli feels his body being released. His eyes uncloud. Children are holding him, their masks pushed up on their foreheads.

“What name did they say?” one of them asks, in a hush.

Eztli doesn’t say anything. In front of him, The Mothers move about the wall, then vanish in the blackness.

Eztli stands up and brushes himself off and The Mothers’ boys and girls back away. He turns and walks back toward Da.

A few boys guard the street now. It is morning, and they watch him walk back, one of them shouting curses at The Mothers’ children up the block. As Eztli passes Da he sees the terrible brow moving across the wall but he keeps going, knowing that if Da calls him, and takes him inside, he’ll know what The Mothers said to him.

Upstairs the boys are still asleep. So is Cecily. She is near the door, her back in a corner, her hands folded beneath her head. Eztli lowers himself next to her and leans down so the warmth of her ear is close to his lips. He blows gently, very gently, into her ear. She wakes. Eztli can feel her body tense, but she does not move.

“It’s me,” Eztli whispers.

“I know,” she whispers back.

He touches her arm, gently brushing his forehead over it. The smell of sweat and old egg is on her clothes and beneath that her own smell, as dark and expansive as the forest that The Mothers had emerged from. Being this close to her closes a fist around Eztli’s heart. He kisses her shoulder gently and her hand comes alive and reaches out, touching his knee.

“Da wants you,” a voice says behind him.

Eztli turns. It is one of the boys, and Eztli can tell that he is not himself. Da is in him. Eztli stands up and looks back at Cecily. She is still pretending to sleep.

“All right. I’m coming.”

“Da says now,” the boy behind him says.

Cecily’s eyes are open.

Eztli raises his eyes to indicate the roof. Her eyes follow and she blinks and then he blinks too, and smiles a little, and looks to the roof again.

Eztli turns to the boy.

“I said I’m coming, fucker. Go lay down.”

The boy stares at him. Da stares.

Cecily sits up and Eztli walks out into the hallway. He turns the opposite way from the stairs and instead takes a rusted ladder that clings to the outside of the building. It creaks under his weight but he moves quickly, and in a second, he is on the roof. Ende Vorr is low and glowing all around in the morning sun. The hills are brilliant white against the sky, great towers of The Native’s exposed bone.

Eztli hears creaking and looks. Cecily pulls herself onto the roof too and she walks toward him. He kisses her, holding her elbows, doing something that he has seen people on the street do many times but always faster, more forcefully. Cecily’s lips are warm beneath his.

When he pulls away she looks at him, confused.

“The Mothers told me your name,” he says.

“What? How?”

“Da sent me to Them. He wants to hurt them so bad they won’t heal. But they still gave me the gift that they give all of their children.”

Cecily knows as well as Eztli what it means. When they tell you a name it is of the person who will love you forever.

“I’m not like you,” Cecily says. “I’m old. I looked like this when Endeavour—you call it Ende Vorr—crashed. I was born like this. I won’t die.”

Eztli shakes his head.

“None of that means anything. The Mothers told me your name. That’s all that matters.”

She looks at him. There’s yelling on the street below. Maybe Da is angry that he didn’t come. The ladder on the wall creaks again, and the boy eases his head over, fear of the height creeping onto his face around the calmness of Da’s control.

“Da says…”

Eztli steps twice and skips his leg back then kicks the boy in the forehead as hard as he can. Da’s control over the boy slips at the impact, and the boy’s head whips back. He falls, his mouth a flaccid o. Eztli leans over the edge and watches him fall into the alley below, behind Da.

Cecily makes a noise. Eztli turns and grabs her hand and leads her down the other way, away from the ladder, down handholds in the plasticomb of the far side of the building. He knows them from his childhood, when Da used to ruffle out his mighty composites and hold Eztli gentle and close. Da had told him about the handholds on the far side of the building, and about a thousand other secrets that Ende Vorr has. One of them is a forgotten garden. It is hidden behind a collapsed structure, and if you crawl through what was left of the smashed front door, you find the garden. It is piled with rose bushes taller than a building, spilling in all directions with petals so heavy that they might be thinly-sliced flesh. Eztli hasn’t been to the garden in years, but as they make their way down the handholds, he is sure that he’d be able to find a way in again.

Eztli runs away from Da’s block, passing a thin portal between the structures, seeing the child he’d kicked collapsed on the street.

Eztli leads Cecily through adjacent neighborhoods. Even here the eyes that follow them are not friendly. Flesh-hung skulls watching. Hungry people gathered in demolished storefronts. Beyond them unknown Others, inhabiting their own walls, crawling in composite, Their children watching Eztli move past.

The smashed building is behind a block inhabited by The Twinz. None of Their children see him coming, though, and Eztli sneaks around back with Cecily. The entranceway is just as Eztli remembers, a tumble of bricks. He leads Cecily over it and in a moment they are looking at the vast rose bush.

“Sit,” Eztli says. “We’re safe.”

He kisses her.

“What about Da?” she asks. “He told you about this place, right?”

“Yes. But what’s he going to do? If they come here, we’ll hear them on the broken plasticomb.”

Eztli picks up a chunk. It’s bronzed with dried blood and a withered piece of scalp clings to it; everything in Ende Vorr, at some point, has been used to kill. Eztli tosses the chunk and catches it and his meaning is clear to Cecily: I could hit someone between the eyes with this from down here. Add more skin and blood.

Cecily kisses him, then pulls away.

“I love you,” he says.

She sighs. “We have always served Them. Since before the crash. Always—even in ways we do not know.”

Eztli shakes his head. Who cares, he thinks. The Mothers told me your name.

Cecily leans in. Her lips are so close to his ear that he can feel the heat of her skin.

She hums. The sound is layered. There is the breath of it, the tender vibration of her throat. Beneath it is a sea of things that Eztli has never known. He falls into the sound, into the sea.

Ende Vorr isn’t a city. It’s what it used to be—Endeavour, a spaceship, from a place called Earth. It arrives, after so much time and distance, at a new planet.

Inside the ship are clean white hallways. The walls gleam so powerfully that they might be made of light. Eztli can see shapes moving across them—the shapes are The Mothers, Da. The Twinz. Others. Their composites slip wall to wall, even meeting each other, and sliding past, almost like liquid. They are the crew. People walk the hallways; or they look like people, but they are not. They have the same glowing fingernails as Cecily. Deep in the ship are stacked rows of real people, all of them in darkness, asleep.

Eztli is entranced. The still, clean, sleeping faces.

The impact shakes him. The ship has hit something. Now Eztli is outside the ship, and sees that it has crashed into the side of a vast creature, which cries out in a long moan as it begins to fall toward the planet below. It’s The Native.

Time passes. Eztli hangs in the sky and watches Ende Vorr, a wreck sunk into the wound of The Native, build itself into the ramshackle city that it is now.

Cecily stops humming.

“You see?” she asks. “They are the crew. We serve Them.”

Eztli shakes his head.

“Da protected me, yes. He kept me warm and gave me eggs. But this…” He touches Cecily’s hand. “He’d never let me have you.”

He’d destroy me first, Eztli thinks. And what if all we ever get is what They’ll let us have? So Da will let me have pain. Fighting. Burning. Only that. The Mothers say I can love. And look! I’ve already almost escaped, and it was so easy, and maybe Da will just let me go. Maybe his reach isn’t so long after all.

“Before The Mothers said your name, Cecily, yesterday and every day before it—I didn’t have anything else. I burned The Mothers because everything was empty. But I want you, Cecily. I’ll do anything. Come see The Mothers, they’ll tell you. We’re meant for each other.”

He reaches out to her. Her clothes slip off under his hands. His own shirt vanishes. Her neck is salty and hot and Eztli kisses her and when he looks up her mouth is open, light pouring out in a flickering blue across the piles of bricks. Cecily lets him enter her, and her arms tighten around him so he feels his bones grind as they move together.

After, still inside her, he falls asleep.

The next day they walk back toward Da’s street.

On the sidewalk around the corner from Da, almost on cue, one of the larger boys see them. He breaks into a run. Eztli runs too and crouches to pick up a chunk of plasticomb between them and flings it. The boy covers his face for just a second and Eztli covers the distance between them and kicks him as hard as he can between the legs. The boy squeezes his knees together but doesn’t fall and Eztli hits him and runs around him, past Da’s block. He turns for just a moment as he passes. Da is enraged, his great brow dark on the wall. Da is rumbling and the street in front of him darkens and pops with electricity. His boys are scattering.

Cecily is just behind him. They’re almost there now, passing a block up. The Mothers’ children are here in a loose skirmish. They can hear Da roaring and they’re masked to fight but when they see Eztli they hesitate.

Eztli runs past them. Now he is standing in front of The Mothers.

“This is her,” Eztli says to them. “Her name is the one you told me.”

Cecily stands in front of The Mothers and they open for her. She slips out of her clothes and beneath her skin shine symbols. Close to her spine something throbs below the flesh: a device. The char from Eztli’s attack is almost gone now, and the great darkness on the wall lightens, and there are The Mothers, swaying, peaceful. The thin, delicate spout emerges from the wall and sprays Cecily in the eyes. She’s transfixed now, walking toward The Mothers, and they take her into their embrace, folds of tiny composites sparkling as they enwrap her.

A child is standing next to him, one of The Mothers’. It’s small, in loose clothes, dirty, masked. He finds it hard to be scared of the child. There’s a kinship here, Eztli realizes. The Mothers will whisper a name to this child someday.

A hard wave of sound and fire hits Eztli. He’s lifted, thrown, blinded by grit. His ears are two rushing vacuums. The next thing he can focus his mind on is the hard street beneath him. The child is still next to him, mask destroyed, blacked flesh and blood beneath it.

The Mothers are gone. In their place is a smashed building, a pile of plasticomb and twisted metal. Children lay dead before it.

Eztli stands and looks through shimmering tears up the block. Boys stand, shocked also, and there’s the boy that Eztli had kicked a moment ago, staring at the destroyed building with raw glee. Da is roaring, and now veins of light race building to building, flashing on the walls closer until they reach him. The ruined structure that had once held The Mothers now flashes to life with Da, his composites shifting the ruined plasticomb back and forth in an angry tide of ruined material. Composite leaps, catching the sunlight and glowing with enthusiasm.

Within the light is a hint of Da’s face.

He is looking at Eztli. Smiling. Thankful. Stern but full of love.

Comments (1)

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  1. anonatall says:

    Eztil needed both hands to get back up the rope with his eggs. Maybe he held his basket-shirt in his teeth?
    Thanks for this, Anon