By Chazz Scogna
Marshall stared up into the sky until the curves along the edges sank through. The stars bent around. If she lay there long enough, the light and music from the whole of the universe would drift into her window. Perhaps she would. New understanding.
The purple clouds floated in, a band connecting the trees on either side of the window. Took her view. Restrictive as the band holding her place to the ground. Old humanity.
The clouds wept, shedding acid tears. Some traced purples blazes. Others fell, only highlights. Unknown. Corresponding rungs on a ladder. Further understanding.
The shadows surrounding Marshall recoiled, more at her than the burning acid. They leveled pain in sensation and sight. Bubbling skin, melting droplets, and writhing agony of recognition. Old instincts.
Marshall interlocked her fingers behind her head. Her fiery mane rooting in the mud. The acid new freckles on her face.
“Miss J. Marshall Harbour,” one shadow said. Read from a list. “You broke the most natural law of man and have been sentenced to eternal bondage. What say you?”
Old instincts. Old humanity.
The acid hissed like the last drops of water in a hot pan. They bubbled with no trace, no scum like the water, jumping in whisps, faulted by old understanding.
Marshall watched the purple clouds. She smoked in the fading light.
The others danced under their bands in the mud. Smoked statues wriggled chests and heads. Pleaded. Screamed fears of exposed bone and rotting flesh. Old instincts.
“Heathens,” the shadows said. Equalized their actions. Old humanity. “Swine. Gluttons.”
The wraiths glided to one beyond Marshall, attracted by his song of mercy. Their message heard, consequences noted.
“Mister Francis Alomoa,” one said. “You broke the most natural law of man and have been sentenced to eternal bondage. What say you?”
The wraiths pressed Francis’s limbs into the burning mud. Bare hands bubbled in the rain, moans laid atop their singeing skin. Worth it to make him more natural. Old understanding. Old humanity.
A string pulled him up by the chest, popping the buttons on his shirt, tie lame against his side.
“Please,” he yelled. Certainty in feel to what the shadows wanted. Old instincts.
Certainty in the bulging veins of his neck. Old humanity. Their afterlife his. Old understanding.
He thrashed and pulled. Teeth snarled. Old instincts.
Those in the burning mud were alike. Predators to biology. Continued understanding.
The shadows steadied atop until only the string pulled his chest up. Then a shadow dropped there until his head seemed as his existence.
He stopped thrashing. Swallowed for air that couldn’t come. Old instincts. Didn’t need to come. Marshall hadn’t for over a year. Continued understanding.
The shadows rocked to his song, hypnotized by the resolving melody. Old humanity.
“I can’t breathe,” he said. Old instincts.
An arm protruded from the shadow on his chest, crusted and rough. The acid slalomed and dripped as if it were water. The fingers stopped at Francis’s face.
“We will become the dust of stars again,” the shadow said, “leaving you to enjoy your everlasting paradise in fire and brimstone.”
Through the smolder, Francis’s screams, the words, and the rain pierced single notes, natural sounds of hammer on stake. A scream enveloped his pain. Old instincts. Drowned the hammer and stake. The shadows rocked again. A revolution on the turntable. Old humanity.
The wraiths undulated in the wind, the tears familiar like rain against material, their moans a chorus.
“Miss J. Marshall Harbour,” one said again. “You broke the most natural law of man and have been sentenced to eternal bondage. What say you?”
The purple clouds blackened. The burning mud cooled. New understanding.
“Get the fuck on with it,” Marshall said. Old instincts.
The wraiths recoiled. A magician who pointed and said what’s that over there. Too late to realize they looked. New understanding.
Marshall understood what they felt. New instincts. New humanity. What Francis and the others didn’t recognize. Didn’t understand. Old instincts. Old humanity.
She was the next step in fate, a rung above. Continued understanding.
The shadows dropped. Hands dripped acid. Flesh sank deep. Squeezed. Their grip a change in sensation. Old instincts. Their knees dropped, and the pressure was more change. Old humanity.
“Hea-then,” they said. “Hea-then.”
They sang to believe Marshall was what they said. Maintain their course. Old understanding.
They sang louder when she didn’t move. The hammer and stake returned, an encore with many performances remaining. Nagging, a stubborn piece of food caught in her teeth. Old instincts.
The nagging drove wider, slick in the mud, slick with her blood, deeper until the stakes penetrated the rocky layers underneath. Until her touch reached beneath the earth. New understanding.
The shadows released and rose. The cool and smoldering acid returned with invisible drops.
“We will become the dust of stars again,” a shadow said, “leaving you to enjoy your everlasting paradise in fire and brimstone.”
Old instincts. Old humanity.
The stakes smoldered. Sizzled in the blackness. The heat returned. Recognizable among the cool. Old humanity.
The blood pooled in the mud. With the acid, overtook her hand. Sank to the point in the Earth. She clenched, wiggled her feet. Old instincts. The sensation of the stakes a change, a lost friend. Old humanity. New understanding.
Her howling befriended the wind. Old instincts. Old humanity. Old understanding.
Unbreaking like her bones. Ecstasy. New understanding. Further understanding.
She reached to brace the band. Old humanity. She couldn’t. Eyes went to the stakes, a song in her head that wouldn’t stop playing. Old instincts. The acid smoked her teeth, tickled her tongue. She caught drops. She howled more. Further understanding.
Heat rises and with it, little by little, pieces of the stake. Further understanding. The stakes were the wraith’s shadows. They would soon release and rise. Further understanding. The stakes and shadows soon banished by the fire and brimstone. Unlike her. Further understanding.
Fire and brimstone soon banished by the water and rock. Unlike her. Further understanding.