By Jack Moody
In the beginning the skies created a torrent of light and sound. The world screamed and then bellowed, whipping the land like lashes upon a body. Lucy sat hunched at the edge of her open mouth of stone, staring up at the gray and undulating ceiling that had once been a pale blue canvas.
Though it was dark, she knew the violent argument overhead had not brought about those quiet hours where creatures called and roamed throughout the shadows of the brush. In those quiet hours where her eyelids grew heavy and beckoned her to the other world she would not later remember, the pale blue canvas became a shimmering gradient of blue and black, dotted with the bright, unblinking eyes. The eyes would stand guard against the creatures in the brush, shining their light upon the darkest corners until the great red giant returned to welcome her back into the tangible world to which she was accustomed.
Lucy waited for its anger to pass, for its tantrum to cease, wide-eyed and curious, accepting that the other world wouldn’t beckon with the skies so distracting and full of rage.
There were few times when the other world didn’t beckon, and Lucy huddled inside the stone mouth, listening to unfamiliar cries in the darkness, her breath shallow and quickened, the thumps inside her chest injecting her limbs with the tingling urge to run or scream in return. Those quiet and sightless hours moved like honey through a hollowed stick, and she felt no hunger or thirst, and only wished for the unblinking eyes to ward off those who would harm her. And each time they did; for the great red giant would always arise again from behind the faraway peaks, peeling away the shadows’ fog, and the cries became songs of the winged creatures that flitted between the limbs of the forest giants.
Lucy felt the heat of wrath with each crack of white light that struck the ground, but could find no reason the skies would be angry with her. If the skies were in poor spirits, it had to be with another creature, another giant, some other being that had incurred its need for vengeance. She revered the unblinking eyes for protecting her while she traveled away inside her head, and hoped that it wasn’t they who were being punished. A world without their watchful glow during the quiet and dark hours was a world she couldn’t bear to fathom.
Sometimes on those clear nights, Lucy would return the unblinking eyes’ gazes, looking out at the entities she knew little about, but loved with such intensity it were as if they were the source of her existence. And so she would speak to the eyes, asking questions to fill the silence of the quiet hours, and though they didn’t respond as she did, they told her stories in the skies. They created shapes resembling things she knew and understood, and regaled her with tales through the images. Tales of mighty heroes who fought and conquered the creatures in the shadows, the celestial blood dripping from their weapons made from the eyes falling down across the heavens until disappearing behind the veiled peaks. Tales of beings like her, beings she only knew to be similar because they shared the same form as what gazed back when she hunched down to drink water from the streams. These beings like her stood upright, proud and unafraid, and their form was illuminated by the medium with which their creators painted. They traveled vast distances and built beautiful things that first bloomed within their minds as they visited their other world. They spread across the sky like the tiny creatures that emerged from their mounds of earth, multiplying far across the cosmos, taming beasts and the world alike, molding it to their liking.
The unblinking eyes revealed beings that shared Lucy’s appearance, but their stories were unimaginable, their feats seemingly unattainable, and so she couldn’t believe she and they were of the same kind. They were something greater, something beyond. They were something she wished to know and become. The unblinking eyes showed Lucy what was possible. Beings born from the skies in her image, maternal and aspirational. She didn’t know what to call these beings, but believed them to be true, because the eyes had never once betrayed her. The eyes were showing from where she came: the womb of the world.
With terror controlling her mind, Lucy crawled out farther from her mouth of stone, and allowed the tears to fall from the skies upon her as the cracks of light struck. She knew nothing of what the argument meant, only that if the unblinking eyes were being suffocated behind the gray ceiling she would never again feel the safety they created, never again watch the stories they told her of her past and future. A world without illumination was an empty one, and one in which she could never continue. And so, with no plan to speak of, she yelled out at the undulating, violent skies, calling for peace. She screamed for their anger to subside, for the womb of the world to open again, for the eyes to be revealed so they could breathe and brighten her darkened hours before that would surely prove to be her demise.
Lucy screamed and screamed, filling her lungs with each outburst to stifle the mighty cracks of light like boulders hurled onto soft flesh. The skies’ tears wetted her face, trying to overpower her voice with the elements they controlled, but still she thrust her own cries at the dark mass overhead, her feet planted into the earth as if in the heat of combat. The eyes had shown her what she was capable of, and Lucy refused to kowtow to the entity that would be their killer.
In a lapse between strikes, the skies relented just long enough for Lucy to unleash what was left of her strength, filling the brief static with a final war cry. It left her body like a separate creature, galloping into the gray ceiling and spreading across the world in echoes that bore echoes, and the skies heard.
A moment of silence passed, the tears ceasing their assault, and from the armistice came a final monolithic strike like a serpent upon a mouse. It careened into the largest forest giant standing at the clearing’s edge, and in a brilliant eruption of light and sound, the giant fell. Its death created a trench in the earth. And there before Lucy’s eyes, from its sacrificial body was born a spark. It aged and grew, and in place of what was hidden, it became its own burning light. It was a child of the great red giant, glowing not in the pale skies, but upon the earth and the forest itself. The child was heat and safety and illumination in the dark.
The turbulent skies, impressed with Lucy’s strength against an incalculable opponent, granted her their son—a sentry in the unblinking eyes’ absence.
Lucy approached and dropped to her knees at the edge of its warming glow, thanking the skies that still bellowed and shifted. But with what they had given her, their will could be experienced without fear. For a son had been granted, and the son that flickered and tasted the air would remain atop the giant’s body, and no creatures in the brush would dare approach and defy this gift from above. The son was the skies’ anger and wrath contained, biting at the spaces beyond its reach, but remaining within its given post, just as no earthly son would ever go against his elders’ strict command.
The son was of no creation Lucy had ever seen. It was unable to be grasped or conquered, and coughed black wisps into the skies as it took on the same colors that preceded the great red giant when it rose from the peaks each day. Though it would protect her, the son frightened Lucy, and she felt herself instinctively recoiling from its gaze as it hacked and spit and shape-shifted atop the forest giant’s corpse. There was no camaraderie shared like there was with the unblinking eyes, and so she chose to leave the son to its given duty, retreating into the mouth of stone to visit her other world where perhaps the eyes waited. Despite her trepidation with the entity bestowed by the skies, she knew it would not waver, and she was safe from the creatures in the brush. For that, she thanked the son, but decided to never try to speak to it again. Within its slithering form was chaos. And chaos was her demise if it were to be a friend.
* * *
From inside her mouth of stone Lucy heard a great hum. Its melody urged her to wake, like a weeping spirit, calling her towards an unfamiliar and radiant glow. She stood, seeing that it was still the quiet hours, but something was different. In the clearing there was a wide beam of light. And within the beam, where before the sentry had stood flickering atop the forest giant’s body, was a new being, a new forest giant whose appearance and magnitude was unlike anything she’d ever witnessed.
Stepping into the clearing, Lucy stared up in awe. The being was taller than a mountain, rising far above where the gray ceiling had once held dominance. Its limbs stretched out across the world in all directions, the leaves they bore an array of every color ever to exist. Like embryos of the giant they bloomed out of one another, erupting into new bushels of greens and blues and reds and purples, becoming alive as the massive roots crawled out across the earth like the tendrils of a sea monster. But despite the forest giant’s stature, the encompassing beam seemed to magnify and warp its hum into a peaceful lullaby. It was singing. The forest giant was singing through vibrations and color.
Lucy approached, reaching a tentative hand inside the beam of light to stroke the being’s trunk. The light dissolved inside her skin, ballooning out within her as if becoming one with her body, and she felt the presence of what the unblinking eyes had shown her each night. At that realization Lucy craned her neck to the skies, peering through the kaleidoscope of flora, and saw in the glimpses of night overhead that the eyes had returned, joining together with the glowing beam to bathe the darkened world in illumination. The beam reached down from the heavens under their watchful gaze, a conduit from their world to Lucy’s, and she saw the images they created moving across the canvas: The greater beings like her that seemed so much less out of reach with the forest giant closing the gap between their two realities.
Then something else captured Lucy’s attention. It hung from the very highest limb that pierced the night’s canopy, shrouded in magenta foliage and imbued with glittering light. It was a perfectly round, plump and ripe fruit, the shade of fresh blood drawn from a kill. It was so far away, so out of reach, but Lucy wanted what the giant had bore, and knew it was for her. The soft hum grew and grew, swelling into a hypnotic mantra, asking Lucy to take of the fruit, to find a way to reach the top of the world. It begged of her to become what the unblinking eyes had revealed, to become what was possible, to tap into the furthest reaches of her potential, and to greet the beings in the skies as an equal. All it would take was to pluck the fruit from the giant’s peak.
Lucy knew that she couldn’t do this alone, and so dug her hands into the soft earth that surrounded the forest being, and began to build. Instinct drove her forward as she formed the earth and clay into the image of what glowed within her mind, and she severed the lowest hanging limbs as sacrifice for her creation. Soon they became great limbs like her own, sealed to the clay and earth that became flesh, and under the light of the murmuring beam, life was slowly exhaled into the massive creature she built. She packed on more and more clay, the compiled earth heaving now as it began to breathe and take in air on its own. Under the unblinking eyes she toiled, cocooned by the falling leaves that blanketed the ground and melted into her creation’s form as muscle and bone and organs. The skies glittered purple, the world reflecting her excitement; brilliant and vibrant and real, and Lucy stepped away to look upon what she’d done, and saw that it was good.
She came to the nearby creek to retrieve two stones, and returned to the head of the enormous mirror of her likeness, and placed the stones in the hand-carved pockets. The great beam exhaled again, and the stones blinked and looked at their creator, and the being stood up.
It stretched over the top of the forest giant, and looked down upon the world, the place of its birth, and looked down upon Lucy, its mother. It ran its hands through the colorful leaves, shaking loose whole branches that fell to the ground at Lucy’s feet, and gazed up at the unblinking eyes, their images a mirror of what it was and would be.
Lucy called up to her child and asked it to retrieve the fruit from the highest limb, and to bring it back for her to taste—a gift to its mother as thanks for its newly given life.
Her child did as it was asked, retrieving the fruit, and bent down as low as it could, a mountain contorting its shape, laying its hand down upon the earth. Lucy stepped onto her child’s palm and picked up the fruit that was like a speck of dust attached to the creature’s clay flesh.
She thanked her child, and it stared at her with its tiny, obsidian stone eyes, and rose back to its full height to commune with the images in the skies.
The fruit was more perfect in her hand then she could ever imagine. Its scent arose and intertwined with the forest giant, blooming more and more leaves that whistled as the beam hummed and murmured and glowed. She held infinite possibility. She held paradise.
Lucy took a bite of the fruit. But what she tasted was not sweet. It was not filling, nor satisfying. It tasted like no paradise she’d ever conceive. When Lucy ate of the fruit she tasted exactly what was presented when she first saw it hanging from the unreachable limb. Lucy tasted blood.
She spit out the fruit like bile after swallowing rotten meat, and its juices ran down her chin, and the juices stung and burned, and at once the skies became the undulating, gray ceiling she remembered, and the bellows followed screams that tore away the glowing beam, and with it disappeared the great hum, and tears again fell from the skies. Lucy looked up at her child, and saw in horror that its likeness to her had withered into a sickening monstrosity, a warped mirror of her own corpse, defiled and fly-bitten and decomposed. Pieces of clay rained down upon the earth as her child crumbled, finding the tears as they together fell, and from their new marriage of anger and fear and decay came a mudslide that knocked Lucy off her feet, and as the remains of her dead child swept her away from the forest giant she saw born from the skies a single thunderous strike of light that lashed its body like splitting open a ribcage, and the giant that was once vibrant and massive and beautiful toppled under the weight of the skies’ rage, and a spark formed atop its fallen corpse as it crashed to the earth with the force of an apocalypse, and a son of the great red giant spread and engulfed it and the forest under its dominion, and as Lucy was pulled beneath the flood of clay and mud and rapids, the last thing she witnessed was a sea of death before the water’s surface was above her, and flames became the ceiling of her tomb.
* * *
When Lucy awoke from the other world she screamed until her ears rang. Outside the mouth of stone, light seeped in from the great red giant hanging above the faraway peaks. The skies were again a pale blue canvas. The argument had passed.
She emerged into the clearing, the brightness of day forcing her eyes to squint, and saw the body of the felled forest giant. Upon it were the dying embers of the skies’ gift, still hissing and caked in a bed of black ashes. A microcosm of small creatures adorned the giant’s remains, darting through hollowed out holes and feasting upon what was left to salvage. The songs of winged creatures blew through the leaves with the wind, and the world was a calm and peaceful place.
The events that had occurred in the other world were sinking into the unknowable depths of her mind, disintegrating like dust in water as she combed through the images, knowing something far below cried out for remembrance, but its cries were distant and in vain, as they slinked through the cracks of her fleeting recollection and disappeared.
All Lucy understood was that an irreparable hole had been carved into her. She felt the beauty of the natural world around her funneling into the hole, the oxygen and vibrancy snuffed as their essence was swallowed. There was a hollow space inside her that drained life and filtered it into a kind of dread she had never felt. It wasn’t a fear of the dark and quiet hours, or the creatures in the brush, or the absence of the unblinking eyes; it was the ever looming and intangible result of what these things all represented—of what had never before been a concept she could fathom.
The dread took form as a heavy, spectral hand on her shoulder, and the hand squeezed and constricted her thoughts into a narrow tunnel, and all that could be seen, despite her recognition of the wondrous existence unfurled before her, was the dim end of the tunnel that had commandeered her awareness:
Lucy was going to die.
In the expiring embers of the great red giant’s son, Lucy saw inescapable Fate. Mortality emerged from the ashes, its grip sliding from her shoulder to reach out its hand, and greeted her as a friend. Its image was a horror incomprehensible, lucid and void of form, but with the hulking presence of the skies themselves. It was the hole inside her, eating away at the present. It was within her, and had always been, gnawing through the center until revealing itself like a maggot burrowing to the surface of a decomposing animal.
In disgust Lucy turned away, refusing to look at what had already taken hold, her eyes frantically scanning the skies and forest and creatures; anything that would pull her from underneath the weight of her revelation. But the world was draining of color, and purpose, and certainty, and all she could see was what it all would become: The skies black and devoid of sight, the giants felled, the creatures prone and motionless. All that would remain were the ashes and the hissing embers, until fire and soot was the resting place of her own body, her mind evaporated and lost with the water that had once filled the now silent, empty creek.
And still, Mortality held out its hand, waiting.
Lucy escaped towards the giant’s body, running her hand against its cold and hard skin, searching desperately for a glimmer of life, but the creatures all fled deeper into the forest’s shadows, and the leaves fell and crumbled beneath her touch. Still, she searched, unwilling to cry out, unwilling to speak to the skies that had lied to her, that had killed or hidden away the unblinking eyes; those ephemeral raconteurs that had showed her hope and solace in the face of terror. Still, she searched, because she was alone with the inevitable, and no answer would be found but the answer she’d discover on her own, because nothing else could again be trusted but her intuition. Her mind was corrupted, her perception untrustworthy. Forever damaged by the knowledge never requested.
She came to the giant’s head, Mortality’s specter breathing down her neck. What were once grand and bountiful limbs had been picked clean and desecrated—except one.
Attached to what had been the highest limb of them all, now limp upon the ground but untouched, was a single, solitary, ripe fruit.
It was the image of life and vibrancy: Bright. Vivid. Plump.
A sliver of untarnished birth hidden in the swamp of decay.
Lucy reached down to pluck the fruit from its splintered stem, and saw that even the tiniest creatures, patrolling in a long line towards their mound of earth with spoils atop their backs, made a wide arch in their route to avoid coming near the object.
Nothing at all had touched it: there were no punctures, no bites taken, no skin torn, pulp spilled. It was immaculate. It was perfect. It was her answer.
It had to be.
Holding the fruit in her palm, Lucy felt its essence like a vibration throughout her bones, and it hummed with a familiar song that reminded her of a place far away. Something about it, though, was wrong, as if it had come from another realm and was placed in her world as a fraudulent beacon to fulfill some larger, incomplete puzzle. It didn’t fit.
Lucy felt the grip of Mortality’s hand again on her shoulder. Its breath was cold on her neck like a stinging winter breeze, raising the hairs on her nape. Before she could recoil at its touch, Mortality wrapped itself around her like a burial shroud, and her mind slowed, and the tunnel narrowed, and the dim light at its end grew bright.
“What do you see?” it whispered into her ear. “Tell me what you see.”
Lucy squeezed her eyes shut, focusing on the alien perfection of the fruit whose hum had become an alluring invitation.
When she refused to respond, Mortality whispered, “Do you want to make it stop? I can make the journey easier. I can dim the light. Do you want that?”
Lucy relaxed her clenched muscles, and Mortality’s embrace grew tighter.
“I can give you what you want. That which exists in the skies—what you watch every night. What you yearn for. I can give it to you.”
The tunnel of her mind became filled with the glittering night sky, the beings and mighty heroes in her likeness dancing and calling for her to be their creator. To give them life. To free them from the skies and bring them to the world. To be her answer.
Mortality’s lips were now against her ear, orgasmic and frigid. “All you have to do—”
Lucy placed the fruit in her mouth, and ate.
By Jack Moody