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 Tyger, Tyger--, [18+]
Niki
 Posted: Aug 5 2014, 12:09 AM
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Silence, once upon a time, was a commodity.

Unknown, undervalued, unappreciated. It could be packaged and sold for the right price, faked like a gold watch pawned from someone's pocket, forced and harnessed on a man's schedule like so many things could be. Drained of meaning. Pikah, are you listening?
Pikah--

Yes, Nonna.


There is nothing silent here.

And yet she still thinks about that damned old bitch when lightning slices across the gray sky, cut like a grin into the clouds with a rumbling boom of thunderous laughter that sets the ground trembling. Old Nonna who had known the loud world, and used to sit under her canopy to watch the rain, while Pikah ran through the mud, pulling worms from their holes. She liked playing with the worms. Hated eating them. Still does. They squirm all the way down.

They squirm in her pocket too, squashed against her thigh, and though the pocketful of mud is not much, she's drenched to her skin well enough that the black silt is running down her leg, and the crawlers will keep at least until the rain has stopped.

Until then, stuck in a tree.

Spread out underneath is a deepening mire -- ground made bare by the wide reach of the trees and soaked beyond capacity, puddles of loose-slipped clay and sludge forming in the dips of the earth. On the one hand, it is perhaps the safest place she can be, fifteen years old and just off of her bleed, perched in a tower out of the filth. She followed Nonna's rules, did not stick too close to the big road, and kept away from the rotting remains of a farmhouse a mile north. On the other hand, it isn't. Nowhere is.

As the girl dozes off, drooping from her bough, that much becomes abundantly clear.

It is older. Bigger. Its fingers bite into her calf, tear her from the limb, and her nails crack against the bark when she fails to hold on, sprawling in the mud with a splatter and a snarl. Her arms sink. Her feet stick. No one screams --

What do you do, Nonna? If one takes you?

-- deerskin does not rip, so it claws her open with cold, rusted steel, and she claws back with mud in her eyes, teeth snapping, tearing into soft cheeks and coarse hair --

Listen, Pikah.

-- it howls and sinks its teeth into her throat --

Are you listening?

-- closes on its ear and she bites, ripping --

Yes, Nonna.

-- her mouth fills with mud, fingers sink into the soft wet of its eye --

If one takes you, you will teach it to regret.

-- the pocket is tight --

How will I?

-- worms crawl --

You will tear it apart.

-- it crawls i n s i d e--

Are you listening?

-- and dies.

----------------------------


Wet speargrass makes the best of squishing sounds under muddy toes. Squish. Squish.

The rain moves west, leaving behind a swollen creek and so much green beyond the trees that it's almost peaceful when she finally drags herself from the deep mud, leaving a trail behind her longer than she can remember walking. The skins squish too, hitting the ground like the sheddings of a dried creature, until the girl wades into the cold water to wash it out of her.

Its single blue eye sits on the pile, watching.
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 6 2014, 10:41 AM
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In the Before, these paths had been sharper. Finn remembers sitting at his grandfather's feet on a threadbare rug, rough beneath his knees, and listening to the colorful myths: ...and the roads were full of cars that went place to place ten times faster than a boy could run. His cousins had believed in their youth because the young like reasons—why do the black paths criss-cross everything, here to there; what are the rusting lumps of metal that we carve out tools from?

Responsibility plies away faith. The myths are seldom retold. Finn remembers because he was the youngest, or because he's a dreamer. Either way, he can picture the black gravel beneath his feet as something more.

Past the farmhouse, the road washes out to thick mud that sucks at Finn's feet. Vines and prickerbushes riot gaily, celebrating last night's rain with new buds, new leaves, new thorns. Already Finn is calloused and scarred from the knees down, but as he trudges deeper—crude, curved dagger securely in hand—the forest draws blood anew.

When the road gives way completely, Finn stumbles unguided for a while, stopping only to pick flies out of his cuts—and then, to dig at remains from the Before, lain bare in the mud. There is a coke can, a plastic bag, and something else jagged and unidentifiable which he tucks into the pouch on his belt.

Not long after, the burbling creek rises into view past the laurel and tulip trees.

Finn stands at the water's edge and watches the minnows and water striders play in the shallows. He's far from home; the silence is unsettling. All his seventeen years he's been surrounded by his clan: cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts; squalling babies and sickly mothers. Finn misses it now.

—and he misses it more when he hears something larger than a fox enter the water upstream.

"Hello?" Finn calls tentatively. If it's a bear, he thinks, the sound will scare it. If it's a deer, he'll chase it, catch it, drag it the two miles back to camp. If it's a person—

He grips his dagger tighter, and pads upriver.
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Niki
 Posted: Aug 9 2014, 12:29 PM
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Under other circumstances, Pikah would have heard the call and been on the move in seconds. Curiosity was dangerous company when it came to traveling; you did not investigate when you heard a strange noise, you bolted as you were taught to, and especially if you were vulnerable. Pikah is vulnerable, wounded, but she does not hear it coming. Does not run.

The creek at its deepest point only rises to her hips, but the current is quick enough that sitting in her own filth is thankfully not a necessity. Pikah scrubs, sinking to her knees on the soft silt, and she hisses when the cold hits the bruises, stiffening and holding her breath. Scrubbing hurts like hell, but finally the muddy hands on her skin wash away and leave behind long, ragged scratches that numb rather quickly, scrapes and bites that follow. What would Nonna say, now?

Don't let it hurt you, girl.

Cupping her hands with clean water, she tips it back, wincing to swallow but grateful for the drink all the same, and the next one splashes over her face, clearing away tear streaked dirt and someone else's blood. Didn't teach it how to regret, but . . . better luck next time.

Pikah washed everything and slowly, gathering herself piece by piece. Nonna once said some people have to learn how to be animals, that we aren't born this way. We have to learn how to separate our thoughts from our actions, our instincts from our urges. Ourselves from each other.

You are more important than anyone else, she said. You remember that.

In the creek, the girl sniffles and wipes her face again, pulling the long black braid off of her shoulders and picking at the leather cord around the end.

"Yes, Nonna," she murmurs. Her hair spreads like a fan when she sinks.
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 12 2014, 11:24 PM
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Here he's thankful that he's barefoot, not wearing the hobnailed moccasins that he wears for longer treks. Finn's feet fall silently on the water-smoothed stones. The moss squishes between his toes. Behind the hum of cicadas he hears gentle sloshing—his quarry, perhaps, or just the creek moving along.

The creek twists and trees bow over it, speckling the sunlight. Finn moves deliberately, smoothly. He sinks into the water up to his ankles, his knees; the patched cloth of his pants clings in the water. They had been jeans, once, a treasured relic from Before. Two generations later, the button and zipper may be the only original pieces. Everything is sacred, his father had told him once when he was too young to understand, however battered.

Finn is still too young.

He sees Pikah, sunk to her neck, and freezes, shocked. Other people are less and less common these days—mother nature has wrested her planet back. The little colonies like Finn's grow on her skin and cluster, merge. They huddle together against the dark nights. This person is not his kind; she is alone and young and her skin is marked with the scratches and bites of an unknown something. But yes, says something deep within him, she is sacred.

Too late he hears her murmur indecipherably, and his dark eyes dart to the trees. She isn't alone, he thinks. There must be others out there in the trees, watching and waiting. He tucks his knife in his belt and crouches in the shallows.

"Are you alone?" Finn asks, soft and timid as a fawn. "I won't hurt you."
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