– SIN-EATER –
The dirt and the leaves on the trail showed no signs of disturbance. It smelled of balmy firs and two-day-old game trails. The patches of grass and plants stood straight. The path we took was virginal. No wind, no movements, no sounds, besides Frank’s and mine. I almost expected the cicadas to sing, but the forest remained silent. The day lost its fierce heat and power. Even the fir trees froze in the semitransparent shadow of ominous size, stretching above the canopy. It was something heavy and dangerous. Blue, violet, and brown saturated in the shadows but I was the only one to recognize. Light withered faster than I had anticipated.
Frank followed close by, his head in the past. My naked feet felt the vibration of his steps and those of Ennoia and Meme. The trees started to let more of a grey wooly light in. As if space stretched and wound itself, it seemed harder to move, harder to think. We approached the threshold already.
“Mark?” Frank whispered. He talked and I tried to listen. I tried to understand, but his words didn’t find my ears.
As if submerged in water, I heard him mumble and watched his lips move. The threshold peeled away meaning from words, ideas, and concepts. “Careful now,” I told myself. “Remember the boy, remember his parents.” A new page, a new night. New constellation. Still…”Why does it feel so familiar?”
“Gramgram told weird stories.” Frank babbled on and crept slower. Inertia was grasping at my heels too. My feet went cold. “Hallucinations turned hostile before she died.” The weight of his memories charged the air around us. It stung and burned at my fingertips, my neck, between my shoulder blades. It made me lurch and bow. Fog seeped up from the undergrowth, maybe the dirt itself. “Monsters. She whispered nightmares to me when I came to visit. The sin-eater was there, while I fed her dinner. It chose my family.” I kept my eyes on the mist moving forward, surrounding us. Frank had to stop talking. What did he just say?
“Shhh.” All I could think of was to put my hand over his mouth. “Stop.” But Frank couldn’t, or wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. His lips brushed my palm. “Silence! Please.” The words forced themselves through gritted teeth. The fog rose to the hip. The threshold had reached us.
“Her great uncle turned ancient in hours-” Oh, no. Frank aged rapidly. Wrinkles and white hair. “Spring turns to winter. Tides bring another wave.” He wouldn’t shut up. I sucker-punched him hard enough to make him pass out. No more words. No more aging. He slumped to the ground, mouth twitching, gasping like a fish. His hair had turned completely white. Hopefully, some of the aging was reversible. That was a worry for another time. For now, I had to admit: Frank wasn’t gonna help solve this situation. He was part of the problem and dead weight… Funny timing though. What wave, what winter did he mean?
There had to be a link between the kidnapping, this full moon, and Frank. It seemed a miracle, that he knew of the sin-eater in the first place, but that there was a familiarity between his family and the thing, that is almost unheard of. Almost…
Ennoia howled. Her voice traveled from further up the trail, where the forest gave way to a boulder field and found my ears. There was something urgent in her voice. The fog around me darkened fast. I only had time to grab Frank and prop him up, before it turned to night. I had to half walk half drag him towards the boulders. On the way, my eyes adjusted to the blackness, as well as my shadow grew out of proportion.
For me, the crossing to the airless viscous realms of the threshold was nothing new. I had done it many times in far worse shape than now. It was Frank who needed help in his struggle to find his feet, his mind, his meaning. It was his weakness that perturbed his time, his space, and that tainted his blood. Could it be? Has he crossed the threshold before?
Ennoia and Meme became visible in their original forms. Their towering silhouettes moved sharply against the cold void, swirling and steaming against the empty. Both looked our way, their sharp snouts and ears moved erratically. Their luminous eyes found us. Four burning dots danced towards the echo of the landscape we came from.
featured image: blue hour, by author