14.3 – Of skulls and stones

It is too much. She does not want to relive this. Does not want to retell this. Does not want to Daughter. Remember.

„No“, Brittle whimpers, doubling over herself as if in terrible stomach pain, „I want to forget“. „A tale once begun should always be finished“, says the tale singer in a voice devoid of emotion, „Unless you wish to let that which is unspoken be the cause of your unravelling“.

The dream wasiswillbe unravelling

„If you wish to understand the Wound, you have to go deeper. And I, for one, am deeply curious about what will happen next.“ The hair tugs Brittle’s tongue. „Come now, what do you feel?“ „I don’t…“ Another tug. „I…“ Yet another, this one feels like it is trying to rip her tongue out. „What do you want from me!“

„I want you to face yourself. That is what stories are for“.

„Blood Plague take you, you wizened, pale, hard…I feel anger! I feel rage! I feel pain. I feel…grief. Shock. Regret. Regret beyond anything“.

„And where is this regret?“

„It is…by the fire“.

Crackle. Krick. Pop. Embers danced fitfully in front of her eyes.

„ W H Y S O S U L L E N D A U G H T E R „

„I am not talking to you“, she said and threw a twig into the famished flames. Silence. „What you did, it is too much“.

„ W E D I D N O T I W E M A D E Y O U F R E E „

„By killing my own mother?“ Brittle said with barely contained rage. „I did not want that!“

„ C L E A R L Y Y O U D I D T H A T W O U L D N O T H A V E H A P P E N E D U N L E S S Y O U S E C R E T L Y W I S H E D F O R I T „

Brittle leant closer to the fire, staring into the warm flicker, wanting, yearning for it to reach out and melt away her eyes, her face.

„Well. I wish that you leave“.

„ W E A R E M E R G E D I C A N N O T „

Brittle buried her head in her hands. Flashes of memory seared through her mind like punishing firebrands. Of running. Of stumbling. Of crying. Of the wails of her kin. Of hiding. Of sneaking. Of looking through a tangle of white spirit creepers at the firewalk. Of her aunt, wild-haired Bramble, reaching into the opened chest and retrieving the heartbone. Of the gasps from the crowd when the heartbone sizzled and…Crackle. Krick. Pop….split a seam. Of staying. Of waiting. Of seeing only Bramble remaining on top of Ghost Hill, muttering to herself as if in deep communion with something other. Of hearing her say „I promise“ before leaving to deliver cracked Brunt in Brittle’s stead. Of not knowing what to do. Of doing something anyway. Of leaving everything behind. Of walking. Of refusing the darkened voice sussurating in her blood. Of refusing to use T H E G I F T

„ I W I L L S T A Y S I L E N T U N T I L Y O U A R E R E A D Y „

„Meaning never“, said Brittle. There was no response, something which managed to feel both comforting and disconcerting.

Brittle watched the flames until they died, bleeding out into the cool summer night.

She walked without aim, her only purpose to leave behind. New forests. New vistas. New mornings. New nights. She was often hungry, on the brink of starvation, knowing fully well that she could use the Mirror powers of her blood to aid her hunting, but she refused to do so. And the voice of twisted Briar did not call her. She lived off nuts and roots and leaves and the occasional find like a dead starling or a cluster of premature mushrooms. Once, she came across a strange jumble of stones of differing shapes and sizes. Not long after, she found another one. They seemed to be constructed with conscious intent, as if travellers past had added stones to the sculptures to mark their passing. Feeling called to do the same, Brittle took the heartbone that she carried and jammed it in between two slabs of blackstone. No protest from the wicked crone. No reaction at all.

One evening she felt dizzy. She had stopped feeling hunger a few days ago. The borders between dream and real were thinner than ever before. Whenever she looked over her shoulder she saw Brunt’s emaciated corpse, always a few steps behind. Sometimes she swore she could hear a voice whisper on the wind:

„Brittle, why did you leave me?“

In the twilight, she came upon another stone heap. This one was different. When she came closer, she saw that it was made of skulls. Infant skulls. Unborn. Unwanted. Then she shook her head, and they metamorphosed back into stones. She was losing it. Slowly. A slow and gruelling suicide. The stones decided to turn back into skulls. The skulls decided to sing. A dissonant chorus of guilt and accusation. Of wasting the opportunities of life.

„I can’t take this anymore“, whispered Brittle and let her self collapse underneath the judgmental pillar. „Please, take me back“, she mumbled to the lichen pressed against her face, „take me back to the dream“.

The dream did not take her. Or maybe it already had. Even though she faced the ground, that skull heap kept on singing, their cacophony slowly transforming into two voices, one dark, one light. She rolled over to make sense of what was happening. Brunt’s cadaver was closer now, looming over her. It also had the habit of turning into stone before reverting to its bony shape. It spoke to her in the same manner as the song:

I have been expecting you.
I have been expecting you.

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