One of a few short stories based in a world I’m currently building.
Tay clung to the tree, peering around it cautiously. His knuckles were a paler brown than the rest of his skin, as he gripped the bark tightly. Yadrin stood a few measures before him, between two old oaks. In front of Yadrin, there were no more trees.
“Get back, please,” hissed Tay. “We don’t know what’s out there.”
Yadrin’s face was wrapped in a self-satisfied smile as they spoke over their shoulder, not taking their eyes off the sight before them.
“We know it’s not nothing, like Asta told us. And it’s not filled with The Dark, like Gad said. We know they lied. What else did they lie about?”
The two of them stood gazing out into the distance for a few moments, though. Warily scanning the bleak expanse that stretched as far as the eye could see – except for the border of Forest curving away from them to the left and right.
Tay peered out further from behind the trunk, looking past Yadrin and out into the flat waste that lay beyond the treeline.
“It’s all white,” he whispered.
A gentle breeze rustled through the leaves, Yadrin’s tightly curled hair quivering as it passed.
“What’s that smell?” Yadrin asked, more to themselves than to Tay. Kneeling at the edge of where the mud and grass ended, they knelt down and reached out a hand towards the glittering floor.
“Don’t touch it!” Squeaked Tay, leaping out from behind the tree and taking a panicked step towards Yadrin.
Yadrin scowled over their shoulder, dark eyes full of scorn. They reached down and touched their fingertips to the strange, white dirt.
Tay held his breath, as Yadrin raised their fingers to their face, sniffing curiously. White powder covered three of their fingers, in stark contrast to the dark brown skin.
“I think it’s salt,” they called softly back to Tay. No response came back, and Yadrin looked over their shoulder to see Tay standing right behind them. The young boy was looking out at the endless whiteness with awe in his eyes.
“I can’t see the end. There’s no line where the land meets the sky,” Tay muttered quietly.
Yadrin sighed and tentatively licked their fingers. They spat at the strange taste of what was definitely not salt. It was strangely sweet, with an almost metallic aftertaste. They licked their fingers again, testing for any hint of bitterness that would betray it as any kind of poison. The sweetness was cloying in their throat, like the smell of rotting flesh.
Tay was captivated by the sight of this new land. Nothing but white, stretching on and on until it became the turbulent grey sky. He did not turn as Yadrin set first one foot, then another, on the undisturbed white ground.
He did not shift his gaze from seeking a horizon that was not there, as Yadrin lifted his right foot and peered beneath it to see that the disturbed powder revealed only more powder below it.
Tay only turned his gaze when Yadrin took several more steps forwards, and began to stamp their feet.
“What are you doing?” He cried, louder than he had intended – immediately clamping his hand over his mouth, and glancing around to make sure nothing had heard. The only movement was Yadrin, now virtually dancing amongst a shallow cloud of white dust.
Yadrin stopped, and threw open their arms.
“Forest is not all that there is. There’s this, and beyond this, there could be anything!”
Tay stared, bewildered. He took in the striking sight of his dark-skinned, hide-clad friend standing amongst all that whiteness. He shivered. Something about the featureless landscape filled him with dread.
“Asta was right,” he said, quietly. “There is nothing out here.”
Yadrin shook their head, and stamped their foot.
“Just because we don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s nothing – or that it’s The Dark. It’s something new! This could be the start of a massive change in understanding of what The People can do, where we can go.”
Tay took a half step backwards into Forest, away from the emptiness that was broken only by Yadrin’s leather-clothed body.
“Please, come back. We can talk to the others, try to figure out what to do. But I don’t think we should stay here.”
Yadrin opened their mouth to answer, but the look of fear on Tay’s face stopped them. They let out a sigh, shoulders slumping in resignation.
Swallowing, they tasted the strange flavour again, stronger than before. Frowning, they spat at the ground, and noticed that the dust they had shaken loose had not settled yet. It hung around their feet, obscuring the sight of their roughly made boots.
Yadrin took a step forwards, back towards Forest, but their foot did not connect with the ground. Instead, there was a moment of panic as they fell forwards, before a stump of bloodied flesh impacted into the dust with a sickening crunch – the end of their leg was missing, up to just above the ankle.
Tay squealed as they saw their friend stumble forward on the grisly stump, falling onto it and down on their other knee. Frozen in shock, he stared wide-eyed at the bloodied termination of Yadrin’s leg. Yadrin’s deep, frightened eyes snapped up and Tar met that terrified gaze. Fear held them motionless in its vice-like grip.
Yadrin felt no pain, only surprise and shock – their heart began to pound like a drum, crashing against their ribs and pounding out a frantic rhythm in their ears. Staring at Tay, they opened their mouth to shout, to beg for help – but nothing came out except that sweet, white, revolting dust.
It came pouring out from between their lips like a stream of bile, making Yadrin gag. Collapsing forward, they gripped their thigh with one hand, another landing in the dust with a crunch. They felt themselves starting to get lower to the ground, even as they crouched motionless. They still felt no pain, only panic and confusion. They looked around, eyes darting this way and that, trying to figure out what was happening to them.
Tay stood, paralysed. Yadrin’s left leg was disappearing, boiling away gradually – the flesh bubbling sickeningly where it met the ground. It looked as though they were sinking into the floor, but Tay could see that the white dust did not move as though a leg displaced it beneath the surface – the dust below the roiling, melting flesh not seem to move at all. Yadrin’s leg was simply disappearing bit by bit, higher and higher, faster and faster.
The leg that had remained further back, the one that they had not tried to step forward with, was wreathed in dust. The dust floated slowly, moving in gentle patterns with the breeze. It seemed so incongruously peaceful in contrast with the violent dissolution of Yadrin’s body.
Looking up from their shrinking legs, Tay saw the white dust flowing from their friends mouth. Saw their black hair slowly turning paler, their skin cracking like dried earth. Watched their friend trying to drag themselves upright and forward, succeeding only in throwing themselves face first into the uncaring dirt like a grounded fish.
Tay could not move. He could only watch.
Yadrin clawed at the dust, but their fingers were no longer there. Struggling to see through the grit that seemed to be filling their vision, they saw their arms flapping ahead of them, like flat, red-bottomed blades. White bone protruded from the layers of flailing, stringy meat and gelatinous fat; the rough skin atop them receding quickly, bubbling at the edges.
As Yadrin’s vision clouded over, and all feeling of their body faded away, they still felt no pain. There was only whiteness, extending out and out and out, without end.
Tay’s glazed eyes were fixed at the spot where Yadrin had lain, flailing wildly, then suddenly motionless, and silently dissolving into nothing. The white dust lay flat, empty and featureless. There was not a sound except the quiet breath of the wind.
Tay stared into the shining emptiness, his eyes empty. He took a step forward. White dust crunched beneath his shoe.
Published 8 February 2021 at 2:03 pm