One of a few short stories based in a world I’m currently building.
“You think it’s me, Anya? How could you, after all we’ve been through?”
Pain warps my voice; barely sounds like me. I see hurt in Anya’s eyes too, which only adds to my own.
This isn’t right. I shouldn’t be shouting, but I can’t bear it. This whole thing isn’t right.
Anya turns to face me, disrupting the circle we four had formed in the centre of this unnatural clearing.
“Could be any of us, Venki,” she answers softly, with a calming gesture. Always gentle, always patient, my Anya. It would help, but for Surt:
“Can’t be me.”
My brow furrows. Across from me, Mhur’s scowl mirrors mine.
“Unless that is the lie,” Mhur spits.
Surt taps her spear on the ground as she plainly states each point.
“Three of us left Home. Three sets of footprints enter this place. Yet four of us stand here amongst muddled tracks. Two Hunters are always guarded by one Guardian. I carry the spear of a Guardian. You all carry bows of Hunters.”
She’s always so cold, our Surt. We know this isn’t right. Still she goes over it again.
“One shouldn’t be here. One of you. One of you is not People.”
Mhur eyes Surt, and she stares back without fear. Cold, but never any fear, our Guardian.
The silence is long and thick. How can the soundless forest feel so close, so heavy?
“I remember Mhur, Surt and I leaving home,” dear peaceful Anya offers, hesitantly.
That’s not right. Tightness across my chest, the horrible pressure inside. How can she forget –
“Myself, Anya and Venki,” Surt says, before my anger can escape.
“Myself, Surt and Venki,” Mhur grunts.
They are all looking at me, expectant. How can Anya forget while Surt and Mhur – Wait. That’s not right. He wasn’t with us.
“Surt, Anya and myself,” I say.
I can see Surt working it out. I already have. It’s no help. No certainty. This isn’t right.
I turn to Anya. Our eyes lock, mutually apologetic. Sharing sorrow.
This isn’t right. How can we ever know, how can we –
“No!” Anya screams, her eyes wide. But she’s not looking at me as she drops to her knees. She’s staring at the spear buried in Mhur’s eye socket. She’s wailing as Surt plants a foot on our friend’s chest, extracting her weapon with a grotesque, wet, sucking sound.
I make no sound. All I can do is stare. His eyes look lifelessly back at me from the mud.
Surt wipes her spear clean, and pulls Anya to her feet. She’s stopped wailing now, and wipes her tears away with her hands.
No more words now. We leave. We leave this place. Leave whatever our friend was.
I give him one last glance back.
What is that, where trees meet mud – a strange stone?
I turn, crouch to inspect it. Inspect the ground where I walked past.
Wait – where are my footprints?
This isn’t right. This isn’t –
Now just darkness. Always darkness.
This is right.
Published 8 February 2021 at 1:54 pm