Yoga makes me feel better, but it doesn’t stop the heat.
I practice in the shade of the mesquites. Something feels not quite right. The swamp smells of sulfur and methane. Do odors cast shadows?
Screams interrupt my practice.
A man at the edge of the swamp is in flames
“Drop!” I yell. “Roll in the mud!”
He drops. But it’s too late.
“Such a shame,” says a woman in a jogging suit.
“It’s inconceivable,” I say. “It can’t be.”
I close my eyes. I haven’t prayed for a long time. I can’t remember when I last prayed. I haven’t prayed since the Before. I close my eyes. What comes before a prayer? That’s what I feel, deep in my heart with my eyes closed. I aim that feeling at the odor’s shadow. It can’t be.
Light explodes, and the corpse rises. We don’t scream. The woman in the jogging suit is quietly weeping. A young man behind me whimpers.
Only I seem to see the explosion of light lifting the body above the mud.
“Right,” says the woman in white, turning away and leaving.
The burnt man stands, coughs, and clears his throat.
“All righty, then,” he says.
I chuckle, and it’s not entirely out of embarrassment, nor completely from disbelief, but partly from, I must admit, a mixture of gratitude and joy.
“Are you all right, then?” I ask, awkwardly.
“I believe so,” he responds. “Quite odd, that.”
“Indeed!” I reply.
The young man drops and screams.
I cannot process what is happening. I smell smoke.
He screams louder and drops.
I hear a gasp.
“Oh, that is unfortunate,” says a gaunt pale man.
In the silence, the gaunt man covers his mouth. He seems to try to speak. His hand clasps before his mouth again.
I try with the impulse of prayer again. This time, I feel it more intensely. Live.
“No… I am so sorry,” says the gaunt one.
One of my friends–I can’t remember his name: suddenly I can’t remember anyone’s name again–he covers his eyes. I can’t see his tears.
My prayer-intent has no effect.
I turn to the gaunt one.
“Well, that was quite a tragedy,” he says, “But a world so askew is bound to be very careful about keeping balance, don’t you think?”
“Is the world askew? Yes, of course it is.” I realize that was a foolish question. “But in that case, don’t we need imbalance to restore balance? And how is it balance for another person to die, here? He’s the second one this week. He would’ve been the second one this day, if the other hadn’t been spared.”
“The second? They were all the latest. And now many more have died already. Balance is tricky, I think. Perhaps imbalance is indeed needed. Sometimes.”
The Gaunt looks distraught.
“Is it confusing?” I ask. “It’s all confusing. I can’t make sense of anything anymore. I can’t remember anyone’s name. Are you all right?”
“I am… I mean… I… I saw you pray for them. That was very thoughtful of you. I am sorry it did not work twice.”
“I’m not sure it was a prayer,” I confess. “I don’t know who to pray to anymore. What comes before a prayer?”
“Conviction? Doubt? No… I think I know what you mean. A wish aimed at everything because you do not see anything specific to direct it at?”
“That’s what it was,” I say. “I call it ‘intent,’ but it was a wish. We can’t intend someone else to live, only wish it, right?”
I expect him to say something. To agree. He seems about to exclaim, but he swallows his voice. We drink silence, then he speaks.
“The air is saturated with those things,” he says. “I am trying not to breathe in too many of them accidentally. This world needs a lot of wishes and hope.”
He walks off with his mouth closed and his nose pinched shut.
I hold my wishes and hopes until he is out of breathing range, and then I exhale, and thousands of wishes and hopes pour out of me, riding the molecules of carbon dioxide into the air where they are lapped up by the stomata in the grasses and reeds, and my hopes for life, and my wishes for health mix with sunshine and water as the chloroplasts shimmer in green. One died, but one lived.
Author’s notes: Yes! It really is Tad! He’s been in this game for weeks and weeks, almost since the beginning, but this is the first he’s shown himself. Rather fitting, I thought, that he’d show while part of himself is busy on-the-job! 🙂
In case you’re not yet a Thanatos Dustpine #fangirl/#fanboy (and I’m sure you will be soon!), the Gaunt is Tad (Thanatos), who comes from RipuAncestor’s Chrysanthemum Tango, where I and so many other readers fell in love with him! ❤ Ripu graciously allowed him to come to Murkland. She and I will co-write the chapters in which Tad appears. In this chapter, Ripu provided all of Tad’s dialogue and actions.
Thank you, Ripu! 🙂 We had a blast writing this. (I love Tad–did I mention that?)