Shybhyra

 

They tore down a cabin to make the drift. Three men, ribbed of blackened muscle and heaving in chanted breaths with an axe of stone. Suffused within a bedimmed sense, my memories of the event are pale and discordant. I remember only crimson flashes and a heated panic in the darkness. A question. What was I? Ripping wood gasping a limb-torn lament, and crescent footprints scattered in the sand.

The drift is roughly the twofold measure of a man’s body laid flat, a dense mesh of pliable palm-branches braided in knot-woven twine. If I stretch out upon my back, positioning my head at the point I best reckon to be the centre, then my feet well-nigh reach the edge; although of late I have suspected the onset of a debilitating atrophy has left my withered legs shorter than they once were. For the most part the drift is enshrouded beneath a primordial lichen and hung with mucous trails of tar-green seaweed. Only the uppermost surface is bare, parched as it is daily in the heat of the sun. A number of barnacles and other such varmint-of-the-tide have taken the underside as their home. They come and go over time as they please, drawn in a rhyme that is not my own. Away back I would try to pry them off and eat them, but no longer, my nails have grown brittle and easily come away from the skin. Regardless of this, I prefer to leave them be. I have come find the peace of mind their company brings greater that the meagre comfort they afford my belly.

It is all but impossible to stand upright for longer than a few seconds. The surface of the weave is astonishingly slippery, unevenly cut and spread about with slick seaweed. The drift sways erratically with the waves and my previous attempts to stand have invariably resulted in a painful tumble. Besides, my knees are now too weak to support my own frame, emaciated though it is, so I spend my days bent upon my back or collapsed on my elbows, drenched in salt-seared spray and burnt through by the relentless sun.

The bay curls round, jagged as a crows caw, enclosed by a mountainous bastion and a sprawling forest that creeps betwixt the peaks. It is largely sheltered from the howling wind and offers some protection from the swells and violence of the deep, but on a gusty day the wind shrieks across the waters and as waves are drawn to the shore they splash between the weave and drench me. Some mornings I am awoken by own coughs and heaving as I choke on another chest-full of water. Sully-sighted, puffy and leaking, my eyes are clouds. Aside from my tears it rarely rains, although frequently the sky will be cast over an ill-boding wash of purple. When the rain does come it falls in a portentous deluge, the torrent bringing up a thick mist of spray from the surface and arcane whispers from the ocean-deep. Then I take shelter beneath a woven leaf awning that I pull over my shoulders, this spares me from the worst of the weight of the sky. I use the same awning to shelter from the ardent midday burn.

The drift is anchored to the seabed by a thick length of twine which is bound to a cluster of rocks, but I am not shackled. If I so desired I could attempt some escape, but whither? The shore is a considerable distance off to swim and I barely possess even the strength to stand. There is always someone watching me, sometimes many of them stand on the beach-front and stare out at me. Even at night a single roving figure patrols the beach, his every thought bent towards me. Aside from the shore there is only the tremendous cliff-sheer and the open ocean. If I began to swim away from the drift I would almost certainly drown, unless they managed to row out first and bring me back. My existence is none but abominable but I am not willing to bring annihilation upon my own soul, not yet.

Every day two or three of them row out to me in their longboat, their timeworn vessel, the hull etched over with perplexing symbols and hewn with dreadful figurines. They never stray within reaching distance, once sufficiently close they toss me a fish or some fruit and a boar-bladder filled with fresh spring-water. They never speak except to each other, and then only in low grunts and furtive whispers. I toss them back the empty bladder from the previous day and they stare at me suspiciously, their gray eyes gleaming out from beneath their long, smooth foreheads. They never stay to watch me feed but always retreat immediately to the shore. I have become accustomed to eating the fish raw, gutting them with my hands and picking out the bones with my fingers. My hunger is severe and I devour the fish greedily from a voracious impatience and then toss the discarded skin over my shoulder. Sometimes I will find it later that day on the other side of the drift and the scales will glimmer in the sunlight and catch my attention. Dribbling jewelled dew-drops! When this happens I am filled with joy. I clutch at the skin as some long-abandoned treasure and hold it to my chest. The next morning always it is rancid and putrid, I toss it away and scold myself severely for indulging such behaviour.

Time moves through me in arched spirals. It will take a leave of me and hours fall away in a breath without a single trail of thought clotting in my mind. I lie in a senseless confusion beneath the sky, stooped upon twisted spine, terrified of the unfathomable emptiness above me. But just as the tide is drawn in an inevitable rebirth so too my mind unfolds and of a sudden I find myself articulate and highly perceptive and the peril of my situation falls upon me as the heaviest weight. I struggle in vain to fathom what I am apart from the drift. Time recedes, every minute is a knife-edged chasm and my mind is mad with loss. On those days I look down at my body and am shocked by its disintegration. I collapse backwards and stare at my knees protruding violently from my wasted thighs, aching and covered in sores. My swollen ribs heave through the worn and moulding hanging of my skin. I gnash my teeth into my gums and my spit catches in my throat in desperate raspy coughs and I cry until my eyes are blind and I want to gauge them out. Then I scratch at my face, aroused by a sudden wave of mad itches. On those days only the fall of night can release me.

But I am not without hope. Always one of them is watching attentively from the shore. On some days, when I have the strength to raise myself on my knees I see a great number of them on the beach clutching their spears and looking out at me. I know that I cause them as much pain as they cause me. Upon a distant night-hour the wind takes me as his confidant and whispers secrets of disquiet across the water from their village and I know they are debating me. I am a perpetual splinter in their collective mind. Still they feed me. Still they need me. When they row over and I am curled up in sleep then in concern they draw close and thrust a spear towards me, jabbing me apprehensively in the ribs until I roll over and awaken. Then, with relieved looks upon their terrible brows they retreat and row back to shore, their eyes locked upon me all the while.

I lie on my belly and stare into the water. The gentle rhythm of the waves carries me away and dissolves the meander of my thoughts. I can intuit the breathlessness of their pining. There is so little that separates us! Only a broken stretch of shifting black ocean, endlessly roaming, a swollen urge of liquid will.

Since the drift was constructed I have only been ashore once. That was long ago, near the beginning, before they had any grasp of what I was. Two of them rowed out and dragged me aboard the longboat. I was delirious from the sun and chattering to myself through weeping gums. They rowed in rhythm to a silent calling. Shouting and spitting they threw me ashore. I immediately vomited, my legs having forgotten the feel of solid land. They pulled me along the beach by my arms, up into their village before a roaring fire where they dumped me before their chief. He was taller than the rest of them, plats of hair spurted from his shoulders and his back and he clutched a mighty staff. In terror I prostrated myself before him.

In cachinnating abandon they jeered and wailed and stampeded me under a hundred thunderous heels. My every sense was awash with pain. I struggled to remember anything that was before the drift, but my mind had gone, my floating abode had become all I had ever known. Chaos fell upon me and in the searing heat of the flames, through the tangled coil of violence, a swelling rose upon my mind and a single word clawed though the pain and broke my lips… Shybhyra! No sooner had the word escaped my mouth then all around me were gripped by silence. The very sound of the word shot them through, tore their understanding from the bone. In their hatred they bowed down before me. The chief tore open his tunic and beat his chest. In angered and reverent silence they fell before me. Then, in solemn ceremony, they raised me up and carried me back to the drift. I am there still.

There is the drift and there is the drift. Shoals of fish pass by and I watch them nervously grouped together, always hungry and always afraid, locked in a senseless dance with the deep that never ends.

Blacken-scarred murmurs, the drapery of sky.

And what of their strange fingers?

In the depths of the night a veil is lifted and a movement on the horizon of my soul stirs my slumber. I know what draws near. Images flash before my eyes and I have no inkling of their source. Summer grass breathing in groves of mango trees. The querying visage of a woman, her face pale and her eyes vulnerable, staring out from beneath tumbling curls of burning red hair. My time here is timeless. Eventually the word breaks through the silence as I know it will and I scream it repeatedly to myself and to the sky, over and over, echoing across the bay. The word grips me and possesses me, runs through me. I scream it until my breath fails and my voice is lost. 

I do not know what the word means and I am sure they do not either. I do not think it much matters. I only know that which the very sound of the word induces – of a devastating sense of awe, of a beauty so pure it is laced with dread. A sublime dissonance. The word is a perfectly formed shape, it is the sky-pierced mountains’ reach and the bay curled round, it is the sun that rises every morning and it is the pit of night. It is them and it is me. The word and the shape are one, there is no meaning to the word beyond the shape and it is the shape that binds us together.

~

tetrahension@live.co.uk

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