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"And threads that are golden
It's gone quiet now, it's raining now. Voices and the gentle sobbing on my shoulder are taking their leave, the blood and ribbons of conversation which bound me to this consciousness have grown spindly; I don't think she can hear you anymore. She's gone, god, how could he...?; I grasp abstractly, I claw desperately for the connections that have been drawn to the point of exhaustion, but they're snapping, and the recoil is throwing me back to the chant melody of falling rain, it's all tears, it's all the same.
I never cried then, though. I was numb, I was sterile, just like every sanitary shadow which cut across the dirt square behind the labs that we called a playground. I was just seven and knew already nothing could ever grow from the shadows; I once plunged my hand into the earth and offered Them a fistful of writhing maggots in testament, and They said that they were nothing, They told me to drop the bugs. I mindlessly did as instructed, and didn't watch as They walked away, full of stern purpose, glistening white bugs bursting underfoot. I didn't cry then.
But the rain comes stronger now, that same rain that fell right before I left: it was dirty rain, making ugly, plump explosions against the windows that were painted shut. And then it would roll down the dimpled glass like some dead thing, meeting the brown puddles; they reflected a sky that always seemed on the verge of purple. But we played in that disgusting rain, our marble legs veined with mud and bruises, our flimsy hospital gowns flapping behind us. Always cold, teeth chattering; we would play at night, at three am when no one was supposed to be awake--socked feet padding down the linoleum halls, thick fingers wrapped around stolen key cards and giggling. We all looked the same, round, pallid faces, lines etched deep so early, and dark hair; we were ghosts, screaming through the dawn.
There was one boy, though; he was new, brought in the summer before I left. I don't remember his name, but I remember how we would pass him in the halls and turn to each other in slit eyed jealousy: he was still dark with a season spent outside, and his hair was blonde, a golden sun wrought shade. We hated him, I hated him, he didn't know, he didn't see our dull eyes and realize we were different. He laughed like us, he stumbled around that dirt back-lot like we did, but he was different and didn't know it.
One night they were playing, leaving bright phantom streaks in the rain as I watched from the second floor, tired and trying to suppress an angry stomach. He wasn't running, though; he leaned against the barbed wire, clutching his head. He was in pain, even then, I knew. I always knew. Yet one girl, the oldest of us all, grabbed his wrist between her graceful hands and pulled him over to the other children. They laughed, forming a circle oblivious to his unsteady swaying; when he pitched forward, his knees raised a curtain of mud. He vomited there, kneeling in the deep puddle; from two stories above, I swear I could see the blood, as they reformed the hoops of mud encrusted hands and fingers. It slowly began to turn, lithe legs splashing through water, then raising and kicking him. They kicked as they sang, kicked as the circle turned, and I cried two stories above. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
"I think she's breathing!"
Mother, you fell too. You promised me you weren't dying, not some fragile promise that you would never leave me, I never asked that. Only if you were dying. You dropped the worn backpack contained exactly two cans of soup and a twisted shoe, easing down until I could see all the way through your clear green irises, too. You studied and searched the eyes which took every word as gospel, and said softly that you weren't dying.....and I don't know if it was the moment or just me you were trying to shelter, but you hastily scooped me up. Carrying me to the train station, my bare feet dangling under the stained hospital gown and fingers twisted around the remains of your hair, you faltered once, and it was the last time you ever held me, I wish I had known. You died two hours later--mother, you fell like the others under Their feet, even though they were a million miles away. You died fighting for breath, coughing your chest into your hands on that wretched platform, and I learned once more; I never wanted to believe again.
"Cloud, god help me, she's gone."
I was eleven when Elmyra left a cedar chest on my bed with a note on sweet smelling paper that I was free to have anything within it; Elmyra was a loving woman, but we had a silent understanding that I would never call her Mother, as Mother had irrevocably been torn from me. I could see her blood, and the shapeless layers of clothes she was wearing, it had only been three years and I already had forgotten her face and the sound of her voice.
Yet her sparkling green eyes, I thought I could see a whole ocean in them if I looked hard enough...
I lifted the heavy wooden lid and found leather-bound diaries, watermarked pages that fell to the floor as I ginger flipped it open; a puzzle that took an afternoon to solve, sitting there on the rough planks crying for her, a girl of twenty who naively her husband to war on a rickety Midgar train. I took those sepia pages, crackling in my fist, in a rage that a girl anointed woman in the waters of her own guilt and grief--a girl I never knew--had dug her nails under my skin, past the old scars and left a wellspring of new hurt.
I watched the paper curl and wither glaze-eyed, the numbness blithely gelling, and I avoided that chest for another year, confining it to the darkness under my bed.
Then, on Christmas morning, I was hanging a new wool dress in my closet and found a single dried rose petal, caught in the dusty morning light. I hesitated, wavering there, I didn't want to return to that time, I didn't want to know. I dimly reached for the petal; it disintegrated under my heavy fingers, red dust falling with glittering winter dust and snow.
And there was a distant whisper of ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
I suddenly sprang from my haunches and yanked the chest from its hiding place beneath my foot-board, frantic to find something that had no past, no memories trailing. My hands threw up clouds of broken rose petals, they fluttered over book after book, and I finally pulled one up, one that was leather-bound but so much thicker than the others. I blew the dust from the cover and sat back, staring at the gilt lettering, a massing of gothic lines that spelled out Hamlet with deeply embossed artistic flourishes.
"She's not dead!"
There's the sound of crying, beat out the dirges, this is the funeral wail. So heartbroken, I know the voice behind the sobs; I must have forgotten how to cry because I want to so bad, I want to comfort that familiar voice distorted behind the lament with my own tears, but I'm locked here in the darkness. The pain's gone, I can feel the stiff hands under my back pulling me free of the ground, up, God, I'm so scared.
"Where are you going? Cloud, wait--where are you taking her?"
Down, down, we all fall. I opened Hamlet and there was something written on the cover page, but the pencil had smeared. My hands were shaking so bad that I dropped the book, it hit the floor with a hard smack, Elmyra came thumping up the stairs and stood breathless at the door.And standing there, shoulders heaving, gray-brown curls venturing out from her sloppy bun, I had a vision of my mother, I could see her so plainly that my heart stopped. She asked something and I gave her a detached smile; she inquired if I was okay, I was never okay, but I nodded and she closed the door as she left. Slumped to the ground, I pulled Hamlet to my chest, hugging it as I tried to remember how to breathe.
"Cloud, hold on."
I was fifteen and still holding that old Hamlet, hands sheathed in lacy gloves as Elmyra struggled a brush through my hair. I couldn't stop glancing at my hands, the cotton hiding my ragged nails, then to the large oval mirror hung haphazardly over the stove, where a blurry girl with a laughing mother had her thick waves pinned behind a long, elegant neck. It was a pretense, I was sure; Elmyra had pieced me together as best she could and now left the gloves and pins to hold me intact. It was only an hour, I had my Hamlet--I saw that vague hope in her eyes as she tucked a white sprig of jasmine behind my ear.
White, innocence, was I still innocent?
Church. I had never been before. Elmyra's face betrayed a radiant happiness, her soft arm locked protectively around my elbow as we entered. I remember smiling reassuringly at her, then stopping and turning full; glassy eyed and utterly stunned by the brightly colored shadows drawing biblical stories across the lacquered pews and floor. I became a vortex at the center of a whirlpool of people, people saying hello to me that I didn't know; I was mute and absorbed by everything shining, it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Elmyra gently guided me to a seat, in the back where I could drink it all in without strain. And as the hymns started, I opened my beloved Hamlet to a neatly folded page and began to read about Ophelia, poor Ophelia who drowned in madness; Shakespeare had a way of punishing innocent love.
"Cloud, I said wait!"
I was crying in that church, over poor mad Ophelia, utterly unaware when the book was ripped from my hands. I gave a startled sob and coarsely wiped my nose on those immaculate white gloves, slowly looking up at the old woman beside me, who held MY Hamlet between her bony fingers. I stubbornly reached for it and she tore it from my grasp with a tight lipped frown.
That's not proper, she whispered, fish eyes blinking out from her emaciated face, darting to the pastor in blatant fear of being caught talking in his sanctuary.
Give it back! I responded, grabbing for my Hamlet again, o poor Ophelia.
I will most certainly not! she whispered fiercely, the explosion of silk flowers on her hat bobbing. I stood, and Elmyra's hand was on my arm, but I didn't care, she had my Hamlet, and I loudly demanded that she return it. The pastor's monotone drifted off into silence; a rustling as heads turned and hats were pushed from view. A hot blush stained my cheeks as her eyes bulged further, I thought they would come tumbling from her wrinkled sockets as she planted an arthritic claw on the polished wood and thrust herself up.
Now Miss Betty, please give her the book back, I think it would be best; that was Elmyra, low and comforting, still gripping my arm.
No, I'll not give that impudent child the book back, it's improper. She tucked Hamlet into her satchel, a massive purse that hung limp at her side until then. Bright red panic ruptured across my vision and I broke free of Elmyra with a crude shove.
Give it back! I cried.
No! she said bluntly, colorless lips and brows drawn inward in a glare of determination; her palm landed on the satchel, sending it flying behind her back. I could see my collarbone trembling through the neck of my dress and my white gloved hands going to my hair, smoothing it nervously; some deadly tension was building within me, a swallow now an insurgent spasm of breath.
Give it back, I said quietly and said it again, give it back, the words poured out again and again until they melted together, an incoherent chant. Her spidery old legs churned under her skirt, stumbling back; the words changed, just a feverish continuation of breath--giveitbackgiveitbackgiveitback--and my eyelids came crashing down. A concentrated wince, splayed legs and outreached arms; I cocked my head, something within me said no, this is wrong, but the syllables were a torrent.
Wind. Wind surging around me, a self-contained tempest, it continued and drew strength from the swirling drafts: giveitbackgiveitback.
I inhaled sharply and it grew, I pulled my hands home and it swelled; suddenly it was too great to contain and my eyes fluttered open, shrieking GIVE IT BACK! I saw something misty and green condense above my cotton fingers, I saw her head hit the pew with a sick crack and the cheap silk flowers were askew on her wide brimmed hat....
But all I could hear were pins falling and the oily slap of a book, sliding across the slippery wooden floor to me.
"You forgot this."
"...Thanks....God, she would have been mad at me, huh?"
The voice that was only a whisper shatters, hoarse fragments. How do I know that voice, that crying voice, why can't I open my eyes? My neck bows, feeling like rubber as my head sinks into something like sand, hands that were once on my back easing away.
Don't leave me.
I was seventeen when I met him; we were a common species of lunatic on the streets of Midgar. He with his violin and I with my basket of yellow tulips and daisies from the church; I couldn't stay away from it after the Incident, made a hollow shell of broken beams and deserted chapels. I didn't understand the allegory pouring down from the very windows, I had no faith to speak of, but I knew flowers grew there and I had my Hamlet, and that was all I needed to believe in holiness.
I gathered those flowers, laced them through my hair and played like a half-mad Ophelia; when people asked, I would pull a crushed daisy from my tangled hair. They would always grin shyly as I handed it to them. Then I began to collect dozens of dewy morning flowers in Elmyra's wicker basket, and they would exchange gifts of small coins for my tulips.
He was different, though. He appeared one day on my corner, black hair plaited down his back, carrying a shaggy violin case; a white dress shirt hung wrinkled on his slim form. It was cold that day, so cold, he wore a thick coat of dust and the collar carelessly unbuttoned at the throat. I remember nestling my nose into the warm knit of a cashmere scarf, staring so carefully, tracing at the long scratch running from his jaw to somewhere in the depths of his chest. Wondering.
...And maybe that moment was a catalyst, a quiet fuse lit in the dark corners of fate when my vision broadened and I realized he was returning the narrow eyed gaze....
A silent observer until that moment, Presentiment suddenly grasped my shoulder and whispered of change.
"You're really going to do it?"
I blinked in the bright morning sunlight, spinning about to find the source. No one.
"I don't know if it's what she...would have wanted....but it feels right, you know?"
He smiled at my confusion, a gentle curling of lips, then snapped the tarnished brass locks and withdrew a bow. Pulled it over a tiny block of resin; then the violin itself appeared, a magnificent beast all shining belly and pegs like rows of neat wooden teeth. He twisted one, dark eyebrows meeting in slight concentration, glanced at me, twisted again. I watched in unabashed fascination, curiosity and foreboding creating strange cocktail that pounded hot through my winter veins.
My name's Zachary, he said offhandedly, lifting the instrument to the cusp between his neck and shoulder. He never took his eyes from my own; they were varnished the same deep brown as the violin, I noticed. Not black, but the rich color of fresh earth, a color only years older than my tattered Hamlet. Thick, kohl lashes rimming them, glazed blonde on the very tips. My lip drooped in failed reply.
And a low moan drifted from the violin, scattering all words of thought. It was joined by others, each a spectral voice, the low floating hymn of those long dead.
We closed our eyes. I was wandering with the music, his music, a tongueless lament to which the voices shrieked when the images came unbidden: the lacy shadows of a jungle and three boys under their protective umbrella, collared white shirts glowing in the shade. A hut; a woman emerged from the thrashed reed door and pulled the youngest into her plump arms.
A violin case, slung over his shoulder, dropped into the weeds where it left an imprint of bent stalks and broken grasses like the footprint of a colossus. He smiled in her embrace, but the notes screamed in betrayal as they fell.
I swayed as the he carried me on a dim bus and haunting ebb of music past wrought iron gates that could be barely read to say "Midgar Academy of Fine Arts" in spun metal scroll. The child of ten with the restless black hair blew on the dingy window and rubbed himself a portal to the outside world with one long shirtsleeve; I searched cautiously for a lift in tune and found nothing. Because what came next hit rapidly, like stills suddenly animated with a flick of a thumb: the child, only a few years older it seemed, sliced open an envelope, sliced open his thumb, wide eyed as a single drop of blood caught the sheet of paper sliding to the floor. Next, he was on the floor, reddened eyes peering from his the safety of his brother's chest, but the other brother wasn't there, where was the oldest?, I knew somehow.
His blood still ran freely from his wrists one room over, even as he slumped coolly on the desk. On the neatly placed letter under his head.
Why?, I said quietly, and repeated it, not because I didn't understand, but because I needed the words; a vague prayer that thought given form would become logical.
It was our only hope. We only wanted to play music, to be something great--to escape--and father was broke; we were thousands of miles away without so much as a bus ticket.
Then the music spoke, seemingly dragging its feet towards a bittersweet destination. I glimpsed the remaining brothers timidly examining the cobwebs and broken benches in an abandoned train station; there was a flash of him, Zachary, clutching the case gingerly in sleep, as the slow building of chords upon chords became a towering Babel of chattering notes. It broke free, a soaring peasant melody, and I danced as people have always danced, holding my skirt and twirling in breathless circles. I opened my dizzy eyes and saw his hair falling limp with sweat around his face, his tightly sealed lips, and the coins, falling like a golden rain.
Cloud. I knew him before, when he was Zachary, and I held the conscription paper balled in my fist, tears fingering my cheeks wetly. His brother drafted and his violin lay shattered; I was left on that platform, skirt whipping in the wind when my legs could carry me no further.
That time, I wished I had asked if he would never to leave me.
I remember a bold reincarnation who knew nothing of the music or his own potential. I sold him my life for a one gil poppy.
It was molted purple; I still can feel his gloved hands brushing mine as I relinquished the broken flower.....and I simply stood there for a long time after he left. Testing my lonely intuition, but this: this was so much stronger than my earlier presentiment.
I looked down at my basket and found all the flowers wilting, no, decaying.
"Don't try to rationalize it."
Gnats buzzing about, tiny hairy legs that set off explosions within the bruised petals and sent them bursting into dust...
...like the red roses crumbled to a starry Christmas sparkle, like rain and ashes, the muddy gray of a bullet train that buried them all...
But now: up, ascending, we always wanted to be angels. If I flex my wax wings now will I be immolated? If I lose myself in this radiance which cradles me so childlike, the soft lapping of warm water on my back--will this womb of quiet material comfort only burn me as it disintegrates?
A sudden moment of clarity lights the revelation. He stabbed me and I'm dying, he thrust living fire through my stomach, it flared so bright, yes, and it was just as soon over. There's something sticky and hot on my belly, something that inherently shouldn't be so naked, and shaking fingers force it back within me; Cloud, you always were a gentleman. Are you crying for me?
It's your tears, isn't it? Trickling into my blood, those pinpricks of soft pain amidst the darkness.
Stronger now, barely a whisper.
"Aeris, I know....I know you're gone. I'm sorry, I wish you only knew, how very sorry..."
A volley of kisses picks up where the words leave off, inaudible prayers moving so fleetingly up my throat. Lips mild in their exploration, light and twinkling on the surface of my consciousness; all stars fall and meet brilliant night anew, I know this. He kisses me on the cheek, the forehead, and I feel his ruddy breath on my eyelids as he withdraws.
"Maybe it's better...no, not better. But I always thought you were not of this world."
And then, one bitter droplet escapes the rest, rolling over my tongue, starkly salty and cruelly so in the back of my throat as I struggle to swallow. A cough, a gasp; his mouth grazes the parted lips of a dead thing.
"Thank you," he breathes.
Not cold, I'll not be stone yet, don't you see? A breath with only the power of a child's ghostly hand must somewhere rustle through a few brassy strands as you exhale this final confidence.
You're going to leave me like all the others; I feel an immediate, dreadful certainty in this.
The water's gravity rises where his hands slip away, suddenly so very cold, and it takes everything yet I fight against it, craning my head heavenward--not a carcass, no, animated with keen fear that it's over, it can't be over.
I find my eyes open effortlessly.
It's quiet now, the rain has gone cold now. Puddles deeper than I ever imagined, now that the mud is gone, puddles deep enough to drown in. We children who fell into them never knew how far we could sink, only that the surface looked so distant and shimmering...
We could only
reach for it as we drowned, we pale and broken
This fic is unique for me in a lot of ways. I hardly ever get inspired by art, and even *I* usually don't take a month to produce eight frackin' pages. Also, I'm not usually one to pull from other sources, but Zack is inspired by Stephan Stefanofsky, the demented violinist of Anne Rice's 'Violin', while the whole idea of Aeris not being completely dead when she was dumped in the water was proposed a long time ago by someone in the HQ Forum. (I can't remember who said it, but if you did, email me so that I may lavish praise upon you for inspiring my twisted little mind. ::grin::) There's a lot of reoccurring symbols in this and yet I have no idea where it came from--I was on auto-pilot with the muse at the wheel on this one.
I pretty much stuck exclusively with Tori Amos' album "Boys for Pele" while writing. "Marianne" and "Caught a Lite Sneeze" in particular.
Finally.....without my funky ass muse killer Chessidy, there would be no story. Thanks, ya psycho. Do you know that there's a perfectness inside you, yup, that even the core is there? (Mother?) Heh. Here's to many more hours of...."creative"....brainstorming. ;-)