In the Bloodlands
In the Bloodlands, wishes can come true… for a price.
Julia envied the birds, so she lured them to her windowsill with nectar and seeds, caught them barehanded, and ate them, still wriggling and shrieking, until she found she could raise her arms and lift herself from the ground.
Julia envied Maria her husband, so when Maria was walking along the cliffside with a satchel of ripe plums at her hip, a flock of birds flew at her face and pecked at her until she lost her footing. Only, instead of tumbling into the sea, never to be found, the satchel caught on a root and broke her neck, leaving her dangling there for Matthew to find when he went to see why she was so late returning from the orchard. Dangling, with the marks of a hundred tiny beaks pocking the skin around her eyes.
Matthew’s grief festered within him until it turned to rage. He buried his newborn son with his wife, and when the next morning found a stalk growing from the grave, with a single blood-red plum dangling from its end, he ate it, and fell into a fever that lasted for three days. He awoke alone, tied to a tree far from the village. Snapping his bonds as if they were rotted vines, he stumbled back toward his home. As he fell beside a clear stream to slake a thirst deeper than he had ever known, the face he saw in the water was that of a monster, as much reptile as man.
Julia has taken to wearing a cape that drapes under her arms like the wings of a bird, as she floats through the fields, on the verge of flight, but never quite breaking the shackles of the earth. Tiny messengers land on her shoulders and tell her Matthew is returning to the village, and she pirouettes, five feet off the ground, and goes to meet him.
Matthew sees Julia approaching from where he lurks at the edge of the wood, just shy of the light. A bird alights on his shoulder and whispers in his ear, and he knows. Bellowing a roar no human throat could contain, he charges from the woods, his clawed feet churning up the moist earth. She barely has time to lift her arms, five feet, ten feet; but he is faster than a man now, and he leaps up to catch her legs in a crushing embrace.
And suddenly they are soaring, above the clouds, the sun blinding, the wind deafening in their ears, spiraling across a sea of white foam, her avarice and his rage forgotten in this sudden moment, her exultation and his fear.
When again she swoops down, through the clouds, across turbulent waters, it is to a coast neither of them recognize. She is suddenly tired, and cannot quite veer away from the strange trees. His body weighs her down, her legs numb from his unfailing grasp. They crash into the straight boles, but he swings his legs out and they shatter under the impact of his armored shins.
When they at last touch down, tumble apart, to lay on the wet grass, suddenly exhausted, they stay there, unmoving, for a long time, listening to one another’s breathing.
She pauses, thoughtfully, her black quill hovering over the rainbow streaks she has painted on the page. Each serpentine line she has inked connects on part of the story to another, one band to the prior and the next.
“What now?” she muses, the end of the quill between her teeth.
“Well, obviously, when they are touching, their power is doubled. What happens if they find another?” I ask.
“Hmm.” she dips the quill and starts another line.