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The Bitter Taste

 

The Bitter Taste

Leanne Fitzpatrick

 

 

 

Published by Leanne Fitzpatrick at Shakespir

 

Copyright © Leanne Fitzpatrick 2015

 

Visit my website at www.leannefitzpatrick.co.uk

 

Shakespir Edition v1.0

 

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales are entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. This ebook is licensed for your personal use only. Under the terms of this license you may transfer the ebook to any personal device you own for your reading pleasure. The ebook may not be resold or used in any commercial venture. If you wish to share this book please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favourite authorised retailer. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the author except in such cases as quotations embodied in critical reviews and other non-commercial endeavours as permitted in this license and under copyright law.

 

Thank you for your support and for respecting the hard work that has gone into this book.

 

 

The Bitter Taste

 

 

No light showed from under the door when Yau woke to the careful noises of someone trying to make no sound at all. She rolled away from the wall and peered into the darkness.

“Tepil?” she whispered, “what are you doing?”

“Shh, go back to sleep sister. I am going to the lagoon to fish. This is the best time- the dawn is a while off and the fish are drowsy.”

Yau pushed herself up and lit a tapered candle. Soft, orange light pooled around her, accentuating the shadows.

“Is that wise?” she asked as she watched her brother kneel at their altar and make his sacrifice. “It is already the season for sea maidens- they will be violent during their laying.”

“Do not worry little sister. I am not so foolish to go alone or leave the shore. Amoxtl joins me.”

“I don’t like it,” Yau said. “The gods are capricious, and you take too many risks.”

He crouched down in front of her and ruffled her hair as he smiled.

“You worry too much, little mother hen. Life is worth the risk, and the fish are at their best this time of year.” He kissed the top of her head. “I will be safe. I swear it to you.”

Yau glanced at their altar and then back at her brother before nodding.

“You have food for the day?” she asked at last.

He nodded. “We will come back when the sun is at its highest. We will feast tonight.”

Yau nodded again and shifted position to rest on her knees. Tepil rose, fastened his tilma around his throat and swung his small pack over his shoulder.

“Be careful,” Yau said at last. “There is something wicked in the air.”

He smiled again, looking down at her.

“You have inhaled too many of the healers’ potions,” he said affectionately. “You are seeing omens in everything.”

He crouched down again and, with his thumb, rubbed the crease from her brow.

“Do not worry- I will be fine. I promised you I would not leave your side. Now, smile for me, or I will be fishing with a heavy heart.”

She smiled at last; hesitant at first, but his teasing soon banished the foreboding from her chest.

“Be gone with you,” she said at last, pushing his hands away. “And make sure you bring back food fit for the gods.”

“As you wish; little sister.”

He left the hut and her frown returned. She stared after him for a few moments and then moved over to the altar.

She placed the candle in its holder and stared at the depiction of the gods. The light flickered over the faces, glistening over the embossed features. The flickering light gave them the illusion of movement and Yau shivered, disgusted by them. She picked up the ceremonial knife and placed it in the sacred water, washing off the remnants of Tepil’s blood.

Yau bent her head in prayer. She prayed longer and harder than she had in the last two years, squeezing out as much faith as she could- hoping it was enough. She picked up the knife. Water dripped from the obsidian blade. She pressed it to her right forearm and pressed, slicing through flesh.

Her whole body tingled as she waited, then she flexed her hand and her skin separated enough to let the blood bead and then flow.

She held her arm out over the gods’ mouth, listening to the drip of blood on stone. She whispered her prayers of safety, reciting them over and over until her blood finally clotted and the steady drip-drip of blood stopped.

She drew back, still kneeling, until she heard the sounds of life in the village.

She blew out the candle and when she turned there was a thin strip of greying light beneath the door. She rose to her feet and made her way out to her people.

 

*

 

The news came at mid-morning. Yau raised her head from the maize she was busy tending when she heard the shout. A breeze ruffled her simple clothing and she felt the knot in her gut twist a little more.

When the wail began she knew in her heart shat her brother was dead. She dropped her tools and ran, through the corn stalks and back into the village towards the little school house.

She pushed through the crowd, ignoring their protests until she came to the centre of the circle. Centehua lay on the ground, her sobs muffled only by the grass. Around her the people stood silent- even the children stopped their play. Two women came forward and tried to pull Centehua to her feet.

“What has happened?” Yau asked the silent crowd. Her stomach felt as though it were trying to claw its way out of her body.

“Amoxtl,” one of the men said, and when he turned to face her his eyes were bright with unshed tears. “We heard him shout, but when we got there, it was too late…”

There was a feeling of something going thud in the back of Yau’s mind.

“Tepil,” she said. “Where is Tepil?” she searched the crowd, looking for her brother’s familiar face. “Tepil!” she shouted.

Someone grabbed her arm.

“No, child,” the man said, pulling her into a sympathetic hug. “It was too late. The maidens had already taken him.”

“No,” she whispered.

“Amoxtl lived long enough to tell us. He fought them. Tepil fought them until they dragged him under and he couldn’t come back.”

Yau stood in his arms, her entire body numb. She watched as the women finally managed to lever Centehua to her feet and lead her away. The grip around her loosened. The people began to move away. There would be no more work today. The priests would come to calm and pray with them.

“No,” she whispered again. Her head buzzed with static- thoughts half formed and then flitted away without resistance. She fought against the emotions inside her. She wanted to throw herself on the ground and wail until her throat was bloodied tatters, she wanted to howl and curse the gods until they destroyed her.

There would be no burial, she thought as she watched Amoxtl’s remains- wrapped in a shroud- be carried to his house. He would rest there while his soul detached itself and then he would be buried and his soul ushered to the underworld where he would rest. Tepil would not have that honour- without his body he would wander forever lost.

Yau walked. It was automatic. She gave no thought to where she was going and paid no heed to those that called her name.

There was ice in her veins now. She was numb to the pain of loss, to the anguish of being alone.

She recognised obstacles in her way- the women who would help her grieve until the priests came. She did not register their faces and pushed past them when they reached out to stop her.

She walked faster, listening only to the pounding of her heart and the beat of her soles on the ground. Faster and faster, until she was running- out of the village, away from the people. She ran across the open land until grass became dirt and dirt became sand.

She was neither surprised nor dismayed when she came back to herself and found she was standing at the shore, the warm saltwater lapping at her does, the wet sand cool beneath her feet.

The water was calm- placid; a perfect mirror reflection of the blue sky above. Further out, past the rocks that rose like a god’s fingers, the water was darker and choppier. Dolphins frolicked there, rising out of the sea in graceful arcs. It made her sick to see them filled with so much joy.

She fell to her knees, retching as the water lulled around her limbs. She curled her hands into fists, crushing the sand in her palm, feeling the tiny bits of grit force their way down her nails, compressing together and forcing skin away from nail plate.

She cried; her tears finally freed were hot on her cheeks, dripping into the sea as she vomited up her breakfast.

She sobbed- hard and hoarse as grief swept over her, engulfing her mind and purging her of rational thought.

 

*

 

She didn’t know when she had collapsed in the water, her body still shaking. The water was both salve and irritant as it pooled around her and then left her in gentle waves.

She became aware of the silence- only the sound of water moving filled her ears. There was no birdsong or singing of crickets in the long sea grasses. She became aware of eyes watching her.

She looked up. They were there- one of them within arm’s reach. Yau didn’t react, merely stating at them with the same intensity they stared at her.

They were hideous- their hair hung in lank, tangled knots. Their skin was oily black and translucent like jellyfish. There was no emotion in their fish-eyes and when they opened their mouths, spindles and sharks’ teeth grinned at her.

They made Yau feel sick, but there was something enticing about them. Part of her wanted to reach out and touch them.

Slowly she pushed herself up to sit. The maiden closest to her grinned even wider. Yau stared into the black pit that was her pupil. It was ringed with the most beautiful yellow bronze colour, but they were dead eyes, filled only with hunger.

“Come out of the water, Yau,” a voice said. “Don’t look away from them and move slowly- please.”

Yau did as she was asked, never breaking eye contact with the sea maiden. The creature watched her, still smiling.

Strong fingers gripped her arms and Yau finally broke eye contact with them. She heard their song start up in her head.

“How long have you been down here?” the old woman that held her asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you hear their song?”

“Yes.”

“We must go. They know you to well- they will taunt you and call to you until you break. Their hunger is insatiable.”

“I want to fight them, Nan. They killed Tepil.”

“I know, my child, but I cannot let you stay here. Not now. Come with me.”

Yau pulled back, but only half-heartedly. The grip on her hand was much stronger than the maiden’s grip in her mind. She allowed herself to be pulled across the beach and back onto the grass, away from the maidens and their sirens song.

“He’s gone… What am I supposed to do now?”

“You must endure, as we all must. The gods now our pain and we must trust to their plan.”

“How much more pain to the gods have in their plan for me?” Yau asked bitterly.

There was no answer as they walked, and Yaya allowed herself to be steered away from her hut and towards the healer’s hut that stood a little apart from the rest of the village.

 

*

 

Smoke hung in thick blue-grey wisps in the air, heavy with the scent of flowers and herbs. Yau ducked under it and made her way to her accustomed seat. She had spent most of her childhood in the corner, happily learning her craft; ready to be an important part of village life. She picked up her old rolling board, stained through with the juices from a thousand different leaves and fruits.

“Seems like yesterday,” doesn’t it, Nan said. “Here. Drink this. You are exhausted and pale. You need to rest, and with sleep the heart and the body can heal.”

Yau took the earthenware cup and stared into the dark liquid.

“What is it?”

“You should know,” the old healer said. “You created it.”

Yau nodded and breathed in the steam. It smelled of fresh grass and flowers.

“The priests will not be pleased, but I think you need this… for your own piece of mind.”

Yau smiled and sipped at it, feeling the potion beginning to affect her from the first mouthful.

She didn’t fight it; she simply allowed herself to slip into the drugged slumber. She heard the clunk of the cup against the floor, and then heard nothing else.

 

*

 

She became conscious of someone humming. It was muffled and distant, but it was pleasant if a little discordant. There was heaviness to the sound that didn’t seem right to her current perception.

Yau rose, twisting in her seat to face the room. Nan sat watching the fire. There was a damp sheen to her cheeks and Yau knew the older woman had been crying. The song she was humming was an old prayer. The words had been lost a long time ago, but the melody and the sentiment remained.

Yau stood and walked over to her, lifting an ethereal hand to rest on the old woman’s shoulders. She wondered what would happen when her friend and mentor finally shuffled off the mortal coil.

Yau lifted her hand, leaving her friend to her grief and she stepped out of the hut. She had a momentary impression of mud surrounding her, but it was a physical thing and no match for her walking soul.

The world was dark- inky and midnight blue. The shadows seemed darker, deeper almost. There was no sound in this place between worlds and that brought a small comfort to Yau.

She marveled, instead, at the movement of living creatures. Flashes of golden light in the air where bugs flew. Deep red entwined in gold for the people of her village. Even the ants on the ground glowed with a subtle yellow aura.

She walked towards the village, already knowing where she was heading.

She moved towards her hut. It glowed faintly with a deep blue aura, and she knew this was the colour of loss. She wondered if she had the strength to enter it. She thought she should feel something, and though she hesitated, her feet took her closer. She found she could feel nothing- no fear or apprehension- just a blank emptiness in her chest where emotions had once lived.

She pushed open the door to her home. A figure stood lost and forlorn in the middle, shoulders hunched as he stared at the shrine in the wall, and Yau knew that it was right that he be there. She had known since waking up that she would find him here, wandering and lost.

“Tepil,” she whispered, and pulled him into her arms.

She stayed there with him, her cheek resting against his back for a long time, until at last he pulled away and turned in her arms.

If she'd had a stomach, she would have thrown up. His flesh- what remained of it- was grey and bloated. His eyes were clouded and sagging in the sockets, and when he spoke, water dribbled from his mouth.

“Yau, I’m so sorry. I broke my promise,” he gurgled, sea water gushing down between them. Yau flinched.

“I know. It isn’t your fault. I should have stopped you.”

“I’m lost, little sister, and I can't escape,” he said again. “Please help me- I don't want to wander lost forever.”

“Where are you? Where did they take you?”

“I don't know,” her brother moaned, the water staining the tatters of his clothes. “It's dark, and they come to taunt me- they know I am bound to my body- that I will have to return with the rising sun... they eat little pieces of me, one by one, knowing there is nothing I can do, that when they have finished, I will be lost and wandering for all eternity, unable to move on, and unaccepted into the afterlife.”

“You need to tell me where you are, brother, otherwise I can’t get to you. I can’t help you.”

He gripped her arms, the bones of his fingertips digging into her flesh.

“Please, Yau, I can’t wander around for all eternity. I need a burial. Please, find a way to save me. I need you.”

She wanted to cry, to promise him everything in the world, and tell him he would be buried and safe once more, but there was nothing but static in her mind and the feeling of shadows moving into place behind her.

“I- I'll try,” she said.

He shuddered, and Yau heard the squelch of the sea in his lungs.

“The sun is rising,” Tepil said after a long, uncomfortable silence.

“Where is your body?” Yau asked.

“In the deepest part of the lagoon- where the crabs always scavenge and the Maidens practice their singing. Will you come for me?”

“Yes,” said Yau, “although I don’t know how…”

“Yau, listen to me… You were right. I should have listened to you. I thought my sacrifice before leaving would be enough, that the Gods would listen to my pleas and keep me safe, but it was a lie. The Gods do not care.”

Yau nodded and sighed.

“I know. I knew the day they took Mother and Father from us.” She held on to him, felt how insubstantial he was as the sun pulled at him. “I will help you find rest, my brother- and if I cannot, then I shall make sure I die so that you will not be alone for eternity.”

He smiled and rested his head against hers for a moment.

“Thank you. I’m sorry, little sister. I never meant to leave you alone.”

“I know that, Tepil. I place no blame with you.”

“Will I see you again?” Tepil asked at last.

“One day. Either we will walk this place together for eternity, or we shall join mother and father in the afterlife.”

She reached up and cupped Tepil’s face in her palm. She suppressed a shudder as her thumb slipped inside the hole in his flesh, and she was thankful she couldn’t feel his teeth beneath her finger pad.

“Good bye, my sister,” Tepil murmured.

“Good bye, brother. You will rest in peace.”

She smiled faintly and moved away from him, turning her back to him as she left the hut. She didn’t look aback as the door closed behind her, but she felt the void he left behind as the greying dawn light forced him back to his body.

She stood and watched the dawn. It was a swirling kaleidoscope of colour, brimming with life and promise. She turned her back to it, walking towards the cliffs where she could look out over the lagoon. She knew he would be waiting there. She had always known he would be waiting there- when she was ready.

 

*

 

“I expected you sooner,” he said, not turning away from the ocean view as she came to stand beside him. “I didn’t take you to be quite so sentimental…”

“He was the last of my family, and I loved him dearly.”

Yau glanced up at him, terrified despite the familiarity of his features.

Finally he turned away from the view and looked down at her. He was shrouded in black- not material but something older than time. It clung to his body, moulding to the musculature. He did not have flesh, but he did have the front of a human skull over his face. The bone was old and yellowed. The jaw hung loose, giving him a permanent open grin. Within the maw she could see his tongue lashing about. She would have turned and run away but for his eyes. When he looked down at her she was engulfed and encompassed in the cold, uncaring beauty of the stars. She was safe in that gaze and she did not fear him as she would have done once upon a time. He had haunted her dreams all her life, walking with her as a child. He had been there when her first blood came. He had taught her the potions she had used to help the village. He had been there in her dreams when her parents had been taken, and he had held her in strong arms when she cursed the names of all the gods. He was the only one she had any faith left in.

“I’m ready,” she said at last.

“I know,” he replied, turning to stare back out over the ocean. His voice was deep and gentle in her mind. “I feel the power inside you,” he said after a moment. “I have nurtured and fed it for so long, but it has always remained immature. I feel there is no fear in you now. You are ready to wield the gifts I could give you.”

He turned to face her fully and reached out a hand. Yau looked at it before taking it and allowing herself to be drawn into his embrace

“Do you remember what I promised you?” he asked.

“I do, and I am ready to accept my responsibility.”

“I will give you unimaginable power. As I am lord over the souls of the dead, so I will give you dominion over their bodies- to use as you see fit.”

“Yes,” Yau murmured.

“Do you feel my power inside you? Can you feel the dead; their bones calling to you?”

“Yes,” she murmured, her hands curling in the shroud of nothingness.

“Accept it. Take the mantle and be my consort. Create with me a line of prodigy with dominion over the bodies of the dead.”

“I accept it,” Yau said. “All of it.”

She stared up at the skull, deep into the night-sky eyes.

He was strong, his grip around her solid. She smiled and raised a hand to touch the skull. She remembered the fear he’d once inspired in her, but now that fear was replaced. She felt hope for the first time in a long time. She felt able.

The bone was neither warm nor cold beneath her fingertips.

“Are you ready?” he asked, pulling her against him. She moulded to the shape of his body.

“Yes,” she whispered, and smiled as his shroud flared out to surround and encapsulate her inside with him.

 

*

 

Yau woke with the knowledge that life bloomed and grew inside her. She could feel it, growing and waiting to be born.

She remembered everything. She could still feel the bruises from where Tepil had gripped her arms. She could feel the ache inside her from where the God of Death had poured his essence into her and given it the spark that would create life.

She swallowed and waited as fear, rage and exhalation rampaged through her. She could feel the pull of the dead even now. She longed to call them up from their rest just as she had been instructed, and she longed to teach her child how to do the same.

She moved at last.

“I was beginning to think you would not wake,” Nan said, coming towards her with a small tray of foods. “The sun is already high.”

“I slept for so long,” Yau said.

“And you look better for it. There is peace in your eyes whereas before there was only rage and hurt.”

“Why is there no sound of work from outside?” Yau asked at last as she ate.

Nan’s expression saddened.

“Today Amoxtl is buried. We must go to bear witness and usher his soul to the next world.”

Yau winced at the pang in her chest.

“And Tepil? Will the priests spare a prayer for him?”

She already knew the answer, but she could not help asking the question.

Nan looked away.

“They cannot,” she said at last. “As much as I wish they could, you know it is not our way. The gods’ always demand a sacrifice for access to the underworld.”

Yau said nothing, merely sipping at her drink. Nan watched her, sympathy plastered all throughout her expression.

“I’m sorry, Yau,” she said at last. “I wish it could be different.”

She touched Yau’s knee, her touch lingering for a moment before the she turned and went back to her herbs.

Yau watched her for a few moments and then placed her cup and plate down.

“I’m going home,” she said at last.

Nan spun round. “You can’t-” she gasped, “the priests-”

“I don’t care,” Yau snapped. “I cannot leave my brother to wader alone.”

“The grief must be too much for you, Yau. You aren’t thinking properly!”

“I’m thinking perfectly,” she said quietly. “The god’s have taken enough from me. I will not let them deny my brother also.”

She left the hut, ignoring Nan calling after her. She was aware of the people watching her, of their whispers as she wrenched her home’s door open. She ignored them. She knew what she needed to do.

No fire for two days had left the hut cold and uninviting. Yau left the door open to let the light in and made her way to the ceremonial altar. She stared at the hideous faces and felt her rage boil up again. She grabbed the knife and then, using a large stone, smashed the receptacle from the wall and defaced the holy depictions as best she could.

She left the hut taking only the knife, a pot of salt and a small pack of supplies. She had no doubt she would never return here. In truth she had no intention to. Nan was her only connection to a village that already avoided her and her cursed family.

She paused at the edge of the village to watch the procession that followed Amoxtl’s shrouded body to the burial ground. She nodded out of respect to him. He had been one of the last to stick by her family, and for that she owed him.

She turned her back as they lowered him into the ground and began piling the dirt back over him. She had preparations to make before the sun sank below the horizon.

 

*

 

The breeze came from the sea. It was cold and salty and whipped around Yau as she sat watching the sun turn from burnished orange to blood red. It was time.

She stood and moved back to the small altar she had made. Salt encircled it, giving her little room to move inside. She didn’t need a lot.

The wind dropped and she felt his presence. She turned. He came towards her, his arms open.

She ran to him, willingly folding herself into the nothingness that always followed him.

“I sense out child growing within you,” he murmured, placing a hand over her stomach. “She will be strong.”

Yau smiled.

He raised his hand, taking hers and holding it tight.

“I have a gift for you,” he murmured. “A symbol of our joining.”

He passed his hand over her finders. She felt cold numbness spread through her and she shivered, looking down.

A smooth, solid black band rested on her left index finger.

“This is for our daughter- and then for every first-born daughter throughout time. It will bring great strength to them.”

“I will keep it safe for them.”

He looked down at her. Yau smiled, pulled away and moved to stand in her circle. She took the knife from her belt and stared at it before staring back out to sea. The sun had disappeared below the horizon now and the sky was filled with blood red clouds.

“I’m coming, Tepil. I swear it.”

She placed the tip of the knife to her wrist. Sweat broke out between her shoulder blades as it always did at the thought of slicing herself open. She looked down at the criss-cross of old scars and smiled. There was no fear this time. She sliced the knife up from wrist to forearm and chanted the words her lord had whispered to her the previous night.

 

*

 

She dropped to her knees and pushed her hand to the soil, forcing her blood into the earth, calling to those whose bones lay within its embrace.

She felt them answer- an echo of life as her rich blood lent them the power to move once more, to regrow the sinew and muscle they needed to rise.

When she closed her eyes she could see through theirs- she could feel the grit in their sockets, knew the cold, suffocating pressure of damp soil. She urged them on- to scrabble and scrape until they were free of the rotted shrouds, to claw the earth away until she could see the stars.

She turned her head towards the village, opened her eyes and watched as the ground erupted and the dead rose up, able and willing to do her bidding.

She heard a scream, quickly followed by shouts and horrified moans as the dead all turned to face her, awaiting her command.

She could see Amoxtl, his corpse the freshest amongst the dead. She felt nothing for him. Her friend was no longer there, but she knew he would want the honour.

With a thought she sent them down to the lagoon. The older ones shuffled, barely able to control their movements, and with every movement the wind carried to her the wheeze of air trying to move through paper-dry lungs. The more recently dead moved faster, keeping pace with Amoxtl as he raced to finish what he had started in life.

She turned to face her consort.

“Perfect,” he rasped, his tongue lashing wildly in his broken mouth.

“Oh Gods above,” another voice said.

“Go home, Nan,” Yau said without even turning round.

“Child, what have you done? Tounatil protect, you deal with devils this night!”

“Tounatil is powerless to protect. Look at the sky- already he sleeps.”

“Yau, stop this- you cannot wake the dead, you are not a God- you earn the wrath of them all with this.”

“Not all,” said Yau, and she smiled, looking directly at Nan. “You were kind to me,” she said. “I’m sorry- but I will not leave my brother to wander lost, not when the Lord of all Souls waits so patiently for him.”

“Yau, please- it is not too late- give the dead their rest, come back with me- it is not too late”

“It was too late the minute the priests gave my parents to the Harvest.”

Yau gave Nan one long, sorrow-filled look, and then turned back to the sea. She closed her eyes and groaned as she stared through a multitude of focal points.

She felt their minds, sluggish and decayed and gave them two simple orders – Find Tepil’s remains, and also to kill any sea maiden that tried to stop them.

Her inner vision blurred as they disappeared under the water, and instinctively she pushed more energy into their eyes, changing them until she could see again.

She gasped. It was beautiful. The water was clear, if dark, and every living creature had a glowing aura of white light that seemed to illuminate the water around it.

She pushed the dead forward, almost in a trance she raised the sacrificial knife and sliced open another artery. The more blood they had the stronger her small army would be. She didn't hear Nan's cry of fear, or the deep satisfied sigh of the God- all she knew was that she could see the sea maidens, and their inky black eyes were filled with curiosity and a slowly growing fear as the dead moved ever closer to their lair.

Yau grinned and the blood lust rose inside her. She took every ounce of hate and grief, anger and resentment and she pushed it through her blood and into the ground, forcing it along the black lines of magic to her army. Even the longest dead- those no more than skeletal husks felt the emotion enter them. As one their movements became more coordinated. Languid, almost floating hands became claws, reaching out and tearing into the soft flesh of the merfolk.

The water became murky with scales and blood. The Maidens’ shrieks filled Yau’s head even as she heard nothing, and she pushed harder, wielding her weapons, moving with them, pulling chunks of hair from scalp, ripping fins from tails. As the excitement built up in her, the dead became more animated. Dead eyes showed her fear and horror, dried up tongues became plump, and Yau could taste the bitter tang of sea-blood in her mouth.

A maiden flashed past, a jagged knife slicing through zombie flesh. Yau felt the pain in her body and gave the walking corpse free reign. It lurched forward, gripping the mermaid, bony fingers digging easily into the gelatinous flesh, bursting through veins and sinews. The maiden writhed, fighting back, but the zombie merely opened its rotten maw and sank its teeth into her side, biting and chewing until blood and organs formed a murky cloud around it and the mermaid stopped struggling.

The merfolk fought back in panicked frenzy, arcing through the water, quick like the silverfish on the spring tide. They ripped bones apart, wrenched skulls from necks and battered them against the seabed rocks, but Yau didn't care, already she had shifted her focus, pulling away from one lost case to attack from another angle. She rested in Amoxtl's mind, watching as the zombies tore the mermaids apart. In her semi-conscious state she could hear the death cries of the maiden's- a high pitched squeal that seemed to make the sands beneath Amoxtl's feet shift. Yau cursed. She was running out of time, the stream of power from her body weakening as the wounds clotted. Leaving her zombie army to wrestle with the fish people, and embedded deep in Amoxtl's mind, she searched for her brother.

Rocks were little problem to her, she had Amoxtl turn them over, pulling at them even as she fought to rebuild his ripping muscle. Shrimp scuttled around them, nipping at the dead flesh.

An eel moved out of the coral and wrapped itself around Amoxtl’s leg, biting into the sagging flesh. Yau ignored them all. She could see her brother, his face bloated, the skin ripping as he swelled up.

Up on the cliff, Yau gave a choked sob. She hated to see him this way, to see how the maidens had sacrificed him. She squeezed her palms, and her blood oozed out into the ground. She sent the tendril of magic to her brother, and watched as the facsimile of life bought colour to his face.

He looked up at her as she stared out of Amoxtl’s eyes, and there was no hint of the man she had known, just the remains, waiting for her to control and bury him.

She called out to him, Amoxtl’s mouth opening in a mirror image of her own, and water flooded the orifice. Yau used him to claw at her brother, pulling him from the entrapment, fighting against the current to keep the rocks from crushing him and keeping him from the air.

The sound of shrieking maidens quietened, the ocean became gradually more silent and Yau gasped.

In her protective circle she coughed and a jet of sea foam splattered onto the grass. She was losing them- the connection fading.

She reached out for the knife.

“No, Yau! Stop it!” Nan screamed, fists smashing ineffectually against the magical barrier.

The God laughed.

“Yes!” He cried. “Do it!”

Yau dragged the knife blade up the length of her inner wrist. Blood gushed, soaking the ground. Yau felt the pulse and she screamed as her mind careened down the lines, calling out to the dead. The floating corpses of the maidens began to twitch; the fallen bodies of humans once more began to move. Yau spread her mind around all of them, bringing them to one place, ripping into the last of the maidens. She felt every cut and blow inflicted on her army, but she cared nothing for them. She plunged a fist out, grabbing a handful of slimy, matted hair. The mermaid screamed; the sound deafening, but Yau let her host pull it closer, sinking its teeth into the soft flesh, ripping a chunk out of the throat. The scream died, the maiden convulsed, clawing at the zombies face and still Yau let it tear the mermaid apart, until there was only a torn up skeleton left- and when it was truly dead, Yau pushed her essence into the body and bought it back, sending the corpse back into the fight to rip her sister's limb from limb.

Those maidens that still lived stopped fighting for Tepil’s corpse and instead began fighting to get away. As they fled, Yau’s shout of triumph echoed around the cliff’s, and as the dead pulled the rocked away from Tepil, she turned from the sea to stare at Nan.

“He’s free,” she told the weeping woman, grinning. “And he will be buried and he will rest in peace.”

“At what cost,” Nan whispered, hugging herself. “Look at what you’ve done!”

Yau didn’t answer, she glanced at the God, who stood tall and proud, watching as the dead emerged from the water, traipsing across the sand.

“You are a worthy queen,” he murmured, “and the line will only get stronger through the generations.”

Yau turned to stare at her army, lurching and hobbling back up to the village. The people stood there, making signs against them, weeping when they saw someone they recognised, and Yau continued to stand there, blood dripping down her arm, soaking into her clothing.

No one dared come up to her, though she could already see the priests guarding against her. Her hut burned in the night. She smiled, glad that they had severed her ties to them.

Tepil stood at the edge of the grave site, and Yau stepped out of the circle. She felt the magic crack and break around her, and the zombies shuddered, the magic seeping out of them.

Yau moved as quickly as her tired body could.

“Tepil,” she murmured, and the corpse turned to face her. She flinched away from the face- rotting, bulging flesh turning her stomach at last.

Someone brushed past her, and she felt Amoxtl fading in her mind as he returned to his grave.

“I need a shovel,” Yau murmured, swaying on her feet.

Warm hands gripped her from behind.

“No, see- there is already a grave for your brother,” the god whispered in her ear.

Yau forced her head to move, and she could see it, next to the altar- a deep hole waiting to hold her brother.

She smiled, and looked at him, willing him to understand her final order.

Tepil moved, squelching, and Yau winced as strips of skin left a slimy trail where he stepped.

“Who dug it?” she asked.

“What are Godly powers for if not making my queen’s wishes come true?”

Yau smiled and watched her brother sink into the hole.

“Go to sleep now,” she murmured, her eyes growing heavy as her body gave into exhaustion. “I’ll see you in the afterlife, my brother.”

She blinked and the hole was filled. Nan whimpered on the grass.

“I have one last gift for you,” the god said. Yau turned.

Tepil smiled at her. No bloating, no half eaten face or eyes. He was perfect and solid.

“Thank you,” he said; his voice just as she had heard it the morning he went fishing.

“Rest in peace, my brother,” Yau said, smiling. “I will see you in the afterlife one day.

He smiled and nodded. The god lifted a hand and darkness shrouded Tepil. He was gone before Yau could process it.

“You are ready to move on from this place?” the god asked.

Yau crouched in front of Nan. The older woman wept, but she clung to Yau when she reached out.

“Thank you- for everything,” Yau said. Her voice was thick with unshed tears. “You were the only true friend I had. I’m sorry I could not be the daughter you needed.”

She stood and backed away from the older woman. Tears streamed down Nan’s face.

“I’m ready,” Yau said.

She felt him step close behind her, and the nothingness that enveloped her was like an old friend.

Yau accepted it; let it flow over her body. She didn’t know where she was going or what would happen to her once she got there, but she felt safe. Nothing bad would happen whilst she carried a god’s child within her, and after that… well, she would deal with the future when it came.

 

About the author

 

Leanne is a graphic designer and complementary therapist by trade. Writing is her escape. She lives in the middle of nowhere, England with her long suffering other half and three cats. Sometimes she emerges from her ever growing aloe vera forest and grumbles at the outside world before retreating back into the shadows.

 

Occasionally she blogs over on her website, but more often than not she’s hunched over her desk drawing and muttering to herself.

 

Other Titles by Leanne Fitzpatrick

 

The Bitter Taste

Runaway Dead: A Cherry Garcia Investigation

In the Hands of a Saint: A Cherry Garcia Short Story

 

Dare to connect socially

 

Twitter: http://twitter.com/AcidAmoeba/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterLeanne/

Blog: http://www.leannefitzpatrick.co.uk


The Bitter Taste

Life in the village is dull. Every day the same thing, right up until Tepil goes fishing. That simple act is the catalyst to tragedy, and is enough to push Yau away from her friends and her people. It opens the way a god to manifest anew and a dark power to take up residence in Yau’s soul- a power that will only grow stronger with time. Mermaids and zombies come to blows when Yau promises herself that her brother will be brought back from the depths, and the people of her village will learn what it is to scorn one of their own.

  • Author: Leanne Fitzpatrick
  • Published: 2015-12-10 02:20:06
  • Words: 7053
The Bitter Taste The Bitter Taste