Now voices are silent, like stilled wind-chimes or green mold. Before it all went kaput, crash, boom, there were whispers about the carved-out-of-soft-pine-wood boy who told fibs loud enough to reach every ear from Atlantis to El Dorado. Whose body grew incrementally with each false word. Expanding like silly-willy-putty. Heavy as a father’s calloused hand on his child’s knee. He was the type, they said before they said no more, who grew out instead of growing up. The only voice is his. Even the air can do little more than whisper across his body, diving in and out of the divots in the unfortunate softness of his wood.
Not all the living went under his body without resistance. Before the wood-boy crashed his pinkie over her head, a barren mother decided she would not be the last of her last name, and collected blood from her nicked finger, the salt in her eyes, and her last beet-root. She buried these under an ancient willow tree as gnarled as her fury. When she heard his screech of a voice say, “I am alone and I miss you,” she spat at the fat pinkie above her head and was smushed.
The mother wasn’t the last to die like that, but they were all dead now, so no one remembered her, because there was nothing to remember, except a growing piece of carved wood who covered the entire world, and the bones rotting-dull beneath him.
The past will be forgotten with no voices to sing it into the present, but a future born beet-red never does.
She came screaming out of the mud as only blood, salt and root can. Her head fit inside her mother’s skull, and this she wore because it was warm, and because there was dried salt in the sockets. As she licked, she tasted the memory of ire so red it reminded her of herself. She had no language, no voice, but she did have her mother’s rictus teeth and a belly full of hunger.
The fingers were easy to climb. When she touched his surface-wood, it came away in the clamp of her fist, and this she swallowed down the length of her. She heard him cry out and followed the noise, eager to find its source. Many days and nights she walked, stopping only to bend over to tear more of him for her aching belly. She shat out splinters.
When she reached his face, she was surprised to see he had one like the skull she wore, though his eyes were painted white with black dollops instead of a cavern of emptiness, and he had lips made of molasses, sweet stickiness.
He said to her, “You’re not real.”
He said, “They were mean to me.”
He said, “I’m innocent.”
Each time he spoke, his body gargled and grew, and the dirt groaned underneath. She did not know what his mouth noises meant, because she had no words in her head. Her nose liked the smell of those painted lips, and she reached for them.
“No!” he cried out, and thrashed his head back and forth. He made to pull himself up, but he was too heavy, and could only twist. “You’re not real, none of them were,” he said. “I’m as real as apple pie and vinegar. Don’t you see? Can’t you see I don’t deserve this?”
She snatched those lips off of his face. They tasted sour, and raw, and oozed down her hand like a wound. The absence silenced him, and it was delicious. She pulled off more pieces of him and passed them across her mother’s teeth into herself. When his wood skin scraped across her mother’s molars, the teeth clinked together in a sound as bright and delicate as the blue above.
A.A. Balaskovits is the author of Strange Folk You’ll Never Meet and Magic For Unlucky Girls. Winner of the Santa Fe Literary Arts Program Awards, her writing has been featured in Best Small Fictions, Kenyon Review Online, Story, Indiana Review, and many others. On Twitter @aabalaskovits