J. M. Bédard
Bruised shadows flicker with activity, thousands of tiny lives blinking in and out of sight. The air whines and whirs and tastes of wingbeats and I pause for a moment, tongue outstretched. The whole world is a slow exhale. Cupped in a mouth, damp and close. Sweat drips softly from the bodies above and I walk on. I am coated. Sleek and slick. Made for slipping through the brush. The trees watch me as I move, sharp-eyed and unblinking. I hear them laughing, the colour of dust, as hungry fingers catch at my skin.
Deeper in the forest now, weaving within the bony lattice. The growth here is thicker, layered. Tight clusters of vegetation bleed into one another while limbs and hair tangle in the milky glow. A touchable brightness tracing new curves on old bodies: moonlight. Dappled through splayed fingers. The canopy wriggles gently though there is no breeze and the air is still, furred over at the corners with moss.
Something drops heavily against the back of my neck. Fleshy and damp. A leaf, delicate veins just barely ridging the palm’s surface. Only the thumbnail cracked. Hand in hand I trace its creases, then bring it to my cheek. Still warm, soft and worn. One finger murmurs faintly, tracing the line of my jaw.
Small rustlings at my feet, in the ferns, and between squirming roots the tall grasses quiver angrily. They spit quick chatter through bared teeth, ancient faces atop delicate blades. I step lightly around a tall stand, dipping to avoid their snapping, and press on.
Darker now, purple and velvet. I tug a bit of evening around my shoulders as a cape. Purely a comfort as the heat continues to beat against me, around me. Fine chains of steam whisper through cracked lips and from between curled toes. I am close.
I blink the damp from my eyes, ignoring the bending trunks and branches. They are dancing, glinting. Panting. Ropy sinew swings festively, vines winding towards me through the haze. I almost miss it. The edges that don’t quite meet, the slivered air. A clean slit this time. There is beauty in precision, I think, and stop to admire it for a moment. I move closer. I don’t notice the small clutch of hands burrowed into the skin on the backs of my legs.
The ground begins to tremble, rising up. Lumpen and lively and rolling in ripples, I struggle to keep my balance. One foot punches through the crust and briefly, terrifyingly, hangs unsupported below. Something licks a toe and I wrench myself free, crashing about. We are all gasping. I fling myself forward, scrabbling. Scrambling. And the plants and the ground scrabble against me.
The seam winks. I catch a draft of cool sea air, briny and salt-caked. Fried food and crispy skin. A different kind of water, crunchy with bleached shells. Snatches of conversation, spackled in sun. Bright shards studding the waves. I heave forward. Something pops and hot pain flushes down my leg but I keep going. Dragging, breaking. Snapping fingers and gouging eyes at random, sticky now. Covered in others.
And then I make it. The slice is stuttering, staticky. It judders about, blurred and frantic, as I heave forward. Stuff chewed fingers into the gap, pull, and pull apart.
We rip as one, twin seams screaming. I am torn and yet still tearing, impossible to stop now. Split and burst, raw and flayed.
It is then that they greet me, a flurry of open arms and open mouths.
J. M. Bédard (she/her) spends long runs getting lost in other worlds, and writes to find her way out. Human, Too, her collection of dark, surreal short stories, was published by Dim Shores in April 2021.
A Song for J.M.