I was only fifteen when I followed my older brother and his girl into the summer night. I’d never seen her before, but the blaze of her auburn hair and the oceanic glow of her skin drew me hungry and wild through the dark. To keep quiet I stayed off the road and listened to them whisper their way to the park. She hissed her S’s like a child, spoke in seventeen different voices, sucked snakes of smoke from black-paper cigarettes. Halfway there they stopped under an elm and my brother breathed her name. In the security of shadow I swallowed this word and savored the sweet slice of her thorns shredding my throat, the blue haze of her smoke coating my tongue. Then she checked the street to make sure they were alone. At the turn of her head I gazed into her green eyes and caught a glimpse of the decade we’d spend together in the dirt, her lovely flesh melting into mine. Seeing this I tried so hard to look away, but instead I watched her dig her teeth into the soft part of my brother’s shoulder. They didn’t make a sound as they pressed their bodies together.
Ringed by gnarled sugar maples, the park was a clearing of white goldthread and orange wood lily, a bramble of crimson hobblebush and mountain laurel. I lost them once they passed the park gate, but the charred-clove scent of her hair lead me to the trees. At the foot of a beech I found them laying side by side. Ten feet out I froze in place and held my breath, felt my body drip like wax into the dark. I knew she felt me there but instead she kept quiet and stared at the moonlit sky. My heart crashed and my fingers twitched as my brother’s hand neared the delta between her hips. At his touch her body curled like a sleeve of bark stripped from a birch, her hair a shower of rust on the grass. Watching her there a tumbling warmth vibrated through me, something I’d never felt before, a gnashing ecstasy of agony and helplessness. Unable to look away, I sipped a breath and felt the air leak cool to my toes. By now I knew I’d never return home again, never see Mom again, never watch a storm stain the sky again. My body wasn’t mine anymore. It was hers to drain and destroy.
Now she stretched her chin to the sky and fixed her green eyes right on me. In this moment she began to speak. From here I watched her shimmer like old seawater, but then something cracked in my head and I understood that she was not talking to me, that it had never been me, that none of it had ever been for me.
there’s someone else
Hearing these words I ducked behind the beech just as the choked groan burst from her throat. Sour tears slid from my eyes as I mashed my palms over my ears to block out my brother’s frenzied sobs. Hours later gray dawn bled pink through raw eyelids and I scrabbled through spiny grass to where they had been the night before. Both were gone now and in their place lay a grassless patch of earth in the shape of a girl. In seconds I joined her in the ground, scooping my way to her tomb, smelling her scent on the worms, her cool dirt packing firm under blackened fingernails. Finding her cold like March lakes I wrapped myself around her ruined form and mimicked the roots at our feet. Then, with the last lick of air on my face, I swept my arm in a circle and brought the hill of mussed earth down upon us. At last, we were together.
From here I hoped to join her in death, but instead I just fell into sleep. In my dreams I heard the restless hum of her voice, the lazy slur of her tongue, the wispy huff of her sighs. With these sounds she told me of her too short life and of what it felt like to die, but none of what she said made any sense. Her words were just formless containers now, ideas disconnected from the dirt, human things that had lost all meaning. Still, her hatred for my brother burned on.
For the next ten years we lay together and poisoned the land in the park. At two years the plants were dead and the ground was a bowl of mud. Another five years of storms turned the bowl into a reeking bog. By year eight there was nothing left but the ring of ruined sugar maples and a slime-capped cesspool of decay. It was here that I gave her each piece of my body and fed her growing lust for revenge.
At the start of our second decade I emerged from the ground as a wood lily. Baked red with the auburn of her hair, I waited at the edge of our bog, a lure to the man who had destroyed her.
Later that night he appeared. Staggering through the dark like a drunk, he clutched a gleaming gun in his hand. At the edge of the trees he stopped and began to sob just as he had ten years ago. Then he huffed three hard breaths and pressed the gun to the side of his head, but before a blast came his eyes fell open and he saw me at the edge of the water. In seconds he was kneeling beside me, his body a brittle twig, each arm a cratered field of scabby track marks. Leaning forward he reached out to pluck me from the ground, but in the dark he could not see the treacherous slope we had fashioned for him. In the end, he did not make a sound.
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A-Minor, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music.