The Magician Child – Chapter 2: Equilibrium

Dusk’s sobering curtain veiled the sky, its silver-blue relieving the blush and artifice of yet another twilight spent outdoors. The young woman awoke on the lumbering giant’s shoulder. The rhythmic thud of miles gone underfoot had cast her into slumber sometime during the afternoon. Now the thud awakened her, foretelling of another roofless, bathless, foodless night in the open uninterrupted landscape.

She whined and yawned, arching her spine back into its intended curvature. The giant trudged on, mindless, mechanical. She leaned into its great hairy ear and howled ruthlessly into the cavity.

Sleepwalking, are we? The giant sniffed. What of our agreement, oh monstrous being?, she chided in mock outrage. Half-mocking. For the most part, she merely found it eerie how the juggernaut could simply disconnect, and mindlessly perambulate the land. Hunger and discomfort were the ones responsible for the other half. The half that gave a pinch of sincere outrage to her voice. I pity you if we discover that we missed a village on account of your slee… Just then, the giant dragged a weighty forefinger upwards through the air, indicating something in the distance. Her starving eyes found the mark before the finger had completed its arc.

Salvation!, she cried. What is it? A farm?, she added less sure.

The pair entered the village under the cover of darkness. The last miles were marked by an incessant stream of voiced needs and desires to be forthwith assuaged. You know what, why limit myself… I can nap in the bath, you know, between mouthfuls… Yeees. Genius. Faster beast! The giant remained idiosyncratically silent. Which, consequentially, explained why it noticed first that something was amiss.

Huh!? Where is everyone?, she complained, personally affronted by the absence of village folk. She landed in the street noiselessly. Hello? Not even a breeze swept the dirt streets. No no no, she whispered to herself. You can’t do this to me, you hear? I am NOT sleeping outside again. She picked a house at random and tramped over to it. Finding its windows firmly shuttered, she raised her voice an extra decibel for good measure. Not even the dead and buried could turn a deaf ear to her summons. I knooow you’re in there! Come out come out!

Shooo! Shooo!

Huh!? 

The voice carried from a distance, originating somewhere behind the house she currently besieged.

Go away!, the voice came again.

Befuddled, she leaned over a fence and poked her head into the alley beside the house. Umm, who’s there?, she called out, dropping the pretence of her indignation. The alley itself was drenched in obscurity. However, on the opposite side of the next street, she could make out a beam of light from a half-open door. The light sliced a rectangular frame into the thick woollen darkness. Motioning for the giant to follow, she ventured blindly down the alley.

Shooo!

There, mid-air, on a second-floor balcony, stood a ludicrous little elderly woman in a nightgown, brandishing a straw broom threateningly into the air.

Shooo!, the elderly broomster repeated. Get!

The young woman hugged the wall as she side-stepped the recipient of the shooing into view. At first, she saw only a dark sliver of night, perhaps darker.

Wo!, the young woman’s arms went slack with boyish wonder as her eyes finally outlined the lanky mammoth of a shadow, barely distinguishable from the surrounding gloom. When her eyes reached the slender yellow eyes haphazardly adorning the apex of the indistinct form, she was positively gawking. Without relieving the shadow being of her unabashed admiration, she yelled for the giant.

Beast! Blindly, she reached back and found herself scratching at the looming giant’s ankle. It was all she could do not to drool. Both the shadow and the nightgowned broomster turned to look at her.

You!, the broom quivered menacingly in their direction.

Me?

No, not you. You! The old lady aimed her broom higher. The young woman followed the trajectory of the threat and found the giant intently gazing forward at the shadow.

Hey, she whisper-screamed to the giant, do you have anything to do with this? The giant did not respond. S’what I thought.

We have nothing to with this grandma, she parried rudely.

Take it back.

Take it back?, she repeated under her breath. Take what back?, she asked. I meant what I said, lady. She threw her hands up in passionate exasperation. What is up with this place? She threw a glance back at the giant, screwing up her face in a quizzical expression. Can you believe this old lady?, she jeered, and was surprised to find that the giant actually did. It stretched out from the alley to its full towering height and stood there quietly intent, consternation strewn across its face. Towering, and yet, she noticed, barely meters higher than the shadow. With a weary sigh, she stepped aside. She recognised that intensity in the giant’s eyes and knew better than to meddle.

Fine, you deal with this.

The two giants, shadow and flesh, eyed each other a while. The uncanny similarity in height made the girl glance back suspiciously. Whether the light sliding from the ajar door on the second floor was too dim to cast shadows, she could not decide. But it certainly seemed as though a shadow was not, in the dark alley behind the giant, where a shadow should probably have been. The stand-off endured. She noticed a few creeping figures surfacing from the shuttered homes, a few heads prying from the shelter of the unlit night. She wondered whether they hid from the shadow or the gi… An idea struck her then. She pranced slyly away, off to merge with the populace. The path to the satiation of her many discomforts had suddenly rematerialised before her. She moved to dissociate herself from the two gargantuan beings. She was mere paces from making good her escape when, to her dismay, the giants stirred out of their inertness behind her. Somewhere in their silent exchange, a bargain had been struck. The shadow had collapsed and slipped across the narrow street to merge at the giant’s feet. Despite the apparent resolution of the shadow problem, the hostility of the village folk had not exactly waned. On the contrary, it seemed that they now associated the giant’s arrival with the shadow’s assault on the village. A correlation that did not work to their advantage. To the giant’s advantage, she corrected herself.

Monster! Had she just uttered the condemnation? That her depravity could so completely out-fox her loyalty, amazed her beyond shame. Be gone, beast!

The village suddenly burst in outrage around her, echoing her brazen condemnation. She grinned, still hanging onto the thin veil of her cover. The giant lumbered off without so much as a glance in her direction. Whether this was out of excess loyalty or pure lack of wits, she would never know. The shadow, now attached to the giant’s feet, followed suit obediently. It danced upon the houses as it slithered past, pale now in the faint starlight. Villagers scattered like chicken-insects upon their passage, seeing the shadow’s touch about as favourably as a bubonic pestilence.

 

A storm-front had unleashed its full fury upon the land when she finally tracked down the giant’s encampment. Sopping and miserable, she crumbled beside the measly fire that sizzled sonorously under scattered post-torrential trickle. A pot was set there, upon the embers to stew and gurgle unenthusiastically amongst the pitter-patter of the sizeable raindrops.

Why do they hate me?, she at last muttered in raging unchecked self-pity.

The landscape brooked no compromise, offering no shelter in its vast desolation. The giant pinched the tiny ladle between its out-sized fingers and helped her to a serving of watery slop.

If I have another sip of your root soup, I think I will start sprouting some myself, she mumbled, nonetheless accepting her portion. She scoured her manifold accoutrements one-handedly. From somewhere under her lapel, she retrieved a worn silver spoon. From her sleeve, she manifested a tiny triangular satchel tied with a lock of hair. She rambled incoherently under her breath as she dissolved a smidgen of the odorous powder into the ardent murky stew.

Stuck in Jergraplis of all places. A conglomerate of any and all most boring characteristics of all worlds. Jergraplis, jergraplis. Should be a swear word. Ha! Jergraplis you. I jergraplis onto you. Yeah, that’s good. Shhhlp. Urgh. I hate this jergaplis soup. Hehe. Yeah. 

She dissimulated the satchel back into her sleeve in a seamless motion, re-accommodated herself on the rough ground and in doing so caught the giant’s glare.

What? It’s inedible, she said, matter-of-fact.

Behind, the giant’s newly acquired shadow frolicked upon the rocks and shrubs, swaying and flickering at the whim of the flames.

 

Partway through the night, she woke with a start. Something was scampering from within her arms and out of sight.

I knew it!

She stumbled after it clamorous in her groggy unresponsive body, but as soon as she left the area of their encampment, the trail grew cold. She ran back to the giant.

Didn’t you see it? It ran right by you. Wake up, you useless giant!

The giant did not budge. Furious, she crouched by the fire, glowering as she reorganised thin sticks into the weak embers. The rain had abated some, and the fire had nearly capitulated its doomed vigil. The rush of startled wakefulness faded and she was left gazing drowsily into the flames, rocking slightly on her heels as she squatted. Then she fell back into a deep dreamless sleep.

When she awoke the following day, they were already on the move. The giant crossed land as a weather pattern would. She rummaged through her mouth for saliva and found none. She lowered herself to the giant’s belt, found a stoppered horn, slung it across her shoulder and climbed back up to her usual perch. She unstoppered it and drank sweeping gulps of the tepid elixir therein. Partway through a sigh of utmost satisfaction, her sight met the giant’s shadow. Her eyes narrowed into the slits of a proficient sceptic. She glanced at her own shadow atop the giant’s newfound one. How could she not have noticed before? Or maybe she had but did not make a conscious note of it?

Whether in response to her doubts or simply out of personal desire, the giant spoke. As the beast was so rarely moved to words, she willed herself to listen carefully.

In the ancient culture of my people.., it said with the painstaking articulation one would expect an ocean to possess. The giant then receded into silence. She stayed attentive, exercising uncharacteristic amounts of patience. She held onto the first part of the giant’s sentence like one holds onto a breath. At last, another wave of words broke the surface: …the ceremony that marks the incorporation of our giant bodies.., the words trailed off again.

During the intermittence, her eyes returned to the shadow. Suspiciously, it seemed to respond to her gaze by being exactly, precisely… a shadow. And despite repeated efforts to surprise the shadow out of character, she only caught fleeting hints from the corner of her eyes.

…is characterised by the separation of giant and shadow. 

Hiatus. The shadow was slick. It never allowed itself to be caught off-guard. Were all shadows like this? She glanced at her own, rocking there on the giant’s shadow’s shoulder. Abruptly, she threw a fit of convulsive motions. She studied her shadow. Slick indeed. She narrowed her eyes. Maybe not today, she thought, but…

It is not well understood whereto the shadows disappear.

Her pathetic attempt at concentration had been in vain. The giant fell silent, and spoke no more. Her mind reconstructed the giant’s oration. How could so few words hold so much mystery? Her mind germinated with unanswered questions. Is this your shadow, then? Why is the separation necessary? And what happens now that you have merged anew? What size are you before you “incorporate” a giant body?

Deep down, however, she knew that answers would not be forthcoming, now that the giant’s rare bout of speech had ceased. And heroically, she managed to bite down the impulse to ask anyway. Glancing at the shadow brought back memories of the scene in the village. Although she could not be sure, it seemed that regardless of the world or dimension they travelled of late, people were somehow aware of their existence. It was a subtle thing, not so easily flushed out. Even in those that met their presence with indifference, it was a conscious, marked indifference. Sensitised to the distinction, it was almost palpable to her now. Even after the giant had left the village with the shadow, the villager’s reaction towards her had been hostile. Beyond mere wariness of foreigners. It seemed to her an informed discrimination. They could have singled us out of a whole crowd of strangers, she thought. As though they were unnatural beings. As though they were a disturbance to the order of things. And she wondered whether it was so.

Their pilgrimage carried on its course uninterrupted throughout the morning, and if the landscape altered at all, it was so gradual as to be unnoticeable. There was a message hidden there in the barren drifting land, and her eyes interpreted it as an invitation for sleep. In the early afternoon, she was jolted from a perspiring nap, by the absence of motion. She rose to find herself atop a rock spire. Disoriented, she stood, and, yawning extensively, scanned her surroundings. It seemed that even monotony could not last forever. At last, the landscape had broken out in rocky outcrops, erupting to dramatic heights in the wavering distance. It appeared that they had traversed quite a distance through this new landscape before the giant had elected to stop. She sauntered towards the edge and gazed downward.

Jer-graplis, that’s high!

Amongst the pillars, semiliquid floating spheres of a rich shade of ochre bounced at varying heights and angles. There was something playful about the flow of their bouncing that made her immediately want to smile. Ripples travelled their surface upon impact with a spire, then with a flawless absorption and transference of power, they rebounded anew. She studied the intricacy of their pattern of motion, marvelled at the untoward logic that governed the individual trajectories rendering collisions virtual impossible despite the wide variance in speed and angle. She conjured multiple sets of rules and tested them against the methodical interplay of spheres.

After much humming and hawing and many failed attempts at deciphering the pattern, her mind settled upon a much more fluid conceptualisation of the game. The set of rules born of this concept granted much more leeway for individual improvisation than she had thought possible at first. And this, in turn explained many inexplicable alterations that existed outside the realm of the pattern. Though rarely exercised, the sphere’s seem to conserve a certain veto to alter the pattern. And this was what gave the game its spice. This allowed for an individual sphere to change the pattern at the beginning of a cycle. The variation would play itself out, sending its ripples across the pattern for the length of a cycle and the sphere’s as a team would have to work out a strategy to return to the original pattern in time to start it anew.

This lent a certain precariousness to her predictions. And thus, the girl concluded, made the game much more enticing to play. She admired the creative intelligence behind the interplay and chose to pit herself against it. She applied her structure to the dance. Discarding the rare alterations form the results, her predictions came through time and again. As a last precautionary measure, she made sure the variations in the game ran their course in the same amount of time as a normal cycle. Satisfied that it was so, she was now certain that she could reliably predict the interwoven trajectories.

Now it was time to play. Patiently, she awaited an alteration to take place in the pattern. Many minutes passed as the normal cycle repeated itself amongst the spires.

There, she whispered as she identified the variation in the game. Holding count in her head, she stood upon the edge of the spire and stepped backwards until only the tips of her toes grounded her to the spire. She took a deep breath, letting the pattern unfold itself in her mind. When the time came, she surrendered herself to the void. The spheres carried on their bouncing, unaware of the young woman diving backwards towards the ground. Her intuition did not fail her. She landed directly atop one of the ochre spheres. In a matter of nano-seconds, the sphere bounced off her back joined the ground and was just about to rebound when the girl landed on it again. There was a moment of extreme tension as the transfer of weight travelled from her body into the sphere, and sometime during the transference of that weight into the ground, the sphere exploded catastrophically. She was driven straight into the ground by the devastating force of her remaining momentum. Ears ringing with the sheer deafening magnitude of the explosion, she twisted and wormed on the ground trying desperately to suck air back into her lungs.

When the asphyxia waned, her senses returned in a bolt of lightning, searing the length of her every nerve. The pain was so crippling, that she began laughing uncontrollably. And with every new wave of pain, her hysteria deepened. Spheres bounced every which way above her, only now with frantic, unnerved energy. Like an insect colony on alert. Understandable, she thought through the throbbing ache. And, with a barbarian exertion of will, she rolled herself onto one side, off of the defunct sphere. The ground was rough under her. Oh, how she wished her skin to be as rubbery and elastically forgiving as the spheres. On a hunch, she extended an hand to the nearest spire and brushed her fingers against it. The stone was polished smooth.

Well, that explains it, she whispered with a cough that made the back of her tongue taste like blood and dust. The spheres never touch the ground, she thought, laughing to herself.

The sun was low upon the horizon when she found the giant, sitting cross-legged, meditating opposite its shadow. The deflated sphere carcass flopped with a disgruntled smack onto the giant’s knee. She limped towards the giant’s hip and clambered up its tattered rags. She eased herself down stiffly in the crease between its leg and waist. The giant raised an eyebrow at her.

Don’t ask, she muttered, believe me. She winced and closed her eyes to the simultaneous concert of pain and relief of pain. The giant held the deflated sphere to the light to inspect it. Then its gaze returned to the pillared landscape. Something foul is afoot, it thought, sombrely. In its time of peaceful contemplation, it had seen the emergence of many spires. Even the one upon which the girl had awakened had arisen from the ground in the time since their arrival. A year would not pass, the giant thought, before the plague completely consumed this world.

As the great being contemplated this, the shadow inspected the collapsed sphere. It intimated to the giant that it should lower the sphere until it made contact with the ground. The giant, curious, obeyed the direction. And through a magic unknown, the giant’s shadow fed the sphere’s own shadow to itself. The sphere inflated itself between the giants fingers, as though invested with air and sealed itself around its own shadow.

Wo, the girl whispered wide-eyed. She had observed the phenomenon with bottomless awe.

The giant released the sphere and a ripple travelled its supple skin as it regained its creamy tone of sand-in-the-setting-sun. It settled itself, hovering weightless above the ground. The girl, suddenly inspired by the act of inexplicable magic, crossed her legs and closed her eyes in supreme concentration. An imperceptible wind cast her hood back, and her voluminous white hair bristled playfully above collar bone, as though to a rhythm of its own. Focus drew itself forcefully upon her features as a mental shuffle took place. Time stretched the fabric of silence to the apex of its tensile strength. The enterprise was not a simple one. She endeavoured to reorient her mind, moulding it into a welcoming vessel to the attainment of an appropriate state of flow for the task at hand. The giant slid a hand beneath her, like a paper gathering a spider, and lifted her before its eyes. The woman that now sat in his palm, remained oblivious to these outer-worldly happenings. Attuned to her every breath and motion, it marvelled at the curious little creature that was its companion. Its depthless eyes recorded the exact moment during which she achieved her desired state of synchronicity. Eternal peace washed over her like a swift, painless death.

Where had she gone?, the giant wondered, not indifferently. Gazing beyond its hand to the woman’s shadow spread long across the rough earth, the giant found its answer. There, it observed a slight oscillation ruffling the edges of her shadow. And from an oscillation, was born a ripple, and from a ripple an undulation, and so forth until, the dark formless shadow flailed uncontrollably like an untethered sail in a gale.

Oh, she said, simply, as she opened her eyes again. She was sitting on the sphere. She giggled light-heartedly.

When did.., the giant wondered, its now empty hand dropping to the earth, limp with stupefaction. One instant she had been in its hand, the next astride the sphere. The woman, it thought, shivering inwardly.

The girl glanced across at her shadow and found it exactly where it should be. Only, in the absence of the sphere’s shadow, it was oddly levitating, mid-air. She wondered what exactly she had achieved. Probably nothing, she thought, shrugging dismissively.

Onward, she commanded, triumphant upon her new mount, and, to her partial surprise, the sphere obeyed. And so they set forth together towards the epicentre of the plagued landscape.

The giant’s shadow stretched to impossible lengths ahead of them in the soft sunset glow. There seemed a bond there through which information was conveyed between the corporeal and incorporeal halves, marked by the periodical acquiescence and grunts emanating from the giant. The news it received was plunging it in an increasingly sombre mood. As they neared the epicentre of the outcrop of spires, the giant observed that the rock was acquiring the quality of glass. Its murky green sheen, like the congealed seaweed in lake water, reflected their likeness as they passed. The spires jutted from the ground at such density as they approached the source of their manifestation, that the giant soon found itself having to shuffle, rather than walk, amongst them. The spheres, having before avoided their passing, now bounced maladroitly around them. As though ailing or wounded, they grazed the edge of spires and bounced awkwardly against one another. Unable to justify such a sudden and widespread bout of ineptitude, the giant supposed it a defensive manoeuvre of sorts, meant to dissuade or distract from a certain vulnerability or weakness. Offsprings, or perhaps a nest. Whatever awaited ahead was being amply ill-omened.

Giant, what do you see?

Judging from the giant’s withdrawn state of consternation, she would have to take matters into her own hands. She stood upon the shadowless sphere, shakily found her balance, and then, using two opposing pillars, she launched into a series of acrobatic leaps. The sphere, using the momentum of her initial push, copied her movements. They rose in offset synchronicity and landed together atop one of the spires.

Yeah, she whispered in a jazzy tone. So cool.

Ahead in the near distance, the spires thickened to form a uniform rock plateau. The giant could barely proceed as it was, and so, in a motion of bestial might, it hooked a heel upon the plateau. As the earth quaked beneath her feet, she watched the giant who, in a monstrous exertion of power that might have skewed the world’s axis, mantled its way onto the rock. Still slack-jawed, she settled back upon her mount and together they embarked on a new stage of their journey in the bright beginnings of twilight. The clumped spires beneath their feet gradually sealed themselves as they went along, leaving only a few fathomless fissures to perturb the plateau’s otherwise flawless surface. The way steepened exponentially and soon the girl had to remove her boots, bare feet allowing for better purchase on the glassy rock. 

The obscurity seemed to deepen according to their proximity to the epicentre rather than by the hour. One had to ponder the wisdom of sneaking up to such portentous dealings in the gloom. The giant breathed deeply. 

Yes, I sense it too.

A depression formed in the rock bed ahead. From it, arose sounds of childish laughter, of innocence at play. Neither of the two practised pilgrims lowered their guard, weary of the barbed hook that might lurk behind the innocuous, the anodyne. Insidious evil wore many guises throughout the worlds.

What do you think?

They halted near the edge of the cavity and crept up to it, meticulous in their wariness. Together they peered over the brim of the rim and found themselves gazing down into a meadow overgrown with dark thick-bladed grass. The pair held their silence. As they watched, something tousled the grass below. The sounds of child-play echoed anew against the cliffs of murky glass surrounding the meadow. A few golden bubbles soared through the air. A child jumped, barely emerging from the grass, to catch them.

Up! Uuuup! Yuuuup!, one by one, he let none escape his nimble hands.

Hmmm, the giant grunted low, and when it was met with uncharacteristic silence, it turned to see that the girl had already gone. A noose was fastened to its out-sized little finger. The giant closed its eyes a moment, anguished at the girl’s fool-hearted nature. It sighed.

Halfway down the cliff, the rope came to an end. With a quick smile of admiration at her own reflection in the glassy obsidian green of the rock wall, she launched herself off and fell the rest of the way down. Upon contact with the ground, she tucked into a roll and tumbled to a stop a few paces away.

Lemon-squeezy, she said in a low voice, then winced at the lingering pain from her previous, much less graceful landing. She prowled forth, dissimulating her presence well in the grass. Though she could still hear the cascading laughter, what she found first was not the mysterious child. Scattered amongst the roots of the grass, lay lifeless spirits in their hundreds. She froze with horror. One could not fathom a more haunting sight. Her heart sunk to the deepest reaches of grief. Spirits were creative, benevolent beings revered in almost every world as good omens and bearers of lost wisdom. The child’s laughter was now irreversibly stained by the horrors her eyes beheld.

Tears welled as she discovered the extent of the massacre. Trembling under the weight of the unnameable feelings building within her, she weaved her way forward through the grass. When she located the child, a boy, near the centre of the meadow. She spied on him from a distance. Unaware of her presence, he skipped along between the dying spirits, gathering the escaping bubbles of gold semiliquid that leaked from their severed bodies which lay cruelly dispersed amongst the roots. Laughing, innocent, the boy splashed the bubbles against his bare chest. His emaciated body dripped with the golden ooze and still, way past the point of utter senseless destruction, the merry merciless game carried on. A short knife flashed into view as the flow of bubbles dwindled. The well of dying spirits was bleeding itself into a drought. Her own bubble of pent-up rage finally burst and the knife disappeared from the child’s hand before it could wreak its mindless barbarity upon another helpless spirit. When the child looked up and saw the woman holding his knife, he froze into place. Then, his eyes travelled the ground and the extent of his murderous frenzy, as though just now awakening to the evil of his actions.

I was just.., he mumbled. I was.., his lower lip quivering. The rest was left unspoken, as he ran and buried his sobs in the folds of her clothes.

Giant?, she screamed hesitantly, struggling to pry the whimpering child off her. Giant!

The giant lowered itself into the clearing, outstretched an impossibly long arm towards them and, with thumb and forefinger, pinched the measly brat away from the girl. The child, hanging limply by his shoulder, did not protest as he soared through the air. Rather, he simply dangled like a rag doll, sobbing and rubbing his eyes. As he noticed the giant’s redoubtable eye examining him, however, the child’s bearing altered with sickening swiftness. His mouth cracked open, revealing a wicked grin of serrated teeth. The evil flea sunk its teeth deep into the giant’s finger. Reflexively, the giant dropped the vicious creature, but then caught it again. When the giant unfurled its thick fist, however, the child had dissolved into a cloud of gritty smoke, which now trickled lazily from its fumbling fingers, leaving a yellow stain in its wake.

Look out!, the girl shouted as the ground below churned, casting an entire yard of grass into a downward spiral. Even as the wormhole materialised, she was dashing through the grass towards it, resolute to execute justice, whether or not it meant diving straight into the wormhole after the boy-turned-ash. She sensed the wormhole’s gravitational pull as she closed in. Then, she was met with a second, more powerful force that vehemently opposed her forward progress. She wrapped her hands around thick blades of grass and dug her feet into the ground and still she could not gain ground. It was as though her nature and the wormhole’s were mutually repulsive.

The giant stood clear of the portal and stood in awed silence, helpless before the wielding of such raw power. Observing an event, the likes of which, the worlds had likely never encountered. Still, the woman pushed, straining every ounce of her being against the invisible force-field. The air around her was suddenly set ablaze with innumerable luminescent orbs which began orbiting her body. In a burst of savage power, she screamed and took a step forward. The space between them began warping and still, she advanced. The sheer brutality of the energy emanating from the encounter petrified the giant. The space between shimmered with amassed heat and, for a second, the world witnessed the shimmering birth of a star. Then it all went black. The wormhole vanished and the girl tumbled violently forward, to land into a heap of scorched grass, unconscious.

***

Her return to consciousness manifested itself, at first, in details. Softly swishing grass, starlight, the smell of burnt earth. Time drifted past as she faded out, then in again. As the more general experience of consciousness returned to her, an inversion of perspective occurred. She no longer noticed the details as they made way for a less profound and more encompassing state of awareness. A single star became a night sky, a blade of grass, a meadow. She saw the giant sitting on the cliff’s edge, calmly conversing with a crimson spirit. One survived, she thought with detached interest. Then she remembered the massacre.

Only one survived, she murmured, devastated by the thought. She picked herself up unelastically to the thunderous protest of her every articulation. Taking whale breaths to steady her heart. The ring of scorched grass meant nothing to her. She stepped out of it, as though obeying a superstition not her own, and set off on a silent stroll around the meadow. She meandered a moment allowing her mind to fully rejoin her body. She could find no trace of the massacre, nor of the playful child, and hoped that this was not a result of the seething rage that had overwhelmed her. The grass swayed with a imperceptible draft, unveiling a weak golden glow to the corner of her eye. Instinctively, she cast a glance over her shoulder at the giant still communing with the spirit. Then she vanished from sight.

Only one survived, she purred gluttonously. And with a wolfish grin, she prowled forth on hands and knees. As she neared the golden bubble trapped amongst the blades of grass an evil glimmer traversed her watery unblinking eyes. A viscous green glow now flowed freely from the labyrinthine trove of her overlapping garments, casting shadows of avarice across her face, swelling her normally delicate features, grotesquely exaggerating the size of her eyes. The obscure underworld of the meadow, where danced silver streams of starlight hither tither upon the copper-hued earth, was set aglow with a wavering interplay of lavish gold and deep velvet green. She snaked forth, projecting black blinking shards of shadows as she went. She sang to herself in a hushed not-quite baritone.

Bu-bble. Bu-bble. Come give me a kiss. It’s time for a kiss, for bed, it’s time for bed. Shhh my golden love. Shhh. Shhh. Give me a kiss. Do it now. Now. Shhh. Now. Shhh…

And so on, her song fading as she came to a halt before its prison of grass. She sat cross-legged before the curious altar, humming as she worked, unweaving the blades which held the sphere captive. Once set free, the sphere immediately rose through the air.

Shhh. Shhh. Come down. Come down to me. Shhh.

She formed a depression below the sphere with a downward wave of her hand, and the bubble instantly responded, lowering in whimsical swirls. She eyed the floating orb with curiosity, yearning, need, hungering desire, and with a final look back—born more of a general feeling of guilt than of real intention of occulting her actions, for indeed, she could not even see above the towering grass—she reached for the radiant bubble. Delicately as one handles a moth, she gathered the sphere with open clawed fingers. Instantly, and despite her best efforts, the bubble burst.

Ooooh no, she murmured, wide-eyed. Go back, go back. You’re ok. Be a bubble now. The yellow liquid gushed into her hands and slid down her forearm. Her pupils dilated and the universe flooded in, into, inward, within. Surely, she would not be expected to contain it all, and yet, as assuredly, the universe poured endlessly in.

Woooooooo, she began. Woooooooooo. Wooooooo. Woooo. Woo. The onomatopoeic mantra assuaged nothing and yet, one could not be expected to swallow the entire universe in silence. Could one? She was in no way convinced of this. In, it poured. In. Until, as suddenly as it had begun, she had consumed it all. All was darkness without. And for a moment she did not dare glance within. She strove to calm her breathing, only to realise that there wasn’t any air to be breathed.

Oh, she exclaimed, dumbfounded, although the sound, having found no particles to vibrate inside the vacuum, never materialised. Oh, she thought, more accurately.

Woooooo, she screamed noiselessly as the universe contained within her revealed itself in a brief blast of ruthless sensory overload. Once. Then, again. And again. Like staccato seizures. No longer able to bear the polarising starkness of the vacuum-universe dichotomy, she chose to shut herself out of the vacuum, and fully embraced the universe within. Instantly, she was thrust into a mad careening rush of nucleic fusions and supernovae, of creation and destruction, of solar warmth and inter-planetary cold.

Wooooooooo. Wooooooo. The giant and the spirit turned to her. Woooooooo. Wooooo. Arms outstretched before her, knees rising to her chest, she trotted grotesquely, circling the meadow. The giant gaped, appalled. How such an innocuous, punch-drunk soul could come to possess such terrifying power, was a source of bottomless astonishment and despair to it.

The crimson spirit had fallen quiet. The mental whisperings, by which it communed with the giant, had carried heavy dismaying truths. Together, the peculiar pair of wildly opposite proportions—one gargantuan, the other infinitesimal—shared the intricate burden of the fate of worlds in solemn deferential silence. Spirits did not often confer with worldly beings, if any being at all, and the giant was honoured by the act. Both had learned a great deal from the exchange.

His eyes followed the girl’s silly parade around the meadow. It would seem that the mere fact of her presence wreaked havoc upon the worlds. The spirit perceived the child’s massacre as a direct retribution for the young woman’s crusade, her systematic upset of the delicate equilibrium of forces across worlds. Whether the child was the actual manifestation of this force or merely a pawn to its execution, the spirit could not say. Only that the status quo of the universe, by the nature of the conjoined forces that brought about its inception, was corrupted, to begin with. That whichever way one chose to perceive the universe as it evolved since its origin, very few benevolent forces had actually gone into its creation. The giant had come upon this line of reasoning while studying the origin-event. The Interpreters held that “one may reasonably extrapolate an inlaid slant towards destruction”, and they referred to the inceptive force—that of the creator—as “troubled”.

Moreover, the spirit alluded that their stumbling upon destruction at play, may not have been as coincidental as it may have appeared. The young woman’s fate, by some obscure accident of providence, was irrevocably entangled with that of these most destructive of forces. The giant had communicated that it was still unconvinced whether she consciously executed her role in the greater schemes of things, or whether she acted on instinct alone. And, could the same conclusion be drawn of the other spirit latent within her, the woman? As the pair watched from their vantage point, the girl’s extravagance had taken the shape of a series of tumbles and leaps through the tall grass.

Woooo, she yelped ecstatically.

The spirit had, in the end, communicated its desire to join their pilgrimage. To follow if only in order to further observe the abnormal cosmic phenomenon that was the girl. Not for the first time, the giant pondered the wisdom of such an enterprise, and found itself yearning for the rare moments of peace when the girl slept.

© 2020 Etienne Robert. All rights reserved.

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