For as long as Kiran could remember, her family was always there. Her parents, her grandmother, her stupid brother constantly attempting to pull idiotic pranks on her. They lived in an old home at the top of a steep hill, trees surrounding three quarters of the view while the other fell away to the distant horizon, red and yellow and purple shadows cast against the mountains below them. In the morning she would wake and stretch, the dim sunlight leisurely draping across the room.
She remembered the cool morning where dew coated every contour of every being outside.
The dampness seeps inside and she warms herself with near boiling water from a kettle fetched upon a stove and poured into a ceramic mug hand-crafted generations ago. The tea is loose. The sliding glass door creaks as she pushes it aside and steps into the mist, the heat of the sun and the stillness of the humid night air shaking her awake. Everything is coated in yellow. She wraps her scarf around her neck and pulls the hot liquid close to her lips. She inhales and exhales steam. She hears them stirring, slowly, inside.
Here, now, inside this unfamiliar room, surrounded by a yellow hum, she can’t remember their faces. There are vague images of wrinkled skin, of kind eyes, of lips moving, sounds imparting wisdom.
She can smell breakfast wafting from inside while she watches birds soar through the air. The colors are more vibrant than they had been for as long as she could remember. She clutches her arms around her and closes her eyes.
“Kiran!” the voice is faint, an echo reaching up from river valley below.
She sets down the mug of tea and stretches her arms out wide like wings. She can hear them calling to her from the inside, shouts of you’re not ready, wails of placations, pleads, please do not leave us my light of the world, you are not ready, you are not ready, you are not, like she is a thing waiting to be baked, to be complete. Kiran pulls her coat over her shoulders, tightens her yellow scarf around her neck, steps up to the railing, and jumps but does not fall as she descends.
“Kiran wake up!” the wind calls.
She wiggles her toes and finds her footing before soaring high into the sky. The voice is familiar but not of her past. Her brown hair whips in the wind. She tips her feet and presses her forehead down and surges through the valley. For a moment she feels like a ray of light piercing the atmosphere. She pushes ever forward, ever forward toward the dirt beneath her.
“Kiran!” the shouting surrounds her. “Kiran where are you?”
She plummets until a plume of dust beats up around her. Born from this place but not of this place, she stands, her back to the sun, motes suspended in hazy prisms. She opens her eyes and breathes.
“What the hell did you do to her?” Fish tossed the words upward.
“I did nothing!” Attila shouted, his voice quavering with age, the sound of bark deep within his throat. The roots of his tree spread out from his trunk like spider webs and crashed up and down through the tiles like a sea serpent straining for air.
“He didn’t do anything!” Duri echoed in between bites of a brightly colored fruit. It’s juice dribbled down her chin and onto the dark red sofa she lounged upon in the corner of the room. “I should know,” she added. “I was here.” A sly grin spread across her face.
Fish stood to the fullest of her height yet concealed Green deep within herself, “Seeing and knowing are two different things, you know,” she spit.
Kiran hung suspended in the air, her arms neatly crossed against her chest, her feet dangling toward the ground. She was lit up in a hazy yellow hue. She was the only source of light in this otherwise dark room. Her hair twirled and danced as though she were underwater.
Fish planted her feet. She had tried shouting for her but Kiran did not stir to any call. She eyed the old man in the tree. Kiran had only briefly mentioned his apparition when they first met, but she had tossed it out so languidly that he hadn’t seemed important, an inconsequential step in pushing her in the right direction. Now that she stood beneath his foliage, Fish could sense the power on him. He radiated it, like the stillness before a storm.
“The beacon,” Fish’s demeanor dropped.
“Yes!” Attila boomed. “The beacon.” His thin white hair hung across his scarred and weathered face. His hands extended into branches that rustled whenever he spoke. He was one with the trunk. “You can stop trying to hide your devil, you know.” The way he said devil, like grinding teeth, made Fish reluctant but Green burst out of her chest and surrounded her, its colors oscillating lighter and darker.
Attila’s face moved in closer, his eyes growing wide and then narrow, squinting, trying to read the space between things. “Or whatever it is that that thing is,” his lips pursed in a crooked smile. “Curious.”
Green shook the room. “Back off!” Fish scoffed. Her power may have felt new, but she had been at this for as long as anyone else she had ever known. When she was a child, the Twins would occasionally bring in guests to showcase what was possible when one had truly merged with one’s companion. They were horrific beasts, a shadow of person, merely a husk for the writhing energy inside of them, their skin rippling and protruding unnaturally. Their power was always uncontrollable, forever at the whim and mercy of the thing they so dearly pledged their life to. These were the tricksters, the ones promising infinite prowess only to pull the control out from under you once they sunk their rows of teeth into your skin. Attila was not one of these. He was fully human and fully something entirely other, together, in harmony.
Fish peered at the girl on the sofa, clearly comfortable and clearly human. Duri raised her eyes to meet Fish’s gaze. “I’m her roommate,” she said with her mouth full, gesturing at Kiran. “Or was. You know, I have no idea what the fuck is going on right now. I was at school. I had a roommate, a friend, and I always wished for some fun college experiences, but holy hell I have no idea what I got dragged into.”
“You seem cheerful about it,” Fish said.
Duri took another bite of the piece of fruit, an oblong red thing unlike anything Fish had seen before. “He gave it to me,” she shrugged at Attila, sensing Fish’s question again. “And it is amazing! It just puts everything into, into, oh what do you call it when everything makes sense suddenly and you no longer care?”
“Brainwashing?” Fish hedged her bets.
Attila laughed loudly and the tree swayed back and forth. He closed his eyes and inhaled, the air in the room seemingly dissipating with his breath before he sighed and let it all back out. “Perspective,” he said. His voice was ancient. “Now, now, aren’t you going to ask me why I brought you all here?”
“No,” Duri said. “I really don’t care. I just want to know what’s up with her.” Kiran’s body had not flinched since they had arrived. “She didn’t used to be so bright and yellow, or, you know...floaty.”
Fish clenched her jaw and walked up to the trunk. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name.”
The tree rumbled and shrank, each piece of bark compressed and pressed into the old man’s back, his skin twitching and growing until he stood on the ground with two human feet. His back hunched over and he struggled to catch his breath. He coughed and his body nearly gave way. He placed a gentle hand on Fish’s shoulder and gestured toward the couch.
She knew it wasn’t his demeanor that suddenly made her feel calm. It wasn’t that Green had dripped away and retreated into her. It was him. He made her worries fade.
He plopped onto the sofa and placed his hands in his lap. He looked at Duri then at Fish and then at Kiran before letting his eyes wander into the distant past. “Do you ever wonder what happens to our companions when we die?”
Fish shifted on her feet.
“Our lives are but a fraction of theirs,” he continued. “And yet they sacrifice so much to spend time with us, to lend us their power, to work together in harmony. I do not know why they do it, but I know that it is not for naught.” He smiled and met Fish’s eyes. “My name is Attila, my dear, and I am dying.”
by Dan Diehn