Sunny is a short story from Dan Diehn.
If you're just joining us, you can read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV,
Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X,
and Part XI to catch up with Kiran and Fish.
Waiting for death was a boring affair. Attila did not know when it would grab ahold of his body; he only knew that it was imminent. His body spoke to him when his bark creaked and groaned, brown leaves twirling toward the ground, shriveled and dry. His entity, his companion, sensed it in his blood, his oxygen, his being shaking as the death rattle approached. Each word became more strained, each movement labored as though the atmosphere itself were getting heavier, made of a viscous blob wrapping its amorphous arms around him and squeezing tight.
Fish could see it in his eyes, the fear of losing all of his memories, his words. Each time he faltered and started again she saw the frustration welling at the edges of his vision. Even a few days ago, when they first arrived, he was stronger than he was now, though Fish could not be certain that he hadn’t been putting on a ruse, a show of force.
“Why doesn’t your,” she searched for a different word but came up wanting, “your… god, why doesn’t it keep you alive?” She was seated in front of him, at his roots, cross legged and hell bent on not snapping at him again. The man was dying, she thought. Give him these last moments.
Attila’s eyes were elsewhere. When he dreamed he visited his memories and the memories of those before him embedded within his once young sapling deity. He had lived lifetime upon lifetime within his small timeframe on the planet. What he had seen extended beyond life itself.
“It is my time,” is all he muttered, a stern look spreading across his tired visage. His tree drooped to one side and he spread himself out amongst the branches, his white hair draping the side of his face. When he spoke, it rustled in a calm breeze that precipitated a storm.
Kiran still slept, effortlessly floating. “Stasis,” is what Attila had said, “she’s waiting until the time is right.” He never explained how she knew. How he knew. How they had found them.
“You need to ask her,” Fish pleaded with him.
Attila patted a branch and said “Why do you think she’s here?”
Duri scoffed. She was not accustomed to this kind of talk, let alone the idea of supernatural beings in the first place. She had been raised with a practical bent, one focused on reason, result, and repeatability. Her parents had little patience for fantasy and preferred words like ingenuity, resourcefulness, or wit. Duri would usher in a new age of humankind’s relationship with the machines, unlocking their secrets and developing a whole new way to live. No pressure. She had never met anyone like Kiran, so whimsical and odd. At first she had found Kiran’s peculiarities frustrating; now she just wanted her friend back.
When she first arrived here, she was giddy with the absurdity of the situation, unable to reconcile the reality of it any of it actually fucking happening. She figured she was dreaming, a hallucination after the creepy dude in the library pounced at her, his machines protruding from beneath his skin. She shuddered at the thought of him. Jack they called him.
She ate the fruit of Attila’s tree and she slept, hoping that when she next opened her eyes she would be back in the dorm, Kiran snoring above her, mumbling in her sleep. She wanted to go home, back before the shadows in the corner of the room contained things, back to school and finals and the stress of grades, back to mundane conversations with peers, back to papers, exams, reading, back to life.
When she woke and found herself in the same dimly lit room, Kiran giving what light she had to the air, she cried, softly, merely a whimper. The others were asleep. She tiptoed her way to the front door, two massive hulking beasts with ornate and violent imagery engraved in them eons ago. Given their size, they opened more easily than she had expected, revealing a thick forest of trees, no path extending beyond her feet.
She lost her focus and stared ahead as the woods swayed back and forth. She imagined herself swept up in their branches and could feel the bark beneath her skin. They spoke in a language not unlike digging your feet into the sand and letting the tide drag you under. She wanted the waves to wash her out to the ocean, the salt water pouring into her throat, weighing her down and out to the abyss.
Duri did not realize that she was screaming until she felt Fish’s arms wrap around her and wrench her back into the room. She was gasping for breath and vomited seaweed. Attila rustled awake, at first bellowing about how stupid it was to open the door and then softening when Fish’s dagger eyes met his.
“Why have doors,” Duri coughed, “when they don’t lead anywhere?” She was exhausted. Her body felt limp on the cold floor.
“The doors lead to everywhere, my dear,” he corrected. “The forest is a concoction of my own making, “he admitted. “A necessary evil to keep others at bay. My apologies for not mentioning it sooner.”
The subject of Duri’s presence occupied the conversation the next day. She, herself, was of two minds about it, not wishing to abandon Kiran but of longing for normalcy. She wondered how much homework she had missed and how many assignments she would be allowed to make up. Attila’s power was too weak to travel and his entity refused to expend anymore as it shored up for the transfer into Kiran’s body. Green would not leave Fish’s aura and Fish herself could not zip her back to reality without Green.
“Is there anyone you can call?” Attila asked. The question seemed odd in it’s simplicity, half expecting him to suggest some ancient means of teleportation, words obfuscated in poetry and quotes from former summoners.
“Well,” Fish scowled, “I do know a few that could help, but I’d rather not. Hashtag…” she paused, “...Hashtag would just get involved.” The word involved sounded like an insult. “Jack on the other hand; Jack is stupid.”
Duri stomped her foot down. “No way in hell am I travelling with any of those psychos. I met Jack and am still not convinced this is a nightmare he somehow trapped me in. I don’t know Hashtag but I already hate him just by the way you’re talking about him.” Fish laughed a little too hard and then agreed. Duri was stuck with them, for better or worse.
And so the unlikely trio waited. Attila had never truly planned for guests and so the building was under furnished and quite boring. They occupied themselves with conversation, with quiet thought, and with silly games, the pangs of guilt crashing down whenever they laughed or smiled, knowing full well that they were in the presence of such a solemn and permanent ritual. Fish wished she could help in preparation of the god transfer, but Attila assured her that everything had been set in motion years before. There was no stopping it now, no lever to pull, no button to push, just death and the steps that followed.
They were all so distracted waiting for a big moment, a watershed memory of this, this is when Death stood before us and dragged Attila away, that they did not even notice that it had happened. He was splayed out amongst the branches when his snoring stopped. Fish and Duri were idly chatting when Green wrenched itself from her and stood tall. She had never seen Green quite like it looked now, shimmering, still, like it was praying or in salute, paying respects to the dead or new life.
Fish and Duri stood and watched as nothing happened until slowly the tree receded its growth, shrinking into a tiny sapling again, Attila’s lifeless body dumped unceremoniously on the ground. The sapling bore underground and wiggled its way beneath Kiran. They all held their breath. Fish suddenly thought of running to Kiran’s side before the inevitable. The floor rumbled and it burst out beneath Kiran and consumed her whole. Duri swore she saw her eyes open just moments before the impact, a look of terror flitting in their edges.
The tree grew into the ceiling and then beyond. Chunks of wood splintered and heaved before crashing down nearly upon them. They ran and covered themselves futily. Green rushed to their aid and build a canopy of teeth that deflected any shard that dared near them.
As quickly as it grew it stopped. Fish and Duri raised their heads. To call it a mere tree would be to do it disservice. Massive was not the right word. It spanned worlds, stretching beyond standard matter and energy. It was a conduit, a great chain linking dimensions of reality.
“What the fuck?” Duri swore.
Fish nodded in agreement as she cautiously approached the trunk, now bigger than the room itself, the far wall collapsed into rubble. “Kiran? Kiran are you there? We missed you.”
Attila’s voice was distant but clear. “Oh you stupid things. Kiran’s gone.” The bark split at the trunk and ripped apart side to side until a small doorway formed at the floor.. A young man hobbled through, his long dark hair draped across his face. His eyes were the same, but his youth had returned. Attila stood straight and tall. “I am almost sorry for deceiving you two,” he gestured toward Fish and Duri, “but I am not ready for death and your friend,” he mulled the word over in his mouth, “provided me the perfect out.”
“Where is she?” Fish spit through gritted teeth.
The tree laughed. Attila turned to quiet it. “It, Kiran, has been expended.”
“To keep you alive!” her voice shook and Green swirled around her. Lightning nipped at the edges of her aura and rain began to wet the ground.
Attila looked to the sky, bemused by the weather. “Precisely,” he said. “Now if it’s no trouble to you, you’ve long overstayed your welcome.”
He waved his hand and a mountain sized branch waved with it. A strong gust burst through the room. Fish and Duri held out their arms in resistance before it swept them up. The pressure gripped them tightly and they passed out. When they woke, it was dark, both their heads ringing with dull pain.
“Hello there,” Jack beamed. “I lost you for a while. Welcome home.”
Fish groaned and rubbed her eyes, her temples. The hallway extended in both directions, fog swimming in the distance. Doors lined the walls and Fish knew what was behind them. She was back, the first home she truly remembered. The mansion in the middle of the dancing forest.
From nowhere, a bell rang. Jack licked his lips and said “I guess it’s time for dinner.”
by Dan Diehn