Subgalaxia: Ch 19

Subgalaxia: Legend of the Bai Book 4 by Chapel Orahamm, man in gas mask with hand gun and rifle sitting in front of ring and storm

Lights played across the fogged-up back windows of the car.  It smelled of cheap spirits and cigarette smoke. He was curled up under a thin blanket.  He had kicked off his shoes, and his toes were cold from the holes in his crusty socks. Melody had finally relented and let him use her as a cushion.  Da was driving. Mum was asleep in the passenger seat, her antique book of prayers lying open under her hand. It was late. They had been in the car all day.  Everything they owned was in the boot. They were heading for the channel crossing.

He was not sure why they had left all of a sudden.  All he knew was that his parents had promised curry out if he didn’t complain.  He’d guzzled his portion down quick enough. Now though, in the dark back seat, he was left thinking.  School had been all right. He was keeping up with lessons. His folks had something good going for once.  He thought they had finally settled down. They had said their new employer was letting them construct a new act they had dreamed of doing for years.  There had been enough money to put up the act and even got them in a nice apartment. He didn’t even share a room with his sister now. Or at least, did.  They’d probably be heading out to caravan with a bunch of other drifters in Romalga or Greko-Italia. It was mum and da’s tendency to jump ship and just carouse with a bunch of other free-spirited entertainers during the warm months and find brick and mortar housing in the winter months.

He watched flecks of ice slowly curl up in spirals on his window.  He did not want to move again. It was hard enough finding instructors who knew where to place him in dance and gymnastics classes from all his moving around.  They had been in the same school for more than five months. He had actually had pocket change in the last couple months to buy a chocolate or crisps every couple weeks.  It was a record. Could they have just stayed?

The anger drove at him.  Baited him. Bit into him and gnawed away at his gut.  He wanted to be a normal kid, with a normal family, and a normal education.  The night grew darker. The panel lights on the dash flickered. How could they move him again?  Kira shared her peanut butter sandwich with him yesterday. They had talked about reading the Hardy Boys.

Melody had cried herself to sleep against her window.  Her boyfriend of two months had asked her out to winter formal two days ago.  She had been saving up all her pocket money to pick up a white dress at the thrift store she had been eyeing since school started.  Did his parents not get it?

They lurched as the engine clanked.  Da peeled out, fighting the dead power steering, trying to get them to the side of the road safely.  Lights swamped the outside of the opaque windows, and the world suddenly slowed to finite detail. Glass shattered around him, and he went airborne as ice built up under the tires.  A semi came through the front and crunched the car until it was half its original size against the pile-on. It left Fane and Melody stuck in a coffin-sized space in the back seat, the metal warped around them.  Melody was unconscious, and he was left to watch blood drip down on him from overhead.

Fane released Dietrik and sank to the dull blue floor as he pulled them out of his memory.  His hands shook, and his body grew numb. Tears burned his eyes, and his stomach heaved. He stared up at Dietrik, horror and realization colliding.  He remembered. He hadn’t understood it then, but he could see every trigger with crystal clear clarity.

“I killed them,” he whispered in the dead silence as his stomach tried to come through his throat.  Corbin slid a bin to him as his empty gut produced too much bile. The smell of gasoline, motor oil, windshield wiper fluid and blood settled into the nooks and crannies of the space. His skin exuded the substance, leaving him smeared in black and red.  “Oh my god…” he slurred between heaves as the noxious odour tried to suffocate him from the inside out. “The road had been icy when there had been no storm. The theatre would go dark. The stage’s lights would blow. Half the time we had an electrician out fixing the fuzes.

“Days where the sewers flooded into the house because the rain was so heavy.  The rads never kept up. It was all there. Mum and da are gone because of me.” He swayed back and forth, his eyes losing focus.  

Ishan sank down behind him, gently holding on to his sides.  “Easy, easy, Fane. You’re right here. Stay with me,” he murmured.  He brushed back Fane’s hair from his clammy skin.

“How could I not know?” Fane shook.  He pulled his knees up to his chest, fighting to still the terror that flooded his system. The bulbs in the bridge burst, raining down thin shards of glass around the room. He buried his head in his hands, broken.

Ishan pulled his back to him, encircling his smaller frame protectively. Ishan glared up at Deitrik. “Fuck you, wolf. Happy now?”

Dietrik stood back, stunned.  He had not meant to drive the Shaman so hard.  He glanced at Bern who was confused at the variety of emotions that had transpired in the course of minutes.  “One of his earliest memories of his abilities,” Dietrik gulped as Bern eased out from behind the console and approached Fane.

“Let’s get him outside, Ishan.  The soil will let him root some of what he’s feeling, remember?  All right?” Bern soothed. “Meet us out there in a minute, Dietrik.  I need for you to tell me about the coming-of-age ceremonies for Red Hares.  Bring Cashia. He seems to have helped the white-haired boy during tragedy. He may be able to help.”  The orb was no grounding rod, no soil in which to absorb Fane’s emotions. Ishan pulled Fane up and followed Bern out of the bridge and down the cargo ramp to the shop floor.  The machinists looked up in surprise from their tasks.

“Anson all right?” Marsella called out from behind her welding rig.  Ishan nodded mutely to the woman as others noticed the commotion.

Bern hurried them through the hangar doors before a crowd trailed after them.  He guided Ishan past the field at the edge of the facility into the denser Florgia Everglades.  He pointed him to a soft, damp spot of earth under a palm tree. Ishan knelt down and carefully deposited Fane, who had gone listless.

“Memories can be incredibly intense and painful for us, Ishan.  Reliving them isn’t softened by time. It’s there and you’re there like it’s happening to you in the moment it happened.  Emotions from them can infiltrate and wind about the emotions you’re experiencing now. Corbin explained it to me like this: Red Hare are like two-way streets.  Where as you and I, we are more similar to a one way street with permissions for direction change. We can take in and put out across skin. Red Hare can take in and put out through skin contact and through the environment around them.  That produces and consumes an incredible amount of energy. He has overloaded. You will most likely learn more of this in time. You show the White Horse talent at a very small degree. He needs to be led through his memories, soon, before he becomes completely undone.” Bern took one of Fane’s limp hands and buried it beneath the wet soil, pressing firmly until water oozed around the prints.

Ishan mimicked Bern with Fane’s other hand.  Fane instinctively burrowed his hands further into the cool damp ground.  His hair fell around him to curtain him from the world. He breathed in the scent of rich decay and allowed the cold to run up his fingers and forearms to wash across his triceps and shoulders.  It slammed into the back of his skull like an icepick and all his emotions dulled.

“White Horses can absorb and pass emotions.  During our coming of age ceremonies, we introduce the components of what makes up a White Horse’s void.  Freshly tilled ground in early spring under a clear sky near frozen water has always been prescribed for that transition.  Legends of Red Hares tell of similar issues, that Red Hares needed the touch of the trees and the sea to take the brunt of it.  It gives them somewhere to put too much when they can’t store any more.

“This is the closest I know to helping him.  He’s swung between sorrow, interest to lust and trust to terror and anger. I don’t know what he’s capable of right now,” Bern admitted as they sat back to watch and wait.

“What happens during a coming-of-age ceremony, Bern?” Ishan asked as they watched Fane tunnel his fingers through the dirt.  The redhead fixated on the blades of grass and rotting leaves that littered the soil around him. His trembling was coming down, but he wasn’t quite there with them in that moment.

Bern pulled his hair back in a nervous tick.  He tilted his head and studied Fane, sighing. “My first wife’s mother and I conducted my son’s.  It doesn’t feel like that long ago now. I left him when he was expecting his first child,” Bern turned to smile sadly at Ishan.  “He’s dead now, and you’re one of his many times great-grandchildren. It doesn’t feel right.” He brushed a tear from his eye, leaving behind a trace of mud on his cheek.

“Son?” Ishan blinked at the man in surprise.  Bern nodded with a wistful smile. “I’m sorry, Bernard.  I didn’t know.”

Bern shrugged.  “It is what it is.  Now I’m here, and I know he made something of himself.  Anyway. Coming of age ceremony,” Bern shifted into a more comfortable position to watch Fane.  He hoped this discussion would not distress the man further. He had clearly been through enough.  “When White Horses start showing signs that their abilities are developing, we set them down for their markings.  Long sessions of tapping red ochre into their skin. It’s sacred to us for encouraging the memory walk. We begin with the low bar at the back.  It’s to introduce the concept of fear. White Horses are often marked around their tenth or eleventh year. That first year is the mark of pain, the mark of anger, and the mark of fear.  The following year is the void, which is a shorter line from the midribs on the left to the right upper shoulder. After that year is memory, from the lower rib on the left to the mid rib on the right.  Lastly is emotion, the long one that wraps from the front of the left hip up to under the lower rib on the right.

It’s significantly easier to do this with children.  They have so few memories to traverse, so few painful and angry moments of consequence that it is easy to bear the brunt of their rovings.” Bern laid the back of his hand against Fane’s arm.  “Still too hot,” the Fyskar muttered.

Ishan followed his example. Fane’s skin was burning to the touch. “Does he have a fever?”

Bern shook his head.  “In a way. He’ll be fine in a couple hours, hopefully.  I remember Eoin doing this shortly before his ceremony. He was playing with Bercilak and Osla.  Magaidh was supposed to be keeping an eye on them while they were down at the shore searching for cockles.  Cathal, Eoin’s cousin, joined in with them. Don’t know what they were doing, but he opened to them and ended up drowning in too many emotions.  He had a breakdown similar to this and ended up sitting on the beach well into the late evening. That’s when Magaidh told me it was time to mark him.  My own mother and grandfather had marked me, but I didn’t have many memories about when it started,” Bern reassured.

“What does marking do, though?  He’s been practically flayed already,” Ishan murmured quietly.

“Because of how rare White Horses are, and because they occur within families, it is the family’s responsibility to help guide the young ones through dealing with their memories, emotions, their void.  The marking causes us to enter a trance-like state where we can encounter our life and all it has been up to that point. This lays our life out like a tapestry, extensive and encompassing. It gives us the full picture of our life.  Seeing it spread out in front of us gives us focus, defines our void’s shape and provides boundary walls for our emotions.  

“Usually the oldest of the lineage, the one with the most life experience, holds onto the initiate as they work through their life tapestry and the other family member taps.”

“But he’s not White Horse,” Cashia greeted them.

“No, he’s not.  I’ve never met a Red Hare before Fane.” Bern looked up at Dietrik and Cashia coming into the forested nook they had found.

“The girls got the mechanics to leave back to the warehouse.” Dietrik sat down quietly next to Bern.  “Glad to see he’s siphoning just fine.” He nodded to Fane.

“Siphoning?” Bern asked.  He had not heard of that term before.  “We call it grounding,” he offered.

“Different concept.  He’s taking in the cold of the earth and letting it numb him from the inside out.  Glaciers work best, honestly. Deep freeze. White Horses are a spring creature. Red Hare are winter for coming of age. White Horses ground. They push their emotions out until they are hollow and empty.  He hasn’t let go of his emotions; he’s just masking them, covering them in something to make them bearable right now. He will come back to them when he can process them.  He may or may not remember much of today.” Dietrik glanced at Ishan then looked away.

“He’s drowning out the pain?  Like getting drunk or high?” Ishan hissed.

Dietrik shrugged and nodded.  “Less destructive on the body, but yeah, pretty much.”

Ishan let out a low his of frustration and anger.  Fane glanced up, his vision unfocused. “I’m still here, Ishan,” he reassured, though his words were slurred.

“He looks and smells like a machine shop.  What did you do to him, Dietrik? The Shaman is brittle as it is,” Cashia bristled.

“Had him confront a bit of his past after a volley.  He brought some of it with him. Wasn’t my best move.” Dietrik ducked the concession. 

Cashia dragged in a disdainful lungful of earth-drenched air and let Yeller take over “Leave you alone for half a minute, and you go sticking your foot in your mouth all over again!  Swear the next time, I’ll sew that trap shut. Should have let Nat break your ribs in Dallas. Maybe you’d remember after that,” Yeller muttered at Dietrik.  He squatted down next to Fane, who had returned to staring at the ground. He eased a hand on Fane’s back, keeping the touch gentle. The Shaman’s skin was burning to the touch.  He let out another exasperated sigh. “Fane?” he asked gently, trying to direct the man’s attention.

“Hmm?” Fane shifted, pulling his hands from the mud.

“You all right?” Yeller checked Fane’s eyes.  They had dilated to massive black orbs.

“I don’t think I could ever be.  My parents, my sister, Zephyr, Chief…” His fingers trembled, muddy water dripping from the tips.

“You are here and in the now, Fane.  Come back to the now,” Yeller persisted in an even, neutral tone.

“Why didn’t I remember until now?” Fane asked him, tears crowding, pouring down his cheeks.  A fine hiss of rain pattered the canopy overhead.

“I want you to breathe with me, Fane.  You need to centre yourself in the here.  Can you do that with me? Look around and find me five things you can see.” Yeller eased down next to Fane and took his hands.  He pulled in a breath as example, never letting Fane waver from his eyes. He let it out and encouraged Fane to slowly release his breath.

“The tree, the sky,” Fane breathed out in mimic of Yeller as he glanced about the grove, “butterfly, grass, mud.”

“Good.  Four things you can touch.”

“Your hand.  My hands are muddy; I’m sorry,” he apologized.

“Three more things that you can touch, Fane,” Yeller refocused him.  They continued the countdown with three things he could hear. Slowly, through this process, the oil disappeared from his skin.  Two things he could smell. His breathing and heart rate had steadied. What the inside of his mouth tasted like. The heat dissipated. 

“Your memories will come back to you in time, and you will have to walk through them like you are right now.  I won’t say it’ll be okay. It hurts like hell, and it’s not gonna be pleasant,” Yeller motioned for Ishan’s hand.  Ishan extended it, taking Fane’s muddy hand in his. “When you need to talk, we are here. Tell us when you need help and when you just need to let everything out.  Sometimes having a safe place to rant is a good thing. When you find these memories, you need to work through them and have someone with you.” Yeller eased Fane’s other hand into Ishan’s.

“You have not been put through your coming-of-age, by at least twenty years now,” Cashia took over for Yeller.  Ishan glanced at the wheat-haired blonde, nervous that this would set Fane off again.

“Tattooing, like Bern’s to cause me to go into a trance,” Fane replied back in monotone.  Ishan swallowed hard in the silence.

Dietrik and Cashia glanced at each other and then to Bern.  The white-haired man looked between the two pensively. “You didn’t mark them with red ochre,” Bern accused.  Cashia shifted uncomfortably, his gaze flitting across Fane’s shoulders. Ishan followed that nervous draw and turned to Dietrik for his own reaction.  He was trying to avoid looking at everything but a fuzzy unnamed spot in the distance. His skin had sallowed. “Dietrik?” Bern pressed after an uncharacteristically long silence from the two glendwellers.

“Glendwellers were slaves to the Bai.  It’s not like I knew all the intimate details of their lives.  I’d rather…” he swallowed hard, reaching for one of Fane’s hands.  Bern stilled it before he could touch. The man looked up at him in horror.  “Take it, Healer. I cannot say it.” Dietrik held his hand out to Bern. Ishan glanced at them uneasily as Bern took Dietrik’s hand and pulled him into the void.

They were silent for many minutes as they waited for the two.  Fane’s trembling had stilled as he waited for the two to come back to them.  “Would you even want a coming-of-age ceremony? You might share the lineage, but…”Ishan drew out.

“Would it help me control this?” Fane turned the question to Cashia.  A muscle twitched across Cashia’s cheek when he nodded as answer. “I’d rather not injure someone unconsciously with these abilities.  Especially you, Ishan. I know I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I froze you or shocked you or something. I need to get this tamed.”

Cashia had turned a pale shade of green as he listened to Fane.  He shifted uncomfortably at the admission and glanced back at Dietrik and Bern pointedly.  He ground his teeth.

Bern let out a long tirade of Scottish-Gaelic as he came to.  He dropped Dietrik’s hand and got up to pace. Ishan followed the restless man’s movement through the woods as he stomped and kicked his way through the leaf-litter.  Fane turned to Dietrik, pinning him under a contemptuous gaze. “Do I wanna know?”

Dietrik grimaced and stood.  Fane snaked a hand out and grabbed Dietrik’s forearm.  He dived in uninvited and took what he wanted. He clearly wasn’t getting the answered he needed, and he wanted an end to this quandary now.  He wanted at least one day back to a predictable normal. He was done with the ups and the downs.

He landed hard in a thicket of briars against a massive pine.  The earth smelled of cedar spice and fern. He peeled his eyes open and glanced around at ground level, taking in the detail of dried pine needles and a microcosm of ants making their way through the thorns.  He glanced around silently, trying to spot Dietrik in the gloom. There was no sign of him. He waited quietly for any tell. He laid down as flat as he could and made to wiggle his way out from under the thorns.  On the opposite side of the briar he shook himself off, only then realizing that he occupied the wolf’s body.

This was not where he was meant to be.  He was supposed to be in some far-off spot in China if memory served.  Instead, if he was going to take a flying guess, he would place the woods somewhere in a cooler region of Europe.

“You are not entirely wrong,” Dietrik responded to him.  Fane turned quickly in an effort to place the voice resonating through him.

“Where are you, Dietrik?” Fane demanded as he started trotting down a game path.  His sense of smell was driving him mad. He picked up rabbits and ravens, frogs and salamanders.  The rot of a tree held a nest of termites. He couldn’t even begin to define the number of pollen sources just within ten feet of himself.

“In a way, in you.  Your capacity to thought-steal has back fired on you.  You are strung too thin to direct the demand. Release the wolf body and try again,” Dietrik offered.

“Crud.” Fane shook himself once more.  He tried to relax. He circled. He sighed.  He scratched at a spot under his ear and closed his eyes.  The forest was dazzling. He was distracted. A weight settled across his shoulder and he found himself being dragged through suffocating layers of thick darkness to be deposited on Bern’s shores.

He gasped for air, coming to in his own body.  He looked up at Bern towering over him, a frown creasing the white-haired man’s brows.  “Bern?” Fane dragged in another breath.

“Never had to pull an entire being out of another man’s thought’s before.” Bern stared down at Fane.

“Hopefully, never again. That was terrifying,” Fane admitted.

“Felt weird.  Wouldn’t suggest trying it,” Bern supplied as he made his way over to his beloved log seat overlooking the ocean.  Fane rolled over in the sand and pulled himself to his feet. He sat down next to Bern and watched the waves.

“What did the Bai do to the Red Hare?” Fane finally asked.

“Extensive branding.  They looked like they wore hard leather.  It was crude. They would brush charcoal into the wounds to color in the stripes,” Bern gulped, trying to fight off the lump of fire sitting at the base of his throat.  The shoreline fell into silence as the two men sat staring at the waves, wrapped in their own thoughts.

“When?” Fane dragged out the question from the depth of his soul.  Bern glanced at the man, startled.

“About six years of age.  I couldn’t watch for long.  Dietrik had helped hold the boy down.” Bern twisted his fingers together as a shudder ran up his spine.

“I meant…” Fane couldn’t bring himself to finish the question.  He was having a hard enough time imagining committing himself to such an outlandish practice.  To have it performed on a child?

“You would go through with it?” Bern flung a stone out into the waves.  It skipped a beat before sinking.

Fane shrugged.  What was another row of scars.  He was already covered. “Have Sophia do it in the infirmary where it can be done in a sterile environment.  She’s a doc, after all. Dietrik can cough up the pattern. Then I can get over this thing and get some control.  Goal, right?” Fane’s smile wobbled on his lips. His heart pattered in his chest and his skin was going clammy at his false bravado.  “It’ll – it’ll let her set up her sensors and all that jazz.” The redhead left to pace to the water’s edge.

“They did it all in the course of a day.  You sure about this, Fane? There’s gotta be other ways,” Bern offered.  Fane turned to him, seeing the fear in the man’s eyes. He ran his fingers through his hair and turned back to the lapping waves.  “It’s torture!” Bern shouted. Fane flinched at the statement, all too aware of the memories that begged to be released at the edge of his own mind.

“Same as the tattoos, Bern,” Fane countered.

Bern came up short, rising from his log.  “It’s tradition!”

Fane turned to flash a dismissive glance at the White Horse.  “As was it for the Red Hare,” he played devil’s advocate.

“I’ve seen your scars, Fane Anson.  I’ve seen how you came about them,” Bern hissed.  

Fane watched him pensively.  “I thought that was the point here; make me bleed out all my fucked-up memories and get to the root of my problem?”

“I won’t be the one to put you back in chains!” Bern hissed and gained on the bodyguard.

“What is your problem with me, Bern?  You walk around me half the time on egg shells.  The other half of the time you tell me things you know will break me.  Outside of almost freezing your ass once, what have I done to you to get so under your skin?  Is it ‘cause Corbin and Sophia pulled you out of your own timeline, and you didn’t get to watch your son grow up?  Now you have to babysit some half-loon with hoodoo voodoo powers that can’t get a simple grasp on his own emotions?” Fane threw back at Bern.

Bern came up to look him in the eye, their noses almost touching.  Fire smoldered in the green depths. Fane didn’t dare look away. Heat and a burning desire pushed at him, wrapped up his spine and made him suck in his breath.  It wasn’t his. “You look the spitting image of my first husband. Your very void is shaped similar to his. I’m not sure how, but you are related to him in someway.  There is no other explanation.  

“That goddamn call of yours is practically blasphemous.  I feel him under my skin every time you do it. For my own sanity, I want you to get control of yourself more than any other creature in that warehouse.  I’ve been trying damn hard here to not get my personal feelings mixed into this, but the thought of seeing you laying there, going through with this, is like watching Rory dying of plague all over again.” Bern breathed hard as tears threatened at the corners of his eyes.

Fane took a step back in surprise.  “Jeez, Bern, I’m – I’m sorry, man. I didn’t…I’m sorry.”

Bern waved him off and made his way back to his log.  Fane stood quietly on the beach, unsure of what to do for the man.  He sank into the damp sand and watched the tide roll in the quiet dusk of Bern’s void.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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