There is a dull ache in my arms and core. I plunge my paddle into the inky black abyss below once more, setting off another round of ripples.
“Here?” I ask my ‘partner’. She rests against the stern, never once offering physical aid. She pulls her gaze away from the water, watching me with silver eyes, illuminated by the flickering light of the lantern she holds. They flick to the water again and back.
“No, further,” She says, unchanging in posture.
“No names!” she says abruptly.
“Say a name, boy, lose your tongue,” The cloaked girl says.
For several minutes we drift. I want to ask, but the time for speech is done. I don’t know when it happened, whether it was gradual or at once, or even how I noticed, but now I know I can’t not take note. There are no distant crickets, singing their midnight song. There is no wind whispering in my ear. There is no water lapping at our humble vessel. There is just us floating in a void as if all sound was greedily slurped away by a thirstful child.
But how? Surely the crickets didn’t stop chirping? A force still comes through my tousled black locks. The sensation of rocking is still evident beneath my boot-clad feet.
I turn my attention back to Myanasi. She is on her knees, hands clasped together and eyes held shut. Silence. She cracks open an eye and nods at the lake. I wait for further confirmation, but her eye closes, staring sightlessly across the lake.
With no other options, I gingerly brush my fingers across the smooth surface. For some reason, I feel oddly compelled to lick them. Bringing my hand up to my mouth, I spare a glance at Myanasia. Surely, after all we’ve been through she wouldn’t let me do it if it would kill me. With that, I touch my tongue to my fingertips.
Then her voice comes to me. “Drink the water,” she commands. She does not speak the words, yet they reverberate in my mind.
Drink the water.
I cup my hand in a makeshift bowl, submerging them in an attempt to catch as much as possible, then bring them to my lips. I till my head back, allowing the cool, refreshing, liquid in. It tingles as it travels down my throat.
“Clear your mind, open your eyes, free yourself from the gyves of illusion”.
I open my eyes.
A layer of fog rolls in, surrounding us. For a brief moment, I swear the swishing sound emanating from its mass is voices, incomprehensible voices, all tangled and twisted.
“Straighten the line, you're running out of time”.
I concentrate, my thoughts in shambles, a headache like a pickaxe to the brain.
Let...be...all who. All who… breaketh thee. No, no. Let...be-SEE-Let see...all who...break...break...with...reality. Let see all who break with reality.
The world drops. I scream, but can’t scream. Twisting, turning, distorting. Pull, stretch, push. Shove, wind, smush. Loop, bend, curve. Black…
I wake onshore. I stand grasping my head as I look down at the- “Blue grass?”
“Never seen blue grass before?”.
“Not that glows!”. I pivot, staring at the stranger. “Who are you?”
The spirit before me appears to be a boy about my age. He wears a tux, top hat, and monocle too. While that is a bit strange, what marks him most clearly as a spirit is...well...he’s blue, an azure glow radiating from his skin, hair, eyes, and even the suit.
“Well, stranger. You must not be from around here, for much of the grass glows blue. It’s my color, do you not think?” he says, a charming smile gracing his lips. “And to answer your question, fine sir, my name is Maz, spirit of river drowned souls. And you are?” He asks, not giving me the chance to determine whether or not his words were intended as insults.
“Ought to be stupid if you answer that,” a more familiar voice calls out, as she races forward, seizing my arm.
“Oh, but Myanasi, my dear friend and soul walker. Shall you always deny me the chance to feel human again. I can not even carry out a greeting any longer. Just let me have a hint of normality”.
“We both know that a ‘conversation’ wasn’t what you were aiming for,” she says, glaring at him. He shrugs.
“I can dream, can I not?”.
“You can’t have one of mine, especially not this one. He has potential”.
“Oh, but he is a slob, like swine, he would be so much better if mine”.
“No, that’s final, Maz”.
“A shame, a true shame,” he says, shaking his head as he disappears within the blue foliage. “Tsk, tsk, tsk”...
“What...was that about?” I ask a bit belatedly. There is a moment where I could have sworn she was going to hit me, but instead, she sighs, shaking her head.
“Never, and I mean never, in this world, or anywhere connected to it, tell a spirit your name”. She makes no move to explain, so I just nod.
“Uh huh...So, ah, where is this place anyways?” She hits me with a look, contemplates it, and decides on, “Welcome,” jazz hands. “To the spirit world”.
“You took me to the spirit world”.
“You took yourself to the spirit world”.
I look down, seeing the slightest trace of a glow emitting from my hands.
“So,” I ask as we walk the shore. “Am I completely here, or is it like my soul is here, but my body isn’t?”
“Your body,” she says, pointing at the lake. “Is there”. The fog clears and for a brief moment, I can see my body, alone, slouched forward on the boat.
“Where’s your body?”.
She stops walking.
“You are looking at it”.
“On the boat?”
“But...how does that work? It doesn’t make sense that-well actually, none of this makes sense, but by whatever logic this place has, shouldn’t your body be in the boat as well unless...you’re just a spirit?”.
She...just laughed...didn’t she?
“Yes and no. I am a soul walker”.
“Uh huh,” I say, squinting my eyes. She sighs.
“A soul walker,” she clarifies. “Is someone who has bound their body to their soul. This means they can exist fully in either world”.
“There has to be a catch. There’s always a catch”. She chuckles at that.
“The work? Honor? Expectation and responsibility? Insanity, by those who can not see the others? How about death, a more complete death? Take your pick?” Her laugh seems to echo, surrounding us completely.
“The...existence of a soul walker is by no means standard. We have many gifts and curses alike. Each difference isolates us. You should know, with your one gift alone, people pulled away”.
“I saw what you saw”.
“And more,” she agrees as we stop at an opening in the ground.
“Are there others, like me?” She nods.
We continue through the opening.
“Will we meet them?”
The walls seem to glitter, pulsing, with light from an indeterminable source.
“That depends on you”.
My hands appear to be increasing in brightness with each step we take
“Yes, your choice”.
She glows too.
“Are we almost there?”
Streaks of silver, purple, blue, and gold.
“Where are we going?”
“The place where spirits are judged”.
Fog seeps from around a bend.
“You can still return to normal life if you wish”.
Looks of fear, disgust, pain, or purpose.
I step forward. The fog engulfs me.
My eyes open on the boat. Before me stands a figure. Surrounding her is an aura of silver. What I can see of her skin is streaked in paths of silver, aster, sapphire, and gold.
I look down, examining my hands. A silver glow, streaks of copper, emerald, silver, and dancing sun. Then there is nothing but standard pink flesh.
I direct my eyes towards Myanasi. She grins at me, moonlight caught in her smile.
“You have chosen, and in turn have been selected back. Welcome, soul walker”.
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Your writing is so descriptive and colorful!