All-Mother

Page 1

Miles of flesh stretched across the ocean. A flock of gulls circled far above the mass of skin, floating on the breeze passing over the water. Rebar walked the epidermal shore while a harsh buzz sparked between her and the sea of bodies. From the sand loaded with needles and broken glass, she picked up a stone and tossed it towards the drifting flesh. The stone vaporized in a flash of light before it could sail into the vast tarp.

The sun beat down on the miles of bodies, and roasted a ripe aroma. Rebar kept a sprig of rosemary in the tattered scarf winding around her face. The herb's leaves had turned a burnt black, and its scent was only a faint memory that encouraged the gnawing in her stomach.

Further inland, where the sand sprouted into grass and weeds, a sign filleted with holes stood in the shade of a leafless tree. It read: In eternal service of the All-Mother and her child, we will not feed the life-eaters. A caricature of a shadowed creature with white eyes crouched below the words. Foam dribbled down its chin, and it grasped a leaf in one hand and a strangled rabbit in the other.

Rebar clomped through the hazardous sand, towards the sign. She examined the rusted bolts that crucified it to its wooden post. She slipped a wrench from her pocket, and removed the metal fasteners that squealed as they were pulled from the post. Freed from its shackles, the sign flopped to the ground, hiding its warning.

The shore stretched on endlessly, while the birds stayed pinned in the sky as they drifted over the ocean. The debris that sullied the sand cycled through a catalogue of glass, needles, bullet cases, trashed electronics, and flaccid condoms. Stones and other natural objects were rare commodities.

Further up the beach, someone sat on the grass, gazing into the flesh pool. Rebar stopped and licked her parched lips, catching a subtle taste of rotting rosemary. The wrench and bolts in her side pocket suddenly felt heavy as they pulled at her pocket. The person was a sketch of a man dressed in dirty clothes. He wore a fine pair of shoes that looked fresh from the factory line. She regarded her cast-iron boots that bottled up every odour produced from her calloused feet, weighed more than her, and turned her heels dryer than the Sahara. The stranger stood effortlessly in his luxurious shoes and waved to her.

She stopped and wrapped her fingers around the wrench weighing on her pants. The steel cooled the heat spreading across her palm.

"You trying to go the distance?" he called. "Come on over."

Grip tightening around her tool, she trudged through the sand to the figure. The stranger returned to his seat, and with a hand that was a shade away from skeletal, he patted a yellowed patch of grass next to him.

She sat with him, unable to keep from staring at his shoes which she noticed were riddled with tiny holes. He was slight and seemed like he could evaporate and join the gulls floating in the sky.

"I'm Rick," he said.

"Rebar."

He laughed. "That's a strange one, I'm guessing you weren't born with it?"

Her stomach gurgled.

"Right, so you walking the distance?"

She nodded.

"So many of you these days. Is that ocean really so desirable?"

"Better than the alternatives." His shoes were less splendid than she thought. Large holes tore through their tongues leaving his feet exposed to the elements.

"Like the shoes? Last guy walking the distance came through wearing these. By the time he got here, he'd stopped taking the needles out of his feet. You seem prepared, for the journey at least," he said, pointing to her boots.

"Did he keep going?"

"Not a chance. He was little more than a ghost by the time I found him. He's buried behind that tree over there."

For such a slight man, she had troubles imagining him digging six feet deep. The gulls' shrill cries echoed across the floating skin and Rick's head lulled over his shoulder.

"Say, show me what you got left in that pack of yours. I have a few surplus supplies. I could help you out."

The wrench in her pocket pulled hard at her pant leg. The smell of decay lingering on her dead rosemary sprig mingled with the sweaty odours of the body pool. Rebar suppressed a gag.

"I should be on my way," she said as she stood up and stepped into the sand.

"Hold on, I don't mean no harm," his foot hovered above the sand, but then pulled back, as tips of needles and glass shards glistened, hungry for his exposed skin. Rebar backed towards the flesh ocean until the buzz of the invisible barrier nipped at her neck. She continued down the path along the shoreline. Rick sat in the grass, staring into the pool.