The water fills the air with a travelling song. One has to practically press lips to another’s ear to be heard. In fact, if you were to scrape up a yell from your belly and send it up into the swaying green canopy until all the veins bulged from your red face, any hiker or mushroom hunter more than a hundred feet away would only wonder for a moment if maybe they just heard something.
Then they’d go on with their lives.
It’s the perfect place to bring lovelies, here by the creek, where the trees grow especially tall. Where the earth has a damp, easy yield. They should know better, but the animal in them has gone dumb. Dangle the right carrot, they’ll walk straight into open mouths and curl up on anxious tongues. They’ll pull teeth closed around them like blankets on their way to dream, dream, dream.
Poor lovelies. They need caring for, dulled as they are.
As for me, I’ve kept sharp. Even among mountains, these blue hills are old, and old things are seldom gentle.
I’ve been saying this aloud, every word, speaking from just out of your reach. You’ve only heard my voice as a droning above the water, none of the particulars. Your mind is on something else. I know because you’re wearing the look. It has your head inclined toward me so that your eyes have to roll up to meet mine. Your mouth parted, showing a crescent of glistening white, corners curled somewhere between mischief and a sneer.
I know the look quite well by now. You lovelies put so much behind it, try to transmit from pupil to pupil the weight of command. The hubris is delightful, the belief that you possess such magic.
Oh, but I adore the look.
I’ve learned about your kind over time. For example, the band of metal around your finger is meant to tell me you belong to another. Someone who is not with us in these woods today. Someone you didn’t just follow, after only a playful smile and beckoning finger, for a mile through stands of white ash and eastern hemlock. Someone not facing your fixed and hungry eyes in this special place.
The look tells me that really, you’re mine.
I see the word “undress” work its way out from behind the manufacture of your jaw. The tap of tongue, purse and release of lips, hiss of your exhale. A simple urge driving complex machinery.
This, like all things, is a small sequence within a greater rhythm. Stimulus. Response. Give and take moving ever outward, approaching things beyond control or comprehension.
When the dress collapses around my feet your gaze breaks away, eager to feed. Poor lovely. Your breathing expands, quickens, moving your shoulders and stomach, like your appetite is trying to fill you up.
I bend and dig my fingers into the earth. It gathers in the curl of my fists, pliant and smooth, conditioned by the flow of the creek. I press my palms against this skin, streak and smear the soil over it. I feel more myself as it slides across this body. You read my relief as pleasure and begin to close the distance between us.
Before your hands find me I grab your shirt and sink onto my back, pulling you down. You think this is play and laugh above me. I take your head in my hands and bring it close, rest my lips against the cartilage of your ear and whisper: Undress.
The vulgar laughter in your chest tremors against mine. You’ve yet to notice I have no heart beating against the press of your weight, or that still we sink into the muddy bank. I’m pushing the sharp wood of my true body through this skin before you’ve even begun to move. I clamp down on your soft shoulders with fingertips driven deep enough to meet bone.
I help you undress.
Your scream is your most honest quality. I’m proud to have helped you discover it. The animal in you is ears back now, hackles raised. You push against me, but my legs are twined around yours, a thousand little thorns hooking you in place. The ground swallows us as the tendrils of fibrous root snaking from my back dig and pull.
You strike at me, making a mess of the sweet pulp I use to make the body soft. I see your disappointment, even through the pain, when my womanly guise sloughs off. Oh, your expression when this mask of flesh peels off in your hand, and you see the glittering termites crawl over each other in the bark of my featureless face. Just precious.
I caress you, expose you. Hidden somewhere under these ribbons, inside, is the part of you that answered my call. We’ll find that part together. Your blood washes over me, pours into the soil as we journey down. This is what you wanted.
Like all my lovelies, you misunderstood the urge to follow, called it by the wrong name. Eyes of power and possession blind you to the charms of old, real magic.
Don’t you know? You want to join into something, something expansive, like the water of the creek, looking to get lost in ever-larger bodies. I can’t imagine the torment, feeling so small and disconnected.
We’re underneath now, embraced on all sides by the cool material of the earth. The voice of the water hums above, and the roots of the towering trees surround us, hungry. You’re barely fighting in my arms. We’ll stay here, in this bed of blood and pulp and soil, until you find what you were seeking.
We’ll know when you do. I’ve helped so many before, and now I’m helping you.
Don’t worry, poor, lonesome lovely.
I won’t let go.
Originally from the Appalachian corner of Maryland, Jason Baltazar is currently a graduate student at the University of Kansas. His fiction been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has or will soon appear in places such as A cappella Zoo, Devilfish Review, and Axolotl Magazine. He is currently working on his first novel and a collection of short fiction.