Written by Rand Burgess
“The lamb gaped its lower jaw slackly over the unsuspecting children to vomit on them its bad luck.”
–M. John Harrison, The Luck in the Head.
The knapsack is swollen, sopping.
Its cornucopia? The heads of secrets that could not keep. You can count them twice but you’ll only need to count them once, if at all. Some are crusted ripe with mold. Some are shrunken twigs of burgundy meat. Some still leak their spongey trails; fresh. Some still smell of licorice gin; stale. The rest are as crushed and moldering.
Not all were wrenched free. Not like you had done. I bartered for several at market. Two I bought from speaking Croakers during time on the Walk. And one other I found stranded in a bucket of rust at a way station. By now it was all just as easy to me, taking the heads; freeing them.
Suns and Moons fell in constant orbit around the kaleidoscope that was this quest, this request. This thing that would be carried out only for her satisfaction. Our satisfaction. To equilibrium.
And it was.
And I did.
And those canvas straps dug rough into my shoulders until raw.
Beyond the black mills of goat eyed swamp nymphs, the yawning plains where shadows of dead titans trudged, the grove of sugar-berries plagued by jade ants, and a thousand other reveries needless to name, I came upon the last of them. It was once a jovial thing. I remember its spinning and chirping through the thickets as if it had been only yesterday. Now, tendrils darted from the corners of swollen eyes while a toothless grin drooped across its chin. When I bear down there is no struggle, only dead weight.
For a moment I lay with them there, all spread out in the mud, their good parts turned to the sky. Parts of me wants to apologize for things I’m not familiar with, for people I never was or will be. So instead, I say nothing.
It’s not easy for me to believe I have two-forty-three.
It’s easier for me to start back.
Do you remember the rhyme of the red worm? On my way back I seen them, the daughter and mother, like maids without a mansion. To my dismay they noticed me, smelled the festering. Even through the rain they smelled the heads. And when they approached and offered to be of service, I declined them. Then after a moment I explained to them where your brother lived, and started off singing again.
My return is far off the Walk, before eastern mountains born of razors, after the Mawn Towers occupied now only by bats, below the skeleton of a blasted aqueduct, nestled in a grove of cattails and thistle. There used to be a willow. There used to be jade shrine to her. There used to be a fountain that spat berry colored syrup. But only the shack’s bonds have held fast, giving no quarter to the building Tide; that sickness in the sun.
Inside, the air warms, expands, and explodes with the taint of ancient feta and raccoon bladder while the knapsack shlunks to the floor. Sounds of glockenspiel ignite, emanating from a wind-up in the adjacent parlor. My book shelf has collapsed to moths. My bed is composted. My mirror is filled with names for nothing. It wasn’t home, but it was close.
Down the crushed velvet hall with the portraits of Hydra, she trickles in.
And like the wolf she is clawing at the bag’s straps.
And I am on my knees, shielding my eyes into blood stained palms.
Shrapnel of flesh and cloth confetti my forearms, thighs, and cracked lower lip. Then one by one she is trying them on. On her. On me. On her. On me. The one with eyes blown out. The one with corkscrew teeth. The one from under the bed still oozing yellow-red thread. I choose not to look but cannot avoid the tastes that seep into pores, the sounds that crawl into ears, the slight touch of her hands along my cheeks.
To know each fetish has touched her face, her face as if to mine.
It is to know the oblivion inside God.
While she sleeps I lick humbly at the corners of her eyes.
While I sleep she licks apart my insides.
Music laps time and consciousness away from building blindness, slipping through holes in rafters for an escape across the double moon light of Ishkah and Rezelya. I toss and toss for sleep and instead of dreaming I just hear you repeating: Do not drink the witch’s eyes. Do not dance the witch’s tune. Do not speak. Do not look. Do not. Do not. Absolutely, do not give them to her.
But you did not take liberty to know her. You did not gather or sow. Instead, you sat, seethed, rocked in that chair like a vulture week after week, lying through those yellow-wood teeth, spitting that faux grease you afforded only by selling me.
I believe there is a price for everything.
But I do not believe about the luck in the head.
I never have.
Besides, I have already given them away.
And she is not a witch.
You will try not to see, but soon, I will show you Grandfather.
When I wake she is spitting in my mouth.
When she wakes I am grinning inside out.
At sunrise we dump the heads into the well, all of them.
The ritual reminds me of when you threw mother into the river while everyone shouted cannibal. It reminds me of father being shackled and carted away, silently because you had cut out his tongue first. It reminds me of all those hands searching me for something I could never give them.
Inside the sun is the black writhing that upsets my stomach. I stare into it while chanting the Goanya, dancing around the cobble stone circle in calculated heaves of thighs and arms. Sera, the goddess, the witch, dances naked in tune to wails erupting from below the marshlands. We press hands. Hips. Earth. Sky. Eye to eye.
In the gulfs between spaces, there comes a quake.
I know a secret.
About the heads.
And I could tell it to you.
The sun sears into the back of my skull and I see Sera through a film of sticky, blue-black, resin; it is like seeing her for the first time. Her face is not that of a witch. So oval. So symmetrical. So continuous. She is everything. That lipless smile sprawling from ear to ear. Those rows of bladed teeth. That little patch of bone between her eyes.
I write the equation for her name along the inside of my forearm until planets crash and she pulls me through quicksand, steam, and rice. When she says mine; well have you ever tasted mildew runoff and insect kids? Not raspberry, but close.
Then the Tide falls from the sun like a raindrop through old pudding.
Those which were taken swoon homeward sick and cankerous across the sky.
And we dance to the building hiss.
And Sera mounts my shoulders.
And she speaks aloud the names of each of the heads.
And before the gate closes she tears my head from its socket, slides it over hers, and takes us through the gate with the others.
Back to Eden.
While erupting from the sea the heads take on the most beautiful of forms. They were no longer those jagged spider things made of metal and rock. They were no longer those dead animals liquefying in dark corners. They were no longer those emotionless behemoths of stardust trolling for memory.
They were once again just flesh and bone; people.
On the shore there is a pull in the air leads us like warm finger tips up the spine. This doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to us, and so together we follow it home. Home one last time.
Sera smiles her smile beneath mine.
It’s true. I have always loved her.
You wouldn’t know what love was.
You are a monster.
It’s a long walk back to Eden. Weeks? Months? Years?
When we enter the city it shakes and howls with old paranoia like a scar that flares when touched. Buried shallow beneath the alabaster promenade I feel the headless ache, all those secrets that could not keep but never spoiled; not before you did. I can feel mine too, still limp and broken, not here but at the bottom of Murphy’s well behind his barn on the hill with the raspberries and clover where you finally decided to kill me.
It feels just like I remember; bath of glass and honey in snow.
The manor is rancid hot with smells of dead sex, infection, and copper. Every other window, broken. Every other plank, warped. Every other room, molested.
O’ the kingdom you have built!
Behold its bountiful pot; the spoils of luck!
And there you are. Your right eye is propped open, blind from over consumption. You might be asleep. You might be dead. That crate of vials at the side of your piss stained chair chime with every rock, just like they did all those years ago. And despite our intrusion you just rock, rock, rock into the night. Idle. Oblivious. Drooling.
The twittering of daybreak makes you wheeze and sputter.
Sera smiles that witch smile beneath me. Under me. Through me.
Your breath is a pukey-rot bellowing from stumps in your gums.
It reminds me of the secret I know.
And right when your good eye opens, we all crawl in.
You can find some of Rand’s other stories here: http://thebookofcthulhu.com/