Cassandra stumbles across the uneven ground. She tries to follow the trail she knows, but the landscape is alien in the dark. The clamor of the villagers grows faint behind her, and the night murmurs in her ears. Insects drone the rhythm the village chants imperfectly imitate, while the small wind croons cool love poems across her skin. The rocks under her feet are broken and irregular, and when she falls her palms come up slimy with blood. An animal skitters behind her, she’s sure it is following her, so she slows down, and it does too. She walks faster, and it matches her pace. Soon they are moving in the same irregular gait, and it eases her travels across the stone, as if her feet have connected with the ground and are translating for her body above. The alcohol is still with her, but she has left the rest of humanity behind.
She is almost to her tree; it rises ahead of her at the end of the canyon. As she approaches, the walls of the canyon close in, looming over her, blocking out the starlight. The darkness congeals and the wind picks up, tugging at her hair and her clothes. The air snaps as she feels her way past the tree, the bark smooth as wrinkled silk and now stained with a smear of her blood. The wind pours through the threshold from the spirit world, screeching like a murder of crows. Roiling, furious wings claw at her hair, her face, her shoulders and arms. She lets them tear into her, feels the canyon vibrating around her. She drags her sticky palm along the rough stone wall, sand like salt in the wound. She stumbles on, fighting the impassioned air. Her hand pushes into nothingness as the canyon wall ends, she staggers, rights herself, and draws herself tall at the doorway between two worlds.
Gazing across the threshold, Cassandra is suddenly very cold, her vision sharp. The wind, changing again, laughs harshly and it is the village women mocking her. The world around her expands. Molecules dilate, opening up so that everything fits together more loosely. She smells lipstick, and seared salmon, and freshly laundered towels. Yearning for her lost life, she feels impossibly heavy, as if her veins were filled with gold. She stares out across the awful, secret landscape.
She stares for a long time.
The phallus is smooth as it enters her, but it is large, bulging in the middle, and she screams without volition. The tree pulses inside her, swelling then subsiding, growing ever larger until she is shrieking, knowing she will burst apart from the inside. The wind from across the threshold of worlds runs its fingers through her hair, whispering to her in a language her body knows but her brain does not. The pulsing quickens, and when it reaches its crescendo microscopic tendrils shoot up into her body. Cassandra, her self, shatters. The tendrils tear through her uterus and her abdomen, they pierce her diaphragm and wrap themselves around her heart, her throat, and the inside of her skull. She is subjugated; she is as a conquered land.
Her bonds relax a little, and the phallus withdraws. The wind stops whispering in her ear, but now she feels the thrumming of the earth, and the air, and the water, the myriad living things below her.
The tree gently lowers her to the ground.
They find her there the next morning, wrapped around the base of the tree, naked and covered by her thin lamba. Blood has dried on her face, on her hands, and on the insides of her thighs, and her body is circled with welts. The women help her wash herself in the stream, and give her clothes to wear. Her hair has turned purple-gray, and she has lost the ability to speak in human tongues.
Audrey McCombs is currently an MFA student in creative writing and environment at Iowa State University, and is the Creative Director for ‘Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment’. Before going back to graduate school, she worked in natural resources management for many years, and has lived in Asia, Europe and Africa. She dreams of a three-year vow of silence, and a house empty of everything but blank walls upon which she may, finally, write down the code that animates our brute substance.