Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

After The Flood

by Francisco Mejia



Even the winds seem precious on the world of Zamparero. They rake the shining meadows like priceless specters fleeing closure.

The rains that caress this world are tenderer than the ones that fell before the Flood. Each drop is an elusive coin that if pocketed, might buy one a mile of paradise. Seas like melted silver massage the coasts of glittering continents.

People still remain, but they aren't the same. Massina changed everyone and everything.

Massina was the name of the Flood.

The Flood didn't come from above, but from below. It was fermenting at the center of the earth, simmering and anxious to gurgle up to the surface. Massina is leagues upon leagues of a sentient liquid that was hibernating deep in the continent of Ratangan, where I'm from.

People knew for centuries about the living substance existing near the world's core. There were areas on Ratangan where gallons of Massina had dribbled out. In the past, the dribbles didn't freeze, remaining dreary, inert puddles which the ground gradually drank up again. In the ancient world, these meager and sudden manifestations were regarded as the Devil's semen, trickling up from the underworld to impregnate the wombs of holy virgins.

In post-Flood Zamparero, it's easy for me to conjecture that these drips and dribbles of Massina were reconnaissance missions. I think that it was sending up tendrils of itself, scouting and waiting for the proper time for its cataclysmic surfacing.

I believe I'm the only one who has ever had the chance to make these conjectures, and I also know that the last man on this world doesn't care enough to create such hypotheses.

Of course, there were attempts to drill for Massina beforehand, to coax it from the subterranean lairs in which it lurked. But whenever they went looking for it, they never found a droplet. It simply pushed itself deeper into the earth, to the point where the center of Zamparero must have been boiling with it. Massina had been an evasive entity, showing up in thin, glistening runnels just when it wanted to.

When they tried to study Massina's composition they found nothing, only a misted emptiness spurning the basic elements of the universe. One Galateoan scientist, Mafaro Zuzán, claimed that this proved the incontestable divinity of Massina, and that humanity should stop molesting it.

In pre-Flood days, Massina's original name was "Huz-takan," in Galateoan. In our language of Teso the literal translation was "sleeping whale."

I don't know when the survivors of the first wave started calling the subterranean substance Massina. My sole passenger, Entrada Solár (who is also the last man on this world), claims that "Massina" was the word the Flood carried on its tides.

"Massina," whispered the liquid as it gushed up from Zamparero's pores. It is the word the flood victims continue to whisper long after Massina has submerged their minds. "Massina" is a way of pronouncing the unpronounceable. No one possesses the vocal cords needed to speak the language of the Flood.

In the end, "Massina" is a haphazard approximation of what the invader babbled while conquering our earth.

Besides Entrada, whom I've never charged for riding in me, I'm the only other survivor on Zamparero. I'm the Lezuna Express, an organic transportation vehicle capable of going at high speeds. I'm also an emotional entity with female reproductive organs and the entire array of biological processes that denote any living organism.

My creator was the genetic scientist Shentego Mussa. His goal was to construct a conveyance that was simultaneously a reasoning animal, with the capacity to procreate. When Massina subdued him I was nothing more than a misshapen prototype. Colleagues to whom he presented me openly referred to me as "Shentego's Monster."

I'm a combination of variegated tissues, a deranged patchwork of elements Dr. Mussa forced into unnatural collusion. I'm also a crazy-angled monstrosity composed of two parts: a locomotive and single carriage. Together they comprise the front and rear sections of my anatomy.

A thick, black network of glistening meat connects me to my carriage, though I'm never able to disconnect myself from it. Before Massina vanquished him Dr. Mussa had been intending to meld two more carriages to my primary one.

In the last few days I haven't been rolling much over Ratangan. Though Entrada and I started out searching for other survivors, we realized after many weeks that Massina was a planet-wide pandemic.

I've just stopped to watch an eerie garden of petrified children Massina caught on their way home from school.

Several of them are frozen in mid-conversation, the faces gray and rubbery. Their grins are mossy and green, eyes permanently moist. The hair has become nests of luminous hydras, a supernatural symptom when Massina has crawled out of one's scalp.

The motionless mouths are emitting the word "Massina." It is an eternal chant which I have come to regard as Zamparero's neverending elegy.

There is a sudden thump in the carriage behind my locomotive. I grit my teeth at the abrupt flare of pain. Entrada always chooses to forget that my nerve-endings extend beyond the locomotive.

"Let me out...now, Lezuna," he thunders from within me. Dr. Mussa named me after his youngest daughter.

At first, I pretend not to hear him. I close my eyes and smell the Massina-wracked earth. Massina hardened months ago over all the eighteen continents of Zamparero. It coats every structure, every bit of animal and plant life, like a thin layer of brilliantine skin. Massina also fills up all interiors.

The sole element which still possesses motion is the seas, though they are really nothing more than countless nautical miles of Massina that hasn't solidified. Massina smells of a metal forged in Hell.

A few seconds later there is a flurry of thumps against my inner wall. It is similar to an attack of acute indigestion. I open my mouth and release a hot belch in response.

"I know you can hear me," blares Entrada, "and if you don't let me out I'm going to pull up all the flowers in here."

In pre-Flood times Entrada Solár was a luminary blessed with supernatural agility and strength, a unique mutant from the northern desert of Pezazí. His mother and father were of the nomadic Ozó tribe. There, the tribe deified Entrada as a champion whom one of their gods had dispatched to our world.

As a young adult he became bored with desert life and obsolete ceremonies whose purpose was to plead with the sun to keep it from burning out.

At age eighteen he arrived in my birth city of Esbatran, the glass cosmopolis at the center of the western nation of Teso. In Estabran he became an arrogant vigilante, indifferent to the racism against his origins.

After several years of misadventures and bedding lithe celebrities, Entrada settled down with another Ozó immigrant, who also happened to be his personal assistant. They had three children together.

He also became affluent by hiring himself out to governments and through various endorsement contracts. Towards the end Teso contracted him as a supreme tactical weapon in its war against Galateo, the nation on the eastern side of Ratangan.

By the time Massina swallowed everything, Entrada discovered me alone, wandering the main boulevard running through Estraban.

Massina got everyone in Entrada's family.

I open my eyes. "OK, wait, Entrí, don't do that!" I say in regard to him damaging the flowers. "I told you: no stamping, tramping, or pulling. I'll let you out!"

Within me I managed to salvage a few yards of undefiled Zamparero. The ice-blue harrow grass carpets the carriage's floor and walls. They are rooted in the moist earth of my flesh. There is also a fragrant gaggle of native flowers such as plesenias, modri tus, devis and the rainbow-colored levantan. With Entrada's help, I was able to relocate this meager amount of Zamparero inside of me.

Using shears he keeps the grass cropped and neat, willingly playing in-house gardener with the flowers. And since I have no windows I part the roof of my carriage and permit the remains of Zamparero to receive sun. I'm forced to water them with Massina's silvery rains.

Though I spoke to him in the voice of an aroused seductress, Entrada knows of the urgency in my mind. The right side of my carriage softens, then parts. I create a large gash through which the last man can step through.

Though Entrada's skin is as dark as good, wet earth, there is a golden aspect to his hair. His lips used to be wide and red, but now they are gray and puckered. His eyes are a mixture of blue and copper.

When the soles of his frail boots step onto the burnished tarmac my heart beats faster. Though the months have made him complacent, I still fear that Massina may take Entrada from me one day. As he plods away I am beginning to shudder. "Where are you going?" I say. I sound like a quivering slut.

This is due to the fact that before the Flood, the tone of a licentious woman was Dr. Mussa's initial choice for me.

Entrada comes up to one of the children with briny skin and sea-window eyes. My sole passenger is holding out his huge hand, about to give the girl's jaw a tentative caress as she repeats "Massina" over and over. He told me before that the skin of the flood victims is similar to the bellies of rubber fish.

I'm not able to touch them because I have no hands. And my wheels are made of stained bone that is already starting to chip and crack. Sometimes I fear that everything below me will turn to white shards as I race across this forsaken continent.

"What are you doing?" I coo.

Entrada's hand stops an inch from the girl's face. The word coming from the children's mouths is like a swarm of insects' ghosts. He turns to me with his eyes cooking in the sockets.

In the months since the Flood his face has become more grotesque. The nostrils are wide enough to host the hibernations of beasts. His skin is taking on the texture of mud. For me he is slowly undergoing a mighty deterioration.

Beneath his black garment his flesh and sinews are hunks of weary beef. Down his back dangles a torn, crimson cape splotched with the echoes of this new world's aberrant rain. He insists on wearing the cape, though I told him it would be better to remove it finally.

Entrada is a dilapidated champion still reeling from past glorious feats.

"I want something else," he croaks. I can see that his mind is breaking.

"You weren't like this before," I try reminding him of who he was once. "You were someone who could catch bullets with his teeth. You could have stuck a straw in the ocean and drunk it all down, too."

When I say this Entrada looks down at the ground, releasing harsh sounds from his gray mouth. He is becoming too soft, easy to tear open. I'm afraid that one day he will arouse Massina's interest.

"You should get back in my carriage," I insist. "It's not safe for you here. You are a titan full of rust." And now I'm reminding him of his current decomposition. He looks up at me with an ugly horror in his eyes. I know he is starting to become claustrophobic in my confines.

"I don't think you're strong enough to resist Massina anymore," I continue. Massina infiltrated the bodies of women, children, men, reptiles, insects and even marine life. There are majestic gardens of finned beasts at the bottoms of the seas filled up to the eyes with Massina. It even managed to catch all the birds, which of course had not been able to stay airborne forever.

Massina convinces your body that it is part of the insidious substance. It fills up one's anatomy, eventually subjugating your brain. All of existence is in stasis, with Entrada and me moving through it. Not long after the Flood, motion became an emblem of rebellion. By weaving in and out of the wretched orchards of stiffened organisms we are committing acts of insurgency.

But the paradox is that we subsist on Massina. Since there is nothing else to eat, we feed on the self-regenerating membranous chunks that rapidly transform into a cooling slush as it goes down our throats.

We believe that Massina doesn't affect us in the same way as other organisms because we are both anomalous life forms on this planet.

Entrada falls to his knees. Out of his mouth comes the moan of an old machine forced to wake up and comply with a high production quota.

"Entrí," I plead, "you know that I have to keep you protected because you're the last person in this world whom Massina hasn't caught."

Entrada raises himself up with the demeanor of a corroding centurion. Perhaps because of malnutrition, his hair is now sparse, with swaths of vivid scalp visible.

"I can't even reproduce," he roars. "All the women are gone."

"But --"

"No!" he booms. "I won't have anything like that with you! I'm not going to...fuck a vehicle anymore!"

Though Entrada and I haven't managed to procreate, there have been several times when I allowed him to ease his overpowering lust in a welcoming yet infertile orifice in a corner of my carriage. It was my creator's first abandoned attempt at building genitalia for me.

I think though, that at the time Dr. Mussa hadn't yet considered what I would mate with; hence, the inconvenient placement of my genitals on the inside, instead of out.

Entrada's face now took on the color of a dying sun. He walks back into my carriage, picking up a bench we put there for him. "No!" I implore.

He brings the bench down on a zepeppo bush brocaded with emerald flowers. With the bench he obliterates the shrubbery. The bench itself turns to pieces that season almost all the other vegetation in the carriage. My noises of anguish accompany the botanical destruction.

"Why are you doing this?" I wail. "You are killing your world!"

But he is rabid, his mouth leaking spume. He really wants to leave me this time, knowing that he is too weak now to battle against me. If he flees I can quickly outrun him and bring him back hanging from my teeth.

Through ocular devices which Dr. Mussa installed in the upper corners of my carriage I watch Entrada's eyes boil. He seems to prefer the dazzling wilderness of Massina instead of the cultivated lushness we made for him in here. He doesn't fully realize that I am Zamparero's single preservationist.

"OK, you can go...temporarily!" I say, expecting magma to leak out of his eyes.

As if I have attacked some switch, Entrada stops. His hands are bleeding, which I have never seen before. My great, many-chambered heart fortunately thumps away in a place he is not strong enough to reach anymore.

Entrada lumbers back out of the carriage, walking alongside of my locomotive. Finally he steps right in front of it, where he can look up at my cherubic face. He can't see the torment on it, just an infantile mockery I don't have the power to remove.

My face is immense, with a velvet texture that's pleasant to stroke. It's as dark as obsidian and I have an everlasting grin which I'm never able to put away. Even when I'm in torment, there is a beatific expression on my face. My burning eyes are like lakes of bubbling milk upon which float glaciers. The irises simmer when I'm in operation, sometimes boiling. A terrible smoke pours from my hairless nostrils the faster I run, my mane waxy and iridescent.

There is nothing in Entrada's eyes, not even gulfs I would gladly careen into. "If your eyes weren't so hot I would rip them out and eat them raw," he tells me.

I'm about to cry at that moment but my tears instantly convert into a reeking steam. Entrada confuses this for a demonic act and he staggers away, dazed.

I don't watch him go, but I want to twist around and catch him. I shiver until I can no longer see him.

####

He is gone for many days. Inside I weep and don't move. I'm stationary, my organs slowing down. I need Entrada physically as well as emotionally.

I turn my head, blinking at the intricate destitution around me. Affixed all over the landscape are the flood victims, trapped in their hideous immortality. Massina caught people as they ran, irrigating their entire systems. It coursed up into their throats, splashing out of their mouths in a swift mercury. It tainted their skins with a gangrenous tinge. It befouled the blood, turning it to turgid quicksilver.

Within the organism's skull I think that the brain remains alive though steeped in Massina. Massina never freezes within but only without.

This is the fate that Entrada and I avoided. Massina shies away from our pores and orifices, inertly passing through us whenever we eat it. And as I stated before, no matter how much we consume, Massina always regenerates on the instant.

We can't even eat our way back to former times.

For many more days I stay where I am, squinting my hot eyes till my lashes catch on fire. The ashes drizzle to the ground as I continue to stare through the narrow aisles between the victims. Sometimes they look to me like an extensive flock of weird antennas Massina assembled.

At one point it begins to rain, coming down in a shroud of soft jewels, the clouds pads of finely-spun silver. Massina also enslaved the molecular structure of water and I wonder whether it would take over the air too.

I don't know what Massina needs living organisms for. Perhaps it is deriving some neurological nutrient from the mental activity of all organisms. But if that were true, then why did it also take over inanimate structures such as museums and residential buildings? It also annexed the plant world.

Though I never discussed it with Entrada, sometimes I believe that Massina was the creator of Zamparero, come back to appropriate all its disappointing creations. For eons, the god in which so many had faith had been festering below, instead of above.

But if Massina is indeed Zamparero's restored god, then why is it keeping humanity in this suspended state? Perhaps this is the eternal damnation the fervently devout warned of? Is there a hell blazing and crackling within each of those heads? Is it a punishment that not even the animals and plants and architecture were able to avoid? Weren't they innocent?

Due to his former superhuman nature, I could understand why Massina did not penetrate Entrada, but I didn't understand why it hadn't infected me. I was a living entity, constructed of flesh, bone and blood. I had to subsist on food and produced waste. Though I was nothing more than a transport vehicle, Dr. Mussa imbued me with all the attributes of a functioning organism.

I consider then that perhaps Massina did not want me because I'm not one of its works.

Or perhaps the problem is that I don't have a soul.

####

When I at last see Entrada's haggard figure wending its way through the field of flood victims, I am desperate, my sanity close to disintegrating. His movements mock the sedentary sentences of the thousands of victims around him. They are the only crop Zamparero yields now.

Entrada was smaller somehow, and a rust-shaded beard had broken out over his face.

There is a stinging in my left eye. In spite of his haggardness, I catch a shimmer beneath Entrada's face. I don't like it.

"What happened to you?" I demand of him. I'm speaking in the voice of an agitated infant, the result of a brief distortion.

Entrada straggles out of the last few yards of victims. He knows of my supernal eyesight, capable of seeing what the bottoms of lunar seas can spawn. But I wonder if he is aware that I notice the disconcerting shimmer under the skin of his graying face.

"Where were you?" I say. A river of fire courses through the center of my mind. I expect it to burst from my nose and incinerate this world.

Entrada comes close to me. His eyes belong to those of the flood victims, as if he learned their habits during his absence.

"Did Massina seduce you?" I insist. I wonder briefly whether Entrada has become another kind of victim, one who is able to move though contaminated with Massina.

I suddenly want to abandon him and let the alluring Massina have him. Perhaps it isn't as loathsome and heterogeneous as me. Perhaps it is a paradisiacal potion into which any human would want to immerse his insides.

I'm sneering though I know that Entrada can only witness the smile of a beneficent cherub. Why didn't my creator affix a ghastlier rictus to me?

Entrada is looking up at me and I hate the indolent slackness on his own face. What perversions did he discover out there alone? How did Massina corrupt him?

"What happened?" I implore.

Entrada doesn't say anything. He just turns to the side and sits on his scuffed haunches. Sometime during his suspicious disappearance he misplaced his cape. As he looks off towards the field of petrified humans he states, "There's no end to it. This goes all the way beyond the horizon."

My right eye clocks the west. The sun is a ball of weathered gold. It is carefully lowering itself into the luminous sludge that is this world's seas now.

"What did Massina do to you while you were out there?" I say in the tone I'm not able to alter into something graver.

Entrada doesn't answer for a long time. Then: "It was quiet out there. I couldn't hear what the victims were saying anymore. Their words became silence. And no, Massina didn't get inside me."

With a substantial amount of clatter I twist about so that his face is once again visible to me. I hear myself shrivel. I'm an unsightly caterpillar that will never know the flight of a butterfly. I will never lift away from Massina, which always mocks my crude, savage wheels with its sparkling smoothness. It makes the continent much more navigable for me though I will never be able to leave Ratangan for some other part of Zamparero.

In Massina I see the blurry phantom of my reflection: I'm a collection of disparate objects, shambling and bovine, lacking sleekness. I want to heave myself off the edge of the continent and drown myself in the sea.

If I can't be as enticing and beautiful as Massina I don't want to live. There is no place for me in this world's splendid uniformity. With my appearance, I could never have seduced all the men, women and children on the planet the way Massina did.

I peer at Entrada. "Entrada," I say.

"Yes?" He doesn't look up at my dark face.

"What do you think of what I did with my carriage? Do you like the turf I chose before this horrific Massina took over? It's a disease, a pestilence. Is the turf blue enough? Lush enough? Am I taking good care of what's left of your world? Do I remind you of things as how they were...before?"

I'm apprehensive, both my locomotive and carriage shaking. My bowels quake and I want to void myself in that moment. I'm always careful not to defecate when Entrada is awake. Leaving behind a hot feast of transparent shit all over Massina has recently become a recreational activity for me.

Entrada sighs. There is an immense exhaustion in that sigh. I wonder how he is able to hold himself up beneath its weight.

"How many times do I have to answer this, Lezuna?" he says. I know that I'm torturing him, wearing away at his very soul. Though within I have a kernel of pity for him the disease which his presence sires in me is much stronger. I can't stop myself.

"I just need to be sure," I say. My words sound as if coming from the mouth of a wily whore. Massina will never be able to express itself in such a lilt.

Entrada is shaking his head, shoulders trembling. "You're always making sure. Nothing I do or say will change the way you feel."

I answer, "There's something wrong with my brain. Maybe it's the influence of Massina." Why did my creator fit me with the excited vocalizations of an insatiable temptress?

Entrada stands up, his face a shade of unwanted ashes. He growls, "The reason I was gone for so long was to get away from you."

I become cold.

"What?" I say, unbelieving. Again, there is a slight crackle and distortion in my voice. Perhaps anguish will be capable of expanding my vocal limitations.

"That can't be," I say. I feel my lower extremities warping, trying to achieve the shape necessary to guide the torment crashing through me.

"It can't be," I repeat. "In me you have shelter from Massina. I'm maintaining the cinder of your former world. I have given you a home in the midst of these wastes. I'm a paradise on wheels, a mobile garden indifferent to the contamination of Massina."

I nudge myself closer to Entrada, my locomotive stretching out more than it wants to. Entrada swings about like an enervated beast. There is such a sad debilitation in him, a portrait of glory gone to waste. He is no longer the beautiful monster I harbor with my very insides.

"I don't want to be inside you anymore, locked up for weeks because you think Massina's finally going to take me. You're torturing me with your unnatural jealousy. Your brain is soft with this sickness. You're not even human, we're not the same!"

I want to scream at him. Steam pours from my eyes though he doesn't care. I try to bawl but what slips out instead is a sensuous moan. "I'm protecting you!" I sing, my words a melodious chorus.

"Protecting me from what?" Entrada spreads his arms out. His crucified pose causes me to shudder. "There's just desert around us and not one grain of it can enter me. The Ozó gods made me invincible against everything!" he roars. The great regret in the last sentence almost annihilates me.

"Nothing can contaminate or conquer me," Entrada proceeds. "They made me immune to the worst plagues in existence. They even made me untouchable for this apocalypse!"

"You think Massina is more beautiful than me." I spurt out.

He doesn't hear me, tramping back and forth on the luminescent slag paving the earth. "I almost don't sleep anymore. My mouth tastes of metal. I feel like a machine that refuels itself on the air alone. I'm tired of eating Massina. It only allows me to exist."

He stops before me, gazing up at me. Steam isn't pouring from my eyes any longer. His entire skull seems on the verge of detonating. "Maybe you're right," he suddenly says.

"What?" I say, confused.

"I'm not human. I'm like you. We are the same thing. I'm thinking that it's absolutely natural for us never to be apart and roam this continent without ever stopping."

"And...what are we?" I say with a trepidation I can't detect in my voice.

"We are monsters," Entrada declares.

"No, no, no," I deny, closing my eyes.

"Yes," Entrada says with finality. "We are monsters running around in this land. What lies all around us is life. We are the dead ones. Massina has transformed the meaning of existence."

This is unacceptable to me. What surrounds us is not life because it is impossible for there to be any further propagation. This is life in horrendous suspension, a mockery of eternity.

"We're not monsters," I open my eyes again.

Entrada has his back to me and I realize the source of his enervation. It is because he has convinced himself that he is a monster, though even when he was healthy I secretly regarded him in that way.

"Yes," he says, as though we're horrible abominations unable to come to terms with the terrific sleekness of this world. He is refuting my denial of our shared monstrosity.

"The overwhelming proof is that Massina wouldn't have us," Entrada says. "We weren't worthy of the baptism everyone else underwent. We are freaks."

"No!"

Entrada then throws himself backwards on the hard, shiny ground. He falls into a pitiable tantrum. "I want to be weak!" he shouts. "I want you, Marinda!" yelling for his fallen wife. "Take my power from me, you bastard gods!"

He flips onto his belly, beating Massina. "I want destruction," he shrieks. "I want the stars to fall on me! I want the sky to break and its pieces to crush me!"

Though I'm aware of my great weight, I know that I'm really a cowering worm. I haven't managed to conquer the memories he carries in his head. How can his skull contain them?

"But you have me now," I purr. "In me you have preserved a fraction of your world. You are the master of this last fragment of Zamparero."

Entrada ceases to pound Massina. His tears and spit lubricate the scintillating pavement that overcame the world. I don't know if he is listening to me.

"And don't I preserve it all so well for you? Aren't I the most caring curator you could've asked for?"

He is now on his side, curling up, grasping his shrinking knees. Tears silver his face.

I slink nearer to him, my wheels croaking.

"Don't cry, don't water this uncaring world with your pain. It doesn't deserve it," I speak like a well-trained courtesan.

"Stop thinking about the end of things," I continue. "With the right perspective it will be so easy and painless to confuse the end of things for the beginning of something else. We can..."

I hesitate. I'm not sure I want to finish. I sense that my next few words will set the sky on fire and burn down the moon.

"We could...we could start over again," I suggest. The words are declared at passion's threshold. There is a golden surge in me and I taste it in my mouth. I see myself as a hunk of succulence Entrada will inevitably gorge himself on. No, I'm not off-putting, a revolting conveyance that no commuter would want to ride even free-of-charge.

I simply divine that I'm a new species of beauty which the old Zamparero couldn't have acknowledged prior to the Flood. A delicious shiver passes through me as I realize the brunt of the coming era. My flanks throb wetly.

"We could begin again, me and you," I assure him.

Entrada isn't moving. He is a vagabond angel who hasn't realized he is already home.

"Come inside me," I whisper, for the first time relishing the lascivious tone my creator initially granted me. "Please, I ache for you."

Entrada still isn't moving, watching me. I can tell now that he is listening to me.

"I have everything you need to defeat the pain in you. We can create a new kind of life more suited to this habitat."

Entrada rises from the ground. I believe there is a grudging devotion in his eyes as he looks at me. I can hear myself sliding into his soul.

I tell him one last thing: "I can," I hesitate, shaking under the momentum of what is about to come out of my mouth, "give you twice the children your wife gave you."

Entrada blinks. His mouth opens, expelling a silent scream. Whatever is in his body, he is unable to let it out.

Finally he does: an aural chaos. He is releasing the longest word in Creation, an utterance that will bring about the end of existence.

Entrada, still screaming, launches his fist at my face. It is the first time he assaults me from the outside. It turns out that he retained much of his former strength. My right cheek explodes in a mess of black muck, blighting the shimmering barrens.

I have never seen my blood before.

He punches at my face, gradually transforming it into a weird pulp. Each of his punches is the demise of a giant star.

I spew teeth and bile at him.

He doesn't mind, grinning through my gore. His blows are the grievances of thunderstorms. His kicks slice at my sides. He is obliterating me. I'm not as invulnerable to damage as I thought. I'm burning in pain. Soon I will yield.

I whip my face away from him, splattering him with my great, bleeding mouth. My breath must smell of ore and damp earth. Behind me, Entrada then tries to tear open my carriage. He is going to make a hole through which Massina can conquer the tiny stores of Zamparero over which I appointed myself caretaker.

"Don't do that," I say to him, "I'm holding Zamparero in there. If you rip me open you're going to kill it."

My words don't hamper him. His thick fingers puncture my carriage's hide. The agony is serpentine and complicated. It seems to have its own intelligence. It sets my mind ablaze.

I lunge forward with an awkward grace no one is around to pity. I butt Entrada away from me. My forehead splits open, offering the promise of more blood. My vision becomes blurred, turning Entrada into a compound hallucination. I'm looking at him through the eyes of a drunken fly.

He is too strong. Though I struck him at full impact he only shuffled backwards a couple of steps.

Entrada merely shakes his head though I can tell he isn't groggy. His body absorbed the collision. He chugs forward, heaving a fist at me that looks to have too many knuckles on it.

I laugh right before he pulverizes my nose.

I release a series of moist giggles as I back away from him. He is thundering in my direction, eyes volcanic.

He murders my left eye, hot gunk shooting from the socket, singeing him. Through his own roars of pain he keeps attacking me, reducing my face to gristle and viscera.

I'm opening my mouth wider as his fists shower me. I'm inside my pain, having made a bright red house of it. Lowering the dripping havoc of my face towards Entrada I prepare to engulf him.

And then he wheels himself away, not screaming anymore. He is on the ground, crumpled and sobbing.

I wait for him to stop. Perhaps he is recovering, soon to come at me again with redoubled force. But he is nothing more than a wasted juggernaut. I leave him the way he is for an hour or so.

Finally, I creep up to him, snuffling through the wet ruins of my face. I'm blind in one eye. "Would you like to come inside?" I say. I almost laugh because of the increased contrast between my voice and my appearance.

Entrada stops shaking. He lifts his head slowly, staring up at me. His face is about to collapse and something has scrubbed the color out of it. He has disassembled his delusions and realized his helplessness.

I'm not surprised when he gets up from Massina and falls down again. I part my carriage's hide.

"Hurry," I say without frenzy, "before Massina wakes up and infects the garden."

Entrada drags himself towards the opening in me. On the way there I expect him to break, but he stays whole. Once inside he writhes across the sweet-smelling turf. I suture the carriage shut after him.

He is safe, on Zamparero again.

####

For the next few weeks both Entrada and I recover. We don't speak, both of us sheltering a great silence in our mouths.

I feed on tasteless slabs of Massina, feeling a bitter victory as it glides through my system. My anus gives off a euphoric gasp once it is out. It is my way of humiliating and disparaging Massina.

I don't know if I'm aging, but I find myself running slower. Not being able to go as fast as I used to I stare at my reflection in the sinister macadam. There I see that my face has healed into a blasted expanse of terrain that hosted some climactic confrontation.

I much prefer this face to the previous one.

Entrada is eating less of Massina, becoming a cadaverous figure. He has taken to feeding on the grass and some of the rarer flowers in my carriage. He sucks the nectar out of their centers and afterwards munches on what is left.

I allow him to do it. It is his world and he can do with it whatever he wants.

I'm realizing that soon I will want to stop running, maybe near Ratangan's northeastern shoreline. Massina covers everything, buildings and structures insubstantial beneath the gray-purple membrane that cloaks them.

There is no purpose in going anywhere, as our wanderings have persuaded me that I've been standing still while the continent speeds about under my wheels.

One night when I stop to rest in the former country of Fantaská, Entrada toddles to a corner in my carriage. With unsteady and unpracticed fingers he strokes a chafed, neglected aperture located there. "I want you," he announces in a voice that suggests he is vomiting the words instead of saying them.

His touch goes through me like brutal lightning intent on lacerating a horizon. I let him have me that night, my parts squirming and rumbling.

For the next few weeks we stay in the metallic gloom of that country, close enough to listen to the silver sea punishing the diamond shingles of Fantaská.

We enter a period of raw contentment, grazing on all the Massina in our perimeter. I discover a poignant pleasure in Massina's tastelessness and don't mind when it immediately regenerates as I devour it. Entrada and I don't communicate much. Our conversations are rickety bones we don't try hard to hold up.

Instead, we converse with our physical selves. Like this we manage to harmonize, not acknowledging our great differences.

One day I discover something within myself, growing and taking shape. I'm the recipient of a joyous terror. My heart suddenly feels cold, vast, and heavy.

I tell Entrada nothing.

I begin to consume many more acres of Massina, grateful for this renewable source of nutrition.

The gestation of our child might occupy over a year and I'm apprehensive about what will emerge from my loins. I'm terrified of seeing a human-headed leviathan with wheels of moist calcium instead of limbs. But I assure myself that there will be no "normal" specimen on this world to compare it to.

As time passes I understand Massina less and less. I don't know if it has permanently conquered the world, if this is how things are to stay forever. Will it ever depart from Zamparero's surface, returning to where it came from? Will it ever "thaw" life and let us continue as we all were before? I try not to think of Entrada returning to the house where his wife and children remain suspended to this day.

My uncertainty provides the lives of Entrada and me with a precious fragility I don't dare disturb by even breathing too hard.

I'm more scared of how he will react. Will the announcement of our offspring crack the blissful scab that has formed over our existence? It is impossible to tell, though I'm prepared to leave him behind and rear our child at the fringes of the Massina-frosted jungles to the north.

About a few months following the conception of our child I notice that my carriage is bloating and rising higher up off Massina. In addition, the child has become large enough to make me quake when it shifts. My womb is right beneath the front of the carriage.

On one particular night there are profound thumps as Entrada slumbers on the blanket which he laid out on the grass growing out of the carriage's floor.

He leaps up, fear blazing in his eyes. He is yelling.

I don't answer him, but I make shushing noises, wanting to placate the child. It is too rambunctious this night, rollicking in its placental waters.

I open the carriage, Entrada falling to the grass inside me because the thumps are so mighty. He then tumbles out of me, and onto Massina.

With a stupefied horror in his eyes he jumps up and backs away. He must believe a diabolical presence has possessed me.

Soon, the baby settles again. Its frolicking no longer causes jolts to traverse my length.

Entrada runs around to my front. The moonlight looks as if it is scalding his face. I can't see so well in the night now because I just have one eye left and its light is dimming.

"What was that?" he shouts. "Are you sick?" Reaching up he places a hand on the face he destroyed weeks ago.

I'm simmering inside and I want to cry. I hold back because I don't want to repel him with my bad-smelling steam.

I also want to remain like this always, with his hand on me. But I discern that his ignorance concerning my condition is making him suffer. At the risk of shattering this fragile night I say, "That's our child."

I quickly close my remaining eye, leaving him alone with the moonlight. I wait for his cold hand to leave my left cheek. When it is still there I reopen my eye.

He is watching me, tears lurking in his own eyes. Standing on the toes of his bare feet he kisses the expansive, jumbled debris of my mouth. He has never kissed me before.

We remain still until the sun lifts into the sky.

And neither does he cough or move away when my pall hides our faces.

THE END


© 2011 Francisco Mejia

Bio: Francisco Mejia is a 33-year-old American currently living in Slovakia and teaching English as a second language. There two of his fantasy stories have been published in a national newspaper, plus a children’s story in a kid’s magazine. His work has also appeared in Shelter of Daylight and in Ireland's Albedo One.

E-mail: Francisco Mejia

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.