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The Song of Restoration
by Lily Childs
Lestros calls me sordid, and I have no intention of disappointing him. A snip here, a snatch – albeit a well-worked flaccid one – there, and I can provide everything he needs. It’s not all for him though, which saddens me for a second or two every day. He has business to attend to, clients to please – as do I, but mine are more discerning, more appreciative of the finer things in life – and death.
I arrange my layers for his pleasure; cotton upon skin upon hair upon thin, light silk that stinks of overworked Eastern worms. He stares at me and I smile, knowing he’ll never be mine – not really.
“Shall I send them in?” he asks afterwards. I nod, a twitch at my scarlet-painted mouth.
In the intervening moments I gather the hoard to my bosom. We suckle one another to give strength, the outcome inevitable. Lola La Larla cries every time and I can’t help but wet my face with her. She has never known otherwise, but she knows what is right, and this is so wrong. I wish I could offer her a way out but we are chosen from birth for this vocation. Our bodies make it so; give us no choice – unless we prefer to be stoned to death.
When did the times become so dark; our future so stark? What stopped our kind from being the blessed, revered ones of the tribe we once were? It isn’t the first time I’ve questioned this life of whoredom. I observe the girls and wonder if I have been speaking out loud.
“They hurt me,” Beguilah Santa whispers to us all. It is a simple statement but suddenly, it is enough. I stand and sigh, leap up high. Not accustomed to any demonstration of care from me the girls gaze lazily upwards to where I have landed atop a crumbling plinth. Their eyes belie the lack of expectation but when I raise my voice, whip a key from between my legs and hold it aloft - everything changes.
They sob as I cry the message again and again.
In the bruised shadows of the temple I see Lestros’s outline – he has heard everything. His head bows before the lithe body retreats and I wonder if he will follow through. We have half an hourglass left before they arrive. Only time will tell.
I run with the key. Her glorious temple is long gone, and I am blind to my destination. But I must find her.
I must speak with The Goddess.
I never knew. One expects the Great Ones to rule, not serve. Yet here she is – a slave to men.
“It is written,” she says inside my head. “The Gods do not hold a quill or scrape on stone. We speak – and it is done. At least... it was – before man wrote down his rules to seal history with his own magic.”
Her feet have brought me here. I stare into the vortex; an unreachable chasm hidden behind a cascading veil of melted snow. It pulses with a green radiance, changing shape with the constant torrent until – as the moon rises behind me – the roar of water slows and it is as though I stare into the obsidian reflection of a stolen Phoenician mirror. I see her for the first time and gulp the shock into my gut. She looks like me; like Beguilah and Lola. She looks like all of us.
I gaze down at myself, long wide limbs and multiple egg-shaped breasts in symmetrical rows; all the better for feeding with. My belly hangs over my thighs – a burgeoning pillow of flesh – glistening with our tears.
I am she and she is me, the echo of one another, of us all. We are one. Her Artemisian tribe.
I silently thank Lestros for secretly teaching me – a woman – how to scribe, for I have a story that must be retold. In writing.
By the time my thoughts reach out to the Lady, she is gone. The gaping cave is empty, its entrance sealed. Even as I seek out parchment and pen, my head fills with her words – her truths. I cannot write fast enough.
They gasp at the sight of me; I am exquisite – I know it. Butterfly wing-thin skirts, tattered and drifting in the breeze all around my corpse, my soul still alive enough to observe from above. The gossamer speaks with symbols and glyphs, woven between the careful inked incantations. Beneath my hanging body the freaks – for that is what the tribesmen call us when they are not ravaging our flesh – gather in unison. One by one, their voices join the song, spreading sinister harmony until every mouth twitches with hurt, every eye overflows.
Below us - men, normal women and children assemble. The awe on every face tells a tale – a revelation as the singing enters their hearts. What they hear is a rewriting of all they have ever known, and it is a different song for each one of them.
Mothers stand tall – they remember. Husbands...fathers, sons – they bow their heads, some in shame, others in reverence.
Lorla and Beguilah move behind me to raise my dead arms, and the written-dress falls away like sloughed skin into the crowd. Every skin touched by the sacred parchment burns bright with enlightenment – as do my naked remains.
The people fall silent as I bloat with the physical aftermath of death, and Artemis’s shifting penetration. The hemp rope from which I swing gives way instead of tightening around my throat, and I float... legs apart in eternal childbirth, swollen nubs of nourishment seeping, dripping onto crops, crones and some-time Christians to be shared, equally – by all.
I wait behind the wall of water, in Artemis’s nest – bequeathed to me as guardian. The tribes will not come tomorrow, or next year, nor perhaps for many hundreds of years but when they do – and they will, for nothing remains unturned – I may no longer be able to speak their language. It will matter not.
I shall sing the Song of Restoration.
I shall know which dress to wear.
Lily is the author of the Magenta Shaman urban fantasy series and horror short story collection Cabaret of Dread. She blogs at The Feardom, is Horror Editor at award-winning e-zine Thrillers Killers ‘n’ Chillers and is a Spinetingler Award nominee (2011). Her dark fiction, twisted crime short stories and poetry appear in a number of anthologies and in various ezines.
Follow her on Twitter: @LilyChilds and Facebook: LilyChildsFeardom
Xero says: I owe a lot to Lily. Through her Friday Prediction, an informal flash competition, I honed my drabble-craft and met a great crowd of fellow writers. She is a mistress of modern horror, but more than that, her writing has depth and artistry, each sentence often a gem in itself.