Round Robin Fiction, Part II

The windy and restless night birthed a clear morning. But Sean was still walking, spurred onwards by the weight of the task ahead of him from TrainDoc’s words the night before. “Someone there will need your help and someone else needs a hurt put on ’em…”

The burn of the wound on his back—mixed with sweat and the stinging agony—was the driving force behind his heavy legs. The old dirt road he had been walking on since dawn was dusty, and parched tan grass and weeds thirstily clung to the sides of the road. The bottom of the dirt track was mottled with crinkled pockmarks where rain had puddled and dried a lifetime ago.

As hours of walking wore on, he knew that the revelation of TrainDoc’s challenge was soon to come. The few notes of a faint melody caught his attention, as a welcome burst of fresh breeze made the leaves on the trees show their green underbellies. His gut clenched as he walked onward, suddenly reassured of his journey. A small curve in the road opened up into a shady cathedral of majestic oaks framing a disintegrating old mansion, its dignity now held together by two-by-fours nailed to the outside. Barely visible was an old painted address sign that matched the one on the scrap of paper.

He had arrived. An algae-choked creek created a barrier to the fortress, and Sean was grateful to see a small bridge to ford the murky water. Surrounding the mansion was a dense, thorny briar of roses that had discovered their primeval heritage. And then he could hear it—a singular, clear voice of pure musical expression rose up from inside the thicket, closer to the old fortress.

The hopeful melody cut through his daze as curiosity tugged at Sean. He spied a small path through the tall green grass, and suddenly he was inside the enclosure framed by years of old undergrowth and thick, twining roots. The air was cooler from the embracing shade, and a sense of peace that reached even the most wanderlusted traveler crept up his calves. The enclosed space felt like a haven, a lost paradise hailing from past splendor. Shady vines hung down like ballet dancers’ arms in graceful waves as if in a secret dance, and enormous statues peeked out of the mess of vines and dead leaves like children playing hide-and-seek.

As he walked closer to the dilapidated old house, a flash of ivory skin caught his eye, making him jump. His eyes on the skin, he realized it was a single white marble hand emerging from the thick green overgrowth. Nestled in the cupped stone palm was an arranged pattern of dry wildflowers and acorns. “An offering…” he murmured.

The dusky timbre of the music meandered through the vines and caught Sean’s attention once more, as the tune changed to a lament that made him pause. Suddenly, a faint crunch of dried leaves ahead tore his thoughts away from the hand. Momentary fear closed up his throat as a small white head appeared; his panic eased again as an albino goat stumbled out of the knotted thicket. Its head cocked to one side, the white ruminant evaluated Sean from a distance with bright red eyes that were alight with eerie intelligence. The goat creature turned away from Sean, squeezing into the foliage on the other side of the thorny passageway, but not before its lips curled up around its teeth in what could have been a smirk or a smile. And then it was gone—the small crunches of hooves breaking leaves, disappearing into the bush.

Sean breathed a sigh of relief and continued on his way, closer to the music. No, it wasn’t a human voice as he had previously thought, but some kind of instrument—although not played in a way he’d ever heard before. It was some kind of truth or story being told; he wasn’t sure which. The passage opened up into a clearing in front of the old mansion, where a tended garden enclosed by a mess of wire held court for abundant tomatoes and jewel-like eggplants swinging from lush foliage. A young boy—sitting on an old barrel, playing a clarinet—was the source of this clear sound. The dark texture of the clarinet music wound together fittingly with the ardor of Sean’s journey to this place, and the mystery posed by the sense of peace he felt in this lost garden.

As he walked closer to the boy playing, a piercing feral roar came from inside the sagging building, shattering his sense of wonderment. Sean froze, unsure of himself and of what was to come. A high-pitched infant’s squeal followed, releasing his inhibitions; as Sean raised his gaze to the clarinet boy, the youth motioned—with his clarinet still raised to his mouth—toward the open doorway into the dark building. As Sean crossed the threshold, the scene before him left him awestruck. A young woman kneeling on the floor, naked from the waist down, was clutching a wet, pink infant to her chest.

Sean sunk to his knees a few feet from the mother; her eyes were alight with a shiny, animalistic wisdom as she regarded him levelly. In the space of a heartbeat she reached down on the floor between her legs and lifted up the meaty placenta covered in blood clots. She held it out in her hand—an offering, the only type of meat that isn’t slain. Sean knew what this meant. He leaned forward, the scent of fresh meat beckoning him; he timidly sunk his front teeth into the warm, ferrous flesh and took his first bite. Sitting back on his haunches while chewing the placenta, his eyes locked with the new mother as he reached into his back pocket for the wrapped package that TrainDoc had given him.