The Source is a blade without a handle. With one hand the Source gives, and with the other the Source takes away.
Market Day is the day of the ceremony. Once a week like clockwork – the poor, the infirm, the thirsty. They come to me for guidance, reassurance, a gentle smile, a blessing. And as the Guardian I do my best to ease their suffering, lead them down the right path, cure their ailments.
This evening it was different: the hangings had just happened, Bambi told the crowd there wouldn’t be water this week, people panicked. They flocked to me in droves; any who usually came alone brought a friend, seeking answers, wanting assurances that the Source would not leave them bereft.
I began the ceremony, and as I raised my hands skyward, appealing to the gods, the heavens opened up and rain began to fall. My people rejoiced: they opened their mouths to catch the droplets, they squealed with glee, the twins each kissed a likely fellow and left him swooning. But the Maelstrom had more for me: it clutched me in its grasp, my vial of water began to glow, first blue then yellow, and in my head I heard the tongue of the Source. A harsh, guttural language, but at the same time soft, melodious. It made no sense, but made all the sense in the world. My eyes flickered: black, then white, and within my mind I saw the faces of those Marked for Death. I watched them die: blown to bits, shot from afar, shot from not afar.
And then Ray’s face swam before my eyes. Her beautiful smile, her guileless eyes, her calloused hands. She was fading away before me. I knew I had to go.
Running is not difficult work – not when the one person outside of your flock you call friend is screaming at you from the Maelstrom itself. I felt no burn in my legs or lungs, and when I reached the gates of Ray’s Yard it was to see them blown to bits. A monster loomed over Ray, clutching a red-hot pair of tongs in one good hand, laughing. Ray was screaming in agony.
The monster fled before me and I turned to Ray. Her arm was blistered, blackened from the fires of pain, burning. I wet my hands with water from my vial and pressed them to her skin: sizzling, searing, steaming. When I let her go I saw it there, my hand imprinted onto her flesh. She would bear the mark for all her days.
“You’re a Marked One!” the monster – I recognized her now as Legs – exclaimed. “And you’re one who can Mark!”
Legs didn’t have time to say anything else. Datsun came a’knockin’.
I felt the Maelstrom in the back of my mind, caressing my brain with its tentacles of knowledge, slithering inside my thoughts. Ray’s radio spoke to me, and my vision went black, then white. I saw the Source, but it wasn’t mine, but it was mine. It always had been and never was. Its followers wore yellow, then red, then colors that I can not begin to describe. Everything was right. Everything was wrong. I was alive. I was dead. Drowning. Burning. Garroted. Bambi’s bloody face swam before me – knifed, shot, crushed under the weight of a water truck. Ray’s truck.
The Source giveth, and the Source taketh away. I felt it drain me as it bestowed knowledge upon me. Too many times I had accessed the Maelstrom this evening; it punished me, the errant guardian, the wayward child. It was not to be trifled with. I would need to offer a sacrifice when I returned to the warm springs of the Source.
Legs and Ray were arguing about Bambi, but I saw him die. Ray did it. She said she didn’t but she did. I saw it. Crushed under the weight of her truck. She said it doesn’t run yet, but the truck killed Bambi all the same. Legs seemed disappointed, kept repeating something about “Leg Day,” Butch skipping it. Maybe it’s her birthday; maybe she killed Butch for want of presents.
Doesn’t she know there’s a shortage this week?
Ray thumped her radio real good after Legs took off to burn the bodies. I don’t think it was the same thump that came from the slave quarters; that one was louder, like a skin drum. After a few beats it quieted.
The smoke spoke for it.