It hadn’t happened since I first died, but now hunger ripped me open. The hunger was a thing deep inside me, pushing upward from my stomach and wrapping around my heart, moving farther into my brain like a splinter pushing through flesh and blooming out in a wild, ravenous agony.
I couldn’t remember food from before, not the actual meals Alice prepared, but I could remember the sensation of feeling full and satisfied. In this new place, the dark side of darkness, there were no sensations but hunger. Blind and mute, numb but for a steady tingling from my chin to my chest along my neck. Movement was another thing from before, though I tried in the darkness.
I had become a monstrous thing with a neck so long and stretched my eyes could not make out my body far below.
I concentrated on my shoulder and tried to will it to life for what seemed hours, training my thoughts on one idea, one moment of simple movement. And then it happened. My shoulder inched forward, followed by my arm and then my hand. Movement, and then a second sensation, that of sound, the sound of rough leather moving across rough leather, two sandstones pushed together and rubbed slowly.
The sound came from far away, ten or twenty feet. I at last managed to move my head, turning in the direction of the rough sound, and felt my neck whip like a tossed bed sheet, ripping down toward my body. A streak of light passed in the dark and in that instant I thought I saw Alice. But for now, I needed to eat.
Lying in an open field, it seemed, was my new body, most everything normal save my neck, which extended in a long and winding slip of roughened skin to my body. When I moved my neck, I again heard the sound of sandstones rubbing against one another.
A sunrise taking place through trees lining a mountaintop looming just above me began to illuminate this newest world here in hell. Neither cold nor hot, the air around my distorted body filled with warm sensations such as is found on summer mornings when mountain flora bakes slowly and reaches all the senses. I could smell grass and maybe dandelions like a kind of food in my nostrils. I leaned back and let my yo-yo head rest easy on the ground, turned my head when I felt grass touching my cheek and took in a mouthful.
I chewed, and the grass tasted wonderful. I popped the round head of a dandelion between my back molars and bit down slowly, enjoying the release of flavor, an enormously satisfying thing in my state of pure, blinding hunger. And then I swallowed.
At first, it was like any other time I had swallowed, the chewed grass clumping at the back of my throat, but then it passed by my tonsils and began its slow slide toward my stomach, all those dozens of feet away. The clump hung in my long throat so long I began to cough, causing it to purge back up toward my mouth, my clenched teeth to begin the process over again. It occurred to me I would be hungry for a long time, until it finally reached my waiting stomach, and panic filled me up.
It happened like a kite flapping in a breeze, the moving. My neck, this stretched out leathery thing, rippled first from under my chin and then, muscles throughout hardly working at all, the length of it moved out in a slow-motion wave. I generated this from some unknown places inside my brain—move, move, move—that was motivated entirely by my hunger—eat, eat, eat.
The grass-food had traveled hardly two feet down my horrible neck to the starving rest of me when I saw a flash of auburn hair moving across the ground like pond water disrupted in the new sunlight, and her voice carrying like its own water through the trees.
She was here somewhere, always. Like music I could hear her voice.
In the last part of our first year we fought in ways it seemed others had not thought possible before then. About Jesus, crowds, correcting children, all the rest. It came about that when I saw her face, I saw a courtroom, a barrister, a jury of her unborn sisters and brothers to whom she took by the hands and danced throughout the proceedings to the music of my downfall, a predicted thing from the moment I opened my mouth to say much of anything.
And always with the body of her hair steeped atop her head, a pin, my dagger, tucked safely inside.
It mostly went like this:
While my eyes went elsewhere, she carefully removed her hair-held dagger, tucking it behind the soft skin of her forearm where the muscle rested beneath in vengeance and wrath. While I spoke, the words all as useless as another’s expelled breath, she flicked the dagger with the cup of her hand, flecking away parts of herself, preparing pain for pain. And then she spoke, a ploy to occupy the rapt kinfolk of her jury. In the time it took her to speak ill words falling on the choir, the dagger targeted closer to the place where my heart sat unaware. But then, almost to avoid cliché more than anything else, the death strike came in the very middle of a point she was nearly finished making and it came across my leg, a surprise, a nick across the artery, just enough to make me seem lame in the courtroom of her world.
I never offered to defend myself. I was colored in the bright red of humiliation pouring out from me in a blood gush only I cared to stop.
And these were our private conversations, after a short while. No time at all, really.
The music of her voice rose from a spill of auburn across the ground, something of an earth, a solid thing, at least, that Alice rose up from. She had been gone such a long time. She was a cloak of dark and burning color coming to stand as if pulled by a string from somewhere high above where I now lay on my side, the burden of my head too much for my stretched neck to manage. I was a fallen beast, but she called me a beautiful stricken unicorn, a story told to make children smile, but pitiful, too.
Her voice was a warm water melody. In this way it curled out from the cloak of her hair as she lifted her head. The spill of her hair parted and her jeweled green eyes settled on my wrapped up form. She smiled, an audible movement that crackled like bread breaking apart, and reached to gently touch my face.
I moved away from her touch, the soft fingertips I could almost remember, the love held inside them. I moved away, waiting for fire or ice. The fingers spread apart and she allowed the palm of her hand to lay flat against my cheek. I wanted to seek her out, too, to reach for her in some way meaningful. I thought of our arguments when I was alive and the courtroom back and forth of our voices high in the night and lasting through the day. My hand, encased in the same leathery skin as the rest of my body, fell away before it ever started away from my hip where it lay as a gasping fish in some kind of death-death. I thought of how her voice became a law and mine was pressed into a nothing so small the time to laugh would have been life wasted by the on-looking jury of the world. I thought of all of this, looked to my hating hand, and, instead, made to strike Alice, this new Alice of water and music and caressing.
A coliseum of polished trombones could not have matched her wails then. Her sounds somehow lit the strange morning sky and for the first time I saw how tragically far the rest of my body and punished stomach winded out from the rest of this me. The brittle grass I had eaten now nearly an hour ago was still visible, the same tiny clump beneath the skin of my throat, a mere five or so feet from my lips. I focused on estimating how much farther it would need to travel until I found some relief from the hunger. I did this to cast my focus on anything other than trombone-screaming Alice. It must have been half the length of a commercial airstrip.
For the first time since the graying in the woods, I moved to speak, but I produced nothing. It seemed our love and our hate was beyond words. Our love was moonlight. It swam across water and nestled in corners and beneath stretches of open night sky. It cast a beautiful strangeness on everything.
And there was as much mystery tangled up in it as could be found throughout the halls of slain goddesses and gods. It existed in that way, a thing of mythology even as it lived inside us.
We could feel it, this mystery. With every argument that fell outside the two of us, our home, our four walls, we withdrew more into each other. Before long, it wasn’t only the outside arguments growing us more powerfully close between the clouds, it was everything. All people, each building. Animals competed for a place in our moonlight. Conversations with others soon became hardly more than a collection of moments to be cast as suspect.
It grew in this way, the way a monster will, within the minds of people, until it was larger, less manageable, than our individual selves. We killed ourselves and each other with our own moonlight, burning it more brightly than the sun and all of its planets. We became the universe to build one another up again, an explosion of matter, a holy beginning, one tree of life to which we were both bound. Each goal was common and shared. Every defeat became a war, the one tree of holy life exploding.