Bright Morning Sunshine
The haze within the cabin is airy and thin as Albey crawls gingerly into consciousness. Dulled senses give the Mad Poet’s body an almost crispy feeling, as though he had slept in a warm oven and was burnt a golden brown around the edges like a batch of Ram’rl’s bread, and though he would not call last night’s experience intoxication, Albey does feel as though he’s heading back towards a sober mindstate rather than starting there. There is no ache in his head, no nausea in his stomach, nor are his hands and feet cold, but he does feel fuzzy. Hazy, in a word; glowing in another.
He rolls over to one side and gazes at the darkness where there should be a belt of morning sunlight peering in through the crack beneath the door. Albey blinks thrice in an attempt to remember where he is, how he got here, what exactly is going on right now, and it slowly comes back to him. The fire at The Lodge, the palaver with Gobon which inexplicably landed him in the firepit outside the cabin. The starvation, the dehydration, the key woven into the mat, the jars of food and water, all the books. The strange book. The expedition he made through the burnwood forest opposite his Ouroboros River, the odd denizens who followed him through the wood. The whitetails. The skunk. The wolf.
The dead wolf, its head pulverized by a bloody rock.
Then he returned to the cabin with a fright and locked himself in, blockaded the door with the trunk full of water jars. Lit a fire. Lit the pipe. Read from the strange tome he wishes he never foun–… that he’s grateful to have found, for if the mysterious creatures which the book describes do lurk in the forest beyond the spring atop the waterfall crag then Albey should want to know everything he can about them, so he can be ready. He should, that is, and yet he wishes he never found it all the same. If they mean to come and kill him then fine, what is shall be so, but let them do it in his sleep when Albey is blissfully unaware so he may carry no memory of them into the next Life.
“Granted there is a next Life,” Albey grumbles to himself, “and granted the creatures are real.” He drops his feet off the bed and lets them clap to the floor. Sits up. Rubs his eyes. “But of course there is a next Life, and a Life between then and now. Otherwise I’d not have seen Iuqon and Ram’rl in the vision last night.”
Ah yes, the vision. That which came unto him after toking on the bowl of herb. Was that real?
“Surely,” he says pertly as he stands and raises his arms into a stretch. Screaming turns to singing as the tight muscles in his back loosen and relax. Albey bends down with straight legs and reaches for his toes, but does not quite touch them. “I slept too deeply for it to be a mere dream; surely the voyage was real.”
The voyage, that’s a good word for it. Yes, voyage ; Albey knows not why, but that term is perfect. He took a voyage guided by the hand of the herb – no, The Flower, it should be called The Flower – the cannastralis satidica plant, and it led him to The Void between the universes, and ‘twas there he met with the Mage and the Unfallen. They suggested he go and investigate that which lies beyond the spring which feeds the twin waterfalls, and when he returned from the voyage it seemed like a good idea… but now…
“But now,” Albey sighs as he ambles slowly to unblock the door, moving to avoid the table and the pipe and jar he left on the floor, “it is now, and I have slept very late.”
The trunk seems heavier this morning, as though it were full of clay bricks rather than jarred water, but he heaves it back into place between the shelves of jarred meats and herbs regardless. When he opens the door he is blinded, and closing his eyes against the sunlight does not make it any dimmer.
“Yes,” the Mad Poet grumbles tiredly. “Very late indeed.” Albey steps outside into the morning and squints up at the sky. The sun has yet to peak. “So it is still morning, then. Mayhap the herb affected my sleep.”
Mayhap that’s not all it affected; the Mad Poet’s mouth is as dry as the dirt upon which he now stands, his stomach as empty as the cloudless sky, and his mind seems to be spiraling every which way at once. Suddenly he’s unsure of why he came outside – to check the position of the sun? Could that be all? – but here he is. Babbling in the distance is the Ouroboros River with its clean water and placid fish… and directly behind is a storehouse of jarred water and deliciously seasoned meats, plus a powwow to clean up and a fireplace which would do well to be cleaned out. Albey returns inside and leaves the door open behind him, as to save the gas in the lantern.
After carefully placing the herbs and pipe back on the table, the Mad Poet drains an entire glass of water without stopping to breathe, then doubles over and gasps as drips drop from his lips and trickle through his beard. He tosses the capless jar to the floor – it does not shatter; the prior tenant clearly knew what they were about in life and procured their supplies from a reputable merchant – and drains another to the point of half-fullness. Capped he replaces the jar back into the storage box, then removes it again and places it on the table. Next he goes to the meat shelf and takes down a jar of dried seasoned meats – venison, mayhap; it tastes too good to be squirrel or other bushgame – and eats heartily, even going as far as swabbing the jar’s interior with his fingers and sucking them clean of the choice bits of meat and herb flakes and salt crystals he dredges up. Again he tosses the jar to the floor, then picks both up and places them on the table.
Albey crosses the cabin and takes down one of the botany books. He can feel his bowels working, bubbling away, and instinct alone tells him to search out some roughage. At the foot of the burnwood trees are a great many shrubberies and brambles and herbal weeds alike, but in his own compendium of knowledge of this endless wood he has little information stored with which to discern between the edibles and the in-. He flips to a page with the words Mustard Greens scrawled along the top in the archaic handwriting of the maker of the book; below it is a sketch of a leaf which vaguely resembles that of a violet flower. Beside the leaf is a sketch of a stalk with what appear to be needles branching off of it along with the toothed violet-like leaves, plus small flowers growing at the top.
“Collect only basal leaves,” Albey reads, following the words with one finger. “Leaves near the flower are edible, but awfully bitter and devoid of the garlicy taste.
“Ah, so they taste of mustard and garlic, then,” as he closes the book and slides it back into place on the shelf. “Perhaps they won’t be quite as horrid as I feared.”
Albey trots outside with a skip in his step and makes a beeline for the edge of the forest. The thicker needles of the border burnwoods grab and poke at his clothes, but he’s so used to it at this point that the sensation hardly even registers. Not nineteen paces into the wood later does Albey come to a sprawling patch of the mustard greens; he bends low to begin picking the leaves, then straightens immediately and widens his eyes: his bowels are ready to move, and they’re ready to move now. Needles fly off the heels of his feet as he sprints away from the innocent mustard patch and clears himself out into the deep divot beneath a sizeable rock he shoved out of the way at the base of a misfortuned burnwood. After replacing the rock to muffle the scent of his work, Albey returns to the mustard patch feeling a good deal lighter on his feet and hunkers down this time to pick leaves. With two handfuls of basal leaves crushed tightly into one of his palms, Albey heads back to the cabin, munching away as he goes.
“They really do taste of garlic,” he marvels as he nears the border trees. “Thank the divine ones for this blessing, though I’m no longer sure I need it for the roughage.”
Regardless, Albey rustles through the trees and follows the trail of rounded footprints he tracked in his wake. The supply of mustard leaves dwindles like a fire without wood to fuel it as he enters the cabin; he snuffs it out in one bite. Chews. Reaches floorward to gather a bucket, belches on the way up. The fireplace must be cleaned, Albey decided on the way back, for the acrid reek of ash is all too pungent in this house of his, even with the door wide open and the air flowing through and up the chimney.
There is no broom, nor poker, nor shovel for the fireplace, so he’ll have to use his hands. He lays the bucket on its side and plunges his hands into the ashes, then falls back coughing as the plume which rises from the ‘place bites and claws at his nose, his eyes, his mouth. Pulling the undershirt over the lower half of his face like a mask and closing his eyes, Albey follows the sense of touch and fills the bucket with ashes, then picks it up and crawls backwards until his rear bumps against the table. The bucket is not quite full, but he did not do a bad job of filling it considering he did so blindly.
“Like the wolves of the Calla,” he says, suddenly grave. “Today is… what day is today?”
He isn’t sure, too much has been happening for him to keep track of something so menial as time. Still, it might pay off to make himself sure of the day, so Albey stands and takes the sheet of runes off the hearth where he laid it to dry Tuesday morning. It’s quite brittle now; were he to fold the sheet it would likely break, so he shall not fold it. He shall simply read it, and read it he does.
“Thursday,” Albey says with a hint of relief. “A day of Peace.”
The sheet with the seven astral runes of Existence is returned to the hearth. Albey notices he left a couple of sooty thumbprints on the papyrus, so he claps his hands together and then winces as yet more ashes cling to his eyes.
“I’ll dump the bucket,” he hazards, grabbing up the bucket, “then fill it again. No need to spill out what it holds.”
Out the door the Mad Poet goes into the bright morning sunshine.
This has been the second subchapter of the fifth chapter of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~