Of Oranges Like Sunset
rating: +10+x

How do you feel about the sea? Easy question — you love it. But why?

The water ripples. Your skiff rocks beneath you, languid as a tiger, pooling clear water outwards until the film of ash and dust catches up and gobbles away the disturbance. The air is still, the sky warm, the sea sleepy and slow. Out here, there’s just the ash. And the wind; and the island; and the currents; and, at last, you.

On the horizon rises an island. It stands like some jagged tower broken off a castle keep, all uncut marble and imperfect quarry-stone and heavy lime and heavy smoke-flecked granite. It’s staggering, even though you have seen the island in reliefs, sketches brought from university rangers, in salt-flecked books bound in unfamiliar leather that smelled of honey and preservative sugars. The island stretches high above the clouds, casting a singular long shadow across the breadth of the Sea.

Yank your thoughts back to the present, a fish hooked and pulled to the surface. Glass has pooled in the base of your boat, shards melted from the air, pulled from the wind carrying silicates and hot dust-fine sand. The dull gleam coming from above — that’s not the sun, don’t mistake it as such — just beyond the island’s burning peak is pale, glimmering like snow. Not for much longer now, you know. Row through this thought, and don’t consider how you know this — better to cherish oblivion while you know it’s there. Knowledge will come later. Shadows, too, like an all-too-fast sunset.

Don’t look up. It’s hard to remember how the sky was, anyway, with the crunch of majesty beneath your skiff. And of your skiff — you have drifted closer to the island, in your reverie. A mile out from land, with the reek of rotting seaweed and brine heavy in your nose and lungs, intermingling with the thick stench of ash. Row backward, then East, following the guiding-lines of white poking through that ember-stitched fabric of amber clouds. Know that you will be there soon.

Yawn as you row. You won’t be going ashore, and the island is a mile off from where you are now: a long distance, but also so impossibly short. Steer into the ash-rimmed waves, and feel, not see, the sky turning chill as the sun greets a new quarterpoint in the sky. Your arms ache, but the ache is numbed by dull repetition. As you go, allow yourself to drift into memory.

The memory, though, is not your own.


The orange tree was the colour of the sun. Not the colour of the sun like it was red or orange or yellow or gold, nor any of those other strange colours that people ascribe to the point of heat and light in the sky — nor was it purple, green, aquamarine, or sapphire or amethyst as people love a sunset to be. No, this orange tree was the colour of the Sun: brilliant white and searing, glorious and prismatic, and when the wind nibbled the leaves and star-white branches it suffused not with the acrid chemicals of black walnut nor the pink snow of seasonal flowering sakura but rather with a clinical miasma of char and ozone, bleached lightning-struck sand, damp char and dust from the first rain after roaring wildfire. That is how the tree looked, and that is how the tree smelled. But that is not all.

More than that: this tree was short, at least for now. Not short by tree standards, but short when compared to a house, a skyscraper, a mountain. This tree was as tall as a great sequoia, or maybe a proud castle wall, and its branches fanned out in a dazzling maze. When the sun went down above and the sea fell into quiet slumber, the island stayed awake – illuminating, not shadowing – the young plants greening the yawning spaces below its great branches, flickering with its many leaves a dappled sunshine into the twilit tidepools at the edge of the shore. Because this tree was on an island, but that island was very small, and so its domain was composed of the sea, the land, and itself.

Beyond that heavy wide space in the sky that the tree took up, and below those thin streaks of mist it called clouds that hissed into steam in morning with the combined heat of the tree and the sun upon them, lay leaves. Leaves upon stone. Over years upon years upon years the tree and all the green things beneath it dropped leaves, and over the centuries the small green things grew to be less small green things that wriggled and died and were grown upon again, and the island grew through this mass grave of species. But the tree remained, and as its roots wriggled in the newfound space over the years the strange biting and squirming things underground crawled confused circles around the heat and light from the roots that jutted into their domain, but then eventually accepted and then loved those roots when winter came and they could snuggle close to survive and teach many culture generations about their love of the great warm roots as they never could before.

And as the years passed and the island grew fat with the leaves and roots and salt-sucked water-dried nutrient-rich muck of the sea, as the soil itself glowed and the animals lost their need for sleep and the species grew wild and free beyond the whims and limitations of a solar-powered species as the mainland had to do, it was known: the orange tree was death, and it was life, for it killed but allowed many many more to live than would die under its great branches. It was remembrance, and it was loss, for many things could stay alive to teach the future now that the tree was here. This tree was the stars, and it was the void, for there was no night now with the tree illuminating the sky.

And above all, this tree was the Sun. And it was beautiful.


Ash has collected on your shoulders, filmed on your tongue, slicked your lungs with wet deprivation. Brittle filament-glass, cut from the air and fragmented up into dust by the sea, has made its presence known in a honeycomb of white on the rim of your boat and as a thousand needles prickling half-numb and cold in those few patches of skin you let touch the world.

You are so pale. Is it pain? Keep rowing — the sun is setting — and investigate yourself, with your mind and not your fingers, because you are still rowing, because the sun is setting and the great sky-scraping pillar of the orange tree is hot on your back. Perhaps the tree is angry. You want to turn back, soothe it. But you cannot — rest your eyes resolutely on the horizon, tearing them from the pooled black mass of the fishing rod warming like a cat over your feet. Is it warm too? Or are you just insane?

Small flecks of ash and ember shift before your eyes. Maybe it’s an indication of thermals. Or maybe the Sea has drained you of blood again, supped from your warm beating heart as it tends to do these days.

Or maybe you are just insane today. It happens.

Squint at the sunset. Your mind is still, you recognize: the memory of the island pounds behind your eyes in a thick drumbeat, asynchronous and arrhythmic, but it holds no ground in your conscious perception. It is nowhere close to the soothing bass of your heartbeat in your ash-flecked lungs. It holds itself prisoner and thus it will need to wait before it expresses itself again.

The sun itches at your eyes. It won’t be long now — fondle the fishing rod with your eyes, dark as night, soft as velvet, not made of wood, plastic, metal, or anything in-between in the bottom of your boat, then keep your eyes on the horizon, holding your breath between gasps of grapefruit-acrid lumps of air. Keep rowing, faster now, making up for lost time, straining muscles used to slow rhythm and now whipped into frenzy.

When you reach the island’s shadow, salivating frothy pink, breath reeking of iron, perspiring like a night’s rain under your overcoat, the sun is low. And as you pass into the chill where the sun has never touched — the island is not still, you recall dimly, it rotates around this fixed point, keeping it in perpetual shadow and always freezing — the sun vanishes over the horizon and the world plummets into night’s embrace.

You have arrived. Stop in the middle of the sea. The sky and sea are inseparable, impenetrable, a deep soup of black. You are alone.

And you are ready.


The orange tree that looked like the Sun was of medium height now, and it shone greater than before: its glow banished the sun at day, and its heat burned steaming streaks in the ground and sea come noon. The fish and ground things learned to avoid these spots, for they were not frogs in a boiling pot but fish in a steaming sea and moles in a sweltering underground. But none of this was terrible, because even as the coral overheated and cliche and the starfish turned inside-out and stayed that way and migratory schooling fish pooled belly-up by the thousands for the carrion-birds to feast upon for months with every passing season, the tree was still revered, for it brought steam and light upon the island of progress.

And what progress it was. As the tree grew, so too did the plants beneath its neon white rays, and so too did the snakes and alligators and lizards – even as the amphibians, like the fish, died by the thousands as their ponds dried up and as their waters heated to the point that their egg sacs burst like the bubble wrap that occasionally drifted up on the beach.

And so: In these days, when the tree was the width of a small town and equal in height to the peak of the tallest mountain, this tree was beautiful, and the tree was revered, and the tree still wished to be taller. And so it grew more, even as the heat within its core bubbled and swelled within like the magma in a bulging volcano. And the things beneath and within it called the tree unstoppable and never-changing, and they did not find it strange because the tree was their home and always had been. And none of them noticed the strangeness in its history because none of them bothered to record the size, because the tree was eternal and their lives were short.

Above all, in this age, this tree was beautiful. This tree was the Sun, and this tree had eclipsed the night with its many limbs and banished shadows from the island it had become, even underground, with its brilliant light.

But above all, this tree was the Sun, and would one day burn like it too. This tree was the world, and it would soon begin to die.


It is so dark, the water. Your boat rocks, bringing you back into awareness. Coming back into your mind, however, after the scalding heat of memory: find yourself as the one rocking, not your boat. The sea is completely, utterly still as glass. You can feel it in your body, not with the vision of your eyes, because your eyes are squeezed shut.

Force yourself to see – trembling with your heart and in the tension beneath your skin – and find that above you are stars, stars thousandfold, but they give you no comfort because they are not your own. Wake up fully, stand shuddering, feel the need to move. Your boat is cramped somehow, too small now, and you are full to bursting with energy. As you pace in your boat, don’t look down — watch the sky and so very carefully observe the stars and—

The water is as dark as void. If you looked down — are you looking down right now? Are you? You are, you are — you would be afraid to fall out of your boat, topple over the edge, and you would think you would never hit the water, only fall from the only true home you have ever known and down, down, down, past the anglerfish and the sperm whales, past the deep-sea drills and the rust-entombed exploration modules, through the silt-clouds and the white ocean snow, past the yellow-tar silt and the whalefalls long since decayed into mighty mausoleums of bone and pickled cartilage, past everything big and small and known and unknown and glorious and terrible hidden in the deep and the dark and the forgotten. You would punch through the core of the planet, would fall out the other side of the Earth, would topple swayingly in a thousandfold current wrought of your own passage, and on the other side of falling there would be no land, no sea, no sun, no stars, only the deepest, blackest void, and even that would be lacking. And you would not know if you had slowed or stopped because there would be no near or far anymore, and you would feel forever like you were falling still. And after an eternity in nothingness, you would finally freeze breathless, crying, alone, without sight or mind or body, and you would die despairing. A graveless burial in the blackest sky.

In the world again, find yourself sitting — when did you do that? — staring resolutely up, shaking with eyes dry from lack of blinking. The alien stars drift above, shifting and turning in the great abyss that they call home and you call terror. Take a deep, shuddering breath — a monster is in your chest, clawing at your lungs — and wrench your eyes from the sky; tear your eyes a second later from that monolith on the horizon casting a shadow — that monolith that never did conform to those contemporary ideas of tree or island — and stare at something else. And then realise that you are falling away again, falling away from yourself, and bring yourself fully back into knowledge of yourself and the world, and — weren’t you sitting, a moment ago? — find yourself standing, wobbling, sopping wet — did you fall? Has the void touched you? Push the thought away — and clutching your fishing rod with both hands, shaking with ice-brilliant terror with the cold crystallising on your jacket and the unsurmountable gravity of what you are doing now and can’t remember doing two minutes ago burning blue and black in your chest, a hungry void of movement without feeling. Find this within yourself, and find your arms and torso statue-still, static, holding your fishing rod and poised to throw the line.

And then the freeze ends, and your body starts to move.

Frantically dart your mind about, banging your consciousness against anything that might slow your body — the miniscule machine of meat and bone and blood and viscera that holds the grey and white of who you are — from committing actions you cannot undo, and find so very little. You are an infernal engine. An unstoppable force. Always have been. There is nothing that can keep you from seeing or doing or experiencing what you shouldn’t. Nothing but yourself, and you are nothing.

It is terrifying.

Watch transfixed from behind your eyes as your hands grasp that fishing rod of warm solid shadows— do you remember painting it? Find yourself locking muscles, resurrecting life and motion with old actions and, agonisingly, recall stripping shadows from the things that wouldn’t miss them, fusing them together with your own blood, infusing the living, wriggling darkness of the result with memories of your own making—

And then that moment, like all the rest, passes. Your muscles unlock, joints unglue from the bindings of memory because you have run out, and the shadow blacker than the blackest night that is your rod, line, hook, and sinker flies—

    • _

    (Despairing, looking anywhere but at your actions now: Are you surprised that you can still see the stars, at the edge of your vision, where embers flit like fireflies? They swim against the deepness of ash and the brightness of chemically altered night, and burn like a forest fire on the horizon, illuminating the ash-clouds from within. The fog that has settled over the sea is, too, lit from within, and it is thick with ash and smoke, bright orange on grey waves. Does it surprise you that this is the way the world has come to be? If so, don’t be. Don’t be afraid of the night, or surprised by the movement of the stars. The world only moves when it thinks you aren’t looking, because it knows you’ll be afraid. Love them now, the ember-ash and diamond-stars, for this opportunity to see them dancing now)

—into the sea.

In your boat, stand statue-still, mind and body waiting together for what happens next. Wait, marble-pale in the dark, with the tree with the width of a city and the height of a mountain burning so like a furnace at your back. Wait, and feel your heartbeat inching along with the rest of the world toward sunrise.

Wait, and feel yourself breathe.

Up and down your diaphragm moves, keeping the pace with the ripples you’ve carved into the otherwise unblemished mirror of night, slowing down as each wave grows weaker – lesser – until you have slowed that the ash on your lap does not stir and you cannot feel yourself breathe. Stillness reigns in your head and in the sea, your boat as idle as a painted ship upon a flash photo ocean. The stars are as plentiful in the sky as they are in the waters, and a mute question becomes etched upon your lips: Which is which?

Up and down, up and down. But breath does not escape your chest.

In the moonless dark, light is not strong enough for you to cast a reflection upon the liquid. At your back, the tree’s luminosity knows only itself, devouring all silhouettes in its fiery embrace, a perpetual flashbang silhouetting and consuming anything that dares step into its white shadow. You are an unperson here, your substance foreign and shunned. That with no shadow can barely call itself a thing at all.

Petrified, working on instructions you scarcely remember forming just in case your mind wouldn’t work but your body could, you stare blankly at the point where old sailors swear sky and sea become one, as if trying to find a keyhole in the wall of alien stars. Up is down, down is up. The words do not leave your lips, for you no longer have them; you are nothing, an entity of mass and sight and thought, nothing but strange intent bereft of the tools to see itself materialised. The rod, the hook — you can no longer feel them. Were they ever there to begin with? Hold tight, hold firm, without shifting, and remember that even in this stillness, in this void, you are a creature of certainty, of dirt and blood, of breath and word. And the word is am. Take another breath, break the quietude of your nigh-forgotten self – for you are – and gaze at where the fishing line cuts off into black.

Nothing exists but you and the stars. The void is absolute and the tree is what becomes it, and you are a silent island in this ocean of absence.

In your stillness, one hand drifts from its oar and slips into the sea. No ripple nor wake breaks the surface. The current is warm — you slip your hand back out not by reflex nor mind and settle it back upon the oar in the same liquid motion. There is no injury to be seen. No needle-prick, no cut under your flesh, no writhing mass of metal unfurling to sap energy and light until it can work—


You are a silent island in this ocean of absence. Only you know this, of course, for you are the only one here who knows anything at all. The tree knows nothing. The stars know nothing. They are blind titans, idiot gods who neither move nor speak, their creations but sheer luck or misfortune, accidents of cosmic proportions. Only you possess intent. Fertile, your synapses writhe with understanding of your task, of your wait. Stay focused, stand ready.

Are you fishing for a star?

Perhaps, you’ve thought, you might snatch one from the sea that is heaven, from the heaven that is the sea. In this stillness they are one, inseparable, indistinguishable. Were you not so focused, you could propel yourself off the boat, swim away into the darkness above – the darkness you believe to be above – and become a dweller of outer space, a pearl diver who searches not the depths for oysters, but the bowels of nebulae for newborn asters. There, floating in dark matter, you could harvest one million points of light, one million seeds of cosmic fire.

Can you see it? Not yet, not quite. White fire is not an easy catch, for the lure is not worm or fly, but the very consciousness that has kept you separate from light and dark, from tree and void. Stars desire permanence and determination to grow; stars abhor grey zones and the world of worlds is all but grey save for the stubbornness of conscious things that cling to a belief that says otherwise. Gaze deeper, beyond the suffocating nothing of liquid space. Your line has not yet been tensed by the gravity of asters, so you allow a little more to sink into the abyss. No ripples break the mirror.

Slip down – or up – alongside it, trying not to lose yourself anew, for the call echoes loudly in the silence, the toll of bells from a cathedral that never was and never will be. Here, amidst the stars above and the stars below, you are both the fisher and the bait. And the fish…

You look up from the broken-glass underside of the waves and there it is, its abattoir-floor scales sparkling like a breathing constellation, its leviathan bulk almost one with the substance of the cosmos, of the abyss where it swims so gracefully, so monstrously. It moves past the white shadow of the tree, unwilling to risk burning or boiling at the touch of its antithesis – the thing that casts no darkness yet is. It is not what you wish to catch. You would take your attention from it, cast your call out further, shred your soul until you became but webbing covering the seventeen seas of this world and collapse inward at the finest trigger-catch of your prey upon your threads. You would forget what lay beneath you in favour of furthering your goal.

But the thing beneath you – above you – is a Leviathan.

You know time is of the essence, but how can you move fast and not break the stillness? No ripples must surge; no movement must disturb the void. If you fail, if the mirror shatters, you will be expelled, your form and shadow cast into one reality, your nature sundered from the twin worlds that are one. Only the tree, lacking a shadow, will remain both above and below.

Breathe, careful not to move at all, the workings of your innards separate from the rigidity of your arms. See the line, the silver streak that dives into the sea, into outer space. Focus on it, keeping the Leviathan in check below, beginning to end, from your calloused hands to the hook and sinker that still dangle beyond your sight, beyond your reach. Feel it as not a rod you hold in your hands, but as an extension of your body. Feel — no, will your nerve endings, your mind’s feeling of your body into the rod, into the line, into the sinker, into the hook — taste the cold of the water, the bite of the acid rain waves and dehydrating salt, the nibbling phytoplankton dying in the dark. And once you are there, hook attached to a line attached to something so very distant that one might have called your body: set your will upon the hook. Project the intent that makes you who you are, dream of holding the burning orb in intimate embrace. Burn on that hook, broil. Can you feel it? It digs into you, into your skin, blood bubbling and steaming, flesh screaming out as it is consumed. You call for your catch and project seven seas wide and two seas deep.

You sense it, don’t you? The reflection and return call, not of the void, but of the seed hidden beyond its black veil. At first it is as a phantom caress, like the touch of romance never truly consummated, warm yet distant. It grows as you near it, as you will yourself together and closer to the writhing core. Brighter, hotter, you can almost see it through your closed eyelids, through the tar-like blood of the cosmos. It is a miniature sun, an orb of pure light, and it drags everything in its orbit to a fiery demise so that it may be nourished, so that its power will not be lost to the depths into which it has fallen. The sea bubbles and cooks alongside you, and around it is a plasma-burning membrane of air where the water cannot go. You can feel the hook following down that path, not bitten by prey, but itself being preyed upon by the sunseed. Gravity pulls down, and up, and into itself.

This is why you are here. This is your will.

Is it, though?

Hold your breath, taking one last sip of oxygen for your lungs. This is the hardest part, and you must be careful, for the sunseed may yet flare and struggle, unable to comprehend the reason behind its disinterment. The ripples it sends through the dark matter will alert the leviathan, and what a tempting worm that will then be.

Easy now. Slowly. Break not the stillness; so long as the mirror remains, your prize will be at hand. Slide towards the rod’s handle, careful not to rattle the line, and pull.

Your strength against the seed’s, the return of your line is strained, painfully slow. You must convince it not to dive further away, not to get lost amidst the great backcloth of stars, but to consume the line, to eat its way towards you. There is no up or down, only there and here. Here, where you stand firm – and there, where the seed has failed to grow roots in the water column of a world so alien to it. It belongs with the island, with the tree that birthed it. It will not go there, but your nearness to it helps. An affinity of sorts: you feel like home. The seed quiets, letting you close. Don’t stop. Pull.

Time is as meaningless as direction. The pain in your arms has always been there, always begging you to let go and break the mirror, to return the way you came and forget about the tree and its burning seed. The pull has always resisted you, always attempted to foil your efforts – and it always will. This has been and will be forever, forever like the ocean and the sky and the great door that links them both.

Do not listen to your body, do not listen to the ache of time unknown. The seed has fallen for your bait, knowing now that at the other end of the line awaits a meal more sating than mere matter: a will, a power to change oneself and others. Feel it eating its way towards you, timid at first, but growing ravenous as it senses fuel for its burning core, for its white-hot glory. It grows closer now, more and more painful.

As it nears, feel the agony on your flesh, on your mortal form. Skin and bone were never meant to be this close to the fires, never meant to hug the stars, yet here you are – about to nest in your embrace a substance anathema to your very existence. Your cells unravel, radiation tearing apart strands of DNA even before you can feel the heat burning away layer after layer of skin. Only your eyes remain intact, transfixed on the blinding thing that grows bigger and bigger as it nears the surface of the water, the surface of the night. It burrows into your corneas, drinking tears that never leave your eyelashes. It’s beautiful…


No. Clutch it closer, almost engulf it, draw it in. It is so close, almost…


Something — the tree? – you can feel it calling, beckoning its seed out of the nothingness and into the real.


Oh no.

An eye the size of a moon opens beneath you, above you, its empty pupil piercing its way through realities as it stares through the sunset – right at you. It glows with its own malignant luminescence, a sharp magenta that reeks of blood and dead galaxies. From beyond the black void it gazes, thrumming as intent meets intent and the leviathan’s predatory instincts kick in. It will devour the stars, the planets, and the one whose will has intruded upon its domain.

You cannot move, scream, beg. Who out here would hear you if not the stars? Which among them would deign itself to aid you, the fisher who had sought to bring them low? There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, freezing won’t do anything now, so you pull. Harder this time, not moving until the sun is practically burning right in front of your eyes. Yank it forward.

The strike comes violently, monstrously. Scales pierce the nonexistent frontier of sky and sea, a mouth as wide as the fissures in the cosmos opening to swallow you whole, to extinguish the burning orb that brought you here. It is another layer in the abyss, a lower circle of this damned existence, of this cold world of mirrors. Once inside, there will be no light, no dark, nothing. Only the sound of rushing water and the fading thing you once called yourself.

Gaze into the eye, into the great harvest moon that has come for you, closer now to the surface of both sky and sea, a paradoxical horror that heralds the end of all. And as its maw swallows you, as the nothingness asserts itself, see the face in its crystalline miasma, a face lit by the sanguine moonlight against the burning sun. Clutch the burning sunseed to your chest. See your face, your reflection – and at last tell up from down.

And with that disconnection from your body in the boat and your mind here in the hook, with that final severance of your wish to remain here and your reality of belonging elsewhere, in that sequenced ripple of starless waves that you had been so careful not to disturb lest the groaning hunger of your home drew you back — it breaks.

Come to me.

The spell shatters with a thunderclap. And the leviathan, the orange tree, and this sea are no more.


Some things in the world believe death comes quickly, or that death is a distinct event in one’s time of passing – this is not so. The creatures who believe that death is a distinct event are all too often those who, too, see emotions as distinct; biomes as separate; nationalities as cleanly divided. These people are often at war, be it with themselves or with people whom they consider different from themselves (even though they are not), and these people do not know the nature of death because they worship it in everything they do: they praise their children for being the future, they remember the dead as a daily ritual, they evolve traits and behaviours and must-do’s and task lists and so on and so on all as a way of standing off against the inevitability of death, because they do not see that from the moment of the birth of the universe they were, in essence, already dying.

And so: death is a slow thing. It gives and it gives: height and heat and light are all bequeathed upon the one to die, and the reaper treats the one who is dying with tender care as they go through life: the reaper applauds the child as she finishes elementary school, is there at the graduation when the teenager sweats and basks at the same time in the stadium lights as he finishes his high school years, stands by their side as the psychologist works through the night, caffeine-fuelled and brightly weary, on their graduate thesis so they can help the war-torn, the sick, the helpless, and the furious in an elaborate ritual by the dying for the dead so all things dying can go into quietude thinking that they are better than they might have been before. And when all of this is done and the dying is ready to go at last, the reaper takes the woman’s hand, the sick child’s IV stand, the man’s cane by the door, and leads them into the bright outdoors and tells them that they are beautiful, even now, now and ever, because beautiful things deserve to be seen and all life is is a way of the universe watching its own fireworks. And that, says the reaper, is a beauty in and of itself, and mourning is a way of describing the loss, knowing that there will never be fireworks in quite the same way again.

But don’t you worry, says the reaper. All may happen again. And some fireworks are never seen, but I am here, I am here, and you are here as well. So let’s watch the sunset together, and let us become as fireworks now that we are here in the end.

And so: for the time that you remember now, the tree was not mourned as it died.

The tree’s death started slowly, as death is wont to do. It started as a burning in the canopy, the platinum leaves finally having reached their critical point and the sap of the tree unable to douse the fires as it had done all over the island for centuries now. The canopy caught ablaze, and a great roar of ash and fire blew the sleepy white sky red and orange with flames.

Nothing escaped. The birds died as the air caught ablaze, their feathers turning brittle, then crackling, then becoming streaks of purple and scarlet as plasma membranes caught alight, too, and neon streaks like tracer fire filled the night-that-was-day as millions of flying things fled the tree-which-was-the-island and smothered in their own heat.

The oceans boiled, too. Fish that had survived the burning of the roots that suffused the deep died by the hundreds of thousands, turning belly-up and launched out of the water by the force of the bubbling waves coursing through the currents that now swirled in heavy magnitudes in a mile around the island. And all of the turtles and spinner dolphins and thin-calcium shellfish adapted over millennia to the ever-increasing heat of the ever-larger tree cooked in their shells, and then those shells fell apart as bleached white chalky constructs, indistinguishable from the miles of coral bleach because the ash had started to fall and was that fast in suffusing the waters with acid.

On shore, the great blaze from the canopy slithered down into the understory and then the forest floor. All burned bright, and the forest wolves and the convergently-evolved jaguars and leopards and panthers that all lived on the island together mummified and dusted into the fire-breeze by the ruthless heat. The trees which had been so tall beneath the ever-warm and bright glow of the orange tree that looked like the sun — because a tree does not need to fight for room when the very shadows of the world have been stolen, because everything can flourish together when the need to compete has been taken — toppled and fell, squashed their friends and companions whom they had grown labyrinthine root systems with and those, too, burned.

All, all, all burned. In a great display of light and pain and glorious ashen humility, the tree that was taller than the mountains and the clouds and had reached for the stars with its hubris finally


in a great splitting crack like thunder, burst in half from the midline, and the part above that crack jettisoned into sea. What remained burns still, burns even now in your time, and is as tall as a castle wall. It is the trunk, the core of the tree, the heartwood, and it will never grow again.

I brought you here so you could see it. Because this island had been the tree, and it had been the Sun. Because everything that happened here had been wonderful, and it had been terrible. And because despite everything and beyond all, the island, even burning, was still beautiful.

And beautiful things deserve to be remembered, even as their shadows and regrets suffuse the waters.

Waiting to be fished up.

By people like you.


Ah, warmth.

There’s a certain tendency for contentment to burn a hole in your chest. To eat at the depression, the fear, the anxiety, the loathing of self and others. Contentment crackles and simmers, and in your body it is there.

You are rowing away from the island now, muscles burning now, creating ripples, outside its shadow. Your body is lax, warm, carefree, like you have been finally laid to rest and peace by an old dear lover you had missed so terribly. Row, and work through the scalding burns sapping energy and warmth from your body — your physical memory of what happened with the sunseed, numbed and balmed by something or someone you cannot remember. Row, and sink back into the lazy drifting space where recall would have happened if you had memories to account for.

Don’t wonder how you got here. Don’t wonder at the gaps in your mind. Don’t wonder at the handprint, a freezing imprint white with frostbite, on your forearm. Don’t wonder if the needle-prickles of numbness, hidden under the cloth of your suit at your ankle, are tooth-holes from the Leviathan as it crunched down and nearly tore you asunder like so many strips of still-bleeding tuna chum for catching sardines before your world turned upside down and you fell through a Door that was the entirety of the starless sea with under the right conditions ringing true like a liberty bell in your mind so powerfully the world might have spoken it. Simply row, sun catching light and airy on the salt and wind-ruffled fabric of your clothing, loose and old but fitting you right because you were never much of one to change your shape over time. Pale and gaunt and long-limbed like a spider — beautiful, with a clear voice that could sing if you had the training.

You were content to use it but for lullabies.

Coming home now. Your back is a mass of sore muscles, hard and crunchy like rocks under your skin — skin which crackles and fissures at your back, on your hands, your palms, heat-burns and heat-missings, absent fingers and toes, a lack of tissue in pockets of your face and legs and torso — gratefully row when the pressure eases off. Patterns, freshly stapled to the underside of your oversized canoe where you can feel it if you extend your awareness, spark up in sequence and in preordained rhythm combination-reaction to your feelings of exhaustion and time since you started moving, and suggest a sailing wind by drawing heat from behind you to create one as they row for you. Easy now, you chide yourself, and back off from those blank thoughts. Black spots dance in your vision and your canoe’s oars chuff along by themselves as the wind and waves push you forward. Who needs a sail anyway? It seems laughable, in the face of this. But then again, you were not a sailor. This was more likely luck than anything else. Then again, how would you know? You had never sailed before.

Keep rowing. And then eventually dock, mind clearer than it had been three hours ago. Tie up your canoe, muzzy and dreamish in that way reality slipped away from you. You had to turn around and check that your boat was still there, even — yes, it was, but was it smaller than it had been when you had it before? A different colour, made of carved wood instead of planks and plastic? A wash of fear burned the clouds in your mind, and—

It doesn’t matter.

    • _

    And the sunseed you had stolen shone in a place it was never meant to be, but which served the world far better there than it would have here. And in your world, magic ebbed from a people who had never identified it in the first place, and who now never would.

    Perhaps it was worth the sacrifice, because now the sunseed grows upside-down from a bell-tower hook, just off the shore of the Styx. And it is beloved by all there, for they come from a world with no sun and no stars, and revel and bask in the gentle light that billows out from that upside-down orange sapling there that becomes the sunset.

    • _

    Here lies STYG, beloved by all the phantoms that haunt the space between a mattress and a bedframe and the centipedes that scuttle and writhe in the fingernail-space between the paint and the rot of the wall-boards. His body shall be laid to rest in a crypt with no name and made of stone that smells of statuemaker’s hands and chalk-dust for marking crime scenes thrown out and used as playground asphalt sketching paint by artists who buy their supplies at all those places surplus and free. He will be remembered by the air he breathed and the ideas he wrought, and he will never be gone because ideas are only gone when their creators have forgotten how to speak and write and think.

    Here I am, an old man in a season of rain, waiting for darkness to be overcome by grey thunderclouds. I dream of things past, of things yet to come, of things that must never be allowed to become truth. Tear apart your faith in me, for I procure only madness and ill omens. Buy me a drink; perhaps I’ll tell you the story of your own death.

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