I run as fast as I can, faster than a lion, faster than a winter sunset, faster than a diving falcon, faster than summer disappears, the earth disappears and I am drifting in a blur. When I land I am lost.
Up ahead smoke uncoils a snakelike body and smiles at me, beckoning, teeth hidden. The only chimney in a village, the only lit fire on a dark night. I know they are searching for me still.
The door glows red hot, it’s frame moves pulsing in the heat. Inside shadows dance, faces grin, shadows of fangs flicker on the wall and I, enter.
A man watches me, his skin is luminous white, purple dye spread across his naked chest; the eye of the dead. There is a circle of fire at the centre of the room and inside that through the haze lies the body of my mother. The man’s bald scalp dips in and out of the shadows, glistening as white as a skull.
I walk slowly around the room. The man watches me crouched. I stop an arms width away.
“They come for you. The last and the first. Your breath will be discarded, the dead have no need of it. Your flesh will be torn, the dead have no need of it. Your heart will not beat, the dead have no need of it.” I hear no malice in his voice, just resignation.
“Unless”, he pauses, head cocked as if listening. His voice is thick, a cloak of unease. “Unless you go where they cannot follow. And maybe there? An answer. An offering. The gods watch.” He extends his arm and in his hand he offers a single blackberry to me.
It’s sour juice fills my mouth, then fades. I turn to the empty door, then look to my mothers body. A black mark has appeared on her belly, growing, swelling; it is a deeper black than anything. Deeper than the earth and rocks, deeper than a life, through life and perhaps beyond.
“The last, and the first. An offering. Perhaps there will be mercy?” No hope in his voice. I have no choice. I walk past the fire and climb into the dark.
I see beneath me the village people spread out, waking, working, living. I see the land green again, the fires doused, the flowers growing, the birds tumbling, the air fresh, the country breathing once again.
Then a wave of black. I see my mother coughing blood when no one is looking, I see my father weeping in an alley by the body of his lover. I see my lost aunty fall into a river, her head striking a rock and her body disappearing, I see my never-met brother caught in the womb and fall still. I cry without sound, without release, without hope. And as I give up, the black washes over me again.
I wonder why my world has fallen? Why death runs swift footed and sure?
I wonder why I am the last? Why I live to see so much suffering. Then black.
I see myself lying on an ocean of dead grass. I know then what I must offer. I reach out and touch my still warm body. I feel my hand reach into my body, through my skin, pushing further. I feel pain pierce every inch of me. I crush my heart in my hands.
I feel snapping, breaking. Then. Light. A warm growing light, that trickles, then spreads, then races away. I feel the life spilling out. The last. I feel my eyes close and my mouth smile. And then. I feel the land breathe again.