by Daniel Vlasaty
The grass is cool against my skin. A nice contrast from the burning hot sun hanging in a sky the color of pale skin, sickly and suffocating. I’m naked, but I think I’ve always been this way. There’s a moment of comfort, like everything is going to be OK, before I remember that nothing is going to be OK, and everything is fucked.
Today is the day I’m to become a member of the Tribe. Today is the day I have to eat my own legs, so the new me can grow out of the old me.
“Good morning, son,” my father calls from a lower branch of his tree. I can’t see him through all the foliage, but I can tell by his voice that he is happy. It sounds strange coming from him. I have never known my father to be happy. I’ve never known my father to be anything, really, because I’ve never known my father. He hasn’t come out of his tree in at least my entire life.
Before my brother joined the Tribe, he told me that our father had never left his tree. That he had been born there, and over time the two had become one. He told me that our father is a tree. If that’s true, I asked him, then how were we born, and he just laughed, and that was the last time I saw him, because he left me there, in the field behind the village, to go begin his new life as a Tribesman.
“What is wrong?” my father asks me. Leaves rustle and branches creak as he speaks.
“Nothing,” I say.
“Today is going to be a great day. You should not be sad, son. You become a man today.” I think this is maybe the most my father has ever said to me at once.
I could never tell him that I do not want to become a man. I do not want to join the Tribe. I am happy here, living an invisible life away from the Tribe. I like my life. I like my legs.
I could never tell my father any of this because he would be hurt if he knew how I feel. My father never had the opportunity to join the Tribe. He was not selected when he came of age. This is what I think drove him up into the tree.
“Will you be at the ceremony?” I ask him, but he has already gone back up the tree. I can hear him climbing. But I know that he will not be there. My father did not attend my brother’s ceremony, so I do not expect him to be at mine.
The Tribe sends for me at midday – a vehicle made of spiders. I hear my father giggling from his tree in the distance. The spider vehicle takes off and that is that. There is no spectacle, no big sad departure.
The spider vehicle takes a path I have never been on before, millions of tiny spider legs skittering through dust and over the bones of so many people who’ve tried to leave but could never find the way on their own. The Tribe will set you free – the prayer says.
As we reach the forest the spider vehicle begins to dissolve into a puddle of yellow soup. I am to make the rest of the journey on my own. I know now why my father will not be attending my ceremony, and why he did not attend my brother’s. The forest has made things clearer. There is no ceremony. This is something every person must do alone.
The forest floor seems to be covered in cicada shells, if cicadas were the size of birds and had human faces. They crunch under my bare feet. I hear other things crawling around me, larger things. My heart beat speeds up, and I look up into the trees, wishing one of them held my father’s voice.
It gets darker, the forest thickening to block out the sun until it is just a distant memory. It gets so dark that I think maybe there never was a sun and it was just something I made up to not be so alone.
I come to a river that runs thick like skin cells. I have to cross. The river doesn’t flow. It breathes. The river is alive. I step into it, and it only resists a little. Its water-skin is dry and squishy, and I can feel things moving beneath the surface. I reach the opposite shore, but something grabs my ankle before I make it out. It holds tight as I struggle against the grasp. More things grab on to me, my other leg now. They feel like tiny hands. I am pulled back into the center of the living river, waist deep.
And then the water rises up to form a jagged toothless mouth and swallows me whole. It is dark for a few seconds and I try to breathe and choke on the body fat filling my lungs.
A light shines below me, and I feel myself falling. Falling and falling, my eyes closed tight, fearing the impact and the broken bones.
“Open your eyes,” a voice tells me.
I do and see that I am standing in a bright room. I am alone, but I can hear the whispering of many voices. This must be the Tribe. It has been said that everyone experiences this differently. But really that is all just speculation. No one knows what really happens because once you become part of the Tribe you lose all ties to your former life.
“Welcome to the beginning of your life,” the voice says.
“Welcome,” the other voices whisper in unison.
“Are you ready to begin?”
I look around the room, trying to locate the source of the voice. It sounds like it is coming from everywhere. And nowhere. Maybe it’s only in my head. “I… I guess.”
“Excellent,” the voice says, and the others whisper the same.
A man stands before me now. But he is nothing like any man I have ever seen. He has a slightly human face, but his body is an orgy of twisting bugs. Spiders crawl around what should be his torso, and his arms and legs are hundreds of centipedes knotted together.
Two more men appear behind him. They are a fish man and a man who is more like a thick plume of smoke. “You are familiar with what comes next?” the bug-man asks me.
The three of them nod back at me and take a step back, as if telling me to begin the process.
I sit on the ground, raising my foot to my face. The three Tribesmen disappear back into the shadows, and I realize just how alone I actually am. I have decided to begin with my little toe and work my way up from there.
I am surprised by how easy it is to chew through the bone.
About The Author: Daniel Vlasaty
Daniel Vlasaty lives in Chicago. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, both in print and online. His first book, The Church of TV as God, was published by Eraserhead Press as part of the 2013-2014 New Bizarro Author Series. He can be found at his Facebook page.
Fast-Paced Author Interview (at high speeds! Risking dire consequences!)
The Squid: Who would you invite for a roadtrip on SHIELD’s hovercarrier?
Daniel Vlasaty: I would invite Abraham Lincoln’s anthropomorphized beard on a road trip – just his beard, not the whole man. Even though my beard is totally better than his, and makes his look like a pile of crap, I still have an appreciation for good beards. I am not a beard-racist.
I would like to invite Doctor Doom and Doctor Phil, just to see what happens.
The Squid: Now, say you’re a science fiction/fantasy action hero — a pretty sweet gig, by the way. Tell us which one you are most like, and why:
a) Conan the Barbarian
b) Han Solo
c) Captain James Tiberius Kirk
d) Buckaroo Bonzai
e) Rick Deckard
Daniel Vlasaty: I guess I’m probably Most like Han Solo, because I don’t take no shit, and I will always shoot first!
About The Artist
Artwork by Drawing_Michael at fiverr.com.