The Definition of a Line
read by Jason Warden
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She heard Walter’s labored breathing on the stairs, a sound almost muffled by the rumblings of her stomach. The dying sun through the bedroom window cast her shadow over Liam’s face. With a shiver, she brushed a stiff lock of hair from his forehead. Even sick, even dying, he was a beautiful child.
Walter coughed. “Carolina? Is it done yet? Why are you taking so long?”
Carolina hissed. “If you can’t help me with this, if you can’t show your face, SHUT UP!”
She grabbed the pillow and looked down at her little boy. His eyes were shut, but the orbs were bouncing beneath the lids. Her stomach rumbled again as she glanced at his plump thigh.
“Oh, Liam,” she said, clamping the pillow over his face.
As the boy’s struggles slowed, a bright form entered the room from the darkness of the shadow. Carolina and Walter were oblivious to its presence. It stood behind the boy’s head, curved like the lean finale of an eclipse. With scimitar-sharp fingers, it traced the image of a rising balloon above Liam’s chest. Within that same instant, it painted a necklace around Carolina’s neck, its links burdened by the weight of an anchor. Designation done, it vanished into the weak sunlight.
Upon its exit, the shadow itself bulged, washing over Liam and removing the image. The bulge flattened out, and the little boy stopped moving and breathing.
“Bring the knives, Walter,” Carolina said.
* * *
The definition of a true line is an infinite scrape in both directions. Have you tried imagining standing at the end of that line? You will try forever, because neither you nor anyone else has ever been there. Somewhere along that line, fathoms and chasms away from the window of your eyes, spiraled the designator of the Fates, the instant antecedent to Death’s arrival. The present was his perpetual moment, and he was tugged forward by the taking of life. Each murder was a doorway through which his lithe form was permitted to the next; he cascaded through a constant wormhole of bloodshed and the imminent transportation of souls. Death was a mere blind force that needed his scrawled directions in order to take these souls to another level. Without the designator, a murdered soul was an obliterated soul. And so he moved, while Death chased him . . .
. . . in the icy waters of the Arctic, painting the Fates of a baby seal and the orca that has crushed its head between its jaws – next – a Rock Elm felled at the edge a forest by Maurice Polacky for the wood stove – a stray ant drunk from spilled ice cream, squashed by Signora Soledad’s bare foot – Gabriella LeBron pounded and raped against the stone wall of the blood center by her Father, shrieking her Mother’s name until he plunges the razor into her throat – a row of corn plowed down by Cooke’s harvester – a Gornfly sucking the cranial juice completely dry from the Hovering Mercurybat in the shadowed valleys of Gliese 581 C – Private Coulter blown to wet shreds, stepping on a land mine planted by Lt. Peter Yuri – a Labrador puppy dropped from a 18th floor window in Brooklyn by little Marjorie Goldberg, splattering the pavement while Marjorie snapped her bubble gum – a lamb slaughtered by Father Ray, licking his hand as its blood sprayed from its torn throat – next . . .
. . . and the Designator stopped. His forward motion had been halted. The knotted darkness of Death, a shadow continually collapsing on itself, overcame him and drifted through the present world and vanished into a doorway that the designator could not see.
He was trapped.
He floated leagues above the surface of a gray landscape; the vistas were flat and vast and colorless, and certainly not warmed by the apparent pallor of the sky. The only structure to break the horizon was a colossal pillar of glowing rock; the glow had an orange tint to it he found familiar.
If there had been life on this planet, the taking of it would also have occurred, and the designator would be able to carve his symbols in the air and thus continue. A gnawing worry devoured his ethereal being. Without his directions for Death, the Takers and the Taken would be snuffed out forever.
A colossal hand from below closed around his form and brought him down.
* * *
He stood on a giant pedestal, surrounded by bars of light the color of the glowing rock. The light restrained his movement. Three gargantuan faces stared into his cage. He was no bigger than the pupils of their eyes. The titans appeared to be humanoid, but their features were thick and fleshy, heavy like the stone on which they stood. Although their skin was as ashen as the air, the eyes and hair shone faintly with the orange color. The Designator had never seen this species before.
The giant in the middle had hair on its face and was evidently male. The females standing on either side of him had swollen bellies. The male smiled at the Designator and prodded into his thoughts.
“Yes, they are pregnant. I am sorry if you were handled roughly. Goasha is sometimes too curious. My name is Keenard.”
Keenard glanced at the female to his right, who blushed. The female to his left furrowed her cyclopean brow in anger, then quickly recovered her sullen expression.
“This will be your home. Forever. I have waited eons to capture you, Designator. The time for murder is over. The universe will now reflect the peace that we enjoy here.”
“How is it that your world is free of murder?” the Designator asked. “For you to live is impossible without the subsequent consumption of life.”
Keenard bared his stalagmite teeth. “Murder is evil!”
“You don’t understand the danger of your actions. Murder is necessary.”
The giant calmed. “Every life is precious.” He gestured to the column of glimmering rock. “Ages ago I isolated one of the Thousand Gods of Life. His power is imprisoned within the pillar, and it is enough to sustain the seven of us, as well as the seeds sleeping in their bellies. This world has long ago been sterilized. Nothing can be killed here.”
The Designator glared at the towering rock in the distance. “You have taken two devastating steps toward the breaking of the Line. If the Line is broken, the continuity of the universe will be compromised. Death will create a hole without me. I am the recycler of souls!”
“You are a fiend; you endorse murder. Thus, you are evil.”
Forgetting the Designator and the unnamed female, Keenard turned to Goasha and grabbed her waist. “I will lay with you tonight.”
The other female groaned, which made the pedestal shudder. “You have lain with Goasha for a hundred nights!”
Keenard didn’t look at her. “Govern your anger, hag.” He walked away with Goasha, leaving the unwanted boiling in fury, glaring at Keenard’s back.
The Designator felt his worry lighten. Waves of confused wrath radiated outward from the scorned giantess which engorged his hope.
He reached out to her thoughts. “He has forgotten you, as he will forget your child.”
She pressed her monstrous face close to the lighted bars of his cage, breathing heavily, then stalked off.
* * *
Four days passed in this same fashion. Before he retired for the night with his favored Goasha, Keenard stood before the Designator and offered a lengthy sermon on the sanctity of life and his mission to prevent the vanquishing of it.
On that fourth night, once he was left alone, the Designator looked at the sky. The clouds had dissolved to reveal a brilliant canopy of stars. While he gazed at one of the brightest beacons, the star vanished. Horrified, he flashed to the bars of his prison. A few moments later, another one disappeared. Only two winked out that night, but he never broke his gaze, memorizing the celestial map.
* * *
At twilight of the fifth day, he interrupted Keenard’s preaching.
“You disgust me. In your ignorance, you are murdering the future. You are constipated with principals that have the weight of air and hold the truth of delusions.”
Keenard’s orange eyes darkened. He swiveled, yanking Goasha with him to their quarters. “I will forgive you tomorrow!”
Again, the unloved female was left with the Designator.
“With the God’s power, you will never have need of nourishment,” he said to her. “You will live forever, raising your child, bereft of his embrace. You will watch him love the other and that baby. He will make a nation of babies with her, and you will look on, alone and forgotten. And you will never die.”
A decision clicked within her enormous head. She turned away from the pedestal, and slowly walked to her bed.
* * *
The Designator felt the murders the moment they occurred. He was pulled by them, and the acts resulted in the complete restoration of his movement, his purpose. He bolted to Keenard’s behemoth stone quarters, passing through its walls. The spurned female held a jagged sliver of rock to her throat. Keenard and Goasha lay together, blood spraying from gouged throats. Goasha’s womb was savaged.
He stretched his fingers and painted thick upright arrows in the air above Goasha and her child. The murderer took her own life, and the life of her baby. Scratching out two more north-pointing arrows, the Designator turned to Keenard, whose life pumped slowly away.
“Of what use is a wizard if he is so willfully blind?”
In thick lines that burned the air, he painted an anchor around Keenard’s ripped throat, and alongside that, a figure eight lying on its side.
Two holes opened up in the cavernous bedroom, one on the floor and another in the ceiling. The black cloud of Death surfaced from the floor, roiling in hunger, passing over the five and taking their souls to the designated levels.
Outside in the darkness, the dazzling pillar of rock coruscated in orange flame which rose to the peak and flashed a thousand times until evanescing into the night sky.
The Designator blazed up through hole in the ceiling, onward, onward, while Death followed a breath behind.
* * *
Rosemary finished cleaning the freshly gathered vegetables from her garden in the sink. Her huge rabbit, Gargantua, hopped around on the clean tile. She laughed, set the vegetable basket down on the table and picked up the rabbit.
Kissing its twitching, inquisitive nose, she squealed, “Is my pretty lady bunny hungry?” She held Gargantua in her lap and plucked a carrot from the basket, holding it inches away from the rabbit’s mouth.
Rosemary frowned, cocking her head, involuntarily pulling the carrot away.
“What was that sound? Weird. I could swear I heard someone screaming.”
Shrugging, she caressed Gargantua while it greedily devoured the carrot.
A hole opened in the table . . .