Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Ideation. And also some pretty intense dehydration.
“You know. I think I might miss the rain.” Faye wasn’t sure that it was a true statement. But she was pretty sure.
“I think I might agree with you,” Joss said, staring up at the sky. For months, it had been choked with clouds. The practically unending rain had blurred the boundaries between earth and air. Everything had been gray and wet and silence had only ever been as quiet as the quietest raindrop. And now, this. Red stretched across the horizon, dry and thin, crackling. Yawning emptiness gaped down at them. Faye felt strangely exposed. And small. And light. She felt like she might float away, felt like this threadbare layer of worn red sky was not nearly enough to keep her from falling upward.
“Anybody else feeling slightly agoraphobic?” Tarin asked, his voice cracking a little. Faye felt like she was cracking, too, like some invisible and incredibly dehydrated vampire was sucking the water from her bones. If that was even a thing.
“It’s a thing,” she told herself, taking Baby, who had started to cry. “Shh, shh,” she said, holding the infant close, “don’t panic, Baby. Sometimes the sky just has to bleed a little. And that’s okay. Probably.”
“Real soothing,” Joss said, huddling closer, watching Baby’s face, taking hold of both Faye’s and Tarin’s arm. Faye tried not to think too much about the gesture, or how scared it might mean the other woman was. “I don’t think Baby’s cried in a week,” Joss murmured.
“So we’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about,” Tarin said, patting Joss’s hand.
“Not the first Red Dawn we’ve seen,” Faye said, her eyes falling from the horizon and settling on the stark silhouette of the nearest mountain peak. “Certainly not the worst one, either.”
“Is that… sorry, but did you just take a swing at Patrick Swayze?”
“I would never,” Faye intoned, eyes wide, ‘Time of Our Lives’ immediately playing in her head.
“The re-make, Joss,” Tarin said, “She’s talking about the re-make.”
“They re-made Red Dawn?” Joss asked. Faye had never seen her look so confused. Which was weird, because they were currently living through an unprecedented climate catastrophe together.
“Bu—sorry, what? Did you live under a—oh, never mind,” Faye said, remembering that no, Joss hadn’t lived under a rock but yes, she had been an engineer. So. You know.
“Focus, people,” Faye said, mostly talking to herself, “this…this doesn’t change anything. Anything? Anything. Right. Okay. Onwards.” She pushed forward, wading through what had moments ago been the muddiest trail she’d ever tried. Now it was somewhere between sludge and crumbling clay. Faye licked her lips, trying not to think too much about the invisible dehydrated vampire.
Joss clung to Faye and Tarin, which was mostly fine. Mostly, because it was Joss, but not completely, because the path began to get steep and loose and balancing two grown adults and a baby wasn’t exactly Faye’s idea of a good time.
Faye kept taking a little bit of Joss’s fear from her. Just a little—didn’t want the woman too flat to react, or anything–but also just enough to keep her from hysterics. Joss hadn’t been this panicky in a while, and Faye didn’t really feel like now was the time to trigger an anxiety attack. But then that meant Faye was carrying her and Joss’s fear, which ended up mixing into a strange sort of high-strung nihilism. She felt intensely empty, but was also mostly okay with it. She shook her head, telling herself not to think about it.
Halfway through the morning—which Faye would’ve sworn was moving quicker than usual, the sun was streaking, unobstructed, through the sky—Faye realized Tarin must’ve been taking some of Joss’s fear, too. The man looked a little shadier than usual, and Joss looked like she’d just confused 50 mgs of “Cosmic Candy” for a bag of Haribo.
“Tarin,” Faye whispered. Joss had begun to poke her face. Poke her face and giggle, a little, every time her finger made contact with her cheek. “Tarin, have you been Courier-ing her emotions, too?”
Tarin’s slightly-above-average-amounts-of-stressed-out-eyes widened, twitching from Joss to Faye.
“Whoops,” was all he managed. Faye wasn’t sure she was allowed to laugh in this scenario. She really wanted to, though. Joss was popping her lips together, slowly, concentrating, her eyes a little crossed from the effort. Tarin choked down a laugh. It sounded slightly manic.
“Well. I’ll just put a smidge back,” Faye said, reaching out, taking the other woman’s hand, “just make sure there’s a healthy dose of self-preservation, somewhere in there.”
They walked and climbed and everything in between. Mostly in between, actually, as a majority of the paths necessitated everything short of belaying equipment. Which was good. They didn’t have any belaying equipment.
The Andean highlands stretched before them, still, silent, and red. Faye kept blinking, kept waiting for the sky to fall back into a cooler blue. But it never did. She wished she’d held onto her sunglasses.
“Faye,” Tarin asked as the burnt-orange sun slipped and slid past 3 O’Clock. “Faye, does this… I don’t know, but is this reminding you of something?” They were sitting on some rocks, thirsty and wondering why none of them had thought to pack a water bottle.
Faye finished picking dirt out of Baby’s two wisps of hair, trying to remember how often babies needed to be bathed. It hadn’t come up, yet, in their travels together. Hadn’t come up too terribly much outside of their travels together, either, though she wasn’t a complete rookie, when it came to childcare. She’d been a glorified babysitter on more than one occasion.
“It’s tickling the edges of my memory,” she said, pulling Baby out of the sling and handing the latter to Tarin. He pulled it on over his head and let her sniff at Baby’s nether regions before taking the child.
“All good,” she said, grateful that the inevitable had been delayed for another few moments. Baby was in cloth diapers, which hadn’t been a problem when the world was one big shower. But they only had two spares, and the sky didn’t look like it’d be doing them any hygienic favors anytime soon, and, well… you know.
“We’ve been here before,” Tarin said, his eyes glinting scarlet in the afternoon light. “We’ve had another red day.”
“We’ve had plenty of red days,” Faye said, memories flashing before her eyes. But she could see it, too, the one particular moment Tarin was trying to recall. Another red day, like this. Dusty and dry, like this. Though she couldn’t tell if the actual day had been dusty, or just her memory of it. Either made sense, as both were ancient. Like a mummy in a tomb that hadn’t been opened since burial.
There had been another red day, like this, and somewhere in mountains, like these. Tarin had been there, too, and they weren’t Couriers. Not yet. No, this was back when they were simply messengers for the First Family, back when they had only just been born. Back when she could still fly.
A red day, this this, and crackling, charged with the friction of a thing about to change. A world about to change, she knew. She knew now, anyway. At the time, she hadn’t the slightest what was going on. She hadn’t really been paying attention. She’d been a small, flittering creature, bright and colorful. Blue, mostly, but then sometimes she’d work in some purple and green.
“This was the day they sang that song,” she said quietly, staring back in time, seeing a circle of people, of friends and lovers and fathers and mothers. Of children who she’d previously thought incapable of standing still who now clung to one another, silent and unmoving.
Something massive cracked outside of her field of vision. The sound vibrated through her. Moments later, the mountains were shaking as well. Some of the people gathered cried out, but most just held on, bracing themselves and one another.
“I feel like… we called it something, for a while,” Tarin said, “right after it happened.”
“The Ideation,” Faye said, “we called that day the Ideation. The day they rendered themselves. The day they made ‘space’ and ‘time.’ Only to tuck them away, deep in the folds of creation.” The red memory shook again, and Faye crashed into one of her siblings. Faye made herself some legs and tried to stand. But the mountains shifted again, shaking, groaning. Her sibling—Reila, if memory served her well—held onto her, keeping her from tumbling too far. Cracks began to open up along the plateau, deep and violet.
A twisting, wailing wind rent the air, crackling through the sky and breaking against the stone. Where it hit the earth, water welled. Red sunlight glinted off of its surface, which twisted and turned, bright and cool in the shaking world.
It is time. The words vibrated through everything. The welling water shifted and churned, becoming a flower, then a tree. A five-faced human. And then, a stream again.
“Mother, are you sure,” a woman whispered, holding tight to a little girl, “are you sure this is necessary?”
“Please,” another, shorter woman cried, much less composed. She was corralling several children and looked about ready to faint. “Please.”
Fawdaa has pushed into the Everything. The world vibrated, the words everywhere. And brings chaos to creation. The stream formed into a baby, then a pair of crows. We cannot stay thus. Balance, children, and a steady hand. Will you do this thing?
One by one, the heads of the first family nodded.
Then let it be done. The crows multiplied, first four, then twelve, then a flock. They shot up into the air, a thick stream of black feathered bodies, screaming, flapping. And then they, too, were water again, spewing up, up, up, slicing through the sky. The world was pulled tight around the edges as the air began to thin and break. Darkness peaked through the breakages, empty, waiting, calling to Faye. She began to cry. She began to suffocate. The people joined hands, forming a circle around the column of water. Twenty-one people, from eight months to one hundred and two years old. They began to sing.
Faye tried to step towards them, but Reila held her fast.
“It’s not for us, sister,” she murmured, choking on the thin red air. Faye stared at the children, stared at the little devils she’d been chasing and playing with since before she was even fully aware of herself.
“What’s happening?” She asked, clinging to Reila.
“I don’t know,” her elder answered, whimpering. Whimpering, because they were no longer alone.
Red had begun to seep through the cracks, had begun to spill out from the fissures in the stone, the holes in the air. It oozed and pooled and gathered itself up, growing as more and more red leaked into the world. It closed in around the family, massing itself into a bloody ring just outside of their circle. The family sang on, oblivious, their eyes focused on the column of water streaming between earth and sky.
“Reila,” Faye rasped, but her sibling was already moving, was already trying to push herself up. The path crumbled beneath Faye’s weight. She let go of her feet, growing wings, but the air collapsed in on her, too fragile for the beating of wings. She tumbled to the ground, busting through stone. All around her, her siblings tried to reach the first family. All around her, they fell and faltered, breaking through a brittle world. She lay as still as she could, watching, weeping. The red rolled in, lapping at the feet of the nearest singer. Ada was his name. He didn’t seem to notice.
“Ada,” Faye breathed, “Ada, watch ou—“ but the red was already lancing up his legs, racing across his body, enveloping him, crushing him. It pulled him backwards, too quick for a scream, too quick for a sigh. And he was gone.
The red ring flashed and grew, tightening around the singing humans, tickling at the heels of some of the children. It began to crawl up one of the littler girl’s leg, a little slower, a little more curiously. But then the column of water exploded.
Water rushed and roared, pouring out and around the family in waves, pounding against the red ring. Faye lost all sense of herself, stuck between a flashing sky and an earth struggling to retain its reality. Faye gave herself eyes then closed them, holding herself tight, waiting for it to stop, waiting for it to all just stop. Waiting for—
“Faye,” a voice came from somewhere above her head. “Faye, I—I think it’s over.” Faye opened her eyes, one at a time. Reila stood over her, embodying something between a butterfly and a turtle.
Faye looked past Reila, swallowing hard. The sky was blue, the sun was yellow. The ground was solid, if somewhat rearranged. The red was gone. As was the first family. All that remained of their circle was a single woman, curled up in the very center, where the stream had been, moments before. Faye didn’t recognize the woman. Faye stood, wobbling a little, and picked her way through the torn world, feeling just slightly off. Something was different. No. Everything was different. Everything had shifted, wholly, but just a little.
Faye reached the woman and shrunk down till she was close to her face.
“Hello,” she whispered, “hello. Are you alive?” The woman opened her eyes, dazed.
“What? Hello, daughter,” she murmured, blinking, her gaze somewhat vacant. She reached out, as if to touch Faye, to test her solidity. And then something terrible settled into her stare. “No,” she whispered, sitting up suddenly. She felt at her face, at her arms. The woman stared down at her body, her face trembling, her breathing shallow. “No, this isn’t right, this, this isn’t—“ but Faye never heard what “this wasn’t,” because the woman stopped bothering with words. She simply opened her mouth and screamed. And screamed, and screamed, and screamed.
It rained for a while, after that. A little over a month, Faye supposed, though she couldn’t be sure. Time had worked differently, after the Ideation, and it had taken her a while to get used to the new system.
“What is the Ideation?” Joss asked. Faye blinked, surprised at how completely she had lost herself to the memory.
“I really can’t be sure,” Faye murmured, running her hands through her cakey, matted hair, thinking that now would have been an excellent time to rediscover any latent transformational powers she might still possess. But, alas.
“When was the last time you saw Mother?” Tarin asked, standing up. He fidgeted with the straps of Baby’s sling, situating the infant just so across his chest.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Faye said, getting to her feet. She gave Joss a hand up as well. “We shared a blanket at Woodstock?”
Joss choked on the banana she had been trying to chew.
“You okay?” Faye asked, thumping the other woman’s back. Joss muttered something about the wrong pipe.
“Can’t say I liked that red day,” Tarin said, staring up at the sky, orienting himself against the sun.
“Nope,” Faye agreed, taking Joss’s hand, pulling her forward. “And yes, I’ll fill you in, woman, calm down. But we have to walk and talk. Double time. Let’s go. There’s a good chance these atmospheric conditions are less than ideal.”
Joss choked again and muttered some more. This time, something about Sherlock and bowel movements. Faye didn’t bother herself with remembering the specifics.