It was just a little trinket in the dirt. Crooked, as if intentionally so beckoning him closer. He was out to get more firewood when he saw the thing reflecting his torchlight. He picked it up and took a quick glance at it. Smooth. Bends. Strange, but ultimately unremarkable.
He pockets it and thinks nothing of it.
He was just a young boy then, but no one saw him that way. He’s not much older now, he reminisces as he cradles the corpse in his arms. He was born with a heart outside his chest, and so took his last breath with his first one. Was it a blessing that he was born alive at all, or a blessing that he died painlessly?
He greets his birth and passing with a strange sense of impassiveness. Regardless, the master wouldn’t hesitate to desecrate this lifeless babe, and so he slips out to bury him under a grand maple tree. He’s not a natural at sneaking, but he is a natural at learning, and the overseers and guard dogs are not naturals at watching who leaves the manor, and years of careful observation and tediously self-taught climbing guides his steps back into his bed through the window.
He dreamed of large fish in the waters then, fish that look nothing like fish, the deep ocean resounding with wails and groans and clicks in the darkness, forlorn and solemn. One drifts by him, and its eye is as large as his hand as it stares right at him. One becomes two, two becomes many. A whole group of those strange, giant fish, staring at him. He floats farther away.
the whispers began-- no, they’re singing-- and warmth oozes down his spine because he was never called that before,
“̸̨̑̕҉̷̧̨͍̮̫̯͍͎͈̲̲̺͖͕̬̮̥̲͔͇͔̞̻̖͎̻͢͢͠D̕҉̛͓̖̱̣̘͉̘̤͉͘͢ǫ̴̰̼̠̯̣̹͔͕̬͓̮̙͖̗̠̫̯̬͢ ͇͓̞̜̗̰̕͡y̴̨̖̪̝͈͈̭͍̟̣̥̝̖̞̱͖͓̰͍̙o̶͝҉̲̞͉̪͕̻͎ͅu̢͙͖̲̗̱̪̥͍̹͍̤̬̖̲̙͉̲̙͝ ̨̛̣̞̖̪̱̝̪̻̹͕͖̦̳ͅs̷̭̙̰͕̙̪̣͎͚̥̝̞̖̟̻̜̕e̵̡̖͈̹͖͓͍͈̺̯͈͕̖̲͎͡e̶̱̤̞̹̰̖͍̟͔̣̩̭̠͡ ̵̢̥̞̦̙͈̼͡͠ͅt͏͔̹͖̺̮̩͖̰̞͙̜̜͘h̵̹̻̣̼̯͎͔͖̞͔̟͖̳̻̗͘e͇̰͚͙̘̙̻̦̺̩͈̰̙͖̥͈̼͝ ̴̨͎̗͓̲̣̖͟͡b̸̶̖͖̫͓͉̤̰͜o̷͖̩̦̠͜͠͝d̶̲̯̹̱͇̖̮̫͇̠͉͚̻̯͈͖̮̞i̴̶͓͍̮̫͔͟ͅe̴̡͎͎̗͍̠̲̻͕͇̩̺͉̘͚̱̰̺̕͠s̷̩͔̤̦̖̫̥̗͔̝̲̮̯͟͡ ̨̡̥̝͔͇̘͝͠i͏̘͍͙̣͇̙͇͠n̸̶̢̹̜̱͍̤̮͚̜͙̲ ̘̬̝̝̝̲̱̙̻̠͘͢͞t̨̞͎͎̰̖̜͎͇̤̖̠̖̯̺̫͠ͅͅh̡̺̻̹͖̙̙̬̪̲̳͖̖͖̯̱̮̤̥e̬̜̬̩̯̦̩͈͙̩̼̪̼͢͠͠͝ͅ ̶̛͖̤̗̯̯̟͙͙̲̳̻w̸̡̛̘̺̤͉͉̬̗̬̙͕̭͡ạ̖̜͔̕͝t̛̥̦̙̪̰͙̩̲͔̺͔̫̙̗̪̟̯̗̕͜e̼̰͔̲͉̮̘̥̣̩̟̻͟͜͠͝r̨̢̭̩͔̪͇̲̘̜̬͕̙͕͜?̢̙̙͖͙ ̡̛̹̬̼̙̖̯͕̳̘̫̰̗̠̘̪̣̝͝D̵̛̜̝̲̭̗̯͖̞͓͖̜̯̣̳͟o̠̹̣̠̝̯̲̭̜͜͠ ҉̹̳͎̭̟͚̯̲̼̮͇̭̦̭̯͡y͎̰͎͇̞͘͜ͅơ̶̧̟̤̠͉̦͓̥͕̜̳̱̜̗̘̜̰̰̮͞ư̸͈̤̼̦̳̗̝͔̟̘̭̘̙̺͖̘̙ ̨̧͢҉̴͚̮̭̟̪̹̗̦̗̮͚̞̠̻̠ͅͅͅş̶̡͍̰̤̮̪͉͞ͅȩ҉͇͉̩͙̞̬͕̻͓̼̗̬̳ͅę̝̗͖͔̳̜̞̼̟͢ͅ ͏̵̢̢̬͚̳̤̩͚̘̺̗̥̦̱͔͙ț͍̖̤̝̪̜̬͎͇̗̰͖̭̜̩͕h̶͓̹͓̯̜̙̼̳̪͈͟͟͟e͍̫̼̫̣̥̻̻͎͜ͅi̶̵̛͝҉̣̭̺̭̼̘r̷҉̟͎͍͙̯͇̬͚͙̬͍̭̮̺̟ͅͅ ̷̢̠̱̠̣̙̟̤͖̯̱̠̕͟͠ͅf̷̛̫̜͍͉̬͝a̷͏̶̵͔̱̬̘͔̳̩͖͎c̵҉̘̝̭̫̬̱̩͙̥̯̙͇̝ȩ̠̗̣̯̗̠̩̬̠̳̮͉̻͎̮̟̜̮͇͡ṣ̡̰̥̬͕̙̤̭͎̤̻̹͟͠ͅ?̢̗͓̲̱̻͜͡͝ ͏̧̱̭̣͇̻̮͍̯̜̞̟̻̥̩̹͉͜D̦̭͉̻͎̭̟͓͟͝o̵̴͚̹̖̼͈̖̕͟ͅ ̢̩̘͈̫̥͇̥̝̘̫̺̞̼̰̖͉͕͇͜͠͞y͏̢͜͏̘͔͓͕̘͙̘̟̠̭̹̺̗̟o̷̷͏̗͖̠̦̯̭̙̲̩̙̲̹̮̩͍̱͔͖̙͠͡u̸̧͙̤̭̤̦̟̗̳̭̼̘̣̕͡ ̡̛͏̪̩̹̜̟͕̣̻͕͈r̡͘҉̙̬̞͞e̵̙͙̥̰̞̠͈̣͟c̩̤̼͍̠̺͔̝͡o̢̭̭̗̭̭̰̙͢g҉̡̬̻̥̣̖̭̮̰̟͙̲̬̥̙̗̞͚̩̝͢n̛̕͠҉̴͕̬̺͉͈̝̳̣͎̞̣i̧̭͉͎͇̫̳̼͘z̴̡̟̯̗̰̺͓͔̰̣͍̥̠̭͍̝e̕͞͏̦̮̘̥̳ ̵̢̳̼̱̠̱̤̞͈̯̭͍̤̺͢t̸̩̣͚̘͖͙̫͇̖͇̗͜͡ͅh̨͘҉̘̱̼̭̫e̴̟͔͉̰̰̬͎̣̝̺͔̬͞͞m̶̡̨͈͍͉͙̟̥̫̤̻̠ͅ?̶̢̙̟̯̬͓̼̣̙͎̮̣̝̱̯͚”
He twists body and sees them. All of them, drifting and as dead as he is. It’s his face, his face in a hand, his face in a heart, in bone and marrow and blood. His face in a cross, his face in an eagle’s skull, his face in a name, in a box, in an apple, everywhere.
“ You’re not God ,” he tries to speak, but people can’t speak underwater, so he chokes on salt and tobacco and cured intestines.
He awakes with seawater next to his head and the ocean in his nostrils, and he takes out the forgotten trinket and bends it again, this way and that. It’s a bit like a finger and compares it with his own. It’s polished silver unlike his own skin, black like the rich earth the others tilled. It’s longer than his own finger and he wraps it around his wrist.
It stays there, locked, as a once-unnoticed band around the finger glows just once, and stills.
He’s filled with… something. Purpose. Conviction. He goes to vomit again in the chamber pot, still seawater, and leans back on the floor. Carpeted. Scarlet red. His nightgown smells like the ocean. The sweat on his skin smells like the sea. The walls are too close, and he throws open the doors to the wardrobe. More dresses. More brassieres. More corsets, stockings, no no no no no!
He finds it in the back; his old clothes, when he was more than just an old man’s exotic plaything and a boy that worked until the sun broke his back a hundred times over. They’re short on him now; he grows fast, he always grew fast, but it’s far better than the finest dresses-- He’s good at hiding things in places where no one finds them.
The finger thrums in his mind, pokes and prods at him. North, where the waters are fierce and icy and the currents make for atrocious colonial storms and pleasant Spanish winters, or so the stench of seawater tells him.
He’s mad. He’s going mad, but that’s what everyone else says anyways, and maybe it’s time he agreed with them. He’s tired of caring. Seventeen years of caring, of being good, and nothing is given in return. Their Christian God has no clemency; why worship something that cursed him to look this way, to feel this way, to be this way?
The finger beckons.
He flees into the forests, the abyss guiding him north, north, north, where men like him are ridiculed as otherwise and people like him are beaten for their skin, but it doesn’t matter when he’s running, climbing, fleeing, chasing after something he doesn’t know.
He does know though, in a way. The finger smells like earth and forests and oceans of blood, smoke from burning flesh and cries of a small boy that swirl towards the stars. It smells of a broken home slowly mending itself again, even if it can never be whole once more.
It is in the twilight that he’s awoken by the baying of hounds. He leaps up quickly, furiously blinking the sleep from his eyes as he rises from his bed of pine boughs and dried grasses.
He runs again. He’s a fantastic runner, he realises, even if the hunt for him abates some days and he allows himself a leisurely walk through the forests. He stays away from earthen paths and takes to rivers often, except rivers that go north are hard to find. He makes his meals from the earth and from running waters, off the branches of the wild things that grow and from the rudimentary traps he’s managed to engineer from nothing but the earth’s bounties.
He always runs, and so is always tired.
“ There it is! ” Voices muffled by trees sound, drowned out by the rush of the beating ocean in his ears (or maybe that’s just his heart) and he runs, but there’s no streams to throw the hounds off his trail. The forest is still a forest, but it’s flat and good to run in, but awful to hide.
He doesn’t see the golden eyes, but he feels his guts churn and his throat clamor to scream as the pale-skinned stranger flips him onto his back, flailing in vain until he stilled and realized that… nothing has happened.
They look at each other strangely until the stranger puts a finger to his mouth, a universal sign for him to stay silent, and he stands back up and points down, a universal sign for him to stay put.
The forest is quiet when the stranger comes back, flicking away the too-familiar sight of blood from a blade that he retracts into something attached to his arm. “Where are you from?” He asks with an unfamiliar accent.
There’s no answer.
The stranger sighs and beckons for him to follow, but he stays put, keeping a wary eye on the man. He takes this moment to look him over; dark clothing highlighted with red, too many weapons strapped to his body.
This is what a hunter of men surely looked like.
“Lass, I’m not going to hurt you, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ve no love for slavery and those that use it.”
He scrunches his face in displeasure, but there’s no point in trying to correct a stranger and let it be.
The stranger shrugs and takes out something from his belt overflowing with too many weapons to name and hands him one of them handle-first-- a knife.
“It’s just in case you meet trouble again. I’m not gonna keep saving your hide every single time a hunter and their dogs chase after you,” he tried to reason, and he practically thrusts the hilt into his hands. Finally, he takes it and grips onto the handle tightly. He swings it lightly a few times through the air, unnerved by how… smooth it feels.
“That thing on your wrist. What is it?”
He tears his eyes away and to the stranger, then to the finger wrapped around his wrist. “A finger,” he says. “It’s stuck though, but it’s also leading me somewhere.”
“Where?” The stranger’s face hardens, and he doesn’t know whether to answer that question to someone with such a dark expression. The excess of weapons and firearms on his person only makes him look that much darker.
His mouth opened, not wanting any of that pointed in his direction. Sure, he's his savior, but people are infinitely able to do both great good and great harm. “North. Somewhere where the earth is dark with richness and blood, where the waves crash onto the cliffs and a grand, ghostly eagle cruises past seafoam.” The words come to him before his mind can catch up, almost as if he’s reciting a verse from the bible told to him by the owner whose bed he had to lie on nearly every night.
The other chuckles and shakes his head. “You’re speaking in riddles, kid--” ‘Kid’ is better than ‘miss’, or ‘lass’ for that matter. “-- but I’m guessing that you can’t take it off until you get there?”
“Keep it somewhere safe, and if you find anything else that reeks of the ocean, keep them far away from each other, understand?” It’s a sensible enough request, although strange and vague, even ominous.
He nods again and for once the stranger smiles, even if it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “I won’t ask for your name; better for each of us that way. If you’re looking for a ghostly eagle…” He chuckles again and cocks his head towards where he was running until he was tackled onto the ground. “Head north, and a bit away from Boston. You might find what you’re searching for.”
“Thank you,” he finally speaks, and he’s stunned by the sound of his own voice, hoarse and deep, enough to stumble a bit, and the stranger actually laughs.
“Don’t bother. Kind of miss doing things like this back in my prime.”
Oh? “Still, thank you.” He makes a tentative wave at the stranger and he waves back, and so he turns to run again.
This time, the running has little to do with fear and everything to do with glee. He tangentially knows what Boston is, but what’s the point if he can’t read? Still, he knows that the finger will guide him towards where he needs to go, and he follows faithfully. His nights are spent cloaked by the stars of the sea, twinkling in the deep, and his days are spent in the shadows of grand, untouched trees.
These days, he’s prone to wondering about a name. It’s something the stranger brought up that he mulls over in his head time and time again, whether it be during calmer walks along a babbling stream or staring deep into a growing moon. He hates his own name, and if he could pick up such a thing and throw it into the maws of the ocean for it to swallow then he’d do so without hesitation. However, all the names he does know is from the stories of the bible and the names of men he doesn’t want to remember.
Strange, despite his lack of trust in a holy book, he turns to it for an answer.
Or perhaps he can be like the natives and name himself after things he likes. That’s what they do, right?
Nonetheless, he thinks and he thinks and he thinks as his feet carry him towards colder lands. He does his best to avoid the prowling creatures that eye him with distrust, wariness, and hunger, and he has little luck with true hunting. It took him days to figure out how to build a fire, a luxury he couldn’t afford while fleeing for his life, but he’s proud nonetheless. They warm his flesh and bones nicely, as did the pelt gifted to him from a wandering native.
It’s only what the white men called autumn, the native said, and yet fall has never felt this cold to him before.
He’s taken to simply walking now; it’s been several day and night cycles since the stranger who gave him his knife killed his pursuers all that time ago. His mind is clearer now, not tossed between the throes of unsure madness and panic. It gives him time to heal his mind and tend to his body and figure out how he wants to live for the rest of his life. His large body and tall stature lends itself well to the image he wants to portray, made better when he binds his chest (the result of a night of curiosity when he took the pelt and wrapped it around his breasts).
Of course, days and weeks, perhaps even months, wandering the wilderness in an attempt to reach something he doesn’t know would result in something slimmer than he wants in his body, but it tones his stomach and legs nicely, and he’s quite proud. Maybe the boy he once was would be proud too.
He hides himself when he first saw the two men, arguing about something or other as felled trees and logs sprawled out around them and carefully evades them. It’s strange to walk on a true path after all this time, the dirt, gravel, and pebbles digging oddly into his bare soles. He can’t hardly feel anything with them, but it’s just… the mere thought of it. It’s too open for his tastes, but at the same time everything feels just right at the same time. He rubs the finger curled around his wrist and makes his way towards a large manor.
It’s different from the one he was confined in so long. It’s nowhere as grand, sure, but again, that feeling of rightness settles comfortably in his bones as he walks up the steps. He feels the eyes on him, of course, and looks up at the curtain in one of the windows that is drawn back shut.
The door opens, and the finger uncurls, useless in his hand, yet he still takes to rubbing its smooth surface and messing with the immaculate joints, bone-white; sensations he’s long grown used to.
The man that opens the door is surely native, but his skin is lighter than most. His eyes are tired but warm, and the man stands almost as tall as him.
He suddenly realizes that he can’t smell the things he’s supposed to seek and that feeling of belonging is gone, and so takes a step back. Has he made a mistake? Is this where he’s meant to be?
He looks out, into the forested beyond; there’s a flag flying on a pole, with a white background and a triangular insignia lined in blue in its midst.
The finger let go of him. Surely that means something?
“Are you alright?” The man’s voice is soothing and calming, and only then did he realize just how uneasy he was for what felt like forever as his shoulders slumped.
“I’m where I need to be,” he replies and stares back at the man. He looks confused, and so he gives his best attempt at a smile in return, hopefully to take the awkwardness out of the air.
“Who sent you?”
Is this what people might call a stand off? He cowers first, fumbling with the finger again as he shifts his sights to the side. A sigh sounds in front of him, and the door creaks a bit more. He looks up.
It’s just a bit wider, and the man has positioned himself off to the side. “It won’t be the first time someone has come here because of a spirit. What is your name?” The man smiles, and…
Oh. There it is.
He takes a moment to surrender himself to the warmth that settles in his mind, and another to remember his name.
“My name is Adam.”