In the Shadow of Leaves 3: White

A jolly hum vibrated through the chest, reaching beyond the individual and bounced merrily off the walls of the empty, slanted, living space. It was filled with crescendo-ing high notes and deep rumbling low notes, though it had no specific cadence or rhythm consistently in line to call the hum a tune. Instead, it was the unadulterated expression of contentment.

The floor contained, amid the broken and slowly decaying furniture, a creature with mud under its nails and a grin approaching blissful. Across its lap was a dress. It had been modest, with little neckline to speak of, and had once been white, though now it had a more yellowish quality with age. Compared to the creature working its edges, it was of a radiant purity that belonged far away from this swamp.

“Was awful nice of Auntie Olivia to give you her dress,” Noémie said from the darkened stairs that led to the upstairs makeshift infirmary. Her eyes glittered like angelic sapphires hung by the hand of God himself in the pale, angelic face. The one with the dress across its lap looked to her and smiled broadly. The white teeth slashed a path of cheer across the dirty beard, a hovering disembodied moon of pearls across a backdrop of twig invested tangled hair.

“Oh cher,” it boomed across the room to her. “Yer daddy taught ya better than ta lurk in doorways and spy on folk. Come on down now an get ta hemming!”

The girl giggled in the way of innocent children, and scampered towards him in the way of children; caring not for their safety with the intention to barrel into their target. Which she did promptly, wrapping her thin arms about the filthy man’s neck and throat, planning several kisses on the cheek, heedless of the quagmire of filth that tended to roost there. The man boomed a happy, indulgent laugh and reveled in the connection for a moment before shooing her off.

The dress was no longer a dress. The yellowed luminescent fabric had been reduced to a wide strip, now quite the width of the swamp-man’s shoulders. A pair of heavy, rust pocked sheers could be seen near the right hip, the fabric pooled over the lap. Along the edge of the cleanly cut fabric, small muddy fingerprints could be made out where someone had tucked the edge under the length of itself and driven a pin through to prevent the wriggling fabric from escaping its new shape. The pins were spaced at intervals, that even the most generous soul couldn’t call even. Along one side , another series of muddy prints decorated the edge where a needle with an unintentional bend had been driven through to tie the two sides of the fabric together in a crude sort of matrimony. The thread could be seen clearly, as no great effort had been made to find white thread. We could call this activity a ‘stitch’, though a tradesman with any semblance of talent would shudder at the work. The ‘stitches’ were randomly space, though they did seem to capture both sets of fabric most of the time. From a distance at least, it would give the passing semblance of a straight edge, though closer inspection would no doubt draw a tear to the eye over the atrocities committed to the cloth.

“What’s it gonna be, Uncle Henri?” the girl asked innocently, as she threaded another needle and began working the opposing hem. Her movements were much more confident, and that edge stood as a proud bastion against the invasion of the sloppy stitch-work on the other side.

“I dunno the proper name fer it, cher,” the creature denoted as ‘Uncle Henri’ replied. “But its a thing them friars wear. Sorta a white strip a cloth over the back n’ belly that sets on the shoulders like.”

The girl looked up from her work, and tilted her head sideways in the way of an inquisitive child.

“Why?” she asked, innocently.

Henri opened his mouth to answer. The brow furrowed in thought, leaving darker creases in the mud between his eyes.

“Well cher, I tink it be dat folk need ta know who is walkin’ the Path,” Uncle Henri said after some reflection. “Its so er’y one know who dey be an’ what dey be about. Papa Clement said dey use dif’rnt colors ta mean dif’rnt tings, but I ain’t worried bout dat.”

The little face of divinity smiled up at her uncle, “Ooooh.” Then it glanced around the room, and she took her turn to furrow brow. “Where ya spear be?”

Uncle Henri, a title the man truly loved to respond to, sighed in a relieved sort of way and shrugged.

“Gave it away, cher,” he said in a tone that implied a great joy. For her part, she looked surprised and blinked at him.

“Why?” she asked in a puzzled tone.

“Dun need it na more,” came the reply. “I’s only gonna have the tings da I need ta do the good werk.”

She looked more puzzled, “Huh?”

The man sighed again and put down his messy task that he would call sewing and most others would call atrocious.

“I gave off all ma tings, cher,” was the reply. “Tings… dey get in da way of folk. Once dey start wit da needin’ of tings, dats all dey do. Its all dey be. Some is more strangled by it den most, but its a seed dat gets planted deep in ya belly. Hits a point were folks stop askin’ on da why dey need a ting and focus more on da need of it. Ain’t no man or woman on God’s greed erf dat can truly see what they need for true over what day need fer want once dat seed sprout.”

The girl looked confused, the intricacies of the gesture escaping her.

“But… dat spear was ya most precious ting! I ain’t never seen ya witout it! Why ya give dat off?” she pleaded, eyes turning to small saucers. He’d seen a fine plate made of impossibly thin material once that had that same pale blue crystalline quality. It made the old fellow smile.

“Oh cher,” he said sadly. The old, well cared for wood was in his hand. He had stepped forward. Cadence had her back to one of the fellows. The man, dressed in dark clothing, lifted a glinting blade. The spear leapt forward as if it was a living thing. A serpent. Something born to kill. Between the bottom two ribs, it caught the man and drove forward as if the fellow was constructed of some sort of marshmallow material instead of flesh. A flower of crimson had blossomed immediately, and he’d dropped like a sack of grain poorly laid across a cart, falling to the ground under its own limp weight. The feeling of revulsion and horror. Reality had shone down through the clouds. It was impossible to escape. The face of the gasping man turning down towards the spear in its side, then up at the one holding it, tears of pain blooming in his eyes. The spear falling from nerveless hands and dirty fingers pressing and holding the wound. Frantic cries for help unheard. The ones that had traveled with he that held the spear turned towards the two dully, confused. They shrugged with indifference, all save Cadence. Why did they turn? Why could they not care that someone was hurt. That *he* had hurt someone. Vicious bile churned and threatened to appear from deep within the man as the blood of his victim leaked through fingers. Tears cut vicious swaths of clean flesh across the muddy cheek. Why had this happened? Why did it have to happen? Back in the room, the man pales slightly and swallows before forcing a sad smile to his lips.

“Oh cher,” he repeated. “I dun never wanna hold dat ting again. It weren’t some ting precious. It were a weight dat held me down. Now I ken be free ta fly.”

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