Updated: Feb 16

By Tierra Woodford


His image flickered from woman to man, girl to boy, lady to gentleman. She couldn’t know for sure when the changes would appear or disappear.

Laughter from those that saw Ayumu burned his already ringing ears. Sharp breaths scorched her lungs. She could barely hold herself up but she refused to stop. The brown of the dirt on her clothes contrasted with the brown of her skin. Ayumu coughed up the blood that had pooled into her lungs, splattering it across the ground. Being beaten and broken was almost comforting to know she couldn’t get any lower. Her cheeks felt the chill of the forest against the heat of her blood rushing into her face. She gritted her teeth pushing forward. Mock him to high heaven if they must, it wouldn’t stop him.

The velvet letter he so desired flew away from him, briefly gracing the ground with a feather’s touch before the wind took it just beyond his fingers touch. If she could just touch it once she would have all the answers. It caught on a tree branch for a second. And the tree spoke- spoke the words in the voice he wanted to hear for years.

Dear Ayumu,

I know not your gender nor what will become of your future but I know that I have come to love you. A sleep in my body for seven months, my sweet child, I don't know if this world you'll come into will be one you can be proud of. Perhaps you'll change this troubled world of ours.

Ayumu felt his shoulders slump, tension flowed away from his chest into his tired legs. Her throat was dry from the harsh breaths she had to take to fill her empty chest. The voice stopped for a moment and the paper slapped a small rock. A heavenly voice came from everywhere like a beacon of the lighthouse calling him home.

What purpose would you be for? What hole would you fill? Who would you be since you were made from bits of my body?

Her eyes glossed over, it shouldn’t be asking her questions. An unusual strawberry mists painted his skies under an inflamed full moon, winds tried to rip his feet from the ground. Running down an empty forest bond highway scared her more than it should have. She threw her tired body forward, an arm reaching out knowing it wanted her to chase It. Knowing It would fight her every move. He bellowed out into the nothingness of his path, “If I must then I shall.”

His head went light with the instinctual presence of another person bigger than himself coming up behind him. Anxiety ate away at her stomach. She knew she didn’t even have the strength to look back, if she did she would surely die. That would disgrace her name and purpose even more than allowing this letter to slip past her and make her life that of a fool. If she were to die tomorrow she’d be another lost child, those who knew her would cry for a moment then more on. The stars would still shine, the sun would still rise and life would go on without her. Unacceptable.

Tingling at his nape took precedence over his threatened pride. Wet, cold, ick slapped itself onto his nape. She nearly jumped out of her skin, nothing but a squeak escaped her mouth. She was yanked forward by some unknown being, fingers pulled at her tongue nearly ripping it out of it’s place. Light slapped her face hard enough to knock the words from her soul. The silhouette of the person he served held his tongue with the disdain of a veteran's detest of war.

They took my tongue in their hand. “Know your place, child, woman, man.” But my place is by propensity side as I planned. Long long ago in an old fairy tale Told to and fro- an old song we all sing I wanna scream what my complacency means. “Give back my tongue so I may say Where my place lay.” When I take my place they shall see How beautifully above them I can be.

Ayumu couldn’t breathe for a moment, all he could see was his eyes quickly becoming ground level. Shirking was common with age but this was a bit quick. She gasped, wiggling her feet, ick between her toes made them feel sticky. Black strands of screaming thoughts crawled up her legs. She screamed above the voice of her letters answers.

Even when you couldn’t speak you had a way with words, I never thought of touching the hearts of people with movement. It was a great argument winner as you know.

The presence of something larger than him was fast approaching, threatening to swallow him whole. She refused to look back. She screamed with rage ripping vines from their sockets, they screamed with her, in pain. Their shrieks took the form of her thoughts, her questions, her fears turning them into nothing more than idle chatter.

I had too much to drink so I screamed on repeat until I turned pink

“What is war but the greatest battle of the lame?

What is death but the monsters inside us fully tame?

Oh, love what is life but a flower already cut yet propelled into fame?

I know not what I say nor do I care what I do.

I pity all you lame, tired, tortured fools

Who know not of what it means to be free!

Freedom is simply a state of mind, a vision, a time.

Let it pour down on me- the sweet juice of the fruits of our labor.

For I will savor the tears of the goats mother I just ate.”

I jumped onto the bar screaming “Fate, Fate, Fate!

Time stop, for thee are so stupid, nothing but sand in the hands of man.

Man is the same, the same lame tame beast of this universe's past.

I hope we may last by spreading our disease across galaxies.”

And I threw myself onto the floor, I held a broken glass up and begged for more.

More of this humanity BS they’d love to sell me.

More of the heat they’d love to throw at me.

More of the fullness I feel at last when the drinks get in me.

I lay in bed with a headache facing the east where another party, another feast began- ready for me.

“Party on lame tame beasts.”

He woke up feeling like his limbs had been pulled in nine different directions by horses. She was strapped to a chair made from tree vines above the ground. She looked down to find the ground gone in it’s place dark water. A distorted reflection of herself stared at her. She saw her puffy reddened brown eyes. She saw the short maleish hair style. He saw the lipstick on thin lips above the squared jaw. She pulled at her restraints and ripped the vines apart. A dark impression hung far above her. Her brown skin paled to that of his creamy complexion. A golden page flew past her downturned head. She gasped, she ripped herself free of the restraints tearing the vines in the process. They screamed their pain as she tore herself free yet she didn’t stop nor did she feel remorse for them. Laughter from the absolute darkness behind him urged him forward.

She was dropped into the burning waters, it filled her empty lungs within seconds leaving her full but heavy. He looked up to the surface squirming towards freedom. He could still hear the letter clear as day.

Ah once asked me where that burning in your chest and headache came from.

He felt the fear of falling wrap around his neck, he heard the whimpers of She clearer than his own heart beat. He pushed his body to kick, to claw, to climb towards the bright surface far above his head. Her lungs screamed for release, Ayumu gripped her chest unwilling to let go of what little air she had left. She reached out to the light, darkness edged the light like an unforetold solar eclipse. Her hand would’ve instinctively recoiled to hold fast to herself but this time she chased the light. Her head broke through the compressed surface of the sea first, her first greedy gulp of air was accompanied by more questions she had yet to answer.

Honestly that begs the question when did it start? The burning in your chest whenever you heard your own name or caught your reflection? It took a while to figure out, after watching many like you I’ve finally found a good enough answer. One I hope can put that feeling to bed.

Standing on dry land, he himself was dry, he spat the water from his lungs throwing his irritation aside to make way for his resolve. He ran towards it head long and feet nothing but a blur. The letter awaited her in the middle of a ring of trees were a bed of precious roses lay, it fluttered about in the center of it all, speaking the words he wished to hear.

It comes from mistakes that made you or others hurt, it's the embarrassment, the regret, the wish I could be’s, the need, the desire, the anxiety, the longing, the realization no one can feel what you feel. The feeling that you are imperfect, the never ending search for happiness that would take you back to the womb. All of this birth the voices that claim to ‘know what’s best for you’.

Trees lit up with a golden aura, their leaves turned white. Light winds blew, ripping the leaves from their branches. She allowed her body to ease itself into the scenery. His shoulders fell, his breath became quiet, his heart didn’t skip a beat.

Much like a parent projecting what and who they wanted to be onto you, breaking you in the process. They’ve plagued you for quite some time have they not my dear? My youngest love you cannot lie because I’ve seen the voices affect your face.

Ayumu stepped forward, his hands dropped in submission to the world around him. This was not giving up. He was content. For a single moment he was content. White leaves where outlined in black and gold, the wind crashed them into each other. Each leaf became a butterfly made to fly towards the sky.

You stare at parts of yourself, or your own eyes until they no longer look like eyes and you become distant from the very person you see. Yes I’ve noticed I was the same way when I was young and the only way I know how to silence my voices is an old recipe for dealing with life- tea, quite time, sleep and an adventure.

The letter lowered itself to Ayumu showing them that the page was blank, the words spoken were truths that weren’t set in stone by any man, woman or child. Ayumu pressed a single finger to the page and watched it burst into a million more butterflies swarming towards whatever it was that chased after him. Crashing, falling and breaking was heard before Ayumu could look back at last. What ailed her, what had such a fearsome presence became nothing more than a wall of water reflecting a shaky image of her former self.

Let go, my little love, let go and love yourself once again. Like you were before you knew the shape of the universe, before you knew what hurt felt like, before I betrayed my promise to protect you from going numb.

She took a deep breath letting it go with all of her questions. She threw herself into the flower bed of glimmering white and gold roses lacking their thorns. He rolled into his back watching the butterflies fly into the sky, his answers whispered amongst themselves leaving her to her thoughts. Ayumu laughed, feeling the tears wash his reddened eyes. Her answers were clear as glass and yet they had never been so black before.

I am a crossbreed dog of black and white

A child instilled with the mechanism of fight or flight

Too white to be dark too dark to be white

So cut my throat, bleed me dry purify

Me for both of my crossbred sins

Let me be useful please take your pins

Take my body as a vessel for your prejudice

And I will hide my double consciousness

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