Authors: Jesikah Sundin
Text and Cover Design/Illustration
Copyright © 2014 Jesikah Sundin
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Developmental Editing & Publishing
P.O. Box 333
Monroe, WA 98272-
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – for example, electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording or otherwise – without the prior written consent of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
by Amalia Chitulescu
Digital Illustration by Amalia Chitulescu
Interior design by Jesikah Sundin
My husband, Myles Sundin
friend, Melissa Patton
The funeral pyre
Where I have laid my living body.
All the false notions of myself
That once caused fear, pain,
Have turned to ash
As I neared God.
What has risen
From the tangled web of thought and sinew
Now shines with jubilation
Through the eyes of angels
And screams from the guts of Infinite existence
Love is the funeral pyre
Where the heart must lay
, 14th Century *
New Eden Township, Salton Sea, California
Monday, September 29, 2054
Year 19 of Project Phase One
knock quietly sounded, and Leaf lifted his head out of his hands and toward the hewn wooden door. He shifted uncomfortably in a chair as he cast a weary glance at his father’s corpse, positioned on a litter stretched across a narrow table.
With a heavy sigh,
Leaf rose from the high-back chair. He trudged across the planked floor but did not recall a single step, startling when his eyes naturally squinted against the bright morning sun. When did he open the door? His eyes burned as he strained to focus on a young woman from the village who held a ceramic pitcher and a wooden bowl filled with hemp rags.
“For you, My Lord.” She offered the contents of her hands with a curtsy, rising when Leaf carefully received each object.
“Thank you,” he mumbled, his dry and gritty throat aching with each word. The tangy smell of vinegar irritated his nose, but he maintained a composed expression.
“May I be of further service, My Lord?”
Leaf whispered, “No, but you are most kind for asking.”
“Your father was a good man and shall be sorely missed.” She bobbed her head with a sad smile.
Leaf remained passive as his attentions slipped to another place. Chimerical thoughts fed his dreamlike state, and the muscles in his neck twitched with the heartache of remaining fastened to reality. He glanced up to repay the honor of her words, but she had vanished. Leaf blinked his eyes and frantically looked around the second-story deck and out into the forest, unsure of how long he stood in the doorway. He had seen the candlemaker’s daughter, and yet looked past where she stood as if she was immaterial. The vinegar sloshed with his movements, and he peered absently at the objects in his hands.
The pitcher and bowl clanged as he placed them on a small cupboard, the sound loud to the unnatural silence of his family home, and he flinched. He shut the door and held the iron ring, carefully resting the knob flush against the wood to prevent any further noise, as if it would disrupt his father’s rest. The air in
Leaf’s chest stilled as he studied the serene expression on his father’s face—eyes closed, and lips positioned into a small smile of eternal acceptance. Heartbeats echoed audibly in Leaf’s ears as he waited for his father to awake from the slumbers of this nightmare.
The delusions parted, and Leaf shook his head of such thoughts. This was not rest. His father would never awake. The deep and gentle rumble of his voice would no longer fill their home with his laughter, words of guidance, or his kind encouragements. This was real.
Leaf’s shoulders began to shake as the flux of foreign and painful emotions surfaced. He had not shed a single tear since his father’s last breath the prior afternoon, too shocked by the grief and by the invisible crown that had been placed upon his head. And although his body convulsed with sorrow now, the tears did not come. A grief-stricken sigh escaped as a shudder, and he rubbed at the latent tears in his eyes with the palms of his hands, determined to keep his faculties intact.
His sisters needed him, as did the community, both terrifying thoughts as a yoke of responsibility fell upon him, the load increasing as the day progressed, and it was only morning. Would he be able to stand come evening meal? He took a deep breath and lowered his head into his hands. Thinking must remain sharp, a difficult task at present, but he needed to channel his emotional energy to remain strong, despite his beliefs that he was not equipped for such a future.
Vinegar faintly replaced the stench of death as he poured the honey-colored liquid into the wooden bowl. He reached in and grabbed a rag, lightly wringing out excess vinegar, and then turned toward his father. Leaf did not wish for assistance. He shooed even his sisters from the home to the care of others in the community. This was his duty, and he wished for solitude as he prepared his father’s body for cremation. The rag gently washed over the lifeless skin of his father’s arm. With tentative touches Leaf lowered the sheet and washed his father’s chest. He paused to see if he could feel the warm rhythm of a beating heart and swallowed against the cold silence.
Small groans escaped through clenched teeth as
Leaf strained to roll his father onto his side in order to wash his back. A linden tree tattoo stretched between his father’s shoulder blades in black dye, and Leaf traced the branches, trunks and roots as he thought of the medieval symbol of love and marriage. His father now joined his mother in Heaven, death no longer parting the union they once shared. The rag dripped with vinegar, and Leaf squeezed at the moisture with detached movements as he processed and absorbed all the events that led to this moment.
Lightly he brushed the rag along the neck and shoulders, lowering his father onto his back once more.
Leaf’s fingertips lifted the sheet back up to his father’s chest and then exposed his father’s legs. Blood pooled beneath the skin near his father’s feet. Leaf gently moved the rag down the length of both legs as he thought of how his father would no longer walk upon the Earth. The moisture sheened on the pale and bluish skin, and Leaf watched as vinegar tears dribbled onto the litter.
He whispered, “I am so afraid. How am I to fare without you father?” Leaf’s gaze slowly wandered to his father’s face, and he studied each beloved and familiar feature. “How shall I care for my sisters when the community disbands? How shall I ever be worthy of such honor given in The Legacy when I have never seen the Outside world? You asked so much of me in just two breaths, and I fear I shall disappoint you.”
Leaf paused and took in a deep breath, feeling his heart brim with an overwhelming desire to purge all the regret and anxiety. He leaned onto the table and continued whispering all the things he wished he would have told his father, all the questions he was previously too afraid to ask, desperate for the pain to ease in his chest. But it would not lessen.
turned around to gather his thoughts and returned the rag to the bowl, studying the garments his sister Willow had prepared and left upon the cupboard early this morning. She had stayed up late into the night embroidering an oak tree on the chest of the tunic, their family symbol signifying nobility belonging to the Earth Element House. The tunic would need modification to dress his father’s stiff body.
In the corner of the main room lay Willow’s spinning wheel and sewing basket. The soft thud of his footsteps interrupted the silence, and he paused before the basket, grabbing the shears, and then shuffled back to the cupboard. He lifted the linen tunic and cut a straight line down the back, a light metallic noise punching through the apartment with each snip.
The tunic fluttered in the air with a snap of his wrist and then lightly draped over his father’s chest. Leaf gingerly maneuvered each arm into place, tucking the back beneath the body.
The linen breeches slipped on easily and
Leaf tugged on them until they reached his father’s waist, tying the laces with shaky fingers. His father’s favorite leather belt was tucked beside where the garments lain originally, and Leaf held up the mildly studded leather stamped in a leaf design. With sluggish movements he removed his own belt and tied it around his father’s waist in a Celtic knot, carefully laying the remnant down the center to his mid-thigh.
The aged leather of his father’s belt felt soft as it slipped through
Leaf’s hands while wrapping it around his own waist, and he reverently brushed his fingers along the stamped design. “You are needed. Do not ever feel unworthy or insignificant,” his father’s deep voice soothed from his memories. “A leaf’s sole purpose is to nourish the tree, from the newly budding green on each branch to the decaying yellow that litters the roots. The tree is a community, an ecosystem, and you are a necessary and noble ingredient to sustain its very existence.”
The voice faded and Leaf tentatively took his father’s hand in his, gently squeezing the fingers, stiffened and unyielding from the rigor mortis. He had prepared his father’s body for cremation but did not wish to inform Connor, the Fire Element, or the undertaker quite yet. Instead, he pulled up a high-back wooden chair and held his father’s hand, too afraid to let go. Time passed in a blur and his eyes grew heavy. Leaf slumped forward and placed his forehead upon his father’s hand in honor, closing his eyes and gripping the fingers in search of comfort and direction.
He woke with a start, flinging his body back against the chair when he felt a warm hand touch his shoulder. Connor crouched next to him with eyebrows drawn together, his large frame blocking the light from the latticed window.
“You have done well, son. Go outside and freshen your mind while my family pays their respects. I shall care for the remaining details for your home.” The last words ended in a choked whisper and Connor tensed his face to remain in control. The Fire Element’s eyes rested on the belt tied to Leaf’s waist, eliciting a sad smile of approval. “Willow and Laurel shall return shortly. Cook wished to know what to prepare for evening meal in your family’s honor this eve.”
Leaf cleared his throat to respond, but the muscles were too tight, so he nodded instead. He slowly rose from the chair and lowered his head, staggering through the opened door and past Connor’s wife, Brianna, who stood nearby with red-rimmed eyes and a paled complexion. Coal, their eldest son, placed his hand upon Leaf’s shoulder and bowed in respect. Unable to speak and not wishing to move any more than he needed to, Leaf paused to acknowledge the gesture and then continued toward the railing of the large deck.
The trees stood still, nary a leaf moving from the lack of bio-wind, and he breathed in the fresh air, clearing his nose of death and vinegar. His forearms rested against the railing as he stooped forward and hung his head. He sought to divert his mind by studying the patterns in the wood grain. Detachment dangerously encroached, drawing nearer with whispered promises of no pain. He wanted to succumb to the false relief but resisted.
Soft footsteps sounded from his right and he faintly turned his head and watched as Ember, the Daughter of Fire, Connor’s eldest, approached from the stairwell. She remained outside upon the deck and stared into the forest at a respectable distance from him without offering condolences or peering his direction. Leaf greedily absorbed the comfort her presence brought him, casting furtive glances her way as his thoughts spun round in a vortex of anxiety.
More footsteps sounded from the stairwell as the Wind Element House and Water Element House arrived. Leaf glanced over his shoulder and timidly met the eyes of Skylar, Son of Wind. His friend appeared on the verge of tears as he bowed deeply, turning quickly on his heel as he followed his father into the apartment. Ember remained along the railing and maintained an even gaze into the woods which forested nearly half of the main biodome and was situated just a stone’s throw from the apartments.
Somehow she understood his desire to not feel alone while simultaneously wishing to be left alone, a perfect balance of support he did not know he craved until this moment. The emotions of others and their desire to express their sympathy and care for his family drained his reserves. There was no fault with the community, their love and support was overwhelming, but he was a private individual and found strength in quiet solitude.
Voices and footsteps mingled behind him while he kept his eyes fixed on the evergreens and deciduous trees beneath the geodesic sky. Occasionally he glanced toward the clearing and grassy path along the apartments in search of Willow and Laurel. Shadows shifted as the sun moved, and he studied the angles to discern the time when he no longer sensed activity or motion in his home. He glanced to his side and felt an immediate pang of
loneliness. And guilt that he had failed to notice Ember’s departure.