A body made me. A corpse birthed me. Twin moons shone first. They were my first faces. I saw them when I entered this world. Out of some dark oblivion I came, ravenous, in a cave by the Delphi Sea.

I did not come alone. With innumerable voices in tow, I was born their insatiable avatar, their living embodiment of the demiurge called Hunger. They never leave me, though I did not invoke them. They are my only inheritance from the corpse that birthed me.

How I should have died then. How I wish I had died then. If I had, no one at the orphanage would be dead now. Countless lives would’ve surely been spared were it not for my existence. I wish I could laugh with all of my siblings again while we eat carrot soup spiced with garlic, clove, and cinnamon from the market and mashed cassava on our long, ash-colored hyphaelion table. There were so many of us then; now, only I remain. Their laughs wander with me with my every breath; their lovely eyes spy upon me from inside a gourd.

My home burns before me. The sounds and smells force me to remember that there were people—my only family—whose beautiful, healthy bodies seeded this fierce, devouring blossom.

There was little brother U’elechechu, with the smell of oats and apples in his skin. There was big sister Kimat, who adored spraying rose water in her long, kinky hair that she wrapped every night with a scarf of the finest shiro. She paid for it with labor and unspeakable sacrifices that she took upon her flesh many nights. There was the ever smiling, baby brother, Stetfem, barely walking, with his rank smelling garments, and sister Kiki’nim, ever fearful of someone thinking she had foul-smelling breath, so she constantly chewed the mint wrapped, sugar-encrusted lime rinds she prepared from the sugar cane, lime tree, and mint she grew in her little corner of the fields.

There was Rufni, with the almond-shaped birthmark in the center of her forehead that she first hid from everyone with her thick, sumptuous locks. Fretgren and Xian had come together from what was the small northern village of Put-neren. Tiny as they were, they were the only survivors of a great fire, each miraculously blessed with only minor burns along their arms and legs.

There was the bird-voiced Bretna; there was sister Titiwa, the girl who stepped like an elephant, forbidden by Mother Sariel from sleeping on the second floor. There was Nureft the crier, Gomen the sickly waif who could not run with the other children and somehow made friends with the lone song shard that a stranger had gifted to the orphanage long ago. He learned so many stories and little facts from the song shard, which he named Zi’lao. That’s how the frailest child amongst us became the wisest. Shedmen, Wa’ala, Zitan, and so many more faces filled our loving home. I did my best to be kind to them in the end.

I came to each of them asleep in their beds so that they would not fear their death. They would not know the one who cut their life, their yah, short. A touch and a kiss for each of them so that they knew that they were truly loved. And they were loved, my darling brothers and sisters. I loved them, laughed with them, cried with them, bled for them, before I murdered them.

Mother Sariel, my savior, was the only one who woke to her demise. She’d been seventeen years old when she found me as a babe on the orphanage grounds, swaddled in dingy shiro, in a small black hyphaelion box. She had only recently become the mother of the orphanage when the elderly Mother Jante stepped back from her duties, declined, and last perished with the kindness of my touch. I wanted her end to be quiet and kind, and she kept my hunger quiet and kind for a little while. My pale, indigo-stained hands against the nutmeg skin of Mother Sariel’s oval face startled her enough to wake her.

“Thoth, you’re too big to be afraid,” she said as she saw the tears running down my face. When I was a little girl, we had often shared a bed when I became afraid of the wind passing through the mago trees. I did not think that I would cry, but I could not help but to weep. What could I do when compelled by otherworldly arias to kill the mother that raised me all my life?

“What’s the matter,” said Mother Sariel as she wiped my tears away, and as she did so, the light from her own eyes faded. She too was gone.

With their lives, their yah, devoured into the pit of my hollow, into the chasm of my hunger, I snatched out each of their eyes as carefully as I could, cutting the thread of their orbs with a kitchen shear as if it were twine woven from the string of palm fronds. I don’t know what drove me to do such a gruesome thing. The voices find no value in the desecration of the already dead. Only the devouring of life settles their demanding. This scene of sacrilege comes entirely from my own heart, my dark sol, purpled until purpled black. I didn’t think love could produce this monstrousness. Or is it despair? I don’t know anymore. I’ve lost myself to an ever-deepening madness I wish would end. Yet as each eye was cut, I knew I couldn’t stop, not until I collected all of them.

I cupped each severed eye in my palm like an egg yolk and stared into each of them before delicately slipping them into a gourd we used to pickle meats in. May their eyes be with me in some secret place forever. In place of each eye I stole, I eventually gave them wild flowers of every shade I had been able to find. Better to stare at flowers than at empty sockets where beautiful eyes had once resided. Eventually I filled all of their beds with flowers. It was as if I were burying my grotesque misdeeds with a garden.

I lived with their corpses for as long as I could. I could not celebrate their deaths in the way of Ukrin custom, having no explanation to offer for how so many people had died at once, and eyeless at that. How I remained as the sole survivor would be impossible to explain. No one would believe a girl, sinewy and frail as my frame assumes, could escape a massacre such as this unscathed. Surely, with my peculiar pale visage, my thick, snow-white coils, my lavender eyes, my indigo-stained fingers, so unlike all other nexians I’ve known, the prejudices of these isolated villagers would condemn me. I’d be accused of being an accomplice at least, before my role as murderer became known.

Eventually their nexian corpses, smelling sweetly with a scent like cardamom, fennel, nutmeg, star anise, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon combined, caught fire as they always do once the inevitable changes of decay have rooted themselves in nexian flesh. I removed the fireproof shiro all nexians use for bedding so that the flames of their corpses would eat the orphanage in the night. I wanted to burn in the fire of my beloveds, but the voices that attack my mind wouldn’t let me, and so I flew through a second story window into the ash-colored trees of the surrounding Serenblen.

Now I hide here still, wondering where I should go next. I suspect I will have to leave these lands, maybe even the whole of the country of Ull. This is no home for me anymore. The village folks approach the burning orphanage mostly to put out the flames, some only to see fire eat and destroy, and all to catch whomever set the conflagration and condemn them to death. Common folk cannot leave fiends who rob the world of quiet, life, and beauty to their own devices.

I have left no tracks for them to follow, but some amongst them might be highly skilled in our rare, unequally bestowed nexian preternatural blessing that is craft. I do not wish to kill more people. I say this in my heart, but the wordless murmurs have come to my mind once again. They stoke a hunger in me that grows greater and greater. I wish this curse of famine was not mine, but the voices would not have it so. I must hide all of myself or the murdering will go long into the dawn. My fingers are aglow, but instead of going on the hunt, I draw upon my strength to craft the elements of my erasure from their senses. I must hinder their sight, hearing, and smell.

My hands dance through the sky bathed in the indigo light of my fingers but for a moment. A dome, quiet as a moth’s wings, cocoons me, and all that I see turns eggshell white at first before I force a window for my viewing. No longer can light reach me within my shell. Thus, the creatures that would spy me with their eyes or any such apparatus that requires light to take account of my presence, I have thoroughly blinded. The sounds I emit bounce from every direction within my chrysalis. The scents in my vicinity of anything around me, I have caught as well so no beasts might sniff me out. I am gone; I am unseen, unheard, and without scent to distinguish, study, and follow.

I watch the villagers attempt to put the fires out with their many pails of water but to no avail. The flames continue unabated.

“We must try something else,” shouts a tall young man with the complexion of a dark mutton stew.

“Were there no Auspicious amongst them that could have prevented this?” asks an older gentleman of salt and pepper tendrils and the complexion of bright brown chicken feathers.

“We may still have the chance to save someone. Why are we standing here?” asks a young woman with short, boyish hair.

“We are in the heart of the Serenblen, amongst the scaled mago trees that do not burn. The village is not at risk,” says another villager, this one with pitch irises blue-ringed with age.

“True, and they were merely orphans. There is none in this world to mourn them, and there will be plenty to replace them yet,” says the tall young man, tired of laboring against the unabated flames.

How quickly the world changes from smiling and laughing with loved ones to carrying pilfered eyes as memento in a gourd. A girl kills her family in the night. The only home she has ever known disappears in flames that dance out of their corpses. What a hateful story. How I wish it were not mine. How I wish it so, and yet my face, wet with tears, made dazzling with fire, cannot help but smile from ear to ear, greedy and unashamed, from the pleasure that took me as I ate their beauty.

I didn’t kill my family for the fifteen years I was raised with them. I did everything I could not to. Why now, why couldn’t I stay? For fifteen years, it was enough to wither the grass, the trees, the moss, the ferns. It was enough to break the necks of all manner of snakes, to crush the hearts of birds, to skewer the brains of rodents, to stomp the bodies of insects, to kill everything that lived in the forest. Why did I have to kill my family? Why did people have to die again? I killed and killed and killed as often as I could, and it still wasn’t enough to stop this from happening. Why is it never enough? I did what my body ached for; I did as the wordless voices drove me to do. I gave them lives constantly. I devoted myself to their satisfaction. Why did my family have to die, like the body that bore me?

For nine months, I had grown in the womb of the one that bore me. I had heard all of its noises: I heard the flow of blood, the beat of its heart, its whispers, cries, and screams. The body had spoken to masters I would come to inherit. I have no doubt it is they who offered this dark blessing of awareness and monstrous memory. It’s traumatic to remember one’s development in the womb, the time of one’s birth, and everything that comes after. Every single detail I have ever observed is accessible to me in my mind, but the memories that return to the forefront of my thoughts ceaselessly are of deaths by my hand, as if I am the one wishing to savor them.

It was three days before I was to be born, when the body wandered to the sea. The body consulted no one, nothing of this world or the hidden realities, except the child called silence.

As the body walked into the waters neck deep during a thunderstorm, fighting against the raging surf, the poor creature’s heart gave out. The sea, oddly kind and gentle, brought the corpse back to land, back to rocks at the rear of the cave where I would come forth. The body died. I did not. I ate the life, the yah, of the one that bore me.

The body turned soft, aided by the open air and sea. It putrefied all around me. I would have died had I not feasted again. I lived off the tiny yah of the many bacteria, maggots, and other creatures that bloomed in abundance, slowing the most destructive aspects of the body’s decay but only briefly.

They had come to recycle the dead. They had come to turn the body’s young, supple flesh into an oozing, viscous soup of foulness. As they gathered, I stole all of them into myself like a whirlwind. Their air, their nutrients, all became mine. The billions all became one within me. Even as the en-caul that trapped me grew thin, and the amniotic sea I swam in spoiled, I remained unaffected. I breathed. I lived. I flourished.

Once enough sweet-smelling gases accumulated within the rotten corpse, the pressure provided my escape. The force of the gases extruded my en-caul out of what remained of the body’s genital orifice. The en-caul some days later finally grew thin enough that my newborn hands could tear their way through, spilling out the syrupy, saccharine pool of rot I had come to know so well.

Like a newborn doe, I quickly gained mobility. All the yah I had devoured preternaturally powered my limbs and sent me crawling. The sea baptized me as the tide rolled in. The filth of death my body had known since birth became just another part of the ocean. Water and salt made me pure.

The sea that nearly drowned me delivered my nourishment. How the ocean blessed me with life of all kinds: crabs, starfish, anemone, sea sponges, and little fishes that swam, scuttled, and raced within my reach. They became easy prey in tide pools once the waters receded.

When I grabbed these wonders with my little hands, I was startled. That was the first time I saw it—the radiance of my death light. I’ve never met another nexian in all my short years that was born like I, with thick, kinky, snow-white hair, milk-white skin, lavender eyes, and indigo-stained fingertips. I’ve never met a nexian that glows when eating the yah of another. I’ve never met another nexian that eats yah at all. Flesh of the fruit, the bean, and beast are good enough for all but I. I eat those too, but food alone does not sustain me. Yah keeps me, yah empowers me like no other that I’ve met, and it is yah that I crave like an addict.

A month passed in the cave before someone found me. That person must have been terrified to find a newborn nexian baby surrounded by ashes and decaying bodies in a sea cave. The original beauty of the body that birthed me was gone completely. Its ashes still held a human shape.

The hundreds of other corpses that littered the cave were in varying states of decay or had long ago combusted and been reduced to ash. The stench of the rot of the animals I murdered conquered what remained of the sweet rot of the body that birthed me. Only nexian bodies smell sweet in death, while everything else is curiously putrid. The great collection of death smells was overwhelming to anyone who was not accustomed. I sat amongst my prey joyful, smiling upon the wealth the sea provided.

A fool eventually found me and picked me up with their bare warm hands. It still surprises me now I didn’t kill the one whose hands dared to touch me then. As soon as the brave hands rescued me from the cave, they delivered me to the orphanage in a flimsy hyphaelion box, with my little body swaddled in a simple dingy shiro cloth like a kitten. I suppose the voices in my head could distinguish what could be food and what could be of use to gaining more food later.

The villagers have all scattered as the orphanage continues to burn brightly to the ground. If I wasn’t watching the only home I’ve ever known turn into a charred husk before my very eyes, I’d say aloud that these dancing flames are beautiful. There are all sorts of colors to them even as they eat my home. I suppose flames are always beautiful, even as they destroy something you love.

I cannot linger here another moment. Exhausted, my hands drop to my sides and my chrysalis peels away. My feet fly me through the night, and I find myself again at the cave where I was born. It seems smaller now, but it will do.

I cannot keep a gourd full of pickled eyes on me. Maybe the guilt is too much to carry such a memento around. Most likely though, it’s the impractical nature of lugging around evidence from a hecatomb I’ve committed that stops me. The wordless voices that drown me with the sound of wings urge me to be wise about my way through the world. All I want to do is scream. I cannot sincerely mourn a thing I’ve done with my own cursed fingers, despite how deeply remorseful I feel. My screams must be silent, drowned out on the inside by the music of my otherworldly tormentors. They grow more and more active as time goes by. I may never know quiet again.

My family must find some peace resting with the body that bore me. Surely, some speck of the ashes of the one who birthed me remains mixed in here with the soil of this place. I hope that peace will come for us all one day, but for now may the dead know solace buried in this cave at the edge of the Delphi sea.

This hole is deep, and grows deeper as I dig it slow with my bare hands. I must cherish the strain of digging this grave for my loved ones. Heretical as it may be, it’s the only marker they’ll have. No obelos crafted from their ashes will ever stand here, drenched in the crisp shine of Amat, Ma’aat, and Setnu of the bright long day.

The stars have begun to soften as the long night begins to close. My hands glow constantly with their purplish death light as they draw out the yah of every scurrying thing foolish enough to wander near. The eyes can no longer stare at me from the grave I have dug for them. May they sleep a dreamless slumber until all things join them in nonexistence.

Wandering the black sand beach, I spy a small boat that will let me sail away. As I begin untethering it, a crowd gathers, witnessing my bold thievery with little concern for it; they only linger on the strange nature of the one doing the thievery.

“I’ve seen that girl before.”

“Isn’t she one of those orphans?”

“So there was a survivor?”

“How can a orphan girl child afford a boat?”

“Maybe she’s been selling herself in the flesh markets?”

“Is she stealing that boat?”

“Maybe she killed the others?”

“She’s the murderer? This misshapen beast killed all those people?”

I didn’t mean to, but my fury got the best of me before I could drag it back down into the black sea of my heart, my obsidian sol. All of their words, true as they may be, fed my sorrow, and even worse, my rage. My hands went aglow with indigo light once again, and as I raised them, the waves behind me parted and crested as they crashed down upon the crowd. And as the waters receded they saw that I was dry as a bone, and they knew.

“If this orphan mongrel is an Auspicious, either she set the fire, or let it burn.”

Two amongst the crowd conjured a stiff wind, revealing themselves as Auspicious as well. It was then that I knew that a battle was inevitable. My indigo hands plunged into the sea and I devoured as much yah from everything that I could. Hurricane winds swirled around me, trying to draw away my breath from my very lungs. These were Auspicious decently skilled in craft and working in unison to kill me.

Had I been a lesser nexian, I would’ve died. Had I the right to choose my path, I would have let them kill me for my hateful crimes. But I am no such creature, and such determinations are denied of me. In the midst of the storm, I had layered my protections. When they wearied themselves, overtaxing the great engine of their nexian flesh, I revealed my terrible truth. I am Thoth, the terrible miracle, the black rainbow and the dark reveler that luxuriates in the extinguishing of light.

My chrysalis peeled away and they saw that I was unscathed. When my glowing, indigo-drenched hands raised above my head, my mob began to flee, but it was too late. No tears, no regrets, no miracles or salvation would come except for me. I was to be their last cruel miracle to savor in this world.

Lightning crashed down upon them in a great flashing column. Their bodies did not suffer, burning to cinders instantly, and rising from amongst their crumpled remains was a fulgurite, tall and rough, a termite mound forged by nothing living. They hadn’t needed to die, but I couldn’t hold back my anger, and the wordless voices only abetted my need to be sated. They will not earn my tears, but they can have an obelos to commemorate their deaths. Only I will know that their obelos secretly commemorates the deaths of those I love as well.

With my hands still aglow, I wield my craft, drawing the ashes of these slaughtered fools to gather around the fulgurite, which already heats, fusing minerals again but with further refinement until the crystal lattice reveals itself. I can offer nothing elaborate for strangers, and I can offer nothing personal that authorities could trace back to the orphanage or myself. A simple, featureless column of quartz stands newly formed before me. It must do.

I do not linger long upon my work, though it is exquisite how the colors scatter with the first rays of dawn. At least something holy and beautiful comes out of the slaughter of this mob.

With the vessel untethered, I set sail with not a single provision. It would be death for most, but my hands devour all. The seas will satisfy me with its abundance of wonders.

Aimless, I meander for days and see things I learned about in stories I was told growing up that I’d never thought I’d live to see. I was reborn in the sea. I was reborn as an outcast with all the freedom due to outcasts. If one cannot have love, the gods must pay with freedom from all. I was free, and all I wanted was my love back.

Great rothines, with their far-reaching, dolphin smooth wings, blast their way from deep down in the darkest waters, disrupting my long malaise. They’re the largest things I’ve ever seen, and the fact that they swim deep in the ocean devouring all that they can, large and small, only to take to the air every couple of centuries still unnerves me.

Their jets of pressurized water propel them to the surface before taking flight in what seems like a migration as they join others of their kind that fly in a stream well above the highest reaches of the cottony clouds. Gomen the Teacher told me and the other children about some of the old stories of the long-lived, robust rothines dying midflight during one of these once-in-a-lifetime migrations. He said the impact of such a fall from heaven of such a large object was able to wipe out large cities. Where the carcasses fell, new landscapes took their place. Gomen told me that the flesh of a rothine attracts all manner of beasts from everywhere, birthing a forest of singularly rare fauna and flora.

When I shook my tresses, I thought it was just the ocean spray wetting my face as these beasts lurched towards the clouds, but remembering how Gomen taught me about them, and the glow of the other children as we took his many lessons in broke me completely. I’ll only have memories and stories of them now. That’s what remains. Thank you for sharing Zi’lao’s precious gifts with me, Gomen. What I see in this world, you see also. You all will see through my eyes from now on.

Night came swiftly, and only darkness surrounded me as my fingers feasted beneath the water throughout the night. I sat on that lonely boat and never stopped eating until the days and nights blurred together.

The country of Ull left my sight ages ago. I do not know where I am going. I don’t think I want to know. Where I go, death follows. Maybe it’s better to be a pit out at sea, dragging everything that comes near me into the dark. There’s so much food and so much quiet out here.

I’m old enough now that I don’t need a family anymore. I can be no one. I can be nothing at all but a nameless hunger that wanders the seas. I can be free. Maybe this was the answer all along? Maybe that’s why the body that birthed me wandered out to the sea? Was this great sorrow my destiny?

I killed so many trying to pretend to be a normal girl with hope, love, and dreams, but here at sea, I get to be a monster without shame. I get to be my glorious self. My heart shatters at the thought that I was born for loneliness.

In this great silence, the wordless voices return to me. They come like great wings, like haggard screams, the beastly howls, finally gaining undeniable language. For the first time in my short life, my tormentors finally use words and it’s a short command:

“To Uriko.”

I laugh and shake my head. Monsters from another world compel me to a land that has no history, and barely a name.

Someone come and free me from this misery or at least make me dead. Don’t make me responsible for this. Let me die and fade away with my family. My prayer goes unanswered, like it always does. If I must walk this path of woe, at least deaden my heart. Why must each death take a place in my mind? Make me a heartless thing if I must be heartless. If there is any goodness in this world, do this for me. That prayer goes unanswered too as I come upon the beach of an unfamiliar land.

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Although Denzel Xavier Scott will be debuting as an author of genre literature in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, he has published for years. He was recently named as a Cave Canem Fellow Semifinalist this year, was a Pushcart nominee last year, and has twice been nominated for inclusion in the Best New Poets anthology. He earned his BA in English from the University of Chicago and received his Writing MFA at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, GA. His essays, literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry appear in Spillway, Rattle, Decomp, Empty Mirror, The Cortland Review, Random Sample Review, Linden Avenue, and many other publications. Find him on Twitter @DenzelScott.

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