It started with an itch. A throbbing, prickling, all-consuming desire, right at the base of my left wrist. I scratched it mindlessly while drinking coffee one morning, and watched the thick white fog lurch drunkenly across the yard.
At length, a tiny corner of skin lifted up. It was velvety with tiny hairs I hadn't noticed before, and I stroked it rhythmically with one thumb.
I gulped at the coffee. Gazed out the heavy frame of the window. Felt the dry heat of the stove lap against my sweatered back.
I peeled back the tab of skin a little further.
By then, the coffee was gone and the light outside had begun to harden into day and one by one the urgencies of the hours ahead emerged and clustered around me.
I pulled, harder perhaps than I had meant to, and ripped a run in my flesh all the way up to the inside of my elbow. It blazed with a sharp pain that cleared everything from the room. Finally, finally, all was in order.
I picked at my wrist again, easing the skin up and then all at once tearing off another long strip. The freed tendrils swung elegantly from my arm while the dusky red tracks left in their wake shone richly in the cold light. I was hungry; I couldn't stop.
By the time he arrived the day was nearly done. The streetlights had blinked on some time ago, and were casting bruise-coloured shadows against the twilit sky. He knocked politely on the door. I was stood in the middle of the room, a pile of skin looped gracefully at my feet. I slipped the last of it off of my toes, then draped it softly over the back of a stiff wooden chair. I made to push the hair from my eyes, though of course it was futile. I saw the hair across the room, balanced cheerily on top of the skin.
I smiled. Then padded softly over the floor.
I held the knob for a moment before turning it, marveling at the new texture of my hands, and then opened the door.
He smiled when he saw me. I felt him drinking me in.
Shall we? I said, and stood aside to let him enter.
You told me about it first. You'll probably disagree, protesting, waving your stubby arms about, the loose skin around the bridge of your nose pinching into disapproving wrinkles. Yes, I can see it. It won't make a bit of difference though. We both know that you did. You always liked to provoke me.
Lie on your stomach, you said, in the garden. If you put your ear to the ground you'll hear them whispering. I didn't believe you, and I told you that. You shrugged, carrying the wisdom of being a few years older like a heavy cape.
Not everyone can hear them anyways, you said.
I rolled my eyes and stomped away, but you had caught my attention and you knew it. I never could resist a dare, even an implicit one. And so it came to be that one day, I did lay down in the grass, and I did rest my head atop the steaming earth. It smelled of dead things, and almost-dead things, and all of it bathed in the hot scent of the sun.
I couldn't hear anything. Not at first. But I didn't tell you that, of course. Of course not. I merely resolved to practice. And anyways, I enjoyed it, the stillness of my body sinking into the deep, deep dirt, the waving wheat hiding me from sight. I found myself spiriting away to the fields whenever I could, skittery with anticipation in the moments between.
One time, the ground, having endured an afternoon of heaving rain, was so slick with it that it swallowed me up. Mud clung in fat, shining clods to my arms and legs and face, and bound my hair together in murky tendrils. It was no use listening to the voices that day, I decided. Though the rain had stopped falling, the air still thrummed with the rhythm of it and shivered and shimmered in the rustling wind. Nevertheless, I tried one last time.
I sank back into the muck, easing one side of my face into the cold water. I listened, straining. I watched the sleeve of my shirt turn brown, then black, as the water and silt leached their way through the fibers. I stuck my fingers in the mud, first just the tips, but soon enough up to the first knuckle, then the second, then up to my wrist. I listened some more. I pulled the dirty water over the rest of my body like a blanket and fell heavier against the earth. The wheat waved and the water waved and as it lapped gently against my face I imagined I was a ship docked in a docile sea.
I closed my eyes.
I hear the steady thumping of blood against my eardrums. And then—
Hello, the voice said.
I shot up and opened my eyes. One side of my face was stiff with cold, the other warmer and swamp-covered. I smoothed a few errant strands of hair from my face the corner of my mouth and lay down again. Slowly.
I held my breath.
Hello, the voice said again. And there was no mistaking it. A true voice it was, substantial and solid and real enough to touch; no wavering whisper in the wind.
A small hand brushed my mud-bound cheek.
Hello, I said into the dirt. Hello.
Rain, the voice said, and then paused. I heard a sigh. It loosens things up, the voice said.
I eyed the puddle around me and nodded. I didn't know if the voice could see me but before I could speak, it had continued.
Things melt and flow into one another, it said. Almost sadly. They slide together and slide apart and sometimes become hopelessly muddled. The hand stroked my cheek again and then traced my profile. I shivered and pressed myself more firmly into the soil. I lay one palm flat against it, although the water hid it from view.
Why haven't I heard you before? I asked.
The voice chuckled. The rain dissolves barriers, it said. Without it, the distance between us is too thick. The earth hand pressed against my own from below.
See how close we can be? It breathed in my ear.
Mm hmm, I murmured.
Unseen fingers circled my wrist, and another hand held my ankles loosely.
The rain had started up again, and I felt it pepper my upturned cheek and neck and scatter the water around me, tiny rounds of buckshot.
I heard the voice, though I could no longer make out the words. By its rise and fall I guessed there were others. They seemed to be conferring. A fist wound itself in my hair, gently tugging it into the muck. When it next spoke, the voice was very close. I felt the hot breath of it tickle my face and the faint shape of a nose push ever so slightly against me.
It's time, it said. The hold on my ankles and my wrist and my hair tightened.
And then I was sucked below.
Momentarily disturbed, ground was quickly stilled. The wheat soon resumed its waving, flailing and shrieking in the gusting wind.
Jacqueline Bédard writes: I wrote my first novel (crime/noir) five years ago when I was 20. It was recently published, and I have a horror novel slated for release in 2020. I have also had a non-fiction article published in an online running magazine, in which I explore the intersection of my running and bioploar disorder.