Chapter 1 (her)

Today is the day I bleed aquamarine. The blue-green liquid soaks into my fuzzy pillow, spreading like melted ice. I blink at it. It is a nice pillow.

But first: the blood. I put a hand to my chin as a drop falls, splashing silently on my skin. I breathe in the smell, like salt, like ash. I run to the bathroom.

The mirror is still cracked, from last time. So I pour water from the bucket into the sink and leave it rippling, I dunk in my head face-first. The water is instantly cloudy, bright blue-green. So I drain it. Let it all seep away down the wooden pipe, leaving trails like squid ink. And I pour in another bucketful.

I don’t look in the mirror. I don’t. But the water in the sink is just as vivid, shifting, lacking cracks. Everywhere across my cheeks, above my violet lips, there are pinprick dots of blood. I resist the urge to punch the water, punch the mirror, and open the wooden cabinet to the side. I have never been good at healing. But I keep bandages anyway, to stop the bleeding. To slow the bleeding. The rolls of pseudo-cloth are dark, to match my skin, but stick unevenly along my jaw. This is why I broke the mirror last time, because I could see the bandages still, like some kind of curse.

“Blood is no curse,” I whisper to myself. Close my eyes and picture the room with bottles along the wall, blood in shades of ruby and aquamarine. Old bones. White bones. I open my eyes and there are still bumpy bandages across my cheeks, a thin strip above my lips. A thin strip above my– My hands itch, my body itches, I yank more bandage across my entire mouth. There is nobody to talk to anyway.

I turn away from the sink, still full, I don’t know why I needed another bucketful. I drain it. I stuff the bandages back in the wooden cabinet, stare as the wobbly bucket on the shelf slowly trickles back to full. I still don’t know where the other one went. Probably the bottom of the ocean, somewhere, always full. I quickly leave, before I can accidentally look again. I still need to fix the mirror.

***

Let’s just be upfront about something, brain. You killed them all. Buried their bones in the blue. Kolariq always said bone was the most important tool; needles, knives. You didn’t care. Magic seeps deep, they say. That’s why bones are the most important tool in the first place. Anyway, brain, better to take bones from the things that won’t try to haunt you: ice fish, sea cats, white lemmings.

***

I don’t eat today, because of the blood. The skeleton cook looks concerned, but I don’t care. It’s not like he cooked much anyway. Everything down here stays frozen, and I haven’t made a fire since the blue. Too terrified they’ll haunt me, if I look close enough. The skeleton cook looks concerned, so I dismiss him. Think of him as the skeleton decorating the fine kitchen. Let him have a rest day; dishes are the worst, after all. Terrible for your skin.

He still looks concerned, teeth-white bones lying there, connected by invisible string on the ice-white counter. I stand there, in the middle of the dining room, staring. I shake my head.

I don’t eat today, but I do go out into the garden. There is no spring blizzard, so I make myself. The skies are clear, the red sun low on the horizon. I bring the backpack, too, even though I know it will make my shoulders ache.

The garden isn’t that far; it takes one-hundred and two steps to go there. I think the extra twelve is because of the spring blizzards. Not so much the snow, just the blizzards. 

The garden isn’t that far, but my body still aches when I get there. From the cold. From the siren song of flee-berries, the intoxicating scent of elger moss. I pick the flee-berries first, on account of their song. Best to make them go quiet quickly. And they do, nestled in the pouch of my backpack, third from the top, lined with cat-fur. They’re terrified of cats.

I use the knife from the second pouch of the backpack to slice elger blossoms. They are smaller than my fingernail, and aren’t true blossoms. Moss doesn’t have blossoms. I could bet an entire handful of diamond knives that anyone I asked would swear the pink petals, pouring the sweetest scent into the still air, were flowers. They aren’t. I have nobody to ask, anyway.

I put the knife back in the second pouch, the elger blossoms go in the first one, lined with night moss. It’s the only plant that grows in almost complete darkness. It’s also the only plant that feeds whatever flowers happen to be near it. Nobody has figured out how they actually survive. But again, I have nobody to ask.

I go to the row of rocks last, since they are the heaviest. My back would not complain if there were only petals and violet berries it had to carry. Not that the row of rocks is the last thing in the garden. Not by far. There are bear-bulbs and capped mushrooms and crawling fungi and howl-mint bushes and sometimes, snow witches. The wooden kind.

I pull out my knife again, and stab the first rock. It complains, but I don’t care. I use both hands on the handle of the knife and pull, dragging the round rock slowly from the packed snow. It doesn’t want to leave, but I don’t let it stay. It pops free, suddenly, and moans once. I don’t talk to it. I put my knife back, and heft the rock into my backpack, lined with salt crystals. I close the flap, and walk back home. My shoulders complain. It is one hundred and eight steps on the way back. I think it is because of the spring blizzards.

***

The skeleton cook used to live here, dear brain. Remember that? You, stumbling weak, blood pouring like water from your nose, your eyes, your arms, your chest… Brain, he ran out here, in the spring blizzards, packing snow against your wounds. You tried to tell him. You really did. It’s not your fault you were too weak to tell him.

You killed him with a touch.

***

I rouse the Skeleton Cook, hand him the backpack so he can store it in the fridge. It is not a real fridge. The entire kitchen is a freezer, as cold as anything outside. He holds the backpack and I take the rock out. Set it on the tile with a thunk. I watch the Skeleton Cook go, silent, then bend over and trace the bumpy rock. I use my hands to dig into the knife-wound, tear it apart. Magic laces my fingers as the rock’s blood spills to the tile. I inhale through my nose and the blood rises up, pale brown fungus goop.

I don’t grin, because of the bandages, but if they weren’t there, I might. I could never do this with a plant. Funny business is, fungus are like people a whole lot more than people are like plants.

This fungus is just called “rock” because if I didn’t know about the blood I would never know. This fungus is called “rock” but every day the fruit grows larger, swelling, a hive of nutrients and sugars and spores. I say fruit, but really it is more like a beating heart. People are like fungi a whole lot more than fungi are like plants. Stone hearts, and all.

I lift the goopy brown blood from the tile with my hands, and it floats. Blood warms this house. In the wooden pillars of the corners, where I scrawled my power. They awaken, at the smell of blood. There is a reason I do this the day I bleed aquamarine.

My hands stream the blood to the corners, front, left, back, right. And all that is left is the shell of a rock. The Skeleton Cook comes back, and he picks up the shell. Cradles it like a cracked egg. Carries it to the kitchen, which is as cold as a freezer.

I follow, breathing through my nose. I walk to the fridge, which is not really a fridge. They only have those to the north, in the cities far past the mountains. I open the door, to the fridge, to the cave. Brain, I remember every second of chiseling this cave from the ice. From the frozen ocean. I used weapons to do it, knives of diamond. My hands still feel like those claws sometimes, scrawling in the finished walls. There can be no blood here but my own.

The mouth of the cave yawns wider, and I am in its throat. In the summer, when the sun never sets, sometimes this place glows. It glows like glass and I have glass to spare, spun from the dripping ceiling.

The heart is full of jars. Jars of blood. There can be no blood here but my own, but the bones…

Bones are the most important tool, Kolariq says, because bones are set, within your body, and the only way to get them out is to kill you. Unless they are teeth. But teeth only count as bones half the time, when you don’t need them to.

I find a jar of glass, glass like ice like glass, from the shelf. My fingers itch as I set it on the square table in the heart of this cave. My treasure chest, this table. Beneath it lies the one skeleton of bones I will never touch.

***

Brain, let’s get this straight, him dying is the whole entire reason. He died before the part of you that loved did, and you stopped believing that part of you could live. The parts of you that could love died with him. The parts of your heart that could love without also being terrified of the teeth ripping you to shreds, like cloth ripped to bandage wounds. And you were never very good at healing.

***

I tear the bandage from my face, and it burns. But I make a funnel of my hands above the jar before the dripping starts, and once it does, I close my eyes. I can feel the edges of my magic making up the funnel, spiraling the aquamarine blood into the glass-like-ice jar. The jar is only half full before the tears start, so I stop and push the bandages back into place. They still stick. They stick as well as the lid to the jar of ice-like-glass, holding my blood. Which I put on the shelf, next to the other jar. Below the shelf of other jars. The only blood in this body is mine, which is why I do not count them.

I leave the cave, leave the jars of aquamarine and red, because blood can be poisoned, but it is still mine.

The Skeleton Cook is sitting on the kitchen floor, finger bones curled between tibia and femur, where most of his knee would’ve been. The skull rests on the ribcage, leaning against the fridge. Which I shut. And lift the Skeleton Cook with my hands, by the collar bones, and set him on the counter so he can sleep by the wall. I arrange his hands in his lap, let the legs and feet dangle off the edge. He looks almost nice, this way. Pale white in this ice castle.

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