Today, Akitoshi will end his life. He would have done it yesterday, but it’d be a shame to waste good wine. His death poem sits before him, framed by blades, out of range from the volleys of sea spray. Is he allowed a second try? He wrote it… two, three days ago, he isn’t sure, and if it is supposed to represent his feelings before the blade plunges into his belly, should it not include his hesitancy?
Wind slashes from me,
A master and monster fall,
Poppies bloom early.
He took another swig. It didn’t matter, anyway. Nobody would remember the poem of a disgraced samurai, a ronin made by his own hand. If they ever found it at all. Chikura cavern might as well have been the edge of the world. So named for its vast expanse that could fit a thousand people, it was the loneliest place Akitoshi could find. The path to the cavern only appeared at low tide. The locals have no interest in a cold empty cave, never mind how big it is. Tanegashima itself, an island in the southernmost corner of Japan, was already a good distance from his pursuers. Here, he could die in peace. When the wine runs out.
“A strange place for a samurai, don’t you think?” A voice echoes through the cavern. Akitoshi jumps to his feet, brandishing the knife. His bare soles stumble and slide on the rocks as he casts his head around, searching for the phantom. Another monster? Footsteps cut through the roar of the waves. No. A man. Not a nobleman, his face is too weathered by sun and sea. Yet he wears an intricately designed kimono. A thief? “Akitoshi. Settle down. I mean you no harm.” Another man’s hand reaches from the shadows to light his pipe, one of those long, heavy types that you could use as a club.
“Who are you? What- how do you know me?” The words aren’t coming out right. Damned wine!
“One-armed Mizuki,” he grins, smoke billowing through yellowed teeth. “Might as well get ahead of that nickname. Despite what you might hear from the daimyo, I run this island. The merchants and citizenry benefit from my benevolent protection.” A tekiya boss, organisation the only thing that separates him from the average lowlife. No wonder he hadn’t given a more formal title. “And you… well. Quite a lot of people are interested in you. You could never have escaped my notice, even here.” The other man steps out from the shadows, dressed in haramaki armour with the petulant face of a puppet show demon. “Put your knife away, or Goto will make sure you haven’t hands to wield it.”
“T-thief! That armour doesn’t belong to you!” Akitoshi kicks his flask over the rocks. “Shit!”
“Is that so? Are you really in the position to be handing out accusations, Akitoshi?”
“Don’t you dare compare me to this… this graverobber. And you!” Fury focuses his speech. Goto remains silent, running his thumb beneath his nose. “Pursuers? You think I believe they made it to this… this rock?”
“You don’t believe me? Well, why would you? Think about it, though. How would I know who you are if I didn’t have bastards trying to kick down my door? You know what they do to people like you, right?”
“I do not know what you heard. But I swear, as a man of honour, I did not murder my master. I slew a beast, a beast wearing his skin.” He didn’t bleed right when Akitoshi slashed at him. His neck had opened like an axe notch in a tree. Something dark in that hollow of skin and bone.
Mizuki’s laughter echoes through the cavern. “Who said anything about murder? Or no, a beast? No man would be chased halfway across the land for killing a beast.” He sits down in seiza posture, so surreal a formality that Akitoshi’s wavering knife falls to his side. “You killed your master. Your master was also a yokai. If both of these things weren’t true, you wouldn’t be here, pretending to have the honour to end your life.” His sudden sincerity brings Akitoshi to his knees.
“You believe me?”
“I have cause to believe.” Mizuki’s eyes fall into the creases of his kimono. “Your pursuers are closer than you realise. You have a decision to make.” He gestures to Goto with his remaining hand. The graverobber unsheathes his sword. Visions of fire and mud and corpses not yet devoured by flies, this silent ghoul prying the blade from frozen fingers. Akitoshi digs his nails into his thighs. “Use your knife to disembowel yourself. Goto will be your second. An honourable death, if a bit late. Or…” The stolen sword clicks back into place. “You save my son, and I will drive away the wolves that would feast upon you. Their teeth might be sharper than Goto’s sword.”
“To say more would cloud your judgment further than the wine already has. Two choices. Do not waste my time, samurai.”
Akitoshi pinches the bridge of his nose. Not a question to drunkenly ponder. The corners of the death poem flutter in the breeze. Should he not die here? Had he fallen so far that this criminal assumes allegiance as a matter of course?
“A samurai untethered from the local politics is a rare thing indeed,” says Mizuki, seeming to answer that thought. “And there are some tasks fit only for a dispassionate sword. If yours has already slain a yokai, then all the better.” That word again. Yokai. Was that what had taken the place of his master, a folktale creature? That doesn’t seem right, somehow. As a child, his grandmother had terrified him with stories of sea wives taking the place of mothers, eyes forever watching from torn paper walls, even wooden sandals sprouting faces and singing. Whether real or not, these are not foes to take seriously, not in this land of eternal war. And yet… “I see the judgment in your eyes. You believe yourself above this. True, your skills no doubt outshine many of my subordinates. When sober. Goto’s loyalty to me would be a hindrance in this task. I do have use for you. But your pursuers will bring unwanted scrutiny to my businesses. Your death would be regrettable but not without benefit.” A well-spoken explanation that betrays desperation. A desperation that also lurks in Akitoshi, one that he had failed to drown in alcohol.
“I don’t want to die.” Tears run down Akitoshi’s haggard face. “I will do what you ask.”
“Good. See, Goto? I knew he could be reasoned with. My men are waiting across the water.” His nose wrinkles. “Though we will have to clean you up before I set you to task.”
Akitoshi’s mind drifts in and out of the present, the marching doing little to clear his head. The old man walks by his side, and he can feel Goto’s eyes boring into the back of his throbbing skull. They needed to be quick- the tide is coming in, threatening to take the path with it. The smell of the sea air was even stronger out here, throwing the stench of his clothes into sharp relief. He holds tightly onto his long sword like an old man’s cane, his short sword sheathed and the knife thrown into the sea. He could not bear to be reminded of that shame.
“Not much further now.” Mizuki’s movements betray his upbringing, spry yet ungainly, not dissimilar to those of the peasant lord Hideyoshi. A lifetime ago. “My son… my son has been corrupted. Something lives under his skin. It moves him in ways… unnatural. His mother found him craning over the fireplace. Mouth pulled open like a tent. Whatever was inside him was trying to warm itself.” The description alone turns Akitoshi’s organs inside out, the same feeling he’d had when he saw his master scuttle out on all fours, howling at a black moon. “Buddhist priests. Doctors. Onymoji. All have tried free the beast from him. But still, it lives. You will see that it does not.” Akitoshi wants to ask what will happen if he doesn’t, but he knows. He also wants to ask if this is Mizuki’s only son, but he knows that too. He would not be so desperate if it weren’t the case.
Tanegashima castle looms larger with each step, impressive in the same way his master’s domain had been. That is to say, he is both too familiar and too drunk to regard it with proper deference. Three-tiered like a pagoda, it may as well have been transported from heaven itself. But still the smell of salt water, the toing and froing of countless fishermen and hawkers, some no doubt under Mizuki’s thumb. A sense that, no matter how impressive the works of man, Tanegashima would always belong to the sea. The thought is sobering in both senses of the word, reminding Akitoshi of his, Mizuki’s and even the daimyo’s relative insignificance. Such a thought would be unwise to voice. He is already lost, trapped between life and death. If he cut off Mizuki’s head, his fate would be no different. They can but kill him once. His one chance of life, of real life, lies in the balance of something that crawls in the dark, something that had more in common with the waves than the works of men.
“Are you afraid, Akitoshi?” Mizuki leans in. “Are you afraid of what I am asking you to do?” Yes. He does not want to die, and wouldn’t death from a blade be less painful than from a beast? No. Despite how foolhardy that had been, he had found courage enough to strike down a monster before. But that was then, in the moment, now with time to think about it…
“It doesn’t matter. It will be done.” Or he will be. Mizuki nods and stows his pipe.
“Good. We’ve arrived.” So they had. Akitoshi had been so focused on affecting plodding sobriety that he’d barely noticed how far they’d walked. A run-down street of lanterns and noise. Not hard to spot the Mizuki estate. Where Tanegashima castle seeks to separate itself from the island, Mizuki’s home brings grotesque grandeur to the street level. Perfumed wood and gilded lettering adorn the entrance. A reminder of Mizuki’s power should his rabble step out of line, but also a tease of what they could have if they continue to serve the family. A gigantic black pine looms from its central courtyard, starlight reflected in the bark as if they’d coated the entire plant in some kind of gaudy resin. Such tastelessness would not come as much of a surprise. “Better than the hole we dragged you from, ah?” Mizuki elbows him.
Handmaidens whisk Akitoshi away the moment he crosses the threshold. Water is ladled and fresh clothes wrap around him in a blur of hands and perfume.
“The young master… it breaks my heart…” says one, forcing herbal tea down his throat. A familiar, bitter taste, one that sobers and brings back memories of shameful debauchery. “His whole life ahead of him… snatched by some dreadful creature…”
How long had it been since fresh water had touched his skin? He stares into the pool, expecting to see a new man. But it is still him. His beard is neater, hair no longer matted with salt and sand, but the same expression stares back at him.
“I suspect the influence of those foreigners the daimyo is so enamoured with. Perhaps they didn’t just bring guns with them…”
What does this face say? He wishes to be and not be in this moment, to hover above his flesh until the task is complete, until his new master claims or kills him. There is a relief in his fate being decided by another. So why did he want to end his life in the first place? Why not let his captors take him? They would probably kill him anyway. Was it the fear of how they’d do it? Was he trying to reclaim some kind of honour? The face does not tell him.
“Akitoshi.” Mizuki’s voice rouses him from the depths of introspection. “My son would like to speak with you. Before the task. I trust you are back in the land of the living.” Akitoshi nods. “A true samurai! Though I’d still drink you under the table. Another time, perhaps…” Something odd in his friendly demeanour.
“Where is your wife?” An ear-ringing silence. To ask such a question… perhaps he was not wholly sober after all. Yet Mizuki’s expression does not falter.
“She is with the flowers now.” A blunt euphemism that prevents further questioning. He had been lucky to receive even that, but before he could apologise, Mizuki continues. “We live in cursed times, Akitoshi. You must have seen some action, ah?” He had rounded up peasants to send into battle, only for them to return as human wreckage. If they were alive, they would be better off dead. “You have, I know. Then you have seen it. Hell. Maybe even more than I have”. He pats his stump. “I do not believe there is a heaven if such hell has been visited on earth. And so, I can only try to give my family a better life. Managing the businesses here is about all I can do”. A high-minded excuse, no more, but not one Akitoshi is entirely unsympathetic of.
He dresses himself. The clarity of purpose sharpens his mind. In the hallway, he sees the boy, gaunt and doll-like, wrapped in winter clothes in the middle of summer. Mizuki’s hand on his shoulder liable to shatter him with any more pressure. “This is my son, Tokitsugu. Tokitsugu, this is Akitoshi, a great swordsman from the capital. He’s here to help you.” The boy bows in eerily perfect form, Akitoshi less so.
“Can I talk to him?”
“Of course, my son.”
“Whatever you need.” A softness yet unheard in Mizuki’s voice. He brushes the boy’s kimono and walks into the courtyard. Tokitsugu had been born into money; that much is clear from his gait. Soft, quiet steps that had rarely set foot outside the estate into the roughness of the world. He stares up into Akitoshi, his eyes a green the samurai had never seen before, almost glowing.
“If… if you can’t get it out. I want you to kill me.” Tokitsugu has the same stare as his father. “We have tried everything. It hurts so much. It’s always moving. Perhaps it can make me move in ways I don’t want. Like a puppet.”
“Perhaps?” The boy shrugs. Still just a child. “I don’t know if I can accept this request.” He cannot kill a child. And if he did, he would surely die as well. He may as well have killed himself in that cave. And yet, those eyes. The boy does not wish for death, but his will to keep living has gone. Akitoshi had seen this look in peasant soldiers, that such a hell could be visited on someone so young…
Tokitsugu nods and whispers something, but before Akitoshi can ask him to repeat himself, he doubles over, frothing spit leaking from his mouth. His arm twists around itself, the flailing hand scratching Akitoshi’s face.
The handmaidens lift the boy onto a long wooden table. How long had it been there, and how long had they been ready for this? The room reeks of dark purposes. Slats for wrist and ankle bindings had been cut into the wood. Akitoshi recites the name of the Buddha.
Namu Amida Butsu
Hands remove the layers of clothes. Immediately the boy begins to shiver. Goto stands in the periphery, along with two other of One Armed’s goons, white headbands stained with sweat and who knows what, crude spears swaying in their hands.
Namu Amida Butsu
Akitoshi’s blades, including the knife he’d tossed into the water, are placed by the boy’s arm. Who had gone fishing for that cursed tanto? Goto? Force of scavenging habit?
Namu Amida Butsu
Do you really mean these words, Akitoshi? Maidens coo and tie the boy down. They’re about to pin down the last limb when-
“Put out your arm. Your right arm.” He sees it. Beneath the skin. Something breathing. He presses the blade of the tanto against the boy’s wrist. It recoils, whether from the coldness of the steel or the threat it poses to its existence, sending ripples through his skin. There’s a lump, a more solid part to the mass. “I am going to make a cut. I will do it quickly. It should not hurt too much, alright?” The boy mumbles assent. Akitoshi lifts the tanto and, with the very tip of the blade, pulls it across the boy’s wrist, taking care to avoid the crisscrossing veins.
An eye peers from within, the folds of split skin as ersatz lids. Tokitsugu writhes on the table.
“Hold him down!” A handmaiden presses down on his shoulder. The samurai pries the tanto underneath the eyeball, trying not to pierce it. “Give him something to put in his mouth!” A crunching sound, like a barnacle carved from a boat. The eye balances on the knife edge, pulling strange fibres with it. It looks around the room, not focusing on any one person.
“Kill it. Now, Akitoshi, now!”
He tosses it onto the table and plunges the blade through the iris. An eye is soft, or so he had thought, but this had a hard yellowish shell over it, stained with the young master’s blood. Cracks form around the tip of the blade. It would not defeat him. If this could plunge into his belly, then it could kill this monster. Visions of his flowering organs. It burst- something like miso soup across the floor.
“Sir- the wound!” Strange threads pour out of the flesh. Whatever’s inside him is knitting him back together. Tendrils snake from his upper arm.
“It’s buried deep into his body. I’m going to have to-“ Akitoshi draws his sword, only to be stopped by a claw grip on his shoulder.
“You cannot remove it. I will not have my only son rendered a cripple by a drunken ronin!”
“Mizuki, it has spread throughout his arm. We need to make sure it cannot go any further.”
“You are a samurai, are you not? You are trained in the way of the sword. You know how to be precise with a blade. Remove the beast. Not the arm.”
“You will, or I will make you regret ever choosing to forgo your own death.” Composure gone, Mizuki shakes with fury and fear. “Your fate will be much worse than anything visited upon my son!”
Akitoshi sheathes his sword and stares at the bloodied tanto. Could he? How would he, even? The monster inside the boy is capable of keeping him together. He had just pulled out the leaves of the weed. If there is a root, he would just have to find it. He would let the creature pull the boy back together as he cut.
“I am sorry, Tokitsugu.” The boy tilts his head to meet his gaze. “Keep that bamboo in your mouth” His eyes widen. He starts fidgeting in the bonds. “The more you move, the more painful it will be.”
“Try the hand first.” Degloving. It would be less skin to lose, but would it truly not be better to
lose an arm? What if the skin did not return? The hand would be as good as useless.
“Mizuki, are you sure-”
“Do it.” The father cannot face it. He understands.
Akitoshi places the knife just above his initial cut. Breathe. Be present in the action. Do not think about the boy. There is only the skin. Trimming the sleeve of a yukata. One concentric slash. He has done it before even finishing the thought. Blood trickles to the hand holding down Tokitsugu’s wrist. A flap of skin. He wedges the knife underneath. Left. Right. Forward. Left. Right. Forward. The palm becomes unglued. Tree bark peeled away, rivulets of sap. Akitoshi is crying now. He can’t find the root. Is it in the fingers? No- the worms have run out. There’s nothing. He can stop. A relief.
But. It must be the other way. The worms pull back his skin- but it isn’t quite right. The lines of his palm are severed. His fingernails hang loosely from the tips of his fingers. A glove that’s too big. Tokitsugu faints. He can’t afford to be careless. The beast has a half-understood idea of the human form. The pressure of precision replaces the pressure of the flailing limbs. He starts from the same incision point and begins the journey north. The skin peels away almost too easily. Cutting mochi for a wedding, the halves clinging stickily to the kitchen knife before falling away, reforming into their new wholes. He reaches the elbow.
“You will finish what you started, samurai.” The ever-silent Goto trains one of those foreign rifles on Akitoshi’s head. “Whatever it takes.”
“I… he’s just a boy…”
“Which is why you must save him.” But how? He looks back at the scarred route he’d taken. Everything fit slightly wrong- flesh hangs from bones in one place and hugs tightly in others. A doll torn and stitched back together. The boy shivers, sending ripples through the wrong flesh. He puts the back of his hand against Tokitsugu’s cheek. Frozen. But not just that- he could feel the heat sapping from his body into the boys, worms bubbling and gurgling under the surface. Heat. It wants heat. “Get me coal.” The handmaiden stares, face frozen, ashen makeup ruined by tears and splattered blood. “Now!” She nods, sprinting and stumbling out of the room.
“My son…” Mizuki crumples into his broken boy. “Was Kirie not enough? Am I cursed? Take me. Take me instead!” The abstraction had helped Akitoshi do his job, but such luxuries are not afforded to the wailing old man, the strength he’d emanated in that cave destroyed by random cruelty. Akitoshi tries to shut him out. The job is not finished. It would only get worse.
The handmaiden returns with a bucket full of coal. Akitoshi picks a large piece with his kimono sleeve. Embers float before his eyes. He places it on Tokitsugu’s ruined hand. The heat brings the boy back from the depths. The smell of rendering fat. He screams. Akitoshi holds his fingers around the burning coal.
“You bastard! What are you doing to him?” Mizuki helplessly beats his leg with the pipe. “My boy… my boy…”
“Look!” A lump crawls from the Tokitsugu’s heart. “It’s working. The heat is drawing it out-”
A splat of something yellow hits Akitoshi’s eyes. Something between tree sap and pus, stinking and hot. He rubs it on his sleeve, his eyes closed for but a moment. But in that moment- he hears something. A sound piercing and unnatural, one that he was sure no human had ever heard, nor could any human produce. He does not want to open his eyes.
He opens his eyes. Tokitsugu’s skin is bubbling all over. Eyes burrow out of his flesh… three, four, seven, ten, twenty…
“Kill them!” Akitoshi freezes. This. Was this what was in his master? His mind refuses to acknowledge the horrific scene before him, nor can it recall the past. “What are you doing!”
The boy thrashes. His arms and legs pull and pull at his bonds until…
Snap. His wrists and ankles break. Mizuki falls to the ground, scrambling away in terror. Tokitsugu slips his pulverised limbs out of the ropes and sits bolt upright as if pulled by invisible strings. He falls on top of Mizuki, only to be lifted again by something unseen, his feet bent at right angles yet somehow supporting his weight. The eyes stare at Akitoshi, and the boy screams louder and louder…
The flesh tears from his body. All of it. In its place, a muscled revenant filled with burrowed holes.
Still alive. The skinless child stares at him, piercing green eyes amongst a tableau of viscera.
The unheard whispered words of Tokitsugu ring in Akitoshi’s ears.
Please, let it end.
Akitoshi cuts off the boy’s head. The flayed corpse sways back and forth, carried by the momentum of his sword.
“You bastard! What have you done?” Mizuki screams at him, but there is nothing Akitoshi can say. The skin that had belonged to the young master now crawls onto the wall. Tokitsugu’s face stretched and shapeless, flaps of eyelids now hollowed. No look of anything at all. A curtain of flesh with fibrous worms crawling beneath. Tokitsugu’s blood laps at Akitoshi’s feet. The sea, again, the sea. He shakes the stains from his sword. Mizuki is crumpled at the corpse of his son, still screaming, but the words do not make sense.
Goto and the thugs surround the skin beast. The eyes look around. It scurries across to the screen door.
“Kill it! Kill it, you bastards!” Mizuki is a mess of spit and tears. Goto draws his katana. The sword wavers in the face of the beast.
A short intake of breath.
A slice through the dark.
Light glimmers from the blade. The face split, forehead slid to the side, like a lid not set properly on a teapot. The worms try to pull the skin back together, but like the hand, it doesn’t reform correctly. Why retain its shape when it no longer lives along the lines of the bones?
“Why…” Akitoshi drops his sword. Something yellow is leaking from his mouth. The eyes stare into him. Something is wrong. He can’t move. His skin feels cold, but there’s an intense radiating heat in his head. He can hear something inside him, something cracking open-
It’s that cursed summer, again. The sun burning through the leaves of Yakushima forest. Akitoshi had wanted his master to be alone, but he had insisted on bringing several other students for training. Perhaps he knows what Akitoshi is planning. It knows.
“Master. I wish to confer with you privately.”
“Akitoshi. Anything you wish to say can be said in front of your fellow students. They have much to learn.” His mouth moves strangely, as if his lips were catching up with each syllable.
“I’m afraid it’s a matter of some importance.”
“I cannot neglect my duties to indulge you.” The other students are looking at him now. This is not how he wanted things to go. He’d tried to lure him away and confront the monster within. Each second wasted brought another set of feet closer to him.
A grand flower of flesh opens from the cut.
No. It hadn’t happened this way. He hadn’t seen anything. Just.
Are you sure? A voice. Who? The neck flower unfurls, beautiful pale petals stained with blood. Can you feel it, Akitoshi? His sword hotter and hotter, branches from the flowers snaking around the blade, getting ever closer to his fingers. Are you afraid, Akitoshi? The voice vibrates in his head. His master’s hangs from the neck, rapturous smile inverted, teeth ground into each other and bleeding, the other students snapped and twisted and held in branches, bunraku puppets of flesh and bone. Don’t you want to die, Akitoshi? No, of course you don’t. That’s why you’re still here.
Akitoshi wakes in flames and blood. Mizuki crumpled on top of him, his head caved in with the pipe. Brains and blood in a lake in the folds of his kimono, punctuated with globs of that strange yellow slime. He stumbles to his feet, choking on the smoke. A handmaiden’s head lies in her hands, staring blankly from a garland of intestines. Had the beast done this? No. Not possible. This was the work of a blade. He grabs his own katana and crawls out of the room under a cloud of smoke, passing the impaled corpses of the thugs.
An umbrella sits in the corner of the corridor. The ribs heave and whine. Akitoshi’s eyes accept this information, but his mind does not. Why is it moving?
Kasa-obake. An umbrella left for one hundred years to become a tsukumogami. But there is no one gleaming eye, there are many, and no singular foot clad in a sandal, just a severed hand holding onto the pole. It isn’t moving much at all, save for what could only be described as… breathing.
It’s the skin. It has claimed the umbrella as its skeleton. The strands of worms pull on the stretchers.
Without thinking, Akitoshi removes the hand and lifts up the umbrella. He can still see the scars and splotches of viscera from the operation. The eyes stare at him. It almost looks afraid. But that isn’t what worries him.
Where is Tokitsugu’s face?
Geta sandals clatter at odd intervals. A shadow crosses the hallway, into the courtyard. He tosses the umbrella into the fire. The worms writhe and howl. Why not die now, Akitoshi? You are already in hell. Wherever death takes you, it cannot be worse than this. Why are you chasing shadows in this charnel house? He has no answer. There are no questions.
He enters the courtyard.
Star-jelly drips from the black pine tree. He notices something in the bark. Flowers, so many flowers, but something green.
Bright, green eyes. A woman’s face, stitched together from branches and vines. Weeds and petals fill her mouth.
The shadow shambles towards him, sword glinting in the flames and moonlight. It’s Goto, but more than just him. His head is draped in the young master’s face, eyes invisible under the hollows of Tokitsugu’s lids. The worms animate his tongue. A sound like the screams of a dying horse strains through his mouth. Strings of flesh lift up the rifle in a single hand. His other arm, now free of the monster’s grasp, drops his sword and points up at the sky, shaking in either pain or terror.
Akitoshi unsheathes his sword. He will end this. Whatever it takes, he will end this.
His shoulder erupts. By the time his brain has pieced the flash of light and the thunderclap into a rifle blast he’s on the floor. Goto screams at the moon.
Akitoshi’s reaches for the wound. Blood, yes, but something else. Flowers. A bloom of flesh. Tokitsugu’s face unsticks itself from Goto, pulling away some of his skin with it. It crawls across the wet stone and grass. The samurai scrambles backwards. It leaps into his mouth. Akitoshi vomits, tries to force out the skin. But the worms (roots?) are burrowing into his throat, pulling Tokitsugu ever deeper into him. He can’t breathe. His vision is turning red.
Between his outstretched fingers, a great stalkless dandelion floats in the sky, above even the castle, larger than the moon. Filled with eyes. Watching. How had he not seen it before?
A tree bursts from his chest.
His intestines entwined with alien branches.
Poppies bloom early.