Blood Hunt – Beth Murphy

oh to be a simple child! to dream of the things thought minutes before sleep or read in the hours before the head hits the pillow. mother, father, home—no trace of fraud. three boys, porte, marte, and sid, all born on the same day, with mousey hair and infinite blue eyes. piano, sports, math and languages, they grew into skinny builds and fevered voices. inconsistency crept its way into their homeschooled knowledge. mother bathed them, kept them from the eyes of father. they called her by name now, theroma.

it was their thirteenth year and the number proved wrought with haplessness. a day like all the others, drenched in routine, they woke knowing that marte’s piano recital was to take place at 8pm in the town hall. theroma awoke in that hyper nature that was always present when father was gone.

marte, meeting the day, got into trousers and a crisp shirt and immediately recalled what he’d seen yesterday in the textbook “modern science” when theroma had stepped out for tea. marte, sid and porte had yet to divulge for one another the unspoken secrets of their bodies. they had yet to exchange clues. while sid and porte were tossing each other about, marte peeked at chapter nine, which had been conspicuously skipped in many lessons. all he saw before the footsteps of their mother teacher grew loud was a silhouette drawing of the male anatomy that mismatched the part between his legs.

now you would think that a memory like this would weigh heavily on a person, but the epiphanies of young people are dulled. marte was distracted by whether he would be able to get ice cream after the recital and the extremity did not settle in.

sid had already dreamt that he woke up, dressed, had breakfast and was well into the day when the brightness of the sunlight coaxed his eyelids open. he turned his head toward the window and squinted past the illuminated dust particles to see the camel coloured boy already up and working with his hands in the dirt. he found himself embarrassed by the potential for the boy to have glanced in as he was sleeping and see him exposed.

“what was the nature of that sentiment?” sid wondered. this thought reanimated the awkward intensity that had been growing like a tangle of weeds in his gut the past year and now crept into his throat, soon to be articulate.

when marte and sid came down for breakfast, porte and theroma were already at table and food was being served. porte was staring into the convex side of a spoon at one eye and then the other. he admired how the outer shape of the spoon was perfect for the eye and imagined someone fashioning spoon goggles.

theroma started in early today. “now children, the day is not for novelty of thought or introspection,” a statement she made often, “but for safe sterile communication and chivalry. please do not use your voices or your bodies gratuitously and please stay close to me and abide by my commands.” she knew her tasks to prepare her sons for the public would be most taxing today. “as you know father will be there and he has worked very hard all week for the honour and fortune of his sons, his three beloved boys who will soon be men and for whom he would give his all.” she paused and her face contorted to that half pride, half terror that only she could illustrate.

evening came. they filed into the auditorium. one, two, four steps down the aisles, theroma ushering them in and on. yet porte chose seats by languidly wandering down the perfect row. sid sat by theroma and an empty seat for the father. to the left of sid was porte.

on stage, marte sat at the bench and raised his hands in preparation. once the hush of the audience had eclipsed into expectant silence, the first note of the rest of their lives hit the air as a trickle of blood escaped out from under martes pants and onto the white bench.

confusion, whispers, concern for the wellbeing of the boy. it was only theroma who acted. she grabbed the arms of sid who reached for the arms of porte and together they formed a fearful chain. theroma half walked half ran the children down the aisle toward marte, such as a woman racing against traffic across a street scuffle, trying to retain composure but unable to hide the acknowledged threat of being hit.

theroma was a woman of many talents. she had the conviction and the eloquence to win over her toughest adversary or talk people out of killing her. she had already proven she could dupe the public into believing the sex of her children was male and when that came undone, she just escorted the children out of town. now, with the camel coloured boy by their side, the four females had to settle in the way of the recluse.

their home was founded in a wooded area miles away from town. theroma had the camel coloured boy build a house for security and at her design he built and installed mechanical animals that would bark and beep at intruders. she wanted to create a city in which the three children could interact. the camel coloured boy constructed a small building that acted as a store which theroma filled with candies and objects for the children to barter over or buy. it was usually up to the camel coloured boy to play shopkeep. he built a triangle building that was the church and a circle building that was the hospital and played pastor and doctor respectively. finally he built the bank. it didn’t really have a shape.

hide and go seek was something the children often indulged in at their new home. surrounding most of their modest wooden house were trees dense enough to keep the line of vision at about five feet. the mechanical animals, if crossed, made enough noise to alert the hidden. the rush of a narrow creek after heavy rain prevented sounds from being deciphered and the three girls’ other senses had to be used. to say they “played” would be to understate their intensity. it was a practice. sid and porte were the only two with vision, but their advantage was slight. marte could pick up the inescapable paths of their scents.

marte’s blindness had come in the year since they all left the town. the unjustness she felt in being raised against god’s intent had become directed at her own body and she could look at herself no longer. after breaking all the mirrors in the house she discovered that even the windowpanes offered excruciating views of her growing chest and absent organ. she stepped outside, where in the light of day she let her pain control the movement of her eyes upwards into the sun. she was found unconscious but in time, her eyes of former blue opened and black with decision.

the year since the compound was established was the year of coming to age for the camel coloured boy. he became a willowy sketch of a man. he was tall, with barely defined features of the face and pale eyes that matched the value of his tanned skin. he passed by the dinner table that evening as sid was sitting down in her starched white shift. sid had used the interest that the camel coloured boy had for her as a distraction from the injustice of her childhood. she played into his glances with shifty lashes that outlined her eyes. her manipulation of his affection had turned into a sincere feeling of her own. she had toyed with his warmth so effectively that it had made itself manifest.

this evening theroma had orchestrated a miniature feast of bread pudding and lamb, blue and pink with iridescent juices. she circumferenced the table pouring water for her daughters which tasted of iodine and blood. her once dewy complexion, maintained with expensive oils, was now dry and deprived of oxygen. her temperament, once controlled, was now absent and neurotic. she cried at night and the children did not know if it was for her now base situation or from guilt. in all of this, she maintained the mock town with more conviction than that of a desperate mother. her aggravation was that of a misunderstood artist or unsuccessful businessman.

porte’s hair had grown out to the reluctant jagged bob the girls simultaneously featured, it was sticking to her face, wet from the sweat of the day. to understand porte, it is paramount to know that she had been lost as a child. theroma was distraught but when porte returned, she discovered that she had already said goodbye to the part of her that loved porte. from then on the development of porte seemed to be behind that of her sisters. it made sense to think this was due to her mother’s neglect. yet porte allowed herself to be dumb so as not to feel theroma’s dismissing. in these new days, now that sid and marte too had lost their faith in theroma, porte was in the upper hand position.

when the meal was over, sid began to feel that irrepressible urge to be in the presence of the camel coloured boy. because their encounters had to be left to chance and she knew that the genuine chances of the day were spent, she racked her brain to formulate a plan to see him. theroma, sensing her deception as only a mother could, sent sid to bed without washing.

sid poured into her room and dampened her bed with tears. years of tears passed and then she remembered she could go to that place where she simply thought of him. not even having to close her eyes she could visualise with the bits of her small soul those moments when their eyes had locked. she felt the lazy ecstasy and it carried her to sleep.

theroma often dwelled on how her children would routinely have nightmares after ingesting a mixture of cooking grease and flower extract, a nutrient she’d concocted out of necessity in the weeks following their exodus. she had lately begun to test on herself various proportions and measurements to procure the intensity of dreams.

theroma drank the potion an hour before bed. after tucking in the children, guiding the camel coloured boy to his bunk with her eyes and tidying, she laid her body down.

fists slowly started pumping in the air around the bed. they formed a fence for her in her fading sense of logic. then she was walking and suddenly shot up into the air fast then slow and she was shooting upward forever. she found herself on a dock and the water went on forever in all directions but the water was just a platform for the fattest, largest thing ever and the longest, skinniest thing ever. the things hovered by each other with continuous potential of interaction that would never interact. her essence could understand this as an ultimate truth and it was sickening. a giant bird came and carried
her to her bed. she woke a minute after ingesting the potion and there were tiny rainbows on her fingers.

she took the dream and the remainder of the potion to the farthest point of their wooded property. she dug a hole and buried them and it was indeterminate if they were good or evil. crying over the hole she filled it in with her tears. they hardened and theroma became indurate. in the morning she had to forget her affair with the violent truth.

marte had started running into things around the house. blindness had been her affliction for many seasons and had not ever been a problem. she had adjusted with ease, as if she were born to be a blind, but now objects seemed to run into her, unaware of their status as inert structures. her trail of opened books, upended houseplants and ill-placed figurines became a signifier to theroma of her failures in domesticity. theroma followed the trail as an absent minded homage to her conclusion.

her pacing and tracing of marte’s circles and scallops freed sid and the camel coloured boy from her hindering physicality. upon a roof, constructed by the boy and composed of rough wood and littered with foliage, the two clumsily fit themselves together. only with no prior knowledge and no anticipated outcome could the movements have been so pure.

something had to be conceived. as intentions fell apart and the blind led the ill at heart around a poorly constructed reality, the one person unaffected wandered to that far edge of the wooded property. porte whistled as she stepped over leaves and twigs and the foot wide stream until she came to the spot where theroma had buried that strange sensation that was too strong for her to bear.

she stopped over the ground that was pulsating to nothing but the sound of the music in her head. not possessed and not in meditation, porte laid over the marked area with unidentified contentment of purpose. eventually she started to fall asleep and with each layer of slumber a sheet of dirt spread over her body.

the music in her head grew louder. it became so loud that marte in her loss of vision and in her heightened ulterior senses heard the melody. she pivoted, and her path became one of redemption as she followed the sound. meanwhile, the night first hit the two on the roof as they vibrated to their own song.

when my mama left my mama left she left me you

days go on forever when you smile like you do

and if I found you naked by the train

i’d be the conductor waiting there all day

they didn’t turn in time to see the parade: theroma picking up the detritus of marte’s pilgrimage to her sisters song, vainly trying to balance the order of the sticks and leaves, the mechanical lion roaring at the sight, the mechanical birds chirping warning. theroma had books on her head and figurines under her arms. she and marte drew nearer the site of porte, who was now barely visible under the sheaths of dirt which were moving like a little ocean over her. marte stood by her sister’s head and sang along to the music in their heads. theroma dropped the objects she was carrying and began to place them around her daughters body being buried. a flower by her right arm, a bird by her left, and novels by her feet.

from the roof, sid and the camel coloured boy could see forever. when the baby was born they formed the first shape possible, that of a triangle. the simplest form, conceived with no pretense, and we went on making triangles for all time.


* Originally published in The Lifted Brow #4: The Fake Bookshelf Issue