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June 4, 2018

22. Amaranthine

Where in the living creature does life actually lie?
—Hari Kunzru

* * *

It ends at the tip of the tongue. But it starts in the root of the throat, in the neck, where the tongue pulls the esophagus and meets the airway to the lungs. That little pool in the neck, between collarbones.

Some say the heart or lungs or brain is the key to life. The truth is all of them. And one more: the throat: allowing wind to the lungs and heart, consuming food for the brain, promoting speech and communication. The throat is where the spirit of life resides. The throat is the seat of life. The body as a whole is a mere vessel for the spirit. It is a mortal vehicle for an immortal sentience.

In folklore, vampires would always suck the blood of their victim from the throat—straight from the fountain of life.

Consider a key. It unlocks a door to a home. A home built on a foundation. But a home without a key is a useless building.

This is where our story begins: where Jim Forsyth’s key and lock were replaced and his life was ceded.

* * *

Mouth unmoving, her throat opened and an entire universe escaped. The maw of her neck-cavity spilled stars and cosmos and planets and dark color. A gaping emptiness right in the center of her throat remained. Some of the star matter fell on the ground but most of it floated into a cloud into the space around her head. 

“What the hell?” the old man stammered, eyes bulging in disbelief.

The floating nebula hovered and darted at the man’s throat. It wrapped around his neck completely. As it had done many times, it opened the man’s neck and sucked itself into his frame, now residing inside the man’s throat.

Standing blankly, Jim saw his life before him. He opened the doors of his mind and memory flooded in perfect succession: from earliest memories of his loving mother and iron father to gradeschool, first kiss, screaming arguments, and finally to a woman standing before him, offering eternal life. And now he was blank. This was giving up the ghost.

Jim’s body stood over the woman’s lifeless form. The dark cloud had cleared, vacuumed completely into his throat. She—her life—transferred into Jim’s body; his memory, her memory.

Tori had followed Jim for weeks, months. She tracked his life and lifestyle to be sure he was a cream candidate. This was her game. As an offspring of Cain, she wandered the land, deathless and lifeless.

Wanderers. That’s what they called themselves. That’s what God called them.

God said, You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. Cain settled in Nod, east of Eden and Cain’s offspring were marked, touched by the hand of God. Cain’s lineage was forgotten and they multiplied and migrated.

Most thought this was a myth. But how could it be otherwise? What proof could be brought to trial, for or against? Accusations abound but Wanderers escaped watchful eyes within the innocuous bodies they’d assumed. Witches were burned all across Massachusetts through the late 1600s. None of them were Wanderers.

All she needed was a new body to move on and beyond her past life. Tori was getting old and this Jim character was a clean slate. Tori looked down at her new hands: thick digits on her paws and forearms like cannons. But she scoffed. There was the mark of God, her birthmark, the reddish-rose splotch on her hand, the same mark of all Wanderers.

She turned away from her old self and walked down the empty cobbled alley as rain began to mist and spit on her face.

This piece was inspired by a cocktail of novels. David Mitchell’s Slade House and The Bone Clocks are prominently featured. Both novels take place in the same world of spirits overtaking bodies-as-vessels to continue their own unending life. Brian Catling’s The Erstwhile and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden are both gravely different but intersect at Genesis 4:1–16, addressing Cain.

The word used for “soul” through the Bible is the Hebrew word, nephesh (נֶ֫פֶשׁ), which more accurately translates as an entire physical sentient being. I won’t claim to know Hebrew. I leaned this from a podcast called The Bible Project—and I took some fictive liberties.