I rest Mags down on the lavender grass and kneel beside she. My hands cover with blood, dark and hot. She breathing with a whistle, chest rising and falling in fits. When her lips part, I see teeth that stain red. A fist squeeze my heart and I run my wired hand over she cold cheeks. I avoid the little clump of plants lying next to her arm; try not to see the pulsing fluorescent trails that make a sick light under she skins from the tips of she fingers to she elbow. The lavender grass almost shadowed in the glow. I can feel the azure tendrils of the trees above me waving like extended fingers.
“Girl, why you do that? Why?”
I didn’t expect she to speak, but she surprise me with a whisper. I lean down to hear.
“…wasn’t…wasn’t suppose to be like this.”
“What wasn’t?” I ask. Mags sit on the barstool next to me, big smile on she face, black hair held back by the rag tied ’round she forehead. She dark brown eyes too pretty and I hide the flutter in my stomach behind a sip of my beer.
“We first date.” She motion to Chester behind the bar and a mug appear in front she like magic. She hold it with long, slender fingers; her skin light-brown and prettier than mine.
“You smoke or what? This ain’t no date.” My wired hand steady but my left side tremors as she pulls her stool nearer, forcing me to look at her.
“No, is not,” she agree softly. “Next time, we go be more private.”
For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to say. I am Tantie. I know the Law and I know the History. I don’t know this. The accident take my hair, so I bald. Is only synthskin cover my wired parts. I’m a good few years older than Mags, too. Men don’t chase me, far less girls.
“Mags, be serious. I not for you. Besides, your father go kill you.”
She smile slow like molasses from a bottle. “He could go to hell.”
She pause. “I’m grown. I know what I want.”
Panic rise in me like the tide. I stand up so fast, the stool slam into the wooden floor. Chester glance up, frowning. Mags continue to smile, she gaze taking in all of me, resting finally on the gun at my hip. I can’t speak so I just walk away, heart thumping and skin fevered.
I walk till I reach the only place they come near me at all. Trees stand around a purple clearing, reaching scaly blue tendrils toward the pale sky. Their shade don’t hide the thing standing in the centre of the patch. It must have heard the commotion. Terror sweep over me, like the day I lose my arm and face, but I think of Mags lying alone in the forest behind me, dying, and I fall to my knees and bend my forehead to the ground.
“Good day to you, Papa Bois.”
It don’t speak. The Bois don’t have language. But impressions and emotions push against my mind and the metallic taste of them fill my mouth. It’s angry, disgusted, but curious too. I grab hold of that feeling like a life-line.
“We didn’t intend disrespect, Papa. She didn’t know you was here. I never tell nobody. She didn’t know the forest is yours.”
That every piece of it is separate and the Bois, at the same time. That she can’t harvest plants because when she hurt one part, she hurt all. I only hear a rustle as it moves; the thick grass muffle the sound. It over me now, but I don’t look up. Somehow, I know Papa Bois would take that as disrespect. Its beard touches my shoulder, slippery vines cold like Mags skin. It still mad, but it ask the question.
“Help,” I say, tears welling without warning. “Please. She innocent and good and she go die.”
It’s dismissive; all things die.
“If she die, is my fault. I can’t take that.”
It pause, considering.
“Please,” I whisper.
Long seconds go by. I feel every one as blood dripping from Mags mouth.
My emotions amaze and confuse it. But it have new understanding. Beneath its resolve, cruelty prick at me. It want something.
“A sacrifice?” I confused. But it determined–it want something I can’t afford to lose. Something I value. My heart thumping, but I don’t hesitate.
I look up.
Mags smile down at me. “I tell you I soon come.”
My heart skip a beat. Is months now Mags coming to my hut near the forest. I try to discourage her, but she wear me down like water on stone. She sits down beside me as I calibrate my gun on the bench outside my home. It’s quiet here with nothing but the blue trees of the Bois forest in front us. The wind too light to move the tocsin hanging above my head. Not that it need to ring. It quiet for weeks now, with no trouble in the colony.
She nod toward the forest. “What you does see in there so? You always staring at it.”
I shrug, looking up at the waving branches to avoid she face. “It pretty,” I lie. “Peaceful. Is just me and the forest. Anybody come here either looking to leave, or to get me to leave. The forest just let me be.”
It accept me because I don’t belong. I think, but don’t say. I keep my secret from Mags because no one can know. It too dangerous still. The colony young and foolish and the forest can’t be fucked with. But to tell people ‘no’ is to tell people ‘go’.
I glance at the deepening indigo twilight of the trees to make sure nothing watching us together. So is a shock when she take the gun from me and fold my wired fingers into hers.
I am an Outcast. A freak. Everybody always avoid me. Nobody ever touch my synthskin so before. It tingle and jump and I try to pull back, but she lips cover mine and just like that, I lost.
When the sun go down, it was a long time before I light my lamp. But maybe something see. Maybe something mark we. This planet cruel–hard and dry with a sea that eat flesh.
I should have guess the forest would devour we, sooner or later.
The Bois face not human. It have no features I could name. Just twisting fronds. They fold and turn and bend over each other. Thousands and thousands of them. Some thin as threads, some thick as fingers. A few trail toward the seething mass of the lower body, which is just a column of vibrating tentacles.
It should be disturbing, but it not, and that’s because of the colours. Shifting and changing all the time, colours run through the tentacles and tissues, blending and tumbling into each other like waves in the ocean. Is a terrible, beautiful sight.
I could only see it out of my wired eye.
Is the only reason people don’t know ’bout the Bois. They blind to them. Everyone just know to avoid the forest. Sometimes, is as if they could sense them. It make everybody uncomfortable to come by my house on Law matters. They always grumble about why I live so far outside the colony.
But since I first catch a glimpse of them as a child, I drawn to the Bois. I know better than to approach them or try to talk to them.
But I see them–and they know it. Is like a truce for a war that never happen. I stay out they way and they let me see them as they flit through the trees. Keep me company where no one else willing to come.
Poor, sweet Mags, who don’t ‘fraid nothing and decide to go exploring today, despite the fact that every fool in Diego know the forest is no place to go and it have nothing in it but darkness and bad juju.
I don’t know how I know what happen or where she was. I just know I wake up from a deep sleep, she voice in my ears, and the bed cold on she side. I never dress so fast. I never run so quick. Every human part of me was trembling with panic.
The wired part was cold and calm as ever.
When I find her, she have some fading orange growths next to her. The forest version of flowers. Only they not pretty, harmless things. I can see the twisting trail of poison running through the veins of she arm, a flame of orange under she cappuccino skin. The wired part of me jolt like I get an electric shock, because I know what she was trying to do and I know why and is my fault.
I never tell nobody my birthday before.
I also never tell nobody what I see the Bois do. How sometimes a tree would be turning dark, like a bruise, bending its head to the ground, weary with life. And then one special Bois would come. Bigger than the others. Brighter. It would pass it rainbow tentacles over the tree–caress it for hours–and days later, the tree standing tall again. Pale blue and full of life.
Mags need life now. This creature I call Papa Bois, after the protector of the forest Tantie Pearl tell me about as a child–it could help. It could save Mags like it save the trees.
If it want to.
If the sacrifice big enough, and given willingly.
So I don’t flinch as it bend over me, tentacles sliding down my shoulders like ice water. I look straight into the rainbow face as cold amusement scorch my mind.
Hurry, I think, blood beating in my ears.
And it does. Papa Bois beard whip toward my face and pluck both my eyes out of my skull before the scream could swell my throat.
Weeks later I sit on the bench outside my home and listen to the wind in the trees. I alone and these days, only Lucretia from the clinic does check me, to see if I healing okay. She don’t make no talk really. Just check the bandages and help me bathe and so on. Today, before she leave, she tell me the doctor go come and take off the bandages tomorrow. Is the only good news in a long time.
Everybody avoid me because I kill Mags. They don’t know how, but they know she dead because of me. It don’t matter that the flowers poison her; what kill she was the stupid idea to go in the forest in the first place. Despite the fact that it have nothing in there. Despite the fact that the first generation off the ship tell stories about how when the Diego Martin crash-landed, the Captain himself went in there with some of the crew, and nobody ever come back.
I bewitch she. I make she throw away good sense. I take her in the forest then bring she body out. Blind and bleeding, I ring the tocsin for help, and I wouldn’t say what happen to we. You don’t see I guilty?
I hear from Lucretia when they tell Mags father, he lock himself in he house and drink. That he still drinking.
I think that good though. A drunk man in a house can’t make no trouble. And the less trouble the better, because I can’t carry out the Law for a while. Not until my new eyes ready.
It go be hard. I treasured my one human eye. I treasure all the normal parts. I see things different, but that was good for a Tantie.
Papa Bois take that from me. He take the sunsets, and the emotions on people face. The tears I cry for Mags. He leave calibrations and scrolling menus. X-Ray and night-vision. A wired eye is a complex thing–accurate and full of features, like a flight deck on a starship. But it can’t see humanity. It can’t see ordinary.
Tonight, I sit on my bench and I sense them. Hear the whisper of emotions in my head. The Bois here, watching–waiting. They curious. Surprised. Something new happen.
A solitary emotion detach itself from the Bois and drift toward me, a tendril on the wind. It settles on me, a loose thread around my thoughts and heart just before something touch me. Chilly threads slide under and between my fingers, but warmth explodes inside me–I can almost taste secret kisses and feel tight arms around me.
Papa Bois keep he promise. It was too late for Mags body. But she energy–she soul–it was still there. And Papa take it, along with my sacrifice.
The Bois don’t die, you see. They is energy and energy don’t really end. It does just change form. And that change take a long time. Almost as long as a wired woman like me have to live.
I will never kiss Mags on she soft lips again. But I will never lose her either. I have the feel of tendrils between my fingers and the presence of a spirit that nothing like the alien Bois to keep me company in my home at the forest’s edge.
I can’t cry anymore, so I smile instead and tilt my face into the evening breeze. I let the fronds move against my hand while a new world flood my mind with colours and impressions and emotions I never dream ’bout.
Tomorrow my bandages come off.
Tomorrow, I will see.
R.S.A. Garcia’s debut science fiction mystery novel, ‘Lex Talionis’ was published by Dragonwell Publishing in 2014. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and the Silver Medal for Best Scifi/Fantasy/Horror Ebook from the Independent Publishers Awards (IPPY 2015).
She lives in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago with an extended family and far too many dogs. You can find out more about her work at rsagarcia.com.