NWR Issue 104

White Food

When first they found him they weren’t sure if he was alive. Or even really human.

Mother and daughter looked at the sprawled figure on the front path in the bleaching sunlight and Scarlet thought she’d never seen anything quite so dark in her whole, short life. So dark he was nearly a man-shaped hole. Flung behind him his cloak retained the memory of the impact in its splayed folds, and beneath he wore (or could it be part of him?) intricate body armour that slotted together like the underneaths of an insect. A mask of fleshy material obscured his features.

The darkness of him had a matt, negative look to it like the outer skin of a spaceship. Indeed, when she saw her mother anxiously scanning the blue horizon and distant hills she knew, in that way she could, that her mother was searching for a speeding spacecraft that had carelessly turned out its cargo over the only house for miles.

‘Kind of you to drop by,’ Scarlet whispered – slightly sarcastically – under her breath. To stop herself feeling afraid, mainly.

Scarlet knew the precise time when he must have fallen past the window. It was when the kitchen had darkened for a moment like a blink. She had been mixing flour and water in a thick paste inside a cup while her mother looked listlessly in the cupboards for something to cook. The shadow he made as he fell past the window went over her – cool and black.

And that was a year where darkness would tell. Early spring and already the sun baked the earth still numbed by winter. While the trees, leafless, poked their bare branches towards the searing sky, wary of unwrapping their early, tender buds to such fierceness.

The flour and water was to make tiny cakes for the ants that flowed through the back door. Scarlet would sit on the cold stone floor. ‘Welcome, welcome, all of you,’ she’d sing to them. She was fascinated by the way their bodies were connected to their bulbous heads, which looked too heavy to bear, by a thread she couldn’t even see.

Now, outside on the path, Scarlet could tell that her mother was secretly excited about their unexpected visitor. She scooped him up with both arms and amazingly lifted the prone body with hardly any effort at all.

‘As light as a bone,’ her mother said to herself as she bore him up the stairs to the spare room...

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