Was pecking at it earlier. Not much further than it was, but apparently it decided it wanted to stick around and get finished. Enjoy, hopefully. (First part is over here.)
As the sun was setting, a flock of blackbirds took flight, scattered by the sound of my father’s staff crunching in the dead leaves that littered the path. They flew above me, the last rays of the day cutting through the gaps in their feathers, their cries arrayed like a dirge, but I had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear. They had left my road, and had ceased to matter.
As darkness came, I grew cold and pulled my robes tighter to myself. For the first hour, there was nothing but blackness save for the faint stripe of the sun’s last gasp in the west. For the second, the moon gave her light, frosting everything in silver and making every leaf and bramble gleam. By the third, my eyes were aching and sore from being lanced by such reflections, and I stared only at my feet as they carried me forward.
I did not hear her before she spoke. One moment, I walked alone, and in the next there was a woman beside me. I glanced at her only briefly and mostly out of surprise, then returned my gaze to the earth in front of me.
She was pallid and white, woefully thin. Her face was marked with rogue and scarlet inks that made it resemble the kabuki masks my father loved. As I walked along, staring downward, it took several minutes before I realized that while my shadow walked with me, hers did not.
“Why do you walk so, little one?” she asked me. I pursed my lips and said nothing.
“Do you have no family to care for you? I have no family, either. All gone,” she said, with a queer up tilt to her words and a chuffing between them that reminded me of the way father sometimes laughed when he was not supposed to. I still said nothing.
“You know, it is polite to look at those who are addressing you, little one.” I might have been disgusted with how she referred to me – little one, indeed; I was walking the road, and surely as much a man as any – had I found it within myself to care. She was nothing, ephemeral. Merely a woman who had lost her way and then her life, probably in the winter’s heavy snows. She was no business of mine. I kept walking.
She was with me all through the night, first cajoling, then pleading, then weeping and finally begging. The hungry dead want little in this life save acknowledgement. But I would not give it to her. It would be dangerous, for both of us, and would serve only to slow my progress. It was her burden that she had died in such a state of shame and imbalance that she must linger. There was no reason to make it my own.