2015
06.05

The Clay People

A woman gets kidnapped by a mysterious stranger who sings to her and then kills her.  Then she wakes up somewhere else.

Content/trigger warnings: murder, strangulation, body horror, crushing.  People made of clay, if this is something that bothers you.  They are literally made of clay.

Her life had never been easy, but she had always kept on going.  She had no idea how people could give up something as precious as their lives as if it was nothing worth fighting for.  Sometimes she had thought about how much easier it would be if she could just give up, but she would never give up.  She did not want life to be easy.  Living was supposed to be hard.

But now she was pressed down on her belly beneath her attacker, her arms pressed firmly to her back as he held his arm around her throat, strangling her.  Her lips had begun to tickle gently, the blood-flow to her head had been stopped and her trembling muscles were starving for oxygen.  Her eyes felt strange.

She felt her body giving up, and she felt betrayed by it.  She had always done her best to please it, take care of it, and now it refused to obey her.  She was not scared.  Angry, yes.  She was very angry.  At herself, at her attacker.  But she was not afraid.  One last time she tried to turn her head to look at him, but he held her head firmly.

“Such a good girl,” he smiled behind her, out of view.  “Stay calm.  Don’t fight.  Just sleep.”

She tried to get her legs under her to throw him off, but there was nothing she could do.  She felt numb now, tired.  She had fought for so long; she had fought her entire life, and she was sick and tired of fighting.

She could breathe.  It probably helped in keeping her panic down.  The attacker let go of her hair, patting her head very gently, almost affectionately.  His warmth against her back was almost reassuring now.  His arm around her throat almost like an embrace.  She relaxed slightly and closed her eyes, her head resting against his upper arm.

“Once in a land far away, there lived people made of clay.. baked under the sun in the day, with the night dew they would melt away…”

She opened her eyes.  He was singing for her.  She could barely understand his words any more, but there was a great sadness in his voice.

That’s sad, she tried saying, but her lips barely moved.  Please sing something happier.  I’m about to die.  Please sing something happier.

Her eyes closed again.  She could no longer resist the darkness.  Her face felt cold and numb, but her body was burning.  He was still singing behind her back, silently, sadly.  His head came up beside her ear, but she did not react to it.  His voice seemed to fade away in the distance that separated the dead from the living.  She was dying, and it was all right after all.  With her normal fearlessness she dove headfirst into the darkness.

*

Her naked body was itching.  Something was crawling over her cheek and she hit at it with her hand as she sat up.  No wet popping, just something grainy against her fingers.  She opened her eyes; it was difficult.  They felt dry as she looked at her hand; nothing in it but sand.  Grains of pale yellow sand.

She looked around.  There was nothing around her but desert and gently rising dunes.  The sky was clear and impossibly blue.  There was no bushes, no grass.  There was nothing but sand and silence and vibrating heat.  A scream pierced the stillness, and she found it was her voice.  She fell silent and then coughed up some blood.  Her throat was parched and something had been torn open as she screamed.

She spat the blood out into the sand, and the sand sucked it all up, pulled it in hungrily.  She stood up on trembling legs, and then fell again.  An arm caught her and helped her to stay up.

She looked up into an impossibly white face.  It looked like chalk and seemed impossibly smooth.  She was about to thank it, when she noticed that the face had no eyes, only eye-like markings chiselled out from the smoothness of the face, the pupils nothing but deep holes into a hollow skull, the irises made dark grey by coal.  Her thanks turned into another scream, sending more blood flying from her lips and pattering against his chalky skin.

“Please calm down,” he said, his stone-or-clay lips moving easier and more gracefully than hers had ever done.  She stared in horror at her blood drying into his surface, leaving nothing but little red stains.  “Don’t scream.  It’s too dry to scream here.”

He slowly sat down, and she had no strength to keep herself up so she knelt beside him. The sand felt like burning snow to her skin.

“I killed you to bring you here,” he said softly. “I’m one of the clay people.”

She shivered.  She did not feel very dead.  Her body had began sweating, and she had no idea if it was out of fear or a natural reaction to the heat.  In either case, it was very inconvenient and probably not an inconvenience dead people usually had to worry about.

She felt something sticky against her arm and she looked down.  A thin layer of grey-white mud had formed where his hand rested against her sweaty skin.

“Can’t be,” she rasped.

“You are not dead any more,” he said.  “You just had to be dead for a short moment.  Now, we should go home to my valley.  We need you.  Don’t worry about the distance.  I will carry you.”

He lifted her up as if she was a doll and began walking over the sandy dunes as the sun kept moving across the sky.  It set and the stars came out.  The desert was still and silent, the stars forming no constellations she could recognise.  He walked on, sometimes humming silently, sometimes in silence.  He was still warm, as if he had body heat of his own, and he kept her warm although the desert night was cold.

“Please,” she said.  “I need water.  And food.  Please tell me what is happening.  Why do you need me?  What do you need me for?”

He did not answer her, but kept on walking under unfamiliar stars in unfamiliar, dead silence.  After a while he looked down at her and she looked back up at him.

“Nothing can live here,” he said.  “Nothing can live here, except for around the rivers.  In the riverbeds there is clay filled with all the life that has vanished, and from that clay we are born.  Once every year the old clay people cover themselves with ash and dig in the clay with flat stones, and they shape others of their kind.  We are baked under the desert sun, and when we have dried and set, the desert breathe life into us.  But by the rivers there are still grass and plants, and a few times a year the great rains fall and destroy most of us, our spirits returning to the riverbed clay.”

She listened to him in silence, and then tried again; “And what do you need me for?”

“You will help us to live forever,” he smiled at her.  “We have seen other animals, and you do not wash away in the rain.  You will help us.”

“All right,” she whispered silently.  “I will try to help you.  Can I go home after that?”

“No,” he said firmly.  “No, you will stay here with us until you die.”

She had already died once, and she had come to terms with the fact that her death would be permanent.  It had just taken a break.  Her death did not scare her a tenth as much as the fact that she had been killed and kidnapped by a creature made of clay.

She looked at the stars, cold and distant and utterly incapable of helping her.  None of them fell to grant her a wish.  They just watched her silently, blinking their cold, cruel eyes.  She was temporarily not dead, and she felt incredibly tired.  Rocked gently by his rhythmic steps, she gave in to sleep.

*

Gently creaking sounds and sunlight falling on her face woke her up.  The first thing she noticed was that she was completely surrounded by clay people, looking at her curiously.  The second thing she noticed when she sat up to look around was that the clay person she had first met was nowhere to be seen.  The clay people around her had varying tones, from an almost terracotta red, to a pale chalky white.  It was difficult to believe that they came from the same riverbed, if they now did.

She felt even weaker now.  The sun was beating at her with its merciless rays.  She found that her skin had turned red and begun to flake, itching madly.

“Water,” she said, although it sounded more like a groan.  “Please.  Give me water.  Please.  Please.”

They looked at her, not moving much.  She curled up in the sand and tried not to cry.  She found it impossible to cry, almost as in the middle of the coldest winter night.  Her body did not want to cry.  Perhaps she had no more water to spare to make tears.  She began to try to cry instead.  She thought of all the difficult and horrible and sad things which had happened to her, and she felt her lips tremble, she felt her heart break, but no tears came.  She hid her face in her hands and turned her back to the sun.

A low humming was heard, a melody she remembered.  She had heard it right before she died.

“Please sit up,” the gentle voice said.  “Have a drink.”

He sat down beside her, pulled her up gently.  Leaning on his arm she looked around again and saw that he held out a stone bowl to her, filled with muddy water.  It looked fairly disgusting, but she had to drink.  She knew that she had to drink something or die, but still she hesitated.  Perhaps it was the way the clay people were looking at her, as if they knew something she did not.  Perhaps some part of her had given up and thought living was not worth drinking muddy water that would probably just make her sick and eventually kill her in some horrible, slow way.  The familiar clay man looked a bit sad and hugged her tightly with one arm around her shoulders, pulling her in close.

“Please,” he whispered into her hair, almost like a lover.  “You have to help us.  Please help us.  You have to drink this, so that you can help us.  We are tired of melting, we are tired of having to be rebuilt all of the time.  We are tired of falling apart.  Please.”

She hesitantly took the bowl.  It was warm and rough to her fingers, and it smelled of mud and sun-warmed cliffs.  Putting the bowl to her dry lips she sipped the muddy water, feeling it swirl around her mouth like a tiny sandstorm, trickling down her sore throat, grating at her internal wounds.  But muddy and warm as the water was, her body grasped at it as a hand after a saviour.  Unable to resist her body’s desperate cry for rehydration, she had soon drained the bowl.

“Good girl,” the clay person holding her said and put the empty bowl aside, embracing her with both arms.  “Thank you.”

“Now, what do you need me to do?” she asked, and felt his arms tighter around her.

“You don’t have to do anything more,” he answered, and she could almost feel his warm breath to her scalp.  Perhaps it was just the sunlight and a gentle wind.  Nothing happened, and she began to feel restless.  No one said anything, and their gazes were making her uncomfortable and restless.  Something moved inside her, her stomach seemed to be quite upset at her for having drunk that water.  She felt ill, some of the mud still sticking to the inside of her mouth, coating her tongue.  She rested her head against the clay person’s shoulder, not sure what everyone was waiting for.  Not sure what it was she was supposed to do, because no matter what he had said she knew she had not really done anything.  She could not have saved them already.  But her thoughts were moving slowly, as if walking through molasses or thick… mud.

A sudden pain shot through her belly and she gasped for breath, whimpered as it felt like her belly froze through to her spine.

“It begins,” someone said.  “Prepare.”

She tried to press the clay person holding her away, but it was as if he was a statue, hard and unmoving as any stone.  The sudden pain came again, double in strength and reaching up to her lungs, pressing out all air from them, robbing her of air for a moment.  His hand in her hair, keeping her head to his shoulder as if she had been a scared child.

“Shh, shh, good girl,” he said gently.  “Relax.  You will save us.  You will teach us.  You will be our saviour, and we will sing about you forever.  We will never forget you.  All our future songs will be happy songs, thanks to you.  Stay calm, relax, don’t fight it.”

It felt as if something twisted her entrails, as if her guts were filled with concrete swirling about.  Terrified, she looked up at his face, the patterns after her blood dark brown now.  Her blood.  Looking at it, she could almost feel the taste of blood in her mouth and she drooled.  She tried to wipe it away with the back of her hand and found her hand smeared with a dark red mixed with fine sand.

She screamed, making a slightly bubbly noise.  And then something seemed to move in her mind, for a moment thinking – clearly –

I am

– pressing her away, arresting her thoughts for a short moment.  The clay people around her scattered, and she was lifted up.  She clawed around in blind panic, tried to claw after his eyes to blind him, but the only thing which happened was that she ground down her nails and got dust and coal under what was left.  Another wave of pain hit her and it felt as if she was drowning.  Perhaps she was.

She paid no attention to her surroundings.  She had no idea what was happening or where she was being carried, and she did not look around at the other clay persons who were following or walking around them towards a common goal.

Their steps, which had been whispering through sandy dunes were now beating to hard, smooth rock.  They came up on a hill made of a single, rounded surface of stone and began humming silently.  She was still too busy struggling to breathe, or she might have screamed and ruined the melody.

There was a smooth, round pit in the center of the stony surface; some sort of mill.  A big, pestle-like object of stone was on the ground nearby.  She saw two clay persons pick it up as if it had been made of light wood; easily and seemingly without effort.

“Thank you,” he said and kissed her, once, on the top of her head.  “Thank you,” he said again, with true gratefulness, and then he put her in the pit.  He did it as gently as he could, but she still got a bit scraped up as she slid to rest at the bottom.

Another thought in her mind now, a real voice ringing like a stone bell, sparkling.  A laughter echoing through her pain, making her cower in fear.

I am

– the voice laughed –

and I will forever be!  A union between meat and clay; never to melt, never to fade!  To walk these dusty, dry dunes forever; to dance in the mercilessly pounding rain forever!

– and the pain washed over her like foaming, crashing waves, reducing her thoughts to nothing but static.  Nothing but minor disturbances in another person’s mind; a mind unfamiliar and unknown, ancient, greater than her own.  She was a feeling of primal panic, wrecked by impossible levels of pain.

Something hit her, shattering the bones in her legs, crushing the meat in her legs into something resembling minced meat shot through with shards of bone and fatty marrow.

“Aim for the head,” a voice said calmly, but she was beyond understanding speech.

The heavy stone pestle crashed into her head and shoulders, and she died again.  She would never again be, only live in their songs and stories and memories.  Again and again her body was beaten and crushed and pounded, until it was a fine, fine paste of clay, pulverised bone, fat and meat.  They took some sand and mud and added it until it was suitable for shaping, and then they gave it its final form.

*

A dark red figure sat in the glaring sunlight, looking out over the dunes, watching the approaching clouds.  Its eyes had been painted on its face with chalk and coal.  The body was covered in patterns of light and dark grey of ash.  Its lips parted to bare a carnivore like set of teeth made from grey stone, and a dark, red tongue trembling as it darted in and out between the jaws, hungry for water.

It had to keep some moisture in it now, or the meat would shrink and twist, but it would do so rather evenly and it could be straightened out if just becoming moist enough again.  It had learnt how to reshape itself to its own will.

The stone teeth had been its own idea.  It would evolve and find a shape better suited for thriving in the desert.  It would dig a burrow under the sand, sheltered from the merciless sunlight most of the time.  It would dance in the rain and drink greedily to take it through the dry periods.  It would figure out a new way of living, and it would live forever.

As it waited for the rain it sang silently to itself, its voice the voice of rasping, ringing stone and wet meat and clicking bone; a song about a person it had known but a short moment, but to whom it owned it life; the reason its existence had been possible.

It would live forever, be forever, and it would never forget her.

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