He put me in his mouth and tried swallowing in vain, gulping, gagging. I came up again as soon as I entered the back of his throat. He spat me out into his hand and stared at me in dismay turning into anger. Fuck, fuck, fuck, He repeated as he looked around. For what he did not know. He broke a rib off a body and quickly cleaned it with his hand. Chunks of dried flesh fell to the ground. He put me into his mouth and followed with the rib. He pushed me into his bulging throat as he choked and coughed. His eyes filled with tears. He could not breathe. He retched. Vomit spurted out his mouth and nose. He grasped the rib with both hands and rammed it into me. The bulge in his throat disappeared. I, disappeared. He vomited a mixture of acid and blood onto the obsidian, hyperventilating, sucking it down into his lungs, coughing it up again.
At the edge of the crater appeared a group of people. One was a child. They stood talking for a while, gesturing. Then one of them saw him and pointed. The gaze of the others followed the finger. They started walking down the slope in his direction. The party waved at him, and he waved back from where he stood on hands and knees. When they came closer, he saw that there were eight. Five men, two women, and a girl. All of which looked emaciated under the skins flayed from people not in need of them anymore. They wore contraptions of bone under their feet to ward off the shards.
We’ve not seen you around here before, A man taller than the others said. How long since your reincarnation?
He hesitated before saying, A couple of months, maybe three.
What’s your name?
My name is… It’s Nihil, He said.
The man looked at Nihil’s legs and said, What happened to your feet?
Please try looking past our inquisitiveness, One of the women said, interrupting the man. As you know, there’s a cruel world out there. One can’t be too careful. My name is Lemya. But yes, what happened to your feet? She said pitifully.
Nihil remained silent for a moment before he spoke, Another band of people ambushed me. They did this to me and left me to die.
We haven’t seen any others around. How long ago was this? Said the tall man.
Okay. What brought you here?
I’ve been wandering the glass fields, searching for better lands. I was heading back to the Vessel when I saw the star and found this crater. What brought you here?
The falling star, The other woman said. We come from the other side of the starship. We followed Vör here, She continued and pointed at the Woman in White.
Better lands? The tall man scoffed. It’s hard to imagine a land worse than this. What did you find?
Nothing. It’s the same for months. Maybe this is the world. Perhaps it’s all there is.
Months, The man repeated. You said you’ve been here for three months?
Three or four. I haven’t kept track.
What have you eaten? Drank? How did you avoid the storms?
Bladders, I brought bladders with me, on a sled of bone. I also brought fat and meat. Mostly dried. I was lucky with the storms.
Did those people take your things?
Yes. They did. They took everything.
The tall man turned to one of the others and said, Should we take him in, Reza?
Reza spat on the ground and said, The harsh truth is that he’ll not survive. I’m sorry, He said and looked at Nihil. Even if he did, he would be a burden. And it would be another mouth to feed. Is that what we need? Especially now, when the days become shorter? Soon the sun will disappear completely, I tell you. And then there will only be night.
He seems resourceful. What do you guys think? Lemya said and turned to the others of the company, those that had been silent. They seemed indifferent yet nervous. Shrugging their shoulders and kicking the shards on the ground. Speak out! We didn’t elect Tamit or Reza as some almighty government. You have as much say as they have.
How have you all survived? How did you find each other? Nihil asked.
If no one is speaking up against the decision, we’ll go with it, Tamit said. Speak now or shut up. Anyone?
Nope, Reza said and grabbed his hatchet of bone and obsidian held together by strips of skin. The unnamed woman put her hand over the child’s eyes.
Reza walked towards Nihil and lifted his hatchet. Then let it fall. The first blow connected with Nihil’s hip as he tried to dodge. The next connected with his arm as he defended his face. Another swing broke it. The arm flopped around as he attempted shielding himself. The next swing lodged the hatchet in Nihil’s chest. Reza stepped on his stomach, grabbed the handle with both hands, and pulled it out.
No! Nihil groaned wide-eyed with blood bubbling out his mouth, pouring out his wounds.
Do it quick, for fuck’ sake! Lemya shouted.
You would’ve died anyway, Tamit said. His voice trembled. Now you can feed us. You would’ve died anyway.
Reza lifted the hatchet again.
Stop hurting him! The child cried.
You’re fucking up the skin, Tamit said and pulled out a knife and straddled Nihil. He took hold of his hair and pulled back his head. Exposing the throat. Nihil struggled but was pinned under Tamit’s weight. Blood still bubbled out his mouth as a pink froth. Tamit cut and sawed through flesh and cartilage. He jammed the knife into the disc between the vertebrae as Nihil thrashed and convulsed. His wheezing breath became weaker and wetter before stopping altogether. The blood-splattered flesh jiggled with the impacts of Tamit’s knife as he continued separating head from torso. Nihil started moving again. His chest heaved as his throat sucked in and expelled the blood in cycles as the arteries in his neck spewed out more. Tamit’s knife shattered. He rose with arms and lap covered in blood. Reza stepped forward and swung his hatchet, and decapitated Nihil that twitched and went limp. The blood was still pulsing out his neck when they started butchering him.
Does anyone want the stomach? Tamit said as he pulled it out from its cavity.
No, An unnamed man said.
Nope, Said another. Too chewy for me.
Could we boil it? Said the unnamed woman.
Ah, don’t know about that, Reza said. We’re low on fuel.
I’ll throw it, Tamit said and threw it into the pile. The intestines followed like a slithering pink worm.
After Nihil was skinned and cut into pieces, they dumped his discarded parts in a latrine dug in the glass. They ate all the rest of him boiled, roasted, and dried. Arms, legs, torso, cheeks. All of them. What of him not absorbed by their bodies was sprinkled over his discarded parts in the latrine.
His cells awakened as they were digested and assimilated by the body of their hosts. They called upon each other in a language no other could hear. Trillions of calls echoed over the fields as they made their hosts’ blood boil and hemorrhage out their orifices and pores. They ate and burrowed their way through bone and flesh. Liquified from the inside and out, their hosts soon fell dead, and the killers precipitated out the sludge of assorted cells. His machines marched and gathered the building blocks of life like insects toward the mound of his reanimating corpse. At once, they began reconstructing the incomplete skeleton in the latrine. As they had rebuilt the frame of bone, they filled it out with flesh and organs. Last, they covered it all in skin. When he was assembled, his heart began to beat, his lungs filled with air. His body was oxygenated, neurons fired. The innards stirred and moved. He was reborn between feces and urine to inhale fear and exhale anger.