My dad died when I was too little to care about it. I still don’t care about it, honestly. But if you know Lyria, my mild-mannered and demure mother, you know that she’s actually not mild-mannered and demure. My mother is anything but calm when a door closes, and even though I’ve very rarely the target of her rage, I try to steer clear of it. There’s just something terrifying about someone as beautiful, small, and classy as she is going wide-eyed and sucking in deep breaths.
So, you know. I shut up and I go with her to his tree.
When we die we have to choose. Well, our family or friends or whoever actually loved us when we were alive, they had to choose what we became. We don’t bury people anymore. You don’t want to spread Horn Rot and a couple of kids have gotten it from the dirt. From their loved one’s bodies decomposing in the dirt. I guess it’s a good enough sign of grief or love or something if you’re sad enough to rub your face in the dirt covering the person buried under it.
They think mine came from something close to that. When my Dad died I was too young to understand it. No one bothered to explain it to me. I didn’t get he was dead until they started putting him in the ground, and by the time they realized I was running to save him, it was too late. I fell in there with him. We don’t do the casket thing. It’s all about becoming one with the Earth again and blah blah blah. And anyone suffering from Horn Rot is ground into dust before they’re buried and it’s supposed to neutralize it or something. But I sifted through him long enough. The fall cracked my horn. All that infection stuff.
That’s what my mom thinks infected me. But who knows. Who really knows.
My Dad made a really nice tree, actually. His flowers were all in bloom, all deep reds, all bloody and angry looking. It matched his personality pretty well, I’ve been told. The trees around him were all sick as well, all Horn Rot victims, all ground to dust. We’re such angry people, most of the trees bore dark purple flowers. I had dreams about my Dad’s tree standing out amongst the purples, thick red dripping down as real blood, my mother standing under it, bathed in it.
She tapped my horn, gentle, but it still hurt.
“When I die, will you make me a tree or put me in a container?” She stared up at my father’s remains, a slow sadness creeping over her. I looked around for Old Bro but he was somewhere getting something to eat. He was always fucking eating.
“What do you want? Whatever you want, I guess.” She tapped my horn again, the discolored one, a little harder. I winced.
“I want whatever you want. You’ll be the one in charge after that. You’ll be the one keeping our family going. The decision will be left up to you.”
“Old Bro is older…”
“Hasan is a Boar. You want our family to be run by a Boar? Boars bleed things, they don’t nurture them.” I watched my mother’s regal back, her skin speckled with the same spots that covered my face, arch in a deep breath. I hate watching people go through stages of sadness. It’s just not fun, honestly, and I’d rather be somewhere laughing.
I wondered what Lewish was laughing at right then.
“Boars don’t belong at the head of a household. I want you to stay soft, Junnie. Do you understand me? I want you to stay soft. There’s so little softness left.” I stared at her. She was the only person I could really look at directly. My mom made me feel like being sick was normal. She made me feel like an equal even when she was neglecting me to work. Even when she was staring sadly at a dead man’s tree.
“Okay. I’ll do that, I guess.” We stood there, soaking up the memory of my father’s life until Old Bro came back. He walked so wide, you’d think he was riding an invisible horse or something. I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Alright. Enough of the dead guy, mom. Let’s get out of here.” A squid struggled in his hand and he licked his lips, hungry. Boars. They eat.
“Hasan. Will you make me a promise?” Old Bro looked up in shock.
“Sure. Yeah. Of course, Mom.”
“I want Junnie to stay soft. You make that happen by staying hard, okay? Kill anyone who talks to her. Rip them to shreds. I don’t want any part of them left. Dissolve them. Kill anyone who makes fun of your sister. Choke them. Send them to me. I’ll meet them in Hell and rot them like they tried to do her. I’ll ruin them.” We both stopped. Old Bro dropped the squid.
“Kill them. Kill them. Slaughter them all. I want them all to come with me.” With that, she turned, spun really, and nearly floated back toward the car. I felt my hand shake a little. The rage that pulsed from her was unbearable.
I understood something, and Old Bro understood something, and we both seemed to shatter at the same time.
My mother, Lyria, the one person who could cure Horn Rot and save our species, had Horn Rot herself.