Falling Stone waited, his pale skin glinting in the moonlight, seated on the front step of the woodshed where he lived. The small glow of a moonstone bobbed gently, downhill from him but coming closer, the greenish-blue light increasing it brightness as it neared. Finally, they were there. A lanky, dark-skinned man in narrow legged trousers and a stylish close-fit tunic approached with Falling Stone’s father just behind.
The two men didn’t say anything as they crossed the clearing at the top of the hill up to where Falling Stone sat, fear and fury fighting within to guide him. He had known it was coming but he still – he couldn’t let them – not again –
This one word paralyzed him. Son. Not just his name, not – ‘you’, not ‘boy’ (the worst of all). Son. As if he were as treasured as his brother, an equal to the strong and healthy and normal Solid Grasp. Falling Stone stared at him, pleading with every fiber of his being – Please, Father, don’t do this. But all he said was,
Ranna, ignoring them, strolled into the shed and began setting up his equipment, taking several items out of the satchel he’d brought with him. A pair of scissors, an empty jar, a dozen empty vials and – Falling Stone, compelled inside by his fathers expression, eyed them with dread – a needle and syringe, a tourniquet. Ranna, apparently content with his setup, gave a satisfied sigh and said cheerfully, “Well. Shall we begin? Did you save your nails this time?”
Falling Stone nodded, and pulled out the jar Ranna had given him years ago, filled with his nail trimmings. The sight of it disgusted him, and filled him with shame. Saving his nail trimmings a whole year long, a constant reminder of his annual night of pain – and shame. No one else in the village met in the night to sell off their body. No one else even could, because no one else was… a creature, like him. Every time he cut his nails this year was like picking at a wound, but he did it. The year previous Ranna left, one jar short of his usual. And his father was not pleased. Falling Stone didn’t leave his shed for nearly a week after that, and the twinge of fear at the inevitable pain went through him now, even as he obediently handed over the jar. Ranna took it casually, before picking up the silver shears.
Looking at his father, Ranna asked, “Only three inches? You are sure?”
Solid Stone nodded, saying, “No more.”
Ranna directed Falling Stone, who complied while Ranna snipped away the bottom inches of his long, pure white locks. He supposed he ought to be grateful that his father was stingy with his hair, as long hair was a sign of pride and masculinity in the village. Anything more than a trim, and there might be stares – though Falling Stone didn’t care. How could he have any pride in his appearance? They stared regardless. His father was the one who cared – if asked, Falling Stone would’ve rather be shaved bald, and skip what he knew was coming. But his father didn’t ask him. Falling Stone knew he would be ignored if he said anything – or worse. Falling Stone sat stiffly while Ranna trimmed and swept the hairs into the larger jar, carefully picking up a few strays from the back of his linen tunic and adding them to the pile.
Finally, an eternity slipped by in a heartbeat, and Ranna directed Falling Stone to sit on the wide wooden bench that served as his bed, leaning against the wall of the shed.
His stomach felt tight. His hands clenched, as he watched Ranna put the jar back into his case, and rinse his hands off with some water from a waterskin.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion as Falling Stone stared, fixated on the glint of the needle, it’s silvery glint tinted blue-green in the light of the moonstone. A wave of nausea hit him and he felt his mind shutting down, like the lights of the village going out one by one until only one feeble light was left, his vision going black around the edges. He leaned his head back against the wooden slats and shivered, though he could feel the sweat on his forehead. He struggled to stay conscious, and opened his eyes.
Ranna was standing above him, watching him with his head cocked, a bemused expression on his face. He could feel the gaze of his father, gauging his son’s frailty, judging him. Weak.
“Come now, it’s not that bad.”
Falling Stone didn’t reply. He didn’t think he could speak. He felt as if the air itself had weigh, and the infinite pressure of it was pressing down upon his finite body. He could hardly think. All he could do was sit and stare as Ranna took his arm and washed it off, casually taking the needle and syringe and – the darkness creeped beyond the periphery of Falling Stone’s vision, and his head thumped back on the wall, as the last light in the village winked out.
When he came to, his eyelids lifting like weights, his head heavy, Ranna was packing a small tray full of red vials. Falling Stone’s head swum. So much red. His eyes wandered, and stopped on the towering figure of his father, who was watching him, expressionless. Ranna was speaking, but Falling Stone just stared at his father, who seemed the true embodiment of stone. They stepped outside the shed, neither saying a word of farewell. Why would they? You don’t say goodbye the fox when you take his pelt, or bid the sheep good day after it’s shearing. Falling Stone felt.. drained. It was the only word that made any sense. He turned the word over in his mind, drained… yes, thats fitting…drained.
Ranna, skin so dark even with the added moonlight, was a shadow in front of the door. They shook hands. The light shone on his father, whose face turned to…something. Falling Stone’s heavy mind couldn’t identify. Was it… Hunger? Relief? Ranna was reaching into his now packed bag… The darkness creeped in again, and Falling Stone didn’t struggle against it this time. He let himself fall in the darkness, where he was not so heavy, there was no pain, no light… no anything… just darkness.