Discover more from The Sprawl: Speculative Fiction
Ashes From a Terrestrial Fall
The skypit was a gash in the crust of the earth that stretched from horizon to horizon. Millie stood at the edge gripping the trunk of a young pine tree, her fingers digging into its sticky bark, and stared at the black hole in the earth. It looked like it dropped down forever—but deep inside, there might be answers.
She lifted Persala up to her lips.
“We came a long way, Pers. Don’t go quiet on me now.”
The fine black pen felt warm in her fingers. It was the length of Millie’s palm, midnight dark, with a small gold band around the middle. She let the sun brush off the tip and felt something vibrate inside.
Relief hit Millie harder than she’d expected. Pers hadn’t talked much during their trip, but now her voice sounded like fresh cotton along the back of Millie’s neck.
“You holding up okay in there?” Millie started her trek down the mountainside toward the skypit. “I know it’s boring, stuck in my pocket.”
I’m keeping busy. There’s a lot to do in here, you know.
No, Mills. I’m a pen. What do you see?
Millie smiled to herself. That was Pers again, sounding more like herself. “The pit’s enormous,” Millie said. “Like bigger than anything I’ve ever seen, and the cliff walls are smooth like they were dug there on purpose.”
Nobody knows where the skypit comes from, so maybe you’re right.
“How about we go find out?”
Lead the way.
Millie picked up her pace.
It took Millie months to track down her first lead. The old man lived at the edge of Ult, a massive city that crawled up the side of a mountain. He said there were steps into the skypit, hidden for hundreds of years. That led her to a monastery in Avar on the edge of a cliff covered in thick snow. The monks there had maps and were willing to let her copy them out—so long as she showed them Pers.
Once she knew about the steps, and she had the maps to find them, it was only a matter of traveling across the known world to the skypit itself.
You know what I miss most about having a body? Pers asked as Millie walked along the edge.
“Eating,” Millie said. “Oh, or maybe that first stretch when you wake up in the morning. Gods, that feels good.”
I miss touching people. I didn’t appreciate how much I liked touching people until I couldn’t anymore.
“I miss touching you too, Pers.” Millie bit down on her cheek. Even after all these years, the pain was a wound that wouldn’t heal over.
I also miss getting so drunk that even dancing’s fun.
Millie laughed as she paused to check her map. “Remember Cam’s wedding? You knocked back six big cups of wine then spun me around all night.”
Literally spun you. I thought it was funny to try and make you dizzy.
“I was so annoyed.”
Until I got you back home. Then you loved me again.
Millie’s smile was tight. She was close—on her left was a large rock formation in the shape of an open hand, and beyond that should be an opening in the cliff wide enough for a person to wiggle through. Then down onto a set of winding stairs, and into the darkness.
I’m just saying, I miss touching people. I miss touching you. Are you still going to love me when I have a body again?
“I don’t know. I mean, I have been dragging your stupid butt around for years now trying to find a way to bring you back.”
Pers went quiet as Millie found the opening. It was a jagged hole in the rock and she could just make out a landing below. She dropped her pack down first and it landed with a dull thud.
I know I’ve said it a hundred times over the years, but I am sorry, you know. You should’ve sold me a long time ago.
“It’s okay,” Millie said softly. “We’re almost there. Just hold on.”
She gripped the edge, slipped over, dangled above the drop, then let herself go.
The stairs were wide, smooth, and switched back on themselves along the edge of the pit, descending into dark. Black on the left, then black on the right, over and over again.
How deep are we now?
Millie squinted up. “I’m honestly not sure.” The sunlight was a pinprick.
Sweat trickled down her shoulders and back. It’d been hours since she first started descending, and the deeper she went, the less likely it was that she’d ever climb back out.
I wish I could be there with you instead of stuck in your pocket.
“I wish you could help carry this stupid pack.”
Pers laughed and Millie smiled. Pers hadn’t laughed in a long time.
After the accident, Pers talked a lot. She struggled for a long time, which was understandable considering she’d gone from being a woman to being a pen. Millie worked hard to find a cure, but binding a soul to an object was extremely difficult, and breaking the soul away again was even worse. As the years passed, Pers talked less, she rarely laughed, and her voice sounded distant.
The past few months were the worst—before Millie reached the skypit, Pers hadn’t spoken at all in weeks, and before that her voice had been a distant whisper from the back of a deep cave.
Now Pers sounded like she did in those early days, like she was sitting next to Millie and whispering right into her ear.
Millie descended for what felt like forever. She stopped to rest, ate small meals, drank a little water, and tried not to think about the return trip. Pers talked quietly the whole time, reliving their brief but perfect life together—they grew up together in a small village, fell in love when they were teenagers, got married when they were twenty, and moved to Verash when Pers tested into a funded position at the Linkist Academy.
Then three years later, the accident.
The bottom of the pit appeared abruptly. The sunlight was gone above, and Millie had to light a small lantern although her oil was running low.
What do you see?
“There’s a floor. It looks like tile.” She stepped forward, going slow. It was like walking into a massive cathedral, although she knew the sky was somewhere above her, far enough that it felt like another life.
Millie pressed on into the darkness. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but the rumors all said the bottom of the skypit contained mysteries from the Abandoned. If anything could bring Pers back, it was some impossible Abandoned magic. There wasn’t a Linkist in the world with skill enough to fix Pers, and Millie had begged and pleaded with them all. Some even tried, and all had failed.
This was her last chance to get her wife back.
Millie’s footsteps echoed in the black like fluttering wings. Pers was quiet, but felt heavy in Millie’s pocket. The lantern light barely made a path into the gloom.
I lied before, when I said I missed touching the most.
Millie jumped at the sudden sound. “Really? What should you have said then?”
If I could have a body again, all I’d want is to sit in that stupid cafe with you again like we used to. Remember that place?
“Worst coffee in Verash, but it was cheap.”
A short pause. I can feel something up in the darkness. I don’t know what it is, Mills, but I’m afraid. It’s funny, we’ve come so far together, and now I’m scared.
Ahead, a shape gathered itself. Millie slowed as she approached. It was a mountain of something black and fine, like perfectly tilled dirt. Scattered throughout were shining bits of metal or precious stone, she couldn’t tell, but it made the pile sparkle.
It’s right there, Pers whispered urgently.
Millie knelt down and reached out. The way the stuff crumbled between her fingers, the way it left a strange, sticky black residue. It was ash, definitely ash, a massive pile of ash.
Mills, this is it. I can feel something.
Millie took Pers out of her pocket. “What am I supposed to do?”
Put the ash on me.
Millie picked up a handful of the stuff and as she sprinkled it over Pers, she wondered how Pers had known what it was—Millie hadn’t said that out loud.
It was too late, though. Pers was covered and Millie felt a tug against her chest like a rope wrapped around her ribs. She gasped as a sharp, cracking pain lanced through her nerves, burning every inch of her with an invisible flame, and she dropped Pers. The pen rattled onto the ground and rolled into the ash pile, and Millie fell backwards unable to do anything but flop onto the ground and groan as the pain continued its electric black shiver—
Until abruptly, it stopped.
It was Pers, but the voice wasn’t inside of Millie’s head.
Millie groaned, tried to roll onto her side, but couldn’t move. The cave looked dim and distant, like she stood a far way back inside of a tunnel and couldn’t quite reach forward.
“Oh gods, Millie.”
Millie moved then, her body lurching upwards—
But Millie wasn’t controlling it.
“This is incredible.” Pers laughed and hands began patting Millie’s body.
Millie tried to scream, but she had no mouth and no tongue, no throat or vocal cords. She tried to struggle, to fight, but Pers moved around the cavern, she jumped and skipped and touched stone, touched everything but that ash.
What’s happening to me? The words came out of Millie like an echo. Pers stopped moving.
“Oh, sweetie,” Pers said softly with Millie’s voice. “I don’t know how, but I think I’m inside of you now. You’re still in there? Inside of me? Inside of you, I guess.”
Pers, what did you do?
“I didn’t do anything.” She laughed, joyous and shocked. “But I’m free, Mills. Do you have any idea what it’s like to live inside of a pen? To be just an object? It was torture, every single day. But I can breathe and run and laugh. And gods, Mills, you got skinny!”
Pers, please stop it. I’m trapped in here… I can’t move…
“I know sweetie. It’s not so bad though, at least you’re inside of a body, right?” Pers scooped up the lantern and the pack. “We’ll figure something out. Maybe we can share time? It won’t be so bad, and at least we’re together.”
Millie tried to struggle, but there was no her to struggle, no body or limbs or blood. She was a speck in the back of her own mind, a fly on the shoulder of Pers.
You don’t know. You have no clue, do you?
“Know what?” Pers rifled through the pack, frowning to herself.
Food and water. We don’t have enough food and water for the trip back up.
Pers slowly at down and stared at her hands. It was strange for Millie, looking through her own eyes, but from a distance.
“You knew, didn’t you? You knew the whole time.”
I realized half way down we’d never get back up.
“It was a suicide mission. You came down here to die with me.”
And here we are. Maybe this is good, right? We can die together and at least you get a little time with a body before you go.
Pers began to sob. She pulled her knees up to her chest and cried so hard Millie could feel muscles tighten and a sharp but distant pain.
It’ll be okay, Pers. At least you’re not a pen anymore, right?
“I don’t want to die in this pit with you,” Pers whispered. “Stuck in your body.”
“I never wanted any of this. You know why I spent so much time trying to perfect body Links, don’t you? I don’t want to die, Millie. I thought if I could anchor my soul to an object—“ She laughed bitterly. “And it worked, but it worked too well. Now here you are, telling me that I’m screwed, that we’re stuck and I’m dead no matter what. Well, I’m not going to die with you, Mills. I’m not going to give up.”
Pers stood and walked to the ash pile. She knelt down and picked up the pen, holding it in her hand. She bit down hard on her lip.
What are you doing?
“Funny, I always thought it was bigger.” She dipped her other hand into the ash pile. “Maybe someone will come down and find me again. I don’t have to be stuck here forever, right? It doesn’t have to be forever.”
Pers, please, don’t—
But Pers shoved the ash against the pen, and Millie felt another horrible sucking and more pain filled her with a crippling sharp electric rumble, and she toppled over sideways, the pen slipping from her fingers.
When she came back to the cavern, she could move her hands, her legs. Pers was gone. She scrambled to her hands and knees and searched for the pen—
There she was, lying on the floor a few feet away. Millie picked it up and weighed it in her hands.
“Pers?” Millie whispered.
But there was nothing, only silence.
“Pers, please.” Millie choked back tears. “I just wanted to fix you.” She gripped the pen against her chest and held it there. “I just wanted to be together.”
Only silence and the taste of ash.
ps, The title of this piece was the prompt and the name of an ambient black metal album. It’s up on Youtube if you’re interested in listening! Do me a favor, like and share this if you enjoyed it, and have a good week. - DC