The procession swept across the bridge and nobody noticed when little Liv stumbled and fell.
Nobody heard her scream as she slid into the marsh, nobody smelt her sweat as she squelched into the slime.
She raised herself up and squinted towards the horizon – they were already disappearing over the hilltops – then fell heaving into the grime.
And started to sink.
She grasped for a tangle of weeds but teeth bit at her and she felt the mud sluice over her face and mush into her mouth and hiss through her hair. She gasped and retched and convulsed – then it was over.
When she opened her eyes she was sprawled across a narrow ledge, her arm hanging down into the abyss. She started to inch along but fire licked at her side. Then water trickled down her neck. Earth sucked back up again…
Then spat her out into a desert. Sand scorched her eyes and sun sizzled her veins and a lizard scuttled across her back. She blinked and tried to focus but on what? Her hand? Yes her fingers, spread them across the table – one-two-three-four-five – and feel the smoothness of the wood, rustle the crispness of the leaves, grasp at the ruggedness of the walls…
They caved in and she was in a tunel. It was dark and damp and dank and all she could see was a speck of light far far away. She dragged herself towards it but it didn’t come any closer so she was about to give up when it shot at her, lurching and bumping and humping… She wanted to turn and flee but her legs gave way so it drenched her. Blinded her. Burnt her.
When she could see again she was in a field at dusk. A gnarled tree twisted its spindly black branches up at the moon like a hag’s fingers. A bat fluttered and circled; then swooped down and at her hair, struggling and pulling and tearing at the roots…
The roots of the tree. She was underground again.
Silence. Heat. Moisture. Could she move and breathe?
Red eyes in the darkness. Shut, then open, now gaping. Panting and a snarl. A knife…
A hand snatches the knife and slashes the eye like a peach. Blood drips…
The bull bursts free and pierces the matador.
The freak leaps from the ring and kills the master.
The wall cracks and she sees the throbbing heart.
And it’s empty. A serpent chews the eye of a skull, flies eat at the corpse of the hare, a hand rips the page of poetry.
Everything is empty. She drains the wine of the host and vomits blood. She clambers up the mountain and slips into the mud. She slits her father’s throat and sees him every night at her bedside.
It was a long time before a hand slid down the side of the bridge and hauled Liv back.
By Michael Monkhouse
Image: Faraaz Hussain