AfterWorld Part 1
a Daughter of Isis Novelette newly revised!
Here is part 1 of 4 of AfterWorld, a novelette (just a fancy way of saying a long short story) that takes place in the Daughter of Isis universe. You will be getting insight into new characters introduced on Son of Horus (Coming October 25th!)
If you are interested in the mythology behind the world and creatures of the Daughter of Isis universe, you can learn more about the mermaids and sirens here.
For those who have read AfterWorld, I have eliminated the original name (Rusa) for the man-eating fish creature in the story. It is now a Siren, not an exact fit for the creature, but my take on it. Why invent the wheel, right?
Alright, let’s get to ShyShy’s adventure!
ShyShy crouched among dried leaves and twisting roots to watch the Siren work her magic on the murky lake water. She watched the creature in awe, having finally found one. The pulsing hum of the trees around her drowned out the quick scratch of her crudely sharpened pencil against the paper. ShyShy sketched the stunning lake woman, paying particular attention to the way she worked her fingers on the veil between this World and the OtherWorld.
Could ShyShy replicate those motions?
The Siren’s voice undid the stitches of the curtain, pulling magical threads from the veil. Once a woman, but long dead, the now fish-like creature had a long and voluptuous figure. A sharp contrast to ShyShy and her rectangular fourteen-year-old frame.
The Siren’s melody didn’t reach ShyShy’s ears. She watched the effects, but the siren’s music was not intended for her. An aura illuminated the lake creature, and the light it cast played through her long glittering hair.
She looked just as ShyShy had imagined she would. The beast had pale, scaly skin, terrifyingly beautiful. Light reflected in the pools of the Siren’s silver eyes.
A waver of air in front of her opened the window into the OtherWorld. ShyShy scribbled down the split between the AfterWorld and OtherWorld. She couldn’t miss a single detail.
As the curtain between the worlds lifted and the handsome woman beckoned her victim with her bewitching song and beauty. Her lips curled into a smile as a stubby, masculine hand reached through the opening. She didn’t part her lips, hiding the fangs behind them. The hand wrapped around the Siren’s slender fingers.
She trapped him.
Horrified and fascinated, ShyShy’s stomach quivered with excitement. The creature lulled a man from the OtherWorld. Once in her grasp, she devoured him. Mother taught ShyShy, to prepare her. ShyShy’s mother in this world, that is, not her real mom.
Now, with her heart pattering against her chest, ShyShy sketched out the size and shape of the window to the OtherWorld. The Siren pulled her victim further through the window, revealing an arm and then a shoulder. ShyShy squinted to make out the scene behind the man. Could she fit through there?
She leaned forward and her legs trembled from being in a crouched position for so long. Before she could adjust her stance, a cramp rippled through her calf. ShyShy stumbled and fell with a gasp. She crushed a twig under her foot, sending a reverberating crack across the lake.
The Siren’s bright eyes flashed red as they snapped in ShyShy’s direction, and the light surrounding her form disappeared. The magic of her haunting melody had broken. No longer under the Siren’s spell, her victim tried to take back his arm, but the window to the OtherWorld slammed closed. For a moment, the disembodied arm hung in front of the Siren. Then it fell with a heavy thud on the lakeshore. After a couple spasms, it stilled.
The Siren glided over her watery domain, searching the shadowed bushes and trees. ShyShy leaped to her feet, smacking her head on a low-hanging branch. Pain coursed through her body, knocking the breath from her lungs, and ShyShy crashed to her knees. With a gasp, she blinked away an intrusive vision.
A young man walks his dog.
Not now. ShyShy couldn’t be carried away by the bush’s vision. She had to stay in the AfterWorld.
The resulting rustle of the leaves drew the attention of the Siren, and the hissing creature rushed toward ShyShy. Her head throbbed, but she didn’t have any time to waste. She had to get away from the water. Mother had taught her that a Siren couldn’t leave her lake.
The water creature dropped to her stomach and reached into the bush with a glimmering claw. Back pressed against the bush’s branches, ShyShy stared at the gills on either side of the Siren’s neck, a frayed break in the greenish skin of the creature. The Siren’s claw snatched at twigs and leaves, millimeters from ShyShy’s foot.
She forced her way through the tangle of branches, fighting through the dizzying visions.
Birds chirp, silver clinks against plates, people laugh and cry.
ShyShy pressed her arms tight to her body, to avoid contact with the leaves. The Siren preferred the taste of human men, but how picky were they? The creature lashed out a webbed hand, and ShyShy’s heart leaped to her throat as she yanked her foot out of reach.
Free from the bush, ShyShy scrambled to her feet and peered through the foliage at the lakeshore. She hugged her sketchbook against her chest if only to keep her hands from trembling. Her head pounded, but she didn’t know if it was from the knock into the branch or the visions. The creature hissed, restrained at the water’s edge.
ShyShy backpedaled, unwilling to turn away from the Ruse. As she stepped away, she slipped a hand into her shorts pocket and touched the small knife tucked inside, just in case. It was a trinket from home, her original home. Her father had left it in the kitchen drawer, smaller than the new one he carried around. He believed in always being prepared with a pocket knife. ShyShy wanted to be prepared too.
The Siren hovered over the black lake, watching ShyShy with hateful eyes. She cursed under her breath. How could she have been so stupid? What was she thinking, crouching in the bush like that?
She’d been so excited to have spotted the Siren, that she’d rushed to find a spot to hide. She hadn’t thought to ensure it was safe before she began sketching. She hadn’t even bothered to settle into a seated position before starting. It had taken her weeks to hunt down this Siren. ShyShy didn’t have a lead to another and didn’t know of any other creature that could open the curtain into the OtherWorld. Now that the Siren knew she’d been discovered. ShyShy wouldn’t find her again.
She could scream.
How would she get home now?
Away from the lake, ShyShy turned around. She navigated the dense forest with ease, taking extra care to avoid the swamp puddles that sank into the LowerLevel. While the cool air of the AfterWorld brought goosebumps to her arms, the warmth from the puddles would pull her closer. The stench of sulfur helped her maintain her distance, though. ShyShy eyed the LowerLevel swamp and remembered hot tubs back home. She missed hot tubs.
ShyShy relaxed her shoulders, the immediate danger gone. It would take just a snap of a twig to put her on high alert again. Hounds hunted the living in this place. ShyShy could never be too careful.
She leaped onto the massive roots of a strangler fig and spread her arms to her side for balance. Her shoes protected her from the visions and she walked along the raised wood.
When she’d first arrived in the AfterWorld, the dark complexities of the forest had scared her. Sorrow emanated from the tree roots, the cry of a baby erupted from the snap of a twig. ShyShy had trembled in the crook of the roots, every rustle of leaves raking at her nerves.
Now that she’d spent more than a month in the AfterWorld, she skipped from root to root like a cat stalking the night. She leaned on the divotted trunk to keep balance. Each time she touched the tree, it sent a surge of energy up her arm, like she’d stuck her finger in a socket. Instead of cramping electricity, though, waves of joy and anguish massaged her muscles. Vines that hung from the branches brushed against her dark rosewood cheeks. Each branch stung her with quick visions of the OtherWorld.
The honk of a car horn, clouds in the sky, a crackling fireplace.
ShyShy wavered. The flashing visions made her dizzy, but it was the price she had to pay to see a piece of home again. She hopped off the root as her headache throbbed behind her eyes. She could only handle brief visions of the OtherWorld.
ShyShy ducked her head beneath the hanging foliage. So many different species, deep green evergreen trees beside the winding branches of dogwood. The lights of Arcadia twinkled through the canopy of leaves. ShyShy studied the glimmering layer above her. What was it like up there with the gods? The lights sparkled like stars, an eternal night in the AfterWorld. ShyShy ached for the sun. She longed to feel the warm rays on her skin in the OtherWorld.
Not the OtherWorld, her World. ShyShy wrapped her hands around her arms to rub the goosebumps away.
A sharp pain shot down her arm and through her fingers. She sucked air between her teeth and craned her neck to examine the wound. She hadn’t felt the gash before, but now blood dripped down her arm. She must have fallen on a branch or rock during her escape. Just her luck. First, she had botched her stakeout of the Siren, and now she was bleeding. Teenage angst seethed in her chest as she kicked a stone. It bounced off a nearby trunk and disappeared in a bush. With slumped shoulders, ShyShy walked to the cave, and back to Mother. She’d have to mark yet another day off, bringing her total to thirty-three days in the AfterWorld. Tears welled up in her eyes.
She’d never get home.
As she approached their cave, ShyShy cradled her wounded arm. Mother would fret over her carelessness, but she’d bandage it up. The damp scent of wet stone and moss greeted ShyShy before she clambered into the mouth of the cave. The roaring waterfall smacked against the roof of their abode, drowning out any noise that might attract the lurid monsters that lurked nearby. The spray of water across the entrance would also discourage any curious creature from venturing into their nest.
She walked through the watery entrance. The quiet cave warmed ShyShy, despite the cool wetness that coated her skin. The gash in her arm pulsed and each drop of blood that trickled down her fingertips fell to the ground with a wet plop. She cradled her injured arm against her stomach, wedging her sketchbook and pencil under her other.
“Mother?” ShyShy called.
She needed her.
Disappointment washed over her just as the waterfall had greeted her at the entrance. She wanted to fall into Mother’s arms and cry like a child.
She wouldn’t, though. She had to buck up to get back home. No time for childish tears. The banshee’s presence alone would have to comfort her.
Mother’s toe nails clicked against the stone floor. ShyShy followed the telltale sound and met her by the crackling fire. The banshee gasped and rushed to ShyShy’s side. The red shade of ShyShy’s blood glistened in the firelight. Mother bent forward, fussing over the wound.
The creature’s back had arched as long as ShyShy had known her. Mother moved with jerky motions, startling at every drop of water and every crunch of dried leaves. She’d spent so much time in the safety of the low ceilinged cave that ShyShy suspected Mother couldn’t physically stand up straight.
Her long white hair dropped in front of her face as she leaned in closer and her soft touch evaluated the lesion.
The first time Mother had been this close to ShyShy, was when ShyShy’s mind had come undone. Echoes of the vines’ laughs and sharp images of bright patios and dark movie theaters had careened through her brain. Her vision blurred between the AfterWorld and the OtherWorld with each touch of the living foliage. Mother had cradled her like an infant, carrying her through the cave entrance. Home.
ShyShy had watched her tragic beauty, following the wrinkles splayed on each side of her deep-set eyes and around the edge of her nostrils, enclosing her pale blue lips. She had anchored herself in Mother’s face, in her glowing skin, smooth and flawless around the wrinkles until the splash of the watery shield had washed away the last of the visions. The cave had been cleared of any foliage. Mother had left not so much as a dry leaf to crunch underfoot and sweep ShyShy into a phantasmagoria of birthday parties and sleepovers.
Now, Mother’s brow lined with worry, deepening her wrinkles. She looked up and her hair dropped away from her face to reveal her pink-rimmed eyes and ashen skin. The banshee gave ShyShy a grunt and a frown.
“I know.” ShyShy sighed. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful next time.”
With a snort, Mother clasped ShyShy’s wrist and guided her deeper into the cave. She settled the young girl next to the fire and scuffled away. As she moved around their home, Mother hummed. ShyShy’s eyelids grew heavy under the warm blanket of the fire and the enchanting lullaby.
She returned with an ointment and bandages and dressed the wound so gently that ShyShy didn’t feel a single bite of pain. She eyed the tally marks on the cave wall across from her. Each one marked a day she’d been trapped in the AfterWorld. Tonight, she’d add another. She blew air into her mouth, expanding her cheeks. The breath subdued her frustration, just as Mother’s hands soothed the pain in her arm. When she was done, Mother patted her wrist and smiled.
They ate dinner around the fire in silence. Mother’s long, coarse claws scraped against her makeshift bowl which had been painstakingly carved out of stone. ShyShy had created a set for herself. She was proud of the heavy gray bowl. It sat in her lap as she ate her meal of bugs and low-growing vegetation. Neither of them would ever eat the plant that cried out in pain when cut. As ShyShy scooped the last bit of her meal up, Mother slid a scrap of paper onto her lap.
Don’t stay out too late today, it said, I don’t like the whispers tonight.
ShyShy nodded and swallowed her food. “I’m just going out back. I’ll clean up in the water, lay out to dry, and then come home.”
Mother mumbled her approval and took back the paper to scrawl on it once more.
Don’t get the bandage wet.
ShyShy’s curls hung heavy and damp over her shoulder. They’d dry soon in the cool breeze, wind tight and frame her face. She had laid her clothes out to dry on a rock behind the tree and sat naked in front of the redwood. Beside her, the sketch of the Siren’s portal lay in the dirt. The redwood towered over her, and she craned her neck to see the branches tens of feet above.
One branch jutted out within her reach, the wood nicked and scarred. ShyShy sat up tall and took it into one of her hands. With the other, she lifted her small knife and sawed at a branch close to the base. She broke the surface of the wood and the mighty redwood shivered. ShyShy winced, sympathetic to the pain she just caused, but it was the only way to get to him.
Deep red blood poured from the wounded tree and ran down ShyShy’s hand. She dropped the knife in front of her crossed legs, picked up the sketch with one hand, and cupped the other under the dripping wound. Just like the gash on her arm, the sanguine fluid washed over her skin and pooled in her palms. ShyShy closed her eyes and allowed it to wash away the darkness around her as she was swept into the tree’s core.
The quiet hum of a refrigerator replaced the creaks and groans of the forest. The dirt beneath her transformed into soft fibers of a carpet.
ShyShy forced her eyes open and dropped her arms. All traces of blood had disappeared now that she stood in the tree’s world.
Each tree had one, an entire universe at its core.
ShyShy had fallen into the first tree, an elm that had taken her back to sixteenth-century Europe, after she’d accidentally snapped a branch. The iron scent of the blood had tickled her nose as ShyShy was pulled into the strongest vision she’d ever felt in the AfterWorld. According to Mother, each tree grew from a human soul. Inside, the person lived out their after life. ShyShy hadn’t enjoyed the trip into the elm’s core, or any other tree for that matter. It felt like an invasion of privacy, like dropping into someone’s dream. But she did visit one tree regularly.
The one that reminded her of home.
Thank you for reading! Jump to Part 2 of ShyShy’s adventure. Don’t forget to share you are enjoying this tale.