These fevers that wash through him create vivid realities, saturated in poignancy, that transform even the daytime of work and dust. Visions swirl - visions of the dead, of those he has left, of the living. They contain beauty, clarity and intimacy he misses with perpetual ache in the waking world. So many are simply gone, and there is no way to convey to the living the things he sees in them in the night, though sometimes he tries.
Warmth rises through his body, not like steam, not burning, though it literally consumes him. Perhaps he becomes steeped or infused for, though it is moist, it is inside him. He thinks of those he loves and dreams them with open eyes. Feeling and knowing, he is sure it is their souls he sees - not present exactly, but revealed. the crawling heat causes his feelings to keen as well - to an intensity he does not experience in the light. It is love, interwoven inextricably with loss. Enchantment and sorrow overwhelm him as he twists uncomfortably in the sheets. Often he weeps and sometimes he feels he could reach out a hand to touch the souls and visions. He feels for them. He feels for himself. Eventually visions turn to actual dreams and as John tosses fitfully the prickly warmth is dissipated by clammy sweat. Then he wakes again and the cycle repeats itself. He cannot count the times even in a single night.
A man enters his mind - one of those for whom he watches and in whose existence he takes quiet pleasure. He sees the man's face and eyes open to him as they do not in life. John watches, remote but moved, and feels this as it resolves. When he has seen fully the man begins to become more distinct - more himself. It is not that he is less whole, or less clothed, but John can see inside him.
His skeleton is shaped - carved with figures, scenes and objects. It is something between filigree and bas relief, in black stone, intricate and infinitely complex. It is unmoving, but it has changed if his gaze returns to a humerus after sliding to and from a metacarpal bone. There are faces reflecting agony to reverie, through mourning, guardedness, and pleasure.
The man's heart is carved of alabaster as well as the dark stone and turns as on a spindle. The carvings there are on a larger scale. Sometimes these are crumbled, sometimes obscured by mist, sometimes clear, the edges honed to razor-sharpness.
John touches, in his vision, in tentative wonder and respect, but contact with the heart slices his finger open. It is protected, and the figures turn lithely to watch, in turn, the richly coloured tendrils of his blood drip from rib to rib.
He touches the skeleton and feels life beating through it. Fear, and strength, and longing. It is beautiful, perfect and heart-breaking. John's control is non-existent, drowned in fever, and he weeps. He weeps for the other man, for recognition of this in himself, because it is just a vision, though he will remember.
Cleansed by tears, forced to turn and relax, he comes to sleep, and dream.
There is a sense of wish-fullfillment. John is on a couch in the sitting room of the old house in Griffin. He notices an old book his mother had made him. Idly, he begins to page through it, saying the words, so easy to pronounce now. red dog. little cat. tall tree. This is an early book, before he attempted the more difficult S, CH and SH sounds.
His mama comes into the room, straight and graceful, but her gown is old and faded and there is something wrong, he can see it in her face. He rises to help her, but blood blossoms on the gown - she is consumed from the inside out, her sores erupting all at once, as he remembers them soaking cloth and gauze. She tries to speak, but blood gushes from her mouth, pouring, covering John and the floor. Eaten by diease, she dissolves and falls in dust to the pool beneath her.
John is horrified. Out the window he sees bodies slumped in a hollow in the river, turning it red, streams colouring the current. He lowers a rifle that has suddenly appears in his hands. Shots to the left and now the rifle has become a perfectly aimed Navy Colt, raised and spraying the trees red. He remembers laughter on the air, jeering, jeering at him, fourteen years old, but it is silent as death. The gun itself is silent. He goes to the porch, but it is a train platform, and there are Mattie, Hub and his Uncle John, blood running from their eyes, staining their clothes, pooling in the folds of Uncle John's waistcoat, Hub's shirt by his belt, Mattie's bodice where it met her skirts. Their hands and faces still. Uncle John pins the stickpin to his chest, the jewel a ruby not a diamond. It sticks in his chest, through the cravat, and he bleeds himself, his clothing staining crimson drawn down through cloth fibres by capillary action.
They fade and he is in the Texan sun. A dental office inexplicably on the street. He has a tool in an unknown patient's mouth, and is wracked by coughing, blood thrown up to run down his chin. The tool jerks and there is a fountain of blood from the patient's broken tooth. John steps back, dropping the dental tools. Horror. He wants to scream, but there is no sound. He steps away and noticed the road is blood - a shallow lake, soaking his spats, covering the toes of his shoes. He gestures intention to run, but is spattered again from something above - bullets come from his left. He shoots back, a stream of red from the barrel. he doesn't even recognise those at whom he aims.
He steps back into Wyatt. Wyatt. Wyatt. His friend is here, with a small smile for him, even now, in this nightmare. John spreads his own body before his friends, to save him and fires and fires and fires. More people erupt in hazes of spray across the street. He does not duck, does not flinch. Billy Leonard is at his arm but falls and he is drawn away into a river that roars through the street now, rising, rising. Morgan and Virgil step up to help him. He grins tightly at Morgan, at John's side. For him. But Virgil's arm disappears and he falls to drown in the blood, now rising to the level of their knees. And Morgan, moving in front of him is hit. A fountain rises from his wounds, drenching everything, creating rain that John knows will never ever end.
John begins to cough, and blood bursts from his lungs and mouth over his chin, in rhythmic surges, with every breath. Sores open, rotting his clothes, becoming entries to his chest cavity, white, ugly and bleeding. He tries to hold himself together, but he is falling apart. There is a pause as he runs wires through his bones to hold them to his body - his flesh is failing, tendons and connective tissue loosing him. And they are riding, riding. Wyatt drags him up onto a horse, now only his feet and ankles are in the river of blood. The horses struggle, mighty but panicked. They are both shooting and bodies fall, causing the blood river to rise. A flying woman made of bones, with a grinning skull and snatches Wyatt from the horse, his arms about John ripped off, fingers entangled grisly in the reins.
he does not have time to mourn. Lee is drowning, swirling by in the current and John sweeps the boy in front of him, as he had been in front of Wyatt. The boy is still, lolling back against him, all emotion and will fled. Another flying skeleton tries to snatch Lee - a man, again grinning, laughing, his city clothes, sucking gold from John's pockets. No! He tries to scream, but there is no sound in the whole of this world. And John fires and fires and fires. Blood rises again over his thighs on the horse. He is breaking, breaking, his body unstrung. He binds Lee to the saddle with the dental wire. He panics. No gun for the boy. No cards for the boy. Lee must not die like he does. He throws them, his last act a card fountain, every pip a drop of blood. And he cannot hold on, and slips, trying to cling scrabbling to the leather of the saddle. He cannot, his fingers are bone now, coming apart, hideous with shredded skin, blossomed with pus and infection, his tendons mere threads. He is drowning, but Lee rides on. Lee. Lee.
John is so wet, death is so wet. Blood of the killers and blood of the killed. It is not guilt but something else.
He wakes, twisted and tangled in the soaked sheets. He is so cold, so cold, and wet with sweat. The room comes into focus. He coughs and chokes, leaning over the chamberpot, staining it red with real blood mixed with the white shreds of lung tissue. He shivers helplessly, sits up and wraps himself in the blankets.
"Sometimes," he says aloud, "Sometimes, my eyes are still sad."Name: John H. Holliday, DDS.
Word Count: 1577
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Nulli Virtute Secundus