“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Then there was a day much like any other. He wandered the fields watching over his crop of dead when he saw a body lying face down. A nimbus of steam rose from the surface of the naked skin. He froze in his step and stared at the heaving chest. A shiver went down his spine as the electric feeling of standing too close to an edge overcame him. He watched, afraid to break the spell of pareidolia, giving him the thrill of centuries. Thousands upon thousands of naked men, women, and children had met their fate in the Obsidian Fields, out of his reach. He had looked, searched, longed for them alive. They never were. Yet he consumed and used them. Defiled them when dead. Salvaged them for their parts like obsolete machines no longer functioning. No longer having a value, intrinsic or other. They floated by like dead leaves in the stream of time too weak to carry him.
He snapped back into reality and approached carefully. Sneaking as if stalking an animal that could be spooked by the slightest of sounds. The chest still heaved. He stopped and watched for a while longer. It was a woman whose skin was covered in goosebumps as the devolved hairs fought the cold. The sound of her soft breathing could beard between the gusts of wind. He crouched down beside the woman and put a hand on her shoulder but hesitated and pulled it back again. She whimpered, shivered, lived. He took hold of her shoulder and shook it. First carefully, then harder. She whimpered again and squirmed in the shards. He grabbed her hip with the other hand and flipped her over onto her back.
The face was the only living face he could remember seeing other than his own in the distorted reflection in some puddle of urine a long time ago. It was not the face of one of the dead. Freeze-dried, and contorted into gaping mouths and hollow eyes. He noticed blood trickling from a multitude of lacerations all over her. Dozens of shards were still lodged in her flesh. He looked up at the sky and then at the horizon where darkness brewed. The storm of shards. A phenomenon well known to him by now. All too well. The woman opened her eyes, and he jumped onto his feet and backed a couple of steps. Her gaze seemed to go through him as if it focused something far away. Or of another world. She murmured unintelligibly and closed her eyes again. He approached and poked her with his foot, but she did not respond.
There was a rumble, and he looked back at the darkness swallowing the horizon. He bent down, took hold around the woman’s chest under the arms, and attempted to lift her but failed. She whimpered and shivered in his grip. Her teeth chattered. He went around and took hold of her feet and began dragging her as she murmured something again. Behind them, there was a streak of blood growing thicker and longer as the newborn’s skin was grated off against the obsidian. Like a human brush, she painted the canvas of the dead ground with life. When they had reached the hut, the woman’s back was a bloodied mess with cuts down to the bone. He waited for days as he kept her warm with skins stuffed with hair as he himself froze. He tried giving her to drink, but the liquid went into her lungs. Her weak, feverish body failed to expel it through wheezing coughs. She never opened her eyes again, nor did she murmur, and on the fourth day, she succumbed.
When tears had been shed, he began the process learned by trial and error. First, he hung the woman from her feet in the ceiling and cut her throat and let her bleed out into a skull placed on the floor beneath. Then he cut open her belly and removed the organs, sorting them, saving them. He peeled off her skin into a heap of the palest pink on the floor, cut her flesh into thin pieces, and hung them to dry on a rack. Some he put in a hold dug into the tundra to keep fresh.
He lowered her stripped carcass to the floor and cracked the bones of her extremities, and ate the marrow. Then he cut around her neck, down to the vertebrates, and wrenched the head until they separated with a crack. The fatty spinal cord glistened twisted between them. He cut it and severed the last bit of flesh and ligament holding together head and torso. He removed the head and held it in his lap, looking at it, watching the eyes stare back at him unseeing. They were beautiful: pale blue with a darker ring around the edges. He closed them and placed the head face down in the shards. Her tongue fell out of the oral cavity through the decapitated neck.
He spread her skin on the floor. With a flake of obsidian, he scraped away all fat and tissue still stuck, careful not to damage it more. In the corner of the hut, there was a watertight sack filled with urine he had saved. He went there and untied the top and opened it. The thick smell of ammonia stung his nostrils up the sinuses. He turned his face away. The urine had been recycled through him into an opalescent yellow. He lifted the skin from the heap on the floor. It felt heavy in his hands. He lowered it into the vessel and hurried to tie it shut and sat down with his back against it. The bacteria fermenting the urine radiated heat through the skin against his back as the howling storm ripped at the outside of the hut. He was safe in his temple, where the dead shielded the living from the wrath of the world.
On the third day, he untied the sack and pulled out the skin. The stench made him nauseous. He laid it out on the floor and used the obsidian flake to scrape the outer layer until all the fine hairs, follicles, and the outmost portion of the grain was removed. He turned the skin over and scraped away the first layer of mucus membrane. Then he wrung it between an anchor of stone and a femur as urine dripped onto the ground. He picked up her head, brought it with him to a large rock, lifted it high, and slammed it down. The skull cracked, the skin tore. He pulled apart her skull, scooped out her brain with his fingers, and smeared it onto her skin. Then he rose and urinated onto it all and massaged the mixture into the surface as an oily pink froth formed. Last, he carefully rolled up the skin and placed it by the others. He wept.