His grandfather gave him two gold swords to bury under the oak tree during a full moon, and he would never die. In the moonlight, he felt himself gently lifted up. And then he felt a freeing movement—much like wings—moving him past the stars and into the darkness of the universe.
Return! Return! his mind screamed inside him.
No one had understood how lonely he was and how much he wanted to escape. But this was not what he had hoped for. The space before him was dark and cold—frighteningly cold, and blacker than any emptiness he had ever imagined.
Something like a fierce wind took hold of him and moved him across a span of deep blue water raging beneath him. Then there were bodies before him, floating on the frigid air, taking hold of him and lifting him higher. The raging water turned into rocky cliffs reaching far into the sky, penetrating the clouds and splitting the moonlight into discordant streams of silver light.
He was afraid to look down but could not help himself. There below him, lying on a precipice, was the body he had once occupied. It looked like he was sleeping, until he was brought closer by the forces and could see the blood trickling from his lips and a deep gash in his forehead.
Am I dead? he shouted, but nothing answered him. He felt a dizziness overtaking him, and then there was an apparition before him of a ghostlike figure—a woman holding his former body in a large claw as she flew toward him. His body hung limp, the blood still trickling from the gash on its head. The woman raised her claw and he felt an enormous chill. The woman laughed—a shrill and piercing sound that cracked in the air like thunder. She lifted her massive claw again, and he saw that it held a globe. On its shiny surface he could see himself in a different body. He had wings and one huge claw for his feet. And his eyes were filled with red lights twisting like flames. He watched himself scraping at the ground with his claw and finding scraps of flesh that he jammed into his mouth and ripped apart with his long fangs.
You are one of us now, the woman said.
No! he screamed. Let me go. Let me go back!
There is no back. There never was, she said. That was your dream. This is your world.
The woman shook the globe with her claw, and his new form spun from its surface and into the air.
Fly! she shouted, and the figure shook its wings and flew toward him.
No! he screamed.
Silly creature, she said. You think you have choices.
The creature grabbed hold of him with its claw and began to carry him off toward a deep darkness. The woman moved alongside the creature and flew with it.
He was dangling from the creature’s claw, afraid at any moment that it would let him go. He felt himself crying, his tears dropping into a silent void. Suddenly, the darkness turned red. He looked down and saw flames beneath him, and then the flames became an ocean of gold waves.
You never really knew your grandfather, did you? the woman said. You thought he was just what you saw—a feeble old man with wild ideas. She laughed, and the creature laughed.
Look! she said, pointing down toward the ocean. He saw a break in the waves, a small island, and then his grandfather. Only it was not his grandfather as he had remembered him. This one was like the creature with a giant claw and piercing red light flowing from his eyes. And he looked so different, so much younger.
Don’t you recognize him? the woman said. Don’t you see?
He looked closer and saw his grandfather holding a body. It was his former body, with the blood still flowing from the gash on its forehead. His watched his grandfather ripping the heart out with his claw and eating it in large, swift bites as blood spurted out and ran down his face.
He’s been waiting for you, the woman said. She flew in a circle above his grandfather and signaled to him with her claw. He nodded, and with his claw, held up two gold swords.
The woman looked at the creature holding him in its claw, and then the creature let go and he was falling and falling until he landed before his grandfather.
You remember these, don’t you? his grandfather said, holding the two gold swords in front of him. I told you the truth. You are mine now, and I will live off you forever.
He was screaming and thrashing at his grandfather, but he could not get free. His grandfather stuck a sword into his side and pinned him to the ground as he used the other sword to cut off his claw.
Blood ran from his mangled claw as he watched his grandfather eat the flesh from the claw and then slice a piece of flesh from his leg. The pain was excruciating, ripping through him and exploding into his brain like fire. He wanted to scream, but no sound would come out. It was frozen inside of him, wrapped in the terror he felt and could not express.
You see, I promised you would live forever, his grandfather said. And that is good. I will always have you to feed on and help me survive.
He tried to speak but only a soft gurgle came from his lips.
What’s that? his grandfather said. Are you in pain? Don’t worry about that. It goes away in time, and a new body will form for you. A brand-new body with all those luscious parts for me to eat. And now for the most delicious part, his grandfather said, his eyes burning with red light.
He knew what would happen next, and he prayed that he would black out before the sword would cut into his chest and his heart would be ripped out by his grandfather’s claw. But his prayers were not heard. His grandfather wielded the sword swiftly and sliced into his chest in one movement. Then there was the claw, grabbing his heart and pulling it from his chest. The world began spinning around him, and finally his scream burst from his lungs.
What? his grandfather said. I can’t hear you. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll eat your brain next, and then you won’t have anything to say—will you, you silly, trusting boy.