Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo Serna (excerpt)

by Rudolfo A. Serna
Chapter One

 

The gray stone walls of the forest compound held rows of tilled soil, tended by the children, and inside the block buildings, the glaring faces of the flesh brokers inspected the girl’s skin and teeth for imperfections while she stood on a wooden block, her head freshly shaven.

“It is almost ready,” the flesh broker said, tapping her thigh with a stick.

“Where should it go?”

“Too thin for the mines.”

“It may be better in a brothel.”

“Feed it more.”

“Yes, feed it more.”

“Very well.”

The brokers were about to let her go.

“Wait a minute,” the inspector said. “Blue eyes?”

The brokers stared at the bald female on the block.

The inspector placed his hands on either side of her head, pulling her face forward, staring into her eyes.  

The other brokers rose from their chairs and quickly went over to their stock. 

“Blue eyes. Very rare.”

“Almost never seen.”

“I have never seen any.”

“Keep this quiet. If they find out, they’ll take it without paying. They’ll say it’s a religious matter.”

“There are others in the Baron’s court that will pay.”

“What will they do with it?”

The brokers looked at each other.

“Whatever they want. After they pay,” said one with a smile.

“Does it have a name?”

“Not yet.”

“Call it ‘Red’ for now.”

“Should we hide it?”

The girl put a gown back on, and a camp attendant led her away, leading the brokers to assume their find would be safely hidden for one more night until she could be taken to the buyers that would be contacted with the news that blue eyes had been found. Something remarkable as the blue eyes should be kept, and the rest could be discarded.

She was led across a courtyard.

Perched crows took flight, strafing the tilled rows, shrilling, pulling away, skirting along walls, spangling for freedom in the trees.

The sun was going down.

Children marched in and out of the barracks. There was a delivery of stock being loaded in back of a horse-driven cart to be taken to the company town through a cool drizzle. Brown human flesh driven from nursery to grave. 

There was a market for blue eyes.

Cult members paid for the rare find, saying that the blue eyes held supernatural powers—uncommon, biogenetic spoil.

She was put in a small room watched over by an attendant who wondered what it was that made the girl different, unable to tell the color of her eyes in the dim light of a wood stove he stoked before sitting in a chair next to the door. He was ordered to watch, and not to touch. She sat on a cot and ate the extra rations given to fatten her up. The attendant wanted to get a feel of her insides, as he had done to the others, but instead he scoffed at her from the chair next to the door. “You will be a treat,” he said, smiling, waiting for her to go to sleep. Perhaps then he would creep up to her and touch her just a little bit, being careful not to damage anything, but instead he fell asleep next to the warm stove, sipping the yellow swill from town.

In the middle of the night, she escaped.  

* * *

Leaves of tall white aspen changing. And the girl’s last memories of the forest, a golden reflection off the water, and the stench of the deputy’s breath looming over her with a knife, and a wide-brim hat that smelled of old blood and smoke. After the large hands had held her down under the water so she could not scream, she was let loose. Her eyes had been carved out of her face, floating through the woods until the thin hands of her rescuer pulled her from the brown currents.

There was the sound of weeping from her savior, and where the pain was worst on her body was where the warm tears fell the most.

The gray sleep took over—

Sleeping through winter in the old woman’s shack. Healing would take longer than the months of frost. In spring, the snow melted and the bells of the camp would toll, and there was a clock running off of seraphic energy in a hole deep beneath the bleating giant in the forest, traveling beyond the shack and the rabbit and squirrel pelts that hung next to the snakeskins. Wooden boxes held dried roots scattered among skulls, human and otherwise. The words filtering through while she slept for a million years in dream. Her body quietly aging, already experiencing a lifetime of misery. She was a child inside the camp walls tilling the fields in the courtyard, coming to age in the conditioning camp, while those she had grown with were loaded up and sent to the company town, already a generation gone to the mines and brothels, they would not last long, as designed. Never meant to get old. Waiting for others to die to take their place. 

Noxious weeds tied into small bundles, and wisps of green smoke rising. A fire flickered from a small hearth in the corner, lighting the girl’s slashed face, and in deep sleep, she dreamt of a tall tree, taller than any other.

She had heard the word over and over again: Eden

* * *

The hands that had pulled her up from the stream led her through the opened door of the shack.

“Sun, wind,” she said, feeling the warmth and breeze across her face, hearing the crows cawing.

“Birds,” she said, while being led in the dark by the small hands that had pulled her from the stream.

“Talk.”

She was led to a roughhewn table where she found the edges of a tin plate and the handle of a spoon. She could smell the food. It wasn’t like the meals she had known, a supplement boiled down and mashed. Instead, the food smelled fresh and warm. The air was hot and dry. The sun was set high, but the shade from the nearby pine tree kept her cool, with the summer grass high around her, swaying in the gusts.

Her throat was still dry from deep sleep.

Her savior slipping away through the grass.

“Talk! Talk!” She called out.

But the old woman let go of her hand, and she was left at the table alone.

The girl did not crave food, she hadn’t eaten on her own since waking, but had only tasted the broth being placed in her mouth.

The deputy had not finished the job, and all it would have taken was to push the blade a little deeper through the sockets in her skull. The tip driven until peeling away the membrane to her mind. But he had let her live, forgetting about her after extracting what he wanted and letting the rest of her body float away downstream into the woods with no thought given as to whether or not she remained alive, sinking to the bottom of the stream, then rising again on the currents that took her over the rocks.

She did not want to eat, but there was still the hunger inside of her, she still desired the freedom she was seeking as she ran from the hole in the brick wall, slipping out of the room she had been trapped in with the sleeping attendant wishing that he could get at her with his lascivious mouth and hands. Stumbling over the forest floor in the dark, the alarm had been sounded, and the deputy chased her on horseback in the early morning light until he was able to find her and run her down at dawn, stepping from his horse. The water soaking through her gown, she looked up at the deputy with the wide brimmed hat that hid its face, with his arms reaching for her.

“You have beautiful eyes,” the deputy said, weaving the knife in front of her.

Hearing the swaying trees of the woods and the tall grass of the mountain field—she finally put a piece of warm food into her mouth.

She wanted to live. She couldn’t remember the pain so much, as if the old woman had gone into her brain and muffled the sounds of her screams.

* * *

The hot season had cooled as the monsoons were ending, and the cold air from the peaks was settling on the roof of the shack with the rains. At night, the old woman had waited at the door for those she had resurrected to emerge from the shadows of the tree line just at the edge of the field. A shadow dripping with the rain that had just fallen stepped towards her, a cool breeze pushing the moon from the clouds. The old woman walked from the shack to meet the aberration in tattered coat and hat under the moonlight, while the blind girl slept by the fire inside. In its  yellow hands was a jar containing the solution that held her eyes.

The eyes were like blue jewels floating in a tinged liquid.

“What do you want with these?” The voice of the dead was hollow, a voice only the old woman could understand, making a deal to keep the flesh from rotting.

“The dead should not speak,” the old woman said in her own decrepit voice, barely audible.

She took the jar.

“I’m not dead yet,” the corpse said. “We have a deal. I got it for you,” the fiend said.

“I’ll remember.”

The shadow bled back into the night where the spring storm had hidden any sign of other transmorphins in the forest, waiting, where they would then all return to the motley smoke in the abandoned mines, among planks dripping with the rank stench of decay, holes within holes, and nightmares of midnight raids.

The dead strolled away, and the precious eyes were left drifting in a smoky solution.

The old woman returned to Eden, where the blind girl had woken and sat beside the fire, feeling its warmth, hearing the footsteps of her savior, and a feral voice saying: “I have your eyes.”   

“My eyes?” the girl said.

“You can use them again.”

The girl was silent, unable to speak.

Taking her hands, the old woman wrapped the girl’s fingers around the smooth surface of the glass jar.

“Eden,” she said, “you can use them again.”

The equinox was approaching, and Eden could not see the yellow leaves starting to appear in the mountains above, but soon, the snow would be falling.

Rudolfo A. Serna was born under the nuclear shadow of Los Alamos National Laboratories and raised in the orchards, mountains, and fields of northern New Mexico. Occupations have included carpenter, landscaper, wildland firefighter, creative writing coordinator, and adjunct professor. With a penchant for ‘70s horror B-movies, psychedelic doom metal, permaculture, and nature worship, he lives with his wife and daughter in Albuquerque, NM, writing dark fantasy sci-fi. A regular contributor to Brick Moon Fiction, his stories can also be seen in Bewildering Stories, Aphotic Realm, and Augur Magazine. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico, and serves as the digital steward of the Mutantroot Art Collective.