Indrapramit Das is a writer, artist, and reviewer who is very comfortable with the horrid and the surreal, finding the story within. This story is no exception.
Ziara watched the shroud settle over muo-ka. Already the corpse had shrunk considerably as air and water left it. Its body whistled softly. A quiet song for coming evening. With a bone knife, she cut small slits into the shroud to let the gas escape more freely, even though the membrane was porous. The little rents fluttered. A breeze ruffled the flat waters of the eya-rith basin into undulations that lapped across muo-ka’s islet, washing Ziara’s bare feet and wetting the weedy edges of the stone deathbed. The water sloshed in the ruined shell of the pod at the edge of the islet, its sleek surfaces cracked and scabbed with mossy growth. Inside was a small surveying and recording kit. She had discovered the kit, sprung free of its wall compartment, shattered and drowned from the rough landing. Even if it had worked, it seemed a useless thing to her now.
When the pod had once threatened to float away, Ziara had clung to it, trying to pull it back with her tiny human arms, heaving with frantic effort. muo-ka had lunged, sealed the wreck to the islet with secretions. Now it stood in a grassy thatch of fungal filaments, a relic from another planet.
muo-ka had no spoken words. Yet, its islet felt quieter than it had ever been. Ziara had learned its name, and some of its words, by becoming its mouth, speaking aloud the language that hummed in a part of its body that she had to touch. It had been shockingly easy to do this. What secret part of her had muo-ka unlocked, or taught to wake? muo-ka’s skin had always felt febrile when she touched it, and when it spoke through her she felt hot as well.
The first thing it had said through her mouth was “muo-ka,” and she had known that was its name. “Ziara,” she had said, still touching it. “Jih-ara,” it had said in her mouth, exuding a humid heat, a taste of blood and berries in her head. Ziara had disengaged her palm with a smack, making it shiver violently. Clammy with panic, she had walked away. It had felt too strange, too much like becoming a part of muo-ka, becoming an organ of its own.
Ziara rarely spoke to muo-ka in the time that followed. When she got an urge to communicate, she’d often stifle it. And she did get the urge, again and again. In those moments she’d hide in the broken pod on the islet’s shore. She’d curl into its clammy, broken womb and think of the grassy earth of the hostel playground, of playing catch with her friends until the trees darkened, of being reprimanded by the wardens, and smoking cigarettes by the barred moonlight of the cavernous bathrooms, stifling coughs into silent giggles when patrols came by. Daydreams of their passing footsteps would become apocalyptic with the siren wail of muo-ka’s cries. It never could smell or detect her in the strange machinery of the wrecked pod. She assumed the screams were ones of alarm.
“You’ve fed me,” Ziara said to the corpse. “And clothed me. And taught me to leap across the sky.” Those stiffened limbs that its shroud now clung to had snatched her from the air if she leaped too high, almost twisting her shoulders out of their sockets once. She’d landed on the mud of the islet safe, alive. In the shadow of muo-ka she’d whispered “Fuck you. Just, fuck you. Fuck you, muo-ka.”