"There! Do you see that?"

An endless twisted thread; a mat writhing beneath the surface. Sprouting bodies receding into the rotting soil; corpses blossoming into ghostly light. Ribs crunch beneath Abigail's feet; a smile lights her face.

Her companion tarries, unwilling to venture in; Rob's mothers told him so many times to stay away from the burial pits, not to risk whatever ordinance might yet be buried among the numinous dead.

His mothers remembered the war; Abigail's do not. A simple difference.

"We really shouldn't, Abs ..."

"But it's so pretty! We have to, really, don't be chicken!"

Neither of them have ever seen a chicken, not even in pictures, and yet slang persists. The closest they know is the sloppy white meat that their parents pour from battered cans.

"It doesn't look pretty ..."

"It really is! You just can't see it right, come on!"

More bones crack beneath Abigail's feet as she plunges onwards into the fungal murk, clouds of pastel spores bursting out behind each step and swirling in her wake like dyes in tepid river-water.

"But, but—"

She's too far away to hear his rejections now, too deep inside; Rob can hardly see her in the clouds her passage has summoned up. He's tarried too long, and now he's all alone.

That's a worse fate than anything the burial pits can offer, isn't it?

He mutters a curse to himself, embarrassed at the pain blossoming inside his chest. It's such an unmanly thing, so pathetic and childish—and heaven knows that he needs to be manly now, no matter his age. The war stole so much away.

Forward, forward, ever forward—

Corpse-soil squishes beneath his questing foot; a broken bone's too-sharp edge scrapes against his secondhand jeans. The swirling, pastel air is sweet and rotten in his nose, each breath filling his lungs with stinging warmth—whose death does he inhale? Which forgotten wardead? He prays that it's not his own, waiting in the burial ground to rise up and take him down into whatever has grown here, whatever Abigail saw when she disturbed the surface, whatever twisted thing shifts beneath his feet as he stumbles forward—

"Oh, there you are!"

He falls into Abigail, a sudden slope disorienting him more than he already was, and she catches him. So embarrassing! It's bad enough that she's still taller than him, even with his latest growth spurt, bad enough that she's braver—but why does being caught have to feel good?

At least she doesn't notice the blood rushing into his cheeks in a way that he carefully doesn't call a blush. It's dark (mostly) and her eyes are locked on something far from him. She's never looked at him with that expression, nor (as far as he knows) at anyone. Hungry, eager—

The slope doesn't lead down to anything he can understand. It's just an odd depression in the pit, the center settling down into something not unlike a shallow bowl. The ground subsiding as corpses melt into fresh soil, falling away as their gasses dissipate ...

And there, in the center—

A twisted spire? A weathered tree, a grasping arm atop an arm of too many bones? A meaty offering, already dripping with hungry fuzz and questing thread?

Rob's eyes deceive him; his head runs hot and heavy, colors drifting before spore-dilated eyes.

"Oh wow," Abigail whispers. She doesn't check whether Rob is steady before she lets go of him, before she drifts forwards towards it. Her feet hardly touch the ground even as Rob, unmoving, finds his feet unwillingly breaking into a broken body's moist and hollowed interior.

The last thing he sees before his head bounces off a rock (a skull?) and darkness claims him is her hand reaching out to grasp the spire. It writhes beneath her touch, eager tendrils reaching out towards her warmth, moon-glow dripping up toward her skin—