If you didn’t know anything at all, you’d know that the boy was the picture of sorrow. He sat on a small round nub of land barely big enough for him to lie down. It wasn’t normal earth, either, but dark and smooth, a sand so fine he almost seemed to be sitting on silk.
But it wasn’t silk. And that wasn’t water.
It was black, placid enough to reflect the clouds and sky with colorless clarity, but that wasn’t all. Once in a while, though nothing touched it, a tiny finger of water would splash on the land – never quite close enough to touch the boy, but nearly.
When it happened, he jumped. As if it aimed for him. As if it were alive.
So was the boy, which was a compromise.
He was still a boy, though barely. He had the shoulders of a man and the chest to go with them, but his face was young – brown, a good-looking face, unlined in spite of the sorrow that twisted it.
His hands looked so much older. They could be artist’s hands, long and clever, but they were scarred, calloused, and dirty. He did not reach for the water to clean them.
“Paint something,” said a smooth voice, strange and warped by a thousand other voices beneath it.
Harry made a noise of pure disbelief and turned his face away.
A being crouched on the island-nub next to him. Every bit as ebony black as the water, every bit as fine as the sand, his irises glowed forge-fire orange, and his long hair moved with a graceful will of its own. His beauty surpassed male and female, eerie and perfectly symmetry in body and face. His smile was subtle—but his burning orange eyes made it dangerous. “Paint something.”
Harry rubbed his face, marking brown skin with darker smudges. “Make them shut up.”
“You are not accustomed to our voice,” said Aakesh
But it was not one voice at all. A thousand voices, two thousand, joining all the time in unceasing, weird unity, even as they all said something unique. Harry’s head throbbed with it, with the new concept of never-silence. “I don’t want to paint anything. I haven’t in years, anyway.”
Aakesh smiled again. Where the water touched his toes, there was no distinction between him and it.
The water reflected things, beings flying effortlessly and changing shapes for no apparent reason, a disorganized symphony of hooting, singing laughter. They felt like freedom, like unshackled thoughts burst loose from a madman’s skull.
Harry hid his face in his arms. Maybe when he went mad, they’d finally let him go. They’d finally let him d—
The thought never finished. A bursting storm of love and acceptance and togetherness exploded in his brain, in his body, stinging like rain and gripping like invisible arms, and he could not keep himself from drowning in it. His body seemed to disappear, at least to his senses, and there was nothing but home family us we I ONE to rock him to sleep.
Harry came to some time later, still on the island nub, shivering because that love-storm had gone. His nose had bled. He was alone.
Not alone. “Paint something,” said Aakesh, lying on his side and touching the water as if inviting it to a deep and intense intimacy.
“I can’t,” Harry whispered, and wept into his folded arms.