Sleep clung to his body like a caking of dirt from the grave. He shoved his blankets back, before he even really woke, because they clung to him too, a too-heavy, too-thick, too-warm, too-close skin that he threw to the floor. He was sweating, and the cool air of the room was the sweetest relief. He sat, cooled his back, set his feet on the floor to stand, and then didn’t. He was too heavy still, all legs and arms, and solid bones. He thought there should have been hollow places in him somewhere – in his chest where he filled his lungs with air at least – but every inch of him was filled in with iron. He hung his head, held it in his hands and braced his elbows on his knees. And he sat.
He waited until his skin no longer felt like it had been left in the coals overnight. Then he himself on the headboard and pushed himself to his feet.
The door to his room creaked when he opened it. He had never noticed before how thick the wood was, or how hard it leaned on its hinges. He hadn’t counted the stairs before either, but now he did. Thirty-two steps, each one of them feeling like he was falling off a short cliff between him and the kitchens. He stopped at the doorway, because they were too warm too, and he leaned his shoulder against the outside wall, poking his head inside.
“Good morning, Toar,” his mother said. “Although, it’s almost afternoon.”
She was sitting at the kitchen table, papers laid in spread stacks in front of her. She had her fingers wrapped around a hot cup of something, held close enough that she could breathe in the steam. She had one foot tucked underneath her, even while her back was straight, and the other foot touched the floor on tiptoes. It was the most relaxed seat she usually allowed herself without a couch and book and a gleaming sunset, and looking at her, he realized the only reason she had slumped that much was because she was cold.
She was cold. He tried not to stare at his mother, and succeeded only in settling his forehead against the door frame, too. His head was too heavy.
She smiled at him. “Congratulations,” she said. “You made it.”
“I made it?” he murmured.
“The first time is always the worst,” she told him. “I promise.”
“It’d better be,” he said, the words too close to each other as they tumbled off his lips, slurred together.
She laughed at him then. “It is,” she said. “We keimon are born reliant on our energy. We stay reliant until the day we die, and that first time we exhaust ourselves to the point of emptiness, of having nothing left, it feels like…” She looked at him, looked him over from head to toe. “That.”
Toar shut his eyes. He shook his head, forehead still pressed to the wall.
“But we can teach our bodies to understand that it will heal, all on its own, and there’s no need to scream at us every time.” She turned back to her work. “Come sit down. Food will do you good.”
He looked at the line of the doorway on the floor, and tried to imagine putting his foot into that heated room.
“Come on, Toar,” she said, voice light with laughter. “You look like you just crawled out of the underworld.”
Toar felt like he had just crawled out of the underworld. Straight up, through the stone plates at the foundation of the earth, clawing through the dirt just to reach his coffin, and then bruising his arms against the heavy lid and tearing himself into air just as his lungs threatened to forget how to take it.
He blinked as he thought about it. That wasn’t a bad thing, he realized, to look like he had just fought free from hell. It was a mighty thing to have done.
He opened his eyes and smiled at the floor. But couldn’t quite lift his head from the wall.
I’m a thief! I stole the first line of this piece from my friend, Kathryn. Be sure to stop by her blog tomorrow to see why her man is so sleepy.