In the seventy-first hour of the Patchwork Dance, Javra’s sweat wept tiny rivers into the earth. The cavalla flames felt cool in her hands, though they had blistered her badly when the dance began. Tracers from the flames seared into Javra’s mind as her hands wove the air, though she had not drunk of the Owapuhito the gathered villagers sipped from glass vessels.
Patatu beat the drums with a frenzy in his fingers that swung Javra’s arms high into the air. She leapt and fell with the pounding rhythms, creating the breezes that would draw Patchwork Man down from the sky to seed their fields after three empty feast seasons and a winter that promised to break far from kindly.
The Owapuhito drinkers chanted the call, woven together from all the old languages of Earth, just as Patchwork Man had woven himself from all of their different-colored ancestors. Javra could no longer hear the words.
The beat of her heart.
The thud of her feet on dry dirt.
The hiss of the cavalla as her sweat sizzled dry.
This was all Javra knew. These were the last sounds she heard before her mind broke open and Patchwork Man tumbled out of the sky above them and into the sky of her mind.
He fell into her body.
And broke all her bones.
And walked in her skin among the people of Goti-Oshi, looking out through her eyes and making them his own.
“You have called,” said Patchwork Man.
And the people of Goti-Oshi cowered behind their neighbors’ shoulders, and hid their faces, and vomited blood upon the cracked, dry soil at their feet.
“And I have come,” said Patchwork Man.
And the people of Goti-Oshi forgot that they had summoned him, had given their favorite daughter Javra into his hands and begged him to come walk among them.
Patatu, still alight with the power of his drum, did not forget. He wiped the red bile from his mouth with the back of his hand and stood, the muscles that held him so long in front of his drum screaming an echo of Javra’s shattering bones as he straightened.
“You have come, but you have broken our sister, your daughter, instead of protecting and seeding our land,” said Patatu.
Patchwork Man looked down at the body he was in. A hand raised limply to touch the chest, then dropped like a blade of brown grass back to his side. Grief looked out of one of Javra’s eyes, but the other held only ice and fire. Patchwork Man clapped Javra’s hands. More bones cracked, and the cavalla disappeared. The broken body dragged itself forward and held Patatu’s shoulders in hands that were all muscle and burn.
“You have broken your sister, my daughter. You are the one who called me here, she is the one who begged me to come.”
Patchwork Man shoved Patatu over backwards like he was made of straw.
“You have called me into this broken body, and none of you will eat until I am released of this failing blood and bone.”
With that came another great cracking, and Javra’s skull protruded from her flesh in ridges and bumps. Patchwork Man grinned hugely and Javra’s jaw was like a canoe with spikes on either end to frighten away the sea creatures. He lay Javra down in a languid sprawl and cocked her head at Patatu.
“You haven’t eaten in days,” Patchwork Man said.
His words pulled a growl out of Patatu’s stomach, although until that moment it had been familiarly hollow and easy to ignore. Now, the hunger of the last three years bit him from tongue to intestines, and the people around him writhed on the ground, clutching their stomachs and heads in the emptiness of hunger and the afterpains of Owapuhito.
A woman behind Patchwork Man reached for a platter of dried fruits, brought as an offering to celebrate Patchwork Man’s arrival. Javra’s head fell back to take in the woman upside down, and the fruit turned to ash in her hand. One tooth fell out of Javra’s head, and where it landed the ground turned black and began to smoke.
“My fire is not the cavalla fire. It grows hotter with every breath,” said Patchwork Man. “You will take me out of this body and return me to myself, or you will burn.”
Patatu raised a rock above his head, ready to flatten the skull that had been Javra’s and release the false god to the heavens above or below. Hope flared in Patchwork Man’s right eye, while the left one reflected Patatu back in mockery.
“Don’t hurt her!”
Patatu looked at the Patchwork Man and his hunger fled. He knelt and motioned the child who had spoken toward him. Javra’s daughter. They held each other a moment in grief, and Patatu stroked the hair that felt so much like Javra’s.
“She is gone, Miroku,” said Patatu.
“She can help us,” said the little girl.
“That cannot be,” said Patatu.
The last light of the evening stars dipped below the horizon. Blood dripped slowly from Javra like red pearls, and Patchwork Man yawned.
The people of Goti-Oshi looked at each other with gaunt frowns and liquid eyes. The land that had been theirs for three generations no longer loved them.
Miroku cried and let her tears for her mother fall on the ground, hoping to put out Patchwork Man’s fire, but the burn consumed her water and spread further, until the people had to back away from the growing blackness that smoldered just beneath the ground’s skin.
“Why are you like this?” Patatu demanded of the Patchwork Man.
The Patchwork Man looked at the growing blackness on the ground and said nothing, but his right eye turned toward Miroku, and she understood.
“Patchwork Man is not used to traveling so far,” her childish voice said into the night. “On Earth, he steps down from the sky, and a drop of his blood in the ground will nourish his children for a century. A single tear will make the rivers flow in abundance for harvest after harvest.”
The Patchwork Man’s cold left eye begged her to stop but the right eye still held the strength of her mother. It gave Miroku the words to continue.
“The breathless space between the old planet and the new sipped Patchwork Man’s blood from his veins. The coldness of distance froze his tears until they cracked into powder and blew away. Blackness between the stars carried away his muscle and bone, until nothing was left but the fire within him, and one hardened tear that was too small to crack into powder like the others. That is how Patchwork Man arrived in Goti-Oshi, made only of fire and tear.”
“How do we stop him?” asked Patatu.
Miroku struggled out of the haze of sorrow and stepped into the circle of the burn. She danced quickly to keep her feet from meeting the ground too long. Still, Patatu could smell the scorching flesh. Miroku pulled her mother’s body up, hugging her in grief, and Patchwork Man did not resist. Miroku danced as Javra had danced, holding her mother’s hands, swaying Javra’s upper body in a rhythm as broken as her bones.
“Play!” shouted the night in a muffled voice, as if the two moons over Goti-Oshi called out from behind their thin clouds.
Patatu squatted at the edge of the burn and set his drum before him. His hand hesitated above the skin. This was no way to stop Patchwork Man. This was what brought his danger to them in the first place.
“Play!” shouted the women of Goti-Oshi.
Those who were wearing shoes shucked them off, and as one they placed their bare feet on the glowing coals of the soil. Patatu’s hand struck the drum at the same moment, and the other men who had drums joined him. Those without drums struck the ground with their hands, beating out the flames as the burn continued to spread.
The women took Javra’s hands from Miroku and pulled Patchwork Man up to full height. They lifted Javra’s body off of the ground and held her above them. Miroku coaxed a pair of cavalla flames to come to life on her skin and picked up her feet to the rhythm of the drums.
The dance went on, the sweat of the women sizzling where it hit the ground, Miroku waving her burning hands in intricate patterns in the air.
“Higher and lower, dear child. You must reach to the waters of the heavens and pull them to the ground,” said the memory of Javra’s voice into Miroku’s head.
“But Mama, we want him to go back to the sky,” said Miroku.
On this, her mother’s voice was silent.
Miroku stretched higher and bent lower in her dance. Her legs were blistered up to her knees, and she clapped out the cavalla flames, instead scooping up the coals she danced on and flinging them toward the sky. When she threw them far enough, they hung like stars. When she didn’t, they fell back down and burnt out her eyes. Still, she danced and Patatu drummed and the women and men followed them.
Javra dripped thick, curdled blood down the women’s arms and into the earth, mixing with their sweat and hissing into an acrid steam that drowned the air in the stench of death. The women danced her in a wider circle, traveling the edge of the burn. The motion of their dance broke her bones through the skin and in pieces they fell to seed the earth. A single sliver of bone had started the flame, but now fragment by fragment, wherever bone dropped, the light of the fire dimmed and the circle ceased to spread.
The women danced Javra’s body in a shrinking spiral, calming the flames from the edge to the center. Patchwork Man looked at what was happening to him with an eye of sadness and an eye of fear.
“Release me!” he cried, but Javra’s body was too far gone to obey the force of his will.
Patatu drummed faster, harder, his hands like living stone on the drum. The women drew closer together, Javra now just empty skin with one staring eye in their hands.
Miroku danced at the center of it all, her brown skin now black to her hips and from her fingertips up to her elbows. Her blind eyes gazed up at the sky and she threw the coals that no longer fell back to the ground.
As the overmoon touched the horizon, the sky blazed with new orange stars. Their combined light touched Miroku’s face, and the girl’s dance stopped abruptly, her arms reaching up to the heavens and her fingers splayed wide. The carbon-black skin hardened and turned to the texture of bark. Her legs rooted into the ground and her fingers became branches, still grasping at the sky.
The fires she sent to the heavens burned for three days and three nights. After that, they fell back to the earth as rain. The women of Goti-Oshi took Javra’s empty skin and hung it on the Miroku-tree’s branches, where it curled into silvery leaves. The eye that had once been Patchwork Man’s turned into a tear, which dripped down Miroku-tree’s trunk and puddled on the ground.
And by the light of Miroku’s flames, the villagers planted their seeds in the circle made holy by Javra’s bone and blood.
And when the rains came again, they washed the leaves of the Miroku-tree, and cooled the two black hollows that had been the burnt sockets of the child’s eyes, now forever watching the sky against the day Goti-Oshi received another visit from the lost gods of Earth.