By Aisan L. Afshar
Fear and its detestable acrid scent just clung to a place regardless of time. Regardless of location, regardless of other feelings pushing and pulling in the race to remain.
Fear stays in that it poisons the same air of its bearer, so that person breathes in the same thing they’re trying to expel. Leon breathes in fear and exhales it right back. The scent is mingled with the bitter aftertaste of soil under his tongue as a result of chewing on his fingernails, which are smeared with the remains of dirt and debris from digging this hole.
They buried themselves, not out of fright, but out of desperation. They lie side-by-side and tangled in each other, and they listen to the sound of chaos that emerges and roars above them in tandem with the screams. There is a massacre raging above.
Death is a scent that also lingers. When Atelasia strokes her hand over his hair, and when he tries so hard to control his breathing lest they run out of oxygen too soon, as his lips graze her neck, he can feel it. They both can. It’s rotten and grotesque with twisted teeth and peeling skin. It smells like burnt flesh. It is slow, like their embrace in the dark amongst the squirming, wriggling worms interrupting their hold. And it is rapid like the people above, people they know, people of their land who are ablaze and running to their deaths, not knowing, or perhaps not caring that they are already dead meat.
Dead, flaming meat. Souls on fire.
Leon thinks perhaps they are lucky in comparison, having chosen the slow kind of death. The creeping kind that doesn’t involve being trampled underfoot by the enemies’ horses or burnt by the running flames.
Underneath the tree where they used to meet, just in that groove, on the slope of a hill no one but they used to occupy once, death will find them. Death will find the dirt under their chipped, bleeding fingernails, and death will smell of the acrimonious scent of terror that clings on them with the heaviness of a cloak, shivering and afraid. Not fear of death, but rather the fear of losing the other.
There is no other alternative to this, other than flames. They couldn’t run, they couldn’t fight, because each of these options constituted letting go of one another. Of finding death alone and leaving the other behind. They chose to welcome death on their own terms, and Atelasia, being the more optimistic of the duo, promised him that there would be light after the savages ran out of bodies to tear apart. Leon wanted so badly to let her know that there was already light. Everything was alight with the screams above.
She calls him, “Amore Mio.”
As in, My love, it will be fine. They will leave. We will lean against our willow tree underneath the sun once more.
And Leon tells her how even if they don’t, and even if death arrives sooner than they can leave, then they will be like this, holding each other and whispering, for years and decades and centuries, long after the flesh falls off and decay sets in.
Because they both know, just as the scent of fear remains so too will the scent of love. On two opposed battlegrounds, where fear remains bitter and gripping, love is a breath of crisp, fresh air and sweet apricot enjoyed under the billowing breeze and the sun.
Aisan is currently studying English Literature as an undergraduate at the University of Tehran. Her work has previously been featured in the Open Culture Collective, the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Furious Fiction, and clandestine lit. Instagram @quincy_wonders