The sun sets over the village early this time of year.
Darkness settles quickly as the town falls into its evening routines. The shimmery haunt of the last light beams through a slow-rolling mist move the village along. By the time the light is behind the horizon, the farmers and their families are settled into their homes. The streets are vacant, save a stray cat or a haunting breeze. As the moon begins its rise into the sky, the people board up their windows and lock their doors. Tonight is the night they bow their heads and say their prayers. Tonight is the night they beg for a good harvest and the Gods’ blessings.
Tonight is the night Yangyang returns to dirt.
The walk out to the fields is one Yangyang could do with his eyes closed. His feet are familiar with the feeling of the cold dirt under his bare soles. It grounds him.
Returning to the dirt is an honor, one that their village had not partaken in for decades. Yangyang had heard the legends as a child. His grandmother would sit them around the fire and spin stories of sacrifice and homage until his mother shushed her and rushed them off to bed. He’d heard the stories later, as a teenager, as they worked among the crops and worked the earth. Out in the fields, there had been no one to shush the storytellers. Out in the fields, Yangyang collected details like he collected grains, held them close to his chest as he picked from the plants in front of him. One story claimed a goddess ascended from the ground and swallowed the offered children whole. Another claimed a god stepped out of the woods and took his tribute with him. A third claimed that the sacrifice simply walked into the field and never returned, pulled apart by angry deities. They claimed the screams could be heard for days.
None of these are true.
When the crops fail in the spring, the elders huddle together and Yangyang knows what their solution will be. He offers himself before he can be offered, lays himself bare before the council, and prays on the altar that he will be deemed worthy. They take his collection of stories and piece them together until he has a truth—a story of a field and a fog and a god and a sacrificial body.
“You won’t come back,” they promise.
I don’t expect to, he dreams.
When he closes his eyes at night the ground calls to him. Someone must be returned to the earth, someone must be willing. Yangyang knows his way to the field by heart. Even if he didn’t the fog will guide him.
The mist whispers around his ankles as he stands among the hallowed ground. These fields have been vacant since the last failed spring harvest. The farmers begin planting in a week; Yangyang’s offering must be accepted or the people will starve. He carries the weight of a thousand generations on his shoulders and he stands tallest surrounded by unplowed fields.
He is not nervous. He should be nervous. He is not nervous.
His hands shake.
Cold air brushes against his hot skin as it guides him to the center of the open farmland. From the inside out, he burns. From the outside in, he freezes. The tremors don’t stop as he walks into the heart of the sacred ground. They don’t stop as he halts in the navel of the field. They don’t stop as he falls to his knees.
“I’m here,” he whispers.
Welcome, it whispers back. I’ve been waiting for you.
Yangyang has been reciting the old prayer since before he could speak. The words fall off his tongue in a waterfall of worship. Around him, the mist grows.
It begins light, almost white, translucent. As he prays it builds, first in size and then, in-depth. He keeps his eyes wide open as it moves from the ground up until he cannot see the sky. The fog darkens, goes from white to blue to grey to black until, smoke-colored, it surrounds him and the only thing he can see are his trembling hands. When he finishes his prayer, he starts again, repeats and repeats and repeats. His voice stays steady as his body shivers, shudders, with the cool air. He realizes he doesn’t know what comes next.
He doesn’t have to ask, the mist moves him. It coaxes his cloak off his shoulder and deposits it somewhere behind. Not that it matters, Yangyang will not be needing it. The mist surrounds him as he kneels stark naked in the field as if surveying him. It is assessing its offering, he thinks. Will it accept him, he thinks?
It pushes his head into the dirt and asks him what he came for.
“The harvest,” he pleads into the dirt. “Please grant us a bountiful harvest.”
The fog whispers back, and what will you grant me?
“Anything,” he sobs. “Everything.”
Good. It murmurs into his ear. Yangyang had told the village he would give himself body and soul if the earth would have him. He shutters as he realizes it will. The fog touches every shred of skin it can reach. It drags down the inside of his thigh, pulls along the back of his spine.
“What will you take,” Yangyang hears his own voice ask. He doesn’t recognize it, heavy and quivering in the cold, but it must be him. It is just him out here after all. Just Yangyang, alone.
It feels stupid to ask, but he’s curious. If he is to be given to the gods he wants to know what he is giving. What they are taking. His arms tremble under the weight of the fog against his back.
Silly boy, the cloud swirls. First, the earth will feed you, and then, you will feed the earth. Do you need me to walk you through how?
Yangyang shakes his head. The fog circles him, encircles him, stalks him like a predator stalking prey. The stories tell him what the ceremony looks like. Yangyang is the prey. He takes a sharp breath before he speaks again, “I’m ready. I’m yours.”
The fog stops prowling. It pounces.
Yangyang lets himself be taken. His face gets pressed down into the dirt by the pressure on his back. He lets his body be guided by the force, sighs as his nose digs into unfertile soil, and sighs as he breathes in the scent of decay. It fills his lungs alongside the fog and he chokes on it.
Breathe, he hears. Not yet, just breathe.
His inhale feels shaky and his lungs feel cold as the mist enters and exists him with every gasp. His breathing is not his own anymore, lead solely by the spirit that has taken him. It is steadying, as his hands shake and his legs shake and his breathing shakes, Yangyang still feels grounded. His eyes fall shut as his mouth meets soil and he yelps as the fog pushes him deeper into the dirt.
Misty air brushes his ankles, twisting around them and creeping up to his thigh. He holds his breath as it slinks higher and higher, wrapping around him. He holds his breath as the vapor caresses his face. He holds his breath as it slithers down his throat, sinks into his lungs and his gut. He finally gasps when it wraps itself around his cock.
The fog takes the chance to force dirt into his open mouth. Yangyang’s floods with the taste of root rot and dust. It rolls under his tongue and across his teeth and covers him in it. Its dry and gritty as it moves down his esophagus. It sticks and he has to lift his head to breathe because he’s suffocating on the grime. He almost forgets about the haze around his cock but it twists itself around him and he pants on shaking legs. Before he can fall, it wraps itself around him, and pulls him onto his knees. His chest is exposed and the cold touches his nipples and drags down his torso to once again wrap around his dick. Panting, face covered in filth, he feels surrounded, entirely engulfed.
“Please,” he pants. The fog shushes him and pulls itself over his eyes. He’s blinded as it has its way with him. The cold fingers its way across his exposed skin, digging into the fleshy parts of his hips and stomach. Yangyang briefly wonders if this is what worship feels like before he banishes the thought from his mind.
He is the follower, this fog is his god. It holds him in its freezing palm as his skin burns and his stomach turns and it drags itself over his cock until he is coming onto the hallowed ground. He cries out as he lets go. His vision goes white and as if his soul leaves his being, he is detached. His body falls limp in the arms of his cloud. The fog pulls itself out of his lungs, chokes him on more dirt on its way out. He coughs and he’s left empty of everything but the soil in his stomach.
His sacrifice is not done, as completed as Yangyang feels. The dark smoke covers him as it lays him down on the ground. His face hits the dirt and Yangyang knows this is what it means to be returned.
The fog presses him down as the dirt begins to cover him. Despite his best efforts, the panic sets in as it buries his legs and sucks him in. He heaves as he cries, sobs muffled by the fertile soil.
This is the sacrifice, he thinks. This is what he was sent for, born for, destined for. He chokes on dirt become mud with his come and tears and he chokes on broken sobs for forgiveness and harvest.
You feed the earth, little one, it whispers in his ear as his body becomes engulfed in soil.
Yangyang cries as he is returned to the dirt, gagged and asphyxiated. The stories he has gathered don’t tell him how painful it is to drown.
When Yangyang is gone, all the remains is the fog, deep red and satisfied. The harvest will be blessed.