The eclipse ended and people began to return to their bargaining and browsing. Zaccheus stood eerily still, twitching slightly. There was something under his bottom eyelid. It was itchy. He scratched the mark. It was so itchy. Little legs crept around under his eyelid. Ants. There were ants under his skin. They scuttled out from under his eyelid, one by one, two by two, three by three, an endless stream. He scratched furiously, trying to rid himself of them. They poured from his eyes, a mass of legs and feelers and an inexplicable stickiness. His scratching became frenzied, spattering blood on anyone stood too close. A merchant made to halt him but was fearful of getting too close to the thrashing boy. Then he stopped. Slowly, carefully, he pinched his eyelid between finger and thumb and peeled away a strip of skin. He tossed it to the ground, causing a woman to scream and jump back in horror. Again, he gripped his skin, tearing it off, freeing the ants, releasing them from his skin. He couldn't understand why the people around him couldn't see them. They seemed to be frozen in terror, unable to tear their eyes from the strange boy with the mark under his eye. The mark that ruined him. Blood oozed down his face, staining his clothing with the juice of his life. Just like that night. He sped up in shedding his skin, being less precise, just wanting to free the ants and get them away from him. They were now spilling from his face, mingling with his blood, scrambling down his body and frantically stumbling through the crowd of people. His sister chanted at him from above as she soared in the sky, her eyes gleaming with hatred and anger. His brothers circled her, their eyes sewn shut, under the illusion that they worshipped a goddess but in fact bowing down to a monster of chaos. Zaccheus realised he was screaming. He wondered how long he had been doing that. He didn't feel the pain anymore. His mind had detached from his body. He was calm, somehow peaceful as he released his flesh from the bindings of his skin. The ants still came thick and fast, rushing to be free. He laughed.
"Be free!" he yelled. "Be free!"
As if his words broke the spell cast upon the people of the market, all at once they scrabbled to pin him down, prevent him from hurting himself. He shrieked, flailing, trying to free himself. After a few minutes, they had him paralysed. Helpless, defenceless, hopeless, he let out a wail. The ants still gushed from under his skin, he was not yet done. He was bound, restrained, mind cracked open like his skin. In desperation, he screeched for Boreino, cursing her, blessing her, proclaiming love and declaring hatred for her. He began to slam the back of his head into the ground. Soon there was blood there too.
"Make him stop!"
"Put something under his head!"
"Get the children away!"
He cackled, spittle and blood flying in all directions. They seemed so petty, tiny, unimportant. With one final bash he lay still at last, eyes fixed on the sun. Still, the flow of ants continued, from his face and now from his head. He was vaguely aware of being lifted, taken somewhere, out of the reach of the sun. The people around him talked but he didn't pay attention. He had no concept of time, of seconds or hours and the difference between them.
He could hear weeping.
He focused on the sound and it sharpened his senses, dragging him from his dream-like state. The moon shone with a white brilliance on the temple, its pillars seeming to glow. Breaths, uneven, shaking, filled it with the feeling of life, as though the very building was a conscious being. Gentle moans and sighs of the sick held strange beauty yet retained a note of sorrow. A single candle flickered at the foot of a statue of Asclepius. Zaccheus was at the edge of its light, on the cusp of where darkness began. Half-light. The weeping sound came from the darkness.
"Boreino," he croaked, his throat parched.
"Zaccheus," she sobbed.
He began to peel.