They were saints, vessels of the gods, and so we buried them together, yet still the place remains cursed. The earth there recalls too readily the blood spilled in jealousy and betrayal, and the failure of those who witnessed the sacrilege yet were helpless to intervene. In our nightmares we still recall the phantom wailing heard when we entombed the lovers’ bones – they were not meant to be buried, we understand that now, but how could we have known our attempts at honor were torture instead? Sealed away from the light of Sun and Moon, their spirits remain trapped, and the retribution delivered to their murderer too little, too late to make amends. The White Saint avenged his slain lover, yes, but even as he plunged the blade into their Judas’ back we saw he too bled out and knew we would lose them both in the end. We have tried to bring their spirits peace, yet not even burning the traitor’s body eased their suffering. And so the place of their bloody burial remains haunted and barren, sacred to those who seek the restless saints’ blessing for a lover’s vengeance.
you tell me how you want me
and what you’ll do to keep me
your siren’s voice is calling me
succubus eyes bewitching me
just love me, lovely
I won’t be like the others
flesh and blood
breath and bone
won’t you just love me
unlike all the others?
hungry mouths and
questing lips and
you and I can
take a chance
I won’t be like
the other ones
you tell me that you’re sorry
and if you could you’d help me
but your fingernails are tearing me
succubus lips devouring me
just love me, lovely
don’t make me like the others
flesh and blood
breath and bone
won’t you just spare me
unlike all the others?
hungry mouths and
questing lips and
you and I can
take a chance
I won’t be like
the other ones
oh darling, don’t you want me?
oh darling, don’t you need me?
oh darling, don’t you wish we
had never been
could never be?
crushing mouths and
bloodied lips and
you and I can’t
have our chance
I’ll be just like
the other ones
I’ll be just like
the other ones
You are your own card, last in the deck, The Deceiver with no honest man to balance your influence. The chalice cupped in your outstretched hands could hold anything; blood or tears or semen, wine or poison. Drawn alone, are you friend or foe? Set beside another card, do you muddle its message, twist the meaning of the spread? Even inverted you pose a threat, your proffered cup empty and waiting to be filled. You’ve your allies – the veiled moon, the crumbling tower – but ultimately you stand alone. Your very presence in the deck causes a constant anxiety, as if even when not drawn your power seeps into the telling.
“Daren? You’re early.”
It’s easy to forget with this one, our ‘stray’, that he isn’t a child. He could be one right now, the way he’s hunched down in the hallway with his arms hugging his legs and forehead pressed to his knees. He looks frightened, lonely, lost. It’s hard not to kneel down and wrap my arms around him, comfort him like I would the true children I treat. I fight the urge, though; I must never forget that this fragile form unfolds into a man a head taller than me, one who if not strong is surprisingly agile and quick. No one touches him except the orderlies.
“Would you like to come in? We can start your session now.”
Yes, his age is easy to forget – at least until those black eyes flicker in my direction, hard and hating, hurting, and it seems this man has never been a child at all. It’s possible in this moment to imagine him wielding a knife, driving it over and over into the chest of a man who was his… what? Friend? Lover? Something darker? Until we can get the story from Daren – if we can get the story, if he ever speaks in more than broken sentences – he’ll remain here indefinitely. I won’t allow someone so traumatized to be put on trial.
“Why don’t you come into my office, Daren?”
His lips twitch; his gaze falls away. He mutters something almost inaudible, voice rusty and weak, but I’ve heard the phrase enough times to make it out anyway. “Need… need to find Tanim…” It’s all he’ll say in reference to his past, to the incident which led him to this involuntary committal. He doesn’t seem to remember his own part in Tanim’s death, nor even that the man is dead, no matter how often I break the news to him.
“Well… let’s talk about that, okay? Come inside and we’ll talk about Tanim.”
I’m determined to uncover the truth behind Daren’s instability, to help him face whatever horrors are so unbearable he’s locked them from his mind. But if he does remember, what will happen to him then? Will he stand trial for murder? Will he be locked away with no hope of rehabilitation, when chances are he had no true understanding of his crime?
It turns out there is something more shameful than laying drunk and helpless in a gutter; laying drunk and helpless on the seat of a train while behind sit one’s own mother and brothers. There are many kinds of rock bottom, I am beginning to learn – too late, perhaps, but that remains to be seen. At any rate, this moment is a particularly embarrassing low: curled like a sick child in yesterday’s clothes, reek of drink and vomit on my breath, neither ill nor intoxicated enough to sink into dreamless sleep. And in accompaniment to the aches and protestations of my body, behind me is the constant cluck of Mother’s patent disapproval. Perhaps it is my punishment to remain just awake enough to hear the long list of my faults and failures.
“Perhaps he should see a doctor, Mother, he looks quite unwell…” Sweet, naïve Thomas. Too young to understand how properly ashamed he should be of his elder brother, or does he simply find it more shameful to drag me along in my current condition? He should follow Jonathan’s example of cool disdain.
“Ignore Stefan; he made his bed and now he shall lie in it,” And Mother chiding now, true to form, in her perfected stage whisper, the voice of drawing room gossip circles. “Sometimes I think it’s a blessing he shows no interest in marriage or family, who knows what sort he’d bring home…” Her derisive sniff curdles my stomach more than the stale drink churning within.
They think I do not care, that I feel no shame for my actions. But what if my actions are the result of shame? Would Mother worry if she thought this were a cry for help, or would she merely purse her lips at such unwanted drama? Lord, I could use a drink…
And now this pointless Paris trip! Why Paris? Will Paris be any better than London? Better food, better parties, better gossip? Every city seems much the same to me, Paris or London or New York. The very thought of braving my way through noisy, chaotic crowds of people makes me want to sob, to hide beneath the seat, to leap from the train and end this misery once and for all. Do they not understand I want only to be left alone?
Though… Peter is in Paris. Kind, gentle Peter. Lovely Peter…
No, no. Don’t think of him. Why should Peter do anything but turn me away, wretched and disgusting as I am? I cannot go to him for help or understanding any more than I can go to Jonathan or Thomas. Better to stay as clear of Peter as possible so his only memories of me may be good ones – or at least not… what I am now. If the Lord will show me any mercy, I will be free to hide away in our rooms and venture out only for another bottle or a dose of laudanum.
teacher calls on me
I do not know the answer
the sound of silence
I wasn’t vying for your attention; I just needed you to notice me. I needed you to need me to notice you. I needed you to see I was crumbling at the edges and couldn’t help myself, didn’t know how to hold together, how to show my true intentions or explain this longing like madness. I didn’t want to lock myself in a tower, but I needed you to be willing to scale the wall of thorns anyway. See through my façade. Draw me in from the rain. Take me away from myself. I needed you to need to rescue me.
No, no, don’t pull away from me; don’t let distance and silence fade me to yet another ghost trailing in your wake, a mere poltergeist knocking in the night. I would be greater and more terrible than any of your specters. I would shake chains of music, howl sonnets, weep lullabies. My fingers would claw memories in the wallpaper. Please, look my way, remember me, don’t leave me here in the past to rot and disperse. You need me. I need you.
“Don’t worry, I’m here to help.”
“Can you tell me your name?”
“If there’s someone here, please let us know.”
“Don’t be afraid. We won’t harm you.”
“I’m trying to reach–”
“Do you know where you are?”
“Why are you here?”
“How can we help you?”
“Knock twice if–”
Funny, I thought death would be peaceful. Silent. Sort of a nothingness, you know? And it is, in a way; after all, everything’s dull, gray, insubstantial. But it sure as hell isn’t quiet. I may not be able to see them, but I can hear them all – the mediums, psychics, ghost hunters, clairvoyants, even the slumber party pre-teens toying around with their Parker Brother Ouija boards. Every damn thing comes through on the crystal clear reception of the afterlife. It’s like living inside a radio channel that plays nothing but commercials, or a phone line that receives nothing but calls from telemarketers. I swear if I wasn’t a disembodied consciousness, I’d shoot myself all over again.
Filtered sunlight tints your pale skin sea green, yet you’ve sunk too far below the surface for waves to ruffle your hair or shift slack, suspended limbs. Even gathered in my arms you remain a thing of flesh and bone only, the hot spark of life I loved so dearly doused within your flooded breast. Oh, forgive me, my dear, my love. I arrived too late to save you; I dreamed too late, too little, to know you. Forgive me. Forgive me.
your ghost trips me up
hidden snares and covered pits
tell it to fuck off
In my dreams the ghosts of murdered women weep, as anonymous in death as they were in life, and they beg for vengeance using lips still dusted with hemlock and nightshade, wet with vomit and blood. But they are dark skinned things wearing borrowed clothes, eyes downcast and fingers calloused from long days of labor, and no one bothers to search for a killer who strikes only the dregs of society.
you stir up my ghosts
memories dogging my heels
leave them in our dust
they’re jealous of your heartbeat
envious of your beauty
[ You are so much more than they ever were. ]
evil clad in silk
the wolf in bloody sheepskin
this is my design
[ I had a nightmare about Hannibal Lecter (NBC’s version) and woke up in the middle of the night to write this haiku. I am so obsessed with Hannibal it’s not even funny. Ohmahgawd. ]
They pin his arms and legs, one kneeling on each limb so no matter how violently Daren struggles he cannot fight free. A sliver of bright blade glints at the corner of his eye amid a chorus of wolfish laughter. Not again. He seizes up in panic. No, no, not again, no. Please. But the words never leave his lips. Daren clenches his jaws tight as the blade pierces his flesh and slides beneath, not down but sideways to cause the maximum amount of pain and the minimum amount of damage. His back arches and he groans, the sound caught deep in his throat, the pain excruciating, but Daren won’t give them the satisfaction of hearing his screams. He won’t beg them to stop. It wouldn’t matter anyway; his assailants won’t cease until they grow bored and leave him a trembling, bleeding wreck on the tile. Until then Daren moans behind tight pressed lips and tries to sink into the darkness beneath the agony.
Daren moves through the crowd like a ghost, slipping from shadow to shadow and uttering a guttural growl at anyone who comes too close. There is little sanity left in him now; it takes his entire concentration to resist the urge to bite and rend and tear those around him. Tanim is gone. Tanim is gone and with him the last of Daren’s energy or desire to cling to humanity. Grief twists him into a feral, hollow beast driven by rage to wander, to seek and pursue, but where? Who? Tanim is gone. Tanim is gone and Daren is cut adrift in the world. A world he wants to see punished even more than he wants his lover back.
[ So the night after I dreamed about Daren as a shape-shifter, I had another dream about him as a shape-shifter. Not the same plot line, but he did turn into a crazed white wolf at the end. Apparently my boys are getting tired of all the mushy emotional stuff I’ve been writing lately and want something with a little more… bite. ]
In his dream he crumples to the ground, face buried against his folded legs, fingers tearing at tangled locks of hair. In his dream he weeps, great racking sobs that rock his hunched body, muffled only by the press of his mouth to quickly moistening cloth. In his dream he doesn’t bother to reign in the sorrow but surrenders completely to it instead; he is too tired, too worn, too done to feign normalcy anymore. In his dream he allows himself to shatter, knowing only here there are no repercussions, and upon waking he will wipe whatever tears have spilled over from sleep and force a smile once again.
It’s like a maelstrom, rage and misery and fear all warring for supremacy inside him. He cringes at the voices around him, resisting the urge to clamp his hands over his ears or bare his teeth like a beast to keep the strangers all around at bay. He wants to run. He wants to lash out. He wants to slit his own throat and end this madness once and for all.
Tanim’s voice is the only sound which doesn’t grate against his flesh. Daren shudders and raises his eyes to Tanim’s calm countenance. Instead of holding out his hand to bring Daren to his feet, the young man kneels at his side as if without a care for the stares they both receive. Daren has been waiting for Tanim to arrive and his presence eases the storm of emotions slightly, at least enough to think clearer, but he can’t manage to force a false smile. Daren’s skin skill crawls with the stares of those nearby. He knows he doesn’t belong here; they don’t want him, they want Tanim, and they resent the love which binds the two.
“Have you eaten?”
Tanim talks as if he can’t feel the glares – and maybe he really is oblivious to the hostility, beloved as he is to the ones who loathe his companion. Daren doesn’t bother answering; he craves blood constantly but the last thing he needs is to further alienate himself by feeding in public. Instead he inches closer and rests his head on Tanim’s shoulder, closing his eyes to shut out the cacophonous world as Tanim wraps an arm tightly around his waist. The others may not want him here but Tanim must be kept safe and Daren is the only one capable. He would kill for Tanim. He would die for Tanim. In the end, he may do both.
[ And later Daren turned into a white wolf and killed this… priest dude? Who wanted to kidnap Tanim? Or something. Also, I think they were nomads and Tanim was their prince. It was an odd dream. ]
Harrow stared up the grassy slope as he caught his breath, wondering how the last hundred yards in a five day trek could somehow seem the longest. At least a reward awaited them on the other side; warm fires, dry tents, clean clothes, and best of all, something hot and fresh to eat after days of stale bread and dried beef. He didn’t think he’d ever be so happy to see an army encampment as when he topped that rise.
His men began to pass him on their way up, footsteps weary but voices raised in hopeful good humor, and Harrow turned his thoughts back to the moment at hand. He glanced back once to the crest of the hill and moved to follow them when a glint of light ahead caught his eye. He was still staring at the field of swaying grass in search of the flicker’s source when a dull thunder rumbled from somewhere ahead, its tremors reaching his tired feet a few seconds later. Just as the first riders appeared over the ridge Harrow realized what had caused the brief flash of light, because he’d seen it a dozen times before: the sun reflecting off the polished steel of a spear tip.
“Cavalry!” someone yelled, and another added in horrified understanding, “It’s an ambush!” Chaos erupted as the line of horsemen plunged headlong toward Harrow’s meager band. They would be slaughtered, of course, outnumbered as they were and with neither the armor nor weaponry to face such foes on equal footing. Anyway, for all he knew the rest of the army already lay slaughtered beyond the hill and no help would come from any direction for them. Yet habit trumped nihilism and Harrow found himself shouting orders to draw blades all the same, his own already in hand. However futile the situation might be, he trusted his men to fight and knew they trusted and depended on him to lead. Better to die on your feet than kneeling before your foe.
A rider bore down on him and Harrow raised his sword with a bellow, slashing out with a rage petulantly fueled by the idea he’d come all this way only to be robbed of the simple hope for one hot meal. He thought too, as he parried and dodged, of the men who would fall at his side; the ones who sat around the fires each night and spoke of wives or sisters or mothers, who wanted to go home as much as he but had never spoken the words for fear of mockery. None of them wanted to be here, not really, but this was the way of things and if you were lucky you went home with only scars and stories. If you were unlucky, well… you found yourself in a situation like this, and stayed a lot longer than you’d intended.
A pike knocked the sword from his hands and without thinking Harrow reached for the scything blade, determined to take at least one of the bastards with him. The rider reared back and the pike slipped from Harrow’s hands, leaving long gashes in his palms he barely felt. He retreated to where his sword had fallen amongst the trampled grass but before he could reach it something struck the back of his head and he fell in a daze of dancing stars. His last sight before slipping into unconsciousness was his own blood pooling on the torn earth, a sight which he realized should have bothered him, though he couldn’t remember exactly why.
“You’ve got to listen to me!” the girl howled, fingers white from their death drip on the doorframe. “Please!” She kicked at one of the security guards yanking on her waist, foot landing a solid punch into his midsection. He uttered an ‘oof!’ of surprise and she used his momentary distraction to for the second time yell, “Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler travel the world solving archaeological mysteries!” Her voice raised, rapid and determined, as her fingers began to slip, “Like Indiana Jones, only way fucking cooler! It’ll make millions!” And with that the guard gave one great tug and she disappeared around the door, only the sounds of her struggle and one last “You’ll regret this!” echoing as she was escorted roughly out the studio.
For a moment the assembled employees of Amblin Entertainment stared in dumb silence around the office. They were used to riff-raff pitching terrible sequel ideas, just not by sneaking into the studio and throwing a fit when they were immediately turned away. These days you expected such fanaticism more from fans of box office favorites like Twilight than some movie from the 90s with no male leads under the age of thirty.
A stern cough startled the group and they turned as one like guilty school children. The president himself, who the obnoxious girl had of course insisted upon seeing, stood in the doorway of his office, frowning out as if more irritated by the commotion itself than the security breach. The braver of his junior assistants swallowed and managed to stammer, “S-sorry, sir, we’re not sure how this happened; she managed to get past the front desk and by the time…” He realized the president was paying no attention to his apology, only staring off into the middle distance. “Sir?”
“Grant and Sattler, eh? Archaeological mysteries?” The president rubbed at his chin, eyes flicking back and forth as wheels turned in the consideration of box office comparisons, viewer trends, and merchandise and video game tie-ins. His gaze locked on a cowering writer as he commanded, one finger pointed with all the authority of God Himself, “You: I want a draft script on my desk by Friday. Put a curse in it, too. Audiences love things with curses. And you,” the hand swung, the fierce eyes speared another staff member, “get Neill on the phone and a contract ready to sign by five.”
A profusion of blank, blinking stares met the rapid-fire instructions. The president raised a single eyebrow in a long perfected gesture of confidence and mild intimidation. “What, you didn’t seriously think we were going to go the ‘dinosaurs with lasers’ route, did you?” He clapped once and spun on his heels. “Well, get on it, you idiots! Time is money!”
[ While I didn’t technically dream this particular scene, I did dream I was watching a movie about Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler traveling the world solving archaeological mysteries, sort of like Indiana Jones but better because it’s Dr. Grant (my first love). And if anyone from Universal Studios is reading this, I just want you to know that I would totally watch the fuck out of that movie. ]
Daren spared a moment to rub delicately at his unbound wrists before turning his gaze back up to the captain. “No iron to keep the demon at bay? What, have we grown so close these past months you trust me to play nice?” From across the scarred table the captain smiled and leaned back in his seat, feigning a steadier confidence than he really felt over having the monster unchained. “I think you’ll behave this time,” he said. “After all, you’ve requested several times to meet with the King. Now you finally get your chance.”
Daren moved languidly down the hall, sunlight spilling in from the high windows and touching his skin for the first time in months. He took his time, savoring the ability to move more than a few feet in a single direction. Lovely, really, this freedom; he thought everyone ought to spend a year or two chained up in solitary to earn proper appreciation for the world outside. A world he would turn to ash, of course, but they could enjoy it while it lasted.
As he approached a pair of heavy oak doors the two guards at their sides snapped to attention. It was sweet, really, that they thought flimsy steel could stop something like him. Amused, and therefore feeling oddly generous, Daren stopped before the secretary’s desk as if he was any old citizen calling on the King to present some petty grievance. The secretary must have been alerted to his coming because he didn’t seem at all surprised to find the unescorted prisoner standing before him. In fact, he had fixed on his face a carefully crafted sneer of arrogance highly unbefitting his station. Or indeed, really, his species.
“So, you’ve come to see the King, hmm?” The secretary’s sneer curled into an equally unearned smirk. “Shall I introduce you with all your titles intact? The Angel of Death, the Destroyer, the Desolation and Pestilence–”
“I will burn them.”
“P-pardon?” For all his outward bravado the man’s haughty expression crumpled in fear as Daren leaned in, a gentle smile on his face, and repeated softly, “I will burn them. Angelique and Margaret. Burn them until they are dust.” And with that he stepped past the speechless man, both guards hastening to pull open the heavy doors before he could turn his attention on them.
“How did he know?” As he entered the throne room Daren could hear the secretary plead to the guards in a bubbling, terrified sob, “how did he know about my daughters?” Daren smiled to himself. Questions like ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ never crossed his mind; he knew what he knew and did what he did without question. Ordinary people were so unnecessarily complicated.
“Ah,” He came to a stop on the marble tiles and tilted his head in the barest of nods. “Your majesty.”
[ The dream totally changed from here, which super bummed me out. I was hoping for some death and destruction or teaming up with the King to beat an even worse baddie or something. ]
There is time enough to clasp hands and part lips but not enough to cry out in fear or despair or defiance before the egg shell sky rips wide in a flare the sun would envy. The end comes so quickly the earth seems to stand still as color bleaches white, sound swells to a deafening roar and ebbs to eternal silence, matter bursts burns crumbles scatters to ash and atoms. In the aftermath, darkness. Deprivation. Absence. How long does consciousness persist once the body has dissolved back to its primal energy state? Is this a temporary purgatory or a lasting nothingness? The memory of lungs struggles for the memory of breath though flesh and bone are long melted away. Then even awareness is subsumed by the annihilation.
[ Death by atomic blast is a new one for me, dream-wise. ]
I dream of cupcakes
cramming them down two a time
[ I dream about food almost every night, actually. It could be considered pathetic but I’m such a lucid dreamer that everything I eat in my dreams tastes fucking amazing, so I’m not ashamed. ]
Outside the sun scorched air and earth alike. Daren could feel it soaking through the down-turned blinds and heating the cheap, dusty plastic. Peering between two slats, he glared out at the domestic scene beyond, lips curling back in a scowl to bare two sharp fangs. Manicured lawns choked with fertilizer and pesticide, identical prim houses in varying shades of pastel, miles of sidewalks covered in strolling couples and playing children… disgusting. Tanim would hate this place.
With an impatient sigh Daren retreated into the cool dark of the abandoned house which had for so many months served as shelter and prison both while he healed. The thought of Tanim stirred fond memories and fierce, restless longing. Tanim liked simple things: sleeping in, good books, rough sex. Daren despised the circumstances that kept them apart for so long. He vowed that when he was finally strong enough to risk that merciless sun he would escape this wretched place to seek his lost lover, and he would leave a trail of bodies in his wake. It would be just like old times.
“I Know, I Know, I Know”
in my dream I might
might have made an excuse to
to touch your hand but
but on waking I cannot
cannot admit the reason
[ I mentioned I have some crazy dreams, yes? Consider this The Ruins... in space. ]
“———–traces of —————- contami————————-tain, do you copy?”
Sudden chaos as consciousness returns. A dozen different lights flash; a chorus of alarms shrill and beep at ear-splitting frequencies; cracked screens scroll with damage reports made meaningless by their severity.
“—– can’t send assistance until —————ings. Please repor——–”
Brade wrenches her leg free of the debris thrown loose by the crash and delivers a solid kick to the control panel. The disorienting hiss of radio static clears and the signal sharpens.
“Captain, do you copy? Genesis One is prepared to begin emergency extraction and is awaiting confirmation the surface is sterile. Please transmit planetary biological hazard readings immediately.”
Sticky blood seals one eye and Brade scrubs it away with the sleeve of her flight suit as she surveys the damage. During the crash her research vessel became vertically wedged in a steep, narrow canyon, its nose pointed toward an unfamiliar sky. If not for her safety belt Brade would have been thrown to the back of the ship on impact. As it is, her whole body aches and the wound on her head leaks a steady trickle of blood. At least she fared better than the ship, though. Staring at the remains of the flight panel, she knows she’s lucky the damned thing hasn’t caught fire.
“Captain, do you copy?”
Another kick silences the radio completely. Brade doesn’t need the delicate biological scanning equipment, now a jumble of broken circuits anyway, to get a biohazard reading. Beyond the ship’s shattered bubble shield the dusty air dances with green motes, questing spores of a carnivorous plant Genesis One has already classified an extreme threat. A mere handful of the minuscule seeds is enough to form a rapidly spreading colony capable of eating away at metal as easily as flesh, and the crash has shaken loose clouds of them from the canyon walls. Genesis One can’t risk contamination by bringing her back on board now.
The ship may not be on fire yet, but neither she nor it is going anywhere. Brade leans her head back and coughs, feeling the first spores take root in her lungs and spread their tendrils through the spongy muscle.
Oh sister, don’t you see? Someone cannot become a ghost if they never existed in the first place. You are no specter like he; you are a figment, a concept, an ideal, impossible from the very beginning. It’s a terrible pity that he should live and die and thus be granted a phantom’s immortality while you, you who would have sucked the marrow of life to taste even its final dregs, will never have that chance. If any deserve animation or resurrection it’s you, my dear, but what can I do? These long years have proven I have no power to spark real breath from my words, that I cannot make you a thing of flesh and bone simply by desire alone. Only in dream may I glance into the mirror and find you staring back, slender hands pressed to the glass so I can pull you through. You aren’t in that mirror when I wake – why else do you think I never look too closely as I pass by? You do not haunt my dreams, sister. You are my dreams. And I haven’t the heart to tell you that it only pains me more to know you once in fiction than never in reality. Don’t you see? I would rather have never known the liquid lyricism of your voice than to wake alone when seconds before your laughter tickled against my ear. I would give anything for you, but I’m not a child anymore. I no longer search for fairy rings; I rarely check under the bed at night; I don’t believe if I stand at my mirror and chant “thee to me, sister, thee to me” you will cross over to this world. I know you are impossible. It’s time you accepted it as well. You can’t haunt me if you’re not a ghost.
slick, eloquent words
infectious once, futile now
you’re a ghost, fucker
[ But my ghost nonetheless. Who am I kidding? ]
[ I don’t actually dream about Tanim and Daren that often. I guess by bed time my brain is pretty tired from having thought about them all day long. ]
In the silence of the forest Daren’s harsh breathing seems as loud as a gale. He shuts his mouth and tries to draw breath instead through a throbbing nose, tasting blood and dirt with every swallow. For a moment he lays perfectly still, face half buried in winter’s dead leaves, afraid even the slightest movement will betray his hiding place beneath a skeletal bush. Finally the pounding of his heart calms enough that he can hear the sounds of pursuit closing in all around. Torches flicker in the night.
“Tanim…” Daren seeks his lover’s gaze in the darkness, comforted by the determination which still shines in Tanim’s eyes despite the mask of bruises and blood. Tanim shakes his head, raising one finger to his lips to caution silence. Even a whisper risks too much though they lay only feet apart; remaining hidden as the pursuers pass by is their only chance at escape. Instead, Tanim reaches out and presses his hand over Daren’s, communicating by touch all that cannot be said. Far off, approaching footsteps crunch on dry leaves, hunting for two men who dare share an illicit love.
Daniel waited until the roaring ceased and the wind no longer tore at his duster before lifting his head from beneath his arms. The tornado had been smaller than he’d expected and left behind only torn soil and a spattering of wet snow on the plains. “Thank the Lord for that,” he muttered as he climbed to his feet, groaning slightly at the protest of a body too old to be knocked about by a twister. He found no irony in thanking God for being merciful with a punishment He Himself had sent; after all, it could have hailed instead of snowed. Though there was always next time.
The thought of “next time” prompted Daniel to hurry his check for cuts and scrapes and plan his next move. He scanned the plains, trying to reorient himself in a landscape made unfamiliar by the wind churned earth. Mountains loomed in the distance off to his right, their peaks hidden by the pregnant bellies of purplish storm fronts. There was no sense in going back where he had come from, not when the Lord’s Judgment had already swallowed those towns in wind and water, so he turned his back to the range and set off east.
An hour’s walk brought him to a creek cutting across the plains. Daniel knelt for a drink and a chance to scan his surroundings as inconspicuously as possible. Movement in a grove of pine trees on the other side of the stream caught his eye. Just as he’d expected; the Elders in Providence, the only speck of civilization within fifty miles, wouldn’t leave their border unprotected for just any old soul to wander in. Daniel removed his revolver from its holster as he crossed the stream, careful to keep his motions slow and purposeful. He held up both hands, revolver hanging from his fingertips where it couldn’t pose a threat, and made his way toward the grove. From its shadows a young woman emerged, scowling down the barrel of the rifle aimed at his chest. “Toss the gun over here,” she barked. Daniel obeyed without question. This seemed to appease the sentry somewhat and she lowered the rifle, though her finger never left the trigger. “What’s your name, stranger? And what are you doin’ way out here?”
“Parish. Daniel Parish. I’m seekin’ shelter from that,” He nodded over his shoulder to the mountains crowned in thunderheads. Lightning danced at their slopes, twisting and twining as if pulled together by a force more powerful than just the funneling wind. The storm looked a long way off still but he knew distance made no matter here; the Lord would strike when and where He willed. And He would strike again soon.
“Mmm,” The woman narrowed her eyes as she scanned the horizon. “Movin’ in fast. Well, alright then. Come along and you can petition the Elders for sanctuary.” She pocketed Daniel’s weapon and gestured for him to walk ahead, still holding the rifle where she could raise it quickly if needed. They walked in silence for a while, the only sounds the crunch of their boot steps and the distance rumble of approaching thunder.
“You get any twisters ‘round here lately?” Daniel asked over his shoulder. “Not recently,” the reply came, as professionally perfunctory as everything else the woman had said. “Been calm.” Daniel nodded, thought about saying “it won’t stay that way for long” but decided against it and fell silent. Providence would see the truth soon enough.
Another hour or so brought them to the base of a low rise. At its top sat an impressive structure of polished wood and heavy iron. Try as he might, Daniel couldn’t help but feel at least slightly impressed by the Providence stronghold. It didn’t exactly exude that old time Christian hospitality, of course, but it could handle just about anything this new world order threw at it. Though probably not, he guessed, whatever the good Lord saw fit to unleash upon His children next.
The woman led Daniel to the front gate and passed inside, leaving him to wait awkwardly outside while the sky darkened overhead. As the wind began to pick up, moaning around the corners of the compound, a slot in the gate opened. From within he caught the tail end of a clipped conversation. “…found this fellow wanderin’ out by Shallow Creek,” his guide, hidden somewhere behind the door, explained to whom he could only presume to be the Elder summoned for judgment. “Says his name’s Daniel Parish. He wants shelter from the storm.”
“Parish?” A new voice, aged yet still hard as steel, let out a short bark of laughter. “Forgot to add in the ‘Reverend’ part, did he? Or I suppose that’s ex-Reverend now, ain’t it? Sorry, Parish, but only those washed clean in the eyes of the Lord step through this gate. You’ve been wanderin’ a dark path these days so you just turn right around and face the demons you’ve brought down on yourself. It’s God’s will; you know that better’n anyone.” The unnamed Elder gave a dark chuckle. “Best say your prayers, Parish. The long night’s a comin’.”
The wooden slot slammed shut; the laughter faded. Daniel stared at the barred gate a moment, glanced briefly to the sky peppered with funnel clouds, then shrugged. He hadn’t exactly expected to be welcomed with open arms, after all. Providence had never been known to live up to its namesake. Well, if the front gate remained barred, he would just have to find another way in. Even a fortress like Providence must have a side door, a broken window hinge, something. And when he did make his way in, the Elders would understand the true meaning of ‘God’s will’. Maybe they’d even come to regret their hasty judgment when the storm descended. What was it Jesus said about casting the first stone?
“Come on, sinners, let’s go down, down to the river to pray…” Daniel allowed himself a small smirk as he belted out the old spiritual tune and began to search for a way in. Even such an innocent song could sound mighty threatening under the right circumstances. “Come on, sinners, don’t you wanna go down?”
I have glimpsed the monsters in his gaze. I have watched the orange tentacles unfurl like new buds out of the dark pit of his pupil, questing upward to caress the boundaries of their convex prison. They pool and crowd in the clear chamber of his eye until all that can be seen beneath his thin lids are the squirming appendages. In the right light their slick surfaces almost glow, turning his eyes bright as the Sun rising on the polluted horizon. I cannot hold his gaze for long; the way the tentacles wriggle and heave themselves against his cornea, I swear they seek to break free and pierce my own eyes.