Your ghost wakes me in the night, needy and lost, demanding recognition, and when I tell her to go haunt you instead she calls me angel, beloved, best and most cherished, and refuses to free me from this burden. I who loved you, albeit in a way I did not ever completely understand, am cursed now to carry the ghost you left behind and refuse to acknowledge. Is this a fitting penance for the actions of my younger, naïve self? Can you truly not bear to remember who you were, what we were, so that instead I must be the one to preserve both the good and ill memories while you recall nothing? I am a thing already composed of so many different people, fragments, lives all sewn up together, your shadow is but one more scrap of guilt to drag at my feet. I did not fail you, though; I failed your ghost, the girl I loved and the girl you discarded in fear. I do not fear this specter. I pity her. I pity you, too, wherever you are, whoever you are today. I owe something to your ghost, however, that I no longer owe you – the loyalty I did not prove often enough, perhaps, or the patience I was too young to have cultivated yet – and that is why I cannot bring myself to chase her from my side. She deserves more honor than a box of letters and crumpled pictures buried in the closet, and if you will not take her back then it is left to me to comfort her in the dead of the night.
When I was born God took one look at me, said “This one’s yours,” and handed me over to the Devil. God’s a practical deity and, despite popular opinion, won’t bother wasting his time on a lost cause. Of course, the Devil took one look at me, said “Nope, too much trouble,” and I’ve been on my own ever since.
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
Also known as Shatterpan, Mage, Light Breaker, The Dark Lady, The Wanderer, The Nameless, and Captain of the Resurrected Jolly Roger
UNDER THE CHARGES OF
Mutiny, murder, attempted murder, assault, arson, witchcraft and black magic, piracy, destruction of property, theft, espionage, conspiracy, insubordination, possession of deadly and illegal weapons (both common and magical), impersonating an officer of the law, bribery, vandalism, gang activity, smuggling, releasing known criminals into the general populace, wanton destruction, and other various activities of a criminal and volatile nature…
DO NOT ENGAGE
“I wish they wouldn’t put attempted murder on there,” Mage lamented as she admired the newest addition to her collection. “After all, it’s not my fault she got away; lightning is notoriously difficult to control. They’re going to give me an inferiority complex.” Swinging her feet down off the map-cluttered desk, she rose and sauntered across the ship’s cabin, using a handy finger blade from her belt to stick up the poster among the other stolen evidence of her escapades. “Oh well. At least the picture is good. I think they captured the glint of madness in my eyes quite well.”
Bribery (and fairy trafficking)
Conspiracy (and theft, apparently)
Piracy and more piracy
Stalking (featuring Tanim in leather pants!)
Assault (well, technically this one’s all Daren)
Also… I have been staving off the crushing depression of writer’s block by playing doll maker games.
She went mad, you know. The mermaid. They said it was cause of the magic, what it had to do to make her what she became. Her kind weren’t never made to be on land, not for long, and I guess it had to scramble her up inside pretty bad to keep her from wanderin’ back to the sea and gettin’ herself drowned. She didn’t remember bein’ a mermaid, least we were all pretty sure of that, but she didn’t much act like a human either. Batty, she was. It came down to you’d see her in the town square early in the mornin’ before any of the castle folks knew she’d wandered off, staring up at the sky and mutterin’ to herself. If it was clear out she’d be okay but if clouds had gathered overhead she’d start babblin’ about how the raindrops was watchin’ her and wanted to get her. Said the water fountain was tryin’ to tell her secrets, too, but she didn’t know what about and it spoke too loud. Eventually she’d start cryin’ or whatever and one of the ladies from the flower shop would take pity and walk her back up to the castle, and that would be that until the next mornin’. Then one day she just stopped comin’ into town and though everyone said she was prob’ly up in the castle where she was safe and taken care of, we all knew the truth.
“Oi! What’s that?”
“Well, come up here and see! I’m not describing what you should be looking at anyway. They ain’t paying us the big rupees to sit around in the guard house playing cards.”
“Fine, fine. Okay, what am I supposed to be spying?”
“Over by the east wall. Looks like… what, a kid? One of those always running around in town, chasing after stray dogs and getting under your feet?”
“Could be. Why’s he dressed all funny? What’s on his head, a floppy wizard hat?”
“Maybe he’s playing a game, sneakin’ around like that,”
“Not supposed to be playing out here. We ought to—wait, what’s he doing?”
“…Well that… that probably wasn’t very good. Didn’t even know that rock wall was there; got to be some sort of security hazard, I’d think. Climbed it right quick enough, didn’t he?”
“Should we alert the fellows at the castle gate?”
“Nah, I’m sure they’ll catch him when he runs past. Bright lads, they are. Anyway, I doubt they can hear us from here and it’s an awful long walk. Not like he’s gonna get all the way into Hyrule Castle on his own, right?”
[ Is it just me, or does anyone else think if the King of Hyrule had just invested in guards who gave a shit, Ganondorf wouldn’t have been able to take over an entire city? I mean, you can literally walk right behind the dudes and they never even turn around. That seems like a fatal security flaw to me. ]
“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. ]
“Heya, darlin’. What’s a pretty little thing like you doin’ all alone in a place like this, dressed like that no less? Ain’t you cold, girl? I can warm you up if you like.”
Once Oro might have glanced up at a comment like that, if only to spear the speaker with her best “fuck off and die” glare. Nowadays, though, no one said things like that to her. Guess a thrice broken nose and a face full of scars puts folks off a bit. Not that she minded being let alone so she could drink her cheap beer in peace, of course. Small pleasures and all of that.
“Fuck off and die; I’m trying to eat here and your face is making me ill.”
Now Oro lifted her eyes with a groan, peering over the rim of her mug. So much for a night of peace. “You sure got a smart mouth, girl,” the man at the bar growled, one hand clenched around the hilt of a long knife. “I know somethin’ you can do with it, too.” The young woman he had a moment ago attempted to seduce with his winning manner and reeking breath stared up at him from her stool with a scowl Oro knew all too well. The lithe young warrior girls all wore that amused, confidant expression of mockery, just like they all dressed in chain mail underwear and not much else. Oro had worn her share of skimpy armor back in the day as well, though those days were long passed, and remembered enjoying just as much as this girl the trouble it caused among the more single-minded menfolk.
Menfolk who never learned. Oro sighed and pushed her chair back against the wall, beer raised safely out of harm’s way, and a second later the man crashed down on top of her table. He slid to the dirt floor with a groan and two of his companions jumped to his aid, blades drawn. The girl only flashed a feral grin and beckoned them on. Oro turned her attention from the ensuing brawl and stared into the fire as she nursed her watered down beer, ignoring the sounds of breaking furniture and clashing steel behind her. What a nuisance.
“Anyone else?” The warrior swung her sword around with a lazy smile, skin glistening with her own sweat and others’ blood. None of the remaining patrons seemed interested in the offer; those who had not run out or been run through cowered against the walls, muttering at the interruption. The tavern keeper himself was just creeping out from behind the bar to set right his fallen furniture. “That’s what I thought.” The girl wiped her sword on the first man’s coat and sauntered out of the tavern, chain mail jingling as her hips swayed back and forth.
Once the tavern door swung shut Oro rolled her eyes and rose on tired feet, stepping over broken chairs and dead bodies on her way toward the stairs and a bed at least somewhat more comfortable than sleeping on the cold ground another night. That girl would tire of the brawls and battles one day just like she had, once her knees cracked a little too much in the mornings and her wrists ached constantly from too many years spent swinging a sword and shooting a bow. Eventually she’d lose her hourglass figure as well and realize chainmail underwear is neither comfortable nor practical, and trade the cold links for soft breaches and a top that offered a little more… support.
A warrior either fell in battle or aged beyond the ability and desire to continue in that line of work. Sinking onto the lumpy pallet passing for a bed in her rented room, Oro thought for not the first time that retirement wasn’t so bad. Ballads about your grand adventures and bloody conquests didn’t do you much good when you were sleeping out in the rain – or under the earth.
I usually don’t keep track of the books I read but since I got a Kindle last Christmas I decided to keep a list this year. Overall I read a total of 84 books in 2012, including 40 sci-fi/fantasy, 19 historical fiction/non-fiction, and 40 with gay main characters. There’s a good spattering of horror and short story collections in there as well. All in all, a very good year. List below:
- Disturbed By Her Song – Tanith Lee
- Wilde Stories 2010 – Steve Berman
- Tryskadecollections – Steve Berman
- Wilde Stories 2011 – Steve Berman
- Overqualified – Joey Comeau
- One Bloody Thing After Another – Joey Comeau
- Elric Book 2: Sailor on the Sea of Fate – Michael Moorcock
- Elric Book 3: The Weird of the White Wolf – Michael Moorcock
- The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
- The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths
- Loki – Mike Vasich
- A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
- Hell’s Pawn – Jay Bell
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal – Christopher Moore
- Kindred Hearts – Rowan Speedwell
- Elric Book 4: The Vanishing Tower – Michael Moorcock
- Under the Poppy – Kathe Koja
- Aisling Book 1: Guardian – Carole Cummings
- Aisling Book 2: Dream - Carole Cummings
- Aisling Book 3: Beloved Son – Carole Cummings
- The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
- Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
- Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
- Elric Book 5: The Bane of the Black Sword – Michael Moorcock
- Blackbringer – Laini Taylor
- Horror Business – Ryan Bradford
- Machine of Death – Ryan North, et. al.
- Heart Shaped Box – Joe Hill
- Red Sonja Book 1: The Ring of Ikribu
- Martyrs and Monsters – Robert Dunbar
- Time Cat – Lloyd Alexander
- Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams
- The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse – Gregory L Norris
- Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith
- The Door Into Summer – Robert Heinlein
- Job: A Comedy of Justice – Robert Heinlein
- The Year of Living Biblically – A.J. Jacobs
- Fairies, Princes, and Fairy Princes – A. R. Jarvis
- If It Ain’t Love – Tamara Allen
- The Last Lovers on Earth – Charles Ortleb
- Under the Sun and Moon – A.R. Jarvis
- Iron Peter – Charles Ortleb
- First You Fall – Scott Sherman
- Stasis – Kim Fielding
- Dreamer – Sara Amundson
- Small Deaths – John F.D Taff
- Best New Vampire Tales (Vol. 1) – Michael Laimo, et. al.
- Night Shift – Stephen King
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
- The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
- Whistling in the Dark – Tamara Allen
- The Only Gold – Tamara Allen
- Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury – various
- The Absolutist – John Boyne
- At Swim, Two Boys – Jamie O’Neill
- Downtime – Tamara Allen
- The Painting – F Wallace
- As Meat Loves Salt – Maria McCann
- The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov – Paul Russell
- Wilde Stories 2012 – Steve Berman
- The German – Lee Thomas
- The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals – Richard Plant
- Myths and Magic: Legends of Love – various
- Moffie – Andre Carl van der Werme
- Always There – Megan Derr
- China Mountain Zhang – Maureen McHugh
- Mothers and Other Monsters – Maureen McHugh
- The Story of the Night – Colm Toibin
- The Charioteer – Mary Renault
- Maurice – E.M. Forster
- The Stranger’s Child – Alan Hollinghurst
- The City and the Pillar – Gore Vidal
- Veins – Drew
- To Reign in Hell – Steven Brust
- The Amber Chronicles Book 1: Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny
- The Amber Chronicles Book 2: The Guns of Avalon – Roger Zelazny
- The Amber Chronicles Book 3: The Sign of the Unicorn – Roger Zelazny
- The Amber Chronicles Book 4: The Hand of Oberon – Roger Zelazny
- The Amber Chronicles Book 5: The Courts of Chaos – Roger Zelazny
- Leather to the Corinthians – Tom Lucas
- Red Country – Joe Abercrombie
- The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie
- The First Law Book 1: The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie
- The First Law Book 2:Before They Are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie
I guess I’m feeling… unenthused these days. Restless. Unfulfilled. Bored, even. I think sometimes maybe I should quit my job, move somewhere new; shake things up a bit, you know? It’s just that when you’re young they make this job sound so important. Hard to pass up when you’re a wee thing trying to decide what to do with the rest of your long life. But the folks in charge of funneling you into a career commit the sin of omission (which normally I wouldn’t mind, but being on the receiving end is different). They don’t tell you about the paperwork. They don’t mention the long hours and Projected Quarterly Goals. They fail to bring up the sheer amount of red tape and bureaucracy (which we invented!) that bog down your everyday life. And it gets to you, man. No one wants to spend eternity trapped beneath a mountain of unfiled reports.
My business card states I’m an Outreach Coordinator for the Minor Mischief Department of the Consumables Division of the Ministry of Human Corruption. Sure, on paper it sounds great; I spend my days searching for morally malleable souls who might be easily convinced there’s nothing reprehensible about stealing coworkers’ food from the office fridge. In the beginning I enjoyed the work, too, even invented some new methods for inconveniencing mortals (yes, taking half a bite out a donut but leaving the rest behind was my idea, and I’m still proud of that one), but lately I just haven’t felt the same rush of accomplishment when one of my clients snatches someone’s lovingly prepared chicken salad sandwich or leftover Phad Thai. Maybe minor mischief just… isn’t enough for me anymore. Not when I have to fill out, scan, upload, and file eight separate reports every dammed time a can of Coke goes missing, at least!
Yeah, maybe a change of scenery would do my black heart some good. I heard there’s an opening in Possession and I’ve always fancied myself a good politician…
[ I woke up from a dream about being trapped in an asylum (thanks, American Horror Story) and somehow my train of thought lead to… this. Who knows. ]
“Are you kidding me with this?”
The assembled residents of Pine Creek Estates stared down at their shoes in shameful silence. When no one managed a response the man in the middle of the circle heaved a sigh of disgusted disappointment and shook his head, long hair resettling over his shoulders in wavy locks.
“You guys seriously suck,” He turned his gaze up to the Heavens and called out, “Never mind! We’re done here!” The same beam of white light which had deposited him in the cul-de-sac’s center just moments ago shot down from the overcast sky. It bathed the man in a dazzling brilliance and as abruptly as he had appeared, he vanished once more.
Later that afternoon as Dave sat at his kitchen table watching on TV as similar scenes replayed themselves in thousands of cities across the world, he wondered if the “In Case of Rapture, You Can Have the Car” bumper sticker on his neighbor’s hybrid still applied. The Rapture had come and gone, after all; just, no one had been worthy enough to be taken.
blood scent draws your ghost
wound picked and bleeding once more
if only they knew
[ Two weeks after the end of my freshman year of college, my father unexpectedly passed away. During the week he spent in the hospital and the months after his death, the rock in my life was my best friend Micah. In real life and over the internet she made me laugh, offered a necessary distraction, and filled my life with light and love when it would otherwise have been only darkness and loss. I don't know what I would have done without her in those first months, or what I would do even now. She remains one of my best friends no matter if we haven't seen each other in person in years.
I wrote this story several years ago but it never made it onto any of my online journals, so I thought I should post it here. It's not a true story, unfortunately. We met in eighth grade, not first. But I like to imagine what it would have been like if we had met years earlier; I know it would have been instant friendship. It's always been our destiny. (And yes, that's a Pokemon theme song reference.)
The title is lyrics taken from Don't Lose Your Way, the Land Before Time theme song. It's one of many songs that remind us of our wonderful, reckless, oftentimes raunchy friendship. ]
“Faith, Hope, and Glory”
Her stomach hurt. Really, really hurt. She wanted to cry but kept a brave face like her mommy and daddy wanted her to. She would be brave. She had to be brave. She could do this…
Still, the first day of school, real school (first grade!) was terrifying for six year old Elyssa. This was a new school and it meant she didn’t know a single soul in the whole place. Her mommy and daddy had kissed her and given her two very big hugs before they left her at the entrance to room 107 with her new school bag (Power Rangers!) and her faithful stuffed calico cat. Now the little girl stood on the threshold of a new, exciting (but very, very scary) adventure. She was a big girl now and she had to act like one.
Taking a deep breath, she hugged her kitty closer and stepped into the classroom. Most of the other students had already arrived and were claiming desks, shoving things into cubbies, and chattering enthusiastically to each other. Many were friends from kindergarten and so already knew each other, but Elyssa had gone to kindergarten somewhere else. She did not know anyone here and her natural shyness kept her from approaching the first person she saw, as her parents had suggested she do. Instead she chickened out and slipped into an empty desk near the back of the room, a good place for the timid girl to blend in.
Sighing nervously, her stomach aflutter, Elyssa began unpacking her brand-new school supplies (Lisa Frank, of course) and concentrated on not feeling out of place. Where were her kindergarten friends when she needed them? Where was Erika to play kitties or Batman with her? How did anyone expect Elyssa to talk to complete strangers? Sure, they were her classmates now, but she didn’t know any of them! What if they wouldn’t like her? What if she had no one to play with at recess or eat with at lunch? What if she never made any friends here and was alone for the rest of her entire life? The thought made her stomach lurch in extremely unpleasant ways. Her parents had said she would be able to make friends, that they believed in her and knew she could do this, but she wasn’t so sure now. Elementary school was so big and frightening compared to kindergarten; so many things could go wrong!
“Um umm umm… excuse me?” A nervous voice broke Elyssa’s pity party. She glanced up in surprise to another young girl who stood in front of the empty desk next to her. She had extremely long blond-brown hair and huge blue eyes and the brightest smile Elyssa had ever seen. The girl clutched a Jurassic Park backpack in her tiny hands and shifted anxiously from foot to foot. Elyssa’s heart raced, the way it always did when someone she didn’t know spoke to her, but that didn’t stop her from noticing the absolutely awesome backpack.
“I love your backpack!” she blurted out without thinking, then immediately blushed. The other girl blushed as well and giggled modestly.
“Thanks! My mommy got it for me. My stupid little brother wanted it but she said I could get it ‘cause it was my very first day of school.” She glanced to the desk next to Elyssa, then took a leap of faith and rushed out her question. “Hey, umm… woulditbeokayifIsatnexttoyou?” Her blush deepened profusely.
“Sure!” Elyssa grinned cheerfully, ecstatic at the idea that this incredibly cool girl (she had a Jurassic Park backpack!) wanted to sit with her. The girl gasped happily, yelled “Ohmygoshthankyou!” in a voice that clearly had no concept of indoor versus outdoor volume, and plopped down into the empty desk. She turned in her seat and wiggled her fingers in a joyful greeting at Elyssa.
“I’m Micah! What’s your name?”
Don’t lose your way
with each passing day.
You’ve come so far
don’t throw it away!
dreams are for weaving!
Wonders are waiting to start.
Live your story
Faith, Hope, and Glory!
Hold to the truth
in your heart.
The lighthouse fell years ago in a thunder of cannon fire and crumbling stone. Its scattered skeleton sleeps in the shallows now, though some say that at night if the moon is right you may glimpse its ghost rising from the fog, milky and insubstantial, sweeping white light a beacon to the lost ones still. I cannot speak to the truth of this but if you venture the shore at low tide and plunge your fingers into the thick wet sand you can dig up word fragments buried by the restless sea. Step carefully, though, lest you cut your feet on the shards of glass hidden amid the ruins. Every storm uncovers another layer of slivers so hard no amount of time and waves’ caress can smooth their edges, so shattered the bulb may never be pieced back together.
She first heard the call as a child, as do all who are drawn by the untamed land. She could not sleep for dreams of running on fleet deer feet, of croaking crow cries high in the snow laden pine branches. Her lungs swelled with the wolf’s harrowing howl and her ears, nose, fingers twitched at the thousand sounds, scents, sensations of the ancient earth. And so the girl forsook blood kin to venture out alone into the world of stone and ice. There the forest darkness taught her to see without light; the winter silence to listen without sound; the myriad dangers to act without hesitation, trust animal instinct and gut reaction. She grew hard and lean in that frozen land, a wordless creature of the wilds which skirted night watch fires but never drew close. The cold did not touch her. The beasts did not frighten her. She braided the bones of her trophies into her long hair and wrapped her muscled limbs in the skins of predators which, in hunting this lone creature, had become the prey themselves. The land nourished her with its blood and spilled her own in turn, and in doing so forever entwined the two as one.
[ An unplanned somewhat-prequel to one of the geekiest things I have ever written (and that's saying a lot). ]
She speaks no language that is not of raven or wolf or snow, and so she has no words with which to ask what dark demise has fallen across the land. But certainly some evil lurks at the heart of this foreign realm, leaking its poison out in all directions like an infected wound. The journey from her alpine home takes her down into a wide valley where each night restless spirits roam, giggling and screeching as they seek to lead her off the trail, only to vanish at the first rise of her longbow. In the distance a bleeding mountain disgorges whirlpool clouds of sulfurous black fumes which stain the sunset a sickly red. When the specters fall momentarily silent the thunder of volcanic turmoil can be heard rumbling like a giant’s death rattle.
The ruined city holds no answers. Its people are long fled, the buildings boarded and crumbling. Grotesque monsters populate the abandoned streets; their gaunt, shriveled bodies are almost human but their low moaning bespeaks a demonic hunger. She affords the creatures a wide berth, hacking down any who turn their shuffling gait in her direction. They do not bleed, nor seem to register pain, but a sharp, solid blade cleaves their skulls just the same. The air here reeks of rot and so she does not linger long.
Outside the broken city gates she follows the road west as it climbs into foothills and skirts boulders twice taller than her head. Her destination waits beyond the rising ridges, a legendary desert land of burning sands and blazing sun a northern nomad as she cannot truly comprehend. Bordered by red stone peaks, inaccessible save for one rocky pass carved by some long ago quake, has that isolated world withstood the cancerous taint? Or will she find that the fingers of evil stretch wide indeed, touching even the sacred sandstone temple sheltered at the desert’s heart? Her hands flex in anticipation, one gripping her mount’s reigns while the other rests on her sword’s hilt.
Volcanic upheaval tears asunder the heart of the dark continent in a raw wound split open to bare ridged rock vertebrae. Sometimes if the night is very still beneath the scattered starry sky and the jackals silent in the long grasses, you can hear the groaning of the earth as it slowly rifts apart. It is an old sound, an echo of the forgotten age when the land roiled in the violent turmoil of birth. With each seismic seizure fresh magma bubbles forth to stain the gaping gash red as drying blood. If you press your palm to the sun burnt terrain you can feel the brittle, billion year old minerals shatter with the force of divergent deformation and grind against each other in minute fault lines. Inch by inch the dark continent splits in twain, releasing its laboring heartbeat as thunderous shock waves through soil and stone.
dark and scorched syllables shift the world’s swallowed bones in valleys of unearthly delineation. maybe in the parched winds a dragging and brief dark will shake the old gospel, but they know not of solid fragments, oh self hard slumbering beast, and I the flame devoured flesh and raised ourselves a burned cross carcass. the copperhead yet circles, the sun eating the dark of the unsure god.
[ A year old English assignment on “home” that I discovered in the bowels of my external hard drive. A bit on the cheesy side, I admit, but girls who lose their fathers at eighteen are allowed to be nostalgic. ]
Some may say my childhood home is cluttered, or lacks a cohesive design style – I say my home is made of history. Daily histories are piled on the floor by the front door: my father’s work boots, mud-caked from tromping through the wet lands in front of our property; a stack of homework, mine or my sister’s, spilling out of a hastily discarded backpack; dainty high-heeled shoes traded by my mother for a worn pair of slippers after a wearying work day. Personal histories plaster the walls and shelves: my parents’ wedding photo hanging above the mantle, with my father’s Marine Corps saber below; grade-school pictures stashed in mismatched frames along the stairwell, a visual progression of embarrassing outfits and home-cut bangs; a life’s worth of height marks dutifully recorded on the kitchen door frame as my sister and I struggle to beat each other by a centimeter or an inch. Family histories, however, those steeped in the familiar and weighty word tradition, are the intangible qualities that transform this house into a home: the quiet crinkle of my mother turning a newspaper page as she sits at the kitchen table; my father humming along to Arlo Guthrie as he chops vegetables for tonight’s beef stew; the mysterious and enviable maturity of my sister’s closed bedroom door. Every sight, every sound, every scent is a history, and this history is my foundation.
The ocean swallowed their ships and spit the bones back splintered and stripped, so they turned their backs to its cold depths and claimed manifest destiny over the slumbering continent. But the desert was an ocean in its own right, a land of dunes shifting in tidal winds and thunderstorms as wild as any white capped tempest, and the rumbling wagon wheels woke its ancient fury. By day the sun baked the cracked earth until skin blistered and bruised, while night brought a chill which burned like ice crystals frozen in bone marrow, expanding to crack internal fissures. They spoke very little, mouths parched and tongues bloated, yet all around them the desert murmured its mockery in jackal cries, copperhead rattles, the squabbling of vultures over a sun dried carcass. At the crown of each rise they lifted their hands to their eyes in foolish hope but still the desert stretched out in all directions to the horizon, a sea of dried river valleys and striped sandstone monoliths rippling in the heat. When the last burdened beast collapsed and they could no longer budge the weighty wagons, they gathered in the vehicles’ paltry shade and burned dried dung fires day and night to ward off the wilderness.
I built the house with my own hands out of drift wood and stone and rippled honey glass, bound it with brass and rusted hinges, wrapped it in creaking porch boards and hung it with tarnished copper chimes, an old structure at its birth, I raised up the house amid the dry beach grass and the pines with their gnarled limbs hunched against the dune wind, where at night the light sweeps across the slumbering shore to flare briefly in the warped glass and fall away again, circling, circling, circling land and sea, warning, warning, warning of hidden dangers beneath the waves which never sleep, I built this place and the sand fine as flour settled in cracks and crevices, shifted in the wind which tastes of salted granite, the ocean gray and the sky leaden and the horizon a single black line impossible to cross impossible to approach impossible to fathom, forever as far as far can be, I came to the edge of the dark continent and I raised this house where the waves break upon the shore and the trees bend low in the frigid wind, the place where the water eats at the land and the tower light sweeps over, over, over to flare briefly in the bubbled glass
irrational, the compulsion, yet the hand strays for the stone ripe with pale quartz veins and polished to the shape of creation by tidal caress, strays to take hold and lift, heft the good solid weight and let fall to crack open sealed bone, smash open bleached sternum like a raven dashing spiraled shells against the rocks to pick out the inner sweetmeats, but what spills forth from this splintered cavity tastes not of copper and bile but agate and feldspar and biotite, salt and seaweed, all in a rush of waves breaking against cliffs, eating at the land, swallowing microscopic inches of continent and dragging them out to the subducting abyssal depths, all this might burst with the first impact of stone on bone and escape with a great surging exhalation, the surf drawn back to expose frosted glass chips and fragments of clam shells pierced through with moon snail holes, devoured from the inside and left to collect miniature seascapes in their bowls, irrational but the hand reaches for a stone to crush the ossein cage and release the imprisoned ocean
“I thought I would find you up here. Couldn’t sleep?” As the wild haired fey emerged from the twisting stairwell and into the lantern room of the great Sanctuary Island lighthouse, Alice turned from the window and shrugged off Muffy’s concern with a tired smile. “Nerves, that’s all. Is everything ready for tomorrow?”
“Should be. There’s only one way to find out.” Muffy gave a hopeful sigh and placed one hand on the elegantly carved glass-like Otraresin lens. Despite the intense light, the rainbow surface remained cool to the touch. “It’s good to see the beacon lit again. I never could sleep through the night without its beam filling up my window every few minutes. It’s been so awfully dark here since it was broken. I’ve had such terrible nightmares.”
“So have I.” Alice gave a nod and squeezed her friend’s free hand. Muffy squeezed back, a smile of fierce determination on her face. “This is just the beginning,” Muffy promised. “We’ll set things right, you’ll see. With the light lit, they’ll start making their way home. They have to.” Alice felt a wash of grateful affection for the strong, stubborn girl at her side. What would I have done without her? she wondered. You would have fallen long ago, a voice responded deep inside her, and then all of this would have been for nothing. You need her. You need all of them. But will they come?
“…Alice…” The sudden fear in Muffy’s voice raised the hair on the back of the captain’s neck and shook her from her introspection.
“What is it?”
When Muffy did not respond, Alice followed the line of her gaze. Muffy stared stiffly out one storm pane, fingers suspended in the air as if drawn to something but afraid to make contact. For a moment Alice couldn’t make out what had set the girl on edge, but as the beacon rotated and flooded the window with light she saw them: nine words scratched into the glass of the storm pane, thin and jagged. As if carved by a hook, thought Alice, an unsettling shiver crawling up her spine. But no, that’s impossible. We would have known if she were on the island. She would have tripped the defenses. We would have known. I would have known.
“What does it say?” Muffy asked, though both had read the words. Alice said nothing for a moment, hesitating to give voice to the strange note. When she did speak, the words tasted of gunpowder and ash in her mouth.
“Night, shaded Wren:
all men’s dread
haven’s fatal ill”
“…what does it mean?” Muffy whispered as the two girls stared at the ominous message. Alice shook her head and turned away to let the hot white beam of the lighthouse wash over her chilled skin, but the words had robbed the light of its comfort.
“I don’t know.”
For once I grow sick of the long winter. I am weary of my endless hibernation deep beneath the frozen earth; I want the soil to thaw so that I might emerge and shake the ice crystals from my thick fur, stretch out my limbs so stiff and sore from a season’s huddled sleep. Surely, I think, dreaming of young buds emerging from the hard skeletons of bare branches, the spring must not be far off now. My heart beat quickens and my stomach rumbles, hungering for fresh sustenance after so many months spent eating away at my body’s limited preserves. My blood pulses with the promise of sunrise and fresh air and thawed creeks overflowing their banks with winter’s final melt, yet when I stir from my burrow to taste the air beyond the cold still bites at my nose and waters my bleary eyes. There were sweet green shoots on the bushes yesterday but morning finds them buried again under a layer of fresh fallen snow. All the world slumbers beneath its glittering white mantle, still and silent, frozen and forgotten. I have always loved the winter, yet my restless spirit cannot stand to retreat back into my dark, cramped burrow for one more day, one more week, one more month spent shivering and dreaming. I have always longed for winter, yet for once I find myself yearning for the rebirth and freedom of spring.
Ten years ago today. Ten years ago today my twelve year old self slouched down low at my desk, hoping to escape the notice of my algebra teacher as he reviewed last night’s homework. My pencil moved of its own accord across the lined paper, tracing and retracing one word blocked out along the margin, the letters spaced out as if in desperate calling: C h a r l i e . . .
My stomach lurched with a primal surge of fear when the floor began to tremble beneath my feet. It must have been mere seconds, though of course it felt like minutes, before my teacher barked the command we students had been trained to follow since first grade. “Everyone drop and cover; hold onto your desks; cover your head and neck.” I scrambled beneath my tiny desk, fighting back panic as the tremors mounted into a violent, thunderous shaking. The floor beneath us rocked and roiled for ages, longer than any earthquake I had ever experienced, longer than I had thought possible. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed the quaking would end. Forty five seconds later, a dreadful eternity to a girl often reduced to tears by even a magnitude three earthquake, the trembling finally ceased. But the shaking didn’t. My two story junior high continued to sway back and forth sickeningly like a ship tossed by angry waves. My classmates and I remained huddled beneath our desks, strangely mute, waiting. When the building finally settled, the other students crawled from beneath their desks in an excited chatter. Only I remained silent, shaky on my legs and struggling not to break down as I thought I hate earthquakes. I hate earthquakes. I hate earthquakes.
The principal relayed the news to us over a megaphone as we stood shivering on the school’s front lawn, unable to go back inside for fear of structural damage yet bound by state law to remain on school property. The magnitude 6.8 earthquake had hit somewhere near Nisqually. At the time the words didn’t mean much to me, except that I knew the quakes we usually experienced were always threes or fours, never anything so high. The unpredictable might of the earth beneath my feet frightened me and I continued to jump at every trembling, the sound of a jet plane crossing overhead or the washing machine kicking into high gear. Even years later, the slightest unexpected quiver can still rush my blood with a flight response of adrenaline. February 28th, 2001, the Nisqually quake. The shaking, the rolling, the broken roads; that’s what people recall when they trade their “where were you when” stories. I remember the fear. More than anything, I remember that.
The earthquake is a bitter reminder of another anniversary as well, one not marked by a date but by the name carved into my algebra homework. It was ten years ago next week, then, that I found him again. I had not stopped calling each night, standing on frozen toes on the back porch until my throat ached from shouting and my mother begged me to come inside. I did not want to admit I had given up, but my head hung low as I walked along the road after school and my ears no longer strained to hear his voice. I might have missed him entirely as I turned up the driveway, but a mother always knows. A patch of darkness out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and I turned, scanning the water logged ditch at my side.
And there he lay, crumpled and limp among the reeds. He had been close, so close, just two feet from home after eight days of wandering in the dark woods. Eight days of dodging coyotes and raccoons, ferals and strays, and two feet from safety he had been unable to dodge the car. Charlie, my Charlie, my little gray shadow. Even now my sister still recalls the inhuman wailing she heard in our house half a mile up the driveway, and the chill which crawled up her spine as she recognized the source of the noise and what her younger sister’s sobbing must mean. Charlie. My Charlie. My little one, my shadow. I would not see him again for many years, when he traded smoke fur for golden spots and tabby stripes, but I recognized him even then. I always do. And now that I have lost that one as well, and no amount of calling will bring that son home either, I will wait. I will recognize him again. I always do.
Walker, you are the first. Before the guttural tongues of man, the ancient language of mountains. Before the taming of fire, the slumber of snow and ice. Before the triumph of citadels, the revolving crown of stars.
Before name, breath.
Wanderer, you are the last. Beyond the hollowing of the hills, the eternity of the earth. Beyond the failing of the Sun, the rising of the Moon. Beyond the withering of the river, the fidelity of the ocean.
Beyond name, memory.
Wayfarer, you are the only. Barring guidance, the calling. Barring belonging, the unknown places. Barring voice, the meaning of silent solitude.
Barring name, understanding.
But I shouldn’t, you wouldn’t, we couldn’t. What have I to offer? Ghost stories. Lighthouses. Woods, water, winter, words. Musty books and autumn leaves; fresh baked scones and homemade jam. But am I naïve to believe that could ever replace the thrill of stolen kisses? What else have I to offer if not vulnerability? Seashells. Picnics. Rain, rocks, rivers, ravens. Fairy rings and starless nights; midnight trains and harvest Moons. But am I a fool to presume that could ever be proof enough for you of my love? What else have I to offer if not intimacy, not touch? We couldn’t. You wouldn’t. I shouldn’t.
(but what if the ghosts are just hungry for words and so they come creeping to the windows with scrabbling bare branch fingers to riffle through the old letters in search of long forgotten names and addresses what if they’re just dissonant specters who can’t let go would it be so wrong for me to scatter white rice words across the carpet but no they say it’s a trap don’t acknowledge the ghosts don’t open your mouth do you want them to win do you want to trade your life for their’s but I’m not afraid of ghosts I just want to sleep through the night and if I’m being haunted either way I might as well play the game)
they tell me not to speak to ghosts but they aren’t the ones who wake in the morning to the pictures turned back from the wall and the letters all scattered and opened blank inside but always with the promise of words so that fool as I am I hold them to the light so sure to find the hidden message the secret code spelled out in Bible verse numbers or zeros and ones but spectral fingers left no prints and movement at the edge of my vision is just curtains rippling in the wind
[ Ellira Brightwind makes her second appearance, this time to bequeath upon the Sisters of the Divine Vale some sage advice for the new year, complete with a generous helping of adjectives and Unnecessarily Capitalized Words. Kinda lost my steam by the end of this piece, but I wanted to finish it anyway. ]
Celebrations and salutations to the Newborn Year, most cherished sisters! This morning the rising Sun dawns upon the promise of many experiences and possibilities in the days to come. With the arrival of the New Year, we are in a unique position to embrace the limitless potential stored in our bodies, minds, and hearts. Now is the time to take advantage of the fresh energies aligning along the elysian pathways and continue the quest for your Infinite Self. Never fear if such a task seems insurmountable, my dearest ones! You should never balk from change for fear of the Unknown; when you have faith, the Universe moves within you and guides you on your proper way. Open your Self to glorious transformation in the New Year by devoting your core energies to the triad of your body, mind, and heart.
~ Preservation of the Body ~
Our bodies are our temples. It is through our bodies that we interact with the world around us, the flesh and bone means by which we experience the Middle Realm. We are born of the Mother’s earthly womb and our bodies are Her treasured creations; we are nourished by the grains of Her soils and the fruits of Her orchards and the sweet, cold waters of Her rivers. When we nurture ourselves on these good, natural sustenances, we reaffirm our connection with all the living world. However, when we defile our bodies with synthetic creations, our temples begin to decay. Processed foods, alcohol, artificial preservatives – these things are wholly unnatural, not of the Earth or the Mother Goddess, and so they do not provide our bodies with any true nutrition. Instead they only bloat our Inner Selves with empty energy and we devour Nothing, imagining ourselves full even as we waste away. With the birth of this New Year, sisters, renounce all dependency on false foods and honor your temple with the Mother’s gifts of land and water and sky. Let nothing pass your lips which is not good or natural. Eat and drink of the Mother Goddess and you shall remain pure.
~ Strengthening of the Mind ~
Our minds are the altars of our body’s temples. When our bodies flourish, so do our minds. The Mother Goddess teaches us to listen well to the rhythms of our beings and the natural ebb and flow of the Spirit River, whose fount springs forth from the wide roots of the Tree of Life. This coming year, take time each day to meditate and reconnect yourself with the living world around you. Breathe deeply and feel the land breathing with you. Attune yourself to the rhythm of existence and embrace your part in the Greater Whole. Seek silence and listen with your inner ear to the heartbeat of the Universe. Let your life pulse in time with that deeper drum. Close your eyes and open your Third Eye, so that you may glimpse the wonders and beauty of every plane. See everything, and open yourself to the truths of the cosmos. Steady your mind in this way each morning and night, and you shall know peace.
~ Renewal of the Heart ~
Our hearts are the chalices which rest upon our mind’s altar and are protected by the purity and strength of our body’s temple. The worries and sorrows of the Old Year still weigh heavily upon our hearts; with the arrival of the New Year, we must shed these shackles and give birth to new wings with which to ascend beyond the woes of the past. Let your heart be as a newly planted seedling in the rich earth of the Mother’s womb, young and bursting with joyful energy. Reach up to the Sun and bask in its nourishing rays as you thank it for the gift of warmth and vivacity. In this way you will grow vibrant with the Spring; when the Winter’s storms lash and rage, you will bend but will not break. Your heart will be as a willow in the wind, strong and fluid. Be flexible in your heart, embrace all opportunities and trials you face in your life, and you shall emerge victorious.
With the coming of the New Year and the birth of Spring, let your bodies be cleansed, your minds opened, and your hearts filled with compassion and understanding. With the love and guidance of our sanctified community, we all shall walk the surest path of Destiny. Until we meet again, be it in this plane or in the Inbetween where dreaming bestows true Sight upon our Third Eye, walk with the heartbeat of the Earth and carry the blessings of the Sisters of the Divine Vale with you to all corners of the Connected Realms.
The Breath of the Mother be with you. Namarie.
~ Ellira Brightwind, Sister of the Divine Vale
The desert is an unfamiliar landscape to her. When she first set out south her journey took her through the slick mountain passes. Skirting the cliffs of granite and ice, she wore heavy furs and rode a cloven hoofed reindeer with antlers as sharp as the daggers at her waist. She lit no fires at night and woke each slate gray morning covered in fresh fallen snow. But as she had descended into the foothills the snow line receded and the pine forest thinned, then vanished as golden plains overtook the land. Then even the grasses began to grow sparse until the dark earth showed between their dry blades. At the edge of the desert she came to a city cut into the red rock cliffs where copper haired women clad in airy silks walked with scimitars in their hands and veils on their faces. She traded her wolf skin cloak and riding leathers for cool cotton and her shaggy northern beast for a slim brown horse with a pale blond mane.
Now, her long hair wrapped up in silk and her sword ready in hand, she enters the desert. The wind whips sand into her eyes so that she must bow her head and trust her mount to find its way. In the distance she glimpses flickering lights, purples and greens and reds, but the women have warned her not to heed the ghosts’ lanterns or follow their false paths. There are monsters hidden in the sand as well, creatures without arms or legs or eyes but with rows of serrated teeth, and she leaves a trail of their oozing bodies behind for the dunes to reclaim. After an eternity the howling wind eases; the sand settles; the hot air clears. Before her, the Colossus rises out of the sand sea like an oasis of stone the color of dried blood. Seated above the gaping doorway towers the carved stone figure of a woman a hundred feet tall, her upraised palms rested on her crossed legs in meditation. She dismounts and bows low to the statue, she who has never bowed to any, then enters the temple to ask her destiny of the Goddess within.