can’t quite grasp the dream, just remember elegance, a mansion and fine dresses, but blood amid all that finery, something wrong, running down the paved garden paths past guards, into the hall full of revelers, why? something wrong, very wrong, danger, a knife or something else but blood, definitely blood, on pale hands? maybe, maybe, it must have been because they thought he was dead, they took him away in a body bag and left him in a cell but he wasn’t dead, he sat up when they weren’t looking, did he kill the guards? not sure but then later on a confrontation, an accusation and a broken nose, blood running down grinning lips, what do you do when your lover is the killer, so fragmented it’s all hard to remember but trying, grasping, why does everything feel important in the middle of the night?
The omen is ancient, almost an old wives’ tale by now, but the king takes no chances. Two yolks in one egg – the son will slay the father. With a roar he commands all of his sons be brought to him, from the oldest toddler to the youngest newborn. His wives rush to fulfill the order, carrying in their babes with tears in their eyes and lips clenched tight. The king takes each child personally, hurling them from the high tower window as if they have already sinned against him. Though once proud of these male children, of their potential as his successors and perpetrators of his line, he tosses them as if they’re nothing more than bundles of dirty rags.
Only the youngest princess, a worthless girl and bane of her father’s existence, dares intercede. She has always been too headstrong, too wild, and she tugs now on her father’s arms, at the guards, begging for mercy, for an end to this madness. None pay her attention past a swift push to get her away; none seem to care as half the royal family’s children are sent to their deaths. Beside herself, the princess begins to scream, a shattering wail like nothing such a tiny human should be able to produce. The sound is horrid and the king cannot ignore her any longer. He turns on the child, eyes blazing, and threatens to throw her out the window to join her brothers on the flagstones below if she can’t be silent.
It’s a threat he will act on without hesitation, the princess knows this, but she can’t sit by and watch this senseless slaughter. She continues her wailing until a guard makes to grab for her, then she runs. Down castle corridors, past bewildered servants and weeping wives, just out of reach of her pursuers. The doors to the outside are all blocked, so she heads for a first floor library, diving through an open window just large enough to fit a young girl but too small for an armored guard. The princess hits the ground running and makes a mad dash through the manicured gardens, mind racing to form a plan beyond mindless fleeing. She’s never been past the castle grounds; a princess only leaves the castle once in her life, and that’s to be shipped off to her husband. Where will she go?
This princess is determined to escape no matter what, though, and her tomboy proclivities, while shameful to the royal family, serve her well now. She vaults hedges and clambers up decorative walls, heading instinctively for the wall separating the castle from the surrounding nobles’ lands. While too high to climb, she uses the smaller walls like scattered stairs, jumping from one to another until with a final desperate leap she’s over the last hurtle and landing on the other side. Her sudden appearance startles a group of nobles’ children playing hopscotch. One of them, a boy the princess has often played with, rushes to help her up. Catching sight of the matron watching over the kids, she begins to babble her message of terror.
What meaning, these symbols, this strange play? The monster’s bride, as it were, though who knows what was ever truly in her heart, seeking sanctuary in a cathedral though surely she doesn’t believe. But she wants to right now and she mutters to herself to believe, believe, drawn in and hunched over with the weight of the darkness clinging to her back. Does she see it? Does she feel it? Or does she think the church doors can block out all evil? Perhaps they could, if only this shadow wasn’t so much a part of her that she carries it inside as easily as her bones and blood. She tries to sit on a pew but she’s too restless, she feels like she’s being followed, watched, hunted. So she paces, wandering near the priests as they light the great tall candles, and as she passes the shadow reaches out to snuff the flames and shatter the white wax into black smoke. One, two, three, four, it sends out its drifting tendrils to douse each candle and usher the shadows in the corners closer. She weeps, maybe, but she cannot or will not control the hungry thing she carries. Soon only the faintest, most remote tapers remain lit, for shadow does need a small bit of light for casting. The priests and worshippers huddle in fear. They watch as the darkness rises from her back like a cloak swept aloft by the wind, until with newfound strength it tears from her completely and drifts down to settle into its own autonomous form. A living thing draped in darkness, staring out at the fear and the panic with a smile on its hidden, or perhaps missing, face. It catches sight of itself, then, in mirrors hanging behind the crowd. I see you, sir, I think to the reflection, and bow my shadowed arms. Then I laugh, and the sound echoes through the cavernous halls. So thus darkness entered, came free, and took form. Thus the church was invaded and infected. But why? Why her, and why him? Who was I, in her body, in the shadows? Who was I in the mirror?
Suffering forms a hungry absence, a black hole to which we are always vulnerable. Once trapped in the pull we can never get far enough away; everywhere we go, the event horizon tugs at our hearts. If we give in, the force yanks us into darkness. If we fight, we only delay the inevitable. Thus the asylum pulls at Daren, and even claiming its name as his own doesn’t make any of its power his. St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, of lost people. St. Anthony, patron saint of black holes, ever dragging him back to the place of ruin. “Daren St. Anthony” has a nice ring to it, so it might as well be the name on his headstone. Part of him was buried in that place anyway, though by now he can’t remember what.
They say every age births its own gods, so maybe for this age of techno-extinction you’re the new goddess of war. What do you think? Maybe you’re Inanna and Ishtar, Kali and Sekhmet, just in a new story for a new age. No crown, just a bright red dress; no sword, just a machete and a lot of anger. Maybe that’s why you can never rest. Maybe that’s why you can never escape. What do you think, Alice? Maybe you’re trapped in the apocalyptic Eden of our new mythology, fighting corruption and chaos because we’re all afraid our bodies and minds will be taken from us. You’re proof that even infected, we could harness the virus and retaliate, tear down the walls and set the skies on fire. Science and genetics might have made you into a weapon, but you elevated yourself to the status of deity to challenge your creator. Goddess of war, goddess of resurrection, goddess of retribution, lead us down the rabbit hole.
In my dream I am Tanim, unhappy crown prince whose only joy is found in my lover and bodyguard Daren. Even this bit of peace is wrenched from me with the death of my father as the royal crown passes to me. In his wake the country is left in turmoil and I have no choice but to set aside my own desires, take up the heavy crown, and lead my people. Yet all is not well even then, and on the day of my coronation rumors spread that rebels seek to attack the castle in retaliation for crimes my family committed hundreds of years ago. When a panicked servant seeks the royal party out on the lake’s island pavilion with word of a direct assault, I have no choice but to send Daren to investigate, the one one in my court I trust implicitly.
The choice is my downfall. Even as he disappears over the hill the servant turns on me, panic replaced by cruel glee as he reveals a sharp little blade. I realize my terrible mistake and reach to draw my sword as I jump back, but it’s too late – the knife cuts deep into my torso and even though I try to call out to Daren as I fall, my voice is barely a whisper. Somehow my lover must sense the trap anyway, or perhaps has been enlightened to the falsity, because only a brief moment of the servant’s triumphant snickering passes before he turns in terror at the sound of Daren’s enraged howl. The bloody blade is little use against the gleaming sword and the skillful one who bears it, and the servant collapses before he can parry or flee.
The dream switches, then, and I am suddenly Daren, kneeling at my slain prince’s side as I try desperately to staunch the flow of blood. The wound is too deep, though, and I gather him into my arms as I call for the boat to the brought to take us back to shore. As petrified servants row us back toward the distant castle and its skilled doctors, I watch Tanim slowly bleed out onto the boat’s wooden bottom. There’s little awareness left in his clouded eyes but I speak to him anyway, pleading for him to stay with me, to hold on, to be strong. Soon my entreaty turns to angry despair and I’m alternately cursing the heavens, swearing the Fates won’t take him, and begging that if need be I’ll give anything to keep him safe, if only some deity will come to strike the bargain.
A light flares over my shoulder and I turn to see a woman standing in the boat amid the somehow unseeing servants. She radiates light, her entire being crafted of the cold white of the full moon, and around her neck and brow coils a serpent like ram’s horns. “Why have I been called?” the goddess asks in a voice both thunderous and silken as her blazing eyes stare down at us.
The dream switches again, then, and I am myself, no longer crouched in a tiny boat but kneeling in a pool of clear water, my head bent and lips pressed to the cool surface. Beside me my girlfriend lounges, and as I lift my head she asks, “Is one of them here?” I know somehow that she asks about the snake goddesses and I answer that I’m not sure, for I don’t yet know if the goddess who appeared to Daren is of a real-world pantheon or from the dream’s medieval world. My girlfriend nods and responds casually, as if recalling a sweet nostalgia, “Briar loved them, but I never knew what the Sixteenth Person was.”
And then I wake, truly, and lay in the warm dark with the name Inanna on my lips.
Much to my delight and surprise, Garrett Ray Harriman of Short4orm nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award. I have no idea what that actually means, but I like awards and I sure like Garrett’s superb writing. Now, normally I don’t take part in the blog award posts because I use my blog as a way to keep track of how much I’ve written, and non-writy things throw off the count, but I thought of a way around that… I’ll answer Garrett’s questions in the form of haiku! Then this post still counts as creative writing, right?
Apparently, for the Sunshine Blogger Award, the nominator asks 11 questions of their nominees. Nominees answer said questions, then choose 5 of their own nominees for the award (nominator excluded) and create 11 new questions to ask. Haiku not required (though encouraged by me!). Answers below, and then my nominees and their questions.
- How would you describe your sense of humor?
I could have written
Cards Against Humanity
(though fewer sex jokes)
- Who are your writer heroes?
Kushner and Koja, of course
Zelazny as well
- How do you define fear?
something you can’t face
be it monster or person
for lack of control
- How do you define courage?
something you still face
despite fear, anxiety
even if you’ll lose
- What was the first piece you wrote that moved you?
“How to Train Your Cat”
written at six; years later
laughed until I cried
- What musical instrument would you be and why?
maybe a sistrum
Bast’s beloved instrument
makes a joyous sound
- What is your favorite dessert?
fresh baked rhubarb pie
perhaps a bit of whipped cream
and the perfect crust
- Second-best use for books besides reading them? (doorstop, projectile, etc.)
build a fort of books
with a blanket for the top
hide from adulthood
- What do you do about procrastination?
left this one for last
I don’t have a great answer
put off, then push through
- Favorite superhero that hasn’t been created yet?
Crazy Cat Lady!
she’s not really crazy, just
rescues cats in need
- Question you wish I’d asked you?
what book made you wish
you had written it this year?
I’d say Bel Canto
For my own nominees, I tag ContagiousQueer (for your thoughtful social justice posts), ThingsMatter (because I think you love this sort of stuff), Days of Stone (for your beautiful poetry), AlicePan (because I HATE YOU (jk love you)), and Bad Poem a Day (because you might actually do the haiku thing). No worries if any of you don’t want to participate, though.
And my new set of questions…
- Favorite flavor of tea (or other drink of your choice, if you don’t drink tea)?
- What mythical creature would you want as a companion/pet?
- Favorite supervillain that hasn’t been created yet?
- What food did you love as a kid but hate now?
- What movie do you think is overrated?
- If you could meet one historical figure, who would it be and why?
- What does your blog/username mean and why did you choose it?
- What song do you hate to love?
- Is there a fictional character you wish you had created? If so, who and why?
- Do you name your electronics? What are their names?
- Favorite god or goddess?