#1719

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?

#1717

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.

#1714

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?

#1711

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.

#1707

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.

#1702

This summer will mark fifteen years that I have acted as scribe for Tanim and Daren. I still don’t know what to call them; are they ghosts who wish to be gods, or gods who wish to be ghosts? Remnants or fragments or the only true story, the one true mythology? Whatever they are, men and spirits and gods and demons, I have given every aspect of myself to them. Body, mind, heart, and soul. If the red string of fate truly exists, then it binds me as surely as a collar and manacles for which there is no key. I am a willing captive, though, honored to have been chosen by these forces who could once have haunted the great masters of literature and music. There is nothing else like them in all the world, in all of history. There is only one Lord Sun, only one Prince Moon, and I bow to them as scribe and devotee. No other will walk this path; it is mine alone, through darkness and light, fire and ice. It is mine alone, until my last breath – and perhaps beyond.

1697 – Winter Solstice

It starts in an unfamiliar city, a maze of empty streets and gaping alleys and the sick yellow of dying streetlights. As he walks he can sense the presence pacing him, never close enough to glimpse in the darkness yet never far enough to lose track. He does not quicken his pace, only casually slips hands into pockets to grip the switchblade’s cool metal. He knows better than to run from a predator of any species – and has no intention of becoming anything’s prey. As he walks, trees begin to appear along the road and alleys, the leafless skeletons of deep winter. Snow begins to collect along the pavement and black branches; soon it covers the ground and drifts lazily from the sky. His feet crunch as they break through the top layer of ice. Still he walks, and still the presence keeps pace, its own footsteps silent. With a slow and subtle motion he removes his hands from his pockets, the knife hidden inside the cradle of his fingers.

Eventually the buildings are left behind and the forest becomes the landscape, bare trees and snow covered earth stretching into darkness in all directions. In the way of dreams, the streetlights continue in an unbroken line, their weak light offering only enough illumination to pass through the treacherous landscape safely. He follows the path of the lights as if in search of their destination, but all of his senses are focused on the creature moving out in the darkness. He can hear faint breathing now, coming first from his left, then his right, then behind and ahead. Whatever follows him moves through the thick snow with practiced ease. It is fast, he thinks. Is he faster?

A low growl rumbles in a throat too close for his comfort and he comes to a stop beneath one of the anachronistic streetlights. The cone of light flattens the surrounding shadows into a two-dimensional wall, but sight isn’t the sense he relies on now; instead, he closes his eyes and strains for any sound beyond the soft hush of falling snow and the last notes of the growl. There is only silence… silence… silence… and then the nearly inaudible sound of a foot depressing the snowpack. Eyes snapping open as quickly as the blade in his hand, he whirls toward the sound and brings the knife up just as a hulking black wolf leaps from the darkness. For a moment they are almost one, man and wolf, white teeth descending and silver blade rising…

…and then the moment passes and they are falling past each other to collapse on opposite ends of the circle of light. Bleeding from long scratches to his face, neck, and shoulder, he stumbles to his feet and turns, blooded blade raised to ward off the next attack. But the next attack does not come, and will not. Across the circle, disturbed snow turns black-red around the unmoving body of the wolf and the beast’s thick fur masks the gash with which the sharp little blade felled its foe. Seeing the hunter turned slain prey, he sinks in exhaustion to his knees once more in the snow. Overhead, the streetlights wink out one by one.

– – – –

Daren woke with the sharp awareness of someone used to assuming danger’s nearness. He lay still for a few seconds, letting his senses process and report the all clear. His hands felt strange and he flexed them, noting his right gripped the knife kept always beside the bed. When he touched the fingertips of his left together he felt the tacky wetness of drying blood. Only now did he turn his head to the warm weight curled beneath the blankets at his side. Tanim lay motionless as if in a deep sleep.

[ And so another solstice passes. ]