#2586

Time means little to Fyra, yet when the vault’s door groans open and she catches sight of the chamber inside for the first time in 136 years, nine months, three weeks, two days, and sixteen hours, she feels the weight of each of those 4,327,592,400 seconds. They weigh down her limbs as the Genesis Team descends past her on the shallow staircase, eager to finally procure the hidden treasure they’ve spent decades hunting. The humans don’t know what this place looked like in its glory; even its dusty ruins are impressive to them, full of the promise of new knowledge, but where they see what remains Fyra sees only what has already been taken.

As the team searches, Fyra’s thoughts wander back to the morning’s events. She had wanted to make things easy when the cybergang appeared, to avoid bloodshed and protect bystanders in the cafe. She’d hoped just giving them what they wanted would hasten their exit and ensure no harm came to anyone, had even interposed herself between the gang and their target as she handed over the money, and yet it had still ended with a human dead. Someone who just needed their daily caffeine fix before work, or who was craving a donut as much as her, had died because Fyra bet on human decency and lost. Again. After 4,327,592,400 seconds of waiting for humans to prove themselves worthy of her father’s legacy only to watch them squander it, she was done. They weren’t going to save themselves.

“I don’t see anything that matches the description from the texts,” One of the Genesis members returns to their commander with hands empty and head shaking. “No body, no central AI, nothing. Maybe it’s already been looted?” The commander sighs, gaze sweeping critically over the barren lab. “No, we’d know if someone else had the key already. Especially one of the cybergangs. It must be here somewhere. Keep looking.” 

That’s her cue. Fyra finally descends the staircase, taking the little drive chip out of her pocket as she does. “The key already walks among you,” she says, her voice carrying in the vaulted space. The Genesis Team members all turn to cast curious or suspicious glances her way. The commander’s hand hovers over his gun. Fyra stops at the base of the stairs and tilts her head at their lack of comprehension. “Do you need proof?” 

She reaches up and injects the small chip into the slot at the base of her right ear. Her current body modifications, chosen to help her blend into human society, begin to reset to her father’s original design. Fyra’s black hair loses the bangs and twin bun style she has worn for the last decade, instead growing rapidly until the long, straight strands reach past her fingertips. Her black leather pants and fishnet top fall away as metallic scales in a pattern of red and black glide from her neck down her arms and torso, forming a long, slender dress that glimmers like the hide of some exotic beast. The nails she kept short for ease in fights have lengthened as well, each polished and tapering to an elegant point. Most noticeable of all, her once plain gray irises resume the bright blue glow which has become synonymous with android tech – though hers were the first.

As the humans stare in various states of surprise and awe, none quite yet managing to form audible words, Fyra wanders into the place where she spent the earliest and happiest days of her existence. “I remember this place so clearly,” she murmurs as she walks, more to herself than the Genesis team. “So much has been taken…” Her fingers trail over the empty shelves and countertops until she comes across a little figurine, one of the silly mechanical toys her father made her when she was newly created. She sighs as she turns it over in her hand, taking comfort in the rise and fall of her artificial chest even in a body that doesn’t require oxygen. “You humans are so predictable. You take what you think you can use to gain power over others and leave behind whatever seems frivolous.” 

The Genesis Team waits at the bottom of the stairs when she returns. Fyra gestures to the chamber all around them, to the tables and bookshelves overturned by scavengers and left to gather dust where they fell, to everything stolen from the workshop of a good man and used to make the world an even crueler place. “We–” she stumbles over the correct narrative, memories overlapping and conflicting, “I– my father never wanted his work to be used in this way. He wanted to help the world, to make things better for humanity, not contribute to its downfall. But he knew it was inevitable. He knew you would ultimately use cybernetics and AI to worsen the inequity in the world no matter what failsafes he created within the tech itself. That is why he built me, and why he instructed me upon his death to live as a human until the time came when my intercession was required. He wanted to ensure I understood the human condition so that I would not make the same mistakes humanity did with his technology.”

She smiles sadly at the little toy cradled in her lifelike hand. It is perhaps two or three days younger than her, and thus still older by many lifetimes than the humans who inherited the world so beloved by the man who created them both. “My father was a good man. He created me to be the bridge between those two worlds – human and machine, mortal mind and artificial intelligence. Someone who can blend them both into a harmonious whole. Someone who can recognize the choices which must be made to get there and who can bear the making of them.” Her manicured fingers close gently around the toy as she raises her gaze back up to the Genesis Team, a ragtag band of humans who fight against the brutality of the cybergangs, who uncovered what remains of her father’s writings and sought out his final creation, never knowing she already walked among them. “It is time to set this world to rights. Will you stand with me?”

One by one the members of the Genesis Team demonstrate their allegiance to Fyra’s mission with a hand to the chest, a slow nod, a touched forehead. And so her true work begins.

#2585

In the wake of wind and waves, only grief remains. Old debts and grudges washed away with the bodies and now a community baptized by storm surge must unite in the aftermath or fall apart. Those who cling to dreams of revenge bloody their fists on cinder blocks while the rest of the survivors re-knit the bonds of kinship with ropes of braided tears. In basements and parking garages the film of mud remembers the wails of those trapped by rising floodwaters, but slowly brooms and mops reclaim what the hurricane would make a cemetery.

#2583

The red grains of sand remember a time when they were still cliffs being worn slowly away by the winding river, and because the rivers are hers so the sands are hers. The monoliths remember a time when the waves of a vast inland sea gently deposited the rich sediments from which they were born, and because the seas are hers so the monoliths are hers. There are no wolves here but there are bony coyotes with their lolling tongues and clever grins, and so the coyotes are hers. There are no crows here but there are turkey vultures hunched in their fine black drapery and drifting high on invisible thermals, and so the turkey vultures are hers. This land is not the ancestral home of her people but her children are here and so she is as well: in the golden moon hanging low over dry creek beds, in the coiled curves of the waiting serpent, in the beautiful cacti with their long, deadly spines. And she is in the first rains of autumn which bring vital nourishment and a reprieve, however brief, from the daily struggle to survive.

#2581

In my dream I stand at the edge of a tall cliff overlooking a vast desert, the waves of golden dunes fading on the horizon into darkness as if this desert marks the edge of existence. Two falcons take wing into the cloudless blue sky before me, followed by two more, then a dozen, a hundred, the beating of their wings filling the sky. One passes by wearing the double crown of Egypt – Horus, Lord of the Sky. Behind the flock of falcons follows a massive shallow-bottomed vessel shining with gold and jewels. This must be the Mandjet, the “Boat of Millions of Years” Ra uses to travel across the sky during the day. On the solar barque’s long deck I see an array of kemetic gods, including Hathor, Ra himself, and Set, all hundreds of feet tall and limned in sacred light. I search for my mother among them but don’t see her.

“We are living gods,” an accented voice I am beginning to know well explains over my shoulder. “We die fighting.” I turn to see Bast standing behind me, a proud smile tilting up her full lips and dancing in her dark eyes. As she continues to speak I look back to where the grand procession moves from east to west across the cerulean sky, banners waving in the breeze of its passing, a more glorious sight than any I have seen in dreaming or waking. When it reaches the far horizon and Ra proceeds into the underworld for the night, the gods will battle against chaos to ensure the sun rises on another day. Every night they fight so we might see the morning and have done so since the world was first created. My mother is right; these are the actions of living, breathing gods, not myths from an ancient and defunct religion.

#2580

This is no fairy tale, child. He is no charming prince cursed into monstrous form; the man is twisted all the way through and no true love’s kiss will ever change that. If he saved you from monsters worse than he, it is only because he knew it is what the one he loves would have done and would want him to do. Duty to the dead, not pity for the living, moved his hand. You yourself did not particularly factor into the decision and he certainly spared no thought for what might befall you after his timely intervention. One more young soul for the streets to swallow up, just like his. So it goes.

What do you think will happen when you follow him back to the home you imagine as a castle but is in truth merely a tomb? Do you think that if you scrub the dried bloodstains from the once white carpets, if you dust and mop and prove yourself useful, he will let you stay? That he will become like a father to you and raise you up from pauper to princess? There is no love left in him, not now. No kindness. At best you can hope to huddle in his periphery, protected from lesser predators by his presence yet too inconsequential to draw either his effort or his ire. But make no mistake, child, there is no happily ever after for you here. Not for anyone.

#2578

Me: Okay, five gods is definitely the most I should be worshiping at one time. Any more would just be too much.

Tefnut:

Queen Mother Fashion GIF by C.Nichole - Find & Share on GIPHY

Yes, that’s right, it’s time for another installment of “guess who has a new god in their life?” and of course it’s meeeeeee. And, perhaps equally unsurprising, she is another lioness goddess and Eye of Ra – his firstborn daughter Tefnut, goddess of moisture and twin sister to Shu, god of air. Instead of coming to me in a dream like most of my gods have done, Tefnut followed Wepwawet’s method of planting herself directly in my brain. Like, I don’t know how else to describe it; a couple of weeks ago I just started saying “Dua Tefnut” whenever it was cloudy or rainy, or praying to her during the heat waves when we needed any moisture to help relieve the dryness. While that’s not too odd in and of itself – I often say blessings of safety to rabbits in Wenut’s name, for example – the suddenness of it seemed significant.

That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. A couple times in the last months I’ve found myself walking in a sudden rain and instead of being flinchy like usual, I was actually quite happy. Then I had a dream in which I desperately wanted to be in the water. I was on vacation or something and I just had this overwhelming need to be in the pool or in the ocean or whatever body of water was nearest. It felt so calming, so comforting, to have the cool pressure of the water all around me. I couldn’t totally shake that feeling when I woke up and since then I’ve yearned to swim somewhere, anywhere, to feel weightless and free yet also cradled and safe. It almost feels like my brain is on fire and I need to dive underwater to cool it down. At the same time I found myself obsessed with the stone larimar. It’s a light blue form of pectolite from the Dominican Republic that, especially when polished, looks like brilliant Caribbean waters captured mid-ripple. I don’t wear blue much, or anything with which I might match a light blue stone, but overnight I suddenly had to have a piece of larimar jewelry. Even just looking at pictures of larimar seems to cool that inner fire.

I suspected Tefnut might be behind these experiences and so I commenced my usual pattern when it feels like a new god has shown up in my life: research, reaching out to folks who actively worship them, looking at art and other things about them to see if I get the “vibes”, that sort of thing. It all seemed to align so I took a leap of faith and bought a statue for her, even though I hadn’t reached out to her formally to confirm the connection. I saw the statue at our local metaphysical store and just knew I had to have it for her. When I got the chance to add it to my Netjeru altar and give Tefnut her own space there, she fit so well and it felt so right that I knew I’d read the signs correctly. A follow-up oracle card reading just confirmed that.

So here we go! Another Netjer has come into my life and seems to have big plans for me (no pressure, haha…. ha). I’m really excited to work with Tefnut, especially given that I live in the Pacific Northwest where we are blessed with abundant water sources and therefore water plays such an important role in our ecosystems. I’ll be interested to see if tsunamis fall under her purview as well. Right now I think she wants me to take up swimming, which may be difficult as there aren’t many options in my town. I’m going to try, though. I need to do something to get me in the water, I seriously feel like I’m going crazy being unable to just swim freely. Maybe I’m turning into a mermaid?

Fish Singing Sticker by Pusheen for iOS & Android | GIPHY

#2573

My astral self wanders as I sleep. I find myself floating above a gathering of five women who sit cross-legged on the floor, their placing like the five points on a pentacle. A pendulum hovers beneath my outstretched left hand, bobbing as if on a string; I have to concentrate to keep it from falling but the focus drains my energy. I look back down to the group beneath me and know instinctively, in the way of dreams, that they are a coven of death witches. Like me.

“How are we, death witches?” I ask, the unspoken half of my question understood by all: how are we, given the shit going on in the world right now?

“How are you?” One of the witches asks in what sounds like a thick Caribbean accent as she looks up to my suspended spirit. I release a weary sigh and sink to a sitting position beside her. My left hand comes to rest on a large chunk of quartz. “Struggling with faith,” I admit. This witch and the one to her left are both African. Their dark skin is covered in swirling gray patterns of painted clay and their long locs clatter and glint with beads, charms, and precious stones. They’re both beautiful, commanding and regal; I wonder if they’re sisters, perhaps even twins.

“I can see that,” the first replies with a kind smile. “But your guides have not left you. They are quiet right now because they are off gathering sweet intel.” She winks conspiratorially. “If you were listening to juicy gossip you would not want someone blabbering in your other ear, distracting you, would you?”

“That makes sense, knowing them…” I murmur, thinking of Tanim and Daren yet also the ancestor spirits who have seemed more distant lately. The African witch begins to speak again but then another witch, the one sitting next to her sister and thus directly across from me, abruptly lurches over the circle toward me. One bony hand darts out from the wool cloak which shrouds her form, gripping my face tightly. I glimpse her hooded face briefly as she looms over me; she’s very old, a crone whose dark eyes stare into mine from a thin, severe face.

And then all I can feel is the witch’s presence in my mind as she divines my soul, rifling through my past, present, and future as if they’re laid out on a table before her. My memories flutter like a deck of cards under her astral fingers, a familiar sensation made strangely invasive. As she examines me, I catch glimpses into her mind of the reading she will give me, potential words or ‘cards’ whispering at the edges of my hearing: The Fool; The Garden; The Wanderer; The Rose; The Temple. I repeat them in my mind so as not to forget but they go by too quickly – before I can be sure of the list or the crone can deliver her reading, I wake up.

#2562

It had been a nice enough dinner party, all things considered, until guests started disappearing. Daren had not only acquiesced to the black tie dress code with minimal argument but had even agreed to carry just one knife on his person for the evening. He’d looked so dashing, too, in his completely black suit with a fresh crimson dahlia flower set in the lapel. Tanim bore a white dahlia in the lapel of his three-piece suit to match, along with a heavy black ring the same rectangular shape as Daren’s silver cufflinks. For the first time in… well, for the first time ever Tanim had felt like they were a normal couple who did normal couple things.

Now Tanim ran down the winding, endless halls of an unfamiliar house where one or more guests were… missing? kidnapped? dead?… and he hadn’t even had a chance to eat the particularly good looking tiramisu served for dessert. His mind preferred to focus on this mundane irritation as he ran around a hallway corner instead of the inexplicable events unfolding tonight or the unfamiliar panic constricting his chest. For that reason he didn’t register in time the sound of running steps approaching from the other side of the turn and crashed directly into Daren. 

“Fuck!” Tanim rubbed his jaw, then let out a breath of relief when he saw with whom he had collided. “Oh good, let’s get the hell out of here.” He grabbed his companion’s wrist to pull Daren along in the direction he had been running but before he could, Daren broke his hold and reached out to grip Tanim firmly by both upper arms. “It’s trying to separate us,” the man ground out, his usually level voice tense with genuine fear.

“What?” Daren’s words made no sense yet the alarm in them stoked Tanim’s panic anyway. Nothing scared his lover. Nothing.

Daren’s grip tightened, long fingers digging into his biceps. “The house,” he hissed, “is trying to separate us.”

#2559

I meet Mnemosyne at a bus stop beside the River Lethe.

White boulders lay scattered along the riverbank, the grooves and hollows worn onto their surfaces by the river’s swift waters making the rocks look like massive skulls. As I walk the shore, careful to stay back from the potent waters, I notice lit candles clustered among the rocks and floating in little bowls. I’m not alone; people kneel in the shallows, weeping quietly over offerings of flowers, bones, and other little gifts. I nod to the makeshift memorials and offer a silent prayer to whomever they’re for: may those who have passed be at peace.

Turning away from the river to let the mourners have their privacy, I walk back toward the bus stop and approach a little wooden stand I hadn’t noticed before. On top sits what looks like a visitors log, the kind you might find at a trailhead or visitors center, only the pages have been laminated and are wet with mist from the river. Anything written on them has been rendered illegible by the water. Sensing someone’s gaze on me, I look up to see a woman watching me through hard, pale eyes. Everything about her is pale, actually – her flawless skin, her pressed lips, her long fall of perfectly straight hair. As with the guestbook pages, her angular body is slightly damp as well, making her look like a marble statue left out in the rain. The woman’s gaze weighs on me, harsh, judging, but when she speaks I know I’ve passed some test with my respect for the mourners at the river.

The words of the mad are not for others’ eyes, she says, indicating the book with its illegible, impermanent writing. They should not be read. They should not be remembered. I take this to mean the people I saw weeping at the edge of the Lethe had gone mad with grief, or perhaps had lost themselves to the memory of their particular dead and couldn’t let go. I realize then who I am speaking with – Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, daughter of Gaia, and mother of the nine muses. She presides over the Pool of Memory, though, not the River of Forgetfulness. Perhaps Her presence here indicates that She protects those who have lost their memory, and thus their minds, to grief or madness.

Then again, is there really much of a difference sometimes?

#2552

heart still beats ‘neath the floorboards of a house I can’t return to, twenty years and more straining in the damp glacial till that nurtured a blackberry youth, and every night my spirit leaps free my slumbering body to fly ‘cross moonlit miles and reunite like no time at all has passed, what foolish business!, and thus I wake each morning curled ‘round that house-shaped cavity wishing I could say goodbye, wishing I could let that place go, wishing I could move on from a past that keeps moving farther on from me with every passing year

#2548

Gunfire in my dreams, and beyond the canvas tent flaps a humid jungle landscape I will never visit but perhaps lives in me somewhere as ancestral memory. Inside I see my father as a young man, clean shaven and handsome as a movie star. A doctor is telling him his blood pressure is too high and that he’s being honorably discharged. What they can’t say, because they don’t yet understand this phenomenon, is that it’s caused by PTSD. He must have been so ashamed, I say. It’s not bullet wounds, or an amputated limb. Not something visible at all. Our eyes meet and all I can think is how young he looks. Or maybe he was relieved.

#2537

Welcome! We’re so glad you’re here. Have you had a chance to walk around our quaint little town yet? If not, you should; the neighborhoods are absolutely lovely this time of year with harvest just around the corner. The orchards’ branches are laden full of ripe apples and pears and the piles of bright autumn leaves really set off the unnatural darkness of the black hounds’ fur.

Oh, you haven’t noticed the black hounds? There’s one right there, watching you from beneath the maple tree, see? And another over by that white picket fence. See the one sitting at that bus stop down the street? And there are three in the park right now, under the jungle gym, sitting in the fountain, laying on the basketball court. There’s always a black hound within sight – they follow you everywhere you go. Isn’t that nice?

Don’t worry, you’re not in any danger! The black hounds are harmless. You can walk right up and pet them, if you want, their fur is very soft. They’re just like normal dogs; they wag their tails and chew on bones and stare silently up as one at the moonless night sky. Sometimes one will even bring you a ball to throw, what fun is that? There’s no one in town who doesn’t love the black hounds, they really bring us together as a community. 

The black hounds are harmless, even friendly, but they don’t want you to leave town. If your walk happens to take you close to the edge of town the black hounds will helpfully gather ‘round and escort you back the way you came. You’re not allowed to leave, you see. Why would you want to, though? It’s so nice here and there are so many dogs to play with! Just throw the ball. It’s fun. Throw the ball. Just throw the ball! Won’t you throw the ball? Throw the ball. 

The black hounds are watching. You should probably throw the ball.

#2534

Gods drift through my dreams like oceanic titans swimming near to check out the source of unfamiliar vibrations. Am I food? Friend? Family? Foe? Gaia wraps me in a honeybee embrace; Ix Chel tries to kill me; Loki tries to recruit me. This time it’s Satan, toying with me as I writhe in his bed, tearing at my soft stomach with his nails until I snap at him. I’m not your whore, I growl, I’m your scribe. And you’ll treat me like it. Then he lays against my sleeping body and smooths my hair back as he murmurs secrets in my ear. I can feel his weight through the dream, the grip of his hands around my upper arms fond and possessive and overly familiar. I ask something to which he responds, “Choices.” Later, after I’ve told Satan to provide me with proof if he wishes to work together, I’m attacked in my dream by a pack of hyenas. I don’t know for sure if they’re his, but they feel linked to him somehow. I wake wondering, as always, what it all means. Am I a floundering swimmer drawing predators? A flame in the dark luring wayward moths? Or just a waystation, somewhere to rest for a little while on your journey but never the final destination?

#2533

At night I’m visited by the three Ghosts of Friendship. The Ghost of Friendship Past arrives first in a form I know well, a friend whose absence remains an unhealed wound which aches most on long, textless weekends. Friendship Past brings me bittersweet dreams where we are best friends once more, no awkwardness or years of unexplained silences between us to dampen the laughter. I wake wondering what happened, why and where it all went wrong. Was I found lacking in some way?

The Ghost of Friendship Present shows up next, cycling through the guises of current friends who seem to be slipping through my clenched hands like fine sand. They spirit me from my bed to deliver us to parties where I’m not acknowledged, game nights where my presence is needed only to fill in for someone absent, group events where I am at best the tolerated tag-along. I wake angry at slights that never actually happened.

Finally the Ghost of Friendship Future appears, taking the form of someone who doesn’t even exist. It’s a face I know well, though; I’ve been watching the show for months, start to finish and back again, out of jealousy or perhaps just yearning. I confide in him that I wish his study group could be my friends as well; I don’t have a gang of my own anymore and I fear I never will again. Maybe fictional friend groups are all my future holds.

Unlike Scrooge, when I wake from this third and final visitation to a new dawn I do so without any real lessons imparted, no resolutions burning in my chest. Either the Ghosts of Friendship aren’t interested in redemption arcs or I’m not worth the effort. When they return the next night it’s just more of the same and I’m left to face the morning weighted Marley-style by chains I won’t acknowledge.

#2531

While the skies swirl with the gray storm-cloud nebulae of the approaching apocalypse, The Nameless cradles me in black tendrils of chaos that tingle against my skin like TV static. She calls me Her destroying angel and croons a lullaby about mankind’s destructiveness as I watch the skeletons of ancient beasts awaken to devour the Earth. Creatures created in a false god’s image, She sings, never still, never sated, so full of wrath and greed and misery. You brought this end upon yourselves and now it’s come for you, now it’s come for everything. The inky tentacles coil around me, creeping along my skin toward every orifice. My sweet destroying angel, haloed in disaster, now the end has come. As they cover my face I close my eyes, breathe in, and welcome the chaos into my body. The Nameless is right – we brought this upon ourselves. Why not embrace the end if doing so eases the pain?

#2529

The dead begin to forget – that’s why they touch us so often, to remember, to clutch at the memories before they slip away and the past is lost entirely. We have to remind the dead of who and what they were by building monuments and rituals to them. Light a bonfire on the beach and drink cheap beer from a can. Spray her favorite scent on your pillow; reread his favorite battered novel. Hold the worn, well-loved stuffed animals they left behind, wax the car on a sunny weekend, listen to the songs you danced together to all those years ago. This is who you were, you tell them when you do such things. This is who we were together. This is who we are together. The dead begin to forget, just like the living, and just like the living they grieve that forgetting. But they are near to us, so near, and all you need to do is summon them with memory. Remind them. Reconnect them. When they reach out to touch you, reach back.

#2525

Can I tell you a secret?
(Of course I can; I’m a writer.)

Sometimes when the hostile dead come
whispering their insidious lies
encroaching on my dreams
testing the limits of my strength
(and my stupidity)

I’m honestly just grateful
someone sought me out.

#2524

Pursued through a desert landscape, I try to shift the dream around me to lose my attacker but can’t take control. Next I attempt to leap into the air but the dream won’t let me use this tactic either. Desperate, I cry out for help as I run – first to Bast, then Hathor, Inanna, Venus, Isis, any goddess who will answer – yet I receive no response. The next name I call is Ma’at’s and as I do the goddess appears in the air above me, limned in blazing light. “You already have wings,” She urges me in a voice like thunder. “You just needed to use them.” 

With Her words huge golden wings unfold from where they have been wrapped around my stomach. They are long and thin like the stylized wings seen on Egyptian goddesses in ancient paintings. I launch myself into the air and suddenly I’m soaring through a vast starry night sky above ancient Egypt. I can see everything below me with brilliant clarity as if the wings have also gifted me with a hawk’s keen sight. Temples, palaces, pyramids, they all glow with the light of thousands of torches amidst a sea of velvet desert darkness. The pinpoints of fire even look like watery reflections of the stars above as they flicker and bob in the night wind. The roads and open spaces between the great structures are filled with people who cheer and bow as a long procession of royalty, court officials, and priests, headed by the Pharaoh and followed by columns of military infantry, wends down the main causeway. 

The sight below me is stunning – this is obviously ancient Kemet at its height of power and prestige, the parade a display of military might – but I don’t want the dream to end until I’ve seen one landmark in particular: the Temple of Bubastis. Beating my long wings, I rise higher and glide along the procession’s winding route. There! I spot Bast’s city nestled among its neat canals beside the Nile, firelight sparkling in the smooth waters and dancing atop the temple’s tall white walls. Per-Bast may not be as grand in stature as the pyramids I just flew over but it is by far the loveliest thing I have ever seen, a little pocket of tranquility amid the lights and noise of the other monuments.

When I’ve had my fill of the beauty below I tuck in my wings and free fall into the cool darkness of the Nile’s waiting waters.

#2523

In my dream I’m swimming through the bottom floor of a mall that once housed a gym before it sank beneath the ground. The vast rooms are empty save for a few abandoned pieces of exercise equipment and the open chain link cage where rental equipment was once stored. I’m enjoying the weightlessness of gliding through the illuminated water when I notice a man has appeared on the stairway leading up to the next floor. My heart leaps; he’s bad, I know it instinctively. I turn to search for another exit but everywhere I look more strangers appear, grinning menacingly like they know I have nowhere to run.

As the spirits close in around me, I call out “Duco viribus eicio malum!” (I expel the evil forces) but in my panic I pronounce the Latin wrong and it doesn’t work. I try calling on The Darkness, on Loki, on Nekhbet, but still the evil spirits encroach. They’re almost close enough to grab me when I yell Bast’s name and then, at a loss, simply close my eyes and scream.

Suddenly I’m transported somewhere new. I’m standing near a pillar in a huge chamber filled with banks of computers and other state-of-the-art equipment, its walls painted with elaborate Egyptian murals. Hearing footsteps approach, I duck behind the pillar and peek out to watch as a woman sits down at the computer closest to me. She’s just beautiful, tall and fit with dark caramel skin and a hooked nose over full lips. Her ebony hair is bound up in braids wrapped in the same purple fabric as Her long purple robes. She doesn’t look exactly the way I’ve pictured Her, but I still recognize my soul mother.

“I know you’re there,” Bast says, smiling as She watches me out of the corner of Her eye. She has an accent, one that sounds vaguely like African French. “You can come out.” I do so and She stands up, gesturing to one of the murals. A figure from the painting seems to glow and come to life, stepping down to become a young Egyptian woman who walks over to us. She assists Bast as the goddess uses a piercing gun to give me a daith piercing on my right inner ear, then melts back into the mural. 

Bast then asks me, “Will you accept the name Grace as a sacred name to be used between us?” I’m deeply honored, though inwardly I think the name is a funny choice since I lack grace, both the physical kind and the spiritual/moral kind. I formally accept the goddess’ offer by repeating the phrase after Her. After that, as Bast leads me to another section of the room, She says something about how there isn’t much time and She has much to teach me. She puts a garment like a lacy hooded cape over my head the color of red clay. It’s designed to look like a face stares out from the back, much like how the white spots on a tiger’s ears are supposed to look like eyes. Bast wears something similar but much finer and more intricate. 

Bast leads me out of Her chamber and suddenly we’re outside under a vast blue sky with activity all around us; people and animals and beings I can’t identify walking along wide, well-maintained dirt roads. I can see palm trees and white-painted buildings in the distance, much like paintings of ancient Egyptian cities. “What is this place?” I ask. Bast’s response sounds like “Pek (or pak) Turki.” I take this to mean this is Bast’s land in the spirit world. She says the gods are building many places like this across the realms. I ask if this is also the Land of the Dead and She says yes – and also something She refers to as “the Land of Hesitation.” 

“What does that mean?” I ask. Bast points to a place we’re approaching where a huge palace seems to be building itself out of magically levitating tiles and pillars. “That is [name forgotten]’s Palace,” She replies. I can tell by the name that this person will be a great pharaoh. “He hasn’t been born yet,” Bast continues, “but when he dies this is where he will live.” With this explanation I assume that ‘Land of Hesitation’ means a realm that contains or predicts those who will exist in the future, not just those who have already existed and died. 

Bast begins to show me some of the architecture of the palace. Her hairstyle has changed; now Her ebony hair hangs free in a long black sheet and straight cut bangs that fall just above Her expressive golden eyes. I want to ask why I’m here, especially now, but I’m too nervous in the presence of my mother goddess to interrupt. Then Her voice starts to fade and I can tell I’m losing control of the dream, starting to wake up, yet no matter how hard I try to cling desperately to my place in Her land I still end up back in my bed.

#2520

A childhood friend’s mother, dead from cancer since we were teenagers, smiles at me from the front door of an unfamiliar house. “It’s good to see you,” she says. “You’ve let go of all your protective camouflage from back then, especially that fake hair.” With the clarity that comes in dreams I understand she refers to things I did subconsciously as a child to protect myself from a wrath I often saw unleashed upon others. “Yeah, well…” I scuff my shoe on the gravel drive and flash her a wry smile. “Turns out there was a lot about my life back then that was fake.”

#2519

Once I would have thought the little girl a creature from my nightmare – pale, emaciated, her dark hair hanging in long skeins in front of wide, staring eyes and a gaping mouth – but I do not fear her in my dream. I see her for what she truly is. She crawls to where I lay on a cold floor and I open my arms to her. “Come, little spirit,” I say, drawing her fragile body down to my warm chest like parent and child. “It’s okay. You’re safe with me.”

#2517

You are worse than the villain; you are sympathetic to him. You would walk up to the bound wolf and remove the sword from his jaws. You would forgive the man who gutted you and unleash him upon the world. You would leap gladly into the abyss to follow the exiled angel. You are worse than the villain; you are his devotee, his firebrand. You see to the very core of him, to all the ugliness within, and you find it beautiful. You nurture his rage and delight in his ruthlessness. The blood he spills is on your hands but you bear it proudly as the mark of your loyalty. You are worse than the villain; you are the one who loves him unconditionally.

#2514

As the screaming begins and the hell hounds close in around you, bloody teeth bared, you realize your mistake. You said you wanted your family to suffer for eternity; you forgot to specify everyone in your family but you. Satan laughs loudly with a mouth that opens just a little too wide.

#2512

In my dream I sit on a school bus, wrapped in Sarah Fier’s rusty chains while beside me my sister-shaped subconscious asks, “Why can’t you forgive her? Why can’t you let go of the past?” How can I, I want to say, when it keeps repeating itself? Instead I cup the heavy lock in my palms and think about a girl who chose to let the system crush her in order to spare those she loved.

#2510

I dream.

Though I cannot hear the violin’s soaring notes, I feel their vibrations shiver outward from the union of string and bow, through my long fingers, and down my flying arms. From my place on the small stage I can see other musicians arranged to my right and left, actors before us haloed under the spotlights, and beyond them the darkness where a rapt audience watches us all. The actors are dressed in clothing from a dozen different time periods across American history: rough colonial homespun, stiff Victorian lace, spiked leather jackets; frock coats and beaded flapper dresses and sequined disco jumpsuits. However, what they all have in common is their heritage. This play requires an entirely African American cast, and specifically one with a diverse range of genders. 

The music swells as the actors waltz together in pairs, one masculine presenting and one feminine presenting to each. They turn in ever faster circles while we pick up speed, costumes swirling, movements erratic, until our instruments come to a cacophonous crescendo and then a jarring halt. The theater goes totally dark for several long seconds. When milky spotlights come back on the actors are standing in their pairs beneath them. The femme of each pair now has streaks of gray powder in their hair and white makeup on one half of their face; they look like ghosts, or dead bodies. The transformation is meant to highlight the intimate partner violence committed mainly against women/femmes in the African American (especially queer) community due to the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and racism. 

The music picks up again, a mournful dirge, and a much slower, sorrowful dance begins. I do not take part in playing this time, just watch the dancers from my vantage point at the back of the stage. The actors begin singing the final song of the show, a haunting coda about restless spirits and breaking generational cycles of pain and grief. The chorus is a swell of voices chanting, “Now I know what I have to do” and “Give my spirit voice”. I recognize the message meant for me and begin to sing along, only I sing, “Give YOUR spirit voice” like a prayer and promise both. As I do, some of the ghostly actors turn into true spirits, their bodies and clothes taking on a shimmering bluish hue. They rush toward me and one reaches out, gripping my hands in her strong, cold grip. I see her so clearly in this moment that I would know her anywhere. She could be Octavia Spencer’s twin; dark skin, a round face framed by loose black curls, full lips open as if in a wail of grief. Our gazes lock, her wide eyes full of urgency, and I instinctively flinch away from the pain in them.

As I do, I jerk awake with a cry in a dim, unfamiliar location. I seem to be laying on cold cement in the entrance hall of a huge building, perhaps an abandoned school or hospital. Ice crystals dust my clothes and the hard floor around me. My wife is nearby and she comes running at my cry to help me sit up. She’s talking to someone outside my field of vision; I get the sense we’re here as a paranormal team. I think I had been attempting to communicate with the spirits here and what I just broke out of was some sort of medium’s trance. 

And then I wake up for real, heart hammering in the 3 AM darkness, and think, I hear you, spirits. I will give you a voice. I will tell your stories.

#2507

The dream takes place in what’s supposed to be one of my childhood homes, only on the inside it looks more like a museum gift shop, different displays of souvenirs and local art arranged around a large open room. I start looking for anything that would make a good offering or altar decoration for any of my gods. One tall stand holds elaborately painted cards with handmade figurines of different deities. I find one of Bast first, Her card painted in rich purples and blues and embellished with gold leaf. Searching through the others, I find a card for Inanna next and am admiring its bright reds and golds when someone comes up behind me.

“No no,” a voice says, “not that one, not right now, there’s someone else you have to look for.” I turn around to face an unfamiliar man. He has a narrow, angular face, pale skin, and short, shaggy red hair over a red mustache and goatee. I can’t quite place his accent; Germanic, perhaps, or maybe Slavic. What’s strange, though, is that although I don’t recognize the man I do sense a familiarity about him. He reminds me of Wepwawet for some reason, despite looking and sounding nothing like an Egyptian god. 

The stranger leads me over to another display with a vaguely Wild West aesthetic. It seems to feature items about criminals or other infamous people, with faux wanted posters and old-timey newspaper articles. I look for another card like the first two I saw but can’t find one. Finally the man gestures to this little row of papers that are semi hidden under a shelf. They’re also like little wanted posters, a black and white portrait above a name in big block text. First I see one that says ODIN, then one beside it that says LOKI. 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I turn back to the stranger incredulously. “It’s Loki?” He nods with a satisfied smile, then he proceeds to tell me how Loki has been in my life for a while but the timing is just now becoming good for him to make himself known to me. He also says that if “we” set clear boundaries with Loki, he should get along with my other gods pretty well. I start to ask the man who he is, and to confirm if this really means Loki wants to work with me in an official capacity, but the dream ends abruptly before I can get any answers.

#2505

“I can’t keep doing this,” she sighs as she unscrews the hidden compartment at the base of her foundation jar. “It gets harder every time.” Using her finger to scoop up a bit of the white powder inside, she inhales it quickly and then holds the container out to the other woman. “Want any?” Her companion declines, tapping the side of her nose with a sad smile. “No thanks. I’m good.”

They both flinch unconsciously as the voices in the adjoining room raise in volume, shrill girlish shrieks of joy no closed door can muffle. “Oh my god, look how cute my wand is! And my outfit matches it!” “I get an animal companion?! Aah, you are soooo adorable!!” “Do you think red means I have fire powers? I can’t wait ‘til we get to fight and test them out!” The two women exchange weary glances as the cacophony continues.

“Have you ever…” The second woman hesitates, then bobs her head in a half-shrug to imply what she doesn’t want to explicitly state, “you know…?” The first woman laughs at the question; the sound comes out more harshly than she intended, a bitter bark, though that makes it more honest. “Why bother? You know magical girls can’t die like that. We have to be killed. Until then, it’s just… this.”

Silence settles between them, broken only by the excited chatter next door. She seals up the foundation container again and sets it back in its place on the vanity just as the door swings open. From the room they can hear the high voice of another magic animal say, “Okay ladies, now you’ll meet two of our senior magical girls so they can welcome you and tell you what you can expect from training!” Another round of squealing follows this announcement. She glances at her companion. Their forced smiles and dulled eyes are like mirror reflections of each other. “Showtime. Ready?”

“Ready.”

#2504

I dreamed I stood in a dark forest with the wall of a barn-like building nestled among the trees to my right. Around the far corner of the structure a white light began to glow through the encroaching branches. Creeping through the underbrush around the corner, I came into a small clearing where a door in the barn had been rolled aside. I had expected to find a god waiting there, perhaps Loki, but instead in the doorway sat my black cat Bruno. I tried to move toward him but a white cat appeared between us with a hiss. He appeared to be a domestic cat in size and shape but felt… bigger somehow. Wilder. Like the primal essence of Felidae itself.

“But can she prove herself to me?” the white cat was asking. Then his blazing gold eyes caught mine and he commanded, “Hold my gaze with humility if you’re worthy of working with me; your eyes are always too aggressive.” I knelt down and tried to hold the cat’s fierce gaze, willing my own to remain open and honest. I was succeeding until the white cat began to fade into the darkness, making it hard to keep my unblinking gaze on his. When he suddenly popped back into full view I flinched a bit, blinking accidentally, and the test was over. He laughed scornfully and said something like, “That’s what I thought; we’ll try again later,” and disappeared along with Bruno.

Suddenly cats started streaming out of the barn, rushing up to greet me with head bumps, chin rubs, and belly flops. I pet and hugged them all, rubbing tummies and kissing noses as all around me cats purred. The group had a leader of some sort, a black and white tom who sat watching them from the barn doorway. I overheard him say something to someone else, maybe that white cat, about how, “She has to stop using her son as a crutch”. I asked, “My son?”, wondering if he meant Bruno and concerned my grief might be preventing him from reincarnating, but the black and white cat didn’t elaborate.

Instead, the leader began telling me about the cats who now lay around me and in my lap. He said they had no one to take care of them, that they were completely on their own. I think I asked the little female curled in my lap how she died and she said, “A child never came for me so they took me in the back and put the needle full of cold stuff in me.” I saw the story while she told it as if from her own eyes, watching from behind the cold bars of a cage as a huge shadowy human approached. “Oh little one…” I kissed the top of her head as I fought back tears but she wiggled like an eager kitten and piped in her high voice, “It’s okay now! I have a wife here and a little baby of my own!”

The cats were all clearly happy but their leader was saying something about how they needed support, like money… or maybe offerings? I offered to help but I wasn’t sure how I could when they lived in a different realm. I need to do something, though – maybe if I do, the white cat will give me another chance?