As I lay in bed in the dark (click) early hours the preacher man speaks to me over Geiger counter radio crackle (click… click), he tells me if I’m lonely and (click) tired of the silence the dead are always ready to talk, they’re always (click click) so, so hungry and they would love to devour me, too; he shows me the prison down the road like that’s where they live maybe (click… click click), do they congregate there? does the prison (click click) even have a cemetery? I don’t reply to him; instead I bury my face in the pillow and speak to my absent (click) gods, the Sun and Moon, I tell them I will sit in the silence (click click click) as long as it takes for them to answer me because they’re the only ones I want to talk to, not the hungry dead or this creepy preacher ghost-thing, but inside I know I’m afraid if I listen to the dead for too long I won’t be able to stop (click click clickclickclick clickclickclickclickclickclick —).
You thought yourself so gifted by the Sight that you could miss nothing, not in the Otherworld and certainly not in this one, and look what a fucking fool you’ve been for it. He says “Let me go, Adrian, I’m not worth it, don’t risk yourself,” and you see for the first time what this man was trying to tell you with all those years of faithful service that you never once questioned, only took for granted because you thought them your due as the greatest Spiritualist of your age. Well congratulations, your name and work are certainly well known indeed to have drawn the attention of Hell itself! Now you bend over the bed and take his hand in yours, though his skin burns so hot it sears your palm, and you swear you will find a way to free him from the Devil’s clutches. His smile is a pitying thing (does he doubt your abilities or that you care enough for him to risk your life at all? you can’t tell because you haven’t bothered to learn to read him the way he’s learned to read you, oh you really have been an arrogant fool) and then it’s wiped away as he folds over with a cry of agony and you watch, helpless despite all your lofty arcane knowledge, as the taut flesh of his back splits apart, revealing a trench full of grasping, waving black tendrils where muscle and bone should be. This isn’t in any of your books, nor any tale of possession you’ve ever encountered in your travels, but you know instinctively that if you let those things touch your skin you’ll be taken over too. You tear your hand away just as fissures open along his arms, his chest, those tentacles that make you think somehow of fungi reaching for you eagerly. “I’m sorry, Damien,” you choke out, “I’ll fix this, I will,” and you run like the coward you truly are, leaving him alone to do battle with Satan while you plan your next move from the safety of your study.
These dreams of you are
Echoes from my subconscious
Just phantom limb pain
The ghost women in the walls sway with river current, hair drifting in reedy halos, eyes like fresh dug graves (a tired comparison but an apt one), they reach down from the ceiling for me while their viola voices vibrate a song which I will mourn the loss of upon waking, and though I know they mean to pull me through and switch our places, lock me in their two-dimensional tomb and steal my warm, vibrant life for their own, still I reach back, rising slowly up through the air to meet those filmy moonglow fingers, almost close enough to touch as the music swells; it is lovely just to be wanted, no matter the reason, and anyway I already know what it is to be dead, why should I mind being dead somewhere else?
Hot summer evening
You pass in a motel hall
Just going for ice
He eats my sweetbreads raw
garnished with the blood of the lamb
The mercy of cannibalism
a blessing from Satan himself
It have many names. A/pep. Abbadon. Satan. Fenrir. Dragon, Wyrm, Snake. Many names, same entity. Immortal, strong enough to crush world in claws. One day it learn how to take seeds of itself, make lesser monsters. Demons you call them. Some immortal like it and some not. But all very powerful.
I was one. Chalix. Humans call me hell hound. I like them, they little but fierce. Candle flickers, lifes so short, but full of living. Demons are forever but do not so much living. Boring to serve Dragon always.
Demons cut through humans like leaves, many ages, until few left. Other creatures like Dragon, ones humans call gods, give some magic. They last longer. But magic not enough. Technology not enough. Endless war come to close in far future. Humans so few yet still fight. They love life so they give it for others. Demons do not do this thing.
But we can. So Chalix chose. Humans. They are so fragile, but not Chalix. Demon make good sacrifice. Piece of Dragon? Very powerful. It not understand this. It crush Chalix like bug but can not undo giving. So humans have chance now. You have chance now. Last stand. Do not waste, yes?
Chalix good boy.
The Sun baptizes me in the red lake of his heart, not a lake of fire but blood as bright and hot as molten metal, or perhaps he means to drown me for he holds me under as I scream and thrash, and only after an eternity of agony does he lift me up in his arms (am I dead? am I reborn?) while beside him the Moon casts his indifferent gaze on my charred body and observes, They burn up so quickly.
The Oracle told me the woman with the horse skull was an omen, a messenger. But of what/who? War, pestilence, famine, or death? Look around; we are mired in all four. We trudge through the blood-wetted mud of a global battlefield, wounded by hope and burdened by despair. If that skeletal woman-thing meant me to face the harshest aspects of our world as part of my spiritual journey, I already do so daily. I am quite familiar with the dark goddess and I have never flinched from her stark, painful truths. So why confront me with such menace?
Perhaps that creature wasn’t sent by any god or goddess and there was no lesson behind its mocking words. Perhaps it was simply a shred of evil manifesting in my dream to sow fear and discord. Maybe it was the novel coronavirus, or racism, or homophobia; maybe it was capitalism or misogyny or the police state. Maybe it was America as she truly looks, not open-armed Lady Liberty or honorable Lady Justice but grasping, clawing Lady Greed. She hungers even as the ruling class sacrifices millions of innocent lives at her altar, and though she promises them wealth she will devour them in the end as well.
Ward your homes and your hearts. Evil holds much sway in our world right now.
In my dream a goddess led me up a long, winding staircase in the dome of a mountain. I thought she was Inanna, though I cannot remember now if she offered that as her name or if I assumed it from her appearance. She looked like how Inanna appears to me – a beautiful, naked woman with thick red hair, voluptuous breasts, and full hips. The only difference was that this woman bore both a penis and a vagina, yet I did not find this odd given Inanna’s power over gender. I understood she intended to complete some ritual by which to awaken other gods, or perhaps to resurrect them. I wasn’t sure of the exact details but I trusted her intentions and was happy to be of assistance.
After we walked for what seemed an eternity, we reached a vast stone chamber beneath the mountain’s peak. There was a dais at the top of the stairs on which stood two thick candles. The dais leaned out over a circular platform which seemed suspended in the air, save for a single staircase connecting them. The platform floated above a darkness which reached all the way down to the heart of the mountain. Its surface was carved with casting circles, sigils, and other such symbols of power, and in the center was a large image of a goddess.
Inanna took up a dagger from the dais and used it to cut both her palms. She then grasped the candles and as they soaked in her blood images suddenly flickered in the air around her, so fast I could barely make them out. They were all women, mostly dark haired and black clad, and I understood them to be all of the forms this goddess had taken since the dawn of time. Most of them were long forgotten, truly ancient, primordial beings who never even had names, yet some I recognized. I can’t remember who exactly but I think I saw the Morrigan, maybe Lilith and Ereshkigal, or other such goddesses of death and darkness and the underworld.
The images flickered out and Inanna stood now in the center of the sunken platform, beckoning me to join her. She needed blood and semen to complete the ceremony, and I was eager to lay with her. I descended the stairs to the sunken platform below, yet when I set foot onto the carvings everything changed. Not like lightning, but like how quickly the darkness descends in its wake. The carved circle was now a pit filled with sharp black gravel. In it a woman crouched, her feet buried in the rubble. She was a pale, starved thing and wore only a ragged black dress that covered little of her sunken flesh. The hands she extended were naught but splintered, blackened bone that dug into my flesh as she grabbed hold. I looked from them to her face and cried out in terror. Her head was a blackened horse skull topped with straggled black hair. Its long teeth grinned at me while its empty eye sockets leered and seemed to see too much.
I couldn’t even hear my screams; the chamber, or perhaps just my mind, was filled with a cacophony of screeching noise like every instrument in the world being tortured at once. I turned away to run for the stairs but her bony hands yanked me back. The long snout of the horse skull appeared over my shoulder, breathing rotten air past my ear as her grave dirt voice laughed and asked, “Isn’t this what you wanted?”
Falling through darkness with Death’s iron fingers a noose around my neck, I called out to you. I begged you to intercede before he crushed my last bit of life but you didn’t answer. Your radiance never pierced the darkness and so I sank through the void for an eternity. I call for you even now but you don’t hear me, or maybe you just don’t care. Do you know what he’s doing? Do you know what he wants? What options have I left then? The Moon is right here, offering his hand, and here I am in need of one to take. Could you blame me if I did? You’ve taken it too.
I touched Death. No, I was swallowed down by him. His body was iron, his hand a vice around my neck. Too bad you all rot in the ground, he said. I fell for an eternity through his darkness like a
house with black walls and no limits. I was wrong. I thought the N——- frightening but chaos is nothing next to the emptiness of death. He has not abandoned me. He is waiting. He will punish my faithlessness.
In my dream my mother and aunt wrap their bodies around me, skin to skin, and I am like a babe in their arms, my weary head resting on their pillowed breasts, my small hands clutching at their warm skin, and I am safe, so safe, so safe.
Reveal yourself!, I command the raging spirit as it snarls at me. Reveal yourself! It bares long fangs; its red eyes roll wildly with a feral madness. Reveal yourself! It lunges but I do not back down and I do not lower my outstretched arms. Reveal yourself!, I cry and the monstrous spirit howls in fury as my words finally dismantle its menacing facade. It shifts, shrinks, and by the time it regains its true form the howl is only a pitiful wail of despair. I kneel and pick the tiny spirit up, cup her in my hands and hold her close to my heart. She’s just a baby, a kitten barely six weeks old. That’s all the life she got this time around – six weeks. Six short weeks of fear and pain, enough time to experience the world’s cruelties but not enough time to understand them, and then death. She’s not even given the dignity of a grave because there is no one to mourn her. No one to remember her. No one to name her, even posthumously, so her spirit might know peace.
Fear, pain, death. No wonder she became so warped.
I realize I’m weeping, curled over this trembling little soul as if I can shield her from the horrors she’s already faced. Mother, I sob. Mother, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. How am I supposed to do this? I’m not strong enough to bear the weight of these truths; I’m not brave enough to open my heart to these sorrows. I fear they’ll drive me mad as well, that I’ll become a monster if I can’t gentle this awful tide of despair rushing through me. But that wouldn’t be fair to this spirit or the millions just like her who deserve recognition and empathy. If I can’t change the world completely, if there will always be innocent lives falling through the cracks, I should at least offer the solace of grief. Someone should carry the memory of all those lost souls so their brief lives weren’t in vain. I am a daughter of Bast; it is my duty and my honor. I don’t think I’m strong enough, it’s true, but I know my mother thinks I am. I must trust that is enough.
Like all lovely lies
Your gifts vanish with the dawn
More harm than good, they
Every inch of you is the knife: your lean form, your hair like a river of silver, your thin sharp smile and the cutting tongue it hides. Yet above all it is your hunger, so keen and cold, which has honed you to a wicked edge. It slides through flesh and bone with ease, cutting away every extraneous burden, every insecurity and fault and limitation, to lay bare the soul beneath. No defense can turn you aside; no secret can be buried too deeply for you to uncover and dissect. Your edge is so fine you cannot be handled without drawing blood, and only the very foolish or very masochistic would attempt to do so.
I still believe you loved me, even despite everything you did and everything you are. I think your claim that your profession of love was just a trick, a game, a twisting of the knife was as much to fool yourself as it was to fool me. Love and cruelty are not mutually exclusive, after all; I believed you capable of both and I always will. Does the year we spent together matter, though, if you chose to throw it away at the end to retain your precious reputation? You fool, I accepted you as you are – sadist, killer, monster, demon, I loved those parts of you and never once did I seek to repress them, even to my own detriment. If you chose not to act on certain desires, if you chose not to torture me like all your other victims, you have only your own battle of heart and mind to blame. I never intended to love you. You never intended to love me. Yet I did, you did, and the sum of us might have been a truly unstoppable force if you had but reigned in your stubborn pride just this once. Pride and fear: do you realize how much you let such mortal emotions rule you? You like to think you care for nothing beyond your simple carnal pleasures but really you are just like the rest of us, riddled with complex needs and reactions you cannot simply ignore. You love me. I know you do. And that knowledge will be of some comfort, albeit small, when I one day find your knife in my chest. That will hurt you more than it will hurt me, you know.
The body he wears is beautiful and young yet the entity inside is so ancient, so vast, it is incomprehensible even to experienced entities like the long-lived vampires. Lesser creatures, demonlings and imps and goblins, flee before him like schools of fish before a shark. Witches bare their throats to him as he passes and dare not even think of crossing him, lest they draw attention to themselves. He is no mere demon to be banished or spirit to be exorcized; neither holy water nor black salt, nor even the will of God’s own angels, could stop him from so much as lifting a finger. Those wise enough to respect the true magnitude of his power bow to him and pray desperately he passes them by to torment some other poor thing – and perhaps he does, this time, but it is impossible to guess where his lightning-quick cruelty will strike next.
I sleep to dream. I dream to escape. To experience. Sometimes my dreams are fantastic creations pulled from my imagination, yet sometimes I think I dream other lives of this soul: past lives, future lives, concurrent lives. Potential lives. I dream I’m a woman chosen to journey to an alien planet because, unlike most of my kind, my heart is not filled with hate. I dream I’m a girl raised to the brothel, but I fight for every scrap of power and autonomy I can grab, and even though my heart is broken I force a place for myself and others like me in a world that sees us as objects. I dream my strong white wings bear me aloft on seaside breezes as I soar above the shining city by the sea, a place from which I was long ago banished, and oh how I mourn the loss of my brethren and the sound of those crashing waves! I dream, and I wake twenty, fifty, a hundred years later and just eight hours older.
I am a living flame of Bast
None shall harm me or mine!
I call down fire in the name of Sekhmet
I call down fire in the name of Mafdet
I call down fire in the name of Maahes
I call down fire in the name of Bast!
I dreamed I stood before a great altar full of Kemetic statues. I touched each piece with trembling fingers: human, avian, reptilian; feline and canine and bovine; creatures that were many of those, or all of them, or none. I knew these figurines were ancient, that they had once graced temples and altars in a time when the gods they portrayed were at the height of their worship. To see them at all was a wonder and an honor.
“They’re magnificent, aren’t they?” I glanced over toward the unknown voice. A beautiful African woman stood beside me, watching with quiet humor as I reverently admired the icons. She was made of curves; her round, smiling cheeks, her generous bosom, her shapely hips. Gold jewelry gleamed against her ebony skin and winked within the cascade of her tightly coiled hair as it caught the light. Most of all, though, it was her dazzling white smile that stunned me. There was such joy in her expression, such boundless love and affection; it was like her body could barely contain her overflowing personality.
I suspected who she was, but her presence here seemed impossible and so I had to know for sure. “Are you…” I hesitated. “Hathor?” The woman nodded, her grin expanding, and I burst into tears. I cried so hard I had to grip the edge of the altar to keep from sinking to the floor. They were primarily tears of awe, for never had a spirit blessed me with such direct contact, but I wept also in relief to have this undeniable manifestation of the divine right before me. If this radiant woman was Hathor, then all the gods I loved were real. With a single nod she banished every last scrap of doubt within me until I was pure faith.
I wake nauseous from the reek of your blood in my nostrils, the thick warmth of it still clogging my throat, and all I see is the red lake where you stood, pale as bone, a corpse wearing nothing but a smile and long rivulets of red jewels. Swimming in the fevered remains of your dream, I recall the sensation of falling amidst a chaos of violence – hands ripping at white wings, fingers bruising and crushing, a knife or perhaps razored nails slicing bare skin – and through it all your smiles like twin flames burning bright. Come play with us, you seemed to say as you tore at each other. You were proud of your work but I wanted only to weep, or vomit, or scoop you out of that red baptismal fount and carry you away from your madness. Yet I am awake now, curled into a knot of my own sweat and stiff limbs, and so all I can do is wait for the nausea to pass and sleep to come again.
I dreamed I stood on a raised platform in the entrance to a church. Anubis stood at my side, tall and dark and silent. He handed me a thin gold wand; when I touched it, both ends lengthened until it became a staff with a sun on one end and two long prongs on the other. I glanced down and spotted a similar wand, only silver, laying on the floor at my feet. I bent to retrieve it and handed it to Anubis. When He took the wand it began to grow as the other had, lengthening into a silver staff with a crescent moon on one end and a single sharp point on the other. He gestured then toward the far end of the church, indicating I should walk forward, and though He didn’t speak I somehow understood part of his meaning to be “do not be afraid”. I stepped off the platform and found myself standing on air. I took another step and the invisible path held; in this way we made our way down the aisle of the church with the pews laid out below us. As we approached the altar something appeared in the air before us; a dark, twisting mass which radiated menace. I knew even before it began uncoiling itself that it was A/p/e/p, the chaos of absolute nothingness manifested as a great black serpent bent on the destruction of all existence. It opened its fanged jaws and struck at Anubis, who repelled it with the sharpened end of His staff. The creature then lunged for me and I did the same with my own weapon, bellowing as I drove the points into the serpent’s armored face. I think I might have spoken as I beat it back, might have yelled out the names of its victims, my lost loved ones, but I can’t remember. I do know I held their images in my mind as I struck and found some measure of comfort in harming the force which took them from me. A/p/e/p fled after this and from there the dream changed, yet I will never forget the fury with which I fought, nor the quiet, solid presence of Anubis at my side.
You wear identities like masks, so easy are they to slip on and off as you please. You are Hannibal and Will, Satan and Lucifer, Vishnu and Brahma; you are Loki, Sutekh, Jack the Ripper; you are death and change and chaos. You wear identities like masks, all with equal elegance, yet your trickster eyes still stare out from beneath and I see you, Tanim, I see you, Daren. You look good in silk, though. And blood. And white, white wings. There might be some hidden lesson here for me to learn but I think you enjoy the masquerade for its own sake as well. You do tend toward pageantry and spectacle, after all, so what better way to tell your story than on such ancient stages and in such iconic forms? I just hope you’ll remain satisfied with the work of your lowly scribe and not go looking for a Homer or a Milton or an Enheduanna!
I bring you offerings of tarot cards and whiskey and in return you kiss your burning mark upon my brow, that in my dreams I may pass through the realm of angels and demons without harm. The white wolf makes its last stand before nine tall trees while the emperor slits his throat and bleeds out a golden river in the grass as the hanged man. I am the scribe blessed by death, immune to the curses of witches and the poisons of vipers, and nothing can keep me from you. I will calm the wolf and bind his wounds. I will bury the hanged man and adorn his grave with flowers. I will know you in every iteration from heaven to hell for you have named me Anant the endless, Anant the seventy-ninth card, Anant who is witness to the beginning and the end. Thus I wait. Thus I watch.
these days I dream mostly about atomic bombs and solar flares, with maybe the odd radioactive meltdown thrown in for good measure (don’t want Chernobyl to feel left out), and so I’ve gotten pretty used to that hot white flare and the instantaneous incineration which follows, after all I’ve got a decent imagination and I bet I’ve died a hundred times in this particular apocalypse, so many times in fact that it’s gotten so I’m not even that scared anymore, really, I see the light on the horizon and I’m just like Oh, okay, here we go again, and then in more or less the same second I’m decimated, annihilated, exterminated, all those good long verbs you hope can’t ever be applied to your physical form, but it turns out they don’t actually hurt too much so that’s some good news, yeah? and uh, anyway, I didn’t really have a point to this except maybe that dreaming constantly about the end of the world isn’t so bad if it means I’ll be emotionally prepared when the real one comes, like Hey buddy, took you long enough!, and I swear I mean that in a positive, hopeful kind of way but damn, it doesn’t really sound so good when I say it out loud, does it?
“I can’t believe she’s here.” “It’s a lie; you know she did it.” “She should be ashamed to show her face.” “Why haven’t the police arrested her?” “I bet she was jealous.” “I’d be afraid to be alone with her, what if she tries it again?”
The mutters follow Chelsea down the hallway Monday morning; few of her classmates bother lowering their voices as they gossip in her wake. During the assembly she feels one thousand pairs of eyes swivel over to her while the principal explains how Amanda Anderson fainted in the pool locker room and hit her head on one of the sinks, and how her friend Chelsea, the first to find her, was just minutes too late to stem the bleeding. There’s no criminal case here, the principal stresses, just a tragic accident that deeply shocks and saddens the community, but that doesn’t stop the assembled teenagers from jumping to the most scandalous conclusion. Behind Chelsea, one of the school’s queen bees titters and exclaims with mock concern, “Better not sit too close to her, you might be next!” While the teachers call for silence, Chelsea tries to ignore the accusatory stares. She fears if she meets anyone’s eyes they might see the guilt there, misplaced or no, and then she’s done for. It doesn’t help that no one ever understood how someone as popular as Amanda would hang out with someone as mousy and awkward as her.
The students are finally dismissed and Chelsea hurries to Biology, gaze firmly fixed on the ground as she winds her way through the knots of kids in the halls. At least Mr. Benham is a no-nonsense sort of teacher and won’t allow the class to spend all period goggling over the murderer in their midst. Even better, he starts class off with a pop quiz – no talking allowed – and silence settles over Chelsea for the first time since she stepped onto school property. She reads through the questions once, twice, three times before realizing with a twist of her gut that they’re all based on the weekend’s assigned reading. Which she didn’t do, of course, because she was busy talking to her family and Amanda’s family and the paramedics and the police officers, and then watching the whole thing blow up on social media. She barely slept, let alone worried about her schoolwork.
This stupid quiz is the final straw; tears well up in Chelsea’s eyes and she can’t blink them away fast enough. Choking back a sob, she grabs her backpack and rushes out the door. There’s no one in the hallways right now, which is a minor blessing, but as she rounds the corner to the front doors the truancy officer, Mrs. Colewick, catches sight of her. Arms crossed, she moves to intercept Chelsea. “Where do you think you’re going, Miss Paulson?” For once Mrs. Colewick’s dour expression doesn’t even phase Chelsea, who merely dodges around the woman while calling back breathlessly, “Home!” The officer turns as if to follow her, hand outstretched. “You can’t just–”
“Then stop me!” Chelsea hits the doors running and is gone before she can hear if Mrs. Colewick responds or follows her. She runs as fast as she can, not really thinking about a particular destination, just focusing on the rhythm of her feet pounding on the pavement. She runs until she’s lost among unfamiliar streets where passersby can’t possibly know who she is or what she’s done. She runs until her lungs can’t take it anymore, and then she stops. And sobs.
Hand pressed to the thick glass, she watches as beyond the radiation shield the dark sky blooms with bright flowers trailing petals of fire, and though the glass dome seals out all sound she imagines she can still hear the screaming of those trapped outside. How many dead now, since the first bomb fell? Millions, perhaps tens of millions: those too close to the epicenters to escape; those who could not buy their way onto planes and ships and caravans and so perished somewhere along their thousand-mile trek to safety; those who arrived at the safe zones with nothing but the clothes on their backs, exhausted and sick with radiation poisoning, only to be told there was no room for them. “No room,” she scoffs, and tries not to weep. She’s only safe inside this shelter because she’s necessary to its function, as so few of her team remain who can run the machines and reboot civilization when it comes time. That’s why she’s in here, a young black woman among so many old white men, and thousands of equally worthy people are out there awaiting the end. And so she wonders – is there even a point to trying again? Will there be enough humanity left in humanity to make the struggle for civilization worthwhile? Or does this dome just ensure there are sufficient witnesses left to testify to the finality of the apocalypse? She doesn’t even know for sure if the machines will work – and maybe that’s best.
my being into your flesh, to
both awareness and autonomy, to
the silent witness behind your eyes, to
the cigarette smoke burning your lungs, to
the familiar weight of the knife in your hand