#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.

#2532

It was easier, ultimately
(than the knife and the heart)
to pick, pick, pick
at her flawless skin
(the forest and the hunter)
until it bled and scarred
bled and scarred
(the apple and the coffin)
and the mirror simply
stopped saying her name.

#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?

#2530

Every caged animal eventually goes mad. Desperate yet unable to escape, it starts burrowing inward, ripping out tufts of hair, chewing through its own flesh and bone as if freedom waits within. Was it so with you, o Great Wolf? Restrained by magic and betrayal, did captivity eventually warp your clever mind into wrath-fueled madness? Did your teeth like crescent moons tear chunks of meat from your bones in vain attempt to loosen those impossible bonds? A wolf must run free but Gleipnir leashed you to the earth like a common backyard mutt. A wolf must hunt and howl but the sword driven through your muzzle hindered you from sating your hunger or crying out your agony and loneliness. Whether you would have always grown from trusting pup to crazed, feral beast can hardly matter when your captivity made you one regardless. Yet what else did the gods expect when they imprisoned you? Every caged animal eventually goes mad and if given the chance to turn bloody jaws from gnawing its own flesh to rend the flesh of its captors, well… who can blame it for leaping at the opportunity?

#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.

#2527

Tanim wound his way through the club’s packed floor, skirting small clusters of men avidly discussing the advantages and disadvantages of tonight’s lineup as he headed for one of the standing tables in the back. Something had the crowd especially eager today; the warehouse space already reeked of sweat and alcohol and dozens of separate conversations bounced off the concrete walls in a buzz. “What’s going on tonight?” he asked as he reached the table where Isaac waited. “It’s not usually this busy already.” Tanim flagged down a server and ordered a whiskey as his dealer answered, “There’s a guy on the list tonight who doesn’t fight often. He’s good for business; the amateurs always bet against him because they think he doesn’t look ‘tough enough’ and then those who have seen him fight before rake in the winnings.”

“So he’s a ringer?” Sipping his drink, Tanim watched with disinterest as the center floor cleared for the first fight. While he bet from time to time, and in large enough sums that he remained a favored patron of the club, most of the fights themselves rarely captivated him. Cellar Door might be the best fight club in the city but it was still at its core an underground operation that attracted primarily proponents of the brute force method. Such fights might temporarily satisfy his blood lust but he longed to watch someone with true skill; someone who appreciated the art, not just the money.

“Something like that,” Isaac gave him a knowing smirk. “You should stay for his fight. I think you’ll like it.” He gestured to the envelope sticking out of Tanim’s breast coat pocket. “In the meantime we can complete our business and you can finish your drink.”

By the time the final fight of the night approached the crowd itched for more than blood. Tanim and Isaac were likely the only remaining clientele who weren’t half drunk and either desperate to make up for previous losses or ready to stake it all on one last bet. It was hard to hear anything clearly over the general noise of the crowd but Tanim thought he caught the word ‘ghost’ a number of times as the floor cleared once more. Leaning over to be heard above the din, he asked, “What’s this guy’s name, anyway?” Isaac only shrugged. “Apparently no one knows; the organizer started calling him the Ghost and it stuck. Not much of a talker, I guess. He just shows up, fights a round or two, and leaves.” Tanim couldn’t decide if he found that understandable or egotistic. Or both.

The crowd quieted a bit as the final two fighters stepped into the open space at its center. The first looked much like all the rest had: well-muscled, rough, and with a spark in his eyes that betrayed a delight in cruelty. The other man, however, was nothing like those Tanim had seen fight at Cellar Door. He was tall and thin, pale skin shadowed beneath the sharp angles of his cheekbones and jawline. Despite being close to Tanim’s age, perhaps even a little younger, his short-cropped hair was completely white. What struck Tanim most, though, even from the back of the room, were the man’s eyes. They stared out of sunken shadows, no delineation between the black of the pupils and the black of the irises; a flat, emotionless gaze that seemed completely detached from the surrounding hype. Tanim could see why some might underestimate this so-called Ghost but in the man’s eerie, silent stillness he sensed a far greater capacity for violence.

“He always fights to the death, or so I hear,” Isaac added as they watched the first fighter unsheath a huge Bowie knife. “That’s why he only fights here. None of the other clubs will risk it.” Compared to its six inches of shining blade, the tiny curved knife the Ghost held in the palm of his hand seemed more like a piece of scrap metal than an actual weapon. Tanim bet it was sharp as a scalpel, though, and faster than the big Bowie. “Idiots,” he muttered as many in the crowd laughed at the miniscule blade, including the Ghost’s opponent. Clearly none of them had seen what someone skilled could do with a karambit. Hell, even with a linoleum knife.

The fight began with the usual flexing, posturing, and hurling of insults – another aspect Tanim found distasteful – at least on the side of the Bowie knife’s wielder. The Ghost seemed to have little interest in playing to the crowd or extending the show; he remained resolutely silent, giving nothing away and clearly as far from intimidated by his opponent’s boorish taunting as possible. His obvious boredom seemed only to anger the other fighter into attacking first, a rookie mistake the man must have planned to make up for with sheer strength. Tanim’s mouth twitched in a grim smile.

After a minute or two of idly sidestepping the man’s clumsy slashes and flying fists, the Ghost closed the distance between them with unbelievable speed. The fight concluded in a spray of blood as he neatly cut the other fighter’s throat and let the limp body drop to the cement. As the crowd roared its mix of approval and disbelief, the Ghost leaned down to wipe his knife clean on the dead man’s shirt and walked off to collect his winnings. It had been such a brief encounter, only the most fleeting opportunity to witness true grace and skill, yet Tanim could replay every second of it back with perfect clarity. He had never expected to find someone so ruthless, so beautifully deadly, so-

“Tanim dear, I think you’re drooling,” Isaac grinned and clapped his companion on the shoulder as he donned his coat, shaking him out of his reverie. “I’m out of here; try not to get a knife in your neck when you flirt with him, okay? I’d hate to lose one of my best customers.” Before Tanim could come up with a suitable quip in response, or argue that the Ghost was clearly not a man one simply flirted with, Isaac disappeared into the thinning crowd. 

The white-haired fighter was on his way out as well, heading for one of the back exits to avoid everyone going out the front. Before he could let hesitation freeze him in place, Tanim threw a bill of some sort on the table to cover his drink and hurried to keep up. Beyond the door a long back alley led out to the road, the only source of light a single weak streetlamp down at the far end. Otherwise the heavy clouds above hid what moon or starlight might have illuminated the wet pavement. The Ghost was already halfway down the alley, shoulders hunched against the chill wind.

“Wait!” The word left Tanim’s lips before he had any real plan with which to follow it. The Ghost stopped in his tracks and turned; glow from the streetlight cast his shadow before him, long and thin, and winked off the curved blade still ready in his hand. Tanim tried to read his expression but the man was silhouetted by the light, the sharp planes of his face cast in darkness. 

“It’s your own fault if you lost money on my fight,” Like the knife, the man’s voice was a lovely, dangerous thing. It resonated deep in Tanim’s chest, rich and harsh as bitter coffee. Not a voice used to speaking, that was certain. “It’s not that,” Tanim hurried to explain, fearing the other’s disdain far more than the threat of the blade. He struggled to put into words what had possessed him to follow this violent stranger into the alley but came up uncharacteristically short. “You were phenomenal. Placing a bet on skill like yours, making money on what you did, that would be… sacrilegious.” 

For several agonizing seconds the other man remained silent and Tanim inwardly cursed his impulsivity. Stupid. That had sounded so stupid. When he returned home he would definitely get drunk enough to forget how badly he was embarrassing himself right now. He was half-jokingly considering asking the Ghost to put him out of his misery right then and there when that low, smoky voice finally broke the tension to ask, “Then what do you want?”

“Your name,” This time Tanim did not regret the impulsive words, though they had a certain raw desperation to them that made him wince. Even unable to see the other’s eyes, he could feel the weight of his gaze as the Ghost considered this request. Finally the man gave a derisive snort and pocketed the knife. “Maybe next time,” he replied as he turned away and continued down the alley. 

Tanim found himself grinning like a fool in the chill darkness as he watched the other man walk away. There had been humor in that snort, he would swear his life on it. He could work with that. “Next time,” he repeated under his breath. He would make sure of it.

#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.

#2522 – 2021 Book List

This was a good year for reading – or at least better than 2020! I read a total of 73 books, zines, graphic novels, etc. including: 33 with queer characters or by queer authors; at least 24 with POC main characters or by authors of color; 12 poetry collections; and 16 nonfiction books. I even got through most of my physical TBR pile from the beginning of the year, though it’s grown again thanks to holiday gifts. Guess I better get started on my 2022 list! ;)

  1. So Our Idols Are Dead: Empowerment Poems – K.D. Hume
  2. Between Death and the Devil: Tarot Poems – K.D. Hume
  3. Gramarye, a Witch’s Perzine: Issues 1-4 – K.D. Hume
  4. So Happy to See Cherry Blossoms: Haiku from the Year of the Great Earthquake and Tsunami – Ed. Mayuzumi Madoka
  5. She and Her Cat – Makoto Shinkai and Tsubasa Yamaguchi
  6. The Endless Possibilities of Beatrice – Annie Goodyear
  7. Raven Goddess: Going Deeper with the Morrigan – Morgan Daimler
  8. Goddess of the Hunt – Shelby Eileen
  9. Up from the Sea – Leza Lowitz
  10. Tsunami Vs the Fukushima 50: Poems – Lee Ann Roripaugh
  11. Coffee with Orange Sherbet – S.E. Shell
  12. The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden – Heather Smith and Rachel Wada
  13. I Survived: The Japanese Tsunami, 2011 – Lauren Tarshis
  14. The Warrior Moon – K. R. Arsenault
  15. Beyond Me – Anne Donwerth-Chikamatsu
  16. Hathor: A Reintroduction to an Ancient Egyptian Goddess – Lesley Jackson
  17. The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide
  18. Alanna: The First Adventure (The Lioness Quartet Book 1) – Tamora Pierce
  19. In the Hand of the Goddess (The Lioness Quartet Book 2) – Tamora Pierce
  20. The Guilded Ones – Namina Forna
  21. Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas
  22. Educated – Tara Westover
  23. Only the Sea Keeps: Poems of the Tsunami – Ed. Judith Robinson, Joan Bauer, Sankar Roy
  24. The Woman Who Rides Like A Man (The Lioness Quartet Book 3) – Tamora Pierce
  25. How Long Til Black Future Month? – N.K Jemesin
  26. Lioness Rampant (The Lioness Quartet Book 4) – Tamora Pierce
  27. Gramarye, a Witch’s Perzine: Issue 5 – K.D. Hume
  28. Gramarye, a Witch’s Perzine: Issue 6 – K.D. Hume
  29. Gramarye, a Witch’s Perzine: Issue 7 – K.D. Hume
  30. Love Songs for the Sun: Poems – KD Hume
  31. This Precious Life: Buddhist Tsunami Relief and Anti-Nuclear Activism in Post 3.11 Japan – Ed. Jonathan S. Watts
  32. First Test (Protector of the Small Book 1) – Tamora Pierce
  33. Page (Protector of the Small Book 2) – Tamora Pierce
  34. Squire (Protector of the Small Book 3) – Tamora Pierce
  35. Lady Knight (Protector of the Small Book 4) – Tamora Pierce
  36. Valor and the Vain: A Fairytale – K. D. Hume
  37. All Night Long: Haiku, Senryu, and Other Short Poems, and a Haibun on the Great Tohoku Earthquake – Kirby Record
  38. Red Skies: A Creators Response to 2020 – Ed. Rachel Small and Amanda Edwards
  39. The Last Girl Scout – Natalie Ironside
  40. Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey – Marie Mutsuki Mockett
  41. A Constellation of Cats – Ed. Denise Little
  42. Where Shadows Lie (Book One of The Last Gift) – Allegra Pescatore
  43. Find Your Goddess – Skye Alexander
  44. I Sexually Identify As An Attack Helicopter – Isabel Falls
  45. The World that Belongs to Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia – Ed. Aditi Angiras & Akhil Katyal
  46. One Year on T: On Non-binary Sex and Transition – Sage Pantony
  47. 1.5 Years on T: My Non-binary Body, Transition, and Ambivalence – Sage Pantony
  48. Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology – Ed. Celine Frohn
  49. Coming Off of T: Transition As Cycle – Sage Pantony
  50. Silk and Steel: A Queer Speculative Adventure Anthology – Ed. Janine Southard
  51. Lead and Roses: Love Songs at the End of the World – Natalie Ironside
  52. Full-Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest – Sandy Doughton
  53. Wild Magic (The Immortals Quartet Book 1) – Tamora Pierce
  54. Wolf-Speaker (The Immortals Quartet Book 2) – Tamora Pierce
  55. The Cruel Sister – KD Hume
  56. Emperor Mage (The Immortals Quartet Book 3) – Tamora Pierce
  57. The Realms of the Gods (The Immortals Quartet Book 4) – Tamora Pierce
  58. Persons of Consequence – KD Hume
  59. Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myths and Monsters – Nikita Gill
  60. And the River Flowed As a Raft of Corpses: The Poetry of Yamaguchi Tsutomu, Survivor of Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Chad Diehl
  61. Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death – Bernd Heinrich
  62. Non-binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity – Ed. Micah Rajunov, Scott Duane
  63. Who By Water: Reflections of a Tsunami Psychologist – Ronna Kabatznick
  64. The Luminous Dead – Caitlin Starling
  65. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death – Caitlin Doughty
  66. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster – Adam Higginbotham
  67. Warning Lines Magazine Issue 2: Echo – Ed. Charlie D’Aniello
  68. Hellebore Issue #1: The Sacrifice Issue – Ed. Maria J Perez Cuervo
  69. Sorrowland: A Novel – Rivers Solomon
  70. Skin of the Sea – Natasha Bowen
  71. Girls of Fate and Fury (Girls of Paper and Fire Book 3) – Natasha Ngan
  72. The Jaguar Princess – Clare Bell
  73. Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster – David Lochbaum and The Union of Concerned Scientists

#2521

maybe he stands on the ledge so often
(just take my hand, darling)
not so you’ll come stop him from jumping
(why don’t you take mine, beloved?)
but so you’ll come give him the opportunity
(his smile a crescent moon)
to push you off
(sharp enough to cut your wrists on)
instead

(what are you afraid of?)

#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.”

#2518 – Winter Solstice

You do not need to know where we are. We could be in the alley, kneeling on cold, wet cement beneath a dying streetlamp; on the roof of the penthouse, perched at the top of a world of glass and steel; in bed, tangled among satin sheets, heartbeats straining beneath the press of hot skin. There are a thousand options yet in the end the setting is unimportant when we have played out this scene so many times. Imagine whatever you prefer.

You do not need to know how we came to be here. I will not recount the full details of the chase; not where it began or down what winding paths it led, nor how many fleeting moments or long hours passed in pursuit. If you must, imagine the way his rapid steps eventually began to slow, to stumble, the way he gasped for air and the frantic glances he threw over his shoulder. Oh, how the chase always sends such a thrill through me. He fights best when he’s desperate and the challenge makes the ending all the sweeter. After all, we do not want to rush things – and I do believe in a fair fight, despite what you might think.

All that is ancillary, however. Merely a prelude. What you need to know is how I do it this time, which is with the knife. It’s a wicked little thing, sharp as a crescent moon, and it slices his meat like silk. What you need to know is how good it feels as his blood spills over my hand and how his body tries to jerk away from the assault even as he clings to me with trembling fingers. The groan he bites down could be one of unbearable pain or unbelievable ecstasy… or both. He has never been good at discerning between them.

What you need to know is that beneath the storm of agony and exhaustion in his gray eyes is relief. And love.

“Happy solstice, darling,” I murmur as I drive the knife deeper and draw his bloody mouth to mine.

[ Read the other solstice pieces. ]

#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.

#2516

Tomboy

I was a child who hated dresses yet wore my tangled hair so long it reached the base of my back. I performed in ballet recitals yet despised the makeup they required be plastered on my face. I loved glitter and stuffed animals and motorcycles and wooden swords. I was a princess, but I was one who could rescue herself.

I did not call myself a tomboy, though. The word fit awkwardly in my mouth even then, much like choir dresses and pink tights fit awkwardly on my chubby form. It’s only in adulthood that I understand why I hesitated to claim the label: tomboy implied girl. To be a tomboy meant to be a girl who liked boy things, who was unlike ‘normal’ girls but who still, beneath the mud and the bruises, was a girl. And I was not a girl.

I was frozen pond water. Freshly mown grass. Coyotes howling in the night. I was wild blackberries and ripe apples and library books, wood smoke and Play-Doh and agates. I was thousands of memories and sensations squashed into the jelly bean-shaped body of a human child. They might have been consolidated under a given name and assigned gender but they never truly united into one concept. Yet what child worries about such things when they’re tromping through wetlands or howling at the moon? 

I’ve since shed the last of the dresses and most of my hair, and with them all the labels I once accepted (albeit with resignation) as my default. Replacing them with nothing has left me freer than since I was that blissfully unaware child. Besides, I am still her, still mushrooms and noisy crows and pressed pennies; we just understand us better now.

#2515

My eating disorder can’t hook me through conventional methods so instead it tries to get me through you. I don’t care about having a beach ready body but the possibility of getting this useless meatsuit even the least bit closer to looking like yours? Of being an adequate-enough vessel that you might consider inhabiting me, even if only for a moment, for an hour? Oh, that’s tempting. That’s an offer I find hard to refuse. My logical brain knows such a goal is impossible for my body – it will never be good enough for you, no matter how I cut and carve it down – but the disorder whispers from where it’s chained in the depths of my subconscious that maybe, just maybe, we can make it happen together. We should at least give it a shot, it purrs to me. Right?

#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.

#2511

You humans are so destructive in your ineptitude! Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, all those other little one-in-a-billion-chance beyond design-basis accidents hidden in redacted documents or lost to history’s bad memory… You just keep repeating them. You keep cutting corners, forging numbers, ignoring science and safety in favor of profit. Down through time, again and again, greed and hubris are your fatal weaknesses. Only when you unlocked the power of the atom, well… that might just be your greatest mistake, and your last. But I will love you for it even after you’re all dead and gone, your little planet a dry wasteland soaked in radiation. You can’t see it but there’s beauty in the way unstable atoms decay, metamorphosing from a merely dangerous element to one exceedingly deadly, and how they unravel tightly coiled DNA into frayed strands of broken code. Entropy at its finest and I didn’t even have to lift a finger. You did all this yourselves.

#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.

#2509

Perhaps your Notre Dame wanted to burn, did you consider that? Perhaps it was tired of its current state of existence, of the centuries of careful preservation made to ensure it never changed, never evolved, and was ready to burn and crumble and decay. Why must you rebuild it? Why must you fight to preserve everything in unchanging stasis? You humans are so frightened by any evidence of time’s passage, so petrified by the potential of losing something to the past. Why? What purpose does your fear serve but to trap you in the ever unravelling cycle of control versus chaos? You must know the chaos always wins out in the end (you do know that, right?) so why not embrace it? Why not let Notre Dame burn and celebrate the beauty of charred timbers and melted glass? You humans are so fearful and it blinds you to the true wonders of your world. It’s a shame, really. Especially given how little time you have left.

#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.

#2506

I’m in that zone of total exhaustion and no fucks left to give, moon and planets dragging on my subconscious, I feel the slipping the fading the floating out of time and body that untethering of action from consequence that leaves me bold and dizzy swaying on the threshold yelling, Where are you, huh? Why the hiding? Why the silence? That’s not like you, boys, come on now! I’m calling Loki, Satan, Lucifer, Set, I’m calling Death and Desire, the fallen, the forgotten, I’m calling you up, I’m calling you out, Where are you? Come fucking get me, I’m fucking ready, you don’t scare me! and I know it’s a bad idea, you’ve burned me before for boldness, but I’ve always been that person who needs to touch something hot just to know what it feels like, I just gotta know for myself exactly how it’ll hurt and every time you burn me I learn something new from the pain and it makes all the scars worthwhile.

#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.”