Sometimes I want to gather the rocky, pine-strewn mountains of northern California into my arms and croon, I do not blame you, oh land of my birth. I would hold them close like a parent aged fragile as a babe and swear, This was not your fault. You did not cause him to be taken from me, though it was in your heights the ending began. We are connected, even if this place is not the one that raised me, and our relationship should be one of love, not regret. I would sing to the scrub jays and coyotes, whisper tales to the granite boulders, lull the sun to slumber a little longer and hold off the day’s heat. Let there be peace between us, I would ask of those peaks. Your picturesque vistas will always hold as many joyful memories as painful; I will try to remember the beauty before and not the disaster which followed.
Tag Archives: death
Twenty-two years it’s been and yet still each spring when the roadside ditches flood I glance to the quick flowing waters and the green grass waving within their currents and pointedly do not think about you, I do not think about how I found your limp little body stretched out in a similar water-logged ditch just steps away from the safety of home yet now forever gone, forever stolen from me, forever beyond where I can follow, and I definitely do not think about my sister recalling, decades later, how my wailing preceded me up the long walk from the road to the house, or how I didn’t even have the decency to carry you myself but waited until my parents returned, had them confirm what I already knew, and I certainly never think about how I failed you, my sweet boy barely out of kittenhood, how I failed you, how I failed you failed you failed you, I just turn my eyes away from those flooded banks and pretend I never saw a thing.
Kneeling in the compost dirt of my future grave, I watch the decomposers at their work and weep with love and awe and fear. Rodents and birds, beetles and fungi and tiny ants who lift a thousand times their own weight – I watch them carry off bits of decaying vegetable peels and nibble discarded fruit and I weep. It’s just so beautiful, this ancient web of connection and symbiosis. Beautiful and fragile.
I am immensely afraid all the time. Afraid I am living through the last era of life on Earth, that I will witness the extinction of all these strange, lovely little creatures who hold our world together. Afraid things will only get worse from here, year after year until every nightmare scenario becomes reality. Afraid I am ultimately helpless to protect even just the ones I love from this mounting apocalypse, let alone rodents and birds and tiny, intrepid ants.
When I die and they cover me over with the dirt of this planet that birthed and raised me, will the decomposers be here to break my flesh back down to its base components? Will there be fungi left to weave their filaments around my bones and clothe me once more in their fruit? Or will it be too late to nurture my fellow organisms, to finally be part of the giving and not just the taking? Is it too late? Am I too late? Are we?
in my dream I surrender to grief’s embrace
float face-down in an ocean of sorrow
my ancestors grip my shoulders
a steady, reassuring pressure
promising I am not alone
promising we do this together
promising they will not let me
be lost to the black depths
#2599 – Winter Solstice
It will be tonight. I know it from the way Daren holds me closer than usual, one arm like iron around my waist, pressing our hips together. I know it from the way he touches me with such intention, like he is taking one last opportunity to memorize the shape of me. His fingers that so often grip me to bruising or drag welts down my skin instead glide like silk down the side of my face and along my jaw. They come to rest against the curve of my neck, my heartbeat throbbing beneath his palm.
That hand trembles just a bit as it rests against my skin. When we kiss, so much gentler than usual, I taste blood in his mouth. I think I can even hear the rattle of his straining lungs when he breathes, though perhaps that is only my paranoia. Regardless, I can sense his exhaustion and how hard he struggles to remain present, focused, to not lose himself in the pain. If I could see more than his pale outline in the darkness, I know that strain would be obvious in his glassy gaze and the shadows beneath his eyes.
I saw the knife on the nightstand earlier but I said nothing. Maybe that makes me a coward. Maybe it makes me a fool. Or maybe it just means I am as tired of this as he is, even if I cannot bring myself to admit it outloud. That would be too close to admitting defeat; too close to admitting these last months of misery and slow wasting have finally bled me of hope. So I said nothing then, and I say nothing now as I lay my head against the curve of his shoulder. I close my eyes and let myself sink down into slumber.
Daren always goes for the throat in his fights, one quick, clean cut and a fast death. I doubt I will even wake up. When it comes, may his death be as kind to him as the one he gifts to me.
“I’m going to kill you before the end; you know that, right?”
“… yes. I know.”
“It’s for the best. It’s easier that way.”
Imagine you are an angel in the first age of the world. Everything is young, eternal, immortal. You live in a universe of richness and beauty, a world of endless blue skies and bountiful greenery. Neither pain nor fear exist yet in this place for there has been no need for their creation; each being lives in harmony with every other thing.
Imagine you are an angel in the first age of the world and you have slain one of your own. Holy blood stains your hands and soaks a soil which has never before been tainted by such precious liquid. Holy breath struggles to fill pierced lungs, then ceases completely. Holy flesh cools beneath your trembling fingers and begins the slow sacrilege of decay, the first thing in all the wide world to succumb to the act of rotting.
Imagine you are an angel and you have brought death into the universe. With your own hand you have ended the first age of the world, the era of peace, and ushered in the era of suffering. Does it matter why you committed this first and greatest sin? Does it matter if you did it out of fear? Or wrath? Or love? Will you even be able to remember, ten thousand years from now?
And if not, will it still have been worthwhile?
December 7th, a day which will live in infamy.
My father would have been 75 today, had he not passed away 15 years ago when I was just 18 years old. Back then I was still the child who looked exactly like him, the child who acted exactly like him (though I know my teenage ways still often perplexed him), the child who adored him above all else. Back then I was surrounded by people who knew and admired my father, and I think he felt like a solid, dependable constant in all our lives.
Well. Change is the only actually dependable thing in the world, right? So here I am, 15 years later and surrounded by people who never met my father, who only know him through my stories, my pictures, my writing. Who know his expressions but don’t realize it because they see them on my face instead. Which is hard (oh fuck, is it hard) but not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about how, even though I’m getting close to having been alive longer without my dad at my side than with, I am still the person he shaped. I want to talk about how I had no idea who I wanted to be when I grew up and yet, somehow, I ended up exactly where I needed to be, exactly where I would have been even if I’d had his guidance the whole way. And that’s a testament to the mark he left, not his absence.
My dad wasn’t an emergency manager (I think he saw enough action for a lifetime in Vietnam), but he would have made a damn good one. He was smart, thoughtful, and he kept his cool in stressful situations when he had to depend on himself or assist others. He was a helper, the kind who might not take center stage but would always be there with tools in hand to help tow you out of a ditch, cut a tree off your roof, or fix your sink. He was one of those strong, silent types who hid a world of wit and joy inside them for those who earned their friendship, and he knew the power and importance of community.
Though he probably never realized where it might lead, he instilled those values in his weird, antisocial, feral little daughter. Sure, I never picked up the interest in fixing cars or building things, and I have literally no upper body strength, but I like to think I have a lot of the rest. I try, at least. And these things he instilled in me, this love of the land and people who raised me, this fascination with the natural world and its history, this drive to HELP, it all led me… here. To geoscience. To tsunamis. To emergency management.
I pushed myself hard this year. To be a better friend, a better leader, a better citizen of this earth we all share, and I know my dad is proud. I know I’m doing right by his memory, even if my life path doesn’t look exactly like his did. Neither of us could have imagined this future for me as we sat in the cab of his truck, speakers blasting the Irish Rovers, or as we pricked our fingers bloody gathering ripe blackberries. He was preparing me for it anyway, though, one little lesson at a time. And I was soaking them up.
His final lesson to me is one I want to impart to you all today. As a Marine Corps radioman in far Vietnam, trying to keep his dinner dry while running through a downpour from the mess hall back to the radio for his night shift, young Steve Tappero realized something. He realized nothing else much matters in life if you can keep your sandwich dry. You can’t control the rain, after all, or the dark, or the people shooting at you or the ones pulling the strings above it all. All you can control is whether you keep your sandwich dry, and at the end of the day that’s enough. Focus on that and you’ll be okay. You’ll get through it. Tomorrow will come.
So, from the daughter of an emergency manager who wasn’t, I leave you with my two hopes for you all: may you keep your sandwich dry, and may you live without regrets.
We are none of us reliable narrators, especially not in this moment we have replayed so many times I know every line and gesture by heart. The Moon will say it was necessary; the Sun will say he is a fool and a coward. They will both be right; they will both be wrong, so very wrong. I will reach my hand out to Tanim’s ghost as he watches Daren crouch over his crumpled body. I will avert my eyes from Daren’s flat black gaze that sees all and betrays nothing as he rises, blood on his hands and seeping into the white carpet beneath us. I will bear witness as they once more play out this scene in which I have no role and when it is over, when they have faded, retreated, when the room is empty and the stains have dried, I will be here still.
If I were Achilles, Patroclus would not have died. I would never have let my lover bleed out his holy blood there in the dust before Troy’s gates. I would have slaughtered them all first – Achaeans and Trojans alike, soldier and civilian together – and burned that unworthy city to the ground. I would have salted its ruins as they smoldered and by the time they cooled I would have taken him far from that cursed place. And if not, if I had been too late, as Achilles was… then not even death could have stopped my wrath from tearing the world apart.
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.
A list of 9 things you think about at 18 and 1 you don’t
- if you really want to be an English major
- why you signed up for an 8 AM class
- if you can write a paper in one night
- how to tell if a beta fish is happy
- what you’re going to be for Halloween
- if Pop Tarts count as a balanced breakfast
- how to tell if a beta fish loves you
- whether your writing is actually any good
- if you should finally get your ears pierced
- what songs you want played at your father’s funeral
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.
#2568 – Summer Solstice 2022
Recipe for a Summer Solstice
2 oz Lock Stock & Barrel 16 Year Straight Rye Whiskey
1 oz Averna amaro
100 mg hydrogen cyanide
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 brandied cherry
- Add rye whiskey, amaro, bitters, and hydrogen cyanide into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
- Strain into a chilled crystal coupe glass.
- Garnish with a brandied cherry.
- Serve to the man you love as an evening cocktail.
- In the sixty seconds or so you have before the poison hits his respiratory system, take the empty glass from his hand and set it carefully aside. Lift his hand to your lips and kiss his knuckles. Run your thumb along his sharp jawline. For once, resist the urge to kiss him on those thin, sardonic lips.
- Tell him you forgive him. You forgive him for wanting to leave, for not trusting you, for not understanding. You forgive him for having less faith than you. Tell him it’s okay. Tell him none of that matters now. Do not kiss him.
- Don’t worry when his eyes dart to the empty glass and you watch understanding dawn in their dark depths. It’s too late anyway. By now his hands have begun to tremble as he fights to draw a full breath; he could hardly pull a knife on you, let alone with his usual skill.
- Catch him as the first seizure hits and lay him gently on the white carpet. You are not cruel. You chose cyanide for its efficiency, not just because you were loath to ruin good alcohol with a wretched tasting poison. Though cyanide doesn’t offer an easy death, it does offer a swift one.
- When it is done, arrange his crumpled form into a more natural position. He could almost be sleeping, though not even in sleep have you ever seen him so relaxed, so vulnerable. So empty. Kiss his forehead (or if you are very careful, his slack mouth).
- Pour yourself a glass of bourbon and relax. Everything is perfect now. You are together and nothing can change that. Nothing can take him from you now. Everything is finally perfect.
on the eve of fifteen years I lay in bed fearing my father is passing out of memory and into legend as the childhood friends who grew up with him fade from my life, the last pets who lived with him all gone themselves these past five years, old family friends scattered across the country, now almost everyone in my life knows him only in the stories I share, in pictures on Facebook every birthday and death anniversary, and as I lay here picking open old wounds both real and metaphorical I know deep in my gut he’s become part of the immutable past, a thing from my childhood like stuffed toys and crayons or the sweets I can no longer eat yet reminisce over fondly, tonight I lay crying in a bedroom in a house he never stepped foot in and realize my father is immortalized more now in the traditions I use to honor his memory than the shared experiences of the things themselves and most days that’s sufficient, it really is, my wife talks about him like she knows him and most days it feels like she does but then this day, this awful day, rolls around and I remember she never knew him, none of them did, because he wasn’t at my college graduation or my wedding because he is dead, he is dead, he is dead and the way he lives on is that of all myths: through written word and oral tradition, those transient, untrustworthy things, and not even the greatest storytellers in history could truly capture what it felt like to be hugged by him, no, memory and mythology can’t replace a person’s physical presence one bit
June finds us, surprise surprise, back in your palatial living room with its vaulted ceilings and grand windows and the thick white carpet on which you kneel amidst a rose garden of blood stains, his crumpled body still warm in your arms, while I stand to the side and observe the scene in silence, alert to any clues which might reveal the method you used this time, maybe even the string of choices and repercussions which lead to this moment, but all I can think about is how many times we’ve been here, how many years now I’ve cataloged the details of his death first on clay and papyrus, then parchment and computer like a good scribe while you weep at my feet and I know we have both grown so weary of this passion play yet here we are again, again, again, repeating the same old lines, carrying out the same old gestures, not a single solution between us to change the ending, so for once can you just skip the mystery and suspense and show me the knife?
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?
Queer Joy (is)
defiance of fate and fortitude against death
a communion with those who came before
a covenant with those who come after
a consecration of those who fight and fall beside us
Some rush into revenge, eager to mete out penance and collect their triumph, yet it’s important to learn all you can about your enemy first. You must observe his habits and patterns closely, not just to discover hidden flaws in his defenses but to best craft the manner of your vengeance. Though bloodshed has its merits, of course, not all retribution need be taken through steel and storm with death as the end goal. After all, the dead cannot suffer. The dead cannot experience shame or guilt or fear. Once you kill someone he is beyond the reach of your machinations. Why set him free so quickly?
No, once you have observed your enemy long enough you may come to realize that the best punishment is to simply leave him to his own devices. You may recognize what a lonely, craven worm he truly is, someone for whom death is a mercy or a martyrdom. Your grand efforts of elaborate revenge are quite frankly wasted on such a pathetic creature. All you really need to do is sit back and watch as he damns himself with his own choices over and over again, his remaining stock of allies dwindling until he is utterly alone. And that is how you leave your enemy – to waste his final years in the gutter, impotent and bitter, with no one to feed his lies or sorrows. There may be less blood that way but the prolonged suffering is well worth the trade-off, I assure you.
There is a woman named Margaret. Years ago she was young, first the silky pastels of spring and then the bright jewel tones of summer. She is not young now, though, for the years of her prime are far in the past. Autumn laid hold of her for a time and she was the burning oranges and reds of its passion. Then winter came, muted blues and the white and black of bare birch trees, and Paul died.
When the flowers on the doorstep stopped arriving, and neighbors stopped dropping off lovingly prepared home-cooked meals, and the doorbell heralding another kind visitor finally fell silent for good, Margaret joined a group. There was a faded flier tacked to the supermarket bulletin board and she tore off one of the little slips on its edge that listed a date, time, and place. Tuesdays, six o’clock. Snacks will be provided.
It was a nice enough group at the start. Paul had been gone four months and in the group a man’s wife had been gone for two, a mother’s young child for three, another husband for five. Others, like Margaret, bore fresher wounds. On Tuesday evenings for exactly one hour the gathered mourners talked as they sipped instant apple cider and grainy hot chocolate from small Styrofoam cups. Winter passed like this, dreary and indistinct, and Margaret tried not to count the days.
Spring came, then. The group grew smaller. Some healed, as much as one can heal after a loss; enough, at least, to let them go back to their singular lives and move on from the group. Some just stopped coming, unable to face another’s grief head on when it stirred up their own. There was always Margaret, though, with her cup of hot chocolate or burnt coffee. Dependable, punctual Margaret.
The fleeting months of spring and summer passed, bringing autumn, bringing winter. The group changed. The old ones were gone. New ones with new stories, new tragedies, came to spill a little grief from their overflowing hearts. Margaret listened; she was good at listening. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. A husband gone two months. A wife gone three weeks. A trio of children, gone in an instant. Paul gone forever. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. She watched them come and go with the leaves.
There is a woman named Margaret. Years ago she was young but it’s hard to remember those days, the memories worn smooth by the river of time. The brokenhearted come and go, seeking comfort, giving solace. Margaret stays, finding neither. Tuesdays, six o’clock, snacks will be provided. And always there is Margaret.
Tanim had attended performances of world-renowned ballet companies, private concerts by the greatest sopranos of the last century, exclusive gallery openings featuring rare, priceless paintings, and countless invitation-only galas hosted in some of the most marvelous vacation destinations across the world. He had been raised among opulence and beauty yet he had never seen anything more exquisite than the Ghost’s fights.
The man moved like the hands of a clock – smooth, practiced, portentous – and when he reached you, your time was up. His speed and skill with a knife remained unmatched by anyone who faced him, even when he fought against multiple opponents, yet what Tanim admired most was his economy of movement. While other fighters wasted time and energy first in posturing, then in wild swings of their fists or flashy kicks, the Ghost remained motionless except when absolutely necessary. Only his dark eyes, expressionless beneath hooded lids framed in pale lashes, moved back and forth as he tracked his opponent’s movements. He dodged attacks with little effort, stepping calmly aside as if the whole thing were a choreographed dance, not a fight to the death. When he grew bored of this and moved in for the kill it was always with one fluid motion that he cut their neck or sliced open an artery.
It seemed a shame the man had to settle for such mediocre opponents, ones who barely tested his skills or offered him any real challenge, not to mention an audience that didn’t fully appreciate those skills and constantly underestimated him. Yet Tanim also recognized that the Ghost belonged more in this illegal fight club held in an abandoned warehouse than he would in an arena surrounded by fans, or even in some private setting with an audience of wealthy elite. Maybe, much like Tanim himself, he didn’t truly fit anywhere.
They had not spoken again since that first night months ago when Tanim had embarrassed himself by asking for the Ghost’s name. After that, he had chosen to simply observe the man each time he was scheduled to fight, hoping both to learn more about him and perhaps earn even a small measure of his respect. Tonight, however, Tanim felt ready to potentially embarrass himself again if it meant taking another step closer to connecting with the Ghost.
After the Ghost finished off his final opponent for the night, Tanim left his customary table and headed for the back door through which the man always exited. They reached it at nearly the same time; the Ghost raised a silver eyebrow when Tanim opened the door for him but proceeded without a word. Tanim followed behind him, grateful to see they were alone in the back alley. It was a clear night, the full moon above casting the alley in stark lines of shadow and light. It limned the Ghost’s sharp jawline as he turned to face Tanim, thin mouth pulled back on one side in a wry expression Tanim found hard to parse.
“Are you here to ask my name again?” The Ghost tilted his head slightly as he asked the question, studying Tanim through narrowed eyes. While he no longer held the small knife he used during his fights, which was slightly comforting, Tanim knew from observation just how quickly it could be back in his hand if desired.
“No, not this time,” Tanim answered with what he hoped came across as a self-deprecatory laugh. “My apologies, I was a brute the last time we spoke. I shouldn’t have been so impolite.” The other man didn’t respond so after a second’s hesitation he forged on. “Actually, I was going to ask if you would, ah… like to go for a drink?”
If the full moon’s light hadn’t been shining down on them both, Tanim would have completely missed the twitch at that same corner of the Ghost’s mouth. “Drinks?” The man snorted, an unexpectedly human sound. “I suppose there’s no harm in indulging you this one time.” He began to head down the alley, then turned back to Tanim and held out a hand. “The name’s Daren, by the way.” Tanim glanced down to the proffered hand, long fingers still stained with smears of dried blood, and clasped it in his with a grin. “Tanim. Nice to finally meet you.”
“We’ll see about that,” A wry grin flickered over Daren’s face as he turned away.
One of the ways I honor Bast is by experiencing Her pain, grief, and burdens. Not to erase them, not even to ease them; simply to feel them on my own, knowing my emotions are but a small drop compared to Her oceans. Every foster kitten I must give up so someone else can adopt them is a kitten She has sent out into a wide, unpredictable world. Every foster kitten lost to illness or injury is a child She mourns forever. Every cat struck by a speeding car, abandoned by a heartless family, or euthanized by a crowded shelter because no one claimed it in time is a grief that pierces my pincushion heart with another needle – but to my goddess who sees and knows all, they are blades that drive much deeper. I grieve and rage and weep with Her because no one should do these things alone, even an immortal goddess.
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?
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.
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.
He does not launder his fine white dress shirt.
He does not clean the marble tiles in the bathroom.
He does not change the silk bed sheets.
He does not touch anything.
The blood is all he has left.
He cannot bear to wash it away.
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.
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)
(what are you afraid of?)
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.”
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.