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.
Alice floats through space, sliding past stars and the dark bulk of distant planets. She bumps against a glyph and loops her arms around one end, leaning on it as she sees what looms before her – a gaping black hole. It’s ancient, a monster that has lurked at the center of the universe for countless eons, swallowing everything in its reach. Yet overshadowing this event is an even greater threat: Mage rises beyond and over the black hole, grander than the hungry beast itself, and when she smiles her eyes are twin suns and her teeth are supernovas. Her jaws unhinge, devouring the black hole, and Alice’s glyph shatters into stardust. Alice feels herself start to fall toward that cavernous mouth, pulled inexorably into the waiting jaws and their eternal grin–
and then she wakes in a cold sweat.
Mage travels through a forest, a beautiful walking staff adorned with mother of pearl in her hands, and on either side of her walk Tanim and Daren. Through the treetops a low hanging moon winks in and out, its pale glow casting soft shadows on the forest floor. Suddenly the moon peels wide into a sun which blazes brighter and brighter as it climbs into the sky. The face of it becomes Alice’s helmet; its fiery tendrils burst forth, becoming her wings that engulf the entire sky. The light touches everything, so bright and burning that the leaves on the trees burst into flame, so white hot that it becomes magma boiling the earth alive. Mage’s clothes catch fire, her hair chars, her skin blisters and peels back in crisp black strips–
and then she wakes in a cold sweat.
The blankets shift and Mage looks over to Alice who sits up, breathing hard and still trembling. She meets Mage’s haunted gaze with her own. “I dreamed you… ate me alive. I was so small and you were the entire universe. You sank your teeth into me and every atom of me was crushed.”
Mage pushes herself up with a shaky laugh. “Well, I dreamed that you shone so bright there were no shadows. You outshone the moon, the sun, blotted out the stars from the sky. You were the sky. My clothes burned, my flesh charred, my bones were exposed. I was naked and had no secrets.”
They look, at each other, each thinking, Did I choose right? Is this who I want to spend immortality with? And then, without a word, their hands meet across the space between them. Because yes.
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.