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.
Sometimes I’m so envious of Christians in America. What does it feel like to be part of the dominant religion, I wonder? To see evidence of your faith everywhere, even in completely secular environments? What is it like to know everyone around you has at least a rudimentary understanding of your beliefs – your gods, your morals, your holy books and the stories therein – or to have your holy days treated as national holidays? I yearn for that total cultural saturation and the confidence, the validation, it must instill. No hiding. No lying. No fear of being ridiculed or attacked or simply dismissed. Do they understand how lucky they are, how unique their experience actually is? If I woke up tomorrow to a world where my gods were not only well known but celebrated and respected, I would never take it for granted. I would feel blessed every day I could express my beliefs without any hesitation, let alone worship in a temple or celebrate holy days with others who believe as I do. It’s hard to even imagine that freedom. What a gift!
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.
there’s feedback in your resurrection loop and we’re burning up on reentry, mayday mayday, Lucifer bleeds ichor, Satan weeps starlight, crowned with fire you fall through every universe that shall ever be and leave a trail of prophecies in your meteoric wake, but never fear for your impact craters are my home and I shall find you in every iteration, there is no form you could take in which I would not know you
It was all there on the table. The candlestick. The rope. The lead pipe. The wrench. The knife. The gun. He trailed his fingertips along each weapon with veneration. Clue had always been his favorite board game. He loved the idea of giving six people unique opportunities to kill one another. When he played the game as a child he often concocted complex scenarios that resulted in the deaths of all six guests. He’d been sent to Sister Reverence’s office more times than he remembered. It was always the same.
“Young man, this is becoming habitual.”
Habitual. Habit. Like that stupid thing she wears everyday. It would be so easy to grab her by it and pull. Up, up, up. A widening grin. Until she turned purple, like that bitter chalice offered every morning.
(STOP TELLING IT. YOU’RE TELLING IT WRONG.)
Rain falls hard as hail in the night; in the heavy sky above lightning flickers and thunder sends shudders vibrating through the air. The guests enter the mansion beneath an arched front doorway over which is written, “Do not die before your death”. There are six of them, not including their absent host, and each carries a golden envelope in which the mysterious invitation sits.
Tanim arrives first, of course, in a navy blue suit over which he has draped a pale blue scarf with gold tassels. He bides his time by the fireplace, whiskey in hand, staring into the bright flames until another guest arrives. There are two this time, Bast and Wepwawet, both dressed in layers of desert silks and gold adornments. Wepwawet introduces himself as Anubis; Tanim does not comment on the deception. The three trade amicable conversation until Inanna arrives, her spools of red-gold hair commanding attention as they capture the firelight. Tanim nods to her in greeting and steps to the side, continuing his conversation with Wepwawet as the goddesses greet each other. Soon they are joined by the Morrigan, her blood-red dress offset by a gold collar draped across her clavicles. She is polite yet aloof until Mage swaggers in, almost unfashionably late though highly fashionable in her black leather and gold piercings, and then the two fall to discussing something gruesome. They could be sisters with their pale skin, black hair, and cold eyes.
Their host enters last of all, dressed in his customary black. Daren’s only concession to the formality of the occasion is a single gold ring on his left hand. He looks to each of the guests in turn, noting their placement in the room, their dress, their body language both before and after they notice him. “Now that you have all arrived,” he says once the conversations have ceased, “shall we begin? Come this way.” He turns and leads them across the wide marble-tiled hall and into the dining room. Exchanging glances that communicate a variety of emotions, his guests follow in silence.
THE DINING ROOM
The long table is set for seven, three seats on each long side and the seventh at the head. Crystal and polished silver gleam amid candlelight, the china white as bone. Upon each dinnerplate is a weapon: a candlestick; a rope tied into a noose; a lead pipe; a wrench; a knife; and a handgun. The seventh is empty. Daren stands behind the empty seventh seat and rests his hands on the back of the chair. “I assume you know why I’ve called you all here,” he begins, “and thus will not waste time with explanations. Every window and exterior door in the house is locked, save for a single window – though I would be careful, I imagine the roof is quite treacherous right now. There are six weapons and seven of us. You have two hours.” He gestures to the table’s deadly spread. “Good luck.”
Wepwawet stands in the center of the observatory, watching the raindrops light up in silver strands every time lightning cracks across the sky. Inanna enters, bearing the lead pipe, and approaches him from behind. “Do you know why I’m here?” she asks. Wepwawet smiles, neither surprised nor concerned at her presence. “Because you came,” he replies, turning to face her. He stretches out both of his arms, kneeling down on one knee, and lowers his head reverently. Then he then raises his head again and looks up at her, his dark eyes filled with a humble peace, and says, “As you will, Queen.” Inanna nods once. She strikes him across the jaw with the lead pipe; the sound of his neck cracking echoes through the room. She then kneels down beside the god’s prostrate body and caresses one slack cheek. “The Duat has missed you,” she murmurs. As she walks away, his body turns to gold and drifts away on a wind that does not stir her hair.
The warm glow of antique light bulbs is reflected by a myriad antique mirrors and the polished wood panels in between. In one corner a piano plays Moonlight Sonata, though no one sits at its bench to press the keys. No one dances with Inanna, either, and yet her raised arms and twirling form suggest an unseen partner. So does the way she suddenly stumbles back, a hand clasped to her red cheek as if she’s been struck. She glares up through the hair fallen into her eyes and hisses, “How dare you defy me!” In response, something throws her backward as easily as a discarded toy; she crashes into the piano with a discordant shriek of keys, scattering bits of polished wood and ivory across the marble floor. She lays unconscious in the wreckage of the instrument as red blood trickles along the curls of her fiery hair. Above her the wrench floats for a moment before something brings it crashing down on her temple. Once the golden ashes of her body have drifted away, all that remains in the middle of the broken piano is the rusty wrench.
THE BILLIARD ROOM
Daren finds Mage in the billiard room, sitting cross-legged atop the pool table with a drink in hand. She doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the knife in his hand even though she does not have a weapon herself, unless you count the 8-ball she rolls back and forth across the felt. She cocks her head as he comes to stand in front of her, her green eyes to his black. She asks, “Do you think it will work? Will you learn what it is you wish to learn?” and he nods. “I’m confident I will, yes.” And then he sinks the dagger deep into Mage’s right thigh, moving so fast she doesn’t even have time to retaliate before he pulls away. The dagger stays behind.
“Motherfucker!” Mage bites back a grunt of pain as she grips the dagger’s hilt. “I knew you were going to do that.” Daren only gives her his ghost of a smile and leaves. Mage downs the last of her drink, briefly considers pouring another but decides she doesn’t have the time, then yanks the dagger out and begins cutting strips of cloth from her pants for bandages. When she has staunched the worst of the bleeding and can put at least some weight on the leg she grabs the dagger and goes in search of the single open window. She is just passing into the hallway when every light in the house extinguishes at the same moment, plunging the labyrinth of rooms and hallways into darkness. Her swearing is hushed but prolific.
Bast is in the library, perusing the shelves of leather-bound books, when the lights go out. Firelight catches her eye and she turns to see the Morrigan walking in, a tall white candle set in the candlestick she bears. Its flickering flame is the only light in the room. “What happened to the lights?” she asks. The Morrigan removes the candle from its holder and approaches. “Here,” she offers, proffering the light. Bast accepts it with a nod and returns back to the books. Behind her the Morrigan raises the candlestick and whispers, “The weight of the world,” before striking Bast in the back of the skull. The goddess collapses to the carpet and lays unmoving in a widening pool of blood. Then her body begins to glow, transforming into something like golden ash, and then the ashes blow away as if by a strange wind.
The Morrigan never sees her killer. She has found her way through the darkness to the cellar where she searches now along the cool walls for the circuit breaker. She cannot see the two hands which appear out of the darkness behind her, nor are they accompanied by any sound of footsteps or breathing. Between them they hold a length of the untied rope taut. Just as she locates the circuit breaker the hands bring the rope down over her head and pull it tight around her neck. The goddess struggles against her assailant, nails scrabbling at the thick rope, but to no avail; her vision flashes with brilliant fireworks of pain as she runs out of oxygen. Once she ceases fighting and goes limp, the hands let her fall to the cement floor. After a moment her body turns to gold ashes which blow up and away.
Tanim stands in the doorway to the study, the gun lowered at his side. Across the room Daren stares into the fireplace, his form silhouetted by the red glow of the coals; these shed the only light left in the tomb-like mansion, just as these two men are the only living things left in it. He does not move as Tanim approaches, nor when the man stops a few feet behind him. Instead he merely asks, “Is it done?”
“Yes,” Tanim raises the gun to the back of his lover’s head. “Are you satisfied with the state of things?”
“Almost,” Daren strikes just as lightning illuminates the room for one stark, white second, its attendant thunder a cacophony all around them. With one arm he pushes Tanim’s out of the way so the shot goes wide; with his other he sinks the dagger deep into Tanim’s chest. Darkness reclaims the room and the two men fall still. Then the gun falls from Tanim’s limp hand and with a folding of his knees he follows it soon after, collapsing on his back as a red stain blooms about the hilt of the blade still lodged in his chest. Daren kneels at his side and smooths the hair from his face. “Now I am,” he says softly. “Goodnight, brother.”
Are you coming to me?
What urges me to search for you here among the snow and ice? Why do I linger on the side of this dead mountain, straining to catch your voices on the wind, when you could never have been here? This isn’t your story. This isn’t your grave. So why this place, this time, this particular tragedy? Perhaps it is the mystery that draws me, the kinship I feel for those who will forever search in vain for a truth only the dead know. Or perhaps every place touched by death is a link to you, you who are death embodied, you who are ancient beyond comprehension, and those places become an access point or a portal or just another clue on my never ending scavenger hunt. Maybe; perhaps; possibly. At the end of the day all I know for sure is you are one of these mysteries too: a flicker of light at the corner of my eye, a single footstep in the frozen forest, a distant figure in the fog I cannot ever quite reach. Some part of you waits for me here at this bleak crime scene – so I kneel and dig.
Will you find me?
Will you find me?