With each lapping of its great tide, time bore him further away, beyond the reach of all her grasps. Yet she was convinced that in all the important ways, time itself could not touch him. Strange, then, that she remembered having heard others in her situation make observations such as already, the memory of dear so-and-so was retreating into the haziness of dim recollection.
Well, she had an answer to that. A one-word answer — or perhaps two, depending on how it was spelled.
Those sentiments, they had to be nothing more than well-intentioned lies. Everything was too absurd otherwise. After all, how could memory betray you when it was needed most? When it was only thing you now had to show for all you once had? Or, more precisely, for all that you once had taken for granted. . ?
With utter certainty, she knew that she would never forget what they had shared — perhaps if her mind itself went, fine, that was her one concession on this point. If she no longer recognized even herself, then, yes, that might be the day she forgot him, too.
While such thoughts occupied her, at times bitter, at times self-pitying, the sympathetic souls that had known the two of them together journeyed to her to express their condolences. They formed a procession whose end she came to doubt; and then she realized when it would arrive: when they found another, fresher grief to attend to.
We heard news of his passing, they would say. We are so sorry.
Occasionally they would offer shared memories to her, delivering evidence they thought would comfort her in some obscure way. As if providing an outside validation that she should welcome: you see, he really was as good as you thought he was and even
you see, he really is worth all this fuss. All this grief.
Their hearts were in the right place — one had to assume that, or else send them packing — but at a certain point she started to feel that she could no longer bear such unsolicited kindness.
The worst occurred when these well-intentioned spirits would try an empathetic approach.
You know, it seems like only yesterday that I lost my dearest. Since he passed over.
It was then that she realized she how much she detested the phrase “passing over.” As if those to whom it applied could pass back again. As if her loss was something that had happened casually, in passing. No, she wanted to shout, the ones who leave us don’t “pass” anywhere.
Rather, they were simply gone: unreachable, irretrievable, unknowable.
And then there was her rage at God. She knew it was a cliché, but she couldn’t help what she felt. The shape her complaint took was you gave me something that made me so happy, that changed my very existence — and then you have the nerve to take it away?
This lament, too, she was aware, had been shared by millions before her.
But still, had that been too much to hope for, a dollop of happiness in what was otherwise (she could stand being frank now) a fairly bland existence? Pleasant yes, but shot through with banality, too, now that passion had been stripped from it.
Of course there were ones who, instead of feeling anger at God, took solace in the idea that He had fashioned a benevolent, albeit invisible, purpose behind all the world’s grief. There were many theories along this line — that loved ones would meet on “the other side” and all that nonsense — but there was never any hard proof. No, these were tales for those who were scared of the dark, and who saw it in constant encroachment about them.
Actually, she was one of those timid spirits now. Terrified, not so much of darkness, but of facing it alone. With him, it had seemed almost possible that she might be able to stand the prospect of her own departure some day. . .
He had been friend, child, and husband to her. There were no distinctions. Not her “better half” because with them there had been no “halves.” There had been only a meshing, and a union, and then finally a rending and a scar.
Many claimed that those like him had gone to a better place, where there were different pleasures, ones she could not imagine from this dimension. She had once even heard someone describe all souls as “energy beings,” and if that were true, then maybe anything was possible. Still, the fantasy of a reunion one day in the future — that just seemed like wishful thinking of the most childish sort. It was too much to hope for, and yet it was the only thing that really counted. What did it matter if there were some unimaginable paradise of new sensations awaiting her? If it included an eternity of separation from him, it could not be other than hellish.
Yet oddly, the prospect of that nebulous afterworld came to bring a measure of relief when her sorrow was most acute.
And so she found herself, as time passed, able to cope with her grief only by, in essence, grieving for herself in advance. She consoled herself with the notion that there would be no more pain when there was no more she.
The end comes for everyone.
It was a bitter notion to take comfort from — the knowledge that, one day she, too, would leave this place of peace, and take on a human body. One day, she, too, would be “born,” and live in a world of “the flesh” and “the senses,” as the learned termed these hypothetical components of the next phase in their migration.
No, there was no doubt about it: it was a horrible fate for any soul.
For all souls.
Of the many stories about the spirit world I’ve read, they always seem to take our everyday perspective as the starting point for issues such as transmigration, incarnation, and the like. For me, that’s like assuming your train station is the first one on the line even when you see a hint of the tracks stretching into the mist on both sides. The impetus for this story was to see what kind of emotional and metaphysical questions could be explored by planting the narrative stakes in the ground somewhere far back in those mists.
So quickly the challenge of the story was to keep it metaphysically-oriented rather than let it become a conventional fantasy piece. While this results in a more abstract setting (and perhaps a more bland tone overall) than in my other fiction, I was both excited to meet the challenge and gratified to learn that RTV is open to such experimentation.
Although I’ve heard people say this is a sad story, it was not intended as such — whatever sadness remains by the last line is meant to be mitigated by the distance the reader is supposed to feel from the point-of-view character: her nightmarish future is the one we not simply inhabit, but cling to.
©2010 by Peter Gutierrez.
Deep within the archives… which continue to grow.
RTV ran into Jess on Twitter, she’s quite wacky and a whole lot of fun. She loved the idea of an excerpt of the brand new novel, the latest book in her “Others” series, entitled Forsaken by the Others. Her promotional formatting was so cool we decided to go with it, adjusted slightly to fit. Enjoy, and go buy your copy now.
Jess Haines writes about furred and fanged things that go bump in the night. Best known for the H&W Investigations urban fantasy series, she’s been writing since she was a teenager and first published in 2010. Her latest release is Forsaken by the Others (Kensington/Zebra; July 2, 2013).
119 West 40 Street 21st floor
New York, NY 10018
Forsaken by the Others Back Cover Copy
The Others — vampires, werewolves, things that go chomp in the night — don’t just live in nightmares anymore. They’ve joined with the mortal world. And for private investigator Shiarra Waynest, that means mayhem . . .
Have a one night stand with a vampire, and you can end up paying for it for eternity. P.I. Shiarra Waynest, an expert on the Others, knows that better than most. Yet here she is, waking up beside charismatic vamp Alec Royce with an aching head . . . and neck. Luckily, Shia has the perfect excuse for getting out of town — namely, a couple of irate East Coast werewolf packs who’d like to turn her into a chew toy.
On Royce’s suggestion, Shia temporarily relocates to Los Angeles. But something is rotten — literally &mdashp; in the state of California, where local vampires are being attacked by zombies. Who could be powerful enough to control them–and reckless enough to target the immortal? Following the trail will lead Shia to a terrifying truth, and to an ancient enemy with a personal grudge. . .
Publisher: Kensington / Imprint: Zebra
Format(s): Paperback / E-book
Forsaken by the Others — book excerpt — by Jess Haines
“You two are insane. First the Goliaths, now that ridiculous pretender? Do you have any idea how crazy that guy is?”
Sara huffed, folding her arms. “Do you have any idea how crazy it is that we’re being asked to find where this necromancer is hiding without the help of police or other authorities to track him down? Stop judging our methods and let us do our job. You have a better idea of where we should be looking? We’re all ears.”
Trinity shook her head and started driving, not saying a thing.
Even if she was of the opinion that Thrane was nuttier than a fruitcake, it didn’t deter me. I had been dealing with more than enough weirdoes since I had arrived in Los Angeles. The addition of a few more didn’t seem like such a big deal.
Clyde might have thought he was the Master of All He Sees and Then Some, but the reality was that he couldn’t be everywhere at once, and to have a slice of land in the middle of what was supposed to be his Valley — territory — whatever — belonging to another vampire meant that he didn’t have as tight a grip on his holdings as he would have liked us to believe. Plus, three of the attacks had taken place on the borders between Thrane’s and Clyde’s territories, which meant that Thrane might know which way the necromancer went, might have seen something useful, or maybe would be willing to help us if he was also losing people.
Granted, now that we’d stopped in front of what — according to Trinity’s sarcastic explanation — was supposed to be Thrane’s base of operation, I could see why Clyde had appeared more annoyed than worried when he mentioned the “Master” of this borderline slice of land between Burbank and Glendale. The neighborhood, though not as nice as the one where Gavin lived, or as nasty as that armpit in Sun Valley we’d stopped in, wasn’t real impressive, mainly small businesses sandwiched between apartments and old houses.
At first I thought Trinity must have been kidding. The place was nothing more than a run-down sports bar with dirty windows that obscured a dimly seen television mounted in the corner. There was a sign above the nearly deserted bar proclaiming they had a weeknight special on Budweiser and hot wings. Tucked away in a dark alcove on the side of the building was the door Trinity said led to Thrane’s hideout. It was so narrow that I would have mistaken it for the location of the building’s circuit breakers.
Sara and I approached the place together, wrinkling our noses at the padlocked dumpster only a few yards away from the entrance to the vampire’s hideout. This was nothing like the splendor I had seen vampires use to sequester themselves from humanity’s prying eyes. If I hadn’t gotten a nod in the affirmative when I gave Trinity a dubious look over my shoulder, I never would have guessed that Thrane lived here. It was either a terrifically clever front, or terribly sad.
Sara stepped aside, and I knocked lightly on the door. A muffled voice came from the other side. “Password?”
Nonplussed, I looked at Trinity, who shrugged. Confused, I said, “I . . . don’t know?”
The door — was that piled-on insulation held on with duct tape? — opened, revealing a guy wearing track pants and a T-shirt slung over his shoulder. His skin was frightfully pale, and his hairy stomach protruded a bit over the top of his pants. He grinned broadly at Sara and me, flashing fangs. “Ladies, ladies, ladies! Call me Mac-daddy.” He paused, then added thoughtfully, “Actually, if you’re here to see me, you can call me anything you want.”
Sara and I both hastily stepped back — probably a bit too quickly, considering the tragic look of disappointment that crossed his features — before a pleasant, feminine voice called out from the shadows behind him. “Mac, who is it? Get out of the damn door and let them in.”
He got out of the way, disappearing into the dark. This was no more reassuring. Particularly as a third voice called out to us, this time another woman. “Are you just going to stand there all night?”
Terrifying as the thought of walking into that dark pit was, we weren’t going to accomplish anything by standing in the alley. Sara fell into step behind me as I marched with what I hoped was a brave and dangerous expression into the vampire den.
If I’d thought the outside was bad, the inside was . . . bad.
A set of narrow, rickety wooden stairs sans railing led down about four feet into a cramped, narrow basement with a high ceiling. Fluorescent track lighting made everything take on a sickly, dim color. Someone had salvaged a large strip of puke-orange shag carpeting and laid it down on the bare concrete in the center of the room. The walls were beige and covered with posters, and there was a bulletin board that, at a glance, contained charming announcements like “Jason is a fag” scrawled in heavy permanent marker on scraps of paper between the job postings and concert flyers.
Though my own furniture in my apartment — cripes, did I still have anything of my own anymore? My landlord had probably dumped all of my crap out on the street by now. Ahem, back on track — though my own furniture was or had been of Ikea-level quality, it looked like the mismatched couches and chairs in this sprawling basement lair had gone a few rounds with their local Salvation Army store.
The vampires didn’t look much better.
Some wore jeans and T-shirts. Some wore stuff straight out of a goth fashion magazine. One wore a pizza delivery shirt and cap, obviously either just coming from or leaving for a job.
Now I understood why Clyde was so obviously disgusted when he mentioned this Jimmy guy.
“Mr. Thrane?” I asked the room in general, not sure which one of the vampires to address. There wasn’t much of a structure to this pack of misfits that I could pick up. The stuffy, musty scent and strangely echoic quality of the space, added to the cold due to the lack of body heat from the vampires, gave the impression of being at the bottom of a grave.
A frat boy’s grave, maybe, but a grave, nonetheless.
The vampire lounging on the couch in the back nodded, touching the brim of his top hat. It was the only article of clothing he had on that was in good repair. Once he moved his hand, I could see a tattoo or something under one of his eyes.
“Ma’am. Might I ask why you’re calling on us this fine evening?”
Well, at least he was polite. Sara, who had the look of rigid, forced politeness she often assumed when dealing with a client who made her uncomfortable, introduced us.
“Mr. Thrane, my name is Sara Halloway, and this is Shiarra Waynest, my business partner. We’re private investigators. We wanted to ask for your help and see if you might have any information that might lead us to a resolution of some difficulties for a client.”
“Wow, right on. Real private investigators?”
I glanced at the guy who had earlier been identified as Mac, giving him a look. He shrugged and grinned.
Thrane was not as impressed. “Fascinating. Really. But I would very much like to know how you two have heard of me and what you think I can do for you.”
My turn to field the questions. “We heard that you’re the ruler of some territory outside of Clyde Seabreeze’s control. If that’s the case, you may have information about who has been behind the murders and disappearances of Clyde’s people.”
Thrane’s reaction was not what I had expected. At all. His fangs extended, and his eyes blazed red as he shot to his feet, pointing an accusatory finger at me. “You’re working for that . . . that . . . usurper?”
Sara grabbed my arm so tightly, it went numb. The other vampires didn’t seem very impressed, watching us with bored expressions. Once my heart crawled out of my throat and closer to the region it belonged, I squeaked out a few words.
“We — uh . . . yes?”
As suddenly as the anger had risen, it was gone. He blinked, and his eyes were normal again, the fangs retracting as he airily waved a hand at us. “Poofty von Metrofaggen can go find someone else to play his games. I’m not interested.”
“Jimmy,” one of the girls stage-whispered, her eyes comically huge in her heart-shaped face framed by inky black curls, “Jimmy, those are humans.”
I have never seen so many vampires so intensely interested in me at the same time. Talk about unnerving. Every one of them went deathly still — and I mean deathly — as their unblinking eyes locked onto us. It was like being stared at by a room full of china dolls. Hungry china dolls that are thinking about eating your face.
©2013 by Jess Haines. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. See above for information on how to find your copy, check local booksellers, or go to Amazon.com (e.g.). We will endeavor to supply links on the rebound.
She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man knows. . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no man escaped her, or her Furies.
— Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancaster, 1613
See us gathered here, three women stood at Richard Baldwin’s gate. I bide with my daughter, Liza of the squint-eye, and with my granddaughter, Alizon, just fifteen and dazzling as the noontide sun, so bright that she lights up the murk of my dim sight. Demdike, folk call me, after the dammed stream near my dwelling place where the farmers wash their sheep before shearing. When I was younger and stronger, I used to help with the sheepwash. Wasn’t afraid of the fiercest rams. I’d always had a way of gentling creatures by speaking to them low and soft. Though I’m old now, crabbed and near-blind, my memory is long as a midsummer’s day and with my inner eye, I see clear.
We three wait till Baldwin catches glimpse of us and out he storms. Through the clouded caul that age has cast over my eyes, I catch his form. Thin as a brittle dead stalk, he is, his face pinched, and he’s clad in the dour black weeds of a Puritan. Fancies himself a godly man, does our Dick Baldwin. A loud crack strikes the earth — it’s a horsewhip he carries. My daughter fair leaps as he lashes it against the drought-hard dirt.
“Whores and witches,” he rails, shrill enough to set the crows to flight. “Get out of my ground.”
Slashes of air hit my face as he brandishes his whip, seeking to strike fear into us, but it’s his terror I taste as I let go of Alizon’s guiding hand and step forward, firm and square on my rag-bundled feet. We’ve only come to claim what is ours by right.
“Whores and witches,” he taunts again, yelling with such bile that his spit sprays me. “I will burn the one of you and hang the other.”
He speaks to Liza and me, ignoring young Alizon, for he doesn’t trust himself to even look at this girl whose beauty and sore hunger would be enough to make him sink to his knobbly knees.
I take another step forward, forcing him to back away. The man’s a-fright that I’ll so much as breathe on him. “I care not for you,” I tell him. “Hang yourself.”
Our Master Baldwin will play the righteous churchman, but what I know of him would besmirch his good name forevermore. He can spout his psalms till he’s hoarse, but heaven’s gates will never open to him. I know this and he knows I know this, and for my knowing, he fears and hates me. Beneath his black clothes beats an even blacker heart. Hired my Liza to card wool, did Baldwin, and then refused to pay her. What’s more, our Liza has done much dearer things for him than carding. Puritan or no, he’s taken his pleasure of her and, lost and grieving her poor murdered husband, ten years dead, our Liza was soft enough to let him. Fool girl.
“Enough of this,” I say. “Liza carded your wool. Where’s her payment? We’re poor, hungry folk. Would you let us starve for your meanness?”
I speak in a low, warning tone, not unlike the growl of a dog before it bites. Man like him should know better than to cross the likes of me. Throughout Pendle Forest I’m known as a cunning woman and she who has the power to bless may also curse.
Our Mr. Baldwin blames me because his daughter Ellen is too poorly to rise from her bed. The girl was a pale, consumptive thing from the day she was born, never hale in all her nine years. Once he called on me to heal her. Mopped her brow, I did. Brewed her feverfew and lungwort, but still she ailed and shivered. Tried my best with her, but some who are sick cannot be mended. Yet Baldwin thinks I bewitched the lass out of malice. Why would I seek to harm a hair on the poor girl’s head when his other daughter, the one he won’t name or even look at, is my own youngest granddaughter, seven-year-old Jennet?
“Richard.” My Liza makes bold to step toward him. She stretches out a beseeching hand. “Have a heart. For our Jennet’s sake. We’ve nothing more to eat in the house.”
But he twists away from her in cold dread and still won’t pay her for her honest work, won’t grant us so much as a penny. So what can I do but promise that I’ll pray for him till he comes to be of a better mind? Soft under my breath, masked from his Puritan ears, I murmur the Latin refrains of the old religion. How my whispered words make him pale and quake — does he believe they will strike him dead? Off to his house he scarpers. Behind his bolted door he’ll cower till we’re well gone.
“Come, Gran.” Alizon takes my arm to lead me home. Can’t make my way round without her in this dark ebb of my years. But with my inner eye I see Tibb sat there on the drystone wall. Sun breaks through the clouds to golden-wash his guilesome face. Dick Baldwin would call him a devil, or even the Devil, but I know better. Tibb, his beautiful form invisible to all but me.
“Now I don’t generally stand by woe-working,” says my Tibb, stretching out his long legs. “But if you forespoke Master Baldwin, who could blame you, after all the ill he’s done to you and yours?” He cracks a smile. “Is revenge what you want?”
“No, Tibb. Only justice.” I speak with my inner voice that none but Tibb can hear. If Baldwin fell ill and died, what would happen to his lawful daughter, Ellen? Her mother’s long dead. Another poor lass to live off the alms of the parish. No, I’ll not have that burden on my soul.
“Justice!” Tibb laughs, then shakes his head. “Off the likes of Dick Baldwin? Oh, you do set your sights high.”
Tibb’s laughter makes the years melt away, drawing me back to the old days, when I could see far with my own two eyes and walk on my own two legs, with none to guide me.
By daylight gate I first saw him, the boy climbing out of the stone pit in Goldshaw. The sinking sun set his fair hair alight. Slender, he was, and so young and beautiful. Pure, too. No meanness on him. No spite or evil. I knew straight off that he wouldn’t spit at me for being a barefoot beggar woman. Wouldn’t curse at me or try to shove me into the ditch. There was something in his eyes — a gentleness, a knowing. When he looked at me, my hurting knees turned to butter. When he smiled, I melted to my core, my heart bumping and thumping till I fair fainted away. What would a lad like that want with a fifty-year-old widow like me?
The month of May, it was, but cold of an evening. His coat was half black, half brown. I thought to myself that he must be poor like me, left to stitch his clothes together from mismatched rags. He reached out his hand, as though making to greet an old friend.
“Elizabeth,” he said. “My own Bess.” The names by which I was known when a girl with a slender waist and strong legs and rippling chestnut hair. How did he know my true name? Even then I was known to most as Demdike. The boy smiled wide with clean white teeth, none of them missing, and his eyes had a devilish spark in them, as though I were still that young woman with skin like new milk.
“Well, well,” said I, for I was never one to stay silent for long. “You know my name, so you do. What’s yours then?”
“Tibb,” he said.
“Your family name.” I nodded to myself, though I knew of no Tibbs living anywhere in Pendle Forest. “But what of your Christian name?” After all, I thought, he knew me by mine, God only knew how.
He lifted his face to the red-glowing sky and laughed as the last of the sun sank behind Pendle Hill. Then I heard a noise behind me: the startled squawk of a pheasant taking flight. When I turned to face the boy again, he had vanished away. I looked up and down the lane, finding him nowhere. Couldn’t even trace his footprints in the muddy track. Did my mind fail me? Had that boy been real at all? This was when I grew afraid and went cold all over, as though frost had settled upon my skin.
First off, I told no one of Tibb. Who would have believed me when I could scarcely believe it myself? I’d no wish to make myself an even bigger laughingstock than I already was.
Ned Southerns, my husband, such as he was, had passed on just after our squint-eyed Liza was born, nineteen years ago. He blamed me for our daughter’s deformity because he thought I’d too much contact with beasts whilst I was carrying her. In my married years, I raised fine hens, even kept a nanny goat. There was another child, Christopher, three years older than Liza and not of my husband, but far and away from being the only bastard in Pendle Forest. The gentry and the yeomen bred as many ill-begotten babes as us poor folk, only they did a better job of covering it up. Liza, Kit, and I made our home in a crumbling old watchtower near the edge of Pendle Forest. More ancient than Adam, our tower was: too draughty for storing silage, but it did for us. Malkin Tower, it was called, and, as you’ll know, Malkin can mean either hare or slattern. What better place for me and my brood?
Still folk whispered that it seemed a curious thing indeed that one such as I should live in a tower built of stout stone with a firehouse boasting a proper hearth at its foot when many a poor widow made do with a one-room hovel with no hearth at all but only a fire pit in the bare earthen floor. In truth, my poor dead mother got the tower given her for her natural life — towers named after slatterns were meant to hide guilty secrets.
When my mam was young and comely, she’d served the Nowell family at Read Hall. Head ostler’s daughter, so she was, and she’d prospects and a modest dowry besides. But what did she do but catch the eye of Master Nowell’s son, then a lad of seventeen years? The Nowells were not an old family, as gentry went, nor half as grand as the Shuttleworths of Gawthorpe Hall or the de Lacys of Clitheroe. The Nowells’ fortunes had risen along with the sway of the new religion. Back when Old King Henry’s troops came to sack Whalley Abbey, the Nowells sent their men to help topple the ancient stone walls. King rewarded their loyalty by granting the Nowells a goodly portion of the abbey’s lands. One of Old Man Nowells’ sons went to faraway Cambridgeshire to make his name as a Puritan divine, or so I’d been told. Far and wide, the Nowells let it be known that they were godly folk. But even the pious are prey to youthful folly.
My mam, before her fall from grace, had been an upright girl, so the young Master Roger could hardly discard her as easy as he would some tavern maid. And that was why Mam was given Malkin Tower for the rest of her life on the condition that she never trouble the Nowells of Read Hall. Far enough from Read, it was, for them not to be bothered by the sight of her, but it was close enough to for them to keep watch of her, should she seek to blacken their good name. My mam and I were never respectable — respect costs money and we hadn’t two pennies to rub together. We’d Malkin Tower to live in but no scrap of land for grazing sheep. Most we could manage was a garden plot in the stony soil. By and by, I think the Nowells had fair forgotten us. When my mam passed on, bless her eternal soul, the tower was in such poor repair they didn’t seem to want it back. So I stayed on, for where else had I to go? It seemed they preferred to have no dealings with me and that it shamed them less to allow me to carry on here like a squatter, not paying a farthings’s rent.
My natural father died some years back, happy and fat and rich. His eldest son, my own half-brother, also named Roger, had become the new master of Read Hall, part of it built from the very stones his grandfather’s servants carted away from the ruined abbey. Younger than me, was my half-brother, by some twenty years. Rarely did our paths cross, for the Nowells went to church in Whalley with the other fine folk, never in the New Church in Goldshaw with the yeomen and lesser gentry. But once, of a market day in Colne, I clapped eyes on Roger Nowell. Impossible to miss him, the way he was sat like some conquering knight upon his great Shire horse, blue-black and gleaming, with red ribbons twisted in its mane. That was some years ago, when my half-brother’s face was yet smooth and unlined. A handsome man, he was, with a firm chin just like mine. I looked straight at him to see if he would recognise his own blood kin. But his sharp blue eyes passed over me as though I was nowt but a heap of dung.
Over the years he’d become a mighty man: Magistrate and Justice of the Peace. We in Pendle Forest were careful not to cross him or give him cause for offence. On account of my being a poor widow, he granted me a begging license. Did it through Constable without speaking a word to me. And so I was left to wander the tracks of Pendle Forest and wheedle, full humble, for food and honest work.
But gone were the days when Christian folk felt beholden to give alms to the poor. When I was a tiny girl, the monks of Whalley Abbey fed and clothed the needy. So did the rich folk, for their souls would languish a fair long time in purgatory if they were stingy to us. In the old days, the poor were respected — our prayers were dearer to God than those of the wealthy. Many a well-to-do man on his deathbed would give out food and alms to the lowliest of the parish, so my mam had told me, if they would only pray for his immortal soul. At his funeral, the poor were given doles of bread and soul cakes.
The reformers said that purgatory was heresy: it was either heaven for the Elect or hell for everyone else, so what need did the rich have to bribe the poor to pray for them? We humble folk were no longer seen as blessed of the Lord but as a right nuisance. When I went begging for a mere bowl of blue milk or a handful of oats to make water porridge, the Hargreaves and the Bannisters and the Mittons narrowed their eyes and said my hard lot was God’s punishment for my sin of bearing a bastard child. Mean as stones, they were. Little did they know. Liza, my lawful-begotten child, was deformed because her father, my husband, gave me no pleasure to speak of, whilst Kit, my bastard, borne of passion and desire, was as tall and beautiful and perfect in form as any larch tree. Ah, but the Puritans would only see what they wanted to see. Most so-called charity they doled out was to give me half a loaf of old bread in exchange for a day laundering soiled clouts.
But I’d even forgive them for that if they hadn’t robbed my life of its solace and joy. In the old days, we’d a saint for every purpose: Margaret for help in childbirth, Anne for protection in storms, Anthony to ward against fire, George to heal horses and protect them from witchcraft. Old King Henry forbade us to light candles before the saints but at least he let us keep their altars. In the old days, no one forced us to go to church either, even for Easter communion. The chapel nave belonged to us, the ordinary people, and it was the second home we all shared. Dividing the nave from the chancel with the high altar was the carved oak roodscreen which framed the priest as he sang out the mass. We didn’t stand solemn and dour during the holy service, either, but wandered about the nave, from one saint’s altar to the next, gazing at the pictures and statues, till the priest rang the bell, then held up the Host for all to see, the plain wafer transformed in a glorious miracle into the body and blood of Christ. Just laying eyes upon the Host was enough to ward a person from witchcraft, plague, and sudden death.
When I was twelve, they finished building the New Church of St. Mary’s in Goldshaw to replace the old crumbling chapel of ease where I’d been christened. Bishop from Chester came to consecrate it just in time for All Souls’ when we rang the bells the whole night through to give comfort to our dead.
Back then we still had our holidays. Christmas lasted twelve days and nights with mummers and guizers in animal masks, dancing by torchlight. The Lord of Misrule, some low born man, lorded it over the gentry to make poor folk laugh. The Towneleys of Carr Hall used to invite all their neighbours, rich and poor alike, to join their festivities. Upon Palm Sunday everyone in the parish gathered for the processions round the fields to make them fertile. After dark, the young folk would go out to bless the land in their own private fashion. Everyone knew what went on, but none stood in our way. If a lass and her young man had to rush to the altar afterward, nobody thought the worse of them for it. I went along with the other girls, arm in arm with my best friend Anne Whittle, both of us wearing green garlands and singing. Cherry-lipped Anne loved to have her sport with the boys, but mindful of my own mother’s fate, I did nowt but kiss and dance and flirt in those days. Only went astray much later in life, when I was a married woman and sore unsatisfied, seeking my pleasures elsewhere.
In my youth, upon May morning, we arose before dawn to gather hawthorn and woodruff. We’d dance round the Maypole and drink elderflower wine till the very sky reeled. At Midsummer’s, upon the eve of the feast of John the Baptist, we carried birch boughs into the church till our chapel looked like a woodland grove. Bonfires blazed the whole night through. Some folk burned fires of bone, not wood, so that the stench might drive away evil wights from the growing crops. Most of us gathered round the wake fire of sweet apple wood where we danced all night, collapsing upon the grass at sunrise. At Lammas the reapers crowned the Harvest Queen and one year, by Our Lady, it was me, a lass of fifteen, crowned in roses and barley, the lads begging me for a kiss.
Old King Henry was dead by then and we lived in hope that the old ways would live again. Crowned in roses, I led the procession of maidens on the Feast of the Assumption, each of us bearing flowers and fruits to lay upon the altar of the Queen of Heaven. Only weeks later, Edward the Boy King sent his men to smash every statue in our church, even that of the Blessed Mother herself, whilst we clutched ourselves, full aghast. They tore down the crucifix over the high altar and burned it as though it was some heathen idol. They destroyed our roodscreen, outlawed our processions, and forbade us to deck the church with greenery upon Midsummer or to bring red roses and poppies to the altar on Corpus Christi. They set fire to our Maypole, forbade us to pray for the dead or celebrate the saints’ feast days.
Six years on, weakling Edward wasted away and his sister Mary Tudor promised to bring back the old religion. For the five years of her reign we had our holidays again, our processions, our mass with swirling incense and the sea of candles lit for the saints. The Towneleys, the Nutters, and the Shuttleworths paid for the new roodscreen, the new statues, altar cloths and vestments. We had our Maypole and rang the church bells for our ancestors on All Souls’ Night. But our joys soured when the news came of the heretics Mary burned alive, near three hundred of them, their only hope to end their agony being the sachets of gunpowder concealed beneath their clothes. Our Catholic queen was nowt but a tyrant. Before long Mary herself died, despised by her own husband, so the story went.
With Queen Elizabeth came the new religion once more to replace the old. The Queen’s agents stormed in to hack apart our brand new roodscreen. But they could not demolish the statues or the crucifix this time round, for the Towneleys, Shuttleworths, and Nutters had divided the holy images between them and taken them into hiding, in secret chapels inside their great houses. In those early days, some said Elizabeth’s reign couldn’t last long. Anne Boleyn’s bastard, she was, and it seemed half of England wanted her dead. On top of that, she refused to marry and produce an heir of her own religion. Yet the Queen’s religion had endured.
In truth, the old ways died that day Elizabeth’s agents sacked our church. For the past twenty-odd years, there had been no dancing of a Sunday, no Sunday ales like we used to have when we made merry within the very nave of the church. Though the Sabbath was the only day of leisure we had, Curate refused to let us have any pleasure of it. No football, dice-playing or card-playing. Magistrate Roger Nowell, my own half-brother, forbade the Robin Hood plays and summer games, for he said they led to drunkenness and wantonness amongst the lower orders. Few weeks back, the piper of Clitheroe was arrested for playing late one Sunday afternoon.
Curate preached that only the Elect would go to heaven and I was canny enough to know that didn’t include me. So if I was damned anyway, why should I suffer to obey their every command? Mind you, I went to church of a Sunday. It was that, or suffer Church Warden’s whip and fine. But I’d left off trying to hold myself to the straight and narrow. Perhaps I’d have fared no better even if the old church had survived, for hadn’t I been an adulteress? Yet still my heart was rooted, full stubborn, in that lost world of chanting, processions, and revels that had bound us together, rich and poor, saint and sinner. My soul’s home was not with this harsh new God, but instead I sought the solace of the Queen of Heaven and whispered the Salve Regina in secret. I swore to cling to the forbidden prayers till my dying day.
I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the story: that evening, after Tibb first appeared to me, I hared off in the long spring twilight, heading home to Malkin Tower. Wasn’t safe to be about after dark. Folk talked of boggarts haunting the night, not that I was ignorant enough to believe every outlandish tale, but I was shaken to the bone from seeing the boy who disappeared into nowhere. The moon, nearly full, shone in the violet sky and the first stars glimmered when, at last, I reached my door.
Our Malkin Tower was an odd place. Tower itself had two rooms, one below and one above, and each room had narrow slits for windows from the days, hundreds of years ago, when guardsmen were sat there with their bows and arrows, on the look-out for raiders and poachers. But, as the tower had no chimney or hearth, we spent most of our time in the firehouse, a ramshackle room built on to the foot of the tower. And it was into the firehouse I stumbled that night. My daughter Liza, sat close by the single rush light, gave a cry when she saw me.
“So late coming home, Mam! Did a devil cross your path?”
In the wavering light, my girl looked more frightful than the devil she spoke of, though she couldn’t help it, God bless her. Her left eye stood lower in her face than the other, and while her right eye looked up, her left eye looked down. The sight of her was enough to put folk off their food. Couldn’t hire herself out as a kitchen maid because the housewives of Pendle feared our Liza would spoil their milk and curdle their butter. Looking the way she did, it would take a miracle for her to get regular work, let alone a husband. Most she could hope for was a day’s pittance for carding wool or weeding some housewife’s garden.
Ignoring her talk of the devil, I unpacked the clump of old bread, the gleanings of the day’s begging, and Liza sliced it into pieces thin as communion wafer.
Liza, myself, my son Kit, and Kit’s wife, also Elizabeth, though we called her Elsie, gathered for our supper. Kit hired himself out as a day labourer, but at this time of year, there was little work to be had. Lambing season had just passed. Shearing wouldn’t come till high summer. Best he could do was ask for work at the slate pits and hope to earn enough to keep us in oatmeal and barley flour. Kit’s wife, Elsie, was heavy with child. Most work she could get was a day’s mending or spinning.
When we were sat together at the table, my Liza went green in the face at the taste of the old bread and could barely get a mouthful of the stuff down before she bolted out the door to be sick. Out of old habit, not even thinking, I crossed myself. I looked to Kit, who looked to his wife, who shook her head in sadness. Elsie would deliver her firstborn within the month and now it appeared that Liza was with child, as well. First I wondered who the father could be. Then I asked myself how we would feed two little babes when we were hard-pressed to do for ourselves? We were silent, the lot of us, Elsie doling out the buttermilk she had off the Bulcocks in exchange for a day’s spinning. Our Kit gave his wife half of his own share of bread — wasn’t she eating for two?
Then I found I couldn’t finish my own bread, so I passed it to Kit before hauling myself out the door to look for Liza. By the cold moonlight I found my poor squint-eyed broomstick of a girl bent over the gatepost, crying fit to die. Taking Liza in my arms, I held her and rubbed her hair. I begged her to tell me who the father was, but she refused.
“It will be right,” I told her. “Not the first time an unwed girl fell pregnant. We’ll make do somehow.” What else could I say? I’d no business browbeating her for doing the same as I’d done with Kit’s father, twenty-two years ago.
After leading my Liza back inside, we made for our beds. I climbed to the upper tower. Room was so cold and draughty that everyone else preferred sleeping below, but of a crystal-clear evening I loved nothing better than to lie upon my pallet and gaze at the moon and stars through the narrow windows. Cold wind didn’t bother me much. I was born with thick skin, would have died ages ago if I’d been a more delicate sort. Yet that night the starry heavens gave me little comfort. I laid myself down and tried to ignore the hammer of worry in my head. Church Warden and Constable were sure to make a stink about Liza. Another bastard child to live off the charity of the parish. They’d fine her at the very least. She’d be lucky if she escaped the pillory. Sleepless, I huddled there whilst the wind whistled through the thatch.
When I finally closed my eyes, I saw Tibb, his face in its golden glory. Looked like one of the angels I remembered seeing in our church before the reformers stripped the place bare. Out of the dark crush of night came his voice, sweet as a lover’s, gentle as Kit’s father was in the days when he called me his beauty, his heart’s joy. Tibb’s lips were at my ear.
“If I could,” he told me, “if you let me, I’d ease your burdens, my Bess. No use fretting about Liza. She’ll lose the child within a fortnight and none but you and yours will know she fell pregnant in the first place.”
My throat was dry and sore. Couldn’t even think straight.
“You’re afraid of me,” he said. “But you shouldn’t be. I mean you no harm.”
“You’re not real,” I whispered. “I’m just dreaming you.”
“I’m as real as the ache in your heart,” he whispered back. “You were meant to be more than a common beggar, our Bess. You could be a blesser. Next time, you see a sick cow, bless it. Say three Ave Marias and sprinkle some water on the beast. Folk will pay you for such things. Folk will hold you in regard and you won’t have to grovel for the scraps off their table.”
What nonsense, I thought. Church warden would have me whipped and fined for saying the Ave Maria — and that was but mild chastisement. Catholics were still hanged in these parts, their priests drawn and quartered. I told myself that there was no such boy called Tibb — it was just my empty stomach talking. I rolled over, pulling the tattered blanket to my ears.
He wouldn’t give over. “It runs in your blood. You’ve inherited the gift from your mam’s father.”
I shook my head no. “My grandfather was an ostler. An honest man.”
“He was a horse-charmer, if you remember well.”
Tibb’s voice summoned the memories. I was sat on Grand-Dad’s knee and he jostled me so that I could pretend I was riding a bouncy pony and all the while he chanted the Charm to St. George to ward horses from witchcraft. Enforce we us with all our might to love St. George, Our Lady’s Knight. Grand-Dad died when I was seven, but he’d taught my mam all his herbcraft for healing beast and folk alike, which she, in turn, had taught me, though Mam herself had no dealings in charms.
What a marvel. Grand-Dad working his blessings in the stables at Read Hall, beneath the Nowells’ very noses. He must have served them well, kept their nags healthy and sound, so that instead of reporting him for sorcery they became his protectors. Perhaps that, indeed, was why the Nowells had given Malkin Tower to Mam — it did no good at all to vex a cunning man by treating his daughter ill.
Still the knowing made the sweat run cold down my back. To think that I carried this inside me. I could not say a word, only pray that Tibb would vanish again and leave me in peace.
“My own Bess, do I need to give you a sign or two? You’ll see what I’ve said of Liza will come to pass. Now I’ll give you more knowledge of the future. Before the moon is new again, Elsie will bear a son.”
In spite of myself, I laughed. “Any fool can see she’s carrying a boy from the way she’s bearing so high and wide. I don’t need a slip of a lad like you telling me about wenches bearing babies.”
My mocking didn’t put Tibb off. He only coaxed me all the more. “They’ll name the lad Christopher after his father and you’ll see your Kit’s father in the little lad’s face, my Bess. You’ll feel so tender that the years of bitterness will melt away.”
Tears came to my eyes when I remembered my lover who had given me such pleasure before he bolted off, never to show his face again, leaving me to bear my shame and endure an angry husband fit to flay me alive and the gossips wagging their tongues and pointing. My husband refused to give the baby his name, so that was why my Kit was named Christopher Holgate, not Southerns. As punishment for my sin, I was made to stand a full day in the pillory in Colne marketplace.
“That’s not all I can tell you of your future,” said Tibb, nestling close, his breath warming my face. “In time, your Liza will marry an honest man who will love her in spite of her squint.”
“Fortune-telling’s a sin,” I squeaked. In this Curate and the priests of the old religion had always been of one mind. A dangerous thing, it was, to push back the veil and look into the future, for unless such knowledge came from a prophecy delivered by God, it came from the other place, the evil place, the Devil. Diviners and those who consulted them would be punished in hell by having their heads twisted backward for their unholy curiosity.
Still Tibb carried on in a voice I couldn’t block out. “Liza will give you three grandchildren.”
How seductive he was. If only I could trust him and believe that my Liza would be blessed by the love of a good man, a happy family.
“Her first-born daughter will be your joy,” Tibb told me. “You’ll love her till you forget yourself, my Bess. A pretty impudent lass with skin like cream. A beauty such as you were at her age. She’ll be your very likeness and you’ll teach her the things that I’ll teach you.” His voice sang with his promise.
“What else can you tell me?” I asked, my heart in my mouth.
Opening my eyes, I dared myself to look him in the face, but I only saw the stars shining in the window slits.
©2010 by Mary Sharratt.
“Jesse, this is most puzzling. There are a lot of references to blood in here, and it’s clear that they’re not necessarily talking about some form of sacrifice. Do you have any light to shed on this?”
He blinked but kept his expression steady. “Well, I, um —”
Amanda laughed. “It’s okay; I don’t think that this text is talking about ancient vampires or whatever. I’m in fact wondering if it’s a symbolic allusion to some kind of ancient Eucharist. But still, it’s quite strange. Any chance that I could borrow this from you?” She looked up at him hopefully. She was clearly both enthralled and intrigued with the book.
Jesse found it difficult to refuse her — in spite of the little voice in his head reminding him that if the Clan elders discovered the text missing and in the hands of a mortal, he’d most likely be staked. “I — perhaps, yes. Was there something you wanted to look into further?” As he gazed into her liquid, dark brown eyes, he tried desperately to remember why he gave her the text to begin with. Ah, yes, to impress her. And certainly she was impressed — and perhaps was also more observant and skilled in Latin than he had originally anticipated. Her translation proceeded at a rate even Amaltheia would’ve found proficient.
Finally, she stopped scribbling and took an additional sip from her glass. “Hold on one moment,” she requested, grabbing her purse, “I’ll be right back.” She smiled at him and ran to the women’s restroom.
He started to speak but thought better of it, gazing at her half-finished wine. What a lightweight she is, he mused. And how incredibly competent at Latin. Not to mention, he thought with a frown, very . . . intuitive . . . when intoxicated.
Idly, Jesse wondered how a few drops of blood mixed with her drink might aid her psychic skills. You idiot. You do that and there’s no turning back. Having her ingest his blood as a mortal would give him a light psychic connection to her, enough to know her location, or perhaps read her thoughts. That connection also would be very difficult to get rid of if he later desired to do so.
Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he watched Amanda standing by the women’s restroom, engaged in what looked to be friendly banter with another male patron. Perhaps a little . . . too friendly for his tastes.
Eyes narrowing, he quickly stuck his finger into his mouth, nicked it with his teeth, and deposited a few drops of his blood into her wine.
She’ll never notice, he thought smugly.
She returned some moments later to find him sitting calmly, sipping his wine. “Hi, I’m back,” she declared with a grin. “Now, where was I? Ah, yes . . . how old did you say this text was? And where did it come from?”
“I’m . . . not certain,” he admitted. “At least a thousand years or so ago it was written, I am guessing.” More like two thousand, but he didn’t want to admit to that. Not just yet.
He watched her carefully as she took a sip of her wine, slowly placed the glass back on the table, and made scribbles in her notebook. At one point she stopped reading and looked up, her finger on her mouth. Jesse couldn’t tell if she was confused or deep in thought — or both.
“Is there something wrong?” he asked her, inwardly cringing with anxiety. Did she taste the blood? Did she perhaps sense something wrong with the wine?
“Oh, um, no, no, nothing at all.” She shook her head as if dispelling something. Then she shrugged and laughed. “Was just wondering something.”
Amanda put her head back down in the book and took notes while Jesse observed her, fascinated. While her focus was still on the Latin writings, she reached out her left hand to the wine glass, which slid, of its own accord, a few inches closer to her hand.
It took Jesse a few moments to register what he had seen. By the Blood, she’s a natural. Dazed, he kept watching her, but she gave no appearance of having noticed what she had apparently done while under the influence of a glass or two of wine. It occurred to him that perhaps she had always been telekinetic and didn’t think much of using it while intoxicated. Either that or the blood he had slipped into her drink had temporarily — or perhaps permanently — increased her abilities. He suspected, given her keen interest in occult Latin texts, that he would be seeing much of this young woman in the days to come.
Not that I would mind, he figured, observing the way the folds of her sweater fell over her breasts and hips.
Some minutes later, she finally put down her pen. An animated dialogue ensued about various other occult texts that she had read while working on her thesis, mostly medieval and modern derivations of Ancient Greek and Roman magick. Amanda spoke of how they related and were also altogether, unlike this work, part of which she had translated. While she conversed with him, he couldn’t help but wonder whether or not she guessed his real purpose in showing her this text and taking her out for dinner. Perhaps she might realize that maybe he was interested in her?
Hours later, he walked Amanda to the subway station, smiling and nodding along as she rambled about various Greek and Latin texts, responding when he could to some of her statements and answering vaguely to others.
Amanda, be careful, she heard in that small but clear male voice which sometimes spoke in her mind.
Apollo? she thought back, but heard nothing afterwards. Maybe it was my Agathos Daimon. Her guardian spirit.
They stopped at the entranceway, and she turned to thank him for the wonderful evening and for tolerating her rather fanatical interest on some subjects and for a lovely dinner, but was interrupted by Jesse leaning in so fast she almost didn’t see him move. Before she could utter another word his lips were on hers. Everything at that moment stopped except for her heart, which she heard in her ears. Upon finally pulling apart, she realized that she wasn’t breathing and an electric current ran through her skin. Amanda was on fire, and she was alive, so alive, in that moment.
He left shortly after that. Amanda stared after him, agape. She turned to look up at the sky, but all she saw was light, endless light from the buildings, the faint traces of stars in the moonless sky, and all of it swirling around her.
©2008-2009 Adrianne Brennan
Excerpted from the book Blood of the Dark Moon.
By the time the Great Galaxy of Andromeda was coming around for its second pass through the Milky Way, before that final series of events that would lead to the merger of two great spirals into one stochastic elliptical galaxy of Milkomeda, we’d managed to irritate two galaxies worth of interstellar civilizations.
When the first merger began, things were already dicey for us in the Milky Way, as Earth was far too known for mucking about with the nature of Time and manipulating the history of its immediate region to its own benefit. With the establishment of Meta-Platonic Time in the 24th Century, extending all the way to the heat death of the universe and beyond, and our establishment of faster than light capabilities in the 556th Century, we had a pretty good gig going.
Though we decided to not set up any other series of Meta-Platonic Time on our interstellar colonies. . . we were able to guide them with news from the future centuries in dealing with other species.
Until those other competitor species discovered what we’d been doing inside and outside of time.
Usually we’d set out to adjust history before their occurrence, dropping special Faster Than Light Ships several centuries back and then going out and tinkering with them before they became a threat.
After three billion years we had half the galaxy under our sway and the other half wanting nothing to do with us, often trying to destroy our colonies. The Weapon of choice: targeted pulsars that dropped significant quantities of antimatter onto their neutron rich surfaces. An antimatter-neutronium interaction can be seen to the ends of the universe.
When Andromeda came cruising through the Milky Way on its first pass, we decided to move the entire solar system over into the other galaxy. Some stars were going to be exchanged anyway, and shuffling Earth’s system over there should not have been a problem. We checked the up-now to millions of centuries into the merger and it looked like smooth sailing in the other galaxy. Humanity on Earth would go on having a reality of minimized fine tuned probabilities and maximum well being, and we could leave our colonies behind to work out their own fates.
All it took was a polarizing of the magnetic field-folds around our system. Oh we had to burn off the entire Ort Cometary Cloud to give that extra nudge Sol’s orbit around the center of our Galaxy and flinging out on a perpendicular loop around the center of Andromeda’s core. After less than a million years our solar system, stripped of comets, settled into a new orbit in a different Galaxy as we watched our old stream of stars recede temporarily into the night.
But it wasn’t until then that we noticed something was horribly wrong. The centuries toward the “Heat Death” of the universe were suddenly sealed off to us. And the past down-now of the 25th century appeared to be subtly altering more and more, as if some one else was adjusting our history before we began to adjust it ourselves.
Having lost contact with our colonies back in the home galaxy, we had to set forth again and explore our neighborhood. We found many empty and useful systems, and expanded out again for five hundred light years. . . until we started to encounter the native interstellar civilizations.
They had a completely different means of experiencing and adjusting time. Instead of one endlessly manipulated reality, they had access and participation in a near infinite number of possibilities of outcomes: they lived in multiple time lines simultaneously.
So began the long fight across this swirl of alien suns. In contrast to our usual mode of operations we set up new Meta-Platonic Times on our colony worlds, and spread out in a sphere 10,000 light years in diameter, creating a zone of controlled realities.
This lasted only so long — ten million, maybe twenty million years — as the natives had weapons that could reach out of time and disrupt the Meta Platonic Time Continuum, in some cases targeting stellar mass black holes at our colonies that had Meta-Platonic Time Establishments. . . black holes we could do nothing to shift, as they were undeniable facts of the underlying reality.
As the second merger of the two galaxies approached (which would commence the fusion of the two into the new Galaxy of Milkomeda), we decided to position the sun outside the merger. . . detonating five nearby stars into false nova states; these systems were lost anyway as their colonies were destroyed by the guided black holes of the hostile native civilizations. Four of these false novae created singularities and high velocity targeted stellar mass black holes, aimed at the enemy’s black holes that had just wiped out our worlds.
We timed these to all merge simultaneously. The resulting gravity waves disturbed the orbits of our planets and set the sun into a path that would have it hurled outside the merger birthing the new larger galaxy of Milkomeda.
It took 50 million years for the sun to climb to a point over galactic north of the rapidly merging galaxies, so we would be safely outside of the blast path of gravity waves and other radiation as the two super massive black holes at the centres of the original galaxies merged catastrophically, setting off a Quasar event that would shine in all Forty Six Billion light years of the visible universe.
Unfortunately, we did not calculate all the factors of our orbit, and when the holes merged one of our futures was just on the edges of the polar jet of the resulting Quasar.
The focused gravity waves unhinged most of Meta-Platonic Time. Some Centuries, their Meta-Platonic Time Sections, were ripped out of the artificial time they inhabited. Some of these, we think, fell into the deep past. Some of them simply ceased to exist. It became incredibly difficult to access centuries we had controlled for meta-temporal periods immeasurable.
Soon after this the citizens of Earth around the year 5-billion picked up communications from the merging galaxies, some of them of formerly human origin, seeking the home system of the time meddling humans, giving out a description of the system and its sun.
The planets were already in some confusion, and we had parked a ring of former gas giant moons, out where the asteroids had once been. Mercury was long lost. Venus was cooling out beyond Saturn. Mars was habitable, warm and balmy and richly wet. We designed some new species to live there, including an evolving Ape and some slippery Cetaceans with an artificial civilization we had built them into.
Mars would be OK during the swelling of the sun. . . but what to do with the Earth?
We decided to leave it parked where it was. Using technologies developed during the reality wars with the Natives of the Andromeda Galaxy we were able to create a shell around the earth that would take the heat energy of the sun, radiation that would have crisped the earth, and used it to shore up our access to Meta-Platonic Time.
In the process, we finally lost the moon. It actually went flying off at half the speed of light.
So we hid inside the swollen sun, as our enemies and former colonies came up and out from the new galaxy looking for us. They searched the scattered stars of Milkomeda’s halo. We knew when they found Mars, but they never thought to look inside the Sun.
So under a red, twilit, smoky sky we waited. Occasionally, small sections of the field would fail, and great heat would come down to steam an ocean or bake a landscape. It was during this period that we started gathering into fortified cities. After 600 million years, a period comparable to the emergence of advanced life forms and the evolution to man, we had all moved to one last city, hundreds of kilometers across. We hoped the universe had forgotten about us. We tried to forget about the universe.
There, deep in the city of Dazeit, we waited it out.
For a billion years.
Until the sun started to shed his outer layers of unused gas and dust on the way to becoming a white dwarf star.
Access to Meta-Platonic Time never returned to its former fullness. Travels through time became spotty at best.
When the sun finally settled down into its long white dwarf phase, radiating heat from a core of diamond the size of Venus, we had to quickly huddle the planets up to the sun. For extra heat and light we, stellified the jovians by dropping artificial atom-sized black holes into them.
Thus we could sit out the long night between galaxies, and stay out of the way of races we had competed unfairly and cruelly against.
Then, just one thousand old years after we had the new solar system the way we wanted it, we had full access to Meta-Platonic Time again! Unfortunately, access to the centuries was not a linear matter within its own continuum of artificial time, so we might head for the 35678944th century and end up in the 82,000th. We even encountered some of the century sections that had broken free of Meta-Platonic Time and plunged past the down-now terminus.
And while those lost sections were in ruins, they had penetrated into real time. Primitive time. Before the establishment of Meta-Platonic Time. The age old dream had finally come true, due to accident and misadventure: a time machine traveled to a period before its own creation.
We had access to the primitive past. To the times of origin and discovery.
After much deliberation we decided to arrange all of the Past, starting with the Primitive Past so that everything would result in Dazeit. Into the ultimate Dazeit. The perfect Dazeit. Dazeit the Timeless and Eternal, with all of human history cataloged like books on a shelf in a library of time.
We started in on fixing the 20th and 21st centuries, as these were the crux locus points in the development of humanity. It had been decided by consensus that the history of these periods could not be left in a wild and natural state.
Little did we know that we would encounter resistance to our adjustments. . .
Beyond the Veil is a regularly appearing column featuring fiction, including occult, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. If you’d like to contribute a story, please contact email@example.com and we’ll be happy to review your submission.
©2009 J. Michael Glosson
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Christopher Fish just wasn’t built for a normal life, though he did his best. He tried to ignore the stares his pale skin, white hair and faded gray eyes earned him. He learned to stop following certain people around whenever he caught some strangely familiar scent of decay clinging to their skin. He pretended in conversation that he slept like regular folks do, knowing better than to tell people that he had never lost consciousness in his entire life and wasn’t the worse for it.
But there were times that it was just so clearly not working and he would lose his temper and spew such rage that he soon had a reputation for being cruel as well as ugly and weird. It was probably for the best that three weeks after his twenty-second birthday, his attempted life, the time wasted sweating at Chester Cheese’s and lurching around campus and just the whole charade, came to an end.
It was one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, so of course Chester Cheese’s was a prepubescent madhouse. Fish nimbly weaved his way through the schools of darting, shrieking children in the dining hall and shouldered through the kitchen’s swinging doors into the reassuring smell of burning cheese and grease. Nobody in the kitchen greeted him or even looked up as he passed through to the rough little lounge in the back room.
There, lying draped across the stained couch like some cartoon-world hunting trophy, he found the Chester Cheese costume it was his job to endure. He would wear the suffocating, sweltering mouse suit and serve birthday kids their pizza and try not to run away when he saw the resentment in the parents’ eyes, the hatred they had for their own offspring. Christopher Fish lacked that part of the mind that shields the heart from what people truly are and was, as a result, something of a hate detector.
He dressed with morbid resignation and was prepared to heft Chester’s bulbous, grinning head over his own when a metallic squeak sounded behind him. He turned to see Jared Gladstone struggling free of one of the lounge’s rusted lockers. Fish could only gape as the little man jerked his second foot free and then stood there staring back, swaying slightly.
“There you are, Christopher.” Gladstone’s voice wasn’t the nervous hum it usually was; in fact, he sounded a little raspy, almost parched.
“Were you hiding in that locker?” Fish had to fight the urge to slap the restaurant’s assistant manager. “Have you lost your mind? Spying little creep. This is too much even for you.”
“Why did you leave home, Christopher? I planted you, like a little banzai tree, in Chicago but here you are in Denver. What were you thinking?”
Fish was nonplussed all over again. Gladstone was a hectoring little jerk who made far too many off-color comments, but he didn’t usually talk nonsense.
Gladstone took an unsteady step towards him and continued, “I was delayed, distracted. But now I’m back and I’m going to need you in Chicago.”
“What are you talking about?” Fish asked, noticing now that the other man’s name tag was on upside-down and that his shoes were tied in strange, ugly knots instead of bows. “Jared, are you feeling alright?”
Gladstone awkwardly crammed a hand into his pants pocket. “Oh, don’t worry about Jared, he’s a happy whore-hopper. It’s Mr. Nine who needs special consideration now.”
Fish’s world went quiet; the clanging in the kitchen and the distant music of the animatronic animal band fell away. Fish clutched Chester’s hollow head like a child does his teddy and couldn’t speak.
Gladstone yanked his hand from his pocket and haphazardly brandished a snub-nosed .38. “It’s mostly my own fault. I should have been back for you years ago but there was this shaman, the memory of a shaman really, with sand for skin and reef for bones. He chased me across a chain of islands that ran a ring around a world; he chased me until we reached a living tar pit and there I undid him, finally.”
Gladstone paused expectantly, as if waiting for congratulations. Fish managed a weak, “No. Don’t do this.”
Gladstone scowled and took another two steps closer. “Yes. We do this now.”
Gladstone pressed the gun against his own temple. “Come back to Chicago.”
Gladstone shrugged. “I don’t want to have to do this again.” And then he pulled the trigger.
Fish lowered Chester’s head over his own and instead of suffocating, the suit felt safe, like soft armor. He would go and serve birthday kids their pizza now. He walked through the kitchen and ignored the questions from the cook. What was that noise in there? It was a gunshot, silly.
He walked out into the dining hall and waved to the kids watching the unliving figures twitch onstage. He heard a high little voice say, “Look, Mommy, it’s Chester! He spilled pizza on hisself!”
Evening was creeping into the city by the time Fish finally wandered home, his mind still a numb jumble. It was heartening then to walk through the door of his absurd little apartment filled with paper maché oddities and see Daryl, his roommate, embedded in a green beanbag chair, playing a video game on the hulking television that dominated their living room. It was regular, if not completely normal.
“How was work?” Daryl asked, without turning around.
Fish finished throwing the three locks on their door and kicked aside one of the capering figures he made in the silent night hours. “Gladstone killed himself today.”
Daryl maneuvered the little character on the tv screen right off a cliff. “Wow. But that’s probably how managers of Chester Cheese’s usually die.”
Fish grunted appreciatively. Daryl used to be shocked by Fish’s own displays of black humor but he was coming along nicely now. He kicked off his shoes, padded into the kitchen and started rummaging around in a cupboard. There was no mention of Mr. Nine as he narrated the day’s events while microwaving a bowl of Spaghetti O’s. When he finished and the steam from the bowl was wafting pleasantly around his face, he saw Daryl walk his game character over the edge of a lava-filled pit.
“Man, you suck tonight.”
“My eyes are a little sore,” Daryl admitted, turning around so Fish could see his face, see what was done to it.
Fish dropped the bowl, splattering his feet in tomato sauce.
“Come back to Chicago, Christopher,” Daryl said, mild as can be. “Come back or we can just keep doing this.”
Fish found his voice and his rage at the same time; Daryl was as close to a friend as he had. “What the hell do you want from me?” he snarled and snatched the toaster up as if to use it as a weapon, a faintly ridiculous move considering the problem.
“One favor. Just one little favor and then we’re forever done with each other.” Daryl held up a straight-razor and said in a squeaky voice, “Golly, Mr. Nine, I’d sure love to open Daryl’s jugular. Can I? Can I?” Then he answered in his regular voice. “Not yet, my little friend. Let’s give Christopher a chance to do the right thing.”
Fish hurled the toaster just inches past Daryl’s head, hitting the television screen smack in the center. The game’s repetitious guitar soundtrack cut off with an explosion of glass and crackling sparks. “You win. Go ahead and tell me how to find you but you’re not going to like it when I do.”
Daryl frowned. “Perhaps. You are immune to just about anything I can do but I bet you’ll lose interest in harming me when you see what I have to show you. Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Be there or I kill this square.”
It was nearly a solid day’s drive to the Windy City, even for a driver who didn’t need to sleep. The entire way there, Fish brooded on how to kill his enemy; he had never before taken a life but he knew himself, knew that murder could fit his soul reasonably well. By the time he parked his car, a dented and dinged old Saab, two blocks away from the hospital; however, the vague scenarios he had concocted dissipated like smoke.
Late spring was already hot in Chicago and he hated the city year round anyway. Only a handful of memories from here warmed him and they all involved a woman and her unexplained interest in an orphan; her visits always meant green jell-o salad, tenderness and seemingly outlandish tales. The rest of his childhood was a collage of savage children, vaguely hostile adults and periodic encounters with a madman.
The madman in question was waiting for him outside of general admittance. He still dressed the same in unremarkable dark clothes, a long raincoat and fedora, like a man trying so hard to be inconspicuous that he was instead completely the opposite. A collection of bone flutes still hung from a thick leather belt around his waist. He leered enormously when he spotted Fish, revealing the same ivory teeth, each engraved with a different sigil; these were the tools that sent his voice across leagues and made his words move like quicksilver, liquid and lethal.
He had aged, though, had become thinner and a bit more lined. And as they moved towards each other, Fish noticed a discordance in what had once been the most assured stride he had ever seen, a slight limp in the right leg.
So Fish greeted the other man with a lunge, hoping to inflict some quick damage to whatever injuries he had, but Mr. Nine hopped back, narrowly escaping Fish’s grab for his collar.
“No more of that now. No more,” he laughed, unhooking a long ivory pipe from his belt and twirling it like a baton. “Made from the femur of a will-o-the-waves, knight of the ocean lost and the spiny sunless. On this, I could blow a single note of such despair that every tumor would will itself malignant, every strained heart would burst, every patient balanced between life and death would double back flip into the next world. Keep your hands to yourself, please.”
Fish angrily returned some of the stares they were getting from passersby until the scrutiny passed, then asked, “Why am I here?”
Mr. Nine flashed his nightmarish smile again. “Good. Look at you, so tall but so washed out. I didn’t see that happening. Did you bring those books I gave you?”
“Nope. I didn’t bother to take them when I left the foster home.” This was a lie; he had sold them for several thousand dollars to an eager, twitching little occultist whom he never saw again.
Mr. Nine looked stricken. “But you remember what we talked about? What I taught you?”
“You didn’t teach me anything. You would just show up and rant about magic as mathematical systems and music as equations. I remember a whole bunch of garbage about language as keys. . . ”
“Garbage!” Mr. Nine spat. “After all the things I have shown you, you doubt?”
“No, but what good has it done you? What do you have to show for yourself? You —”
“Shut up!” Mr. Nine roared and the ageless voices of the Ravenous Thousand roared with him. A momentary hush fell over the city. Fish went silent too but only because he chose to.
Mr. Nine turned abruptly and began limping towards general admissions. “Follow me,” he muttered over his shoulder.
He produced another instrument, gray and barely longer than his hand, and played two alternating, undulating notes all the way to the elevator and then again from the elevator to the sixth floor room that was their destination. Nobody stopped them or even noticed their passage.
The room’s lone occupant was a sunken relic of a man, old and still, a lifeless mass under stiff white sheets. In the slack, jaundiced features of the patient’s face, Fish saw the bluntness of his own nose, the sharp slope of his own jawline and the brevity of his own mouth.
Mr. Nine watched Fish watch the old man, eyes shining with eagerness. “Well?”
“Who is he?” Fish whispered.
Mr. Nine waved a thin hand. “You can be as loud as you want, he’s not waking up.”
“No. He’s sleeping. He’s been sleeping for the past twenty-two years and he’ll sleep till the day he dies; I’ve seen to that.”
Fish felt as if the room were suffused with some strange cloud of possibilities and wondered if this was hope; a world that made a little more sense seemed just around the corner. “This is my father, isn’t it?”
Mr. Nine swept all that away with a flippant shake of his head. “Nope, not at all.” He removed his fedora and ran a hand over the swirl of symbols and numbers branded and scarred into his bald scalp. “He’s you, actually. The real you. His dreaming mind is the engine that generates you.”
Fish blinked. The he laughed in disbelief. Then he stood there gazing at nothing until his expression collapsed in anguish and Mr. Nine grinned like a half-moon.
“I don’t really need to convince you, do I? Truth is a knife that slips so easily between the ribs.
“His name is Christopher Fowler.” Mr. Nine’s lips curled downward in amused chagrin. “You know, I had some kind of witticism in mind when I named you, a specific line I was going to say on this day of days. But twenty-two years on I can’t remember how it went, the exact wording of it.”
“Why?” Fish slumped onto an aggressively orange plastic chair and gazed at the slumbering wreck in the bed. “Why would you do this?”
“Because he betrayed me and did something only he can undo.” There was no trace of humor in Mr. Nine’s voice now. He put his fedora back on and pulled it low over his eyes. “No matter what I did, he wouldn’t undo it, wouldn’t even acknowledge that he had cheated me. Insufferable, arrogant bastard. I couldn’t force him to; we were too evenly matched.
“But I could give him something he wanted, deep down in the polluted pool of his mind. It’s not even that unusual, though. Who doesn’t want a chance to live their life all over again?
“So I put him to sleep and conjured a dream that leaves footprints in mud and snow and ash. A simultaneous reincarnation. You don’t want to know about all the sacrifices the magic required — not a project to be undertaken lightly.”
Fish held his head in his hands. “So am I real? Do I even need to eat?”
“How the hell should I know? I’ve never done anything like you before or since.”
“When he dies —”
“The dream ends. Something to keep in mind, yes? If you cooperate, I won’t hold a pillow over his face and you might live for another twenty years.” Mr. Nine paused a moment, letting that sink in. “I planned on raising you myself —”
“But you couldn’t be bothered,” Fish interrupted. “Thank God for that much, at least.”
“I was busy,” Mr. Nine corrected. “There were other worlds to walk and other projects to run.” He knelt before Fish and his next words were unnaturally earnest. “Christopher, that life back in Denver would never have worked; my return has saved you from wasting your few years trying to be something that you’ll never be.
“Tonight, you’re going to return the favor. You’re going to untie the Knot your older self tied.”
The moon hung high and white amidst bruise-colored clouds, illuminating the deep green grassy mounds and winding gravel paths stretching out before the two men. Fish had been in Garfield Park as a child and never cared for it, but night and lonesomeness made it beautiful. They had entered from the west side, the east being far too exposed to the street.
Mr. Nine was so excited he was practically skipping and Fish had to work to keep up.
“This is it,” the older man babbled, “the heart of the city that is the heart of this land. We’re on the continental divide, you know. Men have always settled here, this place of power, of transition. It’s the center of movement within your great American empire but even before —” He froze suddenly, his feet and his tongue coming to an abrupt halt at the same time.
He stood there, his eyes wider than Fish had ever seen them, until he spun and dove behind a mound, hissing frantically at Fish to follow him. Fish let out a grumbling, exasperated breath and did so.
“I can’t believe he’s still here,” Mr. Nine muttered as Fish crouched down next to him.
“Who? I didn’t hear anything.”
“This place was once prehistoric marsh and shades of those things that ruled here still linger deep in the layers that remember them. Years ago, when I tried to force the Knot open myself, the land spat something up and drove me off.” He cautiously crept up the slope of the mound and peeked through blades of grass.
Fish heard him gasp and had to look for himself. He saw a barely discernible naked figure standing in the center of an unbelievably thick cloud of insects just thirty yards away. It strode towards them with stiff, inexorable purpose.
“Yet another enemy,” Fish murmured. “Everywhere you go.”
Mr. Nine glared at him. “I’m the victim here. I’m the one betrayed.” He leapt to his feet, stood atop the mound and lifted the largest, ugliest instrument from his belt; it was oily gray, twisted and jagged. “I’m ready for you this time.”
But apparently the creature had also given this encounter some thought. As Mr. Nine brought the flute to his lips, the swarm surrounding it surged forward and closed the distance in an eye-blink. Mr. Nine all but disappeared in an onrush of mosquitoes and dragonflies that stuffed themselves into the flute’s airways and his mouth. Mr. Nine gagged and thrashed until his right leg failed him and he tumbled down the green slope.
Fish spent a few seconds waving his own arms, trying to fend off the attack, until he realized the swarm had avoided him completely. By then the creature had joined him on the moonlit hill; it may have once been a man, but now its skin was a bilious yellow and its eyes an endless black. An enormously engorged, strawberry-red tongue lolled and lunged from its gaping mouth.
It gazed vacantly down at the struggling, sputtering Mr. Nine, seemingly unaware of the man standing right next to it. Fish felt a macabre thrill as he watched fat, full mosquitoes return to the creature, alight soft as air on its eager tongue and kiss the red, wet surface with their tiny needle-mouths.
The thing smelled like an open doorway to death and it made Fish feel more alive than he ever had and though he could not recall Fowler’s memories, he could feel the empty spaces they had left.
Without giving himself any time to rethink it, Fish hit the creature with as much momentum as he could pack into an uppercut. Its jaws snapped together and its tongue ruptured, falling to the grass in plops and patters.
The ancient thing saw him then and looked on him with such confusion that Fish would always be haunted by an inexplicable guilt whenever he thought of it. It took a faltering step back, then slowly raised a hand and drew its own eyelids down. All at once, it fell limp and rolled lifelessly down the mound where the grass swallowed it like the waves of a jade sea.
Fish turned in time to watch the swarm dissipate suddenly, blown away by an intangible wind, leaving behind a gasping Mr. Nine whose skin was an appalling white with tiny red speckles.
Fish tromped down the hill and dropped a knee across the supine man’s throat. Mr. Nine went bug-eyed and tried to buck him off but Fish didn’t budge. “You’re going to unbuckle that belt and take out your teeth and give them both to me or I’m going to kneel on your neck until you die, okay?”
Mr. Nine opened his mouth but no sound came out. He hesitated a moment but as his face started to turn crimson, he frantically did as he was told. Fish hefted the belt triumphantly and accepted the teeth with a bit less enthusiasm, then got off Mr. Nine, who exploded in a fit of gasps and ragged wheezing.
When this had subsided, the older man, exhausted, toothless and beaten, rolled over on his side and began to cry silently. Fish watched for a while, fascinated and pitiless.
Finally, he said, “Stop your blubbering already and get up. You’re still taking me to the Knot. I want to know what all the fuss is about; I want to know what my life is about.”
“Alright, which one do I use?” Fish rattled the bones hanging from his belt.
Mr. Nine scowled at his ignorance. He had been mopey and silent for the remainder of the walk to the west entrance of the Garfield Park Conservatory. Even his fedora looked defeated, bent and as encrusted with crushed bugs as his coat was. He pointed a thin finger at a stubby little flute etched with spirals.
Fish unhooked it, vigorously wiped the mouthpiece with his sleeve and blew a note that made Mr. Nine scowl even harder.
“Don us play anying!” He sounded like an angry toddler without his teeth.
“Thanks for the tip,” Fish whispered with a grin, “but it would be easier if you just showed me what fingers to use.” A bit of a risk but under current circumstances he figured Mr. Nine wouldn’t be too hard to fight off if he made a grab for it.
Mr. Nine reached over and tapped Fish’s fingers in a short sequence. Fish played through it three times before the door softly unlocked. “It worked. Magic is handy.” He took a step back and searched the dark space within the glass for any sign of movement, but all he saw were the looming, prickly silhouettes of desert plants.
People knew on some level, Fish realized, that this was where places met and paid tribute to that convergence by surrounding it with handfuls of environment from around the globe. He cast a suspicious glance back at Mr. Nine, wondering what, of all the doors between worlds the older man knew of, made this one so special.
The moon peered down through the glass ceiling as the two men crept into the Desert House and followed a walkway past a row of hedge cacti into the Children’s Garden, where moonlight and shadow made the giant-sized flower and bee displays menacingly surreal.
Fish was so on edge as they entered the Sweet House that he almost cried out when Mr. Nine grabbed his arm and hissed, “Guard. Come.”
Fish allowed himself to be dragged off the path and into some sugar cane. He lifted the small gray flute Mr. Nine had used at the hospital and his companion nodded his approval. The focused glare of a flashlight rounded the coconut trees further along the path; it paused as Fish falteringly started playing the two alternating notes, then began moving in their direction again.
The security guard, a swarthy and squat specimen, swept the flashlight right over them and seemed not to notice. As the man continued on his oblivious route, Mr. Nine motioned for Fish to pick up the tempo. Without thinking, the younger man complied and was shocked to see the guard stumble and fall.
Fish threw Mr. Nine to the ground and pinned him with a forearm across his throat. “What did you make me do?” he growled.
“Sleep,” Mr. Nine forced out, “us sleeping.”
When Fish had checked and was satisfied that the man was indeed sleeping, the two continued through the Palm House, where they had to repeat the spell on another two guards, and into the Fern Room at the center of the conservatory. Centuries old cycads rose to the ceiling in a continuous leafy green mass and bordered the artificial lagoon at the center of the room.
Mr. Nine took a long, challenging look at Fish as he shrugged off his coat and tossed aside his fedora, then silently began wading into the water. Fish kicked off his shoes and followed, trying to remember every stupid New Age calming mantra he had ever heard as he submerged himself in cold darkness. He spent several moments completely blind underwater, until he spotted a faint red luminescence, a large object below, backlit by some unseen source.
He swam down and saw great black roots that broke up through the bottom of the lagoon and wound around each other in a tangle. Beneath the Knot, something burned red. Vaguely aware of Mr. Nine drifting beside him, Fish ran his hands across one root’s cold, coarse surface and felt symbols there. Something that wasn’t quite an equation, a sequence of notes or a riddle bloomed in his thoughts and coiled itself around his mind, awaiting his answer.
Fish surfaced from an ocean of red voices and woke with a wave of disorientation and a burst of fear. He jerked himself upright, realized he was sopping wet and covered in grit, and found himself in a vast spherical cavern. Glittering pools of still water dotted the landscape around him and, impossibly, above him. From each pool rose a black tree with vast, meandering branches and broad green leaves. Each bore fruit but no two the same and none Fish recognized. Vast swarms of fireflies drifted and swirled through the air and the light they cast was both frightening and beautiful.
“The pool next to you is the way home,” said the familiar, nasal voice.
Fish turned to see Mr. Nine squeezing excess water from his socks, smiling in his wolfish way. “I see you’ve got your teeth back.”
Mr. Nine pointed at the belt around the younger man’s waist. “Yes, while you were away in your mind. But I let you keep the flutes; you’ll need them to play your way out of the conservatory when you go back. Consider them payment for a job well done, Christopher.”
“You’re not going back?”
Mr. Nine cackled giddily. “Oh, I am but I won’t need such tools anymore. Things are going my way from now on.” He pulled his socks on, reached into his pocket and produced something that looked much like an apple core. “I’ve already eaten the fruit of our tree. Now all I need is to get the Ancient to write my name in his book and the world will truly be home.”
Fish began to wonder which of the flutes would be effective against the other man if it came to that. “And what does that mean?”
Mr. Nine sighed as if he was dealing with the most obstinate child who had ever lived. “Christopher, countless beings may be born into a particular world but it is never home to them. Who is happy? Who is at peace? Which of the countless worlds is not an enemy to the men walking it? I have been to so many and my educated guess is none.”
“So, what? Whatever your doing will rewrite reality to your benefit?”
Mr. Nine tsked him. “Nothing so melodramatic. There won’t be fiery pits full of my enemies and statues of me as far as the eye can see but events will subtly shape themselves to give me the best possible life. Look, before the real you tied the Knot, many men had found this place and lived flawless lives as a result.”
Fish shook his head. “That can’t be without effect. Who knows what kind of ripples those changes made? And do you seriously think you deserve this?”
“Nobody gets what they deserve,” Mr. Nine snapped. “The very existence of that word is shear absurdity.” He stalked away, apparently done humoring him.
Fish lifted his eyes to the fat red spheres dangling from the low-hanging branches overhead. He leapt, snatched one and bit into it before he even had a clear idea of what his plan was. It was crunchy and very tart and somehow vacillated between being delicious and unpleasant. He ate the rest of it as he hurried to catch up to Mr. Nine.
It was a long walk and Fish knew they must be climbing the curve of the chamber but felt no change in gravity’s pull. They seem to come upon their destination all at once; the Ancient was nowhere to be seen until they passed a thick cluster of the world trees and suddenly there it was.
It sat on a stool next to a table, both of intricate ironwork, pouring over a huge volume that a man would have trouble even lifting. A black, hooded cloak hid most of its body except for the taloned hands, the long segmented tail curling and uncurling idly behind it, and the massively jawed snout sticking out of its hood. If standing, it would have been nearly nine feet tall.
Fish cried out and turned to run but stopped when he heard Mr. Nine’s howling laughter. “Oh Christopher, I forgot what it’s like to be so provincial. This is the Ancient, the slithering shepherd of man, the angel of the cold-blooded; he is a facilitator of history and believe me when I tell you he is a friend to man. He stands between us and much that would harm us.”
Despite these assurances, Fish couldn’t keep from jumping when the creature fluidly rose from its seat and disappeared into the large domed hut behind it.
“It’s impossible not to get the cold sweats around him, isn’t it?” Mr. Nine murmured, mockingly. “There is a story that tells of a world completely taken by a plague of madness. It says he walked in that place and killed everything he found there, by himself — simply emptied the world out.”
He fell silent as the Ancient returned, sat back down on its stool and placed a large birdcage under a satin cloth on the table. A voice, high and reedy, called from the cage, “You have eaten the fruit?”
“I have,” Mr. Nine answered.
The Ancient lifted a large, sharp quill and held out an open hand. The voice in the cage asked, “And what is your name?”
“Mr. Nine,” he answered, gingerly placing his hand in the Ancient’s.
“But what kind of name is that?” Fish cried out. “Who gave it to him? Is that even his real name?”
“Shut up!” Mr. Nine roared at him and turned his attention back to the Ancient, only to find the creature motionless, waiting. “It. . . is the only name I have ever known. It was given to me by the man who taught me the worlds and the arts. It’s real, I swear it.”
“What was the man’s name?” Fish asked.
Mr. Nine looked pained when the voice in the cage repeated the question. “What was the man’s name?”
“Mr. Eight! But what does it matter?”
Fish approached the Ancient warily, looked into the shadowed hood where he thought its eyes were and was glad he couldn’t see them. He said, “He set this in motion over twenty years ago and he still needs it. What’s he been doing with all that time? Why can’t he change?”
Mr. Nine flew into a rage. “Enemies keep thwarting me! People like you who won’t just —”
The Ancient’s sudden motion was faster than any living thing Fish had ever seen. The great jaws snapped and Mr. Nine was gone from the shoulders up. His body tottered and fell.
“And do you know yourself?” the voice in the cage asked Fish.
Fish forced his gaze away from the corpse and thought a moment. “Sometimes I think so but I get surprised an awful lot.”
The Ancient held out its hand. It was warm and dry and when it pierced his palm with its quill, it didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. The Ancient leaned over the tome, poised to write, a thick droplet of blood falling from the quill.
“What is your name?,” asked the voice.
Fish wondered on his short, unhappy life and thought there probably wasn’t a power in the universe that could make him fit with people, that could make him happy. So he said, “Christopher Fowler. Put down Christopher Fowler.”
It took a couple weeks to find her, but he did, living in a trim little blue house on the outskirts of Chicago. She was meditating in her back yard when he first approached her, sitting in a circle of small stones, burning incense. She still had the waist-long iron gray hair he remembered.
“Emma Fowler?” Fish asked.
The old woman opened her eyes, gaped in surprise and then smiled broadly. “Christopher! Figured out who I was, eh?”
He sat down, cross-legged, next to her and nodded. “I found out who I am or was or whatever. There was a wedding ring on the old man’s hand and I remembered one on the woman who took such a strange interest in me way back when. So I looked for you under his name.”
She pursed her lips and asked gently, “Are you okay?”
“Well, one of the stories you told me came in very handy. You could have told me a lot more, though.”
She took her straw sunhat off and fanned herself with it. “Not without deciding your path for you. I wanted to help you without destroying your second chance.”
“But don’t you care that your husband is sleeping his life away? You know. . . I ate the fruit and put his name in the book but he’s still sleeping and I’m still here.”
She reached out and touched his face. “I remember when he looked like you. For some people, though, time erodes more than just their bodies. Sometimes we move away from our best selves. Towards the end of our time together, I loved Chris more for who he could have been than who he was. I would look at him and see something beautiful marred in ways I couldn’t repair. Nobody could.
“And now there’s you; so maybe he’s getting what he wants.” She withdrew her hand, set her hat high on her head. “You do what you want to, honey, but let the old man sleep.”
Beyond the Veil is a regularly appearing column featuring fiction, including occult, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. If you’d like to contribute a story, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to review your submission.
©2009 Bret Tallman
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Nearly a year ago, I interviewed Donald Tyson regarding his then new book, Grimoire of the Necronomicon. Since then, my review partner, Lon Sarver, and I have been working with Tyson’s system and we’ll present our findings in
this the next issue. Mr. Tyson was kind enough to agree to a follow-up interview; you’ll find it just below.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
How did you first become acquainted with H. P. Lovecraft’s writings?
Pure accident. Way back in 1967 I bought a Lancer paperback titled H.P. Lovecraft: The Colour Out of Space and Others. It was a collection of seven stories by Lovecraft, including “The Call of Cthulhu,” which is generally regarded as the initiator of what is now called the Cthulhu Mythos, although I prefer the term Necronomicon Mythos myself. The stories impressed me with their strangeness — they weren’t like the usual horror stories I was reading at the time. Over the years I read as many other stories by Lovecraft as I could find.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Did you ever think back then that someday you would write books about Lovecraft?
It never even entered my mind. At that time I didn’t even know that I would become a professional writer. I just enjoyed reading his stories.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Why did you decide to write your own version of the Necronomicon?
It was pure hubris. I was participating in a newsgroup where different versions of the Necronomicon were being talked about, and I suddenly thought to myself, “I can write a better version of the Necronomicon than this.” So I did.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
What makes your version better than, say, the Simon Necronomicon?
Whether it is better or not is ultimately for readers to decide, but I tried to make my version better by posing the question to myself, “If the Necronomicon really existed, what would it contain?” I figured that it would not be just a collection of spells and sigils — that is not how Lovecraft described it, and it doesn’t match up with the quotations from it that he included in his stories. I figured it would be more of a history of the earth before the rise of the human species, describing all the alien races that had existed on it back then, coupled with a description of the strange places the author of the book, Abdul Alhazred, had encountered during his wanderings around the ancient world.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
So you don’t like the Simon Necronomicon?
It’s not that I don’t like it — the Simon Necronomicon is fine for what it is, a grimoire associated with the Old Ones. I just don’t believe it is very much like what the real Necronomicon would be, if it existed in our world.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
There are monsters in your Necronomicon Tarot that don’t exist in any of Lovecraft’s stories. Where did they come from?
The short answer to that is, I made them up. As you know, the Necronomicon Tarot is closely based on my version of the Necronomicon. I didn’t want my book to be limited to only what Lovecraft had written about the Necronomicon, because for one thing, Lovecraft didn’t write all that much about it. The total number of words that Lovecraft put into his stories as supposed direct quotations from the Necronomicon doesn’t amount to more than a few pages — it’s not enough for a book. Also, I’m a creative writer, and I wanted my version of the Necronomicon to reflect some of my own creativity. I did try hard to avoid directly contradicting anything Lovecraft had indicated to be in the Necronomicon, and I tried to include in my book everything that he had written about it. In those respects my version is more faithful to Lovecraft than any other version. It contains all that Lovecraft wrote about the Necronomicon, but it also contains a lot he never imagined.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Talk about some of the monsters you created for the Necronomicon Tarot…
Well, there’s I´thakuah, an ancient crone who works a kind of witchcraft in front of her fire in the dry cisterns deep under the ruins of the lost city of Irem. She is so old it’s almost impossible to tell whether she is male or female, or even whether she is human. Her hands are like great claws and her arms are long and powerful, the better to catch the rats upon which she feeds in the total darkness. She has lived under the ruins of the city for so long, even she doesn’t remember when she first entered the cisterns. She serves Nyarlathotep, one of the seven Lords of the Old Ones, who communicates with her through his deep-dwelling inhuman agents when they approach and converse with the old hag.
Then there is the Beast of Babylon that lives in the ancient brick sewer tunnels under the ruins of Babylon in Persia. It was upon the folklore of this Beast that the Biblical beast of Revelations was based. It is a great animal the size of a horse, with massive wings that allow it to fly through the air, when it emerges from beneath the ground at sunset to hunt its human prey, and seven heads on seven long, snake-like necks that ceaselessly bud forth and then shrink away by turns. The heads are formed from the heads of all the human beings the Beast has captured and consumed over the millennia, and they are conscious and babble in their own languages about their pain and sorrow, laughing and weeping and screaming during the brief periods of their presence on the necks.
Those are two of my creations, I´hakuah and the Beast.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Did you scry any of the strange creatures in the Necronomicon Tarot using a crystal or a black mirror?
Not in a formal sense, no. I never sat down before my crystal ball and saw images of these beings. But over the months it took to write the book, I had my mind on Lovecraft and Alhazred and the Old Ones night and day. They started to creep into my dreams, and I even began to notice strange things happening around me.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
What sort of strange things?
Noises that had no cause. Movements at the corner of my eye that were like flashes of shadow sliding past. Objects that disappeared with nobody around to move them, and then just as strangely reappeared days or weeks later. Strange looks or words from complete strangers I passed in the street.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
What do you think was happening? Were you under some kind of attack?
I don’t know. I got the sense that something was trying to communicate with me, but that it was so alien, it didn’t quite know how to even make the attempt. It kept fumbling around, using whatever was available as a conduit. It didn’t so much feel malicious as it felt unnatural — like something out of place, or something that didn’t quite belong in our world. I think maybe when I started to write the Necronomicon, this intelligence took notice of me, and that maybe it communicated psychically some of the creatures I wrote about. But no one can prove a thing like that, it’s just a sense you get, like a kind of feeling.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Do you believe the Necronomicon really exists in some form?
At one time I would have said no, but today — yes, I believe that the Necronomicon does exist. It was never published in the usual way as a book, of course, but I believe that Lovecraft didn’t invent it from nothing. He was a sleeping seer. When he dreamed, he saw visions of astral planes that are deeper and stranger than most people ever visit during sleep, and he brought things back from those planes that he put into his stories.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
What kinds of things?
Like the Old Ones, who are invisible creatures that inhabited the earth long before the evolution of the human race. They are so strange, so unlike anything we know in this world, that our eyes can’t even see their color. They floated through the air, and lived in black stone cities without windows — they didn’t need windows because they had no eyes. They perceived the world with senses we wouldn’t even comprehend.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
There is more than one kind of Old Ones in Lovecraft’s stories, isn’t there?
Yes, several species are called Old Ones or Elder Things or The Elder Race by Lovecraft. He used the term Old Ones as a general term for those intelligent alien species that inhabited the young earth before the coming of mankind.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Did the Old Ones write the Necronomicon?
According to Lovecraft, the Necronomicon was written around the year 730 by an Arab poet of Yemen named Abdul Alhazred. He went insane, and he wrote the book based on what he had seen in the desert, in abandoned cities and old tombs and caverns deep beneath the sands, and what the creatures that have always lived in these remote desert wastes and deep places whispered to him when he talked with them.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Maybe writing the Necronomicon drove him insane.
The book was written when Alhazred was an old man, so he must have gone insane at some earlier stage in his life, since he was known as the “mad Arab” in Lovecraft’s stories. But whether the process of writing the book drove him mad, or whether it was his madness that allowed him to gather the information that went into his book, there’s no way to know.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
You talk about Alhazred as if he were a real person.
That’s how Lovecraft wrote about him, and about his book. That’s one of the reasons they seem so real to us today. But I believe that maybe Alhazred did write the Necronomicon, not while he was awake, but while he was asleep, in his dreams. That is how Lovecraft was able to see the book so clearly. Alhazred created it in the dreamlands, as Lovecraft called them, and Lovecraft in his explorations of the dreamlands was able to see the book and learn its Greek name.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Your Necronomicon and the Necronomicon Tarot are only two parts of a trilogy of works from Llewellyn Publications. What is the third part?
The third part of my Necronomicon Trilogy is my novel Alhazred. I refer to the three works as a trilogy because they are all based on the same content, the text of my Necronomicon. The Necronomicon Tarot illustrates pictorially the things I wrote about in that book, and my novel Alhazred relates the events in the book from Alhazred’s point of view, as he experienced them during his wanderings.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
What about your other book, the Necronomicon Grimoire?
The Necronomicon Grimoire is not a part of the trilogy, but it is closely linked. I wanted to create a practical grimoire based on Lovecraft’s mythology of the Old Ones, with a ritual structure that could be used by serious magicians for practical purposes. I based the grimoire on information in my Necronomicon, so the two books are in harmony with one another, but whereas the Necronomicon concerns strange monsters, alien races, and hidden places of the ancient world, the grimoire lays down the precise details of a system of magic, and sets forth the outline for an occult society based on its rituals that I’ve named the Order of the Old Ones, or OOO for short.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Is the Order of the Old Ones an actual occult society?
It will be, if enough people want it to be. I look upon it in much the same way that I regard the Necronomicon of Lovecraft — both are real in an astral sense, and that reality can bring them forth into the world if enough individuals seriously want them to exist.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Are you planning to write any more books based on the Necronomicon?
Yes, I have two more in the works, which I won’t talk about in detail here. It seems that Lovecraft hasn’t finished with me yet.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Do you get the sense that Lovecraft is telling you to write these books?
I get the sense that his ghost is standing at my shoulder as I’m writing, reading what I’ve written. What he thinks of it, I don’t know, but I hope he approves. I’ve done my best to honor his memory and his mythos, and to add to its occult current rather than merely drawing from it. A lot of writers had reason to be thankful to Lovecraft while he was alive, because he was unfailingly generous to young authors. He would write endless letters encouraging them to write, and giving them helpful advice about how to improve their stories. Today, in a strange way many writers still have reason to be thankful to Lovecraft, because they are building upon the foundation he laid down, writing books that are part of a mythos that would never have existed without Lovecraft’s genius.
Sheta Kaey for Rending the Veil
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
I always enjoy talking about the Necronomicon and the Old Ones. It’s the thoughts and dreams of all of us that give life on the astral level of the dreamlands to both the book and the things it describes. As long as people continue to read Lovecraft’s stories, the Necronomicon will never die.
The Rapier’s Edge is a semi-regular column featuring interviews with our contributors, other occult authors, and celebrities of interest to RTV readers. If you’d like to be interviewed, please contact email@example.com and we’ll be pleased to consider such an interview (especially if you have suggestions for questions!).
Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.
Sheta Kaey is Editor in Chief of Rending the Veil and is working on her first book, Infinite Possibility. You can read her blog here.
As told by one Misha McFatter:
In the beginning Sophia created Lilith and Eve in her image, and set them in an Edenic world of bliss where, in the passion of their love play, new ways of being were brought into existence, incarnating as various animals, plants, rocks, storms, rivers, stars, moods, ideas, flavors, and every conceivable thing. Lilith and Eve were not just the pinnacle of creation, they were active participants in the creative/generative process.
This continued for Seven Ages of Seven Ages of the world. The created world and the creative process were nearing perfection, making the abode of manifestation, of animals, matter, spirits, thoughts a worthy counterpart and Adorer of Sophia, mother of wisdom.
At the end of what was to be the penultimate session of love play between Lilith and Eve, a generative orgasmic celebration of duality that started with the vernal equinox and ended two weeks past the summer solstice, the mother of all Storms was born, casting forth lightning of both creation and destruction, of blissful culmination and agonizing annihilation, of rains cold and warm, of unstoppable passions and glacial detachments.
And winds never before seen in the Garden of Eden, which was the world up to that time.
Lilith and Eve held tightly to each other as the fingers of the wind tried to pull them apart, and finally, exhausted by more than three months of lovemaking and four weeks of Storm, the two primal lovers were pulled apart, and thrown to different sub-angles of the Garden.
Eve landed in woodland that was only partially thrashed by storm. The great wind of galaxies only lightly shook the trees, though a heavy rain fell. All the small fury woodland creatures peeked out of their burrows when they heard Eve crash to the ground, and recognizing the image of god that had called them into being, raced to her side, checking her for injuries. The bears acted as transport stretchers for Eve and, with the rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks covering her naked body up to her chin, took her deep into the heart of the wood to the bower of bliss whereupon no storm could ever touch.
It was August 1st, and Eve would sleep well past Labor Day in the first week of September, when the Storm finally spent itself and a cooler, late summer breeze caressed the Garden.
Lilith was tossed about on the Winds of Dispassion and Feeling for a week longer, taken high into the sky where the Storm slapped hands of rain and fingers of lighting on the moon, to finally be dropped down in the most remote and mineral sub-angle of the Garden of Eden.
The Storm, done with her, deposited her in a rocky place of caves and hot springs, where deep below molten rock churned like her and her lover’s passions. Lilith found herself on her knees, naked and Storm tossed, hair wet and matted, wishing that she and Eve had gotten around to bringing tobacco and cigarettes into existence, because after all that she really needed a smoke.
Cold rains beat on her naked and spent form and on the land around her, making steam rise from the mud pots and mineral pools. Realizing a cave opened before her with a dull red glow, she crawled in on all fours,. Before she knew it, she was crawling up to her chin into warm, welcoming, comforting mud. The bottom gave out and she thrashed tiredly in the warm ooze, dirtying all but her face, and finally finding a slanted ledge to lie against.
It was August 7th, and Lilith slept that way for a week.
She awoke lonely and horny on the morning of August 15th. As the first emanation of Sophia, she had a semi-conscious comprehension of the map of generation, and comprehended that the last round of over-the-top lovemaking was the penultimate union, and knew that the next time she and Eve embraced would be the final culmination of the universe of manifestation, and in the terminal orgasm of their lovemaking the universe and the goddess would be united, for eternity, in an orgasmic state beyond all possible manifest orgasms.
The prospect daunted her. After the rites of spring and the spawned Storm of all passions, what could be done?
Lilith wished that there was some new way she could be joy and the ultimate final rapture to her lover Eve, some as yet unknown way to create the ultimate in sensation and orgasm, other than the use of tongues and fingers and their organs of creation joined in the lightning flash of climax. Perhaps if she had a way in which her gateway of being could enter into Eve’s gateway of being, instead of the doors of generation opening to each other. . . a way that her door would open within Eve’s door.
Up until this point, Penetration did not exist in the act of lovemaking and creation.
Laying there in the mud, hot and horny, Lilith tried to imagine her gateway of being as something completely different, not something that new things passed thru, but something, like a person, that passed through gateways.
At the thought of this she felt her organ of generation burn with desire, and her breasts and nipples felt swollen. The warm caressing mud also felt reminiscent of Eve’s body wrapped around her; she cautiously moved her left hand down toward her heat, and when she touched the center of her creative fire, lighting raced through her body and she began to writhe and trash in the mud.
For the first time since she and Eve came into being, Lilith made love to herself, the image of the door that is not a door burning like an exploding sun in her mind. After seven days of bigger and bigger orgasms, the eidolon of the Enterer blazing firmly in her soul, it finally happened: orgasm and image became one. She saw the long sinuous shape of the enterer with its hooded head, and in the final moment combined of longing and loathing, she screamed in her passion “IALDABOATH!”, shuddered, and passed out.
She lay thus in the warm, welcoming mud for two weeks before awareness returned, but only awoke because she felt a stirring behind her gate of generation. Too tired still to move her arms to check what was going on down there, she felt her thighs spread apart on their own, and her pelvic region convulsed in undulating waves. Then she felt something biting, yes, biting like teeth, on the inner side of her veil of being. Biting, biting, tearing, through, pushing o my goddess what is happening and then she remembered her week long trashing in the mud, and as it finally brought through and pushed out of her, she was panting “oh no! . . oh no! Not Ialdaboath… oh no!”
And she felt something slide out from her and rise out of the mud between her legs, its hooded head shaggy with mud, eyes like hot coals staring into her tired orbs.
“Thank you mother, for giving me life. Now I go to do what you cannot. . .” and with that the Enterer slid out of the pool of mud, and then out of the cave and into the last of the Storm of Passion. The rains washed the mud and blood from his glistening, sinuous body.
It was August 28th. On August 31st, the Storm blew away, and since this year it fell on a Friday, Labor Day was just a few short days away. The Enterer could smell where Eve was, and knew it was several days slither before he reached there. From the taste of her on the winds, he knew she was still asleep, but about to awaken.
The Enterer had but one purpose in life: to be the instigator of the ultimate orgasm that finalized the creation. For he was the bud-will of his mother Lilith’s intention. Nothing else mattered. He must cause Eve to have the best Orgasm ever, and nothing must get in his way.
So he slithered as fast he could, and arrived near the bower of peace just as Eve was waking up. Climbing into a tree, he watched Eve stand, and was totally taken by her Beauty. He must have her, he must make love to her, for he was an incarnation of Lilith’s lust for Eve and his will was the act of creation.
But from his mother’s own horror at him, he knew that Eve would never love him, never want him. Being born of his mother’s creative power, he had some few small creative acts left in him, so he willed himself to something like Lilith: The blue-blue eyes, the long dark hair, the heart shaped face, the full and able breasts, the curves of hips and legs. He could make himself over into all of that, but where his gateway of passion and creation should be, a smaller version of his true self hung, attached to his body, and seemingly with a will of its own.
Ialdaboath combed his long dark hair, looking something like his mother, and ambled around some shrubs, and stood before Eve with arms open.
Now Eve had taken a blow to the head when she fell in the forest, and after a Season and some of having her brains fucked out she was also a bit loopy, so when she saw the Enterer she said:
“Who are you?”
The Enterer was taken by surprise, having hoped he would be mistaken for his mother. He sputtered and said,
“Oh, I’m just A dame,” which the patriarchs were later to misreport as “Adam.” He continued “I’m Lily, Lilith’s twin Sister. That little Storm of yours blew her right back to the realm of Sophia, so I was sent to find you.”
“Hi Lily,” said Eve. “You look almost exactly like Lilith, except what is that where your gate of being should be?”
Ialdaboath was a bit stumped, but then the geis of his being took over his mouth with the following lie: “This is the key of creation. Sophia gave it to me in place of the gate of being. With it, I was to find you and stand in for Lilith for the final act of creation, the last series of orgasms that culminate in the ultimate climax that unites the created world with the Goddess.”
Eve, still a little loopy, but not totally dumb, asked, “What happened to Lilith?”
The Enterer told one more little lie. “She was blown about longer and harder by that Storm you two made, and was hurt beyond her own ability to heal. She sleeps with her mother now.”
Eve stepped a little closer, and looked into the Enterer’s blue eyes that were flecked with chips of red. Breathing the scent of Lily and reaching down to touch the serpentine key, she said, “Oh Lily, be Lilith to me, let us complete the creation in one final rush of passion and join with the Goddess for Eternity.” And as she grasped the key, it stiffened into its active form, and Lily suddenly knew how it was to be used. He lay down upon the turf as Ialdaboath and tore through a veil of generation for the second time, but this time from outside. Initially, it hurt for Eve, it hurt bad, but once that was passed the sensation was unlike anything Eve had ever known, and the orgasms that slowly came were more like earthquakes than lightning in a bottle.
And Ialdaboath, who knew he was the instrument of the final orgasm, was surprised to find that he, too, was about to know Orgasm, and for being created via half the mode of being, he had within him a partial fragmented version of the creative power, which rocked forth from him as a liquid light, entering into Eve.
It was different than Eve had ever known. Instead of something coming into existence in the world from lovemaking, now there was something inside her. As the Enterer slowly pulled out she felt that diminution, with a little bit left. Hot and sweaty, they both soon fell asleep.
The next day when Eve woke up, she felt the liquid light dripping out of her. Its draining departure made her want more. She saw that Lily was asleep, and that the serpentine key was in its solid and active form again. Wet with her own desire, she slowly rolled Lily onto her back and slid down upon the key of creation, slowly moving on it, and Ialdaboath awoke with surprise to find himself inside of Eve again, with her slowly working out the liquid light.
This continued on day after day, with Ialdaboath and Eve making love, falling asleep, waking up to make love, wandering around Eden eating fruit, and laughing.
The liquid light of Ialdaboath had another property besides creating a desire for more of itself. It caused memory to fade. Eve began to call her lover Lilith, and completely forgot about waking up to find Lily with the key of creation; it had always been this way.
On September 10th, Lilith came to herself, still in the mud, which had solidified a bit, becoming more plastic. Slowly working her way out of the once more liquid earth, she crawled out of the mud, crawled out of the cave, and stood looking at the world after the Storm of passion. She dried out a bit, recovering, and felt under her covering of clay that her gateway of being had been torn and sundered, but would heal. Dreading what her son might be up to, she followed the baked serpentine track through the mineral land, and as she traveled the sun baked the mud on her body into a fired clay. Her matted muddy hair became like fossilized kraken tentacles, her beautiful body obscured by earth and rock.
After several days, she came to the end of the trail of the Enterer, baked into the land by the sun, and knew from the direction he was going that the final destination was the Bower of Bliss.
Frightened, angry and desperate, she began to walk as fast as possible through fields and woods, a look of terror on her face, and all before her fled in dread.
On September 21st, the day of the Autumnal Equinox, she burst into the Bower of Bliss to find the Enterer and Eve fucking madly, the Eidolon of the Slitherer as firm and thick as a tree limb, battering its way into Eve’s Gateway of Creation.
Lilith screamed in rage, throwing back her head and shouting, “Ialdaboath, what the hell are you doing with, doing to, my girlfriend?!?!”
Ialdaboath, startled and afraid of his mother’s rage, let loose the liquid light sooner than he wanted to and fell out of Eve, hiding behind her.
“Uh, hi Mom. I’m just doing what you could never do.”
Eve looked to the Enterer and said: “Who is that Monster, Lilith? And why does she call you Ialdaboath?”
Lilith looked shocked and disgusted, as she saw Eve’s gateway of creation torn open, and the latest liquid light of Ialdaboath dripping out of her.
“Eve, it’s me, Lilith.”
Eve said “No, Lilith is behind me. You are some kind of Mountain or Rock Monster with my lover’s face.”
Lilith screamed with rage, leaped forward and moved Eve aside, grabbing Ialdaboath by the short hairs and yelling, “You little brat! You bastard abortion! Who did you tell my girl friend you were? Sophia?”
Ialdaboath sputtered, “Mom… I just told her I was ‘A dame’ and then I told her my name was Lily, your twin sister.”
Eve blinked in more confusion, “Lilith, why do you call that thing your mother? Sophia is our mother.”
The Real Lilith, tired of the confusion, grabbed both her lover and her son by the hair and angrily dragged them to the river that flowed out of Eden, threw them in, and plunged in afterward.
As the two recent lovers spluttered Lilith washed the clays from her body and hair, and the river milked up with silt. Her long black hair clean for the first time in a month, she plucked her girlfriend and her son from the raging waters and brought them to the shore, gasping like frightened fish.
Between the terror of being caught by his mother, and the plunge into the cold raging waters of the river of Eden, Ialdaboath’s image of his mother had faltered. While his face still appeared an echo of hers, now the peach fuzz of a beard graced his cheeks and chin, the breasts had flattened into hard, firm pectorals, and the curves of hip and leg were gone. While he reflected an image of god, it was all angles and hardness, centered around that which remained of his original serpentine form. And the blues of his eyes were replaced by red.
Eve looked at her first lover, with whom she had brought most of the manifest universe into being, and then at the second lover, whom she had thought was Lilith, who had taught her a new and deeper way to bring about the orgasm of creation. She found herself confused and torn, in love with them both.
And then, after nearly three weeks of being entered with the liquid light raining inside her she realized something had changed. While her lover’s latest shower was even now still dripping out of her, she realized that something had come into being within her.
As Lilith and her son argued back and forth about what he had done to Eve and why she had called him into existence, Eve announced, “There is a new life within me. A creation from inside, a new manifestation of the image of God in the universe. Lilith, from me, with the aid of your Son, I shall be the Mother of an entire race of sleeping gods. Sleeping gods who will experience the creation from the lowest level up, and after much striving will be finally worthy to join with God in Eternal Union.”
Lilith slapped Eve across her left check, living an image of her hand. “You cum drunk whore! You’ve gotten yourself knocked up, just six months short of our culmination of the manifest universe. We’ve gotta get that out of you now. This shithead over here tore me up on the way out.”
“No Lilith! The child is mine. Mine and your son’s. I’m going to keep it! And we will have more! The Key of Creation is the best thing ever! You need to try it!”
Lilith was completely disgusted. “Fuck no, you little bitch! This bastard tore me up on the way out. There’s no way I’m letting him back inside of me, no matter how good you think it is. You need to come to your senses, get that out of yourself, and come back to me.”
Eve, for the first time ever, began to cry and sob, looking back and forth between Lilith and Ialdaboath. “Don’t say that! Don’t make me choose! I love you both.”
“It’s him or me, bitch.”
Eve screamed: “Then it’s going to be him, for he can fill me with new life again and again; all you can do is make flowers bloom in the night sky!”
Lilith stood, shaking with anger, and yelled at Eve as she ran away into the woods “Fine, be that way. Know then that Childbirth will be painful and tear you apart, as the image of God is too immense to pass thru the gateway of being. And once that little beast pops out, you’ll be embarrassed on how it came to pass, and will hide your beautiful body, the image of all that is perfect, under the skins of your animal friends, which you will kill to assuage your guilt!”
Lilith looked at her cowering son and said, “Thanks a lot, Junior. You’ve just fucked everything up.”
Then, in a moment of remorse for what she had said, Lilith cupped her hands and broadcast her voice into the woods and said, “Eve, I’m sorry! If you can ever forgive me, come back to me.”
And this is why the world is the way it is.
And this is why the autumn is called the fall, since Eve fell away from her true path when she conceived on the Autumnal Equinox.
And this is why all men are snakes, as each one carries the image of Ialdaboath on his body.
And this is why some guy will try to steal your girlfriend.
Beyond the Veil is a regularly appearing column featuring fiction, including occult, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. If you’d like to contribute a story, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to review your submission.
©2009 J. Michael Glosson
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Folks passing through on the naked rock under the high sun would joke that Stonehenge had somehow gotten moved to Arizona. But if they walked closer to the double circle of what they thought were stones, they would see that each marker was actually compacted metal, the crushed carcasses of motorcycles and cars. Intuitive travelers wondered what kind of man would build such a place and what kind of magic he worked there.
There were two men standing in the circle at noon of that day, the day the Red Engine ran wild. The man wearing only cutoff jeans, tattoos and scars, the one who had built the place, was called Spur, not without a sordid story behind it. He was hairless, middle-aged, muscles still working but starting to sag under his sun-cracked skin.
The scruffy young man with the black hair and gray eyes was Grief Tanner. He patted dust off his riding leather, glanced around, taking in the dilapidated tent and grimy Winnebago sitting on the far side of the circle as well as whatever lurked under a dusty tarp a few feet away, and shook his head. He didn’t belong to any bike club but he was a member of the Hallowjacks, the men who walked the borders, the cheaters supreme. That meant he didn’t want to be here.
“This is a real nice setup you’ve got here. Maybe you should have a realtor out to appraise it. It’s missing a bean bag in the center though. That would really complete it.”
Spur didn’t smile when he rasped, “It’s safe here. Nothing can get me in this place, my Steelhenge. I’m glad they sent you. I asked for you. The others aren’t riders.”
Grief shaded his eyes. “Yeah, well the others aren’t exactly itching to come running whenever you cry for help. Why don’t you just get to the point before I die of heatstroke, okay?”
The older man bent his head and cleared his throat of what sounded like gravel. “I rode with Mad Frank Madison, kid. I was part of his crew. The things we saw on the haunted roads of America. . . the things we did. . .
“I would take the Throttle Wolves over your Hallowjacks any day of the week, kid. We all of us had the skills, you know? But old MF was the powerhouse. Never seen anyone like him.”
Spur was silent a moment, lost in time, unaware that his desert-dry lips had cracked and started to bleed. He went on. “Didn’t save him though. Not when we ran into the Red Engine.”
Grief took a step closer to Spur. “Are you telling me you’ve seen it?”
Spur smiled, widening the split in his lips, and his eyes watered. “Oh, yes. I was the only one who escaped. And I never wanted to see that thing again but I have.” He waved a weary arm towards the markers surrounding them. “At night, the stars speak so clearly to this place. They’ve told me of it every night for the past three weeks. The Red Engine rides again and it’s going to be close tonight, to the east.”
“There’s a whole lot to the east. Where exactly?”
Spur’s face suddenly twisted up into fury. “You know damn well it doesn’t work like that! Exactly? Exactly? But I think. . . I think it’s going to be coming down Interstate 17. That’s my best guess.”
Grief turned and began to stride back to his ride. “Then I’ve got a few hours on the road ahead of me.”
“Wait, Grief. Wait a minute, I’ve got a basket case for you to use.” Spur turned to the object under the tarp and revealed it to be the ugliest, most piecemeal motorcycle Grief had ever seen.
Grief squinted at Spur as if he had lost his mind. “Why would I want to ride that piece of crap when my own crotch rocket is right over there?”
Spur stomped right up to Grief until his leathery face was just inches from the younger man’s. “I built it from the bikes of the Throttle Wolves. Went back when I was sure the Engine had moved on and got what I needed. Every single one of them is in this bike. I’ve been working on it off and on for more than twenty years. Every single way I could make this thing a talisman, I have.”
Grief stepped around him, approached the bike and ran a gloved hand across it gingerly. A series of chrome amulets had been bolted to its sides and sigils were etched into every surface. Grief removed the glove, touched the handlebars and felt a deep throb, a dark frequency of magic.
The older man continued, “I want that thing destroyed. I’m not a hero, though. I’ve got a little piece of the damn critter in the center of this circle and I built it so it can’t see inside or enter it. I’m not leaving here until the job is done. But I do want that thing destroyed.”
Grief looked from the bike to the man to the bike again, considering. Something wasn’t quite right and he couldn’t sense exactly what protections Spur had put on the bike. That was troubling but winging it was never a problem for Grief; some people find a little thrill in being less prepared than they know they ought to be.
A minute later, he was thundering away from the circle of steel on that cursed machine while Spur watched him go without the slightest trace of guilt or regret or anything on his face.
Hours passed before Grief found himself flirting with an older waitress in a diner off of I17. He had needed a break, Spur’s creation was only a slightly smoother ride than a jackhammer, and she had a smile he liked, the kind that looked like a chagrined frown with the edges turned up.
She was wearing it when he told her his name and she said, “So that’s your handle, huh? Grief. What’re you sad a lot?”
Grief spoke around a gushing mouthful of greasy hamburger. “Nope, it’s my given name. I’ve got a brother named Lament and my sister is Sorrow.”
She cocked an eyebrow in amused disbelief. “Yeah, right. If that’s true, then your parents need Prozac, big time.”
He shook his shaggy head. “Naw. My parents were mostly just weird on the surface. People were always surprised at how sunny they actually were. You ever hear of Mister Twisted and Little Miss Morbid? They were kind of like Elvira but —”
“Oh yes!” she said, clapping her hands in delight. “They used to host that one horror show! And she was in all those goofy movies! She was your mom?”
“Yep. And those movies are classics, okay?”
She leaned back, crossed her arms and inspected him, looking for signs of insanity. “Man, growing up under them must have been weird. Were they like that all the time? Did they actually think they could do magic?”
Grief shifted uncomfortably on his counter stool, glazed out the diner’s window to see a hulking semi pulling in. “Only the harmless kind. But it did get me wondering, wondering what was really out there, if there was any real power to be had, y’know? Started me on my path.” His voice trailed off and his grey eyes became distant for a moment before suddenly coming back. “But not them. They’re just good people.”
The waitress, whose name tag said Sarah, looked towards the window herself and glowered. “What is this asshole doing?”
The semi was positioning itself across the front of the diner, its trailer completely blocking the window’s view of the interstate. The hairs on the back of Grief’s neck rose and without knowing exactly why, he glanced around the diner, taking in almost a dozen other customers, including one family of four.
“Is there a back door to this place?” he asked Sarah and when he didn’t get an answer, he turned just in time to see her drop down behind the counter, limply flopping across the floor tiles. Thuds and clattering sounded all around him as the cook in the kitchen and the customers at their tables dropped like puppets with their strings cut.
A bell tinkled as the front door swung open and the man from the semi stepped in with a double-thump of his big black boots. Then there was only the sound of heavy breathing as Grief and this man, wearing a flannel shirt in the Arizona summer heat, stared at each other.
When he spoke, the movement of the man’s lips was barley visible beneath the tangles of his wild beard. “I smelled you. I smelled you and I remembered you. You crossed me and escaped me long ago but I never forget. And now I’ve found you.” The man gripped his shirt with both hands and tore it open, revealing a mangled mingling of flesh and metal and wire.
Grief rose slowly to his feet as two realizations hit home at the same time. First, the Red Engine, like a few other predators of the Torment Countries, could take human avatars, which meant the creature was much more powerful than he had wanted to believe. Secondly, Spur’s motorcycle wasn’t built to protect its rider but to tag him as a decoy and a sacrifice.
Grief didn’t have time to be flummoxed by either revelation. He turned and leaped over the counter just as the man from the semi bolted forward in a blur. When the man followed suit, leaping behind the counter, Grief leapt back out in front of it, keeping it between them.
The man laughed, rumbling phlegmatic sound, and the smell of cooking meat wafted from his mouth. “You really should let my proxy finish you. The true me is tearing this way and it won’t be long now. You don’t want to die that way. Some of your kind are at this very moment finding that out.”
Grief felt something try to grip his mind but he sloughed it off easily enough. “Look, I’m not the guy you think I am. You have eyes, right? Look at me.” It was silly, trying to reason with a nightmare like this, and Grief wondered if this was what it was like to panic.
The man plucked a gleaming vegetable knife from behind the counter, his runny pink eyes locked on Grief’s. “Roads. Roads turn a land into a nation, a planet into a world. I have ridden camels and horses and cars and turtles and beetles and men and so many others on so many worlds and the roads between worlds.”
He wagged the knife at Grief, his reflection flitting across its blade like a ghost. “Roads carry the men and their dreams just as arteries carry blood and I am the infection chasing you on the arterial tide.”
With savage suddenness, the man dove down and came back up with Sarah gripped by her neck in his left hand. A flick of the knife slit the unconscious woman’s blouse and bra and a rough jerk spilled her heavy breasts, so pale against the tan of her torso. With the flat of his blade, the man traced the contours of her left breast. “I ride the blood straight into the red engine of man. Under here. The most perfect part of you. I sing its praises.”
Grief cocked his head, weighing options, calculating, then bolted for the door. As expected, the man dropped Sarah and leapt over the counter with a joyous snarl. But Grief spun around before reaching the door and tossed a small object, a sliver of glass encased in amber on which an ovoid spiral-like symbol, a word from a language not invented by man, was etched. As he threw the object at the man and himself to the floor, Grief spoke the word aloud.
All of the diner’s windows shattered. Every glass, every light-bulb, every pair of spectacles and even the faces of every watch in the diner shattered. And all of it, every shard, converged on the man from the semi with the force of a hurricane wind. The spray of blood even reached the ceiling.
Grief was appalled to see the man still on his feet, swaying, the shards jutting out from every part him. But then he collapsed with a sickening explosion of crunches. He lay there twitching, still trying to drag himself towards Grief in the slick lubrication of his own blood.
But Grief was already out the door.
He hesitated before the bike and briefly considered ditching it, wondering if it might not be too late, if it had stained him with Spur’s aura so completely that the Red Engine would chase him even without the bike. Either way, it didn’t matter. Spur had betrayed him and that had to be answered. What better way than the lead his enemy to him?
He brought the bike to life with a roar and sped back the way he came.
The sun was nearing the horizon when they caught up with him on Black Canyon Highway dead in the middle of Phoenix. It was a disaster. When the cars finished crumpling and the metal stopped screaming, Grief was amazed to find himself still whole and alive. He couldn’t credit his own skill with his miraculous escape from the pile-up, so the bike must have been good for something.
He sat there, straddling the bike, gaping at the mess he had somehow weaved through, hearing the sobs of the injured, trying to get his breathing under control, trying to figure out how his luck could be so bad that this could happen now, when the driver-side door of a nearby shattered Volvo burst open. The man who stepped out didn’t seem to mind his broken arm, he just kept his gaze fixed on Grief as he limped towards him.
Grief gazed back in dawning horror. Proxies had just caused a smash-up on a major highway, injuring or killing God knows how many, in an attempt to get him. Muttering a non-stop stream of obscenities, Grief spun the bike around and escaped down Camelback Road, then turned onto a side street.
The proxy dove back into his Volvo and soon the half-wrecked car was limping after the Hallowjack. A dilapidated green van disengaged itself from the tangle of cars and joined the pursuit, its driver and passengers all flesh puppets of the Red Engine. The driver of a formerly sleek corvette also tried to serve his master’s will, but his vehicle was a crippled lost cause.
The chase was a darting, reckless one, serenaded by the blaring horns of outraged drivers. Grief cleared his mind of all concerns except speed and gave himself over to the motorcycle, the world tilting and blurring past him. The Volvo ended its run with a brutal collision with an SUV but the van would not be stopped. Still, it was too slow and disappeared from Grief’s rearview after a couple minutes, but he knew better than to think they weren’t still on his trail. They didn’t have to see him to find him.
The place for a stand presented itself: a gas station and car-wash, side by side.
He swung into the lot and skidded to a stop in front of a pump. The green van rounded the corner at the end of the street just as he jerked the gas hose from its holster. It took too many precious seconds to spray a barbell-like symbol on the pavement in gasoline. This was another word of the Omerta Tongue, the language of the Outer Roads.
The van, filled with dark and menacing silhouettes, swung into the lot just as Grief lit a match, dropped it onto the symbol and spoke the word. The match winked out when it touched the gas and the van exploded as its fuel tank ignited. Grief and two other men, who had been filling their tanks and trying to ignore the weirdo with the bike, were thrown to the ground by the blast, eyes burning and ears ringing.
Grief pushed himself into a sitting position, physically exhausted from what he’d done. He didn’t know whether to cry or scream when the van’s two front doors opened and a pair of flame-engulfed figures stepped out. One of them tottered, took two steps and then succumbed to the flame, collapsing to the pavement. But the other kept coming, lurching and flailing.
The horrified screams of the other two men, both of them frozen and disbelieving their eyes, snapped Grief out of his stupor. He wrestled the fallen bike back up to a standing position, mounted it and brought it to life just as he began to feel heat at his bike. The Hallowjack took off with a squeal of his tires and the proxy, so close but now defeated, collapsed. One roasting arm landed in the growing puddle of gasoline from the hose Grief had dropped at the van’s explosion.
The gas pumps erupted and the two stricken bystanders were washed away in tides of flame. Grief was not so far away that he did not hear the thunder and know what it was.
The sun had touched the horizon and lit the sky like an inferno by the time Grief had left Phoenix heading west on I10. The cost of this game blurred his eyes with tears, turned his stomach with nausea but he did not slow down. He had to win this thing now, not just survive it. He swore to himself that he would.
He didn’t know that this bad night for Phoenix wasn’t over yet, that the Red Engine itself would shortly enter the city, following Grief’s path, and triple the carnage and chaos already done. It would be a night of sirens and fire, a night of hell that the newspapers would never be able to explain.
The pale full moon and a crowd of stars lit the desert and witnessed Grief’s return to the circle of steel. He kicked up a spray of dust and dirt as he braked, tried to dismount and just flopped to the ground in exhaustion. But there was no time to rest, no time. The last few miles of his run had passed in terror; he could feel the Red Engine bearing down on him.
And now, a cloud of dust was just visible in the distance as something inhuman tore across the desert.
Coughing, aching, he got himself upright and stumbled towards the circle, calling, “Spur! It’s right behind me!”
Spur met him at the outer edge of the circle and leveled a shotgun at him. “That’s why you’re not getting in here, bro.” His words were ever so slightly slurred and his eyes were bright and glassy. He reeked of alcohol.
Grief dared to walk right up to the barrel of the shotgun. What did he have to lose? The small dust cloud in the distance was now less small and less distant. “You tried to get me killed. I came out here to help you and you tried to get me killed.”
Spur bared his crooked yellow teeth in a skeptical leer. “You came out here to help me? Nah, you came out here for the same thing we all did, thrill-seeker.”
“You got others killed. A whole bunch of folks in Phoenix —”
“People gotta die so that others feel alive, boy. Gas is a fossil fuel, you know. We burn the dead so that we can chase the dream, whatever it may be, so that we can feel alive. And I wasn’t even in Phoenix. You were.” As he spoke, the older man stared out past Grief, mesmerized by what was coming.
Grief turned to look and saw a shape in the dust cloud, a hulking figure on an enormous, jagged motorcycle. It made not a sound but ran silent as a shark. Grief broke out into a cold sweat and felt his knees weaken. If he didn’t get into that circle now he was going to die.
He turned back to the older man and forced himself to speak in a calm, almost soothing voice. “You know this isn’t right, Spur. That’s why you had to get drunk off your ass.”
But Spur didn’t look at him, just gasped, “All those flies, even more than last time.”
Grief spun around again and saw that the cloud around the creature wasn’t just dust. He could hear a low buzz that wasn’t in any way mechanical. It would be on him in a minute.
He turned back to Spur and said evenly, “Just be a man, look me in the eye and tell me this is right. Tell me this is what MF Madison would do.”
Finally Spur locked eyes with him and there was genuine sorrow in his faltering words. “Kid, this is the way the world is, y’know? Everybody’s gotta fight to survive. Somebody’s gotta lose.”
The buzzing sound began to distinguish itself into a thousand insect voices. In the same gentle monotone, Grief answered, “But what about when we met? You had woken the Starving Men and I got the other Hallowjacks to help you. That’s how people survive, by helping each other.”
The buzzing was loud, almost maddening, but Spur was caught in Grief’s imploring gaze and didn’t look away. His words were thick and hard to understand when he said, “I’m sorry but I can’t. I’m scared. I’m bad. Can’t let you in.”
The awful smell of rancid meat wafted over them and the rising hairs on the back of his neck and arms told Grief that he had seconds. He said simply, “Then we’ll both die. You took a step outside the circle, Spur.”
“What?” Spur started and jerked his head frantically, looking to his feet, then to the markers on either side of him, and he didn’t even have time to register that it wasn’t true before Grief had slammed into him, driving his knee up into Spur’s groin.
A motorcycle built of steel and bone and gristle, trailing a comet tail of flies, came skidding to a stop mere feet away from the struggling men. An massive figure clad in a long stitched coat of pale leather that had to be the flesh of men, dismounted and roared, its voice sounding like a lion’s from the bottom of a well.
Grief gave Spur a savage crack across the head with the butt of the shotgun and dove into the circle. Spur had just enough time to realize that the struggle had landed him on the wrong side of the border when a hand made of dull gray metal and bare red muscle landed on his shoulder.
“You lied to me!” shrieked Spur as the Red Engine pressed him down and began to dismantle him. Again and again, punctuated and interrupted by cries of agony, he screamed, “You lied to me!”
But Grief wasn’t listening. He had an oath to keep. He ran to the center of Steelhenge and found a small mound of dirt with a protective circle drawn around it. A few swipes of his hand cleared the grit away from the little glistening fragment of the Red Engine. Grief pulled a pen-knife from his pocket, pricked his finger, and traced the ovoid symbol onto the fragment in blood.
Grief looked back to see that the beast had paused in its work on Spur’s corpse and was peering into the circle, perhaps intrigued by this barrier to its senses. But it wouldn’t cross, couldn’t cross. There were rules that even beings like the Red Engine were bound by. It parted its mismatched jaws, the lower might have come from some kind of dog, and hissed.
Grief spoke the word and then howled in pain, clutching his finger. The Red Engine howled too when it felt itself suddenly jerked forward into the outer boundary of the steel circle.
Grief spoke the word again and the agony spread to his other fingers. The Red Engine struggled mightily but slid a couple more feet into the circle. Its flesh components began to run and sizzle like cooking fat.
Grief spoke the word a third time and felt as if his entire left hand licked by the unfathomable cold beyond death. The Red Engine, its talons dug into the dry dead ground, inched past the inner circle of markers. Its final hateful snarl echoed across the desert as its body erupted, flinging fragments of bone and metal and spraying liquid meat across the impassive faces of the markers.
Grief tumbled into unconsciousness.
The rude insistence of the morning sun’s heat woke him. Sun glinted painfully from the gleaming markers. Buzzing flies explored the remains of Spur and the creature that killed him. Dust and dirt caked his leathers and rained from his hair when he sat up.
He got himself a beer and some jerky from Spur’s Winnebago. He had to open them both using only his right hand. His left was numb and limp. He worked with it for half an hour, trying to get some feeling, some movement. He knew it was pointless but he had to try.
After his breakfast, such as it was, he took stock of his options. His own motorcycle was still in one piece, standing right where he left it, but riding it with one hand wasn’t a smart idea. There was the Winnebago but he didn’t intend on using any vehicle that Spur had a hand in ever again. As long as his right hand still worked, there was always traveling by thumb. He decided to hike the long miles on that unmarked dirt road all the way back to I10 where he’d hitch a ride.
He found a duffel bag in the Winnebago and packed it with some beer and food. He slung the bag across his back, took one last look around old Steelhenge and hit the road.
©2009 Bret Tallman
Edited by Sheta Kaey
It was not the worst hangover Melissa had ever had, but it was bad enough. She was grateful her parents were out as she stumbled and retched her way through the morning. By the time they came home shortly before noon, she was recovered enough to pretend she hadn’t avoided alcohol poisoning by a bare margin.
After a shower she tried calling Luanne; the phone rang and rang without answer, Melissa eschewing leaving a message in favor of calling back repeatedly, knowing that if anything would be likely to wake her friend it would be the ringing of the phone.
But Luanne wasn’t answering. Finally, Melissa dug out her phone book and called the number for the McPherson house.
“Hi, it’s Lissa,” she told Luanne’s mother when the phone was answered. “Is Luanne there? She’s not answering her line.”
“No, she’s not here,” Luanne’s mother replied, somewhat stiffly. “I thought she might be with you. She was gone when I got up this morning.”
“Oh,” Melissa said. “No, she’s not here either. I guess I’ll catch up with her later.”
“I’ll tell her you called,” Luanne’s mother promised, only slightly less stiff.
“Thanks.” Melissa hung up, puzzled. Luanne hated getting up early, even when she wasn’t hung over. And she’d had more to drink at the party than Melissa herself; certainly she hadn’t gotten up and gone to do anything with the kind of hangover she had to be nursing.
She called the others; neither Bree, Gwen or Sierra had any idea where Luanne might be, either. Melissa found their reactions predictable. Bree was caustic, saying Luanne was probably still passed out in the yard; Sierra was moderately concerned, but pointed out that Luanne didn’t have to ask their permission to do anything; and Gwen was quiet for a long time, finally asking only what Bree and Sierra thought about it.
Frustrated, Melissa decided she wouldn’t let it ruin her day. She and Luanne had planned to go shopping, and maybe see a movie. Melissa went to the mall by herself, and while it was nice to try on clothes without Luanne pointing out how everything accentuated how full her hips were, shopping just wasn’t as fun by herself. She called home repeatedly to see if Luanne had called, but as afternoon wore on into evening and there was still no word from her friend, Melissa gave it up.
Going to a movie by herself would be embarrassing, so instead Melissa decided to stop in at Books and Brews to see if by chance Chris was there. Any night that Sally Fawkes was there, he would be, but Saturdays were Therese’s nights to read, when she bothered to show up, and so it was a gamble. But she didn’t have anything else to do, and she wasn’t about to sit home on a Saturday just because Luanne had blown her off.
Chris wasn’t around either. Melissa masked her dejection in espresso and a couple of magazines, sitting out in the garden and telling herself she needed to give herself more days of doing her own thing.
The immediate problem was that Melissa had planned the next two weeks around Luanne being home on summer break, catching up on the months apart. The five of them had been near inseparable through high school, and although they’d gone off to five different colleges they’d stayed close.
As Melissa headed home, she reluctantly accepted the fact that Luanne simply hadn’t changed, and was still as thoughtless as ever. No doubt she’d show up at brunch tomorrow at their favorite restaurant, acting as if she hadn’t blown her best friend off and mystified that Melissa was irritated about spending Saturday alone.
Bree picked her up Sunday morning at eleven, and Gwen and Sierra met them at the restaurant. Bree sniffed at the suggestion they wait for order for Luanne to show; an hour later, as they lingered over coffee, Melissa had to admit to them and herself that their fifth Musketeer wasn’t going to grace them with her presence for brunch, either.
“Her highness is probably shacked up with some one,” Bree sneered as they walked through the parking lot. “I’m not waiting around all day. If you want to sit home by the phone, be my guest, but we’re going to Amber’s party.”
“I’m not waiting around either,” Melissa answered. “I just wish she’d call.”
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Sierra said. “You know how she is, she gets an idea and runs with it without thinking about the rest of us.”
“I know,” Melissa sighed. “Anyway, I’m sure she’ll call soon, I left enough messages.”
“You’re wasting your time,” Bree said. “And if all you’re going to do is talk about her then you might as well stay home. You’re boring the shit out of me.”
“Jeez, Bree,” Gwen muttered. “We’re all friends, you know.”
“Yeah, whatever. She done anything for anyone lately? The most she’s done for me was not getting sick in the car on the way home.” Bree was obviously serious about being done with discussing Luanne. “Now I need to get a new outfit for the party. Who’s coming?”
They all agreed new outfits were in order; Melissa resolved not to mention Luanne again for the rest of the day.
By Wednesday, Melissa had company in her worry.
The police were reluctant to dedicate much effort to her disappearance; she was legally an adult, and a check of her bedroom indicated that she’d taken some clothes and personal effects. It appeared, to the police, that she’d left on her own accord. At the parents’ insistence, they’d checked the house and yard for signs of other people, but there was nothing suspicious to be found.
Her friends could offer no explanation. Luanne would have said something to Melissa at least if she was going to skip out with a guy or something. None of them could see any sign in Luanne’s room that she’d been forced to leave, either, and so the mystery only deepened.
Amongst themselves, her friends agreed to do their own investigation; but there was no one to be suspicious of. Even the new guy, Chris, continued to show up at the coffee house, and seemed as baffled as anyone else that Luanne would just disappear.
“It sounded like she had plans for every day of break,” he said as the girls sipped coffees. “Why would she go on about it if she didn’t?”
“She did,” Melissa said. “That’s why it’s so confusing. This isn’t like her.”
“It kinda is,” Bree corrected. “I mean, come on, Lis, she’s not a freakin’ saint. She’s made plans with all of us and then ‘something else came up’.” She glanced at Sierra and Gwen, who nodded agreement. “She probably hooked up with an ex at the party.”
“We already talked to all of them,” Melissa replied. “And she wouldn’t make a three-day booty-call, and not even call me.”
“What if she left on her own, for a day or two,” Gwen suggested slowly, “and while she was gone something happened?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Melissa said, fighting tears. “It’s like you guys don’t even care,” she said to Bree and Sierra.
“Oh, come on, Lissa,” Sierra said. “You know we do.”
“What are we supposed to do?” Bree asked, putting her mug down sharply. “I can’t put my life on hold because something bad happened to some one else.” She stood up at their surprised looks and nodded. “I’m sorry but I can’t. Luanne did a lot of stupid things and maybe one finally caught up with her, and if I’m the only one willing to say it then fine. Don’t you remember that Fourth we were going camping, and she hooked up with that married guy and went to Aspen instead, and we covered for her? And then the guy’s wife turned out to be psycho and came after them? If you guys want to waste your whole summer looking for her just so she can laugh in your faces when she strolls back from some other stupid fling, then be my guest. But I’m not.”
There was nothing to say to that. After a moment, Bree turned and walked out without another word.
“Well,” Chris said uncomfortably, clearing his throat.
“Sorry,” Melissa said to him.
“No apologies,” Chris replied. “People worry different ways. Maybe her way is anger.”
“Maybe,” Melissa agreed, relieved he wasn’t put off.
“We’ve tried everything else,” Sierra said, getting up as well. “I’m going to go upstairs.” Gwen joined her, but neither had much to say as they waited in line.
Melissa found herself in an odd position. Alone with Chris, as she’d hoped to be for so many months as she’d watched him over her homework or coffee, but unable to enjoy this small victory because of her worry for Luanne, which, as Bree insisted, was probably wasted anyway.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Chris said after a few moments of silence.
“I wish I could be,” Melissa sighed. “Thanks for the coffee, and for listening, though.”
“Any time,” Chris told her. “I was missing once. That turned out okay.”
Melissa returned his shy smile with one of her own. “You probably didn’t have Luanne’s track record, though. Damn, if she didn’t act like this all the time people would have listened to me Saturday, you know? Even her mom thinks like Bree — I mean, I’m not going to pretend that she couldn’t have gone on off her own, but I’m not going to sit around, either, pretending that this is all okay, you know?”
“You can’t just write her off,” Chris said.
“No, I can’t. That’s a good way to put it. Everyone else is ready to just write her off.” Melissa sighed, wiped an eye, and finished her coffee. “Do you think Miz Fawkes will be able to help? Sierra says if anyone could find her, Sally can.”
Chris pondered a moment before answering, toying with a couple of sugar packets. “I don’t know,” he said finally.
“Do you believe in psychics? I mean, you’re here all the time.” Melissa smiled to show she wasn’t interrogating him, and he smiled back to show he knew she wasn’t.
“Oh, I do believe in psychic sight, and I’m sure Sally is as gifted as everyone says,” he replied. “I just don’t know if Luanne wants to be found, you know? I think that could be important. I mean, if the person you’re looking for, psychically, doesn’t want to be found, they could be right around the corner and maybe you wouldn’t be able to find them.”
“How do you figure?”
“Well,” Chris said, shifting in his chair, “It’s not like Sally, for example, is a bloodhound. She can’t sniff the air and pick up a scent of somebody that walked past a week ago. When she uses her gift, she’s trying to pick up on specific things. Like vibes, you know what I mean?” When Melissa nodded he continued. “You figure something’s happened to her, and she wants to come home, and that’s the sort of vibe a psychic would look for, Luanne’s distress. But if she’s not distressed, they could kind of slide right past her vibe without recognizing it, because it doesn’t ring out like they’re expecting.”
“I don’t follow,” Melissa said.
“Look at it this way,” Chris replied. “Luanne’s been all over this neighborhood, right? So her residual energy patterns are going to be all over. But if Sally, say, is looking for her, she’s going to kind of tune out those weak patterns and look for something stronger, because you don’t want to know where she wandered before she went missing, you want to know where she is now.”
“Oh, I see,” Melissa said, although she wasn’t entirely sure she did. “You know all about this stuff, huh?”
“No,” he answered with another shy smile. “Just enough to sound like an expert, I guess.”
Melissa laughed a little. “Well, you know way more than I do,” she told him. “Maybe you could tutor me.”
“Sure,” Chris answered easily. “You have to make your own flash-cards, though.”
“It’s a deal,” Melissa chuckled. Their talk moved onto other things, and as minutes slipped by, it seemed her worry for Luanne weakened. Surely Chris was onto something; surely her friend was indeed okay, off somewhere and not wanting to be found, which was why she hadn’t called. Luanne didn’t need anyone looking for her; Melissa needed to accept that her friend wasn’t much of a friend sometimes and get on with enjoying her summer vacation. Luanne would call or come home when she was ready. When Sierra and Gwen rejoined them an hour later, saying they’d waited as long as they could but the psychic was just too busy, Melissa wondered privately why Sierra was so worried; Luanne, wherever she was, was just fine.
That night, and the next, Melissa had the weirdest dreams.
Both started the same: at Books and Brews, talking with Chris as she had on Wednesday evening, only instead of psychic vibes they were talking about something else entirely, something important, something about him and her and what it meant. . . But even as she dreamed it, it seemed that she couldn’t recall what it was, as if the information bypassed her mind and settled in her bones and soul.
After that, she couldn’t remember anything at all upon waking, only certain that it was strange, and thrilling, a bit frightening but arousing as well.
Friday morning, she could recall one part clearly: just before Books and Brews faded into the strange fog, Chris had asked for a kiss and said, “Melissa, my sweet.”
Perhaps it was the odd dreams affecting her sleep, but she didn’t feel very well as she got up Friday morning. Not precisely sick; it didn’t feel like she was coming down with a summer cold or anything. She just felt tired, as if she hadn’t slept at all, and achy in head and body. She was also, she discovered, somewhat dizzy, stumbling to the bathroom on unsteady legs.
She showered, toweled, and dressed without noticing the peculiar, shiny livid mark on the inside of her upper arm.
By lunchtime she was feeling better physically, although she still felt tired, and mentally she was even more unsettled, dejectedly shuffling through the empty house and missing Luanne.
She resolved to ask Sally Fawkes to look for Luanne, no matter how long she had to wait in line. Recalling what Chris had said about vibes, Melissa realized she would need something of Luanne’s to help the psychic find her even if she didn’t want to be found.
As soon as Mrs. McPherson got home from work, Melissa went over. She explained her intent to have the psychic help, and Luanne’s mother let her in to find something in Luanne’s room that would give a clear signal to Sally Fawkes.
Luanne’s prized ruby earrings were on the vanity, and once again the certainty that something horrible had happened to Luanne crashed over her like a foul wave. Most of her wardrobe was built around red so she could wear them as often as possible; Melissa could not believe she would willingly go off — especially with a guy — and not wear them, not even bring them with.
She found an earring box to put them into and returned to Mrs. McPherson. “We’ll find her,” Melissa promised, trying to keep her tears in check. “I’ll bring these back tomorrow.”
“We won’t be home,” Luanne’s mother said stonily. “We’re going to be out putting up flyers.”
“I’ll come help, then,” Melissa said. “It will be okay.” They hugged, and Melissa left, wishing she didn’t know that Mrs. McPherson wasn’t always sure she even wanted to know what had happened to her daughter, and wishing she herself wasn’t so certain that whatever had happened was bad.
She went straight to Books and Brews to wait for the psychic, although Sally Fawkes wasn’t due in for another hour. To her dismay, there were already three old ladies waiting upstairs, and as she sat down, another creaked up the stairs with greetings to the others.
Melissa decided to wait downstairs; the worst the psychic could do was make her wait in line. She sat where she could watch the door and as soon as Sally Fawkes pushed it open Melissa was on her feet and hurrying over.
“Mrs. Fawkes, I know you already have people waiting upstairs, but this is a real emergency and I really need your help.”
“What is it?” Sally said, putting a calming hand on Melissa’s shoulder.
“It’s Luanne,” Melissa said, near tears. “The cops won’t look for her, they said she’s an adult and can go where she wants. But I know she wouldn’t just take off without saying anything to me or calling or anything —”
“Slow down,” Sally said. “Let’s get a seat over there and start at the beginning, all right?”
Melissa let herself be led to a table and sat down, taking a moment to compose herself. After a few shaky breaths she was able to relate the details. “Last week Luanne got home for summer vacation, and we went out to a party, and then we dropped her off at home. The next morning when I called her, she didn’t answer, and her mom said she wasn’t there. No one’s seen her and she hasn’t called anybody, and the police looked around her room and said there was no sign anyone had forced her out. Her mom said it looked just as if she’d come in, gotten ready for bed like always, gotten into bed, and disappeared. We talk all the time, she wouldn’t just take off like this, not for so long.” Melissa lifted the velvet earring box. “These were her favorites, she wore them to the party, and probably right up until she went to bed. She wouldn’t have left without them, unless someone made her.”
Sally reached for the box, but paused before taking it. “I might not be able to help,” she cautioned.
“I have to try everything,” Melissa said. “Whether you can see something or not, I can’t just give up looking for her.”
“All right,” Sally responded, accepting the box and opening it slowly. Melissa watched, fascinated, but the psychic just looked at the earrings thoughtfully for some moments. Just when Melissa was starting to expect Sally to say she couldn’t help, the psychic lifted her free hand to her forehead and said, “I’m so drunk.”
“I’m sorry?” Melissa said, not certain she’d heard right.
“A party,” Sally said. “I’m at the party. So much to drink. . .” The psychic blinked, then slowly shook her head. “I don’t know how she hasn’t passed out yet. I’m going to go forward from the ride, but it’s hard, she’s very out of it then.”
“Yeah, we were celebrating, you know,” Melissa muttered softly.
“Okay,” Sally said. She took the earrings out of the box and held them in her left hand, wrapping her right fingers loosely around and closing her eyes as she concentrated. “It’s like her mother said,” Sally told Melissa slowly as she replaced the earrings in the box. “It’s like Luanne went to bed and disappeared. She went to sleep, and started dreaming, and that’s where I lose her.”
“Lose her?” Melissa repeated, dread seizing her. “Does that mean she’s dead?”
“No,” Sally answered immediately. “She’s alive. I just. . . it’s like she’s still dreaming, I can’t find her.” She shrugged an apology. “I guess I’ve never tried to find some one while they were sleeping. I’m sorry.”
“But you’re sure she’s alive?” At the psychic’s nod Melissa added, “Can you tell if she’s okay? I mean, maybe she’s drugged or something?”
“I can’t tell,” Sally said. “It seems as if she isn’t in any distress right now, but she might be unconscious or otherwise unaware.”
“I understand,” Melissa said, taking the jewelry box back. She understood, but could no longer believe Luanne just didn’t want to be found. “Thank you, Mrs. Fawkes. We’ll keep looking.”
“Good luck,” Sally told her. “I’ll let you know if anything else comes to me.”
Melissa thanked her; the psychic patted her shoulder and then hurried upstairs. She got up to leave and saw Chris had come in; she went to his table instead.
“What’s wrong?” he asked at once.
“Luanne still hasn’t called or come back,” Melissa told him. “And I — when I got up today I just had the worst feeling. . .”
“This is terrible,” Chris said sympathetically. “I hate to see you like this, Melissa.” He touched her shoulder lightly. “Maybe there’s something I can do.”
She shrugged. “You’re sweet to want to help, but I don’t know what anyone can do. I don’t even know where to start looking. Mrs. Fawkes said she couldn’t find her, but she’s sure Luanne’s alive. . . I’m just as sure something has happened to her, though.”
“I thought that might be what you were up to when I came in,” he said. “Listen, why don’t we go check some places around here, and see what we find?”
“Really?” Melissa asked, and his light touch on her shoulder became a reassuring grip. “You’d spend your Friday night like that?”
“Sure,” Chris answered, easy as ever. “Friends help each other out.”
Melissa was so relieved she almost forgot about Luanne. Chris was her friend, and they’d have hours together while Melissa did more than simply fret about Luanne’s disappearance.
Outside, Chris suggested they start by checking places Luanne wouldn’t typically go; Melissa was uncertain at first, but his explanation garnered her agreement. If Luanne had met some one Melissa didn’t know, she may have gone to a restaurant or bar that her friends weren’t likely to think of as likely, a place familiar to whomever she might be with. Melissa got a picture of herself and Luanne out of her wallet, and kept it ready to show to everyone they spoke with.
As they walked along, however, Melissa felt her worry fading. It had to be Chris; he was so calm and capable, just being around him was soothing. By the time they reached the first place to check, Melissa almost forgot why they were even in that part of town.
Just inside the door, she paused. It was a bar, and a rather seedy one; some of the clientele glanced at them as they came in, and none of the gazes were particularly warm.
“I don’t know,” Melissa said softly to Chris.
“No, this is the place,” Chris answered, putting an arm around her shoulders. “There’s someone I’d like to introduce you to.”
“Oh, okay,” she said, smiling at him. He guided her to a booth toward the back, where a man and a woman sat facing one another.
“Well, well,” the man said, with a slight accent Melissa recognized as southern Florida; his gaze was no warmer than the others, but his smile was welcoming. “If it isn’t Chris March.”
“Hello,” Chris replied. “Melissa, this is Jack.”
“Hi, Jack,” Melissa said.
“Have a seat,” Jack said, and the woman slid over to let Melissa sit down. He was dressed rather flamboyantly, in a dark red suit with a scarf so white it nearly glowed in the dim, smoky atmosphere. He wore a couple of rings on either hand, large gold pieces with huge stones of red and black; one of them, a ruby to shame Luanne’s earrings, was surrounded by diamonds large enough to adorn a score of engagement rings. In contrast, the woman was dressed in a dark suit jacket and top, hair pulled back in a ponytail, and no jewelry at all.
“What are you drinking, Jack?” Chris asked.
“The usual,” was the answer, and Chris went to the bar.
Melissa smiled, a little nervous. She took out the picture. “Um, I’m looking for a friend of mine,” she began.
“Oho,” Jack said, taking the photo and looking it over. “I didn’t think a kid like you would just wander in here.”
Melissa smiled nervously again, glancing at the woman next to her; the woman seemed oblivious, slowly stirring the ice in her drink with the little straw. She looked back at Jack; he had finished with the picture and handed it back.
“Haven’t seen her,” Jack said. “Do you think she came in here?”
“Not really,” Melissa answered as Chris returned with a waitress that set three drinks down on the table and left without a word. She looked up at Chris as he stood beside the table.
“I wasn’t sure what you’d want,” he told her. “It’s a wine spritzer.”
“Thanks,” she said. She’d never had one of those, it sounded very sophisticated. She took a sip and found it light and bubbly, almost like a soda.
“So you don’t think she’d come in here, but you’re leaving no stone unturned, is that it?” Jack said, placing the fresh drink beside the one he hadn’t quite finished.
“Yes. Chris suggested we check everywhere, just in case.” Melissa took another sip, wondering how much wine was in a spritzer, and if wine would give her hangovers like beer and the liquor she usually drank. If not, she may have just found her new drink; it certainly was tasty.
“Oho,” Jack said again, glancing sideways. “It was Chris’ idea, was it?”
“You know I like to help,” Chris replied. “And I couldn’t very well let her come in a place like this alone, now could I?”
“Not at all,” Jack agreed, lifting his drink. “You are a true gentleman.”
“And then some,” the woman muttered, almost too soft for Melissa to hear.
Melissa glanced at her, then looked at Chris; it almost seemed as if the woman was trying to hint Chris really was interested in her after all.
“You are very helpful,” Jack said to Chris, and suddenly Melissa knew they were talking about something else, somehow talking about her. She sipped while she thought, trying to figure out where the suspicion had come from and what it could mean. Too soon the glass was empty, and she still wasn’t certain what was going on.
“We should probably keep moving,” Melissa said abruptly, moving to get to her feet. The others gave her startled looks, and she realized belatedly that they’d been talking for some time and she’d interrupted quite rudely. The table shook as she bumped it, and she swayed on her feet when she gained them. How much wine had been in that spritzer?
“Whoops,” she heard Jack say, his voice dim and distant as if he was across the room instead of a few feet away.
“Where’s your car?” Chris’ voice was faint too, even though she could feel him holding her up and somewhat steady.
“Out back,” the woman said, a mile away and getting further. Melissa tried to cry out but her own voice seemed vanished altogether; white fog was crowding the edges of her vision, swirling across the middle, closing her in.
She sagged into unconsciousness before Chris had gotten her more than a few steps from the table. He scooped her up smoothly, following the woman to the rear door of the bar.
Jack paused by the bar as he sauntered after. “Too much,” he told the waitress, just a hint of reproach in his tone.
“Sorry, Mr. Jack. It’s that Chris — you know he gives me the creeps.”
“Now, now,” Jack replied dismissively. “Let’s not be silly.” He continued on his way, whistling merrily.
Melissa woke up slowly, groaning thickly as the greasy pounding in her head throbbed through the last shreds of blissful unconsciousness. She would never drink so much again — what a party, what a hangover. But it was summer vacation, and Luanne was home, and later they were going to go shopping and then see a movie. . .
The pounding reached a plateau and remained steady, and Melissa timidly opened her eyes. Something was very wrong, but she was having a hard time thinking with the pain. The room was dark, much darker than her room usually was; something must have happened to the neighborhood’s power, maybe a thunderstorm had come along while she slept. . .
Melissa groaned softly and moved to rub her face, but her arms stopped short as something pulled against her wrists.
All at once she realized that the party had been the week before. Luanne was missing, and she had been looking for her. . . but she couldn’t remember what had happened, and she had no idea where she might be.
“Somebody!” she tried to yell, but her throat was dry and her head filled with spikes of pain. She started crying with raspy sobs, her imagination running wild in the absence of facts. The last thing she could remember clearly was leaving the café with Chris. . . had she been hit by a car as they crossed a street? Was she unable to move because she was badly injured? She might even be dead, her terrified imagination supplied, insisting she couldn’t move because her body was frozen in death and her spirit trapped inside forever —
When bright light flooded suddenly into the room, she shrieked in fright and pain.
“Well, well,” a familiar voice she didn’t recognize said. “Look who finally woke up.”
“Where am I?” Melissa whimpered, eyes shut tight against the blinding glare.
“Told you she’d say that first,” the voice said. “They always do. Now pay up.”
“Where am I?” she repeated tearfully. “What happened?”
“No time for all that,” the man told her, his voice closer. “Here’s the thing. You now are chattel. Chattel is living property, if you don’t know the word. And property doesn’t ask questions, it does as its owner wants of it and nothing else.” She felt a hand on her chin, turning her face up to the light, and she squeezed her eyes shut tighter. “See? She looks all right, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, that’ll do,” another male voice said. “Still need a couple more for the full order, though. Any idea how long it’s gonna be?”
“Let’s not be greedy,” the first man admonished. “They don’t all drop in my lap like this one.” His hand fell away and Melissa started crying harder.
This had to be a nightmare, had to be. Any moment now she would awaken, safe in her own bed at home, and it would be just another strange and frightening dream.
She heard footsteps walking away, and dared to open her eyes a slit; but the man was still beside her, and bent down to look her eye-to-eye as he spoke.
“This is goodbye, Melissa,” he said. “You aren’t one of the lucky ones, you see? You get to be one of the statistics instead. You foolishly trusted someone you shouldn’t have. You accepted a drink from a relative stranger, and drank it all without a single thought to the possibility that it had been drugged. And now here you are, tied up in some Godforsaken basement on a rancid mattress, being sold into slavery. Well, actually, you were already sold into slavery, and now I’m selling you to a brothel. It’s in the Caribbean, so at least you’ll die in a tropical paradise.” He smiled and patted her cheek.
“Please,” she sobbed. “Please, no.”
“Oh yes indeed,” he said, straightening up and adjusting the lapels of his dark red suit jacket. “Don’t worry, Melissa dear, they’ll keep you so doped up you won’t care what your customers do to you. Ta-ta,” he added in mocking farewell.
He closed the door on her ragged weeping and accepted the envelope from the client.
“You’re something else, Jack.”
“As always, a pleasure doing business with the Goldon Bay Resort,” he replied mellowly, slipping the envelope into his jacket pocket. “We’ll be in touch.”
Jack hummed to himself as the client was shown out and he moved along the other cells, checking his stock. It had been a good week; his retrofitted yacht would be full to capacity when he sailed out on Sunday.
As he headed out of the basement he let the words free. “We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot, drink up, me hearties, yo ho, we kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot, drink up me hearties, yo ho. . .”
©2008 by C.A. Broz
Edited by Sheta Kaey