JR DePriest

In the Aether there is a temple, a pyramid of stone, missing the capstone, forever bathed in the red-gold light of a setting desert sun. The doors are always open and the inside is filled with long shadows that provide respite from the heat. You are welcome to sit, relax, contemplate. You've earned your place here. If you explore, you may find the goddess of the temple, Sekhmet, she with the head of a lioness, arbiter of courage and inner strength. She may smile, she may beckon or direct, but she never speaks. It isn't necessary. In this case, she glanced at a passage off in the distance, one I hadn't yet seen. It danced with a curious flickering array of colors and so I moved toward it. Even before I could see it clearly, I felt it, like an oven, but I was strong, so I pushed forward, I had to see. My skin felt as if it may peel away, like the worst sunburn you've ever had, but still I pushed. And I saw a corridor, lengthy and filled entirely with flame. Somehow I could see through the flame to the far side. There was a courtyard overgrown with brambles and weeds, toppled columns, collapsed buildings, and people, so many of them. Each oblivious to the others, heads down, shuffling aimlessly in the dust of a dead city. Their despair was palpable, their loss, their regret, their guilt. Each felt that this great calamity was their fault alone and that rebuilding was not only impossible but a blasphemy, an attempt to erase what they had done, what they had caused. No. This is the way it had to be. Each felt that they alone were suffering in isolation, in silence, “as it should be” they thought. To them, this was a deserved fate. But I could see into their hearts, a place they'd long stopped looking. I could see their mistakes, simple and compounded, but infinitely forgivable, not worthy of this self-imposed punishment. Yes, each, in their own way, had led to the collapse, but there was no malice, no intent. They had it in them to forgive, repair, rebuild into something greater, but could not see it. I turned to Sekhmet and asked, “why are they suffering? Why don't you tell them they don't deserve this? Why don't you help them?” She said nothing but nodded and looked away as if to say, “that is not my duty.” This was horrible. I knew they could be saved. I knew they had everything they needed if they'd just look around, notice each other, share their feelings and their desires, pool their skills. But they would never look up. They would never see anyone other than themselves and their unearned shame. I knew in that moment that I could turn away from this fiery tunnel, return to the cool shadows of the temple and relax. After all, I had earned it. None would fault me for accepting the reward that I deserved. But I couldn't get their faces out of my mind, their blank expressions, seeing nothing but what they had lost. I also knew that I could save them. I could. I could teach them and help them. But I would have to pass through the flames to do it. No one would help me, no one would notice my approach, none would worry about my pain and suffering. In fact, they'd warn me away, tell me to go back. I knew all of this, but I pushed forward anyway. The liquid wall of heat pressured me to go back, resisted like being under water. My feet stuck to the floor as the skin sloughed away. My body screamed as millions of tiny needles dug into my flesh, pulling, tearing. My scalp burned as my hair burst into flames. I could stop right now. I could stop and instantly be transported to the cool stone floor of the temple behind me. I knew that. Even as my eyes boiled in my skull, I could see them, feel their despair and their emptiness. I knew if I didn’t help them, then no one would help them. I knew loss and regret, but I also knew hope. Yes, I had betrayed people I loved. Yes, I had lied, I had cheated, I had very nearly murdered, but I became a better person because I survived these things and learned from them. My fingers clasped at nothing, the muscles barely responding, my tongue was swollen and raw. I knew, again, that I could stop, right now, and instantly be soothed, be safe. I knew I could have that because I had earned it. I deserved it. But did they deserve what was happening to them? Could I live with myself knowing I could have made a difference? I was shaking now, on autopilot but still moving toward them. I cried out, but no tears could flow in such heat. I crawled. I fell. And landed in damp earth, humid and rotten. I was whole again and I had crossed the barrier. Something had been left behind in the flames, something was burned away. I had new purpose, new dedication. The lives of those around me poured into my consciousness, they had dreams once, and hope. All of them. I schlepped through the mud to the closest person and lifted their head so I could look in their eyes. He was elderly, old beyond reason, and his eyes were empty. Not blind, just empty. I spoke softly, “I know your name, I can sense it. You are Ka'telon, once a stone mason, a builder, and architect.” He blinked and shook his head, mumbled incoherent sounds as if he'd forgotten how to speak. “Do you remember the first time you felt your connection to the world around you? To other people?” He found his voice, “What does that matter when they are all dead? When all I have are memories of what was done? When I can still hear their screams? I am connected to nothing because there is nothing left.” “Open your eyes and look around,” I implored. He squinted and muttered, “As I remember it. Nothing left. Surrounded by those who will never forgive me for what I've done.” He pulled away and lowered his head, ignoring me. The next person I addressed was an ancient woman, I felt she had been an artist. “Do you remember the first thing you created?” She paused, coughed, “I put two colors on paper, blue and yellow and saw the sun and the ocean. But that was through a child's eyes, worthless and naïve.” “But the wonder you felt, the possibility. You continued to paint, yes?” “I did. Until I created works that were hung in places of honor and called beautiful. But where is it now? Decayed into filth and dust. Nothing remains. What I did was meaningless. It solved nothing, saved no one when the time came.” “Norette,” I called her by name, “you are wrong. What gives someone hope is not what is practical or useful, it is what causes us to see beyond what is in front of us. Those things that challenge us to look at the world around us in a different way, that pushes us to think unfamiliar thoughts. To look forward.” “Bah! There is nothing forward but the same forever and ever.” She walked away. Next I spoke to another old woman, “Cybil,” I called to her, “when was the last time you sang?” “Once I felt the beauty of song. How a voice could tell such a story with no words, how a heart could be buoyed or sunk, an army bolstered or cowed. A chorus of song was to hear the god's speak. Yes, I sang. I sang on the last day. Songs out of mythology and history, songs calling out for aid, for any of the gods to show themselves. But none did. And so I no longer sing because no one is listening.” “Did you only sing because someone would hear it? Did you not sing to yourself, sing in individual praise, sing to feel the music rise in your throat and sprout into the world? Did you sing only because it inspired?” “I sang because it suited me. Now leave me.” She too left me standing alone. Discouraged, I sat on an old stump and wondered what else I could do. I could see their strengths, the ones they'd forgotten and denied and buried. I could see their potential. But they were in so much pain, so much regret. I prayed to my goddess and my god. I asked for guidance. I asked for encouragement. I heard a bird singing, trilling and whistling, like Spring. It was just for a moment, then silence. I looked around and saw Cybil, by herself, facing away. I heard the song again and realized it was her. Her voice having lost nothing but she was unsure, frightened. As I studied the rest of the city, I saw Ka'telon slowly stacking collapsed stones. I saw Norette using mud to experiment with creating a mural on the side of one of the empty houses. I could not do this for them, but I could give them the push they needed. So I spoke to every resident. Reminded them of the elation of hope, the joyousness of creation. And so they swept, and cleaned, and built, and decorated, and sang, and wrote, and devised clever solutions, and vowed to never make the same mistakes again. They forgave. And through it all, they worked together. Deep inside, they knew the city would one day fall again. But, for now, they allowed the majesty of their accomplishment to lift them up. It was not about tomorrow or yesterday, but about today, about love and compassion and giving. Their eyes were bright, their bodies young, and their minds full of potential. And, back in her temple, Sekhmet smiled.

#Fiction #Writing #WritingCommunity #Oracle #Sekhmet #Hope

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ or send a letter to Creative Commons,543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.


In an ordinary forest sat an unremarkable pond brimming with countless identical tadpoles.

Mottle did not like blending in. “Someday, I’m going to stand out,” she said to no one in particular.

“Why? Do you want to get eaten?” exclaimed Spish… or was it Bloit?

Wub swam up, “Mottle wants to ‘stand out?’ Good luck with that. I’ll be hiding in the mud.”

As their tails shrank and their legs grew, Mottle still secretly hoped to be different, unique.

They became frogs, brown and green with black spots. Perfect for blending in and staying safe.

All except for Mottle.

Mottle was purple. Not just the dark purple of deep water, or even the soft purple of an iris, but a mighty, iridescent purple.

“Stay away from Mottle!”

“I bet hawks can see her from the air.”

“She’s like a great big beacon for predators.”

Not welcome in the water, Mottle spent most of her time climbing in the weeds and singing, her bright skin blazing amongst the greenery.

Her song was entrancing, and even though the other frogs enjoyed listening, they would not accept her. Bloit yelled, “I hope you get eaten!” before diving back into the pond, brown swirls following him into the murk below.

Mottle sighed and kept singing. She chirped and barked and croaked and whistled and whined weaving music like no frog before her.

Every cottonmouth or raccoon that saw her couldn’t bring themselves to eat anything with such a talent for song.

Still, no one was happy. Spish complained, “Thanks to Mottle, more of us are getting eaten just because everybody comes to hear her singing.” Wub added, “If I weren’t so good at burying myself, I’d have been someone’s lunch months ago.”

Finally, the eldest frog, Glergle took action, calling Mottle down.

She swam in front of him full of worry.

“Mottle, you have consistently brought danger to the entire pond. Your ridiculous skin is a distraction and your incessant singing is bringing predators far and wide.”

She was silent.

“We have no choice but to banish you. Get out and don’t ever come back.”

Mottle was motionless, stunned, but managed to eke out, “I could stop singing, I could sit in the middle of the pond all—”

Glergle interrupted her with a single, “No.”

“But you are my family,” Mottle insisted.

“Some things are more important than family,” Glergle intoned. “Now get out.”

She hesitated.

“Go! GO!!!”

Mottle dashed away in a cloud of bubbles, crying to herself as she hopped through the mud and weeds, dryer ground, brown leaves, tiny stones until she was further from home than she had ever been. Climbing the nearest tree, she sang and cried. She sang of loneliness and friendships lost, of trusts broken and promises forgotten, of childhood fantasies giving way to cruel realities.

She vowed to sing until she could sing no longer, to keep going day and night.

Weary and weak, she sang on through sunsets and sunrises, barely aware of her surroundings, slowly starving herself and becoming dangerously dry and brittle.

Until, at once she was blinded by a brilliant flash of light and fell. But not to the ground, to some sort of slippery translucent cave. She was so tired, she resolved to simply fall asleep expecting to never wake up.

After an unknown time, she opened her eyes. She felt moist and could hear flowing water. In front of her was a live cricket with no legs that she quickly ate.

“Am I in heaven?”

“No,” said a deep voice. “But it might as well be.”

She focused further out and saw a frog larger than she thought possible.

“Ah!” she tried to jump away but was still too worn out.

“Hey! Relax! I’m not going to eat you. There’s no need for that here.”

Leery, but with little choice, she settled down, “Where am I? Who are you?”

The huge frog continued, “I’m Dom and this is our little paradise. Humans feed us, make sure we are healthy, and come by to tell us how amazing we are all day long.”

Mottle crooked her head, “Why don’t they eat us?”

Dom laughed, “Eat us? They love us!”

She noticed Dom’s coloring, “You’re very… orange.”

He nodded, “Yep. And Urdip is blue, Pic is yellow, and Kree is red. We’re like a rainbow.”

She finally noticed the other smaller frogs behind Dom.

“What’s your name?”

She smiled, “Mottle. My name is Mottle.”

“Well, Mottle, we welcome you.”

Mottle inched out of the safety of the small indention she’d been placed in, “Don’t you think my color is a bit much?”

Urdip, a very skinny frog with long legs and eyes that seemed to never stop moving skipped forward, “No. Why would I?”

Pic, a tiny frog no larger than a cicada added, “Where I’m from, a color like mine is a signal that I am a frog of great importance. People would gently pick us up and make sure that our homes were safe.”

Kree seemed slower than the other frogs and added, “You must have been pretty special, too with a polish like that. It’s like… so… shiny.” He continued to stare at Mottle without saying another word.

Mottle tilted her eyes back and looked over herself: still so purple she was almost glowing.

Dom groaned, “Don’t mind Kree. He’s eaten a few too many strange mushrooms if you know what I mean.”

Mottle felt the ground shake and could hear a commotion somewhere nearby. Scuttling back to her hole, Dom called after her, “No! Don’t worry!”

Urdip was already beside her, “Mottle. These are our fans. It’s time to give them a show.”

She was confused, “What do you mean?” She was still inching toward safety.

Pic, while scurrying toward a stick to climb yelled to her, “The people who love us, they take flashes of us and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over us every day. It’s why we get the good crickets, my dear.”

Kree was shuffling toward a leaf to stand on and Dom just stayed right in the middle. Nobody could miss Dom.

Urdip beamed, “Come with me, Mottle. We’ll dazzle ‘em!”

Mottle decided to follow her and see what all of this was about. Urdip bounded toward the glass and jumped right up on it, sticking in place.

She studied Urdip and wondered if her color was a mistake or if all of her kind were like that. The vivid blue reminded her of the way the sky looked from under the pond where she used to live.

She didn’t think she could stick to the glass, so she climbed up a nearby branch and held on.

People began filing by. Mottle held her breath but the others had been truthful. There were startled sighs and tapping of glass and murmured words and many, many flashes.

No one tried to eat them or capture them. All they had to do was be themselves.

She was so happy that she closed her eyes and began to sing. She chirped and croaked and whistled and told a story of being lost then found, of being afraid then safe, of being alone then accepted, of being ashamed then free, of being an outcast then loved, of loss and new friends, of no longer hiding.

Mottle sang for hours and did not notice the other frogs circling around her or the people calling friends on their phones to tell them about the amazing frog they just saw.

She stopped her song and looked around, “Oh! Sorry, I’m sorry! Did I do something wrong?”

Urdip was wiping a tear away from her still twitching eye, “Wrong? No, honey, that was fantastic.”

Dom bellowed, “A new star attraction is born.”

Pic was licking her lips, “We might get snails to eat if she keeps this up!”

Even Kree was impressed, “I totally felt what you were doing there. Deep. Truly deep.”

And so, thanks to Mottle, they became a wildly successful exhibit. Researchers came from around the globe to study Mottle and try to determine what drove her ability to out-sing her peers.

And the people, they just liked hearing it.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ or send a letter to Creative Commons,543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.


“Psychomancer” and what it means

I call the universe in which I create my stories “Psychomancer”. It has been thusly named for 30 years, since I first read Simon's Necronomicon and starting consuming the works of HP Lovecraft and August Derleth.

This is a world where magick is real, but hidden. It's a world steeped in the Cthulhu Mythos, where the Dreamlands are real, where the Deep Ones dwell beneath the ocean, where Atlantis fell 15,000 years ago. But calling upon Outsiders is not the only magick available. All magick is but an artifice over a deeper manipulation of all things. It is a system to understand that which cannot be fully comprehended by a human mind. There are dimensions of reality both above and below our own and each has its own native life. We cannot see them as we have no word for, no concept of, the directions we would have to “look”. Some life in these other planes reach up or down to us while others are ignorant of anything but what it is in front of them. The fractal born machine elves inhabit a five dimensional reality, for instance, while living shadows peer up in envy from two. “Psychomancers” see the flow of the past into the future as a river in which all of reality sits and it has a preferred path. They can cause eddies, small redirections of current. They are workers of magick who sense and manipulate the subtle threads that connect all living and once-living things. Auras, the silver cords that bind us to them, the choices we make, our emotions and impulses, all impress themselves upon what we call reality as we move among the world, among the morass of remembered energies from past forms. Even the unthinking possess life as food is processed, textiles are created, ores are smelted, blending the experiences of the material into something new.

I will probably preface stories with “Psychomancer” in the name so you will know where they fall.