JR DePriest

A tickle, a nuzzle against my neck. A breath. A sigh. I can't move, but I feel the slow, steady rise and fall of my chest. My eyes stay closed. I'm suspended, hovering, hesitating as each side pulls gently. My arm slips and I feel the smooth, muscled warmth of your thigh as you wrap your legs around me from behind. Familiar. You touch my shoulders and slip your hands under my arms. Trembling, my heart thrums, spilling warmth. Smiling, I nod so slightly I'm not sure you noticed. Your exploring hands answer by reaching between my legs, your mouth answers with teeth on my neck. A moan. Not sure if yours or mine. I long to turn around, to close my eyes enough that I can see you, know you, but my arm is asleep. And I hear the fan. My breathing is fast and shallow. I'm lying on my back. Awake. Alone.

I long to see you, to know you, but my body, my mind can't stay there, in the fugue, the twilight, the in between. Do you miss me when I wake? When I sleep and dream? Do you watch from invisible crevices, hiding in shadows, hoping I will remember how to find you? Do you know my True Name? My purpose? I am incomplete. I feel it every day. Something was lost, is missing. I cannot name it or describe it, but you are part of it. Maybe all of it. You will find me and drag me down to the Deep Waters and we will love for eternity. What is one lifetime to wait? Nothing. If I were ignorant; if I didn't know. But I do know. Each touch, each time, each brief moment together fills me with joy and peace before draining me, cruelly, against my protests. I'm not done here, but I wake up empty just the same. I wake up crying and forsaken. I love again and again. I struggle and learn. I hope for meaning that will never be revealed. I make a good life here. I love, I strive, I share. I am not alone. You can see that. But it's not the same. These feelings pale to The Before and The After. Is it time I'm supposed to appreciate? And it's passage? For us, a moment was forever and the universe a drop of water. For me, here, without you, time is a prison.

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My eyes are open. My eyes are open so I must be awake. What is that sound? What is that clicking sound? A black stick is falling toward my eyes. I see it. But I'm not blinking. My eyes aren't closing. My eyes can't close. The stick moves past. It's alive. Without moving my head. I can't move my head. I see my wife beside me in bed. Reading. “Please help me,” I say. She ignores me. I see the black sticks again. Legs. They are legs. Weaving. Spider legs. I lift my hand to brush them away. My hand doesn't lift. My arm doesn't move. My arms are made of stone, concrete. They will not move. I feel something on my sternum. Heavy. Round. Like a living bowling ball. Directing the spiders on my face. I can hear them. I know their language. But they are whispering. I ask them, “Why are you doing this?” “What are you doing?” The spider on my sternum shifts. The spiders on my face say “Hush.” Spiders don’t have the concept of a “tone of voice”. But. These two spiders spinning the web to cocoon my head. They seem very patronizing. I haven't earned the right to know what they are doing. My eyes close. I am lost in time. It's almost silly when I find out. The spiders are aware of the popularity of Spider-Man. They think that sounds like a good idea. A spider-human hybrid would be wonders for their reputation. I was chosen as one of the test beds for the brightest spider minds. I would not be their final achievement. No. But I would be experimented on. Techniques would be perfected. I was adrift in time. My eyes open and I am free. I stand and see a well-lit living room. I see an indoor swimming pool, in ground. Not large, but exceptionally clean and inviting. I walk forward and feel my body. The limbs are lanky. Extra tissue has been removed or replaced. My skin seems paper thin on my hands. I step into the water of the pool. It's warm. I expected it to be cool, but it's warm. I lower my head into the water and breathe. I can breathe underwater. I feel the water on my head. My hair is short. I see my golden silk house clothes billow in the water. I exit the pool on the other side, using the concrete steps. A little girl, perhaps 10 years old runs up and smiles at me. “I hate it when you go in the water,” she says. “Sometimes you stay down there for 15 minutes!” She's so young that 15 minutes must seem like eternity. “You'll understand when you're older,” I say. I don’t recognize my own voice. I half-remember a lifetime of experience. Decades. It's breakfast time. One of my daughters is cooking breakfast. I can smell the sizzling meat. I feel a warm surge down my legs. I look down and see hundreds of small brown and gray spiders spread out from my pants. I can hear them. Each of them. I know them. Every one of them. Not by name. They don't have names. But we are connected. They know me and I know them. I know what they know and see what they see. But I don’t see it. I just know it. They are going on patrol. They will keep out the vermin. They will be the barrier at the edge of our domain. They will die to protect us. My body sways and my legs carry me to the table. There are other family members already sitting, all female. Women and girls. I am a grandmother, perhaps a great-grandmother. In this house, I am the Mother of All Spiders. I remember for the spiders. They have short lives. To them my mind is vast. My lifespan nigh immortality. I am their computer. I am their incubator. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The children! My face turns toward the front room. Before I can form a coherent thought. My hands reach down in front of me and grip the floor. My legs bend and crack. My legs reach up behind me and grab the ceiling. My arms bend and crack . My arms reach up above me and grab the ceiling. My throat aches. My mouth opens wide. I rush along the ceiling. Faster than I imagined possible. I burst through the doorway. I see a man. I know him. He has his hand inside his jacket. He's reaching for something. I snarl and a glob of webbing is projected out of my throat at high velocity. It hits the man in the chest. He's knocked backwards and onto the floor. “No need for that,” he says. He pulls out an envelope. He waves it in the air. My legs reach down to the floor. My legs crack and bend. My arms let go of the ceiling. My arms crack and bend. The spinnerets in my throat retract. The two halves of my jaw reconnect themselves. “You didn't knock,” I say. He stands up. He shakes his head. “When the day comes, you will never see me coming.” He hates us. We know. He knows we know. He doesn't care. He waggles the envelope. “Just take it.” I take the envelope. It is addressed to our family. “Mayor thought it'd be funny to have me deliver your invitation.” I open the envelope and start reading. My spiders will keep their eyes on our guest. And my mind is connected to their minds. My mind is connected to their eyes. I read the invitation: cordially invited… demonstration of advances in science and medicine… honored guests… I remember now. We, the spiders and I, decided to collaborate with other scientists. The best spider minds are very young and naïve compared to the best human minds. It made sense. “I hear they're planning to show off something with centipedes,” he says. My children shift uneasily. The man straightens his jacket and makes a sinister finger gun gesture. “Be seeing you,” he says, before leaving of his own accord.

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The cemetery asphalt is cool in the afternoon shade, identical tombstones, some hundreds of years old stretch as far as I can see. The wrought-iron gate to the inner sanctum, separated by a tall brick wall opens as I approach. I slip in and it closes silently as I navigate through the entrance maze. A right, a left, two rights, and left, and another left. I step into the courtyard and see a few of the workers pruning apple trees or working the garden. Some wave, some ignore me, some don't even notice my passage. I look up at the sanctum, a structure of stone expanded with wood, steel, and siding, ancient and modern gripping each other but never quite merging. I see a young-looking man in the massive arched doorway, thinning brown hair, slightly overweight. “Misty!” Dan calls out. “Misty Meaner!” he says with a wink and a smirk. I roll my eyes and shake my head. His grey-blue eyes invite you to fall into them, fly away, forever. His smile tethers itself to your heart and reels you in. “How old are you, again?” I ask, breaking eye contact. “That's—you know it—it's different.” he stammers. “Point taken, though.” I can feel his magnetism settling, simmering instead of boiling over. As we head inside, I can hear loud dialogue, likely from the theater. “It is,” he says, responding to my thoughts. “I've made some real progress on the 'magitech',” he gushes. “The 3D effect is next level now, with actual depth. “Only works for black and white films right now, but I'll get there.” He takes my hand. “You'll have to come by after your shift,” he offers. I shrug and bight my tongue behind a thin smile. “Be polite,” I think. He steps in front of me, using a tender gesture to raise my head. “Hey, wait.” he says squinting, hiding his charms, probing gently past my surface thoughts. “Are you okay?” I chuckle, “Actually, I feel like shit, but I've got responsibilities so here I am.” I do feel like shit. Brain fog, tight emotions, unexpected bouts of rage and crying. He sniffs the air lightly, “I didn't want to say anything last week.” “About what?” I ask. “Well—I'm not trying to be rude, but I think your hormones are off.” I nod slowly, “That would make sense.” “I haven't had bloodwork in over a year and my endo was talking about switching to injections.” He pats my shoulder, “Please take care of yourself. If it's money, you know she will cover it.” I shrug, “It's time. I have no time.” “Oh,” I start, “will the elders be upset by it?” Dan takes a deep breath and slowly releases it, “I doubt it; it's still closer to what they prefer than any cissy could manage.” “Anyway, I'll let you get to it.” He heads back to his movie theater and his experiments. I assume that's where most of the younger members are.

I remember the ad that brought me here almost two years ago: “Seeking Part-time Caregiver for multiple elderly residents. Must be well-read and have a strong voice. Services will be limited to reading and light teaching. Medical training not required.” And the part that really got my attention, “Transgender women on full HRT only.” I had to see what it was all about. I replied to the ad and met Melinda at an outdoor cafe downtown for coffee. I had water. Melinda was a fount of radiant 'house mom' energy, carefully put together comfortable but elegant outfit, expertly styled red hair, subtle 'no makeup' look makeup. Her eyes were a strange mixture of green and gold. I'd never seen gold in someone's eyes before. And her easy smile lulled me into complacency. I was spilling my deepest secrets and weird hobbies before I even noticed what I was saying. She told me about the job, about my charges, about the fact that they are mostly non-verbal and mobility impaired, but they like to be read to. I was moved to compassion. When she said the job was at an estate in the middle of a national cemetery in the oldest part of town, I was intrigued. I was taken to meet 'The Elders' and was led through a cavernous house, almost a castle, down stone steps lined with torches, to a large room filled with ancient armors, mounted weapons, and two walls of books stretching a full story high. At one end was the largest fireplace I'd ever seen. You could drive a car through it. And it was fully ablaze. I couldn't imagine how much fuel it took to burn that strongly. I was told 'The Elders' were cold blooded and liked the heat. When we got closer to the fire, I saw them, 10 pale faces with bright eyes sharing a deeply set opulent sofa, watching me, following me, each body bundled in heavy blankets or furs. “That's a good sign,” Melinda assured me. They had ignored other applicants, I was told. We stood between 'The Elders' and the fireplace. “Great and Honored Elders,” she said, bowing. “I present Misty Allen Shaffer for your approval.” I heard a sound like sighing or coughing, but so faint I couldn't tell from where. “Thank you,” she said, bowing again. She smiled at me, so wide her teeth shimmered in the firelight, “They will allow it.” Apparently, it meant I got the gig. She asked me to bring some modern science fiction from the library to read. She defined “modern” as anything after 1900. In spite of the walls of books we'd passed, they were awfully tired of what they had on hand. I'd come in and sit by the fire and read out loud for them for three hours once a every weekend, doing different voices for the different characters. They'd study me with their inscrutable eyes the entire time, never speaking, but occasionally making small noises. When I moved around, they followed me with their gazes, sometimes imperceptibly moving their heads, but often just with their eyes. I could tell what authors they liked and which they didn't although I'm not sure how. I could feel it. The particularly liked Asimov, Bradbury, and Frank Herbert but weren't fans of Philip K. Dick. When I read even newer authors like Liu Cixin or N. K. Jemisin, the vibe in the room was particularly electric. I'd caught an uneasy amusement from them when I read Peter Watts' 'Blindsight'.

Today, I was bringing a classic, HG Wells' 'The Time Machine'. Down 40 stone steps around a column, lit and warmed by torches at every fifth step. Into the visitation hall. Even in the dim light of the fire, I can see them watching me. I feel loved and involuntarily smile. “Good afternoon, everyone!” I call out. “As promised, HG Wells' 'The Time Machine' with a nameless protagonist and a look at what the future may hold, written in 1895. “I know that's few years older than you'd prefer, but trust me, it is worth it. “It gets pretty 'out there' toward the end. “You'll love it.” They study me as I read from the elaborate, carved seat by the fire. “Chapter 1,” I began, using an English accent befitting the author. “The Inventor.” I'd made it to the section where The Time Traveler loses The Time Machine to the Morlocks (who I voiced as deep throated aristocrats – inspired by Jeremy Irons performance in the movie) when the first rumble shook dust from the walls. As I look around for a source, I spot a red strobing light above the door. “Shit!” Evacuation? What was happening up there? “Uh, everybody?” I call out. They watch me intently, “We've got to go.” I'd been trained for this, drills even, although I was told it would probably never be required. I jog over to the hidden emergency exit door, trying to remember the pattern. Like a backwards treble clef, then three parallel lines, then eleven o'clock, three o'clock, seven o'clock. POP A handle appears and I struggle to slide the door which has probably been closed for longer than I've been alive. I create an opening about three feet before turning back around. The Elders still sit. They are watching me but not standing, not moving. They are supposed to follow me. “Come on!” I yell, waving at them with both arms above my head. Nothing. I reach into my bag and pull out my multitool. I stare at it in my hand, breathing hard. I slide it open and expose the knife, seeing flames dancing in reflection. “Hey, y'all!” I call out. Nothing. I'm going to have to do this. I bite my lower lip, hard, and cut a shallow, inch long gash in my left arm. The Elders lean forward but do not rise. Damn. I cut a second, longer and deeper gash close to the first. It burns and try not to scream through gritted teeth. “Mother fucker” I mutter. Blood runs down my arm to my elbow where it falls and splatters on the floor. The Elders stand and shuffle toward me, rasping from slightly open mouths. I squeeze into the hidden hallway and hold my arm where they can see it. Where they can smell it. The burning sensation runs all the way from my arm to my chest, making it hard to breathe. I did not expect it to hurt that much. How deep did I cut? I hear shouting from further down the corridor. Their language. A language I don't recognize. Flashlight beams play upon the walls and naked feet slap against the stonework. I still do not understand them but I catch words that seem familiar. 'anthropos' 'aima' Men, women in fatigues churn up from the catacombs, swarming around me, taking the arms of The Elders and leading them deeper into the passages. A man I've never seen leads me back to the reading room. I'm dizzy. “Foolish” I hear him say as he pulls a first aid kit out of his backpack. He's examining my cut which I can see spurts blood every couple of seconds. Whoops. The ground is shaking or it could just be me. “Skata” says the man looking at my arm. “Ti krima“ He shakes his head and sprays something that cleans the blood away. Then he places an absorbent pad and begins to wrap gauze. Something cracks, my ears ring, I'm on the floor. I can't move. I can't see. I hear the man scream, “Gamo to!!” Then “Gia to aima!” I can't feel my legs or arms. I'm not sure if I'm breathing. It's so heavy. I'm cold. Tired. Exhausted. I should sleep. Sleep. Yes. It's quiet. Warm. Like floating in river. Darkness.

. .. ... .... ..... —

Lightning strikes my heart. My head explodes. My arms and legs vibrate like plucked guitar strings. I hear myself screaming but the voice isn't mine. Something burrows into my throat, wiggling its way up to my mouth. My teeth clench, tear, I taste blood and bile. Sound pours itself into my ears, squeaks, groans, gasps. Pumping sounds. The flow of liquid. Sizzling steam, fire. Breaths, whispers. I smell sand, sweat, decay, perfume, incense. Something sweet. I can't name it. But I desire it more than anything I've ever wanted in my life. I can see colors that I do not recognize, outlines of life and probability. I sit up, grab my head. “Misty, you were chosen.” Chosen. I hear it. She's talking. It's Melinda. I love her. I would do anything for her. “For your selfless actions to save The Eldest Among Us, for your kindness and devotion, for your courage and calm under pressure.” My heart swells with each word of praise. “Where once there was death, now there is new life.” I feel her take my hand, our souls intermingle, our life force blends. I am hers. She helps me up. To my feet. I do not waver. I stand like a statue. I look down at my body. Naked. Small breasts, slightly protruding gut hanging over an equally small penis. Cold, but I do not shiver. I frown. This is not what I'm supposed to look like. For a moment I am ashamed. “Welcome our sister,” she says. “Misty Allen Shaffer,” a chorus of voices replies. “Receive your second gift and your secret name.” The crowd parts. “Become what you were meant to be.” A woman wearing only a solemn expression walks toward me. “Receive your second gift,” the crowd repeats. The smell from earlier. I catch it again, thicker, a current guiding me. My mouth twitches, my tongue curls itself into knots. The woman is directly in front of me now. She kneels and tilts her head to the right, exposing her neck. My heart pounds. I feel something slide and shift inside my mouth. Something stabbing my gums and lips. Without thinking, I bend down and bite the woman on the jugular. My exposed fangs effortlessly pierce the skin. The warmth of blood pouring into me is like nothing I've ever experienced. I see memories of her life, a child of poverty, sold, bought, raised almost as livestock but wanting for nothing. I feel her relief, honor, fear at being brought here tonight for me. Fire floods my body, every nerve ending tinkling like a bell, every cell ravenous and renewed. The blood wakes me, the world fills with song, like angels, like a chorus of stars in the heavens. Light pours from me. I feel strong, fast, free. Alive. I was dead. Now I am alive. “Enough,” Melinda whispers to me. I immediately stand. Someone takes the girl aside to bandage her wounds. I know their language now. I see it. I see a word. My word. “Υδατογενής“ Because I adapted myself, changed, flowed into true being. “I am Υδατογενής.”

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aka The Clockwork Witch

I heard the man across the restaurant, excitedly telling his server about his “vision quest”.

I reached into his mind and watched the finale before he spoke it: stripped nearly naked, hooks pulling his skin on both sides of his torso, darkness, firelight, drums, and a heavy dose of ayahuasca.

He said his vision brought him here, to our little out-of-the-way hamlet, by the shallow lake, by the thick woods, between the mountains.

And I saw his vision: the surging water, the sudden collapse, the sky lit by fiery aurorae.

He had seen something he should not have seen.

I twisted his vision, brought it from the past to the present, parked it in place, amplified it with my own magick.

His head went back, eyes wide, mouth slack open and keening like a dying animal.

I turned back to my companion, the witch. She had a name, but I called her “the witch”.

“Someone call 911,” she said.

The police and paramedics gently took him away, for observation, for his own safety.

Most everyone there was part of the plan. Most everyone there knew what had really happened and breathed a sigh of relief.

Others just shook their heads, feeling sorry for a man who had some sort of nervous breakdown at a crowded restaurant.

I took the witch's hand and said we needed to talk to her father.

This man's vision was not part of our plan and what it showed was troubling, too troubling to talk about in mixed company.

She was unconcerned. She didn't see what I saw.

As we exited into the street, into the cool night, into the moist air, we talked about what we'd accomplished in three generations.

We'd made this town prosperous. We made it comfortable.

We were in brochures and discussed on message boards and social media.

“a haunted little town”

“a beautiful, if quirky, gem”

“strange tidings, lovely people”

This place was alive and we bled off the excess slowly, for our own benefit, for the benefit of everyone who called this place home.

What he had seen was like a tidal wave, like the water, once sucked out to sea, suddenly pouring back in, overwhelming everything.

I was old enough to know what this meant but I said nothing of my fears to the witch.

Fear? Was it fear?

Or was it a sense of the inevitable. Of knowing this day would come.

Was it relief?

Could the emotions of a thing like me be described in such simple terms?

The witch smiled, and intertwined our arms.

It was a cold night and I could see her breath.

The parking lot of her father's office, the only office building in town, was empty.

A witch like him didn't need to drive.

There was no warning.

The parking lot exploded in front of us as a house made of metal and wire seemed to dig its way up through molten asphalt and churning earth.

I recognized it at once; “the clockwork witch,” I said out loud.

The witch at my side did not understand.

To her “the clockwork witch” was an urban legend.

A tale to terrify young witches into behaving.

“The clockwork witch” had been the creator of this place, had filled it with potential, with purpose.

She'd created a nexus (a nadir, really), a place where all magic must flow and would feed and feed until she had the power to rule everything, everyone.

But she was betrayed and locked away by her students, by her lessers.

How had they found the words to bind her?

How had they discovered the symbols needed?

How had they devised such clever wards without help?

I knew what happened, because I was there.

Yes, of course I knew.

She was trapped outside of time, outside of space.

A pocket reality where she could play god or goddess, do whatever she wished, create, destroy, anything.

But away from here, away from us.

We steeped in the magick, siphoned a little off the top, before releasing it back into the world.

What flows here, we use simply, for our own benefit, for the benefit of the town.

We share. We cooperate. We thrive.

For generations.

Now, here she was, the clockwork witch reborn.

She could not be as strong as she once was, the power was no longer here and breaking free could not have been easy.

But some magick requires only the correct way of thinking and reality will bend all on its own.

And the witch beside me disappeared, vanished.

I believed her father had probably done the same.

Not by choice.

No, the clockwork witch had them.

She looked so human as she stood before me, an old woman in one view, a towering fiend from another angle. I saw both simultaneously.

She knew me, remembered me.

It had been hundreds of years for me, for her, who knows? An hour, a weekend, a millennium?

I was standing before her.

I did not move nor was I moved, I was simply in front of her now whereas previously I had not been.

I bowed before her. As was my position.

The position she had appointed.

“Watcher,” she said.

“Master,” said I.

“Am I?” she said.

I said nothing.

“Watcher, tell me what has happened.”

She did not mean with words but with my mind I exposed all the centuries of memories, of meetings, decisions, of births, deaths, agreements made and broken, waters risen and fallen, the shift from the forest to the edge, from hiding to inviting, to deceit and capitalism.

I showed her almost everything.

I felt her disappointment.

I was supposed to shepherd them, not become their servant.

She raised a phial of liquid to her lips and drank.

I knew these phials and felt this was the remains of the father of the witch who had been my companion.

“Mary” had been her name. I felt shame in using it now.

At one angle the clockwork witch great taller, broader, in another, she grew younger.

She lifted another phial and spoke to it: “what is it you want?” she asked.

And Mary's voice said, “I've only ever wanted  a small coven of my own.”

We both felt the truth in this. Mary had been part of the great work because it was her birthright, but her heart was never in it, not like her father.

The clockwork witch felt no anger or hatred from her.

“Then have it,” she said, tossing the phial back into the pocket dimension in which she had been trapped.

I wished Mary well.

“Watcher,” she said to me.

I felt the sting of her eyes, the depth of her gaze.

She reached into me, deeply, deeper than I'd even allow myself to venture.

“You betrayed me,” she said.

There was no emotion to her words. I could feel her words and there was no emotion.

It was only a statement of fact.

I did not remember betraying her, but I felt the truth in it.

It was me. I taught them to capture her.

Then I made myself forget.

I felt my body slip away, forget itself completely, become liquid, become smoke, slithering into the ground, but I was caught, and stoppered.

And she drank me.

I felt myself break apart, each bit struggling to remember a single fact, a single bit of information.

That was all I was, information.

That was my purpose.

And I felt each fragment lose its grip until even my own name was a mystery.

I was nothing but her blood, her life.

I was gone.

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“Yes, hello everyone,” I say, surveying the crowd. Heights, weights, skin color, genders, clothing, constantly shift among the attendees. Here was a fat clown in face paint, now a slender woman dressed like an attorney, now a boy in Bermuda shorts. Meetings in the Dreamlands were so complicated. I clap a few times. “Look at me, please.” I say. “Object dissonance, context hopping, and perspective shifts are a real danger if you don't pay attention.” Heads swivel, bodies stabilize, but faces are still indistinct. They're barely paying attention, but it'll have to do. “Welcome to Advanced Dreamer Orientation, where you will learn how to Assert your Will against the Chaos of the Unconscious Mind.” That's the tagline, anyway. “You are all here because you felt the pull to be here. “Whether you know it or not, you are ready for the next phase of your Dreaming.” I smile even though I'm not sure they can see it. “Take a brief moment to look at your surroundings, but not too long.” I give them maybe a second. “Okay, back to me. “What you need to understand is that each of you is seeing something different. “Similar, probably, but different. “That's the nature of this place. “Also,” I pause, smiling again, “you can hear me but I cannot, in all likelihood hear you.” “We'll be able to converse when you've learned to better manifest persistence in the Dreamlands.” I sweep my hands around. “What I see is a very nice conference area in a hotel lobby.” It's not a lie. There's even refreshments. I start walking. “It's open in the back and leads to a small lake with a wooden dock that lets you go out over the water.” I'm outside now, blue sky above, I can smell the musk of mud and water, the pollen of exotic plants. “Obviously, a lake inside a hotel is impossible. “The sizes don't work, but this is the Dreamlands so it's no problem.” I'm trying to see the next trigger or clue. “Does anyone know what the dream wants us to do?” An eight foot tall man in a red suit waves his hand. “Remember, I cannot hear you, but you can point.” He points to the edge of the wooden dock, under an overhanging tree. I follow his gaze and see a bear lying on its back in the water. I close my eyes for a moment, vibing, sensing. I see The Three Stooges in my mind for some reason. “Okay,” I say out loud. “Slapstick.” I nod. “For those who cannot see it, there is a bear lying down in the lake just out of sight at the end of the dock.” “I imagine we are supposed to upset it somehow and get it chasing us. “Nobody would get hurt for real, but there would be falling and running into things and general tomfoolery. “This was to be a silly dream.” I see people nodding and a few straining to see the bear. “What I am here to show you is the key to everything: You do not have to follow the narrative.” I pause again before adding, “That's right. You can choose to do something else.” “Now, the Dreamlands might push back, but you can hold your ground and push harder.” I shake my fists. “You are the Dreamer. “Never forget that.” I sneak up on the bear and see a boat motor attached to the side of the dock, sitting in the water. “I think we were supposed to not see the bear, start the motor, and startle the bear so it's starts running,” I tell everyone. “I'm going to do something else.” I kneel down on the edge of the dock. “Hey, bear?” It doesn't move. I can see its eyes are closed. “Bear? You awake?” I ask. I reach down and nudge him with my hand. “What the—dang!” the bear says. “Why did you wake me up?” it asks. I look over my shoulder at the rest of the Dreamers. “That's right everybody. “You can talk to bears.” “Well, yeah,” the bear says. “Why wouldn't you be able to talk to me?” I turn back to the bear. “In the real world, animals do not speak the same language as the Dreamers. So we can talk, but they won't understand.” The bear rolls over and sits up in the water, “That must be inconvenient.” I shrug, “It doesn't come up as often as you'd think.” I continue, “Hey, bear. I think we were supposed to startle you and you would chase us around.” The bear scrunches its face, “Why would I chase you?” “Well, what would you do,” I ask. “Like I did just now, sit up and ask you what's going on.” I point to the motor. “I think we were supposed to start that up and startle you.” “Wait,” he said, looking over my shoulder, pointing a massive claw. “What's that?” I turn my head and see a tremendous beehive, hidden under the awning of building we just left. It may not have been there before. “Bees,” I say out loud, shaking my head. “Oh dang,” he said. “That propeller is right next to where I was sleeping. That's dangerous!” “Sorry,” I say. “We weren't supposed to notice you. “Well, you should really check the water before you start a motor like that,” he says. “I know,” I offer. “What would you have done?” “I don't know, probably run up on the shore and try to get away, but since the hotel is on this side, I'd be kind of stuck running circles. I assume the bees would swarm everybody and none of us would rightly understand what was happening.” “There it is!” I exclaim. “Misunderstanding. He wouldn't even be chasing us.” The bear grunts, “I'd probably get shot by someone though, so that'd suck for me.” “That is the world we live in,” I say. “We'll leave you to your nap.” The bear waves its huge claw and lies back down in the water. I walk down the dock until I'm back on solid ground. I motion for everyone to head back inside. One of our Dreamers has turned themself into a garbage can. I see her face reflected in the metal on the side, anxious, afraid. She didn't do it on purpose. I don't have time to deal with that right now. The garbage can slides closer to me. I can feel it. “No,” I think to myself. “I am the Dreamer and I am not handling this.” It fades from view. The front doors burst open and a grizzled, buff Christmas elf walks in. It's like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an SNL skit. “Come with me,” he says, gritting his teeth. “The Koala Uprising has begun,” he adds with grim certainty that we will both understand what this is and care enough to act. I address the group, “When you try to push, as I said, sometimes, the Dreamlands push back.” I can see through the glass doors that we are on a hill overlooking a snowy village of gingerbread houses. Explosions rock some of them, sending edible debris into the sky. I say to the group, “See? Trying to reassert control.” I turn to the elf. “No, thank you,” I say and walk past him. I motion for the group to come along. “They play on your emotions, your guilt or honor, maybe curiosity or shame or fear. “But, remember,” I hold up my finger, “it is your Dream, not theirs.” Outside, the battle is clearly raging up toward our cozy hotel. “When this happens,” I say, “I recommend flying away.” I push myself into the air with my toes until I'm about 6 or 7 feet off of the ground, just tall enough to clear the fence. I lean into the air and rocket forward a couple of blocks in a blink. Still levitating, I look back and see one woman jump up and stay in the air only a moment before falling. She tries again and stays up and in place. I see another fly too low and trip over the fence spinning themself over and over in the air. Others are confused and have no idea how to get off the ground at all. I throw up my hands, shaking my head. How can they not know how to fly? That's like Dreaming 101. Not my problem. I yell so they can hear, “The trick is to go so far, so fast that the Dreamlands cannot keep up.” “You'll either hit the edge and wake up, or your find yourself in a different scenario.” Away from them. I push against the air, leaning into it. The landscape slips by like a fast-forwarding slideshow. Something hits me hard in the shins. I stop. I was flying standing up instead of lying down. Common error for me in dreams. I look around and see a battle between super heroes and villains. I recognize them. Sinestro, Batman, Bizarro, Aquaman. The outfits are old-school cartoons. “Aren't you from Superfriends? The Legion of Doom?” Sinestro looks up at me, purple skin a uniform color. “Another one, eh?” I roll my eyes. “No, thank you,” I say. I push against the air again, this time, straight up. I'm rushing above power lines, above trees, through clouds. I know I'm risking hitting a bird or a plane, maybe even an invisible one. I can see stars, I look toward the moon. I keep pushing. “Huh?” I'm awake. The Dreamlands never let me fly to the moon.

#WhenIDream #Dreams #Dreaming #Dreamlands #Writer #Writing #Writers #AmWriting #WritingCommunity #FlashFiction #Fiction #Paranormal

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.


I remember the first time I stepped inside a wall.

I walked by the ringing phone. It had been ringing non-stop. My mom asked me who it was and I said, “I've quit bothering to find out.” I took the steps to the attic and peered out the small window. I saw a black van pull up out front and a team of agents jump out. I knew they were here for me. I heard them entering the house and calling out for me. I heard my mom scream for just a moment. The attic was bare, but there was a tall mirror on the wall. I stood in front of it and put my hands on it, pushing with all my might. It was like a wall of gelatin or mud. It was thick and resisted me but slowly deformed around my arms. With constant pressure, I kept moving forward, not allowing it to force me back. I pushed all the way through the mirror and stepped inside the wall. A great pressure was released as the last part of my body slipped in and I felt the mirror and the wall bounce back into their original shape and consistency. The other side was darker than the room I'd left and the colors were muted. The entire wall was transparent to me. I could see the whole attic. But I could see the agents rush in with guns drawn. I saw them search for me. I saw them look into the mirror. But, they didn’t find me. I was on the other side.

I remember passing through a wall in slow motion, my eyes open. I could see the wood and metal and sheet-rock. I could see what was inside of it. I could see the elements. The cells, the molecules, the atoms. It was like being inside a fun house. Sizes and distances seemed to shift and deform. I could feel time pausing, stretching out. My mind tried to understand what was happening. But there was so much information. Too much information. I reached my arms out and felt the touch the past on one side and future on the other. I saw them stretch to impossible lengths. Vibrating into dimensions that I do not have names for. I could see what was, what may have been, what will be, and what may be. I could touch them and tweak them and turn them in my hands. But it was too much. We are meant to pass through this place. Not dwell here. I close my eyes and pass through the other side of the wall.

I learned to step into walls backwards, back first, every time. It's easier on the old human mind. I found I could tolerate staying there if I focused on where I'd been instead of where I wanted to go. The past is easy to see as a single path, the path you remember. Staring into the future with all its possibilities can drive one mad. The space between walls is a liminal space in the purest sense. There is the physical space, with the components used to build it. And there is the space beneath all flat surfaces, under every plane, behind every reflection. A metaphor. That was where I found The In Between. Where I met them. Those who chose to stay. I was welcomed to The In Between. The music was generic muzak. The drinks were watered down. The appetizers were bland, even too bland for me. The people were dull and unambitious. We are meant to pass through this place. Not dwell here.

Once, I moved without moving. I shifted my awareness. I found myself in a windowless room. No doors either. I saw a potted plant and observed a drop of water on one of the leaves. My vision seemed to zoom into the droplet. I saw its reflection. It was reflecting the entire universe. Like looking at a black hole curving light. I saw everything in that drop of water. I saw the back wall of the room as a line, like a tiger's eye, and, on one side, was the room I was in, and on the other was everything else. For a moment, I shifted myself perpendicular to normal space. For a moment, I perceived a higher dimension. And when I shifted my perception back down, I did so on the other side of that line. I was outside of the closed room. I was standing on the other side of the wall. I hadn't moved in the normal sense. I hadn't walked in any of the normal directions on an XYZ access. I hadn't simply waited years for the room to decay and moved through time. I'd seen a direction that has no name and moved through it without thinking. Without knowing how. And then, I was outside.

#WhenIDream #Dreams #Dreaming #Dreamlands #WalkThroughWalls #HigherDimensions #FifthDimension #Writer #Writing #Writers #AmWriting #FlashFiction #Fiction #Paranormal

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.


Of course I didn't call room service. I know better. But I blush with shame as he asks just the same. He would have seen or heard. And I was taught the rules. I know the rules. I am not to engage unless expressly authorized or permitted while in transit. It's too dangerous. A single word could give us away. He is kinder than I expected. He places both palms on the door and speaks in a soft voice. I know what he is doing and I can feel the strengthening of the door, like it's knitting itself together, filling in the gaps. He has already looked through the peephole. He has already identified the man as an employee by his energy. He has already seen the clean, white towels he holds as he cries “room service” before knocking again. He opens the door and I can hear him say. “I'm sorry, but we didn't call down for more towels.” “I understand that you can tell what room calls come from at the front desk, but we didn't call down.” “Okay. Thanks.” I could not hear the person in the hallway. He closes the door. He does not turn around. His shoulders slump and he sighs. He places one hand on the each side of the door and speaks another incantation. This one is weaker because must cover a larger area, but the walls become denser, like rock. I can feel it. That's why I was chosen. I can feel things in the air; when they are stretched or pulled or twisted. I can feel it. I can twist things, too, but I need training. I can feel his anxiety. Not fear. Fear tastes bitter, and this is merely sour. “We will be having chicken for dinner.” That's code. We are being followed and they are close. He may have seen them. Based on the walls, they must have guns. He wouldn’t have pulled that much into them for just fists or knives. He walks toward our balcony. We're on the 7th floor; the top floor. He slides the door open and I can see him studying the corner of the building. We are right on the corner, so the corner of the building is just to the left. He leans out and places his left hand on the building and speaks to it, while holding his right hand in the air. I can see the air thicken, like a blanket. He can't see it, but he knows what he is doing. I lament that we have no books, no guides, but he doesn't need books. Besides its forbidden to travel in the open with our materials. Our minds are the only tools we may take when we travel. I hear hard taps at the door and wall. I know they are coming. He motions for me jump over the railing and I do. The fall is swifter than I'd like but safe, like diving into water. We both touch down safely. He sees a wandering dog and motions toward it. It tilts its head and looks at him, before trotting over, wagging its tail. He bends down, gently places a hand on each side of the dog's face and stares into its eyes. The dog barks excitedly and yips, it's tail wagging even more. I know he is talking to the dog. That's his gift. He can talk to animals. Any animal really. Knowing the language is not enough, you have to know how they think and he does. He always has. He pats the dog on its head before standing back up. “They know about the Jeep.” That means we cannot drive away. But he didn't say anything about the tunnel, so they do not know about that. We have to make it on foot. Two people burst out of the side door of the hotel and quickly stumble into each other. They did not expect to see us. I can tell. They are holding their hands over hidden guns and are walking stiff-legged toward us. He makes a sign with his left hand and traces a vertical symbol in the air while simultaneously tracing another symbol on his leg with his right hand. “Hang on to me.” I'm little. So I climb onto his back and he runs, faster than a man can run. And the two people who came out of the hotel do not see us. They see us still standing there and they will until they make it to the spot. I can feel the hum of life twisted into new designs, I can feel it slowly unraveling, but it should be tight enough. The road is clear, the trees are singing. We find the silent spot and enter a shadow which becomes a room which becomes a tunnel. He nods to the others there. They were waiting for us. To rescue us. I ask if I can trace fire as we move forward and he allows it. I drag my hands on the walls and twist the dirt and leaves into blossoms waiting to bloom, full of fire and smoke. I know they will be coming after us, even in here, but we have a head start and this is our place, in the earth. We speak to it and it responds. They call out to false gods and beg for scraps of favor or power. We mold what is already present. We are stewards of the awash power always present in the living earth, the planet itself. We contradict the will of all outsiders so we are called monsters and cultists. They seek to syphon the life for their own uses, we cooperate and stay within. The earth listens and, as we move, changes itself behind us. I can hear them entering the tunnel now. They found the shadow door easily enough by following our path, but they do not see what the earth has done. I feel a blast of heat, smell the musk of singed dust and skin blown down the path and the screams of those who went first. Cursing and yelling as they call water out of the ground and water must oblige them such is their power, but it resists. The elements do not resist us because we make no demands, only requests. We reach the other end, our safe haven and he puts up a barrier behind us. Makes the air like glass, like plastic. They cannot pass and can only gnash their teeth as we exit to our city, home. Our safe place. Deep. He does a card trick for a child waiting at the exit. “Pick a card.” The child draws the 7 of Hearts. I do not see it, but I know it. “Hold it close to your heart.” He winks as he says this. The child does. The man shuffles and concentrates and speaks in a deep, hollow, whisper. This is the language of snakes, the language of the wind. Of Metamorphosis. I did not know he could speak to the wind. “I'm losing the image of your card” he says, but it is part of the trick. “Can you look at it again?” The child lifts their hand and gasps. The card has been replaced by a $20 bill. “That's right.” He said snapping his fingers. “I bought your card for $20.” He holds up the 7 of Hearts, “See?” “Please keep the money.” He says even before the child's parents can offer it back. He is kinder than I expected.

#WhenIDream #Dreams #Dreaming #Dreamlands #Magic #Magick #Writer #Writing #Writers #AmWriting #FlashFiction #Fiction #Paranormal

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.


“This was in my mouth,” I said pulling a slip of metal out of my mouth, like the key my uncle uses to open his cans of fish, and placing it on the table. My mom and dad looked at it and asked each other where I could have picked that up. Maybe I'd gotten it out of the garbage? Maybe I'd found it on the floor? “This was in my mouth,” I said pulling another wire-shaped piece of metal out of my mouth and putting it on the table. I felt something warm slithering in the back of my mouth and pushed it forward with my tongue, grabbing it and pulling out another strip of metal. “This was in my mouth,” I said. “Tastes like worms,” I said. I was trying to tell them it was alive in my mouth, but they didn't understand. When the doctor came, the pile was just a few inches high. They stopped coming while I was in the ambulance. After the X-Ray, they came even faster. I could almost hear them. Just whispers. They came from my mouth and my butt. I didn't like them coming out of my butt. But I felt them. Black rods of metal. They came out and crawled onto my skin and held tight. My arms and legs were armored and immobile. My chest was covered. I felt them on me, felt their feet or hands or mouths grabbing my skin and refusing to let go. I could understand them now. They were protecting me. They were keeping me safe. I'd never be hungry or thirsty or sleepy again. But I couldn't move. I was a curiosity. I was analyzed. I was studied. I was healthy. But I shouldn't be. I was thriving. But they didn't know how. My blood was “thick” I remember them saying. I should not be alive. But they covered me and preserved me. Someone remarked that my hair had grown so long and so pretty and she wished she had hair like me. The metal didn't understand and thought this was a threat. They protected me. The metal lifted my right arm, like a marionette. I saw the rods on my arm stand up and point at the person who had admired my hair. I wanted to tell the metal to calm down, that it was okay. But the metal didn't hear me. The metal didn't understand me. I felt its fear, its rage. The metal rods honed themselves and fired at the woman and stung her like a swarm of needles. She ran away bleeding and screaming. The scream agitated the metal and my body was lifted up and walked out of the room, into the hallway. Metal was pushing through my pores, tearing my skin. It was angry. Many people were screaming now. It didn't know it was hurting me. I tried to cry but metal dripped out of my tear ducts, cutting my eyes. I had been safe. I had been whole. I had been complete. I am betrayed. I sob. I weep. I feel sorrow wrack my body. The metal feels it, too. I move my right arm. The metal there breaks like brittle glass, falling to the ground. I wipe the metal off my left arm and see a large open gash. Metal pistons and ball bearings work themselves inside the wound. I wonder how much of me is still me and how much has been taken. I collapse to my knees, the metal on my skin fracturing and flaking away. But knowing what is inside of me, I know I am not free. I may never be.

#Dreams #Dreaming #Dreamlands #BodyHorror #Writer #Writing #Writers #AmWriting #FlashFiction #Fiction #Paranormal

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.


At once, I am aware. My breath is slow but easy, I taste sweetness, mint, familiarity. Peace. I think of home. Of a kind face. I feel the world rock under me, like waves, like being in the wave pool at Adventure River, like being in a boat. Like floating. But I'm cold. The side of my face is cold. The right side. I can barely feel my ear. And my neck hurts. Rhythmic, muffled thumps, like something heavy falling, picking itself up and falling again. A low pitched whine, keeping the beat, vibrating my seat. My butt hurts. I shift in the seat, feel something pull against my chest. I am sitting up. I just realized that. I'm sitting up. Whispers. Mutterings. Two people talking too low to make out. Was that a laugh? I open my eyes for just a second. A headrest. I'm in the back seat. “You awake back there?” The passenger asks, a woman. “What?” I say. I have a mouth. Teeth, a tongue. My voice sounds small. “Sounds like a yes to me,” the driver says, a man. I should know them. I clench and unclench my fingers, two hands, four fingers, two thumbs, all working. Only two hands, two arms. I bend my feet up and down, flexing the muscles, two feet, harder to count toes, but it feels right. Two legs. I turn my head and feel hair caught behind my back, turn up my lips in frustration. Who am I? “Where are we?” I ask. “Still about two hours from the cabin” says the driver. “We'll have to get a good night's sleep,” says the passenger, “so we can get out on the creek in the morning.” Creek. Swimming? No. Fishing. It's fishing. I'm their daughter. I don't know my name. They are my parents. I don't know how I know that. I don't know how I got here. This is a dream. I try to open my eyes but they are already open. I try to reach below and wake myself up, but I am not there. I am only here. I just became. I created this place. But I exist only inside of it. I push against the car door and fall through it, like smoke, like ash. That's what I smelled earlier, cigarette smoke. I'm floating as the car slams on the brakes and fishtails. My parents leap out, “Oh my God!” They say. “Are you okay?” They say. With a thought, I bring them closer to me. With a swirling gesture, I call in clouds and gentle rain. With a push, I create a trough in the road, molten rock. Cooled by the rain, forming a small waterway. I smile and float over to it. I ask the water to rise and it does. The water stands and bows and speaks to me in a language only I understand. We dance, in the rain. My parents do not speak. They no longer exist here. Not until I see them or hear them again. I smile as we spin, as we laugh. There is music. I cannot understand the lyrics, but we move in time, in synch. As if I know every flourish. And then, My eyes open.

#Dreams #Dreaming #Dreamlands #Writer #Writing #Writers #AmWriting #FlashFiction #Fiction #Paranormal

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 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.

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