Blood Moon

My grandmother used to always say, Take the sidewalks, and never listen to the trees.

She died ’bout five years ago. It was under strange circumstances, if you can believe it. She was clutching a slip of paper with nothing on it, written or otherwise. They found her body in the middle of her sunflower field, and all dolled up with only death to go. Sometimes I still hear her whispering, Take the sidewalks, never listen to the  trees.

My mother, her daughter, died ’bout twelve years ‘fore that, too young to remember much. I only ever heard snippets ’bout how she died. Something about a car speeding, she was in the middle of the street when she should have been on the sidewalk, stuff like that. I don’t remember much, just that my father left a couple of years after my mother died. I remember the door slamming on my childhood when he did.

Anyway, I’m walking down the sidewalk, back to my apartment. It’s night, it’s dark, but I’ve never been scared of the dark. Sunlight has always been the wrong side of time in my opinion. Ever felt that way? As if there’s more truth held somewhere deep in the night sky than what you find in the same ol’ blue every damn day? It’s late, not too late, really only a quarter ’til eleven, but late enough for me. I’m groggy, feeling the effects of being up since dawn and without any sort of coffee. Or nap. I look up at the sky, I really shouldn’t be able to see much in the way of stars, too much light pollution around my university. But man oh man, there I see it.

A blood moon, big and dripping in red. I stare up at it for longer than I should. And do you ever get that funny feeling that something ain’t right? Ever get the little itch on the back of your neck like something big is about to happen? The first time I felt it was during a tornado, I remember hearing it outside but I kept on huddling in my bathroom. I remember the wind too, and every time I remember, I feel that itch. That itch you can’t scratch, that feeling you can’t shake off, and in a way, you don’t want to.

I veer off the sidewalk, I’m pretty sure I veered. I think I hit the root of a tree, poking out real annoying-like from the grass. And there was wind too, or at least, thought there was, a real menacing, chilling sort of wind. And there were whispers, dark whispers I couldn’t make out. Did they mention my mother? My father? I think I hear my grandmother calling out to me, but…no, that’s a damned mistake. She’s dead. I look down at my feet and no, no root, no tree, no grass.

I look up, and there’s the moon, shining white enough to poke your eyes out. I keep walking down the sidewalk, back to my apartment. I can’t help thinking ’bout my grandmother. She used to always tell me Take the sidewalks, and never listen to the trees.

She died under strange circumstances, if you can believe it. She was clutching a slip of paper with something  written that the police never could figure out. They found her strewn across an empty field, just a damned empty field, all dolled up with nowhere to go. They never could make it out. It was the darnedest thing too, my mother, her daughter, got real anxious afterwards. And then she died under strange circumstances too, they never did find the driver who killed her.

Whisper now Evelyn, that’s what it’d said, the slip of paper. Whisper now Evelyn. It always gave me shivers, and my father looked at me funny for the rest of his years, before he just up and left, slamming the door on my childhood on his way out. Real polite-like my father always was. I cross the street, looking both ways, seeing the lights from my apartment complex and I turn around quickly. There was whispering, I’m sure there was whispering right behind me. And there are so many trees too, I don’t remember there ever being so many trees. And I think back on my grandmother, Take the sidewalks, and never listen to the trees.

I run now, and I keep running until I slam my apartment door close.

Take the sidewalks, Evelyn. Never listen to the trees.

Planet Speck and the Lady Love Ella Who Lived There

There are universes vast and wide, dimensions far and wide, and time both bent and narrow. In each of these is a Star Stellar 821, holding the Galaxy otherwise known as Zoot. In Galaxy Zoot there is a planet much like this one, green and blue much like this one, with more blue than green…much like this one. There are elephants and gazelles, lions and tigers and bears. The occasional humanoid and the occasional raging plague to remind those humanoids of their place in society. There are zoos on this planet, which we will learn to call the planet Speck. On planet Speck, zoos are the ultimate attraction, coupling zoo with carnival and circus, Dada and theatre, impromptu dancing and scripted teledrama. Zoos are the wonder, and life itself comes second. The animals are relatively sane, given the occasional outburst before slashing at a humanoid’s face. Contrary to popular belief, most of the animals are content in their caged freedom, enjoying as humanoids gaze at them in their gilded cages. Most are born into the crazy life of the zoo, most could not see life any other way. Why, just the other day, the news televised the grisly slaughter of a Grengel tiger at the hands of a cockroach. Utterly reproachable, all humanoids agreed that if the poor Grengel tiger had been simply left in its gilded cage, this never would have happened. Even the animals agreed poor Timothy the Grengel tiger should have been kept confined in his zoo, rather than be subjected to the slimy misdeeds of a cockroach.

Of course, as with all attractions fun and entertaining, there are those who protest the advancements of fun and entertainment in society. Particular humanoids particularly, protest against these fun and entertaining zoos, researching those in captivity and those who watch those in captivity. The results are always startling, and as per usual, wholly misbelieved by the general public. Of course, this does not stop these particular humanoids into trying by whatever means necessary to save those in their gilded cages, even if it means  two nights spent in the county jail for breaking Code 257 of Law 58, Section 215 (amended in the year 2130 as to read Code 257 of Law 58, Section 215, Sub-Section 18, Margin 3), sometimes even three nights if it takes the officer time to find their Hippy-Nifty Book of Rules and Regulations Pertaining to the Guidance, Treatment, General Avoidance, and Advice of Zoos and Those Who Protest Against Them, Section 3. As can be assumed, most particular humanoids have time for a mad get-away before the officer finds the particular rule and/or regulation the perpetrator has committed. As such, many officers have petitioned for a far-reaching, broad brush stroke of the Hippy-Nifty Book of Rules and Regulations Pertaining to the Guidance, Treatment, General Avoidance, and Advice of Zoos and Those Who Protest Against Them, Section 3 as to make an arrest possible. As such, their petitions have gone unnoticed by those in higher power or somehow always seem to conveniently get lost in the junk mail.

In this Planet Speck, of Zoos both monstrous and beauteous, there lived an elephant. Of the male species: gray, particularly thick legs, and an especially long trunk. His tusks had never quite grown to his liking, and as such, he normally kept his lugging head turned slightly downwards, as to give the illusion that his tusks were somehow more illustrious than they were. His name was Olifant.

Olifant was at a curious point in his life, not quite so young but neither was he too old, but just a little too old to be considered in the prime of his life. Olifant was not a zoo animal, indeed, he had been born in the jungles of Xindia, wild and free, or as free as one can be before one begins to notice the shrouded cameras dispersed throughout the jungle. Olifant had never paid too much attention to these conveniently placed cameras, recording and researching all animals living in the Great Conservatory of Xindia. His life was far freer and far wilder than those elephants of the zoo, and how he used to shudder at the thought of becoming like them. In the Great Conservatory of Xindia, Olifant met Ella, his lady love. The most beautiful of all the gray elephants, the most passionate, and the most learned. Ella and Olifant lived a simple life, wandering the Great Conservatory in search of cockroaches to trample and animals to nurture and teach. Ella was born of the even more beautiful, more stupendous elephant Morgan whom many animals came to for guidance and knowledge of the universe. She counseled all, except for cockroaches.

Ella was so beautiful in fact, so wonderful to behold in all her loving glory that the Great Conservatory of Xindia sold her for five septibillion fervids. It was the greatest transaction ever committed between zoo and conservatory, and while particular humanoids found the transaction to be on the whole, disgraceful and immoral, the general public found it to be exhilarating. The Great Conservatory of Xindia now had enough money to begin a land transaction with the country of Alpen for a possible one thousand acres for the Great Conservatory (the title would then change to The Great Conservatory of Xindia and Alpen). Olifant was in despair, Morgan wailed her loss to the dingy blue skies of Planet Speck; all the animals of the Great Conservatory gasped in shock and horror. Ella the beautiful, Ella the bold, Ella the brave, stupendous daughter of Morgan, sold as if she were cattle!

Olifant lay in disgrace, and Morgan in sorrow. What was an elephant to do, but go and save his lady love from the clutches of the zoo and all who visited there.

So begins our tale, the tale of Olifant the Elephant on Planet Speck, to save his lady love Ella from the Star-Studded Platinum Zoo of Stupendous, Spectacular, Stunning, and Always Awesome Intergalactic Things (Cockroach Free Since 1993).

Eternity

The skies resembled old scrolls of Japanese poetry, and the ocean the black swell of ink on parchment. Boats lined the vast ink-ocean bobbing towards a destination beyond the living. Each boat held a single lantern and only one soul, anxious to reach their destination, whatever that may be.

But there was one boat who held both man and woman, and the man would at times dip his hand in the inky ocean water before examining it carefully, for what? He couldn’t say. The woman sat in front of the man, near the single lantern, on occasion she would watch the old scroll of the sky ebb and swell subtly. She turns to face the man on their small boat, reaching out her hand to graze his cheek gently. She says a name, but it is not his true name and points deep into the far-off horizon waiting just beyond them. The man stares but cannot perceive what she can see, instead a black swell of clouds come before them, overtaking the inky ocean in a misty fog.

The two hear murmurs of surprise and some of fear, the gods do not often release a storm amongst those facing the Afterlife, do they? But the man and woman know better, and he wraps his arm around the woman’s waist, kissing the top of her head with gentle passion. She looks up at him and smiles softly, accepting of her fate, if this is what is meant to be. Only they can hear the snickering laughter of the spirit-demon and soon it is only their boat cloaked in inky mist as all the other souls enter into their respective Afterlife’s.

The woman, no, goddess sighs, looking ‘round for that which has brought them so much pain, her hands tightening on the man’s arms. And the man calls her by her name, but it is not her true name. We will be forgotten, she whispers into his kimono sleeve, feeling the heavy silk move along her lips. She hears the man sigh, and they remain wrapped in each other’s arms as the ink-black ocean waters begin to rock and sway their little boat. Booming thunder claps shake the light held within the single lantern and this frightens the goddess most.

We will be remembered, and as such, shall not die, the man replies. We shall never forget the time this home gave shelter to a god and his goddess, the man, no, the god recounts to her as the boat begins to rock and shake in the tumultuous waters. The goddess shakily exhales before they reposition themselves so that they are lying down in that small boat, facing each other.

You became human, only to run from me? Why, you hurt me so, a sniggering voice echoes from between ink-black waters and parchment clouds at both man and woman. The goddess places her hand on the god’s face, cupping his cheek, laughing softly, Remember when we first saw each other? she asks. The god nods, and the two are bathed in brilliance, recalling their first meeting and each is bathed in the other’s brilliance. The kimonos they wear becoming the story they share. The goddess’s lips became a painted crimson, and her kimono such a beautiful blue to contrast his navy black kimono interlaced with flecks of stars. The god smiled, gingerly smoothing his finger down the length of her jaw line.

And she spoke his true name and he gasped in pleasure, and he enfolded her in his arms before whispering her true name over and over and he felt her laughter deep in his soul. The spirit-demon above them continued to ridicule the two and their love, the roiling clouds becoming such a storm that other spirits began to take notice and wondered what and who could have possibly angered the gods in such a manner.

Not even Ameterasu shall save you, the spirit-demon spat vehemently. He beckoned for smote and thunder, not taking kindly to being ignored. He sniggered as he heard the boat begin to creak and groan, bits and pieces flying out and splintering off. The lone lantern’s flame blew out and the three were entrenched in darkness within ink and parchment. The spirit-demon cackled and spat above and below them, hearing as the boat finally gave way, hearing their bodies enter into the ink-black water, and he swam down to meet them.

But man and woman, god and goddess, could only see into each other, and there, they found paradise.

Cosmos (Eleven)

Did you ever wonder about Sleeping Beauty? There she lay for a hundred years waiting, I always wondered what she dreamt of. Were her dreams cursed as she was? Did they shake and frighten her? I used to lie down on the dirt and pretend I was Sleeping Beauty. I would close my eyes and imagine me waiting. Did Sleeping Beauty know whom she waited for? Did she recognize him when she saw him? Did she look for him in his dreams, escaping the horror of her own? I used to wonder if anyone ever asked her about the hundred years sleep, I wonder what she used to say. You’re not looking in the right place…

Candace’s gray eyes were wide anxiety, lips pursed, and the deep, dark thing within her continued to ache and tug. Aon ní fluttered her right hand towards Candace’s body, and slowly, Candace could feel her feet touch the withered grass.

“Why, a soul too tightly wound,” and Aon ní gave the chilliest of giggles. “Why we must help her brother,” Aon ní supplied coldly, right hand still fluttering and twirling in front of her. Candace kept silent, wondering if she could think, maybe become something with flight. All she had to do was think, and…

“Ahhh,” and Aon rud stroked Candace’s cheek. Candace choked out, feeling a lance of pure pain shoot up from her cheek straight into her brain. The rivers of eternal red swarmed upwards, before exploding down around the perimeters of the mask. “A magical queen,” Aon rud breathed out slowly. Aon ní giggled lowly, stepping closer towards Candace.

“Aon rud, just look at it, look at her soul, look at the way it surges and shapes. Oh brother, we must have it,” Aon ní said gleefully.

“Get away!” Candace screamed, taking hold of her thoughts and jumping quickly back into the magical circle, feeling the rough texture of the oak tree behind her. Except its leaves did not shake in comfort this time, nothing seemed to hold comfort within her childhood backyard. Candace thought harder, tried to think of becoming a bird, of becoming anything with wings to just get away…to get away.

Aon ní bent her head curiously, with Aon rud inching closer, his left hand whirling out before him. “Look brother, how she still fights. But magical Queen, a soul that is too tightly wound, is a soul no one wants around,” Aon ní said in sing-song, making Candace shudder disgustingly. Aon rud stepped closer towards Candace, intruding upon the magical circle. Candace watched in horror, as the white shadowed figure drifted over the magical circle. Candace not only saw but felt the shimmer of protective magic dissipate, as Aon ní followed in her brother’s shadow steps.

“A peak, just a peak,” Aon rud breathed out steadily, rivers of eternal red running rampant through his white mask. “We’ll only move the wound parts, why it won’t hurt magical Queen, not even a smidge.”

“Your soul won’t even understand the pain, but better pain than becoming like them,” Aon ní spat out, writhing her hands in disgust, “Givers, feh, they are so selfish. Undeserving of the title.”

Candace’s gray eyes went wide, as she lay her hand against her heart, unaware of the movement, “What?” she gasped out, her brain sputtering over this new information.

“Just a peak, magical Queen, only a tiny peak,” Aon ní let out on a breath. No, Candace had to think, just had to become something mightier than what these beings were, whatever they were. She just had to think, had to be. Aon rud laid a finger atop Candace’s hand, which still lay pressed against her heart. Candace could almost feel them staring, could almost feel the endless, absolute white of them consuming and destroying her, recreating her, reshaping her. And then she could feel everything, everything and anything emanating from Aon rud’s absolute white. Could feel every atom, every neutrino, every quark, but this was not Creation, this was not West.

Candace yelled in abject terror, feeling everything and feeling it all move, how she was shifting, her whole being becoming something else entirely. She could feel their breaths on her, could feel how everything moved towards them. The deep, dark thing within her, her soul, tugged and pushed from one plane of existence into another. Candace sobbed, her whole body racked in convulsions and her mind trying so very hard to keep thinking, to think of becoming. The absolute white began to consume her peripheral vision, soon becoming the only color she could see, she could realize. Candace could feel every axon, every dendrite, every muscle fiber struggling to fight, instead only moving towards Aon ní and Aon rud. She could feel the eternal red spilling onto her body, the fluttering whites of what were their hands swirling over her body, her neck, her cheeks, and her dark brown hair.

Candace gasped out, crying, her tears scarring her cheeks as they moved frighteningly fast towards Aon ní and Aon rud. “To be eternal,” Candace sobbed out, so softly that she wasn’t even sure she had said it. “Beyond west,” she finished, and absolute white consumed her being.

There grew a physical wind against the two and Candace. Aon rud and Aon ní breathed out in a collective hiss, rivets of eternal red stilling against their white masks. They were pushed away from Candace by the fierce, rough western wind. West stood beside the shell of his Queen, eyes the darkest of eternal reds, his cloak billowing of its own volition, hands stained in pigments of absolute white.

“Cardinal,” Aon ní breathed out pleasantly, “Sweet Cardinal. We did what you ask, we were so hungry,” Aon ní says with vicious glee. Rivets of eternal red seem to spill from her mask, creaking and groaning against the absolute white of Aon ní.

“We must move her soul, oh Cardinal. That is what we do,” Aon rud supplied, eternal red pooling into two sets of mismatched red eyes. West’s eyes spilled into the registers of deepest maroons, thin lips set firm.

“You defied your Cardinal, Aon,” West said simply, his voice darkening into the lower registers of sound, inaudible to humans. He walked slowly towards the two, his cloak of Creation swirling all around him menacingly. The Aon hissed and wheezed, the absolute white of them shuddering between realms of existence.

“We would never defy our Cardinal, why, we were only hungry,” Aon ní crooned. “So very hungry and we are so old, Cardinal. No one remembers us from Before, no one sees white holes. All but forgotten, what would you have us do, oh Cardinal?”

“You would do well to remember who brought you from Before,” West said, voice so low as to be beneath sound. He flexed his hands, the pigments of absolute white slinking off his fingers towards the withering earth, leaving nothing but emptiness in its place. He stood beside the body of Candace, cloak shadowing most of it from view. “You have defied the rules of my realm, Aon, you have moved when I did not tell you to, and you set others upon me,” West explained, before his eyes became absolute white. The rivers of eternal red shuddered against the masks of the Aon, quickening and whirling ‘round and ‘round their white masks.

“We came from Before,” Aon rud whispered icily, mismatched eyes widening, eternal red swirling maliciously. “We are beyond your Realm, Cardinal, and we will move as we so please,” Aon rud finished breathily. Aon rud whirled from one plane of existence into the next, before appearing right before West. West bent backward, hands alight with pure energy, eyes falling into the spectrum of lavenders and crimsons. He pushed away Aon rud, cloak billowing close beside Candace, who lay unmoving and unbreathing.

Aon ní moved, following close behind Aon rud. Masks set in a hideous scarring of mismatched, gleaming eyes. West’s ash blonde curls and billowing cloak whirled and swayed, taking in nearly the entirety of west of the universe. Aon rud moved, hovering above West, ready to strike with the entirety of his white hole, of what remained of it, when a surging light began to bathe Aon rud. Aon rud did not notice it, as West watched patiently, absolute eyes becoming a vivid, summer blue. Aon ní popped from one plane and into the next, coming behind West. But then she heard Aon rud scream, the eternal red of his mask becoming a hideous, never ending mouth set in horror.

The light crushed and separated every neutrino, every positron, and every electron, shifting it into something else, something new, something younger. The one born of a white hole became something else entirely; mask slowly draining of eternal red, being filled with other spectral colors north of the universe. A dark shape hovered above Aon rud, before consuming what was left of him, a whirling mass of pure energy and matter. West watched silently, while Aon ni watched in terrified wonder, hands whirling and shifting around her. The cloaked shape fell to the withered earth, whirling eyes becoming hues of dark emeralds and deep mauves.

West turned, facing Aon ní’s terrified form, his hands coming upon her face, and consuming the rivers of eternal red out of her mask. Aon ní hissed and screamed in horror, whirling, fluttering hands coming up to scratch and claw at her Cardinal. “I am your Cardinal, Aon, and you defied your Creator,” West whispered, slow rivers of red falling from his angular face as Aon ní continued fighting and scratching vainly. West clawed at the mask, unveiling the absolution that created Aon ní, his mouth firm, crazy colored eyes filtering into a determined jade green.

And Aon ní could not believe it, so this, this is what it meant to be unmade. Creation had happened so very long ago, and she suddenly felt so old. She felt all of eternity, all of time, all of matter and anti-matter, dark matter and white matter, the entirety of what lay beyond the majesty of her white hole; she felt infinity just beyond her whirling, fluttering grasp. She witnessed Creation and the Destruction of West of the universe. She witnessed again and again and again, recognizing her white hole as it birthed her from the remains of a black hole. So many black holes, made and unmade, so much energy shifted and reawakened. She felt the whisper of time, and she felt it turn away from her. She could hear herself scream, could feel the whisper of Creation leave her moving perpetually in the darkest of dimensions, unmade and unwhole. Aon ní became shifted and disfigured forever, her being forever separated across the darkest of dimensions, agonized quarks fluttering in and out of existence the only sign Aon ní had ever once existed.

West turned to face the dark shape that was North of the Universe. A northern wind pulled against that childhood backyard icily, seeming to frost over the withering, decay of the once-green foliage. West inclined his head, eyes shimmering into vivid, summer blue once again. North glanced towards the fallen figure of West’s Queen, crazy colored eyes dipping into the spectrum of chilling greens and harrowing blues. “And yet she appears dead,” North stated deeply.

West smirked softly, the gashes left by Aon ní widening, causing rivets to creak and crack against his skin. West’s cloak billowed wildly around him, the shadowed fabric seeming to tear and rip from seam to seam. “You best get that checked, Cardinal,” North advised, before turning away and seeming to disappear back within his realm as the sun set ‘round the childhood backyard. A chilling wind from the north the only sign he had ever been here. West exhaled shakily, feeling the ripples against his skin, against his corner of the universe. He turned towards the Queen of Being, breathing slowly as the expansive oak tree shook weakly against the northern wind. He knelt down beside the fallen Queen, exhaling slowly, just as he heard Candace take a shuddering breath.

Cosmos (Ten)

Remember the first time you realized the dark? Remember that first bit of crisis, wondering, now, where has the sun gone? Where has all of civilization gone? You lie deep in your covers, feeling the warmth of the blankets press against your skin. The hovering loom of the silent house aching deep and down into your ear canal. You feel there is a mystery here, a mystery to this house that remains unaware. You realize that the dark is nothing without that silent looming, the silent looming that makes the dark so much more real, scarier than the shadows of the day. You’re not looking in the right place…

Candace feels the emptiness when West suddenly leaves her. She steps onto the grass, out of the oak tree but still within the safe circle provided by the immense plant. She looks around her, noticing the small, almost inconceivable changes made to her childhood backyard while she’d been gone. She vaguely realizes that she would not have noticed the changes just a few days ago, the perspective would have felt the same, even as the child in her, Aine would have known the stark differences.

The entirety of her childhood backyard felt…darker. Colder, aloof, bleak, as if the greenery stared at you maliciously, at her cruelly. She could almost feel thorns and branches scratching and biting at her, Candace shook her head, crossing her arms. She felt all the memories from when she’d been eight and even afterwards, all those times nature had acted cruelly towards her. Biting, scratching, thorns sticking, burs latching, the pain and itching, stepping on garden snakes, running away from a tarantula, all the uncomfortable memories from her childhood backyard. Candace winced uncomfortably, her skin seeming to crawl as the dark memories washed over her. She stuck her hands out in front of her, closing her eyes, trying to rid herself of the memories, letting out small grunts of pain.

The oak tree shook its last remaining leaves, as if to remind Candace of what was still rooted just behind her. Candace shook her head, groaning before she felt slithering just outside the circle. Slimy, malicious slithering just aching for her, and Candace whimpered, the deep, dark thing within her tugging ferociously, grabbing for her soul a bit too tight, her entire being becoming wound just a bit too much. She clutched at her chest, near her heart, fingers digging into the tender skin.

Snaking, she heard the snaking; a slow, tempting whisper of a slither enticing, into her ears, into the darker parts of her brain. Slithering down into her, as if trying to make a home within Candace. Candace shook her head fiercely, “Stop it!” she yelled fiercely, and the slithering stopped, the oak tree groaning madly as it shook wildly behind Candace’s crouched figure.

Angry gray eyes stared hard into pools of liquid gold. Sorja smiled languidly, she sat on a throne made of deep, dark things. Shadows snaked and slithered across the throne, there was no sound to the snaking though, absolutely no sound escaped and Candace shivered involuntarily, aching for a warm blanket. Thorns flicked ever so gently against Sorja’s cracked gold leaf skin, soft pools of liquid gold slithering silently towards the withered grass with a soft hiss.

“My Queen, you return to me, at just the right moment,” and Sorja held out one gold leaf hand, long nails caked with black ooze, slithering down Sorja’s cracked arm. Sorja’s slithering, loathsome throne snaked inches closer towards Candace and the oak tree. Candace pressed her back against the immense tree, gray eyes looming with animosity. “I was growing so bored, and your grandfather would seem the perfect plaything. Pity, humans and their hemispheres,” Sorja said, giggling hysterically.

Sorja plunged herself away from her slithering throne, inching closer and ever closer towards Candace. Sorja stopped, however, an inch away from the protective circle guarding Candace. Sorja bent her face closer, small tendrils of electricity crackling across her gold leaf skin. Candace’s eyes grew wide, in anger or in fright she could not have said.

“Keep your promise my Queen, it is what you owe me,” Sorja hissed and Candace whimpered, shaking her head, tears in her eyes. Tendrils slithered and slid silently around the protective circle surrounding the oak tree and Candace, upending the withering earth. “Tis only something that already belongs to me, my Queen. Only memories you were never meant to keep, dreams never to be remembered, my sweet. This pain is not my fault,” Sorja whispers darkly, liquid gold eyes brimming with unbridled hysteria. “I only brought a fraction of this pain, my sweet. Come to me, let me collect what is mine and your pain will run away,” and Candace’s head whirled with Sorja’s words, her mind suddenly feeling so heavy. The deep, dark thing within her tugged dully now, thudding right beside Candace’s tired heart.

“You lied to her, to me,” Candace murmured, placing one hand against her forehead. “You never said the whole contract, you never explained. You’ll keep doing this, you won’t stop,” Candace gasped out. That’s what West had meant, something about other children, more little Aine’s in danger.

Sorja craned her neck, liquid golden eyes bright with cool ferocity. “I only give to those who want me,” Sorja said, the words slithering against Candace’s mind. Candace shut her eyes, looking away, placing one clammy hand against the oak tree. “You wanted me, you asked for me to come. I only come to those who want me, and I always shall,” Sorja declared icily, and Candace felt claws scratching against her warm jacket. She screamed, pushing the claws away, pushing the crawling spiders running up her arms and into her hair, into her clothes.

She screamed, panicking, dancing madly, kicking against the slithering claws ripping at her, trying to reach her skin. She swung her arms to and ‘fro, trying to rid her hair and her body of those creepy crawly spiders. The oak tree shook wildly behind her, as if trying to remind her of something, as if trying to protect her. But Candace was lost, lost in a daze of childhood memories, of grotesque spiders, bee stings, thorns scratching her, and these claws kept biting and pulling, tugging and pushing. The spiders seemed to be biting and tearing against her skin, she could practically hear their hiss of glee when blood would spurt from the tiny wounds. Candace shook her head, tears racing down her cheeks, dark brown hair swirling madly around her. She needed to be strong, needed to be brave, just needed to be…

“Ah, my Queen, none of that now,” Sorja lulled. And Candace felt ice cold fingers press against her throat, slowly tightening. It had only been an inch, just the littlest inch of her left foot outside the magic circle. It had been enough. Candace clawed angrily at the cracked gold leaf skin of the Giver, gray eyes wide with tears and frustration. She felt her feet slowly slide off the withering earth as Sorja lifted her upwards and closer, her other hand snaking until it rested right atop Candace’s heart. Candace groaned in pain, feeling the deep, dark thing within her wound too tightly push and pull, seem to push and pull every atom, every molecule towards Sorja. Candace seemed to feel creepy crawlies riding deep into the pits of her mind, shackling her from thinking, from being.

Sorja pulled Candace in close, liquid pools of gold gleaming with a hysteria verging on ecstasy. Sorja’s eyes were so wide now, and Candace was so very close to those pools of liquid gold. She almost seemed to feel a strange sort of cooling heat radiating from those liquid golden eyes. Candace faltered for breath, gray eyes lanced in anger. “You see my Queen?” Sorja whispered, a vicious, wicked gleam almost screaming from deep within those golden eyes. One hand tightened ever so slightly against Candace’s throat, seeming to tighten the creepy crawly shackles within Candace’s mind, entire thoughts destroyed before they could begin.

The other hand pressed into Candace’s chest, slithering into Candace’s being, shuddering against the deep, dark thing. “I did not forget,” Sorja whispered.

And then there was silence.

Not the silence of death.

Not the silence of destruction.

Not even the silence of impending doom.

But silence absolute.

Absolute silence from Before.

They did not slither, they did not slide, they did not even seem to move. They simply were and so they are. They were not like the Cardinals, who Created movement. They were not like the Givers, who moved slowly and so dangerously. Those who Move do not move, but are. Everything is still, as they are still. Even Sorja’s angry breaths are silent, and Candace can’t even hear her own breathing, cannot even be sure she can hear herself thinking.

They seem to be made of shadowed fabric that is both there and not there. Where they should have faces is only a mask, a mask that reminds Candace of those kabuki masks from Japan. White masks similar to the absolute white Candace sometimes saw on West. There are rivets of red, such an eternal red, etched across those white masks pooling into the area where there should be eyes, but instead is just more absolute white.

One of them craned its neck, holding out what looked like a hand and beckoning not towards Candace, but towards Sorja. “Such a blessing,” it slurred, and Candace shivered, hearing the unnatural glee in its voice. Sorja slid away from Candace, facing Those who Move.

Candace sighed; she must have sighed as she slouched slightly in relief. But Candace heard nothing, could not hear the breath escape her lips, could not hear her lungs expand and deflate, could not hear herself slouching, nor could she hear her heart beating. Candace panicked, and who knew there could be a sound to panic? She kept panicking but there was no sound, nothing at all.

“To be introduced to one of the oldest Givers of this plane of existence, why, brother, think of the possibilities,” it slurred, and Candace saw what must be hands claw against each palm.

“Aon ní,” Sorja hissed towards the one that had just spoken. “Your Cardinal will pay,” Sorja whispered ferociously, liquid gold eyes wide with terror.

There was a small pop Candace heard from within her eardrums and suddenly there was sound again, sound emanating from everything and everyone except those two made of absolute white. When they spoke, their voices seemed to resonate everywhere except from them. Candace remembered the absolute white resonating from West’s eyes, but not like this, this seemed darker, more menacing than the controlled chaos of West. Candace stepped further away from Sorja as the one called Aon ní fluttered slowly towards the Giver, ignoring Candace at the moment.

Aon ní’s hands twisted and furled around her, the rivets of eternal red seeming to express mock surprise, shaping into two mismatched crimson eyes. “Our Cardinal? But dear Giver, we heard you were making trouble,” Aon ní replied in singsong.

Sorja’s cracked gold leaf skin shuddered and shimmered, bits of gold flaking off into nothingness as the other one slid a finger down Sorja’s cheek. “Just a taste Giver, we were only told to have but a taste.” Sorja’s golden pools swirled in anger, bits of light and energy crackling around her. The other, the brother, seemed to laugh lowly, releasing a pleasured sigh. “I can taste the farthest reaches of Lidande, Giver.”

“She is mine, tell your sweet Cardinal that I will have what I already own,” Sorja declared violently, golden eyes boring deep into Candace’s gray eyes. Candace gasped as the two beings of absolute white turned slowly towards her. Candace thought of being brave, she thought of simply not being here, but rather anywhere else. She thought of being but she could feel the magic continually slipping from her mental grasp. It kept moving and shifting further and further away from her mental grasp, becoming nothing at all. Candace blinked, turning away, stepping closer and closer towards the perimeter of the magical circle.

“Aon rud,” said the one called Aon ní, keening her white mask back towards Sorja. “We have precious work here to do.”

Sorja yelled in defiance, arms lashing out in a flame of light and pure energy. Aon rud laughed from behind her, twirling hands pricking at the light around Sorja and Candace couldn’t believe it. The light simply vanished; the energy seemed to radiate out from Sorja and was then just simply…not there…once that Aon rud touched it. Candace watched in horror, not understanding, unable to grasp the image of giving and moving before her.

Aon ní whirled closer towards Sorja and the silence slowly built around the Golden Ruler of Lidande. Sorja’s liquid golden eyes turned to face Candace, beautiful face entirely expressionless. There was no slither, there were no creepy crawlies, and destroyed light and energy continued to radiate from Sorja. Candace could faintly hear screams of agony and hysteria echoing from the cracks between Sorja’s skin, and she understood. Those had been all the wound up dark and deep things from others before her. Those that kept their promise, and had their soul ripped from them. Candace’s eyes went wide with unshed tears, feeling the agony of all those souls becoming further destroyed by Aon rud and Aon ní.

Those two beings made of nothing whirled closer and closer towards Sorja and her cracked gold leaf figure, the rivers of eternal red running wild with excitement across their masks.

“Run my Queen of Being, run,” Sorja whispered in a dazed moment of lucidity. Candace felt the weight of those words, the weight of time and energy radiating from Sorja’s liquid pools of gold. Candace could feel the weight of Lidande, saw the world as it was through Sorja’s eyes. Everything made up of energy and light that she wanted, that she wanted to consume totally and absolutely. Candace had never been anything but a bright, shining beacon of untapped energy to Sorja, nothing but energy this Giver had so wanted to consume, to make a part of herself. The ideas running wild of taking all untapped energy before they could remember their promise; the idea of consuming all shining beacons while they were children, forgetting their promise made so many years ago. Candace saw what must be an event horizon within Sorja’s liquid pools of gold and turned away, just as Aon rud and Aon ní touched Sorja’s face.

Sorja screamed in hysteria, and Candace heard pops and cracks, she could hear the low moan of time and space being bent and twisted, reshaped and given new form. Candace gasped in terror, clutching at her chest with both hands, closing her eyes. The deep, dark thing within her tugged wildly, aching and clenching, writhing in sheer pain. Candace fell to her knees, clenching her teeth as she groaned in pain. She could barely think, hardly feel beyond the visceral impact of that deep, dark thing so very tightly wound, so very tightly clutching onto her. But she needed to think, just needed to breathe, just needed to be something, anything.

And then there was silence, absolute silence.

Candace opened her eyes, and she was standing, hovering just inches above the ground. The two beings, Aon rud and Aon ní seemed to be staring at her from behind their white masks; the rivers of eternal red swirling chaotically across their masks, becoming mismatched crimson eyes before shaping and whirling into something else.

Aon ní spoke slowly, her voice thin and breathy.

“We have a Queen, brother.”

Cosmos (Nine)

I think all kids know that one day they’ll grow up. I think all become aware, slowly or suddenly, that they won’t remain a kid forever. You write yourself stories, you sing yourself silly songs, you even play out the most vivid adventures, hoping it will be vivid enough, written well enough, or sung silly enough that it will carry through. That you’ll remember, and you won’t forget. You think if you jump the fence, if you leap between made up worlds, if you beseech the heavens just so, that you’ll remember everything and it’ll be as if you never left. That you’ll always remember everything, it will never be forgotten. You’re not looking in the right place…

There was an exploding sun birthing a new galaxy as she danced with West, laughing, feeling the radiation, feeling her ears buckle under, feeling her skin wither, shrink and burn up just like that star beside her. It felt like summer though, it felt like being young and old, new but aged, all at the same time. She remembered knowing a physics major, Madeline. Madeline’s sprightly blue eyes and charming freckles; her propensity for rambling about the universe. She remembered Madeline’s passion for energy of the universe; nothing ever created or destroyed, but only transferred from one state of being to another. The star transferring from death to rebirth, all at once, regenerating while simultaneously destroying. The dying star seemed to lunge at her with what remained of its super massive core. She almost felt like the star had a soul, as if it was preaching of something vast and unknown that she would never understand.

Candace blinked.

There was an expansive window where there had once been the dying core of a super massive star. The star was replaced with the elements eschewed from it, slowly pooling and collecting, becoming more stars. She watched the slow collection of new elements settling, forming compound elements and slowly creating baby planets and baby stars, life from death. She wondered, vaguely, what Madeline would say if she could see creation taking place before her, what she would say to see life grow and become from such a fiery death.

Candace breathed in wonder, gray eyes wide with patient excitement. She smelled vivid oak, and could feel the living, breathing intensity of the oak tree surrounding her. She looked up and around her, taking in the quiet strength of the oak tree before her. She felt the power within the oak tree, a silent power it had had long before West ever settled within it. She could almost taste the magnitude of what the oak tree was, could almost feel the oak tree deep within her own soul, within the tugging pain somewhere within her. She could see the multitude of perennial cycles this oak tree had lived through, and decided she would be like the oak tree, regardless of pain, regardless of past promises that should never have been made. She would be like the oak tree, strong and vital, she would live on.

But first, to the problem that had caused all this.

Candace turned, facing East and West, gray eyes calm and sure. “I will remember this time,” she stated simply. East inclined her head towards her, crazy colored eyes falling into the deeper registers of seashell pinks and effervescent oranges. Candace could not tell whether the soft smile playing against East’s lips was sincere or insincere.

West looked towards the high ceiling. He could almost feel the oak tree laughing, no, chuckling, at him or with him he could not be sure. His crazy colored eyes tinted into the registers of will and hope as he looked towards Candace. Candace’s own eyes grew just a bit wide, noting the strange coupling of reds and blues, not a violet but a color Candace had never seen nor could ever describe. “Who can say,” he whispered dispassionately, before striding along the perimeter of the grand room.

Candace’s body shook slightly with growing frustration, dark eyebrows furrowing stubbornly. “I say,” Candace said, gray eyes alight with steely fury. “I say I will remember, and I will. I won’t go back to not remembering. I choose to remember, I choose to be remembered,” and Candace felt something tug deep within her, right beside the spot that Sorja had tainted. Candace whimpered softly, right hand rubbing at the center of her chest, directly where Sorja had violated all those years ago. Candace momentarily shuddered at the memory, forcing herself to mentally look away.

“What happens, if I don’t keep my promise? What happens if I run away?” Candace asked, looking back out towards the expansive window. She could hear soft folds hitting the wooden floor, smelling fresh day light, dew on sunflowers, the subtle sounds of a world reawakening all around her. She knew dawn erupted subtly outside this area, and knew it was East who walked slowly towards her.

“You would never make it past your twenty fourth year,” East began, voice direct, “You would die, the entirety of your being consumed by the Giver, your entire being forfeit. The span of your life, your memories, those that have been and would have been would streak across and die. The energy and atoms that make your body and soul unique unto you would become consumed by the eternal fires of a Giver. Any energy formed because of you left within others would disappear as well, consumed by the Giver.”

East looked out towards west of the universe, before turning those crazy colored eyes towards Candace. “It would be as if you had never existed, you never have, and you never would.”

“Living without a soul or dying,” Candace mulled to herself, shrugging as she smiled apathetically. “Both sound like too much to bear.”

“You mishear me, my Queen,” East snapped, voice clipped and unnatural. “There are more things that make up what you are than just a soul. You would watch as you wheezed out your last breath only to stare at it crumple and die right before you. To feel everything that has and will make you up die and cease to exist in any form. Your energy would end with Sorja, you would be less than nothing.”

Candace stared into East’s eyes, feeling the dawning energy behind the cold, cold yellows and freezing oranges, “I will be alive, and whole, and remember,” Candace whispered passionately. East reared away from Candace, standing straighter as she seemed to walk right towards the expansive window. A dizzying array of color and energy lashed across what was west of the universe. There were suddenly a crazy array of nebulae and just formed stars to take its place. Dying quasars and radiant pulsars seemed to consume Candace’s vision. She blinked rapidly, only barely noticing as East walked through the expansive window and into the universe.

“I will not help you,” East said towards West, angular shoulder hiding the regretful frown etched on her lips. She passed through into east of the universe and became her realm. The universe whirled along again, and Candace saw worlds breathing and dying, stars expelling and creating, black holes consuming and destroying, and gases multiplying and reshaping. Images flashed in her mind and she saw that ranch house repeated through out, she could hear small children giggling and she thought she saw a little boy. She thought she could see Aine dancing with someone, memories whirling and waltzing, seeming to conflict with the memories she already had of her childhood.

Candace gripped her forehead and groaned in frustration, shaking her head. She could feel the thrumming energy of West as he stood beside her, feeling creation tingle from where his hand touched her shoulder. She gasped, smiling softly in reassurance, “I forget sometimes, that it was all pretend,” and she closes her eyes. She can hear childish whispers, pages of a big book being turned, the sounds of playful scolding, and great declarations resounding mischievously. Candace shakes her head, breathing quietly before se feels a hand curling ‘round her chin. She sees soft summer blue eyes staring intently at her, West’s expression entirely unreadable at the moment.

“Sometimes,” he begins to say quietly, vivid summer blue deepening into hues of coral pinks and playful maroons. “It wasn’t,” he ends simply, before making a small motion towards an area of the oak tree. Candace only vaguely makes sense of the strange configurations that spool lightly in the air, realizes only dimly that she is watching energy become transferred and transformed. So, then it wasn’t magic? But only a mutability of the energy around them? Was it only the constant fluctuations from one energy field to the next perceived to be magic? She notices a door, a simple door, with no doorknob. It was strange, how Candace had not noticed the door before; even though she was aware she had stepped through it. It was strange how she could see the wood of the tree transforming, all the multifaceted electrons and protons shuddering in place, transferring from one element to the next, transforming and jumping from one dimension into the next, slowly becoming the door that had always been there.

Candace thought the whole room was smaller too, felt smaller. As if it could not be, had not been, but just a room holding, not an expansive window, but just a window. Nothing but an ordinary window giving her a view of the looming forest beyond her childhood backyard. She wishes she could just stay in here, wishes she could spend every night recalling memories meant to be forgotten. She wishes she could just run, and keep running, wishes she could keep everything she wants to keep without ever having to face Sorja, without ever having to face the possibility of forgetting all over again.

Candace inhales shakily, pursing her lips as the looming forest seems to see her, almost as if it is trying to snake into her. She feels the deep, dark tugging within her, realizes it is now in tandem with her heartbeat. She can feel so very close, but close to what, she could not have said. She clutches at her chest with one hand; body, soul, and mind expressing her discomfort.

She faces West then, clutching his forearm as he moves to walk them towards the door, their hurried steps in tandem with each other’s. “Something bad is going to happen, isn’t it? Something not nice and very scary? Why won’t East help? I never liked her.,” Candace babbles, dark hair swaying to and ‘fro as she shakes her head in discomfort. West exhales shortly, a small smirk playing against his lips.

He grabs for both her shoulders then, turning her to face him fully as he stops quickly, just a step away from the door. Candace veers slightly, making a small face of annoyance, trying hard not to stare out the ordinary window which hardly feels as far away as it had before. She tries very hard not to notice that imperceptible snaking, the soft echoes of slithering, hysterical laughter. She can feel instead energy and all Creativity ebbing from West and into her, she can feel his cloak seemingly pull her towards him. She only dimly understands the energy now, how it invites her in now, recognizing her, recognizing who she is. Warm gray eyes stare widely into his crazy colored ones, an array of hues and tones whirling fast and deep, so quickly as to make Candace’s heart skip a beat.

“You were always the better knight in glittering armor,” West says, so softly, so tenderly that Candace gasps shakily, gray eyes glossy with unshed tears.

“West?” Candace asks shakily, clutching at him now. She should say something. She should do something. She should run; she can always run away. She can always just hide here forever, and her mother would understand. Her grandfather would…but…no…her grandfather…Candace smiles ironically, nodding her head.

“Do not leave the circle, not even for me Candace,” West demands, crazy colored eyes falling into a vivid emerald green, the color of determination, of complete severity. “Not even for me.”

“Why?” Candace whispers out, half smiling, half shaking her head. “None of it makes sense,” she supplies, faltering on her thoughts, on what she should say, on what she can only say.

West smiles softly, “No,” he begins as the wooden door slowly opens for them. A swift eastern wind enters into the tree, inviting and cold all at the same time. “It does not,” he ends, before kissing her forehead, and leading her out into her childhood backyard.

Long, Long Time Ago

Whispers echo ’round this heart of hearts, it spools like liquid fire burning across the spire.
Down the flax and down the wax, slowly consuming all the rest. Whirling all before, time an echo, nevermore.
Memories lie in shades, oceans down the end of the lane.
A bolt remains unturned, a forgotten key grown taciturn, growing heavy down forgotten shades.
Down the tear and down the seam, softly unfolding all the rest. Withering what lay before, nevermore.

A long, long time ago, there stood a tree,
the Queen revered,
and winter but a memory.
Shades of what lay before remain,
within the whispers, within the shades.