Ness wandered through her apartment trying to find the source of the infernal electronic jingle. She was sure it was the rice cooker letting her know it was done, but she just couldn’t find the kitchen. This was odd because she lived in what had been generously termed as a compact one bedroom apartment that only had two other rooms – the bathroom and the combined living/dining/kitchen. No matter how many doors she opened, Ness just kept on entering either the bedroom or the bathroom. Slowly it dawned on her that she was maybe dreaming, dreaming a reoccurring dream at that, and that she knew what to do.
Author: Mark P Page 1 of 4
Look, let’s be honest here. I write fiction. The possibility of me writing anything vaguely truthful here would be optimistic at best. Let’s just assume that my piloting of a zeppelin across the Antarctic in 1912 in attempt to win a £2 bet with the Earl of Lancaster may not be strictly true, but it would have been a lot of fun.
Anastasia had just sat down to her lunch when the world went silent. Not quiet like the night when all the carts and merchants in the street had gone home, but completely silent. There was not a sound to be heard, the ocean of noise that she swam through and navigated everyday was gone, was still, not a ripple.
Meaghan could just spot the Eiffel Tower from where she sat in the café. Framed neatly between the ornate gold lettering on the window, it symbolised everything she was feeling about everything right now — a huge brutalist dagger stabbing straight into the soul of the universe. Seriously, what prick brings his fiancee of two years to Paris, the rumoured city of love, to introduce her to his lover of six months? She shook her head as she thought back to the introduction to his “newer, hotter version of her”. His words. She thought of the two of them, entwined passionately, bare skin, writhing together, impaled on the tip of the Eiffel Tower after a tandem naked skydive goes horribly wrong. Meaghan smiled slightly for the first time in a week.
Phoebe took that as a sign. Or maybe a lack of a sign. Maybe both. She’d been looking for signs in everything the last few days. The rooster crowing at dawn, that was a sign. A predictable one for sure, but a sign nonetheless. The next door neighbours cow facing in the opposite direction to most of the other cows in the village. That was a sign. An inscrutable sign that one. But again, a sign. It didn’t particularly matter what the signs were, they were all pointing in favour of Phoebe’s plan.
She took a quick swig of water, readjusted her pack, and stepped fully into the shadow of the forest. The path here was fairly even, well trod by gatherers and the occasional hunter as it began to weave its way through the trunks. Any sounds of the village were filtered out as the forest soaked it all up. She could hear her breathing as she went, the odd trill of birds up high in the canopy, her footfalls on the path, but that was all. She continued on.
The light in the forest slowly went from a bright jade through to a deep emerald as she went, the path slowly getting worse as she reached the limits of where the hunters and the the gatherers normally went. Phoebe followed the path as it narrowed and thinned until it became barely a thread of a track, marked only by stones placed carefully. The green around her slowly faded away as she continued on, the sun having set and the full moon now rising above the forest. The trilling had stopped and had been replaced by other noises, scurrying in the undergrowth, a growl here and there. Phoebe wasn’t concerned. The creatures of the forest had long learnt to steer clear of anyone walking this path this deep in the forest.
Phoebe reached the rock shaped humorously like a turnip and stopped. She looked carefully around her. From here she needed to take the alternate path, not the one marked by her ancestors, but the other path; the one the forest had marked out. She shaded her eyes from the light of the moon and before long she could see the line of glowing mushrooms leading off to her left, deeper into the forest. A quick swig and a readjustment, and she followed the mushrooms deeper in.
The trail of mushrooms took Phoebe around a small hillock before bringing her out into a clearing ringed with the glowing mushrooms. She sat on a tree stump just outside the ring and rummaged through her pack. Munching on an apple she found in there, she pulled out what she would need next – a thin rope and an axe.
The apple core was tossed out of the clearing and she set to work. Tying one end of the rope to the stump that she had been sitting on, Phoebe tossed the other end over a thin tree and bent it down to her. She tied a knot there, part way along the rope, and taking the free end of the rope and her axe, made her way into the centre of the clearing. She gave the rope a quick pull and her knots held. She took this as a sign. A sign the she could tie knots well. Phoebe looked up to the moon and waited, listening carefully, ignoring the sounds of the forest around her, and as the moon reached its highest point in the night sky, she heard it.
Phoebe could just make the voice out from under the earth. It was expected. She stood still and silent and waited.
“Join us over here.”
Phoebe could hear footsteps now, just beneath where she stood. She could hear them walking in circles, trying to find her, pausing now and then as they quietly called out to her.
“Join us. Join her.”
Phoebe finished tying a small noose in the end of the rope and waited, listening to the footsteps as they closed in on her. She felt them as the stopped just below her, boot to boot. Phoebe waited. She could her the rustle of clothing, that fine rustle of silk, as the creature beneath her crouched down. She could hear the dirt begin to move as a hand began to push its way though the earth beneath.
As the creatures fingertips broke the surface, Phoebe pounced. She shifted her footings and plunged her hands and the noose through the earth, dropping to her knees to force them through. Slipping the noose over the creatures feet from below, she stood up again to bring her hands back into her world, making the noose tight as she did. Phoebe sprinted toward the tree stump she tied the rope to before, pulling the axe from her belt as she did. The tree that the rope and been thrown over shook violently as the rope whipped and pulled. Phoebe took that as a sign that she had caught the bastard and brought her axe down hard on the tree stump, severing the rope.
The bent tree straightened up, causing an explosion of earth from the centre of the mushroom ring as it pulled her into the world the creature from beneath. Phoebe looked at the creature dangling now from the tree, her knots holding fast as it struggled, its fine blue and gold silken robes whipping around as it tried to free itself, its gossamer wings beating out a hurricane as it tried to get them clear, the creature screaming threats to shred the one that did this.
Phoebe stalked up the fairy with her axe and held the iron blade just shy of its face.
“Don’t move, or I’ll push this iron through you slowly. Where. is. my. sister?”
“What in the name of all that is unholy is that thing?”
Kobal’s leathery chest puffed out with pride.
“This year’s hellhound, master. I stitched it together myself.”
“It’s an abomination.”
“Thank you, master. I’m also quite pleased with this year’s creation.”
Vilstrax closed her eyes and thought happy thoughts while she counted to ten — spit roasted unicorn, the pleasant aroma of brimstone, over boiled Jerusalem artichokes on toast — before again regarding the creature that Kobal had brought before her.
“And what, prey tell, did you stitch this years effort out of?”
“Ah, master,” replied Kobal, giving one of the hellhounds three heads a scratch under the chin. “After reviewing what went wrong last year, and the issues with the year before that, I went with a much more stable breed this year.”
Vilstrax thought back to the year before last. Kobal had stitched together the hellhound from two cocker spaniels and a dachshund. It had not been a creature that inspired fear in the general population. Indeed, one of the smaller humans tried to adopt it. Last year’s hellhound, Vilstrax had to admit, had potential. Kobal had stitched it together out of three kelpies. It was fast, liked to chase and bite its prey, and lasted about four minutes until it tried to chase five rabbits at once. Even as a demon responsible for the unspeakable torment of humans, Vilstrax still internally winced at the memory of that mess. She couldn’t blame Kobal for playing it safe this year, but still, Hell has standards.
“Kobal, what did you use?”
“Labradoodles, master. Quite popular and very intelligent. Hypo-allergenic, too.“ Kobal gave the hellhound a good scratching under the ears. ”Aren’t you a smart girls, yes you are.”
Vilstrax regarded the brick at her feet. Perhaps using Kobal as a baseline, then yes, the hellhound was a smart girls. This was going to be a long ritual, fortunately it was a long night. Best to get on with it.
“Kobal, release the hellhound!”
Kobal squatted down as best as his skeletal frame would allow. He whispered something into each of the hellhounds ears, their eyes lighting up a dull glowing orange as they received their instructions. Finishing, Kobal stood and gave the hellhound room as it began to sniff the air, its three majestically curly heads working in unison as it triangulated an elusive scent. It wasn’t long before the three heads were in agreement and this year’s hellhound took off in pursuit of its quarry.
Kobal and Vilstrax took off after the hellhound. She wasn’t sure what it was hunting other than a human of questionable quality, but the hellhound had locked onto something. It made its way down the small street that ran through the small village that they had selected for this years ritual, sniffing the ground and the air and the bit in between as it went, following the invisible trail that had been left behind. Eventually the hellhound slowed and began following a path up to one of the houses. Vilstrax and Kobal followed it at watched as it began pawing at the door, determined to go in. Vilstrax grinned a grin of too many needle-like teeth as she unsheathed her sword. Kobal pulled the hellhound back from the door as Vilstrax strode up to it, her sword lighting up in flames as she did so. She barely broke her stride as she kicked the door clear off its hinges.
The hellhound rushed into the house, snagging a jacket on on of its heads as it did so. It bounded up the stairs in a clatter as it dragged the coat rack, four coats, and an umbrella as it homed in on its prey. Vilstrax and Kobal followed, the light from Vilstrax’s sword illuminating the way. At the top of the stairs, they found the hellhound scratching away at a door and again, the door flew inwards as Vilstrax barged through.
The hellhound bounded onto the bed within and began nudging and slobbering on the sleeping occupant who awoke to a three headed hound and a face with more teeth than necessary grinning at him. Before he could scream, Vilstrax had the suddenly awake human by the throat and lifted him up until his hair brushed the ceiling. The hellhound began chewing his pillow.
“Kobal, what is this human most foul guilty of?”
Kobal sniffed the human. “Murder, master.” A quick lick of the humans leg, “The murder of millions, master. The worst of the murderers in this village.”
Vilstrax regarded the human in her grasp. It didn’t look like a warrior, a slayer of millions. She looked around the bedroom. She’d been in the bedrooms of those who had slayed millions. This was not one of those. Plus, surely if there had been a murderer of millions up here, she’d still be stuck down below sorting through the immigration paperwork.
“What, praytell, is this human the murderer of millions of?”
With a fingernail the length of a breadknife, Kobal poked the human. “Yesterday he committed genocide, master. He stamped poke and he squished poke and he poisoned poke until there were no poke more poke left poke.”
Decapitated teddy bears, an ice cream van at a playground on a hot day that had no ice cream left but continued to play that damn music in to eternity. Vilstrax was rapidly running out of happy thoughts.
“Kobal, what did this human murder?”
“Those little tiny black creatures, master. That scurry across the earth. He poke murdered them.”
Vilstrax closed her eyes. When she opened them, the fire in them had gone out. She flicked her sword and the fire on that went out as well. She took in the havoc that the hellhound had caused in the bedroom, the pillows were destroyed and it had somehow tangled itself up in the doona. Its purpose finished, it was snoozing happily on most of the bed. She gently lowered the human back onto the bed beside the snoring hellhound, apologising profusely for disturbing his slumber and offering the hellhound as compensation.
Vilstrax threw Kobal through the window just as the sun crested the horizon. He was dust before he the hit the ground. The sunlight shone on the curtains as a breeze gently billowed them, allowing fingers of light to play over Kilstrax’s form as it began to crumble.
“Good of you to join us, Sleepy.”
Knowing his wife Janet was busy cooking his dinner and him being a man of modern sensibilities, Richard pulled himself up from the chair, pausing the television as he did so. He called out a quick “I’ve got it.” to his wife, followed by a gruff “Coming!” towards the door. Making sure his gown was tied neatly, Richard ambled towards the door, fairly certain that it would be someone selling him either eternal life or plastic kitchen solutions. Neither was standing on the threshold as he pulled the door open.
Richard stared at the woman standing on his doorstep. Although between then and now various facial piercings had come and gone, the nose ring remained. The hair was dyed a resolute black with none of the blonde peeking through. She was almost unrecognisable, but Richard knew exactly who she was.
“It’s you, isn’t it F…”
The woman’s index finger shot out and pressed hard against Richard’s lips, pushing him back slightly and shushing him instantly.
“You don’t get to call me that. No one gets to call me that, not anymore. You remember what happened when you last called me that.”
Richard nodded slightly, his hand instinctively rising to the side of his head where the cricket bat had struck him all those years before. According to the doctors, the damage could have been much worse if the handle hadn’t have broken as the bat hit. He had never called her that ever again, not once in the last twenty years. That kind of thing stuck in the mind of a 14 year old.
Her finger still on his lips, the woman pushed Richard firmly back into the house, closing the door behind her as she did. Giving him a look that made it clear what she wished to be called, she removed her finger. Richard had another go.
“It’s you, isn’t it, Myfanwy?”
Myfanwy nodded slowly, taking the opportunity to appraise her old friend Richard.
“You’ve expanded into middle age well, Richard my dear. Bit softer around the edges now than last time I saw you.”
“We were eighteen then,” Richard frowned, cinching in the belt of the gown as much as he dared. “We we all a lot thinner then. Well, not you. You’re possibly thinner now than then.”
“That a compliment?”
“Not really, no. Thin is possibly too expansive for you. Gaunt is possibly too much.”
They stood awkwardly looking at each other, the silence between them tense. Myfanwy at least knew why she was there, Richard was just scared as to why she was there. The silence dragged on for just a bit too long when it was broken by Richard’s wife coming on from the kitchen, patting her hands dry on her apron as she came towards them.
“Oh, hello,” Janet smiled at Myfanwy as she came up beside Richard. She gave Richard a sharp jab in his ribs and a “are you going to introduce us?”
“Ah, yes. Janet, this is Myfanwy, an old … acquaintance of mine. Myfanwy, Janet. My wife.”
“Hello Myfanwy,” Janet smiled as she extended her hand. “Any old friend of Richard’s is a friend of mine.”
Myfanwy took Janet’s hand and shook it gently. “Pleasure to meet you Janet. Mind you, I’d be cautious of Richard’s old friends if I was you.”
“But not you, I’m sure.” Turning, Janet let go Myfanwy’s hand and with a quick glance back over to her shoulder as she left, she headed back to finish making dinner.
“Nice catch, Richard,” she said, craning her neck to watch Janet as she walked away. “She’s cute, quite adorable. She and I should catch up for coffee sometime.”
“No, just no. I heard you were married to Melody anyway?”
“I am,” Myfanwy said distractedly as Janet went into the kitchen and out of view. “But, you know, we’re open. You?”
Richard bristled at the suggestion. “Definitely not.”
Myfanwy leaned in close and whispered “Don’t be too sure, she gave me a glance.”
Richard ignored the last comment as he beckoned Myfanwy into his study. His night had gone from pleasant sitting in front of the TV to being derailed by his past that he assumed he’d left well behind him. Myfanwy has been the harbinger of doom for a while before they had all gone their seperate ways. Her being here, her finding him here could not be good. The quicker he got to her reason for being here, the better. He asked her as such.
“You know why, Richard,” she replied, investigating his study as she did. “Surely you know why.”
Richard shook his head defiantly. Myfanwy sighed at his inability to see what was coming.
“Your dear cousin, my brother. He’s undoing his past, our past. Richard, surely you’ve heard the rumours. Joseph is on his way back and he is nearly here. If we’re lucky, we’re not next but we can’t be far from it.”
Richard continued shaking his head. Of course he had heard the rumours. He knew that Joseph hadn’t adjusted as well as the rest of them had when they had returned. Myfanwy, well, she just did her thing and rebelled against the world. Bessie had moved on and travelled the world extensively. Richard had met Janet at university, and she and himself settled in together and eventually married. But Joseph, he couldn’t shake what had happened as they neared the end of university, and as Myfanwy, Bessie, Janet and himself moved on with life, Joseph spiralled down into something nearing a psychosis. Richard knew that Joseph had received treatment, but had lost contact with him over the years. They all had. He’d heard the whisperings though, that Joseph had gone off again, to deal with his past. Now with Myfanwy turning up, Richard has beginning to get really worried. It didn’t help that the doorbell decided to chime again.
“I’ll get it!” called Janet from the kitchen. Myfanwy and Richard shared a glance and both of them made for the door to head her off. After much fussing at the door to Richard’s study as they both tried to get through at the same time, they made it to the front door just as Janet was shutting it, a largish box under her arm. Covered with “Fragile” and “This Way Up” labels, the fact that it was neatly tied up with string rang alarm bells in Myfanwy’s mind.
“Umm, Janet,” Myfanwy purred as she edged towards her, “could you just, say, put that box down there and maybe sneak behind Richard.”
Trying to keep both Janet and the box in sight at the same time, Myfanwy moved slowly towards the box. Once she was sure Janet was cowering behind Richard who looked for all the world like he wanted to cower behind Janet, Myfanwy slid what Macbeth would have comfortably called a dagger from her boot and kneeled down beside the box. With a quick look back at the trembling Richard and the confused Janet, Myfanwy deftly cut through the string and with the dagger at the ready, opened the box. She slid the dagger back into her boot, gently reached in to the box and pulled out the contents, recoiling a bit as she did so.
“Wha, what is it?”
“It’s a saucepan, Richard, have you never actually been in your kitchen? Ooo, Janet gave that glance again.”
“But what’s in the saucepan?”
Myfanwy walked over to Richard, holding the saucepan out to him as she got close. “Well, it’s not Gwyneth’s head in the box this time.”
Richard peeked in through the glass lid and immediately turned to vomit in the umbrella stand. The sight of Saucepan Man’s lifeless eyes looking up at him from one of Saucepan Man’s own saucepans would haunt him forever. Myfanwy put the saucepan down on a coffee table just in time for the doorbell to chime for the third time that evening. Sliding the dagger back out of her boot and hiding it behind her back, Myfanwy advanced on the door.
Upon reaching it, she quietly turned the door knob and on a quiet count of three, pulled it open rapidly. There, standing on the doormat, soaked in blood and with leaves and twigs matted in his hair, large duffel bag hanging from his hand, stood Joseph, Myfanwy’s older brother and Richard’s cousin.
“Why, hello there Fa…”
Myfanwy’s finger shot out, stopping short of Joseph’s lips.
“No, not anymore. Not for a long time.”
Joseph entered the doorway, brushing Myfanwy aside as he did.
“Whatever. Oh hullo Dick. See you’re cowering in the corner again. Got my gift, did you? And who does the washerwoman belong to?”
Straightening herself and brushing down her apron, Janet introduced herself. “I’m Janet, Richard’s wife.”
“Ooooo, Richard, Myfanwy, well, well. Haven’t we all shunned the monikers of our youth. Feel quite childish still passing myself of as just a Jo. Maybe that’s where I went wrong. Anyway, as you can see, I’m dealing with my past. True, does involve confronting and then burying bits of it, but I am dealing with it.”
“What do you want, Jo?”
Jo spun back around to Myfanwy, “You’re what’s left of that disastrous tree, the rest had been done for. Mrs Slap will strike no more, Silkie and the Pixie fell into a bug zapper, and poor Dame Washalot. Alas, fell and slipped into her very own mangle. It’s okay Janet dear, you’re quite right to shudder at that. Moon-Face had an accident on his slide, very unfortunate that one. Quite messy a misalignment of the segments can be, quite messy. Saucepan, well you know what happened to him. As for the rest of them, the tree burns as we speak. It will all be nothing more than cinder and ashes before long.”
Jo reached down and pulled a sizeable axe from the bag, and gesturing towards Richard and Myfanwy he quietly added “And that leaves just you two. Janet you may run. Or stay. See what happens to your poor Dick and little Fa…”
“…nny over there.”
Myfanwy figured two warnings were enough. That and the very real threat of dismemberment, but mainly being called Fanny again. With three quick steps, she closed the gap between herself and Jo and using her momentum drove the dagger up under his rib cage, through his diaphragm and straight into his heart.
As Joseph’s eyes widened with the shock of the ice cold dagger being plunged into him up to the hilt, Myfanwy whispered into his ear. “No one get to call me that. No one, not ever, never again. It is the worst name to have to suffer under as a woman.”
As his eyes dimmed, Myfanwy lowed him down to the floor, his head beside the coffee table holding the last resting place of Saucepan Man. The sirens of the fire trucks and police cars began to swirl around the house, drowning out Richard’s sobbing into the umbrella stand. As Janet helped Richard into the kitchen, she gave a quick glance back to Myfanwy. Myfanwy smiled as she turned and headed out the front door to wave down a passing police car. Janet would need some comforting after this sordid affair and it looked like Dick just wouldn’t be up for it.
We proclaim that loudly to ourselves in the daylight, that fiction. In the dark, it becomes a whisper, a fallacy we repeat to ourselves to help us keep seperate from those that do kill. You and I, we both know it for the lie that it is. Deep down, we all have a point, a line, a bar that we that know lurks inside. A tipping point. A line in the sand. A bar that we must hurdle, or perhaps slink under. You have one. They have one. The person sitting beside you, look at them closely for they have one.
That thing for which we would kill. That circumstance for which reason would step aside and allow you to take another life. If you don’t know at what point, which line, or where your bar is set, well, lucky you. It’s there, trust me. I found mine, bumped up against it, nudged it even. It wasn’t where I expected it to be, but it made sense to be there.
It was sleep that had driven me to the Plaza that day, a complete lack of it. Over the last two weeks the total hours of sleep my wife and I had accumulated together could comfortably be counted on one hand, so in order to give my increasingly delirious wife a chance to boost that number I’d brought the cause for a walk here. I had about two hours to get him out of the house, to sleep, and then return before he needed to feed again so here I was, walking these hallowed halls, the cathedral of capitalism, this memorial to materialism, all to put a newborn to sleep.
It had worked too. The mind numbing muzak had rendered us both senseless, the soporific effect in me held at bay only by a long black strong enough to eat its way through a paper cup. I walked the promenades, never ceasing in case the beast awoke to collapse the commercial catacomb with his caterwauling. And so we paraded, upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs, me dragging my feet, him in his black carriage, veiled from the prying public by the lightest of muslin.
As precarious as this arrangement was, it worked. Fellow slumber deprived wraiths circulated; we nodded our unkempt hair towards each other in silent acknowledgement of our shared plight as we conveyed our charges around the circumference of purgatory. We raised our adult sippy cups in salute as we celebrated yet another circuit sans crying. And so it went, downstairs, upstairs, round and round until on what may have been the trillionth time around, I found my tipping point.
There they were, walking nonchalantly towards me, cloaked in the skins of the kindly elderly lady. Your average gran, nanna, nonna, nemesis of the sleeping child. They whittered towards us, hair coiled Medusa-like, glittering a silver blue. With a sharp crystal-clear clarity, I knew then that if they lifted the veil, if they awoke the child, I knew that my line will have been crossed.
I hoped my sunken eyes, my listless perambulating would ward them off. That they would recognise the signs, do no more than nod and smile and walk on by and preserve whatever life they had left. Could they do it? Could they pass by a sleeping babe and leave it in peace?
No. They could not.
The first had barely leaned in when I decided to act. The glass shattered, catching the reflections from a million sequins as she went through the window of a pre-teen stationery crack den, a hundred strawberry scented pens skewering her frail body. Before she could begin to squeal, I sent the second over the railing to plunge downwards, ever downwards towards her end. A damp thud signalled her demise amidst the cupcake stand on the lower level. Dark red velvet frosting oozed out from underneath her body, neck angled in a wholly disconcerting manner as her arms draped over the espresso machine, her support stockinged feet dangled in the gluten-free muffins rendering them no longer vegan friendly.
A quick peep into the pram to assure myself that my son was still sleeping, and then onwards we walked, lap after lap, to fill the next hour before feeding.
Not that I did this, I’m not a monster. Of course I didn’t. I could never kill someone, just don’t have it in me. How could I possibly send two dear elderly women to an early and vicious demise? I’m no barbarian.
Well, that’s what I tell myself in the darkness of night, Jupiter rising in the top left quadrant of bars in my window. It’s what I tell myself in an attempt to keep me morally seperate from the other guys in here, the real murderers, the ones who could and did. The ones with a much lower bar, a closer line, a more unstable tipping point.
Unfortunately, the CCTV remembers it differently, it captured it all, in colour, in high res. The glittering shards. The grand entrance into frame from the promenade above. The noiseless screams, the soundless panic. The echos of that thing that I could not possibly have done, but yet did. The reverberations spreading every outwards of that damp thud, the shattering glass. The girl behind the register in the cupcake stand, she’ll never be able to look a white chocolate and raspberry cupcake in the frosting ever again. As for the eleven year old twins in the sub-adult stationery supplier, you should insert a shiver here. The waft of strawberry scent substitute will forever send them recoiling in search of their happy place.
The trek for each if them began in their respective villages. Sagas were sung, garlands were hung, food was prepared. Wise women smiled toothless knowing grins at them. As daybreak broke across each of their homes, they were sent forth with a good hard shove in the back to overcome nerves. There were more songs too, but nothing encourages like a shove.
Their paths were similar, though from different directions. They wound their ways through the forest along well established paths. They weren’t the first to undertake their journeys and if all went well, they wouldn’t be the last. These paths had been walked a few times each generation, back to a time when the reasons were not understood. Carved stones set as waypoints guided them through the forest, the path carpeted with a soft green moss that grew only there. The forest seemed strangely complicit in their adventures.
They each had food, but the forest supplied ample berries and mushrooms for sustenance along the path. Many brooks and streams were crossed giving plenty of fresh water as they went.
They walked their paths through the forest, sleeping as the night drew around them, enveloping them in velvet. The predators kept their distance, refraining from turning them into a mid afternoon snack. Even they sensed the import of their ramble through the forest, slowly gaining altitude as they went, drawing closer to the ridge that separated the villages. In the mornings, the velvet would lift and a blue silken cloth be thrown across the sky. The continued on for five of the velvet/silk cycles until they finally crested the ridge simultaneously.
They stood there, their packs and what little had been left in them discarded before they began their final climb. They stood, separated not so much by distance as they were circumstance. Their villages were subtly similar but so different. They had no common language, no common history except this. The ones they send a few times every generation, the ones that have found no companionship in the village. The ones that meet their other half on top of this ridge.
They began to cross the ridge towards each other, dropping their simple clothes as they did, pausing a handspan apart, toes curled over the edge of the rift that cleaved the ridge along its length. A handspan wide and eternity deep, mesmerisingly dark, a warmth rising from it. They stood, these two who had no-one in their village for them, they stood not yet touching across the rift, savouring this last moment.
Toes gripping the edge of the rift, they leaned forward into an embrace, an intimate embrace that had waited for their lifetimes until now them to discover each other. Limbs intertwined as they held each other, as they melded into each other. Their toes curled and gripped the edge, giving them purchase as their arms and torsos interlocked, as they became one with each other. The rest of the world faded away into sharp focus, the sounds of the forest muting into a stark cacophony. Their years of solitude left behind forever, falling away behind them as a never ending future of being inextricably together stretched out before them.
Their toes dug into the edges of the rift, shattering the rock under them as they drove down through the surface. Their bodies twisted around each other, limbs interlocking, mouths grasping at each other, hands kneading into each others flesh. They grew taller, harder, more supple as now, after all these years, they finally became lost in each other. Their hair fell down in cascades, spread outward as an umbrella, twisted in with other.
Either side of the rift they stood, knotted together.
The rock beneath them cracked as their toes drove ever deeper down, anchoring them in place as they grew longer, taller, their limbs spreading outwards as they grew. Their fingers lengthened, their hair spread out. They hardened together, locked forever, their embrace eternal, one pair more in a row of paired trees along the ridge, one either side of the rift a hand width wide and an eternity deep. A pair sent a few times a generation to lose themselves in their other for evermore, to hold the rift closed, to protect the villages on either side.
Forever intertwined, forever holding each other in intimate embrace.
“What does a pretty girl like you want a book on black magic and necromancy for‽”
This, gentlemen, is not a great opening line, especially when I’m the one holding the folding stuff, and you’re just a jumped up book grocer.
“Never mind the why’s, bub. Just sell me the book!”
His under the breath tut’s spoke volumes about what he thought of me as we made our way over to the register. Hawing and harrumphing, he made a bit of a show of trying to find whatever price he’d penciled in the book. I was already resigned to paying a bit more than it was worth on the open market and for once my cut to the navel dress was failing to work its charms. The book would still be cheap to me. Eventually, he named his price and I dropped a wad of green on the counter. Slipping the book into a plain brown bag, he handed it over, pausing to let go of it as if he was still unsure that a member of the delicate sex should have such a volume. Eventually, he must of decided that I wasn’t going to hurt myself or anyone else and let it go. I turned and left the store, feeling his gaze wander down to my ankles as I went. Who knows what he thought of my scarlet stilettos.
Walking down the alley back to the main street from the shop, I shook my head gently. The beret I had been wearing filled out into something more like what a respectable lady in my line of work would wear. The ruby coloured dress went too. The silk felt nice, but was completely impracticable for today’s work. A white blouse, knee length skirt, and a matching jacket would be better. By the time I’d stepped out on to the street, I’d gone from a hot dame to a respectable working witch. How I pitied those poor superheroes and their need for a phone booth for costume changes.
Threading through the crowd, I looked for a nice, discreet cafe I could hole up in for a short while. I had no time to return home, besides, coffee beckoned. I stepped up into a diner, all chrome on the outside that wrapped around to the inside, and slid into a leather booth that just so happened to match my heels. Let’s face it, with a bit of concentration I could have anything match my heels in a second or two. I nodded to the plate captain to bring a cup o’ joe, settled in, and pulled out the dead tree edition.
To anyone else trying to sneak a peek, it was now a cheap dime mystery, dame in disrepair on the cover, private dick bursting through the door waving a piece. To me, it was my guidebook for the day. My instruction manual. Being good had only got me so far, and let me tell you, I was good. I was the best. I could repair your spectacles without thinking about it. Spelunkers could get lost in my handbag for months. I could make you think I was you and you was me and you wouldn’t know for weeks. But I was good good, there was a line that shall not be crossed. Until now.
I flipped through the book, page after page, cup after cup, until it was hard to tell if the words were jumping on the page from excitement or caffeine. I knew these things could be done, knew I could do them, but that line had always been there. Turning someone into a frog. Making them think they were a frog. Pulling their insides out through their belly button and stringing them up on a light pole. I flicked through the book, slid my finger down these spells and worse. Internalising them all not because I was good at learning, but because deep down good only extends so far. Deep down, I already knew this.
I continued on with the coffee, grabbing donuts to dunk as I went, chapter after chapter, each one darker than the one before. The light outside started dimming as I went on. Maybe night was falling, maybe the light was being sucked out of the world. It didn’t matter. I was getting closer to what I needed, that final spell. I knew I hit it when the page turned with the squeal and wail of a dungeon door, when a rank odour began to spread. A quick flick of my finger and a vase of jonquils appeared on each table. I might be on a descent into darkest of magic, but I’m not inconsiderate.
A quick scan of the page reaffirmed that I already knew this, that I just had to let myself cross that line. I had all the ingredients in my handbag except one, and that would be exceedingly easy to get. I just had to take that first step over the line, accept that I may not return. I didn’t so much step as leap.
I pulled out my wand and with a quick flick all the other diners were gone, cast to the four corners of the globe. It left just me and the waitress. I was quick, she didn’t have a chance to scream, and they’d be able to grow her a new one anyway. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t wake up until they’d finished. Dropping another wad of cash to settle my tab on the register with a nice tip to bide the waitress over, I turned on my heel and disapperated.
I stepped out of the aether in a swirl and tumble of particles to find myself on the end of a jetty on the other side of the country. It was here on a bright and windswept day that I lost my worlds. While canoodling one, the other slipped unseen into the water. The foam folding over her, the fish pulling her away, to play out her childhood with the mermaids. My other half, the canoodler, I later lost to grief and the booze that failed to keep it at bay. He couldn’t bear to be with someone who could raise lamps to the ceiling but was unable to lift our daughter from the ocean, and so he left.
I walked down the steps to the lower level, close enough that the waves broke through the deck every now and then. I reached into my handbag and pulled out my bag of ingredients, my pot, and a small burner. I scooped up some sea water into the pot, placed it on the burner, placed the waitress’ eye into the pot, and lit the burner. For the next hour, I sat and I chanted, cast spells, added herbs, limbs, and scales. I reached out to my daughter, pushing myself out to find her and bring her back to me. I called to the fish, the little ones and the big ones, to bring her back. I screamed at the mermaids to stop playing with her and let her return. I shed enough tears to replace the water I had taken for the pot. I called to the dead and demanded they listen to me. They shunned me.
It was all to no avail.
I lay back on the splintered wood deck, surrounded by squid stains and the bits that should still be inside fish, and stared at the sky. I had lost her forever. I had crossed over, committed evil in the name of good. I was forever tainted. I would be hunted for this and imprisoned. Quite rightly so. Resigned to my fate in a damp and dark stone cell, I sat back up, ready to go back and atone. I packed up what was left into my handbag, poured out the eyeball tea I had made and turned to leave, only to halt at the bottom of the stairs.
My world, my daughter, was at the top.
She stood there, dripping with the water than had changed her not one whit in the last eight years. She was as I had last seen her. We both stood, her at the top and me at the bottom, daring not to move. I dropped my handbag and opened my arms to her, trying to not hope too much. She stared at me just a bit longer and then rushed headlong down the stairs, leaping from half way into my arms, only for her to break against me as a wave against the rock, shattering into millions of droplets that flowed past me. I spun around to face the ocean to her see her once again standing there. Looking at me with such mournful eyes, she shook her head at me, turned and dived into the water.
Back to the fishes, little and big. Back to the mermaids. Back to her eternal childhood.