Closing Out 2016

I do not think I am alone when I say that 2016 was a difficult year on many different fronts. I had personal losses that were harder than any I had faced before. Earlier this year I worked with Jessica Smith to create a thirty minute story/piece of art. She painted, I wrote and when we were through we put up what we had in a collaborative effort. Neither of us knew what the other one had worked on until we were finished, and I think both things turned out surprisingly well. I wanted to share that post here as a cathartic release. It’s one of the things I’m going to do to help me start the process of closing out this year.

30 Minute Collaboration

 

Stripping away the layers of flesh was not as easy as it had once been, but it was still a ritual she embraced. Each night she gripped a soft chunk between her thumb and forefinger and pulled it back in long straight strips that she folded over neatly and placed atop the rock altar.

When she was free she glided over the water and danced among the blades of grass, moving in and between them until each one’s molecules were imprinted on her spirit. Some might have said she was one with the air, but that wasn’t true either, it was more than that. The air was all around her, through her, and in her, but she didn’t merge with it.

It was getting harder to wear her flesh so that she could salvage the lost souls. There were days she wanted nothing more than to ascend and give up on her mission. But each night she refreshed her spirit, and as dawn slipped over the horizon she returned and replaced her skin one strip at a time.

Each time it felt heavier than it had before: the thickness of it pushing in on her as she assembled it until she was solid again. One day soon the strips would no longer fit together and the healing rays of the moon would not be enough.

She wondered if she would collapse all at once under the weight of the flesh. Or, if it would bury her gradually in overlapping wrinkles until she could no longer release her spirit?

You can find more stories, writing, and everyday life on display on my Facebook Page!

Change

The coins clinked in the paper coffee cup as people spared what change they could, a penny here, a nickel there. Every couple of hours she would empty the change she had collected into a secondary location, leaving only a few lonely coins at the bottom.

American Gypsies.

It was a name that she had heard spoken in hushed tones around the fires at the train yard since she was a very young child. It was a brand that followed her wherever she went.

Hobo, gypsy, vagabond

These were words that were thrown at her on a daily basis with a viciousness to them that ran deep in her veins, but most days she would just grit her teeth together and pretend she couldn’t hear them. Her mother used to tell her to let the words roll off her skin like raindrops.

She would think about how much rain actually soaked into your being before it started to roll off.

Shifting her weight from one side to the other, she rocked gently back and forth on the ground, the cement briefly scratching her numbed skin, sending tendrils of pain across her thigh. For a moment she thought about her life, thought about all of the things that could have gone differently, and wondered if the people who taunted her were right.

A bright flare of light reflected off of the building across the street as the door swung open, blinding her. She put her hand over her eyes to shield them and watched as the great afternoon departure began: line after line of people filing out of the doors of all of the businesses in the area.

Very few of them looked at her, and she would still get the occasional clink in the cup. Most of the time she was a ghost, a part of humanity they would rather forget. To her they looked like ants on the sidewalk, a flow of people from one point to the next, strung together by obligations and jobs.

She leaned her head against the brick and closed her eyes and thought of the sound that the train would make when it moved through towns in the dark of night, how the wind would roll across them through the openings in the car. She thought about humanity and how they were all just passing through this space and about the idea of abstract items acting as concrete barriers.

An eternity might have passed behind her eyelids, considerations of all things great and small, but time and space were not barriers that mortals would be able to overcome in her lifetime.

Isolation

She’d never understood how she could be in a room full of people and feel so alone. There were conversations going on all around her, but it was as if she were watching a show on humanity.  The people in the room were puppets, inept beings pulled along by a cosmic string with painted on smiles.

It was a slap to her subconscious.  Each obnoxious and insincere “Do I know you?” like sandpaper against her skin.

Without hesitation she would recount the story of how she had come with friends, pointing vaguely across the room to acknowledge someone before excusing herself and slipping back into the crowd until the voices flowed around her as if she were a stone in the cascading waters of life.

The idea of sprouting wings to fly from the room took root as she sipped her drink and closed her eyes.  In her imagination, the scratching bones of the unfurling wings began to poke through the flesh on her back, just to the side of the tender skin that rested between her shoulder blades.

When the pain surged across her back, she sighed and bit into her bottom lip hard enough to taste blood.  There was no surprise later when she felt the twinges of her muscles as the feathers began to poke through, all harsh angles and needle sharp pain.

I want to rise out of this existence. She thought as the wings broke through and unfurled like downy flags.  Tremors shook her as she stretched her newly formed limbs, testing them for strength.

There was a soft whoosh as they beat through the air, and then silence.

When she opened her eyes she saw the world was paused, as if time had been fractured and frozen.  The jigsaw pieces were still in place, their jagged bonds now visible.

She reached out to touch one of these silvery lines and gasped as it snaked out and wrapped itself around her finger and trailed down her arm, sending pulses of power into her newly formed appendages.

You’ve always known we were here. It whispered in a voice comprised of a thousand humming insects.

Nodding, she pulled her wings around her and then beat them down once, twice, three times before rising into the air. Then the spell lifted and the screaming started, the shrill voices joining in a disjointed chord before rising up to greet her.

As she flew toward the window she watched them scurry along, their figures shrinking back into obscurity.  Shards of glass cascaded over her body, shredding her dress and causing small rivulets of blood to flow over her skin and fall through the night like crimson rain.

The wings propelled her forward, carrying her farther into the sky until the air thinned and the particles of the universe reached out to brush against her flesh and welcome her home.

Outsider: A Tribute to Lovecraft

Evelyn leaned against the gate, her honeyed hair shining in the pale embrace of the moonlight. Although I tried to keep myself from staring her beauty did not allow me any resistance. I knew her face well from the newspaper articles on her family. I also knew she waited for her lover; for their midnight rendezvous. As I gazed upon the outlined beauty of Evelyn I saw she was looking to my window. My shame-filled face looked away from the intimate moment I had been stealing.

I sat down to read my book, but I couldn’t keep my mind on it. I kept glancing around and criticizing my surroundings. Even in the lamp’s glow I could see the bare and dingy apartment and wondered if this was my destiny, if somehow my entire life would be like this.

Sighing, I decided to resign to my bed for the night, cursing my boring existence.

It wasn’t long before I awoke to someone knocking on my door. I rolled out of bed, unable to think of anyone who would be at my house at this hour. I quickly pulled on some pants and stumbled for the door, silver strings of moonlight filtered into the room, providing me with enough light to see where I was. Just then, my foot stubbed the door frame; jamming my toe back with such force it brought tears to my eyes.

The rapping increased in both frequency and volume as my fingers fumbled on the latch. When the knob turned and the door opened I was in shock to find the blonde Evelyn on the other side. I realized who she was about ten seconds before she collapsed on the floor. For a moment I could not move even to breath, but then I looked up and down the narrow hallway, worried that someone had seen the wealthy heiress collapse at my door.  I may have been poor, but I was not a simpleton, and I knew such circumstances would not look well upon my character.  When I was certain we were alone I hefted her into my arms and carried her to the bed.  Once she was safely secured I scoured the apartment and managed to come up with twelve candles that I placed around the bed so that I could have enough light to check her over.

Once the candlelight streamed across her face I found myself staring at the beauty which I had always watched with careful gazes, dreamed about with silenced lips: her ivory skin, the delicate curve of her cheekbone, the satin curls of her hair, and the eternal blue of her eyes were only enhanced by the amber glow that now filled the room.

I placed my hand against her chest and could barely feel the thump of her heart against her ribs, and her breathing was slow, shallow, and almost nonexistent. Pulling on my coat, I headed for the door intending to get help. Then the same fear that had caused me to search the hall ground my footsteps to a halt.  I was nothing but a workman, and she was a high-class princess. I was trapped, bound where I stood by the knowledge of my own condemnation.

Unable to do anything else, I sat with her and prayed violently for her safety.  I spent most of that night draping a cool rag across her brow and listening to the murmuring of her sweet voice as it told the tale of her feverish nightmares: goblins chasing her through the park, vampires biting her tender flesh, and sorcerers in dark hoods enchanting her skin.  It never occurred to me to actually check her skin to see if her nightmares were real.  Nothing she described could have been possible.

But, nevertheless, the intensity of her fear and panic was so vivid I could almost picture them as she spoke.  I felt the chills sweep across my back and spread like wildfire as the hair on the back of my neck bristled to life.

Her face was contorted with pain. When she finally settled down I began to relax, and soon enough I too was carried into that violent world of nighttime demons.

I awoke sometime after dawn; choked out of a nightmare so realistic my mouth was full of the bittersweet taste of my own blood.  I looked around the color soaked room for signs the demon fog had followed me into reality. Reassuring myself that it was only a dream I remembered Evelyn’s late night visit and looked to the bed, it was empty.  The resting place was surrounded by nothing more than clumps of molten wax.

Had that been a dream too?  The candles an act of a delusional mind?

I paced the floors with worry.  I would be locked up for sure if they found out about this, only this time they’d been leading me away in a straightjacket.  After a while I began to calm down, time’s easing hands healing the raw wounds of my insecurity as it did most everything else.  It felt as if I were still dreaming as I climbed into my work clothes.

It wouldn’t matter to the bill collectors if I was crazy or not, they would still want their money.

That night I was two blocks away from the apartment building when I saw the police trolley.  The dingy-gray night did nothing to help the scene.  On an instinctual move I sought refuge deep in the alley shadows as I approached my building.

I stifled a cry of surprise as I stepped next to a trash bin and rats scuttled over and around my feet.

I crept up and listened to the officers.  Bits and pieces of their conversation floated up to me like poison:

“Last person saw her alive said she went in this building…..one room we can’t get into…..name was Evelyn Riley…..light brown hair…..blue eyes…..can you help us….open your doors, we’re looking for a murderer….break down the one place where no one’s home.”

Dying, I was slowly dying in that alley.  I had lived and worked my entire life to die here with the vermin.  They were breaking into my apartment, the vivid, dreamlike encounter had been real and now I had to wonder if there any traces of her had been left there.  My blood ran cold and my breathing stilled, one solitary trace of her and I was a convicted man.  They wouldn’t have any pity on me; my word was nothing and could be tossed away as easily as dust laid to the wind.

Even though my heart counted out the passing moments as constant thuds in my ears, it felt like an eternity passed as I waited for the officers to report back on what they had found. My knees were weak from fear, and even the sound of my pounding heart seemed as if it were causing too much noise.

Finally, they returned. Their faces grim masks of horror and I knew they had found something hideous behind my walls of solitude. I clenched my chattering teeth together and pressed even closer to the dirt and brick filth that had become my fate. Again I waited for pieces of their conversation to drift to my already tired ears. I did not have to wait long before the scared and timid voices rose and carried in the brittle night:

“I think you should see this for yourself…..not natural…..must be inhuman………no explanation for what we saw…….will make you sick.”

They talked in jumbled sentences with their eyes as large as tea saucers, and skin that had turned stark white against the ebony evening.

My entire body went limp, my legs falling out from under me as I curled in on myself. I was not sure of what they might have found that would have been so horrible, but I did know one thing: my life as I had known it was over. I was now a wanted man: a murderer.  Even the thieves would reject me.

I waited through the night, sleeping and waking in fits as I lay curled against the gutter walls with the trash and rodents, now a citizen of the dark and unseen civilization within the city.

It was still well before sunrise when I was able to make my move from that place.  The police had not yet left but I felt a need to see what they had found in my room.  Clutching the walls, I turned back down the alley and felt my way even farther into the consuming blackness. There were stairs that led to the top of the building next to mine and I climbed them without my shoes, for fear of any small sound that might give me away.  I crawled my way across the roof until I was able to lean over and peer into my bedroom window.  I was only able to see the area around the bed, but what I did gave me nightmares.

Stretched out on my white sheets was Evelyn’s corpse, even in its terrible shape there was no denying who it was.  She had apparently lost a great deal more than her life. Her skin was thin and brittle, clinging to her bones, but this was because all of the vital sustenance that had filled her body was now gone.

Everything.

They had removed her blood, and even some of her organs, but I could see no visible cuts on her, nor any huge puddles that would allow for such a loss.  Her eye-sockets had become two penetrating abysses that peered out from her skull.  Her skin was drawn so close to her bones that it gave her the appearance of a mummy from ancient Egypt.

The fact that this was impossible did not escape me, but the meaning behind the way her body was dressed and treated eluded and disturbed me.

Cold sweat covered my body, chilling me to the bone, but it was not entirely due to the state of her corpse.  Beside the bed lay four clear jars, and placed in each of them there was an organ, sucked clean of its blood. They too looked as brittle as dust, and as old as time, but there was no mistaking them for what they were.

It was then that I gasped, loud and uncontrollable it burst forth from my lips before I had time to choke it back. At the foot of the bed there was another jar, and this one held her eyes. Their crystal blue clarity stared through the glass protectors and into me, not at me mind you, but into me with such pain and knowledge that I could almost not force myself to look away.

I stayed there on that rooftop until my knees stopped shaking long enough so I could sneak away unnoticed by the patrolmen that kept their vigil by my apartment door.  Even hours later as I pulled myself into an old sewage drain to hide from the approaching dawn, those blue eyes followed me into the dream-filled depths of my exhaustion.

I opened my eyes sometime after the cloak of darkness had surrounded me.  My legs were stiff and tingling when I stepped out into the night.  My stomach had become as tight as a knot and my lips were thin and cracked from the lack of water.

I was so preoccupied with my condition that I didn’t notice them surrounding me until I had completely emerged from my hiding spot.  The images that stood in front of me immediately reminded me of Evelyn’s rantings on the night she had lain in my bed.  There were five tall figures cloaked in long dark robes that trailed the ground.  In front of them stood three goblin-like creatures with shimmering blue skin that seemed to glow in the night. Their eyes were red, and each of them had mouths that were covered in foamy blood and drool that hung from their chins in thick stands.  But it was the six people that stood together in a horseshoe shape at the end of the drain that intrigued me the most and made me immediately forget my hunger pains.

Their faces were pale and slacken, void of any coloring except for the gleaming darkness of their eyes.  I knew there was no way this group were policemen, but they scared me far more than any jail ever could.  I stepped into the center of their watchful stare and suddenly found myself being led away with them.  I could not tell you how long we walked or where we went, I can only remember watching as my dusty feet moved in time with theirs.  The men who stood in the back were chanting some soft and lulling song, almost like a hymn.  I kept thinking about the haunting look that consumed their faces.

I eventually found myself in a room although I did not remember going into any house. They encircled me and began chanting, their voices holding me captive. Then I saw her.

Evelyn had moved into the center of the circle with me, her blue eyes now the same hungry black as the others. Their voices rose to a level of noise that hurt my ears and clamored together inside my head. Evelyn motioned to me and I found myself moving towards her, drawn by lust.

I can still see her mouth opening to reveal the brilliant points that had been carved into each of her teeth, making her a beautiful grinning, piranha. For one pristine second the fog that had filled my head cleared.  I have no knowledge of how I got out of that place, only that I was running under the open night sky as their footsteps pounded against the ground behind me. I cut across alleyways and abandoned warehouses in an irrational attempt to disillusion them to my whereabouts.

I have found a deserted building and a room without any windows and a lock on the door. Too weary to go on, I have locked myself in.

I can hear their voices outside the door, and I know they are aware of my presence here.  They have recently begun chanting again and the fog has started to creep back through my brain, caressing all the sore spots. I am certain these creatures will overtake my resistance soon, for I now find myself embracing a part of me which begs to have Evelyn close her mouth around mine and mingle my blood with hers.

I…I think that I have to go now.  I see that.  There is no life for me without Evelyn, there never was.  And all I have now is the chanting; those sweet voices that linger in every thought and urge me toward sweet oblivion.

Chasing Storms

I’ve decided to dust off my older stories and recirculate them in the digital era.  This is another previously published piece that is new to the blog.  This one was originally published in Absolute in the summer of 2005 and it even won a writing award!

Chasing Storms

 

Once, a long time ago, I was truly happy.  For one short-lived afternoon my capsulated world was perfect and harmonized and I played as if there were no rules, no pain, and no memories to haunt me.  I was twelve, and it was the last time I felt human, the absolute last time I felt whole.

I grew up in a small town in southwestern Oklahoma with my Grandma Carol and her fourth husband, Ted.  I lived with my grandma then.  Ultimately I would live with many people over the course of my teenage years, but that year was spent in Grandma Carol’s bricked up trailer.  She was the kind of woman most people meet only briefly and then walk away wondering what was wrong with the picture.  The deep wrinkles, a head of gray hair, and an obvious set of false teeth made her look like she was over seventy, but she was actually closer to fifty that year.  Most of the confusion about her age probably stemmed from the fact that she’d gotten married at fourteen and had five children by four different men before she was twenty-eight.

However promiscuous her early years may have been, in her later years she’d decided to make herself seem like an upstanding citizen.  So she had Ted buy her the finest trailer and had bricked it up on the outside, adding a carport and a wooden fence to make it seem even more like a “real” home.  Then she’d gone to the best bargain furniture store in town and bought a whole living room set with a sofa, loveseat, recliner, and even an ottoman that we were never allowed to sit in lest our dirty rears wore out the seats cushions.  Every day I would clean that house, scrubbing it spotless for visitors who usually weren’t even allowed inside.

Grandma Carol was a living contradiction, a world of nicotine stains and bar fights wrapped in a bricked up trailer and tied together by a top of the line Cadillac.   It was hard to know what it was she really wanted, hard to know when life would be good enough that I could have her approval for even two seconds.

I would spend all morning scrubbing the wood paneled walls of the trailer, trying to remove the filmy tar coating that had become ingrained into every pore of my very existence with the false scent of lemon Pine-Sol.  By the time I got home from school she would have already smoked enough to give the walls another finish.  My life was tempered by her cigarettes.  I once saw her smoke four at once, and for awhile that made her like some type of superhero to me, able to conquer the evil side effects of smoking with nothing more than sheer determination.  A few years later, when I actually did the math on the number of cigarettes she smoked per day, I understood that by most doctor’s calculations Grandma Carol should have dropped dead over twenty years ago.

The best part of my young life that summer was my friend, Ellen, whose short, frizzy hair, dimpled cheeks and sprinkling of freckles covered her face so precisely it was as if they’d been placed there by fairies.  She looked like a dirty angel; untouched by the worries and pain that often clouded my world.

One afternoon we were outside in the playhouse Ted had made for me from the scraps of wood from some house he’d been contracted to help build.  It wasn’t much, just a plywood shell built over the back half of the tornado shelter, but Ellen and I could always manage to turn those four plain walls into a castle or a grand ballroom depending on the occasion.  I can’t be a hundred percent sure what we were doing on that day, but I think that we were taking turns putting on Grandma Carol’s make-up, pretending that we were finalists in the Miss America pageant.

Ellen came over a lot, and she didn’t seem to mind that my grandma was a little dysfunctional.  Sure she commented on it like most twelve year olds would, but it didn’t stop her from being my friend.  And that acceptance bought her a true friendship that no amount of ridicule in later years could break up.

This was before we thought of boys as anything more than friends.  Before sneaking cigarettes and beer became our favorite pastimes.  Before time and reality distorted the innocence in our lives as if it were nothing more than a station on the television that could be changed with the click of a button.  When I think back at my early childhood I see everything as a two-dimensional picture that has faded over the years, and for the most part it’s hard for me to accept that anything really even happened, that those defining moments were anything more than a dream I had a long time ago.

One thing I definitely remember about that day was that Grandma Carol had tucked herself into the storm cellar and was listening to Gary England’s weather reports.  She was smoking so much that a spiraling gray cloud could be seen wafting its way out the cellar vent as if she were a human chimney.

It was the middle of tornado season, and we were in the pressure cooker that is southwestern Oklahoma.  A place where the heat and rain can build up into a frenzied culmination of childhood fears and nails bitten down to the quick before the weather would suddenly Snap! releasing everything in one giant whoosh of storms that left the charged air smelling sharply of ozone, only for it to build back up again within a matter of days, sometimes only hours.  Storms were the one thing that Grandma Carol was actually terrified of, and she would refuse to emerge from the storm shelter until the all clear had been given by Gary England and the Tornado Watch had been lifted.

She had been down there six hours before we heard anything.  Ellen and I had taken bets as to how long she could remain down there without needing to go the bathroom, and so far she’d held out longer than either of us had expected.  She knew that May was the culmination of tornado season.  A time of year when any normal, bright sunny day can turn into a nightmare in under thirty minutes and the heat and humidity can be as real as a fleece blanket pressing over every inch of your skin.

Just as we were beginning to believe she had turned herself into a shelter hermit for no reason, Grandma Carol’s shrill voice rang through the thick air, warning that there was a tornado headed right for us.  Ellen and I looked at each other, the excitement lighting up our faces like they were Christmas trees.  We’d never actually seen a tornado.

“Marie!  Ellen! You’d better get down here right now.  I’m shutting the doors in thirty seconds.”  I can still hear her voice calling to us from that cement dungeon, but we never made it in.  I took Ellen’s hand in mine and ran to the front of the house, determined to see a real tornado, to look that god-driven fear in the face and say that I was not afraid.

In fact, I felt liberated for the first time in my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt as free as I did when we rounded the gravel driveway and saw the thin spindle touch the ground.  Now I know it couldn’t have been more than an F1 tornado, but then it was a giant, the most beautiful and majestic thing I’d ever seen.  It seemed far enough away that we felt safe even when we shouldn’t have.  The wind seemed to have sprung out of nowhere, as if there were a volcano of hot, pulsating air just beneath us.  It circled around us, pulling at our hair and whipping it around our faces, punishing us by turning our hair into a cat-o-nine-tails.

Despite everything we didn’t hesitate for more than a second before we began running through the field, climbing the low-riding fence and burrowing through the wheat towards that storm, sweaty palm touching sweaty palm the entire time, binding us to each other permanently.

I’ve never been able to remember what happened when we crossed that threshold and stood in the embrace of Mother Nature.  Nothing’s ever brought those lost minutes back, and now I’m not sure I want them.  They found us a few hours after the tornado, huddled together and half-buried by uprooted plants and debris.  They took pictures when they found us, the earth beneath our two curled and interconnected bodies the only area of ground not touched by the tornado.  Our trailer had even been partially mangled by the force of the wind, and my playhouse was nothing more than another memory, but our clothes hadn’t even been torn, and not a single cut or bruise graced our bodies.  Grandma Carol proclaimed it a miracle and pronounced me terminally stupid at the same time.

The next year I was traded back to my mother in Maine, and the year after that I went to my father’s house with his new wife and three new kids in Arkansas, and the whole time I was gone I missed the embrace of the wind as if there was a vacancy in my body that I couldn’t fill no matter how many times I tried.   Eventually, I found my way back to Grandma Carol’s.  When I went back to school I found that Ellen, my dirty angel, was halfway to being a harbinger of hell.  Her face was pocked and half-eaten by her meth addiction, the careful dusting of fairy freckles transformed into symptoms of a horribly ravaging disease.  The cuts and scrapes of her tormented soul sewn clearly across her flesh with interconnecting lines and marks that showed more of her insecurity than she ever realized.  I think now that she must have missed the wind too.

Within six months of my return I found myself one of the few people attending her funeral.  I could still feel her sweaty palm pushing into mine.  The hollow roar of the wind filled my ears where the preacher’s words should have been.  The wind was with me for the first time in four years, comforting me through Ellen’s death the same way it is comforting me now.  The same hollow roar is pulsating through my ears.  The unsubstantial weight of the wind cocoons me, just like it did both of us back then.

In the movies, the people standing on a ledge about to kill themselves always draw such a crowd.  That’s not true in real life.  In fact, the only thing that seems to notice my presence is the wind.  It’s been cushioning me, cradling me, and yes, even beckoning me for the last hour or so as I’ve remained here, a living gargoyle on the urban skyline, watching the people below me move across the sidewalk in meaningless patterns; nothing more than simple drones.

I stand up on the ledge and close my eyes, letting the wind work its way into my veins like a junkie begging for that last hit.  There are still no cries from those below.  No warning shouts or screams of horror to acknowledge my existence.  There is nothing, just the wind rushing past my body, the roar in my ears, a small sweaty palm encased within my own, and the weightlessness of worries floating through thirty stories of air….

Cataloging Creation

This is an older story that was originally published in Nonzine in 2006.  However, since I have nothing new at the moment I wanted to share it with you!  Enjoy!

Cataloging Creation

She moved towards him, carefully pacing herself so her anger didn’t get away from her.  Auburn ringlets framed her heart-shaped face and enhanced her large spring green almond eyes.  As with all gods, her beauty was so perfect and so visceral that it hypnotized any mortal who happened to look directly on her.  Right now, however, it was her son that was the focus of all her attention.  She slid her hand under his chin and pulled his face to hers.

His face looked like little more than a dollop of lumpy clay with two dark and deeply set eyes, a small hump for a nose, and a crude slash for a mouth.  It had not refined its features yet, had not decided exactly how it would turn out.  At this point in a young god’s life, their personality would be the final say in what kind of beauty they would end up with.  Though, if she had to say right now, Riza was afraid that Nokth’s face would end up being perhaps the most horrible of all those to ever grace the upper realm.

Snot bubbles moved out from the holes where his nose was supposed to be and around his thin mouth, briefly mingling with his tears before being wiped off his knobby cheeks with the back of a grubby hand.  She shuddered with mild repulsion before she could get a hold of herself.  Her son was not supposed to act this way.  He had been sculpted from the very beginnings of all gods, the clay of creation on the banks of the high river by her loving hands and using her own hair to bind him together and her own blood to give him life.  No matter how many times she reminded herself of that fact it didn’t alter the behavior he’d displayed since his resurrection yesterday.  By now most god children were halfway to learning how to blend and mold the wonders of the universe for their subject’s enjoyment.  But Nokth couldn’t even seem to learn the simplest part of their work: watching.

Riza was the guardian of all creations.  What other gods created from either carelessness or as by-products of their own frivolity she guarded as precious celebrations of life.  It was her job to tend to the unwanted, but even so her patience was being sorely tested.

“Calm down and remember what I told you about the carelessness of a god’s tears.  You wouldn’t want to cause life or death somewhere when you weren’t paying attention, would you?”  She asked, her voice while crystal clear and flawlessly human sounding still made everyone who heard it remember the most perfect day in their lives.  Right now, however, she was using all her energy to reign in her emotions and convince herself that this limbo was only temporary and that by tomorrow, everything should be stabilized.

Nokth looked at her for a moment, his near black eyes clouding with confusion before stubbornly shaking his head back and forth.

“Good, then quit crying and explain your problem.”

He opened his mouth and then clamped it shut as if he were a fish struggling for air.  She let go of his chin and looked at him from her full height, her hands on her hips as she waited.  While Riza’s voice was a soft and beautiful perfection and brought to mind the same clear spring day that was reflected in her eyes, his voice sounded like broken shards of glass scratching against metal, and again, Riza winced.

“I not want to watch.  Watching is silly.  I want to make things.”

“You can’t make anything because we’re not makers.  You have to learn what I do so that in the future you can help keep track of everything.  I know it’s not a glorious job, but it’s our duty as guardians to keep all of the information in order and catalog everything in the universe.  It’s a hard job, and that’s why I created you, so you could help me.”

Nokth put his head down once again and said nothing.  Believing that the foolishness was through, Riza turned back to her clipboard, walking ahead of him to begin the next round of cataloging.  She would never understand why the creators kept on churning out more and more creations every day when they knew that she would never be able to keep up with all of the items in the universe as it was now.

Looking ahead of her, Riza noticed palate after palate of cushioned items.  Some were nothing more than blades of a new type of grass or tiny replicas of a new species of animal.  But every now and then she would come across an orb no bigger than a marble that had been set on a pedestal and put aside for her to carefully examine.  An entire new world to put in her lists before she plucked it from its resting place and set it somewhere among the other stars and creations.  These were her favorite things to do, even though it meant more work, because these small, new worlds were always full of real, live interacting beings that hurt, cried, loved, and laughed.

In truth, a part of her could understand Nokth’s desire to create.  She had also wanted to be a creator, to see new flowers and grasses as they grew up under your feet as you walked or more involved beings when they first came from your eyes as you slept.  What a joy it would be to wake up in the morning and find a small animal that you had dreamed up and created resting on your pillow next to you, your imagination now a gateway to reality.  But over time she had come to realize that her job was almost as good as theirs because she at least got to study and observe what they had created, while for them the process of actually giving birth to new life forms was somewhat tedious and not often an altogether pleasant experience, if she understood correctly.  She hoped that Nokth would see things that way to.

Looking over her shoulder, she realized that she could no longer see him and she took a few steps back to see where he’d gone.  It didn’t take her long to spot him.  In fact, there were not many places you could go in the warehouse behind her, for whenever she finished cataloguing a new item, she placed it where it belonged, and the pedestal it had been on vanished, leaving only those items in front of her.

Nokth was standing over a small glass pedestal that held an orb even smaller than a marble and was surrounded by a special glass that allowed Riza to see everything on that tiny surface and even some stuff below.  It was the smallest world ever created, and even though she had cataloged most of the things from its planet, she had not placed it where it belonged yet.  This was partly because she couldn’t seem to find the perfect atmosphere for it and partly because she was so enamored with it.  In her opinion, it was possibly the greatest item ever created.  And that wasn’t just because it was small, either, but also because everything living within that sphere went together in complete harmony.  There had not been a single conflict between inhabitants the entire time she’d been cataloging it, which was an incredible first for her.

“What are you looking at?”  She asked gently as she leaned down behind him, happy to take the opportunity to support any faint trace he had of learning her trade.  It had taken a lot for her to convince the other gods that she was ready to create a god child to train and work with, and so far she had been worried that at his week review the other gods would smugly assure her that she had not created a higher being and force her to unmake him.

“It’s so pretty.  So perfect.”  The edge was removed from his rough voice by pure awe as he watched the inhabitants of the planet move around without even being aware of his presence.  Without stopping to think about what he was doing, Nokth reached up with an extended forefinger as if he were going to try and push the tiny ball around on its cushioned setting.

Riza quickly snatched his arm back and looked at him sharply, her beautiful face flush with anger and impatience.  “Do not try to touch that, you could unmake everything for them.”  She said, barely able to keep her voice below a scream.

Nokth turned and looked at her, his crude face turned into a scowl.  “But I want, I want, I want….” He said as he tried to pull free of her and began stomping his feet and throwing a holy temper tantrum.  Riza had never seen a superior being behave this way and was unsure of what to do.  So she immediately let go of his arm, afraid that any struggle would harm a number of creations around them, but she wasn’t soon enough.

As she was loosening her grip, he was pulling back with such force that his arm continued to move through the air until it struck the glass pedestal and caused it to sway erratically on its base before completely falling over and shattering.  The world went with it, tumbling end over end until it fell to the floor and smashed into a thousand glittering pieces.

Riza clamped her hands to her ears as the horrified screams of the entire population poured through her head.  She heard that cry every time a species went extinct, and it was ten times worse now with the death of a whole planet.  The only other time she’d ever felt anything comparable was when some careless god had thrown a pebble and it had landed on that planet full of giant lizards, but that had been nothing compared to this.  The death of the only perfect society rang through her head until she was unable to control her tears anymore.  She removed her hands from her ears and held them under her eyes, careful to catch every drop so that no other careless incidents occurred.

When her eyes dried up after they had cried ten drops each, she looked to Nokth, holding her pain in front of her in liquid pools of glimmering fire.  He had matured into a young man and his face had finally taken shape.  It’s rough edges, meticulously carved prominent cheekbones, brooding eyes, and black hair were so different from her own features that she immediately knew what he was going to be—one of the mysterious outsiders.  Guardianship had passed him by and the title of destructor had been handed down instead.  Even though he was no longer technically in her care, she felt it her responsibility to teach him one final lesson.

Transferring the tears to one hand she reached out and tilted his chin back again.  “This is so you never forget what goes with a god’s carelessness.”  She reached above his head with the tears and let them fall into his muddy, chocolate eyes.  As the tears entered his exposed lenses they soaked into the iris, changing them from a dark brown to a beautiful yet violent shade of red, not quite dark enough to be maroon but not light enough to be crimson.  He called out in pain, but it did no good.  His eyes had already been filled up with only ten tears each.

He shook his head and looked at her through eyes of infinite sadness.  Nothing would remove the haze of pain and loneliness that covered everything.  None of the creations held the beauty and importance they had only moments before, and every sound he heard was tinged with the echoes of a million voices reaching out to him in pain.  He started to say something, to beg her to take it all back, but a door appeared beside him.  The carving on its massive walnut surface showed a great man, handsome but dangerous, walking down a solitary road holding only an axe.

“That’s your door.”  She said as it opened and pulled him through before disappearing again.  Riza then picked up her clipboard and returned to her tasks.  There were a million more creations to be put into the register, and she did not have time for useless good-byes.  He had chosen his path, and she had given him her pain so that he would only view the universe through images of pain and sadness, and so that he could never take comfort or joy in the job of destruction, never take anything from it but guilt.  She looked up at the unending warehouse in front of her and the emptiness behind her, sighed, and walked over to the nearest specimen.  It was an elegant purple flower with drooping petals ringed in gold.  It would have been so much nicer if she’d just had someone else to share it with, and she wondered how long it would be before the other gods let her try her hand at building another helper.  This time she would try to make it a daughter.

Chasing Happiness

“You talk about happiness like it is something you’re guaranteed.” He said, running his fingertips across her flesh as he spoke.

Her skin tingled under his touch and she turned her head to look at him, her black hair falling over her alabaster shoulder. He, on the other hand, had the darkened skin and golden hair of a Greek god. The long standing joke between them had been that she was that she was the Fury to his Adonis.

Biting down on the inside of her cheek she thought about his statement for a moment before responding. His blue eyes were almost grey with lust, and although she longed to roll him over and mount him again she refrained.

“I would like to think we’re guaranteed happiness. We just have to claim it.” She tried to smile to dismiss the lingering doubts.

Why does uncertainty always follow passion? She wondered as she studied him. After all, minutes before they had been completely intertwined together, their bodies locked in a moment of lust so intense her limbs were still numb with pleasure.

“Is that what you’ve been trying to do? Is that what this is about?” his questions were fired in rapid succession, and she knew he was looking for a way to process what had happened.

“This is about that and so much more. Happiness is here, right now, in this room. What is outside that door is nothing more than a lifetime of normality. So yes, in this moment I am happy.”

He kissed her shoulder as he spoke. “I’m not saying I mind.”

She smiled and leaned over, pulling him into another kiss and before long they were once again drowning in passion. And with each rising thrust she urged him closer, using his body to block out the fear she could feel trying to claw its way out of her.

For a while it worked.

When she was leaving he stood at the door watching her. She looked up and smiled.

“It was bound to happen someday.” She whispered, hoping he did not catch the sadness edging into her voice.

“We’re just mortals, and you can only deny attraction for so long.”  He responded, his face beginning to solidify into a mask of stone. It was a look she’d seen before, and she knew that if she were to hang around by tomorrow the remaining lust in his gaze would be replaced with something else. Something she had no desire to see.

“Yeah, attraction and base level pheromones.” She halfway joked as she walked out of the comfort of that moment and into the stark world that had been waiting just beyond the drapes.

He watched her go, but didn’t say anything else and didn’t venture down from his doorway.

She only looked back once, but quickly turned around when the shadow began to linger at the edge of her peripheral vision. For a short time she had managed to banish it, but now it was back and there was no more hiding. Its dark and bilious form caused her pulse to quicken and she took several deep breaths to remind herself it was just a lingering manifestation, nothing more.

It had been there for months, stalking her, and she knew what its presence heralded. She’d chosen to embrace it rather than run or hide from it.

Destiny was a finicky thing.

Once she was in her car, she pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes to try and stop the tears from leaking down her cheeks.

Turning over the engine, she backed out of the drive and turned down the road that led away from her life and into the horizon.

Endings First

“Why do you always do that?” he asked, pushing her book closed around her fingers even as she tried to continue reading.

Her gaze shot up to his, her cool green eyes meeting his dark brown ones with a flare of anger and irritation that had sprung up almost instantly when she’d heard his voice.

“Do what?” she retaliated. Pulling the book away from his grasp and staring at him.  Without the precious pages between them, she had nothing to wall herself into the corner. It had been weeks since she’d been forced to look at him, to address the problems that had begun to spring up between them.

Now she found herself considering his unkempt graying hair and sloping pot belly and a wave of disgust washed over her.  She took a breath and swallowed back the bile creeping up at the back of her throat.

For a moment she managed to choke back her revulsion, but just barely.

“Read the end first.  What good is the rest of the book if you already know how the story is going to end?”

This was not a new conversation. In the course of twenty plus years of marriage it was one they had endured multiple times; although, she had never felt as much anger directed at his question before now.

“Endings are the best part.  I want to make sure I know if the best part is good enough to warrant an investment of my time.” Taking another deep breath, she pulled the book back up to her face and tried to once again bury herself in the comfort of words.

Books had been her reality disconnect for quite some time. The stories they portrayed were stark creations of black and white that called out to her and invited her into a world that could numb the pain of this one.

He studied her, and she could feel his gaze burning through the pages of the book.  She knew from experience that he wasn’t going to let this moment go.  When she had reread the same sentence at least three different times without him moving at all she lowered the book and once again and held his gaze.

He took this as an invitation to start picking on her.

“You realize you can’t see the end of your life, right?  If endings are the best part then you must be living in hell not knowing how this is going to play out.”  A lilting half-smile spread across his face, and the moment that she could see its smugness her arms tensed, her muscle reflex itching to take the book and smack him across the mouth with it.

Fingernails scraped against the cover as her hand curled into a tight ball.

Instead, She managed to pull out her own smile, raise her eyebrow, and toss back a reply she knew would bother him.

“How do you know that I don’t?”

He snorted and started to walk away, but pivoted on his heel and turned back before she could start reading again. “If you knew how it ended, why would the middle section be fulfilling at all?  Why not just lie down and die? Wouldn’t all of the rest of it just be unimportant filler?”

Frustration and anger surged through her and she felt her nails biting into her palm as her hand once again closed shut. But when she caught his gaze she realized he truly did not know or understand the answer to his question.

“The ending is the best part, but that does not mean it is the only part. All of the struggles, all of the pain, the heartache, the daily grind of living, these moments add up to something.  Without them the end is just a suspended glimpse in time that has no relevancy. It’s true in life and in books.”

For a moment he held her gaze and she felt a tremor of life as it had been slip between them. The anger subsided, and the air no longer seemed to buzz with their mutual dissatisfaction.  Without even realizing she was doing it, she allowed her clenched fist to relax.

He shrugged and walked away, leaving her to read her book in peace.  She considered the day a victory.