Voice Of Conscience

 On Michaelmas Day, a scene from Entertaining Angels (unedited novel in long term abeyance).

 

Briefly:

Sibyl was born to mixed race Dubliners at the beginning of WW1. Whilst her mother was as Irish as Guinness, her father's folks hailed from nearer the equator and her features favoured theirs. At three years old, she was grief-stricken when his ship went down in the Atlantic. Her mother's betrayal in marrying a shell-shocked soldier in 1922, the year of Irish partition, and presenting her with a string of demanding half-brothers, caused more than a few episodes of malice. Grown up and married, she longed for a black baby, someone of her very own who was attuned to her visceral culture, but when Isabelle was born (ironically nicknamed 'Sable') she was as red-haired as any Celtic European. Sibyl was never truly able to bond with her. That the child was the product of a guilty secret only served to magnify resentment. Eventually, she even came to deny that she had a daughter. Sibyl spent the rest of her days as an arbiter of morality with a hotline to 'God' and a firm expectation of due reward in the Hereafter. In the following scene, after a crushing revelation of the adult Isabelle's emancipation, Sibyl has been rushed to A & E with a massive stroke. She has entered a state of consciousness where, as in ordinary life, she construes what is happening according to her own mythology. But truth has a way of piercing veils.

 

  

 

“You’ve been a long time coming!”

“The road was blocked,” said the Angel. “Now is the hour...”

“I’m being kept here in the waiting-room. Why can’t I see God?”

“You dare not look upon the countenance of God. That is my awful privilege.”

At this, Sibyl began to tremble. “But how shall I know where to find him? He could be anywhere by now!”

“He is anywhere...anywhere and everywhere.”

“Then I could go round in circles looking and only run into him by accident…if I’m lucky. It could take forever!”

“That is true,” said the Angel. “It would be impossible, but for one thing...”

“I don’t think I’m hearing this right,” interrupted Sibyl. “He’s supposed to be omniscient, he’ll know I’m looking for him, so why is he hidden? Why doesn’t he show himself?”

“Perhaps you have not recognised him. You wouldn’t be the first pilgrim to mistake him for a tyrant, or even a villain...”

“Of course, I’d recognise him!” said Sibyl with her own peculiar brand of scorn. “I am Saved. “

“No,” corrected the seraph, “you are being Saved.”

“He chose me himself!”

“What if I told you that he would choose everyone...?”

“I don’t believe that for a minute. The earth’s crawling with evildoers.”

“And some of them see his footprints in the dew of dawn, or hear his tread on the stony path behind them, and turn...”

“You mean, he is revealed to the likes of them, but not to me?”

The Angel smiled. “Congratulations! You have just taken your first step towards the twin virtues, humility and humanity...”

By now Sibyl was lost in a wilderness of incomprehension. “How can this possibly be? I have gone through hoops defending The Truth.”

“Did I not tell you,” the Angel reminded her, “that it would be impossible, save for one thing…?”

Sibyl braced herself. Surely nothing further could be asked of her after all she had suffered. Wasn’t it time for her starry diadem? “Tell me, then...”

“...that he loves his creation so dearly, he has taken pains to become incarnate so that you might catch a glimpse of him in the face of Samaritan and stranger, the beggar under the bridge, the child feeding swans at the water’s edge, the neighbour who encumbers himself with your burden... “

“Throop’s no saint!” interjected Sibyl. “I can vouch for that!”

“...your own next of kin...”

“Sable! She’s the bane of my life.”

Her name is Isabelle!"

“A trial to break anyone’s spirit, but not mine. I have stood firm. To discipline her is to try and push granite uphill.”

“The stone is your stone,” said the Angel, “the one you still behold gagging the jaws of Christ’s tomb...”

“You don’t understand,” Sibyl insisted. “Sable has been my cross...”

Her name is Isabelle,” the Angel repeated.

“She was given to me as a punishment for sin.”

The Angel’s eyes blazed. “And do you know God’s mind, that you judge this? No! The cross is your cross, built with laths from your own dead wood. God has looked for figs and lo! there are thorns, the thorns with which you have crowned yourself, a self-styled Empress. Only One is worthy to wear the Briar and he wears it in your stead.”

At this, Sibyl recoiled in terror, her face chalk-pale. What was this ghastly creature? Surely, no archangel despatched by God!

“Take heed,” warned the Angel, “repent of your Assumption, and you will be forgiven, for you know not what you do.”

“You’re not hearing me!” cried Sibyl. “I’ve already made amends for...for doing what I did. Since then, I’ve stuck to the narrow way through thick and thin.”

“You were in harness to your own dead weight that it abraded you sore. The Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden light...”

“You don’t know Isabelle! My daughter has absconded to the tents of the heathen.”

“In your book,” the Angel replied, “not in God’s Book. You do not allow for the glorious victory of the grand design. Your cosmos is a grain of sand whose bounds are your own bounds. You worship at the altar of your own image and petition God to do your bidding.”

“You forget, I have no truck with sinners whether they be my own flesh and blood or not. That’s how doggedly I have pursued righteousness. In my youth, I was blessed. The Spirit visited me.”

“Hark!” cried the Angel, “I hear echoes of thunder and drum, the clashing of swords between Michael and Lucifer.”

“It isn’t as though I haven’t slaved to give my daughter the chances I never had.”

“I knew you’d come to that,” said the Angel. “Yes, Sibyl, you have dispensed much energy in your elected cause. You have been unstinting in the prosecution of your goal. But did your soul ever magnify the Lord? When were you a prism through which God’s love might be revealed?”

“Well, if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is! You can’t mean all that sentimental flowery flummery!”

“There are no words,” said the Angel,” to describe the quintessence of Love, easier to tell what it is NOT. Love is fiery as a diamond pure. It is hard as ice and soft as snowflakes next a candle flame. It asks no questions, tells no untruth, and, always, it endures. God has no heart, no hands, but yours to bring earth back into the bosom of Heaven....”

“I’ve always tried to do what’s right.”

“Hark,” bade the Angel again, “I hear cymbal and gong. The sound is neither symphony nor euphony. It is the leper’s warning.”

“And another thing, I’ve saved every penny I could, gone short of luxuries and the everyday things most people take for granted....”

“To ‘go short’ is to spit in the face of Providence!”

“....and I’ve bequeathed it all to lepers in Africa.”

“Well and good,” replied the Angel. “Alas, you seem to have left God out of your will.”

This statement rendered Sibyl speechless with dismay. There had been an overarching error in heaven! How in God’s name was she going to make the Angel see that? Her everlasting destiny was at stake.

“Sibyl, I perceive no oil in your lamp. Who can admit you to the Wedding Feast?”

“But that’s because I’ve used it all up bearing my trials. Surely it speaks for itself.”

The Angel’s countenance was very grave and his beauty was beyond imagining. “To those who have, much is given, while the pinchfist starves everyone, including himself.”

“Now you’re talking in riddles...!“ accused Sibyl in a way which implied his whole testimony could be rubbished. “I’ve had a hard time of it, always doing for others... You’d think at my age you could put your feet up and be waited on for a change!”

“And what of the freight they have towed for you?”

“I’ve never put on anyone in my life! I’ve had to stand on my own two feet, I can tell you. It was others who leaned on me! There was Ma and...Saul...five brothers, Desmond Halloran at the shop, then Edwin and Isabelle...”

“Isabelle has been your face in the world and has borne the penalties, the recrimination, of your default. She has wrestled on your behalf with the issues you disdained. You have closed your eyes, your heart, your life, to the need on your own doorstep, and under your own eaves, to identify with the downtrodden native who has never been your neighbour and demands nothing of you, the person.”

“Edwin would have done the same. He went without a headstone so that Ethiopians could eat! He was as exasperated with Sable as I was. But then, he was pretty useless, needed to be fed his lines as well as his dinner at eight.”

“Edwin was a faithful husband. He provided you with a refuge, gave you a status, tolerated your carping tongue to the last, notwithstanding handicaps of his own. In his quest to console you, he neglected everything for the work that delivered your material wants. Sibyl, he died for you! He was the scapegoat whose passing furnished you with opportunities to repent.”

The Angel’s words fell like so many dead leaves upon sour clay. Sibyl shrank back into her shell. “Sometimes, I think he secretly cared for her more than I did...”

“A poignant irony,” said the Angel, “when your daughter was a living symbol of your transgression.”

“She’s no sort of daughter...”

“How could she be when, from infancy, she assumed a mother’s role to protect you from yourself. How can she give what you have already taken on account? You see, theft of the personality is a grievous matter that has consequences far into the future... Now she has a child of her own and who will refill the pitcher?“

Sibyl’s astonishment rapidly waned, for now the Angel’s message rang distant bells. “So often, I caught the vital spark of my own mother in her....and I had to stamp it out. Bridie betrayed the memory of Da...and lumbered herself with five children fathered by a scrap merchant.”

“None of it would matter,” said the Angel, “not one jot, if you had a loving heart. Every tear would be wiped, every offence swept away as part of the blundering history of mankind, but your lack of charity binds souls, holds everything in check. It makes a gruesome tableau of ephemeral scenes.”

“It isn’t my fault! She’s got a will of her own!”

“You hold the key, Sibyl. You have all the matriarchal power you could wish for, but it is of a less exalted kind than you conceived with your craving for an African child who would return to its mother’s keeping when its duty to the tribe was discharged.”

Sibyl, brought to the edge of tears, was beginning to sound petulant. “It was hard, very hard. Isabelle didn’t seem to belong to me. She was somebody else.”

“Isn’t everyone?” asked the seraph pointedly. “You have hidden in a corner peopled by figments of your own conceit. That way you never have to encounter who you really are. You are exempt from the strife of cultivating a sacred hospitality towards your fellow men and the risk of losing the version of self you have fostered into the bargain.”

“But I was right to distrust Sable!” insisted Sibyl. “She had ‘faulty’ stamped right through the middle like a stick of rock. Leading a double life, pretending to be who she wasn’t!”

Her name is Isabelle!” boomed the Angel, a swordflash in the very iris of his eye. “Nor was it her pretence. She was merely a caricature you scribbled on the page.”

“Never! I’m her mother; I can see through her.”

“Isabelle doubtless is imperfect, yet while you call her a prodigal, she breaks her precious jar of spikenard over the feet of Christ.”

“With two thirds of the world starving, that’s iniquitous, so it is!”

“Had you shown the milk of kindness, you would have been Queen of Isabelle’s heaven, as the Blessed Virgin is surely God’s.”

At that moment, it seemed to Sibyl that the Gates of Paradise slipped their bolts against her. She was swamped by despair erupting from the foundation of her being, stifling the labyrinthine corridors of the heart with fumes of sulphur and brimstone. “Have I punished my mother in Isabelle?” she wondered, stricken. “Have I played Judas to her Mary Magdalene?”

Ah Grace,” sighed the Angel, looking up to the sky in an attitude of prayer, “if it could only rain down upon you now. You were never good at accepting gifts, were you, Sibyl?”

 

 

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WTH....

WTH, while I'm goofing off, I opened Dark Red. Here is its first chapter, a ragged thing that needs TLC. Been a while since I've looked at it.... It's a beast of a ms, 799 pages, 258,000 words.

And again, the formatting is changed. Should check into that sometime. Not today. Between posting these first chapters, I did manage another thousand in the current WIP, flash writing as it is, blazing out raw and unchecked, fun and satisfying but also a little depleting. Flash writing consumes energy but it's empowering. I'll edit it now, while it's fresh, make notes to myself about what needs greater attention, chew on the next bits already squirting out of me. Flash writing often opens a vein, a stimulating ore of fresh scenes and actions. It's just a matter then of staying true to the vein for a while to keep writing. 

While I've been reading, writing, editing and sharing, my coffee has grown cold. I was alone except the employees. Now others share conversations and space. The music has ceased, no, has been turned low, a faint tinny sound from the speakers on the room's far end. 

I've enjoyed this melange of reading old materials, writing new materials, posting first chapters and sharing random thoughts, but the coffee is cold and the afternoon is tumbling by. Need to wrap it up, he thought, sighing and smiling.

 

1

His scarlet cape, a Lord Stiltman legacy, whipped around Marius with sharp snaps. Marius’ army was close by but separated by ground from him, a reflection of his life and situation, reinforcing the impression he stands alone, egging on childish songs in his mind. Fargum Lord Stiltman had insisted he wear the fargum cape for this military action without explanation. Asking was a lost cause.

The wind was wearing on Marius and his fargum swearing helped nothing. Were he a resident of this fargum city, he’d hate the fargum wind because the fargum wind never stopped, never, screaming, whistling, hissing, shrieking and moaning. A fargum wind always blew off the fargum sea through Kelcrestbur’s broad streets and narrow alleys, singing higher notes as it passed towers and edifices. The fargum wind seemed more potent today, gusting with wicked impetuousness and varying strengths, kicking Kelcrestbur’s torn pennants into frenzied flapping. No doubt the town’s remaining fargum citizens felt and heard the lusty wind as a final statement about their existence. Without looking, he knew of watching venomous stares. Few cried but some spat, final acts to express their hate. He chuckled, thinking they should be careful not to spit into this fargum wind. He was glad to be almost done with it. Just be hours, even less, from now.

Stop swearing, he told himself. Swearing was a symptom of anger and resentment. Anger was useless. Anger only destroyed energy and clear thinking and the swearing helped keep the anger burning. He needed clear thinking. The end was almost at hand but he needed to see it to the finish. Once before, he’d made a mistake at the end. Hah, before the end, when he’d thought it the end. Not again.

Before Marius were hundreds of captured women and children, the last of the town’s elites, gathered survivors from their penultimate stand in Kelcrest. Their captured warriors watched from cells in the high towers, places that once were homes and offices. Lord Stiltman had changed that.

Bones slithered across slate floors in approximation of a gray monotone voice as Stiltman asked, “Feel their hatred, Marius?”

Yes, Marius thought. He felt their fargum hatred, like a burning wind. Of course he felt their hatred, fool. Didn’t he always feel their hatred? Was that why he was here instead of Lord Stiltman?

“You should hear what they say.”  Lord Stiltman seemed to enjoy Marius being hated. “Some simply spit when your name is said. The names they call you – desert jackal. Snake. Rat. They vow, ‘If I survive, I will hunt him to time’s end. I will slice open his scrotum, rip out his balls and shove them into his mouth. I will open his abdomen and pour acid and salt into his body and peel his skin from his back.’  You should hear. The men’s vows are almost as hateful. Do you want to hear?” 

Steeling himself, Marius kept quiet, wondering why Stiltman was pestering him like this. He yearned to scream, “Of course I know what they’re saying. Do you think me a fool?”  Was that what Stiltman thought him? He still could not say for certain what Lord Stiltman thought of him though so much time had passed. As the breeze slapped him, he wondered how much time it had really been since the two of them allied efforts. There was no way of knowing, the way they ran through time and time ran through them.

 

“Winds of good fortune grace Kelcrest,” they used to say, an echo of a lucky sentiment. Thinking themselves lucky, the Kelcre carved the words into many Kelcrest buildings above the doors. Painted murals and tiled mosaics captured the sentiment on buildings’ sides and on walls. They were sown into clothing, tapestries and pennants.

The expression was attributed to the prophet who told the first wandering nomads to stay and build. Back in that day, the Kelcre trekked north seeking relief after escaping their tormentors. All they found was a blazing hot land with a stone hard ground. No water, no food, no relief. Food and water supplies almost depleted, and death and illness stole more of their number each day. Their original group was down by ninety percent. Reaching the sea, they found water too salty to drink and a steady burning wind. Many collapsed, prepared to die.

But the young girl named Feliciten said, “Dig here. There’s water here.”   

Not yet ten years old, Feliciten journeyed with her mother, father and little brother, along with a few aunts, uncles and cousins. One younger sister had died. An introverted and quiet child, Feliciten had survived a lengthy illness as a toddler, emerging from the sickness with a bent body, crimped hands and a withered left leg that fell two inches shorter than her right leg. Many thought her mind was affected as well and wondered if she should not have been allowed to die. It was a strange grace when such a sick child lives.

Her command to dig was the first words she’d spoken in days. Finding herself ignored, she repeated with a commanding presence, “Dig here. There’s water.” 

Some later accounts claimed she glowed gold when she spoke. A few said that her leg was full and healed. The official records made during her lifetime don’t mention any changes or glowing.

But they dug where she indicated, discovering sweet water not far under the rocks. Marching to another place, Feliciten called, “Dig here.”  When pressed why, she answered, “There’s food stored in rock chambers below.” 

She was right about the food. Stores filled with vats of grains, seeds, and dried fruits and vegetables were discovered. No one knew how long the supplies had been buried but adding water to the dried produce made them tasty and chewable.

They were saved. Digging further and finding more water and stores, the Kelcre stayed. The rocks were mined. Many areas had ruins made of cut stone underground but other areas were roads or fields paved over layers of stones. Rich soils were found beneath them.

Today, with the wind blowing, nobody remembered the city’s origins from two thousand years before but most remembered their adopted belief, “Winds of good fortune grace Kelcrest.” 

Kelcrest was the original walled city and Kilcrestbur was the larger city that expanded around it. No matter where or who the expression’s source, the words held true until now. Kelcrestbur was on the way to being a lost city again.

“They’re saying, ‘Winds of ill fortune curse Kelcrest,’” Stiltman said with a broken, guttural giggle. “Oh, their muttering. You should hear, Marius. I can do that, if you want. I have the power here, for a change, so I can share their voices with you. They’re angering their companions.” 

Stiltman giggled more. “They say…the fools say that the others are angering the Gods. ‘Angering the Gods.’  They have no comprehension. They’re saying their complaints bring ill winds to Kelcrestbur. That’ s not what brought me here. I didn’t come because of their complaints and you only came because of me. These pathetic animals will never understand what brought me here.  And they’ll never know that I brought you here. They believe it’s you that destroyed them, Marius.” 

His tone sharpened. “Be ready.  A snake crawls close, a real snake, not a metaphor.”

A snake, here? Marius kept his face stony without looking for the snake. His strange, wide spread eyes took in a great swath of the town. Brown-skinned in this land, his eyes were tinged orange, unusual combinations everywhere, combinations that started others.

Fire, ruins and death surrounded him. They’d torn down Kilcrestbur’s water cisterns and grain towers. Their contents mixed with remains, blood, ashes and dirt into a clinging paste underfoot.

Just five months before Kelcrestbur was a wealthy town. Rising like a jewel from the low horizon, its white stone architecture was regarded for its cleverness and beauty. With a population breaching a million, Kelcrestbur was a center of culture, government and trade.

Most of that million were now dead, stacked like fallen logs, waiting for disposal.  Some had scurried into the desert or took to ship to flee. Deciding he would write a song about Kelcrestbur later, Marius embraced impressions and thought about what he might say. Once the sky above Kelcrestbur was radiant blue. Flat seas of deep blueberry hues had surrounded its spit of land north, east and west.

Those were gone. Smoky quartz gray ruled the sky and the seas boiled black with a deadly stench. Ship wreckage was sometimes visible in the waves. Many bodies still breached the shore when high tides surrendered each day.

“The snake is large and deadly,” Stiltman said.

Marius gazed around him. A thousand of his men surrounded him along with the prisoners. He didn’t see a snake but if Stiltman said a snake was close, there was a snake.

Only he could see Stiltman or hear him. Stiltman did not always seem present. Sometimes Marius sensed Stiltman’s presence like an awkward second shadow, something that should not be there, that could not be logically connected to what should be present. Other times, Stiltman was like an oily cloud of smoke.  But there were more ways – a foul smell, an unending screeching, flapping, hissing….

Marius wondered how he knew Stiltman in all these ways when no one else ever knew him at all. Standing short of five feet, Marius was known for his power and speed. Often, including in this land, he was red bearded with a bulbous, crooked nose and disease pocked skin. Others had witnessed him lift a horse and heave it aside more than once. He could do that with or without Stiltman augmenting his ability but Stiltman has also shown that he could prevent Marius from doing these things. Marius kept to the position that, overall, it was better to have Stiltman on his side. He avoided words and actions that could alienate the other.

Besides strength and warnings, Stiltman delivered many excellent qualities to their relationship. Having Stiltman with him armored Marius’ confidence, relieving him of the need to make many decisions about what to do, but Stiltman was also a frequent torture for Marius. Stiltman decided and finessed. Marius only needed to enforce Stiltman’s directions. He did so with reluctant gusto, clawing an existence between depravity and normalcy. Once he’d accepted what was to be done, he did it without question.

Stiltman declared that death was another reality. Marius wasn’t certain if he understood Stiltman’s position on death as another reality but he couldn’t contest the matter, considering it unfeasible, wrestling with desires to do so and decisions he could not, rationalizing, why should he? Enforcing Stiltman’s finessing was rewarding. Marius was highly regarded in the courts which mattered and feared in many others.   

“The snake comes,” Stiltman said. “Green and as thick as your leg, with black diamond eyes and fangs the size of your finger, it comes for you. Be ready to move. Arm yourself. I will help you deal with it.”

Drawing his sword, Marius saw the world slow ahead of him. The banners’ flapping fell into sluggish, lazy ripples. Moving with like speed, the snake burst from a black horse’s dead belly twenty feet from him. Darting between knots of soldiers, the snake raced for Marius.

Aided by Stiltman’s finessing, Marius moved at his normal speed. It appeared amazingly fast to the others present. As the snake traveled five feet, Marius closed the remaining distance.

He was beside the snake before it reacted to his presence. Raising his sword, Marius beheaded it as the snake presented its deadly fangs to him. Time snapped into its normal cadence.

The snake’s enormous body thrashed in death as its eyes lost its luster and its head, mouth yawning open, fell to the ground. Bluish blood flooded the area from its remains. The hardened soldiers around it stumbled back, shoving one another out of their way in their rush to get away.

They probably think the snake’s blood is poison, Marius thought. He saw their fear, awe and revulsion as he cleaned his sword and sheathed it. Considering the snake’s size and length and the horse it came from, he knew the snake had not been in that horse. Someone had finessed it into existence, probably to do him in. This was not the first time such actions had taken place. Somewhere within this realm of people was someone who tried to kill him by finessing reality. Thoughts that it could be his fargum men or the prisoners were equally fraught with concerns.

“Someone tried to kill you, Marius,” Stiltman said. Wicked enthusiasm veiled Stiltman’s fear. “Someone powerful enough to finesse it right under my watch.”  Enraged frustration pushed a thin screech into Stiltman’s tone. “Now they’re gone, Marius. We missed someone in this pile of stones.” 

Marius’ men rushed about with concern over Marius and his well-being, concerns he dismissed with contemptuous sniffs, deaf to their words. He was instead thinking how grateful he was to be linked with Stiltman but worried about their relationship. If Stiltman found someone more suited to him, Marius could find himself quickly out, a troubling equation. For him to be removed, though, another would need to see and hear Stiltman. That had happened just once that Marius knew. He’d easily murdered that young girl but knowing it could happen haunted him.

“Taste the blood,” Stiltman directed Marius. “Quickly, while it remains warm, dip your finger in the blood and taste it with your tongue.”

A ritual Marius had experienced before, he couldn’t bring himself to hurry. A hush grasped his watching army as he bent forward, extended a finger and dipped it into the snake’s puddle of blood.

“Hurry,” Stiltman ordered.

Marius felt the other’s hunger but he couldn’t hurry. One day, he would need to rebel against Stiltman. He raised the bloody finger as Stiltman urged with screeching crackles, “Hurry, hurry. Maybe I can learn who is behind this.”  As Marius brought the finger to his mouth, he saw another shadow join his arm.

The blood seared his tongue. That wasn’t unexpected. Marius was unable to pull his finger away as screams of pain welled up in him, but he couldn’t do that, either. He was aware of the eager sucking on his finger, a finger that was for that moment someone else’s finger, being sucked on by a mouth that for that moment was another’s mouth.

The world grew white as blindness took him. Deafness descended but he felt heavy, irregular vibrations rising up through his boots and traveling up his legs and through his abdomen. The pain ebbed away. His white vision receded, returning him to Kelcrest’s devastation and sound resumed. He had no idea how much time elapsed before he could finally lower his finger.

“There’s nothing,” Stiltman said. “The creator hid their tracks. We are done here. Kill these people. All must be killed. Torch what can be burn. Wipe it off the of existence’s face. Make it non-viable for any life. Let those who want life come in and finesse it. If they do, we’ll come back.”

Marius knew that torching would include the bodies. Stiltman always burned bodies. Marius suspected Stiltman’s longevity and increasing strengths emanated from killing people and burning their bodies.

“Tear down their castles and towers,” Stiltman said with greater anger. “Fill their moats and wells. Scorch the earth around it and pave it. It shall be arid desert when we are done, buried and forgotten across all histories and times. None shall remember this place when we are done.  Assign your forces to complete the tasks. We are wanted elsewhere. “

Not moving, Marius awaited the last of directions to be given to him, the part that he most despised. He was sure they would come. The order was always the same, as though Stiltman had to think through all that was said, all that was offered before him, yet he always finished with the same words.

Marius saw his men tensing. They knew what was to come.

“But first, bring me these children,” Stiltman said. “I will give you the names. Your men will find them. I will guide them.”

As Stiltman spoke the names and Marius called them out, Marius wondered why, another question he to put to Stiltman, another he knew he never would ask. The children were never older than four years. There were always twenty. Marius never saw them again once he had them rounded up for Stiltman’s use.  

 

A black cloud always enclosed the delivered children, yielding nothing of their fates. 

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While I'm At It....

WTH, Chapter 1 from Life Lessons with Savanna, written in 2014. This was a mystery. Don't know why this one lost its formating. Oh, well. Now seriously, I need to go write like crazy.

1

Thick brown hair, brown as a walnut, helmeted Alice’s small, still head. She’d worn thick, brown hair when marrying at sixteen and still had it in her final days, although the year’s photographs before she married showed long hair cascading down her back. The hair was cut in her wedding photograph. Studs had seen the photos on line.

Alice’s hair was her great secret to looking fifty when she was seventy-eight, a secret gifted her through genetics. Today, she wore blue jeans, a purple top and mocs. Inspired by the poem, Warning by Jenny Joseph, Alice wore many purple shirts, hats, and pants. Her favorite exercise shoes were purple and she was ready to recite, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple,” without anyone’s provocation. It wasn’t unusual for her friends, seeing her wearing a new purple top, to begin reciting the poem at her. She was only too happy to join.

Alice loved her purple top. Besides being a deep and rich purple, her favorite color but better, of a hue she associated with medieval royalty, and made of cotton, she’d bought it at a local vintage store for six dollars. “Six dollars and it had never been worn,” she said the first time she wore it out, beaming, big walnut eyes sparkling behind her large glass lenses. “It still had the price tag on it. It cost sixty dollars originally. It could have been stolen, I guess.”

She could tell people about the first purple garment she purchased for herself. A scarf, now tucked in among souvenirs and photo albums in an over-packed hall closet, she’d bought the scarf for two dollars after graduating college as a young married woman who already had two children. She never told anyone about buying the scarf, one of the few stories secreted in her mind’s personal safe. That story was too personal and embarrassing for her. Telling it would require admissions which she preferred to avoid. She was from a poor Montana town and had never seen anyone wearing purple when she was a child. That wasn’t the sort of color people in her town wore, not in those years. She didn’t want to admit how special buying a purple scarf was. Her family had been destitute, something that didn’t change with her marriage, not for a long time. He and she were both working as they moved away and went through college, first him graduating, then her.

No one knew she didn’t tell the story so justifying not telling it wasn’t necessary. Alice viewed the purple scarf bought in Michigan as a declaration of freedom, an exultation that colors like purple existed. Besides purple, she enjoyed yellows, oranges, greens and blues, but ask her about it and she would tell you, “Purple is queen.”

Besides the color purple, a good deal, like the price on her new top, was almost as beloved as her family, followed by wine drinking, reading, gardening and cats. She exercised in a Family Y class at eight every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.

 She was found in the Y parking lot but it was a Thursday morning. Nobody could understand why she was in the Y parking lot on a Thursday morning before dawn. It wasn’t a day for her to be exercising and that was the only reason she went to the Y. Besides being the wrong day, she was lying on the cold asphalt at 5 AM in her favorite purple top, without a coat, in winter.

Studs was the one who found her. He didn’t know her but when he saw her face, he remembered her name was Alice.

Alice was one of the woo-woo girls.

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Since I'm Wandering Memory Lane....

Chapter 1, Returnee. 

 

Kimi

1

I’d just been speaking with the fabulous ChaWhana about the mood change right before my Eureka moment. “I know,” she kept bubbling. “We’ll get together. Let’s plan it.”

Right before my Eureka moment, a hard coded psyche moment. Laser fresh.

Summer Festival was commencing and a party mood was invading. Rainbow sky reigned. Don’t know if you’ve been to Nobel. The Summer Festival is homage to Earth and humanity, a time to celebrate. The rainbow sky’s the crowning reminder of what we’re doing. Seriously, the sky wasn’t blue but swathed with wide rainbow bands, red, orange, yellow, well, you know, a rainbow’s colors. Let me not belabor that.

This was the seventy-fifth Summer Festival, the diamond celebration. Maybe they chemicalized the dome’s air to make us happier and more energetic or we experienced a cumulative release, a natural breaking point. My domains’ denizens had been working heads down hard on projects. We were surfacing like it was a great awakening. Thris was singing, harmonizing with his boyfriend’s falsetto. Others joined, lighting the filament with music. I even sang,

“Summertime, and we’re alive,

lazing in love’s sunshine.

Celebrating the beginning

of the end,

and thinking of the days we’ll be together again.

 Summertime,

the last we’ll know,

until death’s winter is lifted.”

Pings lit my filament. Those aren’t the words, my system said as did everyone else pinging me, laughing. I laughed, rebutting, “So? It’s the best I can do. Live with it.”

And I'd found myself, well, some critical essence. Accomplishment pumped my giddiness. It wasn’t that I really found me, like I was missing, but only that I’d confirmed my records were wrong. The wrong records explained so many gaps. I couldn’t wait to discuss it with Mom. I didn’t know if she would. She doesn’t take well to those things.

Let me tell you how ChaWhana was. Not tall nor short, ChaWhana is a brown eyed white girl with vampy black and blue hair. She’s uncomplicated, five mood and behavior settings, maybe more that I don’t know, but I think, from all I’ve witnessed and heard about her, she has five settings. Unfiltered and raw as I am, I have settings with settings in settings and they change with a gnat’s fart. ChaWhana told me she likes that about me, that I’m so uncontrolled, unfiltered, emotional, impulsive and passionate. She’d even stated she enjoyed my darker sides.  

ChaWhana is my bizzaro world opposite. She bubbles but it’s leashed. Being uncontrolled is the antitheses of her behavior. Yet she’s always, always happy, not just quiet happy but energetically so. Her first three settings are happiness, happiness and happiness. I envy that, that someone could be so uncommonly happy and joyful and that it seemed so honest.

Well, not always happy, not in her ‘other’ settings, if you get me. Her other settings are much different. Her fourth setting would be somber or sad, like when she’s thinking about her mother and grandmother, who cut her off and won’t speak to her. Won’t accept vmails from her or nothing like that. When she goes into that setting, she styles like a recluse. You won’t see her for several days.

Don’t ever go to ChaWhana’s fifth setting. You don’t want her on her fifth setting. That’s her angry setting, her absolute pissed off to all orbits above and below position. We villagers all flee when she goes to five.

What I’m saying about ChaWhana is usually in that happy mood but when she’s sad, she’s really sad. Be-ware when she’s mad. I profile her and know when her moods are changing. I watch for it.

I told her that, too. She knew how I felt. She and I were connected. We profiled one another, confession, I’ve profiled her more than once and frequently profiled her again to see if anything had changed. According to all the math and science, she and I profile at about a seventy-two. It varies. I think once it got as high as seventy-four and as low as seventy. It’s never gone below seventy but if you know about profiling, anything in the seventies is not indicative of a successful relationship. Most people keeping company share at least something in the nineties.

But she and me, with our seventies relationship profile quotients, constantly link up. I’m not saying the profiling science isn’t right. ChaWhana and I were the profiling exceptions. Something about us defied the systems. I believed it was true love and special chemistry.  

That’s all about her then. I think other things now, like how she’s not genuine. Sometimes I think that she has more settings than I ever knew but other times I think, no, she just had one setting, that was to be deceitful. She completely duped me and all the rest although they won’t all acknowledge it. After they found out, usually from me, many comments from people who knew her begin – paraphrasing the gist –“You know, I wondered about her. Yeah, she was usually happy, with this hyper effervescence but didn’t that seem like that was faked to you sometimes?”

No, I never saw that. No, no, no, it never seemed faked. No. Not to me.

Liana said, “You know, I sometimes wondered because she had those dark days when she just disappeared. It was really mysterious, you know? No vmail in or out, virtually out of every domain, completely absent from everything, like she didn’t really exist, right? So I wasn’t surprised because it was like she was living a secret life then.”

I didn’t accept what Liana was telling me about her suspicions. It seemed like Liana was solving a crime after all the facts have already been revealed and the trial is over. “You never said anything to me about that.”

“I know, she had you so deep in her grasp, you wouldn’t have believed me and that would have just pushed you away from me. I didn’t want that.”

Liana’s revelations cooled me. I’m notorious among my friends for withdrawing and sulking. “I still wish you told me.”

“See, there you are already, you’re already mad at me and starting into your angry and hurt portrayal, just what you would have done if I’d told you and I didn’t want that. I know you. That’s who you are and who you will be unless you re-engineer your personality which I know you will not do.”

The challenging jab is familiar. “You think you know me, like you think you knew ChaWhana.”

Even with all our chips and technology and memory enhancements, we can still be fooled. We can still believe we know and trust someone, and be completely wrong.

True love.

That was the other possibility for why she and me were good together. ChaWhana always laughed and agreed with me that it was probably true love we had but that never let her become willing to contract. I think she was joking, I think she loved me but not deeply, not enough to cope with my millions of emotional settings and capricious behavior. Even if it was true love….

I’ve known a few true loves, always with women, never had an inclination for a man, three true loves since I’ve mentioned it. We profiled over one hundred each time and we stayed together a while but it didn’t last. Trivia note:  most people who score below one forty on their profiles will contract three times and stay together ten years. People scoring one forty and above are more likely to stay together more than ten years. People scoring below one hundred usually don’t do more than hook.

But there we were. ChaWhana said that’s because true love is a fluid state. She believes our profiles are off because they look for what we know we like instead of exposing ourselves to different people that might reveal something else. She feels true love is too often thought of like magnets and steel. Magnets are drawn to steel but that’s not all that defines either material.

I don’t know. I was mad for her but –

I live in the shadow of exceptions, hesitations, frustrations and qualifications. She wasn’t willing to contract. That’s how it come down. I’d suggested it, teasing around a kernel of need and truth, but I didn’t press her when she turned me down. Just did it every chance I had, that’s all. Love her I do but contracting is when you’re ready to dock somewhere in a family way. That was not my gig then. So I guess I was relieved when she turned me down. I have to wonder how history would have been different, my history, anyway, if it had been true love and we had contracted. But –

When I had that Eureka Moment, I called for ChaWhana naturally. This was big news and joy was overwhelming me. I had to share it with her of all people.

I couldn’t find ChaWhana in the domain or on my filament and thought how weird that was but nothing else. I’d just been conversing with her and I was happy. She’d been happy. Although I started sharing my news with everyone from the first line, I especially wanted to share it with ChaWhana so after the fail finding her in my filament, I thought maybe she’d gone into one of her moods. I hadn’t noticed anything, though, and she had tells about when she was about to do the darkside. Once I’d started seeing them, I used to try to cajole her into being happy but when the tells begin creeping out, her mood isn’t going to change. I’d learned that so when the tells demonstrate her darkside rising, I just prepared myself for her withdrawal and got ready to spend time without her.

But there hadn’t been any of those tells that day, nothing. She’d exhibited her usual happy bubbliness. I didn’t think there would be anything wrong with me going to her place so I ported from my lab to there to find and tell her.

Then, pop, that was it. 

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