30# Men of Ice Have No Business Being Near Fires.

Image FreeDigitalPhotos.Net by franky242

ID-100137686

I am a man made out of ice. No, I’m not your Jack Frost. I don’t leave glinting white fern trails on windows overnight. I just walk around in the dark, and I try not to touch anything.

When the sun comes up I’m face down on the grass. I can’t feel the wetness of the morning on the green blades as they pierce right through me. Exhaustion makes me grab at the ground to pull myself up, but I pull up no clods. There is currently no earth under my fingernails. I am transparent in the sun, the world walks right through me. I can barely see my own hands.

During the day I find myself inside houses, trying to open doors. It takes a lot of concentration, but if I try I can open them. I know there are things inside but I can only vaguely see objects huddled on shelves, furniture in corners. Afterwards I always feel disappointed. I know shouldn’t touch anything, but I don’t know why. It’s just a feeling I have that it isn’t right for me to be touching them. Sometimes I can’t. I reach out for a door handle and find my  whole arm is gone. In the back of my mind I can hear screams, as if I someone was in those rooms with me. I turn around thinking I must not be alone, but all I ever catch is the edge of a skirt, or the heel of a shoe, and a tap-tapping, frantic, down the stairs.

I said I was a man made out of ice. This isn’t strictly true, but I make things cold. I know this because voices tell me. Cats sneeze when I come near them, and back away. I can see the breath of animals. I know that I carry my own cold with me everywhere. I don’t know if I feel cold, because I always feel the same. Exhausted. I don’t remember things like warmth and comfort. I can see a fire burning in a hearth and sometimes I’ll have a recollection of what it meant to be beside one. I can put my hands out now, towards the fire, and I see only a fog around my hands. Men of ice have no business being near fires.

At night, I feel more substantial. I don’t know quite why. I think perhaps it has something to do with the way the darkness fills up the spaces where parts of me should be. I hold my hand up to the sky, and when I look through it, I can see stars sometimes. The moon makes me feel like I have an outline. Sometimes, I think I can see people. For a moment there will be a face on the street, lit up with a sudden panic. They vanish after that, and the street is empty again.

Once, I met someone just like me. He was standing in the graveyard, under an old yew.

“Do you ever wonder why the trees, and the animals and everything here looks real, but you never see any people?” He asked me. I shrugged. It had been so long since I had seen anyone like me that I had forgotten about talking.

“Well I wonder about that,” he said.

I thought perhaps the conversation was over. I thought about leaving, but part of me wanted to try to talk to the man. It had been so long, but I was sure that I used to talk to people, and feel warmth, and eat and laugh and do all those sorts of things.

“There’s just the cold now, isn’t there. It eats right through you. You just feel like an icicle, walking around, spreading the fog, and the chill-”

“You have it too?” I asked him. I couldn’t hear my own voice.

“Yeah course.” He said. “Course I do, everyone like us does. Once you get to this stage, it’s hard to thaw. You want to, but when people come near you and feel the cold they scarper. You can’t get enough warmth from them to put out all that ice inside. Can’t even hold yourself together. You fall away in bits. That’s what happens if you don’t thaw.”

I mused over what he had said. I told him about about how my hands fogged up when I went near a hearth. “I’ve come to the conclusion now that it isn’t worth your while trying. Men of ice have no business being near fires,” he said.

I last saw him a few months ago. He was in a state because a girl had started coming to the graveyard at night. There are no fences around it, only the road which winds round a little stone wall. Foxes dart about between the trees, up and over the wall, and into the traffic, They give night drivers quite a scare. I see the cars, but not the drivers.

He was agitated because the girl was coming regularly, and it made him feel uncomfortable. He worried she would know he was there, and it would get awkward. He was older than me I think, but I don’t know. He just seemed like someone old. Thinking about that made me wonder if I was old, because I couldn’t remember. But he definitely seemed older than me. I thought it was funny that he was so worked up about the girl, but I sort of knew what he meant. I didn’t like having to see people either, or being seen.

I saw her in the graveyard, she was vague at first, but the more I saw her, the more she became quite real. He had said she was a girl, but I thought she was more of a lady. I think the old man called her a girl because he was old. I like now to measure myself somewhere in between the old man and the lady, in terms of age. It makes me feel more substantial. I like knowing that something about me can be measured.

She reads books on the benches, or on the grass at the edges of the graveyard where a little light from the street lamps floods in. The foxes don’t know what to do about her either. She tries to talk to them but they panic and run. She saw me one night, and looked at me for a while, her eyes grew very wide, but I think she could tell that I didn’t like it, and so she went back to reading her book. I could see that her hands were shaking though, and I felt bad, so I left.

I keep coming back to the graveyard. Sometimes I sit on the bench and watch her read. she talks to me now and I think I reply but I can’t hear my own voice most of the time. Sometimes the words come out though, and it makes her smile.

One day she asked me. “Why are you always so cold?” I told her the saying, “Men of ice have no business being near fires.”

The next night she brought me a candle. She showed me how to hold it. “The trick is not to let go,” she said. Somewhere beneath the wisps of fog I thought I could see a pair of hands.

They were my hands.

 

29# The Sled

Image by Blamethechicken, Freedigitalphotos.net

aurora

We live in West, in the realm of ice, Banneran and I, and the wolf-dog woman Orkoosh. I have no memory of being born, unlike them. I used to think I was their child but Banneran said, no, I had come to them from across one of the ice plains to the East. One of the old women had put me on a sled and sent me cascading across the plain wrapped in coats of pelts. He said the sled bounded and danced – Orkoosh saw it coming as she was out hunting and came running to him saying, look, a wonder! There is a child in the sled Banne!

I had asked, but how did you know it was an old woman?

Orkoosh had said that it was because she remembers. I don’t understand it but that was all she said about it. Except that the East was a land basked in Sunshine, where we had only the Moon. Sunshine was a different kind of light, she said, which was much brighter than ours, but that, as we had the beautiful stars and the emerald light, we had nothing to complain about.

I mentioned to you just now about not remembering being born. Apparently that’s a gift that the people of the West have, they remember being born just as the people of the East remember dying. I have lived a long time now in the snow of the West and I don’t remember being born and I don’t remember dying. This has led Orkoosh to wonder if I am from the East at all. What memories do you have? She asks me all the time. I answer her, only of you and Banneran. Then she laughs as if it has all been a joke, and pats my head and will say, of course.

She then motions to the sled I was brought on. Go and play, she says. In an instant she will turn from me and slink gracefully into her wolf-dog form and I will harness her to the sled and we will race about the snow plains under the purple-black sky covered with emerald lights- the lights that come from some other place, and know us, and watch over us as we play. Sometimes when we stop for breath I will ask Orkoosh to turn back into a woman and ask her questions. I ask her how long I have been with them, and she will say, don’t you remember? You have been here for one hundred and eleven years. I will question her,  how does she know this? and she will say it’s because all shape-shifters know the passage of days.

When you talk of the old woman, what do you mean? I say to her, and she replies Old age is something that happens elsewhere, and I say to her, what happens elsewhere? She will shake her head as if she thinks I’m silly, and then off she goes again -ZIP!- slinking back into a wolf and we fly across the ice back to the hut, and to Banneran who loves us. Then Orkoosh will change and they will always greet each other as if they been apart for a long time, and don’t quite know each other. He will ask her if she would like to sit down, for example, and then we will all eat. After dinner, Orkoosh and Banneran will seem to remember that they know each other, and will sit in the warmth of the hut and comb each other’s hair. This will take a long time because Orkoosh’s  long, unruly locks will have gathered many tangles from the ice wind. Banneran will nod over to me and say, well, where is your comb young man? Then I will put my hand in my pocket and there it is, the comb made of wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Orkoosh says that the old woman gave it to me. I begin to comb my hair too, because Orkoosh says fondly that the old woman would want me to look my best.

Then I will listen as Orkoosh tells Banneran stories.

It is tradition that Orkoosh tells him stories each time that we return. I don’t know where she gets them from, they are always fantastical. My stories are about little fish that I see, glinting in the ice pools, or bears in the distance, or the moon rising. Orkoosh, however, always has stories about princes and magicians and priestesses and treasure and great ships that roam the sky, flying along on the vapours left by the burning emerald lights. Banneran responds to Orkoosh’s stories. He says playfully, no no Koos, you have told that one before I think, even when she hasn’t. Or, akakaka, (he clicks his tongue) Koos I don’t like this story, the prince is too arrogant, the priestess would never grant him an entire kingdom for rescuing just one golden key. Be serious!

When I ask Banneran how long he has loved Orkoosh he smiles and says he doesn’t know. When I ask Orkoosh she laughs and says, almost forever, and that she knows this because she remembers being born. Then, after the stories are told, they say goodnight to me, and I creep through the pelt curtain on the East-hand side of the hut and am in my own den. Banneran has lit a fire in there for me with his magic, and from my bed I look up to the space in the roof where one brick is made of glass, because I asked Banneran to put it there. I asked him to make a glass brick, so that I could see out and watch the emerald lights fade, and the clouds race across the stars. The fire crackles with blue and lilac flames, Banneran’s magic will keep it burning while I sleep.

*
Sometimes I wonder, as I look up through the glass brick to the sky, what we are, and why we live apart from others. I wonder how Orkoosh came to be a wolf-dog woman, or how Banneran came to have magic. Or who I am, and why I will never grow old, or remember being born, or remember dying. Orkoosh smiles at Banneran, rolling her eyes, when I ask her these questions, and says only Because we are in paradise.

When I ask her what that means, Banneran answers. He says that sometimes the people in the East have dreams they don’t wake up from, and that we live in one of those dreams. That somewhere, a boy exactly like me grew up, lived his life, and then died, and in that final dream he imagined that he was a little boy again, and that his grandmother wrapped him in pelts and sent him across the ice on a sled to the West, where the people remember being born. When I say I don’t understand, Orkoosh answers, you said you only remember me and Banneran, is that true? I nod. Then you are from the East after all. She says, and smiles. I crawl to my den and sleep, and when I wake, I wonder why it is that I never remember my dreams.

 

National Poetry Day: For My Friend, the Dragon.

Image cbenjasuwan, freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100133355

Since it’s National Poetry Day in the UK, I decided to publish this short poem I wrote earlier, whilst looking at the moon outside our university library. I hope you enjoy it.

For My Friend, The Dragon.

The moon has been cut in half,

I can only see the head of the dragon.

This fabled dark side a ghost,

Only visible to those who look for it,

Desiring to see where the wings, the tail, are hidden.

Because we, such upward dreamers,

Could not, even for a second,

Bear to believe that half the moon

Could ever possibly be missing.

These moonbeams we bury our face in nightly

Greet us

And we are, in that instant only,

like long-lost lovers, kissing.

Looking up, I feel the age-old tingling returning,

Remembering now,

That I was bequeathed so long ago,

To my friend, the dragon.

 

 

18: The Land Without Hope

Image Evgeni Dinev, Freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100120506

I woke up in the Land Without Hope, and had almost forgotten that I had been chosen as one of the legion in a long line of demonic sacrifices. For a second I couldn’t fathom where I had landed. It was only when I looked up from the horizon and realised that the black sky was utterly devoid of stars that I knew that I was in that other place, that no one comes back from. Stars, for us, represent hope, a past, a legacy. Without stars you don’t know where you came from, and you can’t go home again. Your soul has no celestial way of navigating, and in this place, no earthly purchase either.

But stars must also be striven for and towards. In that darkness I saw no possibilities at all, and heaven knows I looked.

The Land Without Hope was pockmarked, and strewn with old objects that no one had a use for anymore. As I looked about at the the strands of metal peeking out from under dunes, and the old bones, and the tattered books, and the odd socks, I felt a misery in knowing that here, I belonged at last. Finally they had found a place for me where I would not stand out.

I smiled slightly as I discovered the truth of it. A lot of humour has no hope in it at all. Or rather, as Manthorn would say, joyless laughter is the very sound of hope leaving. You deploy it because there is nothing else to say. That empty laughter filled the foothills of the Land Without Hope. Foothills that held black-hearted vultures at their peaks. They made the laughter ring. Purple-eyed fiends who feed on empty-socketed creatures roaming the tundra.

I surveyed them for a moment and wondered who had rejected them. I was there as a sacrifice, thankfully, I knew that. It made me think that at least I would be swallowed up whole and not left to wander like one of those pathetic creatures which had ceased to be human. You could only see them after a few minutes, their melting bodies blended into the monotony of the yellow scrub, and hid amongst the shapes of trees, casting no shadows. There were strange trees in that land. Their branches were twisted into shapes of suicidal agony. I remember thinking how melodramatic it all was – whoever had fashioned this landscape had wrought pain and anguish into its folds in the most unimaginative fashion. No wonder the vultures are laughing, I thought.

Getting tired of that hellish landscape I sat down, and became maudlin and introspective. I wondered when exactly the Demon King would come for me, when I might be eaten, and what he might look like. Did he speak? Was there any point in negotiating? I looked down at my hands, the palms had healed. There were no blisters now. Nothing to remind me of the hours spent trying to escape from those bonds, from the ropes that bound me, and from the darkness of the cell I had languished in for months; even when it was a fate I had initially chosen for myself, for a while I still fought it. It broke my heart to see those smooth hands, devoid of scars. It made me appreciate the loss of my humanity. They told me once, -and I from my prison cell believed them – that humanity is a thing you can’t win back in the Land Without Hope.

One of the melting walkers approached me. Its limbs dissolving as I looked. There are so many of them. I thought. They were everywhere, the more you looked across the wasteland the more undulating, stumbling corpses revealed themselves. I wondered if this walker would get close to me before it melted away all together. In the corner of my eye I saw another one rise, and another, moaning, their mouths a sticky maw of frustration.

I looked down at my feet, and sought around for something to throw. I like throwing, I had always been good at it. I had the aim of a professional, and more passion than the other girls. I could always throw farther, I never stopped to think about what I looked like when I pitched the stones into the water. When I killed the Priest of Gold it was with a stone. The blow shattered his skull. He died a good death and that was all that mattered. I did what I was told because I didn’t feel then I had any other choice.

“They put you in the path of destiny, and on you blithely go.” Manthorn said to me, when I he saw I had taken on the commission. I had put on the ceremonial robes of an assassin.

“You do know where they will send you, don’t you?” He asked, one eyebrow raised so high as if were looking for a way to float off his old face altogether.

“You do this, and no one is going to think to thank you afterwards. You don’t get a handshake and a pat on the back.” Light was streaming through the slit in the wall onto his gown. It was a pale dying Winter light. I knew there would be no more Summers where I was going.

“One hell is the same as another.”

“No, you see that’s where you are wrong.” He answered. “They could send you to any number of hells for killing a High Priest.”

“Who decides?”

He shrugged. “Who can say? I don’t know the inner workings of these people, these chancellors. I’m just an old magician.”

I shook my head at him and put on the gloves.

“Find me a rock.” I said. “A stone.”

Manthorn’s face grew pale and a thousand years swam about in his eyes.

“There are convicts who could do this job, true believers, I don’t know why you want to do this. Only a fool would volunteer to martyr themselves for no good reason.”

It was my turn to shrug at him. “I have reasons enough.”

Now, standing in that place alone with the walker in front of me, I felt the anger return. When you loose everything over and over again it becomes meaningless, and yet you don’t for a minute learn to stop accumulating things to love. At last I was in place where there was nothing, absolutely nothing to love. I could never loose anything ever again.

“Aah!” I picked up a chewed sandal, bearing the teeth marks of an animal, and I threw it. The walker recoiled from the the blow and stopped in its tracks. I picked up another object, a metal poker this time.

“I have an appointment with the Demon King.” I said to the walker. “You’re going to take me to me or I’ll run you through.”

I knew it didn’t matter what I did to that shape, it couldn’t look anymore monstrous than it did now. Perhaps it knew that. The shape just slunk away. For a while I followed it until its limbs just evaporated into the wind and left a rancid odour that stayed in my nostrils wherever I went. And go I did. I searched up and down for my destroyer, but he never came.

It was only one day – I say day, but there is no time in the Land Without Hope – that I happened to feel a shift in the thick dust of the air. I looked up from the shapes I was drawing in the sand to see a figure materialise.

“Manthorn!” I ran to him, not even looking where I was going, but he vanished.

This went on for a sizeable eternity. This game of cat and mouse with Manthorn’s shade. In the meantime I traced my way through the wasteland avoiding the staggering shapes and the tortured trees and instead seeking out things to keep from amongst the debris. Perhaps it is a human thing, to want to always be hanging on to something. More often than not I lay in the dust and wondered is there really nothing left to loose now? –As I acquired marbles and watch straps, letter openers and combs with broken teeth. I picked them up and left them in piles. I made my mark on the landscape without hope, and slowly but surely, I felt a purpose, growing here and there in the heaps of things that he been thrown away. But I had a use for them.

When Manthorn finally became corporal it was a shock. He appeared behind me while I was stacking some chipped statuettes, one on top of the other to make a tower.

“So this is what you’ve been doing all this time.” He said, his tone caustic, his eyes fading in and out of his head where the magic waxed and waned.

“You’ve come through at last then, that took some effort didn’t it.”

“I thought you would be a bit more pleased to see me.” He folded his arms. I got up and walked right through him, just to be insolent. Just to show him I lived in the Land Without Hope now and didn’t care about his magic.

“Are you are just here to have a look round is that it-” I paced, encircling him like a cat. I heard him sigh.

“I thought this might happen. I told you they’d send you somewhere like this.”

“Enough of that.” I found myself shouting, but away from him, I had turned my back. I was still looking up at the void that was the sky and fighting something that felt like tears but which never manifested. “You may as well make yourself useful – help me find the Demon King and get this over with.”

“The Demon King.” Manthorn just repeated my words back to me. It made me howl in frustration. I felt for a second like one of those walkers with their gaping sorrowful mouths.

“You heard me.” I said. Manthorn nodded. “Let me take you then.” He said. “Follow me.”

I remember thinking what’s the old fool up to. But I followed him anyway. We stalked through the dunes and past the piles of oddities I had collected. Manthorn made a show of examining a fair few of them. He bent over the sad little heaps of broken treasures and hummed and haahed over them. I wanted to hurry him on but I had somehow lost the heart to.

We came at last to mountain of dust and dirt and scree that blocked out anything beyond it. Here the walkers wouldn’t venture, and even those damned trees wouldn’t grow.

“Is this the place then?” I asked Manthorn.

“See for yourself.” He said, and beckoned with one ghostly hand forward.”May I ask what you intend to do?”

“Do?”

“Well yes. When you encounter the Demon King.”

I paused. I looked back and saw in the distance the mounds of broken things and felt a weird pride in them. In my collections, how I had made something out of nothing.

“Manthorn,” I said to him, “find me a stone.”

I took what he gave me, his face still creased in wonderment, and I climbed to the top of that ridge and gazed out. I had pulled at the earth with my hands to get a purchase and I felt the beginnings of pain. It made me stop for a moment and try and remember why that sensation mattered. I looked down at my palms and saw they were blistered. I looked out and down and there, sitting on his own heap of rejected ornaments, was the Demon King.

When I looked he looked too. His eyes were the most truly hopeless thing in the Land Without Hope. In fact, they were the epicentre of all it held. Reflected in his eyes I saw the vultures with their black plumes, and the branches of the strangled trees. I saw the melting walkers and the darkness without stars. I heard the joyless laughter as if it were carried on a whirlwind around that figure sitting squat, and unfathomably huge in the middle of that hoard. His head held eight horns, he had four thick legs, his two arms where constantly moving over the objects under his stump-like feet.

I felt my pulse race, I gripped my rock. I had to ask myself, why doesn’t he rise? Why doesn’t he rush at me with those horns and tear me to pieces. Why is he just watching me with those eyes?

Then he rose, he came slowly towards me. A new realisation came over me. I couldn’t work out what it was.

Throw it

The voice said.

Kill me

I froze. There was an eternity in which I watched the Demon King and he waited. In his eyes then I saw all the sorrows I had ever known, and all the dejections, the bereavements. I let my arm fall slack. I waited for him to make everything right, to fulfill his side of an ancient bargain but he never came at me.

You can destroy me.

The voice said finally, pitifully.

I cursed him then, and put down my rock. I let it just roll away.

The Demon King slunk back. He began to diminish in size until he could burrow under the mountain of broken objects, until he was gone.

Manthorn appeared at my shoulder, suitably smug.

“You didn’t fancy becoming King of the Land Without Hope then?”

“No.” I said. “Now there really isn’t any hope at all, is there. No hope of being devoured I mean. Of leaving here.”

Manthorn wiggled his eyes brows in answer, his arms folded again. I turned my back on the Demon’s hoard and made to walk back down the mountain. But Manthorn called after me.

“The Demon King isn’t gone you know.”

“Oh?” I called back. Utterly disinterested now.

“-But you know now that there is no devouring. You either walk away or you take his place.”

“Fascinating”

“Wait.” I waited. I don’t know why, perhaps Manthorn still had some real magic in him that was not for conjuring illusions.

“When you picked up that rock you meant to kill him. What did you hope to achieve?”

I struggled with the answer.

“To fight back. I suppose. I don’t know. Perhaps I hoped I could change everything by killing him.”

I felt a sudden twinge, I dropped to my knees, winded.

“You hoped did you?” Manthorn said.

I looked up then, my hands round my ribs. The guards had broken them when they threw me down the stairs after I had killed the Priest of Gold. I had forgotten the pain, but it came over me in a relieving wash. As I said, I felt the pain in my ribs but I looked up, I felt my gazed being dragged skywards. Stars were bursting out all over the night, burning through the blanket of darkness like stray coals on a carpet.

“Why is it doing that?” I cried out to Manthorn, but his figure was shimmering and loosing its focus.

“There,” I heard him say, and he pointed out towards an island forming up ahead of us in the night, suspended in the sky. It was a green place, it was bright, I almost thought I saw the twinkle of water gushing out into nothing.

I gasped as I felt my blood surging in my veins, and my eyes now truly watering with tears.

“Only humanity has the capacity to find something to hope for in the Land Without Hope.” Manthorn said from the mountain top.

“I’ll never reach it from here.” I shouted out in disgust at him, the novelty of the pain was wearing off, but he was laughing with joy

“Anything visible, feasible or tangible is surmountable. To enter the Land Full of Hope, all you have to do is hope for it,”

Then, as is characteristic with all magicians, he vanished.

I sat up and having nothing else to look at or for, stared out at that glittering island in the distance. I grasped my ribs with my blistered hands and I stood. Somewhere down below I thought I heard the Demon King howling.

“Come on.” I shouted down to him, painfully motioning him to get off his hoard and follow.

The Demon King looked up at me with curious eyes now.

“We are going on an adventure,” I told him, “now get moving.”

He shuffled to his feet, his horned head bowed, sulking, but compliant.

“And find me a stone.” I said.

How? The voice asked.

I cleaned some sand out of my eyes and thought of Manthorn.

“Try hoping for one.” I told him.

The Demon King looked at me perplexed for a moment, before a memory appeared to surface in his eyes and we set off as somewhere behind us, the eyeless corpses began rooting through the piles of dis-guarded things as if finally seeing them for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16: Heaven

Image by Stuart Miles,  courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100277030

The spell worked. I’m in a new place now.

Do you want to know how I feel? Ecstatic. I am every bit as brilliant as they said I was, and more. I’m not even paying attention to what’s around me because it doesn’t matter. I got here and they all said it was impossible. I want that victory to sink in before I start contemplating the rest of my life here. It’s not even as if it will be living, it will be existing, for all time. Eternity. It’s not a gimmick it’s real. He said to me once,

“Even if such a thing were possible, how could it be tolerable, bearable?”

He didn’t believe in Heaven. I should have known better than to talk to him, but he had a little slice of knowledge that I needed so I took it.

“Heaven isn’t a place, it’s– I don’t know how to talk about it really, but even if you could go there before death, even if you could, it isn’t somewhere you can just break in, don’t you see? You have to earn a place there. Wherever you thought you went it wouldn’t be Heaven.”

That’s what she said to me, I came to her because I needed all of her belief. And so I took it, every last drop.

“You’re being ridiculous. Magic isn’t real.” They said.

I came for them as well and took their will, their confidence. I needed it, because in order to get into Heaven you need to know you belong there. You need to know you’re right. You can’t carry doubt into Heaven.

“Heaven is real, and you have no place there. Heaven is for the good, for the meek, for the pious.” I knew that, and so I took one righteous soul. That’s the toll isn’t it?

Magic binds everything together like a fabric. You have to un-sow some stitches, you have to remake what’s real if you want to change anything. You need to be a garment maker, and have a tailor’s knowledge. The Universe is a weaver, so must I be.

I took what I needed and I re-made myself.

When that was done, I called on my new belief and I fastened it down where it would never stray. It became only a part of me, it had to be, because I could not relinquish all of my true self. I could only hide what I really was.

I had the ability, and the strength to make the magic work. I became the hybrid of their knowledge, their will, their belief, with their soul. I was two beings, both the cynic and the saint with one beating heart. Only for a moment. As I died I made the spell, and wished for Heaven.

Now don’t think I meant someone else’s heaven. You see, what you have just missed, is the realisation that as I have made myself new, I have conceptualised a new Heaven too. Half of me never believed, and that half is free to choose whatever heaven it wants. It was never tied to any conventions, any concepts or images. No crucifixes, no altars no lambs. The half of me that believes in Heaven now, has taken me there. Do you understand? I can have my cake and eat it, like no one else. That’s what makes this all so brilliant. I am smiling now thinking about it.

What does my Heaven look like? I wish I could show you. When I died I imagined a place of sensory delights, a place that would be changing all the time; new experiences, new colours, new wonders, just like a kaleidoscope. All I would have to do would be to blink my eyes and I’d be exposed to something fresh. That’s what got to me about Earth, and my life there. Nothing could ever satisfy me. Sooner or later even the things I enjoyed looking at bored me to tears.

Nothing was worth loving forever.

This Heaven is just what I imagined as I lay there, exploding on the carpet, every cell in my body being re-aligned. Now as I look around I can see rainbows everywhere, patterns, shapes, colours. It’s dazzling my eyes and it won’t stop moving. I’m in the midst of everything, this must be the very heart of the universe. This must be the very heart of matter, of every molecule, every particle, every space. I must be just as infinite. I am now the garment maker, I have the tailor’s knowledge.

I want to run and run and never stop. I’m running now and the colours are flying through me and they’ll never stop. Each step is a new vista, unfolding a new fractal, geometrically perfect and never ending. I see blue squares and yellow triangles, purple flowers and orange insects, red balloons and green jewels. I’m going to keep running forever–

Wait. I’ve hit something.

A wall. I’m pressing against but it won’t give. I can see a blur beyond it, more shapes, more colours, but I can’t pass through! It looks so much bigger, and brighter, and better out there but I can’t get through this barrier. I don’t understand, my Heaven shouldn’t have walls…

“Hey this is awesome! I haven’t seen one of these in years. This one has really cool patterns.”

Jim passed the kaleidoscope to Susie who shook it and then held it up to her eye.

I think there’s a speck of dirt trapped in there, stuck to the lense. Shame. Where did you say you found it Suz?”

Oh, it was on the floor of the library, in the reading room on the second floor. It was just sticking out from under one of the chairs.”

Hmm. Funny thing to leave lying around.

I know. But there it was. I used to love these as a kid.

I’m surprised they even let you in there. That’s where they found those students you know.

What do you mean?

You know, the reading room, it was all over the papers!

Susie shrugged. “That was a month ago. It’s funny but I was just thinking how I needed something to cheer me up after all this revision.”

Looks like you got exactly what you wished for then.”

Susie laughed. “I know! Isn’t it great when the universe gives you exactly what you wish for?”

 

 

 

 

 

3: Beggars

Image by Maggie Smith, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

beggars image

Ghosts like shadows lie, all around, their faces aching towards the light.
Where you see only shadows I see shapes. The people with the wanting faces crowding round the living like beggars for scraps of life.
You say they belong at night, in the dark, in old folks stories but I say different. You can’t see them like I can.
When you were small and you looked up at the night sky, what did you see? Stars. Thousands upon thousands strong, and many, many more besides. Did they tell you the stars were like grains of sand on some celestial beach? What happened when you went to bed, did the stars go out because you stopped looking for them?
What happened when you awoke in the morning and stepped outside your door, were there stars then?
You saw none, but they were there all along.
Just because you cannot see them, does not mean they are no longer there. Just like ghosts, or beggars.

When I walk to work I see them. They are crouching in the corners, they don’t walk like the living do. They are afraid I think. Imagine what it is to live like that, in the half-light?
But the dead want nothing tangible. They want to watch, and yes, they strive for relevance, because there is none, where they are.
I remember the first time I saw them. I was a child, playing in quiet sunlight. Slowly I felt them watching. I looked to see the shapes gathering, not menacing just mindful. They stayed all afternoon, flickering on and off like blinking strip-lights. They smelt like snuffed-out, smoking candle wicks.
I’d know that smell anywhere now, and I never burn candles in the house, never.

One day I wonder if I will become like them.
Surely if I am aware of them, then I must have some kinship with their own kind of magic.
But I don’t want to be like them. No one does.
Not when their eyes are so hollow, hollowed out like some notch in a tree-trunk. But still, the expression of their eyes remains, and isn’t that all that really matters? I know what they are feeling.
Sometimes it makes me sad to see them, but other times I see the gift for what it is.  These shapes that follow me let me feel their presence, so that I will never be alone. I know I am always needed, wherever I go.
For every time I look up in the street I see them, hiding in the folds of life, but with their lost eyes gazing out at me.
I know all they want is to be noticed, once. Just like beggars.

 

 

2: Mind the Gap

This is the second story in my Fifty Tales of Fiction series, hope you enjoy!
I entered this in Regina West’s  Flash Fiction comp and was delighted to be chosen as the winning entry.

Image by Artur84, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

ID-100153396

“Mind the gap!”  She said, and I laughed on cue as the train approached the platform. Ten years is a long time to get to know someone, that is if you can ever really claim to know someone utterly.
“That’s me off to work then, have a good day,” she kissed me goodbye.
“Oh and I won’t be back ’til late because it’s deadline day,” she said as she boarded the train, swept along effortlessly by all the other dead-eyed morning commuters.
“Deadline day again?” I shouted to her over the station hub-bub, over the nasal whine of the tannoy which said, “stand clear of the closing doors.”
“I’ll call you at lunchtime!” She replied, then train pulled away, and she was gone.

I left the now silent, empty platform and crossed over to my side of the station, where the Eastbound train would take me in the opposite direction to my girlfriend. I thought about her as I walked, about how she had smelt so new this morning. She had gotten up earlier than usual to wash her hair. When I mentioned this to her, and had reached my hand out to stroke her head she had pulled away.
“Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.” The tannoy said again, to no one in particular. She was no longer here to mock that voice with me and I felt her absence more now than I ever had, any other morning.

How do gaps form between people? I read an article recently about the creation of the universe, there’s a theory that states that our universe might have grown up like a bubble in an older universe. That it might have expanded and blown up inside the host universe until it replaced it completely. Perhaps that might happen to our own universe one day, at least I think that’s what it said.

Maybe that’s what happens between people too, in that gap where one person ends and another begins, a small bubble of resentment, mistrust, or plain apathy is formed, then if it isn’t captured while it’s small, it grows, until it obliterates everything.
Lunchtime came and went, but there was no phone call, several times I went to pick up the phone, but something made me stop, and replace the receiver.

That night I worked late. I stayed until everyone else had gone, and I had to rush to catch the last train home.
As I was standing on the platform staring with glazed eyes at the billboards on the walls, I heard the sound of laughter ring out. I turned my head, there she was.
“I’ll call you tomorrow lunchtime ok?” She was saying to him, before kissing him goodbye in a way she used to kiss me a long time ago.
Suddenly I felt it, our own bubble-universe bursting.
“Mind the gap” the tannoy said, as she turned and saw me, and the train pulled away.

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