Happy is he who...writes from the love of imparting certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale-who writes always to the unknown friend.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)





Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Apophos

“Good morning, ma’am,” Hiro said as she entered the command room. She raised an eyebrow questioning the likelihood of that. He smiled and placed her favorite mug in her hands filled to the brim with steaming hot coffee.

She sighed enjoying the aroma. Out of all the people on Lunar Outpost Lobos, Hiro was her favorite to work with. When she showed up in the morning the command center was well organized and running along without a hitch. She never worried when he had the watch. And he made coffee. Good coffee at that.

“Anything, I need to know?” She asked as she walked over to the sliding doors that separated the command center from the “outside”. The lunar base was situated under a dome made out of a synthetic carbon lattice. It perfectly mimicked the hardness and clarity of diamond. She remembered standing on earth as it was being constructed. Whenever the sun’s light struck the dome it looked very much like the man in the moon was crying. One single crystalline tear.

Around the base of the dome was a opaque wall several stories high. Upon that was cast a hologram. Today, it was the ocean. They even piped in the sounds and smells associated with each scene. And so it was, as she walked out onto the lunar soil, the glowing blue magnificence of Earth hung above an azure Caribbean sea. She could even hear gulls crying soprano to the deeper voice of the ocean waves.

From the command center she heard the triple chime that heralded a call from Jupiter Space station.

“Ma’am, I think you need to come in here.” Hiro was never agitated, that his voice quavered concerned her.

With one last glance at the cerulean waters she strode back inside, closing the door behind her, silencing the surf.

A spate of Mandarin flowed freely over the intercom. When she took this assignment three years ago she was required to learn no less than 5 languages. Mandarin was not included in her packet. She looked at Hiro inquiringly.

“I’m Japanese. I don’t speak Mandarin.”

“This is commander Daniels speaking. I don’t speak Mandarin. Please use the common tongue.”

“Sorry, we have a situation, ma’am.”

“I gathered that. Are you going to tell me? Or must I guess?” she asked downing the last dregs of her coffee.

“It’s Apophos,” he said.

“The meteor? What about it? We have been watching it. Its not supposed to pass by Earths orbit for 105 days. We estimated it would come no closer than 2.5 LD’s. I don’t see why that’s a problem.”

“There’s been a miscalculation.”

“Elaborate,” she commanded.

“It passed closer to Jupiter than we expected. It was caught in the gravity well… and…Jupiter launched it like a shot put.”

She did her level best not to curse. It was a habit that did not suit a commander. Or at least that’s what her father drilled into her from the time she could walk. The only problem was that she now knew several more languages. “What’s it’s new trajectory, speed?”

“We don’t know”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” And this time she indulged herself, swearing under her breath in fluent Japanese. The corner of Hiro’s mouth curled up. Being a lifelong military man, he new that discretion was the better part of valor, and left. She would need more coffee, he was bound to find it.

“We had it clocked at approximately 250,000 kph. It’s current speed has taken it out of range. Mars station should be picking it up on long range sensors soon. They should be able to get a read.”

“Hiro…”

“Mars Space Station on the vid, ma’am,” he said as he placed another cup of coffee in her hands.

“Tell me what you’ve got, Commander Fedorov,” she demanded in lieu of greeting.

“We just spotted it. At first I thought we had missed something important. I could not believe that this was Apophos.”

She grunted, imagining his surprise when his long range sensors started squawking.

“We have it traveling at a speed of approximately 442,000 kph.”

She cursed again, this time in Italian. “What’s the impact probability?”

“Impact is assured.” A quick glance at the solar system simulation on the wall showed that Jupiter was currently at it’s closest to Earth.

“That is just perfect.” The urge to throw the mug across the room was hard to resist. But the waste of good coffee and the destruction of millions of dollars of equipment stayed her hand.

Normally, she would put on her dress uniform when she spoke with Earth’s President. There simply was no time today. “How long?” He asked coming straight to the point.

“59 days.”

“What can we expect?”

“Apophos is 0.270 kilometers in diameter. If its a land impact you can expect earthquakes of 13 on the Richter scale. If its a water impact there will be Tsunamis between 1-2 kilometers high.

“What is your advice?” he asked running a hand over his face.

“Get to higher ground, and get under ground.”

“We have 9 Billion people on this planet commander. What do you propose I do with them?”

“I don’t know, sir. Lobos is self-sufficient for 72 people. Those of us who took this assignment have been chemically sterilized. We cannot handle even one extra person.

The space stations were similarly balanced. Getting supplies to outposts was so expensive there was no margin for extra people.

“Sir?” she asked hating what she was about to say.

“Yes, Commander,”

“We expect a 70-80% extinction rate.”

The president being x-marine looked at her like one old soldier to another. “It’s been a pleasure serving with you, Commander.”

“And you, sir,” she said as she killed the video connection.

Two months later as cool Himalayan air greeted her, she stood and watched, along with mankind’s remnant as Apophos slammed into the middle of the Atlantic.

“Whose bright idea was it to name a meteor after a demon?” she asked.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lykaia

It had been so long he was not sure he would still know the way. But like most things that become habit, the body remembers long after the mind has consigned them to distant memory.

Through the center of the valley was a stream that laughed it’s way over rocks and boulders worn smooth from years of such treatment. The hills that rose on either side, thanks to this stream, would stay lush and green long after the rest of the country had been baked to harsh aridity.

He paused to drink the cool water, enjoying the clean crisp taste.

He could hear them chanting, even from this great distance. The corner of his mouth curled up in an approximation of a smile. He stood, stretched and then began to run towards the voices. Increasing his speed he traveled up the lichen painted stone steps that wound up from the valley floor.

He felt the music long before he heard it, a deep thrumming in his core. The drums kept a steady rhythm that his heart heard and threatened to answer. At the edge of the clearing he sat and listened, hidden in the shadows, as the priest began to speak.

“Long ago a great king ruled these lands and to him were born fifty sons. They were strong and proud. Wise and cunning. They built an altar to Zeus and worshipped him faithfully.”

“Zeus, impressed by this king and his sons, attended a dinner party in his honor. But the god had neglected his people. They were angry. They wanted a sign of his blessing. Proof of his divinity.”

“A human child was sacrificed and baked into the pie that was served to the god. Upon tasting it the god immediately knew what it was. He became enraged. ‘Because you have behaved like an animal, so shall you become!’ Then Zeus spoke the curse that had those gathered at the party shaking in fear. Where once the mighty king stood, now sat a great shaggy beast. Wolf.

“Because the king had been a faithful follower, Zeus granted him a small reprieve. If the king abstained from eating human meat for nine years he would be returned to his human form. ”

“Then Zeus collected all the pies, but there was not enough left of the sacrificed boy to revive him. And so, the father of all the gods made a memorial to boy in the heavens. A constellation that the king would see whenever he hunted at night. Forever reminding him of his foolishness for attempting to trick a god.”

“As the cold light of the constellation filled the night sky, the once great king, raised his muzzle and howled mournfully.”

“We gather on this mountain, under the dark moon, the providence of Nyx, to offer our worship to Zeus. As is our custom, human entrails have been baked into this pie. Who so ever eats of it will follow in King Lycanos’ footsteps and become Wolf.”

This made him laugh. His tongue lolled out of his mouth exposing canines that were white and sharp. A rustling to his left revealed the dark form of his brother. His shiny black coat made him almost impossible to see. Almost, but not quite.

They rubbed playfully against the other in greeting. Their play became more serious as the younger brother, still trying to topple the elder, bared his teeth. A yelp from the black and a curl of tail ended the game. Hierarchy must be observed, even on this night.

His attention went back to the clearing and those gathered there. The priest had been bringing people up here every nine years for nearly forty years. He was old now and smelled of death. He did not like this smell. He much preferred the smell of blood that flowed strong and sure through the hearts of those that knelt in the dew covered grass around the ancient altar.

So entranced was he in life’s ebb and flow that he almost missed the words of the priest. He was calling to them. It was time. As one they entered the clearing. Their coats shinny, their muscles strong and sure. And again, as one, they shed their lupine form and stood on two legs. Some of his brothers were unused to doing so and swayed, unsteady in this form.

He walked forward and spoke. As the eldest it was his right and his duty. “That was a pretty story you have been told. Some of it is true, most isn’t. We have gathered on this mountain long before the idea of Zeus was invented by man in an effort to explain away the things that frighten him.”

“We are the terrors the hunt the night. And we have never been human.” There was screaming then. And blood. So much blood. After he and his brothers had gorged themselves they sang. Their voices lifting up to the moon who hid her face from view. She did not rule them.

The people that lived in the shadow of the mountain heard the singing and locked their doors. Their ancestors had long spoke of a ceremony that occurred on the mountain and the pile of ash that served as an altar. Modern science and technology eschewed such things as folklore. But the part of man that remembered when all that stood between them and the darkness was a roaring fire, could not, would not be forgotten.

He trotted over to the priest that knelt in the center of the carnage. It was likely he would not survive to lead these rites nine years from now when the cycle repeated itself. Truly, it would be a mercy to kill him. But the priest had served a purpose, and because he was fat and sated he gave him the gift he had longed for.

When next they gathered, there would be fifty-one.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Immortal Beloved

He stood at the window watching the bustling of the city below. The clop of the carriage horses, the buzzing of the voices of hundreds of people playing a deep harmony to the muttering of the river beyond.

Or at least that is what he presumed it sounded like. What he remembered it to sound like. With an inarticulate growl he threw the glass against the wall. Watching in satisfaction as the fine crystal shattered into a thousand pieces. A crimson drop stained his white shirt when a shard laid open a small cut on his cheek.

He cursed, his fingers going to the cut. His words lost to the quiet void of his world. It had not always been so.

A slight movement caught his attention. The lifting of the curtains on the breeze. But then the window was not open. Inexplicably, there she stood. The only door to the room was behind him, she had not entered there.

Her gown flowed behind her as she walked, sheerest white. A few shades paler than her hair that seemed to have been kissed by the moon. Her eyes were dark as midnight.

His conversation books, where were they? He cast about looking for them. There on the piano he found one. Hastily he flipped past the pages that lamented his hearing loss. The pages that suggested it would be easier not to go on, and past the pages that detailed all the various ways to accomplish such a deed.

She took the stylus and wrote one word. Aoide. Her name. She took a step forward and ran her fingers through his wild tangle of hair and kissed him. As her cool lips touched his, he heard music. Layers of octaves, crescendoing notes that spoke to him, and made his fingers twitch.

He gasped, though silent to him, it was true music to her, and she smiled. He laughed, and stopped, unable to remember when the last time that had occurred. Deep into the night he wrote. He wrote until the music in his head, if not quite vanquished, was content to be still for a bit.

As he recorded the last note, he looked up. She was gone, as he knew she would be. She was not of this world. He had accepted that moments after he saw her. The admission of her name labeled her Muse. But no matter what history had called her, or would call her, she would always be his Immortal Beloved.



Author's Notes:


For those that do not know, or in the case where I have not been skillful enough to show you, this story is about Ludwig von Beethoven.

He was born able to hear and began to go deaf later in life. No one really knows why, though causes from a simple ear infection to syphilis have been suggested.

He had over 400 conversation books scattered around his home. They were sold after his death in auction. Some were kept by his assistant and then altered to try to cover up his suicidal ravings over the loss of his hearing in an effort to protect Beethoven’s legacy.

After his death, stuffed in a drawer, they found a series of letters. Love letters to a woman known only as his “Immortal Beloved”. No one knows who the woman was and the letters were never mailed.

He signed each one….

Forever thine
Forever mine
Forever us

Succubus Kiss

He lay upon the bed. His frail chest rising and falling rapidly. It seemed strange to me that a man who had been responsible for taking so many lives would soon loose his.

On his nightstand sat a book. Malleus Maleficarum. “The Hammer of the Witches.”

The light of the moon shown in through the window placed high on the wall. I crossed my legs, the buckle on my shoe caught that cold light and gave it back.

That I loved him was never the question. That he loved me was also never cause for doubt. That he had me tried for witchcraft and summarily executed was equally factual. That I died. Well, therein lay the crux of our story.

I rose from the old rocker that had seen a constant presence for the past several months. It amused me to think what their reaction would be to find me sitting there. “They would likely use it for kindling. Throw it into the hungry flames just as I had been,” I said aloud not caring who heard, if anyone should care to hear.

“Wake up, Heinrich, ” I whispered against his lips. It was my gift, this kiss. I knew it would rouse his mind just as it had his body when life had coursed vigorously through his veins.

His eyelids fluttered and I smiled. They opened. The grey film that had obscured his vision for so long cleared. I smiled again. It wasn’t a genuine smile. More a demonstration that I had teeth. He flinched when he saw me. The real me. The me that lived in this body. The me that had lived in the body he had had killed. The me that mothered his children through that body. And the mother that mourned when he had those children killed.

“Meridiana,” he croaked, his voice unused to speech.

I smiled again. “Yes, my love.” I pushed the frail white hair back from his forehead watching it turn the fine chestnut color that his youth had known. “So much began with a kiss,” I said as my lips caressed his again. This kiss was long and slow. I relished the feeling of the magic as it encircled him. His breath evened out. His heart remembering the rhythm of long ago settled into it like a well worn coat.

“What have you made of me?” he asked his voice now strong and confident.

“Incubus,” I said, my laughter echoing in the small cell while he screamed.






Author’s Notes



The Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for "Hammer of the Witches", or "Der Hexenhammer" in German) is an infamous treatise on witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and was first published in Germany in 1487

It is said that Pope Sylvester II (999–1003) was involved with a succubus named Meridiana, who helped him achieve his high rank in the Catholic Church. Before his death, he confessed of his sins and died repentant.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Nice Pair of Shoes

“I am getting mud all over my Jimmy Choo’s!”

“Then why are you wearing them?” Becky asked as we made our way through the darkened graveyard.

“Because they look cute with my outfit.” Lisa replied.

“Becky, why are we here?” I asked weaving between the branches of the pine trees. They grew like sentinels along the wrought-iron fence that marched around the perimeter of the cemetery. The white fire of the moon barely penetrated their dense growth offering us glimpses of a trail that was meant to be trod by day.

“It’s All Hallows Eve,” she said punctuating her words with a wave of her fairy wand. Her fake fairy wings brushed against me, shedding glitter. I sighed, I would never get all that glitter off.

“Becky, if you start with that “tonight is the night that the walls between the worlds grow thin” nonsense I am going to hit you with my matching Jimmy Choo bag.”

“Cute bag, by the way,” I said.

“I know!” Lisa squealed. “And I got it on sale,” she whispered conspiratorially. She was dressed as Marie Antoinette. Well, how Marie Antoinette would have dressed if she had a pimp.

I was still wearing the scrubs from my shift at the hospital. I hadn’t expected to get off work in time to take part in the festivities. I was on call and fully expected to have to go back. Ask any paramedic or police officer about the full moon and they will all tell you the same story. It brings out the crazy in people. No idea why, but it does.

I hadn’t been paying attention to where we were going. I had been too busy fighting branches and avoiding spider webs that spanned the distance from one tree to the next like silver necklaces that danced with dew.

I almost collided with the bustle of Lisa’s dress when we stopped suddenly. The un-weathered marble of the tombstone marked this as a new grave. I did not need to read the name to know what it said. I came here often.

“Becky,” I exhaled.

“I know sweetie, but it has been almost a year. You need to deal with your grief and put it behind you.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?” Becky asked shrugging her shoulders which caused a dusting of glitter to settle around the grave. I sighed again. It was getting to be a habit.

“I mean, why do I have to move on? I loved him. Why is a year all I get to mourn?”

“It’s just no good for you to carry all that sorrow around,” Lisa said as she moved to stand on my other side, aerating the soil with the heels of her shoes.

“Listen, I know you two mean well. But it’s too soon. Just give me some time.”

Becky had brought along a huge bag that no self-respecting fairy would have dared carry. She patted me on the shoulder and put the bag on the ground. As she began to unpack it I couldn’t help but think of Mary Poppins. Sweet ways to make the medicine go down began to filter through my brain.

“Great, I will never get that out of my head now,” I mumbled as she continued to unpack.

Becky was a Wiccan. Judging from the items she was pulling out of her bag, she viewed it as a religion. I wondered when all this had happened. But then, I will not profess to have paid much attention to my friends in the last year.

I watched as she drew a circle around the grave in salt. She placed four black candles on the ground and lit them. Chills ran up my spine as she began to chant. Lisa chanted along with her in a strong confident voice. They had obviously been planning this.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We are going to raise his ghost so that we can find out who his killer is,” Lisa said nonchalantly. “Maybe if we can get him some justice you will be able to move on.”

A wind picked up, scattering the fallen Maple leaves that had left their trees barren skeletons. I watched as they swirled and eddied, and yet inside the circle the air was still. The flames on the candles never flickered. The hair on my arms stood on end as I turned back to Lisa and Becky and the ghost of my lover, Brett.

My mouth feel open as I looked at him. He seemed so real. No transparent ghost here, but lifelike, corporeal. “Brett, who killed you? Can you spell it?” Becky asked holding up a Ouija board for him to point to. He didn’t need it. Instead he raised his arm, clad in the suit his mother picked out for him, and pointed to me.

As we stood there the ghosts of all the others gathered around outside the circle. I saw my neighbor who always stole my paper. The guy from down the street that let his dog use my yard as his personal toilet. My old gym teacher from high school. He was my first. I killed him after our final track meet when he caught me alone in the locker room. I was proud of that one. I turned to look at my two friends who were staring at me in shock and horror tinged with dawning comprehension.

“Well, this is really annoying” I said taking the scalpel from my pocket. “I told you two to leave things alone. But you just wouldn’t listen.”

Afterward, I cleaned the blood of my two friends off on my scrubs. As their ghosts joined the army of phantom onlookers I reached down and slid Lisa’s shoes off her feet, grabbed the matching bag and dumped the contents on top of her.

“There truly isn’t anything like a nice pair of shoes.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Relic Hunter Chronicles

This is chapter 1 of a new work I have started. It is about a woman named Giovanna Scarletti who is a tactile empath. She is recruited by the Vatican to locate missing relics. It is a work in progress and unedited. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 1

I was nine years old when my “gift” was discovered. I was attending mass with my mother. I remember sitting there listening to the priest drone on in Latin. Everyone around me lowered their heads in the quiet repose of worship. My mother’s lace covered hand grabbed my knee, a her signal to stop swinging my feet.

There was nothing extraordinary about that day. In fact, it was like any other. The sunrise that had given birth to it would do so again the next. That day would blend seamlessly with another one all coalescing in a lifetime of similar days.

But for me that seamless tapestry of days would end. Nothing would ever be the same again. I still have not decided if that is a good thing or not. If nothing else I have learned to accept it.

After mass let out I stood with my mother while she chatted in rapid fire Italian with all her friends. I was what was known as a cambiamento di vita per bambini, a change of life baby.

So, while all my mother’s friends were bragging about grandbabies, she was still dealing with bruised knees and broken vases. In short, me.

I was bored and my mother’s grip on my small hand had loosened. I glanced up at her, she was fully occupied, deep in to gossip with her friends. I slid my hand free and stepped back. She glanced at me and gave me “the look”. The one mothers everywhere have that says “stay out of trouble”. It’s universally understood, no matter what language is actually spoken.

A flash of gold caught my attention, and like a raccoon, entranced by all things shiny, I gave into my curiosity.

The relics of some long dead saint were on display. A crimson velvet rope kept the devoted from getting too close. Most people respected that barrier. Unfortunately, I was nine. And as you will see, I was not most people. I cast a glance around me. No one was looking.

Quickly, I ducked under the rope. I reached towards the a golden chest that was supposed to contain the saint’s ashes. I paused for just a few seconds with my hand hovering over the lid. That inner voice, that sounded a lot like my mother, reminded me that what I was about to do was forbidden.

But children are not known for thinking things through. My hesitation vanished like mist under the morning sun. My outstretched fingers brushed along the jewel encrusted lid and just like that, my life changed. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The world tilted, I was falling. I cried out, my voice lost to the black void I found myself in. Almost as soon as it began, it ended. I reached out to break my fall, my hands smacked the ground sending up a plume of dust, choking me. I coughed. Voices buzzed around me like a hive that had been raided for it’s honey.

Sandaled feet stepped too close to me, like a crab I scurried away. The church was no where to be seen. I looked around, my mother was gone! My breathing became ragged, my heart rate accelerated. “It’s a dream!” that voice shouted, and with that revelation, came a sense of calm. And, as is the way with dreams, I suddenly knew that it was the year 1280.

I stood and walked through the crowd, towards the center of the dusty town square, where a woman was tied to a post. I heard the angry voices demanding that she be burned. I smelled the oil from the lamps as the touches were dipped. I heard the whoosh of the flames as they caught. But that was not all I heard. I could also hear the woman’s thoughts.

She was looking for her daughter. Praying desperately for one last glance of the child yet at the same time praying that she was safely hidden. She gave no thought to her own fate, only that of her child, and the man she had loved, still loved. A man that stood amongst the mob with a torch of his own.

As the heat from the flames grew she began to pray in earnest. It was the sweetest most heartbreaking prayer I had ever heard, even though I could not tell you what she said.

When the flames singed her robe she faltered, but did not stop. It was not until her toes began to blacken that she cried out. The man that had been her lover, still held his torch, while tears streamed down his face.

I awoke to the sound of monks singing from somewhere nearby. The room I was in was a concrete cell. Bare, unpainted. A single wooden crucifix adorning one wall. As I lay there memories of the dream flashed through my mind. I gasped when flames licked my feet. Franticly, I sat up beating at the covers only to discover that there were none.

That was when I also discovered that I was not alone in that room. The rocking chair creaked as she stood. Her movements disturbed the dost motes that danced in the filtered light from the window placed high on the wall.

She was an older woman. Perhaps slightly older than my mother. My mother had once been a great beauty. This woman, while beautiful as well, was more classical in appearance.

She seemed to wear her age as though it was a mantle set upon her shoulders. My mother wore hers in tiny lines carved by countless smiles. This woman’s face did not hold that network of lines. Yet there was kindness about her. I remember feeling very comfortable with her.

“What did you see?” she asked quietly.

“Fire,” I whispered back.

“Ah,” she said. That one little word held more meaning than all the words in the dictionary. The narrow cot that I lay upon dipped as she perched beside me. A great carved wooden cross dangled from a necklace of jet beads clasped around her neck. It was unpainted, yet intricately carved with vines and flowers.

I reached out to trace my fingers along the vines. As I did so I noticed a minuscule hummingbird caught forever midflight as it flitted from flower to flower.

“He made this for his daughter,” I said quietly. “He loved her very much”

At her gasp I dropped my hand, realizing what I had done.

“How did you know?” she breathed. The cast of the light caught the tear that traveled down her cheek and then dropped to the woolen blanket covering my knees.

“My father made this for me. How did you know?”

I shrugged. There was no explanation that I could offer. She stared at me as though she was trying to see inside me. I met her glance as candidly as I could. After a few seconds she sighed as if she had come to a conclusion.

“I will be right back,” she said. When she returned a few moments later she carried with her two items. A small jewel encrusted bible and a stapler.

“Take this,” she said handing me the stapler “Tell me what you see”.

I took the metal stapler, and sneezed. It had been made in America with a huge machine. In the back of my mouth I could taste the hot metal. Smell the oil that kept the machine moving, I sneezed again. I told her what I saw, what I felt, about the machine that had stamped the pieces and then pressed them together.

She nodded and removed the stapler from my grasp. Then she handed me the bible. Once the book touched my hands, the small stone cell with the narrow cot, evaporated. I was in an ancient scriptorium. A scribe carefully copied meticulous lines in Latin with a quill that scratched upon vellum. Somewhere, in a dark corner, a rat squeaked his last as a cat pounced

When that scene faded and I saw a monk with the same bible, now bound, meticulously setting sparking gemstones onto the cover. As he set each stone I traced my fingers along the cover mimicking his efforts.

The image faded and I was once more looking into a pair wise eyes.

“Tell me what you saw.” So I did.

My mother, devotedly religious and deeply superstitious had found me thrashing on the floor of the cathedral with the chest that contained the ashes.

Convinced that I had been possessed by a demon she had whisked me off to a convent to have that demon expunged by whatever means necessary.

I was entrusted to the care of Theophanu, Abbess of the Convento del Santissimo Cuore, Convent of The Blessed Heart. Mother Theophanu had watched over me as I slept. Silently waiting for any sign of possession. None had ever come. Now, confronted with my gift she sat on the cot with me as mercurial thoughts flitted across her face.

“God has given you a gift,” she stated simply.

“Can I return it?” I asked. It is best if I just point this out now as you will undoubtedly discover it soon enough. I have a penchant for saying things that pop into my head before I fully think about it. This was one of those times. I sighed, my small shoulders sagged as I braced myself for the lecture about being grateful for God’s gifts. I was ill-prepared for her laughter.

I looked at her in shock. I did not know that nuns were allowed to laugh I thought.

“Yes we are,” she chuckled. I guess I had said that out loud.

“You are not what I expected,” she said as her laughter dissipated.

“I get that a lot,” I shrugged. I had heard that from my teachers, neighbors and even my mother.

“Different is not bad, it is just different,” she said kindly. I smiled at her in gratitude. From that moment on she had my deepest love and loyalty.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Interesting....

They found it. I thought that it had been hidden so well by the sands of time that such an event was impossible.

You would think that by now I would have learned that the impossible is not only possible, but a guaranteed eventuality.

I had been dreaming about my childhood. Of days when I played in the sun. I had been born beautiful. Or so I was told. Because everyone told me it was true I never questioned it. And because I was beautiful nothing else was required of me. When I was three, the king came for me. I was to be his wife. Not his only wife, the twenty-seventh, to be exact. But my family did not care what number I was. As for me, well, I was never asked.

The sound of their digging woke me from my sleep, thousands of miles away.
The sands of my homeland were being disturbed. The parts of me that resided there still cried out. The call cleared the cobwebs from my sleep fogged brain and demanded that I wake. And because I had nothing else of note to distract me, I went.

I flew to the other side of the globe where an excavation site had been constructed. A grid pattern had been plotted making neat squares of the dig. Laborers dressed in flowing robes dug through layers of sediment that had seen Romans and Mongols alike come and go. I watched, curious and more excited than I would have thought possible. Had they really found it? And if so, how much of it was left?

I had become adept at watching mankind. Humans, content in their place on the food chain, never look up. I discovered long ago all I had to do was move above their line of sight and I could watch. Undisturbed and unnoticed.

The sound of metal on stone sounded in the stillness. They worked at night. The desert sun baked the life out of anything that dared to brave it’s scorching rays. Dawn was still a few hours off and yet the huge flood lights illuminating the dig created a false day.

I was watching closely now. Focusing my eyes upon the shovel that found what had been lost to legend. They said it was a tower. But such descriptions conjured images of a drunken structure in Pisa. This was never a tower. It was a ziggurat, stair stepping itself towards the heavens. But not just a ziggurat, a temple.

A temple to a king that thought he needed 27 wives. A king that, like most men, wanted something bigger and better than others had.

The blood of thousands of was shed to build it. Slaves who were not given the luxury of working at night. As life left them they were thrown into a pile. If their family came for them, fine. If not, the fires would receive them.

I remember watching the construction throughout my childhood. “When it is complete we will be married,” he told me. And because it was what I was raised for, I smiled and nodded. But deep inside me, the part that hated the fat king and his greasy hands, hated that temple just as much. I prayed daily that it would never be completed. Which just goes to show you to be careful what you ask for. Or at least have a care for how you word your requests.

On the day the last brick was laid, the day the golden doors were hung in the temple that sat at the highest part, I was pulled from my bed and prepared for my wedding. I cried. Not on the outside. But that doesn’t make my tears any less real.

I prayed once more that I would not have to be married to the king. I wanted to have a life. A life like no one has ever had. An interesting life. As I ended my prayer a mighty storm arose. I can’t recall what happened. I know only that I found myself wandering in the dessert, scorched, bruised and unmarried.

I spoke to everyone I saw as the days went on. Not one of them understood me. Nor I them. Eventually, I stumbled upon a cave. In the darkness sat an old crone. She was staring at me expectantly, as if she had been waiting for me. Apparently, I was late.

She offered me a drink. I took it. Silly girl that I was. As the last drop of liquid slid down my throat she smiled. Then she stood up and walked out into the sunrise. When the first fingers of dawn touched her skin she cried out. And then, like a campfire well stoked, she ignited. I screamed and tried to put out the flames but my skin began to blister as the light hit me. In terror I ran back into the cave. I watched as she was reduced to ash. An ash so fine the dessert winds carried it away. Along with my old life.

No more would I play in the sun. I had given up light for life. A life I have lived well. About 12,000 years if my estimation is correct. The uncovering of the temple seemed like a fitting end to such a life. Today would be my last day. And so for the last time I watched as the sun rose, painting the sky crimson and then blush before blue settled in.

I stood in the shadows and stretched my fingers out expecting to feel pain. But none came. I took a cautious step forward. As the sun bathed me in golden light I waited for the flames. Nothing happened.


“Well, this is interesting.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cumberland Road Ghost

I ran out into the rain not caring that I was soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes. I was hurt that he had said such a thing to me. And angry with myself that it wasn't the first time, but determined that it would be the last.

The rain pounded on the roof of my old Ford as the windshield wipers, that I had been meaning to replace, smeared the rain around rather than clean it off. I swiped at my face hoping to clear my vision enough to see the road that wound its way out in front of me like a glistening snake.

Cumberland River Road had seen many incarnations. Each followed along the Indian trail that first breached the dense forest of Pulaski County, Kentucky. And just like the leaves on those trees ghost stories abounded. Propagated by a population that loved that sort of thing. Their whispers keeping the old stories going. The names of the people and places changed, but the stories never died. This road was no exception. I told myself I didn't believe that sort of thing. I had told myself that a lot over the years. I expected any day now I would believe it.

As the road began its descent I could see the old Cumberland highway veer off to my left. The river claimed it now, giving it back on its western shore. Why that road wasn't blocked off I would never know. But then no one came this way unless they knew where they were going. And if they happened to be lost on this road. Well, prayer was about your only option.

A chill ran up my spine as the story my mother told me decided to rear its ugly head. The year was 1940. Dan and Eloise Tate were headed out of town on their honeymoon. Just like this night the rain was pouring down. No one really knows what happened, aside from the Tate’s. And they ain't saying. Their old Ford took the river road. The original one. The one that ran along the bottom of the Cumberland river.

His body was never found. They fished her body out of that river still wearing her wedding gown. The story goes that she looks for him still and on nights, just like this, she will ask for a ride. She sits in the backseat until you crest the hill or arrive at the bottom. Then she will get out, disappear into the woods, looking for Mr. Tate.

It was just a story I told myself. So, why were the hairs on my arms standing up like that? I laughed nervously, pulling my eyes away from the black waters of the river that churned below. A flash of white caught my attention. Out of instinct I hit the brakes with both feet, not even bothering to downshift. My old truck slid, coming to a stop sideways across the road. My headlights shone out across the water, my left tire spinning in space, the road no longer lay beneath it.

The drumming of rain on sheet-metal and rubber swiping at glass in an uneven tattoo was the only sound to be heard as I slowly looked in my rear-view. I swallowed, it was as loud as buckshot in the quiet.

There she sat, in her wedding dress, pristine as the day she bought it looking at me with eyes that seemed to hold the sorrows of the world. I stared at her, terrified to look behind me. I saw her in the mirror, did I really need to confirm it by turning around? But just like all those silly girls in the horror movies, I guess I did. I looked.

She was beautiful. Pale blond hair that would have shown like spun gold in the sun was pined up under her veil. Green eyes that questioned me without words regarded me as I regarded her.

I looked away, and that was when I noticed that I stood outside my old Ford. The front end that had stretched out into space, now embraced a live Oak like an old lover. And there, laying over the steering wheel, was a women that looked a lot like me.

A scream bubbled in my throat. I turned back to the woman, but she was gone. A pale dot disappearing into the woods. I looked down as my hand brushed the beading of my dress. Not my dress, her dress.

I knew then that those old stories were true, not because they happened but because people believed them. There never was a Mrs. Tate. Just some girl who had met the same fate I had along Cumberland River Road. And just like her, I would ask for a ride until the last one came for the next girl that drove this road, on a night just like this.