Way Station

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Come. Sit. Warm yourself by my fire. It’s not every day someone makes it out this far. You must have many questions.

What’s that? You’ll have to come closer. My ears aren’t what they used to be. Yes, that’s what I thought you asked. You’re not going to make this easy on an old man, are you?

Very well, stop looking at me like that. I’ll tell you what you want to know. It was a long time ago, you understand, and I can’t be expected to remember everything. These were the old times, when the world was still new, still blazing with the wild, newborn magic of creation.

Yes, as a matter of fact I was there when the world was made, and I’m old enough to remember what came before it too. But we can talk about that later.

Now, where was I? The creation of the world. I was there when the Maker spoke the Word. There were many words that came after, of course, but this was the first. This was the prototype, the foundation on which everything else was built, the fount from which all other words derive their meanings and their power. It was the Word that gave birth to the world, the Word that nourished the world, the Word that even now sustains the world.

Well now, what else would the universe be made of? At the root of everything, at the heart of creation, there is only will made manifest. Quite simply, the world exists because the Maker wishes it, and a good thing for you and I, wouldn’t you agree?

You say your father told you a different story? I see. He said the universe started with a bang, that the world we know today was birthed not by the utterance of a divine Word but within the celestial light of a star. Well, he’s not wrong, you know.

I was there, I should know. As an Elder, I witnessed it all. The fireworks were rather spectacular. A shame you couldn’t have been there.

What do you mean, you demand the truth? You believe I’ve deceived you, that both stories can’t be true? That’s the trouble with you humans, you’re so quick to dismiss a mystery as paradox and contradiction.

Yes, it was the Word that created the world, just as it was the motion of matter and energy that produced the world. One was the cause, the other the method.

And I’ll tell you a secret. The world isn’t finished yet. That’s right. How can it be, when everything is in a constant state of change?

I’ll tell you another secret. You’re a part of it. The Word is within you, as it is within me, and by the simple act of living, by making decisions and effecting change, you become a not so insignificant part of the Maker’s work. The mark you leave on the world is indelible and everlasting.

You don’t understand? Well, I’ll tell you one more secret. Neither do I. What is life, after all, but one grand, cosmic mystery? If you didn’t leave the light of my fire with more questions than answers, I’d question your intelligence. But I knew you were special from the start. That’s why you made it this far, and now I’m here to teach you that life’s a journey, that my humble fire is but a way station, one among many.

No, please. Stay as long as you like.  Some move on quickly, but others linger, and there’s no shame in that. Take all the time you need to ask, ponder and learn. No two journeys are ever the same, and some require more deliberation than others.

Just be warned, there is no going back, no returning to the way things were. You should have learned that already, having made it this far, but I want to be certain you understand that time and change are a one-way trip.

One day, the Word will return to the Maker, and you and I and everything else will be swept away along with it. That is the ultimate destination, the point at which everyone’s journey converges. There can be no turning back, and you would do well to look forward and to keep your eyes fixed on the horizon.

Yes, it is a mystery, one of many, and unfortunately, there are no satisfying answers, at least on this side of time.

No, I think that’s enough for now. Rest. The stars along with my fire will keep you warm, and when you wake, I’ll be here to answer more of your questions.

That’s why I’m here, after all.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

The Stranger

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

I slam my fists against the wall, and you stare at me until I turn my eyes. Then you look away and give me a wide birth, backing off to a safe distance. Desperate for help, I cry out to you, and that’s when you scurry around a corner and disappear from sight. I gaze at the sky and loose a hailstorm of curses.

All around me, glittering crystal towers reach for the heavens alongside metal trees with lights that hang over roads where self-propelled vehicles rocket toward foreign destinations. I’ve never seen such opulence, not in all the centuries of my royal upbringing.

Above me is a sign in a language I don’t understand. I try in vain to decipher the unfamiliar script.

GOVERNOR GEORGE DEUKMEJIAN COURTHOUSE.
SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES.

I shake my head, as if doing so will dispel the alien environment like a bad dream.

Banished. The word echoes through the chaotic corridors of my mind. Banished for a crime I didn’t commit, stripped of my title, my citizenship, my world.

They broke into the palace while I slept and threw me into a moldering dungeon. From there I was brought before a tribunal, and despite my vehement denials I was convicted and sentenced to exile.

They dragged me toward a towering rockface etched with symbols only the priests could understand, flickering torches in iron sconces casting a dim illumination. The priests uttered a guttural chant, and light exploded from the wall, no longer smooth stone, but a passageway to someplace else.

In the presence of the assembly, I proclaimed my innocence one last time. They spit in my face, made obscene gestures and shoved me through. Fire consumed my body, rending skin and flesh, until I passed out.

I woke here, in front of this building where I’ve remained ever since, my robes turned dingy and threadbare, my hair turned tangled and feral.

I know what you thought when you saw me pounding the wall, crying out in words that would have sounded to you like inarticulate war cries. He’s crazy. Once, in my own world, I would have thought the same.

I stare at the wall again, seeing not the stone that stands before me but the world beyond. I may not be crazy yet, but I will be before long.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

The World Fire

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Dappled light danced across Vivian’s face, a hypnotic electric blue. She’d traveled long and far to get here, to the ends of the Earth and back. So much pain. So much loss. Time had passed her by as she wandered the darker passages of the world, until everyone and everything she’d ever known was dead.

“The World Fire accepts your sacrifice,” said the priestess, sitting cross-legged opposite the brightest flames Vivian had ever seen, an azure blaze that sizzled and popped with raw, untamable energy. “Come and accept your gift.”

Vivian shambled forward, a painful lump bulging in her throat as she swallowed. She hadn’t eaten in three days and she was weak. When at last, after God knew how many centuries of wandering, she’d finally arrived at the underground temple’s gates, she’d expected the mysteries she sought to be laid before her feet. Instead, the priestesses had denied her entry, requiring her first to fast.

“Please,” she’d said, weary and starving. But they’d been adamant, and Vivian had been put up in a tiny monastic cell outside the temple proper with no source of light save for the dim flicker of an oil lamp, the flame blue, like all the fire down there.

“Do you know why we made you fast?” the priestess asked, face shrouded by a dark cloth.

Vivian shook her head. She was muzzy and and couldn’t think straight. She’d tried to meet the priestess’s eyes, but the fire kept drawing her attention, wild energies she’d lusted for her entire life.

“The World Fire demands sacrifice,” the woman said in a low voice. “Even after all you gave up in search of it, you were required to give up more, because only with your stomach and your heart empty can you partake of its secrets.”

Vivian licked her lips. There were many theories pertaining to what the fire was and what it could do, ranging from the plausible to the fantastical and everything in-between. She hadn’t known what to expect when she set out, then a young woman disillusioned with life, but she’d believed with almost religious zeal that the fire could satisfy her deepest curiosities, that in its furtive flickers she would glimpse nothing less than the mysteries of the cosmos.

“Come forward,” the priestess said again, and Vivian placed one stumbling foot after the next, the object of her endless quest burning before her like an indigo star.

There were those who said fire was an expression of the divine. There was Moses and the burning bush, the great “I AM;” there was Agni, the Hindu fire God, riding on the back of his goat with flaming hair flying in the wind; there was Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, wielding his mighty blacksmith’s hammer as he toiled in a supernatural inferno. Now, standing in the midst of this underground temple, Vivian believed all those stories were true.

The flames sang to her as they danced, casting harsh, abstract shadows along the walls, primal rhythmic chants promising salvation. Come, the fire crooned. Find the answers you seek.

A blinding flash erupted as Vivian stepped into the flames. They tore into her skin, which sizzled and crackled; they clawed at her eyes, which boiled and popped. Smoke choked her airways so she could no longer breathe. But none of that mattered, because here, on the precipice of death, the secrets of the universe were revealed to her at last.

“I see,” Vivian rasped through blackened lips.

The fire required sacrifice, the priestess had said, and how right she’d been. The fire had opened her eyes, giving her the knowledge she desired, but in return it had demanded her life. That was how the World Fire worked, how it claimed the fuel it needed to burn, the fuel it needed to power every revolution of the Earth around the sun.

Vivian’s body crumpled in immolation, and she offered her spirit to the fire and said no more.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

The Game

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Life surrounds me. Thousands of spectators, crammed into seats stacked ten stories high, encircling a field of green where two teams engage in a sport the humans call baseball. A player swings a heavy wooden bat, which smacks into a tiny white ball, producing a loud crack. The ball sails somewhere into the third level. The crowd cheers.

Seated on the second floor, I watch it pass overhead and smile.

I can feel the heat of living blood, throbbing all around me like sonorous African drums. With a crowd this large, I can do anything.

Some people think the greatest magic lies in words, that if they recite a certain combination of sounds a certain number of times, they’ll compel the cosmos to give up its secrets. But words are weak, crude expressions whose meanings invariably drift with time. Magicians skilled in the art of spelling might amass small scraps of power, but their deeds rarely amount to more than parlor tricks.

Life, on the other hand, is the great untapped reservoir, a fount of limitless energies. One must only possess the secret of its use, and in all my thousands of years, I can count such knowledge among my achievements.

I send out tiny tendrils, like runners from a creeping vine, and probe my closest neighbors. When they make contact, a warm power flows into me. Ecstasy. I’m careful not to draw too much at once, feeding only on the surplus energies that this game has so conveniently produced. Then, using my neighbors as proxies, I send out more tendrils, until they’re slithering through the stadium like snakes, harvesting energy in a vast, intricate network that feeds back to me.

The people cheer once more, and this time a wave of power washes over me. I bask in its brilliance. I channel it, weave the individual flows around themselves until they form a rope-like column that towers toward the sky.

What I accomplish today will fundamentally and irrevocably change the world. I lick my lips, savor the captivating notion of a world on the brink.

I close my eyes and unleash my magic.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

Anya Returns

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

She stares at me with eyes of purple fire, a blazing phantom in the dark. My breath catches in my throat, and when I finally speak, it comes out a hoarse whisper.

“What happened, Anya?”

The woman I had known so many years ago grins.

“My eyes were opened.”

I wait for her to say more, but that’s all she offers in reply.

We grew up together, Anya and I. We were best friends, inseparable from the start. Our relationship turned intimate, and by the time we neared our college graduation we were already contemplating marriage.

That was when she disappeared.

Now, she rolls onto her side, pressing her body against mine, and I instantly grow hard with years of pent up longing. I have never felt an urge so strong. It overloads my synapses, drives me to the brink of madness.

This is a dream, I think. Any minute I’ll wake up. This close, I can see myself reflected in her spectral eyes.

Her family and I spent years looking for her. The police gave up in a matter of weeks for lack of evidence, but we kept searching, scouring her apartment, interviewing her friends, calling the numbers in the phone she left beside her bed.

Now, here she is again, lying in my bed as if the intervening years were nothing.

“You loved me once,” she whispers. Her breath tickles my ear. I detect the familiar smell of lavender and lilac. Her favorite scent, at odds with the feral untamed fire in her eyes.

Those flaming pupils bore into my own, extract my deepest secrets.

“I don’t understand,” I say, because there’s nothing else to say.

“Then let me help you understand.”

Her mouth opens, joins with my own. Another fire kindles, erupting to life inside my body. She leaps on top of me, hot to the touch, and I have no choice but to offer up my heart as an immolation.

“Love me now,” she says, and as our bodies become one, as the embers of an old love ignite once more, I glimpse the possessing spirit within and welcome it into myself.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.