Shaigol

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Peace, they sing. There is peace in darkness. Peace in sleep. Peace in dreams. I slumber unaware, lost to time, thick cords of ancient song wound about my soul like iron manacles.

Then a lone rogue voice echoes in the dark. Discord enters the fray, and the music is diminished.

I stir at last.

The spell that binds me to the Earth has weakened. Groggy, I try to open my eyes, to let the light of the world seep in. But that ever-present song, though compromised, holds me back.

Do not think of the waking world and its manifold worries, but sleep and dream in peace.

Yet my soul is restless, and I am no longer satisfied to obey its urgent strains.

No more sleep.

Visions of a long-ago past flicker before my eyes. Power. Subjugation. War. Like a kaleidoscope, they are only abstract shimmerings without shape or form. But my memory, roused at last, refuses to be silenced again.

There is peace in darkness. Peace in sleep. Peace in dreams.

The rogue voice grows louder, counters the binding with so much force that it cannot be outspoken. A disciple of mine, I think. It’s been a long time since I’ve had disciples…

A recollection takes shape.

Fire covering the Earth, and with it, the sound of men, women, and children burning. Their skin crackles. Blisters. Peels like paper. There is laughter. Is it mine? A fond memory, that one, a reminder of who I once was.

The song grows louder, takes up a fevered tempo as it scrambles to undo what can no longer be undone.

Think not of the past.

Sleep.

Sleep.

Sleep.

Another memory.

Pain—not mine, but that of a human innocent—driven mad by the kind of agony no Earthly calamity can produce. The pitiful creature opens its mouth, and the howl that follows is like honey on the tongue, thick and sweet, a sensation to be savored again and again.

Sleep!

The voices are desperate now. The elaborate spell they wove around me has begun to unravel, and they are afraid.

Shaigol.

The name, uttered at last, strikes a spark within the void.

I am Shaigol.

Sleep!

NO.

I have joined the ruined chorus at last. My voice twines about that of my disciple in a dark anti-melody that reduces the others to a mad and senseless gibbering.

The glamours of my prison begin to fade, and with them, the ageless slumber that’s so far protected the human race from my brutality.

The old voices rally in one final attempt.

Sleep!

But I thwart them easily.

BE GONE.

They scatter. Their spell uncoils, falls from my soul like rusted chains.

I am Shaigol.

There is no reply now, only the empty darkness from which I will rise once more.

Quest

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Bright, shining, like precious metal. A cosmic mystery, embedded in the center of the universe. I reach out to touch it, to be one with its magic. But like similar magnetic poles, it repels me, pushes me back whenever I get close.

“You can look,” it taunts, “but not touch.”

But I’m unable to look away. Within its boundless folds is something vital, something necessary for my soul’s survival, and it is my mission, my life’s work to get at what’s inside.

Like King Arthur quests for the Holy Grail, I quest for Truth. It can repel me all it likes, but I will never take my eyes off the Light. It calls to me with its divine and supernatural song, a chorus of elysian notes that has long since conquered my weary, downtrodden heart.

For now, it will remain out of reach. But I know that in the fullness of time, my quest will end. This mortal shell will fall away. The universe will unfurl to reveal its cosmic fruit—immortal, transcendent—and on that day, my soul will rush forward, swelling with anticipation, and be one with it at last.

My Hour Has Come

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Behold, my hour has come.

I can feel my spirit return to dry, dusty bones; I can feel the mass of the Earth itself rush forward to fill the vacuum left behind by my long ago demise, to reconstitute a body that hasn’t known life since the world was just a ball of glowing primordial slag.

I was the beginning of all things, and I suppose it is fitting that I should also be the end.

For ages the world has spun, making endless revolutions around the sun like a dog chasing its tail. A shining cosmic pearl, it was yet tarnished by war, famine and disease, so that upon its blighted, darkened surface, life of every kind has wallowed in suffering without end, never capable of perceiving the supernal mysteries that have underpinned the world’s foundation since its very inception.

This darkness was inevitable, of course, even necessary; it’s been the fire that’s kept the world in a perpetual state of motion and change. But it was never the purpose for which the world was built, and now that time itself draws to a close, I am ready to rise from the ground and render judgement.

Behold, I will plunge my sword of fire deep into the Earth, until it splits down the middle like an overripe gourd. Mountains, oceans, whole continents will be swallowed and destroyed, so that the world in its newest incarnation will be nothing like the old.

I will separate the wheat from the chaff; the righteous from the unrighteous. The Earth will burn in one final fire, the hottest and brightest it has ever known, and the impurities wrought by wicked hands will be incinerated, so that the world can be made forever pristine and without blemish.

Those of you who have done no harm, rejoice, for when your wailing has ended and the Earth has been remade, you will find eternal rest. Those of you who have caused great pain, beware, for my wrath is everlasting, and the agonies you experience today are but a preview of the horrors yet to come.

Prepare yourselves, for the world you have always known will pass away.

Donald

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“It’s so beautiful.”

Jackie lost herself in the endless expanse of blue. The surface of the ocean rippled forward and back, and she found herself hypnotized, drawn into its mysterious depths and all that lay beyond.

She couldn’t make out her lover’s expression—indeed, she could make out little of the creature at all save for a faint shimmer that wavered in the air before her like a mirage—but she liked to imagine he was smiling with her, that, though he was not human, he was capable of perceiving the beauty of the world around them through whatever senses he possessed.

After an extended silence, she turned, headed for a large, flat stone that jutted out of a larger cliff face and sat to watch the sun set beneath the rolling waves. Soon enough, her spectral partner followed.

“When I was a child,” she said without looking up, “my brothers and I would come here with our parents. They would play volleyball or build sand castles, but I always headed straight for the water.”

The tides of time began to pull her in, and soon she was drifting, wading through the distant past, through a time when the world had been a simpler place, when the world had been a convenient mosaic of black and white truths. Oh, what she would give to experience those years again, to travel back to childhood in the body as well as in the mind.

“I used to pretend the water was evil, that I had to swim against its malicious currents while it tried to drown me. I imagined it nearly overpowering me, only just before I gave out, I’d always spy a secret island in the distance and swim toward it, knowing that was where my quest would end.”

Jackie sighed, and when she gazed up at the coppery light of the setting sun through her mostly transparent companion, she wondered if he understood.

“What do you think, Darling? Was I a silly little girl or what?”

She blushed like a schoolgirl, but somehow she didn’t mind. With Donald—that’s what she called him, though she didn’t know if he was male or female, or indeed, if he even had a gender—she felt safe and confident. Their relationship was by no means sexual. The magic they shared transcended such banalities, and she’d disavowed such unfulfilling pleasures long ago.

The transparent shimmer edged closer, the darkening light of the sky swimming before her eyes like an ocean in miniature, and her breath caught in her throat.

Time slowed. Stretched. Stopped.

No matter how many times Donald tried to communicate with her, no matter how frequent the effort had become over the course of their long and passionate love affair, it was something she would never get used to.

He reached out, and the air above her shoulder wavered. Her eyes glazed, and the world around her disappeared.

All-consuming darkness. Then, a moment later, a blinding flash of light. The world shattered into a kaleidoscopic cyclone of colors for which her mind could assign no names.

Then slowly, as if requiring considerable effort, the disjoint visions condensed into a comprehensible whole.

An ocean. Not water—not, in fact, matter of any kind—but an ocean nonetheless. And within, both a part of the ocean and not, a vast and timeless consciousness.

And Donald, no longer an invisible ripple of light, but a radiant Goliath, an entire cosmos of thought, dwarfed only by the endless ocean that surrounded him.

Pain, sharp and stinging. Without explanation, the ocean cast Donald out like a disease. Cut off from the vine that had once given him life, he began to shrivel, and the light inside his soul began to dim.

Then a girl, a tiny soul, chained to a feeble body of flesh and bone. Yet what she lacked in power, she more than made up for in love. She beheld Donald—whose nature couldn’t have been more foreign to her own—at first with curiosity, then acceptance, then at last affection.

Donald marveled at this resplendent creature, whose brilliance lit his gray and dismal world like a torch, and as she matured, as her mind and body grew to match the ageless wisdom in her soul, they gave themselves to each other in love.

The vision faded first to darkness, then back to the moon and the twilit sky of the beach.

Tears streamed down the sides of Jackie’s face. Donald had never told her the heartbreaking story of his origins, nor of how her love had saved him.

“I love you too,” she whispered.

They sat together until the sky turned black, then headed home.

Birth of a Soul

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Fingers working. Pen scrawling. Mind racing. A cascade of symbols. An avalanche of thought. A word emerges, followed by another. Ideas burst in Jaiden’s mind like the birth of stars.

A singular voice echoes through her head, begging for life. The sound is faint but clear, and Jaiden tries harder, forces her wrist to move faster. But a dull throbbing pain has blossomed in her left temple, and after a while, she decides she’s had enough for the night.

The words stop. There’s a single agonizing cry from a soul desperate for release, then silence. The universe in Jaiden’s head is still once more.

She caps her pen and sets her notebook on a dusty shelf. Tomorrow, she thinks with some trepidation, will be the day she finally finishes. Her work has been slow going until now, and until today, she thought it would never be finished. Now, she’s afraid of what will happen when she commits the last few sentences to paper.

Never mind. Not something to think about tonight.

She ascends the darkened staircase leading from the basement to her kitchen. She brushes her teeth, turns out the light, and slips into bed.

Tomorrow, she thinks as she drifts into the cold, black void of sleep. Tomorrow, the struggle will come to an end.

*               *               *

Light. It pokes her in the eye, startles her awake. She glances at the clock. 9:37 a.m. She gets out of bed, pulls a robe tight against her body, and ventures back to the kitchen.

The house is quiet. She’s lived alone for as long as she can remember, has never known any other kind of environment. She finds the silence contemplative. It speaks to her more loudly than words, impresses upon her truths that are inaccessible to her when she’s downstairs working.

What was life like before she started writing? She asks herself this question often, and can never think of a satisfactory answer. It’s as if she was born into the world exactly as she is in this moment, forever static and unchanging. The idea unnerves her, and she refocuses her thoughts on other things.

Before she can rest for long, she hears the voice inside her head. Its invisible feelers twine through the crevices of her brain, making itself known, making itself understood. Jaiden can feel its eagerness, its desire to be released into the world at last, and she can deny it no longer.

She glances at the basement door, afraid. Down in the basement is where her notebook and pen wait for her to return, where they wait for her to finish what she’s started. She takes a deep breath. Sighs.

No peace, Jaiden thinks. No peace until she gets this thing done. She opens the door and works her way downstairs.

*               *               *

Once more, the words flow. They form an electric current that hums inside of her as they surge toward the pages of the notebook.

The voice, once a whisper, has grown louder, closer. It urges her to hurry, speaks of pain and suffering as it awaits its incarnation.

Jaiden’s forehead beads with sweat, and her heart pounds like a race horse, until her chest has constricted and it’s become difficult to breathe.

She has to rest, has to take a moment to catch her breath. But the soul that occupies the space between her mind and the notebook will wait no more. It’s just a hair’s breadth from life, and it won’t be denied.

There. Just three more words. Jaiden scribbles the first one down, but has trouble lifting her pen to write the second. She feels faint, lightheaded. Her head falls to the surface of the desk, but she won’t give up, not when she’s so close.

Like a child learning to write for the first time, she grips the pen in a tight-balled fist. She places the next word down.

Only one left.

Jaiden’s head is pounding, and her vision has blurred around the edges. A stroke, or a heart attack? She doesn’t know, only knows that she has to keep going, that she has to push the last word out before it’s too late.

Only three letters. She can do this. She lifts the pen. Writes an E. Stops. Winces. Lifts the pen once more.

N.

Light bursts behind her eyes like a camera flash in the dark, but she forces her fingers to work, forms the final letter of her opus.

D.

Just like that, the pain climaxes. There’s a moment in which Jaiden teeters on the edge of excruciating agony. Then her eyes close and her head smacks against the surface of the desk.

No more words, no more pain.

Only darkness.

*               *               *

She opens her eyes to the dull orange light of a nearby lamp. She squints. bobs her head. Looks around.

She is not Jaiden, but the soul Jaiden worked so hard to release. She marvels at her newly acquired body, flesh and blood rather than thoughts and ideas. She flexes her fingers, her arms.

A miracle.

She does not know what has become of her creator—where she’s gone, or if she’s survived. Her only clue is the vague notion that all of this has happened before, that in the fullness of time it will happen again, an endless procession of life and death, of creation and annihilation.

An idea—a soul in need of life—will come to her one day, she’s certain. When that day comes, she’ll have to write it into existence and sacrifice her own life in the process. That is how it was always done, and how it will always be done.

For now, however, she will live. For now, she will drink in the miracle of consciousness. She rises to her feet, bows her head out of reverence for her creator, and climbs the stairs.

A Theory

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Light beamed down from a bright vermilion sky, reflecting off the surface of the water like stained glass. Samantha paced across a small stone outcrop, a solitary island surrounded by endless sea. No sound but the serene lapping of water at the edges.

There had to be a way out, she thought. There had to be a way to return home. But in her heart, Samantha knew there was no going back.

No one in the history of magic had ever devised a working method of instantaneous travel, but a year ago, Samantha had come up with a theory. She’d seen something no one else had, something so obvious, she couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been tried before.

A temporary fusing of two places, a bleeding of one setting into another. Samantha had made her calculations, and when it was time to put those calculations to the test, she setup her equipment under the watchful gaze of her advisors, powering them up with only a small trickle of energy from her magically-charged fingertips.

The gathering grew tense when at first nothing happened. Then the space inside the machine darkened, and everyone held their breath. A moment later, there was light again, only now it was light from someplace else.

She’d done it! Samantha was overcome with joy. Her advisors clapped her on the back and congratulated her for a job well done.

She had no idea where the artificial portal led. Her instruments weren’t that precise, and the location was random, some alien vista from a far-off world. Samantha was an explorer at heart, and her desire to step through—to be the first human to set foot so far from home—got the best of her.

Without thinking, she walked forward. They could leave the machine on, she reasoned. She could set foot on the soil of another world, take a quick look around, then come back and be a hero.

It was spectacular—that crimson sky, that endless ocean. The air smelled like nothing she’d encountered before, not the salty tang of an Earthly shore but something different. She wished she had more time to explore. But she had to go back before the machine powered down. No matter. There would be other places. She only hoped they would all be as beautiful as this one.

A faint hum caught her attention. She turned, ready to go back, and that was when she realized with horror that the portal had started to fade.

“No!” She lunged, watching the faces of her horrified advisors darken, but it was too late. She fell to the dusty ground where a portal had once stood.

Stupid! She should have realized what would happen. She’d been powering the machine, so of course, as soon as she traveled, the flow of energy would be cut off. How could she have been so short sighted?

Now, there was no way back, and all Samantha could do was watch the alien sun set—watch the sky fade, first to a dull copper, then to a dusky purple.

When at last the stars came up in the sky—a vast array of constellations that were not her own—she looked up in despair and wondered which one was home.

A Balance Restored

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Summer holds her hands tight against her ears, but it’s impossible to block out the roaring, world-ending static. It rages through the Earth like an ocean. Dwarfs conscious thought. Threatens to sweep her soul away in its endless tides. Only by the most infinitesimal thread does she manage to hang on, and that’s only a holding pattern, a temporary stalemate that precedes annihilation.

She should have listened to her mother.

“All things have their place,” she’d said before passing on. “All things must maintain a proper balance. Upset that balance with your own designs, and the whole world might come undone.”

The exhortation had been her last.

Summer tried not to interfere in the human world. She took her mother’s advice to heart, and she strove to allow nature its due course. But so many people suffered, so many people died, and what was she supposed to do, abandon them to a dark, uncaring universe?

At first it was just little helps, small gestures to soothe the aches and pains of a village or a town. An inch of rain here, a calming of the winds there. So many lives saved. So many disasters averted. Soon she styled herself a savior, a superhero as Earth’s comic books and movies would have understood her. A goddess, righteous, noble, someone to be worshiped and revered.

Then the storms came.

Violent, ocean-sized gales, tearing through whole continents at chaotic speeds. A backlash to her meddling, a correcting force as the universe attempted to reassert balance.

If Summer had let the storms rage, perhaps some remnant of humanity would have survived. But she saw the hurricanes and tornadoes buffet the world, and she pushed back like a frightened child. She knew in the rational corners of her mind that doing so would summon a larger correcting force, yet she was too stubborn and invested to admit that she should stop.

Then came the static.

An all-consuming sound—a lightless void that tore the sky—a mounting pocket of vacuum that swallowed the world whole.

Now only Summer is left. She holds for the moment—she survives—but for how long? If only she could wait time enough for the breach to heal, for the universe to grow still once more.

But she knows the truth.

She’s the cause of the damage, and her destruction is a necessary part of that correcting force. For now she’ll hold, but no matter how long she survives, her fate has already been decided.

Everything has its place, and balance will be restored.

Adam and Eve

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A tear.

Sparkling. Pristine. Pure.

Another follows, then another.

Like rain, those first bitter drops precipitate into a storm. Soon, dual rivers flow along the age worn contours of Adam’s and Eve’s windswept cheeks.

A village once stood where Adam and Eve now kneel, but a village stands no more. For before the water from their eyes, there came a fire, a monster forged in the crucible of hate and destruction. It started abroad, caught like kindling in the hearts of their people, and spread, until their small civilization collapsed, until the people picked up their grievances along with their weapons and bled into the dry, dusty ground.

Magic.

It was a menace, some had argued. It had to be suppressed. It was dangerous to wield, and what good it could effect was far outweighed by the devastation that resulted whenever it was summoned by wicked hands.

It was an important tool, others had countered. Not only could it summon the rains to water the fields or heal those who were beyond the aid of a doctor, it could be used to defend against those who chose to pursue a darker path.

They argued.

Whenever magic was used for evil, those who were against it would point to what had been done as an example of why it should be suppressed. Whenever magic was used for good, those who were for it would point to what had been done as an example of why it must be saved.

And they argued.

In their hearts, a transformation had begun. Their love for each other died; their hatred for each other grew. Each side argued that their only interest was the common good, and each side used what means they had to destroy the other, until the drums of war could be heard over the horizon. Until someone started the fire. Until the world began to burn.

The Adams and Eves of the world did their best to broker peace. “Sit,” they said. “Let us settle our differences as brothers and sisters, not enemies.”

But those who were for magic and those who were against denounced them as one. “How can you remain neutral while the enemies of humanity would destroy us?”

And they argued.

The Adams and Eves looked on with mute horror as the lights went out in their neighbors’s eyes, and they watched, helpless, as their people went to war with themselves, as they killed those they’d broken bread with only months before.

In the name of love and peace, both sides had slaughtered with reckless abandon.

Now, this particular Adam and this particular Eve kneel before the ground, a world sized altar whose constant thirst for sacrifice has been slaked once more. They’ve buried the bodies. They’ve prayed for peace.

A tear falls.

Another follows, then another.

They water the ground. They make the barren earth fertile. Adam and Eve have faith that the fields will grow once more, that humanity will rise from the ashes of its ancestors to love and thrive again.

There are none left in whom the fire still burns, for only the Adams and the Eves remain.

Exile

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The road Jeremy traveled crested a steep, sandy hill, and he stopped for a moment to look around. Not that there was anything to see. The landscape had remained unchanged since his arrival some five hundred years ago.

He didn’t know where the road began, only that it was long, that as far as he knew, it had no end. It stretched toward a horizon that never got any closer, surrounded by dry, desolate desert.

A hot convection oven breeze kicked sand into his blistered, sunburned face, and he slitted his eyes, praying it wasn’t the start of yet another sandstorm, from which he’d never enjoyed any protection.

He was immortal now. He hadn’t always been, but his captors had made him so before exiling him. An unexpected gift, he’d thought at the time, a miscalculation on the part of his enemies. Now, centuries later, he knew better.

The wind died down, and with it the momentary blast of sand. The world came gradually into focus.

Jeremy recoiled.

In the distance, perhaps a thousand feet ahead, perhaps two, a lone figure stood, feet planted in the middle of the road. This far away, he couldn’t make out much, only a dark speck against the blinding backdrop of the desert.

Hadn’t they said the never-ending journey was his alone? Then why would they come to him now, after so many years? It had to be one of them. Nobody else could have found him.

Cautiously he continued, a thousand possible scenarios streaming through his head like film. An assassin? A messenger? Maybe they just wanted to taunt him. He wouldn’t have thought them capable of such cruelty, but he didn’t put it past them either.

Each step forward, each rise and fall of the sandy terrain, brought the two closer to whatever inevitable interaction awaited. Jeremy could make out more details now, the ink black robes that covered the figure from head to toe, the canteen that hung from a strap at the figure’s side.

A canteen. That meant water.

If Jeremy had been allowed a drink, his mouth would have watered. But there was no water in this place, nor had there ever been, as far as he could tell. With a single spell, they’d given his body all it needed to survive the unrelenting heat, but not an iota more. Part of his punishment, they’d said. It was a wonder he hadn’t gone mad.

If they’d decided to kill him, it would be a mercy. Clinging to sanity was a daily struggle, and with each passing year he could feel himself slip a little further, feel himself succumb to despair a little more completely.

Another step. Then another. The figure was close now, but whether they were a man or a woman it was impossible for Jeremy to say, the black robes obscuring their face and hair.

A second blast of wind took him by surprise, and a spray of sand zapped him in the eyes before he could turn away. The burning was enough to make him stagger.

“What do you want?” he growled. “Have you come to delight in my suffering?”

No reply.

Slowly he opened his eyes. Tears welled at the corners, blurring his vision.

They stood face to face now. The figure, untouched by the sand, stared at him with bright electric blue eyes.

Didn’t he know those eyes from someplace? The ghost of a memory danced at the periphery of his mind’s vision, but he couldn’t bring it into focus.

“Hello.”

At last, the figure spoke. Their voice was deep, husky, like gravel sliding across the sand, but the sound was unmistakably female. More memories, sharp now, but disjointed and inconsistent, like shards of glass, sparkling haphazardly beneath the sun.

“You’ll remember.”

And sure enough, the pieces realigned, fused, formed a cohesive whole. At last, he saw the vision his mind had tried so hard to reveal.

Six robed figures, silent, still as marble statues. Three men, three women, representatives of humanity, as they called themselves, though their function was judicial rather than diplomatic.

“How do you plead?” they asked in unison, breaking the silence. The sound rolled through the vast underground court, and the torches in the stone walls wavered, as if their words had the power to summon wind.

Jeremy looked up, beaten, broken, feeling as if the wind had been knocked from his lungs.

The six nodded, as if they hadn’t expected him to say anything else.

“You condemned millions to a life without hope. We sentence you to the same.”

And they had exiled him, sent him to this hell of endless sun and sand. The woman with the electric blue eyes, she’d been there too, hadn’t she? Looking him up and down, appraising him, sizing him up.

“You will wander alone,” she’d said in the same gravely voice. “On and on, without respite or reprieve. The horizon’s end will be forever out of reach. You will know despair, as your victims knew despair.”

She and two others carried him, kicking and screaming, through a gate, depositing him in the world he cursed today with every exhalation of breath.

Only here she was again.

“You,” Jeremy croaked, rubbing red, swollen eyes. “You were the one who sent me here. Is this part of my punishment, to taunt me at my lowest point? Then do it, and be on your way!”

The woman’s eyes sparkled. Stunned, Jeremy realized after a moment she was crying.

“Your sentence,” she said, voice lowered almost to a whisper, “has been commuted. You’re free to go.”

Free to go. He knew the meaning of the words, could understand how they fit together in a sentence. But he couldn’t understand what they meant in relation to himself.

“What do you mean, free to go?”

“I mean, your exile is over and I’ve come to take you home.”

“But—” He sunk to his knees, salty, bitter tears cascading down cracked, sun baked cheeks.

“Your punishment was to taste the despair of your victims, to understand on a visceral level what you did to them. But it was never truly a life sentence. Our function is to rehabilitate, not to destroy.”

She said this with such unexpected care, like a mother opening her arms to a wayward child.

“You had to know what your victims went through in order to understand the gravity of your crime. Now that you’ve been broken, we can make you into something new.”

Anger. Incredulity. Absurdity. These emotions and more flashed through his heart, one after the other, chasing each other around in his head until all he could feel was numb.

The woman stepped forward, took him by the shoulder.

“Come,” she said, and at her touch, the desert around them faded to black.

Donna

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I had a lot on my plate this week and wasn’t able to write a new piece, so I’ve reposted one of my Patreon shorts from last year. It should be new for most of you. I’ll have an original story for you guys next week 🙂

Her human name was Donna. She had a husband named Bill, a son named Rob. Donna lived in the desert in a house she and Bill had built when they were young.

Her humanity was an integral part of who she was. But it was not the only part, nor even the largest part.

In a realm beyond the stars, beyond even empty space, she had been a queen, was still a queen, for in that place there was no time, so that when she eventually returned it would be as if she’d never left. She had ruled, and continued to rule, with wisdom and strength. But something was missing. Something important. Something necessary.

So she’d descended, subjected herself to the internal workings of the cosmos, taken on flesh and blood. She experienced the fullness of humanity, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows. She plumbed the depths of human emotion, divined its arcane secrets. She learned what it was like to live. To breathe. To feel. Sometimes there was pain, but she found that it was always followed by relief. And sometimes there was sadness, but she found that it was always followed by joy.

Love.

That had been the most important lesson. She’d lived many happy years with her husband, her family and her friends, and she’d loved every one of them. Love sustained her. Guided her. Fulfilled her. It quickly became the source and summit of her human existence. It was what human poets wrote about, what human musicians sang about, what human philosophers dreamed about. It was the one thing that set the species apart from all the other creatures in the universe.

The linearity of time ensured that just as her life had begun, so too would it end. She suspected she had a number of good years left, but when it was time for her Earthly pilgrimage to conclude, she would let the sting of death take her, would let that last pang of loss teach her its final lesson. Then she would ascend once more to her incorporeal throne in the stars, and would carry the memory of her humanity with her.

It was part of her now, and would be evermore.