Totem, Part 6

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Part 1 | Part 2 |  Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The master, Jahi began, had an unusual ability. No one knew of it, not even myself until he entrusted me with the secret later. Haven‘t you ever wondered how he amassed so much power and influence? He was strong, yes, but even a powerful magician such as he would have had a hard time bending the world to his will. But he had an advantage, one he believed to be his alone, and there came a morning, just as I returned home to the master’s estate, when he told me what that advantage was.

*               *               *

“I can read minds,” he said before sitting back into a dark brown chair and waiting for Jahi to react.

But Jahi didn’t reply, for the statement had flown right over his head. He’d understood the words, but not their meaning. He’d just arrived from a long and tiring meeting with a group of influential priests who held the Pharaoh’s ear. It was now early in the morning, and he’d slept little during the late night journey back. He hadn’t known what to expect when he answered the master’s summons, but certainly not this.

“I intend no double meaning,” the master said when Jahi didn’t speak. “I can read minds. Forgive me for being so abrupt, but I need your help, and I believe you to be loyal.”

True enough. Jahi had cast his lot with the man years ago. He’d always believed the master to be, if not exactly a good man, at least an effective ruler—one who relied not on fancy clothes or public recognition, but on the strength of an iron will and an unshakable resolve. He had come, with time, to be the unseen glue that held much of civilization together, and Jahi admired him greatly for it. At the master’s side, he’d flourished as a skilled diplomat and negotiator. He’d brokered more than his fair share of deals with some of the world’s most powerful leaders, facilitating the master’s consolidation of power these past several years, and for Jahi, this shared accomplishment was a source of intense and ferocious pride.

“Sit,” said the master.

Jahi pulled up to the empty chair before him and did as he was told.

“The others can’t know of what I’m about to tell you. Not Rashidi. Not Azibo. No one. It stays between you and me. Swear it.”

“I swear.”

“Good.” The master relaxed a little, sinking further into his chair, and Jahi thought he’d never seen the man look so vulnerable. “I find myself troubled, and I don’t know where to turn.”

Jahi gazed up at him, all harsh lines and wrinkles, and thought he looked unwell. Once more, he didn’t know what to say, and so said nothing.

“There’s a talent,” the master began, “one I thought had died along with the rest of my family long ago. Imagine, with only a thought, that you could leave your body to inhabit the minds of others, that you could feel their happiness, their joy, their sorrow, their grief—that you could hear every passing thought, every fleeting desire that courses through their heads as if it were your own. My mother and father used that ability long ago to negotiate peace between rival families and tribes, but I always had loftier aspirations.”

He paused, considered.

“Anyway, all that is to say my talent has played no small part in my success.”

Could this be true? Jahi reeled with the possibility. With the power to read minds, the master could do almost anything. Politics thrived on misdirection and deceit, and one’s skill at reading his enemies was tantamount to one’s success. If the master could peer inside the heads of those he competed with for power, if he could read their true intentions as easily as words written on a scroll…

“Then I could do almost anything I wished. Yes, Jahi, you’re right. Which is why I’ve always kept it a secret.”

Jahi felt his face turn cold. How long had he and the master worked together? How many of Jahi’s secrets did he know?

“Enough to know you’re not a threat to me.” The master said this in the affectionate tone normally reserved for pets and small children. “The others would rise up against me if they could—particularly my young apprentice, Azibo, who’ll take my place in the fullness of time anyway. But not you. You know yourself too well. You understand that your power has always been greatest when placed at the service of mine. I know I can trust you, which is why I’ve shared such a startling secret.”

“But why tell me this now?”

“Because something is amiss, and I need your help to set it right.”

“Of course, I’ll do whatever you ask, but…”

“Just listen, Jahi. As I said, until now, I’ve always believed myself to be the exclusive steward of this particular ability. But yesterday, while I was napping in my chambers, someone appeared to me in a dream. Not a part of my imagination, but someone real, someone who wasn’t supposed to be there. Like me, they were able to cast themself into my mind, though I have the feeling it was an accident, an early manifestation of a nascent power as of yet unexplored. I tried to catch a glimpse of their face, but they’d fled before I could discover who it was.”

“What can I do?”

“Keep your eyes open. See if anyone appears unusually perceptive, if anyone seems to know what you’re going to say before you say it, that sort of thing. I suspect the guilty party is close, maybe even one of my advisers. Will you do this for me, Jahi?”

“If you can read my mind, then you already know the answer.”

The man nodded.

“I knew I could count on you.”

So dismissed, Jahi stood, knelt, and exited the master’s study.

*               *               *

It was Azibo, wasn‘t it? Rashidi turned his dark glassy eyes toward the both of them. The one who entered the master‘s dream.

Yes. But as I‘ve already told Azibo, he hid himself well. I had my suspicions, but never any firm evidence.

And you kept this from us until now? barked Kasim.

I couldn‘t tell you before. The master might have seen it in your minds, and then he would have known I’d broken his promise.

What about after he turned us into birds? Couldn‘t you have told us then?

What would it have mattered? How would it have changed anything?

No one answered.

Then Zane barged into the conversation.

Azibo, that was how you knew the master would be gone the day we planned to depose him! He wanted his absence to be a secret, but you read his mind, and when you realized he was leaving, that he would be gone for the next two weeks, you and Jahi convinced us to try and take control of his affairs.

Azibo nodded.

But Jahi, the master saw in your mind that you were loyal to him, which means it must‘ve been true. What changed?

I got to know the master‘s true nature. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I was forced to acknowledge his true nature. I should have seen it from the beginning, but I’d accomplished so much at his side that I didn’t want to admit he was a monster. Only after he grew increasingly paranoid and prone to suspicion did I realize, with enough time, not even I would be safe.

The others were silent for a while. Like Jahi, they remembered all too well the master’s cruel and increasingly erratic behavior in those last days.

I want to hear more about Azibo‘s part in this, said Rashidi. Will you tell us, Azibo?

But the youth only drew back into the lengthening shadows of the night, unable or unwilling to speak.

You might as well, said Jahi, not unkindly. No harm can come to you now. Our only worry is the bracelet, and the more we understand about your talent, the better. Maybe we can use it to communicate with the girl.

Azibo hesitated, then nodded.

Yes, you‘re right. It’s been a long time. It’s just that I had to keep myself hidden for so long… Azibo paused, then nodded again. All right. I‘m ready to tell my story.

And after a moment of silent brooding, Azibo did.

Read part 7 here.

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“His name is Gol. He is not an ogre or a troll, a gnome, a fairy or a centaur. There are no stories written of his kind. He was once human like the boy, but he is human no longer.”

Gol, a creature of the Earth yet apart from it, a creature of arcane powers with an ancient mission not even he fully understands. He cannot propagate, yet he must sire offspring to continue his life’s work.

James, a boy who lives in dreams and the imagination, a boy inebriated with the wonders and mysteries of life. He will learn too soon that the world harbors darker secrets.

A bittersweet tale of loss and regret, death and rebirth, growth and transformation, Rite of Passage will remind you why you were once afraid of the dark, and will call to mind the mystical innocence of childhood that was forever stolen from each of us.

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Illustration #1 for “Rite of Passage”

I have great news! The artist I’ve been working with to illustrate my soon-to-be-published short story, Rite of Passage, is nearly done with the first picture. Above is a partial reveal to whet your appetite.

Want to see the whole thing? Join my mailing list by submitting your email address directly below this blog post. I’ll be sending it out in the monthly newsletter the first week of June. I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait to share it with you! 🙂

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Mischief Maker

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Not long now, he thinks, before the world unravels again. His mouth blossoms in a jack-o-lantern grin.

It was just by chance that he happened upon the Earth. Wandering the cosmos in search of mischief, he’d stumbled on it by accident, and he was already moving on when he caught sight of a curious thing.

They called themselves Man. They gazed up from their tiny little rock at the dawn of their existence like ants upon a mound of sand. They beheld the depth and breadth of the mysteries beyond, and in their arrogance proclaimed themselves to be the center of the universe.

He’s dwelled among them since. He works in the shadows, just beyond the range of human perception. A master puppeteer, he tugs on their emotional strings, takes advantage of their ape-like brains, rouses them toward anger, hatred and war.

He waits until they’ve nearly destroyed themselves, then watches as they rebuild, as new civilizations rise from the ashes of the old. Then, just before they’ve tasted true and lasting peace, he lays his fetid hands upon the Earth and gets them to burn everything to the ground again.

Each time he allows them to carry something into the next age, knowledge that enables them to build bigger and better weapons. Now, they have nuclear and biological armaments. He grins like a spoiled child with candy, and he watches, wondering if this time they’ll break the world for good.

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Nothing Lasts Forever

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I thought it would last forever. I thought I could do no wrong, that no matter what I did it would always be with me. Then it up and went and I never saw it again.

I cry every night, pausing only to dab at red and swollen eyelids. I drop to my knees and pray, beg the creator of the cosmos to bring it back. I promise not to take it for granted, to give it the veneration it deserves. But my prayers always go unanswered.

I am only a shell of my former self, a hollowed out husk who’s lived for centuries in seclusion, too afraid and too ashamed to dwell among others.

The only time I speak is when I emerge naked from beneath my ancient stone bridge in the middle of the night to call out into the darkness, to speak its name, hoping it will hear my call. Hours pass before I go back inside, cold and damp, and only when I fall asleep does it come back to haunt me in my dreams.

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The Writer

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Jared’s eyes popped open at 3:17 in the morning. His head was pounding. His brain was a jumbled kaleidoscope of broken thoughts and disjointed memories, and at first he couldn’t tell where he was.

Then the pressure in his head increased. Jared moaned. He tossed the blanket aside, fumbled in the dark for the light switch, then walked briskly to his desk and picked up a pen. He groped the hardwood surface for his notebook, and when he found it he pulled it open to where he’d left off that afternoon.

Jared began to write.

Images of a life not his own funneled slowly from his mind, through his hand and onto the paper beneath him. It was dizzying, looking through two pairs of eyes at the same time. He was Jared, the writer who lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment. He was Arthur, a balding art mogul in his mid-forties, gulping for air as his studio partner plunged a six-inch serrated knife into his back.

As he scribbled furiously, trying to relieve the pressure, he wondered if he was writing the story or if the story was writing him.

He’d never asked for this. One day in high school, he’d been sitting in his sixth period English class when a story had come plummeting out of nowhere. It seized control of his senses, then raped him repeatedly as he sat there helpless in front of his teacher and his peers. All he could do was write it down, scribbling in his three-ring binder so fast that he nearly tore several pages, hoping and praying that somehow he could get it out of his head without anybody noticing that he was no longer paying attention.

Since then, his life had been a never-ending series of unpredictable encounters.

After a time, the well-spring ran dry. His viewfinder into Arthur’s soul vanished, and he was left gasping for air with his head in his hands. After taking a few minutes to catch his breath, he turned out the light. He returned to the covers, drenched in sweat, and he prayed. He asked God (if there was a God) to take this from him, though all the while he knew his prayer was in vain.

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Friday Freewrite

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What’s Friday Freewrite? Find out here.

Sometimes, when I realize something about myself, I wonder if what I’ve seen is true or if it’s just a vain reflection catching sight of another reflection. I feel like my soul exists in a hall of mirrors, capturing all the worst and most superficial aspects of myself and reflecting them back in disproportionate and grotesque detail.


Sometimes, even our search for the truth, the most noble, intimate, vulnerable and purposeful aspect of our soul, becomes corrupted, a vanity, a parody of a search that enjoys all the trappings and adornments of associated with a searching soul while the soul itself has refused to search any longer.


I look in the mirror, a broken battered version of my former self1, and I recoil back at the hideous visage that stares back at me, so alien in appearance.

My soul, blackened like my face, peers outward, coroded2.

I want to die.


Footnotes

1. This one is fictional, not autobiographical.

2. Should be spelled corroded.

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Friday Freewrite

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He saw the old man standing there after communion1, looking so serene. Surely heaven2 waited for the likes of him. But what if he were to stumble? To fall, to lose grace before he met his end?3, 4

He could make sure the man got to heaven2, could hasten his appointment with Christ to make sure he was in a state of grace when he died.

Yes, God would be pleased with him for his holy work, for his effort to save a soul.

He lunged forward, knife in hand. He would set the man free.


The congregation spoke out in unison5, a low bass monotone thrum, and Jason couldn’t help but be reminded of the Borg6. “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”


Footnotes

1. This came to me during mass one Sunday. It’s based on a deranged man’s perverted understanding of Catholic theology concerning the “state of grace” and its necessity for salvation (see footnote #4 for more on this.) I like to explore humanity from peculiar angles.

2. Heaven should be capitalized.

3. The last two sentences sound better and make more sense if written like this: “But what if he were to stumble, to fall from grace before he met his end?”

4. Catholics believe that one can lose their salvation by sinning gravely and by not repenting of that sin before they die. Through the lens of insanity, the deranged individual reasons that the old man, on account of his holy appearance, must be in a state of grace. He further concludes that since it’s possible the old man might sin gravely in the future and therefore lose his salvation, he can do him a favor by killing him now, therefore guaranteeing the old man a place in Heaven.

5. At first, I didn’t want to include this passage because I thought it would detract from the more serious and horrific one that precedes it. But I wrote both of these on the same day and they share a common theme, so I decided to go for it.

6. If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you’ll get the reference 🙂

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Friday Freewrite

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What’s Friday Freewrite? Find out here.

I reflected on the state of my life, thought about all the many flaws I have in my character. They say that knowing yourself is a good thing, but I think that this kind of introspection is worse.

I know that I’m a loose cannon, that I overreact to small things1, but I’m helpless to stop it, can only watch as my life becomes a train wreck.

At least if I were unaware, I could feel that I was being righteous, like I was a crusader for good. Instead, I get to watch the train wreck of my life unfold, powerless to stop it.


Something Al had learned2 as one of life’s great truisms was that nothing turns a man into a rabid dog quite like being told he’s going to have to work over the weekend.


I closed the door behind me, took a moment to let my surroundings sink in. I fingered soft linen towels, squinted up at the lights, felt the smooth polished brass of the door handle.

I pulled down my pants, plopped down on the toilet and let the years of my childhood wash over me.

I spent a lot of my childhood years cocooned in bathrooms.3 At a time when I was insecure and prone to bullying, they provided me a sanctuary, a place where I could think and philosophize, process conversations I’d been forced to have, ponder my fate, to dream, to imagine.

In the bathroom, in the beautiful silence of the bathroom, I found freedom and peace.


Footnotes

1. I wrote this in 2014 while at work. I don’t remember exactly what happened, just that I had overreacted to something my boss had asked me to do, a regrettably common pattern in my behavior, and was frustrated by my inability to control my anger.

2. And by Al, I mean myself 😉

3. Being an introvert, the bathroom has always been a safe place for me. It’s where I go when I’m feeling besieged by social forces and need time to recharge.

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Friday Freewrite

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What’s Friday Freewrite? Find out here.

The war within myself rages on1, but today the soldiers have set their guns and their bayonettes aside to observe a day of silence.

For the first time in a thousand years, the air is still. I breathe it in, deep, full of life, remembering the boy I used to be before self-knowledge shattered the peace.

There are no mortar shells bursting in the air. There are no bullets zipping through the air, piercing holes, sapping the life blood from my ravaged psyche.

There will be no peace until the day I finally take the bullet meant for me; there is no rest for the wicked.

But today, today I can pretend.


Footnotes

1. I would like to tell you more about where this one came from, but it’s very personal. I usually like to provide context to my freewrites, but this time I’m going to let you figure it out for yourself.

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