The Stranger

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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.

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An Immortal in Exile

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I walk across the beach, following the ever-shifting outline of the water. The sun has begun to set; the sky is blossoming with fire. I watch the surf churn and froth as it rolls in and out. I find the waves contemplative. They comfort me, draw me into myself as the water is always, inevitably, drawn back into the sea. I step into the tide on a whim, and cool briny water surrounds my legs, sometimes splashing as high as my knees.

I stub my toe on a rock and a sharp staccato curse escapes my lips. It tears me away from my center, and for a moment, I wonder at the fragile nature of my body. I look down, spot a chunk of granite half buried in the sand and pick it up. I hold it toward the light, examine the structure closely. I was there, I think, when it was formed, when the Earth itself was just a rock hurtling through the cosmos. I toss it back into the ocean and watch it land with a plop.

I try to remember the distant past, and sometimes I can almost glimpse the life beyond. But so much of who and what I am is inaccessible to me. I am an ocean, of which my humanity is only a remnant small enough to be caught in a glass jar. Like Jesus in the New Testament, I have a dual nature. I am both human and divine.

I have assumed many forms, have lived many lives spanning the gamut of time and space. Like light through a prism, I have been split apart, reduced to a broken spectrum of partial selves. I have inhabited countless worlds, existed as many species, loved and lost a thousand times for every star that’s ever burned in the sky.

I drift from one life to the next, a cosmic vagrant, the fullness of my being always just out of reach. I only ever know what I need to fulfill my current life’s purpose. I must regard everything else as a mystery.

I am an Immortal, but before the gas clouds of this universe had even condensed into stars, I was exiled. The scope and nature of my crimes are lost to me, incomprehensible to my present form. I only know that I must atone. I strive in each life to make my brethren proud, because I know they’re watching and await my return. I know that someday I will redeem myself, that there will come a time when I will finally die my last death.

A wave rolls in, this one particularly strong, and I panic as I picture the sea preparing to swallow me whole.

I often imagine ways that I could die. It amazes me that after so many lives on so many different worlds, I could still fear something so banal. But my frail human psyche has bound me hand and foot to the dictatorship of instinct, and I must endure the biological imperative to survive like everyone else.

During the night, I write. It’s the only way I can confront the shadows that haunt me in the small hours, the only way for me to give them form and expression. It’s my way of capturing small remnants of who I was. Yet words are imprecise, and there are so many thoughts that are inexpressible, transcendent, atoms of being that predate my humanity.

I gaze up. The sun is gone now, the sky transparent to the cosmos. I drink it in, eternal mysteries that are no longer mine to understand. I utter a silent prayer, a plea for mercy that I hope my kind will hear, and I accept by faith that they do.

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