The Four Daughters

(1)
In the high places of the heavens was a treasure house, and stored within it were dark orbs filled with vapors that formed multicolored streaks inside of them, flaring and flickering like small bolts of lightning wrapped in silvery mist.

The orbs were sacred to the gods ruling the Higher Worlds, and their children were admonished never to go inside the treasure house.

One day a lesser god, newly made and barely beyond mortal, was sent to fetch an orb for the Higher Worlds. He found it, but grew distracted by its beauty and didn’t fully shut the door as he left.

The children, whenever they played near the treasure house, always had a lookout for just such an opportunity. They would, they told themselves, only go inside to look around and not touch anything lest they get in trouble and stir their fathers to wrath.

When they entered, they tried to keep their promise, but children and orbs are meant to play; the girls took them and threw them to one another; the boys threw them at one another, and for a time, they laughed and played, but one of them missed his target.

The orb rolled outside the open door.

The children, forgetting they weren’t supposed to be there, took some of the other orbs outside to play with as well, but the orbs didn’t fall to the ground.

Delighted to see the orbs float, the children flung them up into the sky, and the orbs gained speed and whipped out of sight.
The lightning mixture within the orbs began to change: some burned with hot light, others with cool.

Some formed rings around the sphere and turned bright colors that pleased the children and made them point and ‘ohh’ and ‘ahh.’
Some of the dark orbs clustered and collected some of the bright ones, turning them as dark as they were, absorbing all their light.
Others grew pockmarked, and some let foul smelling vapors escape. Some shattered, but all of the pieces went into space, or just vanished.

Some caught fire, and some did not.

    The gods were dismayed to learn what happened, and cast spells so the far-flung jewels would stop moving. Then they casst spells that formed pinwheels from the jewels so that the winds of space could spin them, keeping them contained until the High World gods could gather them once more.

************
(2)
The four daughters of the King of gods were in the treasure house when the accident occurred. As the orbs fell and tumbled, there was one that especially stood out to them, one of a blue-green color that pleased the eye.

     The four of them, desiring it, placed their hands on it. Having held other orbs and discarded them for this one, the residue of the others were still on their hands and transferred to the blue-green sphere.

      The first one to touch saw the season of winter manifest as caps of ice and snow, formed on the top, then broke in half as one piece slid to the bottom, and the flakes of snow began to fall from her fingertips for a time, for the orb she had taken before was cold.

     The second daughter, who’d taken a hot orb she could not hold, the cool blueness became dry and brittle, and the blueness sank as grains of yellow, white, pink, and black fell from her fingers and shifted under the restless wind. The larger clusters were dark and hard, and she named them stones, and the blueness grew hot beneath her hands.

    The third had touched a warm orb, so when she placed her hands on the blue one, the green strands rapidly expanded, forming wide expanses of trees and grass, with patches of colors that grew at the end of something stouter than grass, but not as firm as trees. She named these flowers.

     Liquid had filled the fourth daughter’s first orb, so when she touched the blue one, the blue places began to move and shimmer, turning into a liquid that was clear, clean, and cool to the touch, but reflected the white, blue and green strands that had morphed into something else.
Its power moved the sand and ice, and filled the other places the sand and stones had not, and covered some of the grass, ice, and snow.

     As they strove for sole possession of the blue orb, it shook with the force of its first storms, raging across its surface.
Their father summoned them.

    The oldest daughter, taking one last look at its beauty, quickly placed the blue orb back into the spinning clusters.

*************
(3)
The following day, they went to their father and asked of him if they might make more things for the orb, and as he delighted in them, he gave them permission.
Each daughter made something for the area she had touched, but they knew they would not be allowed to pluck the orb from its place anymore.
They would have to create their items at home and take them there, so they began to work.
The fourth daughter crafted small dolls of fabric and carefully colored their faces and bodies, and so they too could play.
Her sisters laughed and applauded her cleverness, and contributed her work.

The first gave them speech.
The second gave them thoughts.
The third gave the fabric colors. “That way we can tell them apart.”
The task now completed, each one put the new figures in baskets and took their father with them to decorate the blue orb.

Placing each figure carefully in a region of their creation, the king blew on the orb, and the figures sprang to life and walked about on it. The daughters smiled and laughed to see their antics.

“Come, my daughters. You may visit the orb whenever you wish, but don’t ever move it. Only the gods must retrieve them and put them away.”

“When will that be, father?” asked the first daughter.

“I cannot say, for the orbs were many, and scattered so far; I don’t know they’ll ever bother to gather them, but as long as this stays here, you may add to it, or take from it whatever you wish.”

“What shall we name it, and the figures on it?”

“Call it Earth, and the figures, people.”

They giggled at the word ‘people,’ and another suggested, ‘human,’ which also made them giggle.

“Enough, now,” Father said. “We must return. Say farewell to Earth and its human people.”

The girls sobered, and sadly bid farewell.

But the gods have not yet come, and the Four Daughters have not visited for some time; being the daughters of a king, perhaps they’ve taken on other duties and have no more time for play.

We will have to carry on without them.

Every Star a Story

From the first people who ever sat around the first bonfire, safe in their rocky shelters, after eating and drinking, they told of their adventures of the day, and the heavens heard, taking the words, setting them alight, and flinging them far into the night sky.

Seeing that man gathered in this was a nightly ritual, the heavens came back every night to gather the words and sayings of the people, and made more light, carefully placing all they spoke into the stars, arranging them in pinwheel clusters and spinning them slowly with ponderous cosmic winds.

The stars spun and spun, getting warmer, shining brighter, and drawing closer together against the freezing clime of the infinite sky.

The heat they shared among themselves increased, and they began to hiss and spark as the speed increased, turning slowly into fire, looking for more stories to consume.

Now they light the night sky, and in so doing have stoked the fires of humanity’s imagination: How did they get up there? Why do they shine so bright?

And they made deities of the clusters, used them to mark the day and seasons, and when they set out to sea, used them again to get their boats and ships safely home, and told their children to wish on them when the lights could no longer stay in the sky, and their wishes would be granted.

As we continue to tell our stories, the stars blaze and fade until the tales consume them, and they fall.

But every story told lights another one anew.

The Writer and The Page

“Good morning, Page,” the Writer greeted the blank field of whiteness awaiting him.

“Ah, good morning, Writer. Come to challenge me again?”

The Writer smiled. “Not challenge, conquer.”

The Page returned the smile, though the Writer couldn’t see it. “A worthy, lofty goal.”

“It’s what writers do.”

“Oh? Tell me, Writer, is it worth the isolation, the distant look in the eyes of the person you’re talking to about what you’re writing, the alienation of family and friends, for the sake of justifying the most mundane of arts?”

“You think writing is mundane?”

“You don’t?”

“If I thought that, why would I do it?”

The Page smirked. “Because writers love to moan about their suffering. Dancers and painters alleviate their pain, or live with it, toting their equipment hither and yon. They don’t go on and on about it. They accept the pain as part of the price, but writers somehow always seem amazed by the cost of their craft.
“But the great ones, those artists who don’t write, embrace it. They are the ones who get remembered, the ones who last through the ages.
“Even musicians struggle with their demons, exorcising themselves through their instruments, but they’re on another level of suffering.”

The Writer found himself intrigued. “How so?”

The Page chuckled like a parent at a silly question from their child.

“When dancers have shows, they rehearse. When painters or sculptors have exhibits, they set about creating work that fill the spaces.
“Musicians? They daily spew their demons out into space, and those who hear and understand their gibbering respond to it. They’re taken along down whatever road  the music leads them, whether to perdition or redemption.

“Musicians are the eternal Pied Pipers of the times, destined to be followed even when they’d rather be alone.
“Only writers get to bemoan how real life plunders their ability to create. They say, ‘Oh well, no writing today then. I shall double my output tomorrow.’ And of course, they don’t.
“Every day they whine about their lives: children, spouses, and other family members who just don’t ‘get it.’ And my personal favorite: the pet who demands time and attention, or the kittens asleep on the keyboard.
“They act as if moving the animal is against the law! They let their creatures have their way over practicing their craft. It’s laughable.”
The Page laughed, and said when it was over, “My point is this: these are days writers don’t get back, but act as if somehow they will.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Abandon this art, take up a trade and make yourself useful. Leave the writing to those already published. You are too undisciplined, lazy, and unfocused to make this work.”

“But my English teachers all said–”

“They were wrong. They deceived you.”

The Writer sat back, catching his breath, staring at the Page, who stared back, serene, but not smug, at least not outwardly so. The Writer honestly couldn’t figure out if it really believed what it said, or was just baiting him.

He suspected the latter, but he couldn’t let it go yet. “All of them?”

The Page stayed silent, content to let the seed of doubt sink in and hit home.

The Writer poured a shot of whiskey and took it with him, getting up to look out the window.

There were lives out there. Every one unique, going to destinations and fates unknown.
His book would be a droplet in the sea, in a world where there were better disciplined, laser focused, faster writers than himself.

Maybe his teachers were wrong. Had they smiled at him and lied? ‘That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain?’
His girlfriend said she always thought he should write, but did nothing to encourage it or support him. She read the occasional snippet, and praised it, but nothing more.

The whiskey burned his throat, and his flesh heated as the alcohol suffused into his bloodstream.

He held up the glass. How many of his kind had succumbed to this weakness. Or was it a weakness? Maybe not.Did the page back then, like this one, drive the writer to defeat as they drowned themselves and their talent, shot by shot?

He went to sit back down, staring again at the white silence before him, a white silence awaiting his words, subject to his imagination, unwilling to do his ready will.

The Page’s laughter was low, deep, reverberating as if they were together in a cave, and the Writer couldn’t see it standing in the shadows, drawing its knife.

Leave me, writer. I grow weary of your presence.

The Writer drained the glass, and put it back in his desk drawer.

Don’t you want another…?
The Writer didn’t answer, flexed his wrists and fingers over the keyboard.

You have nothing. You’re fooling yourself. It’s undignified, and beneath you. Stop it, ‘writer.’ Stop it, now.

The Writer sighed, and began to type: I am a Writer, and Page is my servant. A defiant, exasperating fool of a servant, but mine nonetheless…

Liberty’s Roommate

His hospital room had a view of the Statue of Liberty.

It seemed like a twisted sort of joke, since he was bound and wired to gadgets that kept track of his vital signs, and the symbol of freedom stood there in the harbor, a deaf and blind sentinel with a false promise in her mute mouth, holding a long extinguished torch.

His nurse, Jeanette, was pretty, though, so that was something. Young, efficient, professional, eyes bright with hope.

He hoped once. Hell, he even saw the Bright Path to Promise back then, but somehow took a detour and ended up on the Dirt Road of Busted Dreams, telling himself that it wasn’t his fault, the lie dying like a gunshot victim before he spoke it.
It didn’t matter now, did it?

He was still where he was, and had to start over again, again.

It was getting to him, all this starting over.

As much as he still thought of himself as young, his eyes, knees, and nether region told him he was way beyond that now. He was slowly accepting it, but felt no obligation to do it gracefully.

People called him ‘sir’ and ‘mister’ now when he was perfectly fine being called by his name, and gave him senior discounts he didn’t ask for.

He took another look out the window to see the sun going down.
Ha! In more ways than one.
“Don’t be maudlin…” he muttered.
“Did you say something, Mister Locke?” Jeanette had come in, and he never heard her open the door.
“No. No, Jeanette, I didn’t.”
She puttered around and checked his vitals. “You okay?”
“I’m in a hospital. Does that make me okay?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean–”
He waved her off. “That’s fine. I know, I’m sorry. I’m just tired…”
“I understand.”
No, my young bright, sweet, hopeful girl,  you don’t. You can’t. Not really, and not for a long time. Hopefully, if you play your cards right, you never will.

She finished, flashed him a bright smile. “See ya later.”

“All right.”

The light from the setting sun caught the metalwork of Liberty’s torch flame, reflecting flares that looked like pennants, as if to let him know her presence in the harbor was no joke, and not to be taken lightly.

He shrugged, turned away from the window, and shuffled back to the bed, clicking the remote for the tv, a hollow laugh track filling the silence, chasing the dark thoughts with empty ones.

Freedom, huh?  

He’d enjoy it, he guessed, however limited, in the time that remained.
For now.

The Apple’s Core

All the way there, the subway car clattering and rumbling, making everyone standing sway a bit drunkenly, Al struggled with his emotions. He’d been gone so long and so much of what he knew, the places he’d haunted and came to know and love, were gone, closed, or about to close.

The city of his youth was gone, relegated to history like ancient tombs and temples under the desert sands.

Welcome home, Ozymandias.

Well, how about Oz, for shorter. Oz was short

No dude, Oz wasn’t the wizard. It was the name of the place. Like Frankenstein? It’s the name of the doctor, not the monster. 

The train mercifully came to his stop,  forcing him to shut down the stupid word association. He got off and just went to the nearest staircase, ignoring the signs that would have put him closer to where he wanted to go.

The fragrances of  filed steel, perfumes, sweat, breath, and desperation clung to him like warring auras and followed him outside.

There was a time he loved it all.

He emerged from the station, breathing deep, eyes adjusting to the sunlight, taking in the scene before him: human zip lines still walked at a frenetic pace, as if the sidewalks would disappear if they took too long to get to the next block.

He took in the street view, a concrete canyon filled with high caves of glass and steel, glinting in the sun when the clouds passed.

He was grateful for the shade, even in intervals.

All the nations of the world were here, and he tried not get too distracted by the skirts, sundresses, and top-button-loosed blouses on the smartly made up, vibrant women of those nations that walked with determined purpose, on their way to make that purpose known.

He took another look around. This was a city where an impromptu concert or a gunfight could break out any second.

Smiling, he’d had a destination in mind when he got here, but he’d forgotten where it was and why he needed to be there.

Fading away, just like the old haunts…

Stepping out into the flow and rhythm of the street, he was glad that even though all he knew and loved about the place was in the past, and he would walk these long blocks slower than ever before, the vibrancy of the place was still infectious, and he began to hum a medley of songs about the city he’d once called home.

He could leave it behind all he wanted, but he knew in his heart’s core, it would never leave him.

No Victory

The soft shuffling of slippers on tile meant she was already up.

The faintest hue of a pink blush began to brush the sky.

Why so early?

I watch her, but don’t speak.

She runs her hand over her face as she walks toward the door, but she doesn’t turn around to see if I’m awake. I wonder if I would’ve closed my eyes again if she did.

The distances and silences were becoming longer, and more frequent, and attempts to begin conversations through small talk fell flat. Attempts to discuss what was going wrong and how to fix it, and whether or not it was something we really wanted to do, lapsed into a different kind of silence.

Love had settled into familiarity and comfort, but the kind of comfort that came from a raggedy, threadbare blanket full of holes. It was long past fulfilling its purpose, but kept around more out of a sense of nostalgia than anything else.

And we’d settled too, like dust on an antique table depreciating in value. Neither of us thought the effort of restoration was worth the price.

******************

The drive to the airport was silent, as if confirming what she was doing was the right thing to do. It didn’t even feel awkward that I was driving her there.

We were in our memories, just not sharing them, because that might lead to thinking we could salvage what remained. There was, if we were to be honest, a mutual sense of relief and excitement at the prospect of a new start.

It was early enough to find parking. I paid and we each carried pieces of her luggage.

“Traveling light, huh?”

“I threw a lot away.”

“Yes, you did.”

She stopped, gave an exasperated sigh. “Don’t start, love. You said you were fine with me going. You helped me pack. Please don’t make this any more difficult.”

“Any more difficult. It didn’t seem difficult at all.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t make it untrue.”

“We can’t stay together. You know this. Why be petulant now?

“If I had been petulant earlier, would it have changed your mind. Be honest with me, with yourself, for once.”

She started walking again, beside me now, her voice quieter. “I honestly don’t know.”

The new silence was awkward. She stopped again, and took my hands in hers.

“How about a break then, instead of a break-up?”

I considered it. “We can try that.”

“Good.” She kissed my cheek. “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”

“Or if you’ll be back.” It wasn’t a question, but she said yes.

“All right, then. Don’t ask if I’ll wait.”

A look of surprised hurt flashed on her face. “I wasn’t going to sleep with anyone.”

“You can’t say that with any certainty, since you don’t know how long you’ll be gone, or if you’ll be back. I’m telling you up front, depending on the circumstances, I’m not waiting.”

The silence grew tense again, but neither of us moved.

“Then neither will I.” Her eyes grew wet.

“Wait a minute…”

“I’m going to miss my flight. You’re lashing out, and you’re making me lash out too, at the worst possible time.

“What do you want to do? A break or a breakup?”

“I…I don’t know.”

She sighed, then told me. “That’s not an answer, but it is. Why now?”

“Why do you need to leave?”

“To stop…this. We keep doing this. I have to go…”  She pulled up the handle to her luggage.

I didn’t move.

“Are you going to help me?”

“Help you walk out of my life? No.”

I flagged down a handler and sent him to her, then I started walking back toward the car, wrestling with my thoughts.

Why couldn’t I decide? Why did I even bring her here at all? 

Why is everything so blurry?

I looked back, hoping against hope she’d be running toward me, and all would be forgiven.

But she was gone.

There would be no rom-com ending.

There never is, except in rom-coms.

Love just dies, like the king of Sparta in that other movie: defiant, loud, and brave, but ultimately overwhelmed, ultimately slain, and fondly remembered in glorious defeat.

No victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Writer’s Nightmare

How am I here?

I was sitting in a small sort of anteroom, looking at a thick, dark brown door with bolted black lock that was just starting to rust.

In spite of the thick door, I could hear murmuring, and what seemed to be the scraping of chairs being moved. They sounded heavy, and the noise echoed slightly in whatever room occupied the other side.

The anteroom was drafty, and despite the ensconced torches, the drafts of air played tag with the flames.

Torches? What happened to–

A key turned in the lock, and the black deadbolt slid back with what sounded like a small thunderclap of metal on metal.

A black-robed figure filled the door frame, it’s face hidden in the folds of its hood.

“The Council will see you now.”

Council? But I was just…

My hands flexed with a nervous tic, and I realized I was holding a sheaf of papers tied with a black ribbon. Beneath the ribbon, I saw my name written in my own hand.

When did I finish this? I don’t remember even writing it.

The robed, faceless behemoth stepped further into the room, a visual warning that if I did not voluntarily leave, he would be happy to assist.

More out of nervousness than necessity, I tapped the neat stack of papers against my knees to straighten what was already straight, and stood up.

‘Behemoth’ stood sideways, allowing me to squeeze by.

I had a spritely impulse to snatch off his hood to see his face, but there was a stronger sense of foreboding that I was in real trouble, so I didn’t do it.

*****************

There was a low chair placed before a semi-circle shaped table that seated six people.

Looking at them, their hoods were up too, and i couldn’t tell if they were male, female, or a combination.

What I do remember of what followed is something like an impressionist painting, nothing distinct, but together, providing a framework for what’s seen: dark wood, candles, a blurry lineup of faces with salt-and-pepper hair, deep set eyes, and low voices.  My body was trying to convey a nonchalance I absolutely did not fee.

I couldn’t tell if the voices were male, female, or a combination.

do remember what they said to me: Give us your book.

My hands clutched it even tighter as Behemoth turned his eyes on me once more.

“W-w-why d-d-do y-you need m-m-m-my b-book?”

A voice from the table seemed to float over me and cover me with hoarfrost, its tone was so lofty: It’s time for you to send it out into the world. You’ve been holding on to it for five years, now.It is finished, and we would read it to see how well you do, or even if you have any talent at all.

I tried to tell them it wasn’t ready, it wasn’t finished, it still needed editing, but I was stammering so much that they finally just nodded at Behemoth, who pulled the book from my hands the way a parent would take a rattle from a sleeping baby.

I begged. “P-please d-d-don’t…”

Behemoth passed the sheaf to the first Council member, who then cut the stack like a deck of cards and handed it to the next member until all of them had some of the manuscript.

I hung my head, and rested clenched fists on my knees, waiting for the shame to suffuse into me, over me.

The first Council member who’d taken the sheaf from Behemoth began to read.

“Chapter 1….

***************

Babe! Babe, wake up!”

I did, suddenly, and sat up, making noises that weren’t speech.

I’d slouched down in my computer chair after drifting off.

My girlfriend was looking at me half amused, half angry. I took that as a good sign.

“What happened?”

“You fell asleep,” she said. “Your earbuds fell out, and you hit the ‘Read Aloud’ button, stupid. It scared the hell outta me.”

I mumbled something neither of us understood as an apology, and then a frightening thought came to me…

“S-s-so I d-d-didn’t hit the ‘Submit’ button?”

She came over to me and kissed my cheek, looking at my laptop screen. “No, babe. I did it for you. Like I said, you were sleeping.”

I could’ve sworn I heard the Council’s mocking laughter, and somewhere, in the black and starless void beneath his hood, Behemoth’s fangs gleam in the torchlight as he smiles…