The Lesser Darkness p.15-16

15

ssre

I stood there for another moment, having cut around at still a small distance. It was quickly evident that the woman did not, or could not see me at all. I took a few steps straight toward her this time, startled to have suddenly prompted a cloud of small blackbirds to spring up from in the grass, where they had been hidden from my view; they together flew off into the shroud of black and grey. Of unknown consequence, I somehow intrinsically knew there to be 40 of them.

I resumed forward until I stood a cubit from the woman, who remained nearly motionless- though I could perceive the rising and falling of her breath. She sat cross-legged, with a loosely curled palm resting face up on her leg; in which precariously lain was a vial. She allowed it to roll from her palm and rest on the muddy earth. With a step closer, now at her immediate side, it was an exceedingly small glass vial of which gave me a distinct sense of deja vu with only the remnant of a few crimson drops left within.

I stopped to marvel after the thought, to realize that everything here seemed so much more real and clear than anything I remember seeing or feeling before. In an inexplicably otherworldly form, it was if I had never really noticed rain so consciously, or the wind had never swept through me with such bristling clarity. Everything my eye beheld was as though its definition had been fine tuned, every outline as though really seeing for the first time. The clouds were so immediate and heavy that I was sure if I were closer I could have felt them. I still couldn’t bring a single other thing to mind of what I had known before or if I had ever been here previously.

I sat down in the same manner across from the woman and studied her face. Her expression appeared downcast and her eyes as to communicate something inconsolably sorrowful; but I could not tell her tears from the rain. I took notice of a gnarled scar tracing from the left side of her neck, down over her collarbone, and out of sight.

An unknown time passed as I sat in this place, attempting to commit to memory every line and drop of precipitation in this mysteriously serene place.

A single desert locust jumped out from the dead grasses onto the hem of my pants. I reflexively flicked it away and looked back up.
I wondered how long this would last, or how long I could stay before something would demand my notice. The woman, whom I conjectured to be of her early 30’s, remained seated where she had been, moving only so slightly every so often to straighten her back, look around the field, close her eyes, or take a concertedly deep breath.

It seemed as if another hour had slipped by and all I could bring to mind was to continually remind myself that this wasn’t real, that I was seeing it from somewhere else, far away- though it did not seem so, and I could remember nothing else.

She cross her hands up over her shoulders and rested her face in her arms, eyes flashing up at the sky with a quiet sigh. In that flicker I was again impressed with the undeniable feeling of deja vu, and failed to recall any context by which I could allay such.
There was then a small, silent voice in my head- and  every tiny detail came simultaneously flooding back into my remembrance with the same vivid color.

16

I remembered that this was a vision- though a definite part of me felt that it may have been real- that the man who spoke in riddles had precipitated. It was the flash of her eyes which instantaneously caused that unconscious part of me to again see her looking down at me from atop the train tunnel ledge; calling to me to begin the climb again.
She looked so different that I hadn’t recognized what was right in front of me for those hours- but I allowed myself to entertain that possibly it was her.

I heard a crow calling in the distance. It called of a peculiar voice, which looking around was nowhere to be found.
I had thought a thousand times before throughout the ages that I had caught sight of the face of familiarity in the crowd; I had many times met eyes of affinity, or a foreign voice so intrinsically amicable, but never would permit myself to believe in the silly tales of fantastically wishful fates. Had she died and lived in the number and manners as I had? Was this the past, present, that yet to pass, or a projection of the uncontrolled, loneliest fragment of my imagination?                          My throat began to tighten, my jaw tensed, and a the same wave of tormented grief washed over me; bringing with it a single tear from my eyes. I had always spent my time running from the past- I couldn’t live there anymore. I couldn’t sleepwalk through the today’s any longer. Everything she and those years brought with them- that they undyingly carried of meaning- was dead, was it not?

I was dead.

I looked back at her, with new eyes to discern. I remembered how the sun had always found her copper tresses, but she would always find the most torrential deluge. I remembered the scars that decorated her chest; I could see that they had extended their grip about her. I remembered when we had once thought that something in the universe was finally on our side and the tentatively silly Magic that kept us always looking for it.

Yet that was all before;

I again surveyed the scarred vine running alongside her neck.

Before the climb; before the journey called, before the world; the life, the loss, burden, death, age, and preceding the violent awakening to a reality of an imminently wearing, withering attrition. If she had been able to see me- of which I still was uncertain if she was still even out there, anywhere- I would likely feel this same crushing, mournful shame at my now dwindling world- to the degradation of the very soul I remembered being. I revisited wondering of where or who she had herself ended up becoming.

I wanted to try to enjoy the moment, but my mind never had been easily subdued in regards to the loss of everything I ever had, or thought I loved. This was just an illusion- an illusion of Time’s, wasn’t it? Time had taken more than just love from me- Time had taken all of me; of something seemingly irretrievable through the countless years I had strived to put the shards back together, in hopes of things ever being even close to the same. Yet  I had done everything In my power to try to save the pieces-

Hadn’t I?

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The Lesser Darkness p.13-14

13

He stared back calmly without a word, as if accustomed to being threatened in such manner.

“May I have my neck back?”

I began to return to the present. I took notice of my startlingly icy cold skin, finally realized my hands still about his neck, and allayed my grip in time to heed the warning of my retching stomach.

“You were sleeping so peacefully I could have sworn you to be in some happy place,” he grinned, incognizant of the matters he was making light of. “However, now you seem a bit tense…”

“You seriously didn’t see anything? I was asleep?” I rhetorically inquired, still feeling fairly disoriented.

“I’m not the person who took one… Much less chose the red one first.”

“I thought you said you didn’t know which was which?”

“No, what I said precisely was that I couldn’t tell you which was which.”

“Nice,” I replied flatly.

“But your nearly ruining my favorite rug reminds me of an offer I have for you, before we continue on to the next seed.”

“Yeah, I’m not so sure at the moment of your offers of supposed good intent.”

“You don’t even know what it is,” he countered.    “Don’t you want to live to see what’s next? You’ll need this in order…” he trailed off as though with a knowing air. he jumped up and again fetched a crimson-filled vial from the disorderly table’s contents and held it out to me.

“There’s no fucking way.” I sat unmoved.

“Very well, I can out-wait your nagging curiosity,” he conceded. He set the vial down on the edge of the tallest candle and sat down. “And where did you pick up such outdated language?” he laughed to himself. He directed his eyes to the remaining seeds in front of me. “Now reconsider; you’ve already got the potentially rough one out of the way. Of which, may I again inquire as to what you saw that so shook you?”

Reminding myself that he was of no responsibility for the content of my vision, I attempted to quell my aggravation. “I saw spirits, the evil ones. I don’t know what else to call them. Four of them- but one was different, coming from the shadows behind you. I’ve known them many times before throughout the ages, but seldom in such a personal and violent manner.” I decided to eschew the details. Similar had happened before, but then there was no rescue but Time. “I also heard and felt a great Wind that scattered them. There were deafening voices, though I could not interpret what they were saying.”

“Hm.” his expression betrayed no surprise. “I can’t tell you what it means, but it will likely serve you to have experienced in its context. Keep it in your mind for that Time.”

“You don’t know, or you won’t tell me, again?”

“Both. I’ve ever remained an advocate for learning by experience.”

Recognizing that further inquiry had yet to get me anywhere with the man, I rewound the unpleasant event in my head to commit to memory. In my rumination I found myself looking at the clock again- of which remained frozen at 3o’clock. Surmising it was broken, I queried as to the time-mindful of where I would be attempting to sleep.

 

p.14

“I think your clock is broken?” I looked up at the steadfast hands, still pointing to the 3 and twelve. “I arrived here an hour or so ago, and the Sun was getting low, so it must have been roughly 6 in the evening then.”

“I don’t need a clock- it’s of no consequence to me. it’s always 3o’clock in my mind, is that not also the case in yours?”

“No…I don’t follow.” All I had heard of any implication was that 3 in the morning was held by some as the easiest hour to shift between the physical, astral, and other planes.

“Regardless, Time does not pass in the way you likely believe it to. You’ll find in this place- in particular and hereafter- that the Sun rarely rises or sets at the Time you would expect, or hope. Neither does the Moon any longer chase the Sun or follow in its “proper” path. Even I’ve seen daylight last for a week straight, and darkness for months. There is no prediction nor observation of Time’s manner of passing; in most places you’ll find it three times as fast, and in a few- just half. So there’s no keeping track of Time; it simply goes as it wills, with or without us- and stops for very few.”

I stared back incredulously.
“Is this belief why you previously thought that I had been walking for days- because it had only been less than one. I was just exhausted when I started…”

“I’m not here to convince anyone, and if I were- well, I wouldn’t.”

The man was clearly either insane, speaking in riddles, or both. Harmlessly so, but in the same.
But in fairness, he also seemed to know things for which I could not account for. I picked up another seed from the table, a light green one. I decided that whatever I saw next would determine for- deciding between the two- which he was. I reminded myself of all the different ways in which I had already died, in order to quell my anxiety, and gulped it down.

This time I immediately noticed the shift, and was conscious of the fact that I was quickly overcome with drowsiness. I opened my eyes to find myself lying on my back, squinting up into a grey torrent of rainfall. Rising, I beheld that familiar low sky of heavy clouds, feigning a black pitch. I stood in a vast glade against the trees, of which was a field of mostly dead grasses up to my knees. The rain poured down in angled sheets, silencing every other sound or thought. I thought to bring to mind where I was, but I could not remember how I had gotten there or where I had been before, and my mind seemingly could behold no tangible thought.

I brought my eyes back up from the dirt to notice a very distant break in the abyss of clouds, through which a single ray of sunlight broke through, shining down upon what, I did not know. Looking back out across the field, I then noticed someone sitting down in the grass, their back to me. My inquisitive nature brought me to tread forward through the muted grasses, mixed with all measures of thorns that had been rendered dull in the rainfall.

Slowly drawing nearer, I made out long, wavy hair of a shade impossibly undecided between red and black, or simply the coexistence of both. I made my way around to the side, standing silently, but she did not avert her eyes from her fixed forward gaze, as though too looking off into the distance at the peculiar beam of light.

The Lesser Darkness p.11-12

p.11

I had enough sense of him to know that he was a man of no conscious deviance- and my curiosity rationalized that I had nothing to lose- so I picked up the red seed first and gulped it down. I looked around the room, anticipating the moment it would take effect. Moments passed and I glanced back at the man, with a minor twinge of nerve. I looked over at the clock. It was 3o’clock sharp. I was shocked; for according to the shrouded sun, I had arrived around 6pm, and our conversation had not spanned 9 hours.
It was then that it occurred to me that perhaps everything they had said about me was right-

was all of this just in my head, made up to quell my empty, wandering heart?

I had heard that in dreams clocks would most always be either absent or indiscernible. But I was clearly and consciously reading 3o’clock on that wall.

Was I dreaming? God, I hoped so.

One of my fears was that my body was physically still back in the Asylum; my mind gone off into the oblivion of delusion that had been forewarned me- but I then so vehement that I was not? I remembered that crazy people don’t know that they’re crazy- they can’t see it. So there really was no knowing either way on my behalf. I had always feared deep down that my grip on reality was far more precarious than I could ever bear to accept. I’d been called many things, but perchance there was a reason I so intimately loathed being called ‘crazy’. Was reality ever subjective-such as those who are colorblind- or was it fixed, with only one right way to perceive and react to it?

Before I could ask anything about this strange time inconsistency, to affirm or deny my paranoia- I saw it.

It was a familiar sight- but nevertheless one that seldom failed to raise every hair on end, steal the air from my lungs, crawl on my skin, and through my bones. Standing back behind the old man, in the shadows of the room was a gaunt, towering figure nearly 9ft in stature. Not surprisingly, it was cloaked in black robes, a near perfectly unification with the shadows of which it inhabited. Yet the unmistakable stark white of its long, hollow, fleshless skull was clear as it always had been- set with petrifying eyes bearing no Iris, no pupil- only the white of its penetrating sclera. Yet I knew it to be looking straight at me and feel it piercing though me- far more pronounced than when you can feel someone looking at you- as it always had long before I would turn to look or open my eyes. This being wore a skull resembling that of a cross between a goat and a wolf- though it was much longer, with slightly extended eye sockets.

I had borne many past experiences with these usually nameless, But it was still always the same kind of chilling presence that dropped the room to the sudden iciness of an energetic black hole; There is no peace, no joy, no hope, humanity, nor rescue in the air of these beings. Practicing neither mercy nor cooperation with even those of their own kind- they hide themselves behind any unnerving skulls they can find- favoring goats, horses, and humans. I had been pursued by those with and without cloak and skull- both equally terrifying, and a formidable test of my Fear; it was as if they were always lurking, following, watching, waiting, torturing, pushing- pushing with everything they had to push me over a ledge of unknown origins. It simply stood There, first watching to intimidate before moving in closer. I wasn’t sure if this instance was real, the red berry, or both. I attempted to shake off the instinctive reflex to temporarily freeze, so as to defend myself. I knew I could never be physically as strong as these inhumanly sadistic beings, but sometimes if I reacted fast enough I could drive them away for a time.

Before I could figure out what to do, the figure appeared to begin moving into the light towards me – but the further it advanced, the more expansive grew that choking darkness with it; until the room was devoid of light, air, or the old man.

 

p.12

The world dissolved away to appear in such a way that nothing of the physical plane was any longer real or accessible; all appeared as a ghost-like projection tinged in an eerie blue energy. I could no longer feel my hand on the table, but felt an increasingly violent tremor passing from my hands through my body. Three more beings emerged from the walls, bearing a similar resemblance to the ethereal blue plane. Each wore a crown upon their head, adorned in shredded white garb, with long spiked spinal protrusions through from their back.

The three immediately lunged at me with outstretched claws- I tried to use my arms but they remained motionless on the table. grabbing my neck and sinking claws in; I realized they were pulling me out and away from my ensuingly disanimated body. My body too became light and translucent as theirs; grabbing for the table leg in my new form, my hands still passed right through. I found I could however grab hold of my attackers; but they were still far too powerful- being knowingly uninhibited by the laws of earthly matter; and in this this place one can see without light or open eyes. I struggled helplessly against the number, but was easily dragged to the center of the room and onto a large, hewn rectangular stone table. The skulled being stood unmovingly aside watching, evidently pleased by the spectacle.
A stream of blood coursed from my abandoned body onto the now bare earth. Despite this, I felt an innate urgency that I needed to stay as close to my body as I could manage against their pulling me further- or risk being trapped here with them indefinitely. But their gruesome thoughts burned through me as my own and I perceived that they knew they could not allow me to get back. I could manage to fight and crawl a foot here and there, but as though they were simply toying with me, each time I was effortlessly dragged back to center. I felt their claws sink into my flesh with superficial repetition. Hands encircled my neck as iron, depriving me oxygen in between another forcefully reaching down my throat, each followed by subsequently hyenic laughter with every turn.
Terror is of no description; nor is there any vague justice or likeness to attempt to describe the nature of this at all.
I suddenly heard the clear indication in my head that if I could just manage to speak, I could be saved- to scream; but to whom, for who would hear? I knew there were no other souls in this realm- I felt the threatening weight of the possibility of eternal isolation and torment. I could not raise my voice against their strength.
There were words in my head-words that were screaming at me to be said, to be wielded. But as this all continued, I could not utter more than stifled cries of agony. There they were again- words of a language I did not speak or know of. The words rang in my head, building in precedence and authority until I heard them echoing through the vacuum around me, but not from within me. I could have thought I heard the low mutterings of the name the man had given me, just barely perceptible above the frigid blood pounding in my ears. A stream of words foreign to discernment resonated all around from no distinguishable origin. The table shook as the three beings instantaneously jerked away from me, rigid; all spiritual eyes searching for the source of the sound.
Continuing to build to a thundering quake that shook the room’s Foundation, the beings froze as though they were cockroaches in the unanticipated light of something much larger. I gave a powerful shudder at its thundering sound. Oxygen returned to my tortured lungs with a pang of shock as I was violently wrenched downwards in the deafening roar of a rushing Wind. I felt another hand grab my shoulder, and blinded, I lunged forward to tear at my attacker. I opened my eyes again to a blurred face; my hands now tightly gripping it’s neck. My vision slowly returned and I descried the lines of the old man’s face.

The Lesser Darkness p.9-10

p.9

“Bara’-shema”

the man read. “I will be calling you Shema, then. If you don’t like that, well- that doesn’t really matter,” he declared.

“What does that even mean-”

“Some to know, Few to find out,” he echoed in reply.   “Oh, while I’m thinking of it…” He again got up and fetched a scroll of similar appearance- though much larger and older looking- from one of the drawers beneath the collection of bottles. He grabbed a cloth Messenger satchel from another table, dumped it of its contents, threw it onto the red table, and then tossed the scroll to me- of which I missed and hit me in the face with an ironic thump.

“Ha! There’s your sign!” he chimed, amusedly.

“I’m giving you this, but give me your word that you won’t open it until you get to where you are going,” he said with an abruptly stern air.

“How can I open it when I get there if I don’t know where I’m going?” I prompted.

“You’ll know when you get there, of course.” he replied, matter-of-factly. “You hear little bits of this and that in the Winds, you meet Him, Her, or It here and there- you piece it together and you’ll figure it out. Who knows, perchance you’ll even figure out what you really want somewhere along the way- I’d guess you’ve no idea anymore, eh? But you won’t be changing the subject, don’t open it until then- swear it,” he repeated.

“My yes is my yes,” I replied quietly.

“Good, you learn fast.”

“I’m in awe of how helpful this is.” I returned dryly.

“Well, luckily I’m in a particularly favorable mood today, because I can feel the rain is coming again soon here, so I’m going to show you three things- what you want, what you need, or what you understand.”                                            

He reached to the floorboards under the red table, removed a couple of them, and dug around in the sand for a minute before producing a flat, rectangular, tin box. “if you still don’t trust me enough at this point that the meat wasn’t poisoned, you’ll have difficulty with this next one, but I’m accustomed to opposition- though it’s always a refreshing thing to still encounter now and then…” He set the box down in front of me- of which occupied a decent amount of the minuscule table’s face, and flipped the lid to reveal 40 divided sections, each filled with what resembled miniature cranberries of all varying colors; blends, shimmer, or even phosphorescence. There were tags in each division, so small I had to lean in and squint to read them. They read: Purpose, Numbness, Contentment, Beauty, Business, Past, Apathy, Love, Sense, Accomplishment, Worthiness, Separation, Validation, Peace, Illusion and countless others of the like.

“These are what most of them come for-” he began, “Everyone wants one more than another, for whatever their own reasons are- All parts of life, part of the unquestionably, cyclical institutions we all come to know. But all of these are merely temporary illusions to make you feel whatever it provides for the time it lasts; and I’ll tell you, all my years of study have never permitted the knowledge of how to extend their effects. At first it seemed like a profitable way for a man to make a living, but after enough years it grew from mildly bothering me in some way, to deeply disturbing me some days- but I admit that despite all this, I have often used them myself. The Work, the Wait, the Journey- to me seemed to unfailingly take more than I could ever procure for all the effort.” He methodically tapped the face of the table as though assessing some distant matter and continued, “Now I know this sounds selfish, but I am just a man as well- one who knows and has seen the order of things, and this is what I’ve become proficient at: helping people feel just a little bit better, for just a little bit of time.

People find themselves wherever they always do. They wander- some longer than others- but many find it too lonely, too ‘absurd’ , too unbearably tiring, or they simply cannot stand the anxiety of never knowing what– good and bad, though increasingly most often the latter in these times. Many start to seek out Routine; Security, Surety, Acceptance-” he pointed at a few more of the sections. “Love is always the most popular, the most sought-after, and consequently misunderstood of the lot; with Validation and Security following closely behind. He laughed. So very many, running around looking for “The One”, but how many ask me how to become the one- Few, too few.”

“This is true,” I interjected tersely.

“Ah, the proverbial drop in the ocean we all instinctively flow back to. But I think love may very well be in a great many of the places that are everyday overlooked or unseen. Love that at all changes the world, love that changes lives, is often found only in the most difficult places and people. It’s simply not always so obviously over saturated in the name of self-interest…” He stopped, with a barely perceivable change in his countenance, as though a certain remembrance had suddenly lost him his fervor for discussing the subject.

Well,” with returned animation, “Luckily I’ve got six different kinds of Love formulations- I thank the Greeks for the idea- so I never run out of that one.”

“But why even bother wasting your time here with these lunat- eh… people? And all for what’s nearly equivocal to nothing?” I had long ago lost my faith in the establishment of helping the human condition, having settled into finding most charitable efforts fruitless- particularly in personally accepting them.

p.10

“I can’t precisely say… Perhaps the last bit of humanity within me? Pity, understanding, solidarity? I too had my Time of the same vain strivings. The Vanity of Vanities- all for an illusion for which we each must assign meaning to- to keep our soul’s will and hope afloat on seas that never cease raging nor flow in direction. After it all, I ended up myself preferring to stay rather than go- the familiar to the distressing. If it’s a matter of nobility, I see the objective difficulty of it. But without creating a shelter, it’s a continual trek underneath a Sun that never sets, and a Moon that never rises, to permit any rest inside. You follow?”

“Yes. I believe I truly do…”I replied pensively.

“I’m essentially just giving them what they want. It’s not always the absolute best, or the most interesting- but it is permissible. But some truly are happy remaining within the confines of that handed down through the generations. They end up here thereafter the wandering and the lessons- others start here and leave- bitterly dissatisfied with an insatiable craving, and rightfully so. But forcing matters of change- much less people, Rarely if ever goes nor ends well. But you would know that.”

I was led to believe by his manner of speaking that he found few listeners of which he could relay these thoughts.

He reached across the table, tapping my arm, “You’re still bleeding.”

I glanced down to see that running along the length of my forearm I had evidently cut myself somewhere along the way over the rock faces- likely on one of the many jagged, broken branches that jut up in between the cracks. It appeared rather deep, though most of the blood was dried, with only a few drops on the table. It was just like me to never notice the type of thing until I observed an untraceable trail of blood.

“I like it- adds character,” he volunteered.

I could not conclude exactly what he meant, or if he knew why I always ended up tripping over something sharp.

“Ah, where is my mind-”

He got up and stood over by the long, wooden table with the vials and bottles. “I got distracted – it’s been so long since I’ve had remotely intriguing company.” The ‘Seeing ‘ Seeds aren’t in that box anymore.” he continued rummaging through the bottles, dumping them out and picking a few different colored seeds from the hundred. “I had to hide them elsewhere when the girl-whom I’m sure you met- found them. Took me a week to figure out where they were all disappearing to…”

“Yes, what is she doing here? She seems so obviously out of place.”

“Oh, the girl won’t stay- I could never let her. She thinks she’s a part of this, evidently excited to be of the age to begin partaking in the education of jobs, tasks, duties, our grand Illusion of business, or whatsoever it be- but I’ve watched, and I see it in her heart for higher heights and it’s intrinsically lower depths. It would sadden me to see the girl go, but it would pain me much more to see her stay- or God forbid- inherit contentment with this place. She plays with her small words and impossibly fragile form, but let it not deceive you; she sees and hears that something is missing and vacuous with this place. I’ve known she’s been sneaking in here and reading every leaf and scribble on these shelves since she very first arrived- many books of which are unfit for her age; unfit knowledge for her Time to know of the most difficult truths and lessons this world conspires to teach each of us…

Her parents unknowingly aim to instill Fear within her- to try to keep her safe- but regardless, she’s always running off alone into the forest and towards the Higher Mountains. However, I do not know if she has seen or knows the exact nature of what wicked terrors reside there and in between…. Her mentors fetch her back and bring her to me, asking me for some of the Contentment Seeds that they may give her; that she may stay and relax enough to learn the things they learn at her age. I feign compliance, but always simply give them some plain old Birch Tree seeds.

He placed four seeds in front of me on the table, “Here they all are now, take one and see what you will. I can’t tell you which one is which however.”

3.21 free write

It’s true, but they likely won’t tell you, that living’s the most painful thing you’ll ever have to do, and it’s true, it never gets any easier to make it through

Though everyone may leave you all alone, you’ll always have this melody to hold, lift your eyes to the horizon and know, I never would have let you go

What are we even searching for, I can’t take this hurt anymore, time will lie to you, your eyes will cry unto the very end, but I will be waiting back at the start, until after the stars turn dark

I will not lie to you, we’re all headed down into the bitter truth, and for the pain in any line I will ever write, it’s multiplied a thousand times, the words were never any good you see, not to you, not to me

Though everyone leaves you all alone, you’ll always have this song to hold, lift your eyes to the horizon and know, I never would have let you go

What are we even searching for, I can’t take this hurt anymore, time will lie to you, your eyes will cry unto the very end, but I will be waiting back at the start, until after the stars turn dark

but the time will lie to you, will it be too dark to see the ending.

The Lesser Darkness p.7-8

p.7

She spun about sprightly and headed back toward the hut, practically skipping as she went. I remained for a few seconds, still taking in the bizarre array of antics all those around were thusly absorbed in. Not a single other person as much as raised their eyes from their business as I emerged from the trees into the starkly unnatural circular clearing. Of the diversity of people around, the girl was clearly the youngest amidst them. I was puzzled momentarily as to why she was the only one who seemed awake. She was standing with one hand on her hip, motioned for me to follow, and gave another exasperated sigh. I obliged, quickening my pace across what was now sand beneath my feet, until we came to the purple curtain.

“I can tell you haven’t been here very long- have you. But have they?” I pointed as discreetly as I could muster at the others, ever engrossed in whatever each took fancy to.

“Nope,” she chimed, “my parents just finally brought me out here for the first time, after my 12th birthday this last April. Just like they-”

“And you’re not the least bit weirded out?” I interjected.

I can tell you ask too many questions.”

I couldn’t help but allow a glimpse of amusement to cross my countenance at her tone- like a chiding parent, in a squeaky little voice.

“Go on, go in and talk to him! “she gestured again toward the entrance.

I hesitated still. Equivalent to my inclination to simply barge in, was my desire to even be there- much less to get at all involved. I already had more than enough confusion in my life. Despite finding her feisty spirit refreshing- I was still reasonably uncomfortable about the whole scene. I looked back over at her, and back at the doorway, which at a closer vantage was interwoven with shining gold thread. I instinctively recognized a small, metallic sound resonating from up above us, and glanced up to see a tiny red-throated hummingbird glaring back down, scarlet chest glinting in the dying light. Chirping in such a manner that I guessed he may have been reciting avian profanity; I had always wondered why it was generally accepted that hummingbirds were of docile nature, I knew firsthand that they could be little devils if in a mood.

The girl was making play fists and rolling her eyes again, so concluding that there would be no knocking, I pushed the curtain aside and furtively stepped inside.

The space was surprisingly large and well-furnished for the base state of everything outside; filled with a warm energy, I saw that the walls were in fact made of rich, sturdy oak logs behind the brittle sticks and straw. There were bookcases both short and lofty, stacked and filled in disorderly array with hundreds of shabby leather- bound, paperback, wooden, and hardcover books. Many were exceedingly thick, with the initial appearance of research and reference documents and journals. I didn’t see or sense anyone at all, and continued to observe the spread of tubes, vials, darkened bottles, syringes, papers, and seemingly plant matter strewn about on two rectangular wooden tables. There was a third table, bright red and only the size of a square end table, with three broad candles exuding a fragrance that brought me to feel of a frustratingly indescribable nature.

Time seemed to be crawling at half speed as I loitered around waiting for someone potentially as disconcerting as the public outside that violet tapestry. I decided to further tarry only long enough to study a staff leaning in the corner. It appeared to be made of a finely smoothed Yew wood, carved as one piece with two snakes encircling its length, heads nearly meeting at the top. I flinched to suddenly sense a hand on my shoulder.

 

p.8

I turned about, looking behind but beheld no one, until I spied the man sitting in a chair at the little red table. Only half veiled in shadow, he was an unshaven man of considerable years. Had he been just sitting watching me? Whose hand grabbed my shoulder? I had been standing back by the door, about to leave after I had been examining the staff; I marveled at how I had missed something so obvious.

“Rather captivating craftsmanship eh?”                                                  “Yes, particularly the eyes of the snakes…”
I was embarrassed by how oblivious I had been but was then also grateful I had not indulged my curiosity to look inside the darkened bottles with various tags on each.

“well it doesn’t mean what it used to to me- that’s for sure. Take a seat if you will?”
“I prefer to stand,” I instinctively countered.
“so be it,” he laughed. “So. No need to explain why you’re here, I would gather for the same reasons as most everyone else…”

“being?”
“Irrelevant-” he said, holding up his hand with an exaggerated emphasis on every syllable. “That is, the past has passed. What can I do for you today?”

“I wouldn’t know. I can’t even figure out what this place is. What the hell is this camp doing here? What’s wrong with all of those people?”

“Ah, straight to the questions- straight to the point. I do like you…” he trailed off, as if carefully measuring his answer.                      “I cannot tell you definitively, but I can tell you that we all come here, and we are all subject to the Laws of this place. Some stay, while others do not- both either content or discontent.”

“I hear a lot of riddles and nonsense.” I replied curtly.

The illuminated half of his face cracked a smile, “Ask better questions.”

My stomach protested loudly in reply.

“Oh yes-” he rose, moving to the tall bookshelf and retrieving a burlap bag. Producing two substantial sheets of dried meat, he placed them on the red table across from the chair, of which he was again seated. I began to feel foolish standing there, unsure of how to hold myself so as to not appear as weary and ill as I felt.

“I should have remembered- you’ve likely been walking a couple days.. Come now, eat. I’ve got better things to do than to poison those who don’t ask for it,” he chuckled, apparently quite pleased with himself. “Eat so we may continue this discourse with no unnecessary ill-will.”                    I acquiesced and divided my attentions to sating the fierce aching in my muscles.
“And do you have a name, or shall I simply call you the Guarded One Who Stands?”
“That works,” I managed between laborsome mouthfuls.

The food was already taking the edge off of my hostile delirium and I paused chewing, realizing it had been a while since anyone had asked that.                                            “I guess I don’t have a name- not yet I suppose.. I usually don’t think about it until someone simply starts calling me something for one reason or another. My name was once Zakuw- I don’t know why, but an old friend of mine way back in the day used to always call me that and then laugh. I never did figure out why or if it even meant anything. Funny how we met, in that day we used to walk the Catacombs at night for kicks. Peaceful place…Why am I even telling you this?..”

I could still hear his trademark laughter ringing in my ears. For the longest time he was the only person I ever spoke to, until he simply disappeared. One night he never showed up to walk along in the dark with me, and I was never any the wiser of where he went. But I eventually understood his disappearance when some decades later I developed the inclination to do the same thing. Friendships and relationships were too risky. Since then, I’ve long preferred to share my secrets with strangers, those of the Asylum who would not remember my name or face, or those I crossed paths with in the Silent Places- but never for long.

The old man wistfully nodded as if he perceived my thoughts.

“Anything in your pockets?” he proposed.

“No, I didn’t bring anything with me but these clothes.”

“Clearly you’ve no others…” he laughed again. “check anyways.”

I reached in my pockets and to my surprise was something, pulling out of the depths of my left pocket a tiny parchment scroll, about the size of a matchbook. I opened it to see only a few indiscernible symbols, appearing as that of a foreign language, and handed it across the table to him.

The Lesser Darkness p.5-6

p.5

Unsure of where I ought to head next, I figured my best bet for finding anything useful was to turn back around to go up over the mountain, where I knew at one point was an older established town. There would also most certainly be some water caught in the hollowed rocks after the recent uncharacteristic storms. Yet even the thought of such a great distance caused my head to throb even worse. I knew the rock faces of the mountain continued up for miles, then dropped off into various valleys in between each, meaning even a manageable looking distance would take exceedingly longer than anticipated.

I righted myself east and began the journey, up the introductory rock face I was so familiar with, and struggled to push away the memories playing in my mind like a movie reel I could never shut off. I finally regretted not having taken more time in this life to train myself to scale this old mountain face with the grace and ease I used to watch her leap eagerly ahead with, always beckoning me to climb just a little higher-but I usually preferred to watch and in stillness savor the otherworldly peace of our hiding place. Nearby there was an extensive cave between two horizontal rock faces that had been called the Witch Cave, because when we first discovered it there were candles lining makeshift stone shelves and the uncanny existence of our initials carved into the rock wall. I had already spent so much time out in these summits that I both loved and loathed their heights.        

At one point in the journey of my consciousness I had thought that If there really was heaven or any semblance of it in this world- that that time, that place and presence was it- or as close as I was ever going to be. I foolishly fantasized that some measurable form of peace could be found in what couldn’t possibly last. Born of naivety, I thought that I had finally found a resting place- somewhere safe, understood, and in the sight of familiar eyes. Yet the present always falls away into a lost past and a different life brings different dreams- or nightmares from the recesses of our intimate fears.

I had advanced up and over a few of the ascents and in the thinning fog was able to catch sight of a thin plume of smoke off to the North, less than a mile off. It would take me out of my way, but the chance of resting and refueling somewhere soon was tempting enough to chance the relative detour. I knew I could always try killing something for food, but in my recollection there really weren’t many animals out here anymore, I was a shitty hunter, and foolishly enough always felt some measure of identifying guilt over it. I had done some awful things, but could never bring myself to harm one of the only things that seemed undeserving of suffering. Yet the verocity of the catabolic pain had grown enough to overwhelm any of my hypocritical convictions.

Tracing along an interstice of the mountain gained me some time in light of my rapidly diminishing strength and I stood off from the smoke’s source-which had dissipated shortly after its appearance. I was pleasantly disoriented to see the appearance of some lofty pine trees down along the way- being exceedingly out of sorts for the immediate area. They were multiplying, dotted amidst the starkly viridescent ferns, as I drew nearer. It almost seemed that the terrain was steadily shifting as I went, into that of some place alarmingly unfamiliar and inexplicably eerie.   I peered from behind the cover of a broad fern to distinguish what appeared to be a fairly well-established camp.

It was an unmistakably circular- shaped setup, with what I counted to be twelve chairs near the middle, arranged in another sizeable circle.

There were all sorts of people walking about, each remarkably uninvolved in as much as acknowledging those whom they were ploddingly passing by in monotonous repetition. Most of them were dressed in what appeared to be olden robes and untimely attire of predominantly velvet reds, black, and white with much fewer yellows, green, blue, and purple. upon further examination, what appeared to be twelve chairs were actually all tree stumps that had been cut down, roots still in their place, each inhabited by a person of uncannily straight posture. Most of those going about were walking in a clockwise direction, and those sitting on the “chairs” were each engrossed in some unknown task of apparent urgency, moving their hands about as to emulate counting, typing, folding, or other mechanical motion of a speculatedly task-related nature. Two of the twelve sat motionless and equally straight-backed, simply holding their hands over their eyes, remaining unnaturally still as though dead.

The dying fire in the middle of the chairs was now barely even flickering amidst the ashes, and though night was falling, no one paid mind to its kindling. The outer part of the camp was lined with various clotheslines, woven baskets of linen, and pots containing unknown substance. Beyond the ring of senseless antics was a small circular hut made up of straw and branches, with a deep purple curtain hung in the doorway.

p.6

I remained hidden, watching from behind the fern for some ten minutes or so before deciding that such exceedingly odd behavior strongly recommended that I turn back around- especially considering my inability to spot any mushrooms of the sort lying around. That meant abandoning the idea of finding any refuge or sustenance. The rock catches hadn’t yielded near as much water as I had hoped for. Physically however, I recognized that I didn’t realistically have that choice, unless I wanted to risk collapsing on the way to a place that I didn’t even know was there. I instinctively reached back to check for my buck knife- just in case- to realize that it hadn’t made the jump and I had nothing of any use.

Given, I had seen much stranger behavior during my stay in the London asylums. Ironically enough, it was there I encountered a decent number of memorably unique individuals- some even seemingly brilliant to my interpretation- of whom could seem more “sane” than the management body of its facilities. As mentioned, I had seen that every advantage had its disadvantages, every gift had its often steep consequences, and everything has its price. Needless to say, after that I never again broached or entertained conversation of my lives’ experiences. Though the following century gave rise to many inquiring minds for the mystical- it was mostly intangible imaginations of past lives, and never gaining any answers had long left me feeling voicelessly isolated inside- wondering if I was the only one, or if anyone else who had been around the block at least more than once was also fearful to speak of such matters with confidence.

I often passed some of the countless lonely hours pondering or making up stories of where the selected few other humans I had cared about would be now. I liked to think that they conjectured similarly; that they still thought of me, but I was sure they didn’t care as much as I did anyway. Most times I hated caring the way I tended to, long after I was surely forgotten or they were gone- I wanted the feelings to be as dead as the time that killed them all. But I couldn’t, it simply wasn’t in me. In those few cases I cared too much.

A small, biting voice intruded my train of thought, “Just what exactly are you doing hiding there? If you’re going to be creepy, you could at least pick a bigger plant!”

Clearly my hesitation was potentiating trouble for me again. I stood up from my apparently meager cover, mostly surprised that I had even been noticed at all. I didn’t think to say anything but an indecipherable mutter, and stared back at a diminutive girl of about 12. Her sharp eyes pierced impatiently through unkempt, bright blonde hair.

“What are you mute? Well you clearly didn’t come all the way out here just to stare did you?”

I shook off the perplexity of such a young girl all the way out in these mountains.

“I suppose I’m rather… lost? Well- I thought I knew where I was, but it seems like everything is changing…”

“What did you choose the Blue berry and then get lost in the woods? Are you slow? Of course everything is changing- its an unsafe world where you can’t predict or control anything but what you do! The landscape is always changing!” sounding like she was reciting some mantra, she was apparently accustomed to speaking just short of a yell, and her enthusiasm seemed oddly misplaced.

I paused. “I saw the fire and needed somewhere to rest because I’ve been wandering and I don’t know where I am, how I came upon this unfamiliar place, or where I’m going.”

She rolled her eyes, “Oh man, have I heard that one before. Well I guess you’ve stumbled upon just the right place! We at least know what we’re doing here. We have options and choices. We’re free.”

I silenced my many inquisitions and simply returned an untenable smile; disguising my incredulity at such a all-encompassing statement to a subjective end.

Her childish grin yet unforgiving candor was again inscrutably reminiscent of some place familiar. Everything felt like a reminder of some place I’d never been.