38- The Lesser Darkness

For a moment I was unsure of what I was even looking at, but soon realized that I beheld wings on this child’s back. At first glance it appeared as a smooth, felt black mass, tucked down flush along her back and down past, as though neither water nor air could pass between any of the feathers- each perfectly flush with the others. Slowly, as though requiring a greatly painful effort, the wings separated from her back with a seemingly involuntary trembling, twitching motion. She reached back, and with one wing in each hand, lifted them up to an unexpectedly larger wingspan, perhaps nearly four cubits across. The wings appeared nearly dead of their own accord to raise themselves. 

The inner feathers slightly lightened in color, dark grey edged with silver. Unlike the exterior, the inner portions of her wings were much more disheveled and damaged; how one would imagine the shredded wings of an avian that had lost the battle with a much larger prey. 

I couldn’t help but instinctively reach out and touch what had long been only a thing of fairytale and folklore. I’d heard a great many fantastical tales and seen many things, but never had I believed in- much less seen- a winged being that was neither bird nor angel, though the wings resembled an uncanny mix of both. I found myself mindlessly running my hand over the soft, varying textures, almost mesmerized by how surreal it seemed.                                                    I realized I ought not to make her feel uncomfortable, and as I went to right my composure, saw what made my heart sink in my chest.


37- The Lesser Darkness

I tucked the leaf away in my pocket.

“Why are you here? Just wandering, or passing the time so idly in a place of such seeming nothingness?” I could not help but wonder how old this girl truly was, and what had brought her too to this strange inbetween place (or so I had surmised). 

“What do you mean why? I don’t have much time left. I’ve nowhere I need to be, or go. Why would I not be here?” she replied matter-of-factly.

Great, someone else who either made little sense or was speaking in riddles. I needed a different approach.                                       

“Don’t you have a family, a companion? Won’t they be worried- while you’re out here dwindling the days away in the far middle of some nameless woods?”

She laughed as though she found the question so ridiculous.                        

“I believe you already know the answer to that one mister. Why are *you*here, I would ask- but I too very well may already know.”

She paused, as though suddenly weary of her own resistance, and continued.                                             “I was praying. I don’t know if there’s really a god out there, or if he would listen to another fool and scoundrel such as myself- but it can’t hurt and I’ve nothing left but time, of which I do believe that mine draws to a near close.”

“You keep saying that, so morbid and cryptic as well. Why in the world would you think that the case? I’m sure when you find your way out of this place- if you are even lost at all- you’ve your entire life ahead of you. Or at least the rest of this one,” I quickly added, wondering if she would reveal as to if she too had lived many lives before. 

She laughed again, this time less convincingly, as though an old wound had been reopened by something I had said. 
“I’ve sure heard *that* one before. You’re right, but I don’t have the strength anymore to get to the rest of it.” 

She turned her back to me, which again drew my notice to the odd shape of her back beneath black fabric, jutting out at an unnatural angle. She must have known my wondering, as she lowered the cloak to unveil her back; looking over her shoulder at me, as though assessing my reaction

36- The Lesser Darkness


      I suppose that coming from me, she had a fair point. However, I had no memories of ever having been a child- in any life- much less any type of supposedly instinctive emotional attachment to a parental figure. I thought to inquire where her parents were, but if she truly was a one like myself, it would be a foolish question. 

 The girl crouched down to the ground and began tracing lines in the dirt with a small stick of birch in her hand. There didn’t appear to be any particular form she was drawing. 

“Do you have a name?” 
I couldn’t think of anything else to say, beside asking for what I was sure would be convoluted directions. 

“Wouldn’t you like to know…”           Her voice sounded a bit sad, trailing off as though she were lost in a world of her own.                                 “I don’t think it would really make any difference.”                                 She continued, engrossed with her drawing in the mud.

“If you’ve been here since before I wandered along last night, did you hear all those people talking, or where it was coming from?”

“I heard nothing but the stillness. I would however keep that to yourself in the future.”

So now hearing voices in my head was becoming a trend. Fantastic.    As it were, I’d already long been concerned that I’d lost some parts of my mind that I may have needed- a long, long time ago.

“And no, you didn’t imagine it-”      She drew a large circle in the ground around her. 
“They can tell you things that you did not know-if you know how to listen. Some useful, others just to confuse you. You’ll have to figure out the difference for yourself.”

“And you just happened to be hanging out here,” I stated rhetorically.

“I sensed you nearby… Nothing else to do… and I hadn’t seen a person in quite some time….”                           She stood up, eyes still fixed on the ground.                                               She continued, “but you seem to ask a lot of questions. I suppose next you’ll ask where you should be going, or what you’re supposed to do next.”

She stooped down again, barely touching a tiny shoot with what looked like a single red maple leaf on the end, just rising up from the inky soil.  I had no reply.

“Everyone so very worried about where we’re going, what we’re accomplishing…When you’ve been around long enough to see that there is no destination-only all the steps inbetween here and the place you’re going; each step a memory as soon as it is had. Human be-ings, not human do-ers.” 
She pulled the single red leaf, rose and looked me dead in the eye, her voice again full of an unmasked sadness,
“And in those darkest places which we have yet to see, let the memories visit you-and you visit them; they will be your only company.”

I got the distinct impression that the subject had abruptly changed.

“And when I get to where I’m going, I’m sure I’ll again see that it wasn’t what I thought, and again turn around and start going to the next ‘somewhere else’. Yes. I do know.” I gave a fake laugh. 

Her brilliant eyes reflected a glimmer of amusement. She smiled weakly, and handed me the little crimson leaf.

35- The Lesser Darkness

I awoke to a dimly lightened sky, casting a dull luminescence to the scenery around me. The waters had receded and I was lying on a thin bed of bright green moss amidst the mud. I had not noticed the moss the night before with the waters covering what I now saw to be a fairly serene view, though still entirely muted in color. The soft lichen beneath me was by far the most lively thing to be seen in this place- a florescent green, bright enough as though it had grown just in the time I had been asleep. How long that had been I could neither be sure of- not if what the man had said about the exceedingly lengthy stay of Night and unpredictably scarce Sunlight was true. 
I rose, made a futile attempt at scraping off some of the mire, and beheld a more clear idea of just how far the strangely oppressive trees stretched into the distance over grey earth. 

I noticed something move in the distance, of which I otherwise would not have noticed was there amidst the trees. I moved a bit closer in proximity. Looking from behind a gnarled oak, I saw the back of a black, hooded cloak facing away from where I stood. The assumed person was diminutive and misshapen in figure, ever so slowly sauntering along, stopping to look around, and resuming a clearly nonchalant pace. I decided they didn’t look big enough to be much a threat, and approached the figure, standing off to the side. I didn’t really have anything to say, at this point, I was just needed anything to facilitate suggestion of where I could go from here. 

“I’ve never seen one sleep so evidently comfortably in the mud.” A small, unexpectedly gentle voice broke the silence. 

I moved about to see her face, but it was nearly entirely shrouded in the shadow of her cloak.

“If you saw me sleeping, then you know that this whole place was flooded last night. How long have you been watching me?”

“I was here first- you just didn’t notice,” she replied. 

It was the delicate voice of a little girl-spoken with a tone entirely devoid of emotion, yet somehow intrinsically kind and reassuring at the very same time.                       There was an uncomfortable period of silence. 

She then lowered the hood of her cloak and gazed seemingly right through me with piercing cyan eyes. She was a petite child I would have guessed to be seven years old at the most. Her impossibly blonde, straight hair embraced her face, just barely brushing the top of her narrow shoulders. 

“What in the hell is a child of your age, stature, and a girl- doing out here?” I forgot my manners entirely-or that I was ironically enough, speaking to a seven year old. 

“What in the hell would lead you to assume the number of my years, or the possession of my right to be here just as much as you?” she now matched my tone, with an inordinately mature semblance- yet eyes that flashed almost playfully.

34- The Lesser Darkness

The pain at the bottom of my skull roused me back to reality from my useless existential wandering, and I found myself still mechanically wading through the waters, again unaware of how much time had elapsed. All I knew was if I didn’t know I had been walking, I’d think I was still precisely where I had begun. I took notice of the intensifying pain and concluded that I was indeed awake, and in this fucked up nonsense place.                  

 I was drenched, pissed off and shaking; exhausted and longed to lie down, but there was nowhere to rest amidst the waters. I couldn’t think clearly and felt my mind retreating to somewhere else; but I needed it to stay here and figure out where the hell I was going and what I was going to do. Unnecessary panic rose in my tight chest. I reached up to my temple,squinting now through blurring vision, and attempted to reassure myself that I was simply overtired. 

I again began to hear voices, whispering. They were coming from every direction- or perhaps they were only in my head; I could not discern which, but the poorly hushed whispers grew in urgency as though a small counsel were debating some crucial matter. I couldn’t make out any clear words, though it still didn’t sound like any language I knew of.                                I suddenly was reminded of the messenger bag I had grabbed in my hasty exit and the scroll the man had instructed me not to open. I pulled it from the bag, otherwise empty, were it not for the knife remaining in the bottom.             Come on, how could he expect such instructions would do anything but increase my curiosity? Perhaps it was a map or had some kind of instruction. 

 The quarreling voices abruptly silenced, as though they were waiting- or watching. Reaching for the Red seal, the pain suddenly grew, shooting up my spine and turning into a nauseating ache from the back of my neck. My hand jerked away to grab my neck. I did not know if the pain was associated with the scroll, but quickly returned it to its place in the bag, deciding against any further interest.                         The voices now began speaking in a plain tone and volume, almost as though in tandem with the pain coursing through blood and sinew.    I had first felt the pain when I took the vial the nameless man had given me- what a fool I was to trust anyone. I could not deny however that I had not yet hungered or fainted, as I had always had a propensity for. 

I decided against allowing any impairment to hinder my progress in getting where I was going- or at least out of this now swamp.The useless voices were dizzying in their unintelligible chatter. Was there anyone even there?                              I just needed to rest and I was only growing more and more angry and disoriented with all of these cumulative annoyances. I continued on, trying to regain my easily fractured composure. The light of the beaming moon was now strangely distant. I decided to try lying down in a muddy though shallow rise of the floodwaters. Propping my head up on a rock, I fell asleep to the sound of the voices fading into the distance. 

33 The Lesser Darkness, free write

This all, not even to mention the cumulative regrets that Time had brought- not regrets in the sense of things done or not done- but in the sense of the great many things failed. I had lived enough lives to be able to somehow miserably fuck up each one, despite no lack in my willingness to grow in longsuffering and steadfastness. The conditions that each lifetime had brought with it had often seemed to far outweigh the fleeting glimmers of hope that would appear and disappear just as quickly on my path to the next painful lesson.

I had once perhaps caught passing sight of “love”, but she was ever taken- both literally and metaphorically- by the plague. Another couple lifetimes later and I would find her again in a seemingly familiar face; only to again lose what little ever seemed to even temporarily illuminate my irrevocably dark, weary soul. I wondered if she had ever felt that I could have done the same, had Time and cruelty not separated us and had not otherwise agony held my heart and soul hostage- from even myself.

Living was injuriously cruel but I had seen enough to know that it was so to most everyone- though a mystery how the most wicked so frequently seemed to get theirs only upon their dying breath.

I knew I was no exception in the department of continual suffering in the lesser darkness of hell. Hell was real I knew- I had been there far too many times to forget- but never knew precisely if at all or how intimately other humans were truly acquainted with its lingering taste here. I could only marvel at their ability to appear or carry on as though they did not carry hell within themselves as I did- an ever present unwelcomed preview of the place I feared to next be trapped when I finally passed on from mortal chain.

But it’s promises had bred a wordless terror in my mind that ever stared back at me. I lived running from what had begun to dwell in my own skull. It grew by the lifetime and by the year, the burden of a pain and panic so great That I was inconsolable and occasionally driven to insanity. Yet I had found that there was no escape by blood, bullet, nor arsenic.

A part of me wished to know that I was not alone in the things I saw and felt of a sadistic evil. A part of me had once selfishly longed that someone should see through my eyes and feel through my skin; yet the undying- albeit thinned- cord of a scarlet compassion would wish such terrors on no one; much less for the foolish pleasure of company. I had borne this burden alone and I knew I would until I could carry it to the gates of a one who could explain such suffering. Though I had never yet heard of such a man.

Yet day and night I accused myself in my best efforts. I must surely be doing something wrong-so unforgivably wrong- to be and to feel so very much; so very cursed and alone in a world invariably full of people suffering in their own ways as I. Yet there was a divide I could not cross. There must surely be a lesson that I have continually failed to learn with every effort of increasing longevity- and thusly I have ever remained on the chess board over which a god must be laughing. Foremost through all these times I had learned that my sentence- or fate as some would foolishly call it- was escapable neither by natural death nor suicide. All it did was change the cards- nearly the same characters in slightly different contexts and faces. I had still always wondered how many lives others had lived before- or if I was one of the few cursed by a merciless god. I never broached the topic again after enough failures, judgement, persecution, and institutionalizations. Bleak and miserable a world I saw and felt it to be- I never wanted to have to see it through bars again. If I had to be trapped, it would be only by the confines of my mind- as I ever painfully labored to chisel each piece away.

But it was never enough Time to get the lesson done and my pursuers never tired that I should begin all over again each time; with a new puzzle before figuring out the one I had so toiled to understand.

32 The Lesser Darkness

Not long into my wandering, I kicked something beneath the water. It clearly was neither rock nor tree, but felt as some type of metal. I expected it to be much heavier given its size and was surprised that with only moderate difficulty I was able to pull it up out of the waters that had now risen even higher. Nearly two cubits tall, it was an hourglass of inordinate size. The thick glass was fastened firmly between two rectangular plates of a golden metal connected by three silver rods. It was of intricately crafted and shaped edges with grooves encircling the length of the three silver rods. 

I was inexplicably intrigued by this astonishingly unmarred find, and moved to a nearby meager stream of light to take a closer look in detail. 
I began to notice even more astounding craftsmanship the longer I looked at this piece. Most remarkable of all – rotating the glass in my hands in any direction- even upside down, the sands remained unshifted, unmoved from the customary shape of an undisturbed hourglass’ sands. There was such a large quantity of sand and so tiny of a passage between the two glasses that I could barely determine if any sand was even passing through at all.

 Squinting in the rains which continually blurred my eyes, it almost appeared as though the sand was moving upwards; grain by grain as if trapped in a vacuum and propelled by an unexplained force independent of gravity. The more time I spent watching it in it’s hypnotic pace, the more I doubted what my eyes were telling me- that the sand was indeed falling upwards, and continued in its direction despite my repeatedly tipping it on its head. It appeared that it would take an exceedingly long period of time for this hourglass to reach its end. Much more than I had. 

 I started to again ponder if perhaps I was hallucinating, all by suggestion of the disorienting manner of passing time in this dark place. 

I tilted the hourglass another couple times to commit to verifying and settling upon what my eyes told me. The sands remained unchanged. I took one last glance at this peculiar timekeeper and noticed something engraved along the edge of the bottom plate. 

Was all it read.

I immediately tossed the hourglass aside, suddenly immensely perturbed by the ridiculous implication that time could- or was- running backwards. This must all be a cheap trick, yet one that had indeed struck a chord within me that I had long been trying to ignore, for no better solution.

 I hated Time. 

All Time ever seemed to do was cause every beautiful thing to wither, vivid passion to fade to indiscernible grays, love to be lost and misunderstood, and the child of faith to die. I could indeed never see or feel outside my experience that we were all alone in this together. An impassable void standing between each soul- felt only as an unfamiliar voice, and far too great an aching distance to ever be touched. The inescapably cavernous and bitter reminders of Time were my only constant companions, and I loathed them. I had failed to ever perceive the beauty in perpetual loss.