I had a conversation last week, one of those where you have to put it all in perspective for somebody else. Suddenly you find yourself giving voice to things that you’ve kept inside your head. Somehow, that makes them real. They’re out there now. No taking them back.
Last time, I talked about projects. Since then, I’ve kept on target, which is good. I’m writing every day again, which is better. I’m still in the ‘doesn’t matter how much I write’ mode, as long as I write. Ten words or a thousand, I don’t care. Forward momentum.
I wanted to share a little something with you. I wrote this a long time ago. I’ve been working on the 3rd draft and I like where it’s going. This is just a snippet from the beginning, but I think you’ll like it.
Light, sounds, sensations, unfamiliar and strange. Flashes of images, an odd scent, a constant dripping, an itch on the back of my head that I can’t move to scratch. My toes are cold but my fingers are hot. I can’t see through the darkness yet I’m surrounded by light.
Knuckles on wood? Steel on concrete? That itch again, the one I can’t scratch. Maybe it’s a key or a ring wrapped around a fat finger, tapping against stone. The image flares behind my closed eyelids, a wide band of gold on a pale finger. Scratches along the surface are deep as a canyon and twice as old.
My eyes open to paint splattered stars scattered across a gray sky. No moon. No other source of light, just those stars. Each one is brighter and larger than they should be, like the eyes of gods dancing far above. Fresh air caresses my skin, neither warm nor cool. It carries along with it the scent of jasmine and sorrow.
That doesn’t make sense to me, yet my brain understands and says, “There, there,” in a voice dripping with condescension.
Sitting up, there is no wind, no breeze, yet I can hear it roaring just beyond where the gray mist hangs heavy upon the land. How the wind wails! The mist does not move, does not sway, though it should be ripped away by the onslaught of what must be a tornado or hurricane out on the horizon.
Pushing to my feet, I turn. There is a man sitting on a piece of cut-stone that’s half in the ground. Harsh words desecrate the stone, chiseled into its flesh. I don’t recognize them, my eyes sliding away as I try to read for the first time a language that makes no sense to me. The man is perched atop the stone like a bird, head tilted, eyes watching me. My mind tells me that he is dressed in black, but my eyes see no color here beyond a pale and drab gray.
Again, that makes no sense. I accept it anyway.
White shirt, black pants, long black coat to match black hair, eyes and lips. His skin has no color at all. With one finger on his left hand, he reaches down to the stone.
“Who are you?” I ask. The sound of my own voice surprises me. Deeper than it should be and the pitch is off. Off from what, though? “There is no before, no after, only now,” said my brain. I think I may distrust my brain.
“Always you ask, each of you when you wake. Names have power, little one.”
“I’m Josh,” I offer. The name pops up and I can’t help but test my new voice by saying it.
He tsks and frowns. “Never listen. Names have power. Tell the wrong somekind your name and they have power over you.”
I resolve to never again do it.
“Okay, then, what do I call you?”
“Murder,” he replies. He doesn’t blink. He never blinks.
My brain tells me that’s wrong. What does my brain know? Blinking hurts, so I don’t blame him for not doing it. “Murder? That’s not a nice name.”
“I did not say that it was my name, little one. You asked what you may call me. You may call me Murder.”
“Okay. Murder.” I turn, looking around. Some sort of park, maybe an art thing, full of stones half in the ground and surrounded by mist. My brain says it’s something different but doesn’t elaborate. I don’t push for information. My brain, it turns out, is not a good conversationalist. The sky is clear, the night perfect. Why is everything so gray? There is no moisture in the air, where does the mist come from?
The winds roar in the distance.
“Things to do, Joshua,” Murder whispers in my ear. I turn back, shocked by the intimacy. He still sits perched atop the stone, easily six feet from where I stand.
“How did you do that?”
“Always who, how, why. Never was before, but always now. Too far, too long, yet not far enough.”
“I don’t understand. That doesn’t make sense.” Even my brain agreed.
“Not to you, perhaps,” he smiled, briefly, like a flare in the sky gone before it begins. “Things to do, Joshua.”
“You already said that.”
“Did I? Did I…?” he looked away, then back. “Follow now.”
He hopped down off of the stone, spun on the spot and started walking away. I didn’t have anything else to do, and was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep, so I followed. He led me down a jagged path, through the art stones half in the earth and through the mist. I didn’t want to go into that mist, but it seemed to part before him, cutting a path. Oddly, it closed in behind me, so I walked faster in our perpetual mist-free bubble.
Mist shouldn’t act like this. Doesn’t make sense. My brain tried to say something and I stifled it by remembering a song I’ve never heard. That seemed to do the trick.
To my left and right, I saw indistinct figures standing still as stones and tall as trees. None seemed to take notice of our passing. There was no sound but the wind, wailing and moaning. If Murder saw the figures or heard the wind, he didn’t show it. He kept walking, that long coat of his billowing in the wind that I couldn’t feel.
I frowned at that. “Do you feel the wind?” I asked.
“Never again,” Murder replied.
At an iron gate he paused. It was closed tight, wrapped in a large chain held closed by a lock. Beyond, all I could see was the mist. Thicker and more substantial, it seemed to form a wall. I felt this instinct to turn from the gate and run away. Why? I’ve no idea. But I knew it could, and would, hurt me to touch it. Murder said nothing. Spinning, he snatched my hand. The world shifted. I wanted to scream, but as soon as it happened, it was over, and Murder stood there staring at me with those unblinking eyes. I looked around. We were on the other side of the gate. A wide, busy street ran north and south. An intersection stood just to my right. Behind me, the iron gate rose, bordered by a fence that disappeared into the distance. Beyond, all I could see was the thick mist, so I turned back to the road. Houses penned by trees, bushes and lawns stood cold and dark. There was no color here, either, and a moment of sadness washed over me. Where had all the color gone? But my brain pointed out that there had never been colors. That had only ever been my imagination.
I dislike my brain more and more.
“Follow,” said Murder.
“To where?” I asked.
He tilted his head and stared at me. “Walk first, then run, little one.”
As he walked away, I knew there was nothing to do but follow him.