Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Madnesses

“Ah, but love,” the Dead Spirit breathed, circling back and forth around the bars. “That isss a poison, even to you—poison to make men mad and sssend women to their deathsss. No, no, love is too strong for me to use, bright and black and gloriousss, an infection I cannot drive away or bring. It will recede as the tide and come again, steady as the sea, wild as the wind—love destroysss all. But he is not destroyed by love, but by lust. It is not my doing.”

“So you are not responsible for it?”

“He was infected by that madness long before I came here,” the Spirit answered honestly. “Bright-Crown has too long taken what he wisshhhed to be bound by it—his madness is greed, lust for power. You know this, ”

“I know.” The queen pursed her lips. “Spirit, I know you intend to destroy my son.”

“Do you now.” The Spirit paused, just far enough into the blackness that the edges between the shadows of the skull and the shadow of the cell bled into each other. “He tempts me, taunts me, waves morsels beneath my nose and sssnatches them away—the blackened sssouls of all who support him. I intend only to satisfy myself.”

“By his destruction.”

The Spirit hesitated, then nodded, smiling widely. “Yesss.”

“Were it in your power to bring this... madness upon him, would you?”

“Which madness do you ask?” The white skull began to circle again, ducking a little further into the darkness. “The greed, the lust, or the vengeance?”

“Any,” the queen said firmly. “Any madness.”

“The greed, perhaps. If it were in my power, I might blacken his soul to suit my tastes, drive him down a dark path that ends with me. But were it in my power to bring such madnesss, why would I stop with one who bindsss me; why would not every man be infected with such? No, no, such is not my power.” The Spirit drew a little closer to the bars, gliding smoothly instead of the snake-like bobbing that normally marked his motions. “The lust... perhaps. I could make him drag others down with him; lie and cheat to sate the flesh, blacken the souls of many—but again, this is not my power. His lust is what has drawn me here, not my doing. But the vengeance...” The dark figure stopped, inches from the bars, and the queen did not move away. “The vengeance I would not. This madness sets fire to sssaw-dust, forces those who would remain bland cowards to become bright lights, fighting against the mad prince. It pushes away those who would be blackened with him. Yesss, it is madness, yesss, it blackens his soul—but if it were in my power, I would not bring it. The vengeance can only destroy him until he is one like me.”

The queen remained silent for a moment. “So what is in your power then?”

“Fear alone is the source of my power, and fear alone is what I can bring. But there is a power in fear.”

Monday, March 21, 2011


It was a long drive back to St. Steven, so much so that Jodi fell asleep two hours into it, after the sun had long since set. She leaned her head on Frankie's shoulder and nodded off, and he stayed stock for nearly an hour, watching her carefully as she slept. After a while, though, he loosened up just a little, just enough to move his hands and head. When this didn't wake her, he began moving once more, reaching ever so subtly for her bag. He pulled the canvas into his lap and began leafing through the contents, dismissing the thin books and multicolored paperwork in favor of something he only half-knew would be there.

With a small noise of victory, he pulled the favored item from the bag. A big, unlined spiral notebook with a purple plastic cover, attatched to a small box of colored pencils. A bit more digging uncovered the pencil sharpener, and he had put the tip of the red pencil to the paper before he remembered.

He didn't know how to draw anymore.

He sat stymied for a moment, then looked over to Jodi. If he moved to go back to the city, then she would wake up, and he would have to unbuckle the belt-thing, which she had told him not to.

And the city hadn't helped anyway—he couldn't find the drawing place and just being there hadn't done any good, had it?

Had it?

He stared at the paper.

There was white and only white there, rising like the walls of the asylum before him. He felt the small thing called reason drift away, and he scaled the walls and stood atop them, staring out at the forest. The forest was not the forest, but rather all the people from forever on, all running around the asylum walls as fast as they could go. The whole world was dust as the rushing feet trampled everything, and he almost cried out in horror as the stars hit the horizon and were trampled on the ground, until their shining whiteness was dull or dead. The sun followed, turning the sky to the red inside people, and everyone washed away in it, and only the red was left, surging up against the white walls where he stood. And all around was rushing wind and burning fire, and the screaming of a thousand voices in a thousand languages, and he could sense the monsters coming...

Frankie shut his eyes.

He opened them again.

There was only paper.

He looked at the pencil in his hand, and willed it back from where it had melted into wax, turned it back to the shape that his fingers said it was. He closed his eyes and marveled at the blackness.

And he took stock.

The thing in his hand was called a pencil, and it was round and long and pointy at one end. There was color inside it that was meant to come out. Jodi was next to him, so much smaller and tireder than he had remembered her, and he wondered if she could still fight monsters now. Of course she could. The notebook was made of paper, which is where the color was meant to go. It was smooth and thin and perfect, and there had used to be pictures waiting inside it that nobody but him could see.

He opened his eyes and looked for the pictures again.

The paper was still blank, and still white, but there was more than that now. The things inside his mind were never quite happy to stay there, and he let them out for just a second, just a little, so he could see what they were before he let them out all the way.

Slowly, the pictures started to form, flickering, unstable, but there. He smiled, just a little, as they vanished again—he'd seen them, he remembered them, they were there.

And he quite liked them.

He put pencil to paper again.

And slowly, carefully, he started to draw.

He drew the yellow flagpole, the gate and the other side of it, the big dog, the endless trees. He drew the road made of rocks and the road made of nighttime, with all the odd yellow stripes. He drew the people that had said hello, the people that had yelled, and the people that had run. He drew the little buildings, the quiet place, the falling water, the cold and the nighttime. He drew the bad tasting plant, and the good tasting plant. He drew the deer and the wolves. He drew the city, and the big building, and what everything had looked like from way up high.

He drew the everyone star, still there no matter where he was.

And then he drew Jodi.

He drew the way her brown hair started frizzing late in the day. He drew her smooth hands that had always guided him when he was unsure. He drew her smile, the one that showed up in her eyes. He drew her feet, in her comfortable white sneakers, and her legs in the dark green skirt. He drew the scar that he still remembered giving her.

His everyone star, still there no matter where he was, or who he was, or what he was. Constant, unchanging, beautiful.

So far away.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pump, Lift, Pour

His life is threefold, in this moment—three words, three movements, and none other. Pump, lift, and pour fill his every thought, and he lets himself go blank, flicker out like a star behind the clouds—still there, but hardly. The water runs over his hands as he pours, washing away the dry and warm and making his fingers slippery so the bucket is harder to hold. But the water is there, is real, and is more than him in this moment. He can see his breath, and it is water.

Pump, lift, pour, and the basin is another drop closer to being full. But that is unreal and far-away, and this is here and now, and the spotted tin of the rings around the bucket reflects scarlet and skin as he lifts it to the edge. The weight makes it real, weighs him down and keeps him here, so he will not blow away. As the water drains out, joining that in the still basin with splashes and ripples, the weight lessens, and he feels the nagging urge to kneel again, to fill the bucket, to pump.

Pump, lift, pour, and he doesn't need to understand it. The handle of the pump is freezing cold no matter how much heat his frozen hands pour into it, and he must only touch the wooden part or his hand will stick and leave his skin behind. He thinks, briefly, that he should repaint it come spring, because the red paint is flaking away and breaking the surface of the falling snow, and the red of rust is ugly and his master would not like it. Up and down, up and down goes the handle with a rusty creak, and the gurgling rush of water hits the bottom of the bucket with a thock-athocka shhhhh that sounds hollow and full all at once. The sound echoes further than his breathing, into the sparse forest and snowy darkness. The world is half black and half white and all water and sound and scarlet.

Pump, lift, pour, and the snow continues to fall, and there is no sound but the splashes of pouring water and the rush of falling water and the back-and forth creak of the pump's handle. There is no time but hours. There is breathing, slow and measured with the motion, and droplets of condensed breath that vanish in the empty air. There is weight, of the bucket and the handle and the water that falls into the basin. There is darkness, light, and snow. There is scarlet.

There is nothing else.

Pump, lift, pour, and everything changes. A door flies open on the other side and the snow lights up with the firelight, and someone tumbles out into the snow, rushing with barefoot steps that crunch fast across the dry snow, running around corners to the back where the pump is. Pump, lift, and pour fade away—the footsteps are more important, familiar and demanding and he straightens, dropping the bucket from frozen fingers to meet them.

She catches sight of him in the shadow, and stops—her feet are bare in the snow, and she must be cold, he thinks, she needs to go inside, but then she runs to him, and grabs his hand, and pulls. She is saying something, scolding him, going on about cruel pranks and frostbite, but it is very hard to listen over the heat of her hands pouring into his fingers, dry against the wet and warm against the cold. She nearly drags him around the corners, marching stubbornly along the path that her footprints carved a moment ago. He follows meekly, silent, and merely listens.

She starts to drag him inside, but he pauses, more out of habit than any sort of fight, to kick the snow off his boots, and he realizes the ice has frozen them on. She pulls on his hand again, and he follows her in.

The children watch them, silent and guilty, and he remembers hours ago how they told him to pump and pour, to go outside in the frozen dark, how they said it was her wish. It wasn't—he can see that now, through hindsight and the snow in his eyelashes. The fireplace is startling in its warmth, and he draws back. She glances back at him, then shoves him down on a bench. She orders him to stay, and that becomes all that matters, and he gladly obeys. A boy hesitantly offers a blanket, and she wraps it around him, muttering something in the nonsense language she uses when she is angry or dealing with very small children.

It is rough, but warm. He settles into it, trying to force the cold out of his bones, listening to her whirl on the children and begin a long tirade about taking advantage of Bird and cruel jokes and could've died and what could happen. They shrink before her like shadows before light—she controls them, creates them, and they cannot exist without her. There is a pause in her tirade, and the fire cracks and jumps, and he leans forward towards the warmth, because the fire is not so startling now.

He remains here, hunched over, for some time, as children are banished to bedrooms and silence and punishment declared for all, before she returns to him. She kneels before him, brushing away the blanket to remove his hands from where they have been tucked next to his stomach. She takes one gently, and rubs it between hers. The warmth is burning, almost painful, and he winces. She sighs, and apologizes. Something halfhearted about the children not meaning any harm and him knowing better follows, but she doesn't mean anything but sorry, and both of them know it.

She picks up his other hand, and rubs it in the same manner of the first. She says the circulation is still alright—he won't lose anything, and he is glad because she is. He puts the first hand to her shoulder, and she looks up, startled, and there are tears in her eyes. Thank you, he whispers, and the tears fall. She puts her head in his lap.

Sunday, January 02, 2011


“The universe was made by an artist.” Joey stared upwards at the stars. “Who else would have put so much beauty in the trees? There are patterns sculpted into rocks, colors painted on sunsets. Every flower is beyond what I could imagine on my own. It was the artist who made them.”
“Might as well say it was an engineer, cause everything works.” Rona argued tiredly. “If the universe was made by an artist, then nothing should work.”
“If the universe was made by an engineer, nothing would be beautiful,” Joey pointed out.
“Who says the universe was even made?” asked Finnian, glancing from one to the other.
They looked at him simultaneously, with almost identically incredulous expressions.
“Well, duh,” Rona muttered. “What, you think all this just happened?”

Friday, December 31, 2010

Random snippets

“There are so many strange things in the dark,” she said quietly, her weak grip on him tightening in fear. “I saw you, and the children, so many times—I saw you die, and I saw you alive again—My mother was there, sometimes. I wanted so badly to go to her but my hands were tied down—but they aren't tied down now. But you're dead, so I must be hallucinating—where is my mother?”
“I am alive, Theia,” Bird repeated, sprinting through the town's darkened streets. “I am alive—please, believe me.”
“But I always believe you—I always do, and you never are!” She sobbed. “And in two days the guard will come by and it will all break—break into pieces, and I'll still be in the dark alone and you'll still be dead!”
“In two days you will still be free, and your fever will be gone, and I will still be alive,” he promised. “In two days, I will be by your side, and there will be no guards, and no chains, and there will be light.”
“You promise?” she asked brokenly.
“I do.” He nodded. “I cannot lie to you, Theia. I will bring you a light, in two days, if there is none in the house—I will be with you, and you will not be alone—and as long as I still can protect you, I will never be dead.”
He rounded the corner onto the dirt pathway up the ridge, and she buried her face in the back of his neck. “I wish I could believe you.”
“You can,” he repeated earnestly.
“But the dead ones always lie.”


“You are different, little one, but I still know what you want.” The story keeper turned her around. The empty hallway was full of light, streaming from crooked windowpanes and catching the light of a thousand motes of dust. Faded flowers sat on a windowsill, the blue glass vase thick with dust. Wooden doors were scattered down the hallway, opening by cracks into rooms that held just a glimpse of mystery; strange things that felt familiar and so alien at once. The room was warm, and yellow, and everything she wanted. “You wish for the old things, the mystery and magic you knew when you did not understand. The brilliance of jewels means nothing to you, nor the transient life of flowers. This hallway leads to your dreams; mystery that cannot be exhausted, a world where there is always more to explore—a world where mystery lives on without uncertainty or danger. Listen to my stories, tell me your own, and I will give you this.”


“I... I couldn't feel safe.” She looked down, ashamed. “Not like that.”
“Anastasia,” he growled quietly. “You're an idiot if you think I would ever hurt you.”
“You would,” she whispered. “You wouldn't mean to. I know you wouldn't mean to hurt me, but you... you would.”
“I would not,” he argued, taking her hands in his own with less than his usual roughness. “I couldn't. I won't.”
“I'm sorry.” She put her head on his shoulder, taking in the synthetic warmth. “I want to trust you. But...”
“But I left you,” he finished bitterly, dropping her hands to wrap his arms around her body and entwining his fingers in her hair. “So you can't.”
“It's more than that,” Anastasia admitted as she pulled herself closer to him. “You just... It's not even you.” She ducked her eyes away, burying her face in the crook of his neck. “I can't trust. I never could. I'm sorry.”
He let his face soften, if only for a moment, as he held her so closely that he thought his skin might burn. His fingers ran gently through her hair, combing out the small tangles that plagued it, and Casey wanted so badly to do something, anything, anything he could to comfort her.
“Learn,” he finally whispered.


“She will never be happy in darkness, Spirit!” The rebel drew his sword. “You know that as well as I do.”
“My darkness is less painful than that which you offer her.” The Dead Spirit looked down on him, black cloak swirling around dramatically in the flickering light. “Mine is only a physical darkness—to return with you will sentence her to a hidden life, always watching, always silent.”
“Because she is yours?”
“No, because she was yours,” the Spirit shot back. “She is innocent. Your sin has doomed her. If she returnsss they will take her again, and all will be lost. No, she will not return with you.”
“Then where will she go?” the rebel challenged.
“There are pathsss.” The Spirit circled on the other side of the pond, as if searching for a way across. “I offered you a choice, Fire-bonesss. I offer her the same.”
“She will choose to return to me.”
“Then it will be her choice; I will warn her and protect her if need be. But she is not such a fool as you think—she may leave you yet.” The skull dropped to Paul's level but the shadowy figure still stood tall above him. “You have given her little enough cause to ssstay.”
“You really think she would choose death?” Paul drew his sword with a metallic sssshk. “Enough of you is flesh for me to cut, Spirit!”
“I have never offered death!” The skull rushed back up to where it belonged, and the white bone hands appeared, tense and curled like claws. “She is safe, Fire-bones; safe with me! I am under no obligations to you. Your price will be high if she chooses to return—and I will collect it.” The dark figure leaned over the pond, the beak of the skull inches from Paul's face. “Your ssssoul is not so uninteresting as it once wasss.”
With an angry cry, he swung his sword, aiming for the painted face beneath the skull. The Spirit was too fast, and shot back, out of his reach. Before he could swing again, the skull had vanished, and the shrine was empty once again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The lie

“Clever boy,” the queen gasped, grinning through her pain. “You were always the best of tricksters.”
“What?” Alice asked, glancing over at Quinn.
“And she still doesn't know!” The fat woman barked out a short laugh, grasping tightly at the wound in her side. “Her mighty protector is the thing she fears most! You do more damage than I could ever, Quinn Hunter, Mad Hatter. I should have seen it.”
“Mad... Quinn, what is she talking about?” Alice took a step back, glancing from one to the other.
“Come now, girl, don't be stupid.” The queen glared at her like she was an ugly sore. “You know what I am. But he can see me; he can hurt me. Something nobody else was ever able to do.”
“I told you, Alice,” Quinn lied smoothly, “We're the same brand of crazy. Of course I can see her.”
“Hah,” she stood, wincing from the wound. “Girl, your precious Quinn is the same Mad Hatter you've been running from. He's tricked you, lied to you, betrayed you. He's trying to worm his way back into your mind. He wants to send you back to the hospital.”
“That's not true,” Quinn said, gliding over to her. “I would never hurt you, Alice, ever.”
“But you would lie,” reminded the queen. “And you have; again and again. Even now you lie to her. You are the Hatter.”
Quinn took her hands in his own, but she pushed him away. She stared up at him, hurt in her eyes.
“She's lying,” Alice whispered, looking for any confirmation in his face. He remained stoic. “Tell me she's lying.”
And Quinn looked away.
Alice stepped back, a sob catching in her throat. “No. No no no! I can't believe this!”
“But you do,” the queen hissed, grinning like the cat. “You trusted him, and he betrayed you—he was never your friend from the start.”
“That's a lie,” Quinn finally spoke. “I was your friend, Alice; I still am! Please, trust me—I never meant to hurt you, even from the beginning.”
“No,” she whispered, backing away from him. “Stay away from me.”
Quinn's features began to change as she looked on. His gray wool coat took on a purple tinge, and odd stitching began to weave its way across, changing the fit to make him seem larger, hulking, and less human. His hair pulled itself back, growing longer and spilling over his collar like a waterfall. The fedora warped, twisted, and grew until it was the top hat. His gray gloves became fingerless and brightly colored, his watch chain looped around one shoulder
All that remained unchanged was the card, tucked into the band of his hat, and the strange, haunted look of his dark eyes.
“I'm sorry,” he whispered, almost choked, and pulled the card from the band of his hat.
It was the ace of spades.
Alice stared for a moment, trembling, before she turned and ran. She did not scream, did not cry, simply ran—and that was enough to break him.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Once upon a time, there lived a fantastic beast; a horned bird that tormented a city by the sea. Nothing could stand before it, and only the winter storm could slay it. But that was long ago, and unremembered, and it has long since died.
Once upon a time, the city by the sea found itself a mighty king, who ruled over great lands. He lived among them, and there he built his palace, overlooking the western shore. Beneath it there were catacombs, dungeons, and darkness. But that was long ago, and he has long since died.
Once upon a time, a monk was falsely accused of murder, and imprisoned beneath the castle. His order built a shrine upon a hillside, on the site of an old spring that had run dry, where they waited and prayed for him. The monks dug into the hillside to build it, and paved a great road with the stone. Two years later, the accused monk appeared in the shrine; the people of the city took it as a miracle and let him go free. But that was long ago, and the little shrine has fallen into disrepair; the monk it saved has long since died.
Once upon a time, the city by the sea was blessed. A man who might have been a prophet said that they would forever prosper, if they never forgot who they were. A great storm blew all around, but never touched the city, and the white walls of the palace shone like a beacon out to the sea. They blessed the man who might have been a prophet, and welcomed in the hundreds of swamped boats as he commanded them. The city became known for kindness, and beauty, and wealth. But the might-be-prophet's words have been almost forgotten, still whispered in proverbs and by old women in their last days. He himself has long since died.
Once upon a time, a selfish king inherited the throne. The city by the sea struggled under his rule. There were whispers that burned through the city like fire, and they forgot how to trust their king, or the nobles, or even themselves. Grief marked them, fear ground their hearts to dust. Their kindness was beaten into obedience, the high-held heads were cut down. Their hearts were burning as they forgot. But that king has died, perhaps not so long ago.
Once upon a time, there was an actor, with great skill in his craft; he made worlds spring to life with his voice, and moved like a dancer in a dream. He knew the powders of the street magicians and the stories of the city, the beast and the monks and the might-have-been-prophet. The court was entranced by him, and he walked among them for a time. But he learned what he should not have learned, watching as he did. And he was falsely accused, and cast down from the light, to the lowest cell of the dungeon to starve.
And perhaps he died.
Once upon a time, a black spirit appeared in his place, clothed in torn robes and wearing the skull of a fantastic beast. It spoke in riddles, could not be caught, blew away like smoke. It brought forth a bleached human skull, and the skull burned.
It called itself the Dead Spirit; it walked in darkness.
Once upon a time was now.