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?”