Flutter and Snap

Some go up, many go down, and some lay nestled in my collar — little drops of white sky come down to play like an aria from a choir loft over the town’s great congregation. And like a congregation, most of them were asleep. We were nestled like the snowflakes in a tree, about twenty feet from the frozen grass shining like brittle silver blades in the moonlight. This tree, standing among many others of various kinds, was an evergreen. The fragrant sap stuck to our hands as our hands stuck to the slender, waving branches. It swayed a little in the breezes.
Flutter, flutter came the flakes, like our thoughts that night. We were high in the tree on glee, thinking of happy futures and halcyon pasts. Snow kissed our cheeks and lips, melted on our noses and nested momentarily in our eyelashes.
We heard a sound in the bracken some fifty feet from us. Snap, snap, and the sound of something being dragged. Our eyes roamed curiously over the wood, but we weren’t spooked. It would not have been easy to spook anyone in our state on that glistening night. Snap, snap, crack again. Not more than a few seconds later, we heard the noise of something breaking through the brush at the edge of the wood. We couldn’t see anything. But we were sure our eyes didn’t deceive us – we knew something was there. We had half a mind to invite it up, whatever it was, and ask if it had any hot chocolate to share.
We had been scanning the landscape furiously, looking in vain each time we heard it, but then, there it was, although vaguely. If it was a color, it was perhaps black, with silver and gold lines that seemed to move, to swoop and swoon over its surface. Its movement sounded like dragging, but it looked more like gliding. All around it, the snow swirled, hopped, and played, nearly singing, as though we were watching a score play out before us in snow notes on wind staffs, so overjoyed it was to be near the mysterious object.
Then we heard footsteps.
Trudge, trudge, trudge.
Suddenly came the moment in which we lost our lighthearted bravado, for the tree began to shake. Great, mammoth shakes, as though someone wanted all the pine cones to fall with no dilly-dallying. We were slung back and forth, holding on with all our strength.
“You there,” shouted someone we couldn’t see. “Fancy a hot chocolate?” he laughed.
Trudge, trudge, trudge.
As the object glided away, we were sure we could see a dim, but rich, deep red. And we heard bells.
In a turn of traditional events, we tumbled into the house a few moments later to find hot mugs of chocolate and a cheery, snapping fire near the tree.
I’d join you if I had the time, read a filigreed note under the mugs.

I Am

He climbed into the car where the smell of leather and plastic filled his nose. Settling in, he responded to the driver’s quiet greeting, fastened his seatbelt, and they were off.

After a few minutes scrolling through his phone notifications, he sighed and looked out the small window into the rain. Clouds were dark, but barely discernible through the thick downpour. Water streamed across his window in viscous, shimmering worms. As lightning gnarled through the sky and thunder grumbled, he thought about the headline that had disturbed him earlier in the day. It soon threatened to depress him and he tossed the thought aside.

Something tossed it right back at him. First he flinched, as though he’d been hit with a pebble, then he blinked and shook his head.

“I’m fine, thanks,” he said in response to his driver’s concern. A bit far from fine, he looked back out into the rain. A figure sat next to him, drenched and shivering. Startled, he closed his eyes, cleared his throat, and tried hard to think of something other than that headline.

Tap, tap on his right shoulder. He felt a little water seeping into his shirt. Looking outside again, there she was, soaking wet and crying, sitting as though in the car with him and mouthing the word please. Her eyes were fixed on his with such intensity that he couldn’t help blinking rapidly. Please. She reached through the door and touched his right hand. He tried to move away but she gripped it firmly, pulling his hand into her lap.

A feeling completely foreign to him crept up from his hand to his head. It was cold and alone. It felt like hatred and neglect. He tried again to escape but this time she had both his hand and his arm. He yanked and twisted his body, but she, with amazing strength, pulled him into the space where she was sitting just outside the moving car.

He braced himself, certain that he was about to hit the road at skin-ripping speed. But he didn’t fall. He was sitting on nothing, but he was inside something. His thoughts and feelings, confused and panicked, bled away as other thoughts filled the vacancies. He forgot about where he was going, why, even who he was. In his place, the girl was coming alive, flexing his limbs and thinking his mind.

A club. A coffee shop. School. Home. Empty. Shouting. Panic. Alone – so much alone. So much fear. This mind was a dark place which should have been full of light. It was concrete where there should have been flowers, trash where there should be clean running water.

Time – his time and hers – paused. For an entire day, he sat in that place just outside the car, in the rain, becoming her. He calmed her when she cried. He held her when she hurt. They were two souls taking up the same space.

Please.

The space began to grow wider and taller. Eventually, it felt safe and warm – he learned how to make the sun come out. He learned how to grow flowers and make coffee. He learned how to breathe fresh wind and how to make shining rain in a garden. He made sunsets and campfires and loads of wonderful food. He constructed greenhouses and towers and cliffs above the ocean. Best of all, he gathered souls together there, inside his world.

There was one moment early in his development that unnerved him. It was when she asked,

“Are you Death?”

The Horrible Man

The Great Man was coming to town, and we were all pre-amazed. Certainly he would do wondrous things. Maybe he’d build us a rocket or herd us in some elk or make lemonade from nothing but water. It remained to be seen. We all waited at the window, knowing it was the tenth, whereas he was scheduled to arrive on the twelfth. But we couldn’t help ourselves – elk! Possibly. It could be a vegetarian tornado instead. We didn’t have a clue. But we knew one thing – it’d be marvelous. Look out the window; maybe he’s early! Maybe he wants to sneak into town and avoid a crowd before getting some sleep at our hotel. Our hotel had a picture of elk.

The twelfth came, and the man arrived. What a sight! He rode in on a large, flowery float pulled by two motorcycles, a horse, and several leaping frogs. He threw bottle caps and oranges from his pedestal. We all cheered and bought baskets from Norman’s, who was cleared out by the end of the day and retired on the thirteenth. The Great Man rode straight through town and we never heard from him again. Everyone trying to return the baskets the next day were a little miffed, but it was understandable, and people still went to visit Norman at home, promising forgiveness and invitations to parties and fires.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, another man, tall, lanky, grumpy and immaculate, had come to town riding underneath the float. He’d rolled out and joined the cheering crowd so quickly – even bought a basket from Norman’s – that no one noticed his arrival. Our town didn’t appreciate unnoticed arrivals, which deprived us of late nights at our windows dreaming of strangers and drinking hot chocolate. We didn’t know he’d come to town until he became the High School Principal. Somehow. We never quite worked that out.

He was High School Principal, he said, because any school lower than High was far too low for a tall, gaunt man. In addition to being principal, he was also our cheerleader and referee. At the same time. He cheered his own calls, mostly, with such energy you’d think we’d given a large praying mantis too much coffee. He was mean to children. He lacked courtesy at bonfires, sticking with a torch anyone who’d had more than two s’mores. He treated waitresses poorly and used other people’s cash for tips, but not before chewing on it. He was an exemplary citizen, a model of restraint, generosity, velocity, New York City, penicillin, and circumspection. He loved minimalism. Everyone loved his stories about how to draw the letter L. He lengthened his poetry by quoting tabloids.

The fantastic mishmash of unsavory and not-so-bad was, in a word, horrible. He was a horrible man. Spectacular, certainly, but horrible. One day he’d feed a puppy a carrot, and the next he’d explain politics to it. In one sitting, he would offer you an opportunity of a lifetime while eating your candy. He would drench your socks right in your shoes and called it Sockial Media.

A horrible man he was. The Horrible Man.

Simpleton Sun

“If the sun is going to be so gullible, I might as well hide under my blankets and mutter,” she complained to her cat.
“Perhaps,” replied the cat, “but either way, it’s bath time. Do what you like. I’ll be in the window.”

“Picnickers,” she snarled, and then, in a mocking musical tone while clasping her hands to her chest, “Oh dear I hope it’s sunny today for our nifty pickny in the parky. Whatever will we do if it rains?! Oh heavens me I hope it won’t!”

She whirled from the window, grabbed the blankets and heaved them all over her head at once into a fabric balloon. As they fell lazily over her head, she rolled onto the mattress and let them cover her. A hand reached out from underneath and fumbled on the side table until it found the lamp, which immediately disappeared with the hand. The cord brushed a few trinkets from the table.
Click.
A hand appeared again and searched the floor until it stumbled over a book. Swish, and the hand and book disappeared together. Muttering, pages turning, and ah ha! There it was.

More muttering. Practice, practice. A hand goes here, then whoosh to there, and the last words sung backwards. Got it.

A low, creepy tune carried through the covers. Her voice, like a sinister cello, was ominous, foreshadowing curses and misfortune.

In ten minutes, she was out of the blankets and sitting gleefully at her open window, drenched in rain, while harried picnickers slapped ants from their arms and scrambled for shelter. Cat prepared his second bath with somewhat less aplomb.

She danced

She danced into cities where her name was sprayed on concrete walls and blinking neon over dive bars. She danced over battlefields and carried the dead to Valhalla. She swirled and tip-toed across rivers made of moon shade and glitter. She sang meadows and springs into blighted downs and stark boulders. Her arms arched up over her head to hold the sun for one last dance. Her hair was under water.

Then, head bowed, mouth snarled, teeth bared, she growled. Her nails slashed the air and painted it in blood. She reached up again and threw the sun into the sea where it boiled and created turbulent hell. Muscles suddenly twice their normal size sent the balls of her feet into the ground like thunder and buildings lost their bricks. Fire sprang up before her and she ate it like a molten cake, dripping flames down her chin.

Never did anyone quite see all of her. Sometimes the fire, sometimes the springs, sometimes the dance and once the fallen sun. But no one knew it was all the same power of woman, the same driving force of person who knew and told and made. No one knew until now on this reckoning afternoon, this otherwise normal three o’clock.

“Now,” she lilted, “one by one: what have you done?”

She drank

A cup of coffee sat precisely six inches from the front and left side of the desk. It was strong and still hot and a few grounds were slowly sinking to the bottom, creating a small sludge which couldn’t be seen through the liquid so dark it was black at the very top.

It was the normal coffee of the day from a French press: Indonesian – earthy, deep, and herbal. Indonesian dirt, she called it. It seemed normal, anyway. She was sure it was normal. Why shouldn’t it be? She’d prepared it the same way as she did every other morning.

By now you might suspect that it was not her normal cup of coffee, no matter what she thought about it. If so, you’re a smartypants, and that’s okay.

Lifting the coffee to her nose, she inhaled – a simple ritual she performed each morning. She smelled the earth and sweet syrup mixed with the scent of dried green leaves, let it fill her nose and open her eyes. It crept over her brain like a warm cloak wrapping, preparing her for a day of adventure.

“I’m already here,” said something far in the back of her mind, like a voice from outside a few houses down. It registered in her awakening mind as a negligible bit of leftover dream.

After inhaling a good portion of rich steam, she sipped. The earth was pungent, the herbs full, the syrup like deep molasses. This was some of the best coffee she’d had in quite a while – maybe the best ever. Her mind was suddenly full of dazzling possibilities, all sparkling with rainbow promises well within her enchanted reach.

“I am not waiting any longer,” whispered the same voice, much closer this time. It was in the room, it was in her ear, in her cup, in her mind.

The mug rose to her lips and she drank it all in one gulp. It was still far too hot and she felt fire swimming down her throat and into her stomach.

“This is my fire,” roared the voice over the cacophony of nerves warning her of drastic damage to her body. “This is my black blood.” She reached out for the press of remaining coffee and poured it over herself, mouth wide open, choking and spitting and guzzling. Her dark skin glistened as the oily black liquid ran over her.

In about half an hour, she arrived at work where she was a barista at a very busy little cafe set up in the corner of a dilapidated building. Still wearing the coffee, still nearly breathing fire, she waited on her first customer.

“A flat white, please.”

“A flat white,” she confirmed in a gritty voice. “A flat white to ease your life’s little pains. To give you a moment’s pleasure in your otherwise dull, sad life. I see you, little man. I have drunk the milk of a god and soon, so will you. This syrup of herb and earth is the nectar of life and death, small fool.” Her eyes burned to the back of his sockets. “You’re addicted to the end of your world; you’re completely unaware that my power is dancing on your head in black demon cloaks. Give me your cold and your sleep, and in exchange I will also take your soul.”

She entered

She entered, and the room went dark. Silence washed over them like a black fur. Everyone listened, but heard nothing – not her voice, though her mouth was moving; not her feet, though she was walking; not her nails, though she rapped on the tables as she passed. Once in the center of the tavern, she stopped and lifted her arms to her sides like a cross. Listening still, ears straining for the slightest noise from the dark void of her body, they leaned unsurely forward. As soon as they did, they flew back again in their seats, for in through the door swept two dozen ravens; however, though they were a bluster of a sight, they made no noise.

The villagers realized with some discomfort that not only could they not hear her, nor her flock, but neither could they hear each other. They heard no breathing, no beating, no scruffing boots or creaking stools.

Nothing.

She seemed to shout a command, and at once the ravens leapt from her arms and shoulders where they had perched. They rove around the great room, darting here and there, pecking at hats and heads. The room of unsettled patrons felt as though they were in a storm at sea – a black sea. Slowly the ravens seemed to recede, carefully choosing their landing places. Perched on tables, staring at the patrons, they dared them to stare back into their infinite dark eyes.

Suddenly, everyone heard a whisper flowing from the beaks of the black messengers. They heard nothing else but the whisper.

“You gossips all
You busybodies gnaw
on souls and hearts half dead

You craven hall
Your tall tales call
Fall on your ears as lead”

So the grim wisdom of the Raven was enshrined that night on a cold hill’s tavern. For a month, the vicious maligners heard only the truth about themselves, whispered by a raven perched before their faces. Meanwhile, their victims young and old had ravens on their shoulders speaking wise and comforting truths gently into their ears. The gossipers soon learned mercy, and their victims soon learned how to lead them.