They came, screaming from everywhere
with grasping hands and eyes of malice,
storming into the sandbox
and causing the terrified creature to run for its life.
They came, screaming from everywhere
with grasping hands and eyes of malice,
storming into the sandbox
and causing the terrified creature to run for its life.
After eighteen months apart
they attacked at the reunion
and began nuzzling each other in the driveway,
dropping to the ground,
making the half crying,
whining sounds of love and joy
that overwhelmed one to tears
and made the other bark.
She knew he would visit,
he thought as he cleaned off the stone,
turned and walked back down the hill
remembering how she always said
he needed more exercise
and chose the highest,
most out of the way plot
in the cemetery.
The man stepped up and opened the door with a flourish before pausing. He hesitated, wondering what day it was. It was his natural inclination to step into the building and present himself. It was his stasis in life after all. His grey gloved hand began to tremble on the knob. No, he didn’t want to do this. He did not want to be here… did he? Then the door widened beckoning him. His hand held the knob and he allowed himself to go with it as his foot stepped up and across the threshold.
He looked around the foyer and into the parlor, again unsure, but plagued with a feeling of déjà vu. Superstitious, he thought and straightened with a false bravado and stepped inside. He turned to close the door and hesitated again.
The feeling of uneasiness struck heavily in his stomach and fear leapt into his chest. He had the inclination to cry out, but stopped himself. He stifled the cry with a cough putting his trembling hand to his face. Then he stiffened his back and looked around again trying to decide on the front desk, the cozy looking couch with the fire, or maybe the stairs. The decision alone threatened to unhinge him.
“Oh there you are?”
The man whirled around startled.
A very dark skinned woman with a scarf wrapped around her head was suddenly coming from behind the front desk. “Mr. Johnston, well now ain’t you just a sight?”
He swallowed and straightened even more. Where had she come from? “Ye… yes.” He said unsure.
The woman moved past him into the parlor and the over to the fireplace to stoke it up. “Come on in here sir. You apt to catch your death out there.” She said.
“Oh um, yes.” He said and entered the parlor and began to remove his gloves as the woman came behind him to take his coat. He froze when he felt her fingers brush his shoulders. Terror and titillation simultaneously assaulted him, but he relaxed when he felt the great coat slide off his shoulders and down his arms.
“Make yourself comfortable Mr. Johnston. I’ll fetch some brandy to warm you.” She hung the coat up and left.
The man seated himself in the chair and examined the room.
The latch on the front door sounded and it opened again even more slowly that the first man. He doesn’t pause, but he cautiously slips inside. He is a bit older than the first. He glanced into the parlor then poised himself and stepped up to the front desk to wait.
He turns and looks into the parlor as the woman suddenly reappears at the front desk. “Mr. Abel, welcome, welcome.” She moves from behind the counter and into the parlor and sets a tray on the table with several glasses and a large bottle of brandy.. “Come right on in here sir and seat yourself, I’ll get your coat directly.”
“Comfortable Mr. Johnston? I will serve you in just a moment after I attend to Mr. Abel.”
“Fine,” Mr. Johnston said, struggling to keep his air of confidence.
Mr. Abel is standing unsure at the entrance to the parlor. Then he catches sight of Mr. Johnston and freezes a moment.
Suddenly the woman is behind him and removing his coat as well. “There you are sir. Seat yourself and I will serve you both a nice brandy.” She hangs up the coat and moves around to the table. She pours two generous brandy’s and hands one to Mr. Johnston with a servant’s nod then turns. “Mr. Abel sir? Find your place, make yourself comfortable.”
Mr. Abel is still staring at Mr. Johnston, but snaps out of his trance and comes to take a seat. “Yes… yes of course.”
The woman waited for Mr. Able to seat himself on the couch then handed him a brandy. He sits back, but he is very tense and staring at Mr. Johnston as the woman leaves the room. He glances around the parlor very unsure then settles on Mr. Johnston again. He is just about to speak when the woman interrupts.
“Gentlemen, cigars if you wish.” She whooshes into the room and sets down an intricately designed cigar box beside the tray of brandy and opens it. She looks around satisfied and breathes. “Now will there be any…”
The front door opens and another man steps in. He looks confused, stops and stares back out the door for a moment.
“Mr. Cadwalader.” The woman exclaims and moves towards the man with a flourish.
The woman is a proper house servant with skin as black as coal and her dress is discreet, though she is voluptuous in every way that a man wants, with enough in front and back that most men will take notice. Mr. Johnston and Mr. Able seem somewhat oblivious to this. She moves in and moves around the parlor adding her scent to the air, honeysuckle and cornmeal if they had the mind the venture a guess. When she moves away the tension is broken for a moment and as she whooshes out of the room they both catch it and follow her. The effect distracts them from their own unease and they glance at her backside moving beneath the dress as she moves to the door.
The woman ushers the man away from the door and closes it quickly. “There now. Don’t want nothing coming in here that aughtn’t be, now do we?” She escorts the man into the parlor. She removes his coat and hat and takes a sniff of the coat, makes a slight face and shakes it out saying, “The cigars are right next to the brandy sir. Help yourself and have a seat while I tend to you.”
Mr. Cadwalader looks at the two gentlemen and composes himself quickly. He methodically steps around the table, chooses a cigar and gives the two ogling men a nod.
“Gentlemen,” he says and settles into one of the chairs just as the woman pours a brandy and hands it to him. He lights the cigar and settles back crossing his legs as if he’s seated in his own home.
“Will there be anything else sirs?”
The men don’t answer and the woman gives a proper nod before leaving.
Mr. Johnston and Mr. Abel settle back down, but both continue to glance up at Mr. Cadwalader who seems completely content as he contemplates his cigar.
Mr. Abel leans forward to the box and chooses one as well. He lights it, takes a quick puff and contemplates for a moment. “Mr. Cadwalader?”
Mr. Cadwalader looks up, “Yes?”
“I find it interesting to see you here.” Mr. Abel said.
“Well certainly, a man of your position.”
“Well, now. I wouldn’t say that, after all I am a gentleman just as…”
“Yes, well, anyone.”
“Well would it interest you to know that I am not a gentleman, as you stole my land and…”
The front door opened again. The men all turn as the woman appears at the counter. “Mr. Haines sir. Come right in. Come right on in.”
The woman dotes on him more so than the others. She takes his coat and hat and quickly hangs them up before returning to take his arm and lead him into the parlor. She sits him down in the chair on the other side of the lounge and even fluffed the pillow for him as he settled. Then she poured him a brandy, handed him a cigar and lit it.
Mr. Haines was visibly disturbed, but he allowed himself to be manhandled and waited on as he looked at each face in turn including the woman. He held his brandy and cigar as if he wasn’t sure what to make of then.
“Mr. Haines,” the woman said. “Is you alright?” When he didn’t answer she stood quickly. “It’s getting cold out there, ain’t it?” She dashed to the fire, stoked it up and added a log. Then she mumbled something under her breath and it seemed that the log caught quicker than one would expect it to. A moment later the fire was blazing. “There now, I think that will just about do gentlemen.” She stood, “I would like to welcome you all. It is so wonderful to have…” The door opened. The woman stopped speaking and looked up curiously. “Just a moment.”
Mr. Haines looked visibly frightened and when the woman left, addressed the men. “Where in the blue blazes am I?”
The other men looked at him. Mr. Cadwalader seemed to be the most at ease.
“I demand to know what the meaning of this is. Cadwalader is this your doing? I must say I received word of your demise, but that must have been an exaggeration.” Mr. Haines demanded.
Mr. Cadwalader stopped puffing on his cigar. “I beg your pardon?”
The woman reached the door just as the fifth man entered. She stopped when she saw his face. “Mr. Rauch.” she said breathlessly. “Mr. Rauch, what are you…? You ain’t supposed to be here sir.”
The man looked back out the door, just as confused as the rest of the men, but when he was told he should not be there he straightened and closed it defiantly. “Nonsense woman, where else would I be?”
“No sir you don’t understand, you wasn’t like the…”
“Is that Cadwalader?” Mr. Rauch ignored the woman and walked past her into the parlor.
“Haines set down his brandy and his cigar. I do not jest sir. Your death! Several months ago, before the bank attempted to take my farm, but after you acquired my fathers, paying no heed to the marauders who burned the fields and ravaged his stock. I swore to him on his deathbed that if I ever had the fortune to see you in person I would tell you exactly what I thought of you. You are a cad sir, and a fiend. You have no honor and I find you grossly lax in any sort of compassion, or humanity.”
Cadawalader was flustered. “You forget yourself sir!”
The tension in the room was suddenly broken when everyone looked up to Mr. Rauch standing in the entrance to the parlor.
Mr. Rauch laughed. “It is you man? How wonderful.” He moved into the room and put his hand in Mr. Cadawalader’s shoulder. “Well not surprising, you cheated everything else, why not death, am I right old boy?”
Cadawalader stared up at the man. “Rauch? Is that you? You’ve aged.”
“Well taking on your position at the bank has added some wrinkles and gray hairs. You haven’t changed a bit. Five years. You look the same as the day…” He stopped. And slowly looked around the room. He didn’t seem to recognize anyone except…
Haines went pale.
“You!” Rauch checked his coat for what might have been a pistol or a mace. “I will have you in irons.”
Haines stood. “In irons you say. The death of my wife sir, on your account. You would have me in irons, I would have you killed.” The two men went at each other over Mr. Abel who tried to move out of the way.
Mr. Johnston wasn’t paying any attention to the ruckus. He was staring at the woman who stood at the entrance to the parlor watching the men with cold delight. Then a sudden moment of clarity struck him. “Cousteau!” he shouted. He said it so loudly that the men ceased their struggle.
At the sound of her name the woman turned to face Mr. Johnston. There was menace in her eyes then she began to smile. “I must declare Mr. Johnston, as you were the first to arrive, I did believe you would be the first to recognize me, but it took you so long.” The woman moved into the room and as she did so the fire blazed higher. “I didn’t know how the rest of you would be. Mr. Haines.” She said with a sad smile. “I knowed I wasn’t much back then, but you started sneaking me around for a hump since I was twelve. I thought you might have recognized something, but I was nothing more than a dog you done had your way with. I ‘spected to see you Mr. Cadawalader, and you Mr. Abel, but Mr. Rauch… I don’t know why you here sir. You weren’t there, was you? My memory ain’t failing me that much. How long has it been, twenty years?” She moved to Mr. Rauch with a pleading look on her face. “What you done sir? You was good to me. Tell me why you here?” She pressed against him.
“What’s this now, woman?”
Cousteau the woman took his hand. “I got to know why you here.” She pulled his gloves until they came free and she grasped his palm. “Oh!” She became sick with shock. “My daughter? Mr. Haines’ daughter!”
She went week and dropped to her knees and bowed before the man and wept. She shook her head and wailed.
“I done declared… I cursed you all. All of you and any of yours that lay a finger on me and mines. I cursed you all. I will see each of you again. I’ll have a place waiting for you in hell.”
Catawalader and the other men went pale. “Madam Cousteau!” One of them spoke suddenly in remembrance.
The woman looked up. Her face had changed. Her eyes had sunken and gone black. Her mouth hung at an odd angle and her skin looked as if it had been severely burned. The fire place blazed with heat and flame.
“Welcome gentlemen. I been waiting for you a long time. I do hope you enjoy your stay. I am certain that I will enjoy having you all.”
The men stood shocked. Mr. Rauch stumbled back out of the parlor and fell. He stood and ran to the front door. In the parlor behind him the screams had already begun. He grasped the handle of the front door and yanked. The door came free.
Outside the door there were others. Others who wanted to play. Others who wanted to play with Madam Cousteau as well as with the five gentlemen. It was hell after all. Madam Cousteau had a place for them waiting, but it was doubtful any of them would have a chance to reach their rooms.
A tentacle from some unmentionable thing that had known pleasure and pain far more than any of them had experienced reached out from the empty nothingness and snatched Mr. Rauch right out of the doorway. It was so fast that he came right out of his shoes and his feet touched the back of his head. The door slammed behind him. It is possible Mr. Rauch simply lost his way and wasn’t supposed to be there. After all, it was a very big place and there was something waiting for everyone.
I lost my coffee cup the other day. Six months I had it, my first reusable cup. When I went to the counter, the barista asked me about my cup and… “I don’t know,” I said sounding a little desperate and yes, pathetic. “I can’t remember where I left it.”
It was at that moment that it hit me. The time spent, the drinking, the stories.
I had never gotten a reusable cup before. I lived at coffee shops and it made sense to have one, but getting one of those, reusable’s… Well… I guess, I just… I didn’t want the responsibility.
One day at the counter I saw one that, I don’t know, spoke to me. She was white plastic, her size was grande and I thought, “Why not, why not.” After I picked her up I realized that the discounts alone would pay for the expense in just a few days.
The first time they filled her up, I realized that she was not like the standard cups. She was plastic, not cardboard paper. She was durable and thin, and when a nice hot brew was inside her, she got even hotter. She was so hot I needed a cup holder with her. I took her to the counter, added sugar, half and half, and then… I took my first sip.
You’d think it would be easy. I’ve drank from other cups, hundreds- thousands, but it was awkward the first time I drank from her. She poured a little differently than other cups, but her lid was snug. It fit tight and secure and there was no spilling her. I think her lid is what I liked the most of all.
Every couple days I’d wash her out and wipe her down, cleaning every crevice. I half expected the coffee to stain her like coffee tends to do, but no. When I was done she was perfect every time. Pristine white with no discoloration and her lid would snap right on.
I left her once or twice and that could have something to do with it. Packed up my table and left her sitting there. I never threw her away or anything like that, but I think the leaving her at the table sent a message. I was too comfortable, too confident that she would always be there. I was used to her heat now and no longer needed the cup holder. She was still hot, but I could handle it.
We were side by side, every day, most of the day for months. People got used to us being there and being together. They sometimes didn’t know if I just arrived or had been there. “Is this your first cup, or a refill?” It always did something to me when I’d say… “First of the day… but it was really the first of my life.” I’d pass her over and they’d fill her with hot coffee or hot water depending on what I wanted her to taste like.
And now… I haven’t seen her for a couple of weeks. I thought she’d turn up, at home or in the car, but she didn’t. When I thought about it, the last time I saw her was when I went to the carwash. They did a great job that time, maybe too good.
When I went back to the carwash I saw her. She was there with one of the rag men. I mean cups look alike but I… I recognized her. We were saving the environment together and I don’t know what happened.
I watched the rag man pick her up, put her to his lips and drink. Yes, I was jealous and a little pissed. I wondered what she tasted like. Then the rag man noticed me. He smiled, raised her up, threw me a nod and gave me a wink. Then right in front of me… he drank from her again.
That was the last time I saw her. I often think about her, how she tasted and what her heat felt like with my fingers wrapped around her. I wonder how long he was able to hold onto her and I wonder… who’s drinking from her now.
The clouds shift to coalesce and darken until the release of precipitation in the desert heat. Raindrops tumble from the thick fog to ground in an effort to moisten the dried cracked earth. The drop reaches velocity as the air whips against the fringes depleting it bit by bit, slowing its descent while the radiating desert heat begins its assault. Thinner, ever thinner, the rain drop, affected by the wind and heat begins to mist at the fringes until it’s everything is nothing, but so much humidity mixed into the desert air.
The clouds shit from gray to black. They thicken and hold their weight until again they release another fit of liquid drench that again breaks up before it reaches the earth. The overcast begins to cool and dissipate until the clouds blacken again. An unearthly covering that speaks of holy floodgates and torrents released that will drown the earth in forty days and nights of siege. Day turns to night as the blue sky is finally lost to the black mist of a biblical storm and overhead everything is black.
There is a pause, then a dark spot arrives on the dry earth like a mortar shell scattering dust as the starved ground absorbs it instantly, unwilling to share. Another strike, then another before the sky breathes.
It releases a cold wind and after what has been an eternity of drought and heat the tan cracked earth receives the first caress of true wet moisture. The ground darkens with the wet. The earth breathes and drinks as the rain spills like tears over its face. The rain begins to sizzle against the ground and in a flash the light breaks the dark followed closely by the thunder striking explosion.
The air shudders, sizzling and charged with electricity. Mud thickens as water drenches the soft ooze to release. Then a river of sludge breaks free with the torrent and still the rain comes. It has been years and the earth opens herself to this.
Beneath the sludge something moves. It pushes and grows reacting to the moisture and the flood of tears and rain. The ground splits and something appears. It is mud covered and filthy. It does not scream or cry out it simply pushes. The rain strikes it and the mud washes away. More rain as it rises and one end breaks free to roll out fresh and bright green. Others are pushing out as well, the undead green returning to live again in the moisture of the earth.
When the rain ceases its torment the green continues to rise with the sound of crackle splitting up from the wet earth. They each unfurl and reach out their leafy bits to take in the sky beacon as it breaches the cloud covering. It takes only days for the change to be seen and weeks for it to be complete then there is nothing. Nothing as far as sight can tell.
Nothing, but green earth and blue sky, reaching into the distance from all directions.
The sound of what must be thunder reaches across the sky and a moment later a burning shaft shoots across, reaching down like a comet. It strikes the earth as a javelin thrown from the gods burying itself as an exclamation point and the sound of a concussion.
Dust and earth explode to reveal the long wooden shaft of a shovel with its blade buried in the earth.
The light beacon warms and nourishes. The wind moves the blades of green like a grand liquid ocean.
The shovel waits.
In the desert of this land, heat rises as soon as the great sky beacon shows itself, and with it the humidity rises like a torrent. In the wastes, it can get so hot that the rain will not touch the ground if it falls in the day. The heat will bring the water to combust and it will vaporize and evaporate.
I am saturated inside myself. I remove another layer from me and drop it to the ground. It lands with the wet plop of leather and begins to hiss on the now cracked dead earth that was once a rotted scab and then a field of green. The shadow garment blackens and finally, bursts into flames.
The heat, and the solitary refuge of the desert is a great purge and I utilize every moment to meditate on the past, the present and the future… if there be one. All that remains is waste. There is no green. There are no demons. I have no charge to protect. His true self was lost long ago and yet, I continued to defend this land against it becoming overwrought with putrescence.
The loss of the demon love was all consuming for my charge and the recovery was never complete. His love was true for his part and loosing true love can destroy the essence of a being. The cancer moved faster than a plague, and it did not rot as much as wither and crumble away. With the losing of her, came the demise of his will, and with that, the green began to yellow and fade.
Even the demons that came and went over the years had barely any fight in them, as if the trauma that they were based on also had no meaning. In the final reckoning, I was able to find that bitch and remove the coil from her flesh, but their connection had been more complete than even I had ever known, for at her loss the land began to turn.
The demons began to fade, nothing again grew where they had been and dried dead spots began to show itself over the face of the land. He must have known, must have sensed. It seemed that without one the other could not exist.
The yellow grass dried and died, breaking apart to blow with the wind and tumble into forever. The sun sparked a fire at one point. It burned for months laying everything waste before it. That portion of the land was forever after toxic, and nothing of life nor demon could survive in it.
I watched as my charge faded in sadness and loss, retreating from everything until the final nothingness overtook him. He had been laid up for days and one morning I attempted to wake him. His body crumbled in my hands. Now this vast empty void of sand and rock is all that remains and he has become one with the land.
To that I ask why then am I still here. My place is to serve for I am the Shadow Dancer, the Death Bringer, the protector of the wastelands that no longer need protection.
The great burning sky beacon sets before me ending another day. I stand and face myself towards the light and something so very simple occurs. In the slow drip and fade of the light I begin to jog towards it. Slowly, the jog turns into a steady lope and I increase my speed. Then still, I add another step to move ever faster.
I am aware of the ground beneath me, the dried desert earth that is without life, or love, or care. The air in my lungs begins to come faster, burning inside. In my hand, I hold my shovel still. My reliable forever companion, that I have never been without in this place. It hangs like a spear and moves with me ready and prepared for anything as I break into a run.
I am the Shadow Dancer, trucking across the land. The air moves from a moan to a whistle as the ground begins to blur.
The beacon is my focus, my light. Its burning orange glow blurs everything before me in waves of heat. Determination drives me towards my future while the past moves through me. Burning fatigue brings my body to numb and I open myself to the memorable visions from past battles with their pain, satisfaction and loss.
Forward, ever forward I strive and struggle to find a strange incomplete peace in each victory. Secure in the knowledge that I am never far away. I find I have learned as well as my other, how to live in this reality. Though he is lost and had given up, I will return if ever he calls to me.
My body leans forward. My legs pump faster still as I push harder towards the fiery yellow yolk that descends on the horizon. It is the future and the future is mine to do as I please in this world.
Faster still the shovel swings on the end of my arm in a rolling motion and I become a great and powerful locomotive spurned on and on until… slowly… slowly… ever so slowly, it begins. The setting beacon of light begins to rise on the horizon again.
I grit my teeth as tears and sweat is now being burned away from me. I bear down.
Faster still and my last layers are removed in a fiery flash that sets fire to the handle of the shovel in my hands and I blast along the desert floor, a comet, no longer touching the ground. I am becoming one with the energy that is all that I am. The shovel is, but a fiery blur pumping beside me on my train as are my legs that now move independently of my thoughts, seeking only to achieve my will, to touch the beacon.
I am the Shadow Dancer, the lord of all that was before, beneath and around me. I have fought many wars. I have lived countless lives, with every moment both little and big leading me here to become the culmination of who I am now.
The great beacon looms before me getting larger by the second. The life, the creatures, good and bad, the demons seeking to usurp everything, my other self, each and all that have lived together on this landscape of which I am the caretaker.
Your mind, this world, my charge. You have nothing more to fear. We exist together. Without one or another, we could not achieve the balance that is so very important.
The great round beacon is visible before me now, whole and complete and still rising. Demons will come and go as well as creatures both good and bad. My other self is moved beyond, older and wiser. I hope, searching for a companion that will ultimately compliment us both.
I bid you sleep well, knowing that I am here residing in your mind, ever watchful over my other self. You.
My legs no longer pump. They have faded to become one with the energy that is everything. I rise moving onto the goal. I am the Shadow Dancer. The ringmaster of your mind, I know you like no other. I have seen all, been all, done all, everything along with you. My rule is total, my judgment absolute, my companionship is never-ending. I will carry you by my footprints when necessary, helping you towards what you seek.
The great fire, the burning orange globe is all I see before me now, humongous and gargantuan as Ra. I will touch it. The heat is intense. The burning which will sear flesh takes me, but in the end is truly nothing compared to everything that is, the Shadow Dancer.