Conversations with Christopher: Map Part 3

Images swim within Map’s eyes, images which not everyone can see. Flickers of torchlight, accompanied by angry cries, the heavy echo of footsteps, and labored breathing. All washed out in a crimson pool. 

Christopher sees himself rising from the pool. Its bloody hue softens, suffused by blue, green, and refracted light. It bubbles, the bubbles floating from the surface to pop around him while he clutches an egg to his chest. 

He sees himself again, leaning over the edge of another pool of water. Cooler, quieter, yet colors still float across the surface. A hand stretches out from the pool, beckoning with pale fingers. 

Christopher: Is this how you see me?

Map: I see another Omphalos reflected in your eyes. You were happy there, but you couldn’t help chasing after what you couldn’t have.

Christopher: I have no sense of direction. I needed my…Map. (He stares at her, eyes widening).

Map: (nods with a sad little smile) I’ve had many names, but I always been fond of Map. The name you and Ashleigh gave me. 

Christopher: You became our Map. You gave us direction, a place to go when we badly needed it. How could have I forgotten you?

Map: You keep opening Doors, getting lost in gardens, or other people. You and Ashleigh both.

Christopher: You didn’t forget us. 

Map: I try not to open Doors. I stay right here, even when another Omphalos vanishes or burns down around me. 

Christopher: I’m sure I’ve seen you on the other side of the Door. Even if I no longer recognized you. 

Map: I said I try not to. I never said I didn’t. There’s a part of me that wants to chase after you. To find everyone else I’ve lost. 

Christopher: Have you?

Map: I found Leiwell, Danyel, and Tayel. You and Ashleigh for brief moments, but I’ve never been able to hold onto you. Sometimes others. My boys are the only ones I’ve managed to bring back. 

Christopher: Leiwell, Danyel, and Tayel.

Map: Yes. They’ve become my children. Drawn to dangerous things, all of them, but we’ve managed to form a family here.

Christopher: Where did you find them?

Map: I already told you. On the other side of the Door.

Christopher: That’s a big place. The Shadow Forest is huge and it’s always changing.

Map: Aye, and it’s not always a Forest.

Christopher: And you managed to bring these children back. 

Map: Not without help.

Christopher: Whose help?

Map: You’ll find out soon enough. 

Christopher: You’re very mysterious. 

Map: There’s too much to reveal you’re not ready for yet. I just wanted to show you this cottage. To see you, sitting here once more. 

She bows her head. Christopher can feel the grief, pulling down her shoulders, hanging in the air. 

He reaches for her hand. 

Christopher: I’m sorry, Map. I’m sorry you’ve had to bear this alone.

Map: (lifting his head, managing a grim smile) It’s not like I didn’t chose bear it. Someone has to take care of the cottage. Make certain there’s a home to return to. 

Christopher: I think in a way you’re like Gabrielle. She’s doing what you’re doing. Waiting in the Navel for people to come to her. 

Map: Is she, now? (Her smile broadens a bit.) I’m glad you’ve found someone solid to ground you. You kept attaching yourself to people who disappear. 

Christopher: (it’s his turn to smile sadly) I’m afraid that hasn’t changed. 

Map: No, it wouldn’t, would it? 

(To be continued Monday) 

Conversations with Christopher: Map Part 2

Grass crunched under Christopher’s feet as he approached the vine-covered cottage. There’s nothing but the fields and the distant forest. The garden at the foot of the hill is behind them. 

He can’t risk a glance over his shoulder.

A ruined tower perched upon the top of the hill. 

Christopher feels the hairs rise on the back of his neck at invisible eyes looking back at him. The breeze whispers and murmurs, tugging at his hair, his clothes. 

Map: Pay it no mind. Don’t let it do anything more than watch and whisper. It’ll feed on your attention. 

Christopher: What?

Map doesn’t answer. She marches up to the door of the cottage and opens it. She glances back. 

Map: You coming inside or not?

She enters. Christopher follows. 

Once he crosses the threshold, the whispering stops. He looks around at the sunlight streaming in the kitchen window, illuminating the wood of the long table. Five chairs are arranged around it. 

Map toward the table, dumping her bag of vegetables upon it. 

Christopher begins to follow, but pauses at the sight of a familar golden disc upon the floor. Directly above, a silver circle mirrors it. There are cushions upon the floor, a couple of comfortable chairs. The walls are covered with book shelves. 

Christopher: Is this the Navel?

Map: Like I said, this was Omphalos. Omphalos is another word for navel. Some believe the navel is the center of one’s being. (She turns her back to the hearth, to a row of knives and spoons hanging from the wall.) I suppose you could consider it my center. It’s always been my home, even as the village around me comes and goes. Right now it’s gone. 

Christopher: You said it would return because of folly. 

Map: Folly, greed, loneliness, the need to create a community, to draw back those who’ve wandered from the fold. They’ll return with their taverns, their shops, and their temples. (She scowls.) Your Navel wasn’t a shop or a temple, was it?

Christopher: It was a shop. An unusual shop. Nothing like this place except for these discs.

Perhaps he shouldn’t but he’s curious. Christopher steps into the golden disc. 

Warmth fills his hands. He looks down at them, sees them glowing with a green light. He sees Danyel, cocking his head, looking at him in enquiry. 

A chill runs down his back. Danyel is no longer there. Tayel gazes at him, violet-blues glimmering with silver triangles, fierce in their brightness. 

Tayel dissolves into light and color. Christopher feels himself rise into the air. Shadows swallow the light, enveloping the color. 

He stands in a a dark little bedroom. The only illumination is from a dim little window. Stray beams gleam upon the golden waves of hair of the two boys sleeping upon the bed. Their eyes are closed, their mouths are open. It’s Danyel and Tayel.

Christopher doesn’t have a chance to even say their names before he’s sucked into the silver disc upon the floor. Once again he stands in the gold disc, stinging pains prickling through his body, surrounded by cushions and book shelves. 

He steps out of the circle. The pains stop. 

Christopher: So this is where Danyel and Tayel live. Don’t they?

Map is now chopping vegetables at the table. She doesn’t even look up at him. 

Map: You would have found them, even if I tried to hide them from you. Don’t disturb them any more than you already have. 

Christopher: I wouldn’t dream of disturbing them. 

Map snorts and continues to chop. 

Christopher: (moving toward the table) This place seems so familiar yet it’s unfamiliar. 

Map: You used to live here, Christopher. As uneasy as you make me around the twins, this is still your home. 

Christopher: Was this cottage once the Navel? Or will it someday be?

Map: There you go talking about navels again. Get your mind out of your belly button. If you have one. I told you. It’s my home.

Christopher: The Navel is…was…my home. It may have been a shop as I said, but it was also my home. 

Map: It’s good to have a home. A place where you can settle down and grow roots. Makes you more attached to the world around you. 

Christopher: How long has this place been your home?

Map: I’m not sure. Time has a way of slipping away in this place.

Christopher: Have you lived anywhere else?

Map: I’ve tried. It never ends well. Not that things always end well here. Not when people come bringing their folly and their greed.

Christopher: You keep mentioning that. 

Map: It’s not a bad thing to build a village, but they keep wanting to get bigger and bigger. To become something they’re not. To make other people something they’re not. Eventually they disappear. 

Christopher: What happened to them?

Map: You tell me. (She pauses in her chopping to look at him.) What happened to you when we lost you?

For a moment Christopher recalls a hand holding his, only to release it. Two women walking away from him into the mists. 

He thinks about calling out to them, but Damian’s rose-purple eyes fix upon him. He cannot look away from them. 

Christopher: I found someone. Someone who needed me. 

Map: Hmph. We’ve got that in common. We keep finding people who need us. They break our hearts. Every time. Only we can’t turn away. Can we?

For a moment she looks up at Christopher with those dark eyes. He can see the green glimmer within them. He feels a warmth, swimming up from within him. 

When he meets Map’s gaze, the same green light flickers within the many colors caught within his own. 

(To be continued next Monday)

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Jupitre

Quartz stretches, shakes out his beard, stomps his boots, seeing the mist disappear beneath them as it clears around him. 

Quartz: That right, I’m back! Took the scribbler long enough to bring me back. Not that the shadows, nor the Conversations with Christopher can keep this dwarf down!

Jupitre: How nice for you. I wish I was back. I’d darken the sky and illuminate it with brilliance. I’d shower my might down on my worshippers, sporting with the more attractive ones. All I was once is gone. Gone!

Quartz turns, seeing he’s in some sort of forest clearing. The complains come from an old man sitting on a stump. He has stooped shoulders, resting his chin on a hoary hand as he scowls. A scraggly grey beard hangs in limp hanks from his chin. The rest of his face is lined with misery. 

Quartz: Right. Secondary Characters Speak Out is back, too. You must be my guest. Go on. 

Jupitre: Right? There is no right! Not for me! I’ve lost my thunder, my majesty, my godhood! Just look at me now. Talking to a snarky little dwarf I would have once hit with a lightning bolt for sport. Talking about secondary characters as if I was such a trival thing! Don’t you realize who I am? I am Jupitre! I ruled the heavens, making all the puny forms of earth beneath me tremble with fear and awe!

Quartz: Right. You’re not going to awe anyone. Not with that beard.

Jupitre: And now those puny forms dare to criticize my beard!

Quartz: Expect more. Criticism, that is. You should take better care of your whiskers. 

Jupitre: Take better care of my whiskers? I’ll have you know when I ruled the heavens, I had scores of beautiful boys comb, brush, and oil my whiskers! (He leers in nostalgia.) Not to mention other parts of me. 

Quartz: Uh huh. (utterly unimpressed) And what happened to them, eh? Those boys. 

Jupitre: (slumping back into a morose slouch) They left me. All my servants. All my worshippers. They stopped believing in me. Me!

Quartz: Sounds like you lost your worshippers because they stopped believing in you and maybe your godlike whatever as well?

Jupitre: Why do you think we gods made such a severe example of those who didn’t worship us, didn’t sacrifice to us? Without sacrifices, prayers, offerings, the devotion of our followers, we starve! We shrink and diminish into this!

Quartz: So this is what’s left of you without them. Your followers.

Jupitre: (tearing at his beard) How can I live like this?!

Quartz: Well for starters, don’t go worrying your beard! (waving his hands) Having scraggly whiskers solves nothing. Something my own family fails to figure out. 

Jupitre: And now this impudent dwarf dares to call me scraggly!

Quartz: You bet the shards I dare. What kind of deity goes ripping off his whiskers? You’re not a fool kid like my little brother. You’re a god, right? Show some pride!

Jupitre: Just what do I have left to be proud of? Without my power, I’m nothing but a weak old man!

Quartz: Right. No wonder you lost your worshippers with that attitude. 

Jupitre: I’m kept home by my wife, kept in a weakened state while she parades pretty visitors before me to mock me!

Quartz: Met Christopher, have you?

Jupitre: (showing interest in something other than himself for a moment) Is Christopher the slender youth, pretty as a girl with the multicolored eyes?

Quartz: Uh huh, that’s him. 

Jupitre: (the moment has passed) He looked upon this aging wreck of my former self with no awe. 

Quartz: Can’t imagine why not. 

Jupitre: And now you mock me again! I’m reduced to being a secondary character by a rude little dwarf in a blog written by a half wit with pretensions of being an author!

Me: (looking up with annoyance) Hey!

Jupitre: Once great artists and poets depicted me, worshipped me. Now I’m just a secondary character in some miserable scribbler’s blog!

Me: (grumbling) At least you’re getting an appearance. Which is more than you can expect of many people’s blogs.

Quartz: Scribbler, this is what comes of encouraging secondary characters to speak out. Some of them never shut up. 

Me: You’re the one encouraging secondary characters to speak out. 

Jupitre: (drawing himself up) How dare you treat me like a nuisance, both of you! (turns on Quartz) How dare you accuse a god of whining?

Quartz: Like I said, when that god won’t shut up. If you’re all that, why don’t you do something about it?

Jupitre: I told you, dwarf. I’m no longer any of that. This is all that I am now. All that’s left of me. 

Quartz: Right. Again, why don’t you do something about it?

Jupitre: What?

Quartz: Do something, anything. Change. Or try to change. You don’t like what you’ve become? Do something about it. 

Looking aggravated, Quartz stomps away, muttering something about gods being worse than witches or kobolds. 

Jupitre sits alone, the mists rising around him, his morose face turning pensive. 

Jupitre: Change. Yes. If I opened a Door to the Shadow Forest, change would be inevitable. Change would be far better than remaining as I am.

The mists almost hiss in sinister encouragement as they envelop him. 

Conversations with Christopher: Peter

Hands reach out to grab Christopher’s feet from the glowing silver disc beneath him, Some of them climb up his legs with roving fingers pulling him down and through a now insubstantial floor. 

He slides down into a sea of hands, carrying him down the ceiling to the waiting golden disc on the ground. 

The hands release the slender youth with slow reluctance, disappearing into the golden disc on the Navel’s floor. 

Christopher: Every time it’s different. (He steps out of the golden circle in a hurry to glance up at the silver one upon the ceiling.)

A moan comes from above, a young man’s groan filled with frustrated longing.

Christopher: Peter?

The silver disc glows, becoming misty. Two slippered feet attached to slim, wiry legs in hose emerge from the mist, followed by a pelvis thust out, a torso quivering. Peter’s head is thrown back while he floats from the ceiling.

The golden disc below brightens, pulsing with an almost seductive rhythm. Peter’s eyelids flutter, his lips parted in a dreamy little smile. 

Christopher: Peter?

Peter: (not opening his eyes) Yes. Yes, that’s me. I’m all yours. 

His feet hit the circle. The glow disappears. 

Peter opens his eyes, stands up straight. His mouth closes. 

Peter: Well. (He allows one hand to slightly cover his groin in a gesture that’s almost demure for Peter.) I’m not sure, but going down is always more pleasant than going up to Gabrielle’s sanctum above the Navel. Wherever that is.

Christopher: (averting his eyes) I’m not sure either. I always thought it was part of the Navel. The private part for those who’ve become part of it.

Peter: Is that so? (He fixes his soft brown eyes upon Christopher.) Am I part of the Navel, Christopher?

Christopher: You’ve been a part from the moment you were able to enter. (He gestures up toward the silver disc.) To rise, to enter Gabrielle’s sanctum, is to become one of us. 

Peter: (glancing up in the direction of Christopher’s finger, one hand on his hip) Is it really Gabrielle’s? Or simply part of the Navel as you say?

Christopher: I’m not sure if ‘Brie sees a difference between herself and the Navel. 

Peter: She belongs as much to the shop as it does to her, eh? No escape now. She’s bound to its walls and boundaried by them.

Christopher: Now you sound like Damian. If ‘Brie is bound to the Navel, it’s because she wants to be. She loves her work here. 

Peter: Or she’s hiding, avoiding something or someone. Like all of us. 

Christopher: Gabrielle is the last person in the world who would hide. You’ve seen what she’s like.

Peter: I have. The hearty manner, the odd hats, the way she proudly welcomes visitors to the center of all things bizarre. She wraps these things around herself like a loud cloak, distracting everyone. No one will look too close. 

Christopher: (lowers his head) I never thought of it that way. 

Peter: Yes, you have. (He takes a step closer to the younger boy, so he’s right in front of him.) You’re just too polite to allow yourself to dwell on your mother’s vulnerability. After all you have plenty of your own. 

Christopher: (raises his chin only to find Peter’s face is too close) What of it?

Peter: I’ll wager Damian noticed this vulnerability and picked at it. 

Christopher: He didn’t see ‘Brie’s reasons for being here as vulnerabilities. He thought she was wasting her strength. 

Peter: (leaning back, giving Christopher space) Perhaps he was right. 

Christopher: (raising an eyebrow) I never thought I’d see the day you’d agree with Damian. On anything. 

Peter: Just because he was right doesn’t mean he wasn’t a prick. He used ‘Brie to hide from whatever awaited him until he decided to leave, using everyone else to make his exit. Including your need to hide. 

Christopher: He offered me the Navel in return for the Shadow Forest.

Peter: Yes, definitely a prick. As if the Navel was his to offer. 

Christopher: Do you think the Navel is anyone’s to offer? Even Gabrielle’s?

Peter: A fair question. I’m not sure how Gabrielle and the Navel have become one even if I’m certain they were very different entities once upon a time. I could speculate quite a bit about this. Clever distraction on your part.

Christopher: Distraction? (He backs up another step.)

Peter: Yes. You distracted me completely from the topic of what you’re hiding from.

Christopher: (raising his chin) I might ask you the same. Since you’re convinced we’re all hiding from something. 

Peter: What am I hiding from? (He backs up a step, lets out what might have been intended to be a hearty laugh, but it comes out weak.) I would have that was obvious. My own broken heart and frustrated desires. (He shrugs as if it doesn’t matter.) I suppose I need you, you and ‘Brie. Perhaps I need the Navel, too, and its customers. You’re a haven from everything I’ve been through. 

Christopher: (softening) We need you, too.

Peter: If only you needed me, Christopher. (He takes a few steps forward, closing the distance betweeen them.) If only I could satsify that hunger of yours.

He reaches out to touch Christopher’s lips.

Christopher reaches up to remove Peter’s hand, but he doesn’t let go of it. 

Christopher: You do. 

Peter: (sighing) Not in the way I’d hoped to.

He drops Christopher’s hand and shrugs, offering him a smile. 

Peter: Ah, well, all I can do is keep on hoping.

Christopher: Peter…

Peter: Never mind! Perhaps there’s time for a little walk through Omphalos before the Navel opens, hmm?

Without looking back, Peter marches toward the Navel door.

More slowly, Christopher follows. 

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Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle Part 2

Gabrielle sighs, shaking her head, making the fishnet veil of shells sway over her fedora. 

Gabrielle: This is maddening. I still can’t find my sense of humor. Where could I have put it?

Christopher walks toward the front window of the Navel. One of Damian’s skulls, handcrafted out of clay, sits and grins at people passing by on the other side of the glass. Some of them stop, start, and stare. More than a few roll their eyes. They’ve seen weirder in the window of the Navel. One bold passerby grins back at the skull and waves. Or is she waving at Christopher?

Unsure, Christopher waves back. He walks toward the window. There’s a rack of robes nearby, black, dark blue, white, and green robes which can easily cover a person’s clothes. Every single robe has smiley faces all over them. 

Christopher: Maybe it’s here? (He gestures to the rack.)

Gabrielle looks up, brightens at the sight of the robes.

Gabrielle: Ah, the Navel’s special collection of robes! Start something with a smile. Or a lot of smiles.

Christopher: Just what sort of something did you have in mind? (Feeling a little annoyed, he glances at the robes, the unrepentent little circles grinning from them. It’s the sort of joke which would have made Damian roll his eyes at the very least.)

Gabrielle: (unruffled) Whatever the customer has in mind. Whatever they think the robes can be used for, even if it’s just a joke. It’s an old joke. (Her smile fades a bit.) Not as funny I used to think it was. Maybe my sense of humor used to be there, but I think it’s disappeared over time. Just what happened to it?

Christopher gazes at Gabrielle for a long moment, at her fedora with the veil covered with shells and fishnet. Yes, something appears to be missing from her. 

Christopher: Maybe you’re wearing the wrong hat?

Gabrielle: (brightening again) By the Directions, I believe you’re right! (She reaches up to touch her fedora.) I must have left my sense of humor in the other one!

Gabrielle walks over the golden circle right before the counter. There’s a silver circle right above her head. 

She raises her arms. A faint glow of dancing dust motes swirls around her, covering her fedora. Her veil disappeared. Her entire body blurs, becoming part of the shimmering dust. 

For a moment Christopher stares at the cloud of dust until it disappears, leaving a shining figure in a golden tuxedo with a golden top hat. 

Gabrielle strikes a pose. The chicken on top of her hat seems to cluck or chuckle. Yes, there is a chicken emerging the brim of the hat, one claw raised above the brim, her beak open. 

Gabrielle: Ah, I feel so much better!

She chuckles, tapping her cain against the floor. It’s a hen-headed cane. 

Gabrielle: Nothing like a change of clothes to refresh you! Especially a change of hat. Looks like my sense of humor was here all along. 

Christopher: I thought you preferred loose, flowing clothing. 

Gabrielle: I do, but every one in a while, even I need a change. (She taps her cane against the floor, taps the ground with her feet.) And now I’m ready for customers! Welcome to the Navel, center of all things bizarre!

She tap-dances her way across the floor into a row of shelves, laughing. 

Christopher watches her go with a bemused smile. 

Christopher: I suppose it will be as long as you’re here. 

Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle Part 1

Christopher walks through the mists of the Cauldron, waiting for them to part. Waiting to see what they’ll reveal to him. 

Wispy tendrils of gray creep away from a familiar cobblestone path leading through Omphalos. On either side are cottages, quaint structures with pointed roofs. One of these structures has a swinging sign over the door, painted with an image of a flat stomach and a belly button.

Christopher: (stopping under the sign) The Navel. Center of all things bizarre. Quite a boast, to claim all bizarre things.

He glanced at the window. A muscular human statue with the head of a chicken lowers their beak menacingly at him. 

Christopher: Perhaps ‘Brie wants to talk to me. 

He opened the door of the dwelling. He enters the darker interior of a shop filled with shelves covered with crystals, candles, boxes, skulls, cups, and statues of squat smiling humanoids among stranger items. Racks of bright-colors robes are tucked away in another corner. 

Christopher almost stumbled down the slight slope into the shop which replaced the stairs.

Gabrielle: Welcome to the Navel, center of all things bizarre. (She says her usual greeting, but not with the usual boisterous enthusiasm. She’s too busy searching the shelves in a bustle of skirts and clattering shells.) For the sanity of me, I cannot find my sense of humor! Help me search for it? It’s got to be around here somewhere.

Christopher: Your sense of humor? 

He approaches the woman who’s become his mother, who accepted him into her home and Place of Power as her son. Her request isn’t nearly as odd as it might be to a lot of people. Lost memories, wayward ideas, and forgotten dreams find their way into the Navel, manifesting as cups, skulls, or statues. Why not a sense of humor?

What’s stranger is that Gabrielle should lose hers. She’s always smiling or laughing. From the time Christopher first met her, she’s had a strong sense of the wacky. 

Take those chicken-headed gods similar to the ones in the window. They’re taking up an entire shelf. Some are made of porcelain. Some are made of metal. Some of models made with actual chicken feathers. They all have human male torsos and the heads of hens. 

Inspired by the sight of them, Christopher heads to the shelf where those gods await. 

Christopher: It wouldn’t happen to be here, by any chance? Your sense of humor?

Gabrielle turns to glance at the deities only she seems to appreciate. A smile starts to brighten up her face, lifting the lines from it. 

Gabrielle: You might say so, yes. How those chickens annoyed Damian! Almost as much as the chicken representations her father collected annoyed our scribbler. Only her father was trying to be Country French. I collected these in an attempt to protect Damian with a joke. 

Christopher: Protect him? How?

Gabrielle: Well, chickens have been known to gobble up spiders along with insects and worms. One could consider an arachnocrat a type of spider. 

Christopher: The Lady Duessa seemed more amused and scornful at the sight of them along with everything else in the Navel than afraid.

Gabrielle: That was Duessa. She wasn’t the only arachnocrat that wanted Damian. Others might come calling. These deities could be a form of protection.

Christopher: I’m not sure if they ever protected Damian or me. They seemed as eager to get us as any other arachnocrat. 

Gabrielle: Maybe I should get rid of them. (She gives the chicken gods a sad look.) No one seems to like them other than me. 

Christopher: (waves a hand in protest) Don’t worry about. I’ve grown accustomed to them. They’re part of what makes the Navel bizarre. 

Gabrielle: They are, aren’t they? (She perks up a bit.) They still make me smile, but no. They’re not what I’m looking for.

Christopher: We’ll keep looking. 

(To be continued next Monday…) 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Prunella

Mountains peek through the mists of the Cauldron along with hints of a blue sky. A dragon coils their pearlescent scales around one of the peaks. 

Only those scales have quite the rosy cast as does the dragon’s snout. 

Quartz perches on a cliff below, breathing in the mountain air. Just smell those rocks. It’s like coming home to a child of the rock. Almost enough to quench the stench of brimstone Prunella the Dragon constantly carried with them. 

Only does Prue faintly smell like roses?

Quartz: (sniffing) Aye, you smell like flowers. (squints up at those rosy scales) You…glowing?

Prunella: (stiffening, rearranging their coils with a prim casualness which starts a small mountain slide) None of your concern, dwarf. 

Quartz doesn’t have to duck the rocks. He plants his feet and somehow every falling stone misses him. He grins up at the dragon.

Quartz: Aye, you are, Prue. Find yourself a fresh maiden, did you? Or was it a knight? Or both?

Prunella: Such salacious comments. (sniffs) Nimmie Not is turning you into quite the gossip.

Quartz: Right. (still grinning) Someone turned you into quite the romantic. 

Prunella: A little romance brings color to our scales as you so crudely put it. Besides we doubt we’ll ever see her again. She’s has her world. We have ours.

Quartz: Worlds, not world. Sound like this might be someone Christopher knows. Sounds like trouble.

Prunella: A little trouble can be quite invigorating in a long existence, Quartz. (They gave Quartz quite the pointed look down their snout.) As you are quite aware.

Quartz: (nose turning red) Aye, well, it was time we started enjoying ourselves a bit. All of Christopher’s conversations were turning…unreal.

Prunella: We are all unreal, dwarf. What makes you think Christopher doesn’t enjoy his surreal state? He is a very different creature from you, Quartz, for all that you’re both two-legged oddities from our perspective. 

Quartz: Thank’ee for your honesty, Prue. Can’t say I see the happiness in always searching for something. Even when Christopher says he is, I don’t believe him. 

Prunella: Force yourself to smile and it can become real. Something else we’d think you’d be familiar with. 

Quartz: Familiarity can drive you mad as well as comfort. He’s hoping a little of the unfamiliar next April will be the latter.

Prunella: A familiar unfamiliarity since the same characters will return for Blogging From AZ April Projects: Characters Origins. Something we’re sure you’ll participate in. 

Quartz: Not here. I’ll be back at the Formerly Forbidden Cauldron at 

Prunella: Ah, the Formerly Forbidden Cauldron will bubble once again just for this. 

Quartz: Aye. Some witchy type called Questioning from a Work in Progress called A Suitor’s Challenge.

Prunella: Our scribbler does have a lot of Works in Progress.

Quartz: Aye, and they’re neglected too often. Like ours.

Prunella: Unlike us, our scribbler has a very finite amount of time. 

Quartz: And this is our time to remind her that we exist and our stories are waiting for her to finish. 

Prunella: Sounds like you’re looking forward to BloggingFromAZ. 

Quartz: It’s just one post and a lot darker at the Formerly Forbidden Cauldron, but aye.

Prunella: And your theme is Character Origins.

Quartz: Aye. Where did we come from? How did the scribbler dream us up? That sort of thing. 

Prunella: Best of luck in your blogging. (the mists start to thicken around the coils and the mountains)

Quartz: Thank’ee. (he takes another breath) Shards, but I love this spot. Here’s hoping the scribbler brings up back here. 

Prunella: Here’s hoping…

Mists descend upon dragon, dwarf, and mountainside, swallowing all of them. 

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Conversations with Christopher: Danyel and Tayel

Christopher wades into the warm water, bubbling with color, trees casting their shadows overhead. His clothes disappear, leaving him naked and pale. Vulnerable to the lapping colors, the kiss of giggling bubbles. 

Images, flashes of memory and thought touch him, but the cramping pain at the center of being distracted him from everything. He needs to expel something trapped with his being, something seeking life of its own, a chance to grow. All the frustrated questions; all the answers he wishes he didn’t know gather in a painful knot. 

The trees overhead, the whispering shadows, even the gurgles of the pond retreat in the face of this pain, this frustration. He needs to push it out of himself. He concentrates, gritting his teeth, tears running down his face and shoves. 

Release finally comes. He forces the knot out of himself into the water, crying and helpless; a floating mass of green and blue. 

Is this the result of his conversation with Ashleigh? The rebirth she spoke of?

The green and blue mass separate reluctantly, becoming two distinct bubbles. They rise to the surface of the pond. 

Christopher: Stop. I don’t want you to rise. I don’t want you to pop.

The Green Bubble: (a voice like Danyel’s floats up from it into the air) Why not? Why should we be any different than the other bubbles?

The Blue Bubble: (speaking in a voice like Tayel’s) In order to exist, we must rise. Popping is the price of existence. 

The two bubbles escape from the top of the water to float in the air around Christopher, a warm green bubble with a touch of blue and a cool blue bubble with a slightly greenish cast. 

If Christopher looks closely he can almost see Danyel, peeking out curiously from within the green bubble, hands pressed against the inside. He can also see Tayel, almost Danyel’s exact likeness except for the gleaming silver in his eyes, keeping his eyelids half-closed, golden waves of hair falling forward to obscure his keen gaze. 

Danyel: (for Christopher cannot help but think of the green bubble as Danyel) Is this where we were born? Were we impulses you gave birth to, Christopher? 

Tayel: (the blue bubble is now Tayel as far Christopher is concerned) Don’t ask. Don’t spoil the story. Let the mystery simmer. 

Christopher: (frowns) Does this mean Ashleigh is your mother and I’m your father? No, that’s not right. Does this mean that Ashleigh is your father and I’m your mother? (He frowns even more.) No, that’s not right either. That’s not how I feel. Not entirely. 

Tayel: Pieces of truth do not make a whole. 

Danyel: I’ve often wondered the same thing. Map is our mother. Leiwell is our brother. How did we come to live with them in the Old Cottage? Just where did we come from?

Tayel: Born of shadow, our hold on reality is tenuous. 

Christopher: Tenuous, yes. You hold onto Map and Leiwell like I hold onto Damian and Gabrielle. Otherwise you might slip back into shadow. Like me. 

Danyel: I’ve always felt close to you, Christopher. You seem so ancient and wise, a fountain of power I could draw strength from, yet you’re so fragile. In protecting you, I protect myself. 

Tayel: Hungry darkness wearing a compelling mask of innocence you’ve made part of yourself. I fear you, mistrust you, yet you give me hope. 

Christopher: Thank you. You make me feel less alone. 

Danyel: I’m terrified of your loneliness, Christopher. You could swallow me whole, swallow us both whole when you’re lonely. I fear I might let you swallow me if I shared that loneliness. 

Tayel: Hunger comes from emptiness, feeding a need to take back what you given. Perhaps it’s your right, but I don’t wish to give up the gift. 

Christopher: Fair enough. (He sighs, closes his eyes, and allows himself to sink below the water’s surface.)

Down, down Christopher goes, a shining pale figure amongst the darkening colors losing their light. Flashes of memory dreamers leave behind, never knowing what they’re leaving twinkle, illuminating his way. 

The green bubble begins to cry and pops, falling in a verdure shower upon the pond’s surface. 

The blue bubble trembles and pops as well, dissolving into cerulean tears which mingle with the green. 

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Conversations with Christopher: Ashleigh Beyond the Door

Christopher walks through the mists, only to find he’s following the gleam of silvery hair in a tumble of gold, falling down over a gray-green caped figure. 

The figure stops and stretches out with her hands to feel for something. 

Ashleigh: It’s got to be somewhere. Ah! Here it is!

She reaches out to grab the mist, seizing something which becomes a doorknob in her hand.  She pulls on it. 

A hazy white rectangle appears in solid relief against the mist. Yes, it’s a door with the knob Ashleigh tugs at. She yanks it open, to reveal a path cutting its way through a forest filled with flowers. 

Ashleigh cocks her head back to grin at Christopher. Bright green flecks dance in her violet-blue eyes. 

Ashleigh: By the way, hello, Christopher. You coming?

Without pausing she crosses the threshold from mist into forest. 

Christopher: This isn’t my path. (He still follows her, stepping onto the road behind her.)

Ashleigh: Nice to leave the mists behind, even if it’s just for a while, isn’t it? (She opens her cloak, inviting him inside.) Come walk beside me. 

Christopher: The mists will come back. They always come back. They’re part of this place.

Ashleigh: Sure, but for a while we can will them away and walk together. 

She stands waiting patiently with her open cloak. She reminds Christopher of Damian who once waited for him, offering a hand. Waiting with the same perfect patience, giving the illusion that he’d wait for forever if that was what it took for Christopher to accept his hand. 

It was just an illusion. With him and now with her. Still Christopher steps foward, allows Ashleigh to wrap her cloak around him. It’s warm beneath it, pressed against her, yet she vibrates with a restless energy. A need to move, to go places. 

The two of them start walking down the path. It didn’t seem big enough for two, but it is. Christopher feels like Ashleigh is going much slower than she’d like so he can keep up with her. So she can keep Christopher with her. 

Ashleigh: This is nice, isn’t it?

Christopher: Is it? You could move more rapidly if you just let me go. 

Ashleigh: And here I’ve only just found you, my elusive Happily Ever After, yet you’re already asking me to let you go. 

Christopher: Sooner or later you’ll let go. Sooner or later you’ll move on. Sooner or later you’ll find another Happily Ever After in someone else. If you haven’t already. 

Ashleigh: I have. I will. Again and again. Right now I’m here with you and it’s nice. 

Christopher: Until you start to wonder what’s ahead, what’s behind the next Door. Just what are you hoping to find?

Ashleigh: Myself. A self who can truly satisfy me. I haven’t found her yet. 

Christopher: What if you find someone or something better than you expected?

Ashleigh: I’d stop for a while, but I can only stop for so long. Aren’t you the same?

Christopher: I’m happy where I am.

Ashleigh: Are you, really? Without Damian? Have the Navel and Omphalos taken his place?

Christopher: Nothing can take his place.

Ashleigh: Something might. Someday. Or someone. Ah, here we are!

The path ends at a clearing. There’s a pool of bubbling water of mingled pinks, purples, golds, silvers, and greens; all turned milky pale. Bubbles of the same hues rise to pop upon the surface of the pool unless they can escape. The few that can hover above the pool before exploding into a rain of color. 

Ashleigh releases Christopher and steps back, off the path. Closer to the waiting trees and the shadows lurking beneath them. 

Christopher: No! You shouldn’t stray from the path!

Ashleigh: Why? Because we’re in the Shadow Forest? Once you stray from the path, you can never return? I don’t want to. I’ve walked with you, impregnated you with our conversation. And now I will leave you to comtemplate the children you’ll birth from it while I search for the next Door.

Christopher: You weave riddles into your responses. 

Ashleigh: I may have learned that from you. We’re at the cauldron of creativity, aren’t we? Where you so often host. Aren’t you curious what’s waiting for rebirth inside you?

Christopher touches his stomach. Something warm pulses beneath his fingers while parts of him feel like they’re withdrawing inside. 

Christopher: Aren’t you?

Ashleigh: Always, but I can’t stop. I’ve already strayed from our path. I’ve got to find the next Door. 

Ashleigh turns her back on Christopher, raising a hand to wave at him. She disappears into the trees. 

Christopher: (turning back to face the bubbling pool, whispering, giggling, and entreating him to come closer in each pop) All right, I am curious. 

He moves forward and wades into the water. It’s warm, yet it doesn’t burn him. 

To be continued next Monday…

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Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle

Christopher walks out of the mists to find himself inside a temple, a cathedral with rosy marble pillars flanking a series of murals that look out over carved wooded pews. The murals feature beautiful, larger than life figures floating in the sky above the people praying below. Sometimes they smile with benevolence upon the viewer. Sometimes they gaze upon a heaven above filled with light and clouds, rich with color. 

Christopher: I can’t blame you for being seduced by the view. I was.

Gabrielle: Fix your gaze too often upon the heavens above and you’ll lose track of what’s happening in the world around you. 

Christopher turns in the direction of his mother’s voice. Yes, there she is in one of the murals. She’s one of the figures who looks down and smiles upon you just as she smiles at Christopher. Her golden hair blazes in the light shining above and she floats in loose robes as diaphronous as the clouds around her. 

Come to think of it, she always wears such loose, untailored skirts and tunics. No matter what sort of odd hat, veil, or adornment she adds to them. All Christopher sees her wear in the Navel is such garments. 

Christopher: (raising a hand to shield his eyes) Mother?

Gabrielle: (Her painted smile becomes a little puzzled.) I don’t think so?

Christopher: (swallowing an odd lump at her lack of recognition) ‘Brie?

Gabrielle: Is that a nickname for me? I can’t say I’ve heard it before.

Christopher: Gabrielle?

Gabrielle: Yes, that is my name. Or the name I hope to use. That is who I am trying to be while I pose for this painting. 

Christopher: Are you a memory ghost?

Gabrielle: (only the lips of the painting moving) Why, I do believe I am. From a particular time and place at the Temple of Heavenly Directions, given eternity in painted form. This was why my faith burned the brightest.

Christopher: Your faith? In what?

Gabrielle: Why, in us. In Heaven. In being part of something better and brighter than my individual self. In convincing others to do the same, to keep one eye on Heaven, the other upon the people around us who need to us. In helping others to find Heaven in their lives and hearts. In connecting with them, thus connecting to a greater whole. (Her smile falters.) I wonder what happened? 

Christopher: What do you mean?

Gabrielle: You called me Mother. I was never meant for motherhood. My body and soul were promised to Heaven’s service. 

Christopher: I was sort of an accident. 

Gabrielle: (Her smile disappears entirely.) Sounds like I truly strayed from my calling if I allowed such an accident to happen. 

Christopher: (swallowing another painful lump) You still have a calling, Mother, one you follow with absolute devotion. I think one of the reasons you adopted me, welcoming me into the Navel is because of it. 

Gabrielle: (frowning at both the words and in response to the pain on his face) Forgive me if my response seems cold or cruel. Everything you’re saying is something of a shock. 

Christopher: Believe me, I feel the same way.

Gabrielle: (her painted mouth softening) Yes, it would be, wouldn’t it? Once again I’m sorry, but I can’t help being curious. Just what is a Navel?

Christopher: A little shop which people find when they need to go there. A shop where nothing is what it seems. You call it the center of all things bizarre. 

Gabrielle: This certainly sounds bizarre. 

Christopher: You take great pride in its bizarreness. As you do in being bizarre.

Gabrielle: (frowning again) Pride, ah, I’ve been warned about that. If I’ve let my pride in this bizarre place and my duties there go to my head, it sounds like I’ve forsaken my purpose. 

Christopher: If you have, you’ve found one even more important to you. One you’re willing to defend, even against those you love and trust. You never wavered in believing in the Navel’s purpose even when Damian challenged you about it again and again. 

Gabrielle: Who is Damian?

Christopher: Your protégé. He’s the one who brought me to you.

Gabrielle: First I learn I have a son. Now I learn I have a protégé who’s bringing sons to me. Right now I’m only Raphaela’s protégé myself. 

Christopher: When is now?

Gabrielle: What a curious question. I’m dreaming, aren’t I? I’m lying in my cell, tied to my bed, dreaming of looking out at a strange boy from the mural Mireille painted. 

For the first time Gabrielle’s image moves something other than her mouth. She blinks, turns her head, moving within the image to get a better look at Christopher and his surroundings. 

Gabrielle: It looks like Mireille has finished painting the temple in this dream. She’s made us look so beautiful, all of the Heavenly Directions. 

Christopher: Who is Mireille?

Gabrielle: The painter Michaela asked to come and decorate our temple. You can see Michaela there.

The painted image of Gabrielle shifts, moving her hand to gesture to another mural of an imposing figure with short dark hair, wearing a breast plate, a fiery sky behind her. 

Gabrielle: And that’s Raphaela, my master. 

Gabrielle motions to a mural at the end of the hall behind an altar covered with white, gold, and purple velvet. A glorious figure of an imposing woman with flowing dark hair and stern, yet loving expression looks down at the pews. 

Gabrielle: She’s very wise, but she expects so much of me. I wonder if I can ever live up to her expectations as a Direction. 

Christopher: I’m sure you do.

Gabrielle: If only I could get her to laugh just once. I’m lucky if I can get her to smile. Mireille smiles all the time.

Christopher: You seem to like Mireille a lot.

Gabrielle: I’ve never met anyone like her. I wonder if there are more people like her, living outside the temple walls. I’m not supposed to stray far from this place…I think I’m waking up now. 

Mists rise from the floor, enveloping the pillars, the murals, the entire temple, engulfing Christopher’s surroundings in white. 

Christopher: Was it just a dream from your past? Or did I catch a glimpse of a past you never speak about? 

The mists seem to hum a little tune in a voice similar to Gabrielle’s, yet it might not be. 

Christopher can never tell in the Cauldron. Or in the Shadow Forest, for that matter. 

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