Christopher sits in his stone chair facing a young woman with long loose tresses of auburn hair. Only she’d never call herself a woman. She’s a lifer, thank you very much and at the moment a lost one. She sniffs at the mists of the Cauldron with distaste.
Pausania: Honestly, can’t you adjust the background here?
Christopher: What would you like to see?
Slightly curved sandstone pillars rise around Pausania and Christopher. The two of them are sitting on a floating terrace under a magenta sky with the occasional crystal drifting by to twinkle in the rosy air.
Pausania relaxes into her chair, made of vines and something like a cross between bamboo and cedar.
Christopher glances down at his own seat to see it’s the same.
Pausania: Much better. Ah, I remember when my lover took me here. I was as wide-eyed as Phaedra at the time.
Christopher: Where are we?
Pausania: Calliope III, my poor child. No one has taken you here? It’s one of the most relaxing planets in the Intergalactic Democracy. Much better than Semele. Everyone goes to Semele, but every girl should come here as well.
Christopher: Well, I’m not exactly a girl, so I’m not sure if I should. It does look interesting, though.
Pausania: Wait, what? (She shrinks back from Christopher the same way Phaedra did.) What are you?
Christopher: I’m Christopher. We’re actually in the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration, our scribbler’s blog. Err, a place between worlds, err, universes on the web. Sort of. It can be Calliope III, though, if you want it to be.
Pausania: A Cauldron? A place between universes? (She tightens her grip on the arms of her chair.) Are you some forgotten godling from Ancient Earth come here to make mischief? Are you Dionysus?
Christopher: No, I’m not Dionysus. (He considers her words.) I suppose as Happily Ever After I could be considered a godling. Perhaps. I’m not trying to make mischief. I’m only here to talk. Phaedra was here last week.
Pausania: Phaedra?! What have you done with her?!
Christopher: Nothing! We just talked. She disappeared after we spoke, the way all guests do when they’re done talking here.
Pausania: Is that so? (She narrows her eyes.) Make a lot of guests disappear, do you, Happily Ever After? Am I next?
Christopher: In a way. Once you’ve finished talking, you’ll return to your story.
Pausania: My story? (She raises an eyebrow.)
Christopher: Your universe. Wherever you were before you came here.
Pausania: Where I was was home. Phaedra just walked out on me.
Christopher: She mentioned that.
Pausania: She did, did she?
Christopher: Yes. She said she missed you.
All the snark seems to run out of Pausania. She slumps in her seat.
Pausania: Godling from another universe, I’m about at my wit’s end. You call yourself Happily Ever After? What happily ever after can I have after the things I said? I regret them, yet I wonder if I wasn’t meant to say them, giving Phaedra a chance to say everything she couldn’t. Not until I was cruel enough to give her an excuse to.
Christopher: What did you say?
Pausania: What I thought I was supposed to. What I thought was true. Now I’m no longer sure. Of anything. I just want to find Phaedra. I want to talk to her.
Christopher: She’s probably on her way to a symposium? She really wanted to go.
Pausania: (She buries her head in her hands.) That’s the last place I want to go. (She lifts her face, staring at something only she can see. Or someone.) Only if Phaedra is determined to enter the predator’s cluster, I can’t let her go alone.
Christopher: You’re going to this symposium, then?
Pausania: For Phaedra’s sake, yes. (She lets out a strained groan.) Here’s hoping I don’t regret this.
Christopher: I hope you don’t either.
What happens at the symposium? Will Pausania regret going? Find out at…
Christopher sits facing a young woman in an orange jumpsuit and short purple hair. Long bangs fall over her pale forehead.
Christopher: That’s an unusual outfit.
Phaedra: It’s the latest lack of fashion, according to Pausania. I’m dressed like the pilot of a ship even though I don’t have a ship. (She blushes a bit.) Well, I didn’t have a ship.
Christopher: I take it you do, now?
Phaedra: Yes, the Timea. I’m surprised I’m not at her controls now. What is this place? (She looks around at mists surrounding her, at Christopher seated in his stone chair opposite.) Some sort of transportation nexus?
Christopher: What’s that?
Phaedra: I’m not sure if I can explain it myself. It takes you out of your ship, transports you into a different part of the star cluster it’s part.
Christopher: And what’s a star cluster?
Phaedra: (grimaces) Something a lot fancier than a space platform or station. The only one I know anything about is the one Agathea created. She’s one of the richest citizens of the Intergalactic Democracy, so it’s not something just anyone can afford.
Christopher: I see…no, actually, I don’t see at all.
Phaedra: Neither do I. And why am I trying to answer your questions when you haven’t answered mine? Where are we?
Christopher: This is the Cauldron. It’s nothing like Agathea’s star cluster. Actually I’m not sure if it is or not. Both are creations of our scribbler. Maybe they are similar.
Phaedra: Why would they be? Who is this person you call our scribbler?
Christopher: Our creatrix, yours and mine. The creatrix of our respective universes. This blog, this Cauldron, this place is a space between universes where we can meet or interact.
Phaedra: Blog? Cauldron? Those are some old-fashioned words. Particularly blog. Rhymes with bog. Or frog.
Christopher: Blogs don’t exist where you’re from? Places where people post online?
Phaedra: Online? That’s another old-fashioned word.
Christopher: I guess you don’t do anything like that.
Phaedra: Maybe. I have shared poems on in the intergalactic web. Along with trains of thought or trails. Sometimes we just call them trains or trails.
Christopher: That makes sense.
Phaedra: Judging from your expression, you’ve never heard such an expression. Not for the intergalactic web.
Christopher: To be honest, I shudder a bit at the notion of an intergalactic web.
Phaedra: Why? It keeps all lifers connected.
Christopher: What’s a lifer?
Phaedra: You really don’t know? Lifers used to be called women back on Ancient Earth. It was a term for a girl when she matured to womanhood. Goddess, I’m using some archaic terms. You do still use the terms women and girl, don’t you? You’d still be referred to as a girl?
Christopher: (trying to keep a straight face) Yes, we use the terms women and girl where I’m from, but neither of them would apply to me. Not right now.
Christopher: I’m a boy. Sort of.
Phaedra: What? Really? (She draws back, taking a sharp look at him.) Wait, what do you mean, sort of?
Christopher: I’m made of shadow, scattered bits of memory. Some of them belonged to girls and women. Only my current form is that of a boy.
Phaedra: Wow, that sounds so weird! You must be the product of some extremely advanced science!
Christopher: Actually I think I’m the result of magic and will. My existence is a bit of a mystery.
Phaedra: I shouldn’t wonder! This explains why you don’t have even a trace of a beard.
Christopher: I don’t think boys had beards. Not in the Gardens I dimly recall once living in.
Phaedra: Gardens? That sounds lovely. I admire any world which emphasizes an active plant life. This is one of the few things Pausania and I had in common. (She looks sad.)
Christopher: That’s the second time you’ve mentioned Pausania.
Phaedra: Pausania almost became my lover. She wanted me to be her beloved. She was beautiful, charming, eloquent, interesting…only she was also irritable, constantly finding fault with me, and sucking all the cheer out of a room.
Christopher: Sounds like a challenging person to be with.
Phaedra: Oh, she was. I wonder if she wasn’t too challenging. (She lets out a sigh.) Being with her was stifling.
Christopher: You’re not with her any more?
Phaedra: I’m not sure. We had a fight and I walked out on her. Perhaps it was the wrong thing to do, but I really wanted to go to the symposium.
Christopher: The symposium?
Phaedra: A gathering in space at Agathea’s star cluster. I’ve never been anywhere like that before.
Christopher: Pausania didn’t want to go?
Phaedra: She didn’t want either of us to go. She wasn’t too nice about it, either. Not that it was just about the symposium. A lot of things which had been building up between us were finally said. There’s no way to unsay them. I’m not even sure if I want to.
Christopher: I’m sorry.
Phaedra: Don’t be. I’m having an adventure, perhaps the first real adventure ever, making my way to the symposium.
Christopher: Good luck in getting there.
Phaedra: Thank you.
How does Phaedra get there? What happens at the symposium? Find out in A Symposium in Space available at…
For my own, I’m going to offer a taste of my novella, A Symposium in Space which I’m in the process of reading right now…
The invitation resembled an eyeball.
A floating, pink orb drifted up to the open panels of Pausania’s apartment and fixed me with its lidless stare.
I froze, unsure how to react. An unfashionable citizen of the Intergalactic Democracy, I still ran around in a vest with pocket protectors, unfamiliar with the latest technology. The bobbing globe made me think of tales of magic from Ancient Earth.
Christopher walks up a path, a familiar path lined with roses to a white house. It’s not part of his own story, but he’s been here before.
He opens the front door, smiles at how it reminds him a bit of the Navel’s door along with the Old Cottage’s in Omphalos. I have a certain fondness for types of doors. It shows in my stories, something he’s noticing.
He opens it, entering the house.
The setting changes to that of a cozy room warmed by a roaring fire in the hearth. The tea things are still out on the table, a pot and plates in a forget-me-not pattern.
A young woman sits on the couch in front the table, her long red skirts flowing out over her legs. She wears a loose russet sweater with a cowl neck, her coppery-brown hair falling in a cloud over her shoulders. She clutches a green journal with strong fingers dusty with pencil lead.
Nathalie: (without looking up) Hello, Christopher. I’m almost done.
Christopher says nothing. He waits, recalling Damian being in a similar state of concentration. If he allowed it, the garden, the gazebo, the multicolored sky, and Damian at his easel would eclipse this time and place, bleeding into it, replacing it. Christopher holds those memories at bay, waiting for Nathalie.
Eventually she closes her journal with a snap, laying it down on the couch beside her.
Nathalie: Thank you. I wanted to finish that one scene.
Christopher: You have that in common with our scribbler. Making people wait, letting food burn because she has to finish a scene. Whether she’s writing or reading it. (He smiles to take the sting out of his words.) That and you like to write in pencil.
Nathalie: Pencil is transitory. It can be erased. It’s perfect for rough drafts because that state of writing is also transitory. I like using a tool which captures that mood, even if I seldom erase what I’ve written.
Christopher: Spoken as if you were our scribbler herself.
Nathalie: Parts of me are drawn from her personality. Other aspects were inspired by many things, including other people.
Christopher: Like our scribbler’s father?
Nathalie: You’re not the only one who catches glimpses of our scribbler’s past in dreams and visions. (She smiles) Did you know her father told a story about the Greedy Tree as opposed to the Giving Tree? A tree that was taking over half the trees in America until it was chopped down. Afterward it became a Greedy Stump. The tree itself became greedy sawdust, sawdust which became paper. It affected all of the corporations which used it.
Christopher: (smiling slightly yet in a thoughtful way) This would explain a lot.
Nathalie: The Stump of Wisdom in Wind Me Up, One More Time is an homage to this. I guess our scribbler got her father’s love of tale tales as well as fairytales which she passed on to me.
Christopher: I wonder how much of you is in Princess Nathalie? The other Nathalie in your mother’s stories. Princess Grace’s sister, Theodora Bear’s former child, and Iama the Terrible’s beloved in Grace and Theodora: Magic and Mishaps? The fairytale waiting within Wind Me Up, One More Time?
Nathalie: Just because Princess Nathalie and I have the same name and creator doesn’t mean we’re the same person. Any more than either of us are the scribbler’s childhood friend she named us for. (She stands up, moves away from the table to stop in front of the fire.) Even if I do have certain things in common with her.
The light from the fire reflects upon her hair, catching the gold in it. The gold shimmers, sliding and gliding around Nathalie’s form, changing it. Everything turns into gold, swallowing the room.
Christopher stands before a young woman, like and unlike Nathalie. She has the same golden-brown skin, but her coppery hair falls in waves over a peach gown. Christopher and the woman stand in a long hall, captured and reflected by an endless series of full-length mirrors. Sometimes you can catch glimpses of other people in the mirrors, other characters, ghosts drifting through the glass.
Princess Nathalie: Hello, Christopher. Unlike my namesake, I am a character in a fairytale. I suffer mishaps which are mythical in nature. They set the tone for those struggling through their reality. Like the other Nathalie. She and I do share a similar passion, though, a similiar heartache.
For a moment the mistress of the mirrors appears in each reflection, standing behind Princess Nathalie. Iama the Terrible lays slender gloved fingers upon the princess’s shoulder. Such a fragile cloth barrier between the enchantress and the effect of her touch, yet she cannot resist reaching out. Nor does the princess try to prevent it.
The hall of mirrors disappears along with the princess and the enchantress. Christopher is back in the cozy living room with the Nathalie who stands in front of the fire.
Nathalie: Both the princess and I have an Iama the Terrible. Only my Iama isn’t nearly as terrible as she thinks she is.
Christopher: You mean Maia?
Nathalie: Please sit down.
Christopher takes one of the chairs, a handsome wooden one with a creamy pattern of flowers and vines appearing in subtle shades.
Maia leaves the fire, returning to the couch, smoothing her skirts out around her when she sits.
Nathalie: Did you know Maia is an anagram for Iama? I guess Auntie Cassat, Maia’s mum thought she was being clever. Or the scribbler did.
Christopher: Why did Maia named her daughter after Iama the Terrible, the villain of Grace and Theodora: Magic and Mishaps? Isn’t Iama supposed to be, well, terrible?
Nathalie: Call her a villain if you like. I don’t think she’s evil.
Christopher: Which Iama are you talking about?
Nathalie: It’s easy to reduce a strong woman with power over the unseen like hearts and emotions as well as the tangible to a simple label which symbolizes the awe, fear, and attraction she generates. Like an evil enchantress. Iama hid her heart away. Everything she touched turned to gold. There has been times when Maia has done the same. Isolation, loneliness, turning inward makes us all terrible.
Christopher: She took life with a touch. Even if that life was restored, she did steal it. (He looks at his own fingers.) I’ve done the same thing. I will again unless whatever hungry thing inside me is checked.
Nathalie: (looking him up and down with the speculative eye of a writer who’s just sniffed out a potential story…sorry, Nat, he’s taken) Do you think this hunger comes from loneliness?
Christopher: In part. It may also come from being shattered, continuing on in shadow form. I’ve created life as well as taken it.
Nathalie: Really? (looks even more interested)
Christopher: (blushing) Or I will create it. Someone will drink my own energy, flourishing into an existence as an innocent being with the ability to touch things, connect with the world in a way I cannot. It’s too dangerous for me to do. For myself and others.
Nathalie: (considering his words) I can see why you identified with Iama. She feared her power as well. As did Maia.
Christopher: That’s only sensible. Isn’t it?
Nathalie: Iama kept everyone she touched in a collection of golden statues. They were the only company she was allowed or so she thought. In her loneliness she lured away the other Nathalie, out of a wish to connect with someone else.
Christopher: A wish which was granted.
Nathalie: Your wish can come true, too, Christopher. Just don’t expect it to manifest in a form you’d expect.
Christopher smiles at this for what can he say to the truth?
Nathalie smiles back, resisting the urge to reach for her notebook and start writing down ideas generated by this talk, the curse and the blessing of a writer. She hums an odd little tune under her breath, to help remember this talk for when she does have a chance to scribble it down.
This is another trait she got from me.
Hope you enjoyed meeting Nathalie! If you want to learn more about her, Princess Nathalie, their romances with their respective Iama the Terribles, and what part Grace and Theodora Bear played in them, visit these buy links…
For my own, I’ll be finishing up my free taste of Seven Tricks…no, this is not a vampire story. Don’t be confusing by the biting, even if it was love at first bite. Vampires can’t have all the fun. Mice and nutcrackers want to make a point of this or perhaps a nip? :)=
I sank my teeth into his hard shoulder.
His head turned very slowly. He regarded me with wide hungry eyes. The strange prince dropped his jaw, only to close it on my snout.
In a moment of intimacy, we bit each other.
I awoke with the taste of bitter sawdust in my mouth, mixed with the salty residue of nuts.
What comes after a mouse prince is once bitten and all the more smitten? Find out by reading the rest! 😉
Christopher sits in a surprisingly cushy red chair in front of a roaring fire in a comfortable, old-fashioned living room. Instead of mist, there’s endless amounts of tissue paper everywhere. A huge platter of cheese and gingerbread sit on silver platters on a marble-topped table with clawed wooden legs.
In a red cushy chair opposite him stands a little mouse with dark fur, whiskers twitching.
Mousetrick: There. Isn’t this better? Much more comfortable than your usual stone seat surrounded by mist. I even provided us with refreshment!
Christopher: You provided yourself with refreshment. I don’t exactly eat food like that. I can only handle a tiny morsel and not always.
Mousetrick: Really? (twitches his tail) You poor creature. Not only do you have a hideously ugly countenance, but you’re incapable of savoring cheese and gingerbread? They’re among the finer things in life!
Christopher: (a bit wistfully) Are they?
Mousetrick: Indeed! I’ll just help myself if you don’t mind.
The mouse runs down the leg of his chair only to climb up the claw of the table to where the cheese awaits. He starts munching on a piece of cheese, only to be distracted by his reflection in the silver platter.
No, not his reflection. In the etching of a nutcracker’s face into the platter itself.
Mousetrick: (after swallowing) I must say there is something to be said for this Cauldron, the way it changes into whatever you want. It’s quite pleasant to be surrounded by dainties and loveliness. No wonder you spend most Mondays here.
Christopher: Err, thank you? I can’t really take credit for the Cauldron. The scribbler set it up with her husband’s help. It’s all part of WordPress. Our current setting comes from, as you say, your own desires and wishes.
Mousetrick: Really? Qute the discerning and cultivated Cauldron this. Our scribbler is much better at conception than she is at performance and direction.
Christopher: Hmm, yes, I see what you mean.
Mousetrick: My dear giant, how could you not? I pity that Polkadot Mouse, trying to channel my magnifence, puppetted by the scribbler’s clumsy human hands.
Christopher: Are you talking about our scribbler’s reading of Seven Tricks last Saturday?
Mousetrick: Honestly. I know the scribbler created us, but I pity a great, gawky human like her. Trying to depict Madam Mousenip and myself, convey the scope of our hopes and dreams through with human lips and a human voice.
Mousetrick: The scribbler has a big brain. I’ll give her and other humans that. I suppose her hands and her mouth scamper desperately to keep up with her mind and her words. Ah, well, she’s only human.
Mousetrick: I pity not just her, but all humans. Not only are you big and ugly, but you have such long, dull lives you plod through with all your heaviness. With all that time, where’s the drive, the impetus to truly scamper toward your cheese? Or anything else you want?
Christopher: I’m not sure if I can answer that question. I’m not exactly human. Nor do I eat cheese.
Mousetrick: That’s very odd. You look human.
Christopher: Yes. This is the form Damian visualized before drawing me forth in this shape from the Shadow Forest.
Mousetrick: You’d think this Damian would give you a handsomer form. Shame on him.
Christopher: (touching his own face) Am I truly that ugly?
Mousetrick: Well…(takes another bite of cheese, chews, and considers) I suppose you’re not all that different from other humans. If this Damian himself has a hideous human countenance, he may not know any better.
Christopher: (brindling) Damian is not hideous!
Mousetrick: (lifting a conciliatory paw) Now, now, don’t go thundering, giant. I suppose you giants all look very handsome to each other. Still what’s with your jaw? (He waves at the image of the nutcracker embossed in silver.) Now that’s a jaw!
Christopher: Is that face handsome to you?
Mousetrick: Is that face handsome?! It’s beyond handsome! It’s beauty guaranteed to make cheese curdle, tissue shred, and a thousand scamper into traps willingly! It’s legendary loveliness!
Christopher: Do other mice think so?
Mousetrick: Well, err, no. Other mice think I’ve gone mad, swooning over that face.
Christopher: Have you met the owner of that face?
Mousetrick: In my dreams. I hope to meet him. I’m hoping to prove myself to him. Handsome is as handsome does.
Mousetrick: Well, no. Not at first. Handsome deeds are a way to make your beauty shine for a larger audience. Why do you think I’m performing seven tricks, giant? A fine pelt and expressive whiskers will only take you so far.
Christopher: I see what you mean. Good luck in scampering the rest of the distance.
Mousetrick: Oh, I mean, too. I’m just going to enjoy this Cauldron cheese and gingerbread while I can.
Christopher: You should. It may well fade away once we finish talking.
Mousetrick: (eats the rest of a chunk of cheese, chews, swallows) All the more reason to enjoy it while it’s here. (starts nibbling the gingerbread) Enjoy everywhile while it…and you…are still here. That’s age-old mouse wisdom, squeaked to each generation.
Christopher: Is it? That’s good advice.
Mousetrick: Of course it is. (takes a bigger bite of gingerbread)
Enjoy meeting Mousetrick? Want to read his story of how he meets the legendary beauty, err, nutcracker mentioned? Here are buy links to their tale, Seven Tricks…
Christopher wanders beneath trees, the ground beneath his feet sparsely covered with flowers.
Christopher: Now I feel as if the Cauldron is becoming the Shadow Forest.
The trees open up into a clearing with a pond. Light sparkles upon the water’s surface becoming different colors.
Christopher looks at a rose pink, deeping into red. He can almost see a person’s anger, their passion in the crimson. He gazes into the green to behold a love, nurturing other loves, allowing it to spread and grow, revitalizing everyone around it until the green began to yellow with fear and jealousy. He looked into the reflected blue of the sky, so wide, so encompassing. The blue darkens as it descends, going deeper, beyond the fallen tears into tenderness, wisdom, even more complex feelings until the hue itself is swallowed by darkness. Christopher watched the blue and the red overlap, becoming purple, passion and vigor melding with emotional depth.
All of these colors, swimming and sparkling across the pond, are reflected in Christopher’s eyes.
Christopher: It’s as if this place, this pool is a part of me. It’s the embodiment of Danyel and Tayel’s color game where different hues become character traits, aspects which might infuse a person.
Dyvian: That’s because this is where the twins were born. Perhaps you were conceived here as well.
Christopher turns to see Dyvian stepping out of the shadows of the trees. His white blonde hair is crowned with dark green leaves instead of flowers. He’s dressed in what seem like a black robe, but it’s actually a very dark green, shimmering with hints of color.
Christopher: Were you born here as well?
Dyvian: (with a secretive smile) I was certainly reborn in this place. As was Damian.
Christopher: (bows his head and shivers) Where is he? Did you and your shadow leave anything of him behind?
Dyvian: Shadows always leave something as you know only too well.
Christopher: Something. Not someone. Not the same someone.
Dyvian: Change always brings a kind of death. Something has to end for something to begin.
Christopher: Damian didn’t end.
Dyvian: No, he didn’t. My Leiwell suffers to this day from Damian’s continued existence.
Christopher: It’s a suffering every shadow brings upon himself. Or herself. Themselves.
Dyvian: If the shadow is capable of such suffering.
Christopher: Are you capable of it?
Dyvian: Of course. I simply refuse to let my own pain interfere with my goals.
Christopher: Acknowledging your own pain allows your goals to evolve.
Dyvian: Or to be abandoned. Doubt can be a fatal thing when you’re bringing about a rebirth.
Christopher: Is that what you’re doing, Dyvian? Bringing about a rebirth?
Dyvian: What do you think, Happily Ever After?
Christopher: Creating a godling could be considered a rebirth.
Dyvian: As could the creation of Danyel and Tayel. Who were you tryng to give a happy ending with them? Map and Ashleigh? Or yourself?
Christopher: Leiwell, perhaps? I was so angry with him. The cruelest thing I could do was to give him someone who could make him happy.
Dyvian: Because happiness is fleeting? You’ve just admitted that the happiness you offer, your godhood is a lie.
Christopher: And yours isn’t?
Dyvian: Oh, I’m no god as your little Danyel reminded me. I’m much more of a devil, deceiving people into believing I’m a god. Only I never meant to deceive them. Did you?
Chirstopher: All I wanted was to get Damian back.
Dyvian: Instead you stole yourself back, only to be reborn as a concept. A misleading concept.
Christopher: While you simply peddle misleading concepts.
Dyvian: Seraphix and I mislead no one. Not one Follower. We gave them the means to become their own desires in return for faith and love.
Christopher: You mean you tempt your Followers into becoming their own temptations.
Dyvian: Every god can become a devil, Christopher. Especially if they’re someone else’s god. Think about it.
Steam rises from the pond. Colored flame leaps from the water’s surface, curling and flaring out.
Dyvian lets his long heavy robe slide off to expose his naked body. He walks into the fiery water. The steam rises, surrounding both him and the pond, enveloping them.
Christopher: (closes his eyes) As if you’d ever let me forget. No matter what you may twist rebirth into, it’s still a moment of hope. I have faith in Danyel and Tayel, faith that they’ll find the hope, even if I’m as lost as you are in the haze.
He pauses to breath in and exhale. A plume of colored steam cuts through the haze, revealing a tranquil pool filled with shimmering light. There’s no sign of Dyvian.
Christopher: We don’t have to stay lost, Dyvian. I hope you remember this.
The pool doesn’t answer.
Like my style of writing? Here is a link to my published works…
Duessa Ashelocke stood in the shadow of an arbor covered with flowers, dressed in layers of black silk, slit along the side to allow for for her extra arms, hidden by flowing sleeves. She no longer peers through a veil while watching the boys playing in a garden surrounded by roses.
Christopher stands at her side, dressed in a long black tunic with a vest and trousers. A tiny gold clasp in the shape of cup is at his neck. He glances from his silent companion to the boys running in the sunshine.
One of them is Damian. The other is himself. The other boys are just shades, vague outlines he can hear and feel, chasing each other.
Except for one. Dressed in the same short white tunic as Damian and Christopher, he weaves a crown of flowers. Rose petals are caught in his white hair. Older than the rest, he watches Damian and Christopher from under lowered eyelids.
Christopher: Poor Dyvian. I don’t think I realized how alone he was in the Gardens of Arachne.
Duessa: Dyvian was the only one who remembered the time before the Gardens. Unlike you.
Christopher: I didn’t even remember Dyvian. Or the Gardens.
Duessa: You were the perfect blossom, ready to spread your petals in our warmth. Raised by two women, innocent of male influence, you were able to start afresh and truly grow. All of us savored the experience of watching you ripen.
Christopher: I remember you watching. (He rubs his arms) It made me shiver, even though it was never cold in the Gardens. You frightened me, but I enjoyed the fear. The way you made me feel was somehow…delightful.
Duessa: It’s our gift from Arachne, a gift we arachnocratic ladies offer our Marriage Feasts. It’s only natural to fear the predator who marks you as prey. We make certain our chosen morsels enjoy our anticipation of consuming you right along with us.
Christopher: (turning to Duessa) Is that all it was?
Duessa: (glancing back at him from from four pairs of lowered eyelashes) What else would it be?
Christopher: Dangerous as you are, you’re extremely handsome. I found you very attractive. As much as I could find anyone attractive.
Duessa: As attractive as you found my nephew?
Christopher: Damian isn’t really your nephew, is he? Any more than I’m Vanessa Ashelocke’s brother.
A young woman appears at Duessa’s other side, dressed in white robes to match the lady arachnocrat’s black ones. Only Vanessa only has two arms at this time, her long dark hair falling in curly waves down her back.
Van doesn’t appear to even notice Christopher. Nor does she glance at Duessa. Her attention is fixed upon the two boys playing in the garden.
Vanessa: You’ve got your eye on Christopher, don’t you?
Duessa: More than one. Can you blame me? Seldom have I been in the proximity of a more appetizing tidbit.
Vanessa: Is that all he is to you? A tidbit?
Duessa turns slowly to look at the younger woman.
Duessa: And just what is he to you, Vanessa?
Vanessa: I did as you asked. You presented him to me as my new little brother. I saw his eyes and assumed this was the truth.
Duessa: And what else did you assume?
Vanessa: That he was family. One of us.
Duessa: He’s also a boy. A very beautiful boy, but one day he’ll grow up to be a man, unless we can save him from such a fate.
Vanessa: Why did you ask me to treat him as my brother if all he was was a future Feast?
Duessa: How else were you to treat him?
Vanessa closes her eyes. Unlike Duessa, she has only two of them. This is a more human Duessa than the one Christopher last saw.
Vanessa: I would have preferred not to love him, knowing you would eventually take him.
Duessa: (smiling a little sadly) This is where you’re wrong, my dear. You should love your Marriage Feasts. Give them all the love in that one night you’d devote to a husband in a lifetime.
Vanessa: Only Christopher isn’t my Marriage Feast. He’s something else. Someone else.
Duessa: What…who is he?
Vanessa: Someone gentle. Someone who makes me feel gentle myself. It’s nothing like what I felt for my older brother, Stefan. It’s far from what Redcrysse made me feel.
Duessa: And how did Redcrysse make you feel?
Vanessa: Like his very presence was crushing me. I had to push it off, push through it in order to breathe. Only I couldn’t ignore that presence. I enjoyed Redcrysse’s touch, yet I hated it. Every time he did it, he was changing me, turning me into a toy, an object to be played with. I became less human each time he did it. If I was going to lose my humanity anyway, I preferred to be a monster, capable of devouring the one who did this to me.
Duessa: (smile growing, showing a hint of fang) So did I, my dear. So did I.
Vanessa: Damian inspires some of the same fear. Oh, I hunger for him every time I breathe him in. I want to catch him and hold him while he’s still young and beautiful. Crush him before he becomes something which could crush me. Perhaps it’s because he looks so much like Stefan. I fear what he’ll become. Best to gobble him up first.
Duessa: Impatience only spoils the Marriage Feast.
Vanessa: So you say. Only there’s no impatience with Christopher. Just a heartbreaking sense that he’s somehow good. Too good for this Garden. Too good for me. (Tears glimmer in her rose-colored eyes.) I can’t explain it. He makes me want to be better, to be just as good for him.
Christopher (watching, listening, tears luminous in his own eyes) Oh, Van…
Only she’s already fading away. If she was ever there, standing next to Duessa.
Duessa: She did love you. Vanessa Ashelocke might not have been your actual sister, but she loved you in a way I never did.
Christopher: No. (rubbing his eyes) She was my sister. I will always think of her as being my sister.
Duessa says nothing, simply bows her head in acknowledgment.
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Christopher walks by fountains, roses, fewer flowers than he remembers, fewer statues than he recalls. Everything is familar, including the grand estate he approaches. It’s no longer a ruin with roses climbing its walls.
Two gargoyles lean over the stone steps leading up to the great wooden doors, glowering at visitors. One visitor in particular. A young woman dressed in white with a veil covering her auburn hair stands at the foot of the stairs.
For a moment, Christopher doesn’t recognize her. Not with only two arms.
Christopher: My Lady Duessa?
Duessa Ashelocke turns, for it is indeed she. Only two amber eyes look back at the slender youth approaching her. Lips far less red than the ones which once kissed him, sucking out his vitality, part in a wistful, all-too human smile.
Duessa: Hello, Christopher. I see you’ve found this place along with my past self.
Christopher: Your past self?
Duessa: I wasn’t always an arachnocrat. I had a wish. A wish that the Spider granted.
Christopher: The Spider?
A spider crawls over a nearby bush, busy with its prey caught in the web. She wraps her cocoon around the butterfly, its colors vanishing into its sticky prison.
Duessa: Juno once told me that the spider was female. She devoured her lover’s vitality without killing him or hurting him. This inspired the Marriage Feast.
Christopher: (shivers) Damian always suspected that the Marriage Feast, the ritual every boy in the Gardens of Arachne went through was your idea. Not a decree of the Spider’s as Vanessa insisted. Or a condition to maintain the mists which protect the Garden.
Duessa: Oh, Van didn’t lie. Those Feasts were Arachne’s decree. Along with a condition for maintaining the mists. Only I was the one who created that degree and that condition when I made a pact with Arachne. To gain power, power enough to save us from our lord.
Christopher: Your lord? (Christopher looks up at the estate.) This looks like Castle Ashelocke, but it has no lord.
Duessa: Oh, there was a lord until I devoured him. Lord Stefan Ashelocke was my first Marriage Feast.
The gargoyles cracked, crumbled, falling in chunks. Duessa stood among them untouched. Her torso began to ripple. Two additional arms ripped their way out of her shift. She used them to tear the veil off her head.
Two additional eyes open upon her face. They are rose-purple and hungry.
Rose and thorn began to climb the ruined walls with rapid speed.
Christopher turned around and ran. Ran away from the estate into the rose bushes. They lined a path which his feet took. He ran, turned, ran, turned, only to find himself in an open courtyard.
At the center of it stood a beautiful man of stone, chin lifted, lips spread in a secret smile.
Duessa knelt at the base, crumbled black skirts pooling around her, all four of her arms wrapped around the base.
Christopher stops, giving the lady and her stone lord space. For it is Lord Stefan Ashelocke’s statue Duessa clings to. Only it’s more than just a statue. It’s all that remains of Duessa’s husband after the Marriage Feast. It’s all that remains of any boy after a Marriage Feast.
Duessa: (lifting her head to look up at Stefan’s immobile white face) I became an arachnocrat once I devoured my husband. Once I did, the mists came to surround the Gardens.
Christopher looks up at the clear blue sky.
Duessa: (rising to her feet) The sun always shone in the Gardens while the mists kept all trouble away. Only the ones who wished to be part of my court found us.
Christopher: Your court?
Duessa: The arachocratic court. (She reached out a hand.) Do you wish to see?
Christopher: (glancing down at his fingers) I promised this hand to another.
Duessa: You were mine before you were Damian’s. (She let out a light laugh.) Or perhaps you were always his. You belonged to someone else before either of us. Do you wish to see them?
She gestures to the path behind Christopher.
Christopher turns slowly to see mist rolling down the hedge, swallowing the flowers on either side.
Out of the mists walk a couple of hooded women. Each holds the hand of a small boy with a tousled head of coppery-golden hair.
Christopher: (gazing at the child in astonishment) Me?
Duessa: You. (She smiles at the two women.) Welcome to the Gardens of Arachne. What do you offer the Spider?
Both women tensed at the sight of her.
Woman 1: (tightens her dark fingers around Christopher, muttering) We’re not here to offer anything. We just got lost.
Duessa: (nodding) Perhaps you did. This child, however, belongs to the Spider. This child needed to find the Gardens.
Woman 1: As if!
Woman 2: Wait. Let him decide.
Duessa: (kneeling in rustling taffetta to look into little Christopher’s face) You’re an Ashelocke. I can tell by your eyes.
The small boy with the heart-shaped face looks at her with eyes as rose-purple as her second pair. He nods.
A second boy appears behind the statue of Stefan, an exquisite little boy with black curls dressed in black velvet and a starched white lace collar. He has the same rose-purple eyes fixed almost hungrily upon Christopher.
Christopher: (the older version) Damian.
The little boy runs forward, past his aunts. He makes a quick bow to the two women.
Damian: Don’t worry. I’ll take care of him. Always.
This promise makes the second woman relax a little, but not the first.
Duessa: My nephew is lonely. (She glanced down with a slight smile at Damian) He seems to have taken to this boy you’ve brought us.
With slow hesitation, the child Christopher slips his hands free of the two women to move closer to Damian.
The first one lets out a low cry, only to have her companion pull her back into the mists.
Duessa: It was a mistake to let go of her so quickly, Christopher. Not if you wanted to remember her.
The mists and the women disappear. The rose-lined path appears once more, leading out of the courtyard.
Christopher, the older Christopher spun around to face Duessa. Shock and anger play across his face.
Duessa: (nodding slowly) Your life, your past, everything about you changed, Christopher. You became an Ashelocke. Our Ashelocke.
The young Damian took one of the young Christopher’s free, trembling hands in his own.
Slowly, hesitantly, little Christopher smiled back at him.