Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle, Part 3

Christopher returns the facing the veiled woman once more whom is Gabrielle, proprietor of the Navel…

Christopher: What else is in the Navel besides the poultry deities and Damian’s art?

Gabrielle: That’s where the weird and the bizarre truly kick in. People find whatever they’re searching for on the shelves even if they don’t know what they’re searching for.

Christopher: Yes, I’ve noticed that particular weirdness. A doll or a cup appears when a particular customer walks in, a doll or a cup I’ve never noticed before. The customer is drawn to them, even if they don’t know why. 

Gabrielle: And we, the servants of the Navel are drawn to the area of the store where the item is, once that customer is within our walls.

Christopher: Servants?

Gabrielle: Servants. Employees. Whichever word you prefer. We are there to serve the customers and the store.

Christopher: You’re the proprietor. Don’t you own the store?

Gabrielle: Yes, but the store also owns me. 

Christopher: Damian thought our purpose was to serve you. He was there to serve you, not the Navel. 

Gabrielle: Damian believed I was wasting my time in the Navel, serving customers who’d willingly thrown away a part of themselves, just waiting to give that part back in the form of some trinket. 

Christopher: He wanted you to be greater than that. He wanted to be something greater. 

Gabrielle: Greatness is overrated. Greatness means equally great mistakes. Much can be accomplished in small deeds and small things. 

Christopher: You sound like someone who’s brushed against greatness before and turned away from it. 

Gabrielle: There’s some truth to that. Greatness frightens me. It always had. It overwhelms and flattens everyone in its path like a natural disaster. I’d prefer to stick to what’s small and manageable, whatever I can accomplish at the Navel. (She cocks her head.) I wonder, though, if you weren’t getting restless, just as Damian did?

Christopher: No. I liked the Navel. I enjoyed the look of wonder people got when they found whatever they were looking for. Especially when it was followed by a smile. 

Gabrielle: I know exactly what you mean. 

#RainbowSnippets: A Symposium in Space

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday, those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To read a wide variety of LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets/?ref=group_header

For mine, Phaedra continue her train of thought through the herstory of the Intergalactic Democracy in A Symposium in Space

Most of those survivors had been colonists who were already creating revolutionary cultures, dependent on the terrain of their individual planets. 

Those colonists never forgot Ancient Earth or the lessons they’d learned from her suffering. Men became less and less a part of the new worlds rising in power and prosperity. 

Doctors learned ways to cultivate and clone sperm from existing samples which had been carried from Ancient Earth. A brilliant young scientist created something called sohm, a substitute for sperm which could be used to create a fetus. 

Interested in what you’ve read? Want to read more? Here are buy links…

Nine Star Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/a-symposium-in-space/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Symposium-Space-Feast-Words-ebook/dp/B07PGB15FY/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3BPACY58MCCMV&keywords=a+symposium+in+space&qid=1552937461&s=digital-text&sprefix=A+Sympo%2Caps%2C239&sr=1-1

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130883509?ean=2940161507872

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-symposium-in-space

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/928136

#QueerBlogWed: Paula’s Prompts

On July 29, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a cancelled celebration, a tea cup, a reflection.

This freebie story for my attempt in progress at a steampunk-esque ghost story, A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words, was the result…

I held the teacup in my hands, letting their warmth seep into my skin, only to look up.

Fiona had fixed surprisingly sharp green eyes upon me. For the first time, she seemed to be Elizabeth Hartford’s descendent.

“We ought to have a celebration in your honor, the lost Hartford heir.” My cousin tugged at her high lace collar in discomfort. She’d made an attempt to comb her hair, which hung down in wisps from a bun held together by pearl pins. She held her own tea cup in an awkward fashion as if unused to the gesture.

All of this was pretend, playing at being the lady of Hartford Hall. Only Fiona was the lady of Hartford Hall. Why did she seem as guilty as myself?

I glanced at my reflection in the parlor mirror, which captured the burgundy sofa, the chairs with clawed feet, a menacing chest of drawers covered with ancient demons and gods, topped with the fluffy, harmless porcelain figures of a dog, a shepherdess, a boy with long legs exposed by ribboned stockings. I sat amidst all of this on one of the clawed chairs, a silver tea set accompanied by floral china separating Fiona and myself. It took me a moment to recognize the girl in the mirror as myself. Her honey-colored hair held back with a burgundy ribbon, her long velvet skirt, and high-lace collar made her look like she belonged in this room, far more than Fiona did. She held her cup and saucer with more grace than Fiona did, gazing back at me with wide blue eyes filled with shock at my scrutiny, that I would even question her right to be there.

Everything about her was a lie. She was the true fake, not Fiona. I ought to know. I’d created the illusion of her appearance with a friend’s help.

“No need for ceremony,” I said, although I was secretly thrilled at the idea of having party here at Hartford Hall in my honor. “I’m just happy to be here.”

“Oh, good! I’ll cancel the celebration.” Fiona heaved a huge sigh of relief, breasts rising and pressing against the buttons of her blouse. I wondered how long it would take her to notice I didn’t have any. “There isn’t anyone I’d want to invite, nor is there any cause for celebration, no offense.” She took a hasty gulp of tea and put her cup and saucer down. “You’ll find out what I mean soon enough.”

“Am I not welcome here?” I put down my flowered cup, admiring the pattern on the side, the details of petals, the vines, the leaves. I folded my hands in my laps and allowed my gaze to travel over the paintings on the wall; landscapes, flowers, portraits of men, women, and children with melacholy faces. I was guessing the latter was Judith Cross’s work.

One regal, redhaired woman with an uplifted chin and an impatient curl to her lower lip dominated many a canvas, although it was nothing compared to the painting of Elizabeth hanging on the wall on the grand staircase.

“You yourself invited me,” I reminded Fiona with a touch of impatience, perhaps the same impatience Elizaeth showed so often in oils. “I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t, cousin.”

“I was merely the instrument to insure an invitation was issued to you, just as I am a puppet who speaks and acts for the true lady of the house.” Fiona folded her own hands, only to worry at a golden ring with an emerald on her right finger. “In a real way, the Lady Elizabeth lives on in this place. Her spirit dominates every room she once walked in when she was alive. Everyone in Hartford Hall is still under her dominion.”

The poetry of her words struck me, for I could almost hear Elizabeth giving a similar speech.

“It’s a terrible thing, Westerleigh!” Fiona hissed through her fingers. “I’ve lived a lonely life here, one I long to share with other kinswomen, only there aren’t any. At least I didn’t believe there were any until I found you.” Those fingers trembled, the emerald glittering. “A part of me wishes I hadn’t.”

“Why?” I asked with completely honesty. “I’m happy to share this burden with you. I’ve been fascinated with Elizabeth for most of my life. To live in an estate where her spirit lives on is a dream come true.”

“That dream could become a nightmare.” Fiona lowered her hands. “The Lady Elizabeth is fascinating, yes, but she’s also dangerous.” She laid a finger against her cup, not picking it up. “She meddled in all sorts of things she shouldn’t have.”

“That’s what’s so fascinating about her.” I leaned forward, forgetting caution in my enthusiasm. “At a time when most women feared being called witches, she made no attempt to hide she dabbled in magic. She ruled Hartford Hall without a husband, even as a figurehead. She took another woman, a female artist as her lover. She patronized Judith Cross’s artistic career and they lived together in this hall as a couple. The courage, the sheer never she must have had…it takes my breath away. I can only dream of having such strength.”

I paused, realized my hands were trembling. I knotted them and laid them in my lap. My natural timidity had gotten the better of me, the fear which made me hide behind books, away from other people, allowing only a few friends, like Yuri to get close to me. Yuri was different, Yuri was an artist, even if Yuri didn’t always understand why I lived in the past through the journals, poetry, and writing of Elizabeth Hartford. They were more vibrant to me than anything in the modern world.

“I can see already that she’s going to like you.” Fiona looked me up and down with something almost like pity. “She enjoys the company of those who reflect the ideal of her within innocent eyes.”

“You speak of her as if she were still alive.” A strange shiver ran down my spine. “Does her presence linger in Hartford Hall that strongly? Do you believe her ghost haunts this place?”

“She haunts this place in many ways. You’ll discover that for yourself.” Fiona sighed and sank back into the depths of her burgundy armchair. “After spending time in her library, sleeping in her bed, you’ll see and feel just how much she lingers.”

“I’ll be working in her library?” My heart skipped a beat. “Sleeping in her bed?”

“If you’d rather not, something can be arranged-“ Fiona began, only to stop, stare at me, and sigh. “You can’t wait.”

“To say that I’m honored is putting it mildly.” I tried to fold my hands, tried to put my excitement into coherent words. “I cannot say how much it means to me, to live, breathe, work, and sleep in the same places Elizabeth did.” I lifted my knotted fingers to press them to my breast, realizing belatedly I was drawing attention to that part of my body. “When do I begin? What am I to do?”

“As I said in the invitation, this is a job as much as anything else. You’re to read all of the Lady Elizabeth’s journals, correspondance, anything she put down on paper. You’re welcome, no, encouraged to write down any of your own impressions in response.” Fiona heaved another sigh. “You’re offered the lady’s bedchamber, encouraged to wear some of her clothing.” My cousin wiped her brow with an impatient lack of grace. “Much of that clothing is antique and dated. These are legacy requests from Elizabeth to her female descendants. How faithfully you follow them is up to you.”

Female descendents. This wasn’t a request from Elizabeth to me, simply to whom Fiona assumed me to be. Not refusing was the only was I could prove that I, too, was worthy of such a request.

“I’ll do everything not to disappoint her.” My own voice came out hushed, breathless, and hopefully feminine. “I promise.”

“That’s impossible.” Fiona put a cold edge into her words that made the chill return, raising the hairs on the back of my arms. “Everybody disappoints her. Remember that.”

She locked her green eyes with mine. For a moment we just stared at each other, the gravity of her words sinking in.

I should have kept some of that gravity with me, to steady me as I plunged into my idol’s life. I was too giddy to do so. My giddiness returned when the moment passed. Here I was at Hartford Hall, being offered an intimate peek at Elizabeth Hartford, a chance to read and comment on everything she’d ever written. To press against my naked skin the gown she’d worn, to don a piece of her. To lie where she’d once lain her head, her active mind keeping her awake late into the night. Perhaps the ghosts her thoughts, her ideas lingered upon her pillow as well as upon the page.

It was a dream come true in every sense. Alas, too often dreams turn into nightmares. Mine were no exception.

Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle, Part 2

Christopher regarded the veiled woman across from him, the same woman he was speaking to last week…

Christopher: All right, I’ll try not to spoil the story for myself or others. (He looks like he has serious misgivings about this.)

Gabrielle: You’ll be happier if you do. 

Christopher: I hope so. How about we talk about the current form of you I’m speaking with? Gabrielle, the woman who becomes my mother?

Gabrielle: What is there to say? I own the Navel, center of all things bizarre. Look for the bizarre within yourself upon the Navel’s shelves.

Christopher: That last part is new. 

Gabrielle: Heh, I just came up with that. 

Christopher: What wares does the Navel carry?

Gabrielle: (perking up) We’ve got these chicken-headed deities whose crowing will follow you into your nightmares, freeing you from whatever reality you’re trapped in.

Christopher: I’ve seen those. (He shakes his head.) I’m not sure how effective they are. 

Gabrielle: (leaning forward) We’ve also got these metal rooster-headed guardians to ward off spider entities. 

Christopher: (shudders) I’ve noticed. 

Gabrielle: (lowering her voice) Guess you’re still arachnocratic enough to be disturbed by those. Damian hated them. 

Christopher: ‘Brie, I’m not sure if anyone likes them other than you.

Gabrielle: Really? (a bit deflated) There’s the hand-painted porcelain chickens if you prefer something more cheerful. 

Christopher: Could we discuss some of the Navel’s items which aren’t poultry? Please?

Gabrielle: (slumping back in her seat) No one appreciates the poultry. Yes, there are other things like those hand-painted tarot cards in carved wooden boxes which Damian painted or the skulls he crafted by hand. 

Christopher: Those are beautiful.

Gabrielle: You’re disturbed by my chickens but you think the skulls are beautiful?

Christopher: They’re part of someone or they once were. Why wouldn’t they be beautiful?

Gabrielle: That someone isn’t around any more. The skull is proof of that. 

Christopher: Part of them is. The skull is proof of that.

Gabrielle: These skulls aren’t real skulls. They just represent a former part of someone. They’re made of clay, not bone, shaped by Damian’s hands.

Christopher: (eyes swimming with emotional memories) Yes.

Gabrielle: You’ve got it bad, my boy. 

Christopher: What?

Gabrielle: Never mind. 

#RainbowSnippets: A Symposium in Space

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday, those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To read a wide variety of samples from LGBTQIA+ fiction, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets/?ref=group_header

For my own, Phaedra and Pausania will pick up where they left off last week in A Symposium in Space…

Ah, so this was what bothered her. The possibility of men being able to vote once more in the Democracy, to have a voice in public assemblies. 

Official herstory (intergalactic schools no longer used the word ‘history’, just as they no longer used the word ‘patronizing’) taught young girls that the beginnings of our democracy started with the colonization of other planets. Many of these off-world settlements had been started by women, hoping to create separate cultures apart from the patriarchy we couldn’t seem to shake off back on Ancient Earth. 

Men had started a terrible war, decimating a huge portion of the population. In the end, Ancient Earth had survived. Humanity, to use another archaic word, had survived. 

Interested in what you’re reading? Want to read more? Here are buy links…

Nine Star Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/a-symposium-in-space/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Symposium-Space-Feast-Words-ebook/dp/B07PGB15FY/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3BPACY58MCCMV&keywords=a+symposium+in+space&qid=1552937461&s=digital-text&sprefix=A+Sympo%2Caps%2C239&sr=1-1

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130883509?ean=2940161507872

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-symposium-in-space

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/928136

Paula’s Prompts: Wednesday Words

On July 22, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving interruptions, a drowning, a game of chance.

This poem was the result…

Drowning in a bucket list
All the things I want to accomplish
Need to plan, need to seize the time
There’s only so much time to do any of them
Sometimes it feels like a game of chance
Whether or not I’ll find opportunies
Grab that time, use that time
Before the inevitable interruptions stop me
Real life crashing down with its concerns
The scream of the telephone
The waiting trash
The waiting tragedy
They come in wave after wave
I’ve no choice but to learn how to surf
To catch wave after wave of opportunity
To ride those waves to my goals, far as I can go
Before the reality knocks me over
Seizing control
Leaving me breathless at its mercy.

Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle, Part 1

Christopher, even paler than usual after his last Conversation sits facing a woman with long golden hair spilling down from under a veiled, broad-brimmed hat. Beneath the veils a mask covers her nose and mouth, only revealing her bright, lively blue eyes peering back at Christopher. Loose, flowing tan sleeves with an intricate pattern laced within them hang from a loose, tan-colored blouse falling below the waist over long, full skirts. If you look at the pattern closely on the woman’s sleeves and shirt, you’ll detect the shape of roosters. 

Christopher: (smiles, relaxing a bit at the sight of the woman) You don’t know how glad I am to see you. It’s been too long. 

Gabrielle: Yes, it has, or has it? It’s hard to tell in the Cauldron, when we are. I’m still glad to see you. 

Christopher: Very. I think we’re meeting for the first time in the Navel in this particular draft of Stealing Myself From Shadows our scribbler is writing. 

Gabrielle: Quite the surprise it was to realize I was a mother and you were going to be my son. A surprise I never regretted.

Christopher: I’ve always wondered at how you accepted me without question. Damian just dumped me on you at the Navel, introducing me as your son, but you made me feel as if it were the truth.

Gabrielle: It is the truth. Just because I didn’t give birth to you doesn’t mean you’re not my son. 

Christopher: Do you remember who gave birth to you?

Gabrielle: No. I was raised in the Temple of Heavenly Directions by Raphaelle, Michael, and Urielle because they needed a Gabrielle. I’m not sure why or where I came from. We weren’t encouraged to ask questions about such things. It wasn’t until I met Mireille I started questioning everything. You’re looking at me as if I’d sprouted a second head. (cocking her own veiled head in an almost hopeful way) Have I?

Christopher: (grinning a little through his bemused expression) Sorry. I’m just aware of how many stories you have to tell which you haven’t shared yet. 

Gabrielle: There are always stories to tell, Christopher, even if they’re not your own. Stealing Myself From Shadows is your story. I simply play a small part in it, saying goodbye to you as you say goodbye to the Navel, myself, and everything we represent to you. 

Christopher: I also say hello to you. In the rewrite, I get to say hello for the first time. Or something better than hello.

Gabrielle: Yes, we do.

Christopher: I never wanted to say goodbye to you. The Navel became my home. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the only mother I’ve ever had. 

Gabrielle: You may have had others.

Christopher: I don’t remember them.

Gabrielle: Perhaps you will on your journey. Even if you don’t, you’ll always have me. You haven’t lost me, Christopher. You can always come home to me.

Christopher: How can you say that? Even if I open a Door and find Omphalos, the Navel may not be there.

Gabrielle: We will be. In one form or another. 

Christopher: I may not recognize you. I may not recognize Omphalos. There are so many versions; town, village, empty field. You and the Navel are in one. The twins are in another. 

Gabrielle: We grow, we flourish, we fall, we are razed to the ground, only to be reborn again. It’s happened many times to Omphalos. 

Christopher: What do you mean?

Gabrielle: Come, come, you wouldn’t want me to spoil your story, would you? 

Christopher: I guess not. A warning of some sort about what’s to come would be appreciated. 

Gabrielle: There will be many warnings. You’ll just have to recognize them. You or someone else. 

Christopher: That’s what I’m afraid of…

#RainbowSnippets: A Symposium in Space

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday, those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just has to be LGBTQIA+.

To read a wide variety of samples from LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets/?ref=group_header

For my own, Pausania and Phaedra will pick up where they left off last week in A Symposium in Space…

“Because I can’t forget it!” Pausania slammed the glass into the wall, heedless of the broken shards. They sliced her hand causing crimson wounds to bloom all over her smooth skin. “Men have committed crime after crime, started countless wars, preying upon one another along with us. We should never forget that, especially when we start considering offering them citizenship in the Intergalactic Democracy!”

Curious about what you’re reading? Want to read more? Here are buy links…

Nine Star Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/a-symposium-in-space/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Symposium-Space-Feast-Words-ebook/dp/B07PGB15FY/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3BPACY58MCCMV&keywords=a+symposium+in+space&qid=1552937461&s=digital-text&sprefix=A+Sympo%2Caps%2C239&sr=1-1

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130883509?ean=2940161507872

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-symposium-in-space

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/928136

#QueerBlogWed: Paula’s Prompts

On July 15, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving paperwork, dripping water, and a portrait.

This freebie story for my gothic ghostly work in progress, A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words, was the result…
I lifted crumbling letter after letter, inhaling the must of the past, of Elizabeth herself. In my head, I could water dripping. Was it coming from a pipe? Droplet after droplet landed in a small pool gathering. I couldn’t see the pipe. I didn’t know where the leak was.

“Hartford Hall is an old place.” My cousin Fiona had scratched the untidy bun of red hair gathered in a messy bundle at the back of her head. “You’ll hear all sorts of strange things here, see odd things.” She’d glanced down at the front of her white lab coat. What looked like a blood stain streaked its way down the front. It was probably ketchup. Fiona didn’t wear a lab coat because she was a doctor or a scientist. She just liked the impression she gave, wearing it. People were less likely to bother her if they thought she was working on an experiment in the attic. Besides white coats were easy to bleach. “You just keep working on the Lady Elizabeth’s documentation. That’s what she wants you to do, right?”

Strange. Fiona often spoke of our ancestor, Elizabeth Hartford in the present tense. As if she were still around. Perhaps in a way she was. She’d left letter after letter, journal entry after journal entry. I was living, breathing Elizabeth Hartford as I’d always dreamed of being. Sitting at the desk where she’d once sat, sleeping in the bed where she’d once slept, I was closer to her than I’d ever been. Whenever I wished, I could go stand on the staircase and look at her portrait. That’s what she’d urged me to do, whenever I doubted myself or her.

Uh huh. I was getting as batty as Fiona Hartford, talking to a long dead ancestor. Perhaps I’d always been a little batty. I’d been obsessed with Elizabeth long before I came to Hartford Hall, obsessed with her legend, her accomplishments. I’d donned a disguise with my friend Yuri’s help, so I could live a lie in order to make my dreams come true, playing the part of a gothic heroine in Elizabeth’s home. Well, it was my ancestral home as much as Fiona’s. I was a Hartford, too, even if I’d approached Fiona under false pretenses.

Those pretenses didn’t matter. I could go through Elizabeth’s letters as well as any daughter of the Hartford line. What had been a curse in school; my slender build and delicate girlish features were assets in playing the part I pretended to.

Only Elizabeth herself seemed to know who and what I truly was. Her painted eyes in her portrait stared straight through my blouse, penetrating layers of velvet skirt. When I touched her letter, saw the address, “My little imposter,” I felt a thrill of fear run down my spine. That letter was meant for me. It spoke of my coming, of what she meant for me to do, something than greater than simply sorting through her paperwork.

All this was impossible. My dead ancestor couldn’t have anticipated my coming, a Hartford boy in skirts, pretending to be the female heir Fiona believed me to be.

The dripping was driving me mad. I left the pile of papers on the desk, exited the library. I went up the grand wooden staircase dominating Hartford Hall and started to ascend, allowing my feet to sink into each step’s velvet carpeting.

I stopped at the landing and stared at Elizabeth’s portrait. There she was, the woman of my dreams, clad in a red gown with a high neck. Golden buttons descended down from the collar. Contrary to fashion, Elizabeth’s hair tumbled, wild, red, and free over her shoulders. Elizabeth Hartford hadn’t followed fashion. She created her own style, her own rules. Others followed her.

“I wish I knew what was real,” I whispered in a hushed voice. “Reality, however, has always been overrated. At least for me.”

For one moment, I felt a chill against my cheek. Had a ghostly hand just touched me?

I could dream. I’d lived in dreams for so long, I was no longer sure what was real and what wasn’t.

Yes, reality truly was overrated.

Conversations with Christopher: Peter

Christopher sits facing a boy about his age, a little more wiry amd muscular, yet with a soft cupid’s bow of a mouth, a snubbed nose, and huge dark eyes. Auburn hair falls in curls out of his black cap with a flower tucked at a jaunty angle, matching the black velvet vest hugging his chest. The boy crosses legs covered with red hose, playing with the cameo on a golden chain of a stern-faced old man, yet he never takes his dark gaze from Christopher. 

Christopher: (not quite meeting the other boy’s eyes) Peter, it’s been a long time.

Peter: Has it? (Peter smiles, allowing his gaze to slowly roam over every inch of Christopher in intimate appraisal, but there’s something almost mocking about the twist of his mouth.) Have you missed me, my dear?

Christopher: (lifting his head to meet Peter’s stare at last, his own glassy with complex emotions) Very much. 

Peter: Really? I thought you were far too preoccupied with those pretty twins, oh, what were their names?

Christopher: (cocking his head to regard the other boy with some wariness) Why do I have a feeling you already know their names? Along with far too much about them?

Peter: Yes, you’re right, I do know their names. Danyel and Tayel are an exquisite pair of mysteries much like yourself. (He cocks his own head almost in a mocking parody of Christopher’s.) What makes you feel I know far too much about them?

Christopher: I’m not sure. There’s something about you, Peter, the light in your eyes, the way you’re looking at me now. Something is different. Something is missing. 

Peter: (leaning his cheek upon one hand, elbow propped up on his chair) You can’t enter the Shadow Forest without losing something. You’ve told me that yourself countless times. What you failed to mention is what I’d gain.

Christopher: What did you gain?

Peter: (raises his head, drops his arm) Tut, tut, no spoilers! (He waves a finger reprovingly at Christopher.) Let’s just say that Damian was right. Prick that he was, is, and shall ever be, even if he assumes the form of a voluptuous goddess, all curves and no arrogant members, he was right about the power just waiting to be lapped up in pools in the Shadow Forest. Why, it’s waiting in the warm, willing arms of the innocent, innocence that tastes strangely of you. Such power enables me to assume a form all the better to please such innocence, along with yourself. Oops, was that a spoiler? Hopefully I’m being too enigmatic to give away too much, just like our little Tayel. 

Christopher: Your enigmas worry me. You talk very much like someone I know, someone who is obsessed with the power of the Shadow Forest, someone who took Damian from me. 

Peter: And yet you’ve always found that person both seductive and compelling. Admit it, Christopher, you’re drawn to darkness. You’re part of the darkness. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t have a chance with you, you or Paul. He was drawn to the darkness as well, even though he claimed he wished to fight it. I was too playful for either of you, too carefree. Too foppish. 

Christopher: I liked how carefree you were. You helped me to find my smile again after Damian disappeared from the Navel.

Peter: Once I thought all I ever wished for was your smile. I’d give up anything to see you smile. It’s not enough, Christopher. I want more. I’m hungry for more. I almost ache with the need to fill this…empty need.

Christopher: You sound like a shadow. 

Peter: Why, Christopher, you truly are worried! I’m touched. Here I thought you were too preoccupied with all the conversations you’ve been having here, the energy you’ve invested in Danyel, Tayel, and of course your all-consuming obsession with Damian. All of these things have been devouring your existence, not leaving you a thought for me, much less a worry. 

Christopher: That’s not true. 

Peter: Ah, but it is. You’re just being kind. I don’t want your kindness, Christopher. 

Christopher: What do you want?

Peter: You. I want you to look at me the way you look at Damian Ashelocke. Only that’s impossible, isn’t it? Not unless I become Damian or someone even more impressive than him. 

Christopher: What are you saying? (He leans forward, different colors swimming in his eyes.) What are you planning?

Peter: You see? (He smiles.) Now you’re looking at me, really looking at me. I could get used to that. (The mists gather around Peter’s chair, swirling, thickening, concealing the boy in his chair).

Christopher: Peter? 

The mists part and clear, but there’s no sign of Peter. 

Christopher: Peter!

No one answers. Christopher stares at the empty space where the other boy was, balling his hands into trembling fists. His irises are liquid with multicolored light, spilling out of his eyes in rainbow-tinged tears. 

Christopher: You don’t have to do this to get me to see you. You never did. 

The empty space does not reply.