Conversations with Christopher: Peter (and Other?) Part 4

Once upon a time, Peter made it his personal mission to make Christopher smile. No matter how big a fool he made of himself. Eventually he succeeds.

Sitting in a dark theater, Christopher watches Peter, the sly way his lips curve, the gleam in his eye as he gazes at Suetonian’s scowl. He lets his fingers continue their stroking path down the bust’s cheek in a tickling caress. 

Not even stone can resist Peter. The scowl eases, rock-hard lips softening into something less disapproving, less ill-humored. 

Why wouldn’t it? The bust is only here because Peter wishes it. This is a stage Peter has set, but what is its purpose?

Peter: You’re wondering what I’m up to, aren’t you, Christopher? Why a stage? Why all this?

Christopher: Wouldn’t you?

Peter: Of course. I’m always thinking and wondering about other people. (He cocks his head at the bust, giving Suetonian the sly look of a man who’s just succeeded in leaving his sexual partner extremely satisfied.) I live to entertain, to please. To give you a performance that’ll make you smile, forget yourself. 

How vivid the roses are in the wallpaper behind him, almost bursing out of the second dimension. Christopher can smell them, a seductive perfume which reminds him of the Gardens, of Duessa. 

And of Damian. 

Peter loses the smirk, as if the stray thought of Damian banished it. He locks his dark eyes with Christopher’s. 

Peter: I can images in your eyes, visions of you and me. Visions which might make us both happy, if you’d let me.

Christopher: (squirming in discomfort) Peter…

Peter: You don’t know how much I covet your power. The power of Happily Ever After.

Christopher: I’m not sure how real it ever was. Happily Ever After was just a title I acquired in the Shadow Forest. 

Peter: Was it? (He licks his lips with seductive slowness) Didn’t you earn it, little shadow?

Christopher. Sometimes someone’s happiness makes someone else sad. I never could make you happy, Peter. 

Peter: So certain of my unhappiness at your side, are you?

Christopher: No. I wish I could have made you happy. 

Peter: Not half as much as I wished to make you happy.

Christopher: I know. I’m sorry, Peter. 

Peter: For what? Whatever do you have to be sorry for?

Christopher: I was rude to you when you came to the Navel. I rejected you so many times. I took offense to everything you did.

Peter: I know. (He smiles a little, a flush coming to his cheeks.) It was adorable. I fear it brought out the pervert in me. 

Christopher: You never stopped trying to make me happy. No matter how much you flirted or tried to touch me, all you really wanted was a smile. 

Peter: Oh, Christopher. (He chuckles.) I wanted a lot more than that!

He let out another chuckle. Suetonian’s stone lips turn down into a smirk, his sightless gaze fixed upon Christopher, giving the shadow the impression he was laughing right along with Peter. 

Like a hot, blistering wave it hit Christopher. Scorn. Scorn for everyone, the entire history of civilization. How could he not mock it? No wonder he’d told a history filled with lies. No one had caught him. Not until centuries later. Why would they? People enjoyed his embellishments too much. It made them careless about checking his facts. What amusing fools. 

This hot wave of scorn was coming from the bust of Suetonian, the personality animating the stone. Or what Peter thought animated the stone. Who and what he’d decided Suetonian was. It was withering. 

Christopher stood in the middle of it, thinking this is what the flowers must feel like when I get too close, when they wither and turn black. 

No. Christopher sat up straight, stopping squirming, and planted his feet in the ground. For it mattered. The truth mattered. Why else would the most of persuasive lies have a measure of truth? 

This was the key to Peter. Even when he was lying, mocking other people he was telling the truth. He was convinced it was what other people needed, wrapping them in the reality he thought they needed, but there was something comforting in a reality which stayed solid, a sky filled with changing colors you could just watch, without worrying about whatever was in your imagination flying down and devouring you. You could let your imagination wander, your visions staying locked in your head while you just flirted with them, safe and sound. 

Not that Peter was in a place where he could indulge in such things. 

The set wall was creeping forward. Red roses poked their way out of the velvet, accompanied by thorns, thrusting their way through. 

Look out, Christopher wanted to cry, but the words wouldn’t come out. The look in Peter’s eye silenced him, something hungry and hurt. 

Peter: Did I make you happy, Christopher? Really? Or did I just tear open old wounds, my presence constantly reminding you that Damian was no longer there?

Christopher: No. (He hangs his head, not wanting to reflect the past back in his shimmering eyes of all the times he scowled at Peter, letting Peter know he could never replace Damian in so many ways when he didn’t say it out right.) I’m sorry. 

Peter: Once again, I’m baffled at this shame. What do you have to be sorry about?

Christopher: No matter how bratty I was, you never stopped trying to get to smile. And you did. Remember?

He looks up, meets Peter’s eyes, hoping his own shine with the moment Peter did get him to smile, standing in a garden which Christopher once saw as just his and Damian’s. 

Christopher: You explained purple prose to me. You said it was a guilty pleasure of yours. I realized it was a pleasure of mine, too. Only I never knew I was supposed to feel guilty about it. 

Peter: Of all the lines I’d ever used, I never knew that admission would be the key to getting you to smile. 

Christopher: That moment was ours. Yours and mine. 

Peter: One fleeting moment. (He closes his own eyes, refusing to look at Christopher.) There was others, so many others. Moments when I tried to touch and you shrank away. Maybe you wouldn’t have minded it if it was someone else. You would have welcomed it. 

Suetonian’s stone smirk grows. Christopher could almost feel his scorn. 

Suetonian: <Happily Ever After indeed.> Christopher hears the words in his head, although he’s not sure if Peter can. <You think you can cheer up this challenge, little shadow? This ultimate shadow I’ve nourished with my lessons of the power of lies?> A hint of pride mingled with the scorn. <He doesn’t want a happy ending. All that bother trying to make other people happy, to make you happy, yet he refuses to recall the time he succeeded. He’d rather be pricked by thorns and make a joke out of it.>

The set wall is right behind Peter, pressing against his back. As if to illustrate Suetonian’s point, they scratch his cheeks, catching in his hair. 

Peter grins as if, yes, it was all a joke. Suetonian grins right along with him. 

Peter: Funny how the answer is perfectly obvious. If you wish I was someone else, maybe I should become someone else. Someone who makes both you and Paul happy.

Christopher: (standing up) You already do! Don’t try to change, Peter. We like you the way you are!

Peter: Ah, that’s not true. (He nestles back amidst the roses and thorns, even when they tear at his cheeks, sending bloody tears streaking down his face.) I distress Paul so much, he literally tore himself in two. As for you, I’m always putting pressure on you, making you feel like you have to respond to my lust and satisfy it. Better to become someone who can satisfy you. 

Christopher: No!

He leaves his seat, runs toward the stage. 

The thorns snake out into tendrils, lashing at Christopher, keeping him away from the stage.

Christopher: (glaring at them) If only I had a sword. 

Peter: Why don’t you wish for one? Slash at my thorns, like a fairytale prince. What a princess I’ve turned out to be, making my bed amongst the briars. Go ahead and give us a whack. You’d think I’d be used to your blows by now.

Christopher: Blows? (He stared at Peter, reflecting the young man in the standing bower of briars.) What have I done to you?

Peter: Nothing I didn’t ask for or beg for. You’re quite the slight little thing, but your unhappiness, your loneliness feels like a blow. 

Christopher: I’m not unhappy. Nor am I lonely. I have Gabrielle. I thought I had you. 

Peter: And I can never have you anymore than you can have Damian. How I hated him.

Christopher: All right, yes, I missed Damian. I was unhappy, even heartbroken when he left, but you got me to smile again. You reminded me of what it was like to smile. You couldn’t have done that, Peter, if you hadn’t been you. Please don’t dismiss yourself or the power you have!

Peter: Oh, I don’t. After all, I’m flexible. Adaptable. (He writhes a bit against the thorns as if he enjoys their pricks.) Capable of changing into someone better. Someone you’ll actually want. Someone everyone will want. 

Christopher: There’s no such thing as someone everyone wants?

Peter: (widening his eyes, smiling in a wicked way) If you believe that, Christopher, you’re unworthy of the power of Happily Ever After. I’ll be taking that burden from you, the challenge of making everyone happy.

Christopher: How can you do that? I tried, Peter, but we’ve seen it’s not possible. 

Peter: How quickly you forget your own lessons! Anything is possible Beyond the Door. Including becoming a god.

Christopher: You think you can become a god?

Peter: If enough people believe in me, believe that I can make them happy, yes. A godling, at the very least. 

Christopher: You’re starting to remind me of Dyvian. 

Peter: Thank you for reminding me that he’s one of the first people I have to find and convert. I’ll see you in another form, Christopher.

Peter’s body disappears, becoming a flurry of rose petals. They take flight, along with the set wall which dissolves into flowers, flying and floating. 

Christopher remains with the empty stage and no set. Only Suetonian’s bust remains. 

Christopher: I wonder that he didn’t take you with him. 

Suetonian: <I’ve taught him all there is to know. It’s his turn to surpass me in deception and art.>

Christopher: What you’re saying almost sounds noble, yet it gives me the chills. 

Suetonian. <Thank you.>

Christopher: That wasn’t a compliment. 

Suetonian: <That wasn’t entirely not a compliment.>

Christopher: (sighing) No, I suppose it wasn’t. 

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Conversation with Christopher: Peter (and Others) Part 3

Paul shudders in the silence, hugging himself, trying to still his own trembling. 

It’s a silence Christopher felt compelled to give into, relaxing all movement, anything which might make noise. Never mind that he’s supposed to be having a conversation. Let the silence breathe for a moment. To interrupt would be rude. No, worse. Unkind. 

Peter has no such reservations. He walks over to Paul, drops to his knees, and hugs him, murmuring something into his ear. 

They look more like brothers than former lovers, holding each other. There’s a stamp of similiarity to their features; same generous mouth, same up-turned nose, same delicate jawline, the same lustrous dark eyes, filled with emotions. Even the way their hair curls, falling in locks over their foreheads is the same, even if Peter’s is more russet. 

For a moment Paul allows himself to be hugged. Allows himself to relax, to release a hissing breath.

Paul: No. (He pulls away, pushes Peter away.) Just because the ugliest part of me has taken on a separate form means you’re safe from me. Quite the contrary.

Peter: When did I ever want to be safe? Especially from you? (He reaches for Paul again.)

Paul accepts his hand, rising to his feet, lifting Peter to his as he does. The two of them stand and turn toward the bust. 

Paul: I don’t know why you brought Suetonian here. 

Peter: He represents our talent for self-deception, but also for re-invention. 

Paul: Do you want to re-invent yourself, Peter? 

Peter: (tightening his grip on Paul’s hand, eye bright with a hunger he doesn’t bother to hide) Always. 

Paul: (smiling with a measure of scorn) A pity. I don’t. Not now that I’ve cast off my ugliest feathers.

He pulls his hand free of his former lover’s with a violent anger that makes Peter stumble. He stares at Christopher, sitting silently in the audience.

Paul: We’ve all got something to hide, deep outside, wanting to come out. You’ve seen what I’ve got. When are you going to show yours?

He doesn’t wait for an answer. He spreads his arms, transforming into a blur of spiralling black feathers. The feathers become birds. They fly in all directions, seeking the exits, not stopping to dive at anyone on the way. 

Christopher watches them go. He looks back at the stage, to see Peter gazing at him. 

Peter: When are you going to show me?

Christopher: What makes you think I haven’t?

Peter lets out a chuckle at this. He runs a finger over Suetonian’s stone head. 

The bust silently scowls. 

(To be continued…)

Conversations with Christopher: Peter (And Others) Part 2

The damask wall behind begins to bleed. A blood tear runs from the stone eye of Suetonian’s bust. 

Peter: (looking from wall to stone face) Why are you crying? Is the desire to be loved so wrong? I’m willing to change in order to wine that love. 

A second tear runs down from Suetonian’s other eye. 

Peter turns to look at Christopher still sitting in the empty theatre. The slender boy is very still, keeping his hands laced tight in his lap. 

Peter: Are you listening? Am I so wrong?

Christopher: No, but I’m not you.

Peter: What’s that supposed to me? (He gestures to the wall and the bust.) Do you think I’m the one doing this?

Paul: Always. 

His voice comes from everywhere in the theater, surrounding the stage. 

Peter spins around, looking here and there, trying to spot his former lover. 

A raven flies down from rafters hidden in the darkness above to alight on Suetonian’s bust. It deliver a single derisive peck to the liar, err, historian’s head. 

Peter: Now that’s just rude. (He wiped his brow, tossing his auburn curls over his shoulder.) Not to mention hypocritical. 

The raven fixes its beady eye upon Peter. There’s something both lascivious and contemptuous about its stare. 

Peter: (backs away) You have no right to look at me like that. 

The bird flies down to the ground and puffs out its chest, hunching within its wings. The feathered dark body begins to grow. Its shadow expands along with its body, drawing in the darkness swarming around the threater to swirl in its body. Too much darkness for whatever is forming. Some of it drips sodden feathers, turning into a pools of a reddish-brown ooze. The ooze smells like rot, mildew, and something sickeningly sweet. 

The body swells to man-size, wings folding to reveal a young man’s pale slender body. Paul raises his glossy dark head, fixing a reproachful ebon eye upon Peter. 

Paul: Don’t I? Who amongst us isn’t a hypocrite? Certainly not you, flinching from this form. Do you detest yourself that much?

Peter: (mouth half-open in shock) Do you even need to ask that question? You’re the one who made me hate myself. 

Paul: I’ve never been able to make you do anything. No matter how hard I tried. 

Peter: Is that why you left me?

Paul: I left you because I was trying to protect you from all this!

Paul drops to his knees. The wings vanish from his back, leaving a few feather to flutter in their wake. 

One of them drifts toward Christopher, hovering around his face. 

Christopher: (shutting his eyes) No. I’m not going to feed on you. Not now. 

The feather vanishes in a shower of golden dust which clings to Christopher’s face, lips, and tightly clasped hands. 

Christopher: No. 

Some of the dust slips into his mouth when he speaks, making him choke, making him lose his grip on himself. 

Paul: There’s no such thing as refusing to feed for a shadow. Not for very long. Even if you say no, we can’t help but throw ourselves at you when you’re hungry. 

Peter: Leave him alone. You’re here to torment me, aren’t you?

The pools of ooze slid across the floor, become one. A figure rises, dripping reddish brown slime  which disappears before it hits the ground. It disappears into the man’s black beard, his pale skin, his dark robes. 

The man grins a yellow-toothed grin, filled with ugly glee. He lacks Paul’s beauty, yet he looks very much like Paul might, given added years and a life of malice. 

Gryluxx: Oh, I’m here to torment everyone I can. It’s my pleasure. 

Christopher: Gryluxx. 

Peter: Gryluxx? The feather-brained gossip of the Shadow Forest? 

Gryluxx: Watch who you call feather-brained, my pretty pervert. It’s only too close to insulting yourself, is it not? 

Gryluxx walks over to Paul to lay a hand upon his head. 

Paul shivers, shutting his eyes, a look of revulsion distorting his delicate features, features which are very like Gryluxx’s own. It’s their expressions which change them into something very different. 

Peter: What are you doing? Leave him alone!

Gryluxx: Why should I do that? Why should I do anything you say? Because this is your stage and you are the star? Just how long can you wallow in that delusion? 

Christopher: (standing up) What do you want, Gryluxx?

Gryluxx: Peace, little shadow. Your part in this conversation is only as the audience. You might choke on a spoiler if you’re not silent. 

Christopher: One might say your entire appearance here with Paul is a spoiler. 

Gryluxx: One might say many things. (He runs his fingers through Paul’s lustrous dark hair.) One might speak of weakness, of eternal youth and beauty as a plaything to a god. Or worse, a goddess. 

He gives Christopher and Peter both meaningful smirks, making them flush in response.

Gryluxx: Yes, we might speak of passion for pretty perverts and time wasted trying to save them from their own debasement. We might speak of distractions from the hunt.

It is Paul’s turn to flinch, shivering under Gryluxx’s caress. 

Peter: You’re a fine one to speak of perverts, touching him like that. (He advances, hands balled in a fist.) Who do you think you are?

Gryluxx: Who do I think I am? (He stopped, fixing Peter with an angry glare.) Don’t you see, you foppish little fool? You with your set, your bust, and your need to be loved. Well, you were loved and I’m bored of it. (He looks the auburn-haired youth up and down with a sneer.) 

Paul looks up at the man touching him with sheer revulsion. 

Paul: No. It’s a lie. I never stopped loving Peter, no matter how much he exasperated me. You’re not part of me. You’re not part of me.

Gryluxx: (stooping to lean close to whisper in Paul’s ear) No, I’m not. You rejected me. You’ve released me. Now I’m free to do as I please. (He lets out an ugly caw to rend the air, piercing everyone’s ears.)

Christopher claps his hands over his, feeling his skin crawl. Peter takes a step back, flinching at the sound. Paul swallows, his face twisting in revulsion. 

Gryluxx: Oh, how you scorn my cries! Cringe all you wish before me, but I exist. I am ambition. I am frustration. I am everything you find too petty you acknowledge, but I am here.

Paul: No. (Paul slowly gets to his feet, glowering at Gryluxx. The golden light in his eyes is hellish.) You have no place here.

Gryluxx: (wagging a finger under Paul’s nose) Deny me all you wish. You’ve created that place. Your own disgust with yourself summoned me forth. 

Paul: Why? What do you want? To destroy me?

Gryluxx: To destroy you. To live for you. To do all the things you would not. Everything Jupitre would not let you do. Everything you were afraid of showing Peter.

Paul: (becomes very still, still as a statue) What do you mean? 

Gryluxx: Now, now. If I spoiled the surprise, it would certainly be a spoiler. Just wait and find out!

He spreads his arms, disappearing into a flock of black birds, all cawing in mockery. The raven take flight, going up and in all directions.

Some of them dive bomb Christopher, beaks aimed at his face. He ducks, shielding his head. The theatre is filled with their cries, their discordant laughter, the flap of birds’s wings before the ravens find the unseen exits in this place not visible in the dark. 

The silence they leave behind is a living, breathing thing. 

(To be continued…) 

Conversations with Christopher: Peter

Troubled by Paul and Hebe’s words about Peter, Christopher walks into ever-darkening mist, sensing his own desires are guiding him as much as the Cauldron’s next guest’s. 

The darkness doesn’t abate. He finds himself in an enclosed space yet space is all around him, filled with rows of seats and a stage standing before him. 

Lights illuminate the theatre, the single wall of crimson damask which forms the set. Peter paces in front of it, wearing a high-necked yellow shirt, a loose cravat, a red waistcoat, and matching breeches. He pauses next to a marble bust of man wtih a stern, frowning face. 

Christopher stops in the middle of the aisle, looking across the empty theatre. There’s no one here, but Peter and himself. 

Christopher: That’s a new look for you.

Peter: (not looking at him) I was trying to figure out what to say to you. Trying to rehearse the words as if they were lines in a play. Behold! (He spreads his arms wide and does a little spin.) I found myself here, on stage! (He pats the bust upon the head.) Quite the amusing little turn of the surreal, isn’t it, you old rogue?

Christopher gives the bust a wary look. You never know who or what might speak in the Cauldron.

The bust remains silent, all dour frowns. That doesn’t mean it…or he…isn’t listening.

Christopher takes a seat in the front row. 

Christopher: Who’s that? (waving at the bust)

Peter: A liar. Or a historian. (He shrugs.) For Suetonian, they were one and the same. It wasn’t about painting an accurate picture of the past for this particular record-keeper. It was about telling an entertaining tale which would be passed from listener to listener. Embellishments were welcome, especially if they suited his needs. 

Christopher: Why is he here?

Peter: Old Suetonian? (He let out a strained giggle.) Strange to hear myself speak of him thus. How I admired him when I was younger! Paul thought I was mad to do so. Now he’s nothing more than a prop, a reminder of my own compulsion to tell a pleasing tale with only enough truth to make it nourishing. 

Christopher: Is that what you want to tell me, Peter? A pleasing tale?

Peter: Someone has to do it. I’m sure Paul won’t. 

Christopher: He’s worried about you. Worried about what he might do to you, what he might have done. 

Peter: (letting out another strained chuckle) A little late for that. 

Christopher: He’s also worried about what I might do to you.

Peter: What you might do to me? (He throws his head back and laughs.) 

Christopher: (flushing) He’s right. At least he is about me. I have a bad feeling he’s right about himself, too. 

Peter: The shadow and the hunter, oh no! (He raises a hand in a mocking gesture of stage fear and swooning.) 

Christopher: It’s true. 

Peter: Oh, yes, it’s so truthfully one side of the truth! (He paces across the stage and make a turn.) If there’s one thing you and Paul have in common, it’s a tendency to shy away from everyone else out of fear of how scary you are. I’ve never been scared of you. Either of you. 

Christopher: Maybe you should be. 

Peter: And maybe there’s a gentleness, a vulnerability in both of you you’re unaware of. A certain tenderness that puts you in as much danger from me. 

Christopher: Is that what you think?

Peter: I’m the one that lures you into Once Upon a Time’s mouth.

Christopher: I have a bad feeling that was a spoiler. 

Peter: He’s the beginning of all stories so it should be expected. Stories involve conflict, even outright hell. Hell has at times been a mouth. Why shouldn’t Once Upon a Time, everyone’s beginning be a mouth ready to swallow them?

Christopher: It’s a frightening image. I much prefer to think of Once Upon a Time as a Door opening to a path which takes us where we wish to go. Even if it’s the wrong path. 

Peter: That, too. It’s all metaphor, only metaphor, yet metaphor means more than anyone realizes until it’s too late. 

Christopher: (sighs) I’m afraid that’s true.

Peter: (pacing back until he returns to Suetonian) All my lies are true. Unlike this old fellow. (He pats the bust on the head.)

Christopher: (smiles, shaking his head) There you go again. Distracting me from your contradictory words with a joke. 

Peter: My dear Christopher, I’ve never met a more contradictory child than you. (He makes a sweeping bow to his audience of one.) Everything you do is a contradiction. 

Christopher: (frowning) How so?

Peter: You feed on the living, you feed on other shadows. You feed on life, vitality, passion, memory, and thought. All the while you scheme to give those things back. 

Christopher: Scheme?

Peter: Carrying the stone, the egg, giving life to those delectable twins. That was quite the mythological scheme worthy of an old god. Or godling. 

Christopher: (squirming uncomfortably in his seat) Not my scheme alone. 

Peter: No, it was quite collaborative. You helped a lot of half-empty people achieve their own dreams, get at least a piece of them back in the process. Stealing Myself From Shadows, indeed! 

Christopher: (straightening his shoulders) Perhaps I define myself differently than you do. 

Peter: Don’t be so sure of that. We were were both happy in the Navel, giving people what they didn’t even want back. 

Christopher: Are you saying you’re like me?

Peter: Yes and no. I’m not sure if I’d give as generously as you, although I may have to be brave enough to try. 

Christopher: Why?

Peter: For my wish to be granted. Like I said, you were entirely too generous, but I want more. 

Christopher: Generous? I don’t remember giving you what you wanted. 

Peter: Yes, you did. You and Paul are alike in this as well. You’re willing to give away everything you have, everything you are, yet you’re hungry void ready to swallow everything

Christopher: Which is why we’re dangerous to you, no matter how gentle or generous you believe us to be. 

Peter: No matter how gentle, generous, or hungry you might be, you’re no match for me. 

Christopher: What do you mean?

Peter: I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life with Paul. The closest I’ve come to that happiness was with you. At the same time I wasn’t satisfied. 

Christopher: Why not?

Peter: (taking a deep breath, pausing center stage) I want to make everyone happy. I want to make everyone love and worship me. 

Christopher: (sighed) I’ve tried making everyone happy. Or perhaps I’m going to try making everyone happy. I’m not happy with my chances of success. 

Peter: Neither am I, but it’s what I want. No matter how small my chances of success are. 

(To be continued) 

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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P is Peter

Like Christopher, I was born in music, particularly the songs by a pop band our scribbler enjoyed. I was a little playful, a little mischievous, and had an eye for a pretty youth right from the beginning. I laughed, mocked, and teased the world, never wasting my time in rage the way Damian did. My initial concept was as an actor playing the part of one of the scribbler’s favorite vampires in a surreal fanfic. I’ve collected quirks over the years like wearing velvet doublets, owning a knock-off bust, being dumped by an eccentric spirtualist and club-hopper in search of monsters, to name a few. Some of this has made its way into Tales of the Navel. I’ve flourished at the Navel, languishing in the shadow of Damian, getting very attached to Christopher and ‘Brie. I’ve taken some twists and turns since I decide to help Christopher to return to the Shadow Forest. I’ve found out I’m up to many things, in bed with some people (literally) which caught me with my pants down (again literally) No, I’m no longer me at the end of this journey (again literally) if it ever ends. No matter what, I do my best to enjoy the road and what company I find along it. 

Conversations with Christopher: Duessa and Peter

Christopher walks through the mists. They cling to him, kissing his cheek and hair, whispering things he should remember, yet he’ll soon forget. 

The mists part, almost reluctantly to reveal a sunlit garden with tall hedges and dense rose bushes. 

Christopher doesn’t want to look too closely. If he does, he’ll see the spiderwebs, clinging the green. Their mistresses lie in wait next to the roses, ready to bloom. 

Christopher: Metaphoric. (He smiles in spite of himself at the word, unsure if it is a word.)

He allows his feet to follow a familar path winding deep into the hedges. The faint sound of children giggling, boys whose voices haven’t changed, boys who’ve learned not to raise their voices is carried by the wind, only to be silenced. 

Christopher reaches the end of the path in a clearing where a statue should be at the center.

Only there is no statue. Just Peter standing on a pedestal, striking a pose in his red hose and doublet, cap perched at a jaunty angle upon his head. 

Peter: (opening eyes which are half-closed, smiling at the sight of Christopher) Be my valentine?

Christopher: (not smiling) What are you doing here? These are the Gardens of Arachne!

Peter: Are they? (He looks around with interest.) I thought we were in the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration?

Christopher: Yes and no. (He shivers) If we’re in the Lady Duessa Ashelocke’s gardens, I doubt she’s far away.

Peter: And why should being in this Lady Duessa’s gardens bother me?

Duessa: And what makes you think Peter’s question was just for you?

A shadow with eight arms spreads to loom over and envelop the two young men, accompanied by the hissing rustle of heavy skirts upon the ground. 

Of course the shadow is caused by the Lady Duessa. Of course it’s her burgundy skirts making the rustling. She wears a jacket of similar color which actually has eight sleeves to accomodate her eight arms. A ruby heart pin is fasted upon the high white colar of the blouse underneath her jacket. In a gloved hand, she carries a single red rose. 

Duessa and Peter look like they stepped out of completely different times and places yet somehow they complement each other. She with her auburn waves pulled up to fall in loose ringlets below a jaunty burgundy hat with a slight veil hanging to conceal one of her four pairs of eyes. He, leaning toward the lady and her rose, auburn waves spilling loose from beneath his cap. 

Duessa holds out her offering to Peter, but Christopher is standing on the path between them.

Christopher: Just what are you up to?

Duessa: Damian has been a bad influence on you, tidbit. You’ve forgotten your manners. It’s, “What are you up to, my lady?” We’re in my gardens, remember? Or have you forgotten? 

Christopher: (hugs himself) I could never forget.

Duessa: That’s good to know, sweetmeat. (She brushes her rose against his nose.) As charming as I’ve always found your company, I’m not here for you.

Christopher: What? (He glances over his shoulder at Peter, not daring to take his eyes off Duessa. Not completely. After all, he has only two of them.)

Peter scowls and stands up straight, losing his languid posture.

Peter: Just because your answer is always “no” to that question doesn’t mean everyone else’s is. 

Christopher: What question? Be my valentine? (He turns back to face to Duessa, dawning horror widening his eyes.) No, you can’t!

Duessa: (smiling sweetly, fluttering four pairs of eyelashes) You’re right, tidbit. I can’t. Peter, however, can.

Peter: What?

Christopher: (shaking his head) No.

Duessa: Yes. As guardian of the Gardens, I cannot be your valentine, Peter. You, however, could be mine. 

Christopher: Don’t do it, Peter. Don’t even say it. Damian told me what she does with her valentines. 

Peter: Oh, and I should spurn this fascinating and exotic lady because the Paragon of Pricks has deemed so? 

Duessa: Paragon of Pricks. A curious title for a gently reared Ashelocke bloom. (At least one pair of eyes hardens.) I assume this is my nephew, Damian you’re insulting. 

Peter: Your nephew? (He gazes at Duessa in shocked comprehension.)

Christopher: Yes. The Lady Duessa is Damian’s aunt. 

Peter: (opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again) This divine goddess is related to Damian?!

Duessa: (chuckles, regaining her amusement) How charming of you to say so, but I’m not a goddess. Merely the proud servant of one. 

Peter: (considering her words) Arachne. Christopher called this place the Gardens of Arachne. Is she your goddess?

Duessa: Clever boy. Yes, she is. 

Christopher: And as Arachne’s priestess, she has appetities. Appetites you may not survive. 

Duessa: Come, come, Christopher. Being my valentine may not grant you eternal beauty as being my Marriage Feast does, but Peter might survive the pleasure. 

Christopher: Only for so long.

Peter: This is all very intriguing. Are you a vampire, my lady?

Duessa: (titters) Goddess, no. I can’t simply sink my fangs into someone and drain their blood as if they were a water fountain!

Christopher: You do have fangs. You do sink them into your victims. 

Duessa: They’re not victims, tidbit. They’re valentines and bridegrooms. You ought to know. 

Christopher raises a hand to touch his neck. Four tiny red marks lay upon the skin. For a moment he feels a faint pain there and in his right thigh, followed a tingling pleasure that spreads completely through his body. 

Peter: (watching all of this with an increasing frown) You’ve had Christopher. He was one of your Valentines.

Duessa: He was one of my bridegrooms, my Marriage Feasts. (Her smile fades.) Damian never forgave me for taking him. 

Christopher: (looking at Duessa with some startlement) He didn’t?

Duessa: You caused a rift between us before I saw you, much to my surprise at his side in the Navel. I wonder at how you’re talking to me now. I suppose this Cauldron is a place of wonders.

Christopher: (it’s his turn to smile sweetly) That and more. Besides you wouldn’t want everything to be revealed here and now. 

Peter: You’ve made quite a few revelations. (not smiling) At least to me. 

Duessa: (regaining her amused composure) Don’t worry, Peter. (She nods at the youth on the pedestal.) You’ll remember little of your time here. The mists will take your memories of this place.

Peter: Such a pity. You’re not giving me a chance to consider your offer, my lady.

Christopher: What? You’ve just learned that she…fed on me. You’ve learned a little of what she is. She may well have had a hand in making me what I am. She definitely had a hand in making Damian what he is. 

Duessa: If you’re looking for an apology for any of it, you won’t get one. I’ve always been proud of Damian. I’m starting to be proud of you, Christopher, any hand I may have had in your development, even if it’s beyond the Gardens’s expectations. I’m curious what effect I may have on Peter.

Peter: I’m curious, too. Curious about this offer from a woman unlike any other I’ve seen. A woman who’s quite close to a boy I covet and a man who’s become my rival.

Duessa: Please don’t insult my Damian. Don’t call him a man. He’s still a blossom of the Gardens of Arachne where boys are savored, not sacrificed to a rough maturity devoid of sentiment. 

Peter: I meant no insult, my lady. (He made a slight bow.) Indeed, I’m sorry I’ll be forgetting what I learned here. I hope I’ll have an opportunity to consider your offer. 

Duessa: Oh, you will. In another time. Another place.

Christopher: Don’t listen to her, Peter. She may not consider herself to be a vampire, but she’s too much like one for you to emerge from any sort of…encounter…with her intact. 

Peter: You’re making it irresistible! I do hope you’re jealous. 

Christopher: Jealous?

Duessa: I sincerely hope you are. After taking Damian from me, it’s only fair that I take someone from you. 

Christopher: No, please don’t!

The mists rise from above Duessa’s skirts, swirling around her. They creep up Peter’s pedestal, enveloping Peter himself. The mists swallow Duessa, Peter, covering the entire garden. 

Christopher stands alone with nothing but mist. 

Christopher: Don’t punish Peter for my deeds. 

What might be a faint feminine laugh floats back through the mists. Or it could be just the wind. Christopher can’t tell. 

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