Witches of the Wood

And first there was Florence, with her wild howls and hair like fire. With her boy building coffins and her sad siren songs, carried in the arms of the ocean to the banks of stone. She danced in gowns of green and raised her frail hands to the sky, summoning rain. Her love was cosmic, and she danced with devils. She was their leader.

And then there was Aurora, who would run with the wolf cubs and lie in the snow, who’d touch moths with her fingertip and sleep on the moon. She danced liked an animal, fingers clutching and toes pointed, kissing strangers and staying mute. But when she did sing, it was like the wind, high and haunting. She was their conqueror.

And then there was Phillipa, with her dark hair and dark eyes and dark words. Who would seduce the wolf at her door and condemn the adulterer. She was the disappearance of the girl, the black of the moonsea, the toll of the funeral bell. She was their dragonfly keeper.

Nanna was a peach, soured.

Soley was a fairy, devoured.

Each had their charm and biting wit, but each could be deadly—one dripping sin, the other melancholy. One killing darlings, the other clowns. Their faces were bare, but their eyes were clear. They were their moon and sinking sun.

Claire Elise was not a witch, but a sprite, an elfling. She’d often hang around to jest and jeer, but only in good fun. She’d cavort as an angel with white-feathered wings, spitting blood and staining stones like they, in their grime, were her own. She was not one of them, but she appreciated power. She was their butterfly.

Byrne was a human, but seemingly immortal. All long limbs and pale skin. All lonesome tones and lusty eyes. Brown-bearded and bold, in a billowing shirt, he would join them in their songs with his hand-carved guitar, planting his feet in the mossy ground. His lips were stained with cherry wine. They were his church. He was their worshiper.

These were the creatures of the wood, the demigod dignitaries who made music in the night. They held stars in their mouths and kept potions in jars and sang to saplings to help them grow. They stamped and stepped and twirled and teased, their souls in the air and their voices in the trees. Their hearts were rebels and their words were untamed. Each had a vision, each unashamed. And on some dewy mornings, as they slept in soft light, the wolves would lay with them, warming them ’till night.

© 2019 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Advertisements

The Humanity of an Angel

It began in a neighborhood, quiet and commonplace, with a girl of similar qualities. Everyone knew her as “Audrey”, but her name was Celeste, and she was an angel; she just didn’t know it yet. Seventeen at the time, she was on the cusp of full-fledged womanhood, yet her face still bore all the innocence and naivety of adolescence. She was like a lily of the field, easily martyred for others.

She’d had a sheltered upbringing, her parents meaning well but ultimately suffocating her with an overbearing love that left no room to grow—to explore the world around her. They meant to protect her from evil and sin, never thinking she could be a light strong enough to overcome it. They always called her their little angel, a term of endearment stemming from how sweetly and obediently she followed orders, their dutiful daughter so kind to everyone she met.

She didn’t have many friends. It was a side effect of being educated at home and having few opportunities to socialize in their quiet suburbia. The neighborhood kids would sometimes allow her to join in their ruckus-making, although truthfully Celeste never much liked their wild games of throwing baseballs and butting heads. No, she much preferred exploring the small forest at the end of the cul-de-sac, being so fond of nature—most of all climbing trees.

It was her most sacred rebellion, this act of scaling large oaks and towering pines to touch the sky and feel the wind against her neck. It seemed the higher she climbed, the more the clouds above her would clear, parting the way for her to touch the sky. The kids thought her strange, but they all could admit she was fearless when it came to heights and thus often recruited her to fetch their frisbee when it got caught on a high branch.

Later, as she blossomed into a teenager, she began to develop some behavior problems which made her parents question if she was still their little angel. A storminess would sometimes overtake her, causing her to lash out with harsh words or scream without warning. She spent more and more hours outside, any excuse to escape her parents. Often times she wouldn’t answer to “Audrey”, acting as if it wasn’t her name at all. The other neighborhood adults assured her mother and father that it was perfectly normal for a girl of her age to be volatile, and yet they still thought something was peculiar about the stormy gaze she’d have and the fact that every time she’d lash out or cry, it would start to rain.

Despite this rebellion, they could still rely on her to tend her plants—ever her companions, apparent in the number of succulents on her windowsill and flowers in her garden. They flourished under her care: the pansies, poppies, and hyssop plants blooming with every touch and whisper. She even took to planting a tree, but not in her backyard, for she wanted it untouched by a human’s gaze. She planted this little fir in a small clearing deep in the forest, not far from a pond with water lilies. It was her own little secret, one she never shared. It felt more special to not tell anyone about it.

Nature was not her only respite though. Faithfully she would attend every service at the small chapel down the road, staring up at the golden stained glass like it was her savior. There was never any storminess on a Sunday morning, only sunshine and smiles. The pastor, charmed by her devotion and bright eyes so uncommon in his church, assumed it was the depiction of sacrifice that enamored her, but really it was the light shining through the crimson glass of Christ’s bleeding body that held her attention, making her feel whole.

There was something so lovely about the glistening redness on his palms and side, contrasting the pale cream of his flesh, the ebony of his bones, the silver of his thorny crown. This hallowed image of crucifixion was her favorite thing about the chapel, drawing her back like a moth to the flame.

Oh, she was undoubtedly an angel. The way her brown eyes were ancient, the way the dandelions on the sidewalk seemed to drift towards her, the way the lamplight at night always found her. In the church choir, her voice stood out from the rest as more soulful, more haunting. In school, her teachers thought her odd, a young woman with a penchant for dreamy stares and leaves in her dark hair. She never spoke but always listened. She was always alone but never appeared lonely. One student reported seeing steam coming off her during a sunshower as she walked home, like her body was warm enough to heat rain.

However, only one man ever knew what she truly was, because he was the only one she ever kissed.

Captain Thomas Pierce was the head of the police station, a stoic man of handsome features and a callous temperament. Little was known about his life, where he was from, or why he’d chosen to stay in their small town for so many years. Few even knew his first name. He was curt, cool, and closed-off, a man of intimidating presence. He behaved as such because had long ago decided to make himself hollow. Why allow yourself to feel in a world of so much suffering? And so he didn’t, so much so he thought he wasn’t capable of anything else.

It was an autumn evening when they met. It was late, and he was on patrol. Although generally his job revolved around paperwork and strategic advising, he often took night shifts to make use of his insomnia. There was a soft rain blanketing the town, a warm dampness in the air. All was quiet and dark.

He saw her first, a figure with a flashlight weaving between the trees of the forest. Suspicious, for no one was ever out at this hour, he dimmed his headlights and drove closer, parking his car at the edge of the clearing. At this range he could now better make out the figure on the move.

It was a girl, in a white cotton t-shirt that came to her knees.

Earlier in the evening Celeste had, after a long period of restlessness, wished to see how her little fir was doing. Sleep did not always come easy to her, and she often found herself craving an escape. So she climbed out her bedroom window and went into the night, a ghostly apparition with messy hair. She knew her parents would tell her it was wildly insensible to be out at such an hour, especially all alone, but what was there to fear? Death and danger seemed far away as she crossed grassy lawns and wet sidewalks. So preoccupied with her wandering thoughts she did not notice the police car following her, and thus when she returned from the forest some time later, heart happy from seeing her tree growing so well, she suddenly found bright light blinding her eyes.

Her serenity shattered as she dropped her flashlight in surprise, raising her hands to her face to diminish the glare. The car door opened and out stepped Captain Pierce, who now recognized her as the strange girl with the ancient eyes. He wasn’t at all surprised.

For a moment, neither of them spoke. The air buzzed around them, like a thunderstorm was near. Her dark hair was damp with raindrops, her shirt soaked through. The glow of the headlights illuminated her like a fallen star, a meteor ablaze soon to dissipate into dust. Audrey only saw the tall and ominous figure of a man she knew she should fear, and yet she did not.

“What are you doing out at this hour?” He asked, deep voice neither harsh nor kind.

She said nothing, only continued to stare at him, wondering what he was thinking.

“It’s dangerous for girls like you to be out this late.”

“Why?” When she spoke, her voice was questioning, almost childish. Reality seemed a bit altered, creating a blur between actions and consequences, fantasy and fate.

He walked around to the other side of the car and opened the door to the back seat. “It’s raining, so let me drive you home.”

She nodded and padded over, bare feet making crunches against the leaf litter and twigs. For a moment, they stood face to face. She could count the silver buttons on his uniform and smell a musky scent which she believed was aftershave. He could see the freckles on her nose, the small pool of water in the crevice between her collarbones. She was so dainty, so petite. He felt old and rusted in her presence. Ephemeral. A muscle in his jaw clenched, and he sighed with all the weight of a man tired of living an empty life. And it made Celeste sympathize, for reasons she didn’t fully know.

And then suddenly, she knew. She realized everything and all things all at once. And she smiled.

“Thank you, Thomas,” she whispered as she reached up and touched his face.

Captain Pierce was too surprised to say anything in return or to even stop her. How does she know my first name? He thought before noticing a golden ring on the middle finger of her left hand. He swore it glowed brighter than it should. When the pads of her fingers brushed the stubble of his cheek, he felt awash in peace, cleansed. This feeling only grew stronger as she stood on tiptoes and kissed him for the briefest of moments. Her lips felt impossibly warm, and suddenly he thought he must be floating for how euphorically weightless he felt.

And then suddenly it ended; she climbed inside, and he—in a daze—shut the door.

The drive was short and silent. Occasionally he would look back in his rear-view mirror, and every time she would unwavering meet his gaze. Questions like What are you? needed no answer, because he already knew. For the first time in a long while, he felt it. He felt everything.

When he reached her house (she made no comment about him remembering her address), she waited patiently for him to stop the car and open the door for her, as it was impossible to open the door from the inside. Once again, they stood face to face.

She looked up at him through her lashes. Once again she seemed so delicate and ethereal—a creature from another time and place. He felt the overwhelming desire to cry, tears beginning to form in his blue eyes as he looked at her with a mixture of awe and understanding.

“Why?” He asked at last, choking on his words.

She smiled, kind as ever. “Because I wanted to.”

He laughed—how long had it been since he laughed?—thinking she was a rebellious youth after all. And then she patted his cheek and hurried off to her house, feet squelching on the wet grass. Captain Pierce could only watch her go, and in the rain he thought he saw the outline of something feathery (were those wings?) folded on her back. And then he climbed back into his car and drove off, white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel.

They never spoke with each other again. Celeste disappeared shortly after, and it seemed nobody remembered her except for him. Her parents insisted they had no daughter, and the neighbors acted like he was silly to suggest such a thing. Life carried on like normal in their small town. He would have thought himself to be mad if it wasn’t for how sure he was of that night, how sure he was that it’d happened.

Because some nights, when the moon was full, he would go out to the forest, to a clearing near a pond with water lilies. And he would see the outline of a woman in white, tending a little fir growing there. And he would know that there was still a little good in the world and that everything would be alright.

———

A/N: Inspired by a dream on January 23, 2019

© 2019 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

 

Vampire, Inesis

Inesis Pyre
Creature of Desire
Prince of the Night
And Phantom of Fire

A vision is he
Angel of divine light
Glimmering like the sun
Harsh, diamond bright

Long golden tresses
Halo alabaster skin
And bright eyes of amber
Tempt the wicked to sin

For immortality he wears well
A sultry glow, an ember’s heat
There’s hunger in those hooded eyes
A white wolf craving fresh meat

“Blood, blood,” he says, “The finest wine
Thick and warm, beneath tender flesh.
It flows in rivulets, rivers of red
Best consumed when taken fresh”

“Fire, fire,” he further proclaims,
“Hot and cruel it consumes the hearth.
Dancing in flames, wild, unashamed,
Full of reckless and ravishing mirth”

This is no man, for god-like is he
A seductive seraph contained in that form
His pointed fangs, white as fresh cream
Glint like lightning in a summer storm

He taints, he corrupts
Never to relinquish his hold
He is a trickster, a tempter
More than seven centuries old

A criminal overlord and mastermind
An aristocrat of devilry untamed
He is sole king of this cruel city
Even the shadows know his name


A/N: Written for a potential novel I’m working on

© 2019 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Pithy Advice

Be kind. Be affectionate. Tell the bus driver thank you, save a lizard trapped inside the building, compliment a stranger’s clothes, pick up trash on the side of the road, smile and wave at children when they wave at you. The world is far too cruel and negative for all of us to be bitter and mean all the time. And affection is surprisingly lacking, even among friends.

Ask people questions. Every person on this planet knows something you don’t, no matter their age, gender, race, or profession, and that means every person you’ve ever met could teach you something. Even if you don’t like the person, knowledge is still knowledge and it’s powerful and gets you places. Also asking questions helps facilitate relationship (especially since most people love to talk about themselves)

Remember that knowing the right people at the right time can get you farther than your own efforts. Some people call this “blessings”, but I think it’s a little more complex than that. All the best opportunities I got in my life I got from other people. In the business world, they call it “networking”. Basically you’ll find that being nice and friendly with the right person could lead you to getting  the opportunity you’ve always wanted.

Be humble, but never self-loathing. This is achieved by being grateful towards everyone in your life, but remembering what you’re capable of alone. I’ve come to realize all my greatest achievements are due to another person: whether it’s support from a parent, help from a friend, advice from a coworker, or contributions from a stranger. But I still try to be proud of those achievements because in the end,

Love the stupid little things in life that make you happy. Don’t be ashamed to love sappy romance novels or candles or croissants or comic books or monster movies or fuzzy socks. As long as it’s not hurting anyone or is a serious breach of morality, go ahead and love it till your heart is content.

Fake it till you make it. That’s not being dishonest, that’s just adulthood. But speaking of…

Always be honest. Or at least sincere. Be sincere in your words, your thoughts, your emotions. And always be honest with yourself. I can’t tell you how far this has gotten me in life. Apparently some people find it charming.

Don’t ever think you know it all. You don’t. Everyone everywhere is always learning. And like I said early, always ask questions.

Don’t apologize for your feelings. They’re just feelings, you can’t control them. Instead, apologize for actions, then ask for forgiveness and work to make things right.

Have metacognition. Think about why you think things, why you have the opinions and beliefs you do. Challenge everything you think you know. As someone very smart once told me, “don’t have beliefs, have ideas.” Don’t just have a view on a matter without reflecting on it, analyzing it, researching it, asking questions(!), and testing it. I know it’s hard to let go of certain beliefs because of emotions and past experiences, but you have to at least try.

Nothing really matters. At all. So enjoy life and try not too care about anything too much. The entire book of Ecclesiastes, supposedly written by the wisest man to ever live, can be summed up with these few words. Most importantly, don’t care about what anyone thinks about you because opinions are meaningless.

© 2019 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Dependability

I’m at a lost these days. It’s a new year, a fresh start, and I want to do right by the people I care about. I spent Monday doing my usual, annual rite of fasting, meditating, and reflecting on the old year before transitioning to the new one. It’s a time of self-improvement, me trying to figure out the kind of person I want to be, the habits and traits I should alter to become my best self, and the things in my life I want to prioritize to achieve my goals. After all the reflection and analysis, I make resolutions. I try to keep them simple and concrete, like “I want to run a faster mile”, “I want to finish my novel”, or “I want to stop interrupting people in a conversation”.

This year, though, my resolution is abstract and seems to rely entirely on opportunity: I want to become dependable.

I mention the bit about opportunity because I’ve been thinking a lot about a quote from a Morgan Freeman character in some movie I can’t quite recall. He said something along the lines of “When you ask God for courage, does He give you courage, or does He give you the opportunity to be courageous?” So in my instance, when I say I want to be dependable, what I really mean is I want opportunities in which I am tested and can choose to be dependable.

Because I’m not dependable. At all. At least to the people that matter. I know my family and friends would protest, saying I’m doing just fine and that I’m a good friend/daughter/sister/etc. And I guess they’re right. I’m no less dependable than the average young person. But if I’m being honest with myself, that could be debated given my general, low-level emotional instability brought about persistent mental health issues (i.e. crippling anxiety, clinical depression, bouts of manic indulgence and self-pity. Can you tell I’m a little cynical?).

Anyhow, my youth certainly is a driving component in my dependability because it simply means I haven’t been granted all that many opportunities where someone has really needed me. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, my role in the workplace is minor, and I hold no leadership positions in any of my activities. From a purely economical perspective, I’m easily replaceable.

In fact, I was told that really, no one has ever depended on me. Likewise, I’ve never had to depend on anyone in my life.

And I agree—to an extent. It’s true that adulthood is still new to me and I’ve never really relied on anyone on a serious level. I’ve never been arrested and had to make a phone call. I’ve never gotten my car stuck on the side of the road and needed a lift. I’ve never had to borrow money. I’ve never needed to be saved from a life-or-death situation.

But it’s not like I’m some wildly independent individual either. It seems like to me that I had to depend entirely on authority figures the first eighteen years of my life. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was fairly independent as a teenager in the sense that I didn’t need my parents to chauffeur me around, I managed my schoolwork and extracurriculars on my own, and I could take care of myself reasonably well (anxiety-induced, self-destructive behaviors aside).

But honestly, what even is dependability? And what does it mean in the real world? Unfortunately, there appears to be no simple checklist to achieve that quality (typically the best traits are like that). It takes real-life situations and tough decisions and selfless actions. It means—at least I think it means, because as aforementioned, I know nothing about this—being available and level-headed in a crisis, and loyal even when tempted to give up or desert someone. It means prioritizing another person’s needs over your own desires. It means being patient and understanding and gracious and kind even if someone’s undeserving.

Now that I think about it, it means being like my dad. He has his fair share of issues, and nowadays I think it’d be better for me if I put some distance between us, but my father is a very dependable man and has been my entire life. I know without a shadow of a doubt I can always count on him when I need to.

But this poses the question: if I’ve had such a good role model for dependability all these years, why am I so bad at it?

I hope I don’t sound self pitying. I’m trying hard not to be, because it accomplishes nothing. I write this now because I’m just trying to be analytical and think things through rather than just wallow in self-loathing and unproductivity like I was this morning. This entire reflection was due to a very heavy discussion I had last night with my significant other—ever my advisor in the ways of the world. For a while I felt like he resented me, or at least thought so little of me because of how I don’t meet his standards. But now, having pulled myself from a slump of self-pity, I’m starting to see he cares more about me than I can fathom. If he didn’t love me, he would have given up on me a while ago. And I would even venture to say that because he loves me so much, he wants me to be my very best self and is willing to call me out on my faults to help me get there.

And it’s overwhelming, because I don’t deserve it and feel like I’ll fail him, but those are just intrusive thoughts that I try to let go. No one really deserves love, you just accept it and try to give back as much as you can. Not because you have to, but because you want to.

I don’t know. I’m not good at this. This whole… partnership thing. I suppose I shouldn’t fault myself too much for it, because I’m young. But that shouldn’t be an excuse. I want to be better. I know he hates it when I say that because it’s not about me being “better”, like it’s some kind of talent or competition. All I mean is that I want to try and love him as well as he loves me, and to accomplish that I need to fix my own issues and improve my character.

And just to clarify: I didn’t write this for him. I wrote this for me.

So to wrap it all up, here’s to the new year. Here’s to getting my life back on track, to regular therapist appointments and better coping mechanisms, to serious discussions and hard choices and doing the selfless thing. Here’s to the mistakes I’ll inevitably make and the people who will help me work through them. Here’s to getting a step closer to the person I’ve always wanted to be: strong, powerful, respected, and—of course—dependable.

Here’s to 2019. I really hope it doesn’t suck.

© 2019 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Resentment

When I was in my first relationship which started shortly before my 19th birthday, I wrote so much about our time together. I recorded all our little dates and moments and sayings, thinking that one day after it was over (and even then I knew it would never last), I’d look back on those writings and feel nostalgic. But the truth is, I got rid of them all just now because I wish I could erase our time together. It’s funny how the more time goes on, the more I resent him. That’s not nice of me,  I suppose, since he didn’t do anything in particular to earn this spite, and yet I don’t feel particularly guilty for so intensely disliking him at the moment.

He wasn’t what I wanted. I should have realized that when we were together and not wasted my time. Or maybe I did realize it but refused to recognize it because of sentiment. I know at the time I really did like him, although never as much as he liked me. It’s inevitable, I suppose, for a girl like me. He wasn’t romantic in the slightest, and I’m a hopeless romantic (or maybe I’m just hopeless).

Jokes aside, he cared a lot and tried his best (at times) but was also a pretty terrible boyfriend. I won’t be so petty as to list all the reasons why I think so, but I will state that he said so himself on numerous occasions, as did his best friend and some of my own friends as well, so I’m not the only person who thinks so. But I know I shouldn’t regret our time together because it taught me a lot—about myself and relationships—and that knowledge is invaluable.

I remember one Thursday morning, when we went for a run together, he was so giddy he had been up for hours because he liked the idea of doing something with me so much. And I felt odd for dreaming about kissing another boy just hours before, but really I felt sorry for not feeling sorry about it and thinking about that dream over and over instead of thinking of him. And when we were almost done and I was so concentrated on running faster I was frowning, he told me to smile because he thought I had a pretty smile, and I did, but later wished I didn’t because I don’t want to just be the girl with the pretty smile. I want to be the hurricane, the tidal wave, the forest fire. I want to be an unstoppable force of nature and I want to sweep everyone up and overwhelm them all and leave them breathless and take and take and take. Is that selfish of me? Maybe it is. But it’s what I want, and I don’t even know why.

But I do know why. It’s because I am selfish and I want it all. I want to be adored by some and feared by others. I want to be overlooked but never ignored. I want to be admired and respected, even if I’m not always liked. I want to be replaced and forgotten; I want to to be remembered forever and ever and leave my legacy like a ghost you can never get rid of. I don’t want anyone to ever laugh at me ever again. I want the last laugh, the final word, the finishing blow. I simultaneously want to be caged and broken and deceased and perfect and powerful and free.

It’s all very melodramatic, I realize. Embarrassing, even. But they are my impulses, my feelings, and there’s something to be said about recognizing them so you can truly let them go. So here I am, shouting into the void and hoping it’ll do the trick to rid me of this restlessness and resentment.

Truthfully, I don’t want to resent him. I don’t want to think of him at all.

© 2018 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Escaping Heaven

They lied about Heaven.

The pearly gates and golden roads are only at the entrance, like wrapping paper on a wedding present, but the inside is as cold and quiet as death. There are no white pillars, no clouds—only dark alleys and thin wisps of smoke from kaleidoscope hookah pipes. The angels have long traded their halos and robes for hemmed pantsuits, walking around in pumps and oxfords like refined secretaries. The atmosphere is solemn, the architecture smooth and mottled green like the ocean floor. Residents float around like ghosts in water. It’s a pretty place, the stuff dreams are made of, but nothing you could have ever imagined.

Welcome to your Eternal Home reads in glowing white letters etched onto a black header. This is what greets you beyond the entrance, a little farther down the lunar landscape. It is both comforting and ominous, challenging and ironic.

Heaven is the aquarium of paradise—Atlantis with a metropolitan aura. A city under the sea in a dimension where time is an illusion and tranquility is all-consuming. Where bright lights—these fluorescent beams from above slicing through blankets of peaceful black—illuminate stepping stones and stained glass.

All light you’ll ever find is from Him, because He can only ever be light itself. It is one of the only truths of Heaven correctly recorded.

Though He is an inescapable presence, His general form mostly stays in the throne room, his office, on the outskirts of this metropolis. If it’s actually like any of the Good Books describe, I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been inside. Most don’t, and only go when called—even the Messengers. I’ve heard the whispers of the intermediaries—those frail-faced beings who most readily do His bidding—and they say He spends Eternity on his alabaster desk chair, and He watches and He weeps.

Maybe that’s why Heaven is drenched in perpetual rain. It is wet from an eternity of tears from the Most High. I’d say it’s melodramatic as hell, but Hell can actually be prosaic in that regard.

Anyhow, excluding Himself, no one cries here. It is another truth accurately passed down to humanity. Sadness, melancholy, misery—they’re storm clouds in the distance, already passed, leaving a faint humidity only a few find suffocating.

Those few are the restless ones, the souls who look over their shoulder as they drift beneath blushing street lamps over puddle-ridden pavement. They exist in perpetual unease, craving a release they thought the afterlife would grant them but has yet to do so. They look to others, some of which using that lingering ache to make their peace even sweeter. After all, relief is only satisfactory when it is well-deserved. Most are simply oblivious to all they once were, their conscious warmly blurred, their minds numbs as they enjoy all the pleasures Paradise has to offer.

If life is what you make it, death is what you’ve wanted, however undeserving. There are no rules here, no schedules, and no expectations. You can do anything you choose, anything that could have been done on Earth. If you wish it, it’s there. There are museums besides spas beside nightclubs and swimming pools. Temples and tea shops and libraries and bars. All manner of culture and history melded into cosmic swirls of muted color, azure and cobalt blending with indigo and ebony like oils on a living canvas. Houses dwell anywhere anyone wants them to be, like anchors of existence found among all the abstract absurdity of the Creator’s subconscious.

There is Earth on Heaven, just as there is Heaven on Earth. Apparently, parallelism and congruity is important to Our Maker. I would have never thought that when alive.

Heaven is ancient, Heaven is the future. It is what Earth could never be, a place to wander and reflect on the life you led and the infinite lives you could have lived. But you must be wary, for memories of your past life will ebb and flow like moon-triggered tides. You pass by a pastel bakery and suddenly recall your honeymoon in Paris. You touch a crumpled napkin in a dimly-lit deli and find you cannot remember the name of your child, or even if you had one. I have met souls searching for loved ones that never existed, content in their journey because all they have is time and ease and non-existent memories of a person they once loved.

But where do you turn, to find another on this infinite plane?

You inquire an angel.

The hierarchy of angels (if they can be considered as such) is one only they understand. They have many sects—seraphim and cherubim, dominions and virtues, powers, principalities—but we only ever call them the Messengers. It is the unifying title across all cultures and ages.

They tend to ignore us, because we are their unspoken rivals. Their true form is hidden, like much of this existence, but it is an undeniable truth that they do not have wings and maybe never had. What they do have are features that constantly change and are ever-shifting: hair, eyes, skin tone, bone structure. The only similarity between them all is indifference.

I do not blame them for it. They are servants of the Most High, yet He only ever gives His love to His children. Detachment is their method of survival, keeping themselves from becoming equal to the creatures they resent.

This resentment, coupled with ethereal condescension, is what I see on the face of the Messenger who passes by me in the street. This one is dressed in black ruffles and sleek footwear, feathery wings of gossamer brushing past me like obsidian silk. The wings serve no purpose, clip-on appendages meant to exert their status or dazzle a newcomer. I know this to be true because I know this one, and they know me. Seraphiel. A name stitched in neat white lettering across the breast pocket of their coat. They simper, pencil-thin eyebrows raised, and I frown and hunch my shoulders even more.

“Hello to you too.” Seraphiel’s voice is as airy and melodic as any other’s, though this time it is laced with mockery. I move on, not wanting to grant them the satisfaction of acknowledgement. This does not stop them.

“You have not changed,” Seraphiel calls after me, obviously not referring to my apparel. “You still carry the scent of destruction.”

“Yeah?” I keep walking, hoping they’ll stop following. They don’t.

“Shall I mark you again? Was last time not enough?”

“Fuck you.”

They laugh, and I duck into the nearest building to escape that judgmental chuckle. My hideaway became a blessing because in the aisle of this snow-white department store where everything glitters and glows, I find a new arrival. You can always tell by the scent they carry (like wet pennies) and the aura that surrounds them (like the sheen of silver bells). The store is empty save us, as these places usually are. She gazes around at the trinkets and blossoms floating beneath their thin glass cases. A freckled hand reaches out, pulling off a spherical case to grasp a lavender peony and bring it to her nose, eyelids falling shut.

I shuffle up to her and stand beside her in a slouch. I do not like this place, because it is similar to where I made my first attempt to escape. I remember the taste of dust bunnies in my throat as I lay with my belly to the linoleum floor, Madison and the black-suited Seraphiel atop me, desperately trying to smother my struggling. I had been erratic. Unhinged. I’d tried to slit my wrists with a glass shard from one of the cases, but they stopped me, and I was subsequently marked for notice. A golden crest branded onto the back of my hand that keeps me from being able to attempt such a feat again, earning the watchful stares of any Messenger nearby. Such is the procedure for a suicidal soul in the Place of Eternal Peace.

It may have hindered my plan, but it did not stop me. Nothing will, God willing. And He is. Because if He wasn’t, I wouldn’t exist right now. It’s as simple as that.

The girl shifts slightly, and interrupts my recollection. I have not spoken to a new arrival in so long. And I need updated intel about the ever-changing world above us.

“You’re new,” I say,  voice flat and my hands shoved into the pockets of my grey jean shorts.

Her eyes open slowly and lose some of their glaze. “Really? I feel like I’ve been here for—”

“An eternity? Yeah, everyone feels like that.” I neglect to add that I do not consider myself part of that selection.

“How do you know I’m new?”

I shrug. “I know things. I’m different.”

She turns to me, taking in my inky hair and chalky skin with a few quick glances, and knows I am not exaggerating.

“When was your call time?” She asks hesitantly, the words faint on her tongue. Perhaps she still thinks that this isn’t the afterlife, that “call time” might mean anything but time of death.

“20 years old. Homicide.” I am curt. I practically poison the air around me with my bitterness. She’s fresh, so she has yet to realize my hostility is alien, my lasting resentment unnatural.

Like a sweet summer breeze, Madison appears behind me and joins the conversation. Her blue eyes are perpetually widened (from elation, from surprise, or from worry. I can never tell), and her auburn hair remains in the very ballet bun she had when she was called. Madison is the blessing that belongs, an entity too good and kind and caring to ever associate with me.

We were once friends, in the other world, in the other life. She still believes we are, just like she still wears a black leotard and pale pink tights, remnants of what she left behind. Clothing is optional here, as is most everything, yet most just dress themselves in their past (I wear grey, because black is too taboo and would only attract attention).

I cannot hate Madison, but I do not have friends here. I have nothing here. It is what I tell myself between packs of cigarettes and evenings at bars to keep myself from abandoning my mission.

Madison pats the girl’s shoulder, flattening the puffiness of her baby blue sleeves. “You can do whatever you want here.”

The girl cocks her head to the side. “Anything at all?” There was no denying the skepticism in her voice.

“Anything at all. But here’s the funny thing—“ And Madison smiled, lips parting to reveal teeth as white as the store’s decor— “when you spend enough time here, you only start to want what’s good. Like every other selfish desire you’ve ever had just melts away. Theft, deceit, murder—they’re all possible here, but completely improbable.”

What Madison said was true (for the most part), yet the girl still glances at me, unconvinced. I could see a question form on the tip of her kitten tongue, yet she thinks better of it and asks something else instead. “What happens if someone were to do any of those things, like murder? How can one die if they’re already dead?”

Here Madison takes a deep breath and glances at me. “God is good. But He is just.”

This is vague, and I know the newcomer is no less confused, so I take out a cigarette, light it with my pocket lighter, and begin my rant. “Heaven is a dream, and like in a dream, you cannot die. You only wake up. Where you wake up depends on how you tried to take your life. If you commit suicide, you are sent to the gates, evaluated, analyzed, and determined, then most likely sent to the other place since here apparently didn’t suit you. If you are murdered, wash, rinse, repeat. Although obviously shown more understanding.” I exhale, blowing out a small trail of bubbles that taste like sour gum and Sunday mornings. The bubbles surprise her, but she makes no comment, only hides a giggle. She must be catching on that the Most High has a hellish sense of humor.

Trying to maintain my tense aura, I continue, “If you murder, you are sent to the other place. Call it what you will: the wasteland, the burning city. Hell.”

She blinked at me owlishly. “Surely you must be joking. Who’d want to murder anyone here?”

I took the stub of my cigarette between my fingers, examined it like it is my salvation. “God gives, which is why we must give in return. But the world does not give. It only takes. So you learn to take back. And you live in the world long enough, you come to find it is all you know how to do.”

I drop the cigarette to the ground, crush it into the snowy floor with my sneaker, and walk out without another word. Madison will help the girl find what she’s looking for, if she’s looking at all. I have my own search to finish.

I have to find Clark.

*****

Before I passed, my boyfriend was Clark. I can’t call him that now, because it is a level of familiarity uncommon for residents. He loved me in the other life. Maybe he still does. And maybe I loved him, because he is the only other person from that life I remember. I inquire a Messenger—androgynous and aloof—to discover he is currently staying in a modern, rainforest-style house on Rainy Lane, with white walls and low, black lacquer ceilings. Within minutes (or maybe millennia), I am there. As I step inside, I see emerald flora that grows over ivory tile with the aesthetic of a 20th-century conservatory.

Music plays in the other room—golden classics from the 1940s Western world. Music is a consistent backdrop in Heaven, no matter the time or place. At any moment, one can hear Mandarin lullabies or Argentinian guitar ballads playing from some manner of radio. It sets the mood and contributes to the daze.

The door is not locked, because there is no such thing as a locked door here. I enter. I do not knock. I do not not want him prepared. After a few short turns down hallways and across rooms, I see him. He stands in what I consider a bathroom, hands slowly pulling at a tie that matches his blue suede shoes. There’s a bottle of bourbon and a half-full glass on the nearest counter. The large white tub takes center stage, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling mirrors like dutiful sentries on guard. It is full, with water that steams and bubbles, smelling like summer rain. I see my opportunity. I take it.

“Clark.”

His head snaps up, green eyes alarmed. “What the hell—?”

“My thoughts exactly.” Before he can say anything else, I’m across the room in front of him.

“Jesus, Riley,” he exclaims as I shove him backward, pushing him into the tub. His body submits, even if his mind is unable to comprehend. His white shirt is now soaked, revealing sharp outlines of body and bone. The buttons would be so easy to rip off. A task to save for after I undress.

“Careful. We don’t want Him around right now,” I reply, almost smug. I pull off my shirt. My shorts drop to the floor, and I step out of them. I wear nothing underneath. I am methodical, I am precise.

His eyes flick down and then return to meet mine. It’s a different world, but flesh is flesh. This body is the same one that he held in the back of his 1967 Mercury Cougar. I can practically feel the heat emanating from him, twisting up his insides and making him hot under the collar. “God dammit,” he curses under his breath, and I smirk because I know I can still torture him. I climb into the tub and sit on his hips. He doesn’t stop me, but he does manage to mutter, “You aren’t real,” in shameful self-denial.

“Baby boy, I’m the realest thing you’ll find in this fucked-up Paradise.”

It silences him, and we get on with our business. Our relationship is a bloodsport. We try to love by proxy but fail because of sentiment. It is a menagerie of tragedy, a satire of dysfunction. But it works. We make it work.

When it’s all said and done, we end up on the bed (a room over, with teal and turquoise sheets) entangled in each other’s arms.

“You’re a saint,” He says with a smile. His freckled shoulders, broad and appealing, gleam in the low light.

“No, those are found on Park Avenue.” But I return the smile in spite of myself. I know now my original intent is impossible to fulfill, that sentiment has once again ruined my inability to form attachment. As he drifts asleep, I watch the slow rise and fall of his chest, imagining myself stabbing scissors through his heart or wrapping my fingers around his throat as I straddle his rib cage.

After the briefest eternity, I leave him, swaddled in sheets and unaware of my murderous intentions. I dress in my old clothes, which have seemingly gotten darker and heavier than before, and stride with new purpose. So my target has changed; my plan and determination remain unwavering. Before I go, I take with me the tie he had been removing when I first found him. It’ll serve a noble purpose soon.

I find the new arrival from before, not far from the store where we first met. She stands alone atop a white skyscraper, damp from the soft rain falling from above and looking out over the city with awed confusion. When she sees me, standing there nonchalantly, her confusion deepens. “It’s you. From before.”

I shrug, no better response in mind.

“Were you looking for me?”

I step closer, my intent beginning to radiate off me in dark waves. “Yeah, something like that.”

She sees the tie in my hand, dangling from my white-knuckled fist. “What’s that for?” I hear the tremor in her voice, the anxiety bubbling beneath the haziness of her mind as she tries to understand why I come closer, looking to kill.

I stop before her, sighing deeply as I prepare myself for the inevitable about to take place. “Look, I’m really sorry it had to be you, but there’s just no other way.”

“What do you mean—?”

And then I’m atop her, tie wrapped around her throat, choking the life from her as she weakly struggles. I don’t like doing this, but for the greater good it had to be done. It’s like strangling a white rabbit or newborn deer. As her soul begins to fade, I look out across the city and murmur,”Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll send you back here after they evaluate you. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’ll forget all about this.”

Just before we both disappear completely, I look up to the light and smirk mockingly, unable to stop myself. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”

It begins to rain harder as we vanish.

*****

I won’t speak about Hell. I won’t even try. My stay there was brief, but it was long enough to strengthen my resolve. All that’s important is I managed to escape it. My relief to return to Earth is strong enough to raise the dead, which is, in fact, what happens. I leave my grave undone, like a bed unmade, and venture back out into the world to complete my mission. On my tombstone, I leave a note. To anyone who finds it, I swear it’s the truth.

My name is Riley, and I am a prophet. I was taken from the Earth too soon, and I have work to finish. Upon my arrival to the Pearly Gates, I learned the only way to return to Earth is to first go to Hell. And to go to Hell from Heaven, you must either commit suicide or murder another. My suicide attempt a failure, I tried to murder my former lover Clark, only to falter at the last moment. In the end, I murdered a new arrival, and I went to Hell. When there, there is only one way to leave, and that is by pardon of the Most High. It’s a vicious but deliciously ironic cycle of death and more death, heaven and hell and hellish reality. God would be lying if He said He didn’t plan it to be that way.

I escaped Heaven, but I know I’ll return there one day, after I’ve finished His work on this mess of a planet. His children always do, when they’ve done their deeds. Maybe then I’ll enjoy myself. Maybe then I’ll find the right side of Paradise.


A/N: Inspired by a dream on 6/13/17

© 2018 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The Man in the Decrepit House

His house was small and decrepit, hiding in a suburban neighborhood on the west side of town. The lawn desperately needed a trim, weeds consuming the residency like vengeful forest creatures. Grime covered the windows, and the garage was cluttered with boxes and machine parts. It was only the familiar red jalopy, like a crimson carriage of Death, that alerted the young girl she’d found the right place.

She pulled to a stop and swung a leg off her bike, approaching the home with caution. Her nose crinkled at the sight of garbage littered around the yard. It annoyed her. She would’ve taken the time to pick up every piece had she not been so anxious to leave. Even amidst her apprehension, the urge to throw the crushed cans and cardboard pieces in the recycling bin was hard to fight. She was such a creature of habit.

Pushing distractions to the back of her mind and clenching her jaw, she summed up enough courage to knock on the door. Hearing distant muttering and the shuffling of feet inside, she took a deep breath and braced herself for the meeting to come. Instinctively, her fingers went to her hair to smooth down the frizzy fly-aways that poked out of her head and braid.

The door swung open and a tall, muscular male in his early 30s appeared. The shaved head and 5 o’clock shadow along his jawline added a certain harshness to his coppery face. His eyes, dark yet penetrating, studied her with a lack of interest. The black tank top hanging off his broad frame needed a good wash, his right arm was covered in a sleeve of tattoos, and in his hand was a half-empty beer bottle. He wasn’t even wearing shoes.

“Yeah?” His voice was deep and ragged. It reminded her of her father’s voice, back when he was still around.

She swallowed. “I’m—I’m here for…” her voice trailed off and she tapped the dirt with the tip of her sneaker. “Mr. Castiglione?”

He took a swig of beer. “What do you want?”

She was afraid he would say that. “I’m here to ask about the accident. At the hospital.”

He took another look at her, at the band-aids on her knees, the gold stars piercing her earlobes, and the mismatched socks climbing her ankles. She was just a kid. 17, maybe 18, but just a kid. “You don’t look like a cop,” he said, getting ready to shut the door.

“I’m not one. And I’m not trying to be.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Just looking for some answers.”

The memory of their first meeting came back to him like a bitter pill to swallow as he stared at the girl that he once knew well slouching before him. Long gone were the sneakers and band-aids and gold stars. She was dressed in all black, boots too big and a shirt too small. Her face had lost some of its pleasant roundness, and her painted lips were drawn in a thin line, like she had forgotten what it was to smile. The dark gloss she’d smeared over them made it seem like she had been sucking on pomegranate seeds.

It was strange, to see her like that, and stranger still when he realized he must look exactly the same, even wearing the same haircut and black tank top from when they first met. It’s only been a year since I left, he thought, and yet a year can be an eternity for the right person.

The group had quieted down to a suffocating silence, the tension thick enough to kill. Suddenly the empty parking lot was too small, and she resisted the urge to up and leave. Unable to meet his eyes, she stared off in the distance, watching a plastic bag from the nearby gas station drift along like an urban tumbleweed. She shifted slightly, and her male companion gripped her waist tighter, looking for trouble.

The man took a look at her, in her black leather and lipstick, bristling like barbed wire, and he let out a bitter chuckle. “What happened to the girl who wanted to save the world by recycling all my beer bottles?”

The girl swallowed but still couldn’t meet his gaze. “She grew up.” Her voice was hollow.

He rubbed his hand over his shaved head. “That’s too bad.” He attempted a crooked grin. “I liked her.”

The boy holding onto her became annoyed and wrapped his arms around her, more so as an act of possession than of affection. It only made the girl more uncomfortable, and she wanted to push him away, but she couldn’t, not with him watching. Waiting for her to come to him, to forget everything that had happened.

To become her old self.

But that was impossible. Wasn’t it?

Digging his hands into his jean pockets, the man didn’t seem to want to leave. She knew he could be stubborn. She never thought that stubbornness would be directed at her. “C’mon, Red.” His voice was soft. Persuasive. “What happened to you? Why are you being like this?”

She opened her mouth, to tell him to piss off and leave her alone, that he had broken her heart and didn’t even know it, but she couldn’t. She had always been too soft and cared too much. Her eyes filled with tears, and it took her all her power to keep them from running down her face. When she finally spoke, her voice cracked. “I got tired of waiting for you.” She hated saying it, hated how she sounded, and couldn’t bring herself to see his reaction.

Her male friend now felt threatened. He had never seen her like this (but after all, he had only known her for a month), so he urged her to get in the car and leave.

But she couldn’t. She finally had a chance to tell the one person she adored all thoughts she’d had on those nights he wasn’t there to hear them. All the hateful curses for leaving her behind as her life fell apart, even though the voice of reason had tried to convince her why. So with her heartbeat beginning to thud in her ears and her face becoming flushed, she shoved her quasi-lover aside and charged towards the source of her frustration, clenched firsts swinging and footsteps resolute.

“You never called after you left, not even once.” The tears were brimming in her eyes, still threatening to spill down her cheeks, because she was angry. At him. At the world. But mostly at herself. “You didn’t even leave a note. You just left. My life was falling apart and you weren’t there to help. And sure, I knew why, but that didn’t excuse your actions. All those days together, all the things I told you, and you still left. Did I mean anything to you at all? Was I always just a kid to you, just because we’re thirteen years apart? You always treated me like a little kid! Always! And I hated it and I—”

She was in front of him now, jabbing her finger into his chest with her eyes focused on the ground. He was so tall, and she didn’t want to look up at him. She couldn’t. Her fingers curled into fists and she began to beat upon his chest like a tribal drum. He took the beatings in silence, holding on to her shoulders but doing nothing else to stop her assault.

Her friends (if they could even be called that) felt awkward and had decided to wander off as she began to cry, but her (now seemingly ex-) boyfriend had had enough. He charged forward and pulled them apart, yelling, “Get away from my girl, dude.”

He threw a punch, but the man easily stopped his fist mid-swing. “I don’t think she was ever your girl, dude.”

Ego bruised and mouth going off like a firecracker, the boy swore and tried again, this time going in for an uppercut. Once again, the man deflected his punch and then grabbed his collar. “If you try to hit me again, I will retaliate.” His voice took on a calm yet threatening timbre.

The boy glared at him, cursed again, but stepped back, making like he was returning to the car. The girl let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding, relieved because conflict always set her on edge. However, just after he turned, he whirled back around for another punch, hoping to catch the man off-guard.

He didn’t.

The man’s face grew dark. “I warned you.” And then with a single, swift swing, he knocked him out.

The girl thought she should feel something—disapproval for the man, sympathy for the boy, anything—but her feelings were hard to place, and the only thought she could muster for her ex-lover (which seemed too great a title for him now) was that he deserved it. His friends, scared and unsure how to proceed, cautiously approached them to drag their fallen compatriot back to the car.

“You coming with us?” A blonde girl with black lipstick asked, blue eyes darting between the girl and the man.

The girl shook her head. It was all the blonde needed, and she hurried back to their car, which swerved out of the lot and onto the road like a dog with its tail between its legs. The girl watched it go with no small sense of relief. It felt good to not follow them for once. Maybe, just for a little while, things could go back to how they were.

The man turned to her. “Want to go get coffee? I know a place.”

The girl paused, considered it for an achingly long moment, then mumbled, “Fine. But you’re buying.”

The man smiled. “It’s the least I could do.” And the two walked over to his blue Mustang, climbing inside like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“What happened to the jalopy?” She asked, remnants of her old self beginning to shine through as she sunk into the leather seat.

“I sold it. It was time to move on.”

The girl’s half-smile faded at these words. “Oh. So that’s how you felt.” She knew she sounded sullen, but what was the point of hiding her feelings now?

“Because it was junk and meant nothing to me,” the man continued as he started the car and pulled it onto the road. “But I came back. Because there are things here that I care about and they’re worth returning to.” He looked at her pointedly.

She squirmed under his gaze and turned to stare at the window at the passing streetlights. As much as it pleased her to hear those words, she still felt flustered, so much so that she could feel the heat spread across her cheeks.

“I didn’t want to leave, Red. You knew there were things I needed to take care of. Life’s like that sometimes. I hoped you wouldn’t take it personally, that you’d move on with your life and find a new… friend.” He laughed softly. “But another selfish part of me wished you wouldn’t because I knew I’d be coming back and didn’t want you to forget about me.”

The heat continued to spread across the girl’s face and over her neck, so much so that she began to lower her head in an attempt to hide it. But even in the dusky darkness, he could see her obvious blush with every flash of light from the streetlamps. He grinned. “Now there’s the color that earned you your nickname.”

“Go to hell,” she tried to snap, but it came out as an embarrassed stutter. As always, she was terrible at hiding her flustered state, and it gave him obvious enjoyment.

Later that evening, as they sat in a booth at a diner on the corner of 17th Avenue and 38th Street, he pulled out a silver flask to pour its contents into his coffee cup. The girl, who had ordered a cup of hot chocolate (much to the man’s amusement), watched him do so. “Is that whisky?”

“Maybe.”

“Give me some.”

He shot her a warning look. “You shouldn’t drink.”

“Shut up.” She glared at him and reached for the flask, wishing he wouldn’t chide her for the immorality of underage drinking. She’d never actually had alcohol before, finding its smell repulsive, but wanted to show she had changed and was capable of consuming something that was once too “adult” for her.

He held it out of her reach. “No, I mean it. You shouldn’t drink. You’re not the type to enjoy it.”

She eyed him suspiciously. “How would you know what I like these days? I’ve changed a lot, you know.”

He resisted the urge to smile. She was starting to sound like her old self. “Alcohol numbs. You drink to forget. Believe me, I know. But you were never one to numb the pain. You always did things to distract yourself, or make yourself feel alive. It’s why you’d go for runs at 3 AM or swim in the creek in winter. Or—” and he motioned to her cup— “order hot chocolate with extra sprinkles for the sugar rush.”

“Fine.” She crossed her arms and settled back in her seat, the cherry leather squeaking slightly. “But I have grown up since you’ve been gone.”

He took a long drink of his coffee. “I don’t doubt it.”

“I’m serious,” She insisted, leaning forward. “When my world starting to fall apart, it was up to me to keep it together. I was the one who survived on my own, I was the one who took care of myself, I was the one who picked myself up off the shower floor each night.”

He also leaned forward, their noses now inches apart. “And you have my respect. Life’s a bitch, we both know that. But Red, don’t let the world turn you bitter. I know you’ve always wanted to be some tough girl, tough like me, but you gotta learn to stay good and honest and… soft.” His eyes drifted to her lips, but only for a second and then they were back to holding her gaze with unwavering resolve.

To hide the awkwardness, she rolled her eyes and feigned annoyance. “What kind of gender role bullshit is that? Next you’re going to be telling me I shouldn’t have lost weight because girls should have a little something to hold onto.”

The man smirked. “Well yeah, I wouldn’t be opposed to that.”

She kicked him beneath the table and he winced, but nevertheless they both smiled at each other. The tension was gone. They talked for hours, laughing and joking and arguing until the waitress finally asked them to leave because it was long past closing. After stepping outside, the summer air felt warm and sweet, even though earlier it had been suffocating.

“Well… what now?” She asked, staring up at the night sky and getting lost in the sea of darkness.

“Get in, I’ll take you home.” He walked over to his parked car and opened the door for her. “Where are you living these days?”

The girl climbed inside. “You might recognize the place.”

It was a white house with blue trim and matching shutters, pansies growing in neat rows along the walkway and yellow Hibiscus in bloom beneath the windows. The white tin roof gleamed in the moonlight, and stars peeped through the leaves of the vine-covered tree beside the driveway.

It was the decrepit house no longer. The man could only stare in awe, disbelieving that it had radically changed in his absence, no longer resembling a junkyard or troll’s hovel but instead sleeping peacefully as the picture of suburban charm. “Is that my house?”

“You never actually owned it, remember?” She raised an eyebrow. “After you left, a new family moved in and totally renovated the place—as you can see.”

“I’d say.”

Silence settled between them as they stared at the house for a few moments longer. Finally, the man turned back to the girl. “So you live there now?”

She shrugged. “Okay, I lied. I’m actually in an apartment on the south side of town. I just thought you might like to see what became of your old place. You know, to show you it was capable of being a proper home after all.”

“Huh. I guess so.” He cast it one more look before he started the car again and drove away. “It looks like many things have changed since I left.”

“For better or for worst.”

“Well, that’s how it goes, Red.”

“You really need to stop calling me that.”

And so off they went into the night, the house that was no longer decrepit but instead fresh and new silently watching them go. They were an unlikely pair, and the girl was unsure if they could be as close as they once were, but she had hope that it would all turn out alright in the end. Things could never go back to the way they were, but the future was still bright with endless possibilities. Because that’s how life is: everything changes but somehow still stays, people grow up but can never forget their past, and home isn’t found in houses but in something deeper.

—-

A/N: Inspired by a house I saw on May 11th, 2016.

© 2018 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Peonies

She went to the beach. It was a little strip of sand along the inky coast, just a short walk from the rocky cliffs that faced the Pacific ocean. She was alone, save for the occasional wayward gull. A gypsy child carelessly drifting along, as quiet and transparent as the gusts of wind whipping the foamy waves into swells.

She wore her favorite bathing suit. It was a pastel pink and blue little thing, matching her soft pixie hair. The top had extravagant ruffles which suited her figure well. There was no one else around to see it, and the sea would not judge, so she felt at peace.

Her purple peony tattoos at the top of her thighs were finally apparent. They hid the scars well, the leafy vines of the flowers curling around the pale, jagged skin, bursting into bloom wherever the cuts overlapped.

She really did love those tattoos. She got them in college, where she had better learned to love herself.

The water was freezing, but it felt refreshing. Cleansing, even. It reflected the cloudy sky, and she stared up at the silver rays of light peaking out from clumps of cotton fluff, wondering what it would be like to lay upon a cloud and drift away. It was a dream she’d had for years—to get away from it all, to be as delicate and weightless as a butterfly, but out of reach from reality below. Wasn’t that what everyone wanted at times? To just escape?

Death was an escape, this she knew, and suicide the greatest escape of all. Her best friend had told her that most people commit suicide not because they want to die, but because they wanted to truly live and couldn’t. It was one of those cliche quotes she’d mumble at midnight after she’d had too much ginger ale, followed by a declaration that therapists were just prostitutes for your emotions. She was funny that way.

She thought about her little brother, the younger one, who’d had the accident. She wondered if he enjoyed Death. She imagined he did. Heaven seemed so nice, and she knew he had to be there. She missed him but knew she’d see him again one day.

Finally, after all the nostalgic reflection, she got out and stretched herself out on the sand, covering her eyes with the crook of her elbow. For some time, she was quiet, the rhythmic waves lulling her into a peaceful half-sleep. And then, in a hoarse whisper, she breathed the words:

Count every second
Till the skies are blue

But then she was silent again, for there were some feelings that only silence could explain.

© 2018 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

A Poem for the Moon

She is what I wish to be
Glowing, radiant
And perfect.
When I am hot, she is cool
When I am gone, she is there.
A sparkling eye, a shining face
Veiling a layer of subtle grace
What is it like, to be adored?
It seems like a burden
She is too humble to bear.
It is a duty performed
With modest flair.
There she is
And here I stay
Small and far away
My mind full of starlight
My thoughts in the clouds.
One look puts me in a haze
Lasting for days
And it warbles all the sounds.
I’ve always been blue,
But I daydream in red when I see you.

© 2018 Obliquity of the Ecliptic