The Way We Go
There it was, found in a bog or layer of bedrock on the other side of the world, hanging on her wall as if it were decoration, a bobble bought by a friend aboard. And, of course, that is how she saw it, a gift from a cohort she dug out for visits, hung in a place of honor to prove she cared. Or was it more calculated still? Had she chosen it for its age, for its quiet strength, for its obscurity? To see if anyone could remember that moment when Man first pulled himself out of the sludge he would later call primordial soup? A sound like the moving of a beaded curtain tangling in macrame. She had always been fond of the 70s and their clueless flower children, another reminder...another trap.
“Stupid thing, I don’t know why I insist on keeping it around if I’m not going to trim it,” she said with a sly, wrinkled smile, pulling a knot out of her dress.
The curtain was a ploy, an invitation to ask questions, I did not.
“Right dear,” she sat on a small wicker stool of little significance across the room, “why are we here today?”
For a moment I could feel a voice struggle forward, a murmur bubbling, I coughed to cover it.
“My, nerves do get the best of us don’t they. Poor dear. Bones or runes then? Let’s start simply.”
She patted my hand gently and glided to a chest of drawers, parlor tricks were a good way to inspire confidence, or fear.
I opened my mouth, “bones,” but my eyes cut to a small green box on a vanity crammed in the corner. She didn’t notice.
“Hmm, bones are a dangerous choice young one, they bring nothing but chaos.” She leaned in as she spoke, tipping her hand.
I wanted to run, scream, swear, beat her to death. I was so careful, thoughtful of who I used; still there it was staring at me on the wall. She pulled a small strand from her dress.
“Macrame is interesting, flexible,” she said twirling it in her hand, “traditionally one should use wool, but really you can use anything. And this,” she grabbed for the box she thought she had hidden, “will bring far more than chaos.”
I fixed my gaze on her liver spotted hands, her arthritic fingers fumbling with the latch.
“And yet you come here seeking me, and these, without so much as a tribute. You know the price,” her voice was deeper, less cheery, absolute.
In a moment shears, golden and polished, were in her hand. She snipped the air and a chorus sang out in pain. A gulp, involuntary and worrying. I was sweating.
“What poor girl did you find to die for you,” she asked staring past the face I wore. “You know,” she waved the shears around wildly before placing them next to the strand from her dress, “you,” she pointed circling my nose as she did, “never really cared for them.” She paused, losing patience. “Do it so I can stop watching her quiver.” She sat back on her stool tipping it’s legs so the wall would support her weight, “bones in the morning.”
She closed her eyes knowing I would pick up the shears, knowing what I would see as I cut this annoying 20 something model turned shoplifter’s strand would be that infernal thing, that ornate and ancient bullroarer that I hear behind all my thoughts. She knew I had come here to end something, and as ever gave me the opportunity. The shears brought apart and together in one quick motion, a chorus of pain, a thud of flesh on shag carpet, and me left standing there feeling no more of humanity.
I watched her sleep for hours, letting light spill in the window and ushering it back out, wondering if she still saw her sisters. I invited a streetlamp glow in so I could look around. The stool she was propped on seemed to be the only other sit in the place besides the one where that youthful, fearful girl had sat. Would she take the body out to the curb? Let it become part of some collection I had yet to discover? The girl’s face was tense, like she was having a bad dream. Perhaps she had thought that shadowy figure following her home, invading her being while she ate a microwave pizza, was a dream and is now still processing possession and death. Death makes me think about necessity, my necessity, and how even this slumbering creature bent on my destruction needed me.
I called the light toward the kitchen. A small icebox, still functional, but very old and a deep farm sink reminded me of the last place I found her. A rambling plot of land in the country, far from prying eyes. So why this two room apartment over a Greek restaurant in some forgotten, god forsaken part of the city? I opened the icebox: cheese, two apples, and a knife (small and sharp). This means someone who could actually do her harm is expected, and she isn’t planning on being around much longer.
A stirring, a shift, she would be up soon. I returned the soft halo of light to its proper place on the street, deepened the darkness in the room, and shrunk back into the shadow of the chest of drawers as the sky turned pale yellow, then gold and pink, and finally blue. Her neck creaked, her back popped and she stretched a long and thoughtful stretch. “Tea,” an instruction to someone not there or a determined need for caffeine. “Then bones.” There are two thoughts on tea. The first: make it quickly, drink it quickly, function quicker. Second: ritual, patience, stipping tradition. I sighed, knowing her far too well. “Tsk. Tsk. You’ll get what you came for. Although, how was your evening,” she glanced around, “maybe you already have.” She shrugged, a kettle boiled, something like an incantation said over crumbled leaves, sugar, honey, and touch of milk (from where I couldn’t say), “ that’s a cup of tea.”
It was clear she missed the old times. The tributes, the spells, the misguided youths looking for an easier path and the forlorn old seeking anything but an end. There were better days for those like us, cults that would insist on her staying in a temple with her sisters, protecting her from a world that would do her harm. But those days were long ago and those cult leaders were in a small silk bag that lay on the kitchen table.
“I hope you don’t mind doing this in here love, I haven’t had the chance to tidy yet.”
She shook the bag, tossed the bones across the table and waited for them to settle. One hit the floor. “Let me see something.” She picked up the bone, checked the markings, and laughed. “Jeromine was always a pushy one. And he lies for attention. But this here,” she ran her crooked finger along the edge of the table, “could be trouble.” Four bones of varying ages were sitting just on the table, two tittering every so often. “ These two,” she said pointing to the younger brighter bones almost falling off the table, “could never commit. And these,” she gestured to the older, browner, chipped bones, “have never valued change. There is conflict here, but there” she glanced at the bones that had landed closest to her, “There is change, slow yes, but progress we could never dream of or conjure will surprise them all if they if they can’t reconcile.”
“A war,” I asked wondering why I didn’t long for cult leaders with human fodder to throw at threats.
“A reckoning. You shall get the end you seek, but so shall we all.”
I had forgotten her flair, like a fortune teller in some traveling circus before people knew better than to believe, but this, more than a monologue given while others empty the pockets of the audience, this is fate. And fate is rarely changed without the sisters.
“No,” she was sharp again, “You will not address me in that way. Do you hear? I may not be able to do away with you but I will let you flounder in your darkness until the end.”
It was true. She had left that name, that life, in a cave sealed by early Christians and their need to destroy the things they were smart enough to fear. I had been there, watching as they groped through pitch black tunnels, surviving on spiders and bits of moss. I remember how she dug them out of stone and earth with her bare hands for more than a century, never stopping to sleep. Whatever kindness she had felt for them, those people we dragged into existence, was gone in the moment she felt wind on her face again and smelled the fire of guards still posted at the entrance. They had changed, far less afraid, more righteous and rigid. While she torn open their bows to read their entrails she reminded them of the old gods, the old ways, and they, after all, had made no proper tribute. My eyes fell to her fingernails, still kept long, strong, in case too many people became suspicious of the old woman on the second floor whose only visitors left with dread, when they left at all.
“Why did you leave Wales? Such a beautiful place-”
“Such a small place,” she interrupted tapping her nails on the table, “and you, where is it you hide away letting scientists believe they are getting further away from that mother of yours?”
“Polar ice caps, bits of Siberia or the Sahara, the edges of active volcanoes.”
“A high rise in some congested city where no one asks questions. Come now, you aren’t as dramatic as all that?”
“The problem with old friends is how well they will always know you, eh?”
And there it was, a smile. Instantly regretted, covered with a scowl and grumble about how her tea was getting cold, but I knew. Part of her had missed me at her back, constant and true, so unlike those creatures starting to bustle in the street. Unlike those gods who had left her to sort out her own affairs while they quietly kept the world turning. She was bitter, and angry, and careful, but not with me.
“What do you go by these days, love?”
A stab at politeness I couldn’t understand, my name had never changed. It had been forgotten and reimagined a thousand times, but never changed.
“The same you called me on the banks of the Cosmos as we called forth life,” the only answer I could give.
“Young Nyx, ever the same.”
Youth had nothing to do with this term of endearment, I was far older than her. I had seen her birth from a cozy little part of the universe and known that it changed the balance of things. My mother, for one, saw the end of her age. We had spent eons rolling around in indefinable space and suddenly there was life, voices with which to reason, to argue, to ignore. My mother had cared little for the sisters and their rules, wishing only to be left out of whatever grand plan they were privy to. No, this moniker had and will always refer to the bit of curiousity I have, the need to see for myself what things are and how much room they take up. There is a compulsive urge to fill shapes and wide open space, to see what is in them. For this she thinks me no better than a child, a child with responsibility who runs off to play instead of tending to what’s important. But I am my mother’s daughter and all of us slaves to our nature. She is steadfast and predictable, bound by the honor her position holds. I just have to keep on existing, creating shadows and some sort of palette for all those beautiful stars.
That’s why I did it I guess. I strayed from my mother’s realm, thickening the darkness so even she couldn’t find me, to seek out the sisters and hear what these gases and bits of things would become. She told a story, better than she has ever told since, of creatures that would remind us of our divinity (a thing they would invent for us), of the good we possess and the ill. She spoke of rules and laws and cities, communities that would thrive and give order to what existed. She told me of forests and animals and fields, nature springing out of that same creation. And she sang of songs and instruments, poetry and plays, a need for a thing called creativity pushing another called art. And I got swept up, those slack-jawed sisters laughing at my naivety. I made promises, pledged felties, careless threats to those who would oppose their will, their vision.
She collected the bones, thanking each one for their service, muttering something that sounded almost like a prayer. Then gently tossing them in their silk bag, she twirled a thread around them. This thread was different from the others, glowing like a deep ember in a fire not stoked for some time.
She whispered, “Staring only makes you look desperate,” and placed the bag back in a drawer tapping the top of the chest three times.
“I wonder,” I tried to ask casually, “how many threads you have cut since that day.”
“I did 4,000 on that day,” she chuckled uneasily, “being born is hard work. Most souls just aren’t cut out for it.”
She snipped her scissors in the air, both relieved and saddened by the sound of pain, and placed them back in their box.
“But I lost count when those blistering idiots decided sacrifices should be made at each solstice and equinox.”
This was a lie, one to cover the suffering she endured for their whims. There was a record of all the souls she had sent to doom or paradise, she had carved it herself. I had seen it in the cave as she tried to keep the youngest warm. Letter after letter scratched into her skin. Hundreds of Thousands, then millions of initials that no one remembered but her.
“Colette Decour, Ceclia Desmond, Credence Davenport. It was a weird year for C names. Only three.”
She, like me, predated any need for worship, and every need for power. She saw no gain in war or politics. We just existed to serve a function that no one else would. She saw honor in that. And honor binds you to memory, and ritual. She sat on the stool she had slept on, dragged down but it, the honor of her position.
“How is it that a shadow meant to kill me?” She had finally asked the question that I had been trying to work out for months, wrestled with even.
“I thought the girl might help.” I pulled the darkness around me, leaving her in the light, unable to see me.
“Hmm...come now, you must give me more credit than that.” Her eyes darted around the darkness trying to pin me down, make eye contact with me to prove that she could.
“Maybe I just needed to see you,” a whisper from the corner.
She laughed as she found me, a slightly deeper black than the rest of the room, “maybe we all need to come out of hiding.”