I had closed my eyes for a long rest before getting on with the late evening’s obligations. I did not realize I had fallen asleep until I had opened my eyes and found myself standing in a place of darkness illuminated only by the two large concentric rings of white light surrounding me on the ground.
The humanoid figure was draped in lengths of gray cloth that obscured their shape and cloaked their intentions. My mind tried to match their appearance with other entities I would expect to appear in such a circumstance, but the figure brushed off the apparitions as so much dust.
“See me. Then trust me.”
Understanding I was not in physical space, I stopped trying to see visually and felt their appearance instead. It did not take much of an examination for me to recognize the individual.
He smiled a thin line of victory before making a gesture of recognition. “To get to where you want to be will require less and more. Less of you as a person, and more of your trust in me. Trust me.”
I wasn’t sure where or what he was referring to. I was sure that whatever he had planned was already as good as done. But rules are rules, and he still needed my explicit agreement to be involved in the shenanigans.
“I trust you.”
Marks and figures suddenly flared in bright white light between the encompassing rings. I was briefly reminded of ceremonial magic preparations for the two hot seconds I remained standing upright. My legs quivered and I fell harshly on my knees before him as I felt something move within me.
OG raised his hands and his face as if presenting the scene to something or someone far above us. “Do you see!” He lowered his gaze to me and spoke with harsh deliberation. “Do you see this unclean thing who would rise?”
I wanted to spit with rage at him, but the something that had been moving within me vibrated an answer to his challenge for me.
I heard the response not with ears, but with every atom of my body as the something within me ignited with pure and holy flame. The immolation presented as searing sources of light from within my eyeballs and white flame jetting out of my open mouth in lieu of the screaming I wanted to emit.
“Don’t fight it. Let it separate you from your flesh. Your body will be safe here with me.” OG’s cold hands pulled my stunned body down to be completely contained by the inner white circle. He arranged me to be lying flat on my back and waited until I stopped twitching to place my hands at my sides, palms up. In each slack hand, he placed a small and heavy thing, but my awareness was already severely darkened by the moving of the Holy Spirit.
Something started to constrict my form, starting from my uncovered feet. It wasn’t crushing the flesh or invading the body. It was slowly pushing me out. The process felt slow to observe even as it moved with vicious speed. As it proceeded, I continued to lose understanding of my surroundings until I felt myself to be a ball of [flame] held captive by a cadaver’s death-tightened mouth.
The mouth was opened and I floated up and away from the deceased body.
“Go. Fly and be free.”
I understood the meaning of the words but I did not understand the language itself nor who or what had spoken them. I felt a pull far above me. With the pull came the awareness that I was incomplete. Above me, I was waiting for my self, for unity.
The moment I made the decision to seek what was calling me, I was gone.
I remember being surrounded by flames that burned from desire. I passed through them without barely noticing them as these flames could only catch flesh and I had no flesh to carry.
What happened after I passed the flames, I do not remember.
I do remember the screams as a dead body reanimated.
“Yes. Breathe. With each pull of your lungs, you pull your self back into yourself.”
Cold hands held me mostly immobile by gently cupping my face. With each breathe, I felt more and more of my impossibly cold body warm and animate. I realized I was the source of the screams and willed to stop screaming though it took a bit more time to realize I was not physically here and stop shivering.
OG rewarded my awareness with that thin line smirk of his.
“How do you feel?”
A sincere and loaded question.
“… Different. Something has changed. But more of the same, as if I am more me than I was before.”
He nodded. “Where did you go?”
“I don’t consciously remember.”
“You may not for the rest of this life, assuming you continue striving to reach above your station. Remember the difference, however. It will be your clue and guide.”
I could feel the marks between the circles tying and untying themselves in symbols no scribe has ever witnessed nor created. It felt like how watching ocean waves feel and lethargy stole away the excitement I didn’t know I had until it was gone.
“I will tell you this: You succeeded where you had failed before.”
Now I understood where my discarnated spirit had been. “But did I fulfill my primary objective? Did I meet Mary’s husband?”
OG’s smirk deepened and I knew I would get no straight answer from him. “Did you really think that was your primary objective?”
“Did you forget I tend to fixate on a thing? Meeting him was the excuse used to get me to make the attempt, to make me realize I had a piece of me there, to get me to take back the shit I left on the table. I get that. I grok that. But along the way, I learned other shit, and I really did want to meet [Mary’s] husband!”
OG sighed and patted me on the head. He leaned close over my face so that I could see my reflection in the slick ink-black orbs of his eyes.
“You did, and you did not. You met what you could bear, and that was enough. Now, no more out of you. It will take time for your hubris to complete roasting your ass. Sleep.”
He placed his long-fingered hand over my face. The white circles and writing ceased. The ground under me dissolved and he pushed me into the eager nothingness.
The breeze had enough of a chill to wake me from my nap on the fading spring evening. The flowers around me were starting to close as the sun had hidden itself behind sneakily thickening clouds. I looked at the small table I was seated at with confusion. The flower printed table cloth reminded me of stuffy ladies’ socials.
I’m too bloody to be a lady.
On the far side of the table, obviously cherished white gloves lay across [a certain tell] that reminded me of [ThisWoman]. Beside the gloves lay a thin compact that was too thin to be a cigarette or makeup case. The scent of roses and other flowers I could not identify surrounded me.
I felt a presence approach behind me. I meant to stand up to greet the arrival, but a strong hand on my shoulder kept me firmly in my seat and locked into facing forward.
“Good evening.” She had the same voice as [ThisWoman], and the same grip as [ThisWoman], but senses can be fooled. Especially ignorant ones. I did not know enough about her to tell if this upper-class garden setting was appropriate for her.
“I see you have been through an ordeal, so I will be quick. Have you considered my proposal?”
My mouth was dry as I realized this was [ThisWoman] and that I was in a different kind of danger, but a very real one nonetheless. “I have, Madam.”
“And what say you?”
“I wish to tread cautiously, Madam. I am beholden to a few others already, and I run the risk of having to defy one master to serve another.”
Her grip shifted with her humor. “And what makes you think I wish you to be my servant?”
“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. If you want to give me information, especially information that is not mine by right to receive, then it is because you are expecting a payoff in the future that will surely be called against my ass. And… forgive my language… but debts are a hella bitch to clear even under the best of circumstances.”
She laughed and once again I knew fear.
“No, [Mongrel], I do not wish you to be my servant. However, it is rude to question a gift, especially one so freely given. Should I take offense?”
The [item] under the gloves on the table suddenly reflected light into my eyes that made me have the taste of steel on my tongue.
“I would that you not take offense, Madam. But that you recognize I have been through some shit, and questioning is how I have survived. I rebel greatest against those who expect blind obedience.”
With her other hand, she brushed the back of her hand against my cheek. “That you do, [Rebellion], that you do even against yourself.” I felt her lean over me, pressing her body against my upper back. “Then I shall not play games with you. I know of [your quest]. I know it will be denied you for all the reasons that sing loudly in your blood. I know you will have to find a different way, a personal way, a defiant way. This pleases me for reasons I am sure you already understand better than you admit. I want to help you.”
This is a most dangerous game we are playing. Oh well. Nothing ventured…
“What are the conditions for your assistance, Madam?”
Her free hand patted my face in acceptance of a deal I had yet to learn the terms of. “Have nothing to do with [ThatWoman]. I do not expect you to be rude and leave the room if she is present when you walk in. But the hand that receives her will not receive me.” I nodded.
“You will never see my face. You don’t deserve to. Though you will see hundreds if not thousands of images of me, here, in this space, you will not look directly upon me.” I nodded in acceptance of this as well, though to be honest, she is not the first I have had that restraint with.
“Pick up the compact.” She lessened her grip just enough for me to comply. “Open it.”
A small rectangular mirror was revealed on one inner side of the compact. A tarot card was wedged in the other. Though the card face continually cycled through all the decks I have physically seen, the card itself remained the same and identical to the first card [ThisWoman] had shown me.
“Both of these are my reflection. If you require, you may duplicate this at your own table. If you do, learn what metals please me and make it with such. But do not think that because I am a woman, I will be appeased with any apparently womanly thing. I am not [ThatWoman], neither frivolous nor flighty!”
I knew fighting words when I heard them and nodded in acceptance while saying nothing.
Her anger suddenly chilled. “Will you write of this?” I knew she was asking if I was going to post this publicly.
“If I must.”
“You may.” Translation: You will.
“If I remember.”
“I will accept that. If you are not sure, however, you may come here again.”
She reached over me and took the compact. After closing it, she laid it in my lap where it became an immense weight I could not shift. She patted me on the cheek once more with deceptive mirth and released her grip upon my shoulder. The weight of the compact prevented me from pushing my luck and trying to turn to witness her departure.
As she left, the flowers closed completely and the sun completed its setting. Night rose and I descended into completely dreamless sleep.
It took several hours after waking (and during work) for the entire dream sequence to resurface to my consciousness. No amount of striving, memory-walking, or desire could restore what I did not have. I do not know what happened after I passed the flames of the Path of Daleth.
I do know that the imagery of the flame wrapped mountain peak no longer calls me with a terrible and hungry longing. Now there is a strange sense of contentment, like something pure and pleasing happened once upon a lifetime and all I can remember of the event was the satisfaction of a hard and completed task.
The insertion of ThisWoman into my affairs means a return to scenes I thought had been locked and barred against me. Even as the conclusion of the Path of Daleth returns me to facing my Christian path and those parts of me left behind there.
Circles and spirals. Turning in, turning out.