Waking up this morning, I felt like I had lived through a Twilight Zone marathon. All that was needed was Rod Serling, nursing a cigarette, narrating the end to tie it all together. While some of the episodes have a flow to them, where one obviously follows the preceding, some seem absolutely random. Even still, I’m not sure how to take them as a group.
Episode 1: Surrendering the Bow
My footsteps echo in the hall. Polished stone floor, polished stone walls. Towering pillars of smooth Doric columns stand as silent witness as I firmly stride down the hallway. I am dressed in what would me by clothes for magic, except I’m wearing all white. Even the boots are white. My right hand is empty, and only wears the white leather glove. My white-gloved left hand, carries a long bow. Except for the opal pendant that now appears in my dreams with me, I have no other accoutrements.
The hallway ends at a private altar room. The ceiling is far, far above my head, but the floor space is barely enough for four people to stand side by side. Taking up a large amount of floor space is a rectangular stone altar. As I face the long side of the altar, I see a short length of white cloth laying across the stone. It falls over the side and ends at a point. White with gold trim, the cloth is the width of a hand. Two white tapered candles burn on either side of the cloth, but the gold candle holders are placed towards the back of the stone. I note the candles are placed to neatly divide the length of the altar in thirds.
Behind the stone altar, is a mirror. Where the temple space I am in, and the clothes I am wearing are all shades of white and gold, the reflection in the mirror is shades of black and silver. Within the temple, the stone altar is like polished marble. In the reflection, the stone altar is polished obsidian. Even the candles change color in the reflection, still burning with a flame’s true color, the wax is black, and the holders are silver.
I stare at my reflection for a moment. Then with heavy heart, I lift my hand and place the longbow on the altar. Somehow, I know I must be parted with it for a while, but I do not know when I will be reunited with it. I look up at my reflection, and see my image’s eyes have changed. Instead of being a normal reflection of my face, the eyes are now as black as the obsidian altar. I feel like I’m leaving more than the bow behind.
I take a deep breath. Look longingly at the bow for a moment. Then swiftly turn and stride out of the small altar room with the same military determination I entered with. The further I stride down the pillared hall, the more the scene fades into white. Soon after whiting out completely, it fades to dark and the scene ends.
Episode 2: Finger Licking Good
The talons plunge into my chest. My left lung collapses as it is pierced. There is pressure as they grip around my ribs. It tries with two hands first, but only succeeds in lifting me off its lap. So it holds me down with one hand, and rips open my rib cage with the other. Until this, I had no wounds, no marks of assault. My eyes are open, I am conscious and mostly aware. But I have no will. I have been conquered by a method that left me untouched. I am in great pain, but unable to express it. All I can do, is cough as the blood starts to fill my right lung.
It didn’t bother to remove my clothing before cracking my torso open. Blood pours out of the cavity, spilling over my white clothes. I feel my opal hanging off the back of my neck, growing heavy with blood. I can’t see much, my vision dimming as I start to gurgle. I know the furry humanoid intends to devour my flesh. I know it looks something like a werewolf, but isn’t. But my head is tilted back, leaning over its legs as it continues to snap and pull my ribs out of my body.
Breathing is much harder now. I hear it licking my blood off its hands and talons, savoring the taste. It pulls what’s left of my left lung out of my chest and tosses it away, idly. I hear other things scrambling after it, fighting among themselves for the quickly devoured scraps.
Is it growling? Or purring? I can’t tell. I know it is contented with itself, as it drags a talon across my exposed beating heart. The heartbeat quickens, not because of fear. I am unable to feel fear. It quickens because I am bleeding to death in its lap. It shifts position and a wave of blood spills over my neck and runs down my face. It takes its right hand, and grabs me by my hair. It holds my head up, so I can see what it is doing. In a quick motion, with its left hand, it grips and snatches my beating heart out of my chest. The aorta shears, spraying what little blood I have left in a fanning spray. My last moments of life, I watch large canines rip into the beating heart. I watch my enemy eat my heart in the seconds of life remaining. I gurgle. I twitch. I die. The scene ends.
Episode 3: Let It Burn
I have been caught up in the sound and fluttering of wings. Large black wings have enveloped me. There are ravens every where. As quickly as I am enveloped, the ravens leave me and I feel a pressure under my butt. I’m sitting on something, something round, lumpy, and numerous. One of the ravens, the largest of them, circles me widdershins twice then flies to the ground not far from me. The bird, easily half of my height, shudders, and Ravenwoman stands up. She is wearing her raven mask, so I can not see her face. She is cawing loudly at me. But not in anger.
I look at her, not able to completely understand her. She cries out loudly, and I feel a twitch on the back of my neck. Reaching up, I feel the raven feather she had lodged in my skin was still there. The chain from the pendant was rubbing against it. But still, I did not understand her. She shrugs, and starts picking about the bones around us. Tossing some aside, and others into the bone-fire that burns not far from us.
I look down, and see I am sitting on a pile of human skulls. I pick one up, and study it. I wonder if this skull was someone I knew, or someone I once was. Dirt falls out of the eye sockets. It falls onto my white clothes and slides away back to the ground it came from. Almost disinterestedly, I notice I am dressed in the manner for magic, but once again, I am wearing all white. Except for the opal, there is not a single non-white article on me.
Ravenwoman caws at me again, but this time, I understand her. I drop the skull I was examining back onto the pile and get to my feet. She gestures and grunts. I was supposed to bring that skull with me. I retrieve it, identifying it from the thousands of other skulls around me with ease, and hold it up as I approach her. She looks at the skull, up at me, down at the skull, then back at me. She snaps her beak at me, then turns me so I’m facing the bone-fire and roughly pushes me forward.
I approach the bone-fire, and note with curiosity the flames are making my white clothes glow intensely. I rub the skull, as if saying farewell, and toss the skull into the bone-fire. The flames accept the skull greedily. I stand, probably a little too close to the fire, and watch the skull quickly disintegrate. I don’t hear Ravenwoman behind me until she snaps her mask’s beak again. Before I can turn to look, she shoves me into the flames.
The flames leap onto me almost viciously. My clothes burst into flame as the fire envelops me completely. I fall to my hands and knees as I feel the fire catching the fat in my skin. I cry from the pain of the flames for a moment, before realizing I was fighting to remain whole. I make the conscious decision to let go of myself, to let the flames take me. As I settle into a kneeling position in the flames, I realize I’m not in any pain now. Surrendering to the bone-fire, I can feel the heat penetrating further and further into my flesh. My clothes completely consumed, I raise my right hand to watch the flesh burn and melt away.
To my surprise, I see my humanity was only skin deep. As the skin burns away, I see the bone structure of something else revealed. I wonder if this was what a butterfly feels when it emerges from the chrysalis. The dull nails become talons. The fingers elongate slightly. But before I can see what I am changing into, the heat overcomes my eyes and they pop noisily into the fire. I cry out in surprise and dismay. I really wanted to see what I was changing into.
I hear Ravenwoman clacking her beak, and the scene ends.
Episode 4: Oh What Fun
(Here are paragraphs and paragraphs of a sexual encounter. However, because one of the participants is a person I know in the Waking, I will not be detailing the action. I have told him privately, however, and I think it will be a month before that smug grin finally fades from his face.)
A friend calls me into his room. I walk in and see he is already engaged in a coupling. He asks if I want to join. I do. Much fun is had by all. No clothes were worn, not even my pendant. And the scene ends.
Episode 5: Recovering the Juju
It’s been three years since I last stood outside these doors. My former employer attempted to scapegoat me for his fuckup. He was going to fire me anyway, so I called the client, gave the client all the backdoor passwords, and informed him how to secure his systems. His client was grateful, the fucker of a slave-driver wasn’t.
Three years ago, he waited for me to return to him. To come begging for my job back, to put myself under his whip. Instead, I called each and every one of his clients, and told them the truth about their servers and so-called protection. Understandably, the revelations did not turn into a job offer. Instead, I grew a little more spine and stepped forward in my life.
But all that was in the Waking. I knew I was Dreaming. Why would I be here, now? I looked down the street, where the rest of the building faded into dreaming gray. There was an uncharacteristic chill in the air, and I pulled my black trench coat tighter around me. Wait. Black? I examine myself, and sure enough, I’m dressed for magic, but now the colors are normal. Black coat, gloves, pants, and boots. White long sleeve blouse. Opal pendant secure at my neck. I have the cane the Embroidered Man uses, but he is nowhere in sight. My introspection did not answer why I would dream of this place after three years.
I sniff the air for clues. Literally. Close my eyes, raise my face, and sniff. Delicately at first, deeply at last. There is something here, something that belongs to me. Something that has been hidden from me. And I’m going to get that something back.
I open the door, and walk inside. Four years ago, I would have been too timid to even touch the handle. Too afraid of my boss. Three years ago, I almost ripped the door from the frame as I made my exit. This time, I open it normally. Inside the receptionist is waiting. I am not surprised to see a face I don’t recognize. The owner was notorious for “hiring” undocumented workers, and replacing them every three to six months depending on how much head they gave him. The poor girl probably thought she was on her way to becoming a legal immigrant.
“Excuse me, you can’t go in there!” She started to rise from her chair, flustered by my boldness. I had already put a hand on the second internal door. I paused and looked at her. In her face, I saw the images of all the girls he had hired before, and several more that I did not recognize.
“Don’t make this your problem. If you remember my words in the morning, leave this place, and never come back. He will eat your soul if you let him.” She stops, and backs away slightly. I wonder how much of this is Dream and how much is World Walking. She cries a bit, and turns to face the front door. As soon as I pass the internal doors, stepping fully inside the facility, I notice over my shoulder, she has grabbed her purse and left in my wake.
I sniff the air again, almost tasting it. Yes, there is a piece of me here. The knowledge enrages me and emboldens me. Other employees come out to confront me. I recognize them to be archetypes of the people the owner has hired. Vulnerable, low self-esteem, desperate workers. All told what a great job they are doing, and how good they were “taking one for the team” by not being paid for what they were worth. All the while, being denigrated to other tech companies in the area and degrading their financial worth. Five years ago, I was of the same mindset. Easily used. Easily discarded.
One by one, as I pass the cubicles, they step out to stop me. Trying to protect the owner, the source of their miserable happiness. Most of them, I don’t have to speak to. I just look at them. Somehow, they recognize the true state they are in, and crumple into their chair, weeping. As I pass them, some stay, choosing to remain enslaved. A few leave, willing to risk the unknown than continue the now exposed lie.
A few put their hands on me. I look at the hand, then look up to them. They try to bully me, the way the owner would bully them. I tap their hand with the cane, and they draw it back, withered and scorched. I reach the cubicle where I used to sit. It has been sealed off, a metal gate locked across the entrance. Inside, I see a child version of me. She is wearing the company shirt. It sits loosely on her, oversized.
“Mija.” (“My daughter.”, in Spanish.) At the sound of my voice, she looks up. This is the piece of me that bastard stole. This is the part of me he locked away. I gave him this portion. I allowed him to take my hopes hostage, as he whored me out. Paying me $12/hour and claiming I wasn’t worth that, while charging the clients $150/hour for my work. The child looks up, and sees me. She bursts into tears and reaches through the bars for me. I take her hand, and speak reassurances. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the owner approach. He and his Yesman, come to me, as if they are going to grab me and throw me out onto the street.
“What the fuck are you doing here! You’re trespassing. Get the fuck out before you get hurt getting the fuck out.” The Yesman, the one directly responsible for the clusterfuck that resulted in me leaving, is reaching for my collar. I hiss at him, a reptilian hiss. I know I have the power of the rattlesnake in me. I stamp the cane onto the floor, it echos like a shaken rattle. Yesman pulls his hand away but continues to berate me.
“What do you want, Kerian? Haven’t you done enough damage already with your bullshit?” The owner’s Waking name is that of another ravisher. Too distinct to name here. I call him by his name, and ask how many undocumented “receptionists” did he pay to have abortions since I left. He straightens stiffly. “I’ll have you arrested. You think I fucked up your life? I’ll truly begin today.” He pulls his iPhone out of his pocket and starts tapping at the screen.
“Say, Bossman, when is the last time you checked licenses?” He freezes. “See, I remember how you behaved while I worked for you. You don’t spend any money more than you have to. If I were to call the BSA on you, you’d come out clean. But what about all the licenses you were supposed to be purchasing for your clients? What would happen if I called the BSA on them? Would you indemnify them?”
“What does it take to be rid of you, Kerian?” His face twitches. “What does it take to be rid of you once and for all? You haunt me. You’ve already chased off half of my clients, with the information you stole.”
“I know who left you, and who stayed. And the information I gave them, was theirs to begin with. So, fuck you.” I tapped the gate with the cane. The light tapping shook the entire building. The girl child giggled at the ruckus. “I want my child, Boss man. And I am leaving with her. Please, stand in my way. Please, try to stop me. I’m not the coward that ran from you before. I see you for what you are, crocodile. And I know where your weakness is.” I start idly tapping on the gate. I know I could rip apart the cage. But I wanted him to surrender the child to me. I wanted him to have to give something up.
Yesman reached for me again. I slap him in the face, my nails slicing his cheek. As he draws back, I lick my lips with a forked tongue. The rattlesnake venom acts quickly, and he turns and runs for the exit, screaming in pain. I continue tapping on the metal door. The child within clapping in rhythm and singing softly to herself. The tapping still shakes the building. I hear a piece of ceiling tile fall in the distance.
Bossman doesn’t move. Without warning, I take the cane and homerun strike a nearby cubicle. The computer system on the other side of the wall explodes in sparks. Bossman flinches but doesn’t open the door. I look at Mija behind the gate, and wink. She starts giggling and cheering me on. I grab the sparks, calling on electricity and prepare to shove the surge into the nearest network jack.
“Wait! God damn you, Kerian. Damn you to hell! What the fuck are you! I’ll open it. Take the bitch and get the fuck out!” He opens the cage, and Mija runs to me. I rip the navy blue work shirt off of her and drape my coat over her tiny body. Bossman yells at me, “Now will you leave me in peace?”
“I’ll think about it.” I smile at him, lift the cane, and bring it forcefully onto the cubicle walls where Mija was imprisoned, where I had slaved for him. The force knocks over not only this cubicle, but the entire row. Bossman stands there, face twitching. “Don’t come after me. Don’t call me. If ever you cross my path in the Waking, I will hurt you. Your money is not safe, Bossman. Sleep well.”
I feel Mija’s hand in mine. I look down, and see she is wearing a mini version of my magic clothes. “Mommy, that’s a pretty necklace!” She points to my opal. “Will I wear it when I grow up?”
“My dear Mija, now that you are free, you will never grow up. You’ll be a part of me again, like we should have been from the beginning.” She cheers and holds tight to me. I kneel and return the hug. She disperses into a fog of black smoke that soaks into my body. As I stand up, I know, deep down inside, Bossman can never hurt me again. Not even the memory of his ill will can move me. I stare at him, until he is unable to return the glare. He breaks off eye contact, yelling for his loyal workers. Many of them have fled, and the rest is afraid of me. He retreats into his glass walled office, sits behind his desk, and glares at me.
Only when he drops his head, unable to face me any further, do I turn and leave the building. To my dismay, a new receptionist already sits where the other had fled from before. But as I leave, she whispers, “You’re not forgotten. He curses your name, but we know. We’re just not strong enough to do as you did.” I nod, leave the building, and the scene ends.
I wake up, and realize I’m crying. I don’t remember the dreams right away. Instead, I’m puzzled why I feel more whole than I did before. As if a long lost piece of me had returned. Then I remembered the dreams.
Make of it, what you may.