Topaz Bond – The Colors, continued (3)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

How long had she stood at the base of this dune? The constant light level made it difficult to mark the passage of time. She could count off seconds, but suspected doing so would require too much concentration. For a moment, she had wondered if she dreamt, but had immediately discounted the notion. No way would she have fallen asleep so soon after hearing the news from Rod of her mother’s death, and while she might have fainted, she had fainted a couple of times before in her life and had never experienced anything like this as a result. She felt curiosity now. What had happened? How had she come here? Where was ‘here,’ exactly? Had someone brought her here deliberately, using some kind of magic? If so, why?

She felt no hunger, thirst, nor any other bodily need, including desire to sleep. Her initial surprise and fear over discovering herself transported had ebbed. She had adjusted to her bizarre surroundings. So much so, in fact, that she started to feel boredom. It did not seem that she would get answers to her questions from the sand, no matter its beauty. She needed to explore.

The desert looked the same in all directions, so she started walking forward.

The colorful sand felt as warm as her feet. It collected between her toes as she walked. She skirted the dunes lazily, watching the blue and magenta streaks intertwine around her. She might want clothes eventually, but had begun to feel confident that if she encountered anyone in her current state, she need not apologize. For now, the desert stretched on, sands and sky out to the horizon. Her eyes longed for something to break the monotony. A cactus maybe. A house? Something else moving, besides her.

The chiming voice and the cello voice had been making pleasant conversation in her mind for a while now. She tuned them out, like she would with the static on a normal day, until they said in loud unison “LISTEN! LISTEN!”

She stopped walking and addressed them. “It would be easier to listen if you would leave me alone.” Then, she heard what they must have heard first: singing.

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen discovers, and is discovered by, the singer.

Previous Aum stories include “Globe Without Goodbye” and “Masked.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond,” please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Colors (2)

This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

The change came instantaneously. One moment, she saw her tiny apartment made gauzy by the tears, and the next, her sight cleared to reveal an alien landscape. No sun, moon, stars, or clouds hung in the sky; its flat scarlet luminescence caressed desert dunes, their sands marbled magenta and jewel blue. She had never seen such densely unnatural colors in panorama before, and they absorbed her field of vision with no relief.

Panicked, she locked up. But nothing moved in the colorful desert; the stillness of the air smothered her.

She felt faint. What had happened? How could this be? I’ve never seen things no one else could see before, only heard the voices. This can’t be real.

Cued by this thought, a voice in her mind replied, clear as a clock chime, “Beautiful warning.”

She hadn’t heard a voice so clearly since her teenaged self had started the medications, and had never heard one with such a rich timbre. Startled, she tried to think of something else, anything else.

“Not cold. Naked,” the chiming voice continued.

Eileen looked down across her breasts with their mulberry-colored nipples to the mole on her belly and on down to her toes. How had she been unclothed?

She felt vulnerable as she looked around again. Still, nothing moved. No wind stirred the sand of the gorgeous dunes, many of which towered over her head. She heard nothing but the chiming voice as it pronounced “Sweeping free the aching bones!” The uniform crimson of the sky’s expanse stirred her soul. However she had arrived here, whatever would happen next, no harm touched her now. For a moment of shock she had even managed to forget her mother’s death, and despite managing to what Rod had said, her wonder over her circumstances dulled her grief presently.

As she acclimated to her nudity, she felt more intrigue than anything else. Though many would judge her physique as on the pudgy side of average, Eileen had worked hard in therapy to become comfortable with dwelling in her body; the longer she spent in this desert without seeing a person or even an animal round a dune, the more she felt as if it made as much sense to be naked here as it did to be naked in her own apartment. She often had shed her clothes between dinner and bedtime. Considering the lack of intruding noise like that her neighbors made going about their business, this landscape held more peace than her home.

“No hypothesis here.” This second voice sounded deeper than the first, as though it belonged to a cello.

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen learns she is not alone in the desert.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye and Masked.

If you are enjoying “Topaz Bond,” please support my writing on Patreon.

Topaz Bond – The Call (1)

This story is dedicated to my Patrons; special thanks to Adam, Bill Hawke, Donna Amburgey, Emily L, Linmayu, and Roger Kotecki for their ongoing monthly support at $3 or higher.  This story is also dedicated to Cassandra Walker and the Hearing Voices Network for input on the character of Eileen Jackson.

Eileen stared at her smartphone. Its edge peeked out from where her long, cotton skirt dimpled between her knees. How long had she waited here on the edge of her bed? Looking up from her lap, she saw her lonely coffee cup no longer steaming as it rested next to her laptop. She could cross her studio apartment and reach the table where she ate her meals and checked her newsfeed in just a few steps. The pride that came with living independently had a price tag of hundreds per month. At the moment, she missed her mother’s house. She looked at her phone again, her stomach knotted in fear. Mama had pride too. Had it brought her down in the end, when the Man had failed so many times?

She placed her phone on her unmade bed and pointedly ignored it as she poured the cold coffee down her sink drain. She washed the cup, then the rest of her dishes. Detergent bubbles popped against her warm beige hands, trembling beneath the faucet. She imagined her mother’s hands, much darker than her own, going about daily business in the kitchen. Scrubbing vegetables. Grating lemons. Those hands – still warm now? Or cold, like tree trunks in a forest?

The medication kept the static buzzes of the voices dull and far away. Their noise usually got louder when Eileen felt pressured, and she knew if she focused on them now she would start to pick out individual words. She chose not to focus on them, and imagined herself to be made of granite. Resolute. Remote. Removed from pain. Of all the strategies she’d tried in groups over the years, she liked visualization the most.

The few dishes in the sink from the past day didn’t distract her for long. She drained the hot water and the bubbles, then smoothed back the tendrils of her hair that had puffed out. In high school, she had flat ironed her hair, but now she preferred natural volume. Sometimes, her hair reminded her of cumulus clouds floating free in the sky.

She realized she wanted to pray.

Eileen didn’t pray often. Her mother had brought her as a child to the local Baptist church for Sunday school, but hadn’t pressured her in her teenage years when she had resisted further attendance. By the time Eileen had turned seventeen, she and Mama had both started to joke about attending ‘the Church of Sleeping in on Sundays.’ So to whom should she pray? Recently, she had started to explore her ancestral religion of Ifá, thinking it might explain the voices in a way psychiatry could not touch. Eileen wanted a better explanation, but could not say she truly believed yet. So where could her prayers go?

She found her old burner and a cone of blended incense. After setting up the burner on her table, she lit the cone and blew on it until it burned as an ember. Soon the incense tinged the air of her apartment with the scents of musk and myrrh. She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. Please, whoever is listening… I need Mama to live. Please don’t let her die just because she couldn’t afford another medical bill. Who dies from the flu, anyway?

The static of the voices crackled louder in her mind, and she caught a couple of words: “EILEEN – STUPID! –“ As she grabbed hold of the scent of the incense as an external focus, glad she hadn’t gone noseblind to it yet, her phone rang. The screen identified the caller as her uncle Rod.

She answered. “Yes?”

Rod choked on his words, his voice thick and hoarse. “I’m sorry, LeLe… Your mother…”

“Don’t say it!” Of all the times to be called ‘LeLe.’ Mama had given her a white name for a reason! A leg up. A way to get Eileen’s résumé past the recruiter’s inbox, to give her the option to pass. The rest of the family had never approved.

“They didn’t listen to her. They didn’t figure out how bad it was. They sent her home. She died in her own bed, LeLe. We’re gonna sue…”

She stopped listening to Rod. A moment later she ended the call, with him in mid-sentence. A lawsuit wouldn’t matter and the hospital could afford better lawyers anyway. And what good would money do? Would it bring Lashonda Jackson back to life? Of course not. The hot tears welling from her eyes began to spill down. She felt like an uprooted weed left to die on garden earth by a lazy gardener. How would she survive?

Thank you for reading! In my next installment, Eileen discovers a realm of existence that is completely new to her: Aum.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye and Masked.

If you are enjoying Topaz Bond, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Fingerprints (16)

The story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

In his scrying, Bloodwater loved to linger on this moment: the wink, Amica’s eyes widening, Amica’s mouth opening slightly in surprise. Bloodwater would leave five fingerprints on the history of Earth – at least, that he had found so far. He liked to think of this one as the mark of his right hand pinky finger. What followed in the life of John Kosearas interested him hardly at all. Nothing mattered to Bloodwater except leaving his marks.

He felt more stirred to action than he had in the span of a few million breaths. Perhaps he should converse with Sarabamoun about the experience with John. Bloodwater knew Sarabamoun took an interventionist stance toward Earth, flitting about the edges of the planet’s history like a wild animal both attracted to and fearful of firelight. Sarabamoun would even expend the spirit energy required to physically manifest on Earth! Bloodwater could not count the number of times that he had seen Sarabamoun’s severe Egyptian countenance peering back at him as the tahtib dancer participated in an event in human society. Sarabamoun liked to challenge humans. What would he think of the challenge Bloodwater had set before John?

Bloodwater focused the energy necessary to send a thought out into Aum when not in the “presence” of its intended recipient. Communicating across “distance” in Aum had a tricky aspect: one could never know how far the recipient had advanced in his or her personal experience, as “time” did not flow at a universal pace in the spirit realm. He had come to understand that when two minds encountered each other in what each interpreted as the space of Aum, the minds did some kind of delicate dance that allowed for a parallel flow. The minds did not negotiate this flow consciously; they did it by instinct, like so many actions taken in Aum. However, when a mind operated in isolation, the experience required only subjective logic. He wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to exist natively to Aum, like the Ianu, unconstrained by linear chronology. His experience with those orbs when he first explored in Aum before settling in his cavern had left him completely mystified.

He pulsed out a thought: “Sarabamoun. Where can I meet you?”

Sarabamoun took a few breaths to reply. “Not now. A human has danced me to exhaustion. I must regroup. I will name a place to meet when I feel prepared to travel.”

“Received,” Bloodwater sighed. For now, he would continue to savor the satisfaction of his influence in John’s life, Amica’s life, Sean’s life, and therefore the lives of all in their future as the complex interconnections played out across the beautiful colored glass of history. He could see his fingerprints on that glass perfectly. No one else from the lowly village of his childhood had such a privileged vantage point, and yet he often felt dissatisfied. Soon, he would go to the vortex, ready to learn it all again, ready to be surprised; soon, he would re-enter the universe. But not quite yet. He had only played out three of his five marks that he had found so far on Earth’s history. He still needed to speak to the dolphin and to rescue the scout. If he found no more fingerprints before completing those two, he would go to the vortex after doing those deeds, and he would go with a smile on his lips.

He stood. Feeling the age he had given himself, he slowly walked to the mouth of his diamond cavern, and surveyed the landscape. As always, no sun or stars hung in the purple sky. He watched a luminous speck float over the canopy of the forest that carpeted the land below, and he knew that speck to be a wyvern that had crossed the barrier of the mountains. He frowned. Most of the exiled beasts had agreed to keep to the other side of the mountains, but stubborn wyverns sometimes broke the truce. What did this one want? No matter. He lashed out with his magic and exterminated the speck, then returned to his cushioned ledge, and summoned the image of John Kosearas’ wink to Amica Ferri one more time. Bloodwater had done well; he had marked the world.

 

Thank you for reading!  This concludes Masked.   In my next installment, I begin a new story, Topaz Bond.

The Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you have enjoyed Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Drawbridge (15)

The story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

He went back to the Fortress on the following day. Never mind how he had done at aping Sean, returning to work truly tested his acting skills. Tasks that he had performed automatically before now required conscious attention because he wanted to look ‘normal.’ He wiped down the countertops. He told the kids how much the soda and chips would cost when they wanted to refuel between card tournament rounds. He updated the calendar of events. He smiled. Again and again he tightened the corners of his lips to stretch them and reveal his teeth, and each time, he felt like a cornered animal. Either no one recognized John’s smile as forced, or no one thought it worth commenting on. At least Lenny had gotten the power working again. “Have a nice day,” he said absently, about three minutes after a customer had left the building.

“Who? Me?” said Amica with cheer as she and Sean walked in.

“You all right, man? You look pale like a sheet,” Sean commented. He did not seem the least bit perturbed despite having been possessed about 36 hours previously.

“Yes, yes. I’m fine. A little tired, maybe. In need of something?” Of course, John had no idea as to how a person who had been possessed should be expected to act. Disconcerted? Maybe Sean could fake ‘normal’ better than John could.

“Buying some minis for a birthday present,” Amica responded.

John didn’t need to look at her to remember every inch of her body. “Well, you know where they’re at. I’ll be here to ring you up.” He made a show of bending down to fiddle with the lock at the back of a display case; a tableful of tournament kids exploded with glee as an underdog won a match, but John barely noticed. Standing up again, he tracked Amica and Sean in his peripheral vision and listened to their conversation.

“…still think Warren would appreciate something pre-painted. You know he’s too lazy to do a good job himself.”

“Yeah, but it’ll give him something to do while he’s waiting for Amanda to answer his Friend request…”

John shook his head. How could they carry on, exactly the same as before? They passed outside of easy listening radius. One of the kids bought a foil-wrapped pack of cards, probably hoping for something good to swap in for the next round. John forced himself to count the change out, and the dimes shone in the kid’s small brown hand. Like nothing had happened. How many other people secretly faked their way through life like this? How many victims had Aum claimed?

“…outdated password! You’re a clone, I’m sure of it!” Walking backwards to face Sean, Amica reached up and tweaked his nose.

“Don’t talk about it in front of Kosearas, please hon? It’s ridiculous…”

“Talk about what?” John felt confident his voice had not shaken with his inquiry.

“Never mind, man.” Sean scowled.

“You really don’t remember, do you?” Amica sounded puzzled.

For the rest of his life, John would wonder if he should have just rung up the purchase and sent them on their way, but in that moment, he could not resist speaking. Everyone wants to know how the magician did the card trick. “Tell her the password is ‘Floyd,’ Sean. It’s the only way to throw the Clone Police off your trail.” And so help him, he winked at her.

 

Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, Bloodwater congratulates himself.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you have been enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Morning After (14)

The story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

He woke with his face mere inches from the bloodied lock and Ruby’s tiny body, mashed against the top of his desk. No light glowed inside the transparent beetle perched on top of the little corpse. No part of the beetle moved, not even its antennae.   Dawn shone through the room’s Venetian blinds. The old loneliness stabbed at him.

He picked up the beetle by one of its limbs. Inanimate, it dangled awkwardly from between his thumb and forefinger. He traced its lines with the index finger of his other hand. What had just happened? Could he use any rubric to justify what he had done? He remembered how Amica had looked and smelled. Then he remembered her response to his question of jealousy: We’re in this together. John might not have coerced her, but he had definitely deceived her. Coercion-one-step-removed. He could not reconcile that with what he knew of himself.

Making a strangled noise deep in his throat, he slammed the beetle down on his desk, picked up the padlock again, and pressed it down against the beetle’s back. Just like he had done to Ruby’s skull a few hours before, in another life it seemed. The lock crushed the brittle beetle instantly. He set it down next to Ruby and looked at the ruined beetle fragments; making that same strangled noise, he tried to jam the splinters back into place. He wanted to hold her again! He wanted Sean’s life! Pieces of the beetle stuck in the skin of his fingers as he pressed to no avail. The magic had gone. John wondered how this looked to Bloodwater, lying on his pale cushion in Aum. Did it warm the old man’s watery heart?

John lay down on his narrow bed, still wearing his work pants and the T-shirt that stuck to his side. He felt like crying again but didn’t want to give Bloodwater any sense of satisfaction. At some point in the future, he might be able to shake the feeling of being watched, but right now he felt on stage, a spotlight framing his every movement as a crowd of Bloodwaters jeered. He decided to call in sick to work that day despite the dire consequences that Lenny might bring down. He needed to feel more normal before facing his little life again. A small voice within told him that a frog that has seen the ocean will never appreciate the bottom of a well again, but he needed to try.

 

Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John goes back to work.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you have been enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

 

 

Masked – The Rendezvous, continued (13)

The story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Hiding unsteadiness, he stood, reached out, and ran two fingertips through her chin-length hair caught in the light from the window behind the bed. He had absolutely no idea how Sean went about this sort of thing and had begun to care less about pretending. Amica seemed curious about his hesitation, but placed one hand on the back of his head and pulled him in for a kiss. The last thing she had eaten must have been yogurt.

He had an idea. He pulled away from her mouth to say, “Why don’t you pretend I’m him?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Pretend you’re who?”

He felt himself get more nervous. “John. You know, the clerk. Just pretend. Just this once.”

“What?”

“You said you have a crush on him. Why don’t you pretend I’m him? It’ll be fun.” He resisted the urge to cross his fingers behind his back.

She responded immediately. “Well it’s certainly not the strangest thing you’ve asked me to do in bed, Mr. Squeal-like-a-Dolphin!” She kissed him more forcefully, raked her fingernails down his spine, and went for the fly of his jeans.

He’d always prided himself on paying close attention to cues in bed, and the fact that she took the lead made it easier. She had energy and enthusiasm but less grace than he had imagined. She tasted good. They started out hurriedly, but hit a stride with him on his back. She felt even better than she tasted. Afterward, he wished she’d gotten more vocal about it, but knew he’d done well.

She leaned down to rest her head on the pillow, breathing hard against his neck. “You were right, that was fun. Let’s do it again sometime.”

He took up the teasing tone she’d had earlier. “I don’t know, Mickey, it wasn’t too memorable for me. I might not even remember it at all if you ask me about it later.” Ha ha, only serious.

She lifted up and moved to lie beside him, resting her head on her palm. “You are just full of surprises tonight!”

He felt himself grow drowsy, and wondered if the beetle would let him wake up next to her.

 

Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John feels remorse.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you have been enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.