Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (7)

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.

Abelard looked down, heaved a sigh, and spoke with his mouth again. “Sorry. But how…?”

“Why do you keep switching the side of your head that you use to look at me?”

He gave a full-body twitch. “The left side receives, the right side projects.”

Unsure of how to interpret this answer but not wanting to display ignorance, she answered his repeated question. “I hear voices that no one else hears.”

“Ah. I think they used to call that schizophrenia, right?”

“What do you mean, ‘used to’?”

He didn’t answer at first. Instead, he ambled in a circle around her, keeping his head down, trying to decide something. She rotated to face him as he walked. When he had circled twice, he asked, “What year did you come from?”

“2017. Why?”

“Common Era? I wasn’t even born then.”

“You mean… you’re from the future?”

“We’re outside of space and time, remember? Aum touches all of human history.”

“Only humans?” Eileen felt weak. “What about… aliens?”

“Haven’t run into any of those yet. Maybe they’re across the ocean. Nobody makes it across the ocean, I’ve heard.”

“What happens when you try to cross the ocean?”

“You get bored and turn around. It’s easy to get bored in Aum. We don’t even have weather here.”

“Yeah, it was pretty quiet before you showed up.” Eileen considered her options. Send him away and explore alone? As a general principle, safety in solitude, but Abelard seemed friendly enough and maybe the next being she would come across would have worse intentions. She still didn’t know too much about Aum. Abelard seemed willing show her the ropes. And she could always part ways with him later if he got on her nerves. So, safety in numbers then. “Okay, I’ll walk with you.”

His animal face twisted into some kind of smile. “All right, Opele, let’s walk.” He fell in beside her.

For a moment, she wasn’t sure whom he was talking to. Then, she remembered giving him her alias. She decided on the spot to start thinking of herself as ‘Opele,’ rather than ‘Eileen.’ “Hey, weren’t you going…” Opele peered in the direction of his previous amble, wondering what he might want to avoid.

“Well, like I was saying when we kicked off this little tutorial, Aum’s geography isn’t fixed. The coasts are fairly stable, but they’re hemmed by a set of mountain ranges, and once you get inland of those, the regions just phase in and out as you travel, with no order I’ve been able to grasp. It’s a right mess. A couple of the beasts I’ve come across tried making maps when they first started out, and it drove them batshit until they stopped.”

Opele furrowed her brow and rubbed her forehead. “So that means…”

“If you were walking this way, I can walk forward with you, and for all we know, we’ll still end up in the Feathered Forest, where I came from. It’s a very peaceful place. Beautiful trees.”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Opele and Abelard discover an unwelcome surprise.

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

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

Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (6)

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 did I get here?”

“As far as I know, there are only two ways. People bring themselves here to escape extreme stress, like they feel when they are about to die; or someone who is already here, who knows the ropes, brings them through. It takes a real athlete to do that. I couldn’t do that.”

“Extreme stress? Like finding out someone has died?”

Abelard considered this. “I’ve never heard of someone coming to Aum because of what happened to another person. I guess it might bring a person through if the other person’s death was truly considered a threat to the person’s own survival.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Got caught in a brush fire. One moment I was burning alive, the next I was standing in the Trembling Swamp.”

Eileen felt knocked over by the tidal wave of information presented by Abelard. “This is too much to take in!”

Abelard turned his head to look at her with his deer eye again. “Yeah, it’s a lot at once, I know. Let’s keep this simple. What’s your name?”

She didn’t want to tell him her name given the circumstances. She didn’t really know him. But he had given his first. To refuse the request might alienate him, and she badly needed a friend. What could he call her? She thought of what the Iyanifa had shown her on the night she had learned of Ifá.   “Opele,” she mumbled, banking on Australia’s racist history; the reference should go unnoticed.

“Want to walk with me, Opele?”

She rubbed the back of her head with her palm. “I don’t know. Where are you going?”

Abelard stamped his hippo hindquarter. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Who?”

Abelard looked down to the sand. “Someone who will walk with me.” His voice sounded dark, like molasses.

“You lonely?”

He stamped again.

The cello voice in Eileen’s mind, which had been silent for some time, spoke melodically: “Tales of suffering and greed! Pride will tear us both apart!”

Abelard whipped his head up and to the side, staring wide with his deer eye at Eileen. “How’d you do that?”

“Do what? I’m just standing here.”

“Your mind. You thought with a different voice! I mean, I’ve been getting double murmurs from you this whole time, I figured my perception was just off, but that was clear. How’d you do it?”

“You can read my mind?”

Abelard swung his head so that his hippo eye could view her. The eye twinkled, and Eileen heard a male, Australian voice in her mind: “When I choose to.” His animal mouth did not move.

Eileen furrowed her brow and thought as hard as she could. “Read this: GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD!”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen and Abelard decide to travel together.

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

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

Topaz Bond – The Creature, continued (5)

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.

 

Abelard combined a shuffle and a slide to move down the dune toward Eileen. He compensated for the contrast between his lumbering hippo side and graceful deer legs with practiced ease. Eileen wondered why no longer had a human body. “This is the Little Desert.”

“ ‘Little’? Is there a Big Desert somewhere else?”

“I’ve only heard it called the Great Desert.”

“Do you know how I ended up in the Little Desert?”

“Well, not really. Usually the Little Desert is next to the Stone Meadow or the Torn Crags, but I just came from the Feathered Forest, so I guess it depends. How many breaths have you taken?”

Eileen narrowed her eyes.

“Oh. You must be just starting out! You wanted to know how you ended up in Aum, period.”

“Aum?”

“Yeah.” Abelard closed his hippo eye and turned the deer side of his head toward her. “This realm is called Aum.”

“How did I get here?”

“You’re uncomfortable in that position. Are you unwilling to make a garment, or do you not realize that you’re able to do so?”

“What?” Eileen’s flesh tingled unpleasantly, as if exposed to very mild electric current, and she felt a pull toward Abelard. She raised her arms in defense, but the tingling and pull ended almost immediately. She looked over her forearms at him; he had turned his head back to face her square on. A pale, translucent fedora now perched at an angle on the hippo side of his head. He winked at her with his deer eye; she felt the tingling again and a push away from him. She watched this time as the fedora melted into what she could now only assume to be the air around it.

“People show up here in the clothes that suit them best. I’ve never heard of anyone showing up naked, but we’re all so spread out, someone else probably did.”

“How did you do that? Make that hat?”

He hunched his animal shoulders in an approximation of a shrug. “How do you move your muscles? There’s a scientific explanation involving nerves and impulses, but a person needs education to explain that. No one’s given me an education on the magic here, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it.”

“Do you… think about it?”

“Do you think about moving your muscles when you want to do something physically? I man, you can think about lifting your arm, but do you? Usually?”

“No.”

“Right. Once a person gets past early childhood, that sort of thought generally isn’t necessary unless he or she is attempting something truly challenging or has experienced brain damage. The same holds true for magic in Aum. The weird part is that none of the humans who come here have to go through infancy. We can all just do what we need to… Some people choose to develop their skills to perform feats that others can’t. They’re like athletes. But we all come here with an intuitive sense of how the basics get done. Apparently, some part of you does not need clothes.”

“Well, yeah. Not when I’m alone.” As soon as she began to really think about the difference between solitude and socializing, she felt pressure against her skin. She looked down and saw that an opaque, sleeveless leotard had filmed over her torso. Amazing. She stood. “I just made that? Out of what, air?”

“I don’t think what’s around us is air, even though we still feel like we’re breathing. It’s some other medium. Best just to think of it as magic. Aum isn’t a physical place. It’s outside of space and time.”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen and Abelard continue to get acquainted.

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

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

Topaz Bond – The Creature (4)

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 voice warbled, throaty and off-key. She couldn’t tell the gender of the singer, but the song came from off to her right and was getting louder. She began to make out the words.

Here’s to Mason,

he’s true blue!

He’s a piss pot,

through and through.

He’s a bastard, so they say,

and he’s not going to heaven –“

Crouching down, Eileen attempted to duck behind a dune, but realized too late that the singer had not taken the path of least resistance. He or she had in fact climbed the opposite side of the dune where Eileen stood.

“- he’s going the other way!

He’s going down,

down, down, down, down!”

She knew that from the top of that dune, the singer of the ridiculous drinking song would see her, no matter where she tried to run. She looked up in fear as the singer crested the dune, and then blinked, amazed.

The left half of the creature was shaped like that of a male deer, complete with a graceful antler at the forehead, but all the proportions had been disjointed to sync that half up with the creature’s right half, which looked like that of a hippopotamus. The hippo half also had strange proportions – squashed in some places, stretched in others – so that the two halves could mesh along their axis. Eileen had never seen anything like this creature, and would never have imagined based on its appearance that it could sing. But –

“Hooray to Mason,

hooray at last!

Hooray to Mason,

he’s a horse’s –

Oh. Hello,” said the creature, acknowledging Eileen’s presence from the top of the dune.

“Hello?” queried Eileen, remaining crouched.

“I’m Abelard.” Abelard tilted his half-and-half head. “You don’t want clothes? I remember, when I had a human body, thinking it was very important to wear clothes outside.” He spoke with a strangled Australian accent.

Eileen’s face flushed, but she stayed true to her earlier resolve and did not apologize for her nudity. “Where am I?”

 

Thank you for reading!  In my next installment, Eileen gets some answers.

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, 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.