She was very much aware of his presence, though her body had been sleeping.
He did not realize that there was nothing he could do to her that she did not allow, for as he smeared her blood across his fingertips and tasted her, a thread of his dead spirit filtered in through her, and initially corrupted, then enhanced her nature.
Enduring the sickness, she did not let him see her tremble, and through some miracle, managed to hold her gorge.
He was not merely old, but ancient, and smelled of the dust and bones of ancient catacombs long buried and forgotten.
She also felt the essence of his lust, a thin, light band of energy over the corruption; she saw the faces of women, lovely and in their physical prime, saw the bodies writhing beneath him, grinding over him, and what he did with them when it was over.
Multiple abattoirs dotted the landscape where he’d been at work.
She made a silent vow to avenge them all.
“Janyris,” said her father, “this dabbling in things mortal is not for you; it will come to no good end. You must be ready to ascend your station when your mother passes.”
For awhile, she complied, and played the dutiful daughter until her mother actually passed, not in the traditional sense; she merely went to the underworld and never returned.
Her father was suspect that she had gone voluntarily, to be with the gods that dwelt there, but he dared not go after her, for fear of finding out if that were true.
He’d been a good father, but as to husband, Janyris couldn’t say.
She left too, unannounced, unsuspected, and left her father to fend for himself, and find succor where he would.
She observed the mortals for awhile, creatures of habit, and routine, much like ants and migratory birds, scattering in panics when crisis came, then banding together to rally and rebuild, if they could.
They were boring, but she admired their tenacity to survive and keep their mundane species in existence.
In time, they came to amuse her, and she was content to meddle in minor ways, until one day, she saw something that piqued her interest, and went into a deeper world.
A small boy was sleeping, the moonlight soft on his innocent face, and she saw a shadow in his room detach itself, and come to stand by his bed.
Its eyes were open, and a pale violet shade.
She grew intrigued, and looked closer.
The shadow reeked of death and evil; she dared draw no closer, lest it sense her presence; indeed, it had already looked up at the ceiling twice, sensing something, and she wasn’t sure she’d hidden in time, but as it didn’t pursue her, she knew she wasn’t seen.
This was the sort of being that killed when discovered.
He took the boy’s hand, and pricked the skin of his index finger with a long nail of his own.
The child thrashed under his covers, then grew still, and the shadow retreated.
As the sun rose, the boy’s body simply dissipated, skin melting into bone melting into the dust motes in the light of the morning sun, and his body simply drifted apart, his soul taken and his flesh removed.
The parents were in agony, and did not last long together, and in their isolation, grew despondent, and died not long thereafter.
She wanted to go to them, but she dared not.
Then came the fateful night they met, and she made her vow in front of him.
He saw the glimmer of something in her, and showed his true face, and she knew in that moment she had him.
And now he was a part of her, and she of him.
It was going to be glorious fight.
Ah, my dear Rillion, you don’t know what you’ve done. Taking your soul will redeem my own, and the damnation that awaits you is beyond description.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015
By the light of a single candle, she lay sleeping.
He knew from what she’d told him before that the glow made her feel warm inside, the color and motion of the flame always pleased her eyes; she’d fallen asleep watching it.
High above, the moon shone what light it could from the cratered crescent slice hanging in the heavens.
Her raven braids, thin and intricate, languished across the pillow that cradled her head.
Her honey brown skin glistened with amber highlights.
He looked at her form, outlined in the covers; it was curvy and full, and if he’d still been mortal, he’d have found himself stirred as in the days of old.
She was beautiful, but it wasn’t enough; she was good, kind, loving, even-tempered, patient, and loyal.
Long were the months he watched her, through seasons, through years, past her first decade, just short of her full second. He observed her almost daily then, interacting with the people in her life. The times she lost her temper, her composure, and control were rare, but she was human, after all, and he’d seen those times as well.
Even then, she would not lash out; she would cry and rail and scream, but she never hurt anyone, or anything. For the most part, she carried out her tantrums in the privacy of her room.
In his last choosing, he’d chosen an exceptional girl; she’d been so in every way, but he soon found there was nothing to mold, nowhere for him to begin to groom her for who she was to become.
Her inherent arrogance, combined with her beauty and her newly bestowed gifts, made her insufferable, and in the end, in a violent, savage act, he took her life.
This girl, while above average, would prove to be more pliable; her heart was naturally giving, and that would be to his advantage.
He was indeed grateful they’d evolved; no longer the red, messy biting and tearing, however subtle and sublime, of tender flesh, warm to the touch, the coppery ambrosia of life flowing into, and down, sating hunger, inciting passion, as lips, teeth and tongue formed a trifecta of perfect murder, picturesque deaths.
Now, he had but to take her hand, so he did.
She didn’t wake, but stirred, undulating under the covers, a soft little moan on her sweet lips. She instinctively pulled her hand back, and he let it go.
The deed was done. The pinprick of his fingernail had drawn her blood in through the flesh pads of his fingers. He smeared her blood across them, felt the warmth of it, saw the soul-glow inside of it.
He licked his index finger and almost swooned at the taste. It was tempting to take more than he needed with this one. Her blood was as sweet as her personality, but he refrained.
There was something else in her blood,, something he didn’t expect.
There would be others to draw from soon, and he would have his fill, but this one was special.
He’d met her years ago as a child, and there was something in her eyes that recognized him for what he was, yet she’d shown no fear.
She was enchanting, until she told him something that piqued his curiosity.
“I’m going to kill you one day.”
A pinprick of rage briefly altered his features into the demonic, but it was only a flash.
She was the only one who saw it, and she grinned.
He saw the red glimmer of the seed in her eyes as she looked at him, and vowed he’d come back for her.
This was that time; he was calling her to him, and would mark her as his.
If she could still kill him after that, it would be no small feat; her power would be great indeed.
Greater than his.
And that, he could not allow.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015
If honey ran in mountain streams
the sugar sparkling in moonbeams
and I could hear the screech-owl’s screams
would I then have the sweetest dreams…
Of flying into starlight
with very keen eyesight
having a smooth flight
upon the winds of night?
Would I return with morning sun
the majic of my wings undone
or shattered by the hunter’s gun
(perhaps a god was having fun)?
To then become a man again
staring at the horizon
sheltered in an empty den
the earth’s poor earth-bound citizen?
Would I keep flying into space
to some far, timeless secret place
not to rejoin the human race
as cosmic winds caress my face?
I would prefer the last
and not think upon the past
That time when I was one of you
Unless you wish to travel too….
I thought you would.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
June 25th, 1983
The Sweet, Wise Cosmic Dream / Assorted Absurdities (a poetry collection)
All rights reserved
Heat suffused his face at her words, her boldness. She laughed, playful, delighted at his discomfort, and charmed by it too, and left him with the tingling warmth of her hand under his chin, as if he were the dog that rescued her, and she’d scratched his fleas there in gratitude.
And there it was, the opportunity of a lifetime, all because of a rabid dog.
In and of herself, Nahaia was pleasing to the eye, and Arlun counted himself fortunate; marriages were often arranged, and he’d seen some of the mates of his friends, both male and female, and his heart went out to them.
He knew, at least in theory, that in matters of the heart such things were ultimately superficial, since some of those marriages flourished in spite of the physical shortcomings; it wasn’t often, but it did happen. Shaking his head again as he packed, he put it from his mind.
It was not an issue for him.
Strange land, strange customs, strange people, foods, gods, and so forth were going to occupy his days so much that he didn’t need to worry about anything else.
The sun climbed, wearing down the day hour by hour, until finally, shortly after noon, he was ready to depart.
After tearful goodbyes and long hugs that showed fear and reluctance of accepting their new positions, they realized that in their eagerness to please, they’d opened themselves up to public examination, and courtly interference; there was nothing to be done for it now.
Arlun set out on a good, sturdy horse his father procured from the local horse trader; the man’s eyes positively glittered with greed at the thought of having a palace connection, and he was all too happy to accept a small deposit for a lucrative profit when the horse arrived safely; Arlun’s father’s word had proven consistently good throughout the years, and he was respected and trusted as a man of integrity, even among those who snickered at his poverty behind his back.
The animal was fine and even-tempered, and Arlun found himself relaxing as the road unfolded in its own lazy, meandering way toward the land of his bride-to-be. The afternoon sun was not overbearing, and the road was empty of everything except the creatures of habit that needed to cross it.
Seeing no real need to rush, his hands easy on the reins, he let the horse set it’s pace, and allowed his mind to wander…
She was resplendent in a gown of dark blue trimmed with gold, bedecked with a necklace, rings, ankle bracelet, and armbands set with sapphires and lapis lazuli, her raven hair unbound, but styled to frame her delicate face, and draped just so over her slim shoulders, her deep brown eyes rimmed with kohl and shadow, and when she smiled at him, his heart was bewitched beyond recall.
He heard no music, tasted no food, saw no other rival for her in his eyes, and blinded his heart to the possibility.
Her father saw the stars in his daughter’s eyes, and the smitten smirk on the young man’s lips, and approved, for the youth, as far as he was concerned, had already proven his valor. His queen spoke to Arlun’s mother of plans, and he spoke to Arlun’s father of coin, and before the night was over, an agreement was reached.
Arlun knew none of it, and would not have cared if told.
As they danced, he breathed in the honeysuckle fragrance on Nahaia’s cinnamon skin, longed to taste the berry stained gloss of her lips, wet and gleaming in the festive light; he longed to hold the slender, graceful sway of her body and make it sway in other ways, and could tell by her shy smile that these were mysteries she would keep for him alone until he pledged for her.
“Ah, Nahaia, my princess, my bride, my wife…” he rolled the words from his tongue, thoughts in the distance, and at first did not hear the rider fast approaching behind him.
When he did, it was too late.
In the early afternoon, Echo felt the cool grass under her bare feet, and her white diaphanous dress barely hid her charms for modesty.
She gazed about in amazement, looking for Time, who’d manifested himself to her in the form of a sculptor, and barely pushed her through time before Death’s gory scythe claimed their lives.
Can time be killed?
She dismissed the thought; it was enough that she was free from the rocks that imprisoned her in her grief all those centuries ago.
The gods had long ago abandoned the region, and her, and the rains had stopped, leaving the land to change to desert, and her alone inside her stony dungeon; she no longer had the luxury of even repeating the words of someone else, and her loneliness crushed her spirit as she slept, and woke to silence, and slept again, in a cycle of living death.
And then the netherworld travelers happened to stop in front of her.
And now she was here.
Breathing in the fresh clean scent of the forest, even in its pungency, made her shiver with pleasure at life once more. She wanted to kiss Time again; his scent had stirred her, but he’d hidden himself.
Maybe there will be…time…for that later. Her mischievous thought brought a smile to her lips when she heard someone rushing through the woods in her direction.
Before she could hide, the figure emerged; it was her King, flushed, panting, and looking over his shoulder as if a wild boar pursued him.
She took the knee before him, and he paused a moment in front of her.
She stood. “You do me honor, lord.”
“I would, had I time.” He smiled at her with lust, but time was of the essence, and he’d sated himself elsewhere.
“How may I serve you?”
“Juno pursues me for my dalliances with some of your sisters. I would that you use your skills of conversation to detain her while I escape until she calms down.”
“I am at your service, Majesty.”
“There’s a good nymph.” His hand cupped her cheek in a mix of paternal affection and a lion testing the softness of the skin of its next kill.
There was a rustling behind them, and Echo wanted to laugh as Jupiter bolted like a frightened deer into the woods to escape Juno’s wrath.
The scent of lilac wafted in the air, and Echo walked toward the blooming bush, and gathered some in her hands, letting the scent wash over her, as Juno came from the same direction as Jupiter, her eyes sparking with fury, her nails digging into her palms.
She spied the nymph by the lilac, and rushed over to her.
“Did Jupiter pass through here? Tell me, and don’t you dare lie!”
“To lie to my Queen is to die. I only just arrived, smelling the lilac in the air, and wished to gather some for my bath. Would my Queen like some for her own?”
“No. Thank you. Did you see Jupiter?”
“I did not, my queen. I would run to hide, for I am but in this faerie cloth, and the King is potent in his lust…”
Juno’s eyes flashed.
“…so my sisters say, my queen. He has not taken me to bed, nor would I go, for we are friends, you and I, are we not?”
Her voice softened.
“I have sat at your feet, and eaten from your hand. I live at your pleasure, and die at your command, and my queen has been most gracious not to seek my death. I would not risk such by bedding your lord and husband, though he grow angry with me, and threaten my life.
“So again, I would not lie to you; I did not see my king pass this way.”
Some of Juno’s steam began to dissipate as her gaze scanned helplessly around the woods; it seemed he’d eluded her once again, and her eyes began to shine with welling tears.
“Come, my friend,” Echo smiled, and held out her hand, “come smell the lilacs in full bloom. I will lace some through your hair, along with flowers of white and gold. We will look for them together, and when I am done, my King will be enchanted by you once more, and bring you his heart, cloven in repentance, for you and you alone.”
Juno sighed. “Oh, Echo. Dear, sweet, kind Echo, you are ever my solace, ever my friend.”
“I’ve no other desire, my Queen.”
Echo surreptitiously cast about for Time once more, but he was not present.
They spent the afternoon together, and Echo chattered away; her knowledge of the woods and all therein was extensive, her curiosity about matters royal always favored Juno’s views, and as the sun wheeled to the chariot house, they gathered the lilac, the yellow posy, blue periwinkle and daisy, and Echo wreathed them round, and crowned Juno, saying she was now a nymph, and had to stay in the forest where Echo could teach her all there was to know.
Juno laughed, and Echo laughed with her, not like her.
And so the afternoon went, until they came to a clearing, and sleeping by the base of a tree, was Jupiter.
Both women stopped in their tracks, and gazed upon the sleeping man, clothed only in a loincloth, his royal vestments left wherever the pool was that he’d indulged himself.
Juno turned to Echo, who in trying not to reveal anything, revealed her guilt.
Slowly, Juno took off the crown of flowers, and her arm flashed, and she caught the nymph across the cheek, knocking her to the ground in a spray of blood and blossoms, her dress now immodestly gathered about her as she scuttled along the ground as Juno bore down on her.
Then Juno stopped, remembering she was queen, and shuddered with unspent energy as she pointed at the nymph, her extended hand alight with power…
Echo closed her eyes, Time forgotten, reliving the horror of the day of Juno’s curse, unable to scream, or plead, or move, she lay like a newborn babe before a ravening wolf, and suddenly Juno shimmered, and stood still, immobile as Gorgons’ men, yet not of stone.
Time stepped from the woods, and at first Echo was uncomprehending; then she began to realize what had taken place, and slowly, she got to her feet, and walked over to him.
He’d aged more, his rounded frame now thinning, his beard, neat and trimmed, salt and pepper, was now ragged, stained and unkempt.
His eyes, sharp and keen when he sculpted (for she’d looked deep into them as he cut her out), were now almost rheumy to the point where she wondered if he was blind.
“What happened to you?” she asked.
“This is my gift to you,” his voice rasped in her ears.
“You’re giving me back my voice?” Her eyes welled up in wonder.
“It is better to die than to never speak your own words,” said Time.
Echo was overwhelmed.
“What will happen to them?” her gaze took in Juno and Jupiter.
“She will strike him with the bolt that’s meant for you, and he will lose his ability to charm your sisters to his bed.”
Echo ran to him, embraced him, ironically now speechless with gratitude.
She looked into his eyes, and saw the light go out; he was truly blind now.
Death had his shroud; he didn’t bother to tell her he would not make it back to save himself.
He’d answered her question now: Time could be killed or saved, redeemed or spent.
She found that she had a choice to make, and with her heart quailing inside her, she made it.
© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.
All rights reserved
Death and Time were walking through a mountain pass in the waning light of a westering sun, a path they’d walked many times before.
As he walked, Time cycled between youth and age, but whether he skipped with youthful exuberance, or hobbled painfully along on his walking stick, Death’s tread was ever constant, and eventually, he would catch up to Time.
Whenever Time stopped to rest at the end of his age cycle, Death covered him with a new blanket, until the child shaped re-emerged, sticking out its tongue at Death, sprinting away as fast as it could, and Death would take the remains of the blanket, now full of holes and moth-eaten, frayed and rank, and pack it away in a satchel he kept on his back until the next cycle.
And Death would rise, patiently, and plod behind, the mountain winds snapping at the hem of his black and crimson robe, the bone handle of his scythe, serving as a walking stick, making puffs of dust, or crunching gravel, or click-clacking on stones, or making divots in the soil, depending on the paths they walked that day.
His rhythm never varied, but seemed random somehow.
Time never waited for Death, but Death always waited for Time, though there were moments Death grew impatient, and pulled Time along before he was ready.
Time wept the hardest when Death took him away, because sometimes he simply wasn’t prepared to go; there were more memories to share, more places to explore, but Death would not hear his pleading.
It didn’t matter to Death; his world was ever silent.
Where Time saw colors and seasons, meadow and river, flower and tree, birds and animals of all kinds, heard their songs and braying, saw them breed in the spring, saw them in the fullness of life and strength and beauty, Death saw only bones, twisted trees and blackened flesh; the only splashes of color in his world were scarlet and sepia, which turned to black when what he’d seen centuries before passed from being merely old into ancient, and from there began its long, slow descent into the Mire.
Death and Time worked in tandem then, to nourish the earth and comfort the living, but other than that, they went in slow, seemingly senseless circles around the earth.
These circles they made by land, walking trails or in the backs of wagons, tracking the migrations of animals, the turning of seasons; by air, flying through the dark, spinning inside the maelstroms of calamitous storms of rain, or sometimes, sand; by sea, riding the backs of drifting clouds across oceans and continents, Time all the while proclaiming what would be, and Death, watching, waiting, to proclaim when it would not.
Time was cycling now, coming out of the uncertainty of musky puberty into the more mature stability of manhood. His whiskers grew full and shiny, black as crow feathers, black as Death’s Mire.
His muscles filled out, and he was hard and rugged. Instruments of violence and building filled his hands at any given moment, depending on his mood. Sometimes the instrument was the same, like when he used a hammer once…
Today would be different.
Through a trick of the light in the shadowy canyon, Time saw a face inside the rock.
“Death, do you see?”
Death turned his eyeless sockets on the place, and nodded sagely, turning again to look at Time as if to say, “What of it?”
“There’s a face in it! A woman’s face! Someone is in the rock, Death. I swear! I can see it!”
Death, if he were capable of it, would’ve given a smile.
His bony arm swept in an expansive gesture, his finger pointing to the setting sun to indicate the twilight shadows playing tricks.
“Then it plays well, alchemist! She is in there…”
Death took out a broken hourglass; the sand sloughed off his fingers, and the shards of glass glistened like iced tears in his ivory palm as he slowly shook his head: No time.
Time threw back his head and laughed, and the canyon echoed, and so did the rock face beside him.
Death and Time stared at it then. It had moved ever so slightly, its mouth barely a gash, and laughed as Time did.
“The rock is enchanted,” Time whispered, and the rock whispered it too, softly, but there was no mistaking it this time.
A chisel and hammer appeared in Time’s hands, and with great patience and skill, he cut around the contours of the rock, following its grain.
Death gave up all hope of moving, and walked off, his walking stick scraping in agitation at the packed dirt.
On a large flat rock that overhung the canyon below, he waited, looking down into the wide and windy chasm, to see if there was anyone he knew…
There, in the valley below, by a dried up crater that once contained cool, still water surrounded by willow trees, a withered flower had grown through the bones of a man who died with his arms outstretched, as if embracing something that had pried itself from his desperate grasp.
The flower was where his heart would’ve been in life.
Ah, Death had known him.
What a vain and foolish boy…
Time’s whiskers, glossy and black in the evening, were now streaked through with white, and his body was becoming a bit rounder, his face a bit more full, the hard angles retreating.
The moon rose, full and pale and high, and clusters of stars glittered and flashed like celestial fireflies.
The figure was indeed a woman, and by the light of the moon her stony appearance melted, to reveal beneath its hardness a woman of great beauty, stunned by her new found ability to move and feel once more.
She touched Time’s face with a grateful hand, and kissed him for a long time.
He eagerly returned the embrace, and parting breathlessly, he thought she would thank him, but she did not. As she gathered herself, he questioned her.
“Can you not speak?”
“Yes, madam. Can you talk?”
“You talk?” She patted his chest, shaking her head in frustration.
“You can’t talk?”
Time seemed amused, but she wasn’t; she was trying to tell him something, but could not seem to get it out. She only repeated what he said, and in time he realized.
“Gods be…you’re…” he snapped his fingers, “Echo. The nymph Echo! You’re Echo?”
She pounded his chest again, nodding hopefully. “You’re Echo? You’re Echo? You’re Echo?”
“Yes, yes, all right then.” He tried to take her hands down, but she clutched at him and would not let go, but he finally got her in a firm grip, and lowered his head, and looked into her eyes to calm her.
Her manner was of a bird, set free from its cage, which could only walk trustingly into a waiting hand because it couldn’t fly.
She seemed to settle, and held his gaze, her breathing slowing, her liquid eyes large and luminous in the lunar light.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered.
“You’re so beautiful.” She smiled, and put her hand to her mouth, blushing.
Time also smiled at the unintended compliment, and then shook his head, frustrated now as she was.
Death grew tired of waiting, and they could hear the skritch of his walking stick scythe as it scraped the path, and emanated from Echo’s slightly parted lips.
Behind them now, he looked at Echo, and her skin went from blush to blanche.
Time turned to look, and keeping one face on Death, made another to look at Echo.
“Don’t worry, he won’t harm you.”
“He’s not here for you.”
“Not here for you.” Her face twisted, as if with a bitter memory; he saw the agony in her eyes that she could not speak on her own.
Time straightened his stance, and put his hands on her shoulders, looking down at her.
“I will give you a gift, a once-in-a lifetime gift. It can only happen once. Do you understand?”
Death was no longer motionless, however, and upended his scythe, and Echo fidgeted under Time’s hands again.
He tightened his grip once more. “Do you understand?”
“Do you understand?” she was nodding again.
Death’s scythe descended, but seemed to slow the closer it got to cutting them down.
As it whisked through where they’d been standing what only seemed like an instant ago, Time disappeared.
And there was no echo.
© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.
All rights reserved