I’m wiser now.
Is that right?
I’m older now, certainly. Older and wiser, that's what they say.
But for the past ten years, there’s been an alien wildness in me.
They say that in the presence of a god, one must only touch the hem of his clothing to be healed.
I don’t remember touching anything that was explicitly his.
Is that strictly true? I can still hear the crooning of a song I’d long since forgotten in my deepest, most secret dreams.
I can’t figure out which universes count. Which dreamscapes, if you will.
I haven’t known where the line between real and imaginary lies, not for ten years. It’s blurred beyond recognition. And where lines blur, they are easily crossed.
When his world went to pieces, I don’t remember touching anything at all, but sometimes, when the moon hangs high and full in the night sky, I can feel the brush of a snow white feather along my cheek.
I haven’t dreamt of anything but the Underground in ten years. Somehow, I haven’t dreamt of him, either. I used to take comfort in it, but lately, the wildness is sprouting into restlessness, and when I reach back into myself to grasp it and pull it out by the roots, I find that I don’t recognize the landscape of my own mind.
A labyrinth is growing, spiraling through my innermost self, and he, perhaps, the Minotaur.
It hadn't been quite two weeks before my twenty-fifth birthday when I started losing time. It took a few days for me to accept that this wasn’t the same thing as simply daydreaming for a few minutes. Sometimes I woke up confused and disoriented and didn’t know where I was.
My nighttimes turned into an unbroken expanse of darkness, which was a welcome change from the usual fitful sleep packed with vivid dreams, but my daylight hours sometimes seemed to be shrinking to a pinpoint. Some days, I lost more time than others.
Time, and temper.
By the third time that day, Jennifer, my roommate, dropped a hand on my shoulder to jog me awake, I snarled into her face.
She recoiled. "Sarah?"
I felt a conscious receding of something other, and felt the muscles in my face untwist themselves. "What?" I asked, concentrating on keeping my voice level and calm, fighting the terror that bubbled up, rancid within me.
"It's just - well, you've been sleepwalking at night lately, and I don't want to wake you then because I've heard it's very frightening for sleepwalkers, to be interrupted. But now there're these daytime trances." Her face was drawn and white, her entire posture defensive, curling in on itself. I must have gone whole-hog with the whole crazy eyes thing.
"Trances?" I parroted back at her, dumbly. A sharp pain in my thumb made me drop my confused gaze from her face to my hand. The fingernail was torn deep into the quick, oozing dark blood in a sharp line through the gash
in the nail.
"I wasn't going to say anything, but it's gotten worse really fast. You’ve been dropping off mid-sentence and just staring off into space."
"I must not be getting enough sleep," I offered, closing my injured thumb in my fist and rising from the chair at the table. But I couldn't remember why I was in the chair - we so rarely use the dining room table that it's become just another shelf, cluttered with piles of junk mail, books with creased spines and the occasional dirty plate that hasn’t yet made it all the way to the sink.
Jen and I have lived together for two years and change, now, two young unprofessionals attempting to forge a path through an unfriendly world. We met while searching for roommates, discovering we'd been at the same college at the same time but had never crossed paths before we each needed someone to shoulder half of the rent.
She's moonlighting as a photographer, but her day job is as a secretary in a real estate firm.
My pipe dream, for as long as I can remember, has been to write, but outside of a few short freelance pieces, I haven't managed to pitch anything successfully. Apparently I fixate on the unfriendly in-between, the unsavory implications of childlike fantasy, the deep and dark that is left unsaid.
My last rejection wasn’t couched in anything, which is all for the best, because I can't learn any lessons unless they're as blunt as possible.
Much too frightening for children. Not trendy for adults. Some of this made my head spin while I tried to read it. You aren’t a bad writer, have a pretty good grasp of the craft - have you thought about repackaging it as horror and dropping the childhood adventure?
Maybe concentrate on the friends: a coming of age journey? Leave out the unsettlingly sexual figure. Totally inappropriate.
I guess no one remembers the Brothers Grimm.
So during the day, I work for a florist. The pay isn't great, but there's something satisfying in caring for the small green tendrils, cultivating them into full, glorious bloom, and then snipping them off. An arrangement of fragrant, imminent death.
Jen dismissed it as morbid the one time I tried to articulate why I liked making a couple bucks more than minimum wage and coming home with dirt beneath my fingernails every day. I don't talk much about my innermost thoughts anymore.
Half the time, I don't recognize them anyway.
It's cliché to say that he came to me in my dreams, but that's exactly what happened the night after my birthday.
It wouldn't even be worth mentioning, except that I can't remember a dream that I've had, not ever, unless it involved the Escher room, empty and echoing, or the forest, filled with fiery creatures that pop off their extremities willy-nilly, or the long, unbroken halls of an overgrown, musty maze, or a fall, slowed only by hands sprouting from walls, that goes on forever and ever.
This is the same, but it is different.
For one thing, the infinite hallway that I find myself in looks like something from a child’s understanding of the Palace of Versailles, the hall of mirrors, only instead of golden and flooded with light, it is almost pitch dark except for where I can see my reflection right in front of me.
The floor isn't carpeted, unless you consider the thick pad of dust that rises into the air and chokes me when I move either of my feet.
I step closer to my reflection, head swimming.
She looks back at me, pale and drawn. Her lips part, and I lean closer still, trying to make out what she's saying. It's a long, drawn out hiss that, try as I might, I cannot resolve into anything recognizable.
"Sarah," I finally hear, the sibilant S echoing in the otherwise silent room. Just my name, over and over.
The pattern of her voice changes.
"get out get out get out get out"
Now I can make out the click of her tongue against her teeth, watch her eyes skitter back and forth, and for the first time I wonder why I can see her
in this place without light. We are oddly visible, she and I, impossibly, delicately illuminated. I raise my hand to my mouth.
She follows suit, and as I touch my lips with the pads of my fingers I realize that it is not she who is whispering, but me, chattering, terrified, pulse pounding visibly in my throat.
"he's coming" I hear myself say, thin and frightened, the skin over my face stretched too tight.
“he’s coming he’s coming he’s coming” and I can’t stop saying it, though I press my hand against my mouth to try to stifle it.
I lean in closer, closer, closer still, until I'm sure my forehead should have bumped up against the glass of the mirror, but then her
eyes change, going from green to blue, one pupil dilating as the other contracts.
My hand drops from my mouth.
lips move, but the voice isn't mine anymore. Or, it is
it's terrifyingly familiar, deep and resonant, it's the voice I don't allow myself to think about.
Now the reflection is growing, towering over me, and I know what to expect but my stomach shrinks even as it happens. Blond hair, not black. Features that are too sharp, chiseled crudely but confidently, too angular, too straight, too unforgiving.
My childhood dreams
had edited him into something friendlier, had put a twinkle into his eyes and a soft smile to tug at his lips, and there is none of that here, only a cold regal bearing that shimmers with barely-contained anger.
It’s the first time I’ve seen him in ten years, and I can only wonder how I could ever have thought that he sparkled.
"Sarah," he says again, and my knees quake, vision blurs. "Yes," he says as I sink to my knees, my legs giving up the ghost, refusing to keep me upright. "Cower before me."
His voice rumbles like thunder until something snaps with an ear-splitting crack; light floods the room and suddenly there are millions of us, both of us, stretching off in every direction, he, imposing in intricate black armor above me, knelt pathetically on the ground beneath him, and then my mind goes blank.
I wake in the middle of the kitchen, clutching half of a shattered glass, kneeling in the remnants of glass and water that mixes with the blood from my hand and knees. The pain from deep, ragged cuts in both knees and my hand filters slowly into my consciousness, building to a red-hot scream. Jen is looking at me, horrified, and I cannot tear my eyes away from the red swirls across the floor, nearly black in the dearth of moonlight.
Cannot feel anything except hot shame to match the slick heat between my legs.
"Sarah," she says, "You have to talk to someone about this."
The clock on the stove reads 3:13, the moon is nascent, and I can hear
-no, I can feel-
laughter ringing in my ears.