Untainted (- for Tika)

She felt, rather than heard, him running just behind her, his warmth at her shoulder. The wind hit her ears with a strange, high-pitched wailing, bringing prickles up along the back of her neck. She tried to force her mind away from master Plo’s stories of haunted ship graveyards that he had patiently spun when she was a youngling who hated sleep. She slid to a crouch behind the rusted hull they’d spotted from the cover of their cave. Her breath coming in gasps, she closed her eyes briefly. Master Plo. How she missed him.

She leaned her back up against the sun-warmed metal, lifting her bracer to shield mouth and nose as the other master landed beside her, kicking up dust.

At least it was a bit quieter here, in the shelter of the rusting old hulk.

“If they are following, they’ll know exactly where we are, with that dust cloud rising,” she coughed.

“They’re not out in this, Ahsoka. At least- not yet.”

He sounded so sure. But then- he always had.

“Here. Try this,” his voice was light, amused, his solid warmth nudging her shoulder playfully, as he pulled something out of his cloak.

She had her head down, rummaging in her pack for water. Without thinking, she lifted her hand just as a hard, smooth object smacked into her palm. That was a hard throw from close quarters, she thought in surprise, her fingers tightening around the object.

“Impressive reflexes,” he smiled.

She examined it. It was hard, but had a slight give when she flexed her fingers. Red. A small twig coming out of one end. It smelled- she lifted it to her nose – definitely organic matter. Sweet.

“What is this when it’s at home, and why should I try it?” She turned it over and over in her hand, liking the weight and feel of it.

“It doesn’t have a home anymore, Snips. This is from a world that no longer exists.”

At that, she lifted her head to look at him. Then inched back a little. He was … too close.

When did she begin feeling uneasy around her master, she wondered, shaking her head slightly.

Still, she searched his face. It hadn’t changed. Their weeks of hiding had slimmed it somewhat, so the shadows were more prominent under his eyes and the hollows of his cheeks; his beard stubble had grown in a way no master would normally allow, and there was sand on his face. His dark hair was wildly tangled, but the brown eyes that gazed back at her were warm as always, calm. He was – still himself.

She shuddered, trying to shake off her odd mood.

“Bantha on my grave,” she muttered, looking at the object again. She brought it to her mouth and gave it a tiny, experimental lick.

“Eugggh, smooth,” she said, “no taste.”

“Bite it,” he urged, getting a little too close again.

“What is it you want, Anakin?”

“Eat the Apple.”

“Eat it? But why?”

“You’ll know after you eat it.”

She’d trusted him with her life. She’d never questioned him. Well – okay- that wasn’t true. She’d questioned him, but she was inclined to weigh the odds heavily in his favor, every time. His judgment was sound. His heart was true. She thought. She frowned slightly. Had her judgment always been sound?

“Let me make sure I understand. You want me to eat some unnamed thing from a dead world, and you won’t tell me why,” she declared flatly, her eyes narrowing, holding the strange food between them. It gleamed so oddly red, almost obscenely clean in this putty-colored, dusty place.

“Yup. Exactly.” He watched her, saying nothing more.

She shrugged. Curiosity was, invariably, her driving flaw.

The first bite hit her senses like icy Hoth wind. It took some work for her teeth to break the skin, and it made a popping sound when she took a bite. The fruit was crunchy, and the juice of it was lush, tart and sweet all at once. She chewed, her nostrils flaring as she inhaled in surprise. Dead world, and the most living bite of food she had ever tasted. She closed her eyes in wonder and reverence as the delicious juice trickled down her parched throat.

She opened her eyes again slowly, and as she looked across at her teacher, she saw his eyes were no longer brown. They shone with an eerie red gleam. She turned and looked around wildly at the horizon, to see if the suns were setting already, or-

she looked down as she felt warm juices trickle between her fingers. Was the fruit melting?

the liquid was red, thick, viscous and shockingly warm.

“Blood?” She gasped, dropping the fruit, holding her hand up in front of her eyes. “Blood.”

He smiled slowly, and those strange red eyes of his never left her face.

“Dead world,” he chuckled, a strange rasp in his voice, “do you hear them? It’s your last lesson,” he added so quietly, she wasn’t sure she had heard correctly.

She heard faint screams, hundreds of voices pleading, talking, praying, the sound of anguish as she plunged her hand in the sand, and scrubbed wildly, scouring the blood off as best she could. “Jedi … do not draw blood,” she said, her throat closing in horror and disgust.

“You are no Jedi,” he answered her, and when he smiled, a full smile this time, his teeth were stained red.

She sat up, panting. The sheets were tangled around her legs. She looked around the dimly lit room. No suns. No dust. She propped herself on one elbow, and held up her hand, turning it slowly, inspecting every inch of clean skin. No blood.

“Your sick choices have nothing to do with me, my old friend. Do you hear me? Nothing. You may have told me to eat, but yours was the harm. Trusting you was my only mistake.”

She wiped her eyes and sat up, taking a deep breath. He was gone, and his evil choices gone with him. She gathered her armor to begin another day, the smell of blood and the taste and anguish of a long-dead world still lingering on her tongue.


For You

Two weeks … I love you, love you, love you so.
Picked up your ashes Tuesday. So tiny. I am not sure how to do this without you. My heart is beating lopsided.

But you loved life. So I notice the bird song for you. I take a pause and smell the air in the morning. For you. I see the sunlight through the trees, quite on purpose, my dearest, for you. I taste the clear, cool water, and when I eat, it isn’t usually because I’m hungry, these days- but it’s for you. Today I sang softly (I don’t sing anymore. But you loved it so, and would come from wherever you were to sit on your curved seat and listen-) “Till There Was You.”

For you, for you. Breathing in and out, all day long, till I hold you again, my gentle little love.
Death is the deal we make when we come in the door. Don’t carry the departed. Live. For them. Live: quite on purpose. For them. Until it is my time, and as heavy as it can feel right now, this is the way.


If the words you say to others were written on your skin for all to see, how would you feel? Would you change your words? If every word you uttered, and every action you took was a prayer to your Deity outside your places of worship, would you notice how you choose to treat and use others?

…Or would you simply wear bigger masks?

“Matthew Jacob, put on your mask, it’s time for EveningRites.”

His mother’s voice was sharp, and could cut through absolutely anything.

Where had he left that mask? They each had a collection, of course, but he had one particular favorite, at the moment. It was gold, and it had a faint, superior smile. It made him feel so far away from people and their feelings when he wore it.


He gritted his teeth, his stomach tightening in alarm, fear, anger, excitement? He wasn’t sure, but mother’s voice broke through his skin and caused him to feel … unsafe.

She was standing in the foyer, mask already firmly in place. His mother’s mask was beautiful, in his eyes. Placid smile, glossy pink lips, like a porcelain doll. One day, I’ll marry the girl who wears a mask just like that, he thought dreamily to himself, looking up, up, up at his mother’s bright hair. The curve of her smooth, unruffled, always-softly-smiling mask shifted toward him, and the icy blue eyes behind the mask narrowed, but before she could whiplash that voice again, he called out, “here it is, Mother, I am ready,”

Slightly out of breath, prickles of sweat starting under his arms, he slipped the mask over his forehead, and muttered, “Sarah must have been borrowing it again,” as his mother smoothed his hair down. He shuddered as her long fingernails combed his scalp. Sarah had never, to his knowledge, actually borrowed any of his masks. But she was a dreamy child, and a wonderful built-in shield. She was too young to go to EveningRites, so goodness knows where she was – probably had her nose buried in a book, again.
He had figured out quite early in life that he could dodge aside and throw Sarah’s name in when he had done something, and sometimes Sarah would get in trouble. That made his insides shiver in – joy? Fear? A hidden feeling he couldn’t name.

When Sarah was born, he hated her. He hated all the attention that laughing, crying, rosy little face took away from him. Babies didn’t wear masks, so they always drew attention with their shockingly bare faces. He remembered the emotions flowing across her face like water, and shuddered.
So this was just paying back a debt, he thought – she took the good love and attention then; she could be given attention for free, now. His mask shifted slightly as he smiled behind it. If he had only known, his face took on exactly the same look as the gilded plaster mask he wore.

Everyone in Roma heights was rich. Or at least, that’s how it had to appear on the Holy Days, regardless of how it was really, in the evenings when they’d go home, close their doors to the outside world, and hang up the day’s masks to be cleaned.

It was an act of respect to wear the masks to the places of worship. He’d rarely seen someone’s bare face- not even in his home.
He came from one of the most prominent Roma heights families – or so his mother proclaimed in the dinner speech, every night around the table, when they had changed into their half-masks so they could eat. They had to set an example, and stand up in front so that other families could have a Way to aspire to. Feeling looked up to, feeling like others were watching him and admiring him, was one of Matthew Jacob’s favorite things.

The preacher’s mask tonight was a beatific smile. Matthew’s shoulders relaxed the usual tension they held when he walked in the large arched doorways of the house of worship. Tonight would not be a punishment night. Thank goodness. Tonight would be Greatness night: his favorite.

All around him, masks nodded to masks. Eyes glanced up and down, narrowing in judgment of their neighbor’s clothing, demeanor, anything else they could quickly gather up for gossip around their dinner tables, and then settled into their seats with creaking of wood and rustling of papers.

“We are the Ones, and we are Great,”

The preacher began. A pleased sigh rippled through the congregation.

“We are all so loving.”

“Mmmhmm,” he heard a murmur beside him, and he turned. There was a mask similar to his mother’s, only it seemed to be worn by a young girl. Maybe about his age. Lovely yellow, yellow hair. He turned to face forward again, and nodded his head when the preacher said,

“We are just so very blessed.”

“We are blessed, so blessed,” they all repeated, smug smiles settling in behind their masks.

“It is said, we must never judge another, and we adhere to that,” he went on, his rich, persuasive tone filling every corner of the high-ceilinged room.

Matthew’s eyes settled on the beautiful colors of the stained glass, as he murmured along, “we never do judge. How kind we are.”
“We tell the truth.” Matthew nodded, the warmth of feeling good and Holy about himself blooming in his chest. Ah, so good.
“We love others.” Yes, he loved others. Certainly he did. If others had pale skin. If others were rich.

“We keep our word.” He gritted his teeth, but then told himself that he did keep his word, when other people deserved it.
“We are Holy, chosen, loved, blessed”. Yes, yes yes.
“We are forgiven.”
There, that was what he’d been waiting for. He was forgiven, he was absolved. He didn’t bear the responsibility. He let Sarah, and Alicia, and all the bewildered, hurt faces, slide out of his consciousness and become Sky Daddy’s responsibility to carry.

Oh. His life was so good. SkyLord was so infinitely good to him.
All who were privileged to sit in this room were so fortunate. They belonged here. They, and only they, were absolved, cleansed, pure.
Of course they didn’t judge, but the people outside were not good enough for this.

They turned to each other after the service was over and bowed their heads slightly, smiling behind their masks, purified again for another week.

to be continued, maybe (unless I get tired of this tedious, blah world…)

No, I Will Not Stop Writing

This blog is a work of fiction. Names, persons and places in this blog are fictional compilations of my real-life experiences and perceptions. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real places or events is purely coincidental, and you’re so vain if you think this blog is about you.

If you choose to think it’s about you, well, that’s your circus. Have fun – maybe you’ll learn something along the way… that would be rad.

Except the cats. The cats contained herein are eternally real, and equally beloved.

So if you want to harass the blog’s author, think twice and kindly bugger off.

Oh, and:

Happy Vampire-bane’s Day

The vampire writes her letters, thinking she is still innocent prey.

“I just want to explain what happened all those years ago,” he says, “my side of the story.”
He writes about his victimhood, poor vampire, how he was maligned, mistreated. He writes gossip that fairly drips off the page with malice- he writes lies, twisting her family into nightmare shapes, simply to prove himself a mistreated hero in every tale.

The ink drips with her own blood. She can see it, because she’s been given the lenses to see, now, and for the rest of her life – but he doesn’t know that.

She smiles, and with a blink, she sets his words on fire. They burn to ash in seconds.
“I am. Vampire-bane,” she whispers, brimming with delight, fizzing with the joy of her new-found power.

It is clear from his words he still thinks she is naive, innocent, wide-eyed and believing in him.
He believes other people are keeping her from him, locked away in a tower, poor helpless Rapunzel. She chuckles, and her ghost cat nuzzles her hand. She smiles at him, and her eyes narrow.

“They think love is weakness, these vampires,” she says to the cat.
He lifts his copper eyes to hers and sits, quietly. Green eyes and copper. Both smile at the same time.

You see, she had changed. She was much more powerful now, and innocent no longer.

There had been another. (Vampires tend to swarm like the vermin they are, so there won’t usually only be one.)

He thought to climb to the tower, present himself as a hero who was there to rescue her and bring her into the world, and oh, she believed him. She believed him for years, in fact.

“You tried to tell me, didn’t you, Figaro, but I was still naive.” Figaro (for this is the cat’s name), purrs. He understands. She has a hopeful heart, which blinded her to the trash under the illusion – she couldn’t help it.

The “hero” climbed to her tower for years, and subtly broke her down. He would tell her of loves he’d had, and then hold back any kind words, any affection to her. He would continually show disappointment in her lack of beauty.  He painted the inside of her tower with dismal hues. He was impatient with her, blaming, devaluing. There were no mirrors in her tower, so his words became her truth.

“How did he do it?”

Her mind is fuzzy when she tries to remember the ways he had her afraid, jumping through hoops, ultimatum after ultimatum, and somehow, somehow, keeping her in the tower, while convincing her he was saving her. Somehow convincing her that his silly, ridiculous vampire self was powerful, and knew better than she. Why on earth had she kept allowing him in?

She learned that the beautiful hero illusion in the beginning, while lovely, was a part of the vampire poison. It was the part of the act that was designed to lull her into a fantasy, and keep her grasping for that taste of goodness she’d been given, hanging on, hoping it would come back – if she could just become good enough in his eyes.

Then, one day, the vampire misstepped. He went too far. He broke a deeper word than the ones he usually broke.

Since vampires have no hearts beating in their chests, he couldn’t know how deep the word was that he’d broken. He couldn’t know how sacred.

Still, she tried to believe in him, thinking she was mistaken. Still, she shielded him, and told everyone in the kingdom that she supported him and his decision was the right one.

She chuckles. Oh, his decision was the right one.

Then, he went even more too far.
He went. Too. Far.

It happened like this: Figaro was dying, and the vampire did not even acknowledge it.
Her soul became steel, in that one misstep of his.

Two very foolish missteps: he might have recovered the first, but one misstep was so completely a violation of every single thing in her soul, that everything she’d ever believed or felt for that charlatan, every illusion he’d spun in her heart, turned to icy contempt.

Not even anger: utter indifference.

She felt the way we’d feel if we had left the trash rotting in our house too long – Disgust. Throw it out. Why on earth was that trash in here? –

Rapunzel, in her quest to become free of the darkness of her tower, began learning from a healer. Hundreds of sessions working hard, in front of color-shifting, bright moon-lights, shaped her into vampire-bane.

This teacher also gave her a mirror.

She repainted the inside of her tower.

She saw the “hero,” met him again, and listened, Listened.
He thought she was still innocent, fooled by him, trapped in his illusion.

He had turned her trust upon herself, and fooled her with fairy-tales.
So she turned his trust upon himself.

Walking toward her, playing his usual sentimental role, he stepped in front of her mirror.
She saw the last proof she needed.  The “hero” had no reflection. She saw her own image beyond him – that she was, in fact, beautiful, in her own way. She saw her own power.

She found out his secret – that he had a hidden relationship, and in fact, was planning to marry very quickly.

Would he abandon that wedding, too? She chuckled. It was frivolous, embarrassing, silly. One tear dropped from her eye for that poor, deluded woman- “bless her and protect her, poor woman,” she said, and turned her heart to more important matters.

As Figaro’s life force left him, he gave it to her- his sight- the awareness that this heart-bond was deeper and more true than anything she’d known, and it would become her lenses to help her see clearly. Anyone who showed no caring for Figaro’s life and death had shown their true colors to her completely, and was instantly banished from her kingdom. Coldly, swiftly, without thought or caring, they were locked out for good.  They would no longer have access.

And one more talisman he gave her: the knowledge that her heart, her love was more powerful than anything the vampires could do.
The ability to see how sad, how lost and unloving, how ridiculous their antics were.

She carefully plucked a thorn from her roses- the thorns are the protectors of true beauty – and with the ancient magic she’d been given, she willed it to grow large, to become a stake of truth.

she turned, chuckled at that ridiculous circus-act of a “hero,” and lightly flicked the stake toward where the vampire’s heart would be.

The silly vampire, in the light of her heart, with one touch of the stake, gave a pathetic, self-pitying wheeze, and collapsed into a pile of ash.

“There are no heroes,” she said, as the stake crumbled away to ash, its job complete.

She held Figaro. He cuddled closer to her chest and breathed once, twice, and one last time. His beautiful, sweet life left his body.

This grief was clean, pure, and true, and she would never be the same.

“There are no heroes.”


postscript: Do not be fooled by temporary, gentle-seeming appearances. Did a vampire come back into your life, and lead you to think that perhaps he had grown kinder? THEY CAN’T. They can only act, and wear masks. Since this article went up, I have had proof- VAMPIRES DO NOT CHANGE.

Manipulative, emotionally unavailable, empathetically bankrupt, toxic, DIShonorable and two-faced people do not just magically transform into amazing people who, just after leaving you, take responsibility for their actions and are capable of true love, genuine emotional connections, accountability, honesty, loyalty & empathy. 

Heart Guide

He is dying,

and he plays.

He is dying, and he talks more every day. Little chirps and trills to his sister, and to me- calls and purrs.

He is dying, and he asks for food, and he delights in it.

I am living, healthy – and I want to die.
I can’t eat.

I look at the new love my old “love” has found- and she is exactly what I was tortured with for four long years. In every single superficial aspect. Tall. Blonde. Big boobs. Big lips. Ruthless. “Ladylike at all costs.” Barbie. Sleeping Beauty. “Disney Princess.” “Important” connections. 1950’s housewife ideations. Hates feminism. Impeccable mask at all times. Skirts and high heels. Expensive, designer frou-frous everywhere, ruffles and kittens, princess parties and WASP pride.

My heart mourns what I thought we had – and now know I was alone the entire time, believing I was appreciated at all. Believing I was seen. Believing I could be beautiful to someone who worships at the los angeles altar of enormous artificial enhancements, bright blonde dye job, thin body, expensive lifestyle and cheap values, only the rich matter, and smug, superior confidence. Booze and Limos. Names dropped as often as possible along the gilded road paved with lies. Smiles, hugs, and daggers in the back. Divorces not yet complete, “love” finding immediate foothold in the unavailable, hidden, and growing like a mold.

Growing like the cancer that is eating the boy who has been true to me and honest his entire life.

I was never beautiful to the man I loved.
I looked for God here, anyway. I told myself that beauty wasn’t everything and looked for God – and my heart shattered every day when it could find nothing natural, nothing honest, nothing straightforward, nothing truly kind.

There is no God here in this place, there is no natural, no real, I thought. I kept trying. I kept forgiving. I kept bringing my authenticity and my heart. I kept praying. I kept breaking, when all would seem well, all would seem like it had been lovely, and then I’d hear what was said behind my back.

I was willing to learn about the Christian God, and yet I was turned away again and again as being inferior, not good enough, not right, somehow. This is, and has always been, my experience of the Christian God -his followers do not want me in their club.

And yet He was with me all along. In the purrs I took for granted, and the melting copper eyes that gazed into mine with such loyalty. Caught up in trying to win any scrap of approval from a man who could not love me, the care of the one who was true became a daily chore. A duty, a task.
Yes, there were moments I appreciated Figaro. Yes, of course I did. But it was all subsumed in the hurt upon hurt – in trying to fit where I wasn’t accepted.

I was told all along I wasn’t wanted. Like the diamond I was given – everyone of his people told me it wasn’t wanted. No one wanted it, either, poor thing. I was given a list of people who had declined it. By the time it was given to me, it was a discarded, unappreciated stray cat, just like me. It had been found in a teacup. I felt a kinship with this sparkly little stone, sitting there unregarded for God only knows how long. Turned down, snubbed, and looked at with disdain.

I saw the warmth in it and I loved it. Warmth that would have been hidden if it could be- “you can make it look more white, more valuable, by setting it like so,” said the jeweler.

No. I love the warmth. I do not think white is more valuable. I don’t think platinum or blonde is more valuable, either. I do not care if warmth shows that this diamond is not as valued by society.
A society that values coldness is not a society that values me, either, and so this diamond found the right home.

I was given in a promise that “no matter what happened,” it was for me, and the promise, like all the others, was rescinded, just as soon as it was no longer convenient. Just like me- discarded when no longer convenient. Thank you for your service. Palmed off with lies. I believed, so I protected. I believed, so I colluded in creating the mask.

Words and promises mean nothing here on this strange, artificial planet.

Nothing real, nothing healthy, and nothing deep can grow here.

I knew beauty was the only thing that mattered here, and so I cried myself to sleep every night.
Every night I could have looked at my boy, and seen his love. Every night wasted on los angeles.

I gave years of my life to this. I worked hard to finally be “Enough,” to finally, at last, be someone he could love.
It was foolish. I could never be.
She is all that, and he loved her immediately. Talks about marrying within a few weeks.

And I want to die. I can’t understand a God who would nod at this kind of torture for a heart and soul like mine – my only mistake was that I thought if I loved enough, if I was loving and forgiving, giving and kind, he and his family would eventually see and value my heart.

My heart broke over and over again on the jagged rocks of soulless Lost Angeles. I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to see it.
And I want to die.

I eat less, and I shrink. I don’t feel hunger, and I don’t feel any pain worse than the pain my heart carries.

And my boy, who has been here the entire time, who has tried to tell me,

is dying. He celebrates his moments, and I watch him- and I learn.

I try, again and again, to do the Jedi thing of taking on his illness and giving him my life. I want him to live. I want to die.

He basks in the sun. He kisses my hand with abandon, and purrs. He stretches his feet in sheer pleasure when he’s taking a nap and feels comfortable. When he’s not coughing. When his coughing is over, he looks up at me, and purrs, his lungs still bubbling.

He must sense my sadness as I type, because he’s put his paw on my leg, and asked to come sit in my lap.
I’ve put his basket back in his old spot, so he can supervise my work, and he purrs, his tail brushing my fingers.

This is what is true. God was in this place, and I – I did not see it.


Something Wicked

They found Mr. Brown underneath the stage among the props with his throat cut. It was a shame, someone (no one was very clear, later, who it was) remarked in the shocked silence, to spoil his silk bow tie.

The Witches had run on ahead, as every female in The Groundlings Theater Company knew about Mr. Brown’s little love nest under the stage. They’d all been invited there. Some had avoided, and some had acquiesced; the size of ensemble roles reflected, in varying shades, the color of their commitment to Sacrificing for their Art.

He had pushed a chaise lounge (used in a production of Private Lives, and still quite nice, really,) into a small alcove made by pushing various bits of scenery and props to the sides to create walls. No one could picture Mr. Brown doing such menial work, so there’d been a betting pool going around as to whether he would hire some of the stage hands for renovations.

It was a shame, one of the women remarked (no one would say whom), that the killer hadn’t used poison, as there was a nice open bottle of wine sitting ready to hand, with one glass half-full, and the other drained.

“But we wouldn’t know, would we, the clever clogs could have used poison, couldn’t ‘e, then slit his throat after. A sort of Red Haddock.” (That was Bessie, Lady Macbeth’s dresser.)

“Herring,” Macbeth’s voice rang out in an authoritative way into the thoughtful silence. He had just roared his way through three hours of Shakespeare, and was most definitely In Voice as a result.

The cast looked to him as he cleared his throat in a decisive way. “Right, then. Someone must ring the police.”

They shrank back from him a bit. His face, still streaked with blood from his battle with MacDuff, gleamed in a sinister way, lit from below by the flickering candles. He eyed the candles, noting that they were burning quite low- Mr. Brown  must have lain here for some time – and snatched one up, snuffing out the other. 

“The police?” One of the witches,Witch Three perhaps, whispered.

“He’s very obviously been murdered. It’s what one does, you know.” 


“No- ring the police. And don’t touch anything. It is all evidence now. Don’t you read novels?”

So back upstairs they trudged, still in costume, the men clanking in mismatched (looks fine under stage lights) armor and the ladies in either quasi-medieval drapery (gentlewomen) or dyed cheesecloth rags (witches), a ragtag bunch with a strange solidarity.

“She isn’t here,” Witch One hissed to Witch Two.

“She wouldn’t be, would she. Superstitious. Always goes back up after her death, and waits for her notes to be given private-like, in her dressing-room.”  They nodded to each other, worried faces conveying a proprietary air.  This was their Lady, and though she had strange superstitions, her mad scene brought the house down night after night.  Allowances must be made. “Nervy,” they had called her, not without a certain pride.

Murmuring among themselves, they sat on the stage, where they were most comfortable.  The ghost light was switched on, making interesting shadows as they settled themselves down on the handy bits of scenery, fallen rocks and trees turning into perfect picnic spots with the addition of bedraggled blankets someone (probably Banquo) had dragged up from the storage room. Props puttered over to make a pot of tea, and it became positively festive. They talked among themselves in low voices, for all the world like a murder of crows settling in for a coze, their eyes continually darting to Macbeth, who had his mobile clamped to his ear.

“You’d think in a poky place like Bangor, the police would be leaping on the phone,” Lady Macduff began, only to be shushed fiercely as the quacking of a nasal voice from the mobile indicated the line had been picked up at last.

In a few curt sentences, Macbeth explained their predicament. They all listened, reaching for biscuits and sipping their tea, heads nodding in support, no doubt taking notes on his delivery to help him later.

He hung up and sighed, tucking his mobile away in the empty sheath that hung from his belt. (No telling where his sword had gone, Props thought resignedly.)

“Who’ll go fetch her?” He said heavily.

Everyone looked to Bessie.

“Oh, must I?” she quavered.  No one knew how old Bessie was, exactly; she was strong as an ox and stubborn as a steam train, but had a certain knack for appearing frail when things were asked of her that she didn’t wish to do. One can’t hang about the theater for decades, even backstage, without picking up some acting skills, it seemed.

No one said a word; they lifted teacups to lips to hide their smiles, and munched their biscuits, eyes wide and waiting.

“OH, all right. For heaven’s sake. The poor lamb has had two performances today, and she outdid herself in that last one, if it is me who says it. Who cares what I think, I’m just a dresser, just lays her things out as she likes ‘em, makes sure her binocs is ready so she can be with her birds before curtain, irons the paper so she can read her horoscope of a morning; if it weren’t for me, the poor mite would be all over nerves, you all know she can’t perform unless she has her little rituals.” They nodded in time with the speech, having heard it many times before. It didn’t really lose anything in the retelling; that was the thing about theater traditions, they gave one a safe feeling.

Bessie gave one last glare around the company, muttering to herself “Smug as an alley full of cats outside an Italian restaurant,” and heaved herself to her feet, shaking off Prompt, who had reached out an arm to help her.

Of course they all knew who did it, but one mustn’t spoil the show. Not a single person looked at Macbeth, who sat contentedly sipping his tea with the air of a man who has done a job, and done it well.

Off Bessie clomped; they could hear each step as she climbed the stairs to the Lady’s dressing room, muttering to herself all the while. They heard the door open (wonderful acoustics in this old theater; really, most wonderful!) and, clear as a bell, the Lady’s gasp as Bessie gave her the news. That gasp was well done, Prompt murmured, and they nodded appreciatively. Quite well done indeed. 

An unfamiliar sound broke upon them. They blinked as if coming awake from a nice dream as the house door opened, spilling moonlight that was bright enough to pick out worn patches in the red velveteen seats and curtains. Jones-the-Law stood for a moment silhouetted in the doorway. They shivered deliciously at the effect (if only there had been a clap of thunder! Sound thought wistfully). Jones-the-Law brought with him the smell of the outdoors, the sea air; nostrils flared and the company drew together slightly, closing ranks.

One of his shoes squeaking accompaniment, a rousing Lilliputian bagpipe, he walked toward them up the aisle.  “Coming straight through the house, just like audience,” someone tittered, quickly shushed, as he climbed the side steps to the stage to stand before them, flipping to a blank page in his notebook, pencil at the ready.

Just then, the Lady joined them. Her hands were still slightly reddened; never could quite get the stage blood off in time, you see, they explained, voices overlapping, as she blinked at him, white with shock. Bessie and Macbeth helped her to a chair.

It was a quick change, someone was explaining. One minute she’s telling Macbeth to wash his hands, and oh, you should see them standing there, sir, their hands dripping! It’s a sight to send chills up the spine; they were that good, sir, really they were – the next minute, she’s got to come out again with clean hands. Theater magic, sir. It wasn’t as important for Macbeth to get his hands clean… the explainer trailed off in confusion. They fidgeted, looking everywhere but at Jones. He sighed.

His bright eyes darted around the company, noting reddened hands, costumes smeared with blood. He pushed his hastily-donned helmet back to give his forehead a good rub as they began interrupting each other, jigsawing together a story that didn’t really surprise him. Truth was, he had just been sitting down to his late supper, and hadn’t much liked Mr. Brown, anyway. He’d had so many reports on the man – watched women, he did. A regular peeping Tom. Bird watcher. Jones’ lip curled as he listened. Sounded like Mr. Brown had been at his antics again, no doubt threatening one of the young ladies with firing if she didn’t warm his chaise lounge for him. Really not the sort of thing they wanted in Bangor, and a good riddance to him.

Jones came back to himself with a  start as he heard something new. “Dead birds?” he asked, “Horoscope?”

“Yes – terrible,” Bessie rushed to explain. “She’s a gentle soul; doesn’t ask for anything really, no trouble at all.” She looked fondly at Lady Macbeth, who seemed to be in a state of exhaustion, her pale skin stretched taut over the delicate bones of her face. Bessie took one limp, reddish hand and patted it soothingly.

“She has little rituals she needs before curtain. Comes in for breakfast of a morning. I make her coffee and set out an egg and toast soldiers. She’s got her binoculars. She’s as good as a lamb, really, peaceful, watching her birds in the yard out her dressing room window.” She beamed at Jones as though it all made perfect sense.

“We found it’s the best way to get some food down her, poor mite, or she’d waste away to nothing from nerves.”

“Something happened this morning?” Jones prompted.

A shudder rippled through the company. Jones felt it, more than saw it. They drew closer together.

“Yes.” The one word rapped out of Bessie’s mouth like gunfire. Her muscles grew taut; she was a lioness, defending her cub.

“Someone introduced cats into the yard, and when the poor thing took up her binocs…”

“Death,” everyone looked at Lady Macbeth as the word came out of her in a horrified whisper. “Feathers everywhere, blood, the yard full of them – they’ll never sing again, my lovely, lovely birds,” and with that, shudders seemed to wrack her small frame in its bloodstained nightgown.

Bessie took the Lady into her arms, glaring fiercely over her head at the hapless Jones. 

“You can see she can’t have done it. She were onstage, acting her broken heart out. Two performances she gave today, even with her little friends lying dead all over the yard, and that horrible horoscope!”

“Horoscope?” asked Jones.

A rusty little laugh came from under Bessie’s arm, and the Lady’s muffled voice faltered, “If it weren’t for the horoscope, he needn’t have died,” and she laughed again. Bessie shushed her and buried the glossy chestnut mop of hair deeper underneath  her chin, stroking the hair with one strong, gentle hand.

“Horoscope?” Jones repeated, feeling like an idiotic parrot. All this talk of birds.

“Found it in her dressing room, and her, poor lamb, in hysterics. Mild hysterics, ladylike,” she corrected herself, crooning a bit to the brown head cuddled against her vast bosom.

“Aquarius, she is,” put in Prompt, and was silenced by a fierce look from Bessie. This was Bessie’s time now, her stage, and she’d turn toes up herself before she’d let anyone else have it.

“Yes, Aquarius. Sensitive-like, you know. She needs to read her horoscope of a morning; it helps her feel how her performance is going to go.”

“Only Mr. Brown found out,” Witch Two said darkly, and Bessie kissed the top of the glossy brown head she cradled and nodded for her to continue.

Witch Two cleared her throat nervously. “Mr. Brown found out, and he used it, you see. Everyone knew, but she wouldn’t believe it. She said it was from the stars, but Mr. Brown bribed Jones-the-News to let Mr. Brown write a horoscope. Aquarius, you see.” She faltered to a stop feeling she could have said that better; Witches One and Three patted her supportively, and she turned a becoming bright pink.

“He…wrote them himself?” 

“Aye, that’s it,” they all nodded, delighted as if the clever student had finally learned his sums.

“Said it was to protect the show, you see, to write her lovely things, like.  Notes that she would succeed in all she undertook to perform, that sort of thing. Only today’s…”

“Today’s,” The Lady pushed Bessie’s arms gently aside and raised her head, her eyes glowing with indignation, two bright spots of color on her cheeks. For the first time, Jones-the-Law experienced the full force of her personality. What a woman! He thought, and tugged his helmet off to hold it in his hands, turning it round and round as if he were a young bobby on the beat again.

“Today’s was a direct threat. If I didn’t meet him under the stage,” she took a deep breath and her voice grew resonant; he could see now that she’d be a powerful Lady Macbeth –

“More of the birds would die.”

There was silence as the company gazed at her, drawn close together, shoulder to shoulder.

There was a resounding silence as Jones-the-Law looked around at each of the seated figures, and realized they were breathing quietly in unison.

Lady Macbeth sat, wringing her faintly red-stained, lovely white hands in her lap. He had never actually seen a woman wringing her hands before, though all the books talked about it.

“She couldn’t have done it,” Bessie spoke up, her voice breaking the spell that had seemed to fall over the company. They blinked, nodded, sipped tea, rattling packages of biscuits as hands grabbed for the last delicious morsels –

She couldn’t have done it.

She was on stage, you see.

“The whole time?” Jones asked, resigned.

“Yes, yes, the whole time.”

“We all can vouch for her.”

“You all, in fact, can likely vouch for each other?” Jones asked, realizing belatedly that at no point this evening had his notebook come out of his pocket – it was as if they had cast a spell on him, he thought ruefully; he had taken no notes at all.

He didn’t need to see their nodding heads to know they would all vouch for each other’s whereabouts during the time in question.

Must have been a vagabond, someone from outside, someone suggested, and they all joined in gleeful agreement like a demented Greek Chorus.

Jones-the-Law suddenly felt very tired indeed, and his thoughts strayed to his delicious supper, likely grown cold now.

“What will you all do?” He asked.

“Do?” They looked at him in astonishment.

“Why, the show, of course,”

“Yes, the show. It’s really quite good. We are just getting into our stride.”

“By the pricking of my thumbs – something wicked this way comes…” Macbeth whispered, and grinned at Jones-the-Law. “…he’s worth no more. They say he parted well, and paid his score,” he continued, his eyes meeting those of the Lady in a strangely fierce, intimate moment.

“Theater folk,” Jones-the-Law shook his head, squeaking his way back down through the audience (he really must see about some new shoes soon), tucking away the tickets they had pressed upon him. He supposed Maisie would love to come see a show. He turned to look back as he closed the door; they looked back at him, strangely dreamlike in their costumes on that warmly lit stage. Slowly, (Prompt must have exited off stage while he wasn’t looking) the rich red velvet curtain drew to a close with a few dismissive jerks.

He jammed his hands in his pockets to restrain himself from applauding.

Never, Never

“Move your eyes to the three o’clock position, please, outside the green light, into the darkness. Do you see?”
“Yes,” he mumbled. His tongue felt a little heavy, sleepy. It wasn’t bad-

“Good. Now repeat after me: I have no shadow.”
“Don’t want to.”
“You must.” the voice held a crack in it now, like the sound of a hand slapping water. Peter flinched.

“You chose this, Peter.”
“Didn’t. Sez you.”
“Yes, you came in one day, and may I tell you, you were a much more appealing specimen than you are in at this present moment.” The sound of papers shuffling. A Susurration, Peter’s mind supplied. He liked that word. A throat cleared. How many of them were there?
He sat in a hard chair, his chin resting on the velvet edge of a black box open on one side. He looked into it- why, it’s just like a theatre, he thought, and chuckled softly. A theatre for his head only.
“I’m not sure what’s so amusing, Peter, would you care to share it with us?”
Peter rolled his eyes. The inside of the box was black, save for a bright circle of light across from his eyes. Today the color they’d chosen was green. It wasn’t unpleasant to look into, so that was a relief, at least.
How long had he been here?
Oh. They had asked him a question. “Theatre, sir.”
“Hm. Okay. Are your eyes in the 3 o’clock position?”
Repeat after me, Peter. “I have no shadow.”

“I have no shadow.”
“I am the best there is, there is no one like me.”
“Feels so stupid.”
“PETER!” cracked the voice. Slap of hand on water. “Say it. Now.”
“I’m the best there is, there’s no one like me.” Peter’s cheeks heated. God, this was so dorky. He shifted. His chair creaked. Cheap jerks.

The voice took on a soothing tone. “I need to crow.”
“Oh my Gosh,” said Peter,
then a hand actually slapped the table beside him, and he jumped, his chin jostling the velvet.
“Okay. I need to…crow. God.”
They continued like this until Peter stopped fighting, and let himself slip into the soothing space of no-space. His chin was comfortable on the velvet. The green light was soothing in his eyes. If the words meant nothing and he just shaped what the man said, he could sort of sleep. They had him move his eyes to the 9 o’clock position, and that was a bit of a pain, but then he could settle in again and relax.

“I have no shadow. I’m the best there is. I’ve got to crow. I can fly.”
It didn’t matter, did it? Just stupid stuff. Theatre, that’s all.

At night, he slept on a small cot in a room that contained only the cot and himself. He could gaze up through a window set very high in the cinderblock wall, and through the lattice of bars, he could see the blue-black night sky, and the stars winking gently at him. Sometimes, there was a moon – oh, she was golden bright! And those nights, it was a little harder to sleep.
That’s all he wanted, in every bone – sleep. Sleep.

It was only on moonlit nights he would have been able to see that his shadow was disappearing. But he was asleep, so he never saw it. Then, one day, (on his fourteenth birthday, as it happened, but he didn’t know that-)  it disappeared.

The words slipped easily off his tongue now. They felt good, actually. He noticed that the people in the room seemed happy when he enjoyed the words. Sang them, crowed them, even.
“Good, Peter, very good.” there was a smile in the voice. He liked that much better than the slap of hand on water sound of anger. But he hadn’t heard that in … he wasn’t sure how long.
Time didn’t really mean anything.
He was sure he must have eaten, and …you know, used the toilet.. but he couldn’t remember.
He couldn’t remember what he looked like. Was that important?
All that mattered was that the movements in the room behind and around him while he sat in the chair were pleased. He could hear their breathing; he could imagine their smiling. He started to get more elaborate. It was a theatre for his head, after all-
He imagined them, one day, handing him an award.
“You’re the best there is, Peter, there’s no one like you.” People clapped and cheered for him, in his visions. He couldn’t see their faces, but that didn’t matter at all. The award mattered – it was solid and heavy in his hands.
“I can fly,” he said, happily.

He didn’t notice when he got bigger, or the chair got smaller.

He didn’t notice when his voice deepened.
He noticed when they were pleased, and he noticed when the very air around him held the hush of disappointment.
But he was the best there is, he’d rail in his head, they couldn’t possibly be disappointed in HIM.

One day, on the day everything changed, they simply turned him out. “Good job, Peter, it’s time for us to move on to the next.”
“What…wha?” He had been so enjoying his new rhyme, “I can fly, I’m the best/ so much better than the rest, I can fight/ I can’t grow/ ’cause I have no shadow!”

“We’re done with you, Peter. Go to work.”
and the man, whom he could now see for the first time wore a grey suit and had grey hair and grey eyes and a tired, thin smile, shut the door in a wall and that was that.
Peter stood outside.

Eventually, he found his way into the world. That’s another story.
Eventually, he found Wendy – many wendys, if we’re being honest.

“Wendy, tell me I’m the best,” he would plead, tears gleaming in his eyes.
But when one Wendy started to wonder where his shadow was, or why he seemed to be looking through her, never into her eyes, or why he behaved as though he was continually standing on a stage somewhere, waiting, straining his ears for applause, or why he was so impatient with her, or anything to do with her, his behavior snappish and cruel, sometimes, as if he was frantic for her to be silent, because he might miss the sound of the applause –

he’d drop her and find another Wendy. But he had to keep tabs on all the Wendys, as they were strange beings whose hearts, once worn out, would regenerate slowly over time.
Delicious. What he needed the most. Those hearts.
His only requirement was that he had to find ones who were still trapped in childhood too, somehow. Ones who dreamed, or believed, or maybe didn’t feel confident, and the girls who had kind hearts.


“Wendy, tell me I am a hero.”

He knew the time would come when he’d have to make his way back to the building, and pay the men so they’d find young him – at a very young age- and gather him up, and take him to their treatment center.

He wanted that treatment. He was glad for it. It was incredible, being the most amazing – pan- in the world, and being able to fly, and knowing you were the best. Even if it did get a little lonely, as everyone was inferior, and anyway, they all seemed to live outside that velvet box in his head,
it was still the best thing in the world. The very best.
He knew he’d have to go back soon. His time was almost up.
He had to make sure, you see-

that he would never, never grow up.

I Love You

Sometimes it is as though someone has come and laid an anvil on my chest- foomp. There’s a near-unbearable compression, and it is difficult to breathe under the weight.

As my boy coughs and struggles with the thing growing inside him, choking out his life, I pet his forehead. “Mama’s here,” I say, and he gives me a few threads of a purr and subsides.

He nuzzles my hand. His breathing is labored.

He looks up at me with those innocent, trusting copper eyes of his, and I say, “We’re on a rough road this time, love, but I’m with you every step of the way.”
His chin drops to rest on his paws, and he drifts into sleep, and that anvil comes again to settle on my chest, merciless and unyielding. It’s so damn heavy. How many days, God, I ask-

but this grief is clean. The last and most recent loss was tangled; a devious, impure, cruel, dark monstrosity of a toxic Mirkwood forest, and it needed a fucking forest fire to clear it from my life. The loss was better than that thing that grew, then, a thing I deliberately built with love and pure intention, or so I thought. The pain there was good, because the thing itself was a growth just like the one killing my beloved boy.

There are good losses, and then there is this-

Self-abandonment, caretaking others at the expense of self, oh yes, I did that in my past unknowingly. Now, I do it intentionally.
Every time he chatters or cries, I drop whatever it is I’m doing – anything at all- to find him. “Mama’s here,” I say, because it calms him, and because it’s all I can do.

He ate voraciously tonight- the thing inside him demands more food, and I swear, if someone told me: “take this scalpel. You have to cut into him, and it will hurt your little love, and he will cry and not know why you’re hurting him. It will hurt you worse. You’ll bear the scars for the rest of your days, but there’s a slight chance you can cut out that thing that is clawing through his chest, crowding his lungs and devouring his life; there’s a chance you can get it out if you are fierce and brave enough, if you do not hesitate-

I would do it. I would not hesitate.

I don’t cry.

I sing to him because he loves it, and I read a daily card of loving words and affirmations, chosen at random. “It’s time for our card,” I say to him. He likely knows one word in thirty, but he watches my face intently and purrs until his fur vibrates.

Somewhere in my chest, there’s a bewildered grizzly bear howling in pain, striking out blindly, with no idea where the source of its agony can be found. It tears its way around, under my ribs, up to my throat, sometimes into my stomach, and I’m not sure how many more blows I can hold until its claws break through my skin.

I can see future me, now- she’s in my apartment too. Sometimes she’s hazy, like a shadow, or like she’s on the other side of a fog that’s slowly clearing; other times, she’s so clear, I can almost hold her hand. Her arms are empty of his weight forever. She can no longer smell the sweet smell of his forehead.

I can almost reach her when it’s 3 am, and I’ve awakened to the sound of the coughs that wrack his small frame. I can almost touch her hand, then. I feel how empty her chest is- it’s been torn open by the bear- and I lean over, touching my nose to the whisper-soft fur beside his ears, and I breathe in the sweet new-hay smell of him. I feel his breath on my neck, each tiny puff so infinitely precious.

I have lived a double life for six months or longer, hollow, savage with grief. I have mustered my energy to go be around people, laugh and play, then I’ve come home and collapsed like a marionette with my strings cut. I haven’t spoken outside the walls of therapy or a few- very few- close soul friends, the closest of the close, about what kind of torment I have endured for years. What I’ve concealed. What I’ve protected and taken on myself. What I forced myself to believe; toxicity made a liar of me.

But now, I can’t run.

Loss is inside my home, and I don’t even know how long this will go on.

But future me has no more days left. This innocent boy, who has gazed into my eyes with love and trust for fourteen years, is gone forever from her world, so she looks at me with hollow eyes and empty arms and bereft heart from the other side of a hazy wall that is growing thinner by the hour. I can hear her now, she’s close enough – “hold him,” she says, “hold him for me.”

And I do.

I tell him I love him so often;

I remember a past human “love” who was deliberately stingy with the word “love”- who said, “if you say it too often, it loses its meaning,”

and I think, no.  He’s got it all wrong, and he’s missing out. Because, while love is infinite, the ability to connect is finite – There will come a day – it marches toward me with jackboots- ruthless and inevitable, clack, clack- I can hear it in every labored moment his lungs struggle, bubbling with poison, to take in the precious air-
There will come a day when I won’t ever be able to say it to him again, so it gains meaning every time I say it. Every time I am able to. It is the richest thing in my life, to be able to tell this sweet angel how much I love him, and how grateful I am that he chose me. Saying these things to him feels almost self-indulgent, luxurious, as vital to me right now as the food I can’t seem to swallow.

I see it in future me, on the other side of the smoky haze. She’s drawing even closer now, and I see her reach toward me, closing her eyes that will never be delighted by his sweet face again and moving her lips with me soundlessly as I say it to him for her,

“I love you,”

and I think she can hear his answering purr,
and I feel his trust and love as his sweet furry little face slips into my palm to nuzzle me,
and I think maybe she’s a little comforted.




We called ourselves The Lost. There was no mending our breaks; even I, timeless, didn’t know where the horrors began. Who remembers the early days of childhood? All we had was darkness; everything in our world was smoke. Despair smells like this: sweet, cloying, close, and never-ending. Only the broken shards of sunlight on the floor filtering through the cracks in worn floorboards let us know the time was passing, day waning into night. In the shifting, dim world of the room below the tavern, the men we served were trapped in prisons of their own- lying on the floor or sitting on their red cushions, they’d be away in opium dreams, their bodies left behind, tossed any which way like foul-smelling luggage. They weren’t really our jailers, though.

He was: Master Hooke. We just called him the Master. He wasn’t always here-some days, he’d lock us in, and wander the streets with his cart, honing blades and mending metal, a front for his real, hidden trade. Smuggling trade. He traded in secrets, he traded in opium, and other things: lives. He had taken us from lanes where we played, from prams while our nannies were too busy chatting with their friends to hear a sharp wail, abruptly cut off.

The rift between what might have been and what actually is sounds like a single child’s cry, and is a vast chasm, too wide to cross. I think about them sometimes: my lost family. I dream of climbing in the windows of the safe, comfortable homes, searching for the right home. I’ll fly on silent feet, unseen, through attics and cracks in the wainscoting; through every firelit living room, past the sleeping children in their nurseries, until I find them. They’ll take my shadow self and sew it to the real-boy me, who has perhaps been living with them all along; then I’ll be flesh and color again, warm and alive.

When the Master went to bed, when all grew quiet and we had nothing but our thoughts, the terror set in. Even I felt it clutching my throat like a crocodile that wouldn’t let go.  My fear was for them. It always will be. Thinking of how we were all trapped here in this dark place, my heart would pound so fast, I would have to tell the other kids stories so they wouldn’t hear it. Stories brought sanity. Tales of sunlight and kids like us playing games in the park, cookies and tea…the dreams I spun had no danger and no end. We needed those stories. We huddled together for warmth, the smell of terror as familiar as the sound of our breathing. As I told the stories I could feel them shift against me in unison, the ocean sound of their breath a soothing backdrop. Over the months, my stories began to take the shape of the sea. The sea, far away from our shadowy world with the jobs that were a waking nightmare.

Why don’t you get more comfortable? This might take awhile. I’ve not told anyone this before; it was so very long ago.

We served as errand boys, pipe boys, and scrubbers- that’s what we called the littlest kids, the kids who had to clean up the customers who had been in their dreams for too long, or tell the Master when it was time to clear away the bodies of the ones who had died.

We were taught how to take the lumps of precious, amber-colored stuff around and hold it over a flame just right, a luminous, glowing jewel skewered on the end of a pin. Sweet, dreaming, death-road. Taught how to ignore the pleading from men who could not afford any more, who watched the opium shrinking with panicked eyes, counting the dreams they had left.

Yes, the Master had come into our lives one day and ripped us away from our families. All except Belle, who was probably born in the Opium den, or traded very early by a father who could not afford to buy his dreams in any other way.

Belle, pretty Belle, lost in a dream- Tinker’s daughter. That’s all she would say: “I’m the Tinker’s daughter.” Then she’d laugh her musical, lilting laugh and say “Tinker Belle, Tinker Belle.” She spoke in riddles and rhymes, when she spoke at all. Pretty, fragile Belle, smallest of us all; shining Belle who grew silent- not a word will she speak now. Belle, Belle. Pretty Belle, lost in a dream. Belle had been brought up on the stuff- opium. She just wasn’t there anymore. We tried to protect her, but she followed the Master like his shadow, flitting around him, no matter how harshly he cursed her away. 

The Lost. I made it up; I thought if we had a name and a purpose, we could survive. Together, we could be stronger.  It began so long ago, you see. Before telephones. Before they put our pictures on milk cartons and somehow guessed our name: 1-800-The-Lost. I was mighty chuffed when I first started seeing that, let me tell you. I knew then that I could never stop my work, because there were people out there who understood. There were helpers somewhere.

We couldn’t fend off the beatings, but we could hold the broken one afterward. We could talk at night in the basement, a ring of dirty, pale faces lit by a single candle stub. Our words and stories were balm, and gradually the eyes around me in the flickering light reflected a new thing: hope.

Down in the cellar where we met at night, we had found tunnels under the stones- tunnels where the opium was smuggled. It waited there in large chests; hunks of gleaming amber resin, waiting to take people away – it slept in blocks, to be scraped into pipes- sweet, lingering poison.

That night, the night I changed, the full moon was the color of bones. It slanted bright daggers into the room, through the broken floorboards of the room above, through the barred windows, making shadow-crosses on the floor.

Master Hooke grabbed me; his hard hand circled my entire upper arm, a stone vise. “So, you want to hold meetings in my cellar, boy?” he rasped. “Let us do so, then. Come along.”  My feet slipped on the stairs and he lifted me up, my feet stumbling on wooden stairs and air.  “Pete, you can fly,” he laughed, and threw me to the stone floor and filled me with smoke,

filled me with smoke -you can fly you can fly you can- he knew I was their hope, you see.

He filled me- filled me with other things-  needles like crocodile teeth – I fought it; I fought him.

I fought until my arm became a sword, until the ground went away and I was flying,

I was

I was on the sea. I could smell it, salty, bitter, the metal tang of rusting sword and sea. And blood. I was fighting, but I couldn’t see him any more. I heard his boots, and the slamming of the door.

No sound, just the shushing of the sea. Hushing in and out, and a tick tock; a loud, pounding tick tock.

Tick tock –  it hurt; I was afraid.

Tick tock

crocodile?  Clock. It slowed. I was safe. It was slower, it was going away.

I heard Belle scream, “No!”

Belle came out of her dream- I have never heard her sound like that.

Perhaps she heard the clock and it woke her up-

slower now, more slowly still, tick…tock; I waited for the next sound anxiously.

“Peter, it’s your heart – Peter!” Belle battered at the door, clawed until her nails were gone, fingers bleeding.

Then she got clever- think like Master Hooke- and she found the key.

She came to me, Belle, clear as the last light of the sun, a tiny golden fury breaking into my dream.

Belle screamed, “Peter,” and slapped me. My head flew to the side; I watched her from the ceiling. Couldn’t she see me flying up there? Didn’t she know I was discovering how to be never-ending? “Peter!” She slapped me again. “Listen to me. You will die. you must wake up- try. You have to fight.” She called me back to her, our dreaming Belle. She said, “Peter. Clap. Clap your hands.”

I saw my body’s hands twitch, but they didn’t move. How funny, she couldn’t see the real me up there by the ceiling. Look at me, Belle, look up here!

She kept crying, “Clap them. clap your hands. I will die unless you clap them. Save me, Peter.” How did she know? Could any of us have predicted? Pretty Belle, leading the way to Never never land. I fought then, I fought.  The more I clapped, the more I woke up. I was a shadow now, though, and real-boy me was still dreaming with a silly smile on his face.

I was so busy looking at myself, I didn’t see- we never heard the Master’s silent feet. Belle, behind you. Belle, he’s behind you. She can’t hear me, now. I didn’t see him- just

-heard the blow. Heard it when – oh, Belle- a dull, wet smack; her head moved sharply to the right, golden hair flying in a last dance. She made a soft sound, her breath coming in as though she was going to speak, and her eyes went blank. Pretty Belle, never to age, her light gone out.

She saved me.  She saved us, and still – still – when we meet in the cellar by candlelight, in the new faces of the newly lost, and the familiar faces of the ageless boys, I see her light. It’s hope – she gave us that. 

I guide them out of this place, but I always return, because this is my task. Belle will never leave either – Master buried her in the cellar where the smuggling tunnels are. He took up the stones and buried her, then he put them back again – I don’t know where real-boy me went; I covered my eyes as he slowly put the heavy stones back again. Belle’s grave is marked with candle wax, and the ashes of my life that might have been. I mustn’t talk like this. They are depending on me.

Things have changed so much. The roads, the cars, the phones, and our name on milk cartons; but the look in the children’s eyes hasn’t changed. The way they gather close when I tell the stories hasn’t changed, either.  I vow this: through the centuries, the children will come to Never never land when grown-ups fail to protect them. When grown-ups hurt them. I will always be waiting to bring the Lost children home.