It was a miscalculation, nothing more. She expected something I was unwilling to give. Such is life.
We avoided the question for the first year, the good year. By the second, we were married, mostly through boredom, and the question arose more often.
I had, of course, known her feelings from the start. Her every motion suggested it. Her every thought touched upon it. She had no need to voice it, even in those moments after, when I was most suggestible.
Our third winter was the hardest. Snow piled around our small home like parcels around a rich child’s Christmas tree. There was no way out and nothing to do within. Lilith pressed me every hour until I conceded to her point of view.
We huddled together, illuminated by the light of a single black candle. Lilith smiled more in those few minutes than she had in the previous three years. And I remembered… And I recalled…
I was a doctor once. The thrill of saving lives outweighed the sorrow of losing them. Lilith was my most satisfying work. She’d stabbed herself with an onyx dagger, but she didn’t die, and I refused to let her not live. When she left the hospital, our dating began. Like I said, I was proud of what I did for her, even if she herself wasn’t.
Lilith withdrew the dagger I thought her to have lost. The thing glittered a terrible darkness and moaned like a lost puppy begging for food. “You first,” she said.
It was odd! We’d talked about it, pictured it so many times, but when push came to shove, I faltered. Lilith angered. We fought.
I buried my wife beneath a holly tree, when the snow melted enough to dig out the ground. A citrine spring light filtered down through the still empty branches overhead, casting angular, awkward shadows across her grave. That’s when I saw it, the inscription, one I had not made. Here lies one who refused to give in to life.
I thought about that peculiar statement for many years until I, too, lay on my deathbed, teetering on the borders of forever. The female doctor bent over me as the breath faltered in my iron lungs, leaned in closer. She held a syringe in her hands, one of black glass, almost onyx, with a blade of stiletto thinness.
When you pass through the final curtain, your loved ones will gather around you like moths around a lantern. Their sadness shall wipe away your own. Unfortunately, I had but one lover, one to wait for me across the melancholy divide. She sneered and turned her back. I bowed my head in shame.
When I looked up, Lilith was gone. The gloom beyond the indigo curtain had also vanished, replaced by day. My hands bore no wrinkles. My knees no longer ached. I was alive to die again.
What had I saved in my youthful exuberance? Why did I care? Well, my friends and loyal readers, I didn’t. But she did. Her questions continued, though, in truth, it was only ever one. “Will you live, so I might die?”
“It washes across you like a mother’s first kiss. You don’t remember the sensation, but it’s always been there. That tactile moment of skin on skin, of what was within being without. There’s nothing more magical.” He waved away the horseman and drew his guest further into the fields. Tall and dark, only his flashing, bright eyes proved him there, unlike his guest, who wore scarlet. He assisted her over a small, uneven fence, the poorest of barriers, and led her on by the arm. He renewed his soliloquy as though never having missed a beat, he the actor and she his audience. “No words written or spoken may explain nor surpass it. No other feeling comes close. This is the bliss of a perfect night. Alas, you only truly remember the last.” He turned away as though moved by his own words, a shadow within a shadow within a dream. She spoke for the first time, light and hopeful. “And tonight, my love?” The girl shook out her usually ink-black hair to a deluge of silver, so bright was the moonlight, batted long lashes the same. “More than any.” She took him in all his brooding majesty. And despite his obvious melancholy, an almost perpetual predilection, and how the moonlight shied away from his form, she smiled a smile of utter contentment, of getting just what she wanted and when. “I think I’ve waited long enough.” “Yes, my dear. I believe you have.” The two nestled down in a quicksilver ocean of rippling grasses, disappearing beneath those unusual waves like breaching whales bound for an ultramarine abyss. Neither the hooting owl nor the gathering wind disturbed them. Not a watching ghost disrupted their repose. Time passed. # It was many hours before they resurfaced, one head at a time, eyes rubbed awake and blinking. She of the waist-length hair came first and him second. The moon had barely moved, giving no evidence of time having altered, as though hung there by some invisible cosmic thread. The stars surrounded it still like a celestial shawl. Those ebony spaces between them engulfed the rest. And so it was her amber eyes wandered, whilst his remained on her. Up they rose, higher and higher, defiant against both nebulae and shooting stars alike. Her head cocked to one side like an inquisitive robin, a look her outfit enhanced. She grinned as the moon winked daggers. Secure in his gaze, she reached into her jacket and pulled out a tortoiseshell comb. There, beneath infinity, she brushed out that which marked her beauty, defiant in her belief that to him, at least, she rivalled the eternal night. “Do you bring many women here?” “Not here.” “Then, I am the first?” “Beneath this moon, at this time, and this place, yes.” “I’m honoured. You, so privileged and dashing, might have chosen any woman.” “Just any woman wouldn’t do.” Her cheeks glowed a crimson to rival her dress. “Do you think we might return here every evening? Beneath this same moon? This same space?” “We need never leave.” “Good,” she said. “Though I am a little hungry.” “As am I.” He leant in close, closer, closer still. Her heart beat like a moth’s wings, fast and silent. The night breathed long and deep. His lips met her neck and kept on going. Strong hands pinned her arms as his mouth bit deep. It was soon over. The fields kept rippling as the moon shone brighter, and a man who’d seen more than he ought, wept. Time stalled. # When his anguish seemed inconsolable, he stopped, as though God had suddenly dammed his eyes. He licked stained lips. “I shall bury you, my love, as I have them all.” He used his hands to scoop the soft earth from the ground, powerful arms to drive them. He excavated more soil in a minute than a dozen gravediggers might shift in a week. Once finished, he stepped back. Looked down. Sighed. The hole stood not empty, but full. It brimmed with sloshing moonlight. The man removed his jacket, ancient in its styling, bursting with brocade and lace. Next came his shirt revealing a milk-white torso, then his shoes and britches. He lowered himself into the hole-made-grave and, a second later, was gone. One might have feared for the fellow then, but he had other ideas. Rising from those false, silver waters, he lifted the one whose life he’d taken and lowered her gently into the pit. He spoke as though in a trance. “I shall make right what fate corrupted by sacrificial blood and flesh. For this, I thank you. Truly, yours was a gift. Thanks to you, I endure, not in hate or violence, but nocturnal bliss. Thanks to you, my dear. Yes, thanks to you. And I say this with a sincerity others would claim absent, I loved you. For a time, I have loved you all. But nothing, nothing, my love, rivals the serenity of the moon.” Time pooled.
The ghosts ate the sky first.
As albino Swallows, they nibbled and swooped, munched and slurped. They spared nothing. Like strands of candy floss pulled from the whole, the ghosts sucked them away. For a time, the sky couldn’t have been clearer.
We watched mouths agape, eyes rubbed raw, minds flittering in disbelief. The cleansed sky grew brighter with each passing, shining in sapphire, glittering in gold. I liked how it sparkled just before they ate the sun. I’d seen rainbows give their all and then disappear, fill the atmosphere with hope and beauty and dreams before shattering them, but I’d never seen it with the sun. No one had.
They took the moon before it breached the mountains, sucking it up like spilt milk. The stars never stood a chance.
We prayed in small, circular groups. The eldest told us to shut our eyes, but I suspected them scared. It was an excuse, a white lie told for their benefit, not ours. So, I set my vision on one of them, less a bird now and more a blanket, and that’s where it remained.
It was odd following the ghost’s haphazard movements. One might have thought it blown, or tugged like a kite, but neither explained its ability to travel wherever it wished. I envied it if truth be told. I wanted to roam the air. And then suddenly, I did not.
They dove as a luminesce squadron. Perhaps it was their insatiable hunger, perhaps not, but the ghosts required new sustenance, and we were it.
They took the men first and the odd large woman. Their mouths yawned wide like aerial whales, and we were their oversized plankton. People fought back, but to no avail. They swiped and bashed and kicked and screamed, but all ended up in the same place: Within.
The children held their parents until the last seconds of their adult lives. Some lost their hands they gripped so tightly. The rest of us ran.
Some ascended, others descended, whilst I hid in plain sight. Actually, that’s not entirely true.
I ran inside, petrified. Up the stairs I hurtled, and through my bedroom door. My mind relaxed for an instant. I stumbled, fell, got entwined in my sheets. There I lay, gasping.
Coincidence ushered them in at that moment, sweeping through the windows, pouring through the doors. I quaked. My teeth chattered. The ghosts saw and heard nothing.
They left when they realised the house empty, and I breathed again.
It took several hours to muster the courage to step outside, and even then, only long after the screaming stopped. I wished I’d stayed inside.
There was nothing: no mountains, woods, or cities; no rocks, trees, or grass. The lake was as empty as my stomach, and the distant ocean roared no more. I was alone. Well, almost alone.
They hovered and stood and lounged and lay, everywhere and nowhere, up, down and all around. Their job was done. But what was mine?
In a moment of divine inspiration, I approached them. Hello, I said, though not a sound came out.
The ghost nodded, or dipped, or wavered. Why?
If it was its head, the ghost cocked it, or slumped like a half-empty bag of coal. Why not me? I said. It was the bravest thing I’d said since, Stop!
A void opened where a mouth ought to have been. The ghost attempted to form words. It failed.
And I thought I might never know why I alone survived humanity’s cleansing.
I slipped out of the sheet and cast it aside. Not one ghost gave me a second look. Kill me. I don’t want to be the last.
My desperate eyes slipped to the ground like April rain, and there written in the dust were the words:You’re already dead.
I knew they were right, had for a long time. But when you play and sleep and act human, as I did the night he hit her and I stepped in-between, then you almost convince yourself you are. Almost.
It was then that she came for me. I’d have known her anywhere.
It was all for me, but was it in my head, delusions of a spectral brain? Who knew? Who cared! She was there and that’s all that mattered.
I realised the ghosts had never taken us within, but me that had stepped outside.
The traffic lights distort broken garages. Three hues combine to bathe all in a coruscating dream. And still, the rain pours upon this rainbow somewhere. I mourn it, welcome it, beg for more.
This place has a bleak desperation which compliments their own. A simple truth recognised. This place demands truths, for the lies stand dark and vivid. Even their shadows slide around in pairs.
I twitch a recollection.
A memory of a robin flies under my feet, a crimson inspiration. The vision makes no sound, but I recognise the confusion in its throaty chirps. Searching for worms as they search for each other, it pecks a pointless day. When the night comes and the same tricolour lights that illuminate my evenings bring relevance to this place, perhaps then he’ll succeed. Perhaps, not.
The recollection fades. If ever it was one?
My paranoia is boundless. This inner desperation destroys me. Life is no life in limitless longevity. Only in the rain-washed luminance does hope remain. Only in liquid crystal am I the man I remember. I need no sun!
She called me a bat, an occupier of the night, un-living. She claimed I hated the day because the sun revealed my faults. But none of us are faultless. None of us are perfect. None of us were born to continue through death.
How boring now, this sterile world.
The undercurrents of societal want disgust me. People are no longer tame. Minds hampered by expectation require the spotlight illuminations of day, not the gentle pulses of night. The traffic lights’ displays mean nothing in the daytime, mean nothing until dark. They possess no more power to enforce man’s will than a collar on a stray dog.
Incisors slice, not grate together like theirs.
Bring on the rain. Bathe me in amber. Dress me in green. Fear me in red. Yes, fear me. For a colourful death is my calling card, my gift. I can make one distinct in an existence rendered boring.
I watch the lights change: one, two, three. Such simple symmetry. A distraction worth noting. They note it, too. One woman. One man. They hold hands as if these subtle warnings were sent to terrorise. They aren’t. All they do is provide one extra moment, one extra pause before the storm, to a being who no longer needs either.
I count down from green to amber to red. The latter signals their demise, the favour I do them.
Besides, is it not better to die part rainbow than to live a golden blur?
The bleary-eyed awakening offers little to billions of sleepers each night. Less than a gap and at best an inconvenience, mankind surf those moments eyes closed and desperate. The chirruping blackbird is a nuisance at such times. The ticking clock is akin to the devil. As for a dripping faucet, or rain upon the windowsill, enraging.
We tend to focus on those instants, expand them unwillingly, when all we wish is to contract. But time suffers no interventions, at least, not by us.
We desire the flavoured darkness, where ex-loves taste better than ever they did in reality. Where we as sports people score wonder goals, tackle like rhinos, run like the wind, so far from actuality that it’s a good job we can’t see ourselves; unrecognisable faces frighten the children who spy them in clouding mirrors. We act as never we would in real life, for our dreamworlds offer security, sanctuary from prying eyes. Some might term this, release. Others might term it a mass delusion.
Be it a minute or a restless hour, we struggle to depart the awakening and return to the promised land of dreams with utmost expedience. There’s almost a dread. We fear the darkness, for everyone knows it’s where monsters hide. We curl our toes and squeeze our eyes so tight they hurt. Tossing and turning are par for the course. Burying heads in pillows, the same. All that is wanted, needed, required is a return to the hoped-for pleasantness of that pause until dawn. Gold light and blue skies beckon us. Well, when I say us, I mean you.
I don’t want to go back to sleep. I don’t want those moments between dreams to end. If ever serenity offers a troubled mind a chance, it’s during these spaces in eternity. They calm a struggling mind, don’t stir them to further agitation. They soothe troubles, not pretend them not there. A divine gift to restless souls, those who exit limbo into the hushed still of their own bedroom, roofed and walled, secure, free from the ragged world beyond the window glass, these are rare treats indeed.
The moments between dreams never last long enough, for if they do, they are no longer moments but extents. No one likes an extent, they’re too, well… long. Brevity is key to the moment, as time is to life. Yes, life. But what of death?
We do not dream to sample death, we wake from it to taste what will. What good is a stomachful of forever if you’re not afforded the luxury of swilling it around your mouth beforehand. And here I pause…
As I write, I reveal. I unpick the truth with a sledgehammer. There is a liar amongst us and that liar is me. I lust for the pause and dispute every moment, afraid that to do otherwise might prove that I’m gone. I am afraid of the night more than any. I savour the waking, or I’d cry before sleep. The paradox of it all tingles behind my eyes. These moments have sold me a fable I no longer wish to read. Am I awake, or am already gone?
Her ears were bigger than her head. She wasn’t ugly, though, far from it. Her enormous, round eyes, accentuated by whiplash lashes most women would’ve killed for, drew you to her and held your view.
There were years in those eyes, generations of wisdom. They deflected from her abnormal feet and rough skin. The latter was an eyesore, as if she’d never exfoliated or moisturised. As for her nose, well… better left unsaid.
I loved Nellie more than words. I looked forward to seeing her, even if it was an annual event. Every kid did. The circus was a treat.
The closest we came to forever was the moment in which we gave up. Our breaths held and never really returned. The moment drew out to seconds, to hours, to more. Your eyes dimmed like exhausted candles. Mine were already black.
The closest we came to forgiveness was that moment we met at the wake. Dressed in black from head to toe, I barely recognised you. I said Hello and you almost said it back.
The closest we came to something was that moment when we both said, I do. I remember how it felt, not how it sounded, as those three tiny letters sunk beneath my skin and slipped off your well-oiled own.
The closest we came was closer than most but never close enough for me.