Lilith began: “First, understand this, what I tell you did not happen as I say it did. Just as John,” Lilith nodded in the direction of the top step of the dais, “believed that he was speaking Greek, and you, exnzpat,” she stopped and looked at me, “believed you were speaking English, when you spoke together earlier and yet, both of you communicated without error. Words are just a symbol-type, and a symbol is, and can be, an image or even an expression — but always it is visceral to the minds-eye. You understand?” Lilith paused, and waited. I nodded slowly. The notion of how John and I had communicated seemed trivial. I assumed he had been speaking English, but it really didn’t matter, did it? Neither of us had any problem communicating – we had something to say and we said it, there were no barriers between us.
“Understand this then: on the first day of my life, the sixth day of the universe, I lay face down in the red mud of the Earth. When I stood, I was not one person, as you see me now, but one in combination with another. The Lord, my Creator, gave me a name. That name was Adam Kadmon. I bore two faces, one facing forward, and the other, aft. I asked my Creator to show me my other face. The Lord reached into his chest and removed his Heart, and in doing so, the power of reflection came into the universe. “’TAKE THIS.’” He said, “’THIS ECHO OF MINE. AND SEE YOURSELF.’” The Lord then divided His Heart, placing one part at one face, and the other part at my other face, and so, in one instance, I stared at myself with all four eyes. My reflection both amazed and horrified me. Overcome, I trembled greatly and fell back into the red mud, writhing in terror.
I felt my Creator reach down to me. “‘THIS WILL NOT DO,’” He said; the very sound of His voice shook the sun so hard that it began to dance in the sky above, and then, a great sleep overtook me.
When I woke, I discovered that God had separated me. He had divided me into two halves — delineating me by face.
I looked into the Mirror-Heart that God had given me. And I was very pleased – for it is the face and body; the Me you have come to love, exnzpat.” Lilith squeezed my hand, and in that squeeze, I felt the rough edges of the great scab slowly engulfing her delicate fingers. The scab was consuming both her arms and was already crawling across her breasts and neck. Its rotten tendrils slivered across her face, and the pain in her mind was immense — for I could feel it there.
I noticed Becky looking angrily at me, as I looked gladly at Lilith. There was a glare on Becky’s face. What was she thinking? I wondered – for I could not tell.
Lilith stopped speaking and coughed a little.
“Is it inside you?” I asked.
“exnzpat, it has always been inside me,” she replied sadly.
Lilith coughed some more and then continued her tale.
“Then the Lord came once more – but this time, between us. I saw my other half admiring Himself in his own Mirror-Heart, for you see, God had divided us as two from one, but made us two, compatible in-kind. We were the same, but different. He was Man and I was Woman.
“‘YOU,’” our Lord said to the Man, “‘I NAME YOU ADAM.’” And turning to me, He said, “‘AND YOU, I NAME LILITH.’”
“‘YOU ARE NOW MAN AND WIFE. ADAM, YOU WILL SECURE LILITH IN ALL THINGS, AND YOU LILITH, SHALL BE THANKFUL FOR IT.’” And then He was gone, and I was left alone with my Husband.”
Lilith was silent for a long time, remembering. Then a violent, guttural sound emerged from her mouth.
We watched in horror as Lilith’s neck began to thicken, and in this engorged state, stretch-out and away from her body. In a few seconds it was over: Lilith’s neck had grown three feet in length and her head bobbed and wobbled like that of an ungainly jack-in-the-box, hanging upon its spring.
Then her voice came again, but changed now because the dimensions of her altered throat — no longer soft, sweet, and purring – but guttural and hoarse like a banging door let loose in an angry wind.
“So, there we were, Adam and I. We stood staring at each other, neither of us sure how to proceed. For the only instruction left by God was that I was bound to Adam, and he to me.
“‘Lilith, fetch me that apple from yonder tree,’” Adam said to me. I looked in the direction he pointed, and said, “‘Go fetch it yourself,’ and then walked away from him. I am nobody’s beast.
“And this was how it was for many days and nights.
“I spent my time in the forests and the mountains, studying the many creatures there. Occasionally, Adam would come with me and we would explore our new world together, and mostly, he treated me kindly, and at those times, I loved him. But always, he would fall back to his foolish ways, trying to make me his beast. I could never be, nor ever will be his servant. Why should I be? Was I once not the same Adam Kadmon he was?
“And so Adam sulked — taking up his Mirror-Heart; he would stare into it morosely for hours. And during those times, I learned to hate him.
“The forest and the animals were never so peevish or gloomy; time with them fulfilled me. The world’s creatures accepted me as I am and I loved them all for it.
“Occasionally, I would stare into my Mirror-Heart, enjoying what I saw. But I never loved the Mirror-Heart as Adam did. For lack of a better word, Adam was ‘addicted’ to its magic. I was certain he loved what he saw in it far more than he loved the very world beneath his own feet. Sometimes, when returning to our garden, I would find him so captivated he seemed not to recognize me at all.” Lilith let go of my hand and grasped me at my elbow. “Is it wrong for a woman to complain so bitterly about such an absent husband? Well, is it, exnzpat?”
Her long neck turned towards me, her eyes, now beginning to sink backwards into their sockets, lingered longingly. I thought of my own marriage, and wondered how absent I had been over my seventeen years. After a few moments of silence, I said, “No. No Lilith, it is what you must do.”
“Thank you, exnzpat,” she said simply. Her shrunken eyes seemed to sparkle one last time as she said it, and then the light in them all but disappeared completely, and went black.
“After many days into this existence I found myself sitting upon a rocky outcrop of boulders, overlooking the world. And as I admired the vista before me, I picked up my Mirror-Heart to look into its depths, and so distracted, I was startled by a mother bear and her cubs who suddenly appeared upon the rock beside me – and it was there that I dropped my Mirror-Heart. It fell from my hands into a narrow fissure between the rocks. I was so angry that I smote the mother bear dead, and raged at the rocks beneath me to return my Mirror-Heart. But of course, it was a silly thing to do. The rocks could no more comply than the wind can be compelled to change direction. And so, without my Mirror-Heart, I was lost to Adam forever — for you see, it seemed to be the one thing we had in common since the Lord had separated us. The Mirror-Heart always took me back to Adam, no matter how far I roamed — and now mine was lost, and so too was I.”
Becky interrupted Lilith abruptly. “What about the cubs?”
“What?” Lilith answered, clearly surprised by the intrusion.
“The bear cubs. What happened to them?”
Lilith answered slowly, thinking carefully, “They were young enough to starve without their mother. So I let them.” She said it simply, without malice, and reaching out with her giant knotty fingers, she scratched gently between Lincoln’s ears. It was the very picture of incongruity. Becky looked at me, her eyes wide.
“I was very angry,” Lilith added, as if to help clarify the picture in our minds.
After a moment, she began again.
“And here, I should tell you directly of the Mirror-Heart Itself – for it is the thing that Scudamour seeks. And exnzpat, you must not let him find it…” Her long neck twisted about. Her head faced me directly. Her once wide, shinning eyes were totally sunken now, beady, tight, small, and black; they did not blink, for they had no lids.
“exnzpat – Scudamour is out of time with his birth and death. And he knows it. I have given him over to the Keepers of souls. And to Them, he now belongs.
“Yes, yes, he is with them now. Yes, yes, yes he is. But such confinement is not a constriction – and Scudamour knows this too — but let me finish — and you will understand better.
“I was speaking of the Mirror-Heart. Let me tell you of it. It is a wondrous device. While it appears to be a simple looking glass, it is not. First, it is made of biological stuff – that of the Living-God-Form, He that walks His universe – It is a very rare material indeed, for I have searched the universe for another like it… and alas, there is nothing like it anywhere.”
Becky interrupted her again, “Are you telling us you fly off to other planets and go ask the natives there if they have their own Mirror-Hearts?”
Lilith’s head bobbed dangerously in her direction, swinging about to scrutinize Becky more closely; her malice was evident, but Lilith merely coughed and answered, “You think the God who created a trillion-trillion galaxies and the space in which to let them grow, confines His purpose to our one little planet! Oh, you are so like your mother – you wretched little imp! If Lincoln would let me – I would kill you!”
At this, Becky’s haughtiness shrank. She saw that Lilith was serious. And while Becky quailed, within her eyes, the defiance still remained.
“Ah…, Lilith,” I said, hoping to distract her, “you were telling us of the Mirror-Heart…”
Lilith sniffed in derision. It sounded like the snort of a big horse. Lilith looked away from Becky and into the water before us.
“Yes, the Mirror-Heart. I’ve found nothing like it anywhere. For you see, it can reflect the images of others, those on the other side of the forest, or those on the other side of the universe. And although I did not fully understand it when I owned it, the Mirror-Heart can see the entire universe in a single glance: from its beginning unto its very end. Do you understand this? The Mirror-Heart can see across both Space and Time.”
Becky shrugged, unimpressed, regaining her confidence, she said, “Like a time machine.”
Lilith made a sound that sounded somewhat like a laugh; but with a half-formed beak for a mouth, the sound came out shrill, like that of a high-pitched siren. “Fool! Not like a time machine – for the terminology ascribes control over Time.
“Space is not empty. The universe is filled with the biological tendrils of all living things – past, present, and future. These tendrils rotate with the planets upon which they live, breed, and die. These tendrils are the biological trail left carved upon the face of the universe. All things make them; from the insignificant mosquito to the mighty elephant — where they go and what they do in their lifetimes – it is all there – it is all recorded and cannot be undone.
“And each sun, spinning and dancing about its own little galaxy, lives, dies and makes anew — spewing the particulates of life outward, populating the emptiness about it with more of the same. And the bubbling galaxies themselves: they twirl and tumble about each other in a harmony of their own making and their own entirety.
“The universe is an explosion of God’s love – It is thick and it is plastic. It is an entwinement of living thread. It is an entangled, wound-up, growing, glowing, ball of life, — and it grows ever thicker and ever denser as its relentless passage is forged.
“This place, fool; this Wormwood, is a visceral scab within it – this place, this Wormwood is the scar upon its divine face. This Wormwood… this Wormwood is your time machine, fool!
Lilith’s malevolent tone hung in the air between us. Becky stared up at her; her face was one of surprise and shock. I could tell that her picture of the universe had just changed. Mine too, I think. And after a moment, Becky let her eyes fall away and she stared wonderingly into the water at our feet.
And Lilith continued.
“…The Mirror-Heart, its two divine pieces, Adam’s and mine, are like two rainbows – pathways between all places. But now, both are lost.
“Both? I thought you said only yours was lost?”
“It is true, exnzpat. Mine was lost, as I told you.”
“Between the rocks?”
“Yes, between the rocks.”
“And the one that belonged to Adam?”
“Lost too – but in a different fashion…
“It was many centuries before the Lord returned to us. When He finally did, He expected to find the brood of our multiplication. But when He saw that nothing had occurred between Adam and me, He called us to council.
“’LOOK AT THE BEASTS, LOOK AT THE INSECTS, LOOK AT THE BIRDS, LOOK AT THE FISHES, LOOK AT THE PLANTS – LOOK ABOUT YOU – AND YOU SEE OBEDIENCE ALL ROUND YOU. WHAT HAVE YOU TO SAY FOR YOURSELVES?’”
“Adam, who is a fool of a man, immediately rattled off a lengthy grievance against me. And the Lord, seeing that I had not submitted to Adam, grew angry – but, and this is important, He saw also that Adam had not showed me proper manly fidelity, becoming infatuated with his own image in his Mirror-Heart – and at this, the Lord became furious. He snatched Adam’s Mirror-Heart from his hands and threw it into the ocean-deep. Adam did love his Mirror-Heart… more than he loved anything… more than he ever loved me – and with it gone, I became his shabby, second best, and forevermore, he begrudged me for it.
“Then what became of them?”
“In all other times, beyond 1939, both Mirror-Hearts are unknown and lost. Wormwood does not reach beyond your year of 1976 – so travelling backward into earlier times to retrieve either, will not work.
“The Mirror-Heart: that which belonged to Adam, is destroyed. It was destroyed the instant the two Scudamour’s changed bodies in 1939, near Orfieu’s tower.
“Wait! Two Scudamours?”
Exasperated, Lilith snorted, “exnzpat, you know this — the man who owned your little home and murdered his wife and son? His body was that that was possessed by the Scudamour of the future. The future Scudamour inhabited the first Scudamour’s body, much as you do executionerofthewill’s.”
“But then… who was the first Scudamour – the one who was possessed – I mean before he was possessed?”
“He was named Scudamour also – he was born in 1917. He was a student of Orfieu’s. He found Adam’s Mirror-Heart and brought it to Orfieu. In it, while he and Orfieu studied the device, they saw the future Scudamour, and in a rage of fear and passion, the young Scudamour flew at the Mirror-Heart. In the collision that followed, their two souls became exchanged.”
I remembered the fresco in the building below the water, and stared at the water as if thinking I could glimpse it one more time. The sun was definitely getting lower, and the fading light gave the water’s surface an oily, greasy look to it. Yes. There had been a room full of men, five men. No, not five. There was a sixth man in the room, barely visible though, hiding near a doorway, spying I think. But all of them captivated by an odd looking television device – was that Adam’s Mirror-Heart? And the man, the running man, he was young then, perhaps early twenties. But still, even though much older in 1976, I easily recognized him from the newspaper clipping – and the other…
“Does the Scudamour of the future have a horn? Something like a stinger?” I touched my finger to my forehead.
Lilith’s lips had disintegrated into weathered wrinkles that one might expect to find on an elephant’s thick, gray skin, and I felt she was smiling grimly at me.
“Yes,” she breathed, “you do know him after all – for he was inside you.”
Silence descended upon us. I felt Becky’s eyes upon me; gauging me; judging me, so I looked away.
Lilith broke the silence with a hollow cough. “Yes, exchanged. The souls of both Scudamours switched places, and in doing so, the Mirror-Heart, Adam’s Mirror-Heart, was destroyed.”
“Wait a minute,” said Becky, “there had to be two Mirror-Hearts. One in future Scudamour’s time and another in our Scudamour’s time – you said, 1939, right? So that means that the other Mirror-Heart was yours – and so then, both Mirror-Hearts were destroyed, right?”
Lilith looked at her but made no derogatory comment, obviously thinking the question a good one.
“Yes. It is a conundrum, and that is the trouble with understanding Time and Space. But no, it was the exact same Mirror-Heart – of that, I am sure — that which existed in both Times.
“Time and Space appear to move in a single stream, but that is just the symbol-type communication between your perception of the universe and the universe itself. Believe me, the universe is a single thing — and that which belongs to God at the beginning, remains his at the end. But no, it was Adam’s Mirror-Heart in both places; otherwise the exchange of souls would not have been possible.
“Only my Mirror-Heart still exists, intact. Where it is I wish I knew. But it was the first thing Scudamour sought when he found himself trapped in your twentieth century.”
“How did he know it was something he could look for?” I asked.
“Yes, yes. Indeed, I asked the same question.
“I first knew of his presence when he made Wormwood. Wormwood was much smaller than it is now, but it was just as devastating to the universe, already it was sucking things into it at an alarming rate. Forests, lakes, mountains…” she looked towards the hanging mountain: its snow covered top glinted green in the failing light. Its bulk however, seemed more and more ominous because of the oncoming darkness.
“—but Scudamour knew me when he saw me coming for him. He must have once seen me once in Adam’s Mirror-Heart, while I was looking into my own Mirror-Heart, all those years ago, before it was lost. It is the only explanation.”
Lilith stopped speaking for a moment here, perhaps to reflect, and then began again, “Had he not made Wormwood he may have gone undetected. Such a thing as this will catch attention.”
“Attention? Attention from whom?” asked Becky, her boldness returned. “I never heard of it. It wasn’t like it was on the news.”
“No, no you would not. It is invisible to material-bound souls – and yet — here it is,” Lilith said, sweeping her hand before her, as if that explained everything.
“Using the blood of his wife and child, Scudamour built Wormwood with his science — and now, with the blood of exnzpat’s family, it is enhanced. The Scudamour of the future, of all creatures, is but a type of man, and only Man has command over science. And with this science, he built this place. It is vast in length but short in breadth and depth. In Time, it begins in your year of 1976 and stretches forward billions of years unto the very edge of Earth’s last moments in Time. In Space, it begins in your little rental home, exnzpat, and reaches forward to the exact same location.
“Understand there can be no such thing as a time machine in the Universe, because of the conflict it causes with Space.” This last, she said to Becky. Lilith’s long neck swung to stare at her.
After a moment, when Becky realized that Lilith expected a response from her, she said, “Why not?”
“The cellular density that is your fleshy self; that which in itself is made of neutrons, protons, electrons — and even all those things — made of even smaller particles yet, are employed before your birth and again after your death in other things and in other locations in the universe. You cannot travel within the universe through Time because all those parts that make you you in Space, are busy elsewhere. And so, this extraordinary, monstrous thing; this Wormwood, is a bridge that avoids this problem. But as magnificently brilliant as it is, it is killing the Universe, for Wormwood is supported from within, not from without.”
Lilith stopped speaking and turned to look behind us. The sun was almost set.
“Blood,” Lilith said softly, so softly, it was almost a squeak “is Wormwood’s skeleton.
“Traveling in Time, within the universe’s space, is the domain of the material-bound soul. The space traveler is the thing you reference as your ‘body.’ Together, spirit and body, you pursue an immediate future, but nothing more. And to travel; to travel through Time like your books and movies do, cannot be done. But, subset one of the two, as Scudamour has done here, and then and only then, is it possible.”
Lilith shuddered, and let go of my hand. Her great metamorphose was done. Her beautiful face and beautiful skin was no more — all of it overtaken by the crocodilian disease inside of her. She sighed and stood shakily to her feet. A crescent of the sun was all that remained. And we were suddenly aware that a dim night had fallen. There were no stars in that strange sunset but neither was it entirely dark, the last rays of light wavered in the sky like octopus tentacles, and an effervescent, ruby glow emanated from the water at our feet. Becky’s face seemed to be a pale, pretty blob, and Lincoln’s nose and whiskers shimmered in the water’s eerie blush.
Lilith reached a hand to me. I took it and stood beside her. She towered above me – surely fifteen feet now.
“Time travel in our Universe can be accomplished, but only by the transfer of the spirit – one body to another: one Scudamour to another Scudamour. And this is how he came to your world and your time – through Adam’s Mirror-Heart.”
Becky looked up at us; she did not move. With her legs in the water and rubbing a hand up and down Lincoln’s neck, she looked like someone who had just dropped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. “And your Mirror-Heart?” she asked.
“Yes. You would ask that…” said Lilith, and I felt a wry smile come to her lips, even though I knew it could not physically be there. “…the Mirror-Heart can overcome the limitations of Space and Time, Body and Spirit. And this is why the soul of future Scudamour sought it — and seeks it still.”
“But Lilith,” I said softly, “what of you. What of this disease that has overtaken you.”
“Our time is almost done, exnzpat. I will finish my story and then you will know everything.
“In future Scudamour’s time, it is the last of the mammals. In his far off time, the humanity of Earth, and even that of all worlds that flow in the same Universal-Space-Time-Ring are in transition between animal and insect. The insect species is the more successful and therefore the merger and conquest of mammalian nations is at hand. But humanity fights!
“Future Scudamour is that creature – both man and insect – though he does not know it. He believes himself to be a man – a special man, nonetheless, and a right and just leader to his people.
“He does not see himself as the monster you see him, exnzpat. His people admire, fear, and love him for what he is. But he is fighting a losing battle. The insects are greater in all ways. Scudamour and others of his kind dabble in the art of science, hoping to defeat their enemy. They study the knowledge-base of Time hoping to find a weapon in it.”
“A weapon? What sort of weapon?” said Becky looking up at us.
“Anything. Biological to begin with -– Scudamour studied the body’s cells and the structure and division of such.”
“Genetics,” Becky exclaimed.
“Yes – this is what you call it.
“He would take children and cut them apart to study their growth, inwards, and such, also, their minds. Children are simple things, and their minds, unaccustomed to the reality of their own single Time-path, make worthy subjects upon which to test history’s hypotheses on Time.
Recoiling from the horror of it, Becky blanched visibly in the eerie half-light.
“Why would a human body, especially a child’s, have anything to do with time travel?” asked Becky.
“I have explained this,” Lilith looked down at Becky, “Time is perceived only within the body and the blood that courses through it. It is the Symbol-Touch – that which exists between flesh and soul – the universe and the spirit — the communication between what is, and what is not. For you see, the entirety of the universe – the real universe and all of the Time in it, is but only an instant.” Lilith clicked two talons on one hand together. A bony snap filled the air, “This, child, is why the Mirror-Heart is so special. It can manipulate it all – both Space and Time.
“How Adam’s Mirror-Heart came to the first Scudamour, or more correctly, Professor Orfieu, in your century, I do not know. What I do know is this: Once when looking into my Mirror-Heart I glimpsed Orfieu near his tower. I recognized him as a learned man, but more importantly, the young Scudamour was with him, and both were looking into Adam’s Mirror-Heart. What they observed in Adam’s Mirror-Heart was the construction of a stone tower. The structure was not unlike a tower close to their very own location, although at that time, neither man recognized it.
“Did you recognize it?” I asked.
“No, of course not, I saw this many million years before either Orfieu or the first Scudamour were born. But when the tower was built in the early twentieth century, I knew it instantly.
“So it’s a real place?”
“Of course it is real place, exnzpat. It is the new library at Cambridge University.” She paused, and because I must have appeared dumbfounded, she added, “… in England.”
And I guess I was dumbfounded, because all I managed to say was, “Oh.”
“Suffice to say, exnzpat, I watched this tower with interest over the passing years, waiting for the coming of Orfieu. And when he came, I watched his life from afar, and keeping pace with it, I witnessed the very exchange of the two Scudamour’s.
“You didn’t try and stop it?” said Becky.
“No, child. For I did not understand its meaning nor its consequence…, at the time it was no more than a curiosity to me. For why should I see this strange, dark tower in my own Mirror-Heart – what were any of these people to me?
“And I doubt I could have stopped the exchange. I did not know it was coming. But as I am a creature capable of such a thing – exnzpat and your foolish little boyfriend, executionerofthewill, are but an example of my power – I knew it instantly when it happened.”
“He’s not my boyfriend!” snapped Becky.
Lilith paused, swung her elongated neck to and fro, almost as if she were laughing. “Then why follow exnzpat home, thinking it was him?”
I wasn’t sure if it was an effect of the setting sun and the ruddy reflection from the pool at her feet, but Becky’s face reddened to that of a ripe tomato. She looked away and barked angrily, “Shut up!”
Lilith turned to me and hissed, “She will tell you when she’s ready, exnzpat.” I was not ready to jump into an argument between either of these two, ignoring Lilith’s last snarky comment; I asked, “Well, what happened after the two Scudamour’s exchanged bodies?”
“He ran. He was confused and did not know what had happened. Much later, I caught up with him and befriended him but, and I assure you: he was truly a creature out of step with time, for he could never find his place in the twentieth century. Eventually, in the 1950’s, he drifted toward America. He married in the late sixties. They had a son.”
I remembered the dark haired apparition of the little boy, and chill went through me. Lincoln had seen him too. But the boy had run from me, hiding somewhere in the small bedroom at the rear of the house.
“But Scudamour,” said Lilith, “as lost as he was, he still had the knowledge of his former place in the universe. He had the secret knowledge of the Blood: its pace, its flow, and its Ransom. It was with this knowledge that he created Wormwood. But Wormwood itself is not his weapon; it is simply a bridge – a way home. What he really wants is the unbroken Mirror-Heart: my Mirror-Heart. It still resides somewhere upon the Earth, hidden. Its location, he did not know of.
“But a few years before building Wormwood, he began to search. And Scudamour collected what information he knew of. He hid that information up here in Wormwood. The texts he gathered, those scrolls, they are the footprints that will point us toward my Mirror-Heart. He might have found it too, had the authorities not captured him in the place you call the Carolinas and brought him home to trial.”
The Carolinas! Yes, I remembered that – and more – I thought of the fresco below the water. The one with the man, woman, child, and Lincoln in it, and the word carved into the tree.
“He killed himself in the rental. I read that in the newspaper.” I said.
“Yes. Indeed he did, but instead of allowing the normal progression death takes upon the soul, Scudamour eluded it, by slipping up here into Wormwood. And I came to fetch him back.”
“When was that, 1977?” Becky asked coolly. “I did the background research on exnzpat’s case. I work for the County Prosecutor. And if I remember correctly, Michael Scudamour, a fifty-nine year old white male, murdered his wife, Camilla, age forty-two, and their seven year old son, in June of 1976. Scudamour was captured about seven months later in Raleigh-Durham. He was extradited home in February of 1977. He committed suicide in exnzpat’s rental home in June, 1977, during the on-site portion of his trial… so, if you came to fetch Scudamour, you were a little late off the mark, don’t you think?
“And besides all that, it’s 2010 now. Why’d it take you twenty odd years to finally get this guy? And why’d you wait until after he killed exnzpat’s family? Also, you say he’s caught – but also you say he’s not? So what’s the real truth?”
I feared the worst. But Lilith just hovered there, staring at Becky. Lincoln snorted in his sleep, and surprising himself the way dogs sometimes do, woke and looked about. He saw Lilith and creakily stood, and then sat again with a huff. Becky complied, and within a minute or so, he was asleep again.
I’m not sure if Becky realized how close to death she came at that moment, if not for Lincoln, but instead of tearing Becky limb from limb, Lilith said only, “I have explained to exnzpat why I waited — he will tell you if he wants.” Lilith squeezed my hand gently, and I loved her for that.
“As to the twenty or more years, it is of no account. The Scudamour I came for was the soul of the billion year distant creature, entombed in the ‘fifty-nine year old white male,’” Lilith tweaked her talons in quote, mocking Becky’s use of Scudamour’s legal description, “—and that body’s death – the first Scudamour – he who was born in 1917 — was a blessing. But yes, if you are wondering. Scudamour, the soul of the future Scudamour, after the suicide, hid here in Wormwood for those twenty years. When exnzpat and Lincoln came to his little home he saw his chance – and I saw mine. For you see, this place, this Wormwood, as I have patiently explained, is not part of the real universe, and therefore, is exempt from its rules. It was the smell of blood that drew Scudamour out.”
“And like a vampire, you followed,” Becky added tartly.
I was amazed at Becky’s boldness, and in my mind, Lilith said, “Oh, exnzpat, she is a tiresome one. Watch out for her, or she will surely bore you to death.”
Despite my lot, I smiled. And to my surprise, Lincoln growled softly in his sleep.
I cleared my throat to break the silence and asked, “Where is the soul of the 1917 Scudamour, the first Scudamour?”
Lilith looked down at me, “He remains trapped in the far off future, in future Scudamour’s body. He resides in Orfieu’s tower now, I think. Perhaps you will meet him if you travel far enough.” She looked up toward the mountain and my eyes followed. A chill went through my body; I suddenly realized that every footstep I made in this place was a step into the future.
“But Lilith, what of you and Adam?” I asked. I suddenly did not want to think of either of the Scudamour’s or Wormwood anymore.
“Ah, my first and only husband – it was sad parting, but the divorce was legal, for our marriage was never consummated.
Lilith stopped speaking here. In her mind, I felt a pang of sorrow and regret but beneath it all, I detected a boiling anger.
She began again, “And so here was a quandary for the Lord – a self-Love that was unexpected. Adam so loved his reflection. What was the Lord to do, but lay him down in the red mud once more and draw from him another wife, not from the red mud, but instead, from within him. And so a new dawn was begun: your Mother, Eve, came into the world, and Adam loved her because she was more like an echo of him, than I ever could be.”
“But what of you?” I asked, truly sorry for her.
“I was cast out. The Lord saw my disobedience, and he knew I loved the world more than the Husband he had given me. And he said “YOU LILITH, I SHALL PLACE AN ENMITY BETWEEN YOU AND THESE TWO. YOU SHALL WALK THIS EARTH BY DAY AS THE CREATURE I MADE YOU, AND BY NIGHT, AS A COMBINATION OF WHAT YOU MOST LOVE.’
“And then, with His hand, He caught my heel — and now you know me.
“The calendar of the Lord is long – and bitter…” she added in lament.
In the silence that followed, all three of us turned to look at the incredibly high mountain hanging above us. Its singular snowcapped peak threw off sparkles of red and yellow; it was the sinking sun’s last ditch effort to strike at this freakish world. And seeing this, I turned to look at the sun – and yes – it did seem to be finally gone. And in the last of its glow, standing above us, atop the dais with his back to the sun, was John. He was looking down at us with fear in his face, for he saw Lilith fully transformed, and I assume he saw her as a monster.
“John,” I called, “it’s quite safe. Come and join us.”
He hesitated, and then looked over his shoulder as if speaking to someone. After a few seconds, he turned back to us, and said, “I cannot. That creature you keep company with is evil.” Then, looking directly at Lilith, he said, “He comes – and wishes you be gone when He arrives.”
Lilith’s long neck bobbed up and down in silent acknowledgement, but she said, “Tell Him to wait – I am not yet done.”
John just stood and stared at her, saying nothing. Then, in a fearful voice, he asked of Lilith, “Tell me creature. What is this place?”
“This place is the center-point of Wormwood – the Altar of sacrifice. No place. Not even an abomination as Wormwood will be without a remembrance to the Ransom.
“My former Husband built it here – He built here for you, John of Patmos.”
“And the water at your feet?”
“That is not water, John of Patmos, it is blood.”
Becky and I followed John’s gaze. I paled, almost fainting. In my memory I heard a scream – it was my daughter’s scream – I remembered dragging her by her hair, down the hallway. I remembered a nail-puller. I remembered a carpet knife. But there was a real scream, too — it was Becky’s. Gasping, she pulled her feet from the pool; her face was contorted in horror. She sidled back away from the edge on her butt. Her legs and feet left an awful smear of red across the stone, as she went.
I almost tipped forward into the pool headlong, but Lilith caught me. Her great yellowish, reptilian arm gently pulled me back. In my mind, I heard her say, “Not their blood exnzpat. But the Blood of the Ransom: Him, Crystalson, for here He comes.”
I was mentally dazed, but managed to look about. Becky was crying, and John, keeping one careful eye on Lilith, went to help her. Only Lincoln seemed unperturbed; he was still asleep! I saw no one else, but I suddenly felt a new presence among us. The air was thick with the tangy, sweet scent of ozone.
I looked into the pool, and yes, the water had changed. It was now thick, viscous, and dark. Whether it was really blood or some trick of Lilith’s, I could not tell. Becky let John help her to her feet and she trotted quickly past him without a word. She picked up executionerofthewill’s poor, abused Armani jacket and scrubbed wildly at her legs. I thought I should go to her and help her and then decided against it. She seemed a woman in control, despite her circumstance, and besides, John was standing right there. And as apothecary, he would help her if she really needed help.
I cried without speaking, “Oh, Lilith – what have I done? Where do I go? How do I get home?” In my mind, Lilith answered, “Only water washes blood.”
“But you said to beware of the water?”
“Water washes sin too. Do you want to wash away into nothing?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know. I don’t know what I want.”
“You want life? You want your family?”
“Then beware of the water. Beware of the forest.
“And remember, the past cannot be changed – this is true – for I have explained it to you… but…”
“—but the Mirror-Heart — your Mirror-Heart!” I said with hope.
“Yes, exnzpat, now you understand. My Mirror-Heart has no boundaries. With it, anything is possible.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks. I rubbed at them with my free hand. Could it be?
“You must move forward. Find Scudamour’s scrolls. Find my Mirror-Heart — and remember — anything is possible. Find my Mirror-Heart and I will help you.”
“But your Mirror-Heart – your Mirror-Heart is lost! You lost it between the rocks, so long ago.”
“Yes, this is true. But exnzpat, Space does not change, only Time. And in time, rocks become sediment, sediment becomes dirt, dirt becomes dust, and that which was once hidden, can now be found.”
And it was as if a mighty weight lifted away from my shoulders. I had hope: for the first time now, I had real hope. Suddenly my mind was filled with the practical aspect of the quest and I asked her using my voice, “What of the trap-door? Back there in the desert – the one that leads back into my rental? How do we get home?”
“It will soon be no more. The water of the Universe is slowly filling Wormwood – trying to destroy it. What is lost in Wormwood cannot be reclaimed. But do not worry, you will find another exit. All ports of entry and exit into Wormwood are beyond the mountain. Once you find Scudamour’s sacred texts, either I’ll point you home, or you will find an exit you recognize.”
“How will I recognize something I’ve never seen?”
“You will know it when you see it. But fear not, exnzpat, we will be together again… when the sun rises. Find me Scudamour’s texts and I will show you the way home, then together, we will find my Mirror-Heart.”
Becky shuffled gingerly toward us, “Why water?” she asked. Her dress she had lifted and folded beneath itself, revealing egg-brown, attractive thighs.
Lilith looked at her as if seeing her for the first time, “Water cleanses blood. It absorbs and washes it – it is a cleanser, a healer — the blood of exnzpat’s family fuels Wormwood now – but to be sure, there is not enough water in all the universe to quench its wildfire growth. Wormwood is runaway. I doubt Scudamour himself knows what he has done.”
None of us spoke for a full minute. The only sound was the sound of Lincoln’s snoring. I looked behind me and saw that John was still there — but steadfastly, kept his distance.
Becky stood beside me and looked suspiciously into the pool of what was once water but now was blood. She was so close to me I could feel her warmth. Lilith, on my right stiffened and I felt her claw begin to tighten about my hand, crushing it. Before I could say anything, Lincoln’s snores began to be punctuated by little growls, and thankfully, Lilith’s grip diminished before she broke my hand.
AND THE THRONE COMETH
A booming, cracking sound came from behind us. Lilith turned and released my hand. To John she said, “I am leaving.”
And then, in a stooping, limping gait, she stepped upon the pool of blood and began to walk atop it.
Becky and I gaped in astonishment, and so devastating must have been the look upon our respective faces, Lilith admonished us both. “Surely, you did not expect any less of me. This is the quickest way to reach the forest beyond.”
“But can’t you fly…?” Becky asked weakly.
The sound behind us came again, and looking toward it, Lilith ignored Becky’s question.
“He comes.” Was all she said, and then, “Remember, exnzpat, beware of the water and beware of the forest. Keep the Moon at your back and stay out of the shadows. Find shelter soon, for it will be cold and dangerous when full dark comes.”
“How will I find you again?” I asked, suddenly dismayed by her departure.
“Lincoln will lead you. And remember,” said Lilith, looking coldly at Becky, “this woman is not your destination – even though you may think it so.”
LILITH, I BID YOU, DEPART
Those were the words I heard, but the language was not vocalized, for it came to our ears as if it were thunder.
Both Becky and I jumped at the sound; Lincoln woke and barked into the darkened sky; he stood, stretched, and came over to us and looked curiously at Lilith standing atop the pool of blood. Becky bent over and grasped his collar. I think she was afraid he would try to follow Lilith out onto the blood.
Another great sound came to our ears – but this time it just sounded like thunder – no words were articulated.
Lincoln shook himself free of Becky, and instead of following Lilith, he walked slowly and purposefully toward John.
“He comes, exnzpat. Won’t you stay?” called John to me. Behind him the darkening sky seemed to swirl like a mad Van Gogh, and where the sun had almost, but not quite sunk, a bizarre light, like that of a refracted crystal seemed to rise above it. And from it, iridescent beams of bright, hot, white light cut the black sky with incredible precision.
I looked at Becky, and she at me. Her eyes were wide with amazement, as probably were mine, for so startling was the vision. I turned to Lilith to ask her what it was we were witnessing, but she was gone. I caught a rustling in the underbrush of the forest on the far side of pool; I imagined that it was her.
Lincoln had gone to John, and was nosing at his outstretched palm. Behind John, the crystal thing continued to rise. Golden clouds ringed the strange apparition and filled the sky above our heads in a vaulted, golden glow. If it rained, I thought, it would rain gold dust.
The higher the crystal rose the more distorted the dark sky and golden cloud became; the two seemed to intertwine just then, swirling like water caught in a maelstrom, everything spun.
The smell of ozone was strong now, and dry thunder filled the air almost continuously, bursting above our heads and making us jump. The noseeum bugs were back too: biting and pinching at our skins. Becky and I slapped wildly at our arms and legs.
Suddenly, great pulses of the white, sharp angled light shot about us. Whatever was coming shook Wormwood like a child’s rattle. The great mountain above us seemed to be no more than an anthill in comparison to the great, rising crystal in the West.
“John, what’s happening?” I shouted. The roar of thunder splitting the air boomed so loudly now, we had to cover our ears.
Was all he said, and I noticed that Lincoln stood beside him as if he had chosen him as his new master. Suddenly, I remembered the question I wanted to ask – and despite the enormity of the hullabaloo round us, I asked, “John, may I ask what language we are speaking in?”
He looked surprised, but nonetheless, answered. “Why, Greek of course. Would you rather we switch to Latin?”
“No. Greek is fine…”
Becky looked at me as if I had just asked the dumbest of questions – and I supposed I had. I shrugged, and looked back at John and Lincoln. It was clear Lincoln was staying with John. And looking toward the mountain, beyond the dais, I saw a path made of cobbled stone leading in its general direction. Beside the path, one of the perfectly straight skeleton roads ran, disappearing over the ridge, its surface shimmered in the crystal light like the blade of a finely polished cutlass. I liked the look of the stone path better than that of the skeleton road — that which is made of blood! The stone path looked friendlier — if one could make such a judgment about a pathway, but friendlier also meant safer, and I so wanted to be safe. I pointed it out to Becky, and she nodded, understanding immediately.
I looked back to John, and smiled “– yeah, let’s stick with Greek, cause this is all Greek to me.” I joked.
The Apothecary studied me without humor. “Will you not wait until He comes? The angels have promised me: He will see you.”
“No Sir, I cannot.”
The very thought of standing before this Crystalson was frightening to me. Who was He? I guessed that He be God, who else could he be? Over John’s shoulders, silver, gold, and white light braced him like a harness; the man seemed to glow like a neon bulb, and the darkness was struck away from him as it were terrified of his presence.
Lincoln watched Becky and me; it seemed he was smiling at the two of us. He barked several times in an affable manner, as if to beckon us forth. Neither of us moved. We each had our reasons. For me, the thought of standing before God with only my bloodstained hands to show for my short, sad, little life, was so shameful – so terrifyingly wrong – that I could not budge one inch. Lilith had given me hope – a slim chance to undo my hand (or Scudamour’s hand), perhaps then, if I fix all this, I could stand comfortably before this Crystalson, but not before; definitely not before.
And Becky? She did not move.
“Goodbye John. Thank you for what you have done for Becky.” I lifted my hand and waved, slapping at a bite from a noseeum bug at the same time.
Becky raised her hand too, and smiled.
The old man smiled in return. He called to Becky over the din, “The flesh is weak – but in weakness you will find your strength.”
Then he turned to me and shouted, “exnzpat of the rental, it is sin that defines us. Strip away too much sin and there will not be much left of any of us.”
I took one last look before we turned toward the stony path. In my mind I will always remember John’s kind smile at that moment: poignant and sad — seemingly, for the both of us.
A great bubble of bended, crystallized light moved behind him: shifting and growing, it spun and swirled. The dais beneath our feet began to glow; it was as if we were standing in the middle of a golden column of light. Lincoln glowed like a single chip of molten silver.
We stepped off the dais, away from the great Light and the great happenings, leaving them behind. As soon as we left the dais the noseeum bugs got worse. My belly too, kicked by a mule of emotion, made me laugh aloud. I grasped hold of Becky and I could see tears of joy rolling down her cheeks. We were like two mischievous school children who had just ditched our school books and were playing truant. There were sounds too. Hoarse and guttural, and they seemed to come from within us, eviscerating our very souls.
We slapped and hit our way to the path. And as soon as we reached the path, the biting and the intense emotional feelings inside us, stopped. But we were happy. And we brushed at our arms and shoulders and laughed at each other. Becky’s bright smile lit her face; her dark hair framed it in mystery.
Together we turned to look at the dais. The dais was awash with brilliance; its glow lit our path ahead. But of John and Lincoln, nothing was to be seen. It was as if the light had swallowed them both.
I looked at Becky, and she at me. Neither of us said a word, it was a comfortable unspoken moment. I reached for her hand and she gave it freely; together we turned our back on Crystalson, John, and Lincoln. We didn’t need them. We didn’t need anyone.
A few hundred yards down the path, Becky stopped me. The air was cooler there, and the light coming from the dais splashed against Wormwood’s upper atmosphere like a strobe light, giving me the presence of mind that Wormwood might have a ceiling.
Becky looked at me and said, “You know she’s lying, right?”
“Yes, Lilith, who else?” Her tone was curt. “If ever there was a lying bitch, it’s her.”