The Bride of Endor
Mia left the old nurse to her magazine and finished her rounds. There were nine children on the floor with five rooms empty. It would be an easy, quiet night she decided, and perfect for her purpose. Of all the children but Lester F were recovering from chemotherapy. Two were to go home in the morning and the others to remain another three or four nights, depending on their conditions. All were stable, and all rested easily on low doses of morphine or oxycodone.
Mia slipped back into Lester’s room and turned the cock to CLOSE on her drip bag of painkillers. An opiate would interfere with her business and she needed the child alert. It would take a few hours for the drug to wear off, so Mia sat in the room beside Lester F’s bed and began to chant softly with her voice and mind. She called upon the deep-hid forces of the rich, dark earth and up to those that live in the sky: white-boned and dead, human decay leaches and fills soil with dark power. And Lo, the sky! Flowering black-thunderhead, lightning-white, yea, the sprite of life, dances upon the whole of it.
Within a half-hour, Mia made contact and child whispered weakly into the room.
“Are you an angel?”
“No,” Mia replied truthfully. Lies do no good to those who walk the precipice, only truth can prevail in that autumnal place. Mia wanted no mistakes. Even an ignorant child knows truth when Death creeps close.
“My name is Mia. I am your nurse tonight.
“How are you feeling?”
“I feel better. Am I better?”
“No. My hands and words can only make you feel stronger, but Lester, I shall be truthful. You will die.”
The child lay still, digesting this horrible truth, and Mia knew that the child saw her words as true–probably she had always known it true.
After a while Lester said, “I don’t want to die. What will my mother do? I don’t want her to cry.”
Mia reached out and put her hands on Lester’s face, cupping her cheeks.”
Lester immediately responded, shifting in her bed to try to sit.
“Shhh… you’re too weak, child. Be still.” And Lester slid gratefully down onto her back again, saying, “Oh, but your hands feel so good, nurse.”
“Yes. I am old. I have special nursing skills that other nurses do not have.
Lester did not question this, for Mia’s hands felt immeasurably good. She felt stronger inside, but her body, when she moved it, did feel much the same as she had come to know it in recent times. She asked Mia, “How old are you nurse? Are you as old as my mother?”
“How old is your mother, Lester?”
“Thirty. And I’m nine–just yesterday!”
Mia chuckled, “Happy birthday, then, but to answer your question, I’m many hundreds of years older than your mother.”
Lester said nothing to this, only she knew it was not a lie, and yet, it could not be true.
“Do you believe me, Lester?”
The girl hesitated, not wanting to be rude, for she had always been a polite child. “I can’t believe it, but at the same time, I think it’s true.
“Are you sure you are not an angel?”
Mia smiled kindly, “Yes. I’m very sure, child.”
For a long time neither girl nor Magus spoke, then quite suddenly, Mia felt Lester’s essence begin to jump wildly. Inside Lester’s dying husk, Mia’s magic snatched for and grasped at that slippery, indestructible thing Plato mistook for three things and Bacon for two things; the Soul, Mia knew, was but one thing–and like an electric eel, terribly hard to catch and restrain.
“Lester, I need you to be brave for a little while, can you do that?”
“Yes, nurse, I think so.”
“You are a good girl. I must leave for a few minutes to do some other work, but I promise I will be back.”
“No please, nurse, no…” But it was too late, Mia had already left the room.
Lester felt strange inside: she felt ready to run and play, to swim in the ocean, even. She had done that once, a long long time ago when her father lived in her house. Something was happening to her. Something strange was inside her. What It was she did not know, only, it exhilarated her like no other feeling she had ever felt in her terminally, short life.
* * *
Matt E took Becky to a small Italian restaurant he knew. It was quiet, out of the way, and dark. Its dim lighting was better suited for lovers than for old friends. Becky gulped at her wine when brought to the table and she quickly ordered another before the waiter left with their meal order. She had barely spoken since arriving. And Matt, knowing her well, waited until she was ready to speak. After a while, when she said nothing, Matt E hazarded conversation: “executionerofthewill told me he asked you out tonight.”
“Hmm… yes, he did.”
“And… nothing. You asked me out first. I wanted to talk to you anyway… about yesterday…”
“The exnzpat house?”
The waiter returned with her drink. Becky took a small sip, put down her glass and smiled gratefully at the man, and once again, fell back into her silent reverie.
Matt waited. He knew whatever she had to say dealt with the touchy subject of her father, or at least the ways of her father and of dark, magical things.
Another waiter came by. He reset their cutlery and after he was gone, Becky said finally, “Mattie, it was golden, the house I mean. I don’t know how that could be, but it was.”
He nodded, guessing as much.
“It makes no difference to the case, you know. What you say won’t leave this table.”
“I know.” And she reached for him and he took her hand and looked into her eyes. “You’re a good friend, Mattie. You’ve always been a good friend to me.” And at this he cringed inside. He wanted more. He had always wanted more.
Her fingers slipped from his and went to her glass. She did not drink; fiddling with the stem, her newly manicured fingernails tapped lightly, as if keying a distant, forgotten Celtic tune. And in its rhythm, Matt E dreamed an imagined dream of love he knew she would never return.
* * *
“It’s you, right?”
“Yes, Ben. It’s me. It’s been me all along.”
Ben remained quiet and then blurted out, “No… no it ain’t bin you, don’t lie to me, exnzpat.
“I know you!”
I sighed and tried to sit up. My body felt foreign and alien now that the young, lean, muscular frame of executionerofthewill was gone; it seemed everything about me but my mind had atrophied into a stiff gel. Somewhere in the back of mind, I said to myself, damn, I need to get into shape, but I knew it to be a weird vanity–for it was such a ridiculous thing to think at such a time.
I managed to prop myself up against the padding of my bed head. Since my self-mutilation and subsequent healing, I had lived with a slow throbbing pain behind my right eye. It comes only in times of stress or worry. It is not debilitating, but it hurts like Hell and it came to me now, sitting there on my bed, sounding like a heavy hammer against an empty pipe.
I asked Ben for some aspirin.
“I gave you aspirin an hour ago. You’d know that if you was here.”
I lifted my hand to the side of my head and held it there. Whatever he had given me it did nothing to ease the rhythmic thunking within my head. With little else to do but continue to delay my murdering of Ben, I used the banging cacophony in my head to guide me towards Wormwood and Lilith. But I found nothing. Absolutely nothing. So instead, I wondered how executionerofthewill was faring under Lilith’s vicious grip, probably not well, I guessed. Better him than me, I decided finally, remembering Lilith’s anger. And thinking it, I smiled.
After a while of sitting quietly, the drumming began to ease. It allowed me to think straight, and I asked of Ben: “What day is it?”
He hesitated, but finally answered, “Tuesday.”
“The Tuesday after Monday,” he quipped. “When we took you to your home. You know, you was lookin for something. But you didn’t find it.”
I digested this news with real amazement. I’d been gone only a single night! After what seemed like months of trekking across Wormwood almost no time at all had passed here on earth, but then Lilith had said Wormwood was like a time machine. Walk in one particular direction for a certain distance and you can reappear in some other place and time, but no, that’s not quite right, is it. Only if you use a Thin Place is it right. And I did not return through such a place. Lilith controlled my presence in Wormwood and no other, and that in itself is something entirely different. For a few minutes, I tried to wrap my head round it and then simply gave up. For it seemed impossible. One thing I was sure of, I missed Wormwood. I missed having a full and substantial human body. I missed Becky. In fact, I missed everything about my new life in Wormwood. Most of all (and I admit it freely), I missed Lilith.
I was here now. I was me again, and for now (because I couldn’t give up hope Lilith would need me again and soon), that would have to do. Slowly, it dawned on me I had something now I had not had before. Hope. Though, I’m not sure it qualifies as a life improving thing for my kind: the murdering kind, that is. But, at least it was something.
“Ben. How old are you?”
“It’s a simple question,” I stated; and I repeated, “How old are you?”
The chair shifted. I opened my good eye and looked in his direction. I saw only a blurred image: a smudge of white coveralls and a black head above it. There were no discernible features about him, and I was glad of it. I did not want to see his face when I killed him.
In a frightened voice he said, “None of your business.”
I changed the subject. “What are you doing in here? Suicide watch?”
“Yeah. Your buddy was acting so weird we was told to sit wit you… him a while.”
“We? Were’s Jerry?”
“He went to pee.”
Hmmm… I thought and, he probably went outside to smoke too. I noted that my hands were free, too. I figured executionerofthewill discovered how things worked around here and had begun to behave himself.
“Did he try bargaining with you?”
Laughing, Ben said, “Yeah, course. You all do.” I liked the sound of his laugh. It was rich and deep.
“Yeah. How long’s Jerry been gone?”
“Jus few minutes. Don’t you try nothing.”
“I dunno… but don’t anyway.”
I changed tack, thinking how small my murder-window was.
“Mia? How’d you know bout Mia? I never told you bout her.”
“Sure you did,” I lied. “But while I was gone, she killed my dog.”
I saw the white and black blur that was Ben stand. He stood awkwardly for a few minutes doing nothing in particular and then sat back down. The chair barked again as Lincoln used to when wanting his diner and we were late with it.
“You don’t have a dog, exnzpat. You been here a whole year now. Dogs and cats ain’t allowed.”
“A whole year, but for last night… like you said.”
He remained silent, so I said again, “How old are you, Ben?”
“Okay then, how about you tell me where you met Mia.”
He hesitated, finally relinquishing his grip on his obstinacy, and said, “France.”
“Really,” I said, suitably intrigued. I had not expected that.
“During the war.”
I wish I could have seen his face better when he said that, though I noticed his body slump in the chair in a kind of resignation.
“The war–there was only one war.”
“No. I’m pretty sure there were two in France.”
A long moment passed and he said, “No, jus one, I think.”
I didn’t want to argue, so I asked, “Well, how’d you meet Mia then?”
“I got hit by bits of a bomb. She was my nurse.”
That made sense, I thought. It’s common knowledge that nurses sometimes fall in love with their patients. But which war?
Ben said, “Mia helped me when no one else did.”
“How do you mean? Surely, she was only doing her duty?”
“No,” he said carefully. “I was put wit the dead, and she found me there. Mia never gived up on me. I know she’d never kill your dog, exnzpat. Never… she ain’t like dat. She loves life like nobody I know.”
* * *
Sunday’s wedding bells toll:
The Bride steps heavily upon the stair. Jump or fall, she does not care.
He, cloaked in gold and she in white and cream, listens impatiently below for her step upon the stair above.
He calls up to her—are you come, Elizabeth my dear?
And she, like a Wraith or Specter-near, grimly takes the stair: first of seven-by-seven leaden step, down she comes.
Appearing up there, to the lookers below, to glide like silk upon silk. None of them knows the depth of stair and weight of step, for the Earth beneath her trembles as she comes. Her head is heavy upon her snowy shoulders. Pushed and shoved with each unwilling, downward step, here she comes.
She wishes to fall. For the stair is steep and built of daggered and ancient wood.
The Pretender holds her upright–keeping her true. His urging, gripping, tightening fingers wrap round her shoulders like wooden blocks; he steadies her with Pyrite hands, keeping her true. Steep and steady–down she comes.
Her face, peeled bright and fixed to the horror of things to come, glues the hallowed shape of serenity to it like an ethereal paste.
And down she comes, counting step as time.
Forty-nine: the magic number, it is come.
The stair ends and she is there among them. Hands of the novae reach toward her, touching hair and face; propelling her hungrily forward, she is come.
They are filthy beggar’s hands (she thinks). Masked faces hide identity; heavy, syrupy song wretched and wrenched asunder pours forth from cardboard mouths into the milky-warm atmosphere that is the hot breath of her father’s home.
An unwilling bride to be sure, for false unity, her immediate destiny, waits…
Under sticky hands and hot, anxious grunting–to the ancient runic rhyme she is bound, constrained… she is a woven prisoner lost within their song.
Her head reels, she loses herself completely to their touch. For as foul as she finds their harmony, she becomes their unwilling, ecstatic vessel; and filled with their supernatural, ugly desires of want and purpose, she submits.
Doubling now, their earthy, musical cries strike the right cord of those airy, celestial wanderers alive in Deep Heaven above.
Come! They cry.
White-Moon, Red-Faced Mars, Yellow-Haired Saturn, Fiery-Jupiter, and that mystical groom, husband to be, Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Face, Come!
The bride’s misty head swirls under their unnatural hymn. The chorus screams to Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Face. “Bring us your fairy power. Bring us your Magic, bring us your gift!”
A part of her, that of automatic Bride-self, that which keeps her breathing and moving, feels herself lay down upon the hard stone pedestal, that solar center of that forbidden, special room–the inner sanctum of her father’s home.
Joined to cardboard faces, wooden hands reach for her. They smooth down her wedding dress and, beautiful again, she senses a falling back of bodies, making the magic circle bout her as in olden times.
The chorus wails and, the Pretender, stepping forward, begins to chant and weep.
The others join him. Their tempo and rhythm changed now.
Their cry, their human, beggared prayer now heard, petitions those four necessary, ecstatically intermediaries: White Moon, Red-Faced Mars, Yellow-Haired Saturn, and that bold gladiator, Fiery-Jupiter, to their aide.
Blue-Uranus, wrong-faced and god of all, riding the sun-line, waits.
Red-Faced Mars comes first. His rough and ready ways employed to snatch the wedding band from jealous Yellow-Haired Saturn’s waist.
Yellow-Haired Saturn second: “Release your band, Oh Saturn, dear. We promise to return it untarnished,” the cardboard chorus sings.
And Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Faced waits.
Red-Faced Mars, in his raw, hard, vulgar way can be violent, but the tune is pitch-perfect and the rhythm successful, for Yellow-Haired Saturn, in her womanly way, caves on this hallowed Sun-Day morning, for today she is found generous and giving.
Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Faced waits, but impatiently now. For Red-Faced Mars can be unpredictable and guarded with the gifts of others.
Fiery-Jupiter, lit bright and tumultuous, he, the great son, wrestles the band from Red-Faced Mar’s terrible grip. And Red-Faced Mars falls back angrily into his warring orbit, his face redder now and bitterer than before, for all the trouble he has taken this day.
And seeing Fiery-Jupiter’s success, Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Faced waits, now enjoying the earthy chorus as it seeks crescendo.
Only White-Moon remains, for she is the last bastion. Only White-Moon knows the secret ways of women.
Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Faced, His perch lofty in that higher blackened sky hears the call and begins to descend, for the bride’s ring finger, naked, tiny, pale, and untouched, is outstretched and ready to receive Him.
Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Faced, topsy-turvy in head comes to the forefront now. He is steady, resolute, and firm.
Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Faced stands proudly before her, but White-Moon is a strict and proper chaperon, and He can go no further without her permissions.
White-Moon looks to Fiery-Jupiter. She takes and studies the band. It seems in order, and the musical magic that comes to her demands communion and consummation of all the band symbolizes.
(The quirky strange orbits of her brothers and sisters estrange Mother-Earth, frightening her. She seeks audience with White-Moon, calling wildly for her to set things right.)
White-Moon ignores her, for Mother-Earth is weakest and shallowest of them all.
And Green-Venus glows, not with envy, but with lust. Excited, she enjoys Mother-Earth’s wobbly, quailing quaking. Of nuptials, Green-Venus knows, there is nothing to fear.
And White-Moon sees: It is the Sun’s day. The bride is ripe and the band is proper. White-Moon listens for arguments, but none but Mother-Earth’s come.
Nodding her ghostly head, White-Moon gives away the bride. Blue-Uranus-Wrong-Faced rights his spin to match that of Mother-Earth’s. He boldly steps down from Deep-Heaven and, seeing his bride, falls hungrily upon her.
Brilliant blue fills the bride; she gasps at his presence within her.
Suddenly, Blue-Uranus-Right-Faced, caught off guard, stops. Frozen in Celestial-interruptus he calls out to White-Moon.
“What trick is this?”
But White-Moon is gone. And the Pretender, the Pyrite-Father of the bride, steps forward demanding a tithing for his daughter-dear.
And He, the great Blue-Uranus-Right-Faced, discovers the clever trap set for him. But he has begun… What choice does he have but none?
But what a strange tithing this is. Carry the bride into the near future…? Surely, surely there is more? but nothing more comes, and He consents, and He finishes what He has begun–blue, golden, and more, Blue-Uranus-Right-Faced descends.
(And sleepy Sun watches with grim resignation, dismayed at the celestial gathering of Her begotten, spoiled children.)
* * *
Matt E reached across the table and caught Becky’s hand. The tune she struck against the wine glass was rhythmic, singularly toneless, and annoying.
“Becky? Are you all right?”
Breaking her remembering, Becky looked to his face. Matt E spent too much time working. His face was freckled and pale, he needed more time in the sun, she decided.
“The house was golden, Mattie, but there was no blue. It demanded nothing of me. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.”
“You’ve never told me what it was like before, but for being golden.”
She nodded, and said, “Yes, I never told you, for you might expect more from me than I could ever give you.
“You see it was a strange world my father would send me too. It was liberating but not very interesting… at least not for me.”
“What then. Where did he send you? What was it like?”
“On those Sundays I walked to Wednesday or sometimes all the way to Friday.”
Matt E frowned. He did not understand.
“Don’t you see? I walked into the future, just a few days, sometimes a week, at most.”
“What did you do there?” he asked, puzzled.
And she laughed; the sound was bitter. “What do you think I did? The only thing a stockbroker’s daughter could do in the future.
“I read newspapers, Mattie.” “Fucken newspapers!” she spat. “And that was all I ever did there.”