The Hive Mound of the Chora
Lester’s Eidolon looked at the golem and said, “Down!” She pulled him into a crouching position in the deep snow, though why she did it she did not know.
The boy stared at her and whistled softly.
“What?” Lester asked annoyed, for she felt the boy’s attention hotly upon her cheeks.
“Your eyes are blue again…
“I like you better when your eyes are blue.”
“My eyes are blue. Why’d you saying that?”
“No they’re not. Sometimes your eyes are brown, and when they’re brown you’re mean.”
The Eidolon stared at the golem. She had nothing to say to that, but she had been experiencing strange blackouts, where she seemed to sleep and then suddenly wake in different places, just like now. She had pulled the boy down because something had compelled her to do so. And looking ahead, round the leaning tower of rock that struck upwards from the ridge, she saw two people and a dog standing in the snow.
One was a woman and it was obvious, because she was naked. The other was a man who seemed to be searching for something in the snow with his foot. Then there was the dog. The boy had said something before, when they were in the forest, about finding his lost dog. Lester’s Eidolon turned to him now and asked, “Is that the dog you were talking about?”
The boy looked ahead. It was snowing again and so it was difficult to see much of anything clearly. The boy did not answer. Lester’s Eidolon wondered what the boy was thinking; she saw his eyes widen, focus and then refocus on the trio ahead in the snow.
“What is it?”
The boy grabbed at her arm, pinching her. “Lester, I think that’s my dad there.”
The Eidolon looked closely at the man. “Are you sure?” The man’s trousers were torn and he wore a white shirt. His hair was dark and cut short. He was quite handsome, but in his face, he looked nothing like the boy and also, he looked too young to be the boy’s father.
Eerily quiet, the boy said nothing, studying the man. The boy’s face looked lost and confused. It was as if he searched his mind for something, something precious, something lost.
* * *
Nervously, I followed Lilith. She kept a respectful distance behind the strange creature and, as she walked, she did not speak with either her mouth or her mind. There was something going on though, I felt it there when I looked. A presence indefinable and vague hung round our necks as if it were a set of headphones blaring nonsensical words. And in me I sensed a desire to understand those words and, being acquainted to the concept that headphones are fitted over the ears and not round the neck, I knew I would never understand what was being said until I understood the function of the device that pressed so vigorously against me.
The presence was more of an impression really, much like a painting or a still frame photograph, or something like a page of print. It was an image or a shape of sorts, something resembling the feel of rough fabric against the palm of your hand: the strange sensation filled all of my body and all of my head. It was an inky, heavy feeling, pregnant with color but etched in grey, it was not invasive instead it remained at a tantalizing close distance; I felt I could touch it, if I knew exactly where and what it was I should touch. It was much like the sensation of standing on a very soft carpet in a very quiet house, but in that quiet, noise and motion seemed to be everywhere, hidden in the soffits, corners, baseboards, and beneath the carpet’s very underlay.
With each step, I began to see things. They were the same things about me: the trees, the grass, the bubbling brook, Lilith, and our guide, and yet these things seemed blunted and dull–their edges melded together and faded to nothing. I began to see everything in two-dimensions. Everything was flat. My eyes were useless. Whatever the presence inside me was, it needed no eyes to see. My entire body seemed filled with this two-dimensional, flat-screen panorama of the immediate world about me and, the sensation of it in me did not seem entirely alien. It felt… dare I say it, natural.
We came to the edge of the wood. And the weird sensation inside me fell away and my eyesight returned. Before us, I saw what I thought at first glance to be a pyramid. At our feet, a wide field of soft, green grass stretched away to the pyramid’s base. It was as tidy and as neat as any cultivated American middleclass lawn I had ever seen. The expanse of greenery caught my eye and I cherished its beauty for what it was; I admired its luster and color, for it was the richest and prettiest thing I had seen in Wormwood yet.
Taking my eyes from the lawn, I looked past Lilith and our weird, spindly guide with its long, loping legs striding ahead of us and looked to the pyramid itself and, studying it, I saw it moved. Wait! The whole of it was moving; it shimmered and shook like a desert mirage under a hot sun.
I stifled a gasp of horror and froze in my tracks. Sensing my shock, Lilith turned, caught my hand and pulled me forward like a reluctant child on his first day of school.
As with one of those 3D eye puzzles, my eyes could not focus on any one particular movement to discern any real shape to it, other than its general outline, which, as I said, I took to be pyramidical. And the longer I looked, the more detail I saw. It was made of long, pointy sticks and the sticks were shifting about, one atop the other, they slid, crawled, and crept across one another in a fashion that was purposeful and deliberate. It was no pyramid! It was a giant, swarming, heaving mass of insects!
Lilith pulled and I dragged my feet across the lawn. The closer we got to the writhing mound of creatures, with their ruddy pink, human faces peering curiously at us, the more frightened I became. I saw their long, brown, stick bodies shifting and heaving atop one another. It was a ballet-schizoid! A lunatic’s nightmare! It was madness! What were they were doing? What was the meaning of this haphazard, infestation of locusts? Did they feed off some dead thing that lay beneath them? I did not know. And asking the question, I did not want to know.
“Dear God,” I muttered hopelessly as Lilith pulled me along.
Resisting Lilith was pointless. She was strong. Stronger than me, stronger than any man and so, forward to the ghastly, crawling chaos we went. I wanted to scream.
When we reached the base of the heap, the creatures immediately before us shifted aside. They made a tunnel in the pyramid with their collective bodies. Their long faces, careworn and probing, stared at us without emotion, as Lilith, without a single word, fought with me before the entrance they had made for us.
Lilith pulled me forward a few feet. I tried to break her grasp, pull away and run back to the woods, but she was too strong. She pulled hard on my arm and, turning, slapped my face so hard it sent my head ringing. She grabbed my shirt and dragged me inside.
Everything inside was made of living crawling insects. The walls and ceiling were insects. Everything but Lilith and I were insects. They were so close I could reach out and touch them… but I didn’t dare–my God, why would I? My mind was awash in a roar of revulsion. I wanted to run screaming in terror from the outrage of it.
As I struggled with the idea of flight and the stinging pain of Lilith’s slap upon my face, the insects, with a dry rattle of their shifting wings and bodies, closed the exit behind us, trapping us completely. My chance was gone.
Imprisoned and encased in a tomb of insects, I put my free hand to my mouth and bit down hard on my knuckles. The urge to scream like a hysterical child was very real in me.
* * *
The golem opened his mouth and emitted a small, painful squeak. Lester’s Eidolon looked at him confused; the boy seemed anxious and remote. With his little face creased into a painful frown, he continued to study the man in the snow.
Lester’s Eidolon focused not on the man, but on the woman. She wore no clothes! Moreover, the Eidolon was shocked and embarrassed by her nakedness but, at the same time, saw the woman truly beautiful. Never before had she seen a more beautiful woman. Her long, golden hair, whipped by the wind and driving snow, seemed to shine like that of the heroine off the cover of the romance novels her mother read while sitting by her bed. And what’s more, the woman appeared unabashed by her nakedness in front the man. She stood like an alabaster statue in the snow, pristine and perfect. Her beauty radiated about her like a ghostly halo, cascading round her as if it were a crystal-clear, fast running mountain stream. And as suddenly as the Eidolon thought this, she blacked out again. Her eyes were brown once more.
The Magus turned to the golem.
“What do you see?”
“My Dad,” the golem replied.
* * *
The Hive of the Chora was an enormous mound of piled insect-human-like creatures, one atop the other; stacked like a Devils game of Jenga, the throng crawled, crept, ate, slept, and did God only knows what all piled together! The horror of the hive’s walls, ceilings, and archways were THEY–and when the entrance closed behind us, we were plunged into total darkness. But after a few moments, a faint eerie, yellow light began to fill the tiny cavern in which we walked. I looked up. The yellow light came from the bellies of those creatures hanging above our heads: those that made our ceiling. We walked forward, or more truthfully, Lilith dragged me forward. The little cavern about us shifted with us as we walked, taking us deeper into the hive. The insects before and above us and those at our sides stared at us with wide, round white eyes as they shifted to give us passage. The only sound was the rustle of their wings and bodies as they scraped against one another. And always, immediately behind us, their bodies closed together tightly, eliminating any exit whatsoever. It was a living tomb in which we walked, and a panic began to rise in me as I had never before experienced. Oh, God! I shuddered. Looking up, studying the living ceiling above, I saw that the yellow light came from the transparent stomachs of the insects. I saw enumerable dark objects swimming inside their bellies. These black, eel-like things wriggled inside their hosts just as worms do on a wet sidewalk after a heavy morning rain. I looked quickly to my feet. It did not help. The floor appeared to be made of wooden planks and, for a moment, I was impressed by its normalcy in this bizarre, horrible place; the impression did not last long however, for as we walked, embedded between two boards, I saw a human face staring up at me. The face lay, staring upwards and I came to the sudden realization that what I took to be boards were really the outstretched wings of thousands of insects, all of them but this one, lying prone and still on their bellies whilst we walked atop them. I hurriedly stepped over the face. It looked up at me with its wide eyes, imploring me to know it. I grasped Lilith about waist and went on. I breathed hard in her ear. I was hyperventilating, I think. I shut my eyes and let her led me. She did not push me away and for that small mercy, I was glad.
The sad face of the insect in the floor, with its prominent, pink nose and deep-set, childish eyes seemed dismayed at my reluctance to return its gaze.
* * *
“The man?” the Magus asked.
“Yes, he’s my dad. Not his face… but him.”
“Then wait,” the Eidolon with brown eyes commanded. And despite wanting to run forward, the golem remained fixed in the snow, but not knowing why.
* * *
The Magus on the couch in the hospital room touched at her face, breasts, and knees. She called to what was left of Lester’s soul, snatching but only a tiny piece and allowed it to draw her into the Shadow Lands.
She ran again, for to stop and stay meant certain death, and looking to her right she saw her own Eidolon come and run alongside her.
The ethereal grayness and terrible terrible wind of that world pounded her body and grasped at her feet, demanding she slow, but the Magus threw mighty spells at all of it and kept her pace, giving no quarter to the shadowy harshness about her.
Her Eidolon spoke. “How is it sister that you are here but not here, I see you nowhere until now?”
“Something is wrong,” the Magus shouted into the wind. “The string and the soul it contained took us to another place, what place it is I do not know, but it is not here.”
“That is not possible, sister. There are no other places but here, your world, and beyond those two, only death.”
The Magus ran in silence for a while and said finally, “Could we be wrong? Could some other element have tainted the string? You know of the house! You know of the dragon! You saw it too!
“I have just seen the man whose eyes released me from that place. He is real and he is living. Look in me and see if I lie!”
Now it was the Eidolon’s turn to remain silent. She too had seen Wormwood.”
“Other worlds… Could it be?”
“It must be…”
“But how? Is there a magic beyond our comprehension?
“Life, death, the world and the heavens above, and those that dwell below… what else is there? What else could there be?”
“Sister, I’m afraid… I… don’t know. I…”
The Eidolon’s eyes widened and she shouted.
“Go quick, sister. Your spell is broken; the golem is on the move.”
* * *
All round us, the dry scratching of insect upon insect filled my head. The sound of it was like the crunch of a concrete mixer; it was an awful sound and horribly loud. I tried to close my ears and mind to all that I was hearing and seeing; I concentrated only on my clasped hands about Lilith’s naked belly and nothing else. I tried to project my mind into Lilith’s head to speak with her, but she pushed me away, directing me back into myself. And once there, the queer feeling that had taken me while walking through the woods returned. I saw myself as a two-dimensional thing again. I saw myself as if I lived in a photograph or an oil painting. In this image, this painting, I saw Lilith walking ahead of me, just as we really were, along our terrible, ghostly, yellow-lit, living hallway. The oils of the canvas seemed to run out of me like arrows to a destination unknown, and as I looked, I felt Lilith gently nudging me to look closer still–to look and see what she saw.
As before, with each step I took, a new canvas of the same kind presented itself, and like the view one gets when one stares into a mirror with another mirror behind, I saw each canvas as a step into the near future. We walked forward. I saw forward. I walked forward. And looking into this stacked canvas mirage, I found I could slide past my present position in one canvas and then on to the next without taking any real step at all. It was weird! So, taking experimental mind-steps, I slid through the oils ahead of my real self. The colors of the many canvases wrapped about me as if they were paint; they let me in and gave me easy passage. Soaked in so many colors of reds, blues, yellows, and greens and their contrasting shadows of grey and black and everything in between, on I went.
Like flipping through a cartoon sketchbook, only then does any single image make any actual sense, and so I slid through these oils slick with awareness and dripping in amazement and, coming back to Lilith and me in the present picture frame, I saw that the canvases also stretched back into our near past. I shot back to look and found myself outside the mound standing on the soft, green grassy plain before the pyramid of monsters.
Wormwood’s pitiful sun (whichever one it was) waned upon the horizon. I looked about the frame. I stood where I had been when Lilith had slapped me. And taking up the flowing stream of oils once again, I slid back to the stone in the forest where I had joined with Lilith after crossing the chasm between the mountain and ridge. And here I remained, fully conscious of the framed steps my body was taking behind Lilith, as we moved within the cavern of insects just up ahead in time and space.
At the stone, with her kiss upon my lips, Lilith’s voice came to my head.
“Thank you, yes,” I replied with my mind. “Much better.”
I was not sure how it worked, only that it did. And it was a relief. There was peace here–peace in seeing nothing but the same thing: Lilith on the rock and kissing me in greeting. I stood in that painting, enjoying that perpetual moment. And I would have remained there forever but for the uneasy truth of it: destiny–I belonged elsewhere.
For a long time I remained at the rock safe with Lilith’s lips attached to mine. I was frozen and happy in being so. Then, not at my choosing, a pressing feeling urged me away from the rock and drove me back to the present. With oiled legs and brush-stroked arms, I found my way back to us inside the mound.
I zoomed so quickly forward there was little time for the terrors of my real passage to the throne room of the Queen to affect me. I saw each frame as I went but did not linger in any of them, for I knew the horror of each would simply overwhelm me.
At my return to the present frame, I saw we had stopped in the middle of the hive. The insect floorboards were gone, now replaced by a yellow substance that looked and felt something akin to wax. About us, these waxy extrusions rose up from the ground like Grecian columns. Some were only a few feet high but there were others easily fifty feet. The purpose of these strange formations was unknown. I saw high above and, standing atop the columns like sentries, several insects. Perhaps, I thought, that was what they were: lookout posts. But above it all, I saw the still crawling mass of insects as a ceiling and so, there seemed to be plenty of watchers regardless. The cavern they made about us was massive and, lit by millions of yellow bellies, none of it hid in shadow. The place was easily a mile wide by a mile high. Its mighty expanse alleviated the claustrophobic feeling in me. At last, I felt, I could breathe.
Three other creatures stood beside our guide. Their long, reedy arms touched and rubbed against one another’s. It appeared to be a form of communication, I decided. Back and forth, their abrasive, barbed limbs went until all four seemed satisfied and, putting down their arms, turned to face us.
The tallest of the four removed a small, cut log from a pouch in its belly and held it up for us to see.
For a long moment, nothing happened. Then Lilith moved forward and held up both her hands to take the length of wood from the creature. Naked, small, and white, she seemed tiny before the monster. The monster’s wide, human eyes, saucer-like in size and shape, seemed to shine and I saw an odd wetness come to them when Lilith took the log from its clawed fingers and kissed it with a light touch of her lips.
It was crying! The monster was crying! Tears flowed from its eyes as she watched Lilith gently handle the log. I stood transfixed by the sight, and when Lilith turned and held the log for me to do the same, the other three began to weep, also.
I took the log. It was a simple piece of cut wood and seemed unremarkable in every way but for the expressions on the four creatures before us. Their long, sad faces seemed to grow longer and become sadder as they wept openly, seeing me study it.
If there is such a thing as an epiphany in reality, I experienced it the moment my lips touched the log.
I kissed the log the way Lilith had and everything about me abruptly changed.
Instead of the yellow light emanating about the cavern I saw an inky rain of falling colors–every color! Streams of reds, blues, orange, purples, pinks, yellows, greens, and hues and hues of the entire rainbow showered down upon us. It fell, and as it fell, shapes, and forms that had not hitherto been there, began to appear unexpectedly before my eyes.
What I thought to be waxy sentry columns seemed to lean over and join, affixing and coalescing into strange organic shapes that twisted and wrapped about one another like taffy; they grew upwards from the ground to enormous heights, obliterating the ceiling of crawling bodies above. I saw flying things too. They were not the insects but other things. They looked like wraiths or ghosts, their color was white and they wafted above us like butterflies. They came up from out of the waxy floor as if by magic, flew, crawled, and jumped a little and then disappeared just as quickly as they appeared.
I stood in the base of this living, breathing, blasting rainbow, amazed. Shapes and images thrust abruptly into existence shot crossed my vision like kite streamers fluttering in a strong wind. They lived, but briefly, I think. The sight of it was astonishing.
“Lilith…” I began, but she stopped me with a finger placed upon my lips.
Everything was oils from the pallet of every color. And then, without thinking it, my two-dimensional mirror vision returned. But this time there was one striking difference. My picture-frame view shifted slightly, taking an angle slightly left of center; startlingly bright piebald halos and bulbs of white light exploded about us: the colored rain shone in the faces of the four creatures standing before us and in it, their faces took on the unmistakable effervescent luster of character.
The tallest of the four reached out to me and rubbed its coarse arm gently along mine and I felt his words, thoughts, feelings, and what else, I do not know, for the creature was suddenly a she and I understood her. She was no longer a brown stick-like monster either, but stood proudly clothed in shiny purple dress with long, bright yellow drapes adorning her sides. Other than Lilith, she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen, and her message was, “Welcome, stranger. I am Maxwell, Queen of the Chora.” Her face was kind and her nose crinkled slightly in amusement as I clumsily stroked back at her arm.
I tried again.
“I a called, except.”
And again, “I am exnzpat.”
And I smiled, knowing I got it right. All round us streamers of oils fell to the floor pooling momentarily only to rise up again in a hazy colorful mist within which more winged creatures appeared–each one as strange and as unique as all the others about us. What I was seeing I was not sure, only I felt everything to be instantaneous and good. I felt safe and good, locked in time, and those strange beings appearing as if from nowhere were as real as I was. We, all of us, were painted and frozen and yet, because of time, were much much more.
Lilith reached out with both arms, rubbing at the arm of the queen’s and at mine. She gave the queen her name.
“I know you, Bride of Adam. You are welcome here. Your great Heart is a part of our same story,” the queen replied.
Lilith stroked again at both our arms. “We seek our companion. She is dense to your world, I am afraid.”
The queen responded in kind, “She is in the catacombs below. She cannot see. She does not want to see. There is interference in her mind. She is of us… but holds in her head the spike of the others: he, Scudamour of the Tower of Earth.”
I drew back in shock. I rubbed at Lilith’s arm and asked in my newly learned language what Maxwell meant by that.
Lilith turned to face me. I saw her skin radiant and golden. Her face shone like the new light of day. Her glow was rather startling, so startling in fact, that it took my breath away and I looked down to check my own body. I had a color too, about my neck–my clothing hid the rest of it from me. I pulled at my shirt, popping buttons as I went. I saw my skin as a shiny blue-grey, lucent and polished. I was there but not quite there.
“I don’t understand…”
“Never mind, exnzpat,” touched Maxwell the Queen of the Chora. “It does no good to wonder at who you really might be. Just be your simple self and all will be well, I promise.” I looked into her kind eyes and the rising fear in me evaporated. “I see,” I touched at Lilith. “But what of Becky? What is it Maxwell is telling us?”
Lilith caught my fingers and rubbed her hand up my arm, “Surely you know exnzpat. I knew it the moment I looked into her eyes. There is much of the Magus in her. She does not know this, but all the same, it is there. Her resistance to the wisdom of the Chora is but a resistance to accept the universe as itself: greater than us; greater than what it is, greater and more magnificent than any of us can know.”
“And who are these Chora, then? Who are they to say what Becky is?”
“They are us, some million years or so in the future. Adaption, exnzpat, adaption. See, their bodies are changed but all still wear the face of God.”
And she pointed at Maxwell’s kind, smiling, human face.
I had no words.
* * *
Back in the narrow world of Lester’s Eidolon the Magus saw the golem dart across the snow, his dark hair spotted white with stuck snow, marked his passage. He ran to the man and man knew him. The man fell to his knees, pulling the golem to him and holding him tight at his breast.
The Magus started forward, seeing the dog’s hackles rising. The nude woman shouted something to the man she could not hear.
The dog was going wild again at the sight of the golem. The nude woman grasped at its collar, holding the thing at bay.
That damn dog again! And now it seemed to glow, its coat pulsed madly like an malfunctioning strobe light. It was no dog after all, a demon perhaps. And it had escaped the Cabbit and, the Magus furious because of it, threw the strongest killing spell against it she could muster.
The spell struck the animal with real force, throwing it into the air. The shock, as if it had touched a downed electrical cable, blasted the dog high into the air breaking the nude woman’s grip on it. With one last mighty yelp of pain, the animal fell dead at the nude’s feet with its hair aflame.
The woman cried out. She began to turn to look, her attention though remained with the dead dog. She was clearly confused and horrified at the dog’s death.
Who or what the woman was the Magus had no idea, but she saw gold flowing swiftly from out of her hair. The Magus threw the same killing spell at the woman. It struck but did not stick. The spell exploded off the nude with a thump of diffused white light mixing and melting the snow she stood in. The spell did nothing whatsoever to the woman, for she turned to face the Magus, her eyes ablaze with unabated hatred.
The Magus threw another. And even before the killing words left her mouth, she knew it would fail. Whatever the woman was, she had something remarkable and powerful inside her. The gold spilling from the woman’s hair began to swell about her. The halo, so incredibly brilliant, lit the mountainside in a crashing wave of yellow. It was as if the sun had landed and touched the rocky face of the mountain. The halo cast aside all shadows revealing the pocked and craggy mountain rock in stark black and grays. And seeing this, the Magus grew afraid. But there was time yet. For the nude’s attention was divided, remaining with the dead dog at her feet and with the man embracing the golem. The nude quickly turned to the man and screamed.
The Magus heard her words.
“Something is interfering with our minds! Exnzpat! Can you hear me? Get away from that thing!”
A terrible storm was building about the nude. Gold and silver streamers spun about her like a tornado. The Magus had little time left, she knew, and she used the only thing she had left. She drew from the Eidolon’s mouth the ghost string from house, spat on it and began to rub and whisper dark spells into it. It was ready in a few seconds. The Magus threw it at the woman.
It struck the woman like a wet noodle, sticking and wrapping about her as if it were alive. The woman’s halo evaporated immediately, leaving the mountainside in darkness.
The spells and the string were the right combination. The woman struggled with the tangling, twisting thread and, before it bound her fully, she shouted to the man, “It is a golem! It is an unreal thing. A thing made of wax, flour, dust, and your own wretched sorrow.”
The Magus worked quickly now to encase the woman as tightly and as quickly as she could. As the binding grew stronger the Magus tried to throttle the nude, but there seemed no way forward with that. There was an internal indestructible energy inside her. She was like a stone. The Magus had never encountered anything like it before. The nude was immutable and absolute; killing her was not an option then. Whatever she was, she was not human. So, the Magus built her a fortress of windings so tight that nothing she knew of could break it.
Within seconds the woman stood, petrified and numbed, frozen as the mountain on which she stood. Her last words had been, “Exnzpat, can you hear me? Listen to…”
Any magic the woman had in her was now enclosed and encased inside the string dam the Magus made.
The Magus stopped then, not daring to move forward. She held her head in pain. She was weakening. Lester was weakening. The string was all but lost.
The Magus saw the golem lead the man toward a cave in the rock face. Through her pain, she managed to throw a spell of confusion and superficiality at the man. The spell would dull the man’s mind, allowing her to cast future spells with ease.
The Magus watched the two enter the cave mouth and disappear into its hollow darkness. She thought of a cabin on a lake in Ohio she and Ben had once stayed. She delivered the image into the man’s head and, satisfied with its presence, fell back onto the couch in the hospital room, exhausted, leaving the Eidolon to its own devises.
There wasn’t much time left.
Lester on the hospital bed was almost dead.