Woman and child
There was a deception to this place that I was only becoming aware of. We had walked for sometime before I noticed.
“Lilith,” I said, “we don’t seem to be getting very far.”
Lilith turned her gorgeous face toward me. “Exnzpat, really — have you not been listening? I thought I explained; three of Time and one of Space. Things here are not as they seem.”
“Well, I see that distances here seem to be longer… I think…”
“It is not that distance is longer it is that in this place there is only one plane of Space to each three planes of Time. In this place things are not as they appear.”
“Whereas, in my universe, outside my attic,” I paused to stop. I knelt and gently lowered Becky onto the nearest bank of sand. She was breathing a little easier now. I thought that to be a good sign. “… There are three planes of Space and only one plane of Time?”
“Correct.” Lilith stopped to watch me set Becky down, “are you tired exnzpat?”
“I don’t think executionerofthewill’s body is used to this much exertion. I just need a few minutes to rest.”
Lilith clicked her tongue uncharacteristically. I wasn’t sure if that was sign of annoyance or acceptance. Carrying Becky was hot work. I definitely felt cheated. If I was to be absorbed by a fantasy then surely it should not involve heavy lifting! The sun here seemed larger and hotter; it beat down relentlessly, even though it had every appearance of settling over the horizon any moment; it seemed not to move. Lilith, even in human form, seemed totally unaffected. Her nude body had a nut-brown tinge to it. She seemed perfectly adapted for heat. But then, with body like that, she was perfectly adapted for anywhere! Lincoln looked hot, but even with his tongue lolling, seemed fine. Looking back — the way we had come — I could still see the pine board slab that marked the exit back into the rental. It looked to be only a few hundred yards from where we were now, and yet we had been walking for a least an hour. The lush green forest of oaks looked no closer either. I looked at my watch, or rather executionerofthewill’s watch; it was a Rolex and judging by its weight on my wrist, expensive. The hour-hand had continued its march clockwise about the face, towards eleven. But oddly, the minute-hand appeared to have moved counterclockwise, following the second-hand. The anomaly of this place did seem to affect Time, but how? Surely the makers of the Rolex had built a geared system that reacted according to the exact geared position of the second-hand. While one can reset the time on a watch, either backwards or forwards, he only does so through the exacting mechanism of the watch’s geared mechanical linkages. So how, I thought, could two hands oppose the third?
Lilith sat, interrupting my thoughts. She combed back her long blond hair with her fingers, pushing it back behind her ears and squeezed it, pulling it tight. She opened her mouth and reaching in, with thumb and forefinger, she delicately withdrew a strand of string from between her teeth. She used the string to tie her hair back in a ponytail. I was about to say something but stopped, stunned by the performance.
“I do like this form best — don’t you exnzpat?”
“Ah… Well yes, of course…”
Lincoln growled and came over to where we sat. He sniffed at Becky; licked her face and wandered over to Lilith and collapsed in a heap between us. Lilith scratched behind his ears. A most human gesture, I thought, and not for the last time would I wonder exactly what kind of creature Lilith really was.
“What is this place? I asked her, changing the subject.
Lilith looked at me. She reached out her hand, gesticulating. “Imagine the universe as a tree, which, within that tree a beetle burrows. It burrows deep, both to keep house, and to feed. The beetle multiplies, as our Lord intended, but unfettered and unchallenged the beetle and its offspring expand their nest. As the nest grows it eats the tree from within – until – eventually the tree dies… At one-third, the point-of-no-return is reached. We are not there yet – we have some time still! But, that is what this place is: a nest within a great tree. Beware of the water exnzpat – it is necessary – but it is poison. Beware of time – it is not on your side. Beware of Space – things are not what they seem. And when night falls – and the dangerous things come out – I cannot protect you. You must be very very careful.”
I sat quietly digesting what she said. I pushed a length of dark hair away from Becky’s forehead and inspected the wound. The blood had dried hard and thick, making a great scab in the tangled hair. Even though there was still a risk of concussion, at least the blood had stopped flowing. The girl’s breathing was even and regular now; another good sign. But how on earth was I to explain her kidnapping when she woke?
We were sitting on the edge of a sandy dune. In the distance we could hear the rhythmic motion of the sea as it washed over the beach-head somewhere between us and the dunes beyond. The smell of sea-salt was stronger now. Up ahead, the forest loomed. I felt a sense of foreboding at Lilith’s words, and so, changing the subject asked, “I wonder why she,” I said indicating towards Becky, “would be following me, or at least executionerofthewill?”
“Perhaps the child is in love.” Lilith answered.
“That’s my suspicion too. But why? Executionerofthewill is a first-class jerk.”
“Only womankind has the gift of inner-sight. She sees what only she can see; and who is anyone else to question her?”
I said nothing – only: I thought about how insensitive and arrogant I found executionerofthewill to be. His foolish desire for wealth, and his obsession with belonging to the party-set of the State’s elite: a celebrity of emptiness, I thought. It created, in him, a self-absorption bordering on the verge of star-struck vanity. Each time I summoned him to the asylum his behavior was more and more giddier than the last. He wanted only to impress me. He kept talking about who he met, and at whose house he had met them. But it was the parties he mostly bragged about. Their exclusivity created desirability amongst the party-set he trolled the State with: a mix of minor celebrities, politicians — local and national, and wannabe moneyed party-boys and girls like him. Vapid, puerile, and pathetic were only a few of the adjectives that ran through my mind while he told me of these conquests and trysts. Though, to be truthful, I did welcome his company while in the asylum. I never tried to lecture him or admonish him for his foolishness. He was all I had. And that was even sadder, I think.
Could this girl Becky see past all that? Could she really see something I could not? Perhaps I’ve grown cynically in my murderous-old-age.
“You are cynical exnzpat.”
“I see your ability to read my mind hasn’t been diminished in this place.”
Lilith smiled, her eyes laughing at me. “You like what you see exnzpat? You like the form I have become?” She leaned back on the dune exposing her breasts and midriff. She took a handful of warm sand and let a dribble over her right breast and stomach. “I always know what you’re thinking exnzpat.” Her voice was soft, low, and demure.
I swallowed hard, not able to take my eyes off of her. But then, an odd thing; Lincoln began to growl; low at first and increasing in kind, and then finally, barking angrily and loudly at Lilith. He stood, shaking the sand from his own body. Menacingly, he faced-off with Lilith.
“Oh! Stop it Lincoln. I’m just having a little fun.”
Lincoln continued barking viciously at her, snapping his teeth together. His hackles rose up, straight along his back like a regiment of tiny stiff collared soldiers. He snapped at her again, his growl shrill and dangerous. His coat began making rapid color changes between black and white, and Lilith, in a spat of what could only be called childish anger, threw what sand was left in her hand in Lincoln’s face. She jumped up, “I hate you!” she yelled and turned away and walked over to a single scrubby bush, sat, and put her face in her hands and sobbed quietly to herself.
Stunned by the their behavior I stood and began go to her but Lincoln suddenly turned his attention on me, growling hotly, the rapidity of his color change began to speed up, and his body began to grow in size. From within his teeth and jaws, salvia foamed. He took one step towards me and I took one step back. He was like a wall – a barrier — a thing of order and purpose; impenetrable.
I sat back down and watched in surprised annoyance as Lilith lifted her face from her hands, and seeing that I wasn’t coming to her, stand and stalk back towards me. I could see she hadn’t really been crying – just pretending. She smiled at me unapologetically, not coy, but more of a careless grin that said, “You caught me – so what.” She shrugged her shoulders and sat back down in her original spot. Lincoln relaxed some. Not trusting either one of us — he kept one wary eye on me and the other on Lilith. After a few minutes he dropped his attack-like posture, his coat now steady at some color in between white and black. He walked carefully over to Lilith, and with tail lowered, licked her hand.
Lilith sat up on her knees and said, “I know friend. I know. I don’t hate you – I love you because you are all I have.” Then she looked up at me and said, “See exnzpat. Wherever one goes, and no matter how far one travels – there are always rules – even here in Scudamour’s nest. Rules define us exnzpat. Remember that.”
Was she testing me? I wasn’t sure. I looked at her, and then at Lincoln, and not for the first time did I wonder at their relationship. Lincoln was sitting up beside his mistress and she, demure and serious, scratched at the top of his head. Lincoln’s eyes drifted closed and his color change began to pulse in time with his wagging tail which thumped up and down in the sand behind him.
Looking at the two I was struck by the thought of symbiosis; a duality of wantonness and structure, linked but divisible. But I wasn’t sure of what any of it meant.
“Lilith, you have a cut on your foot.” I said at last, breaking the silence.
Lilith looked down, turning her foot to see. On her right heal smarted a grim red smile of a cut.
“Yes. It does this…” she began sadly, but looking behind me at the setting sun, changed the subject, “…the evening shortens. Let us take care of our little intruder first. I am anxious to speak with her.” She indicated towards Becky.
“He likes this place exnzpat.” Lilith looked at Lincoln. “He always did love going to the beach.” I said, remembering. Lilith stood; her face against the setting sun. Her statuesque body radiated a powerful glow of primal sexuality, stoutness and strength. I swallowed hard and turned away. The blood on her foot burned in my heart.
“Come exnzpat our rest is over. The apothecary waits.”
I picked up Becky and followed Lilith away from the setting sun.
With a happy smile Lincoln bounded on ahead, up the path, kicking sand all about him. Occasionally he would dip his head, nose to the ground, find some scent and wander off the path for some distance, only to return later, either behind us or far ahead of us. With giant bounds he would come back to us with the power of a Sherman tank in overdrive. He would come skidding to a halt in front of Lilith, who, kneeling down to clutch at him, would find her arms empty as Lincoln deftly leapt out of reach in a series of great pounces. He ran about her — grinning like a maniac, barking happily. Then he would takeoff behind the dunes again. This game went on for some time but after about twenty (reverse) minutes on the Rolex he finally settled down. A little cooing and soft encouragement from Lilith helped, and eventually he stepped lightly in front of me; his tongue lolling from his mouth. I wondered if he was thirsty. I wasn’t yet – but for the first time I began to worry about our basic needs.
* * *
There were a lot of things odd about this place but something that had been nagging at the back of my mind for a sometime finally struck me. It was not something that was obvious or something that lay present about us or on the horizon. It was something that was missing and so I did not at first notice it. And when it hit me I kept my mouth shut for a few minutes just to be sure. Finally I spoke up.
“Lilith, I don’t have a shadow.”
Lilith turned to look at me, bemused by the look of concern that must have been obvious on my face. The sun, with its low place on the horizon was casting long shadows about us as we walked. Lilith had a shadow, and so too did Becky. Becky’s shadow was rumpled and wide because I cradled her in my arms. Her shadow appeared to float, unhinged from the ground, because mine was absent. Lilith’s shadow was long and slender, elongated, and narrow; it stretched out before her in the direction we walked. Lincoln, trotting along beside me, had a lumpy, ill defined shadow because he was low to the ground; his four legs mixing it up some as he walked. Even the occasional tree or bush had a shadow. But I, it seemed, did not.
Laughing, Lilith said, “Exnzpat your shadow is before you but your mind is too dense to see it.”
Lilith chuckled to herself and ignored any further complaints about my absent shadow. Instead, Lilith changed the subject and asked if I was ready to rest again. I laid Becky gently at the base of the nearest dune and sat next to her inert body. I really hoped the poor girl was alright. Her skin felt pale and clammy now. My earlier optimism for a speedy recovery waned.
“It is easy to become fatigued in this place.” Lilith said smiling. But I was suspicious all the same. I wondered what she wanted. She had not volunteered to rest before now.
Lilith walked over to us and peered closely at Becky, touching her forehead lightly. She sat down next to me. Shoulder to shoulder. Lincoln’s hair hackled but he uttered no sound and squeezed in between us and sat quietly. I felt a tension in his body but slowly he relaxed. His coat flashed rhythmically, matching his breathing, and after a few minutes soft snores and snuffles could be heard from him. Lincoln was asleep.
“I think he tuckered himself out with all that running.” I stroked his head gently. Lilith smiled again and said, “Yes, he is a good dog. He keeps you safe.”
“Lilith,” I asked in a serious tone, “this place – what is it really – you said it was nest but that does not explain it in any kind of real scientific context I can get my head around. What is its form? What is its nature? Also, another question: what is it doing in my attic?” I waved my arm about, taking in the surrounding the panorama of dunes and scrub bush before us.
Lilith, smiling still, took my hand, “look.” She flattened out my hand and placed hers on mine; palm to palm. “Imagine that your hand is Time and my hand is Space.” She slid her hand up against mine while holding mine still. Her hand was soft, like silk – electric to the touch. Lincoln growled quietly in his sleep. “Our universe is expanding and it consists of something we shall call Space – but in three units, and as it moves outward so too do we. Time – in one unit — is apparent because of its stillness against the passage of three units of Space – you see?” She continued to slide her hand against mine. I nodded in understanding — it seemed reasonable. I did not want her to take her hand from mine – that was what I was really thinking! “But now, here in this place; here in Scudamour’s nest, the one unit of Space remains stationary and Time is the moving thing – but in three directions – which in turn, as it does in our universe, complements the Space about it. Space is apparent only because of its stillness.” She slid her hand across mine, keeping the latter still. I stared dumbly at our hands – her hand was lustrously white and her nails appeared manicured — not at all what one would expect in such an ancient being as She. She looked at me curiously, “you do not understand?”
“Well, I’m trying — but I think you just blew my mind, “I answered rather lamely, and then just as I finished saying it, something jumped into my mind. “But wait, isn’t it the same thing, just inverted?”
She laughed and clapped her hands in delight: “You do understand — and so you see that you must take care while you are here in this place.”
“Actually…” But I stopped. She reached down and took my hand again. We sat together in pleasant silence. Truthfully, I didn’t understand a damn thing she said, but her company and her demeanor were so wonderful that I did not want to disturb the moment.
She spread open my hand exposing the palm, onto which she traced a circle with her forefinger. I laughed, bunching my hand — her touch — her finger had tickled me. She smiled brightly. I was intoxicated by her closeness.
Again, Lincoln growled in his sleep.
“You know this shape?”
“It’s a circle.”
“Yes, good — it is definite and simple — a single ratio — good for all. Don’t you agree exnzpat?”
“I suppose.” I answered; which was true enough.
“A ratio is a useful thing do you not agree?”
“Sure, why not – it’s a bridge between a constant like in gravity or the speed-of-light. You are talking about Pi, right?”
“You know of all these things?”
“Well sure, every school child learns the rudiments of geometry and these types of physical phenomena during their formative years.”
“Ah!” She sat quite still, staring off into the distance as if pondering what I had said.
“That is good exnzpat. Then you may understand after all.”
“Thanks, Lilith – that’s really big of you.”
She shifted ever so slightly towards me; sliding across the warm sand on that very perfect bottom of hers.
Lincoln’s sleepy growl reverberated between us.
“Our three-Space universe is propelled outwards at an ever increasing speed. Trapped inside this three-Space is one single heart-beat of Time, and so,” Lilith grasped my hand tightly. Dramatically even! She pushed her face up against mine; quickly she traced the circle once more in my hand; breathlessly she said, “exnzpat, because Time is trapped so too is Speed. Visible light, the most observable reference frame of speed is trapped, but only because Time is trapped! In this place, this nest, Time alternates backwards and forwards in two trapped units. The third unit of Time steps carefully somewhere in between the first two. Because of this give-and-take Time is not so confined as it is beyond the nest. One of Space cannot limit three-of-Time’s growth! And so, this nest, this wormwood, expands faster than the real universe. It chases the boundaries of the real universe. The real universe has a good head-start but if this nest grows beyond that boundary, and then surpass it; then all is lost.”
Lilith sighed and settled back. Her face, up close, gave me the impression of her as one of those old fashioned movie actresses from the 1950’s. Breathless and tragic; pathetic even. Her breasts beat with an unholy desperation, begging for the comfort of a hero. She was far too close and far too beautiful. Then — in an instant — Lincoln was there once more between us. His wet tongue and slobbering jowls pushed between our faces licking us both wetly. He pulled back as we both instinctively put our hands to our respective faces wiping away his slobber.
“Lincoln!” We cried in unison.
Lincoln’s eyes laughed at us. His grin was mischievous and reticent. He walked in a few tight circles and plopped himself back down on the sand with a satisfied grunt.
“Oh, you are so jealous my friend!” Lilith turned and ruffled Lincoln’s ears and kissed him on the muzzle. Lincoln seemed satisfied but he eyed the two of us all the same.
Lilith turned back towards the sand, smoothed it over, and drew a circle with her finger.
“Look at this circle.” She said.
“A single ratio — good for all sizes — you agree?”
“Yes. I said so before.”
“Then imagine that all of Time is confined in the circumference of this circle. Representing Time is speed. And speed we shall define as the fastest speed – that of visible light. Is that okay exnzpat? Is this too much for you?”
“No… I don’t think so. You’re referring to a concept I would call Finite Math or Clock Arithmetic. The speed-of-light is approximately three hundred million meters per second.”
Again, Lilith looked off into the distance – but I think she was really reading my mind! Perhaps, looking away from me while she did this was her way of being polite while she invaded my inner privacy, who knows. But, I was pretty sure she was reading my mind.
“Distance is immaterial.” She said at last, and I was about to argue the point then I remembered the very weird fact that distance actually begins to shrink with high speed, as does time – at least with reference to an observer. I tried to remember my college physics classes. It wasn’t Einstein — it was another guy. Lorentz? Poincaré?
“You’re mind is jumbled exnzpat. Listen closely. This is simple. Let us agree that the circumference of this circle is equal to one unit.” She stopped; her finger in the sand. I nodded assent. “This one unit is equal to the speed-of-light.” She continued.
“Good. If you begin at the top of the circle and you accelerate your speed to one quarter the maximum speed of the whole,” her finger stopped at the quarter past mark, “…then at what speed would you find yourself at?”
“Ahh… twenty-five percent the speed-of-light … I guess.” Lilith looked away from me again. Reading my mind again? What did I mean by the word “percent” in relation to her use of the fraction “quarter”?
“You are correct. Now if you were, at this point, to measure the speed-of-light again – which you say is three-hundred-million meters per second – what answer would you have?”
I thought about it. The speed-of-light is approximately three-hundred-million meters per second. I sure didn’t know the real number off the top of my head, but for argument sake, that was good enough. So, if starting from a speed zero (at the top of Lilith’s circle) I accelerate to twenty-five percent the speed-of-light I would be traveling at seventy-five-million meters per second. The math wasn’t hard. I simply multiplied three-hundred by one-quarter and came up with seventy-five (Lilith was using fractions to make the math easier. And here I was using percentages!) But that was not the question she asked. She wanted to know, at my new speed of seventy-five-million meters per second, what would the speed-of-light be if I measured it at this point? The answer was easy: simply subtract seventy-five-million from three-hundred-million and there was her answer.
“The speed-of-light would be two-hundred-and-twenty-five-million meters per second.” I answered her, smiling. Word games with Lilith – it felt like trading riddles in the dark with my very own Gollum – so smug was I with my answer.
Lilith looked at me; a smile of her own playing on her beautiful lips. She opened her mouth and made the sound of a bleating sheep and said, “WRONG EXNZPAT!”
“I am not!” I retorted, “three-hundred-million minus seventy-five-million is to two-hundred-and-twenty-five-million.”
Lilith’s eyes laughed at me. She waved her arm dismissively. “It is indeed exnzpat. It is indeed. But, that is not the answer. The answer is that the speed-of-light remains the same as it was before – that of the whole – or in your example: three-hundred-million meters per second, just as it was at the starting point.” She jammed her finger at the top of the circle to amplify her point. “Why do you think it was that the sciences were so upset with your friend Einstein?” Not waiting to hear me say that I never knew Einstein or that he was already dead a couple of years before I was born – but of course she knew that! Her dismissive attitude angered me. But, she didn’t let me say so, instead she continued on in spite of my obvious irritation. “Intuitively, Einstein got it right – but it took many years to prove it – but proved it is. Now watch…” Lilith put one finger to her lips, shushing me. She could tell I wanted to argue.
Lilith put her other finger back onto the circle at the first quarter point and followed its curve around to the half-way point.
“Now, here, at this point, half-the-speed-of-light or, as you say, fifty percent the speed-of-light , or also spoken, as one-hundred-and-fifty-million meters per second — at this point — we stop to measure the speed-of-light , what do we find?”
The circle was confusing me; it represented acceleration — from zero to light-speed. And Lilith, her naked body distracting me from what must surely be the obvious answer of fifty percent of the speed-of-light. The obviousness of it must so dictate! But I knew it to be a trick question. Lilith was playing me. She could read my mind so I said nothing – not wanting to sound foolish.
“Yes exnzpat – you are correct. But it is not a trick. The answer is the same – light-speed or three-hundred-million meters per second. It will be so — at each point of the circle – all the way to the top.” She pushed her finger through her sandy circle and let it rest back at the starting point.”
“Okay — I believe you.” More to the point it seemed an argument not worth having. She was way over my head. I knew, through books and TV that Einstein’s Relativity had been controversial during his time but I had no idea why. Suppose what she said was true, then it would alter the way we humans looked at our world, and I guess it did. But the majority of us are not smart enough to conceive of such a bizarre universe, locked like dog chasing its tail, to a very specific speed – no matter fast you were traveling — this very real quantitative speed always remained fixed, somewhere far off in the distance; unreachable. How could that be? And perhaps this was Lilith’s point – she was pointing out a fact that our ordinary lives and our ordinary experiences owed themselves to the extraordinary.
I kept my mouth shut again. I did remember that nothing traveled faster than the speed-of-light because the calculation that cornered the speed-of-light demanded that the energy needed to push an object beyond the speed-of-light increased towards infinity. Like I say; I remembered it but did not know why it was so.
Lilith smiled her brilliant smile again. “Exnzpat, do not trouble yourself with the vagaries of infinite math. Such a number system will demonstrate reverse travel in time, and this is just not possible. But you are correct in your summation that energy is a barrier. It is, but like any fence it can be climbed over, under, or around.”
My anger, which I guess was really due to embarrassment at my dimness, abated and gave way to genuine interest.
“Now, let me tell you something Einstein did not know.” She said conspiratorially.
She had my attention.
She opened her hand wide and spread it over the circle. “Imagine this circle, in its entirety, equals one second — and each tick,” with her forefinger she began randomly making tick marks about the circumference of the circle, flicking sand into the air. “– each tick equals one meter — three-hundred-million times around.” She paused and looked up at me, “one over three-hundred-million — you see?”
“Uh huh…” I answered manfully.
“Now using your Clock Arithmetic, what is three-hundred-million plus one?”
Oh, I wanted to say three-hundred-million-and-one, but bit my tongue. Thinking carefully, I remembered that in finite math there are only the number of numbers you define – like in a clock – twelve numbers, and so, twelve plus one does not equal thirteen, it equals one.
“One,” I answered. Lilith smiled, “very good exnzpat… and if we are to measure of the speed-of-light at this new speed?”
“It will be the speed-of-light — three-hundred-million meters per second.”
Lilith clapped her hands with delight. “Oh, exnzpat you do understand!” She sat up on her knees and kissed me on the forehead. I practically melted but Lincoln was there almost immediately pushing his hairy wet nose between us. Lincoln wasn’t done though. He pushed his way completely between us and slumped down, mussing-up Lilith’s circle. She drew another. School, I guess, was still in session.
“So exnzpat – this is what I have to tell you. You can never travel faster than the speed-of-light but you can travel faster than three-hundred thousand meters per second. But once you do — the first circle is lost — and so — now you must contend with the new circle. What once was in the first circle is now lost to you. You don’t simply disappear – you change – and what’s more you cannot return to the first circle.” She stopped. A single solitary tear ran from her left eye as she looked at me. The sun behind her reddened and suddenly she stood, rubbing the tear from her face, and said “Come exnzpat we must continue.” She brushed the sand from her legs and thighs and poked a toe into Lincoln’s side. “Come sleepy-bones – let us go.”
I couldn’t help but notice that the cut on her foot appeared to be infected. An angry purple darkness had spread about her heal.
* * *
As we walked I thought about what she had told me. It took a few minutes but I found a chink in her armor-clad reasoning. “Lilith wait, by changing the number system from infinite to finite seems to be more about convenience than reality.” I shifted uncomfortably. Becky was not a heavy girl but it was difficult to find a satisfactory balance between Becky’s weight and my strength.
Lilith turned to look at me. “In a circle exnzpat, is not Pi the same no matter the size of the circle? There is only one number system to a circle – the right one. The universe is no different.”
Then, struck by this idea I remembered that relativity, at its core, was all about reference and location of an observer – in relation to some moving object. But in Lilith’s math class the observer was the moving object, and so, from his reference frame all things observed are his and his alone. An accelerating time-line between zero and three-hundred-million meters per second – in the space of one second – is the only perspective you need.
“Yes,” Lilith said, reading my mind. “This is how space and time work – both relative to the reference frame in which they lie. Only an observers speed and experience matter.”
We walked without speaking for a few minutes.
“Lilith,” I asked, “if each circle represents an experience then how many circles are there?”
“As many as you’d like. But exnzpat, there is only one universe — just an infinite number of circles.”
“So then, this is what this place is — some other circle?”
Lilith said nothing for a few moments and answered. “No exnzpat, this place is an unnatural thing. A manufactured thing; see here,” Lilith tapped her toes on the smooth obsidian colored road on which we walked, “here is its skeleton. This thing, this wormwood, it is alive.”
I tried to ask her more but instead she hushed me, telling that that was enough for now. We continued on in silence. Only the occasional snuffling and sniffing of Lincoln broke the air about us as he explored the road ahead.
* * *
As we walked, the dunes became fewer in number but larger in height and girth. There were more trees now, and scrubby little bushes that smelled of Lavender and Rosemary. They grew alongside the thin dark road that Lilith had called the “skeleton”; and I supposed that they were Lavender and Rosemary but they did not appear so in shape and leaf. The trees, as large and as looming as they were, had a squat and heavy bushiness to their tops giving one the privacy one feels walking between tall rows of corn; their heavy fruit hanging from their limbs shielding one from the world proper. It was not an unpleasant walk and the shade was welcome. Eventually, we came to a junction. Our options were straight ahead, left, or right. Lilith turned to the left and we followed this new path for perhaps ten minutes. We came suddenly upon a clearing in the trees. Sand spilled across the path and the light from the ever setting sun filled the glade fully. The long shadow of the tree-line curved unevenly about us. Just off the path, near center of the glade, were two stone altars about four feet high. Atop the first lay a woman and the second a child. Both were prostrate – as if in death. Upon each, a sheet served as a shroud but did not cover their faces. I stopped in astonishment. Lilith walked over to inspect them. She beckoned me over to see. Sand crunched beneath my shoes. Lincoln, next to Lilith, put his forepaws on the altar that the child lay upon and licked the child’s face. Lilith pushed him down, but not unkindly. I looked at the child, and so stunned was I, I almost dropped Becky. I recognized the boy. I found a safe place and carefully set Becky down and went back for closer look.
The boy! It was the dark haired boy from my rental. It was he — the ghost boy. I presumed him to be Scudamour’s son. The woman, his mother — it had been her in my kitchen, “don’t hit me anymore,” she had begged me. My heart beat hard but at the same time seemed to paralyze with unease. I reached out to touch the woman’s face – it was pallid, translucent even. I wanted to see if she was real. Lilith’s hand stopped me. “No, exnzpat; let her sleep.”
“I thought… I thought she was dead.”
“Look closer exnzpat. See…”
And then I noticed it. There, in the woman’s cheeks, was the ever so faintest of flush. Yes, I saw; she was alive! The boy also; his rich black hair fell about his face — thick and tangled. Lilith gently, with one finger, brushed his locks back away from his eyes. He too had that almost invisible reddish tinge to his face; the flush of life. Lincoln went over to where I had left Becky and sat heavily beside her. He scratched eagerly behind one ear and then proceeded to gnaw on the small of his back.
“They’re not dead?”
“No,” Lilith answered, “in your world you would say they are dead. But such simplistic pronouncements are always foolish if you don’t know what dead is.” Lilith paused and went over to the woman and adjusted the cloth sheet that covered her. “They are simply not yet alive, exnzpat.”
“But, they were alive once. I saw their ghosts. They haunted my rental!” I didn’t say that Scudamour had cut them into pieces and secreted them in the bedroom wall. No. I don’t think I can imagine myself saying that out loud, at least not yet. It’s too soon! I’m not ready!
“No exnzpat. When I speak of life — these two never knew it. Just as you and she…” Lilith gestured towards the unconscious form of Becky “don’t know it.” Lilith brushed the woman’s cheek, bent, and placed a soft kiss upon it. She turned to the boy and did the same.
“Before one can truly live exnzpat, one must first die.”
“What…?” My mind was racing… I was barely listening to her now. Was it possible? Could it be that..? I looked anxiously about the glade, searching…
I paced the perimeter, crossing the path several times and then back again. Lilith watched me with mild amusement. Even Lincoln looked up from his preening.
“You won’t find them.” She called to me.
The light that had momentarily entered my heart was gone, just as surely as if a pick of ice had been driven into it. I was on the verge of tears.
“Why not? If these two are here — then where is my wife and my children?”
“Exnzpat, calm yourself! You will not find them here because they are not here.”
I stared at her.
“I don’t believe you.”
The tears ran freely down my face. But I knew! I knew! I knew she was right!
I stopped my search and went over to Lincoln and Becky. Lincoln licked at my tears and I hugged him. Good Dog! He was still there when I needed him. I was crying openly now. Lilith remained quiet, tending to the woman and the boy.
After ten or so minutes I pulled myself together. I dried my face on executionerofthewill’s Armani jacket. It was odd, I thought. I was still wearing his dark suit and white shirt. His tidy black tie and the extremely comfortable black shoes by Bostonian complemented my ensemble. I was the paragon of human civility and yet, emotionally, I was a disaster. Clothed in another man’s body meant that you wear what he wears, but it changes little when compared to that mysterious conscious being inside us all. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore – if I ever did to begin with. And so, did it really matter whose body I wore? What was to become of me?
I stood, straightened my tie and smoothed out the pants and jacket. I tucked the shirt into my waist and walked over to Lilith who stood between the two stone altars and the almost-so-corpses upon them. I was calm now.
“Then where are they? Where is my family?”
“My husband keeps them safe. They are not of your concern.”
“You’re married?” I said incredulously.
“Of course I’m married. Are not all good women married?”
She was being sly again so I didn’t answer.
“Scudamour abandoned them here,” she said indicating to the woman and the child, “after the drawing of their blood. I ensnared these two after he was done. I settled them here to ripen. Enshrined in death, their blood is the water of this earth. Their bones are the skeleton that frames us here.” She said this last; looking towards black road we had been walking upon. “Here lies the Queen and Prince of Wormwood: this foul but precious place, wrought by their blood — spilled by Errant Knight Scudamour, the horned-one. It was by their blood this place was made and so they cannot yet leave. At least not until wormwood is dead! Scudamour sought your family exnzpat, for it was in their blood that he used to enlarge this structure,” and when she said this she swept her hand about her in an encompassing motion. I caught my breath because I felt my eyesight travel with her gesture. Appearing before me I saw millions upon millions of miles of ocean, sand, rock, and earth. Great mountains shot up from the ground and rivers sprung from their loins. It was a universe of soil and water. No stars, only one heavy sun and one lonely moon hung above its canvas. Upon it all, creatures emerged from the ground – lost and scrambling — little things they were. Exits in, and exits out. They riddled wormwood like a porous sponge. Within the oceans, animate and inanimate creatures swam and played. A humanoid appearance was apparent in their faces but a collective ignorance hung about their heads as if wreathed in clay. Wormwood was a vast expansive place that continued without any end in sight. It was a nest of lost things. Lilith caught my arm. She stopped me from falling. The vision she had given me was that powerful.
Lilith did not stop to allow me to catch my senses. Instead, she grasped my face between her hands. “Look at me!” She commanded
“Scudamour is of mankind but he comes far away from your place in time. Through an accident of fate he came to the century of your birth. This place – this wormwood he created through manipulation of biology, space, and time. The body he inhabited during your century was not his own. This place, he built as a sanctuary. It is a transportation device to carry him back to his own time. It was by manipulation of the biological constructs you see before you.” She indicated to the woman and the child. “It was with an elixir of blood and phlogiston thereof, that he built this place!” She let go of my face and became quite calm and said in a sad voice. “Scudamour, as are you, are of my blood, my sin, and my failings. I solely am responsible exnzpat. I am no cosmic policeman as you might think. Without Lincoln; without you, I am alone in this quest.”
Lilith took my hand and led me back to Becky and Lincoln.
“Exnzpat, your wife and children sleep – as do Scudamour’s wife and child. Do not burden yourself with what once was. You can never go back. That circle is behind you now. My husband – for he and I are estranged.” She said this last almost as an apology and then continued. “He shepherds your family now. They are safe. Be still. Be calm, for they are loved.”
When she said this I felt a great gravity lift from me. And I was still. And I was calm. Peace, for the first time, in a very long time, washed over me and I asked, “Lilith, what is your husband’s name?”
“Adam.” Was the answer she gave, and then looked away ashamed.