Lilith turned back towards the woman and the child. She placed one hand on the boy and the other on the woman; a spark of static leapt from her fingers and into their sleeping forms. Imperceptibly the right hand of the boy began to move under his sheet, and so too did the left hand of the woman, under hers.
Slowly, the two hands slid from beneath their respective sheets and reached towards each other. Lilith guided their stretching hands into each other’s grasp. Upon each face, there was a change, small and imperceptible, but it was there all the same. Their cheeks flushed just a little redder and the woman’s lips moved just ever so slightly to form a quiet comfortable smile.
“A little humility would do you good exnzpat; stop thinking of yourself!” Lilith said, and walked away from me. She walked towards the edge of the glade. “It is time to leave. These two are far from ripe and the Moon will soon be up. We must let the Moon do her work. Come exnzpat! Come Lincoln!”
I picked Becky up and followed dutifully. We left the woman and the child to the Moon. I was becoming tired; too tired to ask Lilith what any of it meant.
“Exnzpat?” Lilith asked.
“I take it from your earlier silence that you do not think me a good woman?”
I could tell this walk to the apothecary was going to take longer than it should.
Three of Time, one of Space – but also – one of Lilith!
* * *
Lilith led us back the way we had come, back towards the junction in the path. Here, at this point, we continued straight ahead. After a few minutes, I could see between the dunes, the original copse of oak trees that we had started out for; and for the first time, the ocean. The water was dark blue, bordering on black. White capped waves crashed upon a dirty-brown foam speckled beach. We were a good mile or so from it. But as I had discovered, and as Lilith had so kindly pointed out, that distances, and my human perspective thereof, should not be trusted here. For all I knew the ocean and the beach it rolled in on could easily be a hundred miles away, or closer. Who really knew? Regardless, the water looked uninviting – dangerous even. Not that I was up for a swim to begin with.
We stopped again to rest. I was thirsty, I bet Lincoln was too. If Lilith needed any sustenance, she didn’t show it. Lincoln, on the other hand was panting heavily. The sun behind us remained maddeningly fixed on the horizon. It was sinking… but slowly. I looked at my watch again; it was now nothing more than a useless piece of junk. The hands continued in their respective odd directions – it told me nothing. It was heavy and it had rubbed my skin raw from the weight of Becky in my arms. I took it off and tossed it aside. If Lilith’s earlier pronouncement was correct, “that time was not on my side,” then I felt that it was pointless to remind myself that it mattered to begin with.
Lilith seemed in no mood to talk. She sat some distance from me; Lincoln at her side. I studied the sand where the Rolex had fallen. It had made a weird “splash” in the sand that I thought worth examining.
I picked up a handful of the stuff and let it run through my fingers. The sand was as fine as talc but it maintained a grainy consistency. It felt rough to the touch but was incredibly fine, almost dust-like, but it was also heavy enough to fall from my hand. But up close — I saw that while some grains fell “down,” other grains fell “up.” After a few seconds though, the upward moving grains of sand would fall back downwards with the others. It gave the sand an oddly fluid motion to it, as if it were being stretched like elastic, and then snapped back to its original shape over and over again. The sand fell almost the way a cloud-bank rolls down a hill side. Billowing up, and then, billowing back down again; rolling to a rhythmic beat of its own making. Bizarre!
Becky moaned restlessly beside me breaking my concentration. She had done this from time-to-time as I carried her. And each time it happened I thought she was coming around. Unfortunately though, that had not been the case. A nasty looking bruise had formed about her temple and right eye. She looked as though she was wearing an eye-patch; her face was the caricature of a pirate. Her moans were involuntary, as if she suffered from some hideous nightmare. Just wait, I thought… Just wait, until she sees all this!
We had stopped in a place where the ocean was easily visible. White-cap breakers could be seen rushing towards a broad beachhead. The steady rhythmic crash of breaking waves was soothing; the salt air stung my nostrils. And then beside me, Becky stirred.
“Executionerofthewill?” she whispered hoarsely. She tried to sit up on her but fell back heavily into the sand.
I reached for her trying to help her up. Weakly she simply looked at me. “Shush…,” I said “you’ve had a nasty fall; just rest.”
Lilith came over to us and pushed me aside. She leaned over the girl. Gently she pushed Becky’s dark thick hair away from her pallid white face. “Child,” she said softly. “Who are you? Why are you here?”
“Lilith, what are talking about?” I interrupted, “I told you. Her name is Becky. She is a law student who works at the County Clerk’s office. And what’s more you kidnapped her! She’s here because you brought her here… wherever here is…” I trailed off.
“Quiet exnzpat!” Lilith snapped rudely. She continued to brush at Becky’s hair, using her fingers as a comb. “Who sent you?” This last came out shrill and accusing. Earlier, I had decided that Lilith was not someone you’d want to get on the wrong side of, and I suddenly became afraid for Becky. Lilith’s tone did not lend itself to the caring nursemaid I had recently witnessed with Scudamour’s wife and child. Lilith did not seem at all concerned with Becky’s health. Lilith leaned in, face to face; a snarl marring that perfect countenance of hers.
Carefully, I put a hand on Lilith’s shoulder. But as I did the air filled with pheromones and I almost fainted. Her sex, I think, was some kind of defensive mechanism; pheromonal excretion, I think is a better description. It was a weapon wielded without guile or malice. It was…, it was just so! I felt myself submit and go still. As the paralysis set in I felt a defensive mechanism of my own kick-in – let’s call it accountable conscious, for lack of a better phrase. I steeled myself, gritting my teeth: “Lilith, this is pointless. The girl is barely awake. Let her get her whits about her first. We need water — and probably food too.”
Lilith seemed surprised at my intervention. She turned to look at me, and noticed that my hand rested on her shoulder. She looked me full in the face and said brightly, “why, executionerofthewill — you have such strong hands.”
I snatched my hand from her shoulder. She reached with her own hand to the vacated spot and making a tsk tsk sound said, “I like it when you touch me executionerofthewill.” I couldn’t help but notice that she had deliberately addressed me using the wrong name, twice!
Suddenly Lincoln was there, pushing his way between us. A growl of warning shook his body, which, when coupled with his tremulous color change, reset the mood between us breaking the pheromone bond.
“Oh! You’re such a spoilsport Lincoln.” Lilith gave him a light smack on his flank to which Lincoln responded to by licking her face. Lilith ignored me now and hugged him tightly. “Lincoln, protect me from this big strong man!” She said in a mocking tone. At least Lilith was distracted from Becky now, and this was good. I was slowly becoming aware that whatever Lincoln was, or had become, he was definitely put here to protect me from Lilith and not the other way round.
Intuitively though, it was not just me but Becky too, because when he flopped down with his pink tongue lolling from a sideways grin, panting heavily, it was between Becky and Lilith, and not me and Lilith. If Lilith had been truthful about “the rules following us…,” then the best Lincoln could do was protect the one or the other who was the most in harm’s way. It was, to say the least, a curious occupation.
Becky managed to sit up groggily on her elbows and slowly looked about. “Are we at the beach?”
“Not exactly.” I said looking past Lilith at her. Lincoln turned and licked Becky’s face.
“I didn’t know you had a dog. What’s his name?” She said weakly stroking his head. As she spoke she stared at Lilith; amazement plainly visible on her face.
Lilith was sitting on her knees. Her nakedness thrust forward; her beauty dripped from her body. It was as if the rays of the ever-present setting sun had galvanized about her; yielded and bowed about her body. A halo had formed about her; Lilith was an iridescent creature now; her nakedness — a glory to behold — for man, woman, and dog alike.
“Since he was pup.” I said truthfully, trying unsuccessfully to ignore Lilith. “His name is Lincoln.” I paused and said, “and this; this is Lilith. She’s bit of a drama-queen but she’s okay once you get to know her.”
Lilith regarded my flippancy coolly. The radiance about her slowly began to fade.
“Hello…” Becky managed.
Lilith did not answer, but smiled a secret smile. It was in Becky’s next question that I saw Lilith’s true deceit.
“I… I didn’t know you had a girlfriend?” Becky said to me.
Still Lilith said nothing.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” I said a little too defensively. And still Lilith said nothing. Lilith stood, smiled tightly, and walked away from us. Lincoln rose to join her. The two of them walked along the thin little skeleton road towards the nearest dune, stopped and turned, and said, “well come on — let’s get her to the apothecary. He’s just around the corner and up the hill.”
I could tell that Becky hadn’t believed me, which was, after all, Lilith’s intent.
“Why isn’t she wearing any clothes?” She paused for a second and then asked, “and what’s wrong with her leg?”
Lilith and Lincoln had walked some twenty feet along the little road, which at that point was crossed by another road. On this new road Lilith stood, beckoning us with her hand. Lincoln had also stopped, waiting for us to come. And then I saw what Becky had seen. I was shocked! Lilith’s right leg, just below the knee, was riddled by purple ugly lines that crawled beneath her skin. Her foot was now blackened, raw, and poisoned.
“Lilith!” I gasped, “Your leg!”
“Do not worry dear-heart. When the sun comes up tomorrow I will be whole again. You will see.” She said it sweetly, as if we were lovers. Becky looked at her, then back at me, and then back at Lilith again. She said nothing. Then Lilith said dismissively: “Come! And bring our little friend.” She turned, and with Lincoln following closely at her poisoned heal, passed out of sight behind the dune.
I stared in disbelieve. Only a short time had passed since I had noticed the small cut upon her heal – and now… Surely it must hurt to walk on?
I helped Becky to her feet. She was still quite woozy and nearly fell. I wrapped my arm about her and slowly we followed Lilith and Lincoln around the dune.
* * *
We caught up with them after a short quiet walk together. I did not know this girl but I felt that she felt she knew me — or at least she thought she knew me. But not me really, rather, she knew executionerofthewill. And I doubt she knew him very well at all. In all my conversations with executionerofthewill he had never mentioned Becky. But, that didn’t mean anything in itself. Executionerofthewill was a pretty self-absorbed guy. So it was an awkward silence we kept as we hobbled along. I thought it best not to blurt out that I was not who she thought I was, and I guess, probably because of Lilith’s presence, Becky did not want to broach whatever past relationship she and executionerofthewill had had prior. To her credit she had not yet brought up the subject of how we came to be at the beach instead of a house several hundred miles from the coast, or the fact that it was looking more like late afternoon than nighttime. Those questions would come eventually, but not yet. Becky was looking about her — taking it all in – but saying nothing.
Lilith and Lincoln had stopped beside the road and both were rooting around in the sand — Lincoln with his paws, and Lilith with her hands. Seeing us emerge from behind the dune Lilith hailed us. “Come and see. I have some nourishment for you.”
As we got closer I could see that from out of the sand Lilith had dug out a large round melon-like thing.
“What is it?”
“Food. It is good. See.” She pointed to Lincoln who had one in his mouth. He had broken the skin and a red liquid ran from the puncture. He dropped it on the road and began to pull it apart with his paws and teeth. Under its husky purplish exterior the melon looked like no melon I had ever seen before. Its interior was bright red, and an even brighter red juice squirted from it, spilling across the road. Lincoln immediately lapped it up; after which he returned to the melon, and being careful to avoid the exterior, he took large bites of its fruity insides. His whiskers were gory red from the carnage. I felt squeamish. I remembered what Lilith had told me about this world being made from the blood of the woman and the child. The liquid from the melon looked just like blood…
“Don’t be so ridiculous exnzpat. It is good! I would not feed you blood!” Lilith said annoyed. She held out the melon towards me. Becky, beside me, blurted out, “it looks like a pomegranate!”
I looked at her. She was tired and spent. The little exertion around the dune had already taken its toll. Reluctantly, I took the thing from Lilith and smelled it.
Meanwhile Lincoln had already dug-up another and was making an unholy mess upon the road about us.
The melon was about the size of a grapefruit. It was firm and heavy. It had no smell, and so, with Becky and Lilith looking on, I bit into it. It was… it was incredible! A spurt of the red juice hit the roof of my mouth pushing aside any prior prejudice I’d had about the thing to begin with. The taste was extraordinary! “Oh man! This is great!” I said, tearing it apart. The skin peeled back easily, revealing closely packed seed-like sacks. I dug out a handful and put it into my mouth; I ate hungrily, completely unconscious of my rudeness in front of Becky. Only after I finished did I realize my selfishness. Becky needed it more than I did.
Lilith handed me another which I immediately handed to Becky. I apologized lamely; saying something along the lines of “testing for poison.” If Becky was irritated by my rudeness she didn’t show it. Taking her arm from my shoulder she expertly broke the skin with her fingers. She pulled it skillfully apart, breaking it into quarters, and gulped at the seeds. The look on her face was priceless. The poor girl was famished. She said, “See… it is a pomegranate.” Her eyes closed in ecstasy, “Oh! This is really good.” She ate the thing with the expertise of someone who had eaten this type of messy fruit before. The pomegranate chased the paleness from her cheeks and after a few minutes she looked quite a bit better, and I said so.
“Thanks executionerofthewill. I’ll take that as a compliment.” She joked, smiling weakly. “How long was I out?” And then almost as quickly, “…this looks like the Hamptons.”
“I guess it does.” I answered carefully. I was not sure how long I could keep up this charade or why I was doing so in the first place. If I blurted out that I wasn’t executionerofthewill or that this place was not even remotely related to the Hampton’s, or anywhere else on planet Earth then what did I lose? Incredibly, as I analyzed my feelings I realized that I did not want to hurt her feelings – simply because she thought I was executionerofthewill!
Lilith’s voice came into my head, unspoken, “perhaps you’re not such a selfish little piggy after all.”
I replied without speaking, “Thanks Lilith, and please stop reading my mind.”
Becky and I shared another pomegranate. Lincoln seemed to be done and lay down on the path. He pawed aggressively; cleaning his face and nose with his forepaws.
Out loud I said, “Where did you get this?”
Lilith pointed at the excavation at our feet. “From here, they grow beneath the soil. See, look at this plant…” She knelt and showed me a tiny green vine with heart-shaped leaves. Every yard or so, a pale little flower sat closed, in anticipation of the coming night. Beneath the flower could be found the melon, Lilith said.
“I thought pomegranates grew on trees.” But I did not really know for sure. No one answered me though. Becky was busy eating and Lilith had turned back towards Lincoln. The two were looking up ahead, along the path. In the distance I could see that path dead-ended at a cliff face. I overheard Lilith say to Lincoln, “Do you feel them, friend?” Lincoln barked an affirmation.
Lilith pointed and said to us all, “up ahead – up there we will find the apothecary. Come!”
We looked in the direction she pointed. There was a craggy ridgeline in the distance. Above it, — so far above it, white-capped mountain tops could be partially seen hiding behind the bluish tinted haze of the long afternoon. The ridgeline was underscored by the cliff face that rose up to meet it.
Not waiting for Becky or me to finish our last pomegranate, Lilith and Lincoln started on ahead. After a few minutes we put down what was left of our meal and still, with one arm about my shoulder, Becky and I followed slowly behind. The fruit was both fulfilling and substantial. I felt light, but well-fed — as if I had just eaten a perfectly balanced meal. Becky too, felt the same — I was sure. She leaned less heavily against me now.
“This is an odd little path.” Becky said, but before I could answer her Lincoln came bounding back down the path towards us, barking excitedly.
“What is it boy; Lilith has fallen and she can’t get up?” I joked.
Lincoln spun about a couple of times and then ran back towards Lilith who was actually standing in plain sight of us just a few hundred yards up the road. She turned to look at me, and instead of admonishing me she called out to us – “over the ridge we must go. The apothecary waits!”
Lilith was standing at another intersection on the skeleton path. The path we were on ran straight ahead, vertically, right up the side of the cliff face to the top of the ridge and disappeared over the edge. At the base of the cliff, where Lilith was standing, the road branched to the left and to the right, parallel to the cliff face. Lilith turned to her right. This path sloped; inclined at an angle to the cliff. In the distance I could see that the path crested the ridge some miles to our right.
“Is it my imagination or has Lincoln’s fur changed color.” Becky asked.
“No, it’s not your imagination. It seems to happen whenever he gets excited.” Becky did not reply. She stopped dead in her tracks, staring straight ahead. She had finally noticed how the path we were on continued its passage directly up the side of the cliff face, unabated by the obstacle it presented. With the sun to our backs the obsidian colored material of the path gleamed like a trillion compact diamonds as it rose directly above our heads. And while the skeleton road reflected the light, it also absorbed it. It cast small sharp shadows against the rocky brown background. The skeleton in the road was evident. It looked so alien and otherworldly that the look on Becky’s face was not one of surprise, but one of shock.
She looked up at me, and with an increasingly worried expression said, “I guess where’re not in Kansas anymore?”
“No. Not the Hamptons either,” I answered truthfully.
* * *
In Kansas, when thunderstorms form it is ozone that heralds their creation. Ozone is a pungent, tinny smell. Not unpleasant, but it speaks to you all the same: something great and something momentous this way comes! The giants, this day, have come out to play — leaping skyward above; ozone is the precursor of the great battle yet to come.
Tussling winds and vibrating rivulets of moisture are thrust upward into the upper atmosphere at incredible speeds. As they reach the higher altitudes these docile water droplets are suddenly cooled to super-cold temperatures – they are not yet frozen – but remain in a liquid state. Their extreme condition wreaks havoc upon the atmosphere about them. They bind and truss with warmer water droplets creating even larger and even more unsettled supercooled conditions. Gyrating and jostling they fight for dominance — it is a violent and unforgiving world into which they are born. They are at war with the very air about them! And yet — the storm is not even begun! Great funnels of this jumbled mess: warm air, cool air, ice, and supercooled air – wrestle and joust inside the escalating megalith. They ride these ferocious wind-funnels like gallant riders with a brutal, Dante-like war-cry upon their tongues – screeching and hollering as they go: dice cast – fate inevitable! And so it begins… Proclamation! The edict explodes like a barb from its cold heart! Hark! Tis thunder my dear! That strike of lightening — loosened and disgorged from the belly of the beast — ground to air – air to ground. It has begun! Tis the barrier of sound — split like a melon upon the cold pavement of Hell’s roof! The lightning bolt will move so viciously through its little hemisphere that it will strip away at the very atomic structure of the air about it – literally ripping it apart as it passes – tearing at it with its electric teeth, gnashing and gnawing as it goes – hungry is this fiend! The once passive air is now alive with starvation. In a nanosecond the air crashes back upon itself. The molecules of oxygen will mash back together – but all wrong! Instead of two atoms there are now three! With the air malformed and crippled in this way you know that the worst is yet to come. But now you know where ozone comes from.
The creation of a thunderstorm can take up to half-an-hour, and as it does, this simple and natural act of dissimilar temperatures can create a thing so massive, and so ungainly, that it defies explanation. Weather experts the world over agree, the Kansas thunderstorm is like no other on Earth. In fact, it shouldn’t even exist at all. But yet it does! Thunderstorms in Kansas can easily reach heights of sixty thousand feet, or more. This in itself is miraculous because moisture in the Earth’s atmosphere is confined to forty thousand feet and below. These freaks – these extraordinary miraculous freaks of nature cut the summer evening skyline like willowy ethereal sheep, grazing heads up and bottoms down, remaining motionless above the Kansas plain. Growing from their visceral bottoms are dark bulbous pits and peaches of tight wound cloud: a hundred miles across, their swath carves the earth out beneath it with a foul raw dangerous rain, a penetrating cold, and an eternally wild wind. There is also a pelting hail — so hard that when it hits it hurts like bastard! At the storms nose – at its tippy top — up so high above, the Sprites come out to play. A Sprite is that mischievous fiend, quick and dainty he dances his cold-plasma dance with the magnetosphere far above – he reaches out for Heaven, blasting through the darkness as a gamma ray, drawing Heaven down, piece by piece — downwards — in great white handfuls, and tosses them carelessly towards the Earth below with abandon. Here… here in my attic, here in Wormwood, I could feel the Sprites dancing somewhere above the ridgeline. Jangling, clanking, and crackling! Electricity on high! Lincoln’s excited barks intermingling in metronome, rising to the pitch and rhythm of the atomic buzz above our heads — churning ever higher. Its purpose and meaning hidden, but its music remains crisp and clear. It was the sound of an unfathomable majesty – clarity so clean, that we, in our mortal shells will scuttle from, hide from, and surrender to, when the final note is played.
“What’s that smell?” Becky asked. Her dark hair began to rise as if in individual choral cry – a braided static laden dance — leaping towards the music above. Through a thick head – you know the kind: the one you have when you have the flu and you are so far away inside your head you can barely hear your own voice. “Ozone, I think.” Was what I answered… But I could have said, “Trumpets,” I don’t remember!
The skeleton road rose ahead and something above, at the top of the ridgeline, waited.
We could see that Lilith had reached the top. She stood; the sun to her back, her arms and legs outstretched. Above her Sprites danced to music in thunderclap-key – it seared and scorched our spirits clean. It jangling, it clanked, and it crackled at our nerve endings – it screamed at us with electric excitement.
We hurried to catch-up with Lilith and Lincoln; the skeleton road, as ever, beneath our feet.