Together, side by side, Becky and I descended into what appeared to be very wide and expansive valley. The path, well flagged, appeared cemented in place, reminding me of a village road one might expect to find in Europe. It was easy to walk upon and we moved quickly. Looking back behind us, we saw that the fireworks from the dais intensified in ferocity the further we got from the place; the booming, cracking sound of thunder echoed out along the valley before us, hurting our ears. Years ago, I had once witnessed a transformer explosion; the brilliance of the Crystalson’s arrival was much the same: vital, intense, and stupendous. Whoever He was, Crystalson knew how to make an entrance, and I was thankful for it, because His brimstone helped us to navigate our way along the stone path in the darkening night with ease.
On either side of our stone path, we could see the crisscrossing of skeleton pathways about us. They ran up, down, and across the valley walls. None seemed to parallel our little pathway; their deep, dark color shone pale in Crystalson’s light, and they looked to be real bones as they cast their own eerie, off yellow light into the air about us. And I supposed they were bones of a sort: clutching, growing, and holding Wormwood all together in their bloody embrace. It made my shudder just to think of them; so I did not.
Lilith had been right. The air was colder now. Becky leaned closer to me and I felt her warmth. Occasionally, our paved path narrowed and we reluctantly let go of each other’s hands. But as soon as the pathway widened again, our hands found their way back to the others.
“Are you cold?” I asked.
“A little… I’m okay. But I don’t think I can go all night like this.”
“I think you’re right,” I said, “And God knows how long night will last here.” I was thinking of how long the sun had taken to set and considered too, that it had been setting the moment we came up through the attic crawlspace, the length of the night then, was anyone’s guess.
We continued in silence for a few minutes. Our stone path reached the lowest part of the valley, then rose upward again, up and over a small knoll, and then continued downward once more. It hugged the side of a cliff face. The cliff cut the hills of the valley’s right flank; large boulders and rocks towered above us the further we went.
There was still enough light coming from the dais to see clearly, but it faded the further we went, and a particular reality hit me: neither of us knew where we were going.
“You know, we should keep an eye out for some shelter of some sort — a cave or something. These big boulders,” I pointed to our right, “seem like there could be something like that among them. Though…,” I trailed off.
“Well, I don’t want to scare you, but there might be snakes.”
“Snakes!” she laughed, “after meeting your friend, Lilith, I think I can handle a few snakes.”
After about a mile of walking downhill, we suddenly found ourselves on a slight incline, it was barely noticeable, but our downhill passage had been deceptive. It was downhill all right, but it did not fall away as fast as the valley floor did. To our left we saw a dark expanse of a big, wide landmass with a huge river running toward the south, where the hanging mountain hung.
This had not been my intention, but we were now definitely going up. The path was taking us toward the hills above, and the forest that encompassed them there.
Above the valley, to our left and right, we could make out the ragged outline of large, heavy leafed trees. Their shadows, gloomy and hanging, gave the impression of a neglected graveyard, and I noted that the path we were on seemed to be taking us right into them.
Beware of the forest, exnzpat!
From behind us, the glow from Crystalson was all but gone, and the dry thunder that had filled the valley air so profoundly minutes before, was now no more. Silence and darkness enclosed us completely, only our own footfalls on the stone-flagged path kept us company.
The slope steepened and the path came to a sharp bend. From round the bend we had the sense of yet another, even bigger, wider valley. It spread out before us like a giant, checkered black and grey tablecloth. In the darkness, it was with our senses only that we felt its existence: it was the sense of a lost and lonely void, and in this dark night, I realized how alone I felt without Lilith or Lincoln beside me. But Becky was here, but I did not know her; but there was comfort in her presence; but it was not the same; nevertheless, I liked the touch of her hand on mine.
Suddenly, she gripped my hand tightly.
“Where’s that light coming from?”
I looked about, and saw that from the direction of the dais, a new light had risen: not Crystalson, but a white, pale moon of enormous proportions. It was easily three times as big as Earth’s moon, and it dwarfed the land beneath it as it came. And the longer I looked the more I disliked what I saw. The moon did not look as if it was moving in the fashion of a moon at all – that of an orbital arc – instead it looked more like a low flying, predatory bird hunting for its prey.
“I don’t like it,” said Becky sharply, speaking my mind. She let go of my hand and I yearned to have it return.
“Yeah…, me neither,” I said without taking my eyes of the strange apparition. “Let’s get off the path and take some cover…, at least until it passes.”
We hurried forward, round the bend, and for a moment, the moon was lost to us; thankfully, its off-colored white light still lit our way forward. Quickly, I took in the terrain. It was not much different from the way we had come: the forest abutting the cliff above, and the large, smooth boulders on either side.
To our left, on the downward slope, I saw a small, darkened alcove about thirty feet from where we were standing. I pointed it out. Becky saw it too, and reached down and took off her shoes. Gingerly we made our way across the big boulders to the little nook. The boulders were sandstone and therefore abrasive and not slippery at all; they were quite easy to walk on and we made good time.
As we went down we needed to reconnoiter the bend once more, and it brought us back into the full light of the strange, pale moon. Instinctively, we both ducked our heads as if it were a low hanging branch. Thankfully, we reached the alcove just in time. We jumped down onto a soft patch of moss that was growing along the rim of the little space. It was very dark inside, but we did not wait for an invitation, for suddenly the moon was upon us, and we shrunk backwards into the cave, hiding as far back as we could get from its terrible lighted face.
From our hiding spot, we had a good vantage of the moon as it transited. It was a moon or a planet or something – it visibly rotated as it came, appearing to be more like a billiard ball than a moon at all, and yet, there was something more wrong about it too; something was wrong about the light that emanated from it. Its light was the shade of an opal and it gave off a sickness of some kind. Becky and I watched in amazement as the moss in front of our little cavern curled and shriveled as its pearly light touched it. And for us — it’s hard to explain — but it was sickening to watch the moon’s transit for more than a few minutes at time. Staring at it made us feel queasy in our stomachs. Not so much as a physical illness does, but more like when you’ve done something wrong and some authority figure in your life wants to speak with you about it – it was that kind of sickness: a kind of nervous fear. Watching it was unpleasant, but irresistible too. We would stare up at it until we could stand it no more and then look away. But once the nausea passed, we would go right back to staring at the horrible thing once again. It was as if we could not get enough of it – it was a bad thing, and yet, we couldn’t resist the draw of its passage.
We kept crouched back, as far as we could go, keeping out of its direct light – our bodies pressed hard against the cave wall, but also pressed hard against each other’s.
We stayed that way for almost five hours, but of course, this was Wormwood and time meant little – but it seemed to me a long time, and if I had to guess, I’d say five hours.
“What do you think it is?” I asked Becky.
“I’ve no idea, but it’s horrible to look at… don’t!”
She saw I was moving to look out at it once more. I stopped, looked back at her, and in doing so, bumped my head.
“Ouch!” I said, rubbing at the spot.
Becky laughed, “Serves you right. That thing out there – moon or star, is dangerous.”
I leaned over to her, only just avoiding bumping my head again. I was very close to her face; she did not pull back.
“Speaking of dangerous — what is it that you so dislike about Lilith?” I asked.
“What’s not to dislike. The woman is a monster, quite literally. But what type of monster, I have no idea, but at any rate, she’s a monster all the same.”
“Well, it’s not like that; her outward appearance is clearly nothing to go by.”
Becky thought about this and said, “True. It’s best not to judge one by their cover, but she lied to us. And then contradicted herself a number of times – didn’t you notice?”
“First,” Becky raised a hand, and using her fingers, ticked off a list, “Lilith said she didn’t know of Scudamour’s existence until he created this place,” she nodded to the outside of our little cavern, “which wasn’t until the 1970’s, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s right. She did.”
“And then two, she said she actually witnessed the exchange of the two Scudamour’s – which happened in 1939 – and so, right there, she contradicted herself; and then later, she said she actually befriended the Scudamour from the future – back in 1939, after the exchange, so–” she waited for me to say something, but I had little to say. What could I say? Becky was right. Lilith had said those things – Lilith had lied to us.
Lilith had lied to me.
“Well, I’m sure she had a good reason. Surely a creature like her had her reasons – she seems too extraordinary to trip herself up by being caught-up in a little white-lie.”
“But she did.” Was all Becky said, for what more did she need to say? Obviously, she did not approve of me making excuses for Lilith’s lies – I didn’t approve of it myself – and so I said nothing more. Through the dimness of the cavern, Becky stared at me, waiting for me to speak, but I could not. Instead, I looked outside, out toward the toxic light passing before us; I thought of Lilith, and all that had happened between us.
Eventually I dozed, and probably so did Becky, but when I woke, I saw she was wide-awake, staring out across the vast, valley floor before us.
“Hey, has it gone?”
“Shhh… look.” With her finger, she pointed in the direction of the river.
I followed her finger. The night air seemed changed somehow, almost reddish in color. Then I saw it.
“Is that a boat?” I asked, amazed.
“Yes. I’ve been watching it for some time now.”
“What about the pale moon?” I asked, craning my neck, feeling a little like a tortoise emerging from its shell.
“It’s gone, but another moon has come up. Look…”
I looked up, and there, at a much higher altitude than the first, was another, but this moon was darker, inkier, and the light it put out was the color of violet. It was a kinder light too, for I could see the burned moss in front of our cave unfolding and reaching out toward it. It was a healing moon, and I took it to be a good omen.
I looked back toward the boat. It had two high masts with an ungainly upturned prow and a tall wheelhouse at the rear. It looked like a cross between a Spanish Galleon and an Asian Junk. But as ungainly as that sounds, it was sleek too, as if built for fast sailing.
The boat was moving away from us, upriver, toward several teardrop islands nestled in the channel of the wider waters beyond. We were too far away to see people on its decks, but we could see the ship’s sails fluff and tighten as it tacked hard against the wind, making good against the current.
“Where did it come from?” I asked in a whisper.
“Back that way,” she pointed, “down river — back from behind those hills.”
I looked to where she pointed and saw a range of grassy hills emerging from out of the jungle above; it was back from the direction we had come. The hills rolled down to the valley floor and obscured our view of where the river actually flowed. The sea, I guessed.
I looked up. The violet moon, though small, put out good light, and the valley before us was lit-up like the color of a fine, red wine.
A few hundred yards from our hiding spot, I saw one of the skeleton roads. It ran right through the boulders, as if grown there like an appendage. With my eye, I followed its passage across the valley. It ran for several miles and then intersected with another skeleton road. This second road made a direct track toward the river. I pointed to it, and Becky nodded in understanding.
I went first. I crawled out of our little cave and cautiously stood. Immediately I felt my feet and legs cramp-up. I stamped about, probably looking foolish, but I didn’t care; after a few stamps, the pain in my joints eased. Executionerofthewill’s body is young, and I marveled at its ability to recover so quickly. I had forgotten, or had just taken my own youth for granted when I was his age, probably the later. It’s something we all do, I think.
I looked up at the paved path that had brought us this far, and saw that it was definitely heading up the valley wall and into the jungle itself. As enticing as it had seemed earlier, it was the wrong road for us: it had been the wrong road all along.
I saw no danger, so I bent down and helped Becky up. With her hands, she brushed the dirt off her dress, picked up her shoes, and as there was little to say, we began in silence.
It took us some time to get to the river, but it was easy going. The night air seemed to warm at the lower elevations. It was still cold, but better than it had been up on the ridge above. The big boulders were easy to navigate too, and once we reached the first skeleton road, our going was made even faster; and I think we made good time for the distance we travelled – not that distance or time means much in Wormwood, but with the good moon overhead, our little trek to the river was untroubled.
We did not hold hands on this road. A skeleton road is far too narrow to allow two abreast. I led the way, and as we approached the river, Becky asked, “How come you don’t have a shadow?”
“Don’t know,” I answered casually – maybe too casually; but since being dragged into the water’s depths by the fish-people, and almost drowned, I was of the mindset not to sweat the small stuff anymore. And not having a shadow seemed pretty small compared to everything else I had experienced to date.
“Well, I have one. Why don’t you?”
“I don’t know,” I said, turning to look at her shadow. It stretched out behind her, and the violet moon gave it a bright, fiery edge. In fact, her shadow glowed like hot steel bubbling in its forge.
“Maybe, because I’m not me,” I said. “I mean–, this isn’t my body, is it. It doesn’t belong to me… so maybe it’s a quirk of the magic that allows this thing to be.”
We continued for another few minutes in silence, both of us pondering the implications of what I had just said.
“Where is he then – executionerofthewill, I mean?”
“The last time I saw him he was being wheeled away into the loony bin, in my body. I don’t know how Lilith did it, but it would probably do him well to walk in another’s shoes for a while,” I said, without sympathy.
“You don’t like him, do you?”
“No. Not much. I knew he was stealing from me, and I probably would have sought another guardianship if I cared, but at least he put me in a decent place. I was well cared for… I miss Ben and Jerry.”
“Who are they?” she put a hand on my shoulder; I stopped and turned, and looked into her sea-green eyes.
“A couple of my nurses. They’re good guys, and they really help… helped me… helped me in the bad times, you know, when the ghosts come…” I trailed off, feeling a lump in my throat. I doubt she understood.
Without a word, she pressed a palm against my chest and then laid her head there. Well, maybe she did understand… at least a little.
We stood like that for a good five minutes, only to break apart because we both seemed to know our immediate futures now – what was about to happen between us. And because we knew it, we knew there was no need to rush. We had eternity at our feet, quite literally at our feet.
As we got closer to the river we left the road and walked across a high, raspy grass that shifted and curled; it waved about us like wheat in a blowing wind, but there was no wind to speak of, “It’s like this stuff is alive,” I said.
“Well, of course it’s alive – but I know what you mean. It seems to be avoiding us. You know – trying to get away from us.”
We both stopped to look at it. The grass was a blond color in the violet light of the moon. What color it might be in the light of day, I have no idea, but as it shifted and bent away from us to avoid our footfalls, sparks of blue fire would burst off its blades in a staccato dance of electricity.
“Yes, it is,” Becky agreed. Then changing the subject completely, said, “What are these sacred scrolls that Lilith was talking about?”
“Oh…” I said, to delay. I was not sure how much I should tell her.
“–Well, they’re letters and stuff that Scudamour had been collecting. I guess Lilith believes that they are clues to the whereabouts of her Mirror-heart.”
”Yeah, I figured that. But what do they mean to you. Like, evidence from your trial or something?”
“Oh, I forgot you had been at the trial.” I said, and then said nothing more. I concentrated on making my way through the swaying, shifting, electric grasses before us, hoping she would change the subject.
“He came to the courthouse, you know — looking for a box.”
“I know. I sent him. I thought that’s where those letters, Lilith’s sacred scrolls, would be. But I was wrong.”
“And is that why he organized this ‘outing?’ Getting you out of the asylum and taking you back to the rental so you could look for them.”
“Something like that.”
“But they weren’t there either, right?”
“…but you do know where they are. Don’t you?”
This caught me off guard. I had been careful to shield that part of my mind from Lilith – so how on Earth Becky could know this was a surprise to me.
I was about to reply, but suddenly, from the river’s edge, we heard a splashing sound. Instinctively, we both froze. Fish-people? Alligators? Who knew? Any manner of creature could be lurking in the water in a place like Wormwood.
Beware of the water, exnzpat!
Holding our breaths, we listened hard. The sound came again and I detected a predictable rhythm to it, suggesting it was only the sound of waves splashing at a rock, or some stationary object in the water there. Feeling safe, we continued forward. And coming to the water’s edge, we were greeted by a most extraordinary sight.
We were standing at lull spot upon the riverbank: a breakwater, I think it’s called. It was a natural, little harbor filled with a mossy, mangrove-type tree. Floating in the water, crowding round these trees, were hundreds of huge water-lilies; each of them big enough to hold ten men easily. All of them seemed to be jostling about for what little space there was, and as they jostled, they made little waves that splashed against the shoreline and against each other. The water-lilies themselves gave off a bluish hue in the moon’s wine-colored light, suggesting that in daylight, they must be a bright, frog-green color.
The lilies differed not only in size from what we knew of, but also in shape. Each had a large hump, about six to eight feet high in its middle. Blooming from the top of these humps, were massive yellow flowers. Their petals were the size of elephant ears, and they opened, and moved, and waved before the full moon above, without apology or without shame; their vibrancy was so startling against the violet, starless sky, that it shocked our senses just to look upon them.
In hue and shape, the flowers were buttery, ripe, and verdant; almost to the point of being scandalous in repose; they all but called out to be caressed, and fondled. Their scent was heavy and sweet: a combination of citrus and lavender – it was a curious aroma, and it swirled round us in a whirlwind of pheromones: it was the offer of juicy nectar, a bait of sorts, submitting only to draw us in – promising us a release like no other – we were all but begged to come closer and touch. And suddenly, in their presence, I felt safe. And I felt special too; just to be here and to see and smell it all – Becky too, for at the same moment she squeezed my hand with intense pleasure.
“Wow,” she said, leaning her head against my shoulder, “this is just, well…, well just beautiful.”
I did not reply, instead, I looked beyond the curious floating plants, out beyond the breakwater in the distance, out where the fast moving current of the river flowed. Out there, I could see a small flotilla of theses giant water-lilies moving against the current; slowly they made their way into the breakwater, turning, and maneuvering they bobbed their way into the calmer waters of the little harbor. And seeing it, I suddenly had a bold idea. The boat was long gone, but I had a mind to follow it, and I think I knew how.
“What are you doing?” laughed Becky nervously. I had pulled away from her, splashed through the shallow water, and climbed the lip of the nearest water-lily.
“I want to see how strong these things are.”
I pulled myself up and over the lip and called to her, “Just wait there, I’ll be back in a second.”
Gingerly I put my foot down. The floor of the lily was sturdy but soft, if not a little spongy, though with my socks and shoes soaked, it was hard to be sure.
I left the lip and put my whole weight upon the pad. The plant did not react. I took a few cautious steps just to be sure, and was delighted to find that it held my weight without issue.
I looked at the hump growing from out of the center of the lily. On this particular lily, the hump was about ten feet tall. Long, thick vines hung down its side; they curled and ran like ropy roots about its base. The yellow flowers atop the hump proudly crowned it all like a halo of gold.
I tested the nearest vine. It held my weight, and so, after a small struggle, I reached the top. I pushed my way through the flowers, which were soft as felt and smooth like silk. They were tough too. I tried to pull off a petal, but could not, for in defense – for I think it was defense, the flower issued an intense aroma – citrus again, but this time mixed with anise. It was an intoxicatingly beautiful smell, and I quickly gave up trying to hurt the flower and turned my attention to other things.
The top of the hump was quite level, and at the base of the flowers, from where the flowers and vines grew out of, was a comfortable bed of soft stringy leaves that reminded me freshly cut grass.
I looked back to Becky and grinned down at her, and like a fool boy, I said, “I say. I can see your house from up here.”
Becky, on the bank, laughed and clapped her hands with delight.
“Sir Knight, what a mighty and colorful steed you ride.”
“Ah, Madame, I seek a fair maiden to rescue. Do you know of one, perchance?”
“Perchance? Perchance I do, but there are no ‘Madams” down here, good sir; only us delicate Mademoiselles.”
“Mademoiselles, eh? Then fair mademoiselle, are you in need of rescue?”
And then suddenly she was serious. She looked up at me; there were tears in her eyes. “Yes,” she said simply.
I shimmed down the hump and helped her into the water-lily. The lip of the lily was about three feet high, and Becky, not being as tall as me, had some difficulty getting in. I reached down and grasped her under her arms, and pulled her up from out of the water. She fell against me and caught my shoulders. With her right hand she pulled at her hair, bunching it, she pushed it behind her ears, revealing her full face. I froze, for I was grounded, spellbound by her white beauty in the violet night, for she, and only she, lit Wormwood now.
* * *
We two are face to face – each an echo of the other – our hearts, in unison, beat to a tune that neither can decipher, but both can easily understand.
We are opposites, and yet, pulled together as one. The force that keeps us there is primal, deep, and good – it is the magnet of God.
We touch, and I tilt my head toward her face. Our lips touch, and we both understand that this is how it will be from now on between us: she and I.
Our kiss is full. Her lips are soft and her mouth is warm. It is safe. It is private. Only the water-lilies know of it. The violet moon, watching above, knows too. But we are among friends, and nothing can stop us now: not Lilith, not Lincoln, not John, not Crystalson, nor even Scudamour himself. We are alone, and this time belongs only to us:
The water-lily lurches beneath us, and I stumble backward into its vine, tangled hump.
We are pulled apart. And together we laugh. We are laughing at ourselves, and it feels so good to feel so good.
Becky starts to say something, but our water-lily lurches once again. Are we moving? And as suddenly as the spell that had fallen between us had come, just as quickly did it dissipate. We are not so safe, after all.
“Whoa. What was that? Are we moving?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
I look over the side and see that we are actually spinning in a slow circle.
“No. Not really, we’re rotating. Come and look.”
Becky joins me at the lip, but as soon as she leaves the hump and stands beside me, the motion stops.
Side by side, we stare into the dark water. The other water-lilies beside us rock gently on the waves our lily has generated. As there is nothing to see, we move away from the lip, back toward the hump. And as soon as we stand by the hump, the water lily begins to move once again.
“There it goes again,” says Becky, grabbing hold of the nearest vine to catch herself from falling.
We return to the lip, and as before, the motion stops.
“Maybe we are doing something to cause it?”
I go back to where we had been standing and push aside the vines to get a better look at the hump. And on it, to my horror, I see eyes. Hundreds of them; they are grave-colored, and all of them stare back at me, unblinking.
Startled, I give a small yelp and fall back onto the water lily’s soft floor.
Becky looks at me sitting there and goes over to see what I had seen.
“No wait…,” I try to stop her, but it is too late.
And standing before the hump she freezes, staring at the little eyes imbedded there.
And as I watch, I see a curious thing. The violet light of the moon casts Becky’s shadow before the hump as she moves towards it; where her shadow falls, the eyes beneath it close as if in sleep, and those that her shadow does not touch, remain open – wide-awake. But more importantly, when the little eyes close, the water-lily moves.
Now I understand. The eyes are somehow photoelectric; they react to the light – this is how the water-lily moves to begin with: by the light of the moon.
I come up behind Becky and put my arms about her. “It’s okay,” I whisper, “I don’t think they’re real eyes. Watch…”
I move her to the left, and her shadow shifts, and so too does the water-lily.
She nods. Her hair, thick, black, and beautiful is so close to my face; I breathe it in. It is intoxicating. And I think I can die right then and there and been happy enough with the life given me so far. “I see it.” she says, “The moon?”
“Yes, the moon. It won’t do it for me because I don’t have a shadow.”
“Let’s experiment,” she says excitedly.
Laughing, we move about the hump, changing the lily’s motion as we go. With the moon almost directly over our heads, the eyes on the hump remain mostly ‘awake,’ and hence our seemingly neutral position. Moving Becky about the hump not only gives me an excuse to touch her, but also, it gives me an idea on how the to make the water-lily do what I want.
I tell Becky of my plan, and she nods in agreement.
I splash my way back to shore and break some lower branches off the nearest Mangrove tree. And I swear it groans in pain as I break them, but headless, I go about my business. The branches are thick with dense leaves, and this suits my purpose well.
Within a few minutes, we are ready. I return to the lily and drape the branches about the hump as best I can. I put one side of the hump to ‘sleep,’ and then, with a shudder, our water-lily begins to move slowly away from the shore.
To avoid interference from her shadow, Becky climbs the hump, and from her vantage up there, she is able to give me directions, for I cast no shadow, and I do not interfere with the lily’s little eyes, and so I remain on the pad to steer us. I move the branches about as Becky calls down to me: left, right, forward, or aft, as needed; and ever so slowly, like an icebreaker making its way northward, we push our way through the flotilla of water-lilies about us, and make our way out onto the wider river beyond.
* * *
The mouth of the harbor was very rough. And the river beyond it was very wide; it looked far bigger from the “deck” of the water-lily than it had from hills above. And as we were being tossed about — Becky above me, holding on tightly to the thick stems of the yellow flowers up there, and me, thrown about the pad like an unwanted marionette, I wondered if I had made a grave error in judgment in coming out here to begin with. But once we were passed the harbor mouth, and out onto the river proper, it smoothed out considerably, and my mood lightened. Becky gave me a bright smile from her perch above, making the whole mad venture worthwhile. I returned her smile, happy, I think, for the first time in a long time.
The river had a brisk chop to it, but in no way could it be considered rough. The water-lily tensed up some, lifting its lip and adjusting its ballast to the water beneath it. It seemed made for this deep, open water.
I could feel the coarse rippling of the water beneath my feet, and being on the water, gave me a sense of peace and serenity. I looked about, marveling at the great river and the mountainous terrain of the valley walls about us; all of it lit purple by the wine-colored light from above.
“Look out!” called Becky suddenly. “We’re going the wrong way!”
A current had caught us. It drove us spinning madly downriver.
I rushed about the lily’s hump with my branches waving back and forth; it took some real creative work to get us to stop spinning, and once I’d achieved that, I was able to slowly edge us out of the current and get us back onto the milder waters in the middle of the river. And once there, things got easier for us, we were still moving downriver, but the water-lily, with its eyes properly set before the light of the moon, behaved the way we needed it to.
I did not like the look of the eyes. They seemed dead. Much as the eyes of the fish-people had been dead. All the same, it was uncanny how like the eyes resembled human eyes: lashes and lids, asleep and awake; and there was depth too, but not much. Enough to feel they were human-like, but not enough to feel they were cognizant of greater things. They were dead but alive, if that makes any sense.
After a few minutes of carefully shifting the branches about, I got us moving upriver again. It was slow going, but after a few adjustments, we began to make real headway.
I looked up at Becky. She sat on her knees amongst the giant yellow flowers up there, staring straight ahead. There was a light wind blowing, and her hair was whipped and tussled behind her. She looked like Guinevere up there, or some beautiful carved figurehead – steering us onward from the prow of her ship. Her beauty so captivated me, I knew without question that I loved her. Yes–, yes I did. How could I not?
She smiled down at me again, obviously pleased with my pilotage.
I wanted to be with her, but dared not leave our steerage to chance, lest we be driven downriver again, and out to sea. Then it dawned on me that there might be an easier way.
The moon had been almost at its zenith when we began our watery jaunt, but now it sat just behind Becky’s shoulder, and this made steering the water-lily easier, and so, I set my braches carefully afore the hump, and climbed up to her. She kissed me lightly on my cheek and pointed up river, not saying a word.
It was a beautiful sight. The water shone and shimmered with the all violet might the moon had to offer. Beneath the dark water, sparks of green and streaks of white darted before our lily’s bow. Off in the distance, the first of the teardrop islands we had seen from up on high came into sight, and I wondered if that was where the boat had sailed to – to some secret, hidden harbor there, perhaps?
* * *
I seat myself behind Becky. I push aside the great yellow petals. I reach for my branches. I lift one branch at a time, turning it about so the leafy part points down and the branch part points up. Each time I move one of the branches the water-lily lurches, and Becky gives a delighted shriek.
Playfully we tussle up there among the flowers; with her hair in my face, we kiss.
For it seems inevitable, that thing that happened next between us — buried as we are among the flowers — their rich, heavy aroma devouring us both and drawing us in.
My goal, as should be the goal of every male, insect or man, or combination thereof, that the act of love not be recreational. It is serious business – the goal always: creation. But one does not think this. Instinct gets in the way and takes over, spoiling everything.
So I decided I must be serious. And this is how I approach her: Becky — my goal, my target, my lover — should expect no less from me than she should expect from God Himself. For to fail her is to cheat her, and Becky, I will not cheat.
I do not think of my wife or my children. And why should I, they are dead and this is not about them – and I’m not even sure if this is about me anymore — for who am I really? — a ghost living in another man’s body? Does Becky love executionerofthewill, or the thing Lilith has changed him into?
Why had Becky followed me back to the rental? For I am no more than a phantom to Becky – it’s executionerofthewill she sees, not me.
And now I know why she followed me back to the rental.
And now I know why she would not see Crystalson.
And even knowing all this, still I succumb.
And I do not take Becky’s caresses lightly. Man is the weaker sex – and in her grip, I know it to be true — Becky will sustain me, and executionerofthewill’s body will give me the strength with which to see it through… She is everything now. Wormwood is forgotten. Lilith is forgotten. Lincoln is forgotten. John is forgotten. Crystalson is forgotten. Scudamour is forgotten.
And we two are forgotten – for we are so lost in each other.
And so, as our rhythm is matched — blow for blow — she and I — it is a war of persistence we have begun – both of us — flushed red at the others touch, for like the flowers about us, we are raw and in full bloom.
Consciousness — I phase in and phase out of it. I see Becky’s face – so close to mine — beautiful: it lusted purple in the violet night.
I am consumed.
Faster now, faster now, Becky is all that matters. She envelops me; she enfolds me; she engulfs me.
And it was never me. It was never me. It is her. It was always her: Becky is Universe Magnificent now, and I am adrift in her Heaven.
* * *
From a distance comes a sound:
It is the thumping bass of a deep, beating drum, but so rhythmic I know It to be a beating heart – and I wake. I sit up; I look about me. The great yellow flowers are burst and exploded; flushed now, in full flower, they cascade about me. The violet moon above is glowing hot white, and something is coming toward me from downriver.
It is a man. Straight as a rod, he does not walk nor do his legs move, instead he glides. His feet do not touch the water’s surface. His eyes are crystal and they see right through me. His chest is open. Blood flows freely across his right hand, for with it, using his index finger, he points to that place within him.
He comes alongside the water-lily; then floats up to my height atop the lily’s perch, and speaks. And this is what he says:
“Do you know what a fractal is, exnzpat?”
“I think so. Isn’t a type of shape?” I reply.
“Yes, that’s right. It’s a shape. A self-similar shape – by this I mean a shape composed entirely of smaller shapes that are exactly alike as that that contains the whole.”
“Don’t you think it’s odd then that people, planets, and suns are essentially just forms of energy – plastic energy, to be sure, but shaped and molded into the things we see ourselves to be?
“And so then, we must ask ourselves, what’s in a shape?”
“I don’t know? Must there be something in it?” I ask in dismay.
He smiles at this – and his smile is a shape in itself — and the water-lily and the water round us are suddenly lit up like molten gold.
“Well of course, exnzpat. Everything matters — look round you – why are so blind?”
“I dug my eyes out of my head with a nail-puller?” I say.
But He only laughs at this and says, “Look! Becky wakes! Wakeup exnzpat, open your eyes and be with her!”
And so I do.
Becky, naked beside me: soft, pink, beautiful, and as shapely as the buttery-yellow flowers blooming about us, stirs at my touch.
And then I begin to see. For the first time, I think, I really begin to see…
Becky looks up at me smiling down at her; she smiles coyly back at me. And I think to myself, no crystal eyes can ever out do that smile.
And I ask her, “Do you know what a fractal is?”
But she only laughs at my seriousness, and pulls me to her and says, “Don’t cry, exnzpat. I’m here.”
I had not noticed the tears on my face. With a single finger, she gently brushes them from my cheeks and then kisses me.
For here she is, and I hold on tight, lest I lose her as I have lost everything else in my life.