More and Less
Lakes of obscurity
Curves of discovery
More and Less
Lakes of obscurity
Curves of discovery
A growling thunder grew louder outside the loft’s single-pane windows and provided cover for 3 deafening cracks like sniper fire, each earning a jump from Doyle as he grappled with memories played on an incessant reel since he awoke that morning. The tiny jade plant he’d hurled across the loft lay broken on the kitchen counter. “Bad karma for your own evil”, Kazmir whispered in his mind. Had he gone mad himself? His long fingers raked through his unwashed hair and made it stand on end. Phoebe’s channeled anger couldn’t possibly lift him, or rather slam his body, into a beam 12 feet in the air. Except his back sported a bruise the length of his spine, the width of the beam overhead, and his skull throbbed without a touch-a persuasive set of evidence. Then there were the dreams. Doyle remembered all but one of his “research subjects” had expressed doubts about reality, and this gave him a sliver of denial he mistook for a life raft. Phoebe had all but forced him to drink her “tonic”. His scattered mind forgot the exact order of last night’s events. “I don’t feel like myself, like my head’s in the clouds for real”, he remembered Shana had said one afternoon after he’d dosed her with two hits of LSD. She’d not been “herself”, or the Shana from before that trip, ever again. He saw her bare feet swinging over his head and pulled on one, but it was stiff and purplish… wait, that wasn’t Shana. The lace of her nightgown filtered sunlight in a floral pattern on the pink wall behind his mother’s dead body. Doyle slammed his hands on the table as a sob escaped his throat and urine soaked his jeans, just as it had once soaked his Pooh pj pants. Kaz whispered in his ear, “Did you drive her to it?” and “Admit it. You pushed Shana to it”. “Nooo! No! No!”, Doyle yelled, “They did to themselves. They did it! They left me”! Phoebe heard his anguished cries from the landing, unsurprised and unmoved for the most part, except for a sliver of enjoyment, an intriguing new feeling not entirely unwelcome. Thunder clapped and grief made way for anger as she wondered again why Shana hadn’t broken it off with him when it became obvious he had control issues. While the tail-end of Eddie Money’s If I Could Walk on Water streamed through the loft’s heavy security door, Phoebe hesitated a minute then drew back her key as Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love started, and decided to eat in the cafeteria for the first time without Shana. Her urge to distance herself couldn’t be denied, no matter what Dr. Pressman had advised regarding Doyle’s apology and atonement. The stench of pizza puke would likely ruin meals at home for a few days, anyway, and the radio was not her friend lately.
An almost black horizon to the east crackled with bright white jags as Phoebe zipped her jacket, pulled up her hood and made her way south, across the quad still littered with white and pink tree blossoms, colorful flyers and a few Styrofoam cups in the mix. Only a couple others were out, both headed in the same direction as Phoebe- toward the student center and hub of university life outside of classes. They had almost lived there during their freshman year between aerobics, the pool, their freshman dining plan, trivia and ping pong tournaments, T.V. lounges including movie nights, and the acoustically impressive performing arts auditorium where they’d seen P.M. Dawn and Bow Wow Wow. Memories made her smile a little. The girl’s tiny shared room in Lindbergh Hall had been stuffed with coats for every season hung on the end of the bunk, dozens of highlighted worn books in boxes under the bed, multiple mediums of art supplies in copy paper boxes labeled in black marker, records and cassette tapes along with a simple stereo set on the desk, and Shana’s boots and Phoebe’s picture albums scattered and wedged into corners. Thankfully, there were lockers in the communal shower room down the hall where they used one for jeans and sweatshirts-their “uniforms” that first year. Her mother would’ve been proud of how they coped and organized their lives after she died. The few times Phoebe couldn’t summon up her Mother’s voice within, Shana had stepped in with her stories of a better tomorrow. Her heart clutched in her chest and she found it hard to swallow for a moment until someone behind her cleared their throat, “Excuse me”. “Oh, yeah, sorry dude”, Phoebe moved aside and wiped her eyes quickly with her her sleeve. Rumbles overhead muffled what they said next as they turned their heads to reach under the sneeze guard, which was good because she didn’t want to speak to anyone at that moment. She wondered if Shana enjoyed her “better tomorrow” as the two friends wandered away chatting. With long sighs she built what her best friend would’ve called an “emotional mountain of a salad” and watched the storm arrive through a northern wall of glass. Charcoal rivers poured across the sky, painted over golden wisps of daylight, and cast the vast space around her in shadow. Mini cyclones of debris-laden wind bent trees this way and that and stripped them of their final blossoms while rain lashed against the glass. Shana would have loved the impressionist watery view, may have created a charcoal rendition of it in black and white. Perhaps I’ll do it, she thought as she blinked hard. Three golden orbs in the distant dark sky, obscured as if by smoke, moved further away until she could barely notice them. Storms usually reminded her of her mother, of standing at her graveside for hours until the rain ceased and a patch of white sky shone through, backlit by blinding sunlight. Phoebe didn’t think of her mother now, nor the parting clouds that day four years ago. Loneliness abated more and more as she planned Doyle’s metamorphosis in her mind’s eye. Kazmir stoked her anger with visions of Shana in the coroner’s drawer, a single pinprick on the inside of her arm. He’d pay. Each stab of her fork met with a sharp squeal. He’d pay much more than that, she decided, and was rewarded with a deeply pained groan from him as in her mind’s eye Phoebe imagined her hands, strong and pulsing with navy blue veins, painstakingly stretch Igor’s cervical vertebrae and hold the bones apart. Lightning cracked both in the sky before her and in his limbs as the nerve passages narrowed, shocks unlike anything Doyle had ever felt. Thrilling bloodlust throbbed upward from her base and allowed Death himself to will her phantom hands gleefully with a handsaw across bony protrusions, back and forth, back and forth. Flashes of brilliant azure and silver pulled one hand away in a vacuum of energy to her left as her mind appreciated her handiwork and joined her will to flare the smoothed bone outward. Phoebe’s teeth bit down on a carrot as her right hand stabbed a forkful of lettuce, malefic energy alone holding her nemesis in a vengeful stretch. Kaz tickled her heart and Phoebe giggled as Doyle gasped and sucked at the air, his throat constricted. Phoebe willed Shana’s final gasps for breath to play on repeat in his ears, then connected the pieces of bone with tremendous force, Igor’s bones fused with Death’s contribution, Phoebe’s intention and Doyle’s karma. Torturous heart-rending grief rippled across campus and up Budway Avenue to 333C at the top of steep wooden stairs, the loft Shana had insisted was kismet, then flowed back again to the dining hall to form a circlet of deathly energy shot through with daggers of blame, regret and revenge. Death and Kaz had a lot of material to work with for her soul’s imprisonment. The last of Phoebe’s loneliness abated, as did the powerlessness that had hounded her since her ambulance ride. “He thinks you’re weak“, came an unfamiliar voice as she thought of Doyle’s intrusion, his schemes, his selfish pleasure-seeking at Shana’s expense. At her expense. “He wants to control you like he did Shana”, Kazmir planted in her mind, “He plans to steal all your money”. That was crazy, but what if it were true? A poisonous vine sprouted as she realized again she was on her own. Phoebe’s soul stiffened, a golden thread in her star chakra severed even as her ancestors the Tri-Eloh petitioned The Marys for her salvation. “Why show him mercy? Make him earn your forgiveness with service.” The idea of cocky, handsome and brilliant Doyle as Igor took on more life, fed by her friend’s betrayal and absence. She envisioned her hands as they separated the upper trapezius and viewed the levator scapulae behind it. Doyle regretted ever meeting Shana, ever wondering what darkness resided within her. “I don’t deserve this”, he thought right before Phoebe remembered what that particular muscle did. Her thumb and forefinger pinched it resolutely and twisted it an infinitesimal tiny bit, which allowed Igor to take small gulps of air through his mouth. Thunder exploded overhead and the cafeteria emptied as tree limbs and loose lawn furniture hit the glass. Kazmir flashed memories of Shana pale and sickly during the last month of her life. “I should’ve helped her, made her listen, fucking done SOMETHING”, Her own spine tingled when Phoebe’s phantom hand caressed the ligamentum nuchae with her fingernails and left inch-long horizontal slices that deepened with accusation and made Doyle’s soul howl as she tinkered with his voice box. The tickle in her heart increased and spread to her belly. Death laughed and so did Kazmir as Phoebe, entirely given over now to her crude surgical maneuvers, sobbed Shana’s name. Eyes glazed and golden, together they pulled on tendons her probing fingers discovered underneath the fibrous nuchal sheet of cartilage until Doyle’s skull angled to the right at 45 degrees over his shoulder and his arms stiffened straight. “He knows his anatomy even better than me“, Phoebe thought when she realized his heart raced and entire body shook in stark terror, unable to get up from the floor. Drool covered his chin as he mewled, “peeee… sorrreeeee”. Satisfied and a bit excited to see him, she drew her consciousness back to her physical body with a backward count of ten. The storm was all but over, the wind and thunder gone, natural and man-made debris mixed at the bottom of the glass wall. Phoebe wiped her eyes on her wet sleeves, pushed her tray aside and appreciated a pink glow to the west before she said out loud to no one, “I suppose it’s time I go meet MY creature, my Igor.”
The Marys allowed familiar assistance for Phoebe, not the requested Guardian exactly, but the Tri-Eloh thought they might be able to convince a supremely soft-hearted Angel to inhabit a cat for a few years, or maybe a short decade considering how quickly Death and Kazmir corrupted Phoebe. Of course, it was all up to Oisin. The Marys reminded the Tri-Eloh of Doyle’s soul’s merkaba, how close he was to a cage of his ancestor’s bones, and urged them to review both it’s contract and lineage. The Tri agreed to assign a research angel to the task, however Saint Joan asked to be of service as she’d taken an interest in the endurance of the Anam Chara’s soul bond. Free will complicated the universe, however it also led to surprises Death never saw coming.
“We are fashioned creatures, but half made-up” ~ Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Originally, Frankenstein seemed an easy essay to knock out due to it’s familiarity, Phoebe insisted in her second session with Dr. Pressman since her discharge a week ago. “But it was Shana, not YOU, who was familiar with Mary Shelley’s work. I think it would be productive for us to focus on your enmeshment with Shana so you can move on and successfully finish university. This essay is as good a place to start as any. I’d like you to further make it yours by writing it in your space in the apartment, not you and Shana’s shared space, but yours alone. Do you think you can do that?” As always, Dinah Pressman’s tone remained even and confident, as if no one had ever told her, “No, I will not.” Phoebe would not be the first. Although it had been Shana in their senior year of high school who crafted her first “A” paper, the friends had discussed both the Creature’s and Victor’s motivations and torments at length, to the point of arguing. Only a few years later, death, alchemy, and the nature of the creature weaved a tale beyond imagining in Phoebe’s mind. Kaz’s whispered comparisons between her and Victor, Shana and the Creature, made her question her friendship and true feelings. Was she mindlessly motivated by a savior complex? Shana had saved her many times, and at other times they’d leaned on one another, like when they touched on their grief. Was she “enmeshed”, and where was the line between love and this handicap? “I’ll try. It’s an open loft, ya know? I usually wander around, look out the windows by Shana’s bed ever so often; helps me think.” “No need to be a purist, Phoebe”. “Trust me, Dr. Pressman. I want to get away from everything that reminds me of her, but it’s impossible. Maybe it would help if I start packing up a few of her things this weekend”. Or maybe she’d ask Doyle to do it, but she kept that thought to herself. The psychiatrist looked at her with kindness, but Phoebe didn’t sense pity like she did when they met in Resting Pines. She decided to take it as a good sign despite the doctor’s misunderstanding. She’d never needed Shana for school, but for writing projects they’d excelled by teaming. As her mother used to say, “what one doesn’t think of, the other will”. Shana usually said Phoebe overthought it, just as she currently did. If Mary Shelley could imagine such a psychologically complex tale, surely Phoebe could write an aspirational final essay without Shana’s input. “I’ll see you back here on Friday and you can let me know how it went. From what you’ve told me, I don’t expect any surprises from Mr. Regan’s progress report this week. I’m happy to hear the nightmares have resolved, but don’t be concerned if you have them until your mind is more settled about your new reality.” Phoebe couldn’t tell the doctor about the pain of being eaten alive or what it felt like as she slithered on her snake belly across the bottom of a lake, and certainly not about her recent journeys to unimaginably exquisite or horrifying spaces, nor angelically-guided reunions with Shana’s essence. Her secret existences were still better than her reality. Phoebe felt as if she hauled around a leaden head and heart, despite lighting a candle for Shana every day in a campus chapel. But, disturbed as she was, she still could not imagine how Shana felt in her last moments, couldn’t fathom what lies ran through her friend’s head, but she began to imagine.
Tchaichovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers played vibrantly from her dented and taped boom box and instantly grated on her nerves. Coke cans and Oreo crumbs littered her mother’s silver-flecked formica dining table; what Phoebe recognized as pages-thick advanced chemistry exams along with his rumpled test key covered stains, and by association-memories. Of course he’d set up right where she and Shana normally studied the most. Phoebe tossed a can into the kitchen sink, then another with satisfaction. He’d be up most of the night if he planned on finishing, she thought and heard the shower’s signature pipe rumble as if in agreement. “I’m ordering pizza!”, she yelled through the frosted pane of the bathroom door and stood transfixed as he turned the water off and stepped easily out of the tub. He knows damn well I can see him. Doyle stretched a towel between his hands and slowly sawed it back and forth on his backside. “Russo’s? Will you get onions and mushrooms on half? Sorry about the music, didn’t think you’d be home for a while yet”, he called. Barone’s was right around the corner, but Phoebe thought she could be a little flexible this once. She turned the music off with a shake of her head. Who, other than Shana, listened to The Nutcracker in May? “Please bring a 2-liter of Coke, too” she told the chill voice on the phone. Loose sweat pants and a high school track sweatshirt fraying at the cuffs and neck signaled a trickle of inspirational flow in her mind, the issue of Victor’s responsibility to his creation tugged at a thread of an idea, but it broke, again. Essays required her flavor, but for an “A” they required fresh blood, a profound realization. Professors got off on student’s epiphanies, the more vulnerable the better, unless it crossed into uncomfortable territory and kept going, as she’d mistakenly done only once. Did she have a responsibility to Shana? If so, she’d failed entirely. Phoebe caught her light blue eyes at the moment they turned golden in a star-shaped mirror swinging on a strand of wooden beads in a breeze from nowhere. Shana had held her steady on a wobbly barstool when she hung the mirror, her Christmas gift, from a rusty nail head. She’d called her a star, her very own true north. Am I a monster? Phoebe remembered waves of possessiveness and rejection she was ashamed of when Shana started dating Doyle, similar to the creature’s envy when he spied Dr. Frankenstein with his new wife through the window, the two happy and laughing with no care for him. Her stomach growled in time with a single hard knock. A couple notes to help her pick up this thread of self-reproach and, simultaneously, restrict her personal revelations on the page. Her eyes changed more often when Doyle was near, the only “trigger” she’d figured out, so far. Phoebe stuck her head out from behind a paneled screen painted with golden and bronze wild mustangs in full gallop and smiled at the delivery person before she stuck her tongue out at Doyle’s back. Although they’d settled quickly into a routine, both taking refuge in their schedules, she hated him living here, in her and Shana’s loft. It was perverse, but she reminded herself it was temporary several times a day. Clearly unamused, the pony-tailed teen rolled her eyes at Phoebe then smiled extra wide when Doyle handed her a five. “Have a good one, Dude”, he said distractedly as he flung the door closed and she was forced to step back. At least he was also pressured by finals. “Put it over there on the coffee table”. Phoebe waved at Doyle with a pack of doubly thick paper plates he’d bought when he got her cheerios, bananas and milk before her discharge, his first act as her “guardian”. He’d confessed he hated washing dishes, to which Phoebe gave him no reply. After a couple days, he’d mostly given up talking to her, except when he woke her from night terrors. Phoebe was lost in thought when he cleared his throat. “You can run it past me if you want, your essay. I’ve got a load of papers to correct, but I can’t go back to that right now. I’ll have just as many after tomorrow morning’s exam. Please. You’d be doing me a favor, which might work against me, but if it would help… up to you”, he ended with a shrug. Emotionless, she stared through Doyle, as she’d done dozens of times over the past two weeks. When she looked at him she always thought the same thing, but if she killed him, she’d never write the essay, never receive a final grade for the single class she didn’t drop. Desperate for another viewpoint, she reconsidered her tact and surprised him. “Any thoughts on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? I’m thinking about the doctor’s responsibility to the creature, to his creation” Phoebe wrestled a piece of pizza crust with her back teeth as she forced her eyes to focus on the man who might be responsible for her best friend’s death. “One of the saddest books ever. God, I hated the end. Lemme think. Oh yeah, freshman paper on Mary and Percy toward the end of the semester, so depressing. I cast him as a predatory type and her as a literary genius. Don’t some people believe they were cursed? I think a lot of my classmates took that angle.” He wasn’t an English major, Phoebe reminded herself, but he thought in an orderly, and linear fashion, suited for science. “Yeah, I don’t give a shit about Percy. This essay is about Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, in other words-the subtitle’s inference” Phoebe watched Doyle turn Prometheus over in his mind, his hooded eyes slanted away from her and to the ceiling, brows flattened. “Well… what do you have so far? You’re saying Prometheus or Frankenstein’s ambition is the crux your thesis? I can’t remember how he… wait, ok, he was chained and pecked to death by a bird every day, a punishment from Zeus, right? How does that fit?” Phoebe let the question hang in the air for a moment as if she considered what he’d said, when in actuality she pictured Doyle chained to a mountain top, vultures feasting as other flew away with his entrails. Her breath quickened. “Yeah, for stealing fire and giving it to humanity. He over-reached, changed man’s fate. I propose Mary Shelley likened Prometheus to scientific experimentation with unintended consequences. At least that’s what my interpretation is right now.” She had to admit the pizza was better than Barone’s. As she wrapped cheese around her finger, Doyle rose and wandered barefoot over to a narrow window, dusky light . He ran one long-fingered hand through his still-wet blonde mane and let out a loud sigh. “Is that supposed to be directed at me?” His voice let Phoebe know she’d hit her intended target, but she didn’t expect him to hurl the little jade plant he’d given her when they first met against the brick wall behind her with surprising ferocity. Shards of green pottery landed in her hair, but stopped short of the pizza, thank goodness. Phoebe rose quickly, more than a little afraid, but even more angry at this person who had the audacity to insinuate himself into her life after he helped her best friend, her soul sister, self-destruct. Doyle realized his mistake when Phoebe’s eyes changed from blue to golden elliptical-shaped viper eyes, and with a gaze, lifted all two hundred pounds of him quickly until a beam on the loft’s ceiling cut into his back. He froze, suddenly afraid his struggles would plummet him to the hardwood below. “Let me down, Phoebe! I’m sorry; I swear it won’t happen again!” “No, it won’t.” She struggled to hide her shock at this ability, intent on keeping control now that she had it. “You almost had me fooled, you fucker.” Her face twisted with grief as she remembered what this man took from her, took from them. Doyle groaned loudly and doubled over on the ceiling. A voice inside cautioned Phoebe, but a different instinct took over as she envisioned her viper self ‘s hinged jaws take a bite from his center, right below the belly button. No thought existed for her when she entered his thoracic cavity. As the golden viper Doyle knew was Phoebe coiled inside him, it flicked it’s forked tongue like a whip and cut tiny slices in the tissues between his ribs. She slowed within his body and felt his wildly erratic heart call to her from behind a lung. He screamed as her flat head pushed hard against the pinkish lung and pinned it aside. “Noooo, Phoebe, Pleeeee…” his gasp ended, the pain a sudden suffocating blanket of dark mercy he mistook for Death. Kazmir could not be happier with his quick transformation of the girl.
By the time Phoebe returned from the library with the name of the rock (Caucasus Mountains, likely Mount Elbrus) Prometheus had been chained to, she’d also come up with a solution to the problem of Doyle Regan. His entrails and organs were intact when he awoke on Shana’s bed behind a screen painted with a gloriously colorful garden, complete with birds, bees, a copper fox and Monarch butterflies. The viper was gone and Phoebe’s eyes were blue and intent as she watched him warily. He’d been having nightmares since Shana hung herself, but nothing had prepared him for the experience they’d had earlier. “There’s another one… another version of Frankenstein. Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein gave me an idea.” Doyle felt odd. Slowly he rolled over and put his feet on the floor. Phoebe put two frames and Shana’s fairy cards in a copy paper box she’d also gotten at the library. Doyle sprang up and ran toward the bathroom as three slices of pizza ejected from his roiling belly not only in the open toilet, but all over it. Ten minutes later he still dry-heaved into the bowl, face red as tears and snot flowed. Phoebe handed him a cold wet wash cloth, one of the thick white ones she’d given Shana for Christmas. “Don’t worry, Doyle. I’ll take care of you. And you will take care of me.” His stomach suddenly calmed. He wasn’t sure if he felt afraid or just very sick. “Here you go”, Phoebe handed him a dainty tea cup, “I know you said you didn’t like tea before, but this is like a tonic, a little medicine to help you go along. You see… you are going to be MY Igor. Now, sip it ’cause it’s really hot”. The sweet tea did seem to soothe his nerves and slow down his anxious heart. “What is it?” Phoebe smiled at him placatingly before she slapped him satisfyingly hard, like she’d wanted to for quite some time. “Don’t worry about it. You should get back to those exams, and I have an essay to write. In a couple of hours I want you to help me pack up some of Shana’s things and we’ll move her screen. Then you can have her bed for the rest of the summer.” He wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t feel like arguing with her, of that he was certain. An hour later Phoebe wandered over to the window as Doyle sat at her mother’s formica table and corrected chemistry exams as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Phoebe’s essay flowed like a spring creek on a sunny day.
If all you can do is crawl, start crawling – Rumi
Professor Fritsche kindly allowed Phoebe to submit both her and Shana’s essays on the topics of marriage, lust, and consequence, as portrayed in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Their deceased parents served the young women’s purposes as bad examples similar in scope to Anna’s, although they had different opinions about her karma. Professor F peered above his glasses at her and mumbled something about, “a waste of talent” and “Hope you’ve started your final despite everything”. He finds the ground under academics more stable than death‘s abyss of unknowns, Phoebe thought later over a cup of peppermint tea as she sat in the grass and pretended to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the umpteenth time. With her urging, their 19th Century Lit prof agreed to submit a final grade for Shana, minus a final exam essay, if the Dean of the English Department, and one of Shana’s most loved professors, approved. Phoebe simply framed her request as a memorial to Shana, and gave the Dean a copy of her friend’s last and final essay. The Dean found Shana’s ideas about passion versus fidelity especially naïve and moving in light of her suicide. Shana would receive a grade for her favorite class that semester, and Phoebe would remember it as the last course they took together. Classmates gave her shy nods, their sad eyes relaying the words they didn’t find. A few were obviously surprised when she walked into chem lab an hour after being released from Resting Pines, not that they imagined what Phoebe ran up against after her best friend’s painful exit.
Her fists slid off it’s slick stark white scales as a serpent with Doyle’s dark eyes fully consumed her. Phoebe discovered herself a golden serpent who slid across symbols carved on tangerine colored walls within her Grandmother tree, an ancient cedar in the Northwoods of Michigan. The symbols pulsed with heat as if alive, but the Ankh is where she fit her slim viper form. Her head rested in the opening of the key of life and Phoebe finally surrendered all she was before Shana’s suicide. Intelligent and witty, her well-crafted college persona came apart at the seams like a sun-bleached scarecrow, mere stuffing of knowledge, sarcasm and friendship scattered, buried, and carried off by crows. Or snakes. Phoebe dreamed of a snowy white python with hinged jaws thanks to Kazmir, Death’s demon who orchestrated these nightly feasts. Warm blood pulsed and squirted into her eyes and mouth as she yelled out, foot, ankle, tibula and fibula crushed like glass in a grinder with each agonizing swallow. Smothered screams with the last gulp of her skull and then nothing until she opened slits and felt her essence in a snake’s condemned existence. “As low as a snake”, Kazmir whispered as she envisioned her cedar sanctuary finally on the third night. In the Ankh, considered in Hebrew as the “Key of Life”, Phoebe’s essence glided among reeds along a lake’s shoreline, her slim serpent body a ribbon of gold amongst the cat tails and lily pads. She dove and swam along the bottom between weeds that rose toward the light above, rocks risen from below, and an occasional clam, the silt velvet against her tender underbelly. Deeper and deeper into the dark she searched and undulated her length as she came to embody the viper and her eyes adjusted to see every shadow. Unsure of what she sought exactly, Phoebe swam until far away she thought she heard a song one only ever sung for her, in private. Ahead, a blushing glow grew and beckoned with a sad melody where only friendship existed before.
“Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed.” Shana sang Bette Midler’s The Rose for Phoebe not long after their blood sister ritual at the end of 7th grade in 1985. She’d sang it to her countless times over the past seven years, when Phoebe felt like anything but a rose, and it served as a soothing balm. Although she’d never been able to express how special it made her feel, she didn’t have to. For Shana, Phoebe’s patient tutoring, whenever she needed her, felt like acceptance during the years that followed her parent’s abuses. Phoebe had never made her earn love, and forgave easily, but Shana had never skipped out on classes before. Her personal drug usage consisted of a couple puffs during marijuana movie nights at a friend’s apartment last summer. Her parent’s addiction served as a constant reminder of how drugs and alcohol changed people for the worst, hard-won knowledge which kept her straight until Doyle’s manipulations opened the door for Death. During the last weeks of her life, paranoia about losing Phoebe’s love grew as Kaz gleefully watched her create her own scenes of rejection, including burning insults it planted in her psyche. The two friends had never exchanged insults, had never even had a blowup disagreement, but Shana’s artist’s imagination had always been powerful. If they had fought, Phoebe would have explained how it was simply impossible to lose her friendship for a mistake. She would have said “Love forgives”. As Phoebe the golden snake entered the pink glow of a temporary healing chamber, miles deep in a Great Lake, their human essences reformed as womanly silhouettes. Shana and Phoebe hugged and cried dry tears as they held onto one another. No words sufficed, so none were exchanged.
Phoebe awoke to Doyle’s yell from the kitchen, “Time to get up, Phoebe! Gotta fly, but there’s hot water in the kettle. You awake?”. “Yeah” she croaked followed by a stronger, “I’m up! I’m good!”. Her voice squeaked a bit. She prayed Doyle didn’t check on her behind the privacy screen and spy the perfectly shed golden-hued snake skin complete with eyelids stretched out on her bedspread. Doyle flipped the switch on the radio and turned up the volume so she’d get up for sure. Paula Abdul accused her of a being a “Cold Hearted snake”, a dark start to her first day of crafting a final essay about the merits of Dr. Frankenstein.
Sha’s trite confession hung in the air and multi-hued stars holding space for her form recessed into inky shame she’d secreted away in a secured heart chamber. An imaginative 11 year old constructed an almost impenetrable locked space for memories incomprehensible to her young spirit-beginning with a plastic picnic table stained with blood not her own, her father’s voice bitching about Bertie’s fee while she yelled he would pay or she’d call the cops on his perverted ass. He said she could at least knock 10 bucks off for disposal; the girl would bury it herself. A single snake stirred from her soul’s essence and slithered out from between her legs. A hiss boasted of soul ownership, “She belongs to meeee. Master Nidhug promised me the next light being turned murderesss.”
Saint Joan materialized between Sha’s essence and Nidhug’s Collector serpent, who grew fatter by the second with smugness as his potential mate refused to lay her soul bare. His forked tongue tried to move around her to kiss its’ prize. Joan’s copper form swirled, flames of orange and blue green ignited in her center as she whispered, “You have no claim”, and deflected it’s aim with holy fire. Mary the Maiden, still connected to Sha with thorny vines, pulsed sacred light energy toward her form. “She will bear me thousands. You cannot shield a murderesss without sacrificesss.” Archangel Auriel’s wings beat furiously and emitted ten phosphorescent orbs which floated into place around the Divine Sister circle then raised it above the temple, through Archangel Haniel’s opened wing, it’s feathers of silver fluff a blessed tickle on the serpent’s underbelly as it followed. Sha heard her parent’s dealer, “Tell ‘im it’s uncut, Baby, a lil’ thanks for taking care of your situation”, and felt familiar disgust swell in her locked heart chamber as she envisioned his gold-toothed grin and felt his filthy hand pat her aching belly under her mother’s Coca-Cola t-shirt. Blood had run down one of her legs in a rapid trickle and stained her new Converse high tops as she returned to her parents at the condemned flop house that was her nightmare. The circle hummed with combined harmonies from Mary the Maid, Saint Teresa, Saint Brigid, and Archangel Auriel. As the serpent coiled and snapped its’ jaws in irritation they sang, “I am loved, I am forgiven, I am whole, I am healed” in lilting and low voices layered onto Sha like silky warm blankets around her shoulders and over her head. Meanwhile, her form’s legs, one white and one black, fused together in a single grey slimy appendage as Sha’s stubborn unwillingness divided her soul between Nidhug’s guilt and Divine acceptance-her birthright. “She called me a baby killer and he made me bury it in the alley”, Sha sobbed as her form steadfastly gripped a memory of her human self as a girl knelt over a hump in gravel, blood and dirt under her fingernails. She further devolved into a grey serpent and the Collector hissed in happy anticipation of its’ progeny of snakelets in Nidhug’s pit below the Tree of Life on earth. They will eat her roots faster than she grows them, he fantasized. Archangel Haniel enveloped the circle of Saints and angelic belonging, Sha’s soul in it’s center. Haniel’s impenetrable massive wings of protection closed the Collector outside and infused the space inside with El’s loving Sun energy. Darkness often celebrated prematurely. Sha’s essence stated plainly, “I wanted them to die. I hated them.” Her skull painfully changed into a Dragon’s head and circled around to swallow her own scaly tail.
In childhood, the injuries to her soul could’ve been healed enough for an allowance of her and Phoebe’s soul contract, but none of Shana’s helper humans knew. She’d almost told her first counselor, Holly, a no-nonsense Grandmother who hugged her at the end of sessions and said it was a shame her parents didn’t teach her Spanish. But, Holly moved to Sedona after only three months of therapy, and Shana vowed to never reveal what was an even bigger shame. Instead, she excelled in school and resolutely did her best to appear “normal” and happy living with Phoebe and her Mom. And she was happy quite often, as long as she didn’t allow herself to think about, let alone emotionally process her rape, abortion by Bertie, and her parents’ betrayals and overdoses. How would a twelve, or sixteen, or twenty-year-old even begin to heal from that? In reality, almost everyone preferred to believe that whatever horrors she survived at other human’s hands were in the past, hurdles she’d jumped with ease thanks to the solicitous care she received. Until she met Doyle, who sensed she was not nearly as contained and content as she looked at first meeting and set out to pry her open for a closer look inside.
Saint Joan let out a warrior cry born of her earthly mission at Orleans, France, when she helped restore the earth’s balance of power with Archangel Michael’s, Archangel Margaret’s, and Archangel Catherine’s help. Sha felt Joan’s tremendous faith surround her serpent/dragon form with motivational wisdom as she devoured her own shadow essence. Round and round the Saintly circle, their song grew deeper, resounding clashes and thunderous groans echoed throughout the universe as Sha released lies about her own culpability and accepted unconditional love on offer to staunch a flow of exposed agony. Fully dragon, Sha’s soul embraced herself as a survivor and fire from her nostrils blazed across the ethereal realms. In the same instant, Nidhug’s Collector returned to his place in the pit below the tree to wait for his murderess bride. Perhaps her Anam Chara, her soul friend, if Kazmir’s boasts proved true.
Phoebe screamed as a snake swallowed her feet and ominously advanced up her legs, each movement accompanied by a loud crunch she felt as well as heard. “Wake up, Phoebe. It’s ok, I’m here.” Awakened for the third night in a row, Doyle wondered if her release from the hospital was a mistake as he called out to her from a futon in the open-concept loft she shared with Shana, or rather Shana’s ghost. The first night she’d gifted him a black eye when he shook her awake, an intrigue for his advanced psych seminar students who all knew about Shana’s suicide. “Ahhhhh!” Phoebe howled as the snake swallowed the rest of her alive and said, “Since she’sss not here, you will have to do.” Inside, it continued to squeeze and break the bones in her face until she heard her skull crack loudly and the snake, then tremble excitedly in enjoyment of its’ meal.
The Tri Eloh spared a moment between earth’s recently transitioned souls and contract reviews for an overdue visit with Shana’s soul. Although time was not a concern of those in ethereal realms, names were a known contaminant of mending a soul’s core identity, and she tenaciously held on to hers. A soul no longer had need of a name until: 1. reincarnation or 2. the soul took an etheric assignment, like Eddy, Oisin, and countless guardian angels. The Tri encircled her soul in a column of original gold and teal star sand within her merkaba. Normally, souls were eager to shed their earthly identity along with the inherent pain of existence and bad memories. Souls who belonged to Death replaced their merkaba with cages made of their ancestor’s bones, an indication of loyalty to no other soul or light being. These souls manifested in humans who did not connect with any of Mother Earth’s creatures, nor any cosmic gifts such as faith, creativity, a child’s love. No soul was irredeemable, however.
With El’s love and forgiveness, Shana’s eternal soul contract as an Anam Chara held strong, but her identity still housed a fortress of self-judgement. Stone by stone, the Tri’s combined divine energy blasted apart what she’d built with Kazmir’s needling guilt-ridden messages. Memories of leering faces of the caged ones who hurt her as a child with their brutality flew into the sun in jagged chunks. Shana’s ancestors struggled heartily and pulled slimy cords from her merkaba, each tossed into one of Death’s bottomless black holes. Some cords had rotted and broken as Shana refused to relinquish her shame. Death watched from afar and doled out a treat of agony for Kazmir. The merkaba must be opened fully, the Tri intuited to her ancestors, who ceased, and gravitated back to various ascension chambers. Ascension always needed help, a recent resurgence of mind-body practices on earth successful beyond expectations.
Tri Eloh escorted Sha’s partially cleansed merkaba carefully through a portal found in a solar storm, their plutonic oval shields of fire and water flowed with rubies for love, quartz for clarity and light collection, and tourmaline for protection, pushed to maximum capacity. Tentacles of sun fire sensed defeat and reached further than usual after the Tri. Unhealed energy drew destruction. Nine disk galaxies led the angelic trio and their descendant soul to a brightly adorned veil nebula which housed an almost undiscoverable temple. Four pillars of starlight shot upward and downward to infinity. Beams of golden light above were hung with immense crimson and violet veils minutely disturbed in soft cosmic breezes in this region of heaven above The Gardens. Lady Haniel’s, Lady Shekinah’s, Lady Seraphina’s, and Lady Aurora’s immense Archangel wings of fire, light, water, and air respectively, touched above, below, right and left to form a cube around this Divine feminine sacred space. Souls with divine contracts often required rare, pure light as Death’s demons rained on them for prolonged and successive periods in communities of oppressed and/or poor souls incarnated on earth. Those hurt humans hurt other humans. Death’s demons’ favorite dirty tricks piled on during a human’s effort for redemption or karmic restitution. Losses to the light met with Death’s total isolation for an eon or two, which proved inspirational enough for most souls who coveted demon statuses like Kazmir’s or even one of the snakes in Nidhug’s realm.
Inside one of heaven’s temples the merkaba opened slightly and let Joan’s essence in as Mary the Maiden gave Sha a welcome blessing, “Come, Sister. Bring yourself here, in our circle, and share your burdens. Share your love with us, too, as we share what we know-the truth of your being.” Sha entered the temple timidly, her womanly form indefinite-cherry, plum, and black stardust in a fluid expression. Mary’s oval form sparkled with translucence; deep greens and silvery blues swam together and apart again within her golden framed silhouette, while Joan’s form had no frame, but a sheer coppery shimmer to her essence that made Sha feel accepted and known when she came near, as if they were old friends. Teresa and Brigid entered from opposite directions and brought waves of pleasant blue comfort and the scent of a summer rain storm to their first circle with Sha’s soul. The first circle was always the most important, as it informed the remainder of her time in this Sister Temple and who Mary the Crone appointed as her guardian healer. In the center of this circle of five, Archangel Auriel appeared with her fairy-sized busy wings of seafoam and minty green, her form of verdant green strung with flower-shaped stars on a silver chain around her hips. Her calm eyes belied the urgency of Sha’s soul healing as she smiled and extended her energy, a melodic harmony tinkled like windchimes then deepened in tone like a bass drum and circled back again. Sha’s energy vibrated within her form after a time and dark tendrils protruded from her head like worms. Vines of neon green and brightest blue sprouted from beneath Mary’s form to connect with Sha’s soul who formed one white leg of flowing energy and one black. As the vines wound around her they pierced her soul with shocking thorns and caused Sha to howl and cry as wounds she’d buried rose and blistered on her appendages; a foul odor confirmed rotten infection. “Only that much and no more, Auriel!” Sha’s soul flooded with images of Doyle Regan and the last night of her incarnation. She shook and sobbed as she remembered every nuanced slice of her heart. Doyle stuck the needle in her arm after he smacked it red with two fingers. His voice a low growl, “Hold still or you’ll make me waste it.” “I’m not sure about that much, Doyle. Don’t push it all, K?” He’d looked up at her with his brows drawn down and she saw her mother’s angry eyes when her father brought Shana home from the “clinic” in Bertie’s kitchen. “You’re never going to remember it if you’re scared, but you aren’t weak, are you? Have courage, my love. Be the fully real woman I know you are underneath the scrubby little hood rat who got sold for drugs.” As much as Shana wished she could forget, she remembered everything. She often imagined what he, or Phoebe, would feel if they found out, how disgusted or maybe even afraid they’d be. Doyle had pushed the remainder of heroin into her vein and she’d risen to the ceiling in a welcome cloud of euphoria, her mother’s eyes forgotten. Addiction’s many facets of demolition almost always began with unmet needs, either in childhood or another relationship with widely unequal power dynamics such as slavery or poverty wages. Sha’s steep and quick decline into addiction was considered by Mary, then tossed aside as an effect rather than cause. “Show us what you cannot forgive despite being forgiven by The Most High” the Saints chimed together. Brigid moved from her place in the circle to the center with Auriel and began to chant in a tongue Sha did not know, but felt she should. Something moved inside her form as if it responded to Brigid’s powerful voice. From Sha’s throat the words were pulled one by one. “I…killed…them”.
In this esoteric era it’s said time is a construct, an illusion created to help mankind organize our existence, yet it doesn’t feel ephemeral turning 54. These lessons are solid. Looking back, and wandering repeatedly over familiar landscapes, isn’t where my heart lies. I am ready for new adventures outside of the same ol’, new ways of being me, new ways of relating and loving.
I can compartmentalize my life in decades,20’s being the learning years, 30’s being the building years, 40’s being the destructive years, and 50’s being the… the… maybe I will know once I am 60. I’d like to call them my “creative years” for now. I will not limit myself. Since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 40, I’ve been working hard to overcome limitations. Not all, in fact not most, of those efforts helped me feel better physically. RA was like an undertow and the more I fought for control, the more disabled I became. I’ve never been so angry; inside I shook my fist at the world for a few years. There is a space in unrelenting pain which whittles down a person’s focus to only the cause, and a willingness to do almost anything for it to stop. A Rheumatologist is hard to come by, a good Rheumatologist who keeps up on medical advances in the journals is harder. I knew from the beginning I’d have to read and advocate for myself. What I didn’t know is how many factors would work against me. In January of 2018 a virus teamed with my RA for a lung attack. I was 49 and spent 10 days in the hospital.
These first 4 years of my 50’s have been different, almost as if there was a reset. The Universe seems confident I reclaimed my desire to live after it tried to kill me. My new rheumatologist prescribed a different biologic after the lung incident and it’s worked up to now. I had to laugh when I learned I’d have to push the plunger on the syringe, a new challenge for a human who fought off nurses as a child, and just happens to have a tremor. I stopped caring so much about so many different things, and started meditating with a goal of not being afraid of death. 50 made HUGE goals, but this, along with other mind/body energy practices, set me on a peaceful path for the first time in my life. Many things aren’t as hard as I once made them. Embarking on the 5th year of this decade, I am writing fiction about death and the afterlife, about friendship and grief, two themes of my journey thus far. I am ready for new stories now, having released all of the old ones except for the good. I still want to wrangle this beast RA, tie it up like a trussed hog with natural healing and self-love, good nutrition and friendship, writing, reading, and laughter. Can’t hurt to aim for it, to steep myself in the Divinity and richness of my life for the rest of this one. In this moment, it is well and I’m grateful I get to be this old.
“A great portent appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of 12 stars.”Revelation 12:1, The Bible
As energy within a healing tetrahedron saturated Phoebe and Shana’s souls they became thoughtless, closer to original than either had been since the first few years of their friendship, when they were new to womanhood, tried on relational influences and found safety with one another. Two green stiches closed the fissure between them, forgiveness barely begun, but Anam Chara remembrance enough to satisfy Tri-Eloh for now. The Tri, having realized a quickly escalating danger to Phoebe’s physical being, gently moved the pair from Mary’s constellation and handed them off to escorts from Michael’s Divine Army for transport to their in-between place. Emboldened by El’s interference, the Tri assumed survival of this Anam Chara link warranted favors from even the most high. The higher the angel or spirit, however, the busier the angel or spirit, as Archangel Michael reminded the Tri of their lengthening line of souls who awaited healing during this deviation from routine cosmic life. Mary’s blessing, however brief, accomplished what would have taken longer than Phoebe’s lifetime and justified the choice even if it did not entirely eradicate Shana’s shame. Tri-Eloh rushed toward their purpose with gratitude that flowed behind them in wide swaths of golden starlight and touched every ethereal being they passed. Visible in the final hour of dark before dawn, a thirty-three-minute meteor shower built upon a Spring Triangle created by the stars Regulus, Spica and Arcturus. Intimate mysteries often revealed themselves to solo audiences on earth.
First they heard “shooosh (pause) shooosh”, then they felt sand beneath their feet at the same time the water came into view, waves shining and dark with frothy remnants when the tide receded. While it possessed key elements of thousands of their summer days, the air was different, shimmering and energetic as if alive and moving on the edge of vision. Shana reached for Phoebe’s hand as a fishy breeze cooled their faces wet with tears. “I am”, they said, “I am you”. “I’ll see you again”, Shana’s whisper landed as Phoebe opened her eyes in a dim cold room. Dry prickly hands rubbed her calves irritatingly, an unidentifiable acrid smell filled her nostrils as she shook her head back and forth on a thin sheet over a plastic mattress that crackled beneath her. “Where am I?”, Phoebe snatched one foot away and kicked at the air. She wanted to go back, to go back to… damn it! She rubbed her nose and noticed the IV in her left hand. “What is going on?” Her heart began to race even as she closed her eyes tight and took a deep breath. Formaldehyde and ammonia overlaid with something worse stung her nostrils and throat and made her stomach lurch. Dry Hands let his other hand descend to her foot before she heard, “You are safe under my care at Resting Pines Hospital, Miss Monteer. You’ve been catatonic for a couple days now, so I’m helping the circulation in your legs so you don’t get bed sores.” Back to my beach dream, back to Shana, Phoebe thought, but the ambulance ride, flashes of her dead friend’s neck, questions about heroin and drug dealers crowded her mind instead. Her breath came faster as she remembered it all and wondered if she’d lost her mind, if her mother’s weakness had finally showed up to claim her intelligence and grip on reality. “Water peese”. Dr. Cooper desperately needed composure, but his body betrayed him. It was as though he watched himself rub her foot against his khakis in slow motion. Engrossed, he was blindsided when his dentures clapped loudly as Phoebe’s foot jerked away and met his chin with force. Kazmir bid the Doctor, “Make her pay. Hurt her NOW.” “You will be restrained if you can’t control yourself, Miss Monteer!” “Wow! didn’t think this one was going to come around without ECT, Doc”, a new voice echoed and startled Dr. Cooper out of what he assumed were his own deviant thoughts. “Want me to get the restraints?” Why were they turning off more lights? “Water”, Phoebe croaked. “Yes, good idea at least until she calms down. I don’t know how I would’ve managed if you didn’t come in when you did, Farwin. You are truly indispensable!” The orderly blushed with the doctor’s approval. Dry Hands roughly grabbed Phoebe’s ankles. Hard plastic straps snapped over them at the corners of the bed. She struggled in silence as Kazmir planted images of archaic electroshock methods, biteplate in her mouth, her eyes rolled back in her head. “Give me your hand and I’ll help you with a drink in a second.” Phoebe tried hard not to panic as her arms were restrained. “Go ahead and finish your rounds, Farwin. I’ll take her vitals and give her some water.” “I’m only a little behind, but thanks, Doc. Kinda surprised after that kick, but she’s lucky to have your firm expertise. I’ll check back and make some notes on her status this afternoon. Please page me if you need any assistance before then.” Minutes passed with no sound but breathing from the end of the bed, out of range of sight. A tall thin man in a white coat approached her without a word and pressed a button on the wall behind her. While the bed raised slightly, he clamped his fingers over her nose. “Open your mouth and tilt your head back”, he instructed as he held a cup of water before her face and smiled, thin lips stretched into obvious pleasure as Phoebe opened her mouth. “Further!” he snapped. The doctor let go of her nose and held her head by the hair at her nape as he poured the water. Her nose gurgled then spewed like a fountain as she struggled and the doctor pulled her hair painfully. “Let’s get those vitals now”, he said cheerily as he let her go, brushing her hair from his hands onto the floor. “You really do smell, Miss Monteer. Since your attendant is occupied with other patients now, I know just the man for the job.” Phoebe sputtered and swallowed air as her throat spasmed and her lungs emptied. I have to get out of here, she thought as Dry Hands explained how he might have to take her temperature several times to get an accurate read, but not to worry-he would insure her records were detailed. Regret that he couldn’t report catatonia for a while longer frustrated the doctor. Kazmir plotted out the next few hours for his fully-compliant gadget Dr. Cooper, another fool who’s guilt and unworthiness birthed virgin evil. The doctor opened a drawer on the table next to her where Phoebe saw syringes and a horseshoe-shaped apparatus that he removed and shoved in her mouth before she knew what was happening. She tried to free her tongue to push against it, but it was pinned. “You’ll drool, but we don’t want you to injure yourself during therapy, young lady”, his face moved close enough for her to see flakes of white in bushy brows of grey and black like dirty snow banks in early spring. The doctor moved a machine with gauges next the the bed and flipped a small red switch. He widened her eyelids with his long course fingers, thrilled as his other hand flung the sheet back and exposed her trembling body, bikini underwear her only cover. Both Dr. Cooper and Kazmir delighted at the pure terror evident in her expanded pupils before he blinded her with a tactical light he’d purchased just last week with the demon’s persuasion. Wait a sec. A shiny speck grew in three directions in her left pupil. Surprised and worried he’d damaged her visibly, Dr. Cooper’s breathing quickened and his erection fled. He could lose everything, and all because of one plain girl who hadn’t cooperated, who he’d barely treated yet. A neon green triangle pulsed and cast a glow into the dim room as Phoebe’s body stilled and her soul found itself back on the beach with Shana.
In holographic embodiments of their most recent vessels, the Anam Chara sat cross-legged and sunk into warm sand within a clear crystalline cube open to a sky bleached innocent by scorchingly bright sun rays. “There’s something I have for you”, Shana said as she took her hand and pressed their palms together. Like most of their peers, in high school Shana and Phoebe experimented with alcohol, boys, and marijuana at house parties of classmates with vacationing parents. Phoebe’s mom’s heart-to-heart talks with the girls about dangerous situations and people made little impact. Then, she hit pay dirt when she restricted them to their respective rooms for a month with a threat of additional time if they spoke to one another. Although the friends lived together, went to school and church together, and even sneaked letters to one another, loneliness for their connection far outweighed any popularity they’d gained. If anything, they yearned for their previous invisibility, rather than being known as stupid freshman who could not hold their alcohol. Cautiously optimistic about the girl’s future afterwards, Phoebe’s mother even gave them a later curfew after improved grades proved their seriousness and they talked openly about everything at dinner-time, often seeming to forget she was even there. They were able to launch their plans in earnest with Phoebe’s talent for planning and foresight and Shana’s boundless imagination. Their futures outlined, hard copies reviewed and agreed on, Shana produced a jack knife from her backpack, opened it and swiftly cut her palm to Phoebe’s astonishment. Phoebe put her hand out with her eyes closed and head turned away. Their blood mingled as they joined hands and vowed to never betray one another, just as she dreamed during their separation. In her dream they wore long cotton nightgowns, and she could not make out the details of their features, but she recognized herself and her best friend in a floral wall-papered room with a high ceiling and tall leaded windows, tree branches and a night sky wavy through thick glass, a bed with four posts she knew they shared. A dagger rather than a kitchen knife sliced their flesh and in the dream they also vowed to protect one another.
Shana’s soul recovered a soul memory of this promise shortly after they departed the in-between. Death howled with outrage at her scrap of redemption.
In this moment, sitting on the sand with Shana, a lake lapping the shore on the other side of the cube, Phoebe felt a calm strength fill her mind as her Anam Chara’s soul energy met with reciprocity, light making their joined hands glow. “See you on the flipside”, Shana smiled.
Phoebe opened her eyes to find herself on the plastic mattress again with a low pillow beneath her head and daylight filling a sterile white room. “Great! You’re awake!”, sang a sunny voice. A youngish woman with smooth skin and golden eyes approached her bedside, poured water from a plastic pitcher into a paper cup and announced, “My name is Carrie I’m going to raise the bed slowly, then help you take a tiny sip of water so you don’t spill, ok Miss Monteer?” Phoebe nodded her head. Cool water trickled down her throat and she smiled a little in appreciation. “There you go. Now you just relax while I go get Dr. Pressman. She will assess if you need any more inpatient help. You’ll like her.” The nurse stopped at the door to turn and smile with the last part before leaving. Phoebe picked up the paper cup from the tray table over her bed and sipped while she took in her surroundings. Outside the window an apple tree budded, white scrolls yet to unwind and blossom. She opened the tray table to find a comb, a toothbrush in cellophane, the smallest tube of toothpaste she’d ever seen, and an attached mirror that slid out and angled back to reflect her tangle of red hair and Shana’s golden eyes, a green speck in the left. “What the… ok, ok, Shana.” Phoebe closed her eyes and made herself take a deep breath. Had it all been a nightmare when she awoke before? As she opened her eyes and stared once again into the golden eyes she’d loved, she realized she needed a new outline for a new future. Tears welled as a sob caught in her throat.
Rarely were the Tri-Eloh surprised. In a shocking display of unconditional love even they did not fully fathom, El sent Archangel Jophiel to meet the Tri on their way to the Marys, not with an admonition as they first feared, but with the answer they sought. When Shana’s soul was hijacked by the Tri, El knew they must be frantic, a rare event which seldom existed away from Death’s realm of influence. A single glance into her soul “hidden” in a barely perceptible green star and El understood every detail of her earthly journey, and more importantly, each details’ impact on her. Shana’s soul no longer needed a hearing, rare Divine dispensation proof enough of its’ innocence . Death never submitted receipts for the worst of Shana’s injuries, and orchestrated more than a dozen demons led by Kazmir to shroud their evil in veils of toxic temptations and free will. Kazmir snuck in a few months before Shana met Phoebe, both sets of parent’s guardians overwhelmed with addictions and delusions, the demon’s ancient evil free to wreak havoc in her mind unchecked by a child’s standard guardian angel. Universal Law prevailed with perfect timing and El’s council voted “no punishment” since all beings involved could be forgiven, or not, often a choice of grievously wounded souls. As certain as El knew Doyle would forgive himself for Shana’s suicide eventually, El knew even if given a million years, Phoebe would not. Anam Chara soul bonds required immense strength to thrive despite heart abrasions and gashes on the earth plane meant to instill empathy and depth. Normally, Soul Friends travelled back home to the Tri within minutes of one another at the conclusion of each lifetime, but Phoebe was on her own for the remainder of their contract on Earth. The Tri-Eloh were dispatched to retrieve Shana’s soul and begin the healing process with a balm not gifted in ages.
Phoebe became aware of herself, barely. Simple and true nothingness is what she felt; no thoughts came to mind until darkness flowed toward a hole in the distance, thick black swirling around her and glinting silver right before it fell beyond her sight. Still, she felt deeply empty. “I am”, she whispered. “I am here”, a while later. Far off, after what seemed a long while, she heard a whisper, “I am here, Phoebe.” Who was that? What was that? As she willed herself in the direction of the whisper she unconsciously circled the hole in the darkness. “I am Phoebe” she whispered. “I am Shana”, she heard as she fell.
Into the ooze now, Phoebe realized she had no body, no limbs to flail about, no gasps for air as she sank deeper and deeper, the ooze reflective with first silver streaks, then gold, then violet. Each color strand infused her with gifts during her prolonged descent, but none would compare to what awaited her as she slipped from an opening in the ceiling of a cave. While not a body, Phoebe felt a loving peace like nothing before as her essence floated in a circular crystal cave. If heaven was comprised of just this cave, she could live with it. “Only if I get to be here with you, Silly”, she heard. “Shana!”, Phoebe squeaked. She felt there was something she forgot, for just a split second, before she hurled her ethereal self toward Shana’s essence. “Whoah, Gurl! I missed you, too! Has it been months, years, eons? Time is an even trickier bitch beyond earth. Oh Phoebe, there are so many explanations I saved up, but they all feel like weak excuses in this moment. I love you so much, please know I love you.” Phoebe was a little woozy as an image of Shana in the coroner’s drawer flashed in her memory, her friend’s golden skin washed a pale yellow. “Am I dead, too? Is that why we’re here… like this? And when did you change the strength in the belladonna tea bags?”
El arranged a miracle reunion in Mary’s constellation of pinkish vapor and neon moss-colored clouds for the start of Shana’s journey back to wholeness, an element of forgiveness pivotal in a complex equation which would ultimately decide the Anamchara’s fate. Death’s demons had entirely devoured Shana’s faith for their Master’s favor and used her love for Doyle against her bond with Phoebe. This moment, however, depended on feelings forged over centuries of saving one another’s soul from Death’s malefic traps, love tattoos on one another’s infinite self. “Here, in this forever now moment, commune and replenish”, intuited a gentle voice which drew their attention upward, a ceiling of iridescent liquid undulated and misplaced energy until both felt mesmerized and thoughtless. Red triangular walls unfurled from a single hypnotic star above to form a tetrahedron. Phoebe filled the floor with a silver triangle, seemingly with a thought.
She felt Shana’s apprehension blossom as shiny walls snapped and pushed them closer until they almost merged, every part of one soul touched every part of the other and brought forth profound Anam Chara kinship. “I love you, Shana. I will always love you. Help me understand why. Tell me.” Shana felt a wave of warm pink infuse her essence with acceptance. “Gurl, you know I love you. There was no way I would’ve chanced losing the best thing that ever happened to me when my parents died. I wasn’t even sleeping in a bed or eating real food before you, not to mention… Your Mom only let me stay on a trial basis at first, remember? She was already freaked out by my parents, all the abuse, the drugs and filth the social worker told her about. Remember when your Mom had to remind me for months not to eat with my fingers? The look on her face when I forgot… like I was nasty. Everyone would’ve been disgusted by what I did.” “Even me?” Phoebe felt how ashamed her friend still was in this place beyond her imagining “Even you. I never deserved your friendship, and you know it.” A fissure between the two created a dark space in the tetrahedron. “NO! I don’t know that! What I know is you were my first REAL friend, the ONLY one I believed in and trusted with everything because you showed me how kind and funny and good I can be if I am just myself, if I have the balls. But… now… ” The golden light within them dimmed, and neither felt like communicating any more.
A pin pricked the bottom of Phoebe’s child-sized foot and caused a slight grimace even though the remainder of her continued as motionless as she’d been for two days, her arms crossed over her stomach with a saline IV on top of her left hand. The doctor nodded, satisfied she had at least some chance of avoiding electroshock therapy. Her status over the next 24 hours would determine the course of therapy, but for now he satisfied himself with grabbing a fist full of the young woman’s red hair at the nape of her neck. He smiled and yanked her head back as he lowered his face to her ear. “Miss Monteer”, he whispered, “Oh the things I’m doing to you in my dreams, little lady.” The old man hesitated, remembering his dream from the night before, a dream that went far beyond any thing he’d ever dared. Phoebe’s forhead wrinkled and her eyes moved behind their lids as her chin shook, only the slightest of tremors. Quickly the Dr. pulled the cap off the syringe of lorazepam with his yellowed dentures. As he pushed 2mg of lorazepam into her IV he couldn’t help but giggle in anticipation as he left the syringe hang. Over thirty years of keeping his desires at bay, and here a wisp of a thing proved to be the one who would finally undo him he thought as he pushed 2 mg more. Kazmir sneered at the size of this one’s ego. They always thought they did it by themselves, when it was choice upon layered choice which created human victimization. Kazmir always had Death’s most interesting inventory of destructive choices. Meanwhile, Doyle had his attorney draw up conservatorship papers and send them certified to Phoebe’s trust attorney who considered their arrival a blessing for a young woman with no family.
Tea infusers, filled and ready, sat expectedly in dainty chipped teacups, another dagger of “never again”. As she poured the water, she muttered, “alone again… you promised… you more than promised…”
When Phoebe closed her eyes she heard Shana’s giggle, a drawn out “Gurrrrrl”, a standard intro before she recounted another meet-cute on campus turned weird. Shana coyly promised a reward to admirers who proved they were not “dull”, with hilarious results for the retelling. Phoebe, who shied away from a hormonal trickle of admirers, accused her friend of using people for stories, entertainment purposes only. Shana justified their degradation with a reminder to Phoebe that most of her dates aspired to motorboat her boobs, probably dreamed about it, their “weakness” as Phoebe’s mother would say. For her part, Phoebe failed at Shana’s mockingly serious introductions, one long-fingered hand involuntarily flying up to cover her mouth, but not her repressed laughter, as she envisioned Brad, Kylie, Geri, or whoever barking like a dog. If they were exceptionally fit and handsome, Shana asked them to meow like a pussy cat for the price of a kiss. Merely “placeholders” is how Phoebe thought of them until someone, THE one, arrived and fell madly in love with Shana’s expansive vitality: her corny anecdotes related with sound effects and body movements, her talent for creating poems and sketches in the moment whether they were on a hike or in the grocery store, her insatiable curiosity about large families, her pride of uncombable dark curls that covered her face when she studied. Pale, slight, and often invisible, with Shana by her side Phoebe felt stronger, more capable, even witty at times. Despite Death’s earlier intrusions, THEIR bond was supposed to endure anything. They’d dreamed together since 7th grade, their friendship fertilized with wounds, apologies, manicures, stories, meals, academics, long hugs, gossip, and Phoebe’s mom’s peanut butter cookies. She let herself believe a tale they wove of a city/country life, with fertile gardens and edgy gallery openings, a book shop or small market where Shana could have poetry readings and Phoebe might curate curious treasures, for sale when they needed an adventure to stir their blood/imaginations. Or, they’d travel, be vagabonds for a year, soak up sunny ocean breezes down south while it was freezing in Detroit, meet characters and write their stories. The friends had plenty of time before graduation to figure out their next steps, or so they’d said. Then Shana met Doyle with his deep-set eyes fringed in white blonde like spider legs and wide smile. Doyle with his ambitious load of pre-med courses and enough natural intelligence to render bioengineering “fascinating and fun”. He set himself apart and made her curious when he set a cup of peppermint tea down next to her textbook. “Take a break. I promise I won’t bother you very long”. And he hadn’t bothered her, only staying long enough to tell Shana how he noticed her before in the busy coffee shop, watched her as she studied at one of the small tables outside. “And how did you know I like this?” “I smelled it last Thursday when I walked by. Wanted to catch your eye, but you are always so engrossed”, he’d said before he told her his name and asked for hers. All the while, Doyle’s eyes never wandered from her face, and this detail she repeatedly told Phoebe several times that evening, who thought she should be more concerned about being watched. “Jealous?”, is all her friend replied. Kinda, is what Phoebe thought. A week later, he came over for dinner. A bottle of Shana’s favorite zinfandel and a petite jade tree in a green ceramic pot presented with a memorable line, “A symbol of you and Shana’s friendship that I hope will grow to include me, Phoebe.” Like a dude in a cheesy rom-com, Phoebe thought, although she did appreciate the lucky plant, if not the accompanying sentiment. “How thoughtful. Doyle, right?” When she put her hand out, he beamed at her and gave it a soft shake in his. She hoped Shana made him meow later. “Thank you for inviting me in, Ladies.” Although perfectly charming on the surface, there was something slightly off, too sure, a tiny bit spooky, about him. While the girlfriends typically cooked (and danced) together when they entertained, Shana had eggplant parmesan in the oven and the loft tidied up before Phoebe got home stinky and soaked from a spinning class Shana swore would tone her ass before it killed her. Phoebe wasn’t convinced, but admitted the release had improved her concentration. Even their notebooks, sketch pads, books and plethora of writing tools normally littering the coffee table had disappeared, bean bags thrown behind their respective bedroom screens. She remembered how unusually nervous and quiet Shana had been, how she’d paced between the single tall window that looked out on the street and the loft’s kitchen, peeked in the oven window each time she made a pass. “Why don’t we have a tablecloth, Phoebe?”. Long before, their overexuberance frosting Valentine cookies had left pink stains on the uncovered edges of her mother’s old Formica table that she held on to purely for good memories. “Next time we go to the Salvation Army we’ll get a vintage one, maybe with lace or embroidery if we’re lucky”, she’d yelled as she begrudgingly slipped on her loosest jeans rather than pajamas. Phoebe thrived on predictability and preferred Shana’s detours on weekends, when she felt she’d earned some fun. But, her curiosity didn’t want to wait in this instance. How lit up Shana was as soon as Doyle arrived, her rare insecurities gone right up to the moment her parents were exhumed. His faded black t-shirt, well-worn jeans, and scuffed biker boots belied his piercing after dinner conversation, “How old were you, Shana, when your folks OD’d?” and “Did you ever see them shoot up?” Normally, Shana’s dates were intimidated, but not Doyle. After a half hour of squirming through Shana’s stammered descriptions of a past she rarely spoke of, and never with such detail, Phoebe interrupted, “Sorry, but I have some reading tonight; that last chapter when Anna left Alexei again… I want to understand it better. Professor Fayed stresses me out before I’m even awake”. Despite her earlier promise, she awkwardly excused herself before Doyle’s curiosity turned to her. Looking back, she thought maybe her friend was the one intimidated and she had been too self-involved to notice. Why did she leave her in the middle of that brutal questioning? Did her withdrawal help him create a trauma bond? At the time, she didn’t expect to see Doyle again, didn’t expect life to change because of him. He’d left by nine, and hadn’t called Shana for a week.
Belladonna slowed Phoebe’s racing thoughts, picked up and tucked away her memories, and kicked blame out of her head temporarily. Phoebe thought she heard boots on hardwood in the hallway and wondered if Mom would yell at Daddy; late again. As she tumbled loosely into her underworld, she let go of everything except a prayer, “Hail Mary full of grace…”.
Bare feet cool on smoothly worn stairs carved into the sides of the tree, she climbed round, her eyes trained and face tilted back in search of tell-tale lightening, until one foot met only air. She’d run out of stairs. Although she’d hoped to step out in the forest, a soft peat pathway underfoot, admittedly she’d be sorrowful company for her flying friends. Exhausted was any peace she’d discovered in a stream of liquid crystals meandering around mossy boulders and emptying into a pool lit from below. They’d floated for hours the last time they drank Belladonna tea together, she and Shana; no need for words. It’d happened once before, dozens of stairs not advancing to the top, twice if she counted her initial trip to what she imagined as a base, perhaps HER base, within a cedar tree. In the months following her daddy’s heart attack in his corner office on the 23rd floor, she and her mother lit a candle for him 9 a.m. every Saturday at St. Josephs’ Parish, then prayed for his soul until Father Daniel began readying for Noon mass. Her mother, who’d had to take a front desk job at the Marriot, seemed to find solace during those hours, so Phoebe kept her sore knees and desire to join classmates at the skating rink, or the mall, or the movies, or anywhere other than church, to herself. She often wondered why her daddy’s soul required so many rosaries for so many Saturdays. Deep in the earth at the base of the tree’s unique stairs, is where she found herself one Saturday morning, mesmerized not only by an expansive interior of this mammoth cedar tree, but also by a signature of characters burned black into its’ honey-hued walls. As she did then, Phoebe trailed her fingers over these symbols now, some of which she’d encountered in her studies, most still unrecognizable. A pulsing yellow Sun the size of a dinner plate interrupted the chain and radiated an enveloping warmth, comfort she absorbed for a few seconds before unworthiness prodded her onward. More unknown charry characters passed under her fingers until she reached an infinity symbol, one of five, this one streaming oceanic shades of blue and black. It was the first symbol she’d recognized, and researched it only to find finite understanding by even George Cantor, the famous Set Theory mathematician who classified “absolute infinity equal only to God’s realms”. Unlimited, endless, a brush of her fingertips and she no longer embodied a human, but a sparkling star in the constellation Lyra, not far from Vega the Harp Star, and neighbor of Hercules, Cygnus, and Draco. Eternity was perplexing with Earth’s limited lens, but from here Phoebe remembered Shana could never be entirely erased. An enormous azure and orange ring nebula caught her attention in the distance, neon green twinkling in it’s heart. As she reached for it with her will, a steely vise pulled her forcefully by her head and dumped her naked on an amber resin floor, flat on her back. Just as her breath expelled in a huff, a silver pregnant moon fell from above to pin her motionless. Phoebe sipped the air frantically, unable to expand her lungs as the moon cooled her flattened frame. A frequency emanated from a newly inserted needle at the top of her skull. Hyperventilated and panicked, she stilled finally, spent and empty. Proof of her vileness, her ugliness, played on the moon’s surface like a bad movie, times she made fun of other kids, times she lied, times she wished people dead, like Shana’s parents. I AM vile, she thought, to which Death replied, “Vile, jealous, and ugly. Take whatever love you can because you won’t get much, especially after your ultimate failure as a friend”. A smoky cloud filled the space around her and she felt long hard pinches simultaneously on the sides of her thighs that punctuated every word. “Now repeat it back, you worthless bitch, and I might let you go”. Phoebe repeated the words in her head, over and over. The cloud dissipated, as did the moon, and her breath came easier, just as promised. When she tried to sit up, however, a band encircled her brow and lowered her back to the floor as laughing and attractive faces appeared above her, most unknown, but very familiar. They appeared to make bets with one another, their voices muffled.
Trembling, Phoebe came to with a crowd of paramedics, firemen, and police around her bed, an IV in her arm, an empty syringe on her nightstand. “Wha’ss goin’ on?” “It’s going to be ok, Phoebe. I called them when you didn’t answer the door or your phone. We’re all here to help you.” Doyle stood by the jade tree in the window. The streetlight at his back cast his shadow over her and she thought his platinum hair glowed. “Is thisss a dream?”, Phoebe slurred. “Transporting to the state hospital, repeat, transporting female, age 20, name Phoebe Monteer, to state hospital for evaluation following her self-termination attempt.” In the ambulance when she explained she drank Belladonna tea to meet her friend in her dreams, and that she certainly did not need to be restrained, the paramedic looked at her with a smirk and said, “You’ll get a chance to explain all that, Honey. Don’t worry.” He turned toward the front. “She’s getting agitated. I’m going to give her clozapine. Always easier that way and we get home for dinner”.