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.
a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment
Most of us on earth right now share common experiences of changing landscapes both external and internal. Over the past two decades the entire skyline changed in the smallish city where I grew up. While development spreads cement like an invasive species, bureaucracy often moves more like a sloth, bogged down in habitual “this is the way it’s always been done” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It is broke, though.
Over the past few years, millions rejected the limiting mantra of “no religion, politics, or money”, and more people across our planet than ever before embraced a right to free speech. We became uncomfortable with humans expressing differently from us in massive numbers, while some became unable to control their stored anger. Others became enmeshed in a struggle, while others chose to ignore the changing world and hold fast to the past.
Now we are here, in this place of knowing the center isn’t holding, in this place of void. What do I create for my timeline given what I now know and also what I don’t know?
I am adapting to supply chain challenges with fresh food by growing green beans and herbs (anyone can, SO EASY), and not buying food from across the country in drought spaces. I am adapting to sketchy quality of mass-produced food by upping my game with organic fresh foods and local organic meat. Honestly, I am willing to spend more on groceries right now since most prices are higher than normal, anyway.
I’ve adapted to 24/7 media by using discernment a.k.a. “being picky” about not only who and what is healthy for my mind and soul, but also worth my time, a precious resource. I no longer justify what I do to take care of myself, as it’s kept me alive and on this side of sane. My outlook on health continues to evolve as I develop a holistic approach and utilize what I need from differing systems. Past work experience in medical education made me over-value data, which isn’t a match for my intuition. My intuition tells me I can lower my cholesterol without a pharmaceutical med, but I cannot control Rheumatoid Disease naturally… yet. A healing gut and diverse microbiome is adaptive for my body’s hyper army of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Food as medicine is my reality.
Nothing is more adaptive than my meditation and spiritual practice, which gifts me with heightened intuition and a will to change what needs to be changed so I can be comfortable for a minute.
I am staying open and accepting of changes in resources which may not be convenient, but may also provide a practical way of doing something or a new opportunity to socialize.
Adapting to a constant state of stress the collective is experiencing as war wages, tired and worn-out practices die away and new ventures and ideas require Herculean efforts to launch, books are an escape where we learn compassion, empathy, and what courage and integrity looks like when it feels like the real world is in short supply. Stories are always waiting to be retold, even refashioned.
We seem to be in flux, so I’ll stay as open-minded and flexible as I can be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned-there’s almost always another option. What adaptations have you made that make you happier?
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”.
Till the first friend dies, we think ecstasy impersonal, but then discover that he was the cup from which we drank, itself as yet unknown.
Surreal, the week following Shana’s suicide left Phoebe disassociated and wary of everyone’s motives, in large part due to Death’s demon Kazmir, who whispered potential torment and loneliness in her mind. The first page in Death’s how-to manual focused entirely on separating a soul from others. Dr. Dina Pressman, with her sympathetic grey eyes, furrowed brow and soft questioning, would never know the depth of her despair or she’d keep her locked up, damage her brain with electroshock treatments or worse. As it was, the doctor seemed overly concerned when Phoebe asked if Dr. Cooper and Farwin were real or if nightmares might possibly be a side-effect of whatever medications they’d given her. This line of questioning resulted in an extension of Phoebe’s 72-hour stay for an indeterminate amount of time, until her psyche “calmed down” as Dr. Pressman put it. Kazmir littered her thoughts with a “I abandoned Shana” mantra. Seeds of anguish and regret sprouted anew in her heart every day thanks to his persistence, but at night she returned to a dreamless sleep in a crystal cube on an unknown beach under a sheet of stars and awoke cleansed of everything except grief. A heavy sadness that gained weight every moment, made her head hurt by noon and rendered her silent unless asked a direct question. Kazmir found Dina’s guardian angel attentive and strong, but assigned a demon to check the lovingly healing perimeter of light around her every hour. Sacrifices were often required to secure a bigger prize, yet he still chose one who’d been easy to turn with fame and power. The mid-level demon groveled and begged, for it had hoped to return in the vessel of a politician in it’s next lifetime. “Master, I promise to exalt you and bring you souls of thousands of my followers. I will do ANYTHING for you.” “Do not fret, my dear. I will find you”, Kaz lied. There was little threat this one would serve humanity as a fledgling light body, even with repeated exposures to Dina’s healing aura. Kazmir would have to get to Phoebe through Doyle, with her greedy attorney’s help and anyone else they could influence to stress her from as many directions as possible. Kaz hungered after his own torment, salivated with anticipation for one of the best prizes ever brought to Hades.
Doyle’s dreams were not of Shana alive, but nightmares of the night he’d returned and found her hanging by her tights from a bathroom door in his suite wearing only her boots. He’d bought mushrooms from the same nerdy girl on campus, however she’d promised that particular variety would produce a deeper experience, would annihilate their egos and leave them entirely exposed to one another. Doyle would be the one to finally break through her memory so together they could expose a wound she didn’t even know she had. They’d been on a tipping point, one he’d misjudged badly. He hypothesized if she remembered and revealed what happened shortly before her parents’ deaths, she’d bond with him in a novel, and lasting, way. It took longer to gain her trust than the others, almost a full year thanks to Phoebe’s friendship. It took almost all of that time to convince her the bond with her best (and only) friend was simple enmeshment and codependency, “basic psychology” in motion. Craftily, he’d whittled away at their little rituals, interruptions welcomed by Shana, but never by Phoebe. When she wanted to call Phoebe to let her know she’d be staying over or going out to dinner, a walk in the park, or a movie, Doyle made fun of her and said he wished she was more independent. Shana introduced him to belladonna tea and cleared a path for his psych experiments with her own adventurous spirit. He dared her to keep their illusory world between the two of them, a lover’s secret, and then gave her a sensory experience beyond possibility, time slowing to a creep as he forged a path of kisses that began at her ankles and ended at her forehead. Shocks sparked up her spine as she sat on Doyle; co-imagined roots protruded from their arches and grew deep into the earth until they met in the center on a dancing sea of lava. In one another’s eyes they saw flames and felt heat flow skyward out of their crowns of dark ebony and white blonde. As their breathing labored with their bodies, they discovered themselves in another time for a few moments, Shana’s muslin skirt hefted above her waist as she leisurely rode atop Doyle, laid out on a forest floor of moss and pine needles, the sound of a rushingstream nearby. Shana told Doyle she wanted to find that stream and go skinny-dipping the next time.
Afterward, Doyle lay stunned and for the first time appreciated how he might also be changed by his psychoanalytical “experiments”. He easily persuaded Shana to schedule another forest date for a dose only a few days later. With his last subject, Yasmine, her feelings swung in wide arcs every day afterwards, from guilt to joyful satisfaction to disgust and back again, his agitation prying her psyche so wide open her eyes were glazed over at times. Kazmir helped Doyle with a curated experience for Yasmine’s proudly moralistic persona, one that changed her and would live in her memory forever. Unfortunately, she refused to see him again after Doyle suggested she had additional inhibitions they could explore together. He still smiled at his memory of her, eyes cast down to hide tears, a “sorry… I can’t, just can’t” barely audible followed by his quick, “No problem, Baby.” Doyle gave her a meaningless light squeeze around her shoulders and told her, “take care of you”. He had noticed Shana weeks before, but Yasmine pursued him and Kaz convinced him a little detour with her could be more revealing than it had been in reality. Shana’s predictable co-ed schedule gifted him with chances to study her and make note of her restraint-only half a muffin, a single cup of tea, four pairs of pants and two skirts. The rose-embroidered cowboy boots surprised him, but she didn’t buy them for herself.Shana may be the opposite of Yasmineand just what I need, he thought at the time. She didn’t wear much makeup, but occasionally had a copper shimmer either swept across her cheeks or her eyelids, never both, and she turned down men as if they weren’t all that important to her. She possessed a self-assurance much like his own, or so he thought, and reminded him of his mother although he had very little memory of her, just an unsmiling photo of an attractive blonde woman under an apple tree with her equally unattractive husband. When he was a teenager the photo disappeared from their mantle; ten years of remembrance was long enough to his father and he knew better than to ask about it.
Doyle placed a brown cardboard box of Shana’s cremains on the stained formica table. He’d paid for her cremation as soon as a judge signed the conservatorship for Phoebe’s trust. Rent was paid by her trust attorney, as was tuition, so he just needed to get her more lemon chicken soup, tea, and tissues. He steeled himself to face her. He’d present himself as her best option because he knew trusting him was not on the table. Hopefully Dr. Pressman’s support would count for something.
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”.
Shana’s soul trembled as it incorporated an iota of Phoebe’s light-filtered grief, sighed inwardly, and dimmed a fraction. Karma attached a magnet of endless lifetimes of obstacles and servitude, a rehabilitation price tag for murder. Each soul contained several exits when housed in a human, the allowance granted for free will. Sequestered in their barred galaxy, Tri-Eloh sensed the friends’ soul bond shred yet hold, except one Angel felt an ancestral golden thread unravel at the hem of its’ Mother skirt. Death’s triumph threatened a single Anamchara, a bold attempt not tried for eons. The Tri exhaled stars into the inky center of their galactic home, then settled in the corners of a triangular cavern as light glanced off a breathing scroll of silver sheets cradled in golden fleece. Alive with a baritone hum, it was encircled by 3 ruby chains, each link embossed with sleeping faces of their descendants on Earth-as a newborn, as a child, as a mother or father, and as an elder. Easy to spot, the link they sought displayed a break where Shana’s older faces had been. Although expected, the prior “If we find an error in Shana’s debts versus karma plus Death’s receipts, the Office of Terminations might pass her on for an audience.” quickly evolved into “We will find an extra somewhere and THEN, we will audit ALL contracts.”
An expressionless face at the door at 3 a.m. instead of Shana laughing about losing her key again, dead-panned words in a staccato of blasts to her heart, a piece of paper shoved in her hand, all of it a living nightmare Phoebe resisted to her core. Accusing eyes scanned the loft while she sobbed, unable to catch her breath, “Shana, nooo, nooo”. The Tri’s foresight didn’t extend beyond Phoebe’s fierce denial, her wild bedhead and snotty t-shirt in sync with the ugliness she felt, the officers who tossed the loft and took her prescription sleeping pills “for testing”, her desperation with a weary social worker who seemed stuck on repeat, “Did you and your friend use heroin together? Where do you get your heroin?” No mention of the towers of undisturbed textbooks-biology, anatomy, European history, Spanish poetry and 19th century lit, on the dining table between them, two of each, undisturbed sign posts to their future. The next day Phoebe would go to the county morgue in a daze and identify Shana’s body per parting instructions from cracked lips and also in bold letters on the piece of paper. Further down the sheet she would see an 800 number for survivors “if needed”, and wonder how a stranger with an intact life could possibly understand her blown up world. An 800 number to heaven, she’d think, if I could just talk to her, tell her I love her, I need her. They knew she would be handed a bag of Shana’s belongings including the rose boots she’d given her for Christmas. What Tri-Eloh didn’t see were hellish visions in her mind, massive guilt about staying home, about not really wanting to be with her friend lately. They didn’t know Phoebe would wash her misery away with two cups of Shana’s belladonna tea, or they may have acted sooner.
Nothing and no one in the entirety of the universe escaped El’s all-seeing/feeling/knowing, yet nothing and no one could confidently describe seeing El. For this reason, Tri-Eloh hurriedly reviewed Shana’s contract. “Delivering it in time for bandaging prior to the hearing will render this small transgression into nothing at all, you’ll see.” The other two angels intuited in tandem, “Count the addiction aspects first, then betrayals, then a sum total of abuses. We’re tallying Death’s receipts. No way we have time to figure in Karma. Those records are in The Halls under Archangel guardianship.” In truth, El forgave them instantly and moved on to universally important matters.
While hierarchy did not exist in the ethereal realms, Blissful missions and Divine missions did, both assigned eons after a soul fully ascended.
In the underworld, hierarchy was strictly observed with brutal punishments meted out as rewards for souls addicted to pain, and admittance may be earned in as few as ten lifetimes if the soul lusted after power enough. Death, giddy at their success with Shana, asked again why the demon before him sought punishment and lowered it into the icy salt water when it tried to reply. “Kazmir!”, Death bellowed. Often sidetracked by its desires, Kaz should have returned with a report by now. One of Death’s oldest and most effective demons, Kazmir often took liberties, but also delighted his boss with tales of surprise cruelties undetected by most Guardian Angels. It was dedication like Kaz’s that drove the wheel of life downward, into unconscious competition, violence, and for the long game-thwarted dreams and grief. For a while, Death thought they might lose, but they were an ultimate pessimist. Kaz appeared before them with a rush of decaying stench. “May I congratulate you, Boss, on winning such a prize soul today”, it went on, eager to please, “Soon enough, it will be your pet”, one bulging eye swung out of its’ socket to point at a cage made specifically for Shana’s soul when she was ten years old, a cage of human bones where she often found herself in nightmares. Death would have ordered its’ construction sooner, “S” etched on each bone, but discretion was crucial when tormenting a young soul before puberty, the allowed starting line for their race with life. El disqualified an enraged Death every three seconds for cheating demons who often caused souls to cry out for El’s help. “Did you twist up the other half’s mind yet, Kazmir?” “Not only did I gift her with torture audio and visuals of an endless fiery sea, I also sent unhelpful humans to harass her, and set her up for lucid dreams tonight. Would you like to draft her nightmare?” Once again, Kazmir became Death’s favorite. “You know me so well, Kaz. Let’s involve Doyle. He showed promise, but took too long in pushing Shana to break her contract. See to it, while I console Phoebe”, he laughed.
Doyle Regan dreamed of Shana, her heart-shaped face smiled up at him framed by her raven curls reflecting dappled sunlight, her deep golden brown eyes looked into him with a smile and acceptance; love he didn’t deserve, never asked for even. She took his hand in her small one and together they walked through the park as they’d done dozens of times over the past year, down the winding path by the flowering trees where they stood as petals floated down on them. Tears slowly made their way single file to fall from his chin as Doyle saw the red and purple marks on her neck. When he awoke, the dream lingered and his guilt grew as he recounted their last conversation. In the shower, scalding water did nothing to fade the image, but rinsed away his sobs until he was empty. Doyle wondered how Phoebe was handling her first day without Shana. Phoebe seemed so capable, so responsible, so reasonable. He thought about calling, but decided instead to bring her some of the lemon chicken soup she loved from the Coney Island. Doyle had to make her understand it wasn’t his fault.