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.
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?
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”.
Fated conception in darkness
granted night sight
An insulting unlit ingress
sculpts the form
Misleading promises of light
creates a barren landscape
Obstructed desire for Sun
builds your ark
It is written in wind
and turbulent waters within
in roots revealed
and shores dismantled
I ride darkness
into the day
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.Emily Dickinson
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 rushing stream 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 Yasmine and 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.