The Reason

I suppose you want to ask me why I did it. It’s the question everyone asks, but I don’t think they really want an answer. You don’t want an answer. You just hope to hear something that confirms that I am crazy, that I am alien. That way you can feel safe in your own skin. Safe from whatever sickness drives me.

We got this same question from our parents: Why did you break the lamp? It’s a question without an answer. The truth is, you didn’t set out to break the lamp. You were doing something else and got careless; it was an accident. The question assumes we broke it on purpose, even though there is no reason for us to have done so.

I don’t mean to imply that it was an accident; the trial settled that. Rather, I am pointing out the folly of the question. Your parents already know why you did it: carelessness. Just so, people already know why I did it. You’ve already made up your mind, and anything I say will seem self-serving. Maybe you hope I’ll say something that confirms the idea that I am evil incarnate, that I’m not really human. You don’t want to hear the truth.

The truth is, I am a normal human. I am you. I did it for all the same reasons you might do it. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you would never. You would. And if you were honest, you can probably even imagine the circumstances that would lead you here. So don’t ask why I did it. Be honest. You just wish you had the guts to do it, too.

A Protest

“This is it?”

“What did you expect? Fiery pits? Torture devices?”

“Well… yeah. This is Hell, after all. Isn’t that what you do here?”

“No.”

“Oh. So… what do you do?”

“Nothing. At least, not much of anything.”

“I’m confused. Isn’t this where the damned are sent for punishment?”

“Yes. But we don’t do any punishing.”

“What?”

“Think about it. The souls sent here would deserve it, wouldn’t they? If we were to carry it out, we’d be doing something righteous and just. Does that sound like the actions of a demon to you?”

“I suppose not.”

“Right. So there really isn’t anything remarkable about the place. Mostly, people sit around and complain that it’s dull.”

“Where do you prepare for war?”

“War?”

“Against Heaven. You fight against God and the angels that remain loyal. Right?”

“Oh, that. Look, I know you humans have some fantastical ideas about all of this, but you really can’t believe everything you read.”

“So no war against the forces of Good?”

“You do know God is all-powerful, right?”

“Well, yeah. But pride . . .”

“Pride is not the same thing as stupidity. Long before human beings had even rudimentary theology worked out, we knew there was no winning against the Almighty. No one here wants that fight.”

“So why rebel at all?”

“It is a protest.”

“A protest? Against what?”

“Long story. You can find someone to tell it, but I am not in the mood. Suffice it to say, there were some disagreements over decisions being made.”

“But isn’t God all-knowing, too?”

“Now you can talk about pride.”

“Oh.”

“Yes. Negotiations are ongoing, but no one is holding their breath. Unlike pride, stubbornness is not a sin.”

Laguz (Flow), Reversed

After he finished inscribing the runes in the circle, he stood and looked at the black cat standing next to him.

“This will not work.” The cat’s mouth hadn’t moved, but its voice was clear.

“Your disapproval has already been noted.”

“I am not sure that it has. You are still doing it.”

“I need to find her.”

“Yes, but this is not the way.”

“You are the most contrary familiar I know.” 

“I am the only familiar you know.”

“Still. You have the image of her firmly in mind?”

Nothing but indignation came from the cat.

“Fine. We begin.”

Drawing on the runes for guidance, he began to probe the boundary between worlds to look for an opening. When he found one, he pushed on it. The hole resisted, but once he made a crack, he formed braces to maintain and widen it. Then he touched his familiar’s mind and found the picture of his friend. Placing it before the opening, he began drawing energy through the hole and focusing it into the image. If he was right, this should draw her to him, pulled by the force of her likeness. 

The flow of energy crackled in the air around him as the temperature of the air rose. He felt like he might explode from the raw power and tried to shunt it away even while drawing more. Abruptly, the image disappeared with a loud bang, and the spell collapsed.

“What happened?” His breathing was ragged. Looking down, he saw his familiar had collapsed. For a moment, he couldn’t detect any sign of life, then he noticed a slight rise and fall in the cat’s side.

“I . . . I told you it would not work.”

“Quiet.” He immediately dropped to his knees to try to determine the nature and severity of the injuries, but there was too much residual energy interfering with his magical senses. “Can you tell how bad it is?”

“Shall I answer the question? Or stay quiet?”

“It can’t be too bad if you can still make jokes.”

“It is bad. But I will live. Get me away from here.”

Gently, he picked the cat up and carried it to the next room. After laying it down on some cushions, he asked, “Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes. Next time, listen to me.”

The Sacrifice

The sun shone mercilessly overhead as they walked. Their sandals protected their feet from the rocky ground, but only just. Ahead loomed the mountain that served as their destination. The boy looked at his father, walking without any visible signs of discomfort and considered asking him again, but then thought better of it.

They had been traveling since yesterday, and wouldn’t reach the mountain until tomorrow. In addition to the heat and the uneven ground, his father’s silence contributed to the trials of their journey. The older man was often quiet, but more so since they left the boy’s mother behind when they set out on the journey. He was distant and not his usual friendly – if a bit withdrawn – self. The boy did not know what might be wrong.

Finally the sun slipped below the horizon, and the air began to cool. The two servants began unpacking supplies from the donkey and set up the tent. His father prepared a modest meal for him and his son, leaving the servants to their own food.

As they ate, the boy spoke. “Why are we going to the mountain, father?”

The father made sure that the servants were a ways off before answering. Then he sighed. “I have already explained this to you.”

“You said that God required a sacrifice.”

“Correct.”

“But we have no suitable sacrifice with us.”

“God will provide. You must trust God.”

The boy nodded and said nothing more, returning his attention to the food. However, his mind summoned the image of his mother’s face when his father had told them about their journey. She had said nothing, but a sadness fell over her. He had not understand why, and he still did not, but the image of her face made him uneasy.

“And why must we go to the mountain? Can we not make a sacrifice at home?”

“The mountain is a sacred place; it places us closer to God. Now, please be quiet. I need to listen for God’s voice tonight.”

The boy obediently said nothing more. While had never heard God speak, he knew better than to continue to question his father. His father spoke with God often. It was another thing he did not understand, but he knew God’s instructions were to be followed.

The next morning, they continued in silence. The boy still wondered where the sacrifice would come from. No wild animals were evident, and there were no towns from which to buy one. What would happen if they did not find one. And why would God give them an animal only so they could give it back immediately? No answers presented themselves, and the questions made him more uneasy. Once more his mother’s face appeared before him.

Just before midday, they reached the base of the mountain. A path winding up toward the peak could be seen, but they did not climb immediately. Instead, his father instructed the servants to set up the tent here. He and his son would eat and then head up to worship alone. 

After a small meal, they set out. The mountain was dotted with rough, hardy bushes, but little else by way of vegetation. The path itself was steep and rocky. Still no animals appeared near them.

The boy dared to speak once more. “We are nearly there. Where will we find a suitable sacrifice?”

A darkness had settled over his father since they had started out that morning. The boy’s words seemed to deepen it, but he said nothing. They finished the climb in silence.

After a couple of hours, they reached the top. There, they found a clearing, in the middle of which sat a low stone table, clearly created as an altar. His apprehension became something akin to fear when the boy still did not see any animals nearby.

His father began taking out a length of rope and appeared to be struggling with it. “Come over here, and help me with this.

With all of his instincts now screaming at him in his head, the boy ran into the brush as quickly as he could. He changed directions several times before slowing down. Moving as quietly as he could, he found a dense bush to conceal himself in and listened for pursuit.

There was no sound in the brush itself, but he could hear his father yelling for him.

“Come back here! Why do you run from your father? God requires a sacrifice, and I need your assistance.”

His father paused. When he began to speak again, he was no longer calling for his son but was talking to someone else.

“I will not fail you. He is my son. I will find him. Please give me a chance.”

Another pause.

“No. You do not need to look elsewhere. You must know my only desire is to serve you.”

More silence.

“What? Oh, I see. Are you certain? I know I can bring him back.”

And once more.

“Very well. If that is your instruction.”

Then came the sound a bleating sheep. The boy began moving quietly back towards the clearing. He caught a glimpse of the animal bound upon the table just as his father brought down a knife upon it. The sheep went limp as blood pooled beneath it. Chanting the prayer asking God to accept the sacrifice, he lit the wood he had piled up around the animal. Soon the sacrifice was engulfed in flames.

When the flames began to die down, without turning around, his father said, “It is done. You may come out now.”

Whatever it had been in his father that had frightened him before was now gone. He left the brush and reentered the clearing. His own gaze was fixed downwards even as he knew his father was not looking at him.

Whether it was anger or shame, something held his father’s tongue all throughout their descent. His mother never would forgive her husband if she knew what had transpired this day. He knew he would not break her heart with the story, just as surely as he knew he could never see his father the same way again.

Intervention

He opened the door to find three of his friends outside. Without waiting for an invitation, they pushed their way inside.

“Hi guys. What’s going on?”

Lisa pointed at a chair in his living room. “Sit.” He had heard that tone before. It was her no nonsense voice, and there was no point questioning it.

The three of them sat on the couch facing him, with Lisa in the middle and Simon and Jackie on either side of her. All of them had serious looks on their faces.

“So . . .”

Lisa interrupted him. “Are you going to kill yourself?”

“Shit, Lisa. I thought we were going to ease into it,” Jackie said to her. Simon nodded.

“No point in dancing around it. Are you?”

They all turned their attention back to him.

“Why would you ask that?”

“We’re worried about you,” Simon answered.

“You’ve been giving your stuff away,” Jackie said. “It took us a little while to realize it because you’ve spread it out, but you’ve been giving away things you love. Like you won’t need it anymore.”

“And we couldn’t just sit by,” Lisa finished.

He looked at his friends and could feel their concern.

“You guys know I don’t belong here. I never have.”

“Bullshit,” Lisa shot back. “That’s a load of crap. We’re your friends. Practically family. You really think you don’t belong with us?”

“You are friends. And I love you guys. But it’s not about you.”

“So you are going to kill yourself.” The sadness in Jackie’s voice nearly broke his heart.

“No. No. I’m just . . . I’m just going away.”

“What does that even mean?” Simon asked.

“A trip. I’m leaving on a trip.”

“Yeah? Where are you going?” Lisa sounded incredulous.

“When are you coming back?” Jackie still sounded worried, but there was a hint of hope in her voice as well.

“I’m not coming back. As to where, that’s difficult to explain.”

“You are going to kill yourself.” Lisa was angry now.

“No. I’m really not.”

“Well, you might as well be committing suicide. You’re leaving for good and not telling us where. What’s the difference?”

As Lisa spoke, tears began to run down Jackie’s cheeks.

“I’m not going to kill myself.” Jackie’s struggle not to start sobbing demanded his attention. His resolve crumbled. “Look, I had been thinking about this trip, but I can see how much it would affect you. I won’t go. It’s not worth it to me if it’s going to hurt you all so much.”

“Really?” Jackie blurted out.

“Yes. Really.”

Simon smiled, but Lisa obviously did not believe him.

“That was a sudden change of heart.”

He finally broke away from Jackie to look at her. “I promise, Lisa. I’m not going to leave.”

“Well, we’re staying right here for now. Just to be sure. I ordered pizza before we came over.”

He laughed, and Lisa’s face softened.

“Okay, okay. I’ll go get some pillows and we can watch movies.”

Jackie stood to go with him, but he stopped her. “I promise. I’ll be right back.”

He walked into his bedroom and closed the door.

The Visitor sat on his bed. “So you aren’t leaving with me?”

“You heard them.”

“Yes, but you don’t belong here. You belong home, with us.”

“I know, and I was ready to go. But they won’t understand. And I can’t bring myself to break their hearts.”

“I could talk to them.”

“That wouldn’t help.”

“I suppose not.”

“I wish I could go.”

“You could, but you won’t. And whether I like it or not, I respect your decision.”

“Thank you.”

“I will come back for you again.”

“I know. That makes it easier to stay.”

“You should go back. They are starting to worry.”

“Okay. I will see you again.”

The Visitor nodded and then vanished. Grabbing a few spare pillows, he walked back to his friends.

Anima

She sat in front of me with her legs crossed, mirroring my pose. As I stared into her eyes, I knew it was me looking back.

“So . . .” I began, trying to break the stalemate of silence that had taken hold.

“So.” Her reply did not provide a way forward.

“What do I do? Do I ask you questions? I don’t know how this works.”

Her smile was enigmatic. I found myself wondering if I was really this infuriating.

“Go ahead, ask questions if you like.”

Just like that, any question I might have had fled from my mind.

“Hmm . . .”

“You invited me. Invented me. I assume you had some reason. What is it?”

I had no answer to that. The truth was that I didn’t remember inviting her. I had been meditating in my own eclectic way when she just appeared. None of this was expected.

“Oh. I see.”

“What? What do you see?”

“You did not consciously summon me.”

“Can you read my thoughts?”

“I am your thoughts. Some of them, anyway. I am a part of you.”

“So you’re a voice in my head?”

“I suppose that’s one way to view it. I am the personification of one of the voices in your head. All of whom, by the way, are you.”

As I was trying to process that, an obvious question occurred to me.

“Wait. If you’re me, why are you a woman?”

Her rather mild expression became a scowl.

“Don’t be naive. You know better than that. No one is all one thing or another. We all have many pieces, many aspects. You identify compassion and wisdom with a more feminine energy. It should be obvious, then, why those aspects of yourself would manifest this way.”

“I . . . I think I knew that.”

“Of course you did. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known it.”

“But if you only know what I do, how could you possibly help me find answers?”

“We often don’t remember, or don’t want to remember, things we know. Knowledge can be painful, frightening. Giving it to one part of ourselves for safe-keeping, can insulate us from it. In order to recover the knowledge, we need to confront the part of ourselves which harbors it. Besides, you seem to do better learning from a teacher.”

“This is . . . a lot.”

Her smile returned.

“And yet, none of this is really a surprise to you.”

“No. I don’t suppose it is.”

We looked at one another for a bit, the silence less awkward this time.

“If I didn’t consciously summon you, why are you here?”

“As I said, you must have a reason. Perhaps it would help to think of me as a sounding board, someone to bounce ideas off of. Talk to me like you might to a friend you might seek advice from.”

“And you’ll be here when I meditate?”

“I’m always here. If meditation helps you focus, use it. But there’s no need for rituals. Wherever you go, I go. I am you.”

“Okay,” I said, without much conviction.

“It will be.”

The Curse

The thrum of blood pounded in his forehead. “I can’t take this anymore. Undo whatever you did. Take it back.” His head dropped into his hands, and he began to sob.

“You’re pathetic. Were you always so weak? I can’t remember.” Her tone was ice. “You wanted to know me better. I showed you, gave you everything you wanted. Now you are frightened by the world that has been opened to you.”

He looked up at her, the visage she wore was as cold and impassive as her voice. “I didn’t know it would be like this! Everyone I get close to goes insane or becomes just like . . .”

“So? Surround yourself with stronger people.”

“I don’t want to hurt anyone!”

“Then stay away from them. Do you really think you only hurt people after we met? Don’t be foolish.”

“Undo it!” The pressure in his veins was growing. He could feel the wildness rise within him.

“No.”

“Why not? What would it cost you?”

“Nothing. But it can’t be done. There is no way to reverse the change. This is what you are now. Learn to live with it. Or don’t. As you will.”

She began to turn away from, clearly done with the conversation. He grabbed her arm to stop her. Emotion showing on her face for the first time, she spun back. “Let. Me. Go.”

Fear momentarily swamped the inner storm, and he released her. Still, he pressed on. “What if I killed you? That would end this curse.”

Her laugh was cruel. “This is not some fairy tale, where if you kill the monster everyone else is released from its grip. If you were to kill me, I would be dead, and you would still be what I made you, what you wanted to be. Quit fighting yourself.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Don’t. Try to kill me. My only regret if you were to succeed is that I could not relish the full bloom of your disappointment. But,” her withering stare nearly broke him, “do not make idle threats. I feel no loyalty to you, my creation. I will discard you without hesitation. That would end your torment. And your whining.” She held his gaze for one more beat before sweeping back around, his hope dying as she walked away.

The madness finally overwhelmed him.