One Answer

A person called my name, and I stepped out of the line. How long had I been waiting? I could not say. On one hand, I had been there for all eternity, patiently listening for my turn. On the other hand, I had just arrived, and now I was being summoned ahead of all the others standing there. None of them objected.

No matter how hard I might try, I could not describe the person whose voice had pulled me from the line. I could see them as clearly as I could see my own hand, but I have no idea what they looked like. When they spoke, the words were the sound of crystal.

“You have been granted an audience. Inside, please.”

He gestured towards a door I hadn’t remembered seeing before that moment. Without hesitating, I approached, and the door swung wide. Inside was a clean, well-lit hallway. No one else was present, but I knew exactly where to go. After walking for only a moment, and forever, I found myself before another door and again walked through.

I was now in the presence of Everything. Before, I thought I knew what doubt was, but in that moment, there was no such thing anymore.

Speak. There was no voice, only the word.

“Others have been here longer, waiting.”

They, too, are being seen.

“So there’s more than one of you?”

No.

The words were not angry or impatient. They just were. Perhaps there was kindness, but I suspect that is simply what I wanted to hear.

“I don’t want to take up too much time . . .”

Impossible.

“Okay… Can I ask… Why?”

For your own sake, be clearer.

“Why? Why put us through all of that. The pain and suffering. The fear and anger? The hatred and misery? It is overwhelming. Is there really some plan? Is it actually malice? Do you just not know? Or not care? Why . . .” At that moment, my voice gave out. All the horror of the world came pouring out in my tears, in a scream, in a shudder. There was no response until most of it had worked through my system and I recovered some measure of composure.

Would any answer satisfy you?

“Don’t you already know?”

Yes, but do you?

And I considered it, perhaps for the first time. I had heard so many answers and none of them had ever seemed even remotely plausible, let alone satisfactory.

Except one, which I thought precluded the Reality before me now.

“We did it to ourselves.”

Once more, perhaps it was simply what I wanted to hear, but there seemed to be compassion in the words.

Yes.

“We chose it. All of it. And you let us.”

It is not my place to choose for you. Perhaps you would prefer to be eliminated from reality . . .

“Sometimes I wonder.”

I know. But it is not possible. You are sentient. You are a locus of reality. Where you are, so is everything. You can no more be eliminated than I can, than reality can.

It wasn’t what I had come looking for, but despite myself, I did feel a sort of comfort in those words, in that truth.

“So what now?”

There was an atmosphere of a smile. 

Whatever you choose.

Some Help

“Can you see that?”

My friend turned around in his chair. “See what?”

We were sitting in a coffee shop on a Saturday morning. I was looking at a woman who was dressed like she was on her way to a medieval festival: long grey robe, leaves placed strategically in her hair, and holding a staff. Even before I had asked, I knew my friend couldn’t see her.

“What am I looking for?”

“Nothing. Never mind.”

“Are you seeing things again?”

“No!”

“That sounded pretty defensive. If you are, we can get you some help. Better to catch it early.”

“I”m not hallucinating. Just forget it.”

The woman walked over to our table and sat in an empty chair without moving it. She wore a sad, wistful smile but said nothing, though she continued to stare at me. Making an effort to ignore her, I focused on my friend.

“Look, no judgment. I just want to support you. If you’re having problems again, I will help, but you have to trust me.”

“I thought I saw something on that table. I realized it was the way the light reflected off of it. There is nothing to worry about; I’m fine. Can we drop it now?” I could still see the woman out of the corner of my eye.

“Okay, okay.” My friend threw up his hands defensively. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. Just don’t need everyone always thinking of me in terms of the lowest point in my life. I had a breakdown; it’s not the whole of who I am.”

“You’re right. I am sorry. I will try to do better.”

The woman reached out and touched my arm. “You know I’m real, right?”

I ignored her and continued to give my friend all of my attention. “Should we get going?”

He checked his watch. “Soon. Wait here, will you? I’m going to run to the restroom.”

I tried to think of some reason to stop him, but nothing came to mind. As soon as he was out of sight, the woman spoke again.

“Now we can talk.”

Looking in any direction but hers, I said nothing.

“I need your help. No one else can see or hear me. There’s nowhere else I can turn. Please.”

I desperately did not want to sink back into madness, and I knew that if I acknowledged her at all, I would be starting down a dangerous path. I had to ignore her, even as her pleas grew more urgent.

“I need you to do something for me. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, or if there was any other way. I need to get a message to someone. You’re the only person who I can reach.”

Tuning out this new “voice” in my head was getting increasingly difficult. I found myself tapping my fingers impatiently on the table.

“I don’t think I have anything of value to give you, but I’m begging you to help me. My friend… She doesn’t know the danger she is in. I know it’s cliché, but this really is a life or death situation.”

“Finally,” I muttered when I saw my friend returning.

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“Definitely.” Relieved to finally get away from this woman only I could see, I stood up and followed him to the door. Before walking out, I stole a glance back and saw the woman still sitting at the table. That was my only mistake, but it was plenty.

“Hey,” I said to my friend. “I just remembered something I have to take care of. I’ll catch up to you later?”

“Are you sure?” Suspicion was evident in his voice.

“Yeah. I’ll talk to you later.”

I made sure he walked away before going back inside and sitting down at the table.

“Okay. What’s the message? Who is it for?”

The Taste of Garlic

Many years ago, a woman, the daughter of a long line of garlic farmers, married a man who hated the taste of garlic. Out of her love for him, she refrained from using garlic when cooking even though she missed it. However, he became very ill, and the apothecary told her that garlic was the only thing that might cure him. 

Despite the severity of his sickness, he refused. So she came up with a plan. The woman, knowing of her husband’s fear of ghosts, told him that garlic was effective in warding off demons and evil spirits. The village elder, out of respect for the woman and her family, supported her claims. The husband reluctantly agreed to eat some garlic. Even after he was better, she worried he might relapse and convinced him to continue to eat the root.

One night, on her way back home from a trip to the village, she was cornered by a vampire. She grew fearful that, if the beast fed on her, her husband would realize that the garlic she ate had not warded off the attack and discover her deception. He would then stop eating garlic and fall back into his illness. She explained all of this to the creature and begged that, even if he were to kill her, he not drink her blood so that her husband would continue to eat his garlic.

The vampire was moved by the woman’s concern for her husband rather than herself, and he agreed, going so far as to spare her life altogether. Further, he spread word of the woman’s story and her love for her husband amongst the others of his kind. That is why, to this day, vampires shy away from garlic.

Obstacles

[This story takes place between The Mage and The Shifter.]

“It is not working!” Cassie yelled, breaking the spell. She picked up one of the rune stones in front of her and threw it. It was part of a set Ice had given her to help her study the runes and get comfortable with them.

He looked at his pupil with a mixture of sympathy and irritation. “Do not throw them.”

She turned toward him. “I cannot feel them the way you said I would! There is no magic!”

It was an effort to stop himself from yelling back. “You are already familiar with the runes, you just need . . .”

“No, I am not!”

“Yes, you are. When we first met, you used some runes, do you remember?”

“When?”

“You put them on your parents’ pyre.”

“Those? They were just traditional symbols.”

“Do you know what they mean?”

“We just put them there so that the souls of the departed make it safely to the next world.”

“The first rune was protection. The second means journey. And the last one stands for joy. You already have a connection with . . .”

“I do not want to talk about this anymore.” She stood and ran from the room while tears streamed down her cheeks.

Ice picked up one of the stones and absentmindedly rubbed it between his fingers. He wanted to go after the girl, scold her for leaving, but he could almost hear Krina admonishing him not to, reminding him of his failures when he had taken her on as an apprentice.

Perhaps he was not meant to instruct others. The girl did have a natural talent for the runes, but the memory of her parents seemed to serve as an obstacle. There was something else, as well, some other power in her, the reason that the Terrgat had sought her in the first place. However, he had been unable to identify it. Perhaps that power, whatever it was, prevented her from touching the magic of the runes.

As much as he wanted to push her past these obstacles, the memory of his missteps with Krina gave him pause and undermined his own self-confidence. Maybe he should not teach Cassie. Yet, she needed some means to protect herself. If he could not teach her his magic, he needed to find a way to unlock her own power. If he did not, she would be vulnerable the next time the Terrgat came for her.

Pitch Blue

“This little device… I’m very proud of it… Just a press of a button, and it turns everything in the area blue.”

“Blue?”

“Yep!”

“You come up with the dumbest things. Never mind how it works. What’s even the point?”

“Are you kidding? This thing has serious potential.”

“To do what? Redecorate rooms?”

“Try it.”

“I don’t want to color everything here blue.”

“Don’t worry; it will wear off. Push this button.”

“Fine. This is stupid.”

“Just do it.”

“Okay… Wait. Where’d everything go?”

“It’s still here.”

“All I see is blue.”

“I know.”

“Why can’t I see any objects? I thought this turned things blue.”

“It does. Everything is now the exact same shade and brightness of blue. No shading or perspective. No texture. It’s all uniformly blue. It’s a little like turning off the lights. But instead of things being pitch black, they’re pitch blue.”

“So you’ve invented a remote control light switch? With a blue option?”

“This works in any light conditions. Maybe I should go with blueout, instead of pitch blue?”

“Why blue?”

“It’s my favorite color.”

“You really embrace the ‘mad’ in mad scientist, don’t you? How do we undo this so we can move without walking into things?”

“I told you, it will wear off.”

“When?”

“In about an hour.”

“Sigh.”

Memories

“You used to be fun.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“Doesn’t make it less true.”

“Maybe you just want it to be true.”

“So my memories are fake?”

“We all see what we want to see.”

“Well I definitely remember you at least wanting to be happy. What happened to that?”

“I became a realist.”

“You gave up.”

“Tomato, tomahtoh.”

“So how do we get you back to at least wanting to be happy?”

“You want me to want to be happy? What if I don’t want that?”

“You don’t want to want to be happy?”

“This is starting to hurt my head.”

“See how hard it is to keep from feeling good? How much work it is? You’re giving yourself a headache.”

“I’m pretty sure that it’s just this conversation causing my headache.”

“So it’s my fault?”

“. . . Anyway . . .”

“You really don’t remember being fun?”

“It was a lifetime ago.”

“Sounds like you admit it might have been true.”

“Anything is possible.”

“Never forget that.”

Not Lost

All the trees looked the same.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Individually, each tree looked different from the next. Thin, younger trees. Large, older ones. Split trunks. Knots. In the context of the forest, however, they looked the same.

To put it another way, I was lost.

Okay, look, I’m trying to be a reliable narrator here, but it’s very easy to sacrifice accuracy for an economy of language. ‘Lost’ implies I was trying to get somewhere. I wasn’t. Or perhaps I should say, I was already there. Amongst the trees.

The forest really was beautiful. Quiet. Isolated. That was the point, to get away from everything, everyone. With all the distractions in the world, sometimes it is necessary to escape, to be alone with yourself. Breathing air that has been recently exhaled by trees. Feeling the bark. Spending time reminding yourself who you were, who you are.

So I wasn’t lost. I just didn’t know where I was. And that was alright.