When I first met Magellan, I thought he was dead.
His eyes were stretched out to the stars with a vacant gaze; hands lay open, palms upwards, as if in supplication. His long body was spread out across the sidewalk, blocking my way.
I went to step over him, ignoring him in my solitude; he was only homeless to me then.
“Mirrors,” he said, gazing up at me.
“We’re all mirrors, everything is a mirror.”
“Okay, sure, whatever buddy,” I turned to go.
“Wait,” he said, so soft and direct that I froze in place. He gave a long, luxurious stretch and stood up, turning to face me.
“Everything you see is reflected light. What you see is not the truth of me, but the light bouncing off me, my reflection. You are a writer?” he said, looking at the journal in my hand.
I nodded, slowly.
“Consider this, then: billions of mirrors, calling themselves human, moving through time, all of them reflecting the same light, but bound by different frames, looking at the light and calling it Truth.”
He paused for a moment, turning his dilated pupils to the moon. “Prophet, scientist, philosopher, these all claim to perceive Truth,” he said with a grin. “But an artist, a writer, these know it’s only light, and bend it to their whim. They reflect what they want to.”
“But there is Truth,” I said, angry and confused. “There is a Truth to everything.”
“Everything is Truth,” he said, nodding. “But the only place to know it is in Darkness…”
A hand dangles in front of his face.
He looks at it, as if trying to recognize a lost friend.
He thinks it was his once.
It’s attached to his arms; he doesn’t know whose else it could be.
It certainly isn’t a part of him now. It won’t pick up the knife.
If it were his hand, he thinks, those long fingers would set down upon that knife, and then swoop down along the blue rivers of his veins, drawing the claw along the surface, just breaking the rippling skin, swinging up and away as the red waters crest.
Instead, they just dangle and twitch, mischievous and eager in the midst of his catatonia.
He can’t… won’t. Looking around, at the bare walls, at the fifteen feet of floor space conquered by soda cans, dime bags and greasy styrofoam, he doesn’t find that fact depressing. This is all of his existence now, alone, with nothing more to the universe than his bed, his books, his computer, and his garbage.
And, of course, his hands.
Which are being really fucking annoying right now, ‘cause they’ve picked him up off the bed and dragged him over to the computer and are now dancing across the keys with an almost devilish glee.
He hates them, and would bite them if they came near his mouth.
Glaring down at them, he catches a glimpse of the screen…
Alright, you sad, sorry fucks. You be wantin’ a tale?
Shut yer fuckin’ traps and I’ll spin ya one. This here’s something from when the hills were still wild and angry, a tale from the thick kiss of the nightclub and warm, silken nights, from when the sunburnt face of Napa still held that glimmer of dark crazy beauty, when it was more than just fat whitetrash slaving their lives away to slick yuppies with dead eyes.
Now what was Napa, yer askin’, and I’m a tellin’ ya that it was never much of a city – just a town really, lurking at the base of the valley, bloated on the sticky-sweet smell of the swamp to the south, gorged gluttonous on the blood of grapevines chained to the north.
But it was full back then, full of the blazing lust and decay of the sweet punks smoldering like forgotten incense in a back-alley gutter. I was just a boy back then, but man enough to run with the Clan. Man enough to drink down that burning black summer, the summer they conquered the Darkness there.
The Clan? The Clan was us; criminal children, baby rats and addicts, throwaways and runaways of the midnight streets.
The beauty of us was a little gutterpunk, the Squeak – her head shaved bare as a cue-ball with enough safety pins stuck through her skin to set off a metal detector. She was lipstick and lockpicks, plush toys and crank, and she was the Squeak ‘cause when her delicate little nose touched down on a line or three she’d titter off like an over-wound clockwork mouse – skinny arms and legs everywhere at once.
She was good friends with Gunther, and Gunther was the most brutal ogre my eyes ever set sight upon. He dropped the scale at about 250, and this was on a teenager who wasn’t more than five foot six. Those who were set on grumblin’ him found that weight to be hard, thick muscle, muscle that broken more jaws than a riot cop’s nightstick. He wore an enormous leather biker jacket with enough stainless steel spikes on it to make De Sade drool.
Most of the time he was about as gracious as a dump truck, but he treated Squeak like a little punk goddess, as if her skin were black lingerie and her lips were laced with heroin.
Now tumble into this mix the Tadpole, all trembling lust and poetry. Half lounge lizard and half goth, a vampire Cassanova, his blond curls were dyed a patchy black to accentuate the fishbelly white of his face.
And such a face!
T’was an ever-changing maze of cosmetic hieroglyphs; black mascara, curled eyelashes – lipstick the color of rotting roses. He was a creature of grand designs, and his goals of conquest were invariably sexual. He’d find the sweetest young nymph in any crowd, roll his eyes all over her to massage his hunger, and then drown her in sweet nothings until she realized what he was.
But once hunting, unlike your sad lustful little princes of today, the Tadpole wouldn’t be daunted by a failure to find feminity. “All sex is good sex,” he’d grin, and even we men of the Clan would fear his lust then.
The fingers pause, shivering. And what of him?
To box himself into a paragraph, as if a life could fit into three sentences – introduction, summary, conclusion. Memory strikes.
Magellan sits back, a long sip of coffee closing his eyes. “A writer!” he says.
“Fuck, to be a writer! To be a gardener of life, delicately trimming the overgrown weeds and branches of personality! I envy you that gift, Odd.”
In writing these words, he feels more like a butcher.
He sneers at his hands. This is their story, not his.
They fly away from him, scurrying away from him and down into memory.
Of course, there were others – Space, Meesh, Angel – who ran with us on other nights, but I’ll be droppin’ you straight to the heart of the tale, and since the Clan is the tale, I’ll be givin’ you Magellan, for he was the heart of the Clan.
Now don’t be twisting your ears the wrong way around my words ‘ere. He was no leader, and many’s the time when Gunther would be the one to brawl us out of a tumble that Mag had led us into, searchin’ for a spark of life.
But Magellan was one of those folks who float about a foot or two over the crap that the rest of us live in, and if this weren’t a world of white trash microwaves and babbling mallrats, he could have had fey blood in him. When I say he floated, I mean that he just wasn’t touched by the hungry graspings of the daytime world – he just walked right through them, like they didn’t exist, like he didn’t see the reason for them.
Of course, they didn’t see the reason for him, either.
He spent the sunlight asleep; his long, raggedy body curled up like a kitten with warm milk in the tum. But when the first tinglings of twilight began to seen through the summer afternoon, his arms and legs would suddenly jerk, and he’d burst up in an explosion of hungry conversation and intense, graceful movement.
Money seemed to simply flow through him, inheritances, loans, disability, pouring into an endless mess of ever more twisted hallucinogens. ‘Shrooms were his night candy, tossed in a cannabis salad peppered with acid and sprinkled with the leaves and roots of plants wild and strange. Most nights his brain was bare as a baby’s ass.
But there was never a soul who knew more about picking the locks on the doors of perception., and how to find the treasures hidden behind This was the man who took us hunting wild mushrooms in the hidden pastures of the Carneros hills, and how to watch for the bluing of the stem when you break them with a fingernail. This was the man who took us to the Train Bridge and taught us how to scale the two steel towers that cast their cruel red light through the thick air for miles out across the burbling swamp. This was the man who taught us how to ride the roof of a car at sixty miles an hour, and to laugh and scream at the fear and howling joy of being indestructibly young.
This was the man who taught us how to delight in being children again, past fatherly fists and screeching mothers, past the failing grades and football rapes, past what the daylight thought we were.
He loved easily and completely, with none of the desperate seduction that marked the Tadpole. Though he wasn’t much of a man to look at, all thin and scraggly, when he looked a woman straight in the eye and said, without any needing or wanting “I love you,” she couldn’t help but shudder at the truth of it.
And the truth of it was somehow, he loved us all, for naught but what we were, and we clustered around his great heart like beggars around a back-alley campfire.
Seduction. I didn’t understand it until later, afterwards, when the Tadpole and I got drunk. His movements were smooth, direct. Brutal. His purpose paralyzed me, the strangeness of a male face next to mine, the scent of hot, heavy musk.
But it was his hunger that turned my face towards his, and when his mouth met mine, jaws opening like a feeding snake, I suddenly understood what it meant to be feminine, the object of desire, the object of rape. I knew what he wanted me to be, and in those arms, on those lips, I could not help but become it.
But I wasn’t what he needed.
His facade suddenly broke, his passion wild and uncontrolled, and I stopped him, calmed him, held him as he began to sob. “Goddamn motherfucker, goddamn Mag, fucking asshole, fucking chicken, how the fuck could he fucking leave?”
And we all loved him; the Squeak because he could hug her and hold her forever without ever lusting, Gunther because he could pour out his ugly, brutish soul to him without ever hearing a single judgement; the Tadpole because he knew that if only he’d kiss those bearded lips, he’d find the end to all his hungry searching.
I loved him because of all the children who danced in that graveyard of fists and needles, he was the one searching for life – not running from it.
This is what brought him to Napa, with its crazy little spirals of addiction and decay, because, somewhere, under all of the black, crumbling screaming, he could hear a song.
A song of life, a song of the soul of the valley, as if the wind and the hills were romancing the stars down from the sky. Each night, as the sun lit the hills with its funeral pyre, we’d huddle around him as he stroke his beard, watching the twilight tumble away.
“Where’s the song tonight?”
“What do you hear, Mag?”
“Is it loud tonight?”
“Is it clear?”
“Is it for us?”
Some nights he would sigh, and sit back, and say “It’s a soft and gentle waltz tonight, fit for cannabis and wine, drinking, talking, and making love.”
And other nights he would growl and clench his fists and mutter “The stones be rumbling a rhythm black, full of pain and rage. Pour me the tequila and find me a club, it’s a night for breaking daylight things.”
And sometimes, when the wind brought the scent of the swamp rolling up the south he’d cackle “The wind is jittery, hungry, wild. Coffee and speed, papers and pens. It’s a night to paint Death’s delicate portrait, and to walk the razor wire!”
But this night, Midsummer’s Night, he was silent for a long time. When he finally spoke, it was with a sudden rasp, as if he had stood there thinking for so long that his throat had dried to dust.
“Tonight is the night that we face the Dark.” And without a single mutter more of explanation, he turned and strode on his long, bony legs to Ugmelia.
Why to go?
Why did they go, plunging and tumbling through each night, risking their lives and worse on the words of nothing but a strung-out hippie?
He teases his hands now. “If your friends jumped off a bridge, and you could see no bottom, would you jump?”
They flex, questioning.
They’re simple creatures, only knowing that somewhere, somehow, there’s an urge to dance across the keyboard.
He knows the answer, of course. He remembers the words of a poet, heard from long before he locked himself away.
“Motion is true beauty. If you can move, you are beautiful.”
Only in freefall is one moving constantly.
Sweet, battered, smoking Ugmelia.
Know that there was never a better steed for rumbling across the shadowed asphalt, and that no car since has been so loved. Of the noble line of Volkswagen was she, near twenty years old and coughing out her fourth engine, but still seeing us safely past the cops that lay lurking at the side of the road like fat orca, no matter what glorious sin we’d sipped from the Bacchian goblet.
It was to her that we scrambled, this wondrous, battle-scarred van, barely slamming shut the sliding door before Mag had her roaring and rumbling off down the street.
All of us felt it then, the burn of summer darkness, a sudden wild grin that gripped our teeth, starting Tadpole singing and Squeak giggling. Gunther had a low, wide smile spread across his ugly mug, and I stretched back in the passenger seat, tasting the warm, heavy wind. But Mag knew where we were going, and was serious and stern.
“Tad,” he shouted back over the roar of the engine. “Do you have your pendulum on you?”
“Ready, waiting, and dangling just within your reach, baby” slurring Tad, already feeling the smack he’d needled back at the house. He stuck one smooth, flowing hand into his greasy trenchcoat and pulled out a spinning golden ball, suspended invisibly on black thread.
“Does Gunther got knuckles tonight?” The ogre grinned, and with a creaking of leather, held out his fist to us, adorned with scratched and stained brass.
“Squeak, have you got your lunchbox?”
“Are you a tripped out hippie fuck who’s never held a job in his life?”
Mag and I grinned. Squeak wasn’t Squeak without her lunchbox. ‘Twas all she had from her runaway, when she tore loose from her uncle at 13. Her life was etched into the rust and dents that marred its sides. The outside was Charlie’s Angels – the inside was mace, pennies, a bracelet made from a fork, a blue Seasame Street flashlight, a Miss Kitty sticker, a Gideon’s bible with half the pages used as rolling papers, two needles, a silk scarf, rusty lockpicks, a ceramic Tinkerbell with the nose broken off, a dried rose, black lipstick, dime bags, a mirror, a razor, and the head from a Barbie doll.
“Odd,” said Mag. “You got your journal?”
“Always,” I said.
“Good, ‘cause you have to promise me that you’ll be writin’ down what happens tonight, and tellin’ folks, ‘cause if the fuckers don’t know about it, things will just go back to the way they were, and everything we’ve done, every fucking thing, will be nothing but shitty-ass memories you’re gonna be lusting for when you’re forty, all yupped out and working for some bank. You’re our fucking Homer, got it? Ain’t gonna be nothin’ worthwhile tonight if nobody tells about it.”
I nodded, only half hearing him, gazing out into the night. I caught a glimpse of the sideview mirror hanging on my door, bent inward and splintered from when Mag had scraped Ugmelia’s side against a wall. My reflection looked back at me with a sweet wild passion, cracks breaking my face into a drunken cherub’s grin. But Magellan’s face, behind mine, was a blackened and shattered profile, as if the man were in pieces, shivering apart.
All of a sudden, my throat felt tight. “What the fuck is going down tonight, Mag?” I asked, real quiet, but he just crouched over the wheel and sped up.
Last week, Squeak drove down in her brand new red Honda Civic, wearing high heels and smoking long cigarettes. She’s a system analyst, making more money in a month than I have in a year. She told me that Tadpole was now a born again Christian, married, and father of three sons, all from different mothers – he’s got a little girl on the way. Gunther, she said, is a cop down in Fresno. He helps coach the football team. She said I looked well, giving me a once over. She wondered how long I’d be in school.
“It’s like you’re avoiding your life,” she said.
I told her that I had gone in for another job interview that day. Accounting work. I told her I had never had a problem getting job offers. She congratulated me, and started asking about my love life.
I didn’t say that somehow, every time they call to tell me I’m hired, I turn them down.
With a bang and a clatter, we squealed up onto Partrick Road, Ugmelia crunching down into third gear as we started winding up into the hills beneath the dark, twisting oaks. The road was thin, barely wide enough for the tires, and filled with shadows that were moving in ways the headlights never intended. Mag was tense, knuckles sharp and edgy on the steering wheel.
From the back came a sudden shriek and the sound of a tiny sledgehammer of a fist clocking someone in the face. I tossed my eyes back to glimpse Squeak sneering, Gunther glowering, and Tadpole wincing and rubbing his chin.
“What happened?” asked Mag, eyes caressing the darkness before us.
“Tadpole sitting next to Squeak,” I said, turning back to the road. “What the fuck is up with these shadows, Mag? I could swear that there’s something moving out there.”
With a sudden backfire, Ugmelia stalled.
Now anyone who’s driven a Volkswagen knows that it won’t stall going 40 miles per hour in third gear, no matter how fucked up the car is. But we stalled so hard and fast that I was kissing windshield and Gunther ended up all over Tad. Squeak came tumbling up between the front seats and stopped with her nose tickling the gearshift, her lunchbox spilling out across the floor.
Mag fared the worst of us; the steering wheel caught him in the gut, the air whoosing out of him like a burst tire. Nonetheless, he managed to yank the handbrake and gape with the rest of us at what was in the middle of the road.
It was a deer.
A fucking eight point buck was standing on the fucking asphalt, facing us, perfectly centered between the headlights, head down, feet splayed to take a charge. Its eyes were glowing green, a circle of emerald fire. Slowly, we untangled ourselves as it regarded us, staring us down with those burning eyes, lowered horns almost touching the grill.
Then, with a sudden shiver and a shake, it was gone.
For a moment, the van was quiet, and then we exploded in amazement and accusations, cussing and laughing the laugh that comes giggling along the edge of death, for if we had tangled with that deer going the speed we were, there’s no doubt in my mind that poor, sweet Ugmelia would have tipped over and scattered all down the hillside.
“Whadafuck!!” burst out Squeak. “You fuckers see that?”
“Deer have brown eyes, right?” asked Gunther.
“She knew,” said Mag, staring at the dash.
“Thank fucking God you’re quick on the brakes,” said Tad. “I nearly shit my pants.”
Magellan was staring downwards. I rolled my eyes down his gaze and saw his right foot still on the gas, flattening it to the floor. He looked up at me and then began murmuring about long, luxurious tune-ups, new paint jobs, oil changes every two weeks, caressing the steering wheel in a love and thanks so profound it would have been pure sin to interrupt.
Afterwards, when we sat small and silent around mugs of weak coffee, Gunther slowly gnawed his fist. “It was the fuckin’ drugs,” he growled. “We were just too fuckin’ strung out to even be on the road.”
Nobody answered him. Except for Tadpole, nobody had done anything that night.
“Why the fuck did we go? How many fuckin’ times has he gotten us into shit that we could fuck us up? Why the fuck did we let him?” He turned on me. “Why the fuck didn’t you stop him, Odd?”
I couldn’t answer.
He still can’t.
The fingers stop.
He stares at the screen.
He remembers why he caged himself here.
Guilt rolls down upon him, a thousand voices howling, spitting. He wants to slam his head against the wall, beat it like a shaman beats a drum to chase the ghosts away.
His hand is in his mouth, gnawing the muscle and bone of his fist, trying to chew it away, to keep it from writing any more. He stops, pulling his bruised fingers from his teeth. With a deep, shuddering breath, he stares at them. It’s their story, their memory.
It’s their pain.
He drops his hands to the keys.
“So fuckin’ go already!” barked Gunther. I shot ogre-boy a glare, but Mag just finished up and turned towards us.
“I guess it’s tossing out the obvious to say we ain’t wanted here,” he said. “And I ain’t fuckin’ with you when I say it’s gonna get crazier. Up at the top of this road is Partrick Cemetary, and you won’t find it on any fuckin’ maps, because it’s old, old before the goddamn town was built. I’ve only been up to the gate before, and then only for a few seconds, because something so fuckin’ big and hungry came down the hills that I took off faster than a leaf in a hurricane.”
“What? Like a fucking bear?” asked Squeak.
“Like a spirit.”
“Jesus,” snorted Gunther, flexing with a creak and a jangle. “Look, you strung out motherfucker, t’aint interested in your new age hippie bullshit. Yer just gonna be draggin’ us through fuckin’ poison oak and blackberries actin’ all mysterious and spooked out and then we’ll end up at Denny’s drinkin’ coffee and actin’ pretentious. I’ve danced naked on acid up along this road – there ain’t shit out here.”
“Whadafuck was that, then, eh?” spat back Squeak. “Just your everyday glow-in-the-dark Bambi reject?”
Gunther opened his mouth, then closed it. He knew better than to start a fight with Squeak.
“Dude, I am feeling something Satan here,” slurred the Tadpole, his eyelids fluttering as he fingered the pewter pentagram hanging around his neck. He began to caress the air in front of him. “I can hear it whispering, beautiful and dark and –“
“Jesus, Mag, if he starts pullin’ his Crowley bullshit, I’ll fuckin’ walk home,” I muttered.
“Tad, you’ve been workin’ the phone psychic lines, again, aincha?” said Magellan, not unkindly.
The Tadpole stopped, turning red under his white face powder.
“There ain’t no harm to it,” he began. “It’s good fuckin’ pay and –“
“This ain’t no fuckin’ phone line,” said Mag, real quiet and cruel. “And any fuckin’ Satan crap that’s up there is shit that you’re carrying. The stuff at the top of this mountain ain’t anything you’re gonna find in a church or a coven.”
“This is from before the whites, back from when the Wappo tribe walked these hills. It’s fuckin’ wild and hungry and angry as hell, caged up there with a whole pioneer cemetery full of souls to play with.” He took a deep breath and leaned back.
“Well, whadafuck is it?” demanded Squeak.
He looked at her, then, so sorrowful and sad that a hush filled the van.
“It’s the heart, the rhythm, the beat of the song. It’s five thousand Indians left dead of smallpox and slavery when General Vallejo brought his Spainards ‘ere searching for gold and God. It’s their young braves and children massacred by George Yount as they tried to gather acorns on the valley floor. It’s their pain, the ache, the hunger that spills down out of the hills each night, bringin’ needles to arms and razors to wrists, faces to fists. Rape to lost children…”
He took a deep breath, running his hand through his long hair, looking away from us, up the hillside to where the deep forest lay, as if he were deciding something.
He sighed. “This is what I’ve been huntin’, every night, riding it’s song, learning the rhythm, tracking it from addict to addict, victim to victim, corpse to corpse. And now, tonight, I’m going up there. I’m gonna find the Dark, and I’m gonna drive it back to wherever it came from.”
“So what I need to ask you is are you in, or are you chicken on me?”
I am chicken on you, Mag.
I’ve been hiding from you.
I don’t want to go back, back to that. I don’t want to believe that it was something more than our imaginations fueled by your melodrama. I remember what you said, though, ages before that night, as we sat up on Tilting Rock, counting shooting stars after the moon disappeared behind the hills.
“Think of everything you see as the mirrored surface of a pool, a pool deeper and wider than the night sky. When a fish darts below, the surface ripples. Spirits are those fish, and those ripples are the only sign of their presence.”
I need for this to be true.
And though it took a moment, we were all with him, for the Clan wasn’t the rabble you see tossed out on the street-corners at night, it was more of a family than any of us ever seen or had.
Mag dropped the e-brake, and on the first flick of the key, Ugmelia sputtered into life.
Slowly now, we crept up the road, lips locked and eyes probing the shadows. Then, with a crunch, we were driving on dirt, Ugmelia’s bald tires scrambling across potholes and dust, and the trees pressing up close on either side, leaves and branches scraping the windows. I could hear my heart beating over the rumble of the engine, my eyes glued to the road in front of us, trying to ignore the shadows slipping out of the reach of the headlights.
The trees dropped away to the left, giving us a wide, sparkling view of Napa spread out below us as the road widened into a gravel turnabout. A huge iron gate, nearly 15 feet high, stood blocking our path, rusted razor wire dripping from its pointed spires. Enormous oaks grew thick behind it, their branches heavy with deep shadow.
But what threw us was the pickup truck. Dirty yellow-white paint peeling off its sides, it sat lifeless in the moonlight. Confused, we all peered at it as Magellan pulled up and killed the engine. Someone thin and small opened the door of the pickup and slid out, leaning against its side.
The Tadpole peered out for a sec, then called out with a wary voice “Lizard, that you?”
“Yeah, man,” it hissed, pushing itself away from the truck as we piled out of Ugmelia. Tad gave a sigh of relief. “It’s cool. It’s Lizard. He’s in my class.”
“Crankfiend,” he said, starting forward.
“Hey man – what the fuck you doin’ all the way out here?” Tadpole suddenly stopped and gulped.
Lizard stood before us, black eyes dilated, smiling, his long greasy hear shaved around the base of his skull and his gums pulled back from yellowed teeth. There was dirt caked under his fingernails, and the smell of stale sweat and urine washed over us.
“How’s it goin’,” he said, slurring slightly.
“Whatcha still doin’ here, Lizard?” asked Mag.
“Waiting for you,” grinned Lizard, fidgeting with something in his pocket. “This is my place, now, man.”
“You been up to the graveyard?”
“’Course. It likes me.” He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, still grinning.
“Don’t like you, though.”
All of a sudden his arm flew upwards with a gunmetal glint, and before I could move or even cry out, Gunther had barreled forward and his dropped his fist into Lizard’s mouth with a crunch of tooth and brass.
The gun went off, right next to Mag’s ear, and he fell back with a curse. Lizard whirled about, the pistol flying from his fingers and into the underbrush, blood seeping from his ruined jaw as Gunther grabbed the back of his neck with one huge, meaty paw and sung him face first into the side of Ugmelia. He collapsed with a hollow thud, spread-eagled in the dust.
Squeak, Tadpole and I all stared at him, mouths agape. Sure, we had seen fights before, but nobody had ever pulled a fucking gun on us.
Gunther was by Mag’s side. “You okay?”
“Wha?” said Magellan, spitting out dust. “Fuck. I can’t hear shit outta my left ear.”
“Least yer not hit,” grunted Gunther, walking over to pick up the gun. He held it up to the moonlight. “Glock 9mm. Nice friends you keep, Tad.”
“His dad’s a cop,” said the Tadpole, still staring at Lizard’s prone form. “Mag, what the fuck happened to him?”
Tadpole turned to face him. “WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO HIM?” he yelled. “I fucking knew him since kindergarten!”
Magellan was quiet for a moment, then turned to face us.
“Remember I told you I’d been up here before? He was up here with me.” He looked out over the city spread below us like a quilt of liquid gold and black lace.
“We were looking for a quiet place to ‘shroom, a place with a good view. We did a couple caps, but we had barely swallowed them down when…” He paused.
“I ran. He didn’t.” He looked down at Lizard’s prone form.
“Fuck that,” said Gunther. “I’ve seen this fucker hanging out at the Vet’s Park, dealing shit weed to feed his crank habit. He’s probably growin’ out here and just didn’t want us goin’ back to tell Daddy.”
We scraped ourselves together and went over to the truck. The floor was littered with empty Ziploc bags, speed metal cassettes, and battered pulp horror paperbacks. It smelled like the den of something rotting and dead.
“Why did he do it?” Tadpole kept saying. “I just don’t fucking get it.”
Lizard’s dead now.
He’d been dead for a long time before I found out about it. After that summer, I ran away from Napa, up to Portland. I couldn’t talk to any of them anymore, and after what happened, I was pretty certain they didn’t want to talk to me.
But Tadpole finally tracked me down, though it took him near two years. His voice over the phone was bewildered and lost. He was in rehab, his stories were of minimum wage and pregnant girlfriends, and he was looking for anyone who could remind him of what had once been his freedom.
“Lizard? He died last year. Shotgun in his mouth in his Dad’s bedroom. I went to the funeral. Guy was finally getting his life together, too – had a job, a girlfriend. Nobody knows why he did it.”
He knows why.
He’s at the why now.
Fingers stop. Quivering.
It’s as if life were a tangle of razor wire, all the connections and emotions and responsibilities of the world around him tumbling in this intricate, delicate, incomprehensible pattern. It encloses him, spinning, whittling him away where he doesn’t fit into it. If he moves without thinking, without the utmost care, he could break it, snap away parts of it, slice himself.
And he doesn’t know how to move any more, save in the freefall, the plunge of the drugs and love and youth and sex that was the Clan.
And there is no Clan. Not anymore.
So he doesn’t move. He locks himself in a tiny room and drugs himself to a point where nothing exists but the walls and the rug and the trash.
But even memory is movement, and he can’t help but feel the bite of those wires again, rusted and crumbling but fucking sharp enough to vivisect his brain.
This is the why.
Mag shrugged, rubbing a skinny finger in his ear.
“Doesn’t really matter why,” he said.
“Gunther, you stay here and keep an eye on him.”
“Fuck that! I ain’t babysitting no fuckin’ tweaker. Let Tadpole do it, it’s his fucking-“
And then, like a thunderstorm on the prowl, something huge came roaring down the hill. The trees bent back, wind blasting at us from the depths of the forest, and suddenly there were twilight claws all around us, emerald eyes flashing electric as the air howled, the breath of fresh corpses beating down upon us.
Gunther’s eyes widened, his mouth opening and screaming as Squeak tumbled into a ball at his feet. Tadpole shrieked and threw up his arms in a mess of complicated arcane gestures, calling upon the powers of the night to protect him.
But Magellan, Magellan stood fast in the wrath of the storm of flashing claws and ebony teeth. Something tore out of the sky and his head was slapped back in a blur of midnight hunger. With a clenched grin, he looked back up, straight into the storm’s eye, and let out a roar. “NO!”
And all was still.
A heavy branch lay at his feet, its claw-like twigs coated with the blood that ran down the three fresh scratches on his face.
“Not this time,” Mag muttered to himself. He turned to Gunther. “Still wanna go in?” Gunther just sat there, his scream dying off into a low moan. He shook his head, his mouth open.
“MotherfuckinggoddamnfuckingYEAH!” Squeak howled as she popped up. “That was motherfucking incredible! Whadafuck was that?”
Mag gave us a wondrous, battlehappy grin. “That, Ms. Squeakalicious, was what we’re hunting. Let’s head out.”
Gunther grabbed my shoulder as we turned to go. “Odd, man,” he whispered to me as Squeak rummaged through Ugmelia. “Maybe you should be thinkin’ about callin’ a halt to all this. Mag spookin’ us out is one thing, but this shit is fuckin’ real.”
“You wanna go back down? To some half-assed diner, doin’ nothing but drinkin’ coffee and bitchin’ about how life is treatin’ us?”
“We’d be safe,” he said, and I realized that he had the same look on his face as when he’d come back from visiting his mother.
“Safe?” I asked. “Safe like my Dad? Safe like being fucking forty-five and poundin’ his kids each night ‘cause he doesn’t know what else to be angry at? Because he doesn’t know how else to feel alive, feelin’ only fuckin’ rage ‘cause everything that makes up his life is dead numbers and keyboards and suburbs and car payments?”
He shrank back, and I realized that I was shaking.
“Leastwise here, we’ll know we’re alive before we’re dead,” I spat, and left him there standing next to the van.
Inside Napa State Hospital, California’s only state-run institution for the criminally insane, Gunther’s mother spends her days knitting. If, for some reason, she doesn’t get her Clozapine, she puts down her knitting and begins telling stories.
Stories about her husband.
Stories about her son.
Stories about talking to her grandmother when she was nine – the grandmother that had died when she was three.
Stories about what the mice in the walls told her about her father. Stories about when she rode the dragon through the center of the earth. Stories about her brother, the werewolf, who would hide in her bed at night and steal secrets from her. As she tells the stories, she knows that they’re not right. She has to get them out of her, get the craziness out before anyone hears her, and she begins to pick and pull and scratch her skin away until she finally falls asleep exhausted, bleeding and raw, the stories still spinning through her dreams.
Gunther would go to visit her every Thursday, at 2:30 in the afternoon. Every Thursday, as the twilight seeped down out of the oaks, he’d hunt out Mag and steal him away to the coffee shop to pour out his confusion.
One day, I was sitting near them, tangled in some poetry, when Gunther suddenly stood up and burst out the door. I moved my chair over to Magellan, who was looking after him with an ache in his eyes.
I asked him what happened.
“I told him that his mother isn’t crazy. She’s just too frightened of being sane, of facing the truths spinning her stories, to stop them.”
“Mag,” I said. “She’s locked up in an insane asylum. She’s been diagnosed as schizophrenic by three doctors. She tried to smother Gunther with a pillow when he was eight. That seems pretty fuckin’ nuts to me.”
“Do you think she’s in there for her health?” he asked, suddenly furious. “Do you think her regimen of Clozapine and lithium is designed to help her face and understand those memories that drive her mad? Numbing one’s pain isn’t the same as healing it.”
I drew back, surprised at his vehemence.
“The only purpose of ever calling anyone crazy is to deny them understanding and compassion, to shut them out,” he said. “Because if we didn’t, we might have to consider that their vision of the world is just as valid as ours. We cage them because we fear that their vision could be contagious, that if we understood the reasons behind their actions, we might see what they see, and do what they do.”
“But you can’t see someone else’s madness… can you?” I stuttered.
He didn’t answer, but just sat there, looking straight into my eyes.
At the darkness of the gate, under the light of her blue Seasame Street flashlight, Squeak pulled her lockpicks from her lunchbox. With three flicks of her wrist, the lock sprung open, and the gate creaked inwards, revealing a long, narrow dirt road twisting up into the dark brooding of oak and pine.
“Turn out the light.” said Magellan.
“What? It’s fuckin’ pitch dark up there.”
“Don’t worry,” said Mag. “We’ll see truer without it.” The flashlight flicked off, and we were left blind for a moment. “Wait for a sec and let your eyes adjust.”
Slowly, moonlight teased the forest into view, blossoming into a tangle of silver-coated shadows and whispering leaves. There was movement all around us, my skin tingling as velvet fingertips brushed my arms, my cheek. My ear caught faint voices murmuring in the warm, heavy air, and as I looked into the branches above us, my eyes glimpsed tiny faces gazing curiously back at me. Faces that slipped back into the form of leaves and twigs in the blink of an eye.
“This place ain’t evil,” I whispered to Mag.
“No, just angry, and hurt. The oak fey are cool, but the Dark is still raging on the hills above. We’ve got to get moving to the graveyard.”
“It’s what I call them, if you want a better name, you could call them Nunnehi, but even that’s Cherokee, not Wappo. The Wappo tribes were dead of Vallejo’s smallpox before anyone could learn the names they had for the spirits here.”
“So they’re faeries?”
Mag grinned, the moonlight glinting off his canines.
“If you like. Let’s go.”
Through the gate and up the road we strode, into the smooth shadows beneath the oaks. The road became rough, shedding gravel for potholes, and then slipped into no more than a narrow footpath. This thinned still further into the roughest of deer-trails, twisting through the underbrush, and then, like smoke through our fingers, even that was gone, and we stood in the midst of a cluster of blackberry bushes. They towered above our heads, barbed branches bobbing gently in the wind.
“Must’ve taken a wrong turn,” I said, turning around. The path was gone.
“Whaddafuck?” demanded Squeak. “Howdafuck did that happen?”
Mag smiled. “You ever hear of being pixie-led?”
“No. You ever hear of a goddamn map?”
“Then don’t worry about it.” He turned to the Tadpole.“You’ve got your pendulum, right? Find us a way out of this.”
Tadpole pulled out his golden ball. “I don’t know if this is gonna work – I’m pretty fuckin’ nervous right now, and that smack wore off at least an hour ago.”
“What? You ain’t psychic without needles?” said Mag.
Tadpole glared at him, and grumbling, let the ball dangle. He closed his eyes and began to chant, waving his free hand in liquid, snakelike patterns…
With the powers of hell, the sight of heaven,
Guide true and well this blessed pendulum!”
“Howdafuck is that supposed to work?” hissed Squeak furiously. “It doesn’t even fuckin’ rhyme well.”
“It doesn’t really matter,” whispered Mag as Tad concentrated. “It doesn’t even have to make sense. He just has to believe it does.”
During her visit last week, I asked Squeak what she thought Mag would have been doing now.
“Homeless,” she said. “Or strung out in some nuthouse.”
I said no, he had a light to him, a way of making life different from how the rest of the world lived it. She looked at me strangely for a moment, as if she were on the verge of remembering something, and then broke away, nervously laughing.
Handing her a cup of coffee, I asked her if she had seen any Nunnehi lately.
“Fuck, Odd,” she laughed. “That was Mag’s trip. I was just along for the ride.”
She looked at me. “You didn’t really buy into all that crap, did you?”
And suddenly, looking at her, I wondered if she had ever really existed. I wondered if safety pins had ever pierced her skin, if she had ever worn dog collars and carried a lunchbox, if she had ever sobbed in my arms after seeing her uncle, if she was anything more than high heels, a hairdo, a suit, a memory. I sat there, staring, into her eyes, searching for that thin little girl who had skittered and tumbled through life with such crazy, angry, desperate love.
And then, for some reason, she kissed me.
Slowly the pendulum began to swing to the right, in wider and wider arcs, towards the dense blackberry bush on our right. Squeak peered into the thicket. “There’s no fuckin’ way through that shit,” she spat. “Lovely job, Tad.”
“He should be finding it,” said Mag, puzzled.
“This is Tadpole, remember? The guy who got lost in a mall?”
“Guys…” said Tadpole, staring at the pendulum.
The golden ball was swinging violently toward the bush. All of a sudden it stopped, hanging in midair – drawing the thread between Tad’s hand and the ball into a tight black line pointed straight into the blackberries. Tadpole looked up at us, eyes wide. “Shit!” he yelped, as he was yanked straight into the thicket.
“GO!” shouted Mag, grabbing Squeak’s arm and plunging into the brambles. I threw my arm up over my face to protect my eyes and dove after them, blindly stumbling toward the sound of Tad’s shrieks and curses. For a moment, I lost track of them ahead of me, and the night was nothing but a maze of shadow and thorn – clawed vines tearing at my clothes and ripping into my skin.
Then, “Fucking GODDAMNIT!” I heard Tad shriek, and I tore through the underbrush towards his voice. My toes caught on a root and I went sprawling on my face into a clearing carpeted with pine needles.
“Motherfucker! I think I broke it!” I looked up, and saw the cool, pale shadows of headstones glimmering in the moonlight. I could see the dark forms of Mag, Squeak and Tadpole clustered around some sort of hole in the ground.
I began to push myself up, but stopped as my hand brushed something hard and smooth. I looked down, and saw what seemed to be an enormous inverted mushroom cap half-buried in the dead leaves. I picked it up and found that black wax was pooled within its shallow curvature.
Slowly, I turned it over. Barely visible in the pale light, my eyes traced the faint outlines of suture marks across the smooth, brownish-white surface.
It was the top of a skull. It was cut as if someone had taken an axe to the forehead of a young girl, right above the eyebrows.
“Odd, you okay?” called Mag. Unable to find my voice, I stumbled over to them, holding the skull out in front of me.
“JesusmotherfuckinChirst!” burst out Squeak. “That’s her head!”
“Her?” I asked.
Squeak pointed down into the hole. It was a grave. The ground had been clawed away around it, and the rotting surface of the coffin had been torn open. Bones lay inside, snapped and tangled in the rotting remnants of a white lace gown.
Tad sat by the edge of the hole nursing his leg. “What happened?” I asked, hoarsely, as Mag gently took the skull from my limp hands.
“Tad fell in,” said Squeak. “Busted his ankle.”
“Fell in, bullshit,” said Tad. “Motherfucking spook fucking yanked me in there.”
“Look at this crap,” said Mag, placing the skull on the headstone and crouching down beside it. The headstone was mess – covered with black scrawls, inverted pentagrams and twisting spirals; candle wax caked on the sides.
Engraved in the stone was the name Emma Fitzgerald Partrick, born 1870, died 1884, the loving daughter of the Reverend Joseph Partrick.
“May you find the peace in death denied you in life,” Mag read, tracing the epitaph with his finger.
“Lizard did this?” asked Tad. Mag nodded, not looking at us.
“This is what you were lookin’ for right?” asked Squeak, her voice shaking. “This is just about as fucked up as it comes, Mag. So do your shit with this fuckin’ Dark crap and let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Mag stood up, closed his eyes and reached one long arm out towards the woods. For a moment he was silent “Fuck. It’s not here,” he said.
“Wheredafuck is it, then?” Squeak demanded, almost hysterical. “Tad,” said Mag.
“Use your pendulum to find the Dark.” Wincing, Tad pulled forth the golden ball. He closed his eyes and began his chant again.
“Asrael, Baphomet, Belial, Satan-”
“Shut up, dumbass!” shrieked Squeak, pointing a shaking finger at the headstone. The black scrawls defacing it were beginning to smoke, and the candle wax started to melt, dripping down the stone in long black streams.
The pendulum began to spin, counterclockwise, faster and faster, gaining speed, knotting the thread till with a snap and a clang it bounced off the headstone and into the grave, leaving a broken thread in the Tadpole’s grasp.
“You stupid fucks!” yelled Squeak. “Saying shit like that in front of her when that fucking creep has dug her up and scrawled fucking pentagrams all over her grave and lit a fucking candle in her skull? What the fuck were you thinking?”
Soft whispers began to rise up out of the grave, hissing about our ears; mischievous, childlike, and cruel. Tadpole started scrambling back from the open hole as a wind rushed through the trees, scattering pine needles and dead leaves down upon us.
I whirled to Mag. “What the fuck do we do?”
“Play with me,” hissed something from deep within the hole. With a rush, the air was filled with a barrage of leaves, sticks, rocks and bark, pelting us and scattering us across the graveyard.
Mag tripped and tumbled up under an oak, curling his arms and legs into a bony ball to protect his already battered face. I dove for cover behind a scraggly pine, helpless to even lift my head as the Tadpole was driven face first down into the mess of the forest floor, screaming. Childish laughter echoed around us as stones the size of grapefruit and dead tree limbs as long as my leg began to take flight.
“Somebody fuckin’ help me!” shrieked Tad. “She’s fuckin’ killin’ me!”
Then, like the pure tone of a chime, I heard a delicate, tiny voice. “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.”
The barrage slowed and stopped, large branches and rocks falling to the ground next to Tadpole bruised and beaten body. I looked up, and saw Squeak reading intently from her battered and torn Bible by the golden glow of her Sesame Street flashlight, the contents of her open lunchbox scattered across the ground. I think it was the first time I’d ever heard her say anything without swearing.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. ” The smoke around the headstone faded into the night air.
“She’s a fucking genius,” whispered Mag, crawling over to me. “Emma’s a 19th century preacher’s daughter. There’s no way in hell she’s gonna screw with anyone while the Book’s being read.”
“Shi…. shoot… the pages are missing… um…” a quick flurry of paper as Squeak flipped through the tattered pages to the next section.
“As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse – for they are a rebellious house – yet they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Squeak looked up at us. “And you, son of man,” she quoted at us, making shooing motions. “Do not be afraid of them or their words, though briars and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions…”
“I wish it were as easy as scorpions,” moaned Tadpole.
“Come on,” said Mag, rising to a crouch. “We have to go find the Dark.”
“Wha?” I scrambled to my feet. “What about Squeak and Tad?”
“She’ll calm them till I find the source. Now, RUN!”
“Being with you makes me feel alive,” she said, in my arms. “I feel like… like old times.”
I broke away from her.
“Don’t” was said. “I can’t do that” was said.
I think I said these things.
But I was silent and screaming and unable to MOVE because if she came closer I’d have to MOVE and I can’t do that without falling and breaking everything and I’d be unable to stop from hurting her just like I couldn’t stop Mag.
She tried to apologize for my silence. She tried to make the silence open to her, tried to pry words out of me, to make me believe in her heart. She tried to open me by opening to me, telling how she felt empty and alone and lost in a maze of office work and power suits and men who made her into their fantasies – mother, virgin, Barbie doll, punching bag. And she knew that if any one of them spent even one night in her head it would tear through their shallow lives like wet paper and leave them broken and whimpering and running away.
And why Odd? Why can’t I be happy yet?
And I opened my mouth to love her, to save her, to tell her I know, God how I know, but all I could think about was falling and breaking her and being unable to MOVE. There was silence. She was angry and embarrassed. She said she should leave. She walked out the door, and I sat there, feeling her teeth on my lips – hard delicate little sparks.
The next day, he cages himself in the room. Vodka. Cigarettes. Crank. Pot. Heroin. He spends his nights shaking, drug salads tossing through his brain. After a point, he can’t see the lips, can’t feel them anymore, and the burn of his guilt is quenched in the chemical waves soaking in and out of his blood.
And in that stupor, memory rendered impotent and broken, he finds a happiness in looking at his hands as his fingertips scrape along the wall, as they claw at his face. Life is bearable. And then, the drugs run out.
He sees a hand, dangling.
We charged up the hill, scrambling and smashing through blackberries, wild grapevines and poison oak. Strange shadows slipped through the woods before and behind us, long fingers flickering out of the air, clutching at our skin, our faces, our eyes as we tore through spider-webs and scrub-brush, our faces and hands a mess of welts and blood, thorns caught in our palms, our clothes ripping and tearing. For a moment, it seemed like the entire forest was weighing us down, pulling us back.
Then Magellan began to chant, something deep and joyful without words, throwing his voice out against the night, driving the darkness before him, and the wood seemed to open for us. Before I knew it, we were flying uphill faster than I’ve ever run in my life, as if the wind were kissing the bottoms of our feet. Suddenly, Mag skidded to halt. “There.” Panting, I lifted my eyes up to where he pointed.
And saw Nothing.
That’s the only way I can describe it. An emptiness, a hole in the world, as big as a bear, moving like a serpent through the forest, leaves and branches bending away from its touch, moonlight sucked into its onyx hide without shadow or reflection. As I stared at it, gasping, it turned to us, regarding us with an eyeless, baleful stare. The breath was suddenly pulled from my lungs, my heart straining to beat against its hollow gaze. I felt its hunger, enormous, insatiable, so intense that I yearned for a needle, a pipe, a line a drink, sex, food, anything to still the ravenous teeth gnawing at my insides. My fingernails dug into my palms and I tasted blood as my teeth cut into my lips, trying do anything to hold myself still and not run to it to drown myself in the ebony void.
“Easy, Odd,” said Magellan, stepping in front of me. The hunger ebbed, and I realized I had been shaking. “That be it,” he whispered, drawing me down into a crouch as it stared at us, unmoving.
“I’ve pieced together it’s path from the rhythms I’ve caught, trackin’ it through the valley, and I know that this be where the fucker comes from, hunting down into the city every night, feedin’ off the needles and the rape and the bloody fists, the hatred and despair.” He stared at it, almost lovingly.
“It’s wily, and old – old as the damn hills. It’s been fed on the blood of thousands of Wappo, dying slow in Vallejo’s smallpox – their men gunned down by Yount’s militia, their women and children driven up into the hills to hide and starve. It knows I’ve been hunting it all these nights. That’s why it drove the deer to crash us and the oak fey to tangle our path. That’s why it took Lizard’s soul and drove him haywire, why it had him shootin’ at us and raisin’ the Partrick dead to bring their vengeance down on us.”
He paused, gazing at it.
“It’s why I’m here,” he said. “To put an end to the Dark.” As he spoke its name, the thing recoiled, turned, and plunged into the forest.
“HA!” roared Mag, dashing after it, up and over the hill.
“Oh Jesus…” I gasped. I pulled myself to my feet, and went stumbling after him, up into the deep shadow.
His hands are scrabbling through a desk drawer now, tossing aside unanswered letters, past-due bills, help wanted ads. He knows it the minute his fingers brush the battered cover, though it’s buried beyond his sight in the back of the desk. It’s remained unopened since that last night, as he sat there shaking, trying to write by the uneven light of the setting moon. The journal. He pauses for a moment. This is what he’s been hiding from. His fingers trace the spine, move along the edge of the cover, and then open the journal to the last entry.
It’s all gone. I can’t see any fucking spirits or ghosts or anything here anymore., There isn’t any fucking Dark here. Mag, what the fuck just happened? How the fuck could you do this Mag? With you gone, none of it exists. It’s only woods and wind and me atop this goddamn cliff with you-
FUCK YOU, MAG! It’s not the Dark, it’s YOUR Dark, it’s your beast, what you made out of all the fucking pain you saw, so that you could see it and stop it, because you didn’t know any other way. You had to be fuckin’ David and Goliath, St. George and his fuckin’ dragon, goddamn Beowulf and Grendel.
And you had to bring all of us along, because without us here believing, it was just you. Just you going crazy, you fucking asshole, just you losing your grasp, just you…
I saw this. I saw everything. This was real. Everything HAPPENED.
But where is it? Where the fuck did it go?
Mag, you’ve taken my truth away, and I just sat here and let you do it.
Over the top of the hill, and down the edge of the ridge, I chased Magellan’s tattered, scarecrow figure as he went bounding and leaping through the forest. He plunged through a copse of bay laurel, and disappeared. Cursing, I charged after him.
The ground fell out from under my feet.
For a moment it seemed like I hung there, gazing through the air between my feet at the way the moonlight glowed on the granite rocks, a hundred feet below me, covered with wild grapevines and dried moss. I felt Magellan grab the back of my jacket as I plunged downwards, heard my own yelp as the air was crushed out of my lungs, felt him swing me into the side of the cliff as my hands scrambled for purchase on tree-roots and loose stones.
For a moment, I hung there, silent, helplessly flailing, Mag desperately pulling with all his might – and then I was lying in the dirt at the edge of the cliff, the two of us panting. “Tricky fucker, ain’t it?” he gasped, once he got his breath back. “But it brought us where we need to be.”
I looked out over the gorge. An ancient, desiccated streambed cut through the bottom, cluttered with dead leaves and branches. Below us lay a deep pool, its flawless surface still, a smooth mirror of liquid midnight, holding the setting moon and shimmering diamonds of starlight in a perfect calm as I gazed down into it. I couldn’t see the bottom.
“That’s where it came from,” whispered Mag, looking down. “From the Dark of dreams and death. At the right time, in the right place, any water wise and calm enough to see the stars is a way through.”
“We called it here, as we poisoned the land’s true people, as we scarred the valley with asphalt and grocery stores, as we slaughtered the oaks to bind the wild grapevine in chains of vineyards across the hills. We drew from the land here more pain than it had felt in fifty thousand years. We offered to feed it, why wouldn’t it come?” His voice echoed through the still air like a prayer, and for a moment the wind rose up through the bay leaves, then quieted.
“So how do we-“
“How do we get it to go back through?”
He gave me a small, sad smile. “It won’t go back of its own accord. I’ve gotta lure it.” He stood up.
“But Odd, you must make me two promises. First, no matter what happens to me here, no matter what I’m about to do, you can’t try to interfere. AND, when it’s all done, you have to promise me that you’ll write this down. Everything.”
He said softly, looking straight into my eyes. And in the midst of my lips spitting out a “fuck no”, I couldn’t help but nod, held silent by that gaze.
“Promised, you fuck.”
He sat down at the edge of the cliff above the pool, cross-legged. As he touched his thumb and index fingers together across his open palms, the air grew heavy. Heavy with hundreds of eyes, looking down on him, on us. Looking out over the rocks, I saw them all, the Nunnehi – no longer the half-seen shadows lurking in the corners of my gaze, no longer the formless malice lurking in abandoned graves, but Real.
They clustered around the rim of the pool, clinging onto the branches above our heads, peering out from under tree roots, some drifting easily through the warm air on gossamer wings, wisps of green and gold darkness trailing after them; voices murmuring, humming, singing in the back of my brain. Some were gnarled and bent – with muscles knotted and torn faces; others were as thin as a twilight wind, delicate and elegant, with pale, spider-like fingers. Some smiled at us, not unkindly, and others regarded us with a cat-like curiosity. Some glared at us with poison in their eyes, but none moved towards us.
They were waiting.
And in that endless moment before it came to us, looking out at them gathered before us, I realized that I was seeing through Mag’s eyes. I was seeing what he saw every moment of every day – the spirit behind everything; the rocks, the trees, the air, the earth. In a flash, I understood why he would call no one crazy, why he could see us in all of our brutal crazy torture and destruction and still love us.
He could see our souls.
But as I turned in wonder to tell him, to thank him, to let him know I had finally seen him, he gasped, and the Dark leapt from the forest below us, scattering the Nunnehi like leaves in a thunderstorm. It paced along the edge of the pool, its obsidian hide rippling, emptiness bleeding off of it in great aching waves. “Care, Odd!” cried Mag, and like an enormous jungle cat it leapt up the cliff, bounding from rock to rock, landing silently on the ledge beside me.
Dear God, it’s going to eat my fucking soul, I thought, as it regarded me with its shimmering hunger; hot, rancid breath wrapping around my trembling body. But as I sat there paralyzed and watched its huge snakelike mouth stretch wide, Magellan opened himself. Like Persephone welcoming Hades, he spread wide his arms, offering himself to the Dark.
Without a second glance at me, it leapt upon him, burying itself in his neck, suckling gluttonously. Gasping, he fell backward, the thing ravenously feeding. With a cry, I rushed towards him. “NO!” he roared, his vehemence driving me back. Slowly, laboriously, he crawled up to his knees, the beast entwined around him, pulsing as it suckled him. He sat there for a moment, then pushed himself to his feet. He looked at me then, a lone tear trailing down his cheek.
“Odd,” he said, with great effort. “A mirror can only reflect what lies in front of it.”
“What? What do you –“
“This one is mine, Odd, mine.”
And as I reached for him, he stepped off the cliff, my fingers slipping through the void where his body had been. In that moment, howling at the edge, I saw everything tumbling together, his body touching, breaking, shattering the liquid mirror and the moonlight and the stars below into a thousand ripples of water, blood and bone.
Down and through.
Down and through.
Coming back, with Tad limping and Squeak’s voice rusty and silent, the forest was empty. At the cars, Gunther and Lizard were talkin’ deals, mutual addictions erasing the blood between them, suddenly silenced when they saw our faces.
As we wound down the dust of the road in Mag’s rickety, dying Volkswagen, the city rolled out before us, and I saw for the first time that the liquid gold and black lace was nothing but streetlights and asphalt.
Nothing leapt out at us. The shadows were only a lack of light.
And as I looked back over us, I saw that there was nothing in the van but children with broken eyes.
I was the one who had let them break. I was the one who had let Magellan shatter, and with him gone, they were nothing but what the daylight wanted them to be – criminals, addicts, victims.
No one else believed they were anything but lost.
Stunned. It’s over. There’s nothing left to say. Squeak’s words come back to him, the babble of catching up before the kiss.
“… and Gunther saved her, can you believe it? He was the first responder on the scene and actually lifted the damn car off this little girl… I mean it was a Geo, but he saved her life! Tad said all his sons want to become weightlifters like Uncle G… you should really come down the next time we meet up. I know it’s nuts, but when you see Tad working behind the counter at the soup kitchen with his three little men helping him, I swear… you’d never think he’d be a good Dad but once he kicked it’s like the light came on for him…”
They’re not lost. They’re not broken. They’re alive and living and fucking ok.
They have goddamn kids for fuck’s sake. They made it. It wasn’t your fault.
This is why Mag made you write it down, you dumbfuck. Because he knew the first promise would break you, and the second would heal you.
He flicks off the computer, and a tingle runs up his spine. His reflection slowly fades into view as the screen dies, and he can see a face, haggard and pale.
He reaches a shaking hand up to touch eyelashes, nose, unshaven jaw.
This is me. And these are my hands moving, and if these are my hands touching my face then I am standing up and I am opening the door, and these are my feet running through the cool night air to find Squeak and tell her that I know. I can see her. I can live. I can move now, Mag.
I’m no longer your blind poet.