I haven’t posted anything in a while blah blah blah. Still not sure how to format properly here and haven’t taken an afternoon to learn what I’m doing. Anyway, in about 2011 I stumbled on the works of a photographer who inspired me to think up names for his subjects, and less tangibly stories in my head for them. Then I left them in a cloud storage and forgot where they were. Recently I started to sort through the mess of my online life and I found them. Anyway, here’s one of them, and some new ones. It’s the product of a couple day’s work, but it’s got me writing something I like again.
“What did you see while you were away?”
“Nothing,” said Dove. “There wasn’t anything.”
Seeing the look on his face, she added, “There was nothing that could be remembered. No thought can pass through the Veil for me.”
Old Lingual let his tension go so vehemently that his slump nearly took him off his stool. Dove thought he’d been expecting something for the last few days, but nobody could find anything, if it was there. She wanted to tell him again that that wasn’t how it worked.
It was dark outside the tent. The raucousness after the evening meal had died down save for a few drunken shouts of nonsense, the occasional coy giggle. Old Lingual’s fire had at least two hours burn on it from the look. Not many would claim they could see what had burnt, but Dove could. A matter of seeing what wasn’t left.
“I’ve not eaten yet,” said Dove. “I’m going to fetch Titmouse and have an actual meal with someone for a change.”
“He’ll be meditating. Earn his wrath at your peril.”
“He meditates far too much these days. Escapes what’s around him. Besides, I’d like to know why. He might be secreting something again.“
Old Lingual looked up and seemed to let his gaze pass through his tent and linger in the night sky. His breathing slowed dramatically. His pulse, his body temperature. It was a damned epidemic. Everyone was looking for answers elsewhere these days.
Dove Jimo silently split the connetics of the tent flap with her index finger and slipped out. The camp really had seemed to die. Shouts and laughter had fallen to perhaps kisses or snores, but more likely to those going through the Veil to try to bring something back. She wished them all luck and headed toward one of the few tents that remained lit, down below camp level, around a bend in the hills. The starlight was brightest here, lighting up Titmouse’s tent on a moonless night, like he was somehow blessed. Dove knew his tricks though.
She scraped a finger on the fabric. Inside the sound would be as a knock on a more solid door. They sounded nothing alike, but circumstances made them the same.
“Come in, Dove.”
She knew his tricks.
“Any luck tonight, Squirt?” Dove situated herself cross-legged on blankets in the corner.
“Am I running through the camp in exultation?” said the tiny boy of perhaps nine or ten. “Am I lighting fires and setting the instrumenteers to playing the Victory?”
So much for a pleasant meal tonight. Dove considered the tent. It wasn’t just physically apart from the rest, it was another world. The insides were painted in luminescents that gathered the falling starlight and made the inside glow spookily, making the fat waxen candles on top of various occult brickabrack completely unnecessary for lighting. The bones of things they’d been eating for dinner were strung up and dangling in the corners, some still attracting tiny swarms of things that liked rot. Titmouse himself sat in a lotus on an Oce rug piled with pillows made out of cactus silk by the local tribesman. His clothing was made of banshake leather, a sacking shirt and loincloth, and cords wrapped around his limbs in intricate patterns, interspersed with bird skulls and mammalian baculum. It was meant to intimidate and have the camp hold in awe and reverence the shaman they had appointed.
“How the hell long does it take you to tie those things to your limbs every morning, anyway?” asked Dove.
Titmouse regarded her like he would anyone else in the camp being impudent, but he gave way slightly when Dove’s smirk held fast.
“Less time than you’d think,” he said, grinning back. “Of course sometimes I sleep in them. You should see the marks they leave. Still, it might aid my dreams. They tend to be strongest when I’m uncomfortable in the night.” He stood up and stretched, walked over to a jug on the ground and drank deep from the liquid.
“Well, hey,” Dove said. “If you want to be uncomfortable at night, I can arrange the banshake to roam closer. Or the flitters to swarm outside. Maybe that will put you in touch with your Veil guides sooner.”
“Did Lingual send you?” asked Titmouse, starting to remove his bone-adorned wrappings.
Dove spluttered. “Because he’s one for believing your particular line of crap? He’d rather go out naked into the Groons than disturb you at your work. I’m hungry, thought you might be too. But maybe give the old guy something. Tell him you caught sight of a mouth or an eye from beyond the Veil. Maybe he’d loosen up on us.”
“That man was born with a metal stick up his arse,” said Titmouse. “He’ll loosen up on us when we find a way home. I think even contact with them would just make him press harder. I dunno what to do.”
“Find a way home?” Dove said wryly. “God, even lie about it for a couple of days. Give us a damned holiday. You know he has me in there every afternoon and evening now, right?”
“Yeah,” said Titmouse. “I see you sometimes. It frightens me, you’re so untethered. I sometimes want to call out, but I’m afraid I’ll distract you and you’ll go the way of Grenandali and Hecrea. You’re very reckless.” After a silence, he asked, “Do you never see me?”
Dove laughed obnoxiously, pointing at her shaman like he was a moron.
“I see your tent!” she said. “Honestly, why bring more with you than you have to? Maybe if you just brought yourself we’d be out of here by now. Maybe you should call out, Squirt, I can at least untether you from this thing and let you fly free. The Daphodace ain’t gonna be concerned with some cloth and home comforts if you draw its eye, is it? It’ll squish you just the same.“
“My space is my power,” he said. “I’ve seen more lately, more that indicates that everything will be alright.”
“You’ve let this shaman thing go hard to your head, huh?”
Titmouse stood to face me, then strode as far away as he could, inside. Then strode back and did his best at looming.
“Who the hell knows what the Daphodace is concerned with, Little Dove? Huh?” he said accusingly. “You do, I suppose? Saw something you’re not telling the rest of us, eh? It would be like you.”
Thing is, I had. Think he mighta known it. Not like he was just suggesting. When we go into it, that state of dream that accesses this parade of a planet, we don’t always come back with revelations we can express easily. It is very useful for spying on what’s not protected, for learning more about where we were. But we can brush up against things that will fill our senses, and not just the five standard. So there’s not always a good way of telling anyone about it when you’re awake, even if you want to. Duty blurs, loyalty lies in eight directions.
“Hey!” I said, standing. ”You really can go screw yourself, you know? Christ, I dunno even if I’m hiding anything anymore or protecting your dumb asses from doing something stupid. I thought you at least might know what it was like. Fool me. Next time you need someone to stick up for you, you can just whistle for it.”
I left the tent, leaving its flaps flying in the elements of this stupid world. I ran out of his shit little valley and back up onto our peak, seeking the old cooking smells from the supper I’d missed, but I ran into a crowd. Everyone was out on the clifftops looking out over the Groons toward the City. Was it East? It was green, the green of flame from those soldiers who were destroying everything ten seconds before we could get to them. Never did anyone drag any information about them back from the Veil, oh no. This army was invisible, apparently. Old Lingual must have been having a fit.
Three months. Of the seven we’d been here, the taking of this city, this historical city, had cost us three, and now it was on fire, being sterilized. If Titmouse was shamming us, I’d throw the kid from the cliffs myself.