Constellations

They call me the Woodwose.

But they know that I am the forest; I am the canopies and the wind and the soil underneath. I have been, ever since I inhabited its heart long ago, and settled in another still, in the heart of the Great Tree.

“I have come,” she says in a voice far too large for her frame, “to purge you, fiend!”

To that I sigh, and pay no thought to the years that the exhale holds. I have heard it a thousand times, from kings and knights and furious farmers alike. I’ve made their water and their wealth mine, and so have I their harvest and lands.

Their yield is poor this year. Not the fault of rainfall or the sun, but mine. I grow more able to bring suffering upon them, season by season.

Her father owns a nearby land, she says. Her anger is understandable, but she’s a fragile thing. A girl in her homespun skirts and flimsy limbs, with golden hair curiously chopped to her nape. Strange things they are, humans, that a fortnight of starvation could kill them, and yet they defy, and yet they dare.

She comes with a spade, and it becomes clear that no sorcery could flow from those fingertips. She fails on the first day, and she fails on the second. On the third, I ask why, thinking that it’s a redundant thing; because she’s a farmer’s daughter, and I make their crops suffer.

“To be granted knighthood.”

And my belief in the limits of foolishness disappears. It wasn’t a very strong belief to begin with, not with her futile efforts at my sides, digging at roots that recover in instants.

Being a farmer’s daughter isn’t completely irrelevant, I learn on the fourth day, because her mother died. They couldn’t provide what she’d needed; I’d taken their yield. On the fifth, she cries and I can’t distinguish tears from the sweat running down her cheeks, and it’s the bitter, furious kind because she’s miserable and a little broken. On the sixth day, she learns that I forgot the sight of the sky; and on the seventh, I learn that she can chart it.

Days pass, and she brings apples with her sometimes. When she allows herself to rest, she braids flowers into crowns. It grows, that hair, but so do my roots, back into the dirt where they belong. Soon I learn her name, and Constance watches as her efforts become vain.

She listens when I scoff and tell the tales of her predecessors. Sometimes she laughs too, at the knight who promised the heart of the tree but fled when it talked, and the old king who led his men to where the horses wouldn’t follow, and tripped into the river while he hailed his call.

When I ask if she’s searching for my weakness in their stories, “Perhaps I am,” she cheekily says. But no, and although I am incapable of emotions beyond sins, no tenderness to be offered to humans, I can see it; that earnestness in eyes that should be set on horizons.

“Find my virtues,” I tell her after months she spends visiting, the secret of uprooting the heart of the woods. Seven, scattered across lands and seas far beyond her little village. It intrigues her, and she asks where, not how. And it is a little charming how willful the weaker beings can sometimes be. At least she, whose eyes bear something I can’t read, when she’s told in which scorching desert my Patience I’d left, and in the depth of which sea my Honesty dwells, and how high the mountain that holds my Humility is.

Then they call for her and she heeds. She leaves on a ship, and the wind brings back news of her when he can. She disembarks, and she finds her first companion, a small monkey, on a strange land I must have journeyed during my old life. It wasn’t so robust then.

She spends the year away, guided by voices and the stars. My virtues are gently awakened throughout, but I can’t possess them yet. She is captured and put to suffering for stealing my Sincerity from a land that honored it far beyond its worth, then she escapes unaided. The wind tells me she finds another companion, a boy, and is taught the way of the sword. Beasts become less frightening, and her sobs more courageous and sparse.

Her laughter comes in abundance, and the freckles on the bridge of her nose become more defined by the sun. She struggles still, against mountains of snow and ice and furious skies. But Constance grows and flourishes and takes the world by a storm.

I hear her curiosity finds ways to discover me, and seas away my secrets unravel in old myths and tales of havoc. She knows that I once had the freedom she seeks, and that I exploited it. I raged and plundered; I remorselessly sinned until that heart was spoiled beyond the capacity of a body to contain.

I begin losing myself, perhaps as she finds me elsewhere. I grow weaker in the entirety of my existence. Their crops prosper and her father writes and sends birds with joy. It appears that it soon would be gone, my vision, but it doesn’t shake me, because the wind sometimes carries her voice, but never the sight of her.

She’s carrying trinkets in the palms of her hands when she returns. Seven of them; little, old things that gleam even in the dead of the night, even to eyes that could see nothing else. I’ve become too weak for the year she spent away to feel as insignificant as it should.

She cries again, and it’s a headache how much she does. “Why have you withered away,” she says, her voice barely wrapped around a sob. “We had an agreement, I was meant to purge you.”

I lie and tell her that it was because she found my virtues that I began dying, but she only weeps harder. “But I have many stories to tell,” she says, and a number of them are about me; small, lost pieces of a past. “You’re not meant to just die yet.”

But I am; because finding my virtues wouldn’t take me, but my own desire to leave would. To leave the tree that took me in when the rest of the world refused is how I am made to die.

She tells her tales as I disintegrate. The bark that kept me for centuries falls apart in the circle of her arms, and the roots that held me dissolved beneath her feet. “Stop crying, you fool,” I say, and it’s met by a mess of small laughs and sobs and persevering stories.

“You never told me your Kindness was swallowed by a Kraken. That took a whole crew of pirates to retrieve, and another band of outlaws, too. And a massive carnivorous flower was guarding your Tolerance! I almost decided you could live without it at that sight.”

The Tree vanishes along with all the sorcery that rooted the forest. I feel it in me that it remains behind unchanged, and it could recover and grow without my notoriety keeping it in place. I have lived a burden, and remorse finds its way into me unprompted by the waiting virtues now scattered around her. Her stories are rushed and desperate, and so are her breaths. She breaks a little farther when my past as a human tumbles down her lips. She tells me that she knows and she says it again, that she knows and she knows, and she never says what it is. But it resonates in my body, every piece of the past she unraveled and willfully discovered, that left me with only envy and wrath. I feel it in the form that I undertook, and whether I am a beast or the human I’d once been I don’t know. But I am weaker than I’ve ever been, and even Pride can’t hold me upright against it. My head is cradled in her lap, on the harsh fabric of her breeches. And my eyes are gone, but she shifts me so they’re looking up. Constance pours Benevolence on them, and, “Open your eyes,” she says, “Look at the sky, Woodwose, isn’t it beautiful?”

My sky is green-eyed and freckled.

“That, she is,” I say, slipping away under her tears, “That she is.”


Notes

Short Story: She of the Depths (1/2)

Like her wholly-marine counterparts, the Angler siren was conceived from destruction. A vicious act brought her to life, the disintegration of another, the utter breaking of flesh and bone. Like her wholly-marine counterparts, she’s been wed to the depths since her beginning, condemned to be bound to its cold and its danger. But unlike them she rose from the breaking of spirits too, and unlike them she isn’t a creature of grotesque features, of frigid eyes, and teeth protruding, sharp and threatening.

In truth, she is the complete opposite of that. 

Continue reading

Dystopian mornings in London

I tragically fell into the habit of visiting a certain coffee and tea house every morning.

I’m a creature of habit; that’s one of the very few things I know about myself for sure. Routine grounds me, prevents my mind from running off into whirlwinds of worry and doom about there not being enough time (time for what? I don’t know, really, but I always feel like I’m about to run out of it.)

So when I realized that my sanity depended on the little chalkboard that said, “Coffee room open,” before the staircase that leads to the basement, I knew I was deep trouble. The fact that this certain coffee shop was a whole 5.5 thousand kilometres away from home wasn’t about to make anything easier.

(For the better part of 2019, I lived in London. I stayed there for another month and a half of 2020, but I didn’t develop this infatuation with that coffee house until the last two weeks.)

But I still went everyday, tormented by the thought that I’ll have to tear this part from my daily life soon. My mother joked that I met a lover there; that would explain why I was so dedicated.

(I didn’t.)

Inside the coffee house is another staircase, steep and a few hundred folds as claustrophobic as one outdoors. It takes you down to the cafe, and it honestly is a magical, magical thing how descending down that narrow set of steps brings about new sounds and noises and light, a little morning tucked in a coffee-scented basement in London.

I would drink my coffee in peace, with myself and everything else. I’m a terribly conflicted person inside, an anxious, angry mess. But I don’t think about it, or about life and what it may bring. I just have my flat white in such a serenity so foreign to me and the constant grinding in my brain.

This may sound incredibly romanticized, the half-hour I spend in a café being nothing more than daily routine to many. But it’d become a sort of ritual, a cherished and private escape from myself before anything else. I would read a tragic non-fiction book, Midnight in Chernobyl while listening to its audiobook, because I like it that much, and because Russian names are very difficult to keep track of.

In a sense I didn’t become unaware of the madness of the world above that little basement, but I just for a half-hour detached myself from it. There’s no dystopia more vivid than this reality– and I can’t tell if it’s a coping mechanism, our brain’s final attempts at grasping whatever thinning strands of hope it can find, seeking comforts enveloped within this world, hidden in it’s folds. But if it’ll spare me the torment of all this dread I’ll take it, delusion or not, for a few minutes of my day.

Reflections

I thought I’d be terrified of my 25th birthday.

I’m not.

On my 24th I cried while having my egg muffin and coffee on my way to work. I cried so much I had to wait for my nose to go back to its color for about half an hour or so. It didn’t feel vain, and I won’t regret it

Today I’m in a hospital room, looking after a family member with a life-threatening illness. It’s my birthday, and I’m happy. Silver linings are so bright through hard times. I’m happy she laughed today, and I’m happy she ate.

I’m not undermining my old sadness and struggles; I don’t have the right to. They honed me, I think, and prepared me for realer sorrows. I learned how to get over a bad day, and how to be patient, and how to validate what I think and feel. They all became weapons somehow, arming me as I struggle through the biggest trial I’ve ever found myself in.

My 24th wasn’t easy. I saw one of my greatest fears unfolding before me. But I braved it, and I’ve been braving since. I’ve pushed myself beyond my limits, and more than once pieced together my own brokenness and others’. I’m so incredibly proud of myself for the meaning I found, for being stronger than I and everyone else could’ve ever imagined. And to be frank, I owe it to my 24th year for making me realize that I truly deserve to be happy.

“It is a privilege to grow older,” a nurse told me yesterday, although she didn’t know my birthday was so soon. And it really is, I found myself thinking. A year ago I dreaded all the things I haven’t achieved yet, and how I’m falling behind in a virtual, collective timeline I put myself and others it. But what a comforting thought it is, that all will come, everything that’s yours will come in its due time if you work for it.

So this one’s to my 25 year old self, who sometimes feels too tired to be so young, and other times too silly to be so old. Raise your head high, and find your path. It will be there, always.

Today, I saw autumn

I come from a country that has two seasons: a scorching hot summer, and an only slightly cooler winter. As a result, the transition of seasons has always been a magical thought to me, a fascinating thing of dreams.

I found myself away from home at the arrival of autumn, owing it to less than favorable circumstances. I’d witnessed a glimpse of it before, once, when the school year was pushed back to mid-september, and we could stay a little longer in the colorful bustle of Freiburg, in the company of the lovely hydrangea flowers around the white window borders of our big blue house.

But this time I watched it happen, the whole of it, the romanticized yellow leaves falling into piles, and their crunch when crushed underfoot. There was a sadness hindering my childish excitement for what I’d thought was a wondrous shift of everything around me, the skies and the air churning into an unpredictable combination every day. I wanted to see humans change, too. I’ve always loved the cold, the way it turned noses red and hid them behind thick, wool mufflers. I yearned for the sight of the gentle hunched and huddled movements of people in ugly big jackets, and the urgent kick in their step when warmth isn’t too far away anymore.

That is still in progress all around, but it hadn’t been making me feel a thing (except cold, especially while being sick.) In carefully coordinated ‘Fall fits,’ I’ve been taking regular walks in a little park close to our apartment, to move my flu-infested body a bit, and to see all the good doggos out for their walk.

Today was windy, so I really shouldn’t have spent as much time in the park as I did. But I was particularly picky about which bench to choose, for no apparent reason at all. Eventually, I chose one hidden in a corner, where I could see the earth and the sky, and all that sits between them.

Then, it happened.

I don’t know what it was, and I can’t do it justice with my clumsy use of language. But it was a moment of stillness inside, of peace– a dream in every sense. I was no longer myself for a brief few moments, was something greater and I was nothing at all. Maybe it was similar to witnessing something when submerged; being aware of movements and the existence of sound, but not experiencing any of them. I saw the rush of winds sending blades of grass into waves, and felt the hushed whispers of dried leaves in my very being.

It made me feel alive, and there was so much joy in that, such beauty and horror at how rare it was, the stillness that is being alive and the momentary ecstasy that traced its footsteps. It was a tiny, violent thing that overcame me– a breaking of some sort, of my heart maybe, or of a curse.

It reminded me profoundly of a line that I’d once thought I understood completely, but have discovered that I don’t, not at all.

“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” -Donna Tartt, The Secret History

P E R S E P H O N E

When he retreated to her chambers, to the regality of her silks in rubies and emeralds, “Come,” she would say. He’d heed to her defiance in his realm, the reminders of her mother, and of her other life. Like himself, he would offer no words, just the comfort of his presence and the weight of his reign, lighter now that he’d allowed her some of it.

He didn’t need her to contain him, only desired her to, and when he lifted his gaze to hold her own, she was met with the realization that she’d grown possessive of it. There was death and suffering in his world, fear and grief and hunger, but she made it hers, that and the thread of affection lining his eyes when he saw her, the light barely softening the stern world-weariness in them. It was hers, and she’d so fiercely claim it.

“I depart tomorrow,” she said, and the words hung heavy between them. “With the first bloom, and the last of the winter winds.”

“Maybe I shall go blind in rage, too,” he said, “like Demeter.”

She laughed. “How will that change your Underworld, then? No winter will daunt your dwellers.”

“It will become a joyous place, until you are back. Feasts and drink for the souls,” he told her dryly. But when the Underworld brimmed with her laughter, she noticed a smile tugging at the severe corners of his lips.

“That will surely upset Zeus into returning you,” he continued, and right then, she wished upon Earth misery as cold and eternal as the Underworld’s.


Incomplete drabble because who can think? Not me, so here’s whats going on in the underworld today (in Australia maybe)