A Gift for Life and Death (pt28)

Death said nothing. He did not reach out, but Forgiveness didn’t back off. They waited for him.

Finally, Death reached out one hand, palm upward, and waited. Forgiveness felt it, felt what it was that Death was trying to avoid, even if no part of their body reacted in the way that one might have expected. Forgiveness dropped flame into his hand.

Neither of them said anything. There was nothing to say, it seemed. Forgiveness looked up into Death’s face. Death did not look back, not immediately, but eventually Forgiveness could tell that Death was staring them back. Two abysses in his face, calling to them. A call Death couldn’t stop, but one that he always gave.

Forgiveness stayed put, but smiled tiredly up at him.

“Take the angel back to her, Pup,” Death said, fingers closing around the fire. “Before they get into more trouble.”

Before Forgiveness could do or say anything more, the hound picked them up by the scruff of their shirt and placed them back on his spine.

There was something they had needed to say, a word to Death about the gift, even if they had no need to explain the reason behind it. Death knew what this had been brought for, didn’t he?

The angel wondered about this. The rhythmic motion of the hound, moving along back to home. Back to Life. The warmth pressed up against their chest. They wondered what Life’s reaction would be, if she would have a word to say about it. If she would understand as quickly as Death had.

Whether or not either would then… return to acceptance.

Forgiveness, with a smile upon their face, drifted off to sleep.

A Gift for Life and Death (pt26)

“I am not the only creature to both live and die, angel. They have long since been blinded by time, but if they looked a little closer, they would not need a gift from me to see what they have to share. You spend much time with them both?”

Forgiveness nodded.

“Then you would know best, would you not? Perhaps better than I, unless you have died and lived many times as I have?”

“If I have, I don’t remember any of it,” Forgiveness admitted.

For some reason, the phoenix seemed mollified by this, though she continued on as though there had been no doubt. “Without the cacophony of changing forms, you have spent much time with Life and Death. You have seen them occupy the same space?”

Forgiveness nodded again.

“You would know best, would you not? How they do not affect each other at a distance? How destructive they are upon reality when they are close together? Things which are not alive don’t know what to make of near death. Things which are dead do not know what to do with returning life. Yet, at the very crux of it, when touching?”

This time when she extended her wings, it was simply to display her full splendor. The beauty of a phoenix. A gesture she would make at any time in her life. The meeting point of Life and Death.

“Thank you,” said the angel

“Go with this gift, but forget not who gave it to you. Whether in this life or another, I will wish the favour returned, angel. I may lose the occasional detail, but I do not forget what I am owed.”

Not likely to forget such a thing within their own life, Forgiveness climbed back down the volcano. The warmth of the phoenix’s gift gave them the strength where they might not have had it before. Nevertheless, returning to where Life or Death would be might take some time. There were the places that Forgiveness knew well, but the world was vast. While Life and Death might traverse all of it, the angel had yet to do so. Finding either might take longer than finding a phoenix had.

A Gift for Life and Death (pt25)

She rose up her left wing and placed her head under it, eventually seeming to pull out a feather. However, when the phoenix pulled her head back out, it wasn’t with a feather in beak, but a silent shimmer of flame. Extending her head down, the ball of flame dropped from her beak and landed near the roots of the wizened tree.

“Here, enough fire for two. You may give them both this.”

Forgiveness got back to their feet and approached, stopping before the tree to stoop down and pick up the flame. The warmth was comforting and parted in their hands, splitting into two equal parts that easily combined once more.

“In many languages, fire is described in various ways, the ways that both give credence to Life and to Death. Blossoming flames, consuming flames. To grow, to kill. This is what fire is.”

Holding it close, taking some form of sustenance from the warmth, Forgiveness nodded. “Thank you.”

Ignoring does not only mean not looking

Inhabitants of Zinge, over whom the star Canopus rises every night, are always gay and without sorrow. This, she believed, was dumb. She flicked her lighter on and off. Because she was not an inhabitant of Zinge, she was just there right now, and she was not without sorrow.

Which meant the people around her made her irritated. Irritation on top of sorrow made for a much less than happy lady.

She was offered food and drink. She declined both, remaining on the edge of civilization. The people would leave, return, all unaffected by her reaction.

She was not only sorrowful and irritated. Now she felt ignored. They did not accept how she felt. She felt hate.

She flicked her lighter on.

Not the first, yet the first with results

Rumour had it if one took a candle into the mansion, not a flashlight, the ghosts wouldn’t come after.

This was lies. Blatant lies. He bit down on nothing. A bad habit of all of the years he had smoked. Now he watched the mansion burn. Again. He took his crew up to keep the place from burning up. They managed to get there fast, this time.

“Do we have a culprit?” he asked officer McKenzie.

She had the same expression as he, just without the obvious desire for a cigarette. “Two thirteen year old boys.”

“Find any ghosts before they decided to light the place up?” He wasn’t sure how much of him was joking. He wasn’t really a humorous person. She wasn’t either. At least, not on duty.

“About that.”

She held up a phone. In his thick gloves, he took it up and peered at the screen. “Well I’ll be damned.”

So many times he had put out fires in this place. And there was photographic evidence of something that was supposed to be a ghost.

Whence they have come

He stood in silence and stared at the hole in the ground. The ground was soft enough not to show the claw marks Aulis knew he would have seen there a few weeks before, before the rains had come. Before the rains made it easier. The hole was deep. He had made it that way.

Aulis thought he had buried his mother’s bones deep enough, that the grave had been hidden well enough under the brush and roots. He had been wrong. Obviously. The hole was now empty, the damp soil littering the entire area. The bone men had even taken the narrow cedar box, as they did when they came during the night and stole the past.

He should have burned her body. Aulis wasn’t an idiot. Everyone knew that and he had done it in the past. He had gone in his mother’s place. His mother had feared those flames though and begged him, as she began to waste away in mind, not to give her up to the fire. To do something else, anything else, to save her from that fate. Bury her deep enough that her soul could seep into the earth.

Kneeling down, he looked at his mother’s grave. There were some splinters left.

Perhaps the bone men had dug her out from underground.

Teaching normalcy

“Oh my…” They swallowed, staring out the window. “What- what did you do?”

She smiled at them, dropping her bag on the table. “Exactly what you told me to do!”

She was so ecstatic about it. They couldn’t believe it. They forced themselves to turn away from the window and look at her. “I told you to grab groceries. Not set a bank on fire!”

“But it was in the way!” She continued to smile, bouncing up and down on her feet.

“In the way of groceries?” They could have face palmed, but letting her out of their sight probably would be a bad idea. “How?”

“It just was!”

Nope, she certainly wasn’t ready to be let loose in the city. They would have to put their rehabilitation back to step one. They had been so certain that they were so far. Too bad.

Full of Fire

Saoirse was already soaked. The torrent coming down past them as they climbed the cliff made everything wet. It had made her more cold than this weather really should have allowed for. And a bit more distracted.

The waterfall covered their tracks, even as it made their journey vertically more and more difficult. The beast that followed them wouldn’t be able to make it the same way. If it wanted them, it would have to find another way. Saoirse had no doubt it would. However, by then they would be in control of the situation.

She heard Toiréasa swear. Saoirse couldn’t help but grin, pulling herself up with the only sort of grip that could hold onto the stones, slick with water, worn by the continuous splatter.

“What? Need a break?” she called down to her partner.

Toiréasa’s retort was full of fire. “If you slow down here, I’ll break your neck myself.”

Saoirse chuckled. Shoving the thoughts of cold aside, replacing them with Toiréasa’s fire, she kept climbing.

A new beginning for some, continuation for others

They all knew what had come to pass when the mountaintop lit itself aflame.

Amina and Ayako even rose their heads from where they slept to look out toward the skies, before returning to their slumber. Kasey watched them, then looked up herself. It was an event she had been awaiting for a long time. She grabbed her shoes and that grabbed the hounds’ attentions again.

“Time to see him.”

The three of them climbed the mountain with a practiced motion that showed their experience with the journey. Amina and Ayako didn’t spend too much time sniffing around, wasting energy. They knew Kasey would be going all the way to the top. They were prepared.

Kasey would be, as ever, the first one to tire. She would not give up though, she would not slow down. The mountain remained the same hurdle it had always been. The fire had long since died, Kasey watched the sky grow dark without the flames to lighten it.

When they reached the top, they saw the phoenix, grooming itself anew. With a sigh, Kasey sat down with Amina. Ayako ran over to her friend, born anew.

It was how a phoenix lived. Kasey lay on her back and soaked up the warmth of the ground.

Building a fire

Ingrid made a beeline for the fire. Everyone else had long since disappeared into their huts. Only one other person remained out in the elements.

Kahina’s voice was low. Her chant was in the language of her people, one that Ingrid did not know nor could she name it. The reason for her speech in front of the fire was something Ingrid also did not comprehend. It had something to do with the fire, that was all she knew. It appeared to dwindle, though the light remained consistent and the heat increased to the point where Ingrid could feel it, several lengths away.

“Stop that,” Ingrid said.

Had everyone gone home because they were scared? Or was it because that was how things were done here? Ingrid considered not getting involved. But the intensity of the small fire terrified her.

“Kahina? Please.”

Kahina’s voice became raspy as she continued. Ingrid couldn’t get over how short her hair was, completely shorn off as of this morning. This way she could see every feature of Kahina’s face, glowing in the light. Full lips were in constant motion, tongue pink between her crooked teeth.

It was too hot and Ingrid wasn’t as close as Kahina. She could feel her eyes drying, lips cracking.

It was as if she were on fire.


Was she on fire?

Ingrid tackled Kahina, dropping them both to the ground. Kahina stopped chanting. The heat diminished, the light normalized, and the fire returned to eating the wood and leaves blanketed below it.

It was fine. Ingrid drew in a ragged breath, feeling Kahina do the same underneath her.

And then she heard the chant.