End – a short story from the ouroboros universe.

Edward felt the wind rip past his face. As it scraped along his stubble he could feel the division of space where Walter ended and everything else took over. Edward was always trying to convince Walter that any and all things beyond his thin barrier of skin cells were not at all separate but was actually one big gelatin like substance.

<<You’re only wading through it on your journey, past to future, through your momentary flashes of segmented awareness>> Walter accepted that most of what Edward said was meant to fuck with his mind; a mind that was already overloaded with disjointed and frayed connections, distorted further still by the constant hum of static.

Am I mad because of the static? Or is the static a manifestation of my insanity? He didn’t bother asking Edward. Walter knew what his answer would be.

<<We’re all mad. Some are just better at hiding it than others>>

Edward was waiting for Jake, though usually it was Walter that went to meetings. Edward was unpredictable. Walter liked meetings to be lucid and then the job itself would be passed on to Edward. Walter didn’t want to be around when Edward worked. That’s why he did so much acid. Acid made the division between Walter and Edward that much thicker and dulled the uncomfortable intricacies of the profession Edward loved so much. Walter had tried before to just accept it but he wasn’t like Edward. Something he never let Walter forget.

Usually Walter would leave Edward to his work while he escaped into the churning heaviness of an acid trip. Sometimes he took ketamine, but Edward said he couldn’t work while Walter was thrashing around in a k-hole. Edward insisted Walter only use LSD when the auto club needed him to work. Edward was silent and Walter was anxiously trying to repel paranoid thoughts that came charging out at him from the darkness.

I should’ve left the phone in the car, Walter felt an itch in his nose and their body made a move to scratch it. As the finger slid up their nose to pursue the itch, another feeling poked at his unfocused awareness. The phlegmy residue of the ketamine slid out from his sinuses. It crept along the skin at the back of his throat, dropping excess globs of the viscous solution on his tongue as it did.

Since the first line of Special K the night was charged with a dark malevolence that crackled around Walter’s fractured mind. Edward had no jobs planned and that’s why Walter had gone to see the man in the purple suit to stock up. LSD. Ketamine. DMT. Mushrooms. Walter trusted the man in the purple suit, as much as Walter was able to trust another person, so he didn’t hesitate dosing Edward with three hits of acid when he asked. On the second shared peak, the man in the purple suit started stomping about the room aggressively. The dark energy pulsed and ballooned up in intensity, pressing outward larger and larger until Walter could feel the seething malevolence stabbing at his skin.

“Hey man, did, uh, did I accidentally give you the white ones?”

Walter stared at the man in the purple suit silently.

“’Cause those were actually my personal ones. How many did you take?”

Edward reminded Walter that they’d taken three. Walter held up three fingers.

The man in the purple suit cackled in a hysterical flick of his whole body that arced back before swinging back the opposite way. The expanding energy continued to stab at Walter’s skin.

“Holy shit, dude! There were 300 mics in each of those!”

The laughter angered Edward. Walter was about to let him take over but then his phone began to ring. Jake wanted to meet. He wasn’t sure about what or why he’d called so late.

<<It’s our night off!>> Edward reminded Walter.

He knew they should’ve said no, but Edward was about to stab the man in the purple suit and Walter didn’t want to go searching for another source with quality shit.

There was a ludicrously elongated moment where Walter was convinced that rather than recalling the night’s events with the man in the purple suit that they had actually jumped the temporal track and inserted themselves back in that time. It didn’t feel like simply recalling a memory of earlier that night but then Edward reminded them that they were still spiking hard from 900 mics of LSD.

The chemicals hummed but Edward was in mechanic mode. It was almost too much for Walter who was still trying to flee and lose himself in the nothingness of buzzing images and fragmented thoughts lacking any discernable sequence.

The air scratched past him again and he could almost feel the individual cells lifting away like shingles in a hurricane. It made Walter wonder how many skin follicles the wind had taken with it and how many cells from other beings were floating in the air around him. His spine tightened. The idea of bits of dislocated skin spiraling around in the ether made him think of those mites that live on your eyelashes, living out their whole lives beneath the towering structures that to them would look like redwoods dotting the pink surface of their world.

What do we live our lives upon?

While Walter was tossed around in the choppy waves of quantum non-locality, Edward was present and excitedly waiting for orders.

<<It isn’t like Jake to be late>> Edward tried to slow his portion of their mind and throw off the dark feeling that hovered over him. Edward tried to identify the malevolent force concealed behind the impenetrable skin of the unseen. Every muscle in his face tensed down in crazed concentration. He was disheartened by his inability to articulate the pulsing waves of terror that were throbbing through him. It was like Edward could almost see . . . it. But the resolution was so pixilated that the true picture was lost in large solid squares. <<Either I’m too close or its image is blown up far too large for me to make it out>> He realized he needed to either pull back or shrink . . . it.

Edward became aware that he was far closer to the edge than he should be. He didn’t want to lose himself inside the throbbing electricity of his splintered mind since Walter was already far off beyond him, rising and falling off in the distance carried around by the invisible waves of madness.

Edward tried to wrench his awareness back into their body. Edward was away from it long enough that when he did return, their body was wobbling uneasily back in forth like a newborn calf. He snatched control before their body collapsed completely and shot out an arm to steady their body against the bricks.

Edward had entered crazed eyes that were darting around, unfocused and purposeless. When he finally calmed them, he reached into his pocket for a joint he hoped would settle him.

Walter, seeing Edward’s hassle with operating their body, cut himself away from the aimless waves and decided to take over Edward’s aborted quest to uncover the name of the illusive malevolent force. Someone had to be inside, and someone had to be outside. Walter thought it only polite to help Edward out since he was on outside duty at the moment.

Just before the peak of Walter’s search-and his 900 microgram acid trip-his exhausted mind collapsed, sputtering clumsily and finally stalling completely. His attempt could only revealed a frustratingly partial identity for their invisible terror.

End.

Edward blinked dopily as their brain rebooted from the critical systems crash Walter had caused. Walter eventually rejoined Edward in their unsteady body back in reality. Both were crippled by the profound, yet terrifyingly limited, awareness of End. What scared them more, was that they knew End was not its true name. End was just the name it went by; the name it gave to those it didn’t already know. End was but a codename and Edward knew that behind the invisible skin of End there existed something more.

Their whole body shivered but then he laughed. His loud, sparking laughter blasted out into the ambient noise of the Exchange District alley. The hysterical grunting of their insanity infected the charged hum of night traffic running up Main Street and along Portage Avenue to the South.

As the intensity drained, Edward’s relative lucidity returned and the strings connecting his mind with his physical senses began to reattach themselves. His eyes focused and he saw that he was standing in the back alley in the Exchange. He was cloaked in sickly, yellow light raining down from the metal fire escape above. Edward could see his shadow stretched out in front of him, long and sinister. As he stared at his own shadow, textured by the pebbles and cracked stone it flowed over, Edward wanted to name his shadow End too. He coughed as he turned his head to look at the glowing tip of the joint he held in his fingers. He saw the ribbon of smoke float upwards, displacing itself into the nothingness of air around him.

He laughed loudly again and shook his head. He reminded himself once again that the man in the purple suit had dosed them with a ridiculous amount of acid before they’d gotten the call to come meet Jake. Edward pulled again on the joint. He reminded himself that weed always made him paranoid.

The intense psychedelic detour had caused their hands to sweat. He put the joint between his lips and wiped his clammy hands on his shirt.

What the fuck is taking Jake so long? Walter wondered anxiously fidgeting inside their mind.

The phone in their pocket vibrated and their whole body tensed.

It wasn’t a number Walter recognized so he stared anxiously at the phone and didn’t answer it.

Eventually, the ringing stopped.

“Edward,” a calm baritone voice filtered out from the darkness of the alley. It squirmed its way into his ear canal where the sensation was distilled into sparks of anxious electricity that sped off to his brain. They jolted him with the true meaning and identity of End.

He didn’t recognize the voice though it wasn’t as if the auto club would have sent someone they had ever met before.

Edward knew it wouldn’t do any good but Walter was already trying anyway. Edward knew the inevitability of what was coming.

<<So everyone makes that face at the end>> Inside, Edward smirked as Walter pleaded through pathetically hysterical tears. He was too terrified to be amused. The face was a grimace that marked the instant they became aware of the moments they had left between the one they were in and their last, when the nothingness would snap them away forever. Before, Edward had always found that expression humorous. No longer. Now he understood. At their own end, Walter (and therefore Edward) was making that terrifyingly unfunny face. 

Edward felt End growing with sinister intensity. Walter did too. They felt it like a bright flare that scorched their skin wherever gelatin reality touched the barrier of cells separating them from End. Edward knew he had never once shown mercy. The auto club would never have paid them if he’d ever shown mercy. He’d never really thought about it from the other side before, but then that moment too-imbued with unappreciated irony-dissolved into nothingness, shoving him closer and closer to End.

Edward birthed a plan to stretch time with more weed. Although it wasn’t so much a plan as it was a craving that sizzled across his brain. It jostled around for importance against the jagged clumps of competing thoughts. Of course they couldn’t all fit inside his head. Even without drugs, Walter’s insanity ensured that his mind was never a thought or two under maximum capacity and Edward wasn’t even included in that. Their continuous drug use-and the psychosis required for them to thrive in their profession-caused a spike in immigrant population that led to a kind of cognitive urban sprawl even though Walteropolis, and sister city Edwardopolis, offered no vacant land to sprawl into. His skull crushed the immigrant thoughts together. The citizens of the twin cities screamed out but to Walter and Edward they were percieved as pulsing waves of undifferentiated static tinged with aggressive desperation. The plan, hidden inside a craving, was ignored among the gurgling and roiling mass of screams that thundered about the twin cities.

“Listen, I . . . I have a collection,” Inside their head, Edward laughed. He knew Walter was talking about the assorted trinkets spilling over the lip of the wastebasket in their basement and not the collection itself. Edward always thought Walter’s collection was fucking sick. <<Yet I’m the dark half>> Edward very much enjoyed the act of killing but Walter’s collection was more sinister and depraved than just murder. And Edward didn’t care who the victim was while Walter’s meticulously selected future additions to his collection. “I’ll share. I just . . . I don’t have it with me, okay?” Walter yelped worriedly.

There was silence.

Their throat tightened.

“But I mean, I can fucking take you to it. Just, uh, wait. Fuck, just wait. I got rings, necklaces, fuckin’ coins and shit! Jesus fuck just give me a little time to get ‘em.”

A man Edward didn’t recognize emerged from the shadows. His eyes locked on Edward purposefully. The man stepped forward into the harsh yellow light flooding down from the rusted lamp above them.

“Listen, it’s really a funny story-“

 The man wordlessly pulled out a 9mm from his chest holster, concealed beneath his aged leather jacket.

“Jesus,” Walter jumped. “Holy fuck, just, just listen . . . okay! Just fuckin’ listen. I’ll just . . . I’ll just leave, okay? You’ll never hear from me ag-”

Walter’s whole body flinched as the other man’s head exploded outward, spraying bits of brain and matted hair across their face and chest. Edward blinked, amused. Walter was shaking.

The body of the man neither of them knew collapsed limply. A rush of red surged out from the space that used to be the man’s face and pooled beneath the still form, seeping into the cracks in the pavement of the Exchange District alley.

Walter couldn’t process any of it, but it only took Edward a few seconds to realize what had happened. He spun around, scanning into the darkness to see where the shot had come from. He felt the faintest bit of pain.

And then the nothingness swallowed them both.

The Dark Crystal – The Shape of the Sacred – Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – The Theft of the Daggar

      The Daggar of Absolom had begun to hum the moment Jax had taken it from the pedestal. The glowing was something new though. That had only started after he’d left the Spriton clan territory and entered the Swamp of Sog.

While the rest of the clan was celebrating the addition of his older brother, Jek, to the Spriton brotherhood, the order of warriors, Jax had snuck away in search of Rel.

Jek had never seen war, but then again neither had most of the citizens in the Spriton capitol. Only his uncle Rel had ever known what war truly was. Yes, the Woodland and Spriton Gelflings despised one another, but only Rel had witnessed any violence.

Jax couldn’t understand why the Spriton’s would need an army if they never fought. And it angered him that when one of their own needed them they celebrated instead. Rel had not returned home for almost seven blinks of the Rose Sun. At his old age he must be in trouble, or lost, or worse. Everyone seemed to shrug it off as unimportant and immersed themselves in the decadent celebration that signaled yet another Spriton boy had become a man of the brotherhood.

No one was even guarding the daggar when he went to take it. At first he’d just wanted to address the council of the Dark Woods for guidance and reassurance that Rel was not in danger. He had been one of the strongest and bravest of the brotherhood, but that was long long ago. Instead, Jax arrived to find the chamber still and soundless. At least until he removed the daggar, that’s when the hum began.

Jax stared at the now daggar as the light it cast off drove shadows from the swamp around him. The bark of the weedtrees that lined the path pulsed with pale blue light as he passed, journeying deeper into Sog.

“Rel?” he called out into the blackness beyond the reach of the daggar’s light. “Rel, it’s Jax. Are you okay? Do you need help?”

Jax was four cycles of the Greater Sun away from becoming part of the brotherhood. Well, three and three-quarter cycles as of the last pass of the middle moon. Though seeing how disinterested they were in Rel’s wellbeing he didn’t think the brotherhood was one to which he’d ever wish to belong. It had been almost an entire triad of dark and light since he’d left with the humming, and now glowing, daggar. Two of which were spent still within Spriton territory. Part of him wished that the Order of Warriors would follow after him. That was why he’d gone slower than he would have, something he was now regretting. The time he’d wasted dragging his feet might have put Rel in more danger. He was aware of his slow pace through the Swamp but that was more fear than any voluntary action on his part.

The Swamp of Sog was the womb of terrifying monsters that he’d been warned of again and again.

The Daggar of Absolom began to hum louder with an added nauseating resonance that made his teeth tingle. The weapon’s pulsing blue light shone brighter and lit up more and more of the swamp with each buzzing swell. Around him, the night gurgled and spat stinking plumes of thick mist. The smell was unlike anything he’d encountered. It was so strong it was attacking his thoughts and overpowering his senses. His whole body felt heavy like something was filling him, adding to himself and maybe even taking him over. It was the smell of the swamp. He was sure of it. The light continued to pulse and Jax gripped the hilt of the humming blade tighter in his hand. He used his other hand to press the fabric of his sleeve tightly against his nose. The coughing fit leapt out of nothingness and struck him like a Land Strider hoof to his chest. He couldn’t breathe behind his sleeve, but the scent of the swamp was viscous and heavy and oppressive. It felt like every breath was not a breath but a swallowing of liquid Sog.

He tried to think of something, anything to get his mind off of the taste of the swamp. He tried breathing only through his nose but the liquid air engorged with the stench slithered into his nostrils, scraping along the hairs. It burrowed deeper inside him before dropping down into the chasm that fell away into the larger expanse just before his throat where it rested on the flesh of his tongue.

The fortified walls, his tightly pursed lips and gritted teeth, defending his tongue and taste buds were all for naught. The sneaky liquid scent had circumvented them all the same.

The Siege of Ebrie!

Even old Rel’s hot, sour breath would have been sweetly fragrant aside the swamp. Jax remembered that fled his mouth through the rotted bars of green teeth would have been sweetly fragrant when compared to this noxious swamp. Rel had cackled on through the incomplete cage of teeth about the adventures and terrors from a time now at the mercy of his degrading memory. The time of reverence and respect for the heroic Blue Knight had long ago given way to dismissive and disdainful tolerance. No one believed his stories anymore.

No one but Jax.

He remembered the story of the Siege of Ebrie. Rel would sit by the flames of his hearth and Jax would intently experience Rel’s stories from a meditation mat on the floor.

the Dark Crystal – Author’s Quest Excerpt

I’m working on a 7,000-10,000 word short story for the Dark Crystal – author’s quest contest. Here is the first chapter.

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The world was indeed darkening. It stretched further past the plain of Skarith at a far faster pace than she had hoped; than she had feared. Even the wise urRu Ritual Guardian, urZah, had not foreseen the extent to which the blight was raking its brittle, dusty fingers across their world. It had reached the Gnarled Stonetree.

            The Gelfling sighed. Maybe urTih had miscalculated. Though she couldn’t blame her teacher. It was her responsibility to gather and compile knowledge about the putrid darkness consuming Thra. When she’d left the Vapra clan’s ancestral city in search of the Valley of the Mystics she was called Kin. Her journey traced across the world to the east where she was to train with the urRu alchemist, urTih. Spending her adolescence under the guidance of her mentor, Kin grew into Kyn’ae, the Gelfling Alchemist of clan Vapra.

Newly reborn, Kyn’ae assumed something had gone wrong. She did not feel any differently than before the naming ritual and the supposed completion of her training with the urRu. She still felt like Kin. Worse actually. In fact, she felt less confident and less capable the more she thought about it.

Staring out at the withering black limbs and cancerous knots that dotted the skin of the Gnarled Stonetree, Kyn’ae wished that the Vapra Elders could’ve chosen another to train with the urRu. Of course, Kyn’ae knew that there was no other. The next Vapra Alchemist was always the daughter of the last.

Her failure ate at her insides. She resentfully cradled the knowledge that the Vapra Elders would receive her in silent disappointment upon learning her charged task remained incomplete.

            Mother left only to train, she thought through gritted teeth.

The hallow wind whistled as it spit grains of dust across the skin left exposed by her alchemists robes; robes she felt unworthy of.

Mother had gone away expected only to return as the next Gelfling Alchemist of the clan Vapra. Ky’nae, however, was laden with the added trial of revealing the name and meaning of the growing darkness that leeching out from its seat in the plain of Skarith.

Ky’nae felt the crippling responsibility that pressed down on her for the nameless blight yet remained so. She had begun to wonder if the force that stalked her world always remain so discouragingly inarticulate in its purpose, so frustratingly undefined in its substance. All this was regardless of her own impassioned efforts and those of the Mystics with whom she’d spent so many years.

Her thoughts were so loud that she almost didn’t notice there was an unfamiliar signpost thrust into the dry ground. It marked the path to the Swamp of Sog to the North, the Caves of Obscurity to the South, and Claw Mountain to the West, and the Valley of the Mystics pointed back the way she’d come. Someone must have erected the markers recently since when Kyn’ae had been Kin she had to rely on deciphering the clues embedded in the bark of the Gnarled Stonetree, which was the purpose of the ancient tree, to reveal her desired path. She stepped closer to the Stonetree and touched the twisting, arthritic black bark with her slender white fingers. Her fingertips burst with a bright empathic ache that shone a dull red. The throbbing glow, while to her was almost too much, only revealed the faintest expression of the true pain the blight was causing her world. Even so, that subtle and incomplete awareness was more than enough to jolt her hand back sharply. She cradled it near her racing heart.

Kyn’ae said some words of healing that urIm, the Healer, had taught her and the red glow shifted from a dull throbbing to a soft radiant blue that hummed with a restorative benevolence before fading completely, leaving her fingers warm and once again white. Her words had also begun to heal a patch of the Stonetree’s bark which glowed a prestine grey, the way it had been when she’d first encountered it all those years ago.

Kyn’ae was mesmerized by the division around the grey spot where it met the charcoal black of the blighted bark. Charged with the blue energy of urIm’s words of healing, the division looked to her like a defensive wall holding back the black blight. The blue barrier crackled and sparked and she saw it was trying to expand over the blight, to dispel it and restore the Gnarled Stonetree.

As the blue barrier expanded outward along the trunk she saw a solitary triangle and she remembered.

The symbol shot through her guilt and pessimism and exposed the faintest glow of hope. But, faint as it was, it was indeed hope. The blue barrier expanded further and revealed yet another triangle that encapsulated the first, only this one was oriented the inverse of the other.

“The shape of the sacred,” Kyn’ae whispered to the nothingness in the dry air.

            As the glowing blue barrier continued to stretch out along the skin of the Gnarled Stonetree, she counted seven triangles. Each one fit inside the other. Each one larger than the one before, and each rotating between upright and upside-down, each regressing until the last disappeared completely from view.

Originally, these markings were left to guide wanderers to safety. For Kyn’ae (then Kin) it was meant to lead her to her education in the Valley of the Mystics. But fate had imbued the markings with an added purpose for Kyn’ae, and her alone. The markings had sparked her consuming fascination that remained unnamed until urSu viewed what she had simply been calling curiosity. She was in fact searching for the knowledge of shape and form. A quest that had only ever been undertaken once before and which the Mystics had assumed had ended long long ago. Incomplete then and impossible if ever attempted again.

When she’d first seen the retreating triangles as Kin, something flashed inside her mind in such a profound and visceral way that could never be articulated in such a feeble and coarse manner as speech. Not even when she recounted her experience with Master urSu through dream fasting could she even attempt to pay the revelation the importance it commanded.

            How does one even express in words such a moment?

The experience had seemed to encompass years of Kin’s young life, staring with unfocused yet tautly alert eyes at the markings yet only seconds had passed in truth.

UrSu had connected with her frequently during the course of her training in hopes of gleaning more insight into her experience with the interconnectedness of shape and form. She’d wondered then as Kin, and now again as Kyn’ae, the Gelfling Alchemist of clan Vapra, whether the increasingly smaller triangles really vanished at all or if they continued off in an invisible state  of unendingly smaller and smaller shapes.

She remembered urTih’s expression when she’d first inquired about that possibility. She’d smiled at his straining to remain somber and calculating, but his eyes betrayed him.

“You speak of the twins and their quest for the shape of the sacred,” urTih had said after a prolonged and controlled silence.

“The twins?”

There was a loud, angry pop that jolted Kyn’ae back further from the Gnarled Stontree. Its black bark sizzled and smoldered sending acrid plumes of opaque smoke rising up around the edges of the blue barrier. It floated up through the rigid black fingers of the Stonetree’s branches, escaping into the hoarse screech of the winds above its enormous bulk.

The blight was pressing back.

The blue glow sparked violently in opposition to the blights counter-offensive as it reasserted its dark possession over the old tree. Very quickly the bright markings that had filled her with the faint, but encouraging hope she so desperately needed, the triangles were once again swallowed by the sinister black bark.

She felt the dull red pain again but when she examined her fingers they were still the white, slender fingers of a Gelfling woman of the Vapra clan.

The twins. Kyn’ae stared long at the aged and wind beaten signpost jutting out from the ground.

It may have been a tired, resentful, and discouraged mind grasping out for the delicate, immaterial strands of hope floating just beyond her fingers, but regardless of hope’s legitimacy, it was still hope and it glowed a bright benevolent blue that charged her with optimism and purpose.

She smiled and turned to follow the marker that pointed north, toward the hope she’d already convinced herself was a tangible and knowable thing. A thing that waited silently to be recovered from its womb in the Cave of the Ancients beyond the Silver Sea.