No Dragons Roam

Summer has slid into what you could barely call a winter after the vaguest blur of an autumn. It wasn’t so killing hot, at least, that was the biggest difference. The trees barely muster the energy to change color, scatter dry leaves still green on the dust of the sidewalk. Down to the 60s, and the nights come on earlier, but that’s about it; the weather is dry as it ever was, bright as it ever was, hazy as it ever was on the brown brittle hills; off to the west there are a few more clouds over the city, but not so many as there used to be. Most days you can see buildings all the way to the hill guarding the lip of the Ocean. Time passes, and it doesn’t; each day is as similar as the seasons.

The woman calling herself Elsa Carrow has found an apartment off a bus line in the part of town with bars over all the windows. It’s inexpensive, by the standards of the town, but she could have rented two for the same price in her old town. Couldn’t have afforded them there, though; if the rent’s higher she’s got more money coming in to make up for it, just barely. Listening to the highway traffic at night she tells herself that’s enough. Black dust accumulates on every flat surface every time she opens the windows, swells in the corners, clogs her pores and her lungs. She swelters at night, but it’s better than waking up caked in aerosolized road grit.

Nothing Is Created

Born again (again), she cannot forget what she has learned: the endless plain, the topless mountain, the ocean of trees, the frozen desert, the rain of fire, the mud that burns, the ash that bears witness. She is plagued by ghosts and demons, the endless armies of shade that throng the world invisibly. She cannot move without tearing them, cannot breathe without choking on their insubstantial fog, cannot weep without birthing more.

She weaves a broom and sweeps the road before each step to scatter them; praises God before eating or drinking to clear a space; begs forgiveness before tossing anything away. It is barely enough, if that; she feels like a diver trying to scoop the water out of her way, if water had a face like a dog and a body like a monkey and a voice like house on fire.

She knocks three times on the jamb before opening a door, scatters salt at the table and the threshold, leaves bowls of mingled blood and milk on the window sill, wears coral and brass close to her skin, chews lavender and anise root after every meal. That last doesn’t do much for the dead, but it does freshen her breath.

The Flat Lands

She wakes weeping in the middle of the day when the lash of the sun touches her. The salt on her face reminds her of home, of cold grey stones by the beach and the smell of kelp soddenly moldering by the waterline. She buries herself further back under the earth and rocks herself to sleep, willing herself to ignore the pain in her back and her hips, the blisters slowly raising on her skin.

Night.

She kills a lizard and sucks its blood, grateful for the water, past grateful for the salt. The meat is almost an afterthought. It has been weeks since she walked past the treeline, past the last scattered grasses, days since she has had anything in her stomach but black bile. She continues eastward, toward the dawn.

Day.

She finds a hill just as the stars begin to fade, throws herself down the slope and digs like a dog. Her nails are stumps at this point, mere memory, and hard as diamonds. She tunnels in, past earth and stones, then breaks through into a cool dark space fragrant with water. The sun grabs for her heel as she pushes inside and she buries it in the cool, welcoming earth to heal.

A Cloak of Feathers, A Crown of Thorns

Hell was a place without order, the unlit waters over which she had floated for an infinite span before the sun and the moon and the other spheres had spun up to give an order to the days and a direction to existence: toward this, away from that. Returning is like coming home; everything is smaller now, more squalid.

She moves through it, pulls it into some semblance of order with her passage, the way she always has, imposes definition in sheer reference to herself. Before, all points were the same, and now there is before her and below herabove her and behind her. Hell cries out against her presence, and that too is both new and old: she has brought time with her, and sorrow.

She curls into herself again. A sphere is the softest shape here, with only an inside and an outside. Hell quiets slightly, calms itself; the life she has come in search of drifts down the slope of her presence, still bound by gravity, pinioned by time. She swallows it whole, grows warm with a name.

Nevertheless

Omphale, world-navel, river’s child, she is sad, sorrowful past bearing, so she returns to her father’s home, wide sandy banks, and lets herself sink down to his depths. The water is clear and the rocks are smooth and her hair goes green as the weeds when her father finds it.

Her dead husband comes to her, side torn open and red from the bull’s passing. “Come home,” he tells her, “this is only a temporary solution.” He cannot cross running water.

A Heracles in women’s trousers comes to her and abases himself. “Come home,” he pleads, “the horses have fallen still, the hawks have come to earth. Come home again.” He passes on.

Dionysus, wine-logged, sea-foamed, slides into the river next to her and runs his fingers through her hair. “Stay,” he says, “or go. A river is a moving place.” He cannot suffer water long, and soon departs.

Her horses come to her in their thousands, black horses and red, piebald and gelded, and crowd her father up past his banks. She rides them down to the sea, to the great band of Ocean whence all horses come, drinks seawater straight from the rock.

She comes to herself, nameless, asking nothing. But still she persists.