Codex

The girl makes scribbled adjustments to the formula which has consumed her for the past few days. The pencil in her fingers cannot match the speed of the chemical reactions racing the labyrinthine corridors of her mind, so she begins writing in improvised shorthand in order to retain the thoughts before they slip the net.

It is a futile task, wholly absurd, like trying to write a diary on LSD. Even if there were words to express what she perceived, the actual formation of the blackened graphite symbols on the white page creates a rainbow vapour trail. It alters her reality further, forcing her tumbling into the letters themselves.

She knows what she must do, she knows that the bubble waits to be burst, but all her theorizing has little to offer for practical application and in truth she fears the consequences. She writes the final line and in doing so accepts the challenge.

She checks on her sleeping husband and gently kisses her two daughters, smiling at their tranquil sleep-blessed faces. Returning downstairs, she checks the time out of habit more than necessity and settles on the sofa. The disk already waits in the drive, she presses the button and forty five minutes later she hears a faint pop from inside her cranium. She slumps forward as blood pours from her nose and stains the page on her lap.

The secret of life resides in pulp fiction.

In the critical nanosecond before her heart flatlines, time is stopped. Two cloaked figures emerge from the shadowy corners of the room. One walks straight up to the limp body and pulls a black box from the depths of its robes. The other lingers nervously behind.

‘Is she dead?’ The Second questions.

‘Clearly not. Otherwise our purpose of being here would be entirely futile. Hurry we do not have much time. Open this. I can never remember the sequence.’

The First tosses the cube across the room and it is caught by shaking hands which immediately begin twisting and rotating the cube’s faces. Shades of black, barely perceptible but clearly present like the sheen of a raven’s wing, begin to realign.

The Second looks up from his work, ‘How is it possible that we do not have much time, if we have stopped time?’

The First sighs, ‘Have you been paying the slightest bit of attention? We have stopped time for her and ipso facto the rest of the world. The earth has stopped turning. It will not be long until that is noticed so hurry up!’

The last combination is executed and the cube begins to unfold itself. The Second emits a faint whimper and lets the developing creature fall to the floor onto its newly emerged feet. It narrows its blackened eyes focusing on the inert figure before it, before inhaling deep the surrounding air. Its appetite whetted, it lunges at the motionless girl. It catches the droplet of blood suspended mid-air between her chin and chest and then growls in a sub-sonic pitch. From its groin what appears to be a fern leaf uncurls.

‘Is this strictly necessary?’ The Second asks.

‘Not strictly but I felt that it was appropriate. Activation is such a messy job and he so enjoys his work. It is nothing she has not experienced before.’

‘It is something I have not experienced before,’ The Second declares, watching in fascinated horror as the beast enters the girl. Her lips part as his tip exists through her mouth. The Second begins to gag but cannot avert his eyes from the scene.

‘We are not here for your personal gratification demon!’ Fulfil your orders and get out!’ The First commands the beast and then turns to the Second. ‘What is wrong with you? If either of us succumb to sentimentality we’re fucked. Even more fucked than she is right now. She won’t even remember it, the R.A.T. will take care of that’.

‘It wasn’t her memory I was concerned with,’ The Second says feebly.

The tattooed skin on the nape of the girl’s neck is lifted. A demonic digit is inserted, piercing the vertebrae and travelling up the spinal fluid into the base of her brain. The slumbering rodent is located and awakened. The beast sneers in satisfaction and withdraws from her.

Quickly the First hits the button on the beast’s back and the demon reconfigures into the original cube, emitting shrieks and gas like a deflated doll. The girl enters cardiac arrest.

‘Time has been restarted, we must go.’

The First picks up the smoking cube, grabs the shaking Second and they disappear.

Sense of Discovery

‘Where am I?’

‘We are in the Labyrinth of Clouds. The beasts that were chasing you cannot enter here. Do not be fooled though, you are far from safe. You must be on your guard at all times’.

‘That’s far from reassuring.’ I muttered.

‘A smart mouth will get you precisely nowhere.’ The raven snapped back. ‘And don’t bother trying to remember the path, for the way will have changed if you ever return.’

‘Remember, don’t remember. I wish you dream folk would make up your minds!’

‘It’s not our minds that are the problem. That attitude of yours is hardly ideal. Now hush your tongue. If we are to make safe passage through here, I can’t do it looking like this’ With a shake of her feathers the white raven became a sky blue owl, her emerald eyes remained as piercing as ever.

‘Well I’m sure that has made all the difference!’

‘Again with the attitude! I don’t have to help you. You’re not my universe.’

I looked around me. The swirling mists confused the landscape. In the distance, dead ends became paths and seemingly obvious passageways became inpenetrable foliage. I knew that if I set out alone I’d be lost in seconds. I looked into her green eyes, ‘I guess I have no choice but to trust you. Can I at least know your name?’

The weight of her stare was uncomfortable but I forced myself to hold her gaze. Fear and fatigue were making me want to scramble for any semblance of control and if scoring petty points satisfied that urge then so be it.

After what seemed like an age she replied, ‘Many names have I had in the past and countless more before my time is through but the most helpful one for you is Queen Mab. Your Majesty will suffice.’

‘Oh well how gracious of you!’ I laughed, but inside my mind was racing. That name had resonated somewhere, I just couldn’t quite place why I recognised it.

‘You have precisely three seconds before I fly off and leave you to find your own way out. So swallow your pride and start walking’.

The curtness in her voice left no room for argument and I sensed that it would be unwise to test her patience any further. With an apprehensive heart and an owl on my shoulder, I began my journey into the Labyrinth of Clouds.

Under Egyptian Skies (Part 1)

The priest watched as the sun slowly began its descent into the west bank of the Nile. Ra was entering the underworld. The hour was approaching.

He entered the temple alone. Inside, the camphor lamps were being lit. The sacred hieroglyphs adorning the walls danced in the firelight. On the ceiling silver stars sparkled in a lapis sky. He approached the alter and held a torch flame to the pile of incense that had already been laid out. The air was filled with the magic of frankincense and myrrh. The scene was set. All he had to do was wait.

He crossed to the temple’s far wall and pressed one of the carved symbols, a dot within a circle. A door swung open and he passed into the hidden chamber. He, Djeuti, a boy priest was about to fulfil his destiny and become a god. He let his robe fall to the floor and sunk into the milky waters of his bathing pool. His assistants emerged from the shadows and scrubbed his body with boar hair brushes. His blood tingled beneath his skin and his pulse quickened.

When they had finished, he climbed the steps and stood there naked and dripping whilst he was fanned by fronds of palm until dry. Jars were brought full of fragrant oils which melted easily into his hot skin. When his was fully anointed, his body was dusted with powdered silver and he glowed like a fallen star.

A low chanting began and the ceremonial kilt was brought and fastened around him with protective pins. A beaded belt of jasper and turquoise was knotted over the stiff linen. Bracelets and armlets were closed over his limbs, binding him to the temple and his duty. The sacred mask was carried on a strecher of woven reeds and placed before him. It was shaped like an ibis under a crescent moon. The face of God. Djeuti took it in his hands and gazed long into the hollow sockets. He imagined his eyes, the colour of waxed ultramarine filling their void. He wondered what she would feel when she looked upon them.

A royal mile to the south, the final preparations were made and the princess left her chamber.Her body was weak from fasting and trembled with a mixture of fear and thrill at what was to come. She leaned on her handmaiden for support as she descended the stone steps. Her voice was whisper as she spoke, “You are married Padme. Tell me, will this hurt?”

“It is love that hurts you Princess, not the act of making it,” her servant replied squeezing her hand in reassurance.

The entourage passed through the botanical gardens in silence. The exotic plants were drained of their colour by the twilight, reduced to monochrome shapes rooted in soil far away from their original home. Soon I shall be like them, thought the Princess. A trophy flower displayed to show the might of my King.

They moved into the avenue of sphinxes and she searched their stony gaze for clues to unravel the riddle of her life. They gave her no answer. Too soon the party reached the dock where the royal barge waited upon the water. Torches burned bright along the length of the boat, their fires reflected in the black water below.

She stepped onto the wooden deck and the drummers aboard began beating a slow pulsing rhythmn. The princess took her place on the golden throne, her heart pounding louder in her chest than the men could beat on their stretched drumskins. Padme sat at her feet and the princess leant down to her. “Sing me a song,” she whispered.

“What shall I sing you?”

“The Song of the Raven”

Padme’s voice echoed in the air and as the notes floated higher, the men adjusted their beat to match her rhythmn.

The princess closed her eyes and breathed deep, letting her mind drift away into solitude, carried by the dancing words. She felt the boat move below her as it was cast off from the dock. Oars were slid into the obsidian water and they left the bank and her innocence behind them.

In the darkness of his inner sanctum, the awakening God sat deep in silent meditation. His mind projected out from his body, ascending higher and higher into the sky above. He become a bird circling in the air. He could hear the music carried on the wind and her soul with it. His eyes snapped open. She approaches

He sat motionless as the drums and song grew louder and closer. Now she was alighting the barge and entering the complex itself. He could feel her gentle vibration resounding in the earth beneath him. She was walking between the towering pillars carved to resemble papyrus and lotus blossoms. Her eyes were downcast but he could feel her awe and how her heart marvelled at the temple’s beauty. He could feel something else too: her fear. He could sense it in the hesitation of every step.

His mind stayed with her, unseen and unnoticed until the party stopped before the temple of Al-Khemia. The moon was rising behind her, its silvery light directed through a gap in the outer wall. It was tracing a path along the ground towards her. Soon her feet were bathed in moonshine, then the curve of her ankles. It was time. The ritual was beginning.

Inside the temple, in the place where the boy Djeuti had sat, the god Thoth rose and took his place.

The princess felt the blood rise in her body as the power of the moon goddess, Nut, washed over her skin. The drums and song had stopped. Everything was silent. The night was still as though holding its breath, waiting for events to unfold. The air felt heavy and tight with latent energy. She shivered.

Her entourage had disappeared into the darkness and she stood alone at the entrance to the temple, watching as her shadow grew in the puddle of light. The ethereal silhouette of a slender young woman cast upon the stones. The moon rose above her and the shadow of the princess crossed the sacred threshold. Its head lay upon the feet of the waiting God.

The princess drew a deep breath and held it as her gaze was drawn higher. She saw the glistening skin, the beaded kilt, the honed chest. She wanted not to look but she couldn’t stop herself. Black, braided hair rested on broad shoulders leading to a graceful neck. The face of the ibis shone like a pearl in the moonlight as she looked upon the eternal eyes of God. In them, a distant fire burned bright. Her heart skipped a beat.

“Come Keshet’anan. The time is now”.

Her God knew her secret name and she had no choice but to obey.

Girl Comes Incomplete

I dream.

I am running. Trapped in a valley, in the barren winter of my limbo.The disfigured boughs of blackened trees suppress the constellations above, suffocating all light. Beasts chase me and I flee blind. There is no chance of escape. This hunt is familiar and I know how it will end.

I stumble and feel them inch closer, their fiery breath burning hot on my neck.

A star breaks through the branches and hurtles towards me. As it approaches, its shape becomes defined against the darkness. I realise it isn’t a star but a bird. A snow white raven heading straight for me. I have no time to alter course, I know what fate awaits me if I slow my pace for a second. I brace for impact with the bird, but as we collide she alights on my shoulder and croaks directions into my ear. My legs respond of their own accord, her power over me is absolute.

In the distance, I see a patch of milky twilight.

“There,” she caws. “Run. There. Fast”.

My exhausted muscles scream but I dig deep and arrive at a wall of holly. The branches part at my arrival. I step though into a dense fog; the ground feels solid but supple. Pulsing with energy as though alive.

The jagged hedge closes behind me and the beasts cannot follow but still they chase my scent. Their noses sniff the ground, growling and yapping as they track my escape.

I turn to look into the raven’s emerald eyes for the first time. “Who are you?” I ask.

“A friend,” comes the reply.