It was the type of day that only existed in dreams—a perfect summer’s day. The willow trees next to the river swayed in a gentle breeze, slim leaves rustling. Cicadas buzzed nearby, their sleepy drone mingling with the chirps of sparrows and the high trills of mockingbirds. Mourning doves cooed to one another, and the gentle lap of the water sounded peacefully against the muddy shore.
A man sat there, the sun warming his dark coat as he adjusted one of the two fishing poles nearby. Ripples moved outward from the corks in the water, the light catching the thin lines cast into the river. If they were lucky, they’d catch something. But even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t matter too much. After all, they were there for the experience—to enjoy the day.
His eyes wandered toward his companion—a young girl with hair that glinted gold in the sunlight. She was busy now, her hands rummaging through the picnic basket they had brought with them. Several apple cores already littered the grass, remnants of their lunch. He felt a smile tug at the corners of his lips as he remembered how she had spat the seeds into the river, curious exactly how far she could make them fly.
The girl suddenly looked up at him, blue eyes narrowing as she stuffed a sandwich into her mouth. She chewed noisily for a moment before swallowing. The southern twang of her young voice rose above the general hum of the summer’s day, “An’ what’re y’all staring at?”
The man shrugged, his voice sounding polished to even his own ears as he responded, “Oh, nothing. Just wondering what the rest of them might be dreaming about.”
The girl raised one eyebrow as she continued munching her sandwich. Crumbs scattered on her lap, falling on the homespun cloth. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, shaking her head as she replied, “Believe me. Y’all don’t wanna know. Ya got some pretty messed up folk in that town of yers.”
The man raised his eyebrows in return, leaning forward to grab one of the sandwiches from the basket for himself. He pulled one out as he smirked, “Bold as brass, ma’am. Bold as brass.”
Rosemary was in a house—a house without a name, a house without end. The hallways stretched in front of her, always the same. Flaking, golden sconces gleamed on the walls. Paintings hung at intervals, always displaying the same proud faces—always showing men and women with diamonds and feathers and sneers.
Her steps echoed down the corridors, heeled shoes tapping across wooden floors and faded rugs. Her skirts swished against her ankles, flowing behind her as she continued walking forward, ever forward through the house. She was there for a reason, after all—for a purpose.
A sound—the faintest of noises—made her pause. She hesitated at a door as it came again, louder this time. It was the sound of a cry, the sound of a child—a baby. That’s when she realized the true reason she was in the house, the true reason for her endless walk through the corridors and hallways.
She had to find that child.
Rosemary turned the handle of the door, opening it gently and peering inside. A few leather couches lay in the dusty room, the same faded paintings on the walls, the same faded rugs on the floor. But there was no baby, no nursery. She quickly shut the door and turned, listening.
The cry came again, fainter this time. Did it come from the right? No, the left. Rosemary turned and began walking again. Her breath caught in her throat as she tried another door, her fingers once more turning the handle as she peered inside—more chairs, more paintings. She closed the door and listened. There.
She walked forward, up a flight of stairs, past more flaking, golden sconces, down another hallway, past rows and rows and rows of doors with more chairs, more paintings, more dust and decay. The cries were closer now, closer than they’d ever been. Rosemary felt her heart begin to race, her brow creasing as she continued to search. The baby had to be there, had to be close. She had to find it—to find him or her. She had to comfort the child. Up more stairs, past a crystal chandelier, across the faded rugs, down one flight of stairs, past another corridor. So close.
Rosemary found herself in front of a door. The door. Her hand reached out, her fingers trembling as she grasped the smooth handle. It was just like every other one she’d tried so far. But somehow, some way, she knew this was the right one. She closed her eyes, the cries becoming even louder in her ears. It turned into a wail that went on and on and on as it echoed through the empty house.
She opened the door.
There was no baby.
It was good to be on top—seriously good to be on top. Johnny stood at the apex of a golden pyramid, the dry air whipping his robes around him as he folded his arms across his chest. The sky stretched above him—endless and blue and perfect (maybe not as perfect as he was, of course). Despite the brightness of the day, there was no sun. But that didn’t surprise him. After all, he was the sun: the God of the Sun. He was the master of all he beheld—and all of Vegasia stretched out before him. It was, most definitely, good to be on top.
He smiled, a smile that he knew would brighten the lives of everyone below him (and there were a lot of people below him). They milled around the bottom of the pyramid, eyes turned upward to behold him in all of his glory and magnificence (there was a lot of both). He could see them go about their daily business, walking across streets and into gambling dens and through bars. How little they seemed with their chips and their gems and their bright clothes. How tiny they were and how insignificant—at least compared to him. Then again, who could really compare to how amazing and awesome and…
That’s when the first pickle hit him. It smacked him across the face, sour juice dripping down his chin. The pickle—and it definitely was a pickle—bounced away as it rolled down the side of the golden pyramid. He watched it, dumbfounded as it eventually stopped at the bottom of the structure, coated with dust and grime. There were only two words he could utter in this situation. Only two words that could describe exactly what had happened to him.
A second pickle hit him, then a third, and a fourth. He was suddenly being bombarded by pickles. They weren’t normal-sized ones, either. They were tiny ones—about an inch in size. They were dark green and light green and that slightly yellowish color that old pickles sometimes become. They smacked him in the face and the arms. They stained his robe with pickle juice as he fruitlessly tried to bat them away.
“What the hell?!”
That’s when he saw who was throwing them: women. Dozens and dozens of women. They tossed the offending pickles at him, screaming wordlessly as they did. They were faceless, nameless—and they were all naked.
Johnny stared at them—the God of the Sun, the Master of all he beheld—as he was slowly, but surely, buried under pickles.
Currents whirled beneath and through her, swirling around her body as the waves lapped at her fingertips and toes. She floated as the sea breeze blew in eddies above her and caught the clouds high above in strange patterns. She floated as she wondered if they had a meaning—if the life of the sky and the wisps of vapor had a purpose or if they were all, like her, floating within the vastness of the world and the sea.
Smiles’ hair fanned out around her as she turned her head to look toward the horizon. There were others there, playing amidst the sea foam. Their bones were made of coral, their eyes of pearls: sea nymphs that danced beneath the ocean as sand glittered within their hands. Smiles did not smile, but she felt something—stirring. It lurked within her depths, full fathom five, the memory of a thought of feeling.
It was peaceful there in the waves and the sea. She swirled her fingers through the water, her loose skin catching against the current. There was no noise, no sound. There was only the feeling of it all around her and through her.
The bones were unexpected, but seemed natural there amidst the foam. They floated, bleached by sun and sand. They bumped against her body, brushed against her hands. There were femurs and ribs and skulls with their gaping sockets. Teeth bobbed past thigh bones and finger bones and back bones.
Smiles closed her eyes as the peace surrounded her, as the sun warmed her face, as she floated.
Dakota always enjoyed the leaves this time of year. They spiraled down around her: red and gold and brown and orange. They formed patterns on the ground, crunching beneath her feet as she walked through the forest. Dappled sunlight filtered through the dark branches of the trees, warming her hair and skin. She could almost ignore the fact that the light was getting darker, that the air was getting colder—that she was lost in the woods.
She wasn’t sure exactly how long she’d been walking—only that it had been a while. Brambles caught at her jeans, scratching at her legs. She glanced around her as she passed more trees, more leaves. A crow cawed in the distance, its mournful cry sounding through the silence. She didn’t know where she was—she didn’t know why she was here.
That’s when the panic started. Her heart beat faster, adrenaline making her dizzy as she picked up her pace. The forest was becoming darker around her, the shadows lengthening as the sunlight turned from gold to burnt orange. The branches seemed to become more threatening, turning claw-like as the leaves crumbled into dust.
She began to run. She had no idea what she was running from or running to, but she knew she had to keep moving. Her arms pumped at her sides as freezing air blasted her face. Her breathing came in short gasps as she tried to remember why she was there and where she was. Frost spiraled across tree trunks, snaking through the forest in an icy glaze as she pushed forward.
The rock came out of nowhere. It tripped her, tangling her legs beneath her as she fell to the ground. She felt a large jolt as her shoulder slammed into a fallen branch, making her cry out in pain. There was dirt suddenly in her face, dark earth that seemed to stifle her as she struggled to rise from the ground. The cold was all around her now, choking her as her breath formed clouds in the air.
A hand suddenly came into her line of vision—pale, familiar. Dakota jerked her head to look up at a man with a flushed face. She blinked, surprised. The face was wrong; he was wrong. He should have had dark circles beneath dark eyes, should have had no color, no spark of life. And yet there he was—alive.
The man offered a faint smile, “Do you need a hand?”
Dakota realized her mouth was hanging open and quickly snapped it shut, her teeth clacking together. She lay there for a moment, stunned, and then she reached upward and grasped the man’s fingers. They felt warm in hers—so different from what she remembered. He pulled her upward as the frost melted away around them.
The man arched a brow, looking over her stained jeans and dirtied shirt as he spoke in his foreign voice, “Are you quite all right? No broken bones? Everything in order?” He offered another smile, “Don’t need to call a doctor, do we?”
Dakota felt herself smiling in response, the expression spreading across her features. Even if she had wanted to, she wouldn’t have been able to hide it.
“Doin’ all right now. Doin’ just fine.”
“Do you know what they are?”
Alexa glanced upward, her eyes gazing over the twinkling lights above. The night air caught in her throat as her breathing flowed with the wind. Grass swayed around her, brushing her fingers and tickling her arms as she sat in the middle of the field.
She didn’t look at the speaker as she replied, her voice murmuring across the space, “Some say they are the spirits of dead warriors. Others say that they are glow bugs that flew too high and became stuck. Someone else once told me that they are the lights of ships in the heavens, the homes of people that live in the sky.”
“And what do you think?”
Alexa closed her eyes, warmth suddenly flooding through her. The cold was gone now—the autumn air no longer biting through her clothes. It was summer, and a gentle breeze played through her hair, “I don’t think it matters.” She paused for a moment, a smile tugging at her lips. A hand suddenly came to rest on her own, fingers intertwining with hers. She opened her eyes and glanced over toward her companion, suddenly realizing that she wasn’t quite sure who he—or she—was. Blond hair shifted to brown and then back again. Green eyes changed to blue and then brown. It didn’t matter, though. He smiled at her.
They remained there, sitting—quiet, but comfortable. The night air whispered to them, blowing the scents of fresh grass and leaves and green things. Alexa squeezed her companion’s hand and then continued, “What really matters is what they mean. What really matters is that we can sit here and look up at the stars.”
The lights suddenly poured around them, falling to the ground. The field lit up in a silver glow, shining in the night. They were now flowers, blooming, chasing away the shadows and the darkness and the cold. And yet they lurked there—on the edges.
It was the memory of a birth—painful and bloody. It was the memory of a life—short and sorrowful. It was the memory of a death—lovely and sweet.
Voices screamed. Voices cooed. Voices shouted and yelled and cried. Voices said everything and voices said nothing in the darkness of the depths of the tomb. Within the ground and within the earth, they stirred and dreamed and trickled through the cracks. Their hopes and wants and desires and needs all pooled together and became part of it all—became part of something more and something less as their very selves were lost in the tide. A grain of sand upon the shore. A drop of water within the ocean.
Sorrow and regret and agony spiraled together, swirling in a whirlpool. Laughter mingled with shrieks—the sounds of the sane and the insane. It didn’t matter which they were. After all, everyone and no one was the same when they came here.
Here. Here it was in darkness. They grasped and pulled and pleaded. They tore and threatened and cried. They wanted life, they wanted breath they wanted sunlight and air and wind. Their minds were gone, their minds were there, their minds were ours. They were a part of it and a part of us. And with them, they were one.
They dreamed the dream of death.
We dreamed the dream of death.
Goodnight, my lovelies.