The Woman Shrouded in Moonlight

In the subtle gleam of moonlight against the creek was a dark gash of water dyed red. It was the twilight hour of someone’s life against the shadow of a creekside willow tree. The red traced itself backwards towards a limp wrist, tender and smooth, as pale as the moon itself. The arm connected to that wrist twitched. The shoulder shifted. The neck tensed as a weak smile met by a shallow breath parted to form words. “I’m finally free.”

Something throbbed within her. It wasn’t her heartbeat, but something like a drum, as if ordering her to get back up and run. Her upper arm was shattered, her shoulder dislocated, and every breath had to be shallow or her broken rib would puncture her lung. And still, something in her pushed her — no, demanded her — to live. Run and live. Dying is not an option.

The pursuit party on horseback did not know how far she had fallen from the mountainside, but the hounds would be on her soon. They knew her scent well and they were trained to navigate forests even at night. There came an abundance of noise from above, the clatter of hooves coming to a stop as barks rung like a series of death knells through the night.

“I see signs of a fall here, captain.”

“Dismount. We continue on foot down this way. You and the beholder sorceror remain here.”

“Understood.”

Their conversation was faint, but her hearing started to improve as she came closer to death. As her blood continued to drain from her body, she was ready to die and become unshackled from this world forever.

“Don’t die,” a voice shivered in her head, “You must live.” All she had to do was ignore that voice for a few moments longer. “If you die, how am I to live? How are we to exact our vengeance against these men?”

She responded to herself, “How am I to do any of that in the state that I am in?”

The voice grew in intensity, “They have trapped me within you because you are weak. You have always been weak. You are unfit to be a vessel of my power, and yet I live because you are weak and can speak to you because you are weak. But now is the time to be strong. Turn your weakness into strength by obeying me and fleeing.”

“To where shall I go? They shall be upon me soon.”

“You must not die! You may do anything but that! I do not care!”

She scoffed as a stabbing pain pierced her side. She would have to be careful not to do that again.

A man barked orders at his comrades, “Be cautious! The girl’s soul is bound with the harvest goddess! Do not allow her to die, or we shall share her fate!”

The harvest goddess spoke again like a drum beat in her mind, “Do not die! Do not be captured! Flee!”

But all she wanted to do was to finally rest and be done with all of this.

All that she had ever known in her life was to serve the goddess of the earth — the one known by many names, daughter of the goddess of life, wife of the god of the underworld, favored among the gods as the pearl of heaven. She had been told from her childhood that so long as she maintained dutiful reverence and service to the goddess, the people would know peace and prosperity. So why now did she have to suffer at the hands of the people?

“Because that is the nature of mankind. That is why my power belongs to ones such as I. That is why control over the harvest was never meant to belong to men.”

“I am sorry. I am sorry, goddess. I am unworthy to ask for forgiveness or mercy, I know, but if you would allow me to just sleep now and live this life no more…”

A searing pain seemed to burn within her head, “No! You judge correctly in your unworthiness. You too are responsible for the sin of allowing yourself to be used as a shackle to bind a goddess. I shall punish you all the same as the rest unless you listen to me now and get up! My lord husband is the ruler of the underworld! Do you not think it within my ability to find your soul upon your death and torture you for an eternity?”

“Then why is it that you fear him?”

After a pause, the goddess seethed, “Insolent, arrogant child! I do not fear anybody! I am disgusted with him! Enraged by him! His wife had been abducted for ten years and still these men live! Ruler of the underworld with no sense of responsibility! He deserves only my wrath and my scorn, but if you were to die and I return to the underworld with you, we shall fall under his full authority. Then surely he shall never let me leave again! That is the kind of coward that he is!”

The men grew closer as they descended the mountain side in the moonlit dark, cloud cover beginning to slow their movements. There was no safe way to carry torches down with them, and so they had found themselves barely able to move during times of pitch blackness.

“Listen, child, do you know what happens to the harvest without me? Nothing. Neighboring lands outside of your little slice of civilization have been languishing since my capture. I am certain they are praying to me even now, but I can hear nothing. The first year, I was merely horrified as you blessed the fields of your city and yours alone. As you overheard reports of other cities coming to yours for help and being denied. As you all hoarded your wealth and abused your influence to acquire more power, crushing underfoot any who would defy you. Did you know that a war has been fought over you already? In the tenth year, I am now furious!”

“I have heard of these wars… I did not know they were fought over me…”

“And yet still!” she cried out in grief, “And yet still do I love humans! I do not wish to see your kind come to ruin! If I return to the underworld, all of you will die! You would be eradicated for your sins against the gods, and I am trying to prevent that!”

“But I do not care… let them be eradicated.”

“What?” the goddess expressed a genuine bewilderment.

“We deserve to be punished for the evils we have committed. Humanity has failed to respect the gods, nature, or our position in world. We are a disease meant to be purged, a curse that is meant to be exorcised.”

“Again, arrogant child, you are so very wrong. As a single human being with the limited perspective of a set of eyes looking up from the base, you do not know the full scale of the mountain itself. You have no reason to be confident in what you see or believe. I truly hate nothing more than adults who refuse to mature and accept responsibility for their actions. If you wish to believe that humanity must be punished, so be it. I judge you and all of mankind guilty for your sins against me and against nature. You are sentenced to work and restore that which you have destroyed. Is that what you would like to hear? Have you run out of excuses, lazy child?!”

She did not respond, instead lifting her still unbroken arm towards the moon, now fully visible. The sound of men’s shouts drew near.

“You borne also from the mother goddess,” came a woman’s voice from thin air, “How unexpected to find you here. You seem to be a rather noisy center of attention.”

She looked towards the direction of the voice, spotting a lone bear, staring hungrily, perhaps drawn by the scent of blood. Was it the bear who spoke just now?

“Oh, holy maiden of the hunt,” the harvest goddess addressed the bear in relief, “Conditions have aligned for us to meet, I see. I’m not sure if either of our legends have us ever crossing paths. It matters not. Although their beholder sorcerors have used my legend against me, there is a beholder here as well. She can observe a new legend between you and I. Whisk her away to safety, I beg of you. She is someone who must not die.”

“Pathetic,” the bear scoffed, “To be reduced to asking for my assistance implies you are not worthy of my assistance to begin with. I am the goddess of the untamed. I operate according to one thing alone, and that is my whim. Nothing controls me.” It turned to leave, adding with one final statement, “Have you not also noticed that this woman wishes to die? Perhaps before requesting others heed your wishes, you heed the wishes of others.”

Her demeanor warped quickly, what little patience she had disintegrating into dust, “All I have ever done was heed the wishes of humanity! Those same humans that worship you are fed by me and only me! You have long since turned your back on providing them a means of sustenance so they have no choice but to seek my help! Irresponsible goddess with no sense of duty! Your dereliction could very well be the reason why they have captured me in the first place!”

“Girl,” the wild goddess addressed her serenely, a pointing visage of a woman wrapped in multi-colored furs appearing above the bear, “What do you wish for? I am in a generous mood tonight. Ask and you shall receive it. Is it a gentle death?”

She stared back up at the bear that began to approach her. It felt calming in an unexpected way.

“Have you forgotten your sister priests?” the harvest goddess asked the woman in desperation, “Those who have raised you and loved you since your birth?”

Her heart rate began to rise. No, I don’t actually want to die, she thought, every cell in her body protesting against her. Still, she quenched that desire and laid still, silent.

The harvest goddess continued, “Abandon them then! When they die and come to the underworld you can tell them yourself why you decided to give up!”

“Hmph,” the hunter goddess grunted in amusement, “Are you resorting to emotional threats to get your way? You truly know nothing of people. Typical of a goddess who treats people as subordinates or children instead of equals. Listen to me, wheat-brained goddess, they do not need our help. They can figure things out on their own given time. If anything, there will come a point when we must shortly go to war with them ourselves. That is what makes them so terrifying. Do you not see already how they have humbled you? Tricking you into this shackle? I had thought it impossible unless… Ah, unless…”

The harvest goddess said nothing, but the silence felt like she was glaring.

The hunter continued, “It seems to me that you do not wish to have this woman die precisely because it would expose you for what you really are. It has been bothering me for a while now. You see, there is no true means by which to imprison a goddess, for we exist solely in mystery. To see and understand who we are is the same as killing us. Girl, the people believed they summoned a goddess, and so you fabricated one in your own mind, did you not? One that is a mixture of your idea of the goddess of the earth and your own psyche.”

The harvest goddess growled, “What?! This is outrageous… To suggest that I am a figment of a crazed woman’s madness is utterly blasphemous!”

The woman was indeed confused. Is that truly what she had done all of these years? The voice in her head was merely a delusion?

The hunter continued, “I am a true goddess, unbound and unchainable. The one in your head is not. Indeed, the only reason why we can converse now is because you are dying. I remain shrouded in the bubble of plausible deniability. But the one ‘shackled’ to you? A deceitful mind playing tricks on itself.”

“Prove it! Prove that I am not a real goddess!” the harvest goddess was enraged to the point that the woman on the ground had started to feel heat rising from her chest.

But the hunter remained as cool and unconvinced as ever, “Nonsense. Proof is our poison. No deity would ever suggest such a thing.” The hunter waved her hand in dismissal, turning to the dying woman, “Girl, I do not know your story, but I can see that there is guilt in you. The goddess in your head manifests as vengeful because you are vengeful, and you do not know how to handle this for you are a gentle soul. Vexingly tragic. Tell me now, and I shall do it for this has fascinated me.”

“Do this? What do you mean?” the woman croaked.

“I shall slay your pursuers, and then lay you to rest. That is the cost of vengeance. What say you?”

“Get up!” the harvest goddess yelled, “Please!”

“Well?”

The woman summoned the strength to lift herself off the forest floor using the arm that had not been broken, staring up at the bear gazing peacefully back. “My entire childhood had been spent in the company of my sister priests. I never knew my mother and father. I studied day and night in the temple, worshiping and praying, learning the stories of the gods and goddesses that governed all of nature. When I had been chosen to become the vessel of the harvest goddess upon my coming of age… at the time, I had thought it to be a high honor, but since then, I lost my rights as a human being. I was no longer allowed to speak with anyone. No longer allowed out into the light of day without a squad of guards. I was fed and taken care of, sequestered comfortably in a dungeon beneath the earth as if I were buried in a furnished coffin.”

The goddesses listened intently, awaiting her decision.

And so she continued, “In my loneliest hour, I began conversing with the harvest goddess, who, to my surprise, spoke back to me. I don’t know if she ever taught me anything I myself did not already know, so I started to have my doubts. I don’t truly wish to die, but I don’t see any other way out of this miserable life. I don’t want a goddess in my head as my only companion. I don’t want to be the cause of conflict. All I ever wanted was a peaceful life where I could laugh and enjoy time with my fellow sister priests. If I could have that, I would give everything else up, but I know that will never happen again. So all I ask is to be free of this, and if death is the only way, I’ll take it. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t muster the will to care anymore about anything.”

“Oh, child,” came a third voice, distinct in its tone and emotion from the other two. The harvest goddess was angry. The hunter goddess was serene. This voice was soothing. “You determine correctly that we three are no more than voices in your mind. Our sovereignty over the world ended the moment your kind became aware of story-craft. We retreated to the space of mystery because that is all we have left.”

“Mother…!” the harvest goddess gasped.

The hunter narrowed her eyes. “To manifest now? What makes this girl so special?”

The mother goddess continued as if ignoring the other two, “For you see, we exist as absolutely real in stories and legends, but stories do not exist in objective truth. They are themselves subjective structures that are generated in the minds of men in order to simplify a complex world. Beginning, middle, and end are no different from landmarks designated for convenience in a vast forest.”

“I don’t understand…” the woman muttered, “What are you saying?”

She was not visible, but the mother goddess seemed to give off the feeling of a smile, “Just that you are like us. Flee not from these men and command them with the authority of a goddess. We reside in you, my child, and our story is yours, but only if you choose to make it so. We goddesses might only exist in story, but you are a human with the ability to write one. There is no hopelessness so long as there is a narrative.”

With that, the three goddesses disappeared. The bear eyed the darkness behind her warily at the sound of approaching shouts and clamor. Men with bindings appeared at last from the cliffside wall, exhausted from their climb down.

“There she is! Capture her!”

“Hold!” she shouted with a force so powerful it hurt her chest. The men froze in their tracks. “You are in the presence of the goddess of the harvest! Kneel and beg for forgiveness!”

The bear roared in response at the men, causing some of the less experienced ones to crumble to the ground. Moonlight from behind the clouds seemed to make her glow radiantly against the water. The captain stood his ground, “My goddess, we must have you return to the city at once.” In his own mind, he was no longer certain what he was seeing. A woman — no, a deity commanding a wild animal. Moonlight and a willow — both, sacred images of the goddess of the hunt. Her very visage appeared transformed from the scared girl that escaped from the temple grounds. Has the goddess within her somehow awakened fully?

“I have finished what I have needed to. Do not harm my vessel further and do not dare disobey my commands. Consider well that the lives of you and your families depend on my providence. It is merely my whim that you all have the blessings of the earth as you do now.” The words truly seemed no longer her own. Something like hope seemed to drive her forward, “Let us return then at once. Grant me audience with the king of the city for we have much to discuss.”

“You heard her!” the captain barked, wanting nothing more than to return home without any more trouble tonight. Surely, he would be receiving a commendation for this. “Our mission is complete. Let us draw this out no further!”

Reckless Abandon

The weight of his father’s hand against his shoulder supporting his tiny frame seemed to be small encouragement. Across the doorway to his home was a hostile kind of face he never had much exposure to — a scowling, fox-like face, thoughtful yet aggressively sharp in every detail, belonging to a girl who looked to be no older than himself.

“Hey, relax,” his father tried to say in his most reassuring tenor, the petrified child gripped like moss against his leg, “This is going to be your new little sister, Aoife. There’s nothing to be scared of. Try saying hi.”

The frightened, bespectacled boy waved his hand awkwardly as the girl glared daggers back, offering a loud hiss in return. As if confronted by a wild animal, he stole his hand back with a jolt, tucking himself further behind his father’s leg.

“Well, that’s not the worst we’ve seen,” he joked to the haggard woman behind the girl, “Are those all of her belongings?”

“Yes,” she said cheerily her tone in distinct contrast to her looks, “She hasn’t got much in the way of clothes, so as we’ve discussed earlier, you may wish to visit a store sooner rather than later.”

The boy peered back out and noticed her dress for the first time. Plain, ill-fitting, they were obviously hand-me-downs. He felt very self-conscious in the nicely ironed shirt and overalls his mother had made him wear that morning. If only she were here right now.

“That’s not a problem,” the father replied, “Thank you so much for dropping her off. I understand that it was quite inconvenient to arrange something like this. My wife takes the car to work, and with that new law…” he trailed off.

The woman laughed, “Yes, yes. It’s not a problem. She’s certainly a special one. I was willing to pull a few strings and call in a few favors for her. No one else was willing to take her until now. Was Solomon the same way?” The woman smiled down at the half-hidden boy named Solomon.

His father rubbed his head delicately, “Same way… you know, maybe so. He was utterly terrified of people, but he’s gotten so much better. Aoife might not be so different. She just expresses it in a different way. Oh, but those are the papers I need to sign, right? Please, come in. There’s no need to do that at the door.”

Aoife entered first, practically sniffing the air, brushing past both Solomon and his father as if in disdain.

“Hey, buddy,” his father whispered as he bent down to Solomon’s ear, “Can you go show Aoife to her room? It’s the one we painted together, remember?”

Solomon nodded with an unsure expression. Aoife glanced at his direction with a bored one. The woman added reassuringly, “It’s okay, hon, go check out your new room.”

As the children made their way up the staircase, the adults left to continue their discussion in the kitchen. “So she’s just like him then?” the father asked once he was sure they were out of earshot.

“Engineered and abandoned,” the woman noted with an alarming resignation, “At first it was a tweak here or there, and now we have these super human children being discarded because they aren’t quite perfect. Have you heard of the news just today?”

The father sighed, “I heard another gene lab got busted in Portland.”

“Actually the same lab that Aoife came from.”

“You’re kidding,” the father leaned in, “Were they able to track down her parents?”

“They only track the parents if there’s a benefit. In the end, rescuing children just make for good headlines. Then, they’re left forgotten. Just look at Solomon. I’m guessing his biological parents are just like the rest and want nothing more to do with him.”

Solomon tried to pretend not to hear as Aoife inspected her new room. It was decorated in a way that seemed to befit a normal seven-year-old girl, but she found it condescending. “Hmph,” she grunted as she tossed a stuffed sheep back onto the neatly made bed it had been resting on, “Show me your room,” she barked at the boy.

“O-okay,” Solomon said as she brushed past him again into the hall way. He followed closely by as she barged into his room heedlessly. It was decorated in a similar layout with the same little sheep doll resting against his bed frame. The furniture itself were a little more utilitarian, but not by much. However, one thing did seem to catch her eye.

She walked over to a picture frame, picking it up with both hands. Inside was a photograph of Solomon playing at the park with his adoptive father. The two seemed comfortable with each other. Next to it was a picture book.

Solomon walked over to her, suddenly reminded of what his father had told him before today. There would be a girl coming who needed lots of love because she didn’t receive a lot from the people around her. He should be nice to her until she learns how to be nice, too. “That’s me and my dad on my birthday,” Solomon explained pointing to the picture.

“Do you love your dad?” she asked in a quiet tone, gripping the picture frame.

“Yeah, he’s really nice.”

“Do you listen to everything he says?” she asked again. “Because that’s why he pretends to love you.”

“Um,” Solomon began to say when she suddenly dropped the picture frame, cracking the glass. “Oh no!” He rushed over to pick it up to inspect the damage. “Why did you do that?”

“Oops,” she shrugged with a smirk, “Sorry.”

Solomon had no idea what to do. His brain seemed to race to find the proper answer, but he looked down at his father’s beaming face in his hands. “It’s… fine. You didn’t mean to do it…” The words could barely come out.

His father sighed as he sipped a cup of hot tea at the kitchen counter, “When Solomon first came home, he had an awful temper. Meek and mild as a lamb most of the time, but he would have these fits of inconsolable rage. My wife and I had no idea how to handle him at first. It’s been five years since, and he’s gotten so much better. You know he’s only in third grade but already reading at a middle school level?”

“That’s what these children are like. When given the proper environment and care, they’ll naturally excel. The institutionalized ones like Aoife… they end up struggling, so finding them homes where they can express their talent and find happiness? That’s what I live for.”

“Yeah, I saw it for myself. Solomon is smarter, faster, stronger than all of his other classmates. He never gets sick. He doesn’t even get tired. If his parents wanted a superhuman kid, they had one, but instead they just… threw him away because of his eyesight? If I ever got a chance to meet them, I would love to give them a piece of my mind.”

Solomon placed the picture frame back onto the drawer, picking up the picture book next to it. He showed it to her, adding, “This was the first book I read with my dad. Do you want to see?”

She snatched it from his hands.

“See,” he said hesitantly, “It’s about a little duckling.”

She began tearing the first page. “Oops.”

“Hey!” he cried, his horror spiking every heart beat into his ears, “Stop that!”

She tore a little bit deeper.

“Or what?”

He reached for the book before she could do more damage, but she hopped away with unexpected agility, reaching for the inside corner of the page again. With a slow, loud rip, she continued. Solomon felt dizzy, but behind his thick glasses, his gaze was laser focused on her and the book in her hands.

The haggard woman finished her tea, “It’s always the children that suffer most the ambitions of the adults. It’s something my boss used to say, but every day it rings true. We mess around with their genes, and they become victims of our hubris.”

The father gave a sad smile, “I would do anything to change it, but what’s done is done. All we can do is try our best moving forward.”

“We could cure the world of every illness, but there will always be selfish people. Makes me wonder if we’re not meant to have this much control.”

“I think it’s inevitable. What parent wouldn’t want to prevent an illness for their child? Then if presented the option, what parent wouldn’t want their child to have every advantage available to them? It was never going to stop at curing cancer.”

“So what do you make of these parents then? They treat their own children like household appliances. Having so much control must make them believe that they’re interchangeable. Look at some of the other countries around the world. There’s rumors that China is going to look into warranty programs on their engineered children.” Her otherwise calm demeanor seemed to waver as she punctuated her sentence with cough. “Isn’t it maddening?”

The father nodded in agreement, “It is, but no matter how much things change, I truly believe in the deepest core of my being that the answer is love.”

A resonating thump from above startled both of them. The two adults silently made eye contact and began to walk towards the stairs.

Aoife cradled her nose in her hands, blood slowly pooling in them. The pain made her unable to focus on anything in front of her. Before they had even begun fighting, she had jerked backwards and slammed her own face into the open door, but she was more than ready to pin the blame on Solomon. Her mind started to concoct the perfect scenario to get him into the most trouble.

Suddenly, she heard a familiar rip. Solomon had ripped out the rest of the page and a few more and started to wipe her hands with them. She froze, unable to fully process what was happening. The paper wasn’t particularly absorbent.

Wasn’t this book so precious to him that he was ready to attack her?

He handed her another page, one where a sad, lonely duckling could be plainly visible. “Here, you can stop the bleeding with this, too.” She accepted the page, still in shock.

“Solomon! Aoife! Is everything alright?” His father appeared from the hallway. “Oh my goodness, what happened, you two?”

Aoife stared from the ground up at the man, blood still dripping from her nose, “I… He…”

The woman showed up right behind him, horrified.

The little girl continued absent-mindedly, “We were playing, and I hurt myself. He helped me.”

“Let’s get you cleaned up then,” the father said relaxing his shoulders. “Looks like you need to wash your hands, too, buddy,” he smiled at his son, “C’mon.”

Aoife stood up, still holding her bundle of bloody paper when the woman approached and gently took the scraps from her. She seemed like she knew there was more to this story than what she saw. “I’ll throw this away,” she whispered, “No more trouble-making, hon.”

She nodded as Solomon’s father took her hand.

 

 

The Given Abyss

My shadow cast against the grains

As sunlight fades across the blue.

A wetter shade than what remained

Untouched and radiantly new.

 

The coastal creatures teeming on,

I dove a little deeper more

Until the warmth relied upon

Became a chill I can’t ignore.

 

My sight accustomed as I sank,

My breathing muzzled by a thread,

My life reliant on a tank

Receding past horizon’s edge.

 

That distant home at shores afar

Was where I learned to walk and run,

But now I float within the dark

Until the day my mission’s done.

 

A Pillar of Stones

My regrets were a pillar of unsteady stones

As it propped up a roof that was littered with holes.

In the rain I was cold and at night so exposed

But I knew nothing else but this shack I called home.

 

With the threat of collapse looming just overhead

Came a knock at the door from a stranger instead.

“I am sorry… I’d answer your knocking,” I said,

“But I’m holding the pillar upholding this shed.”

 

Silhouetting the doorway, the man had begun,

“I have heard from your friend, which is why I have come —

He’s the expert repairman, and I am his son.

Please let go, and then exit this shanty at once.”

 

“I refuse,” came the words before I myself knew,

“I’m afraid to let go,” were what followed them too.

His response was a sigh as he entered the room,

“I suppose I must break some unfortunate news.”

 

“There’s a storm on the way, and the biggest they’ve seen.

And a storm of that size will wipe all of this clean.

So it’s hopeless to tie yourself down to that beam.

If you stay, you will die, do you get what I mean?”

 

“So I’m destined to perish here no matter what?

Since my arms are the only thing holding this up?”

To my horror, my hands began shaking because

I could not even stomach that sickening thought.

 

As the pillar responded with creaking and groans

The repairman supported the column of stones.

With his arms wrapped above, he responded below,

“Do you see? I will hold it so you can let go.”

 

Though my body was stiffened and stuck in one place,

I released my two hands ’til they hung at my waist.

When the thrill of the motion had coursed through my veins,

I took off like an animal fleeing a chase.

 

I was greeted by clouds hanging low to the north

With a wind and a fury of waves surging forth.

As my eyesight adjusted, I turned to my home

Whose foundations had caved with a terrible force.

 

Was my life in that shack worth the risk for this man?

Was there something he knew that I can’t understand?

My regrets were a pillar of now fallen stones

That collapsed on my rescuer, breaking his bones.

 

In a rush I collapsed to my knees and began

To unearth all the ruins as quick as I can.

With complete disregard for the pain in my hands

And a fear that his trade was a part of his plan.

 

From the rubble he rose slightly worse for the wear,

“I’m afraid that your home is in need of repair.”

He remarked with a grin and a brush of his hair,

“We were lucky it fell when you weren’t in there.”

 

“Let us leave for my house while the weather is fair.

We’ve a room you can use that’s already prepared,”

He was hurt but unfazed like a victor declared.

“And we’ll start the rebuilding whenever you care.”

Re:Lacks

There are pathways that light up across your body when you interact with a cup of tea. Your eyes receive light that is reflected backwards onto photosensitive cells that send electric signals into the computer in your head. That thing then crunches all the numbers. Am I feeling good right now? Is it safe to take these actions? Will I enjoy it if I do? How much time do I have?

The orders are sent hurtling through wires down your spine and into your arm, triggering muscle contractions maneuvering your hand to reach down and grip the handle with trained dexterity, reversing the actions to bring the tea up to your nose, olfactory receptors going wild at the waves of new sensory stimuli. Amazing, your computer remarks, this was a worthy decision, and I shall perform this task again in the future. Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated with the minutiae of the human body, and this leads to an even grander inquiry. Where does the will to perform these actions even come from? Is the mind just a set of algorithms tangled up within itself to do things beneficial to its survival? Is it more like an unfathomable soul?

Clearly I’ve grew up a little different from everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of myself as some kind of stand-out super star of anything. I’m average to an exceptional degree, but no one else seemed to think so. A lot of the children around me at school somehow heard a rumor from somewhere that I did not have a father. Not just living at home, but biologically, because I am a perfect genetic clone of my mother.

The adults treated me with care like a porcelain doll, while the other children treated me with child-like fascination, which if you know anything about children, involved a lot of poking and provoking. Ever see a little boy before an ant hill? Wanton, curious destruction is always involved.

Some of them genuinely believed I had super powers, which I played up so that they might leave me alone. I warned them that if they messed with me, I would use my psychic powers to turn them inside out. This seemed to dissuade the more imaginative ones, but the disbelievers would call my bluff, eventually breaking down the lie. I recall one afternoon was especially bad. They had thrown a rock at me and missed, and I confronted them. They threw more until one hit me, drawing blood. They scattered like rats, and I hobbled over to my teacher crying, so she sent me home for the day. People were horrible, I remember thinking, until I could smell the wafting of buttery bread coming from inside my home. My mom had heard from my teacher that I was being sent home, and prepared french toast and honeyed teas to cheer me up.

Well, despite the campaign of terror inflicted on me, I found that the psychology of a human being is rather resilient. I kept living life, growing numb and accepting that this is simply who I was and how I would be treated. Over time, the kids grew bored of teasing me, as these kinds of people do, eventually moving on to target others, almost at random. Honestly, I could see no pattern in their cruelty.

There was one little girl in elementary school, when I was already an adult, whom I witnessed being pushed around. For reasons beyond my understanding at the time, I stood up for her against these tiny schoolyard bullies. “I heard of her! She’s the clone!” they shouted when they saw me, referencing some obscure sci-fi movie right afterwards with their poses.

“Yeah, leave her alone, or my clone army will come for you.” That gave them a good laugh, and they turned to leave, uncommitted to harassing an adult it seemed. It didn’t take much at all. I asked her what her name was and why they were bullying her. Insensitive, maybe, but I didn’t think about it at the time. She quietly replied that her name was Vanesa, and that she wasn’t a real person.

I pressed, asking why she was saying that, and she said that she was made-up. Artificial. That she didn’t have a mommy or a daddy. It turned out that she was indeed an orphan, taken in by foster parents. A designer baby that did not turn out how her parents wanted, and thus, abandoned. My heart broke for her, and I swore to come back to her home with a gift when I visit.

That night, when I told my mother about the bizarre occurrence, she smirked and smugly added that I was most certainly her daughter for being bold enough to stand up to a bunch of children. Well, that was a given since we look almost identical, anyway, but I asked her what she meant. I never appreciated her brand of sarcasm.

“I never told you, did I? Maybe it’s about time.”

“You can’t just start a conversation like that, momma.”

“You’re right, let me ask you something else then. Do you know where you come from?”

“From you. I’m an exact replica of you, but different. Like an identical twin.” I gave her the side-eye. Usually she found it funny.

“Exactly, and do you know where I come from?”

“From… Roanoke?”

She laughed, “Yeah, originally, we are all from Virginia. I’m a clone of my mother, too, except I never got to meet her.”

I blinked in confusion, “What?” It was all I could muster.

“Yes, she had passed away in 1951, but some big-head scientist decided to bring her back to life in the form of me, and in the form of you from me.”

“I thought it was illegal to clone someone dead.”

“Oh, it most certainly was, and I was national news for a long time. Your momma was famous, you know. You’re not the only one. Except, in some ways, it’s more fair to say that I’m your older sister.”

“What are you saying?”

“Well, it’s been on my mind lately, and you’re already in college so it’s about time you know the truth. I’m getting on in years so I want you to hear it from me before anything happens.”

“Momma! You’re only fourty!” It was true though. She was aging pretty rapidly, which is a side effect of some of the older clones.

“Thank you, darling. I shielded you from the truth for as long as I could. I really wanted you to have a normal upbringing, the kind I couldn’t ever have. Sometimes I was even jealous of how blissfully ignorant you were.”

“That isn’t why you hit me, right?”

“No, that was discipline. That’s because I love you. And I’m saying this because I love you. The truth is that we were human experiments. The government granted me and you human rights only after the UN became involved, but now all of that might be changing again. Originally, we were cloned to produce certain cells, but the process resulted in viable fetuses. When that happened and the lead scientists reported it, the details were leaked to the press, which then exploded into another huge scandal.” She seemed as serene as someone recalling a nostalgic picnic, but I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. Not a single snarky remark came to mind.

My mother continued, “I’ll cut to the chase. Darling, I have cancer. It’s only a matter of time before they come to take me back. They want to examine me.”

I sighed as if finally breathing for the first time, “Oh, good. No one dies of cancer nowadays, momma. I’m sure they’ll want to take care of you. You’re a celebrity, right?”

“No, no. I said they want to examine me, not treat me. They want the cancer to go as far as it will go before it kills me, and then they’ll extract it and study it. Isn’t it gruesome?” she added with a snarl.

“That’s… that’s illeg-“ I barely stuttered the words before she interrupted.

“They write the laws, darling. The people in charge are different from the ones that liberated you and me twenty years ago. Hey, at least they had the good will to warn me that they’ll be coming for me once I’m ready. That’s more than I expected.”

“I’ll go to the media! I’ll go to social media! I’ll find a lawyer! What kind of… why would they? That makes zero sense!” I was panicking so rapidly I was surprising even myself. I could sense the clamminess of sweat on my palms, now gripped into fists.

“They said they would give you everything you need once I’m gone. They don’t need you if they have me, you know? You and I are the same, so you’re at risk of having cancer, too, but you never have to go through that pain if I do. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“I… I don’t…” Tears welled up in my eyes because I knew exactly what she was saying. I was too young and apathetic to realize my mother’s horror during election night seven years ago. I always thought things like that were a world divorced from my own. It’s all I could think about in that moment. The ghostly expression of death itself worn on my mother’s face that night in contrast to the angelic visage of peace worn on my mother’s face now.

“You’ll be alright, darling. And so will I. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“They can pick someone else, can’t they?”

“It would have to be you.”

“I’ll do it then!”

“Oh, darling…”

I started to scream, “How come I don’t get a choice in all of this, huh?! It’s… not fair!”

She then said the words I might never forget. “Can’t you let your mother be selfish for once in her life?”

I shut up real quick, and weeping into her arms as she stroked my head, whispering that it would all be okay. Strangely, whenever she spoke, it almost sounded like I was talking to myself, which made that moment feel all the more surreal. It felt as if I was consoling myself.

My mother passed away in a government black site facility. I do not know the details of her death. I do not know where she died. I have tried to find out more but have been met with no leads or clues, and I was forced to give up by court order. When I explained to little Vanesa, she seemed to understand, since apparently she’s also not allowed to find her birth parents. She might be one of the smartest children I’ve ever met, but to be abandoned just because she wasn’t perfect… Heat rises to my chest every time I think about it.

Would I have done the same thing in my mother’s shoes? Despite it all, I would have. It makes me wonder how much of my own thoughts and desires are determined by “free will” and how much of it is determined by my genetics. Will I see her in heaven? Will we be the same person? Or different, but pretty darn similar?

I was given life in order for others to benefit from my sacrifice. Unlike most, there actually was a reason why I was born, but I’ve absolutely no desire to fulfill it. What then do I choose to dedicate my life to? Justice for my mother? That was a choice she made, too. This might be a twisted conclusion, but I can’t take that away from her. Maybe it’s to live a life that our original could not live, with opportunities she never had? What is the meaning of my life?

So many questions, and none of them can be answered scientifically, and as badly as I want to know the answers, I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble sometimes, you know?

Snow Numb

There are echoes of snow-crunching boots

On these tracks I have tread in the past,

With a new slice of ice underneath

That has deepened a fear of my mass.

 

As my tremorous knees seek relief,

Through the fog I perceive solid ground,

But the crackings strike chills in my ears

As the stinging of frost bite my crown.

 

Yet the sight of the driftings above

Which are pregnant with blanketing snow

Are the markers of time marching on

Never pausing or ceasing to flow.

 

‘Though my feet, which are frozen in fear,

Are unwilling to move like the skies,

I shall do as the heavenlies do

And awaken this sleeper of mine.

 

 

Coil

“So it’s something like a soul?” the boy in uniform swung his legs in the air as he sat perched atop a staircase hand-railing. The breeze from the passing cars did nothing to sway his center of balance.

“Yeah, I guess. You can’t see it with your eyes. Other people can’t interact with it. But when it moves, it can do some crazy things. I’m holding it in my palm right now, but you probably just see nothing. ” The girl in uniform spoke with a calm that seemed unsuited for the topic of conversation. She swung her legs too, rocking back and forth on the opposite railing.

“It all sounds like you’re trying to prank me again, to be honest.”

“It does, doesn’t it? Even if I show you how it works, you wouldn’t believe me, huh?”

“Don’t know. You’ll have to show me first.”

“‘Kay!” She hopped off and landed with a stomp. The sun’s slanted rays colored her white shoes a tint of orange. “I’m still learning so don’t be rude.”

The girl in uniform closed her eyes and expanded her lungs with the city air, tasting the ambient smoke. As if whispering, her lips shifted slightly. The boy in uniform did his best to observe carefully, his vigilant eyes considered the best of his classmates, but could see nothing. Then he felt a tingle.

He started to sense shivers running up and down his spine and the hairs on his arms raising. Even his vision began to see strange spots. Shaking his head or rubbing his eyes did nothing to make them disappear. 

“What’s happening?” he found himself saying before he knew it.

She did not respond, breathing out in an exaggerated fashion, lowering her arms in the process. As she opened her eyes, the girl sighed, “Believe me now?”

“Kind of, but what were you doing?”

“So what I did…” she started as she hopped back onto the metal railing, “Ow! I just zapped my butt. Anyway, I visualized the soul thing to turn into a spring and just spun it really fast. The faster I spun it, the more it starts to do strange things.”

“It’s not strange things. It’s an electric field,” he said, a dawning realization widening his eyes. “Like a coil of wire in a magnetic field…”

“A what field?” she said quizzically, “You’re confusing me.”

“Can you imagine spinning it even faster? And add more loops of coil to it.”

“Sure, I can try.”

She jumped back off, taking in an enormous volume of air. The boy now realized that when she was visualizing all of this, she didn’t stop to breathe. Perhaps it impeded her concentration to do so. In any case, he focused all of his attention on her and his surroundings, glued to the railing.

As time passed, his hair began to rise again. The sensations were becoming more intense as his vision began to grow spotty. Suddenly, a sharp pain cascaded down his legs and up his arms. The boy fell from the railing. As his hands met the surface of the cement, his body weight fell to the side, and his legs slipped down a few steps of the stairs. He looked up at her, every hair on her body standing on end. Her head seemed to be wreathed in curly, writhing tendrils.

“Oh! Woah! That was weird!” she gasped, panting and sweating, “Are you okay?” Everything stopped at once. The kaleidoscopic colors ceased instantly.

He grunted, “Yeah, I’m fine. I think I scraped my knee, but it’s nothing compared to what I just saw.”

“What did you see?” she asked hesitantly. “You didn’t peek up my skirt, right?”

“Even better, I think you might a superpower or something. Like you can make electricity out of nothing. We need to test this out! See if you can electrocute things from a distance… or… or if you can power a fan!” His excitement made him scuttle back to his feet instantly. “If you get strong enough, you could become a superhero.”

“Nope! Not interested in all of that!” she smiled, “I knew you would say all that junk, too, but I showed you for a very specific reason.”

“What’s that?”

“I showed you because I think you can do it, too. You may not believe me, but I can actually see your soul with my eyes, too. It’s different from mine, and I can’t see anyone else’s, but I can see yours.”

“Now you’re pranking me.”

“I’m not. You don’t have to believe me. Go try and do what I did by yourself in your room if you don’t want to embarrass yourself or something, but I think you can do it, too. Or not! I don’t know! Just a hunch.”

“How come you can see it though?” he said, furrowing his brow, “And… what even is it?”

“I wish I could tell you,” she shrugged flippantly, jumping off the railing to leave. “But you said that I’m making electricity? That’s kinda funny. I’m like a little battery then. I wonder if you’ll be able to do the same thing.” 

“So I have to see it first, right? It starts with visualizing?”

“Something like that? I don’t know! Everyone’s is probably different, too,” she casually suggested as she turned around.

“Wait! You have to tell me more!”