loss

Only Love Remains

Once missing, angels never return. Not even their shadows remain. Like whispers in a crowd or smoke in open air—that which seeps through windows and doors and dissipates in the night—these moments are gone forever. Not their Maker, nor their lovers, can save them. Every time the sun falls below the horizon, another passes. Most often they are alone when the call comes. As creatures born unheralded, they pass the same way. Never celebrated, never remembered. But not this angel, not my angel, not Marius. His name sends shivers through me still.

                When we met, all I saw at first was light. A brightness with substance, that danced and flirted on the wind. There was more there than I could see, somehow this I knew. A laughing presence, a playful life. And he sensed I was different. I was curious about him in a way most humans never were. Driven by the same impulses that drive us all, the fear of crushing loneliness, he allowed himself to be seen. Almost unheard of with his kind.

                Marius was beautiful. Skin smooth and cold like stained glass, blown and dyed a dark burning ochre. His smile was a beacon in the night. His eyes were smoldering coals, and in his glance you could feel their heat. His body was slim and taut, and hid a considerable strength in its slimness.

                "What is this?" I asked him on our first night together. The question pointed towards his nature, the nature of our circumstances together, my feelings for him and vice versa. Despite the indefinite character of our relationship, still I was pulled by the human need to bring order to a world tending toward chaos, to understand a love that belied comprehension.

                All he would ever say, no matter how many times, no matter how pressingly, I asked: "This is something that cannot last. I will leave you someday, though I will be sorry to."

                Our love blazed in an instant, furious and fragile. Our flame burned under a meager lean-to, constructed hastily in the rain. Circumstance contrived to consume us. And so we were consumed. But not before loving each other more fully than either of us thought possible. Not before knowing brief happiness in a world full of pain.

                His last words he spoke curled up in my arms, sweating, a-shivering, drifting to and from sleep. His wings, seeming such fragile things, fluttered against my chest. Each time they waved, they left tiny cuts, but each healed before a single drop of blood could spill, such was the nature of his magic.

                "Tonight," Marius said with calm certainty, watching the moon through an open window. He would not sleep unless a window was open, and somehow, even on the stillest nights, there was always a breeze howling through, tousling his hair as he slept. "Tonight…"

                "Are you sure?"

                "We always know. We never… we never fall unawares."

                "And there's nothing I can do-"

                "To stop this? No. In general? Hold me. No one wants to be alone on a night such as this, not even the likes of us."

                I tried to stay awake but, perhaps by the dint of some unknown enchantment, within minutes my eyelids flit and were drawn shut by some unknown weight. I did not feel the changing, I did not hear him hiss in pain, if indeed he made a sound. I only woke to birds chirping in the gloom that comes just before dawnbreak. My arms were empty, and as I looked down I saw my sheets covered in dust. He had passed in the night as they all do, quiet as they all were.

                Grief, somehow, even in death, his magic makes me immune to it,. My days are remarkably free of pain. Only in the nights sometimes do I wake, tears on my face. Even then I do not remember crying. Even then I am not sad. Even then, only love remains.

The Last Child

                Friends told her it was madness, to bring life into a world sentenced to die. They begged her to abort. “Spare him or her the pain,” They pleaded, “Spare them the brief light they would enjoy, so quickly extinguished.”

                But she did not listen. And eventually, absorbed by their own needs, they stopped calling. They forgot her and her insanity.

                Her husband’s was a silent warfare. Mentioning the swinger’s parties their friends and neighbors attended (what use was monogamy before the end?) offering her alcohol and other drugs that had previously been restricted or outright banned (what worth did Prohibition have at the eve of the Apocalypse?) he tried to tempt her from the Mother’s path. Eventually he left, no explanation, just a withering look that called her a fool. That pitied her for her sentiment. But he left all the same, in the arms of a younger woman and an older man. Free, in the eve of death, to pursue desires he no doubt had harbored all along.

                But still, she cradled her swollen stomach, and waited for her water to break.

                The moment came. With heretofore unknown strength she carried herself to the hospital. The few doctors that remained stared at her with disbelief, and outright resentment, wiped the exhaustion from their eyes and checked their watches. Their thoughts returning to their own families or loved ones, their own plans for eschatological bacchanalia. But regardless of how they felt about her folly, they performed their duties, and as the hours passed, one more life was brought into the world.

They cut the cord, checked to make sure the mother still lived, and fled.

                A shadow loomed over the world, though it was mid-day. They ran into darkness. The promise of Apocalypse, soon to be made fact.

                As she cradled her little girl, Shoshanna, she christened her before God and no one else, she was reminded of a funeral’s stillness. She looked into the eyes of the gurgling babe, and saw her mother’s. She tried in her mind’s eye to envision something other than their final closing, the silent procession of her corpse into the ground. She remembered her own eyes then, empty and dry, and wondered if she had known then what she knew now. That Earth’s remaining timespan was measured in years and not centuries, or even decades, if she would have mourned more openly.

                Well, it hardly matters now.

                She turned from the past, to the little future that remained. The daughter in her arms. She trembled, or maybe it was the shuddering Earth, anticipating the approaching moon-sized meteor. The baby did not cry. Perhaps even her daughter understood how little time they had together.

                “Why, you ask? Why did I insist you live, you wonder? Or would if you could. Perhaps, if there is an afterlife, and there you’re allowed to grow, you still might get the chance to ask. Why did I insist you live? Because… because…” She was interrupted by a scream in the distance.

                “Because, I think, even as we give way to the dark. Even as we are forgotten. I think it’s important that we remember-” Glass shatters, an entire species weeps, not going gentle into the night but with bright, yet pointless, fervor. “-we remember what we all struggled for. What we lived and died for.”

                The baby’s eyes locked on hers, and perhaps between them passed understanding.

                “You, the future, even though now you may be only a moment or two. What are we if we do not hand off the baton, regardless of how short the race? What is mankind, if not-”

                The meteor sinks into Earth like a stone into a quiet pond. The ground we thought solid and impenetrable collapses, and half the world disappears in an instant. The rest disintegrates a moment later, becoming dust adrift in space, hot masses slowly coalescing around a foreign core. That which destroyed the world becomes the foundation for something new.

Among the lost, the billions of human lives obliterated and then forgotten, a last child and her mother. Who both dreamed, despite its impossibility, of one more day in the sun.

 

November

Each year, as gray November fades in frost, two children dance on a lake's cracked ice. The fissures spread beneath their feet, frozen water's skein. The cold cannot touch them; it penetrates no deeper than their grief. They are warmed by the small comfort that, for them, things cannot get any worse.

They, who have lost so much, dare Fate to take its full.

The leaves crinkle beneath their feet. They slide through the fog, two ships sinking. Unnamed goes their mourning, but not unremembered. Here, at the site of the end, they pay their penitent respects.

She loved this time of year, their Mother. When mists descend upon their cabin. They skated with her then and not alone. The thrill a distraction from their empty stomachs, their empty days. Their lives were meager, but carefree.

Their father they didn't know well enough to say what he loved. He was but a menace distant in the mist, until one year he whirled with the fog back into their home. A haunting dervish. They knew then only what they saw. Only that he contained no temperance. No kindness, nor mercy. What he desired he took: Mother. Again and again was she his plunder.

Grey November came. Where in happier times she took them to skate the edge of death. She fled his clutches. He gave chase.

They danced towards the lake.

Across its cracking surface she ran, daring Father to tempt Fate. He remained on its edge, raging. The children too watched from the shore. She slowed and turned to them, her beloveds. In her smile sat a sad goodbye. The ice ruptured, yawning into a maw. Their lake, their autumnal refuge, consumed her whole.

Father left them, orphans, on the shore. He left, as wroth and loathsome a mystery as they had ever known. Like life itself, they supposed.

And so they live alone in the cabin their Mother built, each year traveling to the lake where her memory perseveres. They dance as she did, only this time they dance alone. The sole distractions they possess are each other's company. Each year the ritual brings less solace, and more silence, more sadness.

There they dream of family; they dream of their meager paradise lost years ago. They dream Mother watches them from below, frozen, wearing her sad smile. There they dream that the autumn ice isn't strong enough for their hearts, oh so heavy. They dream that down, down, they crash.

...into the deadly, icy blue.

The Sleepless Captain

The captain rarely sleeps. Instead she stands astride the bridge, watching the black. She watches light’s stream flow past. We cross by and through the stars. When she slumbers, her burdens return. All we have lost. All she was tasked to regain.

A recruit at his station watches in mute awe her contemplation of the void. He wants to ask her. It aches him to know...

"What's it like? To live forever, to see generations of man slip into the past?"

One long night, she turns to him, as if she has heard the unasked questions that churn within. She answers:

"Kid, you don't want to know."

Defiance flares. "But I th-"

She sighs, the long tired sigh of a creature who has known centuries. "You don't understand what you're asking-

“How can I explain to a man born in diaspora the feeling one gets as home is stolen from you?"

Silence. In place of his anger grows shame. She continues:

"How can I explain to a mortal child how it feels to watch all you love wither and die as you endure?"

She speaks without malice, yet he shrinks from her words.

"I cannot explain to you what it was like to feel Earth's last breaths. Memory is my burden. Yours? Is to die."

Sensing his disquiet, she relents.

A long moment passes. He joins the ageless captain on her bridge, slides his hand in hers. She looks at him, seeing another, one long gone.

"I see...” He explains, “Not your suffering, but that some things shouldn't be shared, for both our sakes. I live in ignorance, but not without empathy.”

And so, together, they watch the passing dark.

Sands of a Lost Life

‘I’ file into the conference room, one by one. Each me takes a seat. ‘We’ line up, beginning at the age I am now, progressing up in age toward oblivion. From face to face, I see myself increasingly creased and careworn, faces aged in a way that now mine will never be, faces who experienced joy and loss that I robbed from myself. I see what would have been, what I became in futures forgotten, and I must know.

Stammering, I begin.

“You know why ‘I’ am here. Tell me. What do I miss? What do ‘we’ do?”

I feel the wind rush by. I see, in a flash, my choices come to bear.

The man next to me, still like a perfect reflection, speaks. Tears stain his face, contempt mars his expression.

“You get promoted last year. You get the chance you’ve always wanted to prove yourself worth. Just the beginning of a long and satisfying career.”

They go on down the line, aging, faces becoming haggard and sallow, but also wise, as they speak. The whistling echoes louder, but still distant, as if my fate hasn’t already been sealed, as if this conversation isn’t nothing more than an exercise in futility.

“You get married…”

“You adopt…”

“You finally finish that book. It’s a hit!”

I close my eyes, and the ground races closer.

On and on to the last, an elderly, weakened me, standing in the frame of death’s door. My face is lined with age, my eyes hardened by dismay at the path ‘we’ have chosen. His words hit hardest. They conjure another end. One I desire with all my heart.

“You die in his arms, happy. At least… you would have been.”

They pause now to grieve us, and all the possibilities we lost in my foolish youth. My guilt flows like sand. I feel that I must explain.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. But-”

A loud thud. All the ‘me’s disappear. The light fades; the room disappears in a shroud of darkness and silence.

Suddenly, I no longer hear the wind.

The Lost Destiny of the Shepherd

From the midst of his herd, who nibble and starve on a barren ridge. The desert shepherd stands and watches. He ignores the sweat dampening his brown and blurring his sight. He ignores the heat that burns his skin dark brown, which then blisters and scabs into hardened callouses. Every day he stands there looking at the same spot. The spot where, years ago, this lowly shepherd watched a shooting star cut a red path across the sky.

Somehow he knows, on it died another life. His freedom passing by like a caravan lost in the dark.

In his dreams his mother dances in and out of focus, in and out of light and shadow, a beloved ghost of his infancy.

"You, my boy," She whispers, at times bouncing him on her knee, at others rocking him to sleep, always, always fading into memory's slow-encroaching fog: "Were born for something great!"

She passes, so do the years, so does this comet, each borne into the past and far from his reach. He closes his eyes. Imagines the men who died trying to find him. Imagines a destiny lost. He imagines the burning star is no star but a ship, under attack by those that would thwart its mission. To reach him, the vaunted savior.

He imagines what they might tell him. That he is a Chosen One. That he must save the galaxy, the universe.

"Only you," He imagines them desperately gasping, barely escaping death to bring his deliverance, "Only you can save us!"

"This way," He dreams them saying, as they gesture towards the infinite and the stars. "Come with us and we will show you wonders. Come with us, and bring our troubles to an accord."

He imagines, and years pass by. The embers of imagining fade; they weaken; they die.

He ages, begins his own family. There is no more time for dreams. The real is what is. This is the only world he will know. He will die, and like his mother before him and her father and a long line of Man stretching beyond his ancestors' ken, be buried and forgotten in the sand. The herds of humanity will march over his grave in time, ignorant to the fact that he ever lived, that he ever dreamed of more.

At night, he bounces his own child on his knee and whispers, "You, my son, you..."

The Lost Lovers, the Ocean

                She stands on the dock, ignoring in the distance the bells' faint clangor. Every day as the Earth rotates,--the sun rising and falling--her shadow recedes and grows, and she waits. Waits for her love to return. Waits as she has the past twenty years, the past twenty years hence her lover's ship sank.

                The wind tousles her graying hair, ruffles the tassels of her faded gold dress. Her eyes, deep, despairing pits, yield nothing but piercing blackness. Grief's total corruption. Yet in her guarded stance, her unceasing patience, there is hope. There remains a belief that someday her love will return. In whose arms she was safe, and who, when held by her, was home. The wind howls around her with all the stench of the sea, the fecund scent of death and life tussling amongst the waves. The ocean's constant cycle.

                Come home, come home… The wind's piercing call joins her own lament, her own elegiac cry for the lost.

                The local townspeople indulge her madness in public, pity her in secret. This poor mad mistress pining over one long gone. The innkeeper sighs each morning, watching her nibble at the same breakfast she and her love shared that final morning. Descending from the same room they slept in all those years ago before he departed to make the nation's fortune. The same room the inn now rents to her free of charge. She picks through hot porridge, pickled fruit, coffee and cream. Leaving, as always, half uneaten in memoriam of her other half, now departed.

                She passes through the streets in silence, frozen in the past by heartache. In her mind they are unchanged from the fanfare of the morning all was lost. In her mind the same celebration rages, the same opulence, the same golden glow of the morning. She walks towards the shore, blind to the decay of time. The diseased reign now in this city, pockmarked faces watch in disgust as she passes by. Rats make way before her, allowing the queen of times gone by to watch the sea. She watches the waves as her kingdom crumbles around her.

                By the coast, in her regular place. Her advisors bob behind her, faces etched with resignation and worry, brow darkened by the slow putrefying doom. One approaches, as they promised themselves one would every day. They implore her to return to the world, to save her subjects from misfortune's deluge.

                "My Queen…"

                "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?

                "My Queen, I think we-"

                "He would love this weather, this sun. This refreshing wind. I hope it's shining where he is. Wherever he is."

                Her advisor sighs. It broke her heart to see her Queen suffer so. It warped her soul to see the nation follow her into the overbearing defeat bereavement dealt her. The same conversation passed every day, the same unanswerable longing. She joined her on the breach, where the mist and waves met with the dock's wooden planks. And took her unseeing Queen's hands in her own.

                "I'm sure it is. Yes I'm sure."

                In the ocean's pits, in the depths and in the murk, dragging itself along the bottom, comes a muddy form. A skeleton in the brack, flesh beaten away by the sea's torrential waters, by the pressure of the ocean entire. A gilded crown melded to its skull. He's been crawling a long time, driven by need, by instinct, by a brainstem too rotted to consider the why. All he knows is that at the end of his journey, still years away, lies the golden prize. In his mind echoes her smile, her piercing, black eyes. He remembers, if nothing else, how they used to captivate him at night. Their darkness matched the shadows that surrounded them, constricting the world to just the King and his Queen. To him…

…and her.

                My love, I'm sorry. My love, I am coming.

Winter's Whisperer

They say, in the mountains, there is no death. That in the wind one hears lost wanderer’s whispers. Missives from beyond. They say, in new-fallen snow, one can track the damned’s foot-falls, arcing off the trail and into the trees. They say to lose the path is to lose oneself, that Winter claims all those who test her. All who enter her midst without the appropriate reverence, or a respectful degree of fear. They say her shadows hide monsters. Creatures of terrible grace, of frightful beauty. They prey on poor fools who would challenge her primacy.

            It was into such a winter, on such a mountain and during such a furious snowstorm that our hero, his name lost to time, trudged his way through accruing snow. Dreams of crossing over the range and into a distant village were his only hearth. He hoped that he might leave his memories of loss behind. One traced the grief’s on his marked face, in thinly pursed lips and their grim countenance. The crinkles belonging to a much older man lingered in the corners of his eyes, sad eyes the color of dead oak. His dark brown skin, burned black and blue by the cold, was dry and cracked. Skin belonging to one who took little time for himself.

            He breathed and rubbed his hands together. Protected though they were by thickly woolen mittens, the howling wind penetrated still, chilling them to the bone. He stopped, regarding the swirling tempest which obscured the heavens.

            Why? He wondered at our world’s silent God. Why am I so tested?

            First came his parents’ deaths, mother, then heartbroken father, over the course of a couple months. Then in his grief, illness befell him, whooping coughs and racking chest pains, borne to him in depression’s depths. Then at last the desertion of his cherished beloved, who found his life’s burdens too odious to help him bear.

            “I’m just not strong enough.” She told him then, tears leaking from her like the tragedies were hers, the losses hers. “You deserve someone who can care for you.”

            “I thought I’d already found her,” He whispered at her receding backside as she disappeared into history, fleeing the Biblical rage that beset him.

            And so, trapped in sadness’ mire, he grasped at the smallest sliver of hope thrown his way. A job offer cabled from a distant township. One requiring him to leave all he knew behind. Seeing all he knew then was loss and betrayal, it was a price that suited him fine. After a train, a carriage, and helpful direction from the stewardess of a local inn, who provided him with provisions and a map and some friendly advice and close… companionship, he was off into the woods and wild.

“Stay a while,” He remembered her cooing, as he belted up his boots and layers and made ready to travel under a cloudy sky, heavy with ill-omen and, as of yet, unfallen snow. “Wait out the cold months in a warm bed. It’s dangerous to travel thus this time of year.”

“No,” He replied more brusquely than he meant to. “This is something that I must do.”

He turned back to her and smiled on his way out the door, a hollow grimace. “Besides, what’s a little winter in the face my suffering? If Death wished to claim me, surely she would have by now.”

And with that, he marched from the bosom of life into the cold’s deathly loins.

How he regretted those words now, in a snowstorm’s grasp. Had her company been so unpleasant that this trip couldn’t wait another few weeks? Was his pain so great that it must be born alone, flagellated from his soul by icy gales?

A rough hand scratched across his face, though with how numb he felt only by seeing it attached to his arm could he tell it was his. This disembodied limb came away with icicles. Sweat from his climb’s exertion froze as soon as it fled his pores and then clung to him, giving his gaunt face a raw, frigid mask. He glanced around, trying to regain his bearings in the dark. Night fell faster than expected in the mountains. Skeletal trees surrounding him looked much the same as the ones he had hiked though for the past dozen hours. The recumbent branches of oak and pine and birch nigh indistinguishable when garbed in snow. He tried to remember the helpful innkeeper’s words:

…Keep moving. Up and north and up, until you reach the peak, and then down and down. Keep moving. Don’t let the freeze or the night stop you. And whatever you do.

Don’t get lost…

Well here he was, well and truly lost. Unable in the snow to tell where was north, barely able to tell up from down from side to side. But not even then did he feel panicked. If he died, well, then it was the culmination of a tragic path life forced him down. No great surprise, no big loss.

Yet, he did not lie down and die. He kept moving, inching along in the direction burning calves told him was upward. Light dimmed even further, and he stood in a totality of darkness he might have thought impossible were he not in its midst. Into that darkness echoed a further impossibility. A voice, a voice warm and familiar, whispering his name. Though that name is lost, for narrative’s sake, let’s say it called-

…William…

He paused. I must be going mad with cold. That does happen to people up here, they say. And so reassured, he continued walking.

…William…

There it was again. Will tried to ascertain from whence the voice came, but it was directionless. It emanated from the shadow all around him, from the air, from each individual flake of snow.

…William…

Ah, now that had direction. He turned to his left, the unmistakable source lay that way. How he yearned to follow her, for it was certainly a her, voice. In spite of the receding warnings of his briefly met lover, he desired little else than to follow-

…William…

Warnings forgotten. He left what little of the path he could see, considerations to Don’t get lost left behind with it, and wandered out into the total darkness of the trees, where snow and branches further obscured the already lost starlight. Each step he took from the path froze in the ice and snow, the farther he got, the further his soul was chilled, yet also seared, by the call of-

…William…

He came to the mountain’s face, in it a slit, the slightest of openings marked by no map, mentioned in no guidance or advice given by his stewardess, or carriage driver or train engineer, who all warned him of Winter’s tricks when his intended destination. Yet he gamboled on, sliding into the crevasse. A tight, slick opening in the mountain, unobscured by snow as if it had been cut afresh just for him.

William. William…

The voice beckoned, bouncing off caves walls, the echoes of a more cavernous space. He stumbled over rock, and through stream as he wandered deeper into the cave. Down path after path. When several corridors opened to him, always came the call, floating with certainty from the passageway whoever spoke meant him to travel. Each time growing a little louder, more alluring, increasing its demand and its pull on his heart. There was a faint light, a distant source of brilliance that grew brighter the closer he drew. Everything in him burned, whether from frostbite or a sudden wellspring of lust he cared little. That didn’t matter, his whole being focused on locating the vixen that beckoned him onward… onward…

William?

Eventually the path opened up into a vast cavern. The source of the echo. Wherein he found the source of the light and the mysterious call. A still pond, glowing with preternatural luminescence, it rippled only with his name.

…William…

Now he heard the voice’s submerged quality, as if she called to him from within a great gulf. And he knew: she meant him to enter. He step towards the pool. His body’s protestations against the cold merely slowed him. Stop! It seemed to scream. You are dying. He ignored it in his madness, no longer questioning what called him forth or why, or how water locked in a subzero grotto in the clutches of winter remained unfrozen. Only forward, only moving forward mattered. Into… into the water he went.

Even in his reverie, he gasped at the cold. The shock of it almost shook him from his trance, but he could see the form of the emanating light, and it coalesced into a very alluring form indeed. Feminine curves, and the trace of a distant smile. And so he plunged. The closer he got, the more he could see of what drew him here. A woman. Her open arms, begging to be embraced, her libidinous smile, her perfect teeth. Was this a façade? Was that the hint of a smirk on her lips? Did her incisors gleam like blades? Were her eyes soulless black coals set in deep in an ice-blue face on a body wrapped in ice-blue skin? These questions, and their answers (Yes! Yes!) were irrelevant. He reached out to her, opened his mouth as if to speak, forgetting that he sunk in water like a stone.

My darling… my darl- He thought as he drowned.

And as the world faded, he felt her grip him like a vise. And suddenly the cold was forgotten, suddenly the light pulsed through him. Still he sank, but he no longer drowned. He, and his beloved, hugged. He knew he had reached his destination.

Finally, he was home.

They embraced. Two ice-blue figures, skin smooth as diamonds. Two figures, with deep-set eyes, black as coals. As the light in the pool slowly faded, its purpose done, its blissful prey caught, they both disappeared from view.