No Guarantees

Here, on the near bank of the River Styx, stand I, a purveyor of flesh. I, to whom the desperate turn, those who have fled the pits of Hades, those who seek new faces, new lives, in the world above. They come to me in my castle of bones, a grim shadow in the darkness, where I stand, and smile... and wait.

"Help us," Prospective clients wail, "Help us! We are not ready to die."

They do not see me at first, merely hear my voice, echoing from around them as if I am not a sole presence, but speak from the air itself. I warn them, all who come to me:

"I can certainly lead you back to life, but beware. You may not recognize who you were in what you become. Couples? May be separated. In my business there are no guarantees."

The shadows recede slightly and now the damned can see my smile, a beacon in the gloom. I continue, "You may not even be human. To live again, I ask, are you prepared to pay the ultimate price?"

"W-what's that?" The corpses ask, holding each other's ragged rotten forms, beginning to doubt their courage.

"My price? All I require from you is what you already are, your battered and broken selves. Your bones," In the shadows they see my vague gesture of the palace around me, built from grinning skulls, white ivory totally cleanedof flesh. "Foundation for my home. Where you're going, you won't need it."

The skeletal forms of the damned hesitate, even in their fear of the death awaiting them, unease gives them pause. To what force are they giving everything, their trust, their bones, their hopes of life anew? What am I, one who lurks in the dark, who preys on the dreams of the dead?

But fear of Hell always wins in the end, the thing in all of us that recoils from death's touch. In the end, nearly everyone agrees. They leave their bones behind, piled in my skeleton halls, their souls all that remain of who they were. They take my hand and begin their journey from darkness back into light. Still all I am to them is black, the unseeable made solid. Still all they see of me is my smile, my glowering, rictal menace.

Surefooted across the border twixt life and death I lead. Where the winds howl, along with... other things. Things that undulate in the black, that grasp at us from the distance as we pass. My charges stop, trying to fix on those haunting our travels, but I push on and caution:

"Look straight ahead. The... creatures here? Are best not seen. They have a way of leading people astray. People lost here, in the Middle. They are never found."

Through this warning, through the entire of our journey, my smile never once falters. Unsettling perhaps, but as the sole lodestar in the deep, they begin to find it the gloam's only comfort.

Who knows how much time passes? What relevance has time to the dead? But eventually we near the light. These souls begin to remember the song of being. Eventually we halt. My smile turns to them.

"I go no further," I explain, "These last steps, this rebirth. It's a journey you must make alone."

They stumble on towards the dawn, buoyed by memories of life, of taste and of touch. I watch from the Beyond and as they depart, my smile turns... sinister.

In my business, there are no guarantees.

Closer and closer to life they creep, the light fills them, then pulling them onward under its power. They feel heavier, and more and more solid. Until...

You may not even be human.

In the middle of a dark forest, surrounded by old growth, shrouded in black, sprout two oak trees. Scrawny trunks, and four gnarled limbs. Etched in their bark? Markings almost like faces.

Their mouths open in shock, frozen in silent screams. Two souls, trapped again in life. In a still, dull existence. In a fate worse than death.

Back on the River Styx, in my growing palace of bone, again and again spirits approach. They dream of flesh. They seek solace from damnation. Desperate like the rest, they ignore my warning:

"There are no guarantees."

Lovers in Purgatory

                It took countless generations for the two to recognize one another. In the different forms in which they came together, trapped in existence unending. One life they spent as mollusks jetting around the lightless ocean bottom, hooking their prey and feeding together, long sinewy bodies always touching. Another they spent as silent lichens, stretching the width of a redwood, slowly growing until the tree’s whole length was covered in their luminescent blue green. For the span of a decade they ran with a pack of wolves, the breeder alphas to whom the others ceded dominance. And then again as men, truckers always on the road together, hand on hand, sharing brief moments of passion in secret and then in the open as the world embraced their truth.

They always wondered, as they stole secret smiles, as they grew old together and died in each other’s arms, why it was they felt like they had been, and would be forever, one flesh.

                In the passage of centuries, their souls grew together. The sum became truth, the total replacing what were once separate parts.

                Not until they became light, born apart but each drawn towards the other over a gulf of two hundred Earths, through howling gaseous storms, did they realize and remember what they had been and for how long. How often and how wholly they consumed each other’s lives. They communicated, beyond language, above words…

                I know you.

                And I you.

                For how long?


                And for how long still?

                Forever, if you wish it.

                I do.

                I do too.

                And there, at the heart of a storm were they joined. Part of a gale that would never end. There they finally understood what they were, and where. Hell is others forced upon you. Heaven, the perfected and idealized realization of self. But Purgatory? Purgatory is life. And life, they pledged in the red, howling gusts, was all they ever needed. And thus, it was all they ever had.

Your New And Always Life

                Every night when you sleep, you do not sleep but die and wake in another universe. Look around you, what is there today that wasn't yesterday? The man slumbering in your grip stirs. Does he always sleep in your arms? Was it always he? You regard this stranger, scratch idly his dark hair, struggling to recall if their love is one you've always known. Their laugh one you always cherished.

                He wakes, and smiles, and for a while your doubt dissipates. Until morning passes into afternoon and your wandering mind returns to truth's quandary. Something has changed, something in the air. Is it crisper somehow, more fully autumn. The specter of yesterday haunts your memory. The difference always just eludes you, hiding on the fringe, a flitting shadow you cannot name.

                Night returns, and in bed, shadows writhing around you, you wonder what death will bring. You try to stay awake, to notice the moment of passing from one life to the next. To see if maybe then you notice the difference. But always, always, dream's siren call drags you down into fog, perhaps it is the worm hole that drags you from self to self. From life to life.

But from the fog you rise and wake, and wriggle your tentacles. You are as you always were. An amber eight-limbed creature, gliding through Europa's living sea. That breathes and beats beneath an ice shield, adrift in Jupiter's shadow.

Welcome my loves, it whispers. And in its warmth you feel embraced.

You look around you at the brimming life, the harmonious song, trying to spy what changed. You feel every follicle of life, every conscious strand joined in the melody. You sing-see around you, in the lightless sea. Where time passes with indifference, where there is no sleeping, no dying. Only this. The only life you've ever known.