It began innocently enough. I was out for a walk. I do that, a lot. I go for a walk when I am happy, because being out in the woods calms and refreshes me. I go for a walk when I am depressed, well, basically for the same reason. I just like to walk. I know these woods by my house; I’ve been walking through them for five years now. I know the birds and the squirrels. I know there are raccoons and rabbits. I know where the bobcat likes to hunt at night. I know every few years the bears come a little too close for comfort. But I am ok, with all of that.
Not that day.
I wanted to go for a walk after dinner. Dusk is not always the best time to go for a walk in these woods, or in any woods, really. Too many times I have felt like Little Red Riding Hood, straying from the Path and nearly attacked by Man-Eating Creatures. Nothing has ever happened to me though. I am cautious. I am respectful. Apparently, that goes a long way out in the forest.
The air was warm, rustling meekly against my back as I shut the back door behind me. The dogs were out with the kids, playing or working or whatever they were up to doing. So I was genuinely Alone, with a capital A. I like that. You live your life surrounded by so many people, so many animals, it is a good thing to take the time to wander without company from time to time. I stuck my hands in my pockets, turned to set off in any random direction-this time simply away from the setting sun because my eyes are sensitive to light at the best of times. I didn’t feel like being blinded by the sunset, mostly because I wasn’t in the mood to walk into any trees. Again. Or fall down any slippery slopes or into any random holes. Again. Hey. I can learn. Sometimes it just takes me a bit to catch on. The wind was a gentle lover, stroking and teasing me, pushing my hair over my shoulders to urge me on.
I get into a mood, into a zone, when I am walking. I get lost in my head, lost in my thoughts. I didn’t notice when the wind shifted, as it maintained its thoughtful caresses from the rear. I almost caught the strange aroma that played havoc with my senses. The dank earthy aroma of the pines and oaks near my house glided into the mystical smells of fruits, of flowers heavy on the vine. Around me, the landscape seemed to shift from the wooded mountain air to which I had grown accustomed to a spicier, more tantalizing cultivated realm. It’s one of those things. I caught it, but didn’t much register it. I was watching the ground in front of my feet. I do that a lot. I find such neat things that way.
Usually. My usual deer run leaf littered forest floor started to slip sideways on me, bit by bit, encroaching upon a fertile flatter land, still healthy with growth. The transition was gradual enough to by-pass my cognizant brain and allow me to trundle along nearly unaware.
I almost tripped over it, the rock. I say ‘rock’, but in reality, the thing was large enough to sit four or five people comfortably. It was a flattish rock, silvered and grey, moss clinging to it in places, a good colony of ants working away off to one side of it. It was tilted, one end higher than the other, but the slope of it was appealing, not back-breaking. The rock had dug itself in beside a small lake, close to an inlet of eddying black waters. Ok. So the largish pond there before me caused me to start. In my woods, there are no lakes or ponds. Babbling brooks. Crazy creeks. A few sinuous streams. But larger bodies of water? No. The smell now gained my full attention. This was not mountain air. Would that I had paid more attention to the balancing mechanisms in my ears, because I was no longer in Kansas, Toto. I was on a marginally hilly land, overall flattish and staid. My beautiful densely treed land had decided to move on without me. Now, I was in something more like a grove, trees spaced widely apart, branches swinging in a stronger more melodic breeze here. A breeze that did not touch me. I had no idea what to expect.
Me being me, I sat down, not on the rock. I have this thing about ants. I try to stay away from them. They can have all the space they want. But I did sit at the edge of the water, where the earth, made from a dark black loam, broke off and split into the heady waters. It was the water, I realized, that blew the scent of jasmine my way. I had expected the smell of frogs, which makes me faintly ill, or unwashed fishes, decaying underwater plant life. I was not expecting the thick tendrils of jasmine to wend their way into my hair, into my head. I stared into the reflective waters, leaning closer to watch as my own familiar face morphed and swayed upon the surface of the tiny waves. I looked out at myself, though my own eyes, when I discovered I was looking up at myself, from beneath the waves. I reached out one timid hand, to touch the me beneath the waters, only to touch my own hand, coming out of the water, reaching out for me. Dazed, I clasped my own hand. At which point, you realize, I was rudely yanked beneath the waters.
Breath gone. Sight gone. Flesh gone. I was a wild thing, not bursting through the weight of the water, but gliding, like a raven on the wing, slipping between the molecules, a thing but not a thing all at the same time. My aqueous self did not pull or drag me. No. We seem to have melded together into One Being. I felt my self dissolving, breaking into little bits, fertilizing the water, to be eaten by ye gods and little fishes, those that I invoked so often in my daily routine with young children and too many domestic obligations.
There is no sensation when you are not a being, when you have been abluded from your normal state. No sensation. All I felt was a sense of motion, not a rushing, not a whirling. A sort of free-falling, that beer and mushrooms can provide in uncertain times. Of course, it came to an end, with a solid splat. I felt as if I had been spat from the throat of some noxious toad and blatted out upon, solid ground. Except that the ground had motion, and it was covered with sand. There was nothing alive beneath me; there was simply the odd feeling of being, rocked, back and forth, almost as if I were on a boat, a big one, but, I wasn’t. This was sand. There were little crabs not three feet away, busily chasing the edge of the water on nimble little crab feet, sharp claws waving in the air. I was very glad they seemed to pay me no attention whatsoever.
Usually when you come up out of the water, thrown forcibly upon dry land, there is coughing and hacking and sputtering. I had none of this. I merely lay there, quiet and unassuming, since my head had long ago given up spinning and had gone into hiding and was refusing to speak to me at all, slowly regaining a sense of flesh, the ability to draw breath. Silence is a strange word, for it implies the absence of sound, although you assume there must be something there, like cars driving by outside, or the house settling, dogs licking their backsides, termites in the walls chattering amongst themselves. This is not what I mean when I say all was silent. I could sense more than hear the lap lap lap of the water stroking the beach. I could feel more than hear the tap tick tap of the crabs scrambling back and forth on their sojourn. A weight pressed into my solar plexus, like a hand pushing me from beneath and shoving me from above, not painful, just very deliberate. Not crushing me. More like mashing me back together, as a child works with clay to design a toy, or a bowl. I am not hollow inside. And yet, somehow, I felt like a vessel. Or something to that effect. I didn’t move, didn’t look up. I had no such desire. I lacked the ability to command my physical form to do so anyway. I closed my eyes, afraid to look without, even more afraid to look within. I did not even bother to pray. What was there to pray about? All I could do was wait and see.
Time normally pulses along despite we small humans. Not here. Not in this place. Time did not stop. Time merely did not belong here, did not dwell here, had no reason to play here. Time was not allowed to be here. This was a Timeless Place.
I could taste the thump thump thump. Under other circumstances, I would have suggested that noise to be the pounding of my heart in my throat near to bursting. Yet, it was not. Not here in this place. It was something else.
Eyes met mine—the dark gorgeous loving eyes of one of the most beautiful mares I have ever seen. I looked into those eyes—looking into my own hazy green eyes from within that gaze. Again I melted. An ectoplasmic bubble of nothingness. I succumbed to the beauty of the black horse. And then she kicked me right in the head, with a wuff and a chuff, and BANG! Smashed me back into my brain, into the shell that was my body, and set me to rights again. She wheeled around, galloping back several yards, before barreling right for me. I didn’t move. Why should I? Over a thousand pounds of gorgeous glistening horse-flesh came pounding down upon me. My choice was be the horse, or drown in the ink-like water. I knew instinctively I could survive a horse-beating, but not the swimming. I could feel her breath upon my face, a dozen dozen fields of night-blooming jasmine forcing their way between my teeth. As she hit me, we turned, morphed. I became the fool caught in her arms, as she became the creature from the black lagoon, grabbing me to her and catapulting us both into the sooty bath once more.
A mermaid, with webbed hands and tail? A charcoal lover of the deep? Sable hair like sea snakes winding their way over and around and within me. She was all muscle, clenching me to her bosom, snaring my body firmly to hers by some unknown means, like tenterhooks. Obsidian eyes, again, I saw myself looking at myself. Her form superimposed over and inside mine, and vice versa. We were not sailing up, nor through, but down, down, down, and deeper again and still. And then I was scared. Then I began to fight. I began to draw whatever reserves I could to beat at her breast, to tear at her hands, her dreadful hair. Every blow I struck hurt me so, tearing my flesh, rending blood, ichor oozing and spurting from me. She looked at me, as I looked at her, we who were one, and no comprehension dawned. I began to cry, the tears burning her cheeks as we cried. Desperate, I clung to her, pushing what breath I had from my body as her body fought to ensure mine was kept breathing.
Then there was a clank. A bang. And a key dropped into the bucket at the bottom of a fathomless well. That’s where she dumped me, in the dark, in the Night. And she left me there, all alone. Neither fish nor horse nor friend. Fine. I admit I was sniveling, just a little. I am afraid of the dark. Well, not so much of the Dark itself, but of all the things that live and swarm and eat in the dark. I felt my way around. On my hands and knees. An oubliette? There was barely enough room for me to scrabble around, touching rough-hewn stone. I could feel the large bricks, the crumbling mortar. The crumbling part made me shake uncontrollably again. What could come crashing down on my empty little head now? Nevertheless, after some apprehensive struggling, my intrepid little fingers scratched across, wood. I nearly threw up. I wasn’t so sure that it could be a good thing. Surely it was. A door. With a latch. That was, of course, don’t you know, locked. I slammed my head against the door, defeated. The thud was hollow, dented. I was too very much alone. Refusing to sob, although unable to stop, I pounded the flat of my hand against the timber, feeling the old dried lumber splinter beneath the weakness of my palm, and not all too happy about that either. I pounded, a mouse against the backside of an elephant, barely making any progress at garnering any attention whatsoever. Somehow someone heard me, or so I hoped, or rather I didn’t. There was a creak, some inaudible shift, and a ping. The door was gone. A doorway appeared, with flickering light seeping through to guide me from this place of high anxiety.
There stood my horse, my onyx Creatrix. I stood-she stood—we staring out from our own eyes through each other’s, into one another. There was a shimmer, a blur, and there stood, me, only it wasn’t me. I am all blonde and fair-skinned. This me, such incredibly indescribable sin, with great glowing jet eyes, hair so blue it was black, skin whiter than the flesh of the moon’s silver light. Her pale lips, my lips turned a shy blue tinged with crimson, curved into a maternally accepting smile, the same smile I gave my kids when I wanted to kill them for some trick they pulled but my love of them, if not their antics, kept me from doing so. One slender bird-like hand reached out towards me, a flower in her hand. My favourite, a blue rose, somehow smelling of field after field of jasmine, the only thing I could smell. I could taste it, a thickness in the air palpable to the touch, a waxy coating upon my skin. I found myself reaching out for the rose, eager nearly to take it. As my finger touched the rose, the thorns actually grew out into three inch spikes and impaled themselves through my fingers, growing into my flesh, ripping the rose from her hand and literally sewing itself to my own. There was no agony. There as a great deal of scarlet viscousness plopping in great gobs from my palm. Yet, no pain. Not that I could tell.
My raven-hued self reached with her other hand stroking my cheek deliberately and gracefully, while our hands were still yet connected as the flower ate into me. A weakness, a hunger, overcame me, and I knelt before her, fell to my knees, almost in shame as much as in need. Then she hit me, the heel of her hand right in the middle of my forehead, the force of the blow stripping the remnants of the rose from her grasp. With a unique tearing sound the rose drew itself from her, plunging the last of its roots and flesh into my hand. I watched in awe as the roots took hold from within my arm, traveling under my skin past my wrist, past my elbow and burrowing deeply into the muscles of my arm. It looked far more painful than I could feel. I could hear the pain, but not feel it.
Now there was a definite brine in my eyes as I looked up into her glowing orbs, for once seeing only her as I tried to pour the image into my brain to grab any form of actual cohesion. Why? I wanted to ask, wanted to cry. Nevertheless, nothing came. Nothing. She reached out towards me again and you know I cringed, sitting back on my heels with my head down, whimpering inside my own skin, a puppy beaten with the broom for misbehavior. Her long flexible fingers drew through my hair, like lemonade on a summer’s afternoon. I could have moaned, it felt so good. Right before she clasped a great handful of my hair and forced my face up, forcing me to stare right into those depthless eyes. She breathed upon me, a message sent, a message received. Some form of communication I could not actually perceive. Although, my flesh did, my soul did. Something within me clicked, comprehension smoothing its way into my savaged heart for a moment, although the meaning remained hidden to me. She kissed me, serpent’s tongue flickering at my lips to open me. Jasmine had more of a texture than a taste, and it was killing me. I was gone.
I guess that means I passed out. When I came to again, I was ashore. This was not the beach where I met the horse. This was not the lake’s edge where the huge stone kept vigil. This was no place near my own home, not any of which I knew. And yet, I knew; this was where I belonged now. I had a journey to take, to make. My darkest Muse had set me a task. I looked up, helpless. The night sky greeted me, studded with glistening stars swooping around in patterns that made no sense to my brittle eyes. Salted air skulked against my lips. I fell hard into the form of my own flesh, now feeling as if I had been kicked and stomped by a herd of wild horses intent upon tenderizing me for a wolf pack to devour. I tasted blood, felt warmth dribbling from my lips. Be it blood or drool, I found myself unwilling to care. I didn’t even know when my head hit the dirt again. I was gone.
I’d deal with everything else come morning. Or whenever something decided to eat me and I had to get a move on, even in my sleep.