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The metallic melody that followed her was as annoying as it was musical. No amount of cloth dampened the sound so Odella had stoped trying to hide it. The result had received mixed reviews. The stares bothered her less than the averted eyes, at least they were honest, but the looks of pity were the worst. She did not feel pitiful, she felt strong.

Odella bared her arms proudly, hiked her skirts often, and opened her neckline as wide as she could. She wasn’t exposed, she was on display. Dripping with inherent danger, like some legendary battle axe, and like all splendid weapons Odella’s chains evoked fear and admiration in equal measure. She knew the finely wrought rings intimately; their weight, the way they warmed against her, the depressions in her body where they rested. Over half a million individually carved pieces of her soul.

Odella’s story was one that seemed to start in the middle. For while she was sure that she had not been born to the chains remembering life outside them had become impossible. What remained was tactile only; the odor of sticky sweat that had covered her body, the emptiness in the pit of her stomach, the sound of blood rushing in her ears, pain indescribable, and the peaceful feeling of clarity. It made Odella’s hands shake when she focused on the moment too hard. It was a singularity, a bridge burned, a path chosen. How could she describe a thing no one else had done? Could there ever be enough detail to describe what it felt like to make every truth written on your heart corporeal so you could wrap yourself up in them?

Truth, a notoriously hard pill to swallow was even harder on the ears. So she let the mythology grow up around her like weeds. Honestly it made her laugh, in spite of herself, to hear what people said of Odella the storm crow. Her eyes, black as night, could steal a person’s voice and freeze them in place. Her appearance, which shifted like sand, was that of either a beggar crone or beautiful harpy. Her chains were a magical enchantment that halted time. The nonsense kept the merely curiously away, afraid she might curse them with knowledge. It lent her space and freedoms, but not peace. The truths that were whispered always caused the greater harm. Truth was what pulled at her, like North pulling on a compass needle, and more than not forced her hand.

But Odella had learned that handing people truth was a bit like granting wishes, as fickle as wavering candlelight and just as easily blown away. So when her second sight kicked in she tried to stay passive letting the asker find the answers and make the choices. Her eyes could only freeze the cowardly. The sight was not prophetic, but the patterns were real, and the choices concrete.

Some might call it fate, but those were the small thoughts of the uninformed. It was choice. Odella has chosen to pull out that which bound her, decided to wear those emotional ties as physical chains. As unsettling as it is true even our smallest choices define us, and this had been no small choice. It was Odella’s choosing that determined who she became. It is the samE for everyone. The path of life holds any number of surprises and adventures lost to those too busy looking ahead to watch their step. The true journey lies in the now. Whether or not people are honest with themselves, each person lives at the precipice making decisions which lead ever closer to what comes next and forever closing the way to what might have been. It is here that Odella shines, these small additive moments where only her eyes can reflect the light of choice, at the Crossroads.

*** I ***

You called to me in the dark, no more than shadow in the twilight, but still your need pulled at me. Your voice was filled with naive hope and half formed questions. I could even taste the salt of your rising tears. Still I almost turned away. You did not have to become my problem I told myself, and I almost listened.

***

From the shadows Odella watched the girl child. She looked frustrated not scared, more pacing than panic. The words the girl muttered to herself were only clear when she unknowingly faced Odella. Still Odella felt herself being pulled in.

“Truth can be a weighty thing, daughter… Were you daring me mother? Because… if I felt lost before I must be beyond hope now!”

The girl stoped just out of reach searching the darkness for answers, meeting Odella’s level stare without foreknowledge or flinching.

*Where are you trying to go?*

The girl startled so badly she almost fell. “I, I, I’m…I’m trying to reach the crossroads.” Even knowing someone was there the girl still seemed to have trouble separating Odella from the shadows.

*You do not know the way.*

The girl stepped closer cutting the distance between them in half. “No, no I don’t. See I was told that we all walk the crossroads, but it turns out that I understand that less now than I did standing in my rooms three days ago.”

The silence stretched till the girl broke.

“Goodness it’s dark down here.”

*Not for me. Not anymore… I’ll take you to the nearest surface break. It isn’t wise to wonder.*

“I’m sorry did you say…”

Odella brushed past the girl on her way towards the next tunnel. *We should go.* Leaving the girl little choice but to follow her and her off melody.

Before long a soft glow appeared in front of them making a silhouette of Odella as she led the way. The girl took a deep breath as she crossed into the room. It was almost too bright in the room after the tunnels with the blue-white light falling from the ceiling and silver flashes glinting on the walls.

For a split second Odella appeared to be covered in silver flames which licked up her arms and legs as the light danced across her chains. She loved the sensation of being sunlit, the warmth of it, but the moment was lost as the girl screamed. Odella turned quickly making direct eye contact with the child.

“Odella.”

The hushed word was almost a curse. Both froze while truth teetered at the edge of the light, waiting for an invitation. Odella fought the urge to walk away.

The girl had screwed up her face trying to remember something.

*Who asks…*

“I have so many questions…. no, I’m… a, a, a… it’s a quest.” The girl looked pleased with herself, like a child holding an interesting bug. But the first choice had already been made, and Odella was stuck.

*True answers, freely given, are hard to find.* Quickly Odella sliced the girl’s hand and tasted her blood.

*You are not ready.*

“But I have to know.”

Odella considered the girl for a long moment before she replied.

*Then choose.*

*** II ***

Now you see daughter there are no small stories of Odella. Hers is a half story. There is no mention of Her as a mischievous child or sullen young lady, Odella’s story starts with Her already fully formed. With the decisions already made, which made her Odella. Every link of Her chain already forged…

***

The girl had paused, the confusion on her face almost comical. “They look almost decorative are they light then?” She wouldn’t quite meet Odella’s piercing gaze.

Decorative. The word felt vulgar to Odella, an ugly swear that burned her ears. She wanted to rage at this girl child to make her sorry for the sadness in her voice, but it wouldn’t rid her of the child. The pact was made and the path forward. The girl was playing for time and Odella knew it.

*No they are not light. No burden is trivial.*

The girl went slack-mouthed as if struck and turned an unflattering shade of red. Odella tried to hide her her glee at the girl’s discomfort, but she was sure the effort made her eyes gleam.

*Are you decorative then?*

“Am I what?”

*Useless. Are you a useless decorative thing that doesn’t understand what or whom you are bound to? Do you exist only to be looked at or played with? Have you marked yourself in some way for another? Are you your own person?*

Odella paused allowing the girl purchase in the conversation if she wanted it. The girl’s eyes swam in unshed tears.

“I am no slave… I wear no chains.”

*You are more slave now than I could ever be. Not even if I added a thousand more links to my chain would I be bound as tightly as you. Why would a chain have to be heavy to to be a burden girl? No, you do not wear chains like mine, but never think you do not carry them.*

That statement echoed slightly as the girl ran blindly from the room towards the path to the left needing nothing so much as to escape the place where such bloody truths had been spilled.

And so we begin Odella thought to herself as she followed the girl back into the darkness.

*** III ***

The answers people seek are rarely what they find. You see we are all too often sure we know what we want to bother asking any real questions. Hard questions always cost something to answer daughter, which is why most people don’t really want to know.

***

Cool air tossed the girl’s hair as she stepped from the gaping mouth of the cave. Odella, a step behind the girl, paused appreciating the twilight after the darkness of the cave. The girl hesitated for only a moment before starting off towards the town, but Odella soaked in the sight. Candlelight burned a flickering red against the night appearing both intimidating and inviting. Candles burned in store fronts, on corners, and even in the trees creating an ambience that was hard to resist not that many tried.

Everywhere there were people going about their business, as if it was nearing noon not midnight, but in such a hushed manor that Odella could hear the bee’s wax scorching on the fresh wicks as they passed. Odella watched the girl try to engage with the travelers on the street, and while few took notice of the child none would meet Odella’s gaze. The shop keeps and venders more than made up for it though with leering eyes filled with anger. Odella wasn’t sure that the girl had actually focused on anything she was seeing till she stopped in front of a window. The glass alternated between being filled with opaque smoke and being clear enough to look through. So with her fingers resting upon the glass the child waited for the pane to empty and as it did she caught a glimpse of the patrons. The girl jumped back as if electrified and turned angrily towards Odella.

“The Red Light District!”

Distress emanated from the girl in waves. A quick right to left head jerk confirmed Odella’s suspicion, if they didn’t move quick they would be alone on the street. Without a second to consider how the girl would react Odella grabbed her by her accusatory finger and pulled her into the very building whose window had been such an affront to the girl’s delicate sensibilities. The child blanched as the door slammed shut and the pounding music reverberated up from the floor boards.

*You sit and keep quite.*

Odella’s tone brooked no argument so the girl sat quickly and focused her attention on the polished black lacquered table top. As a man dressed only in leather straps with sly eyes and a half smile walked by Odella leaned forward and whispered into his ear.

“What…” 

*I told you to keep you mouth shut.*

The statement wasn’t shouted, but the scold in the words was there all the same.

*We are looking for your answers, are we not? You have chosen at every fork in the road, have you not? So we would only be here if we needed to be, right?*

Odella had asked questions but expected no answers as such she had never once paused. The girl had again struck a raw nerve. Honestly Odella didn’t see the issue. The room they were in at the surface was like any other tavern except the men and women who moved between the tables where dressed in ways that meant even Odella would not draw a second glance. While the dark lent privacy to the booths the tables were filled with flickering candles which threw the patrons in eerie relief. Even the ghastly sight of patrons didn’t stop the woman, clad only in shear scarves and tiny bells, as she walked past blowing kisses to anyone who looked her way. Odella could feel herself relaxing into the comfort of anonymity, but the girl who sat across from her was so unyielding it looked as if she might crack. Odella caught herself feeling pity for the child and immediately banished the thought.

The girl had not noticed the woman’s air kisses or Odella’s assessing stare. It was center stage that held the girl’s, and most everyone’s, attention. There a blindfolded woman was tethered to a hoop suspended from the ceiling, with her head hanging down and her body absolutely still. Before the girl could invent any questions a man appeared stage left, his appearance effectively ended all sounds but beating hearts and panting breaths. The man dressed all in crimson approached the bound woman whose head now tilted up and strained toward the man. He ran his finger down her jaw line cupping her chin in the palm of his left hand. She quivered at his touch drawn up taunt against her restraints. The man made quite a show of tracing every inch of the woman’s exposed skin till she vibrated with anticipation. Then in a swift measured motion the man in crimson struck the blindfolded woman.

The girl’s hands moved, of their own accord, to her mouth in an attempt to contain her fear for the tethered woman, but she never looked away. As the blindfolded woman moaned with pleasure the girl’s eyes widened not closed.

The man with sly eyes motioned to Odella. Discretely she moved to follow him once again leaving the girl little choice but to follow as well.

*I hope you learned something.*

The child’s only response was open mouthed silence.

*** IV ***

I can feel your questions simmering just below the surface, tearing at you. Your definition of self so fragile under the onslaught of whys. What deeply secret part of you will be sacrificed upon the alter of knowledge. You will lose yourself before you know yourself, if nothing else, you can be sure of that.

***

The three of them passed within inches of the stage, so close that the fiery passion in the crimson man’s eyes was visible, as they exited a back door. Odella again whispered in the sly eyed man’s ear and for a second he held her arm like a drowning man holds a life line. The man’s sincerity and gratitude warmed Odella to her core. Such that she felt raw and exposed as he left, open to the brutal daggers in the girl’s hard stare. Odella settled herself into a waiting posture.

The girl abruptly turned on her heal obviously unsure of where she was going.

*Where to?*

“Away! Anywhere that’s away from here.”

*Back rarely leads where you think it will.*

The girl child stopped moving her feet but every other part of her seemed to shake as if momentum was necessary in that moment regardless of direction. “I need to undo what the filthy place has done.” The girl’s words were loud and angry but Odella could see the tears in her eyes.

*Why? What did Candlelight do to you child? No harm befell you. No one bothered you. You are as you came.*

“No! That’s a lie. What I saw, what felt… What I feel. It’s, it’s… it’s shameful.” The girl blushed to the roots of her hair as she cried and hugged herself.

*What do you feel?* The girl looked up startled. *Not shame, you are holding that like a shield it’s not the real feeling.*

“Stupid. I feel like a stupid little girl who knows nothing… Like what I called innocence was actually naivety. Like my questions are small and insignificant. I’ll never feel the way she looked and I… I want want to know what that was.”

Odella loosened her posture. *It’s not shameful to want that child. Candlelight offers knowledge; knowledge of ones self, of ones desires, and of ones boundaries, but without control it’s useless.* The girl looked only slightly less confused. *Choose. Will you go forward or back?*

The girl tilted her head back and closed her eyes. She looked even younger than Odella suspected she was as she stood hoping for a cosmic sign in the dark. Slowly she faced Odella again, eyes still tightly closed. “I’m too far in to turn back now.”

*Then Appetence is that way.* The girl only partially opened her eyes to see where Odella was pointing.

*** V ***

What would you give to know yourself fully and without regret? Would you be willing to challenge yourself at every turn? Would you be willing to come face to face with your decisions? Could you take knowing that every choice was yours to make, even the choices you gave away?

***

The path to Appetence was made of faded red stones and sparsely lined with nearly spent candles. Once again Odella followed the girl as she hurried toward her new destination, casting only occasional glances backwards to check if Odella was in fact still there. As they moved along the winding path it seemed as if the air filled with the sent of myrrh and grew heavy with humidity.

By the time the pair reached Appetence the girl was breathing heavily though parted lips. The building was a surreal combination of mirrored glass and dense vegetation. The door way stood open covered only by moonflower vines and climbing roses. The girl took one long look back towards Candlelight and the cave before crossing the threshold.

The perfumed air was intoxicating and not more than three steps in the girl started swaying. “I wanna, enjoy myself.” She said to no one in particular as she reached out to steady herself against the wall. “I wanna feel joy so vast I’m not sure I could contain it.”

Odella could sense the Watcher’s eyes tracking their progress. *Careful what you wish for child. There are those who come to Candlelight for knowledge but lose themselves to desire.*

A flash of red silk drew the girl’s attention so she only spoke over her shoulder. “I want to know what the woman knew.”

Odella did her best not to sigh. Youth was a weapon that could topple mountains or dismantle dogma if properly wielded, but in untrained hands the damage was almost always greater. Odella finally caught up to the girl as she entered the solarium. The steamy glass obscured each reflection into long rippling approximations of real life. She wasn’t sure how the girl could not feel the Watchers but she seemed blissfully oblivious as she made her way to the the deep pool dead center of the room.

Odella wondered what the girl would see in the inky depths of that dark mirror. She had looked once herself, a lifetime ago, and what she had seen had rattled her very bones. The girl grasped the side of the stone pool so fiercely her knuckles went white. The girl went very still and leaned in so close to the water Odella thought she might jump in, but what had appeared to be shadows detached themselves from the wall and moved to the girl to intervene.

~What do you hear?~ A Watcher asked as it laid a hand upon the girl’s back.

*Girl.*

Tears fell freely as she stared into the pool. “I am simple.”

~How does it feel?~ Another asked again laying its hand upon the girl taking the fleshy part of her arm in a firm grasp.

The girls breathing was ragged and irregular. “I… am… on fire.” The girl leaned in even further straining towards something Odella could not make out.

~Tell me your secretes?~ The third asked as it laid hands upon the girl’s head.

*Your choice.*

~What do you see child?~ The Watchers released the girl and she neatly fell into the pool. Their eyes shone like silver as they waited.

The girl walked away from the pool without a backwards glance. “So many broken things.”

*** To be continued ***

It’s

It’s late and the clock can’t do it justice.

It’s hard and respite isn’t on the horizon.

It’s sad but tears won’t help.

It’s effort or it ain’t gonna last.

It’s everything or it wasn’t nuthin much.

It’s broke but glue don’t work.

It’s pain and the hurt doesn’t stop.

It’s truth or it’ll never matter.

It’s begun but it hasn’t happened yet.

The truth is I would rather not.

I would rather not be the maid, the butler, and the bank.

I would rather not be the difference between swam or sank.

I would rather not be the cure if it means I must have been the cause.

I would rather not be the measure of motion against your pause.

I would rather shine without worry of your tarnish.

I would rather act with impunity and without carnage.

I would rather be who I am without censor.

I would rather live my life without wanting more.

So the lie is I alway will.

Scream #2 Art Print by andreaslie

Painstakingly pinned words

I couldn’t quite make the letters stand up straight without losing them to the blurriness. The will was there beneath the exhaustion, but it was on its last leg. I poured myself a cup of caffeine and gave myself a quick pep talk.

No, of course I wouldn’t spill anything.

Yes, I will sleep as soon as I finish this thought.

This definitely cannot wait till tomorrow.

I woke up with an ache in my back sticky from where coffee and sugar has mixed with my painstakingly pinned words.

The prepers had been wrong. It wasn’t a handful of bullets that spent like Spanish doubloon. In fact people had sickened of death long before the guns could run dry. They weren’t to blame though everyone had gotten it wrong. Water wasn’t more lucrative than oil, SPAM still sat in deserted store shelves, and liquor pots burned on every lawn. Here at the end of the world beans were king, and a well made cup of coffee was worth its weight in gold.

I had never been much of a coffee drinker, I had better vices to occupy my time, but did I ever have a stockpile. It made me smile now when I thought of how frustrated I used to get receiving generic gift baskets filled with flavored roasts and nondairy creamers. Those people hadn’t known me but they had been on to something. The same concept the Sci Fi thrillers use to hint at… What if addiction can survive the apocalypse?

At least someone had been right about something.

Mad Max Fury Road

Nothing changes

His heart was racing and his face was flushed. He couldn’t remember everything he had said, just how close he had been to hitting her. She had walked away so awkwardly, an unnecessary stiffness in her posture that he didn’t understand. He hadn’t even touched her.

She stood under the deluge of hot water shedding silent ugly tears. Stupid cunt bitch. His words stuck to her in ways the soap couldn’t help. She squeezed her eyes shut remembering the moment his eyes had gone wide and his hand hovered an inch away. He hadn’t touched her though.

They pick up their conversation as if the last 30 minutes hasn’t happened. She asks if he needs anything and he mostly ignores her. Her voice is empty when she speaks, no emotion or opinion. His voice is steady, no guilty lit or sheepish remorse. No one apologizes or forgives. The I love yous before bed will not be punctuated with gentle kisses.

Everyone’s changed, but nothing changes.

Blinded

The lurch from crawl to sprint made everyone adjust their footing. As we round a bend in the underground tunnel a blinding light flickers wildly. Temporarily, relieving the grimy semi-darkness. Momentarily, spotlighting a crime against humanity. Before my mind can fully comprehend the broken image a glittery add fills my window. The new image is blurry, but the message is clear. In a consumer nation all things are consumed. I exit the car and am immediately swept up in the tide of commuters. All I hear is “Next stop…” before the subway barrels away. All I know is that somewhere a timer is counting down.

Sleep talk

He dreamed loudly, alternating between a deep stillness and shouted gibberish. It gave the impression that he was having an energetic conversation complete with gestures and nods of his head. However, to whom he was speaking remained a mystery.

Dark day

I was in it. I felt empty, unloved, and tired. Just a hair’s breadth from the edge where I joyfully burn everything down then languish in the ashes. I needed an outlet. My books had betrayed me and my go to projects all seemed pointless. It was going to be food, drink, or ink tonight. If only I could drum up the energy to choose. I closed my eyes, daring life to take the cheap shot, while I counted to ten.

Food had arrived first in my muddled mind so I followed the rising noise towards the smell of deep fried sins. As luck would have it I was able to hit two birds with that particular stone. So I sipped at pitch black stout between slugs of sweet Jack while you placed my order. You smiled more than once, and it tore at me. I know I stared, but I didn’t have a reason to look away.

During dessert I had to blink away double vision, but it didn’t stop me from finding the pen in my bag. Letting myself fill napkin after napkin with wry and sardonic quips. Writing you was as cathartic as it was narcissistic. I couldn’t tell you what I wrote that night, so sure I would never see you again, but I would bet it was truth. Hard truths that make most people cringe.

I have no idea what you thought when I stumbled away from that bar. Would you read my words wrapped up in your tip? Did you know that your smile brightened my dark day? Even if you never read those words…

Thank you.

Your kind eyes and the sympathetic tilt of your head saved me last night.

Sweet joy

Sweetness wafted out the door. An aroma so heavy with butter and sugar that passers by were doing double takes. Though the best part was always when someone would walk in and sigh contentedly. It was as if the baked goods could be friendly smiles or encouraging hugs, and it always filled me with joy.

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