by Melissa Carmean
You have never slept for the purpose of rest and it is even less likely that you have fallen asleep to ‘dream.’
So, what is it? Did it ever have a point?
The words are persistent. They are all-encompassing and they stretch far beyond the comprehension of my waking mind. There was simple darkness before this- a blank space in my memory, which has happened before due to my ailment. I have ‘died’ twice before. My body gives all appearances of death, but I always wake. There’s often been a feeling of loss when I arise from such stupors. There persists the hint of memory, but more than that- when I awake there’s an emptiness that will disappear quickly, filled once more by my life in the world of the conscious.
Remnants followed me through my waking life. A feeling. A flash of remembrance that fled my consciousness as though it were simply déjà vu, only in layers. In cycles. That fleeting feeling goes before I can grasp it when I am alert.
But oh, what luck. My waking mind is a thing of my childhood. Of my youth. Of my ignorance, innocence. A product of blindness, a product of my world before it had been rent apart and then expanded by the dreams. The clarity the dreams possess while I’m in the midst of them has far surpassed the things I’ve been taught or tutored. I’ve travelled the lines between dimensions. I’ve experienced other worlds.
Interloper. Open your eyes.
The words are produced omnisciently, and though they are audible, they are internal as well, and they exist in every language ever spoken; all at once. I feel the ambiguity in the word ‘dream;’ I inhale its scent. I’ve long known that I have never dreamt simply when I’ve fallen under the spell of my illness.
No illness. Open your eyes.
I shake my head. I don’t wish to open them. And the feeling is not rooted in fear. It is simple reluctance because I am familiar with where I am. I have been here before, and I’ll be here again.
Very good. It is all cyclical. You shall return. I’ve seen you, dear, waltzing through other dimensions. You must have waltzed here before simply because you are here now.
You are an interloper. The only one of your kind. You fascinate me, Elaith.
Open your eyes.
The words are all that lie before me. The air is dark, but weightless, and my very being is lightened. There is a static feel about this space, and a ringing in my ears. I’m wrapped in the air of worlds unimaginable. Time on an endless loop- the birth of my universe, and it’s death as well.
I open my eyes. The words swirl, patterned in such a fashion as to call to mind the inhalation of air, and as I breathe, the words do the same.
Your husband pleads for your life, Elaith. He will not leave until we relinquish you. I’ve never before possessed an interloper. But I will let you go, if you so choose to leave.
Do you hear him, Elaith?
I shake my head. Or not my head. Where is my hand? I hold it before the place where my eyes should be, and there it is. Small, pale, five fingers and nails bitten to the quick. They’re mine, but they’re not. The words the being utters swirl about me and dissolve like a vapor.
“Elaith is not dead. Her malady is one that assumes the lying likeness of death. Twice before she has lain insensible… pallor upon her cheeks… twice she has awakened after an interim of days.”
It is my husband who speaks. His voice wanders similarly, his words, however, are not written in the air. They stir in my blood. Blood that has not followed me here. Blood that is miles away- millions of miles. But I feel the words. I’m connected still to them. To Phariom. My heart- not heart- beats faster at the sound of his voice, which prickles the veins of my far-away body. Still, I feel it. Here.
You will. You’ll feel everything. Not just now, but the past, the future, the worlds before as well as those after.
Those words swirl, again, as though they are smoke. They roll into one another, over one another and disperse throughout the lightless air- illuminated. Every color imaginable, and colors the likes of which I have never seen. So many colors exist here that even the black is not simply black; it’s other than black. More than black. The feel of the air is more than just air. It is light and free and smells both new and ancient. I both know and don’t know to whom I am speaking. I’ve met him. Though the voice itself is genderless, I know it’s him. It always has been. At least twice before. The words are timeless, timely- voiced and voiceless. There is everything here and there is nothing.
He wishes to take you back from me. But Elaith, you are home.
There’s no need to reply. He is capable of hearing and feeling me, and I am capable of the same regarding him. I do not wish to speak, anyway. I fear that if I project my voice into this space that I will rupture something. Some fragile balance that exists around me.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.
There’s a quill in my hand and a large book in my lap. Sun streams in through a nearby window. I both know and don’t know where I am or who I am, but I keep writing the words.
War. I’m suspended above war. I’m immersed in it, in the shadow of it, crushed beneath the weight of it, but still that lightness infects my being. It does not matter. It never has. Wars from millennia ago, and millennia to come. I see such arrows as those words have spoken. Or written.
The words are written in ash in the hot, red air about me. The stench of death reaches my nostrils; tears form in my eyes as smoke invades them. Corpses sprawl across battlefields. Bombs explode; horses fall; arrows shoot into the hearts of men and women alike. Children suffer, too. We all suffer, but something about it feels like nothing at all.
To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause.
In Zul-Bah-Sair my body is lifted and placed upon a transporting device. The leather digs into my flesh, but I am at rest. At peace. Watching as worlds die and are reborn. The horrors that man inflicts, that other forms of life inflict, time and time again- centuries, epochs apart- it must repeat. It’s the loop of cruelty. But there is more to it all. He shows me that, too.
Children of all species, across time and space. They are born. They grow. They love, play, work, have children of their own (some do not), they own pets and homes. They are loved, or lonesome, and then they, too, die. The loop of love and loss. It’s all interconnected. It all repeats again and again and again, and the only tie we all have to keep us together- the one thing humans have in common with extraterrestrials, with stars, planets, galaxies, and universes- we all fade away.
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
the insolence of Office, and the spurns
that patient merit of the unworthy takes,
when he himself might his Quietus make
with a bare Bodkin?
I write words through the hands of another. I read them through the eyes of all who have read them before. I am the reader, the author, the composer.
Confined upon the planet on which I was born, my body is taken from Phariom and my ears absorb the sound of his protest and my heart aches as his does. I see through his eyes the silver-masked, purple-robed figures as they remove me from him. In a land where the dead belong to…
It’s him. The dead belong to him. Letters float and blend with one another and form the shape of the name the mortals have given him: Mordiggian.
Phariom is flung into a corner. I feel the thud of his body and my consciousness quakes with it. The tether I have to him and that Earth is strong. I belong to Phariom.
I’m surrounded by the tulle of my wedding dress. His hand in mine, a man reads from a hefty tome and words are exchanged while onlookers smile, some with tears in their eyes or upon their cheeks. The guests sit on rusted benches and their discomfort lodges in my behind. There, that day I bound myself to him.
Phariom fights the priests of Mordiggian. They want me to stay, but my husband believes I am not truly dead. I’ve never told him that I am. That I’ve seen all of this before, and will see all of it again. In the waking world, memory fails me, aside from that layered déjà vu, and in those rare moments I’m so overcome with the feeling of everything that I cannot possibly voice to my husband just what it is I have seen. He would not believe me.
Perhaps now he would.
Those silver-masked creatures in their purple garb circle my consciousness as I am slammed back into the beyond. I watch spirits called up from all planes of the universe. They are called to Mordiggian, and Mordiggian embraces and protects them. The creatures in the mask consume the bodies of the dead, and they seek bodies to feed to Mordiggian. Humans consume the bodies of the dead, but it matters not because it is simply their forms. Their souls are with him. Bound to Mordiggian just as I am to Phariom- for eternity.
Teeth tear into corpses brought up from robbed graves, and the more they consume, the more canine-like their faces become. The silver masks disappear and I am left to stare at a circle of ghouls, who loop in upon one another.
But that the dread of something after death,
the undiscovered country, from whose bourn
no traveler returns, puzzles the will,
and makes us rather bear those ills we have,
than fly to others that we know not of.
The pen has yet to leave my hand as it scrawls this endless poetry. I care not what it means, though I know. Oh, I know! I’ve been here before, and I will be again.
The plane of the dead is beautiful. And though the ghastly forms who travel with me would frighten me in the living realm- here they are gentle. Their needs, I feel them. The need to feed upon the dead to build a better beyond. These souls are eternal, just as my sleep has always been. All death thrives here forever. And Mordiggian is the God who watches over all who have died. The stars are here- dead stars, and those yet to be born. The feathered air around me splits.
What is this? Did it ever have a point?
It is Mordiggian himself who begs of me this question. This one question to which I know and do not know the answer because I have lived and died many times before. I have grown old, and labored and loved. I have seen everything there is to see. But still I cannot answer this question because there is a wall in my consciousness that keeps me from doing so. I shake my head.
You never fell asleep for dreaming. Do you feel you belong anywhere?
Everywhere. Nowhere. I belong to it all, but I belong to Phariom, and to Phariom I must return. I always wake again, and no matter how badly I wish to stay and surround myself with the beauty of eternity, I have promised myself to another for that precise amount of time.
Phariom drops coins into the palms of a man. I hear them clink against one another. I feel their metal against the sweaty hands that cradle them. I do not know why he has given this man all of our money, but I cannot be angry, or even too curious because I sit on the precipice of all that has ever been.
You have died on my land, Elaith. You’ve had the misfortune of traveling through Zul-Bha-Sair while you were so afflicted with one of your spells.
Phariom is incorrect. You are deceased. But you also awake from the dead- hence you are the interloper. You are aware of me. We have met twice before. But you never recall our meetings while you are alert. And you will not recall what we’ve shown you here, should you awake again.
I open my mouth to speak, but a soundless void is all there is to project into. That and the light, light, somewhat cold, air.
But I want to keep it. You cannot give this knowledge and then take it from me. It is mine now. You’ve given it to me before, have you not?
Indeed. You can take with you a glimpse. A phrase or two, but if you are to wake, you will forget with each step you take from Zul-Bha-Sair. If you wake, you will not have died. Your conscious mind would not comprehend the depths of what you’ve been shown here.
True. It seems I’ve never been capable of recalling my travels while awake. Mordiggian knows.
Can I see you?
You’ve seen me before, Elaith. He’s fighting so that you don’t see me again. So that you will not recall me, and all you’ve been shown. All you’ve felt.
We never meant to enter your city. We were robbed while travelling. We were going to start a new life with Phariom’s family, and we became lost. We did not intend-
You know there is no reason for you to share with me such words. I bore witness to the robbery, to your fleeing, to your fainting- just as I bear witness to all life and death.
Phariom seeks help for me. I walk the streets and bazaars of Zul-Bha-Zair in his boots. Through his eyes I seek the temple that houses the dead.
I’m shrouded in particles in the temple of Mordiggian, and Phariom cannot see or hear me. All the while I continue to scribble poetry in a tomb, I traverse centuries, and my body lies in that tomb as though it truly were amongst the deceased. Camels spit in the sand outside, waiting to take us from the city of the dead.
The significance of my travels is not lost upon me. I’m only confounded by the lightness. How malleable the atoms are; they are like water, or smoke through which I sail easily, but also through which I cannot yell to my husband. Here, I am voiceless, but also with so much voice I cannot make a sound because there are too many syllables to utter here. Too many planets to tell of- too many universes and matters that are of far more significance than a man in a city with his wife, whom everyone else assumes to be deceased. Too many words, too many languages.
The temple of Mordiggian is a many-storied structure- a beautiful mausoleum which is itself the color of bruised or decayed flesh- where I watch the dead soar from crypts and enter his world. My world. It’s starting to feel more like home as the canine-like creatures no longer need to conceal themselves in robes and I see the ghouls in their ghastly glory. They are creatures of light which has transcended darkness. The people of Zul-Bha-Sair understand this. Phariom does not.
“I am Arctela. He’s killed me. And he will bring me back.”
This voice belongs to a woman so beautiful the many worlds around me have ceased breathing into me and the only thing upon which I can focus is her curled, raven-dark hair and plump, red lips; her pale, smooth skin and red cheeks. She’s stunned me out of eons of existence and pinned me to one moment only.
“Don’t be so awestruck, darling. I have only a short time here before I’m brought back to that ghastly plane. Until the necromancer is gone from the world, I will remain by his side in servitude. But you, Elaith, you have a choice,” she says. She pulls the hem of her dress downward revealing a bounty of soft, unblemished flesh, but also- a knife. Her lovely fingers curl about the handle, and blade faced down, she passes it to me.
The hilt is carved of bone. The moment I touch it, I feel the life of the person to whom that bone belonged-their entire existence from womb to the grave travels through the tips of my fingers. It entrenches itself in my flesh.
A sheath materializes upon my hipbone and I slip the knife into it. I release the handle, the human, the beauty of Arctela who has fled my vision and returned to the temple of Mordiggian. In other rooms of the temple, I enter the bodies of Mordiggian’s servants. I eat the flesh of the dead. My teeth grow long and sharp. I stab into corpses with my knife and I drink their clotted blood.
But I’ve not left the temple. Neither physically nor mentally, though my mind is everywhere, anywhere and nowhere. But it is now dark where seconds ago- no, hours ago- the sun still shone upon Zul-Bha-Sair.
And there, in his temple, I lie. Propped upon a long, high table with many legs. Cool, black slate beneath my back, and to every side of me- corpses. Corpses to be consumed by Mordiggian. There I lie, claimed by the God of Death itself, and there strides Phariom, sorting through the mass of bodies, seeking within them my face, my likeness. Oh what must he have gone through to find me there!
Other men enter the temple and the room of corpses. I scream to Phariom to run, but a barrier exists so that the sound, instead, comes out as a timeless, feral growl. That sound is an amalgamation of every language ever uttered, spoken, barked, cried, or chirped. Phariom hides beneath the table as the necromancer and his men study Arctela, whose cool flesh has brushed against mine. They are there only for her.
Until they discover me.
The necromancers kidnap me without Phariom understanding why. But I’ve heard them speak before. I’ve seen them steal me before, and I’ve watched Phariom chase them, hunt them down before. I don’t need to see it now.
I’m ripped from the temple once again. To watch myself scrawl words through worlds.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
and thus the native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
with this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action.
Elaith you must return.
My eyes cannot withstand the colors and images that race before them. It’s the progression of the universe, rewound in a second and placed on a slow-motion, and I see everything again until the temple is before me, and I’m plunged within it.
Dark room. Lit candles, acrid stench. Arctela rises in the center. Phariom’s eyes brighten when they meet mine. He rushes through the room with a dagger drawn, and I wish to meet him, but I cannot move, and I cannot see properly. I still see the worlds, the wars, the death- the bliss of death and… his world. Mordiggian’s world of… wolf creatures… languages… stars and… I feel I’ve lost so much already. I would sob if I were capable, but all that escapes my lungs is a weak and confused cry.
“She is Elaith, my wife, who was claimed unjustly by the god,” Phariom explains to the men.
My hand. It’s before me. The air grows heavier by the second. Forgetting. He told me I would forget. Phariom is pleased, but I still cannot speak or I will utter that ungodly sound that now sends shivers through me.
You can take with you a glimpse.
His name forgotten, but the words… they swirl in the smoky air of the room. I cannot speak. I cannot move, and I cannot see.
Phariom’s arms are warm as they wrap around me. His scent is life in the air here, which smells so heavily of rotted flesh. The smell doesn’t bother me, for some strange reason. My mouth waters at it.
Phariom speaks to me, but his words and my ears still feel separated by that strange dream. I hear him as though I am under water, and the air here weighs tons upon tons, so I cannot move on my own.
Phariom allows me to lean against him, and he argues with the necromancer. I detect the slight edge of fear in Phariom’s voice, the hesitation before he nods. The necromancer makes to leave the temple with a lovely but robotic woman at his side.
She looks so familiar, but I cannot place her. I certainly cannot understand her movements; how stiff and unnatural they are. What is the matter with this poor woman? Has she a similar affliction to mine?
Oh yes. I am ill. The world about me composes itself into a semblance of sense. I must have fallen ill after Phariom and I entered Zul-Bha Sair. The city… the floor upon which I stand, in this building I’ve never entered. I feel connected to the very ground. The very air.
That layered déjà vu sucks the air from my lungs, but it flees.
Someone opens the door to the temple.
But we cannot exit. Our escape is blocked by a mass of black; a smoke-filled cloud. It makes a sound that pierces the soul. All languages. Every language. It speaks every language.
No. No. That cannot be. Why would I think such a silly thing?
The man and woman in front of Phariom and me stand rigid before the being. The being itself is monumental in size. I crane my neck to peer out the door, and though I turn my eyes skyward, I cannot see the end of it. Phariom immediately draws me back into the chamber to keep me away from it, but it is too late. The darkness has spread into the chamber, the smell of death strengthens, but the air in the room is no longer so hefty. It feels weightless.
My ears pop.
What is it? Did it ever have a point?
The languages are soothing, but the appearance of such an other-worldly being terrifies me. I scream, as do the others with whom I travel. The cloud of thick, dark smoke momentarily forms into something vaguely human, though without a head, or eyes. It shape-shifts into many, unpleasant, wicked forms.
The light of the chamber in which we stand is vacuumed into the being, and I see more light within the being than exists outside of it. Stars, planets, universes. Phariom’s face is frozen, his mouth agape, and I am sure I look similar, but within my mind is a strange comfort. Phariom’s hand grips mine tightly. I’m struck by the beauty of this creature. It is a creature. It lives, it breathes.
The pretty woman is sucked into that void, and the strange cloud/demonic being recedes, disappears like… smoke or… vapor… I’m overwhelmed once more by the cyclic déjà vu and I lean against Phariom until I recover. A man in the chamber urges us to leave. He tells us that we are safe from Mordiggian. That he only concerns himself with the dead, which is why he has taken Arctela from us.
Phariom guides me outside, but I cannot move. I feel rooted to this earth. Still, I drag my feet as he runs with me at his side. He offers to carry me, but I shake my head.
Arctela. Yes. I remember. Beautiful.
That name… Mordiggian. I had been there before, in that dream. He said I could keep some of it. I remember. But I feel the dream slip away with each step we take in the sands of Zul-Bha Sair. Seeing that great, dazzling being has brought some of it back to me, but it recedes quickly.
Phariom’s hand about mine doesn’t feel as it used to. I do not feel so connected to his flesh. I have belonged to Phariom for only a brief time.
What is this? Did it ever have a point?
The words are in my mind now, and they are in the language that I speak. The only language I understand. A point.
Point. At my side I feel the dried flesh of the leather sheath. I reach down and it is empty. But I repeat the word, the single word ‘point’ until I feel the handle against the bone of my hip, and I grasp the hilt.
I have never belonged to Phariom. Never. In all of eternity, those words we spoke to one another on that sunny day- they occupy nothing of the lives I’ve lived before, the deaths I’ve endured, and the death that calls me back.
I release Phariom’s hand, and sink to the ground. I tell him that I’m merely tired. I tell him to look ahead, just in case anyone comes for us. He surveys me, and I see that he does not wish to look away from me. He’s only just gotten me back. But I smile and nod my encouragement. He returns my smile and turns his head.
I tilt the blade toward me. It is sharp. So sharp. Indeed, it does have quite the point.
In one quick motion, I place the blade against my throat.
Poor Phariom. He turns. He sees, and he lunges to stop me.
But I am too quick. I have applied too much pressure and the blade sliced instantly through the skin of my neck. I feel veins rip, and warm blood as it soaks my dress.
Phariom screams and screams and screams. And I wish to apologize to him, but when I try to speak that apology, only more blood erupts from my lips. Splatters the skin of his face. Reddens his colorless tears.
I have belonged to Mordiggian in so many worlds and centuries before this one.
And now I shall belong to him forever.