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Zoya braces herself against the earth to either search or hold onto her waning sanity. The grass is slick with dew, or bile, or tears alike; She cannot tell. Frigid fingers curl into the soil where Ingrid’s body disintegrated. She had been there — and then gone — and in her place remained only the stomach curdling reminder of her lifeless form folding in on itself. Where once beautiful features had both intimidated and ridiculed Zoya, sinking cheeks and hollowed eyes broke down and down and down, caving in and folding over pallid skin upon skin until not even the long tendrils of her pale hair or shell-belly opalescent nails remained. She had rot and rooted to the blood stained earth. She had been there, crooning to the moon, and then gone…
In her wake, the survivor’s fear is lucid now; all metallic and coppery on her bitten tongue as Zoya’s teeth grind to the set of her jaw. She chews her terror like fat on a tendon, gnashing at the sinew to severe it free from her thinning sanity. But the relief does not come, the chasm of her mind just pulls and splits wider. Sobs rack her form as her hands desperately comb the grass, understanding inch by inch the terrible reality laid bare before her.
“Please, please,” she urges to anyone — anything — that would hear her. Instead, her fingertips graze the book. The damning beginning of any of this. Spider walking her touch up along the spine, she can’t understand yet what it is that brings her to caress the cover. The leather is worn and almost pulses, breathes, preening to her attention as she traces the bizarre symbols etched along its spine. A serpentine twist of a chill slides upward along her vertebrae, tugging her taunt and alert so that she gathers it against her chest and perches up on her haunches.
The garden around her holds its breath. As a small girl, there were many times her aunt Viveka dissuaded her from playing in the wrought iron gated backyard. It had been one of the few peculiar limits the woman imposed on her niece, who often came to the antique Victorian house in an attempt to escape the shackles of such things. Naturally, Zoya would press the boundaries all around her. She would come to recognize hemlock, belladonna, foxglove, wolfsbane, and understand then why she had no business frolicking and touching their buddings.
But it was her childhood friend, Ingrid who had been the most curious, and dangerously so. When Zoya was taunted into sneaking out with the curious book found in the house’s decrepit basement just a week prior, it was with utter skepticism that she relented. She only wanted to shut Ingrid up. She never imagined—
“Hello?” Her voice trembled through the stillness encasing her as she rose from her skinned knees. Scuff-toed boots gingerly lead her forward a step, and then another, the book still clenched tightly in her hold. “Who is it?”
Something had changed the most integral part of herself and somehow, Zoya knew it was not the sudden death and bizarre disappearance of her friend’s body, nor was it the absurd series of events that led to this very pivotal moment. She remembered so vaguely, like peering through a fogged window, the twisting body of Ingrid as she danced and sang praises to the black sky. One hand twisted above her head, the book cradled in her other arm and nestled against her bare breast, and Zoya just looked on, laughing and drunk on the moment.
But something had been left behind in Ingrid’s absence. Something imposed upon this new reality. It was ominous and near, all around her, as familiar as the terror churning up her insides.
“Who’s there?!” She repeated louder this time, gathering her bearings. Her senses sharpened themselves against the face of panic and she wielded it like a weapon, daggering her focus to the blackness beyond the raised flower beds. They quivered too, swaying to a breeze Zoya could not feel.
It wasn’t the first time Kelyn had worked with the FBI in general and Deputy Chief Anderson in particular, but she was ready to jump of this Solstice case. She’d gotten the case files almost three days ago but had only accepted yesterday. It was compelling and ‘right up her alley’. The Chief’s words, not hers.
Kelyn strode in behind Anderson, instantly taking in the office, the Polaroids, the laptop and the man behind them. She stood strong and sure, dressed in a smart pair of slacks and a sharp burgundy long sleeved top. She was short, maybe five foot five and couldn’t have been older than twenty five, a pretty young face, skin the color of light caramel and red hair cut short in the back and long in the front so it framed her face. She was slender and elegant, lithe like a fencer and smiled warmly with pretty lips touched with a light rose lipstick.
She looked like a pushover and a bit of an airhead.
Until you got to her eyes.
A sharp and fierce intelligence stared back through pools of liquid sapphire. It was obvious that she assessed things in an instance and acted without hesitation. And there was something… else.
Something undefinable. Not any sort of feminine wile, not any kind of expression or mannerism.
Just something… different.
Whoever she was, she didn’t fit into the typical box someone of her appearance would confine themselves to.
Kelyn sat on one of the wooden chairs, crossing her long legs. She wore sneakers – clean, but well broken in. They rather contrasted with the sharp business wear. No jewelry either.
And wasn’t it hot out for long sleeves?
“Good afternoon, Detective. I look forward to utilizing our unique skill sets in a mutually beneficial manner.
She sounded just like a grown-up. Who would of thought?
First there was light…
…and then there was mind.
A pair of ethereal eyes blinked themselves alive, and measured breaths seemed at first to doubt their own existence. A relentless hum vibrated its intoxicating resonance upon saturated eardrums. It was a sound beyond space and time, above life and death.
All around was the seeping, swimming black. Less than nothing, yet more than everything there is, or ever was.
Spatial awareness was the first to impose its natural laws upon the fledgling consciousness, followed closely by sensation. Goosebumps lifted like textured leather on virgin skin, and hairs stood on end like a centipede’s legs.
The first words were pulled from a dry, raspy throat and resembled the sound of a crackling fire.
“Where am I?”
You are here, said a voice within the endless void. Soon you will be whisked away.
“What do you mean?”
You have been summoned.
Not by whom. By circumstance.
“I still don’t understand…”
There is nothing to understand. Your existence is purely reflexive. A bi-product of the book.
“The book? What book?”
There was an impatient silence. Then, what could have been the sound of snapping fingers sent a flood of grotesque sensation into motion. Comprehension and all its momentous implications descended like a deadly, determined eagle. Self-examination and critical thought…
A mental image of a golden spindle pulsed itself through the fog, and the metaphor was excruciatingly obvious. Threads of lives, endless and circular, bridged briefly by the frivolous misunderstanding of death.
There is no death, the Grand Overseer forcefully declared to the entire universe.
Very good, was the response from the void. There was no encouragement in its tone, only placid acceptance.
The blackness around the Grand Overseer suddenly began to jerk forward, propelling him with horrifying speed towards a distant, barely discernible point of light in the vast distance…
Zoya would see a sturdy-looking man around six feet tall seemingly yanked before her, as if the air had coughed him to existence. He was wrapped in a rippling black robe that defied the gravity around him, floating a few feet above the damp earth. Piercing green eyes wavered through subtleties of shade, and a soft ochre complexion . The bridge of his nose forked towards sharp eyebrow blades, and wavy black hair seemed to mimic the robe’s carefree defiance.
And all around him… the black aura…
The Grand Overseer would experience an intense, primal, sexual urge that rose and fell like a wave upon the sight of a woman. Then, as the ageless continued to acclimate itself through its flesh housing, it narrowed its eyes and parted its lips. There was a delay before it spoke, and then the words arrived. A chorus of five simultaneous voices, or five hundred.
“Zoya. Your fear and sadness is unwarranted. We are now eternally tethered.”
The arms of the Grand Overseer parted wide, and a sort of translucent illustration manifested between them. Zoya would see threads upon golden threads, with a forever’s worth of knots tied upon them, swirling with circular motions, stacking into glittering cylinders with indiscriminate choice…
The pair of emerald eyes studied Zoya with silent intensity. Snapping fingers eventually puffed the mystifying vision away, and the being spoke again.
“Your division from Ingrid offers mutual benefits. Her essence carries immutably forward. Your paths will cross again, in another—”
There was a sudden burst of light before the living apparition collapsed awkwardly onto the ground with a loud thump. The watery black robe seemed to dissolve completely away, leaving the emerald-eyed… man?.. naked in a heap. A few moments passed as the world held its breath, and then…
“Clothes… please,” came the plea of a now shockingly human voice.
Zoya’s senses had been sharpened, honed wholly by fear. The violence of the breeze quickened and whipped through the branches of the weeping pines, stirring up the stench of the earth’s rot and decay. The wintry air was bitter cold, cutting like glass across the planes of her freckled cheeks, unrelenting as it tore at her form. She was scarcely a tendril of mortality, beaten against the element while the manifestation of something indiscernible takes shape and form and light ahead.
And those senses which kept her footing here in this reality suddenly dulled. A tranquil sort of peace overcame her, like being plunged underwater and floating aimlessly in its depths. Her eyes followed the trail of a hundred—no, a thousand—golden threads that coiled and knotted and spun about one another, conjuring a tangle of paling light. Her mind could not comprehend the sight; the human velleity to reject which it could not understand rearing forth what would come to be temporary amnesia.
Suddenly a snap cracked like lightning across the forefront of her skull, momentarily blinding her, (somehow, she couldn’t understand. It was late. It was dark. How can there be light?) Her very soul felt to have dropped back into her body, heaving her from etterath and thrusting her back to reality.
A reality she couldn’t understand, still.
She swept the ground around her with a leering gaze that flickered about the garden. The mention of Ingrid was a whisper scraping against her ears, like the detached humming of a voice that came from within as much as it came from around her. Instead of finding the friend she could only faintly recall having been there—and now gone—her searching paused on the crumbled figure some paces away.
“Clothes?” She echoed, stupidly. Yes, she had hands, and they blanched knuckles around the spine of a forgotten book in her clutches. Abandoned if only for a moment, the tome was discarded upon the ground as she retrieved a scratchy afghan the girls had been using for the ritual’s materials. Zoya’s body moved on its own accord, as if she peered through a thinly veiled barrier that kept her from questioning what it was she was doing. She only knew urgency, to move and become useful and no longer prone with terror.
Approaching the figure with all the caution reserved for a feral animal, she knelt down on shaking legs while her mind raced to catch up with her body. A thousand questions fought to crawl up her throat, muffled by her labored breaths. The memory of something wrong shifted through her consciousness as she tried to will the recollection forth. Why was she here? She knew not to venture into aunt Viveka’s garden…
Draping the crocheted blanket across the man’s bare back, she was attentive to not touch him, though something provoked her to trail the notches of his spine. Her frozen fingers accidentally grazed the nape of his neck, churning up a splintered vision of blackness made unbearable light. A thousand voices rang through her mind, all words impossible to understand, apart from one singular fragmented sentence.
We are now eternally tethered.
She yanked her hands back and fisted them against the muddied thighs of her jeans, as if touching him had been as physically painful burden. With this strange encounter came a jolt of sudden awareness, making her blink against the darkness and sweep her focus around the garden.
“Where did you—” Eyes narrowed. She thought to reach out and touch the place in the air where she watched him birth into existence, but that was impossible. This all was impossible. Instead, she sneered and spat, “What the fuck is going on?”
There was a moment of silence as the file lay like a brick between them. Charles would eventually reach f
The loneliness crept in slowly at first, like a trickling creek. Then the feeling of gravity, that incessant pull of natural law, would further lend credence to the existence of many absurdly funneled to one, the familiarity of everywhere harshly narrowed to here. His gasps would catch against phlegm in his throat, and there was the briefest panic that something was obstructing his breathing. The hellish feeling would subside almost immediately, and a wash of calm bestowed itself across his body, perhaps a bodily mechanism ironing out the trembles and quakes of disorientation.
He climbed slowly to his feet, nude with a bit of mud across his thigh and chest. He would speak again, his voice steady and purposed, as if relaying some innate knowledge that sought to free itself from his mouth.
“Zoya, your pull from the Great Source occurred seventeen hundred and twenty-two years ago.
Your first life was as Ada Saban, garment maker, born 317 after Christ’s death. Died 351 after Christ’s death.
Your second life was as Agmundr Niesche, sailor of the Tabash vessel. Born 401 after Christ’s death. Died 441 after Christ’s death.
Your third life was unnamed. A crib death after three days. Born 551 after Christ’s death.
Your fourth life was as Shang Liu Guo, attendant to the great Prince Meng Chai Mio. born 816 after Christ’s death. Died 871 after Christ’s death.
Your fifth life—”
Another sudden collapse would knock the wind from the stranger’s lungs with an unfortunate blow of his knee against his own chest. Desperate gulps pulled in breaths like a landlocked fish until calm arrived again. Then, for a series of moments, an otherworldly language spilled from his lips, sounding something like a series of whistling flutes with thick, punctuated trebles possibly indicating breaks between words.
The strange speech would wane into nothingness as the man climbed onto all-fours, gathering his strength and mind once more. Finally, he found himself back on his heels, full of an aching loneliness alongside an utter feeling of isolation, which then gave way to…
Looking down upon his genitalia with a sudden flood of grotesque, wide-eyed realization, the stranger would turn beet red and rush himself behind a nearby fence post. His stern gaze reinforced his earlier request while he shielded his lower half as best as he could.
“CLOTHES, Zoya! Damn you! Then I’ll tell you anything you wish to know!”
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