The man lit the final candle and then shuffled back to the center of the circle.
When the beast got too close, he would come here and remember his training.
The flames danced in the darkness as the chaos ebbed and the rising tide of power began to slowly surge. He leaned into it, having paid the price too many times trying to resist, and felt the wave of crystalline focus wash over him. He was safe in the confines of the sacred enclosure. The aligned powers of opposing forces balanced, secured, and restrained. Invisible bands of energy enveloped him like wings.
He let the memories in.
The first was the greatest. The loss of control, the catapult ejection out of his body that had started at three years old and recurred until he was six. The bed falling away beneath him, the house disappearing, the shape of the continent, the planet falling away, the acceleration into the void, the stars tracing into a blur of light, galaxies blurring to pinpoints. He almost had a panic attack the first time he saw the opening scene of the movie “Contact” as an adult. But this was real, not imagined, the scope of eternity stretching his little mind to the breaking point. Pain so incomprehensible that only the elastic consciousness of a child could endure it. Had he been older he would have gone mad, his sanity shattered, and his life narrowed forever to the confines of a mental ward and anti psychotic pharmaceuticals. The measure of infinity was too much to bear. He remembered blowing bubbles with Hubba Bubba gum until the translucent pink sphere quivered to impossible size, somehow, beyond all reason not bursting. He knew how that felt. He would live it almost nightly. His mother was afraid for him. The doctor said “night terrors” were common in children. And so it went on; he would be put to bed, his brother in the top bunk above him, and then the feeling would begin, the coming loss of control, and he would cry out, “It’s happening”. And then he would be gone. Hours might pass where he would run through the house screaming, banging his head into walls, clawing at his face.
“It was so scary", his mother would tell him years later. “Sometimes you would just sit there, with your arms stretched out in front of you, your little hands opening and closing into fists, your eyes wide in sightless terror.”
When the pain became unendurable he would return, the wispy, silver white spiraling coil of ether leading him home. He read about Shamanic rituals where certain children would be taken by the spirits to the underworld and dismembered, their minds broken and refashioned as vessels capable of receiving secrets of the universe in service of the tribe.
He knew exactly what that meant. But there was no one to guide him.
Then there was the time he awakened in the night to the glowing archway behind the dresser. He remembered thinking how strange it was for someone to put a dresser in front of a doorway. He pressed his frail body against the thing and pushed with all of his might, barely managing to scrape it a few feet across the floor. His triumphant smile vanished as he walked into the wall; the glowing archway vanishing.
But the spirits weren’t done with him. He would dream that he was bathed in celestial fire, wrapped in a cocoon of impenetrable divine will; a hawk looked down from a tree above him, the scion eye of a god. Then the hawk people were there; draped in robes of feathers, teaching him how to fly. He would soar with them into the sky. One time he fell into the clutches of some native American men who tore out his liver and ate it. For some reason he thought they were teaching him something. But one thing was for sure; as time went on, he grew more powerful. His ability to manipulate dreams increased until one day he woke up completely. He had been chanting “I will be conscious” over and over again as he lay in bed, until suddenly he found himself outside on a New York sidewalk. He thought he’d lost his mind. He had just been in bed chanting and now he was three thousand miles away on a street corner.
He stopped chanting after that.
But years later he had a dream. He was standing in a room at night, the pale curtain gently billowing in the light breeze. A phone rang. He looked over and saw that it was one of those old time phones from the 1940’s with the round curved mouthpiece and ear receiver. He answered it.
“Hellooo” came a wispy, childish, female voice from the other end of the line.
“Who’s this?” He asked.
“Whoo is thiisss?” the aeolian, elemental voice echoed. She continued in a low secretive, whispered tone.
“Have you heard about the earthquake?” She queried conspiratorially.
He was confused.
“There hasn’t been an earthquake.” He said.
“Theerrrreeee willll beeeeee” came the haunting reply as the voice rose to a shrill giggling and the line went dead.
He woke up in a sweat.
Six weeks later, the 1994 Northridge earthquake tore through his neighborhood.
Years went by without incident.
But then she left him.
The betrayal was unfathomable. She was his everything. She had been the one to redeem his childhood trauma, she had been his teacher, his lover, his second mother, his wife. He was fourteen the first time they kissed. She was twenty nine. It was on the roller coaster at Magic Mountain, Colossus. They were all there celebrating her son’s tenth birthday. He leaned back over the cart as it clackety-clacked its way up the first big incline, and smiled at her. She leaned in and kissed him. Things escalated quickly after that. They were married in 1993.
Now it was over. He would never forget her parting words,
“I’m sorry but…I just need to be with a real man…and…I just really thought your career would have taken off more by now.”
The dreams began.
Every night she was murdering him in a different way. One night it was a knife, he would beg; the next night she would drown him, he would beg; the next she would shoot him, he would beg. And then one night the old him resurfaced, dormant for so many years.
Something inside him snapped.
The last dream he ever had of her was when she came to kill him and he took control, transforming the experience into a cathartic purge of rage and pain as he clutched her around the throat and strangled her to death.
The next day the black candles came out.
“You think you know what you’re fucking with bitch?”
The blood words painted on parchment, mirror, rune, and sword, burned with vengeful radiance.
He began to chant.
“Remember me as I was, and despair at what you have made of me. I hope my hate pierces you like a poisoned arrow and causes you to sicken and wither on the vine of life. I hope your remorse kills you, and you die alone whispering my name.”
He infused his words with all the hate in his soul; a swelling vortex of cascading malevolence, seeping into existence. He cursed her whole line. The next day something happened. Something bad. Something not to be discussed even behind the cloak of fiction. But he knew he had gone too far.
That night he had a dream.
Celestial powers came to him and informed him that if he continued down this path he would achieve his goal. She and her line would be extinguished, but the price would be his sanity. The next morning he disassembled the altar, and began to ask God for forgiveness. He would leave her to her own fate, and do the best he could to embrace his own with love and hope.
What had he learned? What is the nature of transformation?
Psychologists spend so much of their time focusing on the trauma of their patients, on the wound that precipitates the infection. They focus almost exclusively on the caterpillar or the butterfly; on the person you were, or the person you became. But they seldom truly direct their gaze to the transformation itself.
This was a mystery he understood. He had learned it years before, curled up on the floor in a fetal position, gasping for breath and mercy at the thing he knew was coming for him. It wasn’t a physical being, or simply a metaphor; it was an experiential reality, a shift in consciousness, a biochemical realignment that would transform his very nature. But the pain was so great, so unendurable that the deal had to be struck. It was not a transformation against one’s will, but rather, in accordance with it. Languishing in a pit of agony, a soul will take whatever hand reaches down to pull it out; even one that is clawed, and wounds you as it saves you from perdition; that pulls something out of you as it takes away the pain. Not the devil, not your soul, but a part of you; the part that can’t bear to feel anymore, the innocence that needs to be shed in order to become a whole person; stronger, but not necessarily better.
And he felt it coming for him, approaching day after day, like an apparition; his heart pounding in terror at what he might become, unmoored from all constraints and cast adrift in an uncharted sea of his own morality, judgment, and nature. He felt it coming closer the day he was on the floor hyperventilating, his hands knotted into clutched fists turned in on themselves, pressed against his chest. He might have been having some kind of seizure. But then the spirit descended upon him, and there was a wave of peace and clarity unlike any he had ever experienced. He got up off the floor and stretched, reborn, wondering what all of the fuss had been about. And then it occurred to him that the metamorphosis was complete. The caterpillar was gone, the butterfly was born. But more importantly, he understood the crucible that occurs in between; the sacred cognitive dissonance that takes place when the caterpillar knows that it is dying, and the butterfly that it is being born, and the fractured soul that is the battleground of the two; is one.
The man opened his eyes and looked around.
The candles at the corners of the circle had burned out and the incense was a stick of ash. The fever had left him. He stood, stretched, did a sun salute, and said a silent prayer of thanks to whatever god watched over him. People always think that mastery flows from the Magus, the Emperor, or the Hierophant. But true initiates know that the wellspring of wisdom and power flows from the stumbling, awkward, honest, and heartfelt yearning…
of the Fool.
Copyright © 2017 Short Stories by Christopher Daniel Barnes - All Rights Reserved.