Prologue End Book II: US6
My favorite sound on that cold Tuesday morning was the punctuation at the end of her last sentence. A single, red, .45 caliber period in her forehead. As I look back up at US6 which thunders every fortnight with the machines and young souls of war everything is now serene. I think of Jack and how his early need for self-reliance and strategic chess playing mind are why he's risen to the rank of Lieutenant so quickly and how both attributes are my accidental gifts. I suppose this Tuesday will end up being significant for him as well. He's going to hate it here at first, the solitude, the lack of combat adrenaline, the safety. But sometimes a man has to be a father. In three days, Colonel Pike will open a document that reports an up-tick in combat in this area and a letter that wills this post to my son if anything happens to me. This is the only way I can keep at least part of that promise to him. "Yes, Jack. I promise. Just know that whenever we're apart, the whole time we are, I am trying to get back to you and make you safe." By the time the next convoy finds me here, Mack will have realized that the Tuesday Shooting Club has disbanded and will abandon his post. The wind kicks up the dust from the shoulders of US6 and whistles across the sage to where I kneel against the back of the hood. I gauge the exact spot where I painted the small circle on the other side then ease the back of my head against it. There is just one more loose end to tie. One more merciful bad move so my son can know the serenity of US6.
The War Priest
| Before the pop a click away hits my ear, the molten tip of the bullet pinches the skin in the center of the back of my head and I feel the splinters of hood metal splay across my scalp as if a fanfare for the main attraction. The pinch becomes a puncture and the heat of the bullet boils the blood it meets instantly. Counter-intuitively I feel my head thrust back into the impact as if embracing an old friend and just as warm and just as sweet. I think of the Zapruder Film of the JFK assassination so eerily colorized in the 1968 encyclopedias at the psych ward. A key piece of conspiracy evidence is the direction the President’s head moved on second impact and that it couldn't have come from behind. But I’m here to testify, at least for the next fraction of a millisecond, that there is contradictory physics. As the splay of silver blades of ribbon open my skull to the elements, the road and the mesas before me turn a bright, fluorescent sage and flicker.
And I’m back in the psych ward with an open encyclopedia in my lap. Half-sitting, half-laying on a corner of my room staring at the long fluorescent bulb flickering twenty feet above me. It’s protected by the same cast-iron mesh they used to make my table, window dressing and every damn accessory in this hospital wing. I think of the extra money the contractor made by convincing the Board that psych patients have been known to jump up to twenty feet in order to grab the fluorescent bulbs to cut their wrists. Fact is, were I able to jump twenty feet, I’d just give the fucking thing a quarter turn to stop it from flickering. I don’t want to die. I just want to stop looking for patterns in the strobes of bulbs and calculating the materials costs of whatever room I’m in.
Despite what I must look like to Osman my Orderly, mouth agape, eyes locked on the light, this is the most lucid I’ve been since the accident. And have been getting more and more lucid every day. I’ve just got to be aware enough tomorrow morning to deny these mind-numbing meds. I’ll admit, there were a couple of mornings last week when I was probably conscious enough to say “no” but it was like I was back in college and these people were giving me shrooms every morning, or when Seth and I happened upon those Poppy fields in Nimroz, Afghanistan. But even then there was a limit. And now I was conscious enough to remember that I should be in pain. And the moment I remembered there was a Jack, to awake was my only quest.
After three consecutive days of denying my morning drugs I had a one-on-one with Dr. Sarah Kamen. It was the first time we’d meet. And because she was the first human I’d had converse with in three months, that event was saturated in Aztec motifs and her pictures and statuettes in her office were very talkative.
She was beguiling in a subdued, well-crafted way. Her glasses, blouses, hair pins and shoes always said professional but there was an otherworldly attraction to her that was anything but. In one of our early sessions she asked about my wife’s work years before we met, I assume it was a way to broach the subject of Miriam in general and work our way up to her death and then to why I’m in this Psych Ward. At the time I was nowhere near broaching that so instead, after explaining Miriam’s anthropological work in Iraq after Desert Storm, I diverted to some esoteric fact about the religious prostitution temples of Ishtar. In my head at the time it was a Letter to Penthouse about my afternoon with the sexy brunette Grief Counselor but to her it was a text book act of perceptual blindness.
There’s got to be a pun somewhere about Eridu, Iraq being close to “de-Nile” but whenever I begin to fashion one I’m swept up in that cascade of memories. And it’s that cascade that fell me here in the first place ultimately. I can’t say that I’ve climbed out, but today I’m able to convince Dr. Sarah Kamen and Associates that I can receive a first visitor. Not Jack yet and, not the Governor of New Mexico who had hoped to be the first to see me but the state’s First Lady had double booked him.
At 0930 hours my orderly, Osman knocks thrice and opens the door to my room. “Morning Doc, it’s Tuesday and you got a visitor.” He places his catcher’s mitt hand around my elbow and ushers me to the waiting room before the courtyard. The glass is two-inches thick and green and an inch in holds a layer of mesh like the cage around the light in the room where I awoke. Only this glass was protecting them from my shards. I do a mental double-take on that phrase I’ve narrated to myself, “Only this glass was protecting them from my shards.” Were it not true and unscripted I would have scoffed at its sophomoric, pretentious pensiveness. But what this internal narrative meant was that I was really back. And thank the fucking gods because my next pretens-ive thought would have been how “I needed to be protected by the reality on the other side of that glass”. But as the door buzz-clanged open so did my awareness of what it was to be here again.
The last time I remember this feeling of clicking-into-perception was in Kuwait in 1992. We were a three-man sniper team protecting archaeological sites in Southern Iraq from looters as the No-Fly Zones and perimeters were being set up. Before that click-in my last memory was arriving at Eridu for my deployment and, although I thankfully was not injured, at all, I wasn’t conscious again for three days and my men were gone. Assumed captured or obliterated in the explosive debris around the Temple of Lord Enki where they found me. As naked as the day I graduated from college. But with fewer bruises, cuts or shames.
That awkward memory of the Humvees rolling up on me, butt-naked and spread eagle facing the moonless night and realizing how my position was probably locked into by night-vision high definition drones put enough of a smirk on my face that my visitor took it as a smile of joy to see him. Which in a second it was.
Seth. A man I’ve known longer than any other person and know less about than any of them. But the raw experiences we’ve shared in battle and the sum of all the key frames in the movies of our lives have added up to a loyalty—an unbreakable bond.
It’s a punchline anymore but when I met him he was a priest. An ordained priest from a small parish in Independence, Missouri and the best killer I ever met. He’s not worn the collar since the night before he walked into the recruiting office and only three of us, him, Miriam and me know that little fact about him today.
Now just two.
And those little lapses in awareness of her being gone never diminished. Only the pauses after the realizations have gotten shorter.
Seth has saved my life, my mind, my soul a number of times as my personal secret war priest. As the official documentarian of the Governor of New Mexico, his station, counsel and public show of confidence in my rehabilitation may just save my career. But it was only that day, that first day awake from the deep engur that I needed him to save.
And then, as the first waft of hot metallic wind from the buildings hits me, I felt a sensation that I had never felt. Even in all my memories before the accident, I hadn’t felt this sensation.
Osman let go of my elbow.
Taking off his Donegal cap like some Steinbeck character Seth stands up straight, reaches out his left arm and in a familiarly irreverent Peter Seller’s voice says, “I’ve come here as an emissary of the Governor of New Mexico to inquire about the state of your health like some fucking idiot who does this instead of shooting shit...” but he’s aggressively hushed by Osman behind me as I was still in a delicate state having only spoken with trained professionals up until that moment and surely my grasp of irony, sarcasm and colloquial obscenities and violence would send me right back behind that green glass.
I paused, cocked my head to the left. And as Seth’s broad grin narrowed to a face of confusion I ever so slowly let myself fall back hoping Osman’s gaze at Seth wouldn’t distract him from catching me but I had, in that moment decided to commit-to-the-bit and if my first moments back to reality meant a slab of concrete to the back of the head in order to mindfuck with my dearest friend in a big way, then so be it.
I am thankful that Osman had fast reflexes as they made up for his utter lack of a sense of humor for when I sprung out of his arms and prat-fell into Seth’s, he flipped us both off and buzzed-clanged himself back out of reality. Seth and I continued an old dirty limerick we came up with on the Helo transports from Kuwait for a moment before coming in for a landing at the iron grate picnic table or “Ass Grill” as Seth soon coined it.
Seth returned almost every day for three weeks under the guise of State business but to also report to the ward how lucid I was each time which sped my release. It was then, once he determined I could handle the facts, that he told me of Simeon and Angelica’s intrigues and botched attempt to stall for time by giving me a flat tire on the way to Santa Fe in 2010.
They didn’t plan to kill Miriam. But whether it was a sociopathic lack of conscience or just flat out stupidity and I suspect both of each of them, they would not continue in this sphere. It took three weeks to plan two years that led up to one bullet. And it was that cause and the precision required for the scope of that endeavor that made me sane again. That and Jack.
Seth saved my life, my mind, my soul. Again.
So I guess we’re even.
Sweet Water House
I keep my breaths shallow even beneath this O2 mask because the heat from the ground, the fumes from the exhaust and stench of this Republican Guard would surely cause my body to reject my lungs by association. The thud of the blades changes to a steady cadence as we straighten out toward the eastern horizon and Eridu. But even beneath the drum of machine and pelting sands I can hear the Iraqi man reciting some Sunni prayer or something while clutching his shirt. As I look closer he’s grasping something beneath his shirt which should have been confiscated at capture. I motion to Seth who sees my issue immediately and grabs the prisoner’s arms as I reach across and grab the thing with his shirt. The force of the motion causes a sharp point of the item to rip through his shirt and into my palm splitting my hand. Another tug and I held in my hand what looked like a blood-covered crucifix wrapped in Republican Guard green.
Seth positioned the man back into his jump seat and tightened his belts. The guard’s only physical reaction to the ordeal was opening his cuffed hands toward mine and glaring at the cross. The wind hurled the shirt scrap away an unveiled a Caduceus. Not a crucifix.
“The dude’s a medic?!” Corporal Burke, our third man, solid kid but for an almost O.C.D. need to recite Tolkien, shouts looking at my hand. Most people associate this symbol, two snakes intertwined like a helix around a post toward a winged-sphere with Medicine. Few people ever think about the origin of that symbol. Why have snakes in hospitals? Well, it should be only one snake and no wings as the original symbol for Medicine is the Rod of Aclepius. But, thanks to the US Army Medical Corps in 1902 in what was either a mix-up of symbols or a symbolic mix-up, one of the most ancient sigils from the most ancient of civilization’s myths now adorns the institutions, men and women that lay hands on and inside us. The Caduceus.
This symbol has emerged time and again from culture to culture and myth to myth. It was the staff borne by heralds – messengers. Carried by Hermes for the Greeks, Mercury for the Romans and has been seen with the likes of Ishtar, Osiris and even Quetzalcoatl in Central America. But before them all, to the first civilization we now know of, it was the symbol of the god of the temple we were spinning toward that morning. Lord Enki, the “Fashioner” of mankind. Our “Creator”, as it were. The Sphere at the top of the Caduceus is the Seat of the Soul or Pineal Gland. The wings represent the two hemispheres of the brain, the post, our spines and the snakes our DNA. And while I’ve never been a believer in anything, I was intrigued with the Sumerian Myth because, while they speak of their “Gods” with a reverence for divinity, their gods seem almost approachable, even flawed.
Lord Enki was the second born son to his Father Anu. But Lord Enki’s mother was from a Royal Bloodline, whereas his half-brother, Enlil though born first was not of a matrilineal royal lineage. But he was the first born and so the conflict was set before they owned it. Like the other tales that repeat from culture to culture, this half-brother rivalry is an archetypal conflict that has also been recycled as Cain and Able and Isaac and Ishmael but each with a twist. Although Enki and Enlil fit the roles of Cain and Able, and Isaac and Ishmael, there are rewrites and a younger cast. This classic story of half-brother conflict and envy over a father’s approval played out with Lord Enki’s hybrid human sons which later became the After School Special we read about in the Bible. So, while the myth repeats and the archetypes replay, each time is a departure from the Director’s cut and there’s a progression.
I never got swept away by the drama of the Sumerian myths, just the broader realizations about repeating themes through cultures and time to the point that I began to understand time as a fractal.—those paisley looking psychedelic patterns that repeat as you zoom in or out of them – the more they move the more they stay the same but their movement progresses. Folks were surprised when I announced that I’d be entering the Archaeological track when I went back to school because my interests have always assumed me headed toward theoretical physics. I scoffed at dudes in the Liberal Arts until I saw the women the schools seemed to swell with. But these last two tours in Iraq, ordered to protect sites I had no idea existed that predate Noah, and their history cluing me into a pattern of time and events—women or not, I was hooked.
Lord Enki, called the Clever Prince for his genius at designing us, was also a bit of a womanizer—an Earthling Womanizer to be precise. Genesis Six teases that but doesn’t get into the rich, multilayered story of intrigue, deception, war, triumph and betrayal—or your basic family story—that the Sumerians chronicled.
Most biblical scholars now agree that the stories and vague accounts that are touched on in the Bible, specifically the Book of Genesis, are abridged plagiarisms. The Great Flood and Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the Garden of Eden were all first scribed in Sumer thousands of years before even the predecessors of the Jewish People. In fact, the Garden of Eden story we all know as a metaphor sounds more like a third person retelling of the events that are detailed with great effort in the original Sumerian account.
If you’re devout in any of the Judeo-Christian paths, and unless you’ve done a comprehensive study of these Sumerian myths, this may repulse you as heresy but, Lord Enki, later known as Lord Ea (thus Ea-rth) and the “Fashioner of Mankind”, was later recast thousands of years later as the Serpent in The Garden. And when you study deeper you learn that is was Lord Enki who tipped Noah off to the flood among other intriguing revelations about his attempts to keep his creation safe from his big brother’s destructive tendencies toward us. So, unless you take it all in context, these are repulsive ideas. But once you do understand the context the repulsion transforms.
Seth let Burke and me in on that bit of history on one of our longer transports one day. Knowing Burke’s Tolkien obsession, to make the point of how ignorant modern man is about our true origin, he said, “It’s like someone knowing every word of The Hobbit cartoon from the 1970s and having no idea it’s from a book or that there’s a Lord of the Rings Trilogy”.
Seth had a unique ability to break things down to their most potent point. Whether distilling a broad sociological observation down to a Fantasy book for a teenager or turning Poppy flowers into a three day AWOL/R&R in Nimroz, the man is an alchemist.
The first of the Sumerian Tablets were only unearthed in the last century and effectively left on a shelf until such time as Cuneiform, the earliest form of writing, could be deciphered. It may be fifty years before some of these truths seep into our society. Churches, Mosques and Synagogues will have to absorb and recalibrate with the new information and add to their saints and angels rosters. Or they can do what Lord Enki’s estranged brother, Enlil hopes they’ll do and rebuke it all and continue recycling the Holy Slander.
The Iraqi Soldier was brought along as he’s supposed to know the site and can lead us to what needs protecting. Now that I know this is a personal issue for him, and how much we can get from him if careful, I thrust my fist out to his hand and force him to grab back the Caduceus which he kisses and clutches back to his chest.
I regard the man for a moment. His oversized Iraqi Army issue uniform, material so thin you think it on purpose for the heat if you didn’t realize it was a costume for a unfunded road show. Despite his hygiene after three days of capture herding from post to post, his hands seem very well groomed. Even with all the blood and spitting oil from the open chopper—pristine really. I looked up from his hands against his chest to meet his piercing hazel eyes staring straight at me. I knew the orange tint on my goggles was one-way but I was still taken aback by how direct the gaze was. There was a subtle nod as if thanking me above all the shit this man was going through. A fallen country, whisked away by men ripping shit out of his shirt yet he manages to thank me for giving it back? I snap out of that momentary lapse of humanity when Burke, shouts pointing east, “Eridu! Hidden valley of the Elves! Where Elrond dwells!” Eridu ruins of the Temple of Lord Enki, yes. Middle Earth? At the time, not yet.
Burke shuffles through his deck of Archaeology Awareness Playing Cards they doled out when the focus shifted. "Whatchya think Captain? Ten of Clubs?!" heholds up the card which reads, "A mound or small hill in an otherwise flat landscape could be a sign of ancient human occupation."
"Yep. That looks about right soldier." I notice a blue envelope flapping out from where he grabbed the cards. "Better tuck that back before the blades take it!" I yell. he shoves it back in his vest in a panic. The kid's been shot at punched by Iraqi men, women and children and survived three IEDs and that's the most anxious I've seen him.
"Shit!" He scolds himself then glances up at Seth sheepishly. But Seth's just gripping the Iraqi's harness and staring North into the sky.
As we approach and descend at the Temple at Eridu, argued to be the oldest city in the world, looks more like the dirt hill in the open space near where I grew up. One of those hills that in the course of one summer would be reduced to a patch of mounds worn down by 11 year old boys and their Huffies. But what a summer could do to that mound of dirt, 7000+ years couldn’t to this place. Although weathered down to geometric husks of broken stone, its base, the enormity of the stone blocks and precision at which they were originally set one realizes why this find upset so much of what we thought was possible for humans then. The unearthing of Sumer and sites like this will change the game for science, politics and religion. I know that we’re not really here to selflessly defend our oil-rich Kuwaiti friends. I know this is a geopolitical chess move to secure our nation’s energy future but the fervor at which Command turned from the battle to the securing of these sites makes me wonder if it’s the oil that brought us here or something else.
"What do you call it. Burke?!" I scram above the thuds as the Helo sets down 50 meters from the mound.
"Nine of Spades, sir! Nine of Spades!" he shouts back as we covered this one earlier. Avoid Helo rotor wash near sites. We unclip, gather our gear, the Iraqi and jump into the tan fog of sand. The Republican Guard still locked in his trance gives no resistance as I lead him by the back of his belt toward the temple. As we get to the first discernible steps the man falls out of my grip and to his knees then prostrates himself in the sand. The action stuns me a bit so I stand still, give him a moment as I watch the Helo bank away and pull him back to his feet. As we rushed up the steps I caught him look up at me and knew he was grateful again. This time for the moment I allowed him to be on the ground. There’s a lot of work done on us to demonize our enemies so that battle can be more effective but I never let that sink in when I can help it. I don’t consider the enemy an animal. I never felt comfortable shooting a man. But for some reason, whether I’m squeezing a trigger to end a man’s life a click away or allowing a prisoner to drop and worship some ancient cartoon god, I go to the same place in my head.
It’s a quiet place. And when I stop and think about it like this I can visualize myself in a big chamber room – huge – ornate – ominous and there’s always a tone, a hum, and I find myself here during every trigger squeeze and every moment I’m the presence of a worshiper. I’ve never brought this up to Seth but I think about it a lot. I think it has something to do with reverence and confusion.
Before I kill a man, I know all that it implies. I know I’m extinguishing a universe. I know I am depriving a family of a man and a man of his family. I feel the same thing when I see a worshiper.
Burke shouts to us from just inside the excavated temple entrance. “It’s clear – this one’s empty!” The three ancient sites we dropped teams off at earlier were full of Iraqi soldiers and refugees from the towns we hit over the past months. Complete micro-economies had sprung up in these places, bartering services, haggling over and eventually trading the goods they managed to spirit away. We were able to secure the places and peoples quite easily. A couple of skirmishes with younger men but when the food Helo touched ground, those skirmishes turned to embraces and jumps for joy.
I didn’t make the connection at the time, but after seeing how this Republican Guard became a Lord Enki Alter Boy around a Caduceus, I got why the soldiers and refugees looked so perplexed when the Medics’ Helo arrived. They’re not aware of the U.S. Army’s symbolic mix-up, so from their perspective, America just invaded ancient Sumer in the name of Lord Enki? Now that look on their faces made sense in hindsight. Confused reverence.
The Vicar's Gears
One Week Earlier | March 23rd, 1992 | The Monastery of Mar Mattai, Iraq
Some of the other girls seem to know exactly how to pin these habits-turned burkas perfectly the second we step off the bus. Even after six hours from Baghdad and less than three days as Novices. I suppose many of the have been rehearsing for this roll since First Communion. I hold back as if searching for something around my seat so I can more easily melt into the back of the flock. It looks more like a murder of crows as the fifteen black clad women huddle and flow in unison and swiftly. Though none look up and none seem to be leading. We all just flutter upper a broken stone road toward the Monastery.
I pretended to be asleep for most of the trip to avoid slipping up my lines or my character’s backstory which I now realize wasn’t a smart move. Now the Sisters will assume me very well rested and approachable. Without the rattle of the Iraqi H1 and that Fisher-Price sounding engine, the weaker parts of my dialect that I didn’t have time to perfect, may be more noticeable. I begin to visualize my list of the Arabic words that I couldn’t get using an Italian accent; “jaba-ariyn…meahavba…baaroom-enkyee…” at that moment, lost between two foreign languages in a cloister of black cloth my left foot plunged into a hole of cold water pulling my leg and dignity with it. I sank up to my ass so quickly I must have looked like the Wicked Witch of the West post bucket of water. She was lucky though. She got to really melt away.
“What the fucking fuck?!” I exasperatedly cursed to myself as the nuns fluttered back to me to help me out. “Mi scusi novizio?” I’m shocked by how close that voice is and how soon after I cursed in English. It was the voice of the Mother Superior’s secretary, Sister Joan—her Girl Sunday so to speak. She immediately switched to English, as she hoisted me out of the little well and single-handedly.
“Okay are you, Novizio, is okay for you to now.”
We were under strict rules not to speak anything but English, or in Joan’s case to try, while in Iraq if at all. Thankfully Sister Joan was so concerned with her own slip of the native tongue that my uniquely American turn-of-phrase, “What the Fucking Fuck” went unchallenged.
And unanswered, actually.
Why was there a nun’s leg-sized fresh water well in the middle of the road ascending the steps? I look back as Joan pulls me toward the group and I see that our procession skirted a small construction site. In the aftermath of my drop and soak, a group of men rush past us and to the hole. The begin throwing their hats, leaping like prospectors and kissing each other in that way only men on this side of the civilization seem to be able to do comfortably. Was it a good Omen to have a Nun fall in a water hole? More likely, given where we are, a discovery of water is like gold.
Joan saw me clutch the inside of my upper thigh. Before losing any more composure, I found the slit in the habit that allowed my hand to touch the flesh clandestinely. As we regrouped up the road, I caught Sister Alexi from Belfast looking at me from under her hood. I knew her name because I felt compelled to introduce myself to her at the Barcelona airport. It was a similarly awkward moment of catching her glaring. When my leg dropped into the hole, everyone scurried confused then turned back concerned. Alexi just stood still and straight the whole time. When I caught her bright green eyes, she rushed up to the front with Sister Joan and seemed to be talking about me because she kept looking back.
“One in every cloister I guess” thinking to myself as I brushed off the moment but not the sting. Under my robe I begin rubbing the inside of my upper thigh where the stone and heavy habit cloth brazed my skin in the fall. But were it not for the cloth, the stone may have cut my ass or worse. Stone?
I look back again at the men who are all now on their bellies taking turns pulling the water to their eyes. It wasn’t a natural sink hole or fresh water spring. There was a placed-stone or brick rim around that hole. It was covered by debris of who knows how many years, but this was an archaeological find, not geologic.
Were it geologic my inner thigh might not sting like this. I can’t help but notice that how soft my skin feels despite the stubble of three days. But one aspect of Nun Life I didn’t have time to look into before starting this was the bathing ritual. Communal? Monitored by older Nuns? Shit. Nuns or girls hoping to take the vows don’t have summer grooming patterns. And I’m guessing Joan and the girls are sporting 1972 down below so I’ll need to stay alert. If it is a communal shower, I’ll act ill, if monitored; maybe I’ll be overly modest with my hands? I haven’t come this far to be stopped by a shaved vagina for chrissakes.
I’ll figure out a way to keep my privates exactly that. Private.
“Come with me, Lass. Let’s have a look at your nunny.” Sister Alex whispered to me as we entered the great hall. She nodded to Sister Joan who waved us to the wings.
“Mi scusi? Non capisco.…I a mean…I don’t not to understand…” I started in full character. Young Italian Nun trying to speak English in Iraq but halfway into the routine my co-star flubbed her part and in the least nuanced Irish accent forcefully whispered, “Stop that. Just stop and come with me.”
In a moment she pulls me into a large, ornate and mosaic tiled room. Slamming the huge ancient door behind us, Alexi uses the five second-long reverb door echo to whisper who she was, why she was and why she knew who I was.
When the echo fell away, she pulled back squatted in front of me and in a louder voice said, “Alright then, Novice, give us a looksee” as she stared right at my, well, nunny as it were. I lifted the robe to expose the raw skin the hole made. Looked worse than it felt but I was more concerned at the time about being shaved. A condition I hid from Alexi with the fabric as she scanned the pink, blood-beading skin. Her left hand was warm and firm around the back of my leg while the fingers of the other lightly traced the borders of the wound. She blew on it while cleaning the smeared blood with a licked thumb. “Eh, you’ll be alright then. Clean it when you get set. We’ll bring you a proper bandage after supper to sleep with.” She pulled her hand back from behind my leg as she rose and the edge of her index finger brushed some stubble. “You’ll need to keep her to yourself until her disguise grows back, lass.” I smiled and my head dropped. “And lose the draw string unless you can only talk when it’s pulled. We deal with the moon cycles differently here.”
My God how I love Irish women. So right fecking there and on it. I have no idea what they do here if not tampons but those laughing Irish eyes made it sound almost fun. There I was, an American girl of Russian descent using an Italian accent in an Arabic country in a Church Order designed by a Spaniard while being charmed by an Irish accent.
The Tower of Babel was just a minor setback in the end.
Sister Alexi pulled the door open, glared once more at me, and with a devilish wink as she turned away shouted. “She’ll be fine! We’ll give the dear a minute 'tis all….” and the door slammed again.
“Oh wait sister! Sister! Is there a place to shower?!” As if mocking the question I hear a loud drip behind me. Curplunk. I crane my neck around the corner to see this ornately mosaic chamber Alexi led me to was, indeed full of, well, chamber pots. “Never mi…I…think it’s here…”
Like fifteen little alters to what’s left of the self, each station had its own porcelain sink, hand towel ring, toothbrush and cup. Below each sink, an apple crate. Above each sink and eye-level, a six by five inch, brushed copper square. Just big enough for a Bride of Christ to check for wafer crumbs and not much else. And to do that, she’d need the apple crate.
I rush over to the nearest sink and twist the iron handle. Silence. Then in a cough the pipes let loose the sweetest water I have ever tasted. I cup it in my palms and sip it to a gulp that I let spill beneath my habit and between my breasts. As I splash my face again with the water, a glimpse of what was in the reflection of the copper reminded me to turn around fast. There, like black wooden soldiers for pretty maids all in a row were fifteen individual and enclosed from bare foot to God, showers. My nunny will stay between me and Alexi.
I’ve already made myself conspicuous so I rush back out to join the group. Not conspicuous enough apparently as everyone’s already gone. I grab a lone wooden cross with a key threaded through the foot of it. Like a alone abandoned medieval carnival prize. I followed the low rumble of young women in the throes of unpacking small bags and bouncing on tiny beds to test the mattresses of their Divine Fiancé’s house. Into the black of the corridor before my eyes adjust to see seven doors on either side, all with little wooden crosses hanging from their latches. The keys unlock from the outside and that’s it. Once open, the key stays put until locked. Clever. Oppressive and scary as shit but clever.
I easily navigate to my room by the blank space in the row of upside down crosses. The Monastery sits in a high hill so half of the girls got Eden View rooms, the rest of us get an extra meter of closet space into the hill. I hear the girls gathering across the hall into one room. In it was a plaque marking the place where Saint Mattai performed his canonizing miracle. A couple of the girls start adding facts not on the plaque about how the King commissioned the monastery and was baptized by Saint Mar Mattai. But that’s where their facts and appreciations stopped. Like so many of these stories, they only go back as far as the one on the plaque wants it to go. The reality of this place, this beautiful structure that looks more like a resort in Cabo than a place of communion with a 4th Century God, is that it’s a retribution. A reparation. Or worse.
When Saint Mattai, for whom this place is named, was still a Monk, he taught King Sencharib’s son, Prince Benham’s, who was brought up Zoroastrian, about Christianity. Later then-Monk Mattai, at the bequest of the Prince miraculously healed his sister, Princess Sara of leprosy. Soon thereafter, the Prince, Princess and their forty companions were baptized by Mar Mattai. When the King found out that his kids and companions converted, he killed them. Naturally. But, like many of us do after killing forty some-odd people for their beliefs, he had second thoughts. He was later baptized by Mar Mattai and commissioned this monastery on the spot where Mar Mattai healed his daughter. These halls and quarters we’re in now are brand new—early 1900s A.D. The original ruins are below and deep into the mountain behind us.
The King’s conversion and commissioning of this place was only decades after the First Council of Nicaea—when Rome decided to go full Christ and committee away some of the most enlightened books for the next Testament.
And any King, Caesar, or Tribal Leader with half a soul was finding Jesus before Jesus found them. Conversions of powerful men are intrinsically suspect. If the power that placed you there can be usurped at all, where is the power?
But born-again, filicidal kings or miraculous monks are not why I’ve risked my passport, career and freedoms to be here and now. My intrigue won’t be etched on a plaque.
Long before the Zoroastrians-turned-Catholics struggled below these floor boards, this place was a suburb of Nineveh—a city built by King Nimrod, grandson of Noah. Now known as Mosul, Iraq though it holds sacred the ruins and minarets from then to as recently as 840 years ago. But even Civic-Minded Babylonian Kings with famous Grandfathers didn’t pique my interest enough for these risks.
Before monks and kings and , before the last Ice Age and right before the reign of Antediluvian dynasties, Nineveh was Nina, the “Seat of Ishtar”. And while today this monastery overlooks Mosul and a Martian landscape, back then, looking south from this place, one would have seen overlooked Nineveh and an upside down arc - a smiley face of a lush marshland from the Mediterranean Sea on the western right to the Persian Gulf on the eastern left.
And this place, which now houses the priests and brides of Jesus—the very symbol of the Piscean Age—once ushered waters and actual fish along this crescent shaped region. The origin of the name, its Aramaic etymology "Nuna" means fish. Mar Mattai was “The House of Fish”.
Every fiber of my being knew something else about this place. Despite all the red words on term papers or fact fighting conversations with Assistant Professors. The " Seat of Ishtar" of Ishtar isn't a 45 minute drive down this mountain in the ruins of Nineveh. The place this Goddess sat, and ate and fucked and ruled was behind the back wall of my Nun's Studio Apartment. Deep in that mountain behind this facade of a two thousand yearlong Roman play, lies the real throne. And for me, not a throne mysticism, a real, material, measurable and carbon-datable throne and all the uncountable accouterments of a living, breathing, Royal but moon-cycle bleeding woman. Not a goddess.
I knew it. All my studies and navigated synchronicities have led me right here. In a room full of women looking out over a future landscape.
A loud rap of a wooden cane smacks the door frame, the girls shriek, some cry instantly and the rest of us have the irked expression before turning to see Sister Joan glaring at us like some, well, some Catholic Nun. “To our the roomess and food for supper at seven forrrrty fi-eeve.” She enunciated in what sounds to the Italians like a proper English accent, “And NO! To speak louder. NO! to speak louder” she hissed. The intent and ferocity of her face and tone completely surpassed her poor English and everyone “No to speak louder” the rest of the trip.
One God's Ghost
| There’s a shutter, like a stadium wave that moves from the base of my skull and down my back. The shockwaves of the impact. The missile now a lava lamp floater through the center of my brain, clearing a smooth tunnel for it all to fall in on itself but I still see. I feel my teeth split like flint stone as the whole structure reacts to Mac’s bull’s-eye. But I still see. And what I see is a smug looking skunk.
“Emit? Hey there…Emit.” I hear Seth’s low yet spry voice rousing me out of a what; we began to call simply, “Spells.” Moments when I’d apparently look down then slowly up until someone poked me. There are any number of reasons why any of us should have some brand of Spells, but I’ve always prided myself on complete lucidity and agility of mind. Maybe it was youthful Bravado but I made “Lucid Agility” my mantra while running, marching, swimming. To this day the phrase still makes me wanna move. Or think harder.
Three weeks into our visits, our process, Seth brought a guest. He gave me no notice, not that he would as that would just be normal, and not that it would have made any difference as I resolved to stay as clean shaven and kempt as possible to help make the case for early release.
Seth held out his left arm, a custom we developed after many opportunities to pull each other out of things. More than once, as soon as one of us were pulled out, we’d take fire but as we’re both Right Handed, we’d lose valuable seconds switching from pull arm to firearm. So we quickly decided that all holes would require mutual Left Arms and to train our muscles to remember, our meetings always began with a left forearm shake.
We released and I placed my right hand out to meet his guest but accidentally punched the guest’s left arm which was mimicking mine and Seth’s greeting.
The man was slight, Semitic with a Fuller Brush mustache that flanked the whitest grin I’ve ever seen. “Sury.” He stated as if scolding himself for putting out the wrong hand. “No, no!” I insisted and our hands danced back and forth as we out-niced one another before settling on the classic shake. His grip was firm but not dominant. His hand was warm and smooth. I started to look down at his hand before his eye grabbed mine and pulled my attention back up to see his grin fade into a look of respect as his eyes closed around piercing hazel eyes.
“Very nice to meet…” I began but the man immediately waved off any hint that the pleasure wasn’t all his. “No sir, no!” he scolded, “This honor of my pleasure is to…” he paused realizing the mis-phrase and glanced over at Seth who was no help. Seth was laying on the Ass Grill snickering as if this were some kind of set up. And, given our history and the way I mindfucked him on that first visit, I had it coming.
“Alright.” I said, “What’s going on, man?” I shot at Seth who shrugged and motioned his arms back to his guest. “Is this guy gonna start stripping or something you sick fuck?” I let go the man’s grip took a few steps back while signaling to Omar behind the glass to check this out. “Okay Buddy, let’s do this!” I start clapping my hands in a disco cadence and sing, “C-e-l-e-brate good time, come on!” Seth fetuses up into a ball of laughter which encourages me to start dancing around the man with the occasional, syncopated “Bump” as it were. “There’s a party going on right here…” Then in a deeper than comfortable voice Seth joins in, “…a celebration - to last throughout the year…” we continue in the perfect pitch, timing and inflection that every Generation X American wedding or Prom goer knows.
In the height of our finale I glance over at Omar who’s still behind the glass with an incredulous look who subtly points to the stripper. Who wasn’t. I wind down my dance move awkwardly and drop Kool and the Gang off an octave up as I realize Seth’s guest was still standing there. Fully clothed. Grin still gone as was that respectful expression.
“Uh….riiight.” I say straightening the mime necktie on my hospital robe as I glare as Seth angrily. This was a mindfuck from Seth alright but his guest, this poor man, wasn’t in on it. “Dude!” I shout at Seth as I reach my right hand back out to re-introduce myself to the man.
I love Seth but he does have a darker side than me. He doesn't have a problem swapping a gag for good manners. I told him once how I used to beat up kids for putting firecrackers in ant hills then educate them about the intricacies of the Ant Culture and hill to which Seth replied, “M80s at least. Anything smaller and the little fuckers just rebuild.” And that’s probably the best way to delineate us personally on the inside. I appreciate the complexity and potential sentience of all living creatures and Seth’s an asshole. But on the outside, aside from Seth's wing tattoo wrapping the collar of his neck, we look similar. Apparently. We have an arsenal of stock responses when asked if we’re brothers. Depends on who’s asking usually but they range from duets of “He wishes” and “Hope not” to the time when we pretended to have just realized that too when asked and broke down crying. For me, committing to that bit was difficult enough and it didn’t affect the innocent. But Seth kept me and those few people close to him in a bubble and everyone else was fodder for his sick humor regardless of the collateral humiliations. And now obviously this nervous and scared little man was used for just that reason. I never understood that about Seth.
I turned the charm up big as I warmly apologized to him for Seth and for the confusion all the while maintaining a stern eye on and a half smirk with Seth. ‘Irfaan Kish. An Iraqi man our age and who, although I felt completely comfortable with and familiar, at the time, in the hospital in 2010, had no idea who he was.
I got Seth to join us in acting like civilized men. As much as was possible in a faded green robe on an ass grill anyway. The man looked more at ease in a moment when he realized all that disco dance of the seven veils thing wasn’t an American greeting custom he failed to study. “It is for me a great honor, sir to see you again and to beeble…and to be eeble to report to you of the ghost.”
Despite the “eebles”, I was so taken aback by his near perfect enunciation of the line that it wasn’t until half way through his next set of rehearsed lines that it played back. “Again?” I said, “Sorry, Erfin, um…Eerfawn…you said it was good to see me “again…” but we haven’t met.” He glanced over at Seth again.
I thought, “Could this be a double-layered mindfuck?” but no, even Seth has a limit. Seth nodded to ‘Irfaan who locked eyes with me as I turned back to him from Seth. He slowly placed his left hand on his chest and began to clutch his shirt. I nervously scoffed and grinning looked at Seth again who was staring at ‘Irfaan’s left hand on his shirt. Like the light trails the Afghan Poppies put on our hands, the hospital courtyard’s pale walls and grey creases stretched and slowed as my sight was pulled back to the hand. That pristine clean, smooth and nervous hand I just punched and danced with was now purple beneath the bright orange hazel glare of this man now bleeding under his shirt.
From the back of his hand my peripheral vision broadened and I could see the outline of 'Irfaan now as a shadow. With another breath I became aware of the space behind him, beside him and below him. It was a blue shadow now and nothing else around a bright purple, bleeding fist ringed with orange and hazel rays. Looking down at his fee they were backwards and then mine. I felt my chin pulled up as if by the finger of a parent to look up. As I did my lungs tried to hoist enough air through my throat to mouth the words “What ghost?” And all went blue.
______________________________________ March 30, 1992 – Eridu, Iraq | Temple Ruins - 0947hrs
“Hold up!” Seth shouts at Burke who’s disappeared into the roughly rectangular hole in the side of the hill. He follows him in. The Iraqi and I are a few paces behind as the man deliberately walks slowly so I urge him through the entrance gripping the back of his shoulder. Just before the entrance is a small patch of grass and ivy. This is an arid wasteland. Someone has to be tending to this place for anything to grow.
“الحمد يسقي سيت ربكم إنكي Adonai” he prayed in Arabic though I recognize the closer, “Adonai”. I’ve heard that before at friends’ Passover dinners and Bar Mitzvahs. Why a Sunni Arab is calling on the same god that showed up at Rachel Weinstein’s Bat Mitzvah is beyond me.
As our eyes adjust, we see the outline of Burke’s back. His arms look frozen at his sides, rifle tip dangling over is right foot and eyes as wide as his mouth. The dust from our boots landed on the surface of the blackest, stillest, and sweetest smelling lake of water I’ve ever been lead to. “I don’t…I…Is there…Can this…” Burke tried every angle toward the question of what it was we were starting to see in the dark. Seth and I look at one another as if in a mirror as the Iraqi soldier stepped passed the three of us and shed his dress shoes and paper uniform …dress shoes? How did I miss that? He must have been pulled into the fight with America from a maître d stand.
No one ever looks at feet. Or up. Except Burke whose gaze had risen straight up to the ceiling? The entrance was from the east and the morning sun slid in as our pupils widened which sped the clarity, color and enormity of this hole.
The closest anyone came to describing it later was Seth who said, “…it was like the Pool House at Hearst Castle only ten times larger, more ornate yet less tacky…” He had a seething disdain for people who succeeded so obtusely. He was always so aggressively unimpressed. Like that trip to San Simeon on the walking tour with all those families and children in awe of the opulence and majesty of capitalism, Seth shouts, “Not bad for a talking monkey”. With shock I snorted a laugh that made the group turn and look at me. I naturally motioned to Seth, but when I turned, he wasn’t there. Didn’t see him again until the Gift Shop.
Here though, in the hum of the mystery of why this place is, what this place is and why it’s empty, even Seth looked a bit, well ill-at ease really.
In a series of gestures, bows and prostrations which, when done by a naked man takes on a whole new meaning, the Iraqi slowly stepped into the water while counting. Seth started counting with him. "Is that Arabic?" I asked Seth as he kept counting until completely submerged. Bubbles were coming up for the last three numbers.
Seth continued translating in English, "Thirty Six, Thirty Seven, glug, glug, glug...Akkadian, actually." He was counting upwards of forty" he explained while staring out at 'Irfaan who was now floating on his back with some subtle current deeper into the lake.
"Good thing he wasn't any shorter!" Burke yelled as he waded into the lake in his skivvies. Seth and I burst out laughing. Burke was serious but the reality of that statement and the idea of this Iraqi counting to forty underwater sooner than 37 was too perfect a visual.
"What say we take a break then go explore this place while there’s some natural light, eh?" I shout loud enough that the Iraqi hears the command in my voice from a distance.
"We Hobbits are plain, quiet folk. Adventures make one late for dinner!" Burke inserted.
It had been a solid 48 since we’d seen barracks so we took advantage of the fresh water and then the cool air while scanning the perimeter for passages, contraband or artifacts. According to my measuring stick laser, this space was about 660 feet wide. There were indentions, forty of them placed evenly in the walls around the pool. . They must have held statues or some loot worthy piece. “Why aren’t there any Fugees or Guard here?” I wondered out loud – every temple ruin we’ve seen was swollen with Iraqis and their protectors and none of those had huge fresh water indoor pools. “Seems prime real estate for the Scurrying Set is all.”
From the far end of the pool, where the wakeless current had carried ‘Irfaan, echoes, "When kingship from heaven was lowered, the kingship was in Eridu." He sounded nothing like he looked. At least in the dark. Burke looked genuinely spooked lifting his eyes from his Sega. With a fluttery, half laugh, and as if involuntarily, replies “…where Elrond dwells…” to the voice in the dark.
Sisterhood of the Snake
March 31st, 1992 | The Monastery of Mar Mattai, Iraq
I know the food here is meant to be as plain and unselfish as these Novice Nuns but to me it’s overpowering. I was raised in DC on Pop-Tarts and Tang so any departure from astronaut food was exotic. For the first couple of days, the grey porridge and fists of bread turned my stomach. They reeked of a spice like sweet but pungent pickles and…pennies? And what American kid hasn’t chewed her share of Lincoln pennies? But in time this spice was in everything I drank, wore, brushed my teeth or scrubbed my copper vanity with so one acquires a taste for Honest Abe.
It took me a few scans through the Monastery kitchen window on the way to the dining hall before I caught a legible bottle of the spice and solved that mystery. Tamarind. One of those spices in back of the pantry but unlike Thyme and Sage, it holds little lyrical potential and never got sprinkled. On anything. To throw it away though felt like a betrayal of some as yet unheard family legend. Maybe Dad used it in DC to ward off bats, raccoons or Goldwaters?
The moment it had a name, it had a memory. I immediately went back to the first and only time I opened the Family Tamarind. And, thanks to George Lucas' brilliant move to secure all merchandising rights to his movies, I know the exact year. 1978.
When I opened the spice bottle and took a big sniff, the resulting rush and sneeze hurled me back between the door and the shelf and a wheel of KRAFT Empire Strikes Back Cheese Spread slid right into my collar bone and bruised Tamarind in my mind forever more. I looked like C-3PO for a few days favoring my neck like that.
It was the night before the first of the month and a full moon which was apparently a thing here as the upper Guide Sisters and Resident Nuns kicked into an overdrive right before sundown. The plates and spoons were being collected quicker than some girls could finish so I grabbed my bread and sat back and upright to make it easy to be cleared. As I took a bite of the crust the spice tingled the sides of my tongue and my eyes fell back and close in a moment of extreme taste. When I opened them Alexi was right in front of me staring at my neck watching the muscles react to the spice. “Buena...Gooda evana-ing, Sister.” I said with a satiated look from my new appreciation of the little, sour and finer things here. “It’s time.” She said matter-of-factly.
“Thyme? Nope, good guess. It’s Tamarind.” I said confidently having seen the spice in the kitchen.
“Time! You Gimp.” She insisted. Grabbing my wrist and standing me up. I grabbed a fist full of bread from the table and shoved it in my pocket. Then, just like the only other time I’ve ever seen these two interact, Alexi glances at Sister Joan who looks toward the Eastern door and waves us, again, to the wings. The same bathroom as the first day Alexi checked my wound. We crouched in the first wooden stall as the girls outside darted around with the tasks they’ve been preparing to perform all week.
Alexi claimed me from the Mountainside Kitchen Girls to aid her in the boiler rooms on the second day. The Eden View Girls were split into two. One was taken away each day and again at night and the other was trained in the precise art of triage care and rehabilitation of some kind.
Alexi and I had the run of the place ever since. The one place we couldn’t explore until right now was the first place we met and where we’re hiding right now. We’ve timed the nightly drill to require eight minutes of dead silence from us before our next move. We’ve practiced that too.
Sister Joan waits until the Dining Hall is clear and locks herself inside. She glances around and casually under the long table to be sure there are no stragglers. Aside from the patterned footsteps of young woman dutifully moving items to places and people to items as the sun goes down and the full moon rises. She reaches around the stone pillar and tugs in the darkness. The room goes black.
The sound of a seat bench rocks and two feet skid up. Sister Joan, now standing on the long dining table, lights a thick wooden match, pulls a small saucer from her robe and kneels.
And every action she takes, every private, sacred and personal ritual she performs here tonight isn’t. Because from the first wooden stall in the mosaic temple of the copper mirrors, where Alexi first licked the blood around my nunny, we could see the Dining Hall from the orchestra pit, the Eden View Girls Secret Gym and by doing so will know when both are empty and we can get behind these walls that are only open on the full moon for some medieval reason.
We sat there trying not to laugh or squeak or make any false move that would risk this because this is why we were here. And we had the next seven minutes to sit quietly together for what may well be the last time.
The first night I got here, true to her word, Alexi brought me a bandage after supper and a small video player to watch a video she’d queued up. It was of her and me in the large bathroom earlier that day from a corner of that place no one would think to look. No one looks up. And although the door hid the sound of her voice from the women on the other side of it, the audio on this high definition video I was watching under the covers of my Novice bed was clearer than it was right in my ear. “Skip intros. I am Blue Star - G2 - Directorate of Intelligence - you are tagged.” She fires the words right into my brain then snaps her head to the left as she listens for instructions. Then right back in my eyes, “Do you release the Eagle, Agent MV?”
“The eagle is untethered.” I responded as practiced for three years but never out loud.
“Confirm to Eagle Agent Name and Confirm Release.” She instructed and cocked her head so I could speak right into the thread sized microphone coiled in her hair.
“Agent MV Confirms I.D. Miriam Magdalena Vidal”
Alexi tap-paused the screen. I grabbed this right after I left you in the bathroom. That's why I made such a big production out of your nunny. She said with a smile that hung there for a minute as we both suddenly saw ourselves as we were. In a dark room, under the covers and not really there to take any vows that would usurp the oaths we took to the Intelligence Agencies of our respective countries. But that last bit killed the mood a bit as we snapped back into mission-mind. This flash daydream of a Jamie Bond love scene would have to wait.
While I just got my mission authorized six days ago I only managed to get myself embedded with the temporary Nuns. Alexi in just three weeks had been able to not only become the Nun-on-Call for Sister Joan, but had gotten initiated into some other intrigue with this sect of Sisters. She wasn't at liberty to discuss it and it had little relevance to my mission but our missions here dovetailed beautifully. And tonight, she would get the evidence she needs of some Irish concern and I will get to see into this mountain and the evidence I need for my Earthling concern.
"It's starting." Alexi said to herself pulling back from the eye hole in her corner of the stall.
"What's starting?" I began as I position my eye through the light blue dust of the opening.
Sister Joan was completely naked, kneeling on the table, arms and head lowered. From the ceiling a shaft of blue light began to fall. I bend my neck so as to see up into the dining hall and see the ceiling is actually a spire - like a steeple shape and open at the very top were three triangular windows. I never notice the ceiling before.
Like a needle scraping a huge white balloon, the windows revealed the full moon moving slowly and precisely along the path of the dining table and Joan. Once the light hit the top of her head, she slowly raise it and her arms to bathe in the blue light spearing her breasts and abdomen and her core that began to pulsate clockwise causing her raised arms to follow. She was an Amazon. It was no wonder now how she pulled me out of that well with one arm and in one tug. There's an old saying that the most beautiful thing and man will ever see is a naked woman and for a woman it's her first born child. I'm not a mother. But I'm finding that adage shaky.
Alexi was working on some knot that she'd been timing herself to make all week. She had it down. Tied in six seconds and then the thing springs open by itself eight seconds after that. Some Celtic Knot, Green Magic I assume. But tonight, after just two spring-loaded knots she looked up through the hole where four of the Eden View girls were taken nightly.
I was so transfixed on the Joan's erotic moon worship dance that I didn't see Alexi's watchful, trained demeanor turn to—something between horror and arousal—as the orange light of her peep show presented quite a different tableau. "Now I know why the other three girls were training in triage..." She said as she closed her eye then refocused it.
Joan's hard, glistening body swayed as if pulled by the moon which was now wavy, pulsating orb. I could feel it pulling the ball of my eye through that hole it was so bright. Looking back to Joan she seemed to be looking right at me. But I knew this spot. I'd seen it from her angle at many meals and know that there is more light on her than on this cranny but still. Her gaze is so specific I look away. Then back. Her eyes roll back as does her head and neck and torso. A powerful trine of quadriceps and core muscles pushing the veins to the surface. As Sister Joan's slender, short nailed fingers slid from the table up the sides of her thighs and down into the moonlit reaches of her ass and flanked by the horned shadow of her hip bones, she lightly brazes the lips of her nunny, then races up her hard stomach to pinch her taut nipples and down again. Lightly. Enough to let her tide rise and spill along the edges of her middle finger. A tingling drop of sweet water on her tongue as her moon swells her into submission. "I'm in communion." I whisper to myself and my creator but Alexi looks at me.
"What?" She scoots over to my corner and holding my knee positions herself to see Joan, "Sweet Mother of God" she whispers ravenously. She slowly positions herself for a longer sit and doing so manages to slide her hand and leg along parts of me that have been asleep for weeks. "Do you hear that?" She said as she positioned herself where I was, forcing me into her box seat.
"What is that?" I said as the music or hum or tone was quickly clear.
"It's the first sound we follow in..." she looks at her ankle where her multi-gadget watch was strapped. "... five minutes forty five." She said turning her attention right back to Joan.
I've looked through the "Eden Girl's Gym" hole all week and the girls were put through routines of what looked like cardio-yoga then lined up and given specific steps to follow for tonight's ceremony. Would have been nice to rotate any workout time but maybe the Mountain side girls get that next week. I notice Alexi's hand is still on my knee although it no longer supports anything she may need it for except a clue. And I get it. I put my hand over hers and slide down her wrist and elbow. I see her eyes close and feel her arm goose up as she shivers it away but grabs my wrist as she turns pulling me to her. She laid my back across her legs and the moon seeped into that private booth by every crack like stage lights. Alexi opened my habit with a tug and unveiled my breast then hoisted her thighs to her head and my body with them.
Graffiti of the Gods
“Splashes and splashes, fooooood for my presciousssss…” Burke hisses as Gollum from deep inside this indoor lake they called the Temple of Enki. Seth’s outside radioing the transport to skip picking us up tonight as the conditions are favorable, the site is a three day scout so why lose 2 hours a day back to post?
Radio static bursts the Helo’s response, “Confirm Team Echo. That’s a NoGo for the ten thirty one?”
“Roger that Base. The AOR is a three day and the ten thirteen is favorable. Repeat, existing conditions favorable.”
“10-4 Team Echo. That’s a NoGo on the ten thirty one, See you in thee 72 boys and we’ll drink your cold one for ya.”
Seth twists off the walkie and quickly slinks back inside. Truth is, the steady 72 degrees and even cooler manufactured lake of black water here for three days is vacation.
“We’re set!” Seth yells from the entryway.
“Whooo!” Burke hoots from the faraway.
“You good with that soldier or maître d?” I say to the Iraqi with a nudge. “What should we call you?” He looks up and starts to speak.
“It is custom…” mid word the Iraqi gets interrupted by a shriek from Burke a football field away.
“What?!” Seth screams back from the edge. The Iraqi and I turn off our conversation as we pick up on the panic in the sound. Or was it? “You guys here what he said?” Seth asks us. Sounded like wheel….BURKE! REPEAT!” he yelled in a yawp only Seth could manage.
“I see a wheel. A big…” just over top of Burke’s voice came a an underwater screech of thunder that reminded me of the engine in the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Only not as creaky.
“Enki is risen, sir.” The Iraqi said to me while still gazing out toward Burke’s now muffled yells. Seth who was wading waste deep in the water falls backward seemingly for no reason but in a beat the water around him and in front of us as far as we could see rushed away pulling Seth about 30 meters along the intricately mosaic tiled lake bottom.
“Burke!” Seth and I yell in unison. “Where does this go?!” he yelled at the soldier who pointed to the floor of the lake. The tiles glistened wet but caught the blue of the sky through the entry enough to make out some contrast. A shape. Like a snake in various stages of coil and uncoil. He walked along the curve of the line while Seth lighted the path with his flashlight. The man doubled back three paces, jumped to his knees and pointed.
The image made out of tiny slick tiles looked less like a snake here and more like a diagram. “Zaman? Zaman?” the Iraqi shouted pointing to his wrist.
“Uh..14:55 hours…” he sees the man doesn’t understand military hours but Seth goes right for Arabic, “Thalatha – Thalatha, yeah?”
“Chree? Chree?” He repeats in English and fingers.
“Where?!” I scream with both arms pointing to the faraway where we last heard him.
“To here. Sir. To here. Is Bork.” He says nervously now scared by our urgency. “Bork is to here. Apsû. Bork. Chree to here.”
“Emit!” Seth had darted back up on the bank. "Check this out."
I notice he’s scanning the lake bottom from left to write and that where I stood I could only see “Bork to here” apparently. I run up to Seth and spin around. The black water took away a lot of the dark with it and now before us was an extremely detailed topographical map with technical iconography and some system of keys and symbols describing what this place was or did. The broader we looked the more obvious it was that this was a scale map in inlay mosaic tile of the Fertile Crescent from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Only slightly askew.
“Thaban Fajaa” echoed nearby.
“What?” I said looking at the soldier but he was prostrate facing east. It was Seth.
“Thaban Fajaa” it’s written here next to this clock looking icon and a seven? We hear the Iraqi start laughing with his face pressed against to lake floor. "But Sumerians had a two hours for each of ours...sundial type thing...so their seven would be our..."
"Thalatha-Thalatha!" the Iraqi began to sing. Still face down on the tile laughing before his god then the black lake came back.
What looked like a swell that would swallow us rose to the ceiling then descended to a sip by the time it touched our feet as if the design of the floor counter acted the anatomy of the wave to take to completely. Only where there were broken steps leading to the entrance did a lap of water travel out of bounds, along the crack and just outside to door to water the entry garden regularly.
When the shock rippled away like the mass of water, there was Burke. Laughing on his back in an ankle deep water right where the tile and the Iraqi said he'd be. After all that, Bork was to here. "Barrel rider, eh?!" Burke sighs out loud.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring along the sides of the indoor lake. Periodically we'd here a low rumble. I got really good at identifying patterns even in seemingly random fluorescent bulb flickers and this low rumble had a tempo. "What's is two - two - one - two - one - one, Alex." I said out loud as if on Jeopardy.
"What?" Burke asks.
"He's figured out the pattern." Seth answers.
"What pattern, sir?"
"This." I say stopping our stride, pointing up and listening to the echo of the "This." across the water. And in two beats I tap his chest with the pointing finger and the low roar cur chugs on queue with the sublet lest ripple that follows the "This."
"Whaaaaat? How did you do that, sir?" Burke wonders like a kid. I smile do a Groucho Marx-like stage exit and begin the stride back up.
"You know how you recite Tolkien obsessively?" Seth asks Burke.
"I do?" He says looking down to his left, half wondering if he does and half embarrassed that he does.
"You do!" I shouted from a few meters ahead of them.
"You do. Well, Captain Archer recites Turing. That is, the Captain likes codes and patterns as much as your like Bilbo." Seth began in that condescendingly charming elder tone he takes on when young men ask him questions, or don't.
"Enigma. Right." Burke spat out casually and sprang forward to catch up with me.
As he skidded to where I stopped, I looked back to see Seth in a rare state. Hard to describe his expression. It's so rarely on his face that when it is, his fallback demeanor becomes so apparent by contrast you wonder how the guy gets invited anywhere, even a war.
"What's the matter, Windstrom?!" I yell back at a stupefied man with no tools for humility. "Someone else's level of knowledge about the World War Two codebreaker got your tongue?"
"Fuck off." He replies in a breath pushed through lips by pride alone. Very faint.
"Cheer. Right cheer." 'Irfaan announces as he walks backward away from where he pointed. Burke froze behind the soldier sheepishly. Something about 'Irfaan's reactions to things really got to Burke. It's a very handy instinct for a predator to hone in on the native and follow its environmental reactions.
I step passed 'Irfaan scanning his face for queues of what to expect. But it was that same fallback face, focused, reverent. As I turned inside the archway he pointed us to I got a scant glance of the corridor we were heading down before this detour. The lake was gone. At some point the indoor lakeshore gave way to a tunnel wall and I shudder a bit when I realize how little sensory awareness I've had in the past twenty...forty minutes?
"Hurry?" 'Irfaan said like a suggestion but his hands were rigidly and quickly waving us through the opening as his eyes began darting down the corridor. When Seth finally sauntered his way inside the Iraqi rushed in, bumped the group, "Sorry to say. Sorry." he said as if a waiter spilling soup. Then with a swoop of his arm over his head along the smooth curved tile ceiling he tripped a latch and a screen slid down behind us. That motion seemed to trigger a row of lights, rather, a single string or stream of light that crept parallel along three grooves between the tiles. Like the grout was suddenly liquid light flowing thirty meters ahead of behind us which ever direction we went. After about three minutes it became clear to me that the lighting scheme made sense for if this grout lit the whole passage at once, it would seem way too daunting a trip. 'Irfaan seems to know where he's going.
"Why the hurry back there? I asked him tugging his elbow.
"Bork to here?" He said, harkening back to our successful exchange earlier that afternoon and how he knew where Burke would end up.
"Right. Yes. Okay. Burke to here." I repeated affirmatively.
He stretched his right hand down to the floor and in an S-shaped motion across to his left said, "Bork to there and water. No people no door." Those descriptors, his gestures and the series of expressions on his face that told a story of a very intricate system of deep water that would have obliterated us where we stood a couple minutes ago. Hence the wavy hands.
"You know, Erfin, it's okay to insist we hurry up if we're going to be flushed into the Gulf." I said with a half-smile knowing he understood maybe three of those words but the intent he got fluidly.
"Far over misty mountains cold - to dungeons deep and caverns old - We must away ..." Burke began singing which made me realize how far ahead 'Irfaan and I had gotten from them.
"Hold up." I command 'Irfaan and lean against the corridor wall to let them catch up. "Where does this go? Is there anything we need to protect or is this just some ancient sanitation thing?" I'm too tired to call up Arabic words or pantomime my meanings but he seems to get what I'm asking.
"You guys must be double-timing it." Burke says as his band of escort corridor lights meet ours.
"He seems to know where he's going...where's Seth?" I said noticing the void behind Burke now.
"Sir" he replied.
"Captain Windstrom. Where is he?" I'm perturbed now. The fatigue is giving way to the claustrophobic anxiety and the last thing I need is to deal with Seth going rogue. "Seth!" I shout behind around Burkes back into the flat black wall. There's not even an echo. Like the way the lake floor reversed the anatomy of the wave to a sip, the shape of these corridors, even the subtle lifts of angles in the individual tile columns seem to either pull waves along or negate them entirely. How could humans in 6000 B.C. develop sound eating, wave reversing architecture?
"He must've turned back. I guess your Alan Touring knowledge embarrassed him more than I thought." I realized.
"Who?" Burke asked.
"Turing. Earlier you told Seth - er - Captain Windstrom that you were aware of Enigma - the WWI German code..." I began to assemble the memory.
"Whaaaaat? I don't know the German thing but "Enigma" is the game I finished last year and "Turing" is the man character.
"Huh. So they're weaving math and science icons into video games...kind of an edutain..." I began.
"Not it's not Science. It's set in the Bayou. Turing's the Alligator King and you gotta get home through like these Swamp Hunters but they're more like SCUBA divers only with straw hats. But if you get cheats..." I hated to stop him but I hated to let him go on more.
"Got it. Turing's a Gator...Enigma's a Bayou thing..."
"I beat it pretty quick though." He completed proudly.
Daughters of the Revolution
November 17th, 1984, Washington D.C. | Pope Stephen VII Academy
The Professor’s Aid, Tim nervously chalks the chapter numbers on the board. “Is that a 6 or a G, professor?” one of the more giddy students asks making his girlfriend laugh. Tim turns and blankly looks up at the empty chairs behind the laughing couple as if he doesn’t know who said it. “It’s a 6, class. Read chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7, not 4, 5, G and 7.” I snort out a laugh as Tim slowly turns back to the board with zero change in his expression as he locks eyes with me for a split second on his way. I didn’t think the couple got my separate set of comedy in that moment until walking out of the building after the class and the girlfriend mumbled “Bitch” under her breath as they passed.
I only remember that specific shunning at Pope Stephen VII Academy because it was the night I met Tim Barker. I got used to, even good at the Shun thanks to Sister Campania. She once described me as an “ethnically exotic girl-nerd”. It may have been accurate if a little Craigslisty, but to her credit, she did it only once.
The rub is that it was to a class of uncomfortably attractive sixteenthirty year old Euro-American daughters of senators. I was out that day on a training track my father insisted I complete before fully matriculating to Pope Stephen’s. Sister Campania was looking for me but the girls acted like they’d never heard of me thus forcing her to try to describe me. The class held a coven of girls who, for the first two weeks of my attendance, tried several different nicknames on me. In some parts of the animal kingdom this is a way to disarm and begin to bond with another, at Steve7’s farm team for Christ, it’s not.
They sought a cute name with enough subtle yet seething bigotry to double as a No Access Code to Cool.
Like the men and women from whom they sprung, these Daughters of the American Revolution knew exactly what was theirs. Like in that movie my Dad watched over and over as his brain died, something like, “…Italians have family and the church; the Irish, Ireland, Jews tradition; Blacks music. What about you people, Matt Damon or whoever?” to which the CIA guy replies “The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.” It’s a melting pot built on an ideal but when you come here from elsewhere, it’s clear who’s paid the security deposit and wants it back.
So a nickname that solidified that ethos around an “ethnically exotic girl-nerd” would make Daddies very pleased indeed. Then Sister Campania delivered it to the class like Pizza to Spicoli.
“Eegen” (Ethnically Exotic Girl-Nerd) was born that day. The acronym-turned name, like NATO or SCUBA, was cute, viral and, when deciphered, held a trove of bigotry about me dating back longer than their ancestors. The name game lasted 16 months until the coven tragically uncoiled.
Just as I was conjuring scenarios to catch his eye like that again and see if his dry wit was real or accidental, there’s a rush of wind to my right and I’m shoved into the car parked on the street. Luckily it was a 70’s Buick so I had plenty of time to recover and not hit the curb. It was Tim, the PA “Sorry! I…” he actually hit the curb in the aftermath but in a heap of corduroy and books he leapt to his feet to be there if I fell. It would have been a cool move were it not really dorky looking and all his fault. But his dismount was truly chivalrous. He spent half the block apologizing until I found a way to redirect him.
“Where’s Professor Clemente been?” I asked with an over-exaggerated inflection as if I was really interested. I didn’t like Clemente or his class but “Eastern Orthodox History 102” satisfied a requirement for my program and was really just a rehash of EastOrtho101 so cake.
“He’s on sabbatical actually.” Tim replied with an instant shift in demeanor.
“Oh? I heard he was sick, so that’s good to know…where…” I began but Tim continued, “He wasn’t well early on and was due for some time off so it made sense…he’s better now.” He seemed to rush that info out to make room for the question of whatever it was that prompted the last three minutes. “I read your paper on the Ninhursag…the uh…Heroine of a Thous…”
“Fifty Faces. The Heroine of Fifty Faces” I corrected.
“Right, right, sorry, and what it was I wanted to ask you, was…” we came to a mutual pause in our walk and he moved between me and where we were going. “The thing is that you wrote how Ishtar while supreme in Babylonian myth, it was her second rise…wait, I have it here…” he held eye contact with me for two beats while his hand slipped into his shoulder bag as if it knew precisely where to grab. “Here, yes, “Though Ishtar was Supreme, she was a rebrand of the antediluvian Goddess…”
“Inanna, Ninmah, Nintu, Mami, Aruru, Belet-Ili.” I finished as he lip synced what he read with me. “Yep.” I said matter-of-factly to blunt the awkwardness of those names hanging there.
“What…I wanted to ask what you meant by “rebrand” or second rise.” He motioned to a bench a few yards away. I hesitated and did a quick look around the campus. I knew there was no threat, not with his lanky gate and my Black Belts but a girl doesn’t want to seem too easily seated.
“Sure.” I said and started toward the bench. “What I mean really is that the whole saga of the myth focuses on two brothers and their tantrums which only amplifies the attention the good brother…what I mean is…” Tim’s expression looked so genuinely intrigued that it put me right in that indignant place that wrote the paper in the first place. “Enki could not have created the hybrids without Ninhursag’s womb. Her “clay” was key to gestating and reproducing, sentient workers, right?”
“And were it not for his mother, Nammu he would never have swoken from the engur to partner with his main squeeze Ninmah to create man.” I proclaimed the simplest plot facts as if a logical equation.
“The feminine is not only an equal partner in the endeavor, she is the instigator. But because Enki does it on the sly and pisses off his big half-brother, the rest of the story is about the dual natures of two men – one a sneaky do-gooder with an Earthling fetish and the other an asshole. What about Ninmah and Ninhursag?!”
“Right. So…that’s what I meant…” I felt self-conscious suddenly and realized I may have been yelling because Tim has shrunk into his corduroy jacket like a nerd turtle. “And that the matrilineal power structure must have existed before Anu is all.”
"So you're saying there is an injustice in the mythology or the reinterpretation of that archetypal...mythology?" He wandered to a question.
"Yes. An injustice is a great way to put it and that injustice is repeated in every era and every semester at Steve7 when we give a nod to our source with some vague understanding of the Marys." I concluded.
"So you don't see Enki or Enlil or Inanna or Ninmah as living breathing beings but as detailed archetypes of the psyche only? he said looking over the rim of his glasses.
"Well...I ...if.. they were. And our ancestors watching them and repeating whatever stories they embellished to us for whatever reason became key to our conscious evolution,"
"Do you think their stories or even their general characters were contrived to become parts of our psyche? I mean...if you're starting a whole new specie, you need to imprint their source DNA with some templates of how to react to the environment, right?!" He said staring at the ground, scanning it as if for more words.
"Right." I said still a few ideas back but wanting to keep him spinning.
"And maybe because it's based on a common template is why we get your repeating themes like Cain and Able or Isaac and Ishmael - not because their a phenomenon of repeating events but that their involuntary roles played out or applied to situations preprogrammed?"
We spent a few hours walking and stopping for coffee and a couple of times I had to check in with myself because earlier today this guy was a vague fill-in and now he was not only in 3D but had morphed from my pursuer to my prey by 9pm.
“How long have you been at Steve Seven?” I asked as segue while the waitress poured our first cups.
“Steve Seven” He repeated with a smirk. I guess Staff and Assistants don’t refer to this hallowed institution of Jesuit-flavored learned girls how the learned girls themselves do.
“Third semester.” He answered. “Do they teach about Pope Steven the VII yet or ever?” he said leaning back in his chair and taking off his glasses to clean. I suddenly understood how Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were duped for so long. Tim looked completely different without glasses.
“What? Sorry.” I looked past him to pretend like I wasn’t distracted by his looks, rather some other personal question or note to self.
“The Pope the school’s named after. I didn’t see any classes or even syllabuses that touched on him. Weird, right?” He said but more as if baiting me than sharing a mutual realization.
“Oh the guy was a fuckin’ whack job.” I said quietly while sipping. Tim choked his sip into the back of his nose and convulsed forward then back with a laugh that was louder than any word I’d heard him utter all night put together.
“Holy shiiit….” He said progressing from full throat to whisper and eyeing-off the other patrons who were acting like they weren’t looking. “What makes you say that?” He said holding his grin in his eyes but leaning forward as if to challenge what I was about to say. And that was the only mistake Tim made that night. Or ever as far as I’m concerned. But he didn’t know. It was gospel in our home but “You don’t challenge Emvee.” The Springy haired, swarthy daughter of a soldier turned diplomat in a world of Euro-American Senators’ Daughters is a snake pit of a way to go. You lean at me, I let it rip.
“Only that…” I take a deep breath and raise my eyebrows, “Vicar-for-a-year Pope Stephen the 7th, 896 to 897 had a grudge with the dead and a fetish for justice. To squash a beef with the last Pope and uphold the ruling of a longer dead Pope he invented the Cadaver Synod—an ecclesiastic trial and a cadaver—a dead body.” My eyes narrowed on Tim and I took on a dramatic tone as if telling a fairy tale. Only this ain’t no fable. The guy was a fucking whack job.
“Steve7 dug up that Pope’s corpse, set it on the papal throne. The Pope’s Corpse, with some help from a teenage deacon behind the throne, defended itself against the screaming tirades of the prosecutor, Pope Stephen VII, esquire.” Tim lost the stare contest with that one and laughed back into his chair and hugged his corduroy arms and waited for more. I went on about the school’s patron pope while my other mind went further back.
The family mantra, “You don’t challenge Emvee” used to be a warning about my combative response style. When I mellowed out around twelve years old, it became more of a queue for me to rattle off some esoteric fact. And when available in my eidetic brain , some really obscure reference to whatever the subject was being called out.
Dad and I conspired many times to impress his guests and military attachés after dinners. He'd call from the den, “Emvee?! Charles whom you met with the red tie is from the Swedish Embassy.” I’d pause for two beats to take a deep breath and begin an encyclopedia-worthy summary of the two elements Dad yelled from the cigar cave. I’d integrate the origin of the red in his tie and the Swedish Dalecarlian horse or Swedish Fish or whatever the two pieces of data brought to mind. It was a cognitive gift-turned parlor trick but what it was most for me was a connection between me and my father. He would give me a copy of his guest lists in a blue envelope on the first and fifteenth of every month of the dinners we would host. It was my job to look up all the people on the guest lists, research their home countries, positions and any weirdly specific piece of trivia that would make a tipsy, cigar-addled dignitary vaguely remember that he had a really interesting evening at our home.
I never had the heart to tell my father that I cheated.
We would smile mischievously every time he handed me that sealed blue envelope with the two-week dinner plans. We acted like spies, even when alone in the townhouse. He’d peek around a corner, “Psst. Agent Emvee. The Blue Gorilla Sings at Midnight…” or some equally random hybrid code words and pass me the envelope under his arm with a, “Shhhhh…” and a wink. As he acapella’ed the Mission Impossible theme, I would slink away to my room and the closet and the box where I placed the envelope unopened like every other one in there.
Meeting Tim that night, that way, the way he was so genuinely interested in my words and ideas. The way I thought he was challenging my knowledge only to learn he was searching it to add to his own. My father made me feel that way. Even though I was five or nine or sixteenthirty, when he asked me to explain myself, he wasn’t testing me. He was learning from me. He would say “You’re closer to the memory, sweetheart. To where we were before all this.”
My father wasn’t a religious man. He was raised Roman Catholic, educated a Jesuit, and moved in upper church circles but that all stopped abruptly before I was born. About his split with the Church he was silent. All we know is that it was after a meeting a delegation of the Legionaries of Christ. But the women of the family would continue the intrigues around kitchen tables with whispered words that, over time a little girl will string together with the book titles and plaques in Daddy’s library. As my Girls Scout tent sang “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” I hit the harmony and subsequent dishonorable discharge with “Rosucrucianscarabisdicordotemplariscious”.
So while I will always be thankful for the alternate upbringing my Father gave me, I will certainly have a copy of Mary Poppins in my future home so my children do not become Coven Fodder.
As a diplomat with a Citadel Ph.D. and bars on his uniform in colors I've not seen in the natural world, it was really Dad's religious life, or religion life that was his business. I used to think all religion was born out of parents’ fears of scaring their children about death. And I still don’t know if Dad was an atheist, but his directing his daughter’s existential attention on her Before-Life and its blank mystery instead of her After-Life and it’s many colored horrors was the most religiously compassionate maneuver I know of. It made my life and my drive based on answers of origins not endings. I never spent a day depressed about the future or my mortality because it never crossed my mind.
He fed my intellectual curiosity and trained me a usurper. Every after school class, camp or seasonal program was a stretch physically, mentally or emotionally but never two or all three. Ultimate fighting – Speed chess – Cuneiform Translating – and all the while, I took. I took his attentions. I took his directions. I took his little blue envelopes and only ever opened the one. The taking is what I had to give.
When I look back now, all the training and extracurriculars he demanded were preparing for something my Father never wanted for me. As if he feared that one day I might ask him what the family business was, he put me through all those things that I may never want to know. If you find that your path requires needing to know how to kill a man with a Bic lighter, you've made some bad career choices.
Tim on the other hand. He identified, shadowed, groomed and entered me into CIA before I left Steve7's. It wasn't the marksman training at nine or the technical climbing and rappelling at twelve aversion therapy my Father employed that didn't work. It was the same gentle and genuine interest in me both he and Tim took that wooed me over to the darker red, white and blue side. And if I'm as honest as an oath making American Soldier of Intelligence can be, rappelling was my idea. Shooting camp was my idea too. As was going back to Tim's place.
Once an Entered Apprentice, you'd be surprised how much access a girl can have to "Someday Public Records". And just before graduation, one of those Senators' daughters matriculate to a coven at Immaculate Conception and another to St. Agnes. Both within view of Rikers Island and Daddies.
Chapter Twenty One
| The sagebrush draping my view of the northern mesas twitches faster - the evening wind is coming. A herald for a bitter night but only bitter as it won't end. Is this what it is? If Mac's bullet had entered at a different angle and slit the fabric of my perception at a different degree would it all be black? Is this my consciousness still tethered to my chemistry before it fails and let's me go or is my chemistry my consciousness and when it fails, it all let's go? Is this an Afterlife? I've heard the thing about dogs but, coyotes in heaven?
"Damn this is deep!" Burke yelled but right in my fucking ear.
"Hey!" I winced at Burke as I coiled away from the shout.
"Oh. Sorry, sir. I, I just realized, sir...." He fell right into submission. I've been in this ethos of military a long time but, unlike Seth, I am not comfortable as an Officer getting "Sir'ed" and saluted out of nowhere.
"At ease, Dude." I laughed.
"He he, 'Dude'" he repeated my surfer slang. "You're alright Captain...he he...'Dude'"
I laugh and then jump up as if I have a predetermined task to attend to but It's really a way to avoid the next set of natural questions when two men hit a stride like that. The "Where ya froms" or "Where'd you grow ups" were daunting challenges to me ever since I could remember.
Son of a military man, I was born overseas and lived in twelve different cities or bases by the time I was sixteen. I learned how to make friends fast and leave them faster. One casualty of that lifestyle is never knowing how to answer questions that for some people are easy. Like what's that accent or where's your father?
There are subtle nuances to being a military alien child as opposed to other types of kids who come into class halfway through the year from somewhere else in the world. Little things that make you, not only different, but uncomfortable for them. In 3rd Grade Gym Class, the fact that my shoulder wasn't branded with the dime deep hole of vaccinations or whatever was being done to kids in the 70s in the States. In Landstuhl, Germany they either weren't doing it, were doing it to me or weren't doing it that way. And I can't imagine the kids in the States get any different or less than Army Brats overseas. I didn't have the brand so was immediately identified and ousted. It's as if programmed into our DNA to identify the niche - the virus - the different - and rid the herd of it.
When a military family finally melds into civilian life, it's a culture shock. Pressed men no longer wait to salute you as you roll home from the Commissary. Suddenly prices have 99's and things now have tax.
I came to believe that military people were just different. I didn't realize until my early teens that people chose this life. Whenever my father's stations changed there would be differences in the weather, the accents on the radio and air, but every US Army Base had a specific, regimented and predictable culture. Halfway through the third grade my father was stationed in New Mexico. It was an Air Force Base—Kirkland—and was well embedded into the city of Albuquerque. This would be the first time I would be going to civilian school. Off-base. It was technically across the street but for my intents and purposes - it was off-base. With every deployment and stationing thereafter I was placed in schools off-base and it was a culture shock every time. We like to complain about the homogenization of strip mall America but I can tell you as a tourist in my own country, the only thing any of us have in common as Americans is just that. The word.
I was thirteen when I realized that my being forced to assimilate in surrounding communities instead of fostering relationships with fellow Army Brats was on purpose. As a parenting choice it's a tough one. It's ultimately good for the character and well-roundedness of the child but what parent who loves their child can really make that decision? The well-roundedness may come at the expense of a secure, nurtured person. At least that's the rationale any thinking parent can confidently come to. But I know of none who have. Including my own parents.
It was late and I was mind-fighting the model planes I had strung from my ceiling. As the blackened cotton-balls billowed from the nose diving German Messerschmitt and the P57 Mustang banked away, I heard a man I only knew of as "Elliot" say fervently to my father "Then you make her understand." This man who I saw maybe twice—and both times leaving—escapes description. I get vague flashes of a stocky, dark haired man with glasses but that pretty much describes everyone in the mid-70s. My father was speaking lower than he and although this man wasn't a soldier—that much was clear given his build and sideburns—Dad seemed somehow subordinate to him. I only ever saw men of my father’s age or younger salute him and often without him noticing and here was this civilian man, smaller than Dad seemingly telling him how to talk to my mother. "And give him these."
I heard a rustling of the grocery bag plopped on the kitchen table. In that bag was a collection of books that would periodically change the trajectory of my life. There were seventeen books ranging from The Hobbit to Tantric Yoga. Each book was so enthralling and lead up brilliantly. But there were lulls of years between books and even those lulls seemed planned. For when I would finally pick up the next book in the series, I realized that I would not have been ready for it any sooner. I still have a handful of books left before I'll feel ready for Tantric Yoga but whoever designed this Rogue Scholarship for me - whoever "Eliot" was and why he cared about where I went to school, what books I read and in what order seems to be onto something. When I slook at the last few titles coming way and have no idea how "Cosmic Trigger" will lead to "Morals and Dogma" then after some Persian Mythology get me to Tantric Yoga but he, sounds like a happy ending either way.
"Cheer." 'Irfaan announced at a spot in the corridor that looked like every other temporarily lit spot for the past fifteen minutes or so. "No Bork." he said holding his hand out to Burke's chest. "Is sorry to say to no Bork is cheer." He said quite matter-of-factly as if, despite the fact he was a prisoner, unarmed and flanked by two unnecessarily armed kill machines smelted in the furnace of the U.S. Army. Burke stayed put. Even bowed out a bit as he stepped back. 'Irfaan's dress shoes made more sense on him now than any other garment as he stood next to the corridor wall like a maître d'. When Burke had fallen back into the shadows and my attention turned back to 'Irfaan as if ready, he whispered something in Aramaic I think and like the screen that slid behind us before the flush, the wall slid up a meter wide. Very bright. Too bright to see and when I winced back my maître d' was no longer there.
My eyes adjusted slowly. The detail through the doorway stared filtering in from my periphery. The center of my vison still white hot as the back of my retinas healed from the burn. First the floor - slick - sage and textured with the finest pattern of hexagons or webbing or some patterns that changes as I look at it. I place my left hand on the doorframe, the difference in temperature between the two parts of my had - the palm on the corridor wall, the finger cupping the new wall. It was warm and soft and smooth. I looked at my fingers and a ether like mist swirled around my fingers where they touched the wall. Suddenly everything else in the corroder felt frozen and biting. Like that sense of being followed down the hall at night going back to my room as a kid, as an adult honestly, I rush through the doorway before the imagined ghost grabs my back.
"E-Engurra" I hear 'Irfaan once more as I get my composure and stand up straight. Slowly. The first sensation is a scent - clinical - sweet - clean and pennies? Then, with my vision still in whiteout I hear a hum. A tone. Not machinery. There's a pattern though I think. My mind locks into that process I do when triggered by a word like "pattern" or "code" I lose all else and start counting the points and intervals. I think this is like Burke's instinct to mirror the native, maybe this is a survival tactic of mine because if I can discern a pattern, I can link it to an intelligence therefore reduce the potential threat. If there is no pattern, then it is chaos and it is natural and therefore omnipotent and the danger is incalculable. So locking into patterns is my threat assessment and I figure that out in one mind as the other still seeks an algorithm.
In a series of sounds and tweets and digital audio debris a string of words come together that I start to make out. "...and this is why....to rise and prepare for what's already here..." it was the voice of a woman. A sensual but nurturing hiss of words - none discernable - no language I've heard but then is begins to sound Aramaic I think.
While the circle in front of my sight contracts quicker and I can now gauge the size of this place - a basketball court - an Elementary School Gym were the first references. The voice continued and while there was no discernable pattern yet to the tone, I did begin to recognize a pattern in the voiceover languages. I started hearing sounds and inflections familiar to anyone today as caricatures; Celtic, Latin, Viking or Norse, then Italian. Once her sultry voice went French, which is a universal combination, I knew next was English. The voice was tracing the chronology of language on Earth. Sort of like we did with the record we put on Voyager before sending it out to space.
My vision cleared like so much blown mist and this room was round. Smooth, tiled like the pool but smaller, finer and seemingly fluid tiles that as I looked around my feet seemed to re-tweak themselves and send that information out.
In a 360 degree scan this looked like a laboratory but the counters were over my head. I couldn't see what sat upon these counters only the flickering or utensils or things...just things up there. I felt a tickle on the bottom of both feet through my boots and it felt like I sunk a centimeter into a gel floor. Looking down the hive-like pattern around my feet quaked and in a ripple the floor quaked out that 360 degree space. The room adjusted. That is, as if the floor calibrated my stature and the room, it's counters and seats and wall screen shrunk to fit my size. It all happened in so fast on me that I lost my shit, I buckled over onto my knees and spit up some black water. Now on all fours, my drawn face hanging down heaving I pick up my right hand and look at the palm. The hive was now on my skin and I couldn't feel my heart.
Chapter Twenty Two
| With the first bite at my lower abdomen - my naval - I let go. Or whatever I am right now let's go. Like the coyotes teeth snapped the string of my soul balloon but I hover. Without wincing or distaste, without nostalgia for a body that served me well I felt a contentment for having something tangible, something useful, nourishing or at the very least degradable on Earth. The coyotes, indeed all carnivores without the baggage of self-awareness go ravenously straight for the genitals first. It's a simple matter of the concentrated proteins and other vital nutrients and while the scene below me is primitive, there is only a feeling of appreciation. I think of the strange mythologies of Kings biting off the penises of their enemies and now, without the base homophobic, squeamish filter of a toddler civilization, I know now that it means a new reign, an impotent past and the passing of all the most vital nutrients for a new realm. Next they come for my eyes. Finally.
Alexi's ankle beeps low letting us know we've got thirty seconds to get ready for Step One of our seven step plan. All she does on that beep is take off the ankle watch and hold it over the toilet bowl. I thought the same thing on our first runthrough but these Monestary bowls are more like toilet tureens. A wristwatch and all kinds of evil would easily descend the seven rings from these portals.
Aside from the handful of bread in my pocket, the only other tool I've widdled down to being absolutely essential—and waterproof—is my laser ruler. I'll have time to eat that bread before the underground water Step Alexi's theorized but my laser ruler is absolutely essential for what I hope to find tonight. And thank God...dess the thing is nun's nunny-sized. We were smart in our passion. You have to be in this business. A soldier sleeps when he can, an agent fucks, who she can. It's an unwritten Right of the Field Agent. There's a lot of grey between turning and fucking an asset.
Alexi and I knew by then where to tuck our hands in these contraptions to exchange shivers while not dismantling our readiness. It was the most passionate and satisfying four minutes and because we couldn't close it, that four minutes is still open. Since then every tension of sexual urge is tinged with Irish lips, a Tamarind tongue and a tide that is forever coming in. Every single one.
"One." She says and we take off our Veils and Bandeaus giving our heads full mission peripheral.
She turns back to the blue dining hall and Joan’s finale while I look to the orange Eden girls. All week at the beep the Eden girls were lead back into the room nude, with white hoods over their heads and as the entered, a Sister would take off the hood and each would do the reverse Dance of Seven Veils as the raced to their habits giggling.
I peered to the doorway where the novices would be ushered in, still aroused and excited to see the nubile forbidden fruits come in. The door opened slowly and for the first time I could see into the room where the Sisters had been taking blind-folded nuns all week. It was bright, piercing orange and it looked like what I came here for. A throne room but not Papal, or even Zoroastrian, this throne room was adorned with Eagles heads.
"Two!" Alexi hissed which triggered us to pull out the embedded ear pieces so we were now unable to communicate through the ether.
Our muscle memory carried us outside the stall door and into the corridor. We paused at the Dining Hall . Joan slid through the door, hugged Alexi, whispered something in her ear then put her hands on my cheeks. Warm, soft, firm. She lightly brazed my lips with her thumb then my forehead.
"Surrexit Inanna" she said then kissed me lightly on the lips. "Surrexit Inanna".
She smiled again at Alexi and moved on past us. Alexi watched her leave for a second then looked at me. Smiling she wiped my forehead with her palm then showed me her open hand. It was smeared with blood. Joan had made of her tide a sacrament and I was anointed.
"Three." And we both ripped out our Coifs freeing our necks completely. We both rubbed and sighed erotically with the air around our necks. Then it hit me, "Wait!" I said surprising both of us. "The Eden Gym...I saw into that room" I was clutching Alexi's sleeve now and hard as that memory and my mission fused. That's what I'm looking for! That's the throne room!" I whispered severely. I didn’t care that now she knew my Step Eight of this plan. We had hit the Rubicon of this mission and knowing each other’s country's end game here did not affect eithers' success tonight.
"What? LGV said you were here for the wheels." she replied confused then surprised at herself for divulging that she had any idea what my mission was.
"Wait. What? Wheels? Who’s LGV and why would anyone know why I'm here outside CIA?
She just glared at me. Frozen by her utter failure of protocol and having no reference for how to react to this eventuality. Because in our companies, this is not an eventuality. An agent of her prowess and seeming seasoning does not let loose a supranational confidential piece of intel like that. But she did.
"What the fuck are you?" I said with a new brand of anger. Not one of a girl getting challenged by classmates, an bigger, more important and national security anger. I immediately went to that place in my American ego that other countries talk about behind our back. "I am an agent of CIA. Not 'the' CIA you know why you G2 motherfucker? ‘Cause you don’t say 'the' God, bitch." I knew I sort of plagiarized that line but maybe she hadn't seen the film and this brand of anger was exhilarating. If misplaced. Minutes ago I submitted to this woman's lips and now I was lording over her like some fucking, well, American.
Though obnoxious, arrogant and juvenile, like WWI, WWII, trains and cars and computers and birth control, both me and America had a point.
I stared down Alexi after my fiercely whispered tirade and awaited her retort or apology. I got neither. "Fucking go then." Was what she said. Like France and England. We burst out laughing then she turned my shoulders back toward the way we came saying, "Step seven" which meant we'd link back up later in the plan.
"Four!" she loudly whispered down the corridor after me and I could hear the cardboard material of her Guimpe fling against the walls. Losing that breast plate suddenly made everything in front of me more accessible. Everything about the habit intends its wearer toward submission and prayer. Without it, women get ideas and can run. That indignant Comparative Religion major who won every intellectual argument with professors and their assistants with a facts or a blowjob was back. Everything since that first night with Tim lead up to right here. In that vainglorious moment I realized she had successfully diverted my attention away from her knowing anything about my mission. Everything now while vibrantly possible was precariously set. A week's long plan vanquished, an ally agent now suspect but the very reason I'm here now just a few yards away.
There's a passage between pillars that can access the Eden Girl Gym as no room here is really blocked off entirely. Just inconveniently. And to squeeze through I need to lose the garment even more. The hip rope holds it all together via strategically placed loops and is thick. So one well meaning tug and the habit falls away like silk. This Step wasn't until there was water so while it would have been difficult to explain the loss of the headgear, explaining my walking the corridors in a smock and breechcloth would be an exorcism level event. Before sliding between the pillars that will bring me into that golden orange room I look back and see the fist of bread. With my laser ruler tucked safe away, thus no more hiding places yet no way I'm leaving it, I shove the entire thing in my mouth in a tactic I'd later coin "Operation: Chip Monk." But much later.
My fingers slithered first around the last pillar and my nails glistened pink and white before my eyes were bathed first in a flash than dried to a sublime tableau. From where I spied this place was from where I spied this place in every imagination, daydream, night dream and term paper doodle since I first said the words "Inanna." Like coming up on the Lincoln Memorial from behind his right foot, behind his throne but no were anyone would dane to look at a king or a president or tonight, a goddess.
Prostrate in reverse—upside down from a kneel and facing the throne were fifteen naked as the day those sweat pooled navels were clipped women, men and well, both. Splay before the throne and I could see now in the reflections of the glass in that chamber Sister Joan astride a single source of red-orange light. Her moon dance her warm up for now her wet naked body was swarming with young men trying not to enter her portal. The moon is refracted through the base of her throne and the light makes us glisten and the air makes us listen to the screams as desire devours our fears.
Chapter Twenty Three
Golems Don't Grin
| There is but one tether anymore to that carcass below me. A signal from my my punctured retinas through the optic nerve to my awareness. Without it I will float I fear so I LOOK! Down into that rag doll, G.I. Joe strewn across the sand of for billion years. The night turned crystal and the air flaked. And because my tissue was as cold as the dirt the flake stayed. A fused. A hexagon of nature in chaos. Proving nature's inent toward order. Is this it? Is it a lasting knowing of one pure truth?
"I, or who this me is now knows only now and long before."
"What?!" I said to an echo that beat me to it. "I am..." I began to recite my name, rank and serial but none of that information came to the front before interrupted.
"You had children so you were is all, Lord." Came that sensual but far too familiar to be sexual voice. The one that calibrated herself through the millennia of Earth's languages to, "Be here now." she said with my thoughts.
I was seated. How? I don't know but this one-size fits all room thing is all encompassing. I could stand if I thought about it and every twitch to my position for comfort is scratched then supported like Dr. Scholls fucked a massage chair. A self-aware and submissive massage chair.
As I settled into my peak position, and as if in a theatre, the room dims to the most beautiful dark blue and green hue as the hive patterns on the wall before me glow at the seams. Only when my eyes and my comprehension can handle it, he next set of scenes advance.
Extreme nature. Soaring in a more-than-real aerial over an early, moonless earthly landscape. Many, many volcanoes and as the crust begin to harden near the poles earth is struck from beyong hurling an applebite chunk of her into space. The debris that was not hurled into a wider orbit with oour sun or beyond spin in placec but aorund it's host. I watched this galactic roadkill become the moon. A dead, pelted orb that this planet's stewards will fight for, die for and worship until such time as this imprint fails to their intellect.
The moon and early earth cooled and a perfect circle band of lush green marshland formed instantly on the edge of what I now know is Pangaea. Earth before it broke into the continents floating across the crust still. My view raises as if into orbit and I watch this misty ringed garden stretch with the continental plates. I see the area fight back Ice Ages and a complete submersion of that entire area by water. Finally it settles into it's familiar state we call The Fertile Crescent. This is why the tiles in the pool house were askew. At the time it they were probably perfect.
As I marveled at the precision of gravity and As if every orbit is ten thousand years. I've now become aware that the tone of this place had a pattern. I noticed it before the gel chair but the visual distractions were too many. There are seven distinct tones. They've repeated three times since I came up here...came up here? Up from where? And just as my attention skipped, so did the tone. And that was my primer. I was the pattern. This tone was a slave to my attention and only shifted frequency when a pattern of though reached a zenith. Like a biofeedback response I could follow a stream of consciousness to an end.
The logic of a thought process is math. Allowing it to interrupt and split and be tweaked by outside stimuli is music. Is art. Is sapien.
"Sapien." I said to myself and my creator when the voice spoke.
"He's waking..." she said with a whisper as if about a baby.
"It is waking." I repeated in a new mind. I knew this floor again and its mundane, glitchy hiveling technology. We'll supplant it in the next drop. Maybe once they understand reactive molecularis, the can teach how to stablie it. We've progressed little in 2700 years. This accelerant
I rose and walked over to the small pool of black water which was quaking with the twitches of an animated little being. A tiny version of me but better. I hold back my emotions and manage all my expectations for those are reserved for one of these little fellows who stays. For this process. That mandate to ease the burden of an opulent people with the potential of an invented one, is a punishment. But for who? A sacrificer must be tranquil, uplifted and free for egoism will be the written code for I know more than all that these do not exist together naturally.
"Oh, he is much more beautiful than the others clever prince." her voice swooned lustfully around the watery crib.
"No. Not this now, Ki. Not this now." I hissed glaring down as the tiny one stretching and pulling at the water and the air - physical triggers that should ignite the template so that this one can read the environment before it reaps it. The voice and her essence vanished before my "no" sounded and the tone turned a solemn wavelength that made the hivelings dance in and around the baby. Pink seams. Violet nodules. And its eyes open. Half its face is in the water. I want to turn him so his first visual imprints aren't black Abzu and green hives but its process is well underway. Only the exact sequence of genetic triggers will result in enough complexity to host a template-able mind. Something to populate with archetypes and instincts. We won't be able to avoid being mythologized as this species evolves, so we must take care at each imprint. For now a manbeast to learn but not desire. This was my half-brother's edict for which I am obliged. This is my half-brother's mistake for which I will be blamed. This
"Clever Prince." I scoff. "There's 'clever' and there's 'brilliant'. I say out loud to myself and my creator. I know what but what is needed is what is forbidden.
"Your hand is forced, Lord." She says with trepidation. She is the only among all that could return uninvited but welcomed back.
"Yes. Yes." I say simply as agreement and permission to come forward.
Her voice coils around my legs, "All who judge are agreed..." she said at the top of my thigh, "...Loooord..." soothing me in gratitude, "...of your necessary crime, Lord. Your righteous supplanting, Lord..."
The creature splashed again but does not know how to react to what its eyes are seeing. The lids opened sooner than the template for environmental imprinting and in one, deep, full gulp of air for life, got neither.
My resolve has hardened as their sensory awareness gets more delicate with every birth. But this time is not like then. This all happens over and over and always like this but there's a node coming. A twist in the fractal of this pattern that will make the tone of the whole pattern shift. These grand reaches are another tool of my detachment from what is now a bloodshot-eyed choking purple mass of earthling and scraps.
"Let them breathe." She says right inside my left ear and oozing warmly into the center of my brain. She knows my place. She knows my wonders of how I may connect these toys to my Pineal gland and all its dimension shaving potential. "Give it to me....give it to them...." She says in ecstasy and the divinity of that action that I never take becomes more clear than ever as the monster dies glaring at me for help. For forgiveness for whatever sin it must have committed to deserve such horrific pain. Confused because it was just near the edge of reason and reverent for the same reason.
"Let him breeeeaaathe." she hisses as a cup arrives with familiar blood. "Let him breathe." She repeats as the cup's contents expresses itself to me. "The gods a vizier's ghost have given to you Lord." She finishes and vanishes like the light that was almost in that creature’s eyes.
I know this blood is of a god slain. An essence sacrificed while tranquil, uplifted and free from ego but am I?
It was my hint, my planted seed in the minds of less clever minds that germinated into this offering. An offering on a dare. A resurrection on a whim. This Vizier's ghost is the spark of life that in us means mere hundreds of thousands of years but for this toy, this machine of blood and bone, this is immortality beyond our wildest enlightenments. And if not. It is the end of an expedition, the end of a stature, a station and another horrific death only this time of a soul too.
"These monsters we birth sister creatrix..." I whisper. "... these golems of clay and slaughtered gods..." I pray to myself, "...were we one, to them what would we be?" and I set to start it all again.
"Rise, sapien." she hisses through my head, hands and hivelings.
Chapter Twenty Four
Her Official Directorate of Intelligence Station's Report will later chronicle "Alexi's" success here tonight. While the details will be skewed and her protocols will be tweaked, they'll still be redacted beyond really understanding what happened here. But there will be a big enough void in quiet reflection and unrelated anecdotes around that agents in both companies will understand in classified recognition. The Report alludes to "ancient water reserves" that the G2 was in cahoots with Canada of all places to secure during and in the aftermath of Desert Storm. And as Coalition Partners, both had full access to our spoils until such time as someone noticed.
By the time Alexi had doubled-back after her Step Eight I was apparently in the throes of some throne mysticism orgy and the entire place was drenched in an intoxicating mist. We later determined it fluoride-based and at that concentration made those misted docile, malleable and horny as hell. I didn't feel as docile as some of these young men and woman looked and acted but they had been there a while. I couldn't help but grab and stroke every bit of flesh that crossed my hands but my mouth still held a foreplay of bread waiting until the last moment for nourishment as long as possible if I need it. And my eyes stayed fixed on the door. The other side of the door I spied from the stall. How close this ornately mirrored throne room was to the surface of the mountain and the monastery. Indeed, still in full use by a cult of anything but pure souled Catholic Nuns. I've had my heart broken by the Church time and again but never, never have I known a Sister of the calling who wasn't tranquil, uplifted and free from ego. This Monastery never had a come to Jesus because he had his own Lizard King gig going on out west of here then.
Alexi appeared in the back of the Eden Gym. I could see her peering around a pillar where some breech-clothed and hoodwinked triage nurses from the Eden Wing played giggling Florence Nightingales to naked, fuck-weary and dead-eyed novices with oxygen and cool towels before blindly guiding them right back into this sweet sea house of sex. That's what Alexi was seeing when she understood the triage training from the stall. The blindfolds made it a game for them, the hoodwinking made it a sin of omission. But who's?
This flouride mist made four out of five of us involuntarily but quite happily sprawl out as wide as our limbs would go and to seek out pleasures I can't describe but when my obvious determination to do one particular act on one particular Armenian in prayer, Sister Godesss Joan caught my eye, more importantly, caught my intent thus awareness, thus ability to recount all I've seen, touched, tasted. She motioned to her wings and I was immediately descended upon by large blonde men who easily hoisted me by my breech-cloth and hung it and my listless body out of the scene.
Alexi had seen my new distress. Some of what was going on here she and Irish Intelligence knew well about but they looked beyond the heresy and he erotic gore of this places history to secure water rights for a conglomerate that looks like a Canadian but acts like an American. Her mission complete, she had no duty to stay. I gave her no signal to help, but whether it was an unwritten code of conduct between allied agents, the heart strings of a love unrequited or the flouride was getting to her now too, she wanted in. But she wasn't alone. There was a man with her. And he had a feather on his neck.
The moment she caught my eye she flashed five fingers.
TO BE CONTINUED