Tag Archive: sacrifice


Bad girl’s death

“Don’t I rate a bad girl’s death?” – Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird

It’s cold, but at least the wind is dry.  Better than the wet nights, at least.  The wind cuts and moans, but it doesn’t suck the heat out of you as bad as sleet does.  It’s an unthinking mercy from nature.

Doorways are good.  They cut the wind down on three sides, and if they’re deep enough, all that’s left is a little skirl of breeze that doesn’t have the strength to bite by the time it gets to you.  Doorways are a place that’s almost inside, but usually not inside enough that anybody will bother to throw you out, if you’re careful about the doorway you pick.

Almost inside.  If you’re lucky, there will be glass all the way down the door, and you can push up against it and get a little trickle of heat out from the world that is really inside.  Inside seems like a foreign country now; one that requires passports and documents in languages you don’t understand, on paper you’ve never seen.  “Inside” is like “safe” – both of them are words that have a meaning, just not one that applies to you.  Option E, none of the above, because it just flat doesn’t exist for people like you are now.

Have to be careful which doorway you pick, though.  Nobody wants you messing up their porch, maybe doing something they wouldn’t approve of near their warm, safe insideness.  Getting chased off means losing heat, losing energy, losing a little more of things you don’t know if you’ll be able to replace.  Sometimes it means worse things.  Words like knives, blows that burn up more energy, more heat, more life.  Bleeding you out by making you expose yourself to air that hasn’t already been warmed by your body or by the door.

Tiredness is a poison and a warning.  It’s meant to make you seek shelter, seek food, so that the body can replenish itself.  Being tired and cold is supposed to tell you to warm up and get rest and fuel.  After a certain point, all it tells you is that you’ve failed again.  Failed to get inside.  Failed to get food.  Failed and failed and failed at looking enough like a good girl to make it through the door.

Some nights the failure is a frustration, an irritation, an inconvenience.  But if the failure goes on long enough, it gets dangerous.  Failure begets failure; if you can’t eat, can’t get warm, you look like a bad girl.  Too skinny, too ragged, too wild.  Then it gets easier and easier to fail, and you get closer and closer to failing forever.

It’s your own fault, you know.  If you’d just been a good girl, you wouldn’t have to curl up in doorways, scrounging heat and hoping to steal enough to get by.  Enough what?  Enough anything.  Anything that can be food or can be traded for it.  Food and warmth become your only goals, if the failure goes on long enough.  Anything that will stop the feeling of bleeding out through your skin.  Anything that will stop the gnawing inside, keep you from thinking even for a moment about how close you are to running out of energy completely.

If you’d just been able to figure out how to be a good girl, you wouldn’t have to go through any of this.  But you weren’t smart enough, weren’t fast enough, weren’t good enough even to pretend to be good.  Now you never will be.  Maybe next time you’ll remember to listen, to be obedient, to be pleasing.  Except for you, there is no next time.

There’s only the doorway, and a bad girl’s death.  Drawn up, curled up, hoarding your energy and trying to steal more, right until the very end.

Only bad girls steal.  That’s why you’re caught, almost inside and never safe.

It’s a bad girl’s death, and it’s all yours.

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“They’re afraid of rumors and tall tales.  And I let them be afraid.  It makes my job easier.”  – Richard Kadrey, Butcher Bird

“We wear the mask that grins and lies, / It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” – Paul Lawrence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask

 

When I look in the mirror, I flinch.

I should never have put it on.

This is all my own fault.  I should never have put it on, because now it won’t come off.

All I wanted was to be strong, and to be scary, just so I could get them to leave me alone for a minute.  And now it won’t come off.  I’ve tried everything I can think of, and I don’t know how it stays on.  Trying to take it off hurts, now, and feels like trying to pull off my own face.

But my face doesn’t look like this.  Please, don’t let this be what my face looks like.  I can’t be this… this thing I see, now.  It was only supposed to be for a minute.

I can’t live like this.  This can’t be who I’ve turned into, over one stupid decision.  Nothing that split second can be permanent.  That’s just not fair.  I can’t have turned into something like this, just from that one second’s fear and anger and shame.  One decision can’t make me a different person.  It just can’t.

But, I mean…

It’s not that bad, not really.  I can get used to it, if I give it a little while.  And it sure as shit does what I wanted it to do.  It makes them leave me alone.  It makes them leave me right the hell alone.

There are advantages to a face that makes people flinch, even if one of those people is me.

Who am I to turn down something that useful?  I mean, really, this whole thing has done me a favor.  I can be anything I want to be under here, and nobody will be able to tell the difference.  All they’ll see is this new face, and they’ll be afraid.

Well, let them be afraid.  They ought to be.

This might be the best stupid decision I ever made.  I hope it never comes off.  Let them be afraid.  Everybody knows monsters don’t get lonely.

Last words

(Author’s note: y’all know I’m not a verse kind of person, but this challenge spoke to me, so I will speak back to it.)

 

Last words

razor keys
revolving keys

You wrapped my fingers
around them
tight, so tight

Keeper of shadows
the last shadows
of words
ever spoken

I will keep the faith
I will keep the faith
I will keep the faith

by blood and bone
and pain and shadow

I will keep the faith

I will hide the shadows
your words cast

and protect the light
your life has left

you are missed
your faith is kept

Wishing well

“If wishes were water, there would be no word for thirst.” – Traditional

The wishing well

Must wish you well

For here

And ever after

The wishing well

A willing slave

Makes your wish

The master

 

They’d rented a cabin, off in the back of nowhere, because there was so much family and so much to do, but who wants to deal with any of that right now?  They’ve been married, and when you’re just married nothing else really matters at all.  So they picked a place where none of it could bother them, where they could just be with each other and stay together, pretending that time never had to come back in.

The young lady running the retreat was very polite, very kind.  She explained carefully which paths to take to find their cabin, which was all ready for them.

“As you know, we’ve piped in for running water in all the cabins, but there isn’t any electricity besides the water heater and the main heater for the cabin.  No cell signals, no televisions, no computers, none of that silliness.  Just you and your companion, until the end of the week.  Have an excellent stay, and don’t hesitate to come tell me if there’s anything you need.”  Her smile was warm as she handed them the little tag to hang on the front of their door.  “Just to show it’s occupied, you see.  We don’t really need locks out here, not when we already know each other, do we?”

 

The walk up to the cabin was steep enough to put both of them out of their breath, get the blood up and moving.  They didn’t feel the autumn snap in the mountain air at all by the time they reached the door.  It said 4, just like on their little round tab, and they hung the tab on the hook over the number, giggling to each other.

She carried him over the threshold, just because.  And they laughed, and all lit up with love, they kissed and kissed until all the breath they could share between them ran out.  Then they separated for a second, and went off to find the bedroom.  After that, well, it went about as you might think, and some things are private.

The first day went about like that, too.  There was plenty of food in the icebox, a fireplace to warm drinks when they wanted to, a stream to cool them when they didn’t.  The second day they didn’t even notice going by.  They only noticed when it was time to light the lamps. The third day, even the lamps stayed dark.

On the fourth day, one of them looked to the other and said, “Let’s go exploring, my love.  There’s all this brilliant mountain we may not see again for a while, so let’s see it while we’re here.”

“Mmmmm.”  The other one looked thoughtful, then grinned.  “Indeed, there are a lot of places to explore the possibilities of, dear love.  Let’s find all of them, and see what possibilities there are!”

 

So they went out together, just after dawn, and set off tracing the paths that wound up and down the mountain.  Most of them were clearly marked – Cabin 5, Office, Private Do Not Enter.  Some were little more than game trails.

Well, these were mostly city people, and they’d forgotten two very important things.  First, that mountain paths are not like roads; they have a life of their own, and are not obliged to keep going at all, much less the direction you expect them to go.  Second, that out in the wild places, there’s not much around that cares whether humans can see or not.  So, if you’re going to be out after dark, bring a light.  If you have no light, be sure you can find your way back to some before the sun sets.

So, of course, they started trying some of the little trails, all strewn with crunchy leaves and moss, to see where these unmarked paths of adventure would lead.  When one petered out, they’d backtrack to find the nearest turnoff, confident in their hearts that this was people country, after all, and they’d find their way back soon enough.

But soon enough was when the sun began to drop sharply behind the shoulder of the mountain, and they began to feel a little alone and worried.  They called out, but no one replied, except the forest going deadly silent around them at the noise.

 

All was not lost, though.  They did find a larger trail, one that looked beaten down by many feet, that looked as though it must lead to familiar ground.  There was a weathered, overgrown wooden sign pushed flat into the undergrowth beside the turnoff.  In a flowing, delicate hand, it said Wishing Well.

“A wishing well!  It’s perfect, my love.  And we’ll be able to find our way back from there easily, I’m sure.”

“It… has a sign, at least, even if it’s an old one.  It can’t lead us any further into nowhere than we already are.”

So off they went, hand in hand, following the trail to the Wishing Well.  It hadn’t been in the brochure, but certainly it sounded romantic and a little thrilling.

It wasn’t a long trail, and it was very clear, easy on their feet.  They were tired, and relieved at finally having found a path that was more walking than climbing.  So they walked, and rested their lungs and hearts and legs, and talked of what they would do, when they went back to the real world.  It was just beginning to feel like being back in a human-run, human-friendly kind of world would be a bit of a relief.

 

The space between one step and another, beneath two arching trees all decked in orange and gold and crimson, brought them into the clearing.  It was startlingly warm, and felt almost like summer.  The sun was hiding itself completely by now, but a fat, bright, welcoming moon gave them plenty of light.

Sure enough, right in the center of the circle of clearing, there was a well.  It was aged red brick, with no roof at all.  Just a circle of brick, with the promising burble of water chuckling to itself in the deepness. There was a long, bronze plaque on one side, scribed in with letters so old and worn that they were almost illegible.

“Oh, let’s dip our toes in, do!  It’s so warm here, and my feet ache something awful.”

“You, my love, are brilliant.  That’s just the idea we needed.”

So they shucked off boots and socks, and sat on the ledge of the well.  The water just brushed up against the tips of their toes, tickling and inviting.

 

“It is a wishing well, you know, my love.  Make a wish for yourself, so we will have something to look forward to when we go back!”

“You know wishing on wells is silly, but I suppose it can’t hurt anything.  I wish for a long, long life to spend with you.”

“Oh, you wonderful, silly creature!  I wish for all our dreams to come true, together.”

And they laughed, and held hands, and enjoyed the feel of the water soothing their tired, swollen, hot feet, gently lapping against their heels.

“You know, this isn’t such a bad game, after all.  I wish for you always to be just as lovely to me as you are, this very moment.”

“Well then, I wish for *you* always to be as close to me, in heart and in spirit, as you are right this very second!”

Laughter then, a little tinged with the tears that come from too much laughter and not a little relief that everything will, everything must turn out all right, after all.  And the water felt so delicious and cool against their legs, that who could argue?

“Ah-hah!  I know the perfect wish.  I wish for both of us to be madly, desperately, hopelessly in love with each other, just as we are now, forever and ever and ever.”

“Hmmm.  I think we can manage that.  Then I, therefore, wish for everywhere we go to be as wonderful, and as amazing, as this moment.”

 

They embraced then, and kissed, and were madly in love and gleeful with it.  Then something happened, no one knows what.  Instead of the water kissing and lapping up against their knees, something happened.  A loose brick turned, or one of them lost their balance, or they were too busy kissing and laughing to stay perched on the wall underneath them.

She slipped into the water, him reaching after her, but she went straight down under, almost as if she were pulled by a deep river current under the rock.  He called and called for her, desperate, panicking.  He was stripping off his shirt to go in after her when she came back up.

Her hair was all slick and wet, plastered back to her head, kelp decorating her delicately, just as flowers had on their wedding day.  She reached up with both hands, the peaks of her breasts just visible above the cool, dark water.

“I wish for us, my love.  I wish for us.  I wish for all our wishes to come true.”

She pulled him down gently, so gently, so she could kiss him.  His eyes went wide with shock, then glassy with cold, and he did not resist as she pulled him down into the wishing well with her.  They slipped beneath the surface, invisible and silent.

 

Miles away, there was a small clink.  The friendly young lady at the desk looked over to the end of the counter, empty only a second before.  There was a bottle of dark red wine, chill and dripping.  Beside it there lay a little round disk of wood, burned with the number 4 on it, bone dry.

The young lady smiled, a friendly and welcoming smile.

“Why, thank you, Lady.  I am pleased to have been of service.”  And she opened the wine, and poured a small libation to the dirt beside the front door.  “To your very good health.”  Then she poured herself a glass, and lounged into the chair behind the counter, sipping thoughtfully, a pleased and carnivorous delight tugging at the corners of her eyes.

I have always had a soft spot in my spirituality for the All-Father, Odin One-Eye.  He of Thought and Memory, who made a sacrifice of himself to himself, to find the wisdom writ on the things he had made or the things he knew nothing of, depending on which legends or stories or truths you believe.  There is a warm place in my mind for him, because he had the right of the spirit of sacrifice, you see.

 

Once upon a time (because all the best stories begin with once upon a time, O Best Beloved) there was a man who was a god who was also a man.  There are many stories about him, true and untrue and half-true and never-true and should-be-true and will-be-true.  One of the ones that should-be-true is that he made a sacrifice of himself to himself, to find wisdom that no other man had, so that the might of his mind and spirit could not be gainsaid by any other creature, in this world or any other.  He stayed in his place of pain for nine days (three times three, because three is a number of power, and three threes is the most powerful of all) and when the time was done, he was a new thing, a different man, a changed being.  He had wisdom, to match his thoughts and his memories, and a new seeing to replace the eye he had lost before.  Some say the eye had nothing to do with the tree, and some say they were intertwined so intimately that the tree grew from the eye in the depths of the world below.  Some say he gained a new magic, a new rune, for each day he spent on the tree – some say one for each night – some say three for every day, or every night, some say one magic for every three days or nights, and some say that he gained only one magic in all that time, the magic of knowing and speaking.

 

I say that for me, they are all wrong.  Old One-Eye had the right of it, and had to learn it the hard way.  All of us who are stubborn hard-headed war-mongering trickster deities do.  We have to bleed to learn, because we are too stupid and convinced of our own cleverness to learn any other way.  We have to bind ourselves to our World Trees to learn the magic of sacrifice.  There is no sacrifice but yourself, because you cannot bind anyone else to the tree.  The nails slide out, the ropes fall off, because you cannot magic anyone but yourself with sacrifice.  No one can be forced to learn from your pain but you.  The magic of sacrifice is this: your blood sings to your blood, calls to your bones, thrums in your brain.  Yours.  Your flesh is yours to burn on your own altar, and no one else’s.  That is the beauty and the price of it.  Your pain will buy pleasure and magic and knowledge like no other: yours.  It is a coin good in no other realm, and a price good for no other treasure.  On any other altar, in any other world, it is ashes and smoke.  Good for nothing but signals and hope that someone else will find the way to a tree.

 

The magic of sacrifice is also this: in burning yourself on the altar of yourself, you can learn how to make men into gods who are also men.  Old One-Eye had the right of it.  A sacrifice of yourself to yourself, and the price you pay is worth the coin you receive in return.  Knowledge is power, and the only coin worth having is the one that can’t be stolen.

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