Ardashir

Ardashir knew that he had to leave the palace, and soon.

He was tired of being asked how to do everything and anything. They should know better. They didn’t need his advice or opinion on everything. Or maybe they did. He was the Shah, the King of Kings, after all. There was none higher than him. But even he had started to question this. From birth he had been groomed for the role, passed to him at 23 when his father left his body.

The Shah never dies. Only commoners died. Everybody knew that.

He’d been born in the palace, like the rest of his family. He had never been a commoner. H was told, and believed without question, that he was the human incarnation of God, God himself in human form. Everyone else was created from the Earth – basically dirt. He was entirely spirit, a quantum singularity, unique and holy. This is why he could never be touched, except by his wife. Alas, he didn’t have one – a suitable candidate having not yet been found.

Marriage for the Shah was never easy. He never got to pick who his mate was. That would be absurd. How could he have time to find her – and how could he leave the royal grounds? No, she had to be carefully selected, interviewed, groomed. Sometimes there were choices. Sometimes they were up to a dozen wives, so he could pick who suited his fancy that day.

Each wife was made holy, coequal in Divinity for as long as he lived. The moment he died they all (except the one who had been lucky enough to bear the male heir) were immediately de-consecrated and summarily kicked out of the palace, reduced to scrabbling commoner status again. Every other unlucky wife was sent penniless , with only the clothes she wore, to the street.

Some were savvy enough to sell their royal clothes to make enough money for food for a month. Some were vain enough to keep them, wanting to retain their former glory. Yet their family and neighbors remembered how they had treated them upon attaining divinity. Sometimes this didn’t go well.

Ardashir envied these women, his father’s and grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s widows in their cold anonymity. He wished he could disappear to the dusty streets. 

(Written around late August 2018)

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Soul gardening

Barred and bolted, the tiny door kept out most of the intruders, the nosy, the curious, the hopeful. They all thought that they were unique, were special enough to have a private audience with her. They were wrong.

She’d hired a guard but he was too easily suckered. They’d claim to be her best friend from high school or from her church, or bringing Chinese takeout. They’d try anything to get to her – well, anything other than being honest. The guard was a babyface of course – she couldn’t have a heel connected to her. It would ruin her reputation. But maybe it was going to have to come to that. But for now, the door was the solution. That and the courtyard. If someone was bold enough to get through the barricade, they’d probably get distracted by the courtyard garden that lay between her and the rest of the world.

It was her own special spot, designed by her and her penpal from Japan. How many private tea gardens were there in the world, especially outside of Japan? We would never know. Thus hers was the only one. In the absence of absolute certainty, the only sure thing was the only truth.

She’d come to this impasse because they flocked to her. She was forever needed by those who were empty, absent – hungry ghosts masquerading as humans. She had grown up in a family of them – the emotionally needy, the spiritually bankrupt. She spoke their language fluently. So others, related by temperament and outlook if not by blood, saw her as a kindred spirit. They confided in her, told her all of their dark secrets, the ones they never told their priest or counselor. They could have healed those voids, these ugly reflexes, but they chose to look outward to others for their happiness and healing. 

They told her she was special and she said no – anybody can do this, but maybe they were right. What made her different was that she’d achieved escape velocity and done it. Yes they could – but they didn’t.

So she had to lock herself away from them from time to time – the gnawing neediness, the game they played over and over where they chose the role of broken or helpless or victim or all three. She could no longer play along – it wasn’t healthy for any of them. So here she retreated to her soul garden to nurture herself, to tend the parts of her soul that were worn.

(Written mid August 2018)

Winnowed

The boys were selected, weeded out. The Japanese taught us this with their apples. Figure out which ones were strongest, the best. Keep them to make the crop stronger. No use expending energy on halfway and under-done. No use spending money and time on anything less than the best. No use – the society was all that mattered. Not the individual.

The Winnowers could see the future of each person. They would know at a glance who was headed for addiction or homelessness or who was likely to rob or rape. Stealing is the same, after all, whether it is property or personhood.

Those souls needed to be weeded out – no use allowing the leeches to drain away from the community. All takers and no givers? A waste of time.

In the past, before the Winnowing came to be, women who were awake simply chose to not reproduce with those men. They wouldn’t date them or marry them. Maybe they awoke after they were married, so chose to be celibate or use other methods to ensure his genetic code wouldn’t carry. Divorce wouldn’t work – he might find a weak woman, one who is desperate for attention. She wouldn’t care, wouldn’t think about her duty to the group, the city, the nation, the world.

Nature or nurture? Both, it turned out. You could raise a boy with defective traits in a home that was awake and you had a 70% chance he’d turn out average. Never great. He had too much working against him. And that 30% was too high a chance to risk.

They based this on Matthew 5:27-30. “It is better that you lose one of your members than your whole body be thrown into hell.” Except they took it further. “You should purge the evil in your midst” from Deuteronomy. No sin at all – pluck the weeds before they grow up and choke the fruit. All too often a robber graduated to murder. A liar went to wife beating. Why waste time waiting for it to happen?

So they were culled, sent away, privately. All those missing people on milk boxes and flyers in the mail? That was them. The community made it look like they try to find them, but they knew where they were. Lost forever and soon forgotten. It didn’t take long for the outliers to fall off the radar. They weren’t missed, after all, and there were plenty of other more pressing issues to attend to. Who had time to waste on worrying about where some scofflaw was?

Privately, the Winnowers called themselves the garbagemen, because they took out the trash.

(Written mid August 2018)

Radio set

The lane was quiet this afternoon. Quieter than normal. The November mist had started its slow, funereal march earlier in the day and had apparently chosen to stay. No rays of sunshine dared to burn this final fog off. It sat, like an uninvited guest, curled around door steps, sprawling over topiary.

Paris in the spring was a glorious thing – a delight to the senses, a reason to celebrate being alive. Paris in late autumn was another matter. Once the glory of the oaks and maples in Père Lachaise had passed, the city resigned itself to the slow hours of decay and toil that were the hallmark of winter in the City of Light.

The name was a mockery in this time. Dull gray – all of it, all the time. The only relief came during those rare snowfalls, where the snow reflected what sun there was like a billion tiny mirrors. This was not one of those days. This was a day to retreat to my studio – not to paint or sculpt or knit but to curl up with one of the many books accumulated in piles like stalagmites around the dusty space. Perhaps the electricity was working today and tea could be had as well. If not, no bother. Mrs. McGillicuddy, the ex-pat neighbor would be by shortly to ask if I wanted for anything.

This was my secret space, my true home. Others – my friends, my spouse, thought it my folly – a studio to focus my attention on artwork as work and not play. Too many years of trying to create at home had taught me better. Home was much too comfortable, too cozy. Naps lead to snacks lead to futzing around on the Internet lead to a day wasted and nothing to show for it. Here was different. No distractions. A careful, considered focus. Here there was nothing to do but work on art  in one form or another.

Yet here too was the safety deposit box. That one – the one that required two slim keys but one lost all these years. I’d inherited it from my paternal grandmother, and I knew what was inside. There was no need to open it. It still worked even if I couldn’t see inside of it.

Inside was a pure Galena crystal and all the fixin’s for a radio – no battery required. All I had to do was hold this box in both my hands and it received a clear pure signal from beyond, or behind, or within. I wasn’t sure and Mama wasn’t clear about it. Maybe she didn’t even know. Either way, I could hear the messages clearly that way, sure as you please. No guessing, no having to interpret images and feelings and impressions. Sure, I could get messages without it, and did all the time. This was different. This was special. This was the best Philosopher’s Stone, the true magic, the real deal.

This was worth the eight kilometer walk from my home. Normally I’d have hired a cab, but they weren’t running today. Was it the weather? Or a strike? Or a civic holiday? It wasn’t worth the bother to find out why. It wouldn’t change the fact that there were no cabs to hail that gloomy Wednesday afternoon.

And it wouldn’t do to keep the box at home. It might get lost in the piles of stuff that accumulated like driftwood or snow banks. Or it might get accidentally picked up by the wrong person and they’d blow a fuse in themselves.

No moving parts in this special radio – but plenty in people. It took a lot of training to be able to hold the box without harm to yourself. Sure, some of that was natural ability, but the rest? Practice. All those magic tricks my grandmother taught me? Turns out she was training me how to use this receiver. It wouldn’t do to let it get in the hands of an amateur. They might end up catatonic, or worse.

Ghost-child

It was morning, and the child was gone. Tenement halls and alleyways – empty. No sign of her, not even a whiff of her perfume like a ghost in the air.

The apartment was an afterthought, almost an accident. It wasn’t meant to be. It was built between the brownstones, the rowhouses, the three-story walk-ups. It was just enough for Millie and her mom when they moved, father long dead or so she’d been told. That little lie was enough for then. Later she’d learn the truth, when she was older and stronger. By then it would make more sense. But he would have to do the telling.

Had he left? Not really. He’d never been there at all, not as far as Nancy Malig knew. She’d had dreams of a lover for three days in a row, those 10 years back. Now she had a nine-year-old daughter and no husband to show for it.

It wasn’t easy raising a child without a father around, but few people raised an eyebrow. It was so common. Little did they know how uncommon this situation was. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe she wasn’t an anomaly. Maybe many others were ghost babies, dream children, and they just weren’t saying. Maybe they didn’t know, because maybe there was a guy around – a husband or boyfriend, a one night stand. He got the blame or the credit and there was nothing to it but to go along, like cuckoo bird.

But now Millie was missing. Had been since Tuesday. It was normal for her to spend time by herself, so it might’ve been hours that she’d been gone before Nancy noticed.

She was an unusual child, bright for her age. She seemed to know things without being taught. After a while her mother gave up and didn’t try to teach her anything because it was a waste of her time. But now she was missing. Now it was serious.

Little did Nancy realize that Millie was with her Dad, slipped between the dimensions, shoehorned in like their shotgun house. She was 1/2 ghost, 1/2 human, or fully both depending on her mood. Those times she’d not been noticed? She was there, in that space between the atoms. She’d done it all her life and never thought anything of it because that was her normal. Why would she? It was the same as you not thinking about breathing, or walking.

Millie was at home here in this in-between space, more at home than she’d ever been in her house. The space between was part of who she was, part of how she came to be. Her father had Seen this alleyway before it had been sealed in, and he knew down to his core the future of it. He could See in his mind’s eye the need for more housing than the city had space for. He could see the builders appealing to the codes department, changing zoning laws, density allowances. He knew before they knew. He always did when it came to buildings. That was his particular gift, specialty sight.

Some empaths could See it all and went mad with the knowledge. He was grateful, now, for his limited vision. He’d initially been frustrated, thinking he’d been cheated, short-changed. But instead he’d been spared. Limited vision is better than total when it came to sanity. Those who could see everything – the when, the why, the hows, the who – they didn’t last long. The mental hospitals were full of them – lives cut short by knowing everything, all the time. Some could barely keep up with the time, much less the day. “Alert and oriented x 4” was not a test they could pass. In the absence of family who could cover for them or friends who could take care of their daily needs, they were institutionalized.

Millie’s father knew the survival of his trait depended on him being free and remaining off the radar. He paid in cash everywhere he went. He owned very little. He took public transport. He was friendly enough to be nearly invisible. When he saw Nancy he knew she was ideal. She was strong, independent, and educated. He liked that in a woman. It was unfortunate he could never marry, but that was the price that had to be paid for talent like his.

He first saw her when she got on the bus to go to her job at the college. He smiled and made room for her on the bus bench. They made small talk. He learned she taught intro level college English classes. She was working on her PhD at the same college and needed income that was also a foot in the door to getting a “real” job there. They saw each other almost every day for two months on the bus route. On the last day he shook her hand, telling her he enjoyed getting to know her but it was time for him to move on. That touch, that skin to skin contact, was enough. He looked her in the eyes, squeezed her hand one last time and the deed was done.

It was after that Nancy started having her dreams. Every night in her dreams for three in a row she was embraced by a lover so completely that she regretted getting up in the morning. Every morning she hoped it was real.

What he’d done was all energy transfer. That was how Mary became pregnant with Jesus after all. Everybody had the ability to do this, they just didn’t believe hard enough. The radical thing was that they didn’t have to have sex to have children. But they thought they did, and they thought they wanted to, so they did. Sometimes they did it to the point of getting sick, emotionally, physically, spiritually.

A child was created at every joining – of every kind. Some were physical. Some were spiritual. The best were both.  Some were children in the usual sense. Some were inventions, collaborations of a different sort. All involved communication on the deepest level.

Some creations were intentional. Some weren’t. It was readily apparent which were which. True empaths knew this was why it was so important to have an intention before they joined with anyone, before they shared energy. You never knew what horrors could happen otherwise.

Millie was happy here with her Dad, but she knew she had to return home soon. It wouldn’t do to get her Mom worried more than she already was. But could she return? She’d been here in this between space longer than ever before. Slipping back into the material world was more painful, more difficult than ever this time. This far gone, could she return? Did she even want to?

The material world wasn’t all that. Sure, there were senses to delight – pumpkin muffins, avocado toast, hot chocolate – autumn leaves to see / hear / smell. But only in the spirit could she truly feel, with all of her senses, all at once, often overlapping. Colors had taste. Smells had sound. In the body it was one or the other and often so intense it was addictive. In the spirit it was just right – an unimaginable wholeness unparalleled in the body. She’d long wondered if people who were stuck in the web of addiction would benefit from a sideways trip into their soul – to be temporarily free of the immature needs / cravings of the body’s senses so they could gain some perspective, to feel home in their bodies, in the world. But that was impossible for most. Most were so convinced that the physical was all there was that they couldn’t imagine any other way. Stepping back and observing life instead of reflexively reacting to it – you might as well ask them to levitate.

And just like that, she was back. She had spent so long musing on other people’s problems that she fell out of the rhythm of her breath, the rhythm that allowed her to be in the moment. And just like that she remembered what it was to be in a body, the dull pressure of her soul inside her flesh. It was like a hand inside a puppet. Remove the hand and no life was present.

Millie suddenly felt the nagging needs of her body again, its hungers, its fears. It always wanted something. Even at her tender age she’d learned not to let it have its way all the time.

She could hear her mother outside calling for her, trying to find her. She opened the window and called down to her. Perhaps this was the afternoon she would have the talk with her mother, to tell her where she had come from.

My heart is a grey well

My heart is a grey well, a swirling mist, a wind of sighs.

It says to me, finally, in a voice so small, 

A voice I had almost forgotten,

“Ah, finally now, you will listen to me.”

Tears roll from my eyes at this unexpected reunion

Of self and Self, of spirit and Spirit.

This is a second childhood of my heart 

The ground of my life has been broken 

And look, within, a small green shoot of bamboo

Growing towards the light.  

Old ways won’t tend this new life

Old paths will not lead me onward

Now is time to be patient and trust

In the still small voice inside my soul

That says you are safe, you are home.