Celeynn

Perhaps everything she did was an act of defiance.

A chilled wind snaked its way through the temple, slithering its way through the halls and chambers. She felt it touch the nape of her neck, her skin responding with a shiver. Her eyes were locked on the page, ignorant of anything else. A thumb pressed against the bottom of the pages, rubbing against the next page. Her fingers toyed with the paper, waiting for her eyes to catch up to their intent.

Flip.

She continued to scan, continued to absorb. Page after page. At some point, the tiny mechanisms of linguistics all start to fall away. Eventually, the process of learning, of absorbing — it becomes so addictive, so absolutely crucial, that it starts to become a challenge to place exactly where you are in the process. The information travels from the page to you, but that pathway — even the temporality of it — becomes impossible to pinpoint.

She’d always been like this. It was a curse, really.

Stick someone like her in this order, place her near this much knowledge… the end result was inevitable. That’s what she told herself, at least. Over and over. It was always so cold in here, and these books were a constant source of heat. Of warmth. They were a flame she could place her hands over and just… absorb it all.

Or maybe she was just a moth.

Did it matter?

It did. But it was like pornography. The words faded into sigils, into tantalizing secrets. Things she never was supposed to know. Things they kept from her. There was good reason for that, mind. She was aware of that. But, truthfully: if someone sets all the knowledge in the world in front of you, and you just happen to pick up the bits that are forbidden… I mean, what did they expect?

Her life was always supposed to be a certain way. She never had much of a choice in it. None of them did, really. It was just that her sisters, well, they all seemed to want to belong — to serve Her. She did too, deep down.

But in pledging service to the moon, does that mean ignoring everything else? Does it mean that there is only one path?

Her eyes closed, slowly drawing in a breath.

“Cel,” a gentle voice called from behind her.

She nearly jumped out of her chair, slapping her palm into the page — an exaggerated, if futile, attempt to censor the information on it — to keep it from prying eyes.

“By Her grace you frightened me,” she said. Her pulse thumped in her ear louder than the voice that startled her.

“You’ve been here for hours. Don’t you think you should rest?”

She let her shoulders drop, slipping the book in front of her closed around her fingers, letting them spill out from between the pages.

“I haven’t been here that long, not really.”

“Not really? You’ve been here for hours today. Days, lately. Weeks, even. You are long sense done your studies — shouldn’t you be moving on to more practical things?”

“Practical things,” she repeated under her breath, the slightest hint of distaste. “Yes, I should be spending more time with the others in ritual, but… I’ve still got a lot to learn here.”

“I saw what you were reading.”

She froze, suddenly very aware of the breeze passing through the halls. Very aware of the book still in her grasp. Very aware of the Druid behind her, and his stupid, prying amber eyes.

“It’s… interesting.”

“If I told the Priestess, would she find it interesting.”

“Please don’t.”

“Why?”

“Please… just — look, just don’t.”

“You know I wouldn’t.”

She’d known him for decades, but that still didn’t calm her nerves. She wouldn’t be able to hide that — so she didn’t. Instead she just glared at him. That’ll do it.

“I’m serious. I just am worried about you.”

“There’s nothing to worry about.”

There wasn’t even a gram of truth in that statement. There was a lot to worry about. If ever possible thread of anxiety existed in front of her right now, she could weave a damned quilt. It wasn’t just what was in those books — it was the very real knowledge that she wasn’t the only one to read them, or to ever have read them.

She was being taught one side of a coin when others had mastered the whole thing. Was she worried that one day that ignorance would haunt her? Yes. Was she also worried that the lack of ignorance would ruin her? Also yes. Funny that — sometimes, the tiniest, most seemingly innocuous scrap of knowledge can build into a curse. Once you become aware of a thing, it’s impossible to ever turn away from it.

Her fingers played against the cover of the book. He’d said nothing more, but she could still feel his glare.

“Look, I’m not about to do something stupid or drastic. I just think it’s best that we are aware of all the forces around us. I don’t think we should be using them, or even shouting about them — these things are hidden for a reason — but I can’t just act like I never heard of the shadow.”

He grimaced, shaking his head.

“You can’t be serious. I thought maybe… I didn’t really think you’d been reading up on that this whole time.”

“Well, not this whole time.”

He grunted.

“I’m going to stay quiet, but you promise me — you promise me right now — this is just another one of your sudden interests, right? Same as alchemy? You’re going to be interested and then… not?”

“Probably,” she said.

“You’ve got to do better than that.”

“Okay, fine, I promise. It’s just curiosity, nothing more.”

His frown faded a bit, though it was hardly gone. “Fine. We’re going to be heading out soon — will you come with us? Maybe breathe less musty air for a change?”

It was a lie and she knew it. This was more than curiosity. Deep down, she knew that was the case. Or, at least, part of her did. The other was confident she’d put this book away, follow her friend out of here, and be distracted by something or something else and that’d be it. She’d never return to this.

But the other part of her — it was defiant. It was stronger.

It already had her hooks in her.

 

 

 

Breaking Down Taste

Very recently I decided to put together a playlist of 100 songs as a sort of representation of my taste in music (you can find it here, if you’re interested). While that seems like a lot, I listen to a ton of music — last.fm tells me I’ve listened to nearly 900 artists, and that’s just based off of Spotify. I’m sure it easily passes 1,000 if you count YouTube, vinyl, etc.

Yet, at the same time I don’t treat listening to music as some sort of gamified collect ’em all thing. I’m a big proponent of the importance of the album, and I tend to sit with some songs for a pretty long time before moving on. Likewise, I have a stable of probably 5 – 10 bands that make up a relatively large percentage of my listening time.

And yet, when someone asks me what I listen to, answer with my favorite bands just doesn’t really seem to paint a full picture.

Here’s the thing: while it might seem a little wanky to have a 100-song playlist ready to go just in case someone asks me that question (or one like it), I’ve been in this predicament at least ten times this past year — and each time I said to myself, “Man, if only I could just share a playlist…”

Well, now I can!

Additionally, I think that this playlist says a lot about who I am — all of these songs mean something to me, and while I’m almost tempted to write something about all of them, I figured for a quick blog post I could break down the major categories that many of the songs fall in (along with a few specific examples).

So yeah. Here we go!

The Markers

A meta-meta category! These are tracks that signal something’s about to shift. Here’s what to look for:

Cabinets of Curiosity – The Chemist & The Engineer: This is the “Cabinets” line. Everything before this is stuff I think “normal” folks would enjoy. After it, things tend to get stranger, heavier, and just less listener-friendly.

Strapping Young Lad – Detox: Starting with Detox, the last ten songs are intense — with Detox being the “softest.” This is sort of my challenge to folks that have listened this far — the last ten songs are punishing, and I expect very few people to actually enjoy them.

Kamelot – Forever: While there are a few “heavy” songs before Forever, this is the first genuine no-arguments metal song on the list. From this point on, the playlist starts to ramp up toward stuff that’s heavier and more progressive.

Muse – Map of the Problematique: This is the reverse Detox — the first ten songs of the playlist are made to be super welcoming. If I wanted to look not like the kinda guy that would basically do a deep dive into his own musical taste, these are ten songs I’d show people to give them an idea of what I’m into.

Formative Tunes

These are tracks that I don’t necessarily listen to a lot these days, but they are so important to who I am that I can’t leave them out. These tracks also tended to be my “gateway drug” into specific genres.

Robert Miles – Children

Goldfrapp – Strict Machine

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Static X – The Only

Must-Haves

These are the obvious tracks — the ones that likely get the most play, and the ones that my friends would immediately recognize.

Opeth – Ghost of Perdition

Opeth – Blackwater Park

Black Sun Empire – Arrakis

Katatonia – My Twin

Meaningful Tracks

These are tracks that I’m fond of not only because of them, well, sounding good — but also because of what they represent for me, personally. I can’t listen to these without being brought back to a very specific place.

Conjure One – Center of the Sun

VAST – Touched

Porcupine Tree – Blackest Eyes

Machinae Supremacy – Player One

Genre Posts

These tracks might not be my favorite — but they do represent their respective genres thoroughly. While these all get a lot of play, it’s more about what they represent than the individual tracks themselves.

S.P.Y – By Your Side (Liquid Drum & Bass)

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet – inter-are (Jazz)

Soilwork – Arrival (Melodic Death Metal)

Earth – Engine of Ruin (Drone Metal)

The Extreme

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that knows me that I like a lot of extreme, weird, almost unlistenable music. I’ve stuck most of these at the bottom of the playlist, as it ramps up to “harder” and less listener-friendly tracks.

Blut Aus Nord – Epitome XVIII

Sunn O))) – Big Church

Wolves in the Throne Room – The Old Ones Are With Us

Herod – Silent Truth

Oddities

These are tracks that I included explicitly because I know that they’re unexpected. These are tracks I love that folks might not expect.

Janelle Monae – 57821

Karma Fields – For Me

Big K.R.I.T. – Keep the Devil Off

Popol Vuh – Through Pain to Heaven

… and that’s it!

I could go on and on and on, but yeah. Someone will find this post useful one day. :p

Want to write? Be impatient.

I don’t think I’m an authority on writing by any means, but I feel like after a few degrees, a publication or two, god knows how many articles, and at least one career defined by words… well, I’ve at least got a little bit of advice.

So here’s a bit I’ve been mulling over in my head recently: don’t be patient.

I think patience has its place across many artistic mediums and genres — the thing is, it tends to belong within the creation itself, not in the act of creation. Music, for example, can benefit from a little patience. Film, too. And yes, even literature. An author willing to drag you along, page by page, until the very end — holding out that big reveal, that magical line they thought of ages ago — that’s nothing but patience. But, like I said, that’s all part of the work itself — it’s baked in during its creation.

But when it comes to the creation of art — at least writing, which is the only medium I can really say I have any experience in — I think impatience is a much better virtue.

Now, I’m aware that part of this is down to my writing style. They say that writers generally fall into two categories: those that meticulously choose every word, and those that slash and burn and rip there way through whatever it is they’re doing. Thing is, I lean so heavily to the reckless abandon side of things that I can’t even relate (not even a little!) to someone that treats every sentence like some precious life-long project.

And really, when it comes down to it, I think part of being impatient is developing a cockiness — an arrogance, even. When you’re an impatient writer, you’re trusting your instincts. You’ll think of a verb, and then go with it. Could you have paused for a second and thought of a better one? Sure, you could’ve — but impatience dictates that you trust your gut.

If you’re describing someone trying to get away from something and your brain spits out “running” instead of “sprinting,” what does that tell you? You could take it to mean that your verb choice wasn’t specific enough, and that you need to try harder — or maybe you could see the simple beauty in the world “run.” Sprinting implies a specific variety of an action. Is that really what you are trying to convey? Do you really want to emphasize a sense of speed?

Impatience also dictates that you stand by your words.

Writing is all about vulnerability — and by being impatient, you are simultaneously being more and less vulnerable.

You’re being more vulnerable because you’re letting your true self be seen a bit more. Often, I feel that writers will edit themselves out of their own writing — I used to see this with my students, and now I see it professionally way too often. When someone knows eyes are on them, they’ll cut out the parts that make their writing something identifiable and replace all of those good bits with generic, AP-approved fluff.

That doesn’t mean that everything you pop out will be good. Fuck no. Most of it will be total shit. But here’s the thing: if you never let the “you” be seen in your writing, then you’re going to end up polishing the generic bits into something that’s technically perfect but utterly devoid of, well, you.

When, eventually, you have to be you in your writing — whatever that happens to mean in the moment — you’re going to collapse into existential mush. What do you even sound like? How do you even know what your writing — what you on the page — looks like?

I cannot explain how many times I see this professionally: otherwise exceptionally competent writers falling apart when I need to see their voice in a piece. And really, there’s no other explanation. How does an otherwise fantastic writer just completely forget how words work when you ask them to put more of themselves in an article?

But then there’s that bit about less vulnerability.

Here’s the thing: if you spend hours crafting your sentences and making them perfect, then when you’re inevitably told they’re shit, you’re going to crumble. And why wouldn’t you? You crafted something — and it wasn’t good enough. Your heart and soul and blood and tears and emotions and lived experienced — it all was put in there, and you relived all of it as you tried to pick the absolute perfect syntax to convey whatever it was you desperately wanted to say.

On the other hand, if you are impatient — if you trust your gut — not only are you going to not form a parental attachment to your work (which will let you treat it objectively later), you’re also not going to give a shit when it gets ripped apart.

That doesn’t mean being immune to criticism — far from it. Confidence in writing means knowing that most sentences you write won’t be great — but that’s okay. There are very few writers that pump out novels filled with line after line of beautiful prose. Even the best writers — even the best literature we’ve got — it might be filled with beauty, but there’s also a lot of stuff in the middle that’s just okay. And that’s… fine. Trust me. No one will remember your weak sentences as a writer.

Unless, of course, you have no voice, or no personality. And… well, see above for how that often happens (at least in my experience).

And yes — I know that this nugget of advice can quickly start to sound like “just don’t care.”

So let me make this clear: impatience does not mean a lack of care. It’s precisely the opposite. Impatience is writing what you want to write — what you really want to write. It’s caring less about the critic between you and the page and more about the person putting the words on it. It’s knowing that not everything you put to paper will be good, but that after doing it enough, you’ll learn what good actually is — and what good sounds like when you’re doing it.

So yeah, don’t wait. Don’t stare at the page trying to pick the perfect verb. Don’t agonize over dialog tags.

Just write something and get the fucking idea out of your head.

 

 

 

Meeting

Tired. If you had to describe him in one word, that was it.

London sat at the far end of the conference table, a half-empty tumbler full of lukewarm water sitting in front of him. A neat, leather-bound portfolio sat next to the water, an old heirloom pen tucked up against it. His thumb drummed quietly against its spine, his arm rested in such a way to avoid creasing his suit against the table.

He’d tilt his head this way and that, nodding at the other nameless businessmen in the room with him. For the most part, they ignored him. Why would they pay attention to him? He was nothing. An officer for some other part of the company they didn’t really care about, here to dawdle and act like he gave a shit — like he was really part of the team — when in reality he’d been eyeing his Submariner like a hawk, just waiting for the top of the hour.

Soon as that minute hand swung far enough, he’d fly out of there. He’d shuffle off with the rest of them, acting like he had another meeting to oh-so-urgently march on over to. In reality he’d just head to his car, throw the radio on and dream of Bermuda, or somewhere else he imagined rich white people flocked to.

He let out a deep breath, fidgeting with his watch band. Folks outside of the business world always thought fancy watches were there as a show piece. A shouty, $8,000 “look how fucking special I am” beacon. Nah. It was just because when you hit a certain point in life, all you really want to do is count the seconds until you don’t have to anymore. So why not look at something pretty? And, you know, a little bit of that showpiece stuff. A little of everything is for show. Never forget that.

“… and that’s where we’ll end for today,” an extraordinarily tall man at the opposite side of the room said. He reached over to grab his briefcase, snapping up some documents and piling them all in.

A murmuring buzz of voices all thanked him, with varying degrees of sincerity.

“Yes, yes,” was all London could get out. He was long past his days of shoveling other people’s shit into his mouth. Besides, far back here no one would notice him anyway, just like he’d like it.

He stood up, giving a courtesy nod to a woman that’d been sitting next to him. It was as tepid as his water, truthfully. But it was all he could muster.

London reached his hands over his head, stretching his neck to the side. Fucking office chairs. He had to resist cursing under his breath as he yanked his muscles back into place.

One by one they filtered out of the room, a line of ducks crossing the proverbial lake to nowhere. Or a promotion. He’d paid so little attention to the presentation he wasn’t sure if he should be happy or worried. Eh. He’d skim his email later and figure it out, anyway.

Soon enough, he was one of the last in the room. That was intentional. Their was a unit in the Army that had “First in, last out,” as a motto, and he figured it was as good as any to emblazon on his psyche. It’s amazing how much extra respect you can mine out of people when all you’re really doing is trying to get the best seat in the room — and when you’re trying to use your current meeting as an excuse to be late to your next one (even if the next one is an hour away, and you’re still thinking about that mid-day car nap).

Right as he was about to pass through the threshold of glass and metal at the border of the conference room, a tan, somewhat short man ducked into the room, immediately closing the door behind him. The motion was smooth. Practiced. He stood in front of London with a smile, gesturing to the seat like this exchange was just the most normal thing in the world.

“Please, Mr. Charles is it?”

“Just call me London, thanks.”

“London, then. Please, London. Sit.”

And so he did, without really thinking about it. He had no idea who this man was, but that wasn’t new. Not around here. There was always high turnover, and lord knows he’d been pulled into more than one meeting out of nowhere before. Hell, he even had decent practice at only looking mildly irritated as his time was sucked from his body.

“What is this about,” London said.

The man peered an eye out toward the glass for a second, immediately snapping back to London. “This is about a big choice you are going to have to make, my friend.”

“Huh?”

The man reached into his suit jacket, pulling out a piece of folded paper. He pressed it into the wooden conference table, smoothing it out and pushing it over to London. London slid it a bit further, crooking his neck to look at it.

In front of him was a spreadsheet, and on it, was every password for every officer in the organization, in alphabetical order. Suddenly, he wasn’t so tired anymore. He could feel his throat tighten.

“Do you know what this is?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Good.”

The man’s finger tapped a name, third from the top.

“You’re going to — if you want to, that is — you’re going to log in to this man’s computer,” he paused for a beat, sticking his hand back into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a small tan thumb drive, no larger than a thumbnail. “And you’re going to stick this in it. It’ll do the rest. But you’re going to go up to his office and do that.”

London didn’t know to laugh. Or to scream? Or to do anything? He always thought himself a bit of a coward, but now he was sure of it. He’d like to think at least he’d think of some way to stick up for himself in a situation like this, some brave thing he could say to defuse the situation. But he couldn’t think of anything. He couldn’t even think of what he should be doing with his eyes. Or his hands? He shuffled, looking more like a lost puppy than someone that was being asked to commit, what he imagined, was some sort of crime.

“Why?”

The man blew a puff of air out his nose.

“That’s not for you to know.”

“But… why?”

The man’s brow furrowed, black lines knitting together.

“It is not about what will happen if you don’t, it’s about what will happen if you do.”

“Huh?”

“If you do this, Mr. Charles, you will discover a cache of one-hundred thousand dollars on your porch tomorrow morning in an Amazon box. The cash will be yours, and will be in various sizes of bills, from various banks. Untraceable, truly. You will then be questioned about the why. And then you will not tell them about the money. You will only tell them about this meeting. You will tell them that I told you, very clearly, that if you did not do it, you would be killed.”

“Killed?”

“Yes,” the main said.

“That you would be killed, your parents would be found dead an hour later, and that they would discover an unsettling amount of interesting files on your hard drive.”

The knot in his throat grew. Every bead of sweat down his neck felt like lead.

“To be clear, Mr. Charles, I am not going to kill you. Even if you say no.”

London tried to swallow, but just found more spit in his mouth.

“Why,” he said again, the word more a gurgle than anything else.

“Because I am not in the business of killing people, nor is my employer. But we are in the business of making things right in the world, and if you don’t do this, someone else will. You will not get in trouble, but you will end up richer. You will end up richer and no one will fault you for it.”

London looked down at his hands. For whatever reason, while every other part of his body wanted to escape, they were calm. Just sitting there, framing the spreadsheet.

“So I can refuse?”

“Of course.”

The man’s grin was unsettling. It seemed so earnest — like was greeting an old friend. Yet he was positive he was going to die. He knew, without question, that if his next word wasn’t yes, that he would never make it to his car. And who would believe him? No one would. And so what, if he got a little money out of it? That’s blood money. It’s money for emotional damages.

“Fine.”

The man gave him a nod, tapping his index and middle finger against the paper.

“Stick the drive in the men’s bathroom on the fourth floor, under the paper towels on the sink. Make sure it’s there between 3:10 and 3:15.”

“That’s 20 minutes from now, I won’t ever make –”

“Shh,” the man said. “Go now, then.”

He did as he was told, leaving the conference room. He saw his reflection in the glass, but he didn’t recognize it. Or the building. Or anything.

He still wasn’t sure why he was alive, or if he would be. He just knew that his body was taking itself to the fourth floor.

The door gently shut behind him.

Better hang on tight.

dig

I’m certain of what needs to be done.

The papers are all here, signed in full. I’ve checked over all the details. I know how deep this work will take me. I know how far I’ll have to dig.

I’ve shuffled through tomes and grimoires, I’ve flipped through so much bible paper my fingertips are raw. My sweat and blood have decorated the pages of more than one book. But all of that — all of that to know exactly what path I wanted to walk. So now I’m here. I’m following. I’m doing what I was told, willingly.

Gathering everything I needed was a struggle.The candles were hard to find. Soy ones wouldn’t do, per the instructions. So I had to find something else. Fresh ones, with real fat. Actual candles. None of the mainstream places carry those anymore, for obvious reasons.

They aren’t easy to work with, either. Ever burn a real candle? The tallow just melts, right through. When I tried this once before the soot got caked all over my blinds. It was unpleasant, the stench carried on everything for weeks – but it was worth it for this.

The wind is awful. She’s howling. I can’t hear myself think.

I’ve taken a marker and outlined the proper pattern on my floor. I used a ruler and and some string. Made sure the distances were just perfect. I know that, for sure. How? How much rope do you think I cut? Again and again and again. I ensured their length to the millimeter — and then, get this, I used a scale. I weighted the individual strands to make sure they all the same. God, I know it’s a tool they didn’t have back then, but why discard something that can get you closer to your goal?

All of the proper symbols were etched in with care, too. I transferred them directly from the books with some wax paper and a good ceramic knife. Like I said, the reagents were tough to find, so I certainly didn’t want to go through the trouble of grabbing any more than I needed.

To do this work so… by the book. To do it so perfectly… it feels like an honor. My whole life I’ve wandered from job to job, never really feeling that same thing that everyone talks about. Purpose? Meaning? I don’t know if they’d even go that far — just a feeling of waking up and knowing, for sure, what needs to be done that day. A sense of duty, I guess. I’ve never had that. But now?

Would you believe me if I told you I was salivating, just thinking about the work?

I hate flies. This work makes them come from just about everywhere. They jet and buzz around, landing on my brow every so often. Disgusting things. I think they are attracted to the fat. Or maybe the stench.

It’s awful. Absolutely awful. Will you stop howling?

The blood is smeared everywhere, just as directed. I was never good at those paint-by-numbers books as a kid, so I really hope I did everything here like I was supposed to. I’d hate to have to run out and do it again. The last time I didn’t even make it halfway through before I lit everything on fire. The soot got everywhere, absolutely everywhere. I had it in my hair for weeks. The stench is still there, too. I tried asking a nice, young woman in the supermarket what the best thing for something like that was. She didn’t know. She never does. It’s always a struggle with her. Absolutely worthless, what was I thinking with those candles? The wicks weren’t long enough. Everything went up. You’ve got to prepare. You’ve got to do it right.

I can see the moon now, coming up over the trees outside my open window. I wouldn’t quite call it bright, but it is distracting. I can’t look at it. It takes my mind off of my work. The wind is coming in, giving me quite a chill. I have goose bumps.

The fireplace is going, too. The embers have always been enthralling to me. You can watch each flame lick at the walls for hours, just enjoying the colors they project everywhere. I used to play a game as a kid where I would flick my hand past the fire as fast as I could, trying to feel the heat without getting burned.

Of course, I burnt myself. Just a dumb kid. Helpful, though. To get used to the smell.

I am getting irritated. You can’t gag the wind. It specifically states not to. The cries are supposed to bring everything forward. Still doesn’t make it any better or less annoying. It’s childish. Why can’t she just be quiet? Why can’t she just leave me alone? Be calm, like me. Let it rest. Stop howling.

All of the candles are now burning, just like you asked. Your mark is on my floor and now I’m digging in with the knife.

I’m digging.

I’m digging.

My sight is fading, and I can’t quite take the pain.

But I’m digging.

I’m digging.

Ash

1.

Your body is my sepulcher. You will never be rid of me.

You’ve been cut from ash, your features shaved from stone. My gifts — the blood that boils in your veins — for so long you rejected it. You have, and will continue to, refuse to accept it, to give in to the whispering you’ve heard since you could conceptualize an ego. You’ve felt the gnawing urge crawling in your chest, your soul a frigid, lifeless husk, desperate for salvation. Desperate for heat. For the searing joy of my embrace.

What joy is there in mortal flesh?

Tell me. Scream your answer in your skull. I don’t want to hear your reply. I want to hear its echo. I want to hear its reverberations.

Eventually they’ll reach me, and eventually I’ll have to discard your pathetic attempts to rationalize your situation — your rejection of my blessing.

Yet, despite your spit staining my face, I’ll find it in my heart — in my benevolence — to reach down and place my hand on yours. I’ll still willingly wrap my fingers around your mortal coil, incubating the potential that’s always been there.

They won’t understand. They see your blessings as scars. They’ll call you disfigured. Cursed. A lunatic.

But what will you call them?

When you beckon me from the embers, when you willingly pull my smoke through your body, when your eyes reveal what your blood has always known, what will you call them?

The ones that came before you, their eternal presence locked in with this elemental plane, do you know what they would do? They would let the bile spill from their mouths. They’d not let the wound fester. A heretic might be ignorant, but that is no excuse. My gift is not for the blessed. It is for anyone willing to dig their fingers into the charcoal-covered ground and feel the beating heart of potential that surges through everything.

So go to the fire. Perform the rite. My envoy will greet you.

You will feel pain. Of this, I am sure.

But when you open your eyes, when you’ve fully committed your flesh to my eternal cause, you will be healed.

And then their tongues will shift from worms to snakes. They’ll no longer treat you as an untouchable, but instead as someone that has seen everything that they’ve ever needed to witness. Their scorn will morph into that of jealousy.

Your metamorphosis will not inspire anyone. It will not convince anyone. You will simply no longer be seen as a leper. Now, you will be a witch.

In our lands, there is no more cursed word.

And yet, you will feel the sacred flame.

The salamander’s blessing will never leave you.

So is Her word,

Soror Lvx

 

F82

At this hour, it was no surprise the parking lot was mostly empty. The few cars in the lot were seemingly scattered as far away from one another as possible, as if directed by some mathematical law.

In reality, their distance was just determined by that familiar suburban vibe that demands isolation. No one wanted to ever be near each other. Even when “each other” was just a facsimile represented through an automobile. Protestantism to the extreme — it was like men navigating urinals. Find the furthest one, or feel the shame.

Shit, if they got too close the cars might fuck, or whatever.

No matter. The distance made it a tad more of a challenge, but that’s the thing about challenges: they’re irresistible if the prize is worth it.

Besides, he’d been waiting for this one. He came prepared.

Chief circled the lot like a vulture, waiting. He paced, but out of view. Far enough by the edges so that he just looked like someone passing on through. He was nothing of any consequence, you see.

But ah, he was.

He dug into his coat pocket and slipped on leather driving gloves, tightening two straps up by his wrists. They were snug enough with ’em, but why not? Always worth taking the extra step.

Just as he predicted, the target arrived.

BMW M4, Austin Yellow. Aftermarket wheels. Full tint. No front license plate, smoked rear plate.

The driver brought it here every Friday at 11:30 PM, presumably after their shift, wherever that was. A man would get out, walk over to the Wegmans, and be gone for anywhere from 35 to 45 minutes. He’d come out with groceries, unceremoniously dump all his shit right into the passenger seat, and then (sometimes!) curse under his breath and insult anyone openly who parked near him. He was ‘fraid of the car fucking, you see.

And so, he arrived. Right on time.

And so, Chief went. Right on time.

There was no drama to it. He walked up to the side of the car and knelt down, feeling under the driver’s side wheel well, the surface still warm to the touch. With an almost inaudible crunch, he pulled off a tiny hockey-puck looking device. He slid his cell phone out of his pocket, weaving a cord between the two. A few flicks of his thumb against the screen, and then it was time to bring out another simple tool — a credit card with a noticeably larger chip in it. In went a Square, and then followed the credit card. Another few taps. A chime.

He took a deep breath — more of a satisfied sigh than anything else — and pressed his gloved hand against the handle, card sitting between his fingers. With a gentle thud against his palm, the door popped open.

Slide in, foot on brake, finger on ignition. The inline-6 roared to life, the gauges sweeping in front of him. He shoved the card and phone back into his pocket.

Up to this point, he felt nothing. As soon as those interior lights flickered, though? That’s when the adrenaline comes in. It’s when you notice the cortisol that’d been building up (and you’d been ignoring). It’s when you start to thank all the little things for adding up to this moment — to this success. He clutched his pocket, a ludicrously stupid grin winding itself across his face.

RFID tags. Technology, man.

Chief was gone.

He ripped out of the parking lot, sending it onto the main drag. The car smelled of thick, expensive cologne. Poor bastard. Well, not really. Who was he fooling? You buy an M4 and then paint it this color? You’ve got to know the sort of people you’re pulling in. Probably didn’t think about Chief, though. Dude’s loss.

He wasn’t quite sure where he’d take the car — home? Nah, too risky. Probably ditch it and just enjoy the joyride. Truth be told, there wasn’t much cash in flipping stolen modern cars — unless you happened to be close friends with a few tuners and a chop shop, but even that was far too much risk for not that much money. You want to get rich stealing cars? Accords, Civics, F150s, Escalades. In that order.

But money was for people who liked to buy things.

Chief didn’t buy things.

Wasn’t that he couldn’t, but… why? This investment-o-realtor, or whatever the fuck he probably was, he was good at what he did and so he convinced himself that he deserved this car. Well, Chief was really fucking good at being a thief, and so fuck that guy and his job, now this is Chief’s car. Besides, no one who uses this much cologne doesn’t spent a little extra on insurance.

He turned off the main drag onto his favorite side street. Should be empty this time of night. He straightened the wheel, took the pedal to the floor, and prepared for the inevitable, satisfying pulse of adrenaline

Alas, when you ask for something, sometimes you get it.

Red and blue lights flashed behind him, and immediately he had some algebra to run in his head.

What are the chances you get away here? What are the chances it’s been reported? Chief’s eyes went to the clock. It’d only been 23 minutes. He pulled the car at 11:37. There was no way he called it in that fast. 32? 33? Sure. 30 on the dot? Fuck that. There was no way.

Besides, this was his car. Fake it until you make it. That’s what they said. Thief’s motto. Act like you belong, and no one will question you.

So he pulled over, not more than a few seconds after he saw the lights.

Deep breath. His hand was vibrating, so he squeezed it into a fist, then let it sit flat on his leg, then a fist, then the leg. Shit, that cortisol.

Down goes the window. Another deep breath. He could hear the cop’s door open. He counted the footsteps like sheep to soothe himself.

“Do you know what your speed was back there?”

Chief let out a gentle sigh before turning his head to face the officer. “Oh, uh, I don’t think I was going that fast, was I?”

“You were 15 over. That’s a 45.”

He forced a smile. Hanging his head.

“Aw man, I’m sorry,” he pinched out a stilted laugh.

That whole thing about acting like you belong? No. That’s not the real motto. That’s what chucklefuck amateurs tell themselves. You don’t act like you being. You know that you do. You are who you say you are, and you believe it, and anyone that doesn’t believe you? You tell them the truth. Right to their face.

“This isn’t even my car,” Chief added. “It got away from me a bit, but I don’t have any points or anything, I promise I don’t usually get pulled over.”

The officer narrowed his eyes, shining his light into the interior.

“This isn’t your car?”

“No.”

“Can I see your license and registration?”

“Sure.”

He grabbed his wallet, pulling out a dud license. He held it in his hand as he leaned over to the glovebox, rummaging through an owner’s manual.

“Ah, shit officer.”

“Yes?”

“When I said this — oh, oh shit. When I said this wasn’t my car. Okay, look. I know this is one of those things you can get in trouble for. This is my boyfriend’s car. I just was heading up to the store and… well, we haven’t been dating that long. I have no idea where he keeps his registration or insurance, or…”

He sighed in the most dramatic, exasperated way possible. He dug through the center console. “Ah, oh, fuck, I just sucked his cock once and he was, like, take the BMW… I’m such an idiot, I just wanted to suck –”

“Okay, okay,” the officer said, stopping him mid-sentence.

“Look, I’ll let you off with a warning, just please watch your speed.”

Chief smiled, genuinely. “Thanks, sir!”

“Have a nice night.”

“You too!”

Chief rolled up his window, his fingers shaking against the switch. This is your car now, he told himself. At least for a bit more. He could believe it a second longer.

Soon as the cop was out of sight, he cranked the wheel hard to the right, dumping his foot through the bottom of the floor. Tire smoke, squeeling, and hissing turbos followed.

One more lap.