Drowning

My body is pressed against yours in the cold tower, dread tower, silk and lace and red velvet sheets I am burrowed into, but you are naked and cold, shark smile and wolf fangs, and as you neck me into surrender I let out the softest of sighs.

First a bite under my  earlobe, then the meat of my neck, near my Adam’s apple, above my collarbone.  You let the blood runneth over and I smell iron and venom and wetness as you suck and drink and lick and fuck me into nirvana.  It pools on my breasts, which you move to in due time, and maybe it’s the full moon or me being a black lamb but all I can think is “Oh, he’s at it again.  I am the feast, and he is the wine glass.”

My gown, once ivory pale, soon turns gory.  You moan and call out to the old gods – no gods, you don’t believe in gods – and rub  kinks out of my  back as you continue your vampire shtick.  You always said you hated vampires, that you wiped them off your boots after walking Cerberus, and I threaten to cut Cerberus’ head and serve it to you on a platter if you don’t let me go back to bed and keep romancing my veins but you just laugh, and the drugs of your saliva are slipping in.

My limbs are jelly, not wooden, and I roll and we kiss and the tide of my ruin pulls me downwards.  There is a fire in the hearth in our stone room, rich black bear and wolfskin rugs, and usually we are in the dungeons, but today you chose a wintry pinnacle through whose window I can see blizzards and snowy owls.  The sheets are wet with crimson, and the hot rivers flow to my belly, to my groin, and you lick a path from my womb to my chest to heaven upwards, just savoring the last drops, and I tell you I am not your toy, though I delight in being a doll.  You laugh and are clearly drunk off bloodwhoring and cradle me against you, play with my hair, and when I have fallen asleep but just you lift up my comatose form and carry me down the spiral stairs to your study and set me on a velvet settee while you read poetry aloud.  Your favorite parts are when I am fragile.

But when I wake, you are gone, and I am angry, so I don my white wings and cloak of gold vengeance and the gown of the White Reaper and fly through Pandemonium with my hair like brass snakes.  You aren’t answering my calls, too busy ruling, so I soar to the island in the Styx where the unearthly Sanhedrin hold court and break columns depicting Satan’s fall and rise and reign.  You are etched in stone, so cold, and I break marble balustrades and caryatids of succubi and toss them into the sea.  I have super strength, all because I am ignored, and soon I grow weary of tossing Satan’s shrapnel into unforgiving waters and go out to get tea on the canals.

You finally pick up your phone and join me for a scone.  You ask why my desperate cries for your attention are always so overdramatic, and I pause from drinking chamomile and wonder.  Why is it I cry when I can’t hold you and even when you smell like sulfur or roadkill or blood I still want to cradle you to my chest?  Why do I make a monster a man, and scream when your hand turns ephemeral as I wake in reality.  I’m always chasing you, pursuing, you may be the hunter but I am the huntmaster – you are my prey, in a way, and we only do things I enjoy, from the fucking to the killing to the reading, gluttony of the senses for what purpose?  Amusement?

I wanted to feel my pulse so you drained me, and honestly, I’m only alive when I am in your arms.

Mina Takes Advantage of Death

His skin is moonlight, eyes opium poppies, and as he looks at me, biting iris and black sclera, it is clear the poison flows not only from his veins but from his very touch, sly words, and serpent tongue.  I am naked in his bed, and without hesitation or asking I bring his wrist to my mouth and kiss the blue vein to claim him as my own.

I am oh so very hungry.  Like I have not drunk water for days.  But there is no pure spring in Hell, just the red Styx and gore and spirits distilled from ruin.  The best of us drink the ichor of demon lords and the lowest of us sip butcher’s milk in the gutter outside the slaughterhouse.

He smiles like a saw, fangs aglimmer, and he pulls me into his lap then presses his canines to the pulsing hotness of his blood and tears the skin open.  I lap up the blood that tastes just like sweet red wine and it flows into my mouth, out my chin, down onto my breasts in rivulets.  He laughs and plays with my hair, golden waves like wheat, and then he starts to moan as I bite him in return, and the air is so thick in this bed of velvet and silk, blacks and crimsons, you could slice it with a knife and still not cut through with true clarity.  We are smoke and mirrors, frankincense fumes and mist.

It is a bed of sin.  Of damnation.  But I ate his ancient apple before womanhood, when I was barely a maiden, and I am addicted to a ghost.  He is not very far from a corpse, and you can see every bone in his body, ribs poking out on a muscled torso, collarbone like a diamond knife, and sometimes I break open his femurs and drink down marrow or steal his pinky bone and place it on my ring to summon the Grim Reaper at will.

I must have been a slave and whore to Death a thousand times over, but he bends to my every whim and desire, so perhaps I am his master in the end.  I am always chasing after him because my Eros and Thanatos drives are mated in unholy union, summoning him into my body just so I can drown in his essence, raising him from the dead with my own flesh, because he is my child, but I am his creation, but wait – no – I’m his maker, I called his name from October winds, and I will eat my fill of him as I please.

He takes his turn, fangs at my neck, my breast, and the sheets are stained with alizarin.  Suck, lick, thirst after your lover and mingle spirits like a mixed drink.  I can’t tell alpha from omega, and I love him so fiercely and hate him so much that I will kill him, but after I tear his bones and sinew apart I will kiss him alive again, and I bruise him just as much as he fucks me over, and just plain fucks me.  He is not a good man, no, he is the essence of abuse and evil, but there is something about villains that appeals to the base desires of honest women, a candor in their cruelty, and as long as he is obedient, I give myself to him.

Ghazal

Ghazal preens his coal black feathers, a runt of a roc, and my bosom friend.  We sit on the sandstone cliff face above the blossoming desert, my abaya whipping in the dawn’s wind.

“Habibi, you are lost in your mind,” Ghazal sings, looking out at the goats that climb the acacia trees and eat leaves too high up for ants to dream of.  “Rani, look – the griffins come flocking to feast on fresh meat.  The phoenixes are rising – feel the stirring of djinn on the winds.  The world awakes, but you are in dreamland, writing of rajs and saqis and the love between man and immortal.  We must eat more than your pretty poems.  Come, mount my back, let us hunt.”

I smile up from my airy perch on a boulder and pack my quill, ink pot, and notebook into my camelskin bag.  “You are right, Ghazal.  What would I do without you, dear one?  Though you are my wings, you keep me grounded.  Let us get breakfast.”

I fasten the stirrups along his beak and put the saddle at the downy ridge where his feathers fan out along his neck.  Ghazal is my bonded pair, my means of surviving this flourishing backwater, a land of spirits and ghosts and so many gossamer stories.  I found him as a small girl in my father’s kingdom, and I rode him away from my forced marriage to a cruel raj to this hideaway in the desert, seeking the sweetness of freedom.

I mount Ghazal and pull on the reins.  We jet into the sky and the sylvan dakinis sing as they sit on clouds.  I can hear the hum of djinn far below at their markets at the bottom of the cliff we make our home, and by now the goats are falling to the griffins in purple and blue and scarlet blood.  Some djinn ride camels and herd phoenix flocks, scouring the sand for gems and lost treasure, for I live in a place where many people come to hide things, but the spirits take all.

My midnight black beauty finds a leopard hiding in a hollow by a watering hole.  Ghazal strikes with his beak, a sharp snap of the neck, then picks up the cat in his talons.  Another leopard falls.  Two are enough meat for both of us to be made into jerky for later and breakfast for now, and the djinn always love their skins, which we can sell for fresh fruit and more ink for my poetry.

I skin them later at our wind worn hut and Ghazal helps carry the hides down to the djinn market.  We buy pomegranates and Ghazal swallows them in his gullet whole.  I use the husks to perfume my roc down pillow, and that night, as the Milky Way stretches out like a sleeping woman, I sing my poetry to my angel of a bird and we dance by a campfire, bellies full, hearts aflame.

I never wanted to be a princess anyway, and I was born for the wild lands, where spirits roam and true poets find inspiration.  My couplets and verse are carried by dakinis on the wind, by peris who come in caravans rich with silk and saffron, and I am growing quite famous in the human world, so the djinn tells me.

Rani of the Ruins.  Queen of Poetry.  Roc Rider.

Fracture

It’s easy enough to break a bone, but putting flesh and vein and sinew back together onto the framework of a demon is an arcane art not meant for Millennials.

The sinews snap.  The veins leak all over you, staining blouse and skirt.  Flesh stinks when left out to rot, and even if, once the puzzle is pieced together, he comes alive again, a cadaver is a cadaver, and scales and fangs and tendons of ruin grow cold and decay.

First you thread the black medical silk through the eye of a silver needle.  Skin grafts, organs on ice, flies everywhere.  Sew and bone saw and glue everything into place on the operating table.  It will stink to high heaven but you are in Hell, and you already dissected Death a million times before, so stitching him back together shouldn’t be so hard, you think.

Think again, stupid girl.

His eyes will be the first things to become alert, in vats of preserving fluids, and the globes will whirl around like the cosmos, red irises like supernovas.  Toes next.  Fingers dragging bloody stumps across the floor.

You tell him to sleep, to rest, that after every battle you will piece him back together, but your monstrous lover is getting more broken and war weary by the day, and he keeps coming home in a matchbox figuratively, but literally it’s unorganized pieces of flesh that stink up the alchemical dungeon.

He doesn’t listen.  His phantom voice lectures you about how much you have yet to learn, of biology and magick, of necromancy, which is his specialty.  The Grim Reaper rarely revives the dead, but when he does it, they are so well put together he fiddles a danse macabre and they ring posies like the plague, bolts and screws all in place, no hanging flesh or joints falling from sockets like your shoddy work.

Killing him is easy.  Sometimes you have too, because he goes mad with bloodlust and ruin and attacks you.  Bringing him back to life is an art, and you’re a shit artist.

But you try, and finally, the Frankenstein beast is alive, vainglorious, terrible to look at but bewitching as the majesty of Satan.

You fuck your creation on the hospital table, and spit and cum and blood all mix together with the shrapnel of scalpels and medical tape.  That’s the final exchange of energy that cements his soul to his body, raising him up from lich to lich master.

But in the end, you’re his master, and he is your willing toy, cutting roses for you, writing you poetry, your beast of burden that kills your enemies so you don’t sully your hands.

You named him first anyways, and you are your own god, no one’s slave except his, but the ownership goes both ways, and you are branded onto his skin just as yours.

Eyes fracture.  Shadows dance.  You hold your monster against the darkness.

Against the rushing reeds of the Styx.

Against the gaping void of Hell that is his heart.

And then, like that, you make life.

The Masks We Wear

The halo of fire lit the abandoned subway station like the Eucharist pouring molten soft into a cup. I breathed out flames, illuminating decades-old graffiti and mange-ridden rats. The pests scrabbled away from the heat, claws clicking on the cracked pavement. My companions set up shop, raising circus tents in the rotting terminal and suspending a trapeze from the barrel-vaulted ceiling. The subway station was faded glory, Rococo murals and puddles of filth. Here our carnival would rise, in the gut of Paris, leagues beneath the streets. It was half performance art, half madness. Amelié the bearded lady had first dreamed it up – why not light up the underbelly of France, with snake charmers and sword swallowers? We had done it many times before across Europe, across the world. Why not teach the terminals of Paris to sing like some lost Phantom from an Opera?

Fire breathing came like a second skin to my adopted family. We bathed ourselves in flames, and, purified, ascended to heights only seraphim knew. It was a baptism of sorts, that first time you put the chemicals in your mouth, held the torch to your lips, and spat your sweetest confessions to the heat. It was catharsis, a letting go.

“Francois, it’s time,” said Adam, tightrope walker par excellance, the only man I would trust my life with.

I lowered my torch and nodded. Our rites had just begun.

Into the silk tent we went, where the ringmaster was arranging the masked audience we had stolen from the streets above. They sat shivering in the stands, all modern day urchin children in haggard clothes – some homeless, other Irish Travelers, several human trafficking victims we had stolen from pleasure dens – all plied with popcorn they clutched with grubby little fingers.

The clowns held their small bodies steady, kept them from running away. The children shivered. One girl lifted the popcorn to her nose, sniffing to assure herself it was real.

I had been one, once – raised in this carnival of darkness. But in the black, the truth shone bright as my torches. I would choose no other life, if I had had to make the choice a thousand times more. I was wild, and so were the children.

The ringmaster, Armand, flicked his cane and motioned the clowns to seat the children further to the right.   “Bruno, move the blonde up a row!” Armand said. He turned to me and Francois and clapped his white gloved hands. “Ah, Christophe, Francois! Just in time for the act to begin.”

The orchestra struck up a foreboding noise on stolen strings as Francois and I scaled a ladder to the tightrope high above. One by one, the clowns untied the children’s masks. The boys and girls fell silent at the sight of me on Francois’ shoulders as he unicycled across the tightrope, no safety net in sight. I stood balanced atop my best friend, then breathed out the fire I knew so well.

Below, monkeys busted from medical labs, now on balls, scampered around the ring, and Amelié directed a dozen lithe women dressed in Columbine costumes in an elaborate dance, all in time with the ragtag musicians. The act melded together as Francois cycled back and forth.

I breathed fire to the rhythm, and the children’s fear disappeared as they brought their hands to their mouths, rapt at our performance. The dancing girls scattered as the Harlequin leapt into the ring, too-long legs bending at impossible angles as he pursued the Columbines. Soon, he had chased them all offstage, then began to sing of his lonesomeness. He pulled flowers from his pockets and threw them to the girls in the crowd, begging them to be his. Finally, with a rousing finale, the act was over, and Armand motioned for the lights to be dimmed. The children clapped haphazardly, not sure what they had just seen, and Armand turned to address them.

“Gentlemen, mademoiselles, you must be wondering why I brought you here tonight?” Armand said. The children nodded their heads in solemn agreement. Armand grinned. “You have no home, gypsy children. But we are here to offer you one. Join the act of Paris below, and you will never want for food or warmth. All of this can be yours.”

The children were mum, eyes wide as moons. Soon they began to whisper amongst themselves, faces darting to the dancers and actors.

Armand continued: “We will provide you bed and bread, a family unlike any you have ever known. We will train you in the theatrical arts, raise you to be wandering minstrels and mummers, putting on masques from Siena to Sicily. You have a choice, my dear children: our carnivale begins tomorrow, put on for the highest echelons of Parisian society, or to curious students who catch your eyes. We need children to lure them below, sweet faces to coerce them around shadowed alleyways and down ankle-twist stairs. For after all, what is a shadow play without an audience?”

The children, pale in the darkness and firelight, listened intently. I remembered sitting in those same steps, listening to the old ringmaster two generations before Armand, and deciding to dine on danger and wonder from that day forth before he had even ended his invitation. I signed up for the troupe in a heartbeat.

Armand finished: “You will be silent as night’s drapery, and rewarded handsomely for your efforts for the rest of your life, in coin and chorus and camaraderie. Our troupe travels the world, and nowhere do we not have a home. We will train you in whatever arts you desire, from contortionry to the trapeze. So what say you, boys and girls?”

I breathed a halo of fire that circled the room.

Francois cycled handstands around the ring.

The Harlequin bowed, and the Columbines started wailing.

The children put on their masks.

“Welcome,” Armand said, “to the Night Troupe.”

The children bowed.

Wax

Sometimes you don’t know the face of your lover.

I didn’t, just ghost caresses, phantom servants, a gauzy bed draped in silk where I spilled a single drop of wax.

I waited for a year to see those blond curls, the face between Adonis and Ares, for true love is sweet like flowers but feverish as war, and the skin tan with Grecian sun.

There was a scar on his thigh where it seemed he had poked himself with one of his love arrows, but other than that he was perfect, my Eros.

I died then, and knew the people who left me at the bottom of that cliff were right: I had married Death.  Eros and Thanatos are not so different, both winged fates we all encounter in our dwindling candle flames, and wax is funny in that it doesn’t burn, not really.  Just a little sting like a needle getting past a thimble.

The wax didn’t awake him.  It was my soul leaving my body for just a moment, to join with his and rest at his breast, because mortal forms can’t make love to an immortal, not really.

I love him, I love him, I love him.  That is what I whispered to his heart.  Still he left me.  Men are funny like that.  They ignore heroism in women, us baring our truths to him, and afraid of commitment, he fled.

I sorted seeds.  I met with Pan in my mourning.  I went to the Iron Queen and brought beauty back in a box for his tempestuous mother.  Unlike Orpheus, I wove my bright laurels out of a barren place – I knew he would only love me if I was as beautiful as Aphrodite, and though I was the most glorious of women, gods are still vain creatures.

So I applied the sweet hope Persephone kept on her vanity to my brow, and I died a second time, this time in Eros’ arms.

No god raised me from the dead.  That’s impossible.  Look what happened to Eurydice.  Raising mortals from Hades is ill-advised.  Eros is brilliant, and his arrows sorrowsweet, but even necromancy is beyond his power, no matter how much like Thanatos he is, and I had married the God of Little Deaths.

I raised myself up.  I sang to my stepsisters and the parents that had abandoned me, all dead now, for my travails took ages.

It was a goddess who gave me breath again – sweet Kore, who herself was abducted, and who I regaled with my tale.  We are kindred in that we both married the most dangerous of gods, and had our girlhood stolen too soon – by every sly look from uncles, by every groping of fathers, by every time a king took our adolescent forms on his lap and ran a beer-stinking hand through our curls.

We are spoils of war to them.  I did not want to be just another girl that lost her heart to someone powerful, some fading rose kept in a crystal jar, only to be watered occasionally.

I taught Eros of true love so that no woman would have to suffer at Cupid’s hands like me again.  I did everything for a man so ready to cast me aside like yesterday’s broken amphora.

That’s why I have butterfly wings, not a birds: because in the calyx of my divinity, I stewed in ambrosia a third death, Psyche Triple-Born, and I am more powerful than all the gods combined.

Wax doesn’t burn – it lingers at the back of your mind.

Love doesn’t hurt – only craving for a man unfaithful.

Women aren’t raised from death – they claw back alone.

And though Olympus is full of stars, my bed is very cold.

The King is Dead

The jester stood on the castle’s rampart, eyes aglimmer like the night sky. He inched towards the ledge, stories off the ground, close enough until he could see the rolling valley and cattle dotting the landscape far beyond the castle walls. Everything was illuminated by the moon (so generous was she in her light, but so cold and uncaring in her demeanor.) With a hand pressed to his heart, he sank like a stone to the ground.

The princess worked on her embroidery in the sunroom by the garden, her solace interrupted by the clamor of broken limbs and shattered spine. The candlelight flickered as if signifying the passing of an unhappy soul. She looked into the bushes to find the jester’s mangled body on display like meat on a cutting board. Her scream sliced like an arrow through the night.

Up from her chair, down the garden path, followed by frenzied attendants she went, until she was cradling the jester’s dying breath to her lap like some songbird.

“Why?” asked the princess as she stroked the jester’s hair.

He coughed up gore. “Because I have solved God’s greatest riddle, dear girl. Man was not meant to live past that discovery.”

Before the jester could utter that holy knowledge, his body’s hourglass ran out of sand. The princess wailed as attendants pulled her away from the jester’s corpse, trying to shield the innocent youth from life’s harshest lesson. She rocked back and forth in the arms of the king.

“There there. The jester was always an odd one, my daughter,” the monarch said. “But I suppose the angel of death had the last laugh, as he always does. I am sorry you had to see this.”

The princess shivered, feeling as if she was on the lip of some great cliff of knowing. “Was it his final joke, father?” she asked.

The king stroked his daughter’s hair. “Dear, I hesitate to tell you this, but our jester dabbled with my alchemist in the magical arts. He was the alchemist’s son, after all. I fear the jester fell too far down the rabbit hole and went mad. It is an easy thing to do, after all. Once we stray from God’s path, the Devil awaits just around the bend.”

The princess spent sleepless nights wondering what it was the jester had discovered. Late one evening, she snuck into the jester’s former quarters. They had been untouched since his death, at the request of his alchemist father. What strange science had happened in these rooms? Had lead been transformed into gold? Had angels been summoned to dance on the head of a pin? The air smelled of incense and forgotten things. She walked on quiet feet through, fingering parchment with magic squares and arcane diagrams. One drawing caught her attention – a book whose cover was illuminated with a girl holding a waxing moon, with molten silver pouring from the crescent like a cup. The princess brought hesitant fingers to the tome and, when she touched the surface, a shot of electricity zinged up her arm. Her hair stood on end, and she cried out, drawn inexplicably to the book.

“What in God’s name was that sensation?” the princess asked.

Gently, she opened the book to its middle. The vellum pages were glossed with a foreign, spidery language, and the binding smelled like myrrh. In the margins strange, phantasmagoric creatures ran through twisting vines. The princess traced the ink, and the moment her fingers met the page, the words twisted in on themselves, falling away to reveal a demonic face. She screamed. The grotesquerie poked its head from the page and bit her thumb.

“You taste sweet, princess. The jester thought you would,” the paper apparition growled.

“What are you?” the princess whispered, backing away.

“Something between God and the Devil. And now, my dear, I am yours.”

“Your… your name?”

“Laughter.  I am God’s final joke, the Devil’s first prank, and I will be the sweet death of you, though in your search for the answer to my riddle, you shall find immortality.”

The princess closed the book.  “I do not have much of a sense of humor, only common sense, and I refuse to live forever.  Dignified royals are not endowed with good dispositions, only the sternness of ruling, and the king dies to give way to new lands, new wealth, and new rulers.  I refuse to know the punchline.”

She threw the book into the dying hearth flame.

Laughter died down, and the flames quieted.

The princess chuckled and walked away.