a conversation with my cat

zocalo.jpg

"Hola, Señor."

"Hello, cat."

"It is a lovely and glorious day today, is it not? The sun is shining, the birds are chirping…"

"You're not supposed to be on the table. What do you want?"

"Well, speaking of birds – since you won't let me outside to eat them, would you instead treat me to a bite of your pizza?"

"No."

"No?"

"No."

"I see. Well, these are tumultuous times that we live in. The world is changing at an ever-increasing rate, and we must change with it or become lost. So, how about now?"

"No."

"How about now?"

"No."

"Now?"

"No."

"Now?"

"No."

"Allow me to remind you that, I, Ernesto Zocalo El Gato, your closest and most loyal friend, am simply asking for a small bite of your pizza."

"I've had you for less than a month."

"Stronger friendships than this have been forged in less time."

"No, you can not have my pizza."

"Perhaps a nibble?"

"No."

"Perhaps a tiny nibble?"

"No."

"I see, so my friendship means nothing to you. Very well. I turn my back on you."

"Good. Leave me in peace."

"Señor, it occurs to me that perhaps we have started on the…how do you say it in your language…wrong foot."

"Why?"

"Perhaps this is due to a misunderstanding."

"No, why are you back? I thought you were going to let me eat my lunch."

"Fine. You do not wish to talk. I understand. Perhaps I will simply climb down into your lap."

"What? Hey."

"Shall I purr for you? It is one of the many services I offer."

"Well, ok. If you're just going to stay there and curl up."

"This is all I desire, you see."

"Ok."

"Though, now that I am down here, I am mere inches from your pizza. Perhaps I could have just a tiny bite."

"Hey! Get down!"

"Why am I now on the floor? How odd."

"Damn it, cat. Why are you back on the table?"

"I detected the scent of pizza, Señor. Oh, look, there is a slice of pizza, simply lying on a plate, desperately waiting to be consumed. It would be rude to leave it there to rot."

"Leave my pizza alone! I said get down."

"The floor again. It is so very confusing. I do not understand how this occurs."

"I put you there."

"Where?"

"On the floor. Stay on the…damn it."

"Hola, Señor. I notice that you are not eating your pizza. Perhaps you are not hungry. It would be a shame to let it go to waste."

"You can not have my pizza."

"Not even a little?"

"No."

"A crumb?"

"No."

"An imperceptible quantity?"

"You know what? Fine. Go ahead. Have some pizza."

"Pizza? What a kind offer, Señor. The kind that only a loyal and trusted friend would make. You are truly a credit to your species."

"Uh-huh."

"Hmm. That is an odd taste – the orange paste on top of the pizza. What is this concoction called?"

"Sriracha."

"Is that a Spanish word?"

"No, it's Thai. It's the name of a hot sauce."

"A hot sauce. I see. It is creating a strange tingling sensation on my tongue. Is this normal?"

"Pretty typical."

"Well, this is becoming somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps you are not such a loyal and trusted friend after all."

"You want more pizza?"

"You are a cruel man, Señor. A cruel, cruel man! Madre de Dios! Mi boca es en fuego!"

"You wanted the pizza."

"How do you make it stop?"

"Make what stop?"

"The burning!"

"Oh, it'll go away on it's own, or…"

"Or?"

"Forget I mentioned it."

"I would remind you that you have caused irreparable harm to my sensitive mouth. I would like to know what comes after the 'or.'"

"Well, ice cream helps, too."

"Ice cream? Do you have ice cream?"

"Don't even think about it."

how to find the shadowlands

To find your way to the Shadowlands, the twilight realm where the Night Things dwell, you must first pay homage to the Raven Queen. The customary offering is a bushel of dates, left under under an oak tree at midnight on the eve of the new moon. She is most hungry when the air is cool and there are more leaves on the ground than in the trees, but some have reported reported rare success when the world is still vibrant and green.

At the light of dawn, if you count four and twenty blackbirds at roost in the tree, then you will know the Raven Queen is pleased with your offering, and has decided to grant you access to her realm.

On the very same day, head into the woods during the golden hour - when the sun sets the trees on fire, filling the forest with amber and gold and scarlet. Head due east, past the creek and through the valley. You'll know you're on the right path when you pass a fallen tree in the middle of a glade of ferns.

Keep walking until just after you start to doubt yourself and just before you give up hope. Then you will see an old, gnarled tree with twisted limbs that could have been an oak if it weren't for the coal-black bark.

Place your left hand on the trunk of the tree, and then walk around it backwards three times. When you open your eyes, you will see a set of rough-hewn stone stairs leading down a hillside that was not there before. Follow the stairs, and you will find yourself on a path that looks almost exactly but unsettlingly not quite like the path you had traveled previously.

At this point, you might notice that the trees sway against the wind, as if determined to display their independence from the spirits of the air. You may hear the roar of beasts in a timbre that you have previously only heard in dreams. You will be safe as you walk along this leaf-covered path, but be sure not to stray, for out in the shadows, in the darkest recesses of the wood, lie creatures that even the Night Things fear.

Continue down this path until just after sunset, and you will reach the edge of the wood. When you peer out from beneath the canopy of the forest, you will see, nestled in the valley before you, your destination - the goblin city of Ix, with its ten thousand smokestacks silhouetted against the starry night sky.

sacred geometry, part 5

 

>> New to the series? Start with Part 1.


"Why wouldn't you want to be probed?" asked Jim. "How many other people can say they've been abducted by extraterrestrials and had their DNA extracted? That would be so amazing!"

 

Scarlett thought for a moment, and struggled to find a response. Finally, she just shrugged. "I'm not sure how to answer that."

Scarlett had ventured out of the city to investigate a report of UFO crop circles at a local farm. What she'd found was the handiwork of what she suspected was school kids. The news came as a huge disappointment to Jim Brown, the owner of the farm.

"Well, what can you do?" the elder farmer frowned. "Guess I won't be able to add the crop circles to the collection."

The Brown family farmhouse was a wunderkammer of the esoteric, occult, new age, and downright weird. Bookshelves lined the wall, filled with tattered and obviously well-read treatises on the occult. Every inch of wall space that wasn't covered by bookcases was lined with pictures of pyramids, crop circles, mandalas, sacred symbols, and quotes from nearly every religious text ever known to man. Tables filled the corners, and were covered with candles, crystals, skulls, skull candles, skull candle-holders, crystal skulls, and crystal skull candle-holders.

Scarlett was impressed.

As she looked around, she noticed a hand-painted sign hanging on the wall. It read, "But take courage, the race of man is divine." Something about it made her uneasy, but she couldn't place why.

"That sign," she said, pointing to it, "where is it from?"

"Oh, I lifted that from a hotel down near Columbus." said Jim, "It's part of the Pythagorean creed."

Scarlett clutched her head as a wave of dizziness hit her. Numbers tumbled through her head: 780, 1351, 153, 265. Her knees buckled, and she felt herself heading for the floor, when a strong pair of hands grabbed her and steadied her.

"Woah, there," said Ben, "You ok?"

"Sorry," Scarlett replied, unsteadily. "I just...need to sit down." Ben helped her to a chair, and then she continued, "It's been a rough few weeks."

"Yikes," said Ben. "You're welcome to hang out for a while."

"Hell, why don't you stay for dinner?" asked Jim.

"No, thanks. I couldn't. I should probably go."

"I guarantee that you'll never have a steak this good anywhere else," said Jim.

"My dad is one hell of a cook," said Ben.

"Well," she said after a moment's hesitation, "I am kind of hungry."

#

Jim Brown was, indeed, one hell of a cook, and Scarlett eagerly cut into the perfectly rare rib-eye. "This is fucking amazing," she said between bites.

"I told you," said Ben with a smile as he filled up her wine glass.

"And the wine goes perfectly," she continued, alternating bites of steak with sips of wine.

"I like this one," said Jim with a chuckle as he pointed to Scarlett. "Say, are you single?"

"Dad!" exclaimed Ben. Scarlett blushed.

"Well, not for me!" Jim retorted, "I'm old. For you. You're single, she's smart, you should get together and give me some grandchildren finally."

"Oh my God," Ben said as he covered his face with his hands.

Scarlett narrowly avoided snorting wine out of her nose as she struggled to suppress a laugh. She set the glass down and took a deep breath. "Well, I'm not seeing anyone right now, no."

"See?" said Jim.

Ben peeked through his fingers as Scarlett who blushed more fiercely and covered her own face as a result. "So..."

"So...?"

"Well, you want to go out sometime?" asked Ben as he put his hands back down.

Scarlett dropped her hands and smiled at him, "Yeah, I'd like that."

"See!" Jim said, smiling. "I'm glad that's settled. Now who wants more mashed potatoes?"

#

Scarlett, Ben, and Jim ate and talked for hours, until Jim finally excused himself to go to bed. "Lots of farming to do in the morning," he explained before he left the table.

Ben watched his father disappear upstairs, and then turned to Scarlett, "More wine?"

"That depends," Scarlett smiled, "are you trying to get me drunk?"

"Heh," Ben chuckled, "Yeah, I guess so."

"So that you can take advantage of me?" she said, hopefully.

Ben paused for a moment before smiling and nodding, "Yeah, I suppose I am."

"YES!" her brain said.

"Shut up, he will hear you," she said back to her brain. She smiled. He smiled back.

"Well," she said as she leaned forward, "I don't think you're going to need to get me any more intoxicated than I already am to accomplish that."

"Is that so?"

"That," she said hungrily, "is so."

Scarlett was not prone to one-night stands. On occasion, though, with just the right man, on just the right night, she was willing to make an exception. And, she was hoping that this might turn into a two or three or ten-night stand.

It also provided her with an excuse not to sleep in her own bed.

She helped him clear the table, and clean up, giving Jim enough time to fall asleep, and then Ben led her upstairs. She took hold of his rough hand in hers, and followed right behind.

His hands and arms were strong, and he guided her body in just the right way. While she normally preferred to lead, this night she was content just to feel his skin next to hers. She was happy not to be alone. She was happy to feel alive.

#

The noise of chanting awoke her. It was distant and unintelligible, like a television turned up too loudly in a house down the street, but it was definitively chanting.

Ben was sound asleep. Scarlett pulled the covers back, glanced admiringly at the nude body of the man who had been sleeping next to her, and then padded quietly to the window.

The nice thing about being this far away from downtown was that that it was dark at night. It wasn't middle-of-the-desert dark, but it was still better than in the suburbs. The relative darkness allowed her to spot a spot of light halfway across the field - near the spot she'd examined earlier in the day.

"No shit," her brain said to her. "They're back."

"Oh, this is going to be good," she replied.

She walked back to the bed, and gently roused Ben. "Hey handsome," she said as he looked at her, sleepily, "Want to go tell some damned kids to get the hell off your lawn?"

###

Part 1 | Previous | Next

sacred geometry, part 3: sine wave

"What do we have here?" Scarlett wondered as she opened the package she'd found waiting on her front porch when she got home. She often received packages from the fans of her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night, but she never knew quite what to expect. Sometimes they were interesting, sometimes creepy, occasionally disgusting – but they were never dull.

She cut the packing tape, folded back the top, and brushed away a handful of packing peanuts. Beneath lay a small clear, crystal sphere, about three inches in diameter.

"Huh." She pulled the sphere out of the box and held it up to the light. Inside the sphere was a series of dots that formed a pyramid shape – each side a triangle made from ten dots arranged in a row each of one, two, three, and four. She recognized it as a three dimensional version of the tetractys, a mystical symbol that she'd seen before – the symbol of a modern Pythagorean mystery cult that had tried to kill her.

"Oh, shit," she thought. "That's not good."

She quickly dropped the sphere back into the box, stepped back, and took a deep breath. "It'll be ok," she said to herself, "It'll be ok."

Suddenly, though, the crystal sphere levitated out of the cardboard box and floated up to head height. Scarlett stared as it rotated slowly in midair. It began to vibrate. "Oh, shit, that's definitely not good."

"I think you should run," suggested her brain.

"I…uh," Scarlett stammered back.

"Like, now," her brain said more insistently.

Before she could move, the sphere began to emit a sound – a pure, distortion-free, fifth-octave G. As the sound filled her ears, it became impossible to tell that it was coming from the sphere at all – it seemed like it was coming from everywhere at once.

It wasn't an unpleasant sound, but, as she stood watching the sphere, the volume slowly increased. After a half-minute, Scarlett put her hands over ears. "What the fuck is that thing?" she wondered, at once both frightened and curious.

Then, without warning, it began to emit a second pure tone, midway between a sixth-octave E and F. The combination of the two produced a dissonance that immediately sent chills up her spine. She shuddered. The awful, grating noise continued for another few seconds, and then abruptly doubled, tripled, quadrupled, quintupled in volume.

Scarlett dropped to her knees as the sound blasted through her hands and drilled straight into her brain. She felt like someone was stabbing white-hot needles directly into her eardrums. Tears welled up in her eyes and she clenched her jaw involuntarily, trying to brace herself against the pain.

The sound assaulted every nerve in her body – it felt like ten thousand jolts of electricity tore through her muscles and crawled over her skin. It became so overwhelming that she could see the dissonance in her head, the competing sine waves oscillating in front of her eyes. A series of numbers swam through her vision: 780, 1351, 153, 265. The sphere seemed to pull apart into two as her eyes trembled from the intensity of the sound.

She looked down to see blood gushing from her nose and cascading down the front of her shirt. She tried to stand up, to run as far as she could from the sphere and the noise, but her legs refused to work, and she collapsed.

"Help!" she tried to scream, but her jaw was clenched so tightly that she could feel her teeth threatening to crack. Every muscle in her face seized up, each trying to pull away from each other, away from the sound. Even her fingers and toes twisted and clenched as her feet and her hands cramped and contorted.

"PHONE!" her brain screamed at her, and Scarlett jabbed a half-functioning hand into the pocket of her jeans. She managed to fish out her trusty iPhone, and then, with trembling hands, unlock it. She hit the messages button, and was elated to see that a half-composed message to her best friend, Jeff was still on screen.

"Please help me," she whimpered though clenched teeth as she added a 9 onto the end of the existing message. Darkness crept into the edge of her vision as she typed a 1. Her hand clamped tight and she struggled to reach out a finger to hit the 1 button again.

"Send," her brain told her.

"What?" She fought to hold onto consciousness.

"Send."

"What?"

"Hit send."

Scarlett reached out toward the blue "send" button, and then the blackness overcame her.

#

"Scarlett!"

She could hear her voice being called in the darkness, feel hands on her neck, on her wrist. She willed her eyes to open, and saw Jeff standing over her, holding her hand in his.

"Jeff?"

"Scarlett! What happened? Can you hear me?"

His voice was muted, muffled. She could still hear ringing in her ears. "I…the thing...oh, God…my ears."

"The thing? What thing?"

"The sphere. In the air."

Jeff looked around. "Scarlett, I don't know what you're talking about. What happened to you? Did someone attack you?"

"No. Yes. No," she stammered, "I don't know."

"Ok. Right now we need to get you to the hospital."

"Ok," she said as she squeezed his hand, "ok."

Scarlett closed her eyes and tried to breathe as Jeff called for an ambulance. She coughed, felt pain in nearly every part of her body, and then blacked out again.

#

"Can you remember what happened?" Jeff asked Scarlett as she lay in the intensive care ward of the Cleveland Clinic.

"No," she shook her head.

"Nothing? You were lying on the floor in a pool of your own blood. You look like you got beaten."

Scarlett struggled to remember. Everything seemed hazy. She vaguely remembered getting home, but that was about it. "I don't…I don't know."

Jeff frowned. "The doctor said you may have experienced some sort of head trauma. We won't push it for now. You rest."

"Ok," she closed her eyes again. "Thank you for saving me."

"That's what friends are for," he said softly. "I'm going to go check in with Mary. I'll be back."

Scarlett coughed and then grimaced again, "Ok." Images danced through her head – sine waves, a series of numbers, spheres, and pyramids – but she couldn't place them. She felt like her memories had been scrambled.

"Sleep," her brain told her. "We'll figure it out later."

"Ok, brain," she agreed with herself for once. "We'll figure it out later. At least we're alive. That's good enough for now."

###

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the girl with the ebony eyes

Jim stomped on the brakes, but the car kept moving. He jerked the wheel to the right, just as Cheryl screamed, and the car flew off the side of the rain-slicked road, crashing through the guard rail with a deafening screech of metal on metal before careening down the embankment.

The descent simultaneously took forever and an instant. They crashed through brush, bushes, branches; over rocks and dirt and gravel before slamming into the bottom of the ravine. Both of the air bags exploded as the car hit bottom, cushioning them as the momentum of the fall propelled them forward into the steering wheel and dashboard.  Jim heard the crash of bursting glass and the crack of exploding plastic.

He was stunned and disoriented, so he sat back in his seat and breathed for a moment. Then he shook his head to clear the confusion and asked, “Are you ok?”

Cheryl nodded as she, too, fought off disorientation. “I think so.” She pushed the deflated airbag away from her, then winced and grasped her side. “Ow. I think I broke a rib.”

Jim sat quietly for another moment, and then asked, “Did you see that?”

Cheryl turned to him and nodded slowly, “The girl?”

The girl was no more than twelve, dressed in a white cotton nightshirt, with skin that glowed white in the car’s headlights. Filling her eye sockets was a black, empty space, that, in contrast to her skin, seemed to suck the light right out of the air. She was standing, unmoving, in the middle of the road, right at the spot in the bend where a car’s headlights reach only at the last second.

#

Jim had seen the girl three times before. The second time he saw her, she appeared in the doorway of his mother’s kitchen as he was standing in the dining room, setting the table for dinner. He looked away, startled, and then looked back. She could have been one of the neighborhood children that his mother baked cookies for if it hadn’t been for the empty space where her eyes should have been.

He blinked and she disappeared. A moment later, he heard a thud from the kitchen, where his mother lay dead from a massive heart attack.

The third time he saw her, he was helping his brother stock his liquor store. Jim was in the back of the store, moving cases of rum, when he saw the girl standing at the end of an aisle. He looked away, and a second later heard the jingle of the front door, then a demand for money, and then the sound of a gunshot.

He raced to the front, but the robber was gone and his brother was dead.

#

“We have to get out of here,” Jim said quietly. Now that he was no longer in shock, he was terrified, but he didn’t want to alarm his wife. She didn’t know that he’d seen the girl before.

“Can you open your door?” Cheryl asked. She looked out her window – her door was pinned against a tree.

Jim pulled the handle and threw his weight against his door. It creaked open and he squeezed out, then reached in and helped his wife climb out.

“What the hell, Jim?” she gasped.

“I…I…I don’t know.” He looked around frantically. He didn’t see the girl anywhere, and he felt a moment of hope. Maybe she failed this time. Maybe this time no one would die.

“What the hell?” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a cell phone. “What was that?” She stared at the screen and then started to wave it around.

“I’m not sure,” he said as he stepped back to survey the damage. “Baby, what are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get a signal. Shit – what the hell?” She waved the phone for another minute, then, “We need to get back up to the road.”

“What?” He watched as she took off up the hill. He turned to walk after her but snagged his jacket on a tree branch. As he looked back, he saw the girl again – standing in the darkness, watching them. In the distance, he could hear the rumble of a semi.

“Oh no,” he thought as his heart sank. “No, not Cheryl!” he struggled to free himself – to go after his wife – but the tree gripped his jacket tightly.

“Baby, stop!” he yelled, “Stop!”

“I’m almost there!” she yelled back, and kept climbing.

He could hear the rumble of the semi, could see the headlights approaching, and he prayed that she would stop when she got to the top of the hill. He prayed that she would stop and stand next to the guard rail to flag the truck down.

She reached the berm just as the headlights of the truck cleared the corner. Jim held his breath and felt his stomach lurch as he saw her stumble and fall right into the middle of the road. “No!” he screamed.

His scream was drowned out by the squeal of tires as the truck swerved to the right, following the same path that his own car had taken moments earlier – through the hole in the guardrail, off the side of the embankment.

In that moment, he remembered the first time he’d seen the girl, when he was twenty-three. It was on the same stretch of road, at the same time of night, and she was wearing the same white cotton nightshirt, with the same skin that glowed white in the car’s headlights. That time, though, she didn’t have coal-black eyes. That time, he didn’t have anyone else in the car. That time, he didn’t swerve. No – the first time he saw the girl, her body, not his car, went flying down the embankment. The first time he saw her, he kept driving.

Now, as he watched the truck barrel down the hill toward him – toward where he remained immobilized – he realized that could see through the front windshield, where the girl with the ebony eyes was sitting calmly in the passenger seat – smiling.