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12. legends

RANGI IHAKA

A strange moment here, where I find myself.

The woman who calls herself Evelyn Diedz. had fallen to the cavern floor.  I’d noticed how the book fell slower than she did, though. Where she’d just collapsed onto her back, the book took longer. It had drifted as it slowly descended down through the air, as if falling through water.

Every time,”  Eleanore had said to me, her hands on her hips.  It didn’t seem that she’d even noticed what happened with the book. She’s not one to pay a lot of attention to things like that.  “Do you have to do that to them every time?” she’d asked me “Have you ever not done that to someone when you meet them?”

I’d noticed how she’d been clutching at one of her braids.  twisting it around in her hands.  I’d realize that I’d frightened Eleanor — yet again — and while I’d normally feel bad about it for a while, I wasn’t paying Older Sister’s remark any real mind.  I’m fond of Eleanor, but I also know she’s …  like that, sometimes.  And that she’d eventually get through it in her own way.  And that talking it out with her might’ve just made it worse.

And, besides all that, I had investigating to do.

I’d floated over to where Evelyn had fallen  I remember thinking that she shouldn’t worry, if she’d been somehow aware of herself.   I knew she’d  recover from seeing me for the first time.  Everyone did.  But she wasn’t my principle concern.  I was far more interested in — and just so curious about — Evelyn’s book, so I’d drawn it up into my hand, from where it lies.

Touching the book makes me feel like a thief.  It’s a strange feeling.  And now, I’m noticing that the book feels far heavier than I’d expected.  And now, I’m feeling something — like a pin-prick — against my fingers, when I touch the book.

And I’m hearing a quiet scratching sound now, like there’s something crawling around in the back of my head.  Defenses.  In the book.  I’m sure of it.

Evelyn doesn’t want people reading it.  Or someone else?  Did she make it?

But these little safeguards won’t dissuade me from studying  Evleyn’s woman’s work.  I run my fingertips over the book’s closed cover.  Despite more pin-pricks.  I find myself wondering how the pin-pricks might feel to the rest of my family.  I wonder if it would be more painful for them.  Too much for them to bear?  I put those thoughts away, for later.  My desire to learn from the book overwhelms my desire not to feel the minor annoyance of Evelyn’s defenses.  As I turn the book around in my hands, I notice, too, that the vibration matches that of human skin.  And the book is warm, too.  And getting warmer.  Opening the book, I find that the pages inside have the same vibration.  And then, I try to read it.  But, as I look down at the pages, something weird happens.   The book is vast and sudden.  Staggering to me –like someone dropped my brain into icy water.  When I try to look right at the pages, they seem to take up the whole of my vision.  Like there is nothing else.  Like the book becomes all.  And that’s too much for me.  I don’t like things that overtake my perception.  I’m always wary of that happening — so, the moment the book starts in on that, I’m at least prepared.  When I realize that looking right at the book actually hurts, I’m already turning my head away.

“Oh, forget about it.  Let him experiment, Sister-Twin,” says Bernard, taking a step closer toward Eleanor.  “It doesn’t matter.”

But I can only hear those things.  I hear Bernard’s voice, and his shoes scraping on the cavern floor as he walks.  I can’t see them.  I’m blinded — by the book.  By the pain from it.  After a few more moments, a little bit of my sight comes back and I’m seeing just shadows now — the shape of the pages, like they’re burnt into my eyes.  I snap the book shut, hands jerking with spasms from the pain.

“Make it stop,” Eleanor says to Bernard.  She sounds like she might be crying.

I work very hard to make sure the others don’t notice what’s happening to me.  I try to keep still, try to put the pain away into the special place where it always goes.  I’m reminded of Aka.  It’s been a long time since those thoughts came.  My eyes are dripping.  I see the edges of shapes — all purple and blue.

“I’m here,” Bernard says.  Then, more scraping boot-sounds, receding.

I feel the most sickening vertigo.  And it also feels like I’ll only ever be able to see those pages.  I wonder if I’ve fallen into a trap.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  It would be a cruel, unmerciful trap.

I hear Shihong approach, coming up on my left.  “It’s a look-on book, isn’t it?” she asks quietly, once she arrives at my side.  She’s paid attention.  She knows I’m hurting, and I’m thankful she doesn’t ask if I’m all right.

More of my sight comes back.  I’m blinking hard.  I can make out that the twins have moved across the cavern.  Apart from us, as is often the case in times like this.  They are deep in one of their unspoken discussion, their arms out, holding each other at the shoulders.

Shihong looks back toward me. “Come on — tell!”  Her face reminds me of a cat’s, when the cat wants to play … and the toy is being withheld.  “Were we right? Is it a look-on book?”

I nod.  It hurts, but I feel obliged to answer.  I don’t want to torment her.

Cool,” says Shihong.

By now,  I can mostly see clearly again.  I drift backward to the cavern wall and lean against it, looking toward Shihong as I do.   I find that the farther I take the book from Evelyn, the heavier it feels in my hands.  It’s really attuned to her.

“I’ve never seen a look-on this close,” Shihong says.  She’s skipping a slow circle around the unconscious Evelyn now.  Usually, Shihong being so near to me is comforting, but right now she’s being kind of loud and annoying.  I understand how she feels, but I just want to read  And not be overwhelmed by the book like I was before.  But I don’t know how to do that.

Shihong walks over to lean against the cavern wall next to me.  She stands on her toes, puts her chin on my shoulder.  “Can I read it when you’re done with it?” she asks in a whisper.  “I really want to look in it.  And I want to see if she’s always done it like this.”

I don’t understand what Shihong means by the second part, so I just wait a few moments for her to elaborate. Because I know she will.

“Close-in,” she says. “Like she’s part of it. Like really involved. It’s different.”  Shihong’s eyes are bright.  Then she asks “What do you think about her?”

I shrug.

“Do you think that maybe she does it because she was  — you know, sort of all old?”  She runs her fingers down her cheeks in a zigzag pattern.

I feel like I’ve recovered enough from the book that I can speak again.  In the peacock’s way, I tell Shihong not to worry so much about how other people do their jobs.

Bernard hears what I say and looks over toward me and Shihong. He’s making a cartoonish face that’s obviously for our benefit. “You know … to be fair to them, you do kind of sound like a woman calling for help, when you do that.”

In the peacock’s way, I encourage Bernard to be quiet.

Eleanore glares at me.  She looks like she’s about to say something, but then she just turns away and looks back at Bernard. Their silent exchanges resumes.

“Will you just let him read?” Shihong stage-whispers toward the twins.

Bernard waves toward Shihong dismissively, without even acknowledging otherwise that he heard her.

She raises the palms of each hand toward the twins.  “Let’s all play the Quiet Game, guys, okay?”

There’s a similar wave from Eleanor.

“Good.”  Shihong looks back toward me.  “They’ll be quiet now.”  Then, her voice is a real whisper again: “I’m glad you’re reading it first.  But promise you’ll let me read it next?”

I shrug.

Noooooo!” Shihong’s whisper becomes a loud whine by the time she gets to the end of the word.  Then, she lowers her voice back to a whisper:  “Come on!  Don’t let them go before me.  Bernard and Eleanor have such a dumb outlook.  Don’t let them read it next.  I want to talk about it when it’s just us.   From just our point-of-view.”

I wait silently until she’s finished her little tirade.

Then, I shrug at her a second time.  She needs to learn to wait.

Shihong seems to get the message, and changes the subject:  “I’m sorry they’re bothering you,” she says.  “But I like how you see things so much.  You always see things just for yourself.”  She gets a frustrated look.  “I’m not saying it right.  You know what I mean, right?”

I nod again.  I don’t feel like speaking to her just now.  I also don’t really feel like pointing out to Shihong that she’s the one who’s being the most distracting to me at the moment.  I’m turning the book around in my hands, trying to figure out how to read it.

“Are you okay?” Shihong asks.

I nod.

“Woot!”  Shihong jumps once in place and then crosses her arms, turning back to keep a stern eye on the twins.  “Okay!  So let him read!”

She’s silent after that.

I’m thankful.

But, in a way, it’s good that Little Sister Shihong said what she did.  It has given me an idea.  That perhaps the answer is, in fact, in my perspective.   So I experiment.  I shift my focus.  Trying to think like the onlookers do.

“I think you’ve got it,” Shihong whispers from someplace nearby.

I try to harmonize the book.  Nothing.  I try to tell it I’m Evelyn, stepping sideways to reach out to the book. To think of the book as one of the proper places, like the caves inside of Salat.

Ooo,” says Shihong.  “I can feel that from here.  You’re doing it.

And now I’m looking at the book — without really looking at it.  Out of the very farthest corner of my eye, with my head turned away from what I want to see.
Taking in the other details.
The not-just-book details.  The space around it.
Humming space.
Going around it. Sideways steps through the space the book occupies.
SExtending fingernails from my hand.
Cutting myself.
Phantom blood.
And it
begins to
work.

…..
….

..
.
(And here, deep in the priest’s inner-world
or dream-world, take your choice
it’s a fairly easy thing to do —
Daniel is not imaginative, and the others’ quest for amusement could
only shape so much of the place in such a limited time.
So there’s not much to distract me.)

Because this look-on book really is like a place.
I just need to spill my blood, open myself to this world-within-a-world-within-a-world, to see-but-not-see the book.
I get goosebumps on my phantom skin.
I’m feeling a sensation of surprise.
It feels foreign.
Of course,
I don’t mean the kind of surprise like where something jumps out at you.
That’s just instinct.
Fight or flight.
I mean actual surprise.
Something that makes you tingle because you don’t understand what’s happening.
I’m feeling that kind of delight, and I haven’t even moved.
I’m falling into the book, and at the same time I can feel my shoulders leaning against the wall of the cavern.
Both at once.
My eyes seeing two different things at the same time.
Three things I can’t make out. Dark shapes.
Four. Five. Ten.
Real sights.
Not just in name.
Diving in.
So new.
Never fallen into a book before.
Falling backward.
Seeing more and more.
Legitimate sights.
Nine. Six. Three.
Two.
Seven.
Dark waves rolling over me, overcoming me in a sea of earth.
Except I soon realize that it isn’t earth. It’s skin, rising and falling like a breathing chest pressing against me. Waves of dried skin. The book’s pages — moving now — forming a cracked-open desert floor.
With a sky made of flesh, hanging over me, and pulpy dust beneath my shoes.
And the sky begins to fill with blood. But not one-lived blood.
More phantom blood.  Like what I spilled.
It falls from the sky — as rain. Bloody waves rolling across my feet as I stand on the desert floor.
I look up into the bloody rainfall. I force myself to keep my eyes open.  I think the blood falling from the sky needs to get into my eyes.
I see clotted lines taking shape in the sky.
The blood stings, but I keep watching as the shapes become letters.
And the letters form into words.
Too many words to ever fit on the page of any book in the living world.
A city of characters, a living continent.
I’m overwhelmed again; this time, though, I don’t look away.
This can’t just be Evelyn’s book.  There’s too much here.
Too much created for too many lifetimes.
And all of it ringed with black-lined fire.
And the fire reaches me.
It hurts.
I hurt.
It’s wonderful.
It’s been so long.
I welcome it.
Pain, I know.
Can understand.
And I want more of that understanding.
I call out to the book, in the voice of the peacock.  I try singing to the book, telling it that I do good works  And that the peacock’s last cry was powerful, and I honor him with the echo of it.  I tell the book I am thanking the peacock with its voice.
And the book answers my call. I slip further and further, going into the narrow places, and deeper still down into the book.
Where what I am and what it is are attuned.
And the rain of blood narrows now, too.
Focused — spraying down now, concentrated.
Silently roaring down on me as I answer back with the cry of the bird I left hanging from the fence, its wings spread.  But the book isn’t like that.
There’s no need to oil its gates with blood.  Just a little gate, made of the ice-drops of Evelyn’s two-lived blood.
It’s splashing into my open eyes, and I’m laughing.
And I’m singing in the peacock’s death-call to Evelyn — to honor her skill, even though she can’t hear what I sing in that stolen voice.
She must be honored.
Because her craft staggers me.
Or would stagger me. If this her craft.
I have my doubts.
Because, if this is her work, something’s wrong with everything.
She’s had so little time.
Because, after all, she’s just a long-lived child.
And the impossible universe of words I saw before is slowly compressing back again, as if we’re now at the end of time.
The other side of its big bang.
(And I know I’ll want to share this moment with the others, so I memorize these sensations.  I decide I will also share it with a dying man — perhaps the next soldier I help.  Shihong will like that.  I’ll share these feelings with him as I help him through into nothingness or I’ll make him see it as he does the last living seconds.  All that disappearing he’ll have to do.)
.
..

….
…..

And then, I’m through, three depths in, inside the book.

I’m standing inside a small square of purple darkness. It’s just big enough for me to stretch out my arms without touching the walls. The top of my hood brushes the ceiling, so I pull it down. It’s freeing, even though I don’t feel any air on my face. Every so often, I catch sight of little red lines — like veins — glowing in the four walls around me. But when I try to look at them straight-ahead, they’re not there. I close my eyes, reaching out toward the wall ahead of me. I take a step forward, and I feel my fingers press against what feels like sticky thread.  I look closer.  I realize that the threads are made of clotted blood.  I pull my hand back.  The blood doesn’t stick to me.  Maybe because I’m like Evelyn.  Maybe by design.  But I also realize it’s too late to think better of this. Having struck the threads, I’ve made them vibrate.

And the threads are singing to me now, in Evelyn’s voice: “Parker Denning thinks he’s done with life. He’s just a kid on the streets, but as we join him, he’s walking like a man condemned. See, Parker thinks he’s just lost his mother, and — by extension — everything he cares about. He thinks that he has nothing more to lose. And worse, he thinks he doesn’t have anything left to live for. Parker is wrong on both counts, though. As he’s about to find out … “

The song paints a picture, too, as it sings — even though my eyes are still closed —

A paperboy hugs himself against the cold, walking home in a filthy city. He is stopped in the street by a woman in a red fur coat. Pedestrians walk past them. It’s clear they don’t see the woman. Her face is colder than his skin is. She reaches out a hand to the boy. He takes her hand. She walks him back to a waiting carriage and guides him inside, shutting the door behind the both of them. Then, diseased tendrils glide out of the red fur coat and wrap around him. He’s screaming. His eyes turn black. A faceless driver whips the air above the horses, and the carriage starts down the street and into the night.

I open my eyes. The vision fades. The song stops instantaneously, too, with a harsh scratching sound clawing at my ears — like someone pulling that sharp needle up from a record-player with the volume turned up to the maximum. I think about the woman in furs from the vision. I know she has to be one of us, but I don’t recognize her. I feel the need to know more, so I shut my eyes again and reach out, this time brushing my hand against the threads more carefully.

Again, there is a song, in Evelyn’s voice but what’s said is different this time: “Chet Caliente is looking for a miracle. He’s a hard-drinking, hard-gambling man. His big problem is that he’s only skilled at one of those two things. You see those track tickets around him? Good guess that none of them are winners. But Chet hasn’t given up trying the way wiser men would. He’s used up the good graces of his friends and family. But family still matters to him. You see, a year ago, his mother passed away unexpectedly — leaving behind the fortune she’d never let him borrow or steal from her, despite his best efforts. That’s why Chet’s visiting Madame Muldava Marblevolt — purported psychic, astrologer and all-around con-artist.  That last part’s not on her marquee, though.  She’s looking for a miracle, too.  A way to get out of her loveless marriage. But, it’s a funny thing about miracles. Sometimes, the one you get isn’t the one you want. As Chet and Muldava are about to find out … “

The dead woman walks forward slowly, reaching out toward a horrified living man and woman. The two living people are cornered. The dead woman embraces Chet, who’s calling out for help. She holds him close, reaching up toward the man’s jaw to caress him, bony fingers piercing hairy flesh now. The walls become stained. The living woman screams and her shadow collapses as a more skeletal shadow pounces and all becomes darkness.

I keep my eyes closed this time, letting the darkness become total. No longer seeing the purple shapes of the pages like I saw before. So, I experiment further. I sing to the book. Indirectly. The way I had to read. A subtle song. Murmurs, breathing, wordless. And, as I sing, I ask for the book to tell me what it is I’m seeing. I reach out and strum the threads, singing all the while. I ask it to tell me its truth, from the beginning.

Evelyn’s voice again. “People love to keep secrets. I should know. When I was alive, I was a detective, and finding secrets was how I paid the bills.”  Despite the words, she sounds deeply nervous and unsure of herself.  This doesn’t sound like the woman I’ve just met.

A woman in a purple trench coat walks through a fog-swept alley at night. It’s Evelyn.

“But now that I’m dead — … “

A different time of day. Evelyn, falling backward in slow-motion, eyes wide, body twisting around.

” … — I’ve found out I didn’t know the half of it.”

The black room. The red veins. Evelyn’s fingers strumming the threads.

“Madness? Murder? Betrayal? Fate?”

Dark shapes dancing in orange light.

“That’s the easy stuff.  Because … on this side of the shroud?   Life get a lot harder.”

A doll coming to life and beginning to strangle an elderly woman.

“A lot scarier.”

A red, glowing door floating in mid-air in a sewer tunnel.

“A lot darker.”

Hearing Evelyn’s words, I find myself wanting to think of my own history.  How I came to this state.  It’s a yearning sensation.

The book — it’s as if it’s reaching out to me, now —  making me want to sing my own story along with Evelyn’s voice.

I resist.

A little girl disappears as she’s yanked down from beneath by mummified hands after stepping into a shallow mud-puddle.

I try to shake off the sensation.  And now, I can feel the book pulling at my blood. Has been pulling at my blood.  Drawing it.  So slowly.  Imperceptibly until this moment.   That’s what the pin-pricks were.  Not some failed defensive measure.  This book has been taking from me.  Taking what’s mine.  It’s taken more than I would’ve thought possible.  And it’s been writing.  That was the scratching sound.   An invisible hand scrawling letters of blood on dead flesh, writing out the  words of my thoughts.  And I feel an anger swell inside me.

I’ve been tricked.

“Because, trust me — that thing you’re afraid of?  It’s real. And it’s out there — somewhere.”

I’ve been fooled.

“The paths between the living world and where I am now are dangerous. But, I’ve decided to try to make a map to guide others, and to help whomever I can along the way.  I mean, what else am I going to do with the rest of forever?”

I try to shut out the rush of words and song.  I bring my hands to my ears.  Close my eyes tight enough that the pictures will somehow stop.  It doesn’t work.  I can still see and hear and I’m cursing myself, wondering how long it’s been since I was this unjustifiably arrogant.  It would be pleasure, under different circumstances.  To be wrong about something.  But not now.

Evelyn’s blood splashing down onto the blank pages of the book, becoming words.

Is her blood laughing now?  I’m certain I hear someone laughing.

“So I write about what I find, in this special book. I know I can’t solve every case I find. And I know I can’t save everyone I meet. But I can tell the stories. I can warn people about the darkness around them — if I can just figure out a way to keep this book safe until I can get it into the right hands.”

My blood-flow into the book won’t stop.  And I can’t let go, can’t leave.  Can’t get out, can’t escape.

The cover of Evelyn’s book.

Damn thing.

A business card lands on top of the book’s cover —

It reads:

DET. EVELYN DIEDZ
Containments and Extractions a Specialty
“Lupum ululatum non time. Lupum subridentem time.”

“Who am I, you ask?”

I open my eyes, crying out in the voice of the peacock.  Yelling in rage and surprise and frustration.  My little tantrum only adds to the power of the book’s song, crafting fresh echoes to match these echoes of Evelyn’s voice. I reach out to grasp at the strings, to try to stop the song. But I move too quickly, and the threads become a tangle in my fingers, holding me fast now.

“If you need my help — and if you live long enough to get to know me — you can call me Evelyn.”

Thunderclouds roaring across a desert.

“And, as for the rest of you?  You can call me … Ms. Diedz.”

And I’m certain now that I’ve made a series of bad, bad mistakes.  Because the book sang Evelyn’s name. And I realize how much of who and what she is … is tied to that. Which I should’ve seen. Should’ve known.

I have time to curse.

And the room explodes outward, the black walls shattering loudly. The sound hurts worse than what the book hurt me before. My ears are bleeding. The book is pulled out of my hands, yanked away from me, the vein-like threads squirming in all directions from inside its pages.

The threads are coming from Evelyn Diedz — awake, enraged, eyes glowing with a pale, light-purple mist. “That doesn’t belong to you,” she says. “That’s mine.” Her voice crackles with violent energy and menace.

And as odd as it was to feel such surprise before, it’s been even longer since I was as scared as I feel right now.

Click here to contimue reading the story

Published inpart 2

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