The light changes. Is there really light in this place? The thing I call light, then. Is it time? Am I looking at time? Do I see the past and future at once, even in the dark? I hear myself crying out — but it’s like the echo comes before my voice. Time has no meaning in these halfway spaces. And then — a hot, empty rain is falling — down? — falling far, from overhead or underneath, and I look up and I’m looking at … blood? How am I looking, in the dark? I realize that it’s not blood — not exactly. I don’t know what it is. There are too many mysteries. I loathe mysteries. Which is why I loathe the purple woman. I must not say her name. I need to understand the mysteries of this book. I push the woman’s name out of my head — could a thought bring her back here? Back at all? I don’t know. I believe she has been devoured. But who knows for sure? But the book — and the blood … those, I know. And this thing that’s pouring up and down above and below me as I turn in space — it’s not blood. It’s something like it — a deep-red waterfall, pouring thickly down on me. It smells like blood, but it’s something else. I know what it is, suddenly: it’s the echo of blood. Or, maybe it’s the shadow of blood? This isn’t like my golden sight. This is different. This is disconnected from the Earth in some way – like I’m rising and falling, endlessly, again and again. I move toward the blood shadow. Without wasting another moment, I push toward it and cross into it and I feel like I’m disappearing, as the echo shadow covers my body. And yet, I know that I’m still just lying there in that chair in Beery House. Cameron showed me how to find it … Beery House, I mean. It’s hard to find. But he couldn’t do it. Only I could, on this side of things. But Cameron could teach me how to find it, and I finally did. Then, it was just a matter of catching Emmett. We chased Emmett through the woods, trying to cut off his dark corners and hiding places. Oh, how I wanted it to be Emmett. But it had to be the purple woman instead. Cameron knows his way around the gaps, yes, but the Ritual of 2014 is so complicated; and, the tapestry touched this place a long time ago. I needed Cameron with me for us to reach this place. I trusted that Cameron understood how to navigate it, once I found it. I wouldn’t have been able to navigate; Beery House seems to change all around me, — in both big and small ways. The woods seemed to move. The paths seemed to circle. The light seemed wrong – not welcoming, like the light I know. This is an unwelcome light. This is like a spotlight, or a searchlight. It’s too bright and too heavy, but only to the inside parts of me. To my eyes, the light is soft. And even now, it is changing. And there’s a strange sickness when I look at my skin; there’s a green glow, an electric green nausea. I hadn’t thought about I before, but now I realize that can feel that sickness in my veins. The sickness feels like it’s somehow cutting me, and … I don’t know, it feels like the sickness is rubbing away my skin from the inside now, in the places where it’s not cutting me. Like I’ve been clutching a sharp blanket made of metal, and my fingers are getting raw from holding on to so tight for so long. And there’s a sort of movement, even though I’m lying there — even though I’m still and asleep and it’s like … it’s like walking over myself. I’m living in two spaces at the same time. I don’t understand, but it’s all right. The past and now are happening to me all at once and they’re harming me equally and I want more. I want them both to hurt me concurrently. It’s like I’m asleep and dreaming, and awake and writing. And it’s all going into the book. My body is numb. But there’s scratching — in my brain and of my blood on the pages of the book. And, I feel the edges of my fingers — inside my head? — tingling. Did this happen — is this happening? — because of how things went so wrong with the Ritual of 2014? It’s a strange feeling for me, having a plan but having no plan because the plan has fallen back in on itself. It’s strange wondering about anything right now, considering where we’re going and what we’re doing. We are changing worlds – picking up and learning how to move between actual realities. And, I don’t mean that in the casual terms of fiction, but with my actual blood and body. Not long ago, I felt certain about everything: my place in the world, the world itself, and me as I am. And, most of all, I felt that the things that were supposed to happen would themselves be concrete. Things felt so certain, once we brought back the Rail Man. Rick would be gone, and we would instead have a guardian. Instead, Salat is gone and the Rail Man is not what I expected. Was it always meant to be? Is that why the stupid priest came to me before, and again today? Two times, like two worlds. One a lie of my memories and one the truth of what is really happening to me. And then, there’s also now this me in-between them in this hidden house. Yes, it’s true that the plans all went wrong. And we have enemies out there and Rick is alive and we’ve got ghosts on the loose. All wrong, and I’ve said it before and since again that it’s unacceptable to be wrong. But we are never truly wrong, the True People. It isn’t wrong when it’s just differently. Things are still happening. Things are still moving, like the new-life-from-old-life beginning inside of me. And this is where I realize it — we are two as one who will become two just like a new world is coming from the light we will bring into this wrong and awful place. And all will be undone, the hideous made perfect. Making good from bad, always; that’s what’s happening to me. My mind is journeying in twin directions, even as you and I recover together, become one. I’m with you here, sweet Cameron, and I’m telling you the story of how I found myself instinctively following the path of golden light, and the promises that would come. But the path is also glowing brightly in my mind, right now. Two tracks, divided. The here and now, sitting in Beery House, waiting as I listen to our Rail Man evolving. But on the other side of that path, I’m back in the woods as a teenager, on the night when the horses came to me and taught me to see the world differently. It’s a powerful disassociation. It really feels like I’m in both places. Those woods. How much they came to matter to me … to us. I remember that I was reluctant to put my feet where the ground glowed. At first, I took just a few steps. I remember how the glow didn’t seem to diminish even though my feet were on top of the light. It glowed through me, even through my shoes. I see it even now. And that encouraged me. It suggested the path was somehow so integral a part of the world that you couldn’t ever fully block it out, like you can’t ever get to a place that’s truly quiet no matter how hard you try. There’s always some sound somewhere. It was like I could hear the glow of the path, humming in my ears and in my brain, and through the cuts on my skin. It felt right. So, I followed the path along a little farther … until it turned. I stopped again, then. I was frightened. But then I remembered MOTHER’s words to me, from a long time ago, when I was just a child and still believed I was as human as she was — about how real courage means – meant? — not being afraid to do exactly what you’re scared to do. Even as a child, I realized that there’s a paradox in that. If you’re courageous, how can you be afraid? But I’ve come to realize that paradox is the core of the flaw in every wrongworld. As long as we exist in these faulty bodies, then we must accept the illogical as natural. It was a lesson I had to learn over and over again, especially with Bellbrun. So I took further steps, along the first turn and through several more after that. The path twisted back and forth, and but I knew it was going in a general overall direction I could follow as it headed back toward town in its own meandering, winding way; and, as I walked, the path got brighter … or, if not really brighter, then maybe more evident. Clearer. It’s hard to explain — like describing colors to a blind person who’s never seen them. I remember every step. A part of me feels like I’m walking it now, even as I sit – lie — here in Beery House. It was a gift — sudden, unexpected, but welcome — the gift of real sight … given to me by the horses, the Princes and Princesses of all that was or is or will be. It was a gift and I treated it as one. I played with it. I reveled in it, even though I was afraid of it. I reveled in it because I was afraid of it. The fears I felt from it made my soul throb with pleasure. I knew I was seeing the tapestry of the universe — in all its bloody truth — poured out all around me. And it wasn’t just the trail beneath my feet. There were an impossible number — too many to count — intersecting with the path before me, going off in all directions, glowing dimly or brightly in different shades of gold. My head hurt from trying to take in all the things they were teaching me; or, maybe from my own blood-loss, as I walked. I don’t really have any way to know what it was – except that it was like stepping toward divinity. It hurt, and it was glorious. I remember that I was fading in and out of different kinds of awareness. I know now that I was bleeding out, but I also knew the Prince and Princess angels had changed me. Like they’d come and changed women before. Angels that strike men down, that made promises to me — if I agreed. They didn’t demand agreement, but I knew there was an unanswered question, and I knew that they could hear me when I answered. There was patience to the question; there was a willingness to wait, but I knew the angels wouldn’t wait long on my answer. I looked down and realized my feet were moving. I was following the path I’d found. It was like my body had already decided. A sleepy, quiet part of my mind knew I could stop. But I didn’t stop. I let myself walk. I reached a point where I started to let the path guide me. The blood guides you, like in the visions I’ve described. Like when I struck Penny Greenlee. It magnetizes your muscles and drives them to movement — if you let it. It’s a kind of surrender, but a kind of power, too. And yes, I’ve let the blood guide me always — to greater and greater heights. I haven’t always trusted it, but I have always chosen it, in the end … even if that fulfillment must sometimes be delayed. That was the case with Penny Greenlee at the Drodden Visitors’ Center. Oh, how joyous it would have been to enact a deep ritual right there in the middle of town. To cast away all the illusions and reveal to these wrongbodies they stand before a True Person. But – even though I’ve let the blood guide me always – that time with Penny was different. Until I struck Penny, I’d never let the blood trail guide me so openly, in front of someone else who wasn’t immediately about to die. Was it merciful to bandage her wound? Or should I have simply let her bleed and walked away? I wanted to do more for her. I wanted to do so much more. Should I have? For whatever reason, I felt it important to tend to Penny in that moment, so I did. I felt the need to maintain the disguise amongst the wrongbodies. Maybe the blood was guiding me to do that, too. Maybe it was part of some deep ritual I don’t know – the Mending of a Child, the Calm Before the Skinning. I don’t know. That hasn’t opened itself to me. It’s unfair, all the rituals that were kept from me over the years, that I wasn’t allowed to learn. I keep taking these steps without knowing where I’m going, but I keep taking them even though I can’t always see where they’ll lead me. Isn’t that the greatest testament to my courage — my sacrifice and struggle? Isn’t it a testament to me that I keep walking in spite of everything — that I follow the bloody golden path no matter what? I take the steps regardless of what hurts or doesn’t. But soon, there’ll be no more pain. I have reached The Ritual of 2014 — the last ritual. I walk the golden path of blood one more time. But this time, it is a path upward. Ascending. Yes, I have risen — faster and farther, year-by-year. And I remembered what — what Cameron and I — what we had learned, had to learn, about the left hand and the right. There is the good right hand and the bad left hand. You know, I’ve always wondered if the directions I was being given by the path corresponded in some way to that. Am I stepping further into danger when the path guides me to the left? Am I returning to safety when it guides me to the right? I’ve never pretended to understand everything about my faith, but someday maybe I’ll learn that. Hearts and hands — both can beat in such different ways. As I walked, letting the path tell me where to go, I tried my best to keep a tight focus on the golden trail ahead — even as I felt like I was floating above it. I’m sure you could attribute it to how much blood I’d lost, opening myself up like that, but this was more. I remember how I felt like I’d fallen up, halfway into the sky, like a balloon — outside my body, watching myself go. I could still feel the blood flowing out of me, though. And I thought of the vision the angels had given me. How it had been from overhead. I tried to swim or fly or float down to my body again, but I couldn’t. I was connected, but I couldn’t see or find that connection. And my body was still moving, still following the path. I felt like I’d been divided into two connected halves, going down the path. I noticed a black-and-white spotted rabbit hop past the golden trail. The rabbit seemed oblivious as its big feet crossed the blood-trail. I recall feeling strange and realizing that I’d stopped moving. The rabbit ate from a thick patch of clover. I remember just staring at the rabbit. I couldn’t go past it. It took me too long to figure out what was happening to me, I’m embarrassed to admit. It took me too long to realize the blood was speaking to me. Telling me to hold, and watch, and I’d done what it had asked even before I heard its voice. The rabbit just sat there that whole time as I figured it out. It just kept eating clover. And the dream from the angels came back to me, and I thought of the beasts I had commanded. And a thick rush punched me in the center of my stomach. The golden tapestry of paths — that was real. I needed to know what else from the dream had been real, too. I remember an overwhelming urge right then to do the things that I had seen in the dream — to try them, in real life, like I needed confirmation. I needed to know what else about me was different, after the vision. As my blood dripped across my skin, I felt the escaping blood pulling at me — the deepest me, the me-inside-my-body, what the wrongbodies foolishly call a soul. Tugging that inner-me out into the world. I existed both inside and outside of the world, stretching myself into the world, stretching my heartbeat over everything and everywhere all at once. I felt the horses whisper to me. They told me there was more power inside of me that I could use to change the world. I knew that the rabbit would be how I would prove things to myself. I was being asked a question — by the whole of the universe, by the horses — and I answered back. I accepted my destiny. How could I not? And destinies require self-sacrifice. I knew it would be painful. Already, my muscles were hurting. I felt little pinprick pains around the back of my eyes and at the center of my forehead. It would be years before I’d recognize those signs for what they really were, the connection between my energy and someone else’s. So I looked at the rabbit and how I changed her, and how I felt myself falling into the rabbit from that midway point in the sky where I was floating above my body. Think of the rabbit. I’ll focus on that. I’ll speak of that. How I felt the rabbit’s heartbeat. How my vision changed — to a confusing view, a broad side-to-side view of the woods. I was seeing through the rabbit’s eyes. It was a revelation, but that spark of joyful discovery only lasted a little moment. After that, it just felt like a chore — burdensome. It felt like work; and then, I felt a draining sensation. It hurt worse than the pain I’d been feeling up to then. I know now it was the cost, in blood, being drawn from me — what it took to control the rabbit, to change her. And I needed to change her. Being one with her weighed me down. I needed to be free of that weight. Imagine me, forcing that little rabbit-heart to beat faster and faster as its fear grew … just from the power of my blood. Think of its heartbeat – I’ll tell you that its heart was beating strangely by then, a funny rhythm I remember. Its heart’s rhythm amused me, I remember. But, more than amusement, I felt something else — I actually felt stronger inside, even as my muscles were shaking from weakness and the blood kept falling from my body onto the forest floor. And then, there came from the horses another unspoken test – a question of whether I could rid myself of the weight of the rabbit in a way that showed strength. They asked me to prove that I could bear witness to the real truth of the world, all the flaws and cruelty and evils of the wrongbody world in which I found myself trapped. They asked me to show them, through the rabbit, how I would treat the world once I had mastered the powers the horses were going to give me. They wanted to know what command I would give the world. They wanted me to show them by giving that command to the rabbit, to free myself.
I looked down at the rabbit as she lay on the ground before me.
She was terrified and wracked.
“Eat yourself,” I told the rabbit.
It did, and I watched, and I passed the test.