The Most Unlikely of Answers

I don't know how long I wandered.

There comes a time, when you are alone and wandering, when you realize you are lost. There is fear. Anxiety. Worry you will never find your way out. The unknown stretches before you. How long will you wander before you find your way out, or someone finds you? No idea.

Then the thought comes: Oh god, I'm going to be lost forever.

I think my fear of being "lost forever" has been one of the most powerful driving forces in my life.

How many times had I shown up for work at one of my many dead-end jobs and just been struck with that visceral clarity --when my ears buzzed with that high-pitched whine, my vision became superhumanly sharp, and time slowed almost to a full stop-- when I realized "Dear God, I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life."

My responses to this realization have ranged from immediate resignation to frighteningly violent nausea.

I liken it to my other constant realization, one which has been so constant I can almost consider it a defining characteristic of my not-self: "This isn't who I am."

Whenever I stood quietly and let someone verbally abuse me. When I said, "no thank you" and my boundaries were violated anyway and I let them for the sake of peace and not looking like a tantrum-throwing brat because my graceful no was ignored. Whenever I was mistreated at work. Whenever I smiled and played along at stupid family gatherings for my spouse and realized nobody there gave a shit about who I was anyway. Whenever I cleaned, or cooked, ran errands, kept the house running smoothly, or did anything I could to warm the hearth in the home I was trying to build, and had to sit and listen to what a lazy, worthless piece of shit I was.

It's amazing how nearly identical the two feelings are. The only difference between the two is that the sharp, encompassing panic of "I'm going to be lost forever" has fermented over time into the quiet resignation of "This isn't who I am" when there is no visible escape.

Not a very enjoyable experience, this one. Looking about the ruins of my beloved Delenaland, I wondered which had brought it to ruin: the sharp and mindless panic, or the slow erosion of resignation?

Perhaps both?

Perhaps panic had blasted it apart, and erosion had caused the ever-present dust and the worn edges of the rubble.

As I sat there digesting these things I would've rather not faced, there was a flicker at the corner of my eye. I turned just in time to see a...shape...a blur, meld into a pillar. I raced after it.

"Hello? I know you're there!"


Two more days passed just like that, chasing something that wasn't there.

I was sitting in the fading light and singing softly to myself, trying to remember all the lyrics to Rhinestone Cowboy, when the faint scrape of dust on stone came to me from somewhere behind me and to the right. I ignored it and kept singing.

Well, I really don't mind the rain,
and a smile can hide all the pain.
But you're down when you're ridin' the train
that's taking the long way...

Again from the corner of my eye, I saw the stone take form. Or maybe form came out of the stone? Or maybe it just came out from its hiding place behind the stone. At this point I didn't care; it had evaded me for so long, I really couldn't remember how many weeks I'd been in the chamber.

I finished Rhinestone Cowboy and launched right into I've Got You Under My Skin. I was never very good remembering songs; I could hear the melodies of thousands of songs in my head. Once I heard it once, I knew it forever. But lyrics? Yeah right.

All these new songs I liked, I couldn't sing on my own worth a damn. The only ones I remembered were from when I was a kid, and later the Broadway and musical hits I'd performed in my show choirs.

So I ran through what I remembered. And I ignored that flicker at the very corner of my vision. And for some reason I sang what I could of Fire and Rain. About sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.

When I was done, the dark had almost completely fallen. I lay where I had sat all that time, knowing nothing would come out of the dark and attack; nothing had in all that time, and nothing would.

Daylight came a few hours later. Everything about me was still, as it had been every single day before. With nothing else to do, I got up to continue wandering, knowing that at some point I would come out of this "Holy crap, I'm lost" feeling into the "I'm not lost, I'm right here" mentality, where time and place forgot to be significant anymore.

About fifteen paces from where I had spent the night, there was a flat rock about two paces long and one wide.

And upon that flat surface was the first sign of life other than my own I had ever seen in this place: two narrow, oblong strips where the dust had been cleared. And by the edge, mirror images of a half-moon mark. Like prints in the dust.

Like butt prints in the dust, to be more precise. The half-moon marks were probably hand prints where my unseen company had rested their weight, fingers curled over the edge.

They were small, whoever they were. And they had sat so still there was no smudge in the prints. No shifted weight, no fidgeting. Just those perfect little butt prints.

I sighed. "How come I can never get the exciting stuff others get, huh? They get flaming bushes or talking birds, good fairies and unicorns. I get butt prints."




For every world through which we navigate on a daily basis --the worlds of spouses, of parents, the workplace, the patient, the artist-- there are two in which we exist simultaneously: the outward, literal world of the physical senses, and our version of it. However we interpret it is a world of its own.

So every day, there are hundreds of billions of worlds overlapping every moment of every day. 

I call mine Delenaland.

Not very original, I know, but there it is.

And Delenaland is built like a city of concentric circles, with a great outer wall and Out There beyond it. I reside, naturally, at its center. Not because I believe I am even the center of Delenaland --which I am not-- but because to be anywhere else would bring me closer at one side to the outer wall, which means anything in the Out There would have an easier time reaching me from that side.

Maximum protection, relying on the walls-within-walls that break up Delenaland into segments.

There is the Out There, where everything not Delena-approved resides. This includes strangers --both those with the potential to harm as well as friends I have not yet made-- as well as anything I have either rejected for the good of Delenaland or have not yet encountered.

Within the outer wall, passing through the first gate, are things like acquaintances whom I tolerate fairly well, people in my life I have no reason to reject (yet), concepts I might not agree with wholly but still recognize at least a spark of merit, and places I have visited at least once. Most things make it through the first gate and no farther.

This is okay.

If something or someone can prove its merit being a step above Tolerated, it moves within the second gate to The Somewhat Trusted. This is where fewer people reside, those who show they are trustworthy with the few bits and pieces I give them --over the course of two to three years, naturally. This is also where concepts reside that I now have an obligation to buy books and invest in further research, beginning the process of whether or not to incorporate it into my worldview. Concepts make it through the second gate fairly easily, particularly compared to people, for whom the journey takes years if they make it at all.

This is the place where most of my friends reside. They don't share in the innermost details of my life, but they know the general gist. They only gain access to information after it has become de-classified. Most will live out their lives here. At least until they fuck up. 

Through the third gate, and within the innermost wall, is the heart of Delenaland. It is a tiny cottage sitting within a hedge maze, and only those who already understand the secret of the maze solve it. This is where the gifted-yet-stupid ones get caught: merit enough to make it through the third gate, not enough wisdom, experience, or intelligence to comprehend how to get through the maze. For those who know, it is very simple.

Only one has been born within the heart of Delenaland: Little Owl. The other, the oldest resident, has been there so long she's watched the walls go up and remembers when the fortress-city of Delenaland was a rolling, open plain where all were welcome. She is my younger sister.

It is very, very rare that someone can travel from Out There to the cottage in less than ten years. In the history of Delenaland, one has made it in less than a year, and her miracle is because she came to the gates speaking the language of the city and taught me things about Delenaland I didn't even know. She is mother, aunt, sister, and friend, as well as surrogate grandmother to Little Owl. She's rather famous in Delenaland, though she laughs at the recognition, as only someone who could breeze through the gates would be.

Within the heart of Delenaland, nobody's place is ever secure until they pass the Twenty-Year Test. That is, they must maintain worthiness of dwelling in the cottage without betrayal for twenty years. The record so far is eighteen years. Of course, this was also back when the rules were much more lenient. The next closest record is five years.

Another thing about Delenaland: the gates only work one way. All exits lead Out There. There is no gradual falling from grace: there is only the immediate stripping of citizenship to Delenaland. Most times I don't even tell them they have been deported, either. Outwardly, nothing has changed. They just slowly begin to realize keys no longer work, the layout they used to navigate the cottage gets them lost, and I do things but they cannot see the external forces contributing to my actions.

To them, it suddenly seems as if I am talking, laughing, and dancing with thin air. What once made sense now resembles madness, and they call me a fool and they call me crazy. What they still don't see  --the poor idiots-- is that they are outside the gates and I am still perfectly sane.

I used to give countless chances for redemption. Then I began giving three. And then only two, because "everyone is entitled to make a mistake." At last, at long last, I have learned to give myself permission to not even wait for one transgression, but to heed my intuition and acknowledge the portents which herald a betrayal in the offing.

Some call these "red flags."

You see, the thing is, one of the greatest philosophies of Delenaland is that nobody who is worthy of earning passage through the third gate should be capable of the kind of crimes that earn swift response, and so the concept of "chances" should be a non-issue.

Some call me harsh for such swift and unequivocal judgment, as if I am not allowing people to "be human." These are also people who live with considerable amounts of shit and drama in their own lives. What they don't understand is that I allow people to be human all they want, but I can also dictate which behavior is accepted within my city. The sort of humans I want in the heart of Delenaland are not capable of narcissism, duplicity, or other base tomfuckery.

And while yes, the priestess acolyte within me recognizes the treasure in the trash and the bless├ęd, ecstatic numina within All Things, my inner vulture goddess also knows sometimes a thing's only numina is in its potential. Its only value is in the latent energy it offers as it waits to be devoured lest it rot and harbor disease.

Just as the vulture is a sacred converter, releasing the fermenting energies trapped within a corpse, some people's only value is in the lesson they provide of What I Don't Want to Resemble. Their energy has been expended, and any further time with them would only be hanging onto the corpse as it bloats beneath the sun.

Better to devour it as soon as it's dead, bless it, thank it for its inherent lesson, and move on.

What does any of this have to do with my journey within the dream incubation chamber?

Only this:
           As I navigated through the rubble and explored the terrain through the disconcerting days and nights within it, I became more and more convinced I was walking through the ruins of my own soul city.

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Night Falls on the Dream

Time doesn't work the same way in the dream incubation chamber as it does anywhere else.

There were no set days or nights, really. Shadows did not lengthen in the evening, nor did the sky brighten at noon. There was no noon, and no evening.

No morning, and no moon.

The sky just darkened, a slow dimming that was hardly noticeable until I realized I was squinting to make out things that had been easy only an hour or so earlier. Once I did notice it darkening, however, the light fell away in the blink of an eye.

In the absence of a moon and stars, there was a vague white-blue light with no source. It was just enough to see by, if one was very patient and sat to wait for their eyes to adjust.

Of course, that wasn't me.

I tripped over debris and skinned my knees. I bumped into pillars and walls until I finally found a sheltered corner to huddle in, my back pressed against the two sides as if that would be enough to protect me. For all I knew, Cthulhu's really pissed-off lapdog could be running around somewhere out there, or a really crabby tarentatek.

That would be fun.

Wishing for the priestess' ability to conjure fire with focus and the wave of a hand, I curled my arms around my legs, rested my head against the wall, and waited for light.

Perhaps I dozed, I don't know. All I know is I opened my eyes and it was a little easier to make things out.

That's when I saw them: eyes. Eyes, looking at me.

I blinked and they were gone.

I blinked again, rapidly as if trying to clear an eyelash out of my eye. They didn't return. Had I hallucinated?

Well, I was in a dream incubation. Technically, all of it is a hallucination.

Existential questions about perceptions of the mind all being hallucinations tried to distract me, but I rolled my eyes at my own inner narcissist taking herself way too seriously right now, and put it out of my mind.

Out of my mind. Ha.

It had happened so fast I almost didn't even realize what I was looking at. Eyes, right over there where a missing chunk of brick in the wall made a sort of window. And then nothing. Knowing that racing to the window would accomplish nothing, I got up and crept along the wall at my back until it tapered to nothing and followed the other side until I came around the backside of the corner where I'd spent the night.

I peeked around the corner. Nothing. Not that I was surprised, really. I followed along the other wall and around the opposite corner and peeked. Nothing. Even the ground right beneath the teenie window was undisturbed.


Searching my memory, I looked for any details that might've escaped me in the shock of seeing a pair of eyes in these ruins.

Both eyes had fit in this window, so I knew whoever it was had to be small. An adult head was too wide to look straight-on through the small hole. Aside from that, though, there was nothing else I could discern. In my memory, skin tone had matched the surrounding bricks, and it was too dark to pick out eye color or any other detail if, indeed, there had been anything else.

The height of the hole was high enough that I only had to bend over a little to peek through it. So...this being was either super tall and teenie --like some elongated alien-thing-- or it had other ways of getting around. But there were no signs of scuff marks on the wall, or of anything else around the area to give a hint as to how.

Not one.

By then, full light had brightened the ruins and the oppressive silence seemed less a thing alive. I knew better, though. And now I knew there was something else here with me.

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There is wisdom in Facebook

This just in, by me, on another friend's FB post about saying no.

"Perhaps, then, my goal should not just be to learn to say yes and no when and how I want, but to make sure I do not waver when the insensitive, narcissistic jerks of the world pressure me to serve their egos. And to be unafraid of the waves it'll cause."

Because I do. I cave in for the sake of peace, to be "Fix-It Girl," to make them happy at the expense of my self-respect, because I am able to compromise more than they are. Well, fuck it, and fuck them. If they can't hear my polite no, then I don't need to hear their petulant inner toddler.

My inner Vulture Goddess screeches her approval, and for now does not eat anyone's liver.


The Dream Incubation Chamber

As if being back on the grounds was not unsettling enough, I found myself stuffed inside the dream incubation chamber while still cold and dripping with snow.

"Wonderful," I muttered.

I cast about me, trying to get my bearings. There was light, but no real sun that I could see. It was just...light.

But not a bright and shining light. This was a vague and murky light, like the sun past noon on a foggy day after a raging brushfire. The light even shifted as if through smoke.

These were no ordinary ruins. If giants had built themselves a grand capitol and lived a thousand years in peace and prosperity, and then blown themselves to bits with smart bombs and avarice to find ten thousand years later, that would be this place.

The walls were too thick, the partial archways too high. The broken pillars staggered where they fell like so many of the remains at the Petrified Forest in Arizona. The same air of ancient completion hung heavy in the air, as if some great calamity had befallen this place so long ago and was now so completely over nothing would ever happen here again.

Everything had upon it a layer of grey dust. How massive was the destruction upon this ancient city that in some places no two stones sat one upon the other? In some places, only the fragmented side of a building still stood, or maybe part of a two-story building.

There was partial shelter, at least.

The silence was complete. I hated to take a step, my wet, bare feet making a soft crunching noise on the fine gravel and dust. It felt as if by making noise I would disturb the silence, and it would rise up and consume me.

A rock clattering against other rocks sounded off to my right, just behind me. In the silence, it was an avalanche.

I spun around. Only the rising dust told me anything had happened.

And then I felt eyes.

Though I was a returning supplicant to the Temple, I was still an acolyte. My skills and sensitivities were heightened, and I reached out with my senses.

Yes. There.

The subtle pulsating energies of a living body, the subtlest change of temperature in the air around me. Tiny eddies in the air as breath swirled in little currents. The smallest ripple in my surroundings.


I spun.


"I know you're there." It was a whisper. Even now, I hesitated to wake the silence.

Just what monsters had I brought with me into the chamber? Of all my inner demons, I had faced and slain the most prominent in the Inner Demon Tea Party and Imminent Fatal Gorge-Fest, where I had fed and fed and fed them until they ate themselves to death.

...But which had I missed?

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Back on the Grounds

The snow bit at my bare feet, toes beginning to burn from the cold. Large, fat flakes caught on my eyelashes and dampened my hair. It was snowing at the Temple: plump, wet snowflakes sticking to everything and dampening sound to a muffled whisper.

 Ice floes like teenie glaciers floated by in the great river running through the temple grounds. The great fruiting trees lining the banks were bare and stark against the white sky, and not a bird could be seen.

So different, being upon the grounds and hearing not a single cry of an irritated raven. The statues on the grounds were oblong mounds of white mystery, like buttes in the desert. I tucked my head down until my chin touched my chest, wincing as my double chin squished like a water balloon.

I was not the same as when I left.

Why did I leave, anyway?

Oh yeah. The Vulture Goddess had split apart my chest and laid bare my heart to the sun, then left me to bleed downriver and learn to either embrace my role as One Who Bleeds But Does Not Die, or to believe the lie until I imagined my death by exsanguination so well that I died.

My feet didn't make a sound as I walked the path I remembered, my footprints the only thing to mar the pristine beauty of a perfect snowfall.

I was shivering by the time I entered the temple, dripping half-melted snow on the red tiles. I winced at the mess, but there was nothing at hand to mop it up.

"Just leave it."

I spun to my left. She was standing by a pillar, half-hidden by the shadows there. Her feet were also bare, and I saw the hint of red lining her toes. Yearning filled me, and embarrassment, that my feet were still not stained the red of the Pomegranate Priestesses. I wanted it so badly.

"Do you really?" she asked. "If so, why have you not done the requisite work? Something must be holding you back."

I shrugged. "I am still a fool to give this all up if just one person would love me."

"Why?" She stepped out of the shadows, and I saw her hair was buzzed close to her head. She had subdermal implants in her skin, just by her left eye. It was a scroll mark, the Sanskrit a, with an accent over it in red ink. This, I knew, was not the first sound. This was not the life breath of the formless god. This was instead the root word for maya, removes depression, brings hope, sharpens the intellect and talent.

Why would Maya meet me at the door, half frozen and pathetic?

Why, indeed?

"Fool, yes, but not pathetic," she said. The tiny bells on her anklet and trimming her skirt chimed in minor sevenths. An odd chord, but strangely appealing. It drew me in. "You find this supposed love appealing enough to forsake the Menstrual Temple because you do not love you."

"That's what I just said."

She laughed at me. Actually pointed and laughed. "I wasn't talking about you."

Goddammit, were all the priestesses given classes on being cryptic?

"Do you still have the small vial of blood you were given before?" she asked.

I shook my head. "The glass dissolved when I began hemorrhaging, and it all just mixed together."

She nodded. "That can happen. When one does not realize the sacredness of their own, bleeding is seen as an injury instead of a sacred duty."

I blushed. This was not what I'd wanted to hear. I should just go; I would never be worthy to dwell within these walls.

The priestess laughed. "You take these walls with you! Wherever you go, there is the Temple." She pointed. A door appeared across the foyer, small, with no visible door knobs or hinges. It was just a crack in the marble.

"Go now."

"To what?"

"It is the dream incubation chamber."

Well. That told me a whole lotta nothing, but I could tell by her face that was all I was going to get. The sickle tied at her belt gleamed in the gentle light in the temple. A chill raced through me; I remembered my last encounter with one of those sickles.

A line burned down my breastbone in memory.

"Dream incubation chamber. Got it."

"This time," she said after me, "don't run."

I bit my lip. My hand hovered just over the door, and my fingers balled into a fist. This time, she'd said, don't run. If that wasn't a warning, nothing was.

I pushed open the door and stepped inside. The ruins of a great and ancient city, dusty and tattered, met me. I looked over my shoulder.

The doors were gone.