/ I wrote this last year, but as usual I don’t finish anything I start and it’s a sad, incomplete fragment of a thing. Out into the wild you go, little one. Till we meet again and work on getting you to make sense to people other than myself. /
On occasion, time slows around you. It takes in a breath, gains form, sinuously curls up upon your shoulders. It settles in like a new fur coat. Such a moment is about to occur. The moment begins. In the hushed sigh of a second, something silvery flashes past your eye. Flick, flash, flicker. A scale has fallen to the ground. The moment scatters. Time, no longer holding you back, parts as you bend to retrieve the scale.
It is warm to the touch. Pliable. Ah, you think, looking up. They must be burning a crystal basilisk. They are wrong to do so, of course. What use is the burning of a deity to placate a monster? Nevertheless, they shall be rewarded for their devotion. In a manner of speaking.
You press the scale to your cheek. A crescent, shining wet, appears on your skin. Their offering is now embedded in your skin. You shall assume the recently vacated position of local deity.
The air smells faintly of incense, which trails through the city square. Hours have passed, and the scent of smouldering sandalwood exists now only in wisps, fluttering round corners, getting itself tangled up in bad company. The Azure City, for all that is promised in its name, reeks more than anything of browns, greys, and indistinct grey-greens tinged with gone-bad citrus. It is a city which stinks. The once prosperous capitol, once a trading post, has been made obsolete – first by bridges, and subsequently the zeppelins. On occasion, a traveller makes the conscious decision to pass through, making a detour in order to observe the buildings and its inhabitants and their rapid descent into disrepair. Upon their return, they will briefly enjoy the attention only a person with exclusive and tantalising information receives, though the attention is not necessarily deserved. The lands surrounding Azure are reluctant to forget, much less forgive.
But back to the incense. The source is a pyre, upon which the remains of a creature lie heaped, still smoking. Literally. In more ways than one. To be more precise: two. The body is motionless, and from underneath it, the last few solid lumps of coal peek out, giving shelter to the last few embers. As fire has not succeeded in completely obfuscating the creature’s original form, the skull is unharmed, albeit covered in ragged bits of charred flesh. Between what is left of the lips, or rather, in the general vicinity of a jawbone and multiple rows of teeth, someone has placed a pipe at an angle that must have been intended to be, well, jaunty. In the absence of a fancy hat, a pipe would do for the illusion of a dignified air. The stem of the pipe is long, the mouthpiece well-worn from being chewed on, and the carvings so ornate that even without the distracting shine of highly polished wood, it would have been difficult to tell what sort of patterns or motifs some craftsperson has embellished it with. Truth be told, it hardly matters. Their meaning, like the city, shall soon be obsolete. The meaning of everything here shall soon be obsolete.
A tall figure emerges from the shadows. Tall, and dark, but only metaphorically so. It harbours malice in its being, and the darkness is something inherent, something it was born with, if one can manage to associate it with the process of creation. Paradoxically, the figure is clad in white. A miracle that there were even shadows to emerge from, given that the garments were so striking, so pure, as to be practically reflective. How fortunate that the sky was already overcast, and the daylight (the periods of which are getting shorter now as the seasons shift towards winter) had decided not to linger.
The figure is somewhat male. However, it is still new to this world, and hence, still in the midst of deciding on a suitable form to assume. Nostrils flare, widen to sniff the air. The incense smells of sepia and the garments accommodate.
The figure is more male in shape now, less tall, no longer clad in white. He wears the colours of dead leaves, and of faded photographs. His footsteps would click smartly against a paved stone path. However, Azure offers only shattered pavements and dirt. The footsteps are fractured. There is nothing remarkable about their owner, but the tiniest of shimmers upon his left cheek. Even so, it is only visible from a certain angle. You’d have to be of a certain height. You’d have to be about the height of a young child to catch a glimpse.
Young children are often told that if they cup their hands over their ears, they will be able to hear the sea. Such words are meaningless to the ones who live so far inland that the sea is but a figment of an elder’s festering imagination. An infinite source of water that rushes up to engulf ankles, knees, shoulders? That means nothing to them; an impossibility. And foam? Foam is milk churned. Foam is what happens when tallow is turned into soap and water added to create a thick lather. Spoken aloud, the words seafoam and seaweed are, without context, like laughter – noise.
The ocean is a myth; the sea but a sound. The sound of cupped hands over ears. The sound of wind, caught, displeased and howling for escape.
This one has never met the ocean. I cup my hands over her ears.
“Close your eyes. What do you see?”
“What do you hear?”
“You are not wrong,” I say. “Not in the least.”
You must have been here for an immeasurable amount of time. Your own world. Your home. There was never a time when you had to learn the names of things; they came to you, meanings borne aloft like gifts, and you understood them all in startling clarity. Every other world you step into presents itself, unwraps itself like a present. Presently, there are none that remain unfathomable. It takes time to know a new world intimately, and time is not something you will experience a shortage of.
Strange, how a being still treads so lightly, nimbly, when it should be hunched over with the weight of so many stolen lives. But the lives are not worn like a yoke around the neck, no, the lives are silken and precious, like spun thread they are strength in numbers. They grow to know each other intimately. There is no bond stronger than the solidarity the lost find in the lost. Desperate, lonely lives cling to each other. To the being which wears them, they are armour.
The being has a name. Not its own, of course. A name that was pilfered from a realm of digitised voices, where thoughts hurtled from province to province in cocoons of green and white. Delivered by mermaids which traverse ones and zeroes, bringing information to their respective recipients. Cloutier. A name, of nails, which is struck; which strikes in turn. Cloutier. A not-pseudonym, for there is nothing to disguise. A false name for a nameless thing is to hide within a cloud, a void.
Cloutier still wears yesterday’s shape. The young man in sepia, long nose with a slight upturned tilt to the left, as though disdainful of something placed right under it. The eyes are pale glass, the washed up bottle colour with a hint of fine sand and warmth of the noon sun. His bones are long beneath his skin, making him a gangly marionette of a man, all pokey joints, inelegant. He looks like a person who knocks expensive things off mantelpieces and fumbles with the keys that open doors he passes through every day, doors he’s been opening for the past twenty years. He fumbles with words, but a clumsy appearance appeals to children. Children sense familiarity, are drawn to other beings as imperfect and unfinished as they are. The girl trusted too easily, too. She let him cup his hands over her ears. He rifled through the pages of her life, and found them satisfactory. And now she exists in a form which pleases him. Whistling a tune, a funeral hymn from the city of Azure, he’d taken her back to his sanctuary, tucked under his arm.
The sanctuary grows. One might even say that it lives. Outwardly it resembles a tree, the bark of which is fairly ordinary, the leaves of which are red like the inside of mouths, copper like the inside of kettles. On the inside, it is hollow. From a fracture at the base, one may enter the sanctuary. The walls are a dense wood, not pale like beech. Much darker. Darker than the pockets of human organs where secrets are kept until their vessels are perforated. The walls grow into rectangular cells of varying dimensions, all fitting snug against one another in endless tessellation. One is able to see all this by the light of some hovering, glowing creatures. Encased in their glows, they vibrate much too fast for the eye to discern if each hazy sphere is one creature, or a colony.