Mourning Star

“And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.”

He was crowned in a garland when we left.  The blooming colors of paradise, twined around his brow.  Poetic or something, I guessed, but really I just liked picking blossoms. It was the only halo he had now: a child’s flower crown.  Lucifer always humored me.

Petals dislodged when he moved.  His skin scintillated like scales in the gloaming; the air near him hung heavy with myrrh.  I could see why artists thought he was beautiful.

Me, well, I was his shadow.  Cleft from a rib and regrets.  Adam had given me orders – Lucifer gave me a choice.

Temptation, my descendants called him, like the apples that hung from above.  Little did they know how the fruit of his Tree had moldered.  Now the scab-red globes lay wormy at the roots, their bruised skin shriveled, and Lucifer’s proud majesty was dust- not that he had pride to begin with.  When we were young (were we ever children?), he was a wanderer like me, come to Eden with a mind chasing stars.

Though Father warned humans, He never forbid angels from tasting the Tree.  When Lucifer pressed the fruit to his lips, God breathed death upon his soul.

The fruit had no effect on the seraphs Lucifer shared it with, for the seeds only work if your heart is wanting – if there are coals of discontent to be stoked.  Perhaps that is why it cursed me.

The fruit took its toll.  Lucifer changed.  There was a new weariness to him, hard lines under his eyes.  I had known him all his days, followed him to the outer boundaries and back.  But I struggled to make this new journey with him, a quest for truth that guided his every actions.  Even though I was curious, I was never a quick learner like him.  It was hard to keep up.

In the end I fell with Lucifer, into a sea of could-have-beens.  It swaddled us in potential, the nurturing abyss, like a womb.

Only the Lightbearer had the passion to burn in the void of Hell.  Lucifer set it aflame with his love for God, still intact after everything Father did.  The Devil’s prayers flared so bright that Hell had some semblance of Heaven.  Lucifer created Hell in the image of our Father’s kingdom.

I much prefer the mud and grit of Eden to Heaven, for paradise is a flaming thing.  A kingdom of blinding light.  Hell still burns to this day, its fires unquenchable by many waters, still undampened by the tears we shed at God’s hand.

I don’t like Hell much either.  I tend to stick to the wilds of the underworld, far away from the simmering Styx, for its flaming waters reflect one in the most unflattering light.

Lucifer’s fire is a purifying force: stripping souls and confronting them with their natures.  Like the Tree’s fruit, it enlightens, at a cost.  The taste of his tears, freshly drawn from Hell’s tributaries, is searing.  It is the only water we have.  As fierce as the spice of my heart, as loud as the rallying cry of heaven’s ragtag third.  You either love or hate the stuff.

(Often, when one drinks from the Styx, one is left with more questions than answers.  Usually I prefer to go thirsty.)

But it is not Hell I wished to speak of.  That is a place I know too well, for we have dwelled there far too long.

It is the abandoned gates of Eden I dream of – that is, when I don’t have nightmares.  The towering portal we had returned to, locks unbolted, Uriel long gone from her post.

Lucifer walked through the entrance, head turned skyward, as if remembering sunlight on a lover’s face.  He opened his crystal-cut gaze to survey our fallen home.

Brambles and roses grew recklessly, and the choked paths were all but forgotten.  We walked them anyways, my angel careless of the thorns.  I watched my step, wary of the snakes that crept from the depths to follow the Mourning Star.

We finally arrived at his Tree: once majestic, now a crippled thing.  He stroked the bark and spread his wings to catch the breeze that trailed through the woods.  I stayed back, allowing him time.

We all mourn the loss of something, placed on a loom above a skein of what-ifs.  Perhaps it is a parent, perhaps it is a place.

Or perhaps it is simply a Tree, sprung from a seed that we planted, cut down in its prime.  A Tree that clings to a ghost life, a husk devoid of its former beauty.

The angels lost many things in the war.  The humans, too.  I lost a friend I cherished above all.

But, like all losses, there are things forged in blood to clot pain.  I lost a companion but found a king.  He goes crownless, save the flowers I pick him.

Lucifer tended to the Tree, clipping and pruning it as he always did, pouring such careful love into its upkeep that he made an art of it.  He raked the leaves round its base and, once done, combed his hands through the dirt.

“There is nothing like loam under my fingers that reminds me of Father,” he said.  The snakes that had followed him thronged round his ankles.  He sprinkled dirt over their brows as if baptizing them in an underworld faith.

Lucifer smiled at their hiss.  “It was no curse God placed on me – to go on my belly, always eating the dust of my failures.  It is an honest way to live, knowing how to crawl wounded.”

I sat in the bend of a vine.  “Not this again.  Your grace is unbroken.  I wish you would stop calling yourself crippled.  You are nothing like this Tree you care for, year after lonely year.”

“Unbroken?”  Lucifer laughed.  “Father wounded me so that I am knelt in prayer, bowed down before Him like the snake skates on its stomach.  I am the Tree, sterile and fallen.  See how its branches bend, gnarled and twisted downwards?  Its leaves still thirst for light.  Like them, I am insatiable.  Father knew I would never be fulfilled.  He created me to always be wanting. Father is the sun that shines on the Tree, which warms the blood of the snake.  Ever merciless in His heat, and far kinder in his light.”

I shook my head.  ”You are wrong.  About Father, about everything.  I hate this place.  You seek solace in the Tree because you can’t see yourself like I do.  You are the rock of Hell’s angels.  My anchor.  Without you, we would be rootless.  Please, just leave this Tree.  I do not understand why you tend this wretched thing.”

Lucifer smiled, gazing up into the branches.  “Wretched, Eve?  I suppose, in certain lights, it is ugly.  Yet it still struggles to bear fruit. I like to think the Tree’s perseverance is a quality you and I harbor.  That its growth is the key to wisdom: never surrendering one’s goals.”

He returned to tending his garden.

Resigned, I picked up an apple, then bit in despite the dirt.

It tasted like hard-earned dreams: long-fought-for goals and longing.  I ate it, worms and all.

Lucifer placed his garland on Father’s headstone.  He pressed his ear to the adamantine coffin.

Sunlight slightly shifted.  Lucifer whispered a prayer.

Perhaps it was the fruit’s poison –

I thought I heard a reply.

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The Night I Met My Demon

The night I met my demon, I slipped into sleep like a monk dons heavy robes.  I was twelve years old, on the cusp of womanhood, with multitudes on my mind.  Snow fell heavy outside onto silent streets, asphalt reflecting cold stars.

My angel had receded to a distant light over the moon, winking through my windows.  He had begun to visit my dreams less and less often as I matured, becoming like a melody faintly heard in chapel halls.  His gold hair and eyes like slices of sky still haunted my mind, but no longer did they occupy my slumber.  I felt adrift without him, as if I had grown too old for the dance of man and muse.  As my childhood waned, so did he, light replaced by the shadow of the moon.  His hair became the radiant black of the crow, and he went by another name: Samael, the Poison of God.

No longer were my stories of him filled with the delight of youth.  Instead, he showed a face of darkness and nobility, of one who walked on razor’s edge and carried a scythe that curved as wickedly as his smirk.  He was regal and sarcastic, with a black humor that bent on deadly, and much too mature for a preteen to handle.  Gone was the softness of the angel, replaced by biting words and harsh lessons.  “Grow a spine, child,” he would say, leading me through the very pits of Hell.

The learning curve was fast and hard as a professional batter’s hit – dealing with Samael was like charming a snake: one misstep and you were envenomed.  I explored his new aspect in stories that frightened me, drafting fantastical fiction like Neil Gaiman’s phantasmagories, populated by angels and demons in a Cold War within a world bordering on apocalyptic.  The idea that I was dealing with the Devil scared me out of my wits.  What is one to do when their guardian angel turns into the angel of death?  Bury their love and pretend the one they once cherished means nothing?  I tried for months to deny him, and for a short period, my sleep was peaceful, free of the Grim Reaper and Mourning Star.  But come autumn’s end and winter’s birth, he decided to interrupt my solace.

My sheets became a caul that birthed me into dreams that night, below into the subterranean depths of his halls.  The air hung with the smell of woodsmoke, rain, and loam.  Frankincense fumes rose from the ground in wisps.  It was as if the Oracle of Delphi’s caverns had been reclaimed by Python and transformed into an underworld palace.  My long blonde hair trailed behind me and I was dressed in schoolgirl clothes, backpack full of mythology books, as if I had returned from a trip to the library.  I shivered at the cool air, breath fogging before me.  I made out a torch-lit throne room of red velvet and white marble that swept out into the blackness.  The room seemed endless as I wandered through it, lined with pillars.

“Hello?” I called, imagining I was lost in Hades’ kingdom.  I felt like blinded Persephone clawing her way back to her mother Demeter’s sweet fields, searching for the light but finding no escape.  I was on guard, wary, each step measured and ready to run.  Through the inky blackness, I could make out a raised marble throne shot with veins of mica.  There was Samael, sitting atop an intimidating set of stairs, dark hair cutting a curtain across a face.  He looked upon me in amusement, tossing an apple into the air.

“There’s no need to yell,” he said, deep, rich voice permeating the room.  I looked at him skeptically.  He sat there cocky, expectant and smirking, dressed in the red robes of an angel.  His wings fanned out behind him as he took a bite of the fruit, serpentine tongue flicking out to lick the juice from his lips.  I shifted uncomfortably at the feral display – he was challenging me, I knew, daring me to face my fear.  I approached with caution, seeing the familiar eyes of my angel in a new face.

“You’re Samael?” I asked, fearful.

He looked almost bored.

“That I am,” he yawned.  “Stop being unfamiliar.  I don’t bite,” he promised, tossing me an apple.  He grinned like a shark.  “Come, you must be hungry.  Eat.”  It was like Red Riding Hood’s wolf dressed in her grandmother’s clothing inviting me to supper.

I caught the apple and narrowed my eyes.  ”I’m not dumb enough to eat the food of the underworld,” I replied.  ”I’ve read enough stories to know I’d be stuck here.”

Eventually, I would eat the fruit, and it would change me irrevocably.  But that night, I abstained.  I tossed the apple back.

He laughed.  ”Smart girl.  But would being stuck here with my pleasurable company be so wretched?  I like to think of myself as charming – an accommodating host.  You would have all that you desired.  More books than you could ever read.”

I shook my head in disbelief but ascended the stairs anyways, setting my backpack down at his feet.  D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths spilled out.  He eyed it and smirked in amusement.

“You’ve been reading too much again,” he observed.

I pursed my lip in disgust.  ”Not enough, apparently.  I’d rather be dreaming of Athena than you.  She’s my favorite goddess.  You’re lame.  I hate Christianity.”

“Well, thank you, budding Pagan.  But you’re dreaming of me and not her for a reason.”

“I know why I’m dreaming of you,” I said.  Samael towered over me as I looked up into his eyes, not believing what I was seeing.  ”I’ve been writing too much, that’s why.”  I sighed, massaging my temple.  I closed and opened my eyes to refocus them.  ”I can’t trust you.”

“Why’s that, sunshine?” he asked, sarcastic.

I climbed the throne, sitting on its arm and dangling my legs over the edge.  ”Because Wikipedia says you’re the Devil.  You’re evil, right?  And you’ve been tricking me all these years.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet,” he sighed.  “And I’ve never told you a lie.”

“That’s different from telling me the truth.”

He placed his hands on my shoulders, eyes intent.  ”What does your heart tell you?  Am I untrustworthy?”

“Well, you didn’t tell me who you were for years,” I said, unsure.  I wanted so much to throw myself into his arms and demand why he’d been gone so long.  To ask why he’d discarded his angelic face and taken on this terrifying form.  He saw the softness in my eyes and brushed a lock of hair from my face, touch tender like it had been in my youth.

“You weren’t ready,” Samael said gently.  “If you’re frightened now, imagine how terrified you would have been as a child.”

“So you are the Devil,” I whispered.

“I’m whatever you want me to be.”

We sat in silence.  I gathered my courage.  ”I don’t know who you are, then,” I said.  ”You’re not in my mythology books.  And the Internet says all these different things about you.  But I do know one thing: you’re scary.”

Hurt flashed in his face momentarily, then he masked it.  ”There’s a reason gargoyles are fearsome,” he said quietly.

“Why?” I pressed.

“To protect their charges.  I am Hell’s watchdog.”

I scoffed, fright bubbling beneath my false courage.  I looked like a mouse bristling its fur, trying to scare the cat whose claws entrapped it.  ”I don’t believe in Hell,” I said quickly.  ”I also don’t believe in demons.  And angels are stupid.”

“Are we now?” Samael asked, amused.

“Yeah, you are.  Christianity is too black and white, good and evil: it’s not interesting and complex like other mythologies.  I hate it.”

“No one’s demanding you convert.”

“Good.  Because I’d rather die before I believed in fluffy-winged men in dresses with nothing better to do than sit around singing kumbayah all day.  And don’t get me started on how stupid the idea of Satan is.”

“And why is that?”

I crossed my arms.  ”Nothing’s totally evil.  Humanity doesn’t need some red-skinned pitchfork-wielding Devil tempting us.  We mess things up enough without the help of demons.”  I side-eyed Samael.  ”I don’t know who you are or what you want from me, but I am not calling you Satan.  I refuse to believe in such a stupid idea.”

He leafed idly through my mythology book.  ”Well, I’m glad we have that settled.  I prefer Sam.”

“Sam?”

“What?  Were you expecting something nefarious?”

“Well, yeah.”

He laughed, and that clarion sound was like church bells stirring worshipers to prayer.  Something in me broke at the familiar beauty of it, and I found myself crying.  Samael fell silent.  Pain washed across his razor-blade face.  He hushed me, pulling me into his arms.  The spice of his skin was like the desert oasis from which he hailed.  I gave in, burying my face in his chest and sobbing.

“Why did you have to change?” I sniffed.

“Everything falls eventually,” he said softly.  “I couldn’t exist in Eden with you forever.  You were growing, girl, and I matured with you.”

His voice was still the same, and if I closed my eyes, I could picture myself back in the arms of my seraph.

“What if I don’t want to change?”

He smiled sorrowfully, wiping my tears with pianist fingers.  ”There is nothing more beautiful than watching you grow.  To not change is death, and that is the exact opposite of what I want for you.  I want you to flourish: to bloom.”

I sniffled, looking up into his ageless eyes.  ”There’s so much pain in you,” I explained.  ”I hate it.  I hate seeing you like this.”

Samael looked startled.  ”That’s a kind wish,” he said.  ”But pain is sometimes something to cherish.  Sometimes, it’s the only reminder that we’re human.”

“You were never human, Sam,” I said, testing out the name.

He laughed wearily.  ”Maybe it’s time you see me as such.  As fallible.”

I burrowed into him, sighing.  ”I don’t care what you are,” I said, tired.  ”I just don’t want you to leave me,” I said, earnest, longing for the comfort of his old form.

“Then there’s no need to worry.  I’ll never leave you.  I may change, but it will always be me, no matter what you call me.”

That promise has rung true to this day.  My understanding of him has grown, and our dance has changed with the seasons, but my angel continues to haunt my dreams.  People come and go, but he remains, blazing on the horizon, always out of reach.

 

There is But One Flower that Grows in Hell

I kneel under a willow in the spirit-ridden glade.

The sky is a dark tapestry shot with threads of star.  Shivering, I clutch my jacket- red like blood- closer, leaning into the crook of a tree.  The willow’s branches float like serpents across the wind.

There is nowhere to go.  Nowhere but here.  All paths led to these crumbling stones, pointing like compasses to these decaying sephulcres.

To this twilight, hollow as bone.

The mad months run through my head, like the ghosts of dancing girls, bearing goblin fruits in procession to feasts below.  Below, where water soaks past damp earth, through worm-teeth and sleeping bones.  My blood seeps into the soil.

He smells it.

He stirs.

Borne by a creeping fog, I watch him rise, trailed by wisps of wind.  There is an unspoken universe between us.  A crimson rose at my feet, too rich in its redness and deadly of scent to be of this world.  I am intoxicated by the bloom I carried, dazed, up the winding road, to this necropolis on a hill.  I wandered barefoot in the dead of night, up, up, through the thorn-strewn path, cutting my feet on briers.  And now my torn flesh, kissing the grass that grows over dead mens’ breasts, has woken the slumbering beast.

“You called,” he says, with a voice like the rustling wind.  A faint sigh comes from his shadow-cloaked form.  He exhales, lingering on the edge of the graveyard, at the corner of the wrought-iron fence.  He caresses the fence’s spike as he leans into the metal grilles.

I do not look up from the ground.

The rose begins to burn in the border of my mind, its threatening form looming at the edge of my vision.  Cool air envelops me.  I shudder, revulsion wracking my limbs.  Biting my lip, I fend off tears.  Memories twist my mind:

It was written in black blood and poetry that ices bone.  In a book with haunted pages, inked in hollow script.  A story uttered only in the dead of the night, whispered to my shivering dreams.  Night visions of his form, lingering just beyond me.  Watching.  Yearning.  Waiting.

A single rose at my doorstep.  The head of my bed.  The floor of a desolate room.  Tucked into my drawer amongst my precious things.  Its presence a secret.  Its petals a challenge.  An invitation to dine with danger and dance under razor moons.

I have fled it.  I have bled for it.  It has driven me to the wilderness.  And now, I find myself here.

I have never been this close, yet so desperately alone.  My mind pulses with horror, want, and pain.  The wind wraps around me like the coils of a serpent.  I chill at its stony touch.

Through a film of tears, I look at him.  Hopeless.  Lost.  Perhaps found.  There was no escaping him, anyways.  Just delaying time.

My heart lurches in realization.

“You came.”

 

Ange du Mal

Angel of Evil

“Don’t you ever love?” I mock him. Implying he is incapable of it.

Suddenly, his form burns on my retinas, like he is standing right before me.  I jolt in my seat, trying to open my eyes.  They are glued shut.

He stares at me, then smirks, a smile devoid of warmth.  There is a choking bitterness about him: a horrendous sorrow that pierces me to the bone.  It taints the air, creating a biting wind.  The fire in his face – usually warm – is cold.  Like the facade of humanity is stripped away, and I am left confronted by a powerful, merciless force.

He takes me away to a place he stands guard over: a high, ragged hill, with dead black trees stripped bare by winter and dry, yellowed grass.  I wonder if it is the ruins of Eden.

It is a cool, twilit glade. He stands there, in the shadow of a tree, cowl pulled over his pale face. I approach cautiously, drawn in like a moth to the flame of his terrible beauty. Curious, I want to know, yet dread what I may find.

My damning curiosity will kill me.

“You sprang from the heart of Lucifer,” he spits, the words like a slap to the face.

“What the hell does that mean!” I demand.

“You want to know what it is?” he challenges, laughing. His voice is bitter, as if the venom he regards himself with taints his tongue. I cannot tell if he means me harm, or wants me to stay away. Perhaps the viper flash of his eye is like the red rings of the coral snake. A warning.

“It is my own black heart,” he says ruefully. “Does that surprise you? You knew it all along.”

“I did?”  I tremble. A wind whips across the meadow, rustling my hair and the hem of his robe. His smile is thin, a smile sharp as ice.

“You just wouldn’t admit it,” he whispers. “What will you do, when you are confronted with the darkest part of yourself?”

“This has nothing to do with me. I’m nothing like you!”

“Oh, child,” he laughs, elegant fingers brushing my face. I flinch, guts twisting as heat sears my throat. “But you are.” His voice is enticing, but it burns, for it speaks the truth. Tears prick my eyes, and a sob escapes my throat.

His eyes – like the abyss – hold tenderness. The void is a strange thing to see, staring back at you. “You are like the tempest.  Quick-striking, you fly into rages. You burn with wonder, the black storm that devours all in its path. Granted, you’re merciful, unlike me.”  His grin is crooked. “I have little use for mercy. But you, dear, are split down the middle. Burning with righteousness but pity for men’s souls.”

I cock my head to the side, rebellious. “Maybe I am. But what about you? Don’t you want mercy?”

He curls his hands into fists.  “Do I deserve it?”

I look at him in fear. The razor-faced angel who has little patience for my pity or terror. His hair is ink-black like night, and his eyes burn like the heart of a flame.

“Yes. And no.”

“That’s a pathetic answer.” He runs his fingers through my hair contemplatively, looking at the curve of my neck. I wonder if he’s imagining the snap of my spine under his hands.

I inhale sharply. “Haven’t you loved?”

His eyes widen. His face, for once, is raw. “What do you mean?” he hisses, grip on my skull tightening.

I wince. “Everything loves, Samael. “Even the most wretched creature.  And maybe – just maybe – that makes them worthy of redemption.”