Autumnal Equinox 2003
ETERSON STEPPED OUT INTO the dark and cold of morning and the forest air licked at those nooks and crannies of his naked body that had only moments before been baptized by the warmth of a heavy quilt. Never was such a place so black and white; snow embraced earth and cherished those final moments before sun. Peterson's mind knew nothing but the feelings; chattering teeth; waves of breath crashing against the cold. The world around him, and the feelings this world gave him, felt so sterile; so permanent--as if this was the Way of Things, and would never change. But then it changed. The sun awoke and with its radiant fingers, peeled away the black and the white, and brought color back into the world--the trees and their many shades of brown and green--the flowers (blooming right before his eyes) and their glistening petals. A cool wind massaged Peterson's skin and planted in his nostrils the scents of rebirth, so crisp and fresh and sweet. The beauty of it all brought tears to Peterson's eyes, and these tears fell into a glass jar where he could save them.
THE WEAKNESS OF SOME
KORAL THOUGHT THE HUMANS strange; they ate the menstruation of chickens--smelled the sex organs of plants--and the list went on and on--but as she sat atop her favorite tree watching one such strange being, she couldn't help but envy the poor fool. He was a weak and pitiful piece of meat, yes, but being such had certain advantages-advantages Koral would have given anything for. The human could find happiness in so many things. The human could be manipulated. The human could forget.
Koral leapt from the tree branch and landed beside the human. She gave him a few moments to study her naked body in awe and touch her breasts (as he did every morning). It was good; it spawned more tears from his eyes.
"Has the morning been good to you, Peterson?"
He nodded and stared into her eyes. "Have you always been so beautiful, Koral?"
"It's hard to believe." He handed her the jar of tears.
She dislodged the berry from between in the inside of her cheek and her teeth, and spit it onto Peterson's open palm. "May the morning of tomorrow be as pleasant as today's."
"I'm sure it will."
THE STRENGTH OF FEW
BAYO TRIED DEVOURING HIS own body. He would eat one leg, and start on the other, but by the time that second leg was gone, the first would already have grown back. He tried to bite through the chain of spider web that bound him to the old oak tree. But he didn't dare attempt to violate the tree itself--the thing was poison to him.
For ten years the yearning and frustration had boiled inside--hotter and hotter until he felt as if he was going to erupt--until today. Today this cesspool of desire evaporated into the air, and he forgot his own happiness. Now, he knew only malice and love.
He loved Daisy. He knew that now. For years he just assumed he wanted to eat her; to take her inside of himself; to make her swim in his suffering. But that wasn't what he wanted. It was the separation between the two of them--Bayo and Daisy--that allowed his love to exist. He understood that now as his mind wandered through the past ten years.
He remembered Daisy the Little Girl:
Bayo yanked at the chains and blood spewed from his neck. No matter how hard or how long he tried, he couldn't decapitate himself. He yearned for freedom and was sickened by the little girl who rushed out of the backdoor and under the tree. Bayo scratched at her neck, but no blood gushed. His power was gone. "Leave me alone, female. Your freedom makes me ill." The girl had the freedom to move, but she didn't. She just sat there and cried. "You are a child. You are supposed to play. Why do you not play?" Daisy the Little Girl spent many hours crying under the old oak tree. Bayo began to wonder if she was truly as free as he first assumed.
He remembered Daisy the Young Adult:
Daisy still sat under the tree, but she didn't cry as much as she used to. Bayo understood; he didn't eat himself as much as he used to. Their Wants were still there, though. Daisy's Want wasn't the same as his, and he didn't quite understand it, but that didn't sever the connection he felt deep inside.
He remembered Daisy the Woman:
Daisy didn't come to the tree as often as she used to--now only once every few years. It was five minutes ago when he saw her last. She had approached the tree and said, "Goodbye," and walked away again.
That was when Bayo's boiling stopped--when his Want evaporated--when he felt nothing inside but Malice and Love. He loved Daisy. He hated everything else.
"Do not leave me, Daisy." He felt his own tears for the first time in his life. "Do not leave me! Daisy!" He burst forward with such force--fueled with Malice and Love--the chains of his oppression snapped and he left the old oak tree behind where it would die alone.
PETERSON CRAWLED INTO BED and closed his eyes and swallowed Koral's berry. He could feel, at once, the power at work inside--like an insect crawling through his brain, eating away at the tastiest morsels of his self. Things began to disappear--not his past, not his understanding of concepts, but the details of existence. These details were sucked up into the belly of the brain bug.
What colors looked like--he knew the sky was blue, but what was blue?
The scent of pine.
What the wind felt like against his skin.
To be awake.
A VISIT TO THE PSYCHOLOGIST
THE PSYCHOLOGIST LOOKED VERY familiar to Daisy--and not in a psychologist kind of way. It was as if she'd seen him before somewhere in an utter contrast to this situation. This only made her that much more comfortable. She opened up without fear.
"I dreamt that I saw him walk away. I was in the backyard, playing, and he approached me. I pointed at him. I don't know why. But I pointed at him and he flew backwards and slammed against a tree. Then he walked away."
"And you have had this dream often?"
"Many times over the years. But I still don't know what it means."
"It means nothing. There is no symbolism hiding in the shadows. Because, Daisy, this was an actual event. You may have relived it over and over in your dreams, but it started out real."
"That's not true. Little girls don't point at their fathers and make them slam into trees. My father disappeared. He either left or died. But I never saw him walk away. It was a dream."
"I am simply giving you my honest opinion."
"Don't you think I know the difference between dream and reality?"
"Do you? Are you then aware that you are dreaming at this very moment?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Daisy, I am sitting on an elephant. The walls here are made of glass. There is a pile of baby heads in the corner. In addition, you stopped going to psychologists five years ago."
"I guess you're right. What should I do?"
"Meet me tomorrow at noon by the old oak tree. I have something very important to tell you about your father."
"But you aren't real."
"Until then, Daisy."
OUTSIDE AND INSIDE
KORAL POURED PETERSON'S TEARS onto her vulva and stretched herself across the snow-sheathed forest. She stared up at the moon and its apathy and waited for it to begin. The winds picked up. The leaves rustled louder and louder. Then the world around her exploded with motion. A whirlwind was born above her body--collecting snow and earth and animals. Trees groaned as the force ripped them from their constraints. Koral watched as these things circled above. They screamed at her. A bunny whimpered as its head was crushed between two impacting boulders. One very large tree--trapped in the vortex of the tempest--spun violently, around and around. Its leaves stood on end. All of these things were sucked inside of Koral, at the point of the vortex, between her legs. Koral howled with pleasure--massaged from the inside, with wood and rock and air and snow and blood and--
It always ended so abruptly. She always wanted more.
Koral stood, dusted herself off, and climbed a tree to sleep on.
Someday she would be finished. The more Outside she took Inside, the less sad she was. And soon the Outside and the Inside would be the same and there would be no more reason for tears.
DAISY TOLD HERSELF SHE was just going to visit the old oak tree to remember her father. They used to play together there. That was it. It had nothing to do with a dream psychologist. Nothing. And when he appeared before her, she screamed so hard, nothing came out. She collapsed and could hardly breathe.
"Do not be afraid, Daisy."
"I'm just dreaming. That's it. I'm just dreaming again. But it feels so real. Am I dreaming? I have to be dreaming." She scrambled away from the man as he approached her.
"I am not here to hurt you, Daisy. You have already felt enough pain in your life."
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" Daisy gagged and started to cry.
"I am Bayo and I am here to help you. Remember what I told you? That I have something to tell you about your father?"
"This isn't a dream. This isn't a dream."
"You are very frightened of me. Let me touch your hand."
"No! Stay away from me!"
He approached her and all of Daisy's muscles tensed up. She wanted to run away, but she couldn't. He touched her hand, and all of her anxieties drained from her body. She felt perfectly calm. His touch was so familiar.
"Do you feel better now, Daisy?"
He sat down beside her and smiled. "I have always dreamed of touching you."
"Who are you?"
"As I said, my name is Bayo. The rest is unimportant."
"What do you know about my father?"
"I know more than you, Daisy. Much more. First of all, you should know that your father is a very special man. A man like him does not come but once a millennium. He is wanted. He is yearned for. Because of this, he was taken."
"Is he still alive?"
Daisy couldn't stop the tears--a waterfall down her chin. Bayo embraced her and she cried into him. "Who took him? Who took my father from me?"
"A female named Koral."
"Is he okay?"
"He is not in pain, but he is not the man he was. I want to save him for you, Daisy, and I would go and do it myself if I could, but I cannot. I need your help. If I go there, I might never return. Koral could trap me in her forest. And also, your father will not listen to a word I have to say. I am nothing to him. But you, Daisy, he might listen to you. It will be dangerous, and I would not ask you to come if I did not know how unhappy you have been without him. You miss your father."
"Yes. I do."
"So will you come?"
THE WORLD HAD ALREADY bloomed and the tears were already collecting in his jar when he spotted the two figures in the distance. They came nearer and he recognized one of them. She was his daughter. But what was a daughter? He loved her. But what was love?
"Daddy!" She ran to him and embraced him.
Peterson's insides tingled and he felt very warm. Even more tears fell from his eyes now. He was careful not to let any escape the opening of his jar.
"Daddy, I missed you."
Missed you. What did that mean? He held her tighter now. His body did so naturally, without command. This was his daughter. He had lived with her for a few years before he came to this forest. He didn't know her very well, and yet he cried very hard upon seeing her again. Why?
"This is my friend Bayo. He's the one who took me here. You have to come with us."
That made Peterson's stomach hurt very much. He didn't want to leave. "No. I can't. Every day is spring here, daughter. Every day I rediscover life. I can't leave that."
"But daddy, don't you want to go home?" Home. Home? This was his home, wasn't it? He used to live in a house a long time ago. It was nice at that house, but not nearly as good as this. There, he had to work. There, he had to grasp for happiness. But here, he lived each day anew, saturated with beauty. "I can't leave."
BAYO WATCHED THE REUNION and wanted to feel pure happiness for Daisy. But a bit of Want moaned inside him. Bayo fought the urge. He had to clear himself of everything but Love and Malice before--
"So you are free, Bayo."
Bayo did not have to turn around. He knew who it was. He leaned in to Daisy's ear. "Do not mind Koral and I. You keep speaking to your father." He pointed a finger at Daisy and gave her a layer of crystal skin to protect her. He didn't do the same for her father because he knew Koral would do that. And so she did. Bayo turned around and faced the woman he hated so deeply. "You will pay for what you did to me, woman."
"I have overpowered your before, boy, and I will do it again."
Bayo laughed. He stretched out his arms and a cerulean fire spread across the forest. Everything for a mile around--save Bayo, Koral, and the two humans--turned to ash.
"I am not the same, Koral. My Want is gone and I am stronger now."
"We shall see." She pounced.
Bayo grabbed her by the leg, spun her around, and flung her up into the sky. She landed on the black earth, hard, sending up a cloud of ash, and charged at Bayo. He shot a ball of lightning at her breasts and made her tumble backwards and coat herself with black.
THE CHOICE BETWEEN
"DAD, HAVEN'T YOU MISSED me here?" Daisy felt her heart sinking to greater depths with every additional moment of this conversation.
"You were just a baby when I saw you last, Daisy. All you did was stumble around and talk gibberish. What was there to miss?"
"But didn't you love me? You loved me when I was a baby, didn't you?"
Her father shrugged. "I think I did."
"Don't you want to rediscover that love? You were happy with us, dad. Please come back."
"I'm afraid I'd get tired of you, dear. And not just you. If I go back, and live in that house long enough, I'll no longer appreciate my life there. I won't appreciate you and I won't appreciate your mother. I'll have sex with her so many times that it'll become routine and meaningless. Don't you understand? I appreciate things in this forest. More than I ever did back with you and your mother."
Daisy almost collapsed. She fought her tears. "Maybe you are happy here. Maybe you do appreciate things better. But you don't have any love here. You don't love Koral, do you?"
"Don't you remember how things are, dad? Love changes. It changes every day and it's not something you want to start over. Every day you were gone, my heart twisted and contorted. I loved you so much and I hated you. I didn't know if you were dead or if you just left us. I didn't care. I hated you either way. And I loved you and I missed you and I would have given anything to get you back. I know I was just a baby when you left, but I've still gone through so much because of you. Do you really want to live in this dream world until the day you die? Don't you want to feel love and all its shades again? There's so much you haven't felt that you can't feel here. I'm going to get married in two months, dad. To a woman named Sara. Mom started painting. She's really good at it. And... and..." Daisy couldn't fight the tears any longer.
Her father held her and whispered close to her ear. "I'm sorry, Daisy. I'd forgotten. I'd forgotten."
"Will you... go back... with me?"
"Yes, Daisy. Yes."
BAYO SAW DAISY SMILE, and his Love swelled. With this power, he knew that Koral didn't have a chance. She held a stick that she had broken off from a tree just outside the mile of ash, and she rushed at him again. Bayo grabbed the end of the stick and she brought it down. His skin where the wood touched sizzled, but he didn't care. He yanked the branch from her grip and threw it into the sky. He then dashed forward and grabbed her by the throat and summoned as much power as he could.
His lips touched hers and he breathed in, hard. Those things inside her--rock, water, wood, blood, everything--were sucked out and traversed into Bayo. When Bayo stopped, Koral collapsed onto the ground discarded, nothing but skin and bones.
Bayo felt his insides burning. The wood especially was trying to eat its way out. But he wouldn't let it out. It would go right back into Koral. But he would survive it. He was strong enough to digest even petrified wood.
Daisy walked over and hugged him. "You did it, Bayo. Thank you."
"You are welcome, Daisy. Your father is yours again."
KORAL WATCHED BAYO'S EYES as Daisy embraced him. There was something in those eyes. Bayo was more powerful than he'd ever been, in all the years they'd known each other.
Koral was relieved she still had power enough to speak. "You are a fool, girl, if you believe what that thing tells you. Bayo may say that your father is yours, but what he really means is that your father is his. He is a beast and cannot be trusted."
"Do not listen to her." Bayo touched Daisy's shoulder.
"You do not know the truth about him. He has the same Want as I."
"I am nothing like you! You care for nothing but your Want! I care for Love!"
"So you love this girl, do you, Bayo? Is that what gives you such strength?"
Koral laughed. "Then I must tell you a story, girl, about the day your father left. You were outside, all alone. Then you turned around. You do not know why you turned around. I will tell you. You turned around because I went inside you. I made you turn around and face your father. You pointed at him and he flew. That was I chaining Bayo to the tree."
"Do not listen to her, Daisy."
"Bayo was in your father. He was inside your father to kill you. He wanted your father to feel the pain of killing his own daughter. So you see, girl, I saved your father that day. I took him away to this forest for my Want, but I did save him much torment. And I did save your life."
Daisy looked at Bayo with a great amount of hurt in her eyes. "That is what happened, isn't it? I remember looking at my father. I saw something in him that was different. It was you."
Bayo wiped his eyes. "Please, Daisy. You cannot hate me. I need the Love."
"You wanted my father to kill me."
"I am different now, Daisy. I used to Want. I used to want to squeeze your father dry. But my Want is gone now. I do not care about the tears. You must believe me. You must not look at me that way. Please. Stop. The Love is going away. Without it, there will be only Malice, and that is not enough. It is not enough, Daisy. Daisy..."
Bayo fell to the ground and vomited. The trees and stones and blood and earth and water and everything else spilled onto the ash-laden earth and slithered into Koral's open vulva. She stood, renewed, and neared Bayo's quivering body.
"YOU'RE NOT GOING TO kill him, are you?" It was Daisy. (Bayo felt a little better. Perhaps she didn't hate him completely.)
Koral laughed, hard. "My dear girl, that is the Want we are after."
Bayo looked up at Koral's beautiful face. She was going to trap him again, like she always did. And then he would suffer. He had to act now. There was only a small amount of energy inside him, and even that was fading fast, but perhaps it was enough. Enough to--
Bayo jumped into Daisy's father. He faced Koral and smiled. "You can't hurt me now."
"Unless I enter a body myself." She jumped into Daisy.
Bayo as Daisy's father stared at Koral as Daisy.
"You wouldn't dare hurt your precious tear-producer."
"You would dare hurt your precious Love."
Bayo grabbed Koral's throat and she grabbed his.
"Bayo." Daisy's words escaped Koral's new mouth. "Kill me... let my father... live..."
Bayo and Daisy's father cried from the same eyes. The tears trickled down into their mouth. Bayo felt something happening. It burned. "No." Daisy's father vomited and Bayo leaked out. Bayo fell onto the ground and crawled over to Daisy. "No." Bayo vomited. Dark chunks spewed from his lips onto Daisy's feet. "No! No! This is not my Want anymore! I want Life! I want to Love Daisy!" He tried to fight it. He held Daisy's legs and vomited and vomited, and he vomited himself out of himself until there was no self left.
DAISY FELT KORAL LEAVE her body. Her father wrapped his arms around her.
"I did not know he was so close." Koral stared at the spot where Bayo had thrown himself up. "I would not have trapped him all those years had I known he was so close. I am sorry, Bayo. You cannot hear me, but I am sorry." Tears leaked from her eyes as she ran her fingers through the chunks of black vomit.
© 2003 Jeremy C. Shipp, all rights reserved
Autumnal Equinox 2003 Issue, Updated September 20, 2003
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.