Volume 1 Number 1
She handed me a book. I looked at the brown paper cover and noticed a rip in the front of it. There seemed to be words written on the original cover underneath; pencil scratches, symbols. IT looked like no kind of writing I had ever seen.
"Pay no mind to that. You don't need to read that." Lee said.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Nothing important. The important thing is that we've rekindled our friendship. Isn't it?"
"Yes." I said, not really sure whether or not I agreed.
"I forgive you for what you've done, Jamieson. I really do. This book is just a token of my affection. We've been friends for a long time."
"Five years, give or take."
"So, should we not bury the hatchet?"
Want as I was to do so, I still could not shake the feeling that there was something else at work here. Something that I didn't quite understand. I nodded, mumbled some acknowledgement and thanks and ascended the stairs to my apartment.
Once upstairs, I put the book on the table by the phone and went into the living room to have a smoke. Lighting up the cigarette, I studied the flame from my lighter. How could such a small flame cause so much destruction? I watched as the flame twisted and turned, bending this way and that in the air currents around it. The flame seemed to lick the air, coating it in hot secrets.
I watched as Mave, my cat, looked at the book and hissed at it. "What's wrong, baby?" She growled deep in her throat and stalked towards me. Bending down to pick her up, I looked into her eyes. There the book lie on the side table, harmless enough. It did look harmless, an ordinary volume wrapped in brown paper. But somehow, I knew better.
That night, I dreamt.
The sky above me was dark with smoky wisps of cloud drifting slowly by, creating a sparse landscape. Sometimes even the sky is quiet. A few stars winked on and off in the blue-black canvass, seemingly guiding my way.
And it seemed indeed I was being guided. I walked across a great expanse of grass, feeling the dew on its blades soak my feet within seconds. I made my way toward a large tree, it's trunk long and knotted, bending first to the right and then to the left, erupting in a score of branches that seemed to stretch forever.
I felt softness at my legs. I looked down to find Mave's lamp-like eyes glowing up at me. I picked her up, and she nestled comfortably against my shoulder and chest. "Are you dreaming too?" I asked. I received a deep purr in response. She nuzzled my neck and turned her gaze to the branches of the tree. She meowed urgently. I followed her gaze.
There in the branches of the ancient tree was a little girl. She was pretty, in an ordinary way. Sapphire eyes complimented a too small snub nose and a petite pretty mouth. White-blond hair wisped around her face. "I wasn't sure you'd come." she said.
"Are you a ghost?" I asked.
"Yes. My body is there." She pointed to a branch closer to where Mave and I stood, and I wondered how I could have missed the corpse hanging from the tree by a rough length of rope. The girl's body hung limp from the cord, twisting and turning in the wind that seemed to be slowly gathering strength. Her dead eyes were still open and seemed to pierce my skin... a shiny penetrating gleam. I felt very cold, all of a sudden.
"Why are you showing me this?"
"What else is there to see?" the girl retorted. She smiled down at me. "While there is little to see, there is plenty to hear. Listen," she said, cupping a hand to her ear. "Their voices ride the wind like horses through time. Listen." she said again. "Close your eyes."
I did, and I felt Mave begin to shiver, and held her closer. I muttered sweet nothings to her, which seemed to calm her down. Soon, she was purring contentedly.
I strained my ears toward silence, the sound of nothing, the sound of lifeless night. The air was quiet. Not a peep came out of the surrounding woods. That seemed odd. Even a dream forest must have some life to it?
I felt a weight in my hands. The book. I looked up at the girl questioningly. "Open the paper, Jamieson." I did so without waiting to ask how she knew my name.
On the hard cover of the book were symbols; swirls and shapes, lines and marks. An archaic language that made no sense to my mundane brain, tapped as it was in the throws of sleep. "What is it?" I asked.
The girl held a finger to her lips, silencing me. As I watched, three women made their way toward the tree, over a wide expanse of hilltop. They were all shaped like Lee in different stages of her life. All three of them had a black cloud around them, an aura of gray that made their skin seem pallid and bland.
"There is no love there." The girl whispered. "There is no hope."
"What am I to do?" I asked.
"Do not give power to those that do not deserve it." she said. She began to fade slowly, as if she were only a photograph slowly tearing itself loose from the world, forming back in the world that had pasted it into ours.
"Wait!" I whispered urgently.
"Yes?" she smiled softly, the curves of her mouth pulling back to reveal beautiful white teeth.
"Who... what are you?" I asked.
"Whatever you need me to be." said the girl. And she was gone.
I watched Mave scratching intently at the book, ripping away the brown paper with her claws. Revealing, bit by bit, pieces of that chilling writing.
Taking the book out to the back of the house, I put it in the barbecue and set it on fire. I only hoped that Lee would find the book before it engulfed the entire backyard, turning the pathetic piece of land into an even more pathetic wasteland. Looking into the flames, I thought I could hear her screaming in her apartment, wailing away and pounding on the window. I could hear her calling me filthy names, words too dirty to cross my lips.
Illustration by Kimberlee Rettberg