Find out what The Gryphs know about Skiron and his captors. Can they help her on her quest?
The people were traveling on motorized vehicles, that had round pieces that spun against the ground. I couldn’t tell how it was propelled, but it was loud. The air stunk. It was rank, and I lifted my hands to cover my nose. The air was thick, and held a orange tinge, and my lungs could taste the expulsion from those vehicles.
Where had I found myself this time?
Was it the future or the Past?
What never changed was the sensory overload. The different scents, sounds, sights, it all hit me like a ton of bricks and I staggered under the immense change.
I head a scream and felt a tug. A man had pulled me out of the way of one of those motorized vehicles… on rubber? The machine squealed to a stop where i had been standing, the mechanisms still whirring and sounding much too loud. I lifted my hands to my ears to tried to remain standing. Falling to my knees usually meant people fawned over me trying to figure out what was wrong, if I stayed standing, they just think I’m dumb.
I had my hands over my ears, trying to hear my thoughts when I gasped as the taste of the air hit my tongue. I gagged. It was awful, a taste so putrid and nauseating, I almost brought up the contents of my stomach. Though it probably would have tasted better. The stench once again hit my nose and I continued reaching, the man who had pulled me to safety now backing away.
I opened my eyes to the sting of the tears that filled them, and finally saw where I was. I appeared to be in a street, well to the side now. The street was lined with shops, selling all kinds of things. Nothing looked like what I had ever seen before.
I took a few steps, my senses adjusting to the new sensations, the noise slowly recoiling into a dull roar, the stench slowly imprinting into my memories. The taste lingered, and I dug into my pocket for what I hoped was currency here. No luck,empty as always. I wandered down this unfamiliar locale, trying to take in what I could. Trying to decipher what time period this might be. Before or after the Event?
I looked at my wrist, the time piece missing from my arm. At least I wasn’t naked.
I continued down the street and found a place to lean back and watch.
Those mechanized vehicles were all shapes and sizes. They appeared to billow out smoke from the rear. They made more noise as they accelerated. I also noticed, only the one that had nearly hit me squealed. I looked at the people. They were wearing some strange fashion, and yet it did nothing to tell me when I was.
Everyone wore something different, and they didn’t wear it for the weather. It was cool, but there were people whose legs and arms were bare to the elements. There were those who wore longer covered, but lightweight material, and those who wore a thick baggy material that appeared to be warm, that had extra material to cover their head.
Hair colour was vivid, all colours of the rainbow and natural were visible. I could not tell the genders of the people who passed me by, they could have been androgynous androids, but if the vehicles mechanics were any indication, androids would be much louder,and spew more polluted air. I did not see any obvious exhaust ports on them, so they must be human.
I saw a metal box with writing on it, I could not read it, the writing was so distinctly unique that it was not any language I was familiar with. I could not decipher a thing. A person confidently walked up, pulled the handle and retrieved the item inside. It appeared to be a very thin material, like a disposable fabric. I opened the handle and pulled out the strange fabric. It was heavier than I expected, and much more rough. It looked like an ink was applied to the surface, and had the same markings as the box. Their language, I traced my fingers along, feeling the ink and the words that made no sense.
Then I felt it, the shift that would bring me back home. Back to my time, my universe.
For how long? I was never certain. But the doctors and scientists would meet me, ask me questions and demand all the details. The little details. I squeezed the inked fabric tight, hoping it would make the trip. If I brought a piece back, they would ask less questions, and study the piece instead.
This had their language on it. They distributed it freely, and it was something I’d never seen before.
I’d heard about written language before, but the elite hoarded it. Keeping it in storage to be studied. I ripped a piece of the fabric, the language and a picture. It shred easily, and I tucked it into my pocket. At least I could try and hold onto it myself.
The tugging finally pulled me into the void. I gasped as I woke up in my bed, an alarm sounding loudly above my head, lights flashing.
The doctors would be here soon, to take my account. I searched for the fabric, not feeling the inky roughness as when I held it. I turned over my blankets and sheets.
No.. no. No. It can’t have fallen. I need this! This is proof! I do travel! I… I’m not crazy.
I slumped to the ground, and cried. The doctors came to ask the questions. They asked and asked and asked some more.
Then they sent me back to bed, my head full of lies and truths and medication to help me sleep.
I climbed into bed and stuck my hand in my pocket. There, crumpled up, was the piece of inky fabric, their language and an image of the motorized vehicles, all wrinkled up, but it was real. I wasn’t crazy. I’m not crazy.
I’m not crazy.
The Ferris wheel was flashing, its power flickering on and off in the darkened skies. The smell of cotton candy and fried food lingered in the air. The silence was punctuated by the buzzing of the broken transformer.
The tent poles, long abandoned by their fabric, showed the skeletal remains of a once wonderland. The center ring etched into the ground was worn away with time.
She wandered through the fairground, touching the remnants of the place she once called home. The memories flowed through her milky eyes and the tears flowed freely.
She spent her youth here, reading tarot for anyone willing to listen. She was good, drawing in customers from far and wide.
She walked the route to her lost home, the dust and dirt floating in the air as her long skirts sashayed across the overgrown dirt path. The beads on her jewelry jingled with every movement.
The feeling of unease welled up deep inside her. She should turn back, she thought, but her feet carried her forward. She was aware this place had fallen to ruin; she had seen it wither and decay with time, like her, growing old and forgotten.
Her tent was right in front of her. She was nearly Home. The calling was familiar, the skeletal bars still standing, threads of purple material clinging on.
Her bones ached as she passed through the empty archway and felt the wind whip through her skirts and her senses were overwhelmed.
The noise, whirring, buzzing, beeping games, the laughing children, animals sounds, the roar of applause at the enormous red and white tent. The Ferris wheel was brightly lit up and playing loud music as it spun safely in its tracks. The smells of fresh fries, cotton candy, and doughnuts filled her nose.
She smiled, the youth having returned to calm her achiness. Home.
“Excuse me Miss, can I get my fortune read?”
And she raised the flap and returned to her calling, as the Carnival of Life cycled again.
It’s the quiet.
The unyielding silence that envelops you even as the music blares.
It’s the dark.
The bleakness of a room in shades of grey even as the sun shines in on a clear day.
It’s the numbness.
The pain so all consuming, you ignore it until it leaves you alone, even as it still takes your breath away.
It’s the sadness.
The tears that fall even when the spark of joy that you once felt lingers beneath the surface, just out of grasp.
It’s the loneliness.
The solitude of feeling alone in a room full of people, even when longing for a connection. It’s the mask.
The smile on your face while you hide your lost self inside, even when you want to tear it off and ask for help.
It’s the contradictions of knowing what it is and being unable to fix it.
It can be loud, and it can be quiet.
It can be light, and it can be dark.
It can be pain and numbness, and sadness and joy.
It can be lonely, and too crowded at once.
It can overcome, and it can overwhelm.
It is what it is.
“I’m free,” she whispered, her eyes closing and the tear rolling down her cheek. As it reached her mouth, she smiled at me. She was rubbing the bruises and cuts on her body as she felt the weight being lifted from her. I felt the weight of her burden and tightened my grip. This girl had suffered in life, and clearly, I was a welcome relief.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
It’s time, Scythe whispered to me. I swung the blade and sliced into the next world, and showed her the way. She was grinning now, skipping through the dimension and never looking back. Her body may have been battered and bruised, but her soul was intact and she was filled with childlike wonder. The difference between the two was so immense, I had a hard time imagining that they were once one and the same.
I peered at the conditions of her life. It was a shell, a hollowed out version of what her soul had been, excited to face the next life. The footsteps coming towards the room made me pause. With Scythe in my hands, we weren’t visible, except to those who would be touched by the blade.
The man came in and leered at the body before kicking the still form. I tensed, gripping Scythe hard.
“Get up.” He said, gruffly. Grabbing her wrists, he shook her. Her head limply moved with the shaking as he grew more and more aggressive. My rage was rising, as I got a clear view of the violence in her life, and why this broken girl was so relieved to see me.
Calm down, Riley. It is not his time.
Calm? I was anything but calm. This man was a monster, an abusive son of a- and I had the instrument of death in my hands. I could reap justice for this poor excuse of a soul. I tightened my grip and lifted the Scythe.
Riley, no. Even if you swing me, he will remain alive, although he will be able to see us.
“But- He doesn’t deserve to live. She Did. How the hell do I standby and let him live? That’s not right at all!” I squeezed the Scythe’s handle firmly, trying to decide if I should put the emotionless Scythe down. If I put it down, I could strangle the man where he stood, still slapping the empty vessel of that broken girl. I could beat him down, like he beat her. There should be justice!
It’s not your place to decide, Riley. There is somewhere else we have to be. But, you can call in the death to the authorities if you choose.
I stared at the man, still trying to get the girl to forcibly wake up, and shook the rage out of my own hands, picked up the Scythe and heaved it over my shoulder. I freed her from his grasp, but she had to die to be free. Scum like this didnt’t deserve a life.
“Why are you getting heavier?” I asked Scythe, feeling the additional weight in my arms.
You are carrying a heavy burden today. The emotional toil is reflected in my physical weight. You don’t simply guide the departed to their new world; you pick up their burdens and carry them with you. With time, the weight of each individual burden will lessen, but some of the heaviest moments will stay with you.
“So, will l carry this amount of weight forever?” I asked, shifting it around, trying to adjust to the extra weight.
You will carry the weight forever, yes. But you will adjust to the change. Much like humans handle a growing child, or grief. There are some days where the burden won’t be as heavy, and some days the weight will be overbearing. This is the difficulty in being the instrument of death.
And suddenly I understood why Walter was so run down. Years of carrying the heavy weights, mentally and physically. He was strong. Stronger than I was. I trudged out of the offending house with the man, still shaking the dead body, picked up my cell phone and called the authorities.
“I think there’s been an altercation at this address,” I told the lady on the other side.
Walking with the unfamiliar weight, feeling the difference, we left the house behind. I could hear the sirens by the time I hit the end of the street with Scythe. When I saw the flashing flights arrive at the house, I sighed, and felt the Scythe’s weight change again–lighter now. I had done the only thing I could.
I could see her smile as she crossed through the door. I had freed her from this world and got the justice she deserved. As the tear fell down my face, I smiled back.
You are strong.
I stood, transfixed, mirror. I was looking at it, and it was looking back at me. But it shimmered. And changed shape. And then, I wasn’t looking at me, but through me.
I felt myself get lighter; emptier. My emotions drained away and I smiled, feeling numb, but content. The aching in my shoulders eased and I relaxed, letting the weight bearing down on me slip away.
I watched as I grew taller, slimmer, curvier, fuller. I watched as she became beauty personified. She was beautiful.
The rosy colour of her cheeks, the crinkle in her eyes as she smiled back at me in awe.
I moved my mouth to speak, at the same time as she did.
Her words echoed mine, her mouth mimicking mine just a fraction too late.
The smile shifted slightly to a frown, and we each raised a hand to the mirror.
I touched the glass first, and felt the cool reflective material soften as her fingers touched mine.
We pushed each other, each trying to push through our glass, trying to get into each other’s world.
If she was beautiful in her world, then I could be too.
I heard a door creak behind me, and my daughter peeked in.
“Momma, why are you fighting with the pretty lady in the window?”
“Window?” I looked at her puzzled.
“Yea. She waves to me every night. She looks a lot like you momma. But happier. Can she visit sometime?”
I lowered my hand, but her hand held me and she pulled. I fell forward and landed on the floor of my room. Except now I was looking into the mirror and seeing the beautiful version of me. She was hugging my daughter, comforting her.
“Let’s leave the woman in the window alone” I heard the words, come from my mouth, but they were here. She took her hand and I screamed, rattling the frame of the mirror. She looked back at me and smiled, an evil grin.
I hit the mirror, trying to get through it, but it was solid.
“Let me out! Let me back!”
“You didn’t enjoy your world. Let me do it for you.” She smiled and walked away.
I smashed the mirror to pieces. Stuck in this room forever. I never saw myself again.
“I walked to the middle of the compound, slowly drawing the cold inward. There was something here. The deserted compound should have been a haven for the hibernating animals, but nothing was here. Even the birds had left, and the only other living thing around was the Qiqirn-a demon dog.”
⚠️ ⚠️ Content warning. DEATH. CHILD DEATH. ⚠️ ⚠️
Riley was doing well. We had been together a month, and they were learning quickly. They had been quick to pick up on the rituals, the delicate hand and the calming that they needed to give the departures.
It was going smooth until last Wednesday afternoon. I told Riley to coke with me to the park. There were kids playing, swinging, sliding, running around and throwing sand. One little boy was tormenting a blond little girls in French braids. I whispered to Riley,
“She will need your assistance when she falls.” Riley’s face fell sharply, and I felt the tremble in the staff as they struggled to hold me up.
“You can’t possibly mean…her?” They whispered, their voice giving away the fear in it.
“All who must pass on need a guide. You are her guide. When she falls, she will be in agony. Your job is to take the pain away and send her on.” Facts. Always stick to the facts. Humans are emotional. It takes time to desensitize to this kind of life.
Riley’s grip tightened on my staff again, and their head bowed low.
“This is going to hurt.” They said.
We watched from the hilltop as the little girl ran up the play structure, trying to get away from the little boy. The boy called her name, “Emma, don’t run away!”
They were at the top of the slide and the boy caught up.
I urged Riley to start walking. “Let’s move closer to the slide.”
They walked slowly, eyes transfixed on this little girl, little Emma, with the boy pulling her braids back. She was trying to pull away from him, with all her strength.
Then the boy let go. Emma shot forward and tumbled off the top of the slide and over the lip to the right.
“Ahh-gh” Gasps sounded from the park as she hit the sand with a crunch.
Riley covered their mouth with their hand and shook their head.
“Hahah! Emma, get up now.” The boy shouted from the top of the slide.
I shifted the weight and pulled Riley forward.
“She needs you Riley. Help her.”
Riley started cautiously, then walked faster to reach her. They reached out their hand and touched the little girl’s body. Her head was twisted at a wierd angle and her face was contorted in pain.
“Emma?” The boy asked, sliding down.
“Emma, get up!” He shouted.
The kids had started to gather, pointing and whispering. “Is she okay? What’s wrong?”
Riley leaned forward and gently took hold of her hand.
“Hi, Emma. My name is Riley, and this is Scythe.”
Her blue eyes stared widely at us, but she didn’t speak or cry, just swallowed once and nodded.
“Are you ready for what awaits you?” Riley was choking on their words, tears falling from their eyes.
“All you have to do is..” they fumbled with their words, but I do have to admit, they were doing well with their first child.
“All you have to do is take my hand. I will help you find the way.”
“It hurts.” She said. Riley’s grip tightened on my staff and I wavered under their trembling arms.
“Take my hand, and I’ll take the pain away. It won’t hurt anymore.”
“Wipe your tears.” I whispered. Riley waved me off, choosing to let the tears fall.
“Are you hurt?” She asked Riley, and reached for their hand. When she took his hand, her soul lifted from her body, and Riley stood up with her.
She looked down at herself and at her form and back to Riley, understanding instinctively.
“Can I say goodbye to Matt?” She asked.
“The boy who pushed you?”
“Yeah. He’s going to miss me a lot. He might be mean to people, but he’s nice too.” She smiled and reached over to Matt.
Matt was down on the ground, yelling at Emma’s lifeless form.
“Wake up Emma. Please wake up. I’ll stop pulling hair. I’ll stop calling you names. I’ll do anything. Please wake up!” He was sobbing and trying to bargain.
Riley looked sad and didn’t stop the flow of tears falling down their cheeks. His grip on me relaxed as he watched Emma accept her fate.
“Don’t be sad, Matt. I don’t hurt anymore! I hope that you won’t hurt anymore one day too. Then we can play together again.” She placed her hand on his shoulder and Matt looked at her.
“I’ll see you again, Matt.” She said. Matt stopped and stared, but then went back to the body and took her hand.
“I’m sorry Emma. I didn’t mean to. Please wake up.”
“I know you didn’t mean it. It’s okay. ” She then reached around and hugged him. She was smiling when she looked back at Riley.
“I’m ready now, are you?” She smiled, and then gave Riley a hug too. They nearly dropped me in their shock, but caught me.
“Alight Emma. I’m okay. Let’s walk you to the other side. First take my hand.” She grabbed their hand tightly, and then he swung me. I sliced a small opening in the dimensions, to allow her to pass through.
“Emma, through that door, there is someone waiting for you to arrive. They will call your name. Just touch the scythe, blade and you can pass through.”
She looked up with her wide blue eyes and turned back to look at herself.
“I’m scared.” She whispered.
Riley crouched down beside her.
“I know Emma, it’s okay to be scared. But you are so incredibly brave. It’s not going to hurt at all.”
“I don’t want you to be sad.” She said.
Riley hiccuped, a cross between a laugh and sob.
“You’re sweet Emma, and you are the nicest person I’ve met. I will miss you, but there are some lovely people waiting for you.” They squeezed her hand and smiled.
“Okay. I’ll go.” She reached up to touch my blade, and Riley lowered it for her.
Her hand was warm against my cold steel, and I trembled as I switched her energies, making her able to pass through the dimensions. I whispered to Emma
“Be good now Emma, I’ll see you again some day.”
She smiled and bounded through the door, not giving us a second look.
Riley sealed the door and fell to the ground sobbing loudly. Echoing the sobs and screams from the park.
“Is there nothing we can do?! Why her? Why was she taken?” Riley sobbed for a long while letting his grief pass through.
I stood silently above him. Emotions were not a part of who I was. I was an instrument, a tool to be used have them cross worlds. I don’t form attachments.
“Scythe, how do I keep going?” They asked me quietly.
” Stand up. Walk away from here.” He used my staff to pry himself away from the ground.
“Take one step after another. When the others who held me felt like this, they called it the grief cycle. Eventually, most are able to shift right into acceptance. One day, you too will pass through my door.”
They stopped walking and looked up at me.
“When I get to that point, I will be broken and begging to be released won’t I?” The young one holding my staff was wise.
“You will be burdened by many stories like this one. The weight of carrying me will become too heavy, too painful to carry. You will whither.
But when you ask to be released, you will see the ones we have reaped. And they will thank you for making it an enjoyable experience. Try to think about that instead.”
They thought for a moment and we got to the office. Riley laid me down against the wall and crumbled into the couch.
“I’m already exhausted.”