On the Otherside
A Chaos Working
-Michael J Dangler
There's a part of my life I rarely talk about. It's kind of weird that I don't discuss it much, because it really is a huge part of who I am.
Of course, I think I know why I don't talk much about it. I think a lot of it has to do with how much I try to appear serious, how much I fight the perception of being a child having fun with a passing fad.
There's a constant, ongoing struggle for me, really. The gray of the boring, mundane world closes in around me, and I start to drown. I wasn't made for this kind of a life, really, living from paycheck to paycheck, month to month, and being tied to a real schedule.
I'm not sure what exactly I was made for, but I expect it had something to do with sandy beaches and distant reaches (and, while I'm rhyming, let's throw in a few lovely Georgia peaches). Even if it doesn't have to do with all that, though, it's fun to think it does.
Anyway, those who saw my little strip show (also known as the Chaos Magic workshop I did for the Pagan Student Association) got a taste of that part of me.
It's the part that pushes the envelope, not because the envelope needs pushing, but because it's
there. I've been told it's a dangerous game, but it's also an exhilarating one.
I've mentioned before that I do at least one Chaos Magic (CM) working per day. It can take an entire night, three hours, or a split second. I don't usually share the results or the performance with anyone, because it's kind of a personal thing. Occasionally I let people know the results (you've all seen my conversations with Eris), and I have (rarely) asked a few others to help me with a working. I've even considered teaching some techniques, but you need to catch me in a certain mood for that.
But no matter how I slice it, I cut this part of my life off from the rest of it. It's really a small part (it has to be for me to function fully), but it's an important part.
It's the side of me that's really, truly free. It's the side that I don't show Tina, because it's not something she'd be into. It's the side that I question the sanity of. On a regular day, in a regular life and setting, it only shows up for short glimpses in my manner of my laugh. Only when alone do I truly embrace it.
One morning a few weeks ago, I was working through a Chaos exercise. It was a fairly simple one that I'd been holding off on, mainly because I like a challenge, and I didn't think this one would offer much of a real challenge. Little did I know that I was in for a hell of a ride that cold February morning.
The object of the working was well defined, and the process was simple, but it lead me through doors and vortices I never imagined I would even see, let alone open.
I was sitting in a room, quietly chanting a mantra. Having never used this mantra before, I was occasionally stumbling over the sounds. They were unfamiliar and didn't flow quite right, but it is this stumbling, this tripping on unfamiliar terrain that I attribute the eventual experience to.
I shut my eyes, and I let the mixed-up, lost chant carry me through on its journey. Along the way, my body felt things. My eyes saw things. My muscles ached. The scents of the worlds I fell into were vivid and alive.
First, I spied a mountain. The top of this mountain was my goal, I knew that already. I set off in the correct direction, trudging through mud and ducking under branches. I followed no path, but kept the mountain in my vision.
My foot caught a rock, and I landed face-first in the mud.
I lay still for a moment. There was a rock just under my eye, pushing into it. My shoulder was on an exposed root. I knew my knee was skinned and bleeding.
I put my hands under me, and went back to my knees.
In front of me the mountain still stood, but a line had formed across its center. I stood, and began to walk toward it again. I passed a rose garden, and turned to my right to see the sun glint off the dew on their buds. The smell of freshly opened roses hit me hard, and I smiled.
I knew I should not dally, though, and I turned to the mountain.
Its eye opened.
The line that had formed across it was the bottom of a giant lid, and now its eye stared down at me, angrily. Its fire burned into my body, and I stood, staring back at it.
I took another step closer, and the eye squinted more, accusing me of some sin I could not place.
I began to walk forward, passing into a forest, my eyes fixed on the anger of this mountain-god. I ignored the world around me, focusing only on this mountain, and my eventual conquer of it.
It was then I noticed that each step toward the mountain moved it further distant.
I stopped, unsure what to do. Instead of think, I listened.
I heard singing to my left. The song wove through trees, dancing in and out of dark places and flowing with the joy and urgency of a cool mountain stream. For a moment I was lost in it, thinking about the tune and the remarkable harmony that it seemed to hold.
Shortly, I realized that the song was coming closer, getting louder. Not wanting to be seen, I turned, tripping over the uneven forest floor, and looked for a place to hide.
I climbed a tree near me, hiding in its foliage. Whatever was coming was larger than me, though the voice was harmonic and feminine. I waited for the creature to show itself.
Through the trees stepped a young woman. Her eyes shown with the light of the skies, and her step was light. She would have been beautiful, but for one thing: she was a giant, and eight times my own height.
Her song was lovely though. It was about something I knew, but could not place. What could it be?
The giantess sat down near my tree, and placed her basket under it. She continued singing, and the story in the song opened in my mind like a book.
"There once was a child
Who knew the right steps
A man he beguiled
who knew magic's depths
Pair of boots he stole
That helped him travel
To quickly reach goals
And monsters baffle.
Snitched boots always he
Wore them on his legs
They were verily
Boots of Seven Leagues!"
It was then I knew what she sang of. Seven League Boots would find me atop the mountain soon. If she knew of them, I would be well-advised to follow her.
I looked at her legs, long and shapely. Even at a stroll, there was no way to keep up.
I looked at her apron, but knew she would feel me cling to her.
I looked at her beautiful blonde hair, and though it was long and flowing, I feared she would use a comb on it before I could remove myself.
It was the basket I settled on. Inside were blackberries. Hundreds of them - no, millions. Though she was a giant, these berries were of a more normal size. Above the berries was a cloth that kept her sleeves from dragging in the berries and staining.
I quietly slid down the tree, and climbed up the side of the basket, hoping to get inside. The wicker was slick with blackberry juice, and I slipped twice before finally swinging my legs over the top. I rolled over the berries, and pulled the cloth over me. There I lay, expecting her to pick the basket up.
I lay in the berries for perhaps an hour before I fell asleep. Her songs and beautiful voice enchanted me, and I drifted off slowly, listening to her songs of treasures and brave princes.
I awoke for a moment when the basket moved, but I did not stir. I had been sleeping for hours, for the sky was now dark, and stars twinkled in the heavens above. I looked to the crescent moon, and he winked his conspiratorial wink, assuring me that he would not give my secret to the giantess who was now bounding over the fields with me.
At daybreak I awoke again, and the basket was sitting near a window sill. I pulled the cloth down enough to find that I was alone, before I rolled out. I filled my pocket with blackberries for a later dinner, and moved toward the edge of the table I was on.
The drop was not that far, but it was far enough that I knew jumping was out of the question. I began looking for a rope or another item to help me down, but the door began to open.
I hid behind the spice rack, watching the door with interest. Through it came a large man, carrying a sack and a pair of boots over his shoulder. The sack moved with a startling animation, and my ears detected things beating together within.
The sack was dropped on the table, and I suddenly knew what was inside, for a squawk escaped the top of the bag. It had been bird's wings I heard.
The man set his boots beside the table, and, grunting, stepped out the same door he had come in.
Cautiously, I approached the bag. It was of a heavy canvas, so I couldn't open it from the side. My jackknife wouldn't cut the fabric.
I stepped around to the front of the bag. Another squawk was heard, as well as the beating of wings.
"Master Bird?" I called into the opening. "Can you answer?"
"I can get you out, Master Bird."
For a moment, I was confused. I knew the bird wanted out; his struggles against the bag when it was brought in were evidence of this. Yet the bird refused to answer.
It was then that I recalled the words of my uncle: "A bird will never speak to you unless you have fed it. Once you have done that, you will have a friend for life, and he will take care of you to the end of his days."
I dug into my pockets, and pulled out the blackberries I had taken from the basket. For a moment, I thought about dumping them in, but I knew that if I did that, the bird would not know who had fed him. In a moment of decision, I thrust my hand in and waited.
The bag stilled completely for a moment, but soon a rustling began at the bottom of the sack. I held my breath, praying that the bird would not take my hand with the berries, but I knew that was a thin hope.
The sounds of feather on fabric drew nearer the mouth of the bag, and I closed my eyes. I felt the bird's breath on my fingers, and then I felt his beak press against my hand. Another moment of tortured stillness occurred.
The bird then gently took one blackberry from my hand. He waited a moment, swallowed, and came back for another. Things continued in just this way until he had taken each one.
I slowly withdrew my hand, and waited.
"Boy, will you let me out?" came an unsure voice from within.
"I will, Master Bird."
"And you will not cook me? I should not like to be eaten." Hope began to creep into his voice.
"I will not cook you, Master Bird."
"Nor pluck me nor bake me into a pie nor cage me?" the bird asked.
"I will not pluck your beautiful feathers, I will not bake you into a pie where your handsome face is covered in pastry, nor will I cage you where your wings will be useless. I will only release you."
"Then get to it, Boy! The Giant will return shortly, and he means to do at least one of those things!"
I was unsure what to do. "My knife will not cut the sack, Master Bird."
"Then cut the string, Boy. Be quick about it!"
How could I have not thought of that first? My jackknife cut the string easily, and I pulled the bag open.
The bird poked his black head out of the bag. He was a blackbird, obviously, and his feathers were truly beautiful. "I thank you Boy. You are a true friend." He pulled the rest of his body out, and shook himself clean. "At the end of the table you will find your way out."
"But I have looked there, Master Bird. There is nothing but the giant's boots, and I fear they are too large for me!"
The bird looked at me. "Did the giant wear them when he came in the door?"
"He did not."
Master Bird looked at me expectantly. "Why would a man who had just come from outside not wear his boots?"
"He was afraid of walking too far in them?"
"Exactly!" shouted the bird, a little too loud for my comfort. "There is your answer. Now, as I am not keen on being cooked, I must go. Good luck, Boy!"
With that, he flew through the window.
I was lost for a moment. Why would he be afraid of walking in his boots? Too far? Why take them off?
"Seven Leagues! They walk Seven Leagues!" I shouted, ecstatic in my own cleverness. These boots were my hope for getting nearer the mountain.
I ran to the edge of the table. I looked over the edge, but was disappointed to remember that the man who wore them was much taller than I. Each boot was twice my height, and I would be swallowed in side them. I sat down, considering this problem.
I pondered the situation for nearly a half hour, simply staring at the boots and wondering how to get into them. I was so enraptured with my own thoughts, that I didn't hear the door open.
"What are you?" came a booming, yet young and feminine voice above me.
I started, and realized that I had nowhere to go. I looked up at the source of the voice, and it was the giantess who had unknowingly carried me here. I was struck dumb with fear.
"You aren't a pixie, are you?" she asked. Her voice held no threat, and this reassured me enough to speak an answer.
"I'm not. I'm a man."
"I've never seen one of those before!" she cried, apparently overjoyed. It was, I thought with irony, just the way a human child would react to a pixie.
"You have now, ma'am. I heard you singing, and thought I should follow you here."
"But I never sing near the house. Father doesn't like it. Where did you hear me singing? You're too small to have walked her on your own!"
I thought for a moment. "I heard you singing in the forest near the shadow of the mountain with the eye. Your voice was beautiful."
The giantess blushed. "You don't mean that. I mean, I don't sing well. Father has told me so."
"Perhaps my ear is simply better tuned than his. Not all people appreciate music the same way."
She sighed. "I suppose you're right. Did you come to hear me sing again? I would love to sing for you!" The pleasure in her eyes at the thought was remarkably evident, and she seemed so much to want to please me.
I remembered her father, and how I had just let his dinner fly away. "I would be honoured to hear you sing, but you say your father won't allow it. I should like to hear it, but shouldn't we do it at a later date?"
"Oh, I suppose you're right. Oh, where are my manners? Would you like something to drink?"
"I would, ma'am. Truth be told, I'm remarkably thirsty." The giantess stood, and went to a bucket. She searched for something that I could handle, and settled on a thimble. She dipped it in the water and brought it back to me.
"Here you are. Don't drink too fast, this water is magical. It comes from our well out front. It's how we stay young. Each drink will prevent you from aging for an hour. If you take two drinks, you'll start to get younger. If you drink it too quickly, you'll be a child again in no time, and then I almost wouldn't be able to see you!"
I smiled. "We wouldn't want that, would we, ma'am." I took a drink. The water was the sweetest I had ever tasted, and I felt it coat my throat with its coolness, and felt my body relax. The giantess watched with interest, as if she were sure I would spring a leak.
"Would you do me a favour, man?" she asked when I had finished.
"Of course, ma'am. What ever I can. You've been a most generous hostess."
"Would you call me by my name? I don't like the sound of 'ma'am'. I much prefer my own name."
"Of course I will. I would like to think of you by your name. What is it?"
She paused, biting her lip. "You see, man, that's part of the problem. I can't tell you. You need to guess it." She looked almost embarrassed.
"Can you give me a hint?"
"No, I can't," she said. "Only one person knows it, and so I'm still here. I can never leave for more than a day. If I do, I'll surely die, unless another can call me by my name."
"And I suppose the one person who knows it is your father?"
She looked at me as if it was obvious. "Of course. He named me!"
I sighed inwardly. "Well, then I suppose there's only one thing to do."
"What's that?" she asked.
"Why, guess, of course!"
And so I began to guess.
I started with the easy ones. I pulled names from fiction and fantasy, and particularly from fairy tales. I listed them from childhood stories and recent relationships. I agonized over spellings and variations, and even wrote names in Sanskrit for her to judge. No name ever fit her, and no name matched.
Finally, just as I reached the few Japanese characters I knew, she cried out in frustration. "Oh, it's no use. I want to just tell you, and I want you to remember! I know you know it, you just haven't thought of it yet! And until you do, I can't leave!" She hid her head in her hands and began to sob.
I hated to see this. "Lady, you shouldn't cry. I'll get it soon. It could be the next thing I guess! How about 'Lamashtu'? Or 'Dido'?"
"No! Neither of those is right! Do I look like them? Look into your heart! See me with the eyes you never open!" She threw her face back into her hands.
I didn't know what to do, but I knew that guessing again would be a mistake. She seemed to think that I knew her name from somewhere, and I should be able to draw it out from my soul. What did she mean? I didn't remember ever seeing her before, and I didn't know who she could be.
I sat quietly, watching her shoulders shake as she sobbed. I felt too small to comfort her, too tiny to make a difference for her. She was beautiful, though, despite her giant size. I stood and stepped toward her, intending comfort. In doing so, I tripped on my own two feet.
Suddenly, something about her seemed familiar, though I couldn't place what it was.
Nothing had changed, and she still sobbed. Her shoulders were bent forward, her face in her hands. Wait, her hands?
Peeking out between her hands was a tear-drop. A single, solitary drop slid down to the back of her hand, and detached itself. It fell free, slower than I thought it should, and there it landed, splashing in the light of the setting sun, a million golden drops exploding from the impact.
I knew the beautiful creature in front of me.
"Eris." It was not a question. It was a statement.
The sobbing stopped. She pulled Her hands apart, revealing the features I knew so well from other dreams, other places, other meetings. Her eyes were now green. As Her hands passed her hair, each strand changed colour, becoming a deep auburn red. A playful smile graced Her features.
"You know, I figured you'd find me earlier. What's taken you so long, Hon?" Her smile, as always, was wonderfully seductive and completely disarming. I wasn't quite sure what to say.
I tried some words on for size. "I'm confused, Eris. Who was that, the guy you called 'Father'?"
"Oh, him?" She tossed Her head in that non-committal, sexy way She does. "That's Father. You know, Erebus. He's always being a stick in the mud. And he likes to play games. Zeus always said I needed to pay less attention to Father."
"Hesiod said that you had no father, though."
"Who was there, Me or Hesiod?"
I thought for a moment. "Well, that is a good point."
"Speaking of points, let's stop dancing around this one, shall we?" Eris' eyes twinkled a moment. "I understand that you're in the market for a pair of boots?"
"Yes. I'm in need of your father's Seven League Boots."
"Well, that's going to be a problem. You see, he rather likes them."
I sighed. "I thought he might. I'd be attached to them as well."
"Why don't you just take them?" She asked. "I mean, it isn't like he's using them at the moment."
"Eris, it would be an insult to Your intelligence if I pointed out that they're twice my height and I simply won't fit."
"You're right, that does pose a problem. Why don't we fix that?" The twinkle in Her eyes got brighter.
She brought Her hands forward, fists closed. "Why, it's simple." She opened Her hands, palm up. In Her left hand was a blue mushroom, and in Her right was a red one.
"One pill makes you smaller, and one pill makes you tall."
"And the ones that Mother gives me don't do anything at all. I know the song."
"Good. Now: choose."
And so I did.
I looked a both mushrooms for a minute, scrutinizing them, hoping for some sign. I recalled how Alice cried when she ate the side of the mushroom that made her too tall, and how she couldn't reach the key when she was too small. I considered how what I really wanted was a happy medium, just as Alice did. What on earth was wrong with that?
The answer hit me like a ton of bricks. Nothing was wrong with that! What made me think I needed these boots, anyway? Surely there was another way to the mountain, for nothing exists that has no path to it.
Eris was still looking at me expectantly. Her green eyes were dancing with the laughter I knew so well. "What's wrong, Green?" She asked (for "Green" is my name to Her).
I thought for a moment. "Eris, there's nothing wrong." I smiled. It was a smile that only joy can bring to a man. "I'm taking the third road. The one not offered. I'm going to make due with my own attributes, rather than relying on something to change them."
"Green, you always were one of my favourites," She said, Her eyes sparkling, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. "So what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to keep my size, and find a better way to the mountain. It'll take me longer, but I suspect I'll be better off in the long run."
"You will. Have a good hike, then, and enjoy the weather. It's supposed to be really nice today." She paused for a moment, and cocked Her head as if listening to something I couldn't hear. "Oh, and two more things," She said. "This is from someone else," an axe appeared in front of me, "and this is from Me." Suddenly, She stood in front of me, no longer a giant, but rather what I perceived as "normal" size. My size.
Her eyes flashed a mischievous smile, and She stepped forward placing one arm on my right shoulder, followed by an arm on my left shoulder. She slowly drew me in, and brought Her lips to mine. Not knowing what else to do, I stumbled into the kiss myself, wrapping my own arms around Her waist. For a moment, I was lost, tasting Her lips and feeling Her body through Her clothes.
Slowly, Eris pulled away, and I opened my eyes as She did. She giggled at me, for a moment looking almost like a child who had just passed a note to a cute boy on a dare. Her smile brought me back, though, and I knew that this was the Goddess I worshipped.
Suddenly, I noticed that we were no longer in the kitchen by the window. We were now outside, in the same clearing where I had met Eris the day before. The sun was now high overhead, so I had a good amount of time left to walk that day, and the mountain (with its eye now shut) was in the distance. I wasn't completely sure if time had reset itself, or if I had been locked in Her embrace for sixteen hours, but I knew it didn't matter. Lying on the grass to my right was the axe she had given me a moment before, and on my left was a pair of old, worn boots.
"What's this?" I asked, puzzled at the boots.
"Those are the Boots of Seven Leagues you had your eyes on," She answered, still smiling.
"But they're my size now! How did that happen?"
"Green, sometimes you're such a silly child. Didn't your mother read you fairy tales as a kid? There's only one pair of Seven League Boots, but they change size to fit the wearer. You could have put on the big boots just fine, whether you were Father's height or the height of Tom Thumb. See, you shouldn't give up so easily." Her smile was brighter now.
"So I can take them? It's okay?"
"Of course it's okay. You wouldn't have them if it wasn't!" She giggled. "Now, if you excuse me, I have to go tell Father that our kitchen has a cockroach problem, and that one made off with his boots!"
And with that, She was gone.
I set about the work of putting on the boots and strapping the axe to my back. I wondered for a while about why I had an axe, and who had given it to me, but I would never look a gift axe in the bit. I was sure I would need it sometime down the road.
Taking a deep breath, I turned down the road. I wasn't sure how the Seven League Boots worked, but I figured that the best way to figure it out was to try it. I only hoped that there wasn't a river twenty-one miles from where I now stood.
I lifted my right foot, holding it in the air for a moment, and then shifted my weight forward.
As my foot descended, I was treated to the most wondrous experience! I saw trees fly by; birds who were going so much slower than me that they seemed to fly in reverse; best of all, I saw myself pass over a small river. My foot came to rest on the far bank of the river, and the mountain loomed larger than it had before. Still the eye slept.
I was about to take another step when I heard a cry from behind me. I turned to look, and I saw a strange sight: across the river stood a satyr, smoking a cigar and holding a hammer in his right hand. In his left was a large cup, and he had a pair of nails clenched in his teeth. His erection was noticeable from where I stood, but it seemed to be only about nine inches or so, which struck me as very small for a satyr.
I raised a hand to wave to the creature, and this gesture was returned with a shout. The words were impossible to make out, so I called to the satyr for clarification.
I saw him remove the nails from his mouth, and he tried again. "Would you help me build a bridge?" he shouted, his question carrying clearly this time.
"I would," I called back, "but it seems like I'm on the wrong side of the river. You have all the nails, and I have nothing."
"You have an axe, I see. Could you not cut down trees for wood?"
"I suppose I could do that. How did you expect to build a bridge without an axe?" I called.
"I didn't. I expected a friend here to help, but it appears he has been delayed."
"How will you get the wood if I cut it down on this side?"
He thought for a moment. "The trees can be floated to me, across the river. Just cut them down and toss them in."
I knew that I wasn't on a schedule, or at least I hoped I wasn't, and so I decided to help the satyr build his bridge.
I started on one tree, which seemed strong and was close to the water. The axe bit into it, and soon the tree had fallen into the water, and began to float downstream. The satyr waded into the river and pulled it over to the dry ground on his side. I saw him go to work with a saw, and turned to the next tree, which was also close to the water. Soon, I had downed 6 trees, and had run out of trees near the water.
"We only need one more!" called the satyr. It was true. I looked at his work, and while it wasn't the prettiest bridge in the world, it was certainly enough for a man to walk across, and probably enough for a man to ride a horse across. "Make it a large one just to be sure!"
I looked around me. Most of the trees nearest the water were young, and not very large at all. I considered each tree and ruled it out. The only thing I could do was look further in for a larger, better tree. "Make sure it's bendable, too!" the satyr called as I disappeared from his view.
I wandered in the shade of the trees for a bit, thankful to have the sun no longer on my back. The smell of the forest was welcome, and I was careful to avoid accidentally scarring any trees with the axe on my shoulder.
I walked for perhaps five minutes, looking at trees and ruling them out. I found a pair of tall oak trees, but knew their wood would be too hard. I came upon an ancient yew, but its crown spread too low to the ground, so it lacked the qualities needed to get the most out of it. I shook my head as I ticked them off, one after another.
I wandered for a few minutes, stepping over (and occasionally stumbling on) exposed roots and animal burrows. Even though I placed each step carefully, it seemed that the forest was playing a game where it very much wanted to see me fall.
Finally, I came to a clearing, and at the center stood the tree I was looking for.
I was surprised to find a willow that stood so straight and tall, and more surprised to find it here in the middle of the forest instead of at the water's edge.
I stepped up to the tree, looking for the best place to plant my axe. I ran my hands over its bark to find marks of disease, and rapped on it, testing to see if it were hollow. I looked up at the branches and saw that they were thick and strong. Seeing these things, and knowing where I should cut, I nodded to myself and stepped back to pick up my axe.
"You'll need more than just yourself to pull that to the water," came a voice behind me.
I spun around. There in the clearing stood a man who carried an axe over his shoulder. He was admiring my axe with a practiced eye. "That's a nice axe, son. Where'd you get it?"
"You'll laugh at me if I tell you, good sir."
"Probably. You look like you'd say a good number of funny things. I'd wager that you're the only person who gets even half your jokes, though."
I smiled. "You're probably right. You look like you're a woodcutter by trade. Are you the satyr's friend?"
"I am. I assume from that question that Sam suckered you into doing the cutting, huh?" He laughed. "You know, he isn't even a very good carpenter. His bridge probably looks like shit and is useless to anyone who wants to drive a team across."
"Truth be told, sir, it might even be useless to a horse to cross."
The man laughed uproariously at this. His laugh was an honest, deep laugh, one born of a life in the woods, where a man doesn't need to impress anyone except himself. It wasn't a careless laugh, the kind that filled children and asylums, but a responsible laugh, where the world itself is still an interesting place, and things are full of beauty. One might wonder if there is truly a difference between types of laughter, but I assure you there is.
His laughter trailed off, but not before he had fully experienced it. "Well, son, I suppose I should help you, shouldn't I? You're not scrawny, but you could do with some more exercise."
Without another word, we each stepped up to the tree and began to cut.
We worked without speaking, simply cutting into the base of the tree. Occasionally, the woodcutter would check my form and technique, grunting satisfaction with the way I handled the axe, or sighing discontent with the angle of a cut. Soon enough, we brought the tree crashing to earth.
The woodcutter brought out a length of rope, and (again wordlessly) handed me a loop. He tied the middle around a branch, and threw the loop around his shoulder. We both set down our axes and prepared to walk the tree out. On his cue, we lifted and dragged the tree toward the river.
Moving the tree was far easier than I had expected. The willow branches bent when we pulled it past tree trunks, and we were soon back on the banks of the river. I was about to hail the satyr when the woodcutter put his hand on my shoulder.
"A good job you've done, kid. Good thing you weren't smaller. You'd never have been able to help."
I laughed, "Well, I'm fortunate to have made some good choices. It's been a long road, but I've had some excellent teachers."
The woodcutter stroked his beard thoughtfully. "You know, what's most amazing is that you listen to your teachers. Everyone has excellent teachers, but not everyone listens to them. Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I left my axe back there. Have a good evening."
"Would you get mine, too?" I asked. "It was a gift. I don't want to lose it."
"Oh, you don't need it anymore," he said. "You just needed it for this. Trust me, you don't want to climb a mountain wearing an axe on your back. It's a long way up. Besides, I don't think that the patron who gave you that axe will be all too sore."
"Why do you say that?" I asked, curious.
He smiled. His face seemed older, but not old with that smile. "Because I gave it to you." And with that, he disappeared into the forest.
I stood for a moment in a state of shock. I knew that my Gods worked together, but never so closely as to help each other out. The gift of the axe coming through Eris' hands amazed me, and now that I knew who this woodcutter was, I was in awe of the simple work we had just done together.
I still stood in silent thought when the Satyr's words finally broke through to me.
"Hey, you gonna stand there till the moon rises, or you gonna float me that tree?" he shouted.
"I'm working on it," I called back. I moved the trunk of the tree into the water, and then found a heavy branch. I pushed the rest of the tree in and sat down on the water's edge to think.
The satyr had a regular beat going with his hammer as I thought about how far I'd come. I was, perhaps, half-way to my destination, and I had so much further to go. I wondered for a moment how long I had been in this state, tranced out in front of my altar at home, chanting out a mantra I couldn't pronounce. Suddenly, a frightening, yet remarkably comfortable thought came into my mind: was I actually sitting at home stumbling over words and phrases, or was I here, sitting and listening to the sound of a satyr hammering away on a bridge? Did it matter?
I decided that it did not matter, whether I was physically here or only "in my mind." What was important was the experience, the things that occurred. The owner of this reality, body or mind, didn't matter one bit.
The sound of the hammer on the bridge was soothing, and I decided that I could pass the time until the satyr finished by falling asleep.
I was wakened by a hand on my shoulder. Above me stood Sam, the satyr. Night had fallen, but his grin was radiant, stretching from ear to ear in accomplishment. His short erection bobbed just over my forehead, and I had to limbo out from under it.
I slowly rolled over and looked to where he had been building the bridge. As I looked, I figured I must still be asleep on the forest floor, for before me was a well-made bridge, spanning the river I had slept beside.
"What happened here?" I asked, not wanting to insult the satyr's skill, yet not wanting to believe that he had managed to turn that lump of roughly carpented logs into such a bridge.
The satyr smiled. "Yeah, it doesn't look quite the same in this light, does it?"
"Oh, I get it! It changes shape when night falls!"
The satyr looked at me perplexed for a moment, then his face broke into a grin. "No, not at all. See, the water has nymphs in it, and they helped build."
"So why were you building the bridge so slowly, and all alone?" I asked.
The satyr's face broke into a grin. "Don't you know anything? They're Union! They only work at night!"
I stared at the bridge a moment longer, but Sam grabbed my arm. "C'mon," he said. "The moon's going to rise, and we need to cover a lot of ground."
"Where are we going?" I asked, curious as to where I needed to go with a satyr with a short erection. "Do we need another bridge? I no longer have my axe."
His grin turned mischievous. "The Satyr's Romp." It was a statement that had no argument.
He began to pull me through the trees, moving quickly down a path only he seemed able to find. Branches whipped my face and legs, and we picked up speed as we ran through the forest. We must have run, stumbling, for ten minutes before I remembered the Seven League Boots.
"Sam, hold up!" I called, as I pulled back on him. "I can get us there faster."
He stopped, asking, "How? Do you have magic boots or something?" He laughed at his joke.
"Actually, I do. Seven League Boots."
The satyr's jaw dropped. "Where did you get those? Last I heard. . ." he looked around quickly, peering into the darkness. "Last I heard, Erebus had those!"
"He did. I have them now. I have a few friends who know some secrets."
Sam almost looked frightened. "You couldn't have said this during the day, could you. Well, you'll be safe once the moon rises, so long as you hang out near the fire. Do you know how to work them?"
I laughed. "I've gotten the hang of it. It's a bit like riding a bike, except I'd never taken a step in Boots like these before. My first step brought me to the edge of the water, on the opposite shore from you. After that, it was all normal steps, like now. I figured them out while taking that step."
"Most people don't understand them at all." Sam said. "Erebus sure didn't. We knew because we'd see a shadow fly by on a cloudless day, and we knew he just hadn't figured out how to stop. Are you positive you're safe in them?"
"Positive," I said, nodding. "Here, hop up on my back, point me in the right direction, and let's go, okay?"
"Sure thing," said Sam. "Turn a bit more to the left. . . Yes, there."
With that, he climbed onto my back. I slid my arms under his hairy knees and got ready to step forward. Suddenly, I felt the need to ask something.
"Geez, Sam, could you put that thing away for even a few minutes? You're poking me in the back. I don't appreciate it."
Sam's laughter echoed in the night. "You know, you're pretty up-tight for a Chaos Magician." I looked up ready with a snide remark, but it died on my lips when I saw the satyr had put on a cowboy hat that his goat horns poked through the brim of.
"Dude, you'd better count your blessings that I have a good sense of humour," I said. "How far?"
"You'll see it. Getty-up!"
Growling and mumbling about how much I resented this, I took a step forward.
I watched the world speed by quickly, feeling myself going slow. Again the world whipped by, as I sought to set my foot on the ground. Suddenly, just to my right I saw a light appear, and knew this was the place where the Romp would gather. It was right next to the fire that I set my foot down, and Sam hopped off my back into the fire ring.
"All right, ladies! The life of the party is here!" he called. I looked around, and saw nothing but the fire and a ring of benches. It reminded me very much of a drumming circle, but without the instruments or the players.
"Sam, are you sure this is the right place?" I asked, as I looked for any sign of a romp. "I don't see anyone 'romping'."
Sam smiled. "I'm sure everyone else is a bit startled at our arrival, that's all." He seemed so sure, that I knew he was probably right. "Hey, guys! Come on out!" he shouted.
A rustle in the bushes startled me, and I reached for a log from the fire. I lifted it with both hands, holding the cool end while the coals smoldered on the other end.
Sam stepped behind me, hefting his hammer. "I know it's cliché, but you go first," he said, a slight smile on his face.
I started slowly toward the forest. The shadows were long, and seemed to have a life of their own. I started to wonder if something hadn't changed in this sane, uncomplicated world. The shadows danced around the light from the embers on the log I held.
Suddenly, the forest erupted into a loud cacophony of screams, whistles, and cries, and the clearing filled as if a dam had burst. Figures tall, short, and everything in between flooded the clearing, laughing and shouting, pulling at my clothes and hair.
Finally, I was overwhelmed by the creatures swarming around, and was pulled flat onto my back. Large creatures stepped over me, as small ones ran across my legs and chest. One of them, not paying attention to where he was going, planted his foot inside my nose, and fell face first onto the bridge of my nose. I caught a glimpse of his face, blackened with paints and soot, a red hat hanging roughly off his right ear. He grinned at me, showing his sharp teeth that were defined more by the missing ones than the ones that were there, and pushed off my nose to catch up with his friends.
I looked over to Sam, and was disgusted to find him still on his feet, laughing and joking with the creatures, his obscene erection bouncing with each expulsion of air his laughter forced.
The eddy of creatures finally slowed, and I propped myself on my elbow, looking around me. Some of the creatures had broken out instruments and were playing on drums, pan pipes, and one of them even had a saxophone! I stood, brushing myself off, and started to walk toward the satyr to try to get an explanation.
As I stepped over a pair of fairies engaged in a weird contortionist bout of love-making, Sam saw me. He grinned his stupid grin, waved, and went back to talking to a pixie who was apparently passing him a joint. He took a puff, smiled blissfully, and gave me a giant thumbs-up. I was about to shout something very obscene when my vision was suddenly replaced by a pair of beautiful blue eyes. I was suddenly caught in an embrace, and was dragged into the center of the circle, near the bonfire.
A hush flew across the clearing, and I felt everyone back up. I was still enraptured by the eyes before me, refusing to look away for reasons I don't fully understand. Finally, my captor stepped back, and I was able to see her fully in the light of the bonfire beside her and the moonlight above.
What she looked like, I don't remember. She was vastly different than anything I had ever seen before, and I don't expect I shall ever see anything like her again. She waited expectantly for me to do something, but I was frozen. Finally, some pixie must have taken pity on me, for I heard a light, airy voice in my ear whisper, "Fool, ask her to dance!"
I extended a hand, and we began to dance.
Her movements were fluid and beautiful. There was no effort in her dance, no fear, no pain, no anger. Every step betrayed a pure desire to dance, every subtle movement of her head gracefully reminded me that she was not mortal. We danced for what seemed like an eternity, watched by the denizens of the forest, enraptured as they were by our motion.
Finally, the woman leaned in and placed her hand on my chin. She drew me close to her, wrapping one arm around my waist, and kissed me. She held me tightly, stroking my face as we kissed. Finally, she broke away from me, smiled, and disappeared into the shadows.
Suddenly a cheer went up from the surrounding company, and Sam was at my side. "My boy," he said, "you've just danced with a special woman!"
I wanted to ask who she was, but my voice would not come forth. I could not force the words to form. I simply stared at where she had disappeared. I stood staring for a long time, just remembering the kiss, feeling her hand stroke my face. There was no forgetting that. There still isn't.
Eventually, I came back to earth, and was able to sit down. I still could not form the question I was dying to ask though: who was the beautiful woman?
I watched the creatures dance around me, sing, shout, and make love. They spent their night in revelry, enjoying the company of each other. Their lives seemed so simple, so easy at this point, and I knew that this occurred with every moon rise in this forest.
Sam sat down heavily next to me, laughing and winking at various dryads and nymphs as they flashed their smiles and other parts. "You know, man? You've been a huge help. I'd like to give you something." He reached into a rucksack and pulled out a piece of leather, folded over onto itself. "I've had this forever. It's very special to me, and I want you to take care of it. You'll do that?"
I wasn't sure what to say. I smiled, and simply said, "I'd be honoured."
Sam's smile said it all. He reached forward with his free hand, and pulled away the layers of leather. I caught a reflection of light for a moment, but this was obscured a second later by his hand.
Sam looked at me. "This was my mother's," he said, "and I never thought I'd give it away. You've proved me wrong. Keep this, and remember me." He opened his hands, and in them was a piece of silver. It was about an inch and a half around, and on one side was the impression of a stag. On the other, an eagle. "King of the forest, king of the sky, my friend."
I held out my hand, and he placed his hand over mine, with the silver between our palms. "If you ever need me, friend, just call," he said. Then, standing, "Now, let's go dance, shall we?" He grabbed my wrist and swung me up to his side, and we began looking for partners.
No sooner had Sam found a dryad and I'd found a nymph than everything changed.
A darkness began to creep across the clearing, and with it came an unnatural cold. First, the moon became obscured behind a thick bank of clouds, her light no longer shining through. The fire slowly began to die, almost as if it were suffocating from a lack of oxygen. The revelry became quiet, and spirits began to slip back into the woods from whence they came.
Soon, only Sam and I were left.
I don't know what it was, but something compelled me to tell Sam to leave. I turned to my friend, and said, "Sam, you know you need to leave. I have to face this challenge alone."
He looked at me, almost begging me not to send him away. He opened his mouth, seemed to think better of it, and closed it. At last he spoke, "I know, friend. Good luck." And with that he was gone.
I stood alone in the clearing, my mind and heart racing. I didn't know what I was about to face, nor did I think I would know it when I saw it.
The night became colder and the darkness deepened. Somewhere in the distance, I heard the insects that scream in the night, and their words burned into me. The wind picked up and howled over me as the voice of the night began to speak.
It was as if some unknown language was calling out, and I thought of the Al Azif, the book named for the sounds of these insects. This led me through a torrent of memories about it's various and storied misfortunes, and of the great invisible monster that Ebn Khallikan declared devoured its author. I considered the Brood X, but knew they would not rise for several months. What would come on the wind? What thing would I see?
Slowly, the words began to form. One at a time, mixed with strange, otherworldly syllables they came. The words are burned into my memory, but I cannot record them. I was unsure what to do, yet in this moment of doubt, words forming around me that are too horrible to repeat, I sought action in my mind.
The cry of the night creatures grew louder, crescendoing to a mighty tumult, and I was forced to my knees. I put my hands to my ears, and I choked back a scream, fighting for my sanity.
Suddenly, action occurred. I did not cause it myself, nor did I realize what I was doing. I simply, easily, went back to basics. I did what I do every day. I prayed.
The words I prayed are lost on that wind, drowned by the insects' cries. They can't be repeated because I no longer remember them. But the words reached the ears I intended, for suddenly the sounds stopped, and I was deafened by the silence.
Still I huddled on my knees, afraid to look. What would stand before me, and would the thing that had come with such a disharmonic choir try to destroy me?
A hand on my shoulder assured me otherwise.
I knew the hand that rested there before I opened my eyes. The woodcutter next to me was smiling down at me when I finally looked up, and I felt relief wash over me like water. There was still something else that I needed to look at, and I knew it would be horrible, but at the moment I knew it would be tempered by strength.
I stood and faced my protector. He winked at me quickly, and nodded to my right. I clenched my teeth and turned.
Before me stood a mountain of a creature, easily eight times my height. He had wings that stretched to blot out the moon and stars, and in his left hand he held a wickedly curved sword, while in his right was a skull. His eyes were flame, and his tattered clothes hung off his body, and his skin seemed to move with an unnatural rhythm.
I squinted, trying to make out his skin in the darkness, and was shocked to see that this was not one entity, but millions! The skin (and I assumed the vital organs, if any existed in this thing) were all created of creatures of the night: locusts, earthworms, roaches, spiders, and cicadas. The creature loomed over me, and I knew who it must be.
"Erebus," I whispered.
The creature's gaze was centered in two black flames it had for eyes. The speed at which they flickered and burned gave his anger a frightening life, and I stepped back from him, stumbling a bit and trembling in fear.
The woodcutter saw this, and he stepped between the creature and me. His muscles flexed as he hefted his axe, and he squared off as if ready to fight the giant. "You know," he said over his shoulder, "I think he wants your boots."
"Well, they are his," I said. "Can I just give them back?"
The woodcutter thought for a moment. "No, I think he wants the feet inside them, too, but you seem a bit attached to those." His eyes twinkled a bit. "I'm not planning to let that happen, though."
"I appreciate that. He is, um, a bit bigger than you, though."
"You know, size doesn't always matter, kid."
Suddenly, the creature roared out a challenge, and lifted his sword above his head. The woodcutter turned his attention back to the giant and lifted his axe again.
Just then, from behind Erebus' massive body, a sweet voice came.
"Daddy, can I have them?"
Erebus' hand remained in the air. His eyes softened, and he turned around, moving to the side. As he did so, I caught sight of the source of this new voice: Eris.
She smiled at Her father, and went to brush Her hair away from Her face. As Her hand passed over Her eye, I caught a mischievous wink. Here She was, on my side all over again.
Erebus spoke in the language I had first heard him speak. His words flowed like molasses, and I understood none of them. Eris' response was much clearer.
"But Daddy!" She protested.
Erebus began to speak again, ponderously slow over word and phrase. He was interrupted quickly though.
"Daddy, I want them!" She shouted, going into a kind of "pout mode" that I never imagined a Goddess capable of. "If I don't get them, I'll hold my breath until I turn blue!" And with that, an intake of air sealed the deal.
The shear humour of the situation almost made me burst into laughter. Erebus had obviously never encountered this tactic before, and the look on the woodcutter's face showed that he hadn't, either. Erebus tried a few more times to reason with his daughter, but as She wasn't responding at all (and was turning a rather dark blue at this point), he finally broke down, shouted something, and stormed off into the woods.
Eris busted out laughing, and ran up to the woodcutter and myself, throwing Her arms about us and dragging us to the ground. "Wasn't that great?" she crowed in a sing-song voice. "Father is
such a pushover!"
"Goddess, you're good!" I shouted, smiling. I turned to the woodcutter, currently being smothered in kisses by Eris. "Esus, you protect me well. Thank you for all you've done."
Esus pushed the Goddess off of Him. "That's my job, kid. I don't mind it one bit."
Eris looked at Esus with a sly smile. "You know what?" She asked. "You should really consider cutting that beard off. It's itchy to kiss!"
Esus looked at Her with indignation, and decided to ignore the comment. Turning to me, He smiled, saying, "You have a destination, kid. But you have to be there before day break. Those boots won't get you there fast enough."
"He's right," Eris said. "You'll have to get there faster. I suggest you call in a few favours."
And with that, both were gone.
I stood for a moment in the clearing, looking around. The mountain I was supposed to reach was far away, and the two Deities who had just left were right: I'd never make it on time. I thought hard about the place I needed to go, and how I might get there. I shoved my hands hard into my pockets.
My hands didn't fit.
I turned my attention to this new problem, and I opened the pockets carefully. Inside (and now falling to the ground as well) were hundreds of blackberries. I didn't know which Deity had left them with me, but I thanked them kindly in my heart, and began to call out, "Blackbird! Blackbird! Will you return your favour?"
A moment later, the bird appeared. He landed in the clearing, and I held out a handful of blackberries, and he began to eat.
Between bites, he looked up at me. "What can I do for you?"
"Can you carry me to that mountain?" I asked hopefully.
"I can do better. I can put you on top of it!" He crowed. I handed him another batch of blackberries. "Climb atop my back, and we'll get you there in a moment!"
I climbed onto his back, and we were off.
We flew over the fields quickly, low to the ground. I looked up at the mountain, and its eye opened to stare at me. I called out to the bird about this.
"Why does the mountain look at us?"
"It sees all that happens here, even when the eye is closed. It seems harmless to me, but it can see anything, even your heart's desires!" he shouted back.
On we flew, until finally we came to the top of the mountain, out of the view of the large eye. I slid off the blackbird, tripping over the irregular ground, and stood on the rocks, looking out.
"I'll leave you here, now. Good luck!" the bird shouted, and with that he was gone.
I watched his retreating form as I stood atop the mountain. When the blackbird disappeared from sight, I sat down on a rock, kicking my feet over the nothingness. I stilled myself, and thought about why I was here. Each event played out in my mind again, and the reality of it was reinforced.
Why was I here? Because I wanted to be.
Was this real? As real as any thought.
Should I stay? I should not.
What was the mountain? I don't know if I'll ever find out.
Perhaps it was me, or maybe my mind. Perhaps I was over-analyzing, or under-analyzing. Who knows?
But I knew that it was time to leave. Time to get up. I relaxed myself, and remembered who I was. I followed the paths back to myself, back to my own world.
When I awoke from that dream of reality, I was still seated on the floor. The time had not changed, but the candles on the altar were out. The house was cold, and I was unsure for a moment whether I had actually woken up. I had finally forgotten my mantra, and was entirely unable to recall which one I had used.
I stood up, and stumbled out of my room. My legs were in pain, and my body screamed. I checked the clock in the kitchen, and it confirmed: no time had passed.
But sitting on the stove was a newspaper. I had started this on a Saturday, and before me sat the colour comics. I'd been out for 24 hours.
I laughed, and started to make eggs, wondering if this counted for one or two days of Chaos workings?
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