It’s such an unearthly voice. Smokey, smooth like silk, but beneath hums a tone of danger that makes my blood run cold. My body reacts on instinct, whirling to find the source. At first, I don’t see it. But when I do, I feel that deep-rooted urge to run for my life.
It’s a woman. No, she’s more than that. I don’t know how or why I know. I just do.
Her skin is pale, and completely unmarked. It has an unearthly glow beneath, making her stand out amongst the darkness of this place. Her hair falls past her shoulders in perfect waves.
Her eyes are hidden behind a bright piece of crimson silk, which perfectly matches the color of her flowing, silk dress, cinched at the waist. The ensemble reminds me of the young woman standing beneath the tree. The frozen scene I saw earlier in the city.
Was she somehow related to that story? And if so, why is she walking and talking, while the other two stood motionless and silent?
Crimson petals dance in the wake of her floor-length skirt as she moves with an elegance that is inhuman. Her blood red lips part, releasing the same, unearthly voice. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Everything about her makes me uneasy. So, when that strange force suddenly takes hold once again, I actually embrace the involuntary surge of confidence.
I snort, as though finding my current predicament humorous. “I know. I had no intentions to be.”
“I’m fully aware,” she says, approaching. As she draws closer, I slowly crane my neck back to see her better.
Holy God, she’s tall. Nearly eight feet. Despite that, my heart remains it’s steady, calm beat. I know I should be scared, yet I’m not.
Though her eyes are covered, I feel her gaze. It burns through my skin to whatever lies beneath. “Give me one reason not to end you where you stand.”
Oh God, oh God, oh God!
A breath of silence, before she responds. “Didn’t stop you from running from our friend down the hall,” she nods towards the doorway. “Did it?”
She saw that?
The force inside hesitates. “That’s different.”
She brings a long, elegant pipe shaped like a rose to her painted lips. “Is it?”
“Yes, it is.” I affirm, hoping to the Author this character—whoever she is—will buy what I’m saying. “And you know why.”
Beneath the red silk she watches me. Although perhaps “watches” isn’t the right word. Deep down, I know if she removes the small, piece of fabric, I’d see something startling. The image is quick to flash inside my brain, as though I’m suddenly recalling a memory long forgotten. I see her as she was once.
She wasn’t always a Goddess of…..whatever she represents. She was a person, a young woman trying to survive inside a dark world like everyone. A world filled with love and loss, with life and, most importantly, death.
But the final piece I see, the one that burns itself inside my head, is the image of her eyes. Or rather, her lack of them. Empty sockets, bleeding profusely as she screams with pain, with rage.
Inside, I gasp at the sight, recoiling.
Outside, I’m stoic, unresponsive.
“And so I do,” she finally speaks. I watch her as she slowly moves towards the many entwined vines of roses. Petals fall from above like snowflakes.
The branches and thorns appear black, which is why, when she reaches out it takes a moment for me to realize it’s not a blood red bloom she aims for.
Her red painted fingertips gently brush the head of a black snake. The Goddess turns her palm up in welcome, and the creature slowly makes its way up her arm, to drape itself around her shoulders.
A soft, rustling sound draws my attention towards the floor, and though inside I shriek with shock, outside I watch as another snake, this one snowy white, slithers by my feet towards its Mistress.
She stoops down, offering her hand like she did to the other. She places a kiss atop the white one’s head, then brings it up towards her shoulder so it can join the black one.
They’re polar opposites. The black snake stares me down with ruby colored eyes, while the other watches with a sapphire gaze. I get the sneaky suspicion they see and understand more than normal snakes would.
“So,” she says. “If your presence here is an accident, then why do you remain?” She uses her pipe to point towards the door. “It’s not very far.”
I turn and look, judging the distance. She right, it’s not far. But for some reason, it’s of no consequence to me. Even if it stood miles away, she couldn’t stop me from leaving. I don’t know how I know that, but I do.
I could walk away. I should. I still remember the sound of the bell, signaling me to walk down the other pathway.
God, that felt like hours ago.
I know this isn’t where I should be. As I turn back towards her, I know I’m not going anywhere just yet. Not until I uncover more here.
“I want to talk to you more,” I finally answer. “Is that wrong?”
She waits before speaking. I sense, more than see, an intelligence in her. She’s debating the best way to respond. “What exactly do you want to know?” She inhales on the pipe, releasing a steady stream of smoke.
“Your story.” My feet carry me step by step along the petal covered floor. One gently drifts from above to settle in my hair. I don’t bother picking it out. “Your history. How you became what you are now.”
“I thought you already knew.”
I shake my head, meandering towards the opposite wall of roses. “No, actually. I have an idea, but not all the details.” I gently lean in to sniff a bloom, savoring the natural perfume. “Roses are my favorite.” I don’t know why those particular words spill out. Maybe I think I can get on her good side or something.
“As well as mine.” She brushes the white snake’s sleek scales, and it curls closer to the nape of her neck. “They always were.”
Another flash of images. A young girl with black hair and intelligent eyes. She runs across a dirt road, avoiding open wagons drawn by horses, and people dressed in clothes similar to the ones she wears now, only less rich. It’s such a stark difference. The girl in the moving pictures is dressed in borderline rags.
She belongs to a poor family. Which is why, when she stops before a flower seller’s stand, she admires the flowers rather than buys them.
Her eyes land on a small gathering of roses at the center. Their color so bright, it looks like a puddle of blood amongst the other blooms of yellow and white. Of pink and lavender.
As this little girl admires, a woman dressed in black, purple and green suddenly appears. She’s beautiful and imposing and somewhere in her late thirties. Her black hair is fixed into an updo, an ornate hat pinned to the locks. She reaches into a coin purse, extracting a small piece of gold, which makes its way into the peddler’s hand. The woman lifts a rose with black, gloved fingers, handing to the girl with a smile.
To some, it would seem a mere kind gesture.
I know better.
She studies the girl with a glint in her eye, making me think of a treasure hunter who has spotted a rare jewel.
I know this woman’s interference will alter the girl’s life. In so many ways.
“You like snakes too.” It’s an obvious statement. It’ll get her talking more though. She won’t offer information I don’t show I already know. I can tell this about her.
She’s careful. She’s clever.
“Always have.” Is the simple remark.
A little girl sits cross-legged in a field, a snake reared back and poised in front of her. It studies her, just as much as she studies it.
“But they’re more than just things you admire and enjoy now, aren’t they.” I peruse down the wall, hands at my back. “They’re symbols for you. When people see them together, they know it’s not just an image or a coincidence. It’s you they think about.” I sigh and study to see her reaction to my next question. “How does that happen, exactly? How does a mortal woman become divine?” I let the question sink in before adding to it. “How did that little girl admiring roses, turn into this?” I gesture her up and down.
She’s beautiful, but dangerous. Similar to the flowers surrounding us. A rose in human—for lack of a better way to put it—form.
A chuckle murmurs from her chest. “Surely you understand why I find it funny you require answers to these questions. You of all people.”
The way she says it. It’s not me she’s talking to. Not really.
“Like I said, I have most of the picture. I just need your help filling in the blanks.”
Her voice is soft when she responds. “In answer to your question, it is not a matter of becoming. It is a matter of acceptance.”
This question confuses me. Acceptance? Certainly not the answer I expected.
“Acceptance of what?” I ask.
She walks towards me. It’s a slow and easy walk, belonging to one who calculates a move before they make it. Though I know she cannot do anything to me, I feel constricted by the wall of blooms and thorns at my back.
She stops right in front of me. “Of our decisions. And what results from them.”
I nod. “Something tells me you’ve suffered results of a lot of decisions. Both good and bad.”
“I have.” Her head cocks to the side. “That’s how I came across it.”
“Yes, it.” She takes another step forward. “I assume you know what it is, yes?”
A small shiver runs up my spine. I have a feeling I do. Or, at least, whoever has a hold of me does.
“I believe I do.” I answer.
A strange, creaking and groaning sound erupts from behind me. I move to see what it is, but the movement of her hand distracts me.
“Would you like to see it?”
My lips part to respond, but I never get the chance. Her hand lands on my chest, pushing hard. I fall through a hole in the wall of thorns, vines, and roses into darkness. My eyes squeeze shut in fear.
The breath leaves my lungs as my back hits the ground hard. I grunt and gasp. My palm rests over my still racing heart.
I’m afraid to open my eyes. Afraid to see where it is I’ve landed.
My ears strain, trying to grasp whatever my eyes refuse to see. Only one thing registers.
The sound of violins and music box twinkles.
I know that sound.
My eyes open, revealing a ceiling bathed in the buttery glow of orb lamps. The sight of midnight blue hovers in my periphery, and I remain on the ground, confused.
A familiar face pops into view, strands of rose gold hair hovering inches from my cheeks. C.C. smiles down at me.