Sunday, September 7, 2014

Prompt: Sacrifice, or The Elements of Life

Thanks to Elwira Pawlikowska for permission to use her darkly beautiful “Fantasy Pond”!

We’ve dreamed each other our whole lives.

Well, I think I’m real, and Heilewisa thinks she’s real.

We can’t both be, can we?

We better be.

I can’t save her if we’re not.

I begged her not to go to the Dark Temple. She’d whispered the legends to me at night just as her older brothers and sisters had whispered them to her, cuddled together under thin blankets, shivering in the cold with only moonlight through the tiny open window of their mud-and-thatch house.

No one made their way through the Deadwood to the long-abandoned temple with any hope of return. If they had hope at all, it was that their sacrifice would be payment enough for whatever they were driven to beg the angry, old gods.

Waking up each morning has been agony, abandoning her on her journey. Each night, I pushed myself to go to sleep as early as possible to find out how she had survived the day.

Last night, she had reached the Dark Temple and waited for me there. Together, we walked around the fetid moat, full of bone-white lotus flowers and the broken remains of statues and pillars that had once graced the temple’s entrances.

“Look.” Heilewisa pointed to the six statues that remained, as if guarding the temple steps. “They carry sacrifices.”

I peered across the still, black water. The pair of statues at the bottom of the steps held urns. The next pair beyond them held bowls. And the pair at the top of the steps held…lumps? My brows drew together and I turned to Heilewisa in confusion.

She laughed, a sound of sharp surprise with no joy, that rang across the water and bounced off the stones. “The elements of life. Water in the urns, grain in the bowls, earth in the hands.”

“Heilewisa, this is crazy. You can’t cross the water. It looks…wrong.”

She gazed at it in silence, then pointed to the floating lotus. “Look, they live. I’ll be all right. I have to.”

We hugged each other in desperation, and I felt the tug of morning pull me out of her tight embrace.

And now, look at her. Floating in the black water, small ripples flowing out from her body, as if there might still be some movement left in it. Some life. But the color has already leached from her skin, her hair, her lips. Her gown looks like it’s been eaten by moths, or acid. Will her skin look the same soon?

Hot tears burn down my cheeks. Heilewisa knew the risk. She thought she had no choice. I do. I can wake up. She’s just a dream. That’s what everyone would say. Anyone. But what if she’s not? What if I am? And what if I can save her?

Heilewisa’s last words had remained with me all day, running around and around in my mind. The elements of life. Water, food, earth. Something was missing.

I turned back to the Deadwood, keeping my eyes on Heilewisa as long as possible. I’ve never tried to bring anything with me in my dreams, but I’ve always had whatever I was wearing, or carrying in a pocket. Now I pulled the wool scarf from around my neck. It was only a few steps away from the water to find a long dead branch on the leaf-littered ground. I wrapped the scarf around the end of the branch and reached into my pocket for the lighter I’d swiped from my stepfather’s dresser. Rubbing my thumb across the top, I set the lighter to its strongest flame. Flick, I pressed down. Nothing. Flick. Nothing. My heart leaped into my throat. I had tried it at home. I knew it would work. It had to.

With the side of my thumb, I pressed against the top of the lighter one more. Flame shot up two inches, singing my thumb as I jerked it away. Holding it close to the wool, I ran the flame around and around, until the scarf caught fire and I held a torch above my head.

Now what? I eyed Heilewisa and the statues. How did I use the element of fire to save her? The reflections of the statues waved in the water, as if they were bending closer to the surface. Bringing their offerings closer. Water. Food. Earth.

Fire. I smiled, feeling the fierce grin stretch the skin tight across my face. Reaching out with the flaming torch, I lowered the torch to the black water. As it touched, it began to hiss and sizzle, but the flame didn’t go out. It leaped across the water, sweeping across the lotus, across Heilewisa, racing toward the statues bearing the other elements of life temple steps.

I threw the torch on the black water and waded in toward Heilewisa. She rolled over in the water and folded up, choking and coughing. I grabbed her around the chest and started pulling her away from the temple, back to the shore. The fire raged behind us. I dragged her out of the water and dropped to the ground, holding her tight. Her skin and hair remained bone-white, bleached of their color, but she was breathing, shuddering in my arms.

She opened her eyes and stared up at me, then across the water to the flame roaring over the Dark Temple. The statues’ arms were raised, their tributes, their sacrifices, pouring into the flames.

“Sweet Rhea, what have you done?”


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s one I love:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.

Dogs in House
Houdini, Brindle

Time writing
1 hour, interrupted

September word count

1 comment:

  1. Writing report:
    Novel editing, Ch 33 and 34
    Time: ~30 min