The reflection that isn’t there.
The reflection that hides.
If it began to stare, what would you do?
To look at you and twist it’s head, thinking what, you wonder.
Do you look tasty, a nummy morsel of flesh and bone for a creature naught but shadow on stone?
You stare transfixed as it draws close, drawing a finger down your cheek.
You feel it, you flinch, checking that it is indeed not standing right behind you.
You imagine you feel it’s breath on your neck.
It cannot be, yes?
The reflection that isn’t there.
The reflection that skitters in and out of the corner of your eye. Nibbling little bits away. Little nippers heeling your shadow. Bit by bit they bite and they tear and they gnaw away.
Never given form. Taken instead from the shadows and the drips and drabs of unconscious thought.
Round and full they grow with every piece of you.
Yes, I said it. Every piece of you.
What? You thought every time you forgot the reason you entered a room was just because you were preoccupied? Growing old? No. Did you pass a mirror? A glass? A standing of water? A well polished table? Bit of brass? Trick of light. Yes. No. Maybe so.
Gone gone to the skippers go, the bits of dribbled thought leaking from between your ears.
In packs, they hunt. One distracts the others nip and tug.
Gremlins on the trains of thought, for in their wreckage they feast.
They grow bold. Sparks fly.
Now they whisper in your ears. Thoughts long thought lost. Matured, now. Ripe.
Ripened in the bellus bellies of Skippers grown.
Fat from your preponderance.
Where has my mind gone, you wonder.
To the skippers. Like broken records playing the song stuck in your head.
And over. And over and over and over and over and over and over and I can make your hands clap do do do do do do doo dododododododo do
Whispered bits of memory meant to break you down. Regurgitated thoughts, rather. The highlight reels of failure. Of shame. Embarrassment and wonder.
Crack open your noggin like a nut. They will. To sup the gooey bits of vile and retributioned hope.
Tastey. Tastey-cheese. Or is it Toastey-cheese. Those little crackers.
That’s what happens. Your brain starts making odd leaps and associations. When the skippers come nipping. Misremembered. The pieces reconnect oddiferously.
See what I mean? That’s not even a word.
No it’s not a typo of the adverbial form of odiferous. That is the word cogitated by your brain to fill the gap left by the skippers nipping at the edges like those stupid little pedicure fishes.
Take yourself into the bathroom and lock out the light.
Put towel under the door. Whatever you have to do. Phone outside. No. Light.
No distraction. Vigilance.
Stare into the mirror. The mirror you cannot see and that cannot see you.
Stare deep into it. Stare forever.
You feel it grow. Distortion discord around you. Bits and bobs bow their boughs to scrape your brain as eyes roam the black pool simmering before you. Crinkling at the edge. Twinge your back. Mind goes sideways.
Sideways where it waits. Chill.
Feel the breath as it pulls liquid eyes forward.
Pulse essence echoes in the lightless light. The mind filling in the bits the eyes won’t see.
Reach. You feel it. Forward around sideways, grasp.
Before your mirror lights the voidness black as you hold the heart of thought skipper scrabbling to release.
Illuminated from within by the notion of light in your mind’s eye open to nothing.
Hold firm and strong the shape of moments lost and draw in to coalesce the skitter skipper and bring forth the blade of thought. Sharpened teeth honed fine split the liquid wonderment veiling mind from eyes and eyes from mind.
“Holy shit, it worked,” Stephen so eloquently commemorated the moment he drew forth his Mnemnicience (mnemosience?) into the world.
Quick as a flick the blade turned in hand. Flay the shadow creeping behind, in the darkness lurking dream.
“Stephen Jones, demon slayer” he muttered to himself in a deep voice, thinking the coolest thoughts. Smug thoughts. Thoughts befitting an eleven year old boy with a stick.
“Yes, yes, very nice. Bravo my brave hero,” Melanie said with a slow clap in the recesses of his mind. “They aren’t demons.”
“Sure look like demons to me,” Stephen said, flicking his sword around the bathroom. A very swordy sword.
“Stop that. You’ll dispel the ideation,” she said. “Focus your Mnemnicience on the slick stain left on the air around you.”
It was difficult, the Mnemnicience felt slippery in his hand and the more he focused on it the harder it became to hold. The reality of it seemed to deny itself. It wanted to flee.
A balance must be found, fleet as thought flickers on a candle wick the Mnemnicience refuses form and bounds binding it to one reality.
Melanie’s whispered thoughts merged with Stephen’s, guiding them, shaping them, showing him.
The palm of his hand glided across the blade, smoothing smoke and brushing charged edge to keenness. The firm form of thought guiding his hand, feeling the slick more in his mind than across his skin.
Out he reached through the blade to that which was and was now quiescent nothingness. The lightless light that knows not how to be.
Indrawn breath dark in the night, shapes the shapes of thought and memory, imprinted on ideation forms flight of the sword in hand. Clad in dark skipper skin, blinking at the edge of feeling. A twinge at the shoulder. Shivers the blade grown larger. Drunk in the thought of raven’s wings, stir the air. Pulse. Please.
“For once I wish someone wouldn’t immediately picture a sword when drawing their Mnemnicience,” Melanie said, appearing beside Stephen in the darkness. A whispered dream of imagination. There but not. Perhaps Stephen was going mad.
“Swords are cool,” Stephen replied. “Besides, you wanted me to hold a strong image in my mind. It was the easiest option for me to grasp while you were riding shotgun in my brain making it go all trippy like you did.”
“A Mnemnicience is whatever you will it to be. YOU give it form from thought.”
“It’s damn slippery is what it is,” Stephen said. “What am I supposed to do with it now?”
“You can let go of it,” she said. “It’s a construct of mind. It’s not actually there so you don’t need to physically hold it.”
Stephen eyed the Mousai dubiously. He felt that it would vanish forever if he opened his hand. Instead he swung it around some more.
He had come to an accord with Melanie, but he didn’t totally trust her.
Swish swish, parting the silk. He ran her through the middle meeting only air as she shifted and flowed around the sword of his thoughts.
“Again, stop that,” she said, a mild perturbedness coloring her voice.
Like lightning it comes in the space of a dream.
The flash of her ire, there and gone. Secrets touched upon; smoothed away.
“Can it hurt you? My Mnemnicience…” He asked knowing she would answer no.
“No,” she obliged. A lie. “It is as much of me as of you.”
Stephen loosened his grip on the Mnemnicience, breaking the bounds of shape as ink drops strike upon water. Swirl and eddy form again round the finger of his hand, a dark band. Hard to hold in the eye, shifting, shimmering, coiling and knotting in and on itself again and again.
Indrawn, fist clenches grasping it to firm reality. Black to touch, bright to mind, the ring of lightless light tasting new shape. Settling.
“Very good,” Melanie rippled in delight. “Reality is as you will it, if your will is strong enough or the substance weak enough.”
At this the ring prickled the base of his brain. A cat, hackles raised. Stephen wondered if Melanie felt it as he had, or if she was oblivious.
“No one will believe you,” a voice had said, covering his eyes. “Wake up.”
He had been oblivious once, Stephen had. Until then.
Giants roamed the sky and notions littered the ground. Discarded.
Crumbled bits of thought flaking off the fringes of people oblivious of their loss. And found, by gnashing hunger clamoring to be.
Eyes open to the world overlaid for the first time so bright. Deafened by hours passing moments screaming in his brain. Racing to the finish thought.
Oh they stared. The people grayed out grating around his mind as his eyes burst from the bright. Scream behind his mind, shattering to reflect the rearrangement of the world, for how can one see if they have not the angles and agility of mind to bend the lightless light.
The whispering figure stood by smiling, patience of a saint, understanding. Over standing the nearly prone form, taking the world away with the hand from his shoulder.
Eyes dazzled by the shimmering bright, Stephen could not put form to face, just light, now absent as the figure strode into the crowd milling in his wake. Tall. Hair a mess. Receding back. That’s all Stephen knew of the whispering trickster who woke him up.
Now he reached through mirrors and drew mystical swords from them all while his accorded Mousai rode round his brain whispering madness behind his eyes.
If not him, then who?
He could be perfectly happy going quite mad. Just let go of reason. Of thought. Let the skippers feast, his fear call forth the dreadnaught lumbering the sky. Shatter the fragmented shards of being to the four winds and set scour to this plop of time.
But no. That’s no fun. Rather a demon slayer than demon slain.
Demonsbane. That’s what’d he’d call his sword.
“They aren’t demons and it isn’t a sword and neither it, nor you, are their bane,” Melanie snapped his inner monologue.
“How many times are you going to do that? It’s annoying,” Stephen snipped.
“As many times as you get lost in your perceived grandeur,” she replied. “So a lot….it would seem.”
“Next,” she started.
“Can you read my thoughts?” He interrupted.
“No, not exactly,” she replied.
“Do you pick how you look or do I since you’re in my brain? Like in a dream.”
“Yes and no,” she answered unhelpfully. “My form is chosen by me and I tailor it to each person with whom I form an accord.”
“So you read that I’m a sucker for gingers and thus…” Stephen waved his hand at Melanie.
“Original question: do you read my thoughts?”
“Vague impressions, the gist and thrust of them.”
“Kinky. Can you control my mind?”
Stephen didn’t believe she was lying. She wouldn’t be so manipulative if she could directly control him.
“Yes, I’m manipulative by nature, for our mutual benefit.”
“What do you get out of this?”
“The same as any notion,” she said, “which is our preferred term, by the way, not ‘demon’,” she added in aside. “Existence.” As if to emphasize the last by counterpoint, Melanie flickered brightly, then vanished.
As the manager of the cafe turned the lock on the bathroom door.
The one Stephen had sought refuge in to lock out the light in his desperation to make the squibblings of the skippers stop. That’s the sound they make, you know it.
“Sir, I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave,” he said upon seeing Stephen standing upright and conscious. Not dead or dying.
“Of course, my apologies for the inconvenience.” He tipped his non-existent hat and walked back out into the rain.
It had been raining earlier, at any rate.
“They think you’re mad,” Melanie chimed in from the back of nowhere.
“I am mad, can’t you tell?”
“Yes, but mad in the good way, the useful way, the way of fluid realism,” she cooed, “they just think you’re a boring old loon.”
“Wasn’t it raining?” He looked up at the sky searching for raindrops to wet his sight. Palm outstretched in a searching demi-shrug. One half-heartedly given.
Rain had beat down upon his neck, feet squelching as he dashed cover to cover. Clearly, he remembered the rain. Rivules ran his back, between the blades of his shoulder. Down, down his spine, tracing bone beneath skin, down, down between the cheeks upon which he had sat.
The unfortunate awning under which he stopped releasing a stream seemingly aimed directly at the gap between his collar and his nape. Laughter, faint, the edge of hearing danced in his mind.
Tricks. Pittering and pattering of dancing drops. Squeaky brakes bending echoes down the alley. Yes. Tricks.
The shadow of the stair danced in the beams of passing cars and trucks and cabs and the occasional scooter, the poor driver of which was in Stephen’s very self-same condition: waterlogged, miserable, squelching. But at least he was moving faster.
He turned to the road again and
That was strange. What was the number?
The shadow danced.
He fumbled with his phone, hunching to shelter it from the splash and spray from tire-struck puddles, breaking their reflections to assault his face. He’d just looked it up before he left the hotel so he wouldn’t have to fiddle with
The shadow detached.
Why was he scrolling through Facebook in the rain, idiot. He knew he was addicted to his phone and easily distracted but why on earth
The shadow reared and the shadow snatched.
Eyes filled blank, brain recoiled into echoes.
The smiling whisper, bright flash in the night.
Echoes of laughter and sunshine and days spent green in the dapple embrace.
“Begone gloom, this child of mind is mine. Protected and pledged.”
His shoulder warm, where the whisper had taken madness.
In the whispers place was a woman. Striking and red. Of hair and dress and countenance. Like fire, he thought, less mundane word later. His brain muddled to comprehension.
Recoil the shade gloom, tearing metal in it’s maw, “pleeeedged perhaps but not yet blooded accord” deepening rumble thunder “miiiine for the taking delicious mind memory crunching” it smacked metallic hiss of lips.
Steam roiled up from grate twinning the shade gloom to twain. Menacing mouth agape “ooooours brother dear. Tasty tasty grey bits.” Lunging, grabbing, pulling, cracking on the ground the gloom lapped scalding tongue against his ear. Probing. Violating.
Accord with me, tis the only way, they have you now dear child of mind. The voice behind screaming brain. Cut through knifelike the searing pain.
Scream the scream echoes delight, burst forth madness wrought life. Bubble, like anger welling full. Shred, burst the gloom, razor whip on the shadowed night.
Burn cold the ice horror and fright of the gloom sundered shadow.
“RUN” she screamed aloud inside.
Boiling shadows streamed forth. Hungry, subtlety lost – forgotten, forsaken – in their frenzy.
Mind sliding sideways back into place, he puked and picked a path quickly away from the horde feasting upon the gloomburst nothing, ideation he would soon learn.
It was now past. Hours upon days grumbled his belly.
Click clack click clack click clock the pattern breaks just as it is known.
Lonely pools of moonlight glisten, breaking in the reflected step. Ripple. Other worlds disturbed as we trod through. Careless.
The ring rippled round his finger, reaching for the heavens below, brought closer by tricks and traps.
Clang hiss in the distance as the train rumbles by the foggy night horn. Doubled. And again.
“How long was I in there?” Stephen began to feel the time lost, disjoint.
“As long as necessary,” Melanie replied. “The Mnemnicience cares not for time, it is of memory. Time is but the vinyl pressing of its passing. It is all possible cogitations decided in the moment. It…”
“How long was necessary?” Stephen cut her off. He had only known Melanie a short time, he thought, but he could already tell she was, unsurprisingly, prone to verbosity. What else does one expect from a Muse?
“Oh you were magnificent Stephen,” she assured, “it took mere hours for you to draw forth your Mnemnicience from the myriad of notions strewn across…”
“Hours?” He asked, mostly to himself. Melanie continued prattling.
No wonder he was hungry. Should have grabbed a muffin at the cafe before he made his grandiloquent exit into the not-rain. He doubted anyone would have believed it if he just grabbed one off a plate. “No one will believe you,” the whisper had said.
“Why did you pick me?” Interrupting her train for once, see how the skippers like her derailments. “Save me?”
“I did neither,” she said, “pick nor save. The latter you did yourself, with some admitted assistance.”
“And the former?”
“You were marked by the man you think of as the whispering figure. The smiling brightness. The trickster who took madness away,” she expounded. She was good at expounding. Clarity needed work though.
“But who is he?”
“I just told you,” she stared at Stephen as if he were a simpering idiot. “Pay attention to the answered questions asked and ask better should you find lack in what is given.”
“What is his name?”
“A thousand sunflowers and as many days given to grace, of laughter and tears, tragic and effusive. Whimsy and merry murray morray eels shocking the slide home. Grass between toes and days on repeat will show mirth.
Somewhere in soliloquy she slid into his thoughts again imparting more the feel of the whisper’s name than any actual name as Stephen would recognize it. Along with it was great awe and wonder and respect from the Mousai.
“It loses a bit in translation,” Stephen said, “but I get the gist.”
“Your language and grasp thereof is simply inadequate,” she said. “Fret not, in time with my guidance you shall master what you lack.”
Sadder than a dead bird’s wing flapping in the breeze of passing cars.
Her shoulders slumped against the feeding of the fiend gloom set on her mind.
“Once was seven, now just seven, should have been eight, but thought too late,” Stephen sangsong to himself and any listening.
Gronger reared up gnarling gnash of hate fear at his approach. The girl drew inward, averting her mind from the cheeriness. The silly happiness…
Snap with a burst and sizzle the Mnemniscience struck from the ring of mind through the Gronger heart.
“Grongers don’t have hearts,” Melanie corrected from just behind his right eye. Where headaches form.
Sharp needle of mind. Spear the demon. “Not a demon,” she reminded him from the headache forming. Save the child. “A severely myopic notion of sadness preying on destabilized youth-minds.”
Stephen kept humming as the spear rippled and whipped, razor skimming the young mind clean of Gronger rust. Bursting ideation lapped up by the ring, giving it new form and purpose and a thing to be. Stronger.
“Hey,” she said as he passed. “Nice hat.” He had gotten one since the gloom night.
“Thanks,” he said. “Nice smile” he said fishing for one and kept walking.
She smiled as he twirled down the street singing his silly song.
Hop and a skip. Toe heel click.
Circular sound. Surround the world. Not never heard.
Touch the star, shine the night.
Bubble burst, expand the pulse and drive fear afar, protect those ill equipped and unawares of the world working beneath them around sidewise their minds’ reflected self.
A wave awash with happiness spread, touching the minds with sparks of bright alright, lifting even if momentarily them from the sadness and clutch of the drowning world around.
Two at a time, the rungs Stephen took to the fifth floor of the Washaw building, rusted and scaled beneath his feet.
“Magnificent view aside, I do wish you would take the internal ascent,” Melanie chimed as Stephen threw his leg over the windowsill of his place.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said, taking in said magnificent view. “One thing I’ve learned from you though, always seek to be inspired.”
“You can be just as inspired by the ordinary as the extraordinary, Stephen,” she said. “I did not intend you to become this devil of dares madman leaping around.”
“But it is more fun,” he said.
“Perhaps,” she admitted.
A moment. Quiet resonance.
The place Stephen had created since becoming Accorded reflected the notions Melanie had introduced him to. Large windows allowed much light to enter as well as his vision to exit, to expand and encompass. Green growth suffused the space with verdant vibrancy.
The world worn features of the space reverently allowed consideration in the placement of each piece of the whole replaced and renewed. Love and life imbued.
It was apparent to any who entered that this place was well cared for. A testament to what can be achieved through willingness and thoughtfulness and a bit of careful attention.
Stephen stood in the breeze of the open window, warmth of the sun on his face as he calmed his mind and expanded his thought.
He moved his body through some forms, nothing formal, simply what he felt. His body guiding his mind as his mind conjured images of suffused rock planting his feet. Hips swaying with the waves and arms weaving fire from between his shoulder blades.
Lost lost in these visualizations he breathed. Deeply in and exhale. Losing the boundaries of himself to the wider world.
Mind afield the shadow crusted the vibrancy. Obscuring what he felt.
“Hello friends, can I see you?” He asked aloud.
Spark of mind, shadow cracked. Flake away, ash and soot and candy shell crunch. Reveal the notions of fire and earth and water afoot.
The notions tinkled with laughter barely heard at the edge of notice.
“So clearly they show themselves to you, Stephen,” Melanie said. “Echoed shadows of limned light sparkling is all most see…even among the Accorded.”
A notion of fire danced along the leaf of a climbing vine, hungry and stroking, eager for a taste of lush green as Stephen scooped the little notion up in his hand.
“No little one,” he told the notion. It spoke to him in a consternated crackling chitter as it scurried across his palm and around his thumb, chasing and racing itself as it wreathed around his hand.
Stephen moved into a more aggressive stance and began forming martial katas, the notions of fire perking bright as his steps like stone progressed forward.
The notions suffused his body, his movements, his muscles and bone. Each imparting a gift, reacting to Stephen’s desire for strength and speed and renewed vigor. Fire and flow. Step and move.
Shadow boxing for when the time came.
Before him Stephen imagined the gloom shadow that had first attacked him in the storm soaked alleyway.
Anger welled. Fuels the fire and fueled by fire. Grasped in his hand the flame notion sped his fist and burst in air, the gloom not there.
Again and again the gloomfiends reared, their steely hissing maw growing large before Stephen, drinking in the light.
“Tempt us to light of days and we arise,” they gasped and lunged. Hot steam tongue lashing eyes sweating. World gone dark.
Shadows swirled around as Stephen whirled opposite. Afraid. Fire blooming bright behind mind in fists of rage he struck.
Glee and delight the notions of flame burst and grew, fed by his fear, laughter maniacal and bright. Burn burn burn the flames of fire grow and to the pyre goes the gloom shadows.
Raging burning the Gorlick laughs and plays with the notion of fire, now his.
Surrounded. All sides. Spun on head, turned on ear.
The Mnemnicience strikes, demon and enemy and flame.
Scream. Lost in memory and thought.
“Stephen!” Melanie snapped his mind back.
The little notion of flame pierced in his grasp. Gasp the dying flame, burst into naught. Ideation consumed by the hungry ring of thought.