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Eurydice

This poem, originally published in my 1994 collection, Dark Song: Fantasies in Twilight (now out of print), was republished in Soul Songs from Distant ShoresI do a reading of the poem here, for those who are interested in hearing it performed. Eurydice

Death is certain for the born. Rebirth is certain for the dead. You should not grieve for what is unavoidable.

-- the Bhagavad-Gita

wandering among the stones lost within myself i try to retrace those footsteps that led me into this granite garden far from you

voices tear through my consciousness, weeping, beseeching, calling my name

but i do not wish to answer i do not wish to let go

there is music in the distance a song as familiar as your caress

i find myself amid the goblin market temptation upon temptation heaped up on plates brilliant with the heavy glint of gold

i shall wait i shall not betray my memory of you those opulent hours we spent in the splendor of the sun

i recall the story sung of mournful Kore but one pomengranate seed and i will be undone

seeking something lost i find only myself Eurydice huddled weeping in the eldritch embrace of silver birch and whitethorn

have i ever known any other arms that held me with such strength, such understanding?

there was something but i've forgotten what here where the light of the gravid moon soothes stark granite and marble into cool, pure silver and flesh melts away into brilliant, unburdened bones

naked i spin atop an obelisk reaching into the sky and eating stars like candied dates

there was something but i'm free of it now the trees teach me what it is like to shed leaves endlessly easily as the seasons command

there is nothing but myself and the understanding that a seed must fall to the ground and be buried before it can aspire to oak

-- M. Belanger

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In Dreams

Author's Note: Those of you who have read my short fiction collection, These Haunted Dreams will recognize the following tale. This is the story which opens that collection and, I feel, helps set the tone for the rest of the book. This particular tale was inspired by Blue Oyster Cult's classic Don't Fear the Reaper (if you've never heard the song, listen to it here). You can see distinct echoes from the song in some of the imagery at the end. For a live reading of this haunting tale, click here.

In Dreams

He came to her in dreams.  Not every night.  No, that would have been too kind.  Instead, he teased her with his presence, coming every once in a while, seducing her twice in one week, and then disappearing for almost a month at a time.

The dreams, when she had them, were wonderful.  In her waking hours, she would hear the velvet of his voice, the soft breath against her ear.  The memory of his words was so vivid that it drowned out every other sound on her morning ride to work.

And his touch.  Whenever he came to her at night, all the next day, she could feel him still, like soft electric fire burning in her skin.  Sometimes she would sit at her desk for hours, staring blankly at the computer screen, completely caught up in the memory of his hands all over her.

She did not know him, this strange dream lover.  His face was one she had never seen before – the high, sculpted cheekbones, the thin, perfect nose, the lips that seemed chiseled from living stone.  He was pale – pale as the moon in her dreams, and it seemed that his skin nearly glowed.  Jet-black hair, like a raven’s wing, spilled over his forehead and down the back of his neck.  His eyes, too, were black, or so it seemed.  In the dreams, these held a strange dark-light, and she could never gaze on them for very long.

He would just arrive in her twelfth floor apartment, moving from the balcony to the side of her bed.  She never asked how he got there.  It was, after all, a dream.  And yet how vivid, how sensuous these dream-visits were, until she felt that she truly had a lover, even though this lover had no name.

Months into this strange seduction, she began to go out looking for him.  Somehow, she knew to seek him only at night.  She went to the bars and the nightclubs, dressing in velvet and her slick vinyl boots. Over the weeks, she saw many strange, pale people.  Once or twice, she thought she spied him, but then the young man would turn and the cheek wasn’t right or the eyes were too dim.  It seemed like he was always one step ahead of her, and she could feel his presence lingering everywhere she went.

If a club wasn’t open, she would wander the Village, sitting and watching the people walk their dogs through WashingtonPark.  Sometimes she could feel his presence moving behind her, but then she would turn, and there was nothing but shadows and the sound of the wind.  She knew that he was teasing her, leading her along in some deft seduction. The harder she sought him in the waking world, the longer it would be before he returned to her dreams.

She had resigned herself to being patient, some time after the leaves began to fall.  It was getting too cold to sit all night in the park, although she would still sometimes go out to one of the clubs.

The chill of November was in the air the night she lost her wallet.  She had money in her pocket, but it wasn’t enough to pay for cab fare.  With a bitter wind coming off of the Atlantic, she didn’t relish the thought of walking ten blocks home.  So she found the F train and tried to look inconspicuous as she waited on the platform, shivering in her fishnets and her thin vinyl coat.

It was a Sunday night.  She expected the train to be empty, but instead it had a crowd.  It was nothing compared to the hoards on the morning commute, but she still had to work to find herself a seat.  Several people were standing, fingers twined in the loops overhead. Others were stretched out across three or four spaces, vagrants escaping the night’s chill by riding the train endlessly back and forth

As it was so often lately, her mind was on him.  She gazed out the window, not even seeing the shadowed, stained walls as they sped past her eyes.  She was focused so completely on her internal landscape that she almost didn’t see the pale face reflected beside her in the grime-smeared glass. But for some reason, her eye caught the image and stuck.  It took a moment for the face to sink in.

He was sitting on the other side of the train from her, his dark eyes focused on something far away.

She turned around, half expecting him to not be there when she looked.  Like some phantasm, she feared that he existed only in the glass.  But there he was.  The lights of the subway played upon his pallor, till it seemed he should glow with a light of his own.

The train plunged into a tunnel, rattling wildly along its tracks.  Yet he hadn’t disappeared.

“You!  I know you!”

She couldn’t help herself.  The words echoed through the train.

Slowly, he turned and regarded her.  Those strange, dark eyes seemed to sizzle on her skin.

“Hush,” he said, drawing his dark coat about him.  “Don’t make a scene.  I’ll come to you tomorrow.  Just before the morning.”

The train was jerking to a halt.  He stood, and it was as if the train was moving for everyone but him.  His hands were in his pockets, and he didn’t even seem to brace his legs.  And yet so effortlessly he rose and glided to a door.  She sat riveted to her seat, her eyes, unblinking, fixed on him.  She wanted to run after him, but he was out and the door was closed before she could get her legs to work.  Her heart fluttered against her ribs like a panicked bird in a cage.

It was only after he exited the train that she realized his lips had never moved.

*                      *                      *

Tonight, she thought, and stared through the letters on the screen. Tonight, just before morning.

In agony, she struggled to focus on her work.  His voice had been exactly like it was in her dreams.  But had she dreamed it?  His lips had never moved.  The other passengers, though they reacted to her outburst, seemed insensible to him.

And the way he glided, as if gravity held no power over him!  The train could have shaken itself off its tracks, and he would have been standing there, calm and poised, with everyone else thrown to the floor around him.

What was he?  All those weeks, all those months, that question had never come.  Had she never wondered?  Or had she been afraid to ask?  Was there any chance that he would have answered as he whispered to her at night?  No, he spoke to her in dreams, but it was the language of the bedroom.  In all the time he had been coming to her, she had not even learned his name.

The day dragged by.  And then it was evening, and she made a point of taking the train. She searched the faces, but of course, he wasn’t there.

Just before morning.

She stopped at the vegetarian diner a block from her building.  But she couldn’t eat.  Every time the door opened, she almost jumped up, looking for him.

The elevator ride up to her apartment was torture.  There were five other people, all standing too close.  And of course, the worst of it was, none of them were him.

She stripped out of her work clothes and took a hot bath.  But the steam and the scent of lavender did nothing at all to soothe her.

Those eyes, those high, pale cheekbones!

She turned on the computer and surfed the ‘net.  She found herself checking forums over and over again, desperately searching for some new topic, some line of conversation that could occupy her mind.  In the reflection of her face on the screen, she could almost see him.

At nine o’clock, she took off her bathrobe and slipped on her black lace gown.  She turned off all the lights but left one candle burning, a lone tea-light in a votive holder that glimmered on her nightstand.  She lay on her back among the pillows.  She stared at the ceiling, and the flickering flame of the tea light made the patterns in the plaster come alive.

What was she waiting for?  Should she sleep?  Or did he mean he’d really come, for the first time more flesh than dream?

Eleven o’clock found her tossing, her long red hair tangled on the pillowcase.  Midnight came and went.  She got up and put on music, hoping the quiet tones would ease the wait.  The clock seemed to draw her eyes to it every quarter hour.  She turned her face away, and then would look again: one-thirty, one-forty-five, two AM.

Sometime, she dozed.  She woke to a sound on the balcony.  Somehow she heard it over all the city noise.  A gust of chilly wind greeted her as she sat up, kissing her skin through the thin lace of her gown.

There was a light out there.  She could see it glowing faintly through the muslin of the curtains.  Twelve floors below, motors growled and horns blared.  Four-thirty in the morning.  New York was never asleep.

She pushed the covers back and placed bare feet upon the floorboards.  The chill brought her more awake.  She was awake.  She was sure of it.  This was no dream.

And then that figure moved behind the curtain.  The soft glow upon the balcony marked his stately silhouette.  He was thin, so thin and delicate, and yet she knew the strength that vibrated in those limbs.

He didn’t have to call to her.  She threw open the doors.  He was leaning against the balcony railing, arms crossed upon his chest.  The wind blew his hair about him and she thought of ravens taking flight.

She ran to him, her arms outstretched.  She had no words for the joy she felt, the profound sense of completion.  When he moved, the wind caught the edges of his long silk trench.  It made a sound like wings.

Then the wings were everywhere, and the wind, and the lights of the city as they streamed by like a river that had burst its banks.  And the stars that were streetlamps and the stars in the sky went all topsy-turvy until finally she felt herself in his arms.

They were standing on the pavement, twelve floors below the balcony’s edge.  She could still see the cars and streetlights, but strangely, the city seemed to hold its breath.  The sounds were distant and muffled.  Even the sirens were quiet as they came, heralded by flashing lights.

“I can be with you,” she murmured, breathless.

“You are with me,” he said.

She felt his hands squeezing her shoulders.  They were cold, but they were his.  She laid her head against his chest.  She heard only the wind.

“You have no heartbeat,” she whispered.

“No,” he said.  “I never have.”

Softly, he stroked her hair.  She gazed up at him, and found she could meet those dark and distant eyes.

“How did we get here?” she wondered.  “I mean down here, on the street?”

He pointed to the pavement behind her.  She almost didn’t look.

The flashing lights were a blur around her.  The cars and people screaming were hazy and indistinct.  It was like standing in an impressionist’s painting of the city, everything too blurry to be real.

“How did that happen?” she asked.  She cringed away from it, clinging to his chest.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” he responded.  “You wanted to be with me.”

“To be with you…” she sighed.

His arms were cold around her, but still she found comfort in that embrace.

“Take me away from it,” she pleaded. “Take me away from it all.”

They turned away from the mess on the pavement. Her hand in his hand, they danced away on the wind.

--M. Belanger

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Innocence and Experience

The following dark little tale grew out of a character history penned for one of my Vampire: the Masquerade games. For those unfamiliar with the series, there's a family of necromancers known as the Giovanni. Little Violet just might be a Giovanni girl (the title, of course, is a nod to William Blake). For a live reading of this twisted yarn, click here.

Innocence and Experience

She was a quiet little girl, never speaking unless spoken to. That was expected of her. Her family was very Old World in their values. Which is to say, they felt that little girls existed to grow up and become wives, and those wives were similarly expected to grow large and become mothers. A little girl wasn’t much of anything else but more babies, waiting to be.

Violette didn’t like that idea. That was her name. Little Violet. And she was expected to take after her namesake: sweet and silent and shy. She never told her family how she really felt. Her family wouldn’t have cared, anyway. They were always too busy with the Work. The menfolk went out and dug in the cemeteries while the women stayed home, raising the little ones.

Violette didn’t like the other children. They couldn’t see the things that she could see. Instead of having tea parties with her cousins, Violette liked talking to her special friends. Her aunties and her mother and all her little cousins couldn’t see her friends – but, then, no one would have expected Violette to see them either. Her friends were part of the Work, after all, and seeing them was something that only the menfolk in the family were supposed to do. That’s what they all thought, anyway. They would have known differently, had they bothered to talk to Violette. But they never did. After all, she was only a girl.

So Violette spent all her time whispering to her friends. Her friends were all dead, but she didn’t mind. They were very good listeners. And none of them cared that she was a girl. They didn’t even care that she came from that family, the one so many others shunned in the marketplace. No, her friends were understanding, attentive, and kind. Each night, they gathered round in a glimmering host. They laughed with her and they  told her things. Secret things. They talked about Daddy’s Work, digging up the corpses and polishing the bones. They talked about Grandfather and his friends who used the bones to call and sometimes bind the spirits of the dead. Her friends didn’t like the bindings, but they told Violette how it was done. They loved her and they trusted her, because she hated the men in her family as much as they did. Each night, Violette listened and grew cunning in the ways of the spirits. And the menfolk in her family were none the wiser.

As Violette grew from a quiet little girl to a quiet young lady, the men in the family started to pay attention to her. Most of it was the wrong kind of attention. Her uncle Pietro was the worst of the lot. He liked Violette perhaps a bit too much.

Violette was twelve years old.

When Pietro came to her in the night, she endured it. She didn’t know what else to do. Pietro was so very strong. And he promised not to make it hurt if she kept still and just let him do it. Daddy was away in the cemetery that night. Of course, he wouldn’t have stopped it. She knew he didn’t care.

But Violette’s friends were furious. They ranted and raged from their shadowy side of the world. When Pietro was gone, Violette sat in a corner, silently weeping. Her friends tried to soothe her from their side of the world. They told her to be strong, and they promised vengeance for what Pietro did.

Pietro wasn’t like the other men in the family. He didn’t know the Names or the Words to call. He might see spirits out of the corner of his eye, but he had no talent for talking with them. This was why he was often left at home. He worked as a lowly guard for the family. But Violette’s friends told her this was a good thing. It meant that he could not defend himself. If they struck out at him, he would not be able to strike back.

They promised to get him back for what he did to Violette. They told her that they were going to do it when Pietro was asleep so there wouldn’t be anybody else around. Violette wasn’t certain at first about their plan, but her spirit-friends were insistent. Eventually, she overcame her fear. She wanted to see him get hurt. She was still afraid, so she crept to the kitchen and pulled a knife from a drawer. She told herself it was just in case Pietro woke up and tried to do the thing again. The knife might keep him away.

When the spirits descended upon him, he woke up, all right. But he wasn’t worried about Violette. He didn’t even see her there at first, standing quietly in the corner of his room. She held the knife tucked away in the folds of her dressing gown. Pietro was shouting wildly at the spirits as they shook his bed and struck him from across the Veil. Welts and scratches appeared on his face and on his hands. The spirits called him mean things that he couldn’t hear, but he could certainly feel the blows.

By the time he noticed little Violette in her dressing gown, she had already raised the knife. The spirits held him pinned to the bed as she moved. Then she used the knife, pushing it into him again and again. As the spirits held him, she said the Words and recited the Names, and before she knew it, Uncle Pietro was screaming from inside of the blade, his spirit bound even as his body lay in a bloody heap upon the bed.

Then little Violette cleaned herself up and spent the rest of the night playing with Uncle Pietro and all her dear, dead friends.

-- M. Belanger

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