A guided relaxation themed on water written by Jacqueline Belle and me, voiced by Jacqueline, with video work by Daniel Lacho.
A guided relaxation themed on water written by Jacqueline Belle and me, voiced by Jacqueline, with video work by Daniel Lacho.
I smiled down at my little boy, “I’ve already told this story three times tonight.”
His eyes shone with glee as he simply repeated himself, “Again! Again!”
The sun had set, and the light outside was but moon and stars. My son was not at all tired yet, and neither was I. Stroking his blond hair I said, “Oh, alright, I will tell it again.”
“A long time ago, long before I was born, they told the story of a mischievous spirit called a pooka. Wherever the pooka went, it played pranks on people, but these were usually harmless. It found humans funny, and they, in turn, found its japes amusing. The pooka could take the form of whatever it wanted, and would often play among the human children, laughing and running about. One day, it was playing hide and seek with the children of a small village, and it really wanted to win. It took the form of a moss covered rock, knowing the children would never find it. Oh how it laughed to itself in glee, thinking of all the humans worrying about the child they could not find, lost all alone, in the woods, as night approached. But no one was looking for the pooka. The children had forgotten there was another playmate that day. They had forgotten the strange little child that none of them knew, and they had finished their little game and gone home for supper.
“When midnight came, and still no one looked for it, the pooka changed into an owl and went looking for the humans, wondering where they all were. There were no humans about, there were no torches lit, no search parties for the lost little child who had not been found. It searched all night for any sign that they had worried, and found none. As daylight broke upon the little village, the pooka had become angry, and vengeful. A dangerous thing is a pooka if you ignore its tricks.
“At first, it played the mean pranks it often played when it felt slighted. Milk soured, animals strayed, chairs broke, and food went missing. Still, the humans showed no sign of remorse. No offerings to the magical spirit were offered to soothe its rage. The pooka grew spiteful, and its pranks became dangerous. The baker broke his leg falling off a ladder, the local shepherd almost drowned crossing a river, and the village well dried up. One by one, the humans grew fearful, and they whispered among themselves, wondering what was causing their misfortunes. They imagined ghosts and ghouls, witches and wights, fairies and fuaths. They blamed one creature after another, but not once did they think of pookas, and this made the pooka very angry indeed.
“No longer was it thinking of simple pranks or jests, no longer did it want the people of the village to fear it. No, now it wanted the people of the village to suffer. So it called upon its kind, and from far and wide did the pookas come, each delighted at the grand caper the angry pooka proposed. One by one, the pookas tempted every child of the village away from the watchful eyes of the adults and the other children, and one by one, they stole the child away, putting one of their number in its place, until there was but one human child left in the village. One small, lone child, a little blond boy, just like you, who never ventured from his house, who preferred to play by himself indoors with his books and toys. And it was this little boy that the angry pooka chose to take the place of.
“It approached the house of the little blond boy one afternoon when his parents were still off at work, and taking the form of a puppy, it yipped and yapped, and scratched at the door of the house, trying to lure the child outside. But the child, who looked out at the frantic little animal jumping and prancing about outside his window, did not trust strange animals, just like you, and he turned away from the window and went back to his toys.
“The pooka returned the next day and took the form of a little old lady, frail and kindly, holding a basket of sweet things to entice the child outside. But the child was not fond of sweet things, just like you, and refused to answer the door for the stranger, and went back to his books. This upset the pooka, but what could it do? Even magical creatures have rules they must obey, and the pooka could not enter the house except in the form of the little boy. So once again, it had to go away, and the boy was safe another day.
“Day after day, the pooka returned, and it took form after form, each more irresistible than the last, but nothing it did could coax the little boy out of his house and into danger, for the boy was obedient, and his parents had told him never to go outside when they were away, and never to talk to strangers. Day after day, the pooka tried, and day after day it was frustrated, and the lone little boy who preferred books to all the silly little things other children found so fun remained safe in his house.”
My child beamed up at me and asked excitedly, “Did the pooka ever get him?”
“Never. Not as long as the boy remained inside, like a good little boy should, like you do, my child.” I kissed the top of his head as I finished my cautionary tale once more.
I smiled down at my little boy and laughed, “You have heard this story four times tonight.”
He just smiled at me in that way every child smiles at their parent when they do not want to let the story end, “Again! Again!”
An owl hooted as the deep of the night settled in. My son was still not tired, and neither was I. Stroking his brown hair I said, “Oh, alright, I will tell it again.”
“I would not go out to sea today. No, no, no….”
“You’re mad, old man.”
“Aye, mad. Mad, and alive, boyo.”
The young captain snorted and turned his back to the old timer, but as he lashed his gear on deck, he cast a wary eye up at the clouds for signs of trouble. No one paid attention to the old coot who haunted the docks for as long as any could remember, but the young captain was as superstitious as any who plied the seas. It did not do to ignore any warning entirely. He snorted again at the clouds, tiny and dispersing. There was no sign of storm in the sky, and no portent of any in the offing. The young captain turned back toward the senile old man, unable to resist taunting his elder, “I fear no tempest this day.”
The old man was shuffling about with his back half-turned, collecting trash left over from the meals of gulls and fishermen alike. He just shook his head and replied, “Nay, no foul gale today, boyo. Yet I would not go to sea today, not through that firth. No, no, no….”
“What’s wrong with the firth then?”
“There’s a fuath in the firth, and it’s no friend to sailors. Not today.”
“A fua… Hells take you, you crazy old bastard! You try to jinx me with ancient spirits? There’s no such thing as fuaths! Be gone and let me work!” The young man of the sea spat and gestured rudely, watching the lunatic wander down the pier before returning to the task at hand. He wanted to beat the tide , and could little afford delays, mystical or otherwise. Yet, even as he worked feverishly, the captain cast a glance every few minutes at the wandering form of the muttering madman, and another glance at the opening to the ocean beyond the bay.
There were old stories about the firth, older than any could remember. Old tales told by old men in older taverns when the winds were howling and the shingles shuddering, over bitter ales in the fluttering candle light of the deep night. He had heard these tales, growing up in the village, but had grown up and grown wary. Even had he still believed in faerie stories, he had never heard tell of a fuath in the firth. It seemed such a silly reason to stay in port.
His preparations at last done and his two crewmen arrived and on board, the young captain cast off and set sail, with one final sneer at the old man still rambling about on the dock. For some reason no one could explain later, the young captain never noticed his was the only ship setting out that day.
The old man no one knew well stood up and put another piece of garbage in his sack, muttering to no one in particular, his eyes flickering a little strangely, “I would not go to sea today. No, no, no…”
Wisps of ash floated down from the growing cloud of smoke. There was no breeze, but the heat of the flames buffeted the smoldering flakes of wood and cloth, gently guiding the delicate remnants of the blaze away from the still raging fire even from a distance. Even without a wind to tear them apart, the flakes were gossamer thin, fragile, vulnerable, often disintegrating into dust before they could reach the ground. Every so often there was a sharp pop from the inferno, and a shower of white hot cinders shot out into the darkness of the night, a spray of short-lived flares, melting snow wherever they came to rest. The cabin burned for hours, sputtering and dying only when the timbers had burned well below the snowbanks, extinguishing only when the still frozen ground would allow the conflagration to go no further.
Between the low lying storm clouds, gathering strength to unleash another torrent of snow the next day, and the thick obscuring smoke from the blaze, the inferno was almost invisible even at full strength, vanishing entirely from view any further than a few yards by the time the last few guttering flames gave out at last and all that remained were quickly cooling embers. The blizzard that broke the next day lasted for a week, dumping layer after layer of fresh snow upon the land, burying all sign there had ever been a fire or home for many months after. When the spring came, later that year than any on record, the gathered snows melted slowly, clumps and drifts lingering over any depression and against any protrusion that could be used for cover. What had once been a cabin offered little shelter for the retreating snows, but it was enough to mask all signs that life had ever dwelt there for a few weeks longer. The days were turning toward the simmering, sweltering summer season before anyone happened upon the ruin.
A small child, enjoying the first weekend the weather had allowed him to ride his new bicycle, stopped in front of the blackened outlines in the ground of what had once been a house. He was far from his own home, far from any neighbors he knew, and far from the paths and roads he normally played along. This deep into the wild, down the badly maintained dirt road, he had not expected to find anything. The weeds and brambles had already started reasserting their natural right over the narrow road, adding to the illusion that no one had lived here for longer than was true. The child wondered about what he found, but made no note of it. There was nothing special about charred debris in the deep woods, and his were not the worries of the grown up world. Laughing away whatever fears or worries the oddity aroused, the child pedalled away toward home, leaving the last testament to what had once been a home behind, to be overgrown, not to be seen again.
When I was a young man, my uncle summoned me, much as I have summoned you today. I went to my uncle, for I was his favorite, indeed I was the only member of the family he spoke with at the time. I found him in the care of nurses, for his health was failing him rapidly. I was conducted into his presence and sat beside him that I might comfort him as he faced the inevitable. He had a crazed look about him, as if he were a man hunted, haunted, hounded by some rapacious and ravenous specter of the past. It was a look I was all too familiar with. Yet, I sat, silently, as he stared frightfully about, looking every which way for some menacing mirage that was all too real to his addled mind. He muttered every now and then, words of nonsense and words of curse, both as meaningless to me as they were purposeful to him. Perhaps they were some form of ward against the coming darkness, some manner of staving off that which all men must meet. However, I knew this was not the truth of it. No, his demons were not of his destiny, but of his antiquity, his madness a malicious and avaricious malady that had grown throughout his life until the man before me had been reduced to grasping at the folds of his robe and the arms of the chair in which he sat, seeking refuge in ephemeral reality from the ethereal nightmare that had been his beleaguered life.
While I watched, entranced, his face contorted through fears and emotions as he wrestled with his fading consciousness in order to bring forth some manner of words as to why he had summoned me. At long last, he was able to triumph over his diminishing faculties and while staring deep into my eyes he spoke in a voice both weary and frenzied, “Beware, your father! He is plotting against you even now!”
My shock at this pronouncement must not have been evident, or he was no longer capable of discerning such, as a smile of contentment struggled onto his lips as the rest of his visage was a war of other conflicting emotions. However, I could not let it rest at that. I loved my uncle dearly, I was the only one who had loved him in his later years as he descended into his madness. It was not in my nature to hate, but more than that, I pitied the man, for I knew what ailed him, and I feared it. I had to try, one final time, to reason with him, to try to unravel the perplexing animosity he held for our family, and my dear father in particular. Reaching out, I took up his feeble sweaty hand, stealing myself against the chill of his skin, and held it firmly as he instinctively jerked back. The contact had crystallized his face momentarily into a terrible countenance of horror, but that passed as his fond memories of me regained control of his dwindling sensibilities. I spoke, and his gaze snapped from my hand on his to my face. “Dear uncle, why do you say these things about my father, who has ever treated me, and you, with the utmost compassion? What makes you pronounce these heinous charges against your own blood?”
Anger now gripped him, and he snarled at me, not in hostility or contempt, but in frustration, as he always did when I rejected his guidance, and he launched fervently into an impassioned diatribe of all the past sins and wrongdoings of his loving sibling, many of them imagined, and most of the rest hyperbolic confoundments of minor slights long forgotten by all but him. He detailed, as he always did, in ever more elaborate invectives, how every possible misfortune was ultimately the consequence of some intricate machination of my father, or occasionally my brothers or some other more distant member of the family. He delved bitterly into long bygone family history of relations long since departed, many before my own time, and how most or all of them had long been plotting against him. I had heard it all before, far too often in fact, which is why I was able to recognize his usual harangue, his tiresome denunciations and accusations against kith and kin, from the babbling sounds that dribbled from his slackening mouth, his words rapidly degrading into a series of zealous noises that few could hope to comprehend. As his capacity for speech deserted him, his animosity swelled, and in the end, as the light faded from his eyes, the malice never left them, and his lifeless husk held fast the hatred which had so defined his sorrowful existence. In the end his demons had consumed him, his animus giving life to naught but antagonism and petty jealousies that had plagued our family incessantly for the majority of his life.
You may ask, as well you should, why did I hold such fondness for a man such as this, a man so animated with antipathy toward all others I held dear? I could not help but consider him with sympathy and compassion, for he held the family curse. In the depths of his delusions, he had long ago given leave to reason, he had long since surrendered to paranoia. You see, my father, whom I loved, had died decades before my uncle, yet still the surviving brother blamed the other for every ill that befell him. Indeed, eventually my uncle stopped believing my father was dead, and suspected his hand in every action against him, saw him around every corner, bedeviling his every enterprise. It mattered not what was real, it mattered little how many times I tried to convince him of the truth, all that mattered was his deep seated animosity toward his sibling, and his twisted logic that set all of his ills at the feet of his supposed adversary, and by extension all of the rest of his family, save me.
Yes, this was a family curse. My ancestors have struggled time and again with a particular family member, always male, who turns to this poisonous madness as his life progresses, a madness that turns that man into the bitterest of enemies toward almost all of his family, but always in particular against his brother, always his brother most of all. Again and again, throughout the ages, the madness seizes upon the hapless fellow, and he descends into obsession and specious judgment. The family is helpless to prevent it, try as they might, and some diligently attempted to forestall their beloved sons from spiraling into neurosis. Yet, without fail, it recurs again and again, every second generation. My uncle was the last. The next would be of your generation.
You see now, why I called you here, why I am telling you of our family curse. No, it is not what you think. It is not your brother who is falling prey to the madness. No, I’m afraid it is you. I know, you think it is your brother, and in the coming years, you will think everything is because of your brother, but it is not, and it never will be. It pains me beyond what mere words can convey to have to tell you, my dear nephew, that you are doomed to fall into an inescapable insanity, one in which you will fear and hate all those you love so dearly. I have seen the signs already, and they are unmistakable. Even now, I can see the apprehension in your eyes, the doubt and the paranoia starting to take hold. You are questioning, now, every word I tell you, as your mind tries to excuse all of the symptoms you yourself have noticed recently, as you try to explain to yourself how none of these are your fault, and all your suspicions about yourself are unfounded while all your fears about us are true.
There is no escape, I am sad to say, and even now my warning is too late. I should have told you long ago. But even then, would it have helped? Could this have been abated if you had known before the malady had manifested? I do not know, nor can we ever know. No, I’m afraid it is far too late, my warning far too little, and your future far too predictable. Farewell, dear nephew. Please try to remember me fondly, even as the mania sets in. Please try to recall that I tried to stave off your fate, as vain as my attempt was. Farewell, and may you know happiness in the next life, if not in this.
The man pulled himself up to the top, looked around, and did not care for what he saw.
He saw a world trying to hurry and rush, who knows where other than its own eventual end. He saw what others all saw, but refused to acknowledge the inevitability of it all. Misery was there, hand in hand with apathy and ego. No life seemed to matter, life itself seemed not to matter. There was a lot of energy here, but little purpose to it all.
Sighing, he settled down to meditate on what he saw, hoping to find a solution to the mystery of life. What was the point of it all, what was the plan, was their a plan? The man pondered these questions and all of the myriad questions that sprang forth wherever his ponderings led him. Age crept up upon him like the evening shadows, caressing first his skin, then settling in deep to chill his bones, and yet still he pondered the questions of life. As the sun set on his life, the shadows of age became more rapacious, springing up suddenly and seizing him in a cold dark grip, squeezing the very last drops of his youth out of him. Ravenous, age drank all the life that spilled out, lapping up every drop like sweet honey.
Finally, the last drops fell out of him. Age had consumed his very flesh, which now fell fully lifeless, hollow, sallow, and wrinkled to the ground, there to shatter into dust and blow away on the strong winds of time. At last, there was no longer any trace of the man, and the very memory of him was forgotten by those still rushing around in the world below.
And yet, as his lifeless husk fell to meet the ground, there could be seen on the face of the man, a serene smile. He had thought of a solution before he passed. He had solved the mystery of life. Every so often, if you close your eyes and listen right, you can hear his ashes whisper it in the winds of time, laughing softly.
A leaf floated slowly, twisting, spiraling ever so slowly, dancing on the wind. Finally, it settled, next to the sole of a black shoe. A shoe, worn to match an ebon ensemble, worn, to signify sorrow. A guest, a friend, invited to mourn the passing of a life. The loss of a father.
The priest, the only one in white, intoned holy blessings to the Father, as the widow wept. The guests, some friends, others, fellow workers, stood in silent testimony to the departed one.
Only one stood apart. Alone in his grief, alone always, the son awaited the end of it all. He listened half-heartedly, as the holy man droned on, not hearing the words, or his mother’s grief. Lost in himself, he looked on, dry-eyed, as his father was painstakingly lowered into the waiting earth. He watched as the coffin disappeared forever into its final showcase.
It was beautiful; a pale white, embossed roses lining its rim, polished silver handles, a pair of doves carved into the top. It was magnificent. It had cost. The son smiled slowly, enjoying the irony. A bitter, cruel man, never very pretty, in soul or face, had wished to be buried in a work of art. No worry, they were rich. They knew it; with limos for every guest, tuxedos too, flowers by the hundred, expensive chapel, expensive priest. No, there was no want for luxury, but it would not buy a tear from the son. He felt no loss today, only joy.
The son moved to his mother, to comfort her in her anguish. The funeral ended, all left. The gravediggers set to work, covering another plot. Another grave, another stiff. Just one more satisfied customer.
In the waning years of the galactic Empire of Man, in a remote archival station on a distant mining planet, a young bureaucrat, twelfth level, rediscovered a word. A single word of power and importance such that it had been removed with great passion by fire and death from human memory over the course of several millennia.
When the great and bloated departments of the Government of Man decayed from within and broke into more primitive forms of tribalistic territorialism, when the Empire ever more irreversibly cascaded from de facto to de jure then through nomine tenus, finally coming to rest in memoriam, the young bureaucrat, twelfth level, learned the word. Spreading it to others he knew and trusted, he soon encountered resistance to its very existence. This did not deter him, as the resistance was sparse and unorganized, as those offering it were much more thoroughly occupied trying to not lose their heads in the midst of the empire’s collapse.
As such, the ranks of the adherents to the word of power quickly swelled, as they latched onto what appeared to be a growing movement of strength in the face of looming chaos and hardship. Many of these new recruits had little understanding of the true meaning of the word, having never encountered it or its fruits in their short lifetimes. Thus lacking a reference to guide them, they often engaged in actions in direct opposition to the true meaning of the word. Yet, even these well-intentioned fumblings added to the power of the word, as their actions served to draw more attention to the word and thus bolstered their numbers against the now strengthening resistance to its return to the course of human events. This resistance was most readily embraced by those who had most directly benefited from the old order, as well as those factions rising up to take its place.
Violence inevitably broke out between these two sides, and the young discoverer perished while championing the word to his followers. The passion with which these same disciples struck back shocked any who observed it. Simple brutality and skirmishes escalated almost instantly into pitched warfare, as both sides elected martyrs and heroes from amongst their own ranks and those of their opponents. Soon, those factions previously not aligned with either side found themselves swept along into the heightening conflict, as the forces of the word and the forces who wished the word had remained forgotten turned world after world into a battlefield on which they tried their best to obliterate their enemies.
As their vague causes turned into far more single-minded crusades, logic and wisdom fled before the unforgiving warzone, seamlessly replaced by fanatical devotion and sacrifice. Those that dared question the intent of their leaders suffered for their lack of faith in manners designed to dissuade others from following suite. Even the higher orders of those who followed the word with blind loyalty dared not speculate on the actual meaning of the word itself, as to do so would be to challenge the now certain interpretation of the word as a weapon uniting them against their foes. So it was that the intent of the word was lost in the swelling wave of its standard bearers.
Eventually, many centuries of bloodshed and destruction later, with their grand civilization, that had taken millenia to build up, in ruins about them, finally those few who remained who were capable of research began investigating this cursed word, disregarding the still not inconsiderable danger this presented to their persons. Against the condemnation of the established priesthood of the word, these rogue scholars presented their findings to the galaxy. The uproar of anger against those who had so fervently co-opted the word for the exact opposite of its defined purpose made short work of the remaining forces of the word. The equally exhausted opposition forces stood little chance of resisting the populist groundswell of the common people, who had tired of both factions long ago as their loved ones died for causes that ultimately meant nothing and served no purpose other than to kill the opposing side.
While this final tumultuous upheaval against the dying movements which had drug mankind back down into destitution ran its course, smaller regional governments began to form, applying the word in its true form to their governance, finding success as they did so. Peace returned as the word of power finally took hold. Mankind recovered gradually, rebuilding what the oppressive empire had so methodically erected before, this time in more gentle and natural forms. And so it was that a word so long obliterated from human memory realized its power to alleviate misery and ignorance wherever it was spoken with understanding and without fear of the consequences.
Once again mankind embraced the word ‘freedom’.
When the world first asked, “Why?”, it was barely in its inception, newly wrought from the flames of creation. Yet even then men stood up and inquired amongst them, “For what purpose are we here? If all eventually fades, why do we be?” It was from this first thought that myriad lines of questioning arose to confound each other and divide mankind into many divergent camps, all despite the driving central question being the same throughout. It was not enough for any that they had found an answer they believed in, they felt it necessary to prove the others wrong, or at least vulnerable to steel.
Into this maelstrom of bickering ideologies, a few attempted to extricate themselves of the issue entirely by asking “How did we come into being? The why will be answered by the how, surely.” These dedicated themselves to observation and reasoning, and yet even these, once they had reached conclusions in their varied methodologies, decided that the others were wholly inept and had to be ridiculed or even persecuted for this. The argument was born, which in turn spawned more than enough stupidity to reverse all of the previously achieved observations and reasoning.
From this stupidity, many emerged wondering, “When and Where are we then? Surely these must be relevant to the other questions!” Which of course, they were not. The less said of these people the better.
Finally, from the chaos of human reasoning arose those who finally realized the central question of their existence. These chose finally to question, “What are we? What makes us able to ask these other confrontational and unsolvable questions? What are we that we can make war on each other over concepts and theories?” These did much thinking and pondering on this subject. There was, of course, only one probable conclusion that they could come to, and this in itself answered the other questions entirely, if not entirely satisfactorily for the others. The answer, you see, was “We are an anomaly.”
With that, the others set upon the ‘What’s and committed many a justifiable anomaly.
I was sipping on some tea when I woke up to realize that I was not in the time I imagined I was. That is to say, I realized there was the distinct possibility that I had already woken up at least once already that day, or would in the very near future, at the very least. It was with this rather disturbing, if familiar, realization that I woke up and began searching for the beginning of this most troubling day.
It all started with some chai. Now chai is a particular invention that comes in as many variations as you can tolerate imagining, and appeals to almost as many people for exactly those reasons. I like it because it is, or so I have been told by those who have bothered to notice.
This particular chai was angry. What it was upset about I still have yet to fully understand, but it was indeed perturbed, and was doing its best to make my stomach of the same mind. Needless to say, an angry stomach can ruin the best of days, and I was in no mood to experience such, so I blinked and decided not to drink the chai in the first place. Then I blinked because I had not yet drunk the chai, and was understandably confused as to why, seeing as my stomach had just protested my having done so.
It was at this point that the chai unmade itself and I lost track of what I had done at any exact point of time. So I woke up. Except, I had not yet gone to sleep, or rather had, but was still sleeping, all at the same time.
Incidentally, at some point, I managed to write a working program. Normally this would be of no relevant interest in an increasingly bizarre and interesting day, except that this program survived the experience and is currently working quite well. Nothing else did.
Anyway, it was around the time I woke up for the infinite plus first time when I decided that this was no way to spend my day, and so I woke up again and set about finding a way to reestablish some semblance of order to the events I was experiencing. I settled on a plan of action and woke up again to discover that I had not yet set about creating my plan yet. I am not certain, but I believe I uttered some rather nasty things about time’s mother at this point. When no response presented itself, I assumed that time or its mother had to have heard me and contented myself with this knowledge as I woke up again.
I finally realized my problems maintaining any temporal frame of reference first began with my upset stomach and my wish that I had not imbibed my morning chai. And so I woke up again and set about making my chai.
After the infinite minus first attempt, I was finally able to drink my beverage, and suddenly, it was night, the day had passed, I had a working program, and my stomach was angry at me. I ignored it.