Into thin air.

©2022 Michael Raven

The Lady of Shadows holds in one hand a spear half as tall as she, and her shoulders are covered in jet feathers, opalescent and oily in the light of the mood, as if light is afraid to touch her mantle.

Her voice is like black velvet or dark chocolate. “The question is… are you here to die? Or are you here to fly?”

“This is one of those times where thinking hard before you speak might be worthwhile,” points out Raven.

“Shut up, carrion,” the Lady of Shadows says.

I hesitate.

“I grow impatient with your lack of response,” she says with a shadowed timbre. It is cool, unwelcoming. Annoyed.

I thrust my hands into my pocket, looking for stones gathered from before, but they are not there. Were they ever? The memories of obsidian dim in the Lady of Shadow’s presence. I forget why I thought they might help and do my best to stand up tall, though her back is to me, and open my mouth to speak.

“Better.”

Her voice takes on the sound of the ghost of a smile, taking me aback. I didn’t know the Lady might ever entertain something so mundane as smile. I don’t even begin to wonder how she knows I straightened my spine and stood tall.

“I intend to fly, but if it is dying that must be, I have been ready for most of my life for that eventuality.” It sounds braver than it feels.

Her breath on my ear. “So you say,” her harsh whisper over my shoulder opposite of Raven and I turn to look into her eyes, but she is already gone, a taut, claustrophobic laughter in the trees dancing from branch to branch.

“I have been as ready as I can be,” I insist over her chuckles.

Her eyes before me without warning, level with mine. I think eyes but I see only the cloth where her should be, stained brown with dried blood, an awful grin on the face I have not seen or imagined before. The night wakens with all its children: howling, yelling, screeching, shouting, dying… such din, but I dare not cover my ears.

Then– silence.

She continues to examine me.

“Are you quite certain you want to see Her, She who waits over the waters in the places betwixt and ‘tween?” The Lady does not wait for me to respond, which is quite fine, as I discover I am mute. “You have been hunting Her for so long, I think you will only throw yourself away for disappointment when you discover She is more than She may have seemed. And less what you desired.”

My voice cracks with its return. “If I am disappointed, I have only myself to blame. She is what She is. I may have dressed Her in raiment unsuited and I will have to live with that, if that is so.”

The Lady of Shadow throws her head back in laughter.

“So resigned? Come now — spirits up. You will need them.”

It is my turn to raise an eyebrow.

The Lady taps the butt of her spear on the ground between us, the rhythm of heartbeats and midsummer song, the critters in the wood join in as they are able: scratching, howling, beating, stomping. A song of songs and a song from the woods.

Over the din, The Lady shouts: “It is good that you are ready to die; for you must die to fly!”

I try to ask her what that means when the cacophony ceases abruptly, startling me into silence.

I hurt.

She smiles and looks down. I follow her gaze, and see the black shaft of her spear through my chest, my blood slowly leaking out scarlet against the black of night in the forest clearing.

“Now…,” she whispers. “You may fly.”

I feel the tugging of the spear through my chest tearing at my slowly stilling heart, as she launches with maniacal laughter — over the trees, over the lake I had crossed earlier, over the precipice into which the lake overflows, over the clouds and into the night mists and… then… over the seas.

And the ninth crest from shore.

“Stretch out your wings,” says Raven. “Or you will discover just how cold the Western sea is.”

My chest hurts where the Lady’s spear had been, but I stretch out my arms, my wings, and I…

Fly.

9 responses to “Into thin air.”

  1. Another rich story with beautiful descriptions—”the rhythm of heartbeats and midsummer song, the critters in the wood join in as they are able: scratching, howling, beating, stomping. A song of songs and a song from the woods.” Simply beautiful and the ending…yes! Fly!

    Liked by 1 person

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