They say not to bring home girls with hollow backs, boys with wings under their skin. But this is neither of our homes, and somehow I think that protects us both. On his land, I don’t think he would dare to touch me.
When the night began to grey I heard the first peals of the bell and then the cawing of the crows. I curled my face in to his shoulder and breathed him in, almost surprised at how solid and present he still was. Wood smoke pine maple sweat sweet sky wine and something animal and alive. He didn’t smell like he’d be gone in a few hours, but fairy gold never does for all that it’s made in their image. Though perhaps made in mine too, being gone just as soon, and his sort always did love shiny things. For a moment, his face winks out in to the darkness, but when I look back up from his shoulder it is there again, gently blowing smoke in his sleep.
With the next ringing the crows again threatened to drag the sky in to daylight but darkness still held our corner of the room. Light enough though that for a moment I was scared to turn around, that though I could newly see, I would not find him laying against my back where I’d remembered him, or that he would be wearing a different skin. A deep inhale behind me, an exhale through the nose that blows cool air between my shoulder blades, where he had asked me to press against on his own back a few hours before (“a thumb, or your chin”), a curious feeling of wings under skin when I did so. I had rested my face there, wrapped my arm around and nearly scorched my fingers when they rested above his heart. I find myself surprised at the lack of fire on his breath now, though his chest still heats the bed on its own. When I wake in a few hours the muscles between my own shoulder blades will be unusually tight, but for now I let the steady puffs of air pull me back to sleep. I do not turn to look.
He was up before the third chime, and suddenly – no more space between us, no careful blanket distance or borderlands. He wrapped around me less like a man than a large cat, a dragon curled round its hoard. There was the sense beyond what I could touch, of too much body and too many limbs, collapsing in to materialization upon contact, a flock a birds landing on me relentlessly one after another, shockingly heavy in their multitude. And then as quick, untangled and up, putting on boots heavier than they should need to be and gathering bits of himself from around the room.
As he opened the front door, I heard the ring of the third bells, but now, no crows cawing. They wait. When the door closed behind him, a sunbeam filled the space he left, illuminating the yellow stairs with his afterimage, the radiance of transformation.
From outside, I heard something like a purr, footsteps rumbling and rolling, and a great rustling, as though a tree had unfurled all its leaves at once with the snap of a lady’s fan, as though they had browned and dropped crackling against each other in the next breath, as though a great many wings were headed skyward and south, away from the still-warm bed and me in it.
They say not to go home with girls with hollow backs, boys with wings under their skin. I wonder if a kiss can be somewhat like a bite of food, a taste of something irrevocable, a contract signed on contact. I wouldn’t know. We don’t kiss. Just hold each other or more often a careful space between. We chart a different elsewhere in this no mans land between bodies. Although somewhere the sap boils in to syrup and perhaps there will come a time when the crows demand their gold paid in truths…here, now, this, is enough.
With the third set of bells he was gone, and a little later so too was I.
My first heartbreak you ask? I don’t think I ever got over that one. Each day I am learning to accept that that familiar smell will always circle my lungs. The way that laughed looked will forever be traceable in my iris’s. That touch consistently the mold I judge other touches by. My first heartbreak is a tolerable memory that I live through each day.
As promised. Not as short or snappy as the first one.
His name is Mantra, and the first thing he says is that he didn’t invent them.
He’s very insistent on that point.
The second thing he says is that his lessons are freely given. He owes a debt, apparently, to the one who taught him. Passing the knowledge on is how he pays it back. He’s not got many students - just two at the moment - but he says that’s enough.
“Making a mantra is a bit like Pavlovian conditioning for the universe,” he jokes. “And a bit like being one of Them. You pick something that resonates with you. An association, or a metaphor, or something. You make it a part of you. And you get back what you put in.”
You pay up-front, he says. Accept limits on your behaviour. Train yourself to link two things so hard that belief becomes reality. He uses “hope in my hands” as an example and says it’s not his. You’d start off small. Never write anything that isn’t hopeful or positive. Never do anything with your hands that you associate with hopelessness or cynicism. Use them for things that bring hope; build it, until the world accepts the line as truth. If it doesn’t fit you, it won’t work. If you can’t hold to it, it’ll shatter. If the lines don’t work with each other, it’ll tear itself apart.
When it starts to hurt to think about breaking your mantra, you’re ready to use it.
“This seems slow,” I say to him one day. “Isn’t there a quicker way?” He flinches.
“There’s a fast way and a right way,” he tells me. “You want to pick the right way. Trust me.”
I haven’t made one of my own yet, and I’m not writing down any ideas until I’m sure, but here’s his:
Freedom in water, Courage in earth, Strength in sunlight.
They do have drawbacks. He tells us how he feels trapped and stifled unless he goes swimming every day, how he’s scared of heights now and vulnerable in the dark. When I ask why he picked something so limiting, he just shrugs.
“I did it the fast way,” he says. “I had to work with what I had, and I didn’t have much. Trees and blood, mostly. I chose trees.” He gives his sister a guilty look - she’s two years older, and doesn’t dabble in mantras herself, but she’s always there when he teaches.
The last thing he says - and fair’s fair, he tells you before you try to choose your lines and makes you think about it for a day or a week or a month before giving you any more lessons - is that by using a mantra, you make an Enemy. He doesn’t say much about it, but he lets a few things slip - and They certainly know which of Them he means. Here’s what I’ve put together or traded for.
- The Enemy lives deep, deep Underhill and doesn’t come out much. It can’t take people Away anymore - not because that power was won or tricked or stolen from it, but because it was taken, by force and by fire.
- It hates mantra-users with a passion that’s beyond reason even by Their standards, and hates Mantra himself even more than that.
- It has really horrific burns all down one side of it - which side varies - and They call it the Burned One like they call him Little Tree Boy. Its eye on the burned side is not the original. It’s grey, and human, and sometimes it cries all on its own.
That much along with campus rumour is for me to put a few pieces together and draw conclusions, but I’m not going to write them down. Mantra’s a nice guy, and if I’m right it would be cruel to ask him.
I’m pretty sure They can tell if you’re learning from him. Maybe like recognises like. He told me to think, long and hard, about whether I want to go forward with it - I can still turn back from where I am now. I’m meant to give him an answer by tonight.
Young Ion. He’s like 18 to 20. (The only thing that changes about him, is his hair (and maybe body mass, a bit…). The running joke is just perfect - Did you do something with your hair? Yes. Yes he did.) Before the coma he was rocking a mallet, then an undercut with a ridiculous puffy topknot, then that simple haircut you can see everywhere (the topknot stays forever), then his temples began to turn grey and it just drives him crazy…
“I’ll be just right outside, okay?” Jason said,
looking down at Sam. She was released from the hospital just yesterday and now,
she had to face Todd.
The start of their relationship
began in the hospital, but Jason didn’t mind. He knew that she only felt safe
around him and he wanted to keep it that way. There had been times during her
hospital stay where she would wake up in tears and Jason did his best to calm
“You can’t come inside with us?”
Sam asked, resting her forehead against Jason’s chest. His strong arms were
wrapped around her, keeping her safe and protected.
“I can’t, no. But just look
outside and I’ll be right there, okay? Alicia said all you’ll do is make a
statement and then you can leave the room.”
“W – What if I can’t do it, Jason?”
“You can.” He reassured her, his
hand gently cupping her cheek. “You can and you will because Todd will know
that he didn’t break you. You’re stronger than you think, Sam.”