Monday 22 September 2014

To be Gifted

By Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga

The pink fruits were bubble gums stuck to a forest from this vantage point. Atop the gabled roof of the farmhouse, Edna swung her legs over the air, chomping on one of the round fruits as the sun turned even the sky a tickled shade of pink. Edna herself felt tickled. Here she was, a pink-haired girl in a pink sweatshirt heralding a pink sky over a pink polka-dotted field. Her eyes casually swept over the field, looking for another pink head among the stalks. He’s late for dinner, she thought. Again.
Taking another bite of the fruit, she closed her eyes. Its syrupy flavour caressed her tongue, while its biting sourness sent tingles through her skin. Its surface was firm but fuzzy, like a peach only better. The Rosalina, Edna thought, Fortune Valley’s gem. She opened her eyes and held up a fist. Raising one finger up, she began counting as her mouth sank into the Rosalina’s flesh again.
She looked down, spotting a pink head. Full of twisted strands dangling around a square face, it wasn’t the neat lines and narrow face she was looking for. Swallowing, she shook her head, “He’s taking his time!”
The head cursed and muttered, “I told him he could do it tomorrow.” A door slammed and Edna resumed her watch.
Soon her tongue slunk around her mouth for the Rosalina’s seed. She took it out, examining its narrow shape, like that of an apple seed, marvelling at how Gifted farmers could grow so much of the wondrous fruit with just that, and yet being Gifted was so common that the whole valley was deemed fortunate. Still, her hand closed over the seed and brought it to her lips. Thank you, she kissed.
Her eyes flitted to a distant part of the field, where her assigned head slid quickly through the stalks.
“He’s coming!” she called down.
Gazing back at the field, Edna frowned. Why is he stopping? She wondered. Suddenly, the head dropped and a mass of white and red spots surged up to cover him, moving quickly towards the farmhouse. Edna’s eyes widened and she immediately hooked her head down to yell once more.
The force of the hook knocked her off-balance and she flipped forwards with a scream. Instantly, hands caught her in their arms and put her down in one smooth motion.
“You stay with your mother! I’ll get Jeff-”
“Jeff, he’s already…” Edna’s mouth stopped working. What was she reporting?
Her father met her eyes squarely.
“I’ll get Jeff,” he repeated, squeezing her shoulder.
She bit her lower lip and nodded emphatically. Her mom ushered her in the house and locked the door, her uncle and aunt already at work shuttering the windows and spreading strong herbs around possible openings.
“Go hide in the cellar!” Her mom ordered, agitatedly tugging a strand of her own pink hair behind her ear. “We’ll finish sealing off the house and then join you. Your uncle’s already called the Superiors.”
“But I want to help!”
A swift slap swung her head to the side.
“GO!” Her mother growled.
Edna obeyed. The cellar yawned like a cavernous mouth that quickly swallowed her as she closed the door. Splaying her hand against the wall, a faint pink glow lit a crystal inlay that she removed and held out in front of her as it brightened her way down the stone stairs. The silence throbbed in her brain.
Fortune Raiders, her thoughts echoed. White masks painted with a black tetra star slashed in blood. White, black, blood. Suddenly, three white faces appeared, flinching in the light.
“Relax, it’s me,” Edna exhaled with relief. Her little cousins immediately clung to her clothes. She led them further into the cellar, past the rows of barrels and flour sacks to a metal door she unlocked with a splayed hand and firmly slid shut.
“Thank you, Edna.”
“It’s your fault we lost our crystal!”
“Shush!” Edna reminded. “I know this is a special bunker, but keep it down. Who knows what’ll happen?”
The bunker door slid open and Edna screamed.
“It’s me, Aunt Fiona.”
Edna relaxed as she recognized the familiar plump face and small mouth in the pink light. Her children immediately glued themselves to her skirt. “Don’t worry, it’s all over,” she shushed. “You can come out now.”
Edna followed, floating up the stairs and out the front door. That quickly? She thought. And then it stared at her. Her father, kneeling with her back to her, her mother’s shaking shoulders, a bag that two Superiors agents were lifting into the air.
Ah, Edna thought, numb. Jeff never got back up.
Her eyes flitted to the left of the scene where several men and women were also kneeling, hands behind their backs. One of their shirts was smeared with blood. She gravitated towards it, a mass of rolling thunder building in her chest.
“I hope you die in Fossil Desert for this!”
Edna blinked. That wasn’t her voice. She turned around to see another Superiors agent, a boy with silvery blond hair and crystal blue eyes. A Cursed born, she realized with wonder. A Sprite holder just like them.
“I hope you get eaten by Tsukiyomi!” He continued screaming, thrashing in the arms of an adult agent who held him back. His eyes glistened with tears as his thrashing intensified and his knees began to collapse from under him, giving in to grief.
The roiling thunder in her own chest subsided. Turning from the bloody man, she walked towards the boy and gently placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you,” she said. “You’re the tenth blessing I’ve counted today.”
Once the last black uniform left the farm, she allowed it to rain down her cheeks, thunder in her chest, high-speed winds wailing out of her throat until only a few shudders of the storm remained. Her heart stilled, but Edna knew it would beat again.

Monday 1 September 2014

Narcissus Loved Again

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2014

     ‘Ah! Wretched me! I now begin too late
     To find out the whole long perplexed deceit;
     It is myself I love, myself I see;
     The gay delusion is a part of me.’ Ovid, The Story of Narcissus, Book Three, The Metamorphoses.

Narcissus suddenly sprang awake with the most agonising headache he had ever had, verily a migraine to shame Zeus’ very thunder. He rolled from the bed onto the floor clutching his distraught head, and then curled up into the foetal position, moaning lornly, trying to squeeze the pain out. It was undoubtedly the worst headache he had ever, ever had.
     ‘Zeus above!’ he wailed in prayer ‘Banish this pain and a fatted calf shall be thine; ’pon my soul!’
     Zeus made no answer but Narcissus’ expectancy of relief clarified his mind somewhat. What might ease the ill would be for him to soak his head in warm water. He uncurled himself in order to find fire, water, and a basin.
     There was a knock on what had to be the front door.
     The migraine continued throbbing thunderously in his head, but Narcissus had now become aware of himself, of his renewed and reborn state. He stood up and felt himself all over. Whole, and reformed after he had melted like wax. And he was in a clean, gracious domicile.
     That throbbing was gradually mounting. Is this Hades or The Elysian Fields, he thought to himself. Is this unutterable pain the beginning of accursed and endless torment, or the residue of his last Earthly anguish, a counterpoint to the promised Bliss of Elysium?
     The knock came again.
     Would answering it seal his fate to damnation, endlessly wracked with pain? Would answering the call erase this agony? Narcissus squeezed his screaming, pain-ridden head. Is this Hades or The Elysian Fields? He was now immobilised in indecision, only able to hold his well-nigh unbearable pain.
     ‘Everything is fine, Narcissus,’ Came a Voice, Age and Sex indeterminate, from what had to be the front door. ‘Don’t worry, you’re in Paradise, The Elysian Fields; everyone is usually disoriented when they first get Here.’
     Thank the Gods, thought Narcissus. He brought his hands down to his sides and thought to himself. Well, it might be best to open the door. He went to find the entrance, rubbing his temples.
     He was eventually confronted by An Old Man at the entrance’s opened door, with long, grey Hair, a long, grey Goatee, a bright red Shirt, blue Leggings, and Barefoot. He was also the most Beautiful Man that Narcissus had ever seen, yea, the most Handsome Person he had ever seen, the fine Wrinkles about His Eyes accentuating His wide, Inviting Smile. It was a Mien, inconceivably, even more Handsome than his own, one that Narcissus could easily bend to kiss the Lips of, His Wrinkles placing Narcissus’ own in such a much more desirable light. His migraine had vanished completely at the sight of Him. He paused to collect himself.
     ‘Is this verily The Elysian Fields,’ he asked of The Old Man.
     ‘Indeed, Narcissus. But we call it Paradise around Here.’
     ‘How canst I know this is sooth?’
     ‘Do you remember dying?’
     ‘Yes; I wailed while I melted like wax.’
     ‘Well then, you’re whole now, housed in a very nice abode. Where else would account for that?’
     It was a good question and Narcissus had little trouble in accepting the truth of what The Old Man Said.
     ‘Who art Thou,’ he asked.
     ‘God. You undoubtedly know me as Zeus, but everyone around Here calls me God. Personally I prefer being called Maker.’
     Well, thought Narcissus, if The Elysian Fields, or rather Paradise, exists then there must be a Zeus, or God. And Narcissus’ rebirth clearly confirmed he was in Paradise.
     ‘How have I come to be here? My previous life was not especially pious.’
     ‘Ah, simple. My Son’s 2050th birthday is at the end of this week and Paradise is celebrating by granting access to Here for all long-dead pagan heroes. They’ve so far proven to be a hearty bunch. Odysseus especially.’
     Narcissus looked down at his sandals. Well, he couldn’t deny the evidence of his reborn senses: this verily is The Elysian Fields, Paradise rather, and this Beautiful Man must indeed be as He Claims. He looked up again.
     ‘Are all such as are here in Th . . . Paradise as Beautiful as Thou, Maker? Have I come into a Beauty to complement my own?’
     God Laughed, genuinely Flattered.
    ‘No,’ replied God, ‘at least not physically. But we’re all beautiful around Here.’
     ‘Well, thank You, Maker. Methinks I must perforce rest awhile, the better to accustom myself to this unlooked for wonder.’
     ‘Certainly, certainly, Narcissus. Just have a hot drink, a bit of a think, and you’ll be as right as rain in a day or two. Any questions, just call over to My Place. Anyone here will be able to show you the way.’
     ‘Thank You, Maker. I will mull some wine and consider this boon.’ God smiled again at him, almost taking Narcissus’ breath away with Its untrammelled depth of Loveliness, and then Left him alone. Narcissus shut the door and went to find if there was any wine in his new place, a stirring taking hold deep within his loins.
     ‘The most Beautiful Person I’ve ever seen,’ he said, beginning to investigate his allotment of Paradise.


Narcissus had never been a big drinker and so after his second mulled wine he had found enough courage to consider how best to win The Maker’s Love, the Love of a Beauty greater than his own. Well, he soon realised, considering that he was in Paradise the most straightforward path would probably prove the one most likely to succeed. Doubtlessly romantic subterfuge would be frowned on in this Place, and also undoubtedly easily detected. Maybe simply asking The Maker out for a walk would be the most effective? The Gardens Here must be splendid and it would be a good way to better know his new Home. And, after all, didn’t The Maker Himself say, ‘Any questions, just call over to My Place’? The increased pressure in Narcissus’ loins decided him: he would walk over to His place soon and invite Him out for a walk.
     ‘But first, one last, small wine,’ he said to himself.


‘Hello again, Narcissus!’ exclaimed God upon answering Narcissus’ knock. ‘I hope there’s nothing amiss?’
     ‘No, Maker, thank You. I was hoping we could walk awhile together, perhaps visit some of the Gardens Here in Paradise.’
     ‘Certainly, Narcissus, certainly. We do indeed have some fantastic Gardens Here. Just let Me Get a Coat.’ He re-joined Narcissus quickly, having Donned a dark, suede Coat.
     God began the walk by taking Narcissus along the River behind His Place, sure that he would be once again be fascinated with his image in the Water. Narcissus though had eyes only for God when they stooped at the River’s edge to drink of the crystal clear Water. Narcissus was once again fascinated by the fact that The Maker’s Wrinkles about His Eyes accentuated His Lips.
     They continued their walk, God Talking proudly of His Son and filling Narcissus in on the Fortunes Christ had Won. Narcissus was suitably impressed with His Resurrection, but for some reason could not credit that He was the first to be Resurrected. Narcissus instinctively felt that someone else must have paved the way for Christ, someone who had loved deeply all of their lives. Only love, deeply felt throughout a lifetime, secretly thought Narcissus, not the violence of crucifixion, could annul death. But by the same token it was love that had slain Narcissus so maybe then violence was the only way to resurrection?
     ‘Does Your Son Live Here close to Thee, Maker?’
     ‘Yes, though sometimes I Wish He Wasn’t indeed so close. But that’s usually on My bad days.’
     They had by now arrived at what looked to be a large Park with an Avenue of Oaks, Canopies interlocked, leading to a large Crystal Fountain. There were Seats around the Fountain, along the Avenue, and the surrounding Grass seemed to shine, bouncing back the laughter of several picnicking and playing families. The Crystal Fountain seemed to be especially excited.
     ‘Beautiful, isn’t it,’ remarked God.
     ‘Yes, Maker. But not as Beautiful as Thou.’ Narcissus then took God’s right Hand in his left. God looked at him, still Smiling as a result of Listening to the Fountain.
     God then gave a slight pressure to Narcissus’ hand and soon let it gently fall away from His Grasp.
     ‘I’m sorry,’ said God. ‘I respect all forms of true love but My Ethics prevent me from Loving anyone in particular. Rather I must Love everyone in general. Fear not, Narcissus, love abounds Here in Paradise, there is no need to seek the Highest of such. And even if I could Return your yearning it would soon curdle, removing anything higher to strive for. I’m sorry.’
     Narcissus looked down at his sandals.
     ‘Must I then return to the love of mine own image, Maker?’
     ‘All true love is permitted Here, Narcissus. If your own image is thine one true love, without causing thee debasement, then none Here will mock thee for feeling such.’
     Narcissus expectantly looked up. ‘I am no longer young, Maker. This visage of mine is faded and wrinkled. How can I love that which has turned bitter, that which was once the only meaning of my life?’
     God Thought to Himself for a moment, and then Reached a Conclusion. He Turned to Face Narcissus.
     ‘Close thine eyes,’ He said. Narcissus promptly obeyed, and felt two Fingertips Stroke each of each of his closed eyelids.
     ‘Now open them and once more gaze upon thine fine features. Come.’ God led him to the Fountain where Narcissus once more gazed upon his restored beauty in Its Waters.
     He was once more in love.
     ‘Thank You, Maker,’ he humbly said. ‘Thus am I content for the rest of time.’
     They both then returned from whence they had come, God inviting Narcissus in for a light meal.
     ‘No, thank You, Maker. I must learn to rediscover my beauty in its fullness.’
     ‘It will last thee abundantly.’
     They parted at God’s Front Gate, and God Watched him leave with a Smile, Glad that the bitter pangs of love had again been annealed Here in Paradise.
     ‘Bless you, my son,’ He said, just before losing sight of him. ‘Bless you.’


If you've been enjoying Denis' stories here you may also enjoy his debut novel, This Mirror in Me. It tells the story of Tonia Esqurit Ailbe, a mathematics professor, and her unusual manner of making her home a social hub, her life's fundamental aim: sitting at her dressing table mirror and imagining socialising with friends and family. It seems the only way, for one reason or another, that she can achieve her deepest aim. It is available on Kindle at for US $4.14, and via Smashwords, whom cover most of the other ereaders, at for US $3.99. If you don't have a Kindle or other ereader you can download one for free onto your smartphone or tablet.