Utter darkness and soft, pressing silence surrounds me. I feel myself drawn back along the force-lines of my vision, and the dream begins. I feel my spine begin to arch backward, almost as if my head wants to touch my tail. Suddenly, awful chittering sounds! Squeals, whistles, and chirps fill my mind, and all around me is black, shiny and chitinous. I feel my own scorpion’s tail, rising up from my backside as I am locked in mortal combat. It is my power, yet I am about to be defeated. I arc my tail and plunge my venomous stinger into my own head. An acrid smell fills my senses and the burning, numbing sensation spreads over me. Again, there is darkness.
Still in utter darkness and total silence; still my spine is arching, almost in a complete circle. I am encased in a shell; floating I-know-not-where. I feel myself move unbidden in a writhing, undulating sort of dance. Blazing light dazzles me. As that light becomes brighter, it effervesces into sparkling bubbles and dances with me. The light forms into spirals, then double helixes, and at last into woven strands, dancing on – dancing on. The arc of my spine is now released as I feel myself continue to dance. First caterpillar, then chrysalis, into butterfly. As my wings begin to move, I feel the muscles along my spine begin to strengthen and flex. I fly! As I pass over the brilliant waters, I look down and see my reflection. My form this time has taken that of a great, feathered man. Wings, feathers, talons; all strong and perfect as a golden eagle. Yet, I have hands and feet, a mouth with which to speak, and the exquisite face of an angel. From a place of pure Knowledge, I scry that my this-time-name is Golden Skyhook, and I am born again in a place called “Aerie.”
Aerie, like its name, lies above the clouds of this current world, and no one living has ever seen the solid, flat ground that surely must lay below. Misty, slender cones of pure crystal rise from far away, and soar up beyond even my eagle’s eye field of vision. It is a world of spires, topped with earthy platforms and fields, as though mammoth anthills had raised from the planet’s core in eldritch days, bringing whatever life there was with them. In this present time, the masses are connected by stairways, lacy rope bridges, and ropes for swinging from one peak or platform to another. While many of us prefer to hover or swoop in perpetual flight, there are others who love to run and play, running eternal footraces, taunting double dares and playing endless games of hypertag.
An entirely different species of creature also roams this new world of mine. They are called Deathbirds and they feed on the energy of other living beings; predatory, yet parasitic. Our Skyhook leaders, The Watchers, hunt, trap and kill them whenever possible. They do their hideous feeding through a hollow bone they carry; a relic; a souvenir of their ritualistic first kill; the central wingbone from a brother or sister Skyhook. They coldly and brutally suck away the life force of Skyhooks, draining every last drop, if possible.
I remember being a fledgling in the nest, feeling safe and warm. Suddenly, with shrieks and whistles, a hollow bone tube protruded into my nest, pushed hard up against my breastbone, and directly into my heart. Instantly, I felt drained, soiled, and icy cold. A foul, rank smelling, sticky fluid stained my clothing, hardening to a sickening crusty mess. After a timeless time had passed, I felt healthy again yet the memory never totally left me. Sometimes, while young Skyhooks-in-training scampered about in their innocent, erotic loveplay, the Deathbirds would catch them unawares and drain them gray before our Watchers could come and rescue them. I saw one as a young Skyhook, and I was sickened by the shriveled, gray, lifeless-seeming thing that my young friend had become. Our physicians did their best, and some slight healing did occur; my friend returned to life again, but his color was never the same. There was always a touch of gray to the feathers, a faint, haunted look in the eyes, and a fatalistic slump to the shoulders. The damage had been done. The scars appeared permanent. I counted myself lucky that I still had some colors in my own plumage, muted though it was. These days, I spend my time flying, hunting sweet fruits and grasses to eat, and drifting along the sweet smells that waft through the air; aromas of sun-roasted grains, salty-sweet oceans, and misty moist clouds.
One day, as I settled on a beautiful meadow atop one of our tallest spires, I saw someone marching into view. They were laughing, bumping into one another, tripping over their own tails and falling on their bottoms! I roared with laughter to see such a sight, and they approached me.
“We are the Wandering, Wounded Saints!” cried the first of them.
“We swim in rivers of great power, and bring healing laughter to this world” said the second Saint.
“We have absolutely NO clue what we are doing!” spake the third.
They suddenly burst into song and dance, and their words and antics would fill a hundred books and never once make a lick of sense, for their wounds were not of the visible sort. Mad monks, indeed! Their dance continued, growing more and more frantic; wild, manic, ablaze with holy fire. I felt myself begin to writhe like a snake, and dance uncontrollably. Then, without warning, the First Saint handed me … a hollow bone!
“Get that evil thing away from me!” I screamed.
In my mind, I began to hear shrill squealing shrieks, screeches, and whistles. I was paralyzed, gripped with soul-chilling tremors of terror. I remembered the icy touch of that bone all too well!
“Take it.” said the First Saint, “Take it if you dare, for it is far more powerful than you can imagine.”
“But, is it eeeeeeevillllllllll?” cried the Second Saint.
“Or perhaps it is truly nothing at all?” muttered the Third Saint. (Clearly, this fellow was the most deeply scarred of the three.)
“Just remember one thing, youngling. If you ever dare put this bone to your lips, you will call forth great power – awesome, godlike power beyond your wildest fever dreams.”
I stared at that old bleached bone, and for reasons beyond reason, I trusted these Holy, Fortunate Fools. I reached out and grasped the bone, making it mine. I knew in my heart of hearts that if I chose wrong in this moment, I would find myself twisting horribly, shapeshifting, and transforming into a vicious, feral Deathbird. As I beheld that possibility, my nose was assailed by the rancid stench of corruption, a faded echo of the horrors I survived as a nestling. Surely, I would never commit the evil act of draining another’s precious life energy! Not me! I’m a truly gentle soul, am I not? I began to shiver so hard that my feathers rustled like old leaves in the wind, and my wings flexed and stretched wide; ready to fly worlds upon worlds away from this monstrous thought. I resolved then and there that I would NEVER put this hideous bone, this instrument of walking death, to my lips. I’d starve first!
Suddenly, with a screech and a whistle, and the rustling flap of huge wings, I was shocked to see The Seven Watchers as they swooped down upon me and encircled me, surrounding me completely and instantly quelling any thoughts of escape.
“What’s that you’ve got there, youngling?” said the Chief Watcher.
“Don’t you know that possession of hollow bone is illegal?” said his Deputy Watcher.
“Haven’t we always taught you that this is how innocent young Skyhooks become Deathbirds?” shouted the Priest-Watcher.
“I meant no harm!” I shouted (sickeningly, there was a faint squeal just barely at the threshold of my hearing.) “The Saints gave it to me!”
“There is absolutely no excuse for your crime! You now must be caged for your crime, locked away with all those other Deathbirds you seem to admire so much.”
I pled my case with them, but to no avail; they were total in their belief of my criminality. My heart plummeted and I was filled with morbid dread. Quicker than I could think, the bone was snatched from my grasp by the Jailer-Watcher. I was dragged off to the Great Ivory Cage, high atop the peak of the largest of our crystal spires, and thrown harshly into its deepest dungeons. No thought was given to my comfort or safety. As I heard the deadbolt “snick” closed behind me, I looked around and saw that every single creature in the cage was a Deathbird! They looked to be the most vicious ones of a race already known for its heartlessness and violence. I figured myself for one dead Skyhook! I pressed my back against the bars, and attempted to find a safe spot within The Cage. I wanted to shrink, to become invisible, to fly from my body and go someplace far away, a place where no Deathbird could get at me, the better to satiate his filthy appetite, his lust for sweet life-force energy.
From the very furthest corner of The Cage, I began to hear a throbbing, pulsing sound. The pulse seemed to wash past my terror, into my body, and I felt myself begin the dance anew that the Mad Saints had taught me. I rushed toward the sound, and there stood The Timekeeper. He was like no other creature in this world or any other. His body was huge and round, and the skin stretched hollow over his chest. He bore a wise and kindly smile, eyes crinkling with merriment as though over a very private joke; a joke only he was in on. The pulsing was coming from his heart! I closed my eyes, let myself go, and abandoned myself to the dance, not feeling quite so alone any more. I drifted, lost in the dance, dreaming the music of the spheres and adding my own achingly sweet, burning, passionate song. All fears were forgotten.
When my eyes opened again, I was still there in The Ivory Cage, and I saw that I was completely surrounded by Deathbirds, coming closer and closer, tightening their circle into a single, reeking, leering, hideous embrace. I was shocked to see that they were each gripping a hollow bone! How could this be? My own had been taken from me, yet they were somehow allowed to keep theirs! I was overcome with rage and grief as blistering hot tears squeezed from my eyes and sizzled their way down my cheeks. I was weeping for, yes, the loss of my life, but even moreso weeping because the dancing had ended. Oh, if only I could just go back and STAY in that timeless moment, dancing, singing, boogying to the Only Song There Is.
And now, as I feel the first icy, burning touch of those horrible bones on my chest, and the shrill, atonal screaming of the slavering, soulless creatures, I feel something pressed into my hand. It is my own hollow bone! How could this have gotten here? I look at the Timekeeper; he just winks and smiles his secrets-of-the-ages smile and keeps pulsing, pulsing, pulsing. I am sorely torn. I had sworn never to use this power, and yet my situation is desperate. I have no more than a split second to choose between breaking my oath and a worse-than-death, eternal existence as a grey wraith. If I do not take action immediately, my life will be over and the Deathbirds will be stronger than ever. They will go on to hurt more and more Skyhooks through the ages. With great trepidation, I raise the bone to my lips, wondering if I will have the skill, the ruthlessness, the sheer evil in me to actually use this awful talisman.
Then, without really knowing why, I press the end of the hollow bone to my face, purse my lips in a tiny “O” and begin to blow. I blow across the edge of that bone as though it were an old empty wine bottle, massaging the sound so it nestles perfectly and intimately in the embrace of that pulsing, the pulsing that flows from The Timekeeper. Suddenly, the hollow tube is alive in my hands, no longer bone now, but transformed into pure, unalloyed gold. The notes that trill from it are like liquid diamonds, sweet as the contented sighs of angels, dripping with every pain, every pleasure, every fear and every victory that I ever have experienced in my short life, and in the myriad, endless past lives I’ve lived before. Still I blow, and I feel those other sharp, probing, icy bones draw away. My own energy surges within and I am more alive than ever before. I can feel the warm currents and cool eddies of sound, rivers of molten rainbow-colored love. I “twannnngg” like an open string, resonating with the sound the Universe makes only in the moment I accept it as perfect, without question or doubt.
The Deathbirds are spinning like Dervishes, feathers flying everywhere, dancing, flailing their limbs in wild, total abandon. All thoughts of malice or raging hungers are now swept away on the sound. All present are wrapped in clouds of music, climbing the steps of rhythm, morphing, shifting, dissolving, and finally bursting into prismatic flames. The purifying blaze sears away all illusion, fulfills every hunger, and those who were once ruled by their gut hunger now emerge as Angelbirds, the beings they truly always were behind their death masks, the Divine creatures they were born to be. And still they dance. They dance the dance of peace. They dance the dance of pleasure. They dance the dance of sweet release, and they dance the dance of the Blessed Innocent.
I look again and there are many, many more players and dancers, each one adding a harmony at once unique, yet in perfect tune, in lockstep with the grace of the Lord of the Dance. Still I play, feeling the sounds rise and shimmer, tasting the notes as they pass from the throat of my beautiful, precious, golden flute. I look out over the field, and I see every one of my lost, dear loved ones from time immemorial; dancing, dancing, dancing. I see my once-evil twin now, the Deathbird I almost became, smiling in the throes of juicy, exquisite, ecstatic sound and movement, and there! And there! And THERE I see my lost sisters, returned to me once and for all. All my ancestors, my mates, my nestlings, and my eggs float and shimmer in the waves of sound and time. All rise. All dance. All sing. All play. All LOVE! All becoming dancing strands, sparkling 24-stranded helixes, the never-before-dreamed-of, TRUE code of life itself, the first vibration of eternity, written in the lines on my face, the lines that connect me to all infinity, pure energy itself and …
Utter darkness and soft, pressing silence surrounds me. I feel myself drawn back along the force-lines of my vision, and the dream begins anew.
By Patrick Dieter