On Stephen King and Storm Drains

I have a weird history with Stephen King and his fiction.

Admittedly, I probably haven’t read his best books. The first Stephen King book I read was one that was given to me by a friend who assured me I would love it. I did not. It was called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and I was surprised both by how boring it was and particularly by how not-scary it was. I mean, I had heard my whole life that Stephen King was a master of horror whose books were chilling and disturbing, and honestly the book was kind of meandering and had a creepy atmosphere, but in general it was pretty underwhelming.

I thought that Stephen King deserved another chance, however, and at the time I was working my first job and had absolutely no bills to pay, and I was nineteen, so of course I had no compunction spending way too much money on a super special deluxe edition of what was at the time his newest work: Under the Dome. It was a good concept, a story about a small town that’s trapped under an invisible dome that cannot be moved by any means, and how quickly society breaks down. Apparently the original title was an unfinished story called The Cannibals, and honestly that sounds much more interesting than what the book turned out to be.

I spent something like fifty dollars on a special edition of the book that came with some cards that had illustrations on them, really high quality paper and binding, and a weird cover that had the title in a flimsy ribbon rather than actually printing it on the book. Except for that ribbon thing, I was pretty impressed by the design of the book itself, and I was thirsty to read what waited within.

Under the Dome was about a thousand pages of wandering, meandering storytelling, introducing dozens of characters only to kill them off a few chapters later. I also wasn’t crazy about all the massive buildup to the incredibly underwhelming ending (SPOILER): oh right it was aliens all along. Not much explanation beyond that. Also the dome disappears and sends tons of polluted air that is killing everyone inside flying off to the rest of the state, and surely that’s going to have some bad effects but it isn’t really addressed. And there’s no epilogue at all, you get all that buildup just for the dome to disappear and the book to end on the next page.

At any rate, it was while reading this book that I began to notice the things about Stephen King’s writing that I really don’t like: everyone, be they man, woman, or child, all kind of have this jaded outlook on life and speak like truckers. I don’t mean profanity, because I don’t mind profanity. There’s just something weirdly scatological about the way everyone speaks. Everything comes down to metaphors about farts and shit and piss, or weird sayings that might sound natural coming out of a grizzled truck-driver at a 2AM pit-stop but just sound bewildering coming out of the mouth of a nine-year-old. And everyone is secretly some kind of monster. Everyone is secretly a murderer or a pedophile or a rapist, there doesn’t seem to be anyone immune from this.

Now, I get why that’s interesting in and of itself. Everyone does have the capacity to do horrible things under the right circumstances. But the character in King’s books are automatically portrayed as hiding a dark secret. The other thing that really stuck out to me was the catch phrases. I don’t remember if Under the Dome had many, but right about this time I was dating a guy who loved horror movies, who decided we were going to watch every horror movie ever adapted from Stephen King’s work. I have to say that a lot of them were great: there’s no denying Stephen King comes up with brilliant ideas. The Mist was a particular favorite, and I both loved and hated the bittersweet ending.

Carrie was a great movie, and as the weeks went on, my boyfriend and I worked our way through both versions of the Shining, through the two-part miniseries of It, Rose Red, Pet Semetary, Dreamcatcher, Misery, 1408, Secret Window, Storm of the Century, The Stand, the second version of Carrie, and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten. I still missed some classics: we didn’t watch Firestarter, Children of the Corn, The Green Mile or the Shawshank Redemption. But it’s fair to say I got a pretty good taste of what Stephen King’s ficiton is like.

A lot of those films dealt with similar themes: childhood, everyone secretly being some kind of monster, loads of catchphrases and incredibly corny moments, and even though these were adaptations and not the books themselves, I knew from reading some of King’s work that these aspects were probably present in his books too. Another thing about Stephen King books is that I just find myself feeling really uncomfortable reading them. I get that when you have a horror novel, you want to feel unnerved, but I just kind of felt anxiety, like I was trapped in a windowless room and running out of oxygen. That isn’t fun for me. I love fantasy. So it may be that I’m just the kind of person who is automatically diametrically opposed to Stephen King’s work.

I gave him another shot and read through several shorts stories from Everything’s Eventual, none of which particularly caught my interest. I had heard a lot of good things about the Dark Tower, and since it was a fantasy series and I love fantasy, I thought maybe I’d finally found the right fit. I read the Gunslinger in one day, I think about five hours, and that’s the only book in my life I’ve ever read in one sitting. Unfortunately it wasn’t because I was so enraptured by it or anything, I just wanted to get to the end. I remember bits and pieces of it. I’ve always hated westerns, cowboys, and deserts, so obviously that whole aesthetic was wasted on me. I really hated Roland for the choice he makes at the end of the book. I won’t spoil what happens but he does something very shitty and is eaten up with guilt for doing it, and I think that as a reader I’m supposed to empathize with him and this incredibly difficult choice he had to make, but mostly I just felt like Roland was kind of a dick.

I still want to give some of his other books a try. I want to read Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and maybe a couple of others. His most recent collaboration Sleeping Beauties has a very interesting concept. I’ve heard people rave about his memoir, On Writing, and I’ve read the first chapter or so and thought it was alright. Funnily enough, the only thing in Stephen King’s books that I REALLY enjoyed reading were the forewards and afterwards. I loved hearing his perspective on being a writer, on being famous, and how humble he is. It seems to me that King himself is convinced that a lot of his fame has to do with the fact that his first few books were successful, so everyone automatically loves everything written afterward. I applaud him for being so honest and self-reflective. I do notice that he has a tendency to write, um, a LOT of books about writers who live in Maine being haunted by monsters, and obviously that’s no accident I’m sure. I don’t really like his short fiction but in fairness to him I probably didn’t choose his greatest works to sample.

When I discovered that It was being adapted as a film, I was happy to hear it and thought it would probably be good. I did watch the TV miniseries back during my ex-boyfriends Stephen King movie run, and I was surprised at how terribly it’s held up over time. It wasn’t scary at all, it was incredibly campy and silly and ridiculous. As a child, I was vaguely aware of the existence of It and I remember finding it to be a terrifying concept, so seeing it as an adult it was kind of funny how incredibly not-scary it was.

Honestly, I don’t think Stephen King is really classified properly as a horror writer. Like I said, I haven’t read his classics, but a lot of his work has a very optimistic feel to it, it’s about normal people overcoming incredible darkness. It is no different, it’s about a group of childhood friends who triumph with the power of their will and their bonds with one another. It comes out to the same love-wins-over-evil trope that is a trope for a reason, because it’s a good concept. It is a little exasperating when everything ends the same way, but it’s still a good enough way to write a story.

I actually didn’t remember that the original film adaptation of It was a miniseries, I thought it was a movie. And I actually didn’t remember anything at all about the second part when the kids fight It as an adult, so either I didn’t pay attention, didn’t watch it, or just didn’t care. I do remember getting very bored, though.

So at my job we sell a few books, and one of them was the first Dark Tower novel, so I grabbed it while I was bored and flipped through the first few pages, thinking maybe I’d give that series another try. Although full disclosure, I did spoil the ending for myself a long time ago, but that’s beside the point. Despite trying, I still found the first chapter of the Gunslinger very boring. Then I saw a magazine called the ultimate guide to Stephen King or something, and I actually read through pretty much the whole thing, and I found the details about the upcoming It film to be really interesting. So when the movie was finally released I thought about going to see it in theaters, which would be a big deal for me because I’m typically very nervous about horror movies and I certainly don’t go to see them in theaters.

Last weekend I did something even more out of the usual for me, I went to see It in theaters all by myself. I was very nervous at first and did spend a little time messaging friends for comfort so I didn’t feel so alone. I had expected the movie to be good and I’d heard all the rave reviews about it, and they were right.

The movie begins with rain, which is automatically going to get my attention because I love rain. Apparently the word for that is pluviophile. What I love even more than rain is the sound of rain mixed with piano, and the movie begins with just that, so I was automatically hooked. The opening scene is pretty familiar by this point: a little boy in a yellow raincoat named Georgie takes out a homemade sailbot and runs alongside it as it sails down the rainy streets, disappears into a storm drain, and there he meets It, calling itself Pennywise, and is enticed to reach his hand in. In the book, Pennywise bites off his arm and leaves him to bleed out. In the miniseries, Pennywise grabs him and pulls him down into the sewer. The film combines these two by having Pennywise bite of Georgie’s arms in a pretty terrifying display where his mouth pulls back to reveal several rows of teeth, and a very painful scene where the actor who plays Georgie squirms helplessly in the rain in front of the storm drain.

I was really blown away by the beautiful cinematography of this particular shot. It’s hard to find a good screenshot to show you because the film hasn’t been released on home video yet, but after Pennywise bites off Georgie’s arm, he struggles to crawl away from the storm drain, screaming in agony. The actor’s performance is heart-wrenching, it’s hard not to feel incredibly sad at this very sweet kid being so mercilessly murdered. But even more than that, I loved the framing of the shot just before Pennywise reaches out of the storm drain to drag Georgie down into the sewer. It’s shown from above, with Georgie in his yellow raincoat crawling away from the drain, and rain pouring down hard on the whole scene. As he crawls, the blood from his arm fills up the water around him and the water begins to turn red. It’s just a really beautiful shot. Then Georgie is pulled down the drain and the movie’s prologue is done and the movie proper begins.

I won’t really go into too many more details about the film, except that there is one scene in particular that I have to mention because of how incredibly effective it was in the theater. There’s a scene where all of the kids gather in the main character Bill’s garage and look at slides on a projector of various incidents throughout the history of their town, Derry, and figure out It’s involvement with them. The projector starts working on it’s own and begins showing slides of Bill’s family, with Georgie in the photos, and the slides get faster and faster until they become a silent film. It’s interesting to note that Bill and Georgie’s mother is never shown directly in the movie, she is seen from the side playing piano at the very beginning of the film and mentioned by Bill’s father (who is shown), but is never explicitly shown and has no lines.

In the photos shown on the slides, Bill’s mother’s face is obscured by her hair blowing in the wind, and as her hair parts her face is revealed to be a smiling Pennywise.

Then the lights go out and the music stops, and real life movie theater is completely dark for a moment.

Then Pennywise leaps out of the projector screen at the children.

This is a particularly brilliant effect because the audience watching this movie is watching it in a theater, and the shot is framed so that the projector screen in Bill’s garage looks just like the projector screen of the movie theater, and for a split second, even though your brain knows better, you do have the feeling that Pennywise has just jumped out of the REAL movie screen and is screaming at the audience. It shocked everyone in the theater and made me jump. I really don’t like jump scares in general and the movie was mercifully short on them, but I can forgive the movie for that one because it was so genuinely unexpected.

I mean, looking back on it, sure, it does seem like the scene is obviously setting up Pennywise leaping out of the screen at the kids, but I honestly didn’t expect it, and during the moment when Pennywise jumped out of the screen, I remember several thoughts racing through my mind: one was that I vaguely wondered if this movie were in 3D and I’d missed something, then realizing it wasn’t in 3D, then the thought that scene would lend itself very well to 3D, and then how smart it was of the director to frame that shot like a real movie theater to convey the illusion of Pennywise jumping out of the screen. It simply wouldn’t work at home on a TV or on a computer monitor.

The movie was altogether very interesting and mercifully had a moment of rest where I was able to run away and go to the bathroom (I always have to pee at least once during a movie, so I have a bit of anxiety about how much I’m drinking and the timing of when I’m going to go). The ending was pretty satisfying, it was nice to see Pennywise speaking with the kids and trying to bargain for his life. I wasn’t exactly shocked by the sudden reveal at the end when the title card of the film flashes across the screen and it says IT, followed by a newly added “Chapter One.” I already knew that the filmmakers were producing a second film, as the book is set in two different time periods that overlap one another, one in which the kids fight It as children and one when they come to defeat It as adults.

After this, I skimmed the prologue of the book itself, and then skimmed through some more interesting parts that I wanted to read. There is some interesting underlying mythology about what exactly It is, it’s relationship to the universe and the universe’s creator, a mention of a kind of godlike deity guiding the children to defeat It, and all of this is heavily connected to the Dark Tower series. I had read in the Wikipedia synopsis of the book that there is a moment when the narrative switches to It’s point of view, so I was glad to find that and read it. I also read the very ending, as well as the penultimate scene that luckily never made it into either film adaptation, in which Beverly has sex with all of the boys in the sewer in order to try and bring them together. Sex scenes like that, particularly involving innocent kids who are just on the cusp of adolescence, have a way of making me feel incredibly melancholy and this one was upsetting to read too, but I do think it was pretty effective, if a little strange. But there was an element of Beverly reclaiming her power after her father attempted to take it from her.

All in all I’m really glad I saw It, and I didn’t let my initial fear of seeing it in theaters scare me away from doing it. I may also finally give Stephen King another chance sometime, although honestly I tend to assimilate the writing style of whoever I’m reading, and I don’t want my own writing to end up seeming too much like Stephen King, so I might put it off for a rainy day.

I’ll just stay away from storm drains.

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Madeena

Madeena

A raised, circular dais sat in the center of a round open-air pavilion, surrounded by a mote of clear blue water in which water cascaded down from the ducts encircling the dais. Blue and yellow lilies floated along lazily, with little bridges connecting the central dais to the rest of the open room. A large domed ceiling, raised high by white concrete columns, showed paintings of colorful birds and butterflies flitting about in a blue sky. The sun shone in on this magnificent sight and illuminated the complete view of the entire city outside below, a waterfall running down out of the high acropolis and into the river that wound through the entirety of the city.

Philip led the way for the party to the central dais, where purple and blue fluffy couches lined the edges near the ducts, and in the center, a mosaic tiled painting of a woman surrounded by blue waters, white raiment winding round her legs, waist, chest and arms, and bright red hair billowing out behind her, her eyes closed and her arms spread in a look of serenity, the white fabric of her gown flowing out in every direction, as she seemed to sink into watery depths.

Seated with her back to the city below on a purple sofa was a woman who wore an exquisite blue silk gown, with a translucent blue wrap wound about her arms, and long chestnut hair billowing down her shoulders to her bosom, her bare feet resting on the mosaic tiles. Philip led the group across one of the small bridges onto the circular dais and gestured for them to sit. Lucas and Eric sat on one of the couches directly across from this yet unnamed woman, Imogen taking a seat next to Eric, and Bronwen and Hephaestian sat on another sofa near them. Philip politely seated himself on a sofa next to the woman.

She spoke. “It is good to have visitors here in our realm,” she said, “It has been many, many years since anyone crossed our borders.”

Lucas didn’t know what to say, and looked to Eric and Imogen, who also seemed unsure. Bronwen looked on silently with her arms folded, and Hephaestian leaned forward intently, his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in his hands.

“Allow me to welcome you in my official capacity to Madeena, city of the water” said the woman with a smile, “And allow me now to introduce myself as Illina, Grand Matriarch of this realm.”

“How is it,” asked Imogen timidly, “That this place could be hidden as it is?”

“My servant Philip no doubt explained to you that we are a Lufian people,” replied Illina, “We worship the goddess Lufia and practice the craft that was handed down to her people by the fairies themselves. I am told that you, Miss Imogen, are a witch?”

“This is true,” said Imogen with a gulp

Illina smiled, “That is good to hear.”

“I’m not used to that kind of reception, ma’am,” said Imogen.

“Of course you aren’t, my dear,” said Illina, “But we here in Madeena are all Lufian, to the last.”

“Do you mean to say that you’re all Lufian witches?” asked Imogen.

“No,” replied Illine, “But we are all worshippers of the goddess, and those of us who do not possess a share of her power and who cannot possibly become witches are acolytes. I myself am a witch, but Philip here, for instance, is an acolyte.”

Philip smiled at Imogen sheepishly.

“We all do our part to serve the goddess,” said Illina, “And we can do so freely here, as as you said, our realm is hidden from the outside world.”

“May I ask how?” asked Imogen.

“It is quite simply old magick,” said Illina.

Bronwen raised her eyebrows, but Illina didn’t notice it.

“Old magick?” asked Imogen.

“Yes. Tell me, are you familiar with the triad of Grimoires produced by the goddess’s first acolytes?”

“Yes,” said Imogen, “My mother taught me about them. The Grimoires of fire, earth and water, simply called the Green, Red and Blue Books.”

“That’s correct,” said Illina, “Your mother must have been a knowledgable servant of the goddess.”

“Yes,” said Imogen, “She was well-known amongst Lufians. She was called Phoebe the Wise.”

Illina looked startled, “Your mother… I did not know that Phoebe the Wise had ever had any children.”

“She adopted me,” explained Imogen, “She never had any children of her own.”

“Then let me say,” said Illina, bowing her head with reverance, “That is an honor to meet one so closely connected to a woman who is considered among our lot to have been a saint for our cause.”

“She disliked being referred to that way,” said Imogen, her voice quieting a bit.

“Of course, she would be humble,” said Illina, “But your mother, you know, was our champion during the first schism of the Angelist Church. She led many Lufians into hiding and away from persecution. In fact, she helped to create this very city.”

“She did?” asked Imogen in wonderment.

“Yes. As I mentioned, there were in those times three tomes valued highly above all others to Lufians. One of them, the Red Book as we called it, was seized by the Church and destroyed. The elders themselves hid the Green Book, and it’s location is still unknown. The Blue Book however, remained with a small group of witches, of whom your mother and I were a part.”

“She never mentioned anything like this city, or your name, that I can remember,” said Imogen.

“Philip tells me that have only just become a witch, correct?” asked Illina, “That you have been an apprentice for many years?”

“That’s true, yes ma’am,” replied Imogen, “I am seventeen now, and my initiation ceremony was to take place a few days ago, however my mother was…” she hestiated, “She was killed.”

Illina placed a hand over her chest and a look of sadness fell across her face, “I am truly sorry to hear that, child.”

Bronwen spoke, “An assassin in employ of the Church killed her in cold blood,” she said with an angry tone, “I intend to bring that assasin to justice personally.”

Illina looked shaken, and placed her hands on her lap. “That is one way of resolving the matter, however Lufians do not always advice retaliation in such a way. Violence always begets more violence.”

Bronwen said nothing.

“Please,” said Imogen, “Go on. We can talk about my mother later. I want to know the rest of the story.”

“Of course,” Illina nodded and took a deep breath, composing herself. “Your late mother and myself were part of a group of elite witches. Our power surpassed those of our peers, and, during the first great schism of the Angelists, the Lufian elders handed over authority of the Blue Book to us, imploring us to try and devise some solution.

“Nearly no one has ever seen the contents of any of these books, but what I can tell you from my own experience is that the runic and archaic language is difficult, if not impossible to understand. The books were written by the hands of fairies who attempted their best to write in language we might understand, but the structure of sentences and words do not make sense. Symbols and words are playfully scattered across the pages, little drawings surround the incantations, even bright little smudges litter the book where the fairies themselves kissed the pages. Their words are sometimes indiscernable, and only through meditation or an intense connection to the spiritual can one read their mysterious text.

“So it was that your mother, myself, and a few other witches sat down with the Blue Book, each of us scouring it’s pages to try and find answers. Spells for protection, spells for the endowment of powerful magick that would enable us to defend ourselves. We tried many things, but often we misused the magick in the book and hurt one another, or did nothing at all.

“It was Phoebe who at last woke me up in the middle of the night, along with the others, to say that she had devised a plan. A passage within the Blue Book spoke of an unseeable veil of protection that would sequester a region into an unknowable place, accessible only by those who knew how to work the magick of the spirit. We were in a hidden and remote village at that time, and together we tried the spell, attempting to hide our little shack from the outside world.”

Illina was quiet for a moment.

“What happened?” asked Eric suddenly.

Illina looked up at Eric, “We were successful. The doorway to our humble makeshift home was quite literally a passageway that could lead us back to the physical world. There was nothing, however, outside of our small house. We looked out the windows and saw only an endless mist. So we were able to undo the spell, and the house came back into physical existance.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” said Imogen, “Did the house stop existing physically?”

“No, it simply didn’t exist in the material and seeable world anymore,” replied Illina. “As you can see by looking around, the water, the stone, the fabrics, these are all very real. But the world in which we now reside is seperate, a spiritual place that was created specifically for the purpose of housing this city.

“But I get ahead of myself. After the success of our first spell, we sought the elders immediately and informed them. Phoebe proposed that we find a city large enough to enough all of the Lufians and sequester that city into the unknowable realm we’d brought our little house into. It was a brilliant plan, but unfortunately we were running out of time. The inquisitors from the Church had already begun to march into our lands, and Lufians were dying.

“In the span of a week, our acolytes and many witches themselves gathered the Lufians from around the countryside and brought them to a small city built on a river. It was one of the ruined city of Old Times, and many were the weary Lufian witch or acolyte who sought refuge there. It seemed a perfect fit for our needs, and so, Phoebe and myself, the others of our select group, the elders, and the many witches who had come from around the countryside gathered together, and in unison we performed the spell.

“The results, well… they stand before you.” Illina smiled. “We were successfully hidden from the outside world, here in this realm.”

“But you said that it was an unknowable place shrouded in mist,” said Imogen.

“It happened that when we first looked out our windows in that small house where first we performed the spell, all we could see was mist, and indeed if you look out behind me at the city, you will see that beyond the trees surrounding Madeena, there is a rolling mist permeating the air. But we were able to bring the land, the trees, the river itself, all of it, here into this realm. We don’t even know now what exactly this place is. We still receive the light of the sun, however, and at night the moon climbs into the sky as it does outside. We call this place a spiritual realm, but it is entirely possible we opened a portal that relocated this city from one area of the world to another.

“Where once this city had stood there was nothing, a chasm in the earth that became a grand lake. After the spell was successfully cast, we were able to return to the outside world as we needed, and were careful not to leave traces of ourselves or to reveal the way in. There are several entrances to the hidden city of Madeena from outside, but only a witch may enter, or one in possession of an enchanted item that a witch has blessed.

“We attempted, the elders, many other witches and myself, to gather Lufians from farther away, but our efforts cost the lives of many elders and witches. Phoebe herself accompanied me on many pilgrimages to the other lands on this continent, but we were successful in saving only a few lives, while many witches were captured by the Chuch and executed for heresy against their Angel.

“Upon a regrouping of all the Lufians we could gather, it was decided that our best option was to cut our losses and live here in this city, simply allowing time to pass. Many of us were uncomfortable with the idea of hiding out here while others lost their lives, and indeed many witches chose to abandon the city, taking their chances in the outside world, hoping to guide as many of the faithful to safety as they could. Some returned, others were never heard from again.

“All the while, the rebuilding effort continued. We gathered materials from the outside world as needed, and built the little paradise you see before you, filling it to the brim with art and literature that paid homage to the goddess Lufia, and we gathered here in this high temple many times for worship in those days. We were grateful to have found safety.”

There was a long silence, in which everyone seemed to collectively contemplate quietly.

“There has to be more to the story, though,” said Hephaestian, “Because Imogen’s mother left the city, and you said the three Grimoires are lost.”

“You’re correct,” Illina nodded in Hephaestian’s direction. “It was Phoebe who caused the trouble, though I don’t blame her at all for it. She was fervent in her belief that hiding here, abandoning the other Lufians to die, was an arrogant act. She had wanted for a long time to go back to the outside world. I had been able to convince her to stay, assuring her that her guidance and her power were put to the best use here in the city, but there came a time when even I could not assuage her anymore.

“Phoebe herself was the one who took the Blue Book and fled. She said that if one sanctuary could be created for the witches, so could another, and it was I alone who saw her that night, saw the Blue Book in her hands, which she had taken from the temple by some clever means that I didn’t know and didn’t care to ask about. I begged her to stay, but she was unassailable. It was her ardent wish that Lufians everywhere find safety, and not just a select few.

“I suppose I might have stopped her by force, had I a mind to do it, but the truth was I agreed with her. It was I who was too cowardly to brave the Angelist forces again, I who could have saved more lives, but I didn’t want to leave. Phoebe’s theft of the book was soon discovered without my having to say a thing, the elders were able to divine it on their own. She was branded by the elders as a traitor, though her abscondence from the city was the impetus for many other witches to go back out into the world. It was because of her benevolent wish to save others that the many Lufians who followed her example were able to save countless lives from across the continent.

“The elders, however, were displeased, as the Green Book could not be recovered without incredible risk, and they refused to send any emissary to retrieve the book for them.”

“It sounds like the elders were cowards,” said Bronwen flatly.

“Bronwen!” replied Imogen in a horrified voice.

Illina smiled softy, “No, she’s right. They were indeed cowardly in that regard. I thought so at the time myself, but as a much older woman now, I’m able to see why they chose not to leave. They wanted to ensure the safety and well-being of the Lufians who had survived the schism, and to educate a new generation who could carry on our philosophies and traditions, who would uphold the ideals the goddess handed down. This was their main focus, and they could do it without the use of one of the three Grimoires. It is believed that the Blue Book was seized by the church sometime later, though obviously not from Phoebe herself. As for the Green Book, well, it’s location remains a mystery.”

Imogen shifted in her seat and leaned closer to her satchel.

“So it has come to be that Madeena flourishes even while the outside world crumbles,” said Illina, “And were we able to combat the Angelists ourselves, we gladly would, but it is not in our power to battle armies of soldiers with magick. The goddess did not give us these gifts to make war or bring death. I believe, however, there will come a time when the Angelist Church falls from favor, and equality is once again the way of the land. Eden has flourished in times when free expression was accepted by all, and even Lufians do not demand that others believe in our ways or uphold our laws. Our reverence for nature is unflinching, and that includes reverence for the lives of humans who might do us harm. So it is that we wait, here in our little paradise, for a time when the world returns to a state of peace.”

“I don’t know if that will happen,” said Lucas, disheartened. “The world is in far more danger than I’ve ever known it to be. The Angelist Church has gained the might of the Alexandrian army, and the plains of the free people are being warred over by neighboring kingdoms. It seems that a new schism is coming, and not just for those who are Lufian, but any who refuse to submit to the law of the Church.”

“As it must be,” said Illina calmly, “For this is always the way with religions. Our worship of the goddess is voluntary, and can be interpreted in many different ways. Though we refer to Lufia herself as a real deity who once existed, there are many among our number who believe her simply to be an emblem of reverence toward nature and life. The powers that we possess, though we say are given by Lufia herself, may yet someday find an explenation through science. It doesn’t really matter, ultimately. We are a belief system with so many facets and different practices that we can come together in peace even among our differences, because our goals are the same: acceptance, love toward others, and the defense of the natural world. We desire to live in harmony with nature. As our city is one with the great river, so too are we one with nature.

“But of course this is not the way with the Angelists. They belief that their faith in their deity grants salvation, and even then only to a select few. They care not for this world or it’s wonders, but for an Otherworld. They refuse to see Eden for the extraordinary beauty that it is, and look heavenward, in the hopes that an Angel will descend, to deliver them from man made poverty and man made hardship. They attack because they are insecure in their belief. They force others to commit themselves to the service of their Angel because they do not truly believe they serve an angel; they simply seek to avoid their fear of death by believing that this world is of no consequence, and they desecrate it accordingly.

“Eventually, though, nature will win. It always does.”

Again, there was a long silence.

“On the topic of nature,” said Philip, finally speaking, “Perhaps we should inform them of our predicament.”

“Yes,” said Illina with a crestfallen look downward, “It seems the best time.”

“Predicament?” asked Lucas.

“Yes,” Illina took another deep breath. “Our utopia has gone undisturbed for nearly fifty years now, but a situation beyond our control has arisen. Sickness has long been something Lufians are known to have a swift command over, as we have been able to cure almost all known diseases through magick or spiritual intervention. However, the people of the city are becoming ill at an alarming rate, and nothing we have thus tried has helped them. We are running out of options. We cannot seek the assistance of scientific medicine without exposing ourselves to the outside world, or worse, bringing into this realm those who might defile or harm us. And yet, we seem unable to combat the disease.”

“What manner of disease is this?” asked Imogen.

“The symptoms are sometimes incongruous with one another from case to case, but all who suffer from the Illness, as we simply call it, experience weakness in their bodies, many experience coughing fits or an inability to keep down food, while others have begun to bleed from their orifices, and others still simply show few physical symptoms but are mentally overtaken, and become unable to speak or rationally process information. A symptom among witches is that their magickal ability weakens or disappears altogether for periods of time. Many have already died. We are entirely at a loss as to what this sickness could be, and have found no way of treating it through medicine or magick.”

“Perhaps something has infected the water,” offered Hephaestian, “If a virus developed, that would be the most effective way for it to be transmitted among all the people here.”

“It’s possible,” said Illina, “But we believe something more sinister is at work. Since magick is entirely unable to undo this disease, or indeed even to fight the symptoms, which it can do in other cases, we have come to believe it is a curse. If magick is unable to heal it, it must be something designed to prevent healing magick from alleviating the symptoms. It must be a curse of some kind, something of a magicakl nature.”

“What can we do?” asked Lucas, “Philip told us that we might be able to help you.”

“I don’t know if you can, but I’d like to try,” said Illina, “You, child, are special, are you not?”

Lucas was silent, and Hephaestian cast a protective glance his way. “Yes, I suppose it does no harm to tell you. I can… I can control fire.”

“Can you conjure it?” asked Illina.

“No, I’ve never done anything like that, or even really thought of doing it.”

“Mother was unable to ascertain what sort of power he has,” Imogen said, “It seems magickal, but he’s never been instructed in the ways of magick whatsoever. Even someone who shows a natural proclivity toward magick must be taught to hone it, but he can bend and shape and move fire any way he desires, and do so effortlessly.”

“Conjuring or controlling fire, or any other element,” said Illina, “Is something that perhaps a powerful may be capable of, for a short time. But to do so with little exertion is a talent indeed. Philip told me of your power. I believe it is possible that your spiritual energy is of a kind not ordinarily seen among humans, indeed I sense something vastly powerful within you. I would like to try, if I may, and harness this energy, however small an amount I may be permitted to extract from you, and see if it can’t be reapplied to solve our rather vexing situation here.”

“Would that put Lucas in danger?” asked Hephaestian.

“Decidedly not,” replied Illina, “I would perform the procedure myself, with the intent of simply borrowing some of his infinitely self-replenashable energy and attempting to use it to treat the symptoms of one afflicted with the disease.”

“So we may have already come in contact with the disease ourselves,” said Bronwen.

“Indeed, it is possible,” said Illina, “And I greatly apologize for putting you at risk. The method of transmission is unknown to us, it does not seem to be physical or spiritual. People simply fall ill with no explenation. If things continue at this rate, the last bastion of Lufian civilization that is known to us could be destroyed forever.”

“I… I don’t know,” said Lucas, “I want to help if I can, but…”

“It’s alright,” said Illina, rising from her place, “Take your time. Rooms have been prepared for all of you, and you are welcome to stay here in the palace. Though as I said, the method of transmission is unknown, no one within the confines of the palace walls has yet been stricken with the sickness, and we are careful who we allow in. It upsets me to behave this way, but precaution must be taken. I ask only that you stay here within the confines of the palace for now, and rest yourselves, while I continue to convene with our elders in the hopes of diving some solution.”

“The elders are still alive?” asked Eric, startled.

Illina chuckled, “No, they are not the original Lufian elders, rather new elders that have been selected over time. I happen to be one of them, as I am Madeena’s matriarch and leader. Please make yourselves at home here, and Philip will show you all to your rooms. Dinner will be prepared soon, I hope to see you all there.”

With a whirl of her beautiful blue gown, Illina turned and left, walking across one of the bridges over the water and out into the larger chamber, where a man dressed in a white robe led her through an open doorway. Philip stood, “I’ll show you to your rooms now,” he said with a smile.

Poems

Cow’s Milk

I had a bad day
And I drank from a cow’s teet
And I felt motherly love
And it tasted sweet
I had a bad night
And fell on my knees I think
And the cow told me not to worry
Just to drink
And I tasted warm love
My insides heating, my outsides numb
And I felt so happy because life was a dream
And from the outside I understood
And with joy I did scream
And fell on my back, I was drunk and I was fine
And the cow smiled gently and touched her cheek to mine
And said, “Child now you see we live for who we are.”
And I think a thanked her kindly

Salty

The frogs are singing, the trees are dripping
And Jesus is a blonde boy laying in my bed
With a soft gentle smile he lays with me
And kisses me and then he lifts his face to look at me
Those blue eyes, penetrating
We dance, we’re in love
We all are pulsing, we are pink, life is salty
We are covered in love

Water Song

I’m from a town where it rains forever
Day and night, the downpour never stops
Sometimes it falls off, I like to walk in the afternoon
The rivers running over, and the flowers always in bloom
Life is the nature of our city
Our world in the orchard, protected by the rain
You came, you wandered in, and took me by surprise
You squeezed my fingers and held me from behind
When your lips touched my skin, the river overflowed and I dove in
We swam, turning, kissing beneath the lakes and seas
Our love, the very essence of the rain and life my city breathed
We held one another close deep in the oceans
The rain fell faster, the water engulfed the forests
The sky was a deep shade of painter’s gray
We broke the surface and breathed in the life
Of our worlds
Our rainy fields

Ghosts

So you take a deep breath and you hold it in your lungs
Because the harder you run, the stronger the fear becomes
And I can’t keep praying for forgiveness because I’m already clean
And I can’t keep asking for things that I never needed