Night and Tree
“You’ve been following me.”
The words were said in a careful neutral tone. He looked up from his book and into her eyes, sighing and noting the page before putting it aside. To her ears he seemed more annoyed than ashamed, breath swollen with words not said for too long.
“I have been,” he said, “though probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.”
“I can always be wrong.” He smiled a little, saying the words, motioned to the chair across from him. “Sit with me, if you like.”
She looked around; they were in a public cafe, the only reason she’d approached him. She’d caught sight of him for months now, reading in the background around her. She’d never seen him looking at her directly, but she’d learned to trust her gut and her gut said he was following her.
Her gut also said he wasn’t a threat.
“Did father send you?”
“What? No. I don’t know who your father is this time around.”
“This time around?”
He leaned away from her, not scared but uncertain. She sat, happy to take pressure off the aching twinge in her left leg, and folded her hands in her lap.
“There’s magic in the world,” he said, slowly. She did not dispute him; what sense in that, when pixies and wisps floated around them in the twilight skies, when the sidhe barista two tables down was weaving starlight into a patron’s cup? There was magic and that was true. “Have you found yours?”
She had, in growing things and flickering lights. There were flickering lights in the fine cut of his clothing, she saw, and she had thought the trick of it electronic. This close up she could see the swirl of galaxies and knew he wore the night sky.
“What do you think? You’ve been watching me.”
“I know you have found your magic, but I do not know if you know the depth of it,” he said, holding up his hands. “And I only watch you sometimes, and from a safe distance. It’s just… I don’t know what I owe you.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Another long sigh.
She’d never met the night-touched, but she knew of them. They were strange old spirits, remnants of the darkness that came before light wound around their souls. There was a flicker of a depth beyond sounding line in his eyes and she remembered another thing: that the night-touched remembered secrets everyone else forgot and could share nothing of what they knew unless asked. The price of knowledge for them was in the knowing.
“Do you know what happens to the soul when the body dies?”
“Is this a religious thing?”
“No, not that.” He smiled, shaking his head, a comfortable familiarity seeping into the set of his shoulders. “The thing I want to tell you is a thing I believe. That does not make it true, or real, or even make it matter. It is merely a thing I believe, but there is a… complexity to it.”
“Alright.” She drew out the word, holding his gaze. He smiled again, sad and wise.
“I believe every mind is made up of parts,” he began. “We call those parts the soul and religious doctrine says we have only one, but I think the number is closer to eight.”
“Reasons of elder lore. The Hebraic, Asiatic, and Stygian texts made such reference to the architecture of the mind. What’s left of the Nazcan threads also speak of such, the tyrant Dee hinted at this in his madness centuries ago, and in more recent decades we’ve had the working of the psychonauts, Jung, Myers, and Briggs.”
“I don’t know what any of that means.”
“No one does.” He paused. The sidhe came over and offered them starlight to drink. He accepted the offer, but she asked for a warm zenith sun with a touch of cinnamon. His coin paused over the sidhe’s palm, his eye turning to her. “Is it okay if I pay?”
He nodded, dropping three small coins into the sidhe’s hand. Fingers curled around metal like talons and minutes later liquid steamed between them. The sidhe left and he took a sip of his beverage, let it settle and caught her eye.
“Upon death,” he said, “the mind shatters. The souls slip free, the electrical impulses chaining them to their biological machine slipping loose. They scatter, attach themselves to other souls from other minds, and ride a new lifetime.”
“Reincarnation,” she said, pursing her lips and nodding. “I don’t understand why reincarnation would lead you to stalking me.”
“I’m not stalking you,” he said, sounding bitter. “I’m trying to figure out what, if anything, I owe you.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Neither do I.” He ran his hands through his hair, shuffled nervous in his chair. “How familiar are you with time? The shape of it, I mean?”
“You mean the idea of it being a river or a sphere?” she smiled, resting her cheek against a palm. “Or a flat circle?”
“Linearity is a lie,” he said, leaning back and letting a copper coin fall from between two fingers. “Albeit, a persistent one.”
“Sure,” she said, remembering the things she’d read and the thing she’d seen about cause and effect breaking down on a sub-thaumic level, effects happening before cause. The rare sane chronomancers also spoke of paradox before the wrinkles claimed them, but the wrinkles claimed all of them in the end.
“Right.” He paused, holding up the hand with the coin he’d dropped. He had not picked it up. “A decade ago, I met an incarnation of myself. Younger in flesh, older in spirit. Bi-incarnation, a single soul inhabiting the same time and space in two different minds and bodies.”
“Is that possible?”
“I had thought not.”
“And you think we’re bi-incarnations?” she asked. He shook his head, no.
“Lifetimes carry over from one incarnation to the next,” he whispered. “We all know this. Call it karma if you like, though I think that term fails to… it doesn’t matter.”
“Tangents. It’s tangential.” He closed his eyes, letting his head hang off the edge of his chair, exposing his throat. Between breaths, she thought about killing him, the impulse gone from inhalation to exhalation. She could not say where it came from. “I’m sorry. Give me a moment.”
He took a deep breath, a tension in his arms coming to rest.
“What happened to your bi-incarnation?”
“We had a falling out,” he admitted. “No lie between us. I was an idiot and she was cruel. We are the same but not – there are seven other souls we don’t have in common. She’s since tempered her cruelty, I hear, and found success in her passion. I, however, am still a fool.”
“If she’s older in spirit she’s already dealt with whatever crosses you,” she said. “That’s karma, right?”
“I had not considered that,” he said. “Thank you.”
She only smiled a response.
“I had a sister, lifetimes ago,” he said. “We were lucky enough to meet again in this incarnation and recognized one another. She was born to growing things and flickering lights in a place that did not have either, and she was driving herself mad because of it. I recognized the magic in her and it ended the disease that assailed her mind and she grew, flourished in her power.”
He smiled, eyes distant.
“She spoke of secret things to those that would listen and created wonders.” He closed his eyes, lips curling. “But she lived in pain from her early life, compounded by an accident that cursed her left leg, and the agony drove her to distance. Still, she discovered, moved from she to they. Built a community and a path. Claimed respect. And then, alone, they killed themself. They found a place of growing things and flickering lights, a swing to sit on in the rain, and let themself end. Their mind shattered. Their souls fled.”
“So am I,” he smiled, sad and alone. “They were excellent and they had finally placed distances between us. I miss them and cannot help but feel that I failed them. We were night and tree and now they are gone.”
“Alright,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “What does this have to do with me?”
“Your left leg is hurt,” he said, opening his eyes, glaring. “Did you hurt it dancing?”
“Your gift for growing things and flickering lights places you in warmth and sets you apart, doesn’t it?” he asked. “As you said with me and my bi-incarnation, you have learned those lessons.”
“You think I’m your sister?”
“Sibling, and yes.”
“I identify as female,” she said, pulling herself up and meeting his gaze.
“The soul that determines gender is different in you,” he shrugged. “The soul of my sibling is one of eight, I think, and is still there. Again, I could be wrong. This is only what I believe. That does not make it real, or true; it is only what I believe. And it begs the question: what, if anything, do I owe you?”
“I don’t… shouldn’t your sibling be in one of the hells?”
“According to religious doctrine, but I’ve never had much truck with that,” he said, shrugging. “It’s empty. A mind seeks to end suffering and breaks apart. There’s no shame in that, as much as it may hurt those of us left behind.”
“Alright. Alright.” She paused, thinking. “Your sibling asked you to stay away from them. Why?”
“They pushed everyone away,” he shrugged. “I lasted longer than most. If you ask me away you’ll never see me again, but I would ask that you cultivate people and keep them close. Don’t be alone.”
“And what do you think we should do, if anything? I’m not saying I believe you, by the way.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he said, meeting her eyes. “And I don’t know.”
“Then why not start from nothing?” she asked. “Why not start from nothing and see where this goes? I’m not them and I don’t remember you. And, as you said, you could be wrong.”
“I sometimes am,” he agreed. “From nothing to something, then.”
Art by Tris Nielsen, and you can see more of her work by clicking here. She’s also on Instagram and deviantArt, models via Model Mayhem, and can be found at any number of local conventions. She’s pretty awesome.
Words by me. I’m experimenting with some ideas, voice, and minimalism, and I’m not sure how this turned out. I might expand on it later, but there’s other things I should and must write; this just sort of came to me over the course of an afternoon and I’m running with it. Let me know what you think on Twitter, Instagram, or tumblr.