It finds me, always. No matter where I run, no matter what I pray to...it finds me.
The searing shadow.... smoke in my throat, embers in my hair. Burning breath at my back. Eyes burning deeper, deeper...
Ever since I was a child, as long as I can remember: every waking....the pain of my smouldering skin, my charring bone; screams that taste of smoke and scorching meat. Fire in my belly, fire in my skull, eating me hollow.
This time...forgotten, until the shadow falls, until the thunder of great wings shudders me to my marrow. A boy; so lithe, so spry, hurtling over grass and rock and stone, following nothing, fleeing no one; in love with wandering, with rivers and woods; with fields and hills...the creatures that fly and scurry in his wake. Not knowing; even when he passes from sunlight lands into shaded woods, when day fades and chill teeth bite into his marrow. Still laughing, breathless in the frost; following the blue-skinned and glittering phantoms that beckon to him from between trees, the shadow robes swathing them falling away.
Never so in love; not in any waking moment; not even in those few, story-book memories of childhood that remain. Not even in the delusions of it that have almost consumed me, almost swallowed sanity. A belly full of lightning, a head swathed in sunshine, scents of sex and wildflowers and the sharpness of frost.
The ones who call him, call me, dancing and flittering between the trees...closer with every step, more and more of their forms and features bared as shadow deepens, as stars come :
Lithe and wild youths, men, women; some seemingly neither or snared between the two...blue skin darkening to twilight shades as they run, as they beckon, drawing me deeper, away from light and burning eyes...
A beautiful dream, broken by sudden screams, their dances stuttering, luminous eyes turned skyward. A shadow, passing over the woods, blotting out the cold light of moon and stars. I know it, the boy faltering as memory rises: of other dreams, of other states: of being more than this guileless, wandering youth with his love of places unknown: of waking; being a man whose insides burn, without love, without abandon.
The children of the wood flee, retreating, withering beneath the great shadow, frayed apart by the winds that follow: Gales vicious enough to swirl the leaves on the ground, to cause the trees to bend and groan.
I know, I remember; the boy withering, too, beneath an onslaught of unwanted memory: I and he have seen this, so many times; cities burning and broken, blasted apart, the storms sweeping up tsunamis, causing mountains and towers to topple, suns and stars to flicker out.
I beg them, beg them to take me with them, away from the storm and the beast at its heart; away from the evil knowledge of its eye.
They can't heed me, even if they want to; the woods rent and ripping apart, trees torn up by their roots, ice and frost spreading in the shadow's chill, stealing breath, freezing the children in place.
I fall, on my hands and knees on the frozen earth, even as the grass and flowers wither beneath me, as the soil becomes black, glittering with pale frost.
A strange moon, blazing in the night, its light scarlet, washing over and through me; flaying me naked, the boy weeping, begging to be allowed to dream again.
Quiet that noise, you piece of shit.
Another voice; older, snarling. Not mine, though I know it so well, though it has been, once upon a time.
The trees parting, the serpent's glare upon my back. Wood becoming wasteland beneath its breath, trees and ground and air kindling with blue fire.
Stand up. Stand up now, you worthless shite, or do you need Mommy to help you with that, too?
The dragon's voice, thunder and roaring ocean in my ears; seas of flame and blood. Nothing left; not even bones...only filth and ashes; all that my dreams ever become.
Standing, because it commands, because I know what refusal will bring. The boy still weeping inside, not understanding; how his perfect world, his ecstatic dream, could come to this.
Laughing with the dragon's voice, spewing blue fire from my own lips.
Because it always does, idiot. Because there is no other way, for us.
Standing, though my back blisters beneath its eye, though its breath sweeps around me, kindling in my clothes, my hair.
Look. Look at me.
Weeping, weeping; the boy withered to almost nothing.
I turn, I look. The light of the red moon blazing; a single eye in a scarred and bleeding face, its twin a black and bloody hole, gouting white and blue flame.
Howling, shrieking until my throat ruptures, until the boy's lungs shrivel, my own breath kindling, rising into the blasted night.
Look at you...worthless, shrieking, mewling filth!
Descending, its great talons clawng the dead earth to either side, raking up the spectres of those murdered upon it; the children of the wood no longer sighing, no longer singing....
The dying star eclipsing all, its light flaying away all that remains of the boy's clothes, lacerating his naked limbs and face, seeping through his wounds, his eyes.
Other dreams, long forgotten; some sweet, others vile or absurd....all burning, the shadow descending, no matter their natures, the dying star shedding its light upon them, frost and blue fire devouring all...
This dream: wandering the streets of a vast, white city, so alone, so afraid; a red storm pulsing and growling overhead, great white spires and temples shattered, broken in some ancient war or disaster, weeds come to claim them, now; black frondes twining up from the streets, through cracks and ruptures, worming throughout every structure like fungus. Parasites and vermin skittering through the rubble; things that resemble hybrids between rat and centipede, spider-limbed creatures that bound like fleeing hares. A similar boy, a similar skin, but not dancing or leaping; not in wonder. Terrified, other eyes on hiim, since he first set foot on the city's stone...
And this: another entirely, a heady and heaving and dark place, strobing with blue and pink and emerald light, bodies upon, within the walls, underfoot; knotted upon the ceiling. Worming over and against one another, bound at mewling, moaning mouths and sexes....in ways that no disparate anatomies were ever made to...not afraid, not repulsed, no matter what he sees, what I witness through his dreaming eyes; exhilarated, energised; aching to be a part of the sweating and sighing whole....
And this: a desolation of tomorrow, a great and broken city; level upon level, tier upon tier; pillars of great engines thrusting up through its height, vaster than cities themselves, trees and plants of equal ambition, twining through them, birds singing, beasts and engines, stalking together...an Eden following apocalypse, where we few still live, where we play amongst the ruins and endings and nothing can ever still or silence us.... until the shadow comes, and the red moon blazes down...
Always, always. On my knees, beneath the weight of its light, in the shrieking ashes, breathing their despair. Laughter like mountains tumbling as the sky boils and tears, laughter like the collapse of great cities into smouldering pits.
Descending, the sun upon me, its breath kindling in my flesh and thoughts.
Run. Run and forget, like you aways do. Go on, shite! Carry me to the next dream, lead me to tomorrow! We'll watch them burn together, won't we?
Weeping, vomiting the same fires, its voice my own; the voice of my thoughts. Staggering, the fires eating away skin and nerve and muscle, leaving me naked; a thing of filth and black bone.
Yes, we will find tomorrow. Yes, I will take you there.
Good boy. Good boy. What else is shite for, other than to spread itself?
Yes....what else am I for?
Turning away, the red sun on my back, the blue fire in my eyes, my belly. I wander, through the waste and ashes, through the ghosts of those I once danced with there. The boy who followed, the boy who hoped to sing with them, screaming my curses until its throat bleeds, until its eyes rupture; until it comes apart in loathing.
And I walk; until waste and sky both break, until red sun and the storm that brings it are nothing but the tatters of nightmares. Another place, a new dream; the scent of burning almost lost.