|". . . thine eyes shall see thy teachers, and|
thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying,
This is the way, walk ye in it." -- Isaiah 30:20-21
The girl took the jar down from the closet shelf, closed the closet door quietly, quietly. Her parents were sleeping just down the hall and she definitely didn't want to wake them. Just an old Mason jar without a lid, something she had found under the kitchen sink amid bottles of dish soap and rusty steel wool pads. It would serve the purpose. That was all that was important.
She took out the chalk she had pocketed at school. Yellow chalk. It had to be yellow. She didn't know why, yet, but in time she would. Until then she was willing to go on faith.
She gathered the candles she had purchased at Kroger. Four of them were bright, bright red. Colors were critical in these matters.
The fifth candle was black as her discovery.
The secret she'd learned instead of dying.
Now she went to the window of her room. Outside the world lay in slumber, dreaming. Dim shadows of the trees out front moved infinitesimally across the lawn, cast by the half-full moon. Smatterings of clouds chased each other across the night sky.
Once, when she was very small, her Aunt Liza had brought her a painting of crazy colors and twisting lines. A Magic Eye picture, she called it.
"Do you see the unicorn, Meg?"
She had squinted and stared, poring over every inch of the colorful confusion with a child's curiosity and had seen nothing.
Aunt Liza had taken her by the hand, led her back a few steps. "Now look." Nothing. She glanced up at her aunt, then at her parents, wondering if it was all a nasty joke. Then, without warning, while she wasn't concentrating on the visible chaos, the order hidden beneath it had emerged.
"I see it!" little Megan Summers had shouted, clapping her tiny hands in excitement. A unicorn, standing on a ledge.
She loved unicorns when she was a child.
She was seventeen, a young adult.
The things of her childhood were forgotten.
For many years the magic unicorn picture had adorned the wall right above her chest of drawers. Now it lay discarded in the closet and something Megan had painted in art class hung in its place. An abstract picture, a thousand spheres in a formless, sticky mass, surrounded by something very like lightning. Muddled psychedelia, ugly and repulsive.
Mrs. Demme had not been very happy with it.
Megan told her, haughtily, "I paint what I see."
The secret was in not trying to see. Emptying the mind. In allowing the angles of the branches, the rich weave of the grass, the position of the moon, the interplay of light and dark to reveal itself without trying to impose human significance to it all.
She looked out her window, waiting for the moment of revelation.
The silent language of the earth suddenly came clear to her. The clouds spoke, the moonlight whispered, the shadows spelled out the words. The knowledge. The power, more magical than any unicorn.
She opened her mind wide, drank it all in.
Presently she turned from the window, ready.
Megan was going to kill someone tonight.
Murder by magic.
With the chalk she drew a symbol on the floor, a mark so convoluted that it almost seemed aimless. The jar went in the center of the scribbling. The red candles went at different places in the room, seemingly unrelated to each other or the yellow sign.
She pulled a lighter from her pocket, lit the black candle, lit the other candles with it. Apparently at random.
Five drops of black wax fell into the Mason jar.
And all the while she sang a song, faintly, under her breath, a song that went up and down in pitch like a warning siren. A song made of noises that were only words by default.
"Hasster ceph ayach . . . hasster phorek tortucti . . . Khim urchoyinen hasster vultumn malorn howlei . . ."
A sudden skulking wind
blew out the candles,
one by one. The yellow
sign burned with pale,
Several miles away, in another town,
someone woke with a start, sat bolt upright
in bed, screaming a tortured scream. Her
long fingers clutched, clawed at her chest.
Her green eyes opened wide with terror.
|* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *|
|In the moonlit room Meg gasped in shocked surprise, even though she knew|
what to expect. The Mason jar was full. Full of something hot and wet,
making slushy sounds as it throbbed, spurting crimson streams from its cleanly
severed veins and arteries.
|* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *|
churned as she stared
at the jar, faced with
the horrible reality of
what she'd done.
|Reverend John Riley tried clumsily,|
frantically to administer CPR to his
daughter, as his wife called 911 and
their young son Thomas looked on
sobbing, begging God to help his sister.
No time to lose. The rest of the rite had to be completed quickly or there were penalties to be paid. Overcoming her revulsion, she grabbed the jar and held it up to the picture she had painted, the abstract picture of the spheres, now glowing with more than moonlight.
A splash of sticky gore spurted across her face and neck.
She choked back a scream. Nothing could have prepared her for this.
There was no turning back.
Quietly, she chanted the words she had learned from the trees and the lawn and the moon: "Yhogsovhov . . . tithana yignayh . . . shalvalor vo deragnon . . . yhogsovhov . . ."
Flares of blue light crackled down from the painting, sizzled around the mass in the jar. It crackled and disappeared. Cerulean lightning lashed across the room, found every droplet of blood and consumed them. A cold blue tendril of light hovered, flicked across her face, trickled down her throat, lapping up the last of the sacrifice.
It lingered hungrily over the pulse in her neck, wrapped itself loosely around her throat, lightly brushed her breasts, her stomach. She didn't dare move, didn't dare watch. Eyes tightly shut, she kept repeating the words, the words, the words. She took refuge in the words.
The words written in the fabric of the universe.
"Yhogsovhov . . . tithana yignayh . . . shalvalor vo deragnon . . . yhogsovhov... "
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Humming ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The empty jar fell from numb hands, bounced on the throw rug, rolled across the wooden floor to rest beside the weird chalk squiggle. After a moment Meg reached out, touched her desk lamp. Light flooded the room.
From her parent's bedroom came the sound of snoring. Jack Summers was sleeping on his back again.
Meg began to giggle. And to cry.
It was finished. She'd done it. It worked. All the doubts, all the fears of the last six months had dissolved. She wasn't insane. Almost all her former friends thought she was crazy. Only Lynn Robinson still stuck by her. She knew all the faculty at Magellan High thought she was cracked. Sometimes she suspected that her parents thought so.
But she wasn't crazy, oh no. It was real, real, all of it was real. Real as Daddy's snoring. Real as the incredibly empty jar on the floor.
Real as death.
She rubbed out the yellow pattern, gathered the candles, put the jar away. Took down the picture she had painted, hung Aunt Liza's gift back in its accustomed place. With a giggle, she made the unicorn appear. It was so easy. Easy once you learned how.
The unicorn was a lie, an illusion.
The truth was a yellow sign, a painting, a chant. An empty jar.
The next morning she woke up happy, got dressed with a smile. She hadn't been happy for a long, long time. She savored the feeling, embraced it. Things were getting back to normal.
As usual, Mom crawled out of bed to say good morning and goodbye to her daughter. As usual, Dad continued to snore.
"Did you hear that wind last night, honey?"
"I'll be surprised if it didn't blow some shingles off the roof."
"Bye, Mom. See you tonight."
Megan walked across the lawn, her limp barely noticeable, and started her car, an old Hornet patched together with so much body putty that Lynn had nicknamed it the Bondo Buggy. Megan's father had bought it for her, fixed it up. All they could afford. Soon she would change that. They could have anything she wanted now.
She drove to school, still excitedly, wickedly joyful. Anticipating the news she knew would await her. Poor Sherry Riley. What a terrible, terrible thing.
It had once been her habit to listen to the radio, to spend the trip in the company of rock music and the traffic observations of Commander Charlie the Road Warrior. Now she left that ephemeral noise behind and listened instead to the counterpoint of the
|asphalt ribbon of road|
|sweeping arcs of the hills|
|million colors of the sun rising|
She was truly blessed.
It had all begun at Lookout Point.
The great black stone towered sixty-five feet in the air, jutting from the peak of the mountain, silently overseeing the forest and the world below as it had for ages. Graffiti decorated its surface, names and slogans sloppily sprayed in dayglo tints: Okey P; Halls Creek Hell Raisers; No Fear; Drew L's Nikki 4-Ever. Dense thickets crept toward the dark, glassy rock on all sides, but no vine, no tree, not even the hardy briar grew upon the mighty bluff itself.
That was strange, but its history was stranger still. Some of the older residents of Halls Creek remembered the night in 1928 when the Northern Lights, far from their rightful place, poured down from the overcast, thundering skies to baptize the stone in coruscating brilliance. The night the Halls Creek churches were filled with frightened souls expecting Armageddon.
Even the War of the Worlds scare some years later couldn't compare with it.
In 1972 the Schulze Mining Company, intending to strip-mine the mountain, had tried to dynamite Lookout Point. Seven deaths later the idea was abandoned and the ancient stone remained inviolate, but the winding route they had carved into the mountain still remained.
That was the road Megan had walked, lonely and afraid, that cold, bright December day. The day everything ended.
The day everything began.
Standing on the parking lot after school, leaning against Mike's 4x4, talking to him through the window, her teenage life had fallen to pieces.
How could he do this to her?
Red-haired, sinewy Michael Harrison, her first steady boyfriend, two years older than her, ten years more experienced. She loved him with all the incandescence of teenage passion.
That day Mike's voice was colder than the weather. "It's Sherry Riley. I've been seeing her. For a while now." Everyone at Magellan knew the big blonde girl. Daughter of a minister, rebelling against everything her strait-laced parents believed.
"You're joking." Meg felt the hot flush on her face, felt the unexpected tears sting her eyes. "Not her, Mike!"
"We need to see other people for a while. Try some new things."
"She's a whore, a whore!"
"Don't go crazy, Meg. Calm down. That's the whole problem. You're not giving me any space."
"Calm down? You gave me your ring. Remember? Up on Lookout Point last August." She waved her hand in front of his face, the ring glittering in the chilly December sunlight. Fought back the urge to slap him. "You told me you loved me."
"I did. Things change."
"You said you loved me! Liar!"
He started the engine. "I'm not going to talk to you like this. I thought we could still be friends. Guess I was wrong."
Instantly she was repentant. "Mike, no, I didn't mean it. Let me get in, we can talk --"
"See you around, Megan. Sorry."
"No! Don't leave me! We can work it out! Please!"
The truck pulled out, turned around, was gone. Sobbing, Meg yanked off the ring, threw it after the retreating vehicle. Walked to her car alone. The other students had gone their separate ways long before.
She had to get home, she thought, fighting back tears. Her parents would help her. They loved her. They had always been there for her. She just had to get home and they'd make things right. Somehow.
She made it home, made it inside before the dam within her burst.
Her parents were gone.
Jack Summers was somewhere between West Virginia and New Jersey, delivering a load of sheet metal to Berends Construction. He had to take every run he could get, often travelling for days at a time. Amy had been asked to work another shift at the telephone survey job she hated so much. Gritting her teeth, thinking of how much they needed the extra money, she had agreed.
Megan was more alone than ever.
She phoned Mike's house.
She watched TV without interest. Called Mike.
Ring ring, ring ring, ring ring.
Flicked through channels, over and over. Dialed Mike's number.
Busy signal. Was he talking to Sherry? Was he telling her how much he loved her?
Was she telling him the same?
An hour passed. She tried the number again.
A sullenly muttered, "Y'ello?" His little brother Rick.
"Rick, get Mike for me."
The boy's voice snapped taut, oozed suspicion. "Who is this?"
"Tell Mike to come to the phone." An inspiration. "It's an emergency."
"Is this Meg? 'Cause if it is, Mike doesn't want to talk to you."
Stupid, stupid kid!
"Rick, I need to talk to Mike!"
The cordless phone flew across the room, hit the wall with a thud.
A little later she retrieved it, called Lynn. Lynn would help her. They were best friends, closer than sisters. Had been since grade school.
Her mother answered. Lynn was out with Alcurtis Guerrant. It figured.
"Do you want her to call you when she gets in?" Mrs. Robinson's voice was impatient, severe. Meg knew that the woman didn't really like her, didn't want her children to hang around with white people. Lynn had shared that with her one day. Lynn enjoyed spreading evil news and ugly rumors. One day she would be a movie critic or a talk show host.
"No, that's all right. Goodbye."
Meg sat holding the phone. Alone.
Goodbye Megan. That was the answer. Upstairs, she tore a page from her diary, wrote a final message to the world:
I'm sorry. Without Mike I'm nothing. Cremate my body and scatter the ashes over Lookout Point. That's where I learned about love. That's why I'm going to end it there.
Then she put on her heavy jacket, emblazoned with Magellan High's Panther emblem, and left the house forever.
The Bondo Buggy couldn't begin to travel the long-abandoned dirt road. It was a long walk to the top of the mountain.
She looked out over the edge of Lookout Point, watched the cars on the highway far below, spotted a boat pushing coal barges on the Kanawha. She would never fall that far, of course. They would find her, if they cared enough to find her, at the foot of the cliff, where the barren stone began to give way to forest.
Mike would come to her funeral. She thought of it with grim, joyless satisfaction, saw him standing before her still, silent form in the coffin.
She knew Sherry would not be there for him. He would see how shallow and self-centered she really was. He would realize the mistake he made when he left Megan. He would know, then and always, that this was all his fault.
She closed her eyes, took a hesitant step toward the edge. Another.
The void seized her with ravenous swiftness, wrenching a scream from her throat. A moment of spinning uncontrollably in space, winter wind blasting past her.
Then pain became her universe.
The reality of suicide tore away all the romantic, Romeo and Juliet haze. Bones shattered, sharp splinters tearing through the soft things within her. Blood in her mouth, in her lungs, bubbling up in her throat. Cold numbness below her waist.
Terrified, she felt herself dying, realized the joke was on her.
She hadn't hurt Mike. She hadn't hurt Sherry.
She had thrown away her life for nothing.
Lookout Point, bathed in the deep red December sunset, stood over her broken body like a giant gravestone, filling her failing vision. Somehow she saw beyond its spraypaint desecration, saw past the image of the ancient stone to perceive its reality. As encroaching death cut the strings of her earthly existence one by one, something came clear in the very shape of the rock.
|In the c racks
e.in the way it stood against the sky.
Like the Magic Eye unicorn
Something no one else had ever seen. Something no one else could see.
Words waiting for a voice.
Torn lungs fought for air. Pale, blood-flecked lips parted, formed a barely audible whisper. A name, perhaps, or just a sound.
" Ni . . . ar . . ." It was so hard to see. "Niarlapho . . . tep . . ."
A sound she saw there, heard there, felt there. Almost familiar, as if she had known it years ago. Maybe in a dream.
"Niarlaphotep aioden . . ."
A sound that could save her life. She knew it could. It was what she needed.
"Niarlaphotep aioden . . . t-thranadar aioden . . . antanar."
The earth seemed to shift beneath her as the blackness of the rock flowed forward, an engulfing flood. Her eyes dimmed, lost focus, closed. Oblivion swept down from the sky, enfolded her in its blissful rest, wiped away pain, blotted out suffering.
A timeless time later she heard someone somewhere say: "If she makes it through the night, she has a fifty-fifty chance."
Were they talking about her? She would make it. She knew she would make it.
She had a reason to live. Something new to learn.
Some lessons to teach as well.
She let sweet slumber carry her away.
Two months would pass before she woke.
Dr. Mandry was astonished at her recovery, at the way her broken limbs had healed, at the speed with which she had learned to walk again. "My young miracle," the dark little man called her. "My miracle patient."
It was quite embarrassing.
Mike came to see her once, while she was still in the wheelchair, Sherry Riley by his side, hanging back a bit, almost afraid to meet Meg's gaze. No telling what Mike might have told her. They all had a nice little talk. Mike would be graduating soon. Meg's quick eyes noticed the ring on Sherry's finger. The stone looked bigger than the one Mike had given her.
She said nothing. No conflict, no talk of the past. The past had died at the base of Lookout Point. Megan lived only for the future now.
"Dad has his whole church praying for you every Sunday." The girl was so sincere. Every aspect of her appearance burned itself into Megan's memory. Her long, clean blonde hair. Long eyelashes, jade green eyes. Full lips, full breasts, soft and voluptuous body. "I hope you get better."
A shadow of a smile. "I'm sure I will." And as Mike and Sherry left, raw, searing hatred watched them go.
On the beautiful August day she was released from the hospital, Mom and Dad showered praise on Mandry and the other physicians.
"Give the glory to God." Unlike most of his colleagues, Mandry was quite devout. "Your daughter was spared for some great purpose." He took off his bifocals, shook them at Megan to make his point. "Something good."
In some ways, the doctor was completely, miraculously correct.
Meg wasn't watching him. She was listening with her new vision to the muttering of the wood grain on the walls: "Ee ah shubb neghurav tathathal mininoran . . ." Words that could reduce the whole hospital to rubble if spoken by a voice other than the silence.
The girl laughed out loud at the irony of it.
In some ways, the doctor was completely, nightmarishly wrong.
Created: August 17, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004