Regrettably, and lacking the illusion of recompense, it seems this world no longer contained a semblance of joy, not for my sake. I was once captivated by the way snowflakes fell and melted upon the flesh of those exiting buildings, warmed and filled with life. The sounds of laughter piqued my interest, they pulled my sight to them in such a way that echoed pleasurably within my breast. The way the skies appeared as they brightened with the coming day once enchanted me like nothing else, and I felt the mixture of a profound sadness accenting a vague fascination with those who would not perceive me. But in this blackness, this returned dullness of mind, there is nothing more, save for the biting cold. There was nothing, or something akin to nothing, though perhaps I speak too soon.
I was confronted by melancholy, that is, until I recall when my eyes met yours. I saw a world within a world, a place of warmth amid tumult and treachery, but I remove myself from so linear an expression of time and lurid emotionality. The very concept of time itself is something your kind treasures above all else, lest the frustration of confusion is set alight within so fragile a collective psyche. It is for these aspects and many more that I hold you in such high regard, for all time. For now, however, I must take myself back to the beginning, not the beginning of my own life, but rather to the times and places that have committed themselves to recent memory, creating new lines and crevasses within my consciousness, ones I am powerless to undo or prevent.
There was a time when birds fell from the skies. The sound of their wings fluttered in my ears, each rustle of every feather, large and small, seeming like fibrous blades of grass as the wind moved them. They sounded like heavy stones as they made impact with the earth, their small talons gripping at the air, at the nothingness, as they fell from the heavens. The blood coursed through their small bodies pumped so vigorously during these final moments, and I heard their hearts cease to beat as they gave themselves over to their halted mortality. I froze each time I saw them, watching their final plummet in detached impotence as the shivering in their breast ceased to be. These images have continued to follow me through time.
I closed my eyes.
The world was veiled for a spare few moments, breath shuddered through me as the minute odour of a life expired filled my nostrils. I would not seek to sustain myself at the moment, the desire did not produce itself upon witnessing the death of another. I could not, what was I to gain from catching those creatures in blood-starved hands? All that existed was the torment of watching them fall, never knowing when the next victim would approach from above, pelted down from those grey skies by an unseen hand, merciless and cruel. I found the need to stir my thoughts from this muted, tormenting reverie. I have turned and left these open spaces, these formidable ecosystems, many times, just as I have turned from much of the realm of those whole and living.
Your world is not my own, I knew of this fact many years ago as I bore witness to it, tickled by the scent of embers drifting from the chimney of the cathedral I had made a habit to pass by. Those within… I heard them sing. They raised their voices in prayer and exaltation, devoting the very sound of their voices to their God. They believed in the sanctity of life, where no beating heart nor flitting wingspan could harm them with the finality of damnation. The volume of their voices would cover the final sounds of the pitiful struggle for life. They knew, as they clutched their hymn books, that they were protected within the candlelit warmth of their congregation, releasing the hosannas that escaped from their smiling, sombre lips with such ease. One may assume I had grown jealous of them, of their fervour, but it is the illusion of comfort and the call to devotion that is so appealing, and so observing them only caused a transient sensation akin to envy within my frozen breast. I pressed a hand there, as if to staunch the flow from a mortal wound, and watched their faces with thinly-masked fascination that I’m certain no other would notice at so late an hour.
The sound of each page of the large gilded bible that had been placed upon the pulpit mocked the wings that had fallen so near to the edifice. Children attached themselves to their mothers as the final hymns were sung with a tired vigour that suggested the fatigue of the crowd had finally overcome their collective act of devotion.
I stepped backwards and into the alley that stretched out behind me, conscious of how pale and wan I would appear to these devotees. They knew nothing of me and, as they departed the church in their weary silence, I watched them with eyes as fixed and unmoving as the stone beneath their shuffling feet. The curé lingered behind them all, observing from the doorway, waving them off into the frigid silence of the night that appeared to stretch forth so endlessly, and yet, would very quickly reach its conclusion. He shifted his habit, tiredly arranging it upon his shoulders as he gave a bleary-eyed smile to an elderly woman tottering down the stone steps.
The curé turned his back to the secular world and stepped once, twice, back through the doorway. I gazed up at the crucifix within, moving my eyes from their position with great effort and, as I did so, he paused, turned, and placed his hands on either of the double doors that would bar the entrance until the following service. His eyes found the shadowed alleyway in which I stood, squinting as if he could see me there. He could not. He would not. The doors were shut, followed by the forceful waft of the holy smoke. I was left in darkness, wind tearing through the fibres of my dark cloak, rasping across rigid, unmoving flesh.
The rough polish of wood in that relatively small but imposing building brought on sharp pangs of an era I don’t care to recall in full. The lingering puff-like smell of smoke and wine spilled mingled together, providing an all too familiar medley that tricked the olfactory senses into believing that the stone-and-wood structure still stood during a time when the passages that were read would have differed in their delivery and collective discussion. I leaned against the frozen wall behind me, pressing my back into the stony hardness that was there as another familiar but fleeting scene overcame me.
I am all too often brought back to the days when women were herded as though they were mindless cattle, incapable of being granted the same decency, the same safety, and seen as possessing the same sentience as the men who performed those judgements that brought them to their knees before the cross. These men, in their own perception, were saviours of some kind. Though great their invented titles may have been, their actions contradicted their motives. They wrested helpless babes from the arms of their mothers, striking down any bold enough to protest this injustice. Clouds of smoke billowed from stacks of lumber and tinder, though the now sullied fabric of their clothing was often one of the first items to catch fire.
Once, there existed Igerne, a woman torn from the arms of her three children, her husband, her sister, and her mother. She had barely the time to cover her body from the indecent eyes of the men who crowded around her house, carrying a portable edition of a leathered tome already archaic but still given enough value that barely any possessed the wit and good sense to reflect on the nonsensicality of the torment it encouraged others to perform upon their own kind.
This woman, with her flinty eyes, hair the dusky obsidian of a river at midnight, and voice an embodiment of sweetness was helpless to defend herself from these men who spared no thought nor act of mercy unto her and her loved ones. A man with a face resembling carved wood gripped her arms, bellowing her crimes as she stood in silence against a background of smoking hearth, shrieking children, and a husband begging for her immediate release. The village they resided in was quite familiar with this protocol. In fact, this had become a common enough occurrence so as to garner no protest, even from the countless numbers of minds that thought this scene unjust.
Igerne did not scream. Her lips trembled in the flickering light of four torches held by the men, searching their eyes for a sign of humanity. They had steeled themselves against these attempts. They looked away as they were commanded to do. Nothing remained for her for this confrontation signalled the commencing night of an inequitable questioning through which each of her responses only brought them further into the depths of senselessness. Their mad hysteria would continue to escalate until the very sight of her incensed them.
“Look not in the eye of ungodly abomination. Do not become her prey for she has cursed my brothers, bringing death to their children in the form of the consumption. Cover her eyes-”
Before another word was uttered, before she could lift her tongue to formulate a response, a filthy strip of a rag was tied round her head, a noose slipped round her neck, and cruel shackles of hemp rope had been fashioned to chafe her wrists. Her burning lasted longer than the others.
Her husband and children gazed on in horror as the scraps of fabric that were left of her clothing ignited with fibres curling and lifting with the breeze of a cool summer’s eve. The cries of her children echoed the screams that erupted from somewhere deep within her body, no longer able to prevent the sound from escaping the same parched and cracked lips that refused to beg for her life just hours prior. This was one of the many burnings that fuelled a steadily growing desire within my person, each scream was a lash of the whip upon my soul, and it made me ravenous, primed for slaughter.
I was haunted by the screams that held themselves captive within my skull. I was overcome by pity for the remaining members of this wretched family, now forever without the touch of a loving mother. Igerne’s ashes danced on the wind, finally released from the imprisonment to which her body was confined. I stood, mute, as carmine rivulets made their escape from my eyes with such mocking synchronicity that I could not help but stand aghast, now also a wretched prisoner to a scene made no less horrific by a pale, cold moon rising in the heavens.