Jacques is telling it…

I wade through wet margins, pontiff of the pond and my faithful frogs. The mountain-flanks are fallen seraphim, their craggy crowns still blazing with the sunken sun. I stalk the valley like a shade, misshapen monster of the marsh: a bastard spewed from Hades, to cut the wastes like a mowing devil.

Beyond the banks, my home flares in the gloom and smoke puffs merrily from the thatch. I spy Margot through the open door, stooping over her cauldron. She calls out:

‘Don’t go far Jacques!’

I give a happy wave:

‘I won’t Moma…’

This is the first time I’ve cut rushes alone; and I feel so tall and proud, even though the sickle is too big for my tiny fist. I forage further afield, trudging a quagmire of rotten grass. The spongy earth heaves beneath my weight, wheezing, groaning and slurping. Foetid bubbles pop about my shanks and mud seeps between my toes, plastering my feet in tarry clogs. I startle at the sound of beating wings and turn to see a swan surge from the sedge; she soars above the wooded hills where Venus hangs twinkling, then swoops beneath a bloody ridge. Her nest is nearby, dishevelled in the mire and strewn with feathers. The slough deepens. I falter in ravenous depths that lick my thighs with cold black tongues; ripples of darkness fan out, melding the mackerel skies.

The creatures of night are stirring: an owl hoots thrice from the wood and bats flit overhead, snatching courting moths. How I love these haunts of evening with water lapping the combs. The Virgin is the starry vault. ’Oft I feel Her hand upon me now; touching my crown, slipping inside my skull, teasing round my brain, fingering my spine, winkling me out of my shell. Then I am clean and pure, slender and bright, free of all blemish, my base body washed away like so much filthy dross…

The surface simmers in a stiff breeze and the reeds rustle like silken skirts; I stand motionless, intoxicated by soft whispers. Then a silver fish leaps amid the lilies: a secret wish, lost in lurching waves. I find a fresh spot where the rushes grow tall and straight. Incensaries for the Christ. I hack them down, cradling the stems as they fall in my embrace. Binding the stooks, I square the ends and stack them on the banks. What blithe dark wands are these – the latent Lights of Lucifer, forged in the realm of croaking frogs. But the frogs have stopped singing…

An eerie stillness settles on the pond. It seems that dusk flows on about me, whilst I stand petrified, as if awaiting some pregnant revelation. A curtain hides me from myself – like Selene, half veiled by clouds. A distant light flickers in the hills: perhaps a shepherd striking tinder – or a lone friar with his lantern. No. Something comes…

A dark foreboding steals through my veins. Vainly, I cling to the sickle: a blade to deliver me from spirits unseen. I long to bolt across the wastes and hide. But home is still in sight and this tempers my courage. So I stand fast and wait…

A sudden flash of light.

The hills flare like a forge, as if the sun were rising. Misty swords of green fire extend toward the zenith, filling the sky with shimmering waves: a fleeting ephemeral wonder. The aura fades and the land darkens. Then high amongst the crags, I spot five orbs hovering on a ridge; they rise slowly, taking formation like spots on dice, pale, cold and ghostly…

Elfin fires!

They must be more than a league away, but they have surely spied me, for I sense their cold gaze probing my soul. As if to confirm my fear, the orbs swoop from the hills and streak across the valley. They approach at speed, as if joined by rope, skirting the woods until they stop dead over the marsh: five perfect spheres, swathed in emerald fire. I watch awestruck, transfixed by their otherness. They are thinking, communing, plotting… Then the globes meld into one great light which sinks in the reeds. It cleaves and divides. Three smaller orbs appear; they begin to dance, rising and falling in gyres, wending to the treetops, then gliding back to earth like phantom green lamps.

The lights dim then flicker out. I pray they have gone. But they flare up again, beaming through the trees. The orbs change size and colour as they glide through the thickets – luminous moons of red and blue that dart in the elder and drift across the meadow. Then a bright blue orb draws near and hovers on the pond: an elfin fire, some twelve feet high, and close enough to touch. The orb drones like a drunken bee, its glassy surface rippling like windswept wheat. Within and without, I hear a most heavenly voice:

‘Walk on water, and I will make you a butterfly.’

A moment of blackness.

Then without hesitation, I step off the banks…

Instantly I find myself in a lucent chamber where a fair headed maiden sits on a crystal throne. She shines like a Holy flame, radiant in gossamer gown. A golden crown spins upon her head, beset with flashing diadems: chrysolite, bloodstone, moonstone, sardonyx and lapis lazuli… Rainbow rays dart from her hands and glint on emerald walls where her divine body mirrors in facets infinite. She smiles:

‘Welcome to my domain…’

’Tis Spinning Grazide! Her sphere shimmers with reflections of the green wood; chirping birds sing in tall trees and the music of purling streams echoes in mossy sepulchres. A cloister of twisted pillars encircles her throne, and beyond each arch I spy dark grottos where goat skulls glow like alabaster lamps. She offers a shining cup:

‘Drink, and death shall never touch thee; for your flesh shall be imbued with the grace of my spirit, and benediction will attend all thy days…’

Her words unshackle me from all my dark oppressions. At once I am overcome with a bright clarity of mind.

I reach for the cup…

But before I can drink, my bliss is shattered by a terrible scream:

‘Swim Jacques! Swim!’

Suddenly I’m sinking, choking on weeds of desolation. From beneath the pond, I see the orb shoot off into the stars. Gone. I scramble to the banks where Margot hauls me out, distraught and wailing. The elfin fires still loom beyond the bog, flitting like angry bees. Margot gathers her skirts and cries:

‘Run!’

She grabs my hand and we flee like the wind, back across the marsh. I slip twice in the sedge, gibbering and spluttering, but Margot pulls me up, my feet barely touching the ground:

‘They mustn’t get us! Don’t look back; run, run, run!’

We scurry across the mire, over a mound, down a ditch, then under the spindle trees…

‘Faster!’ cries Margot.

Duck through the holly: shut both eyes; don’t trip; open them again; mind that stone; heart pounding; chest aching; keep breathing; can’t stop… Then across the track and through the hovel door… Margot bolts the latch and I collapse, breathless, on the table:

‘Moma! ’Twas Spinning Grazide!’

She slaps my face:

‘Fool! They are fallen spirits! They had you bewitched!’

I sense some part of me is stolen away, lost amongst the stars, never to return.

‘But Moma – ’

She holds a finger to her lips and peers through the latch:

‘Quick! They’re coming this way!’

‘Oh Moma!’

‘Get to bed…’

‘No! We should hide in the cupboard!’

‘Don’t argue Jacques! The bed is protected!’

I glance at the pallet surrounded by its six horseshoes then dart beneath the covers.
Margot pours water on the hearth, snuffing out the fire in a seething cloud. Then she locks the shutters and crawls beside me. We lie in fear, cocooned in muddy blankets. I whisper:

‘Will the horseshoes protect us Moma?’

‘Hush!’

A terrible groan echoes from the hills: ancient giants, stirring in their sleep. The earth trembles. We clasp each other tight as plumes of dust fall from the rafters. Margot whimpers an Ave and I bury my face in her side, entwining my legs with hers. Moments later, the elfin fires hover round the thatch. Spears of light punch through the wattle and poke beneath the door. But our iron is no protection. For a great blue orb descends through the roof, flooding the loft with Light.

A silent void.

Blackness.

Hands upon my crown.

I am plunged into dark waters: a bog of death and putrefaction. I sink into pitch, amongst hordes of leathery dead; corpses with cloven faces, scalps of turf and bones of twisted briar. Down, down I go, through ages past, lost in loamy seas of flesh and brine; the tidal blood of ancient moons; the blabbering mouths of Babel; down into the urns of Heber, beyond the generations of Sem, when Earth was of One Tongue and speech; before the titans and the deluge of the deep… Yet deeper still, back along the vine of Seth, the patriarchs of Henoch, the iniquity of Cain, toward the Root and The Realm of the Rib…

There she stands, alone in the wastes: The Mother of Suffering—perfect, radiant, black. I feel the exile as the last rays of Eden set upon her dewy lips. And the Light says:

‘Come!’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2004