The Holly King’s Apprentice: Part 1

Orchid's Lantern blog C.R Dudley author

Feeling depressed? Take a ticket for free therapy.

I’d been staring at the notice board outside the bus station for several minutes deciding whether or not to take one. October was always a difficult time for my mental health, and over the past few days I had begun to feel overwhelmed and beaten. I knew where I was headed, but did I need therapy? And was free therapy a little too good to be true? After all, there was no reference to the provider anywhere on the poster.

I felt the wind blow hard on my cheek, and it pushed me into making a decision. I tore off a ticket. I cursed under my breath though, when I saw what I thought was a phone number was actually just a set of symbols and of no use to me whatsoever.

Across the road was a row of trees on the edge of the park, and to my surprise as I looked around for the nearest waste paper bin, I witnessed the farthest changing from green to orange. The one beside it followed suit; then the next and the next as though something were moving through them. Their leaves began to fall right in front of my eyes, then dried out and turned to brown. A gust of wind nudged at them and made them rustle, and they were tossed right over to my feet, at which point they stopped dead. I shuddered.

“Come on then, follow me.” I spun around to see the owner of the deep voice and my eyes widened. There was a man standing seven feet tall, with long black hair, a fur trench coat and heavy biker boots. His jeans were ripped in several places and in one hand he carried a great sword. His presence made me feel as though my insides were turning as rotten as the leaves. I looked frantically around me but none of the passers by seemed to notice this otherworldly stranger towering above me. Running away seemed sensible but also not a realistic option, so I just stood there like a rabbit staring into headlights.

“Don’t look so shocked, you took one of my tickets didn’t you?” Continue reading “The Holly King’s Apprentice: Part 1”

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Rock Bottom

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I lay in the tub scrubbing away all meaning with a flannel and letting the warm water dissolve my worries. So many layers of unnecessary complication are hard on the soul. Surely there comes a time when we tire of it and simply let it all go?

There’s a knock at the bathroom door. I rise from my mountain of bubbles straight away, and open the lock before I’ve even thought of putting a towel around me.

It’s him! He looks different now, but then it has been twenty years. He still wears black but for the white scarf around his neck, and he still has dark shoulder length hair though now it is speckled with grey. With longing I look into his eyes – just two dark and endless craters, pulling me in and taking me beyond.

“I have made my decision,” he croaks. “I want to be with you always. Come with me and stay by my side?”

Hearing the words I have longed for all these years makes me instantly weak, as though I’m melting from the inside.

“That is all I ever wanted,” I say, falling into his arms. “I accept.”

He is cold and expressionless, but I don’t care. I know that he hasn’t reached his decision lightly, and I know that he really means it. I know this is how my myth ends. And so I let out all the water. I watch it swirling and glugging away down the plug hole. Then, with his hand to steady me, I climb back into the empty bathtub to lay down and close my eyes. The very next time I fall asleep must be the last.

Intercampus

Orchid's Lantern blog C.R. Dudley author

Has a sound ever held you, that won’t let you go? A sound whose waves have become enmeshed with yours so that you are, for all intents and purposes, inseparable?

This broken old shed made such a sound available to me, and now I am part of it. It’s like a distant organ surrounded by static. It’s like the low growl that is the nature of man beneath all of his fancy delusions.

When people visit they become scared because they detect my presence. I make their hairs stand on end and their stomachs prepare for flight. They see the bones of rabbits and birds, and their eyes become glassy like my collection of shards. Although they look right at me, they see only the wall I lean against.

I suspect that my atoms have collapsed in on themselves with no one here to observe them; their charges disintegrating away from organic form and out into this place they say is haunted. I have become tiny orbs of light; I have become dust.

The string of events that follows is all that I remember of the day I came to this place.

Continue reading “Intercampus”

The Meaning of Pareidolia

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I miss my psychiatrist. I miss the way he would grit his teeth so as not to show his annoyance that I’d skipped my last session. I miss the way he would ask how my week had been, and attempt to make eye contact with me to ascertain the level of truth in my response. And I miss watching him scrawl notes in my file by hand.

I sit in the wicker chair in the corner of my bedroom and stare at the folds in the laundry. Sometimes I mix it up a bit and stare at the curtains, trying to pick out figures or faces in their damask pattern. I start to wish that they were real people; that they would just hop out of the fabric, give me a hug and tell me I am valuable. That’s not so healthy, I think, so I call Linda to ask her to come over. She only responds to messenger so she doesn’t answer, but when I select her name on my phone I see those three little dots that mean someone is typing. . . and a few seconds later I get a “Hey what’s up” in my inbox. I tell her I’m not doing so good, I could use some company, and she says she’ll be round in 5.

Continue reading “The Meaning of Pareidolia”

Learning To Fly

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I am encased, swaddled, and smothered by an invisible substance. My skin is writhing and earthy beyond my threshold, so I step into a soothing bath to remove the unwanted film for the third time today: the transformation is less prominent there. I congratulate myself briefly when I finally manage to open the book I’ve been staring at for the last hour and a half, and I hide out in it like it’s a protective roof over my head. But just minutes later it caves in and my concentration wanes once again. That is when the dreams begin to come. Dreams of wriggling, striving, and rupturing.

There’s a tapping at my window. A sad, gaunt face with sunken eyes is peering in. I know it is self pity and it doesn’t belong here, so I press my fingertips against my temples and try to cast it away. It doesn’t go.
The tapping escalates to a pounding, and I know something in my chest cavity is screaming to get out. With a mouth full of dry cloth I try to call for help, but am met only by the eyes of the bothered and the perplexed, who join self pity at my window. I become dizzy and confused when the world fades out and I shrink further and further behind my watering eyes.

With my heart in my mouth, I am falling down from a high bridge across a fast flowing current. I hit the water hard and am thrust into its body, my nostrils filling quickly and stinging the back of my throat. A fist grips my hair at the neck and heaves my head above water to make sure I can hear loud and clear: “you are supposed to be dowsing, not drowning! This is all for your art, so suck it up, sweetheart!” I long for my oppressor to take me in his arms but he thrusts me back beneath the surface and walks away without another look. But it hurts, I answer in my mind, it hurts so damn much.

[For a moment I am back in my office, searching through a box of data cards. Each one has a crudely drawn face on it and I am trying to find a match for my memories. If I can recognise myself, maybe I can recalibrate my mind. Then all of a sudden the change is upon me, and I know exactly which one of the scribbles I am. Throbbing dissonance starts up in the background that I cannot be separate from; the music that connects with my soul and drags it forth. I feel the click of the safety harness latching onto my core, and the world comes back into focus. The software is loaded, the goal is set.]

Now I can feel the rhythm of the sea that carries me, and I rock my body slowly backwards and forwards along with it like we were one. I gaze over the edge of the boat, into the deep waters that previously surrounded my body. Such a relief to be heading home to warmth and comfort, and yet also the sharp pang of an ending. A thought crosses my mind that I should abandon the boat and leap right back in: the grief is all that is familiar, after all. Fortunately perhaps, I am unable to carry out the whim, for the music has me in its grip and will not let me go. There are lyrics accompanying it now, and although I can’t quite make them out they seem to be telling me to feel the full force of the butterflies in my stomach. Feel them, remove the blockage: it is stopping the buzz of energy from flowing through the veins.

The butterflies are blue, and they are dancing, not struggling. They are not caged, they are not trapped. They are simply fluttering around delicately in the only way they know how. They were once wriggling beasts, but now they are learning to fly. It’s time to let them out.

Rescue

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You dragged me from the water for the third time that day with a look of determination on your face. A look which seemed to be new, even to you. This whole charade was driving you into uncharted territories; testing your endurance. I slumped myself down next to a rock, feeling nothing but raw. My senses were protesting at the stimulation they were expected to process. Not this again. The world was an inconvenience. I was sick from the things I once loved. We were way beyond reassurances by then, and there were no more words you could say to me. So instead you paced back and forth with your hands in your hair and your eyes to the sky.

What happens when things have fallen apart about as far as they ever could? Entropy take me.

Then you gathered a bunch of sticks, much faster than I could comprehend, and right there in front of me you started a fire. My tired eyes were some way comforted by the sight of colour, my worn and crumbled body warmed by the flame. In the crackle of the wood I heard you promise that you would find me a desert in which to dwell if that is what it would take to keep me from the waters edge.

We sat there for some hours in silence: I as a pile of stones and you as a boat. I fell asleep, and you took me home.

Fragments of Heart: Alien Dust

Orchid's Lantern C R Dudley

Black skies lit by the whole moon reminded me of you. They reminded me of your warrior stance, and the soft dark hair you had no right to boast. They reminded me of the time I danced around my pole to Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams, and you watched through the bottom of a whisky glass. I told you that night that I wanted to climb inside you and live there, and you agreed. But I must arrive on foot by the ordeal path, you stressed, because no one ever touched a star by wishing alone. I was inclined to agree.

So after you were gone I listened out for you in the thunder, and savoured the rain on my face as though it were the tears you made me cry. I felt your presence when wandering the forest at night, when the eyes of shadow creatures were upon me; when I was hurt, lost and alone. In the night at least, you were real.

One such night, on an aimless stumble among the trees, I found a house in a small clearing. I could swear it hadn’t been there before, and the overgrown flora remained on all sides undisturbed. And yet, someone clearly lived there. In fact they were up and about, because I could hear a shuffle and a sigh that only man could make. I turned on my flashlight but could see nothing, so I edged towards the sound, untangling my ankles from the grip of branches as I went. There was no fear in my heart, which meant I was likely getting further away from you, but still my curiosity forced me to persist.

At last I saw him: a slip of a man moving along his flat rooftop on his hands and knees.

“Well don’t just stand there,” he said impatiently without looking up.

I didn’t move. The shadow creatures had averted their eyes as if declaring me sacrificed, and I felt unusually free.

“There’s a ladder round the back.”

The rungs were illuminated by moonlight, so I didn’t even need my flashlight to see where I was going. I crawled to his side on my hands and knees in case it was a custom I was expected to observe. In one hand he held a transparent plastic sample bag, and in the other he used a brush to sweep tiny pieces of grit into it. Perhaps I’d have asked at that moment what on earth he was doing, had I not been overwhelmed by the sense we had met before. Despite his wiry frame, spectacles and sunken eyes, I was as drawn to him as I had been to you all those years ago. It was almost as though…

“Can you see any more?” He asked.

“Any more? What am I looking for?”

“Alien dust. Rocks. Fragments of stars. They’ll be shining tonight if they’re here.”

I took a cursory glance around the rooftop. “I can’t see any.”

“Then we’re done.”

I followed him back down the ladder and into the house, noticing for the first time he had bare feet and that made me smile. His carpet was red and heavily patterned, just like my grandmother’s used to be. His walls were almost entirely covered by shelves holding jars of stones and powders, and his furniture looked as though it hadn’t been moved or cleaned in decades. I watched as he painstakingly trawled through his findings from the roof, discarding anything that his magnet took for its own, and setting the rest onto a piece of clear plastic. He didn’t utter a word for an hour or more, but I waited patiently until he excitedly ushered me over to his microscope.

Peering through the lens, I saw the most beautiful, intricate formation of pinks and blues and charcoal blacks. This tiny particle had a whole world of its own contained within it, made from smooth edged mountains and deceptive whirlpools. It felt like home.

“Anyone can find them. They’re falling from the sky all the time, right onto our heads! So few take the time to understand.”

“So many wish, but so few seek.” I added. A single tear was running down my face; the first to fall in years without pain. He wiped it away with his little finger, and took me into his arms so tightly it took my breath away. My suffering was done, and finally I was allowed to lay beneath a star.