Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Chrispy Story for YOU

I know the 2000th post was a few days ago, but I thought that a little free something was in store for you faithful readers and followers of the blog. You've traveled down a long road with me. So here's a short story for you to read. As can be seen, it's set in "The King in Yellow" model.

Thus follows a Chrispy story ...

Elizabeth: A King in Yellow Story

We shall be notes in that great symphony,
We shall not die today,
The Golden Play itself shall be our Immortality.

After Oscar Wilde’s Panthea

I. At the Hospital Waiting for the Specter of Death


Finally, after nearly an hour of offering up prayers, my beloved’s eyes blink.

"I praise the Golden Savior that you are with me again. If you hear my voice, blink again."

Oh, blessed day, her eyelids twitch. She hears! The coma has ended. For two nights and a day my faithful fast and prayers has made this moment come. Thanks to the words written by blessed Mark: I cried out for my beloved, and said with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.

Unable to speak, her eyes stare embedded in a ceresin-colored face. It reminds me of the pallid mask scene in The King in Yellow. That beauteous work has nurtured our love from playground puppy love to the depths of passion. To others, the unenlightened fools, it means chaotic, confused death. The world feels that the play is "purest poison". This, we proved by our life, is utter nonsense.

Elizabeth taught me, the play’s words are no more than those words in Matthew, "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Of course, the chaff fears! Only pure golden grain is fit for bread on the King’s table.

The play’s words mirror the soul just as surely as the Divine Book is a reflection of sin. For the pure soul, The King in Yellow liberates. To the fools, I say this: Dross must perish for purity to prevail!

Elizabeth says History tells that beauty must fight to survive ignorance. My fear is that my faith will be too weak to cleanse her cancerous curse. I am but the moon to her sun. I know the world is too jealous for her light. As Bierce the prophet of Carcosa said: The tree has robbed the grave and turned the life into a stone.

Her eyes blink again. The deep blue iris is flecked with yellow.

"Dearest may I read to you? I brought it today. Your nurse, that biddy, did not catch me this time!" Her eyes blink. "Yes! That will make you happy."

I open my pocket version to read a passage when I hear a voice from the echo-laden hallway.

They are the hateful words of the hospice nurse spewing some nonsense about my Elizabeth. I despise her.

She was the one who fights me. "Don’t excite our patient. You must not bring in that heinous book anymore." Damn her. Her very presence keeps us from pure thoughts. I put the book in my pocket. I dare not have her confiscate it.

I lean over the bed, whisper in her ear ignoring the sour smell from her hair, the flaking skin on her ear that clings to my lips.

"Sweetness of my heart, I reflected on our life together this morning. We have achieved a state of bliss, the eternal dream. I thought how we met as children at recess. I know you recall that you wore a yellow dress, how I commented it was my favorite color. The next day, you brought a chrysanthemum to me.

"Each day, we sneaked time together between games of dodge ball. We played our own clandestine game of pass the new yellow thing. I would scrounge through drawers to find some clever item to impress you. A yo-yo or ink pen from me exchanged hands with a hair barrette or lemon Lifesaver from you. Our game escalated until the moment that cemented our lives."

I know she hears, but cannot respond. Damn the nurse’s morphine. Damn the wasting disease. I continue whispering in her ear.

"I recall the moment as if yesterday. From the school notebook, you extracted the paper yellowed with age. You leaned into my ear so no one could hear. ‘It’s my grandmother’s fragment of King in Yellow.’

"Remember, dearest, how the morning fall frost had nipped the grass, turning it to afternoon golden straw? We sat in the warm October sun, in the school playground under a maple chosen for its maize-litten leaves. It secluded us from the others. That’s when you revealed your deepest secret. I felt I might not breathe listening as you told to me your family’s legend.

"You secreted how your great-grandmother carefully preserved the play from the old country. Trailing her husband, fresh off the boat from France, the slight woman trembled. Clutching her valise, she uttered not a word. She thought that to be silent was to be invisible to the morose civil servant. Instead, the wary functionary considered the young wife slyly. Might she have silver he could seize to pad his pockets? Imperiously, he snatched the heirloom bag from her grasp. The manhandled clasp snapped open. The oaf peeked into the bag. Pudgy hands ransacked through the meager possessions.

"Oh, God, the horror of that moment. He spied the manuscript in the depths of the bag with a shocked oath. The turn of the century immigration official recognized it immediately as contraband. His first thought was not of propriety, but his own safety. If his superior found the book, hours of paperwork might lead to his own imprisonment. Action was needed to save his wretched flesh.

"She, your great-grandmother, looked in horror as he ripped the pages from the book in rage. Then, by happenstance, the one page with the Sign in Yellow in wood cut floated beneath a nearby child’s long dress. Barefoot, your grandmother grasped the page between her toes. Her dispassionate steely eyes reflected her stern father’s raising.

"The little girl took her mother’s chilled hand. The official’s weasel eyes shifted. Plucking up the feathered pages as if it were from some wring-neck chicken, he shoveled them into a wood stove to incinerate the evidence. Now, deeply incriminated, the functionary knew it would take but a word from these peasants to damn him.

"The official feared discovery. The only answer was to push them out into the New World, hopefully to be devoured by the turn of the century vermin already awash in the huge city’s streets.

"Your grandmother, that little girl, pressed the page into her mother’s hands, just as soot besmirched Liberty’s torch glinted copper in the setting light of the sun. Your grandmother kept the single page from that day forward as a charm, until she blessed our companionship with it."

Elizabeth twitches involuntarily as a cancerous pain grips her body. The convulsion pops her head hard into my hovering mouth; my teeth nip blood out of my lips. I relish the rusty-nail taste, Elizabeth’s gift to me. For the life of the flesh is in the blood.

I walk across the room with my back to her. A tear cascades down my cheek.

I mumble, "…when the twin suns sink into the Lake of Hali…" I choke bag a sob. "…when this blue starlight dies, and all is through…"

Sadness does not increase my faith, so I chase the bitterness away by paraphrasing Wilde, "O Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Yet a while, yet for a little while, O, Tarry here, ‘Til the dawn cometh and the shadows flee."

My courage waxes, so I walk over to the bed again. The blue lips are so dry. I offer my beloved an ice chip. She rejects it. Then the tired eyes close again in fevered slumber.

Only a single incandescent bulb tints her dull room with yellow pallor. I plunge into the chair, strength spent. Damn that room of gloom. However, even it withers, bewitched with grief. Suddenly the bulb winks out, dead.

Thrice now, since Elizabeth arrived, the lamp has failed. Each time it is the same. An old janitor comes, harrumphs a bit, and then screws a new bulb into the faded porcelain fixture. I glance at my gold-banded wristwatch. It marks the nine o’clock hour. I tremble as I recall that it was the third hour watch, or nine o’clock, when they placed our Saviour on the tree. Now, the time grows that my savior, Elizabeth, faces her own Golgotha. I supersede the Lord’s Simon, for my thrice measured light bulb signal finds me faithful still.

Quiet reigns. I ache as I watch the life ebb out of Elizabeth. Darling, at this moment I wished Severn could be my appellation, to lift you, to stride down the silent hospital corridor to the stairs, into the golden sunlight for a miracle cure.

Instead, I stand, pace, taking inventory for the hundredth time of the ill-kept room of the Hospital of Mercy.

The hardwood floor, worn with age, resounds with each of my steps. Coated with thick build up of yellowed wax, it adheres to my shoe soles making a gummy swish.

There, a window of the last century style, eight feet tall does not allow light to penetrate. The decades of city soot eats the healthy sun to gloom.
Below the dark window, an accordion radiator resides, unneeded, as it is summer. Its yellowed rust bleeds through leaded-white paint. To one side of the decrepit thing, I notice a small shelf attached to the wall, just to the side of the long moth-eaten curtains. On this shelf resides a ceramic statue of Mary, Mother Immaculate of God. It has yellowed with its decades of neglected residence.

Above Elizabeth’s iron bed, a portrait of the sacred heart of the Savior hangs. I kneel at her bedside with a prayer on my tongue. "Holy Mother of God, Sweet Mary! Be kind to us. Plead with your Son. Save my sweet wife."

As I raise myself with my hand on her sheet, yellow pus from her cancer wets my hand. The sebum has seeped staining the sheets. I refuse to believe that the mass is a cancer. Instead it is the world eating my wife. She will find a way to win. Her spirit already prepares to soar beyond this pale shuffle. If it is up to me, I am prepared to follow. I need her guidance, though, to show me.

"Spirit of the King! If our Savior will not hear, cannot hear, will not hear, then I beg you sovereign of Carcosa, intercede!"

Immediately, the words of the mighty apostle came to my brain as a crystal answer: I knew such a man, how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

I contrast to the immortal Paul, my mortal Satan and her horde enter.

"Sir, we must minister to the patient. Please step outside."

How I hate the head hospice worker, she who works against my plan. I pull Elizabeth into the world of the living; she pushes Elizabeth from the light of the sun by use of drug.

"We must tend to the open sores and wounds of the cancer, sir. Please, step outside."

As I walk past the old book and cross door, I turn to see the hospice nurse’s visage. Through my red, teary eyes, her hawk nose and heavy brow appear as a great raptor. The eyes glint as if nictitating membranes flicker. My wife is but a jaundice-skin mouse in her grasping, talon-tipped hands. I wince as a needle pierces Elizabeth’s flesh. Instrument trays rattle. A shadow passes the great bird’s countenance.

I hiss at your venom, woman. I answer your Job 9, "as the eagle that hasteth to the prey…" with my Obadiah 4, "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down."

II. Philip’s vision: Elizabeth’s declaration of love

How long had we been in this sanctuary of dying? It feels closer to three months than three days. I recall the very day the ambulance stopped before the great campus: Our Mother of Sorrows Convalescence and Hospice. The stretcher wheeled her to the doorway transferring my weak Elizabeth to a gurney. Down we wheeled the gloomy halls of the ancient building to an elevator. As we rolled off the elevator to the fifth floor, the elevator groaned. It worked no more despite the work of the engineers. It simply ceased.

I flop in a worn-out waiting room chair in a decrepit room off a dark hallway. I just close my eyes for a moment. The thoughts of the Play crept into my mind, where the King quotes the prophet Isaiah: And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury. I remembered the aside spoken by the courtesan in golden silk robes: In their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them.

I muttered, "Elizabeth, my Angel."

I open my eyes in a start. Before me, dressed in a gauzy robe, stands Elizabeth. I drank in her transparent beauty. Though I can see through the spirit floating in front of me, I can see the folds of the gown and the luscious skin beneath. It is Elizabeth before the sickness engulfed her. Her tan complexion contrasts with the long silky blond hair. Her rosy nipples, erect pressing against the thin material, gives rise to my arousal.
She looks full of rosy color, her voice clearly articulate.

I attempt to speak, but a wave of her hand mesmerizes me to silence.

"Dearest Philip, I have something to say.

"My love, bonded from our schoolyard childhood, we have lived our lives in freedom from the mundane. In high school I freely surrendered to consummation of our love, greater than the hot lust of the greatest sweethearts through history. I remember the heat, the fullness you gave to me each time we made love. Oh that I could satisfy you now."

I realize now that this specter is a psychic projection of my Elizabeth. She can no longer speak to me in the flesh, but she has the strength to speak for a moment in this form.

She continues, "As we aged through college and beyond, the fulfillment of desire has mellowed while only increasing in depth of meaning. Each time I willingly give myself to you, it fulfills my existence.

"I think of our deep studies in college. Oh how we cried over Walden Pond. I still recall that we would read the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson until the dawn arose:

Give all to love,
Obey thy heart,
‘Tis a brave master.

Let it have scope,
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope.

But it is a god,
Knows its own path,
And the outlets of the sky.

"Is that not appropriate for our occasion today?"

My eyes might turn to fountains, but her firm hand raises again to still me.

"We chose in those days to live as though Golden Utopia already existed. For the two of us, it did exist. We transcended philosophy. They said we could not be together, you a Catholic while I am a child of nature and an atheist. But through our love, guided by the prophets, poets and the Play, we showed the world a light that death cannot extinguish.

"My fault lies in that which noble Oscar said so succinctly: Sweet, mine the fault was, had I not been made of common clay.

"Know this, my dear Philip, death shall not part us. We will find a way. I will soon leave to prepare our way, but I will send for you some day."
"I say before you, dear sweet Philip, with love what Wilde said of Shelley in worship:

Ah! sweet indeed to rest within the womb
Of Earth, great mother of eternal sleep.

I spoke then with a catch in my throat, holding back the tears. "Elizabeth, you are the amber honey that sweetens my life. I hold this hand of yours as Haita should have grasped the goddess Happiness."

Still strong, she pulled back her hand. Quoting the Shepherd back at me, she stated, "’…thou art not to worship me, who am no goddess.’ I do promise this, Phillip, I shall abide with thee. Watch for the gift of Hastur. Shortly after, you shall see the Sign."

At that her eyes closed simultaneously with her head sinking into the depths of her pillow. My breath panted in sobs. Slowly, as I watched, her eyes eased open again, but this time no longer saw. From that moment, her coma remained. She uttered no sound from then forward, save the growing rasping of her breathing.

At that moment, the air conditioning system of the hospice wing ceases to function. Elizabeth’s death encroaches; the energy of the building, of the world, fades.

I walk the hard, cold marbled hall to the stairway. The hall is lined on either side by framed portraits of nurse graduates long dead. I pass the impotent elevator, round a corner to a worn door leading to the stairway. The last photograph I see is of the Class of 1897.

I stop to gaze at the time machine before me. These were nurses of long ago, when the hospital was a Catholic Charity. Each wore crucifixes about their necks. One nurse’s image made me shudder. It seemed identical to the hated hospice nurse. I think of Milton, Paradise Lost: a formidable shape, woman foul, a serpent armed with mortal sting.

The stairs are worn in the center from decades of trod feet. Halfway down, another set of footsteps accompanies my echoed tread. A ghostly voice whispers the opening of At Verona., "How steep the stairs within the Golden King’s house are for exile-wearied feet as mine to tread." Elizabeth’s spirit accompanies me. Hurrah!

Elizabeth knows no mortal boundaries. As a disciple of atheistic naturalism she always found strength in knowing that she arose of the atomic matrices of the galaxy, and then, one-day, she would be cosmic dust again. Where matter exists, spirit also exists.

III. A Bystander

I know Elizabeth guides. My hand grasps the tarnished brass knob. It turns with a squeak, but the hinges do not budge. Shoulder shoving against the resistance, I open the creaking door. I stagger out of the hated, antiseptic-smelling, purple-shadowed hospital stairway. The sun bursts upon my eyes. I lower my gaze to adjust to the purifying rays. The sky seems endless blue, pulling, to lift me off the ground. I remember the words I heard as a child, penned by the blessed Saint John: even so must the son of man be lifted up.

Immediately, a decrepit bum wanders up to me.

"Can y’all spare some change for a boy of the south down on his luck?"

I nearly strike the buffoon’s face over the audacity to approach me, but there is something about him. I look closer, ignoring the savage accent that grates on my nerves. The skin of the bulbous rotten nose, diseased from chronic alcohol abuse disgusts me. Then I see it. On that filthy jaundiced forehead, a birthmark: the Sign in Yellow.

From heinous whiskey breath, he speaks again, "I ain’t meaning you no harm. Can y’all help with some change?"

In my mind, I hear Elizabeth quote Psalm 68, "Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with feathers with yellow gold." Years of her passionate embrace of The King In Yellow caused an accumulation of wisdom beyond the ages. In her brain, all references traced to the blessed work. Now, I knew instantly, the prophecy spoke of me.

Though I repulse at the crooked-toothed mouth that speaks, I feel compelled by Elizabeth to engage conversation.

"Do you believe in prophets, man?" I say to the sodden, soiled thing before me.

"That’s a thing I ain’t heard since I came up here to this place. Back home, Momma used to speak utterances in the Church of God of Prophecy ‘fore they shunned her."

I knew then, this man possessed a word from the gods of Carcosa.

How many times had I witnessed Elizabeth receiving prophetic words? I once confessed my jealousy over not having the gift of the pleasures of the gods. I shudder. She keeps her promise; her gift passes now to me.

"I will give you nothing, but tell me the story Hastur gave you to speak. If you do it, I will reward you handsomely." I say, encouraging the man.
"My Lord Jesus, how did y’all know Mamma’s name was Esther?"

The fool takes his hat off, his soiled, greasy hair wafting the smell of decayed psoriasis at me. Nausea pulls, but since I have eaten nothing for two days, there is nothing to vomit.

"It happened like this down in Loretto, Kentucky. Momma sat at home with my Pappy at the breakfast table. This was ‘fore I was born. Up comes a noise of folks walking, crunching the deep snow outside the door. Now y’all understand that this was out on the farm; weren’t no bodies around there. Visiting was pretty rare, especially it being February when the roads weren’t snow-covered, not fit for walking.

"Then, whoosh, the door it opens with a blast of cold air. In comes six haint men in old black mourning clothes a’carryin’ a coffin made of yellow pine. Not a word, they says to Momma or Pappy. They walk on through the shotgun house, my folks being too feared even to grab the shotgun hanging over the clothes deacon.

"Then they walk on out the back door, which is when they notice for the first time a little lamb dripping blood, laying on top of the coffin. In the morning sun, it looks golden; its neck has a blood-stained yellow ribbon tied about its pretty neck. But that blood wasn’t red like you might think, it was liquid gold!

"Momma starts speaking in tongues at the sight. Pappy, he runs outside, the fright fading from his limbs. Ain’t no footprints in the snow ‘cepting his tramping around looking for the visitation.

"Inside the house, Momma is praying to the Savior, ‘King eternal and immortal, please don’t let that be my baby boy in that box. Let your golden shed blood protect my unborn child.’

"Mister that was a sign of my birth. That emblem on that pine box? That’s the birthmark that you see on my forehead. Now, from that day the golden-robed Savior has watched over my life. But, you might look down on me, mister. You might say, ‘This man is a bum. What right does he have to claim the King?’

"I would quote back to you, Psalm 25, ‘Good and upright is He: therefore will he teach sinners in the way,’ and, Saint Matthew, ‘I will have mercy, for I am not come to call the righteous, but the evil.’"

I hand the man a twenty-dollar bill.

"The Golden Savior bless you man."

Figh! The barbarian’s prophecy was not for him. The sweet Lamb was Elizabeth, the coffin her impending death, the pallbearers the King in Yellow’s Carcosa council of six. The heathen parents’ shunning by the church elders symbolized the world trying to suffocate our freedom as the followers of Hastur.

IV. The Cathedral

The air suddenly fills with the ringing of bells signaling the noon hour. Down the walk, I espy an aged specter, a cathedral sharing the acreage of hospital’s estate. Surrounding the holy estate, commercial enterprises crushed inward.

I note that the bright robin egg sky slowly fills with cotton ball clouds.

The cathedral compels me to it. If it were possible, I should draw the church to my bosom, wring it’s holiness in my palms, and then I would run to anoint Elizabeth with the extracted oil.

The huge doors seem two centuries old, constructed of wood that once was a massive oak. I look up once more, noting the thickening clouds. I step into the gloom and out of the sun’s rays.

I pause to adjust my eyes. Looking about, I see that the foyer holds a green-tinged bronze plaque:

"If but the Vine and Love Abjuring Band
Are in the Prophets' Paradise to stand,
Alack, I doubt the Prophets' Paradise,
Were empty as the hollow of one's hand."

This apocryphal work is unknown to me, though it strikes me reminiscent of the Odes of Solomon.

My mind opens to a depth that make my knees weaken. My days of fasting, the passionate pain of Elizabeth’s fading yellow light open a new recess in my brain. Past, present, future conflates to the moment of now. Never have I had such clarity of thought.

V. The Monk

The dank-aired nave stretches nearly a third of a football field, filled with dark shellacked pews. I imagine the tiny red insects collected by scrambling, dark-skinned natives of a century past. The insects, like the parishioners, gave sacrificially to construct architecture for the ages. The bugs and people are gone, bodies dust, but their residue remains.

Far to the front, to the right of chancel, a gray shadow of a man stands weakly illuminated in the dancing candle’s flames of the oratory niche. Above, huge, tarnished brass chandeliers hang though dwarfed by the enormity of the cathedral ceilings.

Elizabeth! How she enjoyed touring the long ago mansions, wishing she could swish down a stairway with bustle in train. She once wrote a poem wherein she was a debutante introduced at her age of ascendancy. She stood after reading, curtsying before me. Enjoying the game, I bowed nobly before her, took her hand, and boldly stole a kiss of her smooth hand. I can still remember the taste of her flesh then, the warm aroma of her hand, the soft vulnerability of her wrist bone. Oh, Elizabeth!

Upon nearing the candle lit figure, one cannot imagine the shock I felt. Here was a brother, a monk, of some hoary order in coarse sweat-smelling woolen garb. The cloaked figure turned but the face was invisible, shrouded by an enormous hood. I spoke nothing. The figure spoke not to me either, but as it passed I had a glimpse or at least an impression of a pallid, soft blob where a man’s face should exist.

Glancing to the monk’s hands to confirm my fears, I found them shrouded in the wide sleeves of the frock, no chance to collaborate the evidence. I shuddered involuntarily. As the monk glided away unwashed stench wafted. It hinted at dark necrosis. No echoes of footfalls stirred, though mine had previously echoed on the dark, hard wood floor.

I turned to the candles. The words of the Lord’s angels came to mind, when he spoke to Lot’s family to not look back. This was unnecessary since the polished brass back of the candle niche reflected the nave. The retreating monk’s image should have been evident, but it was not in the reflection.

My mind focused on the task at hand. There were matchsticks of a foot long, but not of the modern striking kind. These needed to be lit by a candle fire. I selected the candle blessed by the priest, the large vase candle in the center. I lit the matchstick, then selected a pretty, yellow glass vase for Elizabeth. It lit quickly with the sweet odor of ivory beeswax emanating from the wick.

VI. The Priest

I made the sign of the cross.

"Hail Mary, Hail Joseph, Hail Michael. Hear my prayer blessed Mother and intercede with our Saviour to heal my Elizabeth."

I felt an immediate presence behind me. I turned to see the priest standing silently, hands clasped. It reminded me of the game my catechist taught during breaks. "Here’s the church/ here’s the steeple/ open the church/ here are the people." I smiled. It would be my last for some time.
"Father," I said, "Good day…" I was unable to finish for I was interrupted instantly.

"Why are you troubled my son? The Golden Saviour hears your prayers through our Blessed Mother, but he is displeased. You hang on to your wife’s earthly body, but do not allow her soul to soar, to be in His presence. Embrace the gift bestowed. Serve the Chrysos. Praise to our gold-robed Pope."

My first impression was of the flared ears highlighted by salt and pepper, short hair bringing to my mind an aged thought of a 1940’s Father Flanagan.
I started to protest. How could you know my predicament? How horrid! I stood scolded as a schoolboy by this eerie priest. My tongue nearly loosened for a rebuttal when I saw the ivory flesh of the Father. His face seemed to be more like a cracked painting of three centuries ago, yellowed, weathered albumin pigment decayed by the passing of ages.

The priest placed an icy hand on my shoulder, the cold penetrating through my thin shirt to my breastbone. He lifted his head. Age-stained teeth formed words in Latin, beginning Pater Noster …

I grew up in the transitional years of Vatican II, so my memory of Latin was too faded to know the words. It worried me they were spoken, not with an accent, but as if the language were as natural should Latin still be a living language.

Finishing, the priest pointed not at the entrance, but to a side exit. The gnarled claw pointed as arrogantly as the death finger pointed to Scrooge’s grave. I feared not to follow the silent instruction. I should have.

I knew, also, not to turn around, for I knew, God save me, I knew the priest would no longer be there, though only my footsteps could be heard.
I passed the basin of holy water. I thought to use it to make the sign of the cross, but when I peered into the blessed water, it was as yellow as urine. I could not bring myself to make use of the sacred salted water.

VII. The Sixth Station: The Love of Veronica to the Saviour

Nearing the exit door, a compulsion forced me to look at the sixth station of the cross. There was Saint Veronica dabbing at the sweat of the Saviour. The mural was medieval in tone. How can I express the astonishment overwhelming me? I looked peered across the way to the mural thinking that if I squinted the illusion might dissipate. Assuredness grew as I stared. The face of the saintly maid was not of Veronica. Elizabeth’s face beckoned. I blinked, but it did not fade. How I wanted to run to the portrait, to first kiss the soon to be crucified Lord, then to kiss my sweet beloved.

Fear that the vision would fade if I approached the holy setting. I escaped through the aged door.

VIII. In the Garden

The sunlight purged for a moment my stress. It was not nearly as intense. In the time I spent with my unearthly encounters, the dull sky contained billowing cumulus clouds in the north. Slowly my eyes began to clear. I glanced about, taking in the view.

Roses, yellow roses! They spread through the garden as gilded ornaments. Lining yards of pathway, green stems held aural goblets. I wanted to take one and sip the liquid nectar from the cup. Here were seemingly the chalices of Christ, so surely the Alchemists Elixir of Life must be contained in the cups.

I rounded one of the winding dirt paths admiring the breathtaking beauty. Elizabeth, how I wish you were here. How could I get used to your absence on one of our usual adventures of discoveries.

IX. The Nun

There to one side of the pathway kneeled a nun in old habit of long ago. She squeezed between broad bushes, fingers plying the chryseus blossoms.

The golden roses shone fluorescent in the bright sun. I desired to go over and sip from their nectar hoping that love Envy swept over me. Not simply because here was Life, when my sweet Elizabeth lay at death’s grim grip. I had a rose garden in our backyard, but through Elizabeth’s lingering, deteriorating illness, the garden became neglected. The green, glittering armored bodies of Japanese beetles devoured until there was little left.

I walked toward the old nun, her habit large and ensnaring. Her legs peeked out unshaven with dark hairs highlighted on thin skin, varicose veins bluing the off-colored marble of her extremities. How contrasting those bristled legs were with my wife’s smooth, delicate flesh.
"Hello, sister. You seem hard at work."

Could I reach through time and space to withdraw those words of greeting, I would open an artery and shed my life’s blood. If the nun’s face were normal, it would have revealed a Vietnamese woman of fifty years. In some other life, this woman had been viscously, savagely, inhumanly attacked with acid. She looked up at me, face melted as wax too close to the heat. Her left side was eyeless. The other eye looked out with insanity. Bug ooze dribbled down her chin. I had my explanation why the garden lacked infestation, but God be merciful, take that memory from my skull.
The event’s experience was more than I could stand. I could not help but stare at the stigmata in her Asian hands, droplets of blood ran from thorn pricks. It was at that moment the insane woman chose to smile, to show what might have been taken for teeth. I swooned.

X. Street of Paradise

I stood no longer in the Cathedral’s garden, but on a golden road, transparent as glass. Lined on either side were marble pillars as opalescent as alabaster. At the top of each pillar there lay a filigree support that winded to a peak. Within these holders sat saffron phials of the distilled prayers of the holy saints. The scent emanating from these essential oils transcended any earthly odor, but the were reminiscent of the sweetest ginseng.
My mind recalled the words of the blessed Saint John of the Revelation: The wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.

I trod the outskirts of the Heavenly City. Glittering jeweled doors ringed a huge palace with one central barred gate. I do not know how I knew, but beyond the bejeweled gates sat golden censers of incense. The air was beyond perfume. It was the smell of Elizabeth’s neck during our lovemaking embrace. It was her essence.

At once, my heart leapt. While Elizabeth was an atheist, that mattered not to the cosmos. Religious differences, or no belief, my faith in the eldritch traditions of the Church met Elizabeth’s belief in the truth of the Universe before these gates. This was where my beloved would go. I felt it as I had felt nothing before.

The palace was vast. How would I find dear Elizabeth in such enormity? Our love would be a magnet, time would be eternal, but the daunting task of infinity might thwart our search. There was also the concern, that as I saw the Eternal City, she might perceive in her reality, a Saganesque world of alien sentience, or an ideal Utopia as presented by her hero, E. O. Wilson.

There was only one answer for us. I would stand guard. The moment her soul swished past the cirrus clouds to the palliflaveus pearl gate, I would bar her entrance. My arms would sweep her angelic body into my mortal arms and grasp her one last time.

XI. Golden reed to measure the city

As I contemplate my plan, an image arises as a mist before me. The fog obscures the jasper clear gates. From the midst emerged an angel of fearsome dimension. The huge armed giant’s Herculean stride reaches me in moments. The being is decidedly, conspicuously male the guardian of Heaven being completely nude.

"I am Michael. What business do you have here mortal?"

"I am husband of Elizabeth, sweet saint to be. I come to intercept her journey for one last kiss."

The Goliath of an angel has a mask of alabaster. Behind the eye slots, fire rages. To the left side, from a belt of raw hide, two rods hang. There was a measuring rod of canarius color and a rust red iron rod. It reminds me of the passages taught to me as a youth, with a measuring reed Michael judges for the Saviour, but the rod of iron is harnessed until the command is given to judge the nations.

On the right side, a mighty sword is sheathed.

He reaches up, removes the mask, thereby revealing a bloodless gash in his cheek.

"Sir, how come you by this mark?"

Michael responds, "I acquired this wound at the Luciferian war ancient aeons ago."

Behind the mask, the god Ares peers at me. He extracts the shining sword, which flashes in the angel’s right hand. The blade shines like lightning, and as it moves, deep, growling thunder rolls.

Behind the angel, music drifts until it tangibly separates our bodies, holding the warrior at bay. I do not know the words of Latin, but the instrumental portion is like light bells ringing admixed with the lightest strum of lyre.

Then a voice silences the sword, dulls the brightness of the blade, and then compels Michael to replace the mask of alabaster. He sheaths the sword and assumes an attitude of humility.

"He is permitted for a season, faithful Michael."

XII. Bierce

My mind reels at the next vision.

From the gates strides a bold man.

"Goddamn it, son. Do you have to rattle the gates of Paradise with your whimpering?"

The western garbed man of the nineteenth century walks up to Michael as if they are friends. My wonderment is answered.

"Do you know the verse? ‘Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.’

"You are the prophet Bierce?" I stammer.

"Hell, how do I know. Down there, I was cynical man. My bitterness burned to my detriment. My comeuppance came down in Mexico, shot down by a bandit bullet, I found myself straddled by Satan on one side and my friend Michael on the other. It was as if I were a Moses being fought over by two angels. The one I knew well, having written his dictionary, but this was my soul over which they contended.

"On the one side, Lucifer says how my odes against Wilde, Kipling and Twain would be enough to damn me. Michael then opens a book with a golden cover. Inside is the damnedest sign I ever did see. That’s when old slew foot left and I ended up here."

"Why are you here before me? What business do we have?"

"I wrote a skeptical story once called Beyond the Wall. I have had some time to reflect on that story. You deserve better. My reclamation is tied to helping you. The elements of the Heavens are aligned with you, Philip. Myriad soldiers in the King’s army, some willing participants while others like myself, for my own welfare, are compelled to conspire to assist your Elizabeth.

"Though I am in heaven itself, I am not yet a religious man. However, to each his own path. Elizabeth treks one of atheistic freedom. You are bound by a single, papist tradition. Together your creation of faith has welded a new example for the cosmos. Today, Philip, you are my prophet."
With that statement, the old man glowed, soul cleansed by the purity of what Elizabeth formed.

Then, Michael bristles once again at a thundering voice. He draws his flaming sword, finger pointing away from the Heavenly city.

I place my hands hard over my ears to muffle the reverberating voice. I hear, "His time is now over."

XIII. On the Street

I recover from my swoon. My heart races, as I stand on the sidewalk outside the cathedral garden.

I watch the western sky as the cotton white clouds turn first to egg shell with almond streaks. Shadows continue then to ply the leaden sky until slate gray blocks the golden sun. Finally, most ominous, the ceiling of the Earth becomes olive green. Cracks of silver lightning appear in the black wall of the sky. A drop of cool rain strikes my cheek. I look up. The sky menaces the world. The sky weeps for her. I recall the Psalmist: They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

Behind my running feet the cathedral bells ring two in the afternoon amidst distant thundering. Instinctively I know that I must be by Elizabeth’s side before the stroke of three. Did not the blessed Saint Luke, ministering aide to our beloved Saint Paul, write: At the ninth hour, the Golden Saviour laid down the battle; gave up the ghost.

I run, but dodging a woman struggling to open her yellow umbrella in the breeze, my foot catches a crack. Tripping, my palm catches my fall on the rough, damp cement. For a brief moment, I look at the bloody scuff mark in my palm. At that very place in the sidewalk, some graffiti artist has drawn in gilded paint that has transferred to my palm. The mark, streaked with my blood, is the Sign in Yellow. Praise the Golden Savior for His Sign.
The rain is beginning to soak me, stinging with summer hail. I grab the knob of door to the old hospital stairwell and pull. The shadowed purpled stairs flash silver in the lightning. The power seems to have completely ceased except for weak emergency lighting.

Oh Madonna Mia, wait a moment yet. Oh, my Beatrice await your Dante so we may climb the Stair of Gold together.

I rush up the stairs, blood ready to burst through my heart’s chest from five flights of exertion. Down the hall I trot to her room.

The path is barred. The door to Elizabeth’s room was marked: No Entry. I am defeated.

I collapse in a chair. A nurse walks toward me. Behind her, on the nurses station desk sits a vase with a single yellow rose, now brown with neglect.

XIV. The Last Vision

With no warning, I transport to a verdant hill just outside the small college Elizabeth and I attended twenty years previous.

I stand before a canvas, paints lie arranged scientifically by hue on a palette. Elizabeth sits on a limestone rock, girded in white cloth, but nude from the waist up, her skin different than I remember. In college she sunned nude to my delight and ogling. She had a beautiful all-over tan then. Now she appears pale as if she was an ancient grandmother who ingested arsenic to keep Caucasian complexion.

She is pert, exciting to behold, her darkly blushed areola ringing hard nipples. I reach for a brush to paint her portrait, though I confess I never have had artistic skills prior to this moment. Elizabeth smiles sweetly at my apparent arousal. I long to take her, to feel her heat on my member.
The scene begins to change as if in a Henri Rousseau painting. Underbrush overwhelms the grass, blocking the view of the college campus in the distance. Images shift, conforming to his style.

Rousseau stood in the tradition the reacted against the advent of photography, but grappled to move past impressionism. Strong, clear colors emphasized the wooden figures.

Elizabeth is now inclined, inanimate, in a forest scene, now fully nude, but nearly unrecognizable.

The brush slips from my impotent fingers. Rousseau has taken command of the vision, but I fight him. He is the master, but my faith is strong, my will superior. Elizabeth translates back to herself.

How many more foes must I vanquish to prove my love?

XV. The Departure

I awake from my vision. In the mortal world, less than a moment has passed.

"Sir, I think you should follow me. Now!" The raptor-faced nurse’s voice sinks my heart. I am thrust into the present of the now, forced to deal with the worst with my mortal enemy.

The nurse fairly runs as I try to keep up with her. We enter the door. Elizabeth is but a wisp. There is only blue skin where the molecules of oxygen refuse to join with her hemoglobin. Eyes stare, unknowing, outward into space, dry.

Elizabeth, I shall shed enough tears for our four eyes, but I do not have the energy, dear, to breathe for two. The band of sadness is squeezing the air out of my diaphragm. Sobs escape from my throat.

My wife does not need holy unction, last rites unnecessary, since my wife is not Catholic. Her clay hands I hold watching. I cannot take my eyes off her shallow, labored breathing. A breath, a long pause, another breath she takes. Then she breathes no more.

My throat can’t breathe in the cloying air. The hawk-nurse reaches to comfort me but I push her away. Her face is gory, raw. I know her ministrations. She seeks to numb me in her hellacious potions.

"Keep thy laudanum for your own shit-encrusted flesh!"

I laugh as she feigns disbelief at my words, as if she had feelings. Yes, she has the feelings that Jezebel did to Nathan in her seizing plot against his vineyard.

"Consort to Belial, cursed nurse, I say to you my wish: The dogs eat even your palms, you heathen bitch."

An icy wind blasts through the open window removing the stifling warmth. The curtains twitch. My eyes are drawn to the small statue of the Blessed Mother sitting on a shelf. The curtains flare as the ceramic figure falls to the floor shattering into shards. The Madonna is no more.

The rain is pouring now. Lightning flashes while thunder rumbles.

Milton’s words in Samson Agonistes resound in the vibrations: O dark, dark, dark, irrecoverable dark, total eclipse. I spit at the storm and rebuke: Hope of Day triumphs/ I go to the arms of my Elizabeth / Thus I curse thy bolts in my death.

From His portrait, from the Sacred Heart of the Saviour flows real blood and yellow ichor spurts from the spear wound in the side. I know my prayer is heard, for the eyes are those of the Golden Savior.

"I love you dearest Elizabeth. I join you."

I see the face of death’s skeletonic head outside the open window. I run to meet him, through the fifth-floor open window leaving the shrieking harpie-nurse to reign in her Hell.


If you got this far, thank you for reading. :)

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