This short came about via Thumbup posting about ‘Petrichor’, which is a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. This is a slight divergence from the recent trilogy that began from Souldier Girl’s image and poem, and which unleashed Unlocked on an unsuspecting and largely oblivious public. This one is more metaphysical and comes with a warning:
The idea for that came from painkills2. https://painkills2.wordpress.com
She likes to write about really distressing stuff that I can’t bring myself to read much but which mostly needs to be written. Others might find their names slightly modified, as referential characters.
I pull at my shirt and I feel the heat rising that was trapped between it and my skin. Sweat is trickling down the small of my back, glueing my shirt to me. I’m trying to stay calm, trying to distract myself, because now is not the time and here is not the place. I feel pale. I feel like the blood has rushed out of my face and is even now attempting to make my veins rupture and my heart explode. I need to get home.
I can feel myself losing it, here in the dirty, cluttered street populated by dirty, cluttered people. It’s the most unsafe place on earth. I’m shaking, and the urge is rising in me so much it makes me want to scream out loud and smash the world. I stumble and fall, opening a cut on my knee where it hit the ground hard. Hands help me up, and I brush myself off. I look embarrassed because I am embarrassed, but not for the reason they think. My knee is stinging, and it’s sweet relief. I want the pain to overwhelm me and block out these thoughts my mind is trying to kill me with.
Running now, and stumbling a little. I need to get home! If I don’t get there soon I’ll need to stop, to find a quiet place where I can fix myself up. I know there aren’t any alleys between here and home, but I look for one anyway. I’ve gone too long without a fix; I should have known better.
The stairs creak and groan as I take them two and sometimes three at a time. I hate this place; everything about it stinks of squalor and desperation and want. I love this place; no one gives a shit what you do as long as you pay your rent on time. My hands are trembling so uncontrollably I can’t get the key into the lock. It’s not the first time I’ve thought of leaving the door unlocked, but my shaking heart knows it’s a bad idea. The last time I did that I came home to a ransacked hovel, which I didn’t care about, and a stolen stash, which I did care about.
This fucking lock! The more I try to get the key into it the more it keeps moving. I can feel my eyes losing focus, and I know I’m going to faint here in the hallway if I don’t get my shit together now. I add new scratches to the door in my desperation to be inside. I could smash this fucking thing faster! I can feel my bladder voiding, the piss running down my legs.
Tears well and spill; I’m going to lose. This is the time, this is the one. It all ends here. And then the lock clicks into place and my hand’s turning the knob and, thank fuck, I’m in. The pain and longing are unbearable, and I half-blindly stumble into my lounge room. I feel myself falling; I’m not going to make it. Huge, wracking sobs escape me. So close; so far. My fingers are grasping at the carpet, pulling me forward. I feel two fingernails tearing from their beds. Good, good; the pain helps.
I’m in my bedroom. I haven’t got anything left inside me that will help me reach up to the dresser. My head hits its corner as I half drag myself up on it. The pain above my eye seems to clear the sea of the air I’m drowning in. And then I remember the emergency backup; the stash under the bed. With almost all I have left I fling myself over there and reach under, my shaking hand touching the pouch and Sweet Jesus! I’ve got it now and I’m clawing it open.
I’ve planned for this emergency. The scratched up little box has a top that easily flips open. I see inside and a surge of joy-loathing races through me. I’m going to make it. I smile for the first time in forever as I reach for the stuff I need to help me take the pain away. It’s in my hand, and then it’s in my arm.
The relief is immediate, blissful, beautiful in its own way. I feel the trickle and then the gush as blood pours down my arm and spills onto my skirt. Sanity returns, and I smile. My special knife has done her job well. I feel the peace that only a cutter can know.
“Hello, Beautiful. We’ve been expecting you.” The deep rumbling voice felt like it was being spoken directly into her. Elise opened her eyes a little; disoriented by the reds and blues that had been flashing against the outer side of her lids. She saw scales; large and looking like coloured armour. Elise felt as if she was floating above her body, looking down on it from a point somewhere near the ceiling. “So this is what dying feels like,” she thought. In her haste and agony she’d cut too deeply, once too often.
The room filled with the laughter of many, and Elise snapped back into her body before floating away from it again. She tried again, with the same result. She could snap back into it, she just couldn’t seem to stay snapped back into it. “For someone in such a hurry to leave, you sure seem to be reluctant to go,” the voice came again.
Elise had always felt torn inside; always thinking about going one way and then taking the opposite path. Now, a part of her was afraid. Not terrified; that’s a feeling you lose the second time you cut, and it’s the one you chase, to feel it again with every new laceration you make. The knife that brings you so much pleasure and relief is the same knife that takes its payment in robbing you of … the extremes of feeling, I suppose. Elise was afraid, but it was that sort of fear that lives in the middle. It long ago lost sight of the bleeding edges.
“It was the knife, you know,” the voice said. “Your new favourite weapon of self-destruction.” Elise thought of it now; the intricately carved handle and the curving blade she thought was ivory. “Dragon tooth,” said the voice, and as soon as the words were uttered Elise saw who the voice belonged to. A beautiful red and blue dragon, it’s colours bright and bold in places and muted and swirling in others, stood before her.
“Hello, Elise. Our name is Petrichor,” it said. To Elise, none of this made sense, and yet there, in the back of her mind, all of it made sense. All of it except for one thing. “You said ‘our’, and ‘we’. I don’t understand,” she said. Elise felt waves of pleasure washing over her then, emanating from the dragon. “One body; many lives. We store our memories in the strongest bodies of our kind, so that none ever really perish. It’s different for humans. You have many lives but only one body at a time, so you forget all you’ve been before. We are currently Petrichor, but we have been Paintoo, Warjia, Pearl, Scadam, and Eyreland, in other times. These in one life; Petrichor in all lives.”
I didn’t understand any of this. A corner of my mind thought that I must be dead, or comatose, or perhaps at least travelling in the valley of death. “It’s a little jarring, Elise, but it will all make sense soon enough,” Petrichor said. “Rest now, little one. Soon we have work to do.” Elise felt that energy swell out to cover her, her eyes fluttering and closing.
I woke; at least, I think I woke, and I think it was me who woke. I felt differently, and looking at as much of myself as I could see, I looked differently. “Hello, Elise,” a man, I think, smiled at me. I didn’t know what to make of him. He had the outline of a man and there were suggestions of features on his face, but he was like light, with different qualities of it etching features into him. He smiled. “You’re in the City of Light,” he said, and I’m a Soul Keeper. Without knowing how, I knew what. He smiled again. “Yes, thought travels differently here,” he said. He held his hand out and I put mine in his. Light has a physical quality; I felt his hand.
“Petrichor brought you here, and it was Lin, who I work with often, who brought you to me. Lin is a Silent Witness. It will all make sense as we go along,” the Soul Keeper said.
I looked around me at a sight that was as spectacular as it was strange to me. A vast city, with everything that implies, was made of light. Other light beings walked its streets, and it was as the Soul Keeper said; I just knew things. Life calls to life.
“There’s something I can’t work out,” I said to him as we began walking slowly, my hand in his. The question was obvious. “Why am I here?” We stopped, and sat on what I can only describe as soft light-grass, its fine tendrils swaying ever so gently in a breeze I couldn’t feel. I felt a presence in my free hand and looking to it, a lovely woman with hair like a partly-plucked chicken was holding it and smiling at me. Lin answered my question. “You’re here because we felt the ripples in the Energy. The Presence wanted us to feel it, and we’re never called unless we’re meant to act.”
I knew it to be true, although I can’t say how I knew it. “What about the dragon?” I asked. “What about me?” she chuckled from behind me. “We all have work to do, and soon we need to be about it.” We spent an hour that I knew was a brief moment in real-time talking about what had brought me here and what was to come. It was a lot to take in but by the end of it I understood that I am a Souldier. My work, done in the ether and the dream state, is to battle the negative dust that colludes, coalesces, and tries to drag newly-freed souls into the Confusion. I knew where that was. Until I was rescued, my mind had been trapped in it.
I felt the Presence in the armour I was wearing. Each piece had a story, a power, and a sacrifice that came with it. They were, all of them, remnants of dragon scales. Some were scarred, as a reminder of what it had cost the dragon that owned it. Some glowed with vitality at the memories of the souls saved; the battles won. The dragon shield given to me came from Petrichor’s breast plates, and it was big enough to cover half of my body when the fighting began, and begin it would, and soon.
It was the knife, however, that held the deepest meaning and power. It was the knife that, in my waking hours, I had used to inflict torment on myself. I hefted it, turning it over in my hand, my relationship changed to it forever. On the blade itself were carved the words: “I will not break.” They were a prediction and a promise.
My days as a cutter were over, I knew that, and what had replaced them was a peace inside me so profound that whatever had led me to cut was now no longer there. Some form of energy arced and swirled around the knife, and leapt into my armour. Small dots, like thousands of motes of ash, floated away from me and disintegrated in tiny flashes of light. It was the negative dust of a lifetime; all the pain and hurt and treachery and influence that had cruelled my mind and tormented me.
I woke into the light of day, once again inhabiting my earth-body with all its scars. They would be a reminder of my mission now; to use my sleeping hours to rescue those like me who were lost inside themselves and didn’t know why. Lin would alert me when she needed my help, and Petrichor would come to transport me to the battle and shield me from the greater evils. Our work was to help the Soul Keeper to be free to do his, so that the complexity of the Presence could breathe as much life into life as possible.
I have learned now that in this life everyone breaks. The important thing is not to stay broken.