Heat and Dryness, Cold and Moisture

July 12, 2013 § 2 Comments

I noticed two major things upon moving to Denver from Cleveland.

First: the altitude. Denver is called the Mile High City for a reason, while Cleveland is at sea level. The unacclimated visitor (or new resident) finds their breath going short and harsh with even such minimal exertion as walking up a flight of stairs. The air is thinner here, and even just a mile’s difference leads to unexpected complications. Water boils at a lower temperature. Yeast works oddly, such that baking bread is an experiment in frustration even with high-altitude flour (yes, it exists). Go high enough into the mountains and you can’t even cook rice properly – the liquid boils off at too low of a temperature, requiring a closed system. Even down at Denver’s altitude, rice can be tricky.

Over time, though, you acclimate to the altitude. It’s fun going back to Ohio each year. The air tastes thick and rich at sea level (last visit I was sick with it, dizzy and lightheaded, drunk on oxygen for the first two days), and you feel like you can run for hours and never tire. Nowadays I only notice the altitude when I go up into the mountains – 8000 feet, 9000 feet, and that’s just the foothills, not even proper snow-capped fourteeners. Denver’s height no longer affects me.

The second thing is the dryness. I don’t think you ever fully adapt to it. Lip balm, a water bottle, and hand lotion are utter necessities, as this is (essentially) a desert. Winter is the worst. I can go without hand lotion sometimes in summer, but in winter my knuckles turn red and cracked and chapped, requiring frequent hydration. It’s easy to keep to the recommended eight-cups-a-day of water here, necessary even; if I get less than three large water bottles of H2O each day, I feel dehydrated. I have oily skin, but since moving to Denver I’ve had to use facial moisturizer daily, at least in the winter.

You become keenly aware of fire and water. I never thought much about water before moving to Denver, never really took notice of its presence or use; northeast Ohio is rich in it, thanks to Lake Erie, the broad deep rivers, constantly cloudy skies with regular rainfall and snowfall. Here, though, water is rare and precious. There are lawyers who make their careers specializing in water rights. In particularly dry years, some counties set water use restrictions. Others simply set costly fees if you use more than a certain amount of water in a period.

We don’t quite have the four seasons of a classic temperate climate here. Spring is short, desperate, and late; fall is crisp and beautiful but equally short-lived. Winter is regularly broken with days or weeks of sun and warmth; summer is unpredictable and storm-ridden but with little rain. The growing season doesn’t last long enough to support much agriculture even if the soil and moisture levels allowed for it, which they don’t; livestock is far more viable here, cattle roaming the prairie like a more domestic echo of the once-great buffalo herds.

It’s easier to think of the Front Range’s seasons as “dry” and “wet”. Our wet season is January through April; we get an occasional snowfall before that, brief and pleasant, but the real snow – all the blizzards – are in January, February, March, and sometimes April. The bulk of our water comes from snow. It’s most valuable in the mountains, renewing the streams that flow to the thirsty urban valley. March sees some rain. April sees a little more. In June the storms come like clockwork, summer squalls sweeping down the mountains each evening across Denver for a brief downpour before sailing off across the high plains.

Then – it’s dry. Dry and windblown, which is worse. June, July, August, September: this is fire season, though it seems to begin earlier with each passing year. This year has been abnormally dry. March is usually the snowiest of all, but this year it’s the driest on record – and the fires began yesterday, fueled by hurricane-force winds. 100+ acres in Jefferson County, south and west of central Denver, turning the skies gray and brown until you could smell the smoke even in Denver proper. The fires aren’t improved by a beetle epidemic in the foothills, killing the pines and reducing them to tinder; it’s not gotten cold enough in years to kill them off like it once did on a regular basis. Climate change in devastating action.

In the dry season, fire bans are posted everywhere. There’s a joke that if you kill someone, all you have to do to get pardoned is put a gas can in their hand. It’s a black sort of humor because it’s not far from the truth – we take fire very seriously around here. It was a surreal experience to visit the Midwest again and see a towering bonfire in the middle of a grassy field, practice for local firefighters. My heart made it into my throat before I remembered how much wetter the ground was out east.

There are actually several upshots to the dryness, though. Heat is more bearable without the thickness of humidity. The temperature drops the moment the sun sinks behind the mountains, and a shaded spot is noticably cooler than a sunny one, with no moisture to trap and distribute heat. The arid climate leads to fascinating adaptations in the flora, creating a land defined by textures: cacti, sage, juniper, a waving sea of prairie grasses. It means sunlight, too, more days with sun than most of the country; seasonal affective disorder is so much more muted and bearable here than in wet, cloudy Cleveland. Lack of moisture means deep blue skies, vibrant and unobscured by clouds; it means spectacularly starry nights, especially in the foothills and mountains – you can even see the Milky Way with startling clarity when you’re 8000 feet up. The dust and dryness and altitude make for fantastic sunsets against the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains.

It’s not just grandeur and splendour – there are little mundane advantages too. Hair dries at an astonishing rate. With my short, fine hair, I never use a blow dryer anymore. Mildew and mold are rarely concerns. Towels and clothing dry within an hour or two. Mosquitoes are short-lived and sparse.

This is not a gentle land. It’s not fertile or hospitable. In the eastern parts of the States, the land feels tame, domesticated, fully turned to agriculture and small sleepy towns by generations of grooming. Here in Colorado’s Front Range, though, even the urban places don’t feel tame. The city has shallow roots, and the arid wild creeps in at the edges and through the cracks. We bow to the land’s demands in order to survive, rather than gentling it to our desires; there are too few resources for domestication to be a viable option. Fire reminds us when we overreach, and drought.

It is not a gentle land. It is rugged, sometimes brutal, and starkly beautiful in its own way. It’s an amazing place to live if you are willing and able to adapt to its nature – for the land here will not adapt to yours.


Seeking Beauty

May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

You cannot wait, passively, for beauty to find you, if you wish to live with beauty daily.

Oh, sure, the climactic splendorous lovelies will find you in your passivity, and may do so in such a bright and brilliant way that even the most complacent can’t miss it: the most panoramic of sunsets like Midas touching the sky, or snow-capped mountains majestic and proud, or… Well, perhaps not. I’ve seen people ignorant of even breath-stealing sights like that, visions I’d thought impossible to miss, yet it’s easy to sit and curse the rush-hour traffic or endure tunnel-vision of getting from point A to point B.

You have to be aware of beauty, and open to it. Notice your surroundings: see, smell, taste, hear, touch. Engage. Feel. There are sights so classically lovely that they’re easy to spot, but it takes a closer look to find the little things.

There. A spot of green in the sidewalk crack, beaded with dew.

Or there. The crinkle at the corners of a smiling woman’s eyes.

Even there: the reflection of blue sky and scudding white clouds in the gleaming mirror-glass tower of a downtown building.

I am lucky to live in a place of great beauty. Denver is a lively, fascinating city full of art and a diversity of humanity, nestled at the meeting-place between mountain range and plains. I see mountains on my daily commute home, not far in the distance, a skyline that changes with the light. The high plains greet me as I leave my workplace, just past the parking lot, all rushing wind and gold-green ocean of prairie grass. Always, there is the sky: we’re closer here, higher up, less atmosphere to fog it up with gray, and the ever-present wind moves the clouds swiftly along to keep it clear, sunny, achingly blue until the sun sets behind mountains and dust. We have the most incredible skyscapes.

But there are people who say Colorado is only browns, unappealing, unlovely. Yet the brown bit, that desolate lonely beauty of autumn prairie and cactus canyons, is the part I love best.

You have to look from many angles.

There’s a serpentine part of me, fanged and hungry, that finds a scintillating pang of beauty in the tart coppery keen of human pain. There’s a fiery feathered part of me that finds equal loveliness in the constant struggle to be free, the transformation of the self, the soul’s tenacious fight to change and heal and live and grow… in our capacity for adaptation. I have been awestruck by the rare moments of illumination in a treatment center, those points of realization or breakthrough or fragile gifts of trust despite everything – made all the more precious by the grime and darkness and trials these moments grow in.

There is beauty in the things that frighten, in the things that safeguard, in things that hurt or heal or cry or sing. The entire range of emotion, experience, existence. The large things. The small things. The long-lasting things, the fleeting things; the ancient things, the brand new things. The bits in the cracks, refusing to quite fall through into obscurity. The cracked things. The cracks themselves, and the caulk that seams them.

Finding beauty is like finding myth, or magic, or the divine – though perhaps these are all the same things with different names. You have to see, and seek, and notice. You have to be open to it.

I am always happier when I remember to live in that open seeking mind-space.

Surrounded by Wonder

May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

My life is full of magic, and too often I forget to notice.

This weekend I drove into the mountains, greeted fellow dreamers, and dressed myself in soft shining coppers and blues, something out of medieval fantasy. Horns on my head, long ears extending from mine; I became someone else, let the passionate emotional direct side of myself out to play, and stepped into another world.

One full weekend. Live-action roleplay at its worst is just play-acting, “let’s pretend” for grown-ups. At its best it is theater, it is magic, it is transformation: I am immersed in another world, everyone playing their part, and I am drowning in the magnification and characterization of an oft-buried aspect of Self. It is magic when I forget myself and become that character so deeply that I feel the rush of adrenaline, I am shaking in the satyr’s rage without meaning to, I am a hurricane of fury and pain barely kept in check. Let go, and be.

Once the weekend was over, my lover and I let our shadows out to play and dance and struggle. Immersed in a different world altogether, inducing fear even though we both know there’s no real risk of harm, fear on the edge of pain that bubbles up into my throat stretched bare by a hand in my hair, the pull burning at my scalp. Trapped there to flutter in panic, pulse like a living thing held in place by a tightening grip that knows exactly how far to go, when to pause, where to stop, how far to push without harm. And this, too, was magic; two shadows consuming and consumed in a dynamic tension.

This weekend, walking as a satyr brimming with emotion, I sat next to someone I’d met only briefly once before a year ago. He was a satyr too, though I don’t think that’s too far from his normal state – Mediterranean ancestry showing in angular features, curly brown hair, faun-dark eyes, mischief in his movements. There was something very familiar about him, and sitting next to him was comfortable, easy. I was just beginning to think of how he seemed so very familiar when he asked me if I, out of character, had been to these places, worked in those parts of town, something – because to him, I too seemed very familiar, like he’d known me for a long time.

Ah, well! Old friends I’ve never met, truly? Again, without calling for it, without wrapping my will around the tangle of lines in my chest and tugging? Magic. Connections never made this lifetime, only rediscovered.

A dragon lives coiled down the hall from me, dark eyes full of old knowledge and old pain. We share a bond older than our bodies and deeper than flesh, myth and memory braided so tight it’s hard to tell which is which. As if it matters…

I was reading through some writings, my perceptions of other people – poetry and rhythm, texture and imagery – and wondering at the amazing intense people in my life. Dragons walking in human skin, barely disguised, boiling with size and heat. Elves and fae, fitting better in their forms but burning there, consuming, spinning spirit fine as mist through their bodies and back out. Animal-folk with the wild deep in their gaze and feral movement, fur and feathers itching muscle.

And all of this could be mere story, mere archetype, simply myth – but there is no mere about it, for even without fact there is Truth here, mythic truth, mythos, and that is what feeds the soul. That is where the magic is, in the stories we tell and live and breathe.

Life Lessons

May 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

1. Becoming Music

I used to listen to music the way most people do: casually, in the background, maybe singing along while driving or doing chores. Sometimes there’s that song that means something to you – it’s attached to a memory, or a feeling, or a person – and you’ll stop and engage with it a bit more deeply; I had those songs, here and there throughout high school, like anyone else.

I have a friend, my brother in spirit and in heart. He boils with intensity and passion and emotion, battle scars on his soul evidence of a tangled past. It consumes him from the inside out, and so he finds time in safe places and safe moments to let it out.

He taught me a new way of listening to music. Of engaging in music, letting the words and notes and sound fill you until it pours out of every part of you. Immersing in a song until it is all that exists.

He didn’t teach me this in so many words, not in a direct way, not even intentionally. But I learned it from him anyway, through watching, and feeling.

I remember sitting on a couch while he pulled up a song to share with me. I don’t remember the song, now; I don’t remember anything that happened before or after. What I remember is this: him, not facing me, his eyes closing – the song pounding, raw lyrics – and the roiling, searing emotion radiating off of him. He sank deep into the music and let it slice into him, open up his insides. The dragon within uncoiled, danced the storm of song, released for a few minutes from the confines of his body. Pulsing searing waves of self, of shadow and pain and brightness and harshness and, all of it, draining out like infection from a lanced wound.

The song ended. I found myself hugging my knees to my chest, curled into a ball against the barrage of sheer feeling. I was both overwhelmed and awed, somehow. I never knew music could be experienced that way, at that level, so completely and intimately.

Now, years later, it is hard for me to listen to music casually. It’s why I enjoy fluffy pop music so much – it’s catchy but it’s not emotive, it’s not something I’m tempted to immerse myself in. I can listen to it in the background. Anything with powerful lyrics, depth of mood, emotional melody – I can’t listen casually to that. I engage it, I let it thrum through my bones and sing to my heart, catch the edges of my spirit aflame.

My favorite songs ignite the entirety of me and send me soaring, unbidden.


2. Learning to Dance

I was twenty years old when I danced for the first time.

Oh, I’d moved in a dancing way before – there was the year I played a gypsy at renfaire, and the dance mistress drilled us in bellydance on an outdoor concrete pad beneath a sticky hot June sun – and I’m sure there were times before that, though I can’t remember any.

But I didn’t really dance, not with all of my being, not truly – until I’d passed two decades in this life.

It was my first time at a club, too. On the second night of a mini-conference of sorts for energy workers, vampires, and otherkin, we went to a small cramped goth club… I haven’t seen anything like that night before or since: a crowded floor absolutely full of mythic souls bursting the seams of their earthen bodies, stomping and flowing and twisting, spinning ribbons of energy. Energy work incorporated into dance – ecstatic movement that expressed emotion and spirit – the thrum of music spun by an elven DJ who adapted his playlist deliberately to the energy of the dance floor.

For the first hour – maybe two hours – I simply watched, entranced. Such passion and wonder! I’d never seen anything like it. A part of me longed to participate, to create beauty in magic and movement and music as well, but the self-conscious fear in me held back. I was still all beak and pinfeathers, high-alert bird amidst the crowding.

A fox-person encouraged me, teased me, asked me when I’d go dance. I demurred, and waited several more songs, longing but hesitant.

It’s colder than before
The seasons took all they had come for
Now winter dances here
It seems so fitting don’t you think?
To dress the ground in white and grey…

The first strains of VNV Nation’s Beloved began to play, and many who’d been resting leaped to their feet, called back onto the floor by the music. An intense but gentle angelic, the partner of my university roommate who’d invited me here, moved towards me with the music. He took my hands, beckoning silently, drawing me onto the dance floor and releasing me at its edge.

I must take the plunge alone.

We were once young and blessed with wings
No heights could keep us from their reach
No sacred place we did not soar –

I breathed. Closed my eyes. Let the music flow into me, through me; let my heartbeat match it. Let it pull light and power and flame into my hands, along my body. I stepped forward onto the black-and-white of the dancefloor, dove into the music, and flew.

Grant me wings that I might fly
My restless soul is longing
No pain remains, no feeling
Eternity awaits

I soared. I dipped, and wheeled; I rode the crescendo of the song like thermals. When it ended my whole body was pulsing, I found myself breathless and half-drenched, but the part of me that is hollow-boned and wind-breasted was sated, calmed, content.

That is how I dance, now. Not in any proscribed motion, not for form, not for beauty. I dance for catharsis, for release. I dance to trance, to shapeshift, to weave energy and emotion about me in a scintillating display for those who know how to see.


3. Learning to Taste

My relationship with what I consume has been erratic over the years. Often, food has been a necessary evil: refuel my body like pumping gas into a car, mechanically, because without it I tremble and sweat, and blackness consumes the edges of my vision. I’d try new and interesting sorts of food, just to say I had; and there were things I enjoyed, but rarely did I taste my food in any depth. I wolfed it down, cleared my plate, and then got back to productivity.

My lover grew up in New Orleans, that wet colorful city with its mixed heritage and chaos of sound and scent and people. He tells me there is a powerful tradition of food in New Orleans – hundreds of restaurants and food stands and shops. You connect with people over a shared meal; it’s a social bonding agent.

He has a brilliant passion for food. Tasting, consuming, cooking, exploring. He takes a bite, enjoys it, examines it; talks excitedly about its preparation, the spices within, the loveliness of its execution, its texture, its flavor profile. He tries to figure out how it was done, and sometimes he later attempts to create something inspired by what he’s tasted.

I began to do the same. I’m no cook, though perhaps someday I may try again; but I am learning to taste, rather than just eat. To be more mindful of what I put into my body, to experience each bite.

It’s an oddly synesthetic experience. Each component, each oil and spice and the preparation and the core ingredients – all of it – has a pitch, to my senses. A note. When my elf-lover asks me what I think of a dish he’s preparing, what do I think it needs – I struggle to translate.

“It’s all high pitched, upper register, sharp,” I said once. “It needs – I don’t know – a counternote – something balancing, lower-pitch…” Grasping for something practical. “A more earthy tone?” He understood then, tossed in some bay leaves and some pepper, and suddenly there was harmony.

It’s a fascinating experience. This dish here is the melody, and the bread on the side is the bass line, and the vegetables are the counterpoint. A meal becomes a symphony… and you wouldn’t give a live musical performance you’d paid to attend half an ear, would you?

I’ve found, too, that when I truly taste my food, I need less of it. I listen to my body’s responses, and stop when I’m full. I crave less sugars and fatty salts, because I’m able to detect and enjoy subtler tastes of more wholesome food. I eat more slowly, more mindfully; I engage in the full sensory experience, and it fills my heart and head along with my belly.

That Strange Madness

November 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written in November 2006

“I love you.”

Those three words terrify me. I use them only sparingly at first, with utmost care; once said several times, the phrase loses its potency and becomes a comfort, a soft whiff of warmth on the breeze of breath.

I love you.

Powerful words for a powerful state. I wouldn’t call it an emotion – it’s more of a deep psychological drive, too complex to be mere feeling. Some say it readily, caught in the rush of passion mingled with intimacy, that high of infatuation; I don’t trust an early “I love you”. It’s too quick. Too easy. Too little thought. You can’t know yet, I say, agonized sometimes because I feel it too but I know it could just be hormones and the in-love high. Don’t say it. Not yet.

I love you.

I bite back the words for the first months of a relationship. I love you means commitment; I love you means there’s no turning back. Once I admit it, I can’t stop it. Once I say it, I’m open; I’m vulnerable; I’ve given over a part of myself. It’s dangerous. It’s difficult. It’s a rush.

But I have to make sure it’s not just infatuation. Have to make sure it’s going to last. Have to make sure I’m really willing to commit to it. So I wait, and probe at the feeling/state, and question it, and run it through a hundred analyzations, and wait some more – wait until I’m as certain as I can be. Until it batters against the cage of clenched teeth, tightens chest and throat and tongue with the strain of caging it, until I can’t restrain it any longer and it breaks free in a naked trembling revelation:

I love you.

That’s the process I go through with a romantic relationship, anyway. The courting, the circling, drawing near and shying away until I’m certain of safety.

There are other types of relationships too, though, and the only difference is the expression of love. I firmly maintain that there is only one kind of love, but that there are many different expressions of that love. To me, a romantic relationship is just a close friendship with sexual contact; there’s little emotional difference except in sociocultural conditioning and hormonal passion.

Maybe this way of looking at things is why it’s easy for me to be polyamorous. I love certain friends as deeply as any lover; I’d just never have sex with them. I’m as committed to them and have as intimate a connection with them as with a lover, but there’s little to no physical passion. And while physical passion is nice, and even desirable… it’s not high on my list of Necessary Things for a relationship.

So – I don’t make much of a distinction between close friend and lover. I do make some distinction, obviously; the phrase “I love you” comes into play more with lovers, and gets agonized over more – but that’s mostly because passion confuses the issue so much, and I have to make sure I’m not mistaking passion for complete, companionate love. I do not say “I love you” to friends, either – not in a serious, sincere manner, anyway – unless I am very close to them.

Here is the difference between “I care about you” and “I love you”. Caring is safer; loving is threatening. Love requires care, but care is not as complete as love. I can care about a person without committing to them; I can care deeply about a person without giving them access to the soft vulnerable parts beneath skin and shell and word-distance.

When I say I love you, I mean that I trust you. When I say I love you, I mean that I will stay as long as it is healthy, and likely a bit longer. When I say I love you, I mean that you may enter my dusty closets, touch my skeletons and scars, taste my shadows, hear my song and scream and taloned shriek.

I love you means I am laid bare and open and raw before you, a split carcass with the organs still beating within, and trust you not to consume me into nothing. Because to me, there is no love without trust; no relationship without closeness; no closeness without vulnerability.

I don’t stop loving. But I can lock it away, if you bite and cut and tear too hard. Love is honest, too; and love means I will hurt you if you need it. I love you does not make me a doormat; if this gift is abused, rejected, misused – it can be boxed up again, hidden in the wound you left and sealed within the scab. If you strike even the softest place enough times, it will callous and toughen and scar; there is no need for that. I have enough armor to protect the places between skin and soul.

This is what I love you means to me. It is as much a burden as it is a gift.

Writer’s Fire

November 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

Written in March 2006.

Sometime between highschool’s end and my sophomore year of college, I lost my writer’s fire.

It’s always been like this – an inconstant flame of words and poetry. It flares incandescent-hot for days, weeks, sometimes months before life events distract me from its tending. Then, the last fuel consumed, it gasps and sputters, guttering flame fading to sullen embers beneath the ash and char. The embers sleep, forgotten, just enough to support a lifeless essay or lightless ramblings. But always I rediscover it in the whisper of pages, and I coax the embers to full flame, dip my pen in fire and write with the blood of stars.

I’ve lost my passion. Words were once my breath, and tales my heart’s pulse. My identity: “I am a writer; it is what I do and what I love. To stir souls, dance dreams, bring worlds to life with words…” I knew, of course, that I couldn’t make a living from it, and so psychology was my second choice; food and housing and helping people, and writing in my spare time. “Counseling by day, word-magic at night, poetry and stories and epics and books.”

I never guessed that studies and shattering paradigms would so consume my time and energy. All my words targeted reality, all my time became devoted to discerning truth from fiction, horn from ivory; my writing was essays and journalings, words without fire, drawing only on sleeping embers and logic-mind. No time left for creation.

And now I read, and can only envy. My writing muscles are flaccid with disuse; I stare disbelieving at an 8th-grade cub whose raw fanged imagery far surpasses anything I could pen now, and even my best of years past falls short. Why try? mourns the dankness in my head. Average isn’t good enough. Can you ever be more?

“Writer” fades from my identity, leaving just a strange lost girl scratching words into wood, grasping at the incoherancy of dreamdust.

Monster in the Basement

November 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written in February 2007.

“Yes, he’s still down there. In the basement, where he belongs.

“We all have one down there, don’t we? Some of us have more than one. I’m not talking about submissives in your private dungeon. I’m talking about the Beast. The creature who can’t be allowed to run the body, because he’d do something stupid or destructive or embarrassing or perhaps even evil. The part of yourself that you’d like to pretend doesn’t exist.

“Perhaps you even managed to convince yourself that he – or she – isn’t there. Perhaps you managed to ignore the banging and clanking going on down there… until they saw through the floor and hijack you, if only for a moment.”

– Raven Kaldera, “Dark Moon Rising”


There’s a monster in the basement of my mind, a thing of scales and musty snakeskin; cold blood, narrow eyes, viper fangs.

She smiles with all her teeth, and they drip venom. Her bite burns but does not kill; draws blood but not release. Her hands are tipped in claws, and they are strong. She holds a knife, gleaming with her slit-pupiled brownblackgreygold (red?) eyes – eyes of any color and none – the color of hunger, and lust, and pain.

She is he is she is he. Not male or female, not neuter nor hermaphrodite. She is snake-lady, naga of the shadows, fanged glee, savage sibilance. He is sadist, cold observance, predatory calculation: the surgeon’s cut, the slaver’s whip, the tempter’s whisper.

She is blood’s passion frozen in time; he is steel-eyed cruelty. They are two in one, always scaled, scent of shed skin’s mustiness, blade’s edge and fang’s glimmer.

Sadist, naga, serpent’s kiss. My shadow, my monster.

It is they that twist desire beneath my skin at cries of pain and writhing struggles. Theirs is the perversion of delight in torture scenes – exquisite fictional agony – character angst . . . I indulge them in fiction, my stories and those of others, because I fear what might happen if I don’t.

The sadist broke free once, slithered to the surface with a razor blade in his hand. His aim was my pain – hurt me, hurt those around me to hurt me, touch forbidden fruits. I locked him up again, shut him in shadow and iron, and forgot.

The naga escaped once. Broke free, demanded her due – played with those around me with fiendish glee. Teased, lied, lashed out once and then again, refusing to be caged.

I had to compromise with her. Had to accept her, acknowledge her, so that she’d slip back beneath my skin, my shadow stitched onto my feet. But I forgot again – lost the dry scent of snake, forgot the fangs, starved that part of me –

So she’s separated again, he’s separated again. They got a whiff of release, possibilities; they hiss for more, and I refuse to listen. They wait for more, and I fear to give it to them.

They exist. They are part of me. There is a monster within me and it scares me and I loathe it, but I cannot even call it ugly. . . Snakes have sibilant sinuous fanged beauty, frightening beauty, terrible beauty. Beauty that could too easily consume, venom drawing me into sleep . . .

. . . but there may be a use for this monster after all. They/she/it/he sees one whose monster is kin, the other side of a dark mirror, and my monster is enraptured – entranced – slithers forward with hunger-eyes agleam in firelight – monster calls to monster, pain-hunger to sadist-hunger, and should I stop it?

The snake has gone so long denied, fed a starvation diet of sparse occasional fiction. I fear to become her – I do not like her – I wish to cling to my ideal of healer, diplomat, phoenix.

But I heal as a knife heals, says the serpent, and is not the phoenix also a snake?

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