by Kenneth Mark Hoover
I know the sun and the moon. I know the stars. My aura bends and sways with slow seasonal passage — oscillating between lucidity and madness.
And still I bide my time.
My skeletal fingers are black against a slate sky. I shift my limbs. Thus do I make dour music using a keening wind which scours the heath. Mistletoe shakes and acorns rattle in the grey dawn like a thousand dry bones.
Surrounded by primeval bog I wait for the False Night, the night-in-day that will free me, and I wait for my queen.
Memories are shadows of our past. These I call mine own: Once, I held power in human hands. My people revered Mars and Apollo, yet we called them by names now lost in the mists of time. We knew the healing ways of plants. All the animals and all the world under the blue sky was alive and venerated by us.
Know, then, we were Druids.
Now my queen, whom I served, sleeps at my feet and the talisman which captured my soul, that essence that makes every man a man, burns fiercely in my twisted oaken column.
I tower over her sleep chamber. Unhewn stone slabs set edgewise like the rotten teeth of an old crone support a heavy capstone. The dolmen is covered with a tumulus of sick earth. Limbs heavy with withered mistletoe, I stand sentinel to my queen’s ancient grave. My boughs provide ample shadow for her dolmen during the day. At night, I dapple it with lozenges of moonlight.
This is an unholy site. I am alone on an island of coarse bracken and open heath surrounded by limitless bog. A prisoner, guarding a dead queen.
So I make my music, day after day, while Isidora sleeps in the cold earth below, safe inside her dolmen. Isidora, creature of habit. When the sun sleeps under a blanket of stars she crawls from her earthen womb, nostrils flared to scent prey. She spreads her arms unto the night wind and flies.
When she returns she flutters to the damp ground at my knotted roots. Bloated, she scrambles into her bower before the pink dawn stings her flesh. There she sleeps, curled like a cold knot of death as the red-life seeps from her slack mouth (or if she fed well, the corners of her eyes) and it is from this grisly font I drink with whiskered root tips.
Throughout many centuries I have waited thusly with infinite patience. I watch the sun and the moon and the stars. I bide my time.
A man village lies beyond a tumble of blue hills to the south. Last year, a party of men hanged a florid-faced man from one of my sturdier branches. His hair was long and blond, his beard muddy-brown. His blue eyes sparked with intelligence, but my aura perceived his mind was somehow malformed and it was this sickness that caused him to kill others.
His executioners tied a red cloth over his eyes and bound his hands and feet. As he swung helplessly, slowly strangling to death, the village men returned to their ignorant wives and filthy children.
When the sun fell, Isidora crept from her chamber and scaled me like a cold insect. She paused, head crooked to study the blindfolded man. — She was listening to his heartbeat. I was afraid. She leapt and landed upon him. They swung like a pendulum. Their combined weight tensioned the rope and I creaked.
Isidora climbed his body, her iron nails gouging his skin. Maddened with animal lust over such a helpless victim she gnawed and tore a ragged wound in his throat. After filling her hollow veins she dropped to the ground and licked her blood-slicked fingers. Satiated, she clambered down the hewn steps of her underground nest of rotted tissue and bone and horror.
These memories are part of me. I wait and watch the sky. I bide.
O, Isidora! Lifting my heavy limbs I lament her name on the morning wind. The villagers sometimes call me the Wailing Tree.
She flies on the night winds but has no memory. My long memory is another cage I cannot escape. Myself, I can only move with great effort. However, if I save my strength, restrict my movements, then by channeling my energy I can make gestures against the wind. A century ago, I brushed the ground beneath me, sweeping the scaly involucre of dead acorns.
Decades past I grabbed for Isidora with a green branch, but she spread her bloodless arms and allowed the night breeze to carry her away.
So now, I drink from her, bit by bit, and gather my strength for the False Night. My time draws near. My destiny has come.
Isidora, of tangled hair and dark eyes, why did you forsake me? You were my Queen and I cleaved unto you with all my love, though it was forbidden. But you corrupted my heart with your lust for power. I did as you begged, against my better judgement, and used all my combined powers to call forth the Dark Ones.
Even today, frozen as I am, I shudder when I remember how our sacrilege was discovered by your people. Toppled from power, I am now trapped in a living coffin of oak, and your dead body flies the night in search of the red-life of mortals. In this way, we serve our life sentences.
Rage boils the syrupy life-stream within my pith. My scream is soundless. Isidora, look what you have wrought of me!
But today... today I escape. This I vow. I know the sun and the moon. I know the passage of seasons. For centuries I have awaited this one perfect day. Isidora is a creature of habit. That will be her downfall.
When it begins, my branches tremble with anticipation. The moon shaves a sliver from the western limb of the sun. I wait. I have waited for centuries — this is nothing. Inexorably, the moon slides across the burning face of the sun. The air grows chill. Birds seek their roosts. Insects shrill uneasily. My aura perceives rippling waves of light and shadow flickering over the heath from the west. In the final seconds a great diamond flares between the merging limbs of moon and sun.
The sky draws dark. Stars twinkle overhead. A brilliant corona suffuses this False Night. My aura perceives its intrinsic beauty. My beloved Mars is in a noon sky studded with stars.
My queen, my love! my Isidora! dead creature of habit, emerges from the gloamy depths of her foul cell. She lifts her head to catch a scent of prey. She is still flushed with her last feeding. She has not had enough time to transmute the stolen red-life in her veins into the demonic energies that operate her limbs. She is sluggish. Full of the red-life that I need to escape my prison.
Standing on the hillock of her dolmen, white silk rags billow from her body. Shadows marble her lovely face. She raises her arms to catch the slight wind. I move.
I use a supple branch, green and rich with virile sap. I whip it around her columnar neck and draw her up towards hidden tendrils lovingly cultivated over the long years. Her naked feet scratch briefly at the ground then kick wildly. A feral snarl twists her face into an unrecognizable mask. She snaps and slashes her own lips to ribbons as I lash her wrists and ankles with more capture tendrils.
I fight with my queen. She is strong with red-life. I have only minutes before the moon unveils the fierce sun. We struggle, Isidora and me. We dance our wicked dance. When I feel her beginning to shape-shift into mist to escape the interlocking weave that binds her, I move my Spear into place.
Such a beautiful thing, my Spear! with an obdurate tip hardened by pain and isolation. I pierce her wriggling body, and for the first time in six hundred years memory floods her mind and she shrieks my name.
Her scream is camouflaged by the raging music shaking from my limbs. Red-life froths in a delicious fountain from her throat. Runnels in my trunk divert the precious syrup to my thirsty roots. Our battle wanes as shadow bands again fly like ravens’ wings over the desolate heath and lonely bog. They streak and race east.
Concentrating my power I crush my queen’s mind with a terrible psychic blow. The mind-kill is complete. Isidora’s soul flees weeping from her Undead body and fragments like ancient parchment. I have won.
I lovingly wrap her body during the penumbra. Not a chink of sunlight must reach the pallid flesh. I shift my limbs and form her name on the stark wind. I have so much energy I feel I can do anything, become anything.
The world slowly awakens from the solar eclipse. The liberated sun burns my bare limbs. I am content. Isidora’s red-life burns bright inside my pith. Her body is now safe inside a giant cocoon of mistletoe high in my leafy boughs.
My new aura perceives the reality of the world around me. There is much I want to explore. Distant horizons of space and thought and time. But, first, I must attend to the village and meet the men there so I can learn what they know.
The talisman that captured my soul burns deep inside me, charring my core. I endure the pain and wait for nightfall to transfer my consciousness from this oaken prison to Isidora’s empty vessel.
And then I will be unleashed upon the world.
Copyright © 2006 by Kenneth Mark Hoover