Friday, August 12, 2011

FICTION: Discord in the House of Lilith By Donald McCarthy

One thought.

He heard the sharp howl of wind. Sand ripped into his face and he placed his right hand over his eyes before daring to open them. Once he did he looked upon a long desert that stretched out well beyond the horizon while dark clouds loomed above threatening rain. Far in the distance he made out what might be a mountain or perhaps merely a mirage.

Turning against the wind, he let his hand fall lightly to his side. He still squinted as the afternoon sandstorm continued but at least he no longer suffered from the brunt of it.

He expected to see more desert behind him. What he did see was a massive temple. Only by craning his neck back could he see the top of it. Maybe a few shades darker than the sand around it, the temple blended in nicely with its surroundings. He’d never seen such a structure before.

Then again he didn’t even remember his own name so perhaps that didn’t say much. Memory loss? No, he thought, no it’s not quite that. Clearly, something had gone amiss but whatever it was it went considerably deeper than mere memory loss.

He knew a choice had to be made. Either he entered the temple or waited outside for something to happen. The storm promised not to end anytime soon but the temple towered over him like an angry monster ready to devour anyone that came inside. Did he have time to think it over? Was he out here for a reason? Did he come from the temple? From the mountain maybe? The thoughts raced around in his head and he tried to quell them. Allowing them free rein would only make matters more difficult. He made a quick decision: enter the temple.

Walking quickly forward he caught a glimpse of a small red doorway, maybe five feet high. It had only a latch in the middle of it. He grabbed it and it came down like a drawbridge, settling down in the sand. He bent down and went inside. The difference was immediate. The wind no longer attacked him and the air inside felt cool as opposed to humid. A long dark corridor started in front of him, illuminated only by the light from outside.

He laid his hand on the wall. Cold. Made of brick. He did his best to see if it rang any bells but nothing came to mind. As far as he could tell he’d never been here before. No choice but to go onward, he surmised, shuffling down the corridor. He stopped every minute or so to listen for other sounds but heard nothing except the wind, which grew softer and softer the further he went.

Just before claustrophobia got the better of him, he neared another red door. Like the last, it had a latch in the middle. He pulled it down and glanced into the new room. Seeing three enclaves in both the right and left walls partitioned off with bars told him this was some sort of prison. A demoralizing one at that. The ceiling looked moist and the floor unkempt, bits of dirt and sand lying around. He took a chance and asked, “Is anyone in here?”

“Yes,” said a crackling voice.

He almost jumped at the sound of someone else. He hoped they were behind bars. “Where are you?”

“I’m in jail apparently. Where are you?”

He tentatively walked into the room, eyeing each cell until he came across an inhabited one. A tall man with red hair sat on a rickety bed. He was naked. “Hello,” said the red-haired man.

“Hello,” he said. “Who are you?”

“I’m a prisoner. Can’t you tell? Who are you?”

The man tried once again to remember his name but failed. “I don’t know.” He wished he could at least hit a mental block so he’d know that a name existed somewhere in his mind. Instead, he began thinking he had none. “I’m not sure I have one.”

“That’s no good.”

“It’s definitely inconvenient.” He added, “I’m starting to think I just began existing.”

“And yet here you are carrying on a conversation with me.”

“I don’t know how it’s possible.” He attempted to think about something that happened before he woke up in the sand. Even just an image or a feeling. “I have nothing,” he said. A slow pain began to grow in his chest. Anxiety. “There’s no memory in my head. Not even deeply buried ones. No flashes, nothing. Do you know how this is possible?”

The naked man stood up and came to the bars, wrapping his hands around them. Dried skin hung off his face. “Not exactly. I do know who could tell you but you don’t want to meet her. She’s not very pleasant. She put me in here.”

“Who is she?”

“Her name is Lilith. You’ll know her if you meet her.”

He knew it stupid to hope the name might sound familiar. “Where can I find her?”

“She’s in here, in this temple.” He waved his hand about. “It’s big. Might take some time to find her unless she’s looking for you.”

“What’s she like?”

“If you’re a masochist you might like her. Even in that case she might be too much.”

He had no idea whether or not he was a masochist but the description of Lilith didn’t sound promising. Still, if she had answers than it might be worth the risk. “If she knows what’s going on with me then I have to talk to her.”

“That’s your choice. But can I give you advice?”


“If she tries to reverse things keep one thought in mind. You’ll know what the thought will have to be when the time comes. Don’t let it waver. Just keep it in mind.”

He didn’t understand what the prisoner meant but figured he’d go along with it for now. “Thanks, I guess. Do you want me to let you out of here?”

“How do you know I don’t belong in here?” The prisoner hacked out a laugh.

“Good point.” He began to back away a little, making sure the prisoner couldn’t reach out at him from behind the bars. “Well, I’ll see you then,” he said, beginning to hope he wouldn’t.

“Best of luck,” said the prisoner. “Just remember one thought. One little tiny thought. It might save you.”

“Good to know,” he said as he turned away. He quickly moved away from the cells towards the other end of the room. A door was open, leading out into another hallway. Either the people in the temple weren’t afraid of anyone getting out of the cells or this Lilith woman expected his arrival. Either option did not bode well for him.

The new hall was at least lit and he could see the twisting corridor ahead. The light came from the brick walls, dim but still present. As he walked he felt the ground beneath him curving to the side. The floor rose up on an angle, forcing him to walk slowly and cautiously.

Then it angled back down without warning.

Momentarily losing his balance, he reached out to support himself on the wall. This time he found the wall to be burning hot, his hand almost melting into it. “Damn it!” he yelled, his voice echoing. He pulled his hand away and looked at the burning flesh. He came close to a panic attack, his breathing quickening and his eyes watering from the searing pain. “Is there anyone here?” he shouted. “Would someone tell me where I’m supposed to go!”

No reply.

He cursed again. Ahead, the hall continued twisting and curving even more drastically. Using the back of his unburned hand he felt the floor. Cool. He went down on his hands and knees, crawling to avoid falling again. His burnt hand left little bits of charred flesh in his wake but he did his best to ignore the pain. Not an easy task.

He forced his mind to concentrate on the floor, on the triangular tiles, on the bits of sand and on the small cracks. He’d concentrate on anything but the burnt hand or the equally painful confusion.

Upon reaching yet another door, he struggled up to his feet and took in a deep breath before grabbing for the latch.

But he didn’t have to open the door. It was opened for him.

The being that opened the door stood at least six inches taller than him. Its eyes were violet, its skin very pale and its hands had fingers which wriggled like seaweed.

The man looked up at the beast and began to take a few steps backwards, almost breaking out into a run at the sight of the monstrous thing. But he stopped as the beast moved to the side and gestured with his arm to come forward. Cautiously, the man did just that.

He entered a large, circular room that looked out at the desert he came in from not long ago. The sandstorm still raged on outside and he could hear the wind howling away even behind the glass window. He again made out the mountain in the distance. It wasn’t a mirage after all, he thought.

In the middle of the room a woman with emerald hair and eyes to match smiled at him. She wore a dress so white it was almost sheer. “Hello,” she said to him. “You’ve made it.”

“I’ve made it where?” he asked.

“To me,” she said. She said to the beast, “You can wait outside. I’ll be fine.” The beast left them alone but the man did not feel at all safer. His anxiety continued to flow through him, bubbling up just beneath his skin.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Lilith,” she said. “I’m your mother.”

He tried to wrap his head around that thought. His mother? “I… I don’t remember you.”

“We’ve never met before,” she said. “Today is the first day of your life.”

“That’s not possible,” he said, shaking his head.

“Not usually. But I’m a very capable person.”

“What are you talking about?” he said. His voice sounded timid even to his own ears. “How is that… I mean what did you do?”

She smiled proudly. “I gave your mind culture, knowledge and understanding. You have no memories yet, no true life experience but all the benefits of being a fit adult. The soldier you met when you came in is a sight to see, isn’t he? Powerful and intimidating. But you? You could be so much more compared to him. And you’re nothing compared to what you and I can be together. Mother and son, side by side.”

“I don’t understand,” he said. She was right, though. He knew things already. He knew how to talk, how to hold a conversation, what a mother was, what a son was, yet those thoughts didn’t bring up any images. The only conversation he remembered was the one with the prisoner. If what Lilith said was true then he’d never had a conversation before then. “Why did you do this to me? Why did you make me?”

Lilith’s eyes narrowed for a second but her voice stayed sweet. “I need your help. Now I know that this is all very confusing to you.”

“It is,” the man agreed.

“In time you’ll realize just how blessed you are. Together you and I are going to reshape everything. Once you’re ready you and I will lead armies of soldiers, just like the one you just saw, and we will be unstoppable. That’s your destiny. It’s why I created you. It’s both intimidating and exciting, isn’t it?”

He looked back out to the desert. “Why did I wake up out there?”

“You didn’t wake up so much as come into being.” She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “I needed you to see that you were capable.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I didn’t feel capable. I felt scared. Terrified. I wanted someone to come for me.” He held up his hand. “I burnt my hand.”

“We can fix that,” she said.

He looked at his mother, expecting her to hug him or kiss him. His mind told him that mothers did that to their sons. “Where did my knowledge come from?” he asked. “From you?”

Lilith shook her head. “No. From the prisoner you spoke to.”

The prisoner? How did she know he spoke to him? Had she been observing him? “Were you watching me?”

“Of course.”

“But… but I was lost.” His breathing became fast. “I was lost and shouting and you were watching me.”

Her voice grew sharp. “Like I said I had to let you do it yourself. My son has to be a soldier. One who can handle himself. I was just letting you see what you could do. You still found your way here.”

He shook his head, sweat coming down his forehead. Walking away from his mother, towards the window, he said, “So what is this all for?”

“I already told you.”

“You want me to be a general of some sort? I don’t know anything about the military!”

“I made sure you have a lot of intelligence. It won’t take you long to learn.”

He stared at her, wishing he’d see some form of compassion cross her face. None did. She remained impassive. But he did feel something for her now despite her coldness. A small connection but one that grew as he looked at her even though he wished it didn’t. He wanted her to love him but another part of him worried about the cruelty that had begun to coat her words. He said, “Why would I want to be a general?”

“Why wouldn’t you want to be? It’ll offer you more powerful than you can imagine. You’ll lead armies. You’ll have people listening to you, following your every order, waiting to hear what you’ll say next. They’ll worship you like they already worship me. And let me tell you, it’s an experience like no other having someone bow before you in total servitude. It’s sensual and empowering.”

The man shook his head. “I don’t want that.”

“Then you’ll learn to want that,” said Lilith.

“No,” he said. “No, this isn’t right. I may know very little but I know you’re not supposed to be like this. A mother is not supposed to be like this.” For the first time a memory cropped up. It wasn’t his, he knew that. Maybe something lingered inside him from the prisoner’s mind. Wherever it came from, the memory came fast and hit him hard. He saw a tree and under it a young woman with a two or three year old boy. They laughed together, the boy jumping up and down with a smile on his face. The mother was beautiful with long red hair and the son shared her good looks.

The man pointed his finger at Lilith, trying to ignore the prisoner’s memory, but his whole hand shook with anxiety. “You’re not supposed to talk to me like this.”

“I’m your mother. I’ll talk to you however I please and you’ll do whatever I say.” She leaned forward, beginning to circle around him and snarled, “And you’ll do it because I’m your mother. Because I know better than you.”

“I want nothing to do with this,” he said.

“You are entering dangerous terrain,” he said. “My patience doesn’t go too far.”

“You didn’t even give me a name!” he shouted.

“You’re a pathetic sight, you know that? You want to talk about how things are supposed to be? My son was supposed to be courageous and have an ounce of drive. Yet here you are only whining away about how you don’t want to do anything. You don’t deserve a name.”

His eyes grew teary. “You’re hurting me,” he said.

She snorted. “You’re a grown man.”

“No, I’m not.”

She twisted his arm back and he shouted as she threw him across the room with surprising strength. “Yes, you are,” she said. “That’s how I made you. Or how I thought I’d made you.”

“I’m not trying to disappoint you but-”

“You are disappointing me,” she said icily. “You’re a failure, what else do you want me to say? I wanted to make a driven, powerful man and I get you. You whine because you woke up in a little sandstorm and hurt your hand. How can I view you as anything but a failure?”

“Because you’re my mother,” he said softly. “You said you gave me culture, knowledge and ideas and I know that a mother is always proud of her son. A mother loves her son.”

“A mother loves a son that’s capable. That’s respectable. That’s at least somewhat proud to exist. A mother wants a son who wants something. You’re nothing like that at all.”

“No, that’s not true,” he said. “I want you to love me. That’s what I want. You’re supposed to love me.” He pushed himself back up to his feet. “I can see the prisoner’s mother. I can see him and her together in my head. I want what he had!”

She sounded genuinely confused when she said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I have a memory of the prisoner’s. The man whose mind you raped. I can see him happy and excited because he’s with his mother who loves him more than anything. I know you must feel that for me.” He sniffed and pleaded, “You have to feel that for me.”

Lilith raised an eyebrow. “Well apparently you were misinformed. I’ll need to try again.” She began to approach him.

“But I love you, mommy,” he said. He saw the younger version of the prisoner jumping up and down, smiling and laughing beneath the tree. “You’re supposed to be proud of me.”

She touched his chest and it hurt, it hurt worse than his hand. Her hand reached inside of him, going through his skin and his few memories began to fade away. But before all was lost he remembered what the prisoner told him.

“I’ll see how your new personality works. I’ll add a little more drive to you,” said Lilith. “Make you something worthwhile.”

He screamed “Mommy, no!”

He saw nothing.

One thought.

He opened his eyes, chunks of sand slapping him in the face. Where was he? What was his name? What was he doing here? He had no answers to any of the questions.

He struggled to his feet, making out a mountain in the distance. It looked far away. Turning around, he caught sight of a massive temple before him. A thought popped into his head. Just one.

The temple is not safe.

He glanced back over his shoulder at the mountain. Could he make it there through the storm? He didn’t know but the thought lodged itself deeply in his head and he knew going into the temple was not a choice at all.

He ran towards the mountain, hoping to find safety.


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