By Corinne Simpson
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I wandered weak and weary... the lines rattled around in my mind as I walked. The night wasn’t yet fully rendered. It was gathering like the sighing of silken skirts, shrouding my vision with fine lattice shadows. The air was still. No wind. I registered it idly in the back of my mind. Once upon a midnight dreary... I felt a branch ensnare strands of my hair. Tug and twist and I was free. The branch folded back into the deepening grey. Vanished. I walked on. But where was I going? I suddenly couldn’t remember my purpose at all. I looked around for guidance. On every side was a shuttered house, stern and dark behind a tidy apron of lawn. Same same same. Only the iron numbers increased as the street wore on. Where was this?
Something insinuated the word into my mind and there it sat, having pushed Poe quite to the background. Between. Between what? I asked this question, stupidly, of myself. The houses gave nothing away. They were tightly drawn. The streetlamps flickered once, in unison. A great guttering sigh. Darkness fell hard upon the street. The streetlamps flared high. Darkness shrank back into grey. The street straight as a gunshot off on either side. No cars. No dogs. No wind.
Limbo? Was this a sort of hell? Was it possible to walk to hell from my apartment in a single evening? It seemed unlikely even to my faltering common sense. I looked down on an impulse. Another street stretched below me, a perfect line directly through what should have been the centre of the earth but was instead a strictly formed row of shuttered houses along an asphalt sidewalk. Guttering streetlamps. Trim lawns. Something in my heart sank or maybe my heart itself rippled lower in my chest, shrinking into the surrounding organs for comfort. I felt strangely light. With the sensation of suffocating I looked up.
A street shot straight up overhead into the heavens that weren’t.
I sank to my knees. I covered my face with my hands but the image of four identical streets yawning silently into the night at impossible angles was burned into my memory. ... while I wandered weak and weary... Maybe I was dreaming! I sprang back to my feet. I pinched myself, hard, a little finger-shaped welt rising up on my thigh and there, again, on my forearm to meet my fingertips. I looked around. The streets stood in accusatory silence, watching me try to wake up from death.
Was I dead?
No, I was between. In the middle. Of everything. The middle of time. The place where all things intersected. I was nowhere and everywhere all at once.
The iron number on the house nearest to my right read 1618. As I noticed this, its front door swung sharply open. Golden light poured down the steps and across the lawn to lap at my feet. Glorious, the color of honey and cat’s eyes and fire sparks and promises. I stepped nearer. It touched my feet. Like water drenching through my shoes. And then the shoes were gone, burned away in a flashpoint, and the gold tore at my flesh with ravenous teeth. I fell back. The light retreated, drawing up on itself until the door slammed it out of view. I felt the blood pooling around my feet.
The streets in every direction lay unconcerned.
Every shutter flung itself open in the next instant. In an unmanned ballet, on a silent cue. From every window leapt the golden light and it sprayed a geyser of luminescence onto the lawns. Radiant fingers crept into the street. The darkness shrank from it with me. Between. Between. I looked up and gold smeared the street overhead. I looked down and it wound up towards me.
It looked gorgeous when it lit like flames along my limbs. I floated, detached somehow, as the flesh was eaten off my bones and marveled at how death felt like nothing in the end. Like warm butter stripping me of sensation. And all around me the unbearable beauty of the light. I felt tears in my eyes before they were burned away but they were not born of pain. There was no pain except that of the exquisite sort that strangles you when something is too divine to bear witness to. I stretched out my hand and watched the bones shatter into shards that caught in the light and infused with stardust. I wanted to sob but had no chest with which to draw air.
I was gone.
And yet I remained.
The light retreated languidly from the streets. It slid back up through the windows in a great hush of gold fire stamped out by the shutters. The night reclaimed everything. Still. Complete.
I rose off the street. I felt a thousand tiny kisses of air alive with thought and breath loft me. I drifted, bodiless, and the night was carved of mahogany and pomegranate seeds, rich and thick and heady. I drew breaths spun from sugared hope. I touched butterfly wings and chaos. I saw between the cracks in the sky into the next world. I felt the birth of stars shudder the air. I understood the sum of all things.
The houses stood silent sentinel, the light buried somewhere in their unmoving depths.
I headed for home.