Under the Milky Way with Knives

We sat under the arched bridge to catch our breath.  Running from a hungry mother bear and her two cubs was probably not the smartest choice, particularly since there was a circle of boulders that we could have scaled easily enough and hidden on until it was safer to emerge.  But after you shot me a glance and took off towards the eggplant-shaped hay stacks, there was no alternative but to run after you.

You were always faster than I, your strides covered more distance than my small frame could dream to match.  The mother bear caught your scent and followed it…until she caught a note of my sweat.  I didn’t run directly after you; I scrambled onto the higher road.  She must have smelled me when the path dipped underneath a row of trees.  I heard a roar like defiance and invasion.  There was a point in my life when having to run or hide from a bear would have filled me with more dread than dueling against someone using their good hand while mine was tied behind my back.  But today, it was exhilarating.  Every step and breath I took would lead me closer to death, severe injury, or a new appreciation for my own determination.  Glorious.

I stopped looking over my shoulder to see if she was directly behind me or off-center.  I kept running and soon realized I had lost sight of you.  I didn’t stop, though.  I didn’t slow down until the bridge came into view.  Just as I was debating if I should cross the bridge or run under it and pray to the great spirits that there was room to hide, my body came to an abrupt, forced halt.  You had reappeared and grabbed me, holding me to your chest until the mother bear ran past the enormous tree against which we leaned.

It was only after I had taken a few shallow breaths and a few deeper ones that I noticed my lung capacity wasn’t what it used to be, back in the days when we both tried to win the Queen’s favor by displaying our corporeal talents.  You had needed to be in her good graces as she was the only entity powerful enough to make sure your family would be well provided for should anything happen to you while serving her vision of restoring the empire back into three separate kingdoms.  And I, I had wanted the Queen’s approval and affections because she was the last link to my own family.  Not by blood but by friendship.  I had started to forget what they looked like, including my older brother.  I was so young when they perished in the uniting of the kingdoms — I wasn’t even sure the Queen liked me enough to see me as someone she could love as her own instead of a burden.

Ten years later, watching you sit against the stones under the bridge, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness as memories of the Queen’s death rushed to the surface.  Neither of us got what we had wanted, at least not in any certain terms.  The Queen’s brother assured you that he would honor whatever understanding — written or spoken — between you.  He had told me more or less the same.  But you and I, we knew we could no longer rely on promises other people made when they couldn’t understand the implications of fickleness. The Queen’s most trusted advisers didn’t even know if her brother would continue to pursue her dreams of separate kingdoms.

My breathing had returned to normal as you looked at me and said, “I know what you are.”

“Oh?”

You nodded, crawled over to where I was sitting and faced me.

“May I?” you asked, putting your fingers against my jaw line.  “I see what nobody else sees.”

“What are you….?”  I started to say before the burning pierced the edges of my face.  Nails, long, sharp nails plunged into my skin.  I tried to tear your hands off but your grip was too strong.  You held me there even as my legs thrashed.  And then, as soon as the pain flared, it calmed and eventually disappeared.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for five years,” you said as you pulled out two mirrors from gods know where.  You held up the wooden one first and asked me to look at my reflection.  I did — I looked as I expected: black hair, pale skin, purple eyes, practically non-existent eyelashes.  Then, you held up the black mirror and asked me to look.  I did and gasped.

“What did you do to my face?”

“I didn’t do anything that wasn’t already there,” you paused.  “I just made it easier for you to see what you really are.”

My face was the same but different — same bone structure, same distance between eyes and nose and mouth, but the expression of them was otherworldly.  I saw dark blue hair, eyelashes longer than even the Queen’s, skin that was equally translucent and iridescent, and eyes that changed color every other time I blinked.  I took the mirror from your hands and looked more closely at my eyes.  I saw shadows swirling, almost dancing, with light.

“What does this mean?”

“We’re different. How else did you think we could outrun a mother bear? I’m still trying to figure out why we look like this when we use black mirrors instead of wooden ones, though.”

We?”

You held up the black mirror to your face and I peered at your reflection.  Your brown hair became dark red, green eyes morphed into amber (they too held whorls of shadow and light), your skin was just like mine.

“I had to wait five years because I first noticed this change in my 25th year; I guessed that you wouldn’t be able to see it until yours.”

I had only been twenty-five for a week.

“I know you have questions, I do too,” you said as you put the mirrors back into gods know where. We both sat silently for several more minutes.  You climbed out of the bridge, turned and reached out your hand to me, “But before I try to answer them, we need to celebrate your birthday.”

There was no sign of the mother bear or her cubs.  You walked at a leisurely pace across the bridge; I followed with a purposeful gait, wondering if you had come across a full length black mirror and what kind of reflection it would reveal.

~!~

The above story came as suddenly as a rainstorm on an otherwise sunny day, or as suddenly as the sun on a rainy day.  Inspiration was drawn from real conversations, fiction I’ve been reading, and this Toad the Wet Sprocket song.  It is called “The Moment,” specifically the lines “for every path you follow/there’s another left behind/Every door you don’t kick open/there’s a million more to try….there is nothing but the moment/don’t you waste it on regret.”

Shame doesn’t become you
There are no mistakes in the final view
No blame, how could it be so wrong
That your heart was braver than your will was strong

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

I’ll go, but who will you have to be
Will you just get by or get what you need
Just know that I don’t need to fit in
But is there room for you in your life with him?

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

It’s out of my hands, out of my hands
But I miss my friend, I miss my friend
So this is the price of honesty
But I’m not sorry

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

The moment is happening now
The moment is passing
The moment is happening now
The moment is passing

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