I remember the rain; its steady patter went long into the night.
Normally, it soothed me as I played the music of string quartets, their soaring notes lilting in the background as I wrote.
This night was different; I was restless, and the words I needed eluded me, flashing like sunlit fish scales in fits and starts of inspiration. It was to the point where even the steadfastness of the quartets could not quiet my mind.
Something was wrong.
I sighed, closing my eyes, and as the first violin began its haunting, plaintive solo, I fell.
Through the viscera of the void, I plummeted with the velocity of a star hurled into space by the strong right arm of its celestial creator. There was no time to scream, for as fast as I fell the darkness rose to meet me.
Roiling smoke, thick, black, acrid, and pungent with midden smells rolled back on itself, peeling away to reveal a darkness so utterly devoid of light that it made me shiver suddenly, uncontrollably, even as I fell.
Panic rose like gorge in my throat.
The solo violin gave way to a chorus of voices, soft as feathers, rising up through the dark.
I’ve been waiting for you. It was more than one voice, but said ‘I’; my terror had a thread of curiosity running through it now.
The blackness cascaded in an ascending torrent, and when it struck me I could no longer see its source, or its evil.
As it surrounded me, arcs of lavender, violet and silver white light streaked around the cosmic hole. I said a small and silent prayer, hoping the deity of us all might hear, and act on my behalf.
Then I knew no more.
The voice behind me was no longer a chorus. “You’re finally awake.”
I turned to see the comely form of a demoness, radiating a seductive malevolence.
“Who are you?” My mouth was dry, and the words took some effort to form.
She laughed, as if I’d made a joke she truly thought was funny; her body swayed and undulated as she walked toward me.
“The proper question is, what am I? “
Putting one hand on my shoulder and the other around my waist, she leaned over and put her mouth next to my ear. Around her, the scent of honeysuckle warred with that of burnt flesh.
“I am every secret, twisted thought you ever possessed. I am the soul of your conscience, and know you better than you know yourself.”
I sought to run, but she pulled me in tighter, her voice breaking down my resistance.
“I am the fanged serpent with the honeyed tongue in the garden, on my belly under the moonless sky, hearing the vibrations of those who seek my life.
“I am the web of man’s violent lust for the unattainable, except in the recesses of his imagination. There are multitudes still writhing in my strands, never to be free.
“I am Khaalida, the fantasy of nightmares.”
She stepped back from me, her hand on my chest. “Will you not embrace me, on your own behalf?”
My eyes grew warm, my breath shuddery. I wanted to move her hand, but my strength was as a wilted stem.
“You would so burden me?” I replied.
“You were called to us. To serve us. We watched you run, and we followed, hunted, for many years. You were wily, and filled your time as our power faded. There were times we struck, but you managed to escape.”
She took my hand in both of hers, stepping in close. “You’ve run long enough. We’ve hunted you long enough. The days grow short, the trail more difficult.
“We need you, now.”
I shook my head, extricated my hand. “I’m sorry.”
She sighed, but it was not one of resignation. “The time for regret is past; the time for excuses, done. What will you do with all you have to say? Leave it unsaid?”
Lifting my chin on her fingers, she wiped a tear with the pad of her thumb. “What will you do with me?”
There would be no getting away from her.
“I will embrace you.”
She sighed, but it was not in relief. “Every part?”
She pulled me close, and faded inside of me. If there was a sensation such as excruciating bliss, I felt it then.
“I love you,” she said.
I wept. “And I, you. We’ll be together, always.”
“Not always happy,” she admonished, “but always together.”
I felt her smile, and I did too.
The strains of a lone violin echoed in the distance, and the darkness dissolved, nestling deep inside of me, sheltered from the pattering rain, and the dark words smeared beneath the water that dripped like ashen tears from the paper.
I was outside, and never remembered leaving.