At one time I knew love Felt its touch caress my skin Smelled its scent seduce me Tasted its intoxication Seen its colors wrap around me Heard its song whisper to my soul At one time I knew Love But no more Now I know something else Felt its thorns pierce my skin Smelled another woman’s perfume Tasted the bitterness of rejection Seen the colors fade to gray Heard the discordant notes Still At one time I knew Love
[Trigger Warnings: Abuse. Sexual Abuse. Violence. Nongraphic.]
She woke up suddenly with an awareness of her surroundings. Sharp eyes peered around the room. The disparity gave away his outline. Dark and shadowed, he watched her as she slept. “I see you. So you might as well come out of the deep shadows.”
He stepped forward tilting his head thoughtfully. “You’ve matured since we last met.”
“Well, it’s been around ten years or so.”
“I’m not sure how much time I have but I slipped the watchers. Can we…talk?”
She patted the side of the bed as she reached over to grab the robe. “I-I’ve missed you, Caleb.”
“I wouldn’t have left if I could have stopped it from happening. They dragged me away.”
She slid her hand over his, light blending with shadows.
♦ ♥ ♦
The first time she spotted him was after a nightmare. He climbed out from under her bed to find her crying. Wrapping her up in his arms, he soothed her. She had been four. He looked no more than six. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Um, I don’t have a name. I’ve been here awhile, though. You are my assignment, Lauren.”
She blinked up at him curiously. “Are you…a monster?”
He smiled kindly. “That’s what many of your kind call us. We are Orrai. We live in the shadows and watch over the young humans.”
“Like an angel?”
He tilted his head but then nodded it slowly. “Angels need the light. We can work with them, however. We require the darkness. It’s rare for a human to be able to see us, though. Most don’t move past shadows.”
“Because humans are made of light.”
She thought about this a moment before she asked, “Even bad guys?”
“Each act of evil will dim that light a little. If they continue to sin, they will eventually be consumed by darkness. Orrai are born when one of these dark humans pass away.”
“So you’re a bad guy?”
“No…I just hold his darkness. You have to have some light to make it to the first tier of the heavens where their fate is determined. The darkness is stripped away. When it reaches the shadows, it will create an Orrai. But Orrai are not evil. They are just darkness. We…protect our humans. You are my first human.”
“You need a name. Can I give you one?”
“If you’d like.” He smiled gently towards the child. “What name would you give me?”
She studied him a bit chewing her lip thoughtfully. “I think I would call you Caleb.”
He smiled and nodded. “That’s a good name. It means ‘whole hearted’. I will protect you with all of my heart for as long as I am allowed.”
“You won’t be here always?”
“One day your vision of me will dim and you won’t be able to make me out in the shadows. When that happens, the light within you is too strong and I will have to move on.”
“Does my name have a meaning?”
“Fierce…like a warrior.”
“I like that.”
He nodded as he tucked the covers back around her. “You should sleep now. I’ll keep watch.”
♦ ♥ ♦
Lauren threaded her hand into his. “I could still see you when you went away.”
“I know. Too much darkness had entered your life by that point.”
“Why did they make you leave? I didn’t want you to go.”
“Th-they were concerned that I was too close. Perhaps I was. I no longer saw you as a child. You were no longer just my assignment. You hadn’t been for awhile.”
“You were…my best friend. At times, you were my only friend. You kept me safe at that darkest moments of my life.”
“I know…and I would do it again without hesitation. All of it.”
♦ ♥ ♦
That moment occurred when Lauren was seven. Gunshots ripped her from her sleep and she was instantly awake, sitting upright. Shouts and more shots tore through the night. “Caleb!” she called out softly, fear causing her voice to quaver.
“Who is it?”
“Your father’s darkness has caught up to him.”
“Am I going to die?”
“Not tonight. I’ll keep you safe.” He pulled her into his arms and wrapped her in his shadows. “They won’t be able to see you now.”
Minutes ticked by at an eerie pace. Sounds came from below as furniture shifted and drawers were opened. The clatter of cabinet doors opening and shutting filled the air. The acrid smell of the spent gunpowder made its way up the stairs. “Did you get the girl?” a voice called out.
“No. I thought you did!”
She tightened her eyes and Caleb could feel her fear. “Shh! I’ve got you, Lauren. You are safe with me. Just keep quiet. They can’t hear me but they will be able to hear you.”
She nodded and buried herself into Caleb’s chest clinging to…was it fur? She never quite knew what he looked like. The door burst open.
“She’s not here!” one of the cried.
“Check in the closet. I’ll look under the bed.”
The bed shifted and she could feel him close, the heat off his body unsettling her as she squeezed her eyes shut. Again she heard Caleb’s gentle voice quieting her.
“There’s no sign of her. Maybe she stayed at a friend’s house.”
“No worries, then. She wont’ be a witness. Let’s get out of here.”
Then they were gone.
Caleb held her all the way until morning. As he retreated to the shadows, he could hear human movements below as the crime was discovered. Police arrived and Lauren was taken away, placed in foster care.
♦ ♥ ♦
“I thought you would be gone…I reached out for you when they took me away. You were all that I had left, Caleb,” she whispered even as she felt his arm slip around her. She rested her cheek against that chest once more as tears from that memory washed freshly down her face.
“I had to follow you through the shadows. It took me a few days to reach you but I knew where they took you.” His arms held her close. He rested his cheek on her forehead. Things were so complicated. How could he tell her?
♦ ♥ ♦
The foster home held its own kind of loneliness. She shared a room with three other kids, all of which knew their own darkness and were wary of the others. Lauren felt broken. Then he was there wrapping her up in his embrace. “Shh,” he whispered. “They’ll hear you if you talk to me. You can press your thoughts to me, though. I will hear you.”
She closed her eyes and concentrated. “Where have you been?”
“I had to chase the shadows until I could reach you. If I entered the shadow lands, I could have lost sight of you. I didn’t want to risk that.”
“I’ve been afraid since you’ve left.”
“I know. I’m sorry. This place…it’s dripping with darkness. There are several Orrai here but the others haven’t accepted their guardians.”
♦ ♥ ♦
“I hated that first foster home. There was no cheer.”
“Eventually, they moved you. The second one was better.”
“But the third one was hell. I couldn’t have survived it if you weren’t there.” She tightened her hold on him. He had once more pulled her from the darkness that day.
♦ ♥ ♦
The man jerked her hair. “Now call me ‘daddy’, Lauren.”
He laughed but no mirth filled his voice. “You will comply or you will feel the strap.” He held the leather over his head in demonstration. “Now, call me ‘daddy’.” He repeated.
“D-daddy,” she stammered. At twelve, her body no longer appeared like that of a child although she tried to hide the changes with her clothes. He saw right through them.
“Good girl. Now daddy will reward you,” he sneered. He forced a slobbery kiss upon her, holding her still by her throat.
“Caleb!” she cried out for help in her thoughts. A pop in the air sent the room into darkness. The light bulb smoked a bit then calmed. She felt his arm wrap around her protectively. He reached up with his other hand and grasped hold of the man’s arm.
“What the h-!” the man called out, releasing her. Caleb shoved her behind him. He rose up to his full height as he shed his cloak. This was the first time she saw his monster form. The man before them paled. “Who…what are you?”
“I am Orrai. You will not touch her again.”
The man backed away. “D-demon!” he cried out.
Caleb laughed bitterly. “We have also been called by that name. Your light has been extinguished, human!”
Lauren turned away from the violence. When he returned to her, he was wrapped in his cloak and spread it out to cover her. “Come with me, Lauren. Let’s get you someplace safe.”
“W-will they blame me for this?”
“No child can cause that kind of damage,” he responded quietly. He felt her withdraw a little. “Don’t be afraid of me,” he whispered. “It makes it harder to protect you.”
♦ ♥ ♦
“My next place was a good place and I was adopted by that family. Then at sixteen, I looked into the shadows to see your sadness.”
“I had learned that I was being reassigned. And yet, it was difficult to leave you. They told me that was why we never stayed so long with an assignment. It causes us to…change.”
“Where did you go?”
“I was sent to watch over another child but I couldn’t bond with them. Time and again, I failed at my assignments. What about you?”
“I graduated and went to follow in my father’s footsteps. I’m a police officer now, a detective.”
“So you protect the innocent as well.”
She smiled, reaching up to touch his cheek. He drew a sharp intake of breath. “You provided the example as well. I…have learned to see into the darkness of humanity and find the light.”
“I-I’ve been touched by the light. So much so that I no longer fit among my own kind.”
“What does that mean?”
“I am in danger of being extinguished. I’m no longer of use. I don’t want…to disappear.” She saw the real fear in his eyes. “I came to you because…you and I…we are still tied together.”
“Can you not join the angels?”
He laughed bitterly. “One has to become human once more, die as a good man over and over again to become an angel. Orrai…we only have one chance. We are rarely reborn.”
“How does one become human?”
“We have to be loved by another human,” he answered shakily turning his eyes upon her.
She gasped at the rawness of his emotion. “I have always loved you,” she confessed softly. Her kiss met his as he held her close to his chest. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the shadows retreat back into the corners.
“And I’ve loved you,” he whispered as the kiss broke. “That’s why I could not leave you.” He winced as he closed his eyes, pain of transformation surging through him. “It hurts!” She watched in alarm then wonder as his monstrous form was stripped away, replaced by human skin holding the small amount of light she had given him. “It will take a lifetime to rebuild the light. However, if you are by my side, I know that I can do this.”
“You have always been light to me, Caleb. Your heart has always protected me. That to me is light.”
He reached out towards her, his hand stroking her cheek as he watched in wonder at the change of his skin. She leaned towards him and he met her half way into the kiss. “I will continue to protect you, Lauren. You hold my heart in your hand. All of it.”
I closed myself off …long ago Wrapping myself armor to protect me from pain The wounds… Never quite healed They bleed easily beneath the shell As I weep Alone
I closed myself off …long ago Pushing away the narcissism Slamming the door to the takers But… My soul feels Lost Like a piece of me Has been denied
I taught at the tiniest of schools my first few years teaching. The graduating class that first year was eight…yes, eight. The community was situated close to ten miles from three different towns in the middle of the Kiamichi mountains down in the southeast corner of Oklahoma.
I rented a house from the school and lived across the parking lot from where I worked at this point. Because I was a beginning teacher, I struggled with time management and grading. I graded everything and this is not necessarily the best strategy. As a result, I’d have all night grading sessions at least once a week.
Sometimes I wouldn’t make it home with everything that I needed. Thus, I’d find myself crossing the parking lot and keying into the school to get one thing or another. This even occurred late at night. At other times, I’d go and work in my classroom after I took care of supper tasks and putting my kid (who was in the fourth grade) to bed for the night. I was close by and didn’t worry too much. She could call me if I was needed.
On several nights that caught me at the school late at night, I’d pick up on an eery chill in the air. Being an adventurous sort, I’d grab my ball bat (one should be adventurous with a means to protect oneself) and wander down the hall. The school was laid out with one hall that held the classrooms. Down close to the front end of the hall, you would find the office, the teacher’s lounge, and the library. The library was carved out of a portion of what is known as the old gym. A wide hall cut off just past the library that would lead to the bathrooms and the rest of the old gym.
This old gym was fine in the daytime. Often the other teachers and myself would be comforted with the knowledge that our kids could burn off steam in that old gym shooting basketballs and chasing each other down while never leaving the building. On the wall that cut the court in half and separated the gym from the library, someone painted a buffalo to represent the mascot of the school.
However, at night it took on its own persona. I often heard people talk about how it seemed as if the eyes of that buffalo painting followed them around the room even in the daytime. This seemed even more pronounced at night. However, if that was all I had encountered, I would just shrug it off and move on.
It was after ten one night and I was wrapping up my grading. As I said, the bathroom was down next to the gym and nature calls at the most inconvenient of times. Thus, I found myself on the opposite end of the hall. As I came out of the bathroom, I heard basketballs bouncing and the squeak of tennis shoes. I am thinking to myself, “How did those kids get into this building?” It wasn’t unusual for the community to enter the main gym to play basketball. Small town, open court.
I entered the gym and noticed the lights were on dimly. A basketball rolled up to my feet and stopped. I ignored the cold of the air and began to investigate. All of the entrances into the school were secured and nobody appeared to be hiding. I left the room thinking about the oddness and started to head back to my room.
As I rounded the corner onto the main hall, I glanced back. The light was back on. I ran back a little annoyed to see if I could catch the kids in the gym. However, nobody could be seen. As I reached for the light switch, a ball began to roll on its on accord and stopped next to my foot once more. My eyes widened and I flipped the switch. I left in a hurry and wrapped up in my classroom in a hurry. That was enough grading for that night.
[NOTE: On the other side of that gym existed a much neglected museum of native American artifacts. It was never open to the public by that point and I never laid eyes on the displays. I only knew of its existence because of word-of-mouth. ]
Around age eight or nine, my parents built a house on my dad’s property…20 acres at the end of a gravel drive split off from the family land. I was excited about moving into a brick house in the woods. I even picked my room!
Most nights were normal. Bedtime at eight or nine…everything seemed to be eight or nine back then. I’d disappear into my imagination until I fell asleep. However, as the attic fan pulled the curtains out from the window one night, I noticed a figure out between my window and the swing. I did what any little girl would do. I called out to daddy.
Daddy got up immediately and took his rifle out to check out the property. I knew if he was there, I’d be safe. This was just a given. He came back in the house and told me that whoever it was, he was gone.
This went on for several weeks. Every few nights, I’d call out to daddy that I saw the man outside my window. Dad dutifully would check it out, never wavering or indicating he didn’t believe me. Still, every time he would investigate the area around the house and find no one.
I was becoming a bit nervous at this point and would do things such as clothespin my curtains together to keep from seeing the man and to keep him from seeing me. However, looking back, he never seemed to look my direction. Nor did he even seem aware of my presence.
One night during his visits, I watched from the crack in the curtain and noticed he stopped and seemed to be feeling around on the ground. I never noticed this but he may have done this every night. However, he seemed to be on the path we had worn out between the swing and the house, right in front of the seesaw.
The next morning, I went out to see where he was digging around. Pressed into the ground was a necklace. It had a gold pendant with a small, round opal inserted in the center and a couple of pink accent stones. I pulled it from the ground and took it in to clean it.
I’m not sure the history of this necklace. I thought it was a pretty princess necklace back. Later, I liked to wear it with vintage clothes. I never had it appraised because the accent stones appeared to be inexpensive. I suspected it had little monetary value.
Except, it must have been important to him. I never saw this man in the yard after that day. He seemed to be at peace with the recovery of that necklace. I do know I held onto it into my adulthood and I believe I passed it onto my daughter later on.
[The image is not of the necklace in story but I’m hoping to replace it with the real image later on. This image was found here.]
Years ago, I joined the Navy and found myself attending basic and apprenticeship training in Orlando, Florida. We were in a barracks dedicated to female recruits that stood eight stories tall and I was of course on the top “deck” (we called floors decks in the Navy). There were some quirks about being on the top deck. The bathroom only seemed to have hot water. Thus, even the toilets steamed like you were at some fancy spa resort. The showers could make your skin peal off. Therefore, we were constantly seeking other places to shower and take care of personal business.
The sixth floor was not too bad. No one was assigned to that deck and we found ourselves wandering down there to take care of laundry, showers, and just to find a quiet corner. At night, however, it was a different story. Nobody wanted to be there at night. Strange sounds could be heard in these empty spaces: the scraping of furniture, the clacking of a paddle, the clanging of something beating on a metal surface. However, as recruits, we were expected to stand watch on this floor.
To be honest, I was nervous the night I was assigned to the sixth deck watch. Of course, it was the 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. watch. I was late to watch because my bunkmate helped herself to my alarm and changed the time after I went to bed. Thus, I arrived late and disheveled. However, I did have the presence of mind to grab my bible. Taking the watch, the other person responded in an irritated voice that this was the third person who had left her standing watch too long. I tried to explain the situation but she waved me off, uninterested in my excuses. I hoped that she wouldn’t report me. Then I was alone.
Every so often, the elevator door would open and shut with nobody exiting. It was always the one on the left. I thought this was odd but not worth noting in the logs. Strange noises could be heard and I pulled out my bible and began reading through Psalms. I like 91 when I’m really scared. It’s comforting to think that a thousand can fall at my side but evil will not come near me. So I read through the Psalm and then moved onto another.
The elevator open and the roving watch stepped out as I slid the bible out of sight and stood at attention. We greeted each other and they walked through the barracks. When they returned, I asked if anyone was in the room on the left. They said no and asked why. I had heard some tapping. They laughed nervously. It wasn’t the first time they heard this report. It was recommended that I didn’t write it into the logs and then they left.
I would like to say this was my last experience with the sixth floor activities. However, one afternoon I jumped in the left elevator in a hurry from the eighth deck. The elevator began its normal descent. Then it drew level with the sixth deck. At that point, the elevator dropped. I know I screamed. We fell from the sixth deck to the second. Then the elevator settled out and finished its descent as normal. We stepped off shakily and determined not to take the left elevator again. I remember we reported the mechanical malfunction. The duty officer laughed nervously and suggested to avoid that elevator.
That’s when we heard the story. Six months earlier a particular recruit lived on the sixth deck. She struggled with her choice to join the Navy and possibly other events. We did not know for sure except that she was deeply depressed. The woman decided suicide was her only escape. She chose to slit her wrist to that end. Only, afterwards she had second thoughts. She entered the left elevator to seek help. Sadly, she bled out by the second floor. Once the elevator settled on the ground floor, it was too late.
We were nineteen and curious. Therefore, we decided to explore the barracks in which she died. Thus, we through our laundry into the washer and began to move from alcove to alcove. One of the girls with me called out to come see what she found. As she lowered the desk, she had discovered a ouija board carved into the surface. It was noted that this particular space seemed much colder than the rest. We ended up pulling our laundry and moving to another floor to finish it up. From that point forward, we only entered the sixth floor when assigned to watch. Nobody wanted this watch.
[NOTE: I hope you enjoyed this story. This is truly how I remembered the events as it occurred over twenty years ago. I hope to share other stories over the next couple of weeks. Happy October!]
Darkness filters through the mist… The journey once begun Now lay abandoned… Frozen in a moment of time… Trapped between unreal dreams And silent reality… Asleep in the branches of life… Consoled by the promise Of dreams’ sweet lies… Twisted in the winds of delusion… Unknowingly once lost The trail left behind… Reality distantly calls out But the voice is drowned By dreams’ roaring tide… Lost… Twisting… Fading…
[Originally pressed on September 25, 2010 on Etchings]
[Originally pressed on November 24, 2015 on Etchings] Sometimes I dwell in the dark places Those dark places that hide in the deep recesses of my soul I can get lost in that darkness… I can get trapped in those places Wandering about… Steps heavy… Not realizing… That to escape I must… Reach toward The light Darkness can permeate If I stay lost within If I don’t turn away From the shadows The longer I am here The harder it is to leave I get trapped in these places… Caught in the trap… Needing to escape I must… Reach Toward The Light…
[Written on December 10, 2013, this was posted to my first attempt at creating a blog. It has a good message and I wanted to share it once again. Image Credit]
“This, to me, represents love…” The letter was written to explain why they had to divorce. She shook her head in irritation. Her soon-to-be-ex-husband had no concept of love and staying strong through the hard times. She continued lost in thought when she almost tripped over the child curled up against the wall in the street.
Streaks of dirt only highlighted the deeper dirt that covered the child. His clothing was threadbare, the patches in the knees worn through. He didn’t meet her eyes. She saw many passed him by giving him no notice. But this was a child. All children deserved notice.
Kneeling down, she asked him, “Where are your parents?” He tilted his head as if uncertain what she said. He tugged at his ear and then she realized he was using a rudimentary sign language. She only drove into town to straighten out some legal matters. “Legal matters”…such a cold way to refer to the dissolution of a marriage. Still, she could not ignore this child. Decision made, she held out her hand.
The boy studied the hand with its neatly painted nails. He could not recall a clean hand offered his way. People on the streets would drag him along, making sure he made it to a shelter to get something to eat…most of the time. Sometimes, though, he hid amongst the trash, disappearing. She shook her hand with a little impatience. He saw her mouth move, knowing she was trying to tell him something. Finally, he slowly took her hand.
She hesitated at first before fully grasping the hand. She could feel the greasy grasp slide over her fingers. She fought against her instinct. She told herself, “It’s just dirt! It’s just dirt!” She pushed back the desire to put a handkerchief between their hands. Shaking away the physical discomfort, she continued walking down the sidewalk. The attorney wouldn’t be far and he could advise her about the child.
“Odd,” she thought. “My problem with dirt…with unclean things is what pushed my husband and me apart. Even…getting personal makes me physically ill. Yet, I am holding the hand of this dirty child.” She looked over at him as he squirmed a little and caught him scratching. “…this dirty, LICE RIDDEN child.” Reaching the entrance to the attorney, she turned towards him.
“I know you can’t understand me, but you need to trust me.” He stared at her uncomprehendingly, sniffing. Then he took his hand and dragged it across the offending nose. Fighting nausea, she shakily took that hand back into hers as they climbed the steps. “I can do this…I can do this…” she continued to chant as they opened the door.
“Hello, Mrs. Sanders. You’re a few minutes ear…” The receptionist cut her statement short. “Oh..oh…ummm…what’s this?”
“This is a who…and I’m not sure but we need to figure something out.” The boy stared out the window as rain began to fall. At least, he thought, I am dry for now.
Written in response to Finish That Thought. The prompt: This, to me, represents love.