Posted: January 9, 2016 in Guest Writers




To each person, there are words that should never be said. They are witching words, destructive words with a power that cannot be undone. Neither can they be calculated. They lay waste to flesh, to bone, to blood, to soul. Such small things they are. Here. They come. Watch them. They sweep through the air, arcing with spherical weight. Smash! and all the building blocks are strewn across the floor; haphazard, cracked and broken. Yes, the wrong word spoken at the wrong time might unravel all of creation. My grandmother even had a name for it: the god-tongue, numen of idiom. Now, in this place, I have once more conquered its brittle, deified sound.



  1. EARTH


He calls for me at seven, just as he said he would. He is tall, and wearing a green tie. He makes me think of trees. I ask him to wait for me in my living room while I finish getting ready. It is a square room of books and coffee table, stained with ink and the rings of teacups. Pictures I have forgotten hang slightly uneven on the walls. A broken TV sits hunched in one corner; an empty magic box. The room smells like paper left in the cold, and he sits on a sofa the colour of old print.

It takes me longer to dress than normal because my fingers tremble. They are impatient of linen, and weak. They are unwilling. I try to reason with them, but still they resist. Unconquerable phalanges. They possess more virtue than the rest of me, and I drop to the bed like a falling star, pressed into its softness by the knowledge of my own perversion. For a moment, my resolve falters. I cannot. I will not. No, not again. I think about never moving from this place, but then I turn. I see her face on my bedside table. The battered photograph silently tells me that there is no choice. There has never been any choice.

So. His car is red. Inside it, we sit on gentle leather, mostly in silence. He is more used to written communication than verbal, and I? Well. I am saving my words. He lets me play with the radio, and so I flip it constantly from station to station because I like flat power spectral density. It is comforting, and it does not demand. He parks quite a distance from the restaurant because it is cheaper. As we walk to it, I try to match my steps to his, but I find it an impossible task. His legs are much longer than mine. I feel as I did when I walked next to my father as a child. I am stepping next to a Titan. He makes the streetlamps a rhythm of light, and the trees bow their limbs to him, their brethren of Olympian stride. For but a short time I am important, and then he notices my difficulty. He slows his pace. His pattern alters. He smiles at me. It is crooked, and self-conscious, filled with leaves. Something in my chest tightens. I know a snap is imminent, and all magic is lost. I cannot look at him again until we are seated opposite each other in the restaurant at our rectangular table, and I have no choice.

The restaurant is populated by candles and lamps, by the smell of garlic and meat. The walls are dark, and they breathe with the clatter of cutlery, the chink of china, a susurrus of murmured words. His shirt collar turns up at one corner, and his eyes are blue. I think of crayons. We order food, and it is brought to us; hot, flavoursome. It tastes like rot to me. He gives me some words, words of explanation and history, words of exposition. I answer him. We converse. He does not make me laugh, but he makes me smile often. I watch him, and despite myself know what should not be said. Yet, I procrastinate. Yet, I hope. I delay until there is no more time. Futile dreams. There will be no miracle of deliverance, no divine intervention. I am the only god here.

So. I lean in towards him, slowly, so slowly. Our faces are close, and it feels intimate. He looks at me expectantly, his lips parting slightly. His pupils become black holes, and I feel their gravity. I do not want to, but I do it anyway. I take a deep breath, and whisper The Words.


His strident exclamation attracts a few momentary stares. He looks at me in disbelief, as though I were alien to him, a betrayer, a serpent in his tree. The wine in our glasses shudders, then moans in response to a vibration no one else consciously perceives. There. It is done. It is gone from him forever. I think of aeroplanes, and say nothing as he leaves. His back is eloquent of anger, the spine holding a delicate chain of infinite hurt. I am shamed, diminished, sullied, and can never tell him so. I will not see him again.

There are more words, lowly spoken. May I have the bill? Keep the change. Good evening. Yet they are empty, devoid of the power, devoid of meaning. They are words of ritual, words of commonplace and autonomy.





She is waiting for me when I return home. She sits like a brush in jar of water, slanted but rigid, muddying the air. Her burning cigarette drips its embers onto my carpet like intermittent rain. Her large joviality is misleading, and she throbs with excitement. How I hate her. How I fear her.

“Is it spoken?” She is eager. Oh, but she is keen.

“… It is.”

“Excellent.” She plunges a hand into the briefcase at her feet. It emerges with something flat and brown. “Here is another.”

My heart plummets. Another? I should have known. Why did I not know? There is always another, always just one more. I hesitate before I take it into my hand. I do not want to touch it, and the emotion births memory.

I am a child in school. I think I am very young. We are to finger-paint that day, but when the time comes for me to put my digit into the pot, I am reluctant. Its bright, primary colour looks like so much dirt to me. I want to stay clean. But of course, it is now, and her arm is steady. Her fingers are patient. They are strong, stronger than my will, stronger than my right. She demands.

I think of a sea dog. Her dark, round eyes seem too opaque to admit any light. They watch me, filled with predatory power and an amusement that mocks. I see myself reflected and reversed in those orbs, and I understand everything. So. I take it.

The brown envelope is cold. It smells like a second hand book shop, and she does not wait to see me open it. She embodies many faces, all those powerful faces that make me do as they want. She is confident. She is sure of me. Fearless.

She wades her way to the door. Passing me, she smells of nicotine and mud. She caresses my neck, my cheek. She leans down to whisper in my ear.

“Words are such fickle things.” She says.

I want to stay clean.


  1. AIR


I leave the envelope unopened. I do not want to look at it. I slide it under the cushions of my sofa, and it nests under there like some great angry beast. It is silent, yet it demands. As I attempt sleep, it watches me. As I toss and turn, it watches me. The night is long. It knows all it has to do is wait. That is the way of predator and prey. Turn, toss. Turn. It is still lying under there when I go to work, and I work through the day, correcting the words of others. Commas, consistency, clarification. All the while, my minds wanders. It ambles away. I miss easy alterations. Glaring errors elude me, and I cannot focus. I think only of the things I have done, the Words I have said, and those still to speak. I feel sick. My head aches. So. I leave work. I go to see her.

She sits where she always sits, in the white room that smells too clean, by the window, at the table. She does what she always does, and does not see me. She wears an old bathrobe, and it makes me think of feathers. Her skin is as lucid as glass, her feet are bare and flushed. They tap the floor in ode to a downbeat. Tap. T-tap, tap. The hospital bracelet about her wrist is plastic. It has not increased as she has. It is too small, but no one has noticed. I make my way to her, passing the other injured souls that live here. All of them in this aviary, mad as she is.

I watch her for a while, as she makes them. One after another. Her fingers are nimble and sure as she creates the birds. Lifeless creatures of crease, paper and fold. They are all that exist for her. Well. The birds, and Him.

Inevitably, He hovers behind her in damaged, fallen shadow, shrouded in wings of Word. I do not see Him as she does. He was never meant for my eyes, for any eyes but hers, even now. A sulphurous smudge across my cornea, He is a blur that no one else perceives. He is deformed by the things He has done, and defined by the Words He will not say. His very presence enrages me. So. I ignore Him, despite His intense attention. He whispers to me, lowly and in sad desperation. I choose to be deaf.

I focus on her instead. She, who is defined only by the things men do in the dark. Tap, tap. T-tap tap. I sit next to her, and as always, I am bereft of words. She lives in a place beyond them. I have never known what should or should not be said to her. So. I say nothing for a long time. When did her hair become so grey?

“Mother?” I place a hand atop one of hers. It stills in the act of reaching for a fresh sheet of paper, but she does not look at me. “Mother, they want me to do it again. I don’t want t-“

She tugs her hand away, severing my word neatly in two. I feel the amputation as she grasps a blank square and pulls it greedily towards her. Half a dozen of her finished birds do battle with her forearm and lose. They fall to the floor, their wings having failed them. She is more elusive than the wind. Crease, fold, turn. Tap, tap. T-tap. Sometimes I wonder why I come. It makes no difference to her, and brings me no gain. As a child, my grandmother brought me to see her with all the pomp and solemnity of ritual. That is as good an explanation as any. Oh yes, and I love her. How I love her. The ache in my skull copies itself a million times. I kiss the top of my mother’s peppered head and turn to leave. What is the point in staying?

I reverse my course through the white room as though I were fleeing. Why are these places always so white? However, at the door, He blocks my way. He is a dark boiling smear, foul and sad. He is not whispering now. He is shouting.

“You must stop!” The words come to me through the black haze, deep, stretched and pulled.

Still I try to ignore him. Still I try to pass him by, but He inflates Himself. He fills the doorway and becomes the door, a repellent barrier I cannot cross.

“Move!” I hiss.

“You speak The Word and destroy! You hurt the people.”

His voice seems to come from many throats of indeterminate pitch. It compounds the ache in my head, and I recoil. His accusations are just. I know they are and yet, as is the way of the truth, I am angered. I think of the jack-in-a-box I had as a child. There are decades of unspoken things, old resentments, ancient wrongs. Every last one bubbles to my surface.

“How dare you! You, who will not speak The Word at all! If you but wanted to, you could make her well.” Conscious of my volume, my eyes flicker to the nurse behind me clad in medicinal, virginal white. She walks amongst her patients with the calming sway of a pendulum, ever alert to deviance. This is not the place to shout at people no one else can see. Quieter now, I add, “Instead, you took advantage of her!”

His roiling brume thickens. It darkens like a thundercloud. I think of angry bees as He stings my eyes with outrage. “You imagine that I raped her! I love her, and she-“

“She is incapable of loving anyone! She is crazy as a million birds!”

A silence falls, somnolent and heavy in that way aftermath always is, but then He glides to the right of me, focuses Himself on my mother. He whispers her name with the softness of a rising sun. I barely hear Him. Reason tells me there is no way that she can. Reason is a fool. Across the room and through her madness, my mother stops her tapping, stops her endless making. She turns and sees Him. For an instant, her affliction is suspended. The birds in her eyes cease their wild, crazed flapping. They catch an updraft and soar. She smiles at Him. She smiles as I have never seen her smile, as she has never once smiled at me. It is a smile of teeth and majesty. It is the smile of a woman who loves Him, and I am shamed infinitely without completely understanding why.

“Oh, my daughter, as always you choose not to understand.” He says, and still the burning star lingers in His voice. “Why should I speak Word and change her? She is who she is.”

I feel a strange surrender. It robs me of strength, of rage. I want to sit on the floor with sudden exhaustion. Preconceptions are like overcoats. They may be shed when it becomes too warm. All that remains is the old excuse.

“You know why I do it. They would hurt her. They would kill her. They have said so, and I believe. There is no choice.”

He has drifted close to me, and I feel His miasma grace my shoulder. For the first time, I do not move away. “Trust me with her. You can always choose. Choose better.”



  1. FIRE


I wait another night, and then I open the brown envelope. As always the contents consist of a name, a photograph, a location. They never tell me why they want me to ruin these people. I have never asked. Somehow that made it easier. Now it makes no difference. The photo shows me a young woman, blonde and unaware. She makes her living as a psychic, and she is pregnant. That explains it all.

Within two hours, I am threading my way to her through a labyrinth of bodies and tents. The carnival is noisy and colourful. It demands. The mass of people throb and roll, expanding and contracting like a rapid universe. They laugh and skip and shout with the bliss of ignorance, and I envy them their insular lives. I wander around, listening to their words until I find her tent, heavy and laden with richly coloured fabrics to lend it obvious mystery. She is not there and so I wait. I wait a long while, sitting on the grass, watching the people pass. Eventually, she comes. The brown envelope burns within my pocket as she looks at me. I stand. Like her tent, she is swathed in multi-coloured fabrics, gauzy and graceful.

“Sorry if you’ve been waiting long.” She says. Her voice crackles with warmth. “Please come in. Sit down.”

She goes ahead of me. The tent is dark, candlelit. It holds the odds and ends of her craft, beautiful and empowered by belief. The air reeks of incense and worship. She makes me think of fire, and I realise she is not psychic at all. She is observant and misunderstands herself, but it is enough.

“You are pregnant.” I say, as I sit.

“Yes. Five months now.” She laughs. She is happy. She caresses her swollen belly as though she were polishing a jewel.

“Does the father work in the carnival as well?”

She looks at me. Her eyes are green, the roots of her hair darker than they should be. She is an actress, this one. She has learned to be. Yet, she blurts out words compelled into being by the question. She cannot prevent them. Sometimes I do that to people.

“Uh. No. He… He doesn’t work here. In fact, I… I haven’t seen him since… since the night that we made…”

She is embarrassed, her flame assaulted, as though our roles were reversed. I am the one who sees, and she the one who has come to hear. I watch her, already knowing what should not be said.

“You won’t see him for a while.” I say. “He is being punished. He is falling, and he must fall a long way. He’ll be back eventually though.”

“What?” She looks startled, unnerved. She looks young.

They want me to destroy her. This time I understand it. They want her child, a child of Word. A child like me. But I choose, and this time I choose better. So. I speak The Words to her. There are nine.

To each person, there are words that should be said. Magic words, building words with a power that cannot be undone. Neither can they be calculated. They bring life to flesh, to bone, to blood and soul. Yes, the right words spoken at the right time birthed all of creation. My grandmother even had a name for it. The god-tongue. Logos. And now, in this place, I have conquered its exultant, deified sound. I see it in her immediately. She is made an inferno. She is wildfire, and blazes with light. The candles flicker and sigh in a concussion that goes unnoticed by everyone but me. I feel exulted.

I feel reborn.

“Who are you?” She reaches for me with awe and desperation, but I resist.

I cannot be touched now, not now.

“It does not matter. When they come for you, all you have to be is as you are now. Be bright. Be hot.”

“What does that mean?”

I do not answer, but I leave. In the aftershock of Word, she cannot follow.

He is waiting for me outside the tent, a seething mass of holy gas that slides across my vision. My father. I feel a blindness fall away. I feel that he is proud of me. It is odd how much that matters.

“Will you protect my mother now?” I ask, already knowing His answer.

“Of course. I am who I am.” He says as He surrounds me, a million wisps embracing my skin. “And now, so are you.”





She is waiting for me when I return home. Somehow she already knows. There is no joviality in her face, no excitement. She is even without a cigarette. She has been pacing my living room as though stirring a pot. When I enter, she surges forward and slaps me across my face with a force that makes me stagger backwards.

“What did you do?” It is a venomous hiss of accusation.

I say nothing. Physical violence is something new, and there is something in the air. It smells like power shifting. I am curious. I close the door and remove my coat slowly, carefully. I hang it up on the rack to my right. My fingers are steady. They are finally willing. Always before, she made me feel small and fearful. Now, as I turn to look back at her, I feel nothing. Even hate has left me.

“Why have you never been afraid?” I ask.

“What?” It is a small word.

“I said, why have you never been afraid? You come here. You know what I can do, and yet, you have never seemed afraid. Do you not believe in God?”

She steps back, and does not notice. She says nothing, but I hear her swallow. Oh I see. She is afraid now, not only of me, but of many things. Those faces she embodies are watching her now. I am quiet, and know what should be said.

Suddenly, she turns. She runs to her briefcase and fishes within it. Her hand emerges gripping something cold and black. She points the gun at me, but she should know that Word is faster than metal. Calm, so calm, I speak The Words. They fall into the air like pebbles into a pond, rippling ever outwards like the tide. They pass into her. They pass through her. I demand, and she is unmade utterly. She sinks like dead weight, and is made a wreck upon my floor. She leaks tears, saliva and sweat from every orifice and pore she possesses. There. It is done. She is nothing, and will always be. Her sanity has been ripped from her, and in its place I have put a waking nightmare that will never end. I think of death, and feel no victory, no pride. This was not a battle. It was judgement, and in judgement there is pity. I walk over to her and stoop. I caress her neck, her cheek. She grabs for her gun, but I see her intent. So. I take it from her. No doubt she will think me even crueller for it.

“Ah Miranda, why did you never choose better?”

Deep wracking sobs are her only response. Sometimes, perhaps, there are no words.

I stand and walk away from her to the window. She no longer exists for me. They will come for her eventually. They will know what I have done, but it no longer matters. For the first time, I have hope, and what is hope if not faith? I think about music, and I smile. It is a new dawn, indeed. There is possibility. There is redemption.

Yes, with a beating of wings, I speak The Word, and disappear from this place.


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