I originally wrote this, I think last year (maybe a little longer ago) in my friends’ (Dave and Adrienne) apartment, in the middle of the night, after a Neil Gaiman signing (in Chicago) that I should not have gone to – as this story was due, in class, halfway across the state, the following day. I didn’t get any sleep. My friends slept, and I just had to pound something out, then make the 3+ hour drive. Somehow, I think, it turned out pretty good. It’s the opening prologue to my epic poem (in prose). It’s gone over some changes since then, and been sifted through various test readers and friends and audiences. So here is the version I have now – since I felt like posting some piece of the work I’ve been talking so much about, and it is the most polished. Some of you have read it before (but this is the latest version) and some of you might have not. So here ya go!
SOULS UNSURE: Prologue
©Joshua Alan Doetsch
The door opens…
…like a mute scream. She does not remember when she stopped bothering to scream – when beer bottle blows to the head convinced her to be silent, to be still. And they’ll say the story starts with an old priestess and a chant. They won’t remember. But it begins with a little girl and silent screams full of broken dolls.
He’s in the shadows, in the doorway – framed horror. Dull eyes stare. He never blinks. The Devil never blinks.
She crosses her legs, pulls the blanket. But her legs are not strong and blankets don’t protect. Closed eyes can’t protect.
He stares and licks his lips. Stands and stares and breathes loudly – the garlic stink, a promise of evil. She holds her breath. The stuffed animals all face the wall. She doesn’t want them to see. He stands and stares and she holds her breath…
A clank, a mumbled curse, and spilled booze – he always smells of old booze – she’ll smell of old booze.
Then, the red door closes like a happily-ever-after. A bright, happy red door. But happy endings only happen if the story stops. Death and entropy are two steps past every happily-ever. Two steps behind every red door.
Bump. Scrape. Down the stairs.
Bump. Scrape. He limped and lurched when he drank – a penny dreadful shuffle.
Bump. Scrape. It took away his human walk, possessed him with the wicked limp, the evil lurch. The drink put a demon in him, Mama always said, before she was silent, before she went to Heaven.
Where are you now Mama?
She creeps out of bed. Invading weight on chest and pelvis…not tonight. She locks the door. Meaty, oily, fumbling fingers…not tonight. There’ll be hell to pay, but she locks the door. Wet, garlic breath…oh God, not tonight! Back in bed, she prays in the flickering yellow light of a street lamp dying slowly in the night.
She leaves her window open, hoping someone hears her prayers. No one ever answered her screams. Outside her window, flakes of snow ghost-dance, twirl and spiral with the clumsy grace of cherubs, glowing white against the black paradise of sky, a promise of purity. But snow always falls to slush, painted gray by the blackness below. In the dead of winter she leaves her window open, hoping someone hears her prayers.
Prayers to Mama and prayers to God and prayers to all the saints – prayers every time he scrapes up the steps and prayers every time he shadows her doorway – but it always happens. The damage is done; it will just be done again.
Outside the door, full of fumes, taboos, and imps perverse, he twists the handle. She prays in desperation. He preys in depravity.
Please God, take me to Heaven. Please God, send him to Hell.
Bangs and shouts and curses. The red door groans. She’s all tears and prayers now; tears and prayers and both flow free and translucent between sobs. When you pray that there’s a God, who do you pray to?
The red door buckles – the red of love – the red of lust – the red of blood.
Hands folded to the sky, she always prayed in the same direction – out the window, towards the origin of snow. But now she scatters her prayers to all four winds, scatters her prayers to anyone who will listen and now prayers plummet like snowflakes screaming rape.
She hears the beat of broken wings.
Prayers, like radio waves, travel until received. But where do things go when they’ve flown past their purpose? Let us say they go to a gray place, and that is enough.
She hears the beat of broken wings.
Through the tears she sees something gather in the blackness above her bed, a patch of something darker still. A beat of broken wings and it materializes, all dark dust and ebony mist, hovering over her bed like a fairytale boogeyman. But she’s not afraid. She knows real monsters wear masks called Father.
The little girl.
The ashen phantom.
She stares up at it. It gazes down at her. She breathes. It pulses. The pulses match the rhythm of her breath and each undulation reveals the outline of a wraithly head, spectral hands, and the sad symmetry of broken wings in the tenebrous cloud – the way a dark city skyline appears in staccato bursts, to the strobe-flash of lightning. And she reaches her hand, running it through the phantasmal shape. A sable, wispy finger, from out the cloud, gently brushes her cheek. The sooty digit mingles with a tear, leaving a muddy-dark trail down the eye.
Did they speak? The little girl and the ashen phantom? Maybe. Maybe she whispered that no one had touched her, without wicked intent, in a long time. Maybe, in a frozen second, it told her the bedtime story of its mangled wings, how it fell from the sky, like her prayers and her tears and the snow – painted gray by the blackness below. Maybe.
Or maybe two lonely souls just stare at one another.
Now, she looks to the pitch-dark shade and then the red door and recites her prayer. It pulses. Considers.
It flashes, faster than a false promise, embers and ash trailing like a shroud, to the red door – through the red door – outside the red door, a SCREAM.
Flashing reds and blues announce that all is not well in this place where even social workers fear to tread. Black and white cars sit in the gray slush. The snow comes down white, but always ends up gray.
They wheel the man in a stretcher and neck brace, found him at the bottom of the stairs. Some kind of stroke, they say. May never walk again, they say. Then, they found the girl and the beer bottles and the bruises and they gave each other knowing looks. But the girl did not say a word.
Family members were contacted and reports filed. Just one weird thing, said the younger officer to his venerable friend, between bites of cold wind. And they both nodded and recalled the graven image on the red bedroom door. Sketched in black ash and burnt in bas relief was a portraiture, a definite shape, that they could not explain but only hearken back to the snow angels made in their youth, hearken back impossibly far to a time and place where snow was still white.