trapped in perpetual prayer

An excerpt from my award-winning debut novel Martuk … the Holy

A large room.

Yes, I could see it, the image unfolding around me, the vision a great wave crashing at my feet, my life disappearing as this reality rolled near, swallowing me.

A glowing box of pale stone. White walls soaring to a mass of rock floating high above. Pale and perfect, it was, this ceiling, glowing in the shadows, an immense white cloud reaching from corner to corner.

There were men standing near. A group. Huddled and whispering. Flashes of red, flashes of gold. The faint sound of whispers. Of secrets and lies.

I couldn’t see them, no. They darted in and out my sight, creeping like a mist on the periphery, impossible to catch. I could feel them, though. Their plotting and planning. I could feel them.

And children. There were children. Or rather small boys. Dressed in simple skirts of rough woolen fabric tied at their slender waists with crude rope, their chests bare and smooth, their shoulders slight. The shining perfection of the stone beneath interrupted by their delicate brown feet. They stood quietly, their hands clasped. Subservient and patient. Anonymous.

Secret rooms waited. There, to the side, the flicker of torchlight dancing beneath closed doors. Heavy locks hidden under dried clay. More secrets. More lies.

But there were other people, too. Strange and quiet. Unmoving. Still.

Ah, I see now. They were made of stone, these figures, much like the thick columns behind them. Standing as tall as a man, their gaze was fixed on the large wide ribbon of heavy gold which slices the center of the room. A path, really, running the entire length from wall to wall before spilling up several wide stairs to a large chair.

Carved of solid rock and gleaming, a burst of brightly colored cloth for its seat, it sat, this chair, this throne, looking much too large for any one man. And in front of the stairs, on both sides of the gold fabric, waited row upon row of little bits of clay fashioned into the forms of tiny people, smaller lumps clasped to their molded chests. They stood not quite knee high, trapped in perpetual prayer.

They still plotted and planned, they did, those lurking behind to whisper. I could sense them watching me from the dark wrapped in red and gold. Listening. Afraid. Could feel the dishonesty, smell the hypocrisy. Taste the evil.

And these smells, of smooth stone and incense and the cool scent of water carried on hot sand. They weren’t my smells. They were not the intoxicating cold scent of rich earth and the shade of gnarled tree trunks. This place, the gold and stone and tiny figures trapped in prayer, wasn’t home. Wasn’t where I collapsed into deep cushions of fragrant grass, the sun warm on my face, colorful birds crowding the branches of the nearby trees, their song carried on the breeze and filling the air.

There was something else, though. Something happening. Here in this vision. Worry. Fear. Revulsion. Dread, even. Something approaching with the certainty of a sunrise. Only ominous. Like a great storm. Of lashing rain and howling wind.

It was coming, this thing. This confusion and delusion and terror. Waiting around the corner. Not yet within my sight. Lurching its way toward us. A monstrosity stumbling through the doors.

It didn’t belong, this thing listing near. Didn’t feel at home among the statues, the silk, the ribbon of gold. Ignored the scent of cool water carried on hot sand and the little figures trapped in prayer. Didn’t feel welcomed by those who linger like a stench, their red and gold inching near only to crawl back to the safety of the dark.

I noticed the footprints. There, on the floor. Five toes followed by a slender sole. The familiar roundness of a heel. Scattered about the vast room, they were unmistakable, staining the polished ground at our feet. Following themselves before stopping, awkwardly dancing to the right and then faltering back, pausing, and wandering to the left. Haphazard, they felt. Uneven and confused.

They were made of blood.

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