“…This world is the perfect amalgam of beauty and pain, magic and tragedy. Immediately engrossing and perpetually heartbreaking, The Martuk series of shorts are the stories I recommend most often…”
A sneak peek excerpt from Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast, the WIP (work in progress) sequel to Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast
They’d met easy over a year ago. The noisy bar. The sudden argument. The vicious fight. The shouts. The scream. The beer bottle smashing against the wall behind her head. Chaos as he’d been dragged out the door, feet kicking, fists flailing. Her finding him moments later kneeling on the sidewalk, bloody fists punching concrete. Face red, teeth gritted. Cheeks wet with tears.
His silent primal scream breaking her heart.
Too drunk to move, she helped him stand. Too disoriented to walk, she stumbled with him to her apartment nearby. And, his arm wrapped around her neck, his boney bicep squeezing tight, his lips hot and wet against her cheek, she’d fallen in love as he’d wept in a blind rage.
Two days later she’d given this lanky stranger with the tear-drop tattoo a key to her new place on Eidolon Avenue. A day after that, her paramour with the missing front tooth tossed his duffel bag in her closet. Then, stockinged feet plopped on the coffee table, ankles crossed, beer in hand, TV remote nestled in his crotch, he’d sat on the couch.
There he’d stayed.
A year later, nothing had changed.
It’d started with her stomach.
So, yeah, my own version of the Resurrection of Christ from Martuk…the Holy: Proseuche.
You’re welcome 😉
From death, I woke. My eyes opened to the dark of the tomb, the smell of myrrh and aloe and sweet perfume in my nose, the linen wrapped around my arms, my legs, my body.
They stood before me, my angels, their faces pressed close to mine.
Were it not for the great wings that stretched from their backs, wings I could see even in the dark, I would think they were human. They looked like you and me. They weren’t kind or angry. They were still and silent. And they stood there, waiting.
They just were.
But they were not.
These winged ones were angels. They rose and turned their heads, looking to the door. And with that look, and that look alone, they moved the stone and let in the light.
There Mary of Magdala stood in the bright sun of morning.
Through their unfurled wings, I could see her. I watched her fall to her knees. Watched her face grow pale and the basket held in her arm fall to the ground. I saw the spices and oils spill into the dust.
Spices and oils that were for me for she was there to anoint me for I was dead.
I was dead. And yet I walked.
This could not be.
The pain was there, still. Holes in my wrists where hammer had met nail and nail had torn flesh and cracked bone. Holes in my feet. Wounds that still stung and bled where thorns had pierced and stabbed and ripped. And my back and my shoulders still wept, the skin peeled from the muscle, and the muscle no longer clinging to the bone.
It all still bled.
It all still hurt.
I felt such pain. There was such confusion.
I was dead.
I wanted to weep. Life was agony. Every step was agony. Every breath was agony. I remembered you and your Darkness. How you sliced your arm that night, my friend with the everlasting life, and you bled and then the blood wouldn’t run. How I took the knife to your throat and sawed deep. And how, in time, in not very much time, the blood stopped and the wound healed and it was no more.
I remembered how you seemed to feel no pain.
Yet now, as the shock of this new life grew, pain was all I felt.
If this was life, a new life, I wanted death.
“My lord,” Mary said as I drew near. She was still on her knees, shocked, afraid, disbelieving.
No, this wasn’t right.
“I was dead,” was all I could say. I wanted to fall into her arms and weep. I was dead, I wanted to say again. I was dead and now I walk and there is pain, so much pain, too much pain. Do you not see the flesh hanging from my back? And the jagged wound, here, where the spear cut my side? Do you not see the flesh cut and peeled back and bleeding again?
All this hurts, I wanted to say. There is pain, I wanted to say.
This life is too much pain.
“I was dead,” is all that would come out.
And then I saw her again. Saw the fear in her eyes, the terror growing as she watched me stumble closer, my wounds running red.
“Do not be afraid,” I heard myself say.
Somewhere deep in my mind, a demon laughed.
I blinked back tears.
Her eyes looked at the holes in my hands and how they bled. And then at where the nails pierced my feet and how they, too, bled, the blood dripping to stain the ground where I stood.
“Have you returned, my Lord?” Tears stained her cheeks.
There was a scream in my throat. A howl of such rage that, were I to open my throat and give it a voice, it would tear Jerusalem in two and pierce Heaven itself.
Instead, I said nothing. I gritted my teeth and swallowed hard and stifled the rage.
But I had thoughts. Dark thoughts.
I wanted to quiet her tongue. Grab her face in my bleeding hands and squeeze. Watch her skin blush and the panic grow in her eyes and feel her hands grip mine as she fought for release. Hear the bone crunch and feel it splinter and see the eyes pop from her skull and feel her perfect white teeth snap in her mouth as I squeezed and squeezed and squeezed.
She didn’t know the pain I felt. No one knew the pain I felt. If she knew the pain, she would understand my rage. And she would forgive. But she didn’t even know of my rage.
I stood silent instead, tears on my cheeks, my body weeping, the wounded flesh stinging with each breath as I stood in the bright sun.
They waited behind me, my angels. They did nothing.
Did they know of the pain?
“I must tell the others,” Mary was saying. “I will go now and tell the others that you have Risen and walk among us.”
I nodded. Could she not see the angels? Did not these silent ones with their wings unfurled shock her or surprise her or cause her distress or fear or terror?
No, she could not, I then decided. They were my burden alone.
She rose, her body still bowed, and then turned to start down the road, the linen flapping between her legs as the walk turned to a small run, her head looking back again and again as she grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
Yes, go, Mary, I wanted to shout. Go before the pain becomes too much and my soul breaks and I tear you limb from limb and rip your body in two.
He was a skeleton. All that had been soft and round was now sharp bone, withered muscle and loose skin. His brown eyes sat in gaunt hollows of dark flesh, his cheekbones sculpted and lean. “Do I look bad?” he’d say, desperate for me to admit the inevitable. “No.” I’d smile. He’d look away, disappointed with my kind dishonesty.
Only weeks ago, when he was not yet cadaverous, when he could still walk and smile and laugh, we’d driven to Malibu and walked on the sand. And then on up to Zuma to climb his favorite bluff. Up one side, across the top and then down the other, there was a steep trail — hill on one side, a drop to the ocean on the other — that led to a ledge he loved. A small patch of earth clinging to the cliff with a jaw-dropping view of the water below.
He jumped the small crevasse, landing on the patch. His hand to me, I followed, never liking this bit but wanting to please him. And we sat, his arm around my shoulder, ocean below, the sun on the horizon, the sea breeze buffeting us. At one point I heard him sigh. I glanced up. There was a tear in his eye and a tremble in his lip. I told myself it was because of the sun.
Weeks later, in October, the skeleton could no longer move, smile, laugh. He was now in bed, three pillows under his head, two under his back. The lesions feasting on his intestines making it impossible for him to lie flat. His hands swollen and red, no longer able to grip or grasp. His feet swollen and purple, red, black. “My slippers,” he’d say between gasps and moans and sobs. “I’m cold.” And then he’d scream when I tried to put them on, his feet way too big and wounded. So when he whispered again “My slippers,” I lied, assuring him they were already on. “Thank you,” he whispered before falling asleep.
It’d been three days since I’d eaten, the fridge and cupboards bare. Sleep had come in the form of brief cat naps, seated at the foot of the bed, listening for any movement. He’d come back from the hospital only days ago with a shunt in his head and IV tubes in his chest and his arm. A health care worker had come by, once, to show me how to inject the medicine into his head, his chest and his arm. The head was once every two weeks, the chest and arm three times a day. “How old are you?” she’d said, perhaps worried that someone so young had been given such a great task. I’d told her. “And you understand the situation?” I’d nodded, shrugged. Still believed it was a phase and all would be well. She’d sighed and left.
In his less lucid moments, he’d try to bang his head against the wall, pull the tube out of his chest or scratch the tube out of his arm. It was important he do none of these so my days and nights were spent watching him. I could not leave to get food. I could not leave to get a breath of fresh air. To leave was to risk him injuring himself. I used the restroom with the door open, my eyes not leaving him. I still believed this was temporary and he’d be well.
“He’s dying,” the EMT said. It was after midnight. I’d called 911 to have them move him from the bed to the couch. It was easier for me to help him that way. And with the lesions destroying him from the inside out and his feet swollen and weeping, he couldn’t walk or crawl and I alone, exhausted, hungry, weak, didn’t have the strength to move him.
“He’s dying,” the man said again, only softer. As if realizing this was news to me. That I had yet to accept the inescapable. I heard myself speaking. A distant voice sounding hollow, disconnected, somehow cheery, thanking him for his time and apologizing for bothering them. I remember him leaving. The door closing behind him. I remember looking at the familiar skeleton now on the couch and hearing “He’s dying.” And, closing my eyes, refusing to believe it.
I had fifteen minutes. One of his friends had come by to watch him while I ran to the pharmacy to get morphine and then to Subway to get a footlong. And so, weak and dizzy, I had shoved my sneakers on and rushed down the hill to Santa Monica Blvd, filled the prescription and, armed with less cash than I anticipated – the morphine costing more than I expected – barely had enough for a six inch sandwich. If I cut the halves in half and then in quarters, I reasoned, it’d last me a few days. And he’d be better by then, right? At least I was going to eat.
The friend was gone when I got back and Couch Guy was fiddling with the tube in his chest. “Stop!” I said. His hand paused in midair and then rested by his side. Ignoring the dosage, I gave him his first spoonful of morphine and sat on the floor, the sandwich waiting, unwrapped, in front of me. I sighed, too tired and scared to take a bite.
“Jump!” he said, his voice barely a whisper. From somewhere in his morphine haze, he stood on a cliff. “Jump!” he said again. I smoothed his eyebrow with my thumb, willing him calm. He sighed and drifted back to sleep.
Witching Hour. All’s quiet. He sleeps, calm, drugged, peaceful. I watch him. Lean close. Say his name and then “I love you.” I move closer. Press my nose to his, my thumb once again gliding over his eyebrow. “I love you,” I say louder, desperate for him to hear me. He stirs. The eyes open and then close. “I love you, too,” he says and then he sleeps.
The doctor stared at me. He was speaking. We were in the hospital. The emergency room. An hour after that last “I love you, too” he’d gone into cardiac arrest on the couch. 911 was called. The same EMTs from before had arrived, trundled him into the ambulance and rushed him to Cedars. I followed soon thereafter. Chose to feed the cats, Boo and Tuxedo, and then walk down La Cienega in the predawn quiet. Knew he would not die without me.
I had power of attorney over health decisions, or something, the doctor was saying. There was silver in his hair though he looked to be in his forties. A very tan, smooth forties. I said nothing. He was explaining how they could do brain surgery but in his condition he might not survive the surgery and he might not survive recovery and it would be very difficult on his body…I interrupted. Told him “No, no surgery.” He nodded. Paused. The nurses, the other doctor, they all paused.
There was a need to comfort, I suspected. These doctors and nurses, they’d seen this marathon before. Knew I was in the final sprint. Knew my soul was torn and my spirit battered. Knew I was running on fumes and that any touch, any smile, any small act of kindness might break me. So they said nothing, allowing me this final shred of strength.
Friends showed. Family arrived. Wanted me to disappear. To leave. I ignored them, sitting close, claiming my spot and holding his hand. Believed he could feel my thumb smoothing his eyebrow. Trusted it was a comfort though he slept forever lost in a maze of tubes and machines and rhythmic beeps.
He died at 8:24 in the morning.
They wouldn’t let me watch the removal of his body. His family left without a word, acting as if I didn’t exist. His friends had gone before that. I walked down the hall and took the elevator alone. A nurse, one from before, was there when the doors opened. She reached out and touched my shoulder. I bit my lip and walked away. Quickly.
The morning sky was the bluest I’d ever seen. The world around me sharp and bright. Even the concrete at my feet as I marched up Robertson seemed somehow new and different. Everything was odd, but in a brilliant way. I felt hollow and free, the terror of what had just happened not yet elbowing past my hunger and exhaustion and delusion and grief.
I went to Ralph’s. Eyed the microwave dinners but got eight cans of cat food instead and then, realizing I now had a funeral to plan and having no idea how much coffins cost, put two cans back.
And then I walked home. Weeping.
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