Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: ariel

Ariel’s Story #10 – Attack

     The army proved easy to acquire.
     The first to join me was a young man with a fire in his eyes. He called himself Barnaby and told me he had often wondered about the Man pushing the Bride down.
     “But whenever I thought to bring it up,” he told me, “the elders and teachers would push me down.”
     “Why would they do that?” I asked.
     “They didn’t believe me. They said I was being rebellious to even suggest such a thing.”
     “But did you not point to the Man? Could they not, even from shore, see clearly that the Bride is being abused and the Man is not who they think he is?”
     Barnaby shook his head. “They said that perhaps the Man was disciplining the Bride for some sin. And they would allow no further conversation on the point. They brought it to an end and have since watched me with dark eyes.”
     And those dark eyes began to rest upon me as well as I tried spreading my suspicions that the Bride had been taken by someone who was not the Husband. More than once I was taken aside and rebuked by one of the elders. Gently at first, but firmly. After a time I was forced to carry on my recruiting under cover of darkness.
     The atmosphere seemed ripe, though. For I encountered many who had wondered about the Man as I had. I even took a chance and stole into other sections of the cistern to recruit brothers who lived beyond the other gates. We began meeting with one another at night and in any gate that seemed empty at the time. Emotions ran high as our numbers swelled. Each new addition brought stories similar to the one Barnaby told. We were united despite our different backgrounds. We grew into a formidable force. We became ready.
     We planned to attack at midday. Each of us from the section we associated with would, in unison, stride into the cistern and lay hold of the Man by force. And, by force, we would tear him from the Bride and drag him from the cistern and cast him without. And, should he not be cast, we would drown him in the end.
     The day was bright and hot. The sky was cloudless and dry. It was the perfect day for the attack. We rose early, said our prayers, and took to the water.
     It was a glorious sight, I think. All of us from our different traditions and following the Bride under different signs. United in the goal to bring down the Man and his oppression. Those who stayed behind got to their feet to watch, looks of uncertainty upon their faces.
     “Ho there!” called an elder from my group. I did not turn back.
     “Wait!” called a leader from another.
     “Where in the bloody hell do you think you’re going?”
     The voices grew agitated and angry as we approached the Man with murder in our eyes. They were spiced with fear and anger.
     We arrived.
     The Bride was as I had seen her last. Eyes mostly closed. Barely breathing. In a pathetic state of near-death.
     The Man looked at us, bored.
     “You are not the first,” he whispered. His voice was like velvet, dark and soft.
     “You will leave this place,” I said, setting myself up as the leader of the army.
     “No,” he said.
     “We will make you leave.” Shouts of agreement rose around me.
     “You will not.”
     We attacked.
     As I lay hands upon him I could feel my strength ebb. It was like grasping an icy rock, so cold that it saps your power as it digs deep into your bones. From the looks on the faces of my army it seemed they felt something similar.
     But no matter! I thought. We are many and he is but one. “Together!” I cried out. And they yelled a battle call. And we pulled on the Man. We tugged at his arm and we tugged at his head. Some beat upon his face and some tried diving under the water to trip up his feet.
     It was like pulling on granite. Icy, rigid granite.
     “Your friends are coming,” the Man whispered to me as I tried to gouge out his eyes.
     I turned and my heart died within me. My brothers were coming. As were the faithful of every section of the cistern. They wore masks of anger, but their fury was not directed at the Man, evil and powerful. They were directed at us.
     They fell upon us with sticks and books and flesh. The Man shook and we fell from him. And, thus, we were driven out of the cistern. And they pursued us through the park and down the roads. Into the buildings and out of the gates. Up into trees and down into ditches. And we were scattered and alone.
     I found a place beside a dumpster behind one of the high-rises. I was alone. I was weakened. I wept.

Ariel’s Story #9 – Fisticuffs

     I was dumbfounded. Have you ever considered the depth of that word? Dumb and confounded. That was me. Fully. I stood there in the increasingly cold, nasty water and stared. Something fell apart in my mind, but I could not think of what it was. It was like my entire understanding of how everything good worked turned out to be broken. For here was the Husband and here was the Bride. Combined they were the foundation of everything right and good and happy. And something was horribly wrong.
     I could not hold her mouth above water for long, and the Man’s strength overcame me and she sunk back into the water. Her eyelids began to sink again, like the look of a girl fighting sleep. Sleep won and she closed them. The Man looked at me without turning his head. Just barely a glance. As if only to let me know he saw me there, but was still choosing to ignore me.
     “Ho, there, Man,” I said. “What is the meaning of all this?”
     He did not look at me.
     “I say, what means all this? Why are you treating your bride so? I had heard you freed her, but now it seems she is your captive!”
     He spared me not a glance. I realized speaking with him was useless. It almost seemed that there was no life in him at all. And an ill realization took hold on me.
     This is not the husband of Sume el Raj. An impostor. A kidnapper.
     My heart sank into a hasty sort of anger. The anger felt pure. And maybe it was. I balled my hands into fists and set myself to fight against the man.
     I lunged forward and struck him in the jaw. My fist crumpled against him and I heard a crack as one of the bones in my hand broke. I yelled and fell to my knees in the pain, getting dirty up to my neck.
     I was so angry. Burning, red and black anger. So angry at this false husband of a man and the pain he had inflicted on me and Sume that I hardly noticed him place another hand on my head and push me lower into the water. I struggled and sputtered against him as the water entered my mouth and nose. I was able to get out, but not before swallowing more than a few mouthfuls of the grime.
     I stood a few paces off, wary of the insidious man who had so fully captured Sume and nearly me with her. I looked into his eyes and saw nothing. I looked into Sume’s eyes and saw that sleepy pleading. But I was not the one to save her.
     I came back to the shore, covered in grime. And there was, of course, no water to wash it off. My brethren were waking and doing their morning ablutions. It suddenly sickened me to watch them bath and drink that filth, though I myself was covered in it. I took my place among them, and starting following them in the morning wash, for it was the tradition of our group to do it. But something was wrong in the back of my head. Something that wondered why I was doing these things, while Sume was stuck out there in the dirt.
     Something must be done.
     But the man was so strong. So very, very strong. I looked down at my hand. It was purple and swelling. Throbbing in that way the cartoon cat’s hand throbs when the mouse whacks it with a mallet. But it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny at all.
     Can’t do it alone. I’d need help. I’d need …
     I looked at the people around me. Blessed lovers of the bride and husband. Blessed brothers and sisters who had devoted themselves to truth, yet washing themselves in lies.
     … an army.

Ariel’s Story #8 – Captive

     I did not understand him at first. And once I understood, I refused to believe. But his words forced me to look closer and I saw that it was no small object the man held in the water. It was a head. I strained my eyes and could see that Sume (yes, I recognized her) was submerged in the fetid pool up to her nostrils. Her eyes were barely open, seeming to collapse on themselves with fatigue.
     “What the fu-”
     “Would you like to be a part of her?” the man was asking. “Would you like to join with the Husband and be a part of the blessed Bride, lovely and free? I can show you how.”
     “Show me how? But, she’s trapped, can’t you see?”
     “Whatever do you mean?”
     “Why, I mean that man there. He’s holding her head under the water!”
     The man smiled. It was a smile without mirth and as full of condescension as the pool was full of filth. “I suppose to your eyes it may seem that way. But that is how the Husband shows his love to Sume. What do you think it would be like if the Bride just ran about, galavanting around like some harlot? He controls and restrains her because of the love he has for her.”
     “But why does he need to do that? I thought … I mean. I was at the dinner. I saw her cleaned!”
     “Indeed, she is clean. Would you like to join her?”
     I looked out over the filthy pool. Sorrow pierced me. For Sume was far from clean. Only the crown of her head was unsullied from the water. I was sad because I had once seen her so clean and happy. I was sad because I had once seen her so free. I was sad because I had never thought the Husband would restrain her in such an unnatural way. I was sad because the pool was a dirty as ever. I was sad, finally, because it looked as though Sume offered nothing new. Just the same filth that this pool had always offered.
     I knelt, at the bidding of the man with me, as he led me in a prayer tethering myself to the Husband out there in the water. I could not think of anything else to do.

     I did not sleep that night. The moon was bright and high in the sky. It illumined everything but cast no reflection on the pool, as it was too dirty to relfect anything. All it did was consume, it seemed. It consumed the light from the moon and turned it into filth.
     I gazed out from my place by the water. I stared at the Man and his Wife. I think I wept a little. There he stood, staring at nothing, it seemed, holding that beautiful woman under the water. Why? What had she done? I felt a burning urge inside of me. I had to know.
     As silently as I could, I slipped into the water. It’s oily coldness made me shiver and a few of my companions stirred. I slowly strode out toward the center of the pool, the water reaching up to my waist. I was afraid that the ripples I was making would alert the Man of my approach (I did not wish to talk to him) but he paid me no mind. As I came close I found myself wondering if he were blind or deaf, as he never shifted his gaze.
     I was close enough to touch, now. I bent down and spoke to Sume.
     “Ho, can you hear me?”
     Her eyes flitted open and she turned them on me. Those blessed green eyes. I remembered seeing them so full of love and wildness and passion. Now they were nearly asleep.
     “What happened to you?” I asked her. She struggled. I thought she was trying to say something. I placed my hand on the hand that was holding her in the water. It was ice cold and strong. I tried to lift it. It was like moving a rock. But together I was able to give her another inch and her mouth, filthy as it was, rose above the surface. She was able to utter two words before the Man’s strength pushed her back into the pool.
     “Save me.”

Ariel’s Story #7 – The Pool

     I came to the park. I was surprised to see how much had changed. And doubly surprised to feel how much had remained the same.
     The grass around the pool was cleaner by far. There were uniformed men and women with bags going around and collecting the garbage. Other uniformed men and women carried sticks, which they used to encourage the homeless to move along and not make trouble (or a mess). Because of their efforts the area had a crisp, clean look to it. The people were well dressed, if a little subdued. It made it more comfortable, truth be told. It’s hard to engage in meaningful spiritual duties while unfortunates are distracting you with their temporal problems.
     But while the park had certainly changed, the pool itself, at first look, seemed the same. The gates still surrounded the stairs down to the water. Though above the archways, new symbols had been carved in. I found the one of bread and descended.
     I was not alone. The gate of bread seemed to be the entrance for many devotees. As I went down and saw the pool clearly I became confused. The water, for one, seemed just as dirty as it had the last time I was there. The smell, even, was nearly the same. And in the centre of the pool stood a man, holding something in the water with his right hand. He moved and shook the water with his left, and it seemed he sent different types of ripples to each section of shore.
     I drew close to the water. It was the water that was important for me. I touched it and, alas, it was the exact same oily, useless stuff of before. I looked out to the man holding that thing in the water and wondered.
     I tried cleaning my hand off, on the ground and walked back up the stairs to the park. I found a tree and sat beneath it.
     A man passed by who had the look of a fellow with wisdom.
     “Sir,” I called out to him, “please, where is the fountain?”
     “Why, it’s right here my son.” He pointed back to the cistern.
     “But I was just there, and the water is as foul as it has ever been.” I held up my hand to show him the oil stain. “I was told that Sume and her husband had done away with its filth and built a clean fountain. Why is it still here? But even that is not the most important thing in my mind in this moment. I only want to see Sume. And, if at all possible, her husband. Can you help me?”
     He cocked his head to the side. “Dear son. You can most certainly meet the bride and husband. But you must be part of one before you can meet the other. The fountain is fresh and clear, in truth. But you must approach it from the right direction.”
     “All this I was told by a man in town. And I entered the way he bid. The way of bread.”
     He had a look of utmost sorrow and pity. “My son, I fear that man was a deceiver sent by the enemy. That is not the right gate. Enter with me by the way of the Fish. The fish, you see, is the oldest symbol of the bride and her husband. From that direction the water will be clear and crystal to you. And you shall clearly see both the bride and husband.”
     I was about to object at this point, for it made no sense that approaching a place from the south rather than the west would have any impact on the nature of the place itself. But then I recalled that this dream was very much like an allegorical fantasy story. And in fanstasy stories strange things may happen. So I took his outstretched (oily) hand and walked with him to the fish gate.
     For a moment, as we descended, the sun reflected on the surface of the water in a way that made it seem clear. But it was only a moment. And the stench washed over me again and the pool was as dirty as ever. The man who held my hand did not seem to notice this. And he smiled as if showing me something difference from what I had seen through the Bread gate.
     “Not only is the water clear and holy,” he said, “but also you can clearly see the bride and husband there in the centre of it all.” He pointed to the man, still stirring the pool and holding something in the water with his right hand.
     “That man there is the husband?”
     “Of course.”
     “But I see only him. Where is Sume? Where is the bride?”
     His eyes judged me as I asked. I thought he wouldn’t answer. But he did, eventually. “Can you not see her? He lovingly holds her in his right hand.”

Ariel’s Story #6 – Return

     You cannot notice how foolish a smile looks when you first see it. But think, for a moment, and picture a smile in your mind’s eye. The lips are pulled tightly back and up, intruding on the cheeks. The eyes are wide. The teeth show forth in a manner not so dissimilar to a snarl. It is strange, when you dwell on it. Almost grotesque.
     But those are things you never notice. For when you see someone smile you find a similar smile is forced upon you. And with that smile comes those motions of joy that cry down your ever self-conscious reason and say “Hush now! I’ll not allow your base inhibitions and arbitrary judgements stand in the way of this joy I feel! You say I am silly? Foolish? Those words have no meaning to be now that I am in the throes of joy. So stand back while I pull tight these muscles in my face and show my teeth to the world. For I am happy and all is right.”
     And so at the feast I did not notice the sweaty, red-faced foolishness in the smiles of my peers. I did not notice the many chunks of food stuck in the mouths and beards of those who ate with me. For we were all happy. We rejoiced in the Bride and in her Husband and we felt, with a calm, violent certainty, that a new age of light and love was being ushered in. An age in which the fetid pool would be drained and done away with. An age in which all the buildings would be cleaned and opened for all to dwell together in peace and love and laughter. An age to end the ages. An age after which nothing could follow, for if things are ever truly and completely made right there can be nothing left in the cosmos to set them wrong.
     And so, with my head flung back in laughter at some happy jest I’ll never remember, I was pulled out from my dream and found myself alone and awake in bed.
     It hurt to be pulled from such a happy dream, I don’t mind telling you. And I tried, as we all do, to fall back asleep to pick up the dream where I left off. But that never works, as we all know. And so I rose and entered the grey world.

     It was many years before I slept again.

     I knew at once where I was. It was the air that gave it away. The air in that place is thinner than ours. But not thin in the same high altitudes are thin. More like the quality of being ethereal. But I cannot convey it rightly.
     I stood by the gate and nostalgia washed over me. There were the apartments. There was the road. There were the people walking to and fro, just as I recalled. Though, not quite as I recalled. There were many more people than before. Indeed, I was tempted to call the place a town, though the word seemed to die in my mind, as though it did not belong.
     But though I could not call it a town, it seemed to have grown many of the trappings that come with the success of urbanization. For one, there were police. Police are easy to spot no matter what culture you are in or what uniform they wear. It’s the way they look at the people around them. A look that searches. A look that tests to see where you are deviant and whether that deviancy is enough to make you delinquent.
     For another, there were ads pasted in every place ads could be pasted. Everywhere from large billboards up on the sides of the high-rises to the smaller posters pasted to the side of construction walls. And, wonder of wonders, each and every one of them was themed after that wonderful girl and amazing moment so long ago: Sume el Raj.
     I imagined that much more time had passed in Isht Drowl than it had in my world. This was not very surprising, really, because I had read many a fantasy novel and knew that sort of thing was to be expected. And since I had already adjusted to this idea I took as my next task the examination of what great blessings her crowning and ruling power had given to the town.
     I stopped a man working in the street. He greeted me with a smile so wild I thought it must be fake. But, of course, that was wrong of me. For this was the land of Sume, and there was no reason for me to doubt the sincerity of the good fellow.
     “Excuse me, sir,” I said, “but I’ve been away for a very long time and I am wondering where I could find Sume el Raj. And, perhaps, if he is still here, her husband.”
     “Both Sume and her beloved are still in town,” he said. “But you’ll need to meet the one before you can become part of the other. Do you know the fountain in the centre of the park?”
     “Fountain? No. I remember only a broken, fetid cistern there.”
     “Ah, but that was before the marriage, no? Today that cistern has been taken down and a glorious fountain has been erected in its place, kept pure for those who enter on Sume’s terms.”
     “A fountain?! How wonderful! Thank you, sir, I’ll go to it immediately. Will Sume be there?”
     “Aye, she’s there. But take care you enter by the right gate. The gate with the true symbol of Sume on it.”
     I paused. “What symbol is that?”
     “The bread, of course. Symbolic of the bread of life the beloved gave to Sume. And that she now gives to us. Godspeed to you!”
     And so I went.