Ancestral Versions

ghostly goo

The mist continued to fall on buildings that were shorter and squatter and sported more Mom-and-Pop grocery storefronts. The lonely car, or two, wound its way up the road, every so often, blinding Alli and Nealy with its headlights. They walked down the thin strip of sidewalk to one of the park’s entrances. The two followed the pebbled road, lit every few yards with black iron lamps, put in place at least twenty years ago.

They walked through the dark rows of trees, dotted with specks of lamplight. Late at night only nightingales chirped, and trucks honked in the distance. The two turned off main path, after main path, passing The Mall and the Carousel. Soon they were climbing up rock steps and pushing wet branches out of their way. A path that was barely stomped into the ground led to a muddy clearing, covered with red and yellow leaves, clustered by sopping, leaning trees. In the middle of the clearing was a ring of monoliths. Beyond them stood a wall marked by an unlit opening.

The orange clouds continued to roam overhead. They made their way over the slippery leaves, to the dark passage and descended the slick steps. They knew the way, even though the shaft was black as pitch. Both descended, until they got to a dirt landing, lit with a single brazier on sticks. Across the chamber a single wooden door, with black iron bolts, could be seen. Alli knocked. The guard drew open a latch and then, opened the door for them.

The guard ushered them into the main chamber, which was carved out of brown stone and lit with wrought iron candelabras along the walls. The room fit about a hundred people, and they were looking at the front of the room, where Old Archon, elected leader of the Young Avatars’ Club (Y.A.C.), stood on a balcony, in front of a small cave mouth, addressing them.

Old Archon had just finished his speech, “So, that’s our latest dispatch from our research group in Gilf Kebir. That concludes the updates for this week. I hope to see all of you at the benefit dinner, at the W Hotel, on Saturday.”

The room clapped, and Old Archon left the podium. The crowd dispersed to the little tables around the room, filled with the members’ own blend of red-colored punch, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

Alli introduced Nealy to some of the other avatars, since Alli had been in Y.A.C. longer. They were for the most part college-educated young professionals, like themselves, with a keen understanding of a combination of comparative mythology, archeology and astronomy, as well as other fields.

The crowd split into two groups, filing into two black doors on either side of the chamber, one with a small blue flame symbol at eye-level and the other, with a red flame.

In the avatar room, stood a long wooden table and on the walls hung various tapestries of famous leaders of the avatars – numerous Sky Avatars, Thunder Avatars and Lightning Avatars. A large painting of the current Sky Avatar, Æon, in black armor and on a white horse, carrying a sword, sat behind the head of the table. Old Archon took this seat and about fifty avatars sat down on either side of the very tight room, with rock walls, also lit by candelabras.

After their meeting, the avatars filed back out of the tight, airless room and out into the cool main chamber, stretching their legs. The anti-avatars came out from the other side of the chamber, also tired and restless. Alli found Nealy and they joined the throng heading back up the dark, slippery steps.

“Shake Shack?” Alli said.

“Yes, please,” Nealy said.

“I’m so tired.”

“Why is it such a long way back again?”

“There’s going to be nothing but hobos on the train.”

“Or drunks.”

“We could take a taxi,”

“Some of the drivers are weird though.”

The night air was cold after a long time spent in the hot underground chambers. The rain still spat around them, and the tree branches creaked in the wind. Alli and Nealy said goodbye to Carlton and some of the other avatars. Tiny groups ambled around the muddy clearing, before the groups scattered, going in different directions, into the night.

Alli and Nealy clambered back through the trees to the main path, paved with cobblestones. The lamp lights hung in the autumn fog, that was beginning to rise from the earth.

“I don’t know why we still meet in that place,” Nealy said.

“Y.A.C.’s been meeting there since the park was first built,” Alli said.

“I know, I know. But it’s high time we expanded it, especially the side rooms.”

They reached the station. The rain was coming down harder now, splattering against the sidewalk. The two took the escalator into the now quiet subway station. They pressed their Smart Cards to the circles on the gates and the orange barriers rolled back, the sound echoing throughout the cavernous station.

Two trains came on the other side of the tracks, before their train came. Their car was empty except for a lone, grubby hipster, bopping his head to something coming through his over-sized Bose headphones.


Subtle Awakening


It was winter. Thin city snow sprinkled black trash bags and the green-yellow dead grass of dormant lawns. It was mostly a clear night; the moon was high in the sky and surrounded by a blue-white halo of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Alli was out on an evening walk after work with her dog. Her dog was a German shepherd named Rufus. She liked to think the brown parts of his coat were the color of ginger ale.

Back at home, she sat down in the downstairs living room to watch the evening news, Jeopardy and some of the gossip shows. The moonlight coming though the drapes of the bay window had dimmed. She got up to get some water and looked out. The moon was lost in voluminous dark gray clouds, its lighthouse beam reduced to a faded and fuzzy signal that strained as if shining from underwater or from behind heavy cloth. Even with the clouds, the moon and the sky were still beautiful. Alli got herself a glass of water and sat back down on the couch.

Alli noticed Rufus was in an interesting mood. He normally lay near her feet when she watched television. He was lying near the window looking up at it as if with his supersonic hearing he could hear something rustling that she couldn’t. Maybe someone was outside putting out trash and traipsing across their lawn down the street. Or maybe there were cats outside who were going to trigger the motion-sensor light around the back of the house near the garage. Her dad used to chase them away, along with the squirrels that ate up the birdseed in the backyard’s birdhouses. Whatever it was, Rufus soon lost interest and came to lie across her feet.

Or perhaps whatever it was had come inside the house, because movement flickered in Alli’s peripheral vision. She naturally turned her gaze toward it and froze, a familiar and unwelcome pins-and-needles feeling spreading over her arms, neck and shoulders. Sitting near the doorway to the foyer, was another dog, a black dog with white eyes and fur that seemed to move and wiggle, like fire or smoke. Otherwise it looked like a normal dog and was just sitting there panting. Other than its ghostly appearance it did not look frightening but Alli still felt terrified.

It did not disappear or lunge or do anything. Alli became more puzzled than terrified. She didn’t want to look away from it lest it move or attack or disappear, but she had to glance at Rufus. He had not done anything. He hadn’t leapt up or barked or even shifted from his position of lying across her feet. Alli naturally took this as a sign that Rufus was not frightened or angered. But he could see it. He was looking at it – placidly, even perhaps in boredom or out of a strange sort of familiarity – but he was looking at it, which made Alli feel tense. Unless Rufus was hallucinating too, she wasn’t the only one seeing the ghost dog.

Alli reluctantly dragged her eyes back in the direction of the foyer, hoping it was gone, had disappeared in the fleeting seconds she had taken to observe Rufus’ reaction. It was still there. Alli felt a sinking feeling of dread like the bottom had dropped out of her stomach. Still she could not move. And before her eyes the dog transformed. As if it were made of mist it changed into a human form – a human outline drawn by pencil thin lines filled with what looked like white-gray campfire smoke. The human form was not a monster – it was pleasant to look at, normal even, a young woman around her age in a sweater and jeans, bespectacled with long, light-colored gray-scale hair. In Alli’s peripheral vision, Rufus had not reacted at all. In fact, the figure had taken up enough of his time and he gone back to watching television.

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