Identity

My identity was as much a mystery as where I was or how I got here. A deep buzzing sounded, vibrating through my bones. Even breathing made me dizzy in the thin air. Small rocks pressed into my back, but otherwise, the ground was somewhat soft, like sand or powder. I tried to sit up, and lights flew past my eyes, tiny sparks that appeared and disappeared as quickly.

I was on a flat plain with almost no noticeable structures, but one. A single, immense black sphere floated in the distance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t estimate how far away it was.  There wasn’t so much as a hill or shrub as far as I could see.

My mind searched for anything familiar, but I had no frame of reference. In fact, even the memories were drifting away, disappearing like echoes. It was as though everything before this moment was a blank. I searched a darkened memory for who I was, trying to grasp the echoes, but there was nothing.

Certain words were even missing from my vocabulary, concepts only apparent in their absence. Thoughts dropped away, unable to explain or preamble. There was nothing to do. There was nowhere to be.

The spots of light returned and condensed, shimmering around the edges of that far-off Sphere. Then they blinked out again, as though I’d imagined them. That was when I felt the tug in my chest, and everything around me appeared clearer, brighter, almost glittering in its brilliance.  

As I stood, my eyes focused on that Sphere. There was nothing before now and nowhere else to go. As I walked, I felt the strange sensation that someone had inserted a hook through my solar plexus and tugged.

A touch of unease suggested that the Sphere might be dangerous, but another whispered that being out in the open was just as dangerous. In the end, I didn’t know why I should feel either way, and the tug was insistent. Walking forward, the thoughts disappeared again. It was quiet for a long time.

*

I don’t know how much time passed. Eventually, I glanced up at the bright bare sky as though it might have answers. But something was missing. It suddenly occurred to me that the sky was missing a sun. I couldn’t really remember what it looked like, but the word popped into my mind before drifting away again.  

I walked more quickly now, disconcerted by the awareness that something was missing, that without a source, the brightness didn’t make sense. But the words eluded me again, and the world didn’t fall apart.

Eventually, I relaxed and forgot about the oddity. The word “Sun”  floated around untethered somehow. I could easily have made it up. Although I didn’t remember making anything up, it clearly didn’t exist.

As for the Sphere, it still seemed so far away, like I hadn’t made any progress at all. While I knew that couldn’t be true, my sense of time was tenuous at best. Nevertheless, that hook was always drawing me forward and toward what I hoped were answers.

Even from a distance, that blackness became a singular focal point, hypnotizing me with the light that sparkled along its edges before being swallowed whole by the darkness. I wasn’t paying attention to anything else. Still, there was nothing but a flat landscape, so I was surprised when I tripped and fell hard.

When my knees hit the ground, it didn’t seem so soft anymore. The pain reverberated through my body, ringing in my ears, and I screamed despite myself. Even the light shifted: shades of pink, pale green, and blinding white light.

When my head finally cleared, I saw the body beside me.  They lay in a heap, arms and legs entangled around them,  their body so similar to mine. I noticed their long fingers and brought my hand close to my face, examining it for comparison. Uncertainly, I reached out to touch them.

As my finger brushed their arm, countless memories rushed through my mind. I watched the images pass across my vision and all around me. The landscape shifted, and other people walked beside me.

Then I saw the sun outside and felt the whole world moving through me. I saw trees, mountains,  and so much more. I had an entire life full of pain, loss, and love. When I woke beside them, my eyes cleared. Although I clutched the memories, they began to float away again. Joy, pleasure, pain, it all disappeared. I grasped for them desperately, wanting to keep them, but they were gone. They were only dreams.

 Suddenly the sleeper’s eyes fluttered open. The sleeper grasped my hand, and I remembered them like they were a part of my own body. They sat up groaning, blinking their eyes drowsily, and I wondered if that was what I’d looked like so long ago. I reached to help them up, and as our eyes and fingertips connected, a high-pitched noise filled the silence.

We were suddenly propelled across the landscape.  I couldn’t process the speed, and so I didn’t try. We landed in a heap beside The Sphere, and the actual size filled me with something like awe or fear. We were such small things, dwarfed by its size, but also its inherent darkness, as though we might be swallowed up and never recover.

I jerked my head toward the one other being like me, but there was no longer only one. There was a host of them, staring into that dark Sphere. Even my companion was captivated. I touched their hand and felt that eerie sense of remembering.

Then they were all a part of my body, our body. There was no way to know whose hand we held because we were all lost in the same sensation of unity. As one Self, we lifted our eyes back to the Sphere.

Identity - Mixed Media Painting

With that single movement, a knowing overcame us.  The entire world was our Self, and it contained every thought, every experience, all now. Nothing was lost. And that sphere was not dark but filled with light, more than we could previously conceive. In fact, it was brighter than the sun, pure energy and shifting form. Even the sphere was Us, a part waiting, signaling, bringing us together.

We were only waiting for the rest of our Self to awaken. Strangely there was no worry or impatience. It didn’t matter how many times we fell asleep or how long we slumbered. We’d all eventually end up here, trying to wake up one last time.

And in the knowing, there was no more fear or pain. There was only indescribable joy and peace. There was only love, not a facsimile of emotion, a shadow of reality. It wasn’t desire or need. It was what we were, the fabric of reality, whether sleeping or awake, whether we remembered or not. We existed in a state of pure rapture. My Self was everywhere, and we were walking now.


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Snowdrifts and Echoes

*”Snowdrifts and Echoes” was written in response to a Reedsy.com prompt:

“Write about two people going sledding for the first time in many years.”

Authors note: As a writing exercise, I tried incorporating all five Reedsy Prompts for the week.

My other inspiration was memories. Sometimes they are like echoes, and other times they build up like snowdrifts until we’re ready to heal.

There is something about the snow here. It may come down softly at first, but it can transform into a full blizzard in little time at all. The last time I’d checked, the snow had been a speck on the horizon. Now the snowflakes looked closer to golf balls.

I glanced back at my computer screen. It had shut down 10 seconds ago with nearly everything else. I don’t know how it happened so fast. These buildings were set up to handle worse weather than this.

Looking around, I surveyed the empty offices. Of course, I’d decided to come in on my day off work. I did that a lot now. I vaguely remembered a different life that wasn’t all about my job. I shouldn’t have come in when snow was expected, but it was too quiet in my apartment, and there was a lot to do here. Well, there had been a lot to do.

I thought that I had more time. I sighed and picked up the phones to call security. There had to be a generator for this place. No dial tone. Great. I switched on the flashlight connected to my phone. There was still light filtering through the windows, but that wouldn’t reach far.

Sluggishly I stood and walked toward the exit. I’d either find someone to help or just go home. Well…if I wasn’t already trapped. The overhead lights flickered then flared back to life just as I passed The Door.

We didn’t go in there. None of us did. Some people said this was where they kept the prototype. All we knew was that we weren’t allowed inside. You needed better clearance than I had.

The lights flickered off again, and it was almost pitch black except for the cold illumination of my flashlight. I was sure it was locked, but curiosity was suddenly stronger than reason. I aimed my phone toward the doorframe, and its harsh blue light made the door seem more sinister than it was.

It was locked anyway. I was sure of it. My fingers tentatively pressed the handle, and it clicked open. I passed my light through the small room. It looked like a closet, but there was a darkness that my flashlight couldn’t penetrate.

This was the moment when you were supposed to leave or be the first to die in a bad horror film. Something tugged at me, though, irresistible. One step inside, and everything changed.

The darkness turned to bright sunshine, and I wasn’t in the closet anymore. I glanced behind me, but the door was gone. Instead, there were vast stretches of field, a lake, and a bare forest.

My breath quickened, and the fear rose, chilling my whole body. Then a real chill fell, and snowflakes began falling all around me. I held out my fingers and felt the cold drops tingling. It tasted like real snow too. The smell of it was in the air, mingling with something else…wood smoke.

I turned my head and saw the smoke puffing steadily from a small cabin in the distance. They’d have a phone, I was sure of it. However, as I got closer, the cabin looked more familiar, and my heart plummeted with the cold. I’d told myself I’d never come back.

Then I saw her. Alice. She stood on the porch, holding my heart, and I knew there was no phone. There was no electricity. There was just a wood stove, soft hands, and eyes that could melt chocolate with their warmth.

She waved at me, and I started sobbing as though I wasn’t standing in snowdrifts up to my knees now. I rushed toward her, and even when she was in my arms, I couldn’t make sense of such boundless joy and sorrow wrapped into one.

“You’re alive!”

“Of course, I am, sweetheart.” My heart was cracking, and I cried like I might never stop. When I finally calmed down, she took my hand and led me inside.

“Why’d you go outside, wearing that? Go change. I’ve been waiting to go sledding all day.”

I blinked, and a host of memories filled me in the quiet. I ran to change, but as I walked into our bedroom, I found myself outside again, although more suitably dressed.

“Come on.” Alice laughed, and its strange, beautiful music filled my whole chest.

As we loaded into the toboggan, her hands around my chest brought that familiar flip that I hadn’t felt in years. Even as we careened down the steep hill, the adrenaline was no match for that. As we stood unsteadily, I kissed her, and she laughed, clearly delighted.

I noticed the way her button nose was bright pink, and her eyes sparkled brightly like they had before she got sick. I was caught off guard when my arm jerked, and she pulled me up the hill.

I knew that I would sled all day if she asked me, and we almost did. When we finally headed inside, my toes felt frozen, and I was sure that hers did too. Her fingers and toes always got cold sooner than mine.

My fingers burned as we entered the warm cabin. We stripped off our coats and boots and hung them by the stove. Bits of ice turned to water and water to steam. Alice placed a mug in my hand before I knew what was happening. She’d always been that way, taking care of others before she took care of herself.

I knew before tasting that it was her home-brewed hot cider. The cinnamon filled the air, coating everything with sugar like it coated my tongue. I drank the cider, and my eyes drank her.

I tried not to think about when she passed, and I had passed along with her. I wasn’t ready to die again. I wanted to live today. I would worry about the consequences later.

At one point in the afternoon, I noticed her ice skates. Before, I’d never wanted to skate with her, and she was always asking. Now there was nothing I wanted more. I held up her skates. “Well?”

“Yes. Finally,” Alice squealed and kissed me fiercely. We twirled around for a second before she set to work on the laces. There was a pair beside my feet suddenly, though I was sure they hadn’t been there before. I didn’t care.

I looked up, and suddenly we were beside the cold frozen lake. Alice took my hands, leading me onto its still surface. Tentatively I stepped onto the slippery ice and predictably tripped over my own feet. But she caught me, and I marveled at how lovely it was to be out of control if she had it.

I didn’t improve, but after a time, we whirled together, her propelling us forward and me trying not to get underfoot. Sometimes it’s okay to just not get in the way.

As we spun around, I noticed the snow starting to fall again and snowdrifts gathering like memories in my mind, like echoes of reality. I wasn’t ready for the echoes to end. I wanted to let the memories crop up until I was buried beneath them.

But the evening was quickly falling, and I was a bit afraid that the dream would too. So I held Alice tighter, breathing in her scent and reveling in the cold of my nose against her neck.

We finally walked back to the cabin, stumbling, frozen, and happy. I hated the cold, but here with Alice, it was the most precious feeling in the world. But so was the heat as we walked into the warm cabin.

So were the warm blankets as we got ready for bed. So was Alice’s skin as we held each other tightly beneath the quilts. Throughout the night, I was unable to discern what was memory and what was a fresh experience. It was some strange amalgamation that was as good as any reality I’d ever had. I didn’t know if I’d ever been this present before, this desperate to experience everything.

As we fell asleep, I heard an owl hoot and the brush of branches against the windows. I noticed how hot Alice’s skin felt beneath mine. My legs wrapped around hers, like roots beneath the earth, like a poem about a snowy night. I almost laughed, but I didn’t want to wake her.

Eventually, I fell asleep too.

When I woke on the floor of the bare closet, it was like being ripped from the world and plucked in a cold approximation of life. I desperately wanted to wake whatever lived inside this room and go back to Alice, but something whispered to leave before I was caught.

I’d barely stepped into the hall and closed the door when the system restarted. I didn’t stay longer than it took to grab my stuff.

As I hit the elevator, the pain moved through me in waves. Years of built-up grief, snowdrifts of pain, echoes reverberating through my body. I pulled myself together as I crossed the lobby, but it was like trying to hold back a furious storm.

When I stepped outside, the snow had miraculously stopped, and all that remained was a thick quiet. Once in my car, I slammed the door hard, screaming loud enough to scare any passersby. I roared again, a roiling gale of anger and regret. Then I glanced at my dashboard.

Only a couple of minutes had passed since I’d gone in the room. It almost shocked me out of my fury. I drove home in silence until I felt a tug, like the one by The Door. There was somewhere I needed to go first. I didn’t want to, but I knew that I needed it. I can’t tell you why.

What might have been minutes or an hour later, I sat beside a cold ice rink. At first, my fingers fumbled with the laces, then I could have sworn I felt Alice’s fingers on mine. A calm swept through me in waves, quieting the pain. 

I finished lacing up the skates and paused momentarily. I swear I felt Alice squeeze my hand, and then I stepped alone onto the rink’s frozen surface.

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The Great Migration

*”The Great Migration” was written in response to a Reedsy.com prompt:

“Write about a group of witches meeting up on Halloween night.”

I woke as some people fall asleep, drowsily, and then completely. My mother said that’s how it would be my first time. I had dreamed of flying and falling all night. I wondered if that was what it would feel like, all at once exhilarating and terrifying.

As I came to myself, the dreams were still flitting over my awareness. The light was streaming through my Venetian blinds, and a chill touched my skin. It finally felt like autumn. It wasn’t only because of the cold. Something in the light was more yellow or orange, even this early in the morning.

It slowly dawned on me what today was. I pulled myself farther under the covers for a moment and tucked my blankets around me like I do on my sad days. Only this time I was so happy. I wanted to soak in the morning for just a moment before we all leaped into final preparations.

Our coven always held the great migration on Samhain. This was my first year joining the migration. My sister told me that it felt like being reborn.

Stretching, I pushed out of bed and padded to the bathroom. The excitement filled the air. It vibrated almost as thick as magic. My mother’s whole family was here.

 “Sarah, Sarah, Aunt June just got here.” I felt the tug on my shirt and looked down at my little brother.

“Tell her I’ll be right down.” Joey was too young for the migration, and I knew that he was somewhat disappointed that he’d be staying with Dad. Still, the excitement was contagious.

In a way, our family was separated into two flocks—those that traveled and returned and those that waited. My mother once told me that I had to find a patient partner. Our relationship wouldn’t last if they didn’t mind living their life when I wasn’t around.

We live in a small town, full of its own peculiarities, and we’re only one of them. The other locals know that we’re witches and don’t ask anything else. Our family protected them a long time ago. Their children were taught to respect us, although they don’t remember what we can do. We were taught to do the same. My Aunt June says that respect is safety.

No one asks what we do at our home, nestled on the far side of the lake. They don’t ask about the flocks of birds congregating here every year, and we don’t tell. We don’t share our secrets unless we know you’re here to stay.

For my parents, it was marriage. For my sister, it was her partner Marisa, long before they were allowed to marry. My best friend, Kara, has known about us since we were ten years old. Commitment comes in many forms, some thinner than blood or law yet stronger than iron.

Most of the people who know are either from our family or our coven. Many will fly with us tonight. We taught them. Mom said that was another part of creating safety for our family, creating bonds that would protect, showing others how not to be afraid.

I think that we’re not the only ones that are changed every year. It changes the people we love too. There is a quietness at times to our relationships and intimacy of secrets. Other times there is an urgency and passion. And then there is the interconnectedness and interdependency at its core.

My father once explained the difference between interdependency and codependency. He said that interdependency meant that everyone does their part and contributes to the whole. Each life is intricately woven together, made stronger by their bonds.

But Codependence was different. It was parasitic and degrading at its core. Yes, it tied people together but undependably and erratically. Codependency would sever a bond. It would fray and isolate.

As I watched everyone work, I saw the interdependency for myself. Like roots beneath the grass, each action enhanced the others. And when someone needed to walk away on their own, no one was harmed or hindered. We were all birds at heart. We wanted to be loved, not restricted.

I heard my mother’s laughter. It drifted on the air like glitter, sticking to everyone, pulling their attention. I smelled cinnamon in the air and saw her stirring a large pot. I tried to imagine her as a caricature of a witch, nursing a bubbling cauldron of potions.

 I shook my head at the silliness. I couldn’t see anything but her hot cider. She made it every year, along with the cranberry almond muffins that she knew were my favorites.

Joey and our cousin Timmy were finishing up the last of the Jack O’Lanterns. They were in charge of lighting them all before the rite. Wards were essential, and none were more potent than those made in love and joy. Those lanterns would protect us, but they would also guide us home.

The excitement began buzzing beneath my skin. I looked for something to do. My mother smiled at me as though she knew.

“Want to help your sister and Marisa knead the dough? It could use some nervous energy.” She winked, and it calmed me, despite the few awakening butterflies in my stomach.

I quickly moved into the flutter of preparations. Some were finishing their last-minute preparations for the rite, but my mother wanted me focused on the dinner. Dinner was a huge undertaking.

When we all finally sat down, at sunset, it felt like a celebration. We would eat this food as a family, as friends, and as a coven. It would give us strength for the flight and later renew our strength when we returned. It would also remind us of our bodies.

I’ve heard it can be unsettling after the transition back. This helped. It anchored us to our lives, to the ones we loved, to the ones we seemed to lose.

We didn’t talk about the rite once dinner started. We didn’t speak of it after either. We moved from laughter to silence as the moon rose high, and then we all stood and went outside. Aunt June was expecting a baby and had decided to stay grounded. She stood with the others, but she wouldn’t shift. That was her decision. It was always our decision.

The rest of us undressed as though we were going skinny dipping in the ice-cold lake. My mother anointed my head with oil, and everyone nodded their heads down and to the sides, twisting their necks like swans. If only. It made me smile. I might have laughed if it weren’t for my nerves. Those butterflies had multiplied a hundredfold inside of me.

As one, they all turned and faced the bright moon, high above the lake’s surface. I stood in the middle. My mother, typically leading the charge, stood beside me.

“Remember what you are.”

So I stood there in the cold, surrounded by my family. The gooseflesh rose on my skin, but it was only the ordinary kind that came to cold girls in the dead of night.

I watched the ones in a front shift like the moonlight over shadows, and then lift off the ground. Others flew past me. As they began their flight, the fear awoke. My mother must have seen it because she turned me toward her.

“Are you afraid of the flying?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“What if I’m broken? What if I can’t do it?”

“You can. It is what you are. We’re simply born asleep.”

I turned my head and saw the lake, cold and black but covered in the silver reflection cast by the full moon. A cool breeze blew past us, my long hair whipping over my shoulders.

“If it’s what I am, then why do I let it go?”

“You’re only letting go of what you think you are. Take a breath.”

I closed my eyes and did as she said. And then I felt something. It was like dissolving slowly into everything, and then I saw all around me, and the sure compass in my mind pointed me onward. Running forward, I leaped up into the night.

Then I was flying fast, trying to catch up with the others. The exhilaration of flying so fast overwhelmed me at first. Then my mother was beside me, a beautiful Canadian Goose.

I didn’t ask what to do next. Knowing clicked into place, and we were not separate geese but a flock. We pressed into formation long before I reached them. We took up the rear and headed toward the great nest.

Other covens would meet there, much more secretive than ours. Those covens were distant, and yet they still belonged to us. The cold that had touched my skin before was now covered with warm feathers. We were headed somewhere that the others couldn’t go.

The exhilaration filled my body as we flew. And yet, my body was not my own. It moved in tandem, both reflexively and responsively, with the whole of our flock.

I wanted to weep at all I saw. Because for a moment, I was not even the flock flying through the sky. I was the sky. I was everything.

Time meant so little, so I can’t say how long it took, but eventually, we reached a mountain, and the cave nestled in its arms. We landed but didn’t shift. We didn’t want to. And here amid all the other covens arriving and waiting, it was easier to communicate without our human bodies.

Humans saw everything so separate and couldn’t remember that minds were joined. It was the first thing we knew coven members had to learn before they could fly. All was one mind, and we were not our bodies. It was also the first thing to unlearn when we wanted our bodies back.

Here there was no miscommunication, only understanding, and appreciation. We were both humans and geese, and something else that we weren’t ready to remember. That was okay.

It was Samhain, and so we also remembered our dead. But it was so different in these forms because they were not gone from our minds. They were simply not able to be here in bodies. They told us stories, and we shared our own. But there were no words because it wasn’t necessary. It was more like an experience. It was a glimpse behind the veil, a hand through silk.

When we finally left, they went with us, but only because we realized they had never left. Our dead were not gone but were as close as our thoughts.

All through the flight home, they flew with us. While the Geese held a strong formation, the spirits dipped and twisted among us all, sharing their elation.

I knew when we were near home because I saw the lights, the countless number of golden lanterns flickering around our house. They were a tender glow, coloring the dark grey of early morning.

The ones that stayed kept the Jack O’ Lanterns burning strong so that we could find our way home, and so we remembered who we were returning for. Because, of course, you couldn’t arrive home if you’d never left.

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