OK, here is my latest story. It is really odd. It is based on a dream I had.
Anladele started to assess where she was before she even opened her eyes. She smelled the light sweet green of shorn grass blades touched with the pungent tangy brown of chopped dead leaves. Just the beginning of the quieting down season, she judged, then opened her eyes. Yes, she smiled as a deep breath filled her nostrils with a crispy cool. Yes, it definitely was the quieting down season, she decided as she peered out of the hedge in which the gateway had opened. Now to find out where she actually had been placed. Those in charge were wise in many things, but they did not pay much attention to mundane details such as geography. It did look like she had been placed as the worship house she was there to serve. There was a stillness that told her she was early for the service. Good, time to seek some facts. She stepped out of the hedge, adjusting the light cotton floral dress she had donned for the mission. The fabric was soft, she knew, for a human, but its movement against her skin was a minor irritant. Her smoky skin was use to the smooth, pliant second skin of her pebbles. Pushing the discomfort to the back of her mind, she moved toward the front of the small stone, plaster and wood building. There was a painted sign there. English with a cross. Christian named after a saint. Andrew? She thought she had that right. The subsect of Christianity was also named, but she was not as good at keeping those distinctions straight. A car passed on the road. The right side of the road. Somewhere in, she shifted her vocabulary with the new information, America, most probably. It was early, but she realized someone had already raised flags on a tall metal pole. Strips and stars. Their United States. On the flat slip shoes that also mildly irritated, she made her way to a large oak tree a small distance from the cheery red doors to the… church, would be the proper local term. Stretching her arm out, she placed her fingers in the grooves of the trees skin. The pads of her fingers warmed, and she smiled lightly at the tree’s welcome. It was a contended tree, filled with the stories of the generations of creatures who had lived around and in it. It liked the music from the church and knew that the parishioners took pride in the giant that shaded their hall in the heat and humidity and kept the wind at bay in the cold, sleeping time. In the air it could feel just the sense of the cool sea, telling Anladele that she was within three days fey walk of salty water. Anladele brushed her hand down the trunk of the tree in acknowledgement, and then pressed a little harder. Slowly and unwillingly the tree admitted to the unpleasantness. It was worried for the humans it watched, and while it was reluctant to mention the intruder, it was relieved that Anladele was there. It hadn’t been sure if the local feys had realized what was going on. Because of its relief, it was quite willing to help Anladele call the pebbles she need. Through the thin bottoms of her useless shoes, she felt the rhythm of the roots as her request was presented to the stones. When it ended, she reached under the arch of a big root and pulled out two pebbles.
Anladele held them in her cupped palm, getting to know them, testing them to see if they were up for the task in store. She was pleased with what she found. They were sized well to fit in her slender hand. Her willow whip fingers circled them around in an easy, practiced manner. They thrummed with their purpose, but thankfully, they did not have an overdeveloped sense of heroism. Some did, and that could lead to panic in the reality of the events to come. And they were also pretty, the matte of cream with the texture of a doe’s tongue.
Anladele’s head cocked to the side, and she slid around the trunk of the tree, away from the church entrance just as the glossy door was laboriously pushed open. The priest was a woman two heads shorter than Anladele, and the gray in the mouse hair and the thickness around the middle told Anladele that she was somewhere halfway to meeting the earth. She stood on the porch for a moment, just enjoying the morning. Anladele decided she liked her. The look of anticipation told her that this was a clergy member whose early start was more of a satisfaction than a chore. More and more, Anladele was anticipating this mission to be easier than some of her more recent outings. A car pulled up to the street edge, and Anladele realized the parishioners were starting to arrive. With a casual grace she moved over to stand at the bottom of the few stairs, waiting for her opportunity. No one seemed to pay her much attention, and if they did, her busy dress pulled their eyes away from noticing the rest of her. One young human riding his father’s hip did get a closer look at her and would have said that Anladele’s hair that curled away from her head in stubby pale wisps looked like a saint’s halo, but he was just learning how to form sounds like mama, dada, and Spike, his cat, so he just laid his head down on his father’s shoulder and opened and closed his hand toward Anladele. She wiggled her fingers back, and that got her onto the first step.
A few people behind the young family, was a lady almost to her meeting time with the earth. She used a metal devise to lean on as she walked slowly toward the building. The first time she had entered it was as a bride fifty-seven years earlier, and it had seen all the rites of her family since, including the recent burial of her mate. Today was the last one she would witness, part of her knew, and she was content with that. It would be the baptism of her first great-grandchild, a beginning before her ending. With that thought in mind, she paused before making the gasping trek up the steps, and the young lady waiting there caught the great-grandmother’s attention. As she made eye contact with Anladele, she tilted her head to the side as if trying to hear better.
After a long moment, in a low, throaty voice, Anladele replied, “Why, yes, ma’am, I am a friend of your grandson here for the baptism, thank you for asking.”
The creases and crevices of the grandmother’s face shifted and folded as she smiled wide and said, “Welcome.” And Anladele took her arm and helped her through up the stairs and through the door.
Once inside, Anladele stepped to the side of the door and leaned one shoulder against the wall to face the door as each parishioner entered. The inside of the building matched the outside. It was simple, stone, wood, plaster, made in a time when humans used the materials they found more than adapted them. The long ago people had adapted sand and minerals into glass, and the tall hued teaching windows were well crafted. The tops had been tilted in, letting the tiny bite of wind cool the space.
Humans of all sizes, ages and dispositions entered, chatting or bleary-eyed. There were a few moments of fuss as the baby appareled in a crisp, white linen suit was pinched and cooed over, the first of his entrance rites. When the bells began to solidify the energy in the air, the one she awaited sauntered through the door. The appearance of the creature, to human eyes, was a dark haired, light eyed woman of indiscriminate age and beauty. To Anladele’s foreign and trained eye, the face was distorted by a kind of miasma. The cloud that surrounded the head was like honey-colored candy before it cooled and hardened. It undulated in waves and wisps, and strands of it would reach out like it was seeking and being pulled at the same time. The face beneath changed with the bulges and dips in the poisonous toffee. The features were sharp and sardonic, mocking those it thrived on. It has come through the doorway with its head turned to the altar, so it did not notice Anladele immediately. She watched as the translucent tendrils reached and pulled towards the people already in the pews. Even as they were being used, many nodded and waved to their tormentor. Anladele took a deep breath and started slowly spinning her new stone friends in a circuit over her palm. As her deft fingers moved, the stones started to glow, and now she could see the cotton white light auras that surrounded many of the faithful. As the pebbles moved faster and faster the other nature of the humans came more and more into focus. Some were engulfed in large clouds that were so clear they could have been actually substantial. Anladele imagined that if they tripped, they wouldn’t strap a knee. Others were not so bright, the light showing through diffused and the colors of the person’s clothing discernable. Others were so faint they were barely visible, and the owners of the pale halos were slightly woebegone. They were the ones thinking more of their beds and sporting events than the present. They were a step away from not finding the early rising and dressing up on their day off worth it. Anladele knew that there were others who had already made that decision. The pastor’s aura was full, but a little dulled. Anladele imagined it pulsed with doubt because as she started her ceremony, the anchor for her week and her people, the missing faces troubled her. The creature was sewing its malcontent, maybe not quickly in a community obvious tightly held and protected well by the oak, but Anladele watched its sticky tendrils touch the auras of the humans, and the damage it did, like cotton candy melting on an eager, greedy tongue.
Anladele started spinning the pebbles faster. They thrummed with the effort.
That was when the creature turned and noticed her. It cocked its head slightly and its gaze lingered on her moving hand. After a heavy pause, it looked into her eyes and smiled without parting its lips. Then its hand moved in a beckoning gesture. Anladele pursed her lips and while her eyes became slits, she did not break the contact. It was not going to run. It was going to fight. From the short time she had been here, Anladele wondered at its confidence. To her, these people seemed strong and connected. Either the nasty beast was overconfident, or there was something Anladele was missing. A small knot formed low in her gut. Either way, they were both committed. Anladele straightened her stance and nodded. Her concentration moved to her friends in her hand. Despite the moment of concern, their determination seeped into her skin, and it was her time to quirk a tiny smile.
She knew her best chance of defeating the thing was to be patient. Too often a fey in her place would want to end it too quickly and burn out their energies before the task could be completed. Anladele kept her shoulder against the stone jam of the open door allowing energies from the building, the air, the concerned oak, all loving entities in the vicinity, to slowly soak into her consciousness.
The pastor had opened her book and was using one of its stories to focus her people for the day and the trials of life to come before they met again. Anladele used her free hand to pluck the woman’s clear toned breath from the air current moving by her. The pulse of her voice moved up Anladele’s arm, pumped through her heart and ended its journey in the stones. They glowed louder and now the sound of the friction created by their movement was audible and seemed to add a harmony to the preaching. The people raised their heads, took notice, and added silent prayers of their own.
The ugly plasma around the beasty darkened and seemed to grow in diameter, seeking to take from the new and make it old. A dissonant note crooned from its throat, trying to break through the friendship between the pastor’s air and the pebbles’ counterpoint. Anladele did not want to push too much. She did not want the beasty to know exactly with whom it was dealing. Subtly, she let herself become aware of the pulse in her wrist. Flexing a small muscle, she controlled her pulse, letting the flow of blood communicate with the stones in a subtle way. She needed to know what role each of them was going to take when the final moment of the confrontation came. Through the blood moving through her palm, the three of them firmed their plan.
Anladele moved her attention momentarily back to the creature. It seemed to be satisfied with the way events were playing out. Its jarring music had thinned out the thread of Anladele’s bolstering of the pastor, but it hadn’t broken it. Anladele imagined it thought it was playing with her. At the moment, they were keeping things even, each looking for something that could change the balance, building fortitude, waiting.
In her mind, Anladele was trying to run through the Christian ritual. It could be hard to keep all of the human showings of faith separated and compartmentalized then remember the differences between the sects of the same religion. She knew among the highest moments yet to come would be things like The Lord’s Prayer and Communion, but she also knew that her soulless adversary would know the same things. It was strong enough that if Anladele could find a moment of surprise, it could mean the balance. She breathed in and out slowly keeping her heartbeats in order. The smell of the acidic wood polish, the wax of candles, and a hint of a sweet grape filled her lungs. In her imagination, she became one of the Christ followers, these smells carrying the years of faithful comfort, knowing that any time those smells were received in the nostrils, the people would be drawn back to their church and rightness of their place in that community even in the harshest conditions of daily living. Then she opened her eyes, and let the colored light and vaulted ceiling that celebrated the heights humans attributed to God enter her consciousness. Finally, the whisper of the wind through the elms dying leaves overlapping with the words of ceremony brought her completely into her surroundings.
With her attentions so attuned, the stones whirling and glowing, a pulsing to her right caught her attention. It was not the light of just one person, but a grouping. It was the family around the baby awaiting his baptism. Their anticipation and joy at introducing their newest love was warm and genuine. Anladele had her moment, she knew. Not having young of their own, her opponent and its ilk, never quite understood that bond. The upcoming welcoming had not really caught its awareness except that Anladele could tell it was hungering for the group, but she doubted it knew why there was such strength there. Running through her Christian knowledge, she tried to determine the amount of time until the baptism. Not much.
She stood up straighter, removing her shoulder from the cool stone of the wall, but she also removed the shoes. The smooth grain of the polished wooden floor felt so much better against the pads of her feet than the stiff lining of the shoes. Quietly, she let the stones know what she planned, and they approved. She felt the larger of the two brace itself for the trial to come. It had the hardest task of their triangle.
It was just another moment before the parents moved with the baby and their chosen representatives to the font at the request of the pastor. Anladele started a hum that came from deep in her gut, from her very center, where her spirit was tethered to the world. The stones each started their own counterpoint using the friction she was creating between them as well as laboriously pulling energy from the small amount of movement between their inner particles. As their harmony rose, the smaller stone started to draw the light of the humans’ auras into itself, so it glowed along with the people. The difference between the stone and the greedy creature was bounded up in what it did with the energy once it had it. The stone used its amplifying nature to send the energy back out to those who needed it most, making it harder for the creature to penetrate and feed.
As the parents and godparents were asked to recite their commitment to God and their renouncement of the Devil, their adversary’s head snapped up and turned to glare at them as it started its own thrumming to counteract, making its tendrils whip out. Anladele drew on the depths of her reserves to solidify her communion with the stones and the people around her. The smaller stone seemed to have its job in order, so Anladele gave most of her strength to the larger. Together they shot toward the creature with all the force they could muster, including what emanated from the other stone. It hit the nasty thing as the baby was lowered over the cool stone font. As the water started to pour onto the fuzz of the boy’s head, the larger stone started to draw on the creature. It took a hold of the tendrils and drew them away from the people and towards itself. Anladele started to pant and her eyes turned to slits as she took her eyes from the baptism to the creature. It was snarling and working hard to make its noise drown out all others, but its anger was breaking its own concentration. It had been happily feeding here for months and had gotten bloated on confidence. The shock of being attacked kept it from facing Anladele with the calm it needed to fight. Anladele smirked at the creature and winked, enraging it even more so it started to shake and as a roar left its throat, its counter harmony was broken. Outside the elm and wind worked to carry the roar away to dissipate harmlessly. More quickly the end of the creatures seeking appendages moved towards the stone that was calling them forcefully, using the power garnished from its mate to sustain the vacuum it used. When the baby was raised by the preacher to the community as its newest members and there were cheers and clapping and joyful tears rimmed the eyes of his great grandmother, the ends reach the surface of the stone. Anladele opened her mouth turning the hum into a long clear note. The stone drew the creature’s miasma of essence into the minute spaces between its molecules trapping it there. More and more of it was allowed to seep down into the core of the stone. The baptism had bolstered the church goers to a point that when Communion started, they were still riding on the pleasure of belonging and some who hadn’t intended to, found themselves joining the queue to the altar. As each sip of wine touched the lips of each person, the creature became less defined, more globs of its being were drawn into Anladele’s stone, until, with the draining of the Communion cup, there was no more substance except a stream of honey colored globs on their way to being trapped in the brave, unyielding prison. At last the congregation sang the ending hymn as those who served in the altar processed down the aisle, and the last of the leach was contained in the stone. The humans were given back their ability to choose.
As the bells rang and people’s minds turned to coffee and cookies, Anladele closed her mouth, and let her note die away. Slowly, she stopped spinning the stones in her hand. The smaller stopped glowing, but the larger now had coppery veins running through it. It had the draining force contained, but it had to be a constantly vigilant until Anladele got it home and the feys called on their own faith through rituals to permanently keep it from doing any more harm. Anladele slipped the stones in the pocket of her dress while also slipping her feet back into the shoes. Just a few moments more of the uncomfortable human garb. Just as Anladele was passing out of the building so was the old woman who had given her access to the church. Anladele smiled at her as she stepped aside to let the small lady go before her. The old woman looked up at her and nodded as if in thanks to Anladele. She returned the gesture in an answer to the question in the older eyes. They were going to see each other again soon.
Anladele moved across the lawn toward the tall hedge that bordered the church’s land, touching the tree in thanks and reassurance as she passed. The closer she got to the hedge, the more defined an opening in it became, until when she finally reached it, it was a black archway through which Anladele moved and disappeared.