A moment from ‘A Gathering Darkness…’

For your wonderment and pleasure… a small sampling from ‘A Gathering Darkness’, Book One of the Valerian Saga.  Enjoy!

Bethesda Fountain and its plaza was strangely empty.  (Not entirely though, but I’ll get back to that.)

All around were the windblown remnants of Fall; leaves of gold, red and brown.  Discarded plastic bags, tatters of old newspaper, all manner of trash.

We humans are a messy folk.

Looming over it all, and taking center stage, was the Angel of the Waters, her wings and arms outstretched, her face turned towards the earth as if she were ashamed of it.

Better yet, ashamed of us and what we had become, a society of discarders.

I was so absorbed by the general conditions around me I never even saw ‘her’ at first.  There, before the fountain, like a blood smear, danced a lady in red.

The Red Queen.  How did I know that?  And yet I did, her name rolling through my mind like an uneasy fog on a Fall morn.

Needless to say, her sudden appearance more than startled me.

I watched, completely entranced, as she spun and twirled her way across the Terrace and around the lake, her feet never seeming to touch the ground.  Again and again she would rise and fall, spin and turn, her clothing nothing more than long tatters of gray and white, rags really, covered in deep crimson as red as spilled blood.  Nimble and quick she danced, as the world around her began to fade.  In the end, all that remained resembled a Kim Anderson, grey, black and white, with only a single spot of brilliant color at its center.

I found myself frozen, mesmerized by the figure pirouetting before me.  Lunatic, prophet or madwoman; at the moment she could be all three- and then I saw him.

Arms crossed, wrapped in furs, there stood my long time neighbor, Aaron, a man so wrapped up and massive that for a moment he was almost indistinguishable from the grizzled and sculptured figures that lay beyond him, a trio of bronze grizzly bears, two on all fours, one rearing high.

I think we noticed each other at the same time.

“By all the saints, Theo, you’ve frightened me half to death.”  Aaron’s eyes were large and full of wonder as he stared out over the frozen waters of the fountain.  “When did you get here?” Never once did he acknowledge the old woman spinning and dancing around him.

At his words I found my feet and senses.  Cautiously I approached, one eye on the woman, the other on my neighbor.  “S-sorry,”  I said, fumbling over my words.  “To be honest I don’t know how I ended up here, I just sort of wandered on in I guess.  My mind as of late…”  I twirled my fingers next to my head, “seems to be wandering, ever since Kaelynn and I started having issues.”  Could he not sense the woman dancing around him?

“Sadly I feel your pain,” he replied.  “Self-pity dulls the mind and blinds the heart.”  The entire time his eyes never left my face.  It was like he was trying to read me..

“From techno-geek to sidewalk prophet,” I exclaimed.  “You never fail to amaze me, my friend.”  Again, I couldn’t help but wonder at the mysterious nature of this immense man, our neighbor.  What were the odds of me finding him out here at this exact spot?

“Through trial and tribulation she stands alone.”  The giant man said, his voice little more than a whisper.

His words startled me.  I glanced around expecting to find someone else present, but found no one.

“Through it all she remains victorious.”

There are moments in life where everything seems surreal, this was one of those.  “I’m not entirely sure of what’s going on,” I replied, trying to capture his attention.  The man’s eyes seemed to be constantly shifting in and out of focus, like one minute he was here, the next, someplace else.

At my words Aaron turned to face me, falling to one knee he still very nearly towered over me.  “The Red Queen appears only in times of great distress,” he said.  “Moments when decisions are life changing, when Kings are in danger. Ware the enemy that wears a friends crown, and a handshake that contains daggers rather than warmth.”

Stunned beyond words, I just stood there.  “Red Queen… Kings in danger…?  What in God’s green earth are you talking about, Aaron?  You’re making absolutely no sense.”  In that moment I felt like pinching myself, just to make sure I wasn’t still asleep in bed.

“You’re like all the others,” I began, “lost their freaking minds.  First, Kaelynn jumps to conclusions, then Lycan begins mothering me, and now I have you, my next door neighbor, spouting nonsense about some Red Queen and warnings … really?”

His eyes seemed to clear, like my voice had broken some spell.  “Theodore, what are you doing here?”  He was confused, it was obvious.  “Better yet, what am I doing here?”  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say my giant friend just woke up from a dream.  Surely he didn’t sleep walk all the way here in the middle of the day.

Speaking of, where was everyone?  It’s the middle of the day, this place should be crazy busy with people, even in the midst of winter.

“I’m sorry Theo.”  Aaron shook his head, beard and mane bobbing in the breeze.  And just like that, as if it were some magical sign, crowds of people began to intrude upon us.

As for the lady in red, she was gone.

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