Midway to finish for my concept of Tsillah, I showed my friend Kalan Ray and asked him if he saw a story in her. He seemed to really enjoy what I had done so far and offered to do a write up about the character outlining one of her many tales.
Scroll down to read Kalan's narrative, For Those Who Ask.
The bombs come screaming in the night like stone's cast from hell hanging above the clouds.
Surely whatever god could allow the fire and destruction to continue was no benevolent creature - no meek and mild peacekeeper of the cosmos - but a lingering demon. One who, for reasons known only to it, had decided to turn Joram’s life into an endless nightmare.
There had been three beautiful children. Their names were Adnan, Fathi, and Amira. Each child, with bright and eager eyes, had their name written upon the warhead of a cruise missile. A missile that would seek that name and find that child.
Tonight, the name was Adnan. The last. Joram had thought they could escape together. What foolish hope he had mustered in these last few days! Misery and anguish were masked by pure adrenaline as he scooped the child in his arms and ran until darkness fell upon them. Adnan cried into his father’s shoulder the whole night through, lamenting the loss of his sister, Amira. The cries were nothing but fuel to Joram. He pumped his legs and pushed through the twisted streets, the rubble and fallen buildings, the bloody and wailing mothers and fathers of Aleppo.
There were only two of them now. He could hide where the devil would not find them. They could crawl under the earth where the bombs cannot shake them apart. Where there will be no more death, no more loss, and no more fear. But, alas, Joram could not keep Adnan safe. And the bombs found them all the same. Unmasked, misery and anguish dug their hooks into Joram.
His children weren’t the only victims. His mother, father, brothers, and wife were all taken as well. Some by violence in the streets, others by famine. He had held his mother as she spoke her last words, but could not hear them over the sounds of gunfire. Her last testament was a sonnet of shell casings and gurgled screams punctuated with explosions and shrapnel.
One by one he lost them until they were no more. Each night, a new place to hide would postpone the calamity for a handful of hours, but that demon in the sky who lingers, one bony and enraged finger pointed downward, always finds his Joram. And when he does, he etches the name of a loved one on the next rocket propelled devastation heading his way. The devil will have his satisfaction, and no amount of prayer will convince him otherwise.
Surely, Joram would be next to die, unless hell has no room for fathers - only their children. If that be the case, the only fate worse than damnation would be eternal life.
He placed his hands upon Adnan’s cold face. The blood and dirt mixed together into a muddy paste. Where there once was the sweet skin of a young child, now only ash and soot and filth remained. Joram scratched at it, trying to clean his son the best he could. If he would meet the devil, he would have his son presentable at least.
His hands flew in the darkness, scratching the grime away as explosions ignited the sky above them. The rattling of distant bombs and the howling of the injured swirled in and out of his ears as he worked. There was a fury in his movements he could not control - and before long, he found himself scratching away the skin on the surface of the boy’s face. Joram could not stop. The pain of loss, the anger he felt, it was too intense. He did not know what he was searching for. Maybe a version of his son’s face that existed before the bombs started to fall? Maybe he sought to ruin the musculature so it was not twisted into a face that communicated abject fear. Whatever it was, Joram scratched away until Adnan’s face was no more, and all that remained was a mess of blood.
Joram held his son, and wept until morning. It was then, as the blood orange sun crept above the horizon, that the old lingering demon found Joram. The whistling sound of rockets swelled all around him, then there was an explosion. A piece of the building came loose and shot straight toward him. He did not take his eyes from Adnan as the concrete smashed into him - then there was darkness.
It was cold. Joram shivered in the pale blue light of the night. He did not recognize where he was. Everything was far too whole. It was as if the war had never happened. The walls were solid, the floor was flush, and the air was clear. He could not hear screaming or gunshots. There were no boots running along the streets and no angry voices shouting. But, he was not home. This place was not familiar, and there was not a soul in sight.
Joram blinked the sleep from his eyes. It seemed whatever had scrubbed the world of madness had skipped over him. His head was bloody as ever and the blood-caked soot on his hands was so thick he could not see his skin.
He stood and stepped toward the door with frightened feet. Every step made the sound of snapping clay as his heel crashed down on the tile. In his wake he left a trail of disastrous footsteps that broke the floor into hundreds of shards. He knelt and brushed his hand against the broken pieces; they withered at his touch and faded into ash. He ran his fingers across the earth, and no matter how lightly he grazed, he would rake a trench into the ground. It was as if the world were made of glass, and every piece of him was a hammer set on breaking it.
Then, on the street, he saw a flicker of light.
He crunched onward to get a better look, shattering the floor as he went. He made such a noise that the very fabric of the air seemed to be shattering as well. The light did not turn to run - but instead came nearer.
A cloaked woman appeared from the darkness, wearing the night like a dress. She moved toward him with a sharp and unmoving expression on her face, and her black eyes peered from under a horned cowl. The horns were twisted and ribbed - the product of some goat-insect hybrid from another world. Her steps were heavy and jerking, as if she were fighting the fatigue of a thousand years. Yet, her steps did not affect the world as his did. She appeared to glide, and if not for the fear that arrested him, he might have been fully entranced by her strange elegance.
He had known of witches hiding in desert caves. They snuck around poor villages and preyed on the weak and ignorant. But he knew at once this was not some vagrant or trickster. She cast a presence that made one feel as if they were awake inside a nightmare.
She made not a sound, but stretched a fist out to him. Dangling from it was a copper wire connected to a ball of steel. The steel warped as the wire swung in her fist, and short protrusions stuck out like fingers clutching a glowing orb. It glowed with faint pulsing light. As she came closer the pulses quickened until they were perfectly in sync with his racing heart.
There was a tugging at his chest as Joram felt his soul begin to prickle. He moved his lips to scream, but no sound came out, only a cloud of buzzing ash that clicked against his teeth like a mouthful of sand. The ash swirled in the space between them and shimmered like a school of fish. With every pulse of the orb, the ashes flaked and fell away. Pieces hit the ground and scattered in every direction like a thousand tiny cockroaches.
But as quickly as it had started, it ended.
The mass of it was sucked into the orb on her chain and the pulsing light stopped. It glowed with solid intensity. A pure white light.
Joram’s body perked. His head was clear. There were no aches, no scratches, no sharp pains, and no fatigue. The deaths of his family members, of his children and parents and siblings, felt no more than decades old memories - half forgotten and fully disconnected. He had no sadness, no regret, no fear.
His eyes opened wide as the last of the skittering ashes escaped the bright light from the witch’s orb. He looked up at her to see that emotionless grin still staring back. She drew a hand upward and dug her fingers into the sides of her cowl. With a jerk and a twist she removed a mask and revealed her true face to him. Her mouth was agape with terror! Her frightened eyes were wide open and twitched with anguish and desperation. Beneath that mask was the face of true horror - a woman who had suffered so much that recovery was impossible. Fear was every part of her, and what she took from him only added to her collection.
Joram did not react. He could not. Whatever she had stolen from him, it was that which would have made his heart jump or his hair stand on end. He could recognize the potential of fright, but it did nothing for him. He felt no pity, nor disgust. He felt nothing.
She backed away from him. With her face still bent with terror, she placed the mask back on her face. As soon as it made contact, the orb went dim, and Joram snapped back into the world he knew.
The sun shined brightly above him. It was hot, as always. He sat in a circle of rubble and blood. Broken concrete, splintered wood, and shattered glass covered the floor. Screams and gunshots textured the soundscape, and all the world was a smoky haze. The mangled body of his son, Adnan, lay next to him.
Joram snorted, then hacked a ball of spit into the pile of debris. He picked at something stuck in his teeth and scratched at his beard. He was bored. Only the sound of explosions sparked the slightest amount of interest. He stood, turned his head toward the loudest of them, and began to walk. As his feet kicked up clouds of dirt, he could not help but think of the witch, and wonder what she had done to him.
As you can see, Kalan Ray is quite the writer! Such a great story, it made me smile after I was done reading. What did you think? Comment below.
To see more of Kalan Ray's work:
If you would like to know more about the project and my Collaboration with Akihito to bring Tsillah to life: