Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Secret Egg - Part Two

What did it mean to love a thing?  Jenna thought she knew what it meant to love a person; she had her doubts from time to time, but she always had to admit that she really loved her mother and father after all.  Animals too, she could love.  And somehow, the stuffed rabbit she had owned since her earliest memories, perhaps the most inanimate subject she had ever loved.  But with all the memories it carried, she couldn't quite label it a "thing" in an absolute sense.

The secret egg was a thing.  For all of its apparent ability to distract her mind and bend her thoughts, she never hesitated in calling it a thing.  Yet her grandfather's "poem" came back to her in fragments, unbidden.

...it is alive.

...only perish in flames.

...you will grow to love it.

It will not hatch unless you love it.

Do not forget about the secret egg...

In the three nights since she had hidden it in her dresser drawer, she had only once thought to destroy it.  A wild impulse came over her, to follow the apparent instructions in her grandfather's hand and throw the wooden egg and its esoteric diagrams into a furnace.  She could do no such thing.

If any one had come to see her in those three nights, they would have noticed instantly that Jenna was not herself.  But no one came to see her, and Jenna was too preoccupied by the secret egg to notice how preoccupied she was.  It became harder and harder to focus on anything else: difficult in the case of organizing her grandfather's effects, and impossible in the case of her schoolwork.

By daylight, Jenna could behave with a fair approximation of normality.  But there was always the question, nesting untouchably in her brain: could she really love this thing?  What was to love - its shape?  Its texture?  The arcane symbolism on its "shell"?  Or was she supposed to love the interior, as solid as it seemed?  Sometimes, she remembered that the scroll had in fact been very specific.  She was not "supposed" to love it.  She was "supposed" to incinerate it.  At night these thoughts became all-consuming.  But for three nights she never seriously considered burning the egg.

For three nights she pondered the possibility of loving a thing.  She would examine the egg in detail, trying to examine herself simultaneously, trying to name the emotions it evoked.  She would shove it back in the drawer of winter clothes, and attempt to take her mind off the problem.  It never lasted.  A visitor to her apartment would have called it a mad obsession.  A more superstitious observer might have thought the egg was charmed.

And on the fourth night, something changed.  After returning from dinner out with old friends, Jenna opened the door to her apartment, and did not proceed to her dresser.  She hung up her coat, sat down at her desk, and got to work taking inventory of her grandfather's documents.  It was difficult work as always, but she made real, decent progress.  After an hour, she was exhausted.  She turned off the desk light, and went into the kitchen.  She put on an ancient record by Miles Davis, and prepared a cup of chamomile tea.  When she had finished enjoying that, she went to the bedroom, took off her clothes, and went to sleep in her bed.

She forgot about the secret egg.

At first it was a dream.  As unbelievable as the truth turned out to be, she remained convinced to the end that it began as a dream.  There was no other explanation for how she'd acted, how she'd felt, and where this strangely passive adventure had led her thus far.

Truly, what could explain how Jenna came to be floating on the Southern Ocean?  That is where she was, there could be no doubt.  It was strange that the raft that supported her appeared just like her bed, and that the waves were indistinguishable from the hardwood floor of her room.  But the stench of wet salt and the bitter, cold wind that rushed through her sheets, as well as the startling and exotic constellations glowing through and from beyond the ceiling, left no doubt that she truly was at sea.  Even out her window, past the trees and familiar landmarks lit by orange streetlights, she thought she could make out the Cape of Good Hope looming in the darkness.

Apart from that, there was nothing her mind could do to rationalize the sensory confusion that  overwhelmed her.  It was only in dreams that a person could be so absolutely and certainly in two places at once, their contradictory qualities reconciled by the logic of the subconscious mind.  And for the first time in days, Jenna was aware of just how out of her conscious mind she'd been for the past three days.  "Have I been walking in a dream," she thought, "and have I been asleep all this time?"  But if it was a dream, she could no longer enjoy it from the numb security of sleep.  She was alert, and aware of the bizarre sensation of both lying peacefully in bed, and being rocked by violent ocean swells.

She drew her comforter tight around her body to protect against the cutting winds, and tried to make more sense of her condition, to separate one location from another before she lost all sense of boundaries and, she feared, her sanity.  Scanning the open sea, which was also her bedroom, she noted the dresser, and remembered suddenly the secret egg.  And as the subtle memories began to return, and she considered what role the egg had played in these events, the room seemed to respond to the sudden change in her mental state.  If she were somehow experiencing two realities at once, the manifestation of a third seemed to be asserting itself.  A formless vortex, not really visible but definitely perceptible, seemed to be drawing one of the other two realities into itself; to Jenna's relief, it seemed to be the ocean that was receding.

The ethereal whirl seemed to center around the dresser, which only confirmed to Jenna that the secret egg was at the heart of the mystery.  An ominous glow was now emanating from that location, radiating warmth.  As the Southern Ocean faded from her perception, its elements all seemed to swirl about that spot, lingering visibly around the dresser's edge.  One by one, the stars ceased shining through her ceiling; the Cape of Good Hope phased out of sight.  But as normal reality reasserted itself in her presence, the energy surrounding the egg's hiding place grew brighter and hotter.  She was certain it would be noticeable from the street, blazing out of her window like a scene from an alien abduction movie.

In an unexpected instant, the spreading mass of light suddenly collapsed into a tiny point.  Its intense brightness forced Jenna to close her eyes, and a second later she heard a dull popping sound, and a heat like a broiling oven passed over her face for a moment.  She became aware that the glow was gone, and she opened her eyes.  It was dark, of course, but there was enough light from the window to make out the shape of things.  She could read the clock on the wall, which showed only a few ticks past one in the morning.  There was only one reality left in her room, as far as she could tell.

The drawer containing her winter clothes slid out, seemingly of its own accord.  It was not especially slow, but it was deliberate and unrushed.  Jenna's eyes fixed on that motion, even as she instinctively pulled her blanket back around her shoulders.  Undressed and bewildered, she didn't know if she could defend herself from the unknown.  However, she comforted herself, she didn't really know that it was dangerous.

There was a sound like the cracking of eggshells, and a small, dark form rose up from where the secret egg had been hidden.  It appeared solid, yet lacked a firm boundary, and as it stepped out onto the floor it appeared to be slowly increasing in size.

The creature that had hatched from the secret egg was essentially round, with small spikes, limbs and other appendages that seemed to fade and undulate about its body in steady fashion.  Its color was like a very deep blackness, accented with a faint iridescent blue when it passed through the light.  It moved noiselessly across the floor, reaching the side of her bed in only a few seconds; Jenna tried to remain facing it, unsure of its intentions and capabilities.

She noted how it moved in a way that defied description.  At times it seemed to be floating effortlessly, at other times walking in an almost ordinary fashion on two legs.  Which form of locomotion it used at any given second was, of course, ambiguous, as it usually seemed to be doing both at the same time.  But Jenna could not help but observe that, when it gave the impression of having legs, its left leg seemed to be smaller and more malformed than the right.  Increasingly doubtful of her senses and their ability to discriminate, she found that one consistency to be very interesting.

By the time it reached her bed, it seemed to have reached full size, growing from a few inches to about the size of a large, fat house cat.  It paused for a moment before ascending the mattress in its own peculiar fashion, a motion that was halfway between a ghostly levitation and an exaggerated step with impossible feet.  Jenna pulled as far back as she could, to maintain a reasonable distance, but the creature was now only a few feet from her face.  Now, she could tell that it had a face of its own, its features slowly appearing from the misty blackness of its round body.  First a mouth, or something like one: really just two rows of sharp, interlocking triangular teeth, stretched in a cartoonish grimace.  Soon afterward came its eyes: large, round, blue, and startlingly human, yet uncanny in their suggestion of a child's doll or a CGI model.  The creature blinked a few times, which is to say that the eyes would vanish for a fraction of a second: they had no discernible lids.

Finally, a green sigil developed between the eyes, in the center of the creature's "forehead".  Jenna recognized it immediately as the glyph which decorated the seal of her grandfather's scroll, as well as the secret egg: a six-pointed star with an eye inscribed within.  The resemblance to the creature's own eyes was only natural.  The symbol glowed with a very faint light, just bright enough to show the faint iridescence of the surrounding face.

With the arrival of the sigil the creature's dynamic form seemed to stabilize, though it was still as much a creature of shadow as one of flesh.  It looked briefly about its surroundings, perhaps seized by a childlike fascination with the new world it had been born into.  And then its eyes fixed swiftly on Jenna's, and even as she flinched she perceived a mature and devious intelligence behind them.  She was frightened, and yet her fear subsided when the creature spoke, its voice like a scratchy old vinyl record from the forties.

"You look... quite a bit like him.  It's good, that you turned out to be the one.  It is how he intended things all along.  I had my doubts it would work out, but here you are.  Here we are".

Jenna felt sure this was certainly no dream anymore; she felt more awake, and more aware, than she had in a very long time.  And naturally, though the encounter was entirely unprecedented and there was much she did not understand, she soon put together an idea.  "My grandfather sent you, didn't he?"

"The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree," replied the creature, widening its grin, "but does it taste as sweet as last year's harvest?"  Jenna recoiled at the monstrous implication, and the creature let out a high, mellow laugh.  "Only a joke, my dear girl.  I don't intend to eat you, and I didn't eat him.  In a way, I am as much of his issue as you are.  That makes us relatives, and eating you would be like cannibalism, I should think."  It smiled innocently, though the effect was dubious, as it did not have an innocent face.  "You don't think me capable of such a thing, do you?"

She chose her words carefully.  "I'm not sure what you're capable of.  I'm not even sure how you got here".

It flailed in mock surprise.  "Why, you saw how I got here!  I took the boat, of course!  Though I suppose it must have been very confusing for one not versed in the trade.  I can assure you that it was a very orderly, rational, and scientific process.  Or at least it looked that way, from the other side of the veil of reality".

"Well," she said, picking up her courage, "I'm not versed in the trade, and whatever the 'veil of reality' is, I'm sure I've lived my whole life on this side of it.  I don't understand the process, or where you come from.  And I really don't understand what I've been doing with that egg all this time, or what it's been doing to me.  So maybe you could try explaining it a little more clearly?"

"Very well, very well," the creature intoned semi-seriously, closing its eyes and nodding in exaggerated style.  "I suppose it is time to begin the beginning.  Now I know this may seem to be a little 'out there', but I imagine you've figured out by this point that your grandfather was a sorcerer?"

It sounded daft to admit it, but it did seem to be the most logical conclusion.  "I think I can accept that".

"Well, if you can accept that he was after all an exceptionally powerful sorcerer, I think I can answer both of your questions".  The creature cleared its throat, or whatever it had, clearly relishing the chance to pontificate.  "You see, my dear... Jenna is it?"  She nodded affirmatively.  "I thought so.  Anyway, for some time now you have been bewitched.  It happened when you first broke the seal," -it indicated the sigil on its forehead- "and read your grandfather's instructions.  That was the most precarious part of the whole mechanism.  I warned the old fellow that he could never be certain you'd be the one to open the scroll, but you know how sure of himself the old man was".

Jenna had no idea how to respond.  As it had become much more painfully obvious, she knew almost nothing about the old man.

"In any event, once that obstacle was cleared, the spell worked basically like it was supposed to.  The person who read the scroll would find the egg; the old man painted it himself, you know.  The person who found the egg would fall in love with it, in a subtly jealous and obsessive way.  Then, as suddenly as all that, the same person whose thoughts were warped by the egg would forget about it completely.  In the act of forgetting, the way was clear for a creature from my side of the veil, yours truly, to pass through to yours, hatch from the egg, and manifest into this world.  Are you with me so far?"

She nodded, though she thought the mechanics were still more obscure than the creature would admit.  "But the instructions told me to burn the egg.  What would have happened if I'd done that?"

The iridescence around the creature's eyes seemed to flush at the possibility.  "Well, suffice it to say, you could never have done that.  Once you discovered the egg, the spell prevented you from harming it in any way.  You see," and here the creature again assumed a prideful air, "a being as powerful as myself needs a little more than forgetfulness to pass whole through the veil.  Your grandfather added a disobedience rhythm to the spell's arrangement, to boost its power.  Your failure to comply with the 'instructions' was a vital component of a delicate instrument.  But it was the forgetting that brought me through in the end."

"I did forget about it," she murmured, incredulous.  "How could I have forgotten about it, just like that?"

"It was all in the spell, my dear; you really weren't yourself this week.  You followed the script, and you did so beautifully.  But I have to say, you remembered the egg a little sooner than I had expected; my leg was nearly caught in the veil.  It still hurts, you see."  The creature held up its smaller leg to demonstrate; it had started to firm up, the same as the other, but it was obviously weaker.

"Tell me why," she demanded, and she tried to be firm despite all she didn't understand, despite the menace inherent in the creature's teeth.  "Tell me why my grandfather did this.  Why he manipulated me, why he couldn't have just told me all this himself?"  Of course, her grandfather had never really told her, or her mother, or possibly anyone about anything important in his whole life.  "Tell me what the hell you're doing here... little thing," she said, much bolder than she'd intended to sound.

The creature laughed that same high, mellow laugh.  "You're getting ahead of yourself, dear Jenna.  I am here to answer all of your questions, in due time.  I have been granted a special authority by your grandfather, in exchange for passage into this realm.  You see him and his life as a mystery - I am to demystify him, so to speak.  I can show you his past, his work, his innermost thoughts; everything you've ever wondered about the shifty old fellow.  It was his last wish, and I am bound to grant it."

"You can show me... everything?"

"Right away, if you'd like".

There was never any real doubt in her mind.  If Jenna hesitated, it was not from a lack of curiosity, for she still burned with unanswered questions about the history of her family, the things her poor mother had never been able to tell her.  She felt resentment to the old man for using her in his mysterious rituals, and she did not easily trust the ghoulish thing on her bed.  These things could make her hesitate, but they did not make her refuse.

"I'll need to get dressed", she said, quietly.

The creature smiled, and closed its peculiar eyes; Jenna believed it not unlikely that it could still see through the power of its sigil.  It laughed, a little bit higher and a little less mellow, as she climbed out of bed and put on her clothes.

No comments:

Post a Comment