issue thirty-five

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(2064 words)
Gilbert R. Moon

       Once a star shattered in a cataclysmic explosion, its fragments shot to the far edges of dark, the dust settled on earth to mix with the rocky sediment and disseminate its unique composition into granules that with sun, water, and chemical wonderment produced a unique kind of life. Ruby Chalmers came from such star dust and this explained special aptitudes that made her much more than an ordinary human being. In appearance she exhibited no striking features, nor did she possess powers immediately apparent to those who casually encountered her. Nevertheless, in the eyes of immediate family which included her mother Sarah and father Isaac, she was a person to be both feared and admired for unique and almost preternatural attributes which only they could claim to have witnessed. 

The rural town of Sadler, Arkansas, was a hub of business and commerce that supplied surrounding farms what they couldn't grow, mend, or manufacture on their own. People met there to swap news about drought, flood, or some new disease that threatened stock animals, the local feed store buzzing with gossip the day Isaac Chalmers brought Ruby in to consult with Doctor Mendali, the town's only source for medical help in emergencies. Rumors were rampant about strange happenings out at the Chalmers' spread, and there were vague rumblings of Ruby being involved in some chicanery resulting in a barn fire, one that cost Isaac some prime Hereford breeding stock. Mysteries were rare in Sadler, so this one gathered momentum and created a speculative frenzy among the farmers. At dinner and breakfast tables they elaborated on the news that soon spread among impressionable school children who concocted their own version by embellishing it with hints of witchcraft and demonic hooliganism, mushrooming it into clouds of innuendo and charges of black magic. Ruby, who commuted to high school in the larger town of Antroot, began to feel eyes on her. Whispers, circulating, made her the center of attention as she walked in halls and sat quietly in classes. She had a circle of friends at school, and they soon told her about the rumors spreading in the student body. She was alarmed, felt the weight of judgment upon her and wanted to walk out and go home; but the distance she would have to travel on foot was daunting, so she had to endure the disparaging looks and pejorative glances until the last bell, grit her teeth and try to ignore a school bus full of silent censorious students on her way back to the farm.

Doctor Theodore Mendali was the only person privy to information about why Ruby was brought to him in a state of near hysteria, crying and carrying on in his waiting room so he had to attend to her before he could treat other patients who scheduled appointments. He sat behind his desk for some time after he prescribed a sedative and sent her home, his mind in a state of confusion from what had been reported to him. Never in all his years of practicing medicine had he heard such a bizarre story, and even if he judged Isaac a sober, down-to-earth man not given to flights of imagination, what the farmer told him left him shuddering in disbelief. Ruby was physically unharmed, though the ordeal she had endured should have caused extensive bodily injury. He could find no bruised tissue or fractured bones, no indication of trauma at all, but just that frightened intense look on the girl's face as if she had confronted some unmentionable thing out in a barn that left her in a temporary state of shock. Isaac found her babbling down on her knees in the dirt while the flames ascended around her and the heat which should have left her severely burned had barely singed her eyebrows.

Once settled down in Mendali's office she became calm, a bit too calm in his view, approaching an icy state of emotional distance so her eyes though open seemed in another place. "What frightened you child?" he asked, and her head turned ever so slightly to lock blue eyes on his. "I don't have words," she said. "Nothing I can say will describe it."

He looked at her sympathetically. "Certainly, you can tell me something, or else how can I determine how to help you?"

"There is no help for me," she said without emotion. "I know what I didn't know before, and now it's all too clear to me how hopeless it all is."

Isaac, standing above his seated daughter, shrugged with a worried look he passed onto the doctor.

Mendali didn't know how to proceed. He had only dabbled in psychiatry and always relied on common sense to explain conditions that seemed to imply psychotic episodes, hoping they would diminish and go away of their own accord after a patient's experience strayed from what could be clearly diagnosed and treated. "What is hopeless, child?"

Her stare had a sharp edge to it. He felt, rather than perceived, her eyes probing into his. It unnerved him. "Did you know," she said, "that all science including your own is based in assumptions that only work if they are sanctioned by a power outside the range of human perception?"

He didn't expect this from a high school girl. "What power is this you speak of?"

"Some watchful thing that hovers quietly over all we do."

"Is this what you saw in the barn?"

She only nodded enigmatically, as if his remark was unworthy of a response.

He tried to placate her. "Sometimes people get mixed up, think they see things that aren't there, experience terrible feelings of dread and depression, but we have ways to deal with such troubles."

She stifled a laugh. "I wish you realized what you were saying, but then how could you."

"Medical science has encountered and dealt with the conditions you describe."

"Your science doesn't have the humility to admit its primitive groundings and rather severe limitations."

He looked at Isaac and spoke as if Ruby were not present. "I think she's suffered some trauma we can't determine here, so my recommendation is you take her to the medical center in Little Rock for tests. They'll get to the bottom of this."


       Isaac could not tell Mendali the whole story, nor accept the idea they could unravel his daughter Ruby's problems in Little Rock. So many things he left unsaid because they never made any sense to him, not since Ruby was small and wandered out in the fields where he would find her fondling some wild creature that anyone else would have given a wide berth. She had no fear of animals or even serpents that nested in the rocks, and somehow aware of her innocence they allowed her latitude, so Isaac after a frantic search would come upon her festooned with copperheads that writhed over her body and never once left her bitten. He couldn't reveal what his wife Sarah told him after an extended period of silence: how she became pregnant with Ruby after an encounter with a stranger in the woods. As she gathered wild mushrooms, the stranger had come to her like a shadow, and all she could recall was a moment of intense ecstasy as if some angel were piercing her heart with sublime passion.

Sarah couldn't explain the incident, so she buried it in her mind, and to resolve it both she and Isaac attributed her pregnancy to satisfying his robust and masculine needs. When Ruby embraced wild things, Sarah feared one day the child would overstep the boundaries of caution and be harmed, but this affinity with the natural world was only one of the peculiarities her daughter exhibited. They both recalled days of thunder and lightning, terrible flashes that split the trees, their child known to rush out in the rain with upheld hands inviting the electric kiss of the heavens, her body suddenly illuminated like some bright flare when a fierce bolt hissed down to strike her with what seemed a receptive rather than destructive power.

Yet Ruby seemed innocent of any guile or pride in her strangeness that might separate her from the family; she shared in their labors on the farm and seemed a happy child until that day Isaac found her in the burning barn. She had never been the same since, was morose and inattentive, and she performed her chores mechanically, without her usual gleeful relish at being alive. Life to her had darkened into a malevolent threat since she became aware of something terrible that day in the barn. The mystery of what could possibly initiate such a drastic change in personality was beyond Isaac's understanding.

He went out and stood among the charred beams and ashes, looked around for clues that might reveal the nature of what Ruby encountered, sifted through the ruins and kicked aside burned boards, but there was nothing in the physical wreckage to indicate a source of his daughter's trauma. What had she said to the doctor about some watchful thing that hovered over all creation? Did she think she saw the devil where he now stood, or some other demon from hell that had wandered into his barn and inadvertently damaged his daughter's mind? Why should he be made a target of biblical evil when all his life he was pious and hard-working, careful not to break the Commandments, and respectful of his wife and children? He thought of Job, the answer to all men who questioned their tribulations on the earth and decided this troubling phenomenon must have been willed from on high or Ruby would not have been so devastatingly affected. Isaac examined it from all sides. Suppose it wasn't the devious work of divine or malignant forces? Ruby was a super-sensitive girl, tuned in to wave lengths no one else could access. She might have stumbled on some invisible being from an extra-terrestrial world come down to seek asylum on earth. But why all the gibberish about hopelessness and the limitations of medical science? Maybe he should, as Mendali suggested, drive her into Little Rock for an MRI, see if a brain scan would reveal something about her condition.

Ruby was aware of Isaac's confusion, but there was no way she could reveal to him the dark forebodings that had come upon her. The world and her perception of it since birth was not as it seemed to others; her mind was capable of perusing the phantom particles weaving through it, the wisps of furious dark folds writhing like serpents in tightly entwined balls of energy. She could feel the force of them in the air, beneath her in the soil, always in motion, occasionally colliding with the recurrent patterns in which men lived, causing disruption and havoc as it brushed against all the mock science and pseudo ethics of a fabricated reality. At first it frightened her, but she learned to accept it as she would the seasons which she knew were illusory. Ruby lived in two worlds: one of dark constricting coils and the presence of ghastly images; the other providing solid ground in illusions that seemed perfectly comprehensible, their brightness and beauty some solace for the fact they were temporal and only designed to placate human perceptions.

Tolerating this split reality ended in the barn, when the intentions of dark matter became clear and she glimpsed the horror of it looming over a world it had created to assume power over vast multitudes of beings, evolved to believe they had the freedom to destroy themselves or gain paradise. Her true father, incarnated in the far reaches of space and dedicated to the dominion of dark over light, mated with a woman gathering mushrooms in woods deliberately maintained for that purpose over millenniums. Ruby was cursed with the knowledge that she was born into the illusion as a doomsday manager, charged with ultimately destroying it along with all the hope that had been built into the human species since its early beginnings. Her dark father was unaware she had grown to love the fabrication, to revel in its beauty; and that she wanted to preserve it. She was torn now between the need to finish her mission, or rebel and struggle against the force that made her a tool to wield the power of darkness decisively over light.


M  C  R

This work is copyrighted by the author, Gilbert R. Moon. All rights reserved.