She pulled the plush cloak around her more snugly; her breath was hot, but the breeze was not this far up the mountain. Her hand ran along the soft fabric, black as ink, and her fingertips traced each stitch, an unspoken spell of protection, of encouragement, and of support thoughtfully placed there by her colorful friend, full of bright light and hopeful endings. When she took her first steps on this journey her friend’s insistence was her motivation, her friend’s assurances were the heavy soles on her boots.
The cloak was the protection she needed on a journey that promised to be challenging and arduous one for someone whose stories were found things, pebbles with an interesting shape or color. She’d look through the holes in them and see something she didn’t know before, about herself or someone else. The story would be scribbled on a scrap of paper, an anemic poem, a fleeting monologue, and perhaps a few sets of eyes would look at the symbols. Those eyes were in heads which nodded, “Yes, I see it, too. I’ve felt that,” or those eyes were in heads which shook slightly bewildered, “But what does it mean?”
She stretched out her legs and winced at the soreness spreading from her feet to ankles to thighs. She reached her arms high above her head and leaned slowly onto the ground, her back aching. She looked towards where she knew the moon would be if it were not new, ink black in an ink black sky. She thought about the impossible number of stars which shone in that velvet heaven and all the stories written for them.
There on the southern horizon were the fish connected by a cord, the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros, who changed form and took refuge in a river to escape the great dragon-headed monster whose hundreds of eyes were aflame. There was the god who hid as a goat from the same monster, who could not transform fast enough as he fled into the river and so became half fish. She saw the water bearer, a kidnapped boy forced to serve the god who stole him, until one day he had enough and poured out the cup, unintentionally drowning all the earth. There was the woman, her limbs splayed out in chains, a sacrifice to appease a sea monster sent to ravage her homeland because of the bruised ego of spurned sea goddesses. She gazed at the great winged horse, born from the neck of a decapitated monster, who was once a beautiful woman, whose only crime was being violated by a god in another deity’s temple.
She gazed at the constellations and she felt the hard dirt at her back, and thought star dust to star dust
. She met her own monsters on this journey, criticism, censure, diffidence. She wondered if their eyes were aflame, if they had snakes in their hair. She wondered what their teeth would feel like buried in her skin, and she wondered what her limbs would feel like if they were turned to stone.
The first steps of her journey were halting and unsure. The mountain gave her a stone, and she was asked to shape and polish it into something worthy of the mountain and its community of travelers, who took their own steps: steady or clumsy, excited or full of trepidation. She pulled up the hood of her gifted cloak, and set to work. Week after week she palmed stones of unimaginable form and weight in her hands. The travelers took all sorts of meandering paths and tunnels on the mountain.
They clasped hands briefly and once pairs of hands worked on the same stones, they offered encouraging smiles, warm hugs, sympathetic pats on the back, and mantras to combat the pesky sprites of doubt which bit like mosquitos. Her steps became more sure and enthusiastic due to the promise of another unexpected path up the mountain, another strange stone to make her own. Her appetite was sated on stories and feedback, another palmful of offerings to the mountain.
Each week a traveler would settle where they stood, their journey finished, but they remained present in order to make offerings to those of us still journeying: A juicy peach to fortify, a fire to rest by, an extra set of eyes to gaze upon a stone to validate the preciousness of our gifts. This community of settlers provided aid to help the travelers move up and up and up the steep paths of the mountain, in order for us to continue receiving stones, crafting stones, offering stones, and the myriad of stories contained therein. Then there were three.messygorgeous
took sharp stones and bled, or soft stones and shaped them with fingernails and breath. They gave tiny stones, which felt heavy as boulders. They held keenly simple stories, which left your arms tired and your heart full. She opened wounds and offered them as tribute. She laid out poignant moments while looking unblinkingly into the past, the present, the future, and all the circumstances which those are made of. We were invited in to occupy the space most precious to her.
Messygorgeous unflinchingly showed us slices of herself, her family, and her characters and all the experiences which affect them in her stones. We were welcomed to sit a while and reflect on what it is to be alive. They laid their chest bare and vulnerable, an invitation into a sphere which is personal and triumphant. Their stones are unapologetic for being exactly what they are. They fearlessly offered them back to the mountain and no matter how daunting the task, they kept walking. I am honored to have been alongside such a force of honesty.penpusher
took stones which came from the deep pit of history, ugly and misshapen, and polished them to a high sheen to reflect the larger narrative of where humans have been, where we are heading, and how we came to repeat ourselves.
Penpusher gave stones which looked as big as boulders, but we could balance and turn them in our palms. The curves distorted this or that detail, somehow showing us a truer version than any other lens or mirror could show. Their stones are funhouse mirrors, allowing us to recognize our villains, but able to laugh at the unexpected way they showed up in the stories. This is no easy feat and it takes a stiff upper lip, an unwavering gaze, and a commitment to keep walking. I am honored to have been alongside such a force of scrutiny.
My stones left a phantom weight in the dozens of pockets lining my well-worn cloak. I climbed into skins too tight and too loose. I chanted and danced and offered what I know: magic is real and it is not what it seems. My companions’ stones left a phantom heaviness in my torso, a phantom life I did not live, well-worn stones which leave me fundamentally better than before I took my first steps on the serpentine path. Yet, here we are, together, shaping magic and shaped by it, in the mundane, and extraordinary. Past and present travelers, we are the dwellers of the mountain, meritorius and magnified, tenacious and resolute.
Thank you to clauderainsrm
for fostering this community. Thank you to all those Idolers who welcomed me with open arms, phenomenal stories, and gracious feedback. A particular thanks to my intersection partner lilmissmagic71
, who took a chance partnering with a newbie. The most sincere thank you to my dear patron, suesniffsglue
, whom without I would never have known what a wonderful experience this bizarre journey could be.
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