This piece is one in a chronological series, set in a universe.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
15. Rage and Her Spells of Power
17. Truth – Rhymes With Ruth
5. Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation 13. Memory and Mudbaths
16. OtherSide 18. Pillow Talk With God 19. She, Named E
May 22 – Part 1 Stone Lady Paper Boots Dredge Half Yours, Half His Flower Seller
When You Must End Love Talk Scorpio Rising Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude Reliability dead girl Soft Witch
I sit at the riverbank again, closer to the water now. I dip my feet into the shallow, cool stream. For the first time there are no witches, no gods, no goddesses. No elephant named Memory. I am alone, and I do not feel lonely. I smile at the comfort in my body and my skin. For a second it feels like pride, but it gives way to a softer gratitude. Across the water, reflected in its depths are the sun and moon hanging together in the sky above. I look up at them and sigh. It’s not right. Not quite right, the tapestry of the sky shouldn’t be like this, I think.
I think about The Three Questions BeingLovedAgain asked me, ages ago, a lifetime ago, a time when I was five years older and already dead. Her words of the backwards riddle echo:
Third, what must you give back that does not belong to you, and what must you take back because it does belong to you?” She asks, a voice from the past, humming against my voice box like a knife against the rim of a glass cup.
“Second, if I am here, holding you, who is in the grave?
First, yes, good, you’ve emptied yourself of bees. The bees will nourish these roses – but why, what for, what is the point?”
When Truth held my tongue briefly, I wasn’t able to say anything that was not honest. It felt like bees then, buzzing like an allergy. I remember when they left me, poured out of my mouth, a hiveful of bees – the bees that still buzz around the roses, their centres filled with memory. It felt like that when Truth held my tongue. I shiver thinking of her.
I had solved the second part of the riddle. I was in the grave. The many versions of me, killed across many years, buried in shallow graves in my own heart. I had finally laid to rest on New Year’s Eve with the help of the Time Witch and BeingLovedAgain – Respect.
A bee buzzes near my lips. A memory comes to my mind, and I smile. “They think your mouth is a rose!” BeingLovedAgain shouts, her voice is childlike and a little loud in my ear but so pure, so lovely. Clever Fourth Witch.
“Hmmm, funny thing isn’t it?” A voice calls out. I look around and see no one.
“Who’s there?” I ask.
“Hmmmm, right here. I am right here,” She says. I look down the length of my nose feeling cross eyed.
“Pleazzzed to meet you,” she buzzes, hovering in front of my face.
“What’s your name?” I ask her. “It’s not Bee, or Bea short for Beatrice, is it?”
She laughs, a chirping sweet-honey filled sound. “No, it’s… E,” she says.
“E, like the letter. Like Oh hello, it’s E, short for Emily, though my name isn’t short for Emily.”
I nod. Distracted, I continue staring across the water.
“Don’t you want to ask me anything?” She asks.
“Are there more of you inside me?” I ask. “Any more building a hive in here when you should be… tending roses or whatever it is that you do?” I sound a little angrier than I want to be and am not sure why. The water shivers in front of me. It is, I notice, expanding slowly, turning into a lake.
“Yes,” she answers immediately. “There is a hive inside your lungs, you see, crawling with us, but we don’t mean you any harm – no no no. We gave you such sweetness, and such honeyed words – all your beautiful poetry harvested from so many beautiful flowers. All your flowery thoughts and your quick phrases. And then you spit us out, quite unceremoniously but I suppose it was time, after all!”
I feel a strange buzzing in my temples and in my chest, “I see,” I say softly, and my own voice sounds like a buzz.
“In a strange way, you know we are… you” she says, but there’s something in her tone that bothers me. “Let me explain,” she says, noticing my eyes narrow. “We know your memories best – those roses. We take care of them. They exist because of us, in a very real way. We dance our bee dances deep inside the little sulci of your brain, inside the little alveolar sacs of your lungs, the little dances that tell us where the flowers are – tell you where the flowers are.”
Above the lake, the moon and the sun seem to glow brighter. I blink from the brightness, and when I do something shifts. I blink again unsure of what just happened. In front of me is…me. I am there, sitting against the riverbank, a strange expression on my face. I try to move her mouth and cannot. She opens her mouth – I open my mouth, I feel myself do it. But I am not in her, I am “me! You see? We are you. You are me. You are we, little Bee!” She/I say/s.
I buzz back confused.
“Silly Bee, Bees can’t talk,” I/she says. She pulls the flower out of my pocket and sniffs it. “Ah. So sad. so much longing! You loved him so much so much so much so much,” she says. “Shall we think about how much we loved him? Shall we write a lovely poem about how much we loved him? I already have a few words – here, how does this sound: A river runs from a pen/across the years, a memory whirls in – ”
A hand made of grey smoke crawls over her mouth and from behind her, a spectre rises. I cannot make out its shape. I cannot make out its face. It is a silhouette. It is grey smoke and it slowly sinks its fingers into her mouth. It looks up at me, and I am not afraid.
The-girl-that-is-not-me-and-me looks at me, the bee.
“Do you want this? Do you no longer want your poetry, your words, your beautiful heart rending words?” She coughs, a little nervously. “Do you really want to smoke all of us out? We’ve lived in your lungs for years and years and years! We are you are me are E! Without us, you will lose your poetry. You will lose your ambition. You will lose all the flowers of longing and beauty and – ”
The smoky hand pauses, its fingers inside her mouth, and looks to me for direction. I “You see?” The-girl-that-is-not-me-and-me says, triumphantly to the ghost. “You see?” The ghost hangs its head, but does not move.
“And what?” I ask, in my tiny bee voice – but the voice comes out from the ghost’s face, a whisper, deep and solid.
The-girl-that-is-not-me-and-me swallows – or tries to. I buzz, closer to her mouth.
“And what?” I ask, again. Again, the ghost asks for me. “Tell me, what else will I lose?”
The ghost does not have a face, but I swear it is smiling.
The-girl-that-is-me-and-not-me frowns for a second until her face smooths over into a calm smile. “You will lose your pride. You will lose the Stone Lady – forever. You will lose Rage – forever. You will lose The River Witch – the one who gave you power over all the elements,” she says.
In my mind, I hear a cackle start, a swooping crow of a cackle. I remember Truth, staring at me when I couldn’t form words. When I couldn’t say what I thought I wanted to say. I saw how easily she saw through me. I learned how to see easily through myself, maybe, in that moment.
“Will I lose my voice?” I/the ghost ask/s gently. I move closer to her face, buzzing. The ghost looks at me with its blank face and I feel something warm wash over me. I shiver in the haze as I move closer to its lips, no longer sure what is happening.
The girl’s face hardens into stone. She does not answer.
When I open my mouth again, it feels different. I see the vast lake before me. I feel my smokey hand resting against the stone girl’s face.
“Will I lose love?” I ask gently, already knowing the answer. My smokey hand rests against the stone girl’s face. Again, she does not answer. There is no bee. I am not a bee. I am not a girl. I am not the girl I thought I was. I am not a boy. I am not these things. I am something else entirely.
“Will I lose any of the flowers?” I say, gently tracing her stony lips and set jaw. I follow the same lines on her face that a God/dess traced in my face. The stone melts away and she again does not answer.
“Will I lose my spells?” I say, dipping a smokey finger inside her mouth, touching her tongue. The girl named E cries softly, as she often has, and I dip my head gently against her temple, kissing her face softly. She reaches, hand trembling, for my hand.
“Will I lose Memory, the elephant?” I say, curling my fingers gently into her hair.
I feel the earth shift under my feet as I become, forming into something new. I look at the girl in front of me, the girl I have not yet killed, the girl that used to be me, the girl that was never truly me.
She looks at me, sullen and angry and afraid and… sad.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the coin that BeingLovedAgain has given me – silver on one side for herself by her other name, Respect, and gold on the other for Love. I smile, biting my lip, thinking of how thin the silver side had been when she first gave me this coin. Both sides feel equal in weight now. In my other hand is the rose she gave me a long time ago. I smile holding them both in my hands, and I show my talismans to the girl.
The girl in front of me looks crestfallen, understanding dawning in her eyes. “But I helped you,” she says. It sounds like a vicious insult, the way she says it, but it lands nowhere inside my body made of smoke. “I helped you so much – before anyone else, I helped you! I kept away everything that harmed you, I kept you safe! I stung anyone that tried to hurt you! I let you have your-” she hesitates, and then says “Pride!”
“I know,” I say softly. “But not myself. Not my Self. See, since Truth visited, you’ve had a lot of trouble lying inside my mouth. You can’t really do it anymore, can you? You are not me,” I say. “And I don’t answer to you. ” I place my items back inside my pockets and carefully open my mouth. Gently I lift out my tongue and show her. She looks at it fearfully. Carefully, I slip it back into my mouth. Inside me, I feel airy, light like a ghost, heavy like a campfire’s glow.
“No, I will not lose love. No, I will not lose Memory or the flowers. No, I will not lose my voice,” I say. Nothing buzzes inside my head anymore; it feels clear and calm. I trace her face gently.
“You’re going to kill me,” she whispers, whimpering. I almost can’t bear it.
I sigh. “Think of it as resting. Changing. There will still be flowers in my garden. The bees will still be taking care of them – and me, I’ll be taking care of the bees,” I say. Tears sting my own eyes. I gently brush her tears away and lean forward, tilting her chin up. Gently, I kiss her on the mouth.
I close my eyes, turning again to smoke as I fill her lungs, and I am not quite sure what happens next, but there is a blaze of light, a sudden sharp feeling, a million cuts that are instantly healed, and when I open my eyes again, there is only me. I look at my hands, as they tremble and fall to my knees, suddenly feeling weak. The girl-that-is-me-and-not-me is gone, as though she had never existed. I am surrounded by a million flowers, memories everywhere, and millions of bees that float around, gently in them. in a haze, in a daze.
They’re recovering from being smoked out, I realise.
“Goodbye, E.” I say, softly. “I promise the bees will make better honey now. I promise that they will take care of all the flowers – properly this time. Not just memories of longing and loss, but memories of love and deep connection. Not just memories of pain and hurt, but memories of beauty and kindness. I promise they will fill the gardens of my heart with a balanced joy. I promise to keep them where they belong – outside me.”
They hover in front of me, frozen in mid-air and then buzz in a frenzy coalescing into a woman, a being, hovering radiantly in the air in front of me. She is eight-armed and holds a variety of items in them: a book, a mirror, a lotus bud, a rosary, a bow, and a familiar sight: a wheel, small and sharp and made of sunlight. The boy-who-isn’t-a-boy had a watch just like it. I cut my hand on it once, and he kissed it better. Her scarlet lips are a perfect bow, smiling with kindness and – glory? It’s something I cannot name. Her robes are made of dark clouds billowing around her in the wind. Behind her, the moon moves into full luminous view like a halo as the sun finally sets. She looks behind her as she soars up over the river.
“The sun and moon have their rightful place in your heart now,” she says, turning back to me. “Close your eyes,” she instructs, lifting her arms towards me.
I obey and feel a weight lift from them. “And…open,” She says. I blink and she looks at me, a strange expression on her face. “So many people are asleep even when they are awake. My gift to you is to be awake, even when you sleep.” She leans closer to me, peering into my eyes, as though searching for someone else beyond them. “Ah, there you are,” she says. “Well, listen, I borrowed this for a bit, thought I’d return it,” she says, holding up the wheel made of light.
I look at it and swallow hard.
“Careful,” She says, smiling. “It can, after all, cut the night into dawn and day. But a powerful weapon nonetheless – will cleave, in fact, the souls of your enemies from their bodies. It will.. help you help other people, you know, who are struggling with our little sometimes overly friendly bee, E. ”
“I’m not ready for that,” I say shaking my head, and she bursts out laughing, not unkindly. The river is calm and still beneath her and soft sounds of the night forest are starting to echo through the trees.
“Just thought I’d try – you weren’t even tempted!” She says, grinning slyly. “Ah well, I suppose Rage really has left you alone – she would love this.”
“It would cut her,” I say, with clarity. I shake my head, looking at it in awe.”That thing can cut stone. I can’t… wield that weapon. I… and it’s not for me to say what other people need or don’t need in their struggles. And.. and if they need that weapon, I’m sure they will find it themselves somehow.”
She chuckles, and gazes lovingly at me. “Just like you did,” she says, seriously. “Just now. With smoke and with a kiss and with this blade. That’s why there are no traces of her, you know; you cut E to pieces, and then to nothing with – this.” She kisses the Chakra softly “Ah you always do the trick,” she says to it before tucking it into her robes. “And no, you cannot wield a weapon like her forever; this weapon was not made for mortals – no, not even witches. I wouldn’t even say you should look at her too long; she can cut your sight from your eyes, you know. But you’ve held her once and cut what is necessary from yourself without being cut yourself. That means you will be able to do it again. She will come to you when you need her – if you know how to ask for her.” I nod. I finally believe I will know how to ask if I need her.
With a serious look on her face, she hands me the mirror. “Take this instead. In case you ever forget what happened here today, look inside it. It will help you…see clearly. Well done, Beekeeper. I take many shapes, you know. Grief and pain and loss and desire and lust and wanting and longing. Have you ever wanted to save anyone? Have you ever wanted to be saved? Have you ever thought you were better than someone, less than someone? Have you ever… felt Fear? Victory? What a tormenting puzzle am I! What a beautiful maze I create! Ahhhh how gently you asked me to leave your body – with a kiss nonetheless! Ego is gone, for now – what a fun illusion she is to cast – but Ekanamsha always remains,” she folds her hands in front of her in greeting, and bows with tongue-in-cheek respect. Winking, she says, “Pleased to meet you; my friends call me Maya.”
I fold my hands in the traditional namaskar and smile as she fades into the night.