Monday, 19 September 2016

The Comb Cycle

It called me to come over the ravine. To climb its steep slopes, to clamber across its jagged floor. I stall. I feel its presence, its desperation. It needs me but the reason refuses to step into the light and my bewilderment continues. I flee.

I retrace my steps across the fields of Asphodel, through the plains of judgment and out through the gates of Ivory. The path is worn down from my continuous passages into the Jotunheim. As I solidify into the light, I let out a low moan and collapse.

Stupid stupid stupid, I taunt myself as I wake up. I mustn’t keep pushing it like this. One day I could enter Jotunheim and fade completely.

I wake up in a field. My grass hut is fluttering in the wind. I try to stand but my legs refuse to work; I sigh as I begin to drag myself to my home.

I only enter Jotunheim twice a month. I can’t remember anything of my early childhood, I only know my name Nala and how to enter Jotunheim. I lead a solitary life, gathering berries and seeds from the meadow. I sell most of them to the village and with the money I buy supplies.

The villagers fear me - they think I am in league with the devil. They only let me enter the village when I come to trade once a month. My life is a cycle: gather, trade, stock up, enter, leave, and the cycle resets.

It is a normal day when it happens. I am bargaining in the village when something catches my attention. An old women is selling antiques and in the middle of the display is a comb covered in ancient symbols. I have seen the markings once before, in Jotunheim.

I stand there speechless, as the old women smiles and beckons me towards her. A million things go through my mind at once.

"How much?" I squeak, pointing at the comb. She holds up three fingers. My hands dig deep into my pockets searching for coins. Nothing. I have nothing to trade either, but I want that comb. I need that comb. I have never been surer of anything in my life. I grab it and start running.

I hear the old women wailing "Stop her! Stop the thief!" but I am already out of the market square. I reach my field after running for 20 minutes and sit down in the place where I always enter Jotunheim and concentrate.

Insects soon home in on me, attracted to my sweat. I try to swat at them with my hand but they just dodge it. I hear yelling and dozens of footsteps - the villagers have formed a mob. I need to concentrate for a couple more seconds. The world starts to fade around me, colour drains away, the insects are frozen, the yelling has stopped, but the gate of Ivory hasn’t appeared.

I concentrate harder, picturing Jotunheim, picturing the black grass the covers the fields of Asphodel. I picture myself there standing under the white gum trees that sway in the hot sulphuric wind.

A hole appears in front of me. I jump in it and immediately the temperature starts to rise. At first it's merely uncomfortable but soon it becomes unbearable. It’s a long fall to Jotunheim and I try to relax. Soon I start to slow down and a vast expanse opens up before me. Rivers of fire and ice crisscross the land and red wispy clouds cover the sky.

As the ground closes towards me, I ground to a halt, hovering. Then I land face first on the smooth floor of the plains of judgement. The plains of judgement are just a vast flat area of Jotunheim. Here everything is grey. My skin becomes grey and so does my hair. Time and distance are different in Jotunheim - if you get distracted you could get lost and never find your way back.

The terrain is against you here - the air is poisonous and the only source of water burns like acid when drunk. I’ve landed at the edge of the plains of judgement and the Fields of Asphodel are very near. I can hear the grass rustling in the wind. I start to run.

Ten minutes later I stand at the edge of the ravine. I take out the comb. I don’t know what to do with it, so I examine it more closely. The letters start to glow. I take it and start to read out loud. I don’t know where the words come from, but it silences the Creature. The fog that blocks the ravine starts to dissipate. I see the Creature for the first time: it’s a girl.

Her eyes sparkle with happiness. She bows and disappears. I try to comprehend what has just happened but suddenly the ground starts spinning and I start to rise and float towards the position of where the girl was. I float where the girl once was, facing the other side of the ravine from where I was standing.

The comb levitates and zooms towards the gates of Ivory. I am trapped here but the comb is my third eye. I have some control over it; I can move it and make it influence objects around it. A shadow appears over me. A hand picks up the comb and places it in between two pieces of cloth.

The third eye stays dark for a week. During this week I learn of why I am here. The comb is eternal. It finds and lures girls away, wipes their memories and places them far far away from their families. It teaches them how to reach Jotunheim and after a couple of years of mastering this skill, it introduces itself to the girl. The girl goes to Jotunheim and frees the previous girl but becomes the Creature that lures the next victim.

Suddenly, the cloth over my third eye is lifted and I am placed in a glass box. I use my new learned power to search for girls to be lured away from their parents. But my powers don’t work behind glass, and I sit gathering dust. I am the last in a long cycle of suffering.

by Tamir Greenwood

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