ISABELLA

BY

 

Chronofus

 

 

I walked slowly down the mall, eyeing the beautiful creatures strutting their wares in their mock mating display. The fakery of their facades, painfully obvious to me, served only to make my mind more sceptical of the hidden delights they advertised. Long ago, I'm sure, some disgruntled god looked down on Earth and judged us unfit, cursing us eternally with women more intent on being either men or pale shadows of true feminine potential.

Surely the gods have a sick sense of humour.

Leaving the bright lights of the cultural wonderland of the mall, I crossed the traffic and moved to the less lit streets in the direction of the railway station. Two people walked arm in arm past me, arguing loudly about clothes. I turned to watch them walking away, amazed at their pettiness in not understanding each other, or even making an effort to, and wondering at their fate as a couple together.

Possibly the world needs some fear. Fear, I'm sure, would make people realise the insignificance of their own life, and yet their own importance. Get them back to the basics of living as a people together, not an individual against the world. Too much freedom shackles us together. Surely not! the social libertarians cry. Let me ask you, is it more important to breath air or oxygen? Air, okay. Too much of a good thing tends to be harmful. Life is a challenge, let's not take that away from people. Death is only life's last challenge.

"Hello."

Philosophy aside, is someone talking to me? Emerging from the depths of my swimming thoughts I noticed a female form walking next to me.

"Hello, may I help you?" Twenty-two, dark eyes, dark hair, dark outfit. Hard to tell in this light. Everything's dark. Dark is only the absence of light. What does this mean? Only that your interpretation is only your view. Please allow me the dignity of forming my own opinion.

"Um," she stammered, looking down momentarily.

Ah, she wants something. Money no doubt. Why must everyone rely on someone else for their wants? Just what has become of our society? Five feet four. No high heels. Shoulder length hair, pony tail. Neatly presented.

"My name is Isabella." Ah, a name. Some people believe their name is in some way a method of summarising themselves, as if that collection of letters helps form their personality the same way DNA forms their body. A name is something somebody else uses to have power over your soul. A name is a dangerous thing. Try and exist for a few days without one. See what I mean? Important aren't they? Then try using a false name for a while. I'm sure you'll exist just as well. You are the same person irrespective of your name. You are you no matter what you call yourself, or even what you look like on the outside. It is only you in there, and only you know you, and can change you.

Thank heaven (?) for street lights. Dark green top. Black jeans, hazel eyes. No makeup. Understated. Subtle. Possibly even feminine. Does she wear dark colours because she doesn't want to wear bright colours, or because she likes dark colours? Isn't it trendy to wear dark colours now? Is she herself or an illusionary image, existing only to fool me.

"I saw you walking through the mall. May I walk with you?"

The journey through life is one best made in the company of another. A woman's journey through this town is best made with a protector. You can't get anywhere without first taking a step.

"Mark," I replied, extending my hand to her. Soft skin. Gentle hand. Warm. She smiled silently. We must remember silence is also a word with many meanings. People too, can be taken many ways. I am to you only what you perceive me to be, not necessarily what I am.

"The clouds are beautiful, aren't they?'

"Yes, I love the smell of rain," she said. Life is fine, overcast or rainy. Each is as enjoyable as the other. No change, no life. Silence. Walking.

"Where are you going?" Ask questions, you get answers.

"Where ever you're going will do."

"I'm going home," I said, looking into her eyes.

Blush, smile, silence. How wonderfully varied silence can be. Adaptable, like the human soul. To grow, we must change shape.

"Would you like to come to my place for a while?" she asked. Is the value of life the quantity or the quality of experience. Feminists will say I'm a man - therefore the quantity. You can't tango alone.

"Whatever," I mused. "Lead the way." Sometimes I wonder if there is more to be read into religion when they talk of shepherds and flocks. Are we but sheep to follow blindly? My soul is mine, mine alone. I follow only because I'm going there too. 'Tis a pity to watch sheep be herded through life by people who think they are helping those who cannot help themselves. I am a sentient being. If I cannot find the way, surely I have the right to learn the way. You must not deny me my humanity.

Her house was a simple timber structure in a nameless street. Are we a part of the picture even if we are in the background? We walked down the cold pavement, stopping at her letterbox. She looked up at the building looming black against the darkened sky. "Here we are." Yes, here we are. Are we at the end of a journey or are we only resting briefly on the great journey of life? Wouldn't life be easier if we knew where we were going.

The door opened silently. A light clicked on. Simply decorated, a lived in house. Things out where people have used them. Good to see someone actually LIVES in this house. Pictures covered the walls, mostly religious, but all different beliefs. Oriental, Greek, Christian, and look, marble statuettes of Greek gods.

I sat on the double seater lounge while she cleared away some of her belongings, apologising as she did so. I understood, for I too am a person. One day people will realise they all think about the same things, only in different ways.

Isabella sat down next to me and cautiously rested her head on my shoulder. Silence. Oh look, it's different. This time it's awkward. Her hair was slightly scented, peach blossom I believe, but then what do I know about such things.

My hand stroked her hair. Soft breathing, the wholeness of one. To be one, there must be two. I wasn't sure what to do. A woman's femininity is precious, at least to me. I felt awkward, unwilling to accept her immediate affections. Patience, subtlety. Why is everyone in such a hurry these days? I am both body and soul, to earn my affections you have to entice me in both ways.

"How about coffee?" I asked. She rose quickly, almost embarrassed. She hurried through the bar doors into the kitchen. A light flicked on and from the lit world beyond came the sounds of her movement. I waited for her to return after making her preparations.

I waited.

I'm always nervous sitting around while someone else does work nearby. Standing up, I stretched a little to relieve my nervous tension. Walking in a little circle, I waited for her return. Taking too long. I looked over the bar doors into the little kitchen. Dishes lay in the sink and on the sideboard. I smiled knowingly. My sink looked the same. Pushing the bar doors open, I stepped closer to her.

Whirling around to face me, colour flushed her face. "In the lounge room, in the lounge room," she ushered, chasing me out of the kitchen. Backing away with a nervous laugh, I watched her return to the kitchen, the bar doors swinging to a stop in their arcs. Looking over the doors I saw her back was to me again, playing with something in front of her.

I could see her feelings were hurt, afraid I had rejected her out of turn. It wasn't that I didn't like her, I just didn't know her yet. Some people need someone to lean on more than others. Some of us just have more problems than others too. No, I wasn't going to judge her. Not yet. To judge, you must know the facts. What did I know of her? Very little. There was no way I was going to treat her as though she were a hollow shell, to be set aside under the glass cabinet until needed again.

The least I could do was console her in her emotional state. Grabbing hold of my nervous heart, shielded in its steel jacket, I boldly walked in and placed my hand on her shoulder.

The funny thing about life is that it is unpredictable. At any point, any split second, things can change for the good, or the worse. Despite our best intentions, our plans fly apart like mud on a wheel. The sands of our constructions dry out and instantly crumble to the timeless forms of nature. Our work is undone, and when we die? What then? Our life lies in an immobile mass of basic molecules. Are we more than this collection? Is the body really only a vehicle for the soul's journey through our mortal toil? Or is our soul really only the interaction of all these molecules? Are we really just a big chemical reaction waiting to finish?

Either way, what makes us good or evil? Is it only an arbitrary set of values we have ourselves laid out, or is it an integral part of the universe? Is the whole scheme made up of law and chaos, or just an arbitrary system related to a floating centrepoint? Elemental good, elemental evil. If they are real, which is more powerful, which smarter, which more common? Are they compatible?

Are we a mix of both, or just one holding out against the other? Or are we that balance of good and evil, and when one is tilted one way, another is tilted the other way to make up the universal balance? Is there really an eternal war between good and evil? And if so, can one side ultimately win?

The simple act of touching her shoulder there in that room resulted in something that I had never done. I had never been surprised by someone suddenly appearing next to me. I had never been seriously hurt. I had never left a woman in possible danger. I had never had cause to doubt myself. I had never feared death.

I felt cool liquid brush against my face. A warm spot moved across my cheek, cupping my face in a warmth that flowed through the blackness of my mind. A sharp, insistent nagging came from somewhere in my back, protesting loudly to my brain the pain that I had somehow unleashed upon it. Basic feeling. Instinct was all my body could rely on. My conscious had retreated into itself, afraid to step forward and face what lay beyond the thin veil of blackness and eyelashes that shielded me from whatever was out there awaiting my return to the real world.

Sound. Sobbing. Grief. I could feel it here around me. Soaking through the darkness and encircling me in its grip. It was here in my mind with me, sharing my thoughts. I succumbed to it, let it run through me. Let it wake me. I could see a pale glow before me. Was it some divine revelation waiting for me on my journey beyond? Her hair lay across my face. I could feel its soft touch. A cheek bone lay nuzzled against my own. It was there, I could feel it. Reality, it was here somewhere, if only I could find it.

Muscles flexed, fingers moved. There were other fingers there. Not mine. Mixed in with mine, they squeezed. Incessant rubbing of the fingers. Thumb wrestling but not quite. A sentient mind controlled those appendages. They moved and responded to my own movements. Reality was here.

With a rush I sat up, nauseous in the bottom of my stomach. Choking loudly I held it down. I could feel Isabella wrapped around me, clinging tightly. I could feel the soft skin of her back, the vertebrae below felt harder, accentuating my return to the world. Hello fair world, so good to see you. Welcome me back.

Opening my eyes I could see the huge rip up the back of her green jumper, the blue and deep purple marks criss crossing her back. Her hair was stained and moist in spots. The room pulsed a charcoal red, with shadows dancing about the walls and corners. The air was heavy. Steamy. Claustrophobic.

"Are you okay? Are you okay?" she murmured. I could feel her hot breath near my ear. Her arms held me strongly. Reality needs more reality. Our existence needs more reality than just well, here we are, the old I think therefore I am routine. If we both think the same things then chances are we are both part of reality. Then again, we could both not be part of reality.

The kitchen floor tremored, a rumbling came from somewhere near. Too near to put a direction to it. I pushed her back a little and looked for the source. Her head hung low, tears stained her cheeks, darkening the band of cloth at her neck. Beyond her was nightmare, evil, horror, fear. A creature my imagination refused to register. Large leathery wings rolled out from its back, surrounding us. Large eyes narrowed and its lips drew back, exposing the ivory behind. I started back at the sight of it, Isabella motionless between us, head hung low. Immobile. Uncaring. Oblivious to the world.

The wings circled Isabella, her form hidden from view. I stood up and stumbled towards the creature. Its wings withdrew from the form as I advanced. Standing beside her I raised my voice to it.

"Never in a million years will you hurt her!"

Silence drifted about me like a breeze, its sandy particles settling about me. The creature smiled down at me, spittle dripping into a puddle on the floor. It lifted a fist from the floor and wrapped it effortlessly around me, lifting my weight from the earth. Constriction emptied my lungs. Muscles couldn't move at all, my whole body refused to function. Helpless, incapable, I rested in its grip. "Leave her be," I croaked through clenched teeth. Bright white spots danced at the edges of my vision. My mind was insubstantial at the edges. Hazy, unfocused images split my sight.

Her hand rose along the creatures chest, white against the earthy brown. Caressing. Feeling. Caring. Her hand carried emotion. "No," she whispered. A two letter word, but my mind couldn't hold on to it. My head hung down, my mind searching frantically for some thought to come to it. Instead all that it met was its own dark mazelike recesses.

I collapsed to the floor, my chest heaving to suck in the precious air. Ahead my rocking vision encompassed the wings of the creature enfold about the girl. Its hands rounded her waist and clasped together in front.

I lay there for a long time, piecing my mind back together. My body collected its lost energy. Slowly I rose to face her. The creature held her within its grasp. I was unable to go anywhere near her. I could not approach her without crossing the demonic form. Her eyes watched me from inside her prison. The longing in her eyes drew me to her, but the form around her kept me away.

Save yourself," she said, eyes pleading. I threw myself at it, jumping, hitting, punching. With a casual flick I crossed the room without the need of legs and found the floor my new companion.

"You can't harm it," she said. "It's my demon." She looked up at it, half in fear, and half in awe. I watched for a long time before I collected my wits and slowly left that place.

I have never seen Isabella since.

For Parker,

One day the Russian Werewolf will welcome the full moon.