And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.
There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.
I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.
I never knew her name. I never heard her speak. And the first love of my life never existed. You gotta follow me here. You gotta close your eyes and step out on a path whose sides do not exist, maybe open air, a fall and nothing into void. If you’re gonna understand Lamia you need to know that when I was headed into fifth grade, Pink Floyd came to town. They were in County Stadium. They played The Wall, full performance, loud enough that I could hear them as the crow flies.
That’s when Artist was created. Adam named him that night, Smear Lord of Ire. I had him for a while, and I lost him. There were so many distractions, and mystical magical things become real when you’re told they’re evil by the Southern Baptist church. I would see him in dreams and in hallucinations, a massive man covered in black fur, arms held out as if to embrace me, full butterfly wings covered in tiger fur. And I knew he was the epicenter of all creativity. I knew there was no Dungeons and Dragons, no game, no magic without him. Writing without him was impossible. And I asked myself a question one day in a Waffle House, with a composition book in front of me and a Dr. Pepper that I had been nursing for hours.
What if I gave up? What if I stopped all the writing? I could be a normal person. At the top of the page, I wrote the word “But.” And this is what came out.
I awoke on an onyx road. No wider than the girth of my shoulders, but longer than this mortal can capture with words granted by any muse. The rest of the world had ceased to exist. Nothing on either sides of the road or under it but air. The road curved with the horizon and joined itself somewhere again. It was as if I was walking on the outside of a great onyx band.
… But the wind whispering barely by tasted like a thick strawberry wine. And there was an echoing sound that bounced off the dome that was the sky, like its arch was made of glass. Like I was in a glass globe that spanned above, on the sides and under me. The sky ruled this place.
… But I wasn’t alone like you would expect. Ahead of me on the road walked a beast. A beast that morphed from a great cat, to a wolf, to a bear, and then a tortoise. It constantly changed starting the cycle over again when it was done. Off to the sides of me the dominant sky was full of green, blue, white, and orange hot air balloons that drifted above, around, and under me.
… But then the air above the road ahead of me filled with the God of all the things of this world. A large man with the wings of a butterfly colored like the skin of a tiger. And he said unto me, “Tell them of me, show them my world and teach them the beauty of the strength of me, Smear, Lord of Ire. This I command you.”
… “But they will not believe in you, as I don’t.”
… “But you have seen me, heard me, talked to me. How then can you dare not believe?”
“I don’t believe in me. So I cannot believe in anything.”
I wrote that in 96. I had no money. I was paying my mother back for the credit card she’d used to come and pick me up from Denver. She talked about it all the time, she hung on it all the time, and I just wanted that debt paid so I gave her too much that week. And I didn’t have any money to buy myself any food. I hadn’t eaten for three days. I wasn’t gonna ask my mom across the driveway from me. So that night I grabbed my bag filled with comp books, and it was bitter cold, but I walked.
I didn’t know where I was going, I just knew I was starving. I ended up at Waffle House. Two o’clock in the morning. And there was Misty. I told her I had just come for a hug. I don’t know if she could see the hunger in my eyes, or if when she hugged me my stomach had been growling so loud that she felt it or heard it. She asked me if I had eaten. I answered her. She sat me down and bought me dinner. Did I say dinner? I think I said dinner. Let me ask Bekah, she’s taking dictation. Bekah, did I say dinner? (Yes, dinner.) I meant dinners. She bought me a cheeseburger platter, hashbrowns. She bought me a grilled chicken dinner, hashbrowns. She bought me a Dr. Pepper and I wrote But. She kept coming over to check on me, and she kept talking to me, which I was happy for. And I just, I just hung out with Misty and I wrote about a possible normal life, But.
I walked out of that restaurant a couple hours later. I was tired now, full, and I needed to get to bed. I smelled her musk in the air. I could see Lamia walking in front of me. It was the first time I had seen her since I was eleven years old.
I’ve been procrastinating, so here we go. We’re gonna dive into the story of my first love. Now, you’ve read Hollow Man. You know about every girl that I dated. You may have heard me use the term first love before. You may be sitting in front of the pages of the books and saying, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah. On page so-and-what in the book Normal Street, in the section called Hollow Man, you say your first love is…. And then you’ll have a name. And that’ll be valid. But not really, for a mind like me. Don’t ask for me to tell you definites and answers to things. I’m jumping lily pad to lily pad in this book, crouching as they float to the next one. I’m running across tiny platforms of frozen ice floating in a sea of cold. I’m jumping tree to tree, clinging with nails and running up bark. This entire series reads like this, and I’m procrastinating again.
Sixth grade, Mr. Liechen. Fifth grade, Olsen has told me that I’m a gifted student. My sixth grade quarterly grade card comes in and it’s all As. Rose and Mumble turn Less against me, they say terrible things. She gets a boyfriend named Malice, I hope you can remember all this. This is all in Teardrop. Am I procrastinating again? I don’t think I am, because Malice stabbed me. After nearly drowning me in dirty dishwater, he stabbed me. I fell to the ground and I looked up at him and Less had her arm around him and he was holding her. He was holding her in that way that guys hold women. He’s got his hand on her back and he’s pressing the front of her body against his side. Her free hand is on his chest, and she’s looking up at him. We’ve all seen the pose a thousand times and never thought about it. None of us have ever thought about how sexual that pose is. And I’m procrastinating again.
He looks down at me and tells me I’m gonna fail sixth grade or he’s gonna kill me. And I could’ve told Billy, Billy Badass. And there’s tangent I could run down for safety. I could run down there and procrastinate for another fifteen minutes at least. I’ll just stare into that void and say, I could’ve told Billy, but Billy wasn’t a killer and Malice was. I probably needed stitches after that stab, but I didn’t get them. I tried to bandage myself. I think Less might’ve helped me. I went and laid down in my bed, and Lamia walked in.
Lamia walked in.
She walked into my bedroom. I knew her upon looking at her. I had become obsessed with the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual II a long time ago, and she was in that. What I was looking at was not real. I put her picture in the blog, but that’s not going to help you if you’re reading the novel. So let me describe her for you. My Lamia had a wicked face. She was angry, she was hateful. She had blue eyes, long black hair, full. Her hair was long enough to cover her naked chest. Her breasts were a dream, her stomach flat. And much like a centaur, she had the body of a lion from the waist down.
In fifth grade I had slept on the top bunk, in sixth the bottom. Whenever we got bored me and Grasp would change. She walked over to me and I cried. I’m not sure I had stopped crying since Malice had stuck a blade in me. Stuck a blade in me, that’s the exact phrase that I use in Teardrop Road in the chapter The Darkness of Slinger Middle School Part 2, when Shadow wins his first battle and he yells at the teachers. And I said… I’m doing it again. Trying to find another tangent, another void to run down.
Let’s stay on task. She walked over to my bed, she placed her hand on my chest and I wept. I’d been obsessed with the book for years. I’d looked at every single picture of every single monster in the entire book. And my eye had always caught upon Lamia. I had fallen in love with her a long time ago. She reached her hands flat under my shoulder and my hip, and she rolled me as I winced, she rolled me onto my side. Her long, elegant, tentative fingers tapped the bandage there. And I felt her lean forward and kiss it, and that was it. I belonged to Lamia.
She was with me at school, sitting with her paws curled up under her as I sat in the back of Liechen’s class. She would smile when I would talk to him about social studies and argue about the topics. Here it is again. Here’s another fork. I’m not going down that tangent either. We’ll keep walking.
And walking is what me and Lamia did on the school playground. This is sixth grade, I have no friends. I had one black friend named Brotherhood, but he wouldn’t speak to me, unless I really needed him to defend me. I had a couple white friends, but after they found out that Liechen was mad at me, they pulled away. I can tell you this part, and this is not a tangent and this is not procrastination. Kindergartners walked home at the half day mark, right before lunch, and other kindergartners would walk to the school. There wasn’t always a person there to make sure they were safe. So there was a group of kids in the sixth grade, they were called the crossing guards. They wore a belt, and the belt wrapped around the waist, came up from the left hip, wrapped over the right shoulder and back down, and it was a hunter orange. If you are given the privilege to be a crossing guard, there were two of you on each corner. And if a kindergartner came to the street, you would see them safely across. Liechen gave me that duty. He was trying to find a way to get me to do my school work so he didn’t have to fail me. And he made me a crossing guard. I was a crossing guard for about two weeks. Just long enough to get used to it and love it. But I still refused to do my work and Liechen was forced to take that away from me too.
You could fold that belt, if you knew how to do it, you could fold that belt into a small squarish roundish cubish and you could hang it from your belt, and it was a status symbol. While I stood on that corner, I would whisper to Lamia, because she was always there. It was cold and I would ask her if she needed my coat with her flesh against the Milwaukee winter, and she never did. Her hair would blow wild, but never expose her breasts. And Lamia was with me.
In class, in the play yard, on the street corner, in the living room while I watched Disney movies about Davy Crockett, and in my bedroom as I was falling asleep, Lamia was with me. I told her I loved her, and she would kiss my chest over my heart and wrap her arms around me. I would lay next to her. She would lay down and the leg of a lion would slip under my head, and another over my torso, and I could feel her great lungs as she breathed.
I told Lamia everything. I told Lamia nothing. By everything I mean, Lamia had a relationship with every single one of my alters and she knew all their stories. By nothing I mean, I didn’t tell her that I loved her. But one day in the school yard, with hundreds of kids walking around me, I stepped in front of her. I reached up to cradle her face, her jaws in my cold hands, and I looked her in her hard eyes.
“Why don’t you speak?”
And she shook her head.
I was in sixth grade, far too young for kissing, but I said, “When you speak to me, I’ll kiss you.”
She wrapped her arms around me and I wrapped my arms around her. And I don’t know what I looked like on the playground that day or if anybody noticed. Maybe from a distance there was a girl or guy who saw me, my arms wrapped around my body as I hugged myself. Or moments before, my hand reached out cradling a jaw that was not there. Or maybe in his mercy, Smear hid it all and I was just a kid standing in the middle of the playground staring forward, talking to myself.
I wanted to tell Liechen about Lamia, but I assumed he would send me to therapy and I assumed therapy would send me to a home. My assumption then would be that my family would throw me out if I was a lunatic in an asylum. Is it weird that I wouldn’t have talked to Tigress about this, never? Is it weird that in a million years I’d never tell Cage about her, or Brotherhood?
One day in sixth grade I looked at Liechen while the other kids were doing work and I was standing the back of the class, and I asked him if I could go to see Olsen. I was prepared to tell Olsen about Lamia. But Hannibal would get in the way. This was right after social studies, right after me and Liechen had had one of our debates. He had been talking about Hannibal and the elephants over the Alps. I had been talking about Scipio. I talked about how Hannibal, after the fall of Carthage, was under house arrest at an estate and how Scipio, his much younger nemesis, had come to talk to him. And when I said this, I stepped closer to the rest of the class, out of the back of the class, and Liechen had walked around the rest of the desks and stood and faced me. There’s no sixth grader that’s supposed to know about this conversation. College professors know about this conversation. Maybe college undergrads, but not sixth graders.
He came forward and stepped, looked at me, planted his hands on his hips and he looked down. Liechen’s always gonna look down on me, and he said, “You know about the conversation between Scipio and Hannibal?”
And I said, “Yes.”
“What did Scipio say?”
“Scipio said, ‘Am I the greatest general that ever lived?’”
Then Liechen looked down at me and said, “Hannibal said no, because if you were you would’ve beat me.”
Hannibal plotted out the perfect battle.
It’s studied everywhere. Most of Hannibal’s battles are. I’m only gonna refer to the battle that me and Liechen fought when I talk about Hannibal’s perfect battle. There’s a ruined castle, a hill, he sets up a gauntlet of heavy cavalry. The Romans run right into it. They can’t break either side. Hannibal’s cavalry comes in right behind them and slaughters everybody. It’s in my mind the perfect military battle. It’s in my mind that battle that me and Liechen fought. In my mind, while I was trapped by his heavy infantry and being run down by his cavalry, Lamia was standing at my side.
Scipio is not the greatest general to ever live because he had never beaten Hannibal and Hannibal had to fail Scipio in sixth grade. Those of you turning back to Teardrop can check my quote here but I think the quote was, “He knows everything he needs to know. Don’t make me fail him. I couldn’t live with it.”
And when I was done having that conversation with Liechen, Liechen had to speak the words of Hannibal. I had forced him to speak the words of Hannibal, “You’re not the greatest general, because you never beat me.” And as Scipio I walked to my spot in the back of the room, and Lamia had been waiting. While I cried she laid her hand on my back. She laid her chin on my shoulder and I felt her full hair against my neck and my cheek, and I said, “Please speak. I will kiss you if you just speak.”
And she didn’t.
Some of you out there who are reading this are mythology masters. Some of you out there who are reading this are Dungeons and Dragons players who have run up against the creature the lamia. When she was with me, I had the Dungeons and Dragons book in my lap and I was looking at her picture. I wanted to read the description that the Monster Manual gave of her, but I couldn’t. I didn’t. And every time I tried, I would get distracted. Every time I tried, I would get distracted. Every time I tried, Artist would distract me. Until one day, when Smear Lord of Ire wasn’t watching, and Lamia wasn’t looking over my shoulder, I read the description of what a lamia really is. Lamia was seduced by Zeus and had children. Hera killed her children, and Lamia lost her mind. Lamia became a monstrous creature that ate babies.
She stayed away. I didn’t see her for the rest of school, on the bus, where she would usually sit in the aisle next to me. I didn’t see her while Less watched heavy metal videos and I got Grasp his after school snack. Lamia didn’t show up for dinner, for chores. Lamia was not there until the end of the day, when I walked into my bedroom and there she sat next to my bed. Usually as I slept she would have her hand on my chest so she could feel me breathe, and she’d have her head resting on the mattress so I could put my hands in her hair. She was in her spot and she was looking at me.
I walked up to her, and I touched right between her breasts with my hand, and I ran it down her stomach to the fur that gathered at her hip. I looked at her and said, “You’re a monster.”
And she nodded.
“You never wanted to kiss me.”
And she nodded.
“Your voice is a nightmare.”
And she nodded.
I grabbed her by the side of the face again. I remember the tickle of her hair on the back of my hands. I looked her in her wicked eyes, and I said, “Thank you. You were a good first love. You have to leave now. I can’t. I can’t be with a monster like you. Because you weren’t with me today and I don’t know what babies you ate in whatever world you live in.”
She lowered her head. And I kissed the top of her head as her hair brushed against my forearms. “When you leave, please don’t just disappear in front of my eyes.” My whisperings were harsh now, my tone begging. This was the important part. How she left was the important part. “Please don’t disappear when you leave. Just please walk out of my bedroom door until you get into the kitchen and then you can vanish. I can’t watch you void away into nothing. I have to watch you walk away.”
And she nodded.
She took my hand in hers, she walked for the door. Her arms stretched, and I held her hand until her arm and my arm were stretched as far as possible, then I felt my fingertips drag across her palm and then her fingers, and then her fingertips were gone. I wanted to touch what was left of her back and her rump, just feel the soft lion fur. I watched her walk away. And my arm was still extended when she turned the corner and disappeared into the kitchen.
I forgot about Lamia until last night. I’ve been back to that neighborhood looking for Demon Duck and Billy Badass, Jad and Joshua and all of them. I was looking for Beauty and Carny. And always my eye trailed on the balcony, as if I was looking for something. I always hoped to see something, I just didn’t know what. But I know now. Every time I went back to that hard street in Milwaukee and I looked up at the balcony of that terrible house, I was looking for my first love. Just trying to get a glimpse of Lamia.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.