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2 November 2013 ~ Hyacinth Noir’s Samhain Literary Issue
Post V ~ Atticus of the Braithwolds, by Lore Lippincott
< adult content warning >

The eternal spiral of darkness lures our souls.  The trees tremble, lose the last of their vibrant display, and when the bleakness of the season is upon us, we’re stationed at our most humble place: between a fascination with the continuation of autumn, and the impending bleakness of winter.

The last glow of the hunter’s moon still shines upon our imaginations, eager to guide us into the unknown between our world and the everlasting realm of death.  Into the mellowness after the Autumn Equinox, we remember, anticipate and welcome the wandering spirits of the dead.  We hear their whispers, feel their presences at the folds of Samhain’s translucent veil, and in the shadows of balding trees, step darker stripes of souls visiting from the wilds of eternity.  We glean from them what knowledge we lack now: an urgency to harness and employ our talents, know ourselves, our journey, our hearts; and remember that the approaching shyness of the earth in winter cloaks the transformation and regeneration we contain within.

As the transition of seasons is motionless, it is our time for transformation, to find ourselves in another’s costume, to find ourselves reformed when the forces of Samhain are once again inhaled into the earth . . .

Atticus is a relatively normal UPO (Unified Pagan Occupant) whose time at the Braithwolds, a rustic retreat, sees him writing a weather prediction pamphlet, making a few new friends, and understanding to a brighter degree all his empathic gifts.  Emotional and physical sensitivity rile Atticus intensely whenever fellow UPO and bard Sebastian happens to be near, but Atticus can’t figure out why, and charismatic Sebastian laughs at the mystery.  As Samhain approaches, Atticus discovers that his gift is mutating, that his consciousness insists on pondering the elemental themes of Samhain: transformation and death.

Atticus of the Braithwolds

I.

Sleepy-eyed and heavy, Atticus crossed the threshold of his cabin for his first appreciative breath of cool morning air.  A low sun, still powerful as it neared its weakest point, painted golden garlands through the bare trees, through an illusive mist that lingered yet over the tall grasses, dying asters and boneset that draped the wilds.  Nearby, neighboring cabins puffed smoke from stone chimneys, chickens roamed, chickadees erupted into their daybreak greetings.  Even after the lapse of six months and two delicious seasons, the Braithwolds continued to enthrall Atticus.  Rather than meeting every day like a smudge upon the world, he woke feeling like he’d been daubed by a great and triumphant power.  He’d gained more in the last six months at the Braithwolds than he had in his twenty-seven years living beyond its borders.

Among the community of persons that Raddix called UPO’s (Unified Pagan Occupants), Atticus had accidentally discovered himself, found a home, friends, the source of the enigmatic force within.  In another six months he would return to his normal life, resume his retail labor, the avocation of good son, good brother, quiet and benevolent druid.  In early morning solitude, he attempted to picture himself as he would be in the spring.  Yet the asters poked at his mind, the chirping birds broke apart the reveries, and all he could imagine of himself was a man covered in a blank white sheet, surrounded by stars and thin clouds: nothing but an outline, nothing of a face and a name, nothing that claimed an identity.

At first the emptiness frightened him, and he spoke about it to the others in his group, to Raddix the leader, Angelica the healer, and Sebastian the storyteller.  More were in the group, too: solitary souls who’d been visiting the Braithwolds for decades, and who’d found comfort in keeping to themselves, listening and not repeating.  Raddix, forty-two and distinguished in his Order, gray at the temples and huge in the shoulders, found Atticus’s daydream of vacuity a conscious progression of change.  Angelica agreed, citing that change would wring from him the last of his apprehensions; he was well-known at the Braithwolds for being uncomfortable with the labels of society.

Atticus wasn’t ready to agree with them.  Maybe that was the change he would undergo.  Maybe it was something else, something hidden and charismatic that burned at the edges of Sebastian’s reluctant smirks.  Sebastian, the most talkative resident at the Braithwolds, an off-again and on-again resident, had little to say about Atticus’s suspicions of change.  “It might be that you’re seeing nothing because you wish to see nothing.  Or there’s nothing to see.”

A quality in the bard annoyed Atticus.  The bluntness—possibly.  The smug awareness of his own looks and talent—possibly.  But what he’d said held a barb of triteness.  It was prosaic, unimaginative, overdone, too banal to be true.

Atticus sat on the harsh wooden porch steps, slumping his chin in an upturned hand.  He could see his breath existing as moments of ice in front of him.  He felt dimensional, wholly original.  He was not created of banalities and clichéd insights.

But there was a contradiction or two in that fact as well, and he lightly, faintly damned Sebastian for bringing him to this maelstrom of thoughts.  He was nothing so very extraordinary.  He lacked Raddix’s ability to guide and teach.  He hadn’t Angelica’s understanding of herbs and trees.  He had no talented fingers that plucked at guitar strings as Sebastian had, or vocal chords that rang out rich and true, or the rhyming technique that retold Mabinogion tales.

All he could do was read the clouds and the air, talk to animals a little—but only did that accidentally, on a small scale that lacked genius and effort.  He knew when one of the others had a headache since he felt it, too.  He had little appreciation for the breaking of the solidity of bodies and the assumptions his spirit made of other people’s aches, anxieties and needs.

He put this behind him.  It was almost nine, almost time to meet at Cabin Elm for another round of dialogue and writing.  He was a newbie: He had a cabin to himself at the farthest edge of the Braithwolds, with the sharpest view of a thousand trees, the tip of the pond through upright, stately conifers.  His was known as Cabin Apple, and sometimes he smelled its namesake oozing from the kinks of stone around the fireplace, from the dark corners where wall and ceiling met, so low he could sink his fingertips into the shadows.  He never found an apple, but the smell never receded, strongest on muggy days.

Atticus dressed in corduroys loose around lean hips, a t-shirt of his favorite band, a navy hoodie that was an old thing forgotten in the hasty departure of his last cohabitant boyfriend.  The majority of them wore “normal clothes” at the Braithwolds.  Only Raddix ever wore robes, and only ceremoniously.  Most days the endearingly pudgy, balding Raddix donned with flair a rugby shirt over cotton trousers.  Atticus hadn’t expected that.  He’d anticipated pagans dressed only as he saw those at the Renaissance Fair, yet it was not like that at all.  The women were without corsets, the men without doublets.  At the summer solstice, Lughnasadh, and the autumn equinox, they dressed as they saw fit, some robed and some not, some in corsets and doublets and some not, though they drank from goblets and dined from plates not of the everyday collection.

Atticus snubbed the House of the Moon, the main building.  He could hear, smell and see that it was already filled with an exorbitant amount of UPO’s.  Relatively unpopular and little-known still in the Braithwolds, Atticus passed many who simply nodded their heads in greeting.  He had a lingering apprehension that kept him from wishing anyone a good morning.  It seemed like it would be a lie if he said it.  Something about the morning was decidedly foul, and he couldn’t conjure the feeling of goodness that came with a possible actualization of that upon another.  He wondered where the sensation of anxiety and dread came from—or from whom.  But even when alone it prickled his skin, weighted his intestines.  He zipped up the four steps to Cabin Elm, and with it rose the intensity of his apprehension.

Inside, he was surprised to find one solitary being, Sebastian.  His black hair was again a becoming mess, as if he had electrocuted it freshly that morning.  His eyes were green and hazel and too commanding.  Immediately upon seeing one another, Sebastian picked out a dolorous tune on his battered acoustic, and Atticus crossed his arms at his middle as he headed for the coffee.

“Every time you see me, Atticus, you cross your arms like that.  Right between your third and fourth chakras, between love and control.  What is it you don’t want revealed, or don’t want me to see?”

“I don’t know anything about chakras,” which was not a spectacular lie, only a small one.  It dismissed the subject less than cleverly.  He poured coffee—Sebastian had probably made it—and stirred ingredients into it.  Sebastian continued to play, hummed along, muttered the occasional word, though all Atticus heard was “clocks,” “lost time.”

The first gathering of their group, back in early May, Sebastian had been described by Raddix as having the best penmanship, the best memory, the best understanding of what records they should keep.  During those two weeks after Lughnasadh that Sebastian was gone, Angelica took his secretarial duties.  But when Sebastian came back, positions were resumed as they’d been, and work was continued at an inflexible pace.  They had slacked in their writing of A Druid’s Guide to Common Weather while Sebastian was away.  Where he’d gone, Atticus had found out only through an irritated query to Angelica.  He’d returned home, along the coast somewhere, to take care of business that could no longer be delayed.  Upon his return, however, he spent two weeks being much more solemn than usual, less inclined to give his witty ripostes and show off his finger-picking skills.  Atticus had liked the quieter, meeker Sebastian, and their acquaintanceship improved to a friendship.  It leveled off as Sebastian’s energy returned to him.  Atticus once again approved of his disinclination to appreciate the arrogant bard.

Sebastian let silence come.  He lay half-gloved hands, naked at the fingers, over the heart of the guitar.  Atticus had just sat at the table, the upper corner, about as far away from his setup of laptop and folder as he could.

“Why don’t you ever sit next to me?”

“Your patchouli stink clouds my head.”

“It’s cedar and eucalyptus, not patchouli.  The cedar is for annoying the insects in my cabin, and the eucalyptus is for my sinuses.  You, I assume, seeing as how you are the most perfect human being to ever come to the Braithwolds, have no offensive odor.”

Atticus ignored Sebastian as long as he could, until Sebastian came to the table after warming up his cup of tea.  Atticus dragged his shoulders and mouth down: Sebastian moved his belongings from his usual spot to the one right across.  Too irked to speak of it, the movement was nonetheless sharp enough to motivate Atticus to retaliate against the earlier jab.

“I’m not perfect, and even your sardonic self can’t believe that about me.”

“Oh, actually I wasn’t being sarcastic about that.”

Atticus stared at him, not sure if he should blush, groan, or dish a slap to Sebastian’s pretty face.  That feeling had crept into existence frequently over the last eight weeks.  “I’m not perfect, and I do stink.”

“Way to tell me off.  Bravo.  I’m impressed.  It isn’t you that’s perfect, of course; I didn’t mean it that way, Atticus.  I meant that I’m intrigued by your empathy.  You hardly ever meet an empath these days.  Most of them claim to be intuitives.” A great effort was needed to refrain from rolling his eyes.  “But a real empath.  A real one.  In the name of the stars and moons, Atticus, you’re about as rare as a unicorn of perfect moonlight hue.  I think we should be writing a book about you instead of the weather.  It’s only Raddix’s delusions of grandeur, which I’m all for in Raddix’s case—he’s such a good guy and I want him to leave his imprint on our world—that we’re working on this project this year, anyway.  Before I met you and knew what you could do, I wanted us to work on something else entirely.”

Atticus, in spite of himself, was intrigued.  “Like what?”

Sebastian needed a moment to fan the feeling into words.  He pitched himself to the end of the table, folded his arms—chakra blocking again—and thought of the dismal objects adrift in his head.  “Like death.  We don’t write much about death, and don’t talk about it much, either.  Here and there, I suppose.  With Samhain in a few days, I thought it’d be nice to—to talk more openly about death.”

Atticus picked at a biro, twirled it between fingers significantly less talented than Sebastian’s.  “The weather’s not as permanent—or gloomy.”

“Not today,” returned Sebastian, eyeing the outdoors through the ajar cabin door.  Without the throb at the back of his neck that often came with embarrassment, and without the lightheadedness he used to get when a thrilling moment was upon him, he tilted into Atticus and drew in a short, calculating breath.  Out the far corner of his sight, he caught the flash of awareness in Atticus, the movement of his eyes and the lowering of magnificent eyelashes.  He slipped back, slid off the table.  “Nope, you’re wrong: you don’t stink.”

Atticus let eucalyptus and endorphins whorl his senses.  He envisioned himself again as that great blank slate of nothingness when he tried to work with his team on a book of weather, with Sebastian across from him.  He was as vast, as open, as unguided as the edge of the wolds.  At the end of the day, he sat for a long while at the ending of the forest, the beginning of the meadow.  He watched the sun sink down and thought of Sebastian’s wish that they talk more openly about death.  The only way they commonly recognized it was through the changes of the seasons, the ending of one day that was only the rising of night, the time of the moon.

In the silvery drops of twilight, Atticus returned to Cabin Apple.  A black bundle caused him to pause at the bottom of the stairs.  The bundle unwrapped itself, shifted, morphed, and became a thing that he understood.  It was Indira’s avatar, her gargantuan black cat.  He tried to return it to her, but the cat wouldn’t go.  It leapt from his arms and bounced away through the folds of night.  He left a message with Indira regarding the escapades of her feline friend.  “Phoenix is like that.  But it’s strange that he should wind up on your doorstep, Atticus.  He doesn’t really like strange men.”

“I don’t like strange men, either.” Atticus turned away for the solitude of his cabin, the two hours of study and meditation before he ventured to dream.

He had horses and spirals in his dreams, and woke in the morning to find Phoenix on the porch, sitting in a sunbeam.  Phoenix had brought friends.  Six other cats, some belonging to guests, some unknown—and all of them gaping with green eyes at Atticus.

… to be continued

Lore Lippincott

studies, works and writes in her native Ohio. Check www.breezydaystories.com for any upcoming scribbles and releases.

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