An Aside

“It’s not really fear,” she finally offered. “It’s more akin to shame. It’s also been self-indulgence, as I’ve been letting you try to sympathize with me. That’s a nice feeling. And, you may not realize it, but I do care what you think of me. It’s not something that I worry over, but… in truth I’m no saint my friend, and no innocent.”

“You think I’ll stop liking you?” I asked, unable to keep the irritation out of my voice. After the past two months it seemed pretty juvenile, especially coming from her.

Note: What follows may be distressing to some readers

“Not quite,” she replied, turning her head to one side to look at me. It was almost pretty, except for the cold seriousness in her eyes. “What I am afraid of is that you’ll come to see me as dangerous. Wicked even. I don’t like that. But perhaps you should, and I don’t like that either. You might even come to fear me.”

“Fear you? I already do, at least a little. You’re something way beyond my experience. You’re rich and maybe even a little capricious. And,” I grinned, “you pack a wallop.”

She smiled faintly at that, but her eyes didn’t smile with her lips. For a second, I wondered if she’d had more than one reason for bringing that pistol with her today. But as I thought it, she stiffened.

“You know you’re in no danger here, today. If you don’t know that, then… then we have little more to talk of now. Or ever.”

“It would help if you’d just tell me what’s on your mind. Why would I fear you?” As I said it I reached into my pocket and produced the recorder, deliberately turning it on.

She looked at it, then back at me, before turning her gaze out across the river again.

“I am a murderer,” she said, her voice expressionless.

“You’ve killed people. I can’t imagine living as long as you without being forced to do that at some point.”

“I’ve killed people out of convenience. I’ve killed… I’ve murdered because it felt good to kill, because I didn’t see any reason not to. I’ve killed men mostly, but also women… sometimes people whose only mistake was to encounter me when I just didn’t care…”

I didn’t say a word, just waited. Eventually she spoke again.

“The first time… the first time was in a place much like this.

“Her name was Saennuz. She was the mate of the patriarch of the clan and as is often the case in such things she was the real power in the group. Her man enforced the rules and kept order, but in the dark hours of the night he took her counsel and marked it well. She was very intelligent, beautiful by the standards of the time, and quite ruthless. She despised me.

“I suppose it may surprise you but in the years after finding a new tribe for Attuz, I slowly learned that life was still easiest for me as a slave. I was wise enough to leave him behind before he aged, as painful as that was for the both of us. As I could not allow myself to fall in love again, life as a valued, skilled property was generally easiest if I were to stay among humans, and for the longest time I still did.

“So it was many years later that I found myself among Saennuz’s people. Seannuz’s man bought me from a village in a valley near his own. He knew I was barren and in the simple calculus of power politics he thought I would make for a welcome diversion in a clan that was somewhat bereft of women. I had been in the previous clan for several years, keeping time with the old shaman. I’d learned all I ever would from him, so I welcomed the chance to move on.

“Of course, he failed to consult with Saennuz on this. Mind you, she had nothing to fear from me. I couldn’t have babies and everyone knew it, but I was young, and healthy, and pretty, and strong. Jealousy overrode her common sense.

“I did everything I could think of to mollify her. I deferred to her in all things. I took every nasty, filthy task she could hand out and acted grateful to have the work. But nothing satisfied her.

“It came to a head that first summer, after there had been a gathering with some of the neighboring clans. A few matches were made and Saennuz concluded it was time to get rid of me.

“Her man would have sent me away if she’d told him to. He hated all the friction, but she never suggested it. Instead, after the gathering she became even more unbearable. She was pregnant again, her sixth child, and it made her insufferable in general. Perhaps that is why I failed to understand what she had in mind.”

Zsallia paused, and stared out at the water. Her tone had been almost a monotone, though there was a tiny waver to it that might have been from the chill. Finally she went on.

“Saennuz told me one morning to follow her to the river. She’d been having good luck with a fish trap she’d set up near the bank and wanted me to spend the day there. It was light duty even if it would be all day?and we would be alone. We arrived at the trap and I saw she’d set it up just after the bend of the river. Some trees offered shade, which made it easier to see the fish when they came up against the barrier of rocks. It was a nice piece of work, but it was also a bit treacherous. The current picked up a quite bit there, and the bank fell off into deep water if you stepped out too far.

“She asked me if I knew how to swim. I had my back to her, watching the fish trap, but something in her voice made me decide to lie so I told her ?no’.

“She must have used a rock because the next thing I knew I was floating downstream, choking on river water. My head was throbbing with pain.

“I managed to fight the current and make my way to the bank and once I caught my breath I realized I was not too far downstream. Strangely enough I wasn’t even angry. I considered leaving. I could let her have her little victory, move on down the river, and find a new place, but something about that idea left me cold. I liked this clan.

“I made my way up the river. It wasn’t far. I found Saennuz calmly working the fish trap and I stopped to watch her. She was just spearing fish and tossing them on the bank, humming a happy little tune, utterly unconcerned. Somehow that sight disturbed me far more than the idea that she had tried to kill me. I was over five hundred years old at that point, so she wasn’t the first to try that. But the idea that she would do it and then just go about her business… it annoyed me.

“I fetched up a good sized stone and waited for her to crouch over the trap, knowing she would be quite still for several seconds, then I let fly. My aim was true, but she flinched. Perhaps she heard me as I threw, but in any case it just grazed the right side of her head. She cried out and spun around, then froze as she saw me.

“She smiled. Laughed, actually. ?You’re tougher than I thought,’ she said, ?now get back to work.’

“I walked towards her and her expression narrowed. She must have seen my intent. I’ll give her credit: she didn’t back down, but charged at me instead. The water slowed her, but as I struck out she shifted and threw her shoulder into me, forcing me to fall backwards as she scrambled up the bank. I reached out and caught her by her tunic, pulling myself up towards her. She lashed out with her foot and connected with my collar bone, and I felt it crack. My left arm went numb. She kicked again, aiming for my throat, but I grabbed her foot and slipped it to one side, and she slid down a bit. Her other foot caught my hip, and she shoved me back down the bank.

“Regaining her feet, she ran for the trees. I recovered and set after her. It wasn’t too hard, as she only had a couple of steps on me, and I was taller. I tackled her just inside the trees. She hit hard and I felt her breath escape in a rush as she curled up in pain, her arms encircling her midsection, and she was still struggling as I forced her on to her back with my good hand and straddled her chest. Her eyes met mine, and for the first time I could remember, I saw fear in her.

“My left arm was still numb, but I laid my left palm across her throat. She was trapped beneath me, my knees pinning her arms to the ground. My right hand settled on a rock, and seized it up as she finally drew a breath.

“Wait…’ was all she managed to say before I brought the rock down on her head.”

Zsallia stopped talking. She was kneading the palms of her hands, and staring down at the river. I started to talk, but she just shook her head and gave me a quiet gesture with her hand. No, she seemed to say without words. I’m not done. Her voice when she spoke again was still dull, and flat.

“The rock…. it made a sound. A solid, sickening ?thok!’ Then a high, thin squeal came out of her, like a whispered scream. But that stopped as I struck her again. And again. And again. And again…”

She stopped again, drawing a deep, ragged breath that whistled as she exhaled. Her eyes were moist, but otherwise dead as she stared at the water.

“I would hit her… and her body would jerk underneath me, like spasms, or convulsions… there were pieces of bone… and so much blood…” she paused and her eyes turned towards me, almost pleading. But before I could react she shook herself, turned back to look out across the river, and went on.

“I kept hitting her until I felt all the breath go out of her, then I stopped, staring down at the bloody ruin of her face and head. I was fascinated by what I had done. I’d never simply killed anyone before. I’d seen death countless times, killed once in self-defense in a way that was almost a blur. But this…

“I was trembling as I crawled off her, my left arm and shoulder on fire, my right weak from exertion. I knelt by her body, my arms clutched together across my breasts as I shook and rocked, my belly churning with revulsion. She would twitch, a movement of an arm or a leg, and I would stop and stare, unsure if I could make myself strike her again should she resume breathing. But finally, I knew it was over.”

Zsallia was still not looking at me. Almost like she was afraid to. She just hugged her knees and rocked a little. I couldn’t think what to say or do, so I just waited again until she went on.

“I reached out and laid… laid my hand on the swelling of her belly. She had always had others, the women and the men, touch her like that, but she had never permitted me. I rested my right hand on it, and I felt it move.

“It was if my heart stopped and turned to ash in my chest.

“I wanted to scream then, but I could not breathe, I could not move. I held my hand there, feeling Saennuz’s baby move less and less until, inevitably, it stopped.

“A tiny, precious piece of myself died there, under those trees, by that riverside.”

The light breeze whispered in my ears as we sat. I listened to it, and the gurgle and rush of the river, she staring at the water, me staring at her. Unmoving. Finally she sighed again.

“So then I did the only thing I could think to do: I dragged her back to the river and pushed her body in, forcing it out into the swift current. I followed it downstream a ways to make sure it didn’t come ashore or fetch up on anything. After that, I washed up as best I could and returned to the village. I told them Saennuz and I had fought and she slipped in the water. That she’d struck her head and been swept away.”

She stopped again, still refusing to meet my eyes. I watched her, trying to gauge what she was feeling, but her face was like stone. I had no idea what to say. Could you try someone for a murder three thousand years ago, in a country that probably didn’t exist anymore? What kind of verdict could you bring to that? What court could judge it? What jury would know what to do with it?

“So they believed you?” I finally asked.

“Of course they did. By then I was an excellent liar. For that matter, how much of a lie was it, really?”

“She was pregnant.”

“Yes. The baby would have come in the late fall…” she turned her face away, craning her neck so I couldn’t see, and seemed to shrink in on herself. Then her shoulders shook, just once. “It probably would have died over the winter anyhow. At least that’s what I told myself.”

I found my voice. “She tried to kill you,” I offered.

“I could have walked away. I could have gone down river and found a new home. There were people a few days away that knew me from the clan gatherings. I could have told them what happened.” She turned and looked at me finally. Her eyes were hollow, and whatever tears might have been there were gone. “I didn’t have to kill her. I wish I hadn’t.”

“You feel guilty? Even today?”

“Of course I do. I don’t lie awake at night agonizing over it, but…”

“What did they do to you?”

“To me? Nothing. At least, not right away. But it was not long after that that I learned….” She stopped. “I learned…” She stopped again. “I’d like to stop talking for a bit if you don’t mind,” she finally said, staring at the water. So we just sat and listened to the stream for a while.

Then she asked me to take her back to her hotel.

6 Responses to “An Aside”

  1. Hello. I was just introduced to your site and I am very interested in what you have to say. I have never seen or heard of anything like this. I have some questions to ask, you seem so real to me. Do you believe there is one person for each of us to love? I value life very much but its taken me some time to realize this. Why do you think people don’t appriecate things? Do you like living through all these eras and seeing how the world is changing? I would love to hear from you. Thanks!

  2. Jackie-

    Welcome to this little corner of reality, such as it may or may not be. I am certain you will understand when I say your queries are ones frequently asked when new readers encounter this site so allow me to answer in general terms.

    I find it difficult to think of the path of my life in terms of enjoying the passage of years and the ebb and flow of culture and civilization. This is not a life I chose, but one laid upon me for reasons I am certain I shall never comprehend. One might as profitably enquire of those who survived the horrors of The Mortality, Buchenwald, Dresden, Hiroshima, or even the World Trade Center if, upon reflection, they found something enjoyable in their experiences. I believe some would say they took great meaning from those experiences, but would any claim to have found pleasure in them? Such is it with me- centuries of life mean centuries of regret. The insights won over those long years are meaningful to me, yet I cannot help but wonder: are they are truly worth the price? Bear in mind I have no answer for that question.

    One meaningful insight is this: people who are ready for love tend to find it. After my first true love I swore I would never again allow such weakness to overtake me, and yet thrice more did I succumb, the last so recently I still sometimes weep for him. I have loved others, but it is a cautious and measured sort of love, pale and weak in comparison to what I experienced those four times, and even then the ending of it was always painful, even traumatic. Even today, as I recount one of those who somehow pierced the shield I held so desperately aloft, the pain of it is nearly too much to bear. I wound her with the words I write, but she deserves the truth… and still I hesitate to continue.

    It seems to be a trait I share with you ephemeral members of the extant generations: the unwavering ability to ferret out the foul thread within a tapestry of the fair. Mankind’s capacity for unhappiness seems boundless when one witnesses the inheritors of the wealth of ages bitterly complaining of the burdens thrust upon them, but it is simply what people do. Man requires challenge, requires outrage, and when no ready source is available, Man manufactures it out of whole cloth. From this simple fact springs innovation, revolution, revelation, and all the grand joys and horrific evils that attend such unsettled times.


  3. I’m so lost while reading your blog. Why did you name your blog the same as a book? I read the 100 things and found them very interesting, I even have some of them in common with you. Do you like to write good stories, or are you a nut that actually believes they’re 3500 years old? Anyway, good read.

  4. I am simply what I am; nothing more, nothing less. I do thank you for your kind comments, and as for the book you have mistaken the order of things.

  5. Maybe I should just enjoy your website for what it is but you’re so intrigueing. I can’t figure out if you’re male or female – let me guess, you’re both and neither at the same time. One would assume female from the title, but maybe bisexual according to some of your comments. Who is Methuselah? Although it’s probably not a puzzle to solve, I can’t resist.

  6. Methuselah