I picked up the bottle and worried the cork out of it. No mean feat– it was really wedged in there. The dog looked at me uncertainly, having finally fallen silent. Once again, I assured her it was okay. This time, I believed it, too. I became sure I was in control of the situation, now.
I put the bottle down and lifted the jug. The neck of the bottle was narrow, and this would require care. I didn’t want to spill it. Carefully, slowly, I poured the contents of the jug into the bottle. Lumps floated in the cloudy gray-black ichor. A fetid smell reached me as I poured, like rotted meat, and I heard the dog growl again. I didn’t dare take my attention from the thin stream for one second, to look at or reassure the dog. I kept pouring, and finally, the last drops slid in, filling the bottle to capacity. I hammered the cork in, twisting it.
A sigh of relief escaped me, and I felt my muscles loosen. I wiped my face thoroughly with the sleeve of the white nightgown I was still wearing. I felt slightly guilty wiping my sweat and tears and snot on the intricate crewel work of the sleeve, but I felt better having done it. As I was staring at the bottle of cloudy liquid, contemplating what to do with it– it seemed dangerous just to leave it lying about, although for all I knew, this was as safe a place as any– when the clouds obscuring the sun moved away and light and heat blazed over me. I felt a sudden surge of strength and confidence.
I picked the bottle up by the neck and hurled it into the valley as hard as I could. It sailed through the air much further than I would have expected it to. I did not hear it hit the ground, but when it disappeared into the valley, a huge, noisy flock of birds exploded up from the ground.
They took to the sky in a shifting, colorful cloud, singing and and squawking, the sun’s rays glinting on their iridescent feathers. I watched motionless until they turned into distant black dots in the brilliant blue sky and then disappeared altogether.
I took a deep, inspired breath and stood up on the rock. I could feel my feet rooted to its surface, and the energy of the earth surged up my legs, into my hips and up through my spine. The sunlight was fierce on my face and shoulders. I felt as strong as a mountain. I do not know how long I stood there in the sun, only that it was a long time, and my mind was completely captivated by the light and the earth energy, and the active little rats of thought that usually scurried the corridors of my brain were still and peaceful.
When the light shifted and changed, and I smelled smoke and stone once again, my eyelids fluttered and opened. I saw the fire blazing, and the little dog at my feet looked up, the tip of her tail wagging. I smiled at her.
Then my throat caught, and I began to cough, long and hard, fighting for breath. I clutched double handfuls of the soft, gray blanket, and the magic book fell to the floor with a thump. A familiar old adversary, one that shook me as a terrier would a rat, this cough. When it finally tapered off, my throat felt scoured and I gasped for breath.
Something felt different. There was a heat in my chest like a tiny fierce sun, radiating heat and strength. I raised my hands to my chest and felt something metal hanging around my neck. I lifted it over my head.
I ran my fingertips over it wonderingly. It was deeply incised; heavy, old gold. A sun disk, from what ancient culture I couldn’t tell. It didn’t even have to be one I knew about. But, clearly a sun disk, and clearly extremely old. It filled most of my palm, radiating heat still. I folded my fingers over it, briefly, remembering the jug of ichor, the cloud of birds, the valleys unfurling below me, green.the fierce radiant sun burning through the obscuring clouds. I remembered the surge of strength and confidence I felt standing on the rock. They felt familiar, like old, forgotten friends that encountering surprises you pleasantly.
I stirred, and slowly pulled the pedant over my head once more. The sun disk lay against my breastbone like an ember, and I lay back in the chair, just breathing.