Jewels of Change
Stars, darkness, a lamp,
a phantom, dew, a bubble;
and a cloud:
Thus should we look upon
—Vajracchedika, 31 and 32
An improbable conversation between Joseph Prigione, a character in an obscure modern novel, Jewels of Change, and Lord Byron, Romantic hero-poet of his time, dead for 200 years.
Lord Byron: So, sir, never heard of you. You say you have a question. The only thing more obscure than you is your book. But go ahead, in your century I am as obscure as you, and I have an eternity to reply. Take your time.
Joseph Prigione: I’m honored. You see. I’m in need of a door.
Lord Byron: Are you such a fool? You need a carpenter. I have never touched a nail, except the ones on my fingers.
Joseph Prigione: Well. I’m talking about a portal then.
Lord Byron: Ah. Why didn’t you say so? And to what?
Joseph Prigione: To Part I of my obscure novel, as you put it. I need an entranceway, a kind of introduction so that readers might know what better to expect.
Lord Byron: And what is it you want me to introduce?
Joseph Prigione: Something that neither I nor anyone who reads this truly know. But you have much experience in it. At least 200 years.
Lord Byron: So darkness will be my portal for your readers.
Of death I know well,
Darkness its best door.
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in eternal space.
—Lord Byron, “Darkness”
An Excerpt from Part I, “Collage Dream Memories,” Chapter 2, “Book of Terrors”
It was the morning of the funeral.
At 5:30, not yet dawn, the phone rang. Joseph struggled to get out of bed. He made his way past the open bedroom door where a light slightly illuminated the way.
In a few short steps, he was at the foot of the bed. With his right hand he groped behind the door and reached for the phone on the small oak table. By the time he picked it up, it had rung several times.
“Joseph. It’s Julia.”
“How are you?” Joseph asked, trying to sound alert, forcing false joy into a tired voice.
“Joseph,” Julia said, her voice cracking. “Something terrible has happened.”
Joseph froze. Not a sound.
Then he felt something odd, off kilter. He heard as much in the sounds of her voice when he first answered, but sleep disguised its form.
It leaped out at him, dark, savage. He did not know what. But something was there, something behind a wall. The whole thing was rising, immense, powerful. It was in Julia’s voice.
“What?” Joseph asked. His every muscle, every sense poised. All of him focused on her voice. Then he pushed the words out of his mouth, and he could hear the spaces between the sounds of syllables. “Tell … me … Julia.” He heard a great movement coming toward him. “Tell me what’s happened.”
He could not hold it back. It came out. His words called it.
His father’s face faded. Could that be? No. This was different. He could feel it.
The wall cracked. Something powerful was coming through that no one on earth could stop. This thing was formless, timeless, eyeless, toothless, without nail or claw, voiceless, without odor. Silently it moved, faceless.
Julia carried it from far away. He heard as if she stood next to him. Then he heard words in tears never spoken before.
“Emil! Emil’s dead!”
Her tears flooded his. He gripped the phone, strangled, then bashed the plastic form.
It was not too late. It was not too late. He would stop it. He could force the wall together. He would remake the rubble of stone. He would kill it. Leave it behind the wall. Where was his power? Who was he to hear this?
“What!” Not his voice. Another’s.
Victoria shot up. She sat on the bed. Now not a sound. She looked. Could not see for the dark.
“What! What are you telling me!” The voice cracked. The wall opened.
“Emil’s dead. He’s dead. Killed by a drunken driver!”
“By what! What! A drunk driver! A drunk! A drunk!”
It was before him.
“What happened!” Victoria screamed.
“Light!” Joseph shouted.
There was a struggle. Someone found the switch.
“Emil! Emil’s dead. Killed last night. A drunk driver. He’s dead! He’s dead! My brother is dead!”
Words leaped from his mouth. The words were red, flowing. Something was covered with blood, but could not be seen.
Two frightened bodies, huddled in dawn, screamed Joseph’s brother onto the highway. Hurtling metal. Twisting light. Steel’s screams. The car over and over. Husband. Son. Father. Friend. Lover. Brother. One man … a body of blood.
It moved. Ears burst. A world ended … but why with no nail or claw, why was there so much blood?
and Joseph smelled the terror
and Joseph saw the terror
and Joseph ate the terror
it was the face of God