So many lives, so many wives…
I stare across at her sleeping form and try to figure out where she features in the long line of spouses who have shared the intimacy of my bed. She sleeps peacefully – mouth parted and long ebony lashes resting softly upon her face.
I think it must be nice to sleep like that – to escape the rigors of conscious thought. It’s a gift I envy as I know that I can never possess it. In that much at least I am human. On many occasions I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to nestle in the open arms of slumber. To be both renewed and relaxed from within. I have read many books on the subject and tried different drugs. But still, the art of sleeping, the way humanoids do evades me. Truth be told, I’m too busy living for sleep to be a part of who I am.
I breathe deeply to celebrate my humanity but its falseness lodges inside me like a broken winged bird. I’m no more human than the four hundred billion stars that make up the Milky Way. As if to testify to that my internal body clock tells me it’s seven twenty nine. I lie still, limp as a rag – ready to simulate my sudden awakening.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
I leap up and slam the top of the alarm clock with my palm as though the vexation of being torn from my dreams is altogether intolerable. I slump against the head board – my skin sticking to the black faux leather like noodles on a wall. I ignore the feeling just as I ignore the fact that my lies are eroding me. Day by day I crumble a little more and there’s not one damn thing that I can do about it. I stare dully across the room at the shadows beyond the door. One day I will find my reprieve and discover a way to postpone life. This is what I hope for.
Kirsty rolls over, all naked shapely. A draped cotton sheet entangles her.
“Hey baby,” she whispers. Her smile is golden and only for me. I want to kiss her but I know I have morning breath. Yes, even immortals of morning breath. In a calculated move I dodge her lips and instead plant a kiss on her forehead.
“Sleep ok?” I ask.
“Uhuh,” she murmurs as she fondles my buttocks and pulls me towards her. My body responds to her exquisite warmth and a low down growl escapes me.
“Kirsty…you know we don’t have time for this. I have an audience with Rousakel Chyne at 11.”
“Yes but I also know that he’s been waiting to see your show for eight years. Another hour or so won’t kill him.”
I raise my eyebrows at this. They climb higher still as she offers me her breast, readily charming me into submission.
“If it was up to you, I don’t think we’d ever get out of bed,” I say nuzzling her bosom. She laughs and we make love in leisurely fashion for the next hour or so.
Two hours later and badly behind schedule I instruct the captain of my ship, The Incarnare to take us to the planet Damoclatees at full speed. He is not impressed at the pressure this will put on the newly recalibrated engines but he complies anyway, no doubt putting two and two together upon noting my ruffled hair and decidedly ruddy complexion. Probably he expects this sort of thing from newlyweds like us. I would.
Funny thing is, I promised myself long ago that I would never marry again after Mary. You see, my last wife Mary was special – the kind of soul that completes you. The kind that seems to know your every thought and wish before you even think it. I was an open book to her once, or so it seemed. Well…I suppose she understood the parts of me that I allowed her to see. But no one ever really knows anyone’s secrets fully do they? Either way two thousand six hundred years after she died I met Kirsty and discovered I could still feel love or a close approximation thereof at the very least.
I stride along the corridors of The Incarnare dressed in head to toe black, my waistcoat flapping open with every movement. My outfit is ridiculously cliché. I know that. But I don’t care a jot. Throughout the galaxy magicians have dressed like this for eons, so who am I to spoil the illusion? If people want to assume I am just another space carnival act, let them think that. My goal is to share my gift. Take it or leave it.
I unlock the granite door to my focus room with brief retinal scan.
“Access granted,” drones a woman’s voice and the door slides open in a rush.
Once inside I look around the room suddenly feeling a tad bored. This is where I am supposed to practice my famous routines. This is where it is all supposed to happen. Only I know I never practice anything in here. Who needs to practice when what they do is real?
Although I am forty thousand years old I suddenly feel like a school kid wanting to bunk school. I’d sooner spend the next couple of hours with Kirsty than be here on my own doing yoga and meditation on a rubberized mat.
So I vacate the focus room and float down the hall, utterly wrapped up in the thought of surprising my beautiful Kirsty. No doubt she will be thrilled to see me, just as she had been when she opened her eyes first thing this morning. I open the door to our room remembering what she had looked like as she fluttered on the cusp of ecstasy. Unfortunately a horrible mirror image of that awaits me.
“Gods Jaspa! Gods! Yes! Yes! Yes!” she screams writhing in the arms of a burly officer. The two of them turn to look at me in horror. The moment I see her there, legs splayed out like a whore from the Bagytan worlds I know without equivocation what I must do.
I close the door and stand outside, impervious to her entreaties.
“Enza! Enza! Was that you?” she cries.
I ignore her and stand fast. Who the hell does she think it was? Of course it was me!
“I must go to him,” I hear her say to her lover.
He shrugs, drenched with sweat and impatient to continue. I can see all this with my cursed powers.
“Are you here, my love?” she calls from the doorway out into the corridor.
With all my soul I deny her the ability to see me. Pressed against the wall I speak my last words to her.
“If I am your love, why have you forsaken me?”
She has no answer, apart from tears and these I let her shed in the arms of Jaspa the ship’s second engineering assistant.
After skulking away, I lose myself on the supply deck for a while where I spend my time kicking around the empty crates and pounding food stained walls with my fist. It’s pretty primal I know, but it has to be done. That woman has bought out the worst in me.
When my anger has lessened, I return to the bridge and discover that we are only three quarters of an hour away from Damoclatees where a man named Rousakel Chyne awaits my presence. This man is not only a Senator or the Damoclateen council, but also indescribably rich and HUGE fan of magic. Therefore I need to pull myself together.
I use the age old calming techniques once taught me by a holy man I met named Buddha. I find it helps. A bit.
How could she do this? And how could I have been so wrong about her, I think to myself over and over again. I don’t like the answers my brain comes up with.
The officers on the bridge perhaps sense my turmoil and happily mistake it for nervousness prompting them to leave me alone until we’re in communications range of the planet.
“Within range now Sir!” says Lafayette, when that moment finally arrives.
I open up a channel wishing I could escape into the world of sleep the way humans do. It must be heaven.
“Greetings. This is Enza Gray. Please inform Rousakel Chyne that I’m almost within transport range.”
The spindly purple being before me shifts awkwardly from leg to leg brushing his fangs with a set of strange shaggy antennae.
“I’m afraid his Excellency Rousakel Chyne cannot see you.”
“What? But we have come all this way!”
“Well think again human! That is not my concern. Senator Chyne passed away two days ago. His funeral is being held tomorrow.”
The purple being makes to shut down the connection but I hold out my hand to halt him. The distance weakens my control over him but his simplistic mind more than compensates.
“Can anyone attend this funeral?” I ask.
“No. You must have an invitation.”
“Then you must get me one. Please remember, my name’s Enza Gray.”
“I will do my best,” the purple creature replies bowing slightly.
I think it unlikely that he will succeed in his mission but am surprised to find that two hours later he has indeed managed to arrange it.
I take myself off to my study determined to avoid Kirsty. There I peruse the guest list to see who I know. According to the info there will be around twelve thousand in attendance from pretty much every corner of the quadrant. I’m bound to know somebody!
Part way down the list I see a name I hadn’t expected; Myra Qhan. I wince. There’s no home world listed. Mine’s the only other name to be listed in such a manner. The only other detail beneath her name is ‘enchantress extraordinaire’. This is slightly different than my bio, which in a bid for accuracy reads ‘enchanter extraordinaire’. Apparently we are both enigmas.
I frown at this unexpected development. For years now, she’s been my only rival – the only one who has ever come close to surpassing the spectacular feats I perform on the many different planets. Shaken, I set the list down and try to tell myself that this doesn’t bother me. But clearly it does because I don’t want her on that list! For the first time ever Myra and I will share the same breathing space. I’m not at a happy man.
Why does she have to be there?
That’s all I need, yet another woman who appears determined to burst my bubble. Well it isn’t going to happen – because I’ve come up with a plan…
Strangely I’ve never been to a Damocloteen funeral before and am pleasantly surprised by its dignified orderliness as opposed to the usual chaotic outpourings of grief. The event is being held in an open air arena beneath the lilac hues of the twin Damocloteen suns. Row upon rows of people sit in solemnitude waiting for the service to begin. They do not chat. They barely talk. Their minimal interaction is making me wonder if they even know each other let alone Rousakel Chyne.
I sit down and look across at the Senator’s family who are gathered at the foot of the circular stage. They too are gazing up at the bullet shaped casket, looking calmer than a midsummer’s day. Perhaps this is just their way of dealing with things, I tell myself.
Suddenly the family’s attention is turned elsewhere. I crane my neck to see what they’re looking at.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have come…
Multiple chimes ring out in pleasant harmony as a trio of monks file out bedecked in the simple flowing robes of their office. They bow at the waist as a cool refreshing breeze wafts in from the nearby ocean. The one on the left with pure white hair begins to speak.
“Welcome one and all! You have been invited here today to witness the funeral of Senator Rousakel Chyne who died by his own hand two days ago.”
What? Died by his own hand?
I had not even realised that this was the case. How awful for his family! That being the case they’re holding up even better than I had thought then, I muse.
My newly acquired knowledge is making me more eager than ever to do what I have planned. I intend to reanimate the Senator’s body seconds before they vaporize his casket. This will be my final act as Enza Gray enchanter extraordinaire, putting to rest the rivalry between Myra and I once and for all. But more importantly than that and on a much more human level it will leave me, free to start a new life elsewhere – away from the treachery of my twenty third wife.
As the albino monk speaks I scan the crowds for any sign of Myra.
There! There she is!
She’s sitting to the right of me wearing her equally ridiculous trademark veil and gloves. They’re always the same, completely opaque and the colour of freshly spilt blood. I despise them. Especially as the colour of them makes me wonder about the manner of the Senator’s death.
What is she thinking I wonder? I lower my gaze, annoyed for a moment that mind reading is one of the few things I can’t do. But I suppose its importance pales into insignificance when held alongside my other aspirations – sleeping and dying. Those I would literally give anything to be able to do.
Yes, I envy the man in the casket whose atoms will eventually reassemble themselves into something else. What wouldn’t I give to be mortal, to be able to purge the massive cache of thoughts and memories in my head and start over. So what if all I end up as, is a worm or a beetle? At least it would be a totally fresh start. No baggage. No lies. No memories.
Suddenly I notice that the monk has stopped talking and a huge screen is being lowered from the ceiling. What’s going on now? I look around but no one else is finding this strange. Myra turns her veiled head towards me. I ignore her gaze and sit back to watch, half afraid of what we’re going to see.
The screen flashes into life and a clip that Senator Chynes recorded prior to his death begins to play.
“Greetings!” he says with a huge gappy smile.
I almost fall off my chair. He doesn’t look suicidal! Far from it!
“Many of you will be thinking that my final actions are decidedly odd and not at all in keeping with my true character. If so, you are correct in your assumption. I do not wish to die. Indeed no one loves life more than I.”
He continues to beam at the audience from beneath his sandy moustache. Those gathered look highly confused. I risk a quick glance at Myra but can detect no reaction at all. What’s going on?
“My real reason for bringing you all here today is not to send me into the afterlife but to witness my resurrection from death!”
The crowd gasp and Myra turns to face me slowly and deliberately. I look at his family and realise that they must have been in on this too.
“Will the enchantress Myra Qhan and the enchanter Enza Gray please approach the casket?” the monk with the white hair calls out.
“Whichever of you succeeds in bringing me back to life will win ownership of the newly discovered, uninhabited planet in sector nine,” continues the Senator. “Let the challenge begin!” A short clip of a magnificent rainforest world appears on the screen. I stare at it open mouthed and decide that I want it. Maybe I can end my days there.
Raising the Senator from the dead will be a cinch. The planet is as good as mine. Calmly and confidently I approach the stage. Irritatingly, I find Myra already there – the monks standing behind her.
“Please… you go first,” she says courteously.
I glance at her suspiciously as I lay my hands on the casket. Carefully I remove the lid, allowing my hands to hover just above his body. The crowd lean forward, unaware that I have done this many times before under the guise of being a prophet or a holy man. I’ve been many people in many places. Today I will close yet another door. My career as an enchanter has come to an end.
I close my eyes and begin redirecting some of my life force into him. However within seconds I know something’s not right. I’m being blocked.
Hands shaking I glare at Myra. Still as a statue she stands unperturbed. I know it’s her! I try again but it quickly becomes clear I’m getting nowhere. One of the monks pats me consolingly on the arm and thanks me for trying.
“An excellent effort by the illustrious Enchanter Gray!” he cries. The crowds clap and cheer in sympathy. What a miserable game show this is!
“Cheat!” I murmur as I walk past Myra.
She ignores me and sweeps forward in a whirl of scarlet and grey. I look out upon those gathered suddenly despising the whole event. What kind of man makes his own life and death a competition for the titillation of others?
Feelings of shame and jealousy swamp me. What kind of man am I to take part in it? I cannot stay. I must leave this arena of twisted minds.
As I stand a huge round of applause erupts, rippling through the air like thunder. My legs take the stairs two at a time, glad that my lucrative career is finally over. I cannot leave quickly enough. I want out. But where will I go? Kirsty is still on the Incarnare.
Once more the door to yet another life needs to be closed but I don’t think I know how to do it. I’ve lost the will to metamorphosize again. I want to sleep. I need to rest. I’m weary from the weight of it all.
A voice behind commands me to stay. There are luxury refreshments on offer in the gardens surrounding the arena, it says.
It’s the Senator’s voice. Myra must have succeeded Damn her! I flee from the embarrassment of it and head for the gardens. I need some space. I want out.
Down by the ocean I finally find sanctuary after stumbling around in the flower beds and orchards for what seems like hours. There I perch on a rock looking out at the myriad twinkling lights of the coastal towns and cities, their splendour so prettily reflected in the gargantuan Bay of Lyka. I’ve removed my shoes so I can feel the sand filtering through the gaps between my toes. I squirm my feet ever deeper into it trying to forget Kirsty and the terrible farce that the last act of Enza Gray has become.
“Is this where you’re hiding?” I hear a voice say. I turn and to my horror find Myra standing there.
“I’m not hiding.”
“Well, sulking then.”
Although I know I’m only proving her right, I ignore her and stare out across the water.
“Why do you always have to challenge me? Is that what you wanted, to make me fail?” I say accusingly, suddenly spinning round. With the accumulation of everything I’m so angry that I do something very rash and equally ill mannered.
The blood red of her veil has always been like a goad to me ever since I have known her. So I reach out on impulse and tear it away like a mad man, determined to look my enemy in the eye.
“MARY!” I gasp. The name sounds so wrong in my ears. Stunned, I step back and fall into the water. “But you died Mary. John insisted that you fell overboard in stormy seas.”
John was Mary’s brother. Supposedly. He was a fisherman in a place called Israel two thousand six hundred years ago.
“What? And you’ve never used excuses like that to slip away from a life that has lost its appeal or is becoming too dangerous?”
I screw up my face, trying to understand what she’s telling me.
“Yes, that’s right Enza. I’m just like you – I too can never die. Remember, back then I thought you were human and I knew that if we stayed together there was a big chance that one day you’d discover what I was. So I left before I became that monster – the demon woman who never dies. Little did I know we were as much alike in body as we are in mind.”
She sits down beside me with a splash and puts her arm through mine. We fit. I can’t be cross with her anymore.
“I only came to realise this when I saw an advertisement for your show one day somewhere on the planet Keldar. I knew it was you and I immediately understood what that meant. That’s when I created Myra – yet another incarnation of me.”
“But what was the point? You publicly destroyed my reputation.”
“Yes, I did. Because I’m the only one that could. I taught you what it is to be human – to have limits and to fail. This is why humans sleep, to make up for their failures and shortcomings. Their brains analyse where they went wrong and how to fix it or how to succeed if they ever face such a scenario again. They learn how to conquer and become better than what they already are. To dream is to be free.”
“You make it sound like I should thank you for this,” I say begrudgingly.
“You should,” she says. “Because tonight you now know what it is to be human and the two of us shall sleep beneath the stars.”