Frozen Iron: The Icy Shores
Poet, muse strangled by void.
Concept: Recovering from Stockholm Syndrome
Initiative Mod: 6
Academics (Poetry): 4
Medicine (Phrenology): 1
Stealth (Good Timing): 1
Empathy (Desires): 3
Expression (Written Word): 3
Socialize (Gold Eyes): 2
Language (Italian): 2
Eidetic Memory: 2
Striking Looks: 2
Token (Poems): 1
Once upon a time, there was a young woman who was a poet. She was slender with very dark hair and hazel eyes. Her face was oval in shape, her features regular and fine, her cheekbones high, and her dark eyebrows arched. She had delicate hands with long fingers, one of which—the middle on her right hand—bore a callous on the side just below the nail. At thirty, she was beautiful, and she published her first volume of poems. It was a Sidneian sequence of Donne-like sonnets, its conceits equal parts modern science, early modern science (medicine, alchemy, astronomy, a little natural philosophy), and a profoundly sexual love story that bound the senses to the movements of the heavens. It was called Alignment, and on the cover was a skeleton dancing with a young lady against a backdrop of constellations: Lyra, Andromeda, the Pleiades, Draco, and, unaccountably, the Southern Cross. Alignment met with critical plaudits. What a promising young poet, critics said. How sure she is to shine like the stars about which she writes with such fluency. A whole cosmos of art, they said.
The critics were very pleased with their own wit.
Although less pleased with the critics’ wit, the poet did accept their praise. She gave readings and her voice made the heavens she created dance and the bodies she described pulse. The poet was at her best with longing. A roguish smile passing over her lips in time with a suggestion of carnality was the hat that longing wore, making itself festive in the face of a desire it would never fulfill.
After a reading, a man approached the poet. He was impossibly handsome, his manner smooth but so earnest, so reassuringly earnest. He was John D. Cavendish, he said, founder and CEO of some company of which the poet had never heard, and he believed in her genius. He funded an artists’ retreat—he showed her the websites, the correct forms to fill out to apply. He was afraid she would have to apply; there was a Board, and it must be sated, but she was a shoo-in after the publication of Alignment. He showed her his copy, a hardcover dog-eared on many pages. Charmed and enraptured by the opportunities the retreat offered, the poet applied. She got in. She was pleased and flushed with excitement when John (“Call me John”) came to collect her himself in a black town car headed for a chartered plane to take them somewhere near Tahoe.
But this was not Tahoe. This was a world of black, infinite night and globes of golden light that formed a non-Euclidean constellation of warped space in the endless nothing. Perhaps the object-place-thing? moved through the black; perhaps it did not. But as it rearranged itself, which it did constantly, it chimed: sometimes gently, sometimes with a clangor so loud it could make you gasp with pain.
He was her Astrophel to her now, and he called her his Stella. He shone golden as his chiming palace. His eyes were totally black. He smiled. He wore a single perfectly round golden pearl drop in one ear.
When he took her to his bed, she fell out of the golden light and the hard, safe spheres and into the endless night. There she choked and died over and over while he whispered in her ear about little deaths and how beautiful, how beautiful she was when she became cold and white as the light of a star as he killed her in each climax.
Her bedchamber was in one sphere. It muffled the chiming; her whole sphere (usually) muffled the chiming, in fact, for which she was grateful. Below her bedchamber was a study in the middle of a strange conservatory: there was a desk and a few chairs in a gazebo in a piece of forest that might have been near Tahoe. “I promised you,” said her Astrophel, smiling with his mouth and without his inky eyes. If she touched anything but the objects in the gazebo, the gazebo itself, or the spiral staircase, she found it was really all golden mist.
The study was below her bedchamber, even though she frequently found her spiral stairs Escheresque in their direction and path. “Below” was fixed against time and space somehow. Her library—huge, and always full of what she needed and wanted, and frequently also what she hadn’t known she needed or wanted—was also “below,” at the “bottom” of her sphere. The library, she felt, was like a sphere unto itself within her sphere, but it was the outside of the inner core. She did not know what was inside. She tried not to think about it.
She wrote poetry, sonnets to her Astrophel. Borrowing the motto of the state in which she had grown up, she titled the sequence Ad Astra per Aspera. It began with Dorothy speaking to Oz of the storm that took her away. Oz told her to click her heels, for there was no place like home. The Emerald City became a city of golden crystal. She wrote that after the first year (perhaps), anticipating her Astrophel’s coming, the deep surge of him as he rewarded her work and killed her. And when she was very good, he would sing her poems back to her before taking her in his arms and hurling her into the dark and the cold.
Time went unmeasured; she slept when she was tired and her face did not change. Her days were counted in her Astrophel’s visits to her study, where he read her screaming, exultant, terrified, tortured, sweet love of him. He also read what she did not know she wrote or felt: desperation for a home she neither remembered nor, so far as she knew, wanted. That amused her Astrophel. Those sonnets always went into the box that sat at the right front corner of her desk. The ones he did not like (there was no telling which would suit him until he read them) were pushed slowly onto a spike at the left front corner of the desk. The paper would scream in pain. Her Astrophel’s eyes would grow blacker and he would smile.
“You know how I love you.”
She would say nothing.
Though she never left her sphere, she knew it was more or less at the center of the others and the sickening vortex of their constant rearrangement. A minotaur guarded the only way in. he did not sleep; he only prowled brutishly. When the paper screamed, she would go to her bedchamber and lie on the bed listening to his heavy tread on the steps. As he fucked her, she wept, for she had failed. (The minotaur for his part was quite gentle and tried to get things over with quickly. It was more like fucking a beautiful dead thing than it wasn’t, except for the sobbing, which was especially hard on Ken the minotaur, formerly Ken the motivational speaker.)
Praised with death, punished with the torture of her words and an act that parodied the praise she craved, she tried with her every breath to inspire that praise and stared into the blackness for her own inspiration and cold hope.
She did inspire. Ken the minotaur also saw the blackness around them. He studied the movements of the spheres. He came to understand the way out. Once, the Keeper, colder than cold, told the minotaur to go once more in the bedchamber. They both deserved it, he was sure, but this time he could not be bothered to watch—good-bye. Alone with her, Ken the minotaur softly and through thick bull slobber told her that this was all very bad—so very bad. They must leave. And he told her so softly, so thickly every time her Astrophel left them as Ken made her cry. Eventually she heard him.
Ken the minotaur worked out that the spheres grew louder when their master was gone, their spinning more intense. He told her. She listened, and so did he. In time, he heard a hideous scream from her sphere and she staggered to him, clutching a box and a bundle of papers that bled slightly from a hole at their center. Ken picked her up and ran. She slept, she thought.
Stella, she thinks. I’m Stella. I was a poet once. She has two boxes of poems to prove it.
Now, two years after the book was published, Elizabeth Ashley is a children’s librarian in Superior, her gift for poetry apparently gone. Such a shame. Stella—Stella Nox—has also lost her gift for poetry as such.
Kind of dead inside.
If she met her Keeper, the result would be . . . not so good. She still associates him with praise, with good work, with desire, with all she wants, but she knows definitively that it is bad. She does not want to go back, but she longs despite herself.
As horrific as Arcadia was, there was good in it. She got to be a poet burning with inspiration and ability, and she got to read a world of whatever she wanted, to immerse herself in words and ideas. She was words (and praise and punishment).
Most people see a woman who is about five feet, four inches tall and more slender than she is feminine. Her eyes are hazel and bright with gold flecks, and her black hair is always knotted at the nape of her neck. Her clothes are almost Grecian in their drape and cut.
In reality, Stella is eight inches taller and even slimmer, with marble-white skin and eyes that glitter like pyrite. Her hair is deep black; however, it does not drink light, but rather, like the tired metaphorical raven’s wing, has a blue sheen.
No longer a poet; still an exceptional writer, but can only ghost write or write about others. Especially good with obituaries. Can make the most unimportant person seem great and worth emulating. Others can grieve for strangers through her words. Also very good at writing about important people in a way that seems personal.
Almost pathological need for approval.
Can get a little hysterical-sounding as she tries to get people to like her, to say she’s good.
After she edits her own work, she has an intermediary work with the publication’s editors; she cannot handle the criticism without breaking down.
Prophecy: when fire is in the sky, your doom is nigh. (from Keeper)