Friday, October 31, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Harrowing”

It is said that there are seven gates through which one must pass on the way to the underworld and that at each gate, one must discard an article of clothing to demonstrate one's vulnerability to the Ruler of the Underworld. Whether the rules were the same for men as well as for women, Theadora did not know. Nor did she know what became of one's clothing after it was discarded. She only knew that somewhere during the course of her journey, she had evidently miscounted. Either that or the sages were wrong -- there were eight gates through which she must pass.

At the first gate, she abandoned her shoes. The path before her was still strewn with small rocks and pebbles yet she deliberately chose to bare her feet before she bared any other part of her body.

At the second gate, she took off her earrings.

At the third, she slithered out of her skirt, and at the fourth, she discarded her blouse.

At the fifth, she unhooked her bra and walked topless into the increasing darkness.

At the sixth, she stripped off her stockings.

At the seventh, she shivered in the cold as she looked up at what had to be the largest gate she had ever seen in her life. The path was made of smooth stone now but that was not what bothered her. For after she walked through this gate, she would be naked. Not just naked, but butt-nekkid, nude, bare as a baby's bottom, sky-clad, naked as a jaybird, in puris naturalibus, wearing only a smile, clad in her birthday suit, in the altogether, adorned by air, decorated by dew, dressed in nothing and wrapped in emptiness. She had nothing more to abandon.

And yet on the other side of that gate, she came upon an even larger gate.

She rubbed her hands together and felt something on one of her fingers. But of course. Her wedding ring. She mumbled a quick prayer of forgiveness to her departed husband and took off the ring. She would never see this ring again, she thought. As it hit the stone ground besides her, the gate slowly opened and before her sat the Ruler of the Underworld. A figure that few people could view without going mad and that few madmen could view without going catatonic.

In a glacial voice the figure bade her step forward.

Theadora did so, shivering in the dark cold.

She knelt before the figure as the elders had taught her and murmured her prayer.

Then she waited.

After a wait in which every second seemed to take a century to pass, the Ruler spoke.

“What... do... you... want?”

“I want...”

Suddenly her throat went dry. What did she want? Part of her wanted to run away -- to scream and run back through the eight gates before it was too late. But that was too easy. It also seemed too much like the type of thing that the thing on the throne would want her to do.

She looked upon the unspeakable once again. Dared to look it in the eye. The thing was older than old, so wrinkled that Theadora could hardly tell if it were a man or a woman. It wore a wrinkled robe that threatened to fall apart any second and reveal the creature's nakedness. Its hair was just short enough to disguise its gender -- too long for a man, too short for a woman. Theadora got the feeling that the Ruler had been old when the Creator Herself had been young. She then got the feeling that the Ruler might even have once ruled the Upper World in a far older past, before its world was replaced by the present one and its powers confined to the world of the dead.

“I want my mother,” she said.

The Ruler smiled. It was an evil smile, one that hinted at infinite malice, but it was a smile.

Then the Ruler laughed. For centuries it seemed to laugh and then it would pause for a moment and start right up again.

Then it stopped.

“Are...you...sure?” it asked.

“I am,” said Theadora.

“Very...well,” said the figure on the throne. “Come... to... me.”

Theadora walked forward. The figure stood up, dropped its robe, and glanced down at Theadora, no doubt expecting an expression of shock or alarm.

Theadora refused to let the tiniest expression cross her face. Not even when the creature embraced her. Not even when it kissed her. Not even when it thrust its tongue between her teeth and its hands between her legs and pressed her upon the hard ground.

The ruler's embrace was cold. Very cold.

And then...

“Arise...” It said.

It sat back upon its throne and wiped itself with the remnant of its clothing. “Go... back... through... the... gates...

“By... each... gate... there... will... be... a... piece... of... cloth-... ing...

“Put... it... on....

“Do... not... look... back...

“If... you... ev-... er... re-... turn... here... a-... gain... you... had... bet-... ter... be... plan-... ning... to... stay...”

The ruler seemed to be smiling, but Theadora could not tell.

She turned, dabbed at the liquid between her legs, and walked up to the last gate.

There on the ground lay a ring.

She bent down to pick it up, not caring what sort of view she gave to the figure who sat behind her. As she put on the ring and walked through the gate, the mighty gate closed behind her.

Keep walking, she thought. Keep walking.

At the next gate, there was a scarf.

At the one after that, a pair of earrings.

Wait a second, she thought. I don't like this trend.

At the fourth gate, there was a pair of shoes.

Wait a minute, Theadora thought. It is almost as if it wanted me to stay naked.

At the fifth gate, there was a bracelet.

At the sixth, a pearl necklace.

At the seventh, a bra.

And at the eighth...

At last, she thought. A dress.

She ran forward into the sunlight.

Reached behind the gate to pick up the dress.

The gate closed.

Leaving her in sunlight...

And in the middle of a busy intersection.

“Wait a minute,” she thought. “I didn't enter through here. The Lord of the Underworld tricked me.”

As the eyes of a hundred passersby stared at her, she tried to put on her dress.

But as soon as she put it on, she heard...

“For heaven's sake, Theadora. How dare you act like that in public!”

She turned toward the voice.

Saw a pale figure standing in the middle of the intersection.

Then the gate re-opened and a mighty wind blew the figure away into the darkness beyond.

“Wait!” Theadora shouted.

The gate closed.

Nothing remained to mark its existence but her memory.

She was still pounding on the pavement where it had existed when the men in the white coats arrived.

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