biography / the law of falling bodiesa mythology of a life well lived
You should never be in the company of anyone
with whom you would not want to die.
— Frank Herbert —
A glint of light was the only warning he had before the sound of metal twisting all around him and the splinters of fiberglass flew in every direction. There was a suddenness that materialized and sucked all the air out of the car as it was thrown up and over toward the median.
In the long seconds that followed, Bishop felt his stomach drop into the region of his scrotum. The sudden shock emptied his bladder into the seat and the warmth spilled over his thighs and under his buttocks. His heart felt as if it had stopped beating as the breath was knocked out of his lungs. Glass flew at his face, neck, and chest as the side windows and windshield shattered at the impact.
The smell of gasoline already had begun to fill his nostrils with the pungent scent of conflagrant possibilities. It was a smell that he had grown as nauseous of experiencing as he was familiar with it. In milliseconds he lived every wreck from the past in which he had been involved. Two, at least, were near-death experiences. Four others just severe enough to warrant a new car when the lawyers were finished haggling over the bloody details but only left him with minor bruises.
Of course, there was the incident of falling asleep at the wheel and running into the light pole that was all on him. He’d just jumped the curb, hit the pole, and passed out on his way to work. There was no blaming the cocaine coursing through his veins that morning, even though his long hair getting stuck in the headrest was the cause listed in the official report when he’d been finally pulled out of the wreckage and bandaged up by paramedics. They hadn’t even noticed he was high.
The memory and the reality of that taste in his mouth woke up his mind to the disaster spinning around him as his skull whiplashed back into the seat. He’d worn his dark red hair long nearly a decade now and of all the times for it to be inconvenient, now was not the time he would have imagined that possibility. It flew into his eyes becoming little lashes of stinging pain to accompany the popping in his neck that was competing with the cracking of his ribs as they began to break from the intense pressure of his body in motion against the doorframe.
The second thought that went through his head—the first being Whatthefu…?—was that death had to be looming somewhere nearby and just waiting for all the screaming, hand-wringing, and confusion of terrified human beings to be over or for his neck to snap, whichever came first. But there was no foreboding image of the Grim Reaper gliding through the air or gorgeous, ankh-wearing, goth chick standing on the side of the road waiting for him to finish his acrobatic death spin. There were only flashes of darkness and light, suspension and force, alternating as the car continued to spin from impact.
It was in the slow-motion of flipping over and over in the air that a realization of someone else in the car with him set in his mind. The impact had not even jarred the dark figure in the slightest from where it sat beside him. Even as the car began a roll in the air, the stars coming into view as a blur of pinpricks through the now shattered window, and the moon staring down at him in all its full glory like an accusing eye, Bishop could tell that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t death. It wasn’t even salvation.
The Penitent sat beside him and dispassionately observed the panic that was settling in—or was it expelling from?—his bones. For a moment, as the car rolled upside-down in the air, the skirt of his onyx cassock began to rise—or was it falling?—and the gleaming buckles around the hem began to find gravity in motion but with the speed of a fly trapped by honey. Indeed, to anyone that may have been able to observe the microseconds of that moment, it would have appeared that a small smile opened and proffered a quick view of gleaming, sepulcher-white teeth that punctuated the shadowed face as the man smoothed the robe back down into place. The folds of the robe stayed unmoved as if rebuffing the chaos that strained against gravity and sanity.
“Bishop,” The Penitent said in a low, gruff monotone voice that grasped power from the very chaos in the air and held it with authority. His words were resolute and palpable. “Bishop, you have to look at me. Over here. Yes, over here now.”
Bishop turned his head and tried to keep his focus on the dark figure, but he saw the moon once again begin to traverse beyond the broken windshield. As his eyes glanced at the pale orb in the sky, he knew that meant the car was upright but still in its spin through the air. How can this be, he thought.
His eyes shifted back to the man in the seat next to him. The man had lifted his hands to his cowl and was pulling it back and away from his head. In the crisp light of the moon, Bishop could see the scarlet curls fall out of the hood and down across the figure’s black, leather-clad shoulders, spilling like sacrificial blood over a dark altar. Bishop realized all motion had ceased around him. There was a sense of quiet that was unnatural. He saw particles of glass and steel and even his own body parts suspended motionless in the air.
“Bishop.” The Penitent spoke again. His hand—wrapped in leather phylacteries that appeared to be ancient in origin from his palm all the way to his upper forearms—reached out toward Bishop and his fingers curled inward so that he might touch him with only his index finger. When that finger made contact with Bishop’s freckled bicep, there was a flash of pain and serenity that washed over the latter’s mind. Bishop felt the grey matter start to separate inside his skull as memories congealed and squeezed out through his synapses. His mind fractured in shock and terror.
Bishop tried to scream to be set free from the accident in progress, but his brain garbled his thoughts and let out only some silent, infernal gibberish that was of no import.
The Penitent spoke again. “Are you listening?”
“Yes.” It’s all Bishop could spit in half a whisper from his bloodied lips.
“Good,” said The Penitent. “Be still.”
Bishop didn’t know if the command was aimed at the reality around him or aimed at him directly. It seemed everything else was already unmoving, suspended from animation, waiting to take that breath again to finish the destruction it was in the midst of revealing.
He reached out for the dark figure next to him, touching the leather and cloth covered arm, the last vestiges of feeling splattering in small red drops into the air as he directed the only word he could utter. “Why?”
Then the universe went black in an instant.
Draft excerpt from
The Law of Falling Bodies—Book I: The Bastille
©2017 The Scarlet Carnival Trust.
*A note about the numbering here:
- Book I: The Bastille runs backwards in chapter numbering— Epilogue to Chapter 0.
- Book III: The Beloved is the opposite, running— Chapter 0 to Epilogue.
- Book II: The Bishop uses Roman numerals for chapter headers.