She had the kind of glow that brought music to my mind and stillness to the world. Like candles burning atop gravestones her existence was a reminder to me that eternity awaited.
I would go to the edge of the forest every night to see her.
She moved between the trees and called me forth to her but I was struck still. Held fast to the fear that against her light, my darkness would turn her love into hatred.
One day the man in black appeared to me as I sat looking into the forest.
His presence chilled me to the bone.
“For her love, you must enter in when all the light goes out,” he spoke to me.
I thought him to be some kind of prophet and asked him how he knew this to be true.
He pointed to the stars, “It is written there. The two of you will burn against the night. As one.”
I pondered the statement and looked up at her.
She sang while she walked.
Still, the man in black lingered beside me. “It is her love that you seek, is it not?”
“Then you must enter in when the light goes out.”
I did not trust him.
“Why not now?” I asked, stammering in the delivery of the question.
He was right. Some part in me darkly restrained the advance. My mind burned for her. My heart exploded into fire for her. But I could not move.
“When will the light go out?” I asked
But he was gone.
Moments passed and I continued watching her.
I was beginning to hate myself for my inability to advance. I could not understand why I could not move. I did not understand why I could not even call out, or why when I did it was so faint that she could not hear or paid no attention to my calling.
Furious I promised never to return to her.
“For too long I have stared into the heart of my desires. For too long I have believed the lies of this forest. There is nothing to this light. She is a phantasm. I am a fool to come here.”
With those words spoken the man in black appeared to me.
That chill returned and he said nothing.
He snapped his fingers and her music stopped. I heard her let out a cry, like someone waking from a pleasant dream into a nightmare.
“Your darkness betrays her love,” he said to me. And then the lighted wood turned black.
I blinked and rubbed my eyes. She was gone but he, he was still beside me.
“Where – where is she?”
“Enter in. It is written in the stars that you will.”
I did not trust him. I did not like how he spoke to me. But I loved her. I had to find where she had gone.
I advanced slowly toward the edge of the wood and turned to look at the man.
Suddenly his cloak burst forth into a plumage of black feathers and a giant bird took his place.
I turned back to look into the blackness of the wood.
The bird flew before me to the edge of the wood and I entered in behind it.
Sticks cracked heavily under my footfalls breaking the cycle of my mind’s silent racing to find her.
Where was she? That love that I had seen, that love that I had cherished, that which had rendered me immobile but had set my heart aflight.
I reached forth with my hands extended before me and felt the damp bark of the trees.
I moved around them listening for the fluttering wings of the bird, my only guide.
But with each footstep, I felt more and more gravity in my heart. It was a weight I had never felt before, for I had cherished the comfort of her presence. I had gorged the appetite of my soul’s desires to its fill and now, now I was to learn of love’s starvation. Now I was left to face the darkness I felt unworthy to show her.
The light of the bird disappeared and the man in black drew beside me again.
“What do you hope to find in these woods, Vulture?” he asked.
“Why do you call me that?” I asked confused.
“You are a vulture. You feast upon her death in the night. You rehearse the memory of who she was to you. You exhume her love. It gives you life.”
His words pained my heart. It did not feel right to me to be called that. I did not trust him.
That cool presence washed upon me and added a cold fire to my heart’s aching.
“I know not anymore whether to believe what you say or not,” I replied wearily.
“For years you gazed upon her face, feasting on a love that are not worthy of. She is a dove. You are a vulture. In time you will come to see the truth.”
I leaned against a tree to catch my breath and felt nauseous. Now more than ever, the weight of darkness was in my heart. Like a cave opening beneath a pool of moonlit water everything that had reflected love was draining from within me. I needed her there, but she was gone. The lighted wood of my desires was black.
The man spoke again, “You made her up then. You’re simply insane.”
“No,” I replied. But I did not trust my own words.
“Yes. Yes, you made her up. The love you gazed upon you imagined. Soon you will come to recognize the nature of your fallen wings, Vulture.”
I grew angry at him, “You told me to come into the forest. You promised me -”
But he was gone.
Only the chirping of the insects broke the silence.
“Where are you?”
There was no reply.
I pushed back off of the tree, feeling the darkness of my inmost being setting into my eyes. All was lost. The very meaning for which I lived was a lie.
I shook the idea.
“You damned liar.” I spat, “Come back to me!”
But the man did not appear.
With a clenched fist I took a few more paces.
Finally, I had broken into a clearing in the wood.
A paper moon hung in the sky and illuminated the opening in the wood. It’s light reminded me of her.
The very thought brought me to my knees. I missed her. I needed to know she was ok. I needed to see her smile again. But she was gone.
It felt as though my body was melting into the ground.
Then I heard them call me.
I looked up and saw a man armed with a spear eying me with violent intent.
Another man shouted, “This battle is between us Wolf!”
On the other side of the clearing, another man looked upon me, also clutching a spear.
“Stag, do not be a fool. Do you not understand the consequences of our finding him? All will end now. If we allow this to come to pass everything will end.”
“We are powerless against fate. We must honor our responsibility,” replied Stag.
Wolf spat and drew near to me.
Stag came to my side as well.
“Why do you call me Vulture?” I asked them.
Wolf lowered his spear to my throat, “He doesn’t even know that he is the Vulture. This is not the will of fate. We should slay him and return to our war.”
Stag placed his spear to the throat of the other warrior and spoke to me, “You are the Vulture of love’s vision. You are the watcher of divine love. You are the promised end to our eternal conflict.”
“I rather like our conflict” growled Wolf.
The tip of his spear cut into me a little, but I felt nothing. I felt as though nothing they were saying mattered. That without love, nothing mattered.
“I don’t understand,” I replied breathlessly.
“Innocence tempered by wisdom born of suffering is the perfect judge,” replied Stag.
“Judge us, fool!” shouted Wolf.
“You are our judge,” added Stag.
Just then the branches around us rustled and from beyond them burst forth a male stag with seven points. Behind it a large wolf gave chase.
It leapt upon the stag’s back, dug its jaws into the back of its neck, and brought it to the ground.
Both warriors fell to their knees and dropped their spears at the sight.
The three of us watched the stag struggle to fight back but eventually it fell to its death to the wolf.
I turned to look at the man with the stag tattooed onto his skin.
He was breathing heavily, sweat beaded atop his forehead, and tears fell from his face.
The other warrior wore a look of zealous delight on his face. He laughed maniacally as other wolves appeared.
“I came to this forest to find my love,” I whispered.
“You came to the forest to judge us,” replied Wolf. “Now, judge – who is the strongest God on the island of fate. The wolf, or the stag?”
I found myself both attracted to and repulsed by the dark delight with which he spoke his words. For he spoke them with the kind of knowing I so longed for in my own heart. The kind of knowing she had reinforced in me when I looked at her. But it was also the kind of knowing that told me that this life was meaningless without her.
The other warrior spoke, “You will find your love. It is a consequence of your decision. Judge us.”
His words gave me hope.
“How shall I judge you?” I asked.
Wolf stood upright, “Surely my God is stronger than his God! He has torn his God to shreds! Look at how we feast upon the flesh that is weaker than our own! Look at how we hunt them down and conquer them!”
The other warrior stood upright, “Surely my God is stronger than his God. For with his life, with his sacrifice – he nourishes the very life within them! Without the blood sacrifice of my God, there would be no life in him!”
Wolf poured wine into his cup and handed it to me, “Drink from my cup. My God is more powerful.”
Stag poured wine into his cup and handed it to me, “Drink from my cup. My God is the giver of life.”
“I do not want to drink from your cup,” I replied. “None of it matters to me.”
“You are the Vulture. You must drink from the cups of death to live.”
“I do not wish to judge you. I do not care about living without my love.”
“Wolf became angry. You are bound by fate to drink a cup and judge. Choose!”
Stag too grew angry, “Surely you must understand that nourishment is the foundation of life. Choose a cup! Obey your fate!”
I felt nothing. I cared not for their ideas about their gods. All that I cared about had been lost in the darkness. The darkness that I had brought. The darkness that I feared the most. My own darkness.
Black feathers shuffled before my eyes as the man in black appeared in front of us.
He spoke coldly to me, “Choose or I will end your life. You are the Vulture. The love you gazed upon you are not worthy of. You must choose or I will kill you.”
His words broke what remained intact within my heart. I did not want to be responsible for her fading away into the night. I did not want to be responsible for it. He was right it was my fault but how could I have helped it? I was powerless to my loving her. How could I have done anything about my darkness. It had been within me. I grew angry.
“I am not your Vulture!”
“Choose!” the man in black yelled at me.
“I do not believe God to be just powerful!” I yelled at Wolf.
“I do not believe God to be just nourishing!” I yelled at Stag.
“And I do not believe myself to be a Vulture!” I yelled at the man in black.
Rage filled all of their eyes.
It matched my own.
“Kill me then! I will not drink!”
Pain struck both of my sides as their spears tore into me.
I heard him laughing.
I heard them all laughing.
The man in black laughed at the dead man in front of him. He laughed as the dead man began to take the shape of a bird.
He laughed as the feathers and beak appeared on the corpse.
He laughed up until the moment that the corpse erupted into fire.
For the love he slaughtered was not vulturous.
The island of fate was set ablaze and all of the fallen idols with all of their fallen ideals were incinerated.
The sky was filled in a radiant light.
The innocent man was not a vulture.
His love had not been a lie. He simply had to shed his darkness.
He woke to find her smiling eyes as she embraced him.
Their love was a Pheonix.
Charred and tattered the man in black retreated while the island burned away. He took shelter in a cave and died clutching his own scroll of fate. For he was the vulture and he was the only thing left remaining on the island for himself to devour.
Author’s note: Be sure to read the vulture if you wish to further understand the lessons within this narrative.