Sympathy for the Devil

sftextures.com

A plain stretched out before me, void and lifeless.

Is this Hell? I wondered.

Something must have gone wrong. In the first place, I had told Sadie to go to Hell, so what I was doing there was quite beyond me. But even when I’d said it, I hadn’t meant it literally. Obviously. Who does? I must have been really concentrating, though; I was pretty mad. Still, that didn’t explain how I ended up there.

But there I was, on that void and lifeless plain. I looked around. The ground was the texture of dry soil, a sort of faded mushroom shade that reminded me of retirement residence walls, and was dotted with blackened stumps. The sky was the same taupe colour, but smooth. That was it. Void, as I said.

I began walking. I didn’t know where I was headed, or if there even was a place to head. But what else could I do? My watch had stopped working and there was no sun, nothing to separate day from night, so I wasn’t sure how long I walked but at some point, the sound of a throat clearing interrupted my thoughts.

Was that me? I wondered. But I kind of knew it wasn’t. I mean, I wasn’t crazy.

“It’s not actually Hell, you know,” said the voice which had moments ago cleared itself. It – he – sounded indignant.

“Ok,” I replied cautiously, looking around. “Who are you?”

“Is that really the question you’d like to ask me? If I granted you one question, would that be your choice? You should think carefully before you speak. Don’t just go blurting things out as they pop into your head.”

I was too surprised to snap at him. Usually I wouldn’t accept that kind of attitude but on the odd chance that I really could ask only one question – anything was possible considering I was conversing with a disembodied voice in Hell – I stopped to consider.

Where was I? How did I get there? Why? When could I go back to my life? I must have pondered my choices awhile because a frustrated sigh roused me from my reverie.

“Decided yet?” asked the voice. I had the impression he was drumming his fingers somewhere on another plane of existence.

I thought I’d start with one question and hope I could wheedle the rest of the answers out of him after.

“You don’t really pay attention, do you?” He asked. “I can read your mind, remember? Insolent brat.”

Whatever. “Fine. Where am I?”

“On a plain.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“With your attitude that’s all you should really be able to get out of me. I could leave you here to wander indefinitely. Come back to you in, say, fifty years.”

He paused for dramatic effect before sighing again. “Ok, you’re in the Otherworld. And it’s not the colour of mushrooms, it’s the colour of disintegrated bones.”

“You mean the Underworld?” I clarified, ignoring his colour distinctions for the moment.

“NO!” His voice boomed. “I mean Otherworld! As Lord of the place you’d think I’d know what it was called!”

“So, this is Hell! And you’re…the Devil?”

His echoing silences were unsettling, more-so than the disembodied, irritated voice. I could imagine him leaving me alone for fifty years.

After a more protracted silence, the voice replied, speaking very slowly, as though I was of limited intelligence.

“I am the Lord of the Otherworld. The Devil and Hell are the stuff of storybooks, but this, as you can see, is not. This is real. And it is where you are. I thought maybe you’d learn a lesson with all this. Think before you speak. But clearly you’re not capable of that. You must be the most irritating creature who ever landed in my domain. I’m done with you. I’m sending you back. May you have a long and healthy life. I don’t want to see you for a very long time!”

Before everything went black, I thought I saw the plain suddenly transform; there were flowers and trees everywhere and a brightly coloured sky. I had just enough time to wonder whether he had made it appear lifeless to make a point, or to scare me. But then I passed out. When I woke up, I was lying on a sidewalk and Sadie was shaking me. She looked scared. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, though. All I could hear was deep-throated laughter ringing in my ears.

Stillness

Everything is still. Nothing moves. The wind blows in off the sea but the grass holds still without a rustle, the meadow flowers have stopped their dance, the birds are suspended as if held by invisible strings, coasting on currents of air.

I am up high, as if at the top of the world – or on the edge of the world – clinging to a jagged rock that rises out of the sea. This rock I cling to, it seems to come from nothing, with nothing in sight, no horizon, just the continuous blue of sky mixed with sea.

From up here, though the waves crash with dramatic force far below, their heaving whitecapped fury appears frozen, unmoving.

All is still. A moment ago, there were others, scaling the cliff faces, tottering up and down the ancient stone steps, steps worn away through the ages and by the shuffling of feet – first the feet of the few monks who lived here, now the feet of the thousands of tourists who flock to this historic and religious site.

In this moment, though, I am suddenly alone. It is as though the others have melted away, or perhaps they were never actually here.

I am partway up the craggy rockface. The man-made steps from another time, another millennium, are so narrow that I must place my feet on them carefully, almost sideways. I am climbing slowly, with only the puffins now as my audience, their round little white bellies and bright, multicoloured beaks dotting the brown and grey rocks here and there.

I do not look down. My heart beats wildly.

Behind me and to each side is a sheer drop, hundreds of feet below to what I know are churning, briny waves.

But up ahead, just over the next turn in the stairs, I can see the edge of an alpine meadow. It rests in a crook between two jagged peaks.

I continue my climb up to the meadow and am rewarded with a breathtaking view. Short wind-swept grasses are dotted with tiny white field flowers. The two peaks rise on each side and, like protective walls, they block the strongest ocean winds. Between these rock faces, out beyond the edge of the meadow, is the other side of the ocean. From this vantage point, too, it disappears into blue oblivion.

For a moment, I lie down in the meadow, unwilling to tackle the last leg of the climb to the top. Despite my fear of heights, I have made it this far and I know that when I can gather my courage and continue to the top, I will be rewarded. There, I will be able to touch history.

enchantingireland.com

Monks founded a monastery at the top of this island, possibly as early as the 6th century. Searching for peace and a hermit’s religious life, they climbed into their boats one day and rowed out to this imposing rock, somehow climbed to its peak and, using the stone they found here, built six beehive huts, two oratories, a graveyard and small terraces facing out over the sea. And here they remained until the 13th century.

They grew vegetables on the terraces and survived on these, fish and eggs from the island birds. They also built three wells.

While there is no evidence that it was ever used prior to the arrival of the monks, it feels as though it must have been. There is a myth which tells of the 1400 BCE burial of Ir son of Milesius. More than that, this rock is found in the extreme west and therefore consigned to all that the west in Celtic lore represents – the Otherworld, the afterlife, the place of the gods and magic. Standing here, it is easy to understand why. I can almost see the gods of the sea and the sky clashing in epic battles stretching back forever in time.

Eventually, I pull myself up from the comfort of the grass and continue my climb up the steepening stony staircase. At the final approach, the stairs almost flatten and the land to the side falls away. The drop is paralyzing.

I make my way across the final stretch, nothing more than a ledge on the verge of nothingness, and pass through a stone “doorway.”

acepix.blogspot.ca/2010/12/15-amazing-monasteries-sanctuaries-and.html

Inside the settlement, there is evidence of humanity everywhere, yet it is a soundless and abandoned humanity, cloaked in that noticeable stillness.

The site was meticulously constructed and the carefully-placed hand-hewn stones seem to be exactly as they were left a thousand years ago.

There is a prehistoric beauty here. The stillness is a stillness of the ages. As nothing appears to have moved over the centuries, it is as though even the winds and the rains have not touched these stones.

Standing here, looking out across the blue, I feel time flash backward and forward, and then stop completely as though it has been so for centuries. I feel the power of nature, a coiled energy in the stillness.

As I turn to begin my descent, it is not the shadows of monks I see against the stone walls, but that of a powerful priestess, arms raised, head thrown back as she commands the wind and the rain, the sky and the sea.

In that brief flash, the stillness is momentarily broken and I can see how savage and wild it can be out here.

And then, the shadow is gone, the roaring ceases and all is still once more.

Wikipedia

 

Daily Prompt: For a moment today, time stands still — but you can tweak one thing while it’s stopped. What do you do?

Related sites:

https://sacredsites.com/europe/ireland/skellig_michael.html

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