One Lifetime

“Ah… There you are.”

Craig stood looking at the offending object in the mirror.  Someone had mentioned it the other day but quickly brushed it off as a joke.  But Craig had spent a little time each morning before work looking for the silver hair and this morning he found it.  Or rather found them.

It was worse than he thought.  Craig counted seven.  Seven silver hairs hidden among in his well maintained do.  It was not a good sign.  As he dug out the tweezers to remove the offending hairs he wondered whether he was vain enough to dye his hair.  It seemed extreme but, at 28, to have seven silver hairs seemed excessive and it worried him.

Perhaps it would be better to check his hair everyday and pluck the offending hairs as he saw them.  The plan had merit but as he grew older, he knew he would start to lose his hair.  And plucking wouldn’t help that situation.  It was a tough call – silver or bald.

As with every decision, there were pro and cons.  But both his decisions were heavy with cons and quite light on pros.  Tricky, tricky… He may have to think about it further.  No need rush into such a tender choice.  Time was not on his side but he did have a little bit to play with.  It was only seven silver hairs.

But still… Seven silver hairs… Need to think about this… Seven though…

 

Contact

My skin reflects shadows of the jungle. Deep jade greens and umber skip over my new surface, chasing each other like butterflies. My hand, its virgin nevus splayed between my fingers as if it wants to web, looks alien; a messenger from their world.

“Does it hurt?”
“Not really. It throbs a little.”

It swells and rises with the tides of another world. It feels their sunrise and the direction of their wind, wet and pregnant with spores. It thrives on the rhythms of alien moons as it gnaws its way up my elbow.

“Do you retain sensation? Do you feel this?”
“Yes. A stabbing pain. Sharp.”

The pain is like a story told by someone else, told to a hand that picks kauma berries from inside a ripe solar cluster, a meaningless story hardly worth repeating.

“You are very brave, Miss Levy. This mission is invaluable to – ”

The silver sheath is spreading up my shoulder. Every day, I am a little less human, a little more myself. Reflections chase each other up my breasts, down my shoulder blades: yellow flares like lantern eyes, the deep burgundy of the night sky. Electric bursts of lightning spread down my belly, tantalising and sharp.

“The Kaai expect you. They will probably send a ship. We don’t understand everything, but –“
“I’ll wait.”

There is a mirror in my room. I like its duplicity, its pretence of companionship. I look into myself through its warped surface, and I am looking into a jungle. The Kaai welcome me with sweet water and soft leaves.

They call me Silver, for the colour of the reflections of the cities of Earth that forever chase each other over the surface of my skin.

The path to silver

Where water and moon meet,

Where the waves lap at your feet,

There, distilled from salt and brine,

The path to silver you will find.

Moonlight turns things into silver; everyone knows that. What everyone doesn’t know is that it runs deeper than appearance. I didn’t know it until I came to the young witch. Normally I would never have gone there, and I still feel somewhat foolish for following her instructions, if that’s what you would call the rhyme she gave me. But I’m desperate. I need pure silver and it is surprisingly hard to find here. Or perhaps it is not that surprising, given who owns the land.

And that is the root of the problem. The only way to deal with them is pure silver and things go very wrong if there is any impurity. I looked everywhere, examined countless antiques, coins and household goods, but none of them was right. So I went to the witch. That was another surprising thing: I knew she was young, but she must have been about twelve. That’s what made her really creepy, and that, oddly enough, is why I think this will work. It takes power and knowledge to be that creepy, even for a child.

So, I will collect the things that wash out of the sea when the next spring tide and full moon meet. Then I will boil them down under the moonlight over a covered flame until all I am left with is pure silver. Then I will act.

Silver

He bends over me as I lie on the bed, gasping for breath: a dark-haired youth, thin and intense, but even through my panic I feel his shy charm, like one of the rarer gazelles. His hands on my throat are healer’s hands, long-fingered, gentle, fiercely precise. My breathing eases; the detached compassion of his gaze relaxes into a smile, but his face is drawn.

When we stand before the village for our handfasting it is only a year after our meeting, but there are white threads in his dark hair. He looks at me fondly, the pain of others already lining his eyes. He is difficult to love, but I have loved him from the first. I’m not sure he reciprocates, not in the way I feel: it isn’t in him. I don’t expect it.

Two winters later there is the fever in the village. He goes from house to house, his hands cooling and stilling the hectic blood of the sufferers. When it’s all over and most are saved, there are silver wings over his ears. He looks distinguished.

I am still a young woman when our daughter is born. As he holds her, his face alight, his hair has lost most of its dark. When the mayor’s son was dreadfully trampled by a horse he put him patiently back together, but he staggered from the room silver-haired and spent.

Now our daughter lies in the darkened room, five years old, fading fast. My love will go in to her, a white-haired old man. I will wait outside. She will come out to me, cured, and we will go on together, mother and child, without him.

All gifts have their price. He is happy to pay, but I find it hard.

Five-pointed star

I tip my hat back and take a gander at the clock on the far wall.
Time for me to make my rounds; make sure folks ain’t disturbed during the night.
I spit out some chewed-up nail, take my boots off my desk and pin my five-pointed star back on to my shirt.
Silver. Some kinda joke, I guess. From way back when the mayor appointed the first Sheriff.
I yank my holstered guns off the peg by the Wanted posters and tie the cowhide belt up in a solid knot.
Belt buckle’s been broken for a while now. Same engraved belt’s been worn for fifty years by this town’s lawmen.
I mosey on over to the safe, crank out the combination, pull out and load up the silver bullets.
No sense in waitin’. Don’t want to be caught fidgetin’ if I get spotted.
I take a swig from my hip flask, a special mix that Betsy at the Saloon brews up for us, and push myself out onto the streets.

Quiet. Like most nights.
Real bright, though. Full moon. Makes everybody act the fool.

My teeth start to itch as I reach the end of Main Street. I start to smell things a little stronger than afore. Someone’s just around the corner.
So I take another swig of the brew and draw my six-shooters.
I see the door of the Undertakers open, creaking some in the wind.
Dammit, Bill, I told you to fix that lock.
I round the corner and there he is, all hair and teeth and hunger.

I raise up my guns and do what I gotta do.

Steadfast

This is how one hunts.

One needs to equip tools. Tools do not make the hunter, but they provide the facility to surpass oneself. I don my caestus: the leather and metal straps that glove the hand. Mine are adorned with blades and spikes and were my brother’s gift to me. It’s fitting that I use them now.

When one hunts something more powerful than oneself, fear becomes a great beast that stalks you in its turn. Recognise your fear but practise detachment and equanimity; your mind must be free to focus on the tasks at hand.

Set aside reservations; you are a hunter with a role in society. You are paid well. 30 pieces of silver is often an adequate security for me. Yes, he is my brother, but he threatens this fine city amongst the clouds. There is no passage to our home here, no matter the depth of his search, the extent of his threats.

Alabaster is a soft stone; I remember Gabriel, when he first put on the mask, complaining about the care needed to avoid scratching its surface. The claws of my caestus easily cut through the alabaster of his mask, the only resistance coming from the parting of flesh and the catching of blade on bone.

Your heart may scream against your actions — it is a hunter’s task to ignore that shout, to bring to bear all of one’s skill upon one’s prey. Sorrow and shock do not serve you well when you need to act — they must be put aside, ignored, until you’re free to hide your sight behind tears.

Payment in full only comes upon successful completion of the hunt. There is no place for a failed hunter.

The Silver Bond

I look up from my knees into her dark eyes and reach into my pocket.

Gold, with a bulging sparkly rock, is the traditional choice. Gold is the softest metal: unchanging, eternal and above all else precious. Its dull, deep, yellow lustre has always called to mankind: the ageless symbol of material wealth. But this wasn’t the kind of valuable I had in mind.

The geek generation often chooses titanium: strong, light and uncorrodible. Its incredible toughness was unthinkable to the endless generations before us: a child of our technological genius. It is a better metal: made by us and for us. The flat perfectly machined gleam is elegant and sophisticated but cold. My offer is neither modern nor cold.

Instead I chose silver: the household metal; the metal of cutlery, coins and teapots. Kept as heirlooms but never in a safe; silver is the metal of men and not just kings.

This ring was fashioned from a Victorian shilling I had been given in childhood: good white metal, according to the silversmith, pure and true. The design was from an ancient Celt who, two millennia before an archaeologist unearthed it, had drawn those twisting lines to speak of betrothal.

Silver is reflective, the metal that heals and preserves. It is easily tarnished and easily cleaned. This ring, like me, will wear in the coming decades; and perhaps age and familiarity will deepen its beauty.

I pull the ring from my pocket and hold it up between her eyes and mine.
Smile.
And ask.