This is the sixth installment of Duessa, a 12,000-word allegory (of sorts). I’m posting a new installment on each of the twelve days of Christmas, wrapping up on January 5th. See the previous five here.


She found herself again on the floor and stood.

She felt stronger through the next few crossings, though the candles grew dim, and she suspected moving shapes in the shadows of the vase, the table. She reached the final piece with no further event. But here a different problem faced her: underneath the table, instead of the painting, was a large, curled, hard-skinned black lizard. It appeared to be sleeping, or perhaps even a statue, except that its gold eyes darted back and forth.
She cautiously stepped a little bit closer to the table. The lizard did not react with so much as a twitch, so she came up to the table and picked up the fragment.

As she was adjusting to its weight, so quickly she did not even see the movement, the lizard whipped its head around and sank its teeth into her ankle.

The pain was sharp, and it was not delightful, as _his_ touch had been, however cruelly, to her dragon form. Now, as she felt the burning of the poison around her wound, she found perfectly clear in the candles near her faces, faces in terrible pain.

She saw the eyes meet hers, the lips move, and a flickering, silent voice spoke in her mind: “I burn–I burn. Will you not free me?”

“Free us! We should run in green pastures, leap and laugh, joy and play in the rivers, eat of the fruit of the trees.”

“The trees with their cool, cool shade.”

“How?” she asked, though she wasn’t sure she could move.

“Blow us out! End us!”

“They will not let us end.”

“They have caught us here and made us burn.”

“We were not light before–we must be now.”

“That can’t be right,” she said, “there’s something you don’t get. I swear, I’ll tell him, I know he’ll help you.”

“She is theirs, it is hopeless.”

“Do you think to be indulged forever?”

“Oh, move more slowly, the wind blows up the flame. Who are you, that your carelessness should be our anguish?”

“What do they love her for, as they do not love us? ”

“For her life.”

“For her fawning love of them. That outweighs everything.”

“The flame saves us from the dark. When we burn down it will have us for its own.”

“But what do you want me to do?” she asked, sinking to the ground under the weight of the fragment.

There was no answer.


Candle people are souls in hell. I honestly don’t know what’s up with the lizard, except that at one point I nicknamed it the Christian Science Monitor.