perceivall & the holy grail

* * *

of wardenclyffe castle only four towers remained, crumbling around a central spire that flipped off intruders, the final "fuck you" of its late inhabitants. written upon the walls, the filigree work of spiders and lichens told a story of ruination, and in the laboratory where the wizard tesla once bottled lightning and earthquakes, a laidly worm made her nest. heroes' tales like snakes' scales follow a pattern, a predictable script: the knight kicks down the door, draws his sword, names and declares his manly intent ("i am perceivall, the red knight, seeker of the holy grail"), and the shadows part like stage curtains before his adversary. so on cue slithered the laidly worm. her eyes were moonlit topazes, her skin armor-plated, her serpentine fury no product of natural selection but the stuff of magic. from her fanged maw issued sibilant syllables that shaped a rhyme:

"oh, quit your sword, unbend your bow,
and give me kisses three.
for though i am a poisonous worm,
no harm i'll do to thee."

perceivall was not going to take her word for it. he brandished his sword. he hacked, and hacked, and hacked with a hero's conviction, and he whacked the loathsome head of the laidly worm off her writhing body. then poised in her blood, he raised a hallelujah and an amen; all that was hers was now his for the taking... was this it? the end of his search? he'd heard that during lightning storms tesla's spire would light up like a beacon: a flare in the shape of the holy grail. would he finally fulfill his quest? he searched the worm's trove, overturning trinket after trinket, dollar store cabochons, carnival prizes bleeding stuffing, a puzzle box, a tea set, a pink diary with a lock. these he kicked away without further thought.

* * *

a page from the diary of a laidly worm:

in my lonely nights i'd imagined myself to be a stargazer with a heart of quicksilver, just a little mercurial, not fully lunatic yet. yet, and yet... the bet on sanity remained in my favor until that evening when the moon, in a singsongy tone, invited me to a game of tag. her song was undeniable, yet impossible, and for many nights i armored my reason with encyclopediac recitations: i contrasted the moon's mythological history with its geologic past, quoted neil armstrong, and even explored a footnote referencing a pink floyd album. but facts be damned, the nightly call persisted.

this is what i thought, then:

if the moon is, to me, made of mixed metaphors, tricks of reflective light, atmospheric conditions, and my melancholic state of mind... if i were to choose to chase her... i'd be cursed, because as a "mere" fluctuating notion she'd be forever unattainable. however. could i remain grounded? wouldn't the moon's gravity tug at my mental tides until i was driven to 1) the lunacy of pursuing "the one," or 2) the self-abusive use of temporary proxies? now consider all the moths who find second-rate moons in the form of sodium lamps or candle flames, and singe their wings for their folly. is this a cautionary tale about substitutes? identities subject to optical/mental/emotional aberrations?

i believe that i was once a woman before i was ever spellbound into this snakeskin. i hold a vague memory of a scorned husband hefting an executioner's axe. i may have been a gorgon before that, for i've often dreamed of my severed head mirrored in a shield. but the past is the past. i must look to the future. with consideration of my friend tesla's words that "matter and force are transmutable, and wrong the laws you thought immutable," i have begun to weave myself a cocoon wherein i will spin a pair of wings. for i have decided...

* * *

the holy grail was not here after all. but perceivall would not leave empty-handed: he pocketed five of the laidly worm's scales as a memento of his victory. he cleaned, honed, and sheathed his blade with thought to the other demons he'd confront on his quest. he navigated past the pools of blood in the chamber. he strode purposefully down the corridors. then the gates slammed shut behind him. as the dust resettled in his wake, the spiders again took up their embroidery. the pigeons reassumed their positions in their conclave. the ghost of a wizard readjusted his conical hat, and the bodiless voices endemic to the lost, abandoned corners of this world rejoined their chorus.

"oh, quit your sword, unbend your bow,"

sang one,

"and give me kisses three,"

sang another,

"if i'm made one by set of sun,"

sang a third,

"then won your quest will be."

sang the moon to an empty hall, to no one at all.

<--- the arthurian cycle

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