Chapter 49 from the Ama audiobook
Although the woman moved with youthful poise, the deep web of lines on her face alluded to her unfathomable age. Her long silver hair flowed like mercury, scintillating in the rare light as it hung down over her humble Victorian dress: a gothic gown of subtle crimson waves covered in tatters of black lace. “Hello, Jason,” she said with a gentle voice.
“You know me?” he asked, and felt sure he knew her too.
She offered a warm, honest smile, as she replied, “Oh, yes. I know you all.”
As her gaze met his and he saw a familiar flash of blue lightning in her eyes, recognition dawned. Although it appeared that ancient time had laid claim to her other features, her crystal-clear gemstone eyes shone through her disguise like beacons for his despair. There was no doubt in his mind that this old lady was the demoness. He wanted to run, but what would be the point; he was a bug and could be swatted by her anytime she pleased.
“Lilith,” he said, with dispirited resignation.
“Oh dear, she’s an awful horror, isn’t she.”
He saw no aggression in her demeanour and heard no malevolent intent in her soft voice. “You’re Ama?”
“Yes. That was the first word spoken by my flowers.” She studied Jason for a moment and then traced the rough contours of one of the large stones with a gentle skeletal hand. “They built this for me. They would call to me. Come, Ama. Come and see our children play. The little ones danced around these stones and sang to me. So happy, so beautiful… So long ago.”
Jason felt his thoughts slipping away from him as his memories became diluted and vague. He shook his head and wiped a hand across his brow. “Is that what you were singing? It sounded… hypnotic.”
The woman had a look of thoughtful melancholy. “They used to sing to call me, now I sing to call them.”
Jason fumbled with his stubborn thoughts. “Lilith, she is..?”
“My anger.” The woman finished his sentence for him. “Sorry to say. But let your fear sleep, Jason, because she won’t come here.”
“Your anger?” He shook his head again and squeezed his eyes shut as if this would force some understanding. “Your anger has its own body, separate from yours?”
“Yes. I cast her out long ago. I would have her depart the universe entirely, but her existence is not mine to determine. So now she wanders among the shadows.”
He looked at the raised relief of a crocodile on the face of the stone next to him and then looked at the other stones and saw more animals carved in simple splendour: small mammals, birds, and other creatures he didn’t recognise. He tried to speak, to think, but his thoughts came slowly and in a jumble. “I… Can you… help me?”
“Oh, my dear, no. I can’t do that. This is the way it has to be, to sort out all the chaos.”
“Yes. The disorder that came from my silliness. Silly, silly, so silly. I did something I ought not to have done and time is now tarnished. The universe was perfection, Jason, now it’s full of twists and turns, dead ends, and general foolery. It needs to be put right, and I’m to see that it is.”
“Hell is your fault?” he asked. Then he sat down and leaned back against one of the large stones; he felt dizzy and weak. With swimming eyes, he looked at the outer stone circle and realised that it wasn’t spherical white stones that sat atop the pedestals but bleached white skulls.
“Hell is the decay,” she continued. “A place for all the chaos to dwell until it’s sorted out. Time can’t have all these deviations.”
Derwood was right, he thought, she is mad.
“Oh, no. I’m not mad. I’ve been here a long time and talked to many people, people like you, and you all say the same things. It’s enough to drive you mad, but I’m not mad—as an eel or any other curious thing. If you could hear the voices I can hear right now… Well, let’s just say it would be too much of a deafening cacophony for you to bear.”
She is Lilith, he thought, and seeing my mind with more clarity than I am. He noticed that she was speaking again. How long had she been talking? He watched her mouth move, but it was a moment before his ears registered any sound.
“… Life was magnificent in its simplicity. It was such a magical thing—His greatest creation. I wanted your kind to see its beauty, that’s all.”
“This is all because of something you did?”
“Yes. You were part of something wonderful, but you couldn’t see it for yourselves.”
“If it’s your fault, why am I, why is anyone, being punished?”
“Oh, no. No, Jason, it’s not you who’s being punished. The atonement is mine. Hell is for me to see my mistake, to see the muddle I caused. God plays no part in your suffering.”
“Why then am I in hell? Why is your psycho alter ego doing her thing?”
“Jason, you and people like you are the mistake. Lilith torments you because she is… Well, she’s not very nice. Hell is not supposed to be a place of suffering, but she likes it that way.”
“I thought you said I was part of some amazing plan. Some magical thing. His greatest creation.”
“You were, until I gave you the gift. Then you became something else, analogous to a virus which proliferates its anarchic nature through time. Perfection cannot be unpredictable.”
“I’ve gone from God’s greatest creation to a virus, because of your… your silliness?” He laughed but soon stopped when it became a sob.
“I don’t mean to upset you, Jason, but lies don’t help things move along.”
Jason sniffed back his tears, and then sighed as he rested his head back against the stone. “I’m sorry. I’m trying to understand, but right now my mind seems to be part of the chaos.”
“That’s because your memory is fading.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have a chance to live again, so you’re fading and will soon wake up in your new life. This is what happens before you go. I’m sorry this is happening to you. I wanted to share the universe with new eyes, that was my intention. Don’t you think life is wonderful, Jason?”
“Yes, it is,” he said, as his disintegrating thoughts fell away, leaving nothing but Emily within view.
“She’s a beautiful girl, Jason.”
“Yes, she was.”
“Jason. She is a beautiful girl, and she is a beautiful, loving woman. Like you, there are variants of her that have done terrible things, but there are so many more good than bad, again like you.”
He looked up at the old woman and wondered if his mind was playing tricks again, or whether she had just spoken complete gibberish.
“Life used to have such a simple driving force,” she continued. “Once born, it looked for food, it reproduced, and then it died. That was all it did and all it wanted to do. Beautiful simplicity. Then I let you choose for yourself what path you took, and that’s when it all went a bit awry.”
Jason became aware that he was leaning to one side like a drunk, so he pushed against the ground to straighten himself once more. “What are you talking about?” he asked, working hard not to slur his words.
“Everything that can happen will happen. Every life that can exist will exist. Complex but understood and expected. But when I gave you choice, I brought uncertainty to the universe.”
“I thought God knew everything.”
“He does, up to the point at which an original thought comes into existence. Which is why He never gave you free will; He would be unable to protect life from itself. God gave me the gift so I could love the universe as He does. I gave a vow that I would enjoy the splendour of life as long as I didn’t interfere. This was a promise I made and should have kept.”
“Sam told me you were Adam’s first wife?”
“Oh, dear me, no. You don’t want to believe anything a demon tells you. Lies are like food to them, and they are gluttons. They love nothing more than to play with you. Some are mischievous but harmless while others have evil intent and will work hard to destroy your soul.”
“Who are you then?”
“The most ancient of all demons.”
“Mischievous or evil? Don’t answer. Either way, I know I’m screwed.”
“I’m an exception to the rule, Jason.”
“So, I’m a mistake? All human life is a mistake?”
“From the moment I gave you the means to choose for yourself whether to turn left or right, yes. I did it with the best of intentions, but wisdom wasn’t there to guide me.”
“If you love us, why don’t you stop all the suffering? Why don’t you stop your other half, Lilith, from playing her sadistic games?”
“When your wife killed little Emily, why did you murder her?”
“I… I couldn’t stop myself…”
“You lost one life you loved, Jason. One life. One flower. I don’t stop Lilith because, like you, I can’t.” She walked to the centre of the temple.
As Jason turned his head to see where she was going, she began to sing. It wasn’t a song with words and rhyme, and it wasn’t a mere hummed repetition of sections of musical phrases. This was an intricate weave of pure emotion that teased the light as if plucking on the fabric of reality. A vocalised measure of absolute love. Ama called to her flowers, and soon one appeared before her.
Jason watched her caress its face. To confirm his assumption, he asked, “They’re people that should have lived?”
“And the visions I had when the three appeared in my garden?”
“A remnant of the life they should have had. They called me Ama, mother, and now I watch the descendants of my babies die before they can open their eyes for the first time. You lost one, Jason; my loss is infinite. That’s why my anger is and always will be vengeful to you and others like you.” She caressed the passive grey face one last time, stood back, and watched as it became a sparkling cloud of sand. She reached out for it as it rose away from her.
“I murdered my wife, but I didn’t intend for more to die.”
“It’s my fault, Jason, which is why God has banished me to hell to see the ugly nature of humanity. But I like talking to you all, seeing your thoughts, and trying to understand why you choose to do the things you do. You bring interesting things with you too. This dress came from a rather misguided woman who thought it would be beneficial to poison her entire family—a rather strange thought process. But it’s a lovely dress all the same. I collect things while waiting for the light to fade.”
“Each soul who comes here also brings a caretaker with them—Lilith shouldn’t treat them the way she does. They’re precious spirits who illuminate and work to bring order to the chaos. At the end of time, their light will fade and hell will sink into the darkness from which it came. Once I can no longer see these stones, I can leave this place.”
“How many lives..? How many descendants did I—?”
“The moment a life can exist in the universe, it will exist regardless of whether there is a place in time for it or not. It will either live a human life with experiences and love, or live entombed within the void of these statues. The instant I gave humans free will, the branches for possible life became infinite. You ended one life with your hands, Jason, but countless more with your deed.”
Jason tried to speak, but all that came was a crumbling sigh.