As Below, So Within

Submitted by Bree Kokiri to Contest #25 in response to: Write a short story about someone in the self-help aisle of a bookstore. What book do they pick up?... view prompt

I don’t know what would possess you to cut off all that gorgeous strawberry hair I gave you and dye it black. You look so washed out now. And another thing, your nails…have you been biting them again? That’s a disgusting habit! Ariana are you even listening to me? ARIANA!”

“Ari.” I mumble, subconsciously correcting my mother from my dazed state.

“I am NOT calling you that. I gave you a beautiful name, your grandmother’s name, and I won’t soil it by calling you…ugh…Ari.” She makes a soured scowl that brought me out of my protective daydream bubble. I hated visiting my mother. I hated how the entire visit always became a deeply rooted critique about everything she felt was wrong with me. There was plenty wrong with me…but I guarantee our lists were nowhere near the same. Where she would say I need to lose my sloppiness, my poor attitude, my unladylike mannerisms, I would say I have to lose my large breasts, my high pitched voice, and everything pink she’s managed to push off on me. But I wouldn’t expect my mother to understand the complex world of the transgender community, let alone accept that her daughter…er…son thinks they may have a place in it.

She let out a deep sigh and tried to take my hand. “Ariana, I just want what’s best for you. Life is hard on women who make a fuss. And you’ll never meet a man when you practically look like one yourself.” She looked into my eyes as they started to well. “Come now dear, don’t cry, there’s still time. You’re 25 years old, there’s still hope for things to turn around. Stay there a moment. I have something for you.”

The irony was totally lost on her. She thought I was crying from hurt, when really, that was the nicest thing my mother could have ever said to me. I look like the man I felt like inside. And I knew that was the closest she would ever come to saying something of the sort, even if she did mean it as an insult. She came back, holding a paper and a card. She took her place on the couch beside me.

“Now dear, I know you haven’t been an active member of the church for quite some time but…” I let out an audible groan, but she continued. “BUT Maryanne Grooper gave me this book shortly after your father passed, and it helped me greatly to rediscover who I am and trust in God to help me. I think…I hope it will do the same for you. I’ve since returned it, but I wrote the title down for you. ” She hands me a paper with the words “Let Go and Let God”. “I got a gift card from your Aunt Fay for my birthday for Books-R-Us, and I think you’d better have it to get yourself a copy. It should be in the self-help section.”

I don’t argue. It does no good, especially since she thinks she’s helping. “Thanks, Mom.” I say with a weak smile, and take the card. “I’d better get going…” I begin to stand. “The bookstore closes at 8, and I want to make it there before that so I can get this tonight.” I grin my most convincing smile as I head for the door.

“Oh! Well alright dear. It was lovely seeing you. Please, do stop by more often. Maybe look into some wigs…” She grimaced at my short, pixie cut hair. “Will do mom. Love you. Bye!” I pulled the door shut as she called back to me in echo. My blue 2012 Volkswagen Beetle made its usual groan as I turned on the engine. She doesn’t do well once the frost hits, and the brutal mid-December blizzard we just got was not kind to her. I push the CD in the player. “We Exist” by Arcade Fire plays as I pull out of the drive way.

Down on your knees…Begging us please….Praying that we don't exist….We exist!..We exist!

 

Win Butler sings straight through to my heart this time. “We Exist!” I echo back. “I exist….” I feel for the gift card in my jacket pocket, and make the left toward Books-R-Us. Of course I wasn’t getting that horrid Jesus book, but maybe a self-help book might point me in the right direction for all this “life path” stuff. I’m all for a positive point of view. And what could it hurt? I pulled into the lot and went inside.

“Children….biography…history…” I mumble to myself, scanning the rows.

“Can I help you, dear?” An employee approached me, apparently drawn in by my puzzled expression. “Uh…” I stammer, avoiding her eyes. “S..se…

“Oh! She exclaims. You’re here for the book signing with Antoinette LaVey! I told them they should have put her up front but they were afraid she was a bit too…Well, nevermind. She’s in the back, by aisle 6.”

I nod and give her a shaky “thank you”. Nothing like giving people a reason to think you’re a freak. Who is Antoinette LeVey? I scoff to myself. Did it matter? Anything was better than “Let Go and Let God”. I make my way toward aisle 6. Wedged between number 6 for self-help, diet, and nutrition and number 7, religion, there are a few people lined up in front of a table. As they scattered, I was able to catch a glimpse of the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. She was tall with perfect posture and shining raven colored hair. She wore a long, black, corset dress verging on Victorian but still somehow quite modern and chic. A plump, grandmother type woman stood beside her in a red cloak, hiding a brown jumpsuit underneath. I could only gape at the woman.

“We love your father’s work, and your book. You guys are legends! Thank you!” the girls in front of me squeal. And just like that…it was my turn. I stood before her, staring into her piercing dark blue eyes. I’d suddenly become totally mute, but she only smiled.

“Hello there. I’m Antoinette. And who might you be?”

“I..uh..I’m Ariana…er..Ari. I’m Ari!” I felt my face glow red hot with embarrassment.

She gave a soft chuckle. “Well Ariana-er-Ari, did you bring your own or will you be purchasing a fresh copy today, to be signed?”

“Copy?” I asked.

“Uh. Of my book? As Below, So Within? I assumed that’s why you’re here, unless you just came to look at me. In which case…stare on.” She smiled a devilish grin.

“Oh!” I blush harder. “I haven’t read it yet, but I came for some guidance today and I must’ve been lead her for a reason, so I’ll take a new copy. To Ari. Please.”

“Well, guidance you shall have, then. All things are possible through….”

“Please don’t say God…” I interrupt.

She laughs. “I was going to say determination and a great pair of heels.” Grandma handed her a copy of the books stacked by her, and she began to write. “To Ari. Stay…amazing…you…handsome…devil…Love A. LaVey…XOXO How’s that babe? Listen, if you enjoy the book, we’re having a little gathering to discuss. I’ll write the address in the back for you. Love to see you there.” She winked as I took the book.

“Gr…Great! Thank you!” I take a few steps back, bumping into the stand beside me. Antoinette just chuckled and blew me a kiss. “Careful sport.” She cooed. “I..I will be! Thanks again!” I swiftly make my way toward the exit, trying to play it cool, when I hear the familiar sales woman call out “You still have to pay for that, dear.” Ugh. Smooth like Ex-Lax…

I get home and flop on the sofa in my comfies, immediately drawn to the little black book sitting on my coffee table. My fingers gloss over the indented silver writing. “As Below, So Within”. I flip open to the first page.

“The first thing you should know before you begin reading this book, is that you are in control of your own destiny. This is just a simplified break down for those seeking a little guidance. Focus on following the Essential Rules whole heartedly. Keep in mind this book and its guidance won’t work if you aren’t willing to believe in it and put in the effort. That being said, remember, we are a family, and we want to see our brothers and sisters blossom. The community is always here to help if you feel lost. Here’s to you and your journey, beautiful seeker.”

Chapter 1: “Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked.”

Well that’ll be easy. Unsolicited advice grinds my gears.

Chapter 2: “Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them”

Also easy. I have no one to tell!

Chapter 3: “When in another's home, show them respect or else do not go there.”

That one may take some work…especially visits with mother.

Chapter 4: “If a guest in your home annoys you, expel them immediately until they show you respect.”

Another challenge. Can you say “pushover”?

Chapter 5: “Do not make sexual advances unless you are given obvious signal to do so.”

HA I don’t make advances even when signals are lighting up in my face!

Chapter 6: “Do not take that which does not belong to you unless it is a burden to the other person and they ask to be relieved of it”

Weirdest wording ever, but sure…no thieving. Got it.

Chapter 7: “Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.”

Okay there Harry Potter, slow it down. I think I’m safe in that department.

Chapter 8: “Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.”

Ooof okay, this one will definitely take some work.


Chapter 9: “Do not harm little children.”

Yikes, did we really have to specify that??

Chapter 10: “Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food.”

Double yikes. I reiterate my previous thought.

Chapter 11: “When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask them to stop. If they do not stop, act with necessary force.”

That seems…excessive. But I guess it makes sense. I try not to bother anyone but the other way around...I may have to keep this rule in mind.

I flip to chapter one. Before I know it the book has completely engrossed me. I’m already almost half way through it! It provided so much insight on how to help myself achieve these things, tips, tricks, mantras…I feel enlightened. I feel encouraged. I feel my eyes getting heavy as I close out chapter five.

I’m startled awake when my black alley cat, Lucifer, decides to drop his empty food bowl on my head. I chose to name my cat after the one from Cinderella, just to get on mom’s nerves.

“Oh! Sorry buddy!” I scratch his ears, and he mews at me, protesting for more food. I sit up on the couch, and the book falls off my lap, onto the carpet, and open to the back cover.

“217 Whitmore Dr. New Castle 5pm 11/14 See you there ;)”

Damn! I almost forgot about that! She said it was some kind of book discussion, right? I guess I better get reading, that’s tonight! I fill Luci’s bowl, and grab myself some pretzels before diving back into the book. I’m just finishing the final page when my alarm chimes, telling me its 4:30, and time to go. I start up my Bug, and “Devil Inside” by INXS hisses through the speakers at me.

Devil inside! The devil inside! Every single one of us…The devil inside!

I bop along while I plug the address into Wayz. “Church of the Damned”? Ugh. Religious folks are always finding ways to make their patrons feel crummy. But when I pull up to the building, I can see where the name fits. Two large, stone gargoyles meet my gaze as I walk up the steps. Grandma from the book store was at the door to greet me. But it was Antoinette, inside, setting up the chairs in a circle, who caught my eye. “Welcome child, to the Church of the Damned! The book discussion will begin momentarily. Please sign in with your name, address for our mailer, and then find a seat.” I nod to Grandma and sign her form, then I make my way to Antoinette, only half hearing her.

“I’m so happy you’re here!” I call to her. “I can’t wait to tell you how much the book helped me!”

“Fancy meeting you here, stranger. I’m glad. Welcome to the Church of the Damned!” She announces dramatically.

“Kind of shocked you guys are still going with the original name. Little…depressing, don’t you think?” I flash a nervous smile as I set my coat on a chair.

“Keep? This used to be St.Thomas’. We changed the name. Don’t you like it? It’s difficult to find a suitable name for a Satanic church.” I did a double take, then let out a laugh. But her face stayed cool.

“You…you’re not serious? S..Satanic church??”

“I’m quite serious. Seems a fitting place to discuss the New Age version of the Satanic Commandments, wouldn’t you say so?” She gestures to the table of contents.

“THAT’S what I’ve been reading??” I grimace.

“Ari…You do know who I am, don’t you? I am the heiress to the entire Satanic empire. My father is Anton LaVey…the founder of modern day Satanism. Surely you knew…” She reaches for me, but I run out the door and get in my Bug as fast as I can.

What the HELL had I gotten myself into? Literally! Who are these people? I didn’t even know something like that existed around here! I could have been lured into a goat sacrifice just now! I was just about to tell that woman how much she helped me, and here I’ve been following SATANIC COMMANDMENTS?? I need to go lie down. My heart rate is going crazy when I pull up to my apartment. I lock the door behind me as I scoop up the cat and head to the kitchen to make some tea. I pull out my phone, and pull up “Mom”. Think about it for a second…No. That’ll just make things worse. Luci seemed to agree with me, as he swatted the phone out of my hand. “Bad kitty!” I shout, setting him down.

Then there was a loud pounding on the door.

A beautiful voice calls from the other side. “Ari…Ari it’s Antoinette. You wrote your address on the sign in sheet. I was worried about you. Ari, you were just telling me how much the book helped you. I understand it isn’t everyone’s path, nor a conventional method, but please, if you’re alright with it, I’d like to talk about this.”

I swing the door open. “Yes the book DID help me, but that isn’t something you just spring on someone! I thought it was a self-help book! You WERE in the self-help section for the signing!” I shout, but I move out of the way and gesture her in. Even when I’m angry, she’s intoxicating.

“Love…I was in the religious section. I’m sorry if you misinterpreted that.” She coos. “Ari, you said the book helped. That’s what this was all about. Having support and help, getting to a better place for yourself. If you’ve done that, what does it matter where it came from? You don’t have to join the church, you don’t even have to practice the religion, but take what works, toss what doesn’t.”

I thought for a minute and calmed down. “I didn’t say I was against it…it just came as a shock. Truthfully…I agreed with everything in that book…maybe it’s something to consider. I mean…I’d like to start living by those rules, regardless of where my faith falls. I just haven’t had much of an opportunity to enforce them.”

Another bang on the door.

“Ariana? Ariana are you in there? We’ve been in a call for 27 minutes now and I hear another voice! Are you hurt? Is someone hurting you? It sounded female…” My mother gasped. “Ariana was this a pocket dial? Did you call me accidentally while you were SINNING?”

I dug my heels deep into the carpet and gritted my teeth, but my voice escaped me.

“Arianna is dead mother! Only Ari exists in here and oh YES he is a sinner. The best kind. You are NOT welcome in this house until you accept that! Now GO!” I shouted. I heard her huff and her stilettos clack back down the hallway.  

“I think opportunity just came knocking.” Antoinette grinned at me.

I grinned right back at her, with a devilish grin. “Well, if I’m going to be a sinner…I guess I’d better make the most of it.”

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12 likes 7 comments

14:47 Feb 04, 2020

Wow! A super challenging topic on many levels! This is like a cautionary tale for always being an inquisitive reader - making sure you know from whom you are taking advice. I liked the beginning struggles between the transgender child and unaccepting mother. Just be careful that it doesn't come across in the end as identifying transgender as inherently sinful (unless that was your intention). Your feelings on the issue will obviously inform your story, but you might want to clarify your message a little to make sure it comes across clearly, ... read more

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18:31 Feb 04, 2020

Thanks for the tip, I understand where you're coming from. A lot of this story stems from my own personal struggle with identity, unaccepting family, and religion. I can see where someone may feel I'm implying transgender is a sinful or negative way to be as Ari leans into Satanism, which people also view as negative, but that's part of the plot to my story as well. I don't view Satanism (or trans folks) as negatives. Satanism is just another path people go down in the hopes of finding themselves, just as one might turn to a catholic church.... read more

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16:29 Feb 03, 2020

It's was written well. Too well. It creeped me out!

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18:37 Feb 04, 2020

Lol thank you, I think 😅

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18:51 Feb 05, 2020

Bahaha good writing.

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15:25 Jan 30, 2020

The story line is good, There is a lot of anger issue going on and a young person attempting to be her own person, so where does the book fit into this story?

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18:06 Jan 30, 2020

There really are no anger issues going on. Ari has resentment toward his mother for the box she puts him in. He isn't angry, he's trying to be his own person. The book gives him ground rules to stand on, so that he can establish himself into a stronger, more independent and secure person. He isn't a push over as seen in the beginning of the story with his mother, he takes opportunities when presented with them, like with Antoinette. People often refer to the catholic bible for life advice, the satanic bible can be used in the same way. That ... read more

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