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James Court May 2017
.                                      m                   m                   m
                                      a                     a                    a
                                    ­ e                     e                    e
                                  ­  t                     t                    t
                                   s                    s                    s

                               BOAT           BOAT           BOAT
                              BOAT           BOAT           BOAT
                             BOAT           BOAT           BOAT
                            BOAT           BOAT           BOAT
I'm a boat I'm a boat I'm a boat I'm a boat I'm a boat I'm a boat
    I'm a boat                                                             ­     I'm a boat
        I'm a boat                O         O         O               I'm a boat
            I'm a boat                                                  I'm a boat
                  I'm a boat I'm a boat I'm a boat I'm a boat toot toot I'm a boat
I'm in the middle of a serious depressive episode right now

If you're on your phone turn it sideways
Stanze smith Nov 2017
The boat I'm in
My boat is one that makes you feel small.
One that you can easily hide in:
Small windows, while lots of sun makes it to the deck,
It’s shiny, and white, with bronze banisters.
If you look close, it's all a shade of aged green.
Cedar deck planks shine,
But floorboards below are cracking.
The meals and entertainment never fail to impress;
But the boat staff are ready to walk the plank.
Its motor tries it’s best,
With white sails, wrapped up tight,
dusty from lack of use, unfold into grey billows for backup.
Their thin cotton gets tired easily,
They often rip when the storms blow.

The boat I'm on only passes the beautiful islands,
Close enough to see, but too afraid of the shallow waters.
The boat I'm on passes pirates daily,
Hearing their threats, shouts and banter.
The boat I'm on passes cruise liners,
wishing one day it too could hold so many happy, relaxed people.
The boat I'm on wonders why guests don't stay longer
and come more often.

The boat I’m in is sick of only serving me.
The one who is stuck here aboard,
The one who is so bored of this sad boat;
Although it could show me the world,
It commonly finds itself in little blue lagoons.
Dark waters with low hanging trees
and thick reeds to get caught up on.
Occasionally  guests will take me out,
Out to crystal clear, blue waters of the wild ocean,
We enjoy the sunshine and the sounds of the sea.
But me and my boat always seem to float away.
Away from the beautiful blue waters,
closer and closer to the murky banks,
Think mud wanting to swallow the white edges of my smile,
And the sides of my boat.
Out on the ocean,
our boat breaks down.
Thankfully, we aren't too far from land.
The rescue boat is on its way,
but now the wind comes up
and it's pouring rain.
I know God is with me,
so I am not afraid.

The broken down boat
is tossed by the wind and waves.
Crash!
It collides with the big rocks
along the shore.
While grizzlies hide within the forest.
When will our rescue boat appear?

The rain pounds down harder.
We get colder and colder.
And then off in the distance...
we spot her.
The fast boat gliding upon the water.
To rescue we the stranded.
From threatening danger.

Then...
I think of my life.
And the storm that has come to be.
Like a boat in trouble on the sea,
I need a rescue boat to come and save me.
For I can get so scared and weary.

Only God can be my Saviour.
He is my rescue boat,
when I break down in the storm.
And the waves of sorrow engulf me.
He is my rescue boat who comes to me,
when I am stranded on the sea.
In the storm and in the rain.
When I'm out on the ocean of life,
and my boat breaks down,
He will come for me.
And bring me to safety.


(C) Elizabeth T., 2016
Melissa Koe Nov 2014
The wind blew strongly. Out at sea, the fisherman’s small boat swayed in rhythm with the waves. He stood up and adjusted the sail, in case the wind blew it off. After so many years of earning a living as a fisherman, he has made peace with the sea – he no longer feels sea sick. Oh, but he feels a certain kind of sickness…… a different kind. His eyes filled with tears as he shifted his gaze from his worn out canvas sails to the horizon where the sun is just about to set. The sky above him is slightly orange – but is dulled by the gray of the storm clouds shifting in.

                He thanked the gods for the sky above and the sea below him, albeit the upcoming storm. He has recently lost his daughter, Fatema to the sea. His grief is still fresh, it still cuts deep. He lost his daughter to the tsunami that destroyed the fishing village. He has lost all his belongings – but nothing belonging to him will ever be as valuable as Fatema. Yes, grief makes him sick – and he has a good reason for that. When they found her, her body was trapped between five pieces of driftwood – it was a gruesome sight. How ironic is it? The arms of Neptune have always supported him throughout his life – making sure he earned a living and yet, the same menacing arms betrayed him and took Fatema away.

                For that, he was angry with the gods. How could they take away a life as easily as they gave it? He snapped out of his thoughts and raised the back of his hand to his eyes to wipe away the tears. His musings aren’t going to help. He has to begin sailing to find a shelter from the storm that is rolling in or else he won’t make it through the night. For the past week or so, he has been living in his small boat, making sure his stomach is full by fishing for small fish and crustaceans. He fixed his sail and began to sail in the direction of a small cove he is familiar with which will provide adequate shelter for tonight.

                As he sailed, he started to feel lonely. He reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a locket with Fatema’s picture in it. He brought it to his face and gently kissed it, gripping it in his hand. As he sailed nearer the cove, moonlight began to illuminate the prow of his boat. When he is near enough to the shore, he skillfully measured the depth with sight alone, and lowered the anchor to make sure his boat remained in that position till dawn.
                As he descended from his boat, he waded through the water. Both of his arms are full of dried driftwood for him to start a fire tonight. He heard the distant sound of crickets and an owl. He walked toward the beach, heading towards a small cave and entered it. He checked the ground to make sure it was dry before he started a fire using the driftwood. The crackling of fire accompanied by the distant rumbling of thunder brought comfort to his ears. The flames that rose and vanished combined with the smell of the smoke left a silage – a lingering presence that soothed him. They reminded him of how he used to read stories of beasts and princesses alike to Fatema when she was a young girl until she fell asleep in his arms. Those days are long gone now. He stood up and headed back to his boat to set up the fishing nets for his meal later on tonight. He fixed the nets close to the shore before walking back to the cave to the warmth of the fire. He did not know what to do. He was supposed to sail back to the mainland by next week but the storm has been slowing him down. He listened to the rhythm of the waves crashing against his boat and drifted off to sleep……

                He opened his eyes. He did not hear any crackling from the fire nor feel the warmth from it. When he looked down, the fire has been extinguished. The moon was so high and bright now he only needed the fire for warmth. Just as he was about to stand up to fetch more wood from the boat, he heard a sound. Yes, there was a slight drizzle but it wasn’t the sound of rain hitting the sand. It was a soft, melodious voice which was….singing.
“May you sail fair to the far fields of fortune,
with diamonds and pearls at your head and your feet
and may you need never to banish misfortune,
may you find kindness in all that you meet.”

                It was the lullaby he sang to Fatema as a young girl. He began to feel excited and ignored the voice at the back of his head telling him he was insane. He looked out and saw her – Fatema, sitting on a rock. He called out to her and she looked back at him, saying something he has been yearning to hear from her – “Papa.” He was speechless and could not believe his eyes. She donned the black dress they found her in, but she barely had any scratches on her; she did not even look wounded. Instead of walking towards him, she flashed her sweetest smile and started walking towards the beach. She beckoned for him to follow her. He ran towards her, constantly calling out to her but she did not reply. She held out her hand for him to hold, and he did.

                One more step and she will reach the water now. “Fatema, what are you doing?” “Papa, just come along with me.” With those few words…..he felt like he was in a trance. There were so many questions running through the back of his mind but he ignored all of them. Was he hallucinating? He turned to his left as they waded nearer to the sea – the fishing net that he placed near his boat had a small crab in it. The moonlight that shone onto the sea reflected on her beautiful features – her curly, black hair and light brown eyes. With every step he took, he felt more nervous, confused, and excited at the same time.

                The water level is up to their chest now.  On the second day after Fatema died, when he was very much in pain, he made an analogy about grief by comparing it to the nearest thing to him. Grief is like the sea. It drowns you while everyone else is swimming. He felt more familiar towards it….. it did not seem as foreign to him anymore. If so, he is “literally” being consumed by grief as they waded deeper into the sea. He did not mind though – this is the story of a man who desperately wants his daughter back. He did not care if he was hallucinating or if she was a ghost. He does not know where she is taking him, but he wants to follow his daughter to who-knows-where; for to him, that is paradise, be it in the depths of the sea or the height of the skies.

                He can no longer see the moon.
An essay I wrote for English exam.
one hour write-up.
Tamara Fraser Aug 2016
There are demons
on my boat.
Shhh
You’ll wake them and then I
won’t be able to look away from them.
It is an all too simple
contract; our deals
sealed in tears and thickened, old blood;
silences coating emotions,
covering sounds and words, and smiles and secret screams.
Shhh
You’ll wake them if you come near me.

There are demons
on my boat.
I steer my lonely ship onwards,
beneath the hesitant moon, and restless stars.
Bright, dark, bright, dark.
It’s still, a smooth mirror reflecting an endless sky;
I don’t disturb the empty ocean, unsettling in all its quiet rage.
Its hidden heart.
I am willed to follow my aimless line, as far as I can travel
on the
numbing breeze.

There are demons
on my boat.
I promised them I’d behave.
I am not allowed to wander, not allowed to explore without
a rambling mind;
I am not to follow the course of other ships I see,
or meet the deserted spits of land I’ve let float by,
or travel with company that stills me,
or make my own speed that goes against the tide.
They scrawled words along the wooden boards,
scored crude nail marks one evening while I slept,
hovered over and drooled on me with teeth I could feel
the ****** and beads of blood.
They scrawled words that told me they would leave me be,
if I left them be.

There are demons
on my boat.
And now I see a ship, with bright red sails,
drift to land not too far away;
a flaming banner across the surface of my shadowed sea.
I move my wheel, aimed at land-
assailed.
Onslaught of teeth and scales and spidery limbs,
pointed daggers and sabres of nail,
breathing hot spit and foul stench,
musty rot and all
rushed at me.
Blackened ooze of shapes and
distorted beasts;
I can’t take in any air that isn’t
toxic, ash making my eyes water.
Too gruesome to stare at them, intensely black,
yellow eyes and a multitude of ravenous, slick tongues.
I right the wheel,
and they creep back,
to rest in the shallows of my boat,
biting nails and shedding skin,
keeping guard on me.
Watching.
Restless flashes in the shadows hunted by the sun,
and drawn out under the moon.
Waiting.

There are demons
on my boat.
And it has been like this
for lengthy years.
Hopelessly blind and painfully aware,
at once,
of frozen breaths down my neck,
and bubbling fear inside,
of feelings.
Anything that leave me open to onslaught.
Anything that opens windows and lets their darkness
trail in,
tumble around and entangle innards,
I’m left speechless and sore inside,
nursing wounds I suppress.

There are demons
on my boat.
And the scary thing.
Is that I’ve made peace with them, and their scrutiny.
Yet I see birds above and blue trembles beneath me,
green jungles to the left and empty sands to the right.
And I refuse to hide and cower in peace.
Now.
I once again move my hands and face the
glimmer of land I see-
and they come rising from their graves of slumber.

There are demons
on my boat.
But they aren’t that terrifying under the sunlight.
They hurl abuse in my face,
spitting and writhing and screeching;
But their scales are actually just drifting smoke,
their nails just scraps of tattered fabric,
eyes just glinting stones and teeth just blunted stumps.
They scream and bleed before me,
because I’m focused on the distance behind them.
After hours, they retire,
like burnt out candles, the smoke dissipates.

There aren’t any demons
on my boat.
Lizzy Aug 2014
You are my wind
You are my sun
The blood in my veins
The bones to make me stand

I've been drowning
And i thought you were my life raft
I thought you were my island
My safe place to escape

But turning away from the water
Won't make it go away
Running from the sea
Won't make it less deep

I've grown so used to finding my boat
So used to hiding from the tide
I panicked when it wasn't there
Has my boat sailed away?
The panic gave me a cramp
Tied weights to me
And I began to sink faster

How could my boat do this?
How could it sail away?
But the more I missed my boat
The more I needed it to stay

But not as safety
Not as refuge
But a love to share
And laugh and grow

I still need my boat
But not like I did before
No more hiding
No more dry land
I need to swim

Because boats are fun
And great for days
But the sea is a beast
That no boat can match

No she doesn't care that I'm a mermaid
Who fell in love with a fisherman
She doesn't care I've spent too much time on dry land
I forgot how to use my fins

A mermaid that can't swim
What a pathetic life it is
But she's cruel
She wont keep the boats around

So don't forget how to swim
Don't forget how to use your fins
We are strong us mermaids
Making deals with sea witches
Seducing men to their death
All fine folk tales
But you have to believe the myth
Always been strong

Because regardless of what Disney said
I can't grow legs
I'll always be a mermaid
But what use is it if I can't swim

When I learn how to swim again
I hope my fisherman will come back
I hope he hasn't sailed too far away

When I'm on deck of our boat again
We will dance and sing
Maybe have dogs
And flowers to remind us of land
A piano in the dining room
And guitars lining the walls
Music will echo
They can hear us from land
The happy fisher and his happy mermaid
Living together again

But storms always come
Because that's how nature works
It rains
It snows
It storms
Than the sun returns

This time when the storm comes
And makes waves that could touch the moon
And I get thrown overboard
I won't forget how to swim

I'll play with the fish
Make friends with sharks
And await the return of my beautiful fisherman

But you will always be my wind
My sun
The air in my lungs

But soon I will have gills
So I can breath when the water comes
You can't be my fins anymore
You can't be my dry land
You can't save me from drowning
Because mermaids are free
But if you want
You can be free with me

So please return my beautiful sailor
And we can live on our happy boat
And I'll be one with the sea
Because this sea is a part of me
So this is super long and I'm actually gonna write a full explanation of it because yeah I feel like that's needed. So I have depression, and I used my boyfriend to hide from it. But that all crashed when my depression took over and I couldn't hide anymore, and I was mad. I was mad at him, at myself, at the world. So I flipped, and it pushed him away. Hopefully not forever but I feel like ****. But I needed it, I need this. Because I realized that hiding won't make the depression go away, it'll always find you. And when it does it comes on full force. And this time no matter how much he loves you, he won't be able to save you because depression is a beast. It's a monster beyond any comprehension and it will tear you apart. Now that it returned and stronger than ever, I couldn't be saved. And I was mad, why had he made it go away before but this time he can't? I was mad, didn't he love me? Than why can't he save me? Well guess what, it doesn't matter. Love is beautiful and love is strong, but nothing can cure you from a mental illness. I forgot that. And I had grown so used to being able to hide from it I forgot how to live with it. I forgot how to be my own warrior and to fight for myself. I'm not a ******* damsel in distress, I'm not a poor soul that needs saving. I'm a warrior, I've lived with it this far and forgetting how to fight will only get me killed. Depression is the sea, and I'm a mermaid that fell in love with a fisherman. I live in the sea, the sea is a part of me, like depression. And I can't run from it because it won't go away. This isn't a Disney movie where I can sell my voice for legs and run away from the sea. I can't, I have fins, it's the way I am. I have scars, that's who I am. I'm not a normal person, I can't **** it up and be fine, I'm sick. I can't grow legs and run away, I can't live on a boat. And there will always be storms, nature will never be sunny forever. Depression will come back fighting. And when you get thrown overboard and start to drown because you forgot how to swim, don't be mad at you fisherman. His boat got thrown by the storm too. I forgot how to balance my mind, how to find harmony with my mind, and live with my depression. So I flipped. And it's not his fault, he can't fight depression either, it's so much bigger than all of us. But I forgot that. And now I'm drowning in this storm of depression without my fisherman because I got mad. But now I know that I have to learn how to fight for myself, because storms will always come. And if I drown every time I'm gonna lose my fisherman. So swimming is the only option. He isn't a prince, or an angel, or a savior. He's just a fisherman, and I ******* love him. Our boat (our relationship) has sailed away for now, but I'm praying it'll return. When I see my fisherman again, I will remember how to swim. So when depression knocks me back into the ocean, I won't drown. I go with the waves until it calms, than I hop back our boat. But anyway, there's a lesson for ya. Don't rely on other people to save you from depression, because it's impossible. And don't get mad when you forget that. Anyone who read this far (props to you if you did) and suffers from depression as well, DONT FORGET HOW TO SWIM. We're not regular people, but not in a bad way! We have fins and live in the sea, we fight all her terrible waves and storms and keep swimming. Because mermaids are ******* strong as **** hell yeahhhhhhh. And if you're reading this and you're someone's fisherman (or fisher lady) meaning you're significant other suffers from depression, remember we're on this boat together and smooth sailing is not always a garuntee. So don't get mad at your mermaid when they lose it, the sea is just gettin a little crazy. Just remember, when they drown, you can't save them. Because depression (the sea) is stronger than anything, so don't feel bad. Don't feel like a bad boyfriend or girlfriend, don't feel like you're not good enough, all you have to do is wait for the storm to pass. Because you're only human and depression is a force much stronger than that. But human isn't bad, it's beautiful and perfect, hell yeah you a great fisherman. But fisherman cannot control the weather. So just wait out the storm. And Jesse, you're the best fisherman there is (I'm sorry that's so lame) and sometimes mermaids are stupid. But don't dock your boat because I'm learning how to swim again, and I won't forget when I get knocked overboard again. I love you always, and come around again, I'll be swimming just fine and ready to get back on our boat. I love you
Poetic T Apr 2015
I am a paper boat floating down a
Stream, imagination made me from
Yesterdays sport page, read now
Turned in to this boat floating down
This stream.

Calm waters as I float as I pass a fisherman
On the shore, a hat over his eyes as he
Is sleeping not much biting as no fish
In this river that I can see.

I pass a pub only slightly damp as the
Stones thrown by those drinking at the
Shore, I hear a pint to sinks the boat,
But to tipsy are they to throw straight
Lucky for me.

I float bobbing up an down, a fold slips
And up a sail shoots me forward at speed.
But the faster I go the more splashing on
Me. I get wetter down the stream and
I start to unfold more, till there is no boat
Just soggy news paper floating down the
Stream.

It was fun being a boat, as I wash up on
The side of the river, I was once part of a
Tree then a news paper, I became a boat
With imagination, what will I be used for,
Or we I decompose be one with the
Earth I will have to wait and see.
Judypatooote Apr 2014
The creek out to our cottage
was right out our front door...

The boats were docked on down the line
with fishermen galore...

Motor boat, motor boat
putt, putting down the line...

I know you thought you were quiet
but I could hear you just fine...

I'd lay in bed and listen,
to the fishermen in the boat...

They would talk and laugh
and sometimes tell a joke...

I was just a little girl
wishing I was going with them...

But dad was at work, so there was no way
I'd just have to wait for that special day...

So I'd dream of the time
when I could jump in that boat.

with my fishing pole always ready
had a bobber ready to float...

by ~ judy
The smell of the gasoline from the engines of the motor boat was oddly comforting to me...I guess it was the smell and the purring of the putt putt engines...a memory...
Poeta de Cabra Oct 2014
Catch the bus at quarter to eight
Pack your bags and don't be late
Arrive and your details are wrote
Picture taken, board a speed boat

Meet the tour guide, name is Ung
Four other crew are mostly young
Out with the camera take some shots
Boat is travelling, around forty knots

Bamboo Island is the very first stop
The boat pulls up and off we hop
Beautiful beach it is, nice and white
Crew help the women, extremely polite

Give you a snorkel if you so desire
Swim, paddle or just the view admire
Island is beautiful and the water nice
Close as you could b,e to real Paradise

Next pass by the Viking Cave in the rocks
When told Vikings were there I got a shock
On the walls they painted pictures of their ships
Amazing where they sailed, on their many trips

Bats, not famous in these caves but swallow nests
People protecting them, who would have guessed
Six thousand dollars a kilogram for the nest itself
An aphrodisiac in China for those with much wealth

From there we venture to the sweet Monkey Beach
Monkeys hang from the trees with a long reach
Throw them food and they catch it without fail
Hanging on to the trees with extremely long tails

Some monkeys on the beach, seem to be so polite
But you must be  careful because they often bite
Lots of photos again, information from the staff
Kids are enjoying themselves and having a laugh

Phi Phi Island next for a very delightful lunch
The staff on the island such a helpful bunch
Thai food, rice, seafood, curries hard to beat
Don't go hungry, more food  than you can eat

After lunch walk the beach and along the shore
Talk to Ung the guide, hoping to learn a bit more
A photographic memory Ung had, we did note
Remembered every persons name, on that boat

Soon we boarded once agaiin, trip a bit shorter
Other side of island was beautiful shallow water
People once again go swimming or snorkelling
Creatures on the bottom, some amazing things

Water is so still and it is such a glorious day
I think this place was called Loh Samah Bay
People boarded the boat, they were out of breath
"Save some energy" Ung said "for what's next"

A few minutes later we were all over the moon
Boat put down anchor in a magnificent lagoon
Maya Bay it was called, water warm and crystal clear
Many Hollywood producers had got inspiration here

Hard to say really, what are views like this actually worth?
Probably as close as possible to having a Heaven on Earth
Never before had I seen such a picturesque  sight
Could have stayed there all day and all of the night  

Soon up comes the anchor and the driver drove
The speed boat to the most beautiful Pilch Cove
Could go for a walk, lay on the beach and sleep
Kids could wade in, water warm but not very deep

Venture over the other side, see a magnificent lagoon
Then enjoy the beach once more, we are leaving soon
Soon back on the boat a few drinks, tales we're tellin'
Eat cool fresh fruit, pineapple and juicy watermelon

Everyone seems tired now, especially girls and boys
Speed boat flat out  as captain shouts "Ships ahoy"
Opens up the throttle, boat has extraordinary power
Be back where we started in approximately one hour

Bid the crew  goodbye and  tell Ung he is totally swell
Shake  his hand and take a taxi back to our comfy hotel
Tired and worn out, need a shower, good meal and a rest
Recommend  trip to anybody though, its simply the best

So if you are looking for something to do In Phuket
Take trip to Phi Phi Island, tis one you'll never forget
When on the boat back, I was so glad that I went
One of the best days I reckon that I've ever spent
A day out on my latest vacation
Ron Sanders Feb 15
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

There is a glacier.
Its blue tongue’s tip just tastes a frozen gorge.
There is a gorge, its walls shattered by cold; a once-green thing that, in dying, birthed a thousand aching fissures. It works its jagged way downhill, round ragged rifts and drifts until it comes upon a little frosted wood.
There is a wood, an island locked in ice.
Within this wood the gorge descends. It wanders and it wends; it brakes and all but ends outside a clearing wet with sun. And there, forking, its bent and broken arms embrace a strange, enchanted glade.

There is a glade.
And in this glade the black bears sleep, though salmon leap fat between falls. Here the field mouse draws no shadow, the eagle seeks no prey; they spend their while caressed by rays, and halcyon days are they. Here rabbit and fawn may linger, no longer need they flee. For in this timeless, taintless space, the Wild has ceased to be. (Outside the glade are shadow and prey, are ice and naked death. There blood may run freely. There the eagle, that thief, is a righteous savage, a noble fiend. But once in the glade he is dove, and has no taste for blood, running freely or otherwise).
And in this glade there nests a pool:  a dazzling, blue-and-silver jewel; profoundly deep, pristinely clear. All who sip find solace here, for this is the Eye of Being. They lap in peace, assuming blear, not knowing it is seeing. And ever thus this pool shall peer:  a silent seer, reflecting on—all that Is, and all Beyond.
(Outside the glade there lies a world where rivers ever run, where ghastly calves in random file revile a bitter sun. East, the day is born in mist. West she dies:  her rest, the deep. And North…North the Earth lies mute. Wind gnaws her hide, wind wracks her dreams. Wind screams like a flute in her white, white sleep).
But in the glade are tall, stately grasses, sunning raptly, spinning lore. Roots render the rhythms, blades bend without breeze, as signals ascend from the glade’s tender floor. (In this wise the glade weaves its word, airs its views. All the glade’s flora are bearers of news). They do not wither with fall, for in the glade there is no fall. They do not bind or wilt or brown—they gesture, spreading the mood, the mind; conveying, indeed, the very soul of the glade. As ever they have, as they shall evermore.
Bees do not hum here; they sing. They fatten the dream. Mellow and round are the timbres they sound, sweet is the music they bring. Birds do not sing here—they play. They carry the theme. Dulcet and warm are the strains they perform. Gifted musicians are they. (All in the glade are virtuosi. They were born to create. Melody, harmony, meter…are innate). Now the performance is lively and bright, now full, now almost still. For, though all in the glade may lean to the light, they must bend to the maestro’s feel.
And yet…there was a day, long ago in a dream, when this ongoing opus was torn. And on that day (so the lullaby goes) the wind brought a scream, and Dissonance was born.
There was a noise.
Moose tensed, their coffee eyes narrowed, their patient brows creased. Bees mauled the tempo, birds lost their place. The grass stood *****, all blades pointing east. There was a crash, and a shriek, and a naked, bleeding beast burst stinking through the fern, fell stumbling on its face.
Moose scattered:  unheard of. Sheep brawled, geese burst out of rhyme. The symphony, forever endeavored to soar sublime, fluttered, plunged, and, for all of a measure, ceased.
The pool was appalled…what manner brute—what kind of monster was this? Furless flank to forelimb, hide obscured by blood. As for its face…it had no face; only a look:  of shock frozen in time, of horror in amber. A deep welling rift ran temple to chin, halving the mask, caving it in. Such a grievous wound…the pool watched it stagger, on two legs and four, thrashing about till it came to a rise. There it labored for air, wiped the blood from its eyes, lashed at illusion, looked wildly round. Beholding the pool, the beast tumbled down.
And there this wretch plunged his thirst, drank his fill, fell back on his haunches.
The pool became still.
The two traded stares.
The glass read his features:  that durable eye pondered the wreckage and probed the debris. Revolted, the pool sought the succor of sky. But that thing remained—that face…in all creation…surely there could be…no other creature so ugly as he.
And he gazed in the glass.
Beneath the surface were…images…swimming in currents of shadow and light. He saw half-shapes and fragments…hideous men, exotic beasts…saw blue worlds of water, saw white worlds of ice…it was all so vague and unreal—yet somehow strangely familiar. Deeper he peered, but, as his mangled face neared, the sun smote the pool and the shapes disappeared. The brute pawed the ground and, dreaming he’d drowned, shook his head sharply and slowly looked round:
There were starlings at arm’s-length, transfixed with suspense, their tail feathers trembling, their dark eyes intense. Fantails and timber wolves, stepping in sync, paused for a sniff, stooped for a drink. Bees, pirouetting, threw light in his eyes. Seizing the moment, the pool pressed its hold.
And the glade revolved.
The freak watched it spin—saw the ferns’ greedy fingers reach round and close in, saw the tall grass rise high in an emerald sheen, swaying to rhythms from somewhere obscene. This place was madness; he struggled to stand, but, weak as he was, keeled over cold.
And the glade heaved a sigh, and the tall grass reclined, in curious patterns once rendered in whim. Far off in thunder the hard world replied, as iced pines exploded and screamed on the breeze. Down bore the sun, a chill just behind. The pool, grown blood-red, fended frost from its rim. Details dissolved in the oncoming tide. The pool dimmed to black. Night seeped through the trees.
Now flora found slumber while, pulsing below, the pool was infused with a soft ruby glow.
Soon birds bearing beech leaves, and needles of pine, laid down a spread and returned to the limb. But breath from the North blew their blanket aside. The wind grew in earnest, the air seemed to freeze.
And the wolf and the she-bear, of contrary mind, abhorring their task approached, looking grim. They sniffed him for measure, then, loathing his hide, growled their displeasure and dropped to their knees.
All night these glum attendants flanked his naked quaking form. The rising moon drew dreams in gray.
In time the man grew warm.

Morning swept through the glade in one broad stroke of the master’s brush, dappling the foliage with amber and rose. The pool was roused by the sweet pass of light. He opened his eye and the glade came alive:  into the whirlpool of life a thousand colors swam, chasing the scattering eddies of night. The magic of morning began.
Bluebird and goldfinch descended in rings, primaries clashing with robin and jay. Dollops of sun, repelled by their wings, spattered anew on the palette of day. Banking as one, the hues struck away.
There was a crowd.
And in this crowd that oddity sat, its chin on its chest, its rear pointing west. Its forepaws lay leaning, upturned and at rest. ***** and blood messed its muzzle and breast. Passed overnight. Or perhaps only dozed…tendril by tendril, claw by claw, the crowd decompressed:  the ring slowly closed.
And the stranger cried out and shifted his seat. His eyes sought his feet—rounding the arches, and topping the toes, the tall grass was questing. The little brute froze.
And the fauna took pause, and the flora went slack. Leaves followed talons, stems followed claws. Hooves tromped on paws as the crowd drifted back.
Not a breath taken. Not a move made. Stillness, like fog, enveloped the glade.
Now the grass tugged his feet, now the sea of jade splayed—left hand and right, the slender shafts reared. Gaining momentum, blade followed blade. The green field was torn till a deep swath appeared. The swath hurtled west, reflecting the sun. A hundred yards distant it died. Once more the grass stood, its tips spreading wide. The swath, born again, repeated its run.
Plain was the message, and clearly conveyed. The newcomer gawked. Confusion ensued.
The tall blades were swayed by the pulse of the glade.
But the swath was not renewed.
Something tiny bounced by. He ventured a peek, barely rolling an eye.
A chocolate sparrow, with pinfeathers black, popped past an ankle and paused to look back. The bird cocked its head, rocked in place, hopped ahead. It fluttered. It freaked. It glared and stopped dead. Vexed to its limit, it burst into flight.
The sitting thing watched till it passed out of sight.
Now a breeze bent his back, picked him half off his stern. The wind, done its best, grew flustered at last. It trailed to the west, thrilling lilies it passed. It wound round the willows and didn’t return.
So the fauna repaired to the live oak’s shade.
A strange kind of stupor fell over the glade.
From deep in the wood came a shape through the trees—a pronghorn, perhaps, or an elk swift and sure. But up limped a moose, a flyport with fur, low in the belly and wide at the knees. Wizened he was, scarcely able to see. Neither vision, nor vigor, nor velvet had he. He hobbled abreast, then groveled or died, his nose facing west, his tail flung aside.
The brute merely glazed.
But the glade was unfazed.
Those long shafts reshuffled. A tense moment passed.
The ominous shadows of badgers were cast. Three left their holes, as if to attack. They pedaled like moles and the stranger jumped back. He stumbled, fell flailing, and, kicking his guide, threw out his arms and tumbled astride. First he stepped on his tail, then he stepped on his pride. The moose bellowed twice and shook side to side while the little pest clung to his high, homely hide.
And the old moose unbent to his knees by degrees. He reeled like a drunk down the path of the breeze. Together they lurched through a break in the trees. And all morning long, and on through the day, both beggar and bearer would buckle and sway. The moose lost his temper, but never his way.
And the wind blew the sun to its deep ruby rest; the scrub, in obeisance, inclined to the west. Their slow taffy shadow in slinking would seem to slip round the rocks like a snake in a dream.
And the sun became a beacon, and the underbrush a stream. The wide Earth took their weight in stride, and the wind named him Hero.

                                               WORLD

When the sun was low the old moose began to stumble, at last limping to a halt beside a swift river lined with stunted pines. He’d half-expected a somewhat graceful dismount, but Hero, dug in like a tick, wasn’t about to let go. The moose knelt until his joints objected, shimmied, bucked, and with a sudden whirl sent the little bother flying.
Hero scraped himself out of the dirt and looked up forlornly. The ancient moose, his good eye gone bad, glared a long minute before hobbling away, his bony **** rocking with dignity, his scraggly tail fighting off imaginary flies.
Hero managed a few steps and dropped, staring in disbelief as the moose disappeared between half-frozen pines. He remained on his knees for the longest time, his jaw hanging, waiting for the moose—waiting for anything to show. At last a ruckus to his left snapped him out of it. His head ratcheted around.
Fifteen feet off the bank, three screaming gulls were dancing on an immense stone outcropping, fighting over a rapids-tossed sockeye. Hero was instantly famished. He wobbled to his feet and stumbled twice wading out, only regaining his balance by leaning against the current while rapidly wheeling his arms. The shrieking gulls reluctantly backed off as he stepped in slow-motion through the rushing water. Hero lunged at the slapping fish, cracked an ankle on the rock, and hopped around howling with both hands holding his shin. One foot was as good as none in the surging water. He went right under. Before he knew it he was being swept downriver.
This was glacial meltwater, so cold he quickly lost all sensation. Hero swallowed a mouthful and surfaced fighting for life; too disoriented to combat the current, too numb to realize his waving arm was striking something solid. That solid something turned out to be a swirling clump of rotted birches tangled up in scrub. He embraced one of these trunks as the mass slammed against isolated rocks, kicked his feet wildly, and somehow hauled himself aboard. The raft ricocheted rock to rock until repeated impacts sent it spinning. Giddy from the whirling and soaking, he clung freezing to the trees, retching continuously while the river roared in his ears. Through spray and tears he made out only cartwheeling fragments of the world.
But then the river was widening, its fury dissipating. The raft was approaching the sea. Hero gasped as the seemingly boundless Pacific swallowed the broad red belly of the sun. And as he spun he was treated to a panoramic, breathtaking spectacle:  the great indigo ocean with its slow traffic of driftwood and ice—voiced-over by the dismal calls of foraging gulls, and broken rhythmically by intermittent glimpses of the river’s rocky banks growing farther and farther apart. Whirling as it went, the dying man’s soul was taken by the sea.

At the 59th Parallel in winter, the Pacific coast plays host to numberless floes and minor bergs orphaned from Alaskan coastal glaciers. Hero cruised into a watery gridlock on a boat of ice-glazed birches, one bit of flotsam among the rest.
The cold wouldn’t let him move, wouldn’t let him breathe, wouldn’t let him think. He lay supine, feet crossed and hands clasped, terrified that to budge was to roll. An ice patina grew over the tangled trees like a white fungus—this growth soon webbed his fingers and toes, speckled his chest and thighs, glazed his hair and face, danced and disintegrated with his breath’s tapering plumes.
Floes and frozen-over debris tended to group with passing collisions; Hero’s married birches bit by bit accrued a mostly-submerged tangle of trunks and branches, all becoming fast in a creeping ice cement. Night came on just as resolutely, until land was only a flat black memory. The raft moved silently over the deep, still accepting the occasional gentle impact. And the floes became thicker and wider in a freezing doldrums; soon the proximate sea was all a broken field of packed ice, bobbing infinitesimally with the planet’s pulse.
Long ghostly strands of fog came striding over the torn ice field. They leaned this way and that, their mourners’ skirts tearing and patching and leaning anew. The ghosts were there to seal it:  their locked fingers and gray diaphanous wings were quickly becoming a wholly opaque descending shroud, its boundaries lost in the soughing wind.
Collisions came less and less. Darkness and silence, breaching some previously impenetrable barrier, began to take up residence in Hero’s chilling marrow. From his very center broke a weak little cry of refusal, of denial, as mind mustered frame in one desperate bid for freedom. His skin, frozen to the raft, peeled right off, and at that his inner brave succumbed. Hero’s smashed head arched back. His face contorted frightfully while the little lamp fluttered and paled within.
A raucous chorus slowly worked its way through the mist. It emerged a few hundred yards off—a tiny, terrified barking, growing in clarity as it grew in volume and urgency. It was a sound beacon. Hero strained eagerly, and when for one excruciating minute the beacon was cut off by a large passing body, was certain death had claimed him. Then it was back, and his heartbeat was quickening. He caught a heaving sound…something was moving his way down a wide tributary between floes. Hero could hear a gasping and snorting, accompanied by a hard slapping and splashing. The sounds vanished. In a moment the raft was rocked from below.
A sputtering muzzle blew salt in his eyes. A cold slimy flipper flapped across his chest and slapped about his face. The fur seal barked directly in his ear. Whiskers raked his dead cheek. The seal barked again.
Back below the surface it slipped. Hero listened anxiously as the splashing sound retreated whence it came.
The seal swam off perhaps a hundred feet and began barking hysterically.
From much farther off came a profusion of answering barks.
The seal swam back to Hero’s raft, circling and calling, circling and calling, while the responders approached en masse.
Now a sallow beam could be seen cutting through the fog. Several more showed vaguely along a plane yawing with some huge, barely discernible object.
A herd of northern fur seals burst into sight, barking madly, beating through the ice. They converged on Hero’s raft, really bellowing now.
Those odd yellow beams came in pursuit, and soon were close enough to eerily illuminate a gigantic wooden vessel parting the ice. The seals barked ferociously. Whenever the vessel leaned away, those nearest Hero’s raft would absolutely howl.
The fog deepened, condensed, crystallized, and then the collective light of a dozen lanterns was playing over a low, listing nightmare. Hero could hear the shouts of many aggressive men, but the waterborne seals, rather than scatter, boarded the ice and redoubled their din, fighting their way onto his quickly mobbed raft.
The sealers hurled serrated spears even as they clambered down rope ladders. When these men reached the ice the seals snapped and gnashed madly, refusing to be dislodged. The sealers lost all composure with the thrill of the hunt:  wielding clubs, spears, and hatchets—sometimes using iron bludgeons or any old utensil handed down—they crushed skulls, dragged carcasses, hooked animals still spurting and bleating. Clinging though he was, Hero was flabbergasted by the way the slipping and scampering men went about their butchery, hacking and smashing more with passion than with precision. But not a single seal attempted to flee—throughout the carnage they barked all the louder, egging on their slayers, carcass by carcass drawing the impassioned sealers to Hero’s ice-locked raft.
It was all so hazy and macabre. Hero’s eyes rolled back, and the next thing he knew he was sitting hunched on the vessel’s sopping deck. Two men were rubbing his limbs while another poured warm water down his back. He looked around in shock. The very notion of a boat containing more than one or two individuals—a sort of floating tribe—was way beyond his ken; so to see it, to have it come looming out of nothingness, was an experience almost supernatural.
He remembered some of those fur-covered men force-feeding him mouthfuls of halibut and seal fat, and he recalled a small group standing around him, shouting words that made no sense at all. After that he had a very vivid memory of their angry little chief repeatedly punching him while hollering one angry little word over and over and over. Hero couldn’t make out his inquisitor’s face, for the large feather-lined hood quite engulfed the man’s head, yet he could see those quick eyes flash as they caught the oil lamps’ light. Finally this man stopped boxing Hero’s ear. He stared hard. In these remaining decades of the tenth century it was fully within his power to administer as he saw fit—he could have ordered Hero’s immediate execution and not a man of his crew would have objected. He hesitated only because there wasn’t a hint of resistance in his prisoner’s pinched and frightened eyes. He leaned forward, studying the wound that all but split Hero’s face in two before grunting, raising his right arm, and yanking down its seal hide sleeve. Attached to the stump of his forearm was a primitive prosthesis consisting of a thick oak cap strapped to the arm with lengths of gut, and, hammered squarely into the center of that cap, a broad, cruelly hooked blade chiseled from a narwhal’s tusk. He held this obscenity in front of Hero’s eyes, traced the face’s deep diagonal rift, and once more demanded his captive’s identity. Hero then vaguely remembered being dragged along a tilting deck and thrown into the ship’s tiny hold. He retained a strong mental image of landing in a place of musty odors and dank projections.
There came a soft scuffling in the darkness, and presently a blind and exceedingly old woman felt her way to his side, mumbling as she approached. Her speech was comprised not of words; it was rather a running gibberish of cooing vowels and clucking consonants. The old woman was as mad as her circumstances; sick with sea and solitude, bedeviled by age and confinement. She sat cross-legged, patting her withered palms up his arm until she came to his face. Her strange mumbling soliloquy rose and fell as her bony fingers daintily explored the newly opened wound. Hero let his head fall back in her lap. A pair of hands like emaciated tarantulas scurried through the filth and tiny bodies until they came upon an old otter’s pelt bag that held her secrets. The woman loosened the bag’s cord and extracted an assortment of herbs, sniffing each in succession. She then scooped a handful of blubber from a bowl made of a previous occupant’s skull, kneaded the selected herbs into the blubber, and commenced gently massaging the wound, clucking and cooing while the black rats watched and waited.
For nine interminable days Hero remained in that cold, stinking compartment, rocking back and forth between life and death. The old woman never gave up on him. She clung to him during his seizures, rubbed his limbs vigorously when his blood pressure fell. She gathered various accumulated skins and, using woven strands of her own long hair, sewed him a multilayered, body-length wraparound with arm sleeves and very deep pockets, working by touch with a needle formed of a cod’s rib. By this same method she was able to fashion a pair of heavily lined snug-fitting moccasins. The old woman made him eat; she masticated the cod and halibut their keepers pitched into the hold, then shoved the results down his throat with a long gnarly forefinger. She called into his screaming nightmares, talking him out of sleep and back into their foul little reality. Together they lowed in the dark, while the keel groaned along and the waves beat time.
At the end of those dark nine days his strength was restored, but not his mind. Once again he was taken on deck.
The vessel had reached a chain of remote wind-swept islands, rocky and treeless, naked except for patchy carpets of hardy grass. These islands stretched far to the west, shrouded in mist. The ship was making for the smallest; just a chip on the sea. When they reached depth for anchorage Hero was hustled into a rowboat and lowered over the side. He looked up, saw two men climbing down by rope. These men positioned themselves at the oars and slowly rowed toward the islet. Seated between them, Hero felt like a man being led to his execution. He snuck a peek. The rowers’ heads were lowered, their features completely obscured by the heavy feathered hoods; they had all the somberness of pallbearers. Not a word passed between them as they rigidly worked their oars:  the only sound was the dip-and-purl of wood in water. Hero looked away. Against his will, he found his eyes drawn to that rocky islet waiting in the fog.
Not a bird, not a sea lion, not a shrub. It was lonesome beyond imagination.
Upon landfall one of the men used a spear’s point to **** Hero ashore. While his companion steadied the boat, he removed a skin sack full of half-frozen halibut, followed by a few armloads of precious tinder. These articles he tossed at Hero’s feet. He resumed his place at the oars and, without looking back, used the blunt end of his spear to shove off.
Hero watched the boat moving away, watched the men climbing their ropes, watched the boat being hauled aboard. As the mysterious vessel receded he saw a number of those silent men standing at the stern, stolidly returning his stare. Their hooded forms grew smaller and smaller, finally becoming indistinct. The vessel was swallowed up in fog.
Hero looked around, at a desolate world of rock and drifting ice. In the sunless pools at his feet a few purplish, flaccid sea anemones were waving in a sickly phosphorescence; along the rocks ran a tattered quilt of wild grass and lichen. It was the end of the world. He began to pace in his anxiety, only to crumple bit by bit inside his furs. At last he just sat with his face in his arms and wept. When he could weep no more he raised his head and opened his red, swollen eyes.
There were gulls all around him, staring like statuary in a madman’s garden. Standing in their midst were auks and puffins and murres, absolutely spellbound, unable to lean away. The silence was broken only by a wild, fitfully pursing wind—a wind that seemed, eerily, on the verge of producing syllables. And on that wind a flock of terns was rising slowly, their beady eyes fixed on the lone sitting man. The terns watched as he trembled, and banked as he swooned.
Then, beating as one, they threw back their wings and blew into the sun.

There was a blaze.
Behind that blaze a pair of black, bug-like eyes met his and immediately withdrew. A man wrapped in caribou hides stood abruptly, drawing angry swarms of sparks.
The Aleut peered queerly into the icy Pacific, his craggy profile merging seamlessly with a jumble of rocks showing just beyond his shoulder. The man was very tall, closer to seven feet than to six, and thin almost to emaciation.
He was also a mute. Soon enough he would display a talent for communication through gutturals, but now his body language spoke louder than words. It told the shivering stranger that he was not only disliked—he was feared.
The islander removed the hides he’d piled on the sleeping man. He produced a bone awl and strategically pierced a caribou hide, draped the hide over the old woman’s handiwork, and ran a cord of tightly woven tendons crosswise through his made holes, knotting it at the bottom to create a kind of cloak. He then killed the fire, heaped wood, fish, and remaining hides into Hero’s arms, and led him to a tiny cove where his long skin canoe lay in the grass. This was not the one-man kayak used by his people for centuries, but an actual canoe modeled on the graceful vessels he’d observed under the control of northern coastal tribesmen. After dragging it into the water he perched Hero in the fore, placed the cargo in the middle, and stepped into the rear like a gaunt furry spider. The Aleut dug out a paddle and began pulling with smooth strokes of surprising muscularity, his black eyes trained on his quiet companion’s back.
So began their long island-hopping journey. They stepped the chain one stone at a time, living off the sea. But much as the islander disliked Hero’s vapid company, it was not in his nature to proceed expeditiously; his people, remote as they were, had learned to count not in days but in generations. Given this, the Aleut took his time. He showed Hero how to build shelters of skin and gut; during bad weather the two would sit on an island in utter silence while rain hammered on their stretched seal-intestine window. And one very clear night he pointed out constellations while attempting to demonstrate, using broad gestures, just how the brighter heavenly bodies were in perfect alignment with the Aleutians. Hero followed his guide’s gestures as a pet follows its master’s movements and, like a pet, soon became bored. The Aleut did not grow flustered. He grew ever more wary:  behind that granite, weather-beaten exterior squirmed a very primitive imagination. Superstitious as he was, the Aleut was almost certain Hero could read his mind. So one time, and one time only, he threw a searing look at the back of Hero’s bowed and listing head. After a long minute of vigorous thought-projection he shifted his gaze aside. The brute appeared to feel this shift, and gently turned his head. And both saw the ocean break rhythm, and watched as otters and sea lions surfaced, noted their progress, and slipped without tremor beneath the waves.
In spring the fogs lifted. The grimness gave way to serenity, a generous sun buttered the dappled sea. On the islands grass grew lushly. Wildflowers leapt on the color-starved eye.
And one day the islander’s nape itched. He turned to see a flock of arctic terns casually tracking them under a gorgeous, white-plumed sky. As the day progressed the terns came drifting high overhead, slowly but surely taking the lead.
The Aleut squinted against the sun. He’d never known these birds to pursue a westerly migratory pattern—the terns were distributing themselves into a rough wedge shape, much like geese on the wing.
For a while he let the flock be his guide. Then, to test his stars, he cunningly steered his canoe north. At once the wedge disintegrated. Not until he’d lowered his eyes and pulled purposefully to the west did the disrupted pattern reassert itself. He peered up timidly. The wedge was now in the shape of a perfect arrowhead.
Just so were the fates of mariners and aviators inextricably entwined. At night, once the Aleut had landed his canoe on the nearest pearl, the terns would light in a quiet circle and remain until sunrise. As the Aleut and Hero took to sea, the flock would quickly form that same authoritative pattern.
In time the Aleut paddled his companion clear to the westernmost islands of the Aleutian chain. His people had dwelt, even here, a thousand years and more, but no contemporary islander knew for certain what lay beyond. Legend told of an enormous land mass forever gripped by cold, where a cruel people waylaid innocent seafarers for barbaric sacrificial rites.
So here the islander paused. But even as he vacillated he noticed the terns were veering south.
If the Aleut had been able to curse aloud he would have been vociferous. He was being compelled to follow an even less desirable course—that of the unknown open ocean. Now he looked upon his passenger’s hunched back not with fear but with loathing. He took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders, and defiantly continued west. The wedge broke up immediately. The terns dive-bombed the canoe, whirled around the windmilling Aleut, tore skyward and hovered determinedly. Something huge broke surface behind them, but the Aleut was way too frayed to turn. He dropped his head, a beaten man, and began paddling south. Little by little the birds returned to formation.
The tiny canoe had no business going up against the mighty Pacific. It would soon have been swallowed and smashed, had not the terns veered in close formation whenever the distant sea appeared too rough. Once he’d lost his bearings the Aleut religiously followed their serpentine course.
The days began to warm.
Now the sea’s bounty all but leapt in the canoe.
It seemed the Aleut was forever catching the finest currents, practically sliding down a corridor entirely free of peril. In this manner he was able to safely navigate waters no such craft had mastered before.
They were proceeding south by southwest, awed children of a plenteous, generous sea. The going became easier by the day, the ocean heavier with cod.
Nights the Aleut drifted comfortably, but a lifetime of wariness made him wake off and on. He’d slowly rise to find Hero sitting quietly under the stars, and soon he’d see, pallid in moonlight, a large body neatly pleating the ocean’s surface. The shape would precede them a while, only to vanish without a ripple.
All this strangeness kept the Aleut’s heart in a whirl, though he took pains to maintain his poise.
To allay his fear he kept a flat black stone planted squarely between them. It was his oldest treasure; an oddity he’d taken off the body of a mauled Tlingit woman when he was a child. Who she was, and how she’d come by the stone, were mysteries far beyond him, for no such piece had ever been known to Aleut or Inuk.
The stone was smooth and had been worked perfectly round. Bright yellow specks were scattered about its dull black face.
Long ago someone had etched a quaint and clumsy rune on that flat black surface—it was the crude, universal symbol for sun:  a broad circle surrounded by several rays. When the stone was rubbed against a pelt it possessed the curious property of growing quite warm and bright in the rune’s grooves, while the surface remained cool and dull.
This stone, both friend and overlord, had always “spoken to him”. It caused him to become restless when it was time to move on, and allowed him to relax when a destination had been reached. In this way he’d come to the familiar islet and discovered the unconscious little man. Just so:  the stone, he was sure, was responsible for making him “feel bad” as he watched the stranger shiver, and “feel better” once he’d built him a life-saving fire from the small pile of tinder he’d found nearby.
By now, however, the Aleut was wholly disenchanted with his stone, and deeply regretted having done its mysterious bidding. Never before had he been so long from sight of land, and never before had he felt so very, very small. The unimagined immensity of the Pacific was really starting to get to him when, after all their while at sea, a gray, seductive haze broke the horizon. They had reached another chain of islands, an Asian chain, the dark and smoky Kurils. Here a cold current kept the climate cool and foggy, and the chill, along with the prevalence of otter and seal, made him feel almost at home.
But this place gave him the creeps; he was a stranger, a trespasser somewhere sacred. There was a looming quality to the island mountains that made him extraordinarily aware of his transience, his pettiness, his puniness. He grew more and more cautious, sure their progress was being monitored—he could have sworn he saw wraiths in the trees, and wolves padding warily in the brush. The big islands looked on breathlessly. All along the rocky cliffs, thousands of auks and puffins followed the canoe in dead silence, their heads turning simultaneously, their countless tiny eyes peering redly through the fog. As the weeks passed, the Aleut’s anxiety was manifested in tics and sighs, and he’d cringe each time the crimson sun sank behind those black volcanic summits. In his imagination the mountains would rise right out of the sea, as though to pluck him. But the islands, in all their dignity, would always refuse to acknowledge so meek a stranger, and return their eyes to sea. The Aleut would hang his head, and timidly paddle by.
Then for days and days he pulled his weary canoe west—through a strait parting two mighty islands not part of the chain, and thence across a sea that was a warm, enticing bath. Spring had come to the East Asian coastal waters, and the Ainu, alone and in groups, were venturing deeper in search of increasing bounty. The Aleut, absorbed in his thoughts of sweet climate and bitter fate, was unaware they’d been spotted.
This first meeting between strangers of different worlds was a brief and awkward one. A lone Ainu fisherman, seeing the Aleut come paddling out of the unknown, dropped his net and turned to stone. The Aleut, for his part, instinctively froze with his body turned half-away to make the leanest target possible. Their stares locked. Never had the Aleut seen a face so heavily bearded, and never hair so fair. The Ainu began banging on his bronze catch pail. Other fishers soon appeared from the north and south, effectively cutting off the canoe. The Aleut caressed his stone and looked to the sky. The wedge had vanished. He put down his head and paddled for all he was worth.
With the word out, uncountable fishing craft appeared out of the blue and broke into hot pursuit, their pilots determined to force the canoe ashore.
Suddenly they were in sight of land, and the sea was absolutely riddled with watercraft. A train of small boats cast off from the mainland, even as a posse of two-man coracle-like tubs began to surround the battered skin canoe, their inhabitants calling back and forth in astonishment at the sight of these dark, savage newcomers. But the pursuing little coastal men, banging excitedly on the sides of their boats, were not Ainu. They had very straight black hair, prominent cheekbones, and strangely slanted eyes. And their speech, oddly marvelous as it was, was a rapid series of coos, chirps, and barks. Their boats formed a tight semi-circle around the canoe, forcing the Aleut to approach the mainland. The little men banged their boats maniacally, with more joining in as the canoe neared shore.
A bit farther south was a natural harbor swarming with fishing vessels of every description. As the canoe was forced into this harbor, people along the rocky coast began banging whatever they could get their hands on, until the air was filled with their lunatic percussion.
Tiny brown men came running along a soft yellow cliff overlooking the harbor, gesturing wildly. The canoe was squeezed between a chain of tubs and the shore, and, as it slowed, the tempo and ferocity of the banging decreased accordingly. When the canoe came to a halt the banging and shouting stopped. Hero creaked to his feet. The first North American to set foot on Asian soil stepped out shakily.
There followed the profoundest silence imaginable.
A second later it was as if a dam had burst.
Hundreds of hysterical, yammering voices erupted from hundreds of hysterical, clinging men and women. Hero was spun around, jostled about, handed along. He stared into their astounded, pinched little faces, and the sun, pulsing between their heads as he was turned, repeatedly stabbed his eyes. There came an excited outburst and frantic splashing which could only have been the Aleut’s violent demise, and then Hero was somehow limping alongside a primitive fishing village, blindly following a narrow dirt path that hugged the yellow cliff’s base. The warm spring sun caught the dust as he shambled. He rounded a bend and stopped.
Half a dozen children stood in his way, too fascinated to run. A chatter and scuffle rose behind him. He looked back to see that he was now in the midst of a small crowd of these children, and that more were running up with cries of amazement.
A stone struck his shoulder. As Hero turned another glanced off his chest.
A moment later he was being pelted from all sides, and the giggles and gasps had become something wildly unreal. He dropped to his knees in a hail of hurled rocks, covered his head with his arms, and slithered up the path on his belly.
A new voice broke in; an older, authoritative voice.
The children scampered off squealing.
Hero, shaken to his feet, found himself face to face with a diminutive, shouting, incomprehensible old man. The old man threw his arm around Hero’s waist and, jabbering all the while, led him to a secondary path cut into the cliff’s face. This path sloped gently upward over the waves. Together they picked their way to a place maybe halfway up, where the cliff’s face was honeycombed with natural alcoves and dug-out caves. Most of these spaces were used as one-man shelters; a few, cut deeper in the earth, as family hives. Strange gabbing people slid out of these holes like worms, reaching, but the little old man, who was evidently a little old man of some stature, embraced his find possessively and shouted them back inside.
The path narrowed as they climbed.
At its summit spread the upscale end of the neighborhood. Hero was led to a hovel nestled amid dozens of similar hovels, all scattered around a dainty stream wending between patches of stunted vegetation.
The old man’s place was basically a one-room hut fashioned of earth and salvaged boat hulls, with a slender side-yard surrounded by dry, dusty hedges. But inside it was clean and tidy, with rice paper partitioning and, built into the far earthen wall, a miniature stone fireplace. The old man sat his guest in the exact center of the room. There he fed him scraps from his bowl, using long sticks to pluck out bits of fish and clumps of tiny, starchy white pellets.
He studied the brute closely, watched him chew, walked round and round him. He poked here. He pinched there.
And that night he lit a fire on his crushed-shell hearth.
Hero curled up on a mat where the gossip of flames could reach him. Nearby, at his delicate wicker table, the old man sat in semi-darkness, illuminated only from the waist down.
But his eyes were alive. They spat and darted as they reflected the fire’s light, and, when at last they’d begun to sputter, his scratchy little voice came pattering out of the dark, muttering something vile and oddly modulated, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a gathering snarl.
Hero feigned slumber, unable to ignore those paired ominous flashes. Still, the room was cozy, and the fire warm, and the play of light and shadow kicked sleep in his eyes.

In the morning he woke in the old man’s side-yard, his head pounding, a rusty iron clamp securely fastened around his neck. This clamp was attached to the outermost link of a crude three-foot chain, and the link at the other end to a long stake driven into eight inches of solid rock. The chain and stake, like the clamp, were hammered of local iron. The clamp was too tight for comfortable swallowing, the chain too short to make standing possible. Hero could, however, spread out on his chest and stretch an arm to a low row of hedges. By parting the tangled undergrowth he had a limited view of the fishing village below, and of the harbor beyond. As the days passed he was able to tweak himself a view-space discernible only from his peculiar vantage. He accomplished this by gently breaking small branches strategically, then guiding their interrupted growth with the utmost tenderness. It was his secret garden.
He had no memory—none whatsoever—of being staked here. Obviously the old man hadn’t set this up overnight. Hero’s mind prodded timidly…how many others had been chained to this spot, and why?
But over the subsequent weeks and months he went beyond caring. Each day was the same:  just after dawn the old man would storm into the tiny side-yard swinging his reed whip wildly. The lashings were savage and unremitting. The old man, except for his eyes, would be mute. Only his whip need speak. And the snap of his reed had but one message:  when you see this whip you go down, and you go down immediately.
The naked savage, scarred head to foot, learned to go prostrate on the moment. Even so, the old man couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge in the occasional good old, all-out thrashing. And after each session he would toss the prisoner a vile mess of dead fish and rotting leftovers.
Hero lived like this for many months, lost in a confused world of pain and anticipation. Perversely, he came to look forward to the bite of that whip, for, whether he flogged him in passion or just for sport, the old man was always sure to make it personal. It seemed their relationship might go on forever.
But one day there was a great commotion in the sleepy little fishing village. Hero parted the leaves and beheld a small train of oblong coaches at rest near the harbor. Large oxen yoked in pairs lolled between the carriages, immune to the clamor around them. There were dark shaggy horses and colorfully dressed Bactrian camels. The horses and camels were tethered in the rear, but were occasionally paraded around the carriages by little men wielding long painted bamboo poles. The whole affair was exotic and mesmerizing, eccentric and profane. Hero watched all day in amazement, infected by the hubbub, though he was totally mystified by the crowd’s fascination on the carriages’ far side.
And late that afternoon he saw the old man come walking out of that crowd, talking heatedly with another man. The stranger was shorter and broader than the old man, with long stringy hair and long stringy mustaches. He saw them climbing the path, saw them crawl inside a hole lashing furiously. They were lost from view for a minute, then popped up big as life. Hero glowed and curled up eagerly as they approached.
The old man and stranger came into the narrow side-yard still arguing. The old man grabbed Hero by the hair and twisted until he was facing the newcomer.
The stranger had oily, porous skin, and a round but grave countenance. His highly slanted eyes were bright and restless. He studied Hero’s mutilated face with keen interest before borrowing the old man’s reed. When Hero scraped at his feet he grunted and returned the reed.
The stranger pulled out something shiny and hefted it in his hand. He then raised his other hand while considering Hero, as though weighing him too. The old man’s eyes glinted, and for an instant his expression became grotesquely servile. The stranger and old man, facing, nodded curtly in unison. The stranger dropped the shiny thing onto the old man’s itching palm. The old man whipped Hero frantically before taking a small ax to the chain. A few hard blows split a link, the broken link was bent back by the tool’s shaft, and the prisoner was at last released.
The old man handed the stranger a short hempen rope. The stranger bowed deeply. He then tied an end of the rope through one of the remaining links and began dragging Hero along. Hero’s hands sought the old man, who kicked and cursed him all the way to the path. The three stumbled single-file to the bottom. The old man waved his arms and shouted hysterically, trotting behind until he ran out of breath. But he got in a final kick and, before he came to a gasping halt, managed to lash Hero once for old time’s sake, and to spit on him twice for luck.

There were five carriages; a long one in the center hitched to four oxen, and two smaller coaches in the front and rear with a pair of oxen on each. The carriages were old and battered, built of splitting wood slats and rusted iron braces. Various hides, spare wheels, and a hundred odds and ends were tied to the sides and roofs. Hero’s new master, using him as a ram, shoved him through the crowd to the long carriage. He hauled him up the single wood step and watched the crowd’s reaction. Children hid behind mothers, mothers hissed and jeered, men spat in that smashed, disgusting face.
Satisfied, Hero’s master twisted the rope tighter and dragged him through the hide flap that served as the carriage’s rear wall.
A strange ruckus began at their entrance.
Inside the carriage were bulky shapes and quirky movements, yet the immediate and overwhelming impression was one of unbelievable stench. Hero, instantly covered with flies, was kicked and shoved down a foot-wide aisle. The carriage’s walls were riddled with black flecks of old dried blood, the floor coated with standing *****, a variety of small carcasses, and some clinging, indefinable slime. But the living contents of this hell were so horrifying, and so unexpected, that Hero at once dropped to his knees. Observing this, master grabbed a whip off the wall and lashed him along the floor.
A number of bamboo cages lined either side of the carriage, each four feet high, four feet wide, and three feet deep. In the first cage to their left, a quadruple amputee dangled in a leather harness in a cloud of flies, jealously gnawing a chicken carcass balanced on his belly. The second cage held a man who had been burned over ninety per cent of his body, and the third a middle-aged woman with no eyes or tongue, her head shaved. The next cage housed a fully grown black leopard, its bright eyes fixed on the horrified newcomer. Then an empty cage, and finally a cage containing a demented man whose long yellow nails were busily raking a face deeply scarred and bleeding.
The first cage against the opposite wall held two girls rolling in their own excrement. Siamese twins unable to part, they had developed a unique method of locomotion, and now executed a three-quarters cartwheel in Hero’s direction, their mangled, severely bitten hands attempting to reach him through the bars. In the cage next to theirs a naked dwarf glowered menacingly, his eyes following coldly as Hero’s master shoved him down the narrow aisle, occasionally pausing to lash a cage. The hissing and howling increased as each prisoner beheld the new neighbor.
The third cage held an intensely sick adult Bornean sun bear, so confined it was entirely unable to move. Its hide was a patchwork of scraggly fur and grayish skin, glistening with odd eruptions. It rolled its sunken eyes in Hero’s direction, its muzzle twitching feebly.
The next cage contained a man who was frightfully diseased. Broad fungal patches covered his face and limbs, terminating in waxy folds that dangled like a rooster’s wattles. Welling sores spotted his chest and back. His eyes were bugged and sallow; his lower lip drooped below his chin. He barked wetly at Hero’s passing legs.
The second-to-last cage housed a rare, completely hairless Chinese albino, and the last cage a very tall, skeletal woman. The albino snapped at Hero while repeatedly banging his head against the cage. The woman hissed and coiled like a snake, her spine arching amazingly.
Master hauled Hero to the empty cage on his left, swung its door open with his foot, and forced him to his knees by pushing down with all his weight. He kicked and punched until Hero had been squeezed inside, then shut and secured the wide bamboo door.
Master inched his way back down the carriage, hammering the **** of his whip on each cage as he passed. There was a glimpse of daylight as he lifted the flap.
Once he’d departed, the carriage grew eerily silent.
Hero cautiously turned his head. Less than a foot away, the black leopard was frozen in place, one paw waving hypnotically in his face. The beast’s fangs were bared, its ears straight back, its eyes glistening. Hero turned ever so slowly, until he was looking into the eyes of the demented man in the final cage. The man cocked his head quizzically. A second later he was screaming his lungs out in a bizarre downward spiral.
At once the carriage erupted. The freaks shrieked and scrabbled, the leopard spun in place. Directly across the aisle, the albino hurled himself against the bars of his cage. He batted his face with his fists, threw back his head, and just howled and howled and howled. The snake woman curled even tighter, her long scrawny legs entwined behind her head.
Hero sat with breath held, absolutely silent, absolutely motionless. He very, very slowly closed his eyes.

Later that night the flap was flung high. The menagerie came alive as master, weirdly illuminated by moonlight, slowly made his way down the aisle carrying a skin sack oozing blood. He stopped at each cage to toss in a dying chicken and a handful of smelt.
When he reached Hero’s cage he looked down thoughtfully.
He extracted a quivering chicken and held it above the cage so that blood dripped on the brute’s deeply pleated forehead. Hero lowered his eyes. Master’s face darkened. He smashed the bird against the cage, over and over, a vein throbbing in his temple. Finally he hissed and displayed the limp chicken high over the albino’s head. The albino yelped and kicked, thrusting his hand up between the bars and jerking it back to lick away the blood rolling down his forearm.
Master eyed Hero coldly before pointedly dropping the chicken into the albino’s searching hands.
Master hissed again. He slowly made his way out.
Soon there was a commotion outside. The carriage rocked a bit before settling. Hero, turning in his cage to peek through a rift in the wood, saw horses being urged forward. He could hear men shouting. The carriage rocked again. He looked up and saw the gibbous moon suspended in mist. For just a second something wedge-shaped cut across its soft white face.
But then the oxen were grunting, the wheels had been freed, and the horses drawn abreast. Master’s lash spat left and right, and the show proceeded…west.

                                              MA­STER

She was very round and very small, with very short, very shaggy black hair. Her arms bore the scars of numerous bites from beast and man, and around her neck ran long wheals from a particularly savage owner. Hero, having spent the better part of the morning watching master storm in and out of a strange screaming house, now watched him drag the little round woman through the dirt. For a while he listened to the song of his master’s lash, waiting for the woman to break. But there was never a whimper.
It had been a difficult transaction for master, and an altogether difficult morning. For hours he’d paced up and down the main carriage, alternately murmuring affectionately into, and lashing at, each cage he visited. The sun bear, long dead and stuffed, had been taken outside for barter. It had soon been returned.
Master had lingered over Hero’s cage for a good while, staring critically. He’d begun shouting, and three of his men had burst in through the flap, unlatched the demented man’s cage, and dragged him out by the feet for trade, master personally stomping on his torn and groping hands.
And now master was kicking and shoving the little woman down the aisle as his men restrained her by the hair and throat. Upon master’s command these men stripped her naked and commenced pinching and slapping while making threatening faces and mocking noises. The freaks sat right up in their cages.
The woman looked as though she’d fainted:  her arms were lax, her eyes rolled up. Her whole face seemed to purse, and her body, head to toe, began to run blue. Her fingers quivered, arched, and clawed—the woman was self-asphyxiating. Master fairly leaped with delight while the cages rocked around him. He had the men slap her awake. Once she was fully conscious they stuffed her into the demented man’s old cage next to Hero’s.
Master then looked in eagerly, one to the other, his hands balled into fists. The woman buried her odd round face in her forearms as she squeezed herself into her cage’s deepest corner. Hero gazed indifferently and went back to his peephole.
Master exploded. He smacked and kicked the cages over and over, swore up and down, ran the shaft of his whip back and forth against the heavy bamboo bars. Eventually he calmed somewhat. He stared coldly at Hero, made a ***** smile, and spat right in his eyes. A tense minute passed. Master slowly made his way outside.
Hero automatically relaxed. Across the aisle the albino ****** his face between his cage’s bars to sniff the newcomer. The leopard, bobbing rhythmically, emitted a high-pitched squeal that gradually descended to a steadily throbbing growl.
Hero looked the stranger over. Once she’d lowered her hands he saw that her eyes were crossed, her jaw slack, her face as round as the full moon. He looked closer. There were scars all over her throat and arms:  plainly, the small round woman had been treated very badly. Hero instinctively slid a foot between the bars; the woman cried out and scrunched even deeper. Across the aisle the albino quickly extended an arm. Without knowing why, Hero turned on him. The albino flinched, his eyes tearing into Hero’s. A second later he was stamping his feet and grinning wildly. Hero went back to his peephole.
Next morning master and two of his men dismantled the bamboo walls separating Hero’s and the woman’s cages. They bound the frames with broad leather bands, making a single cage of the two.
A common door was fashioned and secured. Master used his broad blade to shear away Hero’s rags. The men hunched around the long cage expectantly.
The naked couple backed away. Master was instantly exasperated—he shouted, lashed furiously, stamped and screamed, jabbed a broken shaft between the bars with malevolent intent, whirled and hurled the shaft at nothing. The carriage’s inmates went out of their minds. At master’s bellowed command a man scurried outside, returning with a long rope of woven leather strands. Master opened the cage and, applying all his weight, pinned Hero and his new mate in an awkward embrace while his men tied them together.
Again master and his men bent over the long cage to watch.
When Hero realized his predicament he made a desperate attempt to reach his peephole.
The men, misreading his struggles, babbled and cheered, but master threw up his hands. He then, through gesture, ordered his men to drape a number of hides over the long cage. Once these hides were in place he very quietly bent to one knee and placed an ear against the cage. After a while he cursed and rose to his feet. He shook the cage and stormed out, whipping and kicking the howling inmates.
In the semi-darkness the man and woman quit fighting their bonds.
A muffled patter began on the hide-covered roof.
Rain, as always, had a calming effect on the carriage’s occupants, causing the freaks and beasts to slip, one by one, into lethargy or slumber. Under such a spell, the attainment of master’s goal was inevitable.
It was a coupling both innocent and vile, without passion or celebration. Occasionally the freaks would surface, register their excitement by shrieking, shaking their cages, or otherwise clamoring…but very quickly the air would stifle them, weighing their heads and confusing their impulses. The atmosphere grew heavier by the minute. And, when night rolled over the carriages, the rain came down in sheets.

Leaning ******* the woman’s cage, master slipped his gnarly hand between the bars and slowly rubbed her belly in a counter-clockwise motion, his sinister features soft in the candle’s light. And he told, in nonsensical cooing whispers, of a lovingly secure and impossibly prosperous future.
How large and promising that belly had become! And how wise was he, the cunning and aggressive master, in his far-reaching business decisions. He turned his affection to the motionless gaping brute; stroked the battlefield of its face, tossed in another lizard. Master rubbed his palms together. From now on it was extra lizards daily, for both the woman and her mate. He remarked, with only passing interest, his star player’s continuing indifference. They didn’t know each other, didn’t need each other.
There’d been months of shows on the road now, broken only recently by this sensible rejoining of the mates at conception.
Hero’s horrible disfigurement was unquestionably top draw; he was a guaranteed crowd pleaser at every stop. So now master looked him straight in the eyes and smiled. He held the reeking candle high. The carriage was absolutely silent. Master smiled again, rose to his feet, tiptoed away.
Hero watched him retreat until the flap had fallen. He returned to his peephole, saw master round the rear of the carriage and slowly crunch by. For a time he could see nothing but the half-shapes of junipers bathed in starlight. There was a tentative movement to his right and a large shape came to obstruct his view.
The horse stood for a minute in profile. It slowly brought its head to rest against the carriage, applying its eye to the peephole. Hero froze. The two remained fixed, eyeball to eyeball, while a breeze played odd tunes on the outer wall’s hanging paraphernalia. The horse’s big dark eye rolled nervously. A long moment passed. Slowly the horse backed off. It stood uncertainly for a while, staring at the peephole. Then it quietly moved away.

Master kicked the cages one by one, left hand and right, as he slowly made his way down the aisle. Into each cage he delivered a personalized warning in passing—a growl, a hiss, a bark—but he was quickly losing control. Animal electricity hopscotched the carriage, cage to cage, ceiling to floor, front to rear and back again. Master froze. Much more of this excitement, he feared, could seriously agitate the woman—with grave consequences for master.
She was splayed on her back, in labor’s throes, her ankles and wrists bound to the long cage. Hero had been removed to give her room, and now sat hunched atop the snake woman’s cage, two men holding him by the throat and legs.
Master gnashed and snarled, listening to the woman scream, watching her stupid round head bounce up and down and back and forth. He knew it! He’d been suckered, hoodwinked, scammed—ripped off like a common rube. The woman was too ******* to handle even something as natural as childbirth. Still…it was too late to second-guess himself—all these months he’d been patient—he’d been supportive and vigilant and now he would not be denied. He flogged one of the men to alleviate his tension.
The blue lady was very slowly, very dramatically arching her spine. Master wiped the sweat from his eyes. When the bars were pleating her big round belly, her shoulders began drumming on the straw-strewn floor.
Master screamed one very colorful expletive.
A razor silence came over the carriage. Not a body moved or breathed.
At last two men tiptoed around their purpling master and leaned into the cage. One obediently ****** a foot between the bars. He pushed ******* her right knee while using a hand to grip the left knee, spreading her legs wide. The other man drew a broad leather strap between her teeth. After lifting the woman’s head he pulled the strap behind her neck, knotted it to make a gag, and yanked a skin sack over her face. He looked up anxiously. Master licked his lips and nodded. The man made a fist and frantically punched the woman’s face until her muffled screams ceased. She moaned gently throughout her contractions.
Master genuflected, brought a spitting candle in tight, and took a deep breath. As he raised his hand the candle’s light bounced off his knife’s chipped and scored eleven-inch blade. Master swore and reached down carefully. He flicked his wrist twice and the menagerie went mad.

The child was a tremendous disappointment.
Master had eagerly anticipated an infant ******* and deformed; something embracing the best qualities of its parents. He had even designed a special cage that could be expanded by degrees as the spawn developed. There also remained the tantalizing option of a family display, though such an undertaking would require the eventual construction of a structure even larger than the cage its parents now shared. Master anguished over the logistics, knowing it would break his heart to have to cut one of his jewels’ throats just to make room for a growing child. Nights he would slowly pace the carriage with all the possessiveness of a jealous suitor, one hand maneuvering a sputtering candle, the other tenderly rapping his whip’s **** against each visited cage.
But the boy was a flawless specimen; a beautiful, undemanding baby. From the moment master angrily tossed the placenta he felt cheated, even betrayed. He grimaced as it peaceably took to its mother’s breast, despite the surrounding horrors. Master hated it, immediately and entirely. The ****** thing was so docile it was almost charming. He drew his knife and was just reaching down, when an overwhelming sense of dread shook him like a rat in the jaws of a mastiff. Sweat poured down his squat, pig-tailed nape. He knew he would live to regret it, but decided to not cut the child’s throat right away. It was the oddest feeling. His knife hand had trembled for the first time in his life, and he had found himself momentarily contemplating right and wrong at the outset of a perfectly simple and commonplace procedure. That was it, then. His business instincts were letting him know there was a good, albeit unknowable, reason to let the sweet baby live. Master left the carriage anxiously, muttering in his ambivalence.
The boy grew to embody his worst expectations. Not only was it a poorly oriented child, clinging to its father rather than its master almost from the moment of weaning, but it soon proved a lousy draw with the patrons. Those who paid to view the child dangling in its special cage inevitably departed unsatisfied, some vocalizing, strangely, an acute sense of shame. So once again master entered the carriage with his knife hand steady, and once again he exited trembling, his heart in his throat and his soul in a whirl. He whipped the dwarf savagely before leaving. What place conscience in the mind of a businessman?
Soon as the boy could walk, master put him to work fetching and feeding. But the brat was slothful in his chores, preferring to hang around his family’s cage while staring wistfully at his father. For their part, the parents were wholly disinterested. Master would fume while Hero gazed for hours out his peephole—even as the mother lolled, perpetually ill. Sometimes that accursed woman’s condition riled poor master to no end. She could teeter at death’s door for months at a time, her body changing hues to the fascination of customers, only to bounce back with a hardiness that was of interest to no one. But at the peak of her performances the blue lady could really hold a crowd. Master produced an entire outdoors extravaganza around her:  within concentric rings of raging torches his men would slowly strip her naked before wild audiences, then allow the dwarf and albino to take her while the leopard strained against a gaily festooned chain. Master circulated his crew through the crowds to encourage his patrons’ cult-like behavior of breath-holding and fainting. No getting around it:  the customers were crazy about her—village to village, master’s Bactrian vanguard’s colorful robes shouted her approaching fame. And Hero’s popularity continued to soar. Many were the nights when master, pacing the perimeter, wondered just what devilry could have produced the lovely boy.
Overall, Hero remained his master’s favorite conceit and hottest property. Part of the little brute’s appeal was, of course, his exoticness. And certainly the ugliness arising from his deformity was compelling…but there was a detachedness about him that fascinated every soul with a fistful of copper cash coins. Whether they ****** him, cudgeled him, or spat in his face, he remained unflappable, staring only at the aching sky. Though many would leave uneasy, master noted with deep satisfaction that they almost invariably returned.
The boy soon evinced an amazing affinity for animals. No matter how agitated an ox or horse became, the child could pacify it with one hand on a lowered brow. This was a source of endless fascination for the crew. Wagers were made. The boy was pitted against oxen whipped to a frenzy. But they would not harm him; they would rather go prostrate and take the lash. Master tried to work this knack into a viable act, but his patrons just weren’t buying. They wanted freaks.
When the lad was a mere five years old, master had him trained in the peripheral art of the pickpocket. The boy worked well alone, and had all the makings of a fine little flimflam artist. Master sighed, his chronic nightmares a thing of the past. As ever, his business instincts were guiding him well.
Then late one afternoon he found the boy squatting outside his parents’ cage. The boy had done the unthinkable:  he had deposited his day’s pickings at the feet of his father instead of bringing the ***** to master. Master flew into a rage and raised his whip to give the little traitor the lashing he deserved. But before he could deliver a single stroke his other hand shot to his chest and he staggered back against the albino’s cage. He blinked down at the boy, who regarded him steadily while scooping the plunder into a little pile.
From that day on the boy placed whatever he could get his hands on at his father’s feet. As time passed he became ever more adroit at thievery, growing into a youngster both admired and despised by master and his crew; admired because theft was a cinch for him, despised because they were all that much lighter in their possessions.
Now, for eleven long years the strange little train had bounced along, sometimes camping outside villages for months, occasionally pausing on connecting roads. The show traversed the heart of Manchuria, skirted the Gobi in the north, and so eventually crossed almost the entire width of Mongolia before proceeding north to the confluence of the rivers Yenisey and Ob’. Much silver and copper had come to master’s coffer, much fame to his name, but he now sat looking over a vast, unmapped Siberian wilderness. The mostly nomadic characters they’d been encountering spoke in tongues unfamiliar even to his personal valet-translator-accountant, and the tone of these nomads had been unmistakably hostile.
Master huddled surlily under a canopy of sopping hides. Night was falling hard during a merciless rain, the wind was picking up, and his supplies coach was bogged in a growing sea of mud. At that moment he accepted the whole end-of-the-line concept, and knew he wasn’t going anywhere but back. And when he got back he was going to shine! He jumped from the coach.
The earth took his weight for a heartbeat—and he was up to his chin in muck, splashing about on his hands and knees, sliding forward on his palms and toes. He did a belly flop into a rain-filled depression and churned to his feet with the devil in his eyes. Wallowing in mud and bile, master stomped to the supplies coach and kicked wildly at the stuck rear wheels.
Somewhere between kicks he lost it completely.
Master broke for his whip. One minute he was blindly lashing his men, the next he’d succumbed to a mindless ferocity. He thrashed about like a berserker; whipping the beasts, the coach, the very night. His men were scarcely able to move in all that mud, but their dread of his savagery kept them hopping. They gathered as one and shoved the coach recklessly; slipping, splashing, shouting. A minute later, three lay splayed underfoot, but the mired wheel had been freed.
Throughout all this the oxen had swayed nervously, while the horses softly tramped their hooves in place. Master had his men turn the oxen about until the rickety train was pointing dead east. He checked the hitches and personally applied the lash. The oxen didn’t budge. Master swore and wiped the rain from his eyes. He had the horses hitched ahead of the oxen, but they were even less obliging. Master flew into a spectacular rage. His men, fearing for their lives, ran liberally with the lash.
The swaying of oxen picked up until the entire train of carriages was rocking. Yet the oxen could not, would not be compelled, under any amount of prodding, to take an eastward step. Master looked around in exasperation.
The night had gone insane.
Horses were fighting hitches, oxen walking on fire.
Master cursed the rain and mud and lashed all the harder. His men, seeking to please, whipped maniacally until the horses and both lead oxen broke their hitches and bolted west. The men immediately embraced the rear oxen, but the hitches shattered and the beasts stormed off. The remaining horses blew it, kicking at everything and nothing.
Inside the long carriage all was chaos. The albino was neighing and screaming, the aged leopard spinning in its cage. Hero stared out his peephole, amazed at the blur of figures stumbling by in the rain.
A pair of clopping blows rattled the opposite wall. Three slats cracked. A tremendous impact, and a huge section collapsed. A thrashing, hysterical mare burst through the breach in a veil of rain.
The horse went mad, killing the albino and snake woman in a flurry of hooves. She fell ******* the near wall, crushing the cages. The leopard shot into the air like a rocket, slashed at the mare’s throat and vanished in the rain. The horse reared above the family cage. She was just coming down in a wheeling storm of hooves when something made her freeze. Her stare locked with Hero’s, and a second later her eyes were rolling in their sockets. The mare kicked crazily and came down ******* her left flank, smashing the long cage’s side. She whirled upright and leaped outside.
For a tense minute the family sat in the rubble, rain bombarding their eyes. Nothing in their years of captivity had prepared them for such a situation. But by the end of that minute the son had taken full command. He rolled onto his back, braced himself, and kicked his parents across the aisle, through the remnants of the opposing cage, and out of the carriage. They all fell about in the mud and rain. To the west, the mare stared back strangely as she splashed into the night. The boy wedged himself between his parents, threw his arms around them, and pushed with all his might. Their bodies found a common center of gravity. Fumbling drunkenly, the family staggered through the rain in the wake of the mare.

The boy was the natural leader.
Master’s innocent-looking little ex-student could quickly assess and exploit almost any situation. He did the foraging and the figuring, slept with one eye open and one fist ready. He got what he wanted by charm or by stealth, slipping off at nightfall, returning at daybreak with small slaughtered animals and chunks of dark peasant bread. He also pilfered any bauble or oddity he could get his paws on, to be placed reverently at his father’s mangled feet. Breadwinner and watchdog, he faithfully held the family together; a nuclear son. He sewed hardy feather-lined cloaks of reindeer hide, and turned a cache of marmot pelts into a kind of side-slung backpack. He was doting nurse during his mother’s episodes, and unbending apportioner of calories in lean times. Dauntless when it meant crossing mighty rivers, relentless when it came to finding mountain passes. But the endless marching, the unreliable diet, and the countless predators made the three wanderers lean, haggard moving targets. There were times when the little lamp of family was all but extinguished, and long stands in places that seemed absolutely impassable. Still, the boy would work things out. He would stoop to any level to feed Hero, and for a stranger to threaten his father was to summon a psychotic, unyielding monster. He was both spear and shield.
The toughest job of all was maintaining a tight unit, meaning he was forced to become a hard-nosed ******* whenever his father was ready to wander off, which always seemed to be whenever the mother was hurting most. She’d become a tremendous impediment to Hero’s compulsion, and therefore her son’s chief nemesis. It wasn’t a big-picture concern anyway; the writing was on the wall. The blue lady’s attacks were increasing spectacularly on the steppe; her world had always been an enclosure of some kind, and the great horizon was proving just too much. Perhaps these intense affairs served as links to Hero’s suppressed memories, for at the onset of each attack he’d turn and hike, and then only exhaustion could curb him. The boy would press his mother on, dragging, shoving, and smacking—he could be mean when necessary, and though circumstances had made him the nucleus, their worlds unquestionably revolved around Hero. Where he sat, they sat. When he rose, they did the same. In this manner they marched for years across the vast steppes, single-file—father, mother, and son, respectively—unmolested, lacking possessions, always following the sun. Long before they could be measured they had drifted into obscurity.
The woman’s end came quickly and dramatically, in a rocky little depression on a half-frozen field. One moment she was responsive to her son’s prompts, the next she was flat on her back, her eyelids fluttering. That night she leapt from fever to chill, from alertness to stupor. The boy, squatting beside their campfire, watched her face and hands run cadaver-blue to fish belly-pale and back again. While he was staring her eyes popped open and her hands came scrabbling. He sweated through the clawing embrace until he could bear it no longer. He oozed out and ran down to fetch his father.
When they got back Hero watched incuriously for a while. His mate’s face was scrunched up and her skin the color of sapphires. She wasn’t breathing.
His gaze became glassy, his eyes returned to the night. As he rose the boy immediately grabbed an arm. Neither moved for minutes. When the boy at last relinquished, his father casually stumbled off.
Strange things were going on in Hero’s world. Some days he would notice how animals regarded him oddly, in a manner that seemed almost personal. He found, for instance, that particular creatures were recognizable even over great distances. A number of times he would sit with one in a stare-down, waiting patiently, until the animal’s natural disposition caused it to bolt. Though the meaning of these encounters was way over his head, he would watch, and he would listen.
In time he noticed an increasing skittishness in some of these familiar creatures. Something had them spooked. He then observed a number of lean gray wolves moving in and out of the picture with an air of complete indifference:  these wolves weren’t hunting; they were loitering—lounging in the grass, lackadaisically padding to the rear, filing by slowly in the distance. Once in a while a lounger would raise its head, yawn cavernously, and drop back out of sight. So unobtrusive was their behavior that even Hero’s ever-vigilant son began to take them for granted. They paused where the family paused, and halted whenever the woman broke down. Perfectly camouflaged by the gray boulders and dire sky, they were completely forgotten in the drama of her passing.
There were other, far subtler events existing for Hero’s senses alone. He could perceive patterns in everything around him; in the manner vegetation gave way wherever his heart was leading, in the way so many animals appeared to be not merely mirroring, but making his course. And wind, rain, running water:  these phenomena had voices. Yet not for everybody. No one—not his mate, not his son, not another soul on the planet could hear this call, for they were all of a sort. They were static, they were temporal. Hero couldn’t have cared less about the lives of his family, or about the mundane goings-on in the encampments and small tribes they skirted. Such beings lived in a world that was defined by the moment. They shouted, they banged, they clamored.
But west—west was music.
For his boy, once again watching Hero shamble off, the moment of truth had arrived. He looked back down, at his mother’s death mask being remade by the dying light of their campfire. As the flames dwindled he could have sworn he saw shadows creep into the wells of her eyes, while others, crawling up around her jawline, drew her bluing lips like purse strings. He hopped to his feet and ran for another handful of tinder. When their little fire provided enough light he dropped to his knees and looked again.
She was sinking right before his eyes, every aspect of her expression in collapse. The boy watched clinically, fascinated. As the flames began to sputter he thought he could see large purple bruises spreading across her cheeks like the seeping limbs of overflowing pools. He bent closer.
From deep in the night came the longest, the leanest, the saddest wail he’d ever heard. He turned to see the starlit ghost of his father, facing away, staring at a low barren hill. Uncountable stars embroidered the spot. The boy made out a low shape moving along the hilltop, cutting off patches of stars as it passed.
The wolf howled again; a mournful, spiraling cry to nowhere and nothing. Hero’s head notched upward. He began to hike.
Halfway to his feet the boy stopped dead.
It took a minute to sense why he’d frozen in place, and a good while longer for his heart to quit pounding. He was aware of a nervous padding, and, once his vision had adjusted, of a lazy stream of eyes gleaming in the dying campfire’s light. The eyes bobbed around him, glared momentarily, returned to the ground.
A massive gasp, and his mother was tearing at his wrist. He watched her hyperventilating, saw her bulbous yellow eyes sinking in a wide violet pool. With a sizzle and pop the last tongue of flame was taken by the night.
Then her clammy hands were all over him, pulling and demanding, caressing and beseeching. He had to pry them off like leeches, had to place them clasped on her shuddering arched belly.
A silky snarl rose almost in his ear.
With a little squeal he sprang to his feet, even as something nearby jumped back in response.
The boy stood absolutely still while the panting thing padded nearer. They stood very close, smelling each other. He instinctively extended a hand, palm forward. But it was no good; his arm was shaking out of control. The snarl rose again, not so tentatively this time. His mother’s nails tore at his ankle.
The boy gently stepped away, only to find himself surrounded by the shifting silhouettes of half a dozen gray wolves. They approached in a calculated manner:  two from the left, one from the right, another from behind. He was being goaded away from his mother; he could hear her fists beating the ground, and a few seconds later the sounds of a nauseating assault and ravaging.
He shakily raised his other hand. Now both arms were extended, and their message was clearly one of defense rather than control. Two snapping wolves stepped aside, leaving him a gateway into the night. A cold wet nose bumped his wrist.
Screaming like a woman, he took off after his father just as fast as his feet would carry him.

                                                  BOY

Alon­g the great Kazakh Steppe a man could wander a lifetime and never meet another of his kind—especially if his kind happened to be Alaskan Inuk, and if he happened to be the teenaged patriarch of a two-man family going nowhere.
Here history is mostly mute.
Upon this continent-spanning steppe, unnamed communities were scattered and rebuilt, lives blown about by the wind. The only centers of humanity a traveler might encounter, far removed from the Silk Road at the very crack of the new millennium, were temporary encampments of civilization at its rudest—shifting holes of cutthroat commerce existing solely for the barter of silk and spices and hapless souls. Life here was revered far less than merchandise, and the longest-lived men were those who kept their distance.
Hero and his boy hiked over permafrost and tundra for years; their meandering course a drunken mapmaker’s scrawl. Chronological entries along this imaginary line would reveal that they’d stopped, sometimes for months at a time, when the father had grown too weak and disoriented to continue. Hero’s internal compass was long-sprung, and his weight had fallen considerably. He’d sit on his lonesome, scarecrow-scrawny, wistfully scrolling a 360-horizon while his boy scouted and scavenged. Then, for no apparent reason, he’d just up-and hike—sometimes northwest, sometimes along a tangential plane that always threatened to spiral. It was brutal:  winters were frigid, summers, by odd contrast, running steamy to baking. Season by season these marches lost their tenaciousness, and eventually their heart. Hero’s obsession was becoming his demise.
Now, to a hypothetical observer, the ratty pair of woolly camels materializing out of the rising August heat might have been mirages.
These beasts were novelties here, and pioneers, for they were way beyond their normal stomping grounds. They’d tramped for months with a mind-numbing monotonousness, a thousand miles and more; round the Urals to the south, and through the hard territory braced by the Volga and Voronezh, avoiding anything that even smelled of men. They’d been wild camels; ugly, ill-tempered, and unpredictable, until the boy tamed them by touch…but this new pattern was a literal change of pace…for weeks the frail little man and his dark teenaged son rose and fell with the animals’ rhythm, lulled by it, sick of it, dreaming of lands far removed from hoarfrost and peat moss. In this manner they were borne clear to present-day Belarus, whereupon the camels’ stupefying march began to quicken. Mile by mile they put on steam, until one day they reached a broad area distinguishable from its bracing terrain only by its many deep surface cracks. Here the camels’ behavior became erratic; they crouched at an angle while tramping, their long necks oscillating, their noses bobbing along the ground. Eventually they came upon a dingy pool nestled in a pebbly depression. The local brush surrounding this pool was situated like iron filings about a lodestone. The boy hauled back his camel’s neck and laid a hand on its brow. The brute slowed to a halt. The other camel imitated its partner, move for move. Simultaneously the animals dropped to their knees.
The boy jumped off, catching Hero as he fell. The camels stood watching stupidly as son maneuvered father, but after a while grew nervous and began tramping their hooves in time. They slowly stepped to the pool’s rim and knelt woozily, their noses poised just above the surface. Their whiskers danced on the pool’s face, their lids became heavy, their hindquarters quivered as they drank. Their nostrils, having fluttered in unison, remained agape. They appeared to be asleep.
The boy began filling skins.
The water was quite warm; he slurped a palmful and almost immediately felt intoxicated.
He flicked it off his fingers; the water was bad.
Three heads were now mirrored in the pool; the camels’ at ten o’clock and two o’clock, the boy’s at six. He watched their reflections continue to ripple, long after the pool had become still. His face, melting and firming, rapidly fluctuated between extremes of age, and between his own recognizable features and those of some…monstrosity. The effect was hypnotic. He felt his joints stiffen; his eyes became weak, his thoughts muddled…his face was irresistibly drawn to the pool’s surface, and for a moment he was in real peril of drowning. He ****** his head aside and creaked to his feet.
Where the camels had knelt were only the prints of their bellies and knees. In the distance they could be seen galloping all-out for the horizon, right back the way they’d come. The boy watched until they were swallowed by their dust, and when he turned around his father was long gone.
Now he knew it was all just a matter of time.
And sure enough, after eleven more days of feebly staggering along, Hero completely ran out of gas. The boy bundled him up in a shawl, like an old woman.
Sitting there, cradling an unresponsive man weighing less than eighty pounds, he couldn’t help but let his morbid fantasies run wild. He was now old enough to realize his father had at some time suffered severe head trauma, and honest enough to accept that the man was rapidly approaching a vegetative state. This understanding accompanied him like a shadow, and that night he questioned, for the very first time, his own convoluted rationale.
He was just beginning to sense that his will was not his own.
He built a semi-permanent camp west of the Desna and foraged in a tight spiral, always returning in a straight line. Some days he came back feeling uneasy, sensing another presence. Then it was every other day. It bugged him to no end. At last, when it became every day, he hauled his father to his feet and began a resolute march to the west.
Again he became anxious, and after only a dozen yards.
He turned slowly while hunching, certain something bulky had just dropped out of sight. Nothing looked suspicious, everything looked suspicious. He walked Hero some more, occasionally peering back over his shoulder. There was…something.
He whirled:  only masses of rock and high brush. Yet, when he really strained his eyes, he was sure, pretty sure, that he could make out a large crouching body continuous with the rocks. Heart in his throat, he began a slow steady creep, only to pause, positive the bulge, whatever it was, had shifted in response. The boy very gradually raised his arm until it was level with his eyes, faced the palm outward, and extended the arm parallel with the ground. He could almost feel some kind of current passing between his itching palm and…nothing. He walked over to Hero, stopped again. There’d been the subtlest sense of traction. The boy propped up his father in a cloud of flies and waited.
In a minute the bulge drew *****.
Out of the brush strolled a furry gray wild ***, her back inclined from countless weary miles; stretching her neck, pausing to nibble, taking her sweet time. Grungy as she was, she fit right in.
At the boy’s first casual step she immediately hit the dirt and remained flat on her belly, one big dark eye staring between her hooves. Another step, and her **** bunched up. The closer he got, the higher her rear end rose. When he was almost at arm’s length she sprang back and danced away, seeming to bound with delight. But not to the east, as she’d come.
To the northwest.
She backpedaled while the boy came on whistling and cooing, matching him step for step. But the moment he threw up his arms in resignation she spun round as though cued, dropped on her belly, and peered over her shoulder.
The boy was first to blink. This time he approached fractionally, keeping movements to a minimum. She rose just as carefully, sauntering northwest in reverse, and at the first sign of hesitation turned, dropped, and cautiously gazed back. The boy glared at that huge mocking **** and broke into a sprint. She easily danced out of reach, plopped down, and continued to stare.
He began hurling stones, with venom and with accuracy, until she’d scurried into the brush.
But on the way back to his father he could feel her tagging along.
Twenty feet behind she halted, looking bemused.
The boy nodded ironically. He walked Hero over, murmuring baby talk all the way, and firmly placed a palm on the animal’s muzzle once her breath grazed his fingers. She stroked his hand up and down with her whiskers, gave a kind of curtsy, and waited on her knees while he helped his father mount.
At Hero’s touch a shudder ran down her body. She stood up straight. Her eyes became set, her back absolutely stiff. She put down her head and began the long trek northwest, never once breaking stride.
It was an amazing march, an impossible feat. For a little over three days and almost four hundred miles she progressed like an automaton, driving herself without rest, without food or water.
After trotting alongside for an hour the boy climbed on and force-fed his father berries and smoked meat, his dark eyes constantly searching the countryside. Occasionally he’d see a run of red foxes to their left, watching intently, padding cautiously. Sooner or later they’d vanish, only to be replaced by a train of feline or equine pursuers. Packs approached and receded while, high overhead, flocks formed triangular patterns that continually broke up and reformed. There was a peculiar rhythmic quality to this ebb and flow that lulled his senses further. The boy shook his head to clear it, but his exhaustion was deeper than he’d supposed—even the brush appeared to be leaning northwest.
That first day he grew numb with the pace, and that night the relentless pounding of her hooves drew him into a miserable slumber. He wrapped his arms around his sleeping father and lay half atop. When he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer he tore strips from his skins, then looped his tied wrists round her neck, his ankles round her belly.
On the second day she was breathing hard, but her back was still high and she showed no signs of faltering. Her eyes remained focused on the ground dead ahead. She always sensed the best routes; finding mountain passes, fording wetlands.
But by the third day they could feel her ribs quaking against their legs. Her breath exploded as she marched, blood frothed and caked about her nostrils. Still she pushed herself on, her pace so steady it was almost metronomic.
On the fourth day her legs were gone. She veered and stumbled, shuddering every few paces. The boy hopped off for the umpteenth time and tried to bring her to graze, but she wouldn’t be turned. He ran behind her as she staggered along, unwilling, or unable, to rest.
At last a foreleg gave and she went down hard. Sobbing and snorting, she plowed her muzzle back and forth in the soil, the useless leg repeatedly pounding the ground. After a minute she raised her head and brayed at the sky, her neck muscles taut, her head slowly swinging side to side. Her cry went on and on.
With a tremendous effort she pushed herself upright and butted the boy aside. Every part of her body was shaking. From her depths a low moan grew to a steady bray, and finally to a wild, pulsing howl. She came to a rise, but was too weak to climb without sliding. Stamping in frustration, she managed a few feet, reared feebly, slid some more. The boy got behind her and applied his back; it took all he had to assist her almost to the top. With a desperate lunge she crashed on her belly.
Amazingly, she dragged herself on, her howl now a scream, her head whipping left and right. When she could pull herself no farther she ****** forth her neck to its very limit and, with a shudder that ran from the tip of her nose to the tuft on her tail, shoved her muzzle straight into the dirt and died.
The boy hauled off his father and fell back. The animal’s eyes were fixed upwards, seeming, even in death, to be straining for a glimpse of what lay just beyond the rise. The boy half-dragged Hero the last few yards. They collapsed at the top, and together looked over the cold Baltic Sea.

At water’s edge a haggard fisherman sat on his boat’s ravaged deck, blindly staring out to sea. His was a queer vessel; a family structure built more like an aft-cabined barge than like seacraft typical of that period. The fisherman’s boat, like his mind, had been abused beyond repair.
He’d lost much in his life. Time had taken his dreams, pox his face, hardship his back and shoulders. And, more recently, a brawling band of drunken Baltic pirates had ***** his wife and daughter before butchering them along with his two fine sons, while he sat helplessly bound to the mast. Finally, to further their delight, they’d set the boat aflame and sent it crackling against the sun; knowing he could hear their hoots and howls, knowing he would drift undead, accompanied only by this last unspeakable memory.
But a squall, without prelude, had doused the flames and blown his home ashore.
There he’d remained for a full long day, staring at nothing, his shattered life caught on the rocks. On the second day he’d worked himself free and commenced staggering about in his memories, gathering shards. It was a pathetic claim. He made a pile of all the old bedding and linen and usable cords, and set about sewing a sort of mementos sail. All that third day he had sewn, and on the fourth he had hoisted this sail and been moved to see it billowing in a northwest-blowing breeze. Again he just sat and gaped. And later that day he’d become aware of a commotion taking place on the long grade leading down to the water, where a writhing mass of seagulls was proceeding like a tremendous slow-motion snowball. He’d never seen anything like it. It wasn’t uncommon to find gulls in a group of many dozens or more, but there must have been two, maybe three thousand of the birds now swarming toward his boat. They were making an incredible racket. In the midst of this cloud could be seen a couple of slowly walking figures; as they neared he made out a small man accompanying a boy in his late teens, both dressed in odd skins. When they reached the rocks his eyes were drawn to the small man’s face. It was a foreign face, brutish and dark, with a deep cleft running from above the right temple to the jaw’s left side. Whatever instrument had felled this man had been devastating—everything in its path was smashed, and with permanence. The forehead was caved in. There was no bridge to the nose, the left cheek was completely collapsed, one side of the mouth was a mangled mess. The jaw itself had set improperly, so that it jutted to the side. The general impression, especially from a distance, was of some unforgettable circus freak’s countenance puckering at an angle. It was a face right out of a nightmare. But there was nothing frightening about the eyes. They were the eyes of a child.
Maybe half the gulls hopped screaming on the rocks. The rest circled overhead.
The boy considered the fisherman curiously before placing a foot on the charred deck. His gaze went around the boat, lingered on the makeshift sail, returned to the slumped figure. He passed a hand before the eyes. No response. He then leaned in close and placed his fingers on the man’s forehead. Immediately that bleak expression became fluid, brimming over with horror and heartbreak. Tears rolled down the fisherman’s cheeks as he gasped, shuddered, and backed up the scorched mast to his feet. Thus propped, he squinted at his visitors and was overcome by a wave of homesickness so strong he had to turn away. The feeling bewildered him, for this vessel, and this sea, were all the home he’d ever known. He clung to the mast while the boy helped his father board. Once he’d collected himself, the fisherman tore a heavy crossbeam from the toasted cabin. He and the boy used this as a lever, and together they shoved the boat off the rocks. The wind picked up nicely, and the little craft was swept across the water.
Exploding off the rocks, the gulls shot after the boat as if it were brimming with fish, the loudest and orneriest vying for favored positions directly overhead. The melee attracted additional gulls—they came shrieking in their hundreds from all sides, banking and calling in the oddest manner, until the mass grew so thick as to cast a permanent shadow on the boat. All day long the clamor continued, and all that night. The fisherman rolled with the rudder, listlessly, allowing the sea to control him. Eventually he let go, that the wind might bear them where it would. His sail ballooned but held firm, and the boat fairly zipped across a sea somehow smooth as glass, broken only by the vacillating ripples of bottleneck dolphins and migrating humpback whales. The three tiny sailors sat hunched together, motionless, all throughout the next day, until the black coast of Sweden loomed in the twilight.
As the boat neared land the cloud of gulls broke up, shot to shore, and landed in groups of a thousand and more; a dizzying, wildly uproarious reception committee.
The dung-covered boat slammed into the rocks, shattering the fisherman’s trance. He intuitively walked his **** up the mast and, swaying there, watched the boy draw his father over the side and lead him to a clearing at wood’s edge. There in the dusk he made out what appeared to be a hefty spotted runaway heifer hitched to a rickety wood wagon. He saw the cow gallop up to meet them, saw the boy look around warily, saw him help the little man into the wagon and climb in beside him. The animal immediately began picking through the woods, the large brass bell round her neck clanging forlornly.
The clarity of that bell made him realize just how quiet it had become. He craned his neck:  there wasn’t a gull in sight. He fell back against the shot mast and slid onto his tailbone with a clacking of teeth. His eyes were misting up. In the gathering dark a few sail fragments flew past and were ****** into the woods. The boat rocked and relaxed. After that there was only the sound of the receding bell’s sad, monotonous song being batted about by the wind.

The little cow strode through moonlit woods until she came to a path formed by the rutting of wheels over many years. She followed this broken, serpentine track throughout the night, and by morning was passing farms and, occasionally, crossing broader paths that might realistically be defined as roads. All day long she bore down that ragged track, until she came in late afternoon to a clearing near a village. Here many such tracks converged. And here the boy slipped away while she grazed.
Sometime after dark he returned with a load of straw, a couple of pilfered blankets, and a fat iron kettle. Crammed in this kettle were salt, tubers, cheese, a few loaves of rye, legumes, and a plump foot of lamb sausage. Most of this ***** he’d brought in tied to the bowed back of a huge, puffing, highly amenable black pig which, thus laden, now followed the boy’s every step like a fresh convert tracing the heels of the messiah. The boy built a fire under the stars, filled the kettle with creek water, and commenced simmering their dinner. While waiting, he couldn’t help but note an odd feature of the local flora:  plants, especially trees, all seemed inclined to a northwesterly disposition, though no amount of wind could account for it. He shooed the pig. But rather than run along, it backpedaled in a nervous circle, round and round in reverse, until it lost its balance and fell on its ****. There it remained, a yard behind the wagon. The boy fed his father and lined the wagon with straw. They settled in for the night. The boy must have nodded, might have dreamt, but while he was drifting he became aware of a stirring in the woods. He sat up, saw the pig’s eyes gleaming inches from his nose. And there were a number of animals, some wild, some strayed from farmsteads, arranged in a broad circle around the wagon, their eyes glinting with moonlight. Not a rustle, not a peep, was lifted from the woods.
In the morning he woke to find the pig still staring. The fidgeting heifer, impatient to roll, began her long day’s march while Hero and his boy were yet stretching and scratching, and the ******* pig, galloping heavily, fell in close behind. Each new day this routine was repeated. They banged past farms and small communities until the ruts intersected a broad rocky road wending halfway across the kingdom. The cow addressed this road with vigor. They picked up followers—a goat here, a couple of sheep there—which hurried after the wagon as best they could. The cow stomped on with resolve, mile after mile, day after day, her bell keeping steady time. That bell’s peal attracted foals, lambs, and kids into the wagon’s narrowing wake. Hares hopped between hooves and wheels, boars and blue foxes fell in and withdrew. White falcons, normally solo fliers, whirled into wedge shapes high overhead.
At night the entire train would camp on the road while the boy raided proximate farmsteads, always returning fully laden. And as soon as the fire died the colony grew, creature by creature, and the moment the sun broke the horizon the heifer came to life and moved on, but each day a bit more resolutely, as though straining to meet a deadline. The march took on a sense of real urgency. The cow pressed on with attitude, the clang of her bell more strident with each passing mile. Soon her followers numbered in the hundreds, as animals deserted their farms or crept out of the woods to tag along. Tillers and traders stood dumbfounded, amazed by the bizarre flow.
Once they’d crossed into Norway the frothing cow veered hard to the west. The pace really picked up; no longer were Hero and his boy afforded the luxury of a night’s sleep in one spot. Days blurred into a single variegated flow as the bashed and lopsided wagon continued building its entourage; the riders were surrounded dawn to dusk by a confused and confusing scurry. Word of the flow’s weirdness preceded it clear to the Norwegian coast, so that now plowmen and merchants, wearily gathering their goggling families, found themselves lined in anticipation along the king’s highway. Horsemen went pounding to and fro with news of the procession’s progress and particulars, children ran through the streets banging pots in imitation of the cow’s approaching bell. Livestock wheeled and stamped, fowl leaped and crashed.
The slobbering cow broke into a run.
Bystanders trotted behind, calling back and forth excitedly, while the wagon’s permanent following squealed and squawked between their heels. The cow made a hard turn onto a widening swath in the brush. This swath, seeming to strain against the soil, ran straight down to the crest of a low hill overlooking the Atlantic. On either side a crowd had been studying the phenomenon for some time, but now all eyes swung to the dark and disfigured man and his son, clinging to the disintegrating wagon behind the careening spotted cow.
The trailing people traded views as they ran. Most—at the very outset of the new millennium, with Christianity burgeoning throughout Europe—leaned to the miraculous. Others, just as superstitious but prone to a darker point of view, threw looks of horror at the deformed little man. Yet they ran no less eagerly.
The galloping crowd made for the seaside, where only one local event of any moment was brewing:  on the coast a Greenlander Viking was preparing his longship for the rough voyage home. Impetuous son of the great island’s first permanent European settler, he’d just been baptized in Olaf’s court, and was now eager to sail—but not as a warrior—as a missionary. While his spirit remained in a tug-o’-war between his father Erik’s will and that of gods old and new, his duty was clearly to his king. And Olaf had charged him with the Christianization of pagan Greenland.
Something on the wind now made this destined man turn his head. From behind the gentle hill to his rear came a kind of thunder. Heads popped up, followed by a confused explosion of voices, and seconds later a frantic bug-eyed heifer burst into view, dragging the wheel-less skeleton of a shattered wooden wagon. On the wagon’s splayed frame a man and teenaged boy clung for their lives as the spewing animal made a beeline for his ship.
The new missionary, still egocentric enough to assume his Maker might actually toss him a personal, surreptitiously rolled up his eyes. The sky yawned at his arrogance. At his side a smallish cowled man rose irritably, but the missionary sat him right back down. He then snorted, squared his shoulders, and signaled his men to halt their preparations.
Knowing it was expected, he gathered his hard Nordic pride and coolly made his way into the crowd.

The priest clung to port, gagging above the waves.
After a completely uneventful minute he leaned back and stared through tearing eyes at the distant backdrop of gathering mists. Weeks now…a man of his constitution had no business at sea.
Along, too, were a quirky little man and his fiercely devoted son.
Through his pantomime, the boy had been so persistent in begging their passage that refusal, under the circumstances, would have been unbecoming not only a man of God but a man of the world.
So there it was:  a priest who couldn’t hold his lunch, a witless eyesore who couldn’t sit still, and a surly teenaged protector who snarled at the first hard look. This crossing just had to be some kind of divine test—of mortal patience as well as moral values. Norsemen weren’t made for babysitting.
The mists condensed.
And the shifting shape became a hard familiar coast.
And the longship was mooring, and the crew were jostling and clambering, and the big missionary had booted off the haunted little freak and his hypersensitive son, and was condescendingly half-escorting, half-carrying, the green priest ashore.
And they were home.

Priest in tow, Leif quickly took up the Christianization of Greenland’s Western Settlement, as per Olaf’s command. The mangled little man and his son followed him around like dogs, slept outside his door and annoyed his visitors, ultimately proving far easier to adopt than to shake. Barely tolerable shadows…still, the lad was simply amazing with livestock…and though the youth’s useless father seemed time and again to be just begging for a whooping, his son’s presence bore some ineffable quality that always curbed the missionary’s hand. Several times he’d witnessed the father approached by settlers bent on abuse. Each time the boy had stepped in, and each time the troublemakers were mysteriously repelled. The missionary of course didn’t attribute any kind of celestial intervention to these episodes, and certainly the popular notion of devilry was a natural reaction to the pair’s outrageous exoticness, but…in the son’s company, and even under the sharp eyes of his fellow Norsemen, Leif more than once found himself oddly moved to protect the father. And so the deformed man and his boy day by day blent in—as village idiot and mystic guide. And when in time a ****** brought tales of an unvisited land to the west, it was only natural for the restless Greenlander to buy that ******’s boat and, before stalwart comrades, weary family, and whimsical God Almighty, reluctantly accept the eccentric father and son as sort of seagoing mascots.
Hero was from then on irrepressible. During preparations he would pipe and stammer in his half-mute way, brimming with a confounding anxiety that kept him underfoot and at odds with all. On frigid nights he perched on the westernmost rocks, moaning to the horizon in the strangest fashion while his son stood guard. He positively spooked the locals; they’d gossip, nervously and with bile, of an answering wind that came wailing off the sea like a banshee in labor. The whole island wanted rid of him. And when his champing beneficiary, still clinging to the notion of Christian charity, bundled him aboard with his son and a crew of thirty-five, not a single settler was sorry to see him go.
Almost from the moment they cast off everything went wrong, as all attempts to control the longship were met with some kind of unknowable countermanding force. Vikings were not renowned for passive resistance—they fought, squaresail and steering oar, leaning oarsman to oarsman, until the ship rocked on the waves like a bucking bronco. An erratic weather system pursued them, worsening dramatically at each minute variation in heading. The Norsemen doubled down, and when the clouds finally burst wide, the cowling sea went mad. Dervishes whirled about the hull, crisscrossing winds bedeviled the sail. Patches of kelp belonging to much warmer waters came heaving alongside, fouling the work of the oars, while far to the west a humongous fog bank formed, eradicating the navigable field. The lightning-streaked horizon was a throbbing gray slit.
The longship became locked in a slow westerly current.
Fatigued crewmen complained of headaches and hallucinations, and of a nasty, slightly metallic tang to the air. There were numerous walrus sightings; bobbing flippers and snouts amid drifting ice chunks that came prowling the North Sea like a circling pack of famished white wolves.
Worst of all was the boy’s father—instantly agitated by everything and nothing, prey to some primitive impulse that caused him to periodically incline his head, shudder to his feet, and loop his arms as though embracing the sky. Leif would watch him scrabbling at the prow like a cat at a tree, furs snapping in the wind. He’d watch the boy re-seat him for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time be filled with an immense contempt. By now he’d acknowledged that it takes a special kind of strength to shoulder charity and tolerance. That brown little freak struck him as an enormous malformed barnacle, slowly working its way back up the prow. Trying so hard to go unnoticed, looking and listening so intently, though there was nothing to see other than the growing shelves of fog, and nothing to hear save the rising, almost hysterical voice of the wind.
Leif sniffed the air, his ******’s instincts nagging him. This was a foul current, and a fool's errand; he took a deep breath and tentatively ordered the longship brought about.
The ship kicked twice, as though an enormous submarine hand had seized and released the hull.
A whirl formed in the water, causing the keeling ship to sweep around like a clock’s second hand. All about them, those drift-ice ghosts cruised dangerously near.
But they’d been liberated from that accursed current. Leif fiercely urged on his rowers, and at last the ship broke free. They made a bead due north.
Night came and the temperature plummeted.
Small sheets of ice converged, drifting between the hunks. The Norsemen, instinctively huddling amidships, passed out one by one in a massive pile of fur and flesh. In the freezing silence the floes bumped and recoiled, bumped and gathered, bumped and bonded. The tiny ship, swallowed whole, was dragged along in a labyrinth of black sea and interlocking slabs of ice.

The Norsemen came to in a surly, foul-smelling heap, lost at sea. While they were still groggy a voice cried out that a darker patch was developing in the fog. The men all fell to port. Under the confusion of their voices could be heard a distant rumble.
At this Hero hauled himself up the high curved prow. A half-light began to penetrate the fog, barely illuminating the irregular faces of drifting ice. The missionary stormed forward and indicated by gestures that if the boy didn’t restrain his father he would have the man tied down.
The longship stopped dead in the water.
The men found themselves regarding a perpetually frozen coastline swathed in bluish veils of mist. Directly before them loomed an immense ice cliff hundreds of feet high. Rising beyond this cliff were endless snow fields, where lean violet shadows seemed to drag about of their own volition. And upon those bleak fields a thin howling wind prowled, kicking up brief white dervishes, leaving a strange zigzagging signature.
Even as they stared, a darker shadow high on the ice cliff’s glistening face began to widen, accompanied by a cracking sound that could be felt before it was heard. With the illusion of slow-motion, a stupendous chunk broke out of the cliff and came screaming toward the sea. It hit the water like a bomb. The thunder of its separation and the explosion of its impact took a moment to reach them. Then, out of a spewing crater of crests and spume, the new calf came lunging, tromping the sea so hard the longship, fully a mile to sea, was swept out and ****** back in like a cork. The floundering mountain of ice bobbed and lilted, generating huge waves which continued to rock the ship long after the monster had settled. In a while the roaring in their ears subsided and there remained only the swirling, nerve-wracking howl of the wind.
The missionary’s eyes swept left and right. Whatever this place was, it sure wasn’t the fair shoreline he’d been promised. Hero again scrambled up the prow, and Leif again yanked him down. This time he made good his threat; he had the little nuisance bound, though he was half-tempted to let him take his chances overboard.
From somewhere deep in the haze grew a soulful, otherworldly call. It went on and on, electrifying the air, bottoming out once the ship had merged with that previously fought westerly flow.
By now Leif’s nerves were shot. He ordered the oars raised.
The longship began to drift. Ship and ice were pulled due west.
The clouds fell far behind as the ship embarked upon an amazingly calm sea—so calm its entire visible surface was featureless except for the faint wakes provided by the ship and its hulking ice companions. To the east a huge fog bank appeared on the horizon, and a while later a smaller bank to the north. Then a very dense one to the south. In time these banks converged, imperceptibly becoming a single mass that closed about the ship, bit by bit creating a slowly heaving dome. Tiny beads of water appeared on beards and eyebrows; in a minute everything was soaked. The only sound was that of the dragging steering oar. The men were now sopping ghosts, speaking only with their eyes.
Directly ahead the fog began to dimple. The dimple became a hollow, the hollow a cave, and then ship and ice were being towed through a low, ever-extending tunnel in fog. The current increased its pull. Ship and drifting ice accelerated through the tunnel.
After a while the missionary quietly stepped forward. He stood with one hand on the prow’s neck, listening to the mist, so motionless he might have been a carved extension of the longship’s aggressive design. Not a man breathed. The tunnel’s dilating and contracting bore was producing an all but seamless series of oscillating, near-phonetic sounds. Leif almost tiptoed back. No god, pagan or Christian, could account for the strangeness of this situation.
They were borne on a course that grew more southerly, and the following day beheld an inhospitable shoreline glazed by dazzling white beaches. Their course held. Two days later they came upon a far pleasanter, thickly wooded coast. Here the current released its hold, and here the missionary untied Hero and personally placed him and his son in a tiny oak faering. He was just as sick of them as he was excited by this promising new land. Once the rowboat had been heaved over the side, he and another man stepped aboard and took up the oars. They began rowing with easy, powerful strokes.
When the boat kissed sand the missionary stood unsteadily.
The first European to set foot on North American soil now placed one hand on his crucifix, the other on his sword’s hilt, and awkwardly plunged his leg into the thigh-deep, ice-cold surf. Before he could take another step the boat lurched as Hero leapt headfirst into the water, followed an instant later by his son. The Greenlanders watched sourly as the two splashed their way into a mad dash for the waiting pines. Leif wished them both good riddance and turned to grin wryly at his fellow Norseman. He must have blacked out for a second, must have been blinded by a shaft of sun, for he found he was staring stupidly at a point midway between his companion and the longship. It felt like he’d been kicked between the eyes.
Everything was dissolving.
He studied the beach and pines closely, but saw nothing of the man or his boy. He turned back, disoriented. With what seemed a superhuman effort he took up his oars. He rowed out sluggishly, in a dream, and the fog rolled in to meet him.

The boy broke into the trees and embraced a trunk, fighting for breath. What happened next happened so fast and so unexpectedly he didn’t have a chance to react.
Three savages stepped from behind the pines and beat him to his knees. They twisted his arms behind his back and hauled him to his feet. He’d barely processed the impression of a wild painted face when something sharp struck him ******* the temple and tore down his cheek to the jaw. Two of the assailants manhandled him into an upright position and held him in place while the third brought his weapon down again and again and again.
All but dead, he watched a nightmare countenance shouting through a shot veil of blood, and behind that image a reeling crimson sun. He lay there gushing while the savages went through his rags. They propped him against a pine and shrieked with triumph, tore the hair and gory scalp from his skull, threw back their heads and screamed at the screaming sky. Tooth and nail, they ripped apart his face and throat and, certain he would die, split what bits of fur were left and let his carcass lie.

                                                HERO

The weeks stretched into months while he fought his way back into the light.
He progressed in stages; only half-conscious, stumbling along in a blood-red stupor punctuated by a slow strobe of frequent blackouts. Days loomed and decayed, nights pounced and were gone; the backlit, swirling gray cosmos collapsed and expanded on every missed beat of his pulse. A thousand times he broke down to die, and a thousand times he clawed to his feet, driven to pursue a tiny, ghost-like figure fluttering in his memory.
Everything conspired to check him.
A bay like an immense landlocked sea was skirted over months or years—it was all the same. Cold locked him in, Hunger drove him afield, that rude ***** Wind lashed him blind, wore him like a shoe, screamed for his skin while he worked his way west.
Somehow he ate, somehow he avoided being eaten; the instincts that had served him halfway around the planet were still vital beneath the abused exterior. His simple burrows became sturdy temporary shelters. He relearned the art of fire, and began to cook what he killed. He manufactured crude snares and weapons and, when his recuperation was complete, paid closer attention to the on-again, off-again trail he’d been following…forever.
Sometimes this trail would call to him like a lover. Other times he stood peering uncertainly, trying to recapture meanings and aims. Then the ground would turn spongy and the sky revolve, and once again he’d be lying all but dead in the woods, while from the face of the sun emerged a vile winged horror, its ugly pale head lashing side to side, its cruelly hooked beak dangling something that glistened in the wild pulsing light…then the fat moon, rising like gas against the icy black night…the feel of the wind:  the slashing of her nails, the chafing of her hem…the sound of things crunching and pausing and sniffing…then the sun, blazing anew. And again that thing, descending, its wide black wings beating slowly, metronomically—but none of that mattered any more. For his mind had quit him, had flown howling into ice and pine to roost with things surreal. In the day his madness might muddle and run, or spend the light stalking, cat-like, watching and waiting. But at night it came creeping from all sides. Sometimes it came in waves. It could gnaw like the devil, or wrap around him like a warm second skin. But none of that mattered either.
The only thing that mattered was the trail—whether it was lost for good, or for only a while. He’d been following it through his episodes, always north, wondering just who and where in the world he was, and trying to shake a ridiculous notion of being led on a wild goose chase.
The cold was unbelievable.
The deeper north he delved, the more confused he became. He grew starved for colors and scents, finding nonexistent patterns in the stark contrast of shadow and snow. He thought he could detect a kind of otherworldly design in the overwhelming number of dead ends he encountered, and, too, in the diabolically frustrating locations of natural obstacles. He seemed to be forever fighting the wind—a hulking, despondent snowman, he hiked face down and focused, while another aspect of his attention floated just behind, disembodied, watching his silent pursuers…leaving no tracks, blending perfectly with the environment in their clever winter coats…not predators, but creatures that normally should have been hightailing it away from him. By the time he could turn, they’d become nothing more menacing than snowdrifts. But they pursued him nevertheless.
And so his paranoia increased…had there ever really been a trail…and when did this miserably cold, miserably anemic crusade begin…his long-term memory was falling apart a chunk at a time. It just got colder and colder and colder until at last, one snippet of a day during one blur of a year, he found himself utterly lost, and clueless as to his history or objective. His mind was a blank, as colorless and featureless as the endless world of ice around him. He’d come this far solely to learn that the only trail he’d been following was his own—and now even that trail was succumbing to ice. On all sides there was nothing to see but an infinite field of glaring whiteness, and nothing to hear but the ululating wail of the tubular polar wind. It was the loneliest, the unholiest, the creepiest sound imaginable. But it wasn’t insanity that made him wheel. It was his self-preservation instinct.
And then he was somehow on his knees in the woods, facing a furious setting sun.
Whole seasons had passed from his memory like chalk from a board. His only recollections were those of a broken, haunted animal:  of being perilously sick, of fearing the unseen, of blindly struggling across a solid-white wilderness. That he’d survived such an ordeal meant nothing to him. And that he had in some indecipherable manner stumbled across the cold-as-stone trail did not fill him with amazement or with thankfulness—there simply wasn’t anything visual or emotional left to draw on. A significant part of his life had been whited out.
But now he could focus entirely on the trail. And before he knew it, the fuzzy area between fantasy and reality found a seam. He began to analyze and plan. He paid attention to hygiene, and kept a kind of running mental journal. Things were sorting out. Yet there were nights when the old sickness would resurface, reestablish its hold, and leave him sweating and uncertain under the stars. Then, paradoxically, his perception would become razor-keen. And so he would see, on a distant hilltop, a pair of scrawny silhouettes, one on four legs and one on two, slowly crossing the faintly pocked face of the setting moon. He would become strangely excited, and thereafter retain crystal-clear images of himself, as if seen from above, hurrying with adroitness through the silent, graveyard-like setting of black and blue night and white-frosted trees. Then the fuzzy area would broaden, and it would be the next morning, and he would be staring at the prints of man and elk in snow. And he would see how the elk’s prints doubled back, and how the man’s prints terminated where he had obviously mounted his guide. An unfathomable glow would bring tears to his eyes. But, even as he gathered himself, a fresh snowfall would wipe out the prints. And once again the world would plummet into white. And the wind would howl as the snow hammered his eyes. And he would ***** on.

A haggard animal sat shivering in a small grove of frozen pines, watching his campfire die. His eyes were fixed. Like the fire, he was running out of warmth, running out of fuel. There wasn’t a whole lot of tinder round his bones, and not much feeling left in his limbs. The slowly heaping downfall was burying him alive, but he was too numb to care.
It had taken him six long years to cross an entire continent, and during that time he’d known only cold and excruciating pain. The pain was leaving him now. The cold was making it right. His eyes glazed over.
Along a narrow plain to the west a herd of caribou filed dreamily through the snow, cutting across a panoramic backdrop of dazzling white mountains. The slow-motion parade was hypnotic. After a while it occurred to the drifting man, in a roundabout way, that he was dying, that he was nonchalantly freezing to death. Concurrent with this notion there rose in his chest a wonderful liquid warmth. His eyes slowly closed and, once shut, began to set fast.
He was jolted from within. It was as if he’d been kicked in the heart.
He ****** to his feet, pounded his fists on his thighs, felt nothing. The breath spurted from his mouth in small white clouds as he stumbled downhill after the slow caribou train. He swam through the snow, hallucinating, imagining that certain individuals in the herd were mocking him by slowing and accelerating, while others glanced back with expressions of contempt.
As he burst into their midst the animals stepped aside indifferently. A few galloped ahead to keep up the herd, but most simply sidestepped while he danced there, stamping his feet and smacking his hands. The herd grew thinner, until only the old and infirm were filing by. The man desperately embraced a hobbling female for warmth, but she cried out and kicked, triggering a panic reaction in the herd. Clinging for his life, the man was dragged along beside her as the herd stormed into a maze of flying ice and snow. His weight caused her to stagger sideways until they slammed against the flank of a sick male. The man instinctively threw an arm over the male and, thus draped between them, was borne across the drifted plain for upwards of a mile, his freezing feet alternately dangling above and dragging through the snow. The herd broke into a hard run, forcing him to assume a broken trot. Soon his legs were stinging. Sensation rushed through his body.
Now the herd, still picking up speed, began to contract, jamming him between his bearers. There was a quick jolt to his right and he was lifted clean off his feet, nearly straddling the bucking female. It had become an all-out stampede. Through hard-flung snow he saw the cause:  just ahead, the caribou had run head-on into a solid wall of galloping wood bison, and both frantic herds had blindly veered to the east; were in fact running side by side down a deep, ragged canyon—were pouring over the canyon’s lip like a cataract. He was approaching, at breakneck pace, that very place where the converged herds so abruptly swerved. The hanging man snarled as he was borne inevitably to the point of deflection.
There came a concussion at his left shoulder, followed by a blast of snow. In an instant the ailing male was tumbling head over heels to the east, ****** into the stampede’s plummeting mass by the fury of its descent. The man and female, rebounding from this impact, were shot to the west in a crazy jumble of flailing legs. The caribou lost her footing, flew nose-first into a snowbank, and came up running. Kicking off, the man used the last of his strength to heave himself astride. At first she fought to shake him, but the spell of the run was too strong. She and half a dozen others went pounding in the opposite direction of the stampede, quickly joined by a number of bison that had likewise splintered from their herd. The riding man could make out their huge hulking shapes thundering by in a blizzard of flying ice, could hear their heavy gasps and explosive grunts. One passed so close he felt its massive flank brush his leg. He peered to his right and saw a black, pig-like eye regarding him excitedly, moving up and down like a piston as the beast ran alongside.
The eye shifted, focusing on the gasping, completely obsessed female. The bull dropped its head and slammed into the caribou’s side, sending her and the man careening down a ***** to the west. The caribou brayed hysterically and her backside went down, but she managed, despite the weight of her rider, to return to all fours and frantically continue along the *****. Again the bull charged, crashing into her shoulder. The man and caribou were launched sideways into the white searing air.
He sat up carefully. The huffing bison was straddling him like a bully laying down the ground rules. Its big wiry beard came right up to brush his chin. The stench of its breath was stupefying.
The bull stamped and snorted, thrusting its stubby horns left and right as the man used his elbows and heels to back away. The bull followed, move for move. When the man collapsed under his own impetus the bull shoved him along with its snout, bellowing furiously. Clear down the ***** they lunged, shoving and lurching, until the man lay sprawled on his back; up to his chin in snow, completely helpless. The ton of a bull butted and kicked, but only glancingly:  those hooves could **** with a blow. At last the man, in one clean sequence, spun on his rear, dropped to his side, and went rolling down the ***** using his elbows for ******.
At the bottom ran a narrow fence of frosted saplings marking an ice cliff’s precipice. He lay face down in the snow, too done in to do anything but **** at an air pocket.
And there came a high-pitched crackling, a sound like the protracted gasp of embers in a dead fire. He turned just as those saplings began leaning to the west, their frozen skins cracking with the strain.
The bison bellowed menacingly.
The sprawled man looked back and saw it still standing with legs spread wide, silhouetted against the sky. In a moment it began huffing downhill, lurching side to side, surfing the snow between lunges.
It chased him through the genuflecting saplings straight into a frozen gully where, protected by a few feet of insurmountable verticality, he was able to slide on the ice between its stomping hooves, downhill out of reach, then downhill out of control—spinning just in time to glimpse a breathtaking vista:
Partly framed by the gully-straddling saplings was a vast crescent of jagged white mountains seemingly huddled round a small stretch of snow-draped pines. The little wood these mountains surrounded was isolated in a broad lake of solid ice. Hundreds of fissures radiated crazily throughout this packed ice field, appearing to issue from somewhere near the frozen wood’s center, which was completely obscured by a ring of rising mist. Above this thumbnail panorama the sun showered gold.
Then the gully dipped radically, and he was skidding headfirst, slamming back and forth against its slick white walls. This uncontrollable plunge had the positive effect of getting his blood flowing. Yet it tore him up. Had the gully concluded in a cul-de-sac, or had further progress required a single calorie of uphill effort, his struggle would certainly have ended here. He would have been too weak to move, and death would have been swift.
But there was a glacier—a great river of ice pouring slowly out of the clouds. The gully, terminating in a little scoop formation near the glacier’s base, spat him flailing onto its gnarly glass hide. He went head over heels, bits of skin and fur flying like chips from a band saw. Somehow he gained his footing, and then he was running against his will, tumbling and recovering and tumbling again.
He didn’t catch much of that crazy run. He half-glimpsed whirling walls of ice, felt a fickle surface underfoot, and broke through an assaultive mist that clung to his ankles and arms. He remembered having the ragged hides torn right off his body, and then being skinned alive. And he remembered reaching the glacier’s base and crawling like an animal; round its sweeping drifts, past its peaked moraines, all the way to a twisting frozen gorge.
And he followed this gorge down; ricocheting wall to wall, delirious, small plumes of thrashed snow marking his descent.
Through a freezing wood he fumbled. In a veil of mist he tumbled down a steep and verdant grade. As cold consumed his closing breath, he fell upon, near-blind, near death, a strange, enchanted glade.

There is a pool.
And in this pool a man lay purged, his broken body half-submerged.
The stumbling man stopped. He knelt to weep, but lost his thread. One hand took a bicep, the other, the head. With a twist and pull the corpse emerged.
That visage…that face—misshapen mask, contorted, bleached; of life’s deposits fully leached. Essence dispatched—a void, sodden wretch.
He let it fall and the glass was breached. All a freak, all a stretch:  upon this act his grip detached.
And the bridge collapsed…one vagabond grasp…what were these feelings; recaptured and trashed…a span elapsed…who was this puckered mass…he hauled it by the waist and thighs…slid it in, watched the pool react:  purse and recover, expand, contract. The glass reformed, now silver-backed…a sudden mirror…the man leaned nearer…saw his reflection, just smashed, remade intact.
The pool grew still.
Within its depth a shadow stirred—visions gathered, some distinct, some obscure. What they meant, and who they were, was much too much to fathom. The glass became blurred.
He closed his eyes, let his heavy head fall, fell back on his haunches, felt the sweat seep and crawl. The air was a pall—as he struggled to rise, a nib crossed his wrist.
He opened his eyes.
Between his fingers the blades poked and crept. Round his knuckles they ventured, up his forearm they stepped:  they seemed to be triggered by prompts from the ground. He shook his head slowly and dully looked round.
There were jays grouped about him, their black eyes aglow. Red hens came running, their fat chicks in tow. Gophers engaged in a weird hide-and-seek. Bluebells and buttercups craned for a peek. Sparrows hopped past and, paying no heed, burst into flight. He watched them recede.
Westward they flew.
Bewildered, he slumped.
Bumped from behind, he jumped to his feet, flabbergasted to find an ancient gray moose near-eclipsing the sky, with grit in his snarl and fire in his eye.
The old moose took aim.
The man turned to flee and stumbled, then tumbled and fell on a palm and a knee.

But there lies a world (so the lullaby goes) where rivers ever run.
Poked from behind, pushed out of his mind, he staggered into sun.







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
A boat
A boat sails
A boat sails in
A boat sails in slowly
A boat sails in slowly to the docks
A boat sails crates full of bananas
A boat sails crates full
A boat sails crates
A boat sails
A boat
                                             The dock
                                      The dock fills
                                 The dock fills up
                   The dock fills up quickly
The dock fills up quickly with boats
A sailor eats oranges whole for fun
              A sailor eats oranges whole
                         A sailor eats oranges
                                        A sailor eats
                                                A sailor
Bob Horton Aug 2013
From one lunatic to another
One poet to his friend
We said we should go sailing
Ended up sinking in the end
They said that we were mad
And maybe they had spoke the truth
But the way in which they put it
Was so terribly uncouth
So we left them on the shoreline
Waving backwards with relief
We would ride the incandescent waves
So set in our beliefs
That we would reach the other side
We would become the pioneers
We would find the favoured winds
Across that ocean of our fears

We put out of the harbour
Put our faith into The Boat
We paddled with our hands
And handed our trust to The Boat

But now we’re shipwrecked on a coastline
Full of cannibals and rats
We wanted to put a dent in history
But we’ve barely made a scratch
We went exploring on the island
This unfamiliar place
Got lost in a simple jungle
Brushed away the green disgrace
We found a village of the natives
But we had to pass them by
We wouldn’t sell our heads for hunting
We’d rather run away than die
We found an orchard in the mountains
On a fragrant afternoon
But the fruit it was forbidden
Now we’re servants for the moon

We left home making sense
But just found madness on The Boat
We sailed after our dreams
But just found nightmares on The Boat

They say it’s an affliction
When the moon is shining bright
But to me it’s an addiction
And a goddess given right
To wear left handed trousers
And be gracious in defeat
They think we’re being honest
And we are: that’s our deceit
We wander in the meadows
Softly howling at the sky
We tie ourselves to trees
So we can safely learn to fly
I’d say that I’m a better man
Than I ever was before
But I’m still here on the wrong side
Of that ol’ asylum door

We came here wanting answers
Left our questions on The Boat
We came home with the tide
But left our senses on The Boat
Thanks to Alex Patterson for Inspiration
Appa’s demise has put a load of care on me,
The family is dependent on me,
There’s a boat leaving tomorrow night,
They say it’s the last one for this quarter,
We need to leave.

The conditions here are getting worse by the day,
The playgrounds are unrecognizable,
The schools are no longer functioning,
My friends are nowhere in sight.

They say the boat is the only option out of our land,
Tiko’s family left with the boat two months ago,
This is the time when one prefers somewhere else to home,
We really cannot miss the boat.

The sunrise makes its way through my cracked window curtain made from mother’s clothes,
But it’s only a reminder of yet another day,
I must say it looks beautiful but sad,
Every new day seems never to be different,
I hope to take steps that will not lead to my death, a loved one or a neighbour.

I heard the camp is not so great but it’s safer than here
The boat is small and there are many of us.
I am lucky because unlike Rasheed’s family;
We are just three and they are ready to fit us in the boat,
No one wants to leave their loved ones behind.

The driver starts the engine,
The journey has begun,
The journey to nowhere,
Everyone has the look of fear and uncertainty,
What lies ahead, no one can surely tell.

The boat is moving,
The sea breeze feels amazing,
Am not sure how long it will last,
Appa is dead, leaving mother and Hassan with me,
The driver says it will take all night.

We have life vests and floaters,
Mine is largely oversize,
I have not been eating properly,
I hear there is food at the destination.

The sea is calm,
The driver is whistling,
The woman sitting beside mother have been crying,
She had to leave her children behind
Again, I am very lucky.

We are getting closer and it is getting cold,
The engine does not sound right,
The driver looks panicked,
He assures everyone it’s nothing to worry about,
The tide is rising and it’s still dark,
We can see the lights at our destination

Water is getting into the boat,
Everyone is panicking,
The man beside me throws his bag into the sea and gets ready to dive,
The next person does the same,
Maybe I should do the same?
Mother and I can swim but how about Hassan who cannot?

There is a bigger boat coming,
It seems like we won’t be drowning,
I have seen my death so many times,
I am no longer scared when in danger,
The boat rescued us; we are ashore in this land where our fate will be decided
Now what?
DEW Mar 2018
The waves undulated as if
they were the backs of 100 wriggling worms
The sky shed tears as if
a 1000 angels wept for the death of hope
black clouds roiled, sparking with fury
casting lightning down upon the mire
but below, upon the sea,
a miracle was set to transpire.

A boat rushed down and over the waves...
Back and forth,
a juggler's ball tossed and turned it appeared to be.
Yet, despite the malice,
and the seething spite of the sea,
the boat was safe
snug as can be.

And in this boat was a silent baby
his eyes stared out into the turmoil
he did not understand the frustrations of the elements
how they wished to smite him where he lay.
Despite the twisting of the boat
he did not roll, nor did water coat
his soft cheeks, his baby blanket
he passed on into sleep,
into dream he
went.

He awoke to battles raging about him
the crashing of thunder
was the desolation of a mountain
the world knew war for the first time
deaths in the billions, no pasture without crime.

He stood as a man
with bearded face
skin like the earth
armor embraced.
He realized he held a mighty weapon
it gleamed in his hands
power coursed through his veins
down to his soul
up to the heavens!
A beacon of light he seemed to be
but heir to destruction he truly was.
He did not know what power does
to the feint of heart
to the well-intentioned...
He struck the ground amidst the battle
the whole Earth shook, oh, the chattering teeth!
The mountains lumbered to form again
as if by the shovels of skyward giants!
The battle paused for the barest of moments
the awe was palpable
like a kingly feast
but the people's hearts hadn't forgotten the pain
their hate surged up, like volcanic bile
despite their peace present for a while
the massacres began again in earnest
perhaps more so than before his deed.
No one knew the power he wielded.

He still had hope, he could do something!
But what greater act was there than mending mountains?
His heart was up to good,
but his mind couldn't ground him.

"I must stop their wanton annihilation!"
He roared within himself,
"Are they not my people? Am I not their savior?"
He went to the most heated battle
struck the air with his weapon
and every person's foe was replaced by their loved ones.
The battle ceased in an instant.
Each person stared in utter disbelief.
By what power had this happened?
It was said that mountains climbed back into place,
but what could summon loved ones,
even from the grave!
The fighting ceased despite their hatred,
and the stories magnified in flavor.
Many who were hungry
for peace from the storm of violence
fed upon the hearts of those in doubt
they claimed they knew who stopped the battle
they hoped to mobilize a peace effort.
He gathered these hopeful souls
banded them together so their efforts became tenfold!
Soon enough, the stories crept across the lands
across the seas
and underground.
For once, hope had purchased ground,
but hate, when cloistered, beaten back, starved,
becomes ever more malevolent,
ever more conniving.

He did not call his people an army,
he called them the Samaritan Initiative.
They did not fight their war with weapons of battle,
they fought with hands that mend and bind,
they saved the sick and the dying,
they uplifted the oppressed and those denying.

As time passed, his efforts grew,
but someone used his deeds as currency,
mobilized the scandalous, the warmongering,
someone hated he who mended the broken...
Someone plotted his demise.

He led his Samaritans across the world
each place they touched was left whole again
and though war still did reign, rotting and true,
he did not tire to end the end.

A new beginning he hoped to create,
but whispers that he was a fraud began to sate
the ears of those whose purpose it is to doubt peace,
they sowed the malice back into the healing wounds
soon enough, his power began to abate,
therefore, rumors seemed to be true.

He grew restless when he was barred from homesteads
barred from cities,
even countries!
Somehow these echoes of forgotten civilization rose
only to defy him
and he smelled someone's stench in the air.
His weapon yearned for someone's death.
For once, it did not wish to mend, but break,
and he felt spiteful all the more.
All the adoration he had garnered
had blinded him from his true purpose.
He sought out the taint that spread its tendrils.
"Someone."
He said,
"Is ruining my... empire..."

One day, while regrowing a desolated forest with his weapon,
someone came to see him.
She smiled at him, marvelled at his work.
"Who are you?"
He wondered, suddenly charmed.
"Someone you know..."
She grinned.
He spent weeks distracted and curious about her,
what was her riddle all about
and why did he feel her in his heart?
She did not seem to threaten or scheme
in fact her presence was a dream
and he yearned after her like nothing he knew
his mission delayed
his plans askew.
Many around him questioned him saying,
"Who exactly is it with whom you're playing?"
He would blush,
"Oh, someone..."

One day,
she did not meet him at their lover's spot.
She did not appear for a week, then another.
His mind began to churn about the months.
Since when had he last sent forth his healers,
or mended cities and silenced weapons dealers?
He began to be suspicious of her
he could have summoned her with a flick of his weapon,
but he dared not discover if she really were foe,
for if he should break, what can he grow?

Eventually, she appeared again,
smiling broadly, like an old friend.
He then knew the anger that so many harbored...
Oh, the twisted things he felt by her abandon,
the sheer weight of his turmoil felt too much to bear....
So he ****** it upon her without any care.
His voice was louder than a church bell,
flashing out across the forest where they would meet.
She cried out in fear
she ran from him swift
he chased after with guilt he couldn't lift.
He found her weeping by a well
on his knees he apologized incessantly.
"How could there be darkness in you,
the mender?"
Her question struck him in all places tender.
Doubt crept into his addled mind.
His weapon's glow flickered
his conscience was blind.
Surely not now should he have such trouble?
Could it really be so simple to pop his bubble?
"I love you more than I can bear!
When you leave me,
I begin to tear."
She nodded and held him close to her.

Someone watched from shadows not far,
they saw his frailty,
like a door ajar...

The months passed and he went back to work
new cities to grow and malice to mend
people saw him more for the savior he was
even though the rumors of fallacy were abuzz.

A special time became the moment of his life worthy of note,
a marriage to the woman whose life he knew by rote.
They consummated in the night and in the day.
Time seemed to stretch on and shrink all at once.
His happiness was a thing of infectious charm,
but all that glittered soon became alarm.

Upon returning home from time spent mending the broken world,
he returned to find his home
covered in blood.
He knew whose blood coated the walls.
Bones, ground into paste, smothered pictured frames.
Flesh reduced to pulp covered the floor.
His mind fractured in no way subtle.
The light of his weapon winked out with no rebuttal.
He wept uncontrollably in fits of despair.
The world seemed cold, frozen over,
desolate of love or laughter.
"I can't bear to live."

Someone crept in through the doorway.
"It's a shame, isn't it?
No man is greater than any other,
yet no man is born equal.
No man lives without love,
but every man dies alone.
Maybe you can understand now,
why we deserve our own genocide...
Maybe now you'll let us fight to the death,
and have our peace that way!"

He looked up and,
despite the pure evil that stood before him,
he did not see that.
He saw someone lost,
someone abused,
someone desperate for truth,
any truth.
He saw someone fighting to love something,
anything.
He saw someone forgotten by loved ones
after committing acts that person was unable to avoid.
He saw a frightened being
lashing out at the world
in the hopes that the suffering would end.
He felt boundless compassion.

"I have no power left."
He said.
"No power to mend or bind.
No power worth your scorn."

"I'm going to **** you now."

"If I'm to die,
I hope my blood is enough for all who suffer."

"You're no messiah! You're just a lie we all want to believe!"

"If I was just a man...
I would have died when you killed her.
I would have hungered for torturous retribution.
But you have broken no one.
You're someone who needs to see your own suffering
out in the world
to justify the injustice dealt upon you.
But for every drop of effort you put into destroying her,
I wish you never experience my pain.
I wish to mend what drove you to break me,
so no one else may be harmed by you,
or anyone you inspire to deal death."

"No, I defeated you..."

"You tried..."

The weapon flickered.

"No, no, you can't feel love for me...
You don't have the *****."

"I have very big *****."

"You think you can love me?
After how I destroyed you!"

"If I could be destroyed,
I would already be dead!"

The weapon burst forth with light!

The killer realized they were someone foolish
Someone lost
Someone in need of healing.
For if "he" could not be broken,
surely there was hope.
If he could mend mountains
bring back loved ones and unite lost families
grow cities from the earth itself
grow forests from twigs
and deny a cold-hearted killer
the satisfaction
the honor
of seeing the fractures of a shattered soul
in blood-red, swollen, tearful eyes,
perhaps this man,
this one man,
could reveal what love is
to the killer's own famished soul.

He saw something shift in the eyes of that tortured someone.

That's when he realized...
That's when he understood.
He had the thirst for solving puzzles,
but humanity is not a machine,
it is a collection of gears
each just as vital as the whole,
for the whole does not exist without the worth
of every individual.
And to ignore an individual like this...
Someone who stood at the center of all the woe,
the evil,
and the tragedy in the world.
To ignore them would be to throw out the puzzle completely.

"May I mend you?"

Realizing they were someone facing an open door,
that person nodded.

He struck that person with his weapon.
Light flooded out as if by the sun itself.
Time seemed to stop.
People looked up in wonder of the light.
The very winds halted,
seas stilled,
nature perked up in unison.

When the light faded, he saw himself staring in a mirror.
The man in the mirror had blood-stained hands.

He stepped across the threshold and hugged himself.
His darkness hugged him back and the blood seemed to vanish.

"I forgive myself for killing her."

His darkness melted into a bulbous, gooey form and sank into him,
as if he were some kind of sponge,
leaving no trace of the darkness visibly.
He accepted within himself that he was capable of
unimaginable evil.
He accepted that he had control
and that he was responsible for the health and sickness
of the world.

Around him, the world began to shift.
In fact, it appeared to melt into liquid
and splash around him.
The liquid became clear, like the ocean.
It splashed and slid,
rocking him about.

Light flashed!

The baby awoke, curious about the world around him.
His boat had touched some distant shore.
Flecks of water spotted his cheeks and he laughed.

A couple crept up to the boat.
"I swear I heard a baby," a man said.
"You're crazy," a woman said, "Out here?"
The couple looked within the boat
and found the baby smiling at them with his
toothless, innocent smile.
The woman held a hand to her chest in awe.
She tenderly carried the baby out of the boat
and rocked it in her arms.
The baby laughed.
The man reached out.
"Not that hand!" The woman said, "You just cut yourself!"
"It's okay, no blood anymore, see?"
He pinched the baby's cheeks.
The baby touched his hand.
His **** healed in an instant!
"Woah!" The woman yelled.
Feeling for a scar where there were none,
the man stared in wonder at the child.
"Honey," he said, "This kid's got potential..."
This poem sort of came out of nowhere.
It does sit on the border between a poem and a story.
I've been fascinated by the Poetic Edda and the Iliad, how a poem could be hundreds of thousands of words long.

So here's my little poetic narrative.

Enjoy!

DEW
Keith J Collard Jun 2013
The Quest for the Damsel Fish  by Keith Collard

Author's  Atmosphere

On the bow of the boat, with the cold cloud of the dismal day brushing your back conjuring goose bumped flesh you hold an anchor.  For the first time, you can pick this silver anchor up with only one hand and hold it over your head. It resembles the Morning Star, a brutal medieval weapon that bludgeons and impales its victims.  Drop it into the dark world beyond the security of your boat--watch the anchor descend.
        Watch this silver anchor--this Morning Star--descend away from the boat and you, it becomes swarmed over with darkness.  It forms a ******-metallic grin at first as it sinks, then the sinking silver anchor takes its last shape at its last visible glimpse.  It is so small now as if it could be hung from a necklace.  It is a silver sword.  
Peering over the side of the boat, the depths collectively look like the mouth of a Cannibalistic Crab, throwing the shadows of its mandibles over everything that sinks down into it--black mandibles that have joints with the same angle of a Reaper's Scythe.  

I am scared looking at this sinking phantasm.  I see something from my youth down there in this dark cold Atlantic.  I see the silver Morning Star again, now in golden armor.  I remember a magnificent kingdom, in a saltwater fish tank I had once and never had again.  A tropical paradise that I see again as I stare down into the depths.  This fish tank was so beautiful with the most beautiful inhabitants who I miss.  Before I could lift the silver anchor--the Morning Star--over my head with only one hand, turning gold in that morning sun-- I was a boy who sat indian style, cross legged--peering into this brilliant spectacle of light I thought awesome.  I thought all the darkness of home and the world was kept at bay by this kingdom of light...

Chapter  1 Begins the Story

The Grey Skies of Mass is the Name of This Chapter.

                                                      ­­                        
    
 Air, in bubbles--it was a world beauty of darkness revealed in slashes of light from dashing fluorescent bulbs overhead this fish tank.
Silver swords of fluorescent energy daring to the bottom, every slash revealing every color of the zodiac--from the Gold of Scorpio to the purple of Libra combining into the jade of the Gemini. 
In the center, like a dark Stonehenge were rocks. The exterior rocks had tropical colors like that of cotton candy, but the interior shadows of the rocks that was the Stonehenge, did not possess one photon of light. The silver messengers of the florescent energy from above would tire and die at their base.  The shadows of the Stonehenge rocks would stand over them as they died.

 
          When the boy named Sake climbed the rickety wood stairs of the house, he did so in fear of making noise, as if to not wake each step.
   Until he could see the glowing aura of his fish tank then he would start down that eerie hall, With pictures of ghosts and ghosts of pictures staring down at him as he walked down that rickety hallway of this towering old colonial home.  He hurried to the glowing tank to escape the black and white gazing picture frames.
                    The faint gurgling, bubbling of the saltwater tank became stronger in his ear, and that sound guided him from the last haunt of the hallway-- the empty room that was perpendicular to  his room.   He only looked to his bright tank as soon as he entered the hallway from the creaky wooden steps.  Then he proceeded to sit in front of this great tropical fish tank in Indian style with his legs folded over one another as children so often would sit.
  The sun was setting.  The reflections from the tank were beginning to send ripples down the dark walls. Increasing  wave after wave reflecting down his dark walls.  He thought they to be seagulls flapping into the darkness until they were overcome as he was listening to the bubbling water of his tank.
                " Hello my fish, hello Angel, hello Tang, hello  Hoomah, hello Clown and hello Damsel … and hello to you Crab...even though I do not like you," he said in half jest not looking at the crab in the entrance of the rocks.  The rocks were the color of cotton candy, but the interior shadows did not possess a photon of luminescence.  All other shadows not caused by the rocks--but by bright swaying ornament--were like the glaze on a candy apple--dark but delicious.  Besides the crab's layer in the rock jumble at the center of the tank which was a Stonehenge within a Stonehenge--the tank was a world of bright inviting light.
                The crab was in its routine,  motionless in the entrance to his foyer, with his scythe-like claws in the air, in expectation of catching one of the bright fish someday.  For that reason the boy tried to remove the crab in the past, but even though the boy was fast with his hand, the optical illusion of the tank would always send his hand where the crab no longer was.  He did not know how to use two hands to rid the crab in the future by trapping and destroying the Cannibal Crab ;  his father, on a weekend visit, gave the Crab to the boy to put into the bright world of the saltwater tank, which Sake quickly regretted.  His father promised him that the Crab would not be able to catch any of the fish he said " ...***** only eat anything that has fallen to the bottom or each other..."

         A scream from the living room downstairs ran up the rickety wood and down the long hall and startled the boy.  His mother sent her shrieks out to grab the boy, allowing her to not have to waste any time nor calorie on her son; for she would tire from the stairs, but her screams would not, allowing her to stay curled up on the couch.  If she was not screaming for Sake, she was talking as loud as screams on the phone with her girlfriends.  The decibels from her laugh was torture for all in the silent house.   A haughty laugh in a gossipy conversation, that overpowered the sound of the bright tropical fish tank in Sake's room that was above and far opposite her in the living room.
               " Sake you have to get a paper-route to pay for the tank, the electricity bill is outrageous," she said while not taking her eyes off the TV and her legs curled up beside her.  He would glad fully get a paper-route even if it was for a made up reason.  He turned to go, and looked back at his mother, and a shudder ran through him with a new thought:  someday her appearance will match her voice.  

              Upon reaching his tank,  Hoomah was trying to get his attention as always.  Taking up pebbles in his big pouty pursed lips and spitting them out of his lips like a weak musket.  The Hoomah was a very silly fish, it looked like one of Sake’s aunts, with too much make up on, slightly overweight, and hovering on two little fins that looked incapable of keeping it afloat, but they did.  The fins reminded him of the legs of his aunt--skinny under not so skinny.’

               The Tang was doing his usual aquanautics , darting and sailing was his trick.  He was fast, the fastest with his bright yellow triangular sail cutting the water.  Next was the aggressive Clown fish, the boy thought she was always aggresive because she didn't have an anemone to sleep on.  The Clown was strong and sleek with an orange jaw and body that was built like a tigress.
  Sake thought something tragic about the body if the  orange Clown and the three silver traces that clawed her body as decoration -they reminded him of the incandescent orange glow of a street lamp being viewed through the rainy back windshield of a car.   The Clown fish was a distraction that craved attention.
The Clown would chase around some of the other fish and jump out of the water to catch the boy's eye. 
                 Next is the Queen Angel fish, she is the queen of the tank, she sits in back all alone, waving like a marvelous banner, iridescent purple and golden jade.  Her forehead slopes back in a French braid style that streams over her back like a kings standard waving before battle, but her standard is of a house of beauty, and that of royal purple.

                    Lastly is the Damsel Fish, the smallest and most vulnerable in the tank.  She has royal purple also, rivaling the queen. Her eyes are lashed but not lidded like the Hoomah.  Her eyes are elliptical, and perhaps the most human, or in the boy’s opinion, she is the most lady like, the Hoomah and the Queen Angel come to her defence if she is chased around by the Clown.  Her eyes penetrate the boys, to the point of him looking away.  

                      Before the tank, in its place in the corner was a painting, an oil painting of another type of Clown donning a hat with orange partial make-up on his face (only around eyes nose and mouth there was ghost white paint) and it  had two tears coming down from its right eye.  The Clown painting was given to him by his mother, it seems he could not be rid of them, but Sake at first was taken in by the brightness of the Clown, and the smooth salacious wet look of the painting. it looked dripping, or submerged, like another alternate reality.  The wet surreal glaze of the painting seemed a portal, especially the orange glow of the Clown's skin without make-up.  .  If he tried to remember of times  before the Clown painting that preceded the Clown fish, he thought of the orange saffron twilight of sunset, and watching it from the high window from his room in the towering house.  How that light changed everything that it touched, from the tree tops and the clouds, to even the dark hallway leading up to his room.  The painting and the Clown fish did not feel the same as those distant memories of sunset, especially the summer sunset when his mother would put him to bed long before the sun had set.  
Sake did not voice opposition to the Clown.
Then he was once again trapped by the Clown.  
            The boy was extremely afraid of this painting that replaced the sunsets , being confined alone with it by all those early bedtimes.
Sake once asked his mother if he could take it down, whereas she said " No."  That clown would follow him into his dreams, always he would be down the hill from the tall house on the hill, trying to walk back to the house, but to walk away or run in a dream was like walking underwater or in black space, and he would make no distance as the ground opened up and the clown came out of the ground hugging him with the pryless grip of eight arms.  He would then wake up amid screams and a tearful hatted clown staring somberly down at him from the wall where it was hung.  Night made him fear the Clown painting more;  that ghost white make-up decorating around the eyes and mouth seeming to form another painting in entirety.  He could only look at the painting after a while when the lights were on, and the wet looking painting was mostly orange from the skin, neck, and forearms of the hat wearing clown.  But the painting is gone now, and the magnificent light display of the tank is there now.  

                Sake pulled out the fish food, all the fish bestirred in anticipation of being fed.  The only time they would all come together; and that was to mumble the bits of falling flakes: a chomp from the Clown, a pucker from the Hoomah, the fast mumble of the Tang, and the dainty chew of the Damsel.  The Queen Angelfish would stay near the bottom, and kiss a flake over and over.   She would not deign herself to go into a friendly frenzy like the other fish; she stayed calm, yet alluring like a flag dancing rhythmically in the breeze, but never repeating the same move as the wind never repeats the same breeze.  She is the only fish to change colors.  When the grey skies of Mass emit through every portal in the house at the height of its bleakness, her colors would turn more fantastic, perhaps why she is queen.

                 He put his finger in the top of the watery world; the warmth was felt all the way up his arm.  After feeding, his favorite thing to do was to trace his finger on the top of the warm water and have the Damsel follow it. She loved it, it was her only time to dance, for the Clown would descend down in somewhat fear ( or annoyance) of the boys finger, and the Damsel and he would dance.  The boy, thought that extraordinary.

                     Sake bedded down that night, to his usual watery world of his room.  The reflective waves running down the walls like seagulls of light, with the rhythmic gurgling sound and it's occasional splash of the Clown, or the Hoomah swooping into the pebbly bottom to scoop up some pebbles for spitting making the sound "ccchhhhh" --cachinging  like a distant underwater register.  The tank’s nocturne sound was therapeutic to the boy.

                      Among waking up, and being greeted by his sparkling treasure tank--that was always of the faintest light in the morning due to the grey skies of Mass coming through every portal to lessen the tropical spectrum-- the boy would render his salutations " Good morning my Hoomah.....good morning Tang, my Damsel, and your majesty Queen Angel.....and so forth.  Until the scream would come to get him, and he would walk briskly past the empty room and the looming family pictures of strangers.  His mother put him to work that day, to "pay for the fish tank" but really to buy her a new cocktail dress for her nightly forays.  The boy did not care, the tank was his sun, emitting through the bleak skies of Mass, and even if the tank was reduced to a haze by the overcast of his life, it only added a log to the fire that was the tropical world at night, in turn making him welcome the dismal day.
                  On a day, when the overcast was so thick, he felt he could not picture his rectangular orb waiting for him at night. He had trouble remembering what houses to deliver the paper.  He delivered to the same house three times.  Newspapers seemed to disappear in his hands, due to their color relation to the sky.   Leaves were falling from the trees—butterfly like—he went to catch one, he missed--a first. For Sake could walk through dense thorned brambles and avoid every barb, as a knight in combat or someone’s whose heart felt the painful sting of the barb before.  He would stand under a tree in late fall, and roll around to avoid every falling leaf, and pierce them to the ground deftly with a stick fashioned as a sword.  He could slither between snow flakes, almost like a fish nimbly avoiding small flakes.  
                  After he finished his paper-route , he went to his usual spot under an oak tree to fence with falling leaves.  As the other boys walked by and poked fun he would stall his imagination, and look to the brown landscape of the dry fall.  The crisp brown leaves of the trees were sword shapes to him.  He held the battle ax shape of the oak leaf over his eye held up by the stick it was pierced through, and spied the woodline through the sinus of the oak leaf lobe.  The brown white speckled scenery, were all trying to hide behind eachother by blending in bleakfully; he pretended the leaf was Hector’s helmet from the Illiad—donned over his eyes.
“ Whatchya doing Sake?” asked a young girl named Summer.  Sake only mumbled something nervously and stood there.  And a pretty Summer passed on after Sake once again denied himself of her pretty company.  He looked to the woodline again, a mist was now concealing the tall apical trees.  It now looked like the brown woodland was not trying to retreat behind eachother in fall concealment, but trying to emerge forth out of the greyness to say "save us."

“ Damgf” he uttered, and could not even grasp a word correctly.  His head lifted to the sky repeatedly, there was no orb, and the shadows were looming larger than ever; fractioned shadows from tree branches were forming scythes all over the ground.
             He entered the large shadow that was his front door, into the house that rose high into the sky, with the simplicity of Stonehenge.  He climbed the rickety petrified stairs and went down the hall.  Grey light had spotlighted every frame on the wall.  He looked into the empty room, nothingness, then his room, the tank seemed at its faintest, and it was nearing twilight.  He walked past the tank to look out the w
AM Snyder Feb 2016
No one ever taught me not to stick my hand in a fire, I just learned by common sense;
but here I am again, grasping for you and watching my hand blacken and burn.
Because every time you say that you don’t know what to say,
I want to call you a liar because you just spoke.  
But being speechless speaks louder than words and
the absence of sounds swallows me whole  
until your fire was all I saw and like a fool, I reached for it again.  
But as I did, in the darkness I couldn’t see that my paper heart
was starting to burn.

We all grew up too fast, pushing through pull ups and graduation robes as if they could be worn twice.
We learned that excuses and “I’m sorry”s could be said again,
but that didn’t undo the damage already done.
Now the angry redness of your ears matches the redness of my future and I can’t help but wonder how I could’ve messed this up so badly.
But then I remember that I have a PhD in impulsiveness, poor decision making, and panic attacks.
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions,
so down I lay cobblestone after cobblestone until I reach the gates but I never enter.

Who needs hell when I have your fiery red hair and temperament
that develops into a burning rage that scorches my skin with silence, when I’d rather be slapped with sinful words that PG movies don’t allow. All I can say is that I tried, because that’s what we all do in this world; we try.  
Try our best, but fail anyways because success is for those who get lucky and this world is nothing but a game of chance with lottery tickets costing you more money than you will ever win, but we believe that there must be some essence of luck in our lives because we keep buying tickets.
She thought she was lucky.  She thought that in an oceanic timeline, surrounded by blue, that she had found a brown boat, brimmed with buoyancy and broken dreams that you shared.
She climbed into that boat, and side by side you sailed neither of you realizing that you were sinking.

That is the thing about the boats in which we sail, even when we assure ourselves that they will never fail.
In this world, we all have our own ships, but the trick is that these boats can only hold one passenger.
She had her own boat once.  She lost it, in maritime madness, one reason or another.  
When her boat was swallowed by the sea she started swimming, trying to keep moving. Sink or swim they say.
So as she swam, she spent all her energy and instead tried to tread and keeping her head above water was no longer a game that you played in summers spent at the shallow end of the pool.
It became a constant question of survival.
She must’ve been lucky, for your ship sailed by and
picked up the poor girl who then became a passenger of someone else’s vessel.
This boat was worn, and her captain had tried to patch the holes but as the two sailed, the ship began taking on water as they went.

When training to be a lifeguard, they teach you quite a few things.
Mouth to mouth resuscitation(which sadly is no longer actually mouth to mouth),  first aid, CPR, and how to pull a drowning victim from the water.
When people drown, our instincts kick in and we grab for  anything to keep ourselves above water and breathe.  
We don’t mean to hurt anyone else in the process but we just keep fighting for air.  
Sometimes the people push their rescuer under and even though we may try to hold them up, if we don’t breathe too we’ll drown!  
So what lifeguards are taught to do is if they are being pushed under
is to shove the victim off, swim away, and save ourselves.
Now some may say that sounds selfish and how can we do that when we’re supposed to be saving them, but we can only save them if we’re alive.  If we can breathe.

You told me dating me was like a breath of fresh air,
because when you were with her, you were held under for:
1, 2, 3, 4…10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 45, 83, 104, 255, 1013… 63,072,000 seconds - TWO YEARS.
So of course, I understood why you swam away.
Away from the girl who broke your boat because being drained of energy was something I used to do to others.  
I ****** the acid out of batteries and I walked on power lines, licked light bulbs, and suckled sockets because I too was once a drowning victim and but I hit the water was shocked by the electric energy that I had drained from him and it was hell.  
The hell that I had laid cobblestones too, the hell that one day I might see you in, because we’re all sinners here.  
We aren’t human if we don’t make mistakes, and ****’t I’ve made mine.

I fell from the ship and sank until I hit rock bottom, which was  somewhere right between a razor blade reef and pill popping plankton. It’s funny how solid rock bottom can feel beneath your feet, because we’ve been on our boats or in the water for so long;
but you can’t stay down there no matter how badly you want to
because your lungs are screaming for air so you push yourself up and struggle for the surface.
The Marianas Trench is the deepest point in the ocean, and I’m pretty sure that’s about where I landed.  
And I’m sure that if it wasn’t for a difference in timing, I would’ve seen her at the bottom too.
But that’s the split between me and her, because right now I’m back in my own boat and I’m breathing in fresh air but she’s gasping for a breath. She’s struggling to breathe but her lungs keep taking on water.

This doesn’t happen to just her and me, but there are hundreds of thousands of people out at sea.
Some decide to perform a self mutiny by mutilating their minds and jumping overboard and the truth is that not everyone makes it!
Some open their mouths underwater while screaming for help
but instead their shouts are choked out by the salty ocean that surrounds us all that we continuously mistake for our own tears.  
Some people are smarter. They wear life jackets, while the rest of us
use others as life rafts until we figure out how to rebuild our boats and I’m here to say that you can.
No, it’s not going to be easy. It’s never easy.  
Learning to swim wasn’t easy. When you first learned to swim you thought you would drown then, but you survived didn’t you?  
If Jack Sparrow sailed the sea, so can we.

So here I am, breathing in and I’m floating on,
trying to teach others that mending their ships is a pain but they have nothing to lose and so much more to gain.  
And there you are and if dating me is like breath of fresh air and you're fire, do I just continue to let you consume my oxygen until I choke on bitter words and stutter on sentences that I can’t spit out?
Sure my boat has holes in it and sometimes, the patches break;
but I have found that letting water in just isn’t for me so don’t plan on using wooden scraps of my boat to light your fire anytime soon because I know that even though this ocean seems vast and never-ending, we are all sailing somewhere.
Hopefully, we’ll get their soon.
Claire S Mar 2010
the little boat sits at bay
no worries in the way
but nothing can stay away
from the little boat happy at bay

winds, time and, wave
can not stop pulling away
for as the wind push and pull
the rope looses grip of the soul
and the little boat stray away
taken from it's safe home at the bay

time knows all young and old
a mysterious curse not to be told
he who wears the rope thin
ready to snap at any sin

but it is wave ready to pull the boat away
from it's secure place at the bay
wave is the one who takes it all away
the one who is cursed for the crime to pay
is wave the only one they should lock away?

by itself it couldn't worked this way
help is needed to pull the boat astray
wind, time and, wave all work as one say
wind and time did not commit the final crime
but they helped pull the little boat way
away from the safe place at bay
This is not one of my better poems personally, but enjoy
Viji Suresh May 2016
I wrote to you on a paper boat
Those questions in my heart,
I wrote to you on a paper boat
It sailed fast, slow and then a stand still,
The wetness seeped in, the ink bleeded ...

I expected you to raise your head,
Reach out to rescue the boat on puddle,
Some dreams of mine, you might have saved,
The bleeded letters, you might have traced.

All my antics not withstanding,
The soaked boat slowly sank,
My eyes flitted between the boat and you,
Still hoping you will race to its rescue...

When the boat slowly sank,
The ripples died a slow death,
Your head moved in my direction,
"Phew! I am done for the day", you said.
Glow Oct 2017
Little boat
On the sea
Little boat
Sails with me

Little boat
New winds blow
Little boat
You have to go

Little boat
Feeling blue
Little boat
Can't sail with you

Little boat
I'm on the shore
When you come back
We'll sail once more
Jeremy Duff Oct 2012
The young boy stuffed his hands back into his pockets and looked down.
His black shoes looked nice against the moldy, rotten, floor of the boat.
Water splashed up onto the back of his neck just as he pulled his hood up.
He had forgotten it was there and his ears instantly felt warmer.
Him, his old man, and his old man's friend had launched the boat 15 minutes ago.
After some trouble they got it started and began across the frosty lake.
The sun was still not up yet, and the temperature was below freezing.
"See the steam rising off the water?" the second old man had asked,
"The water is warmer than the air."

And so they had began their journey.

"Stand up for a sec, James, I need to get to the tackle box."
The boy complied and was surprised to find that it was warmer standing up.
Even with the wind slapping at his face.
Just as his father retrieved the box he shouted "Rich! Stop!"
There was another boat not 10 feet in front of them, running perpendicular to there boat.
Rich slammed the engine into reverse.
He smacked his head on the small windshield in front of him, knocking him out.
The boy's dad fell over and smacked his head on the side of the boat, almost knocking him out.
James went flying. He flew straight over the front of the boat and into the water.
Not even a second later the underside of the boat smacked into his back.
Not even a second after that the propeller from the boat sliced off his left hand
and also chopped down to the bone in his neck.

Time of death was estimated to be at 6:07 A.M.
Rich was alright, the crash causing a minute fracture in the second disk of his neck.
The boy's father was also alight, only re breaking his long ago broken left shoulder.
The single child's mother killed herself six days later.
His girlfriend never dated another boy ever again.
Until she met Bobby, who took her pain away with the knuckles on his strong right.
His father never returned to work, instead drank away his welfare and later his life.
Rich lived almost normally until his daughter was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer,
killing her within weeks of diagnosis.
Then, he moved to Arizona and was killed by a **** dealer.

And the world went on.
Alyssa Underwood Jul 2017
There are times when the Lord will take from us every familiar thing and send all the others away to have us to Himself, uprooting and dismantling our earthly anchors until we find no safe place of attachment but to Him alone. And though we search feverishly to secure another, He will faithfully cut off our efforts at every pass and every attempted by-pass, almost as though we could see them being escorted out the door, marching one after the other in file and possibly taking our sanity with them. “No, not another one! Where are they all going and why am I not invited?” But it is His alone to give or not to give, to give and take away.

The One Who took up the cross and took the cup of the Father’s wrath for us has the absolute right to take anything and everything from us at any time for whatever reasons might please Him. But know this for certain: concerning His redeemed, those reasons will always involve two things—glory and intimacy. They are the overriding answers to every lingering question of “Why?”.

But if we fail to understand His glorious and intimate intentions we may misconstrue our losses to be a sign that He is actually withdrawing His affection from us. The very things which He is doing for love’s sake to perfect our pathway to intimacy might be taken instead for obstacles blocking it, causing us to doubt His love. We could not be more wrong, but sometimes it's so hard to see through the veil of pain.

For it's a strange and bewildering thing to feel that you belong to no place and no person in this world, to have nowhere to call home and no one to share it with if you did. A severe untethering indeed that though meant to prepare us for flying can seem to us more like drowning. The sobering truth is that none of us belong to this life or the things of this earth; all sense of it is only an illusion, and pain and loss are simply the dispelling of the myth—the rude awakening from a bewitching dream we once had. But oh how we fight the disillusionment.

Maybe we remember a time when we had prayed to be refined, to be made more like Jesus, but we didn’t know it would have to hurt so bad and take so long and look so dark and feel so lonely. Even if we have understood and embraced His call to deeper intimacy we may after a while, when nothing seems improved either around us or in us, start to resent our belonging to such a determined and jealous Lover, though He is doing exactly what we had once asked Him to. We may start to think we can no longer bear anything except that which superficially distracts us from our grief. We may even start to give up hope, for if not anchored exclusively “behind the curtain” and if repeatedly crushed it threatens to **** our hearts for good should we have to face one more disappointment.

We may feel very much like we are flailing around in a deep and darkening ocean, repeatedly pulled under by the powerful tow and thrashing waves of overwhelming emotion and continuously knocked back by the brutal winds of confusion. Yet we can still see the unshakable boat of faith and truth standing solidly only a small distance away. We know it is real and that if we could just reach it we would be safe. We hear someone shouting through the din, “Just hold onto the boat! The boat will save you. Look beyond your feelings and walk by faith. Hold onto truth!” But can’t they see that as hard as we may try we have no strength to swim to the boat? Can’t they see that we are sinking?

And so we are left with nothing but to cry out to Jesus, to cry out to Him to bring the boat to us, to come Himself and rescue us. Do we have that much faith? Enough to just say, “Jesus, help me! I’m drowning!”? Enough to see that He is our only hope and nothing else matters apart from Him?

Because when we do, we will understand that this hope in Him alone is the very lifeline by which He will pull us to safety—back to faith, back to truth, back into His intimate arms of love, back into a peace which passes all understanding and into a joy that gives us strength for the journey.

As difficult as it can be in our grief to hear the Lord whispering truth to our hearts above the constant clanging of our feelings, we must now more than ever choose to take the time to be still and seek our soul’s rest in Him and in His promises. But how amidst such clamor and confusion?

Simply decide to cast your cares on Him, if only for the moment, by climbing into His Shepherd’s lap to look and loiter and listen. And if you have no energy to climb up, then just lift your arms and ask Him to pick you up. And if you haven’t the strength even for that, only raise your eyes toward Him and you will soon find your sanity restored as you behold His love for you. Ask Him earnestly to let you see it afresh, for perhaps you have been temporarily blinded from recognizing it.

Stop everything; cease just for this minute from all worry, anxiety, fear and anger. Forget the past and do not look toward the future. Focus only on this moment right now, as if you knew it would be your last, as if it were the very one to lead you into eternity. Inhale like fresh air the powerful promises of God’s Word. Soak in their grace and drink in their healing, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus’ face. Can you see Him longing for you? Exhale every distraction, conflict and uncertainty of this world. Then listen... What is He saying to you right now? Wait for it, then let your soul rest in it, and let go of everything else. Rest in the grace of this present moment and in His strong, sure arms. Let Him take care of you, wounded one, for you are His beloved, and He longs to tend your broken and needy heart.
~~~

"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
    my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
    He is my fortress, I will not be shaken."
~ Psalm 62:5-6

"The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.
The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called to the LORD;
    I cried to my God for help.
From His temple He heard my voice;
    my cry came before Him, into His ears...
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    He drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the LORD was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
    He rescued me because He delighted in me."
~ Psalm 18:2-6,16-19

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf..."
~ Hebrews 6:19-20a
Himanshi Mar 2014
Set sail on a clear day
at dawn, my love boat.
Facing the enormity of the seas
light waves, soft against the hull
pushing forward .

Coy observer,
of the seas that meet ,
bestowing their souls
to the ocean.

Reluctant, hesitant
shying away, blushing red
as she sees the ocean
now open his arms to her.

Took slow steps into the
fathomage of the ocean
showed her brazen self to him
And flew away the cloak
that bounded her screaming soul.
One ghastly day,
a storm broke through,
it broke the hearty ocean.
And went away all the seas,
leaving the boat deserted.

Waves got higher and stronger
hitting the stern every minute.
didn't topple, the love boat
the mast ,still saving her.

And days from then,
the boat still sailed,
in the wide wide ocean.
No island in sight, but
stood strong with waves
in its favor.
Sailing, just sailing, My Love Boat.
Duncan Brown Sep 2018
Not long after the beginning, and a bit before the end, the Almighty said to Noah: “Is that your real name?” “Yeah”, said Noah: “you gave it to me, your ever generousness. I was hoping for something a bit more romantic, maybe even an extra syllable or two, or become all psychedelic and have a hyphen and a double barrel, but Noah is functional. I’m not complaining, a lot. After all what’s in a name? Wouldn’t a cactus be just as uninteresting if it was called something else? Why am I and my not very exciting name so humbly in your almighty and quite tedious presence?” asked Noah. “I’ve had a great idea”, said God: “and I want you with the very boring name to be the first to hear it.” “Can’t wait to hear it your Denseness, even if it is only half as brilliant as the square wheeled chariot and deep-fried ice cube you nearly invented for us last week; and as for the three-armed jacket, well what can I say? Jacob wears his every day and I won’t tell you what he does with it at night, as it involves folk music. And didn’t the Paisley patterned boulder illuminate the landscape?” said Noah “Oh good”, said God: “I do so enjoy it when the minions are attentive to my every word and trembling syllable, What’s the point of being an Almighty if you can’t Almighty it over the lower orders from time to time?” “I couldn’t agree more, your Bampotness. Even if you do appear to be a few slices short of a full loaf on occasions. So, what’s this big idea you’ve had?” said Noah. “I want you to build a boat, the biggest and bestest boat there’s ever been” said God. “Why”, said Noah, “we live in a desert, we don’t do boats; never have done, don’t get a lot of call for them in these parts, your Obliqueness. Ordinarily you’re every utterance is a symphony of sound and beauty to the sticky out bits on the abstract countenance you have so generously created for me, O Guano features. Couldn’t you do another plague of frogs and locusts? We loved those. Your subjects haven’t eaten so well since. Very tasty they were indeed, and so much more nourishing than the daily fare of cactus bark and centipede you dish up to us as we go about our increasingly diminishing mortal trespass. I hope you weren’t baffled by the paradoxical construction of that sentence. One Almighty’s punishment is another lowly minion’s business opportunity. I was running a fast food joint while it lasted. Made a change from the normal feast, where you have to catch your dinner before it catches you. Eat before your eaten that’s the Law ‘round here. It makes you feel more like a recipe than a person on occasions, your Compostness.” “Be that as it may, said God: “I’ve got some drawings which Eve helped me to make” “Eve?”  said Noah: “did you say Eve?” “Yes” said God: “Eve”, that’s what I said, she likes me more than all the rest of you put together and that’s why she’s my favourite” “This will be good” said Noah: “let’s be having it. Let’s see the cosmic blueprint of a less than useless boat that Eve devised” “I helped to devise it as well”, said God: “In fact I done all the pencil sharpening, and here it is.” Noah sniggered and said: “That’s not a boat it’s a camel!” “Brilliant, isn’t it?”, said God: “you’ve got to hand it to Eve; she’s a genius at this kind of stuff, and she says it will make me look jolly clever as well. And that will stop all you ungrateful and wretched minions from smirking and sniggering every time I have a wonderful idea.” “This is even better than the ten commandments, three dos six don’ts and a maybe” said Noah. “My Ten commandments were wonderful” said God: “even Moses said so.” “The only reason you have ten commandments”, said Noah: “is because you have ten fingers. If you had seventeen fingers we would have seventeen commandments; one for each digit. People who use their toes to count their fingers should avoid life’s mathematical complexities. And as for Moses ‘The Born Leader’ he’s a party hack. He’ll agree with anything you say as long as he gets his name on the tablet. He’s publicity mad. When he grows up he wants to chisel the definitive text on cactus attraction, for the benefit of future desert wanderers. Eve says he a bit of a Freudian fruitcake on the quiet, whatever that is. She also says, his mother told him he was adopted, and he’s never quite got over it.” “Why would Moses want to get over a cactus, seems jolly silly to me” said God: “He’s a complete basket case, according to the local grapevine. Never mind all that, let’s see the blueprint.” said Noah: “A wooden camel, only a cosmic idiot could imagine it. If it was a wooden horse it could have been sold to the Trojans, or a wooden cat to the Pharoahs, and I’m told the antipodeans go a bundle on timber budgies, but camels; nobody wants one, not even other camels. How did someone as colossally dense and as infinitely thick as your self acquire the surreallness of thought to imagine it in the first place?” said Noah. “You’re a bright little chappie for a minion”, said God: “Eve told me about the Greeks and their wooden gee-gee and I suggested a boat, then Eve pointed out that this was a desert, and consequently we need a desert boat. ‘One that floats on sand’, I said. ‘Not quite El Plonkero’ she said. Then Eve said we have to adopt and then apply some lateral thinking to the problem. She pointed out that we live in a desert and that we need a boat that sails in the desert. And then I had the mostest cleverest thought I’ve had in ages. We need a ‘desert boat’ I exclaimed. And Eve said I was a true plankton eater. She says the nicest things to me. A ‘ship of the desert,’ she says, ‘and what’s a ship of the desert?’  Quick as a flasher in the rush hour, I said ‘a camel’, and Eve replied that I was quite bright for a log, and that camel plus ship equalled wooden camel to sail away from here to some other paradise she called Hollywood, ‘Land of heavenly bodies and the drop dead gorgeous Brad Pitt.’” “And you believed her?” said Noah. “Of course I believed her”, said God: “she’s Eve and if you can’t believe in Eve what else is there to believe in?” “There’s an answer to that”, said Noah: “but you’d toast me like a heretic on the happy juice if I repeated it, your Doorknobness.”
Jeremy Duff Nov 2012
"It's ****** depressing, when you think about it."
I looked up from my cigarette, which I had been admiring soberly in the dark moonlight.
"When you think about what?"
"When the person you're talking to is more interested in their stinkin' cigarette than your "spilling of the heart.""
"I apologize, sincerely. How may I make it up to you?"
My partner sighed.
"I don't know Nolan, tell me one of your horrible stories that always make me feel better."
I thought for a few minutes before I stumbled upon an ill fated November morning in my thoughts.
"Well Tyler, this one time I was fishing with my dad and his friend, Todd, on Todd's boat. We were out on this ******* chilling lake at 6 in the morning and I had fallen asleep. Todd's boat was small and only had two seats, the driver and the passenger. So, being the youngest on the boat I had to sit on an ice chest by the motor. It reeked of oil and nasty stuff yet I somehow managed to fall asleep. When I woke up, my dad was yelling, telling me to stay awake. I figured, seeing how I was on a boat, I might as well fish. I picked up a pole and cast it out of the end of the boat. On my first ill fated cast I got tangled with Todd's line. So, we reeled in and untangled them. On the next cast the same thing happened, only I dangled with my dad's line. They told me it might be better if I stopped casting out so I returned to my ice chest throne and almost instantly fell asleep. I woke up to my dad yelling at me again. We were at shore and they were telling me to get off and sit on shore until they were done. So, I went on shore and fell asleep almost, again, instantly. I woke up via my own devices and I started throwing rocks into the water, trying to make them skip. I watched my dad and Todd fish from their tiny little boat. They were right out in the middle and a leak had sprung. They started coming back to shore but, as if on quee, the motor died. Long story short, the boat sunk. My dad and Todd were fine. Todd wasn't even that made because his boat was a ******* floating stick, basically. I just find it funny that my ableness to fall asleep and my patrons impatience caused me to be warm and dry while they ended up wet and pissy."
Johnny Zhivago Jun 2013
There's a boat,
there's a boat
in the middle of the road
in a massive traffic jam
rolling after some old van

i can tell
from the look
that shes trying to float away
that shes hungry for the seas
that shes sniffing in the breeze

and this boat,
she could float
but she leaked a little bit
she was leaky full of holes
full of smoke and alcohol

she was white
she was shiny
with a crooked timber deck
with a crows nest full of crows
with six cannon lined in rows

on the sea
in a storm
she keeps sailing on and on
sometimes sunk beneath a splash
drunken boat and acting rash
Raj Arumugam Oct 2010
I cut an avocado in half
and give one half to the visitor;
and I carefully scoop
the avocado
gently, gently
with a teaspoon
(the Aztec records show
this is, ahem! the fertility fruit)
and I savor each scoop
and eat like a pig
(ah well, like a graceful pig);
and at last
I have the skin left
in the palm of my hand
and it’s tough
and shaped like a boat;
and it has rained
and there’s a puddle of water
on the lawn
and an ant that’s been irritating me
wandering about on my naked foot
and I put the ant
in the avocado boat
and I set the boat in the puddle
and I give it a gentle push
and I say:
“Bon voyage, Monsieur!”
And then I look at my visitor,
and that silly guy is still staring at his half
and I ask, ever gently,
“Do you need help
with your fertility fruit there?”
The visitor replies, “No" –
and I wonder if I should get him brain food
or perhaps set him off on another avocado boat…
30

Adrift! A little boat adrift!
And night is coming down!
Will no one guide a little boat
Unto the nearest town?

So Sailors say—on yesterday—
Just as the dusk was brown
One little boat gave up its strife
And gurgled down and down.

So angels say—on yesterday—
Just as the dawn was red
One little boat—o’erspent with gales—
Retrimmed its masts—redecked its sails—
And shot—exultant on!
Sy Lilang Jun 2014
I used to step on the solid ground
The grey asphalt with li'l pebbles in black in it
I used to walk with cemented pavement
Where no one hinders me to enjoy the tack I'm in.

You led me to the boat
And together, we left the crowd
My knees are shaking, as if I'm freezing
You guided me to enter that narrow boat
And I had nothing but myself to bring
For it may sink with tons of extra things.

We started sailing
The curtained sky was the scene
With lil stars painted on it
And the depth of the ocean was present
It bounces the crescent up there.

I felt the wind brushed my hair
He sounds so mad with the clouds supporting him
My feet trembles with fear as my faith does.

You are with me, oh Jesus
And I asked you if you care
For I may fall from where we are
And you may not see it and forget I was there at all.

Words come from your mouth
And the wind listened with your sweet voice
You brought peace and calmed my raging seas.

I trust no one but You
Even if I don't know how far but I'm ready though
Oh held my hands indeed,
Let my grip be frozen upon your hands.

I'll sit and take a look at the vistas
And move the boat as we sail
You'll teach me how to act
And wherever we'll go, You are with me.

(6/4/2014 @xirlleelang)
Coz I usually dream about waves.
cheryl love May 2015
The old fishing boat shiny, worn yet proud
Had many an old fish bone scraped across its deck
Heard stories that would make your hair curl
and had seen weather at its worst but what the heck.
Had seen all the fish available from all the seas
nothing would surprise this old girl anymore.
Had the strength to carry on whatever the gale
Grin and bear it or go as you have gone before.
Its engine, had seen some time in its old life
struggling through seas as high as waves could get
Through ice as thick as an island so as to speak
and the new fishing boats wince if they get wet.
They would not last five seconds in conditions
like my fishermen have served thought the boat
Well if it could think that is what it would think
They look delicate and I dare say they would float.
But now the old fishing boat was being admired
stroked lovingly by tourists with cameras and tales.
Ice cream accidentally smeared on the deck
With its worn polished look and ragged sails.
But it was proud, and so it should be
For the fish it has fed folk, fishermen it had sailed
But now it had a place in tourist's heart, the town
It was admired, photographed and now emailed.
A buyer with plenty of money and hope in his heart
had bargained and won his bid. It was now his dream
to sail the boat with children on board and parents
sightseeing on board complete with a holiday team
Dressed in navy and white striped with straw hat
No fishing lines, nets, poles just an orange float.
With a sign that indicated the price of the trip
A retirement, a nice little trip for the fishing boat.
Mary Pear Jul 2016
A small boat bobbing
In a calm sea;
Light breeze,
Gentle sun
Oars at rest.
At one, the body bobs
Adjusting itself and adapting to the sea's motion.
The sun warms and the breeze fans.

An island!
A distraction,

A new direction,
A possibility.
The mind rises and floats and lands
On the island.
Searches for wood to burn,
For trees to hack and fences to build,
For chickens to pluck, for fish to net
and boar to chase.
Shall I be chief?

If I leave my boat, my feet will be wet,
If I stay I might lose my boat.
I might never bob along again!

Sand and shells between my toes,
Clear water lapping at my ankles.
Keep moving or your feet will sink.
Smell the air, taste the air and keep the boat in sight.

The white sand is hard to walk on
And leaves and imprint of every move.
The boat beckons
Back on board, away to sea.

No land in sight - a storm gathers;
Thunder and lightening and driving rain.
Crouching in the boat now, lurching through the waves, drenched and frozen,

Waiting for the lull
Which always follows.
Life is like a boat it's smooth sailing half way through then all of a sudden it gets rocky you start running into rocks almost about to sink then it's back to smooth sailing you start to heal then life hits you again or in this case a rocky shore there is no end to these changes they come and go as they please making your life a living hell making your life unbearable to live in life is like a boat smooth then rocky
in the years between 1100 and 1167 there were two doctors who lived in peking in china

who were looking after the townsfolk, they didn’t have the technology they have today, just coca cola

and methane and yetta, which is now currently known as ICE and they had mould, which helped in

the process of deep cuts and ebrasions, one doctor was harry darker and with him was his wife franceska

darker, and they changed the feel of china, saving people’s lives, you see back then, anger was the most

desirable thing, which meant, if you got angry, you have to wait even longer, harry darker was the ICE king

and loved to experiment with it to one day end the world of suffering, and also harry gave methane to kids

when they had chest colds, but methane wasn’t the best thing for it, but there was nothing else, so they

had to make do with methane, franceska specialised aliens, you see let me explain that further, you see

people are aliens and every day we have to understand that aliens are dead earthlings and what people heal’

themselves up there with, should heal well, down here on earth, you see franceska used to go around on foot with methane

and ICE in her backpack ready to heal the wounded chinese travellers who are going about their journeys, and

franceska was so good at her job, she was asked to be the doctor aboard the boat to england to help make people better,

unfortunately harry wasn’t allowed to leave china because he didn’t have a 1100s passport, which was a medicine license

you see harry just knew what he was doing, and nobody knew what he was doing, but then he met franceska, who was a

licensed doctor, but of all the things franceska did to help harry, giving him a license wasn’t at the top of her list, and besides

which franceska knew that there wasn’t a hope in hell for the authorities to find out the truth, so they just turned the other cheek

and then franceska boarded the boat and was ready for a voyage of a lifetime to visit London in england, on the way there, 13 paople

saw franeska, complaining about back aches, which franceska gave them some ICE, and a few people worried that their minds

were starting to go crazy and franceska gave them methane, which today wouldn’t be trusted, but franceska, also helped a few of

the ships children, by giving them ICE, to calm them down, and then, franceska went down to the kitchen to have her lunch getting

lots of good replies as she passes and days and days went by, as franceska was seeing patients and then they entered the united kingdom

where they dropped off the chinese immigrants and picked up the british immigrants going to china, and franceska sat down at the british port

hoping that, she can finish this journey as she missed harry, and on the way back to china, some of the british went to franceska for medical help

but the british were too proud to let her help them, because for the simple reason, they didn’t believe in this kind of medicine despite it is this medicine

or death and then henry the 5th came in to visit franceska complaining about stomach cramps, and franceska gave him methane and mould from cheese

to rub on the stomach 3 times a day, and this might sound crazy, but this plan was smart enough to work and henry the 5th did the wrong thing, you see he

overdosed on methane and ate the mould, which wasn’t a great idea and franceska said to henry that wasn’t your smartest decision, wasn’t it and henry said

i am sorry, i just have got a decease of when i have something in my room, i will eat it, and franceska said, ok i will give you some ICE, but you mustn’t overdose

because this drug can be fatal and this made henry scared to overdose and took the ICE and went to his room and this time he didn’t overdose on it, but

the methane was beginning to make him feel sick, after him overdosing on it, and then david greatless came in to see franceska complaining about really bad

stomach cramps, maybe from the poison from the fish they had at dinner and Franceska gave him ICE, to settle his stomach down and after 2 days of taking

the ICE his stomach stopped aching and when they arrived back in china, franceska went to harry and they went about their normal practice, and people were injured

left right and centre and franceska in about 4 weeks, was asked to be on the boat to the USA and, this was a very bad journey as franceska had her hands full

with a flu epidemic and everyone got the flu, especially the ship’s crew, and then the boat stopped because nobody was fit enough to steer it, with the only well

person being franceska, who didn’t know how to steer a boat, but she did try and the boat ran out of gas and franceska fell off the boat into the ocean and despite

her losing the methane and ICE overboard, franceska swam with all her might, to hopefully find land and then after she almost gave up hope, she arrived on

this island which is now known as Australia, on the port of adelaide, and despite franceska being a helper of all, she arrived at port adelaide really cold and hungry

and had no memory of why she was in the ocean, franceska went under the name of terri halter and lived in a rundown farm near where the adelaide cbd is now

and while she was there she drew these lovely pictures which made the townsfolk very happy and in about 3 more weeks franceska died and if you are worried about the boat

someone noticed them and they were saved, but that was franceska’s last ship as a doctor, and that ship became one of her art works, in her next life, franceska was betty robson

who lived in a place which is currently california, and she loved that family

i am franceska butler and i looked over harry in china, for 5 years before harry sadly passed away

as i said, i am franceska
Marieta Maglas Jul 2015
Fortunately, there were five modern toilets having
Lavatory flushing cisterns like those invented by
Sir Harrington in one thousand five hundred ninety-six, being
Built near the kitchen because the air in this room was dry.


This cook-room was constructed in a place where it was deemed safe
To have a cooking fire; it had a good layer of lime
With an air space to insulate the brickwork from the unsafe
Adjacent timber; the brick walls were expensive at that time.

The room had two brick fireplaces and boiling was the method
Of cooking while three coppers with lids were set in the brickwork.
With some funnels passing through the deck head, they were connected
That protected the kitchen and allowed the steam to perk.

Firing on the uproll could mean a shot going into
The rigging; the sailors and the passengers took the pumps
To extinguish this fire, doing all they had to do.
The pumps made of leather were assembled from the dumps.


And coupled every fifty feet with brass fittings; their length
Was about twenty-three meters; this ******* worm engine
Was made by John Lofting in 1690; its strength
Was pumped by a team of men working to relieve the tension.


The fire was small, but it could extend to the cabin cruisers,
Which were nearby; while the men were working hard to escape
The danger, the strange man as one of the fast movers
Deliberately entered the gun room; Cruz saw his shape

Entering and descended the stairs in a hurry
To stop him; he entered the gun room and took a gun.
The stranger turned to Cruz and shut him, but his eyes got blurry,
When the room was suddenly filled with the rays of the sun.

(Cruz shut this man in the face. Both of them fell down. The women were in a boat and Fargo made efforts to bring them to the shore.)

A big wave hit the boat, causing Geraldine to go
Overboard; she fell off the boat into the water.
Fargo jumped in the sea to save her and started to swim below
The water; she screamed for help; the waves rose up to scatter.

She could not remember how she fell; her head and arms
Were barely visible above the waves; Fargo swam
Toward her and brought her aboard, '' you're safe from harms.''
She vomited, ''I want to be far away from where I am.''

Meanwhile, Bella lost her balance, and within a split second,
She fell off the boat and tried in vain to hold onto
Chiara's hands while asking for help, but her fate beckoned
When a giant jellyfish stung her arm on back to fronto.


Chiara saw her treading the water and moving her head,
But lost the sight of her after a few seconds ''She's gone, '
Said Chiara; after saving Geraldine, Fargo said ''she's dead, ''
He turned around the boat, ''Look, that jellyfish is coming on! ''

(Fargo jumped in the sea to rescue Bella. He brought her aboard, but she has been underwater much more than she could resist. His resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. All along the ragged shore, there were a lot of stones under the water. They got down out of the boat and walked in the water while bringing the boat to shore. Meanwhile, ten pirates, after swimming in the water, climbed on the carrack to **** everyone on the board. Fortunately, they didn't see the boat.)

(To be continued...)

Poem by Marieta Maglas

— The End —