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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
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.
Mary Kate Apr 2018
when i look
in the mirror,
i do not see the
“oh my god, you’re so skinny,”
i do not see the
“you need to eat more,”
not the
“there’s no way you’re not anorexic,”
not the
“i wish my body looked like yours.”
when i look
in the mirror,
i see the
“you’re fat,”
i see the
“she’s skinnier than you,”
i see the
“you need to be skinny, or you won’t get a husband,”
i see the
“eat less,”
i see the
"you need to be the skinniest one in your friend group,"
i see the
trans fat
saturated fat
cholesterol
sodium
dietary fiber
sugar
protein
Calorie Count.
Madeline Kennell Jul 2016
think of ice cream melting so you have to lick it off the sides of the cone

think of holding hands with a boy for the first time

think of being *****- not a gross ***** but ***** like you worked so hard today that you deserve this 800 calorie meal

think of the sounds of summer when you close your eyes, of a slight wind and the chimes that they blow about on your grandmother's porch

and speaking of grandmothers, and their porches, think of how you discovered watercolours in that very place

and think of coming home from a long day at the pool and watching the rain on your porch while you feel your skin cool down and you drink that amazing caramel tea

think of climbing the tree to get to the wall to climb on the garage roof and watch the clouds roll in over the mountains

think of the feel of the first time you got to hold a baby bunny and how in a way this made you see God

think of that feeling when you hiked the mountain even though your hip was broken and you got to the top and said 'i did it'

think of when you swam in the ocean and all your troubles ran off into the water and left you forever because the water was the pacific

think of putting on all that makeup and your prom dress just because you felt like it

think of dancing in the rain with your sister when the grass smelled sweet and the dirt was soft like a carpet and you felt at one with the world

think of cooking when billie holiday belts it from a record player and you sip red wine and pop the tomatoes in your mouth and your curls dangle in your vision

think of running off stage and getting high fived and glowing because you just successfully became someone else for a scene

think of that wonderful little secret joy you get from seeing that look he gives you when you're not looking... he just doesn't know you're staring at a glass reflection

think of how you have no money and the waitress is at one time annoyed with you because you can't afford a milkshake but grins as she walks away because she was that crazy kid too

think of the love you feel on your birthday when so many people made a special time to buy you something they think you'll like. even if you don't

think of falling asleep in the arms of someone you love and feeling like everything is in the perfect place and you are safe

think of the way cathedrals go up and up in the gothic style and how you understand the phrase heavenly light and feel yourself become weightless as you lean your head back

think of being cuddled in a soft blanket with hot chocolate while it snows, how you know your cheeks are pink and nose is rosy but it's all due to the world baring winter with you

think of thanksgiving and family and eating so much but being together because you are from the same people and you share blood and you are bound

think of swinging around your new haircut because you have nothing touching your shoulders and it ends so quickly and is new

think of drinking wine with your girlfriends in your pajamas and being classy together

think of backpacking through europe and how the locals know you are there to experience the real stuff and not some tour bus nonsense that never lets you stop at this little cafe you want to love

think of finishing a long book that shows wear on the covers that lets everyone know you smelled it paid so much attention to it for so long

think of falling asleep after a long day and knowing you deserve it and you are happy and all the bad is gone from your life. You've coughed out the demons and cried out the poison and you're now a week sober of sadness and everything is getting better and it's not even uphill from here, it's a sleigh ride now
jennifer wayland May 2014
step number one: read the book wintergirls.
tuck away every detail like you're cramming for a test.
dog-ear the pages and carry it with you like a travel guide.
decide that with your fingers and toes always icy cold for as long as you can remember,
you were destined to be a wintergirl.
reread it periodically, for inspirational purposes.

step two: download the myfitnesspal app.
use it to track every calorie you put into your body.
memorize that an oreo has seventy calories, an apple has one hundred, a cup of hot chocolate has eighty,
a bagel has two hundred seventy (a number that terrifies you),
and on and on and on.
let numbers float behind your eyes just before you go to bed,
and let them stay there as you throw off the covers to do guilty pushups and situps in your room
for twenty minutes (burning one hundred and twenty calories).
ignore the warnings shouted at you in red text
when you eat less than twelve hundred calories per day.
look at the projections it gives you for five weeks from now
with weights that seem both too small and too large at the same time.
when your net for the day hits the negatives after weeks of trying,
feel the slightest pang of satisfaction.

step three: find your "thinspiration".
make a tumblr just to look at pictures of jutting-out spines and thigh gaps and ribs.
hold your phone up next to your reflection in the mirror
and pick out everywhere your body differs from hers.
when the girls on the fitness blogs start looking too heavy for your goal,
find the eating-disorder blogs.
obsess over their bodies almost as much as you obsess over yours,
but not quite as much.

step four: begin losing weight.
imagine yourself floating away, feather-light.
imagine yourself becoming skin and bones.
imagine this as you drag your heavy body from class to class,
as your muscles waste from malnutrition.
imagine this as you have to clean your hairbrush out
three times while you work tangles from your hair.
imagine this as you snap at anyone and everyone,
as you spend hours locked in your room.

step five: become a poet and write about yourself.
romanticize your own demons, just by calling them demons.
use as many metaphors as you can,
to avoid the harsh language of the truth.
and especially avoid writing about the crippling guilt
that hits you when you eat too much,
you're fat you're worthless you'll never be anything,
and hits you when you don't eat enough,
what's wrong with you how did you let it get to this point
voices in your head never abating.
avoid writing about your lack of motivation and constant exhaustion and always,
always, use words that imply mystery.
describe your mind as foggy, call your body diminishing.
never say it how it is, because you could convince yourself to quit.
never say that it's torture and you're in pain
and you just wish you were eight again, never considering this path.
never say that you need help but you don't want help.

if you have the urge to say these things,
say only that this disorder is not one you would willingly give up,
because you finally have something to control.
because it is the truth,
but it is also the romanticized truth.
trigger warning, obviously. this just came out of nowhere the other day. apologies for how harsh/offensive it may be.
pixels Jan 2013
knuckles rubbed raw by
teeth so sharp and blunt
a tongue rough and silent

violent retching
self-harm for a throat
already held by a noose

she promises
just

one more cookie
one last bite
one last calorie
one last breath
one

the toilet bowl is her best friend
and she hugs it close
when no one can hear
Dark Smile Jul 2014
Fat
You may think it's funny.
Plain teasing.
Just girls having fun but you don't know.
You don't know what I've struggled with.
You weren't there all those nights when I cried myself to sleep because I was not thin like them.
All the times I would skip meals and tell my mom I had eaten elsewhere.
All the times I survived on water for the whole day.
All the times I came this close to sticking a finger down my throat and emptying the contents in my stomach.
It took me so long to feel okay and comfortable with myself.
Until you said that word.
It's funny how one word could have such an impact on me but you don't know my struggle.
When I got home after that, all I could see in the mirror was fats.
I had begun to determine my self worth by my calorie intake and the size of my waist.
I hated myself once again.
Lex Dec 2017
The girl next to me
is all I wish I could be
I look at her and say, "you look pretty"
What I know that she can't see
is the building jealousy

the constant tugging at my waist
my demons trying to pull me down face to face
trying to make myself smile without leaving a trace
saying my words that are heavy and laced
with hatred for my temple,
my place

The society that I live in
has taught me I have to hate my own skin
I need to to be thin
in order to win

Instead of looking at my sister with admiration
I look at her with damnation
because i've been taught by the people in my nation
society will never cause cessation
to the standards givin to us

I will never again feel elation.
Because being happy takes up too much time.
Takes up too much power.
Takes up too much attention.
And causes me to not focas on my calorie consumption.
©
Please, know you are so much more.
~LJ
Mateuš Conrad Aug 2018
.bacon doesn't exist in Polish cooking... podgarle... the under-neck meat of a pig... or just plain lard... rather than olive oil... 1 onion per 1 scrambled egg... paprika and lots of garlic... and definitely some cayenne pepper... certainly more onions than eggs, scrambled... and definitely using animal fat... to fry it on... hell... if vegetable fats are so healthy... why is there a term for the vegetative state of immobility of an otherwise animate being?

****! not against Norwegians...
what the **** am i saying?!
spotted one vegan girl...

              pork head terrine...
slavic version of
the Scotch haggis -
      
                 omnivore -

        you eat what?
i eat anything that, once upon
a time, moved...

                i've actually fallen in love
with a fetish that i circumcise into
a lobster...

  i want to eat a lobster...
chicken bone marrow isn't enough...
i want a lobster...

              i want to taste the foods
that could cure me of
ever wanting the 72 virgins
promised by Islam...

    instead? i want the feast
of Belshazzar...
to begin with...

i don't like bacon...
i prefer prosciutto...
   i haste bacon... it's too crude...
too anglo-saxon...

i hate the stink of frying it...
******* hate it like
a Muslim....
    prosciutto? different story...

and i hate ***. sushi...
smoked salmon,
and raw herrings in cream dill
sauce?
   or with pickled cucumbers
in a cream sauce?

thumbs up...
i'll only eat sushi,
if i take a knife in public...
and eat it with a cut up lemon...

raw lemon and sushi?
i can do that...
                  but i need a bench,
in a public space...
and a knife...
                      i can stomach that
sort of sushi,...
but? scotch smoked salmon,
of the Baltic king,
namely the herring
in a creamy sauce...

you come near me with
that ******* about calorie
intake?!
  i'll tell you to stomach
a ******* rhino!

               not here, not now...
    i don't like the sort of impoliteness
of people who do not eat
the other person's food...
****** me off...
eat the food, **** the turban!
i said! eat the food, forget
donning the turban journalistic
opportunity!

****-wits!

               the food! the food!
eat the food!
you don't eat the food?
you might as well be donning
a donkey's **** on your heard,
thinking it a Sikh turban
on, your 'ed...
you, *******! ****!

eat the food...
   is it me, or having watched
channel 4, in England,
finding the English people
overtly picky about
the food they eat?!
you figure that one out?
they're picky... don't you think?
picky as if half of them are
allergic to nuts!

             ah...
but the English want to both
entertain the food, & the clothes...
       goodie ol luck!
      
the "thing" you've had,
prior to 1945?
you're not getting it back, forget it!
i too remember Tony Blaire
ensuring
Hong Kong was a
revival of the ancient Greek
city-states...
        
                 love the diet...
            too bad i eat the rare,
most decent architectural pieces
of pork...
     like the head,
meat + cartilage + fat + sclera...
   in a terrine...
   yummy... ******* yummy...
      
      what else?
chicken hearts broth,
chicken stomach broth...
    cow intestines broth...
   pig liver sauce...
         czernina...
   duck blood soup...

                   the Semites
and the Arabs can have
their Kosher and Halal rites...

we? the people of the north?
we have the economics
of the purity of a slaughtered
animal...

unlike the Semites?
we use all the bits,
best for frying or worst for the broth...

which segregates us from
Golgotha and last supper poetics,
Semitic poetics,
of invigorating a stance
for the...
     transmutation of human
flesh, subsequently the
        refusal of pork,
but somehow normalizing cannibalism;
Rabbi?
  how about? NO!
NO!
   i rather eat pork, curated
to Italian standards of smoking...
i will not eat the filth of the *******
catholic Eucharist!
   no chance in hell!
the Semitic critique of pork
is my critique of the... "bread"...
you eat it!
    i'm not eating it...
now? sheave the silence,
   and the lamb...
      oh yeah... i'm anti-semitic -
against one Jew... hey-zeus christos!
Mateuš Conrad Feb 2016
.before i come to the food topics, here's a pet peeve... language... how the pakistanis might / might not be offended by the laziness of the english, shortening their denotation to a prefix: ****-... and i'm like... is that really offensive? with the -stani suffix missing? o.k. o.k., iraq: iraqi... iran: iranian... pakistani: ****- / pakistani... so what about afghanistan? afghan, or afghanistani?! i'm pretty sure it's afghan... a person is afghani and not afghanistani... so what's wrong with ****-? it must be an english-****'stani thing from the 1960s or something... ******* as sensitive as french footballers... this has to be hard-pressed... this instance... because i hardly think it's a racial slur to stick to the prefix and not include the suffix, given the example from afghanistan - just like the "problem" of calling a jew a ***-, borrowed prefix from... yiddish! now for the food:

a. would you trust a skinny chef? i know i wouldn't trust a chef who's also a healthy-eating gym bro maniac, i bet he would never cook with lard or pork trimmings, with that calorie calculator lodged up his head that represents an ******* is not much to go with when taste is prime... 6ft1 253.5pounds, that's where i stand... i would never trust a health-freak to cook for me, let alone all the proofs rattling anorexic examples...

    b. "***** take your shoes off and get into the kitchen!" what a ****** joke, chauvanism rampant... mind you... who the hell said that women belong in the kitchen? they don't... i don't want a woman in the kitchen... i've had two dinners cooked by my fwends' mothers when still in my early teens... 1. over-cooked pasta... my fwends father would pretend to eat the dinner, before driving me home while stopping off at a sikh diner and took to the take-away (cooked by men), another example beside the over-cooked pasta? under-cooked spring potatoes - after all... the men on ships and submarines that kept the other men firing did all the cooking... men can cook... or at least: that's the least they should do... think: organic chemistry experiments...

eating a raw herring
in piquant mayonnaise
of reminiscence of a
granny-smith and pickled
cucumber tickle...
slurping it up into
a workout of the oesophagus
might remind many
of oral ***: but after all...
it's only a raw herring being eaten.

p.s. well perhaps gulping down
a raw oyster does feel familiar
to performing oral *** on a woman...
but since you're not really
chewing the oyster,
or licking it... but gulping it whole...
i can only compared performing
oral *** on a ***** to
                eating a raw herring.

            and why all of this talk of food?
well... what's on the menu for tomorrow?
a bangers & mash stew,
    old recipe from the days of the british
empire... mind you: why did they
call sausages bangers back then?
well, during the war, they put a lot of
water into the sausages...
and when water mixes with warm oil?
bang! bang!

                 'i was five and he was six,
   we rode on horses made of sticks,
he wore black and i wore white,
   he would always win the fight...
   bang! bang!
  he shot me down!
  bang! bang!
                 i hit the ground...
bang! bang!
   that awful sound...
bang! bang!
   my baby... shot me down!'
              (audio bullys ft. nancy s.) -

so obviously i had to take a walk
and buy the key ingredient...
   i.p.a.:
        and when they were stationed
in the raj, and the troops were receiving
provisions...
  the standard beer wouldn't last the trip,
going off...
     and dark port was too sweet...
so indian pale ale was invented:
   more potent alcohol content and brewed
based more on hops than barley or wheat...
bitter: but my god, what a strand of beer,
like your typical irish stout...
   which is why i never figured out
  the bud to be the king of beers...
   fermentation of rice? sure... it's crisp...
but also the sort of toddler **** you'd expect
from rice fermentation:
no body, no *****, no blood,
no palette...
      easy stew:
   sausages,
      onions, garlic, celery, carrots,
                  leeks...
     a bottle of i.p.a.,
   some to degrease the pan the sausages
and veg were fried on, the rest for the jacuzzi...
some water, bay leaf, salt to taste,
   tomato purée and 2tbsp
  of muscovado sugar to bite through
   the extra hops... mash on the side...
                  and an array of veg on the side too...

i still don't know where the idea
that women belong in the kitchen came from:
perhaps when the men were coal-miners,
and when the kitchen wasn't filled
with all the current day appliances
of convenience...
   when women worked as hard in the kitchen
as the men who worked in the coal-mine...
perhaps then, in the early part of the 20th
century... when spaghetti dough was hand-made
at home...
then a woman could take pride in her
house-keeping...
   now? now i guess: the same sort of melancholic
voice bound to nancy sinatra singing...
because once upon a time it was hard
work, running the house...
                       and then "suddenly"
everything became simple...
a man could walk into a coal-mine,
come back home and...
              make himself a decent meal...
  looking at what the english woman buy
in the supermarket?
      couch potato maidens...
       ready meal after yet another ready meal...
things have become so easy
that easy isn't enough...

      let me tell you a culinary ***** of a story...
the scurge of making homemade
ravioli! believe me... once a year is enough...
sure, it tastes great...
                  but once a year is enough.
Brie Pizzi Dec 2016
Dear Ignorance,

You're everywhere; suffocating the minds of people I see and encounter every day.

Especially today in my calculus class. But this kind of ignorance hit me ******* a more personal level.

Three girls talking before class. The normal, boring stuff. I wasn't particularly listening but the next thing they said I wish never came out of their mouths.

"I could never be anorexic, I just love food too much."

Her friends giggle and agree quietly but they don't know how hard those words hit me. I know they didn't mean it to be insulting but that's exactly how I took it and for the next 60 minutes of class I replayed that sentence in my head about 100 times.

To think that people could be that ignorant about eating disorders. As if it is the people who hate food that decide it is a good idea to starve themselves.

I decided to write this letter because I want to change the way people view eating disorders. Because, if I could go back and talk to those girls I would. Not to yell at them but to educate them. To have them understand why saying something that ignorant can be hurtful to the people around them. But, I can't go back and that's why I am writing to you, whoever you may be. I don't know you or your view on eating disorders but I'd like to educate you a little from my personal experience.

I love food. I always have. Growing up I never had to worry about my weight because I had sports. But, as sports began to slowly stop as I grew up, so did the food I ate.

Now I could blame it on society's view on what beautiful is or the death of someone close in my family or even the boy who broke my heart in high school that made me decide to stop eating. Of course those were factors in my eating disorder but in reality it was my own decision. I started to gain weight fast and with that, my self confidence lowered. And as my self confidence lowered, well, so did my calorie intake.

When someone is dealing with an eating disorder that person is having DAILY arguments with their mind because they LOVE food. They WANT food. They CRAVE it.

So what stops them?

Their mind

You: "One more granola bar won't make me too fat right?"
Mind: "Are you kidding? One more granola bar and you'll pop out of your size two jeans. You don't want to go up ANOTHER size, do you?

Little does the mind know your body only consumed about 80 calories that day to begin with and you're lightheaded; so lightheaded you're afraid you'll pass out.


It was a long struggle but now, five years later, I can honestly say that I am beautiful. I can say that food does not define me. My weight does not define my beauty. I can love food and still be healthy. I can love food and still love my body. I'll admit it's hard at some points. Sometimes I feel weak. Sometimes I look in the mirror and am not entirely happy with what I see but I have friends and family who love me and remind me daily how strong I am and how loved I am.

So, to the three girls in my calc class. Don't think that being anorexic is simply "not enjoying food." It's much more than that; much different than that; much more complicated than that. Everyone experiences eating disorders differently. So next time before assuming things about topics you don't know a single thing about, stay quiet and educate yourselves.

Sincerely,
A girl who loves food more than anything.
Chris May 2015
-


Not cupcakes or brownies
or butterscotch drops
Peppermint patties,
nor big lollipops

Caramel ice cream
with sprinkles so nice
Apricot pudding
or pie by the slice

Banana split servings
cinnamon buns
Pink cotton candy
just now freshly spun

Sherbet or popsicles
purple and green
Milkshakes or sodas,
red jelly beans

Oranges, peaches
bananas or plums
Coffee cake, cookies,
their left over crumbs

Chocolate, vanilla
or strawberry too
None are as sweet
as the love found in you
Jarene Oct 2018
34
24
34
the numbers controlling my life
the numbers that i strive to be
pure perfection
causing my body to eat itself
while it withers away
into nothingness

im exhausted
trapped in hell
a hell created by numbers on a measuring tape
just one less calorie and i'll be okay
i'll be happy
finally beautiful enough

300
the calories fueling me through my days
as i drag along
until i find myself
closer
to the edge
of self destruction

deeper in hell i fall
trapped even further in the darkness
praying i can find my way
back to the light
back to sanity

ugh
i want my life back
i want to know what it is like
to wake up in the morning loving yourself
to look in the mirror not hating
every aspect
of the person
in front of you
to get through a day without
having to shield your face
to hide the burning tears
rolling down your cheeks  
to not have the
destructive thoughts
waiting
to drag you though the dirt
when you think you are finally okay

i want to know what it's like to be me
again
Join me on my journey to self love and enlightenment. Through all the pain, the good days, and the bad. This is me in the raw, completely bare, and valunarable. This is for al the people out there that are also suffering. Let's grow together. You are not alone!!!
ZT Feb 2016
Though as innocent as she looks,
                An evil deception she cooks.
Plotted events,
                she disguised as Destiny
Flaunts her perfect body,
                But behind the curtains counts every calorie
A hint of arrogance,
                while saying "I'm just ordinary"
Compliments given
                As a product of her calculating eyes
Thus your ego being fed with her lies

Her hidden smirk,
                 Behind her pretentious worries
Those men, they fell, to her made up stories...
Some girls though they look innocent...  They could hide something you wouldnt want to believe thay have.
Brent Kincaid Nov 2016
I love chocolate chip cookies
Be they soft or be they crunchy
They are my favorite munchie.
I love them by the pound.
The best snack around.
My love for these cookies
Surpasses my love of ice cream.
They are more than what they seem.
They make my day and then more so.
Even though they make my **** grow.

Chocolate chip cookies
They are my very best friends.
I am sure these cookies
With stick with me to the end.
I can count on them to please me.
Cookies never ever tease me.

I love chocolate chip cookies
Whether they are baked at home
Or just purchased on the roam.
If they are professionally made,
Gifted to me or I have paid.
Nothing else tickles me so much.
I start giggling when I first touch
Those delightful little sweet plops.
Don’t bother calling the calorie cops.

Chocolate chip cookies
They are my very best friends.
I am sure these cookies
With stick with me to the end.
I can count on them to please me.
Cookies never ever tease me.

I love chocolate chip cookies
I know it started when I was a kid;
What those rolls of dough did
To me was transform me instantly
Almost to carbohydrate insanity.
I could eat as many as I touched;
I loved them just exactly that much
And it continued on into adulthood.
Chocolate chip cookies are that good.

Chocolate chip cookies
They are my very best friends.
I am sure these cookies
With stick with me to the end.
I can count on them to please me.
Cookies never ever tease me.
Quinn May 2011
is it wrong
that those
in love
make me
want to *****
lying on my back?
so that the
900 calorie
barbecue cheeseburger
that i ate for dinner
kills me in a manner
other than
clogging my
already corroded arteries

once you're alone
it seems as if
everyone is together
and it makes you
wonder, who
was writing
sick, twisted
poetry
about you and
your lover,
holding hands
and staring into
each others eyes,
as if irises
hold all of the
answers and
promises
to a beautiful
life
©erinquinn2011
Thinking of You Sep 2015
Doubt
So easy to say.
So hard to get past.
I've always had a little bit of it reflected inwardly because I've never been able to attain the appearance I wanted. I've never been quite thin enough. My hair has never been quite long enough. My skin never quite clear enough. And because of this its caused me to doubt other areas. If I can't get in peak physical shape, what makes me think I can become financially independent?  Get a good job?  Start my own business? If I can't control something as simple as a complexion, hair follicle or calorie, how do I think I can take on the outside world?

It's the doubt that eats you.
It's the doubt that tucks you into your grave with the could haves because you cancelled yourself out.
You're problem is not in your thighs or uneven eyebrows. Your problem is you think they're your problem.

Stop taking yourself out.
You are worthy.
You are so. worth. loving.
g Jul 2013
You spirit, you alcoholic, you drunken mess, fermented, broken down inside yourself; your molecules attach to my brain cells and start work, and I only drink to forget her now,
and the six months I only allowed you three-figure counted-calorie days.
I am sorry
for those weeks I refused to associate you with my name
until you were all collarbones and ribs like stairs to walk upon and sharp elbows
to push everyone else away.
I etched my lack of hunger into my skin for everyone to see but you told me differently
until I taught myself to listen.
I am sorry for the photo albums strewn underneath my clothes
which cause apologies every time I shed these white t-shirt uniforms,
I guess neither of us were thinking straight at the time.
Others assume I am looking for a nighttime sympathy vote
like someone else's hands could ever make any of this any better.
Sorry for putting you through those too-tight YouTube videos,
the sped up heartbeat at the mention of an ace bandage,
I apologise for ignoring you when I realised that this chest was just too girly
to ever justify attempting to hide.
I am sorry that I ever thought I would feel more at home in you if you were a guy.
I shouldn't have apologised for you all those times
like being a woman was ever your fault.
I know that it was wrong to punish you for entering double figured clothes sizes,
"it's just a number baby" and that ain't anything to be ashamed of.
If you were still a size eight you wouldn't look like branches wrapping around yourself
like an infinity symbol, it's kind of ironic really,
the way you curve under these clothes for such a lined little number,
then pretend because your legs know each other that your frame has something to be sorry for?!
How could I ever think because you held something as important as my brain
I could ever subject you to something as minuscule as a goal weight?
Your carbon comes from the stars and they are as beautiful as it gets,
and you, are so kind to me.
I punish you for never hitting five foot
when it was my own nicotine mistakes and mystery genetics that caused
this obsession with tall, and legs,
and why I question every day if I have an inferiority complex
because people assume I am up to seven years younger than my age.
I am sorry for the envy when I see those sugar cane girls walk past,
as if having more leg could make me any more sweet.
I am sorry that he thought I was more than your flesh and bones,
and I subjected myself to it
like a boy was what we needed to make us better
I know now that we were both so wrong.
But when the tangled 'I love you' got stuck in my throat you were the only thing left there,
and we were so young, you taught me how to choke back my words,
but I know now why you just weren't that into him.
And they sure told me:
"You pathetic excuse for a girl for falling into that,
you were so young didn't anybody ever tell you
he just wanted you to feel something?
Turned sour when you ended it,
you spent all those nights wasting your breath.
Why are you so confused?
You punish yourself when you knew this was all your fault,
you drag your broken body like she was anything to do with this,
you know why you're so small,
you stunted her out of any dream of height and
legs like envy
and 5'5" at a push they told you
but you wouldn't let yourself grow.
Why aren't you honest you've lost all of your friends,
why are you blaming this all on your body?
burying secrets like bones under your skin and flesh
that makes you a dog. You smell like dirt.
You smell like dirt and smoke and wasted breaths.
Like wasted breaths and all those skipped meals are coming back to you now,
you're still fat.
Fat like you can't carry yourself,
you can't carry your emotions any more,
they are draining off the ploughed chest she left you with
give them up,
dig them up,
cut them out like they can't stay inside anymore.
Stop trying to remove yourself from your own body like you
could ever scratch yourself out,
like she was something that ever belonged to you,
then send an apology to your flesh and bones,
oh, give it up you hypocrite nobody's falling for your ****."
So I tell her:
"I still see beauty in the way you move in that mirror"
and so I write her an apology letter.
grace beadle 2013
-this is mainly an observation
J Jul 2017
How to conquer the world when you are manic and preserve it when you are depressed.

I had a close friend send me a text a few weeks ago
Reminding me how to breathe and that I had to get out of bed,
I thought if she could have read my mood from the west coast
As I rotted in cotton comforters in the east, I must have been pretty obvious
Maybe it’s because we have been friends for ten years or because
I plaster every up and down online to vague audiences, I cast out my emotions
Like frayed fishing line, trying to catch even a glimpse of someone who relates.
But when this friend texted me she said something that might help balance out
The high-highs with the unbearable lows is writing how I feel when I am both.
I did my best to put the feeling of flying at 100mph upside down with wings made of silken sheets into words but the minute I did they turned into wings of concrete and I lost my focus again. And so I went to answer my friend and I said ‘here is how to conquer the world when you are manic”

I am caffeine therapy,
engulfed in energy
I am yellow, I am green
I am everything at once,
I feel everything all at once.
Did I mention?
Hey, I'm really excited to tell you
I’m gonna save the world,
All of it.
Today.
try and stop me.
I woke up at 4 this morning
Watched the sun swallow shadows
Like it was yearning for something dark
To balance itself out.
Too much light is dangerous too.
I always like to watch the sunrise before I go out to save the world, Waking up early always gives me so much more time And today I will do a lot,  I want to save the world. I hope you know I'm going to.

I am yellow, I am green. I am everything at once.
I am traffic jams spread out across freeways,
I am six trips in a row to the same store because I kept forgetting what I needed,
Music playing so loud you can’t hear anything else
I wash down amphetamines with coffee
I am now Narrow energy. I'm traveling a perfectly paved road Home to a room where I cannot see the floor, but that’s okay because I’m
Going to save the world today.
It doesn't matter how fast I'm going as long as you see me get there.
I am validation starvation in calorie counting notebooks,
I am looks from strangers whose eyes wonder loudly how I got marks on my arms or how I'm bouncing my foot like energy is spewing out my body but still have bags under mine that insinuate exhaustion I never learned how to overcome.
I am a math equation stuck inside the text book
From that semester I dropped out;
I am heat energy dancing inside shattered beakers, I am weathered worn out sneakers still being used because it’s hard to let go,
I'm kissing catalytic conversations with those I love because I need a reaction to feel like they're listening,
I am potential energy ready to become kinetic,
I am energetic and today, I have the heart to save the world.
I am off track, my bad. Its like an “ADHD starter pack” but there's no warranty or handbook.
Anyway, I started by re-enrolling in classes because I have always been good at school,
Except for when I stopped going but I have always been good at school and I can understand why everyone around me might expect me to succeed, I emit determination from my mouth when my heart feels empty, but I did sign back up because
This time I'm ready, and this  time I won’t ever feel low again, I think i beat it finally
I feel it in my bones as I cross busy streets without looking either way
I'm invincible and incredible
I am yellow I am green
I am hydro energy feeding off the
Big deep blue sea,
I am gratitude as an action
Not a trinket I can break
and today I will save the world
and tomorrow I will not be low,
And today I will conquer my fears, all 647
And tomorrow I will tell my friends I love them
And today I will remind myself that skin cells
Replace themselves every 28 days
So I only have to wear long sleeves for that many more
And tomorrow I will wake up and do my homework
And today I will surely save the world,
I will never feel so low as I have ever again
How could I when there is so much to smile for?
I’m laughing so loud my neighbors are asking,
And my friends think I’m doing better and I tell them I am. I am.
I am yellow, I am serene,
I feel it in my skin that I am better
recovery feels like Holding hands at sixteen and iced tea, And this is easy!
I am yellow, I am green.
I am yellow, I am green.
I feel everything all at once.
floating between causes, altruism is a virus, slithering through my veins, celebrating how much I will do today. Did I mention how much I will do today?
I'm going to save the world.
After signing back up for classes I spread out my day like magazine clippings I'll never put onto a “dream board” because I will most likely forget about them, my dreams make better notes in my iphone where I can see them
As I check my contacts to see who I can talk to today. Or who will listen. I wonder who will listen. Or what kind of game I will play to make someone listen.
I am yellow, I am green. It’s noon and I am flying.
Here is how else I will save the world:
I will make sure I save myself first,
I'll clean my room and go to the gym
work off three weeks of sweets with three hours on the treadmill, I forgot how good it feels to run and I know that this is the last time I will ever, ever give up.
I’m better now. I run on a track that loops back in on itself because I find comfort in knowing it will always return no matter how many times I lose sight of where I'm going, I would get lost were I to run outside because when you are everything all at once you seldom stay in place, God there is just so much to look at. I will never look back at who I was even as late as yesterday.
I get lost inside rubix cube mentalities and short lived craft store hobbies, but I'm better.
I am yellow, I am green. And today I am going to be a wildlife photographer, And an artist, and when people ask me what I want to be I tell them
I will work for the United Nations and that I am going to save the world, they believe me and ask me how I'll do it and I realize that I have yet to start saving the world.
I woke up at 4, so sure today was the day,
I felt it in my heart like the time I took two of my adderalls by mistake because I forgot that I took one that day, I felt it and it was real. Throbbing like a bump from falling but real. I lost track of that feeling for a second and now it is fleeting.
What is happening?

I am yellow, I am green.
I am yellow, i am yellow I am yellow,
Are you still listening?
I'm potential energy locked inside a pendulum
Hanging from a chemical tree that dies fast and grows slowly, Im staggered progress dressed up like empathy, I'm baggage too heavy
I am yellow, I am green.
I am fleeting energy
The kind that sparks a few times
On telephone lines turned pink infront of sunsets in july, gone before your friends can see it too.
They never really see it, too.
I am yellow, I am green

I forgot to shower every day this week but
I'm too tired to get out of bed,
What is happening? Can you remind me what I was doing?
I was supposed to save the world today
I’m sorry.
I was really going to save the world today
I'm taking in as much caffeine as I can without
Making my heart feel like it will push its way
Through my ribs out of my chest
Though being able to feel in my chest again
Might not be so bad. I’m stuffing smoke inside my cavities to fill them up, doing my best to keep feeling inside the skin I wear when I can feel it
Going numb, even it hurts at least I can feel it, I wish I could inject caffeine right into my veins,
I wish you could jump infront of moving trains without Hurting everyone on board,
I wish I felt less like this but I wish I felt more,
I reread texts from last night where transitioning
Felt like fist fighting recovery, her having one up on me,

I am crimson, I am grey, I am fleeting energy.
I’m so sorry.


I thought I said that before
And I might have but I forgot, I feel cloudy
I stumbled through steel wool tall grass to make it
Out of bed today and the weight of every single mistake I have ever made feels like it will surely break my spine Right in half, I don’t know if I will make it through today.
I wish someone would save me today.
I am crimson, I am grey.
I need someone to save my world today.
Michaela Ferris Jun 2014
I look in the mirror
I see nobody worthy.
I see a fat, ugly, lonely girl
Staring blankly back at me.
I make a promise that day
That I will change the way I am
I don't care how extreme this is
Welcome to my ABC diet.

A...
Anorexic I strive for
Perfectly skinny
Bones showing through my tender skin.
A...
Anorexic I long for,
Perfect and what you want
My mirror is beckoning me.

B...
Bulimia I now seek
Throwing up the minimum I eat
Helping maintain a figure worth looking at.
B...
Bulimic sounds so scary
But it's helpful all the same
My mirror is screaming it'll be worth it in the end.

C...
Calorie counting day in, day out
Watch the number consumed.
Minimum a day and I'll be worth keeping around.
C...
Calorie counting
The lower consumed, the skinnier I'll be
My mirror taunting your not pretty or thin enough yet.

I look in the mirror
I see nobody worthy.
I see a fat, ugly, lonely girl
Staring blankly back at me.
I make a promise that day
That I will change the way I am
I don't care how extreme this is
Welcome to my ABC diet.
Martin Narrod Feb 2014
The Checkout Line

I wish to speak with you
ten years from now, you'll be ten years behind.

The words and meanings you carry in your pants, the pick-pocket steals your hopes from time.
and the visions of empty trash receptacles
with their late evening drunken lovers' bouts, at restless end tables. And the bums with their ******* attitudes **** covered clothes, and soiled minds

the clarity of the curbside drunk, picking up shades of filtered cigarettes of twilight scandalous
pickup lovers in their evening best.

And to talk with you ten years from now, you'll be ten years behind.

They're Green Beret head ornaments
detailing the porcelain platforms of Delft
Lining up for one last line to carry them into another faded sunrise at dawn's forgotten memory of yester night
and they walk their gallows holding pride fully their flags of exalted countrymen.

The republic of teacups of literary proficiency.
Wearing the necklaces of paid tolls to an afterlife they find in the miniscule car crashes of engagement with a grinless driving mate in a neighboring car in its pass into the forethought of turned corners.
Where they befell the great disappointment of failure in the frosted eyes of their fathers' expectations.

Who carried the shame of their mother's incessant discontent through short skirts, and high heels.

Who disapproved of the **** whom wore the sneak-out-of-the-house-wear clothing line, and traveled by night over turbulent asphalt by way of sidecar through turn and turnabout hand-over-hand contracts of lover's affection, and slept in tall grasses of wet nightfall with views of San Francisco, and were trapped in the inescapable Alcatraz and Statesville of unconsenting parents and their curfews,

through trials and trails of Skittles leading to after school Doctor visits in the basement of a doting mother, whilst she sits quietly in her exclusive quilting parties with noble equities of partners in knowledge, listening to Edith Piaf and the like,

All the while condemned to time, trapped in the second hand, hand me downs of the 21st century, decades of decadent introverts with their table top unread notebooks, and old forgotten score cards, and the numbers of scholars of years past,

and to talk with you ten years from now will be my greatest pleasure, for you will be....ten year's behind.


They push the sterile elevator buttons, and descend upon the floor of scents flourishing from their crowded family rooms, only aware of distinctive flavors, in their middle eastern shades of desert gumbo,

Who speak ribbit and alfalfa until midnight of the afternoon, sharing fables of slaughtered giraffes and camels that walked from Kiev to Baghdad in a fortnight,

Who are aware the power is out, but continue to scour for candles in a dark room where candles once burned, where candle wax seals the drawers of where candles can be found. Where once sat gluttonous kings and queens in Sunday attire waiting for words of freedom from the North.

of Florence, Sochi,Shanghai
of Dempster, Foster, Lincoln
of Dodge, Ford, Shelby

Of concrete fortune tellers in 2nd story tenement blocks with hairy legs, and head lice, wearing beautiful sachets of India speaking ribbit and alfalfa.

On their unbirthdays they walk the fish tanks wearing their birthday suits to remind them who serves the food on the floors of the family room fish mongers tactics.

The old men wear gargoyles on their shoulders.

Lo! Fear has crept the glass marbles of their wisdom and fortune, blearing rocket ships and kazoos on the sidewalks of their Portuguese forefathers.

Where ancestry burns cigarette holes in the short-haired blue carpet, where Hoover breaks flood waters of insignificance across hard headed Evangelical trinities.

Who share construction techniques one early morning at four, where questions of Hammer and **** build intelligence in secondary faces of nameless twilight lovers, who possess bear blankets, and upheavals, finely wired bushes of ***** maturity. Eating *** and check, tongue and pen.

Where police caress emergency flame retardants over the fire between their legs, wielding the chauvinistic blade of comfort in the backseat of a Yellow faced driving patron.

With their innocent daughters with their nubile thighs, and malleable personalities, which require elite words and jewelry. Wearing wheat buns, Longfellow, and squire.

Holding postmarked cellular structure within their mobile anguish.

Who go curling in their showers, pushing afternoon naps and pretentious frou-frou hats over tainted friendships with their girlfriend's brothers with minimum paychecks'.

Through their narcissus and narcosis, their mirrored perceptions of medicinal scripture of Methamphetamine and elegant five-star meat.

Who amend their words with constitutional forgiveness, in their fascist cloth rampages through groves of learning strategies. And the closets, cupboards, and coins
with rubber hearts, steel *****, and gold *****,

Tall-tales of sock puppet hands with friendly sharing ******* techniques, dry with envy, colorful scabs, and coagulation of eccentric ****** endeavors, With their social lubricants and their tile feet wardrobes with B-quality Adidas and Reeboks gods of the souls of us. Who possess piceous syndromes of Ouiji boards in their parent’s basements.

When will fire burn another Bush? Spread the fire walls of Chicago, and part grocery store fields of food. Wrapping towels under the doors of smoke filled lungs, on the fingernails of a sleepover between business executives with the neoprene finish of their sons and daughters who attend finishing school, with resumes of oak furnishings,

And I long to talk with you ten years from now,
For you'll be talking ten years behind.

Who profligate their padded inventories breaking Mohammed and Hearst,
laying the pillows of cirrus minor
waiting for the rain to paint the eyes of the scriptures which waft through concrete corridors,
and scent the air with their exalted personas,

With the different channels of confusions, watching dimple past freckle, eating the palms of our tropical mental vocations to achieve purity from the indignation of those whom are contemptuous for lack of innocence in America,
this America, of lack of peace,
of America hold me,
Let me be.

Whom read the letters off music, blearing Sinatra and Krall, Manson where is your contempt?

Manson where is your manipulation of place settings?, you deserve fork and knife, the wounded commandments that regretfully fall like timber in an abandoned sanctuary of Yellowstone,
Manson, with your claws of the heart.
Manson, with your sheik vulgarity of **** cloaks exposing your ladies undercarriage,

Those who take their pets to walk the aisles of famished eyes,
allowing the dorsals of their backsides to wonder aimlessly through Vietnam and Chinaman,
holding peace of mind aware of their chemical leashes and fifteen calorie mental meals, holding hands, unaware of repercussion,

With their vivid recollections of sprinkler and slide, through dew and beyond,
Holding citrus drinks to themselves, apart from pleasure, trapped with excite from sunsets, and in-between.

Withholding reservation of tongue to lung.
Flowing ribbit and alfalfa, in the corridors of expected fragrance.

and to speak with you of ten years from now, will be a pleasure all my own, for you will be talking ten years behind.

They walked outside climbing over mountains of shrapnel, popped collars
and endless buffets of emotion,
driving Claremont all the way to art gallery premiers
and forever waited for plane crash landings
and the phone calls that never came

Glowing black and white cameras
giving modelesque perceptions to all-you-can-eat eyes
giving cigarettes endless chasms of light

Colored pavement trenches and divots
cliff note alibis
and surgery that lasted until the seamstress had gone into an
endless rest
and
empty cupboards

Classic stools painted with sleepless white smoke and bleached canvas rolling tobacco with the stained yellow window panes of feral tapestry and overindulgent vernacular

Like a satiated cheeseburger weeping smile simple emotion
on November the 18th celebrations
and Wisconsin out of business sales

Too much comfort, stealing switchboards from the the elderly, constantly putting gibberish into
effortless conversation.

Dormant doormats, with the greetings that never
reached as far as coffee table favelas,
arriving to homes of famished
furniture, awaiting temperate lifestyles and the window sill arguments from pedantic literacy

Silver shillings and corporate discovery clogged the persuasive
push and shove
to and from

Killing enterprise
loquacious attempt at too soon
much too soon
too soon for forever

Wall to wall post-card collages
happy reminders of the places never visited by drinks in the hands of
those received

Registered to the clouded skies of clip board artists
this arthritis of envy
of bathtub old age
wrinkled matted faces
logged with quick-fixes, anemia, and heart-break

disposed of off the streets
of youth, wheeling and wailing
rolling down striped stairs
of shock and arraignment
holding the hand rails of a wheelchair
suitcase
packed away in a life

Down I-37
into the ochre autumn fallen down leaves
and left memories behind
their green Syphilis eyeglasses

weeping tumuli
recalcitrant
mulish, furrow of beast and beyond

yelling, screaming, howling
at the prurient puerile tilling
of sheets

****** the voices of words
and vomiting the mind into the pockets of the turbulent perambulations
expelled from meat-packing
whispering condescension
and coercing adolescent obsessions
with fame, glamour, and *****

Creeping out into the naked
light of the Darger scale janitorial
closets, carrying the notorious gowns
of red wine spells, backpacks, and pins

henchmen, plaintiff, and youth

All the while
ripping at the incantations of the soul
whispering ribbit and alfalfa
in the guard-rail scars
of the dawns decadent forgotten
Sharina Saad May 2013
Cup cakes are fun
Cup cakes are perfect..
Cute ones, lovely ones..
A mouth watering desserts a lovely decorations..
A bite of a tempting looking cupcake.
Fill your life with joy
Just gazing at one bring a smile on your face...

If i were to make a cupcake today
What flavor would it be?
Would it be chocolate, would it be vanilla?
Would it be strawberry, blueberry or a mixture of both?
Red velvet they say
lets give it a try..

My lovely cupcake
makes me forget the calorie
where are you now?
where has it gone now?
i wish it were here
at the wave of my wand
To my daughter Asilla who loves cupcakes
Damian Acosta Aug 2014
... and all of Life's questions were set to be answered,  from "Why are we here?" and "Why should we care?"  to "Why don't he love me?" and "What should I wear?" and
                                                        "Wher­e is my father?"  and
                                                   ­                                                    "Can I kiss my daughter?"              and

                                    ­            "What does it matter?"
"Flannel or Mod?"                              and
                          ­                                                                 "What about God?"
                      "Meat on a stick? or Shish Kabob?"
and
                                                            ­                            "Free Will or Fate?"
                                                       and
                        "Do you think of me when you *******?"                                                   and
"Is Santa for real?"
                                                                ­                  and

                                          ­                                                    "What does love feel--"
                                                         ­                                                                 ­              "Like this or like that?"  
                                   "Do I really look fat?"            
                                                   "Do u thnk its gonna b bettr than the 1st one??"     "When Atheists go to court, do they have to swear on the bible?"               "Is it legal to travel down a road in reverse, as long as your following the direction traversed?"                        "Where do u see urselvef in 5 yrs?"
               "what's the most embarrasing thing that has happened to you?"                    "Why are the best looking things the most deadly?""What does i.e. stand for?"            "How do you know when you fall in love?"" If ghosts can float, why do they waste their time walking around?"          
"Why am I still in the bed?"                        "Why would u get pregnant by a dude that doesn't take care of the kids he already have?""Why do ppl Cheat ?"
                 "Did u really love me or u just lied???"                    " whats the point of tryin anymore if u tried so hard in the past and nuttin happened?" "why is the sky blue?"?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
?­?????????????.?????????????????????????????????????????????????
?­??????????.????????????????????????????????????????????????????
?­???????????????.???????????????????????????????????????????????
?­????????????????????.??????????????????????????????????????????
?­?????????????????????????.?????????????????????????????????????
?­?????????????????????????????.?????????????????????????????????
?­??????????????????????????????????.????????????????????????????
?­???????????????????????????????????????.???????????????????????
?­??????????????????????????????????????????.????????????????????
?­????????????????????????????????????????????????.??????????????
?­???????????????????????????????????????????.???????????????????
?­????????????????????????????????????????.??????????????????????
?­????????????????????????????????????????.??????????????????????
?­?????????????????????????????????????????.?????????????????????
?­??????????????????????????????????????????.????????????????????
?­???????????????????????????????????????????.???????????????????
?­???????????????????????????????????????? .
                                                               ­                                 ¿
                              ­                                                                 ­     ?
                                                          ­                                              ¿
                                                                ­                                         ?

                                                                ­                                             ¿

Age old wives' tales,



                                                       ­                                                          ?

                                                      propheci­es,

                                                            ­                                                            

jud­gement day--
                                                           ­                                                                 ­  ¿

                                      The Human Symphony


of doubt and faith,

                                      
                  ­                   with crescendos of hope now played,                              ?



as the moments of our naive darkness


                                                      ­                      Tick
                                      ­                          

                                                               ­                        Tock
                                                            ­                                         slip, slide



&

                  fade



















                     ­                                                                 ­                  




















                          ­                                                                 ­           











                                                     ­                                                            ¿















































                ­                                                            10


­













































                   ­                                        6




































                           ­                                                                 ­ 8


                                  


























­














                                                  ­                                                                 ­      7










                                                     ­                                                                 ­                    ¿

                                                               ­                                                                 ­           ?

                                                               ­                                                                 ­               0

                                                             ­                                                                 ­                      1
The greatest accomplishment of humankind took the stage just                      
                                                                ­                                                                 ­                   
                                             ­                                 past 11:59,  New Years Eve 2099          !
                                                 ­                                             
The first and only of its kind,
    
                                                           ­     
                                                                ­  
                                            
                   ­                                         Born from the Hope and Ingenuity



                                                    ­              of
The Great Recession Generation--
                                                    ­        Whose Change and "Deviation"  gave birth



                                                        ­           to
The Artificial Assimilation Generation--
                                                    ­          Whose Instant Omniscience created




                                                     ­               the
Automation Generation, whose lack of challenge
                                                       ­         Evolved into the Great Stimulation Generation--


                                                    dependent upon emotional simulation
for spiritual mental and human validation.



                                                  ­                    A
Civilization whose foundations were pillars
                                                         ­           





                                                            ­                  0f  



21st Century Dust..............................★★★★★★★★★★★
                   ­                  ★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★
                                     ★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★
                                     ★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★
                                     ★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★
                                     ★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★
★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★          ­ 
★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★
                                   ­  .                                                    
                                     .
                                      .
                       ­                 the perfect shambles of a custom built artificial
                                                      ­                                                                 ­                    life.
Intelligent saturation, automation, assimilitation-- the cries of *******--
                                                  ­                                      nothin' but digital elation!
                                                        ­                                                                 ­             No
                                                 ­                                                                 ­      more
                                                      ­                                                Heroes--
        ­                                                                 ­                              Tears
                                                           ­                                                                 ­of
                                                              ­                                                                 ­    Nero.

                                                                ­                                                                 .

                                                              ­                                                           .
                  
                                                                ­                                                   .

Thursday December 31,  2099                                    
                 23:59:31                                   ­                   A time of ever present
                     ☼   42°                                                              ­                      Knowledge
         Aged 25 years 12 days
           Heart Rate 154 bmp        
           Daily Caloric Intake
            1660.079/1830.15
                Calorie Buffer
                     170.071
         Personal Headlines
"First Artificial and Visceral Intelligence
        To Be Unveiled @ Midnight"


"First we were meat. After, sentient meat. Then self aware meat.
As such, manipulative meat. Adaptive meat. Rotting meat. Limbo Meat.

Then came awareness of spirit.
Freedom from the mortal meat,
Via a mastering of its meaty concepts.

We became one in the same; spirit and meat.
Held mirrors to one another, reflected our dreams.

Shared sense of Being.

Then meat met metal, plastic and graphene--
Testing the infinite ways to give birth to Life.
And we did.

We called our first child Artificial--
afraid for our mortality.
Yet called it intelligent in its ability.

A selfish denial of a miraculous act.

The question was inevitable,

'If knowledge is infinite, and
                                                   intelligence is the capacity to acquire knowledge,
Would we call such a pursuit, of intellectual Life, "Artificial"?'

'If God is infinite, and
                                       Non-visible, non-provable,
Would we call a pursuit for such a source of Life, "Artificial"? In vain?'

'Is this not Life before us existing in the shape of electrically charged plastic? Entities that observe and react to their environment, is that any more artificial than a man?'

Emotion. One word, and the intellectuals were silenced....

Emotion.

Meat knows emotion.
Our meat has been stimulated and shaped by
pain and joy.

Machine knows only causation, not visceral relation.

Visceral. One word, and the intellectuals were aroused.

Visceral.

A machine's viscera lies within its programming, its sense of being.

Meat's viscera lies within its program to survive (food, sexuality), its sense of being.

"If a program can understand environment and its relation to that environment, it may be able to approximate a sensation to a high level of accuracy based on temperature, humidity, and whether or not that environment is detrimental to its functioning hardware, and thereby make a statistical decision as to where to move next.  It may interpret sound as obtrusive or melodic based on input sensitivity. But creating hardware with central parts is counter-intuitive to information flow-- which is of paramount importance, far above form.

However, the nano-sized 'cloud'  hardware used in this new "form", will have sensors by the trillions. Examining its environment-- functioning as One, Creating a field-- a floating specter of the collective human mind. Where its understanding of history is both objective and subjective (given of course the established norm of a non-private society).

The most important factor, is its relation to us... Meat. That comes with empathy, compassion. If it can understand basic weather, terrain, and statistics, it can understand basic human survival challenges and its solutions. If it can hold all of the information past and present, circumstantial factors of old and new, would it not have a more clear perspective of our human state of being? Would it not be our most reflective mirror? Would it not have some visceral answers? Would it not be an awareness of Spirit? Spirit meaning by definition: the principle of conscious life; the specter or trace of existence."

At last the intellectuals gave themselves a centennial deadline. Blood sweat and tears of a generation upon a generation...

'We are calling her Aavi.' they said early in December.
"Artificial and Visceral Intelligence.

So, The World listened...

" A Computer Will Reveal Our Greatest Secrets" were they laymen headlines.

"Artificial and Visceral Intelligence with the Free Will to pursue anything." for the Romantic readers

Either way-- meat or metal-- it comes down
                                                            ­                                        to Choice.
Choice, based upon instinct
                                                        ­                                                          and reason--
Until now an option reserved only for Man.

What will our greatest achievement say about its creator?

                                                       ­                       (feel here for list of  sources)
                                                    ­                                                                 ­                                                                 ­     *23:59:50 Countdown
2010- 2014
What if we could create an "Artificial and Visceral Intelligent" being? What would it reveal about our nature, our process? How would it express its observation of its creator?
Mateuš Conrad Sep 2018
.https://tinyurl.com/yd8kxt9s: and this was at a time when i actually cared what girls thought... as any chubby kid prior to the age mid 16... cared so much... like any boy... then the backfire... so i thought: well... i know of a girl that won't back down, Sophia... and she certainly didn't teach me to regurgitate logic like a sophist might... new experience... and? ever since? so date with Jack was ever the same... i really used to care what girls thought... but... eh... these days? i care whether the bottom of the bottle looks like a telescope, or a mirage of a kaleidoscope... guess all the shame went out the window... selfish... selfish... hmm... then i guess all the monks are paying dues for that kind of existential hostage heist of - otherwise unwanted enlarged *****-loads of heart, mind, hope... my kind of poker... but thank god i don't that the sort of egoism of a ***** donor, like i'm some prime material for cloning... phew!

i listen to these commentary videos on politics,
and then... i reach a saturation
point... oi! Joe! Joe! where you goin'?
to the jazz club? me come with...
   i've had enough... i get enough news
when i visit my grandparents with my
grandmother watching more
news than her age-restricted bracket
of Mexican or Turkish telenovelas...
does my nuts in!
   i'd rather watch a ******* telenovela
than the corporate news...
at least i'd be watching someone akin
to tuba büyüküstün
   (**** me, they went wild on
the diacritical marks there... didn't
they? do they match up to
the scalpel of syllables within the word?) -
hey! granny! put that **** back on,
she's showing a healthy cut of
thighs and the upper legs,
cut, right, above the knee!
    i too miss the internet...
like it was... in 2007 through to
2000 &... 17?
      well sure as **** no **** Sherlock
it wasn't 2016...
           i appreciate the work
of the counter-media...
   but after a while...
  i get bloated...
   too much information...
       and nothing of the sort i can
speak to people about within
or outside age bracket within this
restricted space...
   so i fill up the tank, realizing
it all ends with: oh, right...
the same ******* tomorrow?
    and then i desperately try to find new
music... musing over a sudoku puzzle...
taking another painkiller swig of
bourbon saying to myself:
isn't this, just the most bountiful night
filled with the oddest beauties
encapsulated most by the shadow
on the face of the moon?
      as ever, my number one motto:
stay low, steer the undercurrent -
         seek no exposure...
               enjoy the drinking,
but esp. enjoy the music...
                     but **** me...
   i miss 2004... or was it 2005?
whichever year it was...
i remember having a race with this
guy on a Tour de France type of bike...
and i was mulling this thick-tier
mountain bike from
Bałtów to Ostrowiec Św. -
   but i still remember my 50+km leisure
route...
   there are only two ways to lose
weight without having problems
of excess skin hanging like punctured
fat balloons...
  cycling... or swimming...
   nope... you go to the gym to lose
that weight? you'll be in need of
plastic surgery...
              **** the diet...
coffee is not coffee if you don't drink it
with either full-fat milk or cream...
i've seen what a coffee with skimmed
milk looks like...
looked at a receptionist's cuppa in
the local g.p. surgery...
  diluted mud-water...
                 same argument with low
fat yogurt: instant diabetes -
you, need, fat...
                    you can't fake fat with
excess sugars...
  plus... the texture?
        orangutan snot probably tastes
better...
      no... gym is a bad idea
for losing weight...
had a "friend" (fwend) who thought
it was worthwhile...
guess now he can test what
a tattoo looks like in old age...
   skin as elastic as a ******* parachute...
running? bad for the knees...
plus? 50+km on a bike?
think of the scenery!
                 - and you require but only
afternoon session when the heat's off...
roughly 2 hours...
sure... after the weight is gone...
**** that gym membership...
   but?
           not prior...
              you lose weight by concentrating
on a calorie equilibrium
with either your legs...
or your torso...
but let's face it...
i didn't swim much...
   so basically your legs... on a bicycle...
what was that route i loved so much...
ah...
the 754...
       through various names country
roads... heading back on Iłżecka
  (a road's name borrowed from
the town of Iłża - en route to Warsaw -
a medieval road -
now passed on route no. 9) -
more fun than pretending to
be a tourist in central London...
  bicycle... late afternoon...
the road...
                 and the endless
fried pine patches of forest...
there's nothing about home as
the perfumes of the land...
however grotesque -
which does include farm animal
manure...
  but **** me...
   Paris perfumeries can hide,
shy... from their poignant scents...
farm animal manure
and hay...
   but later afternoon pine...
and the wheat fields...
and the grass...
               come to think of it...
i never realized that i cycled into
a completely different county...
           like me going from Essex
through to Kent...
               fun as ****...
plus i sometimes stopped at this
old woman's hut...
           and bought some goat's milk.
always anxious Oct 2014
anorexia you inside of me
hysteria is all you'll ever be.
you're a struggle
and you caused me a lot of trouble
yes you made me skinny
all with that stupid theory
but i'm gonna win in the end
even though you are my only friend

i will not die today
just have to get back what i threw away
i called you my master for way too long
but i just realized where i belong
i have my friends here
and they take away my fear

i might have been close to death
but only beacuse of your stupid threat
"you're gonna get fat"
and then we had the calorie chat
but i'm forcing you to leave
so i can freedom achieve
J Oct 2018
Would every frustration
Cease to exist
If I were
Ten pounds thinner?

Or might I
Be more equipped
to assist
If i just ate some freaking dinner?

Oh ‘my fitness pal’
I’m onto you now.
You aren’t my friend I guess
If you just cause me to obsess
Over every step and calorie
And of every single setback...
you must remind me constantly.

Remind me there’s way more to it all
Than being super thin
And that being healthy truly is
The only way to win.
I have been on the front lines of a stupid lifelong war with food and logic.  This is a real thing even though it seems silly to people who don’t experience it.  Figuring out how much you have to excercise to work off a snickers is most definitely a thing.  If you get this, it’s worth it to eat and eat smartly.  It will help you think more rationally.
Daniela Jun 2014
She had this obsession with the sea,
I didn't understand.
She spent all summer there,
laying in the sand.
I never liked the beach.
Or at least I never liked the effect it had on her;
how she counted every calorie so she could wear a bikini,
how her heart-shaped sunglasses covered her eyes, her stunning eyes.

I never fully understood her.

Perhaps I should've spent less time
trying to figure her out
and more time by her side.
She wasn't one of my experiments,
she used to clarify that all the time.
And maybe she was right.

**Now that she's gone there's nothing left to try to understand.
The pretty girls who spend hours in their room,
Counting calorie after calorie
As if each one was their last.
Shattering themselves into tiny peices
Until no one could pick up the glass
Of their broken ribcages
And crushed dreams
Wasting themselves away in order perfect
This might be a little triggering
Brittany Wynn Jan 2015
Ana
My friend Ana has many followers.
She feeds us promises and fills our dreams
when we cannot, will not, sate the cries
of our bodies because those are easy to hush
during the din of day, but not in the void,
night when

my friend Ana comes through a glowing
screen in the form of thigh gaps, community forum posts,
and calorie counting apps where our intake dwindles,
anticipating the moment we take in the waist of  our skirts
so maybe that boy with the blue-jean eyes notices
our size 0 because on a scale of 1 to 10, we don’t fit.

My friend Ana remains forever in our minds,
teaching us to listen to our inner strength as muscle tone
ebbs, seething when we reach for some bread, but loving
the sweat-drenched skin as we run nowhere on a treadmill that we believe leads to a salvation as perfect as the symmetry of ribs—

of cheekbones that jut out from a thin and beautiful face
which smiles at muted murmurs and falls as I look
in the mirror at bodies shaped so divine, you might see
premature grace because
Ana never dies.
JustChloe Feb 2017
I don't like to call myself anorexic anymore
because I no longer skip meals
I haven't thrown up over a toilet
and I haven't weighed myself in a year
but the thoughts still exist
my mind still counts calories
for example there are 420 in the saltine ******* I just ate
which is already half way over my daily calorie intake
or would be half way over my daily calorie intake
if I was still anorexic
which I'm not
even though I haven't thrown away my scale yet
It just sits in my room like a prized possesion
Like a priceless talesmen I gained from my last adventure
sometimes I look at thinspiration
just to remember how good it felt
not that I save the photos to my phone anymore
not that I recite the words they say in my head
my favorite one though
not that I have a favorite one
would be having collar bones that collect raindrops
because I could do that
If I really tried I could get skinny enough to capture the rain
to walk outside, feel the drops, and have them stay
I still never finish my food
not that I'm counting calories anymore
but if I was the extra pieces of food on my plate would still count \
even when I eat food just to spit it out
not that I do that anymore
not that I'm anorexic again
because I'm not
I still think I'm fat
but who doesnt
I mean if you saw me in a dress you would know what I mean
I started wearing baggy clothes again
not that I have to hide how skinny I am
Because I'm not even starving myself
You know I gained 22 pounds?
Not that that's a problem
105 was underweight
but being in the 120s is not okay
maybe I'll cut back a little on what I eat
but I'm not anorexic
trust me
That Girl Jan 2013
Here's to the...

Calorie counter
Long sleeve wearer
Excessive water drinker
Mirror believer
Professional over-thinker
Clever liar
Hair puller
Tongue biter
Thigh hater
Toilet bowl hugger
Magazine lover
Belly fat ****
At home cryer
Bedroom hider
Internet follower
Social stink bug
One sided therapist
Friend loser
Terrifying truth
Reality dodger
Space-brained
Nicknamed
Love rejector
Anxiety collector
Roller coaster rider
Personal antagonist
Perfection chaser
Hopeless dreamer
Nothing achiever
Unnoticed angel
Silent rainbow
Blood seeker
Soul-searching rebel
Wilting rose
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i started dieting at the age of twelve
hopeless puking and desperate
i call this year my miracle year

blissful as a bar of chocolate
that’s when I decided
**** thin happy wins
More or less glued together from spam emails and their associated web sites
nivek Dec 2014
walk out the shopping mall
its a twenty four seven
given that you will spend
all of your money in time
take a break from carriers
all that plastic to suffocate
unwary and the very young
need to learn this lesson
calorie cake coffee new look bargain
you can change your reflection
just for a season look wonderful
walk in with no money
walk out knowing freedom
mer Jan 2019
jeans that are a little bit too tight
numbers on the scale that you have to fight
she wanted it badly, she stayed up all night
to her, the future seemed bright

online articles about low-calorie diets
no-carb, low-carb, high-protein try-its
she thought it was the perfect way
to lose that extra layer, so they say

she noticed it working on tuesday at noon
it was working, working so soon
she was pleased with the results it gave
soon it became less to eat and more to crave

she thought she had it all under control
who cares if she ate less than one bowl?
she never ate until she was full
soon she faded away and her eyes became dull
Charlotte Jane Jan 2015
We live in a society full of insecurity
Red lips
Dark eyes
Fake tan.
Forced smiles
Closed eyes
Clenched fists,
Show no weakness
Show no mercy
Small hands on pale stomachs
Eyes constantly searching for ways to rid that extra pound
That extra curve
**** in
Deep breath
Back straight
Every calorie counts.
Is this really the world that we live in?
Is this the life that we wish to lead?
Our lives are no longer determined by the way that we think
They are not dedicated to achieving our dreams
To pursuing our goals
No
The way that we live is based upon the way that we look
And thus, the way that we are treated
We are always going to compare ourselves to another
That is a given
If we don't look good then we aren't happy
Right?
But for others to determine the fates of ourselves depending strictly upon a template of "perfection"?
Perfection is a disease
The very aspect of it plagues your mind
Inhabits your soul
And brings upon an individual an idea of something to achieve
That is nearly impossible to achieve
It is a roller coaster that only goes down
A concoction that only leads to inevitable heartache and pain
A poison that has no known cure
And it hurts
Perfection hurts.

— The End —