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Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(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.
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
I’ll not take your time, beyond what the need,
To relate to you a story and deed
As there’s no one else to plea this decree …
For just I survived, don’t you see.

I’m an old man, with a mind full of mist
But details of that night in my mind still exist
As vivid and clear, both sharp and exact
No, no mist there – all of it’s fact!

When I was young, and adventure routine,
With excitement and newness still unforeseen
I was eager to spread my wings to the world
And seek more adventures as those wings unfurled

Within my long travels I happened to meet
Two other men, with friendships replete
One was named Beckett, the other one Flynn
And better friends there never have been.

Beckett was tall – an athletic type
While Flynn, the scholar, more of pinstripe
Pinstripe or athlete – it mattered not
It was our essence together and that which it wrought.

Engaged were we in all daring do
High on the mountains, and under seas, too,
We crossed dry deserts, and jungles of green
And other adventures there in between.

We’d been together, t’was our sixth year,
And still our adventures made us cohere
To every madness – to every rave …
Until we decided to enter The Cave.

We discussed the encounter and planning for weeks
And assembled equipment – some new, some antiques
Until at last the day it arrived …
And our excitement?  It still there survived.

The map we used, was bought from a guide
Who told my friend, Flynn: “Don’t go inside”
When he had learned of our journey’s intent:
To enter The Cave, and begin our descent.

The guides’ words, had given us pause
We had thought: What was his reason or cause?
But … dismissed were his words of advice
We had each other … and that would suffice.

With ropes and lantern-hats and other such gear
It was into The Cave we then disappeared.
The light from our lanterns speared into the dark
We spoke very little - made no remark.

Onward, downward, in blackness we went
Placing out markers for our later ascent
The sounds of our footsteps, and scraping of walls
Reverberated ‘round us – as echoed recalls

In about six hours, or maybe ‘twas more
We encountered water upon The Cave floor
And there all around were beautiful shapes
Never were seen such gorgeous landscapes

Stalactites, stalagmites and mineral mounds
And dripping water with its’ “plopping” sounds
Pinks, violets and shades of green hues
And small salamanders made their debuts

We found a small dry spot and then we assessed
This was a place we could stop now to rest.
I turned up my lantern, and took off my hat,
When Beckett said: “Hey.  Did you just hear that?”

I moved not a muscle, and my ears went to strain.
All I could hear were the droplets, like rain.
Then from The Cave’s bowels came a loud din
I continued to listen – then heard it again.

We looked at each other, but said not a word
Confused and startled by what we’d just heard
It wasn’t a moan, it wasn’t a gasp
But more rather like a guttural rasp

One thing was certain, it wasn’t of stone
That could create sounds while standing alone
T’was our discussion, from which to derive:
The source of the sound was something … alive.

Then from The Cave’s deepened black hole
Came again sounds from a source with no soul
The sound was menacing, and one I despise,
I watched the fear grow within my friends’ eyes.

Instinctively, we three then moved as one
In that instant – our re-ascent had begun
I had been last in the line coming down
Now I’d be the first to reach the “above-ground”.

Quickly my feet in the lead, lead the way
Flynn, right behind had nothing to say
My friend Beckett, brought up the rear
And in that position had the greatest to fear

The lamp on my hat pierced through the black
And I looked for our markers to lead us back
To save our strength, nothing was said
Again - the loud sound that filled me with dread.

The sound became louder and closer it be
And I moved faster through the black before me
I could hear Flynn’s breathing, so close behind
I tried to concentrate on the markers to find

Somewhere behind me, then snarls I heard
Loud and vicious, run together and blurred
Close … so close … the beast was so near
Adrenalin rushed through me to react to my fear

T’was then I was hit with an overpowering stench
The smell caused my stomach to turn and to wrench
The odor blew past me, and I knew t’was the breath
Of the Beast of The Cave – its’ oder of death.

I was near running, but down on all fours
Sweat was streaming from all of my pores.
Then I heard those terrible screams
The ones I keep hearing in all of my dreams

It was Beckett I knew in his shocked agony
Midst the snarled snapping of jaws I can’t see
I heard bones cracking and squishing of flesh
And the fear within me gave new strength afresh

My fingers were raw from grabbing the rock
But on moving forward my mind had its’ lock
My stomach still queasy from the stench of the beast
I knew it was finishing its’ beastly feast

I knew, too, t’was only a matter of time
When the beast would return - I had to climb!
I heard Flynn say: “IT’S COMING AGAIN!”
Again was a surge of my fear deep within.

I heard once more the beast from behind
And fought the panic taking over my mind
Something heavy struck against The Cave’s walls
The kind of sounds that ghastly appalls:

A scraping of talons of heavy clawed feet
Caused my heart to double its’ beat
I had the feeling that Flynn lagged behind
I screamed my urgings loud and maligned:

“Flynn!  Flynn!  Catch up to me!”
But took not the time to look back and see
For the beasts’ crashing against The Cave’s face
Told me it neared – and was re-gaining the race

My knee hit a rock, and my balance was lost!
I fell to the ground, and then feared the cost
In losing the time in scrambling free
Again sheer panic stabbed into me.

In less than an instant, Flynn was there too,
His face in my light was of a strange hue
And as he helped me get back to my feet …
Flynn turned around – t’was The Beast there to meet.

The stench overwhelming, but the sight was much worse
There standing before us: The beastly curse
Of overlapping scales in shades of dark gray
The rest of its’ body concealed in umbrae

But its’ eyes … its’ eyes … I’ll never forget
Rheumatoid yellow, and deeply inset
Its’ reptilian lids blinked just one time
‘Fore its’ lips peeled back - revealing the slime

Glistening yellow over dagger-like teeth
Then oozed from its’ mouth to fall there beneath.
The beast reared up, then we saw its’ claws
Sharp and deadly within its’ forepaws

Towering above us, no sound the beast made
On beams of our light had his gaze stayed.
Unexpectedly Flynn then turned and faced me
… With less blinding light, the beast could again see

Why Flynn had turned I never will know
For the beast bit him in two, at his torso
And I was looking at Flynn – direct in his face
When the beasts’ bite his life did erase.

I screamed, and instantly away did I run
Away from the beast, and dead companion
Through the price of Flynn’s life, more time had been bought
To reach The Cave’s entrance – the goal that I sought

Running wildly, several times did I fall
Toppling did not my mission forestall
The beast I knew still somewhere behind
Drove me on forward with my frantic mind

I heard its’ clawed talons scraping the wall
And prayed I’d not again stumble and fall
Then, up ahead, a small opening I viewed
And I saw my chance, with hope there exude

Twelve feet … six feet … then it was three
But the beast and its’ stench was there behind me
I dove through the rock opening, scraping my head
But better that injury than ending up dead

I was elated, and about to rejoice
I then heard a scream – it was my own voice!
In my leg erupted intense blinding pain
Looking down I saw the bloodstain

My leg, through the opening, still was stuck out
There was but split-seconds, before I’d lose it no doubt
I pulled my leg back, and in but a flash
My shoe was removed by a clawed talon slash

I crawled back from the opening, then I could see
My wound was deep, from ankle to knee
Then suddenly through the opening came
A clawed talon whose aim was to maim

I quickly withdrew out of its’ reach
As claws shot through the openings’ breech
The opening too small, for continued rampage
And the beast began then to voice its’ outrage

It’s deafening roars assaulted my ears
Echoed Cave chambers and in my mind did adhere
I began attending unto my grave wound
Knowing I now was no longer marooned.

T’was another hour ‘fore I crawled out The Cave
But many days ‘fore I’d shed the shockwave
Of what had transpired, and what I had seen
And my damaged leg was lost to gangrene.

Now sleep evades me, for my horrible dreams
Show beams of light, and unearthly screams
Of Beckett and Flynn and The Cave we were in
I know tonight, I’ll re-live it again.

So, now you’ve the story, you’ve heard the deed
I swear is the truth I’ve herein decreed
And Beckett and Flynn are enslaved in their grave
And I lost my leg to the Beast of The Cave.
Deb Jones Oct 2017
I carried you for almost 7 months.
A small person in
My small 14 year old body.  
I loved you with passion and fire.
I would whisper songs to you
Because I was not allowed to sing.
I would hold pillows as practice.  
To holding you.
I would read to you in a whisper
Because he was illiterate.
And was jealous I knew how to read.  
I lost you in a bathtub.  
It was the place I crawled to when
I saw the blood.
We didn't have a phone
I couldn't call anyone.
I screamed for my mother
As I clawed at the porcelain.  
I screamed to God
As I clawed at my swollen stomach.
The blood flowed.
I watched it pool at the drain.  
Light at first, watery
Growing darker by the minute
Then begin to flow heavier.
The pressure to push was immense.
I wasn't even knowledgeable enough
To know my ******* would be in the way.
Until I felt your head inside them
I tore them off.  
And you slipped out
Like a little eel.
You were perfect.
I held you and threw my head back
And screamed at the spotted
Rain damaged ceiling.
When I delivered the placenta
I thought my insides were falling out.
I knew before you even came into the
World that you would never see it.
You had stopped moving 5 hours before.
My little girl child.
Who was killed.  
Stomped out of me by her
Own 19 year old father.
Because I refused to iron a shirt for him
To go out on a "Date"
He came home the next morning.
Still high.
I had wrapped you in one of the two
Baby blankets I had.
After I washed both of us in the tub.
Where I marveled at the beauty of you.
All of your tiny fingers.
All of your tiny toes.
The way your legs were a froggy pose.
The roundness of your tummy.
The softness of your palm
Which is where I whispered
I love you over and over again.
I sobbed how sorry I was
Over and over again too.
As I cradled you naked
In my arms.
In that old bathtub
I begged him to bury you.
He refused and left for work.
Ran really. He ran out the door.  
I didn't know it was ******,
I didn't know it was illegal.
So I buried you like I would
A beloved pet.
In my favorite purse.
With you in a diaper
Swaddled tightly in that baby blanket.
Under a tall palm tree.  
Away from the scorched side
That I had burned the month before.
I only had boys after you.
I think you would have
(Loved life) Loved them.
You are only 10 months older
Than your oldest brother.
I still have your baby book
All the notes I wrote for you.
I stopped writing in that book
The day before I had you.
There are no words to say
Nothing that could've been writ
That I haven't said a million times
In my mind and heart daily.
Mine were the only arms that ever held you
Mine were the only eyes that seen you
I will carry you with me every day of my life

I hate ceramic Cherubs.
They remind me too much of you.
You never had a chance to live.
You didn't have a proper death
Beneath the rain stained ceiling
In that ramshackle shack.



I have lost 2 babies. One was stomped out of me at 7 months. One that I miscarried.  

I personally would not have an abortion but I feel that every woman has the right to choose. I will never judge.

I have seen too many women have spontaneous abortions. One memorable one is a 13 year old who delivered a baby at approximately 20 weeks. I intubated and used a resuscitation bag between her legs because the baby was only half delivered. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the child's waist. She didn't survive.

The fetus starts developing the heart, spinal cord, kidneys etc... at about 5 weeks, at 6 weeks the heart starts beating, the baby can have hiccups, **** on their hand and grow fingernails.

I feel very sad that some women don't carry to term. I have had a lot of patients with Down syndrome. They are filled with happy love. And give the most loving hugs. But most also need lifetime care. (Unless extremely high functioning) who will love and protect them after the mother is gone? These are valid thoughts we women have. Not just about the wellbeing of the young baby but the adult child.

I have also supported women who via ultrasounds/sonography find that the baby has Anencephaly. This is not such a rare thing as people think. No brain or the skull is open. The prognosis for a baby like that is typically less than a day after they are born. Some women want to carry to term just to hold their baby. Some women choose to abort.

My sister had a Anencephalic baby. She found out at almost 6 months. She was injected with seaweed to widen the ****** and to absorb the moisture in the ******. Basically killing the baby with salt and suffocation. Then the baby was removed in pieces. I did not tell her the details of what was happening to her body. She would have been traumatized more. And honestly? She wouldn't have wanted to know.

I think the majority of women that choose abortions mourn their child. Your body is  forced into thinking it had a baby. And most women go through a period of postpartum feelings including depression.

I worked for years in NICU. A neonatal intensive care. Some babies were born at 1 pound or less. The thing about working with pediatrics, neonate in particular, is that you see some horrific births. Chromosome anomalies that don't survive to even childhood. And the traumatized parents are heartrending.

Sorry for writing a book. I feel passionate about this subject. I will stop here
I was married at 14. A choice my mother made to emancipate me from the courts as a foster child.
229

A Burdock—clawed my Gown—
Not Burdock’s—blame—
But mine—
Who went too near
The Burdock’s Den—

A Bog—affronts my shoe—
What else have Bogs—to do—
The only Trade they know—
The splashing Men!
Ah, pity—then!

’Tis Minnows can despise!
The Elephant’s—calm eyes
Look further on!
zebra Jun 2016
she came to me one day
the *****
beautiful like a girls choir
singing Latina L'Amour
moving her bottom
like a metronome

her ******* a cascade of kindness
that break the hearts of men
they die
for those
blouse muffins
her smooth legs and feet
made for *** art
lickity splits and ****** contortions
while her wiggly *** and ****
tell you
what heaven would be like
hips that sway  traffic
causing pile ups
and fender benders
and make good boys
hopeful about being chosen
perhaps anointed
and judged worthy
but alas  
turn good boys into
chronic *******-rs
in dim midnight closets
or trawling *** criminals

at the very sight of her
my soul buckled
i wanted her
like darkness
needs a lantern
like blood
needs cells

she looked at me
with ****** in her eyes
it would make my **** wet to hurt you
she said with a soft tremor
ill **** yours for hours
tongue toy
losange
gullets prey
girl food

will you earn your suffering
adore my goddess ***
and lick it **** and span
kiss my beautiful feet
with tender devotion
pray for cruel ***** abuse
be consumed
by ******* jaws
thrill me
love me
flood me
with blood
and ****
die for me
my love

as i looked into
her hollowed
desperate soul
so eager
and felt deeply her need
and loved her to tears
to broken hearts mend

to struggle with
the dark angle
unrequited love
to expunge
years of vacant stares
of nameless women
and empty beds
to forget foreboding
bath cabinets bereft
of girly things
like
lolly pop pink lipstick
cherry sherbet nail polish
lacquered hardened coats  
aerated perfumed clouds
of vanilla candies
and fashionable
demonic party masks
over black brooding mascara
on almond eyes
hiding hot embers
cool and staring hungry

while wrenched obsessive
for the feminine
that drag my soul
through long coffin
hollow gullies
that drive me
to invocations
of Hecate
sacrificial blood rituals
voodoo trances
god forms
and black art astrologers
who have the power
to move planets
through space
and change fates

oh so wrong
yet i must
for loves sake
say yes to her
yes to her for pleasures sake
even if in the end
i am left to moan
to howl at a blood moon
with in the confines
of her dark edged
appetite
ascending in sin
as she ***** me
like she hates me

yes my beloved
to vanquish numbness

she consoles
my willingness  
excites
i felt her adoration

be brave for me
she murmured
sadists are cowards
teach me surrender
you are glorious
in my clutches

i made my self ready
positioned my self
as per her instructions
face down
legs apart
on a bed of nails
happy in my pit
as she played
a whole lotta love
by led zeppelin
blood swollen ****
oozy
for her tender kisses
and brutal schemes

the masochists tao

to denigrate oneself
to kiss your goddess feet
to lick your perfect ****
to adore your prim rose ****
to taste your lips of fire
to tangle in your silky locks
to see your eyes a blaze
to drink your saliva nectar
to eat your crumbs
to lick your *** clean
to be beaten
to your satisfaction
to drown in your *******
to hold you close
to take pleasure
in your cruelty
to suffer for your delight
to be
the sacrificial lamb
to be a victim
in an ****** dream
with jaws and teeth

she took me inside
smiled  like a feral
lust twisted child
took out a
scalped handled knife
brushed it across
my tummy and *****
terror brewed
excitement struck
my **** got so hard
she grinned
and salivated
like a Satanic Cheshire
in bloom

she devoured ***** warm butter
as it poured in waves
into her black lipsticked
pink wet mouth temple

oh she said
i like it a lot
do you mind a small incision
my darling

mommy needs
a little taste of hell

her face shape shifted
into a warbled shadow
as she licked her lips
and tickled
her *******
with gooed fingers

cut me i implore
im in the mood
you sweet savage

she opened me slow
o o o o ooow
ooh the sting
don't stop i begged
loving her
voluptuous greed
as she covered me
with heavens kisses
eyes desperate
devouring
drenched through ******
and bestowed
upon me
eager  licks
that swoon
and savage wounds

she took charge
with curvilinear cutlery
she gave it to me hard
oooofff
then good again
aaahhh
then deep and threw
like a spoon through Crisco
a surgeon from hell house
oh so fun she said
she licked my ****
fingered my ***
****** my *****
frenetic
then stuck me with a fork
giggling
not done yet she mused
and then
required of me
that my tongue
obediently pay homage
to her naked mouth ****

i was the pig for slaughter
needles and knives
burned *******
bruised ****
a bleeding torn
pin cushion
eyes teared
back arched
torso writhing
cherry cheeks
blood gusher
her *******
and belly ****
soaked in my blood
commanded me to lick
my own pools
of red plush
for her amusement

a couple at play
in Satan's temple of lust
her face turned to mischief
in a demons trance
her soul
like hyenas
and clawed weasels
all trapped villeins

im done ****** around
with you she quipped
her **** on fire
like a burning house
she plunged a blade deep in my gut
her eyes wide and glaring
like blazing head lights
possessed by hell bats

oh my goddess
for you
over the summit
as i shuddered
arching in torment
curling into a ball
squirming
like a severed worm

her face contorted
with horrors fun
her **** pored forth
tremulous quivers
and hells
brimstone gasms
ecstatic

oh she drank my blood
****** my ****
with kaleidoscopic tongue
like a devils bride banshee
licked my *** clean
filthy *****
defaced me with a drooling ****
and brooding ****
strangled me with nylons
until my lips ran numb
until my tongue dragged
like a corpse in a car wreck
she  whimpered and cooed
suffocated me with her **** ***

stepped on my face
with feet i adore
chewed off my *****
a black mambas kisses
filled my mouth
with hot rocks
that melted my skull
oh cry to heaven
wheres Jesus
as i scummed
up-leaping

the  last words
i ever heard
*** you sure to kick a lot
im cu cu cu cu cu cu *******
for you blood boy
dead dead dead
floppy floppy head
**** like cherry pie
WistfulHope Aug 2014
My feet
Are so far away
From my head.
I think that they are
The most fortunate
Piece of my body.
Rarely are they
Punctured
Or stabbed.
Clawed
Or sliced.
They even try
To hold me up
When I'm too dizzy,
Depleted to think.
To bad I hate them,
For they are still
A part of me.
Lindsey Kristine Sep 2015
Dear Crystal ****,
I loved you
I put so much trust in you
I spent every hour of every day confiding in you
I told you my deepest fears
I let you know how broken i was
and you ******* took advantage of me
You took everything i owned
you stole my family from under me
you robbed me of all my money
We never had a healthy relationship

From the first night i met you
you beat me into a ****** pulp
You made me hate everyone
You turned me into a monster just like you..

You dug your claws into me
You slit my skin with your razors of control
But you just brushed it off and kept destroying me
I tried so many times to leave you
I tried so hard to cut you off
But the attemps just failed

You flooded my mind with thoughts of you
You gave me flashbacks of when we were together
I heard your voice screaming when all i wanted to do was forget about you
You controlled every aspect of my mind
my body
And my life

Then one day i couldnt take it anymore
Your abuse was to muc for me
You had me on my knees begging for a saving grace
I cried
I screamed
I begged god for the light
I wanted to die
I stood on the edge of bridges
I stared at knives and blades
I felt like i couldnt continue with you
and like i definitly count continue without you..

Then one dark august night
God awnsered my prayers
He wrapped his arms around me and rocked me to sleep after so many weeks without closing my eyes
I slept for almost 4 days
Waking only to use the restroom and to shove any food i could find in my face
You slowly left my system

You didnt go peacefully of course
You paniced
You clawed
You begged me not to do this
but i didnt listen

I stayed true to myself
I finally left you...

Things wernt smooth at first
I felt lost
I was confused about everything involving life
I didnt know who i was
I thought i would for sure go running back to you
But i gave it time

I pushed through the hot and cold flashes
Ignored the hallucinations and the fevers
It was pure hell on earth
But the torture was worth every second because leaving you was the best decition i have ever made for myself

Tomarrow is 30 days free from your shackles
Life still is a constant struggle
But honestly
I would not expect any different after breaking free from the cage of satan and into the sunlight of heaven

I now hae so many things to be greatful for
I have a roof over my head
I bed to sleep in thats not jail or a hospital.
I am a cherished member of y family again
I found love unexpectedly with a man who makes me feel like the most beautiful woman on earth
I have my goals and morals back
I see a future for myself
and most of all..
I am thankful i am breathing because you almost killed me

Someone once said
"Dope heads never quit, they only take extended breaks"
Well, i am proud to say i never am allowing you back into my life

So thank you ****
Even though you shattered every part of my soul
I now have a brand new outlook on life
I also never would have asked my now fiance for a ride home if you had never made me so sick i was in the emergency room
I dont regret you
Because i learned so much about myself and life from you

But now i can finally say...
I ******* hate you and i will never be with you again

Sincerally:
One greatful proud, life loving forever ex tweaker <3
My letter to the monster I overcame.
Ophélie S Sep 2018
i.


not bad,
i commented to myself as i watched you do your thing
for the first time ever ;
not bad was my way to say
extraordinary
still is today
i have standards, you see and —
well...
they were met when i
heard you say,
"that's only half what
i can do."

let's get this straight:
i was the best at what i do until
you came around ;
it's not like i'm mad though —
quite the opposite 
in fact.


ii.


here's something else:
i have always liked the way your eyes
shot daggers
even when you were smiling ;
a death stare, they named it and, you know,
i won't call them wrong —
i'm rather fluent with the concepts of
death
and staring myself, after all.


ah,
do you remember?
when we spoke to each other —
it was always a sparring of
eyes
rather than words.


iii.


a fact:
you have been called cold
more often than
you have been called pleasant ;
i know  —
it's not like you'd disagree
not like you'd be stupid enough to
deny ;
cold is a comfortable shadow
to hide in,
something people like us
wear as a coat or
a scarf
from july to june.


now,
there's this saying that the addition of
two negative objects
turns them a positive
result ;
i'm not much of a scholar so, honey,
what's on your mind?


iv.


i get it now,
if i'm propellers
you are wings —
rather than a mirror, we're
distorted reflects
a thing evolution knows
a great deal about ;
this yearning is the aspect of you
i'd wish to keep
bottled up ;
"what for?" you'd ask.


no,
yearning is not a thing
i'm a stranger to ;
i've yearned for many things including
strength
sleep
serotonin
and you —
i've been struggling
to make them mine, though
perhaps because i'm never really trying.


v.


that's how you do it:
you take what you want with
clawed hands
accomplish miracles with
thunderous silence —
an entity of cruel fairness,
icy anger but —
what you want is a complicated
thing
with definite shape to your eyes
but blurry to those of
others.


okay,
i'm neither believer nor seer but
here's a little prediction :
the day you are satisfied is the day
hellmouth
shuts down upon us all and
half of me
prays for it.


vi.


about extremes —
some will say grey is a better shade and
though i confess
it does have its charms,
it still has to paint me a picture more striking
than a soul with
adamentine purpose.

see —
i stare as you pass by,
terrific in beauty
beautiful in hardness and
off —
goes my heart, sanity, ego
and shirt.
Lyn-Purcell Aug 2018
~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
I am taken from Yunann to the
coastal Province of Fujian, where
boats sail fair as fishermen fish. I
land by a pond with waters cascading
down boulders and rocks as old as
time itself.

~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
But even though there are trimmed
and hale blades of green, there is a
single flora, the corona of the water
Not the chrysanthemum with its svelte,
curling petals of the gelid transition
from the crimson leaves of autumn
kissed by the rathe winters.

~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
Instead it is a single fuchsia lotus
bud,a pristine and graceful soul
unperturbed by murked waters.
As I get a closer look, the lotus
open slowly into full bloom and
with it, the golden essence -
ethereal, a star that throbs like
a heaven's dream, and it appears -
the phoenix.

~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
Its plumage a brilliant shade of
red-gold, and wings and long tail
beset by iridescent streaks and jewels.
Slim-legged, clawed feet of a deep azure
and eyes, such a blight blue-green.
Looking to the sky, it releases such
a melodious cry and a star falls
a throbbing silver-white. It glides
to my hands and it is revealed,
another glorious Pearl Moon.

~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
With a peck of its beak, the Moon
cracks once more and my nose is
besieged by leaf pellets scented o'er
and o'er with fresh jasmine blossoms.
Seaweed green with licks of marigold
and shaped after the Phoenix's hot
eye.

~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
Unlike the Dragon's Pu'erh pearls,
this aroma is dainty in its sweet floral
with a kiss of green; I can taste the sugar!
Velveteen on my tongue! A brew worthy
of chosen Kings and Queens. I notice that
the light of the Phoenix begins to fade.
As our eyes meet, it cries once more, a
sweet and happy cry born of Elysia,
before it fades away in gust of wind.

~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
The lotus petals fall off and float,
becoming soft rose-kissed boats;
the leaves have yellowed, browned
and wilted. All that remains is a
dry stamens but I see that the
ovaries are beginning to
flourish...

~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
'Ahh,' my eyes now open, dazed,
'The Phoenix Eye pearls. Such a
fine golden liquor you will become!'
Anihana smiles, 'Indeed, My Lady.'
'I assume the final batch is its twin
sister?'
'Yes, My Lady. Jasmine, Green and
Lily pearls.' Anihana places the
burr-oak caddy down to grab the
caddy maple-wood.

~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
'Each pearl, all laboured with love,' I
coo. 'Such fresh tender herbs rolled into
blessed pearls that are either fermented
or sit with it's blossoming flowers for
many days and nights. Cover the Pu'erh
and the Jasmine Lily. I wish to be cleansed
by the Phoenix Eyes.'
'Yes, Sweet Queen.'
~ ⚘ ⚪ ⚘ ~
Part five of my Jasmine Pearls free verse!
Enjoy! ^-^
Lyn ***
Olivia Kent Sep 2013
The puppy sat by the door.
Near dying to go out.
Crying an abysmal wail
As if a naughty child.
Pawed and clawed the kitchen door.

No-one heard the honey pup.
Everyone was out.
Owner running late for work.
Neglected to let her run.
However could she forget.

It got to six a clock at night.
No-body came.
The tension built up.
Fluid build up.
Exploded sweet pup.
(metaphorically of course)

Owner came home.
Just couldn't be cross.
Cleaned up the muddle-some puddle.
Gave her puppy a hug.
Smiled to herself.
Said to puppy how sorry she was.
Cautionary tale acquired from here.
No matter how ever late you ever may be.
Put your cute puppy out to ***!

By ladylivvi1

© 2013 ladylivvi1 (All rights reserved)
zebra Jan 2019
the seduction of eternity

ice house Shekinah
sad hag with a revolver
a carnival of skinned rats and bullets
during the blood soil days

pets left on the dark side of the moon
a deluge of morality in a palace of tears
structures of consciousness under compression

the tongue of eternity
a veiled Eros licking
blood shot distant moons
flickers a selfish dream serenade
pollen of discontent
like a pregnant superhero
dressed in a candy wrapper
treading a visionless ezoic brain

bugs; war zones of memes and genes

all matter is metaphor
near death objects
meteors of grinning spiked crowns

we are memetic plucked limbs, clawed minds
sulfurous dust
short lived bloated yolks
mice in a supermarket with tape worms
and a trade mark

we are something boiling
we are memetic plucked limbs, clawed minds
sulfurous dust
short lived bloated yolks
a holocaust in a supermarket
with tapeworms
and a trademark
we are something boiling
In the bowels of eternity
graves of meat and mud
crucifixes in a screaming
abyss

creations
rabid belly of shadows
The Moon and Sun shared Ecliptical Longitudes the night They murdered The child.

Beneath a stelliferous empyrean,
Like Sojourners among the quiescent Twilight, Mother and child, Ventured to meet the woman’s husband, the father of the child.

She, no more than five and ten years Old,
The child, a girl, of only months,
Lay swaddled across the Woman’s
*****, tucked inside a papoose.
A rustic device carefully woven
From wool and hide, in it contained a
Priceless world.

She cooed and clucked in the frigid
Night air.
The sound penetrated the
Spectral calm and was matched only
By the maternal soothing of a muted hum.
Together, they represented the
Heathen form of the wilderness,
The Tempi Madonna among the
Silver and shadow moonbeams that
Glimmered like the dust of diamonds
Across the river’s obsidian sheen.  

Ahead, where the river narrows,
The silence stirred and was broken.
Hushed voices rose from the outer
Dark.
The woman strained to listen.

(British Soldiers, she thought)

Foreign words...

        (Drunken and ravenous)

                         ...slithered from their mouths like Venom. Fear bloomed in the woman’s Chest.
Her heartbeat quickened.

        (Touched by the chill of terror)

Her eyes darted madly about the
Darkness.

         (Alone no longer)

Their  shadows manifested like
Smoke along the tree line.
Their
Features blurred in the darkness.
Their gestures muted.
Like birds of
Prey, they set motionless upon their
Perch along the stony shore.

I say, a man said. Indian children are natural born swimmers,
Capable at birth of swimming great distances.

Utter foolishness, old boy, another opined.

We will need proof of this claim, my good sir, an anonymous voice Quipped from somewhere in the dark.

She let escape from her full lips
The tiniest of shrieks.
Followed immediately
By
Sick
Regret.

(stupid girl, her mother’s voice echoed in the dark.
                             You always were too impulsive.)

Rage consumed her as
She struggled against the current.  
She tried to paddle for deeper
Water as the men broached
The black sheen of the river.

The moments passed by
In jagged surrealism.
There was no sound
When they pitched the woman
And child into the
Frigid abysm.

The splashing of water.
The gasping
For air.
The primal
Grapple and
Grunt of men.
The cold, pungent scent of
Fear and sweat mixed with the
Alcohol-stale air.
The twisting of
Hands that groped about the
Darkness.

         (Her rage now eclipsed by fear)

She inhaled.
Her body, numb.
Her appendages quaked.
Her body fading
As they fall upon her.
Their thick bodies
Blacked out the stars.
Their gaunt faces
Pinched and rucked in the
Moonlight
Reflected the fury, the
Hatred, and
The disgust for what would come next.
Their hands moved across her
Ravenous
Like demons as they
Groped at her small body
Beneath the choppy wash of the
River.

(A hand grazed her thigh and she shrieked in Terror. Another
         gnashed at her buttock. Another fell upon her back. Her mind
         reeled at the possibilities of what would need to come next.)

They tore at her clothing.
Her body jarred about the water as
She writhed against their grasps.
She clawed against the murk.                  
    
         (Escape the horror)

She released the paddle—

(Forever lost to the deep, useless to her now)

Hysterical animalistic thoughts
Trounced off their tongues as they
Laughed at her doom—

        (Like a pack of hyenas)

She kicked at them in nameless
Places.
She thrusted her hand into
The fabric where the child had been
Moments before cooing and clucking. 
Mere moments ago she had sang to the
Babe the same song her
Mother had once sung
To her.

             (she felt nothing where the child had been…)    

She struggled away from them.
Her mind frantic with pain, the cold,
And panic
For the child.
She no longer cared for
Herself, or what they would need to
Do with her body.
Her appendages
Flailed and churned in the dark water.
          
         (A single gasp of air followed by
              The burning inhale of water)

A shrill call to the child—

(a name lost to time)

Her voice cut through their maniacal
Laughter.
It echoed off the water and vanished,
Disappearing entirely
In the outer gloom of the wilderness.

        (like afterthoughts, lost)

She groped relentlessly among the
Water for the child.
The men, near
Frozen, lost interest and returned to
The adjacent shoreline.
It was more ****** that way.
They jeered at her,
Proud of themselves.
          
        (The seething lust of the mindless savage, she thinks)

Their mouths salivate
As they watched
Vicariously.
Her struggle
Became the current
For which she bore.
The impending death of the woman even
More satisfying than the feeling against their flesh of her cunning, wet crease that lies exposed between
Her brown legs.
They watch like wolves
Unable to reach their prey,
Desperate for fresh meat.
Despite the frigid cold,
Their *****, hard,
With the anticipation of death.

The woman clamored among the darkness
She searched for the child.
Heavy fingers fell upon woolen fabric
By chance—

(Hope bloomed in her constricted chest)

Her body finally beginning to seize
Exhaustion permeated
Her mind.
She freed the papoose
From the frozen depths and expelled
The last bit of energy she possessed
To swim to the far side of the shore,
Temporarily out of their reach.

The soldiers,
Quiet now,
Returned to the spectral woods.
They disappeared back down the
Black road from which they came.

She felt the blood as it began to
Return to her appendages, the pins And needles feeling erupting in them.
Her teeth clattered nearly exploding In her mouth.
Her body
Quaked Violently

         (The child, near in her mind, cried)

She reached for it.
Her chest,
Rising and
Falling,
Rapid like the river
As she inhaled the burning,
Frozen air.
The child let loose a cough and  
She clutched it
tighter to her *****.  

(Deny the river its prize)

A stream of consciousness,
Steadily slipped from her lips.

       (A great heathen prayer calling up some
                       Great Spirit
                                As she relentlessly brokered
                                            For a
                                       Life for a life)

The moments passed by like hours.
And the
Great Spirit, with
His wanton lust
For despair, did not manifest that night.

The child fell silent, then still.
The tears came now.
Blurred vision and
Angry sobs.
Darkness consumed entire.

The river flowed by her electric as if
Its lights descended from a place far
Beyond the black taciturn veil of
Night to reflect the merciless
Tragedies among the wretched souls of
The Maine Woods.
Cutezeni Jul 2017
Life is colourful
But not in the way I'd like,
Its shades keep changing
From lemon to blue to burgundy,
Feels like I'm living
In a constant state of melancholy.

Tried hard not to stare
At the melody that kept swirling
In front of my eyes
And through my ears,
Sometimes I forgot breathing.
And it trapped me into the deep
Clawed hard to come up from beneath,
But it was hard to hold on
The walls were too steep.

Never thought I'd wish
For a colourless life of black and white,
Of boring creatures and ordinary sight..
Never thought I'd be the one
To want my seeds to sow,
To want my roots to dig deep and grow.

Maybe flowing with the wind
Is not for me,
Free-falling is not the same as flying,
Peter should leave me alone now,
I don't want to end up dying.

Thought I almost saw
Heaven from where I was,
But it lay barren
With no gates or guards,
Or even angels or gods,
Either the books or my mind are lying,
It is overrated to wish for dying.

But I made it through
Somehow I swam back ashore,
Fought the muddied waters that blinded me,
Somehow I found my door.
And to sanity I return,
With lessons and scars that still burn
It's good to look ahead with clarity,
It's good to be back to reality.
nja Jan 2019
One thread came loose with alcoholism at a very young age.
She recovered. She forgot and proceeded.
One thread was yanked loose by a growing tendency to self sabotage.
She clawed her way out of the spiral.
One thread pulled at others when she learnt she didn’t need alcohol to have a good time.
She felt deprived by self-restraint. So she slightly caved.
One thread burned along with her personality when she became a stoner again.
She was suffocated yet high.
One thread was singed by ****.
She fell back into her ***** habits. She found herself here, but not quite present.
She became dependant. As she flooded her body parts with superficial happiness, just a quick release, her mouth grew dry. Then the peeling skin on her stained lips began to stick together and she regressed into a still and faded silence. In the end, she was in shreds and blissfully unaware, alone with nothing but one solitary thread left to grasp at.
Based on my own personal struggle with addiction and how instant highs can lead to long lasting lows that i am still dealing through.
SMOKE of the fields in spring is one,
Smoke of the leaves in autumn another.
Smoke of a steel-mill roof or a battleship funnel,
They all go up in a line with a smokestack,
Or they twist ... in the slow twist ... of the wind.
  
If the north wind comes they run to the south.
If the west wind comes they run to the east.
  By this sign
  all smokes
  know each other.
Smoke of the fields in spring and leaves in autumn,
Smoke of the finished steel, chilled and blue,
By the oath of work they swear: "I know you."
  
Hunted and hissed from the center
Deep down long ago when God made us over,
Deep down are the cinders we came from-
You and I and our heads of smoke.
  
Some of the smokes God dropped on the job
Cross on the sky and count our years
And sing in the secrets of our numbers;
Sing their dawns and sing their evenings,
Sing an old log-fire song:
  
You may put the damper up,
You may put the damper down,
The smoke goes up the chimney just the same.
  
Smoke of a city sunset skyline,
Smoke of a country dusk horizon-
  They cross on the sky and count our years.
  
Smoke of a brick-red dust
  Winds on a spiral
  Out of the stacks
For a hidden and glimpsing moon.
This, said the bar-iron shed to the blooming mill,
This is the slang of coal and steel.
The day-gang hands it to the night-gang,
The night-gang hands it back.
  
Stammer at the slang of this-
Let us understand half of it.
  In the rolling mills and sheet mills,
  In the harr and boom of the blast fires,
  The smoke changes its shadow
  And men change their shadow;
  A ******, a ***, a bohunk changes.
  
  A bar of steel-it is only
Smoke at the heart of it, smoke and the blood of a man.
A runner of fire ran in it, ran out, ran somewhere else,
And left-smoke and the blood of a man
And the finished steel, chilled and blue.
  
So fire runs in, runs out, runs somewhere else again,
And the bar of steel is a gun, a wheel, a nail, a shovel,
A rudder under the sea, a steering-gear in the sky;
And always dark in the heart and through it,
  Smoke and the blood of a man.
Pittsburg, Youngstown, Gary-they make their steel with men.
  
In the blood of men and the ink of chimneys
The smoke nights write their oaths:
Smoke into steel and blood into steel;
Homestead, Braddock, Birmingham, they make their steel with men.
Smoke and blood is the mix of steel.
  
  The birdmen drone
  in the blue; it is steel
  a motor sings and zooms.
  
Steel barb-wire around The Works.
Steel guns in the holsters of the guards at the gates of The Works.
Steel ore-boats bring the loads clawed from the earth by steel, lifted and lugged by arms of steel, sung on its way by the clanking clam-shells.
The runners now, the handlers now, are steel; they dig and clutch and haul; they hoist their automatic knuckles from job to job; they are steel making steel.
Fire and dust and air fight in the furnaces; the pour is timed, the billets wriggle; the clinkers are dumped:
Liners on the sea, skyscrapers on the land; diving steel in the sea, climbing steel in the sky.
  
Finders in the dark, you Steve with a dinner bucket, you Steve clumping in the dusk on the sidewalks with an evening paper for the woman and kids, you Steve with your head wondering where we all end up-
Finders in the dark, Steve: I hook my arm in cinder sleeves; we go down the street together; it is all the same to us; you Steve and the rest of us end on the same stars; we all wear a hat in hell together, in hell or heaven.
  
Smoke nights now, Steve.
Smoke, smoke, lost in the sieves of yesterday;
Dumped again to the scoops and hooks today.
Smoke like the clocks and whistles, always.
  Smoke nights now.
  To-morrow something else.
  
Luck moons come and go:
Five men swim in a *** of red steel.
Their bones are kneaded into the bread of steel:
Their bones are knocked into coils and anvils
And the ******* plungers of sea-fighting turbines.
Look for them in the woven frame of a wireless station.
So ghosts hide in steel like heavy-armed men in mirrors.
Peepers, skulkers-they shadow-dance in laughing tombs.
They are always there and they never answer.
  
One of them said: "I like my job, the company is good to me, America is a wonderful country."
One: "Jesus, my bones ache; the company is a liar; this is a free country, like hell."
One: "I got a girl, a peach; we save up and go on a farm and raise pigs and be the boss ourselves."
And the others were roughneck singers a long ways from home.
Look for them back of a steel vault door.
  
They laugh at the cost.
They lift the birdmen into the blue.
It is steel a motor sings and zooms.
  
In the subway plugs and drums,
In the slow hydraulic drills, in gumbo or gravel,
Under dynamo shafts in the webs of armature spiders,
They shadow-dance and laugh at the cost.
  
The ovens light a red dome.
Spools of fire wind and wind.
Quadrangles of crimson sputter.
The lashes of dying maroon let down.
Fire and wind wash out the ****.
Forever the **** gets washed in fire and wind.
The anthem learned by the steel is:
  Do this or go hungry.
Look for our rust on a plow.
Listen to us in a threshing-engine razz.
Look at our job in the running wagon wheat.
  
Fire and wind wash at the ****.
Box-cars, clocks, steam-shovels, churns, pistons, boilers, scissors-
Oh, the sleeping **** from the mountains, the ****-heavy pig-iron will go down many roads.
Men will stab and shoot with it, and make butter and tunnel rivers, and mow hay in swaths, and slit hogs and skin beeves, and steer airplanes across North America, Europe, Asia, round the world.
  
Hacked from a hard rock country, broken and baked in mills and smelters, the rusty dust waits
Till the clean hard weave of its atoms cripples and blunts the drills chewing a hole in it.
The steel of its plinths and flanges is reckoned, O God, in one-millionth of an inch.
  
Once when I saw the curves of fire, the rough scarf women dancing,
Dancing out of the flues and smoke-stacks-flying hair of fire, flying feet upside down;
Buckets and baskets of fire exploding and chortling, fire running wild out of the steady and fastened ovens;
Sparks cracking a harr-harr-huff from a solar-plexus of rock-ribs of the earth taking a laugh for themselves;
Ears and noses of fire, gibbering gorilla arms of fire, gold mud-pies, gold bird-wings, red jackets riding purple mules, scarlet autocrats tumbling from the humps of camels, assassinated czars straddling vermillion balloons;
I saw then the fires flash one by one: good-by: then smoke, smoke;
And in the screens the great sisters of night and cool stars, sitting women arranging their hair,
Waiting in the sky, waiting with slow easy eyes, waiting and half-murmuring:
  "Since you know all
  and I know nothing,
  tell me what I dreamed last night."
  
Pearl cobwebs in the windy rain,
in only a flicker of wind,
are caught and lost and never known again.
  
A pool of moonshine comes and waits,
but never waits long: the wind picks up
loose gold like this and is gone.
  
A bar of steel sleeps and looks slant-eyed
on the pearl cobwebs, the pools of moonshine;
sleeps slant-eyed a million years,
sleeps with a coat of rust, a vest of moths,
a shirt of gathering sod and loam.
  
The wind never bothers ... a bar of steel.
The wind picks only .. pearl cobwebs .. pools of moonshine.
THERE is a wolf in me ... fangs pointed for tearing gashes ... a red tongue for raw meat ... and the hot lapping of blood-I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me ... a silver-gray fox ... I sniff and guess ... I pick things out of the wind and air ... I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers ... I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me ... a snout and a belly ... a machinery for eating and grunting ... a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun-I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me ... I know I came from saltblue water-gates ... I scurried with shoals of herring ... I blew waterspouts with porpoises ... before land was ... before the water went down ... before Noah ... before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me ... clambering-clawed ... dog-faced ... yawping a galoot's hunger ... hairy under the armpits ... here are the hawk-eyed hankering men ... here are the blond and blue-eyed women ... here they hide curled asleep waiting ... ready to snarl and **** ... ready to sing and give milk ... waiting-I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird ... and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want ... and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes-And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart-and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where-For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and **** and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.
peter oram Dec 2011
AMBIGRAM VII

Recto:

This thorny hedgehog world is rolled into
oblivious winter sleep, where fierce dreams
have clawed a hold and block the probing beams
that keep on seeking for a passage through—

a sleep so heavy and so deep it seems
the sleep of someone who had dared to go
to all extremes, had nothing left to know
or do. As winter ices up the streams

and blizzards howl and hurtle snow on snow,
the  narrow valley teems with soldiers who
must face the foe upon the frontier to
that cold new country where we all shall go.

Verso:

This thorny hedgehog world is rolled
into oblivious winter sleep,
where fierce dreams have clawed a hold

and block the probing beams that keep
on seeking for a passage through—
a sleep so heavy and so deep

it seems the sleep of someone who
had dared to go to all extremes,
had nothing left to know or do.

As winter ices up the streams
and blizzards howl and hurtle snow
on snow, the narrow valley teems

with soldiers who must face the foe
upon the frontier to that cold
new country where we all shall go.
THIS IS THE ULTIMATE IN FORMAL CHALLENGES! the poem has two forms, recto and verso, which are identical in content but must conform to the following:

Recto:  60 feet in 12 five-foot lines, rhymed ABBA BCCB CAAC
Verso:  60 feet in 15 four-foot lines, rhymed VWV WXW XYX YZY ZVZ (terza rima)

it will become clear very soon that
A=X, B=Y, C=Z
which makes the verso become in fact the following:
VWV WAW ABA BCB CVC

most important though: the result must be a real poem which has sense, music, cohesion and something to say....

go on - i dare you...
Brandon Mar 2012
The jaguar of your tongue
Slithers and stalks to desolate locations
Unburdened by the guilt of temptations
Burning deep in the gullet of desires
Forsaken by the drawings of cave paintings
Clawed ragged breath discipline
Polaroid flawlessness beneath the Blood Moon
One wild summer
Edward Laine Dec 2011
Chapter one:

  The strange entanglement of the sun, twisted in kooky bedlam with The Great King Moon in winter.

Have you ever looked down at yr feet on the long walk home & wondered if you’re really moving forward any more or if all your really doing is just moving the ground? Don’t answer that, its a rhetorical question. Of course you have. We all have. You think you’re moving in the right direction, following the north star or the compass in your brain or maybe just your nose or your thumb and fore finger. You  believe that you’re gonna make it somewhere, you have to believe. What else is there. The truth is, you’re going nowhere, we are all going nowhere, we just spin on the slanted axis & never really go anywhere. We have been conditioned to believe that this is the way the world works but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t, you gotta buck up, **** up or ******* ‘*** let me tell you, yr ‘dreams’ mean nothing to anybody ‘*** living, real living is not connected to REM. That’s all just more ******* you’re gonna have to put up with people trying to sell you. Lick the boot, get over the barrel & bite down on your watch strap. That’s all there is to it. The mind is a magnet. If you find yourself staring in to the abyss: Jump right in. Swan dive. Hold your breath & wait. Everything will be OK. I promise you.

I’m writing, ah writing! Writing this worthless piece of *****// manuscript of means for you. For me, for the future, for love, for lust, for hatred of all things hating, for your mother & farther, for my friends, my beautiful angelic, clinically insane friends, for time, for the soles of my shoes with hundreds of miles under their laces, for your fat greedy pockets, for the moon, for the sun to spit on, for the wind to taunt, as he does like the great cowardly, perverted invisible fiend that he is, for nothing, for not quite everything, for your aching lovers, for your broken hearts, for the worlds water, may you always be clean & run free, for the great biblical liars, for the sorrowful wonder of the great homeless & may all their wants come to be wanted, for *******, for fumbling, for the vast oaken heavy doors on bars that keep us safe from the  horrors outside, for guilt, for sugar-blue smoke, for all the kids sitting in **** stained squat houses with half a horse embedded in their face, for my schools that gave up on a bored child, for warmth & fire & woollen clothing, for Paris where I can fulfil my great dream of becoming a sullen cliché, for the gravel-mounted marching marvel, may you never lose your way, for the Parthenon, for Aubergine, for The Firefly, the swan, bleeding,for growing up, for all the music makers,all people should play all instruments to any degree(rather than just, age & shrivel), for Howl for Carl Solomon, for every down & out that ever clawed his way up the street & through the yellow door, for all the animals that gave their lives to keep me fat & red faced, for Christ sake, for the invisible man in the sky, causing all war & so much death-thank you, for the wild west, for Bert & John, for the great literary mastodon to look down his reset nose at & ask me why. Why?

The way that old dial telephones look & feel. The questions that need no answers. Feeling down, down & out, upside down & inside out,upside in & downside out on the pavement at five am. Waking up in unknown beds & crawling down drain pipes. Getting lost in a place you have lived your whole life. Being in the woods simply to be in the woods. Drinking coffee even though you hate the taste. Never telling a stranger the truth. Living under a false name. Drinking yourself to death in the dark lonely-crowded corners of ***** stained wood floor warehouse floors. Feeling solid-sterling-gold for feeling so terribly horrifically half-corpse-like the only way you can really feel is completely statuesquely angelically magnificent and the only way is down(you really have no idea how far I fell that morning) , Only going out when it rains. Only going out in the dark. Staying up all night dreaming and sleeping all day. Remembering to forget, forgetting to remember to remember to be forgetful. Understanding that you and no one else understands nothing but eat-drink-sleep-****-death. Smoking until yr tongue bleeds and yr eyes burn like that fire in the sky in the fearful month of June. Wishing you knew how to tie a noose & writing ”suicide” on yr calender on a day you have no planned engagements. Shooting to the moon & back in the bee-bop-bo-bo-batter-batter-chitter-chatter like jazz on the neon streets of the earths mother. Crawling in to a stone cold bed after walking for six days & feeling bored & lonely again in ten minutes.

That’s why, I’m glad you asked. If I’m going out, then I’m out going with some steeze in a cloud of smoke, yr wife & I’m not taking you with me.

For all these things & more is the reason I write. To write for the sake of writing. For, some people write, just to write & they are truly the the lost meaning of it all.

Automatic travel rambles to plug up the holes in yr lonesome pockets. Blues.

Chapter two:  

Creeping moss-stick under-flowering the useless but grateful Tuesday poet, Jim Gravestone Sr.

The ghost of the monorail, living only in upturned memory sits slow & smooth/low against the Sunday evening rapture. You gotta know which way is down. Down. The dew on the grass & the creamy-green residue of the night before is just too close to a real drama. Absolute dahma. Down in the cold rising damp & the stain on your shirt.

He sits , sits like you, like me & like old Tom Mooney the prison king. If you ever saw such a sad sight as he, I do believe you would roll out your tongue on the pavement right there & then & wait for the road sweeper & all his secret, early morning charms & the great wolf man, pork chop sideburns (lupine dreams)to clean you up & clean you out. I do declare!

For he knows-for he has seen. Seen the sun rise from his pearly throne up on the dark side of the moon, the very face of Bowie, right there in the eye socket. He sees all. You can live your life, & you do, & you should, but he, O’ he, he has really been there & where & back again. You carry on with your sleepy routine of mule-back coffee office doom death jobs(you sleepy Bohemian, you)  & in you spare time trying to keep your nose from filling up with water & your private parts entwined with somebody else’s most private of parts, & on the side lines of you spare time you can deal with your family & all the friends that you’re sick of but hold on to, only for the fear of being left alone in the dark with nothing but all of the above. Then again you always have your studies(STDS)all of the ologies, of course.

Sleepology, cocaineology,rainolgy, sunology, lonleyology, depressionology, suicideology, talkology,empypocketsology, meaninglessology, masterbationology, coutntingyourmoneyinpintsology,walkology, onenightstandology, jumpthetaxiology, begology, borrowology, stealology,feelology, upallnightology, sleepalldayology, Xology, ologyology, etcology etc…ology etc.

Just find something you can care for ‘*** [insert atheist god/idol] knows that nobody is going to do your caring for you, even I they do in fact care for you.

I have been beginning to notice,that I(and I may not be alone)

always look at the past through a marigold monocle.

This, meaning nothing now ever seems to be joyous or gay or splendiferous until it is a past memory.

A cobweb. A rafter. A leaf on the ground. …I guess.

         Chapter three:

I know you know it but people that you don’t know, really are a funny, funny thing…

I stand outside the rain & watch the people passing by; really the most depressing experience of my ever increasing years. Un-jolly fat men with whiskey-nose & scuffle-feet stanzas of gibberish, talking gibberish & gibberish being their inner most self. Pre-war women with Arctic-blue hair, faces melting, everything pointing down, shuffle. Kids pushing prams full of ugly babies towards a house of who-gives-a-**** & ******* & I’m-gonna-die-here and what of it. Is there really no more to life. Listen to the top 40 on the radio, clueless, oblivious. Cogs. All cogs. Military troglodytes following them back in a dead eyed daze, dreaming of killing in the real and virtual. No you may not have a cigarette. Leave me alone, please. Let me listen to my watch ticking in peace & at least pretend that you don’t exist.

The human body is comprised of several ‘substances’

including..

Mercury,

hydrogen hydroxide,

fountain pens,

the lost dates of calenders,

various small woodland animals,

including…

Voles,

rabbits & field mice.

Other such things as…

Misplaced birthmarks(of the brain)

feelings of remorse and regret,

the stolen trinkets of past lovers,

and of course,

white blood cells,

pesticides,

and the second hand

from a 1956 ’Hamilton Rail road’ pocket watch.

E.L August 7th

           Chapter four:

Last night, last night was the last night it was the night last

Picasso raincoat. Imagelessness. Bottomlessness. I lost my umbrella & my Holden Caulfield head-wear, again. I was skipping on a rain cloud, corduroy boy and scarecrow girl, reunited in a soft entanglement sticky in the senses. Hoof! The only way is up when you walk down these stairs, snakes and blisters, but you’ll sweat it all out in babble cream conversation and love in your eyes. Tell me a story, tell me a story, tell me something to prop my chin up in this brown tunnel. Your name it is something I cant care to remember but of course I never really had a name of my own either, so we shall be the great wonder of the nameless masses, the ones born to no name and never wanted one anyway. A name is nothing but a label, a calling card, call me anything, call me king Charles II just as long as you do call me, the sound of a voice, your voice, any voice reeling off a comprised anagram of the alphabet is enough to get my short attentive ears to perk up and twist my noggin backwards towards the direction of my inbuilt gypsy sonar. So anyway, I was going to talk about something, something great… but now its gone and all I have is bloodshot eyes and sweaty liars palms to prove to the world that I had an idea once, I swear I did.

Here’s an idea for you to dig you heels into:

The world keeps making mistakes, everybody makes mistakes, its natural, nothing to fear, it happens all day every day. BUT, with every mistake we make, we then proceed to learn from that mistake, so.. stay with me here… Once the world, the whole world meaning everyone in it, has made every mistake they can make and of course and one would hope of course, that they have also learned from all of these mistakes; once this has happened, there will be no more mistakes to make, right? Therefore leaving the world perfect as a whole, no mistakes to make, learnt their lessons on every lesson and we can all go on with living a perfect existence, yes?…

No.

I’ve really thought long and hard about it -could never happen, people are not perfect, they never will be, if they were I wouldn’t want to know any of them, and the world, well the world is an imperfect place, and the same rule applies.

But let me hit you with another bit of knowledge to round things off and maybe put a positive spin on things. Hoist ye marrow-thumbs around this;

One of the many few early times that my legs forgot how to use them selves, I was sitting on the pavement, trying for one to reattach these two now useless appendages stuck like butter to my lower torso, but foremost trying to light a cigarette with my useless cold hands and equally useless matches, fearful of the sneaky clear coward, invisible old Mr wind, when a kindly stranger, half my size, red my hair, opposite my *** and now opposite my broken legs appeared like a person will appear when you mind is in other minds, a smile, a sympathetic look and two working hands to fire up the stick in my mouth. I said my thanks, babbled about babble and the generation of gibberish and im sure many other things inconceivable to the sober ear of a dame such as she, the bringer of flame and enlightenment, not of the smoke but of the simple mind, an idea is what she left with me and it never left. She stopped my rambling typewriter of a tongue and said ‘shush’ she held my head in her hands, looked at me straight,so I thought she might be death or god or that I was passing out,she all green eyed and like the woods, looked at my eyes like they were tethered together and dropped the bomb on me, she said ”if you are looking at the moon, then everything is alright” kissed my warm on frozen forehead and was gone into the night, never to be seen again.

That’s all the advice you will ever need, & so ll I will leave you with.

You never left a name, but I never wanted one anyway.

Midnight moment

beautiful rags

midnight joy.


Nevermind your little light,

set apart your golden dreams

that offen break,

& come to play.


Chapter five: There are things I want to write but I am not going to write them.

The End.

‘Stay gold, Pony Boy’
Emily Jones Oct 2012
Clayton
How I know you
Paternal parenting
DNA infused
Carbon contribution, to my physique
Father

In everything
My skin, eyes toes,
Unfortunately; inside my mouth
Spitting plaster-walled
Copy-paste personality
The same

Intimately
Close-dangerously
Different
Me a bold-faced fraction of ill abated love
Something that didn't work out
Photocopy
Blond-blasphemy of useless flesh
Reminder of her
Mom

Enough!
Teeter tottering
Tip-Toe tangling opinion
Excuses
Words fermented
Rotting-rigor

I know you.
Slit-eyed palefaced ****** of bigot ideas
Bearing pronged poker
Clicking glinting-clawed finger fondling fake religion
Suppressing supplement thought

*******
God's love the good life
Living a life to be proud of
Excuse me!
For not being as I am "supposed" to be

Eatting rancid lies
Your reality relative
To kiss-*** preferred siblings
Who like the taste of ****
What you shovel

Hung on lipsucking harlot, hinged hip hung-over
Descending oppressidly upon willing wanton will of man
Letting cracked-cackled toothed
Field Gap-smile
Decide your next move

I know you
I see what you push into hidden corners
The bias, nasty film of your character
Under whitecollar shirttails
Citizen, Patriot
Americas American

I know you
Your oppression
Not new
As underhanded and seedy as it was
And still is

I know you
As much as I'd like not too.
Irah Rahim Oct 2013
Sometimes I wonder how I managed to hide all this pain within my heart.
That had screamed and banged at the door of my heart, begging for freedom.

Sometimes I wonder how I was able to hide this sorrow.
That had clawed and scratched the wall of my heart ever since.

Sometimes I wonder, how I could afford to carve a smile on this soulless face.
That needs a thousand men’s effort to make it happen.
Jack Thompson Mar 2015
Have you ever been angry?
So angry you've scared yourself.
Because for a second you saw that face staring back from within.
An immense depth fast approaching.
So absent of light the only reason you caught a glimpse was those eyes.
Beaming back at you with illumination so frightening your core began to shudder and rumble.

Crumbled down and watched this beast claw its way out.
Over rock and mortar. Through coarse cage of steel.
Those cold eyes staring down - helplessly watching.

This beast was once kept sealed.
Who gave it this key to destruction.
This shapeless fluid in motion soulless tragedy.
Black velvet drape dipped in fiery energy.
Pure hate which had been compressed for eternity.
Now concentrated and intent on wreaking havoc.

I sent my armies. I sent them all.
Countless deaths and yet I sent more.
Quick slaughter - not the painless type.
This beast they could not stall.
Thrashes of bodies. Clawed and torn.
Festering flesh flying from fallen.
Axe, Sword and Mace soaked,
dripping in warm fresh blood-pounding hate.
Shatters of armor and unrecognizable corpses.
What do I do?
It seeks me as a vessel - to be worn.
I can feel the hate changing me.
Quickly now or I'll soon deform.
© All Rights Reserved Jack Thompson 2015
D Oct 2013
the battle roared across the sky like
an epic Sanskrit in the palm of a hand,
folded tightly with a beginning and
an impending ending.

the gods were beautiful
with glowing white skin,
their hands grappling tridents
falling across their chests were
necklaces littered with skulls.

the demons clashed the tridents with their
clawed hands, fingernails the size of Rhode Island,
and bulging eyes fixed on their opponents.
the demons were grey, their skin veiny and taut,
the yellow in their eyes like lightning
in the black sky.

and the men sat in a large circle, in front of their homes
and bars and football fields,
in lawn chairs and lazy boys and stoops and bar stools,
huddled in a circle with filled coolers,
and they drank and commented on the battle
with eyes that were white,
with mouths clung to a glass or bottle,
with ears listening to each other.

“the gods are winning” one says.
“no, it’s the demons. did you see the way he
pulled out that god’s eye?”
“yeah but the rest of the gods are too strong”
“no, I would bet on the demons”
“well I’d bet on the gods”

and the gods and demons continued their battle,
the sky lit up with a war like no other,
and the men sat and drank and talked of epic war
like it was a common sport.

a man that had been quiet says,
“I hope the gods win”
the one for the demons asks “why?”
“well, I don’t want my women to be like the demons”
“well, I don’t want my women to be like the gods”
the one on the lazy boy says
“I don’t want them to be like either”
a barstool man chimes in,
“I want my women to be like the gods in the kitchen
and like the demons in bed”
and they laugh.
and the sky bursts with violence.
and they drink.

the gods grab the upper hand,
pulling demons into the sky,
they obliterate them
one by one.
“I told you the gods would win”
“It’s not over yet”
“Give it up, evil will be a thing of the past,
we can go to the grocery store without the
fear of getting robbed,
or pump gas after midnight”
“Well if the demons win you could
get a ****** and lie to your wife without
guilt, without remorse, with a smile on
your face”
“And how will my wife be acting?”

the demons stir and pull away,
they race across the sky as the gods pursue,
the tridents launched into clouds,
the demons laugh and gather.

a man on the stoop says;
“what if no one wins?”
the one for the gods says,
“someone has to win”
“well, what if they **** each other off”
he laughs, “the gods won’t let that happen”
“they may not have a choice”

the demons rally and rip tridents
away from the gods,
and use them on the gods,
and force the gods to retreat.

“I told you! the gods are going to die!”
“no, they have them just where they want them!”
the battle continues.
a violence like no other.
a sky like no other.
the men drink and look at each other.

“don’t let the gods fool you,
they won’t give up”
“the demons are attacking,
they have the tridents!”
as the battle ensues,
a man in a lawn chair,
drinking forcefully,
watches the battle closely,
he doesn’t favor either side,
he enjoys the fair fight,
he takes a long sip and says

“why should we care if they **** each other?
we may be better off,
left will no longer battle right,
the ocean and beach won’t battle each other for the tide,
the sky and ground won’t battle for the horizon,
the moon and earth won’t battle for the sun,
up won’t battle down,
male won’t battle female,
synonyms won’t battle antonyms,
employees won’t battle bosses,
classical music won’t battle rap,
democrats won’t battle republicans,
you get my point”

a man on the stoop says
“that’s what I’m talking about!”

and the gods pull their tridents from the demons,
and the demons tuck their claws into their chests,
and they both look down at the men,
then they look at each other,
and the men finish their drinks and turn
to leave without ever getting anywhere.
I'm grinding
and the dirt
I'm grinding
and the dirt
I'm grinding
and the dirt


And I don't
understand?

I DON'T UNDERSTAND.

please help me,


"The clawed hand is not for shaking,
although it has amazing grip."
-zₑᵤₛ



"Eat a pork shoulder
dusted in granite powder...
dash of cumen, a salty pinch
you'll get over it."
-ᴾᵉˡᵒᵖˢ

                                                  

    ­                                              "He is a porky one isn't she?" -ᴱʳᶦˢ




Betty, uh, Ms. Page,
didn't it bother you?

"Bother me?"

Well you know,
being a person of God,
-doing those things for money?

"Silly, I do what I do
BECAUSE I AM a believer!"
-ᴮᵉᵗᵗʸ ᴾᵃᵍᵉ
You-will-not-lie, -bed-chambers-long,
For I, -am-coming-to-get, YOU!
Clawed-through-the-dirt, -up-the-roots,
I am here, -come-to-get, YOU!
Followed-tree-roots, -that-sweet-smelling-Earth!
Here now! -It's time-to-forget-YOUTH.

HALLOWEEN THIS! HALLOWEEN THAT!
HALLOWEEN THIS! HALLOWEEN THAT!
HALLOWEEN THIS! HALLOWEEN THAT!
Aha Ha Ha Ha,  -The Goblins Attack!!


Grab-you-and-cover-those-murmuring-cries.
Drag-you-away, I have got, YOU!
Hungry-I, watering-mouth-glistening-eyes!
Bundle-of-joy, I have got, YOU!
Jump-down-tunnel-for-you-are-my-prize.
Look-at-you-now, my-sweet-tasty-meat-PIE!

HALLOWEEN THIS! HALLOWEEN THAT!
HALLOWEEN THIS! HALLOWEEN THAT!
HALLOWEEN THIS! HALLOWEEN THAT!
Aha Ha Ha Ha,  -The Goblins Attack!!







Addendum: The name appears to be an amalgamation etymologically of roots from Greek, Sanskrit and Sumerian. If, of course, you choose to translate it that way. I assume Plato to be an authority on the Ancient Greek's tendency to combine the words of multiple mythologies sharing similar characters linguistically. The purpose of the hyphenation is to suggest the tempo and speed of the rhyme's cadence.

Kalikantzaroi
'The Demon's of Earth'
Kalikantzaroi came up through the earth from Hell climbing the Tree of Life's roots escaping for only three days and nights once each year when the Sun appeared to descend in the same place for said time. That period was Christmas and the children who were bad had a choice; leave a present(gifts) on their doorstep or be pulled down by the Goblins.
It is a Greek fairy tale.

The speed of the rhyme is as fast as you can say it with loud pauses for the Halloween stop phrase. It is a metered rhyme.
PrttyBrd Jul 2010
1

Overcast, sunless
Visibly silent screaming
Parched, now overjoyed

2

Wheat and weather watched
Drought gives way to summer storms
Lightning strikes with fire

3

Darkness falls so late
Chicken coop falls silent now
***** crow before dawn

4

Chasing butterflies
Buzzing bees on flowers still
Spiderwebs glisten

5

Birds bathe in sunshine
Chasing, dancing, singing free
Harmonious life

6

Breezes blow warm air
Waves of grasses hypnotize
Clouds float passed the sun

7

The water ripples
Slow concentric rings wave on
A rock and a splash

8

Attack, run away
Attack, attack, run away
Courtship rituals

9

Fowl scattered in fields
Hunting, pecking, roaming free
Chasing bugs and seeds

10

Corners filled with webs
Intricate art of nature
Respect without fear

11

Water beads on grass
Thirst quenched every morn
Silence before dawn

12

Seven eggs in nest
Encircled in royal blue
Three weeks to new life

13

Small spaces invite
The great escape attempted
Free birds in tall grass

14

Running through the fields
Frolicking in the sunlight
Sunset calls them home

15

Butterfly standing
Flapping wings in slow motion
Gently ate its fill

16

Short weeds in high grass
Flowers, bees, grasshoppers, ants
Seasonal creatures

17

Scorched earth, lightning strikes
Life lush green burning to ash
Renewal takes time

18

Five are missing, gone
The culprit is yet unknown
Life cycles throughout

19

Clawed dirt freshly turned
Evidence of a sly fox
Clever, impressive

20

Lightning strikes, sparks fly
Fire consumes through the darkness
A fresh start tomorrow

21

Winds of change blow in
Lightning storms of discontent
Perception adjusts

22

Stinging insects buzz
Flowers thrive in the meadow
View from a distance

23

The surface unmarred
Faint hint of things soon to come
Small crack, rotten egg

24

Distance still remains
Oceans and miles stretch onward
The phone is my friend

25

Leap and take a chance
Is easier said than done
knowledge kills hope

26

Change is forged in need
Optimistic tendencies
For better or worse

27

Clicking black keyboard
Ethereal glowing screen
Midnight love awaits

28

Separately we live
Together under one roof
Bound by a shared past

29

Swarms buzz all around
Armies crawl across the ground
Mammals hide in shade

30

Flying mosquitos
Settling in on warm flesh
Drinking in sweetness

31

Warm balmy breezes
Steam rising from burning streets
Lungs choke on wet air
copyright©PrttyBrd 07/2010
Xander Duncan May 2014
My body is the training ground for
All of the reject demons
My inner demons failed to qualify as the right sort of fight
To match with any worthwhile struggles so

My inner demons are over dramatic children
     They do not wage wars
     They throw tantrums
     They stand inside my temples and pound the walls
     When they do not get what they want
     And shriek ringing into my ears until they turn blue
     Then fall asleep when they get tired
     Forgetting that they were supposed to be upset
My inner demons are pretentious
     They call themselves demons
     When they are more like imps
     They tickle at anxiety with the nerve to call it an attack
     And separate velcro and seams with the audacity to say that
     They broke something
     Then press on my heart
     Daring to call it an ache
My inner demons are clumsy
     They walk with their toes curling around my eyelashes
     And slip and spill their handfuls of tears
     At inopportune moments
     As I tremble due to the ones
     That have tripped and tangled themselves
     In my heartstrings and vocal cords
     Causing me to grasp my rib cage in desperate attempts to reach them
     And tear apart the inconveniences
My inner demons are shy
     They sway in my veins to the rhythmic pulse
     With clawed hands outstretched to the blue walled sky
     Cautious to never leave a scratch through my skin
     They dance on nerve endings and muscle tissue
     With footwork just gentle enough to not summon bruises
     And hold themselves still against my capillaries
     As if their presence might distract my blood from
     Its daily circulation
My inner demons are hoarders
     They over-stuff the filing cabinets in my brain
     With reports and analysis of too many situations
     And pick up old emotions and hide them in the recesses
     Of each ventricle and aorta
     Creating pseudo-space for newer, stranger, replicas
     Then pack extra breaths into my lungs
     Storing "just in case" inhalations and overused sighs
     They insulate their homes with extra calories and extra clothes
     Hiding until they can forget themselves
My inner demons are moody
     They like to stitch up new wounds with the thorns of roses
     And pry open old ones with feathers
     They tie my tongue with pages of foreign textbooks
     They tie my tongue in gauze and cotton
     They tie my tongue with other tongues
     And pins and needles and teeth and drawstrings
     They are self depreciating and they know that they
     Are not worthy of their title

My inner demons are pathetic
     I suppose they're right where they belong
By day she wooes me, soft, exceeding fair:
  But all night as the moon so changeth she;
  Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy,
And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.
By day she wooes me to the outer air,
  Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety:
  But through the night, a beast she grins at me,
A very monster void of love and prayer.
By day she stands a lie: by night she stands,
  In all the naked horror of the truth,
With pushing horns and clawed and clutching hands.
Is this a friend indeed; that I should sell
  My soul to her, give her my life and youth,
Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell?
When Crow was white he decided the sun was too white.
He decided it glared much too whitely.
He decided to attack it and defeat it.

He got his strength up flush and in full glitter.
He clawed and fluffed his rage up.
He aimed his beak direct at the sun's centre.

He laughed himself to the centre of himself

And attacked.

At his battle cry trees grew suddenly old,
Shadows flattened.

But the sun brightened—
It brightened, and Crow returned charred black.

He opened his mouth but what came out was charred black.

"Up there," he managed,
"Where white is black and black is white, I won."
xuans Jun 2015
today i tried to catch a feather that was drifting in the wind
so fine, so light, so delicate and grey as hell.
i clawed at it in a bid to catch the poor thing
yet the more i tried, the further away it flew.
i questioned myself over why i wanted to catch it in my hand,
and i realised i desperately needed something tangible to hold on to.
something; anything.
anything that i could pin all my hopes and dreams on.
i was too forceful in keeping you close to me,
to let you be the pivot of my existence.
yet the feather finally taught me today,
that i should let you go, and let you drift with the wind
and let it bring you where you will eventually stay.
maybe you will find a heart that will be your home one day.
until judgement day: drift, soar, fly!
'Tis about time I said goodbye;
to thyself-t'at is but full of deceit, and lies.
Ah, just yesterday, rainbows wert snared by thy eyes;
but soon t'eir soul flickered like a flame, and died.

Ah, thee, th' son of night, and th' beauty of day;
My love for thee was, indeed, more t'an what poems canst say.
Oh, but why didst thou, with a smile so sweet,
flirt with me, as last Monday we w'rt fated t' meet?
My love, thou should'a stayed behind;
if thou wanted me not; with all t'ose secrets
thy so dearly kept and cherished, in thy mind.
I am now th' one to blame;
I am like one infinite morning, whose innocence
led me to believe in th' foreign falsehood of fame.
Ah, as how my heart jumped about like a selfish swan
Whenst thy lips silenced mine; oh, all wert just a good sign!
But how couldst thou stomp away and leave me alone?
Thou bask now, in my seedless cries, raw tears, and scorn;
Thou art cruel, cruel, cruel! Oh-thou filled me with disgust!
Thou art like disdain, and its mean garden;
Yes, thou art a semblance of whose ungratefulness!
Ungrateful and smeared with greedy terror;
Sending sane souls and spines about running with tremor;
And in which t'ere are neither flowers, nor hills, nor mountains
Everything is glaring; everything is burnt-
and under a nightless sky, a pitiful; yet irregular sky,
With rage thou shalt destruct my lavender;
thou art now an enemy, but yesterday a fake lover!
Ah, canst I believe it not-how I first came to love thee,
whenst thou wert just but a soulless entity!
Oh, how stupid I was-yes, too credulous and insipid;
for falling for a mask so infamous, and putrid.
I am now turning away-hopefully I am still late not,
and towards a better lover my whole conscience canst afford.

Ah, thee, but at today's moonless dawn
I sprang from sleep whenst I rigidly dreamed of thee;
I had hoped t'at thy shadow would never show
But kept it venturing to stay t'ere and haunt me.
How I would mock things t'at are stubborn;
t'ese hath I vowed, so deeply and heartily-
ever since I first was born.
Thou art a wicked, wicked witch;
thou treated me like litter;
like I was but a gouty piece of filth.
Thou art bright not, like th' river,
but th' sinned soil and clawed greenness under;
thou art not th' glow thou used to be,
ah, neither art thou th' angel t'at spoke and joked with me.
Thou art mean, mean, mean;
thou art a mean man and creature altogether;
Thou wert once part of my breath;
but now even thinking of thee
shalt goodly fill me with dread, and images
of erotically defeated triumph;
and flavourless, ye' anonymous, death.
But even if thou wert to die, I would grieve not;
for thou art not worthy of any more of my tears;
instead I would raise my hands and sweetly thank our dear Lord;
for returning my pride; and destroying my wounded fears.

Thou shalt from now on-liveth in my mind not,
and in which, in t'is most dignified, though absurd, conscience-
I sweareth t'at thee canst no more rejoice;
for I prefer stopping our unfinished story short;
and I detest now, every bit of thy flesh,
much less th' delusive meanness of thy voice.
Thou art to me but a bad dream,
and thy presence is even less meaningless
t'an a lad's pleading ghost;
Thou art trapped in stillness, as thou may seem,
ah, and may thy sins lead thee only, in th' years
to come, to thy worst.
Thou art worthy not of t'is grand earth!
In a marred graveyard should thy now dwellest,
'fore ruining thyself more, and makest all thy sins 'ven worse.
Ah, thou who art not a being of neither th' West nor East;
as even in God's mind, thou should be th' least,
I dread thee as how His Majesty spurns a fiend;
thou art neither my lover, nor playmate, nor any friend.

I hope by t'is poem th' world shalt see;
how notorious and vicious thou hath been
to one sinless me.
I am just a writer, with t'is poem in my hand-
but despite-I am just a woman, a fragile, and sometimes
infantile; lover and friend.
A lover, to a man worthy of my love;
a loyal friend, to all fellows-thoughtful and honest;
With whom my poetic soul shalt live;
and with whose courage,
t'is loving breath shalt ever thrive, in my left years-
and ever continue to joke, gather, and laugh.
There was a town beyond the woods,
Ne’er there any water stood,
Alas, a Well, of the purest kind,
The aquifer under, is here described,
Beyond a thousand gallons under
The diamond-esque rubble and sunder.
But one bucket, at but one time,
Kind, the town, taking turns of rhyme,
This essence, used to bathe and cook,
To drink, to create, a cozy nook.
-
The happy town, the gorgeous shire,
The crops grown there as green as Ire,
No law exists, they live but civilly,
A fetching, quiet community,
But always there exists a one,
Who would want power, want this undone,
So it was said regretfully,
Poisoned their Well, emotionless he.
-
Now this village was quite secluded,
No one not there born, ne’er intruded,
Deep in the forest, behind a mountain,
Over a peak, under a cloudy curtain,
It existed in secret and abolition,
And one did seek its demolition,
Knowing the only flaw to here exist,
The essence of life, no man resists.
-
He crept at night, while the guard did sleep,
Promising the pure water to weep,
Dropping the genocide with bucket and crane,
Releasing its Demonic Alchemic Strain,
The Well did hiss as the poison moaned,
Recoiling at this unwanted drone,
The assailant then brought to his steady lips,
A cup and was first to take Devil’s Kiss.
-
On the morrow of the mentioned crime,
Busy bodies awoke to start the day’s time,
Queuing at bucket and awaiting turns,
Each family there a portion yearned,
Not one did from the water strafe,
Each then bathed, then drank, unsafe,
No one could tell different taste,
Water is water, but not today.
-
The plague did start like any disease,
Sore throat, fever, stopped nose, displeased,
The people sought the witchdoctor,
But he from bed, would rise no longer,
He caught ill too, and wouldn’t budge,
Afraid for his life, afraid of this grudge,
He knew this sickness, had heard before,
But told no one, the end was sure.
-
In a week, vomiting and nausea,
Nasal passages sealed, no nostalgia
Brought to memory of any like sickness,
The virus brought about decrepit afflictions,
But slowly and steady, worse and worse,
The people became, some saw the course
But kept silent, to avoid alerting,
The so many children in need of comforting.
-
In two weeks’ time, the pathogen,
Had taken wits of sensible men,
At night, they screamed in somber fright,
Their deepest fears, real now, and bright,
The lutes died out, the bards not singing,
An unfortunate time, but this was only beginning.
-
Fingernails rotting off at the cuticle,
Too much blood for any receptacle,
Leprositic, the fingers came next,
One by one, extremities hexed,
Children lost their legs to run,
From mothers’ faces rotted, undone,
In every other step, heard were bones breaking,
Kneecaps cracked open, shins splintering,
Eyes turned cadaverous, awake, but not seeing,
Cataracts formed, blinded from viral being,
In cradles were witnessed toddlers there suffering,
Their mothers watched with empty sockets, but listening
To the cries impossible to stifle,
The pain too much for these tiny disciples.
The dogs normally to their masters zealous,
Became of them mortally jealous.
They bit the hands that fed them well,
For watering them from the cryptic Well.
Men watched their sons dive right under,
The bridge that harnessed a valley of blunder
Hundreds of feet above sharp rocks and stumps,
Their namesakes leaped, impaled in clumps,
For those lucky enough to still have eyes,
Cried tears of acid for images despised
Sickness was spewed upon the walls,
Entrails adorned the Gathering Halls,
Some had turned to mutilation,
Blood-letting for some, abomination,
Some crazed enough to “cure” themselves,
Clawed throat and stomach til flesh dissolved,
Some rich with elixir tried to embezzle,
Upon some of the poor, tired and grizzled,
Riot broke out amongst the walking dead
Fortune or lack of, irrelevant,
Black pustules broke out that looked Bubonic,
But the cure for that failed, how ironic,
That it rather hastened the steadfast curse,
Faster than iambic verse,
Molecules turned to embryo,
Rising like a great Pharaoh,
They became flesh parasites,
Taking internal organs, slow and precise,
They started with the liver and spleen,
So there lasted hours of wretched screams,
The intestines of some would close and then
Becoming septic, they passed, bile in stem,
A few had throats seeming cauterized,
Friends watched friends closest, strangle alive,
There were in fact, some optimists,
Among them, talk of being “rid of this”,
They too died while clutching life,
Endeavoring their eternal flight,
From noses, there dripped blackened murk,
Thicker than combined oil and dirt,
It then secreted as sweat from all pores,
Fatigue then struck those left to the floor.
Upon broken knees some prayed,
Usually the skin under ribs was flayed,
Trying to understand what went wrong,
Dissecting the dead was not headstrong,
It only furthered viral progression,
The open corpses breathing infection,
The cadavers would move still, the fleshbugs active,
The horror of lifeless movement, corrosive,
The minds of the weak, it pure happenstance,
One found eating dead flesh for a cure, no chance.
All in all, this lingering curiosity,
Provided once good people with animosity,
One man turned good people to hate,
Their neighbors in ways that were irate.
-
The chaos was not anarchy,
For, as I said,
It was civilly,
But verily, I do decree,
That no one knew such misery,
The inhabitants of this village,
Did not suspect innocent visage,
Or perhaps, their cherished Well.
To be culprit behind this hell
So they drank and drank to remedy,
To recompense this malady,
To no avail did blood get thicker,
Alas, they got but sicker and sicker.
-
This hell, the townsfolk then realized,
Wouldn’t end til they all were nullified,
Eliminated they were, eradicated at that,
This pathogenic virus had verily spat
In the faces of the people here,
Decimated they were, not quenching their fear,
Murdered they were by a systematic
Suicidal psychopathic,
Inflamed in the mind of darkness thereafter,
Only satisfied by his own laughter.
Not many, til now, know of this town,
From lowly peasant, to “Godly” Crown.
An explorer found the deserted hamlet,
Body parts and questions then found the hermit,
He had heard of a town like this, he wrote:
“It was a new age Roanoke…”
But the village, not a town to cause commotion,
All that was left of them, a tree scratched, “CROATOAN”.
Brielle Byrne Jul 2014
We were sweat soaked sheets and *****.
Logic drowned.
Hungry lips among naked limbs,
a comfort sought in arms found.
We were stress released,
our playful violence unrestrained.
Each wanted. Searching within the other,
never properly attained.
We are fists of hair and clawed skin,
Finding ecstasy in pain.
The hurt from one another,
cover the other scars that still remain.
Lori Carlson Feb 2010
I. The Encounter

I awaken to the lull of your voice: seductive whispers that send waves of electricity through my being. And then I see you. The demi-god that you are. And I worship you. Give me strength to endure your charms. And you do charm me, just as I know you will. Lapis eyes dance back at me. But then I'm dreamy; not awake, not asleep. Still in that state between dreams and realities. And to me, you are a god. But reality ~cruel mistress~ charges at me, and I see you for yourself. A mere mortal as I. But still I worship you. You've already begun your seduction. And I am a willing victim.

My first encounter with you is brief, only moments spent in your company. I would've scorned any human brave enough to insist that I would some day love you. I don't want to be aware that you have any power over me. No man has power over me. I have pushed all thoughts of men from the dusty corners of my mind. My life evolving around school and work and her, my lover. You know we are lovers. And I know you are married. Neither of us have scruples.

You offer me a bowl. Soaring above the world helps you cope. I am grounded and decline. But I watch you carefully. Pipe in hand, breathing deeply the smoke of the gods. And I find you amusing. Eyes turning glassy, mirroring my soul. Your face lit by uncontrollable laughter. And I am spiraling from the slightest contact of you.


II. The Seduction

Just a look. It takes only a look from those lapis eyes. And I'm hooked. Captivated by their icy-blue fire. And I'm burning there, burning in those lakes of infinity, those magnetic pools. Electric shocks wave through me, toss my senses, turn me into pure desire. And I desire you. You and the musky scent of your body lit by lust. Driven. Pushed to the insatiable limit. Inflamed.

Spoken and unspoken, your words ****** me. Enticing me, those words encircle me, swirl about me, intoxicate my mind. Notwords. Those words you say with your eyes, your smile, the rhythm of your body. And your whispers. Hot breath against my cheek, my ear, my neck; a trail of kindled passion waiting to explode. And I cannot resist the temptation. Tempted beyond reason, caught in the moment, trapped in the never-ceasing yearning of my body for yours.

Smoldering. You smolder me with kisses. Blaze my body with your tongue, your touch. Smooth skin against mine. A hand filled with impulses, pulsating, beating the rhythm of our hearts, like beats of the tunes you make love to. Wild, savage drums. Wild, savage love. And I long all the more for you. Your touch, your scent, the feel of you in me.

You recreate me. Change me. Make me want you again and again. Seduced.

III. Missing You

Missing you as I do, I cannot remember my life before you. Before your smile touched the depths of my heart. Before I gazed into those familiar eyes and saw my soul staring back at me. Before I felt your lips on mine, sweet, intoxicating, the slightest hint of tequila and lime. Your hands upon my flesh, electric waves. And the movement of your body with mine in cadence to the primal dance. Before you took me into your arms, I existed as only a shell of a woman. A tiny speck among specks in the vast universe. But you reshaped me. Molded me into a goddess. Allowed the woman inside of me to resurface and reclaim her sexuality.

And now you are gone. Out of my life for weeks. Out of my sight, but not my mind. I see you gazing back at me from the mirror each time I look into my own eyes. And then my mind takes flight and I escape with it. At that moment, I can once again feel your arms around me. Your soft, tender touch. The lulling of your husky voice. The musky scent of your skin. I watch from my grounded plane as you lead me to bed, turn down covers, and then motion for me to lie down. You remove my clothing, stripping away all resistance, all inhibitions. Prince sings seductively in the background. And I lose myself in your loving. You descend upon me like a child with an ice cream cone. Lapping at the cream you stir from within me. Your tongue tracing circles upon my skin. A flick of an ***** ******. Kisses trailing my body from lips to thighs and then there. And you linger there. Minutes seem like hours and hours like days. But I cannot imagine time without you. Only after I have traveled into the netherworld you lead me to, do I finally feel you. Hard and long, buried into my flesh. Deep inside me. Inflaming my body with each stroke. You take me, over and over again, to that netherworld of pleasure. And I want to stay. Remain there with you, eternally.

So missing you like I do, I have no appetite for anything but you. Depression falls upon me like a black cloak shielding me from the outside world. And I realize that missing you is missing a piece of me too. Missing my eternal friend. My soul's mate. My heart's constant pounding. Missing you is missing me with you.


IV. Betrayal

You said you'd made your choice: she and I, that's all you'd need. And I wanted to believe you; almost did, in fact, believe that two could be enough. I could've lived with that. She, bound by contract and children; I, bound by lust and desire. I know the game; have played it hundreds of times. And I put my trust in you to keep your word. But you don't belong to me. I have no control over you, no real ability to keep you under control. And so I baited you. Ensnared you in your own trap. Shoved temptation under your nose to test your honor. You have none. You accepted my trap; opened the door to her: a third, an easy, vulnerable prey.

And now you've lost. You will keep the first; she is bound by a higher law. But I am your loss.

Cheap words. You say whatever it takes. Words fall from your tongue as carelessly and easily as a dismissed annoyance. Your heart as cold as the snow surrounding us. You work emotions like a stagnate river: stuck in the routine of building up and tearing down the very dams of trust and passion you blueprint. But I am not like the others in your past. I am a true player. One of the faithful few. But you've destroyed that faith. I know where I stand with you. You've placed me in some category with your other casual notaffairs. But there is nothing casual about me. And if you had taken the time, been true to your word, you would've learned this. I give my all. All of my being, my heart, my soul. Not obsession, just loyalty. I await the rules, and when I have them, I play by the book. But you constantly change the rules, make them up as you go along. And since I cannot claim any part of you, I stumble over your turn of events. And although I try to keep up, I no longer want to match you set for set.


V. Exposed

You breeze through lives like a windstorm: tossing and turning, stumbling along into one life after another. *** appeal, your weapon: a loaded gun, a sword, a double-edged axe. You are crystal in your attempt. Pristine in your approach. Primitive, you take women back to the primal, the cave of the Neanderthal. Back to pure animalistic intoxication. And I almost allowed this. I wanted you. I did want you. You and the beauty that existed on the outside. Muscular facade that shields the turmoil within. And you could've had me.

Those eyes, so like mine, pulling, dragging me further into their blue lake. I would've drowned there for you. Allowed myself to get caught in the whirlpool of your loving. I wanted to more than you could ever know. Whirling there, swirling there. Sinking further and further into the fiery lake of your seduction. And I would not have defended myself. Passive. A kitten de-clawed. I would've sank into your abyss willingly, awaiting your strong arms to enfold me, save me, wrap me into your soul. Die from the shear ecstasy of you.

I confessed. Opened my soul to you. Permitted your entrance. And you took the challenge. Stepped in and put my inner world in order. Sorted through the chaos within me. Within. You were deeper than you knew. In that enigmatic space, you found the seed of my essence buried in a dry desert. And you rained on me, reigned over me, until I blossomed for the first time in years. I unveiled fully for you. A lotus petaled and filled with sweet, sticky nectar awaiting your touch. I removed all masks, all defenses, stripped away all layers. Showed you the sincerest parts of my being. Exposed. Naked. Displayed this being to you without shame or regret; I bore all. You knew me. The new me. The hidden me. The me that rarely allows passage. But I couldn't resist you. You entranced me. ****** me into you. Stole my breath. Exhaled. And scattered me into the wind.


VI. The Fool's Folly

Making restitution. This is what you say you want. And I struggle within, look to the stars, the cards, and my own inner voice. Should I trust you? My horoscope says a fifty percent chance of let-down today. And the cards say, sure trust him, you fool. But inside I scream I want to trust you!

Then I take a reality pill. Swallowing it hard and dry. And I realize this is what I do with you. I swallow you, refusing other nourishment. I swallow you in gulps, like a fine wine. Allow you to descend inside of me, make me raw from the wanting of you. And when the effects of you occur, I immediately become induced, intoxicated, high from the effect. I lose all sense of existence, except for you.

You become the center of that little world you say I've created for myself. You lay there on a bed of black satin, your body shimmering from the candle-lit radiance. And I see you there, there with me and in me, beside me, circling my body with your passion dance. Prince bellows another scream in cadence with my own.

Perfect timing. Too perfect. You give away your method of operation. But only I know of its existence. I have one of my own. And so we come full circle. Knowing you as I do. Knowing your secrets, your methods, your devices of seduction, can I allow your restitution? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Can I risk playing the fool?


VII. Vanished

You've vanished again. Escaped to god-knows-where without me. Again. Without me in your life. Recluse, you've turned me into you. A recluse without explanation. Locked me into the world that exists around you. Trapped me there, helpless, without you to guide me through. And only you have the map, the way to the gate: the escape route you use to flee when life attacks you in the dark. And I want to explore the passage with you. To tell you all that I feel. Feel you with me, in me, beside me. But I'm covered by this web of confusion. A thick heavy blanket of your tormented soul. And mine is there with yours. Our lives intertwined as they are. Twined into enigma. If you would only step from the shadows, motion me forward, I know we could make it out again. The blinded-by-lust leading the blinded-by-lust. And together we could cut our way through this thicketed labyrinth.
(c) 1996, Iona Nerissa


All poetry under the names Lori Carlson or Iona Nerissa are the sole property of Lori Carlson.
Please seek permission before using any of my writings.
~Lori Carlson~
Ignatius Hosiana Jun 2015
After five good years of drought
It rained kisses and warming hugs
After my heart emaciating from rejection
I have experienced a resurrection
She kissed me wholly and deep
She sowed and had to reap
Could not recall the feminine grip
Even how to undo a lady zip
She kissed my upper and lower lip
Then around my body took a trip
Tore my favorite shirt,no time to unbutton
She ate my skin softly hard as a glutton
Not sure it was her mouth on my ***
Cause I couldn't open my eyes as she did it
She passed her soft fingers on my chest
Luckily I hadn't on my fitting vest
Crawled about my belly like a worm
While my ****** heart beat loud as a drum
She said something I didn't hear
Because passion had blocked my ear
She then undid my belt and my trousers
Quicker than all internet browsers
Then...then put the muzzle in her mouth
Was she aware of the bullet, I doubt
She cleared all the rust through the years
While in pleasure I cried happy tears
She knew how to hold the whistle and blow
Between where she knelt down low
Her palm around me was a soft tight glove
Felt she's the one that I deserved
Like a snake she crawled back up
And astride the volcanic plug sat Asap
Not afraid of the sharp edges causing harm
She kissed me violently and hurt my gum
I just couldn't care less at such a moment
Of a soothing ride, a welcome torment
Soon overtaken by my inner animal
I realized I could not take it anymore
And took charge of the walk to heaven
While the clock alarmed, think eleven
She arched tout like a hunters bow
And her eyes brightly seemed to glow
My journey deep was careful and slow
But the return as swift as Pacman's blow
I loved the way she clawed her nails
Into me, she reopened all my wells
I wanted to take her for a longer ride
But the wave of passion killed me,I died
Even when we were done I remained inside
Watching her skin as pale as transfiguration
Out of the joy we had shared, I'm glad
I received my emotional resurrection
I cut the poem short, too exhausted to type it all
tread Sep 2012
The salted air elates a feeling of real real.
And by real real, I mean the realist real there is. 

Child like intuition and loss in present ecstasy
Underlying a layered and angsted mind.

I loved a psychopath as a best friend
But finally 
His confusion clawed at my chakras with convoluted and displaced passion 
But on Protection Island 
I feel
Protected.

Whether the next sunrise meets me through the dingy drapes of a budget hostel, awash in a strange and urban melancholy wrapped warmly on all sides
Or on a windy beach with the blue flow of sparkled wash and distant cloud capped peaks and Dover-beacon ferries which remind me of novelty globes and my father
The buzz of early morning travel as a child

I will be fine.

To lighten my load I hid The Dhamapada and St. Francis of Assisi in the hopes and faith that they would be left in peace blanketed in underbrush 
Being peacefully caressed by ocean wind and the beautifully dilapidated wood-house 
The protectors warm grin of welcome.

I want to feel okay again
And I feel like okay is finally waking up from her peaceful slumber 
Returning from vacation to remind and comfort my unassured and pummeled mind
Like a lover returning from a followed dream

A long, warm embrace which says it all
No words for I love you
Just a feeling and oneness as old as the world itself.
Nat Lipstadt May 2019
I slept with her, my rapacious pen, took me in quiet vengeance in
full on conjugation

raken and taken, me,
her overlording me now, her authorship, so long held
in my maledom abeyance,
a kept imprisonment, unleashing at last, a tongue lashing~leashing,
de-spite my un-desirous craven lying supplications,
excuses of innocence and accident, coincidence and conflation,
ashes, ashes, denials incinerated, all fall down

she wrote/stabbed upon my heartless chest,
in the cheap crudités colors of a prisoner’s inking,
“user of words mine, all mine”

gathered up my innards of loose words,
speculative notes & titles yet to be,
born and kept hid in password protected silent back labor files,
now hers, leaving me sputtering, unable to create,
a homeless mute citizen, possession-less,
helplessly hoping her hovering harlequin might relent,
without any shelter, even a glimmering, a single aleph or bet

she celebratory cackled and clawed,
professed her reclamation ownership of all my poems predecessors,
zola j’accusing that I, ripped from her forcibly,
with no granted permission, her womanly touché of my scribing,
warning of no more global warming for my unprivileged hands,
daren’t try for pretenses of stolen legal guardianship,
warning of a new, forced caining inscription,
a tattooing of  “thief” upon my 5 knuckled right ******,
“plagiarist” boldly inked in back & blue upon my left palm

I, predator,
she, victim,
of my now self-professed, admitted confess,
she, my single victim,
of a decade long serializing criminal coverup

her parting poem a threatening,
herein issued in this very verse,
damning all who would falsely credit themselves,
to suffer shame and an unimaginable curse,
this, the newborn eleventh of ten commandments

parting, she kissing my lips, even my emptied apertures,
with warning bitings,
she knew all my
my numerous noms de guerre,
no dead scrolls caves to hid in, and to be discovered some future day,
and if ever marked as copyrighted,
’twas no tunneling escape,
the exposed truth to be over-stamped
upon all, upon each, in every language,

copied right from the tongue of a woman!


and she would be wright...
complementary to
https://hellopoetry.com/poem/3155692/excerpt-my-muddled-woman-mind/
a tribute to all the women that have inspired so many of my poems

19/23/05
Hyp Nov 2014
Through so many years I ran
Afraid and ever cowering
The darkness always at my back
Voracious, all-devouring

Through my mind its black claws reached
And picked apart my sanity
They scraped all chance of joy away
With endless inhumanity

Through the days and months and years
it chased and clawed relentlessly
Eventually I wondered why
I ran unending breathlessly

Through the dark I turned and looked
Pursuit suspended nervously
I granted it a name and face
It glared with vicious fervency

Through its threat I held my gaze
And ventured forth an inquiry
Its flare of rage could not repress
My newfound curiosity

Through the long nights we conversed
Debating, chatting, bickering
The darkness that devoured my life
Shrank back, diminished, flickering

Through the darkness I now saw
With unexpected clarity
We spoke as friends, no longer foes
Embracing newfound parity

Through the dark I look, and laugh
My friend now laughs along with me
Despite how it had always seemed
The darkness is a part of me

— The End —