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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.
Elaina Jan 2013
Just imagine, me,
between the earth and the sky,
cradling the sun
This was written after seeing the evening sun low in the horizon......
Shalyn Apr 2015
Let me,
Be the waves;

The tides that will wash your troubled thoughts.

And with every crash of waves
being your happiness and joy,
Your ripples of bliss.

Pushing away crumpled parts,
Cradling your body
in warm currents.

Let me,
Be the waves.

Guiding you effortlessly
Out into the everlasting blue.

The waves, that orchestrates your heart.
Scott M Reamer Apr 2013
Man life know just set eyes way like young world soul day hunger space mouth earth thoughts ignorance blind things mind knew final moment human creation kind creatures souls high forgotten dream love spoke self existence face holy deep bound think home void say surrender ear forever called held ephemeral red state end shall heed hope edge living waking fall sea wake garden need February thought past wanderer got men page colored tepid terrible **** proudly untitled features point painted faceless box forgot render wild spring splendor  handfuls looking half brain lost torn ancestral  unseen vision inner summer honor mister owned banner save today fear groans wasn't smoke  street fable strange year contrast black years  able pain body spoken word known motion  palpitate reeling nature culture disclaimers  cancer beg attentive frames ****** base profound double remember wholly finger death token  cries continue folk oh fishing form broken true  divides spread ah twas away breathe wait warning hallowed wish closer lens turn eye live  constant current author hung theory dangle  bramble chemical new force changes adderall  anymore giving beneath possess pardon commentaries eternity internal walk reason  long change does idea glimpse consciousness  wandering simply wonder physical dreams war  sleep told rest benign prior begging truth little  2012 born tale crow bowels allegory animal rule  exasperate making horse curse hands ones read  rearrange capture doing command fail awake  aperture seedlings shift steely sir nap spead ****** demons slits clever telling loud spits la-la-di-dah killing slip game reflected nameless ask  lovers rabid bear salivate plunder shameless  famously savior mint rides menthol bully fate traded melodies play misunderstand mammals gentle witless fine utterly savage silt tongue-less  dirt dilutes pure non-sensory taste briefly ravage dismember it''ll shedding ruined curtain  knots offers plot fulfills munificent two-act  relegates boxz bug altruistic wintergreen tossing  callously guise grovels one's singers treachery ashes mid-life mutter fashion parading  ambiguity separatist liars staple steeping neath  guidelines scoffing stitch moans civil wrote  Fictitious undoing fables table effigies serve  sonnets staged remark psalm swoll praise harken  beggar verse bread lines heavily electricity detection snow sack-happy preaching credit  spotted wicked best gravity gun campaign owe  barge choir revelry celebratory satiated sinking  headline pack hound persistently propaganda  gentlemen excluding diminished ******* run idles  occupied levies wolfishly honestly misinformation cuba vehemently dumb grace spectator erasing  toned sage crowded secrets inter-connectivity  loaned prayer hymns grave mistaken magnified  vandals selective jump leak escapes says minister  buckle mass honesty shut tar children's hats  monument doping long-lived electrical ladle  exaggerated cartoons address seconds cool cradle bleak yang's mind-framed hypnotic  walker caps folly treble claim streaks mixtures  swelled interstate elapse teasing spoon mobile  succulent witchcraft borderline fatal 99 temple stacks sups plastics creeps neurotic ills tossed  meek sipping old crack interlock wax alleyway  coughing blown freak clock birthdays societies  slow flashing viscous candy argument toothless  pills cerebral rapt wall bisect lives wheezing  photo kid starter foiled pair saturated self-castrating pre-packed naked uncertainly pill  used came chaos coated reprisal fells wrack  irreverent mirth sickly disinherited proudest  collate wheeze appearance palette disharmony  discontented bastardized emotive bio inhale diction beat spoiled reclamation loudest tempo  totally disembodied matte imperfect shells flat  struck sounding imparts flak origin severance remarked bone walls snared leaflets mocking  hot scripting adjective noun agape seemingly  resistant gawk calamity passage paintings wind  trashcans signings sits cheap makers poetry persist scrap slipping individual talk wonders  leaving questions fold actor fancy parchment  fates engenders flown jaws stripped longer music  sacrifice fakers book boldly frown sigh atop patient hang trade occupation blows spectacular  whispers worthy backward waving certainty danced suppose needn't ‘drawkcab’ second-guessing  boys forget marched motto heads tightly lies two-tone earthbound harp twice turns goodnight  lying ***** internally indiscriminate nickname  drunk convictions myth steep  in-consumption  fitting artist **** universal sick expressions bad  du spell melody big siphon proud learn sprawls song spastic something temperaments utter check  fissures stomp totality blend definitely thrall sing rug voice shade pestilence ties commiserate round devil steady brains emotional certain gate  suckling gates dearth decay weight bounce pound  carrier pangs glass startle contest earthen web  tug pressed air patience flush amassed guest gone apprehension staring empathize captain believe fading in-perceivable deathbed guarder makes surrounds scatter drooling ebb blink cob tome  venom near door lair derision draws host stairs scent parts curiosities spider webbing surprise wares tips stepping ascetics starkness realize picture surroundings dictations grand pillars  deaf limited comparisons greet visual residents  personal settings dismiss alien law stability common earthly shiftless places prelude  understanding mosaic keen trifling embodiments  geared inception whisper visible jowls kiss murky  puddle rank dawn dichotomy single faithful fraying pays tailor veil climb mores pence whim  breath wellspring samara god stony pear  shadows fruiting forebodes moonlit looming  shown passed bog gold wracked faint tongues  noble preachers mirror shifting layered depth  threads jungle narcissus bemused seamstress self-worshiping architect's wore slumber anomalous  opened barren seam lip caustic scene coupled brick gardener's clenches -with forms idle breed  embodied lore starving empathy design illusion  tree coat fabricate lucid mason scatter-all  narrative seeking imbued 16th shivering chemicals 17th 15thrisk improperly dare  deliberate plan purge try brought chapter speed  aide utmost spirit leading intervention felt  recall recent advent sincerity times diary  lackluster piously lasting happy holding hear  stem tasteless whimpers wet spine monstrosity  dripping causes position quite softly claws pallet  answer digging tearing beast satiating circle breaks skips redwoods beckoning rotted hushed  gray lapsing monoliths deities creborus  imbuement hand stroll paradigm rendered chorus shy whispering forest residual tension  surrenders tolerance lull anew sentenced  bearing tide birds dirge divergent rim joined  cogs wood hesitant mist emergent towering offer  awareness confinement inverted faultier stowed  plane sanctified blanketing trusting memory fossil flash twists laden self-indulgent fleeting invitation agony grip shore impetus lingering  crows promise gift union swallowing endless floor supposed ecstasy sensory intent  psychotropic cradling placement interned  jagged connectivity exchange congenial begun  summons singular spiral assumes ambient reciprocates re-entry fruition reached aggregate lifetime limbs birthed instinct  frightening tarry proper entire light  boundaries innocence pursuit ago discover left  youth's unknowing sacred time place meager  simple fact cast ceaseless wide-eyed literal  apparent coincidence create boldness morphed  crooked kempt mere stumble buried shutter fairy  pivotal definitive months worth shear ambition sound required journeyed self-reflections title  facets vague restless intimation gut wanderer's  leap motivate path account boy soon bears faith  question tripped reasons uproot awaited confronted days step heal provocations wisps crushing transcend chronicles instance  directness raw drove occurrence objective-less  real enters slightest confident nondescript  typify  foreshortened interment paradox bitter heart  devoid jeopardy angry sensation confidential guilty arrogance mercy compliance reprieve  vincent deadening factual sign emotion awe  inhibition shackled butterflies absence actual sciences acknowledgement violent stagnant  spiritual American doors roots lack matted fore  gestures society cause streams intensity hair impossible discord lonely hearts resounding  jest  what's flavored pains closed toxic contented  happenstance scientific knowledge yeah  wizardry shaking stifled withdrawn bloom  jitter dreads settle asocial hulton make  predisposed figurative reflections demeanors  wondered affect hulton's projected sense  morning industry arrays ghosts feeling  certainly endomorphic where's partially wrath  passer mornings jovial unease advertized asking  trash onward wished tempers media mentality connect pasts sharp-toothed scramble great colours trial test salvation continually lent  degree secretly subjection social waned  disconnected colors grimly intellectual civilization cash trading baffling particular  digest myths monumental ending seasons winter  repetition introducing agent everlasting  shoulders delivered honestly-- possession funny  continence history unsightly function suffering propulsion profession divulge familiar tugs era  importance capability perpetuation spite inventory words entirety leveling fray insight  date record continues writer getting evermore fellow tongue possessions identical proof accuracy education similar sack admittance  favor unravel conveyance guilt gives beginnings  predicting audacity definition bobby heady eaters frameless learned release stone grandeur sang  speak molds sleeps split built seats people folded  sheer pour evoked playhouse liquid boring  tellers frayed stark walked reality pleas doth  preformed shows beak pride squawks opinions  greatest bold stunning sightings he'd loudly slain  sunk watch legend precipice theater deeper compound commentator civility justly silly sin  reverent seen prophetic moral confounds notion  lacking explain attempt prolific viral estrange proclivity scorn hide blur pious strung eden's  horror cut skin arch cruel twig mother vile  pass lend woods peach shrunken trail man's canopy worn 434 eat warm limb familiar father delete.

You are what your reading lady. Now would you hold this gun?
CK Baker Dec 2016
It’s all you’ve ever seen
in a midnight’s dream
the zero sum games
and exorcised demons
asinine plunges
on tunkwa brides
phantom fingers cradling
the ragged red dress

shadow hands
clasp at the floodgates
lava fields boil
through scorched amber veins
needles pierce
the look out
where flames dance wildly
over boneyard grounds

deep red pedestals
behind bleeding walls
empty halls and doorways
throughout the sinful nest
bulging eyes and blood rush
in a dark crimson sky
a funeral, before I die
LexiSully Jan 2017
She looks up,
Tears swelling in her eyes,
And looks into his,
Searching for a reason to hold out hope

She delays just a moment-
Waiting for a sign,
A wavering tear,
A slight gesture,
One word to make her worries disappear

She's hoping he will fight for her,
Dang it.

But instead, she walks away,
Stronger than ever,
Cradling a broken heart.
Pauper of Prose Aug 2018
Stories browsed by the bedside of budding of children
Told of all the adventure that awaited us
So I ran amok with my compatriots
Every one of us wreathed in youth
Burning with the boundless fuel
Of curiosity
From the streets spilled opportunities
Of Fame, Of Wealth, Of Love
Then eventually the Sun rays Bent
Before bleeding upon the stone
So that we traversed on bricks of yellow
Until sore legs led us
To an enchanted emerald mirror
And as we stared we began to wheeze
Seeing a frail old wizard or witch
Wondering “why” with a whimper
As curtains cradling clocks, crash upon us
An Ode to Oz an Ode to Youth
She says something but I wasn't listening
I was feeling her ******* with my eyes
Then she points to something
Oh , my ! What a gorgeous ***
I could see both of my big hands
Cradling her most perfect buns
Then she's got legs of an Olympic gymnast
So thick , firm and succulent
Her long brown hair smells so good
I want to take a swim in it

"You haven't heard a word I said !"
She says with an air that's foul

"I'm sorry," I say ,"but I couldn't hear you .
Your body language was way too loud."
Edward Coles Jul 2014
“You know the worst thing I ever saw?” He asked.

I sighed to myself, took another gulp of beer and fixed him with a look of half-interest. He was drunk. A complete ****-up and a bore when he's drunk. I don't know why I drink with him. That said, he probably thinks the same.

“What's that?”
“Bedsheets over the benches in the church yard.”
“Ye-what?”
“Bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. For the homeless.”
“The homeless. Right.”
“I'll get us another drink.” he says, “then I'll start where I left off.”
“Oh, good.”

He comes back with two bottles. We drink and we start talking about football. We're just about getting by before he raises his palm to his face.
“Aw, ****. I forgot, yeah. The worst thing I ever saw. I never told you.”
“You did. Bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. For the homeless.”
“Yeah yeah, but that doesn't really say much, does it? You're probably wondering to yourself why that would **** me off so much?”

Not really. He's the type of no-action, all-caring, bleeding heart that sits on his fattening **** every day, 'liking' rhetorical captions over pictures, and signing petitions to axe some ***** politician or other.
“I guess. Shoot.”

He shoots.
“I wanna burn down the churches. Seriously. Stupid ******* religious folk. I bet they go home and post pictures up of themselves, all busy in the soup kitchen, ladling minestrone into some poor *******'s styrofoam bowl.
“They'll never touch them. Always at arm's length. You don't wanna breathe in the pathogens of the anti-people...”
He slurred a little, went to carry on, but took another gulp of beer instead.
“What does that have to do with bedsheets over the benches in the church yard?” I took a gulp myself, this time watching him with a little more interest. Probably just because he looks like he could spew at any moment.
“You're not letting me finish...”
He finishes his beer, gets up, almost bumping into his piano-***-keyboard. He's off to the fridge again. I have a look around while he's out of the room. I can hear him ******* in the kitchen sink.

I've seen the place a million times before but it always has a whole bunch of new **** tacked up on the wall or else bundled in the corner. He's no hoarder, just gets bored and throws out all the stuff he bought the year before.
There's a framed picture of himself on the wall, cradling his Fender as if he's a master of the arts. It's signed, too.
I've seen him play. Probably will tonight. Wouldn't be surprised if he's written a protest song called: bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. The old **** can't even hit an F major with regularity.
He'd decided to put up his vinyl sleeves on the wall like a 17 year old would with an array of **** pop-punk band posters.
Blink and you might think he's the new John Peel or Phil Spector. Stare, and you'll realise he's twice as crazy, yet half as talented and half as interesting to listen to.
His room is like a CV to show to interesting, young indie women. Shame he's hitting forty now,and hasn't been to a club in about 3 months.
Last time we went he just sulked in the corner and got too drunk. He cried in the smoking area about his job before going round and asking attractive girls whether they think he's too old to be out. Most didn't even bother to give an answer. Probably best.

He comes back in with more beer.
“A-anyway...” He says, groaning a little like an old man as he settles back into the chair. “As I was saying...” he sloshes beer on the carpet, rubs it in with the heel of his shoe. He spits on the mark and then rubs again.
“What I was saying was that the church would be a whole lot more useful to the homeless if it was burned down. A condemned building is a whole lot more useful than being looked down on by holier-than-thou, middle-class, white Christians.
“They go home after an hour, bolt the church doors, and then watch TV in their brand new conservatories that they spend several thousands on. Just give the losers a place to shoot up and sleep in safety. That makes sense, right?”
“I guess so.”
I couldn't think of a change of conversation. So I just drank some more and pulled out a cigarette. It's nice to smoke inside for a change.

“It's a ****** ******* awful thing. If people were actually religious, they'd throw open their ******* doors for everyone. It's what Jesus would do, right?”
“Right.”
“He'd have all the **** in his bedsit, piled in like sardines, spreading TB like wildfire.”
“And that's a good thing?”
“Well, it can't be any worse, right? Sleep's important. I learned that the hard way.”

He didn't learn it the hard way. Not really. He's a self-motivated, self-harming insomniac. He spent his teenage years listening to bad music and staying up too late ******* over his French teacher. I should know, I mostly did the same.
He hit the **** pretty hard during college. Never really looked back until recently. ****** him up worse than you'd reckon. He couldn't sleep without the stuff. Man, if you'd have seen the poor guy whenever he couldn't get hold of some for the night. Eesh.

“...you know what I mean though? I'm sick of charity. Those fun-runs you get. A load of women in pink pretending that they care about breast cancer, before posting a million and one pictures up of them in ankle warmers and a kooky hat...”
“**** of the Earth.”
“Yup. Right up there with the women who have 'mummy' as their middle name on Facebook.”
“Yeah.”
“Honestly though, it's the laziest form of charity. Throwing a couple old, mouldy bedsheets out on some bird-**** bench made of wood and ancient farts...”
“It is pretty lazy.” I drank some more.

It was getting late. We swallowed three temazepams each, moved onto the cheap shiraz once we ran out of beer. We leant back in our chairs, barely talking and letting Tame Impala supply the conversation for us.

“You know what?” I ask, pretty much out of nowhere. His eyes have narrowed. He's not sleepy, just ****** on ***** and tranquillizers. He takes a moment.
“Huh?”
“From what you were saying earlier... you know, about the bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. For the homeless.”
“Yeah?”
“Well, why don't you?”
“Why don't I what?”
“Burn it down.”
“The church?”
“Well, you go on about being lazy and ****. Here's your chance. Help the homeless. Break the locks, pour the petrol, take out a few bottles of wine if you find any...”
“Now?”
“I guess so. Homeless folk are dying of pneumonia out there. Not a second can be wasted.”
“I dunno. I didn't mean I had to do it. I was just saying...”
“I guess they were just saying too.” I felt like I was being a ****, so I changed the subject to women I haven't laid.

I stumbled home leaning on my bicycle all the way. Daylight was just about visible off in the distance. I passed two homeless guys on the way back, gave one of them a fiver, the other one my big mac and the last of my cigarettes (well, leaving a couple for myself).
They said thanks, god bless you, etc, etc. I carried on walking.

I woke up the next afternoon with a mouthful of sand and in desperate need of a hangover ****. I hadn't shaved in about two weeks and there were dark circles under my eyes. I thought about going out to the diner for a full breakfast, but strange people were beyond me.
I ordered a pizza full of meat and grease and garlic sauce instead. I text him to see if he wanted to come over and nurse the hangover with a little ****. Watch a film. Get drunk again. He still smokes it on special occasions, and this ******* of a hangover was pretty **** special.
No reply, and I end up rolling up a joint for myself, smoking it by the window and watching the magpies peck around the grass. It's nice out.

The pizza guy comes. He's holding the pizza up like a map, calls out in a bored sort of voice: “Hello sir. I've got a large Palermo Pizza here, with a side of chicken strips and a can of Dandelion and Burdock?”
I say yes and he hands it over.

I tip him with the coins still left in my wallet from the night before, and he sheepishly says he picked up my post for me as well.
I look down at the pizza I'm holding, and there's a few envelopes that look suspiciously like bills, rival takeaway leaflets, and the local paper. I say thanks, give him the best sort of smile I could, and then close the door.
I turn on the TV. I forgot the England match was on. I turn over to something more interesting. There's nothing, so I switch back over. Before I open up the pizza, I take the paper. A small-town existence, nothing ever happens, but I could do with a new job.

The front page is on fire. A church has been burned down in the early morning. A forty-something man has been arrested and then taken to hospital for severe burns to the face. A load of children's art has been lost, along with countless Bibles, prayer cushions, and vaults of cash.
“****.”
I read through the article. The whole place was gutted. Nothing could be salvaged. Nothing could be redeemed. In the corner of the picture, through the red, green, and blue dots, I could just make out some bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. For the homeless.
I apologise profusely for posting up a short story instead of a poem. I wrote this in one go tonight and haven't proofread it. I had no plan, I just wrote until there was -something- there. I just wanted to try something different.

C
Alyssa Underwood Jul 2016
child of heart
but not of womb,
would i'd been
gifted to ban the
hope-thieving,
spirit-throwing
parasitic lies,
to shelter ears
& fragile petals
against bruising,
whiskey-glazed
acts and words.
would i might be
gifted now to
soothe, cradling
tender soul through
deadest night's
watery gloom.
yet firmly i know
none other will ever
be gifted to bestow
what only One balm
can perfectly renew,
and He waits for you,
my beautiful girl.
Andra Apr 2016
and we stay like this:
with fright,
cradling What If in our arms,
caressing Maybe's forehead.
confused.
fearful.
not knowing in which direction to go.
tick.
tock.
tick.
tock.
one more hour.
one more day.
they all pass by like that because...
we are waiting.

we are waiting
for a certain day so we can make that step,
the same when
we were waiting
for the school bell to announce the break.
we are waiting
for help,
but we never ask for it.
we are waiting
for another day to pass,
leave it,
maybe
tomorrow it will be okay.
we are waiting
for a sign,
a phone call,
it's not like I could call him to ask him out.
we are waiting
for the rain to stop,
so we won't ruin our hair
/pretty shoes
/coat
/etcetcetc.
we are waiting
for something we don't even know what it is,
because it would not be ok to do this or that.
we are waiting
because the sun did not rise yet and
it is too dark outside.
we are waiting
for ourselves.
we are waiting
without an aim.
maybe
something will happen so
we won't be bound to do things
we are afraid of and things
we are not sure of.
tick.
tock.
tick.
tock.

instead of getting the best out of every little thing that gives us the chance to discover, we stand in line for our own happiness...

you know that saying:
instead of us thinking thoughts,
the thoughts think us...
Cné Jul 2017
If you were my sheets, and at my beck and call
fulfilling all my fantasies, into you, I would fall.
You'd cradle me so gently, and massage me everywhere
releasing all my juices, and all my  stress, and cares.

In splendor we'd heat up the room, and I'd crinkle every sheet
and when we were apart, I'd rejoice, every time we meet.
Pillows would cradling my face and head, where jasmine scented rests
blending of our fluids as our bodies, orgasmically attest.

We'd fall asleep together, and spoon throughout the night
and in the morning waking, to unimaginable delights.
Your hands of silken sheets caressing, exciting every nerve
giving me all the pleasures, and climaxes, in you, I am immersed!
TF actually wrote this and I changed a few words to fit an artist statement to go with the painting that is posted as my cover. He graciously allowed my to post as a collaboration. Thank you TF.
ALEXANDER K OPICHO

(Eldoret, Kenya;aopicho@yahoo.com)

Poetry is a network of rivers
One river flowing into another
A big river into a small river
A small river into a big one
Some rivers are dead in the catacombs
Others are rapidly flowing down
And up their course making noisy
Roaring waterfalls and poetic whirlpools
Full of the ripple circumlocution as
The whirlwind of gales in the harmattan
And this is the spirit of poetry.

I will sing the songs of Schiller
Hugo, Shakespeare the bard
Alexander Pushkin and Mayakovski,
Homer and Dante the Frenchman son of Maugham
And Dante the Italian father of the divine comedy,
I will sing their songs as they are European rivulets
Of poetry flowing into huge water masses
Of African poemocracy in which
The poetic dystopia is clearly
Couched in the gears of black and white.

I will sing and chant the songs of India
Land of Tagore by shouting his name
Rabitranathe Tagore! Sing for me
The ways of the Indian baby
Your Indian voice is mellifluous like the
Zulu ****** dances Song in full watch
Of King Mswati with dint of libido.

I will sing the songs of revolution
From Bolivia and Chile, neighbours
Of Mexico and Brazil; Brazil in which
Pablo Neruda the dog burrier is a religion
In which was born Paul Freire who forgot
To sing for the world chants and the songs
Of pedagogy of the dystopian poet
Pedagogy of the utopian thespian
Pedagogy of the dystopian bourgeoisie
Pedagogy of the cacotopian capitalist
And pedagogy of the utopian Marxists
Who are mealy mouthied with mutton in  between their ears
Manufacturing and venting dystopian phantasmagoria
I will sing.

Poetry is the river Nile of Africa
Cradling from Uganda at Entebbe
Flowing to Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea
Leaving the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the cradle
Chanting the pearls of the satyagra
That; in God there is truth and
In truth there is God,
As poetry of Nile flows upwards
Not carrying only poems of love
Or bourgeoisie cosmetic Haikus
Singing carols of summer and Christmas day
But its poetic fluvial is washing away
The heavy social **** of Globalectics
Fearing Pushkin and his love
Shakespeare and his **** of Lucrece
Vladimir Mayakovski and
His slap in the face of public taste,
Schiller and his Cassandra
Master Homer and his Odysseus Iliad
Mocking in an ugly  snook
The Albatross book of the English verse
In tune with Yeats and Rudyard Kipling
Reversing the stanzas to sing of
The world as the Whiteman’s burden.

I will sing everyman and his *****
Every woman and her *******
Every ****** and her flower
I will sing them all and their names
And duties of roles pertinent
In healing the world, abode of mankind
From the impish Mr. Hide of cacotopian streak
To pave way for the saintly Dr. Jekyll
To lull man to sleep in his Cinderella
Of social utopia
As Robert Louis Stevenson
Holds the world a stage
Of dystopia.



Thank you for your audience!
Lora Lee Apr 2017
if ever there were
gods or goddesses of desert
of the drylands
of parched earth some call home
they would be surprised to learn
                     of the miracle of
                           this Spring deluge
                                unfurling forth                
                            from deep within  
                        the crusty dermis
          of this sublunar territory:
          hydrangea and ***** apple flower,
          intermingling their hues
          of mauve and lilacs,
                              as well as the color of sky
                               blooms of the succulents
                    popping open
                    in celebratory dance
                                   in wild fuschia
                                sunray butter:
a dazzling botanic trance
          hollyhocks of magenta,
           veils of bougainvellia, too
                    sweetpea clusters
             curling in the trellis
weaving heavy-scented magic
through and through
a private orchard of lemon tree, and apple
olive and pistachio grove
One would not guess
the endless giving
of this desert treasure trove

And I feel like a goddess
              of mythology softly spun
like Demeter, or Ceres
ancient Egyptian Renenutet
my hands spread out
in the licks of gentle sun
for as spring pours forth its honey
all through this barren land
I , too reawake
and flush out all the infected,
dust-scratched sand
I welcome in
the waters of abundance,
of love, of light under stars
let new energy wash out
old poisons
my radiance spilling far
Reaching out unto the Universe,
cradling this heart
         I cup the buds of blooms,
                                      of nectar
to inseminate my dark
       allowing me
to release the past
and seed within me, lit
         the atoms
of  new
               start
unfolding bit
by tender
bit
Published in the online literary magazine The Blue Nib www.thebluenib.com

This was inspired by the NaPoWriMo 2017 prompt for Day 22 (today) , which was to write a Georgic poem, or a poem having to do with agriculture. I had never seen one and so checked the source: Virgil's Georgics. Quite fascinating, but here is my version! :)

I suppose this could also be a celebration of the Earth and its beauty! #npmearthday

And of course, musical accompaniment that helped me along:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_FIwLoIHBY
the river flows as
living memory

the birds of the
Nile are its
knowing eyes

fly catchers
ply the rich
delta
probing
sediments
of sand
washed
from
distant
Nubian
mountains
eons
ago

layers of
recollection
go fathoms
deep

shrieking
gulls
plumb the
mud flats
with heroic
persistence
as they did
when the
first rafts
drifted out
of the
Great Rift
ferrying
civilizations
forebears
to the
opening chapters
of world history

the first
seafarers
competed with
greedy spoonbills
to navigate
porous
papyrus
crafts
through
the narrow
channels
of the
Damietta,
transporting
ideas, skills
and goods
to build an
emerging
world

mallards
troll the
same
gentile
eddies that
goaded the
Mother of
All Waters
to float the
basket cradling
Yahweh’s
infant prophet
Musa, into the
loving arms
of Bithiah
who nurtured
the vanquisher
of Osiris’
galleries of
Gods

a litany
of conquests
rolled on the
silver waves
of this river

conquerors
maneuvered
the truculent
currents
like sharp
eyed hawks
skimming the
pliant waters
with well
extended
razor quick
talons
picking the
Nile’s bounty
clean

this fertile
delta remembers
more than
6,000 seasons
of harvests

the
cycles of time
has produced
seasons of plenteous
abundance and
desperate privation
all cleverly exploited
by generations of
fearless herons
who wrangled
the demons
of hardship
to route the
dread of hunger
expelling despair
from the Egyptian
DNA, etching
a new hieroglyph
of freedom onto
survivors hearts

the Niles
sorrows
and glories
perpetually
wash this
magnanimous
delta
surely as
the gentle
wakes
of feluccas
continue
to lap its
shore

the marshes
have not withered

the verdant
reeds prosper

flamingos find
the water
rich in fish

in due
season
the red
lotus will
paint
the arcuate
alluvial
fans in
scarlet
autumnal
hues

In the
Valley of
the Kings
the shadows
of migratory
flocks mark
the foundation
stones of the
pyramids
as they did
when slaves
pushed them
into place

the eternal
lines of
pharaohs
rule has fallen,
their gods
imprisoned
in hieroglyphs
adorning their
royal tombs
on display
in the worlds
museums

the weathered
pyramids continue
to crumble

the face of
the sphinx
withers away

torrents of
blood flowed
in this rivers
currents, now
strained clear
by the reeds
anchoring
its banks

the fleeting
rule of regimes
are pictured
as momentary
reflections
skimming along
the ripppling
water; the
rise and fall
of rulers is
captured like
the shifting hues
sunrises and
sunsets bespeak
upon the waters

the ascending
waves of
the Sacred Ibis
dance atop
the Nile’s gray
waters; the
river jumps
to life as the
graceful wings
take flight
to foreign
destinations;
expecting
to return
again as
the cycles
of seasons
round once
more

as the Nile flows
its memory deepens
the eyes of the birds
watch and remember


Music Selection:
Gary Bartz, I've Known Rivers

Oakland
3/31/12
jbm
Discoboli of African poetry has now sparked above aphasia
The aphasic silence today breaks eardrums with cacophony
Of the world audience in the by standing duty of workshop tubes,
Executing poetic experiment on the origin of **** poeticus
To link the archaic baboonish proteins to the black chimpanzee
Cradling African man, the sire of all and their poetry.

That when the Chimpanzee blood we poured
Into the African veins of vena cava and aorta,
Feeding the heart with viscosity of nutrition,
And the Chimpanzee blood fell into deadly
Tomperousness like Shakespearean impetuosity
Once seen in Romeo and Juliet, giving timely Birth
To untimely half the yellow Sun
That juxtaposed planet of poetry
Behind the star of tribe as a priority
Condemning to stark oblivion all the fated,
in full uniform of tribal dimunitions, or mimesis.

Ever predated on when tribes form nations.
A time to try the chimpanzee blood in the veins
Of white humanity, battling cynosure
Historically evinced in Antony and his father,
Or Tybalt and Mercurial of mercutio,
Or Macbeth and counterparts
Or Hamlet the Danish and the inheritors of his mother,
As the white blood cells of the white blood,
Militantly attack the white corpuscles
Of the misfortunate chimpanzee,
Converting the later into
A chewer of misfortune.
Dennis McHale May 2017
She spent half of her life
wearing the same pair of shoes.

When she first saw them, they were dazzling…
full of promise (and promises!)
Tightly laced and polished,
glistening like diamonds upon her feet.

They were immediately comfortable, and comforting.

At first, she walked through dark night forests
and midnight-winding streets; breaking them in,
smiling at the melody of new leather creaking
in harmony with the violin-sawing of cricket wings,
with the ruffling of the night owls feathers.

She dared to share her dreams, and danced in her new shoes
with abandon and trust and hope.

The shoes spoke to her of wondrous things to come…
making promises shoes should not make
but new love demands –

of forever cradling her feet against sharpened stones;
of warming her toes through winter’s storms;
of lifting her heals in rapturous dance…

She fell in love with these shoes,
flooded with dreams of where they might carry her.
Each morning, she slipped them on with tenderness and love;
each night, un-laced, she fell asleep clutching them to her breast…

…whispering sweet hallelujahs
for all the miles they had shared,
and would in all their ahead days walk,
promising – until death do us part!

She loved her shoes with complete abandon
and imagined they would always be as comfortable
as the day she first placed them upon her trusting feet-

each day praying these shoes would always love her in return;
with tenderness, truth, and above all else, never hurting her.

But the years went by, and those beautiful shoes began to wear.
With time, they lost their gloss, and the leather cracked and hardened.
She noticed, one morning, a tiny droplet of blood upon her sock;
Later, a small cut upon her heel, a new pain within her heart.

Yet still, devoted, she continued to wear them
though at night she began setting them beside her bed.

In the final year, she wept looking at these shoes;
they were now ugly shoes, painful shoes.

“These shoes,” she tearfully whispered,
“will never carry me to where I need to go.”

She could tell in others eyes that they
were glad these were her shoes and not theirs.
They never talked about her shoes.
They looked away in embarrassed empathy.
To learn how awful her shoes were might make them
… uncomfortable.

To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them.
But, once you put them on, you can never take them off.

She began, for the first time, to hate her shoes;
with guilt at first, then with an increasing passion
until one day an awareness swept through her thoughts:

“I deserve a better pair of shoes.”

She looked around, and for the first time understood
that she was not the only one who wore those shoes.

“There are many pairs in this world,” she thought.
I can either learn how to walk in them, timidly,
so they don’t hurt quite as much…

“Or I can throw them away.”

And she began to plan.

“No woman deserves to wear these shoes,” she cried.
So for the final few months, she gathered her courage
…..to throw them away.

Ironically, it was these shoes
that had made her a stronger woman.
These shoes had given her the strength to face anything.

They helped make her who she now was.

One day, she slipped them on a final time
feeling the worn leather against her savaged foot;
then, flooded with the intensity of love one can only feel
knowing love is forever lost…she kissed the shoe goodbye.

When the time was right, she took her shoes to a secluded ravine
kissed them, and tossed them…like an old pair of shoes,
into an abyss.

The shoes lay there broken, tattered, worn and useless.
The shoes could not speak of the love they held for the woman
For its tongue was torn.
Left to decay with nothing but the scent of the woman’s
tender hands scenting its laces, slowly fading.

As soon as the shoes were disposed of
she went barefoot into tomorrow, pain-free
and dancing and singing:

“I will forever walk the bare feet
of a woman who has lost her shoes!”

But in exactly one year, she slipped on another pair,
happy and in love again, dancing and laughing once more...

hoping against hope, forgetting old shoes,
willing with all her heart for this shiny new pair to carry her home.
This was in response to the finalization of my divorce from the love of my life of 18 years, and more relevantly, to her announcement that she has met someone else.  Sometimes, what we can't process otherwise, we write.
Susan O'Reilly May 2013
Cradling her newborn in her arms
resisting his obvious charms
hesitantly approaching the steps
taking a long, deep, breath

Whispering a prayer
“God give me strength”
placing her son on the ground
he not uttering a sound

Then his body shakes convulsively
she knows her addiction is his
she knocks on the door and runs
not stopping to see who answers

Scouring the news next day
headlines resonating within
they’ve called him ‘Billy’
to her he’ll always be Paul

There weaning him of the stuff
and looking for his mum
that will never be her
she’s done the right thing

Thinking of his brilliant future
makes her heart sing
Mateuš Conrad Jul 2018
and i remember going out in london,
seeking bloc party, and a fan-b -
or *****... or sycophancy in practice...
snogging a finnish girl
who did the shadow work for the white
stripes, donning a eisernes kreuz
t-shirt, feeling like: well...
this could work... but it didn't...
ended up in upper-side of what was,
what is, what if of london...
cradling an ex-girlfriend on a bean
bag,
while our hosts did *******
below us...
     and i can only remedy myself,
now, with the memory,
  as vivid as a holocaust denier...
    shaking...
              petrified shaking,
but wholly imbedded by a trust...
              she wasn't something akin
to a size-difference fetish of
   a reverted teddy-bear / pillow,
in my arms...
   standing an astouding 6ft...
                        indian and trans-irish
roots...
                 (one antidote to identity
politico? **** it... spice it up
with terms like afro-saxons)...
                               her shaking...

semi-epileptic,
   but what a sensation, lodged into
a mind that has become purely
memoria cameo theatre...
what am i getting at?

ah!

    the slack boys get playing video games...
hell, i play video games while taking
a ****, on the throne of thrones,
but when i'm mobile?
closed eyes, sitting on a folded leg
on a window-sill,
   eyes, closed, ears armed with
a thumping sound akin to static-x,
"watching" a moo-v...
                did i eat any beef before
the mad cow disease broke down
the blind train of journalism?
    so... i have aspects of a mad cow
disease in me?!
             be and only be:
a relentless *******...

  but boys getting the slack for their
cognitive geography...
            
     but...

    a girl obsessing disney movies,
with her critique?
     apparently the world of boys
isn't colourful enough,
   or: too grey...
              well... we have the noir range...
but before that blossoms,
it's taken down, and has a psychiatric
institution impose its...

wait... **** addiction?
   ever try to alleviate that sort of addiction
by, actually buying a ***** mag.,
from a shop, and not even blushing?
there are alternatives to psychiatry -
i think the slur comes along
the rubric of:            wh     o      r        e:
oh... that fading french hark
within the straitjacket of for...

               huh? not a fork...
               boys are stupid for playing
video games,
  but girls are a o.k. doing disney cartoon
critiques...
    or that story of assorting a pyramid
but not an extending rectangle hierarchy...
        
boys stop playing video games,
girls stop having a fetish for idealistic
cartoons...
                  fair enough?

oh i'm ******...
                   because how can you
grind the one, but not observe the other?
cartoon movies
are video games what
girl is to boy:
                    replica -
                                counter-mimic.

yet... i can still only remember her
shaking body, left, in the *****
of my embrace...
        like i might love a ***** star...
with... the coincidence of:
not allowing a knowledge of
a past...

               it's not that ignorance
is bliss... certain types of ignorance...
simply do not hurt...

                and we woke up in the top
floor (there were only two to begin with)
of the werehouse,
   and with the sunrise, we parted...

she having children, i having the burden
of too many poems -
             the irrational reality of
inverted claustrophobia continually
****** a blank white pixel space
         with my maggoty wordings...
                  
a ***** addiction?
1. go into a shop and buy a mag.
2. watch videos of girls *******
3. watch videos of girls
     giving critique of YA novels
4. **** a lemon in the morning
   after a night of drinking?
5. consider the implanted
  impetus within the confines
of a circumcision?
Mary Ann Osgood Apr 2010
You told me I was **** when you touched me
on my chest and stomach,
but I am sure that I wasn’t **** at all.

I have memories of you
cradling me like a lion with his cubs,
except there was nothing paternal
to your touch or words,
and I felt no safety when I was
in your bed.
Not even when you told me not to worry,
not even when I came to you
to escape my nightmares.

You didn’t seem to understand
that you simply led me into new,
scarier ones.
WoodsWanderer Aug 2016
Life
Snapshot moment
Love, laughter
Hidden whisky shots under silent
stars
Bare foot dancing on piano notes
cascading down from the roaring
sky
eyes, capturing mine in a rosy glow
of friendship, hardwood cool
against bare theighs
Fingers strong, firm, warm around mine
on my side, my leg, pulling warmth to the surface of cool skin
skin, knuckles grazing ribs
teeth nipping gently
quietly as she continued to talk
your kisses on my knuckles
soft, teasing tongue
Body heat pulsing under
bursting stars comets falling
into your eyes
leaning over me, pinning me
almost kissing me
cradling chin, cradling face, cradling body, cradling soul
Your heat, your lips soft
hair, fingers tangled in kitten hair
that brushes my lips, my lips
against neck
I couldn't help
my searching mouth, whispers confessions, want, desire, adventure, freedom, laughter
Life.
Butch Decatoria Dec 2019
I am she
Who compliments & completes
The dream-lover and wishes
Made when he is asleep.
I am she

Who suffers the most,
Giving birth, cradling ghosts,
As the crone or maid,
(Once and always)
Sister, mother, daughter, wife.

I am she
Who waits through the night.
I am she
Who equals the strength
Of his light.

"See me with your loving eyes,
See me more than the tears I've cried!"

I am she
Who is willing
To go with him to war,
Not a man but as an equal,
(I'm both soft yet hard)
I am she
To whom he'll give his heart
I am the tunnel's bright end
I am where
The family starts,
The breast which nurse small men.

I am she
The twin,
The Juliet,
The Goddess divine!
I am she
Who deserves the same
in life, and for all time.
(Peace be…)
I am she
I am you
I am her
I am the one besides
And inside
She is I…
The romance in the dress,
Patient Partner to the ends,
Tiny dancer on the floor
I am
The one that loves you
Forever &
Evermore.
Revised final edit.
Rondu McPhee Aug 2010
I look out the window--an endless sky. The clouds are like nothing else--bold explosions and everywhere in the sky, infinite, above and still in time and space--Madness and Horror are said to have their own faces and names. Can't Beauty? Beauty has its own life--not a distinctive face, not a concrete identity--Beauty is breathing, standing, growing above us--the Clouds. I know that it's a bit foggy, I know what is actual is only actual for the one time and standing moment that it is there--maybe the Clouds move, travel, fade--but they never leave us. They're long, still and colossal enough to be viewed, admired, stricken, crushed beneath. I'm on a bus, travelling through San Francisco--a mystery on its own, mad like a spiral or giant--one with a heart and soul that is difficult to pinpoint and seemingly jolting, constantly moving throughout--down streets, through alleys, intensifying in the dazzling Golden Gate Bridge and boundary-less San Francisco Bay--a testament Olympian and profoundly simple, such a straightforward bridge with so many possibilities and tragedies. It's my destination, too.

I go to the Podesta Baldocchi--a flower shop, quaint, small, almost non-existent in the vertigo of San Francisco, but immortalized in another Vertigo--and inspiring search and enigma on its own--the vision of James Stewart chasing hills, corners, all the trails and paths for Beauty--a Beauty with two feet, a name, experiences--Beauty named Kim Novak. He follows Her, from the shores to the grave--She, praying at a cemetery, a faded figure in grief, He, watching obsessively like a predator--He finds Her on the cold shores, of the endless, alien seas--along the Golden Gate Bridge--on the verge of jumping. He saves Her, a metamorphosis of prey and personal freedom is triggered.

That's one of the many beautiful passages of Vertigo that I remember--passion, memory, disappearance, insanity, aggression. "Here I was born, and here I died", says the woman, named Madeline--a fatal, empowering woman of Beauty and melancholy, complex and deceiving. Chris Marker saw this too--a reservoir of thought from his Sans Soleil--the movie, the moment in time where memory and the Great Enigmas had finally been touched by skin and light. February, 1983.

Memory works that way.

That is one of the things I love most; memory. Memory is fading and escaping from me. I look down at my wrinkled hands--grief and nothing else--losing myself. I step onto the cliff where Madeline, where Grace stood. The sea is a rapture. Endless, everywhere, surrounding me from all corners--dozens of people have taken their life here. They jump from the bridge, they slip into the water and drown. Their entire breakdown and loneliness and humanity is silenced and stated in a small slip into the bay, or a thin, white splash--a miniature, but Greater Fall--beneath the bridge in all its magnificence and profundity, beneath the clouds, a silent act of Tragedy and Horror with a face, surrounded and drowned in Beauty and Rapture--breathtaking and cruel.

I am tired and lifeless. I can't stand it. I remember all the beaches, skies, nights, visions of the sun and daughters I've seen in my life, all the smiles I've faked, breaths I took--I hadn't thought of this until the nineties or so, in my wrinkled, tired years. I was remembering Marie--my only girlfriend and wife one I had met in the 40's--compassionate, dangerous, magnificent she was, like Madeline. Perfection and grace and danger. I had grown, loved, lived, watched everything and took every step with her--before she had died in 1989. She was my only care, my only love. I couldn't grip myself then. I hear my parents speaking, my mum and dad--dead now--my children, beautiful things--I couldn't keep them. I couldn't. I couldn't, their eyes porcelain--I went insane over all of it, a time to foggy to look back on. Time is the same stretch, place is the same and distilled--but memory is everywhere--one thing I love and can't stand.

And now I am here. The beauty is pastoral, distant, glowing and also deadly--like cloudy figures of steel and glass, concrete with fountains and blood in the shape of landscapes and towers--branches, cold, in a lonely place, fading from truth and Truth, identity and Greater Life--a thousand misty passions and poses stretched and scattered. I'm hopeless, I'm lonely, I'm cold. I'm wary, tired, confused with nothing left in me. I'm leaving, Reconciling beneath, below, and everywhere around Beauty.

I understand any doubts. I cannot take my nerves or my senses. They've failed, broken down on me--I've lost myself, very permanently this time.

I fall. I see nothing, feel everything crushing, me lying in the crystal bay--it fades. I can't see. I can't speak--I can't love, embrace, understand--I open my eyes, dizzy and faded, in a house, a rather cluttered, yet homely one. I believe I am small, looking up to my great pale towering mother, breats and lips and glowing limpid eyes... a fireplace, some warmth, some haze and some tears of joy. It is falling apart, where I am, but it is of embracing memory. I'm being looked and smiled at. I don't know where this is.

I close my eyes, I stand and open them seven years later. Cold water at my feet and sand--I look around to see a beach, stretched infinitely--past boundaries or understanding. The sea is dizzying. I look up to see that Beauty--still standing, moving across and thinning--that Beauty is sunless. Nothing but Clouds--an illusion, foggy and slippery of sorts--impossible and unbearable to experience. I stumble.

I look up, and there's now a ceiling--tall, blazing gold, marmalade and kaleidoscope--everything is blurring and melting. I'm in a hallway, with parents--a father and mother, loving, caring and safe; the only thing in front of me is a painting, swirled and swerved shore to thunder and graceful and passionate so distant--Holy, Andalusian girls from a Utamaro madman; thinly, finely lined, velvet in color and delicacy, colliding and cracked in shape, memory or sense. The painting falls, crashes, and the ceiling falls and opens to voices and laughs. I stumble, tremble, get knocked staggering, look down the hallway. It's crashing to black--I stumble to anyone; my father, the mad size of him, I rush and cling still around his arms--a shadow--then his terrible branches rising, fading, and everywhere--complete pitch black--coming for me? Far and off and a way a place cold and a lone in the Fall long and thundering--rippled--moving--then white--then clearly.

My next vision I can comprehend without running terrified is in Japan. It's 1964, I am 25. A television set, murky like playing out my dazed oxygen-starved hallucinatory real-fake mindbursting memories. Headlines, people, looking down at me. I can feel my knees again, and my heart. It's the Year of the Dragon, I'm nervous uncontrollably. Night after night, each one passing by as I blink, walking, everything changing, changing from me, I can feel. Or maybe I can't. I keep my eyes open, and don't lose my breath, hiding in rooms and feeling and apart torn so vast. I look at my surroundings--I don't know where I am--I think in my last passage? passed on through a thousand miles and faces and every conscious and spirit. My last one. I can't hide, though. I'm dying, my last breath and vision being me fading through time--such a quick thing--spinning and burying the Earth As I Have Watched It Through The Years in snow and rain and static and the Dead--I can only stare at the streets. I'm with my girlfriend Marie, it's November 28th, 1975.

She says to me, "What's wrong? You're on the balcony alone. You've been there for hours."

Marie, hold on tight, please. I'm lonely, terrified, frightened--I made a mistake, life is coming and going with all radiance and fleeting and darkness and closing doors. I've witnessed my birthday from another room. I've thought of my life again. I've seen it, distorted, everywhere, in colors and in heaps of broken fragments, images and ruins. I need your help--

"Nothing, just enjoying the city. It's beautiful," I say. It's nightfall, blinding rain, in Paris. That's where we spent our vacation, me and Marie. I love her; she'll be gone the next morning.

Then I go back. Different times, warm times, times like beauty and solid, everything going racing and wayward that I can't see a color and then white then eyes pale and hyacinths all over the place--I see Marie in the distance, oh Yes like poised like drips like canvas all around surround floating laying, kissing me, the Day I'd wrapped gently around her now I can see it like a reflection, and O I can't take it--that very last look, her face vivid--and I can't look back and I can't look down or up--just her face, lovely, wrapping more and Closer and oh Yes all around me and my mouth is going insane so tired and limpid losing words and tract and

And I can see you so lovely so gracefully and yes I will kiss you and gently cradling and your skin like rose and blossoms with the smooth touch from an Eve in flesh shrouded red and raw and when I feel anything else running through my veins like clockwork oh Yes it blazes all lovely like a reflection and the last lonely place left to fade to is only the Clouds and Sea and oh yes with all the magic of the Rite of Spring and the fogs and streaks of August O but then now I see I see O Lord I see the one-thousand-one dead poses and faces like this marie not the one I know but her Beauty erased a lying a loft a living Girl a shape a branch and yet still loving in her stone face-without-a-face so Anonymous so Kiss Me Deadly leave me taking me sprawling around me creeping crouching touching growing up my skin and veins and conscious watching all the artifice leave me and all colors and thought coming up lashing melting seething roiling yes oh yes just like a reverie like genuine insanity haunting and boiling like sweet crazed Narcissus in all the Moorish vines so thorny so lost so complicated and savage rose gardens is all one can see like solid waves--in the distance, the bold-coifed Wooden Duke, the blue Queen, away from the warped, whirling war scape outside and cold and I'm taken back a bit now bundled away from all the rows and thorny laces of buildings among buildings way in the distance out the window like crooked Van Gogh details and the noir jagged edges and tete-a-tete feeling of Life and Hope that the neons floating down streets give you when all seeping and spraying in your eyes and O the tangled webs and thorns and spiders of the panes and glass and shards and sharp'n'smooth curls and spiraling rings of it all and O the strewn of flesh like insect and myth and negative space and city all coated and sprawled I'm going to explode and I look up to see every bit of sand, waves, bold lines and streaks above and beyond me, all those curves and rods very dizzying and all beating and throbbing like mad and my vision went like some frothing beast held and dissected under light and shape oh Yes I say and I tell you while being dragged through all the Andalusian flowers and raindrops beside and above me and the Universe and the Love that could've been it's all above me too like a rose growing and blossoming with all the melting grace of a Holy girl oh Yes I say and state as clear again so rapturously like a living poem and as I leave everyone and leave this illusion I can sigh and pause and oh my goodness it's all spinning and apart and transcendent like the first Clouds and Grace above a monochromatic world--a speck--Nothing in its embrace--I stop, gaze with the recollection of every gesture of love and love's death in my life--I'm somewhere, everywhere, from the cosmos to the sea--and the ****** comes before me--Marie, Marie--and I burst and split like dust--she speaks to me. She listens, she hears, the only thing, milky, porcelain eyes and skin like nothing else--I ask her where I am. She opens her mouth, bestridden and humbled like a shadow or a monument. Glowing like birth, she told me--solemn, silent, fuzzy--she told me that I'm dying. "Life is slipping--all of you, your raw hands, your face, your memory--everything is slipping, gently. You're being erased from the world, experienced, dismaying--you're far from it."

I asked, "Where?"

She stared, bled, disappeared into thin air and continued, "I always get lost, thinking or looking into the sea or sky. Infinite, lovely. It never ends. Never, ever ends. I look at it and cannot help but forget about every bit of land, forget any shore, stone, or war, or the clearest whisper--because it fades away from me, so clearly, and I can't help but stare down the endless waves and curls, because they go on forever. They're everything. They're all mist and unbearable, simple and Everything--I think you're at the end of Everything."

My last Beauty.
Robert C Howard Aug 2013
Shall we pause to consider
the shudder of a butterfly's wings
that sets the hurricane spinning
or the descent of the final raindrop
that breaches the groaning levy?

Shall we ponder the moment before
a chorus of "maybe's" morphs
into the vain eloquence of history?

Roiling in the broth of chaos
a cluster of causes startles the surface -
unfurling a queue of effects
that dot the timescape
like rows of teetering dominoes.

Typhoons twist villages to ruins,
armies rise to victory or
succumb to the despair of defeat,
or a medical miracle is born
from the agile mind of a doctor
conceived in a Chevy's back seat.

So here we stand on the ridge of time
ourselves both caused and causing,
cradling the sphere of chaos in our hands -
uncertain what effect will be our being
after all our causes are enumerated.

Time will surely tell - as soon
as we tell time exactly what to say.

*August, 2013
Included in Unity Tree, published by Create Space available from Amazon.com in both book and Kindle formats.
David Barr Nov 2013
Are acceptance and approval synonymous terms? It is important that we give adequate definition to that which blocks our winding garden path, where foxgloves, lupins and a multitude of botanical dreams can blossom into a gorgeous array of ****** captivation.
If we embrace that which is repugnant, then possibility may not be confined to the cradling arms of the mistress of death.
So, my judgmental and moralistic companion from the sands of Jupiter – if your daughter is a raunchy stripper, then keep your expectations on the leash and preserve your anthropological connectedness, otherwise you may veer into prickly thorns of certain detriment and thereby lose her attachments.
It is incumbent upon us to nourish those fragrant plantations with a careful approach, so that beautiful reproductions will abound in a bouquet of resolution.
ryn Jan 2016
If I am kindling,
you must be the spark...
Much alive in the darkest dark,
lifting all shadows with
finesse and flair.

     If I am flame,
     you must be the air and wind...
     Unfettered and free...
     Cradling my infancy.
     Only to nurture and inspire,
     to groom flame to fire.

If I am faltering...
And almost extinguished,
you must be the hand...
Bearing the confidence and belief...
Awaiting the moment most opportune,
to align yourself in rhythm and tune.
So we could...
Continue to
burst forth into light.
So we could...
Resume our journey forth with might.

     Let us be our own deterrent
     from the darkness
     that comes with morrow's set.
     Hand in hand, we must...
     Because together...
          And only together,

   we're...

                        incandescent.
Happy New Year to all!
The Wicca Man Sep 2012
When first I saw you,
you were lying on a green bank laughing at the sky
as you watched the clouds scud by
and you saw all kinds of shapes in those clouds
and gasped in awe as the myriad of birds
soared and wheeled through the clouds.

Your laugh skipped across the distance between us
like magical notes from a faery harp.
The sunlight lit up your golden hair
making diamonds out of the shafts of sunlight
as you turned your head to and fro
making the sunbeams dance to your tune.

And about your head was a halo of white lilies …

When next I saw you
you were hand in hand with your love
walking into the sunlight from the grey stone church.
Your brocade of white entwined with golden thread
sparkled like a million gems.
Your face was bright and alive with smiling eyes
and your golden hair fell down around your face
catching the sunbeams.
And ringing out their joy, the church bells pealed for you.

And in your hand was a bouquet of white lilies …

I saw you again
on that same green bank laughing with joy
as your golden child frolicked in the warm summer sun,
her childish laugh mingling with your own in angelic harmony.
You grasped her up and, wheeling her skyward,
faces upturned, letting the sunbeams play around you
and then, holding her close, you sank to your knees
cradling the babe, letting the love flow out and around you both.

And in the child’s small hand was grasped a single white lily …

The next time I saw you
you were quietly sitting in the late summer sun
comfortable in your chair watching the golden sun flame red
as it sank below the distant horizon.
Your golden hair now not so vibrant
and your face etched with the many years of your long life
yet when you smiled at the glory of the setting sun, the sparkle of your eyes
was not dimmed at all.

And around your feet grew a field of white lilies …

The last time I saw you
I gave you my hand and, with fingers entwined,
we walked away from the sombre crowd whose tears flowed like pearls
as the stark white coffin was lowered into the ground.
And looking into your face I saw you again
as you were that first time,
your golden hair that fell as rivulets
around your now pale, sad face.
I took that face in my hands and gently kissed your lips,
no more than a whisper, like a gentle spring breeze teasing the blossoms.
Still hand in hand, we looked back at the sad scene and then turned and walked into the light.

And all about your grave lay white lilies.
Warren Gossett Sep 2011
It's deep night, damp and sticky with the
residue of southern heat which refuses to
totally dissipate this far into the night.

The night is thick with the voices of insects
and sleepers sweating atop their sheets,
committing sins in their vivid imaginings.

Dreaming, I'm standing by the wide river
wishing I could fly with the breeze through
the trees, the soft, warm, cradling breeze

that comes up from the Mississippi River.
It stirs the boughs of cypress and oak trees
and arouses a wind chime's music somewhere

down the dimly-lit street, while scattering
a newspaper like huge leaves; a wind that smells
of magnolia and dogwood blossoms and

river mud. A full moon casts long shadows
which melt into even darker, yet benign
shadows. The night has compiled its secrets,

mysteries, transgressions; surely that is the
charm of night - it frees the mind to settle not
on what seemed important during the day,

but on the longings kept locked away, hidden
from the disclosing light, struggling to break
free and take wing with this night wind.

--
Don Bouchard Sep 2013
We didn't have the pleasure of first meeting:
The get-to-know you touch of tiny hands,
The careful cradling,
The inhalation of all scents new,
The wonder of a being so tiny,
To see if we could find ourselves in you.

Never knew your sleepy sigh,
Your first smile,
The different infant cries:
Hunger, anger, fear,
Or the fidget-whimpering need for words.

Your Mother knew and told your Dad....
They held each other while you grew,
Gathering and stretching,
A silent wonder in her womb,
A sweet surprise, and wanted,
If still a little early...
Too early yet...
Better to wait and make sure....
But always you were awaited
With hopeful joy.

And then one morning,
As though you'd found a better place,
You took your leave in silence,
Left without a face or name
For us to see and know you
When we finally meet.

You need to know we mourn you,
Or perhaps we need you to know...
Regret your passing.

Strange longing this,
For a loved one we have yet to meet,
To add someone to the growing list
Of those we miss and long to see
At Jesus' feet.

----------

But Jesus said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 19:14

Published 9/2/13
Kristo Frost Mar 2013
how could You know
as You are walking down the sidewalk
           around a corner       wherever You want
that the world is not assembling itself
atom by sticky atom
from the blueprints
piled in piles (like so many piles of newspaper)
in (the rooms in) the back rooms of Your mind
particles rushing and streaming, fluttering
together with the ebb of Your consciousness?
-
the World blurs fuzzily into shape
before snapping
(snappily)
into focus

just as You enter the room
blending pixilated reality smoothly
into an orchestrated Existence
-
the next time You      reach
for the doorknob on
the door to
the waiting room
-
give
pause
listen            
carefully
-
can’t You hear the anxious atoms
           scraping
sliding
           shoving past each other?
-
they                jockey
       jumping into
the eye of
       the image of
the woman on
       the screen of
the television in
       the corner of
the ceiling where
       it hangs
-
she wants to know
why we divide
Them              from Us
-
so clearly
so readily
-
she wants to know
why our countries
are bordered
-
by an indifference to equality
by a contempt for disillusionment
-
A dispute broke out between two
atoms on the table this morning;
a tiny china teapot was broken.
-
how would You know?
people are no more
then elaborate pieces of Your own mind
now once You hang up the phone
e v a p o r a t e d  
                        into no more than
                                           an afterthought
                                                    ­     of empty space
                                                           ­         -
                                             the smell of burnt matches
                             -                                      -
                You think that
everything You imagine is beautiful
                    even death
                             -
               but in an ugly way
-                            -
the man on the
                                edge
of the third chair
from the door
has no face
(none of Them do)
all of Them don’t
(have faces)
-
until They speak or You look Them in the eye
-
until They do something       Wrong
which is why They look                  down
when They walk down the sidewalk
-
They are afraid
-
to live
  as a tree
    in the park
-
where a pillar of
angry
           energy
                       falling
failing
           the
                       pessimistic
sky
might strike
Them
(older than You
yet born
just this moment)
making the ground
around
Them steam
with the sweat
of a silent room
waiting
for the
            door to
                        swing open
                                      and tell
                                                   him
                             -               -
                she’s going to be all right
              it was close there for a while
                        but she’s strong
                      she pulled through
                                      -
                              in the end
-                                     -
the pressure
of the years
of the rings
(which promise to
grow tighter
as time leaves us)
is heated
squeezed
left sitting in
flesh
turned to char
ash and smoke gently
cradling a tiny newborn
diamond
-
perfect           (silence)
-
broken
down the middle-
                      aged
                             flawed
-                                -
You should be perfect by now
You should have a face by now
-
speak           look Yourself in the eye
-
see Your own          Face
stop looking                down
when You walk down the sidewalk
-
don’t be afraid
-
to live
  as a tree
    in the park
-          -
They say don’t talk             to strangers
and You’re a strange one            indeed
how can You see the glamour
where Others            cannot
see that laughing quietly to themselves
can (You) set the expressions on their faces
to joy
     to pain
           to fear
                to apathy
                     to peace?
                              -
              yeah, she likes him
                and she likes him
                        to know
               that she likes him
                              -
                      in the end
-                             -
she wants to know
why our countries
are bordered
-
to keep Them      out
and Us       in
-                                   -
           this is Mine                  and that is Yours
-                                   -
You see
what You want to see (without)
-
(knowing what You want)
the sticker
       on the bumper
              of the car
                     rolling past reads:
                           “jesus is coming,
                                  hide the ****”
-                                          -
in its green lettering
and its largely silent voice
-
if You listen             carefully
You can almost hear Them
-                  -
              giggling
                ­   -                       -
              please do not think about green elephants
-                                          -
(a student just snuck in
and sat down as
the professor was writing
on the board)
-                                       -
             please do not feed the green elephants
-                                       -
I
Myself
have a strong suspicion
that Your mind is
as You read this
(hidden in a carefully cupped notebook)
spilling
black ink particles into
existence
on the very next          page
-                              -
             ­       You write that
You imagine everything is beautiful
                    except for death
                                 -
                   it is an ugly thing
                                    -
               yet still the chisel gouges
                  -               -
  “i whistle a catcall
at my blushing bride”
      llac ot eltsihw i”
  “edis ym ot god ym
                  -        -
        through the crumbling protests
         of the reluctant stone
                               -    -
                     ­               each new line
                                    tampers with space
                                    holds suspect time
                                    postpones the end
                                    and evades death
-                                  -
You breathe
               You write
You sing
                You live
                       -
You casually craft causality
         -             -
         yet craft on
         surely You are not yet done
         You may never be
         at this rate but
         but
         STOP
-        -
the World reblurs then blows away
listen closely here I say
all things must come to end one day
-                                       -
You
Yourself

have tasted the                     hunger
                        of Greed
seen the                                 wealth
                       of Hatred
heard the                               stories
          ­             of Genocide
felt the                                    loss
                     ­  of War
and smelled the                    decay
                       of Truth
-                      -
                      this        ­     is Mine
                                 what’s Mine, is Yours...
This poem was originally inspired by the Russell's Teapot analogy.
Ellen Joyce Mar 2014
The lesions sear like embers
glowing and growing into my insides
malignant and spreading; cancerous.
I claw at myself peeling back cells and layers
tearing through skin to yellowing fat and flesh
penetrating muscle and sinew and bone
tempting, daring my nerves to scream back at me.

The pain has been excruciating
I claw for its root, tearing deeper
hands bloodied and burning,
clamoring to the core of the cause
and tearing those parts from my form
and I'm cradling them tight to my breast
choking, croaking out mama's lullaby.
Breon May 2018
So, this is godhood. This is how it works.
It's dreaming up a world and killing it,
Abandoning the foibles and the quirks
Of crushed-together crumblings and bits,
Then sweeping out the wreckage with a curse
And carving out another fever dream.
It's wandering a mindscape universe
And sifting through the crop to find the cream
So you can save it while you burn the rest,
Just for the room to have another try.
The lovelies you've been cradling close to chest?
In time you'll cast them off to wilt and die
But for a while they're almost what you need.
Go raze the field and plant another seed.
The building of worlds grows more exhausting each time I give up.
Nik Krutilla Oct 2012
Creating
that fallacious intimacy
wrapped
arm around arm
with a nameless
body.
It's easy to get
temporary satisfaction
from it.

Even though
you're chilled
and hollow inside.

The want
of not being lonely
can be too strong.
Keeping up
the exhausting task
of costant contact.
Never really
developing
a bond deeper
than physical sedation
can tire out.

It will ash away
as soon as you move
an inch
in that position
which is holding
unstably present.
Distance
would be the ruiner
of that
shallow fantasy.

But...
to be hundreds
of miles and moments
away from someone.
To be
alone and removed
from the one
who you have
a real, unrelenting
connection with.
To know
you are singular
in that very moment
but not unsupported.

Having them
somewhere you're not,
holding onto your
spiritual thread.
To achieve real
intimate foundation
in knowing the body
doesn't have to tie you
together.
That's an ember that,
when set to breathe,
engulfs you both.

Understanding
and feeling comfort
that when surrounded
by faces
and being unknown to them
is alright.
Since
that person
who lingers in your mind
Is a whisper
off your lips
and is there
in that place you
left them.

They've penetrated inside
that fortress of caution
and self-preservation and
they get you.
They are there,
hidden
and carried with you.
With their hands
cradling and cherishing
your heart
like the treasure
it is.

The enormous responsibility.

To be
the keeper of
warmth and familiarity
and home.
Even though
being separated
from one another
you are reminded of what
exists between you.

By
concentrating and honing
in on the weight
which lives
there.
That love
and loyalty
and equal respected commitment
to take care of what
the other is given.
The total
vulnerable
surrender of
yourself.

That is something
worth wanting.
That is something
to daydream for.
That...
is what we all
crave.


*© NDHK
"The Ocean," she describes,
"Is unlike all else
A second, thriving world
Hidden in itself,

"A universe, an entity,
Stronger than most,
It can't be captured,
Confined, upon any one coast

"It's a playmate, a home,
A source of life,
A breathtaking beauty-
When seen from the side…

"But in the middle of its core
With no land in sight,
The Ocean is treacherous
Even when right

"At any one moment
In the calmest of seas,
A storm can arise
That brings you to your knees

"Tears, screams, fighting,
It won't turn the tides
The Sea churns its own way
Once you are inside

"You can't stop the waves from rolling,
No one can;
You can't cage the currents
Or hold them in your hand,

"The Ocean claims the lives
Of those that dare cross it
And should you look for land
You'll find you've had lost it

"It pulls you in mercilessly,
Cradling, and clawing,
A little of both
In each breath you are drawing,

"It's a life force, and death
The honesty of nature,
Hidden in every shell
Each reef, every fissure

"To be respected, and feared,
A power like no other,"
She looked at her hands,
And she started to shudder.

"Never to be controlled,
But will control us in turn,
The fury of water can scorch us,
Can burn…

"You're never the same,
After you swim,"
She took a breath from explaining,
Conflict, and turmoil, within.

"It's eighty percent of our world,
To some even more,
It gives us all life,
But commands even more

"The only force yet
To be tamed by man,
He doesn't understand
It's path over the sand

"The Ocean," she whispered,
"Is a terrible thing,
Beautiful, miraculous,
But a dangerous dream…

"No hostages, no quarter…
To withstand the journey,
You must have sheer will,
And be just enough crazy

"The Ocean," she said,
"Makes you feel small,
It's bigger than prejudice,
Than reason, than law

"The Ocean," she shivered,
"I only just found,
Is the only thing in this life
As equally profound…

"As love," she breathed,
"And here, as I sit,
Describing its powers,
Am I realizing it…

"So wild, so thrilling,
So dark, so beautiful,
So twisted, so intense,
So 'winner takes all',

"The Ocean is vast,
And as fickle as the heart
And once it catches you
It won't let you part

"Even if you want to…"
A drop of water spills from her eye
Her own bit of Ocean,
Falling from lidded green sky

"Love and the Ocean,
I understand now…
We don't choose how we feel
Nor how the storm howls..."

She describes all this,
On the edge of her boat
If she were to jump
Would she sink… or float?

Would the Sea deem her worthy,
And shelter her from strife?
Or would diving in be the final
Forfeit of her life?

Tear after tear
Fell into the waves
Love flowing,
No cry does she save

"It doesn't matter," she decides,
Falling inside
The coolness, and warmth
Wraps her into the tides

Yes, the Ocean is a force,
Not to be careless of,
But so is the force
Of a woman in love

What happens to her now,
Only the Ocean can say
But until it chooses
Here, she will stay.

And she, nor no one else
Can ever hope to tame…
The wild churning, deep within,
Caused just by his name…
Right now someone,somewhere in the world

is horrifically withdrawing from their poison,

in a jail for days ,

climbing the utter 4 walls of solitary confinement,

with no fresh air at all

just the stench of suffering,

haunting there broken spirits,

desperate to end it,

but that officer took their shoelaces out ,

and there's no possible way to do it.

Time is there worst nightmare here,

going nowhere ,

as they try to pretend to sleep forever,

and even attempting they know is not clever,

But it is all they've got

yearning to ignore the horror movie playing in there mind's eye,

infecting every fiber of there being rots,

diminishing the lie that it's ok

when they're certain that this must be hell!

in the belly of the beast,

being spiritually waylaid

feeling that they're cursed and the end is nigh,

absolutely terrified at the possibility

of there brutal existence

being any worse than it already is,

endlessly torchering them ,

over and over again, in detail,

reminding them of every single mistake

that they have ever made,

all the bad things they have ever done,

and how the good old days

can never come back again ,

but just as toxic painful memories;

so long,

forcing a futile desperate hope

for a time machine;

or if only they could just start again,

and this could all be

one big worst nightmare...

And yet it is so clear

that this is really real,

and this world is  unfair!



Somewhere someone is suffering with hunger

and a deep emptiness

Weakens them to there core.

Some fast for religious purposes,

but mostly it's the poor ignored,
I am grateful I'm not them right now ,

because I felt this pain before.

with a deep yearning,
Convinced I could bare no more,

Some say there peckish,
some say their famished,

most say there hungry for more

Most have forgotten there starving;

just like before

of love and spirituality,

it's not really for me to say,

who's more in need of being fed

and that ultimately

there almost ,nearly dead.


Right now someone ,suffering, somewhere

has got the worst toothache

they've ever had in there entire life!
with no painkillers to take this

deep ache away !

probing and throbbing throughout the day,

then slicing like a knife,

when there only relief

is to but rock in misery

cradling their jaw,

yearning to end their life!

I'm glad I'm not them right now !

because I; yes me! felt this pain before!...

and it's the kind of pain

that hurts from the surface to your core.

so when I'm moaning

about the pain

I think I feel I'm in,

I should just  refrain,

and stop compulsive complaints,

that toxic-ally taints,

like a self fulfilled prophecy,

if you doubt you go without

or  busy earning a bad name...

if you believe you receive

is a load of ****;

because,

when a toothaches

and the pain gets a grip

a toothaches....



Someone, suffering,Somewhere ...

just now,.

has broken their ankle ,

for the first time in there lives,

and was prior unaware

of the existence and possibility

they could feel so alive

with such an incredibly excruciating pain,

and has just been plastered up

if there lucky enough,

and given crutches for mobility

and must learn to cope is the deepest liberty

with the new struggle of getting from A to B,

or just making a simple cup of tea!

and hopping up and down the stairs,

to take a wee

or in and Out of bed

and into the shower,

becomes the new major struggle of the hour,

and you see,

in fact becomes more painful than the original break itself ,

as it is slow and cumbersome,

and creeps like stealth,

I know;for this pain was cryptic and raw...

And is one of the worst things that has ever happened to me before!,

and at the same time one of the best!

though they say the wicked get no rest,

but sometimes it's just that life is a test,

hidden deep aching phantom pain!

for this was the only thing that has ever made me stop and remain!,

slowdown and see the wood from the trees,

be alive; and just breathe...

bearing in mind it could of always been worse!

and that relative suffering in silence

is a hidden human curse...



Someone suffering someplace; is cold to the bone;

and can't find no warmth or love and no home.

I would rather be homeless, than feel so alone.

The fear of the coldness is worse than the truth,

certainly hurts,

but to be frozen with fear is definitely worse ,

stuck in a place where you can't find the words

and should of ,could of, would.

I'm grateful I'm not them right now!

and hope they find some warmth soon!

Maybe light a fire!

lest it invoke the grim reaper...
I know this pain and there's nothing like it...

and yet still ;there's nothing more painful

than the road to your heart going cold and cursed

the longest journey is from our head to our heart,

warm things up

better get living and make a start...




Someone somewhere is desperately thirsty,

deeply dehydrated and hasn't had a drop of water in days ,

they would drink the water from a  police cell toilet,

if given the opportunity,

this is one of the worst pains I have ever felt...

and I'm glad it's not me right now!

because I've felt this hideous pain before,

looking back in hindsight, all of what I've presented

as one's brutal suffering ,can be just chances

for character building, for out of the darkness comes the light,

for where theres no pain theres no gain,

as one cannot exist without the other,

and one can't know  abundant Joy,

without having felt great suffering,

For as deep and as broad is our suffering. ..

so shall be our comfort...x

AMEN
Arthur Habsburg Jul 2018
Cockcrow harbour:
the gulls whining like tethered dogs
about rooftops
paliophobic cars and
grounded vessels..
Look:
on the hoary horizon
a glaucous strip
beguils
with backwater.
Not putting on a show
the frigid sea benumbed..
Easily,
with a tail of emerald jelly
skim a vanishing lane off that
lustrous sheet
and watch
the trailblazing mainland
scuttle.

Now,
Only scattered dreaming is possible.

In it's bachelor pad,
cradling over crinkles,
away from the meretriciosness
of validating the real by sharing it,
THE WIND
blusters off any veneer.
Here,
stale but spry,
fare your way around the inoffensive isle
to it's most shyest of harbours:
a mouth full of silver
saving it's breath.
The windows facing the sea
seem
black & white,
their wooden frames hooked to the wind,
the splattered gulls meow
your name
in a way
that's
personal.
Of course comes to mind.
The pines
are demanding a visit,
They're whispering
so you can hear them,
each as different as every snore,
these pines know
how to grow in the sand
and still reach for
the Nimbostratus with heads in unison.
The spaces
between their trunks illuminating
the blazing needles
raining down
painting the ground
familiar
to your lover's
skin texture:
Feel her closeness
from jilted borderwatchtowers
as she speads her mire
like no one's watching:
weedy and sugared
with bellflowers,
the waves in her shallow armpit
billeting a pair of white swans:
demurely they float
sometimes as pillows and sometimes
as question marks..
Go ask the seasoned locals,
they say the bones she parked
when she let her ice sheet melt
are portals
to her noble underbelly.

Hidden in the woods
reminiscent of your heart,
the red
tank-sized stone
is sealed,
but what the lighting reach cannot
the rain shall sluice apart
dumbly.
And though her hair has
come to be
the moss
black and hoarse
as sailor's beard,
there is still time.
The void says
her noisy neighbour is nothing
to die for.
The theadbear car with absent doors
incites
to drive her
in reverse gear
to the first few
days of holidays:
her golden locks a-blaze,
her arm around your
hind-sighted doppelganger.
Going to Prangli island.
Skylar Keith Jan 2018
20:00 - Dinner
Alone but entertained
I like it that way

21:00 - Skype calls
Not having talked for four days
I've missed her yet the occasional silence is nice

22:00 - Fillers
Scrolling through pictures and sharing thoughts
A pleasant and calm feeling

23:00 - Rethinking
The first hypothetical theories about the day
Laughing at the slip-ups to push them away

00:00 - Reflecting
Doubting choices throughout the week
Faking a small smile

01:00 - Endurance
A familiar feeling spreads
Downcast eyes and a facade of peace

02:00 - Creative
New ideas and thoughts fill up the space
Pick and choosing which ones would hurt the most now

03:00 - Idealistic
Reading stories about happiness, pain and change
Wondering what will become of me

04:00 - Closure
Horrible thoughts tearing down the last walls
Curling up and crying again

05:00 - End
Following a familiar routine before sleep comes
Cradling the broken mind
A familiar Routine

— The End —