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The Sphinx Sphanther, an ailuralien
from Slazenger 7, Ulthar System,
surveyed the vapid dullpink lunascape
of Smars. As he scanned yonder scanyons &
clabby tableland of Smartian terrain,
his 8ft henchbot, Ernie, numberwanged
'23467 097
11.' The Sphinx Sphanther's binary-brained
blabacus of a hotchbot robutler
doubled as personal security,
equipped w/ chainsawwindmillstars for hands.
But scant call for slicing 'n'dicing crowd
control here: Smars was desolate as smug
snow, too xeric to dessicater to
desertcraturf - in that, arid aphex
of its counterpart thru the quantumgate,
unsparticulate Mars. Sphinx had been there
too, long after the novalia cleared
by the Elon Muscovites for dometown
of New Creationham instead became
obumbrated by proxy war, a mauve
Somme for drones. The Zeta-Reticulan
barhover he'd met centuries later,
at Sagittarius Bolognaise, had
divulged he'd been staking out the Terrans
for millennia, concluding that quite
clearly they weren't Kardashev calibre:
' The Terran jackal apes could never build
fair Isratin on Mars's blank red slate,
but desecratered Earth 2.0
w/ telefactored lex talionis.
Palasraeli peace-world a daffy god's
dream.' But no roseplated, plaintive past
of lost races & their last, lost chances
would weigh on Sphinx Sphanther over 0-
g 'n' ts - least of all, kamikozmic
Terrans, ghosts of toddlers before his time.
Besides, he purrferred the splanetary
systems in his home universe, S-side
of the supersymmetrical stargate.
Even planet Smearth, whose gnomes salivate
for colloidal silver & often ate
salvers. But multiversally treasure-
hunting catman was not on Smars for smurrks,
nor to holoholo like a stalko
thru the pink pother, a fishbowlhead space-
*** w/ the best seat i.e. the worst seat
in a stadial sandstorm of foxglove
fog. In whirbles pulsive, Ernie's clicking
clock breath axlegroused, '23824
71719', as the Sphinx
Sphanther fremescently urged the servo-
droid to 'move your chrome cuirasse!' Which encased
Ernie's one lung of mesh & blexcroid heart,
repurposed by a gizmomancer from
silicone garage off Milkomeda
magic roundabout. Or was it spaceport
at the Smilkomeda?  Whichever,  the
Sphanther had long ago evolved beyond
flying saucers of cream. Caterpillar-
tracked calculator w/ a sporknose &
whisking shuriken fingers, Ernie creaked
futuristically behind its feline
master, as they descended in oblique
Indian file down scarp of Mountbattern
grink, for now the Sphinx Sphanther had bird's-eyed
some bearings. Manshaped moggy & lotto-
machine-A.I.'d adjutant had for days
yomped the candydross regolith of Smars,
a desert every bit as brass monkies
& indistinguishable in aspect
(save to areographers) as ginger
tundra of its supersymmetrical
sister sphere, yet pink as amassed honkies
(tho' ofays blushing ashen w/ gammon
guilt). A holo-map Ernie projected
from its cyflaptic eyezor had led them
this far, but now the Sphinx Sphanther relied
on the sort of stillicide scholarship
a cat gleens from spacerats (w/ translation
bracelet bangling his back, a caudal wire),
because Ernie's pirate-ninja meter
was in emergency credit. The pair
hinterlunged on thru tayammum douches
of inextinguishable pink, spinning
powders, smaze of Smartian haboob, until
Sphinx Sphanther sphied, sphorry, spied his wrecked grail.
'Initiating sleep sequence passout-
code: rats apollo defile robot tide,'
catman commanded his lollygagging
tincan manservant to take hard-earnied
standby. Then, before Ernie's spangbolts could
cease squeaking, before its hi-tec bits quit
bleeping &  the combined constadrone of   
mechanical chakras was susurrust
(engulfed by speckled banshee breaker of
nominal boughs, wolf sough of Smars booting
alien sandcastles), the Sphinx Sphanther
in his eagerness nearly lapsed into
quadrupedal ignominy, as he
raced towards the ruins, object of his
enantionautic planethopping
over 8 & 1/2 lifetimes. Not much
remained of whatever edifice had
once graced Smars, a primordial witness
wrought in masonry as lurid as some
Lovecraftchild of Liberace, its pink
pillars & pink hunky punks bubblegum
rubble now, vividness conspicuous
against the grink sands.These Smartian ruins
were only slightly less ancient than God
& his blue hypernovae toybox, or
Tohu wa-Bohu's pantherine absence
before that. The Temple of the Dark Lord,
Yod-Coalescence, indisputably
a stripling of deep architecture next
to the Sphinx Sphanther's incomparable find.
By the same token, the fabled Terran
city of Dubai would be an ugly
baby of steel & glass next to this site
of cosmic heritage, this exploded
damask rose of a UFOpolis,
stone petals shed by flower of dust. Engraved
on block immemorial, poking out
of a sandbank & imbued w/ forlorn
fascination for upright ****, such as
xoanon of Eve might hold for Conan
the Slybrarian, was maxim in long
dead tongue, the long dead sense of which rendered
it accidental koan, dumb poem
by anon culture that might as well be
entitled 'Sirenen Istigkeit'. Food
for thought anorexic Time, bulimic
Space inedibly graffitied on Smars:
'Nulla Dies Sine Linear B'.
Under cured Klyntar yurt later that night,
whilst Ernie hummed w/ Atari sheep sprites,
the Sphinx Sphanther dreamt of mighty works thru
the wringer of longslid signifiers:  

The barhover hovered above
membranous whatevers of mise-en-dream,
before the scene settled like anarchic snow.
Smickey Smouse was on a mauve rove
one smauve Tuesday. As Smickey
scanned yonder young scones,
young dust granted him edgehug.
Ernie said : Numb blah, numb blah, numb blah!
They certainly weren't in Snorwich, Snorfolk, anymore.
They hinterlunged on thru candybrass
of dross monkies, pinning spowders,
until Smickey Smouse smied, smorry, sphied
the Temple of the Dark Lord,
Pantherine Absence.
Smickey Smouse said: Wait there,
I'm just going for a quick Slazenger-7.
Ernie said: Skoda codas.
Elon Musk divulged he'd been
staking out the Terrans
for millennia & concluded they were in
emergency credit.
So they descended a serdab
poking into a sandbank,
its venom curd of darkness
further diagonally desecraterd
by Ernie's sadotronic **** attachment w/ knobs on,
thagomiser **** or Oumuamua
of steel & glass.
Its mace ***** drilled down
until Smickey, Ernie & Elon
were 3 spelunking sphinxes,
spelunking deeper into the recesses
of the alien sandcastle,
by the light of Ernie's eyeflaptic cyzors.
But you can't holoholo in a fishbowlobowlo,
lavalampadomancy of a daffy god's dream.
They longslod into the long dead clock breath
of Ozymandias' unconscious.
Should a cave-in cave in,
a hi-drama-gen bomb bomb,
quidzinc Ernie said: Inadjuvant Elon
Rifles should have hired
ghosts of toddlers  
for our pirate-ninja security.
Above them,
the embitteringly bitty yonder
stretched lone & level,
a ventriloquantum of solace on a grink brick
remained undiscovered & unsquandered,
waiting for a greater translator .
Ernie said: edit to bore life dollop a star.
Ernie said: Numb blah, numb blah, numb blah!
Terry O'Leary Feb 2017
Awaking blithe each morning,
with eyes upon the World,
I wonder, are we mourning
with ebon flags unfurled –
or are they but a warning,
some draped like snakes and curled,
stray stars and stripes adorning,
sent from the netherworld.

I wander through the garden
with nothing on my mind
and say 'I beg your pardon'
alarmed at what I find
as winds begin to harden
and fate begins to grind.

Confused, I watch my neighbours,
they're wide-eyed, unafraid
to halt all useful labours
and join the death brigade;
the ritters rattle sabres,
the frail and fragile fade,
morticians tap on tabors,
the potentates parade.

The military blesses
(in tunics somewhat browned)
its crimson-stained successes,
hell bent and heaven bound.
Such scenes no more distress us:
a ****** battleground,
dissevered heads with tresses
and arms and legs abound;
the fourth estate suppresses
the heaps of bodies  found
(collateral excesses
discarded in a mound).

Society regresses,
now living by the sword,
with torture and its stresses
upon a waterboard;
a captive kid confesses,
his innocence ignored -
fallacious facts and guesses,
the guts of justice gored!

With canting vindication
a big brass bully brags
(with pearls of perspiration
and swollen tongue that gags)
of third world  subjugation
for gelt and oily swags,
of human rights' castration,
and on and on it drags.

The manifold migration
of refugees in rags
while searching for salvation
soon finds compassion lags;
uprooted populations
are fleeing from their flags
else dying of starvation
as naked hunger nags.

With trump cards politicking,
two little hands (all thumbs)
may send the Mad Dog siccing.
Insane! All sense succumbs.

Atomic timepiece ticking
until the Reaper comes
as Geiger counters clicking
drown out the droning drums.

Cast out for not conforming,
I wander day by day
to find the earth deforming
as nature wastes away,
with bees no longer swarming
(expunged with garden spray)
and ocean depths transforming
(neath plastic overlay).

With CO2 performing
the climate's led astray,
the atmosphere's been warming,
the grasses ashen gray,
eternal tempest storming
while permafrosts decay,
and ozone holes are forming
in deadly disarray.

The people profiteering
descend a slip'ry *****
destroying, never fearing        
of running out of rope;
instead they sit back sneering
“our wealth’s your only hope”.

Yes, Armageddon's nearing,
it's doubtful that we'll cope,
for Evolution's jeering,
she's scanned our horoscope:
we'll soon be disappearing
with whale and antelope.


           Epitaph

The multitudes were jumbled,
some milling ’round the mall,
while politicians bumbled
when bracing for the brawl.

The World around us rumbled,
our backs against the wall,
as bombs were tossed and tumbled
across our broken ball.

My kneecaps creaked and crumbled
but I, too proud to crawl,
took but a step and stumbled  
yet found no place to fall.

And no one heard me grumble
although I tried to call,
or maybe I just mumbled,
as strength began to pall.

Well now the World’s been humbled
I seek an urban sprawl,
but since the feuds were fumbled
there’s nothing left at all.
John Jan 2013
Back when I was about ten or eleven, the only friend I had was the most beautiful girl I knew. Her name was Jessica and her and I did everything together. In school we were inseparable, always chit-chatting before, during and after classes. So much so that teachers bestowed upon us the annoying, yet endearing, encompassing nickname of "Jackica" - a combination of our names; Jack and Jessica.
     I was so thankful for her companionship, and thinking back it might have been a pretty uneven relationship, emotionally. I was an overweight and awkward Harry Potter fanboy and she was a cute little auburn-haired thing who could've won any Miss America Junior competition in the world, as far as I was concerned. She had the most piercing powder blue eyes. The kind that made my skin tingle and mouth curl up into a stupid smile at any given moment. I felt like she saw me, like she really saw ME. Not the blubbery flesh that coated my muscle and bones but what I was made of, the real me. And I loved her for that.
     Along with Jessica's physical blessings, she was also given an insatiable appetite for adventure. She loved to go to the park at night,  after the gates were locked and when everything was drenched in darkness. We'd hop the five foot chain-link fence and roam around the grounds. We'd go the water at the edge of the park and sit on the rocks, look up at the stars and take turns telling stories to each other with intent to scare the **** out of the other one.
     One humid night in mid-June, Jessica told a story that succeeded in making my skin-crawl. She always told decent scary stories, she was gifted in the art of fabricating tales of fright right on the spot, but this story really got to my core for some reason. I just felt uneasy as the words spilled from her mouth to my ears and with each sentence my muscles tightened and strained just from the mere tone of her voice as she told the story. She sounded serious, and she rarely did, even when telling these stories, but with this particular one it sounded like she really believed what she was saying was cold, hard truth.
     What she said was that she heard a story that her older brother's girlfriend had told her. It was about a house on the outskirts of town, placed just a few hundred yards from the mouth of the woods that lined our little suburban utopia. She went on to say that in the house was nothing all that scary. She said it was an old house, a very old house, as it was a log cabin that was built in the 1700s, when the town was first being settled. Supposedly, everything in the house was just as it was back then, little kerosene lamps sitting on home-mad oak tables. The maple-wood floors would moan and creak at the slightest hint of any weight being put on them. And then she said that no one had lived in the house since the man who built it died, around 1785.
     Needless to say, Jessica wrapped up the story by proclaiming that we had to find the house. And we had to go inside and see for ourselves what was so creepy about it. Being the scared, chubby little wimp that I was, I immediately rejected the idea. There was no way I was going to try to find a place that would only succeed in making me **** my pants in front of a girl, especially the one whom I'd placed the delusional label of "future girlfriend" on.  But, as I subconsciously expected, Jessica talked me into it with just a few graceful words: "I'll kiss you if you come with me."
    
     The very next Saturday night, Jessica and I put on some dark jeans and t-shirts and took the bus all the way to the last stop, the edge of town. We hopped off and right in front of the stop the woods were already waiting, I took a deep breath as Jessica's eyes lit up. She took my hand and pulled me as she ran, me clumsily waddling along behind her all the way to a little dirt pathway that paved the only marked entrance we could see. She asked me if I was ready and I shrugged, saying something like "I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be." And so we started down the path. As the tall trees swayed in the wind, I dragged my feet with  Jessica always about five feet ahead of me, as eager as ever. We walked for probably ten or twenty minutes before the foot of the cabin was before us.
     At first sight, it was a very old structure. I'd never seen anything like it outside of paintings in my history textbook and this Abe Lincoln documentary I saw on PBS. I never knew houses like that stood the test of time. But there it was before me, two stories high with wooden shutters clad in severely chipped paint and a big oak door that looked stronger than any door I'd ever seen. Jessica took my hand again, smiled enchantingly and rushed me forward.
     Once at the door, I was speechless. It didn't look as old as the rest of the house and whoever made it obviously meant for it to last a very long time, taking extreme care in carving it out impeccably and sanding it until it shined with a professional touch. Without a word, Jessica rapped on the door. Three hard times, and when no one answered after thirty seconds, she rapped again, and again. She shrugged and turned to me, asked if we should just go in. I said no and she frowned.
     "There's no way we came this far just to go back home with nothing," and then she wrapped her hand around the rusted doorknob and turned.
     The door opened with no hesitation as she pushed it all the way in. She stepped inside, and I followed. The first thing I noticed inside the cabin was the creaking floors. They creaked louder and longer with each step, affirming that part of the story, making my blood run cold. We looked around, going from room to room with wide eyes. We were amazed that we made it, that we got inside and now we were actually investigating a place that no one else supposedly had gone before. Truth be told, though, it was nothing special. There wasn't much at all to see, save for a few tables, the creaking floors and some very old paintings on the wall. We were just leaving when we noticed something on a table nearest the big oak door. It was a metal box with a small lock fastened to the front of it.
     "We have to open it," Jessica proclaimed after a second of curious inspection.
     "There's no way were going to find the key," I told her.
     "So we'll break the lock, Jack. Duh," she replied in her sassiest tone.
     I just shook my head as she grabbed the box and began to furiously slam it in the wooden table. The sound echoed through the house, exacerbating it and making me shiver from head to toe.
     "I don't know if you should keep-" but my sentence was cut off my the lock flying off the box and clinking onto the floor below.
Jessica smiled again, very pleased with herself and looked to me.
     "Wonder what's inside...," She said, lifting the top half of the box open.
     After an initial and cough-inducing puff of thick dust subsided, the contents of the box were revealed. It was a letter, written on old-school parchment in heavy ink. In neatly laid Victorian script, the likes of which I had never seen so simultaneously neat and scattered, like it was written in a hurry or during a time of distress, was a love letter. Well, a kind of love letter. It was addressed to a woman named Tania and it was signed by a William. It told the story of how William had loved Tania since they were children, and Tania was now to be married to a Pastor named Hensley. William told Tania how he couldn't bear the thought of her ever being with anyone else and that the fact that she could never truly be his was killing him. Literally. He ended the note by confessing his plan to **** himself.
     I took a step back, but Jessica just stood at the table with her eyes glued to the crumbling parchment in her hands.
     "I'm leaving," I said after a few moments, mulling over the sorrow that this poor man must've felt. I headed out the door, Jessica following. The walk back through the woods to the bus stop I couldn't get this feeling of dread from subsiding. It seemed like I felt what William felt, but not in a sympathetic sort of way. It felt like I was William and the pain he felt was actually my pain. And then I noticed that, rolled up tightly in her fist, Jessica had taken the letter with her.
     "Why'd you take that," I said, sounding thoroughly upset. "That's not yours to take, go bring it back!"
     "No way. There was no way I was going there and coming back with nothing to show for it," she said, gripping the letter tightly, her knuckles almost whitening.
     I knew how stubborn Jessica could be and I knew whatever I said probably wouldn't even phase her in the slightest so I did what I did best and just shrugged it off. I found myself wishing I could shrug off the terrible feeling the letter put deep inside me just as easily as I could Jessica's stubbornness.

     Over time, Jessica and I lost touch, as kids of that age often do. I grew up, lost weight and opened up, making more friends and acquaintances, no longer hanging onto the thought of Jessica being my only love. I didn't talk to Jessica all that much. Just once in a while we'd meet up and have a chat over some coffee or pizza. We had both changed and morphed into young adults with different agendas and dreams and I had no problem with that. But on one such meeting, Jessica began to worry me. She said that every now and then she'd open her desk drawer and take the piece of parchment out and read it. Over and over again. And lately, she had been opening the drawer more and more, she said that she felt drawn to it. Like something about it made her feel this deep-seated dread that no horror movie or scary story had ever made her feel. She said that she felt like the letter was beginning to take a toll on her. And, by the look of her, it didn't seem like she was lying or kidding around like she always used to love to do. She had dark circles underneath her once striking eyes, which were now darker and had taken on an odd and ominous color. I was scared for her. And I told her so but she hugged me and assured me she was alright. I wanted to believe her, and I tried to, hugging her back and telling her I'd talk to her soon. But when she turned her back I knew something was very wrong.

     I'm writing this now because a few weeks ago Jessica's mom gave me a call. When her number came up on my cell phone, I think I knew, deep down, e actor why I was getting this call but I pushed the thought away and said hello. Jessica's mother called to tell me that a few days before Jessica had gone missing. The only indication to her whereabouts was a note she left with the words "cabin at the edge of town", and below that, instructions on how to get there. Her mother said she took the note and hopped in her car immediately, and made it to the cabin. She said she was breathless by the time she got to the cabin but forged on and barged inside and looked around. She said she found nothing and was about to leave when she noticed a small door behind the big oak door she had swung open to get inside. She opened the little door to find a stairwell. She climbed it, calling Jessica's name all the way, sobbing and wiping tears from her eyes. At the top of the stairs was the attic. And she said she almost died herself when she saw Jessica. She was hanging from a wooden rafter on the ceiling. And next to her was a severely decayed skeleton, dangling from a rope only a few inches away.
It's definitely more of a short story but I felt obligated to post it here for some reason.
Edward Laine Sep 2011
The old green door creaked when it opened. The same way it always did. The same old pitiful, sad sound it had made for years.
Sad because, like the rest of Jimmy's Bar it wouldn't be broken the way it was if someone would only take the time to fix it, in this case to grease the hinges, and then maybe the joint wouldn't be such a dive.
But that was the way it was, and the old green door pretty much summed up the whole place before you had even stepped in.

It was an everyday scene, this dreary November afternoon like any other: the glasses from the night(or nights) before were still stacked up on the far end of the bar, waiting to be washed, or just used again. The regulars, as they were known really didn't care if they were drinking out of a ***** glass or having a shot or a short out of a pint glass or beer or a stout or a bitter or an ale or a cider or even a water or milk(to wash down or soak up the days drinking) out of the same old ***** glass they had been drinking out of all week long.
Anyway, when the door creaked this time, it was old Tom Ashley that made it creak.
He shuffled in like the broken down bindle-stiff he was. Yawning like a lion and rubbing his unwashed hands on his four day beard. His grey hair as bed-headed and dishevelled as ever.  He was wearing the same crinkled-up blazer he always wore, tailor made some time in his youth but now in his advancing years was ill-fitting and torn at the shoulder, but still he wore a white flower in the lapel, and it didn't much matter that he had picked it from the side of the road, it helped to mask the smell of his unwashed body and whatever filth he had been stewing in his little down town room above the second hand book store. It wasn't much, but it suited him fine: the rent was cheap, and Chuck, the owner would let him borrow books two at a time, so long as he returned them in week, and he always did. He loved to read, and rumour had it, that a long time ago when he was in his twenties he had written a novel which had sold innumerable copies and made him a very wealthy man. The twist in the tale, went that he had written said novel under a pen name and no soul knew what it was, and when questioned he would neither confirm nor deny ever writing a book at all. It was some great secret, but after time people had ceased asking questions and stopped caring all together on the subject. All that anybody knew for sure was; he did not work and always had money to drink. It was his only great mystery.  T.S Eliot and Thomas Hardy were among his favourite writers. He had a great stack of unread books he had been saving in shoe box on his window sill. He called these his 'raining season'.

But for now, the arrangement with Chuck would suit him just fine.
He dragged his drunkards feet across the floor and over to the bar. All dark wood with four green velour upholstered bar stools, that of course, had seen better days too.
He put his hands flat on the bar, leaned back on his heels and ordered
a double Talisker in his most polite manner. He was a drunk, indeed but 'manners cost nothing'' he had said in the past. Grum, the bartender(his name was Graham, but in the long years of him working in the bar and
all the drunks slurring his name it gradually became Grum)smiled false heartedly, turned his back and whilst pouring old Toms whiskey into a brandy glass looked over his shoulder and said, ''so Mr. Ashley, how's
life treatin' ya'?'' Tom was looking at the floor or the window or the at the back of his eyelids and paid no attention to the barkeep. He was always
a little despondent before his first drink of the day. When Grum placed the drink on the bar he asked the same question again, and Tom, fumbling with his glass, simply murmured a monosyllabic reply that couldn't be understood with his mouth full of that first glug of sweet,
sweet whiskey he had been aching for. Then he looked up at tom with
big his shiney/glazed eyes, ''hey grum,
now that it is a fine whiskey, Robert Lewis Stevenson
used to drink this you know?'' Grum did know, Tom had told him this nearly every day for as long as he had been coming in the place, but
he nodded towards Tom and smiled acceptingly all the same. ''The king of drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, he said'' Grum mouthed the words along with him,  caustically and half smiled at him again. Tom drained his glass and ordered another one of the same.

A few more drinks, a few hours and a few more drinks again
passed, Tom put them all on his tab like he always did. Grum,
nor the owner of the bar minded, he always paid his tab before
he stumbled home good and drunk and he didn’t cause too
much trouble apart from the odd argument with other customers
or staff but he never used his fists and he always knew when
he was beat In which case he would become very apologetic
and more often than not veer out of the bar back stepping
like a scared dog with his tail between his tattered trousers.
Drinking can make a cowardly man brave but not a smart
man dumb and Tom was indeed a smart man. Regardless
of what others might say. He was very articulate, well read
with a good head (jauntily perched) on his (crooked) shoulders.
By now it was getting late, Tom didn't know what time it was,
or couldn't figure out what time it was by simply looking at
the clock, the bar had one of those backwards clocks, I
don't know if you have ever seen one, the numbers run
anti-clockwise, which may not seem like much of task to
decipher I know, but believe me, if you are as drunk as tom
was by this point you really can not make head nor tails of
them. He knew it was getting late though as it was dark
outside and the  lamp posts were glowing their orange glow
through the window and the crack in the door. It was around
ten o’clock now and Tom had moved on to wine, he would
order a glass of Shiraz and say ''hey Grum, you know Hafez
used to drink this stuff, used to let it sit for forty days to achieve
a greater ''clarity of wine'' he called it, forty days!'' ''Mr Ashley''
said Grum looking up from wiping down the grimy bar and
now growing quite tired of the old man’s presence and what seemed
to be constant theories and facts of the various drinks he
was devouring, ''what are you rabbiting on about now, old
man?'' ''Hafez'' said old Tom ''he was a Persian poet from the
1300's as I recall... really quite good'', ''Well, Tom that is
truly fascinating, I must be sure to look in to him next time
I'm looking for fourteenth century poetry!'' said the barkeep,
mockingly. ''Good, good, be sure that you do'' Tom said,
taking a long ****-eyed slurp of his drink and not noticing
the sarcasm from the worn out bartender. He didn't mean
to poke fun at Tom he was anxious to get home to his wife
who he missed and longed to join, all alone in their warm
marital bed in the room upstairs. But Tom did not understand
this concept, he had never been married but had left a long
line of women behind him, loved and left in the tracks of his
vagabond youth, he had once been a good looking man a
''handsome devil'' confident and charming in all his wit and
literary references to poets of old he had memorised passages from ,Thoreau,Tennyson ,Byron, Frost etc. And more times
than not passed these passages of love and beauty off as
his own for the simple purpose of getting various now wooed
and wanting women up to his room. But now after  many
years of late nights, cigarettes and empty bottles cast aside
had taken their toll on him he spent his nights alone in his
cold single bed drunk and lonely with his only company being
once in a while a sad eyed dead eyed lady of the night, but
only very rarely would he give in to this temptation and it
always left him feeling hollow and more sober than he had
cared to be in many long years.
The bell rang last orders.
He ordered another drink, a Gin this time and as he took
the first sip, pleasingly, Grum stared at him with great open
eyes and his hand resting on his chin to animate how he
was waiting for the old man to state some worthless fact
about his new drink but the old man just sat there swaying
gently looking very glazed and just when the barkeep was
just about to blurt out his astonishment that Tom had noting
to say, old Tom Ashley, old drunk Tom took a deep breath
with his mouth wide, leaned back on his stool and said...
''hey, you know who used to drink gin? F. Scott Fitzgerald''
''really?'' said the barkeep snidely ''Oh yes'' said Tom
''The funny thing is Hemingway and all those old gents
used to tease Fitzgerald about his low tolerance, a real
light weight! He paused and took a sip ''but err, yes
he did like the odd glass of gin'' he said, mumbling
into the bottom of his glass.
Now, reaching the end of the night, the bartender
yawning, rubbing his eyes and the old man with
close to sixty pounds on his tab, sprawled across the
bar, spinning the last drop of his drink on the glasses
edge and seeming quite mesmerised by it and all its
holy splendour, he stopped and sat up right like a shot,
and looking quite sober now he shouted ''Grum,
Graham, hey, come here!'' the sleepy bartender was
sitting on a chair with his feet up on the bar, half asleep,
''Hey Graham, come here'' ''eh-ugh, what? What do you
want?'' said the barkeep sounding bemused and
befuddled
in his waking state, ''just come over here will you,
please''
the barkeep rolled off his chair sluggishly and slid
his feet across the floor towards the old man ''what is
it?'' he said scratching his head with his eyes still half
closed. The old man drowned what was left of his
drink and said ''I think I've had an epiphany, well err
well, more of a theory really w-well..'' he was stuttering
. ''oh yeah? And what would that be, Mr Ashley?'' said
the bartender, folding his arms in anticipation. ''pour
me another whiskey and I'll tell you''
''one mor... you must be kidding me, get the hell
out of here you old drunk we're closed!'' the old man
put his hands together as if in prayer and said in his
most sincere voice, '' oh please, Grum, just one more
for the road, I'll tell you my theory and then I'll be on
my way, OK?'' ''FINE, fine'' said Grum ''ONE more and
then you're GONE'' he walked over to the other side
of the bar poured a whiskey and another for himself.
''OK, here’s your drink old man, and I don't wanna
hear another of your ******* facts about writers
or poets or whoever OK?'' Tom snatched the drink of
the bar, ''OK, OK, I promise!'' he said. Tom took a slow
slurp at his drink and relaxed back in his seat and
sat quite, looking calm again.
The bartender sat staring at him, expecting the old
man to say something but he didn’t, he just sat there
on his stool, sipping his whiskey, Grum leaned forward
on the bar and with his nose nearly touching the old
mans, said ''SO? Out with it, what was this ****
theory I just HAD to hear?'' ''AH'' said the old man,
waving his index finger in the air, he looked down
into his breast pocket, pulled out a pack of cigarettes,
calmly took two out, handed one to the barkeep,
struck a match from his ***** finger nail, lit his own
the proceeded to light the barkeeps too.
Taking a long draw and now speaking with the blue
smoke pouring out his mouth said '' let me ask you a question''
... he paused, …  ''would agree that everybody
makes mistakes?'' the barkeep looked puzzled as to
where this was going but nodded and grunted a
''uh-hum'' ''well'' said the old man would you also
agree that everybody also learns... and continues
learning from their mistakes?'' again looking puzzled
but this time more  intrigued grunted the same ''uh-hum'' noise,
though this time a little more drawn out and
higher pitched and said ''where exactly are you going
with this?'' curiously.
''well..'' let me explain fully said Tom. He took another
pull on his cigarette and a sip on his drink, ''right,
my theory is: everybody keeps making mistakes, as
you agreed, this meaning that the whole world keeps
making mistakes too, and so the world keeps learning
from is mistakes, as you also agreed, with me so far?''
the barkeep nodded ''right'' Tom continued ''the world
keeps makiing and learning from its mistakes, my
theory is that one day, the world will have made so
many mistakes and learned from them all, so many
that there are no more mistakes to make, right? And
thus, with no mistakes left to learn from the word will
be all knowing and thus... PERFECT! Am I right? The
barkeep, now looking quite in awe and staring at his
cigarette smoke in the orange street light coming t
hrough the window, raised his glass and said quite
excitedly ''and when the world is then a perfect place
Jesus will return! Right?'' ''well Graham...'' said the old
man doubtingly ''I am in no way a religious man, but I
guess if that’s your thing then yes I guess you could be
right, yes''
He then drowned the rest of his whiskey in one giant
gulp, stubbed out his cigarette in the empty glass
and said ''now, I really must get going ,it really is getting quite
late'' and begun to walk towards the door. The
bartender hurried around the bar and grabbed Tom
by the arm,
'' you cant just leave now! We need to discuss this!
Please stay, we'll have another drink, on the house!''
''Now, now,Graham'' said the old man, ''we can discuss
this another night, I really must get to bed now'' he
walked over to the door, and just as his hand touched
the handle the barkeep stopped him again and said
quite hurriedly,'' but I need answers, how will I know
everything is going to be alight? You know PERFECT,
just like you said!'' the old man opened the door
slightly, turned around coolly and said ''now, don’t
worry yourself, I’m sure everything will turn out fine
and we’ll talk about it more tomorrow, OK?'' the
barkeep nodded acceptingly and held the door open
for the
old man, ''sure sure, OK'' he said ''tomorrow it is,
Mr Ashley''
Just as Tom was walking out the door he stopped
looked at the   barkeep with large grin on his face
and said very fast, as fast as he could ''you-know-an-interesting
-fact-about-whiskey-it-was -Dylan-Thomas'
-favourite-drink-in-fact-his-last-words-were -"I've-had-18
-straight-whiskeys......I-think-that's-the-record."­!! HAHA '' he
laughed almost uncontrollably. Graham the barkeep looked
at him with a smile of new found admiration and began to
close the door on him.
Just as the door was nearly shut, the old man stopped
once
more, pulled out a roll of money, looked in to the
bartenders
eyes and put the money into his shirt pocket, then putting
his left hand on the bartenders shoulder said ''oh and
Grum, one of those great ol' women I let get away, once told ,me:
''if you are looking at the moon then,everything is alight'' and slapped
him lightly on the cheek.
. Then finally, pointing at the barkeeps shirt pocket said ''
for the bar tab'' then went spinning out the door way with
the grace of a ballroom dancer(rather than the old drunk
he had the reputation for being) and standing in the
orange glow of the street and seeing the look of sheer
wonderment on the bartenders face still standing in the
old green door way and shouted ''LOOK UP, THE MOON,
THE MOON!'' The barkeep, shaking his head and laughing,
peered his head out of the door and took a glance at the
moon and grinned widely then closed the old green door
for the night. It made the same old loud creak when he shut it.

                                       FIN
Outside Words Sep 2018
I was awoken from a dreamless sleep
     By a boy with short brown hair,
     Who, with an urgent stare,
Told me to head to the showers!

As my eyes creaked open to recognize,
     The orange glow of this unfamiliar room’s lighting,
     In front of me, in handwritten writing,
A page on the wall showed three in the morning.

When I glanced around a room of shared bunks,
     I saw all sorts of people and things,
     Running around with things to bring
To these showers I had yet to see.

In a winding line down a high ceiling’d hall,
     I stood with so many,
     Who like me, hadn’t any
Idea what was going on.

With a whirlwind flurry of commotion
     Steam crawled from the showers and water sprayed,
     As we were told in a big disarray,
To wash off the place from whence we came.

In a neat little stack, I was handed my clothes
     A tunic, with a sash
     And a captivating mask
To “celebrate our exciting return home.”

Down dark rustic stairways, I watched like a child
     The vibrant light and affinity,
     Radiating with enchanting divinity,
From the otherworldly people and creatures below.

Through that noisy, jolly crowd,
     We were led as a group
     And the boy said with a whoop
That we were all to stand up and dance.

His eyes glinting with excitement,
     The brown haired boy explained
     That our spirits would be ordained
Through a celebration of our inner light.

Onto the stage I was led
     As I stood with my class,
     Nervous amongst the mass
Of silent, numerous spirits before us.

As the boy hit the music
     I felt something from deep inside
     Rush out like a tide
And through tears of joy, I danced.

It was at that gleeful moment
     That my friends and I,
     Realizing we'd died,
Knew we'd returned to the forest.
© Outside Words
Timothy Sep 2012
By Alfred Noyes 1880—1958**

PART ONE

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.  
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.  
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,  
And the highwayman came riding—
         Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,  
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.  
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
         His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.  
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there  
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.  
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,  
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
         The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,  
Then look for me by moonlight,
         Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;  
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
         (O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

PART TWO

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;  
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,  
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,  
A red-coat troop came marching—
         Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.  
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!  
There was death at every window;
         And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
         Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!  
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
         Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.  
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.  
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;  
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
         Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;  
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
         Riding—riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!  
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,  
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
         Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood  
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!  
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear  
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
         The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shouting a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
         Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

.       .       .

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,  
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,  
A highwayman comes riding—
         Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.  
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there  
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
Ron Sanders Feb 15
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Amanda Cooper Feb 2010
It was early morning when she descended the steps
to the porch side, teacup in hand, dressed in her nightgown.
Steam billowed from her cup, and with a swallow
she examined her garden of weeds and unexpected peonies.
It was early for blooming peonies; frost, like glass,
still settled on the lawn, reflecting sunrise light of tangerine.

The radiant glow of tangerine
cast amber trails across steps
covered in an icy coating of glass.
Between her fingers she tucked her nightgown
and gingerly treaded the garden of peonies
that melted the frost in one great flower swallow.

The barn swallow,
perched not far from the path of tangerine,
must have also taken notice of the peonies
as he took the first steps
to nest-building. She imagined that his lady bird, also in her nightgown,
would enjoy the flowerbed of glass

that he chose for their home. Sipping her glass
of tea, she admired the familiar swallow
lover as she folded into her nightgown
bouquets of peonies that glistened in the tangerine
sunlight. She took the steps
back to the house, recalling her own swallow’s peonies:

Peonies
placed in vases of glass,
peonies lining the porch steps,
peonies presented over morning tea. With a swallow,
she carefully, methodically lined the tangerine
trail with the peonies from her nightgown.

Her nightgown,
stained with the rouge petals of peonies,
dragged along the tangerine
terrace of glass,
blood red with the memory of her swallow
lover’s peony-petaled steps.

The steps to the house creaked beneath her nightgown.
The barn swallow, quieted by the rouge of the peonies,
shut his glass eyes to the skies of tangerine.
2009
He was a Grecian lad, who coming home
With pulpy figs and wine from Sicily
Stood at his galley’s prow, and let the foam
Blow through his crisp brown curls unconsciously,
And holding wave and wind in boy’s despite
Peered from his dripping seat across the wet and stormy night.

Till with the dawn he saw a burnished spear
Like a thin thread of gold against the sky,
And hoisted sail, and strained the creaking gear,
And bade the pilot head her lustily
Against the nor’west gale, and all day long
Held on his way, and marked the rowers’ time with measured song.

And when the faint Corinthian hills were red
Dropped anchor in a little sandy bay,
And with fresh boughs of olive crowned his head,
And brushed from cheek and throat the hoary spray,
And washed his limbs with oil, and from the hold
Brought out his linen tunic and his sandals brazen-soled,

And a rich robe stained with the fishers’ juice
Which of some swarthy trader he had bought
Upon the sunny quay at Syracuse,
And was with Tyrian broideries inwrought,
And by the questioning merchants made his way
Up through the soft and silver woods, and when the labouring day

Had spun its tangled web of crimson cloud,
Clomb the high hill, and with swift silent feet
Crept to the fane unnoticed by the crowd
Of busy priests, and from some dark retreat
Watched the young swains his frolic playmates bring
The firstling of their little flock, and the shy shepherd fling

The crackling salt upon the flame, or hang
His studded crook against the temple wall
To Her who keeps away the ravenous fang
Of the base wolf from homestead and from stall;
And then the clear-voiced maidens ‘gan to sing,
And to the altar each man brought some goodly offering,

A beechen cup brimming with milky foam,
A fair cloth wrought with cunning imagery
Of hounds in chase, a waxen honey-comb
Dripping with oozy gold which scarce the bee
Had ceased from building, a black skin of oil
Meet for the wrestlers, a great boar the fierce and white-tusked
spoil

Stolen from Artemis that jealous maid
To please Athena, and the dappled hide
Of a tall stag who in some mountain glade
Had met the shaft; and then the herald cried,
And from the pillared precinct one by one
Went the glad Greeks well pleased that they their simple vows had
done.

And the old priest put out the waning fires
Save that one lamp whose restless ruby glowed
For ever in the cell, and the shrill lyres
Came fainter on the wind, as down the road
In joyous dance these country folk did pass,
And with stout hands the warder closed the gates of polished brass.

Long time he lay and hardly dared to breathe,
And heard the cadenced drip of spilt-out wine,
And the rose-petals falling from the wreath
As the night breezes wandered through the shrine,
And seemed to be in some entranced swoon
Till through the open roof above the full and brimming moon

Flooded with sheeny waves the marble floor,
When from his nook up leapt the venturous lad,
And flinging wide the cedar-carven door
Beheld an awful image saffron-clad
And armed for battle! the gaunt Griffin glared
From the huge helm, and the long lance of wreck and ruin flared

Like a red rod of flame, stony and steeled
The Gorgon’s head its leaden eyeballs rolled,
And writhed its snaky horrors through the shield,
And gaped aghast with bloodless lips and cold
In passion impotent, while with blind gaze
The blinking owl between the feet hooted in shrill amaze.

The lonely fisher as he trimmed his lamp
Far out at sea off Sunium, or cast
The net for tunnies, heard a brazen *****
Of horses smite the waves, and a wild blast
Divide the folded curtains of the night,
And knelt upon the little ****, and prayed in holy fright.

And guilty lovers in their venery
Forgat a little while their stolen sweets,
Deeming they heard dread Dian’s bitter cry;
And the grim watchmen on their lofty seats
Ran to their shields in haste precipitate,
Or strained black-bearded throats across the dusky parapet.

For round the temple rolled the clang of arms,
And the twelve Gods leapt up in marble fear,
And the air quaked with dissonant alarums
Till huge Poseidon shook his mighty spear,
And on the frieze the prancing horses neighed,
And the low tread of hurrying feet rang from the cavalcade.

Ready for death with parted lips he stood,
And well content at such a price to see
That calm wide brow, that terrible maidenhood,
The marvel of that pitiless chastity,
Ah! well content indeed, for never wight
Since Troy’s young shepherd prince had seen so wonderful a sight.

Ready for death he stood, but lo! the air
Grew silent, and the horses ceased to neigh,
And off his brow he tossed the clustering hair,
And from his limbs he throw the cloak away;
For whom would not such love make desperate?
And nigher came, and touched her throat, and with hands violate

Undid the cuirass, and the crocus gown,
And bared the ******* of polished ivory,
Till from the waist the peplos falling down
Left visible the secret mystery
Which to no lover will Athena show,
The grand cool flanks, the crescent thighs, the bossy hills of
snow.

Those who have never known a lover’s sin
Let them not read my ditty, it will be
To their dull ears so musicless and thin
That they will have no joy of it, but ye
To whose wan cheeks now creeps the lingering smile,
Ye who have learned who Eros is,—O listen yet awhile.

A little space he let his greedy eyes
Rest on the burnished image, till mere sight
Half swooned for surfeit of such luxuries,
And then his lips in hungering delight
Fed on her lips, and round the towered neck
He flung his arms, nor cared at all his passion’s will to check.

Never I ween did lover hold such tryst,
For all night long he murmured honeyed word,
And saw her sweet unravished limbs, and kissed
Her pale and argent body undisturbed,
And paddled with the polished throat, and pressed
His hot and beating heart upon her chill and icy breast.

It was as if Numidian javelins
Pierced through and through his wild and whirling brain,
And his nerves thrilled like throbbing violins
In exquisite pulsation, and the pain
Was such sweet anguish that he never drew
His lips from hers till overhead the lark of warning flew.

They who have never seen the daylight peer
Into a darkened room, and drawn the curtain,
And with dull eyes and wearied from some dear
And worshipped body risen, they for certain
Will never know of what I try to sing,
How long the last kiss was, how fond and late his lingering.

The moon was girdled with a crystal rim,
The sign which shipmen say is ominous
Of wrath in heaven, the wan stars were dim,
And the low lightening east was tremulous
With the faint fluttering wings of flying dawn,
Ere from the silent sombre shrine his lover had withdrawn.

Down the steep rock with hurried feet and fast
Clomb the brave lad, and reached the cave of Pan,
And heard the goat-foot snoring as he passed,
And leapt upon a grassy knoll and ran
Like a young fawn unto an olive wood
Which in a shady valley by the well-built city stood;

And sought a little stream, which well he knew,
For oftentimes with boyish careless shout
The green and crested grebe he would pursue,
Or snare in woven net the silver trout,
And down amid the startled reeds he lay
Panting in breathless sweet affright, and waited for the day.

On the green bank he lay, and let one hand
Dip in the cool dark eddies listlessly,
And soon the breath of morning came and fanned
His hot flushed cheeks, or lifted wantonly
The tangled curls from off his forehead, while
He on the running water gazed with strange and secret smile.

And soon the shepherd in rough woollen cloak
With his long crook undid the wattled cotes,
And from the stack a thin blue wreath of smoke
Curled through the air across the ripening oats,
And on the hill the yellow house-dog bayed
As through the crisp and rustling fern the heavy cattle strayed.

And when the light-foot mower went afield
Across the meadows laced with threaded dew,
And the sheep bleated on the misty weald,
And from its nest the waking corncrake flew,
Some woodmen saw him lying by the stream
And marvelled much that any lad so beautiful could seem,

Nor deemed him born of mortals, and one said,
‘It is young Hylas, that false runaway
Who with a Naiad now would make his bed
Forgetting Herakles,’ but others, ‘Nay,
It is Narcissus, his own paramour,
Those are the fond and crimson lips no woman can allure.’

And when they nearer came a third one cried,
‘It is young Dionysos who has hid
His spear and fawnskin by the river side
Weary of hunting with the Bassarid,
And wise indeed were we away to fly:
They live not long who on the gods immortal come to spy.’

So turned they back, and feared to look behind,
And told the timid swain how they had seen
Amid the reeds some woodland god reclined,
And no man dared to cross the open green,
And on that day no olive-tree was slain,
Nor rushes cut, but all deserted was the fair domain,

Save when the neat-herd’s lad, his empty pail
Well slung upon his back, with leap and bound
Raced on the other side, and stopped to hail,
Hoping that he some comrade new had found,
And gat no answer, and then half afraid
Passed on his simple way, or down the still and silent glade

A little girl ran laughing from the farm,
Not thinking of love’s secret mysteries,
And when she saw the white and gleaming arm
And all his manlihood, with longing eyes
Whose passion mocked her sweet virginity
Watched him awhile, and then stole back sadly and wearily.

Far off he heard the city’s hum and noise,
And now and then the shriller laughter where
The passionate purity of brown-limbed boys
Wrestled or raced in the clear healthful air,
And now and then a little tinkling bell
As the shorn wether led the sheep down to the mossy well.

Through the grey willows danced the fretful gnat,
The grasshopper chirped idly from the tree,
In sleek and oily coat the water-rat
Breasting the little ripples manfully
Made for the wild-duck’s nest, from bough to bough
Hopped the shy finch, and the huge tortoise crept across the
slough.

On the faint wind floated the silky seeds
As the bright scythe swept through the waving grass,
The ouzel-**** splashed circles in the reeds
And flecked with silver whorls the forest’s glass,
Which scarce had caught again its imagery
Ere from its bed the dusky tench leapt at the dragon-fly.

But little care had he for any thing
Though up and down the beech the squirrel played,
And from the copse the linnet ‘gan to sing
To its brown mate its sweetest serenade;
Ah! little care indeed, for he had seen
The ******* of Pallas and the naked wonder of the Queen.

But when the herdsman called his straggling goats
With whistling pipe across the rocky road,
And the shard-beetle with its trumpet-notes
Boomed through the darkening woods, and seemed to bode
Of coming storm, and the belated crane
Passed homeward like a shadow, and the dull big drops of rain

Fell on the pattering fig-leaves, up he rose,
And from the gloomy forest went his way
Past sombre homestead and wet orchard-close,
And came at last unto a little quay,
And called his mates aboard, and took his seat
On the high ****, and pushed from land, and loosed the dripping
sheet,

And steered across the bay, and when nine suns
Passed down the long and laddered way of gold,
And nine pale moons had breathed their orisons
To the chaste stars their confessors, or told
Their dearest secret to the downy moth
That will not fly at noonday, through the foam and surging froth

Came a great owl with yellow sulphurous eyes
And lit upon the ship, whose timbers creaked
As though the lading of three argosies
Were in the hold, and flapped its wings and shrieked,
And darkness straightway stole across the deep,
Sheathed was Orion’s sword, dread Mars himself fled down the steep,

And the moon hid behind a tawny mask
Of drifting cloud, and from the ocean’s marge
Rose the red plume, the huge and horned casque,
The seven-cubit spear, the brazen targe!
And clad in bright and burnished panoply
Athena strode across the stretch of sick and shivering sea!

To the dull sailors’ sight her loosened looks
Seemed like the jagged storm-rack, and her feet
Only the spume that floats on hidden rocks,
And, marking how the rising waters beat
Against the rolling ship, the pilot cried
To the young helmsman at the stern to luff to windward side

But he, the overbold adulterer,
A dear profaner of great mysteries,
An ardent amorous idolater,
When he beheld those grand relentless eyes
Laughed loud for joy, and crying out ‘I come’
Leapt from the lofty **** into the chill and churning foam.

Then fell from the high heaven one bright star,
One dancer left the circling galaxy,
And back to Athens on her clattering car
In all the pride of venged divinity
Pale Pallas swept with shrill and steely clank,
And a few gurgling bubbles rose where her boy lover sank.

And the mast shuddered as the gaunt owl flew
With mocking hoots after the wrathful Queen,
And the old pilot bade the trembling crew
Hoist the big sail, and told how he had seen
Close to the stern a dim and giant form,
And like a dipping swallow the stout ship dashed through the storm.

And no man dared to speak of Charmides
Deeming that he some evil thing had wrought,
And when they reached the strait Symplegades
They beached their galley on the shore, and sought
The toll-gate of the city hastily,
And in the market showed their brown and pictured pottery.
Maggie Lane Nov 2012
Looking back, I think I knew she wasn’t going to wake up that night. Maybe I thought she wouldn’t wake up ever.
CHAPTER 1: ENDLESS SLEEP
It seemed to me that the fact that movies and stories make it appear as if sad things can only and will only occur during rain and thunder was just stupid. The weather has no affect on the events, right? But I was wrong. On Tuesday, April 18th, I began to realize this apparently idiotic movie ploy might have an inkling of truth buried in it.
That day, the kids had teased me again, but to be totally honest, I didn’t mind it then and I don’t mind it now. It had begun to rain when I was halfway down 17th street. I had immediately removed my shoes and socks, and stuffed them into my bag, which was already overflowing with scraps of paper and books. Most of the books had been for free time reading, and are currently lying in a heap in my room at Dad's, where they will remain unread until I decide to forget that awful, horrible, tragic day.
I ran all the way to our apartment, but went the long way and danced and twirled as my un-zippered jacked flapped uselessly behind me. My lungs burned white-hot, but my body was freezing, a feeling I still to this day enjoy. By the time I had reached the alleyway behind the crumbling yet comforting building, I was soaked through, and I loved it. I decided to go around back so Martin would have no excuse to yell at me in that foul, ill-tempered way that made the skin underneath his chin jiggle. I had started towards the rusted door when I saw her. Of course, it hadn't been her. She had been inside, where she alway waited for me to get home. But I had felt on that day as protective of her as she always insisted upon being with me.
I grasped the icy handle and slipped inside, the warmth of the building suffocating rather than comforting me. To this day, I prefer being cold, because it clears the mind, and warmth clouds it, like the foul demon that lures you into the endless sleep that tried to take my mother that day. I climbed the steps; the sudden noise of my feet on the stairs was like a rock sliding under the water, breaking the calm.
I remember how the climb up the stairs that day had seemed especially long. But mostly, I remember how the apartment smelled when I finally reached the top and slid the key into the lock, turning it noisily. I remember the smell, and how the instant it hit my nose I knew that I wasn’t to expect the warm, gentle mother I came to expect most days, but that I was going to get the harsh, drunken version, when she had been smoking and on drugs.
Resignedly, I called, “MOM! I'm home from school!” only then I hadn't known that I would never get an answer. I dumped my soaking bag unceremoniously in the hall, and it hit the floor with a wet thump, splattering mud on the tiles. When she didn't respond, I had frowned; a face Andrew tells me makes me look somehow more mysterious.
The trip I had then taken to her room revealed only that she had passed out on the bed, and that she smelt of sadness. But at that time, sadness wasn't uncommon. I don't remember how long I stood there, but I know that when I finally awoke from my thoughts, I showered and got into my softest pajamas. I settled down to do my homework, but I hadn't been trying hard, so when the time had come to make dinner, I had only made the smallest of dents.
Simply because I had been tired and hadn't been up to making anything more complicated, I made tomato soup. Mom always used to make my soup with milk rather than water, so that was how I made it too. I poured the soup into mugs, because we always liked to drink it rather than eat it. I remember sipping from my mug, and I remember how the warmth burned the roof of my mouth. The heat of it brought tears to my eyes, which were every bit as salty as the soup. I walked to her room, and knocked on the door, the sound echoing through the apartment. She hadn’t answered though, so I entered with the intention of waking her up.
“Mom!” I had said. “Wake up, I made dinner!” and I set the mugs down on her bedside table. With my freed hands, I had shaken her shoulder softly. She didn't wake though, which had surprised me, for she always woke instantly as if her dreams were frail and easy to shatter.
“Mom!” I had raised my voice, and I shook her more vigorously. “MOM!” I think it was on the third time that I finally began to realize, but I still shook her.
On the fifth try I had begun to cry, and on the sixth the calm part of me told the hysterical part: *She is fine. She will wake in the morning, I promise. She will wake.
That was the first time I ever lied to myself.
I remember pulling the covers on the bed over her, and then gingerly lying down next to her. Mom. I kept thinking to myself, as if my mere thoughts might wake her. But I had known she wasn't gone, for I felt her breath next to me, soft, shallow, and hardly discernible from my own, yet still breathing. I had drunk the rest of my soup, but left hers, telling myself she would drink it when she woke. Now, looking back, I realize how stupid it was of me to have thought that she would wake up.
I don't even remember falling asleep that night, but I must have, for in the morning when I woke I looked quickly over at her, hoping, wishing that she might have risen. I remember shaking her again, pleading, “Mom, it's the morning, and you missed dinner but it's okay, I will make you more if you please wake up, please momma. Please,” But she didn't heed me. I remember sitting in bed with her all morning, watching the clock. I didn't get ready for school. My mom was more important, I told myself. When the clock had ticked from 8:29 to 8:30, I knew the bell had rung, and I was late. I guess to me that had been a signal: The rest of the world has continued without us. I remember standing up and padding to the kitchen, and grabbing the wireless phone. I remember how icy cold it had felt, as opposed to the warmth and comfort of the bed in Mom's room. For once I simply craved the innocent warmth from my mother's inert body. I walked back in and sat on the edge of the bed. I dialed 9-1-1 and hit the 'call' button.
“This is 9-1-1 what is your emergency?” a rough male voice had said.
“I-” I had to clear my throat from lack of use. “My mom was passed out last night when I got home from school. I thought she would wake up, like she always does, but she hasn't. She is still breathing. Please come,” I had said all that with a flat voice, refusing the awful feeling in my throat that warned of tears.
“What is your location?” he asked, his voice softer now.
“913 Alvarado,” I whisper. “Fourth floor, number 413. My name is Sierra Banks.”
“Paramedics are on their way, ok?”
“Ok,” I recall how loud the click was when he hung up, and I felt the cold, empty silence press down and around me until I couldn't stand it anymore. I wanted to talk to someone, anyone, except the police officers who sounded way too casual. My mom's life might be on the line, and all they do is talk in monotone. Like they don’t care about all those lives. I knew then that I was being unfair, and that they were simply used to losing lives, but...
I looked up at the soup mugs on the table and next to them...her cell. The last person she talked to. I scooped it up, went to last calls, and hit redial.
Ring...Ring...Ring... “Hello, Clemens residence.”
“Dad.” The pain of hearing his voice then was the same as when I hear it every day now. Regret had instatly clouded my heart with the cold wall I built four years ago. Tears began to pour down my cheeks, but I can't recall now if they were hot and scalding, or cold.
“Sierra?” his voice too had become thick, and I hated him for crying. He left us.
“Yes,” I had been unable to force any other meaningless words at him. I hadn't seen him in four years, when we visited him, his beautiful new wife, and worst of all, his new baby girl. He replaced me! My throat burns to think of it. I hadn't thought of Lila, my step sister, and my replacement since she was born. Fury built up inside me. Why did mom call them last? Why does she still hold his number in her phone even after he left? And most importantly, what did they talk about? I still haven't forgotten these questions, but I most certainly haven't got any answers.
“Dad, mom is in trouble. She hasn't woken up since yesterday. I thought she would wake up but she hasn't. The ambulance is on its way,” Instantaneously, I hated myself for telling him, pouring out how scared I was. He didn't deserve to know, to pretend to feel sorry.
“Oh Sierra. Oh my beautiful daug-” he began, but I had already ended the call. How dare he call me beautiful? He hadn't seen me in so many years. He didn't deserve to pretend he care. Maybe I loved him once, but not anymore. I didn’t, and still don’t, want his sympathy, his false words, dripping in I-told-you-so. But most importantly, I didn’t want him to hear me cry.
Now I find myself having to live with him, and have to be constantly aware of him walking in on me. Like the other day when he walked into my room to see how I was doing with homework and found me rocking and bawling on the bed. Gasps had escaped from me in rapid succession; my sobs had shaken the bed so that it creaked softly. My lips curled apart from my teeth as I convulsed. I sniffed loudly and, gradually, my sobs had died down. Eventually too, my ears had regained their sense, and their voices had drifted to me from outside my bubble of silence.
Most days I had control enough to save my tears for the night or not cry at all. A week ago my English teacher had made us write letters to our parents. I had asked if I could write mine to someone else, because I was still furious at my dad, and mom left me. I know that she was in a coma, and she can't help it now, but I remember all the times that I was strong through her rampages. It didn't matter anyways, because Mr. Steiner blatantly refused. I decided to write it to mom, since I refused those days to even to acknowledge that I had a father.
And to this day I remember every word, for I read that letter a hundred times that day, until I had it committed to memory, so that I could have it with me, where ever I might be.
The ambulance arrived about five minutes after I hung up on Richard. The memory of crying, and rocking endlessly in pitch blackness made me refuse even to call him my father. What I kind of father, I asked myself, leaves his daughter crying, without comforting her, when the only person who ever loved her, is a million miles away? 'Mine,' I had answered myself, bitterly.
Gerard M Oct 2012
I remember the Big Red Man,
Oh, I remember him well,
The house was filled with holly and pine,
That fragrance, that smell.

I had to get clean
And dressed for bed.
"Go to sleep, love,
or he won't come,'' my father had said.

His was the ultimate voice of authority,
but I couldn't obey.
During those nights,
I would hear a bump, and not a word I would say.

The Big Red Man had arrived,
I knew.
My eyes were shut.
The boards creaked beneath his shoe.

I wanted to yell, to call out to him.
But I knew I couldn't, for, during those nights, he was the law.
Then when he was gone, I would be so full of excitement,
I had to clench my jaw.

Presents galore,
My family would wake.
We'd play with our presents,
then after church and dinner, tuck into cake.

I remember  one time,
after the holidays,
these girls brought in his glasses,
I was amazed and jealous, for I could only gaze.

Though, now, I laugh at those times,
An age ago.
That Big Red Man,
How I miss him so.
I heard his footsteps coming up the staircase.
My heart was beating inside my chest, loud as thunder.
I had no idea what to do.
I laid still in my bed, not moving a muscle.
His feet walked soft and swift down the carpeted hallway.
The door to my brother’s room creaked open.
The sick feeling in my stomach told me there was nothing I could do.
My brother would be his first victim, and I, his second.
I continued laying completely still in my bed,
Under the blankets, that were getting extremely hot by this point.
I was tempted to remove them, except that it’d be easier for him to get to me.
I would suffer through the heat. Until it was over.
It was all I could do.
I was too small to run away, down the stairs and out into the backyard.
I could only lay flat on my back, making my breathing slow and soft.
I prayed he couldn’t see my chest moving up and down,
That he couldn’t hear my heart beating.
I counted to five, every second my heartbeat growing faster.
One, two, three, four, five.
I didn’t hear my brother’s shrieking. I didn’t hear him cry.
I did hear the man’s footsteps come back out into the hallway.
Instead of moving toward my room, like any other time,
His footsteps carried away from my doorway.
I found this interesting and somewhat bizarre.
This stirred all new emotions inside.
I was afraid, terrified even, but then there was also a sense of relief.
A relief that he wasn’t coming to my room after all.
The sick feeling in my stomach came again.
Only this time, I didn’t know what to feel.
It was a gut instinct. But what was it telling me?
That my time was finally coming?
I couldn’t take it anymore.
I slowly, ever so slowly, removed the blankets.
Taking a break in between, I lay still again, making my breathing slow and soft.
I counted to five while laying completely still and listening.
There was nothing.
I carefully sat up in my bed, keeping my eyes locked on the open doorway.
There was no light, black as a cat.
All that kept going through my mind was a scenario where he suddenly stood in the doorway.
Looking right at me.
But that didn’t happen.
I took a deep breath, maybe the last one I’d get, and slowly rose out of my bed.
I could only hope that I’d miss all the creaky spots in my floor, making a silent exit.
I had succeeded. Not a sound.
I skimmed my head out the door. Looking down the dark hallway.
The dark stairs only a few feet away. Could I make it?
I wanted to check on my brother.
But I didn’t have enough time.
I could hear the clock on the wall ticking. Tick tock. Tick tock.
Just the sound of it made me nervous.
I had no idea where the man was. Absolutely no idea.
For all I knew, he could come up behind me.
But that didn’t happen.
I prayed that he wasn’t in the kitchen.
Where the knives were.
My breathing quickened.
I almost wanted to just drop dead right then and there.
So I wouldn’t have to suffer anymore.
I moved out into the hallway,  carefully sidestepping the creaky hardwood floor.
Once at the stairs, I glanced down.
It looked awfully dark, but the faint glow of a night light lit up the bottom of the stairs.
I would have to be more careful. There was a chance he could see my shadow now.
There was some rummaging that sounded like it was coming from the kitchen.
Where the knives were.
I heard a drawer slam shut. I jumped in my spot on the stairs.
I couldn’t do it anymore. If this freak didn’t ****** me, I’d die just from my own fears.
Slowly, ever so slowly, I started stepping backwards.
Carefully sidestepping the creaks in the floor, making my way back to the doorway of my room.
I stood there, silent. Listening for him.
There was nothing for a long time. My imagination started roaming.
Had he left? Could I lay back in bed and sleep peacefully? Not a chance.
Backing up into my room, I kept my eyes locked on the doorway.
I felt the edge of my bed against the back of my legs.
Slowly sitting down, and applying weight to the mattress and bed frame, it creaked.
I closed my eyes, immediately expecting the man to come up the stairs and into my room.
But he didn’t. I continued sitting. Slowly easing the creaks out.
When all of my weight was on the bed, I carefully lay my head back on my pillow.
I pulled the covers up to my chin, covering my shoulders and hiding myself.
I took a deep breath and lay silently, listening for anything.
My eyelids grew heavy with sleep, while staring at the open doorway.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, there were loud, thundering footsteps coming up the stairs.
My heartbeat quickened and my throat grew constricted. I tried to relax my breathing.
My eyes were dead locked on the door. Several times, I thought I saw someone walk by.
The footsteps slowed and grew quiet while my heartbeat did the exact opposite.
Then, there he was. Standing in the doorway. Looking into my room. Looking at me.
Could he see me? Could he hear me?
He started coming inside. Toward the bed. My time was now. I wouldn’t be waking up.
I closed my eyes, hoping to make it hurt less.
A Halloween poem.
Nigel Morgan Dec 2012
When the engine rattled itself to a stop he opened the driver’s door letting the damp afternoon displace the snug of travel. He was home after a long day watching the half hours pass and his students come and go. And now they had gone until next year leaving cards and little gifts.
 
The cats appeared. The pigeons flapped woodenly. A dog barked down the lane. The post van passed.
 
The house from the yard was gaunt and cold in its terracotta red. Only the adjacent cottage with its backdoor, bottles filling the window ledges, and tiled roof, seemed to invite him in. It was not his house, but temporarily his home. He loved to wander into the garden and approach the house from the front, purposefully. He would then take in the disordered flowerbeds and the encroaching apple trees where his cats played tag falling in spectacular fashion through the branches. He liked to stand back from the house and see it entire, its fine chimneys, the 16C brickwork, the grey-shuttered living room, and his bedroom studio from whose window he could stretch out and touch the elderberries.
 
Inside, the storage heaters giving out a provisional warmth, he left the lights be and placed the kettle on the stove, laid out on the scrubbed table a tea ***, milk jug, a china mug, a cake tin, On the wall, above the vast fireplace, hung a painting of the fields beyond the house dusty in a harvest sunset, the stubble crackling under foot, under his sockless sandals, walking, walking as he so often felt compelled to do, criss-crossing the unploughed fields of the chalk escarpment.
 
Now a week before St Lucy’s Day he sat in Tim’s chair and watched the night unmask itself, the twilight owl glimmer past the window, a cat on his knee, a cat on the window ledge, porcelain-still.
 
He let his thoughts steal themselves across the table to an empty chair, imagining her holding a mug in both hands, her long graceful legs crossed under her flowing skirt. When she lay in bed she crossed her legs, lying on her back like the pre-Raphaelite model she had shown him once, Ruskin’s ****** wife, Effie. ‘I was in a pub with some friends and I looked out of the window and there he was, painting the church walls’, she said musingly, ‘I knew I would marry him’. He was older of course; with a warm voice that brought forth a childhood in the 1930s spent at a private schools, a wartime naval career (still in his teens), then Oxford and the Slade. He owned nothing except a bag of necessary clothes, his paints of course and an ever-present portfolio of sketches. Tim lived simply and could (and did) work anywhere. Then there was Alison, then a passion that nearly drowned him before her Quaker family took him to themselves, adoring his quiet grace, his love of music, his ability to cook, to make and mend, to garden like a God.
 
Sitting in her husband’s chair he constantly replayed his first meeting with her. Out in the yard, they had arrived together, it was Palm Sunday and returning from Mass he gave her his palm as a greeting. He loved her smile, her awkwardness, her passion for the violin, and her beautiful children. He felt he had always known her, known her in another life . . . then she had touched his hand as he ascended the kitchen stairs in her London home, and he was lost in guilt.
 
Tonight he would eat mackerel with vicious mustard and a colcannon of vegetables. He would imagine he was Tim alone after a day in his studio, take himself upstairs to his bedroom space where on his drawing board lay this work for solo violin, his Tapisserie, seven studies and Chaconne. For her of course; of the previous summer in Pembrokeshire; of a moment in the early morning sailing gently across Dale sound, the water glass-like and the reflections, the intense mirroring of light on water  . . . so these studies became mirrors too, palindromes in fact.
 
The cats slept on his sagging quilted bed where he knew she had often slept, where he often felt her presence as he woke in the early hours to sit at his desk with tea to drag his music little by little into sense and reason.
 
When Jenny came she slept fitfully, in this bed, in his arms, always worried by her fear of rejection, always hoping he would never let her go, envelope her with love she had never had, leave his music be, be with her totally, rest with her, own her, take her outside into the night and make love to her under the apple trees. She had suggested it once and he had looked at her curiously, as though he couldn’t fathom why bed was not sufficient unto itself, why the gentleness he always felt with her had to become hurt and discomfort.
 
He had acquired a drawing board because Elizabeth Lutyens had one in her studio, a very large one, at which she stood to compose. He liked pushing sketches and manuscript paper around into different configurations. He would write the same passage in different rhythmical values, different transpositions, and compare and contrast. After a few hours his hearing became so acute that he rarely had to go downstairs to check a phrase at the piano.
 
Later, when he was too tired to stand he would go into the cold sitting room, light some candles, wrap himself in a blanket and read. He would make coffee and write to Jenny, telling her the minutiae of the place she loved to come to but didn’t understand. She loved the natural world of this remote corner of Essex. Even in winter he would find her walking the field paths in skirt and t-shirt insensible of the cold, in sandals, even bare feet, oblivious of the mud. He would guide her home and wash her with a gentleness that first would arouse her, then send her to sleep. He knew she was still repairing herself.
 
One evening, after a concert he had conducted, Jenny and Alison found themselves at the same table in the bar. Jenny had grasped his hand, drawing it onto her lap, suddenly knowing that in Alison’s presence he was not hers. And that night, after phoning her sister to say she would not be home, she had pulled herself to him, her mass of chestnut hair flowing across her shoulders and down his chest as she kissed his hands and his arms, those moving appendages she had watched as he had stood in front of this student orchestra playing the score she had played, once, before this passion had taken hold. At those first rehearsals she had blushed deeply whenever he spoke to her, always encouraging, gentle with her, wondering at her gauche but wondrous beauty, her pear-shaped green eyes, her small hands.
 
He threw the cats out into the chill December air. He closed the door, extinguished the lights and climbed the stairs to his bedroom. In bed, in the sheer darkness of this Ember night, the house creaked like an old sailing ship moored in a tide race. For a few moments he lay examining the soundscape, listening for anything new and different. With the nearest occupied house a good mile away there had been scares, heart-thumping moments when at three in the morning a knock at the door and people in the yard shouting. He carried Tim’s shotgun downstairs turning on every light he could find on the way, shouting bravely ‘Who’s there?’. Flinging open the door, there was nothing, no one. A disorientated blackbird sang from the lower garden . . .

He turned his head into the pillow and settled into mind-images of an afternoon in Dr Marling’s house in Booth Bay. In his little bedroom he had listened to the bell buoy clanging too and fro out in the sea mist, the steady swish, swash of the tide turning above the mussled beach.
When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
For a new routine--
Vitamins, water, and whatever
Sustenance seemed sensible
At the time: she'd lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer,
Her shriveled petals falling
On the faded carpet, the stale
Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves.
(Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)

The things she endured!--
The dumb dames shrieking half the night
Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,
Me breathing ***** at her,
She leaning out of her *** toward the window.

Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me--
And that was scary--
So when that snuffling ****** of a maid
Threw her, *** and all, into the trash-can,
I said nothing.

But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,
I was that lonely.
Kris Oct 2017
The ancient bridge is alight with rage
burning bright like dragon's breath--
fierce, invigorating, brimming in age.

I.
she had been a structure of the primeval kind
wooden bones tied together with tendons of twine
and sweat the subtle scent of forest from pine.

a mother she had been to the lands that relied
on her undying presence throughout bodies of time,
their parted lips looking for a voice in their midst.

yet, it was not soft thanks nor words of praise
but instead scorn that was spat at her from the
toothless mouth whom she would steadily aid.

II.
loveless from the moment of her birth--built by force
hammering nails until they fit (and she bled)
wires strung tense above her, intended to strain.

and yet through it all she kept her balanced grace--
did not falter--not even from the howling remarks
of the de-hearted winds that carved scars through her;

not when the snow seasonally perched on her back,
refused to budge; filling her caves with ice, 'til the sun
melted them like tears, meanwhile searing her skin;

not wavered by the storm of steps--the most agonizing,
this relentless drum-beating, a headache’s throbbing
that never gave her even a heartbeat's rest.

III.
thus the flames became the sole love to taste her
intimate, attentive; the blaze left no part unsavored
they carefully consumed her whole, limb by limb.

first stroking her weary wings until they lowered;
blanketing her shivering legs that always stood firm
but, exposed, had wanted to be covered.

licking delicately the buckling belly that was worn raw;
what rapture! what warmth! a foreign feeling of awe
for it had heretofore only ever known violation as law.

and so at last the foundation creaked, fatigued;
her last breath (one she had been holding for eternity)
erupted as a half-happy cry, for she resolved to release;

the weight of sisyphean struggle collapsed piece by piece
and as the fire consumed her, all pressure was relieved--
for ashes perceive not burden--they are as light as dreams.
Joseph Valle Aug 2012
You,
you cried
it hurts
to write
that tears
they fell
from leaving eyes
waving once
twice
more tears
on stairs
that creaked,
"Goodnight."

Your word
a sword
my throat
my legs
went out
fell down
and you
were gone
you left
me there
with darkened stares
that night
no more
would stars
streak skies.
Alexander Klein Jun 2016
Indigo. A dream of the color, and the sound of soft rain. Bathing birds babbled among pines beyond her window, and morning light was warm on her closed face. An ache in the spine. Creaking knees. Shoulders cold cliff-rock. Complaining muscles knotted tight as wood. The wooden house around her also creaked in the wind. Smelled wet. And somewhere echoing through her fields Edgar barked three times, then once more in playful affirmation. Today maybe the last today. In her mind’s eye, falling almost back into dream, Nora surveyed the long acres surrounding her cold home: untended wheat, alfalfa, cattle-corn, all woven through untold ecosystems of weeds. Stray indigo flowers and violets. Scattered dust-filled barns. What the place might look like after all this time. With her right hand she sought the frame of the bed, found it, rough chips of paint flaking. Slowly exhaling at once Nora lifted her iron legs over the edge, thin-socked feet found the bedroom’s planks. Cold air. November hopelessness. With spider-sensitive fingers she plucked her way around the room, imagining violet dawn spilling through her screen window. Stood before the poker-faced mirror out of habit, ran her brush through hair that must now be silver. She felt the satisfying tug on her scalp and loudly past her ears. If her dresser was in front of her, to her right was the window and the pine-scented boxes where she kept his clothes, behind was her rumpled bed, and to her left then was the bathroom. She felt along the door-frame, the sink, the toilet, and sighingly she settled onto its seat. Relief.
Rain drops on her roof were like the “shh” breathed to an infant. Warm blanket of rain over the cold farm. The breathy wind was driving the rain towards her house, cranky knees told of a storm to come. The boisterous wind had the sound of laughter and strife, of voices: the twins arguing somewhere, Edgar probably with them over-enthusiasticly ******* their footsteps. The bellowing wind made the house creak more than usual, but there was something else. A distinctive groan from the foundation up the east wall to the roof-tiles. Someone was in the kitchen. Constance, just like it used to be. Connie was here and the twins were outside: they had arrived closer to dawn than Nora expected. Heavy truck’s tires in mud, headlights had pioneered dawn darkness. Smell of soil. Massaged her own back, kneaded the the flesh on either side of her spine, then wiped and stood from the seat letting her nightgown fall all down around her knotted ankles. Washed herself, and a short shower before the water turned cold. Dried her wrinkles feelingly, smelling soap, and pulled her soft nightgown back on. Socks.
Always a joy whenever Constance came to call — less frequently these days it seemed — always a joy to be with her grandchildren though little Bastian was still mistrustful of her. Always a joy to see her daughter’s family… but she never got to see Matt’s. An image of her son’s face, a red haired ghost of the past, flickered in Nora’s memory. He couldn’t stand this place since he was young, hated his full name “Matthias,” maybe hated Nora too. No reason to stay after his father died. He fled to the city. Must have a wife, several children by now. Well. At least Constance kept coming by. The rain grew heavier, played on the roof like the roll of a snare drum.
Out of the bathroom and bedroom, feeling the planks of floorboard with her soles, hand by hand and foot by foot she traced her steps down the rickety stairs. Uneven. Nora knew the chandelier she once hung here was red; she pictured the color as hard as she could to envision its reflection on each surface of the stairwell. Smell of pine. Like the smell of his clothes safely preserved in the boxes by the window. Jagged nostalgia. Nora had met dear Rowan back in another world: a world of whirling sights and colors and beautiful ugliness and ugliest beauty all. To America when she was nineteen, leaving behind all Germany and studying her new tongue. Had still devoured books then, was able to become a school teacher. When twenty-three, met in a chance cafe Rowan who worked the docks. Red hair. Scottish but of many American generations. Nora grabbed blindly at a face just out of memory’s reach. Her hold on the bannister revealed the places where varnish had been rubbed away by her wringing hands. From the kitchen, acrid cigarette stench and shuffling. Inflamed knees hating her meticulous descent, but better this ordeal each day than to abandon the bedroom they had shared. When the two met, Rowan still sent money to his agricultural folks in New York (“Upstate,” he protested more than once, “Not that awful city, but in the countryside!” and he’d pantomime a deep breath) because of the expenses of running their farm. Nora’s now. From the cafe he had bought her an almond pastry, triangular, smaller than a palm, its sweet crisp flakes made her think of Mediterranean forests, and when the two were married they worked this hereditary farm. Nora knew all the animals, when they still kept livestock. Now Nora’s farm, whose after? When her little Matthias was born they had praised him as the farm’s inheritor. Unwise.
Last step. Sound from the kitchen of Connie shifting in her seat, rustling papers. Smell of strong coffee. Strong cigarettes. Composed herself, quietly cleared throat. Sauntered down the hallway, monitoring expression and tone. Nora said, “Hello Constance. When did you three get here?”
“Hey ma,” said the woman’s voice when the elder crossed into the kitchen. “For christ’s sake don’t call me that.”
“For christ’s sake, don’t take his name,” Ma scolded, but then traced her way past the table to the countertop and felt about for utensils. “I’ll make you something Connie.” The counter was in front of her, bathroom to the left, stove to her right and along that same wall was the back door. ”How about some nice eggs and toast like how you like.”
“No ma, I handled it already.”
“And what color is that hair of yours this time?” Ma asked, carefully inserting slices of bread into the toaster. “Seems like months you haven’t been by.”
A patronising, sarcastic chuckle. “…it’s orange, ma.
Listen—”
“That is so nice. Your father’s hair was just that shade of orange.” Felt around inside the refrigerator. The styrofoam carton. Small and cold and round, her fingers seized four of them. “Do you remember?”
Pause. “I remember, ma.”
“What I don’t understand,” said Ma swallowing a cough, expertly igniting one gas burner as practiced and putting on hot water for tea, “is why you don’t fix to keep it natural. I love our nice fair hair, very blonde, very pretty.” Back home in Germany Nora had been the favorite of two men, but many years since engaging in the frivolous antics she in those days entertained. “Best to flaunt your natural hair color while it’s still there: orange like Matt and dear Rowan, or fair like you and Lorelai got.” Memories of her own face as she remembered it. Relatively young the last time she had seen. What wrinkles there must be. What a mask to wear. No wonder Bastian. Nora ignited another burner. Tick tick tick fwoosh. Smelled gas. Sound of the almost boiling water complaining against its kettle. Phantom taste of anticipated tea. Regret. The contents of the vial hidden on the top shelf. Today maybe the. Sound of heavy rain. “And how are your bundles of mischief?”
Connie sighed. “I told Lorelai to get her little **** inside the house, as if she hears a word. She’s playing with Ed somewhere in the fields I don’t wonder, rain be ******. That girl is such a little — well she’d better not be down by the creek anyhow. Could get flooded in a downpour like this. Bastian was out with her, but he’s playing in his room now. You know we don’t have time to stay long today, it’s just that you and I got to finally square this business away. No more deliberating, ok?”
Swallowed. “Course, Constance. Just nice to hear your voice. You’re taking care?”
“Care enough. Last time I was — oh! Jesus, ma!”
Ma’s egg missed the pan’s edge. She felt herself shatter the shell into the stove top, in her mind’s eye saw the bright orange yolk squeezed into the albumen. The burner hissed against liquid intrusion. Connie made a strained noise and scooped her mother into a seat at the table. Movement. Crisply, the sound of two fresh eggs being broken and sizzling on the pan. Scrambled as orange as Connie’s guarded temper. The table’s cool surface. Phantom smell of pine wood polish and recollections of Rowan at his woodworking tools building this table once. Other breakfasts. Young Constance, young Matthias. Young self. Her left hand massaged her aching right shoulder, then she switched. The sound of plates being readjusted with unnecessary force.
“You know,” said her daughter, “living in one of them places might even be fun. Might be good for you instead of moping about this place. But like I’ve been saying, we got to make our decision today: sell this place or pass it on. I know you don’t take no walk, cause where would you go? What’s the point in keeping all this **** land if you’re not gonna do nothing with it? You can’t even ******* see it!”
“Constance! Language!”
“Come on ma, just cut it out! This is great property, and you’ve let it get so it’s bleeding money.”
“…But Constance I can’t sell it, not like your brother wants me to do. He’s always trying to get rid of this place and turn a profit, but someone needs to take care of it! You know that this is the house that your f—“
“‘That your grandparents lived in where your father and I raised you…’ Yeah I know, ma. And I get it. Believe me. But what you’re doing is just plain impractical, why don’t you think about it? All you’re doing is haunting this place like a ghost. Wouldn’t you rather live somewhere where you can make friends? Things can’t go on like this.” A plate was placed softly on the table and it slid in front of Ma. Can’t go on like this. Egg smell. Salted. Toast, margarine. A cup of tea appeared nearby. “Anything else you want? Here’s a fork.”
“What will you eat, Constance?”
“I ate, ma, I ate already. Have your breakfast, then we can talking about this for real. Ok?” Then, the sound of her daughter’s body shifting in surprise, a pleasant unexpected, “Oh,” before Connie said low and matronly, “Hi baby, how you doing? Are you hungry?” But only the sound of the downpour. Orange eggs still softly sizzled. The wind pushed the creaking house. “Sweetie, you don’t have to hide behind the door, it’s ok. Come say hi to grandma… don’t you want some scrambled eggs?” Refrigerator’s hum. Barking echoed, coming over the hill. But not even the little boy’s breathing. Grandma had met the twins two years ago, following the **** of Constance’s rebellious years and independence. Nora was reminded of her german gentlemen and her own amply tumultuous adolescence. She could forgive. Two years ago Lorelai and Bastian had already been too big to cradle and fawn over, but they were discovered to be just starting school and already bright pupils. Grandma hung her head. Warm steam from where the uneaten eggs waited patiently. Edgar’s approaching yapping. And, fleeing from the doorway, a scampering of feet so light they might have been moth wings. Down the hallway back into his room. “Sorry ma,” said Constance.
Shrugged. A nerve flared in pain up her neck but she didn’t react. Only fork scrape. Ate eggs. On introduction, poor little Bastian had burst into tears and refused to go near her. Connie had consoled: “It’s ok baby, she’s just Grandma Nora! She’s my mother.” But poor little Bastian inconsolable: “No, no, no! She’s not!” What a wrinkled mask it must be. How hideous unkempt with silver hair. How horrible unflinching eyes. “She’s not,” would sob the quiet boy in earnest, “she’s a witch! Don’t you see?” And he never would let Grandma hold him. Lorelai was always polite, hugged warmly, looked after her pitiable brother, but her mind too was far elsewhere. Edgar alone loved them all unconditionally and was equally beloved. Barking. Yowling. Scratches at the door. Downpour. Door and screen door opened, wet dog happy dog entered, shook, and droplets on her cheek.
And there appeared Lorelai, a star out of sight. “Hey mom. Hi grandma!”
Grandma swiveled for cosmetic reasons to face where the door. Grinned, “Hello Lorelai. Wet?” Envisioned yellow sunlight entering with the excitable girl in spite of the deluge.
“Oh it’s so rainy out there grandma, I found little streams through your fields and big mud puddles and Edgar showed me where your secret treasure was, we found it!”
“Stop right there, missy!” commanded Constance. “For christ’s sake you look like you took a bath in the mud and the **** dog with you. Come on, your filthy coat needs to be on the rack, right? Now your boots.”
Warm nose found Nora’s palm, excited lapping. Slimy fur, smelly fur. A cold piece of egg dangled in her fingers, then dog breath came hot and licked it up. Satisfied, he trotted off elsewhere, collar jingling out of the kitchen and down the hall.
Little Lorelai lamented, “I couldn’t help it mom, the mud was all over the place! When we got past the motor barn and the one alfalfa field that looks like a big marsh frogs went ‘croak croak croak’ but Edgar growled and chased them and then we made it all the way in the rain to the creek and it’s so much—”
“Now you just hold on. Hold still!” Sounds of wrestling. Grunts of a struggle. “That creek must have been overflowing! Didn’t I tell you not to? You didn’t take your new phone out there did you, Lori?”
“No ma’am.”
“**** right you didn’t, cause I sure ain’t buying you a new one. Didn’t I tell you not to go all the way out there? Didn’t I? Now you get into that bathroom and wash your **** hands!”
“But I’m telling Grandma a story!” huffed little yellow haired Lorelai.
“Well wash your hands first and then we’ll hear it, Grandma don’t listen to misbehaving girls who are all muddy and gross. Not a squeak from you till you look like you come from heaven instead of that nasty creek.”
A profound sigh, a condescending, “Fine,” a door closing and a squeaky faucet running. Muffled hands splashed, dampened off-key ‘la la la’s.
“Who knows what the hell that one is ever talking about,” said Connie. “It’s everything I can do to get her to shut up for five ******* minutes. You done with your eggs?”
Ma fidgeted. The plate was scraped away, and a clunk by the sink. Licked her lips, mouthed a syllable, about to speak. But then her house creaked three strong along the east wall. From deeper within bubbled a suppressed sob: “Mom,” little Bastian wailed, “Mom, come quick!” Constance sighed, Constance cursed, and Constance swept off down the hallway struggling to refrain from stomping.
Sound of washing. Wind. Rain. Alone. Cold. Picking out the paint for this room, listed in gloss as ‘golden straw yellow.’ Rowan hadn’t liked it and chose himself the bedroom’s color in retaliation. The loss of the home they had built together. The contents of the vial hidden on the top shelf: do they see it? Bathroom sink stopped flowing, door wrenched open. Smell of soap, clean smell. Grandma said to her, “Your mother went to check on Bastian,” Taste of eggs still yellow on her tongue.
“What a *****!”
Stunned. “Lorelai!” she snapped. “Don’t you dare take that language!”
“But mom does it all the time.”
“Then Lorelai, it’s up to you to be better than your mother. When I’m not around any more, and your mother neither, you’ll be the one who keeps us alive.”
“But as long as you’re alive you’ll always be around, you’re not a ***** like mom. And remember? I got all the mud off so can I finally tell you can I what we found? Well actually it was Edgar found it. Oh and I’ll describe it real good for you grandma just like you could see it: when we pulled up we were just wandering in the blue rain, Bastian and me, and silly Edgar joined us but Mom tried to make us come back of course but I told Bastian to stay with us at first, but later I changed my mind on it. It was he and me and Edgar were hiding in the old motor barn where it smells like a gas station remember grandma and he was so excited to see the sun when it rose and made the morning violet sky he started clapping and Edgar got excited too and was barking ‘bark bark’ and howling so I told Bastian to go back even
Shannon Ulmer Jul 2010
Chapter 1
A man wearing a black suit and tie stood at the pew of a church. He had an anxious look on his face. Where is she? He thought. It was his wedding day, yet the room was strangely empty. Not a single person had showed up so far. Not even the priest. There were no flowers, no music, nothing. All there was were empty chairs and an occasional cockroach scuttling across the floor. Maybe I got the date wrong...No, I doubt that. We talked about it all night. Just then the large mahogany doors creaked open and he saw her. Her dress…god it was gorgeous. Pure white, not a speck of dirt on it. It flowed around her shoeless feet. She appeared to be walking on air. He was utterly stunned, not able to say a word, not able to think. She was so beautiful…Her eyes, a deep shade of blue stared back at him and they became all he could see. But as he stared, something in them died. The light just left. The glimmer she always had disappeared. They looked more and more like glass eyes on a doll than the ones that belonged to his lover. Dark circles surrounded them as a thin film covered them and took away every bit of life that was left. And then they shut. The next thing he knew, he was standing over her dead body, crying. The soft velvet lining in the coffin turning the tears into little beads that rolled down the creases.
Chapter 2
My eyes opened and I took in my surroundings, wondering where I was until I realized it was just my own room. My pillow was wet with tears and my hands shaky. Then I remembered, she died. But that couldn’t be. It just wasn’t right. I rolled over in my bed too see if she was there. Much to my relief she was, her brown hair resting on the pillow. I reached out to touch it and took in the soft scent of lavender. It felt like silk slipping through my fingers. A soft moan escaped from her throat as she rolled over and faced me.
“Hi,” she whispered in a voice that was scratchy and barely audible but **** at the same time. I just stared back at her deep blue eyes and felt the tears build up behind my eyes. “What’s wrong?” she asked a pitiful look on her face.
“Nothing, just another bad dream.” I replied nonchalantly.
She sat up in the bed, stroking her hair. “You didn’t take your sleeping pill last night did you? You were tossing all night long.”
I just stared at her back. We both knew the answer. I hadn’t. I’d been skimping on my meds recently. I was getting married in a week and needed to give the meds time to completely wear off. I didn’t want the pills taking away my feelings. I wanted the full experience. Besides I thought I was getting better. There were no more voices whispering my name and I no longer talked to my dead sister, who apparently was just a hallucination my mind created to help deal with the pain of losing her. They said that it in no way meant I was insane. They called it a defense mechanism. They said it was my body’s way of protecting me. But I saw their thoughts in their eyes. I saw how frightened they were at my insanity, how they kept their distance from me, avoiding me like I was infected with the plague.
I remembered how healthy, how happy she had been. She’d had her whole life ahead of her but when she was nineteen I had taken her down to the Gulf of Mexico with Kasey, my fiancée. I couldn’t have one without the other. It was through Sarah that I met Kasey and through Kasey that I saved Sarah. I had figured that I would take the two most important people in my life to the beach for spring break but now I regret it.
I just remember Sarah’s smiling face, mocking me and Kasey as we held each other on the shore, our toes tickled by the gentle water.  Without warning a scream escaped her mouth as she was pulled under against her will. She didn’t leave the water until the following morning when her body washed up on shore. A shark had bitten one of her legs clean off. Her face was pale, her eyes open, not seeing through the milky film surrounding them and her lips stained a dark blue color. For so long I had been convinced that she had escaped. I saw her on the streets, in my apartment, in my car everywhere. Sometimes we just waved or said hi and we went on with our days but sometimes I had long drawn out conversations with her. I remember the day I proposed to Kasey that she had been waiting for me outside the apartment and we had talked for hours about how happy I was going to be with her and how I am so lucky to be able to have someone like her. Even seeing her body in that black coffin surrounded by white lilies didn’t bring the truth to me. It just felt like an insane dream when I stood up and recounted our good times during the eulogy and when I held Kasey tight in the cemetery where she now rests. I was absolutely convinced that she had lived. She couldn’t be dead I saw her, I talked to her, I hugged her. But all those psychologists said she was. They all said the hallucination was just how my brain was choosing to deal with it. Instead of becoming clinically depressed, I just chose to deny it.
Other than the hallucinations, I haven’t really dealt with her death. It still doesn’t feel real; even if I don’t see her anymore. Although she’s six feet under next to our parents, I can’t believe it. I’m just waiting for the day it hits me. The day I’ll want to do nothing but look at pictures of her as I’m locked in my room crying. But surely it won’t be soon. I’m marrying Kasey in a week and then everything will be perfect for a while.
Chapter 3
The weeks before our wedding was spent running about the streets of St. Augustine. Kasey boasted to me for days about how gorgeous she would be in her dress and how I wouldn’t be able to keep my hands off her. We were having a small wedding, neither of us really had a family left and we didn’t have too many friends being as I could never keep one job for too long, let alone live in one place for a while. I usually ended up working as a waiter somewhere or in a small store. I really relied on Kasey for most of my money though.
Kasey had modeled at one point in her life and still had some money left over from it. I kept telling her to get back into it but she always said no, claiming the people in the business were shallow and ignorant. A little over a year after we’d met, she was getting pretty well known. Her agent was a scumbag who would milk absolutely everything he could from her, even if it meant turning to pornographic modeling. He was going to get as much money as he possibly could from her so he paid, literally paid, a new male model to date her. His name was Jacob Fischer. Apparently the guy was stupid enough to tell Kasey that he hadn’t been paid enough to take her anywhere really expensive. I remember when Kasey showed up at my house drenched in rain, crying. I tried to make her as comfortable as possible in my dinghy apartment. Apparently all she needed was my love. That was the first time that we admitted how much we loved each other. The only other time we admitted it was when I proposed to her. Our wedding day drew nearer and nearer until the night of our rehearsal dinner.
It took place at the Sun Dial, where I worked. We were all wearing our dress suits and the ladies wore dresses that glittered and shone in the dim lighting. We sat and drank champagne as we watched the city of Atlanta revolve around us. You could see the street lights and malls and other buildings. From our view the Golden Dome looked beautiful. I sat down sipping my wine and letting the constant chatter of the place engulf me. I was completely lost in my thoughts as Kasey sat down next to me and everyone began clapping. “Go on,” She whispered, “it’s time for the toast.” I stood up and the volume of the clapping increased.
I cleared my throat. “I can’t tell you all how flattered I am to be able to have Kasey’s hand in marriage. It’s very rare that a guy like me ends up with someone as beautiful as her,” I paused, listening to the dead silence and continued, “No really though, I am honored to be able to have her become part of my family.” I looked at the very last table and saw Sarah sitting there smiling at me. “And I’m sure that Sarah is excited to have her as her sister-in-law. Isn’t that right Sarah?” There was no reply, only stunned faces staring back at me.
Sarah was gone. I could feel all those eyes boring holes in me as my face grew hot. Kasey stood up and took my arm, “Will you excuse us please?” she pulled me of the rotating floor and towards the door of the restaurant. “What is wrong with you?” she was practically yelling. I could see the tears welling up behind her eyes. “She really was there. Sarah was sitting in the back of the room smiling at me.” I tried to tell her the truth. “No. No Parker. You’re the only one who saw her. She’s been dead for over two years now.” She looked me straight in the eyes, begging me to believe her. “You can’t just quit taking your meds like that! Normal people don’t see their dead sisters at the rehearsal dinner and most of them don’t talk to her during the toast!” I couldn’t say anything; I just looked at her. “I love you Parker, I really do. You’re the only person in this world that I feel truly understands me but you’re insane! Nothing will bring her back. I know you don’t understand that she really is gone but you have to move on. It hurts me as much as it does you. I loved her too and if you would just pull your head out of your *** you would see that there are so many other people that did too but we’ve all dealt with it and moved on.” I could tell she was trying really hard to hold back the tears but they just kept rolling down her face, painting it with bleeding mascara.
I reached out and hugged her. “I’m so sorry Kasey. I just don’t know what happened back there…” she pushed me back and stared at me in disbelief.
“You know what? **** it. You’ve completely lost your mind. How do you expect me to be able to marry someone who talks to dead people?!” her chest was heaving with effort. She was yelling at me louder than she ever had before. “Just…Just come find me whenever you find your ******* mind.” She shoved me away from her slipped in the elevator just as its doors closed.
“Kasey! Wait!” I called desperately after her. I stood by the window completely dumbfounded. My breath fogged up the glass that my hand rested on.
Chapter 4
I lay in my bed that night, staring at the water stained ceiling. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Thinking about how I had hurt her, of how she had run away and how I had been too stunned to go and face all those people that had just witnessed me talking to a hallucination. I hadn’t done that in so long…What happened? Why did she blow up like that at me? It’s not like I meant to, I mean just because it’s the first time I’ve done it in a couple months doesn’t give her a right to get so mad does it? I’m not insane…at least I don’t think I am. But maybe she’s right. Maybe I am. Insane and depressed. I thought as I rolled over in my bed and brought my legs up to my chest. My eyes landed where her head would usually be. I felt a wave of extreme hopelessness rush over me as I thought of her. I really did love her. But maybe she just can’t make herself love me. Maybe the insane aren’t meant to be loved. We’re all destined to a life of loneliness and tears. All those who try to help us don’t really care. They all just come and go like birds in the change of seasons. The world never stops changing, never stops moving. Neither do we, but we never go up, we only fall deeper and deeper until we’ve lost it completely. That’s when we start sitting in a rocking chair all day mumbling nonsense to ourselves. By then no one cares anymore; we all just become lost causes. There is no hope anymore. Not for us.
It felt like someone had ripped my heart right out of my chest. That was how bad it felt to know she didn’t want to be with me. I would rather her have died knowing that she loved me than have her living knowing she doesn’t give a ****.  This way she was dead to me, but only me; just like my sister was dead to everyone but me. She told me to come find her when I found my mind, but how do I find it if I’ve never lost it? I just can not believe I’m insane. Surely she would come back to me if I could just talk to her. She had always loved me no matter how crazy I got. What made now different? I had to make it up to her. I would find her in the morning and hold her tight for the rest of the day. We didn’t have to get married if she didn’t want to. If she was just looking for an excuse not to marry me, why didn’t she just tell me that she wasn’t ready yet? That would’ve been easier for me to take than this. Anything would be.
The beast that had my heart in their hands rolled it around, feeling the warmth and stickiness of blood on their hands. They held still for a moment and then squeezed it until it burst, gushing blood between their fingers. I screamed into my pillow and then succumbed to the unavoidable sobs.
Chapter 5
Sleep never came to me that night. I just lay there; thinking about her, imagining her, missing her. She was all I thought about. She was the only thing I thought about as I slipped some clean clothes on and headed out of the apartment that smelled like mildew.
The streets were too crowded for me to take my car and after ten minutes of waiting for a cab, I decided to walk. Besides, I didn’t even really know where I was going yet. I tried to think of where she would go if she felt like she needed to get away. Then it hit me, Oakland Cemetery. She would probably be visiting Sarah’s grave. I flagged down a taxi and went to find her.
Upon stepping inside the cemetery I became aware of the ancient graves. In a way it was a beautiful sight. The headstones jutting out of the ground; it just brought me a feeling of peace. A thousand souls rested here, many centuries old. Most people find it somewhat creepy, but it’s fascinating to me. There’s so much history buried beneath this earth, it just astounded me to think of all these people coming to rest all in one place. I could just imagine all the things these people did, all their accomplishments. I walked up hill towards Sarah’s grave. There it was. The graves were more modern here, no headstones stuck out of the ground, they all lay parallel to the bodies beneath them.  And just as I suspected a human figure was kneeling on the ground. It had to be Kasey, I mean how many people go the cemetery this early on a day when the sun shines bright and a light breeze tussles your hair? No one. No one would want to come here this morning.
I quietly crept towards the figure, whispering Kasey’s name. There was no response from the figure so I drew nearer and nearer.  With every step I took I noticed that something wasn’t right. Their backside was bare, and so far as I could tell, so was their front. They sat there, no movement at all, trapped in one moment of time. From the back, they looked like Kasey, they had the same hair and lying next to her was the dress that she’d worn last night. “Kasey?” I called out, waiting for an answer. Nothing stirred except for a couple of squirrels off in the distance. I reached out and touched her on the shoulder. I drew my hand back immediately as the awful stench of death filled my nostrils. I stood there stunned as the body fell back into the grass with a thud. It was definitely Kasey. She lay there, on top of Sarah’s grave staring up at me. There were long, deep gashes up her wrists. A knife clutched in her right hand, she had died, staining the earth with her blood. Her bloodshot eyes stared up at me with an eerie emptiness. Her face looked pained; you could almost see her last thoughts on it. Life isn’t worth living anymore, I’ve been betrayed one too many times so I’m just going to end it all right now and stop waiting for someone else to do it for me. My mind and body went completely numb. This wasn’t happening, No, I would wake up and it would all just be a dream. She couldn’t have killed herself, no, not her. She had always loved life. Always loved to go somewhere new, to get out there, try everything, and live life to the fullest. So why would she **** herself? It couldn’t possibly be my fault. I had never done anything to hurt her. I never could have. I had loved her way to much. I couldn’t be the re
Copyright Shannon Ulmer 2008
Luce Dec 2013
There you are, structure, bones
standing tall in the sunlight
all of the personality drained away.
Oh, goodbye to that twinkle in your eye
Goodbye to that thing we couldn't put our fingers on, that thing that sparked passion
Because all you are now, is a skeleton.

A skeleton with so many ghosts, war veterans, teachers and teenage girls that I used to know,
even me.
That old version of me who skipped, smiled and run her fingers through her hair
she dances through the corridors when no-one else is there.

Along they came. Dress you up, ready for business. That's one thing I learned from this, patch yourself up, make yourself look okay and no-one will realise how broken you are. No.

No, they won't notice the graffiti marks of those who have been,
on your skin.
No, they won't notice those damp patches,
in the corner,
of your eye.
They didn't notice how your ribs creaked as you let out a sigh,
your final goodbye.
They certainly didn't notice when you closed your eyes to die,
my skeleton...

I remember when you comforted me from the world with soft, warm arms and friendly words.
I remembered how you nurtured us and watched us grow.
A loving kiss on the cheek and off we go, but I couldn't let you go.

So here I stayed to watch you drift away with each passing day as they measured your waist,
for the suit.
Pull it in tighter.
A stitch here,
a stitch there.
Tighter.
Iron out the crease.
Tighter.
No room to breathe.

The suit may not cover your face, but it is a mask, covering up mistakes.
The mistake of your missing heart, the drive, the ambition.
The mistake of your missing eyes, seeing goodness in the world, giving beauty to the hopeless.
And the mistake of your missing smile, inspiration for lost souls trying to find their way home.

But you, you were home to me, my skeleton.
Now however much you lose or decay, you will never go away.
You will always be there, a ghost in my memory.

My loving skeleton who is now in a suit.
Jordan Farelli Oct 2012
You came to me many times
In distress and in shambles
I held you close and gave comfort
I let you sadly ramble

I was there for you
In loneliness, grief, and success
You were there for me as well
When life gave me the hardest test

But what I could not see
You hid behind a veil
It distorted what I saw
It corrupted that which I felt

This veil of sorts
I would call it a mask
Allowed you to take things from me
As you creaked in from the back

You snuck up behind me
You defiled what I confided
It wasn't my friendship you were after
It was the one that betrayed me in which you were guided

This mask it so blocked
That which I could not see
Your eyes of deceit
And your face as it gleamed

For the one that was not
For the one that was coarse
It gleamed for the one
That one to whom you showed remorse

Of all the time we spent
Bonding and growing
It is with her now
Her now with which you are moaning

In the bed which her and I shared
Many a heated and passionate night
To where my unmentionables were stored
In her body so tight

Live your life with one eye
As it looks out far and beyond
For it is I that will be creaking
Creaking up behind you one morn.
Olympia Nov 2012
I'd walk out across
Even if
There was nothing but water on the other side
Where the lamps break and explode on the surface
And the night birds swoop low, near me.
If you were never there and
The cloud behind your silhouetted frame was complete
Without you
Full in its colored whiteness and
Billowing lines
I would still look and maybe
Smile.
If the wooded planks, missing here or there
Below my padding feet and scraping jeans
Creaked half as much, silent under nothing,
Quiet with no feet behind me
Yours
I would walk forward still
Crisscrossing here or there and meandering
around.
I would
And I wouldn't
Between the glass of the bottle and the asphalt
In the sound of
Their touch
In that moment when the music turns stale
When I know I'll soon
Want for home
I wouldn't.
And in that place
Where soft and quiet
In know and understand
I would, and I would not.
Hereafter, I deny.
Hold me home
LycanTheThrope May 2015
{~~~}

With every throbbing moment
I can hear you sing
Don't sing as loud as my heart please
I've been chasing my tail
The space between has never been so daunting
Let me close it
Zip Zip
The colours
Dripping off voices
Sweet and Salty
Come back as you were
Like how you are in my head
I'll sing with you
To the silver
Awhoooooo
You say ice had lists
Fire had regrets
What remains of littered bones
Break
Break
Snap like little bones please
You don't know how lovely you are
Can you answer me in the dark then?
Fade like my sorrow
Rush back to the start
The start of loving
Back to when I had taken a drink
Of youthful water
It tastes like metal
Metal and blood
Dragon scales
Night prevails
Black and white wings
Creaked with wood
Cracked with suffer
Come up and tell me
What do you hear?
Sweet
or
Salty?

Oh
This is how I feel when I'm with you
You are my Drug

{~~~}
This is what you do to me.

© Copywrited
I walked a lonely path once,
through mountains and valleys,
through deserts and woods,
till I stumbled upon a crooked cabin.

You sat on the front porch,
silent.
Yet you're smiled screamed,
"come in."

And so I did.

The floor was shaky,
and creaked with every step I took.
You offered me a bed,
my own little nook.

I smiled and accepted,
and quietly, I rested.

When I woke in the morning,
I found your on the porch yet again.
You smiled and stared at me and I stared back,
then you asked if I'd be you're friend.

We spent years in the crooked cabin,
painting walls like waterfalls.
Trickling down to the ground.
We planted flowers,
and trees,
and watched the bees,
as they thanked us the flowers,
with golden honey.

I could never leave,
I was at peace,
until one morning,
I opened my eyes...
Copyright Barry Pietrantonio
Pedro Tejada Sep 2010
This one time, my mom
and I said goodbye
to Juan's mom and we
walked from her apartment
to wait for the elevator.

Mom didn't like it
when I wouldn't stand still-
sometimes she'd smack me
upside my head just to
make sure I was there
(accompanied by her
motherly calls of malcriado)-
so I'd look in any direction
for a distraction or two.

Through the window a few feet
from my left, I could see two
older ladies in curler hairdresses
bochinchando like caffeinated hens
about the awfully friendly suelta
living next door to gallina #1
(they hung their hand-me-down
nightgowns and their husband's
boxers with such professional care;
if any article escaped the grasp
of family clotheslines, it was
roadkill forever).

I turned to the right
of the elevator doors,
counted the tar-black patches
of decade-old gum on the floor,
finished the half-written
sentences sprayed in *****
rainbows on the sweaty walls
by the zig-zag flight of stairs.

A boom and a click,
and the door creaked open
with the sideways grace
of a crab.
My toddler's impatience
boiled past the brim, I
exclaimed "FINALLY"
and began to walk forward.

Not a second later, I heard a
"NO" behind me, my mother
grabbing the back of my
cartoon mouse t-shirt,
letting out an ay cono, pendejo
that echoed eight stories down,
past the empty space substituting
for an absent elevator shaft,
soaring down that rusty freefall
at ten thousand times the
speed of a human boy's body.

Letting out a long exhale,
my mother did not allow
her emotions to brim over
the barrier-she recomposed
herself, all the while silently
chanting hymns of gratitude
in dedication to fate
and her reflexes.

We decided to take the stairs.
In my youthful oblivion,
I noticed a toy store
right outside the building
from the corner of my eye-
I plan to start begging when
we're at the bottom,
if we ever get there.

My mother took her sweet time
walking down those many steps,
reveled in the scratchy bristle
of the concrete against her sandals,
cultivated a newfound admiration
for my atonal imitation of a
Washington Heights car alarm-
it was a sign I was still there.
the "n" in "ay cono" is supposed to have that squiggly line you see in Spanish writing. It wouldn't show up here!
JJ Hutton Apr 2014
His navy blue sports coat with brass buttons appeared to have been folded, again and again, as if to create ornate origami then unfolded to wear every Tuesday and Friday at his job at the Xerox call center in Colorado Springs. He kept his small, stubby fingers in his pockets, uncapping and recapping pens or fiddling with keys. As he passed by co-workers, adjusting his body to make adequate room in the narrow path between spines of cubicles, he would nod and say an almost audible hello. This was difficult for him, but he was trying something he'd read in a self-help book called Going Up.

And go up he had, ever so marginally. But up still. Despite his translucent blonde mustache, which was quite thick but only visible at a certain angle, under a discriminating light, despite his wrinkled clothes, despite the tight, Brillo pad, curly mess of hair atop his head, he'd stepped up from customer service representative to quality specialist, much to the yawning disbelief of his former spinemates.

Craig didn't have a girlfriend, but he had an ex, and, though he tried to never bring her up when talking with a woman in the break room, usually Kaley or Jewelz (spelled that way on her name badge), he did, nearly every time. He didn't know if this was an attempt to relate a yes, I've seen a woman naked in real life--so or evidence that he had, at least at one point, value.

He and twelve other quality specialists shared an office on the east side of the center. In each call he screened he made sure the customer service representative demonstrated the Three Cs: Courtesy, Commit, and Close. He no longer had to hand deliver critiques to reps because H.R. deemed it a liability risk with all the death threats he received. Instead, he sent out emails with no mention of his name. They read something like this:

Dear Customer Service Representative 216442,

Upon review of call number 100043212, which took place on 03/12/12, the Quality department noticed that while you did a super job of being courteous (great use of customer's name!) and closing (we love that you didn't just say, "Thank you for being a Xerox customer, etc., etc.," but instead said, "At Xerox it's our absolute pleasure to serve you." How true! We love that in quality), we noticed you over committed in your commitment statement. During the call, you tell the customer, "I'll have that problem fixed for you in no time." While that is ideal, there are situations in which you will not be able to solve the customer's problem. So instead of saying with certainty that you will have a solution, say, "Let me review your account and see what OPTIONS we have for you today." This tells the customer that you are concerned, yet you do not promise that which you cannot deliver.

Quality Control Team
CS Springs


Craig quit smoking two or three times a week, a hundred or 150 times a year. At 26, he woke up to wake up; he worked to work, to say yes, I have a job, to say yes, it's unbelievable how much of my money Uncle Sam gets, to say, I'm saving for a car or a new place or a full-size bed; he went to the bar after work on Thursdays and Saturdays to go to the bar on Thursdays and Saturdays; he'd say hello to say hello. Today was tomorrow is yesterday.

At the foot of Ute Valley park he lived in a home not all that different from where your mother sleeps, a white split-level with charcoal shutters and a two-car garage--though Craig slept where your mother would not: in the unfinished basement, for the home was not his but his brother's. His brother had a nice wife and a nice three-year-old boy, and they ate pizza on Wednesdays, went to the park, weather permitting, every day after supper for a nice time.

Craig observed this more than participated. He'd listen to blocks fall, his brother stepping on action figures, his brother's wife cooking--all from underneath them. As the floorboards creaked he committed each cohabitant's gait to memory. He vultured deli meat and low-fat slices of cheese out of the fridge when no one was in the kitchen.  

At night he'd drink a bottle of his ex-girlfriend's favorite wine, just to watch it go empty. He'd fall asleep on top of the covers and dream, not without some anguish, **** dreams of her.
JR Rhine May 2016
Enjoying the cool evening air
in the middle of May.
Walking my dog through the neighborhood,
enchanted by its bucolic setting--

Besotted with the scent of freshly cut grass,
and the drone from the lawnmower that renders it,
and the chatter of crickets far in the distance,
preparing for their evening performance,

and closer to me are the squawks and chirps of the birds
hunched in the brush and perched upon telephone wires.

Enamored with the sight of lush foliage,
scintillating at the utmost tier of the woods
where the golden haze of the shrinking afternoon sun
is still hopelessly chromantic in its fading vigor.

The clouds, dispersed like shreds of cloth
against a looming soft blue sky,
the color of the walls in my crib-room as an infant.

The affable hand-waves veiled behind translucent glass passing by
propelling fleeting smiles onward in the journey.

Though the atmosphere is dense,
its ambiance expounds a soft lull.
          There's a hush over the six o'clock late afternoon day,
as the auriculariae settle gently aside my temples,
placating the rooted tendons wrapped tautly
in my grove of flesh and bone.

                  It suddenly becomes disturbed

by the creaking and squeaking of a rusty frame,
the slow groan of old worn tires treading across harsh gravel,
and the conductor of the indistinct cacophony himself:

A placid old man,
in his worn red and black plaid long sleeve shirt,
faded grey work trousers,
dingy black socks,
muddy crusty ragged off-white sneakers,
and an old camouflage military cap to top it all off.

His face, barely visible under the old cap
and the worn silent shroud of his visage,
holds dull dark eyes steadfast peering ahead,
off into the horizon,
with slackened skin the color of clay,
from afar having the countenance of subtle cracks in worn concrete.

The One Man Band rides atop his aged machination silently--
I hear no stressed breath or grunts,
but in passing--

a slow mechanical raise of the right hand,
a slight tip of the head,
and a soft whisper of a hello in greeting.

          If I had blinked I would have missed it.

He slowly creaked and squeaked and groaned his way onward,
in his slow and steady rhythmic pace,
until he disappeared in the golden afternoon horizon.

I see him every morning and afternoon
as I drive in and out of the neighborhood--
I wave, always he in return with that slow mechanical gesture,
like an old theme park ride from the fifties.

It was the first time I had actually heard and felt his presence,
to see up close the picture of health and resilience that he is,
the Dorian Gray of bicyclists,
transferring his years of wear and tear onto his metal frame
and his balding rubber soles.

Every time I see him come round the bend now,
I still think of that aged Carousel with the rusty horses
and the song worn a semitone off-pitch,
or the "tranquil" boat ride with the languid mechanical dolls
with thick black eyes goggling eerily
and sallow arms waving infirmly--

but he will not erode as the horses, dolls, and his bicycle--
he will live on, and only he shall demarcate
the trash from the treasure.
I just realized that I used a red herring in this poem and that geeks me out to no end! Shoutout to my friend Frank DeRose for introducing to me the word "demarcate." Check his poetry out on this website as well.
John May 2013
Back when I was about ten or eleven, the only friend I had was the most beautiful girl I knew. Her name was Jessica and her and I did everything together. In school we were inseparable, always chit-chatting before, during and after classes. So much so that teachers bestowed upon us the annoying, yet endearing, encompassing nickname of "Jackica" - a combination of our names; Jack and Jessica. I was so thankful for her companionship, and thinking back it might have been a pretty uneven relationship, emotionally. I was an overweight and awkward Harry Potter fanboy and she was a cute little auburn-haired thing who could've won any Miss America Junior competition in the world, as far as I was concerned. She had the most piercing powder blue eyes. The kind that made my skin tingle and mouth curl up into a stupid smile at any given moment. I felt like she saw me, like she really saw ME. Not the blubbery flesh that coated my muscle and bones but what I was made of, the real me. And I loved her for that. Along with Jessica's physical blessings, she was also given an insatiable appetite for adventure. She loved to go to the park at night, after the gates were locked and when everything was drenched in darkness. We'd hop the five foot chain-link fence and roam around the grounds. We'd go the water at the edge of the park and sit on the rocks, look up at the stars and take turns telling stories to each other with intent to scare the **** out of the other one. One humid night in mid-June, Jessica told a story that succeeded in making my skin-crawl. She always told decent scary stories, she was gifted in the art of fabricating tales of fright right on the spot, but this story really got to my core for some reason. I just felt uneasy as the words spilled from her mouth to my ears and with each sentence my muscles tightened and strained just from the mere tone of her voice as she told the story. She sounded serious, and she rarely did, even when telling these stories, but with this particular one it sounded like she really believed what she was saying was cold, hard truth. What she said was that she heard a story that her older brother's girlfriend had told her. It was about a house on the outskirts of town, placed just a few hundred yards from the mouth of the woods that lined our little suburban utopia. She went on to say that in the house was nothing all that scary. She said it was an old house, a very old house, as it was a log cabin that was built in the 1700s, when the town was first being settled. Supposedly, everything in the house was just as it was back then, little kerosene lamps sitting on home-mad oak tables. The maple-wood floors would moan and creak at the slightest hint of any weight being put on them. And then she said that no one had lived in the house since the man who built it died, around 1785. Needless to say, Jessica wrapped up the story by proclaiming that we had to find the house. And we had to go inside and see for ourselves what was so creepy about it. Being the scared, chubby little wimp that I was, I immediately rejected the idea. There was no way I was going to try to find a place that would only succeed in making me **** my pants in front of a girl, especially the one whom I'd placed the delusional label of "future girlfriend" on. But, as I subconsciously expected, Jessica talked me into it with just a few graceful words: "I'll kiss you if you come with me." The very next Saturday night, Jessica and I put on some dark jeans and t-shirts and took the bus all the way to the last stop, the edge of town. We hopped off and right in front of the stop the woods were already waiting, I took a deep breath as Jessica's eyes lit up. She took my hand and pulled me as she ran, me clumsily waddling along behind her all the way to a little dirt pathway that paved the only marked entrance we could see. She asked me if I was ready and I shrugged, saying something like "I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be." And so we started down the path. As the tall trees swayed in the wind, I dragged my feet with Jessica always about five feet ahead of me, as eager as ever. We walked for probably ten or twenty minutes before the foot of the cabin was before us. At first sight, it was a very old structure. I'd never seen anything like it outside of paintings in my history textbook and this Abe Lincoln documentary I saw on PBS. I never knew houses like that stood the test of time. But there it was before me, two stories high with wooden shutters clad in severely chipped paint and a big oak door that looked stronger than any door I'd ever seen. Jessica took my hand again, smiled enchantingly and rushed me forward. Once at the door, I was speechless. It didn't look as old as the rest of the house and whoever made it obviously meant for it to last a very long time, taking extreme care in carving it out impeccably and sanding it until it shined with a professional touch. Without a word, Jessica rapped on the door. Three hard times, and when no one answered after thirty seconds, she rapped again, and again. She shrugged and turned to me, asked if we should just go in. I said no and she frowned. "There's no way we came this far just to go back home with nothing," and then she wrapped her hand around the rusted doorknob and turned. The door opened with no hesitation as she pushed it all the way in. She stepped inside, and I followed. The first thing I noticed inside the cabin was the creaking floors. They creaked louder and longer with each step, affirming that part of the story, making my blood run cold. We looked around, going from room to room with wide eyes. We were amazed that we made it, that we got inside and now we were actually investigating a place that no one else supposedly had gone before. Truth be told, though, it was nothing special. There wasn't much at all to see, save for a few tables, the creaking floors and some very old paintings on the wall. We were just leaving when we noticed something on a table nearest the big oak door. It was a metal box with a small lock fastened to the front of it. "We have to open it," Jessica proclaimed after a second of curious inspection. "There's no way were going to find the key," I told her. "So we'll break the lock, Jack. Duh," she replied in her sassiest tone. I just shook my head as she grabbed the box and began to furiously slam it in the wooden table. The sound echoed through the house, exacerbating it and making me shiver from head to toe. "I don't know if you should keep-" but my sentence was cut off my the lock flying off the box and clinking onto the floor below. Jessica smiled again, very pleased with herself and looked to me. "Wonder what's inside...," She said, lifting the top half of the box open. After an initial and cough-inducing puff of thick dust subsided, the contents of the box were revealed. It was a letter, written on old-school parchment in heavy ink. In neatly laid Victorian script, the likes of which I had never seen so simultaneously neat and scattered, like it was written in a hurry or during a time of distress, was a love letter. Well, a kind of love letter. It was addressed to a woman named Tania and it was signed by a William. It told the story of how William had loved Tania since they were children, and Tania was now to be married to a Pastor named Hensley. William told Tania how he couldn't bear the thought of her ever being with anyone else and that the fact that she could never truly be his was killing him. Literally. He ended the note by confessing his plan to **** himself. I took a step back, but Jessica just stood at the table with her eyes glued to the crumbling parchment in her hands. "I'm leaving," I said after a few moments, mulling over the sorrow that this poor man must've felt. I headed out the door, Jessica following. The walk back through the woods to the bus stop I couldn't get this feeling of dread from subsiding. It seemed like I felt what William felt, but not in a sympathetic sort of way. It felt like I was William and the pain he felt was actually my pain. And then I noticed that, rolled up tightly in her fist, Jessica had taken the letter with her. "Why'd you take that," I said, sounding thoroughly upset. "That's not yours to take, go bring it back!" "No way. There was no way I was going there and coming back with nothing to show for it," she said, gripping the letter tightly, her knuckles almost whitening. I knew how stubborn Jessica could be and I knew whatever I said probably wouldn't even phase her in the slightest so I did what I did best and just shrugged it off. I found myself wishing I could shrug off the terrible feeling the letter put deep inside me just as easily as I could Jessica's stubbornness. Over time, Jessica and I lost touch, as kids of that age often do. I grew up, lost weight and opened up, making more friends and acquaintances, no longer hanging onto the thought of Jessica being my only love. I didn't talk to Jessica all that much. Just once in a while we'd meet up and have a chat over some coffee or pizza. We had both changed and morphed into young adults with different agendas and dreams and I had no problem with that. But on one such meeting, Jessica began to worry me. She said that every now and then she'd open her desk drawer and take the piece of parchment out and read it. Over and over again. And lately, she had been opening the drawer more and more, she said that she felt drawn to it. Like something about it made her feel this deep-seated dread that no horror movie or scary story had ever made her feel. She said that she felt like the letter was beginning to take a toll on her. And, by the look of her, it didn't seem like she was lying or kidding around like she always used to love to do. She had dark circles underneath her once striking eyes, which were now darker and had taken on an odd and ominous color. I was scared for her. And I told her so but she hugged me and assured me she was alright. I wanted to believe her, and I tried to, hugging her back and telling her I'd talk to her soon. But when she turned her back I knew something was very wrong. I'm writing this now because a few weeks ago Jessica's mom gave me a call. When her number came up on my cell phone, I think I knew, deep down, e actor why I was getting this call but I pushed the thought away and said hello. Jessica's mother called to tell me that a few days before Jessica had gone missing. The only indication to her whereabouts was a note she left with the words "cabin at the edge of town", and below that, instructions on how to get there. Her mother said she took the note and hopped in her car immediately, and made it to the cabin. She said she was breathless by the time she got to the cabin but forged on and barged inside and looked around. She said she found nothing and was about to leave when she noticed a small door behind the big oak door she had swung open to get inside. She opened the little door to find a stairwell. She climbed it, calling Jessica's name all the way, sobbing and wiping tears from her eyes. At the top of the stairs was the attic. And she said she almost died herself when she saw Jessica. She was hanging from a wooden rafter on the ceiling. And next to her was a severely decayed skeleton, dangling from a rope only a few inches away.u
Originally wrote this as a reddit.com/nosleep thread. Hope you all enjoy it nonetheless.
The soft whirling hum of a fan works its way from one corner of the room to the next. I succumb, defeated, deflated, shoulders slouched over, to passing wafts of air that briefly foam over the drooped skin of my emotionless face. Its touch invigorates the senses, momentarily reminding me to take in a breath of the foul and arid air that lingers lifelessly in this second story bedroom. As a sliver of light makes its way slowly up my chest and falls back to its original place, a muffled sound of pain boils over slowly softly searing through my torpid ears. Meanwhile, transparent tendrilous hands of memories begin to curl through my mind appearing and quickly vanishing like steam before I can grasp the true gravity of their presence.
        It must be ninety seven degrees in here. A drop falls from my face onto the back of my clenched hand and for a moment the fan is at it again pulling my head with it from side to side. Oscillating, it dictates a hypnotic lullaby, an ***** riddled rhythm sanding away at my rigid thoughts. Another drop falls toward my wrists driving me away from the blissful moment. Then losing its grip a metallic clang reverberates throughout the room as the object leaves my hand and finds the old wooden floor. Looking back at my hand I see where the two drops had fallen, now glistening in the dimly lit room. Were those tears? When I direct my sight down to meet with whatever had fallen a rush of blinding pain jaggedly inhibits my vision with a flaming wall of white instinctively calling my eyelashes into the backs of my eyelids painfully. My voice cracks and I hear the same singe of grief from earlier reflect ballistically throughout the room and into the hallway where ghosts gargle back an echo of my anguished voice. Am I hurt?
        Afraid now of what I may have done,I cautiously work my foot away from the chair and navigate it across the floor until it hits the handle of something sending it spinning around. Reaching down, the once trance like hum of the fan falls deaf and gives way to a steady beat of drips that are accompanied by an ever increasing tightening of my chest. When I reunite with the object I had dropped the image of blood and steel mesh a murderous hue onto my fingers as I fumble to recover it. Realizing what has happened my mind fizzles and pops with panic and I begin to beg for respite, for a chance to revisit the moment before I had slit open both wrists. Cold anguish flushes the heat from the room and out into the hall as the dam of reality breaks and in with it a torrent of emotions and images of the blood peppered hardwood floor that now seeps dauntingly with the new life it is drinking. In desperation my eyes fire off in every direction, finding an open journal perched on a coffee table. The pages are in a fretful fury revealing pages dotted with smudges and smears of bloodied ink and teary paragraphs. Confused, I begin to search the room again and there beneath the window blinds lies the woman I have loved for eleven years lifeless in a pool of blood. Lorraine.
        My head lashes violently backward as if to howl toward the moon of time in an attempt to beckon the falling grains of sand to return to me what had once been mine. A sobering clarity strikes me and I begin to recall the events that led up to this moment. Beginning with a distressed phone call from Lorraine. I came,I told you I would come. And then I recall the strange feeling that scaled through my body slithering down my arm until it coiled its nervous grip around my fingertips as they bit into the **** of our bedroom door. As it creaked open, I had thought, I'm here baby, but you were already gone. Lorraine. It took what felt like hours to reach the part of the journal where you had confessed your infidelity that resulted from the tangles of promises I never kept, from the things I hadn't done, and should have said. Oh Lorraine why didn't you tell me. I would have changed, would have done anything for you. I'm so sorry,I forgot, I hadn't noticed. After seven years I thought you knew, but I will show you now. I will give you my life as you had given yours. I would have forgiven you ******, they were only kisses that meant nothing. Lorraine...and then nothingness.
        A grey shadow in a once enraged Congo of colors and emotions in an otherwise empty room now fill my eyes until I'm choking on its thick smoke and drowning in tears. When one of those tears fall, this time on my bloodied wrists I'm called back to the present moment. Once more the fan catches my sight directing me toward your lifeless body, and then a warm hand from the deepest recesses of my mind begins to cradle my shoulder. Lorraine. My eyes flutter open and find you placing a kiss on my forehead as you say something sweetly into the soft embrace of night. The scent of your hair bristles around my cheek and ears while you caress the short hairs along the ridges of my neck. All I can manage in the moment is to pull you in closer as I whisper "I'm sorry Lorraine. I love you. I can show you." A tear catches a lock of your hair as you kiss my lips and with your love I am drawn back into our bed and out away into sleep.
I'm interested in knowing what you readers believe happens in the end. Is he dreaming and alive, is he already dead, or is he dying? I've heard some interesting theories from friends and family but I would also value your opinions as well, and with them, in the future be able to write short stories like this that have even better ambiguous endings.
Amanda Small Feb 2014
i peed in the attic because the stairs creaked
and your roommates were asleep

your hair licked your earlobes
and your mouth was rough
Jane Tricky Mar 2013
March 3, 2004**

It was a cool night. We sat bundled up sweat pants and hoodies. She lived in a trailer (a mobile home for those who dislike such terminology) on the outskirts of town, on a farm to market road that many blunts had been smoked on. One of our favorite activities was piling into my four door compact car and rolling up delicious strawberry Phillies or Swishers filled with half brown, half green **** of the earth bud. But that’s a different story…
Her parents and sisters were gone for the evening. The porch swing was situated in the backyard just outside the sliding door, beside the riding lawn mower, ratty trampoline which had been bounced on one million and one times (she even broke her tailbone on that stupid recreation device), and the newly constructed chicken coop. The swing creaked every time we swung, but we didn’t mind. I’m sure a small spritz of WD-40 would have cleared it right up but our teenage minds were incapable of such logical decision making.
It was not the first time we had partaken in such events and it certainly would not be the last. The canister was plastic, red, and a familiar sight for most. Anyone who uses a combustible engine fueled by such a horrific liquid knows what I speak of. However, when you’re sixteen and too broke to buy *** and too young to purchase alcohol and cigarettes, sometimes your options are limited. But we must have a vice. It’s a requirement for all humans, regardless of what some might say. Being the reckless young woman I was at the time, I had many of them, and honestly, I still do today. On this particular evening, the heavenly aroma of gasoline was both our friend and our savior. We would inhale and then pass the canister to one another, over and over again. Between the intense sessions of déjà vu and cat naps, our night was a blur. Incessant giggling and talks of silly adolescent affairs was all that occurred. The feeling of being somewhere you’ve been before a thousand times in a row is overwhelming and really makes one question the concept of time and experience. How can I be somewhere now and have been in the exact same position before? How can I experience something that has potentially never occurred because of the inhalation of a substance? It is quite boggling really. After exploring the realm of drugs extensively, it is quite odd to look back at a night in question like this and wonder how a substance can do what it did.
My best friend and I sat there for hours on end, inhaling and chatting. We would occasionally salvage a blunt roach to smoke on or steal a cigarette from her older sister or father. They were never my choice in brands but it’s difficult to be picky when you’re a thief. Up until this point in time, I had always enjoyed the aroma emitted from gasoline. However, this night would mark a change in perception.
The majority of what occurred is not only uninteresting but extremely hard to remember. Gasoline has a way of doing that… expelling memories from your brain in a whirlwind of déjà vu and uncontrollable nap taking. But, at some point in time we decided to take our little private party inside; perhaps because of the weather but more likely because of a lack of clear reasoning.
All I can vividly remember is that we both woke up to her father beating on the window of her bedroom to let him inside the house. We were both so startled by this event occurring that she knocked over the canister filled with the petroleum based product. Quickly scrambling to resolve the issue, we hid the gas can in her closet. We then looked at each other in pure disbelief over the situation. Not only was it scary but it was also quite amusing. The situations we would put ourselves in were always quite delightful, even when they were horrific beyond belief. We tried to muster up a plan of action but it was no use.
She then ran to unlock the door to let her dad in. The first thing he asked upon entrance into the house was, “Why does it smell like gasoline in here?” Obviously we did not have an adequate answer for him other than, “We don’t know, we were wondering the same thing,” The best part is that he never even questioned us. Why would he? We were just sweet teenage girls with smiles plastered across our faces because we had been huffing gasoline all ******* night.
On a night not too far in the future, we would partake in the same type of inhalation but because there was not a canister at my house, we would huff it straight from my grandma’s van. Our neighbor saw us doing it and called the police. For the rest of my grandmother’s life (six short months) she passionately believed that people in our neighborhood were trying to siphon gas from her Chevy Astro. She made me go to an auto parts store to purchase a gas tank lock to deter such activities. That marked the end of our gas huffing days.
Bilal Kaci Dec 2013
Can you believe her? She was with me when it happened, when that perverted old man bought that chocolate bar. How do I know he’s perverted? Well he was wearing sun glasses, in a ******* Walmart at eight in the afternoon. I could tell he was looking right at my chest through those Smokey lenses. Anyways she was right there standing next to me, and she told the boss she didn’t see anything. We both knew he was wearing layers and layers of tacky bowling t shirts under his coat. What a *****!!
I’m sad to hear that honey...  What are you making for dinner?
Fred was watching the evening news on the small 16 inch Panasonic that sat on the coffee table they picked out of the neighbor’s trash. The McDonalds on sources road mysteriously caught fire earlier that morning. Black flames swallowing the restaurant and pictures of dead obese children reflecting off of his Smudged lenses, the reporters voice muffled through the television static. Fred sat there ******* on a green bottle as He crossed his legs, still wearing his blue oil stained shirt and pants ripped at the knees. While he Smiled hauntingly at his television set.
Fred was a mechanic by trade but like the average Canadian man he owned a couple vices that he kept from the world. He was avid reader, stashing shoe boxes filled with Hustlers and Penthouse magazines under the stares. He made Bird houses out of toothpicks and put together puzzles on his free time. He had a wife who worked at the mall and complained constantly, had ******* a nice *** and could sing like an angel rubbing her own ****. They lived in a single floor house in the quiet suburban jungle of Montreal; harmoniously working their dull jobs, surviving their boring and regretful lives.
Shepherd’s pie!
Would y-
Yes, yes extra cheese I got it.
It was the same thing every day; Change tires, headlights, the occasional brake job. Then drive home in his beat up old Toyota Pickup. Weave through schools of blind pedestrians, honk at aspiring race car drivers. Reverse the hunk of **** into the narrow driveway and kick the sweaty boots into the closet. Watch the world burn to ashes on the television, eat, drink and **** then off again into the night. He did this religiously but he didn’t mind his boring life all that much. Whenever he’d slide his blistered fingers across his thinning eyebrows he is reminded of what he really lives for. Whenever he sees them; the men in suits and noose cravats, he is reminded constantly throughout the day of what he lives for.
After a much needed meal and a coffee, Fred makes Unpassionate love to his wife, and waits for her to fall asleep. Staring at the ceiling while maniacally plans the rest of his night. Shirley is used to this, lack of *** drive and Insomnia was normal symptoms of depression. Little did she know he would wait every night till her tossing and turning would subside or die down. Then he would slowly crawl out of bed and tip toe down the stairs, something all too familiar to the middle aged man. He knew what floorboards creaked and how fast to swing the front door opened. He knew to release the handbrake and wheel the truck out onto the street before turning on the ignition.
Like clockwork he knew what to do, he’s been doing every night for years now and he wasn’t about to get caught. Fred drove slowly along the thin snow covered streets. The neighborhood was quiet deep into the night, not a soul outside except for the occasional midnight smoker. He made his way down the boulevard and into the intertwining back streets and parked the car far from his destination.
He had placed gas canisters in the snow around the perimeters of the closed coffee shop the night before and  As he held a book of matches tightly in his fist he made a prayer to a god he did not believe in. Fred wasn’t too sure of his motive, nor did he know his intentions, but he was well aware of what he was doing. He struck a match and watched the flame dance in the cold air before he dropped it into a trail of gasoline he poured himself. The bright fire was quiet pleasing to his squinting eyes and it grew fast. Unravelling itself as it engulfed the small building. He cracked his knuckles with the sudden bursts of satisfaction that pumped through his shivering body as he walked away from his work of art. Sat back in his truck spraying himself with the cheap cologne he’s been using for decades. He crawled back into bed with his snoring wife, tucking himself back into his dull redundant life;
Only to do it all over again tomorrow.
© 2013 Bilal Kaci (All rights reserved)
Monica Abigail Jul 2015
The seat creaked from age
as I nervously sat and rocked
b           d   f                    b           d   f
a        n       o                   a        n       o
  c     a            r                  c     a            r
   k                    t                  k                  t
    ­                       h                                      h
awaiting my fate.
"You're out of here
until your head is right.
"
My mother's words fell around me,
showering me with relief.
I tried to hide my smile
when I got up
and walked to the door.

I knew I would be in Kylie's arms soon,
naked and drunk.
My head was only ever right
when it was with hers
so I cut myself open
and let her crawl inside.
I still find pieces of her in here
sometimes.
lovers

dreamt you said forever yours your lips opened and I was here now

perfectly still she listens to falling cherry blossom music the mournful sky and I envious a witness to evening in her hair

midnight thighs talk wine song dance dawn on railroad earth laughter lovely tears lovely

the stained glass of her mouth my soul gladdened by the rosary of her body

awake pray to the Almighty or roll over and kiss her

roadside she squats ****** I love listening to her the stars

a headring of dead posies on the pillow after all night dancing at first light she picks tea roses

behind kind walls we make love sleep then dream of each other

I wake still inside you rose petals fallen around the porcelain vase by our bed

night hiking with friends thinking about her ***** I forget about the full moon

she arranges roses she speaks with pain about her art God me

sometimes I can't tell if I'm you like last night I you bathing my your feet

I think about it then cut one and another all my roses for her

she eats what I don't I finish her sentences people despise us for laughing her parents don't approve friends whine I neglect them

she inhales the yang in me undresses her soul so I belong to no one else

she pulled my pants down while I ironed said it turned her on

skin to skin and the blossom of your whisper closer come closer my darling we're on our way to where we've never been before

when you hurt my love turns soldier against all biblical stones I'd even marry death if hurled toward you

full of the world I retreat sighing dark between her thighs I know I'm fooling myself
night wraps us in darkness we dream drift long for our cage of light to rise

**** tears poems kids with you feverish with you broke what more do you want

******* and hurt I let the phone ring

for weeks my lover ******* about money kids the house getting free last night she ****** my brains out

sad wildflowers lovely braided in the graying hair of my once and only love

Pfeiffer's waterfall the rocky waves at sunset better when we held hands here

once I decided poetry is it she never came back

wake alone with night inside me your perfume still on the pillow how long 'til morning?

I wait all night outside your house the wind blowing through me

dancing in cities quiet in the redwoods I wander worry wish and unwish carry on with a lock of her hair

hope woke when the door creaked open but it was the cat come in  from a night of love making

up all night writing my better gone kids asleep knowing it's only paper song

I was okay until morning doves started cooing at each other

she's long gone even so thought I saw her today

no longer a ring on her hand a song in her sorrow I am gone

years of wind whistle about gravestones one by one carries away her favorite violets
Boudicca, long hair tangled and bunched; fiery flame red hair.

Warrior queen of the Iceni, daughter of these isles of tin.

Defender of freedom, leader of men, slayer of legions.

Through the mist the Britons, Celtic in origin; saw the legions.

Row upon row of tightly packed troops, shields locked together!

Flanked on either side by cavalry.  Above the silence orders could

Be heard echoing across the field, the leather harness’s creaked

Metal chinking, horses stomping and snorting, in the stillness.

Through the mist came the first rays of sunlight glinting on sharpened

Swords and spearheads; horns began to blow as the steady

Stomp of the legions moved forward in formation.

Boudicca’s eyes peered out from a face of blue woe. Bow strings

In turn began to creak death, as archers pulled back on their bows.

A slow chant from the Iceni, slow at first, began to build into a crescendo

Of noise, as the boom, boom of sword and axe rapped against wood shields.

Boudicca flame haired warrior queen stood proud and fearless on her chariot;

Daughters on each side of her, defiant against Gaius Suetonius Pauline’s

And the might of Rome.

Oh what a sight it must have been!
Kalena Leone Jan 2013
it pains me to swallow
like my saliva is a ball of yarn
like i could pull it right back out
hold the end between my teeth
and right when i start to panic,
pull it out layer by layer
unraveling everything i've worked for
everything i wanted you to see
everything i wanted you to hold;

and in that moment:
when i had decided to shove it down my throat
realization set in that i was throwing it all away
every inch of myself was once underneath you
we were crocheted together
one loop, two loop, three loop, four;
flower milk honey
i think of the country and lawn chairs
i think of the way people's bodies swing from trees
and how when that occurs
it's disgusting until you are a child
free of white moons formed into your fingernails
free of bruised knees and pale, pale afternoon cuts in the delicate afternoon light.
free of a humans eyelashes
moved onto your dog's
because that's all that matters as a kid, right?
your dog.
and i remember how when you walked to your van
that full moon hung right above your head
and i could have sworn there was a red line threaded between the two of you
and each step you took down her porch
the piece of the string i held
was  dragged further from me
until you were long lost and long gone
and i ran into the house
because the one thing i trusted in the entire universe
took the one thing i loved in the entire universe
away
and i was left with callused hands
from holding so tightly onto that rope
for four long years
of angry boys with angry fingers
of soft girls who moved their heads in the direction of my own
because they had no idea where to place their hands
or what to do with a pink tongue
against my rib cage.

i never needed those to scar, anyway
i took care of that myself.
my ankles bled and my arms shone and my bones sighed and
at times, my entire being creaked
in need of oil
from the pores of you, my love.
like the way that you held your head up with your wrist
even in your sleep
just so i could watch you
and when i would pressure it
it creaked.
a door
your wrist was an open door
and when you pressed into my neck
i held the door shut tight
making sure no one could get in or out
to destroy you to destroy us to destroy me to destroy "           ".
because if we face it
run head on
the only thing he remembers is that
first kiss across his eyebrow
because it was requested.
he could not recall the drunken 2 am slurs of poetry written on his name
how exotic it sounded coming from my white, sad, little mouth
simply because he could whisper languages into my ear and i would breathe a little differently.
he could not recall the way i grasped his hand
so tight so that he could never, not once...
run, run, run away.
i could never run my fingers through his hair
or curse my family under his breath
or scratch at his arm to push him off of me
because no, i didn't want that.
no, i'm not ready.
for the love of god
was i not ready.

i continually ask for you to leave
and for the first time
after we held hands in that triangle and shouted
"GRANT US THESE WISHES"
on 11:11:11 at 11:11:11
i received my present on my door step
on a rainy day in mid-january
you were no longer there
and that was okay.
but i must admit my journals do not agree
four years ago
"OH, I GOT WHAT I WISHED FOR. HE IS GONE AND I AM ALONE."
i want to take it back
i want to take every wish back
and every phone call
i want to stroke your arm
and his and his and his
and hers
maybe.
you may think i don't understand.
because at age 13, we care so much
but at age 16, we care so much
let me tell you
i have cared since i was 1
i have cared every single year since then
and i am capable of falling in love with each and every single one of you
if you cry
or if you scream.
I'll hold your face for eternity, baby.
I'll do it.
Just watch.
Sombro Feb 2015
The broken clouds and cluttered mounds
Of the castle dark and grim
The straying woes of bootstruck hounds
Flew fast from deep within
And though the trees shed leaves and weep
While winter takes its grip
Still the grounds will never sleep
On those sullen earthly strips.

When came a knocking hard and fast
Urgency and haste
A figure tolling on the door
Tall and wooden, chaste
The simple portal opened to
A simple hallway bare
But of paintings, deep and clean
'Is your master there?'

Within the shadows of the night
The man spoke to the dark,
But saw no person, now he might
Perplexion left its mark
Peering through and searching in
The figure broke his tact
He took himself out from the wind
Door closing in the act

He called out soft and gently
Silent came the reply
The man looked in and then he
Searched down and up and by and by
The hallway stared in harder
The lounge looked on and dealt
A whisper to the larder
His footsteps on the boards were felt

The man, nonplussed, but guaranteed
His pay upon the meeting
Of the lord of the castle's deed
But he was paid no greeting
Not a soul to meet him there,
Though he searched the room
Of men he found no hide nor hair
Save the marks of a duster broom

And the spot of ***** pots in the kitchen
The soot at the foot of the chimney
The sound of hounds from about the grounds
And a meal to steal out on the table

The man looked from the window
And saw to his surprise
Some beast awalk without its tow
Of a master's watchful eyes
The wind blew strangely heavy
On a door that swung ajar
The man went down there, ready
To greet the host, but from afar

He saw the empty darkness fell
And heard the moan of the floor
He smelt the musk of rain as well
Pass by him from the door
The dining room mumbled to the hall
And it passed its message down
The cellar murmured through its wall
Creaks and groans from all around

The lamps behind him all were lit
The house was bathed in light
The fire took life within its pit
The man grew cold with fright
He shut the door and heard the roar
Of the wind break 'gainst the knocker
Thump, thump it spoke up more
Keys firmly in the locker

The stairs creaked under the feet
Which ne'er were seen to move
The man still followed achance to meet
The house's master so to prove
His duty done, his quest relieved
He followed up the stair
But a shout he passed, you'll soon reprieve,
For what he glanced on there

The doors aswing to beds and baths
With moanings and low crashes
The house alive with joyous laughs
At this venturer who passes
He looked in after shrieking
And saw a bedroom bare
But for the snores of the man he's seeking
His body lying there

The man asked not of his health
As he saw the stiffened white
Of the skin of the face apart from self
Aghast and dead from fright
The venturer looked 'round
And heard the cellar speak
It's booming sound from underground
Bade him leave below his shriek

The man abed had moved and walked
His taught face moved not, still
His teeth slid and their rotting talked
Breathed gas as his breath came shrill
Our frozen friend did not contend
With his meeting of the master
The castle changed him by the end
He fled there all the faster

He was not found till late that fall
By boys who played in the grounds
They'd crossed a wall and found him all
Near pawprints of the hounds
They saw his hand clasp round a sheet
Of paper, the castle's deed
On the page he'd told his meet
Of the lord of the castle and he'd agreed

By his signed name on the dotted line
To give to all who claimed it
'This castle which I have called mine
For a thousand years.' for he saw fit
To give to the man who spent a night
The castle they'd keep company
But for the men who died of fright
The castle is still empty.

— The End —