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-Moment of inner freedom
when the mind is opened & the
infinite universe revealed
& the soul is left to wander
dazed & confus’d searching
here & there for teachers & friends.
~~~

Moment of Freedom
as the prisoner
blinks in the sun
like a mole
from his hole

a child’s 1st trip
away from home

That moment of Freedom
~~~

LAmerica
Cold treatment of our empress
LAmerica
The Transient Universe
LAmerica
Instant communion and
communication

lamerica
emeralds in glass
lamerica
searchlights at twi-light
lamerica
****** streets in the pale dawn
lamerica
robed in exile
lamerica
swift beat of a proud heart
lamerica
eyes like twenty
lamerica
swift dream
lamerica
frozen heart
lamerica
soldiers doom
lamerica
clouds & struggles
lamerica
Nighthawk

doomed from the start
lamerica
“That’s how I met her,
lamerica
lonely & frozen
lamerica
& sullen, yes
lamerica
right from the start”

Then stop.
Go. The wilderness between.
Go round the march.
~~~

he enters stage:

Blood boots. Killer storm.
Fool’s gold. God in a heaven.
Where is she?
Have you seen her?
Has anyone seen this girl?
snap shot (projected)
She’s my sister.
Ladies & gentlemen:
please attend carefully to these words & events
It’s your last chance, our last hope.
In this womb or tomb, we’re free of the
swarming streets.
The black fever which rages is safely
out those doors
My friends & I come from
Far Arden w/ dances, &
new music
Everywhere followers accrue
to our procession.
Tales of Kings, gods, warriors
and lovers dangled like
jewels for your careless pleasure

I’m Me!
~~~

Can you dig it.
My meat is real.
My hands- how they move
balanced like lithe demons
My hair- so twined & writhing
The skin of my face- pinch the cheeks
My flaming sword tongue
spraying verbal fire-flys
I’m real.
I’m human
But I’m not an ordinary man
No No No
~~~

What are you doing here?
What do you want?
Is it music?
We can play music.
But you want more.
You want something & someone new.
Am I right?
Of course I am.
I know what you want.
You want ecstasy
Desire & dreams.
Things not exactly what they seem.
I lead you this way, he pulls that way.
I’m not singing to an imaginary girl.
I’m talking to you, my self.
Let’s recreate the world.
The palace of conception is burning.

Look. See it burn.
Bask in the warm hot coals.

You’re too young to be old.
You don’t need to be told
You want to see things as they are.
You know exactly what I do
Everything
~~~

I am a guide to the Labyrinth

Monarch of the protean towers
on this cool stone patio
above the iron mist
sunk in its own waste
breathing its own breath
Julian Jul 2016
Hip Service
By Julian Malek

The zeal of cobblestone tolerance arrayed in fashionable hues masquerading as crimson secrecy, elevates the tide of man but some boats leak in their foundations. Therefore a cork to every exuberance and a triumphant torch for every sorrow lives onward in collective time. Larks that abound because prescience and PUGET sound, that brown has become the new orange which in turn prowls as a concealed swarthy black. To antagonize the willful and frenetic pace, a prodrome of lasting but memorialized disgrace. Should I move to a state by first or last name, or is the final appellation worthy of much more lasting fame. I scurry down the aisles, bemused by shimmering tiles and the beguiled audiences who see much in my limitation but doubt little about my debited elation. Ringmaster Barnum, how much horticulture is needed for assured superstardom, how many cloisters must we evacuate from the incendiary plumes of a metaphorical Harlem..  But know that no virtual reality can supplant the reality that does truly exist, or at least our time is too infernal and purblind to resist. Carrey the tops of mountains in the humor of wellsprings and fountains, we engage a menagerie of egos lilting of an etiolated pragmatic concern. Evicted from paradise, littered with say-cheese demise ensnaring three blind mice eaten alive by snake-eyed vice. To feel good without incorporated tyranny, we must see blue and red as alternatives to the same destiny. A world that reckons with the futilitarianism of pacified malcontent and astroturf monikers that lead the impressionable into a slaughter shed. Established or not, any enchantment under the sea must include fishes once a pastiche of me, but to them I avoid their courtesy flush and never even faintly blush as my egalitarian statements are lavish thrush.

Five TO Won baby one in 99, everyone here aboard the titanic stays alive, you got your boat baby and I got mine, gonna make it with babies numbered in surreal primes. Halt the slots game the nines, a stitch in time is going to turn out to be Mine. Flanger goals, girded piles, liminal like an aborted Harry Styles, we climb mountains we issue tithes, and the turmoil is etched into 45-notched bludgeons and two-tucked knives. Excuse you, where have you been all day, have you been sauntering in a gentle rain or a genteel pain, have you wallowed beyond the mires of doubt and ranked above David Blaine. I hope you tell me of your magic tricks, rather than your other flicks endeared I stand to fight an ineradicable itch. But if not, you placid pond dented by so many rocks and so many ripples give your heart over to me, before I clinch the special Olympics *******, we ran, we span the homespun garments of your left and right hand, but death is a specter that ghoulishly carouses along the carousel terminal disease we call life. I beseech your deepest affection and want to console you for your deepest struggle, to be there every time wed with time rather than a throttled scuttle. Moons make you guarded but maroons leave me desiccated, don’t ever let that wilted flower die, always water it with a rich but gentle ties and widened deck for all to at once marvel and pry.  Monsters of Mars Attacks once flanked my bed, as though the **** brain scared every gooseflesh and restrained every frisson of mystery. I lampoon myself for those cold Dark Knights and the protection ended by the plight of the poor mattering nothing to the deliberately internecine rich. I struck gold in a valley somewhere, an oxymoron of paradox that now you have the privilege to dock, to stay aboard to be a vessel of peace less widely deplored. Even if we don’t sprout wings, we garner the exactitude of measured things and our glass elevator though easily shattered by the glower of enslavement is actually our vista to heaven or listening to brethren tingles for rich mans trinkets and other things. For humanity deserves a legend and a princess, a regimented desuetude and a flanged lust but in our mistakes wildly flouted in momentary moments we become purified by the temptations of an alabaster palace.

***** the left-field wisdom of a pragmatic paragon ellipsis in prison, slip between the cracks and let my suburban muse become your urban ruse. To enchant a caged world beyond a reality delicately and deliberately unfurled. Squirming toads on highways enchanted but dead, are graves for the blue becoming purple in every dignified red. Gainsay assaults me with platitude, a repeated hitter quit on the first bunted ball into foul-line territory. Those gripes are swiped right in all circumstance no matter the plight. The pronged hearing of a trident sensitive to ambient collection, and suddenly we are all in the mad house even though the house of profaned pain is much worse. Glimpses of gambits that gambol for nickels in transit as occult grenades and known dice waddle through without artifice or device, and the laughter and slaughter that trains collegiate minds, differs no more than the tropes of a glamorous violence articled in sordid rhymes. This surfing movie means so much more than Surf Wax America pristine in limited but sacrilege nirvana. Teen spirits smell muskier than 90s pop dreams, the grasp and grunge of gouged eyes becomes a mummified staid, a scarecrow to those who disobey. Childhood flashes with blinding light, and new sight illuminates darkening blight, A blight eradicated only by two magazines and including one that houses the bullets that ***** themselves between death and comatose dreams both within astral sight. Littoral harbor on a seaside town, a shanty with a brackish gown that glides the gourmand to the cosmopolitan eatery on the outskirts of lost & found. But forever lost in embonpoint and forever gained in chavish that exonerates the gaunt, the etiolated prince in heart becomes irrefutable marrow in minded souls.

If I am a spy you are an ESPY, and if I cry than you are a baby,but since neither are the case my wiseacres will cultivate lava lamp dreams for a new generation and suddenly Boston bets on Harvard, but who knows of this piped blather squirming for relevance rather than voguish but temporary chatter. My regatta knows how to swim, my life now knows how to cringe and yet still win and in stilted plays of bungled sincerity the God of peace reminds us of our transcendent personalities. That we in sincerity top the barnacles of invention a novelty but a rarity. But the guillotine quill of emboldened unscripted parvenus ruthless in their eager dues, outdate and outlive the sued swayed blues that indemnify Clinton and make the atomic dog an amazing Winston hill a church often in sheltered disuse. Imps and urchins sting the sentiment, cloy the alimony of repentant betterment, but neither touches the gilded skies of pleonasm striving for raspy disguise as to dissuade further diatribe investigation. Lurking in those scared days of youth, the gore of unalloyed horror scourged me with a limp, that compassion itself could ever become a gimp. Now years later athletics better and scoring goals making the mildew sweat and the years wetter, not a global warming that can be alarmed by global mourning. Take peace at heart if distanced spears of separation make Idiocracy as a pastiche look exceedingly smart. And spar only with the true antagonists bridging malevolence with expedience. Killjoys sure, will joy even more sure, but still boys fluttered heart stopping dead at a stop-watched alarm the worst tragedy of our sordid sort. Give an African Child a real home rather than a spatial roam, a palatial desiccation of momentary Jonas Brothers snapping back at captives with sexualized foam.

Narrative blinds shuttered in an Island among mountains hardly ever wiser to sanitize the sanitarium among the wasps of stung power. Police crumple their uniforms as they prowl down the avenues, looking for misfits and widened platitudes. Somehow that the vigilance of those corrupted by their very career choice, look even worse when megalomania of private is the limelight of public, to their defense few turrets I can muster but castles in the sky will be the apartheid judge. Those that cling to virtue to eradicate Porsche-driven faked or real deaths at the most breakneck speed, that Fast & Furious operation if disclosed completely would turn the Shire of the ring into the hatred curtailed by a song in Sing-Sing. Immunity must not Yoda implore, that livery Liverpool marooned on islands can also to deplore the R.E.D. and still whet the sharpened stead and the fly-by-night Manchester United alights like militant peer pressure for wranglers in tights. But beating the Beatles at a game of Walruses and egg-shelled eyeful towers likely impedes rinkside hockey from anything over bellicose ballyhoo…it exists as a transient fixated glower. But who knows about soccer speculation when love is the transcendent temptation, when nest-egg hens rather than neglecting rig Bens of clockwork and clocked words designed arise better for their token ken. Do I must repeat the subtext of submarines, yellowed as though ugly unused as though unseen, as though the quixotic earthquakes of tintinnabulations Avatar dreams. Wafted souls console the disheartened thoughts of a dashed dream that Berlin hates more than a Furor’s unbridled and useless scream.
Demotic clips slinging from the bedridden silence of a token moon and its token friends, swimming in a shore of ambiguity whether history mellows or whether its furor melts away momentary doubts. I want to avoid the sting rays exorcised by due providence and become the amalgamated talents gentry and of course the upstart swagger of Jack Dawson. But with the psy-op going on, the people manipulated on all sides of a gray picket fence will the relationship bloom without muttered dissent or pretended smiles. Will we take upon the shuffled shuttle and dig with shovels deep-rooted Christmas trees and toast our lives to Dos Equis. We may never go out of style, but the treacle of illuminated imagery when divorced from sentiment bristle shows a swagger that prioritizes rather than amalgamates all love. I love being brash and brazen and honest because when she finally ditches the grandstand of delayed frenemies fandoms of other tinsel decorations without any substance beyond meretricious thrill. You want a roller coaster on some days, but most often you want the nutcracker to elope to secret hiding places. Swim with adventure not just in love, not just in affection with the starlight now matter how luminous, sixpence all the richer is no centuries any poorer and we could be that gilded couple of star and screen and if we ever have to scream, let our screams unite us in passion, rather than a milquetoast deference to pedestaled beauty. but of course the end times don’t laugh at your crumpled wizened relapse. Not out of convenience wed by a discriminating genetic harvest moon but a deeper engagement that flatters when stylish and bristles when romantic but never defiled, never riled of specious pretense. Promise me that you will always remember me in my flaws and my faults, in my scause factory destructions and the penults of PEN-ULTIMATE wisdom that comes before the grace of God in the annihilation of passion for eroded omission. If your goal is to be remembered, check that out…but the most admirable goal is as the propinquities of souls dusted in the wind returning to a spring equinox of passion and if you find in yourselves reservations do not depart from sacred land, and never jilt me because of a boisterous and menacing friend. You are everything to me right now, and I Hope this persists despite the vicissitudes of star-favored afflictions mixed with utter benediction without the pontification of stilted Benedictines  or rather the hyped ludic effrontery of termagants being made of younger and younger women. Leave it at this ,32 leaves the royal secret in royal hands and the Knights Templar and us we altogether hold hands, if only a prelude for a masquerade ball. But the stilted embarrassment of crestfallen time, let that be relegated and emphatically lets embrace what is like to not ever need a real white horse to get back into your favor, because we never go out of style we can brandish the best elements and reject the sentiments of the too newfangled and the too stodgy. We in our crenellated pleonasm can eager ride the lightning to another tomorrow and another yesterday and if even not that, we virtually make an indelible impression of embroidered love not too distant in ivory towers and not to vulgary( catering to popular sentiments) to become a trash glam movement. We soar, others deplore but let their purblind doubts render them blind to our burgeoning love.

Forget the brisk trees dangled in the wind on winding paths through haunted forest or remember them because of ghoulish fortress but with our apotropaic lamp we can avert most evil and call the rest fun and gains and shun but fames never profaned, never inalterable a destiny to magical to be some whimpered catcall. Or we could linger beneath lambent street lights disguised as though wilted garb, attrition of circumstance waiting patiently for the matinee and the vintner to escort us beyond the garb of pretense in a city so abundant with it that it deserves castigation. But I digress, a beachside cliff overlooking tepid waters tumultuous in their power but august in their noises, the cadence of love will sing a half-moon bay on full-moon nights and we will frisk each other like grasping at straws of permanent tracks trammeled of the elite and a sidetracked basque bet. Trim those antlers and instead grow metaphorical wings, to us we all sing but few can match your elegance and everyone would be crazy not to see your ennobled age and together thrilling songs to emulate thriller in sales we will collaboratively sing.
Haughty sneers from lifeless lycanthropy straggling furtively along the pastiched sidewalks of grime, livid because they can’t share the lingering limelight, with as many guarded perks of privacy clambering like a hive of snarky sharks. Lets ditch the big town dreams in terms of posh and stature if only for a caressed moment beneath the unadulterated stars and if you find spars **** to the extent they are amiable than I say guess what my name is Lars! Or wait a second, paused in the big city spotlight our stenciled hearts will guide whatever progeny is yours or mine or ours together we will sing the most comforting lullaby, and caves no longer must we abide. Yearn and earn every inch, as I gripe with my delicate saddened pinch but I think the innuendo speaks . Ripen with our trips to Napa, long afternoon sunsets swim in our hearts as we taste the vanguard’s toast on elegant wine.I console with entreaty to disavow the omen of that San Franciscan church October 2008, the doom implied by Einstein, the raillery of a world grinding down the endless decadence of a railed future inalterable in destiny or partialy amenable to widespread coquetry.

Forget those rumbles in your past that made you feel partial to insecurity and learning the ropes you transcended all and live in all eternity. Thimble and brook, tolerant of all those tokes I took your rebellious side flattens the yeast of Exodus raspy in its begrudged clapping. But the Pharaoh of the modern world sheltered me under his prickly thorns, shielded me from the sickly things that life adorns. We have the numbers on our side, the weight of destiny on our shoulders, dedicate yourself to yourself and I will preen the most vibrant wisdom and love will leap like Apollo across all borders not for camel-****** hoarders. We are culminated destiny in the wings of the best daydream
Life, Love and No Mathematics to God and Gain
Purcy Flaherty Oct 2018
I was treated like the VIP,
A cat and a big fish,
A hook and a big Six,
whilst visiting madam bow-peeps
rotisserie of *****,
Always receptive,
Wearing open silk
working 9 to 5am.
With a little overtime,
hot funk never satisfies,
She had the way-with-all
to feign, delight; even interest,
before negotiating the price,
She was classy,
kind of slick,
she tickled my ears
for nothing more than kindness,
a small token in exchange for a smile.
She popped on a tune,
as she took off her dress.
The petting started
her two hands tugging with the zipper of my jeans.
A woman's touch... Ha HA,
the rich sultry kiss of *****,
tight and tasty;
***** like a ripe tomato,
Sugar fried and drunk.

She opened her legs,
her hair smelled like shampoo,
She was on her belly,
knees tucked up
as I took in the fruit,
deep holes filled with **** and shabby fingers,
hollow spit and angry poison,
head spinning to the groove,
loud and high,
The bed squeaked
and a single light bulb dangled
like a loose tooth,
Ten minutes and
two ******* love songs!
Sick and spent up,
I got dressed to leave,
I said with a poke,
"I couldn't get laid,
Not even in a ***** house!"
And now I'm back in the cold again,
only dirtier.
Another old poem
The inspiration from William and Don G
Michael W Noland Sep 2012
Twiddled knifes upon glass eyes, cry the insight of reprise, amongst a galvanized pride, in flight from spotlit skeletons, denied of sunlight, without a fight of adrenaline and puking on the side of missed roads.

An abode, of foreboding wealth within a duffel bag, drags the corroding moral codes of trolls controlled by ignorant over lords over the coals, before another log is tossed in the fire.

Before the fog of the fading embers, dislodge the common splendor, from the lives of nine to fivers, tending to the totals of the dead versus survivors, in vocal onslaught of the names of the slaughtered daughters of liberty that faltered in the after glow of nevermore.

Anymore,  i only wish to dream.
dream of better things that sing in the blood, and shrug the smugness from drug-less fiends, in consumption of peeling seams, and paint-chips.
Cancerous fractions entrap us.
Just ask the plaintiff.

Sustain it ...

In stillness.

Mastery over illnesses.

Embrace the contaminants of my inanimate imagination, swallowed in the shallows of a nation lost to bacon and broken beautiful.

Tokened suitable with corporate suitors to the masses. Blinded in the flashes of dismal diobolitry ,upon uprooting the touting in the jealous shouting of the shenanigry of driven villains, knowing of the chronology of the buried devilry, toiling in the ecology of a dying star.

My gods aren't too far from yours.

My stars aren't too bogged for more.

My more, your cut off point.

Disjoint the facts, let the words womb themselves and slither in the delivery, of malicious adhering to the tongue, in the atrocious abominations of falsified accumulations of the letters manifestations of fruitful creations abiding to immaculate consummation of lost thoughts that prevailed in one long exhale of a run on sentence.

No penmanship in breathlessness, as i faint in my confessions of restless lessons learned in burned futures overturned in grief.
Burned in the disbelief of fractured animals, cannibalising the chastised cultures of the mechanical signals planted in our cores.

Arms forward and moaning for more.

Always more.

I claim victory in my plastic citizenry of pity and tragedy, where i too can proclaim my self godliness and engage in bliss with the rich.

Im an emo ***** with blood on his knife and a list of names read aloud from the braille niche upon glass eyes, where to see is to realise, the severed root of the bloodline, in slow chromatic decline over time, until the with, is without, and the made mark is gone and the new birth is spawn to embark upon, brawn over brain the simple rule shall remain, conned in the game of numbers, slumbering from under the wonder of man vs machine. Again ranting in my rhyming declining into boredom.
Seldom to abandon the foreboding doom i cant shake.
Stephen king meets Dr seuss for a lovely kick of the chair and a hug of the noose.
Never to lose when smiling.
Becca Keith Nov 2012
Hey, remember that time at the dock?
The jellyfish floating serenely beneath our feet,
Their pinkish hue, transparent in the black water.
My feet dangled off the edge, yours dangled further,
But the gentle waves caressed the jellies below us still.

They drifted by, not knowing nor caring of us,
Yet we watched their careless path.
The cool night's wind ushering them along their way.
Hundreds of blush-colored jellyfish just out of reach,
Sliding silently out to sea.
david badgerow Oct 2011
I've suffered in the throes
of writer's block for seven sordid days
I've spent the wordless week wandering in a silent daze
I tried to pick the lock to lift the fog and haze
But the words were stacked against me backed into their dark caves
They never left me entirely they were cold and huddled together
in the sticky-damp attic of my mind mumbling themselves chanting in time
I thought the ***** would loosen their fearful grip on reality
but the words proved to be a stubborn people
singing We Shall Overcome while hovering
behind my whiskey-drenched eyes
I tried jumping up and down up and down
nightly to rattle one word loose
Just a lonely word a sick child of a word
the one with the least hand strength and the most fierce imagination
but even this word proved thick with endurance
vitality perserverance and clung tightly to his handholds
Any attempt to moisten my palate with the
smooth syrupy texture of a word
was met with bitter reluctance by my parasitic tongue
as if a mountain man were holding a red-hot iron
inches away from my bread hole
There they clung with surpirising tenacity
on the steep cliffs of my inner skull
Some of them proved hungry to be spoken
but the sacred few I managed to twist into an
audible figurine balloon were useless and elastic
Words like **** and **** were flowing like ichorous
from the aperture in the front of my face
They dangled and then I broke free.
Noandy Feb 2015
I say;

The drifting rain dissolves sea salt
Turning tears into dangled monsoon
Under the bleak ballad of dying dawn
Where I long for heat unbroken

You say;

The drifting rain drenches my tiptoe
Witching smiles into deranged equinox
Upon the downpour of ancient daybreak
Where I pray for old snow long sunk

All was as if the days faded
And morphed into younger sunset
It was as if mercy was drained
And no one preach as desired

The downpour stench though remains constant
Of rotting perfume of the rouge graphite
You drowsily drip from dowsing fingers, they lit
Into pages of burning, dancing melodious lads

As will, you may keep those imageries for you
And give up old stories as my slumber lyre
Whether it is about the burnt down marching boy
Or the bloodstained pianist from our ancient joy

For the bleak heart aesthetic
has affected a new kind of love
And the bleak heart aesthetic
would never let you feel so certain

So please keep your drifting rain of strings
During the downpour of the deranged equinox
When the snow goes black and slowly sunk
Into pages of firespit melodious lads
Hg Aug 2018
i’m friends with a chemist
she always got a flask

now she got a heartache
and a faded henna tat

lately i’ve been lonely
and she’s been really sad

so we took to the roof
we took the ***** threw it back

her finger has a tan line
but we don’t mention it

i can’t hold down my liquor
or my laughter so i spit

she chugs like it’s water
she’s got those russian genes

the only thing i got in blood
are zits and heart disease

the sips leaks out her lips
like cracks within a dam

some drip onto her wrists
rubbing the henna off her hand

i make a drunk comment
on her spiral designs

she says they’re meant to bring
good luck and blessings to the bride

and then she paused the night
by tightening her lips

our feet dangled in silence
hanging off the tiled edge

till suddenly she cracked
her bottled up emotions

poured out what she feels
the wasted years of her devotion

**** love dude, she whispered
**** weddings and white dresses

let him go and **** all of
those delta gamma *******

she looked down at the ground
as a crack of thunder rolled

wiped away her tear and said
love’s just a chemical

she handed me her flask
and i took the final swig

sunset almost ended when
a thought rained on my head

if love’s a chemical
and that’s all it’s ever been

our bodies are just flasks
and love’s just a reaction
©Hg
ryn Aug 2014
Earlier today, painting was the activity that we had planned
I have a support teacher who would always lend a hand
She had left the class to get the paint all mixed
While I stayed behind to get the toys and props all fixed
She came back and bore bowls of red, white and blue
Made me think of...well, made me think of you.

Lunchtime I visited a store and neatly displayed on low shelves
Arranged so immaculately as if magically done by elves
Were cases upon cases stitched together with only zips
They almost instantly bent a smile to my lips
Their colours shone brilliant red, white and blue
Made me think of...well, made me think of you.

Passed by a shop selling accessories and apparel
Merchandise dangled on wall hooks and some in a jumble
On the adjacent wall something caught my eye
Carried all the neat little tote bags one could ever buy
One peeking from a corner was red, white and blue
Made me think of...well, made me think of you.

Walked by a building, so modern-looking and new
Down on one side almost obscured from view
Were these horizontal rows of dancing neon lights
Stopped for a minute just to soak in the sights
Then I realised that they flickered red, white and blue
Made me think of...well, made me think of you.

Waited for the bus to get home at my usual bus stop
Whilst waiting, I shifted and from my bag something did drop
Bent over and picked my coin pouch that had fallen out
Looked up only to see another commuter lingering about
On his pack was a sticker which boasted red, white and blue
Made me think of...well, made me think of you.

Bus was packed, found a seat in the back row
Sat myself down, I peered briefly out the window
Engine under me, I scanned around to those who were seated
Observed the floor beneath my shoes as it vibrated
My pair of Adidas, oh my, they're red, white and blue
Made me think of...well, made me think of you.

Got home, put my bag down and sank into the sofa
Switched on the telly, on was the Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa"
Surfed through the channels, caught a real estate commercial
Promoting prime land in a country not anywhere regional
Splashed on the screen, a flag - red, white and blue
Made me think of...well, made me think of you.

End of the day, it is best that I hit the sack
Allow some rest for my poor aggravated back
But not till I complete the words you're currently reading
I'm thinking, dreaming and furiously typing
How do I end this? Hmm...red, white and blue?
I'm thinking and dreaming...and wishing I'm with you.
Sarina May 2013
There was nothing I was ever so ashamed of
that I dumped it in a river to drown,
but one time my best friend accidentally tossed my pink fishing pole
into the bayou when a spider dangled from the line.

We were eight, everything was wishy-washy
because she called herself a mulatto like it were an insult
and my older friends kept mentioning that my mom walked herself

to a liquor store very late at night
twelve-packs bruising her German-colored shoulder.
I did not tell them my father had hidden away her car keys.

Girls teased me and I still wanted to kiss their cheeks at goodbyes,
The Little Mermaid featured at our sleepovers
saying, “kiss the girl,” so I did
but we stopped talking when I bought my training bra,
it proved what was in my skirt, my lips could not touch them again.

You cannot kiss a girl if you are a girl,
even if Disney movies say it is okay because Mickie Mouse
has no ***** to be ashamed of though a wife of the opposite ***.

I learned important things until I turned ten
and Hurricane Katrina unraveled the bayou into my house
and I existed in four different classrooms in my fourth grade year
where nobody had enough time
to learn my name, much less the way it is spelled.

Now, in therapy, the certified insists
that I am a girl who kisses other girls because my mother
only put her lips on a bottle.

But maybe I wear striped dresses just because mold grew that
shape in my home on Camellia Street,
mud decorated the fallen refrigerator so it looked like
a cow some punk tipped over.
I just wish the sidewalk I use to rollerblade on hadn’t flooded.
287

A Clock stopped—
Not the Mantel’s—
Geneva’s farthest skill
Can’t put the puppet bowing—
That just now dangled still—

An awe came on the Trinket!
The Figures hunched, with pain—
Then quivered out of Decimals—
Into Degreeless Noon—

It will not stir for Doctors—
This Pendulum of snow—
This Shopman importunes it—
While cool—concernless No—

Nods from the Gilded pointers—
Nods from the Seconds slim—
Decades of Arrogance between
The Dial life—
And Him—
Rowan Deysel Dec 2016
Caucasian cadaver in the windless woods.
Carelessly hanging from a tree.
Colorless face looking down.
Carrion yet to be seen.
Creation of an evil man.
Displaying his departed art.
Completed, his compelling plan.
Of helping death do its part.
Few colors, fewer sounds.
White skin contrasts the black dress.
Faded yellow floating all around.
Splatters of red fill the rest.
A frightful figure that overwhelms.
Above the confused and thorny trails.
All the shallow know themselves.
At the sight of this female.
Breathless before being dangled.
Dead before being displayed.
Beautiful body, cold and mangled.
Death magnificently portrayed.
Multiple stab wounds in your back.
Added to the smell of war.
Mind immersed in barren black.
Gnawed eyes to watch and adore.
Dripping, dim and dreadful.
The portrait he wanted to smear.
Your future as empty as your words.
Your hollowness shown clear.
You don't know what you're missing. 
Elders still die, the young still grow.
The leaves below are hissing.
At the corpse of a girl I used to know.
Made when I was an angsty, silly teenager who just got dumped by his first girlfriend.
Asphyxiophilia Jul 2013
She wore a yellow dress the day that he picked her up in his truck for their very first date. Her hair fell in loose curls and gentle waves upon her shoulders like the low tides of the ocean on a warm summer day when it was just the right temperature for sun-bathing. She had a smile as careless as the high grass swaying in the wind around the telephone poles that they passed on their way to the lake that they were planning on picnicking at. Her hands danced like shadow puppets on the dashboard to the rhythm of the country songs emitting from the radio. She crossed her thin legs and tilted her head towards the sky, allowing the breeze sweeping through the cab to kiss her neck as it passed by. Every now and then, when she wasn't looking, he'd steal a glance in her direction like a heads-up penny that he would slip into his pocket for good luck for later. When he pulled off the dirt road and removed the wicker basket and blanket from the truck bed, she ran ahead of him like a gazelle yearning to quench her thirst, searching for a spot near the lake for them to sit. She fell to her knees on a soft patch of dirt that filled the creases like puzzle pieces, as though she belonged to it. As he made his way to her, he watched as she tangled the grass in her fingers like strands of hair before looking up at him and smiling.  He never knew what love was, but he knew this was as close as he ever needed to be in order to be happy.

She wore a yellow dress the evening that she crawled through his bedroom window to spend the night with him, without his parent's consent. Her hair was tucked behind her ears like every reservation he had until he met her, that now dangled out the window. He removed his guitar from behind his bed and watched as she twirled around in circles in the center of his bedroom, as though the angels were strumming on harps just for her. Every now and then, his fingers would slip from the strings, because he couldn't remove his eyes from her pink lips as they lip-synced their very own love song. When the melody ceased, she fell into the carpet like a cloud that she could float away on top of. He put his guitar back in its rightful place before fitting his body behind hers, holding her and whispering their love song as they both fell asleep.

She wore a yellow dress the afternoon that he pushed her on a tire swing. Her slender fingers gripped the rope the way she held him, as though she never intended to let go. He pressed his hands against her back and pushed her into the heavens, wondering how he was so fortunate to receive an angel when it came back to him. Her hair blew behind her like the physical manifestation of the sound waves of her laugh whenever she went too fast. He couldn't remove the smile from his face, even if he tried, although he never would whenever she was around. She was the high, higher than the tire swing could ever take her, that he never wanted to come down from.

She wore a yellow dress the night that she was riding her bike, alone. Her feet pressed down on the peddles and her hips balanced the frame as she spread her arms out beside her like a bird in flight. Her mind was still racing with thoughts of him, his soft breath against the back of her neck and the feel of his hand against her stomach, when a car sped around the turn too quickly. She felt the headlights illuminate her skin like the sunlight that kissed her the way he did on their first date, but the blow that followed didn't quite resemble that of his kiss.

She wore a yellow dress the morning that they decorated her casket. Her hair was stiff as it framed her powdered face, and her hands were cold as they were crossed on her chest. Her legs were covered by a silk blanket and daisies were laid upon them. A forced smile was spread across her lips, appearing grotesque, which was the first thing he noticed whenever he entered the funeral home. At the sight of her lifeless body, he fell to his knees and began sobbing. She was now nothing more than a metaphor for the good dying young.

She wore a yellow dress the twilight that she walked into the sunset to greet him. Her hair fell delicately down her back like a waterfall cascading into a heavenly pool. She had a smile as warm as the sunbeams that blinded him whenever he first opened his eyes, after he (what he thought might be) permanently closed them while lying on the cold tile of his bathroom floor. Her hands reached out to hold his, as though she desired to place twinkling stars in his palms. She wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder, holding him like she knew she failed to do the evening that she left him. Then she lifted her head towards the heavens again, allowing the wind to kiss her neck and the sun to sweep her into his arms (along with him) and her yellow dress.
Russell Douglas Feb 2010
A Verse In Time: A Trickster’s Alchemical Approach to Memory in Three Waves

(Warning: The following collection contains depictions of three waves
of the psychedelic experience—particularly with God’s allies, Los Aliados, the mushrooms—and like the psychedelic experience each wave possesses its own waves within itself.  Ride with discretion.)

.

Wave I: The Allies’ Nursery Rhyme

The Allies
came to visit
and take me
on a trip.
No need for boat
or bus
or plane
or even rocket ship.
The galaxy, as they explained
resides inside your mind,
The portals to the universe
are windows you call eyes.
Instead of always looking out
you should try to look within.
The ending you have always feared
is exactly where you begin.

Yes, all the spans of time and space
exist in you behind your face
and yet you cannot understand
that nothing is a race.

Oh wait, please be careful with that mirror
when we are here and you draw nearer.
Don’t let the face of everyone replace your face with fear.
You are Horus, Mary, Jesus Christ, Cervantes, and Shakespeare,
and all the men from beast to mice, from oceans down to tears.

And so they pried behind my face
and pushed me on through outer space
and soon enough I understood
there never was a race.

It all exists right here, right now—
the past, the future, the grass, the cow,
the vast, the nature, the cash, the house,
the king and the savior
the beast and the mouse
are all your creation,
your relation,
your spouse,
your Path,
your Bible,
your ‘Gita,
your Tao.

It is all
of your moment,
It is all
of your now.

For you are the mystery
of that which you seek.
You invented the minutes, the hours, the weeks,
the deserts, the rivers, the valleys, and peaks,
your digits, extremities, elbows, and knees.
You created the cure, you invent the disease.
The labyrinth is you and
You defeat it with ease.
To master the Minotaur just follow the string
Discover the dinosaur, discover the king,
discover this grandiose song that you sing,
and uncover the truth of the message you bring
when you ring bells or

Stroke piano keys
and make the doctor sweat.
The pranksters shifting shapes again,
it’s time to make a bet.
With silly laws of threes and fives, this riddle I repeat, replies
that by the time the rhyme is over, the trickster will arrive.
Gliding up in cycles by, the prankster grins and winks his eye.
He fabricates a fluffy fix with fuzzy snow white lies
to bring the doctor to a six then down to four inside
and bring the tempest to a wave
on which the four can ride.

Do we glide?
Do we slide?
Do we fly really high?
Do we bobble and sink
with the rise of the tide?

I remember the brink
the cellular stride, the following leap,
the primitive mind
I remember the dirt, the water, the fire,
the wind and the ether,
the passion, desire.
I remember that art
can never expire.

Do we depart?
Do we retire?

The answer is yes,
The answer is no,
The answer’s the same wherever you go.
It’s never too fast,
it’s never too slow
and you are never the last to not really know.
For the sun always shines,
the moon always glows,
the old always die,
the young always grow,
The seeds that you plant
are the trees that you sow,
from the bees and the ants
to the bulls and
black holes.

It is all
in your stance.
It is all
in your
soul,

When you follow your dance
the bliss
takes control.
Take your place
in the play
and master
your role.
The Aum
is your home
it’s inside
of your dome,
Whatever
you wonder,
Wherever
you roam.

And so it flows behind my face
the universe of time and space
Now I understand that time
is invented as the race

Yes, you are Borges, and Buddha, and Krishna,
and Lorca, and Vishnu, Dickinson, Lennon,
Eliot, Gandhi, Marley, McKenna,
Campbell, Picasso, Alpha, Omega.
You are your enemy,
your stranger,
your neighbor.
You are the peasant,
the king,
and the savior,
the mandala man,
the cosmic *******.
You are the taste
You are the flavor
and you are
the wave
the unwavering
Creator

Even us
as they explained
merely extend from you
A mirror to the macrocosm
for you to gaze into.




So when you get lost
within your lies
and cannot find
your rhyme,
Gather inside with your
Allies
and master
the maze
of
time.


Wave II: Contemplating The Allies’ Advice

Thunderbolts of cackling giggles
shutter through your vitals, shaking shoulders
and squirting tears from squinting eyes.
Exciting when dimensions hidden creep into your line of vision,
morphing mapping iridescence with a fleeting fuzzy phosphorescent
undulating elfin presence following your every contemplation.

Concentrating on a caterpillar crawling up the wall
how curious, this furry beast has fingers not to fall.
He folds into his fuzzy form, a sleeping bag to keep him warm,
a little home as still as lead.  He hibernates and contemplates,
waits and waits and transmutates into a gilded butterfly
that flutters through my head.

Violet translucent landscapes bleed through grass and trees,
focus on a precise place of time and space and witness the birth of the human race.  Projections made in fuzzy fourth dimensions quickly fade
if your gaze should wander.  Positioned to ponder,
you plunge into prepubescent wonder as a shooting star splits the sky wide open revealing heaven and everything under the sun is tune and the sun is eclipsed by the moon.  And once again, the music comments chronologically on your moments, as if all these notes and lyrics were cataloged to sync with the scenes of your epic voyage.

Destroying contemplation again, the sea ***** the wind through the trees
and blows a blue marine breeze through your hair.
Do you dare take the time to recognize the punctuality of the gale?
Should your frail and fragile mind be dangled from a line
to flap and fluff and figure out the nature of the rhyme of our mother?
You are your brother, your keeper, and your lover.

All the lines align and oscillate in cadenced flow,
the more you see with your mind the more your mind will know.  
A ****** brain may strain and throw a fit
if faced with the tricky truth of the third eye
Surprise! Who knew that Jesus Christ could sprout from cow ****?
Can you believe it?  Wow, Bob, wow.
Where do you think we got: ******* and holy cow?
Heaven is the here and now
and every time you try to leave
you lose what you have found.

(* All words in italics come from    
   various songs, films, works of        
   literature, etc. and are not the words    
  of the author.)


Wave III: Los Aliados Wake

An apple carries a story deeper than the tree,
More nourishing than the luscious skin,
More central than the seed.
for the apple gave original sin
and knowledge from within
and fell upon the head, announcing gravity.
Have you ever heard the tale of Johnny Melon seed?
(The apple is global, so I wonder why,
what could be patriotic of pie?
Is it not just a strudel,
a pastry disguised?)

The colors we create
distort. manipulate.
The fools who follow fear
are doomed to find their fate
between their ears
where the colors seem
to blend and stream
and almost disappear.
To wonder why we’re here
all colors must appear
and merge into the blinding light
that obliterates our fear.

All your dreams, your fantasies, your symbols, and beliefs,
all a compass pointing you to endless mystery.
The treasure that you seek
resides inside the Self,
A jewel within the rock,
A book upon the shelf.


I bought the ticket,
I’m taking the ride.
I’m spiraling miles through the bowels of time.
I’m spinning and laughing
and losing my mind
and finding
it always returns
just in time.
It’s right where it left me,
so I’ll leave it behind
and return when
I’m ready
to relish the ride
with a bite
from the apple
of my
holy
third
eye.
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.
Terry Collett Nov 2013
The bell from the cloister rang. Echoed around and settled upon nun in bed cosy in blanket against morning’s cold and frost. Stirred. Head raised. Eyes peered into the dawn’s light, sighed, shivered, moved arms against body’s length. Closed eyes. Wished for more sleep. None to have. Bell rang. Time, ladies, please. Time and tide. Stirred again. Lifted head. Sighed. Gazed at bedside table. Clock tick tock, tick tock. Moved to edge of the bed. Feet dangled. Toes wiggled. Hands joined for prayer. Breath stilled. Silence of the room. Bell stopped. Sighed. Breathed air, cold air. Wake up, rise, and shine. Funny words. Tired still. Wished to sleep, but no time. Dangled feet rose and fell. Toes wriggled. Rose from bed and knelt on wooden floor. Hard floor. Cold floor. Polished to a shine floor. Knees slid on smooth surface. Back stiff from straw-stuffed bedding. Sighed. Sister Teresa joined hands. Let fingers touch. Let flesh touch flesh. Sin on sin once maybe. Long ago. Sighed. Opened eyes. Gazed at crucifix on wall above bed. Old Christ, battered by time and grime. Eyes closed image held in mind’s eye. Prayer began. Words searched for amongst the wordless zones. Reaching through darkness for an inch of light. Light upon light. Darkness upon darkness. Who felt this she does not know. None speak except Sister John. Word upon word built. Holy upon holy. Sit here, she’d say. Rest a while. Rest in cloister. Rest on bench by cloister wall. You and she. Her hands old and wrinkled by time and age. Her eyes glassy. Her voice thin and worn, yet warm. Want to be close to warm. Especially in dark cold mornings like this, Teresa mused, lifting head and opening eyes to dawn’s light and cold’s chill in bone and skin. She stood and dressed. Disrobed from nightgown and into habit. Black as death with white wimple of innocence. Laughed softly. Such times. Such times. Harsh serge against soft flesh. Stiff whiteness on skin’s paleness. Sighed. Coughed. Made sign of cross from head to breast to breast. Never to touch, mama said, never let be touched. Words, long ago. Mama is dead. Rest in peace. No mirror. No image of seventeen-year old face or features now. Vanity of vanities. Sighed. Papa said, some men would deceive. Deceived by what? She often asked but none would tell. Ding **** bell. Silence now. Go now. Moved to door and down the cloister to the church and the dawn’s welcome cold and still. Teresa closed door and walked at pace soft and motionless seeming. None shall speak. Sing and chant and raise eyes and maybe a smile briefly, but none shall speak. Nor touch. For none may touch. Not as much as a sleeve felt or breath sensed. Each one an island. Water upon water none shall cross. Teresa sighed. Walked down the steps one by one, not to rush but not to lag sloth-like, lazily or drag wearily. Mother Abbess would know.Knows all. Sensed all. Next to God most feared. Most loved maybe if truth were known. Teresa sighed. Chill of cloister ate at bones and flesh. Nimble walking might ease, but walk as nuns do and cold bites like violent fish. Breathed in the air. The moon still out. Stuck out on a corner bright and white. The sun’s colour fed the dawn’s light. Brightness promised. Warmer weather. Warmer than Sister John. Who knows, Teresa mused, touching the cloister wall for sense of touch. Absence of touch can mean so much, Jude said, years before. Jude’s image faded now. No longer haunting as before. Teresa brushed her finger on the cloister wall. Rough and smooth. Rough and smooth. Men may deceive, papa said. Let none touch, mama advised. Long ago or seeming so. Seventeen-years old and innocent as innocence allowed. Jude laughed, feeling such. Wanting to touch. Over much. Entered church. Cool air. Sense of aloneness. Choir stalls. Smell of incense and polish mixed. Sense upon sense. Smell upon smell. Walked slowly. Genuflected to Christ. High on high. All seeing. Like Mother abbess. But less human. Less human all too human. The Crucified for all to see. Half naked there. Stretched wide arms. Head dangling lifeless or so seeming. Genuflection over moved to place in choir stall, stood, and stared at vacant wall. Brick upon brick. Sounds held. Chants upon chants sang once, held here. Chill in bone and flesh. Breviary held. Pages turned. Find the place and mark it well. Bell pulled sounds now. Nuns enter and gather round. Sister upon sister, elbow near elbow, but none may touch. None touch. None touch.Sister Rose eyes dim searched yours for morning joy. Smiled. Coughed. Awaited tap from Abbess. Smiled. Nodded. Hands held beneath black serge. Wanting to hold something, someone, but none may do so. None may touch. Tap, tap, wood on wood. Chant came as if from the cold air settled on ears. Felt in breast. Sensed and blessed, but none may touch. The sense to sing. The voice raised. The ear tuned. The mouth and lips employed, but none may touch. At least, said Sister Rose, not over much. Not over much. Still air. Cold air. Warmth wanted. Sister John or Sister Rose. None shall touch.
"Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.

"Oh, at home had I but stayed
'Prenticed to my father's trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.

"Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I left but ill alone.

"Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So 'tis come from ill to worse.

"Here hang I, and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft:
All the same's the luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.

"Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave ill alone.

"Make some day a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live lads, and I will die."
martin Aug 2013
There is a vicar from Chelsea
Who alas is not very wealthy
Often he dines on communion wine
And curried bat from the belfry

He lights a lot of incense
To hide his flatulence
He gets a bit high
Perhaps that is why
His sermons never make sense



--The vicar gets his knickers in a twist--

The old church roof had seen better days
The pressing need was a serious fund-raise
So the vicar abseiled down the tower
As the village watched by the graves and flowers

With a flurry his cassock flew up in the air
Shocking pink he wore under there
Flapping around it covered his face
As he dangled there in embarrassed disgrace

Someone called the fire brigade
A turntable ladder came to his aid
When at last they got him down
Humbled and grateful he kissed the ground
Heidi A Readey Nov 2011
She dangled there,
the ground kicked from under her feet
the rope the only thing to break her fall,
to break her neck.
It didn't work.
She dangled there,
Breathless,
Hopeless,
Wishing for death.
Waiting for the Reaper, her soul to take.
Death would not, did not, come for her.
There she dangled,
Alive and yet dead to the world,
her only crime:
Being a woman alone.
*Inspired by "Half Hanged Mary" by Margaret Atwood.*
Carissa Mar 2013
Though it is such a beautiful pristine night, puffy fluffy sky

a pelican had soaked spaghetti like limbs mangled and dangled

thrusting thyself forward to comfortably drown in wet frozen crystals

[I am a life I am blinking] Your feathers were flapping frosted and numbed

Oh I bet the water was stinging yet pleasing - 656 55 3-4 the elderly woman said

her kind soul with a phone number for SPCA wildlife rescue and rehabilitation

the pelican is near death, I divulged with envy for that wave drowning you in warmth
v i c t o r i a Feb 2015
Longing to travel towards the festering sun.
I was a brown eyed girl living in a mediocre world.
With sweet seeds in my hands I walked towards the end of the earth.
I dangled my feet over the edge and threw them into the wind,
until pomegranate gardens grew for him.
Evelyn May 2018
When God sowed darkness and the Devil a *****,
Abuela dug so deep
her oldest son fell through.

I dangled my constellations like ghosts that might
carry him to the surface,
a grip hard as ice,
a grip twice as thin.

Inertia yanked ten in two --
five fingers, pop;
ten fingers, stop --
he took them all down, the
tendons’ endless unfurling.
I, ladder, endlessly descending.
He, father, ends up standing.
Miss Masque Feb 2012
That tapestry,
Red, Black, Gold
A Celtic Circle--
silently bearing witness
to the proceedings
of that smoky room:

The aquariums--one with
the large eel who seemed
to barely fit the tank
that took up half the wall;
and the smaller, vibrantly
colored fish in the
aquarium with the eggshell
colored coral.

The remixed music played
at a comfortable volume,
by the DJ we knew
so well, together;
as many times
it hardly seemed like
he was working at all,
as he just sat down and
talked to us, for hours.

Looking through
those over-sized books of
old advertisements,
and explanations of
historical artwork;
discussing the contents
with strangers,
who became friends
in the process.

Smoke billowed, enveloping
the atmosphere and filling it
with the smell of many spice
racks, pleasantly rolled in a
shell of a soft breeze
flowing from the oscillating fan.

The smell of joy,
of a relaxed sense of mutual
understanding; that it was okay
not to say a word, because the
atmosphere did the talking
for us.

We just enjoyed sitting
on those red pleather couches
that your **** sank back into,
not allowing my feet to touch
the floor; so they often just
dangled, legs swinging
to the tempo of the music.

As I took a hit
of the hookah,
I manipulated the smoke
into O's, puckering
my lips, trying not
to laugh as you
gazed at me in a
shy sense of wonder.

That face always made you
want to kiss me.
Little Lady Jan 2014
I was in my dream last night...
The girl in my dream was a self image that my self conscious created.

She had long thick curly hair running down her back like a wild river,
and There were these thin wisps of black curls that rested on her forehead and would not budge no matter how many times she swept them aside

The ensemble she wore was rich in color
I admired the way the colors complemented each other
incredibly lively and elegant
She wore an azure tank with an emerald silk scarf
A Celeste cascaded long skirt embellished with tiny vibrant glass beads that shimmered ever so brightly
She was bare foot but i couldn't help but notice every step she took
On her ankles were anklets that dangled the prettiest of gems

She walked towards me
Her beautiful clothing dancing against her body

She sat next to me on the curb and said
"You look sad, what is the matter?
i can see the circles under your eyes
the insufficiency of laughter

Your heart and your mind are intertwined
You convince your mind to keep you in a dark place
then your heart crumbles leaving your care-fee spirit behind.

These are simply realities you must face

you know, things fall apart
so better things can come together
it might break your heart
but believe that hurtful moments don't last forever

Sometimes in-explainable things happen
sometimes the going gets tough
but you cant allow it to break your spirit for too long
The sun will rise again, sure enough."

Then, just as she gracefully came,
she gracefully left
I Awoke.
She left me with my sadness
for me to decide.
I started reading this interesting book (The New Physco-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz) & the very  beginning talks about how self image is crucial for your success and positivity. So that image you have In your mind of yourself can say so much about how you feel about yourself and everything that just surrounds your life.
So I thought about how I perceive myself and I decided to write something positive and creative about it :-)
Mygreatestescape Feb 2018
systole, the eyes
that never saw,
the children who
made pillars out of
their tears,
building forts
out of fear
and pure wretchedness,
born in allleyways
and downgraded
to accidents,
eating from
the hand that
coloured their bodies
blue,
pure neglected art,
the beauty of their
red rimmed eyes
and yellowing
skin, like suns
that  grew from
their blackhole dreams,

who saw strangers on the
street
and when
their hands brushed
they called it -- "love",
who sobbed into
bedsheets
as tyrants
searched  for paradise
in the scars of
their misery,
their nightmares filled
with doctors who
would ask them
"where did they touch you"

Animals at a zoo,
a mere curiousity,
a mediocre pastime,
when they saw them
they thought of alcoholic fathers
-- a sub species of human,

they fell so far into the cracks
that they landed on earth
to experience our hell,
the versatile law
and our novelties,
the system raised a fist
and so did the fosters,
parental imposters,
and the child who deserved
the alters of Olympus
-- called it kindness,


their hearts suffered
in low ceiling rooms
and brick arched windows,
polished brass **** doors,
threaded traps of cobweb,
  A dose of sermons,
a memorial service the next,
children who dangled from ceilings,
suffocating on their self proclaimed
prophecies,
reptiles that grew in the skeletons of
their bodies,
suicidal for gold,
to be told
of flowers
and to be held
in the arms of a mother,
to be chased down
the streets like a flightless
canary,
while the earth drank
in their laughter,

kids that were once here
who breathed as if each
breath was thinning,

who became so small
that they disappeared.
One of my friends grew up in the foster system, its been painful seeing how much its changed her.
ryn May 2017
Pale-faced and stiff,
he stood...
Unmoving - frozen in time.

His chest no longer heaved,
his limbs dangled dead.
His painted lips were parted
with no spoken words.

We have before seen him breathe.
We have before noticed his wordless actions.
We have before heard his song.

And this is his end -
A space
unaccompanied by his usual
careful and subtle gestures.

He bore no voice now as he did then.
But his story was told loud
through the lyrics and music
of a hauntingly, mournful song...

Showcasing the lone relatable teardrop
that never dries.
Pierrot, the sad clown, with white face and loose white blouse, expressing slowly and subtly and in the absence of and beyond words, emerged in the nineteenth century from his roots in stock comedies and pantomimes to become the embodiment of a certain artistic type, a specific strain of artistic emotion: sensitive, melancholy and solitary, and at once playful and daring in subverting language and suggesting the fraught but still facile and fluctuating nature of gender.
Amina Sibtain Dec 2011
They bribed me with promises of Audis and poverty reduction.
A six-figure salary, insurance, and free weekends.

They lured me with Prada bags, Chanel Shades and scarves by Hermes.
Vacations in Nice, transits in Paris, and business trips to Beijing.

They said I could meet the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates and the Queen of England,
have wine with Sarkozy, break bread with Al Gore, and kiss Prince William.

They dangled real men, real love and post-marital affairs in front of me
and gave me dreams of seven husbands and no divorces.

They convinced me to grow up and walk across the stage,
and their promises made me smile as I crossed over to the other side.

Today, I lay in my hammock wishing they’d promised me a job as well.
Michael W Noland Oct 2012
Our galaxy, a ship, speeding into the depths, of deep space, a casualty in permit, heeding the concepts, of our place, in space-less mass, glimmering from the cast, of gods, even from the cracks and smog, we move along the path, of our intent, hell bent to extend our wrath, upon the woes of men, unknown to the myriad angles, in the dangled essence, of the limitless blessings, in the finite structuring, of negative nothings, filling our hearts of imagination, manifesting, in our epiphanies recollections, of days gone, but came back to be, born freely, looping infinitely, simultaneous, in every possibility of personally realized realities, realizing themselves in sunless helms of technology, merging with the organics of our being, and seeding, the start of everything.
A Child’s Story

Hamelin Town’s in Brunswick,
By famous Hanover city;
The river Weser, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Almost five hundred years ago,
To see the townsfolk suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.

Rats!
They fought the dogs, and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.

At last the people in a body
To the Town Hall came flocking:
“’Tis clear,” cried they, “our Mayor’s a noddy;
And as for our Corporation—shocking
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can’t or won’t determine
What’s best to rid us of our vermin!
You hope, because you’re old and obese,
To find in the furry civic robe ease?
Rouse up, Sirs! Give your brains a racking
To find the remedy we’re lacking,
Or, sure as fate, we’ll send you packing!”
At this the Mayor and Corporation
Quaked with a mighty consternation.

An hour they sate in council,
At length the Mayor broke silence:
“For a guilder I’d my ermine gown sell;
I wish I were a mile hence!
It’s easy to bid one rack one’s brain—
I’m sure my poor head aches again
I’ve scratched it so, and all in vain.
Oh for a trap, a trap, a trap!”
Just as he said this, what should hap
At the chamber door but a gentle tap?
“Bless us,” cried the Mayor, “what’s that?”
(With the Corporation as he sat,
Looking little though wondrous fat;
Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister
Than a too-long-opened oyster,
Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous
For a plate of turtle green and glutinous)
“Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a rat
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!”

“Come in!”—the Mayor cried, looking bigger:
And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head
Was half of yellow and half of red;
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
But lips where smiles went out and in—
There was no guessing his kith and kin!
And nobody could enough admire
The tall man and his quaint attire:
Quoth one: “It’s as my great-grandsire,
Starting up at the Trump of Doom’s tone,
Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!”

He advanced to the council-table:
And, “Please your honours,” said he, “I’m able,
By means of a secret charm, to draw
All creatures living beneath the sun,
That creep or swim or fly or run,
After me so as you never saw!
And I chiefly use my charm
On creatures that do people harm,
The mole and toad and newt and viper;
And people call me the Pied Piper.”
(And here they noticed round his neck
A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of the selfsame cheque;
And at the scarf’s end hung a pipe;
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
As if impatient to be playing
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled
Over his vesture so old-fangled.)
“Yet,” said he, “poor piper as I am,
In Tartary I freed the Cham,
Last June, from his huge swarms of gnats;
I eased in Asia the Nizam
Of a monstrous brood of vampire-bats;
And, as for what your brain bewilders,
If I can rid your town of rats
Will you give me a thousand guilders?”
“One? fifty thousand!”—was the exclamation
Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.

Into the street the Piper stepped,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while;
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled
Like a candle flame where salt is sprinkled;
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives—
Followed the Piper for their lives.
From street to street he piped advancing,
And step for step they followed dancing,
Until they came to the river Weser,
Wherein all plunged and perished!
- Save one who, stout a Julius Caesar,
Swam across and lived to carry
(As he, the manuscript he cherished)
To Rat-land home his commentary:
Which was, “At the first shrill notes of the pipe
I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
Into a cider-press’s gripe:
And a moving away of pickle-tub-boards,
And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards,
And a drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks,
And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks;
And it seemed as if a voice
(Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery
Is breathed) called out ‘Oh, rats, rejoice!
The world is grown to one vast drysaltery!
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!’
And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon,
All ready staved, like a great sun shone
Glorious scarce and inch before me,
Just as methought it said ‘Come, bore me!’
- I found the Weser rolling o’er me.”

You should have heard the Hamelin people
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
“Go,” cried the Mayor, “and get long poles!
Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
Consult with carpenters and builders,
And leave in our town not even a trace
Of the rats!”—when suddenly, up the face
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a, “First, if you please, my thousand guilders!”

A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar’s biggest **** with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow!
“Beside,” quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink,
“Our business was done at the river’s brink;
We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
And what’s dead can’t come to life, I think.
So, friend, we’re not the folks to shrink
From the duty of giving you something for drink,
And a matter of money to put in your poke;
But, as for the guilders, what we spoke
Of them, as you very well know, was in joke.
Beside, our losses have made us thrifty.
A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!”

The Piper’s face fell, and he cried
“No trifling! I can’t wait, beside!
I’ve promised to visit by dinner-time
Bagdat, and accept the prime
Of the Head Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in,
For having left, in the Calip’s kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor—
With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe to another fashion.”

“How?” cried the Mayor, “d’ye think I’ll brook
Being worse treated than a Cook?
Insulted by a lazy ribald
With idle pipe and vesture piebald?
You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst,
Blow your pipe there till you burst!”

Once more he stepped into the street;
And to his lips again
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician’s cunning
Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling, that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farmyard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.

The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
As if they were changed into blocks of wood,
Unable to move a step, or cry
To the children merrily skipping by—
And could only follow with the eye
That joyous crowd at the Piper’s back.
But how the Mayor was on the rack,
And the wretched Council’s bosoms beat,
As the Piper turned from the High Street
To where the Weser rolled its waters
Right in the way of their sons and daughters!
However he turned from South to West,
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed,
And after him the children pressed;
Great was the joy in every breast.
“He never can cross that mighty top!
He’s forced to let the piping drop,
And we shall see our children stop!”
When, lo, as they reached the mountain’s side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.
Did I say, all? No! One was lame,
And could not dance the whole of the way;
And in after years, if you would blame
His sadness, he was used to say,—
“It’s dull in our town since my playmates left!
I can’t forget that I’m bereft
Of all the pleasant sights they see,
Which the Piper also promised me:
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honey-bees had lost their stings,
And horses were born with eagles’ wings:
And just as I became assured
My lame foot would be speedily cured,
The music stopped and I stood still,
And found myself outside the Hill,
Left alone against my will,
To go now limping as before,
And never hear of that country more!”

Alas, alas for Hamelin!
There came into many a burgher’s pate
A text which says, that Heaven’s Gate
Opes to the Rich at as easy rate
As the needle’s eye takes a camel in!
The Mayor sent East, West, North, and South,
To offer the Piper, by word of mouth,
Wherever it was men’s lot to find him,
Silver and gold to his heart’s content,
If he’d only return the way he went,
And bring the children behind him.
But when they saw ’twas a lost endeavour,
And Piper and dancers were gone for ever,
They made a decree that lawyers never
Should think their records dated duly
If, after the day of the month and year,
These words did not as well appear,
“And so long after what happened here
On the Twenty-second of July,
Thirteen hundred and seventy-six”:
And the better in memory to fix
The place of the children’s last retreat,
They called it, the Pied Piper’s Street—
Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
Was sure for the future to lose his labour.
Nor suffered they hostelry or tavern
To shock with mirth a street so solemn;
But opposite the place of the cavern
They wrote the story on a column,
And on the great Church-Window painted
The same, to make the world acquainted
How their children were stolen away;
And there it stands to this very day.
And I must not omit to say
That in Transylvania there’s a tribe
Of alien people that ascribe
The outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbours lay such stress,
To their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
But how or why, they don’t understand.

So, *****, let you and me be wipers
Of scores out with all men—especially pipers:
And, whether they pipe us free, from rats or from mice,
If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise.
Ben Jones May 2013
It began, as these things often do
With darkened skies and all around
The night had paused to draw a breath
And through the streets rebounded sound
A slow and steady fall of foot
I stepped the cobbles free of care
My eyes were drinking vivid light
A fragrance tangled on the air

My purpose set
My heart a grim quartet

The door was mere scenery
A sight to see but not recall
The passing gaze is pushed away
And sees there, just another wall
No movement could I hear within
My knuckles whitened on the knock
Relief recoiled hastily
A scratching from the rusted lock

My fingers clenched
Anxiety deeply entrenched

The woodwork inched a little back
A brow bedecked in withered hair
A pupil sharp as autumn frost
Surveyed me with a butchers glare
Her voice, a blade across my mind
Invited me to step inside
A shiver shook my frozen bones
My feet took up a timid stride

Her tone shallow
Her skin like warm tallow

Within was soaked in tepid gloom
In candle light the shadows danced
The flames grew quick and paranoid
And leaned away as I advanced
Behind me scurried shut the door
And down my spine, an angel tear
A leather chair of ages past
Held consort with my falling rear

She sat near
And whispered in my ear

With lizards hiss and jagged tone
In fragrances of smoke and gin
She sprinkled such a parable
That tingles bounced across my skin
My mission lay ahead of me
But caution of a reckless choice
A curse that fed on failure
And menace edged her ebon voice

Salvation awaited
But hope swiftly abated

Away into the night I strode
My razor wits with terror blunt
I packed a satchel prudently
For sustenance about the hunt
A dagger dangled on my hip
A bow and quiver on my back
Its bowstring plaited spider web
Was ever strong and never slack

Horizon bound
I broke the ****** ground

My quarry was a worthy foe
And many days I tracked until
By moonlight on a starless night
I caught a glimpse and stopping still
A sight I've struggled to forget
My bounty and my nemesis
Was bounding past me heedlessly
As fear wrought paralysis

Eyes like death
****** hung on its breath

It stood a daunting seven foot
With talons jutting from its hands
A mass of quills and tentacles
With extra spleens and mucus glands
A mouth with room for seven men
And teeth the size of ironing boards
A single but enormous eye
With lashes like a row of swords

My face paled
My bladder faultered and soon failed

I faced my prey and crossed my legs
My stricken blood had turned froth
I ****** myself in abject fear
But stopped just short of touching cloth
I turned about and ran away
While screaming out profanity
And crying like a baby
And adopting Christianity

Pleading with fate
My pride a sorry state

I fled the county swiftly
Finding shelter inside a cave
My punishment for failure
Would see me to my grave
And so I existed in exile
Eating only what I caught
In time the wind grew colder
And the days were ever short

Winter grips
The solar zenith slips

I huddle to this very day
Amid the gloom with frozen breath
And keeping warm is paramount
For stretching life, postponing death
Though purely for survival
While I weather every storm
I've taken to bumming weasels
As a means of keeping warm

Blunt trauma
Weasel skin *****-warmer
Cameron Haste Jul 2014
It sketched and slapped an ombre
of crimson reds
& tangerine oranges
until it carved a comfortable atmosphere
amongst the void blacks
and howling navy blues.

Her sun bleached hair dangled over her forehead.
They were the vines that tangled
into wispy curls of tiger's eye gold that
hung lavishly in front of the youngest
temple.
Her eyes were sour,
a Blink and a whistle.
Someone coughing on the last bus outta town.
Those powerful cheek bones,
that she obtained through her
constant "according to" accordion smile,
fell off into a pair of lips
that were just pronounced enough
to make her look like she would laugh & ****,
tempt or incinerate.
Intellect winked from her every word
like a whip of cold water and eggnog.

The Campfire was an artist.
It delicately plucked a scene
ripe with confidence and relaxed alcohol.
A tone that made her amazonian scowl
seem intimate and gentle.
Campfire with new people in the summer.
sleeplessnxghts Jan 2014
the rain sank the goodness into the ground,
an attempt to better the world with aesthetics replacing the dangerous cracks in the sidewalk
the mud encapsulates my deepest fear
my feet, cemented inside, like quicksand I'm sinking
Chances of surviving are a million to one
as i scan my brain for a trace of impending chances
but i will never see the sun set on the east side
and the birds won't sing when the frigid rain is biting their tongues and feeding on their despair
to live a life in despondancy, or to rise above the rut i am sinking in
the mud never lets it's victims leave, no redemption, no second chances
the clock strikes "over" and a thought about the future is not allowed to cross my mind, for the bridge has closed
and the boats sank under the water
i would run down the sidewalk forever, searching for a purpose
but im stuck
i am motionless while the rest of the city passes by me
invisibility brushes my hair and clothes my skin
ever since i fell victim to Despair and it's awful side effects
I held the future on a string, but as i dangled it above the balcony 10 stories high
what more could i expect than to lose it within the countless busy footprints of those who walk with both feet on the ground
Mine will be irrevocably stuck onto the pavement while i watch everyone else take off with their wings attached
and their smiles plastered on their faces
Rosie Ninesling Nov 2012
I don't even know what I'm doing I guess.
I have never been here before. I have never felt
the bitter effects of being so close to seventeen that
You can taste it.
I've never fully put myself out on a limb yet.
I've never dangled so high above the canyons of- I don't even know what.
(sorry, I'm too tired to think of a metaphor).
I've never tried so hard to win before,
hell, I've never really wanted to win before.
I'm strung together with motown and old violin strings
and also the constant nagging to become something.
I really don't want to, please don't make me.
Lianna Walters Jun 2015
Beauty.
The standard goal.
Society kills me.
They tell you to “be yourself, you’re beautiful”
Judge you for it,
Then encourage you to do it again.
Who are they to decide?
In fact, who decided the status quo,
What determines true beauty?
They say everyone’s beautiful in their own way,
But that’s just the appetizer.
The main course is the “fact” that everyone’s different,.
And in order to achieve the standard level of “perfect”,
“Buy this item! It’ll make you more perfect, I swear!”
“Wear these clothes, it’ll complement the parts of your body we’ve defined as
‘Attractive’!”
“Do these workouts, it’ll give you a flatter stomach, tighter abs, a sexier beach body!”
The fact that they took our weak spot,
Perfection
And dangled the idea,
The possibility in front of us
To sell their products
To keep us coming back, to make money
Because, let’s be real, money’s everything.
They convince us that we can achieve something that doesn't exist,
But we want it to,
We hope for it,
Because….what?
Looks are everything?
No.
In 80 years, we’ll all look old and weird, so what’s the point?
Look good everyday,
Hope someone finds you attractive,
Potentially fall in “love” with somebody who only desires your looks?
If that’s your goal, ***, you've got your priorities mixed up
Life’s not gonna care whether you’re
Attractive,
Ugly,
Skinny,
Thick,
Short,
Tall,
Smart,
Stupi­d,
Or the greatest person alive.
It’s gonna knock you down no matter what,
And in 120 years, we’ll all be dead anyway.
Why waste your time hoping to accomplish a false reality,
So you can live your years in luxury,
Rather than just being thankful and happy?
Don’t spend your time trying to get to what you don’t even want,
But have been programmed to accept.
Re-program yourself.
***** the system.
WE DECIDE WHAT THE STANDARD FOR BEAUTY IS. I SAY **** IT, WHY IS THERE A STANDARD AT ALL?
The odds were against them
As it was their fate on a cliff, that dangled.
It was the desire for passion & the need to unite.
Cause, she was the devil and he was an angel.
.
The world had mistaken their odd identities.
For they were one since time unknown.
Her's was the rhythm to his symphonies.
His breath, her kiss, his sin, her moan.
.
I could hardly say some more.
Theirs was the truest of alliance
For both were truly in love
It was each other they were thoroughly reliant.
Upon.
For a friend who wanted something on the topic for a story she's currently working on.
temajung michael May 2015
Pharaoh Tutankhamun graced the Egyptian throne,
A *****, brisk and spry.
From his majestical hands, dangled a scepter
And on his handsome head, sat a crown.

His empire was at its peak
For he wielded influence all over africa.
The bearded Europeans and nubianS sought his protection
For egypt, was a haven.

So organised was the land:

Amun-re and maat protected the people,
The country grew with the help of viziers.
Agriculture was a noble profession in the land,
As her economic markets were the best in the world

Egypt gave light to Greece and Mesopotamia
For her civilisation altered many a life.
And also, was the birth place of man
Such, was the land of egypt

The middle ages stroke and Europe went to sleep
But mama africa gave birth to many strong children:
Ghana, Mali, Songhai and many more
These children shoke the world with their riches and organisation.

Such was the history that africa recorded before they came.

Fredriech Hegel in want of speech said:
“Africa never had a history before the whites came.”
Such a mediocre declaration from an illiterate
For in place of his brain, graced a kidney.

Africa was well civilised before the bearded people came:
We had a religion
We had education as seen in egypt
We had a well organised system in all aspects.

We had everything needed for prosperity,
We attracted them with our gold, thus they came.
But most of all, we believed in equality.
Such was africa before they came

But when the bearded people came,
They altered our ways and put us in stocks
Then said: “we had no history.”
Oblivious that africa had made history,
BEFORE
AND BEFORE
THE
venn Jul 2015
A feeling I never thought I'd feel,
But here I am, writing a poem about you

Do you think about me, too?

You're always on my mind,
Even more than the ticking of the clock is
Because you know I'm always really excited to get home
So I can talk to you without glancing up every second
To see if the teacher's looking

But at the same time,
Thinking about you makes me think about
How scared I am of losing you

My number one fear has always been losing people,
And it's happened so many times, over and over again

It's a vicious cycle, and losing you might just do me in.

I can't breathe without you,
But even when I'm with you,
My breathing is labored

Because how do I stay calm
When I'm hanging off of the edge of this cliff you dangled me over
(Unintentionally, of course)

My heart is pounding in my chest,
no peace, no rest,
and as much as I love you,
the fear of losing you is something I'll never be able to overcome

The fear of dropping to my doom is something
I will never be able to forget

As much as you comfort me in my time of need,
That fear always sneaks back

Hiding under my bed like the Boogeyman,
And I start to wonder, 'Is it worth it?'

Yes. Yes, it is.

It will always be worth it.

Because the fear I feel of losing you is much less damaging
Than the suffering I feel without you
I. centipede:
-
They come from both directions and it doesn't take long
for me to realize that they've figured me out.
My mind was fast, but not as swift as the hands
of five-hundred outreaching hands; one angry crowd.
Grabbing at limbs, low and high, they don't waste a second
before tearing me in every direction; at least the cardinal four.
My mind takes flight, leaves fancy, but not before
I get in one last swear, and one last spittle in their faces.

II. snake
-
Tail and head aren't in sync this morning, I tell ya.
No rattle, no bite, just a lot of traffic and heat shimmers
in the one place I don't need to be today.
The people here act like they don't know me,
but they still turn their noses up when I empty my mug.
The waitress answers when spoken to,
but just stares in the time in between wheezing breaths.
I've got to get out of this county, this state.

III. scorpion
-
Ronny hasn't been on a roof since a couple years after we got married.
He wrapped his ankle in some gutters and took a spill;
his thigh popped right out of it's socket and he just dangled
like some kind of prize in one of those crane games.
Doctor says he can still have kids, and I know he can still get it up
from how he watches that ****** **** on t.v.
But he wont touch me; hasn't in fifteen months, I've counted.
He's in for a surprise once the settlement clears.

IV. lizard
-
Wallflowers never get anywhere with their mouths sewn shut
and I cut my stitches well before my teens;
I got what I needed and I made sure of it.
But there is something to be gained from
basking in the naivety of youth and ignorance.
Trouble doesn't set in as well, and boredom comes
as some kind of waiting period, rather than the norm.
These bars are a reminder of why they don't let me make the rules.

V. toad
-
Invulnerable, incontestable, unphasable, archetype.
I listen for the right words to drop the shields,
but I'm only met with the silence that accompanies
asphyxiation through means of wet wax paper.
The touch of phantoms tingle along my skeleton's core
telling me the time for lollygagging has long since passed.
Stand up, giant, you're running hot and the moon
keeps calling out, "follow the lit road home".
tlp
Megan Hundley Sep 2012
Her fingers were covered in corn.
the corn after chewing, broken
pierced, churned- it could spread as butter
thick on stale toast, if needed
"it's fine, don't you worry, we'll get you all cleaned up"
she stared indifferently

Strings dangled from her mouth, unswept
full of necessary greens ---"mhm there there, this will give
you so much energy" --- drags of breath,
half inhale half choke. nothing to look forward to,
not the next soaking glob, not the cursing woman
in the bathroom, not the spill of light to her eyes

Where are the ladles, Did you check on it? The key? Just moved, most the suitcases aren't there yet. Remember to bring the Did you check on it? pay attention. Have you seen my grand kids?
who are you?

Sunday's are for the active ones
The games down the hall are  too far. Why worry with legs, if she could just adjust to the left
the world could sag into an ongoing dream- No demands, no games, no movement.

The nurses hair net had more presence than the splotch of gray against her peeling itchy scalp. Drool leaked from leather lips, dampening the collar of her two month sticky blouse.  Arms curled and locked,displaying under the wax skin cranberry patches-
she never wiped them off. Always the soft murmer of
a snore, always the smell of unbrushed teeth and hampers.

"Did you touch those where don't touch me scott scott scott leave my things alone thevenin I need a stop lying I want to go scott, scott? scott.     I            can't              remember                       any"

I said my name four times before she heard me, knew me
I fixed her pillow and my sister marked off the day on the calendar.
We told her about school, the marching band, each word
filled with forced enthusiasm. She bobbed  her head in circles, lazily
rolling her eyes, the curtain shading the empty space. We spent 30 minutes precisely.

She was more than I realized.
I never knew she had horseback riding, violin playing days. She traveled and  hiked. We could have been close. Unraveling with the mystery, I felt the lateness of my curiosity.
It was 30 minutes precisely, always.

We acted as strangers, reciting routine and wishing each other a happy day and a quiet love you

— The End —