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Moon Humor Nov 2014
First glance, I’m a good Christian girl. But dark purple flecks decorate my neck.
In leather and lace I forget to pray and let you do what you want with me
because pain is complex and melded with pleasure.

Do you know what they say about girls that enjoy ***?
They never dare to say it to my face but I can feel them staring from the pew
at the dark purple flecks that decorate my neck.

Your hands, more powerful than God, make the earth of my body quake
while I draw fault lines down your back with my nails under the broken
crucifix above your bed. The pain is complex and melded with pleasure.

Deep, growling voice shakes the dusty rosary on your nightstand when we ****.
Your handprints are left on my flesh and the hand around my throat
leaves the dark purple flecks decorating my neck.

Coffee in the narthex and I’m labeled a harlot. Sinner. Sacrilegious. Branded as freaks…
Brush it off. I know what you like and how you like me. God will have mercy.
Sensations blend because pain is complex and melded with pleasure

and I can’t have one without the other. To reach our peak
you leave me red, marked and breathless, gasping, “Oh my God.”
Questioning my beliefs with dark purple flecks to decorate my neck,
I know pain will always be complex and melded with pleasure.
A relaxed villanelle
Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Mitchell Duran Sep 2013
The retainer where she was put
Was made of concrete. My father told me they had
Dug the grave first, then poured the concrete in, waited for
It to dry and harden, then hammered in six
Circular spikes in the four corners, two on either side
Of the middle. They lifted the concrete cast out with a crane.
My dad was going to be charged 300 dollars a day for the rental,
But because of the circumstances, Home Depot let us have it for free.

-

Where was she?
Where had she gone?
Would I see her face again?
Would she want me to
Meet her on the other side of the river?

-

I answered my cell phone.

"Make sure to bring flower's."
She had been crying. Her voice wavered the way sun light
Does on moving water.

"Make sure to bring flowers," she repeated, "And
That you wear what your father and I bought you."

I nodded my head with the receiver pressed up against my ear.
We both let out a sigh. My mom hung up. I put my phone in my back pocket.

-

Lately, I had been seeing a shrink about repetition. He liked to use the word cycle.

"Everything is repeated," I would tell him.

"Life is a cycle," he'd disagree so to get me talking.

"Can cycles be identical?"

"Technically not. Some cycles are extremely similar, but no two cycles are
Completely the same. Are two people's lives ever exactly the same?"

"I wouldn't know. I don't know that many people. Maybe."

"You know lots of people, Camden. You have told me about many of your friends."

"Are we talking about the seasons?" I asked, changing the subject, "Like fall, winter, spring, summer? We are born, we live, we die, and we are born again?"

"That's a very natural way of looking at it."

"I know it is." I inhaled deeply, swallowing air and wondered what time it was.

"If you are so sure, why look for validation from me?" He liked this one, I could
tell. I imagined him shopping for clothes and then exploding in aisle 16 because of a sale on jeans.

"The word cycle is used by people too afraid to use the word repetition. Everything is
Repeated for the next generation, the next group, the next of the next of the next. We shift things
Around, give things to one another to shift life to make it look different, but, things remain the same. Everything contains the primal function we were all doing and living from the very beginning, only now, there is more of a separation. Music is still music, words are still words, paintings are still paintings, love is still love, death is still death, only done differently and more intensely."

"We are talking about man furthering technology because we, as people and creatures, are
Statistically more prone to flee than fight?"

"Why do you think it has caught on so quick?" I touched both
Corners of my lips with my tongue and suddenly realized I hadn't eaten breakfast.

"It is a theory," the psych nodded, "A theory with, I am sure, many
Palpable facts you could make a very nice report with to prove...something." He
Was at a lost for words and I felt guilty that my mom was paying him $75 an hour.

"We are very split. There are too many of us. Too many hands spinning the china."

"Who is we Harry?" The psych hadn't looked up from his pen and pad of paper, until now. I could
Tell he was annoyed with me either because he was making no progress or because the session
Had just begun and I was already digging into him.

"Culture. The government. You, me, my dad, my mom, the taco bell cashier, the geniuses at Apple computers, a paper weight, my dead sister. We're all apart of these shifts, all putting in a certain amount of energy and lies to keep the protection of the projection going. The question I keep asking myself is: do I want to use my strengths to be apart of this cycle or not?"

His eyes flared open for a moment like he'd swallowed a firefly, not at the question I had posed for myself, but from what I would soon see was from the mention of my sister. He had something.

"I was notified by your mother that you may not want to talk about your recently deceased sister. Is It O.K. if I ask you some questions about her?"

I was leaning forward on the couch with my hands clasped in between my legs. The psych had looked up at me now. He was sweating at the top of his thin hairline. Observing that I was staring at his building perspiration, he, trying to be nonchalant, took out a thin, white napkin from his grey shirt pocket and dabbed the top of his head. The napkin looked like cheap toilet paper. I'd have offered him some water, but I had no water to give and I didn't know where the sink and cups were to give him any. I figured he did - it was his office - so I asked him for some. He pointed me in the direction of the bathroom. I got up and found a stack of paper cups. I poured myself a cup and went back to the couch, but instead of leaning forward, I sat back, relaxed, and let the expensive leather couch take the weight I had been carrying away.

"So," the psych maintained cooly, "Would it be alright if we were able to discuss your sister?"

I lifted the paper cup over my head and the psych's eyes, after I poured the water over my hair, my face, and clothes, was a mixture of what my mom's eyes looked at the funeral, defeated, confused, and with a loss of faith and hope. My father's eyes had only held hate, anger and the need to lash out at someone, but the only someone that would have fit the bill would have been God.

"Sure," I answered, "Let's talk about my sister."

-

I finished drying myself in the car. The psych had let me keep the towel.
I leaned out the window to look at myself in the side mirror. I looked fine.
Presentable. Accountable. Like I had been through something where I had
Faced my soul. Like I had used and abused my emotions. There was comb in my glove compartment, so I took it out and rushed it through my damp hair. Slicked back. The sun
Was out, no clouds, burning up the inside of my car. That taste that comes after
Finishing something that's supposed to do you good didn't come. I was left with an unsure hand.
Putting my keys in the ignition, I turned them, and felt the engine rumble in front of my legs.
The sun sat in the sky like a lazy hand and I had nowhere else to go but home.

-

"Let's go to the river today," my dad said over coffee and two over easy eggs on top
Of burnt wheat toast. "I'll drive and you and your sister can sit in the back and sing."

I looked over at Ally. She was gazing into her fruit bowl she had prepared for
herself because dad didn't understand the concept or how to make it. The lamp light above us
reflected in the smooth apricot yogurt and the flecks of granola scattered on top
looked like beige, jagged rocks. My dad's offer hung in the air and neither
of us bit the lure. I had just woken up and was unable to speak clearly, a decent
excuse. Ally was simply choosing to ignore him.

"What you think there Ally?" I asked her. I sipped my coffee. It needed more cream. I got
U, got it and brought the carton to the table.

"We can take the truck down there and load the back with the fishing poles and tackle
And inner tubes. We haven't...done that...in a long time," he said, chewing his food as he spoke.

Ally poked her fruit bowl with her spoon, silent.

"What you think, Cam?" My dad was desperate. He knew I'd say yes.

"Sure. I've got no plans this weekend."

"No schoolwork?"

"It can wait till Sunday. Only math and some reading."

"Ally, what do you think?" my dad asked, leaning over to her. I could see he was
Trying to be as courteous and gentle with her as he knew how to. I felt bad for him.

"Sure," she muttered, "That sounds like fun." I could barely hear her, but somehow,
I could tell she sounded happy.

"Perfect," my dad smiled, "We'll pack the car up Friday,
Drive up Saturday morning early, camp one night, then get back Sunday afternoon." He
Took a long sip of his coffee and swished it around in his mouth, then dug
His fork into the dry toast and ran his small steak knife over the eggs. A silent pop came from
The egg and the light orange yolk spilled out. "Perfect," he repeated, "Just great."

Ally poked a grape from her fruit bowl and dipped it into the yogurt.
I took another sip of my coffee and looked up into the fan, spinning above us.
We were going to the river.

-

"Your sister turns five today," my mom told me, "And that means
I want you to be on your best behavior."

I nodded, unsure what the point of a birthday was. I had had one before, or at
least I thought I did, and all I remembered was that I got presents and the colorful balloons
and the cake we all ate with fire kind of floating and burning above it. Somewhere
in that moment I remember thinking that the cake was going to catch on fire, then they, everyone,
some that I knew and some people I had never seen before, yelled and shouted to
blow the fire out, so I quickly did, but not because it was for a wish, which I later found out it was supposed to be for, but because I truly thought the cake was going to catch fire and they wanted me to take care of it. At that point, I was unsure what it meant to be alive or why to celebrate it all.

"This is her day, Camden," my father told me, "So I want you to be happy for your sister."

"I am," I said. I was wearing my favorite white and blue striped t-shirt and
New shoes that my mom had bought me for the party.

"Sometimes you have to think of other people," my mother continued, "And today is one
of those days. I don't want any crying because you didn't get any presents or that none of your
friends are at the party. There are going to be a lot of Ally's friends there, but not many
of your's...do you understand?"

"Yes, Mom."

"Do you understand, Cam?" My father repeated. His skin was the color of a burnt
pancake and he smelt like stale sugar and sun tan lotion. He was in front of me and was
holding a thin magazine with a man in a boat holding up a fish on a line on the cover.  

"Yes, Dad," I said again. I was hungry. I wanted mac n' cheese, my favorite food.

I had been on the floor, laying on my stomach watching Ren and Stimpy. They were standing in front of the television and I remember trying to wish them out of the way. Behind them were two, large bay windows where three palm trees stood in a row like tropical soldiers. I could see there was no wind because the three of them stood still, as if posing for someone. Their leaves were bright green, a mixture of the neon green Jello I used to love to eat and the orange Jolly Rancher my dad would always have in a tiny tray in the middle of the dining table. My mother hated having them there because it always tempted Ally and I, but he never moved it until he moved out.

"Do you like your show?" my mom asked, turning to see what I was watching.

I nodded, absently. Ren was licking Stimpy's eye because he was complaining about having
an eyelash in there. Stimpy was completely still and smiling like he does - dumb and content.

"Interesting..." my mother trailed off. She walked to the kitchen behind the couch and
Opened up the pantry for something. "You hungry, Camden?"

"I'm starving," my dad said, "Let me go check on Ally in the bedroom. She should be up
from her nap."

I got up from my stomach and sat back on my legs, "Do we have mac n' cheese?" I asked.

"Let me check."

She reached up for the cabinet over the stove where I could never reach and
Opened it. I rose slightly up from where I was sitting to see if I could see the glorious dark blue and orange package, but wasn't able to see over couch. I hovered there, still like a humming bird.

"You're in luck," I heard her say, "We've got one box left."

"Yay!" I screamed and got up, running into the kitchen.

"But," she smiled, stopping me, "You'll have to share it with your sister."

"No! I don't want to! I always have to share."

"What did we just talk about Camden?" she said, lightly stamping her foot.

I tried to remember, but couldn't. I shrugged.

"You need to learn to share, Camden. You also need to listen better when your father and I are talking to you. You and your sister are going to know each other a very long time and I want you to learn how to share now, so you two can be happy in the future."

"The future," I asked, "What's that?"

She paused, then said, "It's a time," she paused again, "Ahead of us."

"Do we know where it is?"

"Not exactly," she sighed.

"What's it look like?"

"No one really knows. People can only imagine it."

"Is it very far away?"

She opened the top of the blue and orange mac n' cheese box and poured the dry macaroni into a large silver ***, lifted the faucet, and let it run inside for five or seven seconds. She placed the *** on an unlit burner and turned to look at me. Her eyes looked far away and right there with me.  

"Closer then you think," she said and turned the burner on.

-

I turned into the taco bell parking lot. There was something I was trying to remember that was in my trunk, but I couldn't recall the picture. A haze blew over the windshield that was a mix of heat and wind; I wished to be somewhere else, someone else, someplace else, but, there I was, sitting there underneath the sun, like everyone else. If I was able, I would have unlocked the door to my car and opened the door and walked out - but - there was something else lingering underneath my fingernails, something I couldn't name.

"Two tacos," I said into my hand, "And a water."

"Pull to the window," the voice buzzed over the muffled speaker.

"Yes," I said through my split fingers.

In front of me, over a patch of clean cut green grass and a yellow, red, and orange Taco Bell signature sign, was a fresh gas station with a willow tree *** near the front entrance. He had a sign that hung around his neck that read Juice Please - Very Thirsty. How I knew this was because I had seen it every time I had been asked to fill up my dad's car every other Sunday. I had never given the tree a dollar, yet, I felt that I owed him something. I tried to pull up to the window, but my clutch was grinding and a cloud slunk overhead. I was tired and only wanted to eat.

"That'll be a two twenty-five," the voice said through the thick, clear glass.

"Yes," I said to myself, digging into my wallet for three dollars.

I ****** the three onto the thick plastic platform. A quick sweeping plastic brush pushed the bills toward the asker, and the bills were gone. I had no food. I had nothing. My money was gone and all I had was a gurgling car in front of me and an empty front seat beside me. A pair of clouds waded by my front shield window. A shadow drew itself out in front of me like a **** model. A beep. Sudden and behind me. There was sound. I looked over my shoulder and a black  2013 Cadillac was sitting there, windshield tinted grey, the driver a shadow. I was unsure what to do...so I pulled forward six inches, hoping the offer would be enough. I wasn't in the best neighborhood.

The window to the left of me slid open. An arm erupted forward with a plastic bag,
"75 cents is your change."

The hand dropped three quarters next to the plastic bag. I grabbed the bag with the two tacos and three quarters and quickly wound up my window. The face in front of me was a dangerous blur: smiling, frowning, not caring either way what happened to me next. The hands had gobbled up the three dollars and I was happy to see it go. Who needed money? I tossed the plastic bag onto the passenger seat and sped off two blocks for my grandma's house. Salvation. The holy land. A place with free hot sauce and two dog's that were stolen without paper's. Eden.

-

"What are you learning right now?" I asked Ally.

She hesitated, then said, "Something to do with science." She paused," Lot's to do with rock's."

"Rocks?" I stammered, not remembering a time when I learned about rocks in school, "What kind of rocks?"

"I don't know," she grinned, looking up at me, "All kinds."

I laughed and kicked a stone into the river. The sun was out and reflected on the water like an unpolished diamond. We had grown up a quarter mile away, but still, it felt foreign to us.

"I like it. There's some things you could see that you would never think to read about it in books."

I had read plenty off books. Most, I took little from, but Ally, I could see, had taken plenty.

"What are you doing in school?" Ally asked me.

"What do you mean?" I
Leonard Sine Jun 2014
In a past life she was a mermaid.
Her eyes seaweed green;
bright watery globes,
flecks of aquamarine.

Bones made of coral,
and skin from wet sands.
She devoured lost sailors
and made treasure their hands.

She rolled with the waves
of the great Celtic Sea,
and pulled with the undertow
‘round County Kerry.

I know this quite well,
‘cause in my past life
I was a drunk Irishman --
she was my wife.
Another Bad Poem Mar 2018
she says
she's not a poet
but i find her poems
to have more meaning
more beauty, more heart
to them than mine
and the way
she uses her words
can change how a person is feeling
from sad to happy
just with a couple of phrases
knitted together

she says
she's not a good writer
but those early morning
last minute essays
of pure adrenaline and
half-awake thoughts
present ideas
in such a way
that it's impossible
to find them anything
but perfect

she says
she's not sure
what her future will bring
but i know her
she's smart
and she's
so wonderfully stubborn
that wherever she may end up
she will go farther
than anyone could have ever imagined
including me
i can't predict exactly where she'll be
in 4 months
or 4 years
but i know her path will go
down the most bountiful roads
and in the end
she'll be happy
and all will be worth it

she says
she's not grateful
but almost everything she does
she does for others
she loves her parents
and hurts when they hurt
she realizes what they do
for her, and wants to make them
the proudest parents on earth
she loves her friends
and tries to make them better

she says
she's a relationship whisperer
and i guess she's right
because with a few choice words
gentle nudges and an onslaught
of appreciated suggestions
she whispered us together

she says
that the dark spots on the sun
can bring shadow
to the most brilliant light
but not even
the dark of endless night
can dim her brightness
or hide her from those
who see her for who she is
who see her potential

she doubts herself
sometimes she thinks
she won't succeed,
always worried
that what she's done
isn't enough
or that there's too little time
to get everything done
but no matter the odds
no matter what she's up against
she pushes through
she persists, she fights
and she gets what she wants
or as close to what she wants
as is actually possible
sometimes she even achieves the impossible
and it's nothing if not admirable
showing me that anything is possible
proving to me that
"You could rattle the stars
You could do anything
If only you dared"
not by anything i've done
but by everything she's accomplished

she says
she's not beautiful
true, she's not a model
but that doesn't mean she's not perfect
but the way those eyes shine
like earth kissed by spring rain
promising life and happiness,
mirrored by her wide smile
though not often seen,
just one smile from her
is like a ray of sunshine
through grimy windows
bringing light into a place
that knew nothing but darkness,
warm enough to melt the walls
surrounding the coldest of hearts

somehow,
sometimes
she says she's ugly
possibly due to the scars
dotting her arms and her back
scars which started years ago
but on the contrary
i think they just enhance her
they make her more human
each one a reminder
that she's been through
countless things in her life
but instead of giving up
instead of giving in
she's come through,
a lump of carbon
forged by the fires
of her world
and the pressure of
her surroundings
the pressure of life
and came out
the most precious of diamonds
not the biggest
but the most wonderful of all
with small flecks of imperfections
that make it shine all the brighter

i say
she's often right,
but the subject
becomes herself
and she's far from the truth
she's absolutely wonderful
and in my eyes
perfect
a perfect person
and a perfect friend
the most beautiful woman on earth
mentally and physically
and there's nobody else
i'd rather love
quote from Sarah J. Maas
though the loving isn't easy, i still love
with all my heart
i hope this makes you smile when you're down
or helps you see yourself the way i see you
Sam Hawkins Mar 2016
Carefree in leisure time, one blasé tourist,
almost happy, I once had collected a complicated stone;
after the sunny hours had ended and last opportunity
for keepsakes began.

In my hand the stone had kept all of its mouths sewn shut,
holding its amalgamated story, and likewise in the car,
on the plane, through US Customs where it was not
in the least suspected.

A thumbnail identity I now should guess at, marking an old date,
and fixing it to, with reasonable estimate, a map location:
Plot No. 243, East end of the island, slave sugar plantation,
the stone from the corner of a ruined sugarmill stair—
broken free by my criminal hand.

The stone like a bleached out mini-monolith,
square rectangular, could be stood on end;
was swollen at its center like a pulled cork.

What could have moved this sequestered world to opening?
That was not for me to exactly discover,
except what came on Christmas Day,
two days after my returning.

Slave watercourses, the sight of innumerable Dutch ships,
ballasted with human flesh and hewn rock
for sugar works buildings.

The drop at-arms-swish of the Driver’s bullwhip.
Flecks of spirit splayed on vegetation.

A mongrel dog barked beyond the windless wall of sugarcane
in centipede and mosquito heat.

Seaside, beautiful seaside impressions;
distant coral light shadows, etched deep azure;
snowy colored breakers that pencil-marked the sea.
The staid, vibrant, mocking power
of visual symphony backdrop.

So little of aid for the slaves, but for those dangerous secrets,
un-housed in the fallen coolness of the night:
demonstratively crystalline heaven of stars;
a ragged moon, clouds scudding eastward toward Africa.
And there -- Orion’s Belt, mid-sky, illustrious bright,
with its three centering star points in rational line,
as if Hope could have flung its anchor onto Life
engendering sanctified resistance.

Christmas morning, 5 a.m.
I had awakened from a stuck place, shapeless and dark,
half in dreaming and half knowing I was in no dream.

I was sobbing, yet strangely, because there were no tears.
I had only put the stone inside my pajama top onto my heart.
a story of what happened...a feeling and vision I had, in 2008. written then. the stone is piece of mortar...
Nigel Morgan Oct 2012
The courtesan and poet Zuo Fen had two cats Xe Ming and Xi Ming. Living in her distant court with only her maid Hu Yin, her cats were often her closest companions and, like herself, of a crepuscular nature.
      It was the very depths of winter and the first moon of the Solstice had risen. The old year had nearly passed.
      The day itself was almost over. Most of the inner courts retired before the new day began (at about 11.0pm), but not Zuo Fen. She summoned her maid to dress her in her winter furs, gathered her cats on a long chain leash, and walked out into the Haulin Gardens.
      These large and semi-wild gardens were adjacent to the walls of her personal court. The father of the present Emperor had created there a forest once stocked with game, a lake to the brim with carp and rich in waterfowl, and a series of tall structures surrounded by a moat from which astronomers were able to observe the firmament.
      Emperor Wu liked to think of Zuo Fen walking at night in his father’s park, though he rarely saw her there. He knew that she valued that time alone to prepare herself for his visits, visits that rarely occurred until the Tiger hours between 3.0am and 6.0am when his goat-drawn carriage would find its way to her court unbidden. She herself would welcome him with steaming chai and sometimes a new rhapsody. They would recline on her bed and discuss the content and significance of certain writings they knew and loved. Discussion sometimes became an elaborate game when a favoured Classical text would be taken as the starting point for an exchange of quotation. Gradually quotation would be displaced by subtle invention and Zuo Fen would find the Emperor manoeuvring her into making declarations of a passionate or ****** nature.
       It seemed her very voice captivated him and despite herself and her inclinations they would join as lovers with an intensity of purpose, a great tenderness, and deep joy. He would rest his head inside her cloak and allow her lips to caress his ears with tales of river and mountain, descriptions of the flights of birds and the opening of flowers. He spoke to her ******* of the rising moon, its myriad reflections on the waters of Ling Lake, and of its trees whose winter branches caressed the cold surface.

Whilst Zuo Fen walked in the midnight park with her cats she reflected on an afternoon of frustration. She had attempted to assemble a new poem for her Lord.  Despite being himself an accomplished poet and having an extraordinary memory for Classical verse, the Emperor retained a penchant for stories about Mei-Lim, a young Suchan girl dragged from her family to serve as a courtesan at his court.
      Zuo Fen had invented this girl to articulate some of her own expressions of homesickness, despair, periods of constant tearfulness, and abject loneliness. Such things seemed to touch something in the Emperor. It was as though he enjoyed wallowing in these descriptions and his favourite A Rhapsody on Being far from Home he loved to hear from the poet’s own lips, again and again. Zuo Fen felt she was tempting providence not to compose something new, before being ordered to do so.
      As she struggled through the afternoon to inject some fresh and meaningful content into a story already milked dry Zuo Fen became aware of her cats. Xi Ming lay languorously across her folded feet. Xe Ming perched like an immutable porcelain figure on a stool beside her low writing table.
Zuo Fen often consulted her cats. ‘Xi Ming, will my Lord like this stanza?’

“The stones that ring out from your pony’s hooves
announce your path through the cloud forest”


She would always wait patiently for Xi Ming’s reply, playing a game with her imagination to extract an answer from the cinnamon scented air of her winter chamber.
      ‘He will think his pony’s hooves will flash with sparks kindling the fire of his passion as he prepares to meet his beloved’.
      ‘Oh such a wise cat, Xi Ming’, and she would press his warm body further into her lap. But today, as she imagined this dialogue, a second voice appeared in her thoughts.
      ‘Gracious Lady, your Xe Ming knows his under-standing is poor, his education weak, but surely this image, taken as it is from the poet Lu Ji, suggests how unlikely it would be for the spark of love and passion to take hold without nurture and care, impossible on a hard journey’.
       This was unprecedented. What had brought such a response from her imagination? And before she could elicit an answer it was as though Xe Ming spoke with these words of Confucius.

“Do not be concerned about others not appreciating you, be concerned about you not appreciating others”

Being the very sensible woman she was, Zuo Fen dismissed such admonition (from a cat) and called for tea.

Later as she walked her beauties by the frozen lake, the golden carp nosing around just beneath the ice, she recalled the moment and wondered. A thought came to her  . . .
       She would petition Xe Ming’s help to write a new rhapsody, perhaps titled Rhapsody on the Thought of Separation.

Both Zuo Fen’s cats came from her parental home in Lingzhi. They were large, big-***** mountain cats; strong animals with bear-like paws, short whiskered and big eared. Their coats were a glassy grey, the hairs tipped with a sprinkling of white giving the fur an impression of being wet with dew or caught by a brief shower.
       When she thought of her esteemed father, the Imperial Archivist, there was always a cat somewhere; in his study at home, in the official archives where he worked. There was always a cat close at hand, listening?
       What texts did her father know by heart that she did not know? What about the Lu Yu – the Confucian text book of advice and etiquette for court officials. She had never bothered to learn it, even read it seemed unnecessary, but through her brother Zuo Si she knew something of its contents and purpose.

Confucius was once asked what were the qualifications of public office. ‘Revere the five forms of goodness and abandon the four vices and you can qualify for public office’.
       For the life of her Zuo Fen could not remember these five forms of goodness (although she could make a stab at guessing them). As for those vices? No, she was without an idea. If she had ever known, their detail had totally passed from her memory.
       Settled once again in her chamber she called Hu Yin and asked her to remove Xi Ming for the night. She had three hours or so before the Emperor might appear. There was time.
        Xe Ming was by nature a distant cat, aloof, never seeking affection. He would look the other way if regarded, pace to the corner of a room if spoken to. In summer he would hide himself in the deep undergrowth of Zuo Fen’s garden.
       Tonight Zuo Fen picked him up and placed him on her left shoulder. She walked around her room stroking him gently with her small strong fingers, so different from the manicured talons of her colleagues in the Purple Palace. Embroidery, of which she was an accomplished exponent, was impossible with long nails.
       From her scroll cupboard she selected her brother’s annotated copy of the Lun Yu, placing it unrolled on her desk. It would be those questions from the disciple Tzu Chang, she thought, so the final chapters perhaps. She sat down carefully on the thick fleece and Mongolian rug in front of her desk letting Xe Ming spill over her arms into a space beside her.
       This was strange indeed. As she sat beside Xe Ming in the light of the butter lamps holding his flickering gaze it was as though a veil began to lift between them.
       ‘At last you understand’, a voice appeared to whisper,’ after all this time you have realised . . .’
      Zuo Fen lost track of time. The cat was completely motionless. She could hear Hu Yin snoring lightly next door, no doubt glad to have Xi Ming beside her on her mat.
      ‘Xe Ming’, she said softly, ‘today I heard you quote from Confucius’.
      The cat remained inscrutable, completely still.
      ‘I think you may be able to help me write a new poem for my Lord. Heaven knows I need something or he will tire of me and this court will cease to enjoy his favour’.
      ‘Xe Ming, I have to test you. I think you can ‘speak’ to me, but I need to learn to talk to you’.
      ‘Tzu Chang once asked Confucius what were the qualifications needed for public office? Confucius said, I believe, that there were five forms of goodness to revere, and four vices to abandon’.
       ‘Can you tell me what they are?’
      Xe Ming turned his back on Zuo Fen and stepped gently away from the table and into a dark and distant corner of the chamber.
      ‘The gentle man is generous but not extravagant, works without complaint, has desires without being greedy, is at peace, but not arrogant, and commands respect but not fear’.
      Zuo Fen felt her breathing come short and fast. This voice inside her; richly-texture, male, so close it could be from a lover at the epicentre of a passionate entanglement; it caressed her.
      She heard herself say aloud, ‘and the four vices’.
      ‘To cause a death or imprisonment without teaching can be called cruelty; to judge results without prerequisites can be called tyranny; to impose deadlines on improper orders can be thievery; and when giving in the procedure of receipt and disbursement, to stint can be called officious’.
       Xe Ming then appeared out of the darkness and came and sat in the folds of her night cloak, between her legs. She stroked his glistening fur.
       Zuo Fen didn’t need to consult the Lu Yu on her desk. She knew this was unnecessary. She got to her feet and stepped through the curtains into an antechamber to relieve herself.
       When she returned Xe Ming had assumed his porcelain figure pose. So she gathered a fresh scroll, her writing brushes, her inks, her wax stamps, and wrote:

‘I was born in a humble, isolated, thatched house,
and was never well versed in writing.
I never saw the marvellous pictures of books,
nor had I heard of the classics of earlier sages.
I am dimwitted, humble and ignorant . . ‘


As she stopped to consider the next chain of characters she saw in her mind’s eye the Purple Palace, the palace of the concubines of the Emperor. Sitting next to the Purple Chamber there was a large grey cat, its fur sprinkled with tiny flecks of white looking as though the animal had been caught in a shower of rain.
       Zuo Fen turned from her script to see where Xe Ming had got to, but he had gone. She knew however that he would always be there. Wherever her imagination took her, she could seek out this cat and the words would flow.

Before returning to her new text Zuo Fen thought she might remind herself of Liu Xie’s words on the form of the Rhapsody. If Emperor Wu appeared later she would quote it (to his astonishment) from The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons.

*The rhapsody derives from poetry,
A fork in the road, a different line of development;
It describes objects, pictures and their appearance,
With a brilliance akin to sculpture and painting.
What is clogged and confined it invariably opens up;
It depicts the commonplace with unbounded charm;
But the goal of the form is of beauty well ordered,
Words retained for their loveliness when weeds have been cut away.
Batool Feb 2016
His eyes ...
The most beautiful
shade of emeralds
deep as jungle
holding many secrets
reflecting his emotions
his smile lighting up
the golden flecks
in his iris
like the sunlight dancing
in the lush green meadows
his demons turning
gold flecks into black streaks
like shadows ready to
take over the jungle
but
the moment her hazel eyes
looked into his emerald ones
she knew
she was lost in the deep
jungles
never to be found again !!
bobby burns Mar 2013
-
crack another thermometer open
on the broken bathroom sink,
pour yourself into me like mercury
and pan the bed of my stomach
for multitudes of gold flecks
like however many myriads
of sickly pill bottles in your
dresser drawer of socks.
-
see all
the shredded speckled petals
i ripped up before i'd let
the deer get to them;
i'm colorblind,
and i can't tell
the sun's reflection from plastic,
or tulips from the broken
pottery outside my front door.
-
and far least from another beer,
and another fifth of whatever
could be fit under your shirt
-
and never a chair pulled up to speak,
from standing like a soapbox
more suited to cleaning
than to preaching.
-
pour yourself into me like mercury,
because it's so much easier
when my veins weigh me down
to distraction, than being able
to think of hydrangeas again.
-
Kalena Leone Oct 2012
I draped a blanket across my window because my black curtains were allowing too much sun to file in.
I lit inscence which reminds me that I’m home, reminds me that my brother isn’t here.
I laid down, allowed my legs to stretch. Regretfully told them they were not allowed to curl up against me.
I just want to be unconscious for a little while.
I just need a rest. Only for some time, only for some time.
All of my teachers tell me that I can dig myself out of this rut that I was buried in, but they don’t know what goes on inside my head.
No one does but me and whoever is willing to listen
but no one really is
or at least, I tell myself no one really is.
Once people get to a point where they have heard your entire body saying things that make it shake and whine and cry, they build up fear.
They build up a wall. Because no one wants to take care of a shaking, whining, crying mass of anxious feelings and running mascara and bracelets that only feel comfortable if they’re on the left wrist because that body has been given everything on it’s right side and now the owner of it feels the need to repay the left.
There are wind chimes all over my floor.
I hear the sound of cars flying by my window, and birds driving by my head.
I can’t help but wonder how large the sky has gotten.
In this place, in this town, in this neighborhood, in this bed and underneath these blankets, I cannot help but feel as though the sky has shrunk around me.
I can feel its’ pressure on my chest, crushing my lungs.
This is when I go to a psychologist, and she sends me home.
I go home and I beg mother for lights that will make it look like I am surrounded by fairies, because everyone loves fairies.
I want to look up at night and realize that I’m not alone.
That these little creatures will always be there, even when I can’t see them.
But I need to be reassured that they’re real.
I need to be reassured that everything is real.
I need you to tell me you love me.
King Panda Jan 2017
I’m the perm of a
Poet
I can choke
I can breathe
I can drink a cup of coffee
And you
Are a murmuration
A flock of afternoon
midnight
I will let your
Black mass love me
However
However
However
It can
I’m reaching for you
Little bird
Take me with your arrow
The streets of this
Pure piano
And I introduce the yowling
Trumpet
The dead skin on
my back
Flecks with the quiver
Of flying with you
By choice
James Anderson Jul 2010
I look up at the starless sky
Without the stars who should be there
Sharing this moment with me
This moment that hold no significance

While I look, I miss the sky
I miss the stars
I miss the light they provide
All that’s left is the moon

All alone that poor moon is
Glowing in the dark
When it should be glowing in the light
Just like me, alone when we should have others

I feel the moon’s sorrow
For I feel the same
The empty sky is no place
No place for either of us

I wonder what happened
Those poor little flecks of light
One day here
The next day gone

Not a single word was said
About their disappearance
All forget about them
Except for the moon and I

Every night I would look
Waiting for the stars to come back
To see the moon no longer alone
To see the sky back alight

Every night I would look
And ever y time I would despair
For the stars are still gone
And show no sign of returning

I hear the moon weep
The man on the moon weeps
The tears silent
But the sorrow is deafening


After eons passed
The stars did not return
I waited, and so did the moon
Finding comfort in each other’s presence

There are some nights
When the moon is gone
And the sky is dark
Missing the moon

I detest those nights
Fearing the worst
That the moon had gone
And joined the stars


My fears never came to pass
For the moon would always return
At first a sliver
Then it would all be back

Even in the darkness of space
The moon kept it bright
A single candle in the darkness
Burning ever bright

I went out one night to see the moon
That was my reason now
For I knew the stars were gone
But the moon was still there

And on that one special night
I realized with keep insight
That not all the stars were gone
That one was still left

For the moon was not a candle
But a mirror
It reflected the light off another
The light of the Sun

I told the moon what I figured
And the moon was joyous
For not all the stars had left
The Sun was still there

And armed with that fact
That one star was still there
A glimmer of hope rekindled
And I knew what I had to do

I said farewell to the moon
It knew what I was doing
I left for the sky
To bring back the stars
Just started writing because a friend inspired me to write, and this is what I came up with.
Star light full of silver
Moon beams laced with gold
I'd give you all I gather
For you just to behold

Flecks of gold in sunshine
Silver steaks upon the sea
I'd gather all for you to have
If you would be with me

Gather up the silver dust
Gather up the gold
Gather up the moonlight mist
I will offer up my soul
Gather up the silver dust
Gather up the gold
Gather up the moonlight mist
If you once I just could hold

Emeralds and ruby gems
From rainbows in the sky
I'd gather them for you as well
For you my dear I'd die

I'd mine for diamonds in the night
From the stars up oh so high
I'd gather all if you would be
The one for which I'd die

Gather up the silver dust
Gather up the gold
Gather up the moonlight mist
I will offer up my soul
Gather up the silver dust
Gather up the gold
Gather up the moonlight mist
If you once I just could hold
Kate Lion Jan 2013
Nobody clams up over the right things
Flecks of dirt won't make beautiful ever
But those enormous irritations you take with a grain of sand
I tuck those things away
For a long while
It is against my nature to do so
It is awkward to keep salty things on the tip of one's tongue
Without spitting them out
Oh, I long to swallow
How much longer must I be closed up, love?
I have been going to the track for so
long that
all the employees know
me,
and now with winter here
it's dark before the last
race.
as I walk to the parking lot
the valet recognizes my
slouching gait
and before I reach him
my car is waiting for me,
lights on, engine warm.
the other patrons
(still waiting)
ask,
"who the hell is that
guy?"

I slip the valet a
tip, the size depending upon the
luck of the
day (and my luck has been amazingly
good lately)
and I then am in the machine and out on
the street
as the horses break
from the gate.

I drive east down Century Blvd.
turning on the radio to get the result of that
last race.

at first the announcer is concerned only with
bad weather and poor freeway
conditions.
we are old friends: I have listened to his
voice for decades but,
of course, the time will finally come
when neither one of us will need to
clip our toenails or
heed the complaints of our
women any longer.

meanwhile, there is a certain rhythm
to the essentials that now need
attending to.
I light my cigarette
check the dashboard
adjust the seat and
weave between a Volks and a Fiat.
as flecks of rain spatter the
windshield
I decide not to die just
yet:
this good life just smells too
sweet.
Lejla Hott Jan 2020
rich soil
fleck with a bit of black
dark chocolate
parched summer soil
glossy chestnut brown
unvarnished oak
mahogany flecks
apple pips
varnished cork
dessert palm tree
flecks of acorn shell
his eyes
the most beautiful pair
of eyes
she has seen
Daniel august Nov 2010
Sun dripped orbs
gazing abrupt
steely, sweetly.
flecks,
Gold and ember.
Cné Jun 2017
James
Trying to find a place to ***
I went behind a big o'l tree
She saw me there
Completely bare
Then we became a WEE!!

TF
Oh the deepest trouble, *****
Playing with girls, that sin
just ware these words
don't think her absurd
when she wondering says, "is it in?"

Cné
So glad for you, on getting some
while relieving yourself, on the run
Girls that sin
worderin'
bored, did she ask, "Did you ***?
Or are you done?"

Sorry boys, just having fun!

James
Hey, welcome aboard
if you're feelin' bored
just give it a rub
but not a snub
that's how we scored

TF
Y'all are so bad, yes it's true
just tell me when your through
pushing, pulling
tweaking, fulfilling
your hands now full, of goo

Cné
How could I be bored, with the likes of you two
in need of rubbing, please don't be blue
Make no mistake
I have what it takes
especially, for men well overdue

TF
Talented and beautiful too
always pulling it through
it must be fate
it's always so great
getting a tugging, from you

James
Walking the streets before dawn
you looked and her light was on
you saw her fare
but didn't care
and wonder where your money's all gone

James
Poor Bill, he never did learn
he saved all the money he could earn
to pay a sweet lady
at place that was shady
and wonders why his pecker still burns

TF
Bill never learned his lesson
the burn just grew, not lessened
he never went back
his pecker he lacks
no more ****** sessions

TF
The ladies of the evening
sights beyond believing
the things they do
while making you
penniless, and leaving

Cné
A working girl, works it
with Johns, turning tricks
*******
and f¥€king
can't blame her, for getting you sick

TF
The doctor told her to take a break
her body one day, might break
all that cavorting
and oral contorting
she just really loved, her tube steaks

James**
He told her to take a seat
when she really wanted a treat
she was feelin' dry
and wasn't shy
And so she went after his meat

James
Cruising the streets just chillin'
searchin' for a chick just millin'
She shook her ***
I couldn't pass
Oh, well, another shot of penicillin

TF
Something's wrong with Suzy
something oozing, from her coozie
she scratches at an itch
her john's just call her a *****
that's the sum of it, laying down, with floozies

Cné
Suzy was rode hard, put up wet
with men on the street corner she met
Wiggling her ***
for just a little cash
***** status. she earned, you bet

Disclaimer: It just gets sicker from here...

James
Went to the bathroom to sit on the ***
I like to **** while I'm on the clock
There wasn't any paper
I used a finger scraper
I might better had used my sock

TF
Now if there's one thing I know
being a clock, that's fast, and not slow
fingers be scraping
flecks are escaping
****, will under the fingernails, go

Cné to James
Please wash your hands before you eat
Be careful cruisin' down the street
or chillin'
with penicillin
I fear a terrible peril soon, you will meet!
TD Aug 2015
The slipknot failed
to keep a throat
free from any censure.
Scarred necks
are no stranger to a
hangman's noose.

Still they stand
tottering ducklings,
shot and tipsy
a centered stare.

Startling flecks of heavily applied
paint--lost in the onslaught.
Whittled down metal frames,
prove more difficult
a target.
Prompt: "Why run, why cower, why in the darkness hide? Broken people are dangerous, they know they can survive" -Unknown
PK Wakefield Apr 2010
shimmershimmerglimmer
at the edge of darkness
flickers little flecks
of gold

i try to r  e  a  c  h
my hand to touch the
impossibility possibly
just there
on the other side
of they*

these elusive
little
golden
flakes

just

at

darkness

e

d

g

e
DM Pierce Dec 2012
Drifters, sick with Now,
Swell and crowd the Elm Streets.
We, the self-anointed secretaries of culture war,
Parallel-parked car poets trapped in suburbia,
We claw our generation forward.

We seep from shifting city to evergreen forest, to
Seek answers from the grave-stone gods before us,
Learn of what they knew of man--
His vacuous constructions and his ash fortunes,
How to be martyrs and what makes us worth it.
Stephen E Yocum Dec 2013
Funny the things we recall.
Images that flash through our brain.
Some most vivid for me were of an old man.
Skin like creased parchment paper,
Lined and yellowed with age.
The veins visible just below the surface,
of a thin nearly transparent veneer.
Liver spotted flecks of red,
Charted paths from the toil of many years,
Palms callused forever from a life time of labor.
Big fingers knotted and misshapen,
The two inch tip of one gone missing,
Saw taken, at age sixteen.

Looking at those old hands, one could hardly guess
That still there remained gentleness in their caress.
For an old dog, or a little grandson in need of some
Companionable affection or parental love.

Those aged hands could also make things,
Toy sailboats, and wooden trains,
complete with caboose,
And cow catcher guard.
A cool flute whistle that actually worked,
He said it was like the Indian’s made,
Out Oklahoma way.
And he would know,
He cowboyed there.

His hands taught me to tie my shoes,
Open and close my first pocket knife.
Those same hands could become birds,
rabbits, butterfly's, all sorts of things.
When projected up on the wall,
Silhouetted by a naked back light.
His hands knew magic too,
Pluck silver coins right out of my ears.

His tired face matched his hands,
visual weathered, creased and
wrinkled road maps,
Of 89 years of rugged roads traveled.

Yet, his lively pale green eyes remained
forever fraudulently youthful prisms,
Eyes and spirit of a much younger man within.

But it is his hands most of all I shall remember,
Their imposing look and their reassuring
touches of tenderness.

I shall never forget my Grandfather’s hands.
For my Granddaddy Clarence M. with Love and remembrance.
Amer Pelides Sep 2014
The grey sky looms over the hills
I like to watch and get lost in them,
Flickering memories of long forgotten days
I remember you and your bright green eyes
Green with flecks of gold,
But then I lose you to images of broken ash,
I yearn for the days in which I could walk free
And smile upon the grass dew alongside you,
I miss your quick wit and silver smile
Your swift feet that made me breathless
Oh my friend return to me clad in luminous memories of us,
I want you here and now among the flames of our youth.
Eli Hashaw Mar 2015
Gold flecks glint behind hazy deadened eyes

Like sunbeams blocked by a brewing storm cloud

Thunder cracks

I could cry any moment

and I don’t

I could fly any moment

and I don’t

I ask why every moment

and I don’t

find any answers where there are none to be found
Luna Jun 2013
Why is there a glass pane between me and everyone?
It's becoming so strong that I even hear the rain through the sun.
And you're falling away from me, but this girl can't,
Catch ye ragdolls up, ye must slip through this hand.

Gold flecks you have left all over me,
A beacon of hope as they shine out relentlessly,
If you stay, the light can break through and you'd see,
The light blare through the darkness in me.

A feeling of regret sets in, before we've even ready, set,
You're still in my vision and I can't handle it.
My heart will feel your presence, even when you're not near,
My heart will feel your shadow, as if you were right here.
Don Moore Feb 2016
Part one – The Hedgerow watcher.

He is almost obscured by the Elder branch, which laden with fragrant summer flower heads, casts a shadow on his cloudy features. Nearby, small birds chatter in a hawthorn bush, completely unaware of the figure sitting in quiet deliberation; only his eyes move beneath his darken brows, as he ponders the small animal traffic in the verdant river valley below.

And were you to be hurried, or impatient, and not look too carefully, you would never perceive him at all, so well hidden is he. You would have more chance, if you caught a glimpse of him sideways through the corner of your eye, and even then there is the possibility, you would not believe what you had seen...

His eyes light with golden flecks, as the late evening summer sun, ensnares sparkles off the languid river surface and directs them upwards into the unhurriedly darkening duck egg blue sky. He watches intently as a young female Fern bear snouts her way through and across the lush emerald green grasses just inches away from the river bank, where water voles play, creating tiny V shaped furrows across the shallow stream surface as they cruise the nearly mirror like silver face.

He notices’ that he can see the smoothly pebbled bottom and the rainbow spotted  coloured sides of the almost motionless trout as they hang fins fluttering awaiting the last daytime midges to perhaps drop down and furnish them with one last gulp of dinner.

Native birds flit from branch to branch on the overhanging trees o’er softly trickling water, their tiny songs much muted by the distance, and up above a Buzzard floats on browned wing his eyes trained downwards to impale a darting field vole, which seeks his own dinner of scurrying iridescent Beetle.

A flurry, as a black and red Moorhen jumps onto a small sandy beach at the corner of a turn, long wide toes and even longer legs, carry it up under the curve of bank, as it returns to its night time roost in haste.
A flash of instant Kingfisher cobalt blue and a small fisherwoman arrives upon a twig, her anxious beady eyes blackly spearing the dashing minnows, which with silver sides, play amongst the reeds and gently waving flags.

Part Two - Reynard the sly.

A ripple runs across his hairy back, as upon the delicious breeze, he catches hint of reddish skulking, sulking trickster near, and then from edge of pupil gold, catches merest glimpse of tail held low, as Reynard makes his courtly bow. Neither twitch nor tremor, the watcher makes as deviously this prince appears, his fetid stench announcing him to creatures far and near.

Then slowly as he cowers, the Fox glides by and down the steepest sides, to hope of careless rodent or of bird on nest, that might bring him windfall of instant feast that he may carry for his cubs that play at home beneath the staunchest tree, a woodland Oak of stout and height. They chase their tails in this perfect evening light, but learn of fear and flight, as horn does play upon a Sunday Morn, and colours bright which chase and catch them with some baying dog, not far removed from their much scary plight.

And all along the bottom of the wall, as laid by hand, a hedge pig snuffles for a slug or snail, his attention close upon the leafy mould, and then a surprising squeak as rippling back with reddish fur and chest of white, a family of the weasel exit stone built home and hurry for their evening hunt of beetle, vole or mouse. They disappear amongst the tallest grasses as a damp mound of freshly risen earth ejects the black velvet mole, which sniffs the air before he enters home and tracks the juicy worm back to his lair.

Little by little, so slow in fact, that you would not suspect, the watcher turns his face and looks with wonder to wooded river far, where branches bent create a vault, for shining, winding river run, and there in this, the darkest greenest place he spies a glint of hope as Dragonfly darts its wings a blur, and Mayfly dances beneath its many cathedral branches.
And further still above the trees a line of deepest blue meets lighter blue as sea and sky become no more than one, and smell of salt in distant climes come hither across this idyllic vista...

Part Three – Watcher revealed.

Dog Rose crawls its way across the bushes of the hedge, mixed with twinning convolvulus of purple hue, light green stalked, white capped cow parsley, groups in fading sun, with ragged Robin and dark pink Campion standing proud along with other flowers. Behind the silent Watcher lies a different guise of manmade meadow topped with crop of corn, which yellow in the fading sun, has bread like smell, significant of fresh warm loaves, and Man the farmer, is carrying all his toil, for the harvest of his many labours.

And in amongst this very yield, wild life is binding shoot and ear, as weeds are flourishing with the golden head, but make a pretty sight instead, for walking couple, who do not fear to tread, where woman glides as though a cloud, and pulled along upon her path, a little man who wishes he, was all alone, but must follow in his mother’s stately wake.

Towards the hedge she makes her way, and life goes still and much less vivid, but Watcher never makes his move, whilst beyond the wall the light is dropping further still, he rests his hand on object dear, but still refrains from moving forth.

And just before the barrier itself, she turns her stride and looking north, then moves away along a path, which chosen now will pass all sight, of secret ancient valley. The little man he cannot see what lies beyond his ken, and worries if he misses this, which might be very grand and maybe just beyond this very land. He tugs and pulls his Mother’s calloused palm, and as she continues on her elected special way, for she is old and cannot see, this wonder all around.

The lady now cuts back towards the way she came, and like a ship with boat in tow, she cuts a swathe through sea of golden grasses, and when perchance the little man would look behind to see, if there were aught that he had missed, of life beyond the that wall.

And then, as if on cue, the watcher stands, for he is proud with legs astride upon that hedge, no longer still but raising up, as he does stretch towards the sky, and then with no delay but still with yearning, he lifts up to his lips his instrument of all his learning.

The boy’s eyes are all of shock, for he has seen the Watcher well, half man, half goat, with shortest curling horns upon his almost woolly head, and listens in near rapture as Pan the woodland God, plays a merry breathy tune upon his pipes of river ****. The song is fierce and strong and as the boy pulls hard to stop his mother's walk; he looks away, in hope that he may, in attracting her closer assessment of the apparition, which he has spied in gay abandon, will be more than just a fancy of his dream.
But when he turns his head to take a further glimpse of this sudden ghost, who would be dancing, playing away along a valleys edge, he catches nothing, but the song of bird but which whilst trilling strong, is nowhere near as long as tune in moment gone.

Then in the middle distance church bells as the practice for the Sunday first begins, with peeling clap and stinging ring, and then as if he fears, that he shall never ever see again this horned guise of natural thing. He peers more closely yet again, but all is gone, and though he will return on summer nights, when man not boy he seeks a God, he never ever meets again, the edge to freedom and a God glorious not but never ever vain.
Megan Jul 2013
I’m dangling by a thread
swinging from the moon
and you hold a pair of scissors,
threatening and teasing me,
flecks of empathy held in your eyes.
That’s all they are – flecks
because your grey eyes are truly selfish
and your lashes are coated in dishonesty,
brushing and batting against your
honey skin.
So my mind plays hopscotch on your pavement
and I wonder about the false hope
and the emptiness
you have embedded into my stomach
and my fingers tremble as you snip, snip, snip
I need to know something. I don’t know if you want to tell me or not, but I really don’t care. You’re gonna tell me or you’re gonna find yourself in a world of trouble. I’m already ****** and it won’t take much to push me over the edge into dangerously angry territory.

No, **** it. Never mind. I’m ALREADY in “dangerously angry territory”. No, it wasn’t your fault. I was already close enough I could see the other side of reason before you came along.

But it would still be nice to know, if you’re willing to tell me. I mean, I’m not going to force it from you. That was the plan just a moment ago, but I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided that my bitterness is not your fault. I won’t make you pay for it.

Yet I do feel as if it would do me a world of good to know.

Where were you when I was falling in love?

Were you sitting in a back seat of a crowded subway train with a cup of Starbucks coffee in one hand and a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” in the other, holding it in front of your face as if it’s pages were a fascinating mirror? Was there an old man sitting near who turned to look at you every so often to the point where it creeped you out? Maybe you eventually said something to him, like “Excuse me, but is there something you wanted to say to me?"

“Why would you get that idea?” he would ask, as if he were totally oblivious to his invasive nature.

“I don’t know…you just keep looking at me and I wondered if there were a reason for it.”

“Nope. Not that I can think of.”

Did you smack him real good right then? Did you draw blood? I hope you did. I hope the driver had to stop the train to come back and drag you off of him. It would have been a real drag if the police had to be summoned, but on the other hand, wow, how ****** the thought of you resisting arrest.

Or did you cower into your corner, turn a page in your book and let the lecherous ******* carry on? I don’t think so. I really don’t think so. I don’t think that’s the kind of girl you are. I think you’re a firecracker.

And I think that wherever you were when I was falling in love is not where I wanted you to be. Not where you should have been.

Because I fell in love with a robot. Who knows why I fell in love with an ottoman? I didn’t know she was one at the time. Do you really think I’m stupid enough to fall in love with a machine? No, she was flesh and bones when I met her. She seemed normal, like all the other women I’ve ever seen or known.

But then she started smoking cigarettes. She carried them around in a little soft leather pouch that could be mistaken for nothing else but a case for holding the little *******.

God I hate cigarettes. I hate the smell of them, whether they’re lit or not. I hate the dark tan color of their filters with the little white dots speckled randomly. I hate the cotton that stuffs their filters. I hate the white paper with the almost imperceptible stripes banding around their length. I hate how the brand is stamped close to the base of the filter. I hate the packages that they come in and the cellophane that wraps them. I hate how stray flecks of tobacco gather in the bottom of the boxes and the wrappers, too. I hate how they make a person’s breath stink. I hate how they make a person’s clothes reek. I hate the way they look in a shirt pocket. I hate the way they look between people’s fingers and in their mouths. I hate the way they burn down to the nub and the ash that they leave behind. I hate pitch black nicotine stains on ******* smokers’ hands. I hate the way some people put one between their ear and noggin and actually think it makes them look cool. I hate how smokers seem to have some code of sharing, how it’s always “Hey, can I *** a smoke from you?” and 99 times out of 100 the answer is “sure”. It’s never, “Okay, but you gotta pay me back.” Oh no, Smoker’s Karma is at work here. I hate the way too many people call ‘em “smokes”. “I’m off to get a pack of smokes.” Good God, I think that’s lame. “Smokes”. Ha. I hate the way smokers ***** about laws that prohibit them from smoking in public and how so many of them have absolutely no regard for non-smokers who not only can’t stand the smell of the ******* but would just as soon not chance even the most remote possibility of getting lung cancer caused by second hand smoke. I hate how smokers would tell that person, “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. The chances of that happening are one in a million.” So what? *******. ******* with your nasty cancer sticks and **** your tar-lined wheezing lungs, too. **** the death bed you will lie on when emphysema steals your last breath. **** the oxygen tanks that cost almost as much as all the cartons of cigarettes you have wasted your money on during the last who-knows-how-many years of your life. **** all your attempts to quit. **** the feeling of disappointment that overwhelms when you fail once again, as Mighty God Tobacco hugs you, strokes your wet hair, wipes the sweat from your forehead and the tears from your eyes. Sweet summer sweat. The tears of a clown.

You know what? She never smoked before. I never would have thought she would pick up that disgusting habit, but she sure as hell did. Picked it up like it was a twenty dollar bill someone lost that she found on the side of the road as she walked to the smoke shop to buy another pack of Marlboro Lights.

There’s another thing I hate about cigarettes. “Smoke Shops”. Where the value-minded smokers purchase their wares. Not “Cigarette Store”. Not “Tobacco Warehouse"…oh, no. It’s a SMOKE SHOP. You’re going to buy some smoke, brother Jim. You’re gonna spend too much money at the 7-11 and it’s all gonna go up in smoke, but by the grace of God you are gonna save a couple of bucks by purchasing them at the “Smoke Shop” instead of the convenience store. You complain until you’re blue in the face about how ridiculously high the ciggy prices are at normal retail outlets, but when you run out of ‘em and the God-blessed “Smoke Shop” is closed ‘cuz it’s Sunday you’ll drive like a madman to Love’s and blow ten bucks because there’s a “Buy Two Get One Free” special going on. What a ******* good deal that is, eh, mister?

Furthermore…CIGGYS??? I hate how people call ‘em “ciggys”. But not nearly as much as I hate the word “cigarette”. I cannot stand to speak the word. I hate the way it rolls of my tongue. I hate the way the word sounds like it means “little cigars”.

I hate the way some smokers empty out their car ashtrays in the parking lot. I hate the way all the butts look lying there in a heap, a pile of paper soaked with the spittle of a hundred different mouths. And yet the nicotine python grips some desperate smokers so tightly that they will pick them up and try to smoke the last tiny flecks of tobacco from their crushed and blackened ends. I’ve even seen people extract the remaining **** from several discarded butts, roll it all up in a Zig Zag paper and smoke it. Don’t these people even know what Zig Zag papers are for? They sure ain't for tobacco, Charter.

“Butts”. There’s another word in the smokers lexicon that just sounds silly. “Smoke ‘er down to the ****, Jack, we’ve got more!” “I don’t have an ash tray, Terry, so just put your BUTTS in that half empty soda can over there on the table”…never thinking that there might be someone else at the party who could very likely mistake that particular pop can for his own and take a mighty swig from it. Oh my God, the thought, it gags me. How nauseating it would be to feel one of those wretched things fall against your lips and…Egad…the flavor…and yet the cruel smoker will laugh at such misfortune.

****.

God help me.

She was not a robot when I met her. Oh, no, she was a beautiful, exciting, passionate loving woman with a heart of gold and a desire that was practically insatiable. Here…take a look, I have a photograph in my wallet. See what I mean? That’s right, daddy-O, she was a real dreamboat. I used to carry this picture with me wherever I went…I guess I still do, huh? But I don’t know why. I don’t know why I torture myself looking at it, remembering what was, all we had, our bright and glorious future wrecked and deserted by her newfound proclivity for smoking cigarettes. Yeah, my friend, she was a real keeper. But you know what? **** her now, y’know? Just turn her over and **** her.

But hey…perhaps I’ve been too harsh on the smoker in general (if not to her…no, not to her). Perhaps I have exaggerated a bit. After all, some of my best friends smoke. It’s their business, not mine. Never has been mine. I know that. If they knew how I felt about the whole thing, whose to say they wouldn’t tell me to ****** off and never come back? Then again, if they are so shallow as to take any of this as a personal insult, then maybe, just maybe they aren’t my friends after all. I doubt the robot would want anything more to do with me if she knew what a stalwart anti-smoker I am. But I thought she felt the same. She DID feel the same. She told me as much. Before she lost her soul. Before she started smoking cigarettes. Before she started bumming ciggys.

I got no time for changes in her life so now I ask you again…where were you when I was falling in love?

Were you sitting in a Pentecostal Holiness church on a hard pew early Sunday morning before the service began, thumbing through the hymnal, looking for one that best expressed your feelings of devotion at that point in your spiritual journey? And what would that hymn have been? “Onward Christian Soldiers”? “Peace in the Valley”? “In the Garden”? “Smoke on the Water”? “Hotel California”? Maybe some obscure Black Sabbath song tucked in at the end of the book, next to the Doxology?

Did your hair shimmer, reflected in the light that poured through the stained glass window directly behind you? Did you feel it’s heat on your neck? Did it draw out beads of perspiration there, glistening? Would you have let me lick them and taste their saltiness even in the sanctuary of the church building? Probably not. But I don’t think the idea would repulse you like it would some other bonnet headed midi-skirt wearing holy rollin’ *****.

Maybe I would have asked you outside so that you might feel a little more comfortable with what I’d had in mind.

And maybe you would have told me “no”. I couldn’t blame you for that. No, I wouldn’t. It’s only natural for a real woman to guard her integrity in situations such as this one. I could not hold that against you.

Is that where you were? I need to know. Where the hell were you when I was falling in love?
How do you say, "Thank you," to someone who saved your life?
No, no, no..........let's get it right!
I was dead and gone.
I was 2 seconds from being burried deeper than most while life carried on.
I was about to decompose and be a feast for the worms.
I was a walking corpse in no other terms.
And then, she spoke to me and raised me from the dead.
I saw the light in her and followed it instead.

I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote, "Confessions of Him".
Suddenly, life surged! And I could stay afloat and swim.
If not for her this place would have made me a zombie in tomb .
No way to express myself, but, with her light my body was exhumed.
I could hardly sleep placing pen to paper.
The flood gates were opened and the words made me feel safer.
Medora had stolen all my energy and light.
I didn't know a place could make you give up your will to fight.

You'll know her when you see her.
Her beauty will never fade.
She glows in the distance like a lighthouse in a storm.
And up close she is blinding, but, its comforting and warm.
Her voice is like music and her smile makes you think of ****.
Yea! She's that GREAT and fills you with delight.
Her laugh is free and hearty.
Her skin is rosey with flecks of white.

Her hair is a flame.
I have to say, "Thank You," and share her name.
Kayla, you were the fresh drink I needed.
Without you knowing I heard your words and heeded.
I am alive again!
Writing feels too good to be true!
The only way I know to say, "Thank You," is to immortalize you.
I wrote you this poem so I will never forget.

I want the world to know I owe you a debt.
You reminded me that words were a natural part of my soul.
And, to deny that I would always be half and never whole.
So, I ask the world to join me at my imaginary gala.
Hold up your glasses in a toast to the AMAZING Kayla!
Keep letting your fire burn because your flames ignited my oil well.
"Thank you," for saving me! From loneliness. From hate.
From Medora. From HELL.
I wrote this poem for Kayla Anne Schneider. Through her poetry, honesty and openess I was resurrected. This is my Thank You to her. May the inspiration she gave me live forever through this poem. And maybe this poem can inspire the creative you to live your dreams and let your fire burn.
I. Herself

To be a sweetness more desired than Spring;
A ****** beauty more acceptable
Than the wild rose-tree’s arch that crowns the fell;
To be an essence more environing
Than wine’s drained juice; a music ravishing
More than the passionate pulse of Philomel; -
To be all this ’neath one soft *****’s swell
That is the flower of life:—how strange a thing!

How strange a thing to be what Man can know
But as a sacred secret! Heaven’s own screen
Hides her soul’s purest depth and loveliest glow;
Closely withheld, as all things most unseen,—
The wave-bowered pearl, the heart-shaped seal of green
That flecks the snowdrop underneath the snow.


II. Her Love

She loves him; for her infinite soul is Love,
And he her lodestar. Passion in her is
A glass facing his fire, where the bright bliss
Is mirrored, and the heat returned. Yet move
That glass, a stranger’s amorous flame to prove,
And it shall turn, by instant contraries,
Ice to the moon; while her pure fire to his
For whom it burns, clings close i’ the heart’s alcove.

Lo! they are one. With wifely breast to breast
And circling arms, she welcomes all command
Of love,—her soul to answering ardours fann’d:
Yet as morn springs or twilight sinks to rest,
Ah! who shall say she deems not loveliest
The hour of sisterly sweet hand-in-hand?


III. Her Heaven

If to grow old in Heaven is to grow young,
(As the Seer saw and said,) then blest were he
With youth forevermore, whose heaven should be
True Woman, she whom these weak notes have sung.
Here and hereafter,—choir-strains of her tongue,—
Sky-spaces of her eyes,—sweet signs that flee
About her soul’s immediate sanctuary,—
Were Paradise all uttermost worlds among.

The sunrise blooms and withers on the hill
Like any hillflower; and the noblest troth
Dies here to dust. Yet shall Heaven’s promise clothe
Even yet those lovers who have cherished still
This test for love:—in every kiss sealed fast
To feel the first kiss and forebode the last.
DEW Mar 2018
The waves undulated as if
they were the backs of 100 wriggling worms
The sky shed tears as if
a 1000 angels wept for the death of hope
black clouds roiled, sparking with fury
casting lightning down upon the mire
but below, upon the sea,
a miracle was set to transpire.

A boat rushed down and over the waves...
Back and forth,
a juggler's ball tossed and turned it appeared to be.
Yet, despite the malice,
and the seething spite of the sea,
the boat was safe
snug as can be.

And in this boat was a silent baby
his eyes stared out into the turmoil
he did not understand the frustrations of the elements
how they wished to smite him where he lay.
Despite the twisting of the boat
he did not roll, nor did water coat
his soft cheeks, his baby blanket
he passed on into sleep,
into dream he
went.

He awoke to battles raging about him
the crashing of thunder
was the desolation of a mountain
the world knew war for the first time
deaths in the billions, no pasture without crime.

He stood as a man
with bearded face
skin like the earth
armor embraced.
He realized he held a mighty weapon
it gleamed in his hands
power coursed through his veins
down to his soul
up to the heavens!
A beacon of light he seemed to be
but heir to destruction he truly was.
He did not know what power does
to the feint of heart
to the well-intentioned...
He struck the ground amidst the battle
the whole Earth shook, oh, the chattering teeth!
The mountains lumbered to form again
as if by the shovels of skyward giants!
The battle paused for the barest of moments
the awe was palpable
like a kingly feast
but the people's hearts hadn't forgotten the pain
their hate surged up, like volcanic bile
despite their peace present for a while
the massacres began again in earnest
perhaps more so than before his deed.
No one knew the power he wielded.

He still had hope, he could do something!
But what greater act was there than mending mountains?
His heart was up to good,
but his mind couldn't ground him.

"I must stop their wanton annihilation!"
He roared within himself,
"Are they not my people? Am I not their savior?"
He went to the most heated battle
struck the air with his weapon
and every person's foe was replaced by their loved ones.
The battle ceased in an instant.
Each person stared in utter disbelief.
By what power had this happened?
It was said that mountains climbed back into place,
but what could summon loved ones,
even from the grave!
The fighting ceased despite their hatred,
and the stories magnified in flavor.
Many who were hungry
for peace from the storm of violence
fed upon the hearts of those in doubt
they claimed they knew who stopped the battle
they hoped to mobilize a peace effort.
He gathered these hopeful souls
banded them together so their efforts became tenfold!
Soon enough, the stories crept across the lands
across the seas
and underground.
For once, hope had purchased ground,
but hate, when cloistered, beaten back, starved,
becomes ever more malevolent,
ever more conniving.

He did not call his people an army,
he called them the Samaritan Initiative.
They did not fight their war with weapons of battle,
they fought with hands that mend and bind,
they saved the sick and the dying,
they uplifted the oppressed and those denying.

As time passed, his efforts grew,
but someone used his deeds as currency,
mobilized the scandalous, the warmongering,
someone hated he who mended the broken...
Someone plotted his demise.

He led his Samaritans across the world
each place they touched was left whole again
and though war still did reign, rotting and true,
he did not tire to end the end.

A new beginning he hoped to create,
but whispers that he was a fraud began to sate
the ears of those whose purpose it is to doubt peace,
they sowed the malice back into the healing wounds
soon enough, his power began to abate,
therefore, rumors seemed to be true.

He grew restless when he was barred from homesteads
barred from cities,
even countries!
Somehow these echoes of forgotten civilization rose
only to defy him
and he smelled someone's stench in the air.
His weapon yearned for someone's death.
For once, it did not wish to mend, but break,
and he felt spiteful all the more.
All the adoration he had garnered
had blinded him from his true purpose.
He sought out the taint that spread its tendrils.
"Someone."
He said,
"Is ruining my... empire..."

One day, while regrowing a desolated forest with his weapon,
someone came to see him.
She smiled at him, marvelled at his work.
"Who are you?"
He wondered, suddenly charmed.
"Someone you know..."
She grinned.
He spent weeks distracted and curious about her,
what was her riddle all about
and why did he feel her in his heart?
She did not seem to threaten or scheme
in fact her presence was a dream
and he yearned after her like nothing he knew
his mission delayed
his plans askew.
Many around him questioned him saying,
"Who exactly is it with whom you're playing?"
He would blush,
"Oh, someone..."

One day,
she did not meet him at their lover's spot.
She did not appear for a week, then another.
His mind began to churn about the months.
Since when had he last sent forth his healers,
or mended cities and silenced weapons dealers?
He began to be suspicious of her
he could have summoned her with a flick of his weapon,
but he dared not discover if she really were foe,
for if he should break, what can he grow?

Eventually, she appeared again,
smiling broadly, like an old friend.
He then knew the anger that so many harbored...
Oh, the twisted things he felt by her abandon,
the sheer weight of his turmoil felt too much to bear....
So he ****** it upon her without any care.
His voice was louder than a church bell,
flashing out across the forest where they would meet.
She cried out in fear
she ran from him swift
he chased after with guilt he couldn't lift.
He found her weeping by a well
on his knees he apologized incessantly.
"How could there be darkness in you,
the mender?"
Her question struck him in all places tender.
Doubt crept into his addled mind.
His weapon's glow flickered
his conscience was blind.
Surely not now should he have such trouble?
Could it really be so simple to pop his bubble?
"I love you more than I can bear!
When you leave me,
I begin to tear."
She nodded and held him close to her.

Someone watched from shadows not far,
they saw his frailty,
like a door ajar...

The months passed and he went back to work
new cities to grow and malice to mend
people saw him more for the savior he was
even though the rumors of fallacy were abuzz.

A special time became the moment of his life worthy of note,
a marriage to the woman whose life he knew by rote.
They consummated in the night and in the day.
Time seemed to stretch on and shrink all at once.
His happiness was a thing of infectious charm,
but all that glittered soon became alarm.

Upon returning home from time spent mending the broken world,
he returned to find his home
covered in blood.
He knew whose blood coated the walls.
Bones, ground into paste, smothered pictured frames.
Flesh reduced to pulp covered the floor.
His mind fractured in no way subtle.
The light of his weapon winked out with no rebuttal.
He wept uncontrollably in fits of despair.
The world seemed cold, frozen over,
desolate of love or laughter.
"I can't bear to live."

Someone crept in through the doorway.
"It's a shame, isn't it?
No man is greater than any other,
yet no man is born equal.
No man lives without love,
but every man dies alone.
Maybe you can understand now,
why we deserve our own genocide...
Maybe now you'll let us fight to the death,
and have our peace that way!"

He looked up and,
despite the pure evil that stood before him,
he did not see that.
He saw someone lost,
someone abused,
someone desperate for truth,
any truth.
He saw someone fighting to love something,
anything.
He saw someone forgotten by loved ones
after committing acts that person was unable to avoid.
He saw a frightened being
lashing out at the world
in the hopes that the suffering would end.
He felt boundless compassion.

"I have no power left."
He said.
"No power to mend or bind.
No power worth your scorn."

"I'm going to **** you now."

"If I'm to die,
I hope my blood is enough for all who suffer."

"You're no messiah! You're just a lie we all want to believe!"

"If I was just a man...
I would have died when you killed her.
I would have hungered for torturous retribution.
But you have broken no one.
You're someone who needs to see your own suffering
out in the world
to justify the injustice dealt upon you.
But for every drop of effort you put into destroying her,
I wish you never experience my pain.
I wish to mend what drove you to break me,
so no one else may be harmed by you,
or anyone you inspire to deal death."

"No, I defeated you..."

"You tried..."

The weapon flickered.

"No, no, you can't feel love for me...
You don't have the *****."

"I have very big *****."

"You think you can love me?
After how I destroyed you!"

"If I could be destroyed,
I would already be dead!"

The weapon burst forth with light!

The killer realized they were someone foolish
Someone lost
Someone in need of healing.
For if "he" could not be broken,
surely there was hope.
If he could mend mountains
bring back loved ones and unite lost families
grow cities from the earth itself
grow forests from twigs
and deny a cold-hearted killer
the satisfaction
the honor
of seeing the fractures of a shattered soul
in blood-red, swollen, tearful eyes,
perhaps this man,
this one man,
could reveal what love is
to the killer's own famished soul.

He saw something shift in the eyes of that tortured someone.

That's when he realized...
That's when he understood.
He had the thirst for solving puzzles,
but humanity is not a machine,
it is a collection of gears
each just as vital as the whole,
for the whole does not exist without the worth
of every individual.
And to ignore an individual like this...
Someone who stood at the center of all the woe,
the evil,
and the tragedy in the world.
To ignore them would be to throw out the puzzle completely.

"May I mend you?"

Realizing they were someone facing an open door,
that person nodded.

He struck that person with his weapon.
Light flooded out as if by the sun itself.
Time seemed to stop.
People looked up in wonder of the light.
The very winds halted,
seas stilled,
nature perked up in unison.

When the light faded, he saw himself staring in a mirror.
The man in the mirror had blood-stained hands.

He stepped across the threshold and hugged himself.
His darkness hugged him back and the blood seemed to vanish.

"I forgive myself for killing her."

His darkness melted into a bulbous, gooey form and sank into him,
as if he were some kind of sponge,
leaving no trace of the darkness visibly.
He accepted within himself that he was capable of
unimaginable evil.
He accepted that he had control
and that he was responsible for the health and sickness
of the world.

Around him, the world began to shift.
In fact, it appeared to melt into liquid
and splash around him.
The liquid became clear, like the ocean.
It splashed and slid,
rocking him about.

Light flashed!

The baby awoke, curious about the world around him.
His boat had touched some distant shore.
Flecks of water spotted his cheeks and he laughed.

A couple crept up to the boat.
"I swear I heard a baby," a man said.
"You're crazy," a woman said, "Out here?"
The couple looked within the boat
and found the baby smiling at them with his
toothless, innocent smile.
The woman held a hand to her chest in awe.
She tenderly carried the baby out of the boat
and rocked it in her arms.
The baby laughed.
The man reached out.
"Not that hand!" The woman said, "You just cut yourself!"
"It's okay, no blood anymore, see?"
He pinched the baby's cheeks.
The baby touched his hand.
His **** healed in an instant!
"Woah!" The woman yelled.
Feeling for a scar where there were none,
the man stared in wonder at the child.
"Honey," he said, "This kid's got potential..."
This poem sort of came out of nowhere.
It does sit on the border between a poem and a story.
I've been fascinated by the Poetic Edda and the Iliad, how a poem could be hundreds of thousands of words long.

So here's my little poetic narrative.

Enjoy!

DEW
Meagan Moore Jan 2014
In the divet between mountains
Resides a wooden cabin – ostensibly an amalgamation of the scape
Adroitly - I - quondam female warrior flit
Down massive (ancient) hand-laid, hand-cut carved stone steps
Bounding from contingent step onto the dense pad of turned soil
Tacit compliance between gravity and soil holds footprints bound
A compressed deflating crescendo as pace ignites with bounds

Cadences of protuberant wildflowers and grasses erupt from swollen terra
A winsome chromatic menagerie, dispersed in ecstatic fistfuls
A venerably ancient ritual

My nascent clandestine vocation
Personally meted out - a beatification for my provisional sanctuary

Along glacier-fed stream
Lissome fingers shadow inert stalks –plucking dormant beginnings from their desiccated ligaments

I am austere and unadorned save for a festoon of pyrite flecks trailing my semblance
Residual gilding from my ante-meridian swim taken after requisite gathering of wild blackberries, goose berries, and rhubarb along oft-tamped path

The sun, nestling into its requisite apex endorsed my completion
I reclined into the hassock of soil, feeling the elements settle about with an embossment of my form
Imposing verdure arched subtly as compressed soil beckoned hyperbolic flux

As I lay within the basilica of opulent living columns replete with comestible bounty
Lingering dew honed inflections of sacrosanct petrichor in unison with piquant clover
Wild purple clover buds saccharinely tinted and inundated nestled nerves in mine cribriform plate

Birds pitched and galloped through the frond tips and beyond in the lapis expanse
Frequently snatching damselfly’s and assemblages of midges from their ephemeral drift

Auspicious rays transcended stippled diaphanous gravid clouds
Light inundated ether entered humbly into the cathedral oculus
Pyrite speckled terrain beneath, and my bare gilded form above
Cast a refracted aura about my sanctuary

Precipitously the elusive vaporous embankment distended further
Ashen atmospheric correspondence inaugurated liquescent sustenance to my mountain abode

And I -
Lingered beneath the descending gobbets, curls furled in a puddle
Fresh topsoil cupping my corporal topographic contours
Pressing blackberries into my mouth between smiles
I want you to know that sometimes I become so scared of the future, tendrils of birds burst from my rib cage.
I can feel the cuts on my palms from trying to push back time.
Memories claw out of my fore arms and drip down my finger tips.
I can feel the venom of broken promises course theough my veins.
And I am terrified.
I have witnessed the aftermath of a hurricane.
And the first handful of dirt thrown into the grave.
I can't be your silver lining anymore.
I can't be your saving grace.
I can't even be your still day.
But I can be your shadow.
The wind.
Maybe even a stain on your soul.
I want you to know that I could see stardust when you were with me.
And hear angels when you smiled.
That it may have taken awhile,
But I realized what god was everytime you laughed.
I want you to know that you were the best part of me.
And that if I tried to hold in my hands, all the seconds that I thanked God for your existence, it would spill out of my hands like grains of sand and dry up all the oceans.
I will miss the gold flecks in your eyes.
I will miss the skip in your step.
I Will miss your compassion.
It may hurt, but i want you to fly.
Fly, and never look back.
Not even for me.
Lucanna Nov 2012
I've been missing
authentic selflessness
devoted kindness
and the soft laughter
you let out
when I used to do things
like try to cheer you up

I've been missing
fiery conversations
deep and vibrant
they used to dance across my face
every time I had a stollen space
alone
with your voice

I've been missing
grace within strangers
the signs of simplicity in nature
The way you'd stuff me into your
envelope embrace
and those hearty compliments
that  I used to save up for calloused
malnourished days

I miss
you impressing my brother
with your dutifulness
and natural peace,
showing big bright flecks of acceptance
in your eyes

I miss
the lightness I would feel
the second I pulled into our parking lot
and saw your muddy shoes outside
our place

I miss
noticing the yellow parts of the day
brought by your soothing spontaneity

I miss
laying my wild heart down at night
and being able to close my eyes
without wasp anxiety
stinging the lining of my stomach

I miss sleep and
the way I used to be with you.
Pure     beautiful     lovely                and utterly unique
to my husband.
Sally A Bayan Aug 2013
I see them everyday, rain or shine,
Beautifully lined in a row.
They all stand tall, mighty and proud,
To prove who the mightiest is.
And yet...they are always so,
So graceful in all their might.

As they wave to us,
We, too, Wave our Hands By the Lake.
While Expanding our Chests,
A cool breeze
Brush against our faces.
Our eyes  follow our hands in
Painting a Rainbow.

The morning sun seemed not too bright that day.
The branches and twigs above us were
Intertwined, like two lovers' hands
Laced with each other.
In Parting the Clouds, we bring light
Into our visions, our minds, our lives.
We let go, focus on what's ahead of us,
While Weaving Silk In The Air.....

And in Rowing the Boat, we revive ourselves
With a breath of new life....
We reach to the Heavens to offer
Our healing palms when Sage Presents Peach.
Our spirits are lifted, we see light in
The dark, as we Gaze At The Moon.

From above, the wind blows,
The leaves touching ...caressing, as the
Wind Rustle Lotus Leaves....we give
Our healing touch to all that surround us...
Their movements and ours flow
While Waving our Hands In the Clouds,
Scooping The Sea, and Viewing the Sky once again...

Rolling With the Waves, a  time when our healing
Energies combine with the powers of the water....
When the Dove Spreads Its Wings, we open our arms,
Embrace these blessings, we share them as well....
The restlessness in our mind and spirit, is
Now hushed by the healing silence.

The Dragon Emerging From the Sea, unites
The breath, the  heart and the spirit...
We now prepare for The Flying Wild Goose,
We raise our arms, getting ready
To let go, to let ourselves be.....

With palms facing each other, they
Circle up, sideways and down, resembling
Windmills Turning In the Breeze. We balance
Our weight on each foot, like Bouncing Ball
In The Sunshine, enjoying stability deep within us...
And as Nature's Fragrance Drifts Up,
We take in the many gifts that surround us...
We are now energized........

We knew our movements by heart,
Did each one with grace,
To the beat of the swaying above us,
We forgot all our worries....
We forgot all about time....

Suddenly, flecks of tiny petals started
Falling over our heads....
Like a shower from Heaven.
It was time to bow our heads, in thanksgiving,
For all the countless blessings.
Eventually, the ground was covered
With green and gold.

Once more, I looked up to the Heavens
With much gratitude....
I thanked the two big shady trees
That sheltered us...
They were two lovers....
The ******* and Narra trees...........

Sally A. Bayan

Note:

Shibashi is one of the many movements of Chi-Kung.
It is composed of 18 healing movements.
The notes on the movements were taken from the
personal journals of a Franciscan nun, alive to this day, and the mentor of my own mentor.

------Cassia Fistula is the scientific name of the ******* tree.
------Pterocapus Indicus is the scientific name of the Narra tree.



Copyright 2013
Rosalia Rosario A. Bayan
Arke Jun 2018
find a lover who writes you sonnets
who uses the darkest flecks of your eyes as ink
and the shades of your skin as paper
writing along the edges of your wrists and arms
with tongue and teeth
with purpose, truth, and love

find a lover whose heart sings to yours
a pianissimo summer sonata, dolce
using their words sotto voce against your ear
melodiously humming against your body
with their lips pressed to your neck
with passion, fire and tenderness

find a lover who creates art
using line weight in colloquy and canvas alike
to paint you with diamonds, as they see you
watch them carve your essence
with rainbows and pearls
with intensity, feeling, and beauty

find a lover who gives to you
who presents all the joys of life
unselfishly and without expectation
and when they give freely and openly
ensure that you, too, become a lover
who writes, sings, creates, and returns

— The End —