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Ron Sanders Feb 15
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Jamie Riley Apr 2018
They look out from the terrace.

At the borders of sight
live rocky hills behind brown
and golden and olive crop
under a cloudless sky.

Sun beams brighten motley roofs
on tessellations which blacken beige
in blurry air.



























BANG!





















An artificial cloud.

































“Look,” she points, “Let’s go!”

She takes him and they fly down stairs,
diving like sparrows
into the street.

Boys sprint across pavements and climb;
men vault over fences in time
for news to reach ears.

“They’re coming!
"¡Ya vienen!"

Excitement and fear.

The rattling of cow bells
and galloping nears.

Men bait and dodge horns
and escape through doors
and up and over
red wooden bars.

Sticks beat on the concrete ground
and drive the mute beasts's sounds.

Seconds away –
until the last,
he side steps into a house;

indoors,

apart,

he runs through the foyer
and up the stairs
around a corner.

Long strides

too fast to follow.

She chooses left and
sings soprano
when doors won't budge
and
       a
           beast
                      crashed
                                       in.

She turns and the fear is paralysing.


"FERMIN!"






"FERMIN!"












"FERMIN!"

He­ hurdles the stairs
and explodes
when it rams her
to and fro,
thrashing her head
against the wall
where horns
sin and gore
cement and brick.

He clasps the tail
and heaves its hide from
side to side as
hooves smash
crates of wine -
they slip and slide
in fractured glass;
he finds a horn
and yanks the head!
He's yanked instead
near dead before the men
arrive down stairs
to punch and kick it;
strike and stick it
smack and hit it;
'til it
fits and quits
and flees the foyer,
fast and frantic,
flying flustered
by the frenzy,
finally finding
pattering
paves
it
peters
off
down

the

street.





"¿Que ha pasado?
  ¿Quien ha sido?
  ¡El Balbotin
  y la Chicha!
  ¡Que una vaca
  les ha pillado!"

"¿Estas bien?"

Dizzy she's there
with searching hands
and scolding.

"Podria haber sido peor"
This poem is about an incident which happened to my Grandparents, Fermin Yanguas Ochoa and Raimunda Ramos Frias.

It was during a bull run in their village (Fitero) in Navarra, Northern Spain. 1972
Shannon Apr 2014
upon the elephant rode a boy prince,
his royal command, he was there to evince.
dark with grace and dripping with youth.
bringing his men, his crown and his couth.
town after town he strode fierce through the gates.
and any detractors were left to cruel fates.
and on one windy day, as they strode into town.
the faces where tenfold and a hush passed around
the grey of the creature with knowing black eyes
swayed left towards the crowd as if to capsize.
and the mass gasped in horror; bairns seized by their mam.
men flung at young ladies, babes pulled from the pram.
the bewildered and flustered
tired elephant sat.
in the center of all on the bald pastors hat.
the old pastor looked stunned to see such a disgrace.
until he remembered, and composed his face.
'your highness' he bowed. his manners restored.
but the poor prince was toppled his mighty seat floored.
they gasped for the prince, just really a child
dressed in fine silks on this elephant wild.
pastor said, 'here now' extending an arm
hand wrinkled and gnarled from the land that he farmed.
then the guards sprung to life as if sudden awake
guns point to the man of whose life they would take.
and just as they squinted their eye for the aim
a boy sang out sweetly, 'sire he's not to blame!'
and the prince from street where he lay in pool
held up his hand and recovered his rule.
he looked at the crowd and he said 'boy now speak'
the boy said, 'prince it is the prayers that you seek.
the prayers that you'd visit. the prayers that you'd stay.
lord must of heard them and granted this way.'
his eyes wide with truth and the love of his church
the prince laughed a beautiful belly filled lurch.
the carriage was called as the prince shared a feast.
and even some water was splashed on the beast.
such a good time as he danced and he spun
till the horses arrived in the dust of a run.
to thank the town and the lovely haired boy
the young prince gave up his own precious toy.
the beast stays quite put in the center of town...
but prayers said no more...so the prince won't fall down.

sahn
04/10/2014
*with love, for kales, jess & jt* (otherwise entitled "watch what you pray for, for you just might get it"
Taylor Apr 2013
Flustered in gumboots,
No way to compute
The full weight of the drops
That saturate her scalp
And seem to soak right through
To her clouded brain,
Where thunder roars
And lightning scours
Until she smells burning flesh;
While she spins, confused
The sky seems quite amused
For there is nothing
But sunshine and blue.
Pagan Paul Jan 2019
.
Jerrica had found Lost.
The treasure buried above ground.
The memory foam with dementia.
The quill with no nib …
she thought about feather pens.
Catching herself from falling
the swoon had caught her cold.
This **** ****** sword
was proving to be elusive
and now she was under sustained attack.
From a personal fetish.
It just wouldn't leave her alone,
creeping into her mind unbidden.
She needed to scratch an itch,
if only she knew what that itch was.

Trolls are magickally bound to their bridge.
Leaving it is usually fatal.
But Gyb had bones to gnaw,
and once he had his teeth employed
his mind was a captive onlooker.
A crazy plan formed in his head,
possibly avoiding the brain.
He took mud and formed a figure,
then some of his hair clippings
moulded into the head.
Then he took a leap of disbelief!
He looked into the river and … Click!
Snapped his fingers and fixed the image.
He cut it out of the meniscus
and attached it to the doll familiar.

“Did Achilles have damp ankles
or was he well heeled?”
Morfine had asked Choklut.
“Neither. He was the one who sneezed
and opened the Fête of the Suitors”.
“No. I think he was called Telemarketing,
he sneezed and they drew the tombola raffle”.
“Wasn't there a Goddess involved as well?”.
“Um … Yes, maybe the Goddess of Tissues?”.
“Snivel? No, she is more tears than snot.
I think its the one who turned her husband
into a swan, and made him ****** her handmaiden”.
“Oooo Nasty!”
“No, Nasty fell in love with his own profile,
and called things off with his nymph,
the reverberations can still be heard today”.
There was a brief pause … then,
“What are we doing Choklut?
We found a magickal sword and …
talking of which, where is it?”.
“I don't know. You had it last”.
Just then a serving girl gave them a note.
It said. Tomatoes, Peppers, Onions, Eggs …
“Not that side you dyk” she said.
Morfine turned the note over and read.
“Quick, no time to lose.
Someone saw the sword in the river.
We have to get to stanza 8
before it goes over the waterfall!”.
“Oh” said Choklut “I've never seen a stanza belly flop”.

It was true.
Contrary to the laws of physics.
Kelm saw the sword floating down river.
It looked like any other sword.
So he let it be, dismissed it.
He couldn't swim anyway.
He mused on the irony of that.
Nobody learnt to swim and yet drowning
was an undignified death for a barbarian.
If he could swim
he could find the fishes hiding places.

Jerrica had also been musing.
With a Poet.
That was during the last 3 stanza's.
But now …
she saw a sword floating in the river.
Something didn't quite fit.
Something was not in the right place.
She placed the Poet back in her breast pocket.
'If only he wasn't just 4 inches high' she thought
'he is rather handsome and intelligent'.
Bingo! She had it. But she didn't want it.
Armydiseases Principle of Liquid Dispersement!
It states!
Introduce a solid object into a body of liquid,
then the corresponding volume of liquid is dispersed
back to the nearest solid.
So, right now there is a very small flood
in the shape of a very small sword
ravishing the local area.
She decided, quite rightly as it turns out,
that she was feeding herself a red herring.

Slim stood on the bridge
staring at the churning water below.
How did it happen?
A stanza all of his own,
ruined by the intrusion of morons.
“Morfine and Choklut” he bellowed
“I'm going to eviscerate you”.
The wind carried a few of the words away,
but that was the gist of it.
“Hello” a voice said.
Slim had an accident, and jumped out of his skin.
And plunged into the cold water.
A strong arm pulled him out,
and he was face to face with a troll.
“My name is Gyb. I hate Morf Chok also”.
Nothing had prepared Slim for meeting a troll.
Not even the etti-queue-etti lessons at school.
'Would you care for afternoon tea?'
seemed rather inappropriate.
Gyb broke the awkward silence.
“Look! Sword floating”.
Slim didn't look.
Convinced the troll would eat him.
Thats their way. Distract and devour.
But he couldn't help it, he snuck a look.
And the sword slid on by gently bobbing,
tiny little runes glinting in the sun.

For its part the sword was serenity itself.
Chilled out to the max.
Resting on the water. Relaxing and reclining.
Life was good for the sword.
It had just passed a boy fishing,
poking his rod down a fish hole.
It had passed a young woman,
who looked confused and flustered.
It slid under a stone bridge.
A troll with a doll,
and a man with questionable odour.
And then he heard the roaring.
He sent out his senses,
no mean feat for a sword,
and 'felt' its surroundings.
Its image eye caught sight of the future.
It was an effing great waterfall.
And the future was the way he was heading.
For now.

Narrative Interlude

At this point in the story the author, Pagan Paul, is compelled
to inform the reader/listener of a complaint received
from Messrs Morfine and Choklut.
The substance of which amounts to the following:
That the said author is willfully under using their talent
as supporting cast and denying them access to many stanza's.
Furthermore they are threatening to expose the authors
'irregularities' in his relationship with Princess (name redacted).
The author, Pagan Paul, responds thus:
I should like to remind Messrs Morfine and Choklut
that, with astroke of my quill, I can eradicate them.
Drop them from the story all together.
And with reference to Princess (name redacted) -
'Its my Poem and I'll irregularit if I want to'.
Dear reader/listener prepare yourself for stanza 9.
It has a waterfall in it.
Maybe Morfine and Choklut will appear, maybe not.
They are the ones over a barrel.


Minutes after the sword floated by
something else caught her eye.
To boys on a barrel, in the water.
Boys barreling along or a barrel buoying along?
Choklut noticed her by the bank.
'funny place to have a cash machine' he thought.
Doing his best to impress and look brave.
Morfine waved and nearly fell off.
Suddenly the barrel lid opened
and Slim poked his head out like a tortoise.
“What the …?” said Choklut.
“Just repaying a debt boys” he said.
“But you owe us nothing” Morfine replied.
“Oh but I do” snarled Slim
“I owe you one times intrusion into your own stanza”.
He ducked back inside, and slammed the lid.
“Of all the fatherless ...”
“I blame the author” said Choklut.
“Yeah well, he is the one who's gonna be sorry,
we've just muscled in on stanza 8,
and relegated that waterfall to stanza 9” Morfine chimed.
“Morfine. Morfine! I hear the waterfall coming”.
“No! Not now. He has to leave it until 9 now,
we are about to cross the finish line on 8”.
The waterfall loomed.

Actually the waterfall knew nothing of weaving.
It just stayed where it was, pouring.
Spectacular, it was a very pretty waterfall.
It must be. It attracted tourists.
And it had fun!
It loved watching detritus tumble,
teeter on the brink. And fall.
Especially tourists.
It was over 300 paces high,
less than 40 paces wide,
its descent magnificent liquid ballet,
sparkling droplets shining like jewels,
forever transcending light refraction,
and plunging, plunging, plunging,
into a gorgeous azure puddle.
About ankle deep.



© Pagan Paul (17/01/19)
.
3rd poem in my Strange World collection.

Part 3 out soon :)
.
Caitlin Jan 2015
I close my eyes, letting my body succumb to glorious sleep.
My mind wandered.. always making its way to you.
I subconsciously smiled, the way I do when I think of you.
Your face appeared in my mind and I began to dream..

I was dressed in a green floor length ball gown,
With pairs of dancers all around me,
I grin up at my partner, a faceless man.
When the song ends, I slowly clap for the ensemble.

I glance down at the pearl colored dance card tied to my wrist.
A slow smile comes to my face,
I realize my next two dances belong to you.

As you make your way to me,
My eyes appreciate the suit that you're wearing,
Perfectly tailored to your lean and tall body.

You bow, I curtsy.
The Maestro cues the ensemble.
As a simple three step waltz begins,
You take my hand,
and I wrap my other one around your shoulder.
Your other hand gently holds my waist.
We dance, gracefully taking command of the dance floor.

One dance ends and another starts,
As you keep your hold on me,
I'm reminded that this dance belongs to you as well.
I glance at my dance card again
And I notice that my next dance belongs
To someone I'd rather not dance with..
The same man that my father wants me to marry.

You look flustered You say, taking in my slight blush.
I am. After this dance, will you accompany me to the refreshment table? I ask, looking into your light brown eyes.
Anything, my lady. You say and my next breath seems to disappear.

The dance sadly comes to an end,
And we both clap for the orchestra.
You hold you arm out for my arm and I grasp your elbow.
A man comes up to us,
Sir Daniel and Lady Emily. He greets us.
My Lady, Did you forget that this next dance belongs to me?
He asks of me, I slowly smile at him.
Sir Caleb, I did not forget but I am feeling flustered so Sir Daniel has offered to accompany me to the refreshment table. I stated as gently as I could.
But what about our dance, My Lady? He questioned, glancing at Sir Daniel.
As soon as I feel better, I am yours to take to the dance floor, I'll even dance two with you. I state, and quickly regret my words.
Wonderful, My Lady he said and bowed, took my hand and kissed my palm, I look forward to it.
I felt you stiffen next to me as Sir Caleb kissed my palm.
Come, My Lady, and lets get you some wine. You stated.
I grasped your elbow once again and led me to the buffet.
You walked toward it and the servant poured two glasses of white wine.
You handed me one of them,
How is it possible that you look more flustered than you did a few minutes ago? You ask me.
You know why. I stated. I glanced up at you, you smiled.
Yes, I do, Would you like to get some fresh air. You said with a double meaning in your words.
Your eyes search mine, wishing, wanting me to say yes.
Gladly. I think the fresh air will do me good, especially now.
I state, earning a smile from you.

You offer me your arm and I grasp it.
You lead me toward the double doors,
That lead out to the Balcony and gardens.
A butler opens one for us, and you gesture for me to walk through.
I walk toward the end of the balcony and breath in the cool crisp air.
You follow me, and stop a little short of where I'm standing.
Tell me, My Lady, What's troubling you so? You ask me.

I turn to face you and sadly smile,
Sir Caleb, the gentlemen that was next on my dance card; Is the man that my Father wants me to marry.
You walk toward me, Have you tried to reason with him? Told him how you feel?
I laughed. Reason isn't a part of my father's vocabulary. Believe me, I've tried, But Sir Caleb is a business partner that my father wants to add on to his company. It's never a matter of love for him.
You sadly smiled and said, What about your parents? They are clearly in love. Wouldn't your mother be in object to this?
No, actually. My Mother was a product of an arranged marriage too, She just fell in love eventually.
Oh, But I won't fall in love with Sir Caleb, I cant!
I cry.
Come with me, I don't want to attract any more attention. You whisper in my ear, and you lead me down to the steps that lead down to the garden and to a bench, far enough away from the party still inside.

Now tell me, mademoiselle, Why you simply cannot marry, this Caleb? He seeming alright when I met him in the ballroom.
I though about the question You just asked.
How do I go about answering that?
I..I just know I cant. For...
For what? You urged.
For I'm in love with someone else. I said, panicking.  
You stiffen again, beside me.
Well, whoever it is, I swear, they better treat you right, Or they will regret it.  
You said those words with such conviction, that my heart welled up with even more love than I thought humanly possible.
That would a little bit strange I said, knowing that I couldn't turn back now.
I reached for your hand and grasped it.
You looked down at our intertwined hands and glance at me
Your eyes search mine as you slowly fit the pieces together.
You open your mouth to say something and change your mind and close it again.
You eyes continue to search mine while your other hand reaches up to grasp my cheek.
My dear Emily, I've dreamed of this day, where I could finally hold you.
Daniel, so have I.
And with that confession, you slanted your lips on mine. I reached up with my other hand and ran it through your brown hair.
I closed my eyes as the joy of kissing you runs down my body.
Your hand grazes my cheek, and slowly moves down to my neck. you grasp my neck as if you never want to end the kiss.
We pull apart only because we need to breath.
If we hadn't needed to breath, we would have never stopped.
I look at you, Your breathing hard, just like I am.
I pull you back toward me, this time it's me controlling the kiss.
Although, You fight me for dominance.
I know I should have thought of the possibility of being caught, of being thrown out of society.
But the only thought that was in my mind, was that I'm finally kissing you , and that know that I have You, I'm not letting you go.
You move your hand down to my waist and I untwine our hands to move mine to your neck and my other one down your broad chest.
You moan and hold me tighter to you.
You bite my lip and I gasp, allowing you to slip your tongue in my mouth, and if I thought that that kissing you was pleasure enough the feeling of your tongue on mine, was exhilarating.
Your hand starts to make swirls on my lower back and the pure sensation of it all is more than I can handle.
I regretfully pulled away.
You look down at me and smile.
Your lips are swollen, but why'd you pull back?
Because if I didn't we wouldn't have been able to stop, and you might have needed to marry me to protect my reputation. I smiled.
That wouldn't have been a problem
Those words hit me at my core and I swear my heart stopped beating.
Does that mean that you feel the same way I do? That I'm not dreaming this?
If anything,  My Emily, I love you more than the heart possible can.
And I love you to the moon and back, from infinity and beyond.
You kissed me again.

And with that, I woke up. My alarm clock blaring in my ear.
I groan, wanting to return to dreamland, where you'd finally be mine.
But, alas, I must enter reality where I must go back to simply being your shadow and being invisible.
I sigh, and close my eyes allowing myself a few more minutes in dreamland.
Not what I normally write but the idea just came to me. and then I couldn't stop writing. Hope you like it.
JayceeJellies Jan 2015
Will you lock me outside,
forcing me to look in?
I'm so afraid of being unaccepted.

Why must you stare at me?
Do you think I'm unaware..

I wish you'd stop talking,
Your voice makes me feel impared.

Why are they ignoring me,
Do I need to speak louder?

Everytime I try,
I just become flustered.

Maybe it's just better this way.
Q May 2014
It takes little more than a kind word
To carry me through a month
To hold me up against battle
To force me, against trials, to triumph.

It takes little more than genuine praise
To burn a soul to memory
To lose all sense of proper speech
To fly unbound and freely.

And with a word comes a smile
I can't get it off my face
With a word comes gratitude
So potent my hands shake.

With a word comes a flattered feeling
That blossoms just under my ribs
With a word comes a jittery, happy panic
On which I cannot put a lid.

I laugh boisterously
I forget my usual frown
With a word I am lifted
And I will never come back down.
UuU thank you
Äŧül Dec 2015
The king had a terrific ***,
The *** ran a race & won it!

The media glorified it and put,
'The King's *** Won The Race!'

The king felt embarrassed,
He gave his *** to the queen.

The media again hyped it and put,
'A Royal Exchange: The Queen Has The Best *** In The Kingdom!'

The royal family felt frustrated & flustered,
They decided to do away with the *** now.

The Queen's ***, which earlier was the King's *** was abandoned in the forest,
The royalty felt at ease now.

But the media hyped it too!
*THE ROYAL *** GOES WILD!!!
Inspired from a Whatscrap joke I received.

A King enrolled his donkey in a race & won.

Local paper read:
'KING's *** WON'

The king was so upset with this kind of publicity that he gave the donkey to the queen.

The local paper then read:
"QUEEN HAS THE BEST *** IN TOWN"
The king fainted....

Queen sold the donkey to a farmer for Rs100.

Next day paper read: "QUEEN SELLS HER *** FOR Rs100"
The queen fainted...

The next day king ordered the queen
to buy back the donkey and leave it in jungle.

The Next Headlines:
"QUEEN ANNOUNCES HER *** IS FREE & WILD"
The king died... !!

This was Indian media in Britain, you know better.

My HP Poem #932
©Atul Kaushal
Sympathy I feel for those who haven’t seen what I’ve seen, and for those who have felt what I’ve felt. The embodiment of my regret, shining with all the light once saved me, now engulfs me in torment of my mistake. As I orbit in harmony with the rotation of a green star, that is much more than just a green star, I ponder what my life would be if I still had my green star. I know that in time, this green star that means everything and more to me, will collapse and perish, but we will only be able to see the star frozen in time, that very instant before it collapsed, desperately clinging to one single moment. I still cling to that moment, the moment I saw my soul break free from the chains that I thought would hold me down perpetually, in her eyes. I don’t quite know how it happened, I wasn’t looking for it, I wasn’t on the make, it was the perfect storm, I said one thing, she said another, and the next thing I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my days in the middle of that conversation. It’s painful to admit that I ruined the most precious friendship I’ve ever had, which tends to sting more when she was the only genuine friend I’ve ever had. I prefer solidarity most of the time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t long for a companion every now and again, but lately that desire grows stronger and stronger, holding on to the memory of the companion I once had and lost. My life on Earth, my past life, would be considered prosperous; I was one of the top aerospace engineers in the world, which is a very time consuming and painstaking practice, but exploring the unknown territories of the universe had always been my passion. I didn’t have much of a family, my mother and father passed away when I was 22 years old, and my brother and I severed ties shortly after the death of our parents, and I had not desire nor time for a significant other, let alone the willingness to dedicate my life to another person. I always believed that I embodied the definition of misplacement, I never seemed to fit in any particular group of people, nor with any other person, really, I enjoyed getting lost in the sea of my thoughts, riding the waves, pondering ideas, asking questions that can only be answered in theory, which essentially renders me incapable of interacting with others. However, being your own best friend can sometimes lead to psychotic thoughts of self-loathing, and eventually the last straw broke the backbone of my perseverance, and I convinced myself to commit suicide. Originality and pretentiousness ****** me, demanding myself to end my life a way no one else’s life has ended, and my imagination spiraled into a storm, brainstorming my own demise. My most recent endeavor at the time was to manufacture a personal bubble that would sustain in space, and condensing a spaceship into the size of a smart car was the threshold between my pathetic life of this planet, and self-destructive glory. After a year of an extremely unhealthy intensity of research, my talisman of my soul, my most cherished invention, my cosmic coffin. I traveled from my home in Anchorage to the highest point in Alaska, Mount McKinley, and inserted my body comfortably inside my space bubble and proceeded to ascend into my eternal salvation, ascending towards achievement of my life’s dream, ascending the edges of space, where no human has ever occupied in history. The butterfly feeling in my stomach, caused by the sheer joy I felt, is probably the closest feeling I had ever felt at the time to true love, the irony of my affection for death. As I slipped past our atmosphere and found myself floating closer towards the stars and planets, I sat down and enjoyed the galactic show of entropy before me, and after a while the visual melody put me in a hypnotic state, and before I knew it I was being stated down by a saucer shaped spaceship with luminous blue lights encompassing the round edge of the ship. I felt my capsule gravitating towards and entering the ship through a small hole on the underbelly of its structure, that appeared to look like a portal. As I passed through the light I was being observed by a feminine looking blue creature, with bright green eyes that sparkled like emeralds in the moonlight, and long, luscious blonde hair, straight and smooth as silk. She was tall, which I realized as I stood up out of my capsule, about an inch taller than my six foot frame, with long, skinny fingers and decently big webbed feet, and a long slender tail hanging down from her backside that wasn't quite long enough to touch the ground. She had shiny, scaly skin that had a deceptive rough appearance in texture, but felt soft and smooth when her hand reached out to embrace mine, and she said, "Hello, I am called Elora, what are you called?" Still in shock, the only awkward response I muttered was, "Eric" and she asked, "Why are you here Eric?" As I regained my quick wit I declared, "Does anyone know why they're here?" She smiled, exposing her sharp white teeth and proposed, "Well, you can help me find out." I think it had something to do with the adrenaline rush caused by the mystery and uncertainty of the situation, but I caught myself grinning, I didn't even realize I was smiling, it was an odd, unfamiliar feeling, but I was madly attracted to this blue angel from the stars. I spoke to her about my life on Earth, and my elaborate suicide plan, and she explained to me that she abandoned her home planet Eridani to conduct galactic research, and that she was from the Altair race. She elaborated on how life on Eridani did not satisfy her, and that she would spend her life roaming around nebulas, exploring galaxies, researching stars, and documenting her experiences. She showed me a star that she claims as hers, a green star called Zohra, which was her favorite star because she said she could only feel happiness when looking at it, to which I said, “It reminds of your eyes” and she looked at me and seemed flattered. She loved that star, her eyes lit up brighter than the star itself when she would stare at it, hypnotized at the sight of it, which I cared little to notice because I couldn’t look away from her. I couldn’t quite understand how someone could be so invested in something like that, something that just sits there spinning and spinning, peacefully participating in the orchestra of the universe. I think she was so fascinated by this object because she felt the same disconnect from others of our kind. The lonely, outcast feeling connected us, ironically, and we carried on intriguing conversation for what felt like an eternity, and I only wish that conversation could've lasted longer. I found in Elora what I had not found in any human being, she understood me, to the point where I was convinced she had mind reading abilities, and her understanding me didn’t diminish her interest in me, like what usually happened to me on Earth. I found happiness in her company, I found salvation in her embrace, I found unparalleled beauty inside and out, and I found myself in our friendship.  As time slowly rolled on my affection for Elora grew increasingly unbearable, and eventually the realization dawned upon me that I had to inform Elora of my feelings for her. We were accelerating towards the Crab Nebula, and I noticed the blurred blue light in the center, wrapped around by streams of red and yellow light, holding the blue heart in the center together. Elora was to me what the red and yellow streams were to the integrity of the Crab Nebula, without those streams, without Elora, my soul would fall apart and disburse, just like the blue light in the center of the Crab Nebula. When I turned, looked her square in her eyes, her gorgeous eyes that were accented by the light emitting from the Crab Nebula, those eyes that pull you in and leave you in a trance, those eyes that display the beauty of nature condensed into two little spheres that seemed to effortlessly gaze inside my soul, breaking down every single wall that I have ever built up to hide myself from other people, and uncover everything I so desperately attempted to hide deep down, and I said to her, “You are the only reason I’m still alive, the only reason I still want to live, the only other soul that accepted my lost, broken soul, you are the most amazing, most beautiful creature born from the stars we now roam around, I tried to die to see what heaven is like, but heaven can wait, because there is nothing more I want than to be with you until the day my soul slips away from my body, I am madly in love with you Elora.” I poured my heart and soul out to her, bleeding out every ounce of passion and love and sophistication to her, exposing every bit of my emotions, leaving me naked and defenseless before her. Different scenarios raced around my head about how she would respond, and she glanced down at the ground, looked back up at my blank face, and she said, “My people do not love, we do not believe in love, and we cannot love. Love, no matter how polarizing it may seem, always fades in time, everything fades in time, love fades in time, ideas fade in time, you will fade in time, I will fade in time, in the end, nothing is perpetual.” My heart sank down into my stomach, and right at that moment I grasped the idea of why they call it “falling in love” because I landed harder than I could even fathom, I did not know that such powerful emotional sorrow could physically hurt so bad. I dropped down to one knee, and the streams of tears ran from my face and splashed down on the ground, like delicate little glass beads shattering as they made contact with the surface, shattering like my heart and soul. The pure agony and embarrassment of staying with the love of my life, whom I had just made an absolute fool of myself in front of, was enough to crush any man’s esteem, so the only rational option I could think of was bail towards my space bubble, and go as far away as I possibly could from the light that saved me. With every inch of separation between her and I, my heart and soul grew sour and stone cold, and new theories to rationalize my reaction and actions that followed. As a child I went to an amusement park, and I was particularly frightened of a certain attraction that lifted you straight up, a couple hundred feet, and dropped you straight down, and now I realize that my fears of love are comparable to this ride. I was so mortified by the ascension, which precedes love, that I could never enjoy the thrill of the fall, even though this time the safety harness didn’t soften the landing. I came to the conclusion, after years of thought, that I could not blame Elora, it was who she was and there was nothing she could do to change that, and instead of accepting the fact that she did not love me, I cowardly abandoned the only thing in my life that I gave a **** about, I ran away from the only other being in the universe that could make me smile the way she made me smile. After years of solidarity and self-loathing I realized that I would much rather spend my life with Elora, even if she didn’t love me, as opposed to regressing back to my lonesome life, only surrounded by a vast, more captivating scene. The only reason I am still alive is because I have not given up hope that one day I will find Elora again, and I will beg for her forgiveness, and hopefully I will be able to cherish every precious moment I spend with her. I solemnly believe that the slim chance will occur that I will once again see that face, gaze into those eyes I once did, and curse my old self for being foolish enough to leave her. I am not certain, but I can only hope that she is at least indifferent to encountering each other once again, but if she denies me I cannot blame her, because after all it is my fault for my impulsive escape. But for now I wander as a nomad amongst the stars that form constellations that all remind me of Elora, watch the planets rotate, and reminisce on the time we shared together, the time I took for granted, time that I consider to be the most precious moments of my life’s experience. I spend most of my time roaming around Zohra, which was where she and I parted ways, in hopes that one day she will return to her favorite star, to find me right there waiting for her, however patience has not served me well, and my actions which I so deeply regret caused her to abandon the star which she claimed as hers, the star that radiated happiness upon her, the magnificent star that embodied her in beauty and essence, to avoid the thought of me leaving her, which is justifiable because she was probably very flustered by me scrambling to leave her after my episode. I rotate around Zohra, observing its physical qualities, seeing Elora’s face every single time I look upon its surface, but one day the light exiting the pores of the planet grew significantly brighter, and Zohra began rotating and shaking at a phenomenally fast speed, and I witnessed Zohra swallow itself in a supernova, creating a black hole. I interpreted this to represent the death of the hope I had to once again see Elora, or maybe time had taken her like time had taken her beloved star. I allowed myself to succumb to the irresistible force from the black hole, and the death of hope I had to once more see the angelic face of my love, swallowed my space bubble and my hollow body occupying it, to the point of no return, where I can no longer regret what I had done to her, because in time, my love for her destroyed me.
Is it wrong to crave the hands
That no longer desire
The warmth of mine?

Despite the shame, guilt and tears
I can recall the texture of that skin;
Unkempt and rigid.

Street lights in the summer;
My favourite place in the city,
Strengthened by the grip between 10 fingers.

Turns out those hands had bigger plans;
A craving to explore and discover,
With new eyes and a deeper soul.

Left mine to wallow in self-pity,
Getting flustered upon failing
To pluck aged guitar strings adequately.

Sometimes I like to think
That the shakiness my hands feel
Is just my fingers shivering, naked and cold, without yours.
Israel Baker May 2016
The animal 'neath a-thousand mirrors-----
Science~
Just a word
Life~
Just a thought
Death~
Just an absence
Jesus~
Drinks absenthe
I~
Is another
Her~
She's rubber
An' bends... bends.... bends    ,
The animal 'neath a-thousand mirrors,
Flustered on-looker, speak to me, tell
me of the signs, of your revelations,
Explain God to me
Let's convert eachother,
Flustered hair rubber.
JayceeJellies Dec 2014
It's been a day or maybe a few,
That I haven't heard from you.
It's not exactly depressing yet,
But I know I'll cry soon, and get-
Cold sweats.

It's not like you'd care,
You don't give a ****.
I'm just sort of there,
To you, I'm throwing a fit.

And you say I have no right to.
Well what did you expect me to do-
When you're telling people such hyperbole?
Your mispresentations have flustered me.

I've never met someone so treacherous.
I trusted you and you put on a display,
Which I must say was completely impetuous.
Where did you come up with such nonsense?

I guess I never meant anything to you,
I feel like I was just a fill in for others.
Others whom you actually befriended,
Or maybe they're just like me.

Discovering that you're really a bully.
An emotionally abusive person.
Cindy Long Sep 2015
**** me
just **** me
I want you inside me
Oh how I've wanted you
dreamed of you
our bodies intwined
breathing heavy
You don't have to take it
easy on me
I can handle it
Put your hands on me hold me down and choke me
just choke me
oh please be rough with me
I wont fight you
I'll let you right in
Kiss me
just kiss me
flick your tongue against mine
kiss me all the way
down my body
oh how I long for you to touch me just touch me
touch me there
make me shake
and beg for you to stop
torture me with your fingers
get me all excited
And wanting
raise my hips to meet yours
and smile at me
that smile that makes me weak
And flustered at the same time
that one that leaves me wondering
I don't know
what you're going to do
to me
but it doesn't matter
just do it
I want you
to do it all to me
claim me
Just claim me
in every single way
release yourself on me
I can take it
I want it
give it to me
please give it to me
show me how much you want me
just want me
need me
love me
push me to my limit
take me over the edge
make me scream your name
press into me
sO hard
I can't breathe
oh how i long to feel you
feel me
Just feel me
close your eyes
and gasp on me
Lay on top of me
don't let me move
Take control of me
oh how I want to taste you
your sweat
your seed
gut me
just gut me
Cut me into pieces
splitter me
shred my innocence
open me up
And spread me apart
look at my insides
At how you make
my heart race
blood boil
organs tense
by the way
You **** me
just **** me
show me
how much you
love me
just love me
please just love me
-Cindy Long
Frank Ruland Nov 2014
.     Hello, friend. Have you ever felt attracted towards a certain, special individual? Yes, we all have, and those feelings are completely natural. But, there are some places where romance should be kept well out of. Namely, the workplace. Beware, friend--there are inherent dangers in dating coworkers.
     Is your cubicle becoming rather steamy? The kitchen starting to be a little hotter than usual? Is there chemistry happening in the laboratory that isn't occurring in beakers or concern the elements of the periodic table? Well, then you may want to cease and desist any further flirtation for fear of finding your future, life, and career in fiery fortune. Don't believe me? Let's just look at the lives of three people who did choose to date coworkers so you can see the dangers of inter-workplace relationships firsthand.

     Meet Suzy. She worked at an office supplies warehouse alongside Bob. They began dating, and all was well until she walked in on Bob licking Jenny's personal stamps. She became somewhat flustered and was accused of assaulting Bob with a stapler. She was promptly fired and given a three month restraining order out of fear of her finishing the job. What a mess.

     Here we have Jack. He works as a line cook for an Italian restaurant. He began dating a server named Betty shortly after his promotion to sous chef. Again, all was well for a time, but then... disaster. Betty became slightly jealous upon hearing Jack ask Mel if she wanted her cannoli filled with cream. An innocent question--but one that responded to by chucking a cleaver at her now ex-boyfriend. What became of Jack? Well, let's just say he's one Italian Stallion whose not so well hung now. Just terrible.

And lastly, we have Ted. Ted works as a lab technician for a company that produces industrial use cleaning solvents. Ted befriended a lab assistant named Patty, and it wasn't long before exothermic processes were happening on a regular basis between the two. All was well until Patty saw a text on Ted's phone saying, "I'm sorry about destroying your equipment last night. I didn't know my explosion would be so huge!" Little did Patty know, Ted's message was to his science fair project partner from high school concerning an experiment that had taken place, and not of the ****** nature. Their relationship ended with her throwing sulfuric acid in Ted's face. No bueno.

     Yes, tragedy tends to strike at the drop of a hat, especially when the critically sensitive emotions between partners of a relationship come into play. But, when you forge relationships with the people you see everyday at work, things can sometimes go horribly awry. Don't end up like any of these unfortunate souls, friend! There's a time and place for romance, but that time and place need not be on the clock.
The second installment in my Public Service Announcement series! Please, if you enjoy, let me know what you think and if it made you laugh. I highly desire feedback on these poems. If they're not good, I may stop :/ Thank you, friend!
Scattered thoughts,
Incomplete sentences,
Partial ideas,
Broken words,
Unable to explain,
All that comes to mind clearly is frustration,
And I continue with it,
My mind is flustered,
So many thoughts,
So many wants,
Needs,
Desires,
So many impartial moments.
I

Out of the little chapel I burst
Into the fresh night-air again.
Five minutes full, I waited first
In the doorway, to escape the rain
That drove in gusts down the common’s centre
At the edge of which the chapel stands,
Before I plucked up heart to enter.
Heaven knows how many sorts of hands
Reached past me, groping for the latch
Of the inner door that hung on catch
More obstinate the more they fumbled,
Till, giving way at last with a scold
Of the crazy hinge, in squeezed or tumbled
One sheep more to the rest in fold,
And left me irresolute, standing sentry
In the sheepfold’s lath-and-plaster entry,
Six feet long by three feet wide,
Partitioned off from the vast inside—
I blocked up half of it at least.
No remedy; the rain kept driving.
They eyed me much as some wild beast,
That congregation, still arriving,
Some of them by the main road, white
A long way past me into the night,
Skirting the common, then diverging;
Not a few suddenly emerging
From the common’s self through the paling-gaps,
—They house in the gravel-pits perhaps,
Where the road stops short with its safeguard border
Of lamps, as tired of such disorder;—
But the most turned in yet more abruptly
From a certain squalid knot of alleys,
Where the town’s bad blood once slept corruptly,
Which now the little chapel rallies
And leads into day again,—its priestliness
Lending itself to hide their beastliness
So cleverly (thanks in part to the mason),
And putting so cheery a whitewashed face on
Those neophytes too much in lack of it,
That, where you cross the common as I did,
And meet the party thus presided,
“Mount Zion” with Love-lane at the back of it,
They front you as little disconcerted
As, bound for the hills, her fate averted,
And her wicked people made to mind him,
Lot might have marched with Gomorrah behind him.

II

Well, from the road, the lanes or the common,
In came the flock: the fat weary woman,
Panting and bewildered, down-clapping
Her umbrella with a mighty report,
Grounded it by me, wry and flapping,
A wreck of whalebones; then, with a snort,
Like a startled horse, at the interloper
(Who humbly knew himself improper,
But could not shrink up small enough)
—Round to the door, and in,—the gruff
Hinge’s invariable scold
Making my very blood run cold.
Prompt in the wake of her, up-pattered
On broken clogs, the many-tattered
Little old-faced peaking sister-turned-mother
Of the sickly babe she tried to smother
Somehow up, with its spotted face,
From the cold, on her breast, the one warm place;
She too must stop, wring the poor ends dry
Of a draggled shawl, and add thereby
Her tribute to the door-mat, sopping
Already from my own clothes’ dropping,
Which yet she seemed to grudge I should stand on:
Then, stooping down to take off her pattens,
She bore them defiantly, in each hand one,
Planted together before her breast
And its babe, as good as a lance in rest.
Close on her heels, the dingy satins
Of a female something past me flitted,
With lips as much too white, as a streak
Lay far too red on each hollow cheek;
And it seemed the very door-hinge pitied
All that was left of a woman once,
Holding at least its tongue for the *****.
Then a tall yellow man, like the Penitent Thief,
With his jaw bound up in a handkerchief,
And eyelids ******* together tight,
Led himself in by some inner light.
And, except from him, from each that entered,
I got the same interrogation—
“What, you the alien, you have ventured
To take with us, the elect, your station?
A carer for none of it, a Gallio!”—
Thus, plain as print, I read the glance
At a common prey, in each countenance
As of huntsman giving his hounds the tallyho.
And, when the door’s cry drowned their wonder,
The draught, it always sent in shutting,
Made the flame of the single tallow candle
In the cracked square lantern I stood under,
Shoot its blue lip at me, rebutting
As it were, the luckless cause of scandal:
I verily fancied the zealous light
(In the chapel’s secret, too!) for spite
Would shudder itself clean off the wick,
With the airs of a Saint John’s Candlestick.
There was no standing it much longer.
“Good folks,” thought I, as resolve grew stronger,
“This way you perform the Grand-Inquisitor
When the weather sends you a chance visitor?
You are the men, and wisdom shall die with you,
And none of the old Seven Churches vie with you!
But still, despite the pretty perfection
To which you carry your trick of exclusiveness,
And, taking God’s word under wise protection,
Correct its tendency to diffusiveness,
And bid one reach it over hot ploughshares,—
Still, as I say, though you’ve found salvation,
If I should choose to cry, as now, ‘Shares!’—
See if the best of you bars me my ration!
I prefer, if you please, for my expounder
Of the laws of the feast, the feast’s own Founder;
Mine’s the same right with your poorest and sickliest,
Supposing I don the marriage vestiment:
So, shut your mouth and open your Testament,
And carve me my portion at your quickliest!”
Accordingly, as a shoemaker’s lad
With wizened face in want of soap,
And wet apron wound round his waist like a rope,
(After stopping outside, for his cough was bad,
To get the fit over, poor gentle creature
And so avoid distrubing the preacher)
—Passed in, I sent my elbow spikewise
At the shutting door, and entered likewise,
Received the hinge’s accustomed greeting,
And crossed the threshold’s magic pentacle,
And found myself in full conventicle,
—To wit, in Zion Chapel Meeting,
On the Christmas-Eve of ‘Forty-nine,
Which, calling its flock to their special clover,
Found all assembled and one sheep over,
Whose lot, as the weather pleased, was mine.

III

I very soon had enough of it.
The hot smell and the human noises,
And my neighbor’s coat, the greasy cuff of it,
Were a pebble-stone that a child’s hand poises,
Compared with the pig-of-lead-like pressure
Of the preaching man’s immense stupidity,
As he poured his doctrine forth, full measure,
To meet his audience’s avidity.
You needed not the wit of the Sibyl
To guess the cause of it all, in a twinkling:
No sooner our friend had got an inkling
Of treasure hid in the Holy Bible,
(Whene’er ‘t was the thought first struck him,
How death, at unawares, might duck him
Deeper than the grave, and quench
The gin-shop’s light in hell’s grim drench)
Than he handled it so, in fine irreverence,
As to hug the book of books to pieces:
And, a patchwork of chapters and texts in severance,
Not improved by the private dog’s-ears and creases,
Having clothed his own soul with, he’d fain see equipt yours,—
So tossed you again your Holy Scriptures.
And you picked them up, in a sense, no doubt:
Nay, had but a single face of my neighbors
Appeared to suspect that the preacher’s labors
Were help which the world could be saved without,
‘T is odds but I might have borne in quiet
A qualm or two at my spiritual diet,
Or (who can tell?) perchance even mustered
Somewhat to urge in behalf of the sermon:
But the flock sat on, divinely flustered,
Sniffing, methought, its dew of Hermon
With such content in every snuffle,
As the devil inside us loves to ruffle.
My old fat woman purred with pleasure,
And thumb round thumb went twirling faster,
While she, to his periods keeping measure,
Maternally devoured the pastor.
The man with the handkerchief untied it,
Showed us a horrible wen inside it,
Gave his eyelids yet another *******,
And rocked himself as the woman was doing.
The shoemaker’s lad, discreetly choking,
Kept down his cough. ‘T was too provoking!
My gorge rose at the nonsense and stuff of it;
So, saying like Eve when she plucked the apple,
“I wanted a taste, and now there’s enough of it,”
I flung out of the little chapel.

IV

There was a lull in the rain, a lull
In the wind too; the moon was risen,
And would have shone out pure and full,
But for the ramparted cloud-prison,
Block on block built up in the West,
For what purpose the wind knows best,
Who changes his mind continually.
And the empty other half of the sky
Seemed in its silence as if it knew
What, any moment, might look through
A chance gap in that fortress massy:—
Through its fissures you got hints
Of the flying moon, by the shifting tints,
Now, a dull lion-color, now, brassy
Burning to yellow, and whitest yellow,
Like furnace-smoke just ere flames bellow,
All a-simmer with intense strain
To let her through,—then blank again,
At the hope of her appearance failing.
Just by the chapel a break in the railing
Shows a narrow path directly across;
‘T is ever dry walking there, on the moss—
Besides, you go gently all the way up-hill.
I stooped under and soon felt better;
My head grew lighter, my limbs more supple,
As I walked on, glad to have slipt the fetter.
My mind was full of the scene I had left,
That placid flock, that pastor vociferant,
—How this outside was pure and different!
The sermon, now—what a mingled weft
Of good and ill! Were either less,
Its fellow had colored the whole distinctly;
But alas for the excellent earnestness,
And the truths, quite true if stated succinctly,
But as surely false, in their quaint presentment,
However to pastor and flock’s contentment!
Say rather, such truths looked false to your eyes,
With his provings and parallels twisted and twined,
Till how could you know them, grown double their size
In the natural fog of the good man’s mind,
Like yonder spots of our roadside lamps,
Haloed about with the common’s damps?
Truth remains true, the fault’s in the prover;
The zeal was good, and the aspiration;
And yet, and yet, yet, fifty times over,
Pharaoh received no demonstration,
By his Baker’s dream of Baskets Three,
Of the doctrine of the Trinity,—
Although, as our preacher thus embellished it,
Apparently his hearers relished it
With so unfeigned a gust—who knows if
They did not prefer our friend to Joseph?
But so it is everywhere, one way with all of them!
These people have really felt, no doubt,
A something, the motion they style the Call of them;
And this is their method of bringing about,
By a mechanism of words and tones,
(So many texts in so many groans)
A sort of reviving and reproducing,
More or less perfectly, (who can tell?)
The mood itself, which strengthens by using;
And how that happens, I understand well.
A tune was born in my head last week,
Out of the thump-thump and shriek-shriek
Of the train, as I came by it, up from Manchester;
And when, next week, I take it back again,
My head will sing to the engine’s clack again,
While it only makes my neighbor’s haunches stir,
—Finding no dormant musical sprout
In him, as in me, to be jolted out.
‘T is the taught already that profits by teaching;
He gets no more from the railway’s preaching
Than, from this preacher who does the rail’s officer, I:
Whom therefore the flock cast a jealous eye on.
Still, why paint over their door “Mount Zion,”
To which all flesh shall come, saith the pro phecy?

V

But wherefore be harsh on a single case?
After how many modes, this Christmas-Eve,
Does the self-same weary thing take place?
The same endeavor to make you believe,
And with much the same effect, no more:
Each method abundantly convincing,
As I say, to those convinced before,
But scarce to be swallowed without wincing
By the not-as-yet-convinced. For me,
I have my own church equally:
And in this church my faith sprang first!
(I said, as I reached the rising ground,
And the wind began again, with a burst
Of rain in my face, and a glad rebound
From the heart beneath, as if, God speeding me,
I entered his church-door, nature leading me)
—In youth I looked to these very skies,
And probing their immensities,
I found God there, his visible power;
Yet felt in my heart, amid all its sense
Of the power, an equal evidence
That his love, there too, was the nobler dower.
For the loving worm within its clod
Were diviner than a loveless god
Amid his worlds, I will dare to say.
You know what I mean: God’s all man’s naught:
But also, God, whose pleasure brought
Man into being, stands away
As it were a handbreadth off, to give
Room for the newly-made to live,
And look at him from a place apart,
And use his gifts of brain and heart,
Given, indeed, but to keep forever.
Who speaks of man, then, must not sever
Man’s very elements from man,
Saying, “But all is God’s”—whose plan
Was to create man and then leave him
Able, his own word saith, to grieve him,
But able to glorify him too,
As a mere machine could never do,
That prayed or praised, all unaware
Of its fitness for aught but praise and prayer,
Made perfect as a thing of course.
Man, therefore, stands on his own stock
Of love and power as a pin-point rock:
And, looking to God who ordained divorce
Of the rock from his boundless continent,
Sees, in his power made evident,
Only excess by a million-fold
O’er the power God gave man in the mould.
For, note: man’s hand, first formed to carry
A few pounds’ weight, when taught to marry
Its strength with an engine’s, lifts a mountain,
—Advancing in power by one degree;
And why count steps through eternity?
But love is the ever-springing fountain:
Man may enlarge or narrow his bed
For the water’s play, but the water-head—
How can he multiply or reduce it?
As easy create it, as cause it to cease;
He may profit by it, or abuse it,
But ‘t is not a thing to bear increase
As power does: be love less or more
In the heart of man, he keeps it shut
Or opes it wide, as he pleases, but
Love’s sum remains what it was before.
So, gazing up, in my youth, at love
As seen through power, ever above
All modes which make it manifest,
My soul brought all to a single test—
That he, the Eternal First and Last,
Who, in his power, had so surpassed
All man conceives of what is might,—
Whose wisdom, too, showed infinite,
—Would prove as infinitely good;
Would never, (my soul understood,)
With power to work all love desires,
Bestow e’en less than man requires;
That he who endlessly was teaching,
Above my spirit’s utmost reaching,
What love can do in the leaf or stone,
(So that to master this alone,
This done in the stone or leaf for me,
I must go on learning endlessly)
Would never need that I, in turn,
Should point him out defect unheeded,
And show that God had yet to learn
What the meanest human creature needed,
—Not life, to wit, for a few short years,
Tracking his way through doubts and fears,
While the stupid earth on which I stay
Suffers no change, but passive adds
Its myriad years to myriads,
Though I, he gave it to, decay,
Seeing death come and choose about me,
And my dearest ones depart without me.
No: love which, on earth, amid all the shows of it,
Has ever been seen the sole good of life in it,
The love, ever growing there, spite of the strife in it,
Shall arise, made perfect, from death’s repose of it.
And I shall behold thee, face to face,
O God, and in thy light retrace
How in all I loved here, still wast thou!
Whom pressing to, then, as I fain would now,
I shall find as able to satiate
The love, thy gift, as my spirit’s wonder
Thou art able to quicken and sublimate,
With this sky of thine, that I now walk under
And glory in thee for, as I gaze
Thus, thus! Oh, let men keep their ways
Of seeking thee in a narrow shrine—
Be this my way! And this is mine!

VI

For lo, what think you? suddenly
The rain and the wind ceased, and the sky
Received at once the full fruition
Of the moon’s consummate apparition.
The black cloud-barricade was riven,
Ruined beneath her feet, and driven
Deep in the West; while, bare and breathless,
North and South and East lay ready
For a glorious thing that, dauntless, deathless,
Sprang across them and stood steady.
‘T was a moon-rainbow, vast and perfect,
From heaven to heaven extending, perfect
As the mother-moon’s self, full in face.
It rose, distinctly at the base
With its seven proper colors chorded,
Which still, in the rising, were compressed,
Until at last they coalesced,
And supreme the spectral creature lorded
In a triumph of whitest white,—
Above which intervened the night.
But above night too, like only the next,
The second of a wondrous sequence,
Reaching in rare and rarer frequence,
Till the heaven of heavens were circumflexed
Another rainbow rose, a mightier,
Fainter, flushier and flightier,—
Rapture dying along its verge.
Oh, whose foot shall I see emerge,
Whose, from the straining topmost dark,
On to the keystone of that are?

VII

This sight was shown me, there and then,—
Me, one out of a world of men,
Singled forth, as the chance might hap
To another if, in a thu
Anthony Williams Aug 2014
Today I had a bout of acute-you shyness
one where I try to pretend I don't notice
but have you noticed how difficult it is
when outside idles but inside there's a race

to views like you leaning side to side
on the motorcycle ride slot machine
driving my eyes to sly around your slides
taking them wide as when I was eighteen
I'd look for curves at Southend pier's end
give out stares and start to take in scenes
of free amusement at the Fun Bump arcade

around and around the circuit you rode
I was lapping up your every move
sneaking a view through the coin drop
peeping behind the pinball of Dr Who
prying open the photo booth curtain gap
faux testing the mallet with your strength
playing air hockey with my thoughts
were your short chic bangs a wig?

they sit so still I long for the straights
then swing to one side with a leg
tight vibrant jeans in hairpin bends
ironing out where the centre line is damp
polishing the dashing leather saddle
vibrating with wrist twist contempt
loveliness revving up to red line

exploding in my face with daring
this bike crash heart of mine
please forgive not stopping staring
a race course habit never outgrown

I go too fast and of course I fall
in love as bad as deeply madly
but the fact that it's with you.. well
I have to forgive myself this malady

I'm a side-road heading for a spin
on ways to tell you you're beautiful
dangerously close I risk self harm
imagining that colour of pink and pale
the flush u-turn will be a charm

If I can get you climbing off
hot and flustered
I’ll have done my pit stop job
at once a chance encounter
and a fateful winning score
to let you know you've entered
into being my prize draw

I'll walk away but don't be sore
it's up to you to take it further
but just know one thing more
that if you call me to confirm
and tell me that I’m worth it
I would turn around so fast
the world would gearshift
and wait
but not in neutral
for us
by Anthony Williams
Remus Jul 2014
I have little to say in new environments.
I tend to act shy and forget how to form words.
So when I had to go to marching practice and was
surrounded by people I didn't know
I suffered.

Was it not obvious that I was flustered when I fell
five times in thirty minutes?
Maybe it wasn't obvious how I kept repeating the
same thing over and over again,
hoping people would stop staring.

But instead of caring you walked straight up to me
and made me look like a fool in front of
everyone.
"**** in, you're stomach is showing!" You exclaimed
before poking me with a drumstick and catching me off guard.
It hurt and my torso bent and all the upper classmen
laughed at me.

So thank you for embarrassing me, it will not be forgotten.
It won't be forgotten like the time you insulted me
in the seventh grade and I 'accepted' your apology.

But what do I know?
I'm just a kid and you're a
band director
Days pass, my love, and I'm afraid of t'ese feelings,
Which at first startled and surprised me,
Solidified but threatened me,
Hastened my heartbeat-and lingered stubbornly, at my wit.

I was treading down in my stilettos;
And all, today, had been silent hitherto-
Whenst I but caught about thee;
More charming than the breezy day itself, and more free.

Ah, thee! How I longest to silence thee forever,
Thee to whom delights my shelter;
Thee to whom every lie shalt be truth,
and to whom all dreary ages shalt be youth.

How I longest to ****** thee;
to strangle and behead thee,
so that thou shalt no more haunt me-
just like these feelings that twitch, and dazzle me-
forever and ever; like a bewitching, yet sadistic misery.

Shalt I hate them, my love?
Shalt I depict but mock all them?
Ah, tease me-o, tease me, my love!
Catch me about those rippling grass,
Which like a bucket of green water,
Bloom and flirt with the startled bush in mass,
before autumn greets, and their brightness shalt alter.

Alter to falseness, and die in paleness;
Before they scramble up again in vain,
And retreat to my dreams like a dizzy villain;
In a wail of discord, and its lake of cold madness.

Ah! They hate me! And whenst thou seest not,
They seethe at me, they floweth in my brain;
they corrupt me vilely, and ruineth my restraint;
And my loving heart shalt they never defend,
for instead of hate, they grant it love;
and tempt it to kiss-t'is tiny heirloom of mine-
of thy picture, all repeatedly; over and over again.

Ah, thee, to whom my heart shalt only be a burden;
to whom the bleakest of winds only bounces, and goes;
to whom that this earth seems to have no throes-
Just like all those ****** birds who chirp about in yon garden.

Oh, thee, who looketh pristine in whichever garment,
and looketh still a darling atop whatever mute soil,
but safely comeliest amongst t'is Thursday night's infallible moonlight;
and altogether stirring to every glance-whilst inviting to each lurking sight.

Ah, thee, whose heart still, that lucky lady possesses,
and whose smiles she salutes and gladly welcomes;
I wonder whether thou shalt ever know how my heart is obsessed-
and that how thy love for her is my karma, my devil,
and the most undesirable-yet resentful, total sham!
Oh, for the gracious is ungracious indeed, in her eyes,
and peace is but to her a mere tempest of fights;
for to her, immortal are her shallow rights,
And eternal are her breaths, and thus, her tidiest lies.
I hope she shalt be soon swallowed into this earth,
and bludgeoned to death, within its eternal, whining hearth.
She shalt be sent to Hell, for all her discordant sins,
poor creature, as poor she was, whenst alive-to her kin.
But still poorer, poorer me who adoreth thee like this,
Who forever longs to taste thy sweet breaths-and kisses,
I am like an infant who seeks to walk and drink of the stars;
Without knowing the sky is indeed boundless, and strenuously far.
I am who never grows, but stupidly screams, and urges for the most
I, myself, who shall always be strangely desolate, and lost.
Ah, t'is poor self of mine! For canst I only dreamest, and seekest, and whine
Whilst her hair is in thy arms, smelling like sweet-and dreamless sleep,
Buried deep in thy charms, with her heart engaged in thine,
And unawakened by the night, as to one delight so deep.
I am envious, envious, envious-and for thy know, t'is envy is perilous,
and should I die, my spirit wouldst remain awake, and forever curious.
I shalt be wand'ring voicelessly like a fishy ghost,
Be unseen foliage in autumn, and be winter's plodded frost,
I shalt be confined in my own confinement,
and flustered away, in my own unblessed, refinement.

Yet still, nothing is more stately than my feelings;
and this picture of thee-ah, as always, solemn and so honoured in my arms.
Ah, thee, let me invite thee here-and show thee how tears are in fact, the truest charms;
and how pains are undeniably our breath-though faked, and dried away-
by unceremonious adoration and hate-
but still alive like we are, among th' very livings.

Ah, and so my feelings are dangerous-
for they have no soul; are bound not by wings.
As thou smileth to me-they smile not, but groweth serious-
and their seriousness, in return, bringst not one single uttering.
My thee, my thee, but if thou art not my fate,
how couldst I call thee always, my salvation?
In my heart thou art not merely my mate;
thou art worth all my warmth, regrets, and thus holiest temptation.
How am I to procure advancements, my sweet lad-
Should we hath been 'lone, had we never met?

With thee I hath been in love,
and for whom my feelings are tough.
Still I believe loyalty is in thee,
and honour in me-is whenst I loveth thee only.
My thee!
O-my thee, by whom these long-living trepidations
shalt no more be meaningful,
as how all other's admirations
shalt become unfelt, and sorrowful.

Feelings, feelings, o my incarcerated feelings
My tears are thy soul; that shape and form thy whole
To live and love whilst these flames are strong,
to whose lips only, I am insane-but clearly belong.
Grace Elizabeth Jan 2015
I'm the one who ended things
I said "we're done."
Crying in a parking lot
I ended us.

Yet when I see you now
I still get flustered
And I don't know why
But I feel the need to impress you

To catch your eye
To remind you what you left behind.
To maybe try and get you back?
Because I miss you?

But the fact remains
I. Left. You.
I shouldn't want you back.
Right?

You never did anything wrong
It was just me.
I just wasn't ready
But maybe I am now?

But either way
I still want you to look
Make you think "what if."
And perhaps that will never change
i just wish things could be normal
Jordyn Dennis Aug 2014
I love the colors on you,
The beautiful blue in your eyes,
To the purples on your knee,
The brown dirt on your left hand from this afternoon gardening with me,
Just because i begged you to,
The pink in your cheeks that i love so much,
You get so flustered at the smallest things,
I love the brown of your hair that changes direction with the wind,
The summer bronzing of your skin,
Colors i cant describe,
You give me a new color everyday,
But i am so glad theres one color i never see,
and thats gray.

JD (1:58)
If you take the time to look at the one you love with lust, youll learn how many colors make up their beautiful being.
Michael P Smith Mar 2013
Desire the sound or hope,
deluding minds in darkness.
Daunting through its scope,
deluged no more in tartness.
Elope into the morrow,
envelop me with reason.
Enclose me now in sorrow,
easing against the legion.
Longs for succulent remonstration,
laying waste to ardent night.
Lopsided in spurn demonstration,
languid with delight.
Only now will I protest,
owning nothing less.
Opening now I detest,
one more time to bless.

©Michael P. Smith
Jamie King Apr 2015
In the
jungle of affairs
cheaters run the fastest.
The wind is left flustered.
Dears turn to prey when their
tales are painted in pane,
while the hungry eyes peak
away,
Pieces of hearts shaped
by the bleeding vane,
breed dismay.
There, the blind ******
scene on the road to heal again!
broken Hearts and healing souls sometimes the healing souls are the heartbreakers
# double entendre # triple entendre
Imara Vaglez Apr 2016
I have not written poetry in too long. My hands are no longer accustomed
to randomly clicking the Enter bar, and making it
sound as if my words are perfectly divided to suit these confines.
Today, I have made an exception
because your name has too often found its way onto my fingertips-
and I have so little to hold on to yet I find it incredibly difficult
to keep a straight face in your presence.
It's as if I can sense whenever you are near.
I've never believed in signs as much as I do now, and my point is that only now
has it crossed my mind that I have seen you every day this week
and I dread the moment that your face will no longer take a second of this 24 hour cycle.
And when that moment comes,
I will look back to the time when we first met.
I was wearing my old pajama pants, and a tight black t-shirt, and I remember you coming towards me so clearly. You asked me about the kid who had fallen asleep in the back, and I laughed and told you we would never catch the culprit.
I will look back to when your name first popped up on my feed, to the awkward first moments
when I would take 5 minutes between every message I sent to double check whether I sounded as if I did this all the time-
As if I were too preoccupied with my own life to respond right away when in reality my focus had shifted completely to trying to impress you.
I will look back to that first walk outside, my failed attempts at making conversation, but dear god, you made it so easy to ramble on as if my words were waterfalls, and my lungs held the town's reservoir.
I will look back to returning to our empty classroom together.
It looked different than it usually did, with nothing but empty chairs facing the stage-
and when you asked me to dance, I remember how I felt flustered over the way we had just met
And here I was, holding your waist while you rested your hand on my shoulder, and never had I felt as inadequate as I did in that moment.
I do not have much to offer. Yes, she can dance, but I can teach you how to make your fingertips waltz and glide over black and white keys, if only you allow me to hold them once more.
I will look back to the time when you asked me if I loved you,
and I remember avoiding your glance,
I remember hastily fumbling with my fingers, and surprising even myself when my lips curled what should have been a no into a hesitant yes.
I will replay that moment over and over and over again, and tell myself I should have said no.
But my heart knew what my body did not, and honesty hour had come to quickly and left my brain stranded at my doorstep.
I have wasted too much of my time reciting prayers in my head begging you to feel the same way.
But I can feel the end coming a little too fast, and too much time has been burnt out
fantasizing about stories and stolen glances and first dances and funny instruments and random hellos and impromptu sessions with your guitar at the steps next to the tower.
I still don't know why your presence sets off fireworks under my skin, or why your smile has me burying my face beneath strands and strands of hair.
But I do know this-
Next week may be the last time our paths decide to cross, and if that's the case, that's just fine.
I'll see you when I see you.
But for now, thanks for stopping by.
AD Mullin Nov 2014
In pursuit of an elusive harmony
     summer nights rolled away from us
     reverberating into a numinous bassline
     reconciling the duality of our dreams
     with the non-duality of our burgeoning truth

Plying our differences into commonality
     re-aligning fractured selves using the agency
     of Jungian synchronicity and finding
     immutable archetypal truth: INFJ and INFP
     our portraits resonating essence from meetings past

Flustered with desire
     walking in non-ordinary reality, finding love
     and getting lost in Source, the Love that
     is magnified so purely through the portal
     of your soul

Much more than a soul mate, Plato
     tells stories of Zeus splitting souls in half
     as punishment for pride
     in this incarnation, we've both found humbility
     will this be enough to carry us back to our nobility?
    
It is challenging to find your way back
     into a lover's arms, my mistakes haunt me
     through eternity but I wake up every morning
     let them go, just as the sun sets and rises, reminding us
     with experience, guidance, and repetition ... it gets easier

My half soul, my plag nishmasa
     awoke when my mortality decomposed before me
     when half becomes one, then the real turmoil begins (and it's delicious)
     on Acheron Shores, Raven calls
     and I follow my destiny into an obsidian night
'If I cannot deflect the will of Heaven, I shall move Hell.' ~~ Virgil
Megan James Apr 2013
My destiny was you
Seeping through the spectral as if timelessness was true

Both our souls shaping  into one
Illustrious adoration, this breath of life you have won

Each remedy chosen to reanimate fierce infatuation
Our existence concluded by a simple foundation

A euphoric perception through your warm almond eyes
In the worst of this battle I will never say  my goodbyes

Bonded by a sweet bundle of responsibility
Restless nights have shown our ongoing capability

Holding on to my weakest affection
My fears will let go of your delicate imperfections

Where has this animosity seized us to?
Reminiscing back when passion was all we knew.
Brea Brea May 2013
lights, lights
four ways
more ways
traffic
lights, lights
this world is a jigsaw
and my mind, habits
like a snake puzzle cube, ridged
fluorescent lights channeling into pairs of funnels
like eyes that peirce my calm simple soul
like a small petrified animal
about to be crushed
highlighting my nerves
hot like an electrical fire under my skin
like the fiery veins under my wrists
like that of a heroine ******
walking people from the face of the window
walking in from my peripheral vision
walking across the streets
like leather belts tight around my forearms
walking likes needles under my skin
from the front, from the left, from the right, from the back into the front, from the left
like ants, operating endless ribbons of motor vehicles
weaving endlessly dynamic patterns resembling my distrust
3.14159265358979323864264338327950288419716939937510 to 50 decimal places
despite the fact that I'm pulling my head back
my face feels like its plastered against the windows
a policeman of an installed reality man handling me from behind
eye lashes clung to the pane
humidity sticking my hair to the glass
tears warp my deformed perceptions
my tongue pressed hard to my cheek
I'm confused, flustered, how’d I get here
How do I make my case?
flustered, how do I get out?
small holes, air vents, locks, cracked windows
small things keeping me in my seat when I would find more immediate relief in jumping out.
of this pile of fire hoses snaked around me
feet deep around my thighs
It all started as tiles
tiles of a grocery store creeping in, creeping in until I am utterly
consumed, my vision contorted, maimed
my frontal lobes caving in
I keep pulling back
pulling back
and the world keeps coming in
coming in
my eyes are swelling
the tension jerks an anxious laugh
a series of hysterical laughs
like polaroid’s of my humiliation on clothes pins to a
relentlessly ceaseless rope.
my eyes following it like a speeding car until the images of my trauma are spinning into one shameful image like a thaumatrope on gasoline and electric
a spider swallowed by its own intelligent web
my soothing thumbs are rubbing my delicate skin thin
man handling myself to avoid something tragic
I want to knock the wind out of myself
because the magic isn’t helping me now
if I thought the world was invading my inner world then
I know they are now
their perceptions, their perceptive judgment casting eyes, like knives
ripping at the seams of my reality
digging into the once calm invisible cloak around me
tied from behind my eyes
irises like poison bubbling in my happiness, my solitution
if I were alone

I could just lose myself in the soft flexed ball of my body
as I talk hysterically into a seemingly empty room
talking gibberish
Alice in wonderland non-sense
vomiting the acidic parchment
ph balance of my word-feelings
dry heaving once the damage is done
waiting for the laughter and the words
and the breath to punch my gut silent
waiting in torment
in delirium
for the calming effects, the grounding effects of warm micro swiveling textures of a **** carpet
to take me over like a dopamine release
for my high child-self
to come down from the brain-drugs
like **** from condensed crack rocks
someone slipped in the container
that holds my brain
hugging it like a moat
sipping it unknowingly
that this is what would come over

me
g Nov 2013
It was raining the Saturday I hired the carpenter, but I think it was acid rain from all the poison you let escape into your body.
He was a drunkard, and he apologized through sips of alcohol. It was the color of your blood when I found you in fits and I begged him to wash them out of the carpet, but through every sip he said your name just like the walls do.
I begged the maid to clean up the razors but she never did.
The maid came in two hours late and she didn't seem to mind my frustration. Much like you never seemed to mind when you said the right things all too late.
She swept secrets under the rugs and listened to the creak in the floorboard whenever any weight was put on this old wooden floor that reminded me so much of your weak shoulders when I needed a place to hold me.
The builder was far too early, and the maid never cleaned up in time. The builder tried desperately to rebuild the walls, but they shook at the weight of another's skin on mine, and the builder whispered "I think you need him back." I dismissed him, and the force of my door slamming (much like the force when you left that night with everything but me) was enough to destroy every wall.
Gardeners came in flustered at the work ahead of them. There were scars on my heart running up the sides like vines and it was far too thick to be cut down.
I envied the fresh dug up dirt encasing the weeds that I so badly wished would hold my body too. You see I tried to burry myself in your mind but you kept pushing me out and now the dirt is the only thing that promises certainty.
EJ Aghassi Oct 2013
you smile
you flaunt

and he's driving me insane

two dimensional
two sided
one of his heads leading
his game

but that's how it goes
it's one in the same

I'm just another face
in a drab sea of names

money lines his pockets
empty words
to keep warm

and on the other side
of the room

reality rocks
to sleep

the dreamer
the realist
the sadist
lost in wanting

a familiar scenario
not so long gone

a familiar feeling
emptiness in arms

soon enough, though
you'll be here

soon enough, I feel,
dreams will breach reality
Blue Jay Jun 2014
She sat there in silence as tears streamed down her flustered cheeks.
The sound of her sniffing trying to hold them back, echoed throughout the room.
She was frozen.
She couldn't move, she could barely even breathe.
The light wasn't allowed in this room,
like love wasn't allowed in her heart.
It was all dim and dark.
Much like the tired eyes she had been wearing,
As a result of this nightly routine.
The air was thick and felt as though she was trying to breathe with her face pressed into a pillow.
Everything in her screaming for help but she sat there quietly, alone, engulfed in darkness.

**Slow self-suffocation at its finest.
Kimberly Clemens Jul 2013
Like all days, I wonder.
I wonder what you're thinking.
If you're thinking of me.
If that's a stupid thing to think.

Like all days, I wonder.
I wonder if I stop you.
Stop you from whatever you're doing.
Because the thought of me gave you butterflies.

Like all days, I wonder.
I wonder if I frustrate you.
If you're frustrated that I haven't kept in touch lately.
Maybe we're both too stubborn to start the conversation.

Like all days, I wonder.
I wonder if I make you smile.
From a memory you don't want to forget.
There are so many of those that you could recall.

Like all days, I wonder.
I wonder if I haunt you.
Just as much as you've been haunting me.
We're both ghosts haunting what we hope is still there.

Like all days, you wonder.
You wonder if I wonder about you, too.
If I'm just as flustered with these thoughts as you are.
Maybe we've been sharing these feelings all along.

Like all days, we wonder.
Iraira Cedillo Mar 2014
When Dracula went to the blood bank,
he thoroughly flustered the staff,
for rather than make a donation,
he drew out a pint and a half.
By:Iraira Cedillo
JJ Hutton Dec 2012
Spending the last day with Maegan Finn,*
who, turns out, prefers to be called Mae

11:35 p.m.

I burn the popcorn. Just the pieces against the bag's underbelly.
Like a nightclub bouncer, I decide which pieces to let inside
a white, ancient bowl. One, on which, a former roommate scrawled
"THIS MACHINE KILLS MUNCHIES" upon its side in red, permanent ink.
I never said the night would be

perfect. But when I walk into my bedroom carrying the snack fiasco,
I know Ms. Maegan Finn doesn't mind. Something between her vine-framed,
honey irises and my gaze, some mischievous energy, causes her to lower
her head. She allows a smile. She's sitting on my twin-sized bed. Her back to a pillow
to the

wall. An empty pillow beside her waits for me. With one hand she moves her hot chocolate
to the side, with the other she lifts my calico comforter for me to climb under. I never
said the night would be

perfect. But I know Ms. Maegan Finn doesn't mind. Because when I say, "I'm sorry. I didn't really plan for this," nervous laugh, "this is the worst final meal of all-time. You can leave if you want.
You don't have to go down with the ship."

She responds, "I don't mind," raises an eyebrow as she reads the bowl. Dismisses it. And grabs a handful of popcorn. On the television, a white-haired man with heavy jowls and tree bark wrinkles begins to talk.

...planet Earth will be recycled. The universe recycled.

"So, when does this guy think the world will end?" I ask.

"Midnight."

"Chris said two."

"Two p.m.? Like today? Like already past?"

"Yeah."

Maegan shakes her head,"Stupid *******."

11:40 p.m.

"So, if I hadn't botched dinner, what would you have chosen for your last meal?"

"Well, Joshy-poo, I'd have to say popcorn and hot chocolate."

"Seriously."

"It's salty. It's sweet. The temperatures compliment each other.
It shouldn't work, but it does. If the world wasn't ending,
I'd suggest you open a restaurant."

"C'mon. What would your last meal be?"

...with friends. Cling to your loved ones as the final minutes pass by.
The world becomes perfect. The calendar pages turn no...

"Do you remember Waffle Crisp?" she breaks gently.

"You've got to be kidding me."

"Hold on."

"Any meal on the planet. Anything! And you choose-"

"Waffle Crisp."

"Oh, that terrible commercial with the grannies in disguise."

"Grannies and all," staring at the reflective surface of the hot chocolate,
she begins talking in distant pieces like reading off a teleprompter,
"Waffle            Crisp            reminds

me           of           my

              dad."

"I see."

A commercial is on for ******. I never said the night would be

perfect.

...picking the right moment is easy with...

"Why do you think of your dad?"

Maegan releases a deep exhale/tension-laugh.

"I don't know. I mean, I

guess it's because every morning -- well, before my parents got divorced --
he'd come down the stairs, mess up my hair -- God, I'd get so mad --, and
he'd say,
'Mae, may the world learn from your perfection today.'
He'd kiss my forehead. I'd eat Waffle Crisp. I remember the smell -- the shapes."

11:51 p.m.

...less than ten minutes. Go outside with your families
look to the

heavens...

"How's the world supposed to end? Has he said?" Maegan asks.

With a finger raised, I finish chewing my popcorn.

"The planets are aligning right?"

"Yeah, I've heard that. I've heard the Mayans just
ended their calendars on the

date. But I don't know how either of those scenarios make the world end, though."

"Exploding sun?"

"Maybe an asteroid?"

"Could be," I say.

Ms. Maegan Finn rests her head on my shoulder. "You should ask another question."

"Um, okay."

...Security Systems. Are your children safe?

"I got one," I grab the remote and turn down the television. "What is something you haven't told

anyone? One secret that otherwise would die with you."

"I hate the name Maegan."

"Why?"

"It's a terrible name."

"Is not."

"It is too. First off, not only did my parents indulge the cruelty of switching the 'a' and 'e',

but

then they went ahead and gave me the most common girl's name on the planet.
I don't stand out until I say, 'Excuse me, you misspelled my name.' It's not funny.
Hell, even when I say that, their usual response is, 'No, I didn't misspell your name.'
Because they'd know."  Flustered, Maegan puts the white, ancient bowl of popcorn on the ground. "And get this away from me."

"What would you rather be called?"

"Mae. Just Mae. I always liked it."

"Alright, Ms. Mae."

...hoisted unto judgement. Some without absolution...

"What about you, Mr. Josh? What's your secret?"

I take a sip of hot chocolate. I look at the bare wall behind the television, and wish I had
decorated it, but I

never did. The paintings are even in my closet. They just need to be put up.

"I love you."

"What?"

"I love you, Mae."

Mae smiles wide. Puts her hand on my shoulder, "Your'e joking right?"

"Nope."

"That's a bold secret to tell," she laughs.

"Not the reaction I was expecting."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It's just -- what happens tomorrow? When I have to see you again."

"I'm betting on the exploding sun."

"Or the asteroid."

"Or the asteroid."

11:59 p.m.

...a matter of seconds until we are cast like dice into the blackness of...

Mae takes my hot chocolate. Places the porcelain cups on the carpeted floor. With a "c'mere" she peels me off the pillow, off the wall. Moves the pillow to the head of the bed. She guides my body until I'm lying down. Straddling me, she leans down. Traces my shoulder blades, then softly latches on to them. She leans further.

...9, 8, 7...*

A kiss.

A long kiss. The weight transfers from my body into her, then is carried toward the ceiling by some mischievous energy. At the end of the world, Ms. Mae Finn kisses me. Kisses me despite popcorn. Despite hot chocolate. Despite love confessed too soon. Just when I never want that minute to end, it




ends.



12:00 a.m.
          
               But a new minute begins.

"That was perfect," Mae says.
Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.

Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
And Blink said Week! , which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.

Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.

Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.

But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.

The pirate gaped at Belinda's dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets but they didn't hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.

Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pyrate.

But presently up spoke little dog Mustard,
I'd been twice as brave if I hadn't been flustered.
And up spoke Ink and up spoke Blink,
We'd have been three times as brave, we think,
And Custard said, I quite agree
That everybody is braver than me.

Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.
Prince of humorous verse Ogden Nash
Jolene D'Souza Oct 2019
There was once a hungry lonely lion
Who hadn’t any friends
It never stopped him from trying
But it was too late to make amends

He had eaten Mr. Zebra for dinner
And Sir Buffalo for the crunch
The animals thought him a sinner
When he ate Mrs. Kangaroo up for lunch

He didn’t get invited to Giraffe’s party
It quickly created a void
He heard it was chill and hearty
And they played a lot of Pink Floyd

The lonely lion sighed
His carnivorous desires left him bleak
As much as he really tried
New friends were impossible to seek

One fine day he was struck
By a lightning of epiphany
This idea could very well bring him luck
And end his spell of infamy

While on the toilet seat
He browsed through a magazine page
A new diet with no meat
Seemed to suddenly be all the rage

He grabbed a bowl of grass
And ignored his craving for gazelle
He’d decided to be a lion with class
As he excitedly snacked on lightly salted pretzels

For breakfast he had a juice
And Mrs. Parrot noticed it was kale
Soon the lonely lion declared a truce
And Mrs. Parrot squawked of his vegan tale

For lunch the lion ate cauliflower
And the animals gasped in shock
“Come animals, witness my vegan power!”
Roared the lion as he chewed on a grassy stalk

Soon the animals welcomed the lion
Except Mrs. Owl who was wise
There’s something about him I'm not buyin’
I just can’t seem to believe all his lies

When there was finally peace in the forest
The lion threw a grand feast
He called the best chefs and the florists
To give his new friends a treat

The spread was mighty splendid
All the dishes were vegan and gluten-free
And when the dinner had ended
The animals sipped on piping hot tea

“You’re generous and astounding!
Our herbivore brother and kind beast
This transformation has been confounding
But thank you for the wonderful feast!”  

The lion was now glowing with pride
In the animal kingdom he was admired
But something rumbled from deep inside
Something in just the way he was wired

His hunger which he ignored
Came bursting through the seams
The satisfied lion now got bored
With his desperate vegan diet dreams

He pounced on Mr. Rabbit
And gobbled him up pretty fast
Blame it on the bad habit
But his vegan diet did not last

He ate Mr. Deer and Mr. Moose
Yet his tummy growled for some more
He ate Mr. Hare and Mrs. Goose
Until nobody was left on the forest floor

The owl watched completely flustered
as her friends were brutally killed
Mr fox and his wife covered in mustard
gobbled by the lion who was weak willed

I apologize for my condition
My weakness is delicious meat
I need to tend to my nutrition
And thus I must simply eat

I truly am sorry said the lion Stud
As the night grew silently grim
But the chances of us being real buds
Are unfortunately pretty slim
ConnectHook Sep 2015
Loons in the vineyard –  sound the alarm !
Satan is milking his metaphors.
Such silly music music portends no harm;
call home the cows and open your doors.

Brian Hugh Warner, a paleface freak
after finding his mom’s mascara
darker enlightenment did seek
and crowned himself with Baal’s tiara.

Scary drag-queen, scandalous, vain
Marilyn – the creepy thespian
rolled that fish-eye and snorted *******
like Crowley…  how pedestrian.

Flashing his glowing cataract,
he gave the mommies quite a fright.
Censorship launched; no badder act
did sail (or assail) our sinking night.

Gothic dim-wits purchased CD’s
bought the goods, pierced parts, wore black.
(Cause for certain parents’ unease:
MTV’s Antichrist on the attack).

Son of Man – or rather, Manson
Milked to the max his demonic cow;
playing Satan’s naughty grandson
showing the flustered milk-maids how.

Urban legend surrounds this fowl
(those ribs removed – like Adam’s sin!)
Is he a misunderstood night owl –
or a has-been loon in a loony bin?

Rock-stars age (well, most) like a cheap wine.
or else in the way once-ripened grapes
withering, sun-struck, off the vine
transform, with age, into wizened shapes.

No – I am wrong. They age like prunes;
plums thus pass into their glory.
Even Luciferian loons
find lakes of fire at end of story.
https://connecthook.wordpress.com/mine/various/

come on over my house

Rather than
allowing Oneself
to get upset and flustered-
lashing out in negativity;
seek to transmute that Energy
into beneficial positivity:
set out to make it right.

Such self-discipline is truly auspicious.

— The End —