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Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Universal Thrum Jul 2018
I'm leaving Carly's place after an all day ****** that had me convinced that paradise lay in the legs of Nate's sister wearing a unicorn onesie, and as they put on Sgt. Peppers and lay there the ****** freudian passion play overcame my capacity for archetype observation and I proceeded to walk around the room thanking everybody in that space and time for the gift of starting the **** with Nate's sister, the beat changed and they turned on me and said I needed to give her space, they all became timeless aliens traveling through time to **** and I was one of them coming online in a loop, and as long as I stayed awake I would remember and not be *****. I sat cross legged holding my friend sams hands, looking into his eyes, saying aloud we're creating the universe constructing all as the three smartest people of all time, forever throughout we died but never died, as long as we could stay awake, they all wore red and I couldn't trust any of them, I fired off mad questions and demanded to know the secrets of the universe and why woman wasn't the answer, I called up to nate to bring her down to me, and generally became a raving lunatic
      after some time of sam being soulmate and accepting him forever as my lover self same image, and also calling him ugly as im ugly, then channeling Brittany through him and countless other regressive exercises, we started inhaling nitrous gas, and the world became one stretched out moment
       and I kept calling out before, all the way up, as it were the secret spell with a handshake to fool the devil
         I thought Nate a mad spirit habituating this plane as a long gone failed hero plagued by the madness of wanting to **** his sister and forced to watch all his friends be aware of their own lust, so that pushed him into clowning, which he is an expert, that primal lust took me up and id taken a holy mandate to **** this beautiful creature and ascend to paradise,
when they slipped her upstairs they left her rainbow onesie, i felt heaven become another step remote and my faith tested, I resolved to be the last awake and never die, I walked up to the attic, and saw the light beaming from the window


            Sam dropped me off at the press grill so I could eat some grub,
then I met up with Tyler for a drink somewhere while he told me his story of meeting a guy in a skyline chilis bathroom drunk at 3 am, he said the guy was standing at the ****** but wasn't *******. Ty asked him if he was done and the guy put Ty in a chokehold with his pants down, according to Ty the cops came in and he was putting clean shots into the guys mug, he is contemplating leaving town before they can indict him for felonious assault, I told him Canadas nice but Venezuela doesn't have an extradition treaty, come to think of it neither does Cuba, but Ty is too proud for that probably
   anyways we meet Carly being a dancing beauty in a high falootin joint with string lights called Julep, the only reason to mention it is because as we were leaving a guy was bent over the rail vomiting and looking wretched he noticed us watching him as we smoked our cigarettes off to the side and immediately decided that he wasn't some kind of side show freak to be gawked at, he became threatening in the most base and pathetic way a human can, and his bride came to tell us to ******* with her father, father of the bride shaking my hand, we eventually left that scene and walked to Oddfellows where I saw Sam Cohan and he bought me a beer, good chap, we talked until I stepped toward Carly, Tyler and a fine looking strange *****
I touched Carly and received an awkward unmemorable introduction to the strange *****. She walked away but lurked and locked eyes with me as the evening rolled on
later Carly told me that the girl demanded to meet the guy who looks like Heath Ledger, a sure fire ****, so Carly is grinding on my **** and my backs to the bar and Tyler already got me a beer, and there I was, a pirate king
I took Carly out after the lights came on, and was going to give Tyler the run of my place, he disappeared into the night and I showed Carly my favorite smelling tree, a pink mimosa still in bloom late July, we almost ****** on my car, until I went back to her place and we ****** until $430, rising at noon, I left telling her we had an hour to get ready to journey to Findlay for Jim's wedding
I showered and brushed my teeth and collected my suit and put it on without a tie
I picked up Carly and set out upon the road, but made a quick stop for a bite
two deaf guys ordered in front of me and the kid working the register said my glasses were cool, along the way I was telling Carly the story of how I wore make up for the first time to a middle school dance, and she said she had to *****, I didn't believe her at first until she tried to stick her head out the window half way rolled down, I managed to get it down all the way and wet streaks of human gut waste caught the wind and splattered my window
we pulled over and I went to get her some napkins to clean herself off as I squeeged the car, she tried to wipe the window with the napkins, sweet girl. The wedding started at 3:30 and we didn't have more than five minutes to spare, she found her vape pen 20 minute out as Heather started to send me worried messages, as I was set to read a passage, little did I know that I was leading off the whole affair, I arrived and was quickly rushed to meet the mothers and have a boutonnière pinned to my lapel , the women all looked stunning and I congratulated each in turn as they shoved a program in my hand, Tiffany took me through the drill, we walked up to the stage and took our places on the bench, looking out at the beautiful shining faces,


I was the only one not wearing a tie, but thats not important, I saw Jim and embraced him with all the love I could muster, he looked at me and said that he knew I would make it, that he knew that he just had to trust the flow, and I would appear in the nick of time, the pastor threw his hands in the air and welcomed the families, the mothers lit candles, and then Tiffany looked at me and said that it was my turn, I stepped up to the Beema and gazed out over the crowd, trying to summon something clever, nothing good came to mind and so I opened my mouth and said, "a reading from Genesis" and then put every fiber of my being into reminding the room that it is Gods will that we be fruitful and multiply. I'm told I slammed my hands down for emphasis and let out a hearty amen, a man's man's amen, and turned and took one giant step off the podium with two baby stairs, I gracefully flowed into the bench having averted a complete embarrassment, and then tactfully left the stage with Tiffany after her read.   Jim looked at me after mine with a nod, and I said the word strong, that read cemented my status as a star of the party, and the mojo flowed, I was called the cash guy by the hotel, for checking in as Atlantis Grosshammer, $200 depost, we drank and danced and an old lady came to me to say that I have a beautiful soul
I thanked Jim's father for helping to create my friend, and danced around bottles
the cake was good
I told Carly I always catch the brides garter, at every wedding I've ever been. I saw Jim's men assemble for his toss, I let the men come and put myself in the mix, Jim turned his back and had a misfire,
the temptation to collect it passed all of us by thankfully, and he was set to fire again, it came to me and I snatched it out of the air, cold as ice I walked off the floor only with eyes for Carly not even saying a word to Jim, I put that thing on my head and went back to Jim threw him on my shoulders and swung him around like we were in a broadway musical
two kids playing in the street,
he said its the best moment, and so it goes
ryn Aug 2014
Street lamps play
As they have before
Dim walkway
Leading to a door

Careful steps
Strewn leaves
Breathe between gaps
Skulking like thieves

Rustling trees
Otherwise nothing
Mind at ease
Heart rapidly beating

Usually stops here
Usually I'd stir
But still in slumber
I drew closer

Eyes on door
Familiar scene
Stood here before
This dream I've been

Up the patio
Door was ajar
Accompanied by my shadow
Stretched far

Tunnel vision
Dripping eave
Door handle beckons
Hand raised to receive

Usually stops here
Usually I'd rouse
Allowed to enter
This time... This house

Handle I seize
Door seemed light
It did not freeze
Hinges did not fight

Revealed the insides
Scanned surroundings
Unlit lights
Stairs climbing

Footsteps I heard
Coming my way
Sounds absurd
But yet I stay

Usually stops here
Usually dream is done
But still was clear
It only had begun

Darkened figure
Descending on bare feet
Beauty light as feather
Ever did I meet

She did not see me
Planted at the doorway
Impossible it may be
Nothing did she say

Walked right by
My eyes followed
Seconds fly
In eternity they burrowed

Usually stops here
Usually I'd wake
Yet still I'm here
Chance I'd take

Stood at the fridge
Back towards me
Under siege
My mind set a flurry

Fridge was opened
Light casted her silhouette
Her back darkened
Curiosity grew fat

Illuminating beams
Accentuated her hair
Like golden streams
Flowing with flair

Usually stops here
Usually I'd startle
Connection did not sever
Continue I was able

Spellbound I gawked
Rooted like a tree
Wide-eyed I stalked
This siren before me

She drank
Not knowing I was there
Stiff as a plank
I was locked in a stare

Finally broke free
Shifted my weight
She turned to me
And then said...

Then it ceased
Then I awaken
Surprisingly pleased
Slice of heaven

Who was she?
Silhouetted face
Perpetually...
Mysterious grace

Foreign albeit familiar
Strange but true
Now rings clear...


It is you...
Based on a dream I had.
Francie Lynch Oct 2016
In a museum, or forgotten barn,
A small red twelve inch two wheeler
Hangs on invisible wires,
Or is covered in pigeon droppings and dust.
But Tannehill rode it once,
Like something in a dream.
He was too long-framed for it.
He controlled it, rounded the corner,
Pedalling hard down the sidewalk,
Across the street from our new house.
I gawked from the front yard:
He was a boy with his bike,
Like The ****** on T.V.
It was the first I learned to ride,
And the falls were magnificient,
On grass or asphalt.
Girls' bikes were easy,
One size fits all.
Then I learned to pedal
Beneath the cross bar of the big boys'.
Push the pedals,
Shift the midrift, and be gone.
Always from somewhere
To somewhere else,
Far from the soft front lawn.
"Leave It to ******:" "And Jerry Mathers, as the ******."
Onoma Jan 2012
Zeus, your predilection for banishing Titans to Hades...
anathema of them--revolt was theirs of you...Titanomachy.
Enter Prometheus, second generational Titan, brother
to Atlas--Prometheus of whom Titan revolt at first ran
no fire through his veins.
Thus, Zeus was well pleased and employed Prometheus
to put earth to water, water to earth...as to yield man.
As so man was, and was unto Prometheus...a fondness
entered him of them.
And in of passion Prometheus' veins were run through
with fire...fire fought fire--thus Prometheus reached out
taking hold Zeus' lightning.
Hid in a hollowed fennel stalk, to be bequeathed unto man.
Torrents of fire now ran Prometheus' veins, and in a fit of
infamous mockery presented Zeus with two packets of
slaughtered animal parts.
A hubris was born in Prometheus that being so halved
God-man gave itself fully to that polarity...he gawked at
Zeus and bade him choose between the two packets.
One of ox meat and innards coated in stomach lining, the
other of ox-bones coated in its own abundant fat.
Thus Zeus chose, the wretched lesser of the two...
inconsumable ox-bones coated by fat.
A charged and terrible air cut and heavied all direction,
pointing assuredly that Zeus was one given over to the
surface of things, a psychological casualty of his own
vanity.
Zeus overcome with Prometheus' disaffection for the God
of him struck at Prometheus' family.
At length, this assault could not, would not put asunder
Prometheus from the ground he stood.
A certain Haphaestus was summoned by Zeus...whose
directive was writ in torment.
Chain Prometheus to Mount Caucasus...where from on
high a sackcloth cloud shall shake loose an eagle, whose
homing hunger shall have only a taste for Prometheus' liver.
Day in, and day out, that accursed ***** shall be the
bounty of itself!
Michael Ryan Nov 2013
My poem is called how to be forced into a talent show.
It's very easy to be forced into a talent show when you're me.
No, I am not saying, "Ooooo" look at me I am Michael Ryan and I am the most talented person in the world.
I'm more saying, "oooo" look at me, I'm such a nice person that I will do your talent show, even though I don't want to.
Yes, that is what I am really trying to say, but not in a conceited kind of way, because that's not me.
I was forced into this talent show from the very beginning.
The very beginning, the very first sign up day.
and I thought "hmm I don't have any talent", and she was like oh yes you do, well of course I believe her.
And from that moment I've felt slightly uneasy, because to be honest she can't be there every day to tell me "hey you have talent."
And to be honest all I'm doing is a SPOKEN WORD poem, which is pretty much just me talking.
What a talent that must be...but not really.
Then my friend tried to jump on board with me to do a duet of a poem, so I was forced even more in to this situation.
But luckily that person changed their mind and so I was just stuck with my original oh you have talents person stringing me along into this over thought situation.
Just to let you know I did eventually try to tell them hey I think I'm not gonna do(but then they cut me off), and told me once again you got talents, and please please please do my talent show.
So of course I can't say no, that's not what a nice guy would do, which I am.
And this is what came to me, how about I just write about how one is forced to be doing this in front of a group of people, even though you already said no soooo many times.
And to be honest this is terrifying, because I just came up with this, 30mins ago.
Even though I sat for many hours thinking what to write, it just never felt well right.
And ugh seriously this is so stressful, that I really do wonder why I am even up here.
I could be sleeping right now, but instead I've been convinced to do this.
And there's no guarantee anyone or myself will even like this.
But sleep, ****, I know I would like to fall into that right now.
Just dreaming, peacefully, to be sleeping and not on a stage, being gawked at by some strangers.
There was a talent show 13/11/13 and this is my poem.  I did a duet with another person with this poem, where she would say somethings in between some of these lines, people really enjoyed the show.  They said it was hilarious.  This was edited a lot for the duet since it was not planned to be that way at all.
Daniel Samuelson Jun 2014
The legends won't tell
of Arthur when he fell in love
when he swooned for the arm that held Excalibur
extended out to him
how he did a double take
and stuttered and gawked
at the simple beauty of her flawless freckled skin.

And in this moment
I behold the Lady of the Lake
her divine completeness:
holy and whole.
Elegant sloping shoulders
a regal neckline pleading to be united
with loving lips
in an everlasting caress.
Water droplets dripping from her form--
reluctant,
wishing they could reverse the laws of nature
fall up from the surface
to bead and cling to skin again--
desiring to be as close as we
as she entrances me with emerald eyes
rivers of red hair
enchanting lips that know no equal.

She's won me over
and she drags me under
below the water
beneath the lapping waves.
The ripples on the surface
echo my farewell to the world.
Not entirely sure what birthed this. I mean sure, I have a redhead thing. But the Arthurian element is something I don't often contemplate. The musings of a tired mind, I guess.
John MacAyeal Sep 2015
I went to a European restaurant recently
and it may have been in Europe too
It wasn't a bad meal
And the waiter presented me with a bill crowded with euros
Or maybe pounds
I looked at it
Then said to him
"How about paying me the bill you owe me?"
He gawked at me.
"How about paying me the bill for serving as your pressure valve. Do you know how many insurrections, how many assassinations we prevented by taking in your frustrated and disaffected?"
He continued to gawk at me.
So I continued.
"No, really. Do you know how much you owe us for saving you from the Kaiser, from ******, from Mussolini, from who knows how many more crazies?"
He gawked, not knowing whether to call the gendarmes or reach into his billfold.
I continued.
"How about the bill you owe us for showing some restraint? You know we could have hanged every **** and Fascist officer over colonel at least? But we didn't. Instead we turned them into Siemens executives and Fiat general managers."
He still gawked, poised to jump for a phone or maybe just shout real loud.
So I continued.
"How about the bill for making your mediocre artists into rich men and women? You know it's us who turned Abba into stars. It's us who built the Scorpions' mansions."
He finally said something.
"Scorpions don't live in mansions. They live in nests."
I got up and left, then paused outside,
rested the left sole of my Ferragamo shoes on a Ferro Concrete wall
And waited to get arrested by cops without guns
BertJane Perez Apr 2015
My life was black and white
A colorless canvas that stood barren
Color was never essential
It was never a necessity of mine.

Yet somehow in my own dull perception
A dot had formed right in the center
A bright dot to say the least...

A peculiar thing I had never seen before
It grew slowly, little by little
A storm of color emerged with each inch
Brown, Yellow, Blue, Purple...
So many different colors

My canvas was no longer colorless
In fact it was the complete opposite.
It was not plain and it was not normal
It was now a work of art.

People gawked at its odd style
Praised it for its unusual strokes
A bizarre spectacle to most
And a quite unexpected transformation for me...

"Who painted this strange piece?"
Before I knew it people were staring at me.
Puzzling eyes that clapped in my direction

"Congratulations on your success"
Words that made me realize I was the painter
I was the one holding the brush
The "******" who painted my own path
The one who put color into my life

"Sign the painting" They all cheered
But now that I know I'm the painter
My work of art is not finished yet
I have unfinished business in my life

I cannot quit now.
Knowing that I still haven't found the right colors
The right mix of red, green or blue to solve my problems
I cannot call this a masterpiece...

My life is still a canvas
But it's not colorless anymore...
Alice Butler Jan 2013
I. The lifespan of a pumpkin is incredibly short. Considering the rapid pace in which a pumpkin goes from flower to fruition, it is quite literally a blink of an eye. And there is no nobility in a pumpkin death. No, it is a long and grueling process. From the beginning, the pumpkin patch is like Wall Street, 1763. Being poked and prodded, weighed, gawked at and compared to my brothers and sisters. I was chosen earlier than the rest for my robust size, even ridges, and vivid colour. I remember being severed from the vine- I know that humans don’t remember being cut from the umbilical cord, but it’s the only human experience I can compare it to. I imagine that if I had lungs I would scream or eyes I would cry, but I suppose the lack of these organs is what makes it so easy for humans to humiliate us as they do. We have no voice of our own- and who would stand up for us? Possibly vegans, but I digress.
Once inside the human home, I’m set on a “tiled countertop,” as they call it. I’m not sure what that is exactly, but it’s polished and hard and artificial. The coldness of it makes my skin stiffen. And then, as if overcome by brain fever, the smaller humans rush about their living space grabbing up “newspapers” and “paper towels” (no doubt made from abused trees) and just as I had feared, knives. More polished coldness. I know what is to come- I’ve heard the cautionary tales. When my siblings and I hung on the vine as buds, we’d swap horror stories. Of course, we didn’t think that they were real then. Though we had seen older pumpkins snatched up, we were too young to understand. And now that I know it’s all true, my fear isn’t for myself but for my kin. I know that it isn’t normal for humans to hope for their loved ones to rot, but it is for pumpkins. I hope that they will grow old, old, old until the day comes that they quietly fall off the vine and become food for the animals and the soil and their seeds impregnate the earth. And though I may be faced with this violent fate, I am not going to be afraid. I shall not sweat, nor make my skin tough to their blades. No, I will be soft as butter and dry as the sky. As the humans pick up their tools of operation and discuss what kinds of sweet treats they’ll be making with my “guts,” I yield to the steel and dare them to do their worst…

II. They’re finished now, and I’ve been gutted to within an inch of my life. My insides are piled in a white bowl beside me, my seeds rest on a tin sheet, dried of juice and covered in salt. Their skin is transparent and flaky like fish scales and the flesh underneath is toasted brown. They baked my babies! They baked my babies and now they’re popping them into their pudgy, glistening mouths like the giant who used bones to bake his bread. It occurs to me that I can see more of the room than I originally could. It makes sense… now that half my skin is gone that I should have a clearer view of the world. The oldest human walks over to the small ones.
“What did you make guys?” she asks.
“A face!” they exclaim. Was my original face not good enough?
At this point I catch a glimpse of the “face” that is being discussed. Behind the humans is a painted forest locked in by a sheet of glass. On the spotless surface I see my reflection- my smooth, rounded skin has become a hideously comical mask. Two triangles and a semicircle make up this face, the mouth being a jaunty one-toothed smile, a sweet ironical touch. A hanging man with a grin. A tiny white candle has been lowered into my hollowed out stomach and lit. The flame burns my core and scorches my skin in some places to a charcoal black.
My consciousness is sliding around now… from the kitchen to the pumpkin patch and back again… The fire in my belly has dulled to a pleasant burn… maybe because I’m so cold and now I’ve gotten colder… they’ve taken me outside… placed me on an artificial hay bale… more children appear with plastic replicas of me dangling from their polyester-draped arms… they grin and their smiles match the “pumpkins’” smiles on their arms, match mine… this is all too hilarious…
“Trick or treat!”
Very short. It was supposed to be a monologue for my theatre class, but I was too nervous to perform it in front of others.
In the farthest reaches of known space, a single starship lay juxtaposed against the stars. The ship was named Destiny. The cold metallic shell hummed with energy as it sat motionless. There were large chunks of wreckage and shrapnel surrounding the Destiny, the last bits of oxygen burning away.
The Destiny was a silver and blue X-Class, a state-of-the-art high speed ship, currently the fastest in the Nine Galaxies. It's pilot was a female Extro-sapien named Jade. Her species was descendant from ****-sapiens, a long forgotten species from the Third galaxy. Extro-sapiens were humanoid, though taller than their descendants. They prided themselves on their indestructible immune system and immunity to all known poisons.That, coupled with the fact that their skin was strong enough to repel most blades with ease, made them extremely hard to ****. Extro-sapiens were nimble hunters, naturally armed with razor sharp fangs and claws. Jade was a bounty hunter, taking contracts to hunt down criminals or to escort VIPs in hostile areas for generous sums of currency. Her target's ship now lay in ruins, it's now-dead pilot floating in the void of space.
Jade walked from the cargo bay of her ship to the cockpit, stripping away her suit and clothes, tossing them in their respective rooms before sitting at her throne, not a stitch of clothing to be seen. It was relieving to be free once more.
She glanced over the various screens before her, some with pictures of her target either on a wanted poster or in the sealed container aboard her ship. She swiped the images to her left, compiling them into a message for her client before sending them. Almost immediately there was a soft chime as her client started a video uplink. Jade quickly grabbed the large headset from the floor and placed it over her pointed ears. She swiped her finger over the right earpiece and it clicked to life.
Jade growled and crossed a hand over her chest just before the screen shifted. An image of her client appeared before her, a reptilian humamoid adorned with gold rings on his short horns. Jade heard him hiss in surprise.
"Bounty hunter, if I had known you'd be so stunning, I'd have met you in person."
Jade's dual vocal cords echoed faintly in the cockpit. The sound of two angelic voices rolled off her forked tongue. "Flattery will get you nowhere. Besides, a night with me would cost you a fortune."
The man laughed, "Worth it, in my opinion."
Jade growled, "You have your proof of death, Silva, I expect you've wired the credits to my account?"
"Of course, of course! Though I could add a little extra if you simply move your hand."
Jade narrowed her eyes. "A show like that would cost you at least a million. Because I'm worth it."
She heard him chuckle, "Indeed you are." There was a pause and then he smiled, "Feel free to move your hand now."
Jade flashed her fangs, "Of course, you don't mind if I check first, right?"
Silva shrugged and Jade used her free hand to pull up her bank account. Sure enough, her initial payment had been received, along with the extra. She grinned and lifted her hand away from her chest. "Feast your eyes, perv."
She grinned as the reptilian choked. "Now that is worth a million!" He grinned from horn to horn, "I'll let you know when the next contract opens."
Jade returned her hand to her chest and growled, "This stays between us. Remember, I know where you live."
Silva's expression didn't change but she could tell that he flinched. "Of course. Until next time, gorgeous."
The video screen faded away and Jade quickly began to transfer her payment to other accounts. She sighed and turned to her right, seeing a map of the nearby systems. She spotted a contract pinned on a planet a few hundred lightyears away, and she gawked at the price tag.
"Ten billion units?" She whispered, "I could retire early with a payday like that."
She furiously began to type in calculators and coordinates. Her computer's voice echoed I'm the cockpit, "ERROR, PLEASE RECALCULATE TRAGECTORY."
Jade bared her teeth in anger as the holographic screen projected a diagnostic of her ship. One single line of text blinked slowly, enveloping her attention.
"FUEL LEVEL LOW, MAXIMUM SAFE TRAVEL: 40 LIGHTYEARS."
She swore under her breath, growling deep in her throat. She adjusted the microphone on her headset and cleared her throat. Her dual vocal cords echoed faintly in the cockpit. "Destiny, lock in coordinates to the nearest space station. Lock down cargo and prepare to engage hyperdrive."
The hologram buzzed to life as the various systems reacted to the sound of her voice. As Jade waited she shut her eyes, gently running her fingers over her bare chest. Jade's was proud of her body, hating to cover such beauty with clothes. Her arms, legs, and back were covered in ornate tribal tattoos. Jade had spent three continuous days enduring the hand poked tattoo, and she felt very proud in displaying the art whenever she could. She let her hands wander about her curves for a moment before stopping. Jade blinked a few times and shook her head. The bells at he tips of her long silver braids jingled. Jade whispered to herself, "There's time for that during lightspeed." Since she worked alone, she took every opportunity she could to relieve her tensions, as it allowed her to focus on her work without distraction. Companionship meant liability in her line of work.
She waited patiently for the computer, leaning back in her fur lined throne. Once all systems had finished their tasks, a soft voice echoed, "Hyperdrive on standby."
Jade took a soft breath. "Engage."
The starship lurched forward, the engines roaring ferociously behind her for a moment before the sound dampening system kicked in. She heard a familiar beeping and glanced up at the hologram, seeing the countdown from ten seconds. She felt the comforting shiver of excitement she always felt before launch, smiling softly to herself.
She braced herself in the chair and said, "Open view port, engage shield."
The large metal screen in front of her pulled away, revealing the grand masses of stars and planets before her. Jade took a deep breath and counted down, "Five. Four. Three. Two. One."
The ship screamed forward, and the starlight formed a beautiful tunnel around the Destiny as it traveled through hyperspace. Jade slumped back into her chair and closed her eyes. "Destiny, Disengage interior gravity field."
Jade felt herself lifting off of her chair, becoming weightless. Her braids jingled softly as they spread around her like a lionfish.
Jade pulled off her headset, letting it float in front of her as she stretched, running her hands along her body again and she shivered again. She twisted in midair, turning to the sealed door behind her. She touched the panel next to the door, feeling the familiar cold screen. The door opened and Jade floated into the corridor. She turned left towards her quarters and entered through another door. The walls were decorated with digital posters of various terrains she had visited during her travels. She drifted toward her bed, covered with a fur blanket and pillow. Jade wandered to the storage locker next to the bed, opening it delicately. Inside were a few personal mementos and data logs, and a small decorative box on the top shelf. She shivered as she thought about its contents. "Later. I think I need to sleep for now." She gripped the stability handle above her bed and lay down on the warm gel bed, covering herself with the fur. Jade breathed a sigh of relief as she relaxed, closing her eyes. It was at that moment that she felt how tired she really was, her muscles ached and groaned as she pressed a button on the side of the bed, changing the density of the gel to allow her to sink. The warm gel creeped over her legs and belly, then her chest and shoulders.
Jade groaned as the gel encapsulated her, covering every possible inch of her. Her mind wandered as her hand hovered over the other controls. "Massage or no?"
She bit her lip and pressed the button once, feeling the gel start to pulsate around her body.
Jade shivered and said to no one, "Who needs a man when you have tech like this?"
She spent the next few hours in the massage bed, finding her way into the decorative box partway through. Once Jade had thoroughly massaged her desires away, she climbed out of the gel, thankful for the weightlessness. She was no longer confident in the use of her legs. She pressed the first button twice and the gel began its cleaning process.
Jade retrieved her toys and placed them back in the box, pressing a button similar to the one on the bed, closing it and placing it back into the storage locker to clean.
Jade stretched again, invigorated. She floated back to the cockpit, checking the projected time of arrival. "Ten more hours. Plenty of time to get my gear ready."
Jade floated back into the corridor, this time twisting to the right towards her workbenches. The room was dark, save for a few blue work lights. As Jade hovered in the doorway, the overhead lights snapped on, casting a soft white glow around the room. She floated towards the first bench, where her gun hovered in a stasis field. It was almost four feet long, with three rotating barrels. Most bounty hunters favored energy weapons and plasma rifles, but not Jade. She preferred metal bullets that could shred flesh and punch through doors with ease. Her weapons would not fail her in case of electro-magnetic pulses either.
Jade floated to the next table, where her boots and mask hovered in another stasis field. Her boots were strong, heat and frost proof, and had a strong magnetic field to allow her to walk in zero gravity or even upside down. She had recently installed a pair of thrusters to them, which would allow her to fly for a short period of time, enough to get her out of harm's way or to a better vantage point.
Jade's mask was armor plated, angled to deflect any incoming rounds with ease. Two tubes connected the mask to an air reservoir that sat at the base of Jade's neck, underneath her braids. The eyepieces doubled as eye protection and target analysis. One of the lenses was cracked beyond repair and Jade swore. She hovered over the table and delicately disassembled the mask, letting the broken lens float freely away while she installed its replacement. She reassembled the mask and slid it onto her face. There was nothing at first, then the internal computers activated and she saw clearly through the mask. She glanced over the diagnostic data and nodded once she was satisfied. She took off the mask and set it back in its stasis field.
She turned to the final bench. Where her bodysuit lay in a crumpled heap of woven uranium and steel fiber. The bodysuit fit her like a second skin, adhering to every curve she possessed. The uranium fibers acted as an energy source, powering all of her necessities. The black suit shimmered as she touched it, reacting to her skin, begging to be worn. She smiled softly and patted the heavy fabric. "Soon, darling."
Jade glided to the door, leaving her gear behind as she returned to her living quarters. She hovered in front of the full length mirror, looking over her body. She smirked and purred, "Gorgeous as always."
Jade went to the storage locker and retrieved a large metal crate from the base. She took it to the mirror and opened the crate, revealing thirty blue feathers, each roughly a foot long. She had collected one for each of her braids, and she began to tightly weave the feathers into the tips of the braids. In the middle of each of her braids was a strong electro-magnetic core that, once activated, spread her braids like a lionfish. They would act as a distraction, allowing her the element of surprise. The magnetic field they created also acted as a strong shield.
Once the last feather had been woven into her hair, she then wrapped each braid in strips of the same uranium-steel fibers as her suit.
As the last of the fibers had been tucked into place, Jade grinned. The powerful fibers would amplify the effects of the electro-magnetic cores. Jade smiled at their resemblance to whips. She wanted to test them, see if they would crack like an actual whip.
Jade returned to her workshop, donning the bodysuit and her control gloves. She floated into the main corridor, which was wide enough that she wouldnt hit the walls once her braids were fully extended.
She took a deep breath and touched the her thumb and forefinger together twice, activating the electro-magnetic cores.
The sound was deafening, forcing Jade to scream involuntarily and clutch her ears in pain. She was shaking, her vision blurring. Her ears were ringing as she was finally able to hear again.
Jade reached up and felt her fully extended braids, marveling at their rigidity.
Once her hearing had completely recovered, she tapped her fingers together, deactivating the cores. Her braids floated limply in the air and Jade curiously went to the cockpit, sitting in her throne.
"Destiny, analyze decibel range of sound from main corridor."
After a moment, the ship's voice echoed, "Decibel range of one hundred ninety."
Jade shuddered, she was surprised she hadn't been deafened by the sound. She shook her head softly and looked at the projected time of arrival. "Seven hours."
She yawned, "Time to sleep then. Destiny, wake me up thirty minutes before we reach the station."
"Affirmative."
Jade lifted herself over the chair and ventured into her room. The gel bed had finished cleansing and she pushed herself onto it, feeling the familiar warmth. She focused on slowing her breathing and she closed her eyes, passing quickly into deep sleep.

In her dream, Jade stood on a slightly raised metal platform in the middle of a desert. The platform was massive, with sand covering the edges. Jade looked around, seeing nothing around her. She looked up into the sky and saw a single massive sun orbited by twelve planets and a ring of stars. Jade looked around her again and saw a massive wall of water closing in on her from all sides. She shut her eyes tight as she heard the water rushing around her.
Jade felt herself being carried away by the current. When she opened her eyes, she was back in her bed.
Jade blinked and sat up, unsure of herself.
She thought she could still hear the water rushing past her ears.
Jade shook her head and the bells brought her back to her senses. She could hear Destiny's alarm ringing within the bed and she pushed the third button, silencing the alarm. "Destiny, restore gravity.
Jade felt heavy for a moment, then the gravity stabilized and she rolled her shoulders. The countdown was now at thirty minutes.
Jade retrieved the headset from the floor and slid them over her ears. The screen in front of her had brought up a diagnostic of the space station. A light flashed on the instrument panel and Jade pushed it gingerly. An alien voice came over her headset, "X-Class starship, please respond."
Jade positioned the microphone in front of her mouth, "This is X-Class, go ahead."
There was a pause, then, "This is the Space Station Ender, please state your business and expected stay."
Jade hesitated, then said calmly, "Refuel and resupply. Expected stay no longer than forty-eight hours."
A minute passed, then another. Finally a response came, "X-Class you are cleared to engage docking procedures upon arrival."
Jade smirked, "Affirmative. ETA twenty-five minutes."
There was an audible click as the call ended. Jade sighed and pondered the contents of her cargo hold. She stood and turned to the back of her ship, going to the very end of the corridor to a locked panel.
Jade typed in an eight digit combination and the door swiftly slid open. The walls were lined with large storage compartments, though Jade wasn't worried about those. She counted her paces and stopped four paces from the door and she sidestepped right twice, touching her gloved fingers to the floor. The sound of gears and hydraulic pistons echoed throughout the room as a six foot by ten foot container lifted from the floor. Jade ran her fingers along the side of the container, opening the multitude of doors. As each door swung open, stacks of weapons and explosive devices became visible. This was the cargo that her target had been carrying. Since it no longer had an owner, it was worth a lot of money. Jade couldn't resist the possible fortune, bu
Joshua Trevino May 2016
When I was five years old and first stepped into a classroom I had lint and skittles and hope stuffed into my pockets. My firsts clutched at them so hard that when they made us shake hands with one another I extended a rainbow palm to my partners. They gawked at it for a second and then took my hand and we were stuck together with a bond that only innocence and sugar can provide.

When we were kids we built our trust out of sticks and stones--a bond that would come to be stronger than sugar and innocence and hope--you would lead us through waters we were not sure we could wade yet.

In 7th grade the spaces between hallways and classrooms are where I learned that silence breeds intolerance and apathy. Our trust was no longer built on sticks and stones, but on those moments when we chose not to be silent--when we were thankful that someone said anything to us at all because life only ever matters when you know you exist.

And so I will write you letters so that you know that I see you.

Dear Girl In Class That Listens to Boys Making **** Jokes,

I see you. I see those boys too. And they will see me when I reach down their throats where the hate they spew lives tell them that I will not meet their intolerance with tolerance.

I’ll probably get a phone call from mom.

Dear Boy In Class Who Changes All Of the Pronouns In His Poems Because He’s Scared Of  The Students Around Him,

I see you, I see those edits you make too. You’re beautiful and so are your words. Stop making bad edits.

Dear Boy In Class Who Thinks Gay Is A Synonym For Stupid

I know that all hate is learned and that you learned that this was okay because no one ever told you it wasn’t. I’m telling you now. Stop.

Dear Students In Class Who Are Afraid To Speak Up

I’m writing this poem for you. I want you to take this poem with you when you leave. Turn it over in your mind like the cool side of a pillow when you lay down to sleep. Let it support your head and your dreams.

Repeat it like a prayer so that these words will stick in your mind, even when I’m not there: Just because school is a weapon free zone does not mean that you leave your mind, your heart, your thoughts, your questions, your voice at home.

Take this poem and place it beneath your feet. Stand on it, use it to meet your adversaries at eye level every time they try to look down on you.

Let this poem catch you when they try to blast you back with backwards rhetoric.

Use this poem as a shield--hold the words around you so that when the world tries to drop bombs on you you’ll be able to appreciate the beat.

Keep it like a secret and when you’re alone and writing and the words are stuck in the ink of your pen remember that poetry doesn’t come from words, it comes from a willingness to love and to be loved. I know this because the first poem I ever heard was when my mother held my head in her lap and told me the only Spanish I would ever remember--todo para la familia--everything for the family.

And so I’ll leave those words as a mantra for you and I hope that you’ll understand some day that you don’t need this poem and you can crumple it up and throw it away because your voice matters and even if it’s met with silence, nothing will change that.

To The Teachers That My Students Write Poems About,

Take this poem. Use it as a warning.

My students are better poets than me.
Spoken word piece performed as a sacrificial poem for my students.
Miss Masque Oct 2011
Mechanical reactions
slither through the cortex,
Binding our beliefs into
a solid jellied mass.

The peons go without a care,
wisdom is not their share,
only to be appeased
in the short term
is their game.

Yet the one who dances freely,
Gracefully fluttering down the walk,
gets stared at and gawked at,
Ridiculed and mocked.

The program
does not recognize the patterns
that are involved,
and the programmers are just too vain
to change the program's
stiff and rigid brain.

So while the programs interact,
the dancer keeps on dancing,
sensibilities in tact.

She notices the patterns,
the snide remarks behind her back,
the stares, the whispers, wonders,
of the program's capacity cap.

How she wishes just one
free person could truly understand
what it's like not to be a robot,
but a compassionate human.

Seas of judgement, seas of motion,
Seas of jealously and hate,
motivated by confusion,
in this altered AI state.

One day there is a person
walking out of sync,
the rest of the people shrink away
from the lone independent freak.

Free thought and new ideas
Are poison to their wires,
new data it can handle,
but independence acts like fire:

Burning through the program
like an arrow with a purpose,
piercing through its hardened heart
rendering the program worthless.

The boy who parted the sea of monotony
found this dancing girl,
and together created a barrier
shattering programs with a twirl.

By the power vested in me,
I command you to think,
Think twice about your actions
or you will find that you will sink
Into a sticky, jellied mass
where your thoughts will cease to think.
Jessica Hughes Mar 2011
I stood in the freezing cold.
And the rain felt like snowballs.
On a side bench under neon lights, I sat.
With a blue circle surrounding my eye,
when somebody almost knocked my
lights out. Just staring at those who
gawked at me. As I smoked under a
store roof top. This is when I saw you.
You walked on by. To my surprise,
You were as handsome as ever.
"Life must be treating him well."
There was a provoking sound out of
the gaping sky to jump in front of a
bus. You would pay attention.
Maybe stop to see me lying there.
I'm not okay as my quivery voice
claimed. But, you didn't detect the
disturbing echos in the background.
So I hung up the phone.
I, the old worn out dish rag.
I, the door mat to most people.
Still, I thought you would have an
instant flashback. A relapse of our
long history together. Instead,
here I stand in the freezing rain.
And you can't even remember my name.
It's Ada... I uttered. The lighter burning
my fingertips. The expression on your
face. It told our story. I kept walking
through the foggy night.
By Jessica Hughes ©2011
All Rights Reserved by Author
neo May 2014
In a land made of darkness
where the trees were burnt black
and the sky was not blue there
all color it lacked
where the people were gray
and the sun very pale
but for the most part
no one ever failed
there were no tough decisions
and no problems too
everything was clear cut
they knew what to do

but what is the point
if there's no choice in life?
if there's no other pathways
it's a pointless strife
To live and to stay
alive are not the same
people must make decisions
choose how they play the game
because to play one game
with another game's rules
would never work out
you'd just get confused

one day a small girl
made this connection
she must live her own life
and not be a mere extension
and she exploded with color
and spread it where she walked
and she marveled in awe
and everyone else gawked
yellows and blues
and marvelous greens
melting the darkness
with the vision she'd seen
and others joined in
finding their inner worth
and spreading more colors
all over the earth
and remember, dear reader
never doubt yourself
you can do anything
just leave those dark clouds
(lame)
Edward Alan Mar 2014
Canto I: Exposition

A dampened quill and wrist unstill
Dare gallop ‘cross the page
Scribbled lines in black do shine
With much and fervent rage

And without fail, they tell their tale:
A passage tried and true
Lasting years, through hopes and fears
On page of yellow hue

Epic tales and loss at sea
Are listed in its text
The hand that writ this hallowed script
Can be no less than hexed

It begged, it sailed, it led a crowd,
It took a lady’s life
It stole, it smote, and always wrote
In volumes more than rife

He took this hand to unknown land
To carve a profound path
He set the sail for times to come
Yet tore himself in half

He lay awake in warm Toulon
In misty-morning May
The yellow birds in shrillest words
Alert him to the day

For too long days and longer nights
He’s waited for the word
The morrow here will mark the first
Of correspondence heard

Bonaparte has rallied here
To Toulon’s bustling bay
Three-fourths a score of battleships
To Egypt make their way

Before the high and mighty men
Joined with the water’s ebb
A note was slipped beneath the door
Assigned to M. Lefèbvre

Finally, a true decree
Has blest his merry course
Soon, eagerly, he’ll set to sea
Lost time his one remorse


Canto II: Aleron

Out to sea are thirty-three
That with me sail the tides
With these men, I trust my life
They follow where I guide

And so we’re gone from warm Toulon
Just days from the decree
Noble men off far ahead
And me with bourgeoisie

Bonaparte has aimed his fleet
To Egypt’s sandy shores
Through pirate gangs and ill intent
His roaring cannons tore

We follow in this taintless route
As far as we can trail
But soon we’ll turn half-way to stern;
To Gibraltar we shall sail

Days upon the Aleron
Are short but riveting
My men maintain their cheery air
And working still, they sing

No more of cloudy restlessness
No more of shady days
The blazing sun and windy waves
Have chased off my malaise

We pull our sheets and head from east
To curve around southwest
Past Ibiza, whose northern shore
Our Aleron caressed

The choppy sea grows thinner
And our nerves become unstill
The pirates of the Barbary Coast
Could leap in for the ****

And now, a sign above the line
Where water meets the sky
A tow’ring plume of certain doom
Is growing ever high

The heavens choke with blackest smoke
As fires burn a boat
The raw, impending fear of Death
Is clawing at my throat


Canto III: Skull and Bones

‘Tis hours later and we’re chased
Beneath the star-dogged moon
We tried to break away to north
But broke away too soon

Unknown, we tailed the pirate ship
Then saw the far black dot
The crow’s nest signaled skull and bones;
We held onto our knot

We much too late had turned around
My Aleron spun slow
Sheets so white in plain of sight
Had sold us to our foe

Our heaviest of itemry
Into the sea we cast
Rusty tools and iron spools:
Submerged, and sinking fast

Yet still we could not make a pace
To lose the rotten crew;
On our backs, they sailed our tracks
And split our wake in two

And so the misty moon is here
And watches like a ghoul
As we divorce our southern course
For Pillars of Hercule

The flick’ring light behind us
Like a glimmer in an eye
Stares and preys upon us
In cover of black dye

It grows and throws upon our ship
A light of fear and blood
It digs into our drowsy eyes
With sharpness of a spud

We hold on to our frantic pace
Till night invites the day
When to our right, in bright sunlight,
An ally heads our way

With Godly sound the cannons pound
The scoundrels far in back
Our brothers there in ship so fair
Repelled the foul attack


Canto IV: Gibraltar

In safer seas, our Aleron
Met with Le Taureau Bleu
We buy and sell and trade our stock
And praise and thank the crew

For safety’s sake, along we take
Two cannons of our own
We’ll stand a better chance against
The skull and crosséd bones

On we sail, on more and more
On through the placid day
No longer faced with poor intent
We make our merry way

Finally, from the vociferous chum
Upon the tall crow’s nest
“Land **! Land **!” Enthused, we know
Gibraltar’s over the crests

I decide to park (good-will flag on ark)
At the British colonial base
With cannons in stow, civilians are we
Attacking is surely bad taste

Just then, as I stood face-front on the deck,
A shrill squawking was cast
To the back I turned, and quickly discerned
A yellow bird up on a mast

How dare it perch there! I’d **** it, I swear
But I’d fire not a gun
Britons who spy me would surely deny me
Fair entrance, if that’s what I’d done

Instead I’ll sit tight; my crew is all right
They don’t mind the bird at all
I’ll listen and bear it, and try to forget
That the bird is the cause of my fall

Closer we draw to Gibraltar’s port
The Britons are within clear view
With a wave of a flag, they accept us in
But my anger cannot be subdued

I ready my gun; to the bird I have spun
And fire my shots to the air
The Britons, upset, rush onboard and get
Me constrained; and ensued despair


Canto V: The Crimson Owl

Silver chains kept me detained
As questioning carried on
Was I a spy for whom I ally?
Or was I simply a con?

I kept face as the questioner paced
And the brute slapped me around
Lastly, I smiled, as after a while
They had no evidence found

With regret, they set me free
Determining I was no harm
But seconds before I went through the door
A fellow rushed in with alarm

Cannons, found inside my ship
As rifles point at me
Again, they had me cuffed and chained
And threatened hostilely

“Smuggling arms to enemy ships”
Was written in their book
Chained and gagged and stowed was I
No better than a crook

Between the pillars I was passed
But not as I had hoped
Both my arm and legs were bound
My fragile neck was choked

In the bowels of The Crimson Owl
I slept in dark distress
No other day, with truth I say,
Had I known such duress

The days had passed and I’d amassed
A hunger, fierce and true
All my thought was set aside
To find something to chew

When suddenly, the shrillest sound
Came flying from afar
A cannon shot had hit its mark
The mainmast it would mar

Sounds of death came all around
And finally toward me
My blind removed, I held in view
The pirates of this sea


Canto VI: Captain Riceau

I stepped aboard by point of sword
And left the burning Owl
“Bienvenue à Le Chat Fou”
Said a fellow through his scowl

But when I talked, they stopped and gawked
Surprised at me they were
A fellow French, I was embraced;
The Crazy Cat could purr

They brought me on, my captors gone,
And took me as their own
And for the time, I went along
And made this Cat my home

I was kept live, and was used for
My knowledge of the sea
For vengeance ‘gainst the Britons
I complied happily

For months - perhaps three seasons passed
I rode upon this ship
Captain Riceau valued me
He named me second skip

For cause unknown, we crossed the sea
Old Captain held his tongue
He would not tell us why we trekked
And chased the setting sun

He brought us ‘round the chilly tip
Of Chile’s southern shore
No reason from his crazy lips
Though long did we implore

Then at last, the day had passed
When Riceau caught a cold
His eyes were red, his limbs were dead
His breathing: hoarse and old

I became the skipper then
And buried him at sea
We cut up north to flee the cold
But at a loss were we

Confused and crazy we’d become
Just like the Cat, rode we
I thought to keep Old Captain’s path
And that meant mutiny


Canto VII: Mutiny

Two days it’d take for them to make
The foul and bitter plan
That I’d be through with Le Chat Fou
And they’d return to Cannes

I lay asleep, in sleep so deep
Dreaming of Calais
The maiden fair with yellow hair
Who one day would betray

In this dream, I heard her scream
And went to touch her cheek
But standing as a statue does
Her gaze was still and bleak

They dragged me back into this world
Then dragged me off the port
My lungs too filled with shockéd air
To object to this tort

They threw my pants and diary,
And sandals, as they laughed
For shoes could serve no purpose
On the ocean’s liquid draft

The flick’ring light before me
Like a glimmer in an eye
Stares but grows more distant
And retreats into black dye

An injury had placed me in
A lesser swimming league
Then again, it’d only serve
To cause me great fatigue

Three days, I had rode the tide
Of the western ocean’s waves
No shark, no squid, no slimy thing
For my flesh did crave

The crests came up like daggers
And fell like hulking trees
I prayed to God almighty
I survive the vicious seas

Finally, I set my stare
Upon the northwest sky
Far away, but clear as day:
An object in my eye


Canto VIII: Abyss

Although I swam me ‘cross the sea
As fast as my arm can
Dry throat and sun win victory
O’er me: a fainted man

Trapped in darkness once again
I spy my fair Calais
Screaming, shrill in bleakness then
With not a word to say

Over me her head hangs low
Her arm is slightly raised
Blood drips off her elbow
Her expression leaves me dazed

She’s gone; the air is hard to breathe
The wind is biting cold
A canopy of restless leaves
Is stirring uncontrolled

Lost inside this world of wood
I struggle to emerge
Feels like years have I withstood
While searching for the verge

No chirpings from my yellow bird
No noises all around
Not a sound is to be heard
But footsteps at the ground

No rodents gnawing at the bark
No insects in the trees
Alone I sleep in brush so dark
With nobody but me

In the drying mud I’m laid
Despondent of my fate
Looking through the verdant shade
The sun does penetrate

Streaming down, the light is rich
Bespeckled on the floor
Dancing ‘round without a hitch
Its presence I implore

I call upon the pouring light
To lift me from this hell
To nullify the chilly blight
Incite the warmth to swell


Canto IX: Land Forgets Itself

The burning light lends me its faith
Yet suddenly absconds
The dulling light projects a wraith:
My soul from the Beyond

The day retreats and turns to night
The moon in place of sun
Mute, and without touch or sight
I desperately run

Fleeing from my fading soul
Myself, I do berate
For no such being should extol
Escaping from my fate

Luscious leaves all turn to brown
They wither and fall fast
Suddenly, upon the ground
A dune of sand’s amassed

Crawling on the desert floor
And shaking from the cold
I hate and bitterly abhor
The night’s begrudging hold

In the distance, at the line
The land forgets itself
The beaming rays of light do shine
And warmth indeed does swell

Basking in the drenching sun
My coldness is expelled
Frigidity that night had won
Has fully been repelled

In the sands, I’ve laid to rest
To steal the heat of day
Yet no sooner had the sun caressed
Than sourly betray

Melted on the scorching sands
My body burned and scarred
I cannot lift my torrid hand
My feet have both been charred

The burning heat has ripped my lust
For life and will to live
My last resolve is brutely ******
Through Death’s unyielding sieve


Canto X: L’Oiseau Jaune

I coughed and spat the water that
I swallowed with my snores
Upon the sand my hand did land;
I’d made my way to shore

The beach was bright with fiery light
My skin was hot and red
I tried to get out of my head
Those visions that I dread

A novelist I once had been
Writing was my joy
With pen in hand, I could withstand
Each plot set to destroy

Yet Calais came and stole my heart
But also my free time
We wed and had a baby boy
Our life was too sublime

I raised my pen to write again
To feed the family right
I spent my days filling the page
And toiled all the night

When finally, she’d lost her mind
She needed to be loved
I tried to calm her shrill attacks
With no help from Above

My raging wife had grabbed a knife
And stabbed my writing hand
Yet somehow I had speared her eye
I couldn’t understand

At the elbow, I was chopped
And no more could I write
The widespread fact I’d killed my mate
Had augmented my plight

I beached onto an island;
This was no Chilean land
I walked around the grainy ground
And found nothing but sand

But soon a rescue ship had come
I was not too long gone
I read the name upon the port;
It was l’Oiseau Jaune
This was my senior thesis in high school, primarily inspired by "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge.
Topher Green Nov 2011
bereft and struck, yet
brief in exile
the gatherers made
a day of the whole affair.

through standing afar
ghastly, conscious,
risen things gawked
as fixed upon; pigeons.

the eat your heart out feeling
swallows the gatherers whole
a breath of an opinion heard;
outspoken.

forget nothing but fallacy!
democracy of the estranged
fluctuating feelings for your
Father Dear.
Mortecai Null Apr 2018
My flesh crawls, and my blood flows
As I attempt to turn to marble
True stasis
Homeostasis
Oh to maintain beauty to be gawked by muses
And to never have been alive, merely beings of retired faith
But unsurprisingly, just as pointless
I sigh…
I may parish in mind and finally body
But marble will diminish slowly
******
All while watched and attemptedly preserved
I breathe.
Homeostasis
Firefly Jan 2016
It took him awhile,
To decide to dance,
He was always the first,
To roar, to prance,
Nevermind his sweaty palms,
As he pushed off the wall,
As he bowed,
Before her cotton dress in a graceful fall,
His hand hung for eternal seconds,
As she decided; looked around,
But, ah! Lo! His eyes, they beckon,
And as the entire room gawked,
At the bold, beautiful ****,
As he bowed before an ugly, pimpled nobody,
As if she were a queen; the most beautiful in this here, his flock,
And as the ugly, pimpled nobody,
Dared to consider, to frown, to appear unsure,
Of this, what was sure to be pure allure,
Finally, she ended his wait,
With hesitant nods, the innocent wide-eyed child,
He smiled beautifully, leading with a mesmerising gait,
They alone swept the floor,
She was surprised at this happiness,
And he was relieved of disappeared nervousness,
For he thought himself lucky,
To dance with one such as she,
The people they can stare,
He don't mind it, he don't care.
In memorandum of Weird Love.
Everyone is beautiful and there are people out there for each of us, so when finally your love....your real true-blue love comes along, no matter who that person may be, from the moment you see them forget the people.... Don't mind it, don't care!
I love you HP Community!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh...and I also dedicate this one to Giorgio! I love yah babe! ( he stalks me on here; refusing to join.....lol)
Terry Collett Jun 2015
Yehudit likes
the new boy
on the bus
she smiled has

he got on and
watched him walk
to the back
of the school bus

and sit in
a side seat
now she sits
at the front

of the bus
thinking about him
now and then
she looks back

over her shoulder
but he's looking out
the window
not at her

so she looks
forward again
musing on
what his name maybe

and whether he'll
be the type
she wants or likes
he looks good

the quiff of brown hair
the hazel eyes
-she gawked him good
as he got on board-

and he had that
Elvis smile
-feels goosebumps-
she thrusts her hands

between her thighs
and smiles to herself
in anticipation
scenery goes by

trees
hedges
fields
cows in the field

telegraph poles
birds in flight
in the sky
but all she

can think on is
what is his name?
and wondering
if he is looking

at her now
but she guesses
not somehow.
A GIRL LIKES THE NEW BOY WHO HAS GOT ON THE SCHOOL BUS IN 1962
alice Jun 2014
The drive
From Orange County to Los Angeles
Had never been so long.

Broken wipers
Black drugs
Psychotic episodes
Wet roads
And

“This is it.”
(I thought)
“I’m going to die this way.”

High
Too thin
Frightened
And
Without a Home

He continues to speed North
Trying to get his emotions to go South
And I’m frozen in the passenger seat

I smell of dirt
***
And blood

Spiraling into the abyss
I tried to remember his eyes
Inside the elevator

I stared his way,
But only the drugs gawked back

I prayed to a God I’d never seen
Begging to be saved from
My own decisions.

The demons pounded on the van
Some more
They weren’t going to rest
Tonight.

Tonight
We were dressed in black
The van shrouded in it
Tonight
We belonged to them

“This is it”

I inhaled the fumes

And surrendered.
Written a month after an extensive ****** binge and having been ***** - October 2007
SA Szumloz Apr 2020
Sweet Anne,
Run while you can
For the moon is rising
And I hear you crying
In the near future.

Sweet Anne,
Did you bring a man?
I fear you're being stalked
By the creep who gawked
At you at the bar.

Sweet Anne,
Do you have a plan?
The creep has caught you
And there is nothing you can do
But kick and scream

Until your voice is heard.
Thoughts?
MdAsadullah Dec 2014
From mountains of time;
Pebbles of moments fell.
Worthless stones I thought.
Flung them far to dispel.

Year after year passed.
Unknown paths I walked.
Came across known environment.
With amazement I gawked.

Stumbled upon those stones.
Pebbles which I threw;
They were precious diamonds.
Then its worth I didn't knew.
Each person has one destined “other”
Their soul mate, if you will
What if they never meet
Or if it’s too late.

I was in a store buying some cheap perfume
You were checking out music albums
We bumped into each other and gawked
We laughed it off and talked.

Never have I met someone so perfect
The rush was unexplainable
You said, “I’m sorry but I think I like you.”
I said I was married and you said “Me too.”
I went to my eye doctor
And told him I was unstable.
He gawked at me from across the table
Thankfully he tested me
For otherwise I couldn't see
The light in life
Or colours of the trees.
You see, my broken heart was very unkind
Causing me to go colourblind
Don Bouchard Mar 2015
"Buy a Star!
Own a Star!"

The sales are brisk,
For cross-eyed lovers,
Cross-hearted, lost,
Beneath the spinning constellations
Burning immortal exhalations,
Desiring forever oxytoxic bliss,
Burning ******* and hearts
Yearn longevity of stars....

PT Barnum saw his opportunity:
Sold cotton candy,
Hawked elephants,
Gawked dwarves,
Hid the razors from
Fierce bearded ladies,
Even sold the elephants' dung,
Provender to exotic gardens....

Barnum's packing up
The Pachyderms,
So Hawkers have us
Gazing on the stars....

"Step right up! See the stars!"
Purchase your fire in the sky!
Your lover's name,
Fixed in the firmament  
A million years!

At least the cotton candy
And the elephant dung
Served some earthy, earthly good,
Paid dentists' children's college,
Fertilized the family food.

So now go claim a distant star,
A million, billion miles away,
Its light must make its journey
A thousand years or more
To greet your eyes, and yet,
Your lover's sighs predict
A hundred dollars' better spent
Than on a good Chablis,
Cementing mortal love in
Distant stars so permanent,
Visited through telescopic glass
Atop our rented tenements.
JD Connolly Jan 2011
a quantum of soul and cherry ***** in the backseat of a ford-
we were going to eighty-six the world

the sinews of our unattainable hands
that yanked themselves free
and went to ruining our best Bellamy salutes
and went to forming ladders and tarmacs in the vapor of the night
and went to everything

it's wasn't the shaking or the vim of the stockyards on the days they hung up ornaments
it wasn't those who followed a cheekier Moira and gawked at Rita of Cascia as she passed by

it was the way escape felt with you as it's stern
it's the way escape felt with you full of sanguinity

the kind that your mother gave you in the belly of California
the kind that I ripped away for ***** and giggles
JV Knight Mar 2013
Everything was dreary
...And bleak.
And my skin happened to look red and splotchy.
All I had wanted
Was to binge on coco flavanols and overdose on caffeine.
I hadn't moisturized my skin after my shower, or put cover up on while it was still moist and warm. My veneer had not been established.
I told myself it didn't matter..
But really this issue was the cultivation
The turning point of my day.

Then I put my face on.
The grey, somber mask turned to Lovely, Feminine Pink.
As I spread the beige cream across my complexion, I felt something shift; insidious.
I felt the ******* I had been enslaved to.
I had been the one
With no friends and no sellouts to lug around with the rest of her baggage.
I had been the one
Who gawked and sneered
At the self-medication of the lonely girls who looked oh-so attractive
With their gleaming, hair~framed faces
And popping eyes.
What have I become?
I now claim this self selling drug
As my own.
What does it mean? What does it say about me?
Even more importantly, what does it say about you, and your stand point?
Do you put your face on, or do you let your soul bubble out of the surface of your complection?
FACE
A FACE
A million faces, pretty ones.
It's time to face the place of natural grace and replace the superficial first impression we chase.
It's not really a poem yet but simply my brains on paper.
sun stars moons Oct 2013
I can see them watching me
Their ****** eyes
drenched in degrading thoughts
Their horrible lips
thirsty for my body
I can hear their minds ******* me
their fantasies playing out like
gory horror films
They develop provocative expectations of
promiscuity
just because I'm pretty.
I don't like being gawked at
Stop that
No
Don't touch me
Don't
But they can't hear me.
Their minds have already bared my body and ***** my innocence.
All before I've even crossed the street.
Terry Collett May 2012
That year they gave Tess
her first typewriter. She’d
not need to borrow her
brother’s battered old piece
or write down her fragile
poems in her spiderlike
scrawl as her father called it.

The promise came while
she was getting her mind
together in that mental
asylum, after the mucky
love affair that went no
place and left her hanging
there, like one crucified
for all to see and most
to softly mutter and stare.

Get yourself mended girl,
Father said, and we’ll buy
you your own typewriter,
so you can stab away on
the keys to your heart’s
content and bring out
those poems of yours.

He never read her poems,
never read much apart
from the back page sport
or gawked at page 3 girls
with a tut tutting tongue.

That year she gazed out
of the wide barred window
of the asylum at the snow
on fields, at the seagulls
gathering and feeding behind
the faraway tractor as it
ploughed, at the grey
depressing sky, wondering
what it’d be like to not be,
wondering what the woman
with a cast in her eye, was
doing to herself in the toilets,
one night when she’d gone
in to *** unable to sleep.

The typewriter idea
and promise kind of got her
through the dark hours and
the ECT, and the following day
headaches and numbness.

After slitting her wrists (mildly,
a cry for help) she said on the
phone to her father, Come get
me out of this place, help me
get back together. Ok, he said,
Miss Humpty Dumpty, and he
put down the phone, and she
stood in the hall of the asylum
with the receiver in her hand,
the image of the typewriter
before her eyes, those poems
banging on the inside of her
head, new ones wanting to
get out, old ones left for dead.
softcomponent Oct 2013
Anya is lying next to me like a dormant sheet. The bed wears her as unassorted dress and I sit perked to her right, righting?

Writing.

What I'm writing about is better left unsaid for the darling teens afraid of themselves and unable to psychoanalyze through their fancied word. I guess I am a little afraid of myself but I'm not afraid to admit it and, if you ask the state, I'm an adult now. No ******* darling teen so you can tag your assumptions at the front door.

Anya slept over here last night and it's almost like the last 2 days are some ecstatic, beautiful blur. I can prove to you my state of disbelief by describing my Freudian revelation of a dream.

We were all down at the theatre. There was some strange minor citadel at the top of good old 1913 where some slightly chubby early-20's daughter-of-a-railroad-man watched these strangely Shakespearean woes on the street below. A little bleak and depressing.

I assume we were here for a movie. It was me, Anya, Felicia, and Chris. I could tell Anya liked me but I wasn't sure how to present my VCR of a heart to her and ask for the chance. So I didn't say a word. Instead I tossed boomerang smiles as the daughter-of-a-railroad-man gawked at my progressively punctured lung 2-stories up. I started trying to talk to Felicia because she seemed familiar and more likely, but she was taking photos of smoke-stacks and materializing groups of people so she had no time to listen, and I woefully backed off with an 'I'll tell you later, I guess.'

Things moved quickly at that point and it was like jogging through a Philip K. **** novel. I'd waited too long and Chris had his arm around Anya. I then backed off assuming the worst and as soon as I woke up I realized the dream had revealed a legion of my insecurities all out on a drill away from the main barracks, ready to march closer-to or away from my field of battle *** it was a question of Ghandi or God now.

A battle on open fields? Or non-violent resistance?

The funnier part of waking up was that my dream had been profoundly upsetting and darkly self-fulfilling, but this time it was a dream and what I woke up to wasn't the neutral dune of the everyday life of distraction, but one of those profoundly holy literature’s of the past 2000 years.

I suppose the biggest revelation the dream gave was the observation of my never asserting myself, nor in pursuit. Just the head-tilt mope of a poet with a bleeding heart that not only denies the need for bandage, but keeps double checking the hole is big enough to bleed but small enough not to **** me.

Have you ever seen those kinds of cars that look like they have teeth and eyes and noses?
/ancient history\

/pseudonyms applied\
Terry Collett Apr 2016
Shall I tell you what
he tried to do? Well
now let me see in what
order it went. He took  

me out, and it was some
show he said I'd like,
and it wasn't bad, but
I've seen better, and well

one has to accommodate
men sometimes, I mean
sometimes they can get
quite moody, but anyway

I went to this show, and
put on my happy face, and
let him see I was enjoying
myself, when really I was

bored out of my mind, but
nonetheless afterwards he
took me to this posh, and
I mean, posh restaurant,

and pulled out the chair
for me, and I sat, and he
sat, and then he gawked
at the menu, and a waiter

gave me one, and I gawked
too, and those prices, they
were high higher than my
mother's skirts, and he

looked at it like it was
nothing, and I wide-eyed
them looking for the least
expensive, and no Martha

he said pick what you want,
and I did, and so did he, and
after a short while it, meals
came, like first course, and

second course, and then third
course, after which I was
nigh full, and ready for my
bed to sleep, and then after

taking me home, he said: can
I have coffee? I said sure
come on up and in, and I guess
he took that to mean more

than was meant, and well
after five minutes, yes five
minutes, he was all over
me like a snowfall, a big

hairy snowfall, and I had
to put him right, and he
was not please, and anyway
after a minute or two fuming

he settled down, and had
his coffee straight, and then
said goodnight and went, after
all, it was getting quite late.
A WOMAN RELATES ABOUT A NIGHT OUT WITH A MAN.
Jordan Frances Nov 2014
To the girl in the hallway of my high school
Who called me a *****.
Please, dear
Tame your venomous tongue.
If you want me to "act like a lady"
Why don't you talk like one?
By your own standards, of course.
Your words are spikes that are omitted from your spit
Can I spit them back at you?
Then again,
I guess that would only do some good
If I cared enough.
You see,
The definition of a ***** is
A derogatory term for a *******.
Please educate yourself
As I am not a *** worker
No, I do not get paid to be an object for men
As I have only even slept with one
As I have only even done anything consensual with one man
And no man has pleased me since.
Apparently I tempt them by saying
"I'd like to see you try"
Even though I meant it in the most sarcastic way possible.
And oh, do they try
Many even disguise satisfying themselves
As attempts to satisfy me.
But once the lights come back on
I'm not quite done with the last man I spent the night with
But he's already out the door.
His skin still lingers like fog in my mind
And in the corridor where we did unmentionable things.
I feel as slimy as ever
But it was stupid to sleep in our clothes anyway.
Because things went further than I wished.
I pull a blanket over my shivering body
It has been a cold autumn thus far.
And I'm sure my mom was worried sick
But she slept that illness right off.
Boys will be boys, she says
And when I try to explain what happened that night
How my memories are a little bit shifty
My credibility seems to fade as his ghost did.
Instead of questioning what happened that night
I am answering to questions like
"Well, what were you wearing?"
"Did you lead him on?"
Why, of course I did
Because everything I do in this ******* society is "leading him on"
If I blink, smile, wave, walk toward him, have confidence
I am suddenly opening up my body like a book to be examined and gawked at
Suddenly, I abandon my personhood by doing any of these things
And leave myself as a thing to have *** with
But because I know the consequences of being a woman and existing
I am still some two-dollar *******
Just for being a woman who has consensual ***
Just for being a woman who does not want you poking her bruises and revealing her scars
After all, they are not fully healed.
Just for being a woman who wears low-cut shirts and tight dresses
Even though I am not a size two.
Just for being a woman who believes that we, as women, should be able to make choices about our own bodies.
Just for being a woman.
troglodyte Sep 2015
Now I remember: the acrid whiskey in chipped
multi-colored coffee mugs, a knock-off
movie murmuring in the background,
the lot of us surrounded the smudged table
our bleary eyes focusing on our suites.

And now I remember the back room
where the makeshift **** was being passed,
and smoke slipped out of drunken mouths
like souls escaping
and my mouth felt like I had eaten desert sand.
The whiteness of the room was blinding,
and the flickering of the light
could be seen through my closed eyelids.

I remember the dingy couches,
all of them full of life but one seat,
the one beside me,
and He still hasn’t arrived.
The news of His arrival felt like
I had been punched a plethora of times.
The creamy taste of our peanut butter
sandwiches turned to bile.

The door littered one more being,
all heads turned. My hazy vision displayed
a shadowy figure; the lights flickered on
to brighten His face;
fingers slipped around my wrist; and then
I was removed from the boisterous room.

But I remember that my shoeless feet
couldn’t move fast enough to keep up with my friend;
he kept my head straight
while my knees wobbled,
and I stumbled through populated rooms
drinking flat coke to paint the color
back into my clammy face.

I remember voices coming closer,
until every single one of them-
including Him-
filled the room like a overstuffed stomach.
But my friend took my arm and pulled,
and the others gawked and cheered.

Now I remember: they thought we would ****.
Expecting eyes followed us,
but only to be disappointed by conversation
between two friends who shared a secret.
They did not bother asking why I cried
in the cloudy blue hallway-
they didn’t take a second glance.

No, I remember it all so clearly,
because I did not sip from those cracked mugs,
no, I sat under shuddering lights in
the musty back room.
I hadn’t even taken two hits
from the crinkled water bottle
before He walked in.

I remember the fire in His eyes
when our gazes met one anothers.
My whole being was a grenade,
and the sight of Him was
what pulled the invisible pin,
and at any moment I would explode.
I remember the way His lips upturned,
and the way His hands twitched,
as if He was ready to reach -
as if He was ready to touch -
but His hands never fumbled farther
than the small tear by
the pocket of His stained jeans.
I flinched when He turned around.

But I remember feeling as if I needed to apologize,
but I had nothing to apologize for.
But the odious cry from the kitchen stirred my insides,
and I couldn’t help but feel guilty-
I couldn’t help but feel like I was too hard,
but He deserved it all.
I was once a daisy-fresh girl.

Now I remember: my palms were too sweaty,
my mouth was too dry,
and the need for a drink left my throat coarse.
Heavy hands held mine to the kitchen,
and that’s where I saw Him glassy-eyed,
His mouth agape, His gaze dazed.

I remember the limp body leaning,
the way His arms dangled by His side,
as if they were swaying in a nonexistent breeze,
as if one blow and I could knock him over,
he was alive but it was like he was dead,
but I couldn’t find it in me to feel for a pulse,
I couldn’t find it in me to force my numb legs
to walk out of the room.

The last thing I remember was the walk
back to my house.
Unspoken words choked me,
leaving me gagging on frigid air.
My mother’s words resonated around me,
her warnings and concerns nipping my rosy cheeks.
Watch out for boys who touch you with ease.
My heart raced like a hummingbird’s wings
but my anxious hands stayed still
for the first time
since the last time.
Terry Collett Jan 2017
I knocked on the door
and Mrs Woolgar opened it
and stood there
in a white sort of blouse
and burgundy skirt.

She smiled:
hello Benny
has Henry gone
to football?
She asked.

Yes he said he was,
I replied.

Good come in,
she said.

So I went past her
at the door and she
closed the door
behind us.

I smelt the perfume
she had drowned
herself in
and stood by
the lounge door:
shall I go in?
I said.

Do you want to
go in?
She said softly.

I stood unsure
what to say:
I haven't brought
my swimwear
for swimming,
I said.

O never mind
you can come
another time to swim,
she said,
go in
we can talk.

So I entered the lounge
and sat on the big sofa
and she entered the room
and said:
would you like a drink?

Have you cola?
I asked.

Sure have,
she said,
and went
to a drink cabinet
and took out a cola
and poured it
in a glass
and handed it to me.

She poured herself
a gin and ice
and sat next to me.

I sipped the cola
and she sipped her gin.

How was school?
She said.

It was good,
I said.

How did Henry get on?
She asked.

He did all right,
I said.

She leaned in
close to me
so I could drink in
the perfume
which made me feel
sort of unwell.

I sipped my cola;
I could see her *****
peeking over the top
of her white blouse.

I tried not to look,
but my eyes disobeyed
and gawked.

I looked at her
burgundy skirt;
it was soft and her
knees kind of stuck out
where the hem was.

I sipped my cola
and drowned
seeing Henry
wasn't around.
A SCHOOL BOY VISITS HIS FRIEND'S MOTHER. IN THE 1960S
Guss Jul 2016
To Whom It May Concern:

I have been an artist since birth
but clearly not genetically.
My mother was a dentist’s apprentice,
while I was in the womb.
My father was a quirky astrophysicist
and still amidst the devils,
he is yet to find himself.  
I on the other hand make sandwiches.
I make sandwiches,
I take photos,
and I write the things that I sense
or that I think I know.
Very simple.

I have never been one to understand the American dream, but I do respect my need for it.
I knew the idealistic trend of the Internet very well,
as I was raised in Silicon Valley,
but the phrase “From rags to riches”
never really penetrated my questioning soul.
--------------
Instead,
I found that the world was my oyster
and I gregariously lived my life in the pursuit
of one-dollar oysters.
I have watched the seasons change.
I have known the plight of love
and I’m even wise enough
to lead my heart by it.
Elisa would tell you.
--------------
I have gawked at knobby shadows
falling on a wall traced out by a winter tree
and then been entranced by the odds
that I might be the one
who sought out that beauty
having been there to see it too.
But more so,
I have seen births.

I have seen the vibrancy from which life unfolds.
And I have seen the clenches of deaths fingers
wrap around the neck
of my most honored and beloved people.
I’ve seen beautiful cities fall prey to oversaturation,
I’ve watched the crashing waves
of the Pacific Ocean **** in pollution,
I’ve seen fires blaze through
the mountain sides of Santa Barbara,
and I’ve watched the shoals bats that fly
at the twilight summons from underneath bowels
of South Congress Bridge,
which is never bad.

I’ve made friends,
and I have made enemies
both of which I love.
I have been sick
then been healthy
and respect the values of their lessons.
Some of the other things I’ve seen
I’ll admit are unimportant.
--------------
But I still watch the trickling patterns of rainfall
and ponder at their stories.
I still squint at the gleam of the ocean
and beg it to tell me its origins.
I will always gaze at the sky
and I ask for a gust that might make the hairs
of my arm tingle with delight,
or nostalgic sorrow,
or anything at all.

I’ve questioned everything but what my mother told me.
Not until I turned eighteen, did I start that.
I’ve built batteries out of vinegar, aspirin, pennies
and copper wire.
I charge the insight of my peers
by poking and prodding.
I can braid hair,
I can hop scotch,
I can play the juice harp.
I fight for the underdog.
I fight for the tormented.
I speak for the scolded,
the hated,
the sad,
the abused,
the forgotten,
the forsaken,
the foolish,
the sinning,
the begging,
the beaten,
the overworked,
the shy,
the lost,
the hungry,
the bilious,
the old,
the gruesome
and the dead.

I feast on alcohol
where there is no other sustenance.
The rhythm of chagrin bounces in my chest,
as a drum would beat
in a symphony of regret.  
But I strive on
as if it was a sacrifice to the holy aliens
that made the Maya sacrifice too.
This is my blood.
It gushes from my blue veins
as I apperceive the meaning of that throbbing pulse.

I know the consequence
of the truth behind our movement.

A world founded on humanity,
imperfect and failing at all.
Life in this universe must be special.
It’s the stardust in our physical,
human elements that makes this magic true.
We ooze with the likeness of nothing else.
Our ancestors welled up with stardust
and DNA from somewhere else.
Our sweat, made up of passing galaxies,
dripping tears of organic thought
into the trickling river of time.
That alone must be something
to capture an imagination.

— The End —