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

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
This story is called death of a superhero.

We see the superhero flying at full speed after a getaway vehicle.  A group of armed men just robbed over one million dollars in cash from the bank and are now speeding through the city.  He darts back and forth to dodge the shower of bullets flying at him from the car, which was preventing him from getting any closer.

"I can't let these crooks get away," he grunted to himself as he curved back and forth through the air.

Suddenly he was blind sighted by a large black object coming from the car.  It was a high powered electric tazer.  It hit him in the side and his muscles locked up, he stopped mid air and went crashing down and smacked and bounced on the ground.  This bought the thieves time to escape from his view.  By the time he got out of it and regained control of his muscles enough to fly, the crooks had maneuvered the city like a maze, and he didn't know where to look, they had gotten away.  He looked over several city blocks and couldn't find him, and was forced to give up.

"****" he said to himself.

He flew off to the nearby park and found a secluded spot to meditate and heal.

That was the forth unsuccessful attempt to catch bank robbers this week!



On the news that night

"The Tomerarenai purotto corporation just received over $5 million dollars in donations from an anonymous donor this evening for their new project on Zenchō hill outside city limits.

The project to build a new factory there has been underway for three months now and they've really been moving along thanks to the help of all these private donors that must really believe in their cause, which of coarse is to develop new "greener" technology to help the environment and cut down on pollution.

We have a spokesperson for the organization here with us now how are you?"

"Good and thank you, I'm really honored to be part of this amazing organization and to see such a great turn out of donors for such a good cause.  It's been amazing with over 37 million dollars donated by private, anonymous donors over the last three months, it's amazing..."

About half the city watched that news broadcast stream into their homes on their television sets.



It was about 2am when the superhero came out of his meditative state in the park.  

He got up energized and flew around.

He saw some guy trying to steal some lady's purse, he zipped down and stood right behind the guy without him even noticing.

The guy got the purse turned around and ran right into him and knocked himself down.

"What do you think you're doing?" the superhero said authoritarily.  Then he lunged in grabbed the guy by the shirt at the scruff of the chest.  With his other hand he picked up the lady's purse, handed it to her, and told her to go home and get out of the dangerous night city streets.  Then he flew the criminal to the police station, told them what he had witnessed, and took off.

Suddenly he heard police sirens all over the city they seemed to be closing in on a specific area, the superhero flew to that area to see what was going on.

He found a police sergeant standing next to a cop car, and stopped to ask him what's going on.

"A masked lunatic just killed 19 people and is now trying to escape in a small silver car, we've got every available unit trying to hunt him down."

He wasted no time, taking up in the air leaving a wind in his wake, the superhero started quickly combing the city for a small silver car driving conspicuously.  He found one, and when he flew over it to check it out, all of a sudden he had gunshots being fired at him from inside the car.

"This must be it," he charged the car with full speed but the driver sped up to keep ahead of him.

This isn't going to work, he thought, I should make them think they lost me and follow them secretly and see where they go.

The next time a gunshot was fired the superhero grabbed his chest and purposefully fell down, to make them think he had been shot.  Once their guard was down he followed them in secret.

They drove outside of the city thinking they had lost all tails, down a couple winding roads, then climbed Zenchō hill toward the Tomerarenai purotto corporation's construction spot, then went inside.  

The superhero landed outside the building and contemplated his next plan.  He noticed an open window to an office on the second floor, he carefully peered through the window and saw no one in the office, he flew in and landed on the floor careful not to make a sound above a mouse squeak.  He quietly crept through the empty hallways until he reached the staircase, when he heard voices whispering downstairs, "He's gonna be here any minute/ get everything ready."  

The hero thought he had no time to lose, he took to the air, bolted down stairs and with a loud dramatic voice yelled "Halt!"

"He's here!" they yelled as one of them ran toward a giant device that looked like a satellite dish, and the other one ran and pulled a rope, dropping piles and piles of smoldering coal around the superhero that immediately made him so sick he could barely move.  industrial type smoke was his weakness.  

"We've been planning for you to come here," the guy in the mask said firing up the satellite dish looking weapon and pointing it at him.  

"W-What do you want?" the superhero asked weakened, frail, and short of breath on his hands and knees on the floor.

"To **** you so you won't stand in our way"

The superhero was growing weaker, and weaker, as the giant atomic laser pointed at him started glowing red, I told you this story was called "death of a superhero".

"Death, of a superhero?"  the superhero grunted, "DEATH, of a SUPERHERO!?!" he shouted again, "YOU'VE BEEN ORCHESTRATING MY DEATH!" The superhero yelled at the narrator.  

Yes I have, the narrator said all the people in the room could hear me, I've been planning your death since before you went after that getaway vehicle, I have such omnipotent like power over your world, I'm the reason the taser gave the one's working for these two time to escape, I'm the reason you never checked this place out until everything was ready, and now I get to watch these two **** you, and laugh, knowing that you'll never find me and there's nothing you can do to change events.

Now, the beam was fully charged

"No!" the superhero thought, "up till this point, I thought I had to go along with everything the narrator said, but no!"  He started to slowly manage to get up.

The masked killer hit the button, fired the laser, and killed the superhero instantly.

Wait what?

"You think you can just **** me by saying so," the superhero grunted out louder slowly rising to his feet.  Mentally forcing his body to work even in the presence of his weakness, in reality, contrary to what the narrator said, the beam was still charging.  

"No!" the superhero continued, getting stronger and healthier, "THERE WILL BE NO DEATH OF A SUPER HERO!!!" suddenly the superhero's personal energy was strong enough to clear a bubble around him of fresh air pushing the smoke around it.  He flew through the air at bullet speed and punched the masked killer across the room and out of consciousness.  Then he went for the assistant who was running to the door, in the heat of the moment, the superhero, hitting him up from behind, punched a hole straight through his skull and he fell to the ground head-gored-dead.  The superhero deactivated the laser. and stood and looked around to try and find that supervillian mastermind, the narrator.  

"You will never find me," the narrator said, "I exist in an inexcusable part of your reality."

Then another voice broke through, "I will open up a portal to the narrator for you" the author said, "be wary though, even in his own part of this dimension, he is very frippery and slick, you must not let him break free into you're general reality, lest he end your world."

Suddenly a glowing golden sword appeared in a light before the superhero, he took it and bowed, understanding what he was to do.

A shimmering white and grey portal swirled out of thin air.  He looked at it for a second as it grew outwards until it was big enough for him to walk through.  He slowly marched into it, guard heightened as he did not know what to expect, carrying the glowing golden sword behind his back.

Inside the portal was a large white room where the narrator lived.  there was a large white shelf, four walls and a ceiling, the portal remained open.  

He looked around but didn't see the narrator at first, when he realized the narrator had filled half the room with a thick white fog to mask himself.

"Show yourself you coward!" the hero yelled.  Sudddenly a large fist came out of the fog and punched the superhero right in the face, he stumbled back a few steps, but didn't let it knock him over.  Suddenly a humanoid figure stepped out of the fog, it had a body like a man but a head like a king cobra.

"S--sssss--o" it said, "you found a way to find me," "Hisssssssssssss..."

"I found you and I will destroy you to free my world from your evil," the superhero said.

"Is-s that sssssssssso" the beast said.  "And how do you plan to do that? Hisssssssss".

Then the narrator's eyes widened when he say the glowing gold sword behind his back.

"I will cover myself in armor that that sword can't pierce." He said.

"And an armor appeared around the narrator, except it only appeared to cover his head, and his face was still bare." The narrator said and it happened.

The superhero lunged at the narrator with the sword but the narrator slipped to the right and shot ***** of fire at the superhero, but the superhero dodged.

"And his hand got shaky and it greatly effected his aim," the narrator hissed out.

The superhero swung at the narrator, but missed everytime.

"I've got to steady my aim" the superhero thought to himself, putting most of his energy into his arm to hold it steady.  The narrator backed away from him, hissing and darting back and forth as if antagonizing him, perhaps trying to distract him and his focus.

Suddenly he felt a surge of energy push back from the sword, flow up his arm and flood his body, the sword glowed brighter and he was in control of himself again.

He went after the narrator full force, swinging and jabbing the sword, but the narrator dodged every attack.

"You'll never defeat me!" the narrator hissed.

But while he said that he lost focus, and the superhero swung the sword right into the side of the human part of the body, so deep it hit something metal and stopped.  

"Then he dropped the sword," the narrator said quickly and it happened.  The superhero's hand snapped wide open before his willpower could stop it, and the sword dropped to the ground with a "shink".

Acting super fast, the narrator dropped to the ground and picked up the sword with his teeth, and slithered out of his fake, damaged human body into his true form, a giant king cobra looking snake, covered in a heavy metal armor that was scaly and didn't restrict his movements.  Quickly, he slithered  over to the portal, but the superhero grabbed his lower armor before he got a chance to escape into the hero's world, and used his body to anchor the snake to that spot.

The narrator swung and slithered his body to try to free himself from the hero's hold but he was holding on to well, and the serpent could not escape.  

The hero did not know what to do, he needed to get the sword back and slay the serpent, but he had to keep both hands on him to keep him from getting free.

He had an idea, he used his legs to help anchor the serpent, and climbed him to get to his head to retrieve the sword.  Slowly he worked his way up the snake as he slithered and struggled to get free.  When it seemed inevitable that the hero was gonna get the sword back, the serpent spit it out and it landed next to the door.  Then he shot fireballs out of his mouth at point blank range at the superhero which distracted him enough for him to loose his grasp, and let the serpent break free.  The serpent quickly slithered over to the portal, hissed "goodbye sucker", mouthed the sword once again, and slithered out the portal.

The superhero jumped up and flew after the serpent, and crash landed onto of him on the other side of the now closing portal.  

"The masked murderer woke up and came over to help the narrator," the serpent hissed out.

Suddenly the masked murderer came over and the hero was trying to get him on his side to break the stalemate.

As the snake and the superhero wrestled, the superhero called out to the masked murderer, "Don't help him, if he escapes me now, he'll destroy the world!"

"Don't listen to your enemy," the narrator hissed out, "**** him!"

"Don't listen to him," the superhero tried to reason with him, "he's just manipulating you, everybody, he's the reason you wanted to **** me and do this whole project in the first place, YOU ultimately have free will! and we need to **** him."

The narrator strikes and bit the superhero's arm for telling the masked killer he had free will.  

"What do you need!" the masked ****** shouted when he got over there.  

"**** him" the serpent hissed out!

"The sword!" the hero shouted.

The masked murderer, not knowing what to do, picked up the sword and handed it to the hero.

The superhero used it to pry off a piece of the serpent's armor, poised it into position and struck down.  The narrator shifted his body however so the sword narrowly missed, and curved his tail so the open spot in the armor was underneath him, "Grab him!" the superhero said, hold him steady so I can get a good shot."

The Masked murderer did just that, and the hero drove the sword through the opening and impaled the narrator right there, and actually cut him in two.

"But then the narrator's body sealed at the womb and he slithered free" the serpent said and it happened, and he slithered at full speed toward the same door the masked murderer's assistant tried to escape through, and he was making distance.

"And then a layer of cement formed around the superhero's ankle so he couldn't chase the narrator." and a piece of cement attached to the floor formed around his ankle.

But the superhero made quick work of that, a **** of the leg and it reduced to crumbles and he got up and chased the serpent.

The serpent got outside the door and mumbled something, suddenly the door was a pure steel wall.  Three punches by the superhero weakened the steel and severely dented it, the forth punch and it went flying off and the superhero ran outside and saw the narrator escaping into the brush.  He knew what he had to do, he lunged at him and grabbed him just by the head, and ****** the sword through a hail of fireballs straight into it's mouth, the narrator couldn't speak to reverse that action and he died shortly after.
This is not a poem
Cyril Blythe Sep 2012
I followed him down the trail until we got to the mouth of the mines. The life and energy of the surrounding maples and birches seemed to come to a still and then die as we walked closer, closer. The air was cold and dark and damp and smelt of mold and moths. Delvos stepped into the darkness anyways.
“Well, girl, you coming or aren’t you?”
I could see his yellowed tobacco teeth form into a slimy smile as I stepped out of the sun. It was still inside. The canary chirped.
“This tunnel is just the mouth to over two hundred others exactly like it. Stay close. Last thing I need this month is National Geographic on my *** for losing one of their puppet girls.”
“Delvos, ****. I have two masters degrees.” He rolled his eyes.
“Spare me.” He trotted off around the corner to the left, whistling.
“I survived alone in the jungles of Bolivia alone for two months chasing an Azara’s Spinetail. I climbed the tallest mountain in Nepal shooting Satyr Tragopans along the cliff faces. In Peru I…” Suddenly I felt the weight of the darkness. In my blinding anger I lost track of his lantern. I stopped, my heartbeat picked up, and I tried to remind myself of what I did in Peru.
I followed a Diurnal Peruvian Pygmy-Owl across the gravel tops of the Andes Mountains, no light but the Southern Cross and waning moon above. I am not scared of darkness. I am not scared of darkness.
I stopped to listen. Somewhere in front of me the canary chirped.

When I first got the job in Vermont I couldn’t have been more frustrated. Mining canaries? Never had I ever ‘chased’ a more mundane bird. Nonetheless, when Jack Reynolds sends you on a shoot you don’t say no, so I packed up my camera bag and hoped on the next plane out of Washington.
“His name is John Delvos.” Jack said. He handed me the manila case envelope. “He’s lived in rural Vermont his entire life. Apparently his family bred the canaries for the miners of the Sheldon Quarry since the early twenties. When the accident happened the whole town basically shut down. There were no canaries in the mines the day the gas killed the miners. His mother died in a fire of some sort shortly after. The town blamed the Delvos family and ran them into the woods. His father built a cabin and once his father died, Delvos continued to breed the birds. He ships them to other mining towns across the country now. We want to run a piece about the inhumanity of breeding animals to die so humans won’t.” I stood in silence in front of his deep mahogany desk, suddenly aware of the lack of make-up on my face. He smiled, “You’re leaving on Tuesday.”
“Yes sir.”
“Don’t look so smug, Lila. This may not be the most exotic bird you’ve shot but the humanity of this piece has the potential to be a cover story. Get the shots, write the story.”

“Do you understand the darkness now, Ms. Rivers? Your prestigious masters degrees don’t mean **** down here.” Delvos reappeared behind the crack of his match in a side tunnel not twenty yards in front of me. He relit the oily lantern and turned his back without another word. I reluctantly followed deeper into the damp darkness.
“Why were there no canaries in the mine on, you know, that day?” The shadows of the lantern flickered against the iron canary cage chained on his hip and the yellow bird hopped inside.
“I was nine, Ms. Rivers. I didn’t understand much at the time.” We turned right into the next tunnel and our shoes crunched on jagged stones. All the stones were black.
“But surely you understand now?”
The canary chirped.

When I first got to Sheldon and began asking about the location of the Delvos’ cabin you would have thought I was asking where the first gate to hell was located. Mothers would smile and say, “Sorry, Miss, I can’t say,” and hurriedly flock their children in the opposite direction. After two hours of polite refusals I gave up. I spent the rest of the first day photographing the town square. It was quaint; old stone barbershops surrounded by oaks and black squirrels, a western themed whiskey bar, and a few greasy spoon restaurants interspersed in-between. I booked a room in the Walking Horse Motel for Wednesday night, determined to get a good nights sleep and defeat this towns fear of John Delvos tomorrow.
My room was a tiny one bed square with no TV. Surprise, surprise. At least I had my camera and computer to entertain myself. I reached into the side of my camera bag and pulled out my Turkish Golds and Macaw-beak yellow BIC. I stepped out onto the dirt in front of my door and lit up. I looked up and the stars stole all the oxygen surrounding me. They were dancing and smiling above me and I forgot Delvos, Jack, and all of Sheldon except it’s sky. Puffing away, I stepped farther and farther from my door and deeper into the darkness of night. The father into the darkness the more dizzying the stars dancing became.
“Ma’am? Everything okay?”
Startled, I dropped my cigarette on the ground and the ember fell off.
“I’m sorry, sir. I was just, um, the stars…” I snuffed out the orange glow in the dirt with my boot and extended my hand, “Lila Waters, and you are?”
“Ian Benet. I haven’t seen you around here before, Ms. Waters, are you new to town?”
“I’m here for work. I’m a bird photographer and journalist for National Geographic. I’m looking for John Delvos but I’m starting to think he’s going to be harder to track than a Magpie Robin.”
The stars tiptoed in their tiny circles above in the silence. Then, they disappeared with a spark as Ian lit up his wooden pipe. It was a light colored wood, stained with rich brown tobacco and ash. He passed me his matches, smiling.
“What do you want with that old *******? Don’t tell me National Geographic is interested in the Delvos canaries.”
I lit up another stick and took a drag. “Shocking, right?”
“Actually, it’s about time their story is told.” Benet walked to the wooden bench to our left and patted the seat beside him. I walked over. “The Delvos canaries saved hundreds of Sheldonian lives over the years. But the day a crew went into the mines without one, my father came out of the ground as cold as when we put him back into it in his coffin.”
I sat in silence, unsure what to say. “Mr. Benet, I’m so sorry…”
“Please, just Ian. My father was the last Mr. Benet.”
We sat on the wooden bench, heat leaving our bodies to warm the dead wood beneath our legs. I shivered; the stars dance suddenly colder and more violent.
“Delvos canaries are martyrs, Ms. Waters. This whole town indebted to those tiny yellow birds, but nobody cares to remember that anymore.”
“Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Delvos and his, erm, martyrs?” The ember of my second cigarette was close to my pinching fingertips.
“Follow me.” Ian stood up and walked to the edge of the woods in front of us. We crunched the cold dust beneath our feet, making me aware of how silent it was. Ian stopped at a large elm and pointed, “See that yellow notch?” Sure enough, there was a notch cut and dyed yellow at his finger’s end. “If you follow true north from this tree into the woods you’ll find this notch about every fifty yards or so. Follow the yellow and it’ll spit you out onto the Delvos property.”
“Thank you, Ian. I really can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am to find out where to find this elusive Mr. Delvos and his canaries.”
“You don’t have to,” he knocked the ash out of his pipe against the tree, “Just do those birds justice in your article. Remember, martyrs. Tell old Delvos Ian Benet sends his regards.” He turned and walked back to the motel and I stood and watched in silence. It was then I realized I hadn’t heard a single bird since I got to Sheldon. The stars dance was manic above me as I walked back to my room and shut the door.

The canary chirped and Delvos stopped.
“This is a good place to break out fast. Sit.”
I sat obediently, squirming around until the rocks formed a more comfortable nest around my bony hips. We left for the mines as the stars were fading in the vermillion Vermont sky this morning and had been walking for what seemed like an eternity. I was definitely ready to eat. He handed me a gallon Ziploc bag from his backpack filled with raisins, nuts, various dried fruits, and a stiff piece of bread. I attacked the food like a raven.
“I was the reason no canaries entered the mines that day, Ms. Waters.” Delvos broke a piece of his bread off and wrapped it around a dried piece of apricot, or maybe apple. I was suddenly aware of my every motion and swallowed, loudly. I crinkled into my Ziploc and crunched on the pecans I dug out, waiting.
“Aren’t you going to ask why?”
“I’m not a parrot, Mr. Delvos, I don’t answer expectedly on command. You’ll tell me if you want.” I hurriedly stuffed a fistful of dried pears into my mouth.
Delvos chuckled and my nerves eased, “You’ve got steel in you, Ms. Rivers, I’ll give you that much.”
I nodded and continued cramming pears in my mouth.
“I was only nine. The canaries were my pets, all of them. I hated when Dad would send them into the mines to die for men I couldn’t give two ***** about. It was my birthday and I asked for an afternoon of freedom with my pets and Dad obliged. I was in the aviary with pocketfuls of sunflower-seeds. Whenever I threw a handful into the air above me, the air came to life with flickering yellow brushes and songs of joy. It was the happiest I have ever been, wholly surrounded and protected by my friends. Around twelve thirty that afternoon the Sheriff pulled up, lights ablaze. The blue and red lights stilled my yellow sky to green again and that’s when I heard the shouting. He cuffed my Dad on the hood of the car and Mom was crying and pushing her fists into the sheriff’s chest. I didn’t understand at all. The Sheriff ended up putting Mom in the car too and they all left me in the aviary. I sat there until around four that afternoon before they sent anyone to come get me.”
Delvos took a small bite of his bread and chewed a moment. “No matter how many handfuls of seeds I threw in the air after that, the birds wouldn’t stir. They wouldn’t even sing. I think they knew what was happening.”
I was at a loss for words so of course I blurted, “I didn’t see an aviary at your house…”
Delvos laughed. “Someone burnt down the house I was raised in the next week while we were sleeping. Mom died that night. The whole dark was burning with screams and my yellow canaries were orange and hot against the black sky. That’s the only night I’ve seen black canaries and the only night I’ve heard them scream.”
I swallowed some mixed nuts and they rubbed against my dry throat.
“They never caught the person. A week later Dad took the remainder of the birds and we marched into the woods. We worked for months clearing the land and rebuilding our lives. We spent most of the time in silence, except for the canary cries. When the house was finally built and the birds little coops were as well, Dad finally talked. The only thing he could say was ‘Canaries are not the same as a Phoenix, John. Not the same at all.”
The canary chirped, still only visible by the lanterns flame. Not fully yellow, I realized, here in the mines, but not fully orange either.

When I first walked onto John Delvos’ property on Thursday morning he was scattering feed into the bird coops in the front of his cabin. Everything was made of wood and still wet with the morning’s dew.
“Mr. Delvos?” He spun around, startled, and walked up to me a little too fast.
“Why are you here? Who are you?”
“My name is Lila Waters, sir, I am a photographer and journalist for National Geographic Magazine and we are going to run an article on your canaries.”
“Not interested”
“Please, sir, can I ask you just a few quick questions as take a couple pictures of your, erm, martyrs?”
His eyes narrowed and he walked up to me, studying my face with an intense, glowering gaze. He spit a mouthful of dip onto the ground without breaking eye contact. I shifted my camera bag’s weight to the other shoulder.
“Who told you to call them that?”
“I met Ian Benet last night, he told me how important your birds are to this community, sir. He sends his regards.”
Delvos laughed and motioned for me to follow as he turned his back. “You can take pictures but I have to approve which ones you publish. That’s my rule.”
“Sir, it’s really not up to me, you see, my boss, Jack Reynolds, is one of the CEO’s for the magazine and he...”
“Those are my rules, Ms. Waters.” He turned and picked back up the bucket of seed and began to walk back to the birds. “You want to interview me then we do it in the mine. Be back here at four thirty in the morning.”
“Sir…?”
“Get some sleep, Ms. Waters. You’ll want to be rested for the mine.” He turned, walked up his wooden stairs, and closed the door to his cabin.
I was left alone in the woods and spent the next hour snapping pictures of the little, yellow canaries in their cages. I took a couple pictures of his house and the surrounding trees, packed up my camera and trekked back to my motel.

“You finished yet?” Delvos stood up and the memory of his green and brown wooded homestead fled from my memory as the mine again consumed my consciousness. Dark, quiet, and stagnant. I closed the Ziploc and stuffed the bag, mainly filled with the raisins I sifted through, into my pocket.
Delvos grunted and the canary flapped in its cage as he stood again and, swinging the lantern, rounded another corner. The path we were on began to take a noticeable ***** downward and the moisture on the walls and air multiplied.
The canary chirped.
The lantern flickered against the moist, black stones, sleek and piled in the corners we past. The path stopped ahead at a wall of solid black and brown Earth.
The canary chirped twice.
It smelt of clay and mildew and Delvos said, “Go on, touch it.”
I reached my hand out, camera uselessly hanging like a bat over my shoulder. The rock was cold and hard. It felt dead.
The Canary was flitting its wings in the cage now, chirping every few seconds.
“This is the last tunnel they were digging when the gas under our feet broke free from hell and killed those men.”
Delvos hoisted the lantern above our heads, illuminating the surrounding gloom. All was completely still and even my own vapor seemed to fall out of my mouth and simply die. The canary was dancing a frantic jig, now, similar to the mating dance of the Great Frigate Bird I shot in the Amazon jungle. As I watched the canary and listened to its small wings beat against the cold metal cage I begin to feel dizzy. The bird’s cries had transformed into a scream colder than fire and somehow more fierce.
The ability to fly is what always made me jealous of birds as a child, but as my temple throbbed and the canary danced I realized I was amiss. Screaming, yellow feathers whipped and the entire inside of the cage was instantaneously filled. It was beautiful until the very end. Dizzying, really.
Defeated, the canary sank to the floor, one beaten wing hanging out of the iron bars at a most unnatural angle. Its claws were opening and closing, grasping the tainted cave air, or, perhaps, trying to push it away. Delvos unclipped the cage and sat it on the floor in the space between us, lantern still held swaying above his head. The bird was aflame now, the silent red blood absorbing into the apologetic, yellow feathers. Orange, a living fire. I pulled out my camera as I sat on the ground beside the cage. I took a few shots, the camera’s clicks louder than the feeble chirps sounding out of the canary’s tattered, yellow beak. My head was spinning. Its coal-black eyes reflected the lantern’s flame above. I could see its tiny, red tongue in the bottom of its mouth.
Opening.
Closing.
Opening, wider, too wide, then,
Silence.


I felt dizzy. I remember feeling the darkness surround me; it felt warm.

“I vaguely remember Delvos helping me to my feet, but leaving the mine was a complete haze.” I told the panel back in D.C., “It wasn’t until we had crossed the stream on the way back to the cabin that I began to feel myself again. Even then, I felt like I was living a dream. When we got back to the cabin the sight of the lively yellow canaries in their coops made me cry. Delvos brought me a bottle of water and told me I needed to hit the trail because the sun set early in the winter, so I le
ConnectHook Sep 2015


A signifying monkey grunted
(keyboard-clever, morals stunted)

from his perch in a digital tree.
And next, did text (quite rapidly):

“Courtship rituals won’t suffice.
Face-to-face can’t break the ice.

Instagram me! Tweet me up . . .
friend me, like me, buttercup.

Sentences are so outmoded—
take too long to get decoded;

primate sexting hits me faster,
steers me towards your hot disaster.

Female monkeys: send an image.
(Ain’t got time for useless verbiage…)

if your snout just might unseat me
tweet me, greet me—don’t delete me.”

Then, unpeeling fresh banana,
searched his screen for Vox Humana. . .
https://connecthook.wordpress.com/mine/various/

Stephen E Yocum Nov 2013
In ’68 Hutch and me,
Sitting at the bar drinking
Our third cold beer.
In a semi Fern Bar
Laguna or Newport Beach
Which now, I’m not sure.
It was around nine or so,
A week day night,
The place more empty than not.

She came in alone, made
Entry like the dramatic host of
A TV show. As if she were the
Center piece on the nations
Thanksgiving Dinner Table.
Over dressed to the nines,
Lots of color, heavy make up
She didn’t really need.

Her perfume scent hovered
Around her like a cloud of insects  
On a hot summer night in a wet meadow.
Kind of made my eyes water up.

She perched daintily like a dancer,
Upon a bar stool,
Three empty stools down,
Nodded the bartender her regular order.
A martini, a double it was,
With but a dab of vermouth.
One green olive on a stick.
The glass was prechilled as if
It had been waiting only for her.
She pounded that first one down,
As if the stem wear was a shot glass.
Another full stem glass appeared,
That one also quickly consumed
Two bright red lipstick stains all that
Remained in or on the stemmed glass rim.

Her main task accomplished,
She audibly exhaled,
As if tired or relieved.
I couldn't tell which.
Turned around on her stool to face
Hutch sitting closest to her.
“You boys Marines.” She declared,
More than inquired.
The close chopped hair cuts
giving us away.

Hutch just nodded, he never did say much.
A ****** just back from The Nam,
A dark scary guy of few words.

She opened her fur trimmed cloth coat,
exposing two very nice stocking clad legs,
And just a quick flash of red underpants.
Rotating towards us so we got a better shot.

She announced her name,
like as if we should know it.
Our blank stares informed her we didn’t.
Her face was to me, somewhat familiar.  
From movies in the 40s or 50s.
We were early 20 guys, she much older,
Trying hard to look younger, not succeeding.

Soon she was sitting right next to Hutch,
Two more Martini stems had come and gone,
Her lipstick finger prints upon them.
And still Hutch had not spoken more than
Three or four words.

She bought us a pitcher of brew,
Hutch grunted a short bit of gratitude.
We didn't have to say much, she was in charge.
It was all about her, she rambled on and on
Speaking volumes saying not much at all.
Beating back her crushing obscurity,
With flowery reminiscence recall,
Of glory days, long gone away.
Important for the moment, if only to her.
It was all; “me and I, I did this, I was that,
I slept with him,
And him and him”.
How about so and so?  I asked,
“No Darling not him, he was gay!
Still is.”

It was not long and she was touching Hutch.
On the hand, the shoulder, she was working him
With languid hungry looks from her big baby blues,
And the message could not have been plainer,
Had she held up a large hand lettered sign.

I don’t believe she was a “Working Girl”,
Just someone very lonely seeking to find
Herself, and some company for the night,
All to prove that she was still alive.

Looking at her, I could only think,
How sad and pathetic she seemed,
How desperate her plight.
To humble herself so,
In that dingy bar, among strangers
She did not know, Acting yet, still
On the only stage she could find,
Staring in her own bad ‘B’ movie drama.
In that dingy smelly bar.

Hutch and her left after a hour or so,
He never told me much about it.
He was unofficially AWOL for three days.
I covered for him, kept his name off the
Missing Morning Formation Reports
and the Daily Duty Lists.
No one cared to check. Our unit made up
Of mostly guys back from the war,
A pretty loosey-goosey outfit.

Once in a while now I see an old movie,
most are Black and white, Film Noir stuff,
And there she is, a much younger her,
Looking pretty **** good,
Not real big roles they were,
Claimed she was in the chorus
Of "Singing In The Rain" in '52.
To this, I can not attest,
watched that film several times,
But I never saw her there.

Had parts Playing damsels in distress,
A mobster’s gun moll a time or two,
Or unhappy Play Girls on a bar stool.
I guess it was type casting that done her in.
Or maybe she got a little too long in the tooth..
A sad ending to a short B movie career.
Life ain’t easy, even for a so called “movie star”.
Fame is not all it’s cracked up to be.
A smattering of fame, apparently worth,
Nothing at all.
True stuff from an old guys past.
She had called the Company Office
once or twice, looking for Hutch.
He told us to tell her that he had
been Shipped Out, when he actually
hadn't.

She no doubt found someone else to
tell her story to.

I saw that woman the other day on TV,
an old film on Turner Classic Movies
doing her thing. I sort of wonder what
ever  happened to her, but refuse to
Google it to find out.
Some information you don't need
or what to know.
It did inspire this little Poem Noir write.

Got a letter from Hutch in '70, we were
both out of the Corps. He was headed to
the Arabian Desert as a hired gun, to guard
some pipe line operation. Have no idea what
became of him after that. Hutch was a real hard
case, 14 confirmed kills through a ****** sight.
I hope he made it out of the desert all right,
maybe sitting on a beach someplace recalling
his back in the day three nights with a once
upon a time B movie star. Actually I doubt he
recalls her at all.
Edward Laine Sep 2011
The old green door creaked when it opened. The same way it always did. The same old pitiful, sad sound it had made for years.
Sad because, like the rest of Jimmy's Bar it wouldn't be broken the way it was if someone would only take the time to fix it, in this case to grease the hinges, and then maybe the joint wouldn't be such a dive.
But that was the way it was, and the old green door pretty much summed up the whole place before you had even stepped in.

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

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

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

                                       FIN
Mitchell Duran Feb 2013
Goodbye Prague, to a city I never thought I'd know.
Goodbye Prague, to a heaven that is lined with shattered beer bottles and stamped out cigarettes the junkies and the hobo's here still manage to get a  few puffs out of.
Goodbye Prague, to a hell that was once hovering with the feelings of control, manipulation, and more control, but now is twirling top speed to a land unknown.
Goodbye Prague, you seductive ***** with your cheap liquor, beer, and cigarettes, smelling of aged mahogany mixed finely with an acidic burst of fresh *****.
Goodbye Prague, I do not know when I will see you again, but I hope that I do and that I never grow so old that I forget you.
Goodbye to your abstract animals smeared black, screaming in the exploding summer sun. Goodbye to freshly cut pigs heads and cow flesh, hanging in your storefront window, tempting every passerby like the *****'s of Amsterdam.
Goodbye to every cobblestone that shines after a fresh rain or snow, slippery to the newcomer, an annoyance to the amateur, thoughtless to the old timer.
Goodbye to the potraviny's stocked with two crown marked up ***** and space vegetables shaped and colored in a one and only kind of vernacular; without you, I would have half-drunkenly stumbled home towards dreams of menial headaches and shadowy beer or perhaps to The Oak to drink alone.
I scream so long through faint puffs of carbon nicotine clouds made illuminated by the icy orange street lamps 800 years old glow!
I scream so long to late metro's and early trams!
I scream so long to the roaring rocks who reflect the faces of aging clocks!
So long to passed out bums and unforgiving metro officers. So long to dollar fifty beers and the fear of getting deported. So long with counting silver crown to make even, seeing my math prowess has lessened. So long embedded needles and bottle caps deep within the snowy cobble. So long listless wanders all their money thrown away until the month of May comes to knock on their door. So long alleyway romance 100 crown notes and old men in their rickety fishermen boats. So long sad masked faces who in their forward march sit stunned seeing fortune picks only some. So long through the grey mist stabbed with neon signs that attract the youth and the mad. So long to the feeling everything I had to say was the wrong thing. So long to feelings of foreign familiarity whose ball and chain were slowly starting to rust away. So long in song to the player's of Riegrovy hill whose voices I just couldn't stand. So long I've come to understand everyone's got a choice to live or wish they did. So long to the wide swept hills of Petrin, where angel's of lore go to rest atop dusted fresh snow, among the dotted new born vine. So long to the sound of wet metal against metal, a scream of order carried on the blue man's shoulder. So long to a city whose architecture reminds me of old men's faces and whose color reminds me of elderly women's dresses. So long to smoking in front of children without a second thought for their health. So long to racism that is wicked, but grunted genially - the executioner smiles at the accused - the gravedigger's weep for the dead - the ant makes a break for a hill not his. So long forlorn love whose only remedy for a cure is the beer sitting in front of you. So long to wondering what's going on in the world, when all I want and got is what's right in front of me.
Farewell Prague, you shadowed street walker, a cloak of stars around you, finding all that owe you  your due.
Farewell Prague, you in the morning eyes half mast, snow crunching underneath stony white.
Farewell Prague, miss-handler of crooked time pieces stating the obvious, ignoring to blame bluntly on youthful alcohol abuse.
Farewell Prague, you took me up the hill and through the woods where ravens, black as gutter ice, crackled down at me like showers of New Year's fireworks.
Farewell Prague, you gave me peace where I once thought I was unable to have.
Farewell Prague, you befriended me, then ordered me a shot that made me cough, then ordered me a beer so we could sit and truly feel what it is to sit and wallow in our time here.
Farewell Prague, you entranced me with view after view to a city to stubborn to die.
Farewell Prague, I leave you like you would leave me.
Farewell Prague, to your fat snow flakes that drop into wide eyed children mouths, tasting of iron whiskey rye, though they do not flinch at the taste.
Farewell Prague, I leave you with a hush of a whimper, bitter as the cold, and indifferent as the server's over at Cafe Lourve.
Farewell Prague, with a thousand miles of graveyards, where ghosts barely have the strength to weep.
Farewell Prague, I admit I never knew how to love until I came to visit you.
Farewell Prague, as I stare out your cracked and smoky tram windows, my thoughts not my own, shop windows and naked, screaming men, their cigarettes bouncing in between their lips like a jack of spades on smack, where at last we see that life is only a worth a **** if lived.
Farewell Prague, I see the cards there on the table and you're winking at me while I stand at the backdoor, and what's more, there's a secret you've got to give that I refuse believe.
Farewell Prague, to your open sore catastrophe of society, KFC on every block, and Starbuck's on every other, and on the other other are the lined' wino's shaking open handed and spread for a case of cardboard vino.
Farewell Prague, to the nasty smoker's in trams that just stopped caring.
Farewell Prague, to a city rhythm generated by an ignorant originality and uniqueness, where the same has no name and the the plain jabber on about their jobs in their pretty blue jeans.
Farewell Prague, because to say goodbye would mean we don't have that friendly tone.
Farewell Prague, I see to sacrifice oneself for the comfort of the elder or the opposite fills me with agitated obligation stationed in a vessel older than I've ever lived - yet I know it, for it is me.
Farewell Prague, you are a lost lullaby caught in the wind of an elastic multi-colored pin-wheel, shining riches of the rainbow into the eyes of children, who all whistle when they snore.
Farewell Prague, a button upon the Earth, like every man.
Farewell Prague, a love song sung in the depths of a damp grey hall, rivers all around, so the sounds too much to drink were outlandish in high emotion, juvenile commotion.
Farewell Prague, we were young - not caring about the future, but of course, with worry in our hearts for worry is a sign of human being human; yet, still, we asked nothing of one another and you gave and I gave and you took and I took and we walked underneath one another's blanket's until we were no longer cold and the winter showed to be just an annoying individual at the party.
Farewell Prague, to your lack of complications, making simplicities acceptable again.
Farewell Prague, to the snow that never stops falling, all while slumbering within dream until the seam is ripped so the old can die.
Farewell Prague, I've shined every marble staircase and washed every tram window; you owe me nothing because I like you.
Farewell Prague, to the long nights bleeding away at the table alone, the lady fast asleep, lit by the dim orange glow of the twisted streetlights below.
Farewell Prague, to the long nights forgetting pains of existence and accepting every solution to ward of resistance.
Farewell Prague, our long talks and hovering walks, always forcing me to balk.
Farewell Prague, at last you got the praise you have always deserved.
Farewell Prague, to hot humid nights filled with *** and butter in the summer and cold bitten cold of ***** and juice a la winter.
Farewell Prague, to bad service but good drink and food.
Farewell Prague, you curious tale the bravest man would waver to say.
Farewell Prague, to bridges galore and more dead leaves then wrinkles on my crooked face.
Farewell Prague, at night the sheen of liquor wears off only if you let it be so.
Farewell Prague, to all the those lonely mornings bent head into book on the way to work.
Farewell Prague, how long till you grow to be young again?
Farewell Prague, how long till I admit my defeat to you?
Farewell Prague, how long until I accept I'm the last fool in this world?
Goodbye Prague, the last soldier is standing, but the war is not yet won.
Goodbye Prague, to your hazy stars glimmering and shining for an indebted audience.
Goodbye Prague, the sun breaking through ink spilled colored clouds, the birds chirping, the dogs barking, and us wondering where we started.
Goodbye Prague, your churches are empty so the sins of man run rampant and at last the prayers of men go unanswered; we now abandoned to fend for ourselves.
Goodbye Prague, the puncturing purity of your ways make me giggle in delight as I listen to the cool piano man play; his eyes on the horizon shattering like toppled china.
Goodbye Prague, at last there is a time where we both get what we want.
Goodbye Prague, the verandas are chilled with the dew of winter and the snow glitters like bitter diamonds as the fool tips his hat to shy away the sunlight.
Goodbye Prague, every rain drop that fell upon me was a gift you can never take away.
Goodbye Prague, the fool adheres to agnostic rules but the cruel here see no reason to sue.
Goodbye Prague, I think therefore the dust of escape reflects the waves of the river Vlatva.
Goodbye Prague, to your lack of vowels.
Goodbye Prague, when the night wavers hear the Beherovka weep into its own glass, love leaving her forever making no note to Kissy.
Goodbye Prague, tram driver's unforgiving in their merciless need for schedule.
Goodbye Prague, the last homage to the war standing like a shining diamond neath chipped and shattered rubble.
Goodbye Prague, a listless memory mentioned only in drifting dream.
Goodbye Prague, every loving glance smelling of freshly poured beer over newly fallen snow.
Goodbye Prague, to your hardness, your beauty, and your madness.
Goodbye Prague, your days wet with rain, stricken by sunlight, reflecting white emerald into the window panes of passing trains.
Goodbye Prague, at last you got what you deserved.
Goodbye Prague, now I can weep and say I have trampled upon your cheek and slunk through your veins and trudged through your blood and skipped through your hair and saw every line - both sought after and nought - you have acquired through time.
Goodbye Prague, there is no reason to get excited, you are free.
Goodbye Prague, I see the silhouette of the trees that line your hills and I am forsaken to see the leaves turning from jovial yellow greens to disregarded and disparaged furnaces of dim fire reds and browns.
Goodbye Prague, the people within you deserved all of the credit.
Good Prague, the people outside of you deserve what ever they believe they do.
Goodbye Prague, you family to families with common sense and love rampaging through your barley stained veins.
Goodbye Prague, perhaps there is nothing under your rubble, maybe already all is lost for everyone, everywhere, but maybe, you living the simpler life, can show all that life can be so.
Goodbye Prague, you gave me letters, words, lines, commas, apostrophes, and dashes, paragraphs, pages, and eventually, a story; I leave you marked.
Goodbye Prague, an old friend whose hand I shook but knew would one day turn my back on.
Goodbye Prague, the bite of your cold generosity and your bustling love leaves man with nothing but to bike back with no chance of triumph.
Goodbye Prague, street cleaners clean up your wear and tear from the mothers and fathers that bore you, some 800 years ago; ageless, you loom longer than they would like.
Goodbye Prague, battling sleep as the ***** raps for more and more, none that the man has.
Goodbye Prague, the night is curling in as the wave crashes to the short and I am the lost sun looking for a place to rise, trying to get to the sky.
Cyril Blythe Nov 2012
I followed Delvos down the trail until we could see the mouth of the mine. The life and energy of the surrounding birches and sentential pines came to a still and then died as we left the trees shelter behind and walked closer, closer. The air was cold and dark and damp and smelled of mold and moths. Delvos stepped into the darkness anyways.
“Well, girl, you coming or aren’t you?”
I could see his yellowed tobacco teeth form into a smile as I stepped out of the sun. It was still inside. The canary chirped in its cage.
“This tunnel is just the mouth to over two hundred others exactly like it. Stay close. Last thing I need this month is National Geographic on my *** for losing one of their puppet girls.”
“Delvos, ****. I have two masters degrees.” I pulled my mousey hair up into a tight ponytail. “I’ve experienced far more fatal feats than following a canary in a cave.”
He rolled his eyes. “Spare me.” He trotted off around the corner to the left, whistling some Louis Armstrong song.
“I survived alone in the jungles of Bolivia alone for two months chasing an Azara’s Spinetail. I climbed the tallest mountain in Nepal shooting Satyr Tragopans along the cliff faces. In Peru I…” Suddenly I felt the weight of the darkness. I lost track of his lantern completely. I stopped, my heartbeat picked up, and I tried to remind myself of what I had done in Peru. The mine was quiet and cold. I wiped my clammy, calloused hands on my trail pants and took a depth breath.

In through the nose. Out through the mouth. This is nothing. I followed a Diurnal Peruvian Pygmy-Owl across the gravel tops of the Andes Mountains, no light but the Southern Cross and waning moon above. I am not scared of darkness. I am not scared of darkness.
I stopped to listen. Behind me I could hear the wind cooing at the mouth of the mine.
Taunting? No. Reminding me to go forward. Into the darkness.
I shifted my Nikon camera off my shoulder and raised the viewfinder to my eyes, sliding the lens cap into my vest pocket. This routine motion, by now, had become as fluid as walking. I stared readily through the dark black square until I saw reflections from the little red light on top that blinked, telling me the flash was charged. I snapped my finger down and white light filled the void in front of me. Then heavy dark returned. I blinked my eyes attempting to rid the memories of the flash etched, red, onto my retina. I clicked my short fingernails through buttons until the photo I took filled the camera screen. I learned early on that having short fingernails meant more precise control with the camera buttons. I zoomed in on the picture and scrolled to get my bearings of exactly what lay ahead in the narrow mine passageway. As I scrolled to the right I saw Delvos’ boot poking around the tunnel that forked to the left.
Gottcha.
I packed up the camera, licked my drying lips, and stepped confidently into the darkness.

When I first got the assignment in Vermont I couldn’t have been more frustrated. Mining canaries? Never had I ever ‘chased’ a more mundane bird. Nonetheless, when Jack Reynolds sends you on a shoot you don’t say no, so I packed up my camera bag and hoped on the next plane out of Washington.
“His name is John Delvos.” Jack had said as he handed me the manila case envelope. He smiled, “You’re leaving on Tuesday.”
“Yes sir.”
“Don’t look so smug, Lila. This may not be the most exotic bird you’ve shot but the humanity of this piece has the potential to be a cover story. Get the shots, write the story.”
I opened the envelope and read the assignment details in the comfort of my old pajamas back at my apartment later that night.
John Delvos has lived in rural Vermont his entire life. His family bred the canaries for the miners of the Sheldon Quarry since the early twenties. When “the accident” happened the whole town shut down and the mines never reopened. . There were no canaries in the mines the day the gas killed the miners. The town blamed the Delvos family and ran them into the woods. His mother died in a fire of some sort shortly before Delvos and his father retreated into the Vermont woods. His father built a cabin and once his father died, Delvos continued to breed the birds. He currently ships them to other mining towns across the country. The question of the inhumanity of breeding canaries for the sole purpose of dying in the mines so humans don’t has always been controversial. Find out Delvos’ story and opinions on the matter. Good luck, Lila.
I sighed, accepting my dull assignment and slipped into an apathetic sleep.


After stumbling through the passageway while keeping one hand on the wall to the left, I found the tunnel the picture had revealed Delvos to be luring in. Delvos reappeared behind the crack of his match in a side tunnel not twenty yards in front of me
“Do you understand the darkness now, Ms. Rivers?” He relit the oily lantern and picked back up the canary cage. “Your prestigious masters degrees don’t mean **** down here.”. He turned his back without another word. I followed deeper into the damp darkness.
“Why were there no canaries in the mine on, you know, that day?” The shadows of the lantern flickered against the iron canary cage chained on his hip and the yellow bird hopped inside.
“I was nine, Ms. Rivers. I didn’t understand much at the time.” We turned right into the next tunnel and our shoes crunched on jagged stones. All the stones were black.
“But surely you understand now?”
The canary chirped.

When I first got to Sheldon and began asking about the location of the Delvos’ cabin you would have thought I was asking where the first gate to hell was located. Mothers would smile and say, “Sorry, Miss, I can’t say,” then hurriedly flock their children in the opposite direction. After two hours of polite refusals I gave up. I spent the rest of the first day photographing the town square. It was quaint; old stone barbershops surrounded by oaks and black squirrels, a western-themed whiskey bar, and a few greasy spoon restaurants. I booked a room in the Walking Horse Motel for Wednesday night, determined to get a good night’s sleep and defeat this town’s fear of John Delvos the following day.
My room was a tiny one bed square with no TV. Surprise, surprise. At least I had my camera and computer to entertain myself. I reached into the side of my camera bag, pulled out my Turkish Golds and Macaw-beak yellow BIC, and stepped out onto the dirt in front of my motel door and lit up. The stars above stole all the oxygen surrounding me. They were dancing and smiling above me and I forgot Delvos, Jack, and all of Sheldon except its sky. Puffing away, I stepped farther and farther from my door and deeper into the darkness of Vermont night. The father into the darkness the more dizzying the star’s dancing became.
“Ma’am? Everything okay?”
Startled, I dropped my cigarette on the ground and the ember fell off. “I’m sorry, sir. I was just, um, the stars…” I snuffed out the orange glow in the dirt with my boot and extended my hand, “Lila Rivers, and you are?”
“Ian Benet. I haven’t seen you around here before, Ms. Rivers. Are you new to town?” He traced his fingers over a thick, graying mustache as he stared at me.
“I’m here for work. I’m a bird photographer and journalist for National Geographic. I’m looking for John Delvos but I’m starting to think he’s going to be harder to track than a Magpie Robin.”
Ian smiled awkwardly, shivered, then began to fumble with his thick jacket’s zipper. I looked up at the night sky and watched the stars as they tiptoed their tiny circles in the pregnant silence. Then, they dimmed in the flick of a spark as Ian lit up his wooden pipe. It was a light-colored wood, stained with rich brown tobacco and ash. He passed me his matches, smiling.
“So, Delvos, eh?” He puffed out a cloud of leather smelling smoke toward the stars. “What do you want with that old *******? Don’t tell me National Geographic is interested in the Delvos canaries.”
I lit up another stick and took a drag. “Shocking, right?”
“Actually, it’s about time their story is told.” Benet walked to the wooden bench to our left and patted the seat beside him. I walked over. “The Delvos canaries saved hundreds of Sheldonian lives over the years. But the day a crew went into the mines without one, my father came out of the ground as cold as when we put him back into it in his coffin.”
I sat in silence, unsure what to say. “Mr. Benet, I’m so sorry…”
“Please, just Ian. My father was the last Mr. Benet.”
We sat on the wooden bench, heat leaving our bodies to warm the dead wood beneath our legs. I shivered; the star’s dance suddenly colder and more violent.
“Delvos canaries are martyrs, Ms. Rivers. This whole town indebted to those tiny yellow birds, but nobody cares to remember that anymore.”
“Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Delvos and his, erm, martyrs?” The ember of my second cigarette was close to my pinching fingertips.
“Follow me.” Ian stood up and walked to the edge of the woods in front of us. We crunched the dead pine needles beneath our feet, making me aware of how silent it was. Ian stopped at a large elm and pointed. “See that yellow notch?” he asked. Sure enough, there was a notch cut and dyed yellow at his finger’s end. “If you follow true north from this tree into the woods you’ll find this notch about every fifty yards or so. Follow the yellow and it’ll spit you out onto the Delvos property.”
“Thank you, Ian. I really can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am.
“You don’t have to.” He knocked the ash out of his pipe against the tree. “Just do those birds justice in your article. Remember, martyrs. Tell old Delvos Ian Benet sends his regards.” He turned and walked back to the motel and I stood and watched in silence. It was then I realized I hadn’t heard a single bird since I got to Sheldon. The star’s dance was manic above me as I walked back to my room and shut the door.

The canary’s wings and Delvos stopped. “This is a good place to break our fast. Sit.”
I sat obediently, squirming around until the rocks formed a more comfortable nest around my bony hips. We had left for the mines as the stars were fading in the vermillion Vermont sky that morning and had been walking for what seemed like an eternity. I was definitely ready to eat. He handed me a gallon Ziploc bag from his backpack filled with raisins, nuts, various dried fruits, and a stiff piece of bread. I attacked the food like a raven.
“I was the reason no canaries entered the mines that day, Ms. Rivers.”
Delvos broke a piece of his bread off and wrapped it around a dried piece of apricot, or maybe apple. I was suddenly aware of my every motion and swallowed, loudly. I crinkled into my Ziploc and crunched on the pecans I dug out, waiting.
“Aren’t you going to ask why?”
“I’m not a parrot, Mr. Delvos, I don’t answer expectedly on command. You’ll tell me if you want.” I stuffed a fistful of dried pears into my mouth.
Delvos chuckled and my nerves eased. “You’ve got steel in you, Ms. Rivers. I’ll give you that much.”
I nodded and continued cramming pears in my mouth.
“I was only nine. The canaries were my pets, all of them. I hated when Dad would send them into the mines to die for men I couldn’t give two ***** about. It was my birthday and I asked for an afternoon of freedom with my pets and Dad obliged. I was in the aviary with pocketfuls of sunflower-seeds. Whenever I threw a handful into the air above me, the air came to life with wings slashing yellow brushes and cawing songs of joy. It was the happiest I have ever been, wholly surrounded and protected by my friends. Around twelve thirty that afternoon the Sheriff pulled up, lights ablaze. The blue and red lights stilled my yellow sky to green again and that’s when I heard the shouting. He cuffed my Dad on the hood of the car and Mom was crying and pushing her fists into the sheriff’s chest. I didn’t understand at all. The Sheriff ended up putting Mom in the car too and they all left me in the aviary. I sat there until around four that afternoon before they sent anyone to come get me.”
Delvos took a small bite of his bread and chewed a moment. “No matter how many handfuls of seeds I threw in the air after that, the birds wouldn’t stir. They wouldn’t even sing. I think they knew what was happening.”
I was at a loss for words so and I blurted, “I didn’t see an aviary at your house…”
Delvos laughed. “Someone burnt down the house I was raised in the next week while we were sleeping. Mom died that night. The whole dark was burning with screams and my yellow canaries were orange and hot against the black sky. That’s the only night I’ve seen black canaries and the only night I’ve heard them scream.”
I swallowed some mixed nuts and they rubbed against my dry throat.
“They never caught the person. A week later Dad took the remainder of the birds and we marched into the woods. We worked for months clearing the land and rebuilding our lives. We spent most of the time in silence, except for the canary cries. When the house was finally built and the bird’s little coops were as well, Dad finally talked. The only thing he could say was “Canaries are not the same as a Phoenix, John. Not the same at all.”
We sat in silence and I found myself watching the canary flit about in its cage, still only visible by the lanterns flame. Not fully yellow, I realized, here in the mines but not fully orange either.

When I first walked onto John Delvos’ property on Thursday morning he was scattering feed into the bird coops in the front of his cabin. Everything was made of wood and still wet with the morning’s dew.
“Mr. Delvos?”
He spun around, startled, and walked up to me a little too fast. “Why are you here? Who are you?”
“My name is Lila Rivers, sir, I am a photographer and journalist for National Geographic Magazine and we are going to run an article on your canaries.”
“Not interested.”
“Please, sir, can I ask you just a few quick questions as take a couple pictures of your, erm, martyrs?”
His eyes narrowed and he walked up to me, studying my face with an intense, glowering gaze. He spit a mouthful of dip onto the ground without breaking eye contact. I shifted my camera bag’s weight to the other shoulder.
“Who told you to call them that?”
“I met Ian Benet last night, he told me how important your birds are to this community, sir. He sends his regards.”
Delvos laughed and motioned for me to follow as he turned his back. “You can take pictures but I have to approve which ones you publish. That’s my rule.”
“Sir, it’s really not up to me, you see, my boss, Jack Reynolds, is one of the editors for the magazine and he...”
“Those are my rules, Ms. Rivers.” He turned and picked back up the bucket of seed and began to walk back to the birds. “You want to interview me then we do it in the mine. Be back here at four thirty in the morning.”
“Sir…?”
“Get some sleep, Ms. Rivers. You’ll want to be rested for the mine.” He turned, walked up his wooden stairs, and closed the door to his cabin.
I was left alone in the woods and spent the next hour snapping pictures of the canaries in their cages. I took a couple pictures of his house and the surrounding trees, packed up my camera and trekked back to my motel.

“You finished yet?” Delvos stood up. The mine was dark, quiet, and stagnant. I closed the Ziploc and stuffed the bag, mainly filled with the raisins I had sifted through, into my pocket.
Delvos grunted and the canary flapped in its cage as he stood again and, swinging the lantern, rounded another corner. The path we were on began to take a noticeable ***** downward and the moisture on the walls and air multiplied.  
The lantern flickered against the moist, black stones, sleek and piled in the corners we past. The path stopped ahead at a wall of solid black and brown Earth.
The canary chirped twice.
It smelled of clay and mildew and Delvos said, “Go on, touch it.”
I reached my hand out, camera uselessly hanging like a bat over my shoulder. The rock was cold and hard. It felt dead.
The canary was fluttering its wings in the cage now, chirping every few seconds.
“This is the last tunnel they were digging when the gas under our feet broke free from hell and killed those men.”
Delvos hoisted the lantern above our heads, illuminatin
PrttyBrd Jul 2015
Crossing the room in slow motion
She watches his muscles move in the moonlight
Oh how they glisten in anticipation
Sit my pet, in a whisper
At her feet he waits with bated breath
So pleased at his obedience
Proceed
Such a simple command
He inches closer
His eagerness evident in his silence
In his omission of a proper response
An outfaced palm and he stops short
Sitting back on his feet, hands in lap, eyes to the floor
I'm sorry Ma'am, he says
That is evident by his failure to respond
He knows what is coming
Grabbing the back of his hair she forces his eyes to hers
Position, she says disgustedly
She leans back in the armchair as he pulls her hips to the edge
He lifts one leg and gently places it over the arm
Then he positions the other in the same manner
Sitting back on his feet, facing the floor
His arousal is evident, as is his moist anticipation
Respire.
The word is grunted through gritted teeth
He leans into heaven
Hovering an inch away
Slow deep breaths
He breathes in her essence wanting nothing more
Than to bridge the gap with his tongue
White satin and peekaboo lace
She runs down the rules of his punishment
Will you touch the Goddess
No Ma'am
Will you drool on the Goddess
No Ma'am
Will you move without permission
No Ma'am
How long will you hold your position
As long as my Goddess sees fit...Ma'am
Good boy
His breath is slow, deliberate, and heavy
The heat of it permeates the thin fabric
She runs her hand over the object of desire
Accentuating the outlines of what lies beneath
An accidental whimper
Silence!
A gruff command
Followed implicitly
In a slow and graceful motion
A hand slips under the fabric
Opening her flower releasing a hint of nectar
The scent grows exponentially upon the unfurling of petals
A glistening finger touches him just above his lip
Is that what you want?
It's a rhetorical question
Yes please
What will you do to get it
Such a simple question with but one answer
Anything you please, Goddess
Stick out your tongue
He does so in silence, careful that he does not touch her
She uses his wet flesh to wipe her finger clean
Closer she whispers
Now, within a half inch he breathes her in deeply
Mesmerized by the dewy goodness held behind the smooth satin
Watching desire grow in painfully slow motion
He blows out on the growing dampness
As he waits for her next command
7215
Mike Bergeron Sep 2012
There was a house fire on my street last night …well… not exactly my street, but on a little, sketchy, dead-end strip of asphalt, sidewalks, weeds, and garbage that juts into my block two houses down. It was on that street. Rosewood Court, population: 12, adjusted population: 11, characterized by anonymity and boarded windows, peppered with the swift movements of fat street rats. I’ve never been that close to a real, high-energy, make-sure-to-spray-down-your-roof-with-a-hose-so-it-doesn’t-catch­ fire before. It was the least of my expectations for the evening, though I didn’t expect a crate of Peruvian bananas to fall off a cargo plane either, punching through the ceiling, littering the parking lot with damaged fruit and shingles, tearing paintings and shelves and studs from the third floor walls, and crashing into our kitchen, shattering dishes and cabinets and appliances. Since that never happened, and since neither the former nor the latter situation even crossed my mind, I’ll stick with “least of my expectations,” and bundle up with it inside that inadequate phrase whatever else may have happened that I wouldn’t have expected.



I had been reading in my living room, absently petting the long calico fur of my roommate’s cat Dory. She’s in heat, and does her best to make sure everyone knows it, parading around, *** in the air, an opera of low trilling and loud meows and deep purring. As a consequence of a steady tide of feline hormones, she’s been excessively good humored, showering me with affection, instead of her usual indifference, punctuated by occasional, self-serving shin rubs when she’s hungry. I saw the lights before I heard the trucks or the shouts of firemen or the panicked wail of sirens, spitting their warning into the night in A or A minor, but probably neither, I’m no musician. Besides, Congratulations was playing loud, flowing through the speakers in the corners of the room, connected to the record player via the receiver with the broken volume control, travelling as excited electrons down stretches of wire that are, realistically, too short, and always pull out. The song was filling the space between the speakers and the space between my ears with musings on Brian Eno, so the auditory signal that should have informed me of the trouble that was afoot was blocked out. I saw the lights, the alternating reds and whites that filled my living room, drawing shifting patterns on my walls, ceiling, floor, furniture, and shelves of books, dragging me towards the door leading outside, through the cluttered bike room, past the sleeping, black lump of oblivious fur that is usually my boisterous male kitten, and out into the bedlam I  had previously been ignorant to. I could see the smoke, it was white then gray then white, all the while lending an acrid taste to the air, but I couldn’t see where it was issuing from. The wind was blowing the smoke toward my apartment, away from Empire Mills. I tried to count the firetrucks, but there were so many. I counted six on Wilmarth Ave, one of which was the awkward-looking, heavy-duty special hazards truck. In my part of the city, the post-industrial third-wave ***** river valley, you never know if the grease fire that started with homefries in a frying pan in an old woman’s kitchen will escalate into a full-blown mill fire, the century-old wood floors so saturated with oil and kerosene and ****** and manufacturing chemicals and ghosts and god knows what other flammable **** that it lights up like a fifth of July leftover sparkler, burning and melting the hand of the community that fed it for so many decades, leaving scars that are displayed on the local news for a week and are forgotten in a few years’ time.



The night was windy, and the day had been dry, so precautions were abundant, and I counted two more trucks on Fones Ave. One had the biggest ladder I’ve ever seen. It was parked on the corner of Fones and Wilmarth, directly across from the entrance into the forgotten dead-end where the forgotten house was burning, and the ladder was lifting into the air. By now my two roommates had come outside too, to stand on our rickety, wooden staircase, and Jeff said he could see flames in the windows of one of the three abandoned houses on Rosewood, through the third floor holes where windows once were, where boards of plywood were deemed unnecessary.



“Ay! Daddy!”



My neighbor John called up to us. He serves as the eyes and ears and certainly the mouth of our block, always in everyone’s business, without being too intrusive, always aware of what’s going down and who’s involved. He proceeded to tell us the lowdown on the blaze as far as he knew it, that there were two more firetrucks and an ambulance down Rosewood, that the front and back doors to the house were blocked by something from inside, that those somethings were very heavy, that someone was screaming inside, that the fire was growing.



Val had gone inside to get his jacket, because despite the floodlights from the trucks imitating sunlight, the wind and the low temperature and the thought of a person burning alive made the night chilly. Val thought we should go around the block, to see if we could get a better view, to satisfy our congenital need to witness disaster, to see the passenger car flip over the Jersey barrier, to watch the videos of Jihadist beheadings, to stand in line to look at painted corpses in velvet, underlit parlors, and sit in silence while their family members cry. We walked down the stairs, into full floodlight, and there were first responders and police and fully equipped firefighters moving in all directions. We watched two firemen attempting to open an old, rusty fire hydrant, and it could’ve been inexperience, the stress of the situation, the condition of the hydrant, or just poor luck, but rather than opening as it was supposed to the hydrant burst open, sending the cap flying into the side of a firetruck, the water crashing into the younger of the two men’s face and torso, knocking him back on his ***. While he coughed out surprised air and water and a flood of expletives, his partner got the situation under control and got the hose attached. We turned and walked away from the fire, and as we approached the turn we’d take to cut through the rundown parking lot that would bring us to the other side of the block, two firemen hurried past, one leading the other, carrying between them a stretcher full of machines for monitoring and a shitload of wires and tubing. It was the stiff board-like kind, with handles on each end, the kind of stretcher you might expect to see circus clowns carry out, when it’s time to save their fallen, pie-faced cohort. I wondered why they were using this archaic form of patient transportation, and not one of the padded, electrical ones on wheels. We pushed past the crowd that had begun forming, walked past the Laundromat, the 7Eleven, the carwash, and took a left onto the street on the other side of the parking lot, parallel to Wilmarth. There were several older men standing on the sidewalk, facing the fire, hands either in pockets or bringing a cigarette to and from a frowning mouth. They were standing in the ideal place to witness the action, with an unobstructed view of the top two floors of the burning house, its upper windows glowing orange with internal light and vomiting putrid smoke.  We could taste the burning wires, the rugs, the insulation, the asbestos, the black mold, the trash, and the smell was so strong I had to cover my mouth with my shirt, though it provided little relief. We said hello, they grunted the same, and we all stood, watching, thinking about what we were seeing, not wanting to see what we were thinking.

Two firefighters were on the roof by this point, they were yelling to each other and to the others on the ground, but we couldn’t hear what they were saying because of the sirens from all the emergency vehicles that were arriving.  It seemed to me they sent every firetruck in the city, as well as more than a dozen police cars and a slew of ambulances, all of them arriving from every direction. I guess they expected the fire to get really out of hand, but we could already see the orange glow withdrawing into the dark of the house, steam and smoke rippling out of the stretched, wooden mouths of the rotted window frames. In a gruff, habitual smoker’s voice, we heard

                                      “Chopper called the fire depahtment

We was over at the vet’s home

                He says he saw flames in the windas

                                                                                                                                                We all thought he was shittin’ us

We couldn’t see nothin’.”

A man between fifty-five to sixty-five years old was speaking, no hair on his shiny, tanned head, old tattoos etched in bluish gray on his hands, arms, and neck, menthol smoke rising from between timeworn fingers. He brought the cigarette to his lips, drew a hearty chest full of smoke, and as he let it out he repeated

                                                “Yea, chopper called em’

Says he saw flames.”

The men on the roof were just silhouettes, backlit by the dazzling brightness of the lights on the other side.  The figure to the left of the roof pulled something large up into view, and we knew instantly by the cord pull and the sound that it was a chainsaw. He began cutting directly into the roof. I wasn’t sure what he was doing, wondered if he was scared of falling into the fire, assumed he probably was, but had at least done this before, tried to figure out if he was doing it to gain entry or release pressure or whatever. The man to the right was hacking away at the roof with an axe. It was surreal to watch, to see two men transformed from public servants into fingers of destruction, the pinkie and ring finger fighting the powerful thumb of the controlled chemical reaction eating the air below them, to watch the dark figures shrouded in ethereal light and smoke and sawdust and what must’ve been unbearable heat from below, to be viewing everything with my own home, my belongings, still visible, to know it could easily have gone up in flames as well.

I should’ve brought my jacket. I remember complaining about it, about how the wind was passing through my skin like a window screen, chilling my blood, in sharp contrast to the heat that was morphing and rippling the air above the house as it disappeared as smoke and gas up into the atmosphere from the inside out.

Ten minutes later, or maybe five, or maybe one, the men on the roof were still working diligently cutting and chopping, but we could no longer see any signs of flames, and there were figures moving around in the house, visible in the windows of the upper floors, despite the smoke. Figuring the action must be reaching its end, we decided to walk back to our apartment. We saw Ken’s brown pickup truck parked next to the Laundromat, unable to reach our parking lot due to all the emergency vehicles and people clogging our street. We came around the corner and saw the other two members of the Infamous Summers standing next to our building with the rest of the crowd that had gathered. Dosin told us the fire was out, and that they had pulled someone from inside the gutted house, but no ambulance had left yet, and his normally smiling face was flat and somber, and the beaten guitar case slung over his shoulder, and his messed up hair, and the red in his cheeks from the cold air, and the way he was moving rocks around with the toe of his shoe made him look like a lost child, chasing a dream far from home but finding a nightmare in its place, instead of the professional who never loses his cool or his direction.

The crowd all began talking at once, so I turned around, towards the dead end and the group of firefighters and EMTs that were emerging. Their faces were stoic, not a single expression on all but one of those faces, a young EMT, probably a Basic, or a Cardiac, or neither, but no older than twenty, who was silently weeping, the tears cutting tracks through the soot on his cheeks, his eyes empty of emotion, his lips drawn tight and still. Four of them were each holding a corner of the maroon stretcher that took two to carry when I first saw it, full of equipment. They did not rush, they did not appear to be tending to a person barely holding onto life, they were just carrying the weight. As they got close gasps and cries of horror or disgust or both issued from the crowd, some turned away, some expressions didn’t change, some eyes closed and others stayed fixed on what they came to see. One woman vomited, right there on the sidewalk, splashing the shoes of those near her with the partially digested remains of her EBT dinner. I felt my own stomach start to turn, but I didn’t look away. I couldn’t.

                                                                                It was like I was seven again,

                                in the alleyway running along the side of the junior high school I lived near and would eventually attend,

looking in silent horror at what three eighth graders from my neighborhood were doing.

It was about eight in the evening of a rainy,

late summer day,

and I was walking home with my older brother,

cutting through the alley like we always did.

The three older boys were standing over a small dog,

a terrier of some sort.

They had duct taped its mouth shut and its legs together,

but we could still hear its terrified whines through its clenched teeth.

One of the boys had cut off the dog’s tail.

He had it in one hand,

and was still holding the pocket knife in the other.

None of them were smiling,

or talking,

nor did they take notice of Andrew and I.

There was a garden bag standing up next to them that looked pretty full,

and there was a small pile of leaves on the ground next to it.

In slow motion I watched,

horrified,

as one of the boys,

Brian Jones-Hartlett,

picked up the shaking animal,

put it in the bag,

covered it with the leaves from the ground,

and with wide,

shining eyes,

set the bag

on fire

with a long-necked

candle

lighter.

It was too much for me then. I couldn’t control my nausea. I threw up and sat down while my head swam.

I couldn’t understand. I forgot my brother and the fact that he was older, that he should stop this,

Stop them,

There’s a dog in there,

You’re older, I’m sick,

Why can’t I stop them?

It was like
Namir May 2014
The snow leopard and the little fox were sound asleep. The leopard curled up around the young fox keeping them both warm in the cold weather. As the sun started to arise the leopard awoke from his slumber. He then softly pat his little young fox apprentice's head, "Wake up little one. A new day awaits us," he said with a smile as he stood on all fours and stretched out his back. The little fox grunted and yawned "It's too early," she whined as she curled up tighter, "The sun isn't even fully up in the sky yet" was her rebuttal to his awakening. The leopard took her by the scruff and softly tossed her into the snow covered field. "Ahhh!~Ooof." The little fox yelled as she tumbled into the snow. "You know what they say, the early bird catches the worm, the early cat catches the bird." The leopard laughed slightly as he spoke, watching the little fox stand up all covered in fresh snow from last nights fall. "Well what's that have to do with me?!?" the fox shouted slightly, being slightly agitated about him tossing her. The leopard smirked as he walked by her and pat her head again, dusting off the snow, "It has everything to do with you, it has everything to do with everyone. It means the sooner you wake the more you can do. The more time you have in the day to do what you want," the leopard exclaimed with pride and excitement in his voice, "Do you ever ask yourself why there is so much left you want to do by the end of the day but just didn't have enough time? Well this helps you get more done. It gives you more time." The little fox tilted her head slightly to he side and looked down a bit, "I guess you are right," she said softly. Not knowing what else to say, she stood up and shook the snow off of herself then rush over to the leopard. "So what lesson will I learn today?" she asked eagerly. The leopard smiled as they started walking, "Didn't you just learn something?" he said as he raised an eyebrow. The little fox giggled softly and started pouncing around him laughing happily and saying "Well yea. But I want to learn more." The leopard laughed and looked to her, "Slow and steady wins the race little one. Slow and steady. we will find something for me to teach you, or for us to learn, as time goes on." he said softly but wisely as they kept walking into the woods, away from the sunrise.
Part 2 of the ongoing short stories of a snow leopard and a young fox venturing together, for my love.
Mateuš Conrad Oct 2018
.i cannot do justice to Hölderlin's invocation of Hyperion, but i also have no intention to, but i'll begin with, what isn't regarded as a pristine, classical constellation:

it begins with a punt volant,
on first observation,
   ・
      which descends in brightness
         ano teleia -
romanic interruption of the added
comma beneath it,
like a tail dragging the head along...

    the constellation?

        a dismembered man,
a crooked pentagram,
and a trinity of sorts...

                              .          .        
    ­                               .    
                                           .
        .

                       .

                                       .

this, the dislodged man,
with a trinity of stars floating
outside of him...

the trinity is faint...
when you first spot the ano teleia
star with its brightness...
yet that is a mishandled
pentagram...

which brings me to the argument,
some people send their DNA
to companies that
discover their genetic makeup,
i also read a newspaper article
that stated:
why bother?
you genetic make-up
also consists of what
you gravitate to,
culturally...

    so... i'm reading an article
on Hyperion...
and then i follow several links...
all i know is that the Vikings
were the founders of
Kiev...
                
   and to get to Kiev from Norway...
you have to go past the land
i was born in...

   then working from an article
on Emperor Julian, the Apostate...
then onto an article on Mardonius...
then on the article on the Goths...

Goths?
  Swedish "vikings"...
  who had established settlements
in the region of Poland were
i was born,
by 250BC...
                  
   so... why would i cling to
Nordic folk songs,
or their revisionism,
if i... suddenly hear a song,
and react with goosebumps on
my cheeks from hearing it?

or what about the remnants
of Scythia?
           boiling in my veins?

that newspaper article was right,
i don't need to send off my DNA
sample to companies,
i can read my DNA from the culture
i'm migrating toward!

     Hyperion,
i have abandoned the Athenian gods
of Olympus,
i've looked elsewhere,
to the mountain that became
the pit of Tartarus...
look back at Uranus, and sampled
the wintry perfumes of Gaia...

          swam in the ***** of Pontus...
and i have...
seen how both the gods,
and the titans...
   are the source of etymological
classification,
unlike what the judeo-christian tranditions
teach...
Adam didn't name the birds
and the animals from an a priori
posit / advantage point
of some obscure inheritance...

        first come the grander things...
man conjures up the existence / non-existence
of either gods, or titans...
to spin the wheel and gain etymological
momentum!
            
of what became the ****** of the affair
between Helios and Gaia...
    however true...
   or untrue...
      there is still an etymological foundation
for the existence of said
names...
   the names / not beings...
that spawn more names to be attributed
to such miniscule things
as flies, centipedes and pebbles...

from the word Uranus, comes the word
Helios,

from Selene comes the word
which coincides
the words Pontus, Oceanus, Poseidon,
and subsequently the
moon's influence of the tides...
the... παλίρροιες (palirroies,
siblings of the furies, the rivers,
and all other nymphs)...

      but however ridiculous applying
these nouns is...
they are rigid evolution
of words, formerly grunted,
or expressed in a barbaric way...
these are the words first defined...

Gaia probably became perfected
when there occurred a syllable
arithmetic... well... "arithmetic" is a lose
term of addition...
    the syllable g'ah! g'ah!
combined with i'ah!
                            
stealthy *******, this Jewish god,
he knew it all along...
hide in the letters,
hide in phonetics,
hide long until...
there's a second Belshezzar moment
in history...
when he's seen a second time...

i see him!
the surd H and the laughter
instigator H of the tetragrammaton...
you sigh when you write AH...
you express a vague awed-surprise
when you write OH...
    H represents the breath...
and the soul...

i see him!
i write too much to not be able
to dis-guide you from doing likewise...
the breath enter with an AH
and an OH...
   ah as in wonder with a surprise,
oh, as in counter: so i was wrong?

ooh... like something is teasing
you...
    uh? as in an element of disgust...
but?
HA?
       the point...
the point being?
laughter...
                    how else can you
express laughter,
if not balancing on the Jewish
definite article,
i.e. HA, i.e. HA-shem (the-name?),
how?!

but the Greeks were of some use...
their names of Titans and
Greeks?
   etymological boot-camps...
what we began with,
and, ultimately,
what we return to,
not for bowing, prayer,
belief...
but?
            *momentum
...
    
we already that Zeus is actually
Thor,
   who's father, Odin,
is Uranus...
                    so, technically...
Zeus is Thor...
                     Prometheus is Loki...
etc. etc. etc.,
      point being...
these similarities, these correlations?
they're not, they're not,
plagiarisms...
                        they would be plagiarisms,
if they had similar etymological
beginnings...
they're not plagiarisms,
because even now,
not everyone on this earth is a bilingual
entity that could
support a globalist agenda!
      if bilingualism was rife,
then the liberals could have their
globalist "unity"...
              but since bilingualism is the lesser
half of the polymath...
    no...
              isolated communities
have isolated ideas...
they look as if they were plagiarisms
now... but then?
   the only globalist artifact left these days,
the Socratic argument for
universal, convergent purposes -
and particular, divergent practicalities...
these religions were not
plagiarisms...
   do you really think that
plagiarism is a pulverizing motivational
tool for the perpetuation
of a people's existence?
   i don't think so...
                      plagiarism doesn't drive
people...
it's just a strange coincidence that
there are similarities that could be conceived
as plagiarisms...
but then again...
****... me and this Mongol share
a very similar physiognomy...
  and... oh ****... we're standing up-right...
have five limbs...
   and we use fire to cook food...
yeah... the religious plagiarism issue is
really suspicious...
we weren't, ever, to make a similar conclusion...
since we all, supposedly led a mass
exodus from Africa...
     like **** we did...
     perhaps...
               but the story doesn't begin
with an origins...
   more... what happened in what
became localized eventualities of segregation...
hey... i might have, 100 year... ha ha!
yeah right... to write my own narrative...
i don't like the antithesis of
doubt: of the perfected plethora of
the antithesis of both faith & denial...
     i like my rainbow plethora of doubt
to "counter" faith & denial...
   given that i also don't like
the pseudo-schizophrenic dichotomy of
faith, contra denial.
- makes for a more exciting
content of the heart... what? doubt;
doubting Thomas
  with a heart like a sinking stone,
and fire in his eyes,
                    a, second Belshezzar.
Wraithlike shadows swiftly crawled toward a miami public chess table, dark green ivy growing along the fading checkered table top. the shadows slithered onto one of the benches, swirling upwards until they formed the shape of a dark toned young man, dressed in a long black punk-style trench coat. he wore leather gloves adorned with old runes, as was his black shirt and bandana he wore to keep his white hair back. there were a few chrome necklaces around his neck, the largest being a pentagram on a heavy chain. he sighed and waved his right hand over the table, demonic chess peices appearing beneath his touch, each one crawling with miniature demons on a blackened spire. he closed his eyes impatiently and let his dark aura spread over the surrounding area. the ivy on the table withered and died instantly along with the flora and fauna within a half mile of him. his eyes glowed a deep red
and his teeth, all of them incisors, extended into fangs. he was startled by a light voice behind
Him, "Leon. this is not the time." leon turned his head swiftly and growled, his features softening as he saw that it was the man he wanted to see. "Luminae... on time as usual. hows life in the Upper?" luminae wore a bright white suit, resembling human armani. he sat down adjacent to leon and waved his own chess peices into existence, each an angelic being weilding swords. they turned to be too bright for leon's eyes and he donned his red-tinted, coffin shaped shades. as the plant life began to regrow, luminae replied, "same as usual... holy war everywhere. i'm only allowed to see you now under supervision of three others." as he said that, three more men stepped out along the paths, clothed much like Luminae. leon half grinned, half scowled at luminae. "the boss had similar orders." leon snnapped his fingers and a trio of demons appeared next to the white clad angels. swords appeared
in the angels hands, ready to potentially cut down their enemies, but luminae waved away their
Suspicions. leon also commanded his overseers to remain shadowed. "you start, luminae."
luminae waved a simple angelic pawn forward, saying, "shame you can't join me in the upper, brother. how's the Foothills?"
leon countered by moving his knight, a grim reaper on horseback, dripping blood on the board, "dark... fiery... what else do you expect from hell?" he wore a deep scowl on his face as he said It, emphasizing the last word. "not a bit of sustenance as far as the eye can see.." luminae had seen through the disguise already, seeing that leon was little more than a charred, demonic skeleton, the fake-flesh creating what used to be the leon that they had known in their earlier lives.
as the chess pieces fell, they either burned or were saved by the opposing side. it came down to their final peices being kings and a single bishop on each side. luminae paused a moment, "you've gotten better at chess."
leon looked away, "its not chess... its a warning.. we are the bishops, luminae."
Luminae looked at leon, eyes narrowed to slits. "what do you mean, leon?"
leon sighed and waved a hand over the board, the peices disintigrating and forming a black scroll with bright red lettering. luminae dared not touch it, but read it, a look of shocked horror creeping across his face.
leon continued, "brother, boss wants me to **** you. you know what happens if we die again.." luminae nodded and waved the peices back into existance, seeing the Holy one as his king, and the ****** one as leon's. he looked at the bishops and saw in detail both of them, superimposed onto the peices.
"how long do i have to prepare, brother?" luminae gripped the hilt of his sword.
leon stood, "its already begun..." out of nowhere, tendrils of darkness wrapped around leon's arm and formed a jagged sword. the fake-flesh had begun burning away, leaving leon's true form, sinister and horrifying, shining black before luminae. empty eye sockets gazed at luminae and a hollow moaning shook the new-grown trees.
"goodbye, luminae." leon began to sink into the ground, falling into the Foothills. luminae watched as leon's guardians transformed into cackling ghouls and were released to wreak havoc on the world. luminae snapped his fingers at his own guardians, who followed the ghouls and destroyed them. "goodbye, brother..." luminae looked back at the four chess peices remaining on the board. he walked over and picked up the demon bishop, now safe to touch, depositing it in his pocket after clutching it tightly against his chest. as he touched it, he felt leon's sorrow, regret and anger. he felt little pity on him, though they had been like brothers in their pre-life, they were sworn enemies in the After. these chess games had been their only way to meet and relive a moment of their old life, granted by the High one and The ****** once every ten years under a neutral pact.
luminae also picked up his bishop and gave it a blessing, replacing it on the table for leon to retreive.
luminae sighed and
walked to the guardians. they all took a prayong stance and uttered a line of scripture, and then they were gone, leaving the park as it had been.
* *
Nero felt the intense flames licking at him from below as he descended. as he plunged deeper, the flames receded but the heat remained. when he finally touched the ground, he walked a winding path, past the ****** souls, each in their own private hell. nero scowled at them as he passed and stepped to a long sloping wall. he shook the gloves off his claws and drew a perfect pentagram into the side, opening a hidden tunnel system. he stepped forward and waved the door closed, then continued walking down the passage, the walls depicting numerous sins, ****, ******, deception, lust, and other such evils, all of which Nero had committed. he walked faster, to satan's chambers. the devil sat boredly on his seat, watching the same smokey images of his minions at work. "nero. welcome back to the foothills." the devils guardians set about beating nero until he could barely move. "you didnt ****
the angel, scaly *******. why?"
nero grunted and attempted to stand, "i wanted more of a challenge,
Thus i let him prepare."
the guardians let him stand. "interesting. but when you face him, you better have enough power to defeat him. i shall bestow upon you the power of ten thousand of my highest demons, do not come back empty handed, or each of their ****** souls will burn in your cursed chest."
the guardian closest to him and punched him in the spine, sending him to the floor. "un-understood... sir..."
a pentagram glowed on the floor around him, and he was bound to the spot. he felt a deep cold in him and then an intense burning as he was given the powers.
all according to plan...
*
luminae turned a corner on the golden street, the massive mansions towering over him. there was only one that he sought though, The Holy Ones' mansion, and his throne. he walked tentatively up the steps to the open gates, and stopped when he heard a commotion. he stopped and turned his head, seeing an angel, covered in runes, obviously a warrior as he had a fighter's vest and a sword in a
Scabbard. the angel had just jumped through a window and into a crowd of people, chased by a few Enforcer class angels. they locked eyes for a moment and luminae raised his hand, flashing first one finger then four. the one winged angel looked confused for a second and stood there in thought. luminae gestured towards the main gates, seeing the enforcers locate the one winged angel. the angel fled and luminae continued up the steps, hands in his pockets. *recruit number one...

* *
The neighborhood was silent. There wasn’t a soul around this eerie town and the sun hadn’t peaked out of the clouds for days. The darkness of the land had swallowed the smiles of the population and nature had ceased to show its existence. The birds must have migrated early. The wind disrupted the branches of every tree that was in front of the houses; it left only the whisper of its presence behind.
Shadow’s alarm clock blared at the appropriate time of eight in the morning and he grunted at its ignorance. His girlfriend, Jessie, didn’t seem to care too much about his morning laziness. He didn’t even bother turning off the alarm. He simply rolled on his opposing side to ignore it. That seemed to require a larger effort than if he’d just gotten out of bed. Jessie remained motionless and wasn’t snoring like she usually did. She wore a long sky blue nightgown to bed and it brought out the true color of her blondish hair. She was lying on her stomach and her hands were tucked underneath the fluffy pillow. Shadow just peered at her through the crack of his eye as the sound of the alarm clock withered away his patience. Shadow heard his three-legged basset hound, Tripod, hobble to the nightstand and he began to lick Shadow’s left foot that was hanging out of the white silky bed sheets. The saliva dripped towards the floor and the grossness of the dog’s actions still wasn’t enough to get Shadow’s dead *** out of bed. The dog realized it had no affect on him and left the room.
Shadow had just gotten fired from his job as a technical engineer at a no-name computer store. He put computers together with both new and used parts and resold them to the customers. When he told Jessie, she was not supportive at all. They didn’t speak all last night and Shadow couldn’t imagine how this morning was going to go- another “Yes, MOTHER” conversation. He always had a problem with his temper. All hell broke loose when shadow didn’t get his way, but you’d think he had been taught not to swear at his boss when he got angry. Well, on the contrary his mind and anger had gotten the best of him. Guess Shadow saw that there was no reason for him to get out of bed. But his three-legged dog seemed to think so. He kept ignoring Tripod for some time and he **** all over the rug as a result of it.
Shadow felt a discomfort among his genitals as he stumbled to his feet to go to the bathroom. He concocted his usual bowl of cereal once he reached the kitchen across the hall and slurped up every last drop of milk. He thought distressingly about what Jessie was going to bring on him this morning. The sounds of static and distorted voices echoed through the room from the television- he walked back into his bedroom to get dressed. Shadow called out for his dog.
The job wasn’t so good anyway. Shadow was displeased with his boss from the beginning but he knew he needed to receive the checks- the pay was so good. He always had a passion for building computers and when he first explored this field, Spot would sit and watch Shadow build. Spot was his first dog, around the time when he was a teenager. He would sit there until Shadow was done and that might’ve been what caused him to like building them so much- it was the memory.
Shadow continued to call for Tripod but there was no response. The aroma of the dog **** grew more and more noticeable. The doors were closed so there was no doubt he didn’t escape again. He ran all around the house, opening doors and calling outside for him; peaking behind the furniture and the clothes within his closets for him. He spotted the pile of dog **** on the living room floor.
“What are you doing, Shadow?” Jessie asked.
“I am looking for the **** dog. He **** on the rug again.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Jessie.
“OUR dog!??” said Shadow.
The air began to blow through the rooms of the house and the papers that were neatly stacked on Shadow’s desk began to fall to the floor. Jessie sat up in bed and the wind carried her hair across her scull and it made her look even more beautiful than ever. Her hazel-green eyes remained staring a Shadow with the same goofy look of concern but she still looked beautiful.
“I don’t know if I’m alright. My face hurts…” said Shadow.
“Shadow, I DID hit you pretty hard last night. Remember?” asked Jessie. “I threw that little book-end at you and it hit you in the cheek bone. I didn’t mean it, I AM sorry.”
“It’s fine, Jess. I was being a ****. But really, where’s the dog?”
“I don’t know, he’s you’re dog. Let me get dressed and I’ll help you look for him,” said Jessie.
The window shades were pulled up so the light could shine throughout the house but there wasn’t much light to affect anything. It was still dark and moody in the sky and the storm was still passing though the area. Shadow had to turn every light on in the house to see, even though it was ten in the morning. He knew he needed to find a job, but he wanted to find this dog. He ran around the house looking for every trace of dog fur. The sounds of Jessie getting dressed were coming from the closet.
“Could you hurry up and help me, honey? I need to find this mutt,” said Shadow.
Shadow had given Jessie a special license plate for her birthday last year. It said “Jessie” on it and it was very hard to get. He had to call months in advance to purchase that plate. It was now implanted on his silver Jetta. Shadow’s job was right down the street, so he just rode a bike to work every day and let Jessie use the Jetta.
The job Shadow had used to drive him crazy. He’d work for hours on fixing or building motherboards and if it didn’t work, he’d have to start over. He’d come home in the worst moods after a hard day’s work. He didn’t want dinner; he didn’t want to hear from anybody, though Jessie liked to talk. And that’s where Shadow got very aggravated. He began to yell at her because she asked him questions and he would kick over Tripod’s food and water and storm out of the house in a rage; leaving the front door open behind him. But Shadow didn’t leave last night. He wasn’t the one who stormed out in a rage because he was too tired for that. Jessie left with the dog and claimed she was going to stay at her mother’s for the evening. They must have come back in the house late last night. The dog must be here. Shadow and Jessie kept looking for Tripod while calling out his name to come in sight. Tripod finally walked through the door form the back yard and barked a weak screeching bark.
“It’s about time, Podders! It’s about time we accomplished that dilemma” said Shadow as he looked up at Jessie and back at Tripod.
“What the ****?!” he said. The dog had blood all around his gumball nose and his droopy lips and walked away from them into the bedroom.
“I give up,” said Jessie. “You gotta clean that dog up because I am not going to go near that Blood; I already cleaned up the dog ****. What has he been through?”
“I don’t know…” answered Shadow.

In the mean time, I’m going to go shopping for some new shoes,” Jessie. “I’ll be back later this afternoon, alright?”
Shadow sat on his favorite recliner chair in the living room. She kissed his forehead, grabbed her keys and walked out the front door.
There was silence. He was alone.
Shadow immediately got up and opened the front door to grab the daily town newspaper from the steps. He noticed that the Jetta had already left the driveway and wondered why Jessie must have been in such a hurry. He looked down the gloomy dark street and saw no sign of life. He closed the front door, locked it, and sat back down on his recliner. He unfolded the newspaper and wiggled his toes to the melody of his improvisational hum.
The hum suddenly came to a halt. The toes stopped wiggling. Shadow didn’t seem to breathe. He read the front page of the news paper and couldn’t believe his eyes. There was a Jetta- or maybe it wasn’t because it didn’t look like one. Maybe that was the point. There was no hood; there was no front seat. There were two photos: one of the car and one of the whole accident. A Tractor trailer was involved and no one in the Jetta made it. Shadow started to breathe slightly again and came to his senses; tried to collect himself. He saw the license plate and couldn’t believe his eyes.
There was silence. He was alone. He was alone the whole time.
© Christopher Rossi, 2010
C Evelyn Jun 2013
disappointment.
small. sad.
i was ready.
i came prepared.
but this isn’t what i wanted
I sighed.  I giggled.
So you snapped.
and forced.
  and held.
    and choked.
“it won’t happen again”
meek.  weak.
you gruffed, and grunted.
and moaned.
and i was still.
lifeless.  on my back.
so i peered at the nightstand,
and your wilted flower.
Alta Boudreau May 2012
"You're so beautiful,"
says
Mr. You-Deserve-Better.
His friend,
Joe I-Can-Be-Different,
nods in agreement.
I'm just Miss Single-20-Something
searching for companionship
finding nothing
but the company
of every one-track-minder
in the Greater Portland Area.
I've been promised the moon,
stars,
a few planets here
or there.
Receiving just grunted approvals
from two-pump chumps
with over-active sweat glands.
So excuse the skepticism
clouding my judgement
as I roll all man kind
into one conclusion:
You all bark like dogs.
If he acts like one,
and smells like one,
I'd say Bingo
is his
name-o.
Just save it.
This Jenny has been around the block.
Your flowers will die.
Your chocolates will go to my hips.
For now,
your name is Mud,
and you can call me Miss Independent.
© MAB May, 2012
Mymai Yuan Sep 2010
I swirled my fingertips on the surface of the water and sent a message across with shiny, glossy ripples that grew slowly, and gracefully. He kneeled on the other side of the moonlit pond and watched as the ripples from my fingertips reached him. He cupped the ripples of the water into his palm and drank the cold water, sighing happily.
“What does it taste like?” I whispered hoarsely, as loud as I dared to be while knowing we would be reprimanded fiercely for sneaking out of the huts at this time of night.
“Love” he called back.
I burst out laughing in panting breaths and tried to stifle the noise with my fists. I heard him bellow out, and the echoes rang freely through the woods before he quickly shoved his face into the water and laughed in there, the bubbles of his laughter surfacing violently.
“You idiot” I whispered joyfully when he brought his head up from the water, his dark hair curled against his forehead, “I didn’t even write anything to do with love. I wrote how foolish of a boy you are.”
“And you still stick with me so that’s love isn’t it?” he teased me. His finger tips swirled in the water for a minute. “Your turn to taste, Masra”
I waited till the ripples hit the side of the pond and quickly dipped my tongue in and lapped the water. I pursed my lips, pretending to debate what his message was. The surface of the black water was littered with reflection of the stars. It was so beautiful that I momentarily forgot the little game we were playing and gasped, “Oh stars!”
He took a quick intake of breath and stared up at me with wide eyes. “Really?” he asked in an unbelieving tone.
“What do you mean?”
“Stars?” he asked again, sounding like a sweet little confused child.
“Yes!” I laughed. “Stars!” and I splashed the surface of the water to show him.
He shook his head. “I can’t believe you could read, I mean, taste that... That’s incredible…”
It took me a second to realize what he was talking about. I decided to play along anyways and whispered dramatically, “Yeah, but I didn’t know what you were trying to say”
“A million stones on fire with wishes
Yet the brightest star is not up there” he recited his favorite lines from an old love poem.
“You are disgustingly soppy” I got up from kneeling by the pond and treaded softly on the dry leaves so that they wouldn’t crackle so loud. Reaching him, I kneeled down beside him and ran my fingers through his curly wet locks. His dark eyelashes were still wet with water and the chestnut eyes gleamed brightly.
I curled into his lap comfortably like a cat and he rolled over with me lying on top, while his strong arms held me. I buried my face into the skin of his beautiful brown neck and inhaled the sweet, musky smell. Reab smoothed my hair before murmuring huskily, “Why do you always do that?”
“It smells like you, the old Reab smell. It makes me feel safe and warm and happy.”
“I love you.”
“Do you think we’ll always be happy like this?” I asked, speaking of my deepest fear.
“I will never stop loving you, if that’s what you mean. And if we are caught sneaking out, I’m pretty sure no one would be too surprised. They all know from the way I look at you I intend to marry you when Chief thinks you’re old enough and finally say okay.”
I laughed at the thought of Chief being able to give me away.
With my parents both gone since I was a baby, Chief had adopted me as his daughter and he loved me tremendously for all his lecturing ways. Reab laughed a little too but without any fear of Chief rejecting him. Chief loved Reab too and approved of us most of the time.
“Do you remember when he caught us making ‘sheep-eyes’ at each other as he put it and he was furious?” We chuckled at the memory of Chief turning storm on us, declaring we were too young.
“What would he say now?” he turned my face to face his and kissed me for a while, with the wind blowing the tendrils of my hair on his face. He smiled mid-way through our kiss, for the soft strands of my hair on his face always tickled him.
I didn’t want to continue with my question after that happy moment. But I had to; he was the only man who would tell me the truth. “Our tribe has enemies. We have many men, many strong men… but I know we are in a constant threat. I have seen the midnight meetings you men hold when you think we are asleep and more weapons that normal are being made nowadays.”
He looked at me with sad eyes; with so much love and desire burning in them that my own eyes began to swell up with tears. I fluttered my lids to get rid of the wetness but he reached over and caught a tear on his pinky and licked it. Then he licked all the tears off my face and I giggled as his tongue flicked over the tearstains on my cheeks.
“The tribe is in some danger. You and I are not. I will love you forever.” I shook my head and was about to interrupt with another fearful question when he continued, “You know what Chief always says. We don’t live just one life. I loved you since we were babies. You know what I think?”
“What?” I asked, his voice slightly soothing my fears.
“I think I’ve known you before. There’s no way you can know someone the way I know you in the short life time we’ve lived. This is not the first time we’ve met.”
“You’re not worried if a battle comes we won’t be together?”
“No.” he answered and kissed my forehead.
“Why?” I couldn’t get rid off the idea of such a terrible fate.
“I think…” he struggled to get the words out, “I think we’ll always be together somehow. Masra, I’m… I’m just not afraid”
We lay there for a while until I fell asleep in his arms. I was awoken a little later with him shaking me softly for us to sneak back into our own huts.
There was a little advantage in having both my parents gone. Lela, my cousin who shared the hut with me, stirred only a little as I crept back in.



“I’ve been hearing from your sister that lately you have been waking very late. I don’t approve of this laziness.” Chief said to me as I sat on the floor of his hut, admiring the new spear he had just made. I sharpened the stone a little for him and smiled up brightly. His face softened. Chief was not usually an easy person to get around, but he always said he loved me more than was good for me. “I saw Reab today. He didn’t look so alert and awake.”
My mind clicked into place as I realized Chief had his suspicions. “Reab?” I inquired with an innocent expression. “Is he ill?”
“He just looked tired.” Chief replied with raised eyebrows, his eyes were a little puzzled. I had fooled him for now.
I balanced the spear in my hand. “You hold a spear too well for a woman” he grunted. “Spending too much time with me, I suppose. You should spend more time with your sister Lela. It would have been different if your mother was still alive. She would’ve taught you some womanly manners.”
“I think I’m feminine enough.”
“Look at you, blundering around after the men of the village, killing creatures and planning your attack even better than my men.”
“I don’t plan Chief; it just comes to me”
“Making it even worst!” he cried with a hidden pride.
I burst out laughing and bade him good night. He ruffled my hair fondly. “You go to sleep now Masra. Get some good sleep. Tell Reab that too” his eyes sparkled wickedly. Perhaps I hadn’t fooled him after all.
“You tell Reab, won’t you? I won’t see him till tomorrow morning.” I replied demurely.



And here passed, long uneventful days with the occasional nights that Reab and I would sneak out of the huts to spend the cool nights together and forcing ourselves out of bed at the crack of dawn along with the villagers, exhausted but happy. I suspected Chief still had his own wary thoughts, but with a denial somewhere in his mind, he did not seek to expose the truth or confine stricter rules on me through Lela. The few months that went by, I watched as Reab grew from a boy to a man.
A man I loved more than life itself.
One night, as I was lying in his arms I poked a thumb against his forehead and breathed out happily before nestling into his chest.
“What?” he asked me, amused at my random, loving behavior.
“I like to check that you’re real.”
He had no words in reply to that but tightened his hold on me, and swiftly kissed my dark hair with a sudden passion. His fingers caressed my head, and he inhaled the flowery perfume from the brown strands clutched in his hand.
“I wish you a long and happy life.” I whispered softly, afraid of the feelings that were surging through me.
“With you.” he replied back.
“No. Not just with me… anywhere… as long as you’re happy.”
“So with you then…”
Some days after that night, when it was pouring so furiously everyone had retreated back into their huts to cozy up, gossip, and flirt while warming their hands on hot wooden mugs we snuck off and climbed a special tree.
It was special because it was a giant, and very old with gnarled branches and knobs that made it easy to grip on with our toes, but the trunk itself was as smooth as a baby’s skin. It overlooked most of the village and the canopy was so thick it protected us from the rain except for the small wet drops that would escape through.
The tree stood apart from the woods and was very difficult to get to. One had to climb several other trees to reach it, ducking in and out of the tangle of branches up in the canopy like a maze. Only Reab and I had spent enough time up there to discover the path in reaching it. We were yet to discover how to reach it without getting scratches and bleeding scabs all over our skin.
Every time the thunder roared deafeningly Reab would yell, “I love you!” and no one could hear but Reab, the heavens, our special little tree and I.
He was so beautiful; like a lithe dangerous animal and his muscles were graceful and strong as he climbed around on the branches. I wished for the rest of our days to be like this and I remembered the lines he had recited to me only a little while ago,
““A million stones on fire with wishes
Yet the brightest star is not up there”

*

A distant roar erupted. The stars had not granted my wish, they had granted my deepest fear. The sound of drums rumbled steadily over the noise of screaming villagers, over the noise of animal fear in those I loved and lived with.
It was the sign that our enemies were finally in sight. We had been waiting for there attack all year long.
Lela grabbed me by the arm. “The chief says all women must flee!” she gasped and choked. Her eyes were leaking with tears. I stubbornly shook away her hand and I could see the desperateness growing in her eyes.
“There is no time to cry Lela”, I tried saying confidently but my voice shook. “Where is Reab?”
Even in her hysterical state she did not want to answer the question I already knew the answer to. “Where is Reab?” I repeated. When she did not reply I narrowed my eyes.
In the face of danger I had never been woman-like and cowered.
Chief had raised me stare any wild beast straight into its cold, predatory eyes before slaying it. I was not unfamiliar to thrusting a jagged dagger into the heart of danger.
I would not leave a man I loved behind like the running footsteps of women carrying their babies, pushing old people along, and dragging wailing children were doing.
I would not leave and I would fight when I could.
Lela stared at me as if she’d just read my mind.  “You may not fight Masra!” she cried. I pushed her aside.
“Help the women evacuate! Grab a baby, help a village elderly; just do it Lela!” I yelled violently and ran through the women who were running towards the woods.
I shoved women aside to get to the battle. My long legs tangled with the other woman, and I fell on my knees. They were both bleeding badly when I got up. Running with my knees stinging, a huge man suddenly grabbed me and swung me to face him. For one moment, I thought he was Reab and I clutched onto him; then I saw it was Chief, and I clutched to him even tighter.
“Chief, please don’t make me go away! Please let me fight with you!” I was screeching and begging with no sanity left in me.
He smiled weakly, “I wanted you to come without little Lela, I knew you would be headed this way. I have not much time Masra, my men need me. I have something I want to give you to make sure you will be safe enough to last through this war if I die,” he spoke softly.
I shook my head and hugged him. “But- but you- you wont!”
Chief gave me a sad smile. “I don’t know that.”
His brown hands reached to his neck and tugged a simple black leather string free. He shoved it into my hands. “Remember this, Masra. Just say to it, ‘Jack, Jack, shine the light’ when you feel there is nobody left in the world for you. Be ready for what happens. Goodbye Masra…”
He touched my cheek and warmth spread though me, momentarily making me feel safe.
“Why Jack?” I asked wretchedly, in a detached curiosity and trying to prolong the moment that Chief would be safe.
Jack was a commoner’s name; no one in our tribe was called Jack. We all had strong, powerful names that spoke of destiny, truth and purity.
“Chief Traben!” a man cried from the noises of surging mob of warriors.
“Go, Masra, go!” Chief said hurriedly, and pushed me away before whipping out of sight.
Chief had been like my best friend, my big brother and … my father. I wanted to fight with him, for him. But I knew in doing that, I would go against his wishes, and that was the last thing I would ever want to do.
A sudden thought made me realize I did not have to fight. I just had to be there or I would **** somebody in my own village for leaving behind loved ones. I knotted the black leather string determinedly on my neck.
I ran to the bottom of a slippery tree and climbed up to the canopy and began to duck in and out, swinging between and onto branches in the maze-like chaos of sticks and concentrated leaves to get to the special tree Reab and I shared.
I hid among the thick tangle; so thick no arrows would be able to pierce me and no enemy would see me. Growling and cursing myself, I remembered I carried no weapons with me and hastily patted my clothing to check again.
Then I remembered it would be useless to have any weapons unless I intended to go down there, for the abundant tangle worked both ways. A spear thrown from where I was would only get stuck in the dense branches below.
I could see the battle though, and that was enough: for now. I searched vainly for Reab, scampering along the top, trying to find where Reab was. I was wild with fury for him for coming.
He was just a boy, newly turned a man. He could still run and hide without shame. When I had him back in my arms again, I was sure to hit him and berate him for choosing to fight for me instead of being safe for me.
It never occurred to me once that Reab might be dead.
It still didn’t occur to me when I saw his body lying on the dirt below, with a man from a village - someone I couldn’t recognize from this height- dragging him. I shouted out, careless of the arrows of enemies.
For the first time in my life, I was terrified of blood: the blood that was seeping out of the wound on his stomach. I didn’t think he was dead; I believed he was injured and I thought of all the herbal concoctions I knew that I could paste over the wound to clean and heal it.
It still didn’t occur to me Reab was dead when the man left him by the bottom of a tree to return and fight. The men in our village did not leave those who could be healed. They stayed and helped them heal to the best of their ability before hiding their healing bodies’ safe in a bush. They only left behind those they could do no more for.
I trembled at anger in the neglect one of our men villagers had shown Reab; the disrespect in it. I would **** him if he were not killing our enemy. Somehow, in the wild pulsing of my body, I found myself climbing down and creeping stealthily to where Reab was and pulling him to safety in a bush.
When he was safe in the bushes, I held him and whispered to him that I was here. I said hold on Reab and I would go and make sure he was safe. I was sobbing. I could not comprehend what was happening for my mind had gone numb and blank.
How could a man who I loved so much bleed so much? All I knew was Reab was not moving in my arms and he must be terribly hurt.
I pressed my fingers to the blood on his stomach. I knew no man could have survived such a wound and so much lo
angela brooks Sep 2016
He was sitting on the stone cold step outside the Co-op
A thin blanket around his thin shoulders
His outstretched hand reached out to me
And touched my heart.
I gave him the cup of coffee I had been drinking
He seemed pleased, I felt good.

I saw him again on Saturday night, he looked thinner
His face hidden beneath a ***** grey hoodie.
Once more the outstretched hand reached out to me
I gave him a warm blanket, made of wool.
He grunted thanks, I felt good.

One week later I went looking for him on the stone cold step
outside the Co-op
He was sitting on the woollen blanket,
his eyes shrunken into his skull
I gave him my coat.

He gave an almost imperceptible nod of his covered head
And stretched his hand towards me again.
I fumbled in my purse, and gave him all I had – he grunted “Huh”
I felt I’d let him down.

My friends said I was losing weight, my clothes no longer fitted me.
I gave my sweater made of cashmere
To the hooded skeletal figure on the doorstep
outside the Co-op

His jeans were frayed and ***** from the streets
I gave him mine, they no longer fitted me.
He looked up, his broken teeth bared in a forbidding, dangerous smile.
I flinched. His outstretched hand pulled at my wrist,
I backed away, he held me.

I tried to run but his fingers tightened their grip, digging into my flesh
He pulled me in the direction of my home.
His grip on my wrist burning hot

I turned at my door to see him, he grinned, his eyes seeking my soul.
His face now no longer thin, his bony fingers now fleshy,
his rotted teeth Improved.

I looked at my hand. I saw my reflection in his eyes. My face skeletal
with shrunken cheeks,
My shadowed deep set eyes
haunted.
He laughed a croaking triumphant laugh as he entered my house
And pushed me out.


I turned and my feet took me back to the stone cold step
Where I crouched down outside the Co-op
A thin blanket appeared on my thin shoulders
I held my outstretched hand towards an approaching stranger
Who walked on by.

©AEB 14.05.16
Nigel Morgan Sep 2012
She was very warm in bed except for her nose, which was more than cold, though not quite frozen. Her bear, who she had folded into her arms but as a prelude to pulling back the covers - no duvees here just scratchy blankets- she placed on her on the pillow. Jellikins was pink and not a proper bear for a nine year old. She'd been her bear since infancy, small and a bit grubby, and pink.
 
It was still quite dark, silent. She could see her dressing gown hanging on the door - just. There was a movement downstairs; her father making tea perhaps. This was his time of day, the early morning. For as long as she could remember he was up and often out when she woke. Even at Christmas, particularly at Christmas when she sought her mother's bed he was 'out', working or walking in the park . But here at the farm he was here, downstairs, and if she went down now he'd wrap her in a blanket or two and read to her until the light changed through the kitchen window on to the yard, a gradual blueness, then, if it was a clear day she'd watch the sun draw itself from the sea in a golden ball.
 
She loved it when he read, because he loved to read, and because he loved to read to her, holding her gently in his arms, she would drift off into her own thoughts. Being out with dogs on the cliff paths, the smell of the Christmas tree at home that her mother would decorate tonight, being on the train for six hours with picnicy food, game after game of Go and those strange  word puzzles her father would invent , then the cycle ride with the big downhill rush to Morfyn and the long long push up Rhiw hill in the twilight . . .
 
Later, after their first breakfast they'd go out into the frozen yard and let the dogs out. Into the old sheds with their simple wooden latches hand-smoothed requiring the barest touch to open; then **** and his mum bounding out, and the little dogs yapping and yapping. Next, to barn and with the knife she'd been trusted with, she waited for the bales to land at her feet, flying out of the darkness up high near the roof. Cutting the baler twine and stuffing it in her coat pocket she opened out the compressed straw ready for Blossom and her friends to munch and scrunch, **** and **** their way through their breakfast.
 
On a farm the opening and closing of gates was like a little ceremony. Always the same careful ordering of movement; you could only open this gate if you'd closed that . . . you always checked the tail of the chain was the whole way through the loop and secure.
 
Meanwhile proper morning had arrived: it had been dark, now it was light, properly morning time. She could move all ten beasts on her own, from the Plas field across the yard to the Stack and back again - four gates each way and never a slip.
 
She had read at school that the beasts spoke to each other on Chrismas Eve, at the moment of the birth, when this baby was born in the stable. Although she doubted this just a little – Who had actually heard them? Was there  a recording perhaps? She wondered what they would say to each other tonight. Surely they spoke to each other all the time. Well, the beasts she knew mooed and grunted constantly. Was it just that we could understand them when suddenly it became Christmas? And how long could they talk for? Just a few minutes, or the rest of the night until the sun rose? She imagined herself opening her bedroom window at midnight to listen to them in the stack yard. She would look up at the sparkly sky, a sky that was so awesome that she and her father would, on a clear night, go up the mountain before bed and stand at the very top to look at the immense upturned bowl of the heavens rising out of the sea on three sides. At home the sky was just a red glow, occasionally the moon rose through the trees in the park, but the stars seemed hardly indistinguishable from passing aeroplanes, only they twinkled and moved. You couldn’t see those fields of stars her father wondered at it here on the mountain, those distant constellations, stars beyond number and time, light years away. Beside which the thought of animals talking to each other for a few minutes at Christmas seemed entirely possible.
Alexis J Meighan Dec 2012
Knock knock
Who's there?
Mr.Harris
Mr. Harris who?


Mr. Harris whom lead women with elegance
Tied minds and hearts with verbal excrement
Pondered their looks as well as their flesh
Decided to touch which lead to a mess
For his brain and hands were shaky at best
Floundered around inside of their chest
Slicing and skinned the meat of the breast
The last thing they saw as they took their last breath
An extreme way to deal with life and its stress
Just a mad insane killer you couldn't reject.
Harris is the  man who is there at your door
Knock Knock! Who's there?  Not you any more.
Mr. Harris with blood on his shoes
Mr. Harass you that's who!
Love.
-Xin-

Jessica;
Behind close doors he was a cruel brute.
In the public view he smiled and spoke soft
Laid the trap with a simple hello.
Sprung it with a slash
Took his trophies and placed it in his stash
Tonight he stalk a petite country gal
A texan tone and expecting child
Brunette, fair skin and smile you could eat
Perky, quirky with dainty hands and feet
He sat in her car and stakeout her yard
Sneaked in her house while she bath and smelled her towels.
She was a standing appointment on his to do calendar
For 3 months he pondered how to handle her
Caress her flesh and kiss her toes
Asphyxiate! Hand over her mouth and pinch her nose.
Or
Suckle her perfect breast, brush her hair with short strokes
Look into her wide eyes, face to face, then slit her throat
She passed him on the train and he became,
Paralyzed by her fragrance, almost ashamed.
It became obvious, now that her baby bump showed
He had to **** her fast before it grew any more
And like that 9pm drew near and on his table she appeared.
She begged for her life but he didn't care "please I'm pregnant" I said I don't care
He chose option one for his method of ******
Soft and polite until life ignored her.
Now all left to do is to savor the taste of her essence
Then into the river and on to the next lesson
She was Jessica.
-Mr H.-


Bridgette:
This night his head ached, he sipped wine and ate
Clenched his brow and grunted and tried to concentrate
This night his heart ailed for a particular face
Some one he knew from a particular place
Blonde hair, tattooed skin and frequent bizarre encounters
A spunky one she was, always on an adventure
She constantly moved which made it a task to learn her
But he was persistent and eventually impaled her.
5 years he tracked her with laid roots just to leave again
He even befriended her friends. But nothing came through them
With every new home she kept, and new ink she bared.
He would be right there sharing her air.
A secret adoration, a crush, a unrequited love
He would scale walls to procure her safety and guard her till she was his alone.
Outside her window snapping photos and collecting her things
Setting coincidences and craving her limbs
He's sneaked in one night and restrained her to the bed
Counting her ink from her honey *** to the kissing undead.
Rubbing her hour glass and slicing through her haunted castle
Penetrating her clover and stabbing her dracula.
For she was his best creation.
He mourned as her flesh he torn
When it was all said and done every tattoo was massacred
Her body of work now a body of hurt
Bled out at the hands that knew her the most
From a distance so close from a distance so close
She was Bridgette
-Mr. H-

Jen:
She was so much more than a craving
More than a friend.
Its by accident that she met her end.  
They shared a bed, shared a home, shared there love
Now they share his secrets, but not her tomb
She stumbled on his collection of trinkets
And he confessed all thinking their bond and life together would lead to an exception
Shame on him, as to his surprise she screamed and grabbed a weapon
"who are you" she yell and ran to the door.
He screamed in response "I don't know but don't go"
Frantic she struggled with the door lock
Panicked he hit her face with the cutting block
Oops
She fell
So did his heart down his throat
This was his partner, his lover, his other half
In every day before his reason for life, his only plan
No way to recover this act of passion so he finished the job.  
Crying and kissing her asian lips
Squeezing her neck till she was gone gone gone.
She was Jen
-Mr. H-

Kaylani:
As he progressed and perfected his method
He broadened his pallet and obsessed on this venison
He heard her words sent men to their knees
Both in praise of her power and to lap at her Mahogany
She was clever and sharp like his finest cleaver
Voluminous in her cleavage, firm in her actions like a verb, Poison to her distractions
For him it was her words that overwhelmed his desires
Call to arms, yell to god,do my bidding and "I promise I'll be yours"
She wrote poems like he did, spoke truth like he do
Broke hearts like he could, and swept the world away like he should
He sent her a poem she accepted with joy
Blew her mind with crafts he assembled like schemes, plots, and ploys
She gave him a secret, he gave her a line
She confessed her emotions, he confessed a lie
She showed him her body, he shrugged and denied
She caved and gave more, he enslaved her with compliments, task and more endeavors
She wanted him so bad that for the first time she fell to her knees
He arose from his own. Succeed indeed
He gave her one night, yes one night
8 years of famine, for only one night
He kissed, massage, fingered and caressed
Demanded her mouth as he got undressed
His contact was of malice and encounter of a deranged mind
An anomaly of his needs, a poetic way to propel her demise
He entered her slow made her safe in his glow
Then with a wicked grin the nightmare did begin
He took control, pinned her down, put big things in small spaces
Made her a scream queen with no crown as he laughed and mocked her desperate faces
A little cut here and a little punch there he accepted her fear
On the night stand he had a special potion
A blend of deadly poison
Told her it would end once she breath no more
"Its your choice my dear" then made her scream some more
He took a break said he'll be back
Went to the kitchen to get a snack
"When I come back we'll start again"
Upon his return he gazed the beaten, ****** goddess
She drank her escape route, now she is lifeless
She was Kaylani
-Mr. H-
This is actually something I wrote for one of my close friends Justin Harris. His Birthday is on Xmas so I've been writing people stalker letters and death threats and signing them with his name and address.
Some may not see the humor in this but if you knew the dynamics of my friendship circles you would know that this is normal behavior for us.
Rangzeb Hussain Mar 2010
Long ago in shadows when the world was in magic robed,
Thus begins this tragic tale from times old,
A Mother and a bright girl did have a cottage near a hill,
On the edge of a creeping forest did they live.

Poor they were yet happy too with songs at dawn,
Nor did their stomachs in hunger churn or yawn,
Life was hard but they got by with chickens hatching hatching,
Eyes in the night always watching watching.

The Mother did always caution her delightful daughter,
“Freia, don’t be a lamb to the slaughter,
Wrap your apple blossom face from the dead eyes of dogs,
Beware the men who haunt the forest fog.”

The bright days were dreamed away in peace and solitude,
No neighbours did intrude,
Time slipped away over the misty mountains and innocent lambs,
The years ran on, so silently they ran.

One day in late autumn when Freia had maidenhood reached,
She was asked to gather wood for heat,
The days were getting shorter and the spiked nights were colder,
Shadows scratched by their door.

“Give me my red scarf quick for I want to be a girl good!
For you I will get sticks of tinder wood!”
But before she let go her dancing daughter dear
The Mother did speak of fear.

“Freia, hush and listen! Return quickly for I am in fear soaking,
Watch out for the wet croaking Water-Goblin
Who reigns and dines beneath the river and hides in woodbine,
Take heed, Lady Night upon the sky shows her signs.”

“Never fear, dear Mother wise of mine,” said Freia,
“Blind Mistress Night, ha!
She will never ever catch or lay her black claws upon me,
Just wait and see! Back I will be.”

Freia skipped and slipped into the forest loud with sound,
She was collecting wood from the ground
When an idea came darting and burrowed into her curious mind,
“There’s no Water-Goblin! It’s a tale to scare and blind.”

And to prove her Mother wrong about tales tall and long
She went to the riverbank to sing a song,
The place was dark and no bird sang in the gloomy twilight,
Bright bones upon the bank caught her sight.

A frosty wind licked her and goose-pimples did appear,
Her spine chilled and shivered,
She tried to brush off the terror in which she was crippled,
Upon the river her eyes spied a ripple.

Something was swimming and straight to her heading!
Her legs grew heavy and she stopped humming,
She stayed rooted as up her legs crawled spidery lice,
She stood like a statue carved out of ice.

Bubbles were breaking above the tar-like water ring,
The gap closing between her and the thing,
“O, why did I to this dead river come running and singing?
How I wish I was at home skipping!”

It was as if some magic older than time kept her frozen,
Freia had thus been chosen,
The gap between her and the creature was fast closing,
If only she was at home safely dozing!

She tried to shout but only dry silence puffed out,
Her eyes bulged, she was clouded in doubt,
Tears fell upon her cheeks but she still could not scream,
Cruel, O how wrong everything now seemed!

Something dark, something bleeding green greed
Crept from the water with fluid speed,
The creature from the river wrapped a long strong arm
And held Freia’s gentle palms.

“Mine!” it gurgled through gnashing sharp teeth.
“Please, no!” spoke Freia in fever’s heat.
“Bride you will be!” the scaly creature hugged and hissed,
With jagged lips he did upon Freia plant a kiss.

The Water-Goblin, for indeed it was he,
Dragged away Freia by the knee,
Into the cold and dank river he waded,
O, how his touch she hated!

“I’ll drown!” Freia screamed, “To the shore take me!”
“Please, no!” she tried to sense make him see,
“I’m sure to slip and sink and in the water drown and weep!”
“Will not,” spoke he, “Magic bubble I shall for you weave!”

He spun his murky magic and just as he had promised and hissed,
A large air bubble circled Freia’s body and hips,
He lowered her ever deeper into his Netherworld Kingdom,
Up above the sun into the horizon did drown.

The green-eyed Water-Goblin a wedding banquet did hold,
It was a hideous party truth be told,
The guests he had invited made Freia’s skin crawl,
Demons of all kinds smiled and prowled.

The poor girl dizzily danced with the greedy groom,
Her speech slurred and darkness loomed,
Her pulse quickened and her breath came in bursts short,
Her husband’s nails did pinch and hurt.

A year and a day passed away like a carnivorous nightmare
And Freia birthed a baby golden haired,
“Pretty child,” grunted the Water-Goblin, “Is it a boy?”
“No, it’s a girl,” spoke Freia with joy.

Freia enjoyed the happiness by and by tick,
But soon she became homesick,
She wished to see her Mother and to her show the baby,
In that watery Kingdom she was but a trophy.

“Please let me visit my mother?” she kept pleading.
“Never!” he kept repeating.
“Please?” Freia was all honey, clever and charming.
“Never ever!” he was no more laughing.

And so it went on, and on, each and every day,
The Water-Goblin did for an end pray,
“Wife go then,” he one day gave in and readily flipped,
“Back you must come!” he spat through rotted lips.  

“Go now,” he gestured with claws ******
And at the child in the crib he pointed,
“The baby tender and sweet will with me stay,
Come back or else she pays.”

Freia begged, “To my dear Mother I want to baby display.”
“Hark and hear!” he kicked the cot of clay,
“Listen to my dread law. The child here plays.
Return to me by dark of this day.”

He took her to the surface and released her from the spell
Which kept her prisoner in the river red,
She went away yet still she heard a warning burning in her ears,
“Be back before dark or else they be tears!”

When to the old cottage she arrived she wiped her tears,
Her Mother was sitting in the rocking chair,
In the very air floated cobwebs, dust and impending doom,
The room was cloaked in layers of grainy gloom.

Freia rushed to her Mother feeling sad and weak,
It had been a year since they last did speak,
Mother and daughter warmly hugged and held each other fast,
“O, my doll, you return at last from the past!”

Freia did to her Mother tell her tale from beginning to end,
She was broken and needed to mend,
To her Mother she told about her beautiful baby,
Outside, the light was fast fading.

“I must now go back to my darling child before dark
Or else my dread lord will bark
And wreck vengeance most sharp upon my precious pearl,
O, how I miss my darling girl!”

“But don’t you see?” began the wise Mother true,
“The Water-Goblin has no magic over you.
It is said that whosoever returns to dry land can the spell break
If they keep the Water-Goblin at bay till daybreak.”

“Will the vile Water-Goblin free me and my child sweet?
And will he shift this curse? O, do speak!”
“Yes! You and the baby will be safe,” the Mother explained,
“The Water-Goblin will crack and be in pain.”

“Now we wait for the night of shadows long,” said the Mother poor
As she bolted the door,
“Go and bar the kitchen windows, I begin to feel sick,
Lock also the house on this side, be quick!”

No sooner had they barred the door of the cottage old
When the wind howled down the valley cold,
Night shrouded the land and black things moved outside,
They heard the rain pelting the hillside.

The storm with titanic volcanic fury spoke,
Everything fled even hope,
The cottage door with demonic force did vibrate,
Something was tearing the cottage.

“Has he come for me?” Freia shook in her Mother’s arms,
“Has my Master come to inflict harm?”
“No!” shouted her Mother over the thunderclaps,
“It’s the storm perhaps.”

Scratching was heard and they began to fearfully pray,
The panel above the doorway shattered,
Sharp shards of glass everywhere cascaded and scattered,
“Come back!” the thing outside banged and battered.

“It’s the wind. Only the wind, darling dear,” the Mother cleared
Her frightened daughter’s eyes full of fear,
The noise and the angry threats of the unseen creature
Drove darts of icy terror into their features.

“When will this nightmare end?” asked Freia with concern.
Replied the Mother, “Dawn is about to be born.
This Water-Goblin has to go back to his Kingdom before sunrise
Or else he will lose his life and prize.”

Crash! Something broke, splinters of wood in the air flew,
Cracked claws clawed across morning dew,
A hairy paw with nails long and sharp shot through the opening
Above the door and for the lock began searching.

A heartrending howl of frustration then was heard,
Without warning the probing fist did disappear
And there was an unnatural silence in the morning land,
The Hour of the dead Wolf was at hand.

Bang! Something outside the door had horribly burst,
Something had been flung with frightful force
But the cottage door was strong and held firm and fast
The Mother dryly spoke, “The terror has passed.”

“Has it?” said Freia as she with caution went to unhook the lock,
The handle was cold and her heart still in shock,
Her brow and hands wet with the nightmare’s perspiration,
She paused before the door in desperation.

Something lay on the ground before the door all blood and bone,
The sight would bring tears even to a stone,
Freia saw what the Water-Goblin had used to batter the door with,
O, how she wished to stitch her eyelids!

For there lay the lifeless body of her baby on the earth,
This was the baby to whom she had given birth,
Only a small finger remained of the golden curled girl,
The Water-Goblin’s curse had done the worst.



©Rangzeb Hussain
rohith Jul 2010
Tearing the sky
storms and thunders grunted
eliting the trees!

First rain drop fell
floating like angel, like dead leaf
rinsing my brevity.

Gestures of steams
driven the beauty of crazyness
to mingle with my soul.

Charmed by enthralling
rhythms of mismerising rain
my heart became wet!

Strokes of poetry
in the ruined part of my heart
reverberated unconsiouly!
Pay attention everyone said Lilliput
I have an important announcement
We're going to have a wonderful picnic
For our family on Thursday , poppits only
The groans were heard all over the palace
Are we riding there , asked Horsey Anne
No we jolly well are not
And you scrum half Zara , are not either
We're motorcading it , without staff
Another really loud royal moan
We are each taking everything we need
And that includes you ex pork of York
'OOHH NNOO' she gurgly grunted
Less of that , and NO toe suckers allowed
Nor arrive in a kiddies helicopter either
And you Wills missus more clothing
You make my  blue blood run cold
Next Thursday then , you picnickers

What have you brought asked Lilliput
Silver knives and forks hoarsed Anne
Paper plates grunted Flossy Fergie
Plastic cups , whimpered Wills missus
Lav paper for tissues, gidded up Zara
Big tablecloth bellowed Camilla
Have none of you brought food said Lilliput
'NO' they all mardily whinnied
None of us even thought about it

And you mumsy H.R.H. what have you brought

'NOBODY questions me , you pipsqueaks
LET'S ALL GO HOME NOW !
Thence we went on to the Aeoli island where lives ****** son of
Hippotas, dear to the immortal gods. It is an island that floats (as
it were) upon the sea, iron bound with a wall that girds it. Now,
****** has six daughters and six ***** sons, so he made the sons marry
the daughters, and they all live with their dear father and mother,
feasting and enjoying every conceivable kind of luxury. All day long
the atmosphere of the house is loaded with the savour of roasting
meats till it groans again, yard and all; but by night they sleep on
their well-made bedsteads, each with his own wife between the
blankets. These were the people among whom we had now come.
  “****** entertained me for a whole month asking me questions all the
time about Troy, the Argive fleet, and the return of the Achaeans. I
told him exactly how everything had happened, and when I said I must
go, and asked him to further me on my way, he made no sort of
difficulty, but set about doing so at once. Moreover, he flayed me a
prime ox-hide to hold the ways of the roaring winds, which he shut
up in the hide as in a sack—for Jove had made him captain over the
winds, and he could stir or still each one of them according to his
own pleasure. He put the sack in the ship and bound the mouth so
tightly with a silver thread that not even a breath of a side-wind
could blow from any quarter. The West wind which was fair for us did
he alone let blow as it chose; but it all came to nothing, for we were
lost through our own folly.
  “Nine days and nine nights did we sail, and on the tenth day our
native land showed on the horizon. We got so close in that we could
see the stubble fires burning, and I, being then dead beat, fell
into a light sleep, for I had never let the rudder out of my own
hands, that we might get home the faster. On this the men fell to
talking among themselves, and said I was bringing back gold and silver
in the sack that ****** had given me. ‘Bless my heart,’ would one turn
to his neighbour, saying, ‘how this man gets honoured and makes
friends to whatever city or country he may go. See what fine prizes he
is taking home from Troy, while we, who have travelled just as far
as he has, come back with hands as empty as we set out with—and now
****** has given him ever so much more. Quick—let us see what it
all is, and how much gold and silver there is in the sack he gave
him.’
  “Thus they talked and evil counsels prevailed. They loosed the sack,
whereupon the wind flew howling forth and raised a storm that
carried us weeping out to sea and away from our own country. Then I
awoke, and knew not whether to throw myself into the sea or to live on
and make the best of it; but I bore it, covered myself up, and lay
down in the ship, while the men lamented bitterly as the fierce
winds bore our fleet back to the Aeolian island.
  “When we reached it we went ashore to take in water, and dined
hard by the ships. Immediately after dinner I took a herald and one of
my men and went straight to the house of ******, where I found him
feasting with his wife and family; so we sat down as suppliants on the
threshold. They were astounded when they saw us and said, ‘Ulysses,
what brings you here? What god has been ill-treating you? We took
great pains to further you on your way home to Ithaca, or wherever
it was that you wanted to go to.’
  “Thus did they speak, but I answered sorrowfully, ‘My men have
undone me; they, and cruel sleep, have ruined me. My friends, mend
me this mischief, for you can if you will.’
  “I spoke as movingly as I could, but they said nothing, till their
father answered, ‘Vilest of mankind, get you gone at once out of the
island; him whom heaven hates will I in no wise help. Be off, for
you come here as one abhorred of heaven. “And with these words he sent
me sorrowing from his door.
  “Thence we sailed sadly on till the men were worn out with long
and fruitless rowing, for there was no longer any wind to help them.
Six days, night and day did we toil, and on the seventh day we reached
the rocky stronghold of Lamus—Telepylus, the city of the
Laestrygonians, where the shepherd who is driving in his sheep and
goats [to be milked] salutes him who is driving out his flock [to
feed] and this last answers the salute. In that country a man who
could do without sleep might earn double wages, one as a herdsman of
cattle, and another as a shepherd, for they work much the same by
night as they do by day.
  “When we reached the harbour we found it land-locked under steep
cliffs, with a narrow entrance between two headlands. My captains took
all their ships inside, and made them fast close to one another, for
there was never so much as a breath of wind inside, but it was
always dead calm. I kept my own ship outside, and moored it to a
rock at the very end of the point; then I climbed a high rock to
reconnoitre, but could see no sign neither of man nor cattle, only
some smoke rising from the ground. So I sent two of my company with an
attendant to find out what sort of people the inhabitants were.
  “The men when they got on shore followed a level road by which the
people draw their firewood from the mountains into the town, till
presently they met a young woman who had come outside to fetch
water, and who was daughter to a Laestrygonian named Antiphates. She
was going to the fountain Artacia from which the people bring in their
water, and when my men had come close up to her, they asked her who
the king of that country might be, and over what kind of people he
ruled; so she directed them to her father’s house, but when they got
there they found his wife to be a giantess as huge as a mountain,
and they were horrified at the sight of her.
  “She at once called her husband Antiphates from the place of
assembly, and forthwith he set about killing my men. He snatched up
one of them, and began to make his dinner off him then and there,
whereon the other two ran back to the ships as fast as ever they
could. But Antiphates raised a hue and cry after them, and thousands
of sturdy Laestrygonians sprang up from every quarter—ogres, not men.
They threw vast rocks at us from the cliffs as though they had been
mere stones, and I heard the horrid sound of the ships crunching up
against one another, and the death cries of my men, as the
Laestrygonians speared them like fishes and took them home to eat
them. While they were thus killing my men within the harbour I drew my
sword, cut the cable of my own ship, and told my men to row with alf
their might if they too would not fare like the rest; so they laid out
for their lives, and we were thankful enough when we got into open
water out of reach of the rocks they hurled at us. As for the others
there was not one of them left.
  “Thence we sailed sadly on, glad to have escaped death, though we
had lost our comrades, and came to the Aeaean island, where Circe
lives a great and cunning goddess who is own sister to the magician
Aeetes—for they are both children of the sun by Perse, who is
daughter to Oceanus. We brought our ship into a safe harbour without a
word, for some god guided us thither, and having landed we there for
two days and two nights, worn out in body and mind. When the morning
of the third day came I took my spear and my sword, and went away from
the ship to reconnoitre, and see if I could discover signs of human
handiwork, or hear the sound of voices. Climbing to the top of a
high look-out I espied the smoke of Circe’s house rising upwards
amid a dense forest of trees, and when I saw this I doubted whether,
having seen the smoke, I would not go on at once and find out more,
but in the end I deemed it best to go back to the ship, give the men
their dinners, and send some of them instead of going myself.
  “When I had nearly got back to the ship some god took pity upon my
solitude, and sent a fine antlered stag right into the middle of my
path. He was coming down his pasture in the forest to drink of the
river, for the heat of the sun drove him, and as he passed I struck
him in the middle of the back; the bronze point of the spear went
clean through him, and he lay groaning in the dust until the life went
out of him. Then I set my foot upon him, drew my spear from the wound,
and laid it down; I also gathered rough grass and rushes and twisted
them into a fathom or so of good stout rope, with which I bound the
four feet of the noble creature together; having so done I hung him
round my neck and walked back to the ship leaning upon my spear, for
the stag was much too big for me to be able to carry him on my
shoulder, steadying him with one hand. As I threw him down in front of
the ship, I called the men and spoke cheeringly man by man to each
of them. ‘Look here my friends,’ said I, ‘we are not going to die so
much before our time after all, and at any rate we will not starve
so long as we have got something to eat and drink on board.’ On this
they uncovered their heads upon the sea shore and admired the stag,
for he was indeed a splendid fellow. Then, when they had feasted their
eyes upon him sufficiently, they washed their hands and began to
cook him for dinner.
  “Thus through the livelong day to the going down of the sun we
stayed there eating and drinking our fill, but when the sun went
down and it came on dark, we camped upon the sea shore. When the child
of morning, fingered Dawn, appeared, I called a council and said,
‘My friends, we are in very great difficulties; listen therefore to
me. We have no idea where the sun either sets or rises, so that we
do not even know East from West. I see no way out of it; nevertheless,
we must try and find one. We are certainly on an island, for I went as
high as I could this morning, and saw the sea reaching all round it to
the horizon; it lies low, but towards the middle I saw smoke rising
from out of a thick forest of trees.’
  “Their hearts sank as they heard me, for they remembered how they
had been treated by the Laestrygonian Antiphates, and by the savage
ogre Polyphemus. They wept bitterly in their dismay, but there was
nothing to be got by crying, so I divided them into two companies
and set a captain over each; I gave one company to Eurylochus, while I
took command of the other myself. Then we cast lots in a helmet, and
the lot fell upon Eurylochus; so he set out with his twenty-two men,
and they wept, as also did we who were left behind.
  “When they reached Circe’s house they found it built of cut
stones, on a site that could be seen from far, in the middle of the
forest. There were wild mountain wolves and lions prowling all round
it—poor bewitched creatures whom she had tamed by her enchantments
and drugged into subjection. They did not attack my men, but wagged
their great tails, fawned upon them, and rubbed their noses lovingly
against them. As hounds crowd round their master when they see him
coming from dinner—for they know he will bring them something—even
so did these wolves and lions with their great claws fawn upon my men,
but the men were terribly frightened at seeing such strange creatures.
Presently they reached the gates of the goddess’s house, and as they
stood there they could hear Circe within, singing most beautifully
as she worked at her loom, making a web so fine, so soft, and of
such dazzling colours as no one but a goddess could weave. On this
Polites, whom I valued and trusted more than any other of my men,
said, ‘There is some one inside working at a loom and singing most
beautifully; the whole place resounds with it, let us call her and see
whether she is woman or goddess.’
  “They called her and she came down, unfastened the door, and bade
them enter. They, thinking no evil, followed her, all except
Eurylochus, who suspected mischief and stayed outside. When she had
got them into her house, she set them upon benches and seats and mixed
them a mess with cheese, honey, meal, and Pramnian but she drugged
it with wicked poisons to make them forget their homes, and when
they had drunk she turned them into pigs by a stroke of her wand,
and shut them up in her pigsties. They were like pigs-head, hair,
and all, and they grunted just as pigs do; but their senses were the
same as before, and they remembered everything.
  “Thus then were they shut up squealing, and Circe threw them some
acorns and beech masts such as pigs eat, but Eurylochus hurried back
to tell me about the sad fate of our comrades. He was so overcome with
dismay that though he tried to speak he could find no words to do
so; his eyes filled with tears and he could only sob and sigh, till at
last we forced his story out of him, and he told us what had
happened to the others.
  “‘We went,’ said he, as you told us, through the forest, and in
the middle of it there was a fine house built with cut stones in a
place that could be seen from far. There we found a woman, or else she
was a goddess, working at her loom and singing sweetly; so the men
shouted to her and called her, whereon she at once came down, opened
the door, and invited us in. The others did not suspect any mischief
so they followed her into the house, but I stayed where I was, for I
thought there might be some treachery. From that moment I saw them
no more, for not one of them ever came out, though I sat a long time
watching for them.’
  “Then I took my sword of bronze and slung it over my shoulders; I
also took my bow, and told Eurylochus to come back with me and show me
the way. But he laid hold of me with both his hands and spoke
piteously, saying, ‘Sir, do not force me to go with you, but let me
stay here, for I know you will not bring one of them back with you,
nor even return alive yourself; let us rather see if we cannot
escape at any rate with the few that are left us, for we may still
save our lives.’
  “‘Stay where you are, then, ‘answered I, ‘eating and drinking at the
ship, but I must go, for I am most urgently bound to do so.’
  “With this I left the ship and went up inland. When I got through
the charmed grove, and was near the great house of the enchantress
Circe, I met Mercury with his golden wand, disguised as a young man in
the hey-day of his youth and beauty with the down just coming upon his
face. He came up to me and took my hand within his own, saying, ‘My
poor unhappy man, whither are you going over this mountain top,
alone and without knowing the way? Your men are shut up in Circe’s
pigsties, like so many wild boars in their lairs. You surely do not
fancy that you can set them free? I can tell you that you will never
get back and will have to stay there with the rest of them. But
never mind, I will protect you and get you out of your difficulty.
Take this herb, which is one of great virtue, and keep it about you
when you go to Circe’s house, it will be a talisman to you against
every kind of mischief.
  “‘And I will tell you of all the wicked witchcraft that Circe will
try to practise upon you. She will mix a mess for you to drink, and
she will drug the meal with which she makes it, but she will not be
able to charm you, for the virtue of the herb that I shall give you
will prevent her spells from working. I will tell you all about it.
When Circe strikes you with her wand, draw your sword and spring
upon her as though you were goings to **** her. She will then be
frightened and will desire you to go to bed with her; on this you must
not point blank refuse her, for you want her to set your companions
free, and to take good care also of yourself, but you make her swear
solemnly by all the blessed that she will plot no further mischief
against you, or else when she has got you naked she will unman you and
make you fit for nothing.’
  “As he spoke he pulled the herb out of the ground an showed me
what it was like. The root was black, while the flower was as white as
milk; the gods call it Moly, and mortal men cannot uproot it, but
the gods can do whatever they like.
  “Then Mercury went back to high Olympus passing over the wooded
island; but I fared onward to the house of Circe, and my heart was
clouded with care as I walked along. When I got to the gates I stood
there and called the goddess, and as soon as she hear
Aparna Mar 2013
The sugar, the ice, glazed upon the cream buns.
An array of plates of delicacies.
The roasted pig, grunted while being chewed.
Or perhaps, that was the man who chewed it.

She stood in rags waiting to be served.
'What would 2 pence get me?'
They snickered and giggled as she,
Bought a stick of butter for dinner.
Andrew Duggan Nov 2017
A liquid wind blows across fertile loss-covered landscapes.
Seducing and touching, enticing me into a silent embrace.
How does love continue to love in a place like this?

I saw you waiting, looking at the men swimming in the ***** dead water. A faint smile from an old woman, her eyes half closed and fingers bent. The sounds of traffic and voices over the bridge.

I kissed you, and you moaned slightly, the first moment of the world. As the veil of winter grunted along the river bank and the dark clouds began to sing.

Now the trees have too much knowledge in grief. But  I remember the faint-like layers of your eyes and everything that was close to my face.
JJ Hutton Jun 2010
when the sweethearts left,
we took off our token smiles
and overly-kind eyes.

my roommate grabbed a beer,
quickly ****** it off,
i put on "beat connection" by lcd,
and the derailment of the night
began with some synth and burps.

i made a *** of coffee,
went outside,
the neighbors were having a party,
making a stew,
grilling chicken,
drinking,
drinking,
drinking,
and exhaling enough smoke to signal the natives.

"are you drinkin' coffee muthafucka?"

"hi, i'm josh, and yes."

"the name's chase."

"nice to meet you." *******.

before i knew it chase, our neighbors,
and about three people i didn't know
were in my apartment.

chase looked at a picture of lennon in
our living room.
asked me my favorite beatles album.

"probably sgt.peppers."

"you like that gay ****?"

"if that's gay ****, yes i like gay ****."

he grunted with rednecker royalty.

"the white album is probably my second favorite,"
i offered.

"man, the white album is the ****.
there is nothing else."

someone said they had some fire, if anyone was interested.
everyone was.

there was a dark-skinned boy, with snow white teeth and a fake afro, rapping as i clumsily played an acoustic.
there was a 26-year-old ***** and his 43-year-old wife
smoking a bowl in my bedroom,
there was my roommate vomiting on the carpet,
there was everyone
and
there was
me.
there was everyone
and
there was
me.
Copyright 2010 by Joshua J. Hutton
Cristina Dean Jun 2015
you will fade away
you will fade like the others
did too
you will fade, my SOS
and leave me with this island's truth on solitude

i rode as passenger once
in a boy's car
i had named Bessie
Bessie grunted and took naps
like a narcoleptic
we drove together
me and this green-eyed boy
in ol' Bessie
through the construction of the Yards in the summer
with our windows
rolled down
smoking cigarettes
under overpasses
on a highway bridge
the city swelling, heaving
over us
and the wild winds
splashing my face
hair tantalizing
impatiently over to his side,
my downtown apartment waiting like a desert flower at dusk
throbbing to bloom
David Bowie sang heroes and i believed the song
could never mean anything more
than our moment shared

years pass and summer nights choke me again
i'm in love again

thundershowers knock on my window
David Bowie sings
but i don't think of that green-eyed boy anymore
now, it's you
tall, spectacular man
spritzer of mystery magic from your hands
i think of you
but i'm alone in my apartment this time
i climb out of the fire escape
thunder cracks the sky
and i let the rain soak my bones
i want to hold you, but
you will not have me
completely
like how this storm
is finding
its way to the last inch of me

i close my eyes and
give
myself away


you won't be the last of them
i know
my story of heroes and lovers sits on the doorstep
of a vacant home

you won't be the last of them
i only dreamed you would
like the sight of a ship too far from shore
keki Jan 2011
-PROLOG-
                



               A whooshof air playing with a tender long brown hair, a wave of flips of curly hair. AS the sun sets in the mountains of Colorado with a misty glow on the pure crystal snow. As I glaze in the beauty, I turned around in a grunted sigh and walk to my bran new house in the middle of no where. I said walking back to house with my family "why did my **** step-dad have to bring us here in this dump, pssh I hate him so much!!" with my flench curled up and my knuckles turning white, teeth clenching, kicking rocks to take all my anger on. Crossing down by the bank of mystical waterfall that held frozen and was a piece of art to any who hates water still would make it beautiful. Passing by with full rage of anger reaching my sister with a graden rose dress, black sandles to surrounds her newely fresh scab formed on her righ knee, but with a smile thats lights up this dull place. Man that girl can always cheer me up even im ****** at the world i could never be mad at my sister i thought whiled walking slowing down a wave a brushy grass that any person or animal could fall on....before my sister could reach me in a small peice of my eye caught something it was a man in black clothing sticking his hand out saing "rachel." pause "rachel come... come..." and slowly dissapeared. As I stood in shock my body froze in fear it felt a trap of death and slowl everthing went black out all i could hear were faint screams of my sister before it blocked out for good. " Sister!!! Wake up!! MOM!!!! DAD!!!!!!! COME HERE!!!!!" Jennifer said with crystal water tears holding my hand trying to wake me up but failed to. "Honey did you hear something?" my mother tilted her head while she unpacked the car. " What were you saying teresa i could not hearyou i was getting everthing settled in thehouse but thenyou called me so what i-" richered got cut by a bloddy screem in the near distance in the woods. "MOMMY!!!! FATHER!!!!" the both parents look in shock and dropped every thing and dashed out the front lawn. "mommy.....father...where are you..."jenniferjust cried there hopeless while I laid there in silence. "Oh my god Jennifer are you alright what were screaming about" mother said worry in her eye while killing Jeniffer with a big bear hug. " What in gods name made you scream like that" Richered said frowning and getting with a cocky attituded. Jennifer ploted out mother's strong arms and raced down to me where I still laid dead silence. " what the hell, where is she going... holy sh-" my mother was about to scream like akiller was after but she calm her self and went to jennifer's side and was nearly about to cry. " Don't worry teresa she's breathing so thats a good thing lets take her to the doctors before anything else happens and jennifer could you explianed what happened to your big sis please it would help alot." Richered said begging for help. "umm well she was going down this hill then she froze in fear as she saw something bad then the next thing pwoof going down twumbling and she went blank" Jeniffer said looking in her eyes with very much concern.
                     with about a three hour car to doctors the family of four came rushhing for help "excuse me ma'ma can you help me...im in a diffuclt spot please helpmy daughter in law" Richered said with a firery pumped up voice. " Yes sir whats the problem" the young blond teen siad as typing on the computer to comform the document to acces the doctor. " My daughter she fainted and wont wake up and its been over 4 hours can you please help her" Richered said sheepishly as finder his wife and her younger child right behind him and my mom carring me. "Ok sir just put her on hospital bed room 34 please and you may visit her after the docotor comes to see her but for now just wait here in the wiaitng room. about an hour passed the docotor who was taking care of me came in the room saying " Mr. and Mrs. randof may you come with me." he said with a demading tone. "Yes sir may my daughter come to?" mother said trying not to show fear in her voice "of corse" he said while letting the family through the back door then the hallway that leads to my room. " she up but we dont know what happened...so we need to go to the hospital to checked up by more higher professionals." the doctor eyed my in like what in the world happened. There was an akwarad silence until my step dad intruded that peace and manage to say " w-well ok and now Rachel would you care to explian what happed to you" Richered said while to strengthen his tone back. " yes..." I paused to re-gain my memory " So I took a walk and walked back to house but i passed the frozen lake that froms like a waterfallbut its frozen so i saw Jennifer and i was  about t call her name but then i saw a person in a black robe sticking his hand out liketrying to grab me it kept on sayin Rachel..Rachel come come and when i turned completely it was gone completely like if it were a ghost and then i felt a horror shock come over my body and could the world turning black then only hearing Jennifer's faint screams of concern and down I fainted then went to silence...." I finaly said with lifting my head slowly and with a greck bolt in my eyes I looked right behind them there was again. With seeing it again it turn pale with tearns rolling down my eyes like waterfalls and hushed to cold knock out.
that was page 1iposting the pages differently so comment if i sould contunie the story
spysgrandson Nov 2011
Clicking heels announced her presence
in the deepening gloom
where they hid
crouched like cats awaiting their prey.
She stared through the charcoal air
where
they lay
as she clipped closer
to their hungry eyes and teeth.
But when within reach
she spied their glowing glances
and thwarted their advances
with a simple singular phrase
one they would recall for all their days,
“You are already ******”.
Though this would be armor for few
what the predators strangely knew
was that Wendy Howling
gave no thought to their groping greed
for she lived by a higher creed.
And in the end,
when they mounted her motionless flesh
and grunted grotesquely in the doomed dark
Wendy Howling felt no pain
and she knew struggling would be in vain
for her words were true—
their sorrowful souls dug their way through her
to a hell from which they could not be saved
and her tears were not for her wounded womb
but for their eternal doom
LP S Feb 2014
I never called it ****,
the events of the night the gin had made us hazy
and the drugs had us reckless.
The half hour you spent strumming me
like some pawn shop guitar
Suffocating me in the sheets
which were covered in the filth of your former lovers.

I never called it ****.

The way your hands had rudely ripped
my previously untouched skin
and your mouth devoured my innocent lips.
Never thought much of the way you had told me to be quiet
while I whispered for you to stop
because I'd never done this before
and it was painful
and I wept.
Because you had warned that I would wake the others
and I was embarrassed
and you had made me *****.

I never called it ****.

Never let the repetition of your phrases sink in too much
as you told me it was fine
and it was okay
that I'd like it.
I never thought too hard.
Because you moved too fast
and the room was spinning
and I gave in to waiting for it to be over.
And when you had gotten too tired of hearing me whimper
and my pleading had become obnoxious
you sighed an angry "**** this"
and stomped off to the bathroom to finish yourself,
after commanding I put my clothes back on,
And find somewhere else to sleep,
I stumbled across your ***** basement to where the others slept
and collapsed hiding silently in the sinkholes of your couch,
Listening to your grunts before the light came on and you passed out
avoiding the stains of my youth on your sheets.

And I never called it ****.

In the morning you drove me home
making little effort to hide your disgust in my failure to get you off
While I looked out the car window at all the houses I had grown up next to,
None of which looked familiar any more
attempted to ignore the stinging of the poisonous scars you had left behind
pretending that my body wasn't covered
in the scratches and bruises of your insincere actions.
And when we arrived outside my parents' house
after an eternity of painful silence
you didn't speak merely
grunted at my departure
and I snuck quietly through the front door to the shower
where I scrubbed until the marks from your fingernails
became indistinguishable from the skin I had rubbed raw
until it bled
trying to convince myself
that I had eliminated all the remnants of your scent
and the dirt from your actions.

But I never called it ****.
Overwhelmed Mar 2012
Don’t ask me why I was standing in the middle of my backyard that Friday evening in March unscrewing a bolt, but do know that I was standing in the middle of my backyard that Friday evening in the middle of March, and I was attempting to unscrew a bolt. The bolt belonged to the remains of a gazebo we had built last summer, a fairly nice, painted-aluminum thing with copper colorings and khaki drapes. It had been blown over in a wind-storm sometime over the winter and I had been dreading the day I would have to come outside and take it apart, piece by piece, and finally get rid of the wreckage of what had once been a beautiful center piece to our back yard.

            The reason I had finally gotten around to taking it apart was that I was angry. This is also probably why I didn’t care that it was raining, or that the sun was setting in less than an hour, or that I would much rather be in my room sitting around and doing nothing. I enjoy physical labor more when I’m angry. If I can avoid any complications, I work briskly and feel better overall when I am done. Unfortunately, this was not one of the times I avoided complications.

            The particular bolt I was working on seemed to know that I didn’t need something frustrating to deal with. It waited until it was the last one that needed unscrewing to suddenly become difficult. After ten minutes, I had gone at it with Phillip’s head ***** drivers, flat heads, two different types of wrenches, and my own bare hands, but still it refused to budge. In between mad attempts to turn the stubborn piece of metal, I would make quick little circles away from it. Up the brick path I was working next to then back down it, alternately glaring at and shunning my nemesis as I went. Each circle was my way of letting out the excess frustration building with each failed attack on the bolt. But as my attacks become more frequent and my efforts seemingly more futile, I was beginning to lose control of emotions.

            The whole situation felt menacing. The corpse of the gazebo wore a condescending smile, my tools giggled each time they failed, and the bolt said nothing, sitting smugly in its socket. I will defeat you, I thought, I will unscrew you and it will feel good to throw you into the woods and forget about you. But I knew that winning this battle would not mean I won the war. My mood was shot. While I set out to make myself feel better, I only ended up feeling worse in the long run. Regardless, this realization did not reduce my anger. I was determined to unscrew this ****** and that was all I could think about.

            Taking hold of a wrench in one hand and a ***** driver in the other, I twisted and jammed the two things for as long as I could. When the bolt didn’t come unbound, I grabbed one half of the structure I was trying to deconstruct and began to rip and tear it with all of my might. When it still wouldn’t budge, I loudly screamed “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck”, and with one last burst of strength, lifted it above my head and used my other hand to smash the bolt until it was loose in the socket. This was when I finally was able to unscrew the bolt and its uneventful fall to the ground was somehow unsatisfying at the time.

            Taking my newly freed hand, I grunted loudly and hurled the hunk of precision cut aluminum piping over to where another piece of the former gazebo lay. I sat breathing heavily, even if the moment lasted only a few seconds and required only a fraction of my strength. I realize now that I breathed so hard because this was an emotionally straining task. Man against machine. Unstoppable against the unmovable. And I had won, but not before I lost control. Lost myself deep into a fit of rage where I could hardly recognize myself. Anger, I realized long ago, is not my natural state. I get sick with it after even a short time. Those retched moments when rage takes over the entirety my mind are some of the worst in my life.

            I’m still not sure why we humans have never found a better way to deal with anger. We have two options: To bottle it up or to let it out. And the former always eventually leads to the latter. In my life, I’ve managed to avoid anger all together. I stray from conflict, do not work with people I dislike, avoid restricting my ability to get out of any contract or dedication. But I can’t always hide from it, and I suppose that’s why I was standing in the middle of my backyard that Friday evening in March trying to unscrew a bolt that I was convinced was my very worst enemy. I was trying to untighten something much deeper, much darker, something I don’t think I, or most people, ever have the depth to deal with. It seemed the only way out was to fall back on the imperfect methods of my ancestors, and for the time being, I decided that was alright.
A white star born in the evening glow
Looked to the round green world below,
And saw a pool in a wooded place
That held like a jewel her mirrored face.
She said to the pool: “Oh, wondrous deep,
I love you, I give you my light to keep.
Oh, more profound than the moving sea
That never has shown myself to me!
Oh, fathomless as the sky is far,
Hold forever your tremulous star!”

But out of the woods as night grew cool
A brown pig came to the little pool;
It grunted and splashed and waded in
And the deepest place but reached its chin.
The water gurgled with tender glee
And the mud churned up in it turbidly.

The star grew pale and hid her face
In a bit of floating cloud like lace.
onlylovepoetry Sep 2017
a plain poem (the first time I came in you)*

a plain poem, light and effervescent, a flim-flan tasting,
plein de absurde rimes, full of nonsensical rhymes,
a lattice of criss crossing pastry sugary lines, the ones,
cannot, struggle to deduce, induce, reduce
from my constipated vocabulary

oh well
~
the first time I came in you,
entered, bidden welcome,
suffused a bridge between
the party of the first part,
the party of the second part,
sugar lightness airy nonsense,
two spirits dancing the singular
pas de deux of their finite lives,
a performance unbeatable,
unrepeatable,
lost to the perfection annals

Shockingly, Surprisingly, Summarily,
did not compose an ode,
don't mine a new vein of ore,
even write a plain poe poem

as best can recall,
at the candle melting of the
sealing wax of the deal,
gave an honest speech,
instantly falling fast asleep
with nary a grunted word

ever since l,
cannot write of plain love plainly,
so she makes me pay with a
new living elegant elegy daily,
a quatrain, what a pain,
this iambic panting meter
love poem writing

jeez louise,
how I wish could write of
roses red and violets blue,
get back to sleep,
oh well then,
back to work

got to make those sad moans,
hers, go away,
so please excuse me

near ten years later,
still paying the dues of the
initializing error of my way

she rumbles-mumbles in her
pre-awakening dream state,
so please excuse, got to go, think up
some implicated complicated  
verses to soothe away
her simple poorly hidden anxieties

you see,
I am happy paying
on and on,
writing like the devil furious,
she is stirring, coffee soon,
cafe au lait
if you get my meaning,
but still cannot beat,
repeat, re-alive
that simple plain living poem notated,
when first I came in her*


<•;)

9/24/17 6:49am ~7:17am
She sat beneath a tall, twisting oak tree on a park bench looking up and admiring it, when he came.

‘Hello,’ he said.

‘Hello,’ she replied. ‘How are you?’

‘How do you expect,’ he sat down beside her on the bench.  With nothing to say, she began to look up once more. ‘What are you looking at,’ he asked while following her gaze.

‘The tree,’ she said.

‘Why?’

‘Because it’s beautiful.’

‘There are millions of oak trees.’  He lowered his gaze.

‘There are millions of people,’ she replied.

‘People aren’t oak trees.’

‘On the contrary,’ she said.  ‘Oak trees aren’t people.’

‘People have personalities,’ he said.  ‘And feelings.’

She looked at him.  ‘Please don’t be upset,’ she said.  He looked at her for a moment, meeting her gaze, then threw down his head and looked at the ground once more.

‘People care for one another,’ he said gently.

‘Oak trees cannot hurt one another.  They are still and only create.  She paused, looking up at the branches.  They are only beautiful.’

He began to mumble and make faces at the ground.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said.

‘For what?’

‘For not being an oak tree.’

‘I never wanted an oak tree just like I never wanted a dog.’

‘You never wanted much,’ she said briskly.  He became mute.  She began to look at the scenery.  ‘It seems to be a nice day.’

He grunted.

They sat in silence once more, not knowing exactly what to say.  He looked up from the ground and examined the branches as she looked around the park.

‘It is nice.’

‘What?’

‘The tree.’

‘Oh,’ she said.  ‘Yes, of course.  That’s what I was saying.’

‘But it’s still not the same to me.’

‘Well, of course not.  It grew up.  But still nice, right?’

‘I guess so.  He looked at her and she at him.  She smiled a little, he forced a grin.  Then they both looked away.

‘There is also the grass and the dirt.’

‘Those are not beautiful,’ he said.

‘I think they are all beautiful.’

‘I think you are wrong.’

She did not respond.  He looked at her sit with her arms crossed and regained his composure.

‘But I do like the tree.’

‘Just this tree,’ she asked.

‘I don’t know,’ he said.  ‘I’ve never really looked at any others.’

‘I have,’ she said.

He became flustered.  ‘You would.’

‘I have,’ she said harshly.  She turned away from him and looked at the ground.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said.  She did not look back at him.  He put his hand on her shoulder.  She took his hand and turned back to him.

‘It’s fine,’ she said.  She looked into his eyes.  He looked down.

‘No, it’s not fine.’  He paused, releasing her hands and pulling back.  ‘I don’t like the tree.’

‘The tree gives you life.’

‘I don’t like it.’

‘It helps you survive.’

‘I don’t like it.’

‘It gives you shade from the warm sun and air to breathe.  It gives food to the animals.  It blows in the wind and looks beautiful captured in paintings and photographs.  The tree is a wonderful thing.’

‘I don’t like the oak tree,’ he said again.  She pushed her lips together.

‘But...’

‘But nothing.  I don’t like it.’  He looked up at the oak.

‘Are you still upset?’

‘Of course I am,’ he said.  ‘People don’t just forget, you know? Just like this tree will remember.’

‘And what will the tree remember?’

‘Those who do not appreciate its beauty.’  He looked at her eyes as he stood up.  Kneeling down at eye level he said goodbye and turned to the distance.  She sat on the bench and began to cry.  Slowly, she lifted her head to the great oak above and sat.
Nat Lipstadt Jul 2014
A Roman Catholic concept rooted in a Jewish tradition where, if you cannot attend Sunday mass, you can go to the Saturday mass, the evening prior...

http://t.answers.com/answers/#!/entry/anticipated-mass-definition-in-the-roman-catholic-church,4ffcc10b­7af68a84dcfcad8b

not a religious man,
another "ain't behaving Jew,"
been long time passing,
since I went to a synagogue
of my own free will

(that,
free will,
a subject,
I won't discuss,
a free will choice,
unlike this poem
which writes itself,
me, just the telephone company
common carrier transmitting)


the holy days and
the holidays
come cycling through,
recycled sung sing tunes from
genes that once trained,
once disturbed and reawakened,
pass it on down
willingly or unwanted,
the calendar and
human marker thereupon,
in your face, undeniable,
you are, or start,
being what
they want you to be

been to midnight mass
on a Christmas past,
with a friend who happened
to be a Jesuit priest,
yeah, I'm an electric eclectic
ecclesiastical poetic natty vibe,
with many a
neutral nomenclature,
happens to live with an atheist,
so, tonight, we watch together
at her suggestion,
Fiddler On The Roof

boy oh boy
there I am,
Tevye the Poet,
writing poems on the roof
up on the wide screen,
talking to god
every where I go,
whatever I am doing,
even cursing the
Cossack ***** of the traffic hell on the
Long Island Expressway,
*******, you see

{but you grow weary
waiting for a writ called
Anticipated Mass,
and not a sermon
of a nonreligious miscreant,
who just happened to be
created, born on
the Jewish Festival of Booths,
in an R.C. hospital
on Fifth Avenue,
right next to his coreligionists edifice,
Mt. Sinai
(go figger, all part of the plan,
says my fellow new yorker, Allah}


if you are busy Sunday,
NFL football perhaps,
or a summer FIFA World Cup match,
Wimbledon working,
while on your deck surfing,
(Go Federer)
or a working stiff,
serving man for tips,
waitressing, taxi driving,
in order
not to starve,
for a living
must be made on
the day of rest,
so you go to
Anticipated Mass,
the eve of the day before
the prom dance

now that is something I like,
a flexibility that
inflexible dictums and regs
don't often offer,
like birth control being ok,
every other day

but anticipating my prayers,
just a bit too
OCD compulsive organized,
no matter
9:00am or midnight,
or even 6:00pm
the night before,
I can't anticipate
when the need to
go verse
with The Lord above,
arises

so I like to inform you,
when anticipating
the wine and the wafer,
the sabbath candle lighting,
the prayer rug time,
don't have to wait,
for a mass, a mullah's call,
or a minyan,
do a Tevye!

speak to him
with this Rx prescription,
"as needed"

let your own mass
be lightened, lighted, leviathaned,
relieved, celebrated,
the freedom from
anticipation and feel free
to listen to what god has to say,
cause he loves those
individual requests,
custom crafted,
even noises simple
grunted with good intent,
for those who posses not
the gift of
god gab

an informal sort,
a busy deity,
who appreciates brevity,
which is why
he gives my
long poems short shrift,
but sometimes attends
to my low whispered
observations for the needy,
for the masses,
whose body,
in his image,
I human share
and so often,
pray for...

— The End —