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

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
CK Baker Jan 2017
In time you’ll recover and absolve
push those scorned impressions aside
hammer down the jaded edges
and sing
that delightful commoners song
the one you sang so well
in what seems a lifetime ago

You really had it you know
that fiery disposition and nimble cunning
those butter chords and derelict style
we could see it -- we could all see it
it was all it took to turn the evening tide
(and rile that buck fever)
heads bashing
tongues lambasting
middle fingers high
and raising Cain on those may fly statesmen

There were no rules
when it came to your survival
no textbook rally or common bond
no structured songbird or bravado stage
you either made it, or laid it
“life by the *****” Mr. Poppy would say
a kaleidoscope of dreams
with rich colored imagery
hardened artisan seams
in a carefully woven motif

But something got lost in the needle point
something sinister and distorted took hold
the quirks and street genius
that were your lifeline
gave way to grunts
and squeals
and chilling night crawlers
the colors faded quickly
to a cold confining grey

There was no grace in the new world
no retribution or switch back
no salvation or accorded finale
only edged platforms of blackened steel
that kept you cased
in a silent vanquished cell
shivering cold with fear
night without day
all in the shadow of death

But time heals all
and the polish sneakers
and open sores are long gone
(though the roman nose and shallow cleft remain)
indeed the falconer beat the widow maker
this go around
and I’m hopeful it won’t happen again
and if it does you’ll see me
standing hand on heart
with that old verse in hand:

he ain’t tainted
or silly,
and most certainly
not forgotten…
he ain’t loony
or fixed,
or a product of his self-doing…
he’s just a straight shootin’ guy,
who had the most of it
figured out
Thia Jones Apr 2014
This is how it goes
your hands will be proxy for mine
my hands will be proxy for yours
your fingers my fingers
and my fingers yours
what I describe, you enact
told in detail so exact

Just to begin
I squeeze your *******
knead and pinch
tweak a ******
give it a tug

Stroke your tummy
work over your thighs
move up the inner
where skin is smooth
circle around, moving in
till soft contours are caressed
through pants that burn
to be removed
that pain you to wear
and I see in my mind
as you describe
the spreading, darkening patch
that fills the gusset

Now they're pulled down
removed quickly, completely
and you are revealed
spread, opened, shameless

Gentle fingertips tease
dance in circles, barely touching
yet the fire within grows
back and forth, round and round
dance the fingertips
as both reciprocate
with growing pace
and firmer touch

I hear you gasp down the line
and your breathing quickens
as you hear mine
as your excitement fuels mine
as mine fuels yours
in our feedback loop of lust

And I tell you how
my fingertip would give way
to tonguetip if I could
that I can taste you
in my imagination
fragrant, salty sweetness
with musky undertones
the tip of my tongue now circling
then flicking back and forth
beating out the rhythm
that you best harmonise with
bringing forth your moans

Then darting down, back
between wet, glistening folds
exploring each ridge and valley
working remorselessly

Breathing faster now
with animal grunts and moans
directions of pleasure gasped
breathless down the phone

As fingers again
take the lead
find the opening
slip readily within
probe, explore, ****
find that place
on your front wall
yes, just that spot
that's a little rougher
and feels sooo goood

Add a second finger
working and *******
licking and rubbing
moaning and gasping
barely intelligible now
...yess...more...yess...ohhh
are all that have meaning

Finger three joins one and two
then the pressure builds
demanding release
and shaking and thrusting
grows to shuddering
and...yes...yesss...sooo clooose

******* faster furiously
till we both explode
hearing each other's
voicing of our ecstasy
in language intelligible
only in this one context

Brains and voices return
as we bask in the afterglow
and what passes between us then
in those moments
is the deepest intimacy of all

Cynthia Pauline Jones 01/02/2014
Mymai Yuan Sep 2010
It all began when someone left the window open.
The love bird cocked its bright green head at the shut door of Woodren’s third floor bedroom, perched on her bedpost. Its bright black eyes glittered, listening for the sounds of Woodren’s footsteps. None came. It ruffled its feathers impatiently; waiting for Woodren to come back with some water for its thirsty beak.
The love bird’s first memory was of Woodren: her clear gray eyes expressing her great happiness through them and not through the tiny curve of a smile on her thin pale lips. Her small white fingers pressed on the syringe gently, and a hot, mushy substance that tasted of apples and bananas went down its throat. The tiny black beak clattered against the plastic syringe greedily. “Aw, you poor baby. You’re hungry aren’t you, my Hoopsie-girl?” she murmured.
She then later taught her baby lovebird to fly with the patience of a mother. As soon as its wings started flapping feebly, she lifted Hoopsie up on the palm of her hand above her head and drew her hand away quickly, teaching the lovebird to fly and landing on Woodren’s soft bed. On cold nights, Woodren would wrap her favorite emerald green scarf around Hoopsie and place her behind the television where it was always warm and sellotape the electric sockets and wires so that Hoopsie was safe.
Woodren never even considered snipping the feathers of Hoopsie’s wings; she would never hurt her darling creature, and snip of its greatest glory. She would comb the feathers with a miniature pink Barbie brush, noticing how blue feathers had started to appear on Hoopsie’s wings and red ones slowly layered beneath the blue as time went by.
Showering Hoopsie was the hardest of all. Aunt and Uncle Palmer had no idea that Hoopsie even existed and revealing her presence would leave both Hoopsie and Woodren with no home. Late at night, Woodren would have to sneak out to the bathroom on the first floor (not on the second floor because that one was right next to Aunt and Uncle Palmer’s bedroom), down the stairs (taking care to step over the thirteenth stair that groaned so loudly), turn on the taps quietly and wash a sleepy Hoopsie with warm water.
Her two youngest cousins often made fun of her for the funny smell that stuck on her clothes sometimes. Linda and Lucy, her bratty twin cousins, asked in their scornful sing-song voices, “Why do you lock your room Woodren? Scared we’ll find all your old ***** clothes under the bed that you wouldn’t let Ma throw away?”
“No, maybe she’s scared we’ll find naughty magazines? If we do, we’ll tell Pa and you’ll have nowhere to stay ‘cause Pa says that type of behavior is sinful and he won’t tolerate it in his house!”
Woodren found it in her heart to look upon her silly cousins as childish entertainment. What did they know of the love she had for Hoopsie? “No, I’m scared you’ll find the monster under my bed and start crying for your Ma”
Linda narrowed her blue eyes, “I’m telling Ma you mentioned Lucy’s fear of the monster under the bed to her face! Besides, you don’t have anywhere else to go. You live on Pa’s charity. Ma said so.”
It was the lowest of insults based on a harsh truth. Woodren’s mother had died of cancer when Woodren was very young and her father followed her mother not a year after with heart grief. Her mother had asked her younger sister to take in Woodren; they were her only relatives and had stopped being fond of her once their own two twin daughters arrived and Mr. Palmer started to have to work harder to feed the six bellies at his dinner table. She just became another mouth to feed.
The only person Woodren got along well with in the household was her eldest cousin, Max. Max rarely spoke in anything but grunts, thought of his two little sisters as annoying brats, refused to say more than two sentences at a time to his simpering mother and loudly obnoxious father and often came and sat in Woodren’s room with his large feet against the wall, stroking Hoopsie’s head in silence. She really was fond of Max sometimes. He could be so thoughtful. Just two weeks before, for her birthday, Max had bought her maroon silk curtains with white birds imprinted upon them. He had even gone further than that and stitched in white thread, “Happy birthday. I love you” a red wonky heart followed and then “From Hoopsie.” Simply imagining him sitting there with a huge, thick curtain holding a tiny needle in his bear-like paws, cursing as he stabbed his rough fingertips and fumbling clumsily made her shout with laughter.
It was Max’s idea to buy Hoopsie a big metal cage and attach it to a branch on the big tree in their garden with a piece of shoelace, hidden among all the green leaves. That way, when Hoopsie sang Woodren wouldn’t have to blast her music and radio at the same time or pinch Hoopsie’s beaks shut when her Aunt or Uncle come to  yell at her if she was deaf or crazy or both. And that way, Woodren’s room wouldn’t have its twangy smell of bird **** and Woodren wouldn’t have to be paranoid all day long at school, wondering if nosy Aunt Palmer had broken into her room and found Hoopsie. And that way, she could leave her window open during the day, trying to rid her room off the nutty, sugary smell.
Max’s room was on the same floor as Woodren, the third floor. Every morning, bright and early before school, Woodren would run with a small lump in her sweater and the keys to her locked room jingling on her wrists to Max’s room. Max would barely acknowledge her as she ran across his room, opened his window and climbed out like a monkey to the branch that pushed against his window sill. She crawled along it with speed and sat there, with her legs hanging down and the branch between her legs, fumbled for the cage door above her head, made sure there was enough water and food to last Hoopsie for the day, popped Hoopsie inside with a quick kiss, arranged the fan-like fresh morning-smell leaves to cover the cage completely and skate back towards Max’s window.
Hoopsie mourned with a few high whistling notes. She hated being away from Woodren during the day- waiting for the moment when the sun was getting hot, and Hoopsie was tired of chatting to the birds in the nearby trees, when Woodren’s sharp little white face with its explosion of frizzy black hair would appear in between the leaves with her happy grey eyes and let her fly around the tree before calling, “Hoopsie” followed by her signature tilting whistle. But for now, and for every morning till noon, Hoopsie would have to wait.
“You don’t think they’ll find her do you?” Woodren would ask Max as she clambered back into his window. It was their daily morning ritual.
“No. Pa told Ma that it’s all about privacy now that I’m a growing-up boy. I’ll lock my door; promise.” He would reply back, completing their ritual.
“Are you still eating lunch with that Ed kid?” he asked, completely breaking their ritual this morning.
“Yes.” She was completely surprised. Not only was Max breaking a routine, Max of all people, he was doing so by asking her a question about her personal life.
Woodren eyed Max strangely. To her, Max was her huge cousin that somehow managed to communicate with a variety of different grunts and hated cutting his hair because of his fear of sharp objects; but to the rest of the school and neighborhood, she knew Max was the “strong and silent” handsome tall boy, every girl’s dream, with his shaggy blonde hair.
“Why?” her gray eyes grew rounder when suspicious instead of narrowing.  
“You don’t have many friends at school.”
“You know I don’t get along with any of them but Ed. I don’t like being friends with people unless I actually like them… unlike all the other girls at school.”
“I don’t like you staying around the Ed kid too much.”
Woodren felt a little glow of affection for Max in her heart. She understood why Max was worried. Ed was unstable with the rest of the world. He did what he wanted to, he said exactly what he wanted to and he wasn’t afraid of anything because he didn’t care what anyone said. He was the kid that the no parents wanted their children to stay near. There wasn’t anything Ed hadn’t done before.
Despite what everyone else thought, Woodren knew that his morals and sense of good and justice were strong in his heart. And when it came to Woodren he was always there for her since he moved to the neighborhood more than half a year ago. No matter how many offending remarks he made, she felt he had become the only stable thing in her life in spite of him being so apt to change. She had learned to depend on him.  
At the breakfast table, Woodren’s gray eyes slid over from Linda to Lucy to Aunt Palmer to Uncle Palmer and rested on Max the longest. Until she had come to look at Max, all four of them were identical in their attractive features and identical in their pinched-up, suspicious and petty expressions glazed over with a courteous mask. Max’s blue eyes, though the same shape as Aunt Palmer’s and the same color as Uncle Palmer’s, expressed a good heart and sincerity.
Her first subject of the day was an art lesson. All she had to do was sit comfortably, a palette with swirls of colors, paintbrushes, charcoals and pencils, a *** of water, and a fresh-smelling page. Usually she drew herself as a monster, or Linda as the devil- disturbing pictures that made people believe she was “talented”. But today, it came to her all of a sudden she’d never done a good, worthwhile painting of Hoopsie. Sure, her tables and notebooks were filled with carvings she’d doodled in class but never something she would want to keep.
She started to sketch Hoopsie on her bed post, eyeing the nuts Woodren had stolen from Aunt Palmer’s snack cupboard. She drew Hoopsie in the big tree and painted a metal cage around her. Somehow, the silver cage ruined the picture completely, making Woodren grimace. When the paint dried, she erased Hoopsie from inside the cage and drew her beside it, her small black feet gripping a twig.
Woodren remembered how elegant birds looked when she looked up into the sky, and saw them with their wings spread out and imagined feeling the wind rush through her feathers and ripple down her head and spine, with a heaven of azure blue surrounding her, shooting through clouds cold and refreshing like a sprinkler in the garden. Maybe that’s what freedom tasted like. She tried drawing Hoopsie soaring in the sky before she realized she’d never seen Hoopsie soar like other birds do, because Hoopsie had never done so.
Broodingly, she packed up when class was dismissed, slowly and thoughtfully. Somehow, that small beginning of a painting had darkened her frame of mind completely. Still ruminating, she headed down the hall way to eat lunch.
“Woody!” Hearing the sound of that voice, she momentarily forget her unease and Woodren’s thin, pale lips spread in a smile even before she turned around to him. Ed was the only one who ever called her that. His oval head was covered in small black bristles and one of his black eyebrows rose as he smirked with his pink lips curving down. The diamond earring in his ear glinted like his teeth did. He caught her eyes with his hazel ones; his eyes were warm and lively.  His mouth formed words that were witty and charming and could always make Woodren laugh.
Woodren put a look of amazement on her face. “You came to school today.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been coming to school nearly all month.”
“That’s why I’m surprised.”
He hit her arm lightly. A few girls nearby turned around and giggled when they caught Ed’s eyes. Woodren remembered when Ed had first come to school. All the prettiest girls at school kept sidling over to him and batting their eyelashes. Ed had taken one look at the curves on their bodies; his eyes flickered over their face, a little bored, and continued his conversation with Woodren as if there had been no interruption.
It was a mark of their friendship three weeks later when she told him about her family. His hazel eyes had burnt hotly. When he was angry, his voice was quieter, but strained as if the passionate anger behind the words were being controlled with the greatest effort, “People who ruin other people’s happiness on purpose and with joy are just plain evil.” He told her that he hated the monsters that kidnapped children, crippled them, not only in body but mind too, and forced them to beg, far away from those that loved them. Here followed a stream of facts, all said in the same tone that both scared and impressed Woodren.
“How do you know so much about it?” she had once asked him.
He looked at her with an odd gleam in his eyes, “Because I care.”
Now he was looking at her without breaking his gaze, the same odd gleam in his eyes, searching her face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She had still been brooding over Hoopsie in a cage, and why the picture upset her so much.
“Woody, tell me what’s wrong.”
Every time Woodren mentioned Hoopsie, Ed would go silent or make an offending remark about the way that Woodren took care of Hoopsie. Over a very short time, Woodren had learned never to mention Hoopsie’s name and though it drove her crazy with frustration, she knew Ed would never tell her reason the why if she tried to pry it out of him. Knowing not to answer truthfully, “I told you, nothing”
“I can tell when you’re lying. Your eyes grow whopping and your mouth pouts to the right.”
“Shut up.”
He looked at her searchingly before giving up with an irritated sigh.
“Come with me.” The chair scraped as he pulled out and pushed the table away from him. His tall frame dwarfed her.
He brought her to the back of the school where teachers and students never went, leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette. “You want to try one?”
“I don’t smoke, Ed”
“Why won’t you even try it?” The tone he used when he was about to state something that began an argument leaked into his voice smoothly, like oil. Woodren opened her mouth to list the damaging things it did to your lungs and heart but his voice had begun in its rapid, silky tone:
“Because society has brain washed you so that if you smoke when you’re a child, you’re a horrible ungrateful creature that will never go far in life. But when an adult smokes, it’s okay. You don’t smoke because people and teachers tell you not to try it. Well I say, **** them. These are the best years of your life. Do what you want, try everything so you can make the choices of your life later with a rounded experience and knowledge. I’m not saying get addicted. You have to be strong if you’re gonna be a risk-taker…” he inhaled deeply and exhaled in a husky voice, “I just thought you always went on about how you were such a strong risk taker.” He blew a cloud of heavy smoke above her head. “Oh, and of course you won’t try it because Aunt and Uncle Palmer said it’d be sin, isn’t that right?” he asked with a tantalizing grin in a mocking tone. He watched her face contort with anger, his hazel eyes dancing with glee. He knew he had hit at the bull’s eyes. No one ever jeered at Woodren’s inner power and then put her on the same note as her Aunt and Uncle.
A sudden snarling sound flared from her. She didn’t have to listen to anything Aunt and Uncle Palmer said… they never did anything worthy intentionally. She knew that. He was just stupid. She swore at him and knocked the cigarette out of his hand with a smart slap before storming away. An amused laugh from behind her made her ears tingle pink.
As soon as school was over, she pushed pass Ed who was waiting for her and ran back home. Opening the front door of the house, she scurried up the stairs to the third-floor and knocked on Max’s door. When she opened it, Max was already holding Hoopsie in his big hands. Hoopsie sang with joy when she saw Woodren.
“Hoopsie-girl” Woodren whistled with a tilting note that Hoopsie identified instantly. Hoopsie flapped over and landed on her shoulder.
“By the way,” said Max, “she must have knocked over her water because it was wet on the bottom of the cage. She kept trying to drink it. She’s thirsty.”
“Oh you silly Hoopsie! Why did you knock over the water? You know I’m supposed to have 8 cups a day?” she pampered the lovebird with caresses and endearing words before hiding Hoopsie in her shirt and running back to her room.
Woodren placed Hoopsie gently down on the bed post
Edna Sweetlove Oct 2014
Goodnight ******
You fill me with sorrow;
Goodnight ******
You might die tomorrow.

Grunts and farting make me quite forlorn
But with each dawn I feel new-born;
Goodnight ******
While I'm deep inside you.

Goodnight ******
Let me lie beside you;
Goodnight ******
O what fun to ride you.

Goodnight ******,
Straightjacket enfold you,
Strong enough to hold you,
Goodnight ****** goodnight.
Sing this to the tune of "Goodnight Sweetheart" - it will make your neighbours laugh a lot.
Cam Arsenault Dec 2012
Oh, how I always wanted to live in an 8-bit world
Side-scrolling action
Duck hunts galore
As much currency as a first-world country
It’s hard not to love it
From Pokémon to Kid Icarus
The nostalgia nearly takes my breath away
I won’t let problems stack up like Tetris
I’m not being chased by ghosts crying,
“Wacka, wacka, wacka, wacka, wacka”
This isn’t a video game, it’s real life
When you die you don’t respawn like nothing ever happened
No, this is it. One life.
I’m placing blocks in Minecraft
Pwning n00bz in Call of Duty
Gaining headshots on Grunts like Master Chief
Gathering rings in Sonic the Hedgehog
Sneaking around like Ezio Auditore da Firenze
And delivering newspapers like Paperboy
While escaping the mysterious Slenderman
I’m living in this virtual world without danger
I don’t want to make it on these streets like Frogger
I don’t have big shoes to fill like the plumber or the blue blur
This ain’t no sandbox or first-person shooter, it’s reality
So, live it to the fullest, don’t rage quit
First full poem.
Ellen Joyce Jun 2013
And Ovid said "she asked for it"
she turned Tereus to lust on sight and caused him to **** her
over and over and over
the only control remaining to speak the truth.
a tongue turned phallus
that was to be cut off, castrated
to silence, make powerless -
Philomela subjugated
beneath the vile grunts of the patriarchal chorus
mumbling grumbling over the rumbling
of a revolution of women rising to dance, to shout, to sing
to bring Philomela from Hades to cascading waters of womanhood
extinguising the flames of the hell that is here.

Here in the he said - she said
in the legal loop holes
in the seems like
in the ridiculous pondering of legitimate ****
as if when Tess, at pitchfork, took off her clothes before Alec
that it could be consider seduction, romance.
The threat of violence - silence.

Here where we remember world cup victories but forget Nanking
hundreds, thousand of women violated and broken for sport
because **** is a weapon of war
because Lord knows bombs and bullet aint enough
Soldiers photographing rapes like snapshots to take home as souvenirs.
- the sadistic ******* who sexually assaulted, mutilated and murdered
daughter, sister, mother, grandmother
and then headed home to the ***** of the matriarch,
to hold their own teenage daughters in the arms that turned screams to silence.

Voices silenced.  
Vocabularly lost.
Women have come to fight silence with art
to speak in a language without words because there are not words
to tell of a hell that ------------------------

But when Toni Morrison told the truth
the truth in all its gorey graphic raw ugliness
the people tried to stick together the pages
to conceal the painful truth,
to build up pyres of life stories and watch them burn
The pen stamped underfoot into silence.

And Pa simply said "shut up and *** used to it"
and those words still echo now across the world
and there was noone to tell
nothing to be said - just the colour purple
and silence.

Silence is being broken
across this world women rise to tell, to share, to voice, to shout, to say, to sing

We've had enough, enough of being treated like dirt,
we've had enough enough of putting up with the hurt,
we've had enough enough of getting trashed from above,
us women have had enough -

we've had enough they say
of this vile hierarchial structure of **** that almost always favours the male
of arseholes like Galloway and Akin putting forth their perverse poisonous perceptions
of one in three women being ***** or beaten
of one in three women having to pick up the pieces and find a way to live
of one in three women feeling the weight of the silence

As the monologues echo in theatre stalls
as ***** taken to the streets both female and male
as men declare themselves feminists and walk the walk
the spirit of Philomela unites with her tongue,
the silence created by the threat of violence is cracked
the us and them mentality that allows us to hurt the other challenged
the once burned books have gone mass market
and we as a human race will no longer be told "to shut up and *** used to it"

We are standing as one
for the sake of the one
the every one in three women
one will billion rise
Inspired by Slutwalk movement and One Billion Rise.
Bus Poet Stop Sep 2017
the bus poets

we are the modern day chimney sweeps,
the ***** black faced coal miners of the city,
digging up its grit, toasted with its spit,
the gone and forgotten elevator operators,
the anonymous substitutable,
still yet glimpsed occasionally,
grunts of urbanity
provoking a surprised
whaddya know!

once like the bison and the buffalo,
we were thousands,
word workers roaming the cities,
the intercity rural routes and the lithe greyhounds
across the land of the brave,
free in ways the
founders wanted us to be
us, the stubs and stuff,
harder working poor and lower cases

we were the bus poets,
sitting always in the back of the bus,
where the engines growls loudest,
seated in the - the most overheated
in winter time, so much so
we nearly disrobed,
and then come the summer,
we were blasted with a joking
hot reverie from the vents,
but vent, no, we did not!

no - we wrote and wrote of all we heard,
passion overheated by currents within and without,
recording and ordering the
snatches and the soliloquies of the passengers,
into poem swatches;
the goings on passing by,
the overheard histories,
glimpsed in milliseconds, eternity preserved,
inscribed in a cheap blue lined five & dime notebook,
for all eternity what the eyes
sighed and saw

books ever passed
onto the next generation in boxes from the supermarket,
attic labeled, then forgotten beside the outgrown toys
with our names writ indelible with the magic of
black markers

if you stumble upon a breathing scripter,
let them be, just observe,
as they, you,
these movers and bus shakers,
as they, observe you

tell your children,
you knew one in your youth,
then take them to the attic
retrieve your mother's and father's,
teach your children
how to read, how to see,
the ways of their forefathers,
the forsaken,
the bus poets.
dedication: for them, for us, for me
Prabhu Iyer Sep 2014
Forlorn sheets fluttering in the winds
splattered in smoke and ruination,
empty the streets where she'd played lost:

Haunting her now among
shadows in the cell she's chained
to slavery
of the religious kind.

Beast more than beast these men that
stare in hubris awaiting their turn
to partake of infidel flesh.

Behold! The holy empire of God is here.

That morning she'd grown up -
blood between her thighs had
stopped her play,
and her chastity was proclaimed.
Selima must learn to respect men
and the ways of God and His
rules of modesty.

Now, as he grunts and groans
in holy pleasure as he mounts
her by turns, ******* at the altar
to be an example of how ******
the lot of the pagan and faithless be.

Mother, is this the modesty that
God commands of infidel women?

How merciful indeed is He that
He creates in faithful men a beastly craving
and provides too for them
uncircumcised ***** in pillage.
Pardon my french, but this is gut-wrenching: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11080165/Yazidi-girl-tells-of-horrific-ordeal-as-Isil-***-slave.html
Ian Cairns Dec 2013
I was raised by a man with broad shoulders and a gentle heart
A sign that my strengths would reside above my waistline
I learned to stand up straight at an early age
Not necessarily to improve my posture like my father had intended
But I believed looking into his eyes would give me an all-access pass to manhood
And by double digits I wanted to reciprocate his masculinity
Nothing would have harmonized my earlobes like the words- You're a man now son

As I grew taller, I finally met the spheres into my father's soul
And much to my surprise, they screamed a sadder melody than I had anticipated
They leaned on crutches, crippled by societal catastrophes
Their stories- captives to cultural constraints
They stared at me blindly as if my presence was backbreaking
My heart was crushed as my father's shoulders shook
And the strengths I once desired were now fossilized by fear

To be a man -society grunts so effortlessly- is to be masculine
And since masculinity and success are socially synonymous
Obviously, success cannot be established without perfection or aggression or oppression

To be a man is to be unbreakable
Because the slightest wrinkle in armor alludes to inability
And combat is unavoidable regardless of swordsmanship

To be a man is to be rigid
Because being fixed in outdated traditions is far easier
Than challenging for innovative conditions

To be a man is to be emotionless
Because passion is pathetic
Sensitivity strikes the community as instability, not authenticity

To be a man is to be strong
Because strength means maintaining control and independence
Not establishing dependability or acceptance

Masculinity still towers over little boys just like me
Presenting textbook answers for real world problems
Masculinity is a skyscraper imposing its will on innocent civilians
By replacing sunlight with systematic shadows
And ripping shooting stars right out of the sky
Masculinity forms internal thunderstorms harboring havoc
For individuals that need more than rainfall for adequate growth
We are not shrubbery photosynthesizing our thoughts into energy
We are not born to throw our feelings into sealed vaults
Our genuine intentions deserve to be delivered on silver platters

Gender roles are one way streets clogged by oncoming traffic
Mirrored headlights approaching complete chaos
There are no maps to point you down the right path
There is no right path
There is no right path
Only roadblocks inhibiting you from any type of progress
Life is meant to be traveled on unmarked ground
Where men and women alike regulate the steering wheel regardless of society's traffic laws
And I long for the day when my son or daughter looks up to me
The day when my son or daughter stands up straight
Looks me in my eyes and sees a portrait painted differently
A soul actualizing strength, not personifying ingenuity
Isabel Sykes Nov 2013
The winter cold
Moves in on us all
Noses red and numb
Teeth chattering
And the author sits
Hunched over his typewriter
Frozen hands poised
Over the iced keys

When the harsh north wind
Rattles the window panes
Of his home
He does not bat
An eyelid

And even when the frost
And then the snow comes
Knocking at his door
He does not look up
From his work

He clutches his mug
With raw, trembling hands
And stares through watery eyes
At the page
Which remains
Resolutely blank

Through the window
His frosted garden stretches
Out into the distance
A vast expanse of white
Perfect and untrodden

A robin alights
On the bow of a
Willow tree
Glinting as if
It's bark
Is encrusted with diamonds

He observes the scene
With mild curiosity
And grunts, hoping
That maybe inspiration
Will come
In the spring
The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering

Head alone shows you in the prodigious act
Of digesting what centuries alone digest:
The mammoth, lumbering statuary of sorrow,
Indissoluble enough to riddle the guts
Of a whale with holes and holes, and bleed him white
Into salt seas.  Hercules had a simple time,
Rinsing those stables:  a baby's tears would do it.
But who'd volunteer to gulp the Laocoon,
The Dying Gaul and those innumerable pietas
Festering on the dim walls of Europe's chapels,
Museums and sepulchers?  You.
                               You
Who borrowed feathers for your feet, not lead,
Not nails, and a mirror to keep the snaky head
In safe perspective, could outface the gorgon-grimace
Of human agony:  a look to numb
Limbs:  not a basilisk-blink, nor a double whammy,
But all the accumulated last grunts, groans,
Cries and heroic couplets concluding the million
Enacted tragedies on these blood-soaked boards,
And every private twinge a hissing asp
To petrify your eyes, and every village
Catastrophe a writhing length of cobra,
And the decline of empires the thick coil of a vast
Anacnoda.
          Imagine:  the world
****** to a foetus head, ravined, seamed
With suffering from conception upwards, and there
You have it in hand.  Grit in the eye or a sore
Thumb can make anyone wince, but the whole globe
Expressive of grief turns gods, like kings, to rocks.
Those rocks, cleft and worn, themselves then grow
Ponderous and extend despair on earth's
Dark face.
           So might rigor mortis come to stiffen
All creation, were it not for a bigger belly
Still than swallows joy.
                         You enter now,
Armed with feathers to tickle as well as fly,
And a fun-house mirror that turns the tragic muse
To the beheaded head of a sullen doll, one braid,
A bedraggled snake, hanging limp as the absurd mouth
Hangs in its lugubious pout.  Where are
The classic limbs of stubborn Antigone?
The red, royal robes of Phedre?  The tear-dazzled
Sorrows of Malfi's gentle duchess?
                                   Gone
In the deep convulsion gripping your face, muscles
And sinews bunched, victorious, as the cosmic
Laugh does away with the unstitching, plaguey wounds
Of an eternal sufferer.
                         To you
Perseus, the palm, and may you poise
And repoise until time stop, the celestial balance
Which weighs our madness with our sanity.
Lior Gavra Nov 2017
The impatient soul awaits.
As crowds push towards the train.
He rushes to pass, can’t be late.
He looked at others, the insane.

He squeezed against and did shove.
They looked at him, silent grunts.
His angry mood, bared no love.
He was used to his way and wants.

One more push and catapults.
Into the air and did not fall.
He laughs at them, at their faults.
As he flies pass human walls.

Surprised, he got no attention.
He roared at them, till the last door.
His super power, that strengthened.
No longer waiting, he could soar.

Everyone looked to the left.
Train now expected delays.
Some tears were dropped as they wept.
A red end to someone’s day.

He flew back in that direction.
A sudden feeling, temptation.
There caught in the intersection.
His body, the impatient.
1.

Minds break apart at midnight,
piece together in dreamless sleep.

Robert Lowell poaches pen-and-ink
drawings for Life Studies.
Sylvia Plath dons Ariel’s red dress,
but loses Ariadne’s thread.  

Lowell raises For the Union Dead,
mythic monument to his family’s best.
Pigeons decorate it with their ***** mess.
Plath pins a ******* to her chest —  
shockingly pink —
and stands beside the kitchen sink,

Stirring a *** of poet’s gruel.
Madness and death the golden rule
no artistry can break. Not even the careless
reader can take leave of these senses

Once they’re rendered on the page.
Confession doesn’t age well,
as Lowell knows oh so well,

unless it suggests more substantial fare,
say, a flannel bathrobe for him to wear
in a Boston psychiatric ward — if he dares.

There’s something wrong with his head.
Crown him Caligula; his lineage has fled.

“What does that have to do with me, Daddy?” Plath artfully whines.
“Fill the tulip jars with red water, not wine,” he replies.
“The bridegroom cometh. Turn off the oven.”
But it is too late. She has met her fate before it predeceases her.

Like a teacher’s pet, she bets her life on a recitation
of Daddy, a term of endearment,
a term of interment in a stark, loveless miscarriage,
a dark, masculine disparagement of her freedom. O Daddy dearest.

Lowell shoots up to salute the younger poet, guessing
she has given the year’s best reading by a girl in red dresses.

At this stage, what does it matter that his “mind’s not right”?
What can he do but give up his right to pray, as every insight
       slips away?

But no Our Father for Plath. For her, the Kingdom comes too late.
Colossal poetry cannot save; the poet raves and raves and raves
       into that dark night.
Turn off the oven, turn out the lights. Daddy, too, is not right.

2.

Blake fired his Proverbs of Hell
in the dull, damning kilns
of England’s Industrial Age.

A poet’s no sage, but Lowell earned
his wings when he doctored Blake’s phrase:
“I myself am hell.”

A stone angel directs his descent:

Fortune favors the bold.

Never discount the power of chance.

Affliction of the senses is a gift.

Invisible seeks invisible.

Darkness obscures our limits.

We carry darkness within us.

Anarchy breeds spirit.

Artistry breeds no merit.

Appropriate beauty, at all costs,
whether, man, beast or angel
.

3.

Poetry births an artifact of words; we unearth them, and they adhere.
We bury them, and they fall flat — hollow sounds, futile splats,
       prehistoric grunts ground into the ground.

Bathed in lithium and alcohol, here bobs your calling, Robert:
Everything matters; nothing coheres.
Build a shell of a soul on this maxim, a notebook of negation.  
       Grind your axes.

Sanctuaries may crumble, gates may close. Press on. Press on.
Corkscrew your identity into the iambic line; rouse the reader to find
the misleading promise of Eternity in the sonnet, the sonnet,
       the endless sonnet.

For minds lost in madness, tree limbs dangle like kite tails in the wind. No one flies here anymore. Gather reddened kindling while ye may.

What exiles you from the ancients — Homer, Virgil and Horace —
springs from vision, not technique: You lack the requisite blindness.

Absence absents the soul. Here, now, forever, shimmers only presence,
only the present, only Presence: divine, human, animal, marmoreal.
       Skunks, sails, cars and pails. Sing on, O son of New England!

Day by day, failing all, fill your void with fiery
hieroglyphs of verse. Then call your duty done.

4.

Behold: You are not the favorite, after all, but Camus’ stranger,
trapped in the blinding sun, stumbling on the burning sand.

Only what dies in you endures.

“Is getting well ever an art,
or art a way to get well?”

The skunks scurry, scavenge and survive far too long for you to answer.

You lie down beside orange fishnets, facing the shore.
At midnight, you will dream of dreamless sleep.
To follow the development of this poem, it's important to know the works and lives of the confessional poets Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath. If you are unfamiliar with them, I suggest you first read "Skunk Hour" by Lowell and then "Daddy" by Plath. Short biographies would help, too.
Terry O'Leary Feb 2014
NOW

Well, GI Jack is welcome back, he left his legs in 'Nam.
He wakes at night in sweat and fright, then drinks another dram.
He doesn't know quite where to go, so seeks his uncle, Sam.


                           BEFORE

One can't ignore - his ma was poor, and seasons sometimes cruel,
yet Jack was brave and well behaved and surely no one's fool
so joined the ranks that man the tanks, as soon as he left school

He learned to **** our foes at will (ordained a sacred rite)
then packed his bag, unfurled his flag, when sent away to fight.
And yes, the tide was on our side (for, clearly, might makes right)

Through tangled days in jungles' maze, he sought the enemy
behind the trees where, ill at ease, he fought the Yellow sea -
upon the waves of gravelled graves he sailed a killing spree

The ****** dropped and cooked the crops, charred huts along the way
and tanks, with zest, erased the rest, their villages of clay.
(Yes, turret guns are loads of fun with roaring roundelay.)

While on the hunt with other grunts, he burned some babes alive
and wondered why frail things must die, while evil's phantoms thrive -
<When folly ends, he'll make amends if only he'll survive>

With ***** traps (sticks smeared with crap), yes, Charlie fought unfair.
He hid in holes with snakes and voles and snuck up everywhere
and like a mite within the night, caught Jackie unaware

At battle's end, Jack sought his friends - their souls were washed away
and only he and destiny were left in disarray -
with bed and pan, just half a man, the man of yesterday

When Jack awoke beyond the smoke, his frame no longer whole,
he found instead some suture thread neath wraps to hide the hole,
and realized a further prize: a chair on wheels to roll

His head felt light, as well it might, at Victory Day Parade
(across his chest, you've surely guessed, his medals shone, arrayed)
for when he rolled, while others strolled, his boots no longer weighed


                           AFTER

Well, Jack stayed home (no roads to Rome) to start his life anew
receiving dole which took its toll as largess went askew
for sure enough, when times got tough, his uncle, Sam, withdrew

To walk the streets with fine elites (or else some *** who begs)
or find a job (or even rob) requires both your legs.
And those who can't, are viewed askant like those we call the dregs.

For getting by he tried to ply and mine his medals' worth -
a wooden cup, a mangy pup, a smirk when miming mirth,
and best of all, at midnight’s call, beneath a bridge, a ‘berth’

He clutched a sign 'A dime to dine?', if anybody cared,
but soon he found, as time unwound, that victors seldom shared.
And Jackie's pride was slowly fried by vacant eyes that stared


                           ENLIGHTENMENT

He took to drink to break the link with thoughts of what he'd done
and threads of doubt began to flout the yarns Big Brother spun
of freedom's ring and other things, like what it was we'd won

His vague unease arrayed a breeze with words that chilled the air
and like the fogs above the bogs, they floated through the square
where people sat at tea to chat, and shrieked 'How could he dare?'

Yes, freedom's price is never nice: like storms before the flood
the Daily Rag was on a jag, was looking out for blood,
deemed Jackie's thoughts untamed and fraught, then dragged him through the mud

By hacking clues, they plucked his views like grapes upon the vine.
Big Brother came, blamed Jackie's name for thinking out of line,
shut Jack away from light of day, eclipsing freedom’s shine

The Junto Brass, with eyes of glass, were robed in fine array
to hear the words (though slightly slurred) the witness gasped to say,
while Justice snored (the waterboard awash with Perrier)

Well, Jack was charged with laws enlarged in secret dossiers
within the guise of spreading lies and leading thoughts astray -
The Jury's out... the rabble shout “well someone's gotta pay”

The Judge (who fears the mind’s frontiers) inclined his head to yawn
while making haste through courtroom waste, though slightly pale and wan.
(A voodoo Loon withdraws as soon as Night condemns the Dawn.)


                           ETERNITY

While in his cell, the verdict fell - the sighs of Silence, rife
While in his cell, the verdict fell - the Reaper played a fife
While in his cell, the verdict fell - the price was Jackie's life


                           EPILOGUE

Well Jackie's ghost, unlike the most, still mused upon the praise
for misdeeds done in victories won when cruising in a craze,
and once again upon the sin of thinking, nowadays
where, cunningly, humanity’s served lies, and trust betrays.
Then, reconciled, it simply smiled at fortune's wanton ways.


                           EPITAPH

A mind was caught while thinking thoughts neath Sammy’s prying gaze
and forced to stop by concept cops, else join the castaways.
For now it's law to hold in awe the brave new world's malaise
and cerebrate with programmed pate, adorned with thorned bouquets,
then mimic mimes in troubled times - and no one disobeys.
With freedom’s death, truth holds its breath awaiting better days.
Stare away into a vacuum. There's always something entertaining happening in that
vacuum and it needs your undivided attention.
2. Master a blank expression especially when staring into the vacuum or directly at
anyone.
3. Never laugh or smile in social gatherings or ever.
4. Be a miser with your words, use one-word responses and add a few grunts and
guttural sounds to your vocabulary.
5. Believe every male is a ******.
6. Never show emotions, especially obvious ones like happiness, surprise, or sadness.
These may serve as conversation starters and you don't want that.
7. Don't necessarily avoid all eye contact. If the person is obviously determined to
make contact with your pupils, give it to them. Stare them down and continue to
stare. If they say something, don't respond just keep staring.
8. Crushing on someone? Don't even bother. They don't want you.
9. Fine, you can't help your crush, these eyes you must definitely avoid.
10. Use up all your tech gadgets, phones, iPods, even a **** calculator can help,
after all the measly remains of your bank account isn't going to check itself.
Anything with words u can pretend to read is also helpful, even your last grocery
receipt that you just randomly found in your purse.
11. "I don't know" is a very good answer for almost every question you're asked.
To make it seem less harsh (if you even care) you can substitute for "not sure"
12. Always pretend to listen, nods and grunts are helpful for this.
13. The less you move your body or your face the better, they're all watching you,
judging you, trying to study you remember that.
14. Paranoia is your friend.
15. Refuse all food or drinks. Do not let them see you eat.
Robert G Page Jul 2014
The Slow-Bullet
by rgpage

In the early days of  Viet Nam
the American draft was going strong.
Young men in their prime of life,
were forced and herded into world strife.

A generation of America’s best, were
then brought home and laid to rest.
Wall Street smiled, the money flowed
the “fat Cats” called it money owed.

In towns and cities big and small,
families waited, worried, and cried.
Groups appeared, dissention grew.
"Mothers grab your son’s and hide."

There were those who felt their duty strong,
to take the leap toward blood and strife
with McNamara herding them along.
Known to the grunts as “Mac the Knife.”

The madness grew to a global scale
with those that were for and those against.
In bombing, selective targets became the norm
keeping the rest of the world from harm.

With those who didn’t feel their duty strong,
a path to the north they took.
They packed what they could, burned their cards
and paused for one last look.

With this some parents felt relief,
while others felt the disgrace. Of  seeing
the grief so many went through after
having their futures erased.

The war took over 58,000 American lives;
men and women both, (before we flew away).
Wall Street got their wages for blood, with
broken lives in pain, many thousands more would pay.

With thousands more that were yet to be lost, after returning home.
Physically and mentally scarred, even those seeming
perfectly whole. Then saying good-by to the ones they loved
in their own special way. They stoically waited for the slow-bullet to come to finally take them away…



Suicide has taken 3 or 4 times the lives than the war took. My heart cries for every last one of them…Robert G. Page, Viet Nam Vet. ‘66-’67.
Daz Mars Apr 2015
as feeling a bit ***** would have liked some head
with your legs spread wide open upon my bed ,
I'd make my way down to your **** ****
there I would stop for a pleasurable lick
I would admire for a time your ***** divine
until my **** started bursting and pre-*** started to shine
I would then push my way inside you your sweet ****
and what would follow would be a series of grunts
until the pleasure did build to cascading end
and explosion inside of you of yin and yang
Perch on their water perch hung in the clear Bann River
Near the clay bank in alder dapple and waver,

Perch they called ‘grunts’, little flood-slubs, runty and ready,
I saw and I see in the river’s glorified body

That is passable through, but they’re bluntly holding the
pass,
Under the water-roof, over the bottom, adoze

On the current, against it, all muscle and slur
In the finland of perch, the fenland of alder, on air

That is water, on carpets of Bann stream, on hold
In the everything flows and steady go of the world.
Francie Lynch Feb 2017
Red herrings tend to be trustworthy,
But lead us astray.
Orange orangutans are trustworthy:
If it looks menacing, it is;
If it grunts, it's meaningful;
If it moves, it's unpredictable.
In captivity they're studied
As evolutionary wonders,
But it's still an orange orangutan,
Pounding his chest.
Her nails digging into the tree,
her legs opened wide.
He sunk deep within,
filling ever inch inside.
Mating calls meshing,
moans and grunts rent the air.
He begins to move faster,
while pulling on her hair.

I can't believe he's this deep inside me,
It's so **** heavenly,
I burst out with a primal scream.
It's like a fantasy, I'm living out my dream,
All those ****** novels I read,
Pictured through my mind,
He pulled my hair even harder,
I came almost instantaneously


Her essence flowed freely,
Surrounding him in liquid heat.
His thrusting became faster,
and the pleasure was Oh so sweet.
Hard as a rock,
one more pounding ******.
He sank into her deeply,
and explodes in a rush.

I could feel his hot seed,
Filling up inside me.
The exquisite pleasure almost
made me come once more,
He leaned his entire weight into me,
His breath on my neck
was felt to my core,
I realized I never asked his name
Yet, he'd pleasured me like never before.


"I have seen you from afar, to shy to say a word.
Still, I know your name not and feel kind of absurd."
"I have seen you looking
and have noticed you too,
I wanted you for awhile,
and didn't know what to do."
He kissed her then,
softly upon her lips.
Holding her against the tree,
still joined at the hips.

I drip as I grip onto your hips,
while I nurture your nectar and sip
Your ****** has me going crazy,
'cause I'm craving to be lazy
and lay on my back while you ride
me, but I think I might have died
This pleasure makes me feel like Heaven,
and I won the jackpot like 7-7-7
Your depths are coming down upon me,
while I sew some of my sticky seed
right into your box, with me begging,
"Baby, I swear I'm gonna make you mine,
'cause you have me feeling so sublime."



            *~To Be Continued~
Tom Orr Nov 2012
One step forward, three steps back.
The queue shuffles,
visible breath in the winter blue.
The vendor vends,
fingerless gloves clamp the steaming mug.
Grunts and groans alike,
the warmth fills the withered corpses pale.

A gaze is cast,
into the misty nothing that inhabits the park.
A twitter is heard amongst the frosty masts.

Eyes meet with a rufescent-chested bird.

These same eyes are then met with salt,
a sorrow, a pang of jealousy.
A sheer longing for that same freedom.
Words' Worth Oct 2018
Your nature is rather expressive
It creates dialogue in chirping happiness
Of birds climbing trees
But seemingly, doesn't lie in the height of apricot trees
In fallacies of piety
Like climbing from the apple flowers
To the suckling bees nestling in the flavor
Of the honey that comes from the *******
Of your breast that taste like apple and honey
As the petals of an aeolian wasp
Follow the areolar cusp
Hungering was part of the motivation
It was primal instinct of the ecstatic elation
So what about the leaves that turn brown
A Gilded crescent moon
Brings tawny owls in the night
Who can tread upon
But still see them leaves
Auric alchemy covering your ******
Like I can navigate your entire patina
Bodied with my left hand
Cupping your breast with the righteousness of writing
Now I'm ambidextrous
Teasing you with the tension
Of impressionism in my sensual seminar
Promising to pluck those flowers
I keep them in colored waters
So there's coruscating change
Within the cleft of the *******
Somehow I've found that to be trenchant theft
Of your virginity
There's more bliss in these pecks of mine
Except like woodpeckers pecking the bare-backs of fir trees
Inasmuch the resin falling
Keeping the Apollinaire's oil lamp of sin
Much alive
Earnestly timed
And the poetry reasonably alive
Romantically
A thought of fire in a rustic cage
Like Pandora's box
In the Coming of Age, mysteriously
There's more bliss in these perks of mine
Unlike aphrodisiacs in the sea
The Cupid's bow keeps
The aquiline philtrums intertwined
In pilfering perfection
Even in the decorum of our moaning
In the face of the coitus and chorus
The suspicion of Venus
Doesn't keep out the lust
Of the allegory
That included symbolic Folly
But Folly was just a face
Realizing the purpose of her
Was just exploring pleasure
Emanating with your caressing climate
To leave no leaves unturned
When it came to my gruntled grunts
Then came the ******
Unoccluded and unencumbered
Of every language, pulchritude placid
"Love flows away
As life itself is slow"-Le Pont Mirabeau, Guillaume Apollinaire
And our brother, too, the metal shaman
Reaches up, plucks knowledge from the stars
We chant, guttural grunts, primal urges
And fierce grinding teeth clenching and screeching
The shaman dances and
Reaches up, plucks knowledge from the stars
And we SCREAM shrill
Bare our necks and bring the knife across, ****
A sacrifice to the metal beast
The shaman stares straight up,
Plucks knowledge from the stars
And the blood leaves us
Hair turns grey
Daily exploits lost in deepening wrinkles
The macabre ritual culminates...
The Shaman, unappeased
Laughs like Hyena, cackling
REACHES UP AND PLUCKS KNOWLEDGE FROM THE STARS!
The existential cacophony diminishes
Din dimming
Beast is empty
Bits flow like blood
Ones and zeros in a jumbled pool
The shaman delivers

The family sits around the glowing box
A tribe in an ancient ritual
Flip the switch, change the channel
The children plucking out their eyes
Little blind Oedipus
Smashing faces through the tube
To the life on the other side
Celebrities, products, and reality shows
Forget thought
Present your mind
To the beast
A cinematic ****
Send Damsels to appease the Minotaur
Change the channel
Inspired by The Lords and the New Creatures by Jim Morrison
ConnectHook Feb 2016
Your muse: a frumpy feminist who doesn't even like you or your poetry; a clipped-face mean-hair nag of a PC hag, a harridan of the nanny-state who inspires boring identity politics-driven free verse. Your muse smells nasty and has bad teeth. She voted for Hillary and loves Maya Angelou. Your muse barely tolerates your tepid unpoetic soul but she smiles a fake smile and lies to your face. Yours coerced you into publishing that e-book no one ever downloads. Your muse is unamusing, unmusical and moos like a cow. Mine mews and purrs like a sleek feline friend while sinuously scribing heroic rhymed couplets in the air with her tail. Yours grunts superficial Haiku through her snout then heads for her feed-trough in the mire. Your muse is a  dumpy data-driven bureaucrat who recites in a monotone to 3 medicated listeners at the yearly event. Your muse hired a social media specialist to market her product that no one wanted. My muse has no Facebook page because she want no Facebook page..

My muse is ergonomically sustainable in exquisite ******* epiphany. My muse laughs eternal rivers of lyrical light over the fact that your muse made you recite that silly stuff at the poetry slam. My muse loves me almost as deeply as I love her. Her ethereal body embodies all philosophy. One tiny point of light refracted from a single facet of her diadem will vaporize your merely mediocre muse. My muse is beloved of all true poets, for she stepped forth from the riven crown of the lyrical Father himself to bathe in the wellsprings of holy inspiration. You are utterly unworthy to even fantasize about kissing my muse's beatific, shining and holy ***. You wouldn't recognize MY MUSE if she knocked your post-modern skull with an Alexandrine sonnet. My muse gazes upon you for a millisecond and you writhe like an academic insect pinned to a collection board. My muse sneezes on you— and you get published in Atlantic and people yawn. Your muse makes entire English Departments nod off and then wake up and leave work early. My muse gets me high, drives me home AND pays my bail. In cash. My muse is an orthodox blood-washed Christian saint, elect of God and alive forevermore, shining wisdom personified, mother and sister and daughter of lyrical love. Yours is a lying crypto-Marxist troll who had to pay an ogre to artificially inseminate her and even then she could only conceive misshapen dull-witted free-verse freaks who whine about micro-aggression while they limp to the nearest safe space where they curl up in fetal position and scrawl confessional existential incoherent dullness.

My muse rocks. I love her more ever since she kicked your muse's unpoetic ***. I choose my muse so you lose.
Marshall Gass Apr 2014
Forever racing down the highways
of madness in the mind
I scuttle and scare at the engines roar
tossing the needle into overdrive
red bursting at the seams of gravity.

Fully entrenched in  the fast lane
I swerve to avoid articulated trucks
filled with layers of reason on why
I should humble myself in this societies
black hole of boundless depravity.

Given the delicious curve of the racetrack
and the one hundred reasons for delectable
togetherness, I shift to a slow rhythmic pulsating finish
savouring every moment I spent in your clockwork
seduction.

Fuelled and fantasy driven  I polish
and promote my car with all its grunts and bruises
and speeding tickets, near misses
and conquests as a dangerous drivers
logbook of mysteries and miseries.

This model is old and antique
but oils well and grunts its way to stardom.
Price tag-negotiable!

Author Notes
Is this a anything like a fancy car?
© Marshall Gass. All rights reserved.
wordvango Dec 2014
I reflect every morn after one cup
of coffee and two cigarettes
play Sudoku
try to relieve me
logically this biological fact
smells when I try to

get up after playing
naked Twister until 3 am
and running out of Crisco at 4.
K Balachandran Dec 2011
deep throated
grunts-
we
engaged;
two perfect
anarchists in bed.
Kate Morgan Jun 2013
I met her in the parking lot of a liquor store one Friday night with my naked body hidden beneath a dressing gown.
I’d put it on whilst I finished the gin from my 20th birthday within my boyfriends closet as he drank his **** down in beer and asked why I was in the closet.

Impotent, it was a quick exit as I thanked the drink for making me able to ride my bike back minus the safety of a sanitary towel, without my **** left to think of his grunts and groans and his hands which branded my thighs as he fed me lies that it was just in the moment; his finger prints left signatures citing his latest triumph of lasting one hundred point thirteen seconds.

The magnetism between the Alchemist and me was instant.
She held out her palm and asked for mine as the lines in my hands rewrote themselves in twisted, hopeful anticipation; reaching out, what I felt from the tips of my fingers was magic as I traced her navel to the logo of DKNY on the front of her black, cotton *******.

I taught her how to blow out smoke rings like the clowns at a circus who sit within purple tents and repeat sums of the class of 1969, the date they got their ***** kicked in, indigo, violet, for being performers.
I taught tobacco. She taught me ***.
There was ****** deviation towards devilry as I delved into the darkness between her legs as her ****** enchantment captured my hand and leaned me back;
Black blindfold, sight slaughtered.
Burning desire rolled over my bare ******* and left a trail of rouge; yet her warmth was not tender nor loving, but raw, earthly.
A sensual split as she clawed my back and licked the drips of blood that seeped into the bed, which was our place.

I felt myself become an astrologer as I left my body and rose in starry bliss; I became an adventurer as I breathed out ships, which sailed us to Stonewall as I stuck ******* up, not her sadly, but the blue meanies, the pigs which ate out of the trough of **** Tim Loughton fed us from our backyard.

I said we are making love. She said we are making a revolution.
Our energies combined, our spirits sang as it is in all and all is in us.
Time was alive as my fingers curled, my teeth bit into my open lips,
My back arched and my arms reached out in holy restoration.
Her incantation was irresistible.

Cosmic forces worked effortlessly as we evaded time and entered a transcendent state. Magical longing; primal consciousness;
Fate brought us together, past the ******* stage of our ****** evolution
As what we felt replaced what Freud saw.
A ****** of witchcraft.
An ****** of obsession.
The day I stepped out of the closet and away from my boyfriend I drank the elixir of life from your lips and knew our love would never die.
bleh Dec 2014
'i've only ever really read one poem. i, i have to admit.*  
You know, that, that one poem that everyone’s read, whatsit,
Howl by Ginsberg, 'best-minds-of-my-generation-destroyed-by-madness,-starving-hyste­rical-naked,' , yeah, that one;'
'It's just, I identify with it so strongly.' she says,
'That poem is soo me.'
It's funny how commentary on a generation 60 odd years ago come across as timeless insights..
how we learn that true spirit of rebellion and counterculture three generations ago,
  as it is taught to us by two generation ago countercounterculture academics.
but I guess, inevitably
                                         we
                                                  return,
  to those half drowned pontifications inevitably decried into transcendental truth by the onward spilling ratchet of cultural recognition;
  that sense of universal oneness generated by the unwashed ramblings of beat-generation hipsters dense innuendo in run on sentences running, running from their upper-lower-middle-class New York homes and their privilege of true vacant meaninglessness and despair,
   to those nervous tucked in shirted clean shaven scholars swooning over the same seme drugged, melancholic bearded men profussing the deepest of opaque truths only found up the furthest reaches of their own *****.
  As we push through to our lectures, the mosaic in motion of blazer wearing mac-users and mac-pac wearing blazers,
  As we hysterically interpret the formatting conditions for our reports, which could hang in the balance of whether the dreams we once had will ever be actualised,
  As we felt lost and found and found and lost at those park benches under the stars, where occasional strangers strolled by offering sessions and life-stories,
  As we paid exorbitantly to get out of our parents homes, and into tin-can flats with broken windows, absentee landlords and cracked paint only held together by all the moss, (the empowerment that is wage slavery,) for in our youth, poverty is not an ever-present pejorative, but the rite of passage to show that we are alive,
  As rituals of manhood are defined by two things and two things only; how much insomnia one can accumulate to meet insane and inane deadlines, and how much one can illuminate the walls in ***** from all the beers, spirits, cheap wines and questionable home-brews,
  As the government dismantles the human-rights commission, and we nervously attend the rallies initiated by the radicals, and the man on the megaphone calls on the crowd to chant and we can only mumble and laugh nervously at ourselves,
  And when the next speaker runs onto stage feeling the need to plead to this already nervous, placid mass that this is in-fact a PEACEFUL PROTEST, and that we are all true patriots and they insist everyone start singing the national anthem and we all look down and we again mumble, or pretend somehow not to hear them,
  and when, in this biggest independent rally around a unified cause our generation's ever seen, we have never felt so alone ,
  and isolated,  
                                  we
                                             remember,
                                                                    those earlier days,
  When we'd bleach our hair; we'd poison ourselves white, in the vain mystic hope that this was just the transition period to the time when we'd get true colour into our lives,
  Remember our wonder at the Eurocentric Asiatic television representations of the Abrahamic faiths, given transubstantiated holy revival by the medium of Saturday morning digital pastel pasture; when we were children staring excited and wide eyed into the Metatrons Fire of Sinai 'Random Almighty Mega Damage'; as Dante and the seraph class Tyrant-infused-Michael inevitably made battle with YHWH, -in the one True End,- as we grinded within the monolithic emerald obsidian halls, Mystical wonderment spilling forth from our reddened hollow eyes, at the beautiful unlimited expansive world contained within our console/consoling digital unit discs; conformally mapped and etched into the convex hull of our minds,
  Where we were gods, doing battle with every possible creature in morphospace, filleted into overpriced cards and cartridges, for which our strategies meant so much to us though none of us really understood the game,
  When we could quote verbatim every piece of dialogue in GTA2, and get concerned glances from our parents as we conjured veiled imagery of bukake-ladled innuendo which we didn't really understand until six or seven years later,
  When sexuality was a special secret club our elders and the kids in the years above came across so wise for being a member of, rather than an anti-turing test; a farcical ritual where everyone tries their best to imitate the hyper-reality of MTV while hiding the nervous feelings that this whole thing was really meant for someone other than us,
  When creating a whole new lexicon for our self-hood (be it artistic, ******, political or philosophical) felt like existential emancipation; a transcendental rebellion against the normalising identities and semantics of old, rather than an impenetrable circle-**** taxonomy,
  When one day we'd unveil a new term in some text, and it would completely change our outlook on every corner of our lives,
  Or, the next day, when we'd give up and just sit back on rolling banks, and look out at a veil of stars,
  Or the next day, when we'd wonder desperate and painfully, which of the last two was the real pursuit and which was wasted time? (Or was it this day, the day spent building an illusory dialectic between them?)
  Remember when we were in kindergarden, and you had to pass through the kitchen, -the adults zone,- to get to the toilet, and you'd feel both shame and wonderment listening in of the snippets of conversation muttered by these titanic figures; discussing abstruse issues from the newspaper in foreign yet noble tongues?
  Remember when we were teens, and every form-checking observation and question from these same adults was so painstakingly pedantically banal and asinine, that one could only respond with monosyllabic grunts and silent hysterics?
  And remember as 'young adults', when we'd inevitably entered this same dull Aristotelian world of forms, how we'd ask the same adults for advice on filling these paperworks, at once still asemic gibberish, and at once the fine-print that contained and predicted our lives?
  Remember when our dreams for the future were not bounded by the economy of our grade point averages and just how much debt we were willing to incur
                                …
I've seen the best minds of my generation climb into pre-packaged little boxes; and pay through the teeth for the privilege of doing so.  
  Akin to a 'Howl' they call it? Our cry for selfhood? What a scream.
It's not even a cry. Barely a whimper.
More of a zombified groan, completely aware our intrepid Journey of Self is just a pricey guided tour. (Tv Ad's static commodified existential emancipatory platitudes; 'your place in the world' / 'well it's my place and it's my time' urgh.)
And so we march asleep; all lame all blind.
  Trudging through the mind-fields; arguing, unravelling the semantic distinctions between the empty boundaries and the boundaries of emptiness.
  Transcribed down for essay deadlines,  /  assessing our lives trajectory as dead lines,
Becoming increasingly aware,
  We are not the living beings, the dasein, the Übermenschen being actualised; we are the machinery through which the institutions, the factories, the markets and education facilities actualise themselves.
  (While the only acceptable language we can breathe in opposition to these ratcheting pedagogical machines is the lexicon they provide us..
  ('oh, you hate systemic neoliberal alienation; the deestablishment of ontological anthropocentrism? Tell me more about the esoteric uselessness of academic culture.') bluh.)

But

       the more we follow those phantom images we built of ourselves,
the more we become aware they are but sirens; hypnotic dreamlike figures luring us to our doom,
  and as this awareness dawns; and the cognitive dissonances and schizophrenia grows,
       We


                                just try to keep calm and carry on regardless.

Can we really claim the arrogance of having a better path?
The conceit that there's a better cliff we should be guiding ourselves to to top ourselves off?
I don't know,
I reaally
really
just don't know.
..i think i started out with a theme here, but it mostly devolved into venting.
      i finished another year of university recently. i'm not really sure to what extent higher education's given me perspective on life, and what extent it's simply annihilated what little i had.
   from my experiences of student culture, i feel our generation views itself as abandoned by the world, but to good for it anyway. We aren't the bohemians or beatniks or hippies or punks; our drinking and drugging ourselves to death isn't a counter-cultural high-minded rebellion. It's more a prideful self destructive egotism, a self derisive narcissism.   or something. i dunno.
  whether it's from cowardice or a more genuine scepticism, i certainly have no idea what i am (or ought to be) doing in/with/about this world.
k e i Jun 2017
red car, yellow car, blue car, white car

no lucky black car, no orange to wish on

they just sat there for awhile on the edge of the rooftop, feet dangling looking at the rush of cars passing by playing the game they invented and derived from the tongue twister red lorry yellow lorry
if a black car passes by, luck will come through
spot the first green car and you pick the way you die
look for an orange car and make a wish

it was a game they played to **** time or whenever they went up the rooftop of the ballet studio they've been performing at since they were children and they were currently taking a break from swan lake rehearsals. they played the game for a little more though heather could tell that megan-meg for short- had her mind somewhere else.

"penny for your thoughts?"

meg just shook her head, tilting it across the pink skies that matched the tutus they still had on. a dreamy smile was strewn across her face

heather just watched her friend and the world surrounding them, a light gentle bubble in her stomach. she loved the building's rooftop so much; she was actually the one who first went up here and ever since then, it had been their place her place. she went here on weekends sometimes, when they didn't have rehearsals. everytime she was up here, she felt more than she was, like she was a goddess and everything below her was under a microscope like she could change anything with the click of her fingers. but most of all, in here she could freely be. it was her safe haven.

"okay spill tell me this isn't about hendrix again?"

meg smirked, looking at heather's ice blue eyes "okay you caught me" she says, traces of the english accent she had come with still evident in her voice

"i knew it. boy he's got you in such a haze. you've got a school girl crush on him" she teased, making her friend giggle nervously. meg was dating hendrix peters, a senior in the high school they were attending. theyve been seeing each other for six months now and heather knew how much of a ride it was almost as much as meg (being the first person meg ranted to everytime things occurred) the two were a match made in heaven and it was testified by the amount of gossip about them that was circulated, mostly by the senior girls who were head over heels for him and would hiss whenever their paths crossed with meg's and try to flirt with him every chance they got though he politely shook them off. he supported meg in all the possible ways, from attending to her performances on stage to supporting and showing off her stunning makeup looks and she did the same with him, coming to all his football games and enthusiastically cheering for him. they were madly in love, you could say

"it's not like that" meg scoffed, clasping both of her hands together. "ive just been thinking about the both of us and our togetherness and how we haven't done it yet and yea it's been in my mind alot" she bit her lip, a habit of nervousness she had "it's not a big deal i know, i mean, people do it all the time, people who aren't even together and it's not this eureka moment or anything of the sorts but i want it to be special at least"

"has he been asking you to do it?"

"no he doesn't really no, forcing there" meg shakes her head "but we did talk about it some time, once, thrice yea"

"someday then or tomorrow just be safe my dear friend" heather replies in a playful tone, trying to bring back the lightness of the conversation

"ugh help me practice my skills give it all to me darling, let me do you" her friend wickedly retorts, launching atop her and pinning her to the concrete, playfully mock *******

"ew dude *******'re so gross get off me" she says trying to act annoyed but she was laughing too all the while trying not to get crushed by meg's weight who was strangely heavy despite her small wiry frame

"ow babe im coming ugh" meg continues, laughing fooling around-this was how their friendship worked

"*******. now your germs are all over me" heather grunts, finally pushing meg off her and both of them just lay there for minutes, laughing too much and choking in their breaths, as the sky was bathed in watercolor above them, the sounds of the city being their soundtrack


"what's it like?" heather blurts once theyve both calmed down

"hmmm?"

"what's it like, being with him?"



meg raises her hands like she was touching the clouds, taking the question in deeply "it's....wonderful....i mean...we aren't always happy and we have loads of fights but....we manage to make it work and the whole thing drives me crazy but it's a good kind of crazy"

her answer dissolves in heather's thoughts are completely lost in it


"you know that when we first got together i told him how much i hated clichés? flowers, chocolates stuffed animals, fancy dinner dates you name it and he nodded and the first gift he gave me was a boquet out of makeup products and i laughed because it was thoughtful and he's just full of surprises but you know he did give me flowers and letters on an occasion but i didn't mind it.
i guess that's how love is, made out of all the things you love thrown in with things you don't like but you don't mind at all"

heather nodded, still deep in thought "how did you know?"


the question seemed to have an incomplete thought but meg got the gist "i just did. well i didn't know itd last but i did know that he was for me but he's not my soulmate see, you don't find soulmates, you make them. anyone could be your soulmate, soulmates are just a ****** up idea at finding love. someday you'd know kid"

heather rolled her eyes. she hated being called kid because she was reminded of how much younger she was from meg when it came to these sorts of things "don't call me that"

"you'd know" meg pats her friend in the head, lovingly still teasing her

she sits up, tying the ribbons of her satin slippers. they climb down the fire exit and join the rest of the ballet dancers, rehearsing for the rest of the day



and heather went back to the rooftop the day after, a saturday in solitude sorting out the contents of her brain, replaying the conversation she and her bestfriend had in this very place the previous day, all the while feeling a sort of feeling in her heart very familiar to nostalgia. she realized it was the feeling of longing. longing for love like meg's description of it. longing for love like the glow of stardust. longing for love
sure she had a boyfriend before but not once did she feel like how meg described love out to be with him not once did she feel like their kisses and hugs mean something and their fights never felt worth fighting for. sure she had this guy in her grade whom she passed notes and looks with and texted for days but it was never serious and he didn't see her in that certain light that makes people glow that you fall for and even if they dated it would have been too complicated.

it was a winding day for her mind to wander and she played their game as the cars went on their journey on the highway down below.

an orange car swooshes out of nowhere and she closes her eyes and makes a wish when my person comes please i hope i'll know, holding on for a beat more. after that a black car passes and her luck was aligned with the stars
im going through stuffs rn
ugh my brain is so sloshy
John F McCullagh Nov 2011
For every aging boomer
there are one or two they've known:
Heroes of the battlefield
Who never made it home.

Some classmate who was butchered
in a fire fight in “Nam.
A sibling who had perished
in the standoff at Khe Sanh.

Perhaps the Tet offensive
left some friend's blood spilled and spent.
Politicians speak of glory-
It’s the grunts who pay the rent

From the walls of Hue to Can Ranh Bay
from Tonkin to Saigon.
there is a wall in Washington
with their names inscribed thereon.

The lucky ones who did come home
recall the name and face
of some heroic eighteen year old
who perished in their place.
The Traveling Wall. The mobile version of the Vietnam memorial came to our town back when I wrote this poem. It is a companion piece to my Poem "The Butterfly"
Those poor, misunderstood teachers,
Counting down days till retirement.
Like grunts in The Nam,
Waiting for a reprieve like it was a
Papal dispensation or a Presidential pardon, or
Last minute stay of execution from the Governor.
Teachers: dying a slow death
On the same lame stage day after day,
Performing amateur comedy,
Hosting their very own Karaoke Club;
Filling barely enough seats in the joint
To crack their daily job satisfaction nut.
The kids who do show up for class are too bored,
Or too apathetic to stay awake,
Heckle you or walk out.
Most teachers hate their jobs.
So many teachers, so many miserable mooks
Wishing they had some other job, any other job,
Like plumber or astronaut,
Mortgage broker or CIA assassin,
The last two with similar personality & career profiles
On The Myers Briggs Type Indicator MBTI® Step I Interpretive Report. Anything’s got to be better than being
Trapped in a 40 by 40 foot box all day,
Stuck in some Dungeons & Dragons classroom
All day with 40 chaotic, evil, teenage
Gary Gygax-ed kids, used to entertainment
Of higher quality and sparkle.
The cardinal sin of teaching:  Thou shalt not be boring!

Teachers complain constantly about how bad the money is,
Having to work almost 185 days a year,
Whining about only getting 8 weeks off in the summer &
Every freaking holiday on earth known to man.
Snap out of it: you get paid what may be one of
The last livable, middle class salaries in America,
Not to mention health and defined retirement benefits, &
You’re still kvetching.
Meanwhile, Good Teachers—
Those deliriously happy few,
That small rare band of subversives,
Maybe you can count them on one hand &
Still feel lucky you had that many—
I’m talking about the good teachers,
Who view teaching as an art form,
Atypical teachers with both brains and heart.
These are the teachers that make the difference.
These are the vital early role models we need
To encounter when we first leave home as toddlers.

I can still hear you, Mr. Feeny:
“I want you to go home this afternoon and open a book! I don’t care what you had otherwise planned, I order you, nay, I command you. Go home and open a book.”
Books are sine qua non.
Good teachers start out by reading a lot of books—
That’s the brain stuff.
It is life lessons of the heart, however,
That really counts,
Stuff they’ve learned the hard way,
The pain they’ve felt personally,
Particularly while young themselves.
That’s where the heart comes from.
And for **** sure they never read about it
In whatever passes for textbooks in
Most graduate schools of education,
Largely lame crap masquerading as academic rigor
In the diploma mills serving the education profession these days.
I taught in 15 high schools across the American southwest &
I’ve known some really breathtakingly dumb,
Essentially illiterate teachers.
Even at the highest institutions of higher learning,
The average educator of teachers is
Rarely known for intellectualism.
With the possible exception of Diane Ravitch,
Jonathan Kozol, Paulo “The Brazilian” Freire--&
Maybe that Marxist hold-out, Eric “Rico” Gutstein--
Instructional staff at most university
Graduate Schools of Education are not
Taken seriously by the rest of the academic faculty.
What was your source of heart, Mr.Kotter?
I can assure you, it was not something you
Picked up at a teacher in-service, Gabe, &
Welcome back, by the way.

If you remember one thing about
Teacher licensing, remember this:
Albert Einstein, at the height of his fame &
Intellectual prowess, could not walk in
Off the street from out-of-state, or
Anywhere else in the universe, &
Qualify for a secondary single subject
Preliminary license to teach physics.
Not in any public high school classroom in
California or in the state of New Mexico.
He simply lacked the requisite education,
Hadn’t taken the plenitude of pedagogic courses,
Expensive college credits in such vital subjects as:
Methods of Teaching Science for Dummies;
Educational Technology for Idiots;
Band Aids & First Aid;
Tae Kwan Do for the Inner City;
Teaching & Testing the Test Takers;
Touchy-Feely 101, 201 & 301;
Understanding Special Kids:
Gifted Kids, Not-so Gifted Kids,
Kids with Attitude & Kids with ADD;
Curriculum Simulacrum;
ELL/Cross-Cultural Learning;
Self-Esteem for the Worthless; &
Last but not least, Foundations of Education:
Sarcasm & Humiliation for Fun & Profit.
And I didn’t even mention taking & passing
That sublimely subtle CBEST or NMTA/NES,
Teacher licensure tests,
Essentially 8th Grade literacy exams
Quite a few applicants take 3 or 4 times
Before earning a passing score.

Blame society?
Blame the parents?
Blame the politicians?
No, teachers:
Blame yourselves.
Words can convey so much more than most know.
A poet can make someone smile, laugh, or cry, and weep
All in the same collection of syllables forming words

A poet can push a person's mind until the heart bursts with happiness, breaks from deep sadness, and dies down right frightened.  All from words formed into sentences

Poets can create a scene of great disdain or nothing but frivolous faire in one sentence turning it to deep concentration hunting for resolution from sentences creating stanzas.

Poets paint a picture that can't be seen by a passerby or displayed in a window case.   It can be placed in plain site something of ******* nature yet unless looked into deeply will never be seen.  As stanzas form a poem that paints that picture

Poets sometimes can only paint basic emotion with words yet some can pull raw lustful emotion from deep in the soul.  Syllables to words bring excitement and desire.  Excitement, need, and release like two bodies locked together in sweaty heated embraces

Poets bringing syllables to words to sentences can capture ones longing carrying along to paragraphs that feel, hear, taste, smell, and see the burning need that the stanzas envoke the basics of carnal lust to break free like a caged lion whose food lay just outside the cage

Poets bring to close the paragraphs that wrap it all together Can you feel the sunlight against naked flesh so warm reflecting off beads of perspiration?  Can you taste the deliciousness of her desire upon ruby lips?  Or from the moisture that coats his fingers as they glide easily through silken petals?  

Poets continue painting with words, stanzas and paragraphs moving to hearing.  Can you hear the cries and pleas begging as desire builds to uncontrollable heights? Feeling. Hearing. Tasting. What is left the poet thinks. Ahhhhh to see and to smell

Poets syllables to words, stanzas, to paragraphs moving towards the pinnacle of rapture their every desire for the reader to see. Hius tongue lavishes the sweet flesh, tasting the musky desire as hands caress and pull upon tender buds of pleasure, the pants, moans, mews, cries, grunts, screams, mix together to form to a crescendoing of music

Continuing as pools of deep blue suffocate emeralds that look back. A growl followed by a almost hedonistic finale as the beings are rocked to their core. The syllables, words, stanzas, paragraphs almost to the picture seeing as the golden dagger of despair is plunged into the innocent heart.  Mixture of musky sweetness glistening upon flesh as red rivers flow to meet and mingle, swirling against the pale white.  The punget rust mixed with essence of bliss finishes the painting.

Poet started with syllables to words on to stanzas then paragraphs drawing from happiness, love to desire, need, release, slammed into the abyss of pain, despair and a private hell only each person viewing the poet's work can explain to themselves and perhaps share with another.

Bashfulness, Happiness, eagerness, apprehension, desire, need, fire, pleasure, release, pain, excruciating pain, lonely, despair, abysmal sadness, depression

The picture painted yet not with colors on canvas but with words on paper.  The mind fills in the forms, colors, and lives the sentence of taste, touch, sight, noise, and of course the smell.  If the poet is truly good one might find they actually do get a whiff of what is writen caressing their nasal pathways.

Written by Niyahlove.  :-)  All rights reserved please be respectful November 2, 2014
JR Rhine May 2016
Enjoying the cool evening air
in the middle of May.
Walking my dog through the neighborhood,
enchanted by its bucolic setting--

Besotted with the scent of freshly cut grass,
and the drone from the lawnmower that renders it,
and the chatter of crickets far in the distance,
preparing for their evening performance,

and closer to me are the squawks and chirps of the birds
hunched in the brush and perched upon telephone wires.

Enamored with the sight of lush foliage,
scintillating at the utmost tier of the woods
where the golden haze of the shrinking afternoon sun
is still hopelessly chromantic in its fading vigor.

The clouds, dispersed like shreds of cloth
against a looming soft blue sky,
the color of the walls in my crib-room as an infant.

The affable hand-waves veiled behind translucent glass passing by
propelling fleeting smiles onward in the journey.

Though the atmosphere is dense,
its ambiance expounds a soft lull.
          There's a hush over the six o'clock late afternoon day,
as the auriculariae settle gently aside my temples,
placating the rooted tendons wrapped tautly
in my grove of flesh and bone.

                  It suddenly becomes disturbed

by the creaking and squeaking of a rusty frame,
the slow groan of old worn tires treading across harsh gravel,
and the conductor of the indistinct cacophony himself:

A placid old man,
in his worn red and black plaid long sleeve shirt,
faded grey work trousers,
dingy black socks,
muddy crusty ragged off-white sneakers,
and an old camouflage military cap to top it all off.

His face, barely visible under the old cap
and the worn silent shroud of his visage,
holds dull dark eyes steadfast peering ahead,
off into the horizon,
with slackened skin the color of clay,
from afar having the countenance of subtle cracks in worn concrete.

The One Man Band rides atop his aged machination silently--
I hear no stressed breath or grunts,
but in passing--

a slow mechanical raise of the right hand,
a slight tip of the head,
and a soft whisper of a hello in greeting.

          If I had blinked I would have missed it.

He slowly creaked and squeaked and groaned his way onward,
in his slow and steady rhythmic pace,
until he disappeared in the golden afternoon horizon.

I see him every morning and afternoon
as I drive in and out of the neighborhood--
I wave, always he in return with that slow mechanical gesture,
like an old theme park ride from the fifties.

It was the first time I had actually heard and felt his presence,
to see up close the picture of health and resilience that he is,
the Dorian Gray of bicyclists,
transferring his years of wear and tear onto his metal frame
and his balding rubber soles.

Every time I see him come round the bend now,
I still think of that aged Carousel with the rusty horses
and the song worn a semitone off-pitch,
or the "tranquil" boat ride with the languid mechanical dolls
with thick black eyes goggling eerily
and sallow arms waving infirmly--

but he will not erode as the horses, dolls, and his bicycle--
he will live on, and only he shall demarcate
the trash from the treasure.
I just realized that I used a red herring in this poem and that geeks me out to no end! Shoutout to my friend Frank DeRose for introducing to me the word "demarcate." Check his poetry out on this website as well.
softcomponent Feb 2015
What made Anthony so elaborately cold in those early autumn months? What made him glare so sourly at my exhaustion whenever I slithered past his adonis figure in our overwhelmingly ***** kitchen? Was I the quintessence of a terrible roommate? Irresponsible? Ditzy? Was the kitchen—in its pig-trough pig-sty bacon-grease glory—tacitly my fault, despite the observation it'd been I who had purged the mess last? Or was it my drug habits and the fact that on the night Anthony returned from his impulsive trip to Alaska, I was with Chris—blasting Bob Dylan and the Tallest Man on Earth—cradling my chin on the jean-sand islands of my cramping knees, high as a shuttle in the ketamine nebula? These were all questions that stoked the fires of internal doubt whether I liked it or not. People pretend to talk themselves out of status anxiety as if it were possible to entirely neutralize such a natural reaction—as if it were possible not to wonder what earned such irrational disfavor in the eyes of another. Especially when “another” is a roommate, an almost omnipotent staple in day to day life even if efforts are taken to ignore or avoid—a constant weave of growing atmospheric pressure and a pang of anxiety at the sight of his shoes or the sound of his grunts and clangs while at work on a meal in the kitchen—of course, as is obvious, I can take things far too personally. But there were points in which his silence or indifference would scare me—as if he might've wound up a psychopath and broke my neck in a fit of overboiled passive-aggression.
To be fair and give the reader a clearer picture of Anthony, he had—historically—been an incredibly generous fellow and a relatively close friend long before we approached one another on the idea of potential roommates. He was large in build—not overweight in any sense—but incredibly fit with an active agenda to exercise and eat right, both habits of which I had never had the stamina to maintain. Girls loved him. Physically, he was gorgeous—puffy curled hair deliberately stylized into a modern European pompadour; dark hazel eyes with a constantly evolving dynamism in the way they gazed... and a masculine stubble that seemed to naturally grow-out to look as posh as David Beckham, just without all the effort and pomp. Mentally, he was the perfect synthesis of adorable geek, thoughtful philosopher, and strikingly suave, dapper, athletic, and goofy 'good-guy'—he was always out with his friends or at home reading Terry Goodkind's fantasy novels, and on occasion I would see that his looks were almost burdensome to him. As if they were a superfluous gift and a personal curse—constantly forcing him into social over-exertion as an extrovert when he, at heart, was a closet introvert unable to disentangle his self-reflective image from his internal reality. As if he were unable to process the amount of attention he received.
I had tacitly wondered, at times, if he was also in-the-closet regarding something else as well, though I had always admired his effeminate qualities and mannerisms as he never once hinted at a negative self-consciousness about their strange manifestations in open view of the world. Externally, at least, he never acted like they were problems or indicative of some internal lack of found-definition, even on the comical occasion when I walked in on him bathing on his lonesome, quietly listening to Miley Cyrus and playing with a troupe of three rubber duckies—the bathroom light off and several candles burning in aesthetically strategic corners of the room. He also constantly brewed tea using an adorable teapot designed to look like an elephants head, with the hot liquid pouring from the Disney-like characters trunk. This—I reflected—was most certainly connected to his love for the 1941 children's classic, Dumbo. It was a movie he and I held in common, having watched it together on multiple occasions before our cohabiting turned sour. Of course, what was most indicative of this private wandering judgement of mine was the fact that he worked at the city's only gay bar as the youngest bartender employed. At 1 AM every night, all the bartenders (whom were pre-screened eye candy for the patrons' sake) would peel off their skin-tight neon tops and romp around shirtless, shouting last-call through the bright-eyed frey of top 40 hits and cannonading flirtations.  
Not that I wish to put him under the microscope, as if any feminine qualities in a man were something strange or problematic to me—nor do I wish to study his mannerisms like a condescending anthropologist of imperial Britain, establishing pathological definitions for what was never an illness to begin with. No... I ask these questions because he decided, one day, that he didn't like me. I ask these questions because I came upon him in the living room multiple times listening to Alan Watts's lectures on taoism—a strange anxious-emptiness behind his eyes—and when I began to worry he was dipping into some sort of existential depression, I approached him with an Alan Watts book—The Wisdom of Insecurity—in order to make a recommendation and strike up therapeutic conversation on the basis of  a philosopher we had in common. As I did so, he would frantically nod and avert eye-contact, hiding any perturbation well enough for me to assume he was still with me as I spoke. I later found the book on top of the fridge and placed it back on my shelf thinking, 'he probably has a ton to read as is.' It only became apparent when I finally decided to ask him if he was unhappy with me—this was about 2 weeks before he finally moved out—and he responded with, “I've definitely been annoyed that you use my stuff and eat my food all the time without compensation or asking,” which I understood at first until I realized I only did so because he did the same—constantly eating my cereal, using my milk, reorganizing my couches in the living room—but I didn't mind because I assumed it was a reciprocal arrangement and thus took his eggs and his bacon on the assumption (and belief) in pooled communal resources. But he continued: “And you talk at me all the time about things I have no interest in which is kinda frustrating,” which confused me even further when it was only friendly concern I was tacitly attempting to translate into his feeling wanted and liked by the person he lived with. These words, in the end, released the built-tension between us like a bursting pressure valve. He eventually apologized for how he'd behaved, and then largely disappeared from my life.

Sometimes I'll be brushing my teeth, and I'll wonder if he's doing alright. I'll wonder if he found his taoist balance in either silence or speech.
originally written as a personal assignment for my Creative Nonfiction class.

— The End —