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

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Madeline Kennell Jul 2016
think of ice cream melting so you have to lick it off the sides of the cone

think of holding hands with a boy for the first time

think of being *****- not a gross ***** but ***** like you worked so hard today that you deserve this 800 calorie meal

think of the sounds of summer when you close your eyes, of a slight wind and the chimes that they blow about on your grandmother's porch

and speaking of grandmothers, and their porches, think of how you discovered watercolours in that very place

and think of coming home from a long day at the pool and watching the rain on your porch while you feel your skin cool down and you drink that amazing caramel tea

think of climbing the tree to get to the wall to climb on the garage roof and watch the clouds roll in over the mountains

think of the feel of the first time you got to hold a baby bunny and how in a way this made you see God

think of that feeling when you hiked the mountain even though your hip was broken and you got to the top and said 'i did it'

think of when you swam in the ocean and all your troubles ran off into the water and left you forever because the water was the pacific

think of putting on all that makeup and your prom dress just because you felt like it

think of dancing in the rain with your sister when the grass smelled sweet and the dirt was soft like a carpet and you felt at one with the world

think of cooking when billie holiday belts it from a record player and you sip red wine and pop the tomatoes in your mouth and your curls dangle in your vision

think of running off stage and getting high fived and glowing because you just successfully became someone else for a scene

think of that wonderful little secret joy you get from seeing that look he gives you when you're not looking... he just doesn't know you're staring at a glass reflection

think of how you have no money and the waitress is at one time annoyed with you because you can't afford a milkshake but grins as she walks away because she was that crazy kid too

think of the love you feel on your birthday when so many people made a special time to buy you something they think you'll like. even if you don't

think of falling asleep in the arms of someone you love and feeling like everything is in the perfect place and you are safe

think of the way cathedrals go up and up in the gothic style and how you understand the phrase heavenly light and feel yourself become weightless as you lean your head back

think of being cuddled in a soft blanket with hot chocolate while it snows, how you know your cheeks are pink and nose is rosy but it's all due to the world baring winter with you

think of thanksgiving and family and eating so much but being together because you are from the same people and you share blood and you are bound

think of swinging around your new haircut because you have nothing touching your shoulders and it ends so quickly and is new

think of drinking wine with your girlfriends in your pajamas and being classy together

think of backpacking through europe and how the locals know you are there to experience the real stuff and not some tour bus nonsense that never lets you stop at this little cafe you want to love

think of finishing a long book that shows wear on the covers that lets everyone know you smelled it paid so much attention to it for so long

think of falling asleep after a long day and knowing you deserve it and you are happy and all the bad is gone from your life. You've coughed out the demons and cried out the poison and you're now a week sober of sadness and everything is getting better and it's not even uphill from here, it's a sleigh ride now
George was lying in his trailer, flat on his back, watching a small portable T.V. His
dinner dishes were undone, his breakfast dishes were undone, he needed a shave, and ash
from his rolled cigarettes dropped onto his undershirt. Some of the ash was still burning.
Sometimes the burning ash missed the undershirt and hit his skin, then he cursed, brushing
it away. There was a knock on the trailer door. He got slowly to his feet and answered the
door. It was Constance. She had a fifth of unopened whiskey in a bag.
"George, I left that *******, I couldn't stand that *******
anymore."
"Sit down."
George opened the fifth, got two glasses, filled each a third with whiskey, two thirds
with water. He sat down on the bed with Constance. She took a cigarette out of her purse
and lit it. She was drunk and her hands trembled.
"I took his **** money too. I took his **** money and split while he was at work.
You don't know how I've suffered with that *******." "
Lemme have a smoke," said George. She handed it to him and as she leaned near,
George put his arm around her, pulled her over and kissed her.
"You *******," she said, "I missed you."
"I miss those good legs of yours , Connie. I've really missed those good
legs."
"You still like 'em?"
"I get hot just looking."
"I could never make it with a college guy," said Connie. "They're too
soft, they're milktoast. And he kept his house clean. George , it was like having a maid.
He did it all. The place was spotless. You could eat beef stew right off the crapper. He
was antisceptic, that's what he was."
"Drink up, you'll feel better."
"And he couldn't make love."
"You mean he couldn't get it up?"
"Oh he got it up, he got it up all the time. But he didn't know how to make a
woman happy, you know. He didn't know what to do. All that money, all that education, he
was useless."
"I wish I had a college education."
"You don't need one. You have everything you need, George."
"I'm just a flunkey. All the **** jobs."
"I said you have everything you need, George. You know how to make a woman
happy."
"Yeh?"
"Yes. And you know what else? His mother came around! His mother! Two or three
times a week. And she'd sit there looking at me, pretending to like me but all the time
she was treating me like I was a *****. Like I was a big bad ***** stealing her son away
from her! Her precious Wallace! Christ! What a mess!" "He claimed he loved me.
And I'd say, 'Look at my *****, Walter!' And he wouldn't look at my *****. He said, 'I
don't want to look at that thing.' That thing! That's what he called it! You're not afraid
of my *****, are you, George?"
"It's never bit me yet." "But you've bit it, you've nibbled it, haven't
you George?"
"I suppose I have."
"And you've licked it , ****** it?"
"I suppose so."
"You know **** well, George, what you've done."
"How much money did you get?"
"Six hundred dollars."
"I don't like people who rob other people, Connie."
"That's why you're a ******* dishwasher. You're honest. But he's such an ***,
George. And he can afford the money, and I've earned it... him and his mother and his
love, his mother-love, his clean l;ittle wash bowls and toilets and disposal bags and
breath chasers and after shave lotions and his little hard-ons and his precious
love-making. All for himself, you understand, all for himself! You know what a woman
wants, George."
"Thanks for the whiskey, Connie. Lemme have another cigarette."
George filled them up again. "I missed your legs, Connie. I've really missed those
legs. I like the way you wear those high heels. They drive me crazy. These modern women
don't know what they're missing. The high heel shapes the calf, the thigh, the ***; it
puts rythm into the walk. It really turns me on!"
"You talk like a poet, George. Sometimes you talk like that. You are one hell of a
dishwasher."
"You know what I'd really like to do?"
"What?"
"I'd like to whip you with my belt on the legs, the ***, the thighs. I'd like to
make you quiver and cry and then when you're quivering and crying I'd slam it into you
pure love."
"I don't want that, George. You've never talked like that to me before. You've
always done right with me."
"Pull your dress up higher."
"What?"
"Pull your dress up higher, I want to see more of your legs."
"You like my legs, don't you, George?"
"Let the light shine on them!"
Constance hiked her dress.
"God christ ****," said George.
"You like my legs?"
"I love your legs!" Then george reached across the bed and slapped Constance
hard across the face. Her cigarette flipped out of her mouth.
"what'd you do that for?"
"You ****** Walter! You ****** Walter!"
"So what the hell?"
"So pull your dress up higher!"
"No!"
"Do what I say!" George slapped again, harder. Constance hiked her skirt.
"Just up to the *******!" shouted George. "I don't quite want to see the
*******!"
"Christ, george, what's gone wrong with you?"
"You ****** Walter!"
"George, I swear, you've gone crazy. I want to leave. Let me out of here,
George!"
"Don't move or I'll **** you!"
"You'd **** me?"
"I swear it!" George got up and poured himself a shot of straight whiskey,
drank it, and sat down next to Constance. He took the cigarette and held it against her
wrist. She screamed. HE held it there, firmly, then pulled it away.
"I'm a man , baby, understand that?"
"I know you're a man , George."
"Here, look at my muscles!" george sat up and flexed both of his arms.
"Beautiful, eh ,baby? Look at that muscle! Feel it! Feel it!"
Constance felt one of the arms, then the other.
"Yes, you have a beautiful body, George."
"I'm a man. I'm a dishwasher but I'm a man, a real man."
"I know it, George." "I'm not the milkshit you left."
"I know it."
"And I can sing, too. You ought to hear my voice."
Constance sat there. George began to sing. He sang "Old man River." Then he
sang "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen." He sang "The St. Louis
Blues." He sasng "God Bless America," stopping several times and laughing.
Then he sat down next to Constance. He said, "Connie, you have beautiful legs."
He asked for another cigarette. He smoked it, drank two more drinks, then put his head
down on Connie's legs, against the stockings, in her lap, and he said, "Connie, I
guess I'm no good, I guess I'm crazy, I'm sorry I hit you, I'm sorry I burned you with
that cigarette."
Constance sat there. She ran her fingers through George's hair, stroking him, soothing
him. Soon he was asleep. She waited a while longer. Then she lifted his head and placed it
on the pillow, lifted his legs and straightened them out on the bed. She stood up, walked
to the fifth, poured a jolt of good whiskey in to her glass, added a touch of water and
drank it sown. She walked to the trailer door, pulled it open, stepped out, closed it. She
walked through the backyard, opened the fence gate, walked up the alley under the one
o'clock moon. The sky was clear of clouds. The same skyful of clouds was up there. She got
out on the boulevard and walked east and reached the entrance of The Blue Mirror. She
walked in, and there was Walter sitting alone and drunk at the end of the bar. She walked
up and sat down next to him. "Missed me, baby?" she asked. Walter looked up. He
recognized her. He didn't answer. He looked at the bartender and the bartender walked
toward them They all knew eachother.
undefined Nov 2014
learned to play guitar
and even learned a new song
played music for money
spent time with my family
busted a string playing guitar
lost a friend
fell in love
climbed a mountain
sat on a waterfall
saw a palm tree
walked along the beach in fog
breathed salty air
swam in the ocean
discovered a fruit
saw a gay pride parade
camped in the Redwoods
fireworks exploded right above my head
made love on a cold starry night
played in sand
hiked down highway 101
slept on a boat in the bay
skinny dipped in a lake
and had *** on a train
Emilie Sep 2012
Like a good story
The trees unfolded at the top of the mountain.
Spread across the blue sky,
Resembling some far off, imaginary bird
Releasing its broad wings to greet the day.
Old barns swaying in the sun,
Promising something great,
Something new.
A well kept secret, a small valley,
Red kites meet the mountain.
A tale only told in books, fabricated by the distant winds.
Skirts hiked up so toes can touch the water.
Wild flowers spread like fire
Simple, calm and free.
A wrong turn, a subtle miracle, a new life to lead
Little fields with red fruits
Fireplace bricks scorched with memories.
A race through the grass, bare toes collecting weeds.
Braided hair tangled with lilies, old dirt road new foot prints.
Lazy days laced with dogwood.
Fresh lemonade on a Sunday evening, as the sun drops behind the mountain.
Ted Scheck Dec 2012
This one time,

12. or 13, when me
And a bunch of other kids
From a different neighborhood
Played. Outside. From about sunup
To 9:00 at night. I dimly remember
(This light-bulb memory is the barest bit of energy
In an ancient filament of thought:)

It was a nightmare come to life.
There was this one kid across the River
(Rock Island)
They found him naked and dead,
In a discarded pile of coal.
His life brutally taken from him.
But that was the only time
I'd ever heard of something so horrible. Happening.
It was as commonplace as school shootings.
Which is to say, it didn’t happen in the
World that was ‘As Far As I Knew’.
Outside, everywhere, as far as I knew;
Was just where you went. No matter what.
It’s just what we did. And we did a LOT.

We played. On a job application, I would have
Written that. “Player”. As in: “Hey, I’m a kid.
I mess around. I’m unhygienic and smelly and
My hair is long and arms sunburned and sweaty
And tired and about as happy as any kid
Could be in 1975.

This one time,
I go in this dumpster and grab a
Sandwich the Mgr. of the 7-11 mistakenly threw out
It smelled. Badly. I pretended to take a gigantic
Bite out of it. My buddies weren’t ROTFL.
That stupid phrase was pre-born.
They laughed so hard they fell off their bikes.
Probably painfully so.
I worshiped this praise. Ate it like
Seinfeld eats applause.
They were rolling
On hot Iowa summer pavement, laughing fit to split.
On top of that dumpster, that day, in that single moment,
I was the King of Whatever

The manager heard some kind of ruckus.
The sandwich was in my hand, a cheesy spoiled grenade.
Which I promptly threw at him. ‘Cause he was the Adult
And I obviously wasn't Victor Mature.
He waddled back inside and called the Cops.
Not amazingly,
They were literally right around the corner.
My buddies took off like scalded dogs
I got on my homemade trail bike, laughing so
Hard I pedaled into a sticker-tree.

I didn't know what "irony" was back then.
Back then, I was so inherently goofy, that funny
Hilarious crap was somehow attracted to me.
Ironically, when I tried being funny on purpose...
Fill in the blank. There's a lesson in there somewhere.
I'm pretty sure.

We met at that French word I still can't spell.
Ron Day View.
Cackling like
Loony loons. We laughed out little butts off.

And we rode bikes EVERYWHERE.
Through the trails. There were bike
Trails trailing everywhere, short-cuts from point
Hay to Tree. And oh yeah, I climbed trees.
Constantly. And ate apples and plums from
That mean lady’s yard. She stood in her
Kitchen and glared through cat-eyed glasses,
Daring us. Daring me.
GO AHEAD. PICK JUST ONE SINGLE PLUM.
THEN I'LL CALL YOUR MOTHER!
(Interestingly, we didn't hang out with the
plums which didn't fall too far from Mrs. Tree)

Ate whatever was edible. Wild clover.
Yeah. Grass. And
Crab-apples that held the promise of
Painful bowel movements squirting out of
Your ****. Not ‘***’ because cussing wasn’t
All that big of a deal. You heard it in R movies.
But it hadn’t permeated the marrow of
Our entire culture. Not yet. It wasn’t all over
TV after, say, 8:45.

Nothing about ***. Absolutely Nuttin' Honey.
'Cause I'd be making stuff up in 1975,
When I was 12. Kissing was just...
You know.

We messed around, got into and out of trouble.
We laughed. The future hung over us like
Those mean-sounding thunderclouds,
Miles away, but moving from the North-East,
Because severe weather in Iowa always came
In the same direction.

It’s what we did. It’s just about
All we did as kids. Man, we were crazy, and had
Crazy fun.

We built bikes out of spare parts. They were low-
Slung and cool. Mine was always breaking.
I did a lot of stupid things, and somehow,
Somehow I got away with doing a lot of
Stupid things.

I believe in God. Now.
Way back then, I was Catholic. I don’t
Know if that sufficiently explains it
Or not. We ate fishsticks on Fridays during
Lent. We went to church sometimes
On Wednesday nights, the Guitar Mass,
And on Sundays. The Mass felt like it
Lasted 93 minutes, like our services do
Now. But it seemed to go on forever.
It as about 45 minutes, and we would always
“Leave Early” which meant, we’d take
Our Communion, solemnly, eyes
Downcast and humble, but I would slow,
Then stop, lost in the visage:
I looked up at the Man on the Cross and
Wondered when the Priest would ever
Get around to explaining why He
Died for my sins.
Someone would wake me from my
Reverie, and whisper, “Please move ahead.”
Shamefaced, I would say, truthfully,
“I’m sorry, Ma’am.” Because, in 1975,
When I was 12, I really was.
Sorry.

Then an hour
Later I was dressed in
Salvation Army rags (today)
And I would jump in the creek with my
Jean-shorts and off-color shirt on.
Sometimes, the bikes weren’t in the picture.
So we hiked. Never ‘walked’ but “hiked” which
Was moving with a greater purpose.
Great distances. The distances weren’t the great
Part. I forget what the great part was, because
This was when I was a kid. When I was 12.

The things you did
As a kid
You store them in a secret kid-locker
In your heart
And your heart, it grows, along with the rest of
You, like a quarter pounded into the meat of
A young tree. The tree envelops the quarter,
Taking it in to itself, swallowing time
That you only try to clumsily relive
(Like I’m trying right now)

It used to be cold, icy, and snowy in Iowa.
I know this; I was out in it most of the time.
Does anyone sled anymore? Toboggan?
Round-saucer spinning uncontrollably at
About 12 mph? Metal sleds with runners
And power steering? Down crazy-steep
Barreling down frozen white hills, crashing
Into copses of thin pliable young trees.
You only see this kind of stuff on Youtube
In somebody’s ‘All-time Epic Fail List
The failure is epic, alright. We’ve moved on.
And not necessarily to a bigger, brighter future.

Ice! I skated on long-bladed racer skates.
I could stop on a dollar’s worth of
Dimes.

And this one time
I
Fell right on my knee hard enough to
Grind a hole in my jeans. It looked like a ******
Meteor crater. A pretty girl named Tina
Felt sorry for me and sat right next to me
She wore pink pom-poms and I fell in
Puppy with her for about three hours.
Then she smiled and hugged me and
I was more frozen than the ice outside
And she left, her Mom picking her up
And eying me balefully as I stood
Pink-faced and flushed and utterly
Confused about the randomness of
What had just happened to me.
Girls from my town all knew
More about myself than myself knew
About me. They had me PEGGED, brothers
And sisters. But not this girl. She was from
The next town over.
That was a good day, if I’m remembering
It correctly. If. I’m pretty sure I am.
Or, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.

We played a game called ‘Blackman’
Like a tag game in Gym, where
One kid is “IT” and a mass of skaters
Goes from one end of the ice pond
To the other, and the people you capture
(I couldn’t catch an old man in front-wheel
Drive figure skates and I got so frustrated
I gave up to jeers and yells and found the
Trees were good listeners to kids
Who couldn’t skate as coordinated as
They wanted to.

So ten minutes later
I would go into the Warming House, and
Listen to am radio. All the Hits! KSTT! Davenport,
Iowa. On ******* Blvd., which was really
River Drive, because the Hostess Plant stood
Sentinel on top of the hill, pushing out
Sponge-cake filling and HoHos and Cupcakes
And those awful coconut snowballs, and
This one time, in high school, I shoved one
Inside my mouth and tried to swallow it
And about choked to death.

I walked to Mark Twain Elementary School
And ran home for lunch, and was usually
Late because I was easily distracted
And when the school day ended,
I walked or ran home, hurrying, because
Captain Ernie and Bugs Bunny Cartoons were on,
And then Gilligan’s Island from about 4:00 to
5:30, when the news would come on,
And then Dinner,
And I couldn’t stand to sit still
To save my life. I have ADD. I
Know this now. I didn’t know it
(Nobody knew what it was)
I knew something was wrong with me
Or not-right. It was just the way
The World Turned.

Back then. I had no sense of ‘self’.
I was a changeling. I tried to fit into
Whatever people expected of me, which
Was very often extremely difficult, because
These people I emulated and thought were
So **** cool were just as messed up
As I was, maybe more; But I
Didn’t have the emotional maturity
(Or I couldn’t face the awful responsibility
That went with that awful truth)
To deal with it, so under the rug it went.

I was moody and happy and singing
One moment and crying in the shower
The next.

This one time, I was stuck
In the borderlands of childhood
And the beginning of a man
It was safe, for awhile
This one time.
mother died today or maybe yesterday i can’t be sure  the telegram from the home says your mother passed away funeral tomorrow deep sympathy which leaves the matter doubtful it could have been yesterday - “the Stranger” Albert Camus

a misguided partiality exists inside me i feel safer around women maybe i’m fooling myself and women are equally capable of the brutal cruelties i associate with men i don’t know i guess i believe women hold themselves to a higher behavioral standard gentler more nurturing there’s another aspect to my belief women floor me i am totally vulnerable to a pretty woman but it must be stated my tastes run quite peculiar i prefer alternative looks and am put off by classic American glamour i guess the real deal is i’m a guy most comfortable among men watching World Series Sunday Monday Night Football despite the fact that if i were with a woman would be my greatest craving who cares what i think i apologize for opening my mouth

we are stranded by the side of road from out of nowhere a beat up gray truck pulls along side in a cloud of dust we cannot see driver from passenger side stubbly shaven mustached man wearing red bandana under tattered western hat in accented hoarse voice hollers out how much for the girl with terrified expression in her face her hand reaches for my arm i peer coldly into man’s eyes then glance away answering

a. what exactly do you have in mind

b. how much cash do you got on you

c. she’s not for sale

d. we need a ride

e. we’re lost do you have a cell phone

f. please leave us alone

g. all of the above

an extraordinarily attractive member of opposite *** runs into you on street in familiar tone of voice greets you speaking your name it’s been ages you look terrific i was just thinking about you the other day it’s such a wonderful surprise to see you do you have time to stop chat over coffee or drink i live quite near here please come over to my place let’s catch up i’d really love that this person then looks at you in a flirtatious seductive way yet you cannot place or remember where you know them or if you’ve ever known them you answer

a. yes

b. this is embarrassing i’ve forgotten your name

c. how do you know my name where do we know each other from

d. is it possible you’re confusing me with someone else

e. i have no idea who you are or what you want from me

f. all of the above

these are dark times every one acknowledges post-modernism post-911 is bleak jobless homeless callous frightful kali yuga no one nothing nowhere  is safe wars gruesome atrocities piracy blood diamonds **** mutilation theft deceit betrayal school yard bullying assassinations cyber espionage anti-depression drugs vicious video games why aren’t people making positive video games referencing cooperation affection happiness instead of Grand Theft Auto Vice City Call of Duty World at War Mortal Kombat what kind of world are we creating for future generations why does violence sell more than *** why is *** so unkind what kind of people are we better off dead they shoot horses don’t they what happened what’s happening why are we making this hell why aren’t we making better wiser more loving choices i don’t understand

in the late 1960’s early 70’s parents didn’t have money to buy their kids high school graduation gifts or perhaps the notion was not invented yet nobody had cars maybe a few guys i knew owned cars they bought with their own hard earned money everybody i knew who lived off campus and too far to bicycle hitch-hiked to school then hitch-hiked home every day for 4 or more years that’s how we all did it in Hartford i remember sitting in different adult’s cars indebted grateful looking thinking wondering will i grow up to be like him or her projecting connections

when i grew up it was a different time turn on tune in drop out in a way hippies were reactionary to all the modern progress atomic age we winged it by inexact methods that time is gone it is crucial at present to be coherent sober accurate mindful wakeful vigilant wary prepared 24/7 this history being written how will it be told i’ve been around long enough to know how these deceptions work we are all using feeding ripping off each other we give in to whoever wants us become whoever seeks to destroy us we disgust ourselves i’m astonished dumbfounded talk with me who are we please explain i beg you

who if i cried who would hear me among the angels even if one of them pressed me against heart i would be consumed in overwhelming existence for beauty is nothing but beginning of terror we are still just able to bear we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us every angel is terrifying – “2nd Elegy” Rainer Maria Rilke
Raphael Uzor May 2014
The intermittent, distant rumbling in the skies was suggestive of chronic flatulence. The sun struggled in futility to shine – like a crying child who had been forced to smile. Lightning flashed in quick successions, momentarily throwing brilliant streaks of white light across the room. The angry growl of thunder that followed was enough to send a troop of Howler monkeys scampering for safety.

The lights flickered as though unable to make up their minds to stay or not to. But apparently, the wind had zero tolerance for such petty indecisiveness. And like an enraged, stimulated, demented animal, it gusted through the windows and doors, hauling loose papers, light bulbs in every direction, shattering the bulbs to smithereens, as if to punish them for being so fickle. The lights died.

Thick black blankets eerily stretched across the skies with gusto, menacingly extinguishing whatever was left of the sun’s brilliance. More rumbles and flashes followed in royal herald of the impending storm. And in no time, slick sheets of rain torrentially came pouring down, cascading the roofs to form puddles almost as soon as they hit the ground.

​I looked in horror, fervently praying that whoever God had appointed to build the ark in our time had not diverted the funds. I was trapped in the office, and I knew exactly what this meant…flood, scarcity of buses, hiked transport fares, heavy taffic and very likely, at least one month of blackout.
It would be another three hours of steady downpour before the rain eventually stopped, as gracefully as it had been ushered in.
I picked up my bag, rolled up my trousers in earnest anticipation of the inevitable flood, and made my way home.

​To my utter bewilderment, there were no floods! The lights from the street lamps cast a soft golden glow on the slick roads, seemingly creating mirages of pools of water from afar off. But they were mere illusions. The gurgling sound coming from the underground drainage was proof of where all the water had gone. It was a strange sight. Like some alien cyborg from space had been fiddling with a time machine that had accidentally propelled us twenty years into the future.

My new world was a three-fold utopian dream. So surreal!
I could see beautiful, high-rise, state of the art edifices with mind-blowing architectural designs that blatantly seemed to defy the laws of gravity. I could see world-class hospitals that admitted ailing dignitaries from around the world and top-notch schools that offered scholarships to deserving indigenous and international students.
Sure enough, this was Nigeria! The Nigeria we all dreamed of.

And there was light…electricity! - In myriad of colours that seemed to have been dispersed from several colossal disco ***** via *“wireless fidelity”
technology. I strained to hear the noise from generators, but I was disappointed. I couldn’t even hear the all too familiar cacophony of horns blaring, conductors shouting, loud discordant music, rattling vehicle engines etc. It was like everyone and everything had taken a crash course on orderliness.

I saw a vibrant transportation system that included high speed railway lines, paved road networks that looked like a child’s doodles, first-class air strips and efficient sea transportation.
I saw a working government - one that had provided the critical infrastructure for her people.

I saw a nation with a large industrialized economy, where the dividends of democracy had been delivered to the people by their government. One consciously founded on equity and honesty of purpose, and courageously sustained by unfaltering faithfulness and unwavering patriotism.      
A nation whose economic boost did not come solely from crude oil exploration and production, but also from crude oil refining, agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure, food, services, tourism, automobiles, transportation, education etc.
A nation that thronged with international investors from all walks of life, who were not in the least afraid to invest in her.

And then, I saw her people. A people proud of their citizenship.
A people proud to be called NIGERIANS.
A people who were not given to religious, political, or tribal bigotry.
A people who individually and collectively, gallantly bore the torch of the vision of their heroes past.
A people who earnestly and persistently worked to see only goods “Made in Nigeria” sold in their markets.

Where there was once despair, I saw hope. Where there was once fear, i saw security. Where there was once disgruntlement, I saw satisfaction. Where there was once poverty, I saw wealth opportunities and where there was unemployment, I saw jobs. Death had given way to life and life to hope.

I started, as I felt something cold and wet trickle down my forehead. It was droplets of rain from a leak in the roof just above my head. I was still in my office, I never left. The rain had lulled me to sleep. Even more sadly, I realized it had all been a dream.
Slowly and regretfully, I packed my things and left for home. It was pitch black outside as I carefully waded through the polluted waters, jauntily holding my bag, more because I was afraid to lose it in the flood than in a hopeless bid to dignify the situation.

Two hours later, I crawled into bed. I did not have to turn the lights off…the electric poles had gone for a swim. A very long one.



© ONUGHA EBELE VICTORIA
This is NOT my work, but I found it amazingly share worthy.
Egeria Litha Feb 2019
Camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains
was the greatest day of my life
It was my birthday
I brought a suitcase
and my favorite dame
and hiked 2 miles UP^^^^^^^^
laughing all the way

UP ^^^^^in the Ozarks
Medics were shooting steroids in my ****
BUT, never been more in love
with a man who injects grief in my veins

Dwelling in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
sensed his vibe
Yes, Jesus I feel you here

held en el Rio Grande con mis mejor amigos
drooling in the hot springs
Taos has called our names
******* the rocky sand that is below me
I find a coin from New Zealand,
in turn, losing my evil eye earring
an offering to spirit's stream
a pair of desert lizards
we desire to get frisky and be alone
we shine silver glitter under a moonlit glow

witches cackle and curanderos
hide behind coyote cries and cacti
looking to each other with faces expressing,
"What should do we do?"
I guess allow them to do their thing
humans need ceremonies too
Annie McLaughlin Jan 2016
You laughed
when my sleeve hiked up
"Oh no, you're one of them."

You laughed
when I wanted to die
"You're overreacting, you just need some sleep"

You laughed
when I showed you my favorite song
"That is plain out pathetic"

You laughed
when I said goodbye
"you're not gonna do it. You never do"

Will you laugh
at my funeral
in the morning?
db cooper Jan 2015
I stopped by for a cigarette and to hear a story
He always told the tale of one eyed molly
She lost her eye
In a fight with a dog
The moral of the story was
Never trust something
Just because it may look harmless,
Even act harmless
But this day he told me another tale
The one of old Lumberjack Dale*

He was large like an ogre
Chopped too many trees to know of

Was stupid according to my uncle
This gave me quite a chuckle

He left off, on a normal morning
Hiked up the mountain
To where the clear dirt’s mourning

Held his axe and began to swing
The trees didn't have a prayer
He thought he was king

One fell down
He yelled "TIMBER"
Another smacked the ground
He Yelled "TIMBER"
Then another
and
Another

Birds were scattering
Squirrels were flying
The sounds were of a madman grunting through fire

"TIMBER"
The fifth hit the ground
The lumberjack ogre
Had to sit down

He swung one too many times, on this here day
The mountain swung back with a black bear, ok?

Protecting her cubs she wrestled the big man
Teeth in his arm and his axe in his hand

He squinted his eyes and flung the weapon
Missing the giant bear standing about 6' 11"

The mountain whispered to the lumberjack
"Leave and never come back"
He had ****** his pants and ran for the shack

"TIMBER"

The old black bear followed
Protecting her land
And the ones she adored
Katlyn Orthman Oct 2012
Hills on top of fathomless hills  
Where I have built my home
I walked here through the driest desserts
Swam here through the deepest seas
Hiked here through blizzards on mountains
A little piece taken each moment  
Until I reached these hills
At top the rise of the earth
I look out at the universe
I can look out and say
I have been here
I have left my mark
Where it is the most important
I can look at the people building
Their  homes and dreams and goals
And know they to will stand about
Their own hill, they will know that they
Made a difference in the world
Just by breathing the air
By making one laugh
And with that I may stray to the Mothers
Arms
And be sound , knowing I did my part
Haley K Collins Jun 2013
Masochism is my favorite way to love; I adore deeply the one that is eager to leave me in the dust for his superficial passions. I cry infinitely as the rain over the Pacific, but it does not storm. It only blinds me with stinging tears that make a shore invisible. I had you wrapped around my finger, and you slipped off like an oversized ring, falling between the spaces of a gutter to travel sewers of risk; rank with the smell of doubt and returning loneliness. I travel these sewers barefoot with your risks up to my ankles, searching for you, my ring, dress hiked up to run as if you hadn't already seen such exposed leg. But only I splash. My lover is elusive. When he trembles in anger, he comes to me; when I tremble, he only flees. He does not understand his debts. I do, only I don't wish that he pay. My kindness is self-mutulation, for I know he will not appreciate my generosity. I think of him while he daydreams of riches and soaks in his wanderlust. I am simply a piece, a fragment, a speck of dust swimming among many in a ray of sunlight. I am not something he truly wishes to strive for. This murders me, and smashes my already broken heart into smaller, sharper pieces that seem harmless, but develop greater capacity to cut flesh.
Sunny Snow Jan 2013
PART 1→ Fate Put Us Together For A Reason…

Once upon a time on a blue and green planet there lived, humans; a rebellious species, prone to both war and peace. Among these humans lived two very special people. Their names were Marco and Gina, and little did they know, that they’d become heroes of earth, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little.

Let’s begin with our heroine Gina; she went to the same high school as Marco, though she did not share the same social status. Gina was what you’d call an art nerd. She spent the majority of her days at Hill-Town High in the art room. She could paint, draw, sculpt, mold, fire, and shape anything into existence. She had what you’d call, a gift, for art itself. Gina also spent most of her days alone. She had just moved to Hill-Town from out of state; thus not knowing anyone, she lacked a social life. That and it really didn’t help the fact that she was one of the most timid young ladies known to man. She had a whisper of a voice, and bright blue eyes that often leaked tears down her pale soft face. She wore her long black hair down to cover up her gorgeous face, mainly due to being insecure about her looks. She often wore band t-shirts and jeggings or ripped jeans. The first person Gina met at Hill-Town High was our hero Marco.

“Oh my god I’m so sorry” Gina gasped accidently running right into Marco, the star quarterback for Hill-Town High. “Don’t sweat it ***, really it’s no problem, here let me help you pick up your books” Marco caringly replied. Still Gina insisted she could clean up this mess herself, trying very hard to avoid the blood pumping towards her cheekbones. Why was he so kind to me she asked herself? He could have simply brushed her off like light snowfall, but he didn’t. This puzzled Gina for at least a week; it mainly confused her because no one had ever offered to help her, especially a hansom young lad such as Marco Johnson, star quarterback. He kept waving to her in the halls, and grinned at her as if he was trying to avoid blushing as well just like the moment they met.

Time passed and neither Gina nor Marco had made a move, though it was getting to the point where they both knew **** good and well, that they liked each other. It was now spring and school was coming to a close, finals where lurking down the hallways and students began to get excited. Soon the last day came…

“Hey, your name’s Gina right?” oh, he’s talking to me Gina panicked inside unsure of what to say back. “Yeah, that’s me” she replied. “Well Ms. Gina I was kind of thinking, I know you like me…” oh ****! He knows, she thought. “and I was wondering if you knew, I like you too?” Marco began to do a little dance of flirtation. “And further more I was wondering if such a lady as yourself, would like to accompany me on this thing called a date lets say this Saturday night?” Marco finished cunningly. Gina froze, was Marco seriously asking her out, or was she being punked or something? “Um, ah, I mean yes, totally, I’d love to.” Gina replied. “Cool I’ll pick you up at let’s say seven tomorrow night then.” And with that Marco disappeared down the crowded hallway. Gina sighed, what the hell am I gonna wear she though, no, no what the hell am I gonna do? Gina had never been on a real actual date before. So her parents would for sure have something to say about a boy of all humans pulling up in their drive way and sweeping up their little girl.

Saturday at 7pm came and Marco marched his way up to Gina’s front door. Unfortunately her father answered. “Who are you” mumbled the tall lanky man who was Mr. Delaware. “I’m Marco, Gina’s date…” Marco replied nervously. “Oh well, step inside son, she should be down in a second, but you know how long girls take to get ready” chuckled Mr. Delaware. Once Marco stepped inside the mismatched old house, the awkward silence between the two began to grow. That is until Gina came running down the stairs…

“Daaaaaaaaaaaaad” she exclaimed, “Where the hell is my…” she paused seeing Marco at the bottom of the stairs…”Hairbrush” she finished. “well I think you look fine as is” said Marco in the sweetest voice possible. “haha, ok well there goes needing to brush up” laughed Gina.

Gina and Marco then said their goodbye to Mr. Delaware, and headed out the door and into Marco’s Old Chevy Silverotto. “So where to?” asked Marco. “How about that one drive-in theater off highway 91?” suggested Gina. “Nice idea ***. I’ve been wanting to go there for ages” replied Marco.

The two departed out of the Delaware’s driveway; it was roughly a half hour drive to get to the drive-in from Gina’s house. Marco put the radio on and they soon found out how big a music buff they both were. They began challenging each other back and forth to “name that tune”. Gina couldn’t stop grinning and neither could Marco, it seemed as if they were meant to be there, together.

Just when all seemed to be going as planned, Marco’s truck began to make a funny sound. He pulled over to check the engine, Gina followed. “I can’t figure out what the problem is, I just got this out of the shop like a week ago” exclaimed Marco, he was a little up in knots about his truck not working, especially while being on a date with a pretty girl.

Then out of nowhere both looked up, hearing a loud rumble headed their way. It was something like a meteor, but it wasn’t from what they could tell. They noticed it landed about a mile west of them. Once it landed and they heard the huge BOOM in the distance, Marco asked Gina if she’d like to go see whatever it was with him. Unsure but wanting to know herself, she said she’d go with.

They set off towards where they saw whatever it was land. Half way there both became a little tired, and without thinking they sat down below an old willow tree, and soon both fell into a deep sleep…

PART 2→ Waking Up In Another World…

“Hey, hey, Gina, wake up.” Marco started to shake Gina. “Hey” Gina said sleepily. “Um, Gina, I don’t think we’re in the same place we fell asleep in” said Marco. “What do you mean? We didn’t go any…” then Gina opened her eyes, noticing Marco was right, they weren’t in the same place. It was almost as if…no…they thought, it couldn’t be, another planet, that was completely not possible. But as legend has it, they were, they had somehow came upon a planet in the Andromeda galaxy, one galaxy over from ours. This planet had been undiscovered by human kind, and its name is Linx. Linx at first, looked as if it was deserted.

The two began to panic, unsure of their surroundings, knowing they couldn’t be on their own planet, and wondering why they had oxygen and how had they gotten to this place? They began to argue and fuss, scared of what could happen or what had already happened. Then they saw a figure, somewhat like their own walking towards them from the distance. They could tell he couldn’t be human, he had greenish-blue tinted skin and long purple hair. As he drew closer, they became more terrified.

“I’ve never seen anything like him” said Gina, “he looks nothing like an alien.” said Marco. Both shocked and somewhat in shock, they stared pale in the face.

“I’m so sorry, I thought, I mean, gosh, I’m awful sorry. You humans must be scared shitless right now.” Said the tall greenish-blue man coming up to them. Both looked at each other, wide eyed and seriously confused. How in the hell did he know their language?

“Look I can read your minds, and I swear I’m not here to probe your brains, or eat you, and I know your language because I’ve studied the human race for quite some time. My name is Zee, and you are on another planet. My spaceship crashed on earth when I was crossing the Milky Way galaxy and so I attempted to beam my way back here and somehow you two got caught in my beam.” Said Zee, he had a tone in his voice of apology and worry. He knew they were scared and very intimidated.

Marco, after hearing Zee’s explanation then proceeded to faint. Gina then stood up “ok so you’re telling me we got transported here by mistake? So does that mean you can get us back?” Gina began to boarder line yell at Zee. She went on for about ten minutes, that is until Zee interrupted her.

“Look, human” he said “I accidently got you here, and getting just me here, takes a ton of energy, energy humans can only dream of, and if you want to get back to your pretty little planet, I’d suggest you ask a little more kindly towards the one who can get you there. My kind would burn you alive if they knew there were humans on this planet, I however am willing to protect you from my own kind. Meaning I could die too. So pipe down and help your friend he seems to have passed out due to shock.”

Gina then humbled herself, finally grasping what Zee had said. She then attended to Marco, who was coming around finally. “So what you’re telling me, is we have a slight chance of going home?” Gina asked Zee. “Unfortunately a very slim chance” said Zee hesitantly…”see the leader of my planet, Linx, has disliked humans for a long time and well, he recently destroyed planet earth.” Zee said. This made both Gina and Marco puzzled for a second. How could it have been destroyed?

“What can we do then?” Asked Marco; “well our leader Zorix also has the power to turn back time, but convincing him to restore earth will be one hell of a battle, first we’ll need to seek you into the castle he lives in, next get you face to face with him, and lastly get him NOT to **** you” replied Zee.

“Well then, seeing as we got a lot of work to do, we better get a move on” Gina insisted. And at that the three brave friends set off towards Zorix’s castle.

PART 3→ What Happens Behind Castle Walls, Stays Behind Castle Walls…

The three hiked a good five miles to get to Zorix’s castle, once they got there, they had to figure out how they were going to manage getting two humans inside without getting caught.

“Well we could dress up like you Zee” suggested Marco. “No, they will see right through it, but nice idea” replied Zee. He was convinced there’d be no way to get them inside without getting caught, that is until Zee had a brilliant idea.

“I could make it look like you are my prisoners, and somehow get you close to Zorix” Zee brightly stated. They all agreed that it was the best idea they had.

At this, Zee lead Gina and Marco inside the castle. It was a dimly lit, cold, wet place. A place where, without a doubt, humans went to die. The whole hallway just screamed death and destruction. Little did Gina and Marco know, Zee had been keeping something from them; He was Zorix’s son.

When they got to the grand room, a room with ginormous ceilings and no windows, just lanterns and chandeliers, the first thing that caught their eyes, was the tall, slim figure that was Zorix. He, like Zee had blueish-green skin but instead of having purple hair like Zee he had bright orange hair, almost as if it was glowing neon.

“Son” said Zorix in a cheerful and loving voice. Son? Gina and Marco looked at each other in confusion, unsure of their future now.

“Hey dad” replied Zee in a much less cheerful tone. “What is this unannounced greeting my son?” Zorix said cunningly.

“I’ve brought these humans, their names are Gina and Marco. I accidently beemed them here by mistake when crossing the Milky Way galaxy. I take full responsibility for them, they have become my friends and I’m here on their behalf.” Zee took a sigh of sorrow, he knew his father would be disgraced.

“So you’re siding with these pesky humans over our supreme race? Is that what I’m hearing” roared Zorix.

Zee hung his head, looking at the marble flooring, and mumbled “Yes father”

“Well maybe you’d like to join them in their fate” said Zorix, as if he was unsure if he was ready to **** his own son, because of what he believed. His voice at first was confident but near the end began to shake.

“Actually I’d like to challenge your army to a duel, if we win, you use your strength to reverse the destroy of their planet, Earth. If we lose…” Zee almost choked on his next words…”Then you can do what you will with us” he finished.

PART 4→ Duel or Die…
This is the beginning of my half *** short story. Its getting longer and longer, but not enough to become a book. So I guess its a long short story. Please comment, and let me know if there's anything I can do to make this better (BTW this is a rough draft) Thankx, Bex
Lucanna Oct 2012
I've drank a thousand beers
I've smoked a million cigarrettes
I've ate at least a hundred Twix bars
I've watched Breakfast at Tiffany's hours on end
I've flirted with every male waiter that brings me
unfulfilling dish after unfulfilling dish
I've bought weekly **** dark outfits
and I've spent my life savings
on beautiful MAC make-up and a new Legacy
and pumps I think you'd like
I've gotten my hair colored every color I can think of
I've tried being an apathetic punk, an upbeat cowgirl,  
a wide-eyed polyanna, a harsh madonna, a ****-you-feline,
an emotionally charged marilyn, and a classy Diane
I've memorized witty jokes, and roasts, and rivetting last lines
I've modeled and sang and became an athlete
I've played hard to get, I've played easy and teasy
And I've twirled my hair and crossed my legs
and learned to walk while swaying my hips
I've ran miles and kilometers and meters and
I've lifted weights and done zumba and yoga and hiked and biked and

****.

There's no comfort                                  and no          getting    to                                        ­                    you.
Robert C Howard Nov 2015
for Robin

On that frosted January day,
     you and I hiked north
along the Mississippi shore
     on a trail marked well before us.

Footfall tapestries etched in snow
     wove tales of assiduous commerce
of hosts of fur-cloaked cousins:

the playful step-slide gambit of an otter -
      rabbit paw tracks by the score.
A bald eagle soared above singing ripples
      in quest of a mid-day meal.

The distant staccato cadence
      of a pileated woodpecker
          echoed off the limestone bluffs
on that January afternoon.
     Dusk-light washed the western sky
          in pastel gold and crimson hues.

A coal barge heading south
     thundered against the floes,
scattering ice across the channel,
     then vanished beyond the bend.

And we like bargemen at their tillers,
     set our southward course
retracing footprints in the snow -
     back to the world of clocks and enterprise.
January, 2011
Please consider checking out my book,  Unity Tree - available from Amazon.com in both book and Kindle formats.
Mike Bergeron Oct 2012
Let's go grab the money
Hidden in the Christmas Tree
Shoppe mason jar with the
Frosted stencil designs,
Ornate and resembling flora.

Let's take that money,
The three separate wadded
***** of once crisp
Green pieces of paper
That somehow reach the
Arbitrary total of one
Thousand, three hundred and
Twenty dollars and
Fifty lonely cents.

Let's take that 1,320.50
And go see the desolate
Stretch of sprawling
Humanity deferred between
These hiked peaks and the
Dangerous mountains
Separating the west
From the rest.

Let's go there!
Let's go there!
We'll make it across,
Be sure of that,
Be sure of nothing
But that!

Let's use the remaining
Seven fifty
To buy some
Seven Eleven sustenance
To have while
We walk backwards
Down backroads edged
With the encroachment
Of the wild back into
Negative space some
Long-ago engineer
Carved and paved.

Let's tell the driver of
This beat-up
Time-worn down
Overcast grey
Buick LeSabre
That we can pay her
Ten dollars to replace
The juice necessary to get
Us back to our sick aunt's
House in Poughkeepsie.

At the gas station
We'll tell her to stop
Real quick
And hope she leaves the
Auto to go
Pay the schlup at
The teller's booth
And jack the beater
And hope we won't
Have to bolt
Again if she doesn't.

Let's call my cousin
And find out who will give
Us four hundred dollars for
The stolen used parts store
And take that four hundred
And buy:

Two (2) greyhound tickets to get us
Back to our ****** apartment
In Stamford: 64.50 American

Three (3) damp-bunned flimsy
Beef patties glued between
Pieces of government-issue
Yellow American cheese
With all the fixins we please: 3.24 American

One (1) zip of dried out
Seeded and stemmed breaks
From the boredom of
Our own conscious
Processes: 120 American if lucky

At least eight (8) servings
Of amphetamine based
Pressed little buttons
Of confused energy: 200 American

One (1) bouquet of
Red yellow and oranges
Mixed on the petals of
Your mother's favorite
Species: whatever's left American.
Hanson Yang Sep 2018
the new tupac will have you too walkin with gangstas
the new two stupidity now two steppin with prankstas
murked the first one sayin he's blacker the berry
when i'm sweeter than juice
bass voiced top me if you want to experience that jacked tweeters induced
when i own all of Victoria's secrets as proof
tellin me what the body when all his deducement has him actin when he's wearin his shoes
crypt walking like that it's only talk
missed balking like has bass fits jocking as his only walk
******* with me when All Hailed Mary like if she was his when is only stolen balk
I'm walkin again the gauntlet cuz all the women they want this flauntin all **** like if i was jackin all the wanted
like ghost whippin me imma follow you till i'm haunted
pain really, so bow down, when my diamonds glisten
listen again is just as well bilateral biased has his confused his like the ol' eminem was in the new form gettin his face jacked again
like me smokin crack with friends like all given enemies stressed was all given was a race black and then
we actually are the same race like i knew you back like i owned all the streets like his females thuggin as heathen
**** riding i'll **** your *** up like settin me up when i'm always the last muthafucken breathin
exposing the ***** heathen breathin like if you were the only man catching bullet rounds exposed like the new you was still alive
to the next ** hiked my socks up construed you at hit stupidity when will ride
ghettos owned by just the black reppin when you're steppin the whack, honest it was just onyx
i'll blast your *** like if you stole my pump shotty:
like i never was wanted runst follies
anamoly run has all criminal cops all fathering fun deceiving that all to gain was never greed when all greed in need bothering sons:
all you still down with me when we ride it
looking like a *** while i'm guy gee stag when you're looking into their eyes, they'd know comparison of a bird control as if fathering guys
my knowledge is flight applauding the time, are you still down with me
i hide behind the love of beauty of my womens eyes when you're looking like the female opened you up to your face compared to opening thighs
they don't know like how you stare in the future that tommorow comes only after the dark
knowing me marks the coming of the actual god
I am "unconditional heart"
When I was little
We never went to the beach,
Or the lake,
Or the river
In fact the very idea that,
Anything was larger than the creek behind my house
Was foreign to me  

I knew it existed,
But I didn’t really…
I’d never seen it

But when I did, I still remember the fear  
Walking up to edge of the cool water
The grit of the sand
The heat of the sun
The smell of fish
The knowledge that the waves could pull me in

Take me away  

But the thing that stays with me the most
Is the feeling
I felt calm
I felt at peace
I never knew that
Never understood it anyway

I could have stood there for hours
Just staring out at the endlessness
Knowing that there was something on the other side of that
Something else that I could see
It made me realize how small I was
It made me realize how big I was

I guess that’s the beginning

I went back,
Searching
For that feeling again
I returned to very spot
Same time of day
Same day of the year
But it wasn’t the same
Something’s was missing

Maybe I just needed a different beach
Maybe I don't need a beach
But I still kept searching
Looking around
Questioning if I’ll ever feel so small again
Someday
Somehow
I’d feel that again
That endlessness
That serenity
That hope

But if that was the only time
I wish I had taken more
Just a few seconds
To really memorize it
To really embrace it
Before I ran off

I hiked up a mountain side
The rough rocks digging into my hands
The leaves providing shade
The nutty, floral scent on the wind
Then there at the top
The sun set below the horizon
And then that feeling arose once again

And I knew it wasn’t endlessness
I felt that day
Rather I was

Complete
natalie Dec 2012
A lifetime has passed
since then.

I sat for hours on
that fetid bus,
excitement knotted in
my belly like a nest
of twisting snakes,
until we arrived and
nestled in the mountains,
South and West.

Our cabin was on the fringe,
just as I was, back then.
I spread my bed and
settled down,
made myself a temporary
home.

Days passed with but
little consequence--
rock walls
and
human foosball
and
oversized
jawbreakers
and
a giant swing;
corn dogs in the
sand of the
volleyball courts
and ice cream on
the balcony
at the overlook.

We hiked uphill
to find a waterfall
as utopian as
my foolish faith,
and there we
basked under the
Carolina sun

I climbed
and slipped
until I found a
perch behind
the roar.
I can still feel the
goosebumps
upon my pale
adolescent skin.

When I grew bored,
I scaled to
the top and
jumped
feet first.
I chased the first rays
of an autumn morning

but to my sorrow
when I arrived at
the urgent place
the sun had
already
risen

breathing a
crowning glory of a
seasons brilliant
splendor

alighting
the glowing amber
of golden woods
shining like gleaming
constellations of
dazzling morning
stars...

though I
desired to find
ascendent beauty
the ubiquitous glow of
transfigured leaves
immersed me in
a divine chrome...

as I traversed
the woods, my
solitary steps found
companionship
with a sullen
mistress singing
a sad rustle
of dry fallen leaves

and as the drone
of cars faded from the
receding road

I searched myself
for courage and
found resolve

I pondered truth
and discovered
the wisdom
of resolution...

yearning  to
realize a
deeper faith

I hiked
further up
the wooded hill,
visiting the gay
playfields
of my youth

and received
an epiphany
of wholesome
closure
opening
new
timeless
doors...

still questing
for more light

a prophetic wren
whirred a pliant
secret into my ear

she bespoke
a symphony
of avian
improvisations

conversing in
a thousand
luminous tongues,
relating a sonorous
elegy teaming with
the brightest
joys of life

raising bold
proclamations

celebrating a
seasons radiance

imploring me
to join the chorus...

though the canopy
of the woods still
boasted boughs
of green

the
infant hues
of spring had
run its course

the glory of an
expiring season
strewn on the
forest floor

covering the
mouldering stags
inching back into
the compost of life

breeding blankets
of furry moss

feeding on the
primal organica

of seemingly
expired flora

here, in this
darkened moment
I realized
the transcendent
miracle

the loam of life
incubating
churning  
in concert with
the turn of
seasons...

to my sorrow
I missed the first
rays of the morning

the first
peeks of light
a breaking day
gracefully bespeaks
upon a sleeping earth
awoken in new light

yet I am filled

I am transcendent

I am the first ray
of an eternal light

I am the first ray
of my earthen
gloaming...

on the morrow
the best of me
is in the marrow
of all who loved me
and all whom I loved

these rays of me
will forever rise
in an eternity
of dawnings

For Joey
Godspeed Beloved

Vaughan Williams:
Lark Ascending

Oakland
101313
jbm
Ayaba Babe Mar 2013
I've been trying to imagine what you'll feel like
Once you've hiked to the peak of my
Demureness.
Tell me how many times you've envisioned that expedition
-Dreams and Reality
Fantasies and Actuality-
Lets make the transition.
I want you to feel what I feel like.
I want you to feel me.
JR Rhine Jun 2016
The soda can rumbles in the bowels,
tumbling into the gaping mouth
into which I enter a hand
to protrude my sugar rush.

sssni-kah, then the slurp of an obnoxiously pleasing sip.
I let the carbonation tickle my tongue,
reveling in the effervescent sensation.

The smell of old tires,
malodorous oil and gasoline,
and stale cigarettes fill the air.

My vexatious sips go unperturbing the dense atmosphere
that thickens outside the small air-conditioned office
and into the gas station,

where the mutters and sputters of drills,
kakadoo, kakadoo,
the squeaking and squawking of rotors and axles,
the interjections of swears and grunts
fill the air.

I peek through the ***** smudgy glass window in the door
to see grimy overalled ants meandering
under the body of our red mini-van
hiked up into the air like a figure skater,
suspended by the rusty clawed accompanist,
not a tremor of strain, unflinching,
letting the greasy men crawl underneath, hiking up her skirt
to examine her anatomy.

I walk outside and sit on a dusty tire stacked with others
on the side of the building--
some growing forlorn in tall grass
weaving in and out of the aperturous rim,
the fingers latching onto fissures and pulling it down
into the hungry earth.

Another slurp and I set the can down
to step onto my skateboard--
rolling across the gritty pavement,
snapping ollies and pop-shuv-its
to add my timbre to the cacophony
leaping out of the open garage doors.

I look over to the barbershop adjacent to the station--

The off-white single room squat allowing the cylindrical swirl
perpetually pirouetting atop the door-frame
to dazzle in a placid manner.

It is there I get my close trims
and pull a lollipop from the cavernous bowl
sitting atop the counter.

The barber, working silently behind his dull gray mustache
and dull gray eyes.

Outside the barbershop to the left,
Leicester Highway ambles onward,
diverging at a fork just ahead of the lot,
and the road adjacent that winds down my neighborhood,
Juno Drive.

I've never embarked down either divergent,
and I wonder which one is the less traveled.
(Frost, guide me.)

I go to the mailbox teetering on the edge of the highway
and hastily grab our mail,
the wind slapping at my *** as the cars whisk by
in their infinitesimal haste.

I feel like time slows once you step onto Juno Drive.

I turn around and saunter back to the station to see Billy,
my Working-Class Hero,
who I mostly see strolling up to the driver's side window
of our dull red mini-van
to loosely rest his arms crossed atop the window frame,
resting his sweaty forehead on his sticky hairy forearms.

Leaning in,

his blackened hands with his greasy smile
behind a scruffy scattered beard caked with dirt and grime,
atop a dark red leather face--
but eyes bright and merry.

His laugh, a phlegmy two-pack-a-day sputter
hacking and pummeling through the van,
all the way to me in the backseat peeking around mom's shoulders
to catch a look at this superhero anomaly.

And his southern drawl wrenching out of lungs
caked in tar and exhaust fumes,
that torpid slur that executes like the garbled hum
of an Oldsmobile engine chugging restlessly--

His laugh, an engine that won't turn over, sputtering to life
but falling right back down into the dirt,
lying on the oil-stained cold concrete floors ***** boots slipping over
and sticking too like wads of gum.

The charismatic mechanic who knew the answer to all things,
always ready to flash me that crooked greasy smile
stretching across his ruddy leather face.

I step back onto my skateboard, with soda in hand,
mail in the other,
and silently say goodbye to my Greasy Eden
before making my way down Juno Drive
towards the first house on the left,

following the road as it snakes past the trees,
alongside the creek, around the bend,
and out of sight.
Childhood memories.
Jeremy Duff Oct 2012
The skies are blue and the clouds look fluffy.
The air is crisp and the water is chilling.
The mountains appear to touch the sky
and the leaves are rich shades of green, red, and orange.

I walked along out of service train tracks that cut through this mountain. Literally, through it.
The tunnels started on the West Shore of Donner Lake and followed the ridge of the mountain all the way to Truckee. I hiked a half a mile from the highway up to an opening in the tunnel. For a few hundred yards the tunnel was riddled with broken bottles and worthless graffiti. As I walked further in, the garbage began to disappear and the graffiti became thoughtful, artful. It became darker and darker until I could only see the circle illuminated by my pin flashlight. On one spot of the wall someone had written the entire first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. Someone had drawn a white line. Just a white line and I was so intrigued by it. People wrote stories of the lives. "Im kevin, my gf broke up w me now im gay" or "Im pat. i got dmt and then i got aids" and "im kaylene. thats it."
Someone sprayed a **** pipe on the wall of the tunnel and it was green. They paid very good attention to the crystals in the bowl and the smoke rising from it. A young girl with black hair had her lips on the pipe and she was breathing in. Written under it was "Remember, remember, the 5th of November."
Some one else had sprayed a cowboy. One half of him was black outlined with white and gray detail and the other half was white outlined with gray and black detail. Next to it was written "Childe Roland to the dark tower come."
Some one else had sprayed a devil. He was red with pure black eyes. It was signed "Self Portrait."
Halfway through there was a drain and creepily enough a faint light was shining from underneath the thick grates. Above it some one wrote "I stashed my **** here for three years."
Under that someone had wrote "Gateway to hell."

The rocks jutted out in straight lines.
Some were smooth and others rough.
The mountains cleansed me.
They wiped away some of the grime
this small city has polluted me with.
The crisp air exfolliated some of the
smoke from my lungs and the water
pulled the dirt from my skin
and the hike massaged my sore
feet and the graffiti swept through
one eyeball and took all the garbage
in my brain out through the other
eyeball. The mountains saved me.
John F McCullagh Dec 2011
I’ll sleep within these woods tonight,
That much, at least, is plain.
I’d hiked for several hours
And not much day remained.
The shadows on the ground grow long
As it’s that time of year
when leaves on branches are few or none
and shadows sinister appear.
There is a clearing up ahead;
A friendly glow is seen
A solitary camper sits
beneath an Evergreen..
His smile is warm and friendly
He bades me to remain
with gestures warm and welcoming
Speech lyrical and strange..
I share with him a simple meal
Of pan fried fish and beer.
The meal seems like a miracle
As I know of no lake near.
Dark night has come and both are glad
To spread our bedrolls down
I sleep the night like one who’s dead.
I wake, and no one’s near.
No sign of my host or his tent
No sign that he was here.
I shake my head in wonder
And pack my roll to go.
What the Evergreen has witnessed
is not for me to know.
Consider this as my homage to Frost's " Stopping by woods on a snowy Evening" These are the Berkshires of allegory.
Megan Hundley Sep 2012
Her fingers were covered in corn.
the corn after chewing, broken
pierced, churned- it could spread as butter
thick on stale toast, if needed
"it's fine, don't you worry, we'll get you all cleaned up"
she stared indifferently

Strings dangled from her mouth, unswept
full of necessary greens ---"mhm there there, this will give
you so much energy" --- drags of breath,
half inhale half choke. nothing to look forward to,
not the next soaking glob, not the cursing woman
in the bathroom, not the spill of light to her eyes

Where are the ladles, Did you check on it? The key? Just moved, most the suitcases aren't there yet. Remember to bring the Did you check on it? pay attention. Have you seen my grand kids?
who are you?

Sunday's are for the active ones
The games down the hall are  too far. Why worry with legs, if she could just adjust to the left
the world could sag into an ongoing dream- No demands, no games, no movement.

The nurses hair net had more presence than the splotch of gray against her peeling itchy scalp. Drool leaked from leather lips, dampening the collar of her two month sticky blouse.  Arms curled and locked,displaying under the wax skin cranberry patches-
she never wiped them off. Always the soft murmer of
a snore, always the smell of unbrushed teeth and hampers.

"Did you touch those where don't touch me scott scott scott leave my things alone thevenin I need a stop lying I want to go scott, scott? scott.     I            can't              remember                       any"

I said my name four times before she heard me, knew me
I fixed her pillow and my sister marked off the day on the calendar.
We told her about school, the marching band, each word
filled with forced enthusiasm. She bobbed  her head in circles, lazily
rolling her eyes, the curtain shading the empty space. We spent 30 minutes precisely.

She was more than I realized.
I never knew she had horseback riding, violin playing days. She traveled and  hiked. We could have been close. Unraveling with the mystery, I felt the lateness of my curiosity.
It was 30 minutes precisely, always.

We acted as strangers, reciting routine and wishing each other a happy day and a quiet love you
Mateuš Conrad Feb 2019
what's the biggest difference
between 20th century's
french and german
existentialism,
    and the 21st century's
primarily, anglo-sphere,
realisation of an existential
   "crisis"...
           anti-jew meme...
         the globalist octopus...
imagine...
     some people have
recovered from an existential
crisis, having established
vast constructs of thought
way back in the 20th century,
namely
the french, and the germans..
but...
my oh my oh my my...
the anglo-sphere of linguistics
has only, "just now"
awoken to this...
   quiet a predicament,
wouldn't you say?
                         fertile ground...
oh sure, there was existential
angst in the anglo-
sphere among irish
pillars...
                beckett, joyce...
but concrete architectures
of thought, regarding existentialism,
seem to be absent...
  so... counter-argument:
so how come i can
freely buy a copy of some
german philosopher,
a french novelist turned
philosopher...
           but...
  i'm skint... when it comes
to english thinkers more
or less associated with
my status, rather than stance,
on contemporary "translation"?
   elitism...
no... it's not that...
      i could have just well
have procured
a life helping out my father
in industrial roofing...
             i didn't mind roofing...
it's not an exactly pristine
labour of love sort
of environment...
the scottish widows' h.q.
roof near st. paul's?
        me.
   i was part of that
monstrosity...
       but... come again?
but there are some many attachment
cursors when it comes
to an anglican take
on "revising" continental
existentialism...
        whatever crisis
the continental people
felt, and consolidated
the 20th century people...
is only just starting to bud
in the anglo-phonic world...
start-up, island,
end result,
    h'america and australia...
there was never a question
as to why, or if,
the english-speaking
people would ever entertain
existentialism,
but, suddenly they are,
at least starting to look
into the pit,
from their ivory towers...
immediate escape
impetus?
      reach for the fictive
narrative,
                disavow journalism...
make journalism bedfellows
with political rhetoric...
there's no debate...
circus, however you look
at it...
             you can't fathom
an abstract variant
of the german or the french
mind, gripped by
an existential critique,
a piquancy,
    a pedantry...
in the english speaking world...
there are,
just simply...
   too many attachments
to deal with...
       - growing a beard:
meant exactly that -
eat ****.    
         i don't see where
there a "me" to be found
in a (0, 0) starting space,
of net-worth-"work"...
     coumpters-freeze
network...
for a language...
that ridiculed,
or became succinct
in succumbing
to its anglo-preferences
of objectifying counter-standards
for its own...
shortcomings...

  what has 20th century
existential philosophy have
to do with "anything",
esp. if arrived from
the either french
of german, cultures?

we have Joe Slave over 'ere...
oh right... sorry...
paweł nowak....
just took joe stephen slave's
role was
the person, the hands,
in a recycling factory...
do you mind?
  rather:
do you mind...
teaching your natives...
   to...
   and you know how that
cindarella story ends...

introducing existentialism
to the brits and,
generally,
  the anglican variety of
the tongue, being
used...
   will end up as, failure...
the 20th century
taught me this,
the irish failed,
the french
and the germans...
basically a "foreign" idea
is more than just...
******..
the people are ******,
with paradoxes
of their women...

                sure... a bit like
Iceland...
oh, ****, a bit too close
to the continent...
like madagascar
  is to africa...
and sri lanka is to india?
i'm not 'ere to care to
the idiosyncratic
concerns of island people...
contra the, "collective"...

island people will forever
remain island people,
"solipsistic", idiosyncratic,
idioms...
            i can't change that...
always prone to export...
but never to import...
    island people,
       the **** is there to say?
ever bewilder yourself
over chanel 4 news...
and how...
  john snow is slipping
into dementia?
      you listen to the cue?
no?
                  sorry... john...
dementia on the horizon...

attempting to adapt
existentialism into england
will fail,
given their moral high-ground
of the "migrant crisis"...
it's an island...
  the borders are clarifying,
distinct,
        sure, the people can be *****
when their language
is bored in being
a "lingua franca"...
         but other people have
other, in-debt defences...

western slavs?
ever hear a spaniard speak
pollack, just because
he hiked with a polish girl?
yeah... mahler...
                       violins and ****...
you only listen:
                  for an idea...
it comes, it comes,
it doesn't come...
well... you move onto
some khachaturian...
        so,                 no biggie...

you can't import continetal
thinking to an island people,
they have no concept
of borders...
their naive presupposing
barrier, centered-ground is
unshakeable...

   existential philosophy
"meme" rate of survival is... ?
0.1,
binary, negation, an affirmative
statement,
and then the fiasco...

       it doesn't help
that there's an alternative
outlet via h'america or australia...
i'm not looking
at the "bigger picture",
when there isn't one...

     20th century existentialism
will not work in 21st century england,
or any english-speaking world
to begin with...
there are just, too many,
attachment points,
         as many nurtured
nostalgia avenues
as there are amnesia riddled
currencies of attention
exhaustion...
        it's just a pristine model
to revive the serf...

there's no point reading existentialism
to a people,
so far lodged in their
isolationism that they
can claim, both an island-stature...
and two continents,
by extension
       of stating: "being aware"...      

i guess you have to be born
on the continent
to read anything by 20th century
writers,
but... trying to implement
the word...
into the idiosyncrasy
of island-dwelling people,
akin to the English?

                    i'm not even going
to bother trying...
they're island-folk...
   they "think" of borders akin
to coastlines...
and not migration
fake bordering of a contradiction
of peoples occupying
a quicksand pit
of looking at a geography map...
island-folk...
  they know border...
because they know... island...

you can't translate
something that's already
paradoxical to them
  (hypocritical, is not a milder
term of usage for the desired
execution)...
     no...
                not going to happen...
two islands,
some set of continental enclaves...
culture...
whatever you want...

             i've lived with them,
even though i've lived pretty much
among either the irish migrants,
or the scots...
    you're not going to translate
an island, into a continent's
auxiliary...
  right now...
you'd think that
   Estonia would become
characteristic of an island-people
auxiliary mentality...

       i can't blame these people
though...
   an island environment
provides an island people
mentality...
    if you have never been
part of a congregation,
geographically...
   yes...
      but they're borrowing
continental idiosyncracy...
****** *****...

   Iceland?
            yeah... oh yeah...
they're hot on the topic of what
island life is like...
being so...
   conservative that they even
have developed apps
for people to check their
genetic proximity
and any immediacy to live,
+ baggage...

      the Brits were always 'ere...
the Icelandisch?
were always there...
          and...
  sorry... for the already given
postcard: wish you were
here analogy of...
            curiosity killed
the cat...

           but island dwelling people
will always be,
an island dwelling people...
right now,
you do what i do...
you play chamaleon...
  "sociopath"...
                you...
begin with: a-pathy...
          without pathology
looking for... what requires
you to mingle with the most
pathological examples of
a hushed sanity of society...

          and...
          your luck, as well as mine...
nothing really happens...
like butter smeared
over a gently toasted
piece of toast.

hello tomorrow.
Henry Sturm Oct 2011
Celluloid dreams and Cerebral schemes, Mounting up a grand ol’ theme, Lincoln logs and Jenga falls, Children mind innocently Tall, Philisophical thought and Military coup, End the regime and begin anew, Dynamite sticks and Paranoid tricks, Red, red apocalypse, Blank revelations and Empty train stations, What was the end of my beloved Nation, Chemical pools and Hip-looking fools, stealin’ the sheep’s warm white wool, Kaleidescope eyes and Dark Shadow skies, The beginning of the eventual rise, Technological funtion and Synaptic junction, Nerves are frayed by the plunging suction, Electric blue waves and Hazy blue days, When is Black Momma gonna wake, Off-center dexterity and Coordinated lethargy, Somebody’s tampering with the universal energy, Four pointed star and Mind too far, World collapsing in a car, Colored dotted-lines and ******-up signs, Wrists bound by invisible twine, Jolly beards and Long lost fears, We are proud to be the weird, Nameless drugs and Burial’s dug, Ravaged, ***** by roaring thugs, Sattelite earth and Father’s birth, No one can measure Heaven’s worth, Rabid animals and Decaying annuals, Life is ****** into the manual, Closet apathy and Endless soliloquy, Caught inside your mirror vanity, Muscular zeal and Armless eel, Time rotates on it’s wizened heel, Adjusted night-light and Youthful bed-fright, Soaring on a cheap *** kite, Phony smiles and Aphrodite’s wiles, Your sayings cause the blood to rile, Holden’s hope and ******* soap, Please oh please don’t rock the boat, Running paint and Sinning saint, True art is not so quaint, American soil and Poor man’s toil, Snooty snake hides in a coil, Shakespearean measures and Pirate’s treasures, Let’s all strive for perfect pleasures, Threatening stares and Hiked up fares, Robed men never really care, Bohemian life and Rebel scythe, I create my own rights, Revolutionary yell and Preferable hell, Ride upon the eternal swell, And I crumble when I hear your mumbles, Drowned by the chaotic rumble, For I am God and you’re a dog, And I will forever scream.
Liam Kleinberg Jan 2015
It was always something I thought would be beautiful
Two people, shed of all insecurities, complete raw trust embedded in the others chest
I was a stupid kid
I didn't ever begin to think it could be ugly.
It was dark and there was hand over my mouth that had only spilled innocence
It was a skirt hiked up my leg
It was my cheeks wet and my hands held behind me
It was painful and I felt it on a plane much different than the physical one
It was trust completely robbed from me
It was the light being torn out from inside me
I was eleven years old when he told me he'd hurt the people I loved
It shook me down to the core
It was six years of cringing when I heard the word, swallowing down bile
It was forcing myself to say it because I'd look weird otherwise.
It is nightmares and silence
It is never letting that string of words leaving my lips
It is never uttering a word to anybody
It wasn't beautiful
about an experience I've never told anybody
Hal Loyd Denton Jan 2012
Thirst

Yes I know what it means to thirst I hiked across the mountains to a friend’s distant ranch one possible reason I didn’t just go down the road was when returning by jeep from the same ranch I ran into literally thousands of these little guys they were following a mating call I guess to the ladies they really looked fine but for me it was a little hair raising no pun intended as they say since they were hairy themselves if little fuzzy caterpillars come to mind I only wished that was the case I was going about thirty and they were crunching and flying up behind the jeep as I drove through their intended love fest. I suppose if the jeep had shuttered or died as the one did in the San Antonio River as the driver crossed the slab in the river while the water was rising and drowned out the carburetor and was carried so ignominiously down river. I don’t know maybe a thousand Tarantulas could carry a guy off that was why I was going across the mountain and they had the road to themselves.

First I miss calculated I thought after going past the San Antonio mission across the San Antonio river up the mountain that I would find water at the building that stood on the top nothing but an old abandoned corrugated shed. I had no intention of going back the hour or more getting to the top then the five or so miles and mountains aren’t smooth clear across up and down in the baking sun in that arid semi desert country when I finally looked from the top of the mountain down on the long road that led back to the ranch I was hot and dehydrated maybe those tarantulas were over rated I don’t think so well any way look a pond right next to the lane looks can be deceiving I finally crashed and banged my way down to the pond oh great dog days of summer **** to bad move over **** I buried my face in it and drank **** and a whole bunch of moss that was right under the water and it was hot I wasn’t complaining.

By now you know my interest isn’t in natural thirst I seriously doubt that any one is thirsty naturally speaking but we all are in a dry and thirsty land without spiritual water. It shows by the unhappiness expressed by so many they don’t get it the soul is not craving water of this world it is seeking the one who met the woman at the well so many women deride the bible when it speaks about man being the head nowhere is there more consideration giving to women than in the pages of holy writ to this woman he came see the water glistening as it spills from the clay jar inviting yes but multiply it a thousand times when he said if you drink of that water you will thirst again the water I offer will satisfy your deepest longings it is the highway that ends in joy forever more would you be foolish and take trinkets from a stranger when you are with the very fount that all things proceed from and have their being I promise you a river of living water that will never cease a spring that has started its over flowing this very day in your presence waters that are pure and will quench all thirst drink with abandonment he stands before you his words haven’t chaged.
a blue flower
a runner's shoe
a sun that's shining
a ride that's new
a person laughing
a cat in the window
a melody rising
a happy widow
a twisted drum
a soft goodbye
a pretty face
a peaceful sigh
a libra calling
a buttoned shirt
a crab with claws
a cut that hurt
a white smile
a bullet punch
a hiked up skirt
a snack to munch
a disco sound
a plant that's green
a piece of paper
a ballet scene
Sarah Richards Oct 2014
You washed up
with the waves
last winter
with the
rejected corpses
of jellyfish
and rotting seaweed
pulled from sandy
trenches

you rolled in
with the sea foam
who birthed
Aphrodite
and the glass orbs
from sunken
ships,
gone by

in with the
driftwood
and the cawing of
seagulls
dipping down
to touch the
haggard surface
of your chariot

and with a gypsy "hurrah"
and the clank of my zills
my arm up
and my orange skirt hiked,
I ran into the under-toe
to save you

I will take you from the waves,
my love,
and carry you off into the night
(if that's what you want)
but I am not
the Pacific
or the full moon who
shows her face each night
who pulls you to the shore
when the
tide is high
I will shine a light on you,
but
I can't be your caravan.
Britt Nichole Sep 2014
I have convinced myself that there is protection in being polite.
I am strong hands, stern looks, and the cause of weakening knees.
I give commands that are soft but powerful.

I am a woman and this is my game.  
As a woman, I grew up playing this game before I even knew what the game was.
No, I don't speak football,
but I do speak some *****,
and flowers,
because I am a woman.

You see, a female's life is the Natural Selection we learned about in science class and only the prettiest get to live,
but only with the crushing weight of adaptations for the male expectations.

A male being generous is mistaken for want because the language of friendliness from a broad chest is foreign to us.

Don't put your hand on my hot stove unless you want to leave some of it behind.
The stove is not a stove, the stove is my ***.
The hand is both your hand, and your dignity.
You are cute, but do not touch what isn't yours unless it is yours.

Ask me what kind of **** I'm into.
I'll take you on one crazy ***, literal carpet ride.  

I am a woman, so I read books.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, there is a schoolgirl leaning against a castle door with her skirt hiked up,
that girl is me.
She is waiting for her not-so-Prince-Charming to creep into the Chamber of Her Secrets,
and because I am a woman,
I'll leave you guessing from there.  

I am a woman.
I will not be made into a man's make believe.
I am not store bought goods, or doctor-made art.
I am real, therefore I do not unexist when you are not ******* me.

You cannot poke, ****, or package my ***.
My *** is the ink to the poem,
The paint to the picture,
The plot to a story.
I am a woman.
I am important.
You will not just look right past me.
We had a family meeting
And decided that our tree
Would no longer be a fake one
It would be as real, as real could be

I said that it's no problem
In fact I think it's fine
I truly miss the Christmas scent
Of wet and musty pine

I reminded them that last year
A new, lit up tree we'd bought
They passed off my weak arguement
With barely time or thought

So, with three weeks until Christmas
The search would now begin
For a tree, just full of needles
Not too bushy or too thin

I started with the want ads
Saw the lots with trees for sale
But, most were all on order
I begged, to no avail

My wife said, let's go cut one
In a woodlot, cut one down
I said we're in the heart of a big city
We have to go two hours out of town

I told them, I'm not going
Then my daughter, shed one tear
I don't know how she does it
But, she's got me wrapped....I fear

So we loaded up the family
Drove until we found the place
With so many others out there
There was no parking space

We parked out on the roadway
Half a mile from the gate
When we go there to start cutting
We were told....two hour wait

We'd brought an axe and hand saw
For when we found our perfect tree
Then, we were told...no...only chainsaws
Did I have one...nope...not me

I had to take a short refresher
On how to use their little saw
And of course, this being Christmas
It cost me fifty more

Finally, we started out
There were trees, of every kind
then the fellow said, that this years
Were in the back....way down the line

He said that this year, beavers
Had flooded out the lower plains
And the trees down here were stunted
And would have to start out once again

The ones that we could cut down
Were back a mile up the hill
I wasn't sure then if it was him
Or my family I should ****

I protested, but my daughter
You know. with the one tear leaking eye
Looked at me and smiled
And I said, that I would try

We hiked up to the woodlot,
There were trees of pine and fir
And a spotty faced young helper
Who asked "What kind do you want, sir?"

Long needled, or a short one
Douglas fir, or knotty pine
The choice, well it was endless
And the choice, well ...it was mine

The next thing that he asked me
How big should the tree be?
I looked a little flustered
And then he said to me

Once you cut it down ...you own it
Measure it, and cut it down
Make sure you get the right one
It's a long way back to town

My wife said, 8 or 9 feet
The kids, no help at all
They were both playing on their cellphones
And making plans for later at the mall

We chose to get a pine one
Eight feet high and just as wide
I didn't know exactly
How I'd get it home and back inside

Two minutes, and I'd cut it
We had a tree, and just my luck
They'd started out without me
I had to drag it to the truck

The boy said, they'd wrap and measure
Down front where I came in
I looked down down at my killing
Not too fat, and not too thin

Two hours later I arrived
All wet and soaked and peeved
But deep down, I'd made them happy
And this made me relieved

Once he wrapped it tightly
I was shocked at the tree's price
He said, two hundred forty
In fact he said it twice

30 bucks a foot for pine
That would be dead in two weeks
I was so mad when I paid him
That I could barely speak

I walked back to the truck alone
I left the family with the tree
I thought two times of driving off
Ok...in truth....It was three

They tied it down upon the roof
Said the rope, was free this year
I almost blew my top right then
I saw my daughter....and her tear

We drove it home in silence
Stopped once on the way
I had to spend twenty more dollars
For a tree stand, at the Bay

I dragged it in the living room
Cut it open, let it spread
It, didn't really fluff out much
I think our tree was dead

It took almost an hour
It lay there, dropping needles on the floor
I thought , yep, this is Christmas
Who could ask for any more?

The kids were gone already
When I put it in the stand
I had wired it, into the wall
This was not the way I planned

A simple family Christmas
With a tree is a pain
I've got a fake one in a box
I'll not do this again

There's bare spots at the bottom
It's unbalanced near the top
There's sap all through the hallway
I've got more, just tell me stop

The tree is now all covered
With decorations and with lights
I water it twice daily
So, it doesn't burn up in the night

Next Christmas when they tell me
We want another tree
I'll tell them, go ahead and get one
But, do it with out me!!!!
liki Apr 2015
Fairbanks Alaska
Was harsh and cold and was
Not as fair as it was originally thought.
A rifle too small for big game
And Galliens shoes two sizes too big on Chris’s feet
He set off for his last adventure
Hiked towards Stampede trail through the wind and ice
With nothing but a grin on his face and his ten pound bag of rice
Victoria Sep 2011
There was once a small island off the coast of a forgotten land to the south, and on that island lived a king. He had many magnificent gardens, rolling grassy hills, fields of wonderful colored blooms, tall, ancient trees, serene ponds, the ripest of fruit trees, and vegetables that grew without the use of labor. This king had grown old and never had he a maid to wed in all his years. He decided that he must find a bride, for his years were numbered. Yes, a young and lively bride; they would surely rejoice in gaiety within his lovely floral kingdom!

On the mainland, near this king's island, a wicked and callous looking man hiked the wave-crushed rocks, to join with his sons who were prosperous coal miners. Atop a tall cliff, he beheld a lovely maiden garbed in lavender. The maiden did not notice the man, and continued staring towards the king's island. The man approached the girl, startling her so, "Young one, what do thine eyes pine for so?" She nervously answered, "I have longed to reach the island in the distance, for it's garden's are rumored to be ever so beautiful! If I had the courage, I would traverse the mighty waves and reach it…someday I shall!" The old man laughed at her reply, "Bah, ye sound foolish, woman! A girl as lovely as yourself should be thinking on marriage!..." he paused ," that's it! my eldest son, Cai, he is in need of a wife! I say, you must come see him! He is a miner, so he can heartily provide for a bride and family!"
The girl protested, but the wicked man forcefully pulled her down the cliff to the mouth of the mine.

"Cai! you will come out! I have found a fine maid for you to wed!" he shouted. She struggled, but her fair wrists would not bend to his *****, calloused grip. The son of the wicked man emerged from the darkness of the mine, coated in soot and dirt. He looked her up and down, "I suppose she is passing, father. But  I have seen finer wenches in the pub, I say!" they all shared a cruel laugh, mocking the girl, "I will NOT!" she screamed and broke his grasp, running away as fast as her feet could carry her. The miners all began to chase her across the dale's and over the rocks, until she reached the edge of the very cliff she stood from.
"You cannot escape, witch! The icy water's of the Colwyn await your leap!" they laughed.
She closed her eyes and lept.
The chilly waters encompassed her form, and she drifted into a deep sleep.

By a stroke of mercy by the DuwMor, she awoke on a rocky bank to the morning sun shining, warming upon her freezing flesh.
Glancing about, she was greeted by the rosy, freckled faces of little gwerin teg and gwerin goeden. Their big eyes twinkled at her from behind the stems of hollyhocks and tulips. The girl smiled gently, "oh, thank you for watching out for me as I awake!" she crawled close to them, and they suddenly scattered for fear of humans. She stood, but did not move, for she felt hungry eyes upon her form. Out of the shroud of the oaks, emerged a **** torso of a man, and the furry, cloven hooves of a goat. She jumped back in shock as it's horns shook at her and edged closer.

The maiden, frozen by fear by the hypnotic stare of the Satyr, stumbled back as it edged closer and closer, hand extended. She knew if she did not depart soon, it would surely spirit her away. As soon as she thought she could not move any more, the tylwyth teg that had watched her startled the Satyr, bombarding it with sticks and mud covered stones. The great beast snarled, and reared it's horns, trampling away. She knew that she must find a way home soon, lest it find her again and have it's way!
The girl came upon a flowery clearing, and collapsed tiredly onto the vibrant blooms.
She opened her eyes quickly as she felt something calling to her, and beheld an enormous and ancient tree, that looked to be older than any other tree she had ever seen! A soft breeze urged her toward the tree, and suddenly, an ancient voice spoke unto to her, "I am the king of this land, and these woods belong to me. Young beauty, whatever can I do for you?" The girl looked more shocked than before, as this tree was speaking, and was also claiming to be a king! "Your highness..." she bowed, "I am lost and alone in this world. I have nowhere to go. All I wish is to dwell within these gorgeous gardens." The king was shocked, "my dearest, I shall grant you your wish of course. I too, am very lonely. Stay here with me and I will make you the happiest of Queens.”

The girl thought on it, had she finally found her home? A paradise of her own? She turned to the tree, and placed a gentle hand atop it's hardened bark, laying a gentle kiss atop the moss. "I will stay here with you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Within that ancient garden of dreams, billions of lost souls, and billions of beautiful flowers  blooming for miles throughout the forests. And atop the roots of the ancient tree, there rested a single, radiant purple flower, the happiest of any young flower. She and the King lived out their days in bliss.
We hiked mountains and dove into ocean temples
We tasted apple candy, fried onions and sushi platters
Without you to nourish my soil, my earth shatters
In my mouth lingers the dry taste of our kindred kiss

Longing for a touch that is now long gone
I trudge when I walk back to where we walked
In dreams I call (your name), in dreams I fall
Back into your arms…emptiness… alone!

October 2017, Lyon
Dedicated to my former Californian lover, Aaron S.
heartbreak

— The End —