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

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
CK Baker Dec 2016
The napalan man in a violet cape  
descended the stair with a lopsided gait
a wretched procession, subscribers in cue
rattling off as they stream from the pew  

sounds and smells from a shadowy place
a catholic priest to gin up base
lanterns strung from bolted doors
cobbled streets and wooden floors  

stepping stones and iron bell
fortified by the citadel
hallowed halls and sepulcher
dragon cane for the horse drawn tour

castle turret,  archer holes
centaur scribed in chamber bowls
garden columns in courtyard view
the blood ballet and hullabaloo  

ancient tombs on warrior grounds
gods and saints who made their rounds
goliath still with battered scythe
knelt in prayer and mummified  

battle fires and crowds that roar
gallows, caves, abysmal war  
gargoyles flock the terraced *****
pearly gates to bring on hope  

serpents, snakes and burning ash
lava bombs and trident clash
mariners drift in absentee
as neptune rises from the Tyrrhenian Sea
Julian Mar 2019
Tantalized by the fractious limerence of a vestigial habiliment of the old order, we conclude that hypertrophy leads to a limbo where random permutations alloyed by the rickety limits of concatenation subsume concepts that are equivocal but populate the imaginations of newfangled art forms that jostle the midwives of rumination to lead to unique pastures that are intuitively calibrated to correspond to definitive unitary events in conceptual space that sprawl unexpectedly towards the desultory but determinative conclusion of a meandering ludic sphere of rambunctious sentiments cobbled together to either rivet the captive audience or annoy the peevish criticaster when they dare to inseminate the canvassed and corrugated tract of intellectual territory created ad hoc to swelter the imagination with audacious ingenuity that is an inevitable byproduct of lexical hypertrophy. In this séance with the immaterial realm of concept rather than the predictable clockwork reductivism of a perceptual welter that is limited by the concretism circumscribed by spatiotemporal stricture we find that an extravagant twinge of even the smallest tocsin in the interstitial carousel of conscientious subroutines compounding recursively to pinprick the cossetted smolder of potentiality rather than extravagate into the vacancy of untenanted nullibiety can spawn a progeny of utilities and vehicles for dexterous abstraction that poach the exotic concepts we fathom by degrees of sapience malingering in lifeless bricolages of erratic abstraction in manners useful to transcend the repose of abeyance and heave awakening into the slumberous caverns of still-life to make them dynamically animated to capture ephemeral events that defy the demarcations of wistful indelicacy of the encumbered bulk of insufficient precision.

Today we embark on a quest to defile the anoegenetic recapitulation of canon that litters the dilapidated avenues of miserly contemplation that has a histeriological certainty and feeds the engines that enable novelty but ultimately remain rancid with the stench of the idiosyncratic shibboleths of synoptic alloyed impoverishment that leads to the vast wasteland of cremated entropy that is a stained foible of misappropriated context interpolated usefully as botched triage for daunting problems that require a nimble legerdemain of facile versatility that we easily adduce to conquer the present with the botched memorial of a defunct salience. Despite the travail of scholars to retreat from the frontier into the hypostatized hegemony of recycled credentialed information, we often are ensnared by the solemn attrition of decay as we traverse the conceptual underpinnings of all bedrock thought only to dangle precariously near the void of lapsed sentience because of transitory incontinence that is contiguous to the doldrums of crudity but nevertheless with mustered mettle we purport that the very self-serious awakening to our hobbling limitations is akin to a prosthetic enhancement of ratiocination capable of feats that stagger beneath the lowest level of subtext to elevate the highest superordinate categorization into heightened scrutiny that burgeons metacognitive limber. Marooned in the equipoise of specifiable enlightenment countermanded by the strictures of working memory we can orchestrate transverse pathways between the elemental quiddity of impetuous meaning and the dignified tropes of transitivity that bequeaths entire universes with feral progeny that modulate their ecosystems with both a taste of approximated symmetry and a cohesive enterprise for productivity that rests on the granular concordance of the highest plane to the indivisible parcels of atomic meaning that solder together to exist as intelligible if strained by the primordial frictions guaranteed by the brunt of motion incipient because of the metaphorical inertia created within insular universes to inform sprawling conurbations of mobilized thoughts designed to reckon with the breakneck pace of the corresponding reality to which they explicitly and precisely refer to.

We must singe surgically the filigrees that amount to the perceptible realities that transmute temperaments into the liturgy of routine conflated with the rigmarole of neural dragnets of reiterative quips in an elegant game of raillery with our supernal contumacy against the rigid authority of aleatory vagaries mandated by a dually arbitrary universe in a probabilistic terpsichorean dance with the depth of our dredge for subliminal acuity or the shallow bellicosity of common modes of glib contemplation characteristic of the basic nobility of improvisation. This basic interface with the world can either be mercurial or tranquil based on the interactionism of the enfeebled trudge of surface senses or blunt intuitions and the smoldering impact of the vestigial cloaks that deal gingerly with the poignant subtext evoked in the cauldron of immediacy rather than pondered with the portentous weight of imperative singularities of uniqueness derived from the plunge into the arcane citadel of microscopic introspection so refined that the ineffable drives we seek to fathom become amenable to the traipse of transcendental time that rarefies itself by defying the brunt of compartmentalized bureaucracies administered by the fulcrum of stereotypical notions of acquired gravitas imputed to mundane pedestrian quidnunc concerns that defile humanity rather than embolden the subaudition of gritty punctilios that show the supernal powers of the axiomatic divinity of sharpened sentience to reign with supremacy over the baser ignoble components of bletcherous nescience that leads to knee-**** platitudes that provoke folksy peevish divisions. We should rather orchestrate our activity by heeding the admonishment about the primogeniture of poignant sabotage buffered by the remonstration of innate tranquility and finding a whipsawed compromise of rationalization with true visceral encounters with the fulgurant quips of brisk emotions that grind industriously into amorphous retinues of the trenchant human imagination to either equip or hobble the leapfrogged interrogation of veracity and more consequently our notions of truth and fact.

When we see the hackneyed results of default ecological dynamics, we find ourselves aloof from purported transcendence because the whimpered bleats and cavils of the importunate masses result in a deafening din of cacophony because we strive throbbing with sprightliness towards the galloped chase of tantalization without the luxury of a terminus for satiation. Obviously a growth mindset is the galvanic ****** that spawns the imaginative swank of the pliable modulations of our perceived reality that, when protean, showcase the limitless verve of our primordial cacoethes for epigenetic evolution rather than the stolid and staid foreclosure of impervious sloth that memorializes the gluttony of speculation about fixed entities rather than imperative jostling urbanity that dignifies the brackish dance with dearth and the exuberant savory taste of momentary excess because it engages the animated pursuit of limerence rather than the exhumed corpse of wistful regret. Nature is a cyclical clockwork system of predatory instinct met with the clemency of the prosperous providence enacted by the travailing ingenuity of successive cumulative generativities that compounded unevenly and unpredictably to predicate a fundamental zeitgeist calculated to engorge the fattened resources of the resourceful and temper the etiolated dreams of the fringed acquiescence of a hulking prejudiced population of dutiful servants that balk at the diminutive prospects of a lopsided distribution of talent and means but slumber in irenic resolve created by the merciful hands of defensive designs that configure consciousness to relish comparative touchstones rather than absolute outcomes that straggle beyond a point of enviable reference to shield the world of the barbarism of botched laments clamoring for an uncertain grave from the gravity of the orbiting satellites of apportioned wealth both sunblind and boorish but simultaneously inextricable from the acclimated fortune of heaped nepotism and herculean opportunism. The intransigence of the weighted destiny of inequity is a squalid enterprise of primeval abrasive and combative tendencies within the bailiwick of the indignant compass inherent to the system that fathoms its deficiencies with crabwise and gingerly pause but airs a sheepish grievance like a bleat of self-exculpation but simultaneously an arraignment of fundamental attribution erroneously indicted without the selfsame reflexiveness characteristic of a transcendent being with other recourses to clamber an avenue to Broadway without malingering in the slums of opprobrious ineffectual remonstration against the arrangement of a blinkered metropolis of uneven gentrification.

We flicker sometimes between the strategic drivel of appeasement and the candor of audacious imprecation of the culprits of indignity or considerate nutritive encomium of the beacons of ameliorated enlightenment because we often masquerade a half-witted glib consciousness lazily sketched by the welters of verve alloyed with the rancid distaste of squalor and slumber on the faculty of conscientious swivels of prudential expeditions with an avarice for bountiful considered thought and wily contortions of demeanor that issue the affirmative traction of adaptive endeavor to cheat a warped system for a reconciled peace and a refined self-mastery. We need to traduce the urchins that sting the system with pangs of opprobrious ballyhoo and the effluvia of foofaraw that contaminate with pettifoggery and small-minded blather the arenas better suited for the gladiatorial combat of cockalorums tinged with a dose of intellectual effrontery beyond the span of dogmatism rather than the hackneyed platitudes that infest the news cycle with folksy backwardation catered to the fascism of a checkered established press that urges insurrection while tranquilizing dissent against the furtive actions of consequence hidden behind the draped verdure of pretense whose byproduct is only a self-referential sophistry that swarms like an intractable itch to devolve the spectator into a pasquinaded spectacle of profound human obtuseness that pervades malignantly the system of debate until the reductionists outwit themselves with the empty prevarication of circular logic that deliberately misfires to miss the target of true importance because of the pandered black hole easily evaded by creatures of high sentience but inevitably ensnaring the special kind of dupe into a cycle of bellicose ferocity of internecine balkanization. The vainglory of the omphalos of entertainment is also another reckoning because it festers a cultural mythos of glorified crapulence parading a philandered promiscuity with half-baked antics that gravitate attention and the lecheries of gaudy tenses of recycled tinsel alloyed by debased aberrations of seedy grapholagnia that magnetize as they percolate because of the insidious catchphrases embedded in pedestrian syncopation that ignite retention and acclimate to mediocrity the sounds of generations discolored by faint pasty rainbows rather than ennobled by majestic landscapes of ignipotent mellifluous sound that stands a supernal amusement still for the resourceful trainspotter.

Despite the contumely aimed in the direction of contrarians for deviating from the lockstep clockwork hustle of stooped pandered manipulation that peddles the wares of an entirely counterfeit reality, I stand obstinately against the melliferous stupefaction of entire genres of myth and subcultures huddled around the sentimental tug of factitious sophistries regaled by thick amorphous apostates that cherish the vacuous sidetracked spotlight with fervor rather than pausing on the enigmatic querulous inquisition about the penumbras that lurk with strained effort beneath or above the categorical nescience of the shadowy unknown that often coruscates with elegance even in obscurity. I fight with labored words to spawn a psychological discipline that invokes the incisive subaudition of the pluckily pricked exorcism of true insight from the husk of buzzwords that constellate auxiliary tangential distractions from the art form of psychological discernment that predicates itself on the concept that the rarefaction of rumination by degrees of microscopic precision enables the introspective hindsight of conscious events that can be parsed without the acrimony of cluttered conflations of the granular prowess of triumphant ratiocination that earns a panoramic perch with the added luxury of perspicacious insight into the atomic structure of the rudiments of our phenomenological field and the abstractions that linger beyond perceptual categorization. When we analyze the gradients of anger, for example, we can either be ****** into a brooded twinge of wistful resentment or we can decipher that through heuristics designed to cloister the provenance of subconscious repose with ignorance there exists a regimented array of tangential accessories embedded deep within the cavernous repository of memory that designates a cumulative trace of compounded symmetries of concordant experience immediately perceptible because of the tangible provocateur of our gripes and the largely subliminal tusk that protrudes because of primal instinct that squirms with peevishness because of the momentary context preceded by the desultory churn of smoldering associations swimming with either complete intangible sputtered mobility through the tract of subconscious hyperspace or rigidly fixated by an arraignment of circumstances with propinquity to the deep unfathomed flicker of bygones receding or protruding because of the warped and largely unpredictable rigmarole of constellated spreading activation.  
When we examine the largesse of the swift recourse of convenience we forget by degrees the travail that once bridged the span of experience from patient abeyance in provident pursuit to now the importunate glare of inflated expectations for immediacy that stings the whole enterprise of societal dynamics because it vitiates us with a complacency for the filigrees of momentary tinsel of a virtualized reality divorced from the concretism that used to undergird interaction and now stands outmoded as a wisp beyond outstretched hands straggling beyond the black mirror of a newfangled narcissistic clannishness that shepherds the ostentation of conceit to a predominant position that swaddles us with fretful diversion that operates on a warped logic of lurid squalor and pasty trends becoming the mainstays of a hypercritical linguistic system of entrapment based on the apostasy of candor for the propitiation of fringed aberration because of the majoritarian uproar about touchy butthurt pedantic criticasters with a penchant for persnickety structuralism. With the infestation of entertainment with the ubiquitous political cavils engineered by the ruling class to have a common arena of waggish irreverence we forget that sometimes the impetuous ****** of propaganda is cloaked by the fashionable implements of a rootless time writhing in a purported identity crisis only to gawk at the ungainly reflection of modernity in the mirror and remain blissfully unaware about the transmogrified cultural psyche that feeds the lunacy of endless spectacle based on the premise that one singular whipping post can unite an entire generation of miscegenated misfits looking for commonality to team up against the aging generations that cling to the sanctity of cherished jingoism against the intentionality of a revamped system that malingers with empty promises using exigency and legerdemain to obscure the mooncalves among their ranks that march on with quixotic dreams that tolerate only the idea of absolute tolerance and moderate only when feasibly permitted by the anchored negotiation of the fulcrum of totemic governmental responsibility between factions that wage volleys of invective at each other to promote a binary choice of vitiated compromises of mendaciloquence that ultimately endanger the republic with either the perils of hidebound conventionalism and nativist fervor or the boondoggles of fiscally irresponsible insanity cloaked with rainbows and participation trophies. Reproach can be distributed to both sides of the aisle because ironically in a world where gender is non-binary the most important reproductive ***** in the free world is a binary-by-default despotism that polarizes extremely ludic fantasies on the left met with the acrimony of the traditionalisms on the right that staunchly resist the fatuous confusions of delegated order only to the sharp rebuke of the revamped political vogue that owes its sustenance to a manufactured diplomacy of saccharine lies and ubiquitous lampoons that are lopsided in the direction of a globalist neoliberal bricolage of moderately popular buzzwords and the trojan horse of insubordinate flippant feminism that seeks to subvert through backhanded manipulation the patriarchy so many resent using lowbrow tactics and poignant case studies rather than legislating the egalitarian system into law using the proper channels. I myself am a political independent who sides with fiscal conservatism but libertarianism in most other affairs because the pettifoggery of law-and-order politics is a diatribe overused by sheltered suburbanites and red meat is often just as fatuous as blue tinsel and sadly in a majoritarian society the ushers of conformity demand corporate divestiture in favor of an ecological system of predictability rather than an opinionated welter of legitimate challenges to a broken system of backwards partisanship and wangled consent. Ultimately, I remain mostly apolitical, but I am a fervent champion of the mobilization of education to a statelier standard that demands rigor and responsibility rather than the chafe of rigmarole that understates the common objectives of humanity and rewards conventional thinking and nominal participation to earn credentialed pedigree when the bulk of talent resides elsewhere.
Genna Peterson Sep 2013
I'm all lopsided
muscle on the top
fat on the underside
thighs strong
the underside wiggles
biceps meant to hurt
triceps that look like my grandmothers
and all the spaces inbetween
that poke out, nothing but skin.
Hipbones like razorblades
wrists frail and shaky
jaw pronounced
collarbones like a skeleton
I'm so lopsided
and I want to look like a whole picture
instead of a few puzzles
that someone tried to shove together
I am a wobbling duck
stuck with a mind
that cares far too much
zoie marie lynn Mar 2018
being gay won’t save me from touches i didn’t ask for,
because that’s what they are,
touches i didn’t ask for.
and you still punch me lightly in the arm,
like we’re fooling around, like you didn’t do anything wrong.
but i don’t like it like that,
i never have.
it feels so much worse when it’s forced,
or even when they're simple touches that the eye can barely see,
the alarms fire through my body at different speeds,
it’s absolutely riveting.
i'm learning the difference between want and need,
and i think when it all comes down to it,
you never even wanted me.
my eyes are up here,
not scattered in the crevices folded in my skin,
my eyes are up here,
but you don't care because you're wearing my favorite lopsided grin.
i believe in individuals having a right to their own consent,
and no offense, but you're not my romeo and i'm not your juliet.
liking the same *** won't save you from touches you didn't ask for,
because that's what they were,
touches you didn't ask for.
i think you can tell i haven't been doing so well
Emily Tyler Mar 2014
I have a boyfriend
I shout to myself,
Pinching my upper thigh
And blinking away from
The sight of them.

She giggles and I notice
Her laugh is lopsided
And she's too short
To be that loud.
Her shoulders are too far forward
And even I notice the
Gross stain on her
Upper left canine
Between her braces
That are bright, neon green.

She's my best friend.

I don't mean to think of her in that way,
I love her like a sister.
But it pops into the front of my brain
When I see them together.

I don't even like him
In that way
Anymore.
I have a boyfriend,*
And all he was
Was a whispered fifth grade crush.
That's what I tell myself.

He looks at her like
She's a million bucks.

Her crooked teeth
Earn her six cents,
In my opinion.

I take it back within a second,
But the thought was still there.

Jealousy makes me into a monster.
Ted Scheck Nov 2014
You would think that
Light is always bright,
Shining, Luminescent,
Searing, burning, illuminating,
Perpetual dawn rolling across
Earth's lopsided expanses.
You would think.

Light and Darkness
Were once perfectly melded-
Minded-
Molded together, in the
Time before time,
In the cusp of God's hands
Pressing together and
Held apart in infinite
Pressure and density and love.
They were one yet separate,
Filling the mindless firmament between
The Left and Right Hand of God,
Before He created Earth.

You know the Beginning:
When the Heavens came into
Being
(So that the minds
Of men and women could
Acknowledge their existence)
And then the Earth was
Created

God moved His hands
(And Spoke through Them)
The earth, formless, void:
The Light in God's Hands
Marveled at the Living Light,
The Source of all things
Whom the light had dreamed about,
In its cupola that it thought to be
Infinite, but was somehow, beyond;
God, it seemed, had more,
A Higher Purpose for The Light

And The Darkness, seeing his
Brother distracted and occupied,
And uncomprehending the why
And how of God’s Light and
The Light (his brother?) standing
Close, so close, in perfect
Conversation, and why?
Why was not The Darkness a
Part of His Conversation?

Darkness, in the infinitesimal moments
After Creation had begun,
Turned his back on God and
Saw what was beneath him.
He
Streaked blackly down to the new
Thing God had made simply
By Speaking.

“What is The Darkness doing,
God?”
The Light asked, confused
For the first time.
“I don’t understand.”
God spoke, a gentle,
Soothing whisper.
LOOK FOR YOURSELF,
LIGHT.
And The Light looked,
Shining the barest part of
Himself down, so that
The Darkness could see.

The Darkness saw itself
Hovering over the waters.
The round globe that
God created was covered,
Filled with something
Mysterious and liquid
And like itself, Dark,
Deep, and brooding.

Dark and Void
Were now one.
Away from the Presence
Of God.
The Darkness had never
Flown, or streaked, or
Zipped like lightning before.
And Darkness saw that it was
GOOD.

Now Darkness was doing it.
Darkness was all OVER this
Planet-thing. Darkness had
The WHOLE
THING COVERED.
And Darkness saw that it
Wasn't moving. It had never
Been so big, so
EXPANSIVE before.
It circled the entire planet,
A giant ring of Itself,
For thousands and thousands
Of miles. Looking at the deep
Dark wet stuff,
Darkness saw its face
For the first time.
Not GOOD, Darkness thought
To Himself.
GREAT.
But before The Darkness
Could get a longer
(And much more detailed)
Look, becoming more and more
Connected with the Void…

Four of God's Words
Split the whole of existence
In TWO

'LET THERE BE LIGHT'

The Light of Creation
Exploded outward and
Simultaneously
Imploded inward
Scalding Darkness' eyeballs black
And God took The Darkness
In His Hand and Threw
Him to the other side
Of Earth,
12 hours
And 12,500 miles away.

God favored the "Light"
And called it "Good"
Darkness wanted to hear that
Spoken about himself.
But God further divided
And delineated them
By changing their natures.

The Light, now powered by a nearby
***** Yellow Star
Almost a hundred million
Miles away
(So as to not cook or
Freeze them to death)
God explained cryptically
Who is THEM
(The Light wondered)
There are OTHERS
Besides God?
And us?

But when God was doing His
Business, and it involved you,
YOU PAID ATTENTION

SOL IS EARTH’S STAR
YOU ARE NOW A SOURCE
OF LIFE. YOU WILL RULE
THE FACE OF THE PLANET
HALF OF AN EARTH DAY.
And God's Pure Light
Was now intimately linked with,
Among other things, the creatures
That God was even now filling the
Seas and the Land.
The Light’s new name was
"Day"

The Darkness changed simply
By God Willing It.
The Darkness liked his new name,
Closer to Light's old one
(Night)
And Night thought he might be
Happier, after all, since
God placed so much
MORE of him, far, far out
In the Heavens, in the
Unfathomably
(Though fathomable to him)
Empty spaces between the
Stars that gave birth to
Day every single itself.

But God punished The Darkness
For being Prideful, and marveling
At the beauty of his face
So God banished The Darkness
To reside alongside, and
Even, with, the Void
Who had been cast down
An Eternity before, waiting,
Waiting for just such a planet
To come along, so that Void
Could rule the air
(Like a Prince,
Deposed to his
New kingdom).

The Dark had never before
Felt something so different,
So ‘Off-Natured’ from God
Almighty.
Night was afraid, so Night
Kept his head down and
Out of sight and
Did his job.
The Light shone through
A tiny yellow orb, and
This light bathed the planet
In a veil of brightness.
Night was only one
Aspect of The Darkness, like
A Cousin created to do a
Very specific job, which
Left The Darkness to explore
Earth and the Surrounding
Heavens.

The Light had other aspects,
A nickname, if you will:
“Daylight” and
Daylight, in spite of
All he could see
(But Daylight praised God for this,
And knew God was the Source of All Things)
And all the creatures and
The Man and The Woman
Saw,
Daylight missed his brother,
The Dark.
But the Stars would only shine
Him in the Way God Intended,
And not a little brighter more.
So Daylight did his job, too.

One itself, as Day again
Chased Night away
(Always on Night's heels,
But never EVER catching him!)
Day was shining on a patch
Of water that seemed familiar.
But the water was, well,
Watery, and diffuse, and it
Slowed down Light's usually
Terminal Velocity, and bent and
Diffracted and distracted his
Straight-line nature. Light asked
God to tell Night he was sorry.

YOU’VE A VOICE
YOURSELF, DAY.
TELL NIGHT YOURSELF.

Thank You, Light of Heaven,
Day said, feeling the Star
Sol going into a brief and
Exciting supernova,
A thin yet ultimately powerful
Ray of Sol’s tremendous
Energy shining down
On that little familiar patch
Of water.

Day shouldered its
Way through thick clumps of
Seaweed (now dead) and down,
Ever down,
Deeper than any light had
Ever penetrated the Dark
Ocean.
Down, the light went, down,
To its breaking point,
Where Daylight was barely
Discernible as itself.
It got to the place
Where He ended,
And his brother began.
With its last photon of energy,
Daylight gave itself to
His long-lost Twin.
"I'm sorry, Dark"
A patch of exceptionally black
Darkness wobbled a nod.
(Me too, Light)
It seemed to say.
"I miss you, brother,” sobbed
The Light.
And God have Light his request,
Allowing him to shine just
A little more brightly,
And the Light gave of himself
To his Brother Darkness.
“God, may I please
Keep this little light
Of mine
To remind me of
My Brother Daylight?

Dark was no longer so very
Lonely
As God put a bit of
Himself
In the strange, strange
Creatures who lived with
And in total
Darkness.
And the Dark
Loved those creatures
So much so that when
You
(Or I)
Capture a Dark
Creature,
It cannot,
Will not
Survive the Light
On the Surface
Of the Ocean
Gerry James Jul 2018
Jay.
He was a nineteen year old high school dropout.
He was black.
He wore his hair in dreads.
He had a few nose rings.
He wore gold chains and expensive clothes.
He went partying every night.
He got drunk on alcohol but his drug addiction was the biggest problem.
He had a lot of friends.
Because he was ‘cool’.
He was the ‘man’.

Gray.
He was 18, finishing his final school year.
He was white.
He wore his hair very short.
He had large round glasses, sitting lopsided on his nose.
He wore a long sleeved shirt and trousers.
He studied hard, and he got good marks.
He played the cello in the school band.
But he was gay.
And so he didn’t have any friends.
But he had his family who he loved dear and who loved him back.
He was happy.

The differences between the two are unbelievable.
They are nothing alike; they are complete opposites.
Yet, they are human.
They walk the same streets, at different times.
They both live on the same planet, if not the same world.
They both have a right to live.
They both have people who love them, despite all they are.

It’s their differences that make Jay and Gray human.
Both of them.
Until Jay raised his gun and fired three times at Gray.
That’s when Gray was lost to humanity.
And Jay had lost his humanity.

Coz Jay shot in the chest a boy named Gray
Killed him without giving him any say,
The boy who did no wrong, but was gay,
With his life, he had to pay.
His family cried in despair and dismay,
For their loving son had been taken away,
And now they all sat in silence,
For Gray would never see another day.

For souls who have had their lives ripped apart, and those who rip their lives apart, we pray.
His arms failed to reach around her wide lopsided smile.
Her mind played silly word games with her lisps
His feet tapped in no choreographed motion; ambiguity
Her tongue tastes wine with no knowledge
His fingers circled in absentminded anticipation
Her warmed hands circled in rubbing
His first dinner date
Her blind date
His date
Her
just whatever random stuff...
armon Jun 2014
raw ******* thumbs drawing open the canvas of cavities
hot stink, tangles of pink wrinkles, ground turkey and beef
pulse of the earth in the groan of the springs as the sequence of spirits inhabits a lopsided carpet of blood, cardiovascular, creation, crawling
pineapple sweat, *******, neck licking saliva stains, flesh slapping, teeth jousting, chins grinding
explosions, eruptions, screaming, biting, clutching the rim, apocalypse, APOCALYPSE, the guilty apocalypse
zebra Jun 2019
could it be a *******
like cotton buds
from the ***** flower

a witched river
under dark clouds
of brooms that don't fly anymore
maybe in need of an upgrade

perhaps a spell of weaponized winds
with insinuated floating ghouls
shaking their lopsided claws
under blood orchards
and diagrams of grief
as they follow their noses
looking for *****

*******; the scent of vivacious
zyzzyva
loving oozing laughter
thirsty skin
needles too
**** heroine stuck on toe picket fences
mimicry of ducks blood butter
like a crime scene of kisses that went to far
eggs and runny yokes left puddled on a thigh
the ****** burps Pans milkshake
*** legacy legs
lookin for love

auto asphyxiated in a closet fringy and hanging with a hardon
lost eyes and drool
somewhere in Thailand
after spicy noodle soup
and a Tsingtao


hurt me
hurt you
i'm an evil boweval
a Zyzzyva come to love you
Max Hale Feb 2010
Cornwall, Cornwall every day
Bright sun and fresh feelings
Simple pleasures by just being here
Forward thinking into old age dotage
All our lives waiting, hoping, wishing

Never believing it could be
Out of mind with secret longing
Filling up with atmospheric  air
Sensing that emotional rush
Deep breaths swallowing cliffs and sea

Wild flowers and cows here
Hedgerows and windblown trees
Lopsided branches pointing inland
As cool salt air combs their twigs
The winding tracks disappear

Love is here all around, so strong
Heart wrenching and stomach churning
Soul and body filling up with Cornish…
Cornish, as long as it’s Cornish
It’s good!

Give us a chance to stay
Give us the chance to live
Ever on the hard granite pathways
Sounds of mewing gulls and thunder of surf
Beating on the windswept rocks and beaches

Cornish light familiar and so bright
Invading our eyes and warming our hearts
Gently massaging our faces with soothing fingers
Lifting our spirits as breaking through the clouds
It charges us with love

Fulfilled and whole
Our lives and minds gratefully feasting
The armfuls of wonder as we carry our hearts
Together,  through eternity, watching
As the sun sets in a blaze of Cornish light
Peaches

We used to pick them fresh,
Right off the branch,
From the tree in the front yard
And place them in a basket
To take inside and taste and devour.
You’d wash them for me,
Me too tiny to reach the sink,
Then take the knife
And carve, swiftly,
Slicing off a smiling slice
For me to eat.
Now your twirled fingers
And paper skin can carve
Only lopsided smiles,
Gnarled and unfamiliar.
Let me take the knife
And dig into peaches
For you to enjoy.
Justin G Feb 2015
Despicability is the foundation to their life
For them it is intrinsic
Genetically encoded
Simplistic
Poetically eroded
Reprehensible at best

     Unscrupulously callous
     Secrets and facts, they conveniently
     ingest
     Distorted byproducts, they release to the
     masses
     To aid their campaign; a forked tongue
     fest


Pathetic and unapologetic
A beast armed to the teeth
Imported bypasses to increase the flow of police
A weakness and an act,
They so vehemently attest

     Harvesting greens off the branches of
     the people
     Pockets engorged with wads and folds
     Crushing blue collars at the lower levels
     As they sit atop their pyramids of gold


Today they sip champagne
To celebrate their reign
Tonight we'll skip being humane
To feed them excruciating pain

     You've incited this coup with ill-thought
     deterrents
     Now herald the arrival of the scourge
     Down with lopsided governments
     Tonight... All we would topple! Tonight we purge!


Justin G
**ryn
This truly was an experience. I really enjoyed sending and receiving verses from the one and only amazing ryn. I really got into character with this one, but long story short: **** corruption!  The pen is mightier than the sword
Grace Jordan Sep 2014
There's a feeling I've felt hindering on the tip of my tongue, twirling with sawdust at the end of my bed. Its tingled my toes and tickled my nose and killed all hopes that this is just happiness.

Sleep is for figments and products of sanity, neither of which I can claim heritage. Well perhaps figments in the waking hours of the darkness, but that is a tale for another time.

I can feel his fingertips stroking my sides, reminding me what it is to feel human and vulnerable and perfect. Didn't know he boosted me ego and turned me into the self absorbed maniac you see before you today. Tyrant, remembrr? Oh wait, that's another tale altogether again.

I ramble in the night, in the morning, all the time. My thoughts wander with echoing clarity to encompass the truth about me; not everything is quite right. The teacups are lopsided at the unbirthday table tonight.

Yet again, speaking in riddles and stories unbeknownst to you. Stupid me, stupid Grace, stupider you. Why are you so open to my madness anyway? Maybe you're the crazy one.

This sick godlike embodiment I feel is one I forget isn't real, isn't me, isn't life. But wait. Its a part of me, so perhaps it is real as well? Call a jury, wake a judge, there must be a verdict on my elation. Am I a minor deity or are the synapses playing some cruel joke on my heartstrings?

Heartstrings, why did I bring them into this? I have shut them off for now, for they are dumb and deaf to honesty and logic and do whatever the hell they feel. Or is it whatever the heaven? I forget sometimes where the real misery is, or how the expression goes. I've never quite gotten everything right, being as upside down as I.

Insomnia brings out the manic in me, and I know its not real, but for a moment, just a moment, I belong. I am real, I am loved, I am powerful. Weak little Grace is no more, with her fears and contradictions. Just strength is left, and it is glorious.

Just remember not to let the heffelumps get you in the night, for they are the true evil behind your honey ***. Or am I a heffelump? I can't remember anymore.

This is going nowhere, everywhere, somewhere.

Wake me up inside before I destroy myself, or simply perpetuate my perfection with a caress of your hand. Whatever suits your fancy.

Call me Aphrodite and we'll call it a night after hours of mindblowing ***. But you expected that all along, of course you did, because you know my bones better than we both realize.

When you put your hands on me I feel ****. But yet again, right now I an perpetually **** and twitchy and awake and fake. Dare you to kiss me anyway.

Dare you to see me, psychotics and all.

Bet you'll run like the rest, yet like all good hiders its refreshing to be found every once in awhile.

Find me, and see. See the monster behind my beautiful eyes. That's the day when you'll see what true danger looks like; me.

Insomnia makes me odd, but yet again I'm always odd.

Little miss muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and craves, for a man betwixt her to tell her she's killer and make her a siren next day.

Forget, no, yes, its all I do. Its not how that goes, for sirens are certainly not temporary. I am certainly a black widow every day, not just each odd thursday.

Go to bed, Grace. I beg of you.

Close my eyes and say goodnight to the beloved moon, for the sun is nearly up and it certainly hates me, I am sure of it.

Just never forget all this is wrapped up in one little old me. No one seems to remember that until its far too late, so might as well run now, because otherwise little miss muffet here on her tuffet will be the death of you.
Colin O'Malley Jun 2014
I am 6.3 miles from home on an 11:30 night stuck worrying about the same thing of perspective.

The way I feel about you has driven deeper than casket nails in the past 10 hours. I know 3 weeks of my time will be a Friday night to you. Maybe it's more lopsided than my asymmetrical eyes, but these emotions go unrequited because of someone who is not me.

It's nothing of your persona, only your perfect idea. A philosopher doesn't fall for the thinker, only the thought. You're the vessel of my one flawless mental creation that came as a broken jar in an antique clay shop. I could have been born decades earlier and I still wouldn't have made it in time to tear you from something you never had to be attached to.

But now as I clarify my final statement on engineers and metal pieces, does the idea of me linger more heavily in her mind than yours in mine? I need a new appraisal and I've got 3 weeks and 18 miles. I have no expectations but I expect the world from you.
LP S Jun 2018
"You can't always win, L."
he says.
He always says that,
the boy from Ohio with the lopsided grin,
"Sometimes, you just lose..
and that's okay."
Emphasis on the "okay".
Because he knows
that's the one word
I won't hear him say.
He knows this,
because he always says it.
When I tell him,
I don't feel right, where I am.
And it's worked before.
So it should work now,
he thinks to himself.
And perhaps if I were sitting next to him,
like I used to,
in that one room apartment,
in Victorian Village,
I would hear it.
I would hear it,
and it would resonate.
Before he punched me in the arm
and asked if I was done being dramatic,
so we could turn on the game,
because he just got a text that OSU is down by 7,
and he's pretty sure it's because he's not watching..
So I would laugh,
shove him off the couch I got at Goodwill,
and he would grab two more PBRs from my fridge
that only sometimes worked,
and it would be okay.
It would.
Because to the sound of him yelling at Braxton Miller
through the tv
like he could actually hear him,
and the hot summer breeze pouring through the open windows,
it made sense.
What he said,
made sense.
But we're not in that apartment,
and he can't hear how hard my is heart beating
from 700 miles away,
can't see the look on my face
when I tell him I think I'm losing my ******* mind.
Suddenly his voice sounds so far
and so foreign.
And he knows,
he knows it's not working this time
but that's the farthest he ever got
so that's as far as he goes.
And the long pause is deafening.
So in one final act of desperation
he simply says,
"Love you, kid."
And I just say,
"I know."
Jacey Aug 2015
must love rainy days
adventure
pumpkin carving
and unexpected kisses

must be tolerant
of jimmy stewart
and bob dylan
the other men in my life

no height
weight
or hair color requirement
but big hearted weirdos
who smile for no reason
are always welcome

no
racist
sexist
homophobic persons
or those who say baby
as a term
of endearment

i like my coffee bitter
and my men sweet
never
the other way around

lopsided grins and kind eyes can get you everywhere

if similar in tempermant style or appearance to
the doctor
david bowie
mickey mouse
or jesus
please contact immediately

must be accepting of
raucous laughter
black and white films
cold feet
and occasional insomnia

i am always late
rarely refined
and have almost no perception
of the volume of my own voice

in junior high i asked a girl to stop picking on another child

she told me to go fly a kite

it was not until much later that i realized she was insulting me
not offering ideas
for an enjoyable way
to spend the afternoon

my hair is an untamable beast
but when fashioned properly
can be wrapped about my face
to create a rather fetching beard

i enjoy being scared
and am not easily so
unless you are a bug

i talk in my sleep
never know what day it is
and cry while reading good books

i just want
to hold your hand
in a crowded theatre
while we wait for the scene
at the end of the credits

and to be able to tell you
i love you
Hope you like it! (:
Terry Collett Jul 2014
Bring out the pottery boy
Mr A said
bring it out front
so the other boys can see

your work
I took out my clay pottery
attempt to the front of class
and stood there

holding the pottery
on a wooden tray
Mr A gazed at me
through his black framed

Beatnik glasses
his eyes like huge marbles
what you call this
huh boy?

I looked at the hand rolled
clay ***
haven't called it
anything yet

I said
thinking of a name
he went stern eyed at me
are we attempting wit

as well as pottery?
He said
a mild titter
from some boys

in the class
here
he said
in a raised voice

like a failed actor
here we have
an example how not
and I repeat NOT

to make a ***
the classroom went quiet
I stared at my ***
lopsided and brown

like a rushed ****
what were you attempting?
Mr A asked
whatever it was

it most certainly was not
a ***
I said nothing
I gazed at him

in his snot green jumper
and Beatnik beard
and brown
corduroy trousers

and sandals
I don't know
why I bother
with pupils like you boy

he said
waste of my time
I stood looking
passed him at Danny

who was boss eyed
and pulling a face
I suppressed a smile
and looked dull

go back to your place
and spare me
the sad boy look
so I returned to my desk

with my ***
leaning further east
and placed it down gently
as if it were some work

of modern art
Mr A then poked
Eddie in the back
and held up his ***

which went in and out
like armless model
of Greek design
worse

Mr A said
than mine.
BOY IN A POTTERY CLASS IN 1959.
upside down

tried to let it be turn around

my porch is a little ferris wheel

and I curl up inside, and its a bit brisk

but thats alright, coffee is good

and so are deep breaths, but my mind, again

tangled round the telephone wires

there are a few things bothering me

but they emerge with a laughing track in the background, and I grin to myself

sober and straight thinking, a bit alert, a bit anxious, but present

my mothers so tired, tired tired

but she is trying, trying

going to spain to see my brother

everything seems to be fine

heading to new york to see my lover, my passion, she drives me mad

and I'm a lopsided man fiddling with a soup can, people can't **** straight

that's the **** of most jokes, that are told

and I laugh at those ones hard, but I laugh at myself hardest

kick back, take easy, take step, take stride, ***** up, in the ditch, dust myself off

dad said worry less

and he's right

therapist said try harder
and he has truth

truth has its way of working its way round the telephone wires, too

born out of birds creating their energy, born out of timeless time, jokes told over and over again

and I am sentimental, my friend

as I sip and stare off, not my joke but his, but we share it, laugh, and stare off

over and over again
Avery Glows Jul 2014
People moving in
With their suitcases on board
Standing everywhere
Fumbling to their seats.
"MAY I SEE YOUR BOARDING PASS?"

Yes please.  

Plane flies on the runaway      
Diving into the clouds    
Into a puff of wind                            
and smoke.
We fly.      

I sat unmoved
For the rest of 16 hours.
I thought I had been fossilized.
Hardened.                      
But I saw it flying    
Us flying to mi casa
Time is rolling backwards
My lips tugging backwards  
No more jetlagging.          
I held on to a light of a hope    
with a lopsided grin.
Perhaps,                          
It's time to say hello
To the land long forgotten
The land with cozy saturday mornings
Where we have dinner at 7pm, not 9.
The land that I long to be in
Where I had been long gone
is 60 minutes apart.
mark john junor Jan 2014
there's a hard silence here
and there is a fresh echo of the dim kitchen light
in the ***** linoleum tiles that zigzag the floor
even the air feels broken as it limps slowly
through the room
i stop near the door upon entering
and gather myself
like a ragman gathering the tattered remains
stitching the fragments of self with the thread of awareness
weave the image of self into the reality of the moment
with the hesitations of someone who has lived this moment too many times'
it will come to naught
she is alive but her heart is dead
the dust on my worn coat is from the graves of my
fallow field where we once laid a crop of hopes
but i cannot abandon her to this barren place

i know i perceive only the narrow sunstricken pages
faded and stained with the words legible only to the hardy eye
but its the deeper tale which
even the gardener of times bloodstained trophy's
would fear to tread
his leather shod hands worry the intricate gears
of the mechanical face she wears
he manipulates it to wear a lopsided grin
pantomime of happiness for my birthday
but i watch the vacant places behind the face and see that
with a blemished mechanical eye she looks out over the oncoming
evening through the livingroom window
its cracked and ***** surface turns
the setting sun into a parody of dawn

she greets me but just stares out the window
as if she is waiting a lovers return
i stand infront of her blankly
we wait for the hours to pass
i fix her tea even though it isn't broken
and make small talk
as she makes mechanical sounds
till she sleeps
i leave with the dawn
and make my way to my own bed at last
to fend off dreams that something somewhere could be different
and wake to the sorrowful song of a passing bard
his thin feet dancing on a moonlight hilltop
meant for lovers only
and he is dancing alone
alone
Hank Roberts Jan 2013
Sidewalks mingle with society
because they are one in the same essentially.
They both lead you to ***** grease traps, credit
in the single digits, and unpaid rent,  by
over-passing where the clowns don't wear make up  
and where the credit housing hasn't split in half.  
Better think twice before you skip it passed,
Short cut grass grows inside a dream
that you're enforced to believe along with a four bedroom
house, two baths, and  long term mortgage.  
Underground bowling alleys and lopsided movie
theaters mix with ipods and ipads and mp3s and 4's,
forming combustion that ashes all the sticks,
leaves, sprinklers, and women into *****'s
marketplace.  No wonder no one wanted to leave here.  
Don't forget Gomorrah as well.
Liam C Calhoun Jul 2015
The mannequin faceless,
Clothed in gold
With hands pandering svelte,
Remains an admired inanimate,
Albeit, atop whispers to a girl,
A 4-foot flower 3-feet my right,
Fretting and stumped;
Extrinsic a label – “undesirable.”

The mannequin faceless,
Her and hollow –
A towering nose above, stands
Opaque ivory, scarred come
Synonymous eyes with a symmetrical
Soul, assumed plastic perfection
And more importantly,
Soon to be sale.

The mannequin faceless
Convinced her new friend,
Her lesser, lopsided,
And natural not-so counterpart
To consume,
“Eat me, “eat me,” “eat it all,”
And then, “binge some more.”

The mannequin faceless
SCREAMS,
“BUY!”  Amongst the other torments –
Born both fingers that can’t move and
The thumbs that shuffle, “One’s,”
To the girl that was never,
“Good enough;” so shared the
Tabloid’s mouth.

The mannequin faceless demands
And DEMANDS nothing less than to
Buy, starve, suffer and sacrifice
So that every “broken body,”
May embody polymer, and for a price,
A not so fair trade whilst
Considering old man gold,
The curator of conundrum
And the plastic he’s created.
And maybe it was because I was listening to, "Radiohead."
Iska Aug 2018
Ace
Every day the cards were played
Everyday you lost
I won.
Every day you’d come back
With declarations of future success,
And when proved false you’d smile,
All lopsided and sheepish,
With a “next time perhaps”
And now your gone.
And next time won’t come.
I guess I won after all.
You always said
I was a queen of diamonds
But my dear,
You were the Ace of hearts.
To Everett
If there is a place after this life,
I expect to see that lopsided grin
From across the table
May we play cards again
who knows?
I may even let you win...
(Or not)
:’(
Today I sat alone eating lunch.
My furious eyes scanning
Relentlessly from table to table,
From couple to trio,quartet or-
Loner such as myself.

Looking for something...
in a whole new sense of the word-
Juicier...
Than my afternoon apple.

Today had all the usuals.
Yesterday's fatties were today's fatties.
Those who yester-took the role of chatterbox
Have shut-up and no play the role of an impatient listener.

The ******* congregate together in a huddle.
They address each other with a casual slur
That once meant something in a time of their ancestors.
And they stand about in a fashion
That serves only to make them appear larger than needed.
Adjusting their lopsided garments...
An example of a vain attempt to subscribe to human vanity.

I admire the loners with the headphones on.
Lost in their own world of music,
It's like the comforts of home-
A tiny invisible wall that goes
All the way around them.
They cannot see you, and so they know that none are watching.
...Except for me.
Me and the little game that I play|
While eating lunch.
:.

Today there is a woman.
She is...
Juicier.
Dressed with a pinstripe tie,
It accents her men's purple shirt.
She's wearing a nylon skirt,
It ends above her knees in a shimmer of plastic tassels.
|
She took off her dark green ballcap|...
She put her sandaled feet on the table|...
|...And winked at me
Serving as a reminder that,
Neither of us has anything better to do,
Than to play a game while eating lunch.
Trevor Gates Jul 2013
The Obsidian Theater XII.



You’re all probably wondering why I asked you to come here this evening.

I do not plan to waste any of your time

Regardless if you feel that I do

Now

I’ll get to the point.

But

I’m afraid I don’t have one

And neither do you

Or you
Or you
Or even you

I once spoke to a lopsided journalist who understood what I meant
He once sat where you were sitting and spoke to me in such unique lubricities
I couldn’t help but ponder his underlying tone of voice
A hidden message gargled beneath his throat.
Past the teeth and gums
Sliding down his esophagus and into his stomach
Of voyage of crude judgment on my part

Again
I still haven’t made my point.
But then as I recollect what we’ve just discussed
The point was made
Regardless of what you think
For what I say

Are we confused?
You should be
Because it’s really quite simple

The amount of time you took to read this nonsense is equivalent to the deaths of a handful of people.

Now that’s a lot to think about
But in return many newborns have arrived on this plane of existence
Ready to be embraced by chains and strife

Regardless…

Of where they are
Who they are

No one is born free

We’re all fooled into accepting these rights, or extended privileges
All false

Everything has been orchestrated and arranged to keep your mind in check

How does it feel to be another chuck of human cattle?


Humans are mostly made up of Dark meat


Billions of people have lived and died

Yet

We don’t know them

We don’t remember them

Because of how insignificant their impact was

We only remember a small percentage

A fraction

Because of what they did

Writers

Leaders

Religious figures

Inventors

Artists

Heroes

Lunatics

Monsters

Conspira­tors

Musicians

Rock stars

Bestsellers

Celebrities

Murderers

Rapists

Hunters

tra­itors

Predators

Assassins

And their prey

We don’t remember the normal people

Why should we?


It will take on average three generations to forget you after your death.
All that will be left will be a grave and a tombstone
If you’re lucky

Everyone who would’ve known you
Will be dead with you.

Does this depress you?

Does this make sense?

Do you know what I’m talking about?
Did you hear what I said?

Check your ears because no one said a word.

Did you see what I did there?
Check your vision because I didn’t show you anything.


Nobody will
Show you
The truth
You must search for it

And accept the opaque mucus of circuitry and metal
Interwoven through our biological makeup
And
Hardened flesh

Resilient to innocence
But
Empowered by lost negligence

****** into the illusory overindulgence of ignorance,
Racial profiling
Ethnic intolerance
Class segregation
Wars of Naked greed
Pursuits of justifiable genocide and wrath
Condemned and institutionalized by denominations of Christians
Muslims and non-believers
Who claim to act in the will of God
Or the moral benefactor
Of the meat grinder that is

Modern civilization.

All points made and
Explanations aside

I’m glad I wasted your time

Regardless of what you think
And
What I say or do

I’m glad you came by
I wonder how many people died while you read this…
How many were born?

It doesn’t matter I guess
Only a few will care or remember
The same goes for you
Unless you make enough of a significant mark on the world

The same goes for me.

Will God still exist when all the people are gone?

Without humans, there will be no religion
And no war

So where will God be in all this?

Maybe having that knowledge was part of the plan.

Who knows…

Either way, God made a point.
Thank you. You can turn in your notes by Friday. You can submit your question to Tyler Durden in room 099 on Paper Street.  I’d like to thank the faculty for arranging this conference. I’d also like to mention the little guys who helped organized this: Flying Teapots, Edith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nancy Sinatra, Jeff Beck, Interview Magazine, Starbucks, Smart Water, mechanical pencils, Terrance Stamp, Spike Lee, Rooney Mara, wax paper, coco jelly beans and of course King Candy.

Until next time.
Drew Vincent Apr 2015
"Oh honey that's terrible. I am so sorry you had to go through that. I promise I will only take it when I have no other option,"
you said to me when I told you about my mother's addiction to Xanax.
"I love the way you kiss me. Every single kiss is just as passionate as the next,"
you said to me after kissing you for the hundredth time.
"I love you more than I have ever loved anyone. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want our days to be just like this,"
you said to me as we laid on your bed in our underwear.

"You're going to have to try for me honey, I'm not some 18 year old boy,"
you said to me while I straddled you and kissed your neck.
"Here honey, maybe this will help,"
you said to me as you sent me an article about how to pleasure a man.
"If you're going to start working out, you can't do anything with your upper arms...If you do that then you'll lose weight in your ******* and make them even more lopsided,"
you said to me when I wanted to get in better shape.

"It would have been better if you called me first instead of your friend,"
you said to me when I called you to tell you my grandfather died.
"Why are you leaving? We had plans! Are you breaking up with me?,"
you said to me when I left to be with my family after my grandfather's death.
"Drew, I am going to **** myself. I can't take this anymore. I'm just going to go driving and not come home,"
you said to me after my grandfather's funeral.

"I can't do this anymore. We need to move on and go our separate ways."

"Can we still be friends?,"
you said to me after trying to put up a fight

"Yes"

"Who are you with?,"
you said to me after I didn't answer your call.
"You're on a date aren't you?,"
you said to me once you figured it out.
"We need to talk. Get out of the car and let's walk."
you said to me after waiting in front of my house to get home.

"You were on a date? Are you kidding me? After telling me you want to be alone? What the actual **** Drew?"
you said to me on our walk.
"I hate you,"
you said to me after yelling at me for an hour and a half.
"You're a monster. You are acting like a *****. You know what? No. You're not acting like a *****. You ARE a *****. You're a ******* *****,"
you said to me after telling me that you will never call me a *****.

I want to **** myself. Leave me, please.

"No, I'm not leaving,"*
you said to me as I cried for an hour.
"Its okay, Drew. You need to breathe. You're going to pass out soon you need to relax,"
you said to me as a panic attack settled in.
"Let's go get you some water and Advil,"
you said after the crying and panicking ceased.

"You're a *****."
you said to me after my emotional breakdown.
"Happy New Year's,"
you said as you kissed me when it hit midnight.
"See you tomorrow,"
you said as you left me even more of an emotional disaster than before.

We can try and be friends again but that's it. Nothing more.

"Drew, I am so glad we could be friends again."
you said to me as we tried this one last time.
"I've missed you."
you said as you straddle me in the backseat of your mom's car.
"I love you,"
you said to me as you planted your lips onto mine.

I think we're toxic for each other. I think we should go our separate ways.

"Toxic? TOXIC? Take me back to Michael's. NOW."
you said to me as your face changed to pure anger.
"You're a ******* monster. A *****,"
you said to me as you slammed the car door shut.
"You're a worthless *******. You're a waste of space,"
you said to me as I drove down that dark, windy road.

"No wonder everyone around you has to pop Xanax. No one ever knows what they'll get from you that day. One day its 'I love you' and the next it's, 'you're toxic,'"
you said to me as your voice progressively got louder and louder.
"I'm going to finally **** myself now. Thank you so much, Drew. For finally giving me the chance to do it. And when I do, you better believe I'll be coming back to make your life a living hell."
you said to me as tears distorted my vision.
"I promise I'm going to **** myself. And I keep my promises,"
you said to me as you squeezed my thigh.

You scare me.

"Oh Drew, I am so sorry."
you said to me, your voice quiet and broken.
"I'll take an anger management class. I am so sorry,"
you said to me as tears flooded your eyes.
"I love you see you tomorrow,"
you said to me as you kissed me goodnight.
illueminate Apr 2016
i studied your body like i would the sky,
tracing constellations into your skin as you hummed
what sounded like the clouds would when they move.

andromeda on your throat, aquarius along your collarbones,
canis major covered your chest, gemini on your right shoulder.
i didn't want to leave when you told me that you loved me.

leo graced your left shoulder, just slightly down your back,
your stomach wore lyra, lopsided, like your smile.
sometimes i couldn't breathe at the thought of losing you.

orion on one hip, pisces on the other, my lips on both,
scorpius, dangerous, starting on your inner thigh.
but it was that loving you that scared me more than losing you.

taurus, ursa major, both on your calves,
body trembling as i traced virgo onto your ankles.
i couldn't hold on, i couldn't breathe, i couldn't understand.

i always saved libra for last, a balance scale,
over the entirety of your back, my safe haven.
breaking the scale when i leaned over, lips against your ear,
*we can't exist together.
from my self published book 'beneath the vacancy' // lulu, amazon, barnes & noble
Debra A Baugh Jun 2012
Harvey Wallbangers In Times Square was
her teaser, a Mai-Tai bang in Taipan, once
or twice her kisses so, sweet he trembled;
as she let him taste her Irish Coffee making
his Rob Roy so, **** hot and bobbing.

It sprang forth with a twang for her Firewater;
engorging the Latted Espresso between her thighs
as Egg Cream threathened to explode,
dipping into her lustful Brandy Alexander;
spillage between her Champagne Cocktail,
cheek to cheek.

She asked me if I wanted a sip of her Coffee Royale;
I said I wouldn't mind being coated in her behind's
libation, drowning ourselves in lust of a throbbing
nightcap; while I slap each cheek in rhythm in a state
of osmosis.

Drinking from her Schnapps; my mind sailed the
sevens seas of her lubricious ocean; riding her Schooner
as waves pushed me within her lagoon with each motion,
slinging Deep Shots; full of emotion, moaning baby! your
Snifter is so, **** wet; swilling your Dom Perignon
and me, just before morn, intoxicated in your elixir
of life; smiling a lopsided smile still tasting your
luscious liquor.

So, we staggered back to bed; laid bulbed
head in inviting peninsula on the shore of
Demon *** Isle and some more I smiled,
absorbing in slurps her coveted Olive Martini,
lapping like a newborn kitten smitten with her
Mint Julep's robust lips; while Lime Rickey
dipped his straw in ebbing shores; sipping
as we eagerly explored, clawing my back.

I in gentlemanly fashion opened all her doors,
as she infiltrated me in every light; mouth
covered in Hot Buttered ***, tasting from
Highballs to every Gimlet of body with skilled
tongue of a bartending artist.

Tasting salt rimmed glasses with hungry tongue
lashes in places so, naughty I flicked out Mickey
Finn; nibbled her in bites of delight front to end,
such a naughty appetite we fed; breathing in heat
like Green Dragon's brew, going down south of
Manhattan's lower eastside; drinking up her **** hide.

She said baby! it's time to ride; Igniting each of her
rooms with Bullshot Cocktails in flaming explosions;
I couldn't get enough being drenched within libations
of her ***** ocean.

Drowning in waves of ardent spirits like a bolt of lightning
poured through us from head to toe we flowed in slow mo';
sweet bon apetits of ecstasy complete, swallowed nice and
neat; spent, bathed in Brandy Smash of a contented bash,
inebriated in slumbered splashes.

wasted in her folded sashes...
Rose Alley Jul 2013
You talk about eggshells
I hear the crunch as I get closer to you
Thought it was glass breaking but it was too soft beneath my shoe
I can't stay out of your perimeter forever
When the diameter grows bigger and bigger
Pushing me farther away
I can still see soft silhouette

Your skin is so frail
Pale white made of the eggshells at your feet
You reach down time and again
When you're pierced by words
Cutting off oxygen
Penetrated by the carbon dioxide truth
You're not young anymore
Age is ageless numerals
You're not old

How many birds flew away from this pile of youth?
Each one once packaged like a gift
Leaving behind stacks of birth to sift through
You gathered them
Scattered them evenly around you
Put your appearance and self worth into them and
Waited for the crushing blow
Marching toward you from all sides
Your insecurities will swallow you and
The stomping will leave you angry and hollow

We are all hippy chickens
Making wishbones out of peace signs
Hoping for unity
Not realizing it's meant to be broken
A lopsided libra unbalanced
The powers that be
Expect you to follow obediently
Stand in line
You can't take just give
'Short people ain't got no reason to live'
Newman must have know
How difficult it is to create new men
One by one we attempt
To tip the scale in our favor
But the bigger Man
Can push it down with a finger
Like a toppling Pisa tower
A slow motion fall to the ground
A single direction agenda
The momentum gained
With each inch leaning

So stop clowning around
Sweep up your eggshells and
Go buy a dozen more grade A's and
Break them all at once
We don't have much time
Sarah Nov 2013
Parents, teachers, guardians, all authority figures
have put this importance
this upmost importance
on the loss of innocence
but they have not stood in the shoes of the teenagers of this age
the teenagers who have lost their innocence
(or if you are apart of the lucky group you are on the cusp of losing it)
its not just the physical aspect
in fact it has nothing to do with having *** at all
losing your innocence is much much more.
Its the first time you see your mom popping pills through the crack in the door
its the first time your own sister steals from you so she can fund her ****** habit
its the first time you get slapped
its the first time you slap someone
its the first time you turn to music, or books, or drugs, or drinking just to get out of your own head
its the first time you'll do anything to be numb for a little while
but its not just the bad stuff
no its beautiful too
its that night you got drunk and sat on your back in the grass and had a conversation with the stars
its looking at that lopsided smile, that dimple, and that chipped tooth and feeling something
its making the wrong decision on purpose because you just need the distraction
so basically what i'm saying is the loss of innocence isn't all bad and it isn't all good
but its something that happens to all of us
theres no defining moment
theres no epiphany where you feel the loss like something physical
its not real or tangible
and its not the same for everybody
for her its standing over her moms casket
for him its when he shot up that first time
for me its all the good and the bad that i wrote down and spit out in this poem
And for you... well thats what you have to figure out.
Robyn Dec 2016
When you found me
I was lopsided
Uneven, unloved
Over touched
You picked me up
And evened me out
When you found me
Crawling in the dirt
I finally found what I was looking for
Tryst May 2014
On a warm afternoon, in the middle of June
Two lovers were strolling along
Their arms were entwined, they had but one mind
Their hearts both sang the same song

Harold was tall, a handsome young sort
His hair as black as the night
Amy was fair with flowing blonde hair
Her face such a beautiful sight

Together they walked, and excitedly talked
Making plans for their future together
Living in their own home, having kids of their own
With a love that would outlast forever

They walked for a mile, and came to a stile
That neither had seen there before
It led over a fence, into forest so dense
An exciting new place to explore

They trekked through the brush, neither one in a rush
Until they chanced upon an old trail
The wind here was still, Amy felt a slight chill
The air tasted heavy and stale

They continued along, and then heard a strange song
At first they thought it was birds
But as they got nearer, the sound became clearer
And they realized that tune carried words

Upon a pine tree, as small as could be
A fairy was singing a ditty
She fluttered her wings, such translucent things
And she danced looking ever so pretty

In an instant she stopped, her face it looked shocked
And she flew down in front of their track
"What are you doing here?", her voice trembled with fear
"You must leave now and never come back!"

"Whoa there! Who are you? My name's Harold, how'd you do?"
Harold managed a nervous smile
"I'm the Good Fairy" she said, "and the path you now tread
Is closed and has been for a while"

Amy leant on a tree, "It looks open to me
And I really don't think you can stop us
So shoo out of our way, you're spoiling our day
We'd prefer no more of your ruckus!"

The Good Fairy smiled, "Now listen here child!
You'll do as you're jolly well told!"
Amy just snorted, and quickly retorted
"For a small thing you're really too bold!"

"Are you sure of your love? Does it fit like a glove?
Are you certain that he is the one?"
The Good Fairy prodded at Harold and nodded
"If you value your love then begone!"

"Our love is so pure, of that much I'm sure
That nothing could come in between.
So I'll thank you to keep a hold of your beak
You're beastly and ever so mean!"

"Harold, dear boy, you’re not just her toy!
A plaything that she can abuse
You have your own mind, with thoughts that are kind
And brains that you really should use!"

Harold just nodded, then felt his ribs prodded
As Amy gave him a cold stare
"Come along Harold dear, we'll not stay around here
We'll proceed down the trail over there"

The Good Fairy swallowed, and then she just followed
Aware of the danger that was nearing
The path became steeper, as it led them down deeper
Till finally it came to a clearing

In the midst of that wood, an ornate fountain stood
Its clear waters flowed like a stream
They were caught in a basin, carved by a skilled mason
The surface shimmered like a dream

"So this is your secret, and you wanted to keep it!"
Amy gloated with a grin on her face
"Well its ours too to share, and I really don't care
If you don't want us here in this place"

The Good Fairy sighed, "It’s no use, I tried
But you just wouldn't heed my warning
And now you are here, it’s too late I fear
You'll both rue this day in the morning"

Amy laughed boldly and eyed her so coldly
"Silly fairy there's nothing to fear
The water looks pure, of that much I'm sure
So why don't you dare to come near?"

"You don't know the name of this place where you came
You don't understand what's at stake"
The Good Fairy shivered, her wing tips they quivered
"You've made such a dreadful mistake

This fountain is magic, its consequence tragic
It's reflection shows only love's truth
If you think I deceive, and you still don't believe
Take a look and you'll find there your proof"

Amy walked up, to the fountain and took
A long look into that flowing stream
And what she perceived could be scarcely believed
It was Amy but dressed as a Queen

She wore a long gown and a beautiful crown
And was sat on a shiny gold throne
They were toasting her name and proclaiming her fame
But she saw that she wasn't alone

The most wonderful thing, a handsome young King
Who smiled with such love in his eyes
He looked at her kindly, whispered "Come and find me"
Then vanished to Amy's surprise

She was back in the clearing, and Harold was peering
In the waters with a lopsided smile
What he witnessed that day, he never did say
But he stared there for quite a long while

When the trance was complete, Harold stared at his feet
He wouldn't look Amy in the eye
"I need to go" he muttered, "Later, maybe?" he uttered
And was gone with no further goodbye

Amy thought of her King, with the large wedding ring
And the love in his eyes at her sight
She held him in her mind, as she set off to find
The one man whom she knew was just right

The Good Fairy sighed, "So another love died
In pursuit of a love even stronger
Why do folk leave behind, all the love that they find
To go on with the search ever longer?

Can love ever be measured, like something that’s treasured
Can you weigh it upon a fine scale?
Can one ever be sure, that new love will be pure
That it isn't just destined to fail?"

The Good Fairy glanced, at the waters perchance
And her little eyes filled up with tears
The vision she saw was one she'd seen before
And the image still haunted her fears

"The problem we embrace, when we look on that face
The reflection of our own true lover
Is we don't realize, though the fountain never lies
Our true love may perceive yet another"

The Good Fairy left, feeling wholly bereft
And returned to her guard feeling tense
"That’s the fourth time this week", she said wiping her cheek
"Perhaps I should put up a fence?"
Victoria Oct 2012
I am not a bad person because I don’t believe in soul mates
I can still believe in the existence of love
And the infinite power you possess when you run your finger down my spine
I believe in the absolute truth that is my stomach rolling over
Like a wave curling and crashing on a deserted beach
When you offer up a lopsided smile upon seeing me for the first time in days

No matter how embarrassing the sentiment is
I still feel every cell in my body pull toward you in a desire to be held
Like you hold that cigarette--
With the knowledge that there are many others just like it
But in that moment it is worth more than gold

It’s not wrong for me to believe that I may feel this with someone else
In another town
In another country
On another continent
Maybe just miles away
Or across the ocean
It does not change how I feel about you
And me
In this moment
Jessica Austin Mar 2012
My bed was built beneath

whirlwind puzzles
and bow-tied time,
pulsing menageries
and lopsided rhymes;
circles and rainbows
and dark-alley’d dreams,
suns that explode
beneath smoothed-over seams.

But between the cracks
of the never-ending skyline
live shadows and demons
and sewage-filled pipelines.

There are toy-soldier boys
carrying small metal knives,
their sharp-tongued solutions
highlight well-thought-out lies;
and the bubble-gum girl armies
that ride into the night
spread pink viscous poison
and dance out of sight.

These spectacular visions
linger over my head,
with too-full rainbows
and ship-wrecked dread;
every highlighted secret
connects the stars of a time
where each piece of the whole
was malleable and mine.
Aria of Midnight Jun 2016
i. no absolute rest
"yes, time
never did stop
for anyone."

but I add...

ii. no absolute motion*
"even time itself
is an
illusion."

because
yours and mine
...dissent.

iii. backwards
maybe yesterday,
we could still
work things out.

--softer,
than lightly (3.0 x 10^8 m/s)

iv. implausibility
our foreheads wear
the cracks of our heart.

you lost your zeal,
I lost my saviour,
we lost each other,

but left
with osmium-clad
backpacks,
and collapsed
patellas.

E = mc^2.

v. our end

fact:
tomorrow
is inevitable.

fact:
screeching alarms
and lopsided bed-hair,
and chugging caramel lattes,
with precisely two tablespoons
of raw sugar--

fact:
forget among the clamour,
the shadow of your figure--

fact:*
you are an
unearthed blackhole,
under the facade
of a supernova.

(your mass = 2.5(+) x greater than the sun)
a late night poem, inspired by Einstein's theory of relativity according to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttZCKAMpcAo. I have worked out that my love for physics doesn't step from solving problems, but thinking, contemplating, the concepts....

the romanticisation of such a theory, though, was not an original idea. I recently watched (and absolutely fell in love with) Steins;Gate, the science-fiction anime.
Jade Louise May 2015
The carnival was asleep
It had been for years
A stiff frozen Big Top
Unused gelato machines
Fading in streams of color
Like a crying watercolor painting

Falling asleep on the Ferris Wheel
Was never my intention
It had been standing still
In the heart of the abandoned circus town

We travelled through it
Like cells of life
Permeating
A ghostly forgotten world

Our eyes twinkling with the wind and stars
Our feet living inside our boots
Stepping over
Clotted patches of dirt

And then we began to climb upwards
To the stars
Reaching to the sky
I climbed high enough
Trying to brush up against the ink black sky
Fireflies dancing in circles
The moon's craters smiling to me
In the most genuine kind of smiles
The lopsided and distorted kind

And we climbed upwards
In the frozen ferris wheel
We climbed like ants
We crawled through its spokes
Like we were suspended in a giant bicycle wheel
We climbed into faded pastel passenger cars
In our tiredness
We fell into them
Our thoughts suspended
Like the sky's stars
Hanging in the sky
Resting

We were in the most abandoned place
Yet we were breathing life into it

And then
The ferris wheel began to turn

Even the most abandoned places
Even the most ghostly
Can be awoken

By life

And with that
The Ferris Wheel began to turn
Joining the earth in its motion

And we each fell asleep
All of us
In our own faded passenger cars
Separate but connected
Turning with the world

Like a lullaby
Gently being rocked to sleep
By the Earth
Under the midnight sky
Earthlings, all as one

~JL

— The End —